WCU Announces Summer Concert Series

The rock trio American Gonzos will kick off WCU’s Summer Concert Series on Thursday, June 11. The Asheville-based musicians are (from left) Michael Dean, Toby Burleson and Andrew Thelston. Dean and Thelston are WCU alumni.

The rock trio American Gonzos will kick off WCU’s Summer Concert Series on Thursday, June 11. The Asheville-based musicians are (from left) Michael Dean, Toby Burleson and Andrew Thelston. Dean and Thelston are WCU alumni.

The 2015 Summer Concert Series at Western Carolina University gets underway Thursday, June 11, with a free performance featuring the rock trio American Gonzos.
The Asheville-based musicians will take the stage at 7 p.m. at WCU’s Central Plaza. Those attending are encouraged to bring blankets or chairs for comfortable seating.
American Gonzo includes two WCU alumni from the class of 2009 – Andrew Thelston, guitarist and lead vocalist, and Michael Dean, who plays bass and provides backup vocals. The third member of the trio is Toby Burleson, drummer and backup vocalist.
Known for their musicianship and catchy tunes, members of the trio say they gather inspiration from many genres of music, including rock, funk, punk and alternative. The band was organized in 2010, and in 2011 the three musicians released their self-titled debut album, which was followed by their second album, “No Way to Live,” in 2013. The band members are currently working on a new collection of songs with longtime producer Randall Harris.
All concerts in the free series are scheduled for 7 p.m. on Thursdays in June and July. Upcoming acts include Bubonik Funk, June 25; Doug Gibson, July 16; Buchanan Boys, July 23; and Steph Stewart and the Boyfriends, July 30. The rain location for all the events is Illusions in A.K. Hinds University Center.

Grant Assists with Homeless Veterans in Cherokee

Cherokee Seed Corn Inc. has been awarded a $10,123 grant from the Evergreen Foundation based out of Waynesville. The grant is to help renovate 10 rooms and a kitchen/dining area at the Home Stead Motel to serve homeless veterans.

The Veteran Housing is the pilot project for the 7th generation programs that Cherokee Seed Corn Inc. is focused on. Plans are to expand to family housing to reconnect veteran families as the veteran is more capable of adjusting to civilian life. Future projects will be announced as funding becomes available.

NC Labor Market Improves, But Slowly

In April, employers in North Carolina added 11,100 more jobs than they cut, with net gains occurring in the public and private sectors. Over the year, North Carolina gained 106,600 more jobs than it lost, due entirely to gains in the private sector. Although the statewide unemployment rate rose to 5.5 percent in April, the rate still was almost a full percentage point lower than had been the case a year earlier.

These findings come from new data released today by the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the NC Department of Commerce.

“So far in 2015, North Carolina has gained 28,400 more payroll jobs than it has lost,” said John Quinterno, a principal with South by North Strategies, Ltd., a research firm specializing in economic and social policy. “For comparison, the corresponding number in 2014 was a gain of 32,000 jobs. Even with the steady payroll gains logged over the last few years, North Carolina has just 63,500 more jobs, or 1.5 percent more jobs, than it did 7.3 years earlier.”

Between March 2015 and April 2015, North Carolina employers added 11,100 more jobs than they cut (+0.3 percent). Private-sector payrolls gained, on net, 7,200 positions (+0.2 percent), and public-sector payrolls added, on net, 3,900 jobs (+0.5 percent), due chiefly to net hiring by local governments. Within private industry, the trade, transportation, and utilities sector added 3,100 payroll jobs (+0.4 percent), with all of the gain occurring in the retail trade subsector. The leisure and hospitality services sector also added 3,100 jobs (+0.7 percent), with 61 percent of the gain originating in the accommodation and food services subsector. Overall, payroll levels rose in six major private industrial sectors, and fell in four sectors.

A revision to the March payroll data found that the state lost fewer jobs than first reported (-1,800 jobs versus an original estimate of -2,600 jobs). With that revision, North Carolina now has, on net, 63,500 more payroll positions (+1.5 percent) than it did in December 2007. Since bottoming out in February 2010, the state’s labor market has netted an average of 6,300 payroll jobs per month, resulting in a cumulative gain of 390,300 positions (+10.2 percent).

Over the year, North Carolina employers added 106,600 more jobs than they cut (+2.6 percent). Private-sector payrolls gained, on net, 108,200 positions (+3.2 percent), while public-sector payrolls lost, on net, 1,600 jobs (-0.2 percent). Within private industry, virtually every major industrial sector netted payroll jobs, with the professional and business services sector gaining the most positions (+23,000 or +4.1 percent, with 60 percent of the gain occurring in the administrative and waste management services subsector).

“The steady payroll growth experienced over the past year remains insufficient to close the job gap that exists in North Carolina, a gap that may be as high as 425,000 jobs,” noted Quinterno. “North Carolina indeed has slightly more jobs than it did when the recession started, but the state’s labor market remains well short of a full recovery.”

According to the monthly household data, the statewide unemployment rate rose in April to 5.5 percent, which still is one of the lowest monthly rates logged since early 2008. Last month’s rise in the unemployment rate was attributable in large part to an increase in the size of the labor force (+33,169 persons, +0.7 percent). Over the month, the number of employed North Carolinians increased by 25,712 persons (+0.6 percent), and the number of unemployed persons rose by 7,457 individuals (+2.9 percent).

Over the past year, the statewide unemployment rate fell by almost a full percentage point, dropping to 5.5 percent from 6.4 percent, with the number of unemployed North Carolinians decreasing by 34,427 persons (-11.7 percent). During that same period, the number of employed persons rose by 143,339 individuals (+3.3 percent), while the size of the labor force increased by 108,912 persons (+2.4 percent). This suggests that the labor market managed to accommodate new members of the labor force and move unemployed persons into jobs.

Other improvements recorded over the course of the year include a rise in the share of working-age North Carolinians participating in the labor market (to 61.1 percent from 60.4 percent) and the share of working-age North Carolinians who are employed (to 57.7 percent from 56.6 percent). Although both of these measures have increased recently, they remain not too far from the lowest monthly rates recorded at any point since January 1976.

Between April 2014 and April 2015, the number of claimants of regular state-funded insurance fell by 16.4 percent, dropping to 18,384 from 21,988. Also in April 2015, the state paid a (nominal) total of $22.4 million in regular state-funded unemployment insurance compensation, an amount 41.8 percent lower than the (nominal) total of $38.5 million paid in April 2014.

“North Carolina’s labor market has improved in many ways over the past year, but those improvements have come slowly,” said Quinterno. “In recent months, North Carolina has managed to add enough jobs to keep pace with the growth in the size of the labor force and to slowly close some of the sizable job gap that was created during the recession. Yet the labor market still is not generating enough jobs, quickly enough to employ all those who want work.”

Cherokee Man Shot In Head; 4 in Custody

The EBCI Public Safety Communication Center received a report at 10:05pm on Thursday, May 21 of a male subject having been shot in the head. The shooting was alleged to have taken place at a residence in the Birdtown Community. Four people have been arrested in relation to this incident.

Cherokee Indian Police Department officers responded to the Cherokee Indian Hospital where the victim had allegedly driven himself.

CIPD officers arrested suspect, James Ralph Brady, as well as two other males and one female, whose names are not being released at this time, on Friday, May 22 at 8:03pm. Brady, 48, will be charged in Cherokee Tribal Court for assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, inflicting serious bodily injury and aggravated weapons charge.

No other details are being released pending further investigation.

NC Reports Higher Unemployment Rate in April

North Carolina’s unemployment rate ticked up to 5.5 percent in April, marking the first time in 11 months that the state’s jobless rate was higher than the national average.

The state’s unemployment rate rose one-tenth of one percentage point from 5.4 percent in March. The national average dropped an identical amount to April’s 5.4 percent.

The last time the national jobless average was lower than North Carolina’s mark was last June. North Carolina’s unemployment rate has fallen by nearly a full percentage point in the past year.

Where children live predicts a difference in life expectancy by as much as a decade

Where children are born in North Carolina makes a big difference in how long they live and the quality of their health, according to new county data cards released by NC Child.

A baby born in Haywood County is expected to live 78.5 years. Compared to children in Orange County, where life expectancy is the longest in the state, Haywood children will live 3.2 fewer years.

The differences in life expectancy by location are dramatic. In Watauga County, children can expect to live an average of 81 years–on par with Japan where residents have the longest life expectancy of any major country. Drive over 100 miles west to Swain County and children’s life expectancies decline by nearly a decade to 73 years. On average, children born in Swain County have life expectancies on par with children in Cambodia.

The county-level pictures of child health and well-being were produced by Laila A. Bell, director of research and data at NC Child. Bell compiled data on social, economic and health outcomes for the data cards as a supplement to the North Carolina Child Health Report Card, an annual report released in partnership with the North Carolina Institute of Medicine that monitors the health and safety of children in North Carolina.

“Across indicators we see that a distance of fewer than 100 miles can mean the difference between positive or negative outcomes in children’s lives, a fact that simply cannot be explained by random chance or genetic predisposition,” said Bell. “These geographic disparities are a stark reminder of the profound impact the environments where our children live, play and go to school have on their long-term health opportunities.”

The data cards present a variety of indicators ranging from income and insurance coverage to asthma and infant mortality.

In Haywood County:

One in 27 births (3.7% percent) is to a mother who received very late or no prenatal care. Women who are uninsured at the time of conception may encounter administrative delays for Medicaid that prevent them from accessing prenatal care during the most critical period of their babies’ development.
One in three children (28.6% percent) lives in poverty. Research shows children who are raised in poverty have poorer health outcomes and are more likely to suffer from acute and chronic health problems as they age.
One in 11 children is uninsured ( 9.4% percent). Children who lack access to health insurance are less likely to receive the preventive care they need to achieve and maintain good health.
3,180 children (28.3% percent) are estimated to be food insecure, living in households that struggle to provide enough healthy, nutritious food for all members of the family.
One in 12 babies ( 8.3% percent) is born at a low birth weight putting children at greater risk for developmental delays or future health complications including infant mortality.
“These health challenges are avoidable,” Bell said.

“We know that smart public policy decisions can help enhance local efforts to ensure all children in Haywood live in homes and communities that promote their health and development.”

The county data cards identify three investments North Carolina can make to significantly improve the health of its children and families:

Strengthen access to health insurance for women of reproductive age by expanding Medicaid to cover adults below 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Line.
Support infant mortality prevention strategies like the Healthy Babies Bundle recommended by the Child Fatality Task Force.
Invest in early intervention services to reduce the effects of developmental delays.

NCDMV Begins Single License Plate Sticker Registrations

The N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles will begin issuing single license plate stickers for vehicles getting their registration renewed. The change goes into effect today. Changing from the current dual sticker setup to a single sticker will result in significant cost savings for the state.

The single registration renewal sticker is grey. The expiring month and year will be printed on the sticker, above the license plate number. The single sticker is required to be placed on the upper right-hand corner of the license plate.

The current setup has a red numbered month sticker on the upper left-hand corner of the plate, and a sticker with the year and plate number on the upper right-hand corner.

Once a vehicle owner gets the new sticker and places it on the vehicle, the red month sticker should be removed from the license plate.

There are no changes to the Limited Registration Plate (LRP) sticker design. However, the LRP expiration month and year will be printed under the plate number on those stickers.

AVL urging passengers to arrive early before flights

Asheville Regional Airport is busier than ever, having served a record number of annual passengers in 2014 and still growing. And not only are there more people traveling, the airlines are flying larger planes, which means there are more people at the airport at the same time. It is important that western North Carolina air travelers remember to arrive the recommended two hours before flights.

“We hear people say how they love to fly from AVL because they can park, check-in and go through security in a very short period of time,” said Tina Kinsey, spokesperson at Asheville Regional Airport. “While this is sometimes the case, passengers should understand that they may arrive at the airport and find a very long line at security. Longer lines are happening, and passengers seem surprised that they have to wait. So, we’re reaching out to educate and help our local passengers be better prepared.”

Passengers are responsible to understand their airline’s rules, and are encouraged to check the rules before traveling. Each airline posts their rules and “frequently asked questions” on their websites. All airlines enforce minimum check-in times – most often no later than 30-45 minutes before departure – in order to allow for baggage processing, security procedures and to help ensure on-time flight departures.

Passengers should plan time to drive to the airport (understanding that traffic delays could occur), time to park and walk to the terminal, time to check-in or check bags, time to wait in the security screening line and go through security, and time to walk to the gate and prepare for boarding. “We encourage passengers to also plan some buffer in their timeline,” said Kinsey. “It’s much better to arrive early, have everything go quickly and smoothly, and then have some time to relax, eat a meal, and have a stress-free experience.”

Traveling from Asheville Regional Airport is still one of the easiest airport experiences available, and the airport staff is committed to doing their part to make the travel experience positive. There is easy, close-by parking, an easy-to-navigate one-level terminal, friendly staff, free wifi, a business center, charging stations, food, beverages, a retail store, rocking chairs and runway views.

“We do everything we can to provide excellent customer service,” said Kinsey. “But passengers should understand that airlines will not hold flights for travelers who are running late, or who are stuck in a long security screening line.” Also, it is against Transportation Security Administration rules to cut ahead of another passenger in the security screening line.

“The best advice we can give is to remember the two-hour rule,” said Kinsey. “Once you’ve reserved your airline ticket, go ahead and subtract two hours from the departure time. That’s when you should arrive at the airport.”

Governor seeks support for bond package, $114.9 million for WCU science building

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory visited Western Carolina University on Friday, May 22, seeking support for his proposed $3 billion bond package that would fund state infrastructure improvements and transportation projects, a plan that would include $114.9 million for a new WCU science building.

McCrory told a standing-room-only crowd assembled in a laboratory in WCU’s existing Natural Science Building, which was originally built in the 1970s and is no longer considered suitable for science education, that the time for the bond issue is now because of low interest rates and growing infrastructure needs.

“It’s not if you need a new building, it’s when are you going to do it. The longer you wait, the more expensive it’s going to get, and the less productivity you’re going to have with your students,” he said, pointing out broken ceiling tiles and antiquated lab equipment. “These in the real estate world would be considered D-minus buildings, which would be torn down.”

In his plan, titled “Connect NC,” McCrory has proposed nearly $3 billion in bond issues for state projects, with about half of that amount to fund highway improvements and the other half to pay for other infrastructure, renovation and construction projects across the state, including $504 million for the University of North Carolina system.

The $114.9 million proposed for WCU would be used to replace a building constructed when the university had only 15 nursing majors and no engineering majors. Today, WCU has about 2,300 students in health and human sciences programs, nearly 600 in technology and engineering programs, and about 500 in biological and physical science programs.

McCrory said he understands the need for educational improvements in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (often called the STEM programs) because of the competition he sees from other states in recruiting business and industry.

“There is a skills gap in our country and in North Carolina, and as I’m recruiting industry to come to North Carolina, including to Western North Carolina, the first question I’m asked is ‘Do you have the talent necessary to fill the jobs at all levels.’ If you can’t answer yes to that question, they will go to another state or to another country,” he said.

“If we don’t get the scientists, if we don’t get the engineers, if we don’t get the mechanics and if we don’t get the electricians, then we’re not going to keep the industry that we have in North Carolina, let alone attract industry to North Carolina,” he said.

McCrory also reminded the crowd that North Carolina recently passed Michigan to become the ninth most-populated state in the nation. “And we’re going to keep growing,” he said. “We have a choice – do we prepare for that growth, or do we react to that growth? And that’s where I think government has a role in preparing its infrastructure.”

WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher thanked McCrory for his endorsement of a new science building at WCU, calling the visit “an important and significant day for our institution.”

“We cannot adequately express our appreciation for affirming us as an institution through your understanding of the integral role this institution plays in the economy of Western North Carolina and your belief in our further potential to deepen and strengthen our impact on this part of the state in helping this wonderful part of our state to achieve the kind of economic vitality of some of our urban sisters in this state,” Belcher said.

Belcher expressed appreciation to members of the legislature, including Rep. Chuck McGrady and Sen. Tom Apodaca, both of Hendersonville, for their support of the project, reading a letter from Apodaca, a WCU alumnus and former member of the WCU Board of Trustees.

“As an advocate of STEM education, I am excited to see this idea gaining attention and support,” Apodaca wrote. “I am encouraged by the support for this important project, and hope that any future bond package will address such needs of Western Carolina and its students. While the bond discussion will continue, and may ultimately be decided by voters, I am glad to see the interests of Western Carolina recognized as integral to our state’s long-term success.”

For the bond package to become reality, the proposal must be endorsed by the General Assembly to be placed on the ballot for November’s elections, and then approved by voters statewide.

Also participating in a discussion of the proposed bond issue were State Budget Director Lee Roberts; Nick Tennyson, deputy secretary of the N.C. Department of Transportation Secretary; Teresa Williams, chair of the WCU Board of Trustees; other university and community leaders; and WCU student Mariah James, a junior biology major characterized by Belcher as “the most person here” because she represented the students who study in the building.

After the discussion, McCrory and the group took a brief tour of the Natural Sciences Building. That was followed by a visit to the WCU steam plant, which was built in the 1920s and is in need of significant renovations, as an example of the extensive amount of repair and renovation funding needs throughout the entire UNC system.

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.

Great Smokies Health Foundation Announces Grants

The window for the first round of the 2015 Thrift Shop Grant Program is now open for applications.  The Great Smokies Health Foundation announced Wednesday that proceeds from the two Thrift Stores  operated by the Foundation will be used to fund one time $5,000.00 grants to non-profits,  government entities, and educational institutions in the specific service area of Jackson and Swain County.  The grants are to used for projects that will impact the health and wellness services in these counties.  The deadline for the applications is July 3, 2015 at 4:00 p.m..

Over the years the Hospital Volunteer Auxiliary has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from Thrift Store sales in Jackson and Swain Counties to fund projects at both Harris Regional Hospital and Swain County Hospitals. As a result of the Hospital sale, they now have a new name “Great Smokies Health Foundation Thrift Shop”  and a new mission “to raise money to support the health needs of our community by selling, at an affordable price, items donated by and sold to our customers. “The 2015 Thrift Shop Grant Program is a way to continue their legacy and make an even bigger difference in the health and wellness of the community,” said Michele Garashi-Ellick, Executive Director of the Great Smokies Health Foundation.

To receive an application or get answers to questions regarding the grant program and application questions, and/or application process contact Michelle Garashi-Ellick, Executive Director of the Foundation at 828-5o7-2270 or email greatsmokieshealth@gmail.com

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.”