Rick Howlett

Rick has been a member of the WFPL News team since 2001 and has covered numerous beats and events over the years.   Most recently he’s been tracking the Indiana General Assembly and the region’s passion for sports, especially college basketball.

UK Athletics

A record seven members of the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team announced they will enter the NBA draft.

The seven were UK’s top scorers during their 38-1 season that ended last weekend with a loss to Wisconsin in the Final Four.

At a press conference Thursday in Lexington, Junior Willie Cauley-Stein, sophomores Dakari Johnson and Andrew and Aaron Harrison and freshmen Karl-Anthony Towns, Trey Lyles and Devin Booker all said they’ve decided to turn pro.

“I mean, of course it was a tough decision for all of us,” Guard Aaron Harrison said. “But I think this is all of our dreams so we just want to chase our dreams, really.”

Coach John Calipari said he did not to try to convince anyone to stay or leave, but arranged meetings with the players, their families and NBA team officials early this week to discuss their pro prospects.

“I’m not convincing anyone to stay and I’m not pushing anybody out the door,” Calipari said. “This is their choice with their family.”

Karl-Anthony Towns could be the first player chosen overall on June 28. Cauley-Stein and Lyles could soon follow, with both projected as possible lottery selections. Booker is also a potential first-rounder, with the rest projected to go in the second.

Angel's Envy

International spirits company Bacardi Limited has made its entry into the booming bourbon market with the purchase, announced today, of a Louisville-based bourbon maker.

Bacardi is the new owner of Angel’s Share Brands. The company includes the popular Angel’s Envy bourbon, developed by the late Lincoln Henderson and his family. Henderson was a longtime master distiller for Brown-Forman Corporation.

Angel’s Envy is currently distilled off-site and aged in port wine barrels.

An estimated 16.4 million Americans have gained health insurance coverage since the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

That’s according to new data released Monday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Dr. Richard Frank, assistant secretary for planning and evaluation, said number of uninsured Americans has reached a 40-year low.

“This is a historic drop in the uninsured and nothing since the implementation of Medicare and Medicaid come near to this type of change," commented Frank.

About 14.1 million adults have gained coverage since open enrollment began in October 2013, according to the report.

An additional 2.3 million 19- to 25-year-olds have gained coverage since a new provision went into effect in 2010, allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance until the age of 26.

Kentucky has the second greatest reduction in the rate of uninsured people among the states, just behind Arkansas. The state’s uninsured rate is now 9.8 percent– down from 20.4 percent in 2013.

Lance Dennee / WKMS

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear is urging motorists to stay off highways to allow emergency crews to clear snow and stalled vehicles. Heavy snowfall across the region led Beshear to declare a state of emergency for the second time in a month.

“A lot of these people have been working 12 hour shifts for two weeks now because of the first winter storm and now this one," Beshear said. "But, they’re doing a great job and we just ask people to be careful and be patient as we try to get the roads cleared."

Beshear said 85 National Guard troops from six armories have been activated to assist with the emergency response around the state.

The snowfall snarled traffic on Interstate 65 in central Kentucky and I-24 in western Kentucky. Dozens of motorists had to be rescued.

The Kentucky Supreme Court heard arguments Thurs on whether sexual conduct between two teenagers should be prosecuted as a crime.

The case, from Woodford County, involves a 15 year old boy and his 13 year old girlfriend.
The boy pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors for having sex and exchanging nude photos with his girlfriend. He was designated a juvenile sex offender. The girl was not charged.

An attorney for the boy said the teens had no intention of committing a crime.

The attorney general’s office says the boy was charged because he initiated the acts and had previously been charged with indecent exposure in a separate case.

No date has been set for the court to issue a ruling.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kentuckiana officials say a new mentoring program launched this school year has been a success and will be expanded next year.

It’s called School to Work, and spokeswoman Kristin Milosevich says it initially matched 15 Seneca High School students with mentors from Price Waterhouse Coopers and Humana.

“The whole concept of school to work is that it actually puts high school students who are, will benefit from a one-to-one mentoring relationship in the workplace on the path to getting their first job, going on to college.”

Milosevich says Big Brothers Big Sisters hopes to match as many as 75 students from across Jefferson County Public Schools with mentors in the workplace for the next academic year.

Bardstown Police Department

Investigators have issued a new appeal for information in the unsolved murder of a Bardstown Police officer nearly 20 months ago.

Thirty-three year old Officer Jason Ellis was shot to death in an ambush as he got out of his cruiser to remove tree limbs that had been placed on a Nelson County highway exit ramp.

Investigators have followed up on hundreds of leads, but Kentucky State Police Lieutenant Jeremy Thompson says there’s been no solid first-hand information.

The reward in the case now exceeds $185,000.

Thompson says it’s believed that there’s someone in the community who can help.

www.ky.gov

Democratic and Republican leaders in the Kentucky legislature are in rare accord on a priority issue at the start of the General Assembly's 2015 session.

Both Sen. President Robert Stivers, a Manchester Republican, and House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Democrat from Prestonsburg, are optimistic about the fate of a constitutional amendment this year which would allow voters to place a local option sales tax on their city ballots.

Less than a month ago, Stumbo joined Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray to announce that the local option sales tax would be the House's top priority, labeling it House Bill 1. Now, Stumbo says he's hearing positive preliminary feedback on the bill's fate.

"Sen. Stivers said--and he said it very eloquently, I thought and pretty succinct--'This is pure democracy. In its purest form,' which I thought was a pretty positive sign. And he also said something which I think is very appropriate and I hadn't thought about. He mentioned that if we were going to do tax reform at some point in time...this is a tool."

Stivers said on Tuesday, the first day of the General Assembly convened for the session, that he is fully supportive of the bill.

Officials are encouraging Kentuckians to report any instances or suspicions of vote fraud on Election Day. The Kentucky Attorney General’s election fraud hotline will be open throughout Tuesday.

Spokeswoman Allison Martin says the most common complaints involve vote-buying or campaigning too close to a polling place.

Kentucky’s electioneering law was struck down by a federal judge earlier this year, but while the case is under appeal, it’s still illegal in most cases to promote any candidates within 300 feet of a polling place.

"The only change is that if you have private property that is across the street from a polling place, or near a polling place within that 300 foot boundary,  you do not have to take your sign down," Martin said.

Martin added the election fraud hotline received 205 calls from more than 60 counties during this year’s primary election.

The hotline number is 1-800-328-VOTE.

Kevin Willis

One of commonwealth’s signature industries will be celebrated this week as the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival runs from Tuesday to Sunday in Bardstown.

The six day festival includes numerous events for both bourbon enthusiasts and teetotalers.

There are tastings, barrel-making demonstrations, cooking classes, and a 5-K run and walk.

The growth of premium small-batch bourbons and the spirit’s colorful history have contributed to its unprecedented growth in recent years.    

Festival executive director Linda Harrison says scores of people will line up for an autograph from Kentucky’s master distillers this week.

“Wonderful people, and they love to talk about bourbon and how much they love their craft,” Harrison said.

One of the more sought-after figures is Jimmy Russell, who’s been making Wild Turkey bourbon for 60 years at the distillery near Lawrenceburg.

Jacob Ryan/Kentucky Public Radio

The Kentucky State Fair Grand Champion country ham sold for a record $2 million at a charity auction this morning.

Owners of Louisville's Hermitage Farms, Bridgeman Foods and Republic Bank put their financial powers together to jointly purchase the ham at the annual Kentucky Farm Bureau Ham Breakfast.

Hermitage Farms and Bridgeman Foods agreed to each give $500,000 for the ham and Republic Bank is picking up the other $1 million.

The champion ham was produced by Broadbents B and B Foods in western Kentucky. It’s co-owned by Ronnie and Beth Drennan.

“It all goes for charity.  We don’t’ get the ham back,” said Ronnie Drennan. “This is the ninth time we’ve won it since we bought the business.   We just pride ourselves in making good-quality products.”

The buyers say the sale proceeds will be donated to charities in the education and health care areas. The nearly 16 pound grand champion ham will also be given to a charitable organization.

KennyPerry.com

This week’s PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville will likely be the last appearance in any of golf’s major competitions by Kenny Perry. The longtime Franklin, Kentucky resident is expected to begin focusing on the Champions Tour for golfers 50 and over.

Valhalla was the site of one of the biggest heartbreaks of Kenny Perry’s playing career.    He finished second in a playoff to Mark Brooks in the 1996 PGA Championship. But 12 years later there was triumph,  as Perry’s Ryder Cup team defeated the Europeans at Valhalla.

Now 54, Perry says he’s grateful for the chance to play in the PGA Championship a final time….in Kentucky. 

Perry spent about an hour signing autographs after his Tuesday practice round.     He says the attention is not a distraction from his preparations.   Perry joked that he hasn’t had to sign all that many autographs over the years.

“To me, it’s my way to say thank you for 30 years of support, thank you for your love and your compassion for me,” said Perry. “I enjoyed it, for me personally.  There were a lot of people yelling out where they were from---Glasgow, Kentucky, Bowling Green, Kentucky—just all these little towns that are around Franklin where I live”

Clark County Sheriff's Office

The sheriff of Clark County, Indiana is denying accusations about his alleged involvement with a prostitute that led to a federal indictment unsealed Tuesday, but will take a voluntary leave of absence pending the outcome of his case.

Sixty-year-old Sheriff Daniel Rodden is charged with destroying evidence and lying to federal investigators.

U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett says Rodden provided a prostitute with a deputy’s badge and other credentials in May of last year.

"He did so in order that the prostitute could obtain a government employee rate at a hotel across the river in Louisville," explained Hogsett.  "It is also alleged in the indictment that Mr. Rodden met the prostitute at that hotel several weeks later and engaged in a sex act with her."

Rodden is accused of telling the prostitute to “get rid” of the materials and with lying repeatedly to the FBI about his involvement with the woman.   The charges carry more than 20 years in prison.

Rodden was first elected Clark County Sheriff in 2007 and is in the last months of his second and final term.

Creative Commons

California Chrome is the 3 to 5 early favorite to win the Belmont Stakes and become horse racing's 12th Triple Crown champion.

The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner will break from the No. 2 post under Victor Espinoza on Saturday at Belmont Park. Eleven Belmont winners have come out of that post, the last being Tabasco Cat in 1994.

Trainer Art Sherman says he’s happy with the draw.

"It gives you a chance to see who’s going to have the speed and where you’re laying going into the first turn," explains Sherman.

Wicked Strong is the 6 to 1 second choice and drew post No. 9.  The colt finished fourth  in the Derby and sat out the Preakness.

Tonalist was made the third betting choice at 8 to 1 odds and will break from the No. 11 post.

Eleven horses are entered in the Belmont Stakes.

Indiana's House of Representatives has approved a proposal that would write the state's gay marriage ban into the constitution.

The Republican-led House narrowly voted 57-40 Tuesday in favor of the measure. The proposed ban now heads to the Indiana Senate.

The vote followed weeks of uncertainty for a measure that swept through the General Assembly with ease just three years ago.

"This amendment has jumped the shark," said Democratic Rep. Mat Pierce, who voted against the measure. "History has really passed it by. And that’s why I think we need to give up on it."

The House measure leaves open the door for approval of civil unions and employer benefits for same-sex couples.  It also would potentially reset the clock on Indiana's lengthy process of amending the constitution.

But Senate Republicans could potentially place the measure back on course to appear on the November ballot.

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