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Earth Fare to close all stores, including Boone location

BOONE — Earth Fare, the specialty natural and organic grocery store and full-service supermarket, announced Monday, Feb. 3, that it will start the process of liquidation of all of its stores, including its Boone location, effective immediately.

According to Earth Fare spokesperson Jennifer E. Mercer, stores will be open depending on how long it takes to sell off all its merchandise, but she estimated that the closures will take place around the end of February.

The company cited challenges in the retail industry that “impeded the company’s progress as well as its ability to refinance its debt.”

“As a result, Earth Fare is not in a financial position to continue to operate on a go-forward basis,” Earth Fare said in a statement. “As such, we have made the difficult, but necessary decision to commence inventory liquidation sales while we continue to engage in a process to find potential suitors for our stores.”

According to Boone Earth Fare Bakery Manager Nathaniel Steelman, the store’s employees found out Monday morning that they “would no longer have jobs by the end of the month.”

Around 50 people work in an average Earth Fare store, Mercer said. There are around 50 Earth Fare locations in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, Virginia, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio, with the corporate office located in Asheville. Most Earth Fare locations are in North Carolina and Florida.

Earth Fare said that all employees were notified of the impending closures and that the company will sell assets, including store fixtures, in the coming days and weeks.

The management office at the Earth Fare location at 178 W. King St. directed questions to Mercer.

The land that contains Earth Fare was purchased by a group led by U.S. Buildings owner Tommy Sofield in late 2019. According to the Watauga County Register of Deeds, Sofield Children’s Limited Partnership purchased two adjacent tracts of land that includes the building that houses Earth Fare in October and November 2019 for a combined $5.3 million.

Sofield, who did not respond to a request for comment as of press time, previously said he was going to put a new facade on the building and do an extensive remodel.

Local groups monitoring coronavirus outbreak

BOONE — While the risk of Western North Carolinians contracting the 2019 novel coronavirus is said to be low, AppHealthCare said in a Jan. 31 statement that it is closely monitoring the spread of the virus.

“This is a rapidly evolving situation and we are working closely with local, state and federal partners to stay on top of the latest information related to this virus,” said AppHealthCare, the local public health department, in a statement. “As of this date, no cases have been identified in North Carolina.”

The 2019 novel coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV, is an upper respiratory virus that was first identified in the city of Wuhan, China, in late 2019. Travelers who visited Wuhan brought the disease to America in January. Currently there are 11 reported cases in five states – Arizona, California, Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington state – as of Feb. 3, according to the Centers for Disease Control. More cases are likely to be identified in the coming days, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services stated.

“Symptoms can include fever, cough or difficulty breathing,” AppHealthCare said. “Human coronaviruses are most commonly spread from an infected person by coughing, sneezing and close personal contact including touching and shaking hands (according to the Centers for Disease Control).”

The Centers for Disease Control and U.S. State Department have recommended travelers avoid all non-essential travel to China.

The strain comes from the same disease family that can cause more serious illnesses, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus, or SARS, and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus, or MERS, according to the N.C. DHHS.

“Little is known about this new coronavirus, but it does seem to have the potential to cause severe illness and pneumonia in some, including the those who are elderly, immune compromised and young children,” the N.C. DHHS said in a fact sheet.

“The risk to the general public in North Carolina is considered low at this time, the N.C. DHHS said in a Jan. 29 statement. “NCDHHS is providing guidance to state and local health agencies, health care providers and the general public regarding this rapidly evolving outbreak investigation.

“We continue to monitor the spread of this novel coronavirus very closely,” said State Health Director and DHHS Chief Medical Officer Dr. Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson, in the DHHS statement. “While people should take this new virus seriously, at this time of year, respiratory illnesses in people in North Carolina are most likely due to infection with influenza or viruses that cause the common cold.”

Boone-based international charity relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, which operates worldwide, doesn’t have any active staff working in China, spokesperson Kaitlyn Lahm said on Jan. 30.

“Our current policy is that staff may not travel to or through China until further notice,” Lahm said. “In addition to this, our medical outbreak specialist is closely monitoring the virus. All country offices are aware of the situation and have been provided with education on the symptoms and techniques to prevent the virus.”

How can you protect yourself?

These healthy habits will help prevent and protect you and your loved ones from respiratory illnesses that include the flu, respiratory syncytial virus and novel coronavirus, according to the N.C. Division of Public Health.

“We want the public to know that we are continuing to maintain close communication with our local partners and are staying informed as this situation changes. One of the best things we can do right now is to stay informed and remember the basic prevention steps of hand washing, getting a flu shot and staying home when sick,” stated Jennifer Greene, health director of AppHealthCare.

Greene clarified that while getting the flu shot is a good, healthy practice and that both the flu and coronavirus can spread the same way, the diseases are not directly linked. The flu, which affects thousands of North Carolinians every winter, usually peaks in terms of number of confirmed cases in January or February. Greene said that getting the flu shot will not necessarily prevent someone from contracting the coronavirus, but added that there’s still a lot of unknowns about the coronavirus.

  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water, and for at least 20 seconds each time. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are ill.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze.
  • Do not reuse tissue after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces that are frequently touched.

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911 calls, ACSO reveal more about January standoff

WEST JEFFERSON — As the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation continues its investigation into an eight-hour standoff Jan. 15-16 that left one man dead, 911 calls made during the incident reveal more details.

The Ashe County Sheriff’s Office first heard from Tiffany McCall at 5:59 p.m. Jan. 15, who called for a welfare check on her father, Landwell V. McCall, 50, of Lenoir. She said her father had texted her and her mother, with the messages making McCall worried about her father’s safety.

Landwell V. McCall called the ACSO exactly 20 minutes later, threatening to kill any law enforcement officer who came to his residence on U.S. 221, near Fleetwood.

In a press release Jan. 22, Ashe County Sheriff B. Phil Howell said McCall opened fire on deputies as they approached his camper.

In a call to 911 at 6:40 p.m., McCall said he wanted to speak to the “highest authority” while also claiming he had 400 pounds of explosives in the camper with him. Howell said the threat of the explosives was taken seriously at first, but investigation into it gave the ACSO no reason to believe McCall had explosives. No explosives were later found in McCall’s possession, although “many” firearms were, according to the ACSO.

About that time, law enforcement from surrounding counties were requested to bring resources that would be needed throughout the night. Law enforcement then used armored vehicles from neighboring counties to evacuate homes in the vicinity.

Between then and 12:21 a.m. Jan. 16, McCall had numerous interactions with 911 operators. In the calls, he demanded to speak with the officer in charge, a general, a senator and Gov. Roy Cooper. He also claimed to have more explosives, underground power lines and to have not been in the camper at all at one point.

Tiffany McCall called 911 operators multiple times during the standoff, stating that her father was under the influence of alcohol.

She also spoke about seeing rumors about the situation on social media, including that the camper her father was in had been “shot up.” Howell said the rumors and stories about the situation on social media were frustrating, mostly because of people posting things without the full information.

Howell said he did speak to Landwell V. McCall multiple times during the standoff, but McCall would not back down from his position. He added that negotiators from other law enforcement agencies also tried to defuse the situation to no avail. One way they tried was through a remote-controlled robot from the SBI, which allowed negotiators to speak to McCall and inspect the area.

McCall was killed at 1:40 a.m. by a deputy as McCall fired at law enforcement officers. Howell said there was never a single moment when it was decided to kill McCall, saying that during the course of the standoff it continually seemed less likely the situation would end with him coming out alive.

The ACSO has not yet released the name of the officer who fired the fatal shot; the SBI is conducting an investigation into the incident at the request of ACSO, as is standard.

Howell said it is still unclear why McCall began firing at officers, or the motives behind his actions. Howell said law enforcement looked into various matters, including McCall’s work, whether or not he had been paid and other ideas they could think of, but nothing came out of it. He added the SBI may have more information when its report on the incident is released, but during the standoff it was not a priority for law enforcement.

A section of U.S. 221 stretching from Water Tank Road to Vernon Roten Road was closed during the standoff.

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.

Man dies at Sugar Mountain Resort in after-hours incident

SUGAR MOUNTAIN — A man lost his life at Sugar Mountain Resort on Friday, Jan. 31, after an incident where the man and others were reportedly trespassing on the property by sledding after hours.

According to Sugar Mountain Chief of Police David Henson, at approximately 11:04 p.m. John Joseph Nevins IV, 53, of Titusville, Fla., along with several other family members and friends were on resort property sledding after business hours.

Nevins was sledding on a plastic disc when he collided with a snowmaking machine approximately 100 yards from Briarcliff Road. A member of the group called 911, according to the incident report filed by Village of Sugar Mountain Police Department.

“Our policemen were to him in a matter of just a couple of minutes, along with other first responders and ski patrol, but after working on him for a long time, unfortunately he succumbed to his injuries,” Henson said.

Officer Matt Millsaps with Seven Devils Public Safety was first to reach the scene and began attempting resuscitation efforts, with Sugar Mountain Police officer Anthony Burnette arriving moments later and directing EMS to the location, according to the incident report.

Sugar Mountain Resort owner and village of Sugar Mountain Mayor Gunther Jochl also confirmed the details of the incident, adding that the resort closed its slopes at 10 p.m. and that sledding on Sugar Mountain is prohibited at all times.

According to the incident report, a search party was also organized by ski patrol personnel that were still on the property.

“Ski patrol had just swept the mountain to make sure no one was still on the mountain,” Henson added. “Just as they were leaving to go home they received the call, so luckily there were still a couple of ski patrol staff who had not gone home who were able to respond, as well as firemen and medics. Everyone did a terrific job, but unfortunately the man still passed away.”

Additional agencies supporting Sugar Mountain Police and Sugar Mountain Resort Ski Patrol who responded to the incident included Avery EMS, First Responders, Linville Central Rescue Squad, Seven Devils Police Department and Banner Elk Volunteer Fire and Rescue.

Thomas Sherrill contributed reporting to this story.