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Still No Progress on “Raise the Age” Legislation

 North Carolina remains one of only two states that automatically prosecutes 16 and 17 year olds as adults. Legislation introduced this year aims to change that. Photo credit: larryfarr/Morguefile.com

North Carolina remains one of only two states that automatically prosecutes 16 and 17 year olds as adults. Legislation introduced this year aims to change that. Photo credit: larryfarr/Morguefile.com

North Carolina lawmakers are back in session today, with various committee meetings on their calendar. What is not on today’s docket is a bill (HB 399) that would raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction so that 16- and 17-year-olds who commit misdemeanors are handled in the juvenile system. The Young Offenders Rehabilitation Act was introduced at the end of March by Representative Marilyn Avila, a Republican from Wake County, and it has bipartisan support.

North Carolina remains one of only two states in the country that continues to try teens as adults and Rob Thompson with NC Child says it’s time to follow the trend, “It’s really hard to imagine that we know something that 48 states don’t know that makes this policy work in North Carolina. There’s a good reason why 48 other states have raised the age and we’re behind the curve right now. ”

The bill was referred to the Judiciary II (two) committee last month. That committee is meeting today on several other bills, but not that one. Thompson says it’s one of a backlog of bills waiting to make their way through committee.

Thompson and other supporters of “raising the age” point to several bodies of research that indicate the brains of 16 and 17 year olds are not fully developed when it comes to decision making and understanding consequences.

Thompson says teens that commit misdemeanors are better served with punishment in the juvenile system that allows for more rehabilitation and the ability to reenter society without a lifeline “stamp” of incarceration on their record, “The reason it’s so important that we change this policy now is that when we put a 16- or 17-year-old in the adult criminal justice system, two things happen. One, they don’t get the treatment and rehabilitative services that are available in the juvenile justice system, and two, they get an adult criminal record.”

he legislation would only change punishment for misdemeanor crimes and not more serious capital offenses such as murder.

2015 Operation “Drive to Live”

With the beginning of prom season, North Carolina the Highway Patrol will conduct Operation “Drive to Live” during the week of April 20, 2015. The operation will be conducted from 6:00 a.m. through 5:00 p.m. each day. The operation is an initiative by the Highway Patrol to reduce the number of teenage related traffic collisions and deaths.

According to National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, young drivers are significantly over represented in fatal crashes, particularly 16 and 17 year olds. One area that is particularly concerning is distracted driving. Our youngest and most inexperienced drivers are most at risk, with 10% of all distracted driving crashes involving drivers under 20.

In 2014, the Highway Patrol investigated over 48, 711 motor vehicle collisions involving drivers and passengers who were between the ages of 15 to 19 years old. Of those collisions, 9,153 injuries and 113 fatalities were reported.

Troopers will be enforcing all traffic laws around the state’s schools and conducting traffic safety education programs at the high schools prior to the school year ending.

Greening Up the Mountains Festival Grows to over 160 Booths

Eighteen years ago, three groups sat down and talked about collaborating to produce a new festival for downtown Sylva. Sylva Partners in Renewal was in the early stages of revitalizing downtown Sylva. Joyce Moore, then owner of City Lights Bookstore and president of Sylva Partners in Renewal, had invited Avram Friedman, who was producing an “Earth Day Celebration,” and the Ammons sisters of the nonprofit organization Catch the Spirit of Appalachia, producer of an October “Festival of Many Colors,” to the roundtable discussion. All present agreed to bring their energies to one new larger festival, and decided upon the last Saturday of April as the date. Joyce Moore is the one came up with the name, “Greening Up The Mountains.”
“For years I had watched the greening of the mountains,” she says, “with the leaves turning green at the lower elevation and then climbing on up. It is such a visual thing! And the best place to watch this changing of the seasons is in the mountains surrounding downtown Sylva. At the time, I had not heard this particular description before, so I thought it would bring together the theme of the festival and our celebration. It really pleases me to see how the festival has prospered…how it brings people into town who say ‘this is great, I’ll come back.’”
This year, the Town of Sylva and the Greening Up The Mountain Festival committee wished to acknowledge and honor Joyce Moore for selecting this very fitting name for a festival which has grown tremendously in celebration of the town and spring. On April 14, Paige Dowling, Town Manager of Sylva, presented Joyce with a Certificate of Appreciation.

Also, this year the Greening Up the Mountains Festival, scheduled for April 25 from 10am until 4pm, has broken all records by hosting a record-breaking160 booths representing arts, crafts, demonstrators, local schools, business, community, environmental, health, safety, kid’s activities, and so much more! The festival will provide fun and food, and opportunities for purchasing what your heart desires, not to mention receive a wealth of education.
On Main Street, near It’s By Nature, will be Razorfly Studios of Whittier who will have a special display of three cars—Time Machine from Back to the Future, the Jeep from Jurassic Park and the police cruiser from Blues Brothers. Razorfly Studios is an award winning custom costume, prototyping and prop house. Razorfly designs, creates and replicates iconic pieces from movies and TV, plus builds props for private collectors and production studios in Hollywood.

Starting the festival off at 9am at Mark Watson Park will be Jackson County Parks & Recreation’s 5K Run and Walk. $15 pre-registration will end April 21st. Register online at www.imathlete.com or stop by the Recreation Center in Cullowhee. Race day registration begins at 8:00am, cost will be $20.
Also at 9am will be a Cub-mobile Downhill Race, hosted by the Boy Scouts of America, Cataloochee District. The race will be at Schulman Street, in Sylva. Open to all registered Cub Scouts. Registration at 8am.
Music will begin at 9:30am with the Mountain Youth Talent Contest at the Signature Brew Stage in the Sun Trust Lot on Main Street.
9:30 a.m.-11:00 a.m. – Mountain Youth Talent Show
11:00 a.m.-11:30 a.m. –Jackson County JAM
11:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m. – Triple Threat Dance Troupe
12:00 p.m.-1:00 p.m. –Ian Moore & the Jackson County Roots Brigade
1:00 p.m.-1:05 p.m. – Lions Gate Kung Fu Academy
1:05 p.m.-2:00 p.m. – Rye Baby
2:00 p.m.-3:00 p.m. – Three Creeks Over
3:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m. – Through the Hills

One of the bands featured on the Signature Brew stage is Rye Baby. Based out of Chattanooga, Tennessee, this high energy folk/americana duo has been hard at work traveling and playing their brand of back-to-the-basics folk/roots/blues/country music all over the southeast since early 2014. Consciously taking elements from the aforementioned styles and creating something distinctly their own as-opposed-to rehashing a particular sound.

Featured on the Bridge Park Stage on Railroad Avenue will be:

10:00 a.m.-10:20 a.m. –Betty Collins Brown & Company
10:20 a.m.-10:30 a.m. – Lions Gate Kung Fu Academy
10:30 a.m.-11:00 a.m. – Encore Dance Troupe
11:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. – Subluminous
12:00 p.m.-12:05 p.m. –Lions Gate Kung Fu Academy
12:05 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. – French Broads
1:00 p.m.-2:00 p.m. – Positive Mental Attitude (PMA)
2:00 p.m.-2:45 p.m. – Porch 40
3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. – Darren and the Buttered Toast

The band Porch 40 from Cullowhee, NC, is featured on the Bridge Park Stage. With their “grab your attention and won’t let go” style, Porch 40’s high energy sets quickly whip crowds into a frenzy. Combine that with their unequaled instrumentation, which include an electric violin and saxophonist, the band brings crowds a rejuvenating sound they won’t find anywhere else.
Over thirty arts and crafts booths and displays will be on Railroad Avenue, plus a full Farmer’s Market. Be sure and visit the “Kid’s Zone” where the kids will enjoy an inflatable slide, a wooden spoon class, a candle-making workshop, balloons, arts & crafts workshop, a “Go Fish” tent, and much more! Law Enforcement of Jackson County will be out to meet the public, and share some shaved ice, the “DARE” car display, and more in the “Safety Zone.”

MerleFest 2015 – In One Week!

Preparations are well underway for MerleFest 2015, presented by Window World, which officially begins next Thursday, April 23, at 2:30 p.m., and runs through Sunday, April 26, on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.

With over 80 acts performing on 13 stages during the four-day festival, attendees should expect the unexpected with special surprises, spontaneous jam sessions and one-of-a-kind musical collaborations.

“It seems our fans are really thrilled about this year’s complete lineup. They always get excited to see Sam Bush, Peter Rowan, Jim Lauderdale, David Holt, The Kruger Brothers, the Nashville Bluegrass Band and others who performed with Doc Watson. And, we are pleased to welcome back Hot Rize, last seen at MerleFest in 2003. This will mark the first MerleFest appearance for Grammy Award-winning The Earls of Leicester,” said Ted Hagaman, festival director. “Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn’s 2015 appearance is creating a lot of buzz as well.

“Of course, we will continue to honor and memorialize Doc, who helped found this festival. Through his guidance and artistic creativity, MerleFest has grown into a world-class festival. MerleFest will always honor the memory and contributions of Doc and his son Merle,” added Hagaman. “As always, we take pride in the diversity presented in our lineup. That is a credit to Doc Watson, who always believed that all genres of music should be celebrated.”

As in previous years, the list of performers fits the “traditional plus” definition originally described by the late Doc Watson. Watson coined this term to describe the unique mix of music found at MerleFest: traditional, roots-oriented sounds of the Appalachian region, including bluegrass and old-time music, and expanded to include Americana, country, blues, rock, “plus whatever other styles we were in the mood to play,” Doc said.

The complete lineup and stage schedules are posted at www.merlefest.org and available on the MerleFest mobile app; festival updates are delivered via Twitter (@MerleFest) and Facebook.

Thursday, April 23, will feature performances by artists that include Trampled By Turtles, Lee Ann Womack, Hot Rize, Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn, Larry Stephenson Band and others. That afternoon, participants in Pete Wernick’s MerleFest Bluegrass Jam Camp will perform on the Cabin Stage, and the Opening Night Dance with Donna the Buffalo will begin at 10 p.m. at the Dance Stage.

Thursday is also a day for community outreach, with several MerleFest artists visiting and performing at local schools. MerleFest Outreach touches the lives of nearly 11,000 students each year.

On Friday, April 24, fans will hear performances by The Marshall Tucker Band, Jim Lauderdale and North Mississippi Allstars, The Earls of Leicester, the Del McCoury Band performing songs of Woody Guthrie, Sam Bush Band, Bruce Robinson and Kelly Willis, The Kruger Brothers, Spinney Brothers, Chatham County Line, Mipso, Ballie & The Boys, The Honeycutters and others.

Finalists in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest compete on Friday to determine who will win first place and some great surprises, including the opportunity to record a song with Pinecastle Records. The culmination of the contest is Friday evening when contest chairperson Jim Lauderdale announces the winners, and the songwriters perform the winning entries on the Cabin Stage at 8 p.m.

Friday also offers the Doc and Merle Watson Performing Arts Showcase, hosted by Joe Smothers and Bob Hill of Frosty Morn on the Austin Stage. The series is intended as a diverse, eclectic sampling of local and regional talent, allowing festival-goers to see the artists in a more intimate setting. And in what is becoming a “must-do” event, Scythian’s Friday night show at the Dance Stage will start at 10:30 pm – it’s recommended that you get there early!

The lineup for Saturday, April 25, includes performances by The Avett Brothers, Willie Watson, The Gibson Brothers, Peter Rowan, Blue Highway, JOHNNYSWIM, The Jim Lauderdale Band, The Steel Wheels, Front Country, Del Barber, New Country Rehab and Blind Boy Paxton, among others.

In the afternoon, fans can enjoy theDoc Watson Guitar Tribute on the Watson Stage, starting at 1:45 p.m., with host Jack Lawrence and David Holt, T Michael Coleman, The South Carolina Broadcasters, Roy Book Binder, Tim Stafford (Blue Highway), Bill Mize, Stephen Mougin, Uwe Kruger, Adam Lawrence and Jacob Burleson.

Also of note will be several events at the Creekside Stage, including “Memories of Doc and Merle,” hosted by T. Michael Coleman (with many special guests expected) and the always-popular Mando Mania set.

The MerleFest 2015 Band Competition kicks off at the Plaza Stage at 10 a.m. on Saturday, as well. Music fans can watch ten bands perform sets throughout the day, with the winning band earning a coveted performance slot on the Watson Stage at 4:30 pm.

The highly-anticipatedHillside Album Hour – where a revered or iconic album is performed live from start to finish – will once again be hosted by The Waybacks, with many surprise guests joining in the performance, including previously announced guest lead singer Joan Osborne. The Midnight Jam will take place in the Walker Center (separate ticket required and available for purchase by 4-day and 3-day ticket holders and Saturday-only ticket holders). This year’s Jam is presented in partnership with The Bluegrass Situation and hosted by The Steel Wheels. In addition to The Steel Wheels, the Midnight Jam will feature Willie Watson, Jim Lauderdale, The Gibson Brothers, Front Country, Mipso, New Country Rehab, The Honey Dewdrops, Moore Brothers Band and Stephen Mougin, along with a few other surprises.

Sunday, April 26, will feature performances by Dwight Yoakam, Robert Earl Keen, Steep Canyon Rangers, The Kruger Brothers with the Kontras Quartet performing “Lucid Dreamer,” Paul Thorn, The Black Lillies, Shannon Whitworth and others.

In addition to the Sunday Blues with Roy Bookbinder set, featuring Richard Watson, Doug MacLeod, Blind Boy Paxton, Veronika Jackson, Rev. Robert B. Jones and Charles Welch, fans can experience the “Spirit of Sunday” set with the Nashville Bluegrass Band as well as the Gospel Hour with Jim Avett.

Throughout the four-day festival, the Dance Stage will feature various workshops and dance instruction with plenty of opportunities for festival attendees to cut loose with some stellar music performers. Additionally, Mayes Pit/Cohn Auditorium in Thompson Hall at MerleFest is devoted to a wide variety of workshops and demonstrations on Friday and Saturday, where world-class performers share their expertise with attendees. Avid MerleFest fans will be interested in the “History of MerleFest” workshop being presented by “B” Townes, the first director of MerleFest, who worked very closely with Doc Watson to bring MerleFest to life. The Songwriters Showcase Coffeehouse at the Austin Stage in Alumni Hall offers a venue where songwriters can showcase their original songs. The Pickin’ Place is an area for musicians of all levels and genres to meet old friends and make new ones while singing and playing their favorite tunes together.

The Acoustic Kids Showcases will be held: Friday, Austin Stage 5:30-7 p.m.; Saturday, Dance Stage 10-11:30 a.m.; and Saturday, Mayes Pit 3:45-5:15 p.m. Additionally, from among this year’s pool of applicants, several performers will be chosen for a special “Acoustic Kids Ambassadors” performance hosted by Andy May on the Cabin Stage, Saturday 6:20-6:45 p.m. These showcases allow music fans the opportunity hear the next generation of pickers, singers and traditional-style artists.

The Little Pickers Family Area offers children’s activities, crafts and entertainment, as well as performances at the Little Pickers Stage. Children can also meet Flattop, the big raccoon who serves as the MerleFest mascot.

In addition to music, MerleFest offers special activities and shopping, all in a family-friendly atmosphere. The Shoppes at MerleFest is a centrally-located shopping village featuring demonstrating artisans, vendors, convenience foods, official MerleFest memorabilia and services such as first aid, lost and found, and Internet access. Lowes Foods “Raised Right Here,” offering fruit, vegetables and deli-style sandwiches, will be a welcome addition to the expanded list of food vendors that will be at the festival this year.

Also new to MerleFest is the Belk Lounge, which will be located between the Traditional and Americana stages. Festival patrons can relax like a VIP there, as well as register to win prizes, receive special giveaways, and use the lounge’s cellphone charging station.

For those who would like to start their day with a little Downward Facing Dog, a yoga class will be offered at 10 a.m. on Sunday morning at the Dance Stage. Beginners and yogis alike are welcome to attend! Additionally, nature walks of the gardens and forest on the WCC campus will be offered on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“For those wanting an affordable weekend getaway, MerleFest provides a true value to its customers,” said festival director Ted Hagaman. “The admission prices are extremely reasonable – especially considering that we feature over 80 acts on 13 stages. Also, there are no hidden charges. We provide free parking, a free shuttle that will deliver you to the entrance, a free program guide as you enter, and all children 12 and under are admitted free with a paid adult. In addition, our Little Pickers Family Area for children offers each child the opportunity to make crafts and participate in several interactive exhibits – all free of charge.”

Tickets for MerleFest may be purchased at www.MerleFest.org or by calling 1-800-343-7857. A ticket discount is still available through April 22, 2015, and tickets will be available for purchase at the gate. Fans are encouraged to take advantage of the extended early bird discount.

MerleFest 2015 is presented by Window World. MerleFest is grateful to 90+ sponsors and advertisers for their support in making the event possible, including: Belk, Pepsi, Charlotte and Greensboro area Burger King restaurants, G&B Energy, Tyson, Wilkesboro Tourism Development Authority, The InterFlex Group, Hardee’s, Winston-Salem Journal, WXII 12, the Law Offices of Timothy D. Welborn, Bojangles’, Carolina Ford Dealers, Carolina West Wireless, CenturyLink, Lowes Foods, Wilkes Communications, Wilkes Regional Medical Center, Wells Fargo and Mast General Store. A complete listing of all MerleFest sponsors and additional information about all aspects of the festival can be found at www.MerleFest.org.

MerleFest, considered one of the premier music festivals in the country, is an annual homecoming of musicians and music fans held on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. MerleFest was founded in 1988 in memory of the son of the late American music legend Doc Watson, renowned guitarist Eddy Merle Watson. MerleFest is a celebration of “traditional plus” music, a unique mix of music based on the traditional, roots-oriented sounds of the Appalachian region, including bluegrass and old-time music, and expanded to include Americana, country, blues, rock and many other styles. The festival hosts a diverse mix of artists on its 13 stages during the course of the four-day event. The annual event has become the primary fundraiser for the WCC Endowment Corporation, funding scholarships, capital projects and other educational needs.

North Carolina Students Join Workers: Raise Up for 15

Wednesday, as millions of North Carolina residents breathe a sigh of relief at the end of tax season, workers, students and their advocates will take part in a “Raise Up for 15″ rally, seeking a minimum wage of 15 dollars an hour.

Laura Rollins is one example of that low-wage workforce. A McDonald’s employee for five years, she says she’s tired of struggling for the multimillion-dollar company. She says the recent dollar-an-hour raise announced for a small number of McDonald’s locations isn’t enough, “I need 14 more dollars to go with that one-dollar raise they gave me, with all the work I do. I mean, I work for, like, three people – that’s including myself, and two other people – so I’m doing two other people’s jobs along with my own job.”

Buses from 23 North Carolina colleges brought participants to the “Raise Up for 15″ rally, at the Shaw University Quad. A McDonald’s representative says the company’s recent wage increase and paid time off for employees are “important and meaningful first steps” that will make a difference for employees.

Molita Cunningham has been a home care worker for the last 15 years. She says her 10-dollar an hour wage isn’t enough for her to live independent of assistance, “If I was to get to $15 an hour, you know, I could say, ‘The heck with housing, the heck with food stamps, the heck with Medicaid.’ I could breathe, and I could pay my bills.”

Cunningham says she is speaking up in part because of the recent death of a Maryland father and his seven children, killed by carbon monoxide poisoning. They were using a generator to heat their home because their electricity had been cut off, “Him and his seven children died. That could have been me and my children trying to stay warm. He didn’t have enough money to pay his light bill.”

A recent study from U-C Berkeley estimates that low-wage jobs cost U-S taxpayers about $153,000,000,000 dollars a year in supplemental public assistance.

Duke Energy gives $3 million to committee tied to Gov. Pat McCrory

A new analysis of government records reveals that Duke Energy – the world’s largest private electric utility – began writing unusually large checks to the national Republican Governors Association while Gov. Pat McCrory and Republican lawmakers debated how to respond to the company’s giant spill of coal ash sludge into the Dan River.

In four payments from June to December 2014, Duke sent the Republican Governors Association a total of $3,050,000 – more than 10 times its previous record donation to the RGA. Duke’s contributions made it the top corporate donor to the RGA in 2014 and the second largest donor, behind the $3.5 million given by billionaire Sheldon Adelson, owner of the Las Vegas Sands.

In 2012, the RGA spent $5 million to boost the election of Pat McCrory as governor, and it is expected to be a major financial backer of his 2016 bid for reelection. Records show McCrory has attended numerous RGA events and helped the association raise funds.

“Duke Energy’s large donations raise questions about the governor’s ability to serve the public interest more than his own political interest,” said Bob Hall, executive director of the nonpartisan watchdog group Democracy North Carolina. “Critics say the coal ash regulation law passed in 2014 was too soft on Duke. Is this money the reason why?”

RGA’s website says its “primary mission is to help elect Republican governorships throughout the nation.” As a “527 political organization,” it can receive and spend unlimited donations from corporate and other donors to elect candidates, without directly coordinating with the candidate.

The organization files relatively obscure reports with the Internal Revenue Service. Democracy North Carolina’s analysis shows that Duke Energy and Progress Energy gave RGA a total of only $40,000 in the five years from Jan. 1, 2003 to Dec. 31, 2007, an average of $8,000 a year.

In January 2008, Pat McCrory, a long-time Duke Energy executive and former Charlotte mayor, announced his campaign for governor. Within weeks, Duke and Progress Energy began sending checks of $10,000 or more to the RGA, according to the IRS disclosure reports.

In October 2008, candidate McCrory hosted a fundraiser for the RGA in Charlotte. As the invites circulated, Duke Energy stepped up with a gift of $100,000 – its first six-figure RGA donation.

Duke and Progress Energy gave a total of $155,000 during 2008 – or 10 times their previous record of $15,000 in 2007. The two companies, now merged, increased their giving after 2008, reaching a high of $275,000 in 2013 before the new high of $3,050,000 in 2014.

The companies also increased their donations to other 527 partisan committees. Duke Energy gave $200,000 to the Democratic Governors Association in 2012 and another $200,000 in 2014. Progress Energy donated $200,000 to the DGA in 2013.

Duke also donated a total of $235,000 during 2012-2014 to the Republican State Leadership Committee, which its website says promotes “the election of state Republican candidates.”

Hall pointed out that Duke may be donating significant amounts of money to other electioneering committees that do not file disclosure reports – including Renew North Carolina, a nonprofit set up by Pat McCrory’s supporters to help his political career, and NC House Legislative Partners, which supports Republican General Assembly candidates.

“The public has a right to know who is donating to our lawmakers and their reelection efforts, directly and through shadow committees,” Hall said. “Duke Energy should lead the way by voluntarily disclosing its contributions to these committees.”

Crowds flock to SCC’s 50th open house scholarship scavenger hunt

KarenaMasonKarena Mason of Franklin won the grand prize of a full-year scholarship at Southwestern Community College’s 50th anniversary open house celebration and scholarship scavenger hunt Friday, April 10, at SCC’s Jackson Campus.

Among the roughly 500 people who attended the event, 96 participated in the scavenger hunt. Each participant had to visit three separate program presentations, each at a different building. Upon successfully completing the hunt, participants’ names were placed in a drawing that evening in the Burrell Conference Center.

Karena Mason’s parents – LaRessie and Mark Mason – graduated from SCC in the mid-1990s.

“This is an answered prayer,” LaRessie Mason said. “The whole idea of being able to win a scholarship was great. But when I heard the faculty and staff gave so much of the money, it made it even more special because it’s from their hearts.

“It was neat to come back,” she added. “I hadn’t been back in that capacity in years, and it was so neat to see that it’s still the same. And that’s what I wanted Karena to see: that the teachers care about their students.”

Other winners included Taylor Medlin ($1,000 scholarship) of Tuckasegee; William Bateman ($500 scholarship) of Franklin; and Jesica Palacios ($250 scholarship) of Waynesville. Seven gift certificates (three worth $100 each and five worth $50 each) to the SCC bookstore were also awarded.

All prizes were provided through the donations of SCC faculty and staff with support from the SCC Foundation.

“It was heartwarming to see all these people here helping us celebrate Southwestern’s 50th anniversary,” said Dr. Don Tomas, SCC president. “And it was truly gratifying knowing that these scholarships helped out several area families. We’re very pleased to know these students will be attending SCC in the near future, and we hope everyone who participated in the scholarship scavenger hunt now considers Southwestern as their top college of choice.”

Faculty and staff representing a wide variety of SCC’s programs provided demonstrations and answered questions throughout the event, and the Mountain Area Medical Lift (MAMA) helicopter made an appearance.

Representatives from each board of commissioners in SCC’s service area (Jackson, Macon and Swain counties) were present to read a joint resolution. N.C. Senator Jim Davis and Webster Mayor Nick Breedlove also read resolutions.

Sen. Rucho introduces sales tax bill; Critics Say It Would Not Benefit WNC

In a March press conference, Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, R-Onslow, released a plan that would shift from a sales tax distribution formula favoring counties where items are purchased to one based solely on a per capita distribution.

Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenberg, co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said he agrees with the basic idea of moving to a system that distributes sales tax revenue based on a per-capita basis rather than the current system, which distributes most revenue based on the location of the sale.

But Rucho said the plan put on the table in late March by Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, R-Onslow, would have too negative an impact on most cities. An analysis of Brown’s bill by the legislature’s Fiscal Research Division showed that while 93 out of 100 county governments would see an increase, a majority of municipal governments in WNC would see a loss of revenue. Asheville, for instance, would lose roughly $4 million in annual revenue, according to analysis of Brown’s plan.

Rucho said last week his bill, S608, makes the change to per-capita distribution in a way that reduces the hit to cities and the seven counties, including Avery, Buncombe, Macon and Watauga, that stand to lose revenues once the formula changes. Under Ruchos plan, some services that are not currently subject to sales taxes would have to start charging them.

Another sales tax bill introduced in the House would allow counties to raise local sales taxes by 1/4 cent without holding a voter referendum.

Indictment Charges Florida Man With Passport Fraud

Jose Salvador Lantigua, 62, of Jacksonville, Florida, has been charged with passport fraud and aggravated identity theft, announced Jill Westmoreland Rose, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. His wife, Daphne Sylvia Simpson, 57, of Sapphire, N.C., has also been charged with one count of making false statements to a federal agent in connection with the case.

Scott Moretti, Special Agent in Charge of the Washington Field Office, U.S. Department of State, Diplomatic Security Service; B.W. Collier, Acting Director of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (NC SBI); Steven M. Watkins, Director of the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles License and Theft Bureau (NC DMV L&T); Sheriff Chip Hall of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office; and Chief Phil Harris, of the Brevard Police Department join Acting U.S. Attorney Rose in making todays’ announcement.

According to allegations contained in the federal indictment, on or about November 18, 2014, Lantigua lied on his application for a U.S. passport, falsely representing that his name was “Ernest Allen Wills.” According to court records, to support his passport application, Lantigua allegedly provided a birth certificate in the name “Ernest Allen Wills,” and, as proof of identity, Lantigua allegedly used a fraudulently-obtained North Carolina license issued in the victim’s name but bearing Lantigua’s photo. Court records show that Lantigua is the subject of an ongoing investigation in Florida, for allegedly faking his own death to fraudulently obtain life insurance money. The indictment charges Lantigua with one count of knowingly making a false statement on a passport and one count of aggravated identity theft. Law enforcement arrested Lantigua in Brevard, N.C., on March 21, 2015, and he remains in federal custody.

Lantigua’s wife, Daphne Simpson, has also been charged with one count of making a false statement to law enforcement. According to allegations contained in the indictment, Simpson lied when she told a special agent that the man who was with her at the time was “Ernest Wills” who was her “friend,” when Simpson knew that the man was actually her husband, Lantigua. Simpson was arrested in Florida on March 21, 2015, by the Florida Division of Insurance Fraud and currently remains in state custody. Simpson is facing insurance fraud and related state charges for filing fraudulent insurance claims and receiving a $500,000 payout from one of Lantigua’s life insurance policies. The federal court in Asheville will schedule Simpson’s initial appearance on the federal charges in the coming days.

If convicted of the offenses, Lantigua faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the passport fraud charge. The aggravated identity theft charge carries a minimum mandatory sentence of two years to be served consecutively with any other sentence imposed. Simpson faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the false statement charge.

The charges contained in the indictment are allegations. The defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

The investigation is being handled by the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service, assisted by NC-SBI, NCDMV&T, Jackson Co. Sheriff’s Office and Brevard PD.Assistant U.S. Attorney Don Gast, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Asheville, is prosecuting the case.

Emissions tests not needed in Haywood, Henderson, Rutherford

Emissions tests for cars and trucks are no longer necessary to protect air quality in more than half the counties where state testing is currently required.

That was the conclusion of a study the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources provided the General Assembly last week.

Legislators in 2013 directed DENR to conduct a study on whether all of the counties covered under the motor vehicle emissions testing program are needed to meet and maintain current and proposed federal ozone standards in North Carolina. Cars and trucks collectively are the largest source of emissions that lead to ozone formation in the state.

“North Carolina’s air quality has improved significantly since emissions testing requirements were expanded for motor vehicles in the early 2000s,” said Donald R. van der Vaart, secretary of DENR. “We studied the air quality improvements for this report and concluded that we could eliminate emissions testing for motor vehicles in numerous counties without harming air quality or violating federal standards.”

The elimination of emissions tests would save car owners $16.40 per vehicle each year in counties where tests are currently required after the first three model years, state officials estimate. Safety inspections are still required in all 100 counties, costing owners $13.60 per vehicle each year.

The state currently requires emissions testing in 48 of its 100 counties. The DENR study determined that North Carolina could eliminate testing in 27-to-31 of those counties by Jan. 1, 2016, depending on the level at which the Environmental Protection Agency revises the current national ozone standard.

The EPA proposed a more revised ozone standard in December 2014, and plans to adopt a new standard by Oct. 1, 2015. The current ozone standard is 75 parts per billion (ppb) measured over 8 hours, and the EPA has proposed lowering (or strengthening) the standard to a level in the 65-70 ppb range.

If the EPA sets the standard at 65 ppb, DENR recommends eliminating testing in 27 counties: Brunswick, Burke, Caldwell, Carteret, Catawba, Chatham, Cleveland, Craven, Edgecombe, Franklin, Harnett, Haywood, Henderson, Lee, Lenoir, Moore, Nash, New Hanover, Onslow, Robeson, Rutherford, Stanly, Stokes, Surry, Wayne, Wilkes and Wilson. If the standard is set at 70 ppb, the recommendation includes four additional counties: Granville, Orange, Pitt and Rockingham.

Changes to the counties covered by the program would require legislative approval. The report recommends further analyses during the coming year to determine whether additional counties could be removed from the program after 2016.

The department’s report on the auto emissions testing program can be found at: http://www.ncair.org/news/leg/Final_Report_HB_74_IM_Study.pdf.

Music of the Carpenters to come to life April 26 at WCU’s Bardo Center

The music of one of America’s top-selling duos of all time, the Carpenters, will come to life as Western Carolina University’s John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center plays host to “We’ve Only Just Begun: Carpenters Remembered” on Sunday, April 26.

The production, which begins at 3 p.m., is the final presentation of WCU’s 2014-15 Galaxy of Stars series.

The sister-and-brother duo of Karen and Richard Carpenter sold more than 100 million records in just over a decade and still hold the record for the most top 10 singles in a row. The combination of Karen’s voice and Richard’s compositions and arrangements created Grammy-winning magic, said Paul Lormand, director of the Bardo Arts Center.

The 90-minute tribute show will feature pop music classics including “For All We Know,” “Goodbye to Love,” “Hurting Each Other,” “I Need to Be in Love,” “Please Mr. Postman,” “Rainy Days and Mondays,” “Superstar,” “There’s a Kind of Hush,” “(They Long to Be) Close to You,” “Top of the World,” “We’ve Only Just Begun,” “Yesterday Once More” and many more.

Led by Michelle Berting Brett and accompanied by a live band of versatile Nashville musicians, “Carpenters Remembered” re-creates the Carpenters’ original sound. In addition, Brett shares stories culled from extensive research and interviews with those who knew Karen and Richard personally and professionally “to provide a real behind-the-scenes look at this pop music phenomenon,” Lormand said.

“Michelle Berting Brett sounds as close to Karen Carpenter as you can get. Beautiful voice, music and show,” he said.

Tickets for the WCU show are $21 for adults ($15 in groups of 20 or more), $16 for WCU faculty and staff members, and $7 for students/children of any age. They may be purchased at the Bardo Arts Center box office, by calling 828-227-2479 or visiting the website bardoartscenter.wcu.edu.

“Carpenters Remembered” is sponsored by Bear Lake Reserve and 540-AM WRGC Radio.

Cherokee Preservation Foundation Awards Grants

The Cherokee Preservation Foundation (CPF) recently awarded 23 new grants totaling over $2.4 million, continuing its mission to improve the quality of life for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) and the surrounding region.

Some of the grants include:

Cherokee Children’s Home: To acquire edible plants, soil amendments, and gardening tools for the edible landscape at the Cherokee Children’s Home. Funds will be used to construct a tool shed and augment other aspects of the landscape such as non-edible plants, fencing, walkways, and planting grass.

Cherokee Indian Hospital Foundation: To improve the interpersonal competencies of the hospital staff with cultural training and improve relations with the core customer– the EBCI community. Another component will be to beautify and naturalize the exterior of the new hospital facility by incorporating native grasses wherever possible.

Cherokee High School: To incorporate a master basket maker into the Cherokee High School art classes. The artist will augment the skills of the high school art teacher, and students will learn to create a double weave river cane and white oak baskets, starting from the raw materials and ending with a finished basket.

Land Trust for the Little Tennessee: To continue the restoration of river cane and other resources (butternut, yellowroot, mulberry, hazelnuts) on the historic Welch Farm and fund management of artisan resources on the Tennessee Bottomland Preserve. On the Welch Farm property, nearly 15 acres are being managed to enhance the existing plant resources and to plant trees and river cane.

Watershed Association of the Tuckasegee River: To hold a fish weir workshop and facilitate a trip to the McClung Museum and Anthropology Department at the University of Tennessee for youth. The program will also add two snorkeling adventures on and off the Qualla Boundary to learn about fish ecology in area streams.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP): To develop a culturally-based STEM curriculum to provide Cherokee Middle School and High School students real-world experiential learning opportunities. Students will be directly involved in data collection methods on a variety of long-term research projects to monitor the threats to Park resources.

Hope Center–Cherokee: To support the BabyFACE program on the Qualla Boundary, serving high-needs families with children from birth to five. Services include home-visits, routine health and developmental screenings, parent group meetings, and resource referrals as needed.

Other Cherokee Preservation Foundation Grant Recipients include:
American Indian Science & Engineering Society: To implement a plan to pilot a community-based initiative with the EBCI community to expand increased STEM education opportunities for Cherokee Central School students.
Tri-County Community College: To offset the costs of hiring a Cherokee dance group and storyteller to present, share, and explore the rich and vibrant culture of the Cherokee people.
Cherokee Children’s Home: To complete an additional environmentally friendly building that includes energy efficient elements, and includes a purchase price payback time schedule that is based on cost savings for each item.
EBCI Tribal Historic Preservation Office (EBCI THPO): To conduct archaeological field work along the Nolichucky River in east Tennessee and create fifth and eighth grade educational trunks available to area schools. THPO will work with East Tennessee State University to develop archeological fieldtrips and build curriculum highlighting the Overhill Towns of east Tennessee pre-European contact.
Jackson County: To commission a plan utilizing Tribal experts to develop a preservation plan for the significant sites on the Drexel site. Jackson County will work with EBCI THPO and Cultural Resources to create this plan and develop signage to educate visitors on the EBCI and the significance of the site.
Sequoyah Birthplace Museum: To enhance the new permanent exhibit with multimedia displays, energy efficient modalities throughout the building, and measurements to improve the safety for visitors and staff and to host the first Cherokee Heritage Fall Festival.
North Carolina International Folk Festival, Inc.: To include the EBCI in a cultural exchange festival in Haywood County. At least two different EBCI dance groups will perform traditional dance and music during the Folkmoot Festival from July 16th-26th 2015. Representatives from other cultures, hosted by Folkmoot, will perform in Cherokee.
Land Trust for the Little Tennessee: To enhance the bird monitoring, research, and education programs tied to the national MAPS program. Educational materials will be produced to present information on native birds in Cherokee and English.
Cherokee Historical Association: To assist in the development of a new business plan to benefit all cultural partners. With this plan, along with new programs, short-term and long-term visitation and revenue numbers will increase, enhancing the sustainability of these important Cherokee tourism attractions.
Snowbird Cherokees Traditions: To continue the 2015 Snowbird summer language camp and adult classes. The summer language camp offers six weeks of activities and instruction around Cherokee language and culture to approximately 25 youth, primarily from the Snowbird community of Graham County.
Cherokee Central Schools: To continue Technology Engineering & Design, and Agricultural Education classes and improve the instructional program for students at Cherokee Central schools. By offering a broader range of vocational courses allows students to excel in areas of interest, while achieving requirements established by the state.
EBCI Kituwah Preservation and Education Program (KPEP): To support their ongoing development and delivery of Cherokee language instruction. As the EBCI enters the next 10-year phase of the Kituwah Language Revitalization Initiative, the focus will be on building areas of competency and persevering and protecting the language resources for future generations.
Museum of the Cherokee Indian: To revitalize the Cherokee Friends program, and upgrade the Cherokee Heritage Trails website. The Museum will select, hire, and train new seasonal Cherokee Friends and hire a full time manager.
Museum of the Cherokee Indian: To highlight Jerry Wolfe as the first Beloved Man of the Cherokee since 1801. The Museum will interview, publish a book, and create a short film on his life. The schools, community members and others will access the information through the Museum’s audio and visual archive system.
Western Carolina University: To continue leadership development opportunities through the Right Path adult leadership program. The program will continue developing curriculum that is culturally based and reflects traditional Cherokee core values. Leaders will learn and interact with elders and other cultural experts.
For spring 2015, every one dollar given by the Cherokee Preservation Foundation is matched by $.63, either by secured funds/grants, in-kind or leveraged resources, making CPF’s total contribution to the region $4,113,000.

Wandering Dangers Highlighted During Autism Awareness Month

Nearly half of children on the autism spectrum are believed to engage in wandering, a behavior that can end in tragedy. The U-S Senate is considering a bill known as Avonte’s Law, which would provide funding for police departments to purchase equipment that can help locate people with autism who go missing.

Wendy Fournier with the National Autism Association says those with autism typically wander to something of interest, or they flee an overwhelming environment, “Noises, lights and people and hearing five different conversations at the same time. That kind of stuff can be magnified for people on the spectrum. A lot of times the only thing they can do is run away. That’s the only way they can get any relief from that sensory overload.”

Fournier says due to challenges with communication and safety awareness, children or adults with autism can end up in dangerous situations when they wander. According to the Autism Society of North Carolina, the prevalence rate of autism in North Carolina is higher than the national average and stands at one out of every 58 children – versus one in 68 nationally.

Avonte’s Law is named after a 14-year-old with autism whose body was discovered in a river three months after he ran away from his New York City school. Fournier says the legislation also calls for training for law enforcement agencies to better recognize and respond to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, “It’s really easy for a person with a communication disorder to come across as being uncooperative to the police so the police really need some training to start recognizing autism and other cognitive disorders.”

Fournier says parents are encouraged to implement measures that can prevent wandering, including security alerts on doors and ID bracelets or tracking devices for their child. She says swimming lessons are also crucial, “About 90 percent of the kids who die following a wandering incident die from drowning. Our kids are very, very attracted to water. So we recommend that everybody teach their child, make sure they know how to swim.”

April is Autism Awareness Month.

Spring fire season is here; be careful when burning debris

As crews fight two wildfires in Western North Carolina, the N.C. Forest Service is also urging residents across the state to exercise caution when burning debris during spring fire season, which typically lasts from March to May.

N.C. Forest Service shieldFirefighters from the NCFS and the U.S. Forest Service are battling the 595-acre Weed Lane Fire in Buncombe County. One home has been destroyed and five more damaged.

The NCFS is also assisting the USFS on the 150-acre Poplar Fire in Mitchell County. The causes of the fires are under investigation.

In spring, people do a lot of yard work that often includes burning leaves and yard debris. There are many factors to consider before burning any debris. The NCFS encourages residents considering debris burning to contact their local county forest ranger. The forest ranger can offer technical advice and explain what the best options are to help maximize the safety to people, property and the forest.

“Protect our natural resources by acting safely. Don’t burn on dry, windy days, and maintain a careful watch over a fire until it is extinguished,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler.

For people who choose to burn debris, the NCFS urges them to adhere to the following tips to protect property and prevent wildfires:

Consider alternatives to burning. Some yard debris, such as leaves and grass, may be more valuable if composted.

Check with your county fire marshal’s office for local laws on burning debris. Some communities allow burning only during specified hours; others forbid it entirely.

Make sure you have an approved burning permit, which can be obtained at any NCFS office, county-approved burning permit agent, or online at http://ncforestservice.gov.

Check the weather. Don’t burn if conditions are dry or windy.

Only burn natural vegetation from your property. Burning household trash or any other man-made materials is illegal. Trash should be hauled away to a convenience center.

Plan burning for the late afternoon when conditions are typically less windy and more humid.

If you must burn, be prepared. Use a shovel or hoe to clear a perimeter around the area where you plan to burn.

Keep fire tools ready. To control the fire, you will need a hose, bucket, a steel rake and a shovel for tossing dirt on the fire.
Never use flammable liquids such as kerosene, gasoline or diesel fuel to speed burning.

Stay with your fire until it is completely out. In North Carolina, human carelessness leads to more wildfires than any other cause. In fact, debris burning is the No. 1 cause of wildfires in the state.

These same tips hold true for campfires and barbeques, too. Douse burning charcoal briquettes or campfire thoroughly with water. When the coals are soaked, stir them and soak them again. Be sure they are out cold and carefully feel to be sure they are extinguished. Never dump hot ashes or coals into a wooded area.

Burning agriculture residue and forestland litter: In addition to the rules above, a fire line should be plowed around the area to be burned. Large fields should be separated into small plots for burning one at a time. Before doing any burning in a wooded area, contact your county ranger who will weigh all factors, explain them and offer technical advice.

For more information on ways you can prevent wildfires and loss of property visit http://ncforestservice.gov.

Arrests Made in Haywood County Breaking and Entering

Two Haywood County residents have been arrested in connection with a breaking, entering and larceny from a home in the Little East Fork Community.

On March 26, detectives with the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office arrested 38-year-old Charles Bradford Arrington, of Waynesville, and 37-year-old Amanda Faith Fortner, of Canton, in connection with the March 3 breaking and entering of a home on Panther Branch.

Arrington had outstanding warrants for a separate incident. When detectives located Arrington riding in a car with Fortner, they conducted a traffic stop and saw in the vehicle a television believed to be from the Panther Branch theft. A search of the vehicle led to the further discovery of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia.

Arrington was arrested and charged with felony breaking entering, larceny and possession of stolen goods, as well as felony possession of methamphetamine and misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia. He was also served with the outstanding warrants for felony obtaining money by false pretense, in addition to misdemeanor larceny and possession of stolen goods.

Fortner was charged with felony breaking entering, larceny and possession of stolen goods, as well as felony possession of methamphetamine and misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia.

Arrington jailed in lieu of $35,000 secured bond. Fortner was jailed in lieu of $20,000 secured bond. The court date for each has been set for April 8.

HARRIS REGIONAL HOSPITAL AND SWAIN COUNTY HOSPITAL UNVEIL NEW IDENTITIES, PLANS FOR THE FUTURE

Harris Regional Hospital and Swain County Hospital today announced that the hospitals’ identities will change. They are now Harris Regional Hospital, a Duke LifePoint Hospital, and Swain Community Hospital, a Duke LifePoint Hospital.

Harris Regional Hospital has been a fixture in Sylva and surrounding communities since 1925. Swain Community Hospital has been caring for people in Bryson City and the surrounding areas since 1950. Their new names honor the hospitals’ legacies in the region and highlight their connection to Duke LifePoint Healthcare, which acquired both facilities in August 2014.

“I am excited to officially unveil our new brands and share our exciting plans for growth with the communities we serve,” said Bunny Johns, Chair of the Harris Regional and Swain Community Board of Trustees. “Our new names distinguish us as Duke LifePoint hospitals and provide an opportunity to share our vision for the future. In partnership with Duke LifePoint, we have exciting plans to strengthen local healthcare delivery for the future and make our communities healthier.”

Duke LifePoint has committed to investing $43 million in capital improvements at Harris Regional and Swain Community Hospitals over the next eight years. These investments will enhance services and help the hospitals grow. Since joining Duke LifePoint in August, investments have already been made involving new equipment, technology, and support to improve patient care and enable the expansion of services. This has included new ultrasound machines, new computers and laptops, new flooring in operating rooms, new arthroscopic equipment for sports medicine and orthopedic procedures, and support for physician recruitment, strategic planning and marketing.

In the coming months, Harris Regional and Swain Community Hospitals have many new projects on the horizon, including the construction of a new Emergency Department at Harris, completing the New Generations Family Birthing Center at Harris, and restoring operating room capabilities at Swain Community Hospital.

“Harris Regional Hospital and Swain Community Hospital have been integral to the health and wellness of this region for many years,” said Steve Heatherly, President and CEO at Harris Regional and Swain Community Hospitals. “As Duke LifePoint hospitals, we already have been able to enhance the care we deliver and strengthen our hospitals’ abilities to work together and positively impact the community. Our partnership is bringing unparalleled expertise in clinical excellence and quality care to this region, which is why we have developed the tagline ‘Together making communities healthier.’”

As a part of their new identity, Harris Regional and Swain Community Hospitals have unveiled new logos that highlight the partnership with Duke LifePoint. These will be featured on new hospital signage as well as on refreshed websites. The hospitals also will begin a new awareness campaign that highlights their deep roots in the community and their commitment to making communities healthier together.

Additionally, Harris’ Franklin campus, formerly the WestCare Medical Park of Franklin, will now be called Harris Regional Hospital Medical Park of Franklin. The facilities also have launched a new Physician Referral Line to ensure that patients have easy, convenient access to care throughout the region: 1-844-414-DOCS.

The name changes were made official on April 1, 2015.

NC commission warns of increase in black bear sightings

Black-bear1The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is advising residents that black bear sightings will become more common across the state as temperatures rise.
According to the commission, while black bears are not inherently dangerous and rarely aggressive toward people, it advises caution and common sense to reduce the potential for problems.
The commission says if left alone, most transient bears will find their way out of town and back to their natural habitat. People are urged not to approach or follow bears, or get between a bear and its possible escape route.
Also, the commission advises people not to feed bears, whether intentionally or inadvertently. Bears accustomed to feeding on pet food, table scraps, garbage and birdseed can lose their fear of humans, leading to property damage or more serious problems.

Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina recognizes Child Abuse Prevention Month

North Carolina’s future prosperity relies on the healthy growth and development of all children. During April, National Child Abuse Prevention Month, Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina (PCANC) encourages all North Carolina citizens to come together to celebrate community efforts to ensure all children have great childhoods. When children have safe, stable, nurturing relationships with their parents and other adults in their community it builds healthy brain architecture, forming a sturdy foundation for future success.

Adverse childhood experiences such as child abuse and neglect result in toxic stress that damages the developing brain architecture. If left unaddressed, this leads to increased risk of academic failure, chronic long-term health issues, and increased crime rates and violence. One of the most effective ways to prevent these long-term consequences is to ensure children grow up in nurturing, supportive homes and communities. PCANC accomplishes this by raising awareness for effective child abuse prevention efforts, supporting local family support and parenting education programs in all 100 North Carolina counties, providing training and education opportunities for professionals and the public, and advocating for policies that benefit children and families.

“We invite every adult in our community to play an active role in the lives of the children and families they know,” said Bud Lavery, PCANC president and CEO. “By working together we can prevent child abuse and neglect and help all children grow up healthy and ready to make a positive impact on the future of our state.”

North Carolina Cold Case Re-Opened 34 years later

New developments have sparked renewed interest and have led to the creation of a task force to investigate the 1980 murder of Ronda Mechelle Blaylock, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation said.

The 14-year-old ninth grader was found murdered on Friday, August 29, 1980 on a rural road in the Pilot Mountain area of Surry County.

The renewed attention to this case occurred shortly after a telephone call was made by Ronda’s mother to law enforcement asking about the status of her daughter’s murder investigation. “Within a day or so after receiving her call there were developments that I cannot discuss here today, but this task force is actively pursuing good leads,” Surry County Sheriff Graham Atkinson said.

State and local law enforcement believe this renewed focus on the nearly 35-year-old homicide will lead them to her murderer.

The Ronda Blaylock Homicide Task Force was recently formed by the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, Stokes County Sheriff’s Office, South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division, Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, and the SBI to concentrate efforts on locating Ronda’s killer. Ronda lived and attended school in Forsyth County and her body was found in Surry County only a few yards from the Stokes County line. “This case involves the three jurisdictions represented here today due to the proximity of county lines to the crime scene and Ronda’s locations the day she disappeared,” said Surry County Sheriff Graham Atkinson.

Ronda was a student at Atkins High School in Winston-Salem when she disappeared on Tuesday, August 26, 1980, from Rural Hall. Three days later on Friday, August 29, 1980, her partially clothed body was found in a heavily wooded area near Sechrist Loop Road in Pilot Mountain. The Medical Examiner’s report indicates she was viciously assaulted and stabbed to death.

Ronda was walking a friend home after school near the Rural Hall Bowling Lanes when they accepted a ride from a stranger. Ronda’s friend was dropped off unharmed at the railroad tracks near the intersection of Tuddle Road and Priddy Road and without any indication Ronda was in any danger. Ronda’s parents, Rebecca and Charles Blaylock, desperately attempted to find her when she failed to return home. That evening they reported to the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office that their only child was missing.

Passersby found her body only 18 miles from where numerous witnesses in Rural Hall saw Ronda and her friend voluntarily get into a blue Chevrolet pickup truck driven by a white man who authorities say is Ronda’s killer.

Eyewitnesses described the driver of the blue pickup truck as a white male with a tan, possibly late teens or early 20’s, tall, 165 pounds, with straight brownish hair feathered on the sides and light facial hair. He listened to a rock radio station, and smoked cigarettes. He wore a black t-shirt, faded jeans, white tennis shoes, aviator style sunglasses and a baseball cap.

Obviously, this man has aged over the past 34 years and his appearance will most likely differ from the description given in 1980. He also told Ronda that his name was “Jimmy,” but his friends called him “Butch.”

Witnesses said the blue 1970’s model truck was immaculate, except that the passenger side mirror was missing and the rear tires did not match the front tires. The truck had snow tires on the rear and white wall tires on the front. The cab had a bench seat. A CB radio was mounted underneath the middle of the dashboard and the word “Chevrolet” was on the steering wheel. A white camper shell covered the bed of the truck. The vehicle could have been borrowed when the murder occurred or sold afterward. Unlike many cases that are decades old without arrests, all of the evidence collected during the investigation of this homicide case exists and is in excellent condition. Some of which is currently in the State Crime Laboratory to be analyzed using DNA testing and other technology that previously did not exist and results are expected soon.

“DNA testing abilities today were unimaginable at the time of Ronda’s murder,” the sheriff said. “We are confident that we will not be disappointed by the test results.”

The task force is also using social media to keep the public informed on the progress of this investigation. Confidential or anonymous contact with the task force can be made through email at rondablaylock1980@gmail.com or by calling the task force hotline (336) 401-8971.

“This task force wants the good citizens of our region to know that this investigation is ongoing and that they can monitor our work through social media. They are welcome to contribute to this case any information they have about Ronda’s murder and killer,” the sheriff said.

There may be others in the community with potentially significant information and the task force is prepared to talk with anyone who comes forward.

Jackson County students win Youth Art Month awards at WCU

More than 60 Jackson County school students received awards for work exhibited at Western Carolina University during Youth Art Month.

The winners were chosen by a panel of judges that included WCU art education students and staff members of the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center. Their art was among more than 300 student works selected by local art teachers for the display at the Bardo Center in March.

Several hundred people attended a reception held Sunday, March 22, to honor all of the young artists. The works ranged from painting, drawing, sculpture and ceramics to basketry, printmaking and other visual arts. The exhibit ended Monday, March 23.

Youth Art Month is a national observance and WCU has hosted the exhibit for more than 30 years to celebrate and encourage school art programs.

“The Youth Art Month exhibit at WCU remains as the largest exhibition of children’s art in and from Jackson County,” said Erin Tapley, associate professor of art education who serves as the event coordinator. “It’s always great to watch the children get excited when they’ve found their piece and point it out to their proud families.”

The exhibit sponsors include Jack the Dipper Ice Cream of Sylva, Claymates Pottery of Dillsboro, Jackson County Arts Council, North Carolina Arts Council and WCU’s School of Art and Design, Art Education Club, College of Fine and Performing Arts, Bardo Center, Fine Art Museum and College of Education and Allied Professions.

Participating schools and the winners are:

Blue Ridge School – First place, Brittany Kinsey (grade seven); second place, Cazmarine Jones (grade nine); Teacher’s Choice Award, Jeffrey Burnette (grade 12); honorable mention, Cheyenne Bryson (grade 10).

Cherokee Elementary School – First place, Patricia Armachain (grade five); second place, Kamia Wiggins (grade four); Teacher’s Choice Award, Logan Biddix (grade one); honorable mentions, Hilarie Howell (grade two), Tyruss Thompson (grade two), Ahanu de los Reyes (grade two), Lilliann Bigmeat (grade three).

Cullowhee Valley School – First place, Alex Noltensmeyer (grade three); second place, Enoc Alvarado (grade two); Teacher’s Choice Award, Aliya Mayton (grade seven); Claymates Award, Carter Pastoris (grade six); honorable mentions, Serenity Shook (kindergarten), Kyle Shanklin (grade seven), Sarah Grider (grade seven), D.J. Drakeford (grade eight), Sierra Galayadick (grade eight).

Fairview School – First place, Tashi Hacskaylo (grade five); second place, Ty Howard (grade one); Teacher’s Choice Award, Cheyenne Clayton (grade eight); honorable mentions, Isabel Townsend (grade two), Coco Wells (grade three), Cole Stillwell (grade four), Brenan Martin (grade five), Jeff Stillwell (grade eight).

Jackson County School of Alternatives – First place, Solomon Elam (grade eight); second place, Kenneth Maney (grade 11); Teacher’s Choice Award, Lakota Russell (grade two); honorable mentions, Kim Pannell (grade nine), Tyler Fisher (grade 11).

Scott’s Creek School – First place, Chloe Ledford (grade four); second place, Landon Maloy (grade three); Teacher’s Choice Award, Bethany Cartwright (kindergarten); honorable mentions, Kason Powell (kindergarten), Devlin Bright (grade one), Iriss B. Connoly (grade two), Cadence Medford (grade two), Ryland McCoy (grade three), Georgie Schweinler (grade five), Oswaldo M. Salano (grade six).

Smokey Mountain Elementary School – First place, Laura Alich (grade four); second place, David Chiltowski (grade eight); Teacher’s Choice Award, Abby Branning (grade two); honorable mentions, Amarni Wachacha (grade one), Mason Napier (grade two), Teyha Price (grade six), Corbin Moore (grade seven), Hailey Carter (grade eight), Lucy Miller (grade eight).

Smoky Mountain High School – First place, Heather Mangus (grade 10); second place and WCU School of Art and Design Director’s award, Morgan Carpenter (grade 10); Teacher’s Choice Award, Emily Miller (grade 10); honorable mentions, Morgan Carpenter (grade 10), Amelia Ray (grade 10), Kendall Rhymer (grade 11), Casey Owen (grade 12), Emily Miller (grade 12), Allie Smith (grade 12).

Summit Charter School – First place, Megan Reihmeier (grade six); second place, Chase Coggins (grade eight); Teacher’s Choice Award, Ava Grace Kapdohr (kindergarten); honorable mentions, Benjamin Ball (grade two), Lalo Tepepa (grade three), Braden Collins (grade six), Leah Grace Craig (grade eight).