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Cromwell indicted by grand jury, US attorney searches for more victims

STATESVILLE — The office of U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray announced on Aug. 26 that there are potentially additional victims in a child pornography case involving an athletic-training intern at Watauga High School through Appalachian State University.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office stated that a federal grand jury in Charlotte returned a 21-count superseding indictment against Frank Darrell Cromwell, 23, of Boone. The indictment charged him with enticement of a minor, production of child pornography, communicating threats, cyberstalking and related offenses.

Ronnie Martinez, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations in Charlotte, and Boone Police Chief Dana Crawford join Murray in making this announcement, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The U.S. Attorney’s Office stated it was the investigation work of these two departments that led to federal charges against Cromwell.

“This individual allegedly tried to gain access to children by obtaining employment in places where he could embed himself with underage boys, including a high school, a summer camp, a middle school and a behavioral health care facility,” Murray said in a statement. “Protecting our children from predators is one of our highest priorities. I urge parents to have a conversation with their children about the dangers of online communications and social media, where predators can use fake names and profiles to weave a heinous web of lies to lure young and innocent children.”

Cromwell had assisted the athletic teams at WHS through an association with App State during the 2017-18 school year. Cromwell was later employed by Wilkes County Schools as a wrestling coach at West Wilkes Middle School for the 2018-19 wrestling season and was employed with Daymark Recovery Services, a private agency that provides specialized services to Wilkes County Schools.

According to allegations contained in the charging documents — including a previously filed criminal complaint — as early as March 2018, Cromwell used a cell phone app and other means to contact and entice minor male victims to produce and send sexually explicit images and videos of themselves to Cromwell. Court documents further allege that Cromwell misled the minors to believe that he was a female by using female names and images to entice the minors to produce and send him child pornography, and to engage in sexual activity.

As the superseding indictment alleges, Cromwell used the following names online and on social media to contact the young victims: “Savannah,” “princesssav222,” “lickmeup5020,” “Sav,” “frankie5020,” “Lauren,” “Sydney,” “Sarah,” “Lily,” “Kaylee” and “Stephanie.”

To date, law enforcement have identified 10 victims. Cromwell met some of the victims through his Appalachian State University internship as an athletic trainer at Watauga High School. People who believe that they may have been a victim, know someone who may have been a victim or know information related to the conduct referenced in this case are asked to contact the Boone Police Department at (828) 268-6938.

The specific charges against Cromwell are: nine counts of production of child pornography (which carry a minimum of 15 years and a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison per count); four counts of distribution and receipt/attempted receipt of child pornography (which carry a minimum of five years and a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison per count); three counts of enticement of a minor (which carry a minimum penalty of 10 years and maximum penalty of life in prison per count); two counts of cyberstalking (which carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison per count); interstate communication of threats (which carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison); advertising of child pornography (which carries a minimum penalty of 15 years and a maximum of 30 years in prison); and one count of possession of child pornography (which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison).

Each of these counts also carries a maximum fine of $250,000 per count.

“The charges contained in the indictment are allegations,” stated the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “The defendant is innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Emily Wasserman, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte, is in charge of the prosecution. Cromwell’s next court date is Sept. 10 in Charlotte.

ARHS discusses $90 million plans for hospital campus

The Appalachian Regional Healthcare System is moving forward with a $90 million plan that includes current facility upgrades at Watauga Medical Center and new infrastructure.

ARHS President and CEO Chuck Mantooth discussed plans for the future of ARHS during the Aug. 23 Wake Up Watauga radio event hosted by the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce.

Mantooth said the planned improvements and additions to WMC were made with the aging population in mind. According to Mantooth, a significant part of the local population is made up of members of the baby boomer generation. He said by the year 2023, one in four people will be above the age of 65 in the U.S.

For this reason, ARHS plans to invest in the areas of care for heart disease and cancer. As a person who has a family history of heart disease, Mantooth said he thought it was important for ARHS to invest heavily in this area of care.

Not only will the $90 million cover upkeep for current facilities, but also a new bed tower adjacent to the emergency department, surgery suites, a new cardiovascular center and a new central energy plant. Mantooth said the current cardiology clinic needs about twice the space that it has, and the new clinic will triple the space. The center would consolidate all of the cardiovascular services such as testing, intervention efforts and rehab amenities.

“Over the next six months as we plan and design exactly what is going to be on the hospital campus, we’re going to plan for phase two,” Mantooth said.

The next phase is not covered by the $90 million and has not been approved yet by the ARHS Board of Trustees, said Rob Hudspeth, the ARHS senior vice president for system advancement. Phase two would include a continuity clinic, new space for orthopedics and sports medicine and the relocation of Appalachian Regional Internal Medicine Specialists.

According to Hudspeth, the continuity clinic would be structured in order to prioritize longterm relationships between staff and patients for continuous management of chronic disease. The continuity clinic would give more focus to primary care services, with a new family medicine primary care residency program — that is set to launch in July 2020.

The residency program would bring in doctors for a three-year program after medical school during which they would treat patients but also work with hospital faculty to make sure they’re learning proper techniques, Mantooth said. Hudspeth added that residency is additional years of training on top of four years of medical school to reinforce a doctor’s specialty and subspecialty education.

“A continuity clinic is a great way for residents to build mentoring relationships with attending physicians, and provides them the opportunity for practice-based learning as they analyze performance outcomes for their own patient panel and implement systematic changes for quality improvement,” Hudspeth said.

The residency program would be run in partnership with the Mountain Area Health Education Center in Asheville, with four to six residents brought in each year.

Mantooth added that there could be a possibility of a new cancer center in the works as well. The current Seby B. Jones Cancer Center — located at 338 Deerfield Road — operates out of 27,000 square feet with multiple additions and evolutions of how it provides care, Mantooth said. He added that ARHS recently signed an agreement to partner with UNC Lineberger Cancer Center to to leverage their expertise in research and care innovation.

Hudspeth said that a new cancer center is only conceptual at this time and is not a part of the $90 million expansion. This project would relocate the existing cancer center to a new, modernized facility, according to Hudspeth.

Part of these projects would occur on the current site of WMC, but others would extend onto the 15.968 acres at the corner of Deerfield Road and U.S. 321 that ARHS purchased in 2016. The tract of land — formerly known as the Henson property — was bought for the purpose of future ARHS facilities expansion. Hudspeth said ARHS would work with the town of Boone, county partners and the Department of Transportation to lay out any structures that could extend onto this property.

Hudspeth also stated that part of the purchase agreement with the family that sold the property were some specifications on how to utilize the space. He added that it is intended to have a greenway extension that would connect to the Middle Fork Greenway Trail.

Mantooth also discussed current projects such as the behavioral health expansion at the Cannon Memorial Hospital in Linville and work with Liberty Senior Living to establish plans for a future senior living center at Chestnut Ridge in Blowing Rock. The expansion at Cannon Memorial will add about 27 behavioral health beds to the existing 10 beds, as Mantooth said the “demand is incredible” there for behavioral services.

The work with Liberty Senior Living will be to create housing for a retirement community, Mantooth said. The project would take place on 67.815 acres owned by ARHS that currently houses the Foley Center, the Harriet and Charles Davant Jr. Medical Clinic and the Village Pharmacy — a division of Boone Drugs Inc. Mantooth said there are conceptual ideas being developed about how to create a retirement community to join these services.

Chamber President and CEO David Jackson explained that Wake Up Watauga allows business interests in the community to have a conversation about what they have been doing and goals for the future. He added that health care is one of the area in the community that has likely evolved more positively than anything other local industry.

“As a community I think it’s great to understand what resources are available and what resources are evolving,” Jackson said. “To have the leadership of institutions like our regional health care system, public school system and university routinely come and update us on the day to day and how things affect us today, I hope is beneficial for your businesses to be able to make the decisions that you need to make about expansion, hiring and recruiting people here because you know you have the resources to support those folks.”

More information on the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System can be found at apprhs.org.

Boone fire, police officials investigate cause of Winkler's Creek fire

BOONE — Boone fire and police officials are investigating an Aug. 22 fire at a single-family residence on Winkler’s Creek Road.

On Aug. 22 at 1:02 a.m., the Boone Fire Department was dispatched to a structure fire in the Winkler’s Creek area of Boone, according to a statement from the department. At 1:06 a.m., BFD units arrived at 527 Winkler’s Creek Road to find a single-family dwelling well involved in fire. During initial suppression efforts, it was confirmed that there were no occupants in the residence.

BFD crews began fire suppression operations immediately and had the fire controlled at 1:42 a.m. Crews then worked to extinguish any remaining hotspots and look for hidden fire. Due to the complexity of these overhaul operations, fire crews remained on scene throughout the day on Aug. 22.

The structure received extensive damage to the main floor and second floor areas. Dollar loss estimates are in excess of $180,000 for the structure and contents.

Fire investigators with the Boone Fire Department determined that the cause of the fire was determined to be incendiary in nature; Boone Fire Assistant Chief Mike Teague said this meant the department believed the fire had been intentionally set. The fire is currently being investigated jointly by the Boone Police Department and the Boone Fire Department. As of Aug. 27, Boone Police stated there were not any updates on the case and the investigation was ongoing.

The Boone Fire Department thanked the Boone Police Department, Watauga Sheriff’s Department, Watauga Medics and Watauga Rescue for their assistance.

Anyone with information on this crime or any other crime is asked to call Crime Stoppers at (828) 268-6959 / (828) 737-0125 or the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office at (828) 264-3761. Submit a Crime Stoppers tip at www.tipsubmit.com/webtips.aspx?AgencyID=1251 or text “NCTIP plus your tip” to 274637 (CRIMES). All information will be kept confidential.

High Country Crime Stoppers pays rewards for information that leads to arrests, recovery of stolen property, seizure of drugs and the location of wanted persons.

High Country Crime Stoppers is a nonprofit organization operated by a volunteer community board of directors serving Avery and Watauga counties. High Country Crime Stoppers encourages the reporting of information or leads which can assist law enforcement with solving crimes. Its goal is to help in the fight against crime, but it is not part of the local police departments or sheriff’s offices. Each county has a law enforcement coordinator who participates as an advisor to the board but is a non-voting member. The citizen’s board is responsible for operations of the program, fundraising, public relations and approval of rewards.

App State releases alcohol procedures for first home football game

BOONE — Appalachian State will implement alcohol sales at Kidd Brewer Stadium beginning with the Aug. 31 football season opener against East Tennessee State, the university announced Aug. 23.

After Gov. Roy Cooper signed North Carolina House Bill 389 into law on June 26 to allow public universities to sell beer and wine at athletics facilities, Appalachian State University’s Board of Trustees approved a resolution on July 25 to allow the university to seek alcohol sales permits for athletics facilities.

Director of Athletics Doug Gillin said in a statement that university officials and community partners collaborated to develop sales policies and procedures that prioritize a safe, positive experience for all attendees.

“We appreciate everyone who has been part of this thorough, diligent effort to further enhance the game day experience for our fans,” Gillin said. “The atmosphere at The Rock is already among the best in the country, and we believe these new options will be a positive addition. Throughout the planning process, we have prioritized fan safety and security and want to maintain a family-friendly environment on game days.”

Gillin had recently indicated that the ABC Board would be considering Appalachian State’s permit request on Aug. 23.

Sales locations

Beer will be sold at six different locations — three in the east concourse, two in the west concourse and one in the south end zone behind the video board — and served by Red Moon Catering and Reid’s Catering.

Wine will not be sold at the Aug. 31 home game, but App State is looking at wine options for future games, according to App State Athletics spokesperson Joey Jones.

The beer sold at the stadium will include the new Appalachian Mountain Brewery Yosef Golden Ale — a licensed product announced on Aug. 14.

“The Appalachian State University Foundation Inc. holds the permits and is responsible for purchasing all alcoholic beverages sold at university athletics events, and we are purchasing products from multiple distributors,” Jones said.

Policies and procedures

• Service begins with the opening of main gates, two hours prior to kickoff, and ends at the completion of the third quarter.

• All patrons will be required to produce valid identification, which will be checked at the point of sale during each transaction.

• Per state law, patrons 21 years of age or older will be permitted to purchase a maximum of one alcoholic beverage per transaction with valid identification.

• Patrons will not be permitted to leave the stadium with alcohol purchased within the venue.

• Law enforcement and contracted security staff will monitor the concourse and seating areas for underage drinking, beverage pass-offs and problematic patrons or situations.

• Public service announcements about drinking responsibly will be shown on the video board and announced via the stadium’s public address system.

Asked if App State would be increasing security staff at football games this season, Jones said, “Prior to each athletics event, we review and adjust law enforcement and security staffing levels, using projected attendance as our primary guiding metric. At this season’s home games, law enforcement and security staff will continue monitoring the concourse and seating areas for general security, and we will have an increased awareness of reducing underage drinking and beverage pass-offs, managing problematic patrons or situations and ensuring patrons do not leave the stadium with alcohol purchased within Kidd Brewer Stadium. Additional responsible drinking fan education measures will also be in place.”

Policies and procedures will be subject to change and modification as the process evolves, App State said. Plans for beer and wine sales at additional App State athletics venues continue to be evaluated.

The Mountaineers will host a pair of home games to start the 2019 season — Aug. 31 vs. ETSU and Sept. 7 vs. Charlotte – before traveling to Chapel Hill for a Sept. 21 game against UNC.

Anna Oakes contributed reporting to this article.