New evidence postpones 1st trial in 1998 murder

Thomas Lee Wortham
Thomas Lee Wortham
Wallace Wade Brasel
Wallace Wade Brasel

New evidence that surfaced Friday has postponed the trial of the first defendant for an 18-year-old murder. 47-year-old Thomas Lee “Tommy” Wortham was scheduled to stand trial Monday for the Aug. 20, 1998, shooting death of Eric Baxter. But at a hearing in Dickson County Circuit Court Monday, Judge David Wolfe granted a motion to continue Wortham’s trial. More than 200 potential jurors had been summoned for the trial that is expected to last a week and will have a sequestered jury. Wolfe said he was notified Saturday that new evidence “was just delivered” to the district attorney’s office Friday and made available to defense attorney Mike Flanagan Saturday morning. In a conference call with both sides Saturday, Wolfe said he “had no choice” but to grant the defense’s unopposed motion to continue the trial and wanted to make the decision Saturday to head off 260 potential jurors. Assistant district attorneys Margaret Sagi and Dani Bryson declined to comment on the new evidence following Monday’s brief hearing. Wolfe rescheduled Wortham’s trial for Feb. 21, which is the date originally scheduled for the trial of his half-brother and co-defendant, 58-year-old Wallace Wade “Wally” Brasel. Wortham and Brasel originally were scheduled to stand trial together in August, but the trials were delayed when Wolfe agreed to separate them. District Attorney Ray Crouch Jr. chose to try Wortham first and his trial was scheduled for Dec. 5 while Brasel was set Feb. 21. With the DA still wanting to try Wortham first, Wolfe said there is not a week available for the trial prior to Feb. 21, so he moved Wortham’s trial to that date and said a new date will have to be found for Brasel’s trial. Wortham and Brasel are charged with first-degree murder and two counts of felony murder each. 32-year-old Baxter was found shot to death in the Jones Creek Road home he shared with his mother, Joy Marsh. Wortham had leased a convenience store from the family’s corporation and had unsuccessfully sued the company when it refused to sell him the market after he missed a scheduled deadline. The indictment alleges Wortham and Brasel planned to kill Marsh also, but she was not home and discovered her son’s body when she returned from out of town. The investigation continued for 17 years and was featured on the TNT program “Cold Justice.” That program pointed suspicion at Wortham, who is a former investigator with the Hickman County Sheriff’s Office. Wortham was indicted in October 2015 and then named in a superseding indictment in April that added Brasel as a co-defendant. Brasel remains in the Cheatham County Jail and Wortham in the Dickson County Jail on $350,000 bond each. Wolfe set a hearing for Friday on another motion to reduce Wortham’s bond.

Mathis postpones vote on park conversion application

Burns Municipal Court Judge David Brogdon (back to camera) administers the oath of office to commissioners (left to right) Jerry Perella, Valton Potter, Wayne Lomax and Ed 'Shot' Grove.
Burns Municipal Court Judge David Brogdon (back to camera) administers the oath of office to commissioners (left to right) Jerry Perella, Valton Potter, Wayne Lomax and Ed ‘Shot’ Grove.
Landon Mathis (left) is sworn in for his third term as mayor by Burns Municipal Court Judge David Brogdon.
Landon Mathis (left) is sworn in for his third term as mayor by Burns Municipal Court Judge David Brogdon.

As he started his third term Monday night, Burns Mayor Landon Mathis recommended the Board of Commissioners wait another month before making a decision on whether to apply to the state for permission to sell the town’s unfinished park. Following last month’s election, Mathis and the four commissioners took the oath of office from Burns Municipal Court Judge David Brogdon at the start of Monday night’s meeting to begin their two-year terms. While incumbents Ed “Shot” Grove, Jerry Perella and Valton Potter return to the board, Wayne Lomax was sworn in as a new member and Mathis said he wants to give him time to get up to speed on the park proposal. A private company has offered to buy the park next door to Stuart-Burns Elementary School for $1.2 million with plans to construct a training facility for travel baseball and softball teams and to host tournaments. But attorney Tim Potter reminded the board Monday that when the town received Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation grant funds to purchase the property and construct the park, it agreed to a “notice of limited use” that requires the property be used strictly as a municipally owned recreational space. TDEC’s Gerald Parish told the board last month that it could apply to convert the property in order to sell it, but to do so must obtain new property and construct a recreational facility of equal or greater fair market value than the current park. To start the process, the town must complete an extensive application and submit a $10,000 non-refundable fee just to have it considered and Potter said there will be some legal expenses in preparing the application. While Potter said there is nothing requiring the town to take immediate action on the proposal, the development company might want some indication whether its offer is being considered. “The only practical consideration might be that you do have interested buyers. And by taking action you’re letting them know something to the extent that you think you need to do that. It might be something the mayor could merely communicate to them by phone,” Potter said. At a special meeting last month, Potter suggested the developers be asked if they are willing to wait as much as a year that it could take for the conversion process to be completed. At Monday night’s meeting, there was nothing said about whether that question has been asked. Mathis said there is a possibility that the buyers could donate the cost of the conversion process. “But that’s something we’d have to discuss with them. That way, you know, it’s a crap shoot. Why should the town pay for it? We shouldn’t. It’s a land deal,” Mathis said. The mayor said he wants to put the decision on the January agenda for the commission to revisit it at that time. Meanwhile, the board authorized Mathis and Potter to execute an agreed order with TDEC regarding a notice of violation the town received for the park more than a year ago. Last month the commission voted to hire James+Associates to develop a corrective action plan to address erosion problems on the park property. Potter said the agreed order will give Burns time to develop its plan to address the issue, which has caused TDEC to withhold the last $63,000 reimbursement for the park grant.

Work on county library expected to start Thursday

A section of the library extension wall fell over Nov. 20. (photo courtesy UT Extension-Dickson County Facebook page)
A section of the library extension wall fell over Nov. 20. (photo courtesy UT Extension-Dickson County Facebook page)

The Dickson County Library and Life-long Learning Center will remain closed this week with work expected to start on making it safe to re-open. At Monday night’s Dickson County Commission work session, Mayor Bob Rial said Nashville-based engineering firm HDR Inc. has been contracted to assess the 43-year-old building on Henslee Drive after a concrete exterior wall panel fell Nov. 20. The mayor said the immediate goal is to ensure the building is safe. “The first solution is to make sure the building is safe to enter again before we allow anyone, the employees or any customers, in there,” Rial said. The mayor said barriers have been put up to create a “fall area” in case another of the panels comes loose. The preliminary engineering plans for securing the building are expected to be completed Wednesday and Rial said work could begin as early as Thursday. The library announced Monday on its Facebook page that it will remain closed through Dec. 10 and Rial said Monday night he hopes the library can re-open in the next week to week and a half. Once steps have been taken to ensure the building is safe, Rial said the engineers will review the entire facility and he will come back to the commission with proposals on “how to make the building whole again.” The library and all offices within the building, including the UT Extension, have been closed since Nov. 21. With its book return also closed for safety reasons, the library is waiving all late fees for items that cannot be returned while the building is closed. The UT Extension agents are working from their homes to maintain the various programs and can be reached by email or through the UT Extension-Dickson County page on Facebook. Built in 1973 as a directory assistance call center for South Central Bell, the county bought the building in 2002 for $1.4 million.

DCHS opens at home while CWHS faces district battle

Dickson County High School plays its first home games of the basketball season while Creek Wood hosts a district doubleheader tonight. Dickson County hosts Spring Hill in a non-district doubleheader starting at 6 pm. After last week’s regular season opener against Harpeth was canceled due to the death of former coach Kevin Tuck, the Cougars and Lady Cougars were on the road for a pair of losses at Rossview Friday. Dickson County will begin District 11-AAA action Friday hosting Franklin. Creek Wood returns to Charlotte for a 6 pm District 11-AA matchup with Fairview. The Red Hawks and Lady Red Hawks swept a district doubleheader from Stewart County and then split on the road at Camden Friday with the girls getting a big win. Dickson County-Spring Hill will be live on WDKN, wdkn.com and the WDKN app. Creek Wood-Fairview will be on 101.5 The One FM, 1015theone.com and The One FM app. Coverage for both doubleheaders begins with the A-1 Signs Pregame Show at 5:45.

Man suspected of stealing donations for fire victims

Image from security video at Camino Real allegedly shows a man identified as Aaron Gooch stealing a jar of donations for last week's fire victims.
Image from security video at Camino Real allegedly shows a man identified as Aaron Gooch stealing a jar of donations for last week’s fire victims.
Aaron Gooch
Aaron Gooch
Aaron Gooch
Aaron Gooch

Police are looking for a man suspected of stealing donations for the family of last week’s fire victim. As public outrage spread on social media over the weekend, a local attorney has pledged to match up to $5,000 donated for the victims this week. The Dickson Police Department says theft warrants have been issued for Aaron Gooch of Vanleer. Gooch is accused of stealing a jar of cash donations from the front counter at Camino Real Mexican Restaurant in Dickson. Restaurant employees put the jar out to accept donations for the family of 18-year-old Nadia Lizbeth Garcia, who died in last week’s fire at the Sam’s Townhomes on Spring Street. Her father and brother were injured in the fire that displaced 50 people from 17 units early Tuesday morning. A 2016 graduate of Dickson County High School where she played soccer, Miss Garcia was working at Camino Real to save money to go to Middle Tennessee State University. Employees at the restaurant say Gooch tried to pay for his meal with a stolen credit card last week and then walked out the front door after grabbing the donation jar and hiding it under a coat. There also are reports Gooch is wanted in Montgomery County for stealing a car and the Dickson County Sheriff’s Office has warrants charging Gooch with forging and cashing two checks stolen from a local home improvement company. “The events of the past 24 hours concerning Aaron Gooch are under investigation,” says a Saturday post on the Dickson Police Department’s Facebook page. Anyone with information on his whereabouts is asked to call the department at 615-446-8041 extension 4 or the anonymous tip line at 615-441-9555. As word of the donation theft spread, Dickson attorney Eric Thornton informed the restaurant he will match up to $5,000 that is donated for the family this week. “Let’s not let this one bad actor ruin your efforts to help these families. I will be happy to help recover the donations,” Thornton says in a message to Camino Real’s Maria Lopez that was posted on Facebook. The cause of Tuesday’s fire remains under investigation. The American Red Cross, Dickson County Help Center and other agencies continue to work with the families displaced in the fire. An account for donations to the Garcia family also has been established at TriStar Bank.

New Burns terms start with possible vote on selling park

The mayor and Burns Board of Commissioners will begin their new terms tonight faced with a possible decision on whether to initiate the process of selling the unfinished municipal park. Mayor Landon Mathis and Commissioners Ed “Shot” Grove, Jerry Perella, Valton Potter and Wayne Lomax will take the oath of office to begin their two-year terms from Burns Municipal Judge David Brogdan after winning last month’s election. Mathis and Grove are beginning their third terms, Perella his second, Potter his first full term and Lomax is new to the commission after long-time member Chris Holland did not seek re-election. At a special meeting last month, the commission voted to hire engineers James+Associates to develop a plan to address erosion problems at the park next door to Stuart-Burns Elementary School on Highway 96. The board also heard from Gerald Parish, the director of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s Recreation Education Service, on the process it must follow to consider selling the property to a private investor who wants to build a training facility. Because the park was built with TDEC grants, the town must submit a conversion application to get permission to sell it. Parish said the conversion process includes a non-refundable $10,000 application fee and the town must obtain and develop new property that will be of equal value to the facility it is planning to sell. The conversion application process could take as much as a year to get approval. Parish said an appraisal will determine the value of the park property and improvements and Burns must demonstrate a plan to obtain property that is either of equal value or obtain property and plan improvements that will be of equal value. He said the town cannot use existing property. At the Nov. 16 meeting, Burns attorney Tim Potter said there also will be considerable legal expenses in preparing the conversion application. Potter said the town should first contact the developers interested in buying the property to see if they will wait as much as a year. He suggested the board could vote on whether to proceed with the conversion process at tonight’s meeting. The Burns Board of Commissioners meets at 7 pm in Burns Town Hall.

Commission to discuss abolishing road commission

The Dickson County Commission will get an update on the county library and discuss the possibility of abolishing the Dickson County Road Commission at its work session tonight. The commission’s Judicial Committee will meet to review applicants for the 10 judicial commissioner positions for the next two years with plans to make a recommendation at the regular session in two weeks. The Dickson County Library and Life-long Learning Center has been closed since Nov. 21 after a section of exterior wall fell over. The county has been having a structural engineer review the integrity of the remaining wall sections as well as the cover over the rear entrance of the 43-year-old building. No official announcement about when the library will re-open has been made and its sign says the building is closed until further notice. On its Facebook page, the library says its book drop also is closed but late fees are being waived for any materials that cannot be returned while the building is shut down. The agenda for tonight’s work session includes an update on the library status from Mayor Bob Rial. Also on the agenda is a proposal by Commissioner Shane Chandler to abolish the six-member road commission. In discussion on accepting a road into the county system at last month’s meeting, Road Superintendent Jerry Burgess said the proposal had not been approved by the road commission because it had not had enough members show up to have a quorum at recent meetings. In 2014, Dickson County reduced its road commission from 12 members to six, using the same combined districts that are used for constables and school board members. Only one district saw a contested race and two districts only had write-in candidates. Under the current system of county government, the road commission has little authority. It serves to review road conditions in each member’s district and make recommendations to the road superintendent, but has no authority to direct him on projects since he is popularly elected. The county commission has final approval on accepting roads into the county system and over the highway department’s budget. The current members of the road commission are Ben Regen (1st Road District), Kenneth Edmisson (2nd Road District), Austin Potter (3rd Road District), Clay Simpkins (5th Road District) and Orval “Bubba” Sesler (6th Road District). Fifth Road District Commissioner John D. Baggett died in September and has not been replaced. The current road commission terms expire in 2018. The agenda for Monday night’s work session also includes quarterly financial reports, budget amendments, discussion on a loan to buy an ambulance, discussion on the county’s commercial tipping fees at the landfill and a proposal to reduce the speed limit on Old Highway 47. The commission’s Judicial Committee meets at 6:30 in the conference room and the commission’s work session is at 7 pm.

Lady Red Hawks crush Camden 73-34, Lions rally

Creek Wood’s Lady Red Hawks crushed Camden 73-34 on the road Friday while the Red Hawks were “Vick-timized” by the Lions’ second-half comeback. The Lady Lions were over-matched from the beginning as Creek Wood jumped ahead 20-4 in the first quarter and 50-9 by halftime. Julie Nunnemaker came off the bench for seven points in the first period while Taylor Moore, Raegan Hohl and Elayna Gass were on target from long range. The margin grew to 64-20 by the end of the third and put the mercy rule into effect for the rest of Creek Wood’s 39-point win. Moore hit 3 treys in her 16 points, Hohl scored 14 with 4 treys. Gass had 3 from beyond the arc and Nunnemaker sank 1 as both finished with 11 points. For the Red Hawks, it was a tale of two halves in a 67-44 loss. Creek Wood held a 26-22 lead at halftime as Coulter Dotson had 14 points and Camden’s Tennessee Tech signee Hunter Vick was held without a point. But in the second half Camden mashed the accelerator and Vick exploded for 18 points in the third as the Lions took control 45-36. Camden kept the pressure up as Vick and Diego Womack led a second-half surge on the way to a 67-44 victory in the District 11-AA doubleheader. Vick finished with 24, all in the second half, and Womack 21. Dotson had a game-high 25 including 3 three-pointers, but was the only Red Hawk in double digits and scored 11 of his team’s 18 second-half points. Creek Wood returns to Charlotte Tuesday to host Fairview.

Rossview rallies for pair of wins over Dickson County

In their first action since the sudden death of coach Kevin Tuck, the Dickson County Cougars and Lady Cougars dropped a doubleheader at Rossview Friday night. Tuck coached the Cougars for 15 years before retiring in 2013 and had returned this season as an assistant coach for the Lady Cougars before a heart issue claimed his life last week. The Lady Cougars used back-to-back three-pointers by Cierra Smith for a 17-10 lead in the first period and pushed the margin to 8 points in the second. But the Lady Hawks chipped away at the lead and hit 4 free throws down the stretch to push ahead 31-28 at the half. After three ties early in the third, Karie Pace hit a three-pointer that gave Rossview an 8-point lead. Kailey Rosenbaum returned from foul trouble to spark Dickson County with 4 points in the fourth but Rossview held on for the 60-52 win. Emily Beard led Dickson County with 16 points and Rosenbaum had 13. The Cougars also had a first-half lead but a 17-3 Rossview run put the Hawks ahead at intermission 33-26. Dickson County pulled within 2 points three times in the third before Rossview put the game away by building a 20-point lead in the fourth on the way to a 74-57 victory. Demontez Coleman led Dickson County with 14 points and Darian Burns scored 10. Dickson County will play its home opener with a visit from Spring Hill Tuesday.

Vaughn gets 8 years for 3 robberies, police pursuit

Sherrick Markey Vaughn
Sherrick Markey Vaughn

A Charlotte man charged in a crime spree that includes three robberies and a chase across half of Dickson County has been sentenced to eight years in prison. 27-year-old Sherrick Markey Vaughn of Colliers Bend Road pleaded no contest to a variety of charges recently in Dickson County Circuit Court. The result of the plea agreement entered Nov. 18 is that Vaughn received an effective sentence of eight years of which he must serve 85 percent before being eligible for release. He was given credit for the almost 700 days he has been in jail since his March 21, 2015, arrest following a police pursuit. After Vaughn refused to swear to God that he would tell the truth at his hearing, Judge Larry Wallace instructed him to “affirm” his statements are true under oath, which Vaughn did. Vaughn pleaded no contest to aggravated assault for the Oct. 11, 2014, slashing of a man who said he was lured to a local hotel for sex and marijuana. Oscar Lopez said Alicia Hodges took him to the hotel and set up a fake marijuana deal in which Hodges’ sister Dusty Rose Lewis and Vaughn showed up and stole his wallet. During the incident, Vaughn slashed Lopez several times on the face and arms. Vaughn was sentenced to three years. Vaughn pleaded no contest to charges of aggravated robbery and theft for a March 12, 2015, robbery in which he stole a pistol and $100 and struck the victim in the face. He was sentenced to eight years on the robbery charge and 11 months 29 days for theft to be served concurrently with each other and concurrently with the assault sentence. Vaughn pleaded no contest to aggravated robbery for a March 18, 2015, home invasion in which he entered a home wearing a mask and armed with a shotgun and stole a safe with $300 and a watch from a Dickson couple. He was sentenced to eight years in prison to be concurrent with the other sentences. Vaughn pleaded no contest to a charge of evading arrest for the March 21, 2015, police pursuit from Tennessee City through downtown Dickson. A Dickson County Sheriff’s Office deputy received a tip and spotted Vaughn in the Garner’s Creek Road area and began a pursuit in which other officers joined. A Dickson Police Department officer used spike strips on Pond Road to flatten all four tires of Vaughn’s car but he continued driving through downtown before he was surrounded and arrested in the intersection of College Street and Mathis Drive. He was sentenced to two years to be concurrent to the other sentences. In the plea agreement, the state dismissed charges of driving on a revoked license third offense, reckless endangerment for trying to ram two patrol cars during the pursuit, failure to appear in court, aggravated assault, vandalism, aggravated burglary and attempted aggravated robbery. With an eight-year sentence to be served at 85 percent and credit for 694 days in jail, Vaughn could be eligible for release in just under five years.