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— Man dies in boat accident on northern Arkansas lake

MOUNTAIN HOME (AP) — A 38-year-old man has died following a boating accident on a northern Arkansas lake.

Baxter County Sheriff John Montgomery says Adam Jones of Mountain Home died following Friday’s accident on Lake Norfork.

Sheriff’s deputies responded to a pontoon boat that was circling in the lake and appeared to be unmanned at about 4:16p.m. Authorities located a seriously injured man and a woman on the shoreline nearby.

Investigators say Jones was on the front of the pontoon boat when he fell overboard while the vessel was underway and was struck by it. The woman, who had been operating the boat, also fell overboard while trying to help and left the unmanned boat circling in the lake.

Montgomery says Jones was transported to an area hospital but did not survive his injuries.

State looks for options to finish funding I-49 project

LITTLE ROCK (AP) — The Arkansas Department of Transportation is exploring funding alternatives for the construction and operation of a section of Interstate 49 after a study found that using tolls wouldn’t raise the needed revenue.

The department considered using toll revenue to build, maintain and operate a nearly 14-mile (23-kilometer) section of Interstate 49 from Interstate 40 in Crawford County to Arkansas 22 in Sebastian County, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. The project also involves a new bridge over the Arkansas River.

The new route is designed to improve transportation in western Arkansas by providing another river crossing. It also would help complete a congressionally designated high-priority corridor connecting Kansas City, Missouri, to south Louisiana through Arkansas.

Construction for the project as a four-lane route is estimated to cost about $776 million. The department doesn’t have the necessary funding available, and a study by infrastructure consultants HNTB Corp. found that tolls wouldn’t raise close to that amount.

Officials also considered building the four-lane route as a toll road, which would push construction costs to $787 million. Operation of the toll road and its maintenance costs would tack on another $118 million. An analysis of the toll project’s potential revenue found that the route would generate about $243 million annually, which isn’t much in comparison to the project’s costs, said Scott Bennett, the department’s director.

The Arkansas Highway Commission determined that it’s critical to look at alternative ways to help defray costs, considering the importance of the project, its high cost and the limited amount of money the department has available.

The department is looking at new approaches to fund the project, Bennett said.

“The next step is now we have to look at other options and see what those options would cost from a pay-as-you-go standpoint,” he said.

Panel dismisses charges against Arkansas justices

LITTLE ROCK (AP) — A disciplinary panel dismissed ethics charges Friday against the Arkansas Supreme Court’s justices over their decision to prohibit a judge who participated in an anti-death penalty demonstration from hearing any execution-related cases.

The Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission voted unanimously to dismiss the charges that the court’s seven justices violated ethics rules when they disqualified Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen. The court last year prohibited Griffen from hearing death penalty cases after he was photographed laying on a cot during a demonstration outside the governor’s mansion wearing an anti-death penalty button and surrounded by people holding signs opposing executions.

Earlier the day of the demonstration, Griffen blocked the state from using a lethal injection drug over the claims the drug supplier had been misled by the state.

A three-member panel earlier this year said the justices never gave Griffen notice or an opportunity to be heard over his removal. In dismissing the complaint Friday, the commission said it doesn’t have jurisdiction to take action against judges for how they apply the law in the absence of “fraud, corrupt motive or bad faith.” The justices had argued the commission didn’t have jurisdiction over the complaint since it dealt with a legal issue and not an ethical matter.

The ethics complaint against the justices was filed by Griffen, who was charged earlier this year by a three-member panel from the commission over the demonstration. An attorney for Griffen said he was surprised by the commission’s action and had not been notified beforehand.

“This clandestine Friday afternoon dismissal of the sustained ethics charges against the Arkansas Supreme Court was totally unknown to us until now because we were not given any notice of a hearing or session regarding same,” attorney Mike Laux said in an email. “Unfortunately, this appears to be a recurring theme when it pertains to Judge Griffen’s constitutional rights and protected interests.”

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