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Harsh weekend storms send a tree through Alcoa woman's home

Severe storms swept through the area this weekend and while most Maryville and Alcoa residents escaped major damage, one woman was forced to leave her home after damage from a fallen tree.

Alcoa resident Jonnie Dean lives on East Newcomen Street with her 18-year-old granddaughter. She was enjoying a peaceful evening June 21 when she heard a crash and then screams.

Dean had been on the way to the kitchen to get a snack when a tree fell on her home, knocking out the power and letting rainwater pour in.

She recalls shouting to her frightened granddaughter, “Just come to me.”

Dean — who said she is bound to an electric wheelchair and rarely leaves the house except to go to the doctor — immediately called a family friend, Jimmie McRae, to come and help. The power had gone out and both women were trapped in the house.

When he arrived, McRae said he called for emergency services. Alcoa fire and police arrived around midnight, securing the area and rescuing Dean from the damaged home.

Deputy Fire Chief Darren Stinnett told The Daily Times that one truck responded to the home. Dean was removed from her wheelchair and transported separately to the Alcoa Quality Inn, where she was still staying Monday.

“I’m not doing well at all,” Dean said in a phone interview, nearly three days after the incident.

She said it has been difficult adjusting to her temporary home while her insurance agents take care of the damage. Alcoa utility services have removed the home’s meter because of severed and hanging wires in the attic, Stinnett said.

Though her room at the hotel is wheelchair accessible, Dean said it has been difficult getting in and out of bed and generally moving around the hotel room.

She said she hopes to return home as soon as possible, but there is no indication how long repairs will take. Tarps covered part of the damage Monday morning.

Dean has lived in her house for a little more than 15 years and said she expressed recent concerns about the tree. It was not on her property but directly threatened her home, she said, adding that the man owns the property on which the tree was planted, Jim Goode, had ignored her pleas to take the tree down.

Goode said he did not remember requests to remove the tree, though he did do some cleanup work after a lighting strike caused its branches to fall on both sides of the property line a few weeks ago.

He also said he recently paid $1,200 to remove another tree Dean had complained about dropping berries on her roof.

After the storm sent Goode’s tree through Dean’s roof, he said he has been getting bids on cutting down more of his trees to make the properties safer. But he also insisted Dean had not communicated with him about the potential danger of the tree that damaged her home.

“It was an act of God,” he said, adding his insurance would not be responsible for the problem.

Meanwhile, Dean is indefinitely without a home, living at the hotel with her granddaughter as her insurance assesses the damage.

“I tell you in all honestly I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said. “I’ve never been faced with anything like this. I don’t know what my next step is. I believe this all could have been avoided.”

Despite the weekend’s heavy winds, Stinnett and Maryville Fire and Police Chief Tony Crisp said the area was not significantly impacted by the weather.

“We had reports of several trees and limbs down,” Crisp emailed. “Downtown there were several tents that were blown down and at least one vendor (with the Summer on Broadway festival) reported that he had some merchandise damaged by the rain.”

A severe thunderstorm watch was in effect until at least 9 p.m. Monday.

'I can spot somebody with PTSD a mile away,' says new state commander for the Veterans of Foreign Wars Hansen

Lloyd Hansen doesn’t need “M.D.” after his name to spot a war veteran with PTSD. He’s seen post-traumatic stress disorder from the inside. What he knows is “there’s no silver bullet” for it.

“I mean, I’ve been through therapy for PTSD. I’ve been through four shrinks. They didn’t do me any good,” Hansen said.

They started with the pills. Not the answer. Not for Hansen.

“The first thing they do is they want to put you under medication. If you really take a look and do the research on the medication, sometimes the cure is worse than the disease,” he said.

He has another way. Instead of pills he uses his eyes and ears. Hansen is a combat veteran of the Vietnam War, a Chicago native who served in the Marine Corps from 1964-68. When he completed his tour of duty, Hansen had no listed disabilities, but he now has a Tennessee license plate that reads “Disabled Veteran.” He used the GI Bill to finance a business management degree from Northwestern University. But he had no idea what he was in for, what war had done to his psyche.

As of Saturday, Hansen is the Department of Tennessee state commander for the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He’s the second Blount Countian to hold that position, after W.S. “Doc” Barker in 1974-75. Hansen has plans for the VFW and knows he has a challenge.

“There are primarily two major issues veterans have to deal with, and we’re going to be working with a number of VA hospitals. We’re going to be sitting on their advisory boards, primarily on PTSD and suicide awareness,” he said, citing the statistics. An average of at least 22 veterans are lost by their own hand in America every day.

“It reverts back to PTSD, absolutely. I know all too well,” Hansen said.

So well, he sees it from a distance. “I can spot somebody with PTSD a mile away.”

How’s that? By facing it head-on, like when he asked his “shrinks” what they knew about PTSD. One had a handbook on it. Another had a friend with it. Hansen says he knows it when he sees it — in their attitude, in demeanor, in body language.

“I can spot somebody. Heads down, they’re in deep thought. I break the ice with them, I approach ’em. I say, ’Were you in the military?’ ‘Oh, yeah.’ ‘Where were you stationed?’

“And I exchange my story. And I say, ‘You have any PTSD?’ Their head goes down. ‘Yeah.’ I say, ‘You ever think about suicide? I have.’ Their head goes down again. So then we start a conversation.”

Hansen then goes to his car and comes back with literature about PTSD and suicide awareness. Most of the troubled veterans he approaches are receptive.

“Basically, 90% of them are positive and open and direct. There is always that 10% that are not going to open up, due to embarrassment or shame or they just don’t want to discuss it.”

Been there, done that, too

Hansen didn’t want to either, not even when he sensed he had problems that traced back to his wartime experiences. He wanted no part of the VA, a part of the government. The VFW? It was full of vets who’d served in World War II and Korea, a generational divide. The same dilemma Hansen faces.

“That’s one of my primary focuses, when it comes to membership. Engaging with the younger guns, as I call them, the Afghanistan, the Iraqi veterans,” he said.

“They still have the perception that the VFW is their grandfather’s VFW, a smoky bar, sitting around, telling war stories and things like that. To be very truthful I had the same concept,” Hansen said.

Hansen was eligible to join the VFW in 1965. He didn’t until 1999. His challenge is to relate to today’s younger vets.

“Their needs, their generation is different. We all know why they’re not joining the VFW to an extent, OK. They’re focused on their education, they’re focused on their family, they’re focused on their career. This generation wants to go out and do things — do things that are vital to the community, vital to their beliefs.”

He’s seen it firsthand. Some younger vets already are taking the initiative.

“There’s a number of offshoots from the VFW; they’ve started some of their own organizations. I’ve attended some of their events and they’re totally outstanding. The camaraderie that these kids have, unreal.”

Hansen left Blount County on Thursday to participate in the state’s VFW activities in Murfreesboro. He was sworn in Saturday. He described the weekend as “intense.” He got back home Sunday afternoon, laid down to get refreshed and didn’t wake up until midnight.

Today he’s headed back to Middle Tennessee, taking on his responsibilities as commander of 17,540 Tennessee VFW members.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge. The VFW is not perfect, but we’re trying to get better,” Hansen said Monday.