2012 — Watauga in the rear view
by Kellen Moore and Anna Oakes
From county native Dara Watson to coach and teacher Leigh Wallace, from young Peyton Townsend to Deputy William Mast, and from Maj. Ryan David to ASU student Tyler Blalock, Watauga County lost too many young people too soon. And there were many others — legendary musician Doc Watson, car dealers Mack Brown and Bill Winkler and former Blowing Rock Police Chief James Tolbert among them — to whom the community wasn’t quite ready to bid farewell.
The year was also marked by celebrations, scandals, public policy debates, leadership changes and business transactions — you name it, there was plenty to write about in 2012.
Feb. 6-17 • Boone mourns
In February, a Boone native made national news when she vanished after a visit to see her family in Boone. Dara Watson, 30, was later found dead Feb. 17 in Francis Marion National Forest, near her South Carolina home.
Authorities determined that Watson had died of a single gunshot wound to the head inflicted by her fiancé, David Hedrick. Investigators determined that Hedrick had attempted to conceal her death by respond ing to text messages with her phone. Hedrick took his own life shortly after Watson was reported missing.
The community rallied to support the family with a heartfelt candlelight vigil held at Watsonatta Western World, Watson’s parents’ store on King Street.
Feb. 11 • Assault spurs hate crime discussion
Two women were assaulted Feb. 11 by a stranger they first encountered at the Cook-Out restaurant, setting the stage for a larger discussion about North Carolina’s hate crime laws. ASU student Erin Johnston and Boone resident Sarabeth Nordstrom said they were approached by a man at the restaurant yelling sexually based slurs. He then followed the women to a nearby apartment complex where he attacked, causing injuries that landed both in the hospital. The women started an online petition asking the legislature to add gender and sexual orientation to the state’s definition of hate crime. The university also hosted an event called “Stop the Hate, Show the Love,” to show support for the victims.
Lenoir teen Ketoine Jamahl Mitchell was arrested and charged with the crime.
Feb. 21 • Noise ordinance
After months of debate and changes, the Boone Town Council voted to approve noise ordinance revisions establishing outdoor decibel limits for late-night concerts in business zoning districts.
The adopted decibel limits were slightly higher than proposed standards drafted in January but lower than the restrictions requested in a petition signed by 1,100 residents and 61 business representatives. After four written warnings, subsequent violations of the ordinance result in $100, $200 and $500 fines. Although some received warnings, no venues were fined for noise ordinance violations in 2012, Boone Police Chief Dana Crawford said.
March 1 - June 8 • Sexual assault allegations cloud ASU football program
In early spring, Watauga Democrat reported that four ASU football players and another male student had been accused by two female ASU students of rape and sexual assault in separate incidents in 2011, with two of the men accused in both incidents.
Both men accused in a September 2011 incident were found responsible for all charges by a University Conduct Board in October 2011, but a university administrator remanded those cases to a new hearing because a procedural error. This allowed them to return to the football field after a brief suspension.
Students organized a silent protest at ASU in early March, calling for specific changes to university policies related to sexual and interpersonal violence. Ultimately, as a result of remanded and appealed conduct board hearings, four of the five men were suspended from the ASU campus for eight semesters. The other man was found not responsible for all charges except harassment. The district attorney declined to criminally prosecute both cases.
March 16 • ASU prof placed on leave for classroom remarks, video
ASU sociology professor Jammie Price was placed on involuntary administrative leave March 16 after students told administrators that Price made disparaging remarks about student-athletes, repeatedly criticized the ASU administration, discussed personal material not on the syllabus and showed a pornography-related documentary without warning about the film’s potentially objectionable content. ASU administrators concluded that Price created a “hostile learning environment.”
In the fall, Price was granted a grievance hearing in which she contested the university’s actions, stating they violated due process and academic freedom. The Faculty Grievance Hearing Committee agreed with Price in its Oct. 23 report, but Chancellor Ken Peacock indicated he would support administrators’ actions.
March 29 • Deadly shooting occurs in Todd
The stillness of South Road in Todd was shattered March 29 when 30-year-old Richard Matthew Bartlett was shot in the head and killed.
Police arrested his housemate, Thomas James Laing, and charged him with second-degree murder. Laing, who called 911 after the incident, said that Bartlett was trying to break in the door when Laing shot him with a .22-caliber pistol.
Laing was released on bond and awaits trial. District Attorney Jerry Wilson said he expects a trial or plea to be reached by February.
May 3 • Grimes named
N.C. Teacher of the Year
For the first time in decades, a Watauga County teacher was named the North Carolina Teacher of the Year for 2012-13. Darcy Grimes, a third-grade teacher at Bethel, rose through the levels of competition before being recognized with the state honor May 3.
The honor has allowed Grimes a year sabbatical from teaching to travel the state advocating on behalf of education. The recognition also earned Grimes a $7,500 award from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, use of a state vehicle for one year, a technology package from SMART Technologies and a two-year appointment to the State Board of Education.
May 8 • NC approves
marriage amendment, but not Watauga
On May 8, North Carolina voters approved a referendum for a constitutional amendment stating that marriage of one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that is valid or recognized in the state with 61 percent for and 39 percent against, but Watauga County was among eight counties in the state to narrowly vote against the amendment.
The amount of advertising, voter outreach efforts and public debate over the referendum rivaled that of the general election in November.
May 14 • Town,
Arts Council part ways
The Boone Town Council ended a 26-year partnership with the Watauga County Arts Council, which had contracted with the town to manage the historic, town-owned Jones House Community Center since the 1980s. The Arts Council moved out of the Jones House to new gallery and office locations in downtown Boone, while the town created a new Cultural Resources Department.
May 29 • Doc Watson dies
Arthel Lane “Doc” Watson, an eight-time Grammy Award winner, National Medal of Arts honoree and recipient of the National Heritage Fellowship, died May 29, at the age of 89, from complications following colon surgery.
A lifetime resident of Deep Gap, Watson and his flat-picking and finger-picking styles influenced many guitarists, and his soulful vocal renderings of blues, country, gospel and folk tunes introduced people across the world to the music of Appalachia.
MerleFest, the American music festival held in Wilkesboro each spring, is held to honor the music of Watson and his late son, Merle, who died in a tractor accident in 1985. Watson’s wife, Rosa Lee, died in Boone in November, six months after her husband.
May 30 - July 3 • General Assembly bills target Boone
Although they stirred quite a debate, two bills in the General Assembly aimed at the town of Boone’s water infrastructure and regulatory authority ultimately were not successful.
Senate Bill 949, filed by Republican state Sen. Dan Soucek of Boone, would have stripped the town of Boone of its powers to regulate land use in the extraterritorial jurisdiction, a one-mile area outside town limits. House Bill 1227, introduced by Republican state Rep. Jonathan Jordan of Jefferson, would have halted the town of Boone’s seven-year-long water intake project by disapproving the state regulatory measure needed for the facility to receive permits.
Both bills died in committee.
June 4 •
New superintendent hired
After the unexpected departure of Superintendent Marty Hemric halfway through the 2011-12 school year, the Board of Education was tasked with finding a new leader. Interim Superintendent Dick Jones filled the role until Superintendent David Kafitz was selected June 4 from among 32 applicants.
Kafitz offered 16 years of experience in education but had never served as a superintendent before this appointment.
June 8 • Child killed
by falling tombstone
Tragedy once again struck the High Country on June 8, when 4-year-old Peyton Townsend was accidentally killed while playing in a church cemetery in Deep Gap. As the children played while attending Vacation Bible School at Mt. Paran Baptist Church, a cross-shaped slab slid off its stone base and onto the young girl, causing a severe head injury.
Townsend was memorialized in a well-attended funeral at First Baptist Church in Blowing Rock.
July 1 • Boone guardsman killed in C-130 crash
Maj. Ryan S. David, 35, of Boone was among four Airmen died when a C-130 crashed July 1 while fighting a woodland fire in southwestern South Dakota. David was an experienced navigator and Air Force veteran. The crew was part of the Charlotte-based 145th Airlift Wing of the North Carolina Air National Guard. He is survived by his wife and one child.
July 26 • Deputy shot
in line of duty
Deputy William Mast of the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office was just 23 and awaiting the birth of his first child when he was killed in the line of duty July 26. While responding to a 911 call on Hardin Road in Deep Gap, Mast was struck and killed by a shotgun blast. He and Deputy Preston Russell returned fire, killing the shooter, 33-year-old Mitchell Trivette.
Hundreds of residents lined the streets for Mast’s funeral July 31, and an estimated 2,500 people attended his services.
District Attorney Jerry Wilson determined in December that the officers’ use of deadly force was justified.
Aug. 9-11 • Gnarnia festival
The Gnarnia music festival at Beech Mountain Resort exposed the best and worst that a music festival can bring to the High Country. While providing an economic boon to the town during its run from Aug. 9-11, the festival also netted a large number of arrests and drug seizures. Among the drugs seized were LSD, MDMA (Ecstasy), DMT, a synthetic LSD-like drug, psilocybin mushrooms, cocaine, heroin, Ketamine, various types of pills and several nitrous oxide tanks, which people were using to huff nitrous.
The festival divided the community, with many residents stepping up to defend the festival and others saying it cast Beech Mountain in the wrong light.
Aug. 30 • Samaritan’s Purse buys Hayes Center
Boone-based Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse purchased the Mariam and Robert Hayes Center in Blowing Rock for $1,493,100 in a foreclosure auction. The center closed in February and reverted to Wells Fargo bank due to indebtedness.
The $10 million Hayes Center opened in August 2006, with a 348-seat auditorium, smaller theater-in-the-round, dressing rooms and meeting space. It was home to the Blowing Rock Stage Company until 2009. Samaritan’s Purse said it would use the Hayes Center as a training facility, conference center and meeting space.
Sept. 29 •
ASU student drowns
A 19-year-old Appalachian State University student was pulled from the waters of Kraut Creek on Sept. 29, stunning the campus and community.
Investigators determined that sophomore Tyler Blalock of Charlotte had been killed in Durham Park when he slipped at the edge of the creek and struck his head as he fell into the water.
The university later stated that Blalock had been intoxicated at the time of his death and had another person’s ID in his possession. District Attorney Jerry Wilson announced in December that no criminal charges would be filed against those who provided the teen with alcohol before his death.
Oct. 17 • Turtle Island forced to close
Turtle Island Preserve, a 1,000-acre, nonprofit environmental education camp in eastern Watauga County founded in 1987, was forced to close following notices of violation from the Watauga County Planning & Inspections Department and Appalachian District Health Department.
Eustace Conway, founder of the camp, and his supporters said Turtle Island, which educates adults and children about primitive lifeways and sustainable practices, should be exempt from modern building and health code regulations. They appealed to the N.C. Building Code Council, which directed staff to explore ways to help find a solution.
Nov. 13 • Old WHS
In November, Watauga County commissioners accepted an $18.948 million offer for the former Watauga High School property from Templeton Properties. Phil Templeton has said he plans to create student apartments and commercial space on the 74-acre site. He said the property could also hold a hotel or convention center, a major grocery chain, a movie theater, a national retailer and restaurants.
The former school building also is being demolished to make way for the new development. If all goes as planned, closing on the property could occur in mid-2013.
Dec. 2 • Jerry Moore out as ASU coach
A day after the ASU football team lost to Illinois State in the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, ASU announced that 24-year head coach Jerry Moore would be stepping down from the position.
Although Moore expressed his desire to return in 2013 in an interview, ASU said it reached an agreement with Moore planning a 2012 exit one year earlier, which was supported by documents released by the university. Moore said a communication breakdown led to a misunderstanding.
Assistant head coach Scott Satterfield, a 39-year-old ASU graduate and former quarterback, was named the new head coach two weeks later.