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ACSO names man killed in standoff with police

FLEETWOOD — The Ashe County Sheriff’s Office released additional information about a recent eight-hour standoff between law enforcement and a man now identified as Landwell V. McCall in a statement released Jan. 21.

According to the ACSO, the office received a call at 5:59 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15, relating to a welfare check at a camper at 6259 U.S. Highway 221. McCall, 50, of Lenoir, shot at deputies multiple times during their initial approach to the camper, which pinned the officers in place for a short time, the department said. An hour later, law enforcement from surrounding counties were requested to bring resources needed throughout the night. Law enforcement then used armored vehicles from neighboring counties to evacuate homes in the vicinity.

During the course of the next eight hours, law enforcement said they negotiated with McCall, who threatened to shoot any officer on scene and would only allow “limited” negotiations, according to the ACSO.

“McCall stated several times he would blow up his camper and nearby homes using explosives,” the statement from the ACSO read. “After speaking with him over several hours, we believed this to be un-credible.”

Instead of having an officer go face to face with McCall, a robot controlled by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation was deployed to the camper, allowing law enforcement to view the area and communicate.

McCall was killed at 1:40 a.m. by a deputy as McCall fired at law enforcement officers. ACSO has not yet released the name of the officer who fired the fatal shot. While “many” firearms were found in the camper, no explosives were discovered inside, the department said.

“After approximately eight hours, the situation ended with a deceased male suspect located at the scene,” Ashe County Sheriff B. Phil Howell said in a statement. “All officers, first responders and support personnel were unharmed even though law enforcement was fired upon multiple times during the incident.”

Following McCall’s death, the ACSO requested the SBI investigate the incident, which they said was standard procedure.

A section of U.S. 221 stretching from Water Tank Road to Vernon Roten Road was closed due to the standoff. The road was reopened around 2:30 a.m., following the standoff’s conclusion.

Multiple law enforcement and emergency response organizations joined the ACSO in the incident, including the West Jefferson Police Department, Jefferson Police Department, North Carolina Highway Patrol, State Bureau of Investigation, Watauga County Sheriff’s Office, Boone Police Department, Alleghany County Sheriff’s Office, Wilkes County Sheriff’s Office, Appalachian State University Police Department, Ashe Medics, West Jefferson Volunteer Fire Department, Fleetwood Volunteer Fire Department, Warrensville Volunteer Fire Department and Watauga EMS.

Boone's new King Street
Town renames stretch of Hunting Hills Lane for MLK

On the day named after civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., the town of Boone on Jan. 20 honored his life and work by dedicating a section of Hunting Hills Lane to him in a ceremony at Boone Fire Station No. 2.

The day was commemorated with speeches by Boone Mennonite Bretheren Church Pastor Mike Mathes, Juanita Hay and her husband and former Boone Town Council member Fred Hay and Appalachian State University Student Body President DeJon Milbourne, among others.

“We are proud and we are honored, we are humbled that a man of color would be bestowed such a high honor here in the High Country of Western North Carolina,” Mathes said. “On behalf of the proud and unbeaten Junaluska community, we just say ‘thank you’ to all those that have had a part.”

The speakers described what the newly named Martin Luther King Jr. Street in Boone can do for all people in the High Country and those who visit.

“I think that this street can serve as a beacon of light, a bridge over troubled waters, showing the relevance of historic black contributions and that we can come together in love, peace and harmony for every creed, every race, every religion, everybody,” Juanita Hay said.

“It brings me great joy, as a black man, that the town has chosen to dedicate this space for Martin Luther King Jr., one of our nation’s great leaders,” Milbourne said.

Boone Town Manager John Ward noted that the stretch of street renamed after King includes Clawson-Burnley Park, the Boone Greenway Trail and the Watauga County Recreation Center, so many families and kids will be able to see King’s name.

The event featured the Appalachian State ROTC color guard presenting the American and North Carolina flags, as well as a number of songs by the Boone Mennonite Brethren Church choir.

Juanita Hay said that this idea first was first discussed five years ago and was unsuccessfully proposed at least twice to the Boone Town Council prior to 2019. The effort was renewed by Boone Town Council Member Sam Furgiuele, who proposed the idea at a June 2019 town council meeting.

The idea proposed originally by Furgiuele was to rename New Market Boulevard after King, due to its proximity to Hardin Park School. However, several business owners on the street opposed it, saying it would cost them thousands of dollars to change their addresses. Some said that renaming New Market Boulevard wouldn’t properly honor King’s legacy, with business owners saying the road was more of a cut-through and not a main thoroughfare.

Other suggested streets in July 2019 included Howard Street, Old East King Street, State Farm Road and Meadowview Drive. On Aug. 15, the council unanimously approved naming the stretch of Hunting Hills Lane from the intersection of State Farm Road to the bridge that separates the recreation fields and the Boone Greenway Trail from the nearby residential neighborhood. The residential section of Hunting Hills Lane will retain that name after residents spoke against the proposal and presented a petition.

Mathes made note of the contention over naming a street in Boone after King, telling the crowd that young adult members of his church found some of the comments in the debate to be hurtful. But with the matter decided, Mathes expressed gratitude for those who pushed the renaming through.

“We are proud to see that hate has no place in Boone, North Carolina,” Mathes said.

Juanita Hay also noted some of the negative comments made about the proposal, but quoted King in that love and not hate can drive out hate.

Milbourne said that coming up to Boone and ASU from Fayetteville in 2016, he was scared of what to expect as a black man. As a graduating senior four years later, Milbourne complimented the community and said he looks forward to returning to Boone.

“I hope and know that this action by the town is the start of a movement where the town will show an even greater appreciation and respect for African-American history not only in our nation, but in the town of Boone,” Milbourne said.

Mathes quoted MLK in asking those in attendance not to turn a blind eye to what was happening in America.

“Are we gonna stand still and take steps back to the days of segregation and hate? We pray not,” Mathes said. “Our work is not done.”

Fred Hay talked about the abuse King suffered from those in power while protesting.

“(King) once said that courageous unselfishness is necessary to successful nonviolent resistance to evil,” Fred Hay said.

Rec center completion expected by May 1

BOONE — Watauga County is 469 days into work on its community recreation center and is drawing closer to its current completion date of May 1.

The Watauga County Board of Commissioners heard from Chad Roberson, an architect with Clark Nexsen, at its Jan. 21 meeting. Roberson said “a lot of progress” had been made, such as the completion of the exterior concrete work and interior drywall and paint in the administration area.

Construction employees were starting to pour concrete for the pool decks on Jan. 21, and Roberson said roughly half of the radiant floor in the competition pool area was complete. Pool equipment would soon be installed as well as tiles in the pool for the lanes, Roberson said.

To date, the project had experienced 41 weather days, which Roberson said hadn’t been a factor since around November when most of the exterior part of the project was completed.

While the current completion date is in May, County Manager Deron Geouque reminded the commissioners that the building may not be ready for occupancy by that date. Geouque said the county would need to factor in training for the new employees and ensuring that equipment is working properly.

The board approved a $127,252.30 change order for extra soil testing and inspections by Wood Environmental and Infrastructure Solutions. Chairman John Welch assured those in the audience that the change order does not increase the total amount for the project’s budget. Rather, the county will use contingency funds for the change order.

Roberson said the county had expended approximately $27,663,510 of the rec center’s budget to date, with roughly $5,926,497.51 left in project funds.

Parks and Recreation Director Stephen Poulos approached the board with a proposed membership and rental fee schedule after officials compared prices of similar facilities. The commissioners tabled discussion of the fees until their pre-budget retreat, which they scheduled from noon to 7 p.m. on Feb. 13 and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Feb. 14 in the commissioners board room.

The board also approved Poulos’ request of $293,450.97 for the facility’s gym equipment. Of this amount, $101,144.56 was being awarded to Gym Source for treadmills, bikes and elliptical machines, and Wellness Solutions was being given $192,306.41 for remaining fitness equipment. The board then approved $24,618.06 to pay APCO Carolinas for interior signage; Geouque said funds in the budget covered that expense.

Additionally, the commissioners contemplated the Boone Town Council’s proposal for a joint meeting to discuss the future of the county-owned Turner House building on Water Street. Geouque said Town Manager John Ward reached out to him with dates the council could meet. Geouque added that he would try to plan with the commissioners a date for either members for each council to meet or for both full boards to meet, as well as request that the town provide ideas for alternative locations for a parking deck.

Economic forecast: 2020 will continue upswing in economy trends

BLOWING ROCK — The nation is in its 11th year of economic expansion and there is “not a recession in sight,” according to local economist Harry Davis.

“I’m very positive about this year for the state and nation in terms of economic growth,” said Davis, who is also an Appalachian State University professor. “It’s a great time to be alive in this country. It’s a great time to be part of the economy and be in part of the state that we’re living in.”

Davis announced his 2020 economic forecast during the fourth annual High Country Economic Kickoff Breakfast — presented by the Boone Area and Blowing Rock Chambers of Commerce — on Jan. 16 at Meadowbrook Inn. Sponsors for the event included Peak Insurance Group, 4 Forty Four and Allen CPA PLLC.

Davis said that 2019 gross domestic product growth was down from 2018, and that the growth is right at 2 percent currently. He added that the stock market had been great, and that corporations have repurchased nearly $5 trillion worth of stock since the Great Recession.

While a nation-wide recession is not in his prediction, Davis said the manufacturing sector may experience a “mini recession.” According to Davis, business investment is low as it remained negative throughout 2019. What is driving the economy currently are retail sales and consumer spending; Davis said consumer confidence is presently at a high.

The housing market and the net worth of Americans are both trending positively. Davis said net worth is at its highest level in history. He added that through November 2019, residential construction was up 13 percent. While the economy has seen a trend in the construction of apartments, single-family buildings are starting to increase again.

Davis did say that in a number of college towns across the nation, the cost of living in an apartment is more expensive than tuition to attend college. Adding to this, the amount of student loan debt that people are accruing is what may be causing many to put off purchasing a household and “forcing people to not get married,” Davis said.

“We have got to do something about the student loan debt,” Davis said. “It’s like a drag on the economy.”

Also contributing to a better housing market is a low unemployment rate, Davis said, since in November the state had a 3.8 percent rate. According to Davis, the state created about 90,800 jobs during the last 12 months ending in October. Tourism, transportation, health services and education were areas that Davis identified with potential for job growth.

For Watauga County, Davis said the growth in tourism jobs was beneficial, but that it could be an issue as well. This could be due to the lower pay that may be associated with tourism jobs, he said.

Appalachian Ski Mtn. President Brad Moretz gave attendees an overview of the changes in winter tourism in the area. Blowing Rock went from a town that was lively in the summer with only one motel and one restaurant that stayed open in the winter during the 1950s, to now only one of 26 restaurants closes for the season with people visiting from all over the nation to ski. During the Christmas holiday, Moretz said Appalachian Ski Mtn. served patrons from 46 states and numerous other counties.

To continue to grow tourism in Watauga County — especially in the winter — Moretz said businesses need to start utilizing more online sales platforms and online lodging platforms (like Airbnb). He said Appalachian Ski Mtn. has now installed two dozen computer check-in kiosks, and has noticed that more people are renting their equipment online prior to arrival.

“One third of the lodging revenues of the county come from internet-based lodging providers … It’s going to get larger,” Moretz said.

He added that Asheville is nationally known for its Airbnb usage.

“If our elected leaders turn away the money from these families, international guests, prospective shoppers, prospective restaurant patrons, prospective home buyers, Asheville will be the North Carolina mountains to Airbnb shoppers rather than Blowing Rock or Boone,” Moretz said.

Additionally, Moretz advocated for a local conference center, more green space and more indoor entertainment options for the tourism industry.

North Carolina is experiencing the fourth highest rate of net in-migration, as “people are coming to this state in droves,” Davis said. Between 2020 and 2030, Davis predicted that the state’s population will increase by 2 million people. Additionally, he said banks from neighboring states are starting to create branches in N.C. For these reasons, Davis suggested that North Carolinians need to start spending more money on transportation and infrastructure.