published Saturday, January 12th, 2013

Man charged with molestation and other news from the areas around Chattanooga

Man charged with molestation

TUNNEL HILL, Ga. — A man from Tunnel Hill was arrested after a preteen girl told police she was forced to place her hand on the man's penis.

Ralph Merrill, 47, who was a family friend of the victim, was charged with child molestation and is in custody at the Catoosa County Jail, Catoosa Sheriff's Office Capt. Chris Lyons said.

The incident allegedly took place between August and December at the victim's house in Tunnel Hill, Lyons said. Police began to investigate after the mother complained, and Merrill then admitted some of the allegations, he said.

Merrill's criminal record in Catoosa County shows only a family violence-related charge that later was dismissed.


Woman saved from fire dies

MADISONVILLE, Tenn. — A neighbor managed to lead a woman out of her burning home in Monroe County, but she later died.

Perry Philpott told WVLT-TV it grieved him to learn of Ruth Dailey's death, but said her grandchildren got to say goodbye to her after he rescued Dailey from her home just after noon Thursday.

"Their grandmother didn't die in a fire. They actually got to see her and say their goodbyes. I mean that's worth it all right there," Philpott said.

He said he drove to Dailey's house when he saw smoke above the trees and ran inside to find her.

"She was standing up, so I actually just put my arm around her and just escorted her out as quickly as possible," said Philpott. "I asked her, I said, 'Nanny, are you OK?' And she looked right in my eyes and she said, 'Honey, I'm OK."'

He said Dailey's clothes were burned off her body, but she said she wasn't in pain.

Dailey was taken to the burn center at Vanderbilt University Hospital in Nashville, where she later died.

The home was destroyed.

Family members suspect smoking caused the fire. They said Dailey was showing signs of dementia and was a heavy smoker.


Smokies park gets more visitors

GATLINBURG, Tenn. — A half-million more visitors toured the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2012 than during the preceding year.

Figures released by the National Park Service showed nearly 9.6 million people entered the park last year. That compares with just below 9 million the year before.

Park officials said a mild winter and spring during 2012 helped boost tourism in the nation's most-visited national park. There were nearly 2 percent more visitors in December than in the last month of 2011.

For the year, visits to the Smokies were up 7.5 percent from 2011.

The year with the largest number of visitors in this century was 2000, when 10.1 million people came to the Smokies.

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