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Alarm, records seized from Best Western

by Anna Oakes

Police investigating three deaths at Boone's Best Western hotel obtained search warrants June 8 and June 10, which were returned to the Watauga County Clerk of Court's office June 13.

Police searched Best Western room 225, hotel common and technical areas, the pool, exercise and leisure areas, unoccupied rooms, exterior grounds and facilities and the vehicle of Jeannie Williams, the mother of Jeffrey Williams who was also injured in the room 225.

"This affiant believes that the above stated facts provide probable cause that the premises to be searched contain items needed to determine if violations of North Carolina statutes exist," a statement by Boone Police Sgt. M.D. Stevens said.

The search warrant documents state that police seized ice buckets, a video tape, two sections of heater exhaust pipe, a blue binder containing pool records, a wood clipboard containing room maintenance records and a GD-21 model combustible gas alarm.

Boone Police Chief Dana Crawford said Wednesday there is "potential" for criminal charges in the case.

The Boone town clerk's office on Friday refused to provide building inspection records for the Best Western requested by Watauga Democrat June 11, stating the inspections are not public record because they are part of a criminal investigation.

While N.C. General Statutes Chapter 132-1.4(a) states that "records of criminal investigations conducted by public law enforcement agencies ... are not public records," the statute further states in 132-1.4(f) that "nothing in this section shall be construed as authorizing any public law enforcement agency to prohibit or prevent another public agency having custody of a public record from permitting the inspection, examination, or copying of such public record in compliance with G.S. 132‑6. The use of a public record in connection with a criminal investigation or the gathering of criminal intelligence shall not affect its status as a public record."

Watauga Democrat repeated its request for the records on Monday.

The town provided a copy of the hotel's last fire inspection to Watauga Democrat on June 10. The Appalachian District Health Department has provided records of its inspections of the facility as well.