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Suspects in Boone robbery caught in Ashe after daylong manhunt

JEFFERSON — After a manhunt lasting more than 24 hours, two suspects wanted in questioning related to an armed robbery were apprehended by Jefferson Police Department officer Kevin Richardson, Tuesday, July 30, just before noon.

According to the Boone Police Department, Jaheim Hicks, 19, and Aziz Felder, 19 — addresses for the two were unknown as of presstime — allegedly robbed a Circle K at the intersection of U.S. 421 and Bamboo Road in Boone at 2 a.m. Monday, July 29. They then allegedly fled the scene in a maroon Chevrolet Malibu, which had previously been reported stolen in Yadkin County.

The car’s location was picked up near the Dollar General in Jefferson, when the vehicle wrecked and the pair fled on foot, according to the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office.

ACSO officer Randy Lewis said the two men were found walking along Wade Bare Road in Jefferson, not far from the scene of the wreck. He said Richardson recognized them, interviewed them and brought them in. Lewis added that Felder and Hicks were tired and hungry, and didn’t show any resistance.

Ashe County Sheriff B. Phil Howell said he was happy the manhunt was over and that nobody was harmed.

“The most important thing to me was the safety of everybody,” Howell said, specifically pointing to the safety of homeowners in the area and the citizens of the county. “Our number one priority was bringing those two suspects in safely for our officers and safely for them. It’s reassuring that everybody has done a good job.”

Howell commended Richardson for his actions, saying it was a “blessing” that he was able to identify Felder and Hicks and bring them in.

ACSO Chief Deputy Danny Houck echoed Howell’s sentiments on the safety of everyone involved.

Found in the men’s possession were a hatchet and a knife, but an airsoft pistol was found near the car, which is believed to be what they used in the robbery, according to Lewis.

Howell said the full list of charges and the jurisdiction of some of those is still undetermined as of presstime. He added that he and Houck have sat down with U.S. marshals to go over things, but there is a lot to go through. Houck said it would realistically take “a couple of days” to get everything sorted out.

According to BPD Lt. Chris Hatton, both Hicks and Felder are each likely to be charged with one count of felony armed robbery and one count of felony conspiracy to commit armed robbery. He said that the department had not officially issued the charges as of presstime, but believed that it would happen soon.

Logan Parks, Luke Weir and Kayla Lasure contributed additional reporting to this story.

Bear in mind

As bears expand into more parts of North Carolina and development results in people moving into new areas, bear encounters are likely to become more frequent.

In early July, Janet Shoaf of St. Petersburg, Fla., snapped pictures of bears enjoying their feeder at their Vilas cabin. At the Grandfather Marathon on July 13, runners kept their distance around mile 22 as a black bear joined the race for a few minutes along U.S. 221.

“Bears have always been at home here,” said Leesa Brandon of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the National Park Service.

According to media reports and a video of the incident, on July 13, a visitor attempted to approach a mother black bear in Cades Cove, Tenn., located in the Great Smokies Mountain National Park, resulting in the bear bluff charging at the man, who was within 10 feet. While the man wasn’t identified, park rangers told the Knoxville News Sentinel that if a park ranger was present, the man would have been issued a ticket.

The federal National Park Service, which manages the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Appalachian Trail and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, has a rule where it’s illegal to willfully approach within 50 yards (150 feet) or any distance that “disturbs or displaces a bear” within park boundaries. Violation can result in fines of up to $5,000 and/or six months imprisonment, according to the NPS.

According to Adrianne Rubiaco of the Pisgah National Forest, a part of the U.S. Forest Service and National Forests in North Carolina, their office doesn’t have any rules on wildlife encroachment, but does offer safety tips.

The southeastern United States is becoming a larger habitat for black bears, with North Carolina alone home to between 17,000-20,000, according to BearWise, a black bear program developed by the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies to raise awareness on how to deal with native black bears.

The black bear range has expanded in North Carolina since 1971, according to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. Back then, bears only inhabited a number of areas in the mountains and coastal North Carolina. Now, black bears can be found in almost all of Eastern North Carolina and all of the mountainous parts of Western North Carolina.

In Watauga County, black bears expanded from only being located in the extreme west, south and east sections of the county in 2001 to occupying the entire county by 2010, according to the NCWRC.

BearWise contributes this rise in habitat areas to conservation efforts and new attitudes.

Bear activity peaks during the summer, with a NCWRC study noting that between 1993 and 2011, human interaction with black bears peaks between May and August, accounting for 62 percent of all reported interactions during the time period.

While attacks by black bears are rare, they do occur, according to the National Park Service, who stresses that bear problems are caused by humans.

“Bear management is really people management; how visitors behave while in the park has an impact on the safety of bears,” the NPS states. “Bears that cause property damage or injure humans may have to be euthanized ... If you are careless with your food or litter, or allow a bear to get too close to you, you may be responsible for a bear’s death.”

In Beech Mountain, a fine of $1,000 per offense is enforced for any resident or visitor who feeds a bear, according to town code. The National Park Service’s states that park rangers issue citations for littering, feeding bears and for improper food storage, with fines of up to $5,000 and a jail sentence of six months.

“The bear’s keen sense of smell leads it to insects, nuts and berries, but the animal is also enticed by the tantalizing smells of human food and garbage such as hot dogs, apple cores, chips and watermelon rinds left on the ground in picnic areas, campgrounds and along trails,” the NPS states.

Unsecured garbage can lead to a change in a bear’s behavior and losing its fear of humans, the NPS states.

“Studies have shown that bears that lose their fear of people by obtaining human food and garbage never live as long as bears that feed on natural foods and are shy and afraid of people,” the NPS states. “Many are hit by cars and become easy targets for poachers.”

The NCWRC states that contrary to public opinion, they don’t typically trap and relocate bears “unless human safety is threatened,” due to most conflicts either being caused by people or the situation not warranting trapping and relocating. The NCWRC also said trapping and relocating bears is difficult and dangerous, would move the problem and that bears typically return to the original areas.

“If a bear’s behavior is escalating to bold and threatening behavior towards people, commission staff will euthanize the bear,” the NCWRC stated.

BearWise and the NCWRC offers six tips for bear encounters.

  • Secure food, garbage and recycling. Food and food odors attract bears, so don’t reward them with easily available food or garbage. Make sure to use bags of trash inside cans stored in a garage, sheds or other secure area; or use garbage cans or trash containers with a secure latching system or that are bear-resistant. Place trash outside as late as possible, on trash pick-up days — not the night before.
  • Remove bird feeders when bears are active. Birdseed and other grains have high calorie content, making them very attractive to bears.
  • Never leave pet food outdoors. Feed outdoor pets portion sizes that will be completely eaten during each meal and remove leftover food and food bowl.
  • Clean and store grills. After you use an outdoor grill, clean it thoroughly and make sure that all grease and fat is removed.
  • Alert neighbors to bear activity. See bears in the area or evidence of bear activity? Tell your neighbors and share info on how to avoid bear conflicts.

Driver charged with felony death by vehicle, DWI after fatally striking road flagger

BOONE — A 25-year-old man — who was flagging traffic — died on July 27 after he was struck by a driver the day before on U.S. 421, officials said.

The driver — Israel Alejandro Flores, 21 — allegedly fled the scene and was later arrested by the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office, according to N.C. State Highway Patrol Trooper Z.L. Moose. Flores was brought back to the collision scene and then arrested and charged with felony hit and run and DWI. He was later given a felony death by vehicle charge after the traffic flagger had died.

Moose said he received a call at 3:06 a.m. on July 26 after a pedestrian had been hit by a 2007 Jeep Grand Cherokee. Brittian Stewart South, of both Mountain City, Tenn., and Deep Gap, was flagging traffic for paving road work being done by Maymead in the area of U.S. 421 near the N.C. 105 Bypass. Moose stated that Flores was traveling north on U.S. 421 — at an estimated speed of 45 mph — when he struck the flagger.

Moose said the flagger had a stop/yield sign and was wearing reflective gear.

NCSHP, Boone Fire, Watauga Medics and the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office responded to the scene. Moose was unsure of the level of Flores’ blood alcohol content. A court document indicates that a blood sample from Flores was taken around 6 a.m. the day of the incident.

According to a search warrant document, the vehicle damage to the Jeep was consistent with that of having struck a standing person. The search warrant was for a residence at 3051 U.S. 421 N., Boone. Moose said Flores was being held on a $350,000 bond.

Moose stated that Flores had a Winston-Salem address; the N.C. State Board of Elections indicates that Flores is registered to vote in Watauga County — with a Boone address. Flores was a spring 2019 graduate of Appalachian State University, according to university spokesperson Megan Hayes.

South was flown to Johnson City Medical Center. He later died around 8:30 a.m. July 27, according to Moose.

South’s sister, Andrea Carlson, said she was notified of the incident around 4 a.m. July 26. When she contacted the hospital, her brother was in critical condition and medical professionals were waiting on test results. At the time South was suffering from two collapsed lungs and brain swelling.

“The doctor said (the brain trauma) was catastrophic and that only three other people that they knew of in the world had ever survived that,” Carlson said. “We were hoping that Brittian would be the fourth, but it didn’t happen that way.”

South had made the decision some time ago to be an organ donor. Carlson said seven to eight people are planned to benefit from South’s organ donation, and his family will later receive a letter about who received the organs. Carlson added that South’s family will also be able to meet the people who obtained her brother’s organs.

South loved playing music on his guitar, being outdoors and working on vehicles and motorcycles. Carlson said her brother was an outgoing and funny person who would give hugs to people and enjoyed making his friends happy.

“He’s always quick to help somebody if they needed help,” Carlson said.

A crowdsourcing website had been set up by South’s family to help provide money for transportation and lodging while he was in the hospital. Carlson said the money that had been raised so far had not yet been used, but will be helpful in the family’s travel to Tennessee to say “our last goodbyes.” The website can be found at www.gofundme.com/f/transportation-to-and-from-hospital.

Carlson said South’s family members were grateful for the community’s outpouring of prayers, donations and kind words.

Radford Quarries files for bankruptcy amid asphalt plant litigation

ASHEVILLE — Radford Quarries, whose 40-acre Glendale Springs quarry property is the location of a proposed Appalachian Materials asphalt plant, filed for bankruptcy Friday, July 26, according to documents from the North Carolina Western Bankruptcy Court.

The Boone-based quarry corporation filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy, with between 50 and 99 creditors, estimated assets up to $50,000 and liabilities between $1 and $10 million, according to court documents filed by Radford Quarries Vice President and CFO D.J. Cecile Jr.

Cecile is also the manager of Appalachian Materials, a company whose proposed asphalt plant at the Radford Quarries location on Glendale School Road has been under litigation in Ashe County v. Ashe County Planning Board, a lawsuit that is currently pending review by the N.C. Supreme Court.

Both Radford Quarries and Appalachian Materials are listed as having their principal address at 5605 Bamboo Road but have different Boone post office boxes as their registered mailing addresses, according to the North Carolina Secretary of State’s office. Radford Quarries owns 5605 and 5544 Bamboo Road, according to Watauga County tax records. Cecile’s other company, Radford Properties, owns 5946 Bamboo Road.

Appalachian Materials recently won at the state level in suit against Watauga County regarding another asphalt plant. In that late March ruling, the N.C. Supreme Court decided not to hear an appeal of a N.C. Court of Appeals ruling that reversed and remanded a 2015 Watauga County Board of Adjustment ruling that said Appalachian Materials could not build an asphalt plant near Rainbow Trail. The ruling was to be remanded to Watauga County Superior Court on a future date, Appalachian Materials lawyer Tyler Moffatt said in April.

Representatives of Radford Quarries and Appalachian Materials were unavailable for comment as of presstime Tuesday, July 30. Ashe County attorney John Kilby was also unavailable for comment as to what the bankruptcy filing means for the proposed asphalt plants and surrounding litigation as of presstime.

Moon Wright & Houston law firm is representing Radford Quarries, according to court documents.

According to court documents, the 20 largest claims filed against Radford Quarries total to $657,421.23, including $19,000 owed to the Ashe County Tax Collector and $52,000 owed to Mine Safety and Health Administration — a division of the U.S. Department of Labor.

Thomas Sherrill contributed reporting to this article.