Reports of an increase in fatal violence nationwide this year apparently hold true locally, with Wilkes County already equaling its 20-year average of three murder cases per year.
The Wilkes Sheriff’s Office investigated one murder case apiece in June and July and a murder-suicide in January.
Wilkes had six murder cases in both 2002 and 2013, but most years there were two or three from 2000 to 2020. The most murders in a single year in recent records was seven in 1993.
In other cases this summer, the sheriff’s office charged a man with voluntary manslaughter and the Wilkesboro Police Department charged a woman with two counts of felonious hit and run resulting in death.
There already was a backlog of about 10 murder cases in Wilkes Superior Court, including some five or more years old, when this year’s incidents occurred.
Charged in the two most recent murder cases are Donald Ray Lassiter, 37, of Greenhorn Road in the Benham community, and Tyler Blake Daughenbaugh, 22, of Mount Airy. Lassiter is charged in the July 18 death of Stephanie Nicole Hatton, 25, of Kernersville at Lassiter’s home. Daughenbaugh is charged in the June 13 death of James Leroy Conley, 53, at Conley’s home on L&L Road. Both victims were shot.
In the voluntary manslaughter case, Ervin Deidric Norman, 48, of Cedar Forest Road, Ronda, is charged with fatally shooting his brother, Jason Mitchell Norman, 40, of Bagley Springs Road, Ronda. It occurred at Jason Norman’s home. A charge of voluntary manslaughter indicates lack of malice and without premeditation.
In addition to two counts of felonious hit and run resulting in death, Kelly Diane Snapp, 43, of Wilkesboro was charged with two counts of felony death by vehicle. Snapp is charged in the June 6 deaths of Stephanie Lynn Chahoy, 40, and Chase Eugene Crawford, 35, both of North Wilkesboro. Their bodies were found near the Curtis Bridge Road bridge over the Yadkin River.
The sheriff’s office identified the two who died in the Jan. 24 murder-suicide as Mickey Wayne Davis, 64, of Purlear, and Marc Royce Brantley, 51, of Millers Creek. Davis was the suspect in Brantley’s shooting death and Davis died from a self-inflicted gunshot.
Thomas Charlie Billings, 37, the suspect in a July 2 Caldwell County murder, was fatally shot in Traphill that same day in an encounter with two Wilkes deputies looking for him. Wilkes Sheriff Chris Shew said the deputies didn’t realize the rifle the man pointed at them was a pellet rifle until after he was shot. The two deputies were put on paid administrative leave as the State Bureau of Investigation investigated the incident in accordance with sheriff’s office policy. Shew said they acted appropriately.
Oldest pending cases
Defendants in the oldest Wilkes murder cases awaiting trial include:
• Kenneth Wayne Myers Jr., charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the July 3, 2014, shooting deaths of Richard Thomas Holloway, 34, of the Austin community, and Amanda Victoria Transeau, 32, of North Wilkesboro. Myers was 19, Holloway was 34 and Transeau was 32 when the incident occurred at Myers’ home on Peace Valley Road in the Shepherd Crossroads community as a result of domestic disturbance. A judge found Myers incompetent to stand trial and ordered that he be taken to Broughton Hospital in Morganton for treatment in hopes that he could become competent to stand trial. Court officials said he was found competent to be tried earlier this year and now awaits trial. Myers is in the Wilkes Jail with a $301,000 secured bond;
• Sein Win of High Point, charged with first-degree murder in the December 2016 stabbing death of Marco Mariano-Alva of H. Anderson Road, North Wilkesboro. Win is also charged with assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury in the stabbing of John Tyler Harmon Fox of Lenoir. Win was 22, Mariano-Alva was 26 and Fox was 23 when the incident occurred at the Tyson Foods Inc. chicken processing plant in Wilkesboro, where they worked. Win has been in prison with no bond since 2016. Court officials said lack of availability of an interpreter for Win, who speaks a southeast Asian language, is partly why his case has been delayed. Win remains in the Wilkes Jail with no bond;
• Timmy Dale Bates, 53, charged with first-degree murder in connection with the July 10, 2018, shotgun slaying of Debra Ann Harris Royal, 49, at a house that Bates and Royal shared on Center Lane, Thurmond. Bates was 53 and Royal was 49 at the time. Bates was found competent to stand trial in a hearing in July 2019. He remains in the Wilkes Jail with no bond;
• Steven Wayne Wood, charged with first-degree murder in the Oct. 10, 2018, shooting death of Daniel Keith Walters on Greenhorn Road, Roaring River, during a robbery at Walters’ home. He also is charged with attempted common law robbery and breaking and or entering. Wood remains in the Wilkes Jail with no bond.
The parent company of the Wilkes Journal-Patriot is shuffling regional responsibilities among its North Carolina publishers following acquisitions made earlier this year.
Lori Spurling is now the Wilkes Journal-Patriot’s publisher, taking over from Dale Morefield, who had been publisher since September. Spurling now has responsibility for Paxton Media Group’s three newspapers in the North Carolina foothills region: The Daily Courier in Forest City, where she has been publisher for eight years, the Wilkes Journal-Patriot and the Lenoir News-Topic.
“I already know and have worked with some of the great staff we have in both Lenoir and North Wilkesboro, and I look forward to learning more about the communities and the people here. I’m very excited about working in such beautiful towns,” Spurling said.
Spurling has been with Paxton for 21 years. She started in sales in Henderson, north of Durham, and moved to Forest City in 2002 as advertising director.
Morefield’s responsibilities were shifted to include several newspapers Paxton Media Group bought from Kentucky-based Landmark Community Newspapers earlier this year in the greater Charlotte area of northern South Carolina.
All are close to Monroe, where Morefield has been publisher of the Enquirer-Journal for almost seven years.
Jana Thomasson, president of Paxton Media Group’s North Carolina/South Carolina/Tennessee/Georgia Division, said the transition should be seamless.
“Dale Morefield has been dedicated to giving readers and advertisers the best, and I have no doubt Lori Spurling will continue this practice,” she said. “Both understand the value of the local community newspaper. Spurling brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to this position.”
A man died in a two-car collision on Edgewood Road near Wilkesboro a little after 2 p.m. July 27.
Larry George Sale, 73, of Edgewood Road died at the scene.
Sale was making a left turn from his driveway onto Edgewood Road to go west toward Wilkesboro when his 2008 Toyota Prius pulled into the path of an eastbound 2017 Toyota Camry, said Trooper Kevin Oakes of the N.C. Highway Patrol. Sale failed to yield the right of way, the trooper added.
Oakes said the front of the Toyota Camry hit the front left quarter panel of Sale’s car, causing Sale’s car to spin around and resulting in Sale being ejected from the open driver’s side window. Sale landed a few feet away in the grass on the north side of Edgewood Road, said the trooper.
Oakes said Sale’s car came to rest in the grass along the north side of Edgewood Road, about 98 feet east of where the collision occurred.
The Toyota Camry, driven by Shirlee Gray Absher, 18, of Brewers Place, North Wilkesboro, struck a utility pole on the north side of the road after the collision. Absher tried to slow down to avoid the collision, said Oakes, dispatched to the wreck at 2:10 p.m.
Absher and two passengers in the Toyota Camry, Brittany Absher, 16, and Emily Shepherd, 18, were injured and transported by Wilkes Emergency Medical Services to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem. Their conditions weren’t immediately available, but Oakes said Brittany Absher appeared to be the most seriously injured. She and Shirlee Absher are sisters.
The Toyota Camry and the Toyota Prius were total losses. Oakes said the investigation of the wreck is continuing. It occurred just west of the intersection of Edgewood Road and Country Club Road Extension.
Also responding were Broadway Fire Department first responders and Troopers Bryce Pettit and Jacob Cardwell and Sgt. Jonathan Phillips of the N.C. Highway Patrol.
Masks will be optional for students and staff in the Wilkes schools in the upcoming academic year as long as the county threshold of positive cases for students stays below recommended levels, announced Superintendent Mark Bryd in the school board meeting Monday night.
Byrd said that threshold will be determined in conversations with the Wilkes County Health Department. “We do not have a set number,” he added.
He said masks will be required on school buses. Visitors to Wilkes schools will not be required to wear masks.
Byrd said the plan for the 2021-22 school year is to “follow all mitigation strategies outlined in the StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit to the best of our ability, but make the wearing of masks or facial coverings optional for everyone in the school system as long as the county threshold of positive cases for school age students stay below recommended levels.”
He continued, “Should these levels be exceeded, upon advice from local health officials, this decision could have to be reevaluated. My hope is that everyone will take these other strategies very seriously in order to help us prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“This decision could need to be reevaluated if data suggests, and could even vary at individual schools for a short amount of time due to a rise in cases.
“I think it is also important for parents to understand that we will have to require masks on buses due to federal mandates, but more importantly, to keep students safe due to minimal social distancing on buses.
“I appreciate everyone’s understanding and patience as we make difficult decisions while trying to ensure the safety of our students and staff. I also ask for this understanding in the event we have to make changes in our plans over the course of the school year.”
According to a written plan for 2021-22 provided by the school system, Byrd will maintain close communication with (Wilkes Health Dirctor) Rachel Willard to stay updated on this data. “Individual school data could lead to changes at a school for a period to slow the spread of the virus.”
The plan continued, “Wilkes County school administration will not tolerate bullying of those students or staff who make the personal choice to wear masks or not to wear masks. Such incidents will be treated as discipline infractions for students and personnel matters for employees.
The plan said changes for the 2021-22 school year will include the following unless adjustments are made due to local COVID metrics:
• nonessential visitors will be allowed in schools once more;
• field trips, assemblies and large group activities will be allowed;
• students will no longer be kept in small cohorts;
• Students will be allowed to dine in cafeterias with modifications and guidelines;
• daily symptom screening will be discontinued;
• social distancing on transportation will be maintained to the greatest extent possible;
• remote learning options will only apply due to positive cases or quarantines.
Wilkes County Schools will utilize layered prevention strategies outlined in the StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit. Examples include:
• encouraging all eligible students and staff to be vaccinated.
• masks will be required on buses for all persons to align with federal mandates and due to minimized social distancing. The Wilkes schools will also provide masks for those students on buses who forgot to bring them;
• ensure physical distancing to the greatest extent possible in all school settings. (three feet between students, 6 feet between teachers and students);
• monitor ventilation systems to ensure that they are providing the best air quality possible;
• continue to emphasize hand hygiene, both hand washing and use of hand sanitizer;
• continue to provide hand sanitizer at high traffic areas within schools;
• utilize testing through the Wilkes County Health Department MESH unit and consider statewide testing resources as needed;
• refer individuals who are symptomatic or have been a close contact to diagnostic testing;
• posting signage at entrances requesting those who are symptomatic with fever or cough not enter;
• encourage staff and students to sneeze into their elbows or to cover with a tissue;
• clean frequently touched surfaces on buses prior to morning and afternoon routes;
• provide adequate supplies to support healthy hygiene behaviors (hand sanitizers, soap, paper towels and tissues);
• teach and reinforce handwashing with soap and water for 20 seconds or the safe use of hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol by children and staff;
• clean surfaces at least once per day prioritizing high-touch surfaces.
Wilkes County Schools will address possible or confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the following manner:
Students and staff who have symptoms should stay home and contact their health care provider for information on testing and care.
Those who are symptomatic or diagnosed with COVID-19 must stay home until they meet the criteria for return to school.
Symptomatic individuals will be isolated and placed in a designated area within the school.
Symptomatic persons will be required to wear masks while waiting to leave the school.
School nurses or staff who provide direct care to symptomatic individuals will be required to wear appropriate PPE.
Symptomatic students will be supervised by a staff member who is at least 6 feet away and wears a mask or face covering.
Quarantine guidanceIsolation is required for all presumptive or confirmed cases of COVID-19.
The local health department has the authority to isolate and quarantine, and Wilkes County Schools will cooperate with them fully to ensure that this is accurately done.
Quarantines are required for any individual who has been a close contact (within six feet for at least 15 minutes cumulatively over a 24-hour period) with three exceptions:
Individual who are fully vaccinated and do not have symptoms.
Those who have tested positive for COVID-19 within the past 3 months, recovered and are not symptomatic.
Those who are not fully vaccinated but were wearing a mask when the close contact occurred, as long as the symptomatic or confirmed individual was wearing a mask as well during this time. (Excludes teachers and athletic activities).
Wilkes County Schools acknowledges that wearing masks or face coverings and vaccinations prevent or shorten quarantine periods.
The Center for Disease Control recommends quarantine for 14 days after the last exposure. Periods of quarantine can be reduced in the following two scenarios:
• 10 days of quarantine have been completed and no symptoms are reported during the daily home monitoring;
• seven days of quarantine have been completed, no symptoms have been reported during this time, and the individual has received a negative antigen or PCR/molecular test taken no earlier than 5 days of quarantine.
COVID-19 tests will currently be provided by the MESH Unit for all symptomatic students with parental permission.
Wilkes County Schools can arrange for rapid testing to be provided to any student who is interested through an outside provider at no cost to the family. This would require some additional planning and may not be available until September of 2021.