One last look at 2016


By OJ Stapleton - ostapleton@newsdemocratleader.com



File Photo Pictured left to right at the ribbon cutting of Champion Petfoods are Auburn Mayor Mike Hughes, Micheal Dylan Byrum, state representative Martha Jane King and Edna Hadden Hughes.


Photo by Chris Cooper A shooting occurred in Russellville on Tuesday, March March 15, with one confirmed dead and two seriously injured. Pictured are police talking about the incident a few minutes after it happened.


Photo by Chris Cooper Pictured is officer Seth Whittaker of the Russellville Police Department escorting Gregory “Jap” Posey in July morning to the Logan County Detention Center. Posey was arrested and charged with killing Patrick “P.J.” Gilbert.


The past year has been a turbulent one, both nationally and locally.

While celebrity deaths seemed to be one of the predominant themes around the country, here in Logan County, sadly there were several shocking violent crimes in 2016.

There was also good news in the form of the new Champion Petfoods factory opening in Auburn and the new Logan County Area Technology Center breaking ground for an exciting new educational facility.

Here is a look back at some of the biggest news stories from Logan County in 2016.

Walker indicted for murder

The 20-year-old Adairville man accused of murdering his sister-in-law was indicted on Friday by a Logan County Grand Jury on Friday, Jan. 29.

George Walker was indicted on charges of murder and tampering with physical evidence.

Commonwealth attorney Gail Guiling is in charge of the case.

George Walker is facing charges of murder and tampering with physical evidence after the body of his sister-in-law, Allison Walker, was found in the Red River near the home she shared with George Walker and his brother, her husband, Chris Walker.

A preliminary hearing included testimony from Logan County Sheriff’s Department deputy Kyler Harvey. County attorney Joe Ross questioned Harvey about his part in the in the investigation into Allison Walker’s disappearance and murder.

Harvey testified that he spoke with George Walker twice briefly on Dec. 22 before reading him his Miranda rights and questioning him formally while video taping the interview.

Harvey said that initially George Walker said that he had heard “in the wind” that Allison Walker’s body was in the river. Later on in the interview, George Walker admitted to choking his sister-in-law, tying her hands and feet with rope and dragging her down to the river before dumping her body.

Champion Petfoods opens Auburn plant

On Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, Champion Petfoods welcomed its community partners into the new Kentucky DogStar home in Auburn, Ky. with a housewarming/ribbon cutting. Many came out to tour the facilities that have begun cooking advance Biologically Appropriate and Fresh Regional Ingredient mandate petfood.

“The Housewarming showed our passion about being trusted by pet lovers everywhere,” said Frank Burdzy, President and CEO of Champion Petfoods.

At the event flags were raised and those attending proudly sang the national anthems of the United States and Canada, where Champion Petfoods began and where its corporate offices reside. Also sung at the event was a rendition of My Old Kentucky Home.

“We christened the building with a 25-year-old Kentucky rye whisky signifying our 25 year ACANA Heritage, inviting good luck and officially naming our Kitchen – DogStar,” said Burdzy. “And we cut the ribbon with the people who supported us when this was still just a dream.”

Champion Petfoods is located at 12871 Bowling Green Road, across the road from Shaker Equipment Sales. Champion selected its site of operations in Auburn after two years of searching. The company determined Kentucky as the perfect location to advance its Biologically Appropriate and Fresh Regional Ingredient mandate. Champion began construction on the site in September 2015.

Amish man found not guilty

An Amish man was found not guilty in Logan District Court on Friday, Jan. 8, by a jury of six individuals. John Mast was cited on Oct. 8, 2015, in the city of Auburn for violating an ordinance that requires a collection device on all large animals that travel through the city limits.

Mast is one of many that has been through the court system in the last year for violating the ordinance, however, he is the first to be found not guilty. Two other Amish individuals were found guilty last year for the violation and went to jail for not paying their fines and court costs.

Mast represented himself during the trial. He had very little to say other than he felt the Amish were being discriminated against.

“This rule was not made till the Amish came,” said Mast. “We see it as discrimination to keep the Amish away.”

Auburn Mayor Mike Hughes was shocked at the verdict.

“I am obviously disappointed in the verdict,” said Hughes, who is concerned this will set a precedent and open a can of worms. “I’m not really sure what happen. I can assume by the verdict that we obviously didn’t clarify to the jurors the violation was for not having a device, instead where the stop was made.”

Murder plot case dismissed

Charges against two Logan County men accused of conspiring to commit murder were dismissed in January by Circuit Judge Tyler Gill. The judge granted a motion to dismiss charges against Danny Armstrong and Randall Young of Russellville.

Young and Armstrong were charged in 2015 with conspiracy to commit murder. A third Logan County man, John O’Brien of Russellville, was charged with solicitation of murder, but plead guilty to a misdemeanor of third degree terroristic threatening.

According to an investigation by the Russellville Police Department, O’Brien was willing to pay $500 to Young and Armstrong to take the life of James Hurt. Hurt had apparently assaulted O’Brien on Feb. 26, 2015, and the plot was allegedly to retaliate for that assault. A witness had told police that O’Brien harbored an enormous amount of anger towards Hurt for the assault, and had previously mentioned killing him with a lead pipe and brass knuckles, similar to the manner in which Hurt injured him.

Benjamins takes plea in murder case

The murder trial of Gerald Allen Benjamins was supposed to take place in February, but instead the case effectively ended when he plead guilty to second degree manslaughter and tampering with physical evidence.

Benjamins was accused of killing 36-year-old Brad Rigney in December of 2013 and was arrested in September of 2014 before being charged with murder.

With the plea deal, Benjamins was sentenced to 15 years in jail – 10 years for the charge of second degree manslaughter and five years for the charge of tampering with physical evidence.

Benjamins entered his plea late Wednesday afternoon on Feb. 17, in Logan Circuit Court before Judge Tyler Gill, who listened to his account of what happened.

Before the proceedings began, however, Judge Gill disclosed that he had spoken with the victim’s mother earlier on Wednesday when she wanted his assurance that he would accept the 15-year jail sentence agreed upon by both the prosecution and the defense.

Commonwealth Attorney Gail Guiling said that the plea bargain was what Rigney’s mother wanted to resolve the case and keep it from going to trial.

“Mrs. Rigney told me that she didn’t think she would physically make it through a trial and that she wanted him to get 15 years,” Guiling said. “She has suffered a lot and we took that into consideration.”

Controversial Humane Society director fired

The Logan Humane Society Board unanimously terminated the employment of its director Tracy Moser in February after less than a year of her being at the helm.

Moser came in to help the shelter in May of 2015. The board voted to remove Moser off the HS Board first at a special called meeting held Tuesday, Feb. 16 at the historic Logan County Courthouse where the board meets monthly. The body then went into executive session and upon returning voted to fire Moser. The board didn’t give any details of what evoked her termination at the meeting, closing with no public invitation to speak.

The board released a statement saying, “Tracy is a very talented, capable person. She has done a lot to help our shelter grow and we appreciate that. Tracy was very valuable and her talents will carry her far in life. We appreciate everything she did to help with implementing new standards. However, we feel our goals were not aligned and we were moving in a destructive direction. In recent months we’ve been dissatisfied in her performance. There are many incidents, purchasing the property was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back. Our goals as a shelter board have not changed and we look forward to seeing those goals met and moving forward.”

After her termination, Moser said she was confused by the board’s decision. She has said she feels bullied by the board, and that she has done all she can do and that the county is going in a different direction.

Shooting death on Main Street

A Lewisburg man was shot and killed by police after he first shot his ex-girlfriend in the McDonald’s drive-through line on Tuesday,

According to the Kentucky State Police, who are in charge of the investigation, 34-year-old Joseph R. Harris pulled into the McDonald’s parking lot around lunch time and shot his former girlfriend, Amanda Harper, 28, of Russellville, who was waiting in the drive-through line in her vehicle.

Harris then fled the scene on foot. Harper left the parking lot in her vehicle and pulled across North Main Street where she then exited the roadway and struck a building.

She was transported to the Medical Center in Bowling Green by Logan County EMS where she is being treated for a single gunshot wound to the upper body and is listed in stable condition.

Harris then walked north on Main Street where he encountered responding Russellville Police Department Sergeant Morris Kisselbaugh and officers Stephen Meredith and Seth Whittaker, who had previously been having lunch at Subway when they got the call.

Upon being challenged by police, Harris brandished a firearm towards the officers, according to the KSP. At this point, all three officers fired at Harris and he was struck approximately three times. Harris was pronounced dead at the scene by the Logan County Coroner Mary Givens.

Vanna Krang, 48 of Russellville, was inside the Russellville Donut shop across from where Harris was shot. Krang was struck once in the neck by glass from his shop window after it was hit by gunfire. He was flown to TriStar Skyline Medical Center in Nashville.

Winery vote passes

The local option election to allow an Auburn winery to offer tastings and sell wine on site passed in March by a wide margin.

Carriage House Vineyards, located on Liberty Church Road in Auburn, will soon be able to sell the wine produced there after a 63-17 voting decision.

“I am a combination happy and relieved, because it has been a long process,” said Don Davis, the owner of Carriage House Vineyards. “This will allow us to move forward with some of our business plans. That margin really shows me that the community is in favor of what we’re doing.”

This vote was only open for the 1,400 registered voters in precinct 102, which is north of Auburn and north of 68 west out to the county line and north to where the Bucksville precinct begins.

Rane takes over Russellville factory

One of Russellville’s oldest and largest industry sites, which has been home to many thriving companies including the first Rockwell International in 1958, and most recently Precision Die Cast (PDC), has been acquired by Rane, an Indian auto parts company headquartered in Chennai, India.

The site is located on Hopkinsville Road in Russellville. The plant was renamed Rane Precision Die Casting, Inc. at a special event in March to welcome the new owner to our community.

Logan County’s Economic Alliance for Development (LEAD), along with local government, TVA, the Russellville Electric Plant Board and the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development have all been working with PDC and Rane for several months to help finalize this acquisition.

“We are excited about the future possibilities with a company fully committed to Russellville and the auto parts business,” said LEAD Executive Director Tom Harned.

Rane is a publicly traded Indian auto components company with 25 plants in India now entering the U.S. market. They currently do business with some of the same U.S. customers as PDC. They plan to retain the approximately 160 employees now at PDC and will expand the business over time as market conditions allow.

Officers vindicated by grand jury

A Logan County grand jury found no wrongdoing in the shooting death of Joseph R. Harris at the hands of three police officers.

In May, the grand jury heard testimony from Kentucky State Police Lt. Tim Adams in the shooting of Harris and they decided that the police officers were acting within their authority when they shot and killed Harris on March 15.

The grand jury released a statement after reaching their decision.

It said, “Upon listening to the testimony of Lt. Adams and viewing all the evidence provided, we find that the officers were acting within their authority. We wish that the situation would have been resolved a different way and that the collateral damage to our community could have been minimized. We commend the officers of our community for doing a difficult job in difficult circumstances.”

Commonwealth Attorney Gail Guiling said that the decision to bring results of the investigation to a grand jury was one that she reached in conjunction with Russellville Police chief Victor Shifflet and the KSP.

“We were all on the same page,” Guiling said. “It’s not uncommon for prosecutors to make the call themselves, and I would have felt comfortable doing that, but we felt like the community might feel more confident in the results if that decision was made by the 12 citizens of the grand jury after they heard all the evidence.”

Ruler Foods begins work on new grocery

In June, began at the building that once housed Houchens Grocery, located in off of 9th Street in Russellville. The building sat empty for the past several years after Houchens closed. The property will soon boast a Ruler Foods, which is owned by Kroger.

Ruler Foods is a warehouse store grocery chain in the United States. It is a no-frills grocery store where 80 percent of the offerings are Kroger Brand. The customers bag their own groceries at the checkout, and rent shopping carts for 25 cents, which is then returned when the cart is replaced. This cuts down on the number of employees needed at each store.

Kroger operates Ruler Foods stores in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee. It is part of JayC Food Stores, which was purchased by Kroger in 1999.

According to Bill Pearson, zoning administrator of the City of Russellville, he received all the necessary paperwork recently from the state and also plans for the project.

“The corporation will be utilizing approximately half the existing building,” said Pearson. “From what I understand, Ruler Foods comes into smaller communities.”

Mullins chosen to lead Logan County schools

In June, the Logan County Board of Education officially hired Paul M. Mullins to be the next superintendent of the school district.

Mullins, who has been serving as the superintendent of the Garrard County school system since 2013, had previously been a principal in Logan County. He was the principal at Lewisburg from 2000-2004.

In all, Mullins has 22 years of experience in education. He has also worked as the principal of Larue County High School (2005-2013), principal of Caverna High School (2004-2005), assistant principal and athletic director of Nicholas County High School (1999-2000), teacher in Elizabethtown (1995-2000) and teacher in Hardin County (1994-1995).

He has earned an associate degree from Elizabethtown Community College and a bachelors and masters degrees and a Rank I in school administration from Western Kentucky University.

Mullins received a four-year contract from the Logan County school board to serve as the next superintendent.

He replaced Dr. Kevin Hub, who resigned after two years on the job to take the superintendent position at Scott County schools. Hub announced his resignation in early March and his last day working for the district was June 30.

Posey arrested in Gilbert murder

The Russellville Police Department arrested Gregory “Jap” Posey on Thursday, July 28, 2016, at approximately 11:45 a.m. for the shooting death of Patrick “P.J.” Gilbert. Gilbert, 29, of Russellville, was shot July 24, 2016, on Edwards Street in Russellville.

On Wednesday, July 27, the Russellville Police Department released a statement asking the community for their help in locating Posey, who was wanted for questioning as a person of interest in this case. Posey came into the Russellville Police Station on Thursday morning on his own.

After interviewing Posey, he was taken into custody by the Russellville Police Department and charged with murder and possession of a handgun by a convicted felon. Posey is currently being held on a $1,000,000 bond.

Posey has a lengthy arrest record for drug trafficking charges and has served time in the state penitentiary for federal crimes.

According to the Russellville Police Department, Posey made numerous threats to potential witnesses in the case and law enforcement officials who attempted to contact him.

On the night of the shooting, Gilbert was given medical attention at the scene and was transported to Logan Memorial Hospital where he was later pronounce dead by coroner Mary Givens. Gilbert’s body was then transported to Louisville for an autopsy.

Airport gets $1.6 million for improvements

The Russellville-Logan County Airport recieved $1,600,000 in state funding to help with pavement renovations to the runway.

Gov. Matt Bevin announced in July that select general aviation airports across the state will receive $20 million over the next two years to fund overdue airport pavement renovations. Of that, $1.6 million will be spent in Logan County.

“Every year, hundreds of individuals and companies consider bringing their business to Kentucky. Many of them travel here on corporate jets and land at one of our non-commercial airports,” said Gov. Bevin. “First impressions about Kentucky’s business communities are made starting from the moment an aircraft touches down. For this reason, investing in general aviation airport infrastructure is not merely cosmetic — it’s vital to strengthening the health of Kentucky’s economy.”

Logan County’s state representative, Martha Jane King, was happy to have been a part of getting the funding for the airport.

“Maintaining and upgrading our transportation infrastructure has remained a high priority during my time in Frankfort,” King said. “Roads and airports are vital to Logan County and our continued economic development. I am pleased that we were able to find funding in the 2016 Session for these much needed improvements to the Russellville Logan County Airport. I appreciate the hard work of the members of our airport board and know they will put these funds to good use.”

21-year-old mother killed in apartment

Just shy of a month from the last shooting death in Russellville that took the life of a 29-year-old, another killing claimed the life of a 21-year-old mother at Robinwood Apartments in Russellville in August.

According to police, Lexus Bell was shot once in the head while holding her 1-year-old son around 1 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 21, 2016, in Complex 6B at Robinwood Apartments off of Highland Lick Road. It was reported to be her son’s first birthday.

The investigation is still ongoing. The police do not believe the shooting to be coincidental, but targeted.

According to the police there were eight other children in the residence at the time of the home-invasion. The assailants also fired shots at these children as they exited the residence.

The Russellville Police Department is seeking any information about the shooting. Any information received will be kept confidential and the person may receive up to a $1,000 reward from Russellville-Logan County Crime Stoppers if the information leads to an arrest and conviction of the perpetrator(s).

Logan breaks ground on new ATC

Construction has began on the new Logan County Area Technology Center on the campus of Logan County High School and the school district celebrated that fact this week with a ceremonial groundbreaking on Sept. 7.

Members of the county school board welcomed community leaders, officials, students and others to the site of the new Area Technology Center (ATC) on Wednesday morning to celebrate the beginning of construction.

“As we break ground today, we acknowledge that we are writing a new chapter in our school district’s rich tradition of excellence,” said Logan County schools superintendent Paul Mullins. “We are writing a new chapter in ways that we can better serve the students, the community members, and our business partners. The Logan County ATC will be a cutting-edge facility that will help us develop and educate students with the skills necessary to compete in today’s competitive workplace. Through this partnership, we are building strong connections with local business partners to offer opportunities to train current and future employees and to provide re-training of the adult workforce in Logan County.”

Construction is expected to take 15 months to complete, which could mean the building is finished by November of 2017.

“The best case scenario could be for us to move into the building after Christmas that school year if everything goes to plan,” Mullins said last week.

There are currently 617 students taking classes at the existing ATC on the campus of Russellville High School with 495 of those coming from Logan County High School.

The building area will be 68,000 square feet and includes classrooms for 10 instruction programs: two health science rooms, two business education rooms and one each for information technology, drafting/AutoCAD, automotive technology, electricity technology, welding technology and machine tool technology.

Logan Tele announces Gigabit internet

Logan Telephone Cooperative General Manager Greg Hale made a very big announcement Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016, that will forever affect the future of areas in Logan County. One of the biggest announcements was that the cities of Adairville, Auburn and Lewisburg are now considered Gig-cities thanks to the foresight and commitment to community from the Logan Telephone Co-op.

Logan Telephone Cooperative will now provide Gigabit broadband services in areas where the company has deployed their fiber-to-the-premise network including the cities of Auburn, Adairville, and Lewisburg. The Cooperative has made more than $20 million of new fiber investment since 2013. This investment has led to the availability of world-class Internet services including the new Gigabit offering.

The Cooperative has a distinguished history of providing excellent services to members. Past achievements include being the first company in the state to provide broadband to 100 percent of members and helping to bring excellent 4G wireless services to the area through its partnership in Bluegrass Cellular.

Hale said, “Fiber-to-the-premise is just the next step to make sure the Cooperative helps our community remain a leader in terms of economic development and quality of life for residents. We are proud to bring Gigabit services to our communities, which we believe are some of the best places in the world to live, work, start a business, and raise a family.”

Russellville schools get $1.5 million grant

The Russellville Independent School district recently received a federal grant that will give the schools nearly $1.5 million over the next two years to implement a birth to graduation reading program.

The grant was requested over the summer when the district submitted a 60-page application for the funds.

“We are elated that we were selected and excited about the possibilities for this,” said superintendent Leon Smith. “These federal grants are hard to get and we are very fortunate that we were selected.”

The program will have three main goals.

The first is to all young children are ready to read by the time they enter the school system.

Activities to support this goal include outreach to parents, caregivers, and providers, free age-appropriate books to young children, devices and apps for young children as well as academic and cognitive improvements for 5-year-olds.

Goal 2 will ensure all elementary and middle school students are excellent, accelerated readers. Activities include the instruction of a basal reading series at grades 6-8, coaching and modeling for all teachers in literacy strategies, expanding reading interventions and reading collections including new devices for checkout, implementation of the Peer Assisted Literacy Strategies (grades 6-8), and embedding professional learning for teachers.

And finally, Goal 3 is to ensure all secondary students read to learn by working with high school teachers across their content areas to implement literacy strategies. Activities include supporting a literacy coach.

Bypass construction begins

At the Logan County Economic Alliance for Development business and appreciation luncheon in October, executive director Tom Harned said that the massive construction project should be completed by next fall.

“That is a conservative estimate,” he said.

The Southern Bypass work has been ongoing for months after the bid was accepted for the project in December of 2015.

The road will cost $12,824,638.69, which is more than $3 million less than the estimates given to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet by the engineers working on the project.

This project represents the last remaining section of the Russellville bypass and has been many years in the making. This loop around the city will provide safety and mobility enhancements for all the citizens of Logan and surrounding Counties, particularly in terms of truck traffic. This is likely the most significant highway project in Logan County since the widening of US 68/80 and one that will have a lasting impact on the future of the community.

Harned said the completion of the project will be a boon for Logan County.

“The addition of the Southern Bypass will be of great economic value,” Harned said. “It will improve our transportation and expedite traffic – especially between Clarksville and Bowling Green as well as from Auburn to 431 South to Nashville. It will be a major selling point to prospective employers who are considering locating in Logan County.”

Republicans sweep local, state, national elections

Election Day was very good for Republicans both here in Logan County and across the country as Jason Petrie overthrew incumbent Martha Jane King and Donald Trump proved all the political pundits wrong and was elected President of the United States.

Petrie won big over King in not only Todd and Warren counties, but also in Logan. Petrie collected 6,750 votes in Logan County to King’s 4,144. Petrie received 10,938 votes (65 percent) from all precincts in District 16, which includes all of Logan and Todd and a small portion of Warren County. King got only 5,788.

The victory by Petrie helped Kentucky Republicans to take control of the State House of Representatives for the first time since 1921. Before November, Kentucky was the only state in the south with one law-making chamber held by the Democratic party.

In the main national election, Trump won 71 percent of the votes in Logan County with 7,778. Hillary Clinton got 25 percent with 2,755.

Republican Senator Rand Paul easily won reelection, holding off Lexington mayor Jim Gray by garnering 57 percent of the statewide vote. Paul did even better than his statewide numbers in Logan County, where he got 70 percent of the total votes.

In the race for the U.S. District 1 Representative, which included Logan County; Republican James Comer, the former state Agriculture Commissioner, easily defeated Sam Gaskins with 73 percent of the votes – nearly the exact percentage her received locally in Logan County.

Russellville superintendent announces retirement

fter leading the Russellville Independent school district for the past seven-plus years, superintendent Leon Smith will be retiring at the end of the school year.

Smith made the announcement earlier this month.

“I want to sincerely thank the Russellville School Board members for taking a chance on an unknown and unproven candidate to serve as the Superintendent of Russellville Independent Schools in 2009,” Smith said. “It has been indeed an honor to serve this board, the children of this district, a wonderful staff and the great community of Russellville and Logan County. My time as superintendent have been the very best years of my educational career. It is with heartfelt thanks and much prayer, that I will be retiring.”

Smith will continue working through the end of June.

“I commit to you that I will work tirelessly the next six months to prepare for the next superintendent and I will continue to work hard to make this a very successful school year as well as prepare for the 2017-2018,” he said. “I want to thank each of your for you hard work and your love for our children. Russellville is a great place to work! I believe the future is very bright for this school district! May God continue to bless this district; it will always have a big place in my heart!”

File Photo Pictured left to right at the ribbon cutting of Champion Petfoods are Auburn Mayor Mike Hughes, Micheal Dylan Byrum, state representative Martha Jane King and Edna Hadden Hughes.
http://newsdemocratleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/web1_Champion.jpgFile Photo Pictured left to right at the ribbon cutting of Champion Petfoods are Auburn Mayor Mike Hughes, Micheal Dylan Byrum, state representative Martha Jane King and Edna Hadden Hughes.

Photo by Chris Cooper A shooting occurred in Russellville on Tuesday, March March 15, with one confirmed dead and two seriously injured. Pictured are police talking about the incident a few minutes after it happened.
http://newsdemocratleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/web1_shooting.jpgPhoto by Chris Cooper A shooting occurred in Russellville on Tuesday, March March 15, with one confirmed dead and two seriously injured. Pictured are police talking about the incident a few minutes after it happened.

Photo by Chris Cooper Pictured is officer Seth Whittaker of the Russellville Police Department escorting Gregory “Jap” Posey in July morning to the Logan County Detention Center. Posey was arrested and charged with killing Patrick “P.J.” Gilbert.
http://newsdemocratleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/web1_Posey.jpgPhoto by Chris Cooper Pictured is officer Seth Whittaker of the Russellville Police Department escorting Gregory “Jap” Posey in July morning to the Logan County Detention Center. Posey was arrested and charged with killing Patrick “P.J.” Gilbert.

http://newsdemocratleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/web1_Groundbreaking1.jpg

By OJ Stapleton

ostapleton@newsdemocratleader.com

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