Author Archive for Heather Hyatt

Former Swain County SRO Pleads Guilty to Sex with Underage Student

B9317454802Z.1_20150522142419_000_GUSASAICH.1-0A 32-year-old former resource officer in Swain County schools has pleaded guilty to having sex with a 15-year-old student.

David Peterson, 32, of Bryson City, pleaded guilty to three felony counts of sexual activity with a student in Swain County Superior Court.

Judge Alan Thornburg sentenced Peterson to a minimum of 24 months and a maximum of 48 months

Peterson was fired from his job with the Swain County Sheriff’s Office when he was arrested in March 2014. He was previously a teacher at Swain County High School.

Prosecutors say Peterson met the girl when he was a teacher at the school, and the relationship continued after he left that job. David Peterson of Bryson City has been sentenced to between 24 months and 48 months in prison for three felony counts of sexual activity with a student.

Peterson was fired from his job with the Swain County Sheriff’s Office when he was arrested in March 2014. He was previously a teacher at Swain County High School.

Prosecutors say Peterson met the girl when he was a teacher at the school, and the relationship continued after he left that job.

AT license plate sales exceed $1 million

Appalachian Trail (A.T.) specialty license plate program have exceeded more than 1 million dollars. Since the program’s inception in 2005, it has funded dozens of trail-related projects in the state of North Carolina.

For each North Carolina specialty A.T. plate that is purchased or renewed, the ATC receives $20. The ATC then awards annual grants to organizations and individuals that help fulfill the ATC’s mission within the state of North Carolina and along its common border with Tennessee.

In 2015 alone, the ATC awarded $30,000 for Trail and facilities maintenance, environmental monitoring, natural heritage projects and education and community outreach.

“The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is very appreciative of the support received from North Carolina drivers,” said Morgan Sommerville, ATC regional director. “Support from the purchase of these plates funds projects that would not otherwise occur—both on-the-ground A.T. projects and essential administrative needs in our Asheville office, which will increase our capacity to sustain the trail into the future.”

The North Carolina specialty license plate was made possible after years of work by New Bern attorney and ATC board member Clark Wright. N.C. Sen. Joe Sam Queen, of Waynesville, then sponsored the legislation, which created the tag. Invaluable assistance was also provided by Kay Hatcher of the Department of Motor Vehicles Specialty Tag Office in Raleigh.
For more information about the A.T. specialty license plate program, visit www.appalachiantrail.org/plates.

Sheriff Issues Safety Warning After Assault

The Haywood County Sheriff’s Office is issuing a safety alert and requesting information regarding an assault that occurred at Lake Junaluska Saturday afternoon.

Haywood County Communications received a 911 call Saturday from a female jogger who reported she was running on the lake grounds shortly after 2 p.m. when she was pursued and then grabbed by a stranger. She said the man fled when she screamed and turned to confront him.

The man is described as a white male in his twenties, standing approximately 5 feet 5 inches tall, weighing about 170 pounds with a stocky build, and having a square face with large, wide-set eyes. The man was wearing a white shirt with a gray hoodie, a gray or black hat, dark black jeans and flat VAN-style shoes.

The man is believed to have fled the scene in a green early- to mid-2000s model Ford pickup truck with a silver band and chrome-colored toolbox in the bed.

Haywood County Sheriff Greg Christopher said law enforcement presence has been intensified at the lake grounds and the incident is being actively investigated.

The Sheriff’s Office is working closely with Lake Junaluska officials to attempt to identify and locate the suspect. Anyone with any information about the incident or suspect is asked to contact Haywood County Communications at (828) 452-6666.

To help ensure the safety of citizens and visitors in any part of Haywood County, Sheriff Christopher advises members of the public should:

– Run or walk with a trusted friend rather than alone,
– Not use earbuds, or at least have the volume turned down so hearing is not impaired,
– Let friends or family know where you are going and when you plan to return,
– Carry a mobile telephone or other method of quick communication, and,
– Be aware of your surroundings.

Two Veterans Honored by USET

United South and Eastern Tribes, Incorporated’s (USET) honored two veterans of U.S. armed forces, who are citizens of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. USET presented plaques and blankets show appreciation of their service to Sam Lambert and Ernest D. Panther during the opening ceremonies of the 2015 Semi-Annual Meeting in Mashantucket, Connecticut.

Sam Lambert is a Vietnam veteran, who served three west pacific tours and two Vietnam tours of duty while serving in the United State Navy from 1966 through 1972. Lambert earned the rank off Boatswains Mate 3rd Class and served on the board from Landing Craft Carrier LKA USS Union.

Ernest Panther is a retired staff sergeant from the United States Air Force, who enlisted in 1955 and was assigned to the 3555 Instillation Group at Perrin Air Force Base in Texas and retired in 1975 with more than 21 years of service. In addition to his service, which took him to Japan and various points in the United States, Panther was also on special detail as participant in the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy.

“You are not just veterans of the United States Armed forces. You are valued warriors who have protected our Tribal nations’ sovereignty and are honored members of Indian Country. The plaques and blankets are only small tokens of the tireless work and service you have given to Indian Country by promoting veteran affairs,” USET President Brian Patterson said to Lambert and Panther.

Reducing Rockslide Risk on I-40: Haywood County Lane Closures Start After Memorial Day

A construction project on Interstate 40 in Haywood County will help cut the risk of rockslides. Crews will be removing loose rock and further stabilizing the area in the Pigeon River Gorge.

To prepare for the work, the North Carolina Department of Transportation will be shifting traffic and reducing travel to one lane each direction near the Tennessee border, from mile marker 6 to 8, starting May 26. The lane closures could last up to three weeks, with all lanes expected to re-open by June 15.

“We’ll be shifting both directions of travel toward the river side of the existing median wall,” said Aaron Powell, NCDOT resident engineer. “We’ve widened the shoulder on the eastbound side, and will be installing a temporary concrete barrier wall to separate the directions of travel.”

The speed limit through the construction zone is lowered to 45, and travelers should expect delays from increased congestion. The westbound on-ramp at Exit 7, Harmon Den, has also been closed. Drivers on Cold Springs Creek Road wanting to access I-40 West into Tennessee can travel east to Exit 15, Fine’s Creek. The North Carolina Welcome Center on I-40 East, just beyond the work zone, will remain open.

“We appreciate drivers’ patience during the project, which when finished, will make this a safer stretch of highway,” said Powell.

Duke Energy Pleads Guilty

Duke Energy pleaded guilty in federal court on Thursday to nine criminal violations of the Clean Water Act at five of its North Carolina plants.

The nation’s largest power company agreed to pay $102 million in fines and restitution for the pollution of the Dan River, which flooded with coal ash from Duke’s Eden plant last February, and for illegal dumping practices at sites in Asheville, Moncure, Goldsboro and Mt. Holly.

Part of that sum, $34 million, will be spent on environmental projects and land conservation to benefit North Carolina and Virginia rivers and wetlands.

In a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice, Western District of North Carolina U.S. Attorney Jill W. Rose is quoted saying, “Duke’s subsidiaries discharged potentially toxic pollutants that put at risk North Carolina’s water quality and wildlife, and today’s outcome ensures they will be held responsible for violating federal environmental requirements. The defendants will now have to comply with the terms imposed by the court, including paying hefty financial penalties and making significant financial contributions toward improving the quality of impacted waterways, wetlands and our water supply system.”

Sprint, Verizon to pay $158 million for mobile cramming

Sprint Corporation and Verizon Wireless will pay a combined $158 million for unauthorized charges on consumers’ cell phone bills, Attorney General Roy Cooper announced today.

“Consumers who got hit with extra charges they didn’t agree to now have a chance to get their money back,” Cooper said. “Cell phone carriers must be held accountable and should give customers accurate information that shows them exactly what they owe each month.”

Cooper, the attorneys general for 49 other states and the District of Columbia, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFBP) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), have reached a settlement with Sprint and Verizon over allegations of mobile cramming, the practice of placing unauthorized charges for third-party services on consumers’ cell phone bills.

Under today’s settlements, Sprint will pay $68 million and Verizon Wireless will pay $90 million, including a combined total of $537,689.72 directly to the State of North Carolina. Of those national totals, Sprint will pay $50 million and Verizon $70 million in refunds to consumers across the country who were victims of cramming. Approximately 733,200 North Carolina Verizon consumers are expected to be eligible for money back under that settlement. The Sprint settlement could result in refunds for as many as 397,800 North Carolina consumers.

Cramming on mobile phone bills typically involves a $9.99 per month fee for premium text message subscription services (also known as “PSMS” subscriptions) such as horoscopes, trivia, and sports scores. Usually, consumers unknowingly sign up for these services via websites, for example when they provided their phone number to receive survey results or enter a contest. In many cases, consumers were not told they were signing up for subscription services that could cost them money.

Beginning today, consumers can submit claims under the Sprint and Verizon cramming refund program by visiting www.SprintRefundPSMS.com and/or www.CFPBSettlementVerizon.com. Sprint and Verizon customers should be notified by the respective company if they are eligible for money back. If consumers are unsure about whether they are eligible for a refund, they can visit the claims website or contact the Claims Administrator at (877) 389-8787 (Sprint), and/or (888) 726-7063 (Verizon) for more information.

Sprint and Verizon are the third and fourth mobile telephone providers to enter into nationwide settlements to resolve cramming allegations. AT&T reached a settlement worth $105 million in October 2014 and T-Mobile agreed to a $90 million settlement in December 2014. More than 2 million North Carolina consumers could see money back under the settlements. All four major mobile carriers announced in the fall of 2013 that they would cease billing their customers for commercial PSMS charges.

Similar to the settlements with AT&T and T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon are required to stay out of the commercial PSMS business, which law enforcement agencies point to as the main cause of mobile cramming. In addition, Sprint and Verizon must take a number of steps designed to make sure that they only bill consumers for authorized third-party charges, including:

· Getting consumers’ express consent before billing them for third-party charges, and ensuring that consumers are only charged for services if they’ve been informed of terms and conditions;
· Providing a full refund or credit to consumers who are billed for unauthorized third-party charges at any time after this settlement;
· Informing its customers when they sign up for services that their mobile phone can be used to pay for third-party charges, and how those charges can be blocked if the consumer doesn’t want to use their phone as a payment method; and
· Listing third-party charges in a dedicated section of consumers’ mobile phone bills, clearly distinguished from the carriers’ charges, and include in that same section information about how to block the charges.

“Review your cell phone bill carefully each month to catch any mistakes or unauthorized charges,” cautioned Cooper. “If you notice any charges that you didn’t agree to, notify your mobile phone carrier immediately. If you need help resolving any issues, file a complaint with our office.

North Carolina consumers can file a complaint with Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division by completing a complaint form at ncdoj.gov or calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM toll-free within state.

NC Military Pipeline Helps Public Safety Recruit Qualified Veterans

A new initiative to bring more military veterans into state employment is transitioning service members out of the military and directly into positions with the Department of Public Safety. The NC Military Pipeline, initiated by Gov. Pat McCrory’s office, is aimed at keeping North Carolina-based service members in the state after they leave the military and recruiting them to work for North Carolina employers.

As part of the initiative, Department of Public Safety representatives are involved in recruitment and hiring events at military bases and National Guard regional readiness centers (armories), with a particular emphasis on correctional officer and state trooper candidates. Future plans include recruiting for probation officer positions as well.

At the hiring events, qualified service members can apply and interview for correctional officer positions. The hiring process is streamlined and recommended candidates may receive conditional offers of employment that same day.

“This initiative not only helps the department hire quality candidates with compatible work experience, but it also helps ensure that veterans don’t have to worry about finding and securing stable employment before they leave the service,” said DPS Secretary Frank L. Perry. “This is just one way to show appreciation to those who have served their country and want to extend that service on the state level.”

At three hiring events at military bases in six weeks, DPS has made more than 30 conditional offers of employment with additional offers pending completion of required testing.

Service members who received job offers with the Division of Adult Correction may begin attending a DPS basic correctional officer training school before they are discharged. After discharge they will be able to report to the correctional facility that hired them and immediately begin work as a trained correctional officer.

“This allows the veterans to transition directly into a new job in state service and allows DPS to avoid the salary, meal and transportation costs that are usually incurred during basic training,” said Charles Walston, director of the DPS Office of Staff Development and Training.

Interested applicants for correctional officer and state trooper positions can visit www.ncdps.gov and click on “Jobs” for more information.

Missing Georgia Man Found

A Georgia man who had been missing since Monday was found dead from what authorities believe to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the Crabtree community of northern Haywood County Saturday afternoon.

The body of 46-year-old Douglas Michael Shockley was found by search and rescue personnel at 1:42 p.m. approximately three-fourths of a mile from where his pickup truck was found Thursday. An autopsy will be performed to verify cause of death.

“This is a sad and tragic situation that has changed a family’s dynamics forever,” said Haywood County Sheriff Greg Christopher. “Our prayers are with the family.”

More than fifty search and rescue personnel from numerous area law enforcement, fire, rescue squad, emergency services and canine handlers had been combing the woods and rocky terrain of the Crabtree/Fines Creek area daily since Thursday in an attempt to locate Mr. Shockley.

Mr. Shockley was reported missing from the Bridgemill area in Cherokee County, Georgia, around 9 a.m. Monday, May 11. On Thursday, May 14, Haywood County Sheriff’s deputies received a call reporting an unoccupied vehicle on the side of a road in the Crabtree/Fines Creek area. Deputies checked the white 2015 Nissan Frontier pickup truck and found it was registered to Shockley.

“This was a total team effort that included many agencies I am thankful to have as partners,” Sheriff Christopher said. “I appreciate every agency and individual who has assisted us these last three days.”

Search and rescue personnel from the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office, Emergency Medical Services, 911 and Rescue Squad were joined by others from Waynesville and Canton police departments, as well as Henderson, Jackson and Buncombe County rescue squads, N.C. State Highway Patrol, fire departments from Fines Creek, Crabtree, Cruso and Asheville, the State Bureau of Investigation, NC Search and Rescue Dog teams and the Independent Search & Rescue Canine Handlers in the three-day attempt to locate Mr. Shockley

Arrest Made After Stand Off with Murphy Man

Cherokee County Sheriff Derrick Palmer announced the May 13th, 2015 arrest of 48 year old Wayne Henry Birchfield, who provided a Mableton, Georgia address, following a lengthy standoff with local law enforcement.

Shortly before 9 pm on May 12th, Cherokee County Communications received a call stating that Birchfield was on Sunrise Street in Murphy, North Carolina and was armed with either a firearm or a machete and was creating a disturbance. As members of the Murphy Police Department and the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office arrived, Birchfield, who had made threats previously to attack and kill officers retreated into the Sunrise Street residence restating his threats to assault and kill officers. Birchfield then barricaded himself in the Sunrise Street residence.

Additional officers of the Murphy Police Department, Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, Cherokee Police Department Swat members and the United States Marshals Service responded to the Sunrise Street residence to contain the situation and prevent Birchfield’s escape. During the early morning hours on May 13th, Birchfield exited the residence and then attempted to return. Birchfield was finally apprehended when one of the officers on the scene deployed a taser. Birchfield was given medical attention and transported to the Cherokee County Detention Center.

Birchfield is currently being held at the Cherokee County Detention Center for the United States Marshal’s Service under no bond on federal charges.

Sheriff Palmer stated, “It was great to see the teamwork of all the law enforcement agencies as well as Murphy Fire Department and Cherokee County Emergency Services that were present during this very dangerous situation. During times such as this, it takes all hands working together to bring about a good conclusion like this one. Mr. Birchfield in custody and everybody was able to go home.”

Missing GA Man Vehicle Found in Haywood County

On May 14, Haywood County Sheriff’s deputies received a call in reference to a suspicious unoccupied vehicle on the side of a road in the Fines Creek area. Deputies checked the vehicle and found it was registered to a man listed as missing from Cherokee County, Georgia.

Search and rescue personnel were dispatched and continue to search the area for the missing man, Douglas Michael Shockley. He was last seen at 9 a.m. leaving the Bridgemill area in Georgia wearing blue jeans and a blue-green shirt. He left driving a white 2015 Nissan Frontier pickup.

Shockley is described as a Caucasian male, 46 years of age, approximately 5 feet 8 inches tall, 235 pounds with a muscular build, blue eyes and reddish-blond hair.

Anyone who has any information as to his whereabouts is asked to contact either the Haywood County Communications center at 452-6666 or the Cherokee County, Georgia, Sheriff’s Office at (678) 493-4080.

If you have any information please call 678-493-4080.

Anyone with any information as to his whereabouts is asked to call the Haywood Communications Center at (828) 452-6666.

NC Urges Vigilance to Prevent Rabies

As warmer weather approaches, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Public Health (DPH) encourages North Carolinians to be aware of their surroundings and take precautions while enjoying the North Carolina outdoors with family, friends and pets, to prevent the spread of rabies.

Rabies is a deadly viral disease that attacks the central nervous system of warm-blooded animals, particularly mammals. In North Carolina, raccoons and bats serve as the source for most rabies viruses. These species may infect other animals such as skunks, red and gray foxes, coyotes, groundhogs and beavers. Any animal infected with rabies poses a human health risk. In 2014, there were more than 350 cases of animal rabies in North Carolina.

“Rabies is a preventable disease,” said State Public Health Veterinarian Carl Williams. “To protect your loved ones, including your pets, make sure you take basic precautions when enjoying time outside this spring and summer.”

Steps you can take to protect yourself, loved ones and pets include:

Vaccinate your pets against rabies and keep the vaccinations current. North Carolina rabies law requires that all owned dogs, cats and ferrets must be vaccinated against rabies by four months of age.
Supervise pets outdoors, and keep all pets on a leash.
Do not feed pets outdoors. Pet food attracts wildlife.
Do not feed wildlife, feral cats or feral dogs.
Secure garbage cans with wildlife-proof lids.
Leave young wildlife alone. If you find a juvenile animal that appears to need help, it is best to leave it alone and call a wildlife professional.
In the United States, human fatalities associated with rabies occur in people who fail to seek medical assistance, usually because they were unaware of their exposure. In most cases, fatality from rabies in infected humans can be prevented by prompt medical attention and vaccination.

If you are bitten or scratched by any animal that could possibly have rabies:
Clean the wound well with soap and running water for 15 minutes and contact your doctor. The doctor will determine if a series of rabies vaccinations will be needed.
Note the location and a description of the animal to provide to animal control.
Do not try to catch any wild animal that bites or scratches you. Call animal control immediately to capture the animal for rabies testing.
If the animal is someone’s pet, get the owner’s name and address and provide them to the animal control officer. Any mammal can transmit rabies. The animal that bit you, depending on the species and circumstances, must be evaluated or tested for rabies.
For more information, including facts and figures on rabies, visit: http://epi.publichealth.nc.gov/cd/rabies/figures.html

For recommendations regarding the public and interacting with wildlife, including feeding or rescuing wildlife, visit: www.ncwildlife.org/Portals/0/WildlifeProblems/documents/Feeding-Wildlife-Hazards.pdf

School lock down in Haywood County

Waynesville Middle School has implemented a minimum lockdown for precautionary purposes on Wednesday.
A vague and non-specific written threat was discovered on campus. After conferring with local law enforcement, school administrators implemented a minimum lockdown to follow up on investigative leads in a secure setting.

There was no apparent danger to students, staff or property. Additional information will follow as the investigation proceeds.

Haywood County Car Chase Ends in Arrests

A car chase that ended in a single-vehicle wreck in a pond on the Junaluska Golf Course this morning led to several felony charges for the vehicle’s occupants.

Haywood County Communications received a call shortly after 5:30 a.m. reporting two Duke Energy trucks had been stolen from the plant at the Waterville Dam in northern Haywood County. One truck had been abandoned in the nearby construction zone on Interstate 40, but the other was still missing.

A Haywood County deputy spotted a Duke Energy truck matching the stolen truck’s description near Lake Junaluska around 7:30 a.m. and attempted to stop the vehicle. Instead of stopping, the Quad-cab F250 increased speed and drove at high rates of speed on U.S. 19/23/74, Jones Cove Road and Interstate 40, driving the wrong way into on-coming traffic on at least two occasions.

Due to the recklessness and endangerment to which the driver had subjected the public, a deputy used his shotgun in an attempt to disable the vehicle near the Clyde exit. The truck sustained damage to the left rear tire and exited the interstate. The damaged truck continued down U.S. 19/23/74 and proceeded toward Lake Junaluska. The truck then drove out onto the Junaluska Golf Course and into a pond.

There were no injuries.

Deputies arrested 30-year-old Matthew Neal McCullough and 25-year-old Tiffany Marie Brainard; both of Travelers Rest, SC. Each was charged with two counts of felony breaking and entering a motor vehicle, felony breaking and entering, felony larceny of a motor vehicle, felony possession of a motor vehicle, and felony flee to elude arrest. Each was jailed in lieu of $15,000 secured bond.

Their court date has been set for May 28. The case remains under investigation.

Couple Sought In Stolen Equipment Case

Deputies are asking for the public’s help in locating two people they believe are stealing and trading heavy equipment in Haywood County and in surrounding states.

The Haywood County Sheriff’s Office has drawn warrants against 44-year-old Robert Eugene Woodward, of Gastonia, and 19-year-old Madison Brooke Hall, of Anderson County, South Carolina on charges of feloniously obtaining property by false pretense and felonious larceny and possession of a motor vehicle.

Detectives believe the pair rented a small excavator from an equipment rental business in Columbia, South Carolina, and then instead of returning it, traded it for a motorhome in Haywood County. The 2005 Trail Light motorhome is still missing.

The couple is wanted elsewhere in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia in reference to similar crimes.

Equipment rental companies in the area are advised to be vigilant and watchful concerning rentals at this time.

Anyone with any information regarding Woodward or Hall SHOULD NOT APPROACH them, but instead consider them potentially dangerous and contact Haywood County Communications at (828) 452-6666 or their local law enforcement agency immediately.

Haywood County Man Killed in Lawn Mower Accident

At approximately 9 p.m. Sunday, Haywood Communications Center received a 911 call in reference to an accident with injuries on Pot Leg Road in the Jonathan Creek community. First Responders, Emergency Medical Services and Haywood County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded.
Upon arrival, responders attended 64-year-old Ronald Ray Brown, who sustained injuries when the lawn mower on which he had been riding slid off a bank and rolled over on him. He was pronounced dead at the scene. No other persons were involved.

Man Arrested For Holding Teen at Knifepoint

t600-mugA man accused of holding a teen at knifepoint, in her car in Waynesville, has been arrested.

Bradley Scott Reece is charged with 2nd degree kidnapping and breaking & entering into a vehicle.

Reece allegedly followed the 18-year-old to a parking lot, got into her backseat and demanded she drive him to a location a mile away.

According to the Haywood County Detention Center, Reece is being held under a $35,000 bond.

His next court date is scheduled for June 10th at 8:30am.

WCU has $511 million impact on WNC economy, statewide study of education says

Western Carolina University was responsible for injecting an estimated $511.3 million into the Western North Carolina economy during the 2012-13 fiscal year through the combined impact of payroll, operational, construction and research expenditures by the university and the spending habits of its students, visitors and alumni.

That is among the findings of a comprehensive study conducted by Economic Modeling Specialists International to examine the impact of higher education on North Carolina. The EMSI study examined the combined impact of the University of North Carolina system, North Carolina Community College system and private institutions, and also assessed the impact of individual UNC campuses, private colleges and community colleges on their local economies.

Western Carolina’s estimated impact of $511.3 million represents approximately 2.7 percent of the total gross regional product for the 10 counties examined in the WCU regional study – Buncombe, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Swain and Transylvania. The added regional income created by WCU is equivalent to creating 10,475 new jobs, the study indicates.

In addition, the study calculates the return on investment in WCU for students, society and taxpayers, finding that for every dollar students invest in their educations, they will receive $2.90 in higher future income. From a statewide societal perspective, for each dollar that society spent on education at WCU in the year analyzed, North Carolina will receive a cumulative value of $10.60 in benefits such as savings related to reduced crime, lower unemployment and increased health and well-being across the state.

For every dollar invested by state and local taxpayers to support the operations of WCU in the 2012-13 fiscal year, those taxpayers gained $5.40 in added tax revenues collected and public sector savings, the EMSI researchers said. Specifically, taxpayers contributed $85 million toward WCU that year, while the added tax revenue stemming from students’ higher lifetime incomes and increased output of businesses totaled $358.6 million, with another $103.6 million in benefits because of reduced demand for government-funded services, the study revealed.

“It has been no secret that Western Carolina University and our UNC system, community college and private institution partners in higher education are engines of economic and community development for the communities and regions we serve,” WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher said.

“It is heartening to read the results of this study, which clearly demonstrates the incredible value that WCU and other institutions bring to the state and to the region. I trust that elected officials, taxpayers, students, parents, alumni, donors, and the business community will appreciate the exceptional return on investment our state and region receive when they invest in higher education, whether through appropriations, tax dollars, tuition and fees, or charitable contributions,” Belcher said.

Other findings from the EMSI report about the impact of WCU on the regional economy in the year of the study:

* Research at WCU generated $849,700 in added regional income, which is equivalent to creating 15 new jobs.

* Construction spending by WCU was $2.3 million, equivalent to 79 new jobs.

* About 67 percent of the undergraduate and graduate students at WCU originated from outside the 10-county region. Spending by those students who relocated to the region added approximately $39.9 million to the regional economy, equivalent to 895 new jobs.

* Out-of-region visitors attracted to WNC because of activities at WCU spent about $34.8 million at hotels, restaurants, gas stations and other regional businesses, equivalent to creating 897 new jobs.

* The accumulated contribution of WCU alumni who are employed in the 10-county region amounted to $266.7 million in added regional income, equivalent to creating 5,643 new jobs.

Leaders from WCU, UNC Asheville and Asheville Buncombe Technical Community College gathered Friday, Feb. 20, at the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce to discuss the impacts of their respective institutions – and of Blue Ridge, Haywood, Southwestern and Tri-County community colleges – on the communities that that they serve.

Belcher, UNC Asheville Chancellor Mary K. Grant and A-B Tech President Dennis F. King announced that public higher education institutions in WNC were responsible for injecting at least $2 billion into the state and regional economy during the 2012-13 fiscal year through their institutional expenditures and the spending habits of their students, visitors and alumni. Of that $2 billion, roughly 75 percent ($1.52 billion) stays in the 11 counties of WNC (Buncombe, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Madison, Swain and Transylvania), they said.

“I am a proud product of North Carolina’s public higher education system, as are my wife and my children, so I know first-hand of the value that the UNC system and the North Carolina Community College system bring to the people of North Carolina,” said N.C. Sen. Tom Apodaca, a 1980 graduate of WCU.

“From laid-off factory workers seeking retraining at their local community colleges so they can re-enter the workforce of the 21st century to first-generation college students finding a welcoming environment at our regional universities, the people of our communities benefit tremendously from public higher education,” Apodaca said. “The results of this economic impact study also show the impact that these institutions are having on our state and regional businesses and on society as a whole.”

The meeting of regional leaders of public higher education followed on the heels of a Feb. 18 announcement of the statewide impact of the UNC and community college systems and private institutions. That statewide study reported the UNC system alone, including campuses and affiliated medical institutions, created $27.9 billion in added state income, which is equal to approximately 6.4 percent of the total Gross State Product of North Carolina and is equivalent to creating 426,052 new jobs.

Looking at the statewide picture, WCU created $901.8 million in additional income in North Carolina during the 2012-13 fiscal year, an economic impact equivalent to creating 15,381 new jobs.

The EMSI researchers say that initial spending by colleges and universities on payroll, operations or goods and services creates a multiplier effect across other businesses throughout the state and regional economy. Data and methods used in the study are based on several sources, including the 2012-13 academic and financial reports from the campuses, industry and employment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics and U.S. Census Bureau, and a variety of studies and surveys relating education to social behavior.

Researchers say the study applies a conservative methodology and follows standard practice using only the most recognized indicators of investment effect and economic impact.

For a copy of the full report, including a description of the data and methods used, visit the University of North Carolina website at www.northcarolina.edu/economic-impact-2015.

For more information about WCU’s regional economic impact, a printable PDF is available at www.wcu.edu/WebFiles/PDFs/15-123-Economic-Impact-Report-Western-Version.pdf.

Crimes Targeting Elderly in Jackson County

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office is seeking information on individuals who are targeting the elderly possible posing as telephone workers or potentially state workers. Suspects lure victims outside, and usually behind their home while another suspect enters the home. The suspect that is with the victim behind the house then receives a phone call and says he has to leave. (This is possibly the other suspect calling to let him know he has gained the cash he was looking for).

Suspects described as two white males; both in their 50’s; one with a grey beard; operating a tan or light colored pickup truck, maybe 2005 model GMC Canyon, with a ladder and black plastic in the bed of the truck.

The Jackson County incident took place on May 3, 2015 around 530pm in the Glenville Community. Investigators are in contact with Habersham County, Georgia who also may have similar incidents.

If anyone has further information or may have been a target of these suspects, please contact Jackson County Sheriff’s Office Detective Andi Green at 828-586-1392.

Faced With A Shifting Shoreline, North Carolina’s Ferry System Charts A New Course

The people who live on the Outer Banks don’t need anyone to tell them Hatteras Inlet’s width is growing. Old timers here will tell you the distance between Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands used to be the length of a good tee shot. Now, the inlet separating the two coastal enclaves is nearly two miles wide. Hurricane Isabel seemed to kickstart the process in 2003. Hurricane Irene in 2011 made it worse.

For the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Ferry System, the widening inlet created shoaling that clogged the channel its car ferries traditionally used to carry hundreds of thousands people and vehicles between the two islands every year. Despite repeated attempts by the Army Corps of Engineers to keep the channel open, its dredging efforts weren’t enough. In December 2013, the Ferry Division determined the route was no longer safe, and switched to a longer, more stable route that extended further into Pamlico Sound.

Despite its safety and stability, the new route led to new problems. Significantly higher fuel costs. Fewer scheduled departures in the busy summer season. Longer lines. Frustrated residents and visitors.

“Right now, we have a major congestion problem at Hatteras,” says North Carolina Ferry Division Director Ed Goodwin. “Day trippers are turning around rather than waiting for hours to board a ferry. Because of that, fewer people are visiting Ocracoke. We have to do something.”

That “something” could come in the form of the M/V Provincetown III, which arrived on the Outer Banks May 1 and was opened to the public for tours May 4-5. The ship, a 149-passenger catamaran-type ferry, is making several test runs between the islands, in what could be a prelude to supplementing the current fleet of car ferries with passenger-only ferry service between Hatteras and Ocracoke’s Silver Lake Harbor, right in the heart of Ocracoke Village. “The idea is that passengers would be taken straight into the village, where they wouldn’t necessarily need their cars,” says Ferry Division Assistant Director Jed Dixon. “If we could bring more people to Ocracoke in fewer vehicles, it would be a win-win for the Ferry System and for the people and businesses of Ocracoke.”

The visit from the Provincetown III, which is on the way from its winter home in the Caribbean to its summer job ferrying passengers between Boston and Provincetown, Massachusetts, is part of a feasibility study on passenger ferry service and other alternatives to alleviate the Hatteras congestion. The North Carolina Department of Transportation contracted with transportation consulting firm Volkert to conduct the study, which is set to be completed by the end of 2015.

“We’ll be asking all the tough questions,” says Will Letchworth, a transportation engineer and Volkert’s project manager. “Will day trippers be willing to part with their cars? Where can they park in Hatteras? How many passenger ferries would we need and what size should they be? Would there need to be transit options in Ocracoke? What kind of docks would need to be built? Would continuous dredging in Hatteras Inlet be feasible? There are a lot of differing opinions out there, and we will be listening to all of them.”

One thing everyone agrees on is that something needs to be done soon. Visitation to Ocracoke, accessible only by boat or private plane, dropped by 20 percent after the ferries started using the longer route. “Ocracoke’s economy can’t take any more hits,” says Hyde County Manager Bill Rich. “Tourists are the lifeblood of this island, and ferries are the only way we have to get them here. One way or another, we need to get our visitors back.”

For now, the Ferry Division is strongly encouraging this summer’s travelers to take their Ocracoke trips in off-peak hours, hoping to move the needle enough to alleviate the longest wait times. But everyone knows it’s only a temporary fix.

And like the land that used to bridge the distance between Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands, the time for a more permanent solution is quickly disappearing.