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Northern Nash quarterback Keno Jones receives the snap on Friday against SouthWest Edgecombe. Jones had three rushing touchdowns in the Knights’ 53-0 win.

City's top cop reflects on first four months on the job

Police Chief Robert Hassell was asked by City Councilman Andre Knight what he has been seeing in the community in his four months on the job.

Knight also wanted to know from Hassell whether he needed anything from the council.

Hassell said that from the city manager’s office to the council, “I’ve seen nothing but support from the council” and that, at the moment, he couldn’t think of anything he could ask of the council.

Hassell said that he is working with the city manager’s office on a few things as he completes his evaluation of the police department and that he is looking at some possible reorganizations and other items.

Knight questioned Hassell moments after Hassell as part of the Sept. 13 council work session gave his report about crime during August in Rocky Mount.

Hassell reported for work in early May after having been hired by City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney. Hassell had previously been the police chief in Reidsville in the Triad region.

During the Sept. 13 council work session, Hassell made clear the Rocky Mount Police Department is working on implementing new technologies he believes will help the department make residents more aware of what’s going on because many of the crimes occurring are ones that could possibly be avoided.

One of the new technologies that has been discussed is a real-time crime-fighting intelligence center to provide visibility via cameras not only managed by the municipality, but also via the cameras of residents and businesses who give the department access through partner agreements.

The other that has been discussed is a public safety app to enable residents to use their cell phones to keep track of the department’s reports of incidents and to quickly communicate with the police.

During the Sept. 13 council work session, Knight told Hassell he has been receiving calls about shootings throughout city neighborhoods.

Knight said that gunfire not only can be heard late in the night but also that sometimes people are now bold enough to fire guns during the daytime.

Knight asked Hassell what Small-Toney and the council can do to assist.

Hassell told Knight, “I feel I’m getting a lot of support from our city manager and council at this moment — and if I feel there’s a need or more support that I can get from council I’ll make sure I advise our city manager and see where we can go from there.”

At the same time, Hassell told Knight he hears the same questions about gun-related violence.

“And we are working on trying to reduce those as much as we possibly can,” Hassell said. “One of those technology projects, I think, is going to help us in that effort and especially identifying those individuals who are partaking in gun violence or violent crime in our city.

“So once that project comes online, we will have measurable goals and targets to help track that program to see if we’ve seen the results that we hope we’re going to have over the coming months and years,” he said.

Local group envisions downtown arts district
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A statewide arts official on Saturday is going to participate via teleconferencing with a group of Rocky Mount residents interested in having a vibrant arts district in the heart of the city.

Leigh Ann Wilder, who is the creative economies director at the N.C. Arts Council, told the Telegram she is going to have a conversation with the people in the group, which plans to convene at noon.

Discussions have been ongoing locally since at least as far back as autumn 2019 about having an arts district along Howard Street as part of a continuing effort to revitalize downtown. And there is a desire to include part of Church Street in the arts district.

Wilder told the Telegram over the phone on Thursday she will be asking more of the appropriate questions she believes people should ask themselves when they are ready to have an arts district.

She said questions include, “Is there a problem they are trying to solve? Is this something where they want to connect the local arts resources? Why do you want to have a cultural arts district in the first place? What do you hope to accomplish? Is there interest in creating a plan?”

She said other questions include whether there are people behind the idea, who should be involved, who the key players are and whether this is a logical geographic area for the arts district to occur.

“So I’m going to be talking to them about their decisions around that or have they asked themselves those questions,” she said. “We’re just going to be exploring it, basically.

“It’s really the very first step,” she said.

The N.C. Arts Council is a state agency that is part of the state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

The arts council delivers resources to arts organizations and artists to support projects and programs of public value that revitalize downtowns and educate and empower North Carolina youths — and fuel a thriving nonprofit creative sector that generates more than $2 billion a year.

Wilder runs a community development team that works with local arts councils throughout North Carolina.

The discussion planned for Saturday surfaced at the Sept. 9 meeting of the Central City Revitalization Panel.

Developer Charles Roberson, who serves on the CCRP, said the plan is for people intending to participate in the discussion in person to be at the Bel Air Art Center and for the meeting to be from noon to 1 p.m.

Roberson said of Wilder being scheduled to participate on Saturday, “We’re excited to hear what she’s going to bring to the table and what type of advice and best practices she’s going to bring for our district.”

Roberson also made clear that owners of buildings and stakeholders lack the expertise or time to secure grants to help fund the arts district and that he would like the City of Rocky Mount to bring in a grant writer.

City Councilwoman Chris Miller and Rocky Mount Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO David Farris said they would be interested in participating in the discussion on Saturday via teleconferencing.

Miller represents a pro-downtown rehabilitation group on the CCRP. Farris serves on the CCRP by virtue of his position.

CCRP Chairman Garland Jones asked Downtown Development Manager Kevin Harris whether the city has a grant writer. Harris said the municipality has one that serves in the Parks and Recreation Department.

Harris said he could inquire, but that Parks and Recreation seems pretty tight-fisted with that person’s time.

Miller said she was unsure how well that would work in the context of divided loyalties and the expertise being sought.

“Well, he has been at it a while,” Harris said of the grant writer.

Miller made clear she believes having a grant writer to seek funds for the arts district is definitely something worth considering.

Farris said a grant writer is a specialized position.

“There’s money out there, but you’ve got to find the right individual who knows how to write the grant and research it and find out where the money is,” Farris said, noting not all foundations fund the same things.

Roberson said that given there are interested parties and site control of the buildings of willing participants, “I think now is the time to take advantage of it — and nothing is going to be built without the resources that’s needed.”

Nash County Democrats set to choose new register of deeds

Today is the last day for members of the Nash County Democratic Party who wish to be considered for nomination as the county’s next register of deeds to make their wishes known to party leaders.

The Nash County Democratic Party plans to meet at 6 p.m. on Sept. 23 via Zoom to vote on a recommendation of an eligible resident of Nash County to be appointed to fill Anne Melvin’s unexpired term as register of deeds.

The move is necessary because of Melvin’s death on Sept. 2. Melvin, a Democrat, had served as Nash County Register of Deeds for nearly 10 years, winning her last election to the office in 2020. The current term of office expires in 2024 and the person who is selected at next Thursday’s meeting will serve in that role until then, Nash County Elections Director John Kearney said Thursday.

Sandra Davis, the county’s assistant register of deeds, is filling the position until a new register of deeds is appointed, Nash County Manager Zee Lamb said in an earlier interview.

Anyone who is qualified and interested in becoming the next Nash County register of deeds should provide a letter of interest by today to their Democratic precinct chair or to Sandy Conover, chairwoman of the Nash County Democratic Party.

Once the Nash County Democratic Party selects a person to fill the role Thursday, the recommendation will be made to the Nash County Board of Commissioners. However, under state law, that vote is merely a formality.

According to N.C. General Statute 161-5, if the executive committee of the Nash County Democratic Party selects a nominee for the position within 30 days, that nominee shall be appointed by the Nash County Board of Commissioners to fill the role until the term expires.

Registers of deeds are elected to four-year terms by the citizens of the county and serve as custodian and manager of large numbers of public records including real estate records, birth and death records and marriage certificates.

Arrest made in Hollister teen's 2012 murder

An area woman learned Thursday that a man had been arrested in connection with the murder of her daughter, Faith Hedgepeth, who was killed just over nine years ago in Chapel Hill.

Connie Hedgepeth, who lives near Hollister, was notified Thursday morning of the arrest of Miguel Enrique Salguero-Olivares, 28, of Durham. Until Thursday, no arrest had been made in connection with the death of her daughter Faith, who was killed at the age of 19 while she was a student at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Salguero-Olivares was charged with first-degree murder and is being held without bond in the Durham County jail.

At a news conference Thursday afternoon at the Chapel Hill Town Hall, Connie Hedgepeth said she has been waiting a long time for this news.

“When I got the news this morning, I didn’t do anything but cry and thank God and praise God because I put it in his hands and it was his timing,” she said.

Faith Hedgepeth was found dead on Sept. 7, 2012, in a friend’s off-campus apartment in Chapel Hill. Hedgepeth, a member of the Haliwa-Saponi Tribe, was a sophomore biology major at UNC-Chapel Hill at the time of her death. She was reportedly planning to become a pediatrician and return to work near her home.

Connie Hedgepeth said she is grateful for the perseverance of law enforcement officers who worked diligently on her daughter’s case over the years.

“I thank the Chapel Hill Police Department, the SBI and anyone who had a hand in investigating this case. I thank them for their hard work and their labor paid off,” she said. “When I cried, it was tears of joy, tears of relief, knowing that someone had been arrested in her case.”

In an interview with the Telegram published on Sept. 12, 2012, Faith’s sister Rolanda Hedgepeth said she was willing to be patient for investigators to thoroughly evaluate the events leading to her younger sister’s death.

“We want them to get all of their evidence together and get all of their ducks in a row,” she said. “We want them to have a solid case so nobody gets off on a technicality.”

It has taken more than nine years for that arrest to come, and DNA evidence seems to have played a large role in the arrest.

State Attorney General Josh Stein said at Thursday’s news conference that over the years, 13 analysts worked 53 submissions of evidence from the case and analyzed 229 different samples to rule out suspects before generating a DNA match Wednesday to a sample provided by law enforcement officers.

“As a result, an arrest a decade in the making has been made,” Stein said. “Sometimes justice is swift — other times it takes longer.”

Nash County Commissioner Gwen Wilkins said she is glad to see justice come for her cousin’s family. Wilkins and Connie Hedgepeth are first cousins, she said.

“It has been a long time, but they got him,” Wilkins said Thursday in an interview. “Connie always leaned on the Lord, but it has been hard for them all these years not having an arrest.”

However, Wilkins said the family still has a long way to go before the nightmare is over.

“When I think about what Connie and her family will have to go through with this investigation and the coming trial, I know it will be very hard for them to get through,” Wilkins said.

The investigation into Faith Hedgepeth’s death remains ongoing and more arrests may come, law enforcement officials said Thursday.

“Patience will be asked of you,” Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said. “This story will take time to completely unfold.”

Chapel Hill Assistant Police Chief Celisa Lehew echoed that sentiment.

“This investigation is not complete,” she said. “Our work is not done.”