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News
More information surfaces in double homicide case

DEEP GAP — Search warrants for surveillance camera footage, a Snapchat account and four to five cell phones were executed by Watauga County Sheriff’s Office in the case of the April 10 double homicide in Deep Gap, revealing more about the crime that has shocked the High Country community.

Tristan Noah Borlase, 17, of Orchard Road, Deep Gap, was arrested on April 11 and charged with two counts of murder in the deaths of his parents — Jeffery David Borlase, 43, and Tanya Maye Borlase, 44.

Court documents indicate that the bodies appeared to have been removed from the residence. Documents state that authorities believed that “... an altercation occurred inside this residence that led to the demise of the male individual and the female individual located outside of the residence.”

Blood was located throughout the “entire residence” of the home as well as outside of the residence, according to court documents. The documents also state that an empty handgun holster was located on a bedroom floor, but do not indicate if a weapon was recovered.

The body of Jeff Borlase was found outside — about 30 to 40 yards away from the residence — behind an outbuilding with a noticeable puncture wound, and he was partially covered with leaves, stated Deputy Matthew Rollins in the documents. Tanya Borlase’s body was found in the bed of a truck that was parked up an embankment and abandoned; she was reportedly covered in a blanket and bags of mulch, he said.

While the State Bureau of Investigation was at the scene the day after the incident, Watauga officials were notified that officials in Johnson County, Tenn., had Tristan Borlase detained after a traffic stop. Court documents state a female minor was with Tristan Borlase during the traffic stop.

District Attorney Seth Banks said that the investigation is ongoing and Tristan Borlase is the only person charged in this case at this time.

A search warrant for Tristan Borlase’s Snapchat account was issued on April 12. Search warrants for the cell phones of Tristan Borlase and the minor girl were issued three days later. Search warrants were also taken out for approximately three other cell phones, one of which documents state may help establish a timeline of events leading up to the alleged crime.

Search warrants were also issued for data from the eight surveillance cameras the Borlase couple had on the exterior of the home in addition to data from a doorbell video camera. Documents state that the multiple camera angles outside of the home “provides an opportunity for evidence related to the crime of first-degree murder, evidence related to the disposal/attempted disposal of deceased individuals and any and all actions taken by the offender that were recorded on the device.”

Tristan Borlase’s first court appearance is scheduled for May 7. He is being represented by defense attorney Garland Baker.


News
Grandfather Mountain announces ‘Conservation Campus’ expansion

LINVILLE — A $5.5 million, 10,000-square-foot expansion plan for new education spaces and revamped interactive exhibits are part of Grandfather Mountain’s newly-announced Conservation Campus, unveiled April 18.

“We’re working to share the wonders of Grandfather in ways that are broader and deeper than ever before,” said Jesse Pope, president and executive director of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation — the nonprofit organization that owns and operates the Linville-based nature park — in the April 18 announcement. “Whether it’s schoolchildren coming for a field trip or conservation experts visiting together to share new knowledge, guests will gain an even greater appreciation of nature and become even more passionate about protecting and preserving it.”

The addition will nearly double the size of the park’s current Nature Museum, the April 18 statement said. Grandfather Mountain spokesperson Frank Ruggiero said the work will not affect the nearby environmental wildlife habitats, but areas of the Nature Museum will close during certain points of the expansion, which will be determined at later dates.

The venue, designed to “study nature where nature reigns,” as Pope stated, will break ground in fall 2019. Ruggiero said the construction process will take 18-24 months.

The museum additions will focus on education, according to the GMSF. The planned projects include three classrooms for smaller groups and increased capacity for larger groups; restoration of the ADA-accessible auditorium; new outdoor learning spaces, including an amphitheater with terraced seating and a pavilion; new office space on site for park educators and animal habitats staff; larger and modern food service facilities for catering and serving educational groups; expanded capacity for hosting conferences, seminars, receptions and community events; and more.

“The Nature Museum’s expansion will also include a dozen all-new, interactive exhibits,” the April 18 statement said. “These exhibits will focus on the biodiversity and preservation of the high-elevation forests of the Southern Appalachian region.”

The existing exhibits space will be revamped to include an interactive 3D map of Grandfather Mountain, a geology/mineral display, flora and fauna walls, an interactive field guide and depictions of the physical evolution of Grandfather Mountain, its climate and its important role in migration paths for birds and animals, according to the GMSF.

“Throughout the exhibits, we will share the stories of the threats to the environment, the positive impact of conservation efforts and the steps that individuals can take to be a force for nature as stewards of the natural world,” Pope stated.

“Using cutting-edge technology, the new interactive exhibits and experiences will enable guests to virtually immerse themselves in the 16 natural communities found on Grandfather Mountain,” Ruggiero said.

The Conservation Campus was described by the GMSF as a dream of the late Hugh Morton and his family, who owned and operated Grandfather Mountain until it became a nonprofit organization in 2009.

The total cost of the project comes to $5.5 million, of which $4.3 million has already been raised during the quiet phase of what the stewardship foundation is calling the Fulfilling Promises Campaign.

“As a nonprofit public charity, everyone who visits Grandfather Mountain and purchases a ticket helps fund our future,” Pope stated. “The same is true with our donors who support the mountain.”

The foundation stated that 100 percent of any tax-deductible donation made to the Fulfilling Promises Campaign will go to the creation of the Conservation Campus.

“We are so excited to see the direction our organization is heading in the future,” Pope stated. “We have been very encouraged by the overwhelming support we have already received from so many members of our community, including our staff. We can’t thank them enough, but as generous as our friends have been so far, we still need help from the community to make this dream a reality.”

The Conservation Campus will be designed by PGAV Destinations, a St. Louis-based architecture, design and planning firm that boasts a portfolio of attractions such as the Grand Canyon, the Pyramids of Giza, the Biltmore Estate, Niagara Falls, the Kennedy Space Center and many more.

Those interested may contribute online at www.grandfather.com/fulfillingpromises or in person by participating in Grandfather’s round-up program, wherein any purchase made at the park’s retail stations (including the restaurant, gift shops, fudge shop and gatehouse) can be rounded up to the next dollar to benefit the campaign. To learn more about the Fulfilling Promises Campaign, visit www.grandfather.com/fulfillingpromises, or contact Pope at 828-733-2013 or jesse@grandfather.com.


News
Public gives thoughts on 105 superstreet plan

BOONE — After nearly three hours going over the latest N.C. 105 superstreet design, the Boone Town Council decided on Tuesday, April 23, to put the item on the agenda for potential approval at its May 7 meeting.

The morning meeting drew an overflow crowd to the Boone Council chambers. A total of 18 citizens, not including N.C. Department of Transportation representatives, spoke on the project.

NCDOT stressed the need for a decision in the very near future on the $10.52 million project.

“If we don’t get a decision fairly soon, it’ll be my recommendation that we move this project aside and move on,” NCDOT Board of Transportation Member Cullie Tarleton said.

The N.C. 105 superstreet project would install a median and reduce left turns along the road in Boone town limits, aiming to reduce what NCDOT has called an unacceptably high rate of collisions. The superstreet concept has been a hot topic since the original plan was introduced in September. The original plan was met with a mostly-negative reaction and after public input, the NCDOT made changes. The redeveloped plan was unveiled on March 14 to town and Watauga County officials.

The Watauga County Commissioners approved the redesign at their March 19 meeting, meaning Boone Town Council is the last hurdle to clear.

Going into May 7, Councilman Sam Furgiuele and Councilwoman Lynne Mason implored citizens to send in their comments.

“We want to make the right decision and we’ll make that pretty quickly,” Mayor Rennie Brantz said.

The project is still slated to take “three to four” years to complete once approved, according to NCDOT Engineer Ramie Shaw. The superstreet plan includes plans for the N.C. 105 and Blowing Rock Road intersection. Some of the specifics for the intersection included aligning all the roads together, meaning vehicles won’t have to move slightly to the right when going through as they currently have to.

A U-turn bulb-out in front of Realty Row for three-axle trucks that want to travel southbound is included, as well as the median continuing all the way to that bulb-out. The medians can include grass and planters, which can be coordinated at a later date, NCDOT added.

Also part of the N.C. 105 and Blowing Rock Road plans was a dedicated bus stop in front of the Appalachian State University Panhellenic Hall so the bus could get out of traffic.

Shaw noted that the 105 superstreet plans, going from the Blowing Rock Road and N.C. 105 intersection to N.C. 105 Bypass, have not been changed since the March 14 meeting.

On the question raised by many about the potential of connecting Poplar Grove South directly with the N.C. 105 and N.C. 105 Bypass intersection, making it a four-way stop, NCDOT Divisional Engineer Mike Pettyjohn said they have looked into that idea multiple times and the significant elevation grade is a problem.

Any multi-use paths outside of the road, which many in attendance expressed a desire for, would come with a 70/30 cost share, Pettyjohn said, with the town having to pay for 30 percent of it. Sidewalks that are connected directly to the road would be 100 percent covered by NCDOT, Town Manager John Ward said.

Pettyjohn also said there would not be enough room for multi-use paths on both sides of N.C. 105 with Ward adding that after discussions with AppalCART, the paths would likely be on the north side of the road. AppalCART Transportation Director Craig Hughes said there’s no anticipated addition of bus stops along N.C. 105.

On the question of the speed limit, Shaw said that speed limits would remain at 35 mph.

On construction easements, Shaw said that they would be needed to build the facilities, but they would revert back to the property owners afterward. Pettyjohn added that planned easements can be reduced to minimize impacts in future designs.

The planned bulb-outs and some right-of-way acquisitions would result in retaining walls, on which Pettyjohn said the town of Boone would have design input.

The medians, which NCDOT said have to remain, will reduce angle and t-bone vehicle accidents, according to Pettyjohn, noting that those wrecks usually cause bodily injury.

With the left-turn lights only impacting one side of the road, Hagwood said the design will move traffic quicker than the present design. Pettyjohn said NCDOT would coordinate traffic signals so vehicles won’t stop as much along N.C. 105 in Boone.

The public speaks

Many who spoke were in favor of the plan.

“105 needs to be improved in some manner; it has to be,” said Rob Holton, who owns property along N.C. 105.

“This road is very needed,” former Watauga County Commissioner Jimmy Hodges said.

Jennifer Westerman, who lives on Poplar Grove Road South, said the area, including Ambling Way, is one of the most dangerous in town and she is “wholeheartedly” in favor of the project.

“We have 1,000 people at Cottages who are mostly texting while driving and turning left across five lanes,” Westerman said.

Opinions on the effects to N.C. 105 businesses were contrasting, despite NCDOT’s assertion that it wouldn’t be a negative.

“People are going to avoid this road at all costs for the next five years,” Recess Skate and Snow shop owner J.P. Pardy said. “I wouldn’t want to be living back between (N.C.) 105 and ASU for those five years.”

Pardy said that he does not believe Recess would survive during the construction period.

Ward shared an email from the Pedroni family, who owns Casa Rustica along N.C. 105 and couldn’t attend the meeting. Ward said the Pedronis were against the plan “due to the potential loss of business and environmental impacts.”

However, the NCDOT and some citizens thought businesses would be fine.

“It will ultimately benefit businesses and the town at large,” Chris Laine said. “I don’t see business evaporating along 105.”

Tarleton, who spoke last, thanked the residents for the comments, saying they’ll take all of them into consideration.

“If this project goes forward … if we can determine there are other changes to accommodate other concerns, we would be more than happy to consider those changes,” Tarleton said.

The May meetings of the Boone Town Council are scheduled to take place Tuesday, May 7, and Thursday, May 9. The change from the third week of May, when the meetings would normally take place, is due to scheduling conflicts, according to Ward.


News
Ward: Progress made on 194 sidewalk plans

BOONE — Boone staff and other partners are making headway on plans for a sidewalk along N.C. 194 near Hardin Park School, Boone Town Manager John Ward told the Boone Town Council April 18.

Ward said that town staff have agreements from several property owners to provide easements allowing sidewalk to be installed by the town along the east side of the road from the intersection with U.S. 421 to a planned “HAWK” crosswalk on the northern end of the Perkinsville Baptist Church property.

A “HAWK” crosswalk would be similar to existing crossings on Hardin Street and on N.C. 105, with buttons allowing pedestrians to activate a stop signal for vehicular traffic. The N.C. Department of Transportation recently approved $50,000 for the crosswalk installation, Ward said.

The Boone Town Council on Jan. 15 directed staff to explore the installation of sidewalks along N.C. 194 after multiple parents and residents signed a petition and spoke at the January regular council meeting.

Because of traffic delays at Hardin Park during school dropoff and pickup times, many parents park at New Market Centre or Perkinsville Baptist Church and walk with their children along paths to the school. The situation is dangerous due to the lack of sidewalks and designated crosswalks near the entrance to the school, they said.

Ward said the town is confident enough in the current easement commitments that it has authorized surveying to take place to develop cost estimates and additional needs.

The NCDOT’s proposed location for the crosswalk would mean additional sidewalk would be needed on private property adjacent to Hardin Park School on the west side of N.C. 194, Ward said. The property owner is currently in discussions with NCDOT about the crosswalk location, he said.

“Obviously this is a project that we’re attempting to pull off with partnerships with property owners,” said Ward. “We’ve got to get all those things to align before we can actually pull this off.”

If completed, the project would provide a pedestrian path that would connect from N.C. 194 to Hardin Park School and existing sidewalk connecting to New Market Boulevard.

If all needed easements can be obtained and the NCDOT makes a final determination on the location of the crosswalk, the council would then have to consider allocation of funds from the project, Ward said.

“We could be looking at a summer to fall project,” he said. “My goal would be sooner (rather) than later.”