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Suspect dead after eight-hour standoff near Fleetwood

FLEETWOOD — A standoff with law enforcement officers ended with a suspect’s fatality after eight hours Thursday, Jan. 16, near Fleetwood.

According to the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office, the office received a call at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15, relating to a welfare check at 6259 U.S. Highway 221. A press release from the ACSO later stated that during that check, deputies were shot at multiple times by a man inside a camper, and, “phone calls and communication from the suspect indicated he wanted to cause harm to any law enforcement individual.”

A section of U.S. 221 stretching from Water Tank Road to Vernon Roten Road was closed due to the standoff with law enforcement in the area. According to ACSO, the standoff ended with the suspect’s death, around 2 a.m., with the road being reopened about a half-hour later.

“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.”

“We immediately requested the State Bureau of Investigation to conduct (a) full investigation into the matter, which is standard procedure for the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office,” Howell said.

Scanner traffic indicated that residents of multiple homes in the surrounding area were evacuated by officials during the standoff, with the assistance of armored vehicles. The dispatches also indicated that officials made contact with the man several times throughout the night and encouraged him to exit the camper peacefully, with his hands up, but that the man was “unwilling to negotiate.”

A list of law enforcement and emergency responders joined the ACSO in the situation, 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.

According to Watauga Sheriff Len Hagaman, the Watauga County Special Response Team — made up of the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office, Boone Police and Appalachian State University Police — was among those dispatched to the scene. Hagaman said the team has multiple Watauga and Boone Police Department K-9s, an App State Police drone and paramedic and EMS tactical medical members. A bomb squad from Wilkes County was also dispatched.

Kayla Lasure and Anna Oakes contributed reporting to this article.

Businesses of the Year: Chamber presents 2019 awards to local employers

The Boone Area Chamber of Commerce announced its winners of the 2019 Business of the Year Awards during the fourth Annual High Country Economic Kickoff Breakfast on Jan. 16 at Meadowbrook Inn in Blowing Rock.

The awards were sponsored by the Watauga County Economic Development Commission and Skyline National Bank. Nominations were submitted by Chamber and community members and winners were selected by the Chamber’s Business Development committee.

Businesses were awarded based on criteria that includes staying power, growth in sales and/or workforce, innovative products and services, strong response to adversity, contributions to community-oriented projects, and use of local resources in business operations.

The chamber presented three awards to local businesses during the event. The awards were sponsored by the Watauga County Economic Development Commission and Skyline National Bank. Nominations were submitted by chamber and community members and winners were selected by the chamber’s business development committee.

Businesses were awarded based on criteria that includes staying power, growth in sales and/or workforce, innovative products and services, strong response to adversity, contributions to community-oriented projects and use of local resources in business operations.

The Small Business Award was given to Los Arcoiris. Since opening its doors in September 1991, Los Arcoiris — also known as “Los Arcos” — has built a loyal following of customers seeking authentic Mexican cuisine combined with cozy hacienda style décor. Owner Alfredo Alverez built the business on the premise of providing menu variety and consistency along with an engaging staff that displays quality customer service.

Los Arcoiris serves a mixture of audiences, but Appalachian State University students have proven to be loyal customers.

“Our former App State customers always come back,” Alverez said. “That really makes you feel good and proud and that you are doing the right thing.”

Moving three times in 28 years, Alverez’s efforts to maximize space for customers and staff helped the business surpass the $1 million mark in sales in 2019. Within the next year, plans include the completed construction of a new bar in its current location — located at 168 Boone Heights Drive in Boone. Over the last several years, Los Arcoiris has expanded outside of Watauga County to include locations in Pineola and Mooresville.

The Large Business Award was accepted by the Animal Emergency Clinic of the High Country. When opening a night and weekend pet care service in Boone 15 years ago, Dr. David Linzey sought to meet a market demand. That service quickly expanded to Animal Emergency Clinic of the High Country — a 24-hour emergency care practice. Over time Pet Care Clinic of the High Country and Ridge Runner Pet Lodging were added to complete a trio of businesses designed to meet the growing needs of High Country pet owners.

“I’m not sure that I knew what the long-term plan was when we opened the business,” Linzey said. “I clearly didn’t know we would be where we are 15-years later. The growth just happened as opportunities arose, with most of the credit going to the pet owners of the High Country — they love their pets!”

Linzey seeks staff who are eager to treat patients as if they were their own pets. Providing a vast array of services across three distinct business models has put a premium on attracting quality employees to meet the demands of an expanding case load.

“Our location is definitely a draw for doctors and technical staff, but the applicant pool is small, so advertising outside of the area is the only option for recruitment,” Linzey said. “Emergency clinics nationwide are having a really hard time keeping staff. Overall, we are in much better shape than most and I credit our staff, the work environment, and our non-corporate involvement with creating a positive and professional culture.”

All three services continue to show annual growth and pull from a three-state customer base. A goal to expand staff will only help to increase the capacity and quality of care across all facilities. Linzey points to an investment in facility planning and upkeep as a driving force behind his recent business growth.

“I think the expense incurred with constructing modern and appealing facilities has made a big difference, not only in attracting clients but in attracting and retaining quality staff.”

Foggy Pine Books received the Startup Business Award. Mary Ruthless looked to add to the menu of locally owned, independently managed King Street shops when she opened Foggy Pine Books in a quaint, 425-square-foot space in May 2016.

Just 19 months after opening her doors, Ruthless was presented an opportunity to relocate to a larger King Street storefront. The timing of moving a young business into an expanded space required both calculations and faith.

“(Larger space) was something I’d wanted from the start but there just wasn’t anything available that fit my needs,” Ruthless recalled. “When something opened, I felt that not taking the chance would’ve been short sighted. That said, a lot of planning, organizing and spreadsheet work was required before I felt comfortable taking the leap. Now we’re here and the Boone community has been more supportive than I ever imagined.”

With more than four times the available floor space in their new facility, Foggy Pine Books has developed an atmosphere where customers are encouraged to take a more relaxed approach to the retail experience.

“Our typical customer is someone who loves to read and who wants a personal touch to their book shopping experience,” Ruthless said. “Our store enhances their experience by providing a safe space to explore their interests, meet with friends, or just pass an afternoon reading.”

In building the initial business model, Ruthless established customer curiosity, and ultimately loyalty, through diversity.

“Inclusiveness is the cornerstone of everything we do at Foggy Pine Books,” Ruthless said. “It’s been incredibly important to us, from the beginning, to represent that diversity. When you walk into Foggy Pine, no matter who you are, our hope is that you can find books on our shelves that reflect your experience and/or identity. We think that being seen, being validated in your existence, is one of the greatest things we can do when supporting community members and creating loyal customers.”

Foggy Pine Books established community outreach as a core value early in its business planning. Partnering with OASIS to begin a holiday book drive and supporting The Children’s Playhouse Storytime series has attracted new customers through increased brand recognition. These efforts helped Foggy Pine Books surpass revenue projections in 2019, breaking their daily sales record three times in the month of December alone.

“Make sure your community feels like a part of your business,” Ruthless said. “Without the Boone community’s support, no amount of work that I or any of my staff could do would mean anything.”

Photo by Thomas Sherrill 

Bethel’s Levi Ray, right, takes on Valle Crucis’ Cameron Craft, left, during a Thursday, Jan. 16, middle school basketball game between the two schools at Valle Crucis.

Blue Ridge Conservancy purchases Peak Mountain acreage

SEVEN DEVILS — Boone-based environmental protection nonprofit Blue Ridge Conservancy announced on Wednesday, Jan. 15, that it had purchased 91 acres of Peak Mountain in Avery County for $1.389 million.

The land includes the summit of Peak Mountain, originally part of the planned Tynecastle development.

“The prominent rock outcropping is familiar to residents and visitors of the Banner Elk area and is quite visible from Sugar Mountain and Seven Devils,” Blue Ridge Conservancy said in a Jan. 15 statement. “The property was previously owned by the Schwebke Family of Avery County, and is known by several other names including Tynecastle Peak, Invershiel Peak and Dunvegan Peak.”

The land was purchased from the Schwebke family, who had purchased the property in 1991, according to the Avery County Tax Office.

“The Schwebke family is thankful to work with Blue Ridge Conservancy to protect Tynecastle Peak in loving memory of Robert C. Schwebke, an amazing husband, father and grandfather,” said Judith Schwebke. “He loved the peak of this mountain and knowing that it is protected and enjoyed by others now is very special to our family.”

The sale was finalized on Dec. 31, 2019, according to the Avery County Tax Office. The sale price of $1,389,000 for the 89.51 acres exceeded the tax value of $374,000, according to Avery County. Funding to purchase this property came from a donation from Fred and Alice Stanback, the conservancy stated.

“The land boasts a dramatic ridgeline, healthy forests, interesting rocky outcrops and several populations of rare plant species,” Blue Ridge Conservancy stated. “Peak Mountain is located within the Dunvegan Natural Heritage Area, a significant natural area identified by the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program. The NHP developed the state’s most comprehensive database of natural resource information based on rare plant and animal species occurrences and assemblages of natural communities.”

“This is especially important wildlife habitat conservation for migratory birds, bats and insects using the Grandfather Mountain area corridor,” Blue Ridge Conservancy stated.

The 91 acres is adjacent to 310 acres Blue Ridge Conservancy has acquired since 2016. The spine of Peak Mountain runs parallel to N.C. 105 with Grandfather Mountain to the south.

“Blue Ridge Conservancy will continue to work with the town of Seven Devils to pursue grants for the creation of a public access trail on Peak Mountain to connect to the town’s Otter Falls Park,” said Blue Ridge Conservancy Executive Director Charlie Brady. “Public access acquisitions are a continuing priority for BRC, and the Peak Mountain project is a significant achievement toward that end.”

Thomas Sherrill contributed reporting to this story.