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Amtrak Train Strikes Car In Four Oaks, 2 Injured
Two people escaped serious injured when an Amtrak train and car collided Monday afternoon.

The collision happened at 2:04pm at the Baker Street rail crossing in Four Oaks.

Amtrak Palmetto Train 90 was traveling northbound when it collided with a Buick passenger car at the crossing, knocking the car off the tracks and into a power pole before coming to rest adjacent to a CSX signal box.  The train stopped several hundred yards north of the intersection.

Two people inside the car were injured. 

Amtrak spokesperson Kimberly Woods said 124 passengers were on the train. No passengers or crew members suffered any injuries.  Train 90 travels daily between Savannah and New York City.  The train was delayed about 45 minutes by the crash.    

Four Oaks Police Chief Stephen Anderson said the cross arms were down at the time of the accident. They automatically went up once the train went through the intersectio
n. “We don’t know if he went around the cross arms or what happened,” Chief Anderson said.  

Woods said Amtrak is cooperating fully with the investigation. 

The Four Oaks Fire Department, Four Oaks EMS, and Johnston County EMS responded to the accident.   

Duke Progress Energy crews replaced the damaged utility pole.  WTSB Photos

Wilson’s Mills Police Chief Resigns
Wilson’s Mills Police Chief David L. Hess has announced his resignation.  Hess has been the chief of the police force for just under two years. His last day on the job will be May 29th. On June 1st he will become the Roxboro Chief of Police. 

Under Hess’ leadership in Wilson’s Mills, the police department has increased technology, equipment, advanced training and grant funding and implemented the Police Department’s first community policing programs in 2014.

“I was blessed to be welcomed into the family environment in Wilson’s Mills,” Chief Hess said. “The police department needed a lot of internal improvements, many of which were complex and challenging.  I enjoyed building a positive, professional and sustained foundation for the community.  As a leader it is my job to prepare and develop others to take my job.  We accomplished that goal and there is more to be done.  I am most proud of four accomplishments.  Earning the trust and respect of the community and judicial system for the organization; changing the culture of the organization by instilling a high moral, ethical and professional standard; increasing the equipment and career development of the staff; and saving the Town more than $80,000 through grants, fundraising and conservative fiscal management.”

In December of 2014, Chief Hess implemented the town’s first ever Shop with a Cop program.  The department raised $2,100 in donations and took eight under privileged kids from the community Christmas Shopping and partnered with Wilson’s Mills Baptist Church to provide a hot meal for the kids afterward.  The police department recently was awarded $1,000 grant from Wal-Mart for this year’s event.  He also implemented a senior well check program called P-STAR (Police & Seniors Teaming with Active Resources).  Chief Hess commented, “These two programs have reached the two segments of our community that need to know we care about them.  They are a blessing to have and these programs will continue moving forward.”

Police Lieutenant George Strong will serve as interim police chief until the Town names a successor.  Lieutenant Strong has over twelve years of law enforcement experience, has an associate’s degree and received more than 300 hours of leadership training under Chief Hess.

Town Administrator Zach Ollis said, “While we are excited for David and his family, we also know that we are losing a valuable asset to the community. David was a phenomenal resource for our officers and an outstanding employee. It was an honor to have worked with him and I am so proud of what he has done for Wilson’s Mills. The residents of Wilson’s Mills will forever be grateful for his service to the community and so will I.”

Chief Hess added, “I will miss the relationships I have built in the office and with the community.  The opportunity to oversee the Roxboro Police Department comes with joy and humility.  The City of Roxboro is a great place to live and God continues to bless my family as we serve him.”

Hess will make $70,250 annually as Roxboro Police Chief. His salary in Wilson’s Mills was $52,500.

Rotary Clubs Partnering For JoCo Alzheimer’s Music & Memory Project
Five local Rotary Clubs are sponsoring a new program in Johnston County called Music and Memory directed at improving the lives of those living with Alzheimer’s.

Music and Memory therapy is based on a very simple premise: take an iPod loaded with a music library personalized to the person with Alzheimer’s and have them listen to the music.

In some cases the Music and Memory Therapy unlocks memories in the mind, decreasing the need for people with Alzheimer’s to be medicated with antidepressant and antipsychotic drugs. It can also greatly reduce or eliminate “sundowning” which is behavior marked by repeated attempts to leave, mood swings, agitation, etc.
The goal of the JoCo Music and Memory Project is to pilot the therapy in one nursing home, one assisted living facility and one Home Care program.

Gabriel Manor in Clayton has agreed to be the assisted living facility to begin the program.

Nursing Homes are able to get grants from the federal government that can be used to train staff to implement the program.

The Rotary Clubs leading the way for this project are: The Clayton Morning Club, The Clayton Mid-day Club, The Cleveland School Club, The Central Johnston Club, and the Smithfield Rotary Club.

The JoCo Music and Memory Project committee has donation boxes in area businesses for those interested in financially supporting the efforts.

Doug McClentic, Chairperson of the JoCo Music and Memory Project tells WTSB news that Derby Day on Saturday, May 2nd in Clayton will give a portion of the proceeds to support this project. McClentic says the long-range goal is to make Music and Memory Therapy available to all who need it in Johnston County.

For more information email jammprojectnc@gmail.com or mail donations of any size to JAMM, PO Box 773, Clayton, NC 27528.

87 Volunteers Participate In Keep Benson Beautiful
The Town of Benson held its 5th annual Keep Benson Beautiful clean-up event on Saturday. A total of 87 volunteers, town employees and elected officials worked to beautify Benson, completing a total of 261 hours of work.

The theme for the weekend was, “I Love Benson.” Completed activities included weeding tree boxes across the historic Main Street district, planting of flowers at Mary Duncan Public Library and the Benton Corner, picking up debris/trash along roadways in town, cleaning of the grounds at Town Hall, Mitchell Nance Park and continued work at the new PK Vyas Park.

“Despite the threat of rain, we had an excellent turnout,” stated Matt Zapp, Town Manager. “It is exciting to see such heartfelt community pride in action. Benson is a wonderful town filled with wonderful folks. In fact, we believe that Benson is the Best Small Town in North Carolina.”

Keep Benson Beautiful was capped with a volunteer lunch and door prize giveaway.

The Keep Benson Beautiful campaign will return in spring of 2016.

JCC To Offer Electronic Textbooks This Fall

Kelsey Keefer of Wendell, a Career and College Promise student at JCC, reads her sociology
e-textbook. JCC will begin offering e-texts for select courses this fall.

Johnston Community College is excited to announce the launch of electronic textbooks this fall for select courses.

In partnership with McGraw-Hill Education and Cengage Learning, JCC will pilot the use of digital textbooks in five courses in the College’s college transfer and business technologies program areas.

JCC’s eText initiative is in response to the continued rising costs of textbooks, in some instances as much as $500 for one course. After recent conversations with students, parents, and faculty, it’s apparent the often-exorbitant cost of textbooks is posing a significant challenge for students.

“Our eText initiative will assist JCC in transforming a student’s educational experience for the digital age while also reducing the ever increasing costs of college textbooks, in many cases by as much as 50 percent,” says Dee Dee Daughtry, vice president of instruction. “We believe this is an important step for JCC, and it will ultimately provide our students with the best learning materials possible.”

Accessible through JCC’s Blackboard Learning Management System, an eText is a digital version of a hardcopy textbook and can include additional resources such as workbooks, problem sets, tutorials, video, simulations and interactive software.

This spring, about 100 high school students taking psychology and sociology courses through the Career and College Promise (CCP) program are using eTexts, and the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.

Kelsey Keefer of Wendell, a CCP student at JCC, said she likes the convenience of the e-text. “I can access it anytime, anywhere, on my phone and on a computer,” she said. “It’s a great study tool as well. I really like how you can search for subjects through the textbook and you can highlight and add important information to your notebook. That’s incredibly helpful.”

JCC is introducing the eText initiative to students in connection with fall and summer advising and registration. Students can learn more hands-on about eText during Spring Fling on April 22.

Click on this link for a complete listing of JCC courses piloting eTexts this fall.

Two Arrested Following Drug Search Warrant
Two people were arrested on felony drug charges after narcotic agents with the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant at a home on Raper Road near the Johnston-Nash County line on Saturday.

Agents seized cocaine, marijuana, a firearm and drug paraphernalia from the residence, according to Sheriff’s Captain A.C. Strickland.

Crystal Dawn Hood, 39, (top right) of Wake County Line Road, Zebulon and William Lee Banks Jr., 61, (lower right) of Buck Road, Middlesex were arrested.

Hood was charged with possession of cocaine and possession of drug paraphernalia. Her bail was set at $11,000.

Banks was charged with possession with intent to sell or deliver cocaine, maintaining a vehicle or dwelling for a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance, and possession of drug paraphernalia.  His bond was set at $31,000.

Police: 12 People Attack Man At Smithfield Community Park
Smithfield Police are looking for as many as a dozen suspects who beat a man playing ball at Smithfield Community Park, located at 600 Booker Dairy Road, adjacent to Smithfield-Selma High. 

The incident was reported to police on Sunday.

A 24 year-old Four Oaks man said he was at one of the ball courts when he was approached by as many as 12 young African-American males and females.   

Police Captain R.K. Powell said a handgun was brandished and they asked the victim if he knew a particular person. When the man replied he did not know that person, he was knocked to the ground where he was punched and kicked repeatedly.

The victim sustained non-life threatening injuries in the attack.

The incident was not immediately reported to police. 

Captain Powell said the assault appears to have been isolated.

Anyone who may have witnessed the incident or has information that could help police investigators is encouraged to contact the Smithfield Police Tip Line at 919-989-8835.   

West Johnston Student Arrested Following Incident
A West Johnston High student has been arrested following an alleged affray on school grounds.

The incident happened Thursday near the front entrance to the school building.

Tracy Marshawn Davis, 16, of S. Pleasant Coates Road, Benson was charged with communicating threats and simple affray. Charges against a second student are pending, according to Tammy Amaon, Public Information Officer with the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office.

Amaon said the second student received minor injuries.

Davis was released on an unsecured bond pending an appearance in Johnston County District Court.

Duke Life Flight Turns 30
Duke Life Flight celebrated their 30th anniversary at the Johnston Regional Airport Saturday afternoon. 

Several aircraft were on display along with other medical equipment. 

There was a live band, lots of food, games and inspiring testimony of previous patients whose lives were saved by Duke Life Flight. Photo courtesy JoCoFire.com

1 Hurt In Pine Level Crash
One person was injured in a minor accident Sunday on US70 at Peedin Avenue in Pine Level.

The NC Highway Patrol was called to the scene to investigate the collision.

Photo courtesy JoCoFire.com

NC March Unemployment 5.4 Percent

North Carolina’s March unemployment rate was at 5.4 percent, increasing 0.1 of a percentage point from February’s revised rate.

The national rate remained unchanged at 5.5 percent.

The March 2015 unemployment rate in North Carolina was 1.0 percentage point lower than a year ago. 

The major industry with the most job gains from February to March was Professional & Business Services adding 2,700 workers, followed by Trade, Transportation & Utilities at 2,100.  The largest decrease was in Construction, which lost 2,400 jobs followed by Financial Activities at 1,800. 

Holmes Completes Basic Training
Air Force Airman 1st Class Wilbert L. Holmes graduated from basic military training at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, San Antonio, Texas.

The airman completed an intensive, eight-week program that included training in military discipline and studies, Air Force core values, physical fitness, and basic warfare principles and skills. Airmen who complete basic training earn four credits toward an associate in applied science degree through the Community College of the Air Force.

Holmes is the son of Amy and Kenneth Holmes of Four Oaks and the grandson of Ethel Holmes of Kernersville, NC. He is a 2014 graduate of South Johnston High School.


Motorcyclist Killed In Collision With Tractor
A Clayton man died Friday morning when his motorcycle collided with a tractor. The crash happened at 7:44am on Highway 42 East of Clayton between Thanksgiving Fire Department Road and Highway 96.

Lt. Jeff Gordon with the NC Highway Patrol said the motorcycle, operated by Anthony Suggs Jr., 31, of Marsala Drive, Clayton, was traveling eastbound on NC42 when it approached a tractor mowing grass on the eastbound shoulder.

As the motorcycle approached the tractor from the rear, the driver of the tractor pulled into the motorcycle’s path. The impact caused Suggs to be ejected. He died as a result of the collision, Lt. Gordon said.

The driver of the tractor, William Pittman, 31, of Highway 96 South, Benson was not injured.  Pittman has been charged by troopers with an unsafe movement violation and misdemeanor death by motor vehicle.

Speed nor alcohol were not factors in the crash. 

The NC Department of Transportation confirmed Friday afternoon the tractor was a private subcontractor who was mowing grass on the shoulder of NC 42.  In a statement, the DOT said, “Our thoughts and prayers are with those involved, as well as their family and friends. The safety of motorists, our employees, as well as contractors and subcontractors doing work for the department, is the number one priority of the NCDOT.”  

DOT officials said they are working with the Highway Patrol as troopers investigate the crash. Photo courtesy John Payne

JCSO: 64 Marijuana Plants Seized From Clayton Home
A Clayton man is accused of operating an indoor marijuana growing operation at his home.

The Johnston County Sheriff’s Office Narcotics Division conducted a search warrant at a home in the 5300 block of US70 Business West on Thursday and seized 64 plants from the indoor growing facility, according to Public Information Officer Tammy Amaon.  

The plants had an estimated street value at maturity of $160,000. 

Also seized were a number of firearms and about $600 in cash.

Richard Hampton Talton, 43, of the same address, was charged with manufacturing marijuana, trafficking in marijuana, maintaining a vehicle or dwelling for a controlled substance, possession with intent to manufacture sell or deliver, and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Talton was booked into the Johnston County Jail under a $121,000 bond.

Third Arrest Made In KS Bank Robbery
A third person has been arrested in connection with the March 18th armed robbery of KS Bank in Goldsboro.

Goldsboro Police have now charged Lakisha Quan’Shell Williamson, 27, of Keith Lane, Selma with aiding and abetting armed robbery. Williamson was arrested without incident on Wednesday at her residence by the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office and turned over to investigators with the Goldsboro Police Department.

Previously her boyfriend, Marquize Marcel Harris, 25, of E. Walnut Street, Goldsboro had been arrested along with Phillip Alexander Williams, 30, of Maple Street, Goldsboro.  Harris and Williams were located at a motel in Clayton hours after the armed robbery and arrested.

During the robbery at the KS Bank branch on Wayne Memorial Drive, two masked gunmen entered the bank, fired a shot into the ceiling, and fled with an undisclosed amount of money. No injuries were reported to bank personnel or to customers who were inside the bank.   

Williamson was place in the Wayne County Detention Center under a $150,000.00 secured bond. More arrests are expected. 

Hit And Run Driver Sought Following Smithfield Road Rage Crash
Four people inside a car, including two children ages 12 and 14, escaped injury when someone rammed their vehicle from behind then sped away.  Police said it was intentional.

Smithfield Police said the road rage incident happened around 11:00 o’clock Thursday night on North Brightleaf Boulevard near Hospital Road.

A 34 year-old Benson woman had just left the parking lot of Wal-Mart on North Brightleaf Boulevard when a small red SUV began following then chasing her.  In an attempt to get away, the victim tried to turn into the parking lot of the Pizza Hut but was intentionally hit from behind. 

Police said a Hispanic male driver and female passenger in the red SUV fled from the scene. Police believe the hit and run vehicle may have heavy front end and right front corner damage.

Damage to the victim’s 2013 Nissan was estimated at $6,000. 

Anyone who may have witnessed the accident or has information about the hit and run suspect can contact the Smithfield Police Department Tip Line at 919-989-8835.

Wal-Mart Employee Accused Of Stealing Merchandise
An employee at Wal-Mart in Smithfield is accused of stealing numerous items from the business.

Brandon Esau Henriquez, 19, of Amelia Station, Clayton was arrested Thursday by Smithfield Police.

Police Captain R.K. Powell told WTSB News Henriquez, while working at a cash register, would ring up items that he wanted but would never pay for the items.

Among those items were a car radio valued at $69.74, car speakers valued at $89.72, a steering wheel cover worth $10.96, and 5 keys valued at $8.95.

Captain Powell said Wal-mart loss prevention officials discovered the thefts after Henriquez’s cash register came up short and they reviewed video surveillance cameras.   

Henriquez was charged with felony larceny by an employee and incarcerated in the Johnston County Jail under a $5,000 bond.

Selma Honors Retiring Police Captain

(Left to right) Selma Police Captain William Keith Batson retired Friday after 24 years with the department. He is shown with a Resolution of Appreciation given to him by the Selma Town Council as Police Chief R.A. Cooper looks on.

Friday, April 24th was the last day on the job for retiring Selma Police Captain William Keith Batson.

Batson has been with the department for 24 years. Prior to joining the Selma police force, he worked for a year as a police officer in the Town of Kenly and also served four years with the NC Department of Corrections. 

He worked his way up the ranks and was promoted to Captain of the Patrol Division on January 1, 2008. 

Batson was recently recognized by the Selma Town Council for his leadership and professionalism to the town and its citizens over the past 24 years. 

Batson received a Resolution of Appreciation from the Town thanking him for his service.

JCS Recognizes 32 Outstanding First Year Teachers

Johnston County Schools recognized the top three finalists for the Outstanding First Year Teacher of the Year Award. From left are finalist Bryan Van Tassel, South-Smithfield Elementary; winner Jazmine Walker, Smithfield-Selma High School; finalist Paige Nixon, East Clayton Elementary School; and JCS Superintendent Dr. Ed Croom.

More than 30 first year teachers in Johnston County Schools were recently recognized for their outstanding performance in the classroom this year.

Thirty-two first year teachers from schools across the county were honored for their efforts at a special event held at JCS Facility Services in Smithfield on April 16.

The leaders of the JCS Beginning Teacher Support Program introduced each of the nominees for the district-wide honor of JCS Outstanding First Year Teacher of the Year. Many positive attributes were used to describe each of these wonderful teachers. They were specifically noted as having natural talent in the education field.

Jazmine Walker, high school science teacher at Smithfield-Selma High School, was named the JCS Outstanding First Year Teacher. Walker received a plaque from Johnston County Schools and a $500 check from Alison Hudson with Horace Mann Insurance Company.

According to Smithfield-Selma High School Principal Stephen Baker, Walker is an excellent instructional leader, both inside and outside of the classroom. Although a first year teacher, she has an innate sense of how learning takes place and how to facilitate her instruction to maximize student engagement.  She knows her content and manipulates it in order to build capacity and position students to own and retain the information.  She has demonstrated a unique ability to connect with students at all levels.  

“Ms. Walker epitomizes the proverb, Students do not care how much you know until they know how much you care,”  said Baker.

Joining Walker in the top three were East Clayton Elementary School’s Paige Nixon and South Smithfield Elementary School’s Bryan Van Tassel. Both Nixon and Van Tassel received plaques from Johnston County Schools and a check for $250 from the Johnston County Education Foundation.

The 2014-2015 Nominees for Outstanding First Year Teacher of the Year included: Archer Lodge Middle - Tobias Hocutt; Benson Elementary - Sarah Eonta; Clayton High - Paula Gibson; Clayton Middle - Meredith Lindsay; Cleveland Elementary - Olivia Williamson; Cleveland High - Judy Hardee; Cooper Elementary - Karen Newhart; Corinth-Holders Elementary - Myra Peedin; Corinth-Holders High - Chaning Fuller; East Clayton Elementary - Paige Nixon; Four Oaks Elementary - Lindsey Jackson; Four Oaks Middle- Lindsey Mooring; Glendale-Kenly Elementary - Hannah Koch; Johnston County Early College - Sarah Holmes; McGee’s Crossroads Middle - Amanda Welsh; Meadow School - Elizabeth Schreiber; Micro-Pine Level Elementary- Sarah Hughes; North Johnston Middle - Jennifer Harrell; North Johnston High- Taylor Jones; Polenta Elementary - Krystal Aviles; Princeton Elementary - Georgina Wilde; Princeton Middle/High- Brittany Barbour; River Dell Elementary - Brandy Davis; Selma Elementary - Katie Strickland; Selma Middle - Dawn Bonner; Smithfield Middle - Jeffrey Massey; Smithfield-Selma High - Jazmine Walker; South Johnston High - Megan Jones; South Smithfield Elementary- Bryan VanTassel; West Smithfield Elementary -Karen Wood; West View Elementary- Elizabeth Winspear; and Wilson’s Mills Elementary - Samantha McGahey.


Costume Props At North Johnston Middle Engage Students In Learning

Student actors and actresses (from left) are Elizabeth Wheeler, Domonick Cook, Hannah Dowling, Abby Delbridge, Johnathan Brown, Taylor Jones, Nelson Mitchell, Garrett Brown, Hailey Nichols, Emma Scott, Christian Sykes Riley Jones, Logan Taylor, Josh Carter, Juan Garcia, and Cami Crocker.

Sixth grade students at North Johnston Middle recently transformed themselves into actors and actresses as part of a special project in their language arts class.

After studying “Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Speckled Band,” students in Shawn Duncan’s and Anne Spivey’s language arts classes received parts and costumes. They then performed the play on April 23rd using the props as a way to help them fully understand what they read. 

“Performing the play was a tangible way for the students to see the plot progression and an excellent opportunity for Mrs. Spivey and I to emphasize other literary elements as well,” said Mrs. Duncan. “The students had fun, and we hope it was a memorable learning experience.”

Superintendent: Millions Of Dollars Being Spent To Improve Smithfield-Selma Area Schools
One day after WTSB News ran a story highlighting issues raised by Concerned Citizens for Successful Schools, regarding Smithfield Selma High School, Johnston County School Superintendent Dr. Ed Croom has responded to the groups allegations.

Susan Lassiter, Chairperson of the Concerned Citizens for Successful Schools, formerly known as Citizens Study Commission, recently said the organization has turned to the UNC Center for Civil Rights to do a preliminary investigation of potential legal remedies.

Lassiter cited low-test scores and statistics that show only 39% of students are performing at grade level. And SSS was the only high school in Johnston County to score a D on a statewide report card last year.  At the same time SSS High has a higher concentration of minority students on campus than any other high school in the county. Despite two meets with the school board in 2014, Lassiter claimed the groups concerns are “falling on deaf ears.”

Dr. Croom said he was appreciative of the work of the Citizens Commission and the school board “will continue to work with the self-appointed commission to improve instruction for the Smithfield area schools, as well as all Johnston County public school students.”

Among the steps taken by the Board of Education to improve Smithfield-Selma area schools include:

- Increased per pupil expenditure for Smithfield-Selma area elementary schools of $745.43 above the county average of per pupil expenditure

- Increased per pupil expenditure for Smithfield-Selma area middle schools of $1,597.86 above the county average of per pupil expenditure

- Increased per pupil expenditure for Smithfield-Selma High School of $895.99 above the county average of per pupil expenditure

- Implementation of the dual language program titled “Splash” which had demonstrated tremendous academic gain at a cost of $74,460.

- Implementation of the International Baccalaureate Program to the amount of $46,724.

- Implementation of the Academic Enhancement Calendar for $163,696 for South Smithfield and West Smithfield Elementary

- additional staff and teachers allotments at a cost of $3,682,254 provided in order to lower the student-teacher ratio, provide additional supervision, and provide additional support for academic growth. 

“It is evident that the Johnston County Board of Education has not allowed the commission’s concerns to “fall on deaf ears” and the Board will continue to work to provide resources to meet the needs of all students,” Dr. Croom said in a press release on Thursday.

“The Board is very proud of the work the teachers in the Smithfield-Selma area schools have done and applaud their hard work and efforts in educating our children,” Dr. Croom stated. “The Board of Education looks forward to working with the commission in a collaborative way to promote public education in the Smithfield-Selma area schools.”

Neuse Charter Principal No Longer On The Job

School Decides Not To Extend Contract For Joel Erby

On Thursday, Neuse Charter School officials confirmed Principal Joel Erby is no longer employed with them.

Erby, from Four Oaks, had been the Middle/High School Principal at Neuse Charter for the past 3-1/2 years, overseeing grades 6-12.  He was very popular among the student body.

Immediately after Erby’s departure on Wednesday, rumors about why he left began circulating on social media.  One of those rumors was that police escorted Erby off the school campus.

Tony Gupton, Board Chairman at Neuse Charter, told WTSB News Erby was not escorted by police off campus.

Gupton released a statement saying, “Joel Erby and was part of the Neuse Charter School family.  He was a popular person and we are very appreciative of his service. While we exercised our option not to renew his contract, this decision was not taken lightly and was given great consideration over a period of time. We wish Mr. Erby well in his future endeavors as well as looking forward to the continued success of Neuse Charter School and it's students.

Gupton said the principal’s duties have been reassigned to other staff members for the remainder of the school year.  

Gupton said a new principal would be in place by the start of the 2015-16 school year.

Rouzer Introduces Bill To Repeal EPA Rule Concerning Wood Heaters
Washington, D.C. – On Thursday, Congressman David Rouzer (NC-7) introduced the Stop EPA Overregulation of Rural Americans, which would repeal the Environmental Protection Agency’s most recent rule for new residential wood heaters.

In early March, the EPA published a final rule establishing federal standards for residential wood heaters. Small manufacturers are concerned that these standards would make heaters too cost prohibitive to produce. Rural residents are worried because the costs of additional regulations are always passed down to the consumer, and many rural residents rely on wood-burning heaters to keep their energy costs low.

“This is a classic example of EPA nonsense,” said Congressman Rouzer.  “The federal government has no business telling private citizens how they should heat their homes.  This is one more regulation that will cause unnecessary harm and cost small businesses and families all across America.”

Thieves Target Homes Under Construction
The Johnston County Sheriff’s Office has reported an increase in thefts from new houses under construction.

Since Monday, thieves have stolen wiring and copper pipes from four different houses, according to Sheriff’s Detective Lt. Mike Carson.

All of the homes are located off Cleveland Road. 

Two of the incidents were discovered Wednesday on Marsh Creek Drive and Scarlet Oak Run.

In both cases copper wiring and pipes were cut from the homes.

Anyone who sees any suspicious activity around construction sites is encouraged to contact the sheriff’s office at 919-989-5010. Callers with information about the thefts can remain anonymous.

Woman Reported Missing
The search continues for a missing Wayne County woman.

Margarita Juan Munoz was last seen April 12th at her home on Oakland Church Road not very far from the Johnston County line.

Munoz, who is 42, is described as a white female, 5 foot tall, 130 pounds with long black hair. She was last seen wearing a t-shirt and blue jeans. She has family members in the Newton Grove area.

Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Margarita Munoz of Goldsboro is asked to contact the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office at 919-731-1480 or 919-731-1493.

Subway Employee Accused Of Stealing From Business
An employee at the Subway in Smithfield has been arrested on allegations she stole money from the business.

Latrina Marie Best, 28, of Johnson Street, Lucama was arrested at the Venture Drive business on Wednesday.

According to Smithfield Police, Best allegedly took $221.09 from the business. Best would ring up food purchases for customers but would later void the transactions and keep the money, Captain R.K. Powell said.

Best was charged with felony larceny by an employee. She was released on a $1,000 bond.

Smithfield Police: Beware Of IRS Scam
Smithfield Police are issuing a new warning about an IRS scam. 

On Wednesday, police said they were alerted about the IRS phone scam taking place in the local area. 

Here’s how the scam works.  Residents receive a phone call from someone claiming to be with the IRS. The caller uses a fake name and bogus IRS identification number or “badge number”.

The suspects advise victims that they owe the IRS money and demand immediate payment through a prepaid card or wire transfer. If the victim refuses to cooperate they are threatened with arrest, seizure of property, suspension of a business license or even their driver’s license. The caller will often become hostile and insulting at this point.

In other cases, victims may be told they have a tax refund to try and trick them into providing personal information. One of the phone numbers from this week’s scam is 917-310-1313. If the phone is not answered, the scammers often leave an “urgent” call back request.

Police remind the public that the IRS will never call to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill. The IRS will not demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe, or require you to use a specific payment method of your taxes, ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone, and will not threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.

If you receive this type of call do not give them any information and contact your local law enforcement.

Benson Welcomes New Staff

(Top right) Erin King is the Town of Benson's new planning and permit technician. (Lower right) Karissa Bergene has been hired as the towns new economic development director.

With its position at the crossroads of two major interstates and a Duke Energy deal with the North Carolina Eastern Municipal Power Agency (NCEMPA) that has the potential to springboard industrial and commercial growth, Benson administrators say the town is on the precipice of something big. 

The pieces may soon fall into place for a large economic explosion, said Town Manager Matt Zapp, in reference to the NCEMPA deal — something that could release the town (and 32 other communities under the agency’s umbrella) from the burden of high electric rates. 

Officials have remained mum about rumors of a new hotel, while chatter surrounding other businesses — namely a Starbucks, a brewery and dog park — has all but confirmed the town’s expansion. 

To make sure things are running smoothly, a good team of people is needed, said Mr. Zapp. Just this year, Benson administrators have hired staff for two newly-created positions and filled a vacancy for economic development director. 

Erin King, the town’s new planning and permit tech, was introduced to commissioners.

“When I came for the interview, I just loved the energy. I also loved the scenery when I was driving in — I was thinking this is such a beautiful place. When I met Braston (Newton, assistant town manager) and Matt, they took me around to show me the new veterinarian clinic, some developments and neighborhoods and they took me to Papa’s Pizza,” she said, taking a break from setting up her new office space. 

Ms. King, a native of Richmond, Va., currently lives in Raleigh. She will assist planning and zoning administrator Braston Newton with the town’s permitting and code enforcement. Her first day on the job was April 1. 

“It could range from a large scale development to an addition onto someone’s home. We’re also currently researching software that will allow us to do that electronically, so we would like to go paperless and streamline that process,” she explained. “As we grow, (new software) will help us have an easier time with permitting. Also, I’ll be working with the code enforcement/nuisance abatement officer to help track code violations and help get people up to code and work with them.”

Her position may have been created in anticipation for future growth, but that doesn’t mean the quaint character of Benson is lost on her, said Ms. King. 

“I loved the historic nature of the downtown. All of those aspects, plus Braston and Matt are just really enthused about the future,” she said.

In addition to Ms. King, auxiliary officer Chris Vanhalen from Four Oaks was introduced to commissioners as the Benson Police Department’s latest hire. 

Along with Benson’s new permit tech and officer, there is also a new economic development director. Karissa Bergene took over for Joe Stallings earlier this year. Her first day in town was March 18. She was also introduced to commissioners and has since found herself at ribbon cuttings and working with the various businesses downtown.

“I actually am from Wake County, so I knew of Benson,” she said this week. “But I found out about the position from one of my former faculty members at Appalachian (State University).”

Currently living in Apex, Ms. Bergene said she was drawn to Benson during the interview process and intends to move to the area. “I was in the private sector first, working with the Town of Beech Mountain out in the western part of the state, but I really wanted to move back to the Triangle area — I have family and friends here,” she explained. “Benson seemed close enough to family and friends and once I came to interview, I knew it was the right place for me because the leadership team here is just exceptional.”

Like Mr. Stallings before her, Ms. Bergene’s role is to keep businesses interested in Benson and make sure the town’s existing businesses are thriving.  “I’m the director of the Main Street Committee, so I work with Loretta Byrd (chamber director) at the chamber — we work with downtown businesses. I want to focus on establishing and creating positive relationships with everyone in the town and everyone who works with Benson,” she said.

“I’m also looking forward to working with local merchants, schools and the universities and colleges we have here — prospective developers, real estate and entrepreneurs as well. My main focus for my first year is just to establish those relationships,” she added. Courtesy The Daily Record

Creech Completes Basic Training
Army Pvt. David W. Creech has graduated from basic combat training at Fort Jackson in Columbia, SC.

During the nine weeks of training, the soldier studied the Army mission, history, tradition and core values, physical fitness, and received instruction and practice in basic combat skills, military weapons, chemical warfare and bayonet training, drill and ceremony, marching, rifle marksmanship, armed and unarmed combat, map reading, field tactics, military courtesy, military justice system, basic first aid, foot marches, and field training exercises.

Creech is the son of Janet C. Joyner of Lucama, ward of Ella M. Johnson of Selma, and grandson of Bobbie S. Creech of Wilson.

He is a 2011 graduate of James B. Hunt High School in Wilson.

West Johnston FBLA Brings Home Awards

FBLA members (from left) are George Benitez, Alexis Brooks, Sabria Brown, Casey Ford, Jayla Crisp, Allison Holt, Carly Juarez, Veronica McLean, Audrey Rentz, Ariel Andrews, Patrick Finnoti, and Ashlynn Payne.

Members of the West Johnston High School Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) attended the State Leadership Conference in Greensboro on April 13-15 and came home with several awards. 

The State Leadership Conference is a two and a half day conference held annually. The finalists from each regional conference are eligible to participate in the competitive events at the state conference. In addition, each local chapter may enter contestants in the competitive events held only at the state level. 

Ariel Andrews placed first in Computer Applications and Casey Ford placed first in Word Processing.

Second place winners were Ashlynn Payne and Veronica McLean for their Community Service Project and Allison Holt for Spreadsheet Applications.

Top 10 finishers included: Tanay Smith - Networking Concepts, Hailey Emerson - FBLA Procedures, Patrick Finiotti - Cyber Security, Allison Holt - Microsoft Office, and Alexis Brooks - Health Care Administration.

According to FBLA adviser Amanda Fisher, the students gained a sense of pride from the experience.

Veronica McLean, chapter president and one of the community service project winners said, “I was in awe. It was uplifting to stand there under the lights with Ms. Fisher standing below, smiling back up at us.”
Others were further inspired to do more.  “It was a great motivator for making me want to do more in my community,” member George Benitez said. 

First and second place winners are eligible to advance to the National Leadership Conference, which will be held in Chicago, IL in June.

In addition to the competitive events, the State Leadership Conference included business meetings, election of state officers, special-interest sessions, and other planned activities.

Center For Civil Rights Investigating Low Test Scores, Racial Makeup At Smithfield-Selma High
A group of citizens concerned about low test scores and graduation rates at Smithfield Selma High School has now turned to the UNC Center for Civil Rights to do a preliminary investigation of potential legal remedies.

Susan Lassiter, Chairperson of the Concerned Citizens for Successful Schools, formerly know as the Citizens Study Commission, recently appeared before Selma town leaders to outline the groups concerns.

Lassiter said the group was formed in 2012 to study SSS High “…to find out why test scores were so low, why student performance had declined so badly, why school spirit was lacking.”  Lassiter said Superintendent of Johnston County Schools Dr. Ed Croom and former SSS principal Michael Taylor and current principal Stephen Baker allowed the group to conduct the research and provide information whenever requested.

In April 2014 the group presented their findings to the Johnston County Board of Education and in September 2014 held a luncheon with members of the Board to discuss their concerns.  In comments made April 14th, Lassiter said she believes their concerns are “falling on deaf ears.”

The Citizens Study Commission report indicates Smithfield Selma High did not meet expected growth standards for two consecutive years, and only 39% of the students were at grade level. The school was given a D grade.  No other high school in the county received a D grade.  Cleveland High was the best performing traditional high school in the county with a B grade and 67.5% of students at grade level. Corinth Holders High had 63.2% at grade level, Princeton High 59.8%, Clayton High 56.9%, West Johnston High 56.5%, North Johnston High 55.3%, and South Johnston High at 51.3%. Neuse Charter School was at 69.4%.  

The majority of SSS students never reach grade level proficiency meaning they don’t graduate on tract for college or career training.

All feeder schools to SSS, Selma Elementary, Selma Middle, South Smithfield Elementary, Smithfield Middle and West Smithfield Elementary School received a D grade during the 2013-14 school year. The only exception was Wilson’s Mills Elementary, which received a C grade.   

The report indicated a disproportionate number of students at SSS were minorities compared to other county high schools.  During the 2013-14 school year, 33.7% of 12th graders were black, 30.9% Hispanic, and 27.3% white. 

At Clayton High, 26.5% were black, 11.1% Hispanic and 55.9% white.  At Corinth Holders High, 14.8% were black, 21.6% Hispanic, and 70.1% white.  At Princeton High, 12.1% were black, 9.7% Hispanic and 75.8% white. 

Johnston County’s population, according to the US Census Bureau, is made up of 80.5% of white, 15.9% black, and 13.2% Hispanic.     

”Folks, we’re cheating these students out of sound educations. We’re cheating them out of opportunities for viable employment, especially when you think about their competition beyond our county’s borders for good-paying jobs,” Lassiter said.

Lassiter added, “Economic development depends on successful schools. The future of our towns depends on successful schools.”  
The report pointed out growth in the county is projected to continue in the Cleveland, McGee’s Crossroads, 40/42, Flowers Plantation, and Corinth Holders area.  Many of the schools in those areas are at maximum capacity. 

”Can our county continue to build new schools and add new classrooms at the over-capacity schools, when there’s room at other schools? And what about the socioeconomic balance? Achieving socioeconomic balance hasn’t been considered and that’s why we’re so lopsided and out-of-step with other schools. We’ve seen a re-segregation in our Smithfield and Selma schools and this has been going on for too long,” Lassiter stated.

Lassiter said she doesn’t believe this form of segregation is willingly going to change.  She said the Citizens Study Commission has started working with the UNC Center for Civil Rights to look at legal options “to address racial and socioeconomic disparities in Johnston County Schools.  The future of our communities rests on change and our students can’t afford to wait.”

Lassiter declined to comment specifically about any potential lawsuits against Johnston County Schools. WTSB News contacted the UNC Center for Civil Rights and Johnston County Schools for comments on Tuesday but had not received a response by either organization before our news deadline on Wednesday.    

Break-In Reported At SSS High
Smithfield Police are investigating a break-in at Smithfield Selma High School. The break-in was discovered Tuesday.

Police Captain R.K. Powell said someone had forced open a door to gain entry into a greenhouse behind the main school building.

Powell said officers are following up on several leads in the case.

JCC Board of Trustees Opening
By Laura Crosio

Johnston County Schools will soon be accepting applications for an open appointment on the Johnston Community College Board of Trustees. At the April 14 school board meeting, members accepted a letter from current member James W. Narron who is declining to seek reappointment.

Narron, of Smithfield, has served as a member of the Board of Trustees for the past 12 years.

“I am sure your Board will be able to find a younger person who will be able to make a real contribution to the Johnston Community College Board of Trustees,” Narron wrote.

Johnston Community College operates under the control of a 13-member local Board of Trustees. Each member serves a four-year term with four members selected by the Johnston County Board of Education, four members chosen by the Johnston County Board of Commissioners, and four members appointed by the governor of North Carolina. The president of the Student Government Association serves a one-year term as a non-voting member.

JCS hopes to open the application process in the coming weeks and have their appointment finalized by June.

Board members Keith Branch and Dorothy Johnson expressed concerns about the lack of communication they have received over the years and hopes a new appointee will keep them better apprised on trustee business.

“I am glad this is happening so we can get some new blood on there,” said Branch. “I want them to know we expect them to report back to the (JCS) board.”

“I feel like we never hear from them and we don’t know what’s going on,” agreed Johnson. “I think they need to be accountable to us and share with us some things that are privy to the school system.”


Two Patrol Cars Crash During Chase
Multiple charges have been filed against a New York man who left authorities on a two county high speed chase that resulted in two patrol cars being wrecked.

It started on Main Street in Newton Grove in northern Sampson County Tuesday afternoon.

A Newton Grove police officer spotted a motorcycle passing several cars in a turning lane at a high rate of speed. Newton Grove Police Chief E.F. Harrell said the officer activated his blue lights and siren and tried to stop the motorcycle.

The motorcycle continued into Johnston County and at the intersection of US301 and US701 the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office and Four Oaks Police took over the chase. 

While traveling into Four Oaks on US301, a black SUV pulled into the path of the lead patrol cars involved in the pursuit.  Four Oaks Police Officer Matthew Peedin ran off the roadway and struck a driveway and overturned in the roadway. A Johnston County deputies cruiser sideswiped the SUV before coming to rest in the front yard of a home on US301.

Seeing other officers assisting the accident victims, Newton Grove Police resumed chasing the motorcycle through Four Oaks and making several turns. The suspect, being unfamiliar with the area, made a wrong turn and drove back to the accident scene where deputies were able to stop him.

Chief Harrell said David Yankel Saxon Ashkenazi, 20, of Spring Valley, NY is charged with felony fleeing to elude arrest, failure to stop for a blue light and siren, reckless driving to endanger, failure to display a registration plate, passing in a no passing zone, driving on the wrong side of the roadway, following to close, no insurance, possession of marijuana, and possession of drug paraphernalia.  Ashkenazi was booked into the Sampson County Jail under a $27,000 bond.    

The NC Highway Patrol is investigating the accident.  

Officer Peedin was treated and released at WakeMed. The sheriff’s deputy was not injured. 

Lowe’s Employee Charged With Embezzlement
An employee at Lowe’s Home Improvement in Smithfield has been arrested on embezzlement charges.

Corrie Michelle Walters, 22, of Weatherspoon Lane, Smithfield was arrested at the business, located at 1230 North Brightleaf Boulevard, Tuesday afternoon.

Smithfield Police allege Walters was captured on a store security camera stealing $2,530 from a cash register.  Police Captain R.K. Powell said Walters was charged with one single incident but additional charges have not been ruled out.

Walters was given a $20,000 bond after being charged with felony embezzlement. 

Local Dealership Raises Money For Bikers Against Child Abuse
Classic Ford in Smithfield held an event April 9th-11th to raise money for the Capital Area Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA). 

BACA is a non-profit organization that provides aid, comfort, safety and support for children who have been the victims of sexual, physical or emotional abuse. 

During the 3-day event, members of BACA were at the dealership promoting awareness and educating people about child abuse, according to General Manager Stan Lovejoy (second from right).  A portion of every car sold was donated to the group. In all, $3,500 was raised.

Monies raised will go towards therapy and other needs of children.  BACA operates in 45 states across the US and in 7 countries.


Archer Lodge Breaks Ground For Fire Station Expansion
The Archer Lodge Fire Department held a groundbreaking ceremony on Sunday for an addition to the existing station house.

The Covered Bridge Road location will undergo an expansion, which will nearly double their  current size and increase their total space to 18,583 square feet.

The addition includes an extra bay and a half, additional sleeping quarters, office space, plus an area to decontaminate their gear.
There were numerous special guests on hand for the groundbreaking. 

Focus Design Builders, LLC, in Wake Forest has been awarded the construction contract, which is estimated to take six to eight months, weather dependent.  The cost of the entire job is $1,373,000.

On January 5th, Johnston County Commissioners approved the department’s request for tax-exempt status to secure a $773,000 loan to complete the work.  They have secured a 2.29% fixed, 18 month interest only construction phase loan followed by an 84 month amortized loan with no fees or prepayment penalties from Four Oaks Bank & Trust. Photo courtesy JoCoFire.com

Lunch Meal Price Increase

By Laura Crosio

Next school year, lunch prices will rise $.05 for all Johnston County elementary and middle school students.

Lunches will now cost $2.20. The last increase was implemented two years ago and was also $.05. High school lunches will remain the same at $2.30.

Patrick Jacobs, Chief Operations Officer for Johnston County Schools explained the rate increase was due to periodic mandates by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to offset rising food costs.

The department requires all schools participating in the National School Lunch Program to assume the increase in food cost resulting from nutritional standards.

Magistrate Honored For 20 Years Of Service

Johnston County Magistrate Stephen A. Wood of Benson was honored Monday for 20 years of service to the State of North Carolina and its Judicial Branch of Government.

Wood (second from right) received the award from (left to right) Chief Johnston County Magistrate Chris Sullivan, Resident Superior Court Judge Thomas Lock, Clerk of Court Michelle Ball, and Chief District Court Judge Jacquelyn Lee.

Prior to serving as a magistrate, Wood was a probation officer in Lee and Johnston Counties.

Magistrates are judicial officers of District Court and handle certain criminal and civil matters. Their appointments are for an initial two-year term and subsequent four-year-terms by the senior resident Superior Court judge. They are nominated by the Clerk of Superior Court. The Chief District Court judge sets their work schedules.

School System Recognizes Employees Of The Year

Johnston County Schools’ Employees of the Year (from left) are Marie Simmons, Carla Pearce, Tricia Palmer, and Jill Parrish.

The Johnston County School System recently named several Employees of the Year.

The educators were recognized for the vital roles they play. They were nominated by their peers for the awards.

Marie Simmons, a speech therapist was named the Itinerant Teacher/Related Services Employee of the Year. Simmons began working with Johnston County Schools in 2000.  Simmons has been working with the counties pre-schoolers, getting them ready for kindergarten, and ensuring their needs are met, even before they reach the doors of a Johnston County school. 

Jill Parrish from Four Oaks Elementary School was named Media Specialist Employee of the Year.  She has been an employee with the school system since 1998.  In addition to teaching classes, Parrish finds time to complete other duties like the yearbook and Battle of the Books. 

Tricia Palmer from Corinth Holders High School was named School Counselor/Graduation Coach of the Year. She has been a part of the school system since 1998.  In Palmer’s nomination for the award it said, “Our students see Tricia as a rock who is there to pick them up if they should fall.” 

Carla Pearce, a school social worker, was named School Support Employee of the Year. She has also been employed with the school system since 1998. Pearce is described as being very loyal to students and staff and “always keeps that is best for the child as her focus.”