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Safer river crossing for pedestrians sought
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A petition drive launched after two North Wilkesboro residents died in a hit and run on the Curtis Bridge Road bridge over the Yadkin River in Wilkesboro seeks a safer way for pedestrians there to cross the river.

The Rev. Phillip Boyce initiated the online petition drive and posted it June 9, with a goal of 300 signatures. It had 359 by Monday.

On June 8, soon after learning about the hit-and-run with two deaths on the bridge, Boyce saw a man with a day pack and walking stick crossing it on foot.

“It just broke my heart and I realized something needed to be done,” said Boyce, pastor of Stony Hill Baptist Church in Purlear and a peer navigator for people with substance abuse disorders at the R3 Recovery Center in North Wilkesboro.

Many people walk across the bridge each day on foot and “there’s no sidewalk and just no room” for them, he said.

Also on June 8, Boyce was visiting the site below the bridge where hit-and-run victims Chase Eugene Crawford, 35, and Stephanie Lynn Chahoy, 40, were found deceased on June 6 and met Misti Jo Volpe.

Volpe was Crawford’s brother and, like Boyce, was there seeking a better understanding of what had happened.

She reiterated Boyce’s concern about the lack of a sidewalk on the bridge or some other safe way to cross the river in that area. “Something needs to be done because it’s so traveled on foot here, said Volpe, of Wilkesboro.

She said pedestrians using the bridge include people going to His Light Church and Ministries soup kitchen near the north end of the bridge.

“I don’t want anyone to have to go through this loss I experienced when something could be done about it,” Volpe added.

The petition, addressed to the Wilkesboro Town Council and N.C. Department of Transportation, asks that the bridge be altered or that “safe passage” be constructed and lighting added so people can walk there without putting their lives at risk. The petition references the two recent deaths and says many people walk across the bridge daily.

Boyce noted that the bridge is the responsibility of the DOT and said the petition will be presented to DOT officials and the Wilkesboro Town Council.

Wilkesboro Police Chief Craig Garris said that except for the case with the deaths of Crawford and Chahoy, no instances of pedestrians being struck by vehicles on the Curtis Bridge Road bridge could be found in police department records.

Wilkesboro police arrested Kelly Diane Snapp, 43, on two counts each of felony death by vehicle and felonious hit and run resulting in death in the Crawford and Chehoy deaths.

Mike Pettyjohn, N.C. Department of Transportation division engineer, said in an interview that adding a sidewalk to the Curtis Bridge Road bridge over the Yadkin isn’t feasible because of its design.

He said the minimum width for a single highway travel lane is 10-12 feet and each of Curtis Bridge Road’s two lanes is about 11 feet wide.

Pettyjohn said a sidewalk should be about five feet wide and there are only about two feet between each lane’s outside white line and each guardrail. Space would be needed for a concrete barrier between the sidewalk and travel lane, he added.

Some bridges are designed to be capable of being widened, but Pettyjohn said this the Curtis Bridge Road bridge isn’t. It’s 690 feet long and has 14 spans.

The bridge was built in 1952 and the deck rehabilitated about 20 years later. Although considered “functionally obsolete” due to its travel lanes being narrower than those with bridges built now, he said, it’s not scheduled for replacement.

Pettyjohn said Wilkesboro Town Manager Ken Noland mentioned the town council’s interest in having a sidewalk on the bridge before the fatal hit-and-run.

Noland said in interview that the town council indicated that Curtis Bridge Road was its highest priority for a sidewalk where there isn’t one now well before the fatal hit and run.

He said it would be built from the south side of the Yadkin River bridge to where an existing sidewalk on the far southern end of Curtis Bridge Road ends at Woodland Boulevard, a distance of about a half mile.

Noland said it would also be built from the north side of the bridge to where it would connect with a sidewalk to be built by DOT along U.S. 421 as part of the conversion of that highway to a superstreet starting in 2023.

Noland said there is money in Wilkesboro’s fiscal 2021-22 budget for building this sidewalk. He said sidewalks along Curtis Bridge Road and the portion of U.S. 421 in the commercial district of western Wilkesboro are needed partly due to apartment complexes in the Winkler Mill Road area.

Yadkin River Greenway Council Director R.G. Absher said greenway plans include building a pedestrian bridge across the Yadkin River somewhere between the western end of the greenway at West Park, North Wilkesboro, and the Curtis Bridge Road bridge.

There already is a greenway bridge across the Yadkin a short distance downstream from West Park and behind the Old Wilkes Jail and Cleveland cabin.

Absher said the greenway council would be involved in more specific planning for the new bridge, but initial discussions would be between DOT and town officials. This could mean Wilkesboro and/or North Wilkesboro officials, depending on the location.

The owner of most of the land on the south side of this section of the Yadkin hasn’t been willing to deed an easement allowing the greenway there.

Arrest made in hit-and-run deaths
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A woman remains in the Wilkes County Jail after being charged in the hit-and-run deaths of two people whose bodies were found June 6 near the Curtis Bridge Road bridge over the Yadkin River in Wilkesboro.

Arrested on the evening of June 8 was Kelly Diane Snapp, 43, of Wilkesboro, said Wilkesboro Police Chief Craig Garris. She has a $500,000 bond.

Police initially charged Snapp with two counts of felonious hit-and-run resulting in death in connection with the deaths of Stephanie Lynn Chahoy, 40, and Chase Eugene Crawford, 35, both of North Wilkesboro.

The next day, they also charged Snapp with two counts of felony death by vehicle after consulting with the district attorney’s office.

Garris said police took Snapp in for questioning June 8 after finding the vehicle believed to have been involved in the hit and run at her residence.

He said key evidence was located during crime scene processing by a crash reconstruction team comprised of officers from the Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro police departments, led by Capt. Jason Delbert of the Wilkesboro department.

Garris cited the “continuous investigative approach and information from a concerned public” in the case, as well as the assistance from the State Bureau of Investigation and the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles.

He said Crawford and Chahoy were headed north on foot across the bridge when they were hit from behind by a motor vehicle.

Misti Jo Volpe of Wilkesboro, Crawford’s sister, said that based on her conversation with a convenience store employee, she believes the two were struck on the bridge about 1:30 or 2 a.m. June 6 after they had been fishing.

Volpe said the bodies were discovered and reported about 2 p.m. June 6 by a man and woman riding bikes across the bridge. The woman called Volpe and told her how and where they found the bodies. Volpe said she wanted to publicly thank her.

Garris said the bodies were in brush on the downstream side of the north end of the bridge, about 50-80 feet from the Yadkin River. He said the distance from the ground to the top of the bridge was about 70 feet.

Volpe said the car she was told hit them had heavy damage. She said she forgives the person who is responsible for their deaths, but still has many questions about what happened and just wants the truth to come out.

She said Crawford and Chahoy had known each other most of their lives and were engaged to be married. Funerals for both were this week in Shiawassee County, Mich., where they grew up and went to high school.

Volpe said Crawford moved to Wilkes about five years ago and had lived in Michigan part of the time since then.

Crawford and Chahoy were described as free spirits in their obituaries and Volpe said they preferred being outdoors and “living off the grid.” She said they lived in a tent, which she bought for them, near the NAPA Auto Parts store on D Street, North Wilkesboro.

Volpe said Crawford was a very loving and generous person. She also said he was a hard worker and was saving money to buy a car. Crawford worked at Dooley’s Tavern and Grill in Wilkesboro and he and Chahoy both had commercial cleaning jobs.

Dooley’s owner Seth Cohn, interviewed after he attended a memorial service for the two Thursday evening on the Curtis Bridge Road bridge, said Crawford had worked at Dooley’s about three months.

“He first came in on a Sunday when we were absolutely slammed and said, ‘Man, you guys are busy. You need some help.”

Cohn said he agreed and added, “But not right now, come back tomorrow and I’ll give you a job” as Crawford started picking up things. “He just jumped right in and was speaking to customers as though he knew them all.”

Cohn added, “He was the greatest person, just a great soul. This (loss) was just a shock to us all.”

He said he perceived Crawford and Chahoy as “minimalists who wanted to live off the land, camp and didn’t care about money. They weren’t druggies or anything like that. They just enjoyed life and loved each other. They were each other’s world.”

Cohn said a room at Lowe’s Motel, near the bridge where they died, was made available to them and they used it to bathe.

He said the two worked for Wilson Cleaning and apparently were on their way to clean up Classic Toyota in North Wilkesboro when they were hit by a motor vehicle.

The Rev. Phillip Boyce said during the memorial service that the deaths of Crawford and Chahoys was one of those “difficult situations we go through in life and just don’t understand.” Boyce is pastor of Stony Hill Baptist Church in Purlear and also is a peer navigator for people with substance abuse disorders at the R3 Recovery Center in North Wilkesboro.

Boyce prayed for God to help everyone involved, including the driver of the car that struck them, during the process of dealing with the tragedy. He also prayed that the incident would result in something being done to provide a safer way for pedestrians to get across the river in that area.

Flower petals were dropped from the bridge into the river in memory of Crawford and Chahoy by many of the 50 or so people attending the memorial service.

Wilkesboro police blocked traffic at both ends of the bridge during the 15-minute gathering.

Local test scores give mixed indicators
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Donna Cotton, chief academic officer for the Wilkes County Schools, voiced mixed reactions as she shared preliminary local 2020-21 end of grade (EOG) and end of course (EOC) test scores with the Wilkes Board of Education June 7.

The result indicated that “we had a good number of students who learned this year” despite all of the challenges related to COVID-19, she said.

Cotton said high school math scores are low. “Overall, I’m not real excited about the high schools scores, but it’s not devastating to me either. We’ve had low math scores in the past and know what we need to work on.”

Cotton said she urged Wilkes school principals to “own our data, look at it and determine what we need to do about it.” The important question to address now is “what do we do with our kids to bring them to where we want them to be” academically, she added.

Cotton said 51.3% of high schoolers scored grade level proficient (GLP) and 10% scored Career and College Ready (CCR) in Math 1, while 43.5% scored GLP and 32.1% scored CCR in Math 3.

GLP denotes level three, four or five test results and CCR is level four or five only. Level three means proficient and ready for the next grade level but possibly needing more academic help to understand content in the next grade. It also indicates not yet on track for college and career readiness. Students scoring at level four or five are seen as both proficient and well-prepared academically for college and career. Level one or two indicates limited or partial understanding of content taught.

She said some high school students still haven’t taken their end of course tests and have until July 5 to do so, but they can’t be forced to take the EOCs. Not taking an EOC results in a zero that is 20% of the student’s grade.

Cotton said high school biology EOC scores are a little lower than normal, with 46.3% scoring GLP and 39.9% scoring CCR.

She said that before changes caused by COVID-19, extra focus was planned on English 2. This year, 57.1% of high schoolers scored GLP and 32.1% scored CCR in English 2 EOCs.

Among elementary students:

• 48.9% scored GLP and 34.2% scored CCR on third grade reading;

• 64.5% GLP and 38.4% CCR on third grade math;

• 60.7% GLP and 36.3% CCR on fourth grade math;

• 55.1% GLP and 34% CCR on fifth grade math, and;

• 69.1% GLP and 51.2 CCR on fifth grade science.

Cotton said she is excited about the number of Wilkes elementary school students with GLP scores considering the recent challenging learning conditions.

She said fourth grade through eighth grade reading EOGs were new this year so results of those won’t be out for a few months.

“I don’t know what (scores from) any of the other districts look like…. but I’m happy with what I see.... It’s encouraging to me.”

Cotton said Wilkes school officials don’t know why Wilkes eighth grade math EOG scores were so low (26% GLP and 7.1% CCR), “but it’s something we will work on next year.”

She added, “It may be that we need to focus on our curriculum or possibly our instructional strategies. There are a lot of things to look at.”

Cotton said she’s excited that sixth and seventh grade EOG scores “aren’t too bad.”

Among students in sixth grade math, 55.2% scored GLP and 28.5% scored CCR. In seventh grade math, it was similar with 48.6% scoring GLP and 26.1% scoring CCR. In eighth grade science, 78.6% scored GLP and 71.7% scored CCR.

She said eighth grade Math 1 EOC scores were high as expected (92.7% GLP and 91.3% CCR) because students taking that typically are high-achieving.

When school board member Sharron Huffman asked how many eighth-graders were enrolled in Math 1, Cotton said it ranged from about 20-50 per school.

School Superintendent Mark Byrd said the ratio of eighth grade math students to Math 1 students was about 3:1 in each middle school.

Cotton said some other school districts are waiting for statewide EOG and EOC results to be released before releasing their results.

At the end of the 2019-20 school year, EOG and EOC testing in North Carolina was waived because of the switch from in-person to remote learning after the COVID-19 pandemic began. The Biden administration didn’t allow this waiver this year.

She said the Wilkes 2020-21 results include those from tests retaken after the four-day Summer Success remediation session.

Participation in this was optional, but parents were highly encouraged to have children attend if they didn’t pass an EOG or EOC for a subject or grade level, said Cotton. Students had to attend at least one day of remediation after the school year ended before they could take the second administration of the EOG or EOC.

Cotton said she’s very pleased with the number of students in grades three through eight in Summer Success and said it led to many testing GLP the second time they were tested after not doing so initially.

Elementary school participation included third grade math, 138 students; fourth grade math, 105; and fifth grade math, 103. Middle school participation included sixth grade math, 137; seventh grade math, 178; eighth grade math, 127; eighth grade science, 24; and Math 1, seven.

High school participation included biology, 21; English II, 14; Math 1, 42; and Math 3, six.

Cotton said 1,537 students are signed up to participate in the Wilkes School District’s Summer Learning Camp, which began Monday of this week. She said it will be staffed with 131 teachers, 25 teacher assistants, 32 child nutrition workers and 37 bus drivers.

“We’re going to give regular bus service, breakfast and lunch and they’re going to have a fun, learning experience at school that is relaxed and individualized to fit their needs. I’m excited about what’s going to happen.”

Cotton said it will include Read to Achieve curriculum.

Eastern Wilkes death investigated as murder
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The apparent shooting death of an eastern Wilkes County man is being investigated as a murder, said Wilkes County Sheriff Chris Shew.

Shew said Wilkes Sheriff’s Office deputies found James Leroy Conley, 53, lying on the ground and deceased from an apparent gunshot wound outside his home at 425 L & L Road in the Pleasant Hill community Sunday morning.

Shew said deputies went to the residence in response to a phone call made to the Wilkes Communications Center at 8:44 a.m. Sunday. He said no motive has been established yet but there are persons of interest and the investigation is continuing.

The Elkin Police Department responded to help secure the scene, said Shew, adding that the State Bureau of Investigation is assisting with the investigation

Wilkes Emergency Medical Services Director Tim Pennington said a Wilkes EMS crew was dispatched and found the subject of the call deceased.

Shew and other law enforcement officials were on the scene much of Sunday. He said he couldn’t release any more details at this point.

The home where Conley lived is in a residential area near the end of L & L Road, about a half mile from the Surry County line. The other end of the road intersects with C.B. Eller School Road about a half mile from C.B. Eller Elementary School.