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News
Autopsy adds details to Hardin Road officer-involved shooting
DA seeks to finish review in next two weeks

BOONE — A newly released autopsy report shows that the man who died in an officer-involved shooting died from one gunshot wound to the abdomen during an altercation late in the night of March 30 along the 2200 block of Hardin Road.

District Attorney Seth Banks said he is seeking to make a determination in the next two weeks regarding the shooting following the July 5 release of autopsy and toxicology results, which give new details on what happened that night, according to officials.

“We’re working diligently to come to a determination on this matter and fill the public in as quickly as we can,” Banks said on Monday, July 8.

The reports come three months after Andrew John Mason, 22, was fatally shot by a Watauga County Sheriff’s Deputy, identified as Adam Gragg by Sheriff Len Hagaman following the incident, around 11:25 p.m. on March 30, according to multiple accounts of the night.

The autopsy was conducted on Mason on April 1 by Mark Giffen, a medical examiner in Forsyth County at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. Gillen also took specimens from Mason on April 1 and received the results of toxicology testing on June 3.

“When the officer arrived, he found Mason in the roadway where the attempted break-in occurred,” according to a preliminary summary of circumstances compiled by Giffen, sourced from the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation and hospital records. “The officer stopped his vehicle and attempted to make contact with (Mason.) Mason then reportedly rushed at the officer and a physical altercation ensued during with Mason attempted to take the officer’s weapon. The officer managed to break free and fired one shot from his service weapon, striking (Mason.)”

According to the reports, Gragg fired one shot from his .40 caliber gun, which hit Mason in the abdomen.

The toxicology and autopsy results for Mason and report of investigation by the medical examiner were released on July 5 by the N.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. The toxicology report, completed by Giffen and approved by the N.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, found that Mason had two medications in his system that were administered during his hospital treatment, etomidate and ketamine. The toxicology report didn’t detect any traces of opiates, acids, ethanol or cocaine metabolite.

The report also states Mason showed signs of multiple blunt force injuries to the head, abdomen and upper and lower extremities. Mason had abrasions on the left temple, contusions on the abdomen, abrasions and contusions on his left shoulder and hands and abrasions on his knees and right foot.

Giffin said he could not determine when those blunt force traumas took place — if they were present previously or not. He also could not say what would have caused those injuries.

Banks said he had received the reports on July 5 and had begun the process of contacting Mason’s family members to interview. Speaking on July 9, Patricia Shupe, Mason’s mother, confirmed she was going to meet with the district attorney but declined to discuss the case. David Mason, Andrew’s father, has hired Boone attorney Tom Speed. A request for comment from Speed’s office was not returned by press time. Speed previously said he would look at the body camera footage before making any legal decisions.

In late June, Banks said he had received the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation’s report on the incident and was waiting on the toxicology and autopsy reports.

“We got those and we’re working to make a determination as quickly as possible,” Banks said. “Any determination and any press release will be contingent on us meeting with the family.”

Banks confirmed there was body camera footage of the incident from the officers involved and that would be part of his review.

The incident occurred when multiple 911 calls were made by Hardin Road residents, the first at 11:24 p.m. from 2145 Hardin Road. According to the audio of the call, the occupant informed dispatchers of a suspicious male banging on the front door demanding to be let in. Other 911 calls by neighboring residences described a man as screaming while walking up Hardin Road.

A December 2018 traffic citation lists 2342 Hardin Road, Boone, as a home address for Mason.

Hagaman described the encounter between Mason and Gragg as a “violent struggle” in a March 31 statement following the shooting.

“(Mason) was rushed to Watauga Medical Center before being transferred to Wake Forest Baptist Hospital for medical care,” Giffen’s report states. “Despite aggressive treatment, the wound was not survivable.”

Mason was declared dead at 3:24 a.m. on March 31, four hours after the shooting, according to the autopsy. The ultimate cause of death was deemed to be the loss of blood as a result of the gunshot wound.

Gragg was subsequently put on administrative leave, pending the investigation. Questions regarding Gragg’s status with WCSO were not returned, but sheriff’s reports indicate Gragg has been on active duty since at latest April 17, about three weeks after the incident.


News
Burn training: Boone Fire holds live exercise

BOONE — Around 45 paid and volunteer firefighters from the Boone Fire Department took part in a live burn training exercise on Monday, July 8, on the town of Boone-owned Bolick property at 2239 U.S. 421.

The focus of the exercise, according to Boone Fire Battalion Chief Lonnie Propst, was to instruct firefighters on how to effectively combat structure fires from the outside of a building.

The exercise started with smaller fires in the upper corner of the building, then was gradually expanded to include the entire second floor, then the entire building.

The live burn was the first the department has held since May 2017, Propst said.

Temperatures exceeded 1,200 degrees at certain points, according to thermal imaging of the fire.

With a mix of paid staff and volunteers, Propst said training exercises such as this were important so firefighters could learn to effectively work together through communication and teaching techniques without using too much water.

A second training exercise will be held on the Bolick property on Aug. 17 at 8 a.m. That exercise, Propst said, will involve firefighters going into a structure to fight a fire.


News
Poplar Grove Road section closed July 9-30

BOONE — Poplar Grove Road will be closed from Water Street to the Poplar Grove Connector from July 9 to July 30. The portion of the road will be closed 24 hours a day, with no traffic allowed to pass through. Signage will direct drivers to King Street.

The project is being completed by J.W. Hampton Company. According to Assistant Project Manager Kevin Harward, the purpose of the road closure is to change the elevation of the road in order to prepare for the building of the new Rivers Walk apartment complex.

The closure began at 9 a.m. on July 9 and the company hopes to complete the project and reopen the portion of the road within three weeks.


Election
Watauga municipal filing period starts

BOONE — The two-week municipal election filing period began at 12 p.m. on Friday, July 5, and by the end of the day, four filers had put pen to paper, including one challenger in Boone.

Boone Town Council will have three seats for election — currently filled by Marshall Ashcraft, Lynne Mason and Mayor Pro Tem Loretta Clawson. The top two vote-getters are elected to four-year terms and third place receives a two-year term. The Boone mayor position is not up for election this year, as it is a four-year term and was previously up for election in 2017.

Clawson filed for re-election to the Boone Town Council. The former Boone mayor's four-year term ends later this year.

One filer who is currently not on town council is Virginia Roseman, who filed for Boone Town Council on July 5. Roseman previously served on the Boone Board of Adjustment and Boone Tourism Development Authority.

In Blowing Rock, Mayor Pro Tem Albert Yount filed for re-election on July 5 to the Blowing Rock Town Council.

“I just decided to keep on with it," Yount said July 8. "My whole push will be, as far as Blowing Rock growth, is quality over quantity ... I don’t mind building, I’m just concerned with Blowing Rock as it is.”

The seats of Yount and fellow Councilman Jim Steele are up for election in 2019, with the winners receiving four-year terms.

Charlie Sellers made his intent clear as he filed for re-election to the Blowing Rock mayor post. Sellers is currently in his first two-year term as mayor after being elected in 2017.

"Essentially, I decided to file to run for mayor again to see the completion of projects that we started," Sellers said. "It’s hard to accomplish a number of items in two years, so this gives me four years ... I feel like I hope I can continue to be an asset to the citizens of our community."

Current Beech Mountain Mayor Renee Castiglione filed for re-election to town council on July 8. In both Beech Mountain and Seven Devils, the council chooses the mayor following each election at its next council meeting.

"I've been on the council for four years and been mayor for a year and a half," Castiglione said. "I feel the council is making good progress. We're moving forward as a town. I feel it needs to continue to benefit everyone. I'd like to get four more years as a chance to get started."

Seven Devils Mayor Larry Fontaine filed for re-election and Jimmie Accardi put his name in the hat for Beech Mountain Town Council on July 9.

The Beech Mountain Town Council will have three open seats — presently filled by Castiglione, Carl Marquardt and Wendel Sauer. The Seven Devils Town Council also has three seats for election — those of Mayor Larry Fontaine, Kay Ehlinger and David Ehmig.

In both towns, the two candidates who receive the most votes are elected to four-year terms while third place receives a two-year term.

The filing deadline is noon on Friday, July 19. Those who want to file for an open municipal seat can fill out paperwork at the Board of Elections office inside the Watauga County Courthouse, located at 842 W. King St., Suite 6, Boone, N.C. 28607.