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Cecil County toy drive helps tornado survivors in Kentucky

ELKTON — Michael King’s heart was squeezed when he saw television news images of the overwhelming destruction caused by a tornado that barreled through Western Kentucky earlier this month, making him want to do something to ease the pain of the surviving residents.

The tornado touched down on Dec. 10 and twisted its way across more than 200 miles of land, destroying scores of homes and other buildings in several towns and leaving a death toll that, as of Tuesday, was more than 70 people.

“I felt the call to help people and to do it on the biggest scale as I could. I kept thinking about all of those children there, and that it happened so close to Christmas,” said 58-year-old King, a semi-retired marine mechanic who lives near Elkton.

So he explored the idea of running a massive toy drive in Cecil County and then driving the collected items to Kentucky himself. His good friends, Todd Meekins, 53, and Mark Saunders, 47, both of Elkton; and Cecilton resident Kevin Gatewood, 59, eagerly joined King’s humanitarian project.

Knowing that he would need a big enough truck to haul the toys, which had yet to be collected, King spent two days early last week making dozens of phone calls in an effort to find a company that would loan a box truck or rent one at a reasonable price.

His need was met Wednesday (Dec. 15) night when Art Vallely, president of the Penske Truck Leasing Company, called and informed King that he would rent him a box truck with a 16’-by-10’ cargo area for a mere $1. King would not be able to pick up that truck until Thursday afternoon, however.

So King and his friends set up a collection site off the shoulder of the northbound lane of Augustine Herman Highway (Rt. 213), near Elk Forest Road, at 8 a.m. on Thursday, knowing that they finally had secured a box truck for storing and hauling.

“I had a pickup truck out there. By noon Thursday, we only had three toys in it. That was it,” King said, adding, “I felt like I may have made a mistake. I was feeling discouraged.”

But then there was an upswing, after King picked up the essentially-donated box truck in New Castle, Del., and drove it to the collection site and Meekins launched a Facebook campaign to inform the public of the toy drive aimed at raising the spirits of children in Western Kentucky.

Private citizens and people representing local businesses started stopping to drop off brand new toys, in addition to items that would benefit youngsters and adults alike, including brand new clothes, kerosene heaters, bottled water and so forth. King and his friends manned the collection site all day Thursday and Friday, waving to passing motorists — many of whom honked their horns — and packing the box truck as the donations mounted.

“The outpouring of support from people in Cecil County was awesome. They were wonderful. I am amazed at how fast everything happened, once the word of what we were doing got out. I’m also amazed at how much we collected,” King said, adding, “The box truck was packed to the brim.”

People also gave monetary donations to cover the cost of gasoline for the humanitarian trip, King said. That’s because, during his flurry of activity last week, King had made arrangements to drop off the collected toys and other items at the Murray Fire Department in Murray, Ky., he added. Members of that fire company would handle the distribution of the collected items, King noted.

“Murray is out of the damage area. The fire company has been providing support (to the surrounding towns devastated by the tornado),” King explained, noting that one of the hardest hit towns, Mayfield, Ky., is approximately a 20-minute drive away from Murray.

(Any leftover, donated fuel money will be given to a tornado-relief charity in Mayfield, Ky., according to King.)

King and Meekins made the 12-hour drive to Murray, Ky. on Saturday, arriving at the fire department’s station shortly before 9 o’clock that night. Appreciative fire company members wanted to treat King and Meekins to dinner at a restaurant, but they respectfully declined because it was their belief that accepting a free meal would be contrary to the spirit of their charity effort.

After spending Saturday night in a motel, King and Meekins got up Sunday morning and made the return trip to Cecil County, knowing they had to return the box truck, which had been unloaded at the fire department station in Murray.

Although they were miles away from the most affected areas in Kentucky during the whirlwind trip, King and Meekins still saw some of the destruction caused by the tornado.

“We saw where it came across a road. It cut a half-mile swath. There was a path of clothes, tin roofs and parts of silos,” King said.

In the past, King has embarked on much smaller charity projects, he noted.

King, Meekins, Gatewood and Saunders are experiencing exhilaration after completing this much larger charity mission, according to King, who offered advice to anyone who feels a twinge to help people in need.

“It’s easy to get an idea to do something, but it is difficult to follow through on it. But you have to push through because it is well worth it,” King emphasized.

He then spoke on behalf of himself and his three good friends when King commented, “I feel like I gave a Christmas gift to myself. The feeling of helping others is incredible. I can see how someone could get addicted to helping people in need. We feel blessed that we were able to help.”

Fourth class of Cecil County Watershed Stewards graduates, armed with the skills to help save the Chesapeake

ELKTON — The Cecil County government and the University of Maryland Sea Grant Extension announced the fourth graduating class from the Cecil County Watershed Stewards Academy, teaching 9 residents how to care for local waterways.

To earn the Master Watershed Steward certification, participants are required to complete 50 hours of class instruction, participate in a class project; and undertake individual or small team capstone projects.

Scotty Hartman graduated from the program with his wife Stephanie, for their project they improved their own property, adding native plants to their yard so that water from the street wouldn’t run into the stream behind their house.

Hartman, a computer engineer, joined the program because he is concerned about the health of local waterways.

“It’s basically a grassroots movement to educate more people on the common ways of reducing stormwater runoff,” Hartman said.

Hartman, the president of the Glen Farms Civic Association in Elkton, hopes to spread his newfound knowledge to many of his neighbors. Hartman said there are many things that individuals can do to help reduce runoff, from having more native plants instead of grass in your lawn, installing a rain barrel, or rerouting a drain spout to have water flow into the ground instead of into a stream or a river.

“One of the biggest takeaways is that there are some really simple and low cost things that everybody can do to make a little bit of a difference,” Hartman said.

The class project expanded an existing rain garden and the installation of over 200 native plants at the North East Town Park.

“We have no doubt the rain garden extension will be a great asset to the North East Community Park, assisting to resolve the stormwater problems at the site,” North East Mayor Michael Kline said. “Your commitment to a clean, healthy Chesapeake Bay is admirable.”

The academy is run as a partnership between Stormwater Management Division of the Cecil County Department of Public Works and the University of Maryland Sea Grant Extension

Master Watershed Stewards can identify areas to implement small-scale stormwater management practices, educate local citizens, and assist Cecil County in reaching its watershed goals.

“Keeping our local waterways healthy is vital for our environment, and these graduates now have the ability to play a greater role in that effort,” stated County Executive Hornberger. “I commend them for taking time out of their busy lives to become leaders in maintaining clean watersheds here in Cecil County.”

A total of 36 individuals have successfully obtained the title of Master Watershed Steward in Cecil County.

MSP troopers begin bolstered holiday traffic patrols in Cecil County

CECIL COUNTY — Motorists better beware if they’ve had too much holiday cheer because Maryland State Police troopers will be focusing on impaired drivers while conducting special traffic enforcement patrols in Cecil County, as part of a statewide crackdown designed to address several areas of concern, including aggressive driving, speeding and distracted driving, the agency reported Wednesday.

From Wednesday through Jan. 2, which encompasses Christmas and New Year’s Eve, MSP troopers assigned to the North East Barrack and the JFK Barrack near Perryville will be using numerous initiatives to “urge both motorists and pedestrians to use common sense, take responsibility and be more courteous on Maryland’s roadways,” as will troopers throughout Maryland, according to MSP.

Additional troopers at the agency’s 23 barracks across the state will be working overtime assignments through New Year’s Eve, police said. Those extra patrols will be funded by highway safety grants through the Maryland Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Administration’s Highway Safety Office, police added.

The list of special holiday enforcement initiatives includes DUI saturation patrols and checkpoints that will be operated on certain sections of roads and highways that have been deemed “high crash and impaired driving areas,” police reported.

MSP officials also announced Wednesday that the State Police Impaired Driving Reduction Effort Team, also known as the SPIDRE team, will be on patrol, too. “The goal of the SPIDRE team is to focus on reducing alcohol-related crashes in Maryland by targeting areas across the state with high crash rates involving impaired drivers,” an MSP spokesperson explained.

In addition to working enforcement in cooperation with local police departments, troopers will be working closely with Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration personnel, police said. SHA provides significant help arranging detours at crash sites and conducting courtesy patrols to assist motorists, police added.

People who will be consuming alcohol during upcoming holiday celebrations are urged to make plans — before they begin drinking — for sober drivers to take them home, MSP officials urge. Multiple transportation options are available for those who will be drinking, including taxis, Ubers and such, they noted.

Traffic accidents claimed the lives of 548 people in Maryland during 2020, according statistics provided by MSP. Of those fatal crashes, 120 involved impaired driving, 55 involved aggressive driving and 205 involved distracted driving, police reported. MSP officials noted that those crashes represent “just a fraction” of the more than 95,000 traffic accidents that were reported in Maryland last year.

MSP officials cautioned that someone arrested for impaired driving in Maryland likely will pay approximately $10,000 in legal fees, fines, lost wages and so forth. “That cost is just for a simple arrest. If a crash is involved, the cost goes up exponentially, since a price cannot be placed on a life lost,” an MSP spokesperson emphasized.

The following are MSP safety tips for drivers:

* Look for pedestrians walking along the roadway and at crossings and intersections.

* Stop for pedestrians at crosswalks, as required by Maryland law.

* Be careful passing stopped vehicles. If a car is stopped at a marked crosswalk, stop and look for crossing pedestrians, as required by Maryland law.

* Slow down and obey the posted speed limit.

* Yield to pedestrians when turning.

* Use extra caution at night, when it may be harder to see pedestrians attempting to cross the road.

The following are MSP safety tips for pedestrians:

* Walk on the sidewalk. If there is no sidewalk, always walk on the side of the road facing traffic.

* Cross the street at marked crosswalks and at intersections. Many pedestrian-related crashes occur at mid-block locations, where drivers do not expect pedestrians.

* Obey traffic signals, including pedestrian signals.

* Before crossing a road, look left, right and then left again to make sure you can cross safely.

* Look before stepping past stopped vehicles. They may be blocking your view of moving traffic.

* Stay visible after dark and in bad weather. Help drivers see you by wearing retro-reflective material in low lighting conditions.

* Use caution around any vehicle backing out of parking spaces and driveways.

Elkton guard Jayden Tripplet puts up a shot during a game at Elkton High School.

This photo provided by Sonny “Hoot” Gibson on Sunday, Dec. 19, 2021 showing Madix the cat, who was found in the rubble of Gibson’s Mayfield, Ky. office building nine days after a tornado devastated much of the town. (Sonny “Hoot” Gibson via AP)

Perryville Police Chief Robert Nitz named Ofc. Tommy Pierson his Officer of the Year for 2021 because the 10-year veteran of the department led the way in DUI arrests and traffic stops.

Perryville police honored