Breaking News
More () »

Year in Review: East Tennessee's biggest stories of 2022

From a historic Tennessee Football season to paid parking in the Smokies, here are some of East Tennessee's biggest stories from 2022 that had people talking.


Wildfires Devastate Wears Valley

Late March and early April brought dangerous wildfires to Sevier County in Wears Valley and Seymour. Compared to the devastating wildfires of November 2016, the area proved it was better prepared

The winter had been abnormally dry and windy at times in East Tennessee -- leading to small brush fires sparking up in Wears Valley earlier in the winter and larger wildfires in the Cherokee National Forest and Great Smoky Mountains National Park

On March 30, 2022, strong winds blew across the region, knocking over power lines and creating 'red flag' conditions. By the afternoon, a fire had begun burning out of control on Hatcher Mountain in Wears Valley, prompting evacuations.

The response from firefighters across the area grew stronger in line with the stronger winds. Through the night, several small fires popped up in surrounding areas near Gatlinburg. Those fires were quickly put out, but in a rural section near Seymour -- another large fire sparked up in the area of Millstone Gap Road.

Thankfully, no one died in the fires. However, hundreds of properties were razed to the ground or damaged after the Wears Valley fire spread to nearly 2,500 acres of land. Firefighters put their lives on the line to hold the flames back as more people evacuated, leading to several close calls during the first few nights.

Refugees from Ukraine Flee to East Tennessee

On Feb. 24, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine following several weeks of rising tensions between the two countries and international attempts to prevent a war.

As of December, the war continues. It's confirmed at least 6,800 civilians have died since the attack began and more than 10,000 have been injured, according to the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner on Dec. 19. The U.N. office said it believes the true number of casualties to be "considerably higher" because many reports in the hardest hit areas are still pending confirmation.

The war has led to millions of Ukrainian citizens fleeing their country to seek safety. East Tennessee has stepped up to help in several ways, including traveling across the world to provide aid to the country and taking in refugees.

"The amount of help we have received has been overwhelming and unbelievable and we will be forever thankful for that," Julie Tryukhan, who came to Knoxville from Kyiv, said. "In fact, I feel lucky that we are here because not everybody got a chance to get out."

Historic Season for the Vols

Alabama was taken down, the goalposts went into the river, and the Tennessee Vols were number one in the country for the first time since 1998. For Volunteer fans, this year was one for the history books.

The Vols posted their best football season in quite some time, energizing the Big Orange fanbase and rebuilding hopes that the Vols might soon be contenders for a National Championship after many disappointing seasons.

The Vols finished regular season play as the No. 6 team in the country after posting an impressive 10 wins and two losses -- their best regular season finish in nearly two decades. The last time the Vols had a 10-win regular season was back in 2003, and the last time the Vols posted 10 wins overall -- including the postseason -- was back in 2007 after they won the Outback Bowl.

As of the time this was written, the Vols were still getting ready to play in the Orange Bowl against Clemson. If Tennessee wins, it would mark their first 11-win season since 2001.

A Year of Issues With Greyhound

One story that made headlines consistently across 2022 ended up being the issues surrounding Greyhound buses in Knoxville.

Back in March, Knoxville's only Greyhound station on Magnolia Avenue was sold, which left riders wondering where they could go to catch a bus out of town. Each month that followed saw the company mired in controversy after riders were left out in the elements, sometimes stranded for long periods in the summer heat or during storms because of "unexpected" cancellations. 

After closing its station, Greyhound moved to a bus stop at the Marathon Gas Station on Cherry Street. People raised concerns about the safety of the stop due to a lack of security and shelter. The city said it was not an "optimal place" for bus riders, but little was offered in the way of solutions outside using KAT's downtown transportation center during nighttime hours when city buses aren't operating. No deal was reached.

In October, the gas station terminated its agreement with Greyhound after months of controversy.

"They leave them stranded with nothing," said Trisha Harshaw, the manager of that Marathon gas station.

Greyhound moved to another convenience store in Old North Knoxville at the 6th Avenue Market Deli in October. That move was short-lived because the city stepped in and made it known the location wasn't zoned for a commercial bus stop.

In November, Greyhound moved its stop to East Knoxville at 100-110 Kirwood Street. The city criticized the move because passengers were still left waiting in the elements, often without any bearing of where they were.

"And you know, it was kind of a confusing moment because, you know, I was in the middle of somewhere I didn't know where I was at," said passenger Marcus Taylor. "You need to treat your customers better than this."

The city is taking up the issue, exploring administrative and legislative changes to ensure Greyhound doesn't impede KAT buses as well as hold them to "a higher standard of customer service."

'Crisis-Level' Issues Identified at DCS

It was a rough year at the Tennessee Department of Children's Services. Lawmakers and state organizations brought to light "crisis-level" issues facing the organization that could be putting children in need in danger. 

Lawmakers called the situation dire in October after reporting that children awaiting DCS placement were sleeping on the floors of government office buildings and other temporary settings.

In December, the State Comptroller's Office released an audit of the Department of Children's Services that found "crisis-level" staffing and placement shortages.

The audit noted DCS case manager caseloads have increased by nearly 63% since Aug. 2020 amid "alarming" levels of turnover in the past two years, saying in some cases support services weren't provided to children. In particular, the audit revealed 97% of new case manager hires left in 2021, meaning DCS was unable to retain the vast majority of its new recruits. 

DCS concurred with the findings, saying it's part of a larger shortage of social workers in the U.S.  

Deadly Fire Destroys Businesses in Downtown Gatlinburg

On the morning of Sunday, Oct. 9, a large fire consumed a cluster of businesses in downtown Gatlinburg, killing one person.

The fire broke out inside a suite in the block that housed China Bazaar, Puckers Sports Gill, and other businesses. The businesses were reduced to smoldering debris by Monday when demolition crews tore down what remained of the damaged commercial center. 

Inside the building, fire crews found the burned body of Joe Martin Bates once they were able to get close enough to inspect. Bates, well-known in the neighborhood and homeless, was inside the building when the fire started. Crews said a cleaner at the nearby Loco Burro restaurant had seen him inside the empty room where the fire started that morning, yelling at him to get out of there.

Investigators said he walked out to the Parkway and down to the front on the Parkway side, but returned soon after without the cleaner's knowledge. Crews found his body lying on the floor of Suite 4. 

In December, the Gatlinburg Fire Department said it determined the fire had been accidentally started when Bates set a "warming fire" inside the empty suite early Sunday morning.

Loudon County Deputy Killed and Two Charged After I-75 Crash

On Feb. 3, Sgt. Chris Jenkins with the Loudon County Sheriff's Office stopped his cruiser on Interstate 75 to remove a ladder that was blocking traffic. A tractor-trailer came from behind and hit him, tragically ending his life and devastating the community. 

Jenkins left behind his wife and two kids, including a son who was also a Loudon Co. patrol deputy. 

“Dad you were and still are my Superman,” Clay Jenkins said at his father's memorial service. "Wearing this uniform is the most honorable thing I’ve ever done in my life."

Two people were charged in Jenkins' death. The first was the semi-truck driver from Texas, Christopher Savannah. The LCSO said he was under the influence at the time of the crash and charged him with vehicular homicide, DUI, and other crimes. In August, a grand jury indicted Savannah on the charges. He pleaded not guilty and is currently scheduled to face trial on May 10, 2023. 

The second was the Loudon County man suspected of dropping the ladder that blocked traffic on I-75, Sonny Beason. The LCSO said the ladder was not secured to his utility truck and charged him with three counts of reckless endangerment and driving on a suspended license.

Pay to Park: Sweeping Changes in the Great Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2022 announced one of the biggest changes in its 88-year history: It will be charging people to park in the park starting March 1, 2023.

The GSMNP announced the "Park it Forward" plan in April before taking public comments throughout the year. Until the changes take effect next year, the GSMNP has never charged so much as a penny for people to visit the park or park despite continued record-breaking visitation numbers each year. People can still visit and drive through the park for free when paid parking goes into effect, but vehicles parked for more than 15 minutes will be required to have a parking tag.  

In December, GSMNP Superintendent Cassius Cash said the park had received responses from nearly 3,700 people across the U.S., with the vast majority expressing support for the idea in order to fund the most popular national park in America. He said people in East Tennessee and Western North Carolina were especially supportive. 

Still, about 15% of people who responded were upset by the change.

"For some, this fee program conflicts with personal beliefs, as well as beliefs that have been handed down from past generations who sold their lands to create the park. We heard you," he said. "Those moments weighed heavily on me. But let me share with you what weighed even heavier on my soul: my duty to ensure this park is protected; to ensure our employees have the tools to do their jobs; and to ensure the visitors of tomorrow have this sacred place to explore."

The "Park it Forward" program will begin on March 1, 2023. Annual tags will be available for $40, but people can alternatively purchase a daily tag for $5 or a weekly tag for $15. 

The tags will be available for purchase in 2023. The park said people should keep an eye on this website when those become available.

V-O-L-S: Big Changes at Neyland Stadium

Neyland Stadium underwent some big changes in 2022, including bringing back a familiar feature that had been absent for more than a decade.

The University of Tennessee began renovations at the stadium earlier in the year, transforming some sections to give them more luxurious features ahead of the 2022 season.

The first part of the renovation includes club-level seats close to the field. UT added more comfortable and larger seats including access to a field-level club area with concessions and bathrooms. On the north side of the stadium, they also added a standing room section with a 360-degree bar.  

New video boards in the stadium are some of the brightest in college football, UT says. 

Finally, UT brought back the iconic V-O-L-S letterboard signs at the top of the stadium. The original signs that had been there for decades had been removed in 2009 to make way for a JumboTron.

UT has more renovations in store during the second phase of the project, saying it would like to add Wi-Fi to the stadium, add restrooms and upgrade some of the concourses. Those modifications could begin in 2023.

Two Killed After Shooting at Fountain City Bar

Hatmaker's Bar and Grill in Fountain City became the site of a deadly shooting in April, leaving two people dead and two others wounded.

The Knoxville Police Department responded to the bar on the night of April 29. Two men -- Knoxville resident Kenneth Burgett, 46, and Harrogate resident Patrick Petty, 30 -- died in a shooting in the parking lot of Hatmaker's Bar and Grill. 

Police said there was a fight in the parking lot when shots were fired. According to KPD, those involved in the shooting were part of two motorcycle clubs, the Outlaw Motorcycle Club and the Pagans Motorcycle Club.

No suspects were taken into custody. According to the Knox County District Attorney General's Office, the investigation is still open.

In August, the Knoxville Beer Board revoked the bar's beer license after the city submitted a formal non-compliance complaint in July. The city requested the Beer Board revoke Hatmaker's Bar and Grill's beer permit because the owners allowed "the establishment to be operated in a disorderly manner," the complaint said.  

In September, Hatmaker's was granted a Writ of Certiorari in Knox County Chancery Court, which temporarily allowed it to serve beer again until its case can be heard. 

Chelsie Walker Found Dead in Madisonville

On Oct. 29, 24-year-old Chelsie Walker disappeared after going to a Madisonville Walmart. On Nov. 6, detectives from the Madisonville Police Department and the Monroe County Sheriff's Office found her remains in a remote area. 

Miranda Waller, a longtime friend of Walker from high school and church, said that Walker had a personality that would light up every room. 

"She was a very outgoing and bright, bubbly, smiley person," Waller said. "Chelsie was known for making you feel comfortable and real sweet."

Walker was known in the community for her helping hand. She worked at the Madisonville Walmart, where she would frequently interact with her community as she would assist them.

During the investigation into her disappearance, officers said she had left the Walmart with another man on Oct. 29. Walker's vehicle was found abandoned in the store's parking lot. 

Two people suspected of being involved during her disappearance were taken into custody, MPD said. According to an affidavit filed in Monroe County General Sessions Court, a man named Andrew Young is facing a charge related to the case: fraudulent use of a debit card. He is also facing multiple methamphetamine charges, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Deputies said Walker was seen getting into a vehicle with another man, who they identified as Hayden Millsaps. The deputy spoke with Millsaps, who said he picked Walker up and they went to Young's home on Sawmill Road in Tellico Plains. According to the MCSO, Millsaps was arrested and has charges pending that are unrelated to Walker's death.

Teen Loses Job at McAlister's After KCSO Sparks Public Controversy

An interaction between Knox County deputies and a 15-year-old created controversy online, leading to the teen being fired from her job

In November, the Knox County Sheriff's Office publicly posted on Facebook that one of their deputies had been refused service by a cashier at an independently owned McAlister's Deli on Schaad Road. The 15-year-old cashier was fired after the post. 

"This incident, unfortunate as it was, is an isolated incident here in our community. We have always been blessed by a supportive community that loves and appreciates our law enforcement and first responders," said a spokesperson with KCSO.

In a statement sent by the Held Law Firm in Knoxville, Chanada Robinson said her daughter asked for help from a co-worker because there was a line and she was near the end of her shift. Robinson called the statements from the Knox County Sheriff's Office "untrue," saying it has created a dangerous environment for her daughter, McAlister's co-workers and customers.

"Officers are supposed to protect and serve," said attorney Margaret Held. "So, the irony of the public communications officer in giving a public comment without any investigation has caused her to be cyberbullied and receive death threats, and cost her her job."

The 15-year-old is the sister of Anthony Thompson Jr., who was shot and killed by Knoxville Police Department officers during a confrontation in April 2021. During the December Knox County Commission meeting, she took the podium during the public forum session to speak about what happened, saying she watched her "name and character be drug through the mud" through it all and asking for accountability. 

Redeveloping Cumberland Avenue

Plans are in the works to transform the Cumberland Strip in Knoxville in such a way that could displace or close many businesses that call it home.

Developers are hoping to get the "Hub on Campus Development" approved, which would replace 24 existing lots along the strip with four major apartment buildings and a parking garage.

In July, records showed Core Knoxville Cumberland LLC, a Chicago-based acquisition group, purchased what amounts to an entire block of businesses on the strip. That included buildings that were home to Stefano's Pizza, University Liquors, Zen Ramen House and Jimmy John's.

In December, Stefano's closed its original location on Cumberland Avenue after 45 years.

"I hate it. I think they are losing all of the mystique of the strip," General Manager Sandra Hobbs said. "I know we need housing. I know it's something that needs to be done, but the tradition of the Cumberland Avenue Strip is just going away so I don't care for it." 

Knoxville Woman's Friendship with Anna Delvey Portrayed in Netflix Show

"Inventing Anna" was one of the most-watched shows on Netflix. It's a captivating series about a fake German heiress who manipulated her way into elite New York social circles.

One of Anna Delvey's real-life victims is Rachel DeLoache Williams who is from Knoxville. She has strong words for the streaming service after she said her portrayal in the show was all wrong.  

Rachel said her portrayal in the Netflix show is, in fact, totally made up, everything but her name, her job and where she went to college-- identifying details.

"I think the way that they've blended fact and fiction together is particularly dangerous and it's effectively how misinformation is born," Rachel said.  

Later in the year, she sued Netflix for defamation and false light over her portrayal.

Name, Image and Likeness Takes Off

In 2021, Tennessee passed a law allowing college athletes in the state to profit off their name, image and likeness during their time in school. In 2022, the University of Tennessee and other schools put the program into full gear, allowing college athletes to earn millions collectively. 

"From the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep, you're really on the go from one thing to the next," said Josiah-Jordan James, a UT basketball player. "Any type of money is good money for us."  

James said through events, trading cards, billboards and restaurant deals, he was able to bring in more than $50,000 a year. 

Brandon Spurlock from Spyre Sports, a sports marketing collective in Knoxville, said athletes can earn anything from a free meal to $500,000 per year, depending on the athlete.

Later in the year, the TSSAA cleared the way to allow high school athletes to get paid for endorsement deals. Under that change, students will be able to "receive payment for activities not related to performance provided that they are carried out in a manner that does not suggest or reasonably suggest the endorsement or sponsorship of the TSSAA school." 

The 1982 World's Fair Turns 40

The city of Knoxville spent 2022 celebrating a major milestone for an event that brought the world to Knoxville: The 1982 World's Fair.

Close to 11 million people from around the world traveled to Knoxville 40 years ago for the event. In 2022, the city held a year-long celebration of the big anniversary with events, history lessons, a Ferris wheel, and more.

'Unacceptable' Post Office Issues in East Tennessee

Many people said they had trouble accessing their mail at various points in 2022. 

People in Knoxville, Maryville, Lenoir City, and others reported issues at the beginning of the year with receiving and sending mail. At one point, Congressman Tim Burchett (R-Knoxville) said he received a spike in calls to his office -- calling it "unacceptable."

"They're not paying attention to their customers or their employees," Burchett said in January. "It's management, and dadgummit, they better straighten it up."

The year ended with similar postal issues. People in Fountain City and Halls said deliveries had been inconsistent with no answers as to why, with some saying they had not received mail in several days.

Burchett said he believed the issues were due to package deliveries, saying those were taking priority over envelopes.

"They have taken the priority away from the average customer, the average citizen like myself, and placed it in the hands of the big corporations, like the Amazons of the world," he said. "That's where all their effort is being put, unfortunately."

18-year-old Arrested after Rural King Shooting in Halls

At the end of the year, a shooting in Halls claimed the life of a Rural King employee.

18-year-old Larry McBee Jr. was charged with second-degree murder. KCSO said on Thursday morning an employee, identified as Tristan M. Smith, 23, of Powell, approached McBee, who was shoplifting ammo and bungee cords. 

McBee and Smith got into a "shuffle" outside the back of the business—that's when he was fatally shot. 

McBee is also accused of shooting a man after a struggle over a gun outside of a home on Coker Avenue on Oct. 24, according to KPD. 


Before You Leave, Check This Out