Honestly, it’s hard to imagine a bigger dumpster fire of a year, short of the one in which a giant asteroid careens out of the dark like a drunken prom king in his mom’s Hyundai and smashes the Earth to smithereens. Prince died, for chrissakes! Bowie, too. Alan Rickman. Muhammad Ali. Merle Haggard. Harper Lee. Leonard Cohen, Gene Wilder and John Glenn. Nancy Reagan died, too, if you see that as a tragedy. Fidel Castro, ditto. Glenn Frey, ditto.
A lot of people died, OK? Just like any other year, only this year was the turd sundae that wound up topped with a poison orange cherry on Nov. 8. Somewhere, years in the future, the time traveler who screwed up our timeline to the point we elected a sociopathic game show host with the temperament of a particularly shitty 3-year-old is getting a royal chewing out by the head honcho of the Chrono Cops. Let’s hope his supervisor can go back and unscrew this dim bulb, before the whole planet trips down the stairs.
Anyway, even though 2016 seems to be The Year of the Unexpected, we’ve been doing Best and Worst for too long to turn it into just The Worst and Worst, so what follows is a nice mix of the two. From plummeting turkeys to Waffle House hairdos to #broadwaybridgestrong, from politicians stumping to lead the wrong Fayetteville to sympathy for the poor devils caught up in Sherwood’s version of Dante’s “Inferno,” this one has a little bit of everything. Hold on to your shorts, though. Something tells us next year’s Best and Worst, if we all survive long enough to write or read it, is going to be a doozy.
Best holding on loosely
In the dog days of July, Bobby Capps, keyboardist for the Southern rock band 38 Special, in Hot Springs for a gig at Magic Springs theme park, sprang into action when he looked out the window of his hotel and saw an elderly woman having a seizure near the pool. According to a post on the band’s Facebook page, Capps rushed outside and jumped a fence to reach the fallen woman before moving her to a chair and running inside to call 911. The woman was transported to a hospital for treatment, and EMTs who arrived on the scene said Capps probably saved her life.
Worst scattered, smothered, covered, chunked and hairy
In January, a video went viral that featured two employees of the Waffle House in Forrest City washing their hair in the kitchen of the restaurant, in full view of the dining room, with one of the women dunking her dreadlocks in a pot filled with steaming hot water only a few feet from the grill. The two employees were reportedly fired.
Second worst Waffle House-related news
In September, police announced that a Waffle House restaurant near the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport was robbed twice in a single 24-hour period by two different gunmen.
Worst use of accounting unrelated to Wall Street
Animal cruelty charges were filed in February against a Georgia man after a video emerged of him beating a live deer with a large accounting textbook in the backseat of a car. The man told authorities that he and three friends were driving near Stuttgart when they struck the deer. The three put the deer in the backseat, apparently thinking it was dead. Soon after, the animal regained consciousness, at which time the man attempted to beat it to death with the book.
Worst dinner companions
In a trailer released in February for a documentary about him, University of Arkansas football coach Bret Bielema said of the lengths he’s gone to recruit players, “I’ve had to have dinner with a parrot, I’ve had dinner with a monkey. … He didn’t sit with us at dinner, but he was bouncing around.”
Worst “We’re gonna party like it’s 1899”
The University of Central Arkansas chapter of Sigma Tau Gamma fraternity was suspended by the national organization in October after photos surfaced on social media of a white member of the frat attending a Halloween party in blackface, apparently in an attempt to dress as Bill Cosby. The student was later expelled from the school, with UCA President Tom Courtway calling the photo “highly offensive and repulsive.”
Shortly after the photo of the student dressed in blackface at UCA came to light, another Halloween party photo went viral of Blevins (Hempstead County) School Board Member Ted Bonner in blackface, wearing a straw hat and holding a sign that said “Blak Lives Matter.” After calls for his resignation by the NAACP and others, Bonner told KATV, Channel 7, “Everybody dresses in a costume. I didn’t know there was no such a thing as blackface. If I step down, I’m just getting what these people want. I mean, I’m standing up for my rights as a United States citizen.”
Best champion of the First Amendment
The NAACP showed up in force at the December school board meeting in Blevins, with someone eventually calling the local sheriff’s office in the hopes of having those there to criticize Bonner removed, but Hempstead County Sheriff James Singleton told those calling for NAACP members to get the bum’s rush, “It’s their First Amendment rights. They have those rights. There’s really nothing we can do unless somebody’s causing a disturbance. There’s been no disturbance. People have acted responsibly. That’s it.”
In February, a teacher at Warren High School was fired after parents complained they’d seen him on a cable TV program discussing the fact that he was a “looner,” someone who derives sexual pleasure from touching latex balloons.
An anonymous student in the history class was brave enough to record the Mills coach’s rant the day after he was told of the complaints, with the audio — later forwarded to the ACLU of Arkansas — capturing the teacher going off on his class about liberalism, singling out those who complained as having ruined classmates’ “right to peacefully assemble,” and expressing disbelief that blacks would vote for Democrats, adding, “all they do is convince y’all that whoever the Republican nominee is is going to take away food stamps and all this stuff, put you in chains and send you back to Africa.” After the audio recording surfaced, the teacher was recommended for termination by the Pulaski County Special School District and later fired.
Worst grasp of U.S. history since 1890 (and the separation of church and state)
Parents of students at Wilbur Mills University Studies High School in Pulaski County complained to the administration in April after a coach/teacher at the school showed the gory, R-rated film “The Passion of the Christ” during the “U.S. History Since 1890” course, apparently as a teaching unit, complete with handout questions quizzing students on what they thought the film had to say about God’s love for them and Christ’s sacrifice for their salvation.
As usual, there was a huge outcry on social media in October in opposition to the annual “turkey drop” at Yellville’s Turkey Trot festival, in which terrified turkeys are dropped over the city from a low-flying airplane. The cruel show went defiantly on, however, with at least one of the 10 turkeys dropped this year plummeting to its death in a dry creek bed with nary a wing flap.
Worst travelin’ Arkansas
Acting as a surrogate for Donald Trump on a CBS News panel analyzing the September presidential debate, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge was absolutely wrecked by co-panelist and veteran newsman Bob Schieffer after she asserted that “no one other than those in the media and those on the left” had been asking for candidate Trump to release his tax returns. “Where do you get your evidence?” Schieffer asked. “On what do you base the statement you’ve made, which is absolutely wrong?” Rutledge replied that she’d been out “traveling Arkansas” and “traveling across the country.” “So you’re just going around asking people?” Schieffer asked incredulously. “You have no other evidence than that?”
Worst middle finger to democracy
The Arkansas Supreme Court decided to toss Issue 7 — the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act — off the ballot three days after early voting started in October, thus disenfranchising thousands who had already voted for the measure.
Second worst middle finger to democracy
The Arkansas Secretary of State’s office in July sent out highly inaccurate lists flagging thousands of eligible voters for removal from the voting rolls because the voters were listed as felons. It’s unknown, even now, how many Arkansans were unable to vote because their names had been culled from voting registries based on faulty information. The office said it was a “mistake.”
In August, the ACLU of Arkansas, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the international firm of Morrison and Foerster filed a civil suit over the prosecution of hot checks in Sherwood District Court, which the suit said had put hot check offenders into a debtors’ prison. According to the lawsuit and later conversations between hot check defendants and the Arkansas Times, some of the violators had been hounded for a decade or more over bounced checks written for as little as $20, their debt to the court spiraling into the thousands and violators repeatedly jailed when they didn’t appear for mandatory court dates or couldn’t pay.
One of those caught on Sherwood’s hamster wheel of debt is John Bowman, a blind man who told Arkansas Times for a September cover story that he has fled Pulaski County and gone into hiding at a friend’s home because owes the court $4,200 in fines and fees stemming from what he said was a stolen check forged to make a $23 purchase at a liquor store in 2010. Bowman said he decided to go into hiding because his disabilities prevent him from regularly making his court dates, he had no hope of ever paying off his fines, and because he had repeatedly been picked up by Little Rock police and transported to Sherwood on warrants related to his hot check charges, after which he was processed and then released into the unfamiliar city, usually with no way home.
After months of turmoil and division, the Fort Smith School Board voted in June to replace Southside High School’s Rebel mascot in the 2016-2017 school year and to ban the playing of “Dixie” at sporting events.
After a key pro-Rebel vote on the school board announced he had grown tired of the controversy and would vote for the removal of the mascot, Fort Smith lawyer Joey McCutchen wrote on Facebook that he was suspending his fierce fight in support of the mascot, and then quoted far-right former U.S. Rep. Allen West of Florida: “Our children are not being taught or instructed using critical thinking skills; they are being indoctrinated.” If it is indoctrination to teach schoolchildren not to glorify traitors who fought a bloody civil war for the purpose of keeping millions of Americans in cradle-to-grave slavery, then we need more of it.
In April, State Education Secretary Johnny Key fired Little Rock School District Superintendent Baker Kurrus, who had been brought in to lead the district following a state takeover in May, after Kurrus presented data about the negative effects of charter schools on the Little Rock district. Instead of Key owning up to the widespread belief that Kurrus was being replaced because he committed blasphemy against Republican dogma that charter schools are the way and the light, Key said the LRSD needed “strong, disciplined” leadership, which even some of Kurrus’ former critics had said he was providing.
Worst Teflon Don
On Donald Trump’s visit to Little Rock in February, his only stop in the state during the campaign, Agent Orange showed up two hours late, blatantly lied about maxing out the capacity of Barton Coliseum even though the fact the coliseum was only partially full was immediately apparent to anyone who wanted to look around during his speech, and apparently forgot what state he was in, given that he told the crowd that Alabama “has a hell of a football team.” Nonetheless, Trump won Arkansas in the GOP primary, and carried the state in November by almost 27 percentage points.
Best putting on the dog
In October, a former administrative assistant to the Garland County judge was arrested for allegedly racking up $346,000 in personal expenses on a county credit card over a four-year period, with an affidavit filed in the case saying that her alleged purchases included a tuxedo for her dog.
In February, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission announced that an elk shot near the Buffalo National River the previous October had tested positive for the state’s first confirmed case of chronic wasting disease, a brain disorder that can cause fatal neurological degeneration in deer, elk and moose, and makes their meat potentially unsafe to eat by humans.
Best coming clean
In February, a 20-year-old Little Rock man who had initially told police he was shot in the legs during a drive-by shooting, confessed that, in reality, he was accidentally shot by a friend as the other young man prepared to take his turn in a game of Russian roulette, which the pair was playing with a .357 magnum revolver.
The ACLU of Arkansas stepped in to object after Maumelle High School in February held a student assembly on gang violence, but only asked black students to attend.
Worst grasp of the word ‘desegregation’
According to the Pulaski County Special School District, which oversees Maumelle High School, the gang violence assembly was held as part of “the district’s court-ordered desegregation efforts.” Credit where credit is due: The district disciplined the administrator responsible for the assembly and quickly apologized.
Best change of heart
In April, an unsigned editorial from the historically right-leaning editorial page of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette advocated for the first time for the abolition of the death penalty in Arkansas.
A man who thought he’d found a Civil War-era cannonball while doing excavation work near Danville in April was shocked to learn from a Hot Springs museum that the item he had in the back of his pickup truck was actually a Civil War-era landmine, potentially primed to explode. A bomb squad later X-rayed the device, learned it still contained explosives and destroyed it safely at a local landfill.
Worst repeat offender
In June, a man arrested after he was found naked on a sidewalk in Jonesboro stripped naked while on a trip to the restroom during his court appearance and then dashed through the courtroom, reportedly while shouting “Court is back in session!”
After learning from the museum that the artifact might potentially detonate, the man drove the landmine back to his house before calling the bomb squad. No worries, though. During the drive, he told the Hot Springs Sentinel-Record, “I had a seat belt around it the whole time.”
Best argument for not letting teachers take the whole summer off
A Benton elementary school teacher and her husband were arrested in Hot Springs in June after, police said, she told a security guard she would “fuck him up” after being thrown out of a strip club there, with the couple then allegedly getting in their car and doing a tire-smoking “donut” in the parking lot while the husband simultaneously fired a shotgun in the air from the driver’s side window before speeding away. The two were apprehended a short time later.
In September, Little Rock police officers arrested state Rep. John Walker, a 79-year-old civil rights lawyer, as Walker attempted to video record a traffic stop near downtown with his cell phone. As seen on a video released before the arrest, two officers who approached Walker as he calmly filmed from a nearby corner escalated the situation by arguing with him, with one calling Walker a “race baiter” and saying he was “out here trying to provoke police officers,” while the other asked Walker if he would be filming had the driver been “a young white male.” After Walker and colleague Omavi Shukur, 29, crossed the street to a sidewalk closer to the traffic stop to continue filming, they were arrested. The charges against Walker and Shukur soon were dropped, with the city issuing a formal apology to Walker, which he promptly rejected.
Best actual event that sounds like the setup for a joke
During a July 14 tornado warning in Pulaski County, former President Bill Clinton, former President George W. Bush, and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who were in town for an event at the Clinton Presidential Center, all sought shelter in the basement of Little Rock Central High School.
Best evidence that the author’s mother (and likely yours, too, if you grew up in Arkansas) should be in the state pen
In June, a 70-year-old Hot Springs grandmother was arrested for allegedly cutting a switch from a backyard bush and using it to whoop her 12-year-old granddaughter, causing what investigators said were visible whelps on the girl’s arm. The grandmother, who reportedly told investigators she used the switch on the girl for “talking back,” was charged with one count of second-degree domestic battery. The charges were later dropped.
In July, the Pine Bluff City Council unanimously voted to rescind the medals of valor awarded to members of the Pine Bluff Police Department SWAT team for a September 2013 incident in which they stormed the bedroom of a 107-year-old man who was holed up inside with a gun and shot him to death.
In October, former District Judge Joseph Boeckmann, 70, of Wynne, who had stepped down from the bench in May following the announcement of a judicial conduct investigation, was indicted on 21 federal counts, including wire fraud, bribery and witness tampering, in connection with allegations that Boeckmann gave light sentences and cash payments to offenders who came before his bench in exchange for voyeuristic photos and sexual and sadomasochistic favors.
Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission Deputy Executive Director Emily White, whose dogged, monthslong investigation into the Boeckmann case put an end to what Boeckmann’s alleged victims say was decades of the powerful former judge and prosecutor preying on vulnerable defendants.
In August, a Facebook post by Little Rock resident Jesse Newton — in which he detailed the horrors wrought to his home after a semi-autonomous Roomba vacuum robot ran over a pile of dog shit in the middle of the night while his family was asleep — went viral, and was shared over 360,000 times.
“If the unthinkable does happen, and your Roomba runs over dog poop, stop it immediately and do not let it continue the cleaning cycle. Because if that happens, it will spread the dog poop over every conceivable surface within its reach, resulting in a home that closely resembles a Jackson Pollock poop painting. It will be on your floorboards. It will be on your furniture legs. It will be on your carpets. It will be on your rugs. It will be on your kids’ toy boxes. If it’s near the floor, it will have poop on it …”
Best reason to consider bringing back public drawing and quartering
In August, police in Hot Springs arrested a woman and her boyfriend on multiple charges after allegedly finding a 4-year-old girl covered in bruises and tied to a bed with zip strips, with police saying that when officers asked the little girl what her name was, she replied “Idiot.”
In August, Central Arkansas champion for the homeless Aaron Reddin said in a Facebook post that the Compassion Center, a shelter in Little Rock, had allegedly evicted a man because he wouldn’t stop crying.
On Sept. 28, the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department closed Little Rock’s Broadway Bridge, a major artery for traffic across the Arkansas River, for six months so it could be demolished and replaced.
Best ‘There She Is’
In September, 21-year-old University of Arkansas student Savvy Shields won the crown of Miss America 2017.
Worst truth is more horrible than fiction
In October, a man who had been an avid fan of AMC’s zombie horror show “The Walking Dead” was put on trial in Jonesboro for the July 2015 murder of his 90-year-old neighbor, with the jury hearing a taped confession in which the man allegedly told police he was preparing for the zombie apocalypse and the woman was the “closest thing” he could find to one of the living dead.
In October, hundreds of Little Rockians turned out for the scheduled explosive demolition of the Broadway Bridge, only to watch as a series of controlled blasts failed to cut the 93-year-old span, leaving it still standing but too weakened for engineers to safely climb aboard and set new charges for a do-over. Four hours later, workers finally managed, on the seventh try, to coax the old girl into the river using two large towboats and a long length of cable.
In the short time the bridge stood defiant, someone started a Twitter feed in the voice of the bridge, with tweets including a short clip from “Jaws” containing the famous phrase “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
Best blind justice
In March, U.S. District Judge Brian Miller sentenced former Faulkner County Circuit Judge Mike Maggio, who had earlier pleaded guilty to taking a bribe to reduce the award in a 2013 nursing home negligence case, to the maximum 10-year penalty, with Miller saying: “I put drug dealers in prison for five, 10, 20 years for standing on a corner selling crack cocaine. … A dirty judge is far more harmful to society than a dope dealer.” Maggio has filed an appeal in the case.
Second best blind justice
In November, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that former Stone County Jail Administrator Randel Branscum, 56, had been sentenced to a year in federal prison after arranging the beating of an inmate at the jail by other prisoners.
Worst rootin’ tootin’
In March, Pulaski County Sheriff Doc Holladay defended his decision to spend $26,000 in taxpayer funds to outfit deputies with Resistol and Stetson cowboy hats, with Holladay noting that other law enforcement agencies in Central Arkansas have hats and his deputies wanted hats of their own.
Second best Fayetteville
In preparation for a Nov. 29 runoff election for a seat on the Fayetteville City Council, Republican Tracy Hoskins, who described himself as a candidate who hoped to provide “balance” to the council, sent out a campaign flyer that included picturesque views of Fayetteville. The one in North Carolina. He lost.
In December, a girls volleyball coach at Westside High School in Jonesboro resigned after it came to light she had encouraged members of her team to mix a highly caffeinated powder sold under the brand name “C4” into their water bottles before games. The product, which was labeled for use by adults only, reportedly left players feeling shaky, hyper and jittery.