Compiled by Jesse Wood
Dec. 29, 2014. With another year in the rearview, High Country Press went into the archives and found the top stories of the year based on readership.
Here are the top stories for each month of the year.
Local Hotel Executive Charged With Involuntary Manslaughter
On Jan. 8, hotel executive Damon Mallatere was charged with three counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of assault after three people died in Room 225 of the Best Western hotel in Boone. The cause of death in each instance was carbon monoxide poisoning. Earlier this year, Mallatere, president of Appalachian Hospitality Management at the time of the deaths, posted bond and entered an initial plea of not guilty. The next court date is set for Feb. 16, 2015. To follow this story from the beginning, click here.
In February, the Watauga County Board of Education voted 3-2 to keep “The House of the Spirits,” a novel that divided the community for nearly six months, in the Watauga High School curriculum. Samaritan’s Purse CEO Franklin Graham and ACLU-NC even jumped into the fray and took sides.
Everts Selected as New ASU Chancellor
With former ASU Chancellor Ken Peacock’s resignation pending a successor, Sheri Noren Everts was announced as the chancellor-elect for Appalachian State University on March 19. She assumed her duties on July 1.
Elliott Selected as New WCS Superintendent
The Watauga County Board of Education selected Dr. Scott Elliott as the new leader of Watauga County Schools. He came from Transylvania County Schools, where he held a number of positions including teacher, assistant principal, principal and director of secondary education for the past 18 years.
Banks Beats Springer and Miller for DA Position
The primary election whittled the field for a number of races in Watauga County. The one race that was essentially decided during the primary was the race for District Attorney for the 24th Prosecutorial District. Seth Banks of Burnsville defeated local Republican candidates – former Assistant District Attorney Britt Springer and former Watauga County Board of Commissioner Nathan Miller – in Watauga and the overall district.
The N.C. General Assembly passed a bill sponsored by N.C. Sen. Dan Soucek that abolishes the Town of Boone’s extraterritorial jurisdiction at the beginning of 2015. With an ongoing lawsuit between the state and the Town of Boone, which is challenging the law, it’s unclear if the town’s ETJ will be eliminated in the coming days. However, a ruling on a preliminary injunction is expected before the New Year.
Local Elections Board Eliminates Early Voting on Campus
The Republican-led Watauga County Board of Elections voted to eliminate early voting on the campus of Appalachian State University. After the State Board of Elections approved of the voting changes, local Democrats filed a lawsuit in September. Although the N.C. Supreme Court eventually allowed the stay against an early voting site on campus minutes after the State Board of Elections selected an early voting site on the campus after a prior court ruling, the state board decided not to schedule a last-minute special meeting, which would have taken place hours before early voting was set to begin, in order to rescind the early-voting precinct on campus.
Blowing Rock Hotel Development Divides Blowing Rock Community
With a hotel development proposed for an undeveloped tract of land just a short walk from the heart of downtown Blowing Rock, citizens were up in arms that the Mountainleaf project would ruin the charm of the small village and divide Blowing Rock. Despite some public opposition, the Blowing Rock Town Council approved a conditional use permit for the project. Months later, this project is also still up in the air. In November, a group of citizens appealed to the courts in an attempt to block the development.
The nearly two-week disappearance of ASU freshman Anna Marie Smith rocked the community. She was later found dead on an off-campus hillside 100 feet from Poplar Grove Road in Boone. Her death was ruled a suicide by the state medical examiner’s office.
First Same-Sex Marriage Licenses Issued in Watauga
After a federal judge overturned North Carolina’s Amendment 1, which passed in 2012 with 61 percent of the vote, same-sex couples were free to marry in Watauga County and the rest of the state in October. Kathleen Ann Adams, 46, and Elizabeth Louise Wilson, 44, both of Sugar Grove, became the first same-sex couple to marry in Watauga County, and High Country Press was present when Gina Razete and Cathy Growene, a couple of 25 years originally from Ohio, were the first to marry in the Watauga County Magistrate’s Office.
Even with early voting on the campus of Appalachian State University, Republicans, as one conservative blogger wrote, pitched an “almost perfect game” in the midterm elections in November. The GOP secured control of the Watauga County Board of Commissioners and N.C. Sen. Dan Soucek, N.C. Rep. Jonathan Jordan and U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx were all re-elected. See 2014 election coverage here.
For some members of the local agricultural community, this was the biggest story of the year. After entering a commercial ginseng patch, a Boone man was convicted of a felony for ginseng poaching – instead of the usual misdemeanor trespassing charge. Watauga County Extension Director Jim Hamilton said that this was the first felony conviction for ginseng on private land in the state. Hamilton called this a “great victory for the commercial ginseng industry,” one that sets a legal precedent for folks to stay off another person’s ginseng patch.