Top 8 in Region 8: a look back at the stories that made headlines in 2013

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - From coaching searches to stories that normally happen in movies, Region 8 saw a lot of big headlines throughout the year.

On New Year's Day, we take a look back at the top eight stories in Region 8 over 2013.

Tragedy struck two Region 8 towns in the same fashion after girls reported missing were later found dead.

In March, 14-year-old Walnut Ridge resident Sidney Randall was reported missing. The sole suspect in her disappearance, her step-father John Cornell. He was found dead hours later from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

Hundreds of volunteers dedicated weeks of searching for the girl who was eventually found in May by a local fisherman along the Black River in Randolph County.

Autopsy results revealed Cornell had abused Sidney and that she died of blunt force trauma to the head.

In August, an 11-year-old Gosnell girl went missing from her home. Jessica Williams' dog lead searchers to her body in a ditch near Big Lake. Police then arrested her teenaged neighbor, Christopher Sowell.

Sowell told police he strangled the girl after getting angry with her. Her autopsy revealed she did die of strangulation and drowning.

Those weren't the only crime-related stories to top our newscasts. A four month investigation by the Jonesboro Police Department led to over a dozen arrests in April.

The men were arrested on rape and/or child porn charges involving the same 12 year old girl after a forensic investigation turned up mountains of evidence of those alleged crimes.

The girl's mother was later arrested for permitting abuse of a minor, meaning she knew what was going on.

Another story to garner a lot of attention in Region 8 revolved around Larry Barnett. Police say Barnett accidentally called his former employee while he was plotting to have him killed. The intended target overheard the murder for hire and hours after the plot was made, the victim's gas stove had been tampered with.

Barnett also faces charges for felony forgery. Police say the used car dealer faked vehicle identification numbers to get more money from his bank.

Those cases are on-going.

In politics, Paul Bookout made news after an ethics commission fined him for spending campaign money for personal use. Reports indicated that while his campaign raised $63,000, he only used $10,000 of that legitimately.

The remainder of that money went to things like expensive clothing, home theatre equipment and food and alcohol. The election to fill Bookout's now empty seat will be held January 14.

In education, changes to insurance in 2014 concerned many public school employees. Plans were said to jump anywhere between 20% and 400% by January 1. For months, school employees and state officials met to find a solution. A special session was held at the state capitol where legislators kept the increases from sky-rocketing and created a task force to look at long-term fixes to the insurance program.

In weather, a Halloween night tornado ripped through the town of Caraway. No deaths and only a few injuries were reported even though there were many children trick-or-treating when the twister touched down.

Rounding out our top 8 stories covered in Region 8 in 2013: The ASU Football Program.

ASU said goodbye to Bryan Harsin, hello to Blake Anderson and sent the football Red Wolves to Mobile for the third consecutive year for the Go Daddy Bowl.

These are just a handful of the top stories Region 8 covered in 2013.

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