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Cromwell issued federal charges in child pornography case

WATAUGA — A 22-year-old who was arrested by the Boone Police Department in February was released on bail and then arrested by authorities in South Carolina on July 10 and given federal charges in relation to the same case.

Frank Darrell Cromwell was arrested by Boone Police in February and charged with five counts of felony first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor and four counts of felony second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor. He was given a $100,000 bond and released the same day as his arrest.

These charges were in relation to an incident that police say took place in Watauga County while Cromwell was an athletic-training intern at Watauga High School through Appalachian State University. Cromwell allegedly used Snapchat in the enticement and coercion of minor boys to engage in sexual activity for the purpose of the production of child pornography, according to a federal complaint filed July 9 by Patrick Wilhelm. Wilhelm is a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations, and he has assisted with investigations relating to child pornography, child exploitation and digital forensics, according to the complaint.

Cromwell’s federal charges are as follows: seven counts of production of child pornography, two counts of enticement of a minor, three counts of distribution of child pornography, one count of advertisement of child pornography, one count of receipt of child pornography and one count of possession of child pornography, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The federal complaint states that this alleged activity started to take place in August 2018, while the indictment filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office on July 18 states that it started in March 2018. Both documents claim that the alleged activity ended mid-October of that year. The affidavit and search warrants filed by Boone Police state that the alleged incidents took place with minor boys between the ages of 15 and 17. There were seven known minors that were listed — but not identified — as alleged victims in the case.

Search warrants were issued by Boone Police for Cromwell’s Boone apartment as well as a Galaxy cell phone, two iPhones, a Surface Pro, various notes, an HP ProBook, three T-mobile phones, two rechargeable batteries and a zip drive.

Data was extracted from a cellphone that indicated that Cromwell was using Snapchat and text messages to purport to be as a female to allegedly entice the minor boys to send him child exploitation materials in the form of images and photos. Cromwell allegedly also told the minors that a female would pay the minors for the exploited materials, and that he would facilitate the distribution of the money to the minors, stated the Boone Police affidavit.

According to the federal indictment, Cromwell reportedly coerced minors to engage in “sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct ... knowing that such visual depiction would be transported and transmitted using any means and facility of interstate and foreign commerce;” attempted to persuade “individual(s) who had not attained the age of 18 years to engage in prostitution;” distributed and attempted to distribute child pornography; knowingly made, printed and/or published any notice and advertisement “seeking and offering to exchange, produce, display, distribute and reproduce” child pornography; and possessed and accessed with “intent to view any material that contained an image of child pornography.”

Court proceedings for Cromwell took place in Charleston, S.C., on July 12. It was here that the court ordered that Cromwell be detained and transported to the charging district — the Western District of North Carolina. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Cromwell was scheduled to have an arraignment and detention hearing on July 24 in Charlotte.

None hurt in Boone Airport plane accident

BOONE — None of the four passengers on a single-engine aircraft were injured after the plane ended up off the runway following an aborted takeoff on Sunday, July 21.

The incident was first reported at 1:48 p.m. Boone Police, N.C. State Highway Patrol, Boone Fire and Watauga Medics responded to the scene and helped divert traffic away from the 300 block of Bamboo Road, where the wing of the plane was resting.

According to a report filed by Boone Police Sgt. Dennis O’Neal, the pilot, identified as Christian Alvarado, stated he was attempting a takeoff when he noticed a vibration coming from the airplane’s engine.

“Alvarado reported that (the) aircraft was traveling at 60 mph and that he attempted to abort the take off,” the report stated. “Alvarado reported that the aircraft did not have sufficient distance to stop. As a result, the aircraft traveled off of the runway and struck a chain-link (fence) before coming to rest in the ditch.”

Boone Police spokesperson Sgt. Geoff Hayes said the plane was traveling from west to east and was was never airborne.

Hayes said he was unable to provide details about why the plane did not take off, pending an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The police report says the plane sustained damage to the propeller, lower engine cowling, front landing gear and both wings.

Hampton’s Body Shop also responded to the scene and removed the aircraft from the ditch and then left it secure on the property of Boone Airport.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the plane is registered to Shoreline Aviation LLC of Centreville, Maryland.

Anna Oakes contributed reporting to this article.

ASU grad among two murdered in Canada

LIARD RIVER, Canada — A 2017 Appalachian State graduate and her boyfriend were found murdered on the site of a remote highway in northern British Columbia on July 15, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

“On Monday, July 15, at approximately 7:19 a.m. (Pacific Time), Northern Rockies RCMP front line officers were called to an area of (Alaska) Highway 97 approximately 20 kilometers (12.42 miles) south of Liard Hot Springs,” a July 19 British Columbia RCMP statement said. “When officers arrived they located the bodies of two adults, a woman and a man, who were deceased. A blue 1986 Chevrolet van bearing Alberta license plates was located at the scene.”

The couple have been identified as Chynna Noelle Deese, 24, of Charlotte, and Lucas Robertson Fowler, 23, of Australia. The cause of death has been determined to be a homicide by gun violence and the van was identified as belonging to Fowler, the RCMP said in a July 23 statement.

The couple were on a road trip through Canada, according to various media reports.

Deese received a bachelor’s of science in psychology in spring 2017, as confirmed by ASU spokesperson Megan Hayes.

“It is with great sadness that we mourn the loss of our sister, Chynna Deese, who recently passed,” the ASU chapter of Zeta Tau Alpha said in a July 18 Facebook post. “She was such a kind and adventurous soul and we have been honored to call her our sister. Our hearts are with Chynna’s family during this difficult time, and we are so thankful to everyone for the support and kindness we have already received.”

On July 23, the British Columbia RCMP named two suspects in the murders who had previously been classified as missing. Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky were spotted in northern Saskatchewan, several hundred miles from northern British Columbia, and are also suspects in a suspicious death at Dease Lake, roughly 300 miles west by car from where Deese and Fowler were found.

According to the Toronto Sun, a camper stopped and talked to the couple earlier on July 13. The camper said the two were sitting in chairs on the side of the road next to their van and told him the engine had flooded and they were waiting before starting up again.

The North District and British Columbia RCMP Major Crime Units were called to assist in the investigation, according to Sgt. Janelle Shoihet, a district advisory non-commissioned officer with the British Columbia RCMP. The New South Wales Police Force in Australia, which Fowler’s father is a member of, and the FBI, supported the RCMP in notifying the families.

A press conference was held on July 23 to offer updates on the investigation, including closed-circuit television footage from July 13 of the couple at a service station in Fort Nelson, 180 miles from where their bodies were found.

“Investigators are working through a number of tips and tasks, including interviews with individuals who saw or spoke with the couple, analyzing forensic and digital evidence along with reviewing hours of (closed-caption television) and dashcam video footage,” a July 23 British Columbia RCMP statement said. “The number and types of specialized services and investigators continues to fluctuate based on investigative needs.”

Commissioners pick projects to submit to State Transportation Improvement Program

BOONE — The widening of portions of the N.C. 105 Bypass, N.C. 105 and N.C. 194 were chosen by the Watauga County Commissioners on July 23 as projects to submit to the 2022-2031 State Transportation Improvement Program.

Planning and Inspections Director Joe Furman approached the commissioners at the board meeting and recommended the aforementioned road projects, two proposals for the Middle Fork Greenway and AppalCART capital needs to submit for the STIP. The program identifies transportation needs that may receive state funding if approved.

The road projects would widen the N.C. 105 Bypass to three lanes with a center turn lane and a 5-foot paved shoulder to accommodate bicycles; widen N.C. 105 from the end of the funded project at Old Shulls Mill Road to the existing climbing lanes that begin at J.H. Mclean Road by making it three lanes with a center turn lane and 5-foot shoulders; and N.C. 194 from Howard’s Creek Road to Castle Ford Road by widening existing lanes by 1 foot each and adding 4-foot shoulders for bicycles.

The commissioners also approved submitting two projects on behalf of the Middle Fork Greenway. These two projects would be to complete sections three (a $3.9 million project) and five (a $2.9 million project). Each of these would require a 20 percent match, which Furman said the Middle Fork Greenway and partners have agreed to fund.

Furman also recommended submitting a proposal on behalf of AppalCART for 10 buses in the amount of $5 million. This project would require a $500,000 local match, which AppalCART would provide, according to Furman.

Other items that will be included but don’t need to be resubmitted are projects on U.S. 421 from Vilas to Tennessee and the Daniel Boone Parkway. With the board’s approval, the projects will be submitted to the state for scoring. Once the projects have been rated, the county will be able to prioritize the projects.

The commissioners also approved to declare Watauga County Sheriff’s Office’s K9 “Tanner” as surplus and returned to his handler. WCSO Major Kelly Redmon said Tanner was retired from the agency earlier this month after it was learned that the K9 had bone cancer and had to have a leg amputated to keep it from spreading. According to Shawn Peele, chief of police at Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, Tanner will require chemotherapy treatments in order to survive.

Tanner, a 9-year-old dog, has been a member of the WCSO for seven years. A crowdsourcing website has been set up by community members — in partnership with The Pet Place — to help aid in Tanner’s care.

“Tanner is more than just a member of the sheriff’s office, he is a member of his handler’s family,” according to the crowdsourcing page organizers.

To donate, visit www.gofundme.com/f/wcso-k9-tanner?member=2509458.