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Tennessee Valley News Week in Review 1-26-2024

Catch up on the biggest news about people, places, events and activities happening in Huntsville and the Tennessee Valley
Catch up on the biggest news about people, places, events and activities happening in Huntsville and the Tennessee Valley

Catch up on the week's biggest stories about people, places, events and activities happening in Huntsville and the Tennessee Valley.

Kenneth Eugene Smith, convicted for a 1988 murder-for-hire killing, became the first known person to be executed by nitrogen hypoxia on Thursday night. According to the Associated Press, the execution took roughly 22 minutes. Smith was reported to “shake and writhe on the gurney, sometimes pulling against the restraints” for at least two minutes. That was followed by several minutes of heavy breathing before Smith was no longer visibly breathing. WHNT TV reports Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner John Hamm said to media following the execution that everything that happened was what they expected to happen. Following the execution, Attorney General Steve Marshall said justice had been served and called it a ‘historic achievement’ for the state, as it became the first to use nitrogen hypoxia as an execution method in the nation.

Huntsville city leaders amended the new hands-free ordinance at their most recent city council meeting. City officers wanted more clarity regarding probable cause searches. The amended version of the ordinance means that a violation of the law itself cannot serve as probable cause for other potential violations that may have occurred. However, WHNT TV notes that in the event that a driver is pulled over for having a phone in their hand and an officer sees what appears to be drug paraphernalia during a traffic stop, that could then serve as probable cause to check for other possible violations. Before this amendment, in the same circumstance, there was less clarity on how an officer would proceed if someone violated the hands-free ordinance.

The Alabama Department of Transportation will begin nighttime single-lane closures for a rehabilitation project on the Interstate 65 Tennessee River Bridges the evening of Sunday, Jan. 28, weather permitting. With some exceptions, ALDOT is restricting lane closures to nights to minimize impacts to traffic during the project. A news release from the department says the majority of the project will not involve travel lane closures, though lane closures will be necessary for initial work items. The project is anticipated to take about 2½ years and includes cleaning, painting, and repairing concrete and structural steel on the 50-year-old bridges.

The Kids to Love Foundation said that a newborn girl was placed in a baby box at the Madison Fire Department on Sunday. This is the first time a newborn has been left in a Safe Haven Baby Box in Alabama. According to the foundation, firefighters quickly responded once the door closed and an alarm sounded. The baby was taken to Madison Hospital in good health. AL.com reports the child was left just 12 days after the baby box opened at that location.

A poll released recently found that a strong majority of Alabamians believe that mental health and substance abuse services are a priority for Alabama and favor additional funding to improve access to these services. Ninety percent of Alabamians identified mental health care as a key priority. About 48% of those surveyed said mental health and substance use treatment in the state is inaccessible. The poll of over 600 Alabamians was conducted by Cygnal on behalf of the Alabama Council for Behavioral Healthcare; the Behavioral Healthcare Alliance of Alabama and NAMI Alabama. The Alabama Reflector reports that despite almost half of Alabamians reporting personal experiences with mental health crises or self-harm attempts, according to the survey, only 20% know that the 988 suicide and crisis helpline exists.

Passenger traffic at Huntsville International Airport set a record in 2023, with more than 1.47 million passengers traveling through the airport. That’s a 22.7% increase over 2022. Port of Huntsville CEO Butch Roberts tells Business Alabama legacy airlines American, Delta and United have added more seats and greater frequency of weekly flights to their schedules from Huntsville.

Construction will begin this month on the he first phase of Front Row. The new mixed use development across from the Von Braun Center, will cover more than eleven acres and offer high-end residential units, modern office space, and premier retail space. A press release from the developers says it will consist of two six-story buildings housing the residential, office, and retail component with a central urban green space for outdoor dining, community activities, and public art.