Here are the five crime stories – in no particular order – that made headlines at HCPress.com in 2015.
Murder in Western Watauga
Just two weeks into 2015, a man was murdered in Western Watauga.
Four people from Watauga County – William Cable, 34, Candice Rogers, 26, Travis Ward, 29, and Jessica Oakes, 28 – were charged with the murder of Brandon Lee Byrd, 32, of Iredell County.
The four were also charged with robbery with a dangerous weapon and conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon. According to court records detailing conversations between some of the suspects and investigators, the suspects were all high on meth at the time of the murder, and that drugs, cash and an Apple iPhone in the possession of Byrd weren’t found by authorities in the weeks after the murder.
During the investigation, the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant and found evidence of a meth lab at a mobile home on Smith Henson Road, near where the murder occurred.
The next court date for the suspects is in February.
See prior articles regarding this crime:
Drugs Common Theme in Deaths of Young
In November, the Boone Police Department arrested a 23-year-old male named Charles Poole, who resides at an apartment on West King Street and charged him with several felonies related to the possession and distribution of drugs, including heroin.
In announcing the arrest of Poole, the Boone Police Department noted the deaths of “too many young people in the past year or so” and found a “common theme” between these deaths and illegal drugs, which are courted to the college-aged population.
“Our community has suffered the loss of too many young people in the past year or so. Just as we try to heal from the tragedies of last fall, the recent deaths of more young people in our community is causing even more pain and sadness. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of those we have lost,” said Boone Police Department Lieutenant Investigations Commander Chris Hatton in November.
“The Boone Police Department does not take these deaths lightly. We immediately began investigating any possible connections between these deaths. Our Investigators have been working long hours and 6 to 7 days per week on this case,” added Boone Police Chief Dana Crawford.
The Boone Police Department is awaiting the toxicology reports, which can take months to receive, from the North Carolina Office of the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office for all of the recent death cases. Each of these investigations will remain open, the department noted, until a toxicology report is received for that particular case.
Crackdown on Child Predators
Less than two weeks into 2015, the Boone Police Department announced the ending of a 10-week investigation into individuals that prey on underage children on the Internet.
At the beginning of the year, David Short of Shelby was arrested and charged with three felonies regarding the sexual solicitation of a 14-year-old girl. Short was arrested after a detective with the Boone Police Department posed as a 14-year-old girl on a popular social media site and waited for advances.
Short would be among many arrested by the Boone Police Department in 2015 for these types of crimes. Just this past December, multiple arrests have been made for crimes of a similar nature. In fact on Sunday, the Boone Police Department announced the arrest of a Greenville, Tenn., man. This person was seeking someone “young and inexperienced” but instead found a detective posing as 14-year-old girl online.
“The Boone Police Department is making a statement against these predators that target our children. Our officers are working hard to protect the children in our community. We will continue to be diligent in working these very difficult cases. I am very proud of our Investigator’s skill and commitment to their work,” said Boone Police Chief Dana Crawford.
District Attorney Seth Banks also made a statement with the 75-year jail sentence handed down to Robert Harold Johnson, 44, of Pottertown, who sexually assaulted a young child who resided in the same household.
“I and my office continue to be committed to seeking justice for children who are the victims of sexual abuse,” District Attorney Seth Banks said in a statement. “Those who would prey on the most vulnerable among us have no place in our community.
Click to https://www.hcpress.com/crime-reports/ for numerous stories regarding the arrest and conviction of people who sexually prey on children, whether online or in person in Watauga County.
Ginseng Poaching on Private Land
To the applause of the agricultural community, the Watauga County Sheriff’s office and local District Attorney’s Office continued to see that ginseng poachers on private property will be charged and prosecuted with a felony.
Just before 2015 began, a Boone man became the first person ever in North Carolina to be convicted of a felony for poaching ginseng on private property. For years, it’s been customary for the crackdown of ginseng poaching on federal and state park land.
Prior to that the arrest, the poaching of the valuable root on private land was viewed as an afterthought by law enforcement. But after members of the agricultural community – including Watauga County Cooperative Extension Director Jim Hamilton and High Country Ginseng co-owner Travis Cornett – met with the local district attorney and law enforcement officials to discuss the potential economic impact the plant has on the community, this crime is now taken more seriously.
This past September, Eric Moretz of Deep Gap was charged with larceny of ginseng twice after being caught stealing ginseng multiple times in the span of two weeks – once in a wooded area near Blowing Rock and again in Eastern Watauga.
Both his court dates are set for February.
See prior stories on this crime:
Graffiti Vandalism in Boone
In the spring, graffiti vandalism in Boone made several headlines and Boone Police Chief Dana Crawford even announced his support for House Bill 552, which was signed into law in the summer and allows law enforcement to hand down felonies for repeat offenders.
“I think it’s one of the only things that will really help and put an end to our problem, which is that we’re having so many public as well as private buildings being defaced. There has to be some form of deterrent to stop criminals from acting out. With today’s technology, there are a lot of different ways to express your talents that are perfectly legal, but to use someone else’s property or public property is just wrong,” said Chief Crawford.
Graffiti hasn’t been in the news lately, but earlier this year, Junaluska Park, Brookshire Park, the campus of App State, a Town of Boone water plant at Winklers Creek and parking meters downtown, a Carroll Companies building in the Industrial Park and Horn in the West – among other places – were tagged with a “sickening amount” of graffiti, in the words of one representative at Horn in the West.
One person even hit the bathroom of Capone’s Pizza on King Street.
In March, Chris Staggs, owner of Capone’s Pizza, said a young male was “hanging out inside acting real sketchy.” At first, Staggs thought this person was underage and trying drink beer.
Staggs said this fellow was inside drawing on the bathroom walls, and then went outside next door and started spray painting. Staggs said the person tagged “Made You L—” – as in made you look – before Staggs grabbed him and called the police.
The young man then got away and was caught on camera running away by a Capone’s employee, who then posted the video on Facebook.
Staggs said that what the young man was expressing was pretty “stupid.”
“You know the thing is I like graffiti when it is done right, but I find that idiotic,” said Staggs, who even made a reference to the cult graffiti artist Banksy, who has become quite famous around the world over the years.
For more stories on this issue and to see photos of the vandalism, click here.
Bonus: A Little More On The Light Side
Turkey Dispute During Thanksgiving
Deputies with the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office responded to a dispute between roommates over the Thanksgiving turkey, according to a deputy’s shift report on the holiday.
The incident occurred at a residence on the 400 block of Clint Norris Road on Thursday.
According to the shift report, “It was determined that this was actually a dispute between roommates over who was going to cook the turkey for Thanksgiving.”
One roommate had already left by the time deputies arrived at the residence.
“The other party was in the process of packing their belonging to move out when deputies arrived,” the report read.
It’s still not clear if they were fighting over who was going to cook the turkey or who was not going to cook the turkey.