WCU Potential for 4th Year of Record Enrollment

The potential exists for a fourth straight year of record enrollment as the Western Carolina University community prepares to welcome new and returning students for the start of the fall semester.
Fall classes start Monday, Aug. 17, but WCU’s official student headcount will be an unknown until the 10th class day Friday, Aug. 28, which is “census day” as specified by the University of North Carolina General Administration. Current indicators point to the possibility of another all-time high for WCU’s total enrollment, said Phil Cauley, the university’s director of student recruitment.

The recent upward trend in enrollment began in 2012, when 9,608 students attended WCU, followed by 10,107 in 2013 and 10,382 last year. At this time of year, student registration totals ebb and flow as final orientation sessions, course change periods, drop for nonpayment and late registration occur, Cauley said. “Stronger retention rates in the large entering first-year classes in recent years, solid transfer numbers and healthy distance learning registrations could add up to another total record enrollment,” he said.

Last year’s freshman class at WCU exceeded expectations at 1,745 students, the largest class of first-year students since an enrollment boom of the post-Vietnam mid-1970s, Cauley said. “While this fall’s entering first-year class will not challenge last year’s total, the fall 2015 entering class is expected to be the second- or third-largest entering class since the 1970s,” he said.

Former Harrah’s Employee Convicted of Embezzlement

Keith Alan Franklin, 27, of Waynesville was sentenced to more than two years in federal prison after pleading guilty to embezzling more than $400,000 from Harrah’s Cherokee Casino while he was an employee. He must also pay $475,000 in restitution to the casino.

In a sentencing hearing Tuesday at the federal courthouse in Asheville, Franklin was sentenced to 27 months in prison. Franklin pleaded guilty to theft by an employee of gaming establishments on Indian lands.

Franklin was ordered to serve three years of supervised release after he leaves prison.

According to court records, Franklin embezzled money from Harrah’s from October 2013 to April 2014. Franklin was employed at Harrah’s and had direct access to the casino’s funds during this period, according to court documents.

Franklin was fired in April 2014 and pleaded guilty in October 2014 to the embezzlement charge.

Franklin is currently in federal custody and will be transferred to the Federal Bureau of Prisons upon designation of a federal facility. All federal sentences are served without the possibility of parole.

The U.S. Secret service handled the investigation, assisted by the Cherokee police.

Homicide Arrest in Cullowhee

On August 12, 2015 Deputies with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office responded to a residence located on Setting Sun Lane, Cullowhee, North Carolina. Deputies with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office along with Agents with the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation located Jennifer Sellers deceased inside the residence. Also located at the residence was eighteen year old Daniel Sellers, the son of Jennifer Sellers.

Upon further investigation investigators obtained sufficient probable cause to arrest Daniel Sellers. Daniel Sellers has been charged with murder and is being transferred from the Jackson County Detention Center to a North Carolina Department of Corrections facility that is better suited to meet his medical needs. This is an ongoing investigation.

Buncombe Commissioner Holly Jones to run for Lt. Governor

Buncombe County Commissioner Holly Jones announced today that she is entering the race for Lieutenant Governor. Jones, who has spent the last 14 years serving in local government, said she is running because of the General Assembly’s constant meddling in local affairs. She says that Raleigh needs new leaders who better understand and respect the role of local government instead of partisans who just want to score political points.

“As County Commissioner, I’ve seen firsthand the damage these legislators have done to our counties,” Jones said. “In 2011, Buncombe became ground zero for their heavy-handed tactics. They’re playing politics while we’re trying to govern.”
Jones says the legislature redistricted Buncombe County, meddled in airport business, and even tried to seize Asheville’s water supply, a multi-million-dollar asset. She also points to redistricting in Wake County and Greensboro, as well as changing nonpartisan elections to partisan ones in Lee County.

Jones also criticized Republicans for cutting budgets that pass expenses to local governments. She called them unfunded mandates, and said they hurt the state as a whole.

“In their ideological zeal, Republican legislators have slashed public education, leaving our schools underfunded and our teachers underpaid,” said Jones. “They’ve short-changed our children and our future.”

Jones was elected to the Buncombe County Commission in 2008, and before that, spent seven years on the Asheville City Council, including two as Vice Mayor. During her tenure, Asheville and Buncombe County have seen impressive economic growth. In the last five years, Jones and her colleagues have created 2,860 jobs paying an average of $44,667 a year, and Buncombe County has the lowest unemployment rate in the state. They have accomplished this while passing the state’s most ambitious carbon emission reduction goals and awarding teachers among the dozen highest salary supplements of any county.

Jones is the Director of Member Services for YWCA USA. Prior to that, she was the Director of the Southeast Region and Executive Director of the Asheville YWCA. She began her career as a public health educator in Durham after obtaining her B.A. in Public Policy Analysis and a Masters of Public Health from UNC-Chapel Hill. Jones also has a Masters in Divinity from Duke University and spent three years doing mission work.

“I’ve never been one to sit idly by, and I’m certainly not going to now,” Jones said. “I’m ready to fight to put North Carolina back on the right track, and to bring the Buncombe success story to the rest of the state.”
Jones grew up in Wadesboro and Asheboro, the daughter of a public school teacher and a former state senator and county commissioner. For the last 19 years, Jones has made her home in Asheville, where she lives with her husband, Bob Falls, and their daughter, Gabriela.

Haywood County High Speed Motorcycle Chase

Monday Waynesville Police and Highway Patrol were led on a high speed chase involving a stolen motorcycle. They are still looking for the driver who was involved in a high-speed pursuit along U.S. 23 /19 and U.S. Business 23.

Trooper Hunter Hooper attempted to stop a pair of motorcycles for speeding as they were headed east on U.S. 19/23. One of the riders fled, reaching speeds in excess of 140 mph.

During the chase, a car got between the trooper and the motorcycle who was fleeing and the officer lost sight of it near the 100 mile marker. Another trooper picked up the chase near the 102 mile marker and followed it.

The motorcyclist turned off on Howell Mill Road, which is in the midst of construction renovations. The driver, described only as a white male wearing a white full face helmet and black vest, ditched the bike in a motorcycle-parking shed behind the Evergreen Packaging plant.

He left the cycle running with the keys in the ignition and took off on foot. Despite an extensive search of the surrounding area by Waynesville police officers and Highway Patrol troopers, the suspect could not be found.

The blue Yamaha sport bike was reported stolen from Tennessee, and carried Florida plates set to expire in August 2015.

The incident is still under investigation.

Abducted Jackson County Girl Found

A missing girl has been found. The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office wants to report that Phoenix Coralee Crawford has been located in Greenville, South Carolina.

Investigators with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office while following up on leads for the whereabouts of Phoenix Coralee Crawford and her mother, Samantha Diane Crawford were able to determine a possible location.

With the assistance from the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, Investigators were able to locate Phoenix Coralee Crawford and Samantha Diane Crawford. Currently Samantha Diane Crawford is in custody in Greenville, South Carolina awaiting extradition back to Jackson County, North Carolina. Phoenix Coralee Crawford is in good health and is being reunited with her family.

New Traffic Pattern at SCC for Back to School

Due to the ongoing nature of multiple construction projects on and around the Jackson Campus, Southwestern Community College officials encourage faculty, staff, students and visitors to check the college’s website and social media outlets for updates before fall semester classes start on Monday, Aug. 17.

Road construction related to the R5000 project will not be completed before fall classes begin, so there will be only one entrance into the Jackson Campus. The middle turn lane from NC Highway 116 has been shortened to roughly 2-3 car lengths, so vehicles waiting to turn left into College Drive will spill into the primary westbound lane at peak traffic times in the morning hours of school days.

R5000 as well as other on-campus construction projects will also alter both pedestrian and vehicle traffic patterns.

Governor Announces New Transportation Secretary

The acting secretary of the North Carolina Department of Transportation will assume permanent leadership over the agency a week after the former head Tony Tata resigned to focus time on his writing career.

Gov. Pat McCrory announced Thursday to a meeting of the state Board of Transportation that Nick Tennyson, a former chief deputy secretary of the department, would assume the top job full-time.

Tennyson has been a supporter of the governor’s proposal to borrow almost $3 billion for road and infrastructure projects. The House recently unveiled a similar proposal focused more on infrastructure.

Fatal Accident in Franklin Claims Mother and Son

A traffic crash in Macon County claimed the lives of a mother and son from Franklin.

Troopers say a van and a suburban collided Wednesday afternoon on Highway 64, also known as Highlands Road. The accident happened about 2pm near the entrance to the Riverbend RV Park and Campground.

They say the van, driven by 16 year old Caleb Sloope, was heading west when it ran off the road. Authorities say Sloope over-corrected and rolled the van into the path of the suburban, which was heading east.

Caleb Sloope’s mother, Joy, was in passenger seat and died at the scene. The highway patrol says Caleb Sloope died later at the hospital. His sister, 17 year old Cameron is in critical condition at Mission Hospital, but expected to live.

86 year old Herwart Hugel and his 80 year old wife Ingrid were taken to Mission Hospital.

N.C. wine and grape industry has $1.71-billion impact on state’s economy

Wine lovers may raise a glass to a new report that shows the North Carolina wine and grape industry contributes $1.71 billion to the state’s economy.

“It is encouraging to see continued growth in the wine and grape industry, not only for our wineries, but also for our grape growers,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “More than 77 percent of all wine produced in North Carolina comes from North Carolina grapes.”

The study was commissioned by the N.C. Wine and Grape Council and conducted by Frank, Rimerman + Co. using data from 2013. The firm also conducted the council’s 2009 economic impact study.

The economic impact of the industry grew 33.6 percent from 2009 to 2013.

Tourism accounted for the most significant increase in the study. Between 2009 and 2013, tourism expenditures increased 65 percent, to $257 million. The number of tourists visiting N.C. wineries increased by nearly a half-million people from 2009 to 2013.

“Many of our wineries are opening up their vineyards to wine-related events, private parties, weddings and other special occasions to attract more visitors and diversify their income,” said Whit Winslow, executive director of the Wine and Grape Council. “The new numbers reflect an increase in consumer demand for experiences beyond the tasting room.”

According to the report, North Carolina is home to 130 wineries and 525 commercial grape growers. Winslow said that because of substantial growth over the past two years, North Carolina now has 159 wineries.

There will be plenty of opportunities to visit local wineries in September as the state celebrates North Carolina Wine and Grape Month. The harvest season will be under way, and visitors can participate in grape stomps, wine festivals and other events at many of the state’s wineries. In addition, the N.C. Wine and Grape Council will sponsor Grape Day at the State Farmers Market in Raleigh on Sept. 18. The council also will hold the annual N.C. State Fair Wine Competition for amateur and commercial wine producers. Judging will take place Sept. 2 and 3 in Raleigh.

Missing Haywood County Man’s Body Found in Creek

Searchers found the body of a missing Haywood County Man in a creek on Monday afternoon.

Johnnie Rathbone, 67, of Mauney Cove Road was reported missing by family on Monday after not having heard from him since Saturday.

During a routine patrol, a Haywood County deputy found Rathbone’s car around 2:45pm at a parking area off US 19 near Lake Junaluska. Search and Rescue personnel found Rathbone’s body at about 5pm in Richland Creek, about 200 yards away from his car.

An autopsy will be performed to verify his cause of death.

Fly Fishing Museum Opens in Cherokee NC

Cherokee NC’s newest attraction – the Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians – is now open. Through exhibits and videos visitors will learn about past fly fishing legends, the evolution of rods and reels, basic knots, fly-tying, types of gear, types of gamefish, regional fishing waters, and the history of fly fishing in the Southeast.

The museum is open daily (off-season schedule may vary). The website, FlyFishingMuseum.org, has hours of operation, directions, and exhibit information, as well as membership and donation opportunities.

The museum is the recipient of start-up grants from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation and tremendous support from the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians. Two other large donations include a grant for the Tailrace Exhibit from Tennessee Valley Authority, and a $20,000 donation by Southern Trout Magazine.

“We’re pleased that Southern Trout has been so generous in its support of the museum,” says curator Alen Baker. “The donation is largely in the form of advertising, which is great for the museum as the magazine is well-read by fly fishermen.”

The museum is centrally located in Cherokee – next door to the Visitor Center, and across from the Fairgrounds and the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. The back deck of the museum building overlooks the Oconaluftee River; and the Museum is within walking distance of Oconaluftee Islands Park.

Cherokee is the home of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and some of Western North Carolina’s most acclaimed trout waters.

SCC Foundation’s gala nets more than $51,000 to support student scholarships

Thanks to a significant contribution from presenting sponsor Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort and the generosity of more than 180 attendees on July 25, the Southwestern Community College Foundation’s “Bluegrass, Blue Jeans & Bling” gala yielded more than $51,000 that will be used to create the $1 million endowed Student Success fund.

Harrah’s presenting sponsorship allowed the SCC Foundation to put about 90 percent of funds raised directly into the Student Success Campaign – the most ambitious fundraising effort in college history.

“We are so grateful for the phenomenal support and hospitality of everyone at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort,” said Dr. Don Tomas, president of SCC. “Everyone seemed to have a wonderful evening, and we’re thrilled to have been able to raise this much money to benefit our students.”

The gala served as an unofficial kickoff to Phase 2 of the Student Success Campaign, which aims to raise more than $1 million. SCC successfully completed Phase 1 by fully leveraging a federal matching grant in October.

That U.S. Department of Education challenge grant doubled the first $300,000 raised by the campaign, which now has more than $700,000 in the bank.

“We’re well on our way in the ‘March to a Million,’” said Brett Woods, director of the SCC Foundation. “I continue to be humbled by the generosity of people in our community who recognize the value of Southwestern and the way we serve Jackson, Macon, Swain Counties and the Qualla Boundary.”

For the upcoming (2015-16) academic year, 226 students applied for scholarships through the SCC Foundation. Enough resources were available to fund just 61 of those requests.

The Student Success Campaign is an effort to bridge that gap between need and availability. Interest from the money raised so far is being used to fund two scholarships for the 2015-16 academic year.

“We want to do more, and we need help from the community to reach the million-dollar mark,” said Lynda Parlett, executive director of institutional development at SCC. “Our ultimate goal is to someday be able to offer a hand up to every one of our students who needs it.”

Author of ‘The Other Wes Moore’ to speak at WCU’s New Student Convocation

Wes Moore, author of The New York Times bestselling book “The Other Wes Moore,” will visit Western Carolina University to deliver the keynote address during the university’s annual New Student Convocation on Friday, Aug. 14.
Members of WCU’s incoming freshman class and new transfer students will have an opportunity to hear Moore’s perspectives during the convocation set for 5:30 p.m. in Ramsey Regional Activity Center. The event is open to everyone.
“The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates” is the true story of two young boys who grew up with the same name and in the same city. One of the boys, the Wes Moore who wrote the book, escaped the pitfalls of being raised in a rough neighborhood and became a Rhodes Scholar, decorated military combat veteran, White House Fellow and business leader. He now lives in Baltimore with his wife and two children. The other Wes Moore is currently serving a life sentence in prison for felony murder.
WCU’s new freshmen have been reading Moore’s book his summer as they participate in the university’s “One Book” program. The students received a free copy of the bestseller during June orientation sessions and they are expected to engage in a “common intellectual conversation” about the book as it is incorporated into many first-year courses, said Glenda Hensley, director of WCU’s Office of First Year Experience.
Hensley’s office directs the “One Book” program, which is sponsored by WCU’s Division of Student Success.
Lowell K. Davis, WCU’s assistant vice chancellor for student success, said Moore’s story “compels readers to imagine the many potentials of their own lives and understand the opportunities that are a part of every day.”
“It is my hope that the selection of ‘The Other Wes Moore’ as our ‘One Book’ for this academic year will lead students to this kind of self-reflection and impact the way they make choices during their time here at Western, and beyond,” Davis said.
The Aug. 14 convocation also will include remarks from WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher and university Provost Alison Morrison-Shetlar.
A few weeks after the convocation, students will participate in roundtable discussions about the book at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17, in the Grandroom of A.K. Hinds University Center and at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 23, in the Blue Ridge Hall conference room. Other panel discussions are planned for September and October.

NCDOT Accepting Proposals for Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning Grants

The N.C. Department of Transportation is accepting proposals from communities for the 2016 Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning Grant Initiative. The program provides funding for municipalities across the state to develop comprehensive bicycle or pedestrian plans. Smaller communities with populations of less than 5,000 can also apply to develop combined bicycle and pedestrian plans.

The deadline for application, to be submitted electronically, is Friday, Oct. 30 at 5 p.m. Award recipients will be notified by March 2016.

“These plans have a positive impact on the economy, health and safety; and are the first steps in laying the groundwork for future projects that promote options for bicycling and walking locally,” said Division of Bicycle and Pedestrian Director Lauren Blackburn.

This program is sponsored by the department’s Division of Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation and the Transportation Planning Branch. Since 2004, nearly $4.5 million has been awarded through this program to 164 municipalities across the state.

Proposals are divided and judged in geographical groups to help establish equitable distribution of funding across the state. The selected awardees commonly incorporate a diverse mix of municipalities from large cities to small towns.

Plans funded are not for one specific project, but represent a comprehensive strategy for expanding bicycle and pedestrian opportunities within a given municipality. The plans address facilities, programs, policies and design guidelines that encourage safe walking and bicycling.

Investigation into Suspicious Package at Cashiers Bank

On August 3, 2015, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office was contacted by the Jackson County Emergency Management Office and informed of a suspicious package at Macon Bank, 500 US Highway 64 East in Cashiers, North Carolina. The Cashiers/Glenville Fire Department was already on scene at the bank and was speaking with bank personnel. A determination was made to proceed with protocol dealing with unknown and suspicious packages.

Deputy Sheriffs arrived on scene and along with fire personnel set up a secure area around the bank and adjacent areas. The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation was contacted to respond with their bomb unit.

During the course of the investigation into the package, a determination was made the package had potential to have been an unscheduled weekend delivery. As a result, the package was examined and determined no longer be suspicious. The scene was cleared and business at the bank was allowed to resume to normal.

Death Penalty Recommended in Buncombe County Murder Case

B9316753461Z.1_20150326162017_000_GPSA9M2MN.1-0A Leicester man suspected in the murder and dismemberment of Former Food Network celebrity chef Cristie Codd, her husband Joseph “J.T.” Codd and their unborn child, will face the death penalty if convicted. The Codds went missing in March. Their remains were later found inside a woodstove on Owens’ property. Owens had been hired as a handyman by the Codd’s who were neighbors.

Robert Jason Owens, 37, appeared Buncombe County Superior Court Monday afternoon. District Attorney Todd Williams recommended the case against Owens be punishable by death.

In addition to two counts of first-degree murder, Owens is charged with two counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon, two counts of dismembering human remains and murder of an unborn child.

There are 10 convicted murderers from Buncombe County who were sentenced in the last 25 years and are still sitting on state and federal death rows.

NAACP Public Forum on Law Enforcement with Sheriff and Police Chiefs

The Jackson County Branch of the NAACP invites the public to attend “Jackson County Justice: A Public Forum on Law Enforcement” at 11am on Saturday, August 15th at Liberty Baptist Church. This event is part of a series of public forums designed to strengthen communication between members of the justice system and all members of our communities. The first of the series will focus on Law Enforcement and will feature Jackson County Sheriff Chip Hall, Sylva Police Chief Davis Woodard, and Western Carolina University Police Chief Ernie Hudson. We invite members of the public to submit questions about local law enforcement to be answered during the event. Some of the questions we have asked them to address focus on policies, officer training, use of force, public feedback, oversight, and use of cameras.

In the current climate of increased visibility and scrutiny of law enforcement practices around the country, we want to encourage an ongoing, proactive conversation with local law enforcement officers. We are pleased that Jackson County’s law enforcement leaders have welcomed this opportunity to address residents’ questions and concerns. Through this event and others, we hope to strengthen the kinds of communication and education needed for ensuring effective policing practices and fostering a shared sense of community.

Questions about Jackson County law enforcement may be submitted by anyone, any time before August 15:
On our website: http://jacksonncnaacp.org/event/150815-jackson-justice/
By e-mail: legalredress@jacksonncnaacp.org
By mail: PO Box 788 Sylva, NC 28779
In person: In comment boxes or during the event

Future events in the Justice series will take place in the fall and spring and will focus on other aspects of the law, including forums with local prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, and more. Similar events are also being planned for areas west of Jackson County. For more information about the series, contact legalredress@jacksonncnaacp.org.

Methamphetamine Trafficking in Macon County

On Friday, July 24, agents of the Appalachian Regional Drug Enforcement Office, the Rabun County Sheriff’s Office, the Macon County, Sheriff’s Office, and the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation took action in an ongoing methamphetamine trafficking investigation.

Joseph Anthony Persicketti, 26, of 214 Omega Hills Road, Franklin, was arrested in Clayton, Ga., and charged with trafficking methamphetamine.

Denise Andrews, 35, of 713 Eskona Street, Newland, N.C., was arrested in Franklin, and charged with trafficking methamphetamine.

Karrie Elisa Varner, 33, of 214 Omega Hills Road, Franklin, was arrested in Clayton, Ga., and charged with trafficking methamphetamine.

Rona Burrell Stone, 48, of 192 Omega Hills Drive, Franklin, N.C., was arrested, in Franklin, and charged with trafficking methamphetamine.

Agents executed three search warrants in North Carolina which resulted in the seizure of approximately 11.5 ounces of crystal methamphetamine (street value of $32,890).

These arrests were the result of an extensive investigation into methamphetamine trafficking in Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

NC Lottery Nets $522 Million for Education

The North Carolina Education Lottery has surpassed records in sales and profits kicked back to the state, bringing in $522 million for education expenses in the most recent budget year.

The lottery on Thursday announced its annual earnings for the year ending June 30. Ticket sales for the year totaled near 2 billion. More than $1.2 billion was given away in prizes.

Sales were up just over 7 percent, and profits increased nearly 4 percent, in line with the average over the past five years.

The legislature’s top economist last year projected the lottery would generate nearly $521 million for education initiatives and teacher pay.