State briefs

This article was published November 11, 2017 at 4:00 a.m.

The Associated Press

Electric utility seeks

rate increase

LITTLE ROCK -- The largest electric utility in Arkansas is seeking approval from the Arkansas Public Service Commission to raise its rates next year.

Entergy Arkansas wants to up its rates by 3.75 percent, meaning a residential customer currently paying a $100 monthly bill would see a new monthly bill of $103.75, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. The electric utility has about 715,000 customers in 63 counties.

The increase for industrial users will be about 3.72 percent, said John Bethel, executive director of the commission's general staff.

Entergy submitted the new rates request with the commission in April under a more streamlined annual filing process that was approved by the Legislature.

The commission approved a 3.38 percent increase for Entergy last year. Those rates were charged at the beginning of this year.

Bethel said the commission is expected to make a decision on the new rate-increase request by Dec. 13. If approved, the changes would go into effect on Jan. 2.

Richard Riley, president of the electric utility, told commissioners during a hearing Wednesday that Entergy Arkansas was spending the money needed to continue operations at Arkansas Nuclear One. A 2013 industrial accident at the nuclear plant near Russellville killed one worker and injured eight other people.

"For the next four or five years, we'll have a heightened level of spending at (Arkansas Nuclear One)," Riley said. "After that it will level off some. The new level of spend might be different than the old level of spend. A good example is the hiring of additional staff. We would hope to keep that level of staff going forward, which would result in a bit higher expense than in 2010 or 2012."

Portions of Entergy's expenses wouldn't be covered under the current rate case. Future requests could include the costs associated with the accident on March 31, 2013, when a 1 million-pound generator stator fell 30 feet while it was being moved. The crashing stator dislodged beams, which struck and killed a worker.

Arkansas prosecutor drops murder charge against Texas man

SEARCY -- A prosecutor has opted to drop charges against a Texas man accused in the death of an Arkansas man who went missing in 1994, saying additional evidence is needed to move forward in a case where the victim's body has not been found.

A judge approved Searcy Prosecuting Attorney Rebecca Reed McCoy's motion to dismiss the case on Wednesday against Brandon Wheeler, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. McCoy said she hopes to refile charges later and that her decision was spurred because authorities wouldn't be able to gather and test any additional evidence in time for the jury trial scheduled for Monday.

Wheeler, of Weatherford, Texas, was arrested in May in the death of 20-year-old Jarrod Green, who was reported missing in early October 1994. Wheeler had been charged with capital murder and abuse of a corpse. He was free on a $100,000 bond when McCoy's motion was approved.

McCoy would need to show "good cause" to refile the case, but she faces no statute of limitations on a homicide charge.

She said she couldn't discuss specific evidence, but said that authorities were working to drain a pond.

"Detectives involved in this case have been working steadily for this entire period of time" to drain the pond, McCoy said. "Some of it (the delay) was the weather."

McCoy said acquiring the proper equipment and "other snags" have slowed the process.

She said it was too soon to say when the pond draining would be complete.

"I know that the Green family definitely deserves justice. They deserve answers on where Jarrod is," she said.

Defense attorney Michael Petty had argued in a court document last month that the abuse-of-a-corpse charge should be dismissed. "In this case, Mr. Jarrod Green's corpse, assuming that he is even dead, as the prosecutor alleges, has never been discovered," Petty wrote.

Ex-Arkansas lawmaker ordered to repay city

attorney salary

LITTLE ROCK -- A former state lawmaker from northeast Arkansas is being ordered to repay the salary he received as a city attorney while he was also a member of the House of Representatives.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports that former Rep. Wes Wagner must repay $26,231 to the city of Manila for his salary in 2013 and 2014 while he was serving in the House and being paid by the state.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen ruled that Wagner's employment with the city violated the state Constitution's restriction on lawmakers holding other state government jobs while in office.

Wagner argued that laws regulating how cities hire their attorneys exempted him from the restriction.

Wagner was a Democrat who was defeated for re-election in 2014. He switched to the Republican Party, but lost in the 2016 GOP primary.

Wal-Mart, Kroger

aim to intervene in

Arkansas wine lawsuit

LITTLE ROCK -- Kroger, Wal-Mart and a grocery store in eastern Arkansas have filed motions to intervene in a lawsuit that's challenging a new state law that expands the sale of wine in grocery stores.

The chains filed the motions this week along with Hays Food Town Inc. of Helena-West Helena. According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette , all three grocery retailers have applications pending for wine-selling permits.

The law took effect Oct. 1 and allows grocery stores in the state's wet counties to expand their wine sales. Four liquor stores in Pulaski and Saline counties sued over the new law, arguing that the new measure unfairly lets grocery stores bypass restrictions that apply to liquor stores and that it conflicts with existing state laws.

A hearing in the case is set for Monday.

Girl, 14, dies after fire at Forrest City apartment

FORREST CITY -- Authorities say a 14-year-old girl has died after an apartment fire in eastern Arkansas.

Police say the fire happened early Friday at an apartment in Forrest City, about 85 miles (136 kilometers) east of Little Rock. Jonesboro television station KAIT reports that the girl was taken to a hospital where she was pronounced dead.

The girl was a student at Forrest City High School, and officials say guidance counselors will be available to students.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Mississippi man

wanted in girlfriend's burning is captured

BLACKTON -- Arkansas state troopers have captured a Mississippi man wanted for dousing his girlfriend with gasoline and setting her on fire.

Officers arrested 43-year-old Jerry Glenn Willis on Friday in Blackton, about 70 miles (112 kilometers) east of Little Rock. He's being held in a local jail and will be sent to Mississippi.

Authorities say 46-year-old Stacy Mitchell Frank was found by a highway Wednesday in Pearl River County, Mississippi, where she and Willis live. Frank remains hospitalized in Jackson, Mississippi.

Mississippi Department of Public Safety spokesman Warren Strain said officers found Frank's SUV near where Willis was caught.

Strain said Willis will be charged with kidnapping, attempted murder and felony taking of a motor vehicle. It was not immediately clear whether Willis has an attorney.

State Desk on 11/11/2017
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