(This is part one of a two-part series highlighting the top Stokes County news stories of 2012.)
The annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. march and program was held in Walnut Cove. Close to 100 people walked through downtown while singing hymns and spirituals and ended the march at Rising Star Baptist Church in the London community, where a special service was held.
The third annual Stokes County Business Extravaganza was held on Jan. 19 at YMCA Camp Hanes, featuring a “Business Stampede” cowboy theme. The casual networking event was designed to bring local business leaders together and saw about a 20-percent increase in attendance from the previous year, with well over 250 people attending.
The county commissioners approved a $578,000 bid on Jan. 23 for a grant-funded project to upgrade the water system in the town of Danbury, which included various system improvements and a new water tank. The project got underway a few months later.
On Feb. 6, the King City Council voted to allow the mayor and city manager to begin talks with county officials about the possibility of the county providing the city’s law enforcement protection instead of the King Police Department. The vote was 3-1 in favor of starting the dialogue with the county, with councilman Wesley Carter opposing. Councilman Brian Carico brought up the suggestion, saying that coming into budget time it was important to look at every department as a whole. The move ruffled a lot of feathers in the city and led to ongoing discussion for months.
More than 150 dogs were removed from a dog breeding operation in Danbury on Feb. 7 after Stokes County Animal Control investigated a complaint. The dogs were found living in poor conditions in a suspected puppy mill located at 1560 Bob Mabe Road, owned by Lucille and Willis Mabe. The Humane Society of the United States assisted at the location and transported the dogs to various animal shelters for adoption.
Byron Ellis, who had been serving as interim Walnut Cove town manager since Oct. 4, 2011, was hired as the permanent town manager at a meeting on Feb. 7. Ellis accepted the 30-hour-a-week position. He had previously served as Danbury town administrator since August 2007.
James Hill resigned from his position as Walnut Cove chief of police, saying it was time for him to “move on.” Hill was relieved of his duties immediately. Few details were given regarding the resignation decision. Lieut. Chad Williams, next in command, became acting supervisor.
In February, it came to light that the historic St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Germanton was in danger of being dismantled and relocated to Orange County. The push began in late October 2011 when the Historic Properties Commission of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina began investigating letting the Episcopal Church of the Advocate, a congregation in Carrboro, use the building which had stood vacant in downtown Germanton since 1980. Next door Germanton Baptist Church agreed to buy the lot. A nonprofit organization called “Friends of St. Philip’s Church in Germanton” was created to offer a positive alternative to moving the church and to work to preserve other historical structures.
Officers with the Stokes County Sheriff’s Office arrested near 20 people on various drug charges Feb. 16 through “Operation Cupid.” Through the roundup, officers also searched a residence at Fulp Road, Walnut Cove, and located marijuana, cocaine, prescription medications and drug paraphernalia.
Mold was discovered in the East Stokes Outreach Ministry’s office and pantry building in Walnut Cove. The ministry was forced to find a temporary office and food pantry. The thrift store remained open in its regular building. Community members began holding fundraisers to help East Stokes pay for the building demolition and construction of a new pantry and office space.
After a month of hearing arguments for and against redistricting in the Stokes County School District, the Stokes County Board of Education voted 4-1 to leave the 2008 redestricting lines in place but to give students at Chestnut Grove Middle School who are in the South Stokes High School district the option of which school to attend – South or West Stokes. Board member Becky Boles voted against the motion, based on her opinion that the issue needed more examination.
Longtime Stokes County historian Robert “Bob” Carroll died on March 6, a little over a month after celebrating his 104th birthday. The cause of death was listed as complications of pneumonia. Carroll authored a book on subjects of local genealogy and history and penned the popular Danbury Reporter column titled “Old, Odd and Other Things” for 27 years.
The Danbury Town Council agreed to hire former council member Mike Barsness as the new part-time town administrator. Barsness replaced Byron Ellis, who accepted a full-time position as town manager in Walnut Cove.
The district attorney and Stokes County Animal Control announced in March that they had come to a conditional agreement with Willis and Lucille Mabe to dismiss 27 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty in connection with the suspected puppy mill. The agreement states that the Mabes cannot own or operate an animal breeding or animal sales business for two years and that the case against them can be reopened for prosecution at any time within that two-year period. Animal Control will also have access to inspect their property at any time.
Local government officials and coworkers of former Stokes County Sheriff Mike Joyce paid tribute to Joyce with speeches as his portrait was unveiled in the courthouse on March 10. Joyce passed away in December 2011 after a long battle with leukemia.
On March 12 the Stokes County Commissioners approved a contract to move forward with the design process for a water and sewer project to the site of the future Forsyth Technical Community College campus in Meadows. Pilot View Resource Conservation and Development Inc. will mediate the project.
The new Sheetz convenience store and restaurant in King opened on March 15 to much fanfare. Some people camped out overnight to be among the first 50 to receive gift cards. The 24/7 business was expected to employ 40-45 people and represents a $3.5 million investment in the community.
A collaboration between the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Stokes County Sheriff’s Office resulted in the seizure of five kilos of cocaine – which could easily be worth $500,000 – and three firearms at a house in Madison on March 26. Ines Ovidio Marinero of K-Fork Road was charged with felony trafficking cocaine and felony maintaining a drug dwelling. His bond was set at $500,000 secured. Sheriff Mike Marshall said this was a large bust for the county.
King Mayor Jack Warren broke a council tie at a special meeting on March 21 to end negotiations with the county over police protection. Warren sided with council members Wesley Carter and Charles Allen. This was essentially a vote in favor of keeping the King Police Department.
A draft report issued by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources in March showed that hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” of shale gas could be done safely in the state as long as the right protections were in place prior to the issuance of permits. The N.C. Geological Survey stated that there could be a reserve of natural gas underneath the Dan River Basin in Rockingham and Stokes counties. This sparked grassroots efforts by many Stokes County residents who opposed fracking.
On March 26, the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office responded to a report of an assault at a residence on Echo Bluff Drive, Winston-Salem. Jackson Dean Sizemore of Pinnacle was located inside the residence with a baseball bat nearby. He had sustained multiple blunt force trauma to his head and upper body. Sizemore died of his injuries a few days later. Joseph Andrew Misenheimer of Winston-Salem was taken into custody and charged with first-degree murder and robbery with a dangerous weapon.
Deborah Cox took over as the Stokes Cooperative Extension director on April 1. She had formerly been an extension agent in Caldwell County.
The Stokes County Animal Shelter Advisory Committee began a campaign to raise money for the construction of a new animal shelter. Purple six-foot posts were placed across the county with the word “SHELTER” painted in white to stir up interest.
Fire broke out in the popular Country Cafaye restaurant in King on April 19, resulting in a total loss. The fire was caused by a deep fryer in the kitchen, and the owner said he had plans to rebuild the restaurant.
On April 21, the Sandy Ridge Girl Scouts Troop 2072, with the help of Boy Scouts of America Unit 465, dedicated a new veterans memorial in Sandy Ridge that they raised money for and helped create. The memorial honors soldiers from the Sandy Ridge community who have lost their lives in combat.
After a lengthy public comment session, the Stokes County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 to approve a resolution in favor of the marriage amendment on April 23. Commissioners Ronda Jones and Leon Inman voted against the resolution, citing the belief that they should not do anything to influence citizens’ votes on the issue. The marriage amendment appeared on the primary ballot and asked people to vote for or against a constitutional amendment naming marriage between one man and one woman the only domestic legal union recognized by the state.
At a town meeting on May 1 when a petition was presented by townspeople interested in having Barry Conaway rehired as police chief, former Walnut Cove town manager Homer Dearmin requested the board release an April 2004 report by Dixon Hughes PLLC, Certified Public Accountants and Advisers. He claimed the report summarized an investigation into the Walnut Cove Police Department that was commissioned by the town board and has not been released to the public. The town later declined to release the report after the town attorney stated that it was a personnel document.
On May 4, Chad Williams was sworn in as the new chief of police in Walnut Cove. Around 60 people gathered outside town hall for the swearing in ceremony. Town Manager Byron Ellis made the decision to name Williams chief.
Incumbents prevailed at the May 8 primary in Stokes County. Current Stokes County Commissioners Leon Inman and Jimmy Walker received the top votes, effectively winning back their seats since they would not face any Democratic opponents in the general election. The proposed marriage amendment passed in the state. In Stokes County, 77.75 percent of voters showed their support for the amendment.
The school system named Yasmint Jaffe of South Stokes the Stokes County Schools District Teacher of the Year and South Stokes Principal Rich Pekar the Stokes County Schools Principal of the Year.
On May 10, the Stokes County Sheriff’s Office conducted Operation Generation Decline. Thirteen suspects faced a total of 47 criminal charges, most related to illegal narcotics.
The annual Relay for Life drew a record crowd to the South Stokes High School football field on May 11. The event was dedicated to the memory of Anita Burroughs Mabe of Walnut Cove.
On May 18, an armed robbery took place at the Olympic restaurant in Walnut Cove. Two men forced workers into a back room and took an undisclosed sum of cash before fleeing the scene. No one was injured, though robbers did hold a gun to the head of the restaurant owner.
Walnut Cove Town Manager Byron Ellis announced in late May that he would be resigning to move to Connecticut with his significant other, Sheridan, who had been offered a job there. He offered to stay on board with the town until it was able to hire another manager. Ellis later withdrew his resignation.
Larry Lee Palmer was sentenced to serve seven to nine years in prison in connection with the 2010 death of Boyd Franklin Debord. Palmer was convicted on May 22 in Stokes Superior Court after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter.
Robert Marziano, the first mayor of King and a well-known businessman, passed away on May 25 after a brief illness. A memorial service was held at King Moravian Church and drew a large crowd.
On June 5, Walnut Cove officers responded to another armed robbery — this one at Dollar General. No one was injured. Then a few hours later a vacant house was set on fire in town. The house was located on High Street behind Western Auto, and the fire was deemed an arson.
After a lengthy public hearing, the Stokes County Board of Commissioners decided to table a vote on a special use permit for a proposed facility to treat contaminated soil in the Big Creek area of the county. Many community members spoke out against the “land farm” proposed by Kent and Pam Fulp, citing environmental concerns, and the Fulps later withdrew their application.
The Stokes County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution in opposition of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” for natural gas on June 11. This drew a round of applause from the crowd. A group of about 60 Stokes residents had traveled to Raleigh earlier to voice their opposition to Senate Bill 820.
The King City Council adopted a $5.28 million budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year, with councilman Wesley Carter voting against the motion. It had been decided at an earlier budget meeting that there would be some cuts in the police department, including a captain’s position and two patrol officer positions. The budget did not include a tax increase but did include funding for a new water plant.
Thousands of people flocked to Jomeokee Music Park in Pinnacle to see Willie Nelson perform at the amphitheatre on June 16. Some paid as much as $85 for VIP tickets.
Crews began tearing down the old B building at Southeastern Stokes Middle School to make way for new parking spaces as a new B building was being constructed in front of the administrative building at Southeastern. Many people saved bricks from the old site and took photographs.
On June 26 the Stokes County Board of Commissioners met for five hours before approving a budget by a 4-1 vote. The 2012-13 budget included no tax increases, instead using around $1.7 million from the fund balance to fill budget holes. Commissioner Jimmy Walker was the only member to vote against it, saying he thought it could use a little more work.
Walnut Cove resident Kelly Greene Robertson was charged with murder after officers found Donnie Lee Tilley dead of an apparent gunshot wound. Both Robertson and Tilley lived in the home and the incident appeared to have been the result of a domestic dispute.
The Danbury 2012-13 budget passed unanimously on June 27. The budget did not include any tax increases or large projects.
The Walnut Cove Board of Commissioners voted 3-1 on June 28 to approve a budget that included no tax increase and kept the police department staffed at six full-time officers. Commissioner Sharon Conaway voted against the budget after a lengthy discussion about a part-time staff position.