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Southern Nash’s Jackson Vick runs against Rocky Mount High. Vick had a touchdown run, touchdown reception and an interception in the Firebirds’ 45-27 win.

Man killed by deputy had history of mental illness

TARBORO — Edgecombe County Sheriff Clee Atkinson said his deputies had no time to react Thursday when a 32-year-old man with a history of mental illness stabbed one deputy in the back two times before being fatally wounded by another deputy.

The suspect was dead by the time Edgecombe County Emergency Medical Services arrived. The injured deputy was transported to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville and was treated and later released Thursday night.

The deputies had responded to 4328 McNair Road after a woman placed a 911 call at 2:04 p.m. stating a man was chasing her with a knife.

Atkinson told reporters during a Friday morning press conference that the first deputy arrived at 2:07 p.m. and a second backup officer arrived at 2:09 p.m.

“The deputies spoke to the caller in the front yard who then goes to let them in the house,” Atkinson said. “As soon as the caller opened the door, a 32-year-old male lunges out with a knife.”

He described the knife as an “assault-type pocket knife.”

“I tell you guys, watching this on video, my deputy was stabbed within three seconds,” he said. “My deputies had no time to react … three seconds.”

After the suspect stabbed the deputy, he was shot by the second deputy.

Atkinson said a third deputy arrived at 2:10 p.m.

“He was getting out of his truck as the stabbing occurred and witnessed all of this,” Atkinson said.

Atkinson paused, becoming emotional as he called the wounded deputy a “hero.”

“Despite being stabbed, he remained calm, providing instructions to the other two deputies,” he said.

Atkinson, standing in front of a sign with the names of the three Edgecombe County deputies who have died in the line of duty, said, “I thank God he built a tent around him or there could have been a fourth name.”

Atkinson said the entire incident was captured by the officer’s body cameras, which were purchased about a year ago after protracted debate by county commissioners.

“I’m telling you, that’s the best investment we have ever made,” he said.

The sheriff also used the occasion to call for mental health reform.

“We need help,” he said. “We need long-term facilities. Our officers are doing more now than ever before regarding mental illness.”

The sheriff referred reporters to District Attorney Robert Evans for the identities of the deputies and offender, but Evans declined, saying, “They have both potential legal and administrative rights which must be protected pending investigation. I do not comment on any case under investigation until its completion.”

The SBI was called in to investigate the shooting and the three deputies have been placed on administrative leave.

A family member of the deceased man identified him as 32-year-old Jermaine Harris in an interview with WRAL-TV.

Family members told the station that Harris had battled schizophrenia and anxiety since he was 19.

Atkinson had told reporters that his deputies had responded to three calls regarding Harris in the recent past.

The family said Harris was a kind person who had never hurt anyone in the past, but after years of trying unsuccessfully to get him help for his mental illness, it became too much for him to bear.

A cousin, Sotrenota Pettaway, told the station, “It’s not like we’re angry with anybody, it’s more so like we’re trying to cope with what happened. And things that could have been done to avoid this.”

Area native hikes to promote new ministry

A Rocky Mount native is hiking 600 miles across North Carolina to raise awareness about a new ministry.

Win McCullough began a 600-mile trek on Oct. 1 in Caswell and will finish on Nov. 6 in Thomasville. He is hiking the state to bring awareness to Christian Adoption Services’ new ministry The Emmanuel Home in Thomasville, which is a home for women in crisis pregnancy situations to find healing after choosing adoption for their child.

McCullough’s trek is stopping at various points in the state that have a relationship with Christian Adoption Services. He will be stopping Tuesday at the Rocky Mount office of Christian Adoption Services to greet supporters and begin the final leg of his journey.

“I walk for the brave — the adoptive families who choose to answer God’s call to adopt, the courageous birth mothers who chose their child above themselves,” McCullough said. “I walk for the more than 150 million orphans who don’t know the love of our Heavenly Father.”

For 42 years, Christian Adoption Services, a ministry of Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina, has been ministering to expectant mothers and bringing families together through adoption.

Christian Adoption Services works with birth mothers during and after their pregnancies. On average, roughly 200 women contact the organization for services each year and over the past 42 years, Christian Adoption Services has placed more than 2,000 children into loving homes.

“Our story is certainly a story of restoration for the children whose lives are touched by adoption — but what happens to the courageous birth mothers who place their children into the care of another?” Christian Adoption Services Director of Development Cynthia Truax said. “For years we have felt there is more we could be doing. Finally, that dream is becoming reality.”

The Emmanuel Home will open in 2022 as a fully staffed care house where birth mothers can live post-placement as they work through grief, learn coping mechanisms, explore basic life skills, grow spiritually, work at a job in the community, receive counseling from social workers and further their education, all in the context of a safe and nurturing home.

The home will house up to five women free of charge for about 10 months each as they work through the program.

“The Emmanuel Home is the first home of its kind for (Christian Adoption Services) and will broaden our ministry opportunities to birth mothers who have chosen to place their child for adoption,” Senior Director Kevin Qualls said. “It is a much-needed addition to the continuum of care in birth mother ministry.”

Nashville again seeking new finance director

After several years of upheaval in its finance department, the Town of Nashville is getting back on track and is looking for a new finance director.

Samantha Sanchez, the town’s latest finance director, resigned effective Sept. 17. She had served in the position full-time for nearly two years but is moving on to a new position in the finance department for the Town of Wake Forest, Nashville Town Manager Randy Lansing said in a recent interview.

“She has been an excellent finance director, and we really hate to lose her,” Lansing said. “We had a lot of stuff on the books that needed to be cleaned up. Ms. Sanchez took time to work with the auditor and get us back on track.”

Nashville is now off the Local Government Commission Watchlist after spending the last several years under scrutiny. In a recent statement, State Treasurer Dale Folwell announced that the Local Government Commission had removed 38 entities from its Unit Assistance List, a monitoring device that flags and tracks local governments and public authorities battling financial and governance challenges.

The Town of Nashville was among the 27 towns, eight counties and three utility districts commended for their progress. These entities, the statement said, “had made such significant improvements that they were no longer included on the list.”

“This is incredibly good news for those local governments because it brings stability to their operations,” Folwell said in the statement. “By enhancing governance, transparency and stewardship of the money entrusted to them, these units have demonstrated a path forward that others can model.”

The town had faced censure for certain accounting practices that placed it on the watch list. In a letter dated Jan. 28, 2020, the commission noted improvement but still had concerns.

“The staff of the Local Government Commission analyzed the audited financial statements of the Town of Nashville for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2019,” the letter stated. “We note that the municipality has made progress. Our office has received the audit for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2019 … We commend the governing board, staff and citizens for this improvement. However, there are still serious financial and operational problems that must be addressed in order to further your efforts to improve the municipality’s financial operations.”

The letter noted special concerns about the way transfers were made from the town’s water and sewer fund, noting that some were unbudgeted transfers made contrary to state law.

There was also concern about the timeliness of record-keeping and reports during the recent period of upheaval in the Nashville Finance Department.

“We noted various weaknesses concerning your municipality’s internal controls that were communicated in writing to you by the auditor,” the letter stated. “We are especially concerned that the auditor reported as a material weakness that reconciliations of significant accounts were not performed in a timely manner. This item noted by the auditor was identified to assist the Board in improving the municipality’s overall accounting system. We note that you have developed a corrective action plan to eliminate these weaknesses. The corrective action plan that was identified was inadequate.”

At that point, the auditor’s office acknowledged that recent staff issues in the finance department were part of the problem but were not an excuse.

“Despite turnover within staff, bank reconciliations should be reconciled correctly to the general ledger monthly. We encourage the board to monitor the municipality’s progress in implementing this plan and urge you to develop a corrective action plan to eliminate the other items identified by the auditor,” the letter stated.

The town has faced a great deal of turnover in the finance department since former finance director Linda Modlin was fired at roughly the same time that former town manager Hank Raper was dismissed in June 2018. Modlin served as the town’s finance director from Aug. 19, 2014, to June 29, 2018, but was on administrative leave for the last few weeks of her tenure.

According to information provided by Nashville Human Resource Director Lou Bunch, Lynne Hobbs served briefly as interim deputy finance director from June 4, 2018, until Melonie Bryan was hired to serve as interim finance director on July 30, 2018. Hobbs now is a Nashville town councilwoman.

Bryan served as the town’s interim finance director for the next year. During this time, Russell Langley was hired as the assistant finance director on Feb. 26, 2019, and was trained with the intention of having him take on the position of finance director following a probation period.

However, Langley resigned on Aug. 26, 2019, before assuming the role, Bunch said.

Sanchez was hired on Sept. 30, 2019, and has served as the town’s finance director ever since. During that time, she was largely responsible for the town’s removal from the LGC watch list, Lansing said.

The town is now advertising for a new finance director. According to the ad posted by the town on its website, town officials are looking for someone who “is seeking an experienced professional with strong interpersonal and financial competency skills to oversee the city’s $15 million budget.”

The town also is looking for someone with three to five years of “progressively responsible governmental accounting and fiscal administration experience, preferably in a local government setting; and supervisory experience.”

The salary range offered for the position is $65,000 to $97,418. For more information or to apply, go to the town’s website.

Council to discuss two proposed ward maps

A special called work session of the City Council is set for 4 p.m. Monday for the council to discuss two proposed maps of redrawn council ward lines as part of redistricting to ensure equal representation as a result of the 2020 U.S. Census.

During the Oct. 11 council work session, demographer Bill Gilkeson showed the council a map labeled Alternative A and a map labeled Alternative B.

The bottom line is that the results of the census showed that Ward 2, represented by Councilman Reuben Blackwell, and Ward 1, represented by Councilman Andre Knight, experienced a significant decline in population from 2010 to 2020.

The results of the census also showed that of all seven council wards, only Ward 6, represented by Councilman W.B. Bullock, and Ward 5, represented by Councilman Lige Daughtridge, experienced a gain in population, but not by much.

Gilkeson drew proposed ward lines to expand Ward 2 and Ward 1 to take in more of what is in the city. Ward 1 is on the eastern side of the city. Ward 2 is in the central and northeastern parts of the city.

During the Oct. 11 work session, Gilkeson showed that Alternative A would have Ward 1 take in a substantial part of the northern and northeastern parts of the city and part of the northwestern part of the city.

More specifically, Alternative A would take in parts of Councilwoman Chris Miller’s Ward 7, which covers much of the northern to northwestern parts of the city.

Alternative A would have Ward 1 include the Belmont Lake area, the N.C. Wesleyan College campus and the Bishop Road area. Ward 1 would extend into Ward 7 to take in the Horn Beam, Cross Creek and Greyson areas and include the far northeastern part of the Cunningham area.

Alternative A also would have Ward 1 include Gold Rock, which is currently in Ward 7.

Ward 1 would also take from Ward 2 to include the Battleboro community.

Additionally, under Alternative A, Ward 2 would take in a sizeable area of Ward 1 and include part of East Rocky Mount and the Meadowbrook, Pineview and Edgemont areas.

As a result of the census, Bullock’s Ward 6 and Daughtridge’s Ward 5 are now over-populated in terms of there having to be fair representation in each of the seven wards.

Ward 5 is in the western and northwestern parts of the city. Ward 6 is in the western part of the city. According to the Alternative A map, Ward 5 and Ward 6 would be reconfigured.

More specifically, under Alternative A, Ward 5 would be limited to including the Candlewood, Wedgewood, Westry Crossing, Nash Central, Sunset West, Westridge and Berkeley areas. Ward 6 would take in the Bunn Farm, Green Hills and West Hunter Hill areas and the area along Nicodemus Mile Road.

Ward 6 would also include the Stoney Creek, Greenfield, Englewood, Farmington Park and Bethlehem areas and the western part of the Maple Creek area.

Alternative B appears to propose less extensive changes than Alternative A.

Alternative B would have Ward 2, instead of Ward 1, take in Gold Rock and the Belmont Lake area.

Alternative B would keep Battleboro in Ward 2, but Ward 2 would take in the part of the Bishop Road area on the north side of Thomas A. Betts Parkway. Ward 2 would also extend into northwestern to western parts of the city.

More specifically, Ward 2 would extend a bit more into the Stoney Creek area, the far southeastern part of the Englewood area and the Maple Creek, Lakeview and West Haven areas.

On Aug. 9, the City Council gave the go-ahead to have the Poyner Spruill law firm work on a redistricting plan of the council wards.

Poyner Spruill partner Caroline Mackie has been serving as the lead voice in working with the council, with Gilkeson serving as the expert in maps.

During the Oct. 11 council work session, Gilkeson made clear that because the percentages of minority populations are robust in most parts of Rocky Mount, as he drew the proposed ward lines, he did so without allowing race to predominate.

“And what that means in mechanical terms is I didn’t look at race while I was drawing the districts,” Gilkeson said. “I did look at race, at the racial data, after the map was drawn.”

Gilkeson made clear that after he looked at the data about race, he did not make any change to Alternative A or Alternative B.

Mackie on Aug. 9 emphasized to the City Council that all seven wards have to be substantially equal in population. Mackie at the time also emphasized that race cannot be the chief factor in redistricting unless the use of race is narrowly tailored to a compelling governmental interest.

Mackie at the time noted a compelling governmental interest assumed by the courts is the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which in part protects minorities from governments putting into place any methods that would dilute their votes.

During the Oct. 11 City Council work session, Knight asked Gilkeson about his not changing anything about Alternative A and Alternative B after looking at the data about race.

“Did you have a feel that you needed to change anything based upon that once you saw it?” Knight asked.

“I really didn’t,” Gilkeson said.

Mackie pointed out that on Aug. 9, she and her team talked about what are sort of two parallels of the law and having to operate between those.

“And when we looked at the current demographic data for the current wards and the percentages and the electoral success of candidates preferred by minority voters, we were comfortable that we should look at the racial data after the fact,” Mackie said.

Mackie told the council members that they can see the percentages of minorities did change some in the wards and that the council has some options between the two alternatives.

“And that’s something that you all can discuss and get some public input on,” she said.

The Oct. 11 council work session started at 5 p.m., with work session business to have to be concluded in time for the 7 p.m. council regular meeting.

However, the council spent lengthy amounts of time on the first two work session items — parks and recreation grounds maintenance and Unity Cemetery — leaving a narrower amount of time for the redistricting item, as well as for the monthly crime report from police Chief Robert Hassell.

The redistricting process is on a timetable, with a council public hearing set for Oct. 25 and with the plan being for the council on Nov. 8 to approve a map.

Time also is important because the Wards 2, 3, 6 and 7 seats are up for election in March 2022. Blackwell and Joyner have said they are seeking re-election, but Bullock and Miller have said they are not.

During the Oct. 11 City Council work session, Mayor Sandy Roberson made clear that he believed a special session could be called for a discussion by the council only about the redistricting item.

Blackwell said that given he and other council members received the maps late the week before the Oct. 11 work session, he believes council members need time to look at and talk about them.

“And I’m always in favor of more options than less to discuss and evaluate,” Blackwell said.

Blackwell successfully recommended setting the special work session.

The City Council also can receive proposed maps from the public during the Oct. 25 hearing.

Area musician hits lottery jackpot

Ricky Rapoza of Rocky Mount, a drummer and singer of Top 40, beach music and gospel songs, recently purchased a $5 scratch-off ticket and rocked out to the tune of a $200,000 win.

Rapoza bought four Diamond Mine 9X tickets when he stopped for gas at the Kangaroo Express on South Wesleyan Boulevard in Rocky Mount. He was back at home watching TV when he scratched the tickets and saw he had mined a big prize on the fourth one.

“It was pretty wild,” Rapoza said. “I didn’t believe it till I got here today. But it’s a great feeling.”

He claimed his prize at lottery headquarters in Raleigh and took home $141,501 after required federal and state tax withholdings.

“I’m going to put it in the bank and sit on it,” Rapoza said. “I’m just going to live as normal a life as much as possible.”

Rapoza, who has a new gospel CD in the works, said he enjoys playing the lottery because it raises money for education.

“I think it is a great thing,” he said. “I would still play even if I didn’t win because I believe in what North Carolina is doing.”

Ticket sales from scratch-off games make it possible for the lottery to raise more than $900 million a year for education.

A $10 million grant, using money raised by the lottery, is helping Nash County build the new Red Oak Elementary School.

For details on other ways Nash County benefits from lottery funds, visit www.nclottery.com and click on the “Impact” section.