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Taking a look back at the top news stories of 2018 (Part two)

Publishers note: In last week’s issue of The Newcastle Pacer, we looked back at some of the biggest stories to grace our pages during our 40th anniversary from January through June of this year. This week, we will look back at some of the biggest stories from July through December.

These include such stories as former Newcastle mayor Lloyd Gram-ling passing away in July, pastor Jeremy Freeman celebrating his ninth year at the First Baptist Church of Newcastle (and publishing his 200th column in The Pacer), and current mayor Gene Reid proclaiming last July 3rd as “Newcastle Athletes Championship Day” in honor of the USAO softball team, which won the NAIA softball title and featured several former Newcastle alums.

Gayla Riddle was named the director of The Newcastle Chamber of Commerce and McClain County Sheriff Don Hewett was inducted into the Oklahoma Sheriff’s Hall of Fame in August.

The Newcastle High School softball team ended the year at 31-3, coming up short of the Class 4A state title with a loss to Tuttle in the championship game in October. Kevin Self was officially named Newcastle’s city manager in November.

There were several good (and a few not-so-good) stories to tell in The Newcastle Pacer during 2018. But, the staff was proud and more than glad to bring them to you. Here are the highlights of the last half of 2018...


Former Newcastle Mayor Lloyd Gramling passed away on July

30. He served as the Mayor of Newcastle from January 1989 until January 1996. Gramling (who grew up in Duke, Okla.) was an All-State baseball player and had a scholarship to play basketball for legendary Hall of Fame head coach Henry Iba at Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State University in Stillwater.)

Instead, he moved to Oklahoma City and helped his father run the family grocery store. During that time, he was drafted into the Army and served nine months in Korea with the 45th Infantry. While in Korea, he met his wife, Pat, and they were married for 63 years.

Gramling joined the Oklahoma City Police Department in 1953 and served 32 years with the department. He rose to the rank of Chief of Police in 1983 before retiring from the force in 1985. He then moved to Newcastle and served as a councilman and then Mayor of Newcastle from 1989 to ’96.

He continued to serve on several local community boards and charitable organizations. Gramling also was a devoted attendee of Southwest Church of Christ in Oklahoma City, where he served as an elder.

As Newcastle’s mayor, he was instrumental in the opening of the Highway 62 expansion at the intersection of U.S. Highway 62 and State Highway 130 in 1995. While he was with the OKCPD, he got to shake the hands of two sitting Presidents of the United States – Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan.

Jeremy Freeman, the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Newcastle, celebrated his ninth year with the church the first week of July 2018.

Freeman is the author of a weekly column called “Setting The Pace” in The Newcastle Pacer. Freeman (who has been writing the column for The Pacer since 2014) later celebrated his 200th column in August.

Newcastle mayor Gene Reid proclaimed July 3rd as “Newcastle Athletes Championship Day” as five members of the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma (USAO) softball team were recognized inside the Newcastle Public Library.

Newcastle natives Kindle Nelms, Rhylee Vandiver, Emily Cerny, USAO head coach Jadyn Wallis, and Karmyn Pearn were each honored with a proclamation for the day in their honor. The USAO team was fresh off winning the 2018 NAIA national championship in Florida.

Nearly 5,000 people read and/or participated online when The Newcastle Pacer published on its Facebook page a previous story on the increase of oil and gas well drilling activity in the Tri-City area.

Many residents expressed their dismay over the massive influx of big trucks damaging area roads and the noise that comes with the drilling rigs operating near their homes. Mayors from Blanchard and Tuttle met with Newcastle Mayor Gene Reid to discuss ways to resolve the issues.

Former State Representative Bobby Cleveland also called for an interim study to be conducted in August in order to find a “happy medium” between the oil companies and the affected residents.


Gayla Riddle was named the new director for The Newcastle Chamber of Commerce. She replaced Jeannette Lore-McNally, who became the director of economic development for The City of Newcastle.

Riddle previously worked at The Heart of Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce for nearly two years, serving as the executive assistant to the executive director, Mandy Davis, and the board of directors. She also owned Savvy Parke in Purcell, a small clothing and accessory store.

McClain County Sheriff Don Hewett was inducted into the Oklahoma Sheriff’s Hall of Fame on Aug. 10 at the Reed Center in Midwest City.

Hewett became just the 27th Oklahoma Sheriff to be so honored. Hewett has been the sheriff of McClain County for the past 20 years. He also served for 20 years in the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

Newcastle resident Caleb Freeman came home from the hospital on Aug. 19 and was greeted by more than 300 of his fans and followers at The First Baptist Church of Newcastle.

Freeman and his brother, Clayton, were involved in a horrific traffic accident on I-35 in Norman as they went to a University of Oklahoma basketball game on Dec. 18, 2017. He spent nearly nine months in rehabilitation.

Newcastle residents took great interest in burying a time capsule under a new convenience store. Tammy Durham of Island Time Liquor asked for items to be donated for the time capsule.

It was buried underneath the foundation to her new business, which is next to her liquor store. Many items were included inside the capsule, which was buried on Aug. 27. The capsule will be opened in the year 2045.

Former Newcastle quarterback Casey Freeman threw a record seven touchdowns during Southwest Oklahoma State University’s 49-35 win over Arkansas-Monticello on Aug. 30.

Freeman (a junior at SWOSU) matched the Great American Conference (GAC) record for most TDs thrown in a game. He easily surpassed his school’s previous record of four touchdowns. Freeman was 18-for-26 passing for a career-high 416 yards.


Newcastle resident Darby Williams published a graphic novel called “Night Watchman,” his first in a series of six novels. Williams is a 2004 graduate from Newcastle High School and stated he hopes to turn books into a movie or television show.

The expansion of State Highway 76 was officially announced in The Newcastle Pacer. City council member Mike Fullerton said the Oklahoma Department of Transportation will purchase rights of ways first. After that, utility companies and city utilities will be relocated to make room for more lanes.

That process would take 18 to 24 months. Once all the utilities have been moved, ODOT will begin construction. The full improvements recommended by ODOT include five lanes for traffic and adding shoulders to the road – almost tripling the current width of the highway.

According to statistics prepared by ODOT from 2005-2015, 504 accidents occurred along Highway 76. There were 34 incapacitating injuries, 73 non-incapacitating injuries, 224 possible injuries and six fatality accidents.

The Newcastle High School cheerleading squad was named as the Class 4A academic state champions. The coaches for the NHS team are Stacy Wright and Melissa Rippy.


The Newcastle High School homecoming parade was held on Sept. 28 along Northwest 10th Street and Highway 62. Later in the evening, the Newcastle football team lost to Anadarko, 26-14.

The Newcastle High School softball team qualified for the Class 4A state tournament in Shawnee with a sparkling 29-2 record. It was the 26th trip to the state tournament for Newcastle head coach Mike Crossley. The Racers ended the year 31-3 with a loss to Tuttle in the state championship game.


A 3.4 magnitude earthquake struck the Tri-City area on Nov. 4 and forced the closure of a fracking well in Bridge Creek. In the 30 days prior, it was reported that there were 40 earthquakes in the state that registered 2.5 or greater on the Richter scale. A total of 17 of those quakes had an epicenter near Newcastle, Blanchard, Tuttle or Lindsay.

The Newcastle High School football team ended its season on a big note, beating Elgin, 56-7, in the season finale. The Racers ended the year 3-7 overall and 3-4 in district play in head coach Jeff Brickman’s second season at the helm.

Former Newcastle assistant city manager Kevin Self was promoted from his interim status to city manager on Nov.

14. Self has been employed by the City of Newcastle for 15 years. He was the fire chief for the Newcastle Fire Department for seven years, beginning in 2003.

Seven years later, he was named assistant city manager. Before Self worked in Newcastle, he was a firefighter for 27 years.

The construction of two new crosswalks began. The new school crossings were placed at the intersection of U.S. Highway 62 (Main Street) and State Highway 130 (Fox Lane) as well as at Highway 62 and Stan Patty Blvd. Students use these two areas most days when they travel to the high school for after-school activities.


Manslaughter charges were filed against a driver in the death of a popular doctor along the H.E. Bailey Turnpike on Nov. 14.

Bond was set for Michael R. Morris, Sr., at $100,000, who is charged with driving his 1997 Ford truck eastbound on the turnpike when he attempted to make a U-turn through a concrete barrier at mile marker 102.

In attempting the illegal turn, a BMW swerved to avoid the truck but struck the driver’s side rear axle at a 90 degree angle, spinning the truck into the concrete walls separating the east and westbound lanes. A large toolbox was dislodged from the flatbed truck upon impact and went airborne.

The tool ›box struck the windshield of a Lexus driven by Dr. Analyssa C. Orjuela, 31, of Oklahoma City, who was killed in the accident.

Newcastle pioneer Wilma Jean “Tootsie” Dunning passed away on Dec. 16 at the age of 89 years old. She was married to Roy Dunning for over 70 years.

The Newcastle Pacer

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120 NE 2nd, Suite 102 - Newcastle, Oklahoma 73065