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Former Vance County High School football player William Hawkins IV (pictured), who has played for Heritage High School the past two seasons, took part in the Carolina Bowl Senior Showcase on Dec. 12. Despite suffering a groin injury the day before the game, Hawkins' talent and physicality drew praise from his coaches as he now prepares for a busy offseason with college-team offers from Western Carolina and Florida International on the table. 

Hardy appointed Granville sheriff, to serve until Dec. 2022
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OXFORD — Granville County has a new sheriff, at least until the 2022 election settles the question of who will hold the office for the long term.

County Commissioners on Monday appointed John B. Hardy III to serve in the office through Dec. 5, 2022, when they expect him to make way for whoever Granville voters elect to the office that November.

Hardy is filling out the balance of the unexpired term of suspended Sheriff Brindell Wilkins, who stepped aside in 2019 pending the resolution of a criminal prosecution that accuses him of obstruction of justice and, as of this year, obtaining property by false pretenses.

He is also replacing former Sheriff Charles Noblin, who resigned in October after the scandal involving the Granville County Sheriff’s Office widened to include allegations that deputies helped Wilkins and former Chief Deputy Sherwood Boyd falsify their personal training records.

Noblin — who had been gearing up to run for sheriff in 2022 — stepped down after prosecutors reported to state regulators that he and another deputy “had signed firearm qualification forms … indicating that they had completed the mandated course of fire and received passing scores when in fact they had not.”

Chief Deputy Chris Smoot had been filling in as sheriff since Noblin’s departure. State law provides that when there’s a vacancy for sheriff, the chief deputy fills in until county commissioners appoint someone to fill the unexpired term.

Then-Chief Deputy Boyd acted as sheriff during the last few months of 2019 before the commissioners appointed Noblin to the post.

County Attorney Jim Wrenn on Monday said that in taking applications following Noblin’s resignation, Granville officials “made a concerted effort to recruit a qualified individual to shepherd the sheriff’s office through this transitional period” until voters can choose their preferred candidate in 2022.

Wrenn added that the process was set up not only “to ensure that the chosen individual would have the necessary qualities to lead the Sheriff’s Office for the next year,” officials wanted someone who would “pledge to refrain from filing to participate in the 2022 election for sheriff,” and from supporting or endorsing any of those who do.

So far, two candidates, Democrat Robert Fountain Jr. and Republican Clinton Owens, have signed up to run for sheriff in the upcoming election. Filing opened briefly this month before being suspended when the N.C. Supreme Court delayed until May party primaries originally scheduled for March.

The sheriff serves for four years. Wilkins won the current term in 2018, defeating Fountain in the Democratic primary with almost 62.5% of the vote.

Hardy, a Granville County native, is a 29-year veteran of the military and law enforcement.

He joined the N.C. Army National Guard in 1987 and subsequently was an infantry officer in the U.S. Army and the reserves, with his Army service including a stint as an infantry platoon leader during the first Iraq war in the early 1990s.

While in the reserves, he worked as a correctional officer in the Butner federal prison and as a deputy U.S. marshal.

Officials said Hardy has also been a patrol officer and corporal in Oxford’s police department, and briefly a Granville County Sheriff’s Office deputy assigned to courthouse security.

Hardy is a graduate of J.F. Webb High School and got his basic law enforcement training certificate from Granville County. His father, John B. Hardy Jr., was a local dentist and also an Army reservist. The elder Hardy before his death in 2015 was among the winners of the Granville County Chamber of Commerce’s John Penn Citizen of the Year award.

Contact Ray Gronberg at or by phone at 252-436-2850.

Henderson resident combats litter, one can at a time
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HENDERSON — Al Simeone could use some Ho-Ho-Help.

Simeone, a Connecticut transplant who has lived in Henderson’s Carolina Pines neighborhood the last 4 1/2 years, donned a red Santa hat Monday afternoon as he plucked the trash away from Oxford Road with a grabber. He’s 63, retired and the four 30-gallon trash bins he fills up at least twice a week are placed in the back of his Dodge pickup purely on a volunteer basis.

“What I find very funny is I’ve been doing this four and a half years,” Simeone said. “People wave to me. They’re very friendly. Not once has anyone stopped to say, ‘Hey do you need a hand?’ I mean I go for miles here. I’m 63 years old.”

For some added context, Simeone made that statement cheerfully, as one might expect from someone wearing a festive cap. He wasn’t complaining, just stating a fact, and noted other individuals and groups around town that are equally environmentally conscious. But he would like to enlist some more help.

There’s no shortage of work, especially since the pandemic cut into the DOT’s regular cleanup efforts.

Bottles. Beer cans. Needles. Plastic bags. Paper. Cardboard. Simeone sees all of that, and more. On Monday, he collected a pair of calculators and a transistor radio. Go figure.

“I’ve always been struck by how much I see on the sides of the roads,” Simeone said, pointing out it got much worse with the onset of COVID-19. “It’s just unbelievable. So I always come out here every chance I get to try and make a difference in the community.”

“I go all over. I try to stick on our road a lot here,” he said. “But I’ll go to Vance Academy Road. I’ll go to the end of Vance Academy Road, which seems sadly to be the dumping ground over there.”

Simeone said a Connecticut law makes for cleaner roads in his home state, where he served as an arborist before retiring to be closer to his son and daughter-in-law, who are doctors in Raleigh.

Connecticut is one of 11 states in the U.S. that are “bottle bill” states, according to Connecticut’s state website. Bottle bills, also known as container redemption programs, may have slightly different provisions in each state but work by charging a small deposit on a container at the time of purchase, which is then returned to the consumer when the empty bottle is returned.

Henderson’s City Council addressed trash pickup in each of its two last monthly meetings and praised volunteers for their efforts within the city’s jurisdiction.

Police Chief Marcus Barrow told the City Council his department had given multiple cameras to the public works department to aid in catching people illegally dumping trash.

The DOT also has methods for turning in litterbugs at — if you can catch them in the act.

Simeone says any enforcements don’t seem to be working around his neighborhood. The trash is back almost as soon as he can pick it up.

He’s mindful of the traffic, saying years of living in Stamford, Conn., about 45 miles from New York City, prepared him.

Simeone would like to see more people get involved with cleaning up, particularly younger generations.

“I coached for 25 years in baseball, so I know kids love to do this stuff,” he said. “I don’t know anybody down here. That’s the problem. When I was in Stamford, I knew everybody. Had a business for 40 years.”

Not that what Simeone is doing has gone unnoticed or unappreciated, especially when he’s wearing the Santa hat.

“I get a lot of response from people,” Simeone said. “They’ll see me picking up trash. I’ll always get a wave or a beep. A couple of people got to know me and they always wave to me. They say, ‘Al that’s a great thing you do.’ ”

If you’d like to help Simeone do more great things, send him an email at or call 203-912-0830.

Council plans on improving civic pride in '22
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HENDERSON — When asked last Monday to determine some of the broad issues that Henderson needs to address going forward, several City Council officials spoke of a need to improve the city’s public image.

The question came from Chris Aycock, who was present to guide the City Council’s planning for an upcoming retreat meeting, where a range of issues including civic pride will receive more attention.

Mayor Eddie Ellington said he wanted citizens of Henderson to enjoy their city and take pride it.

The recent Christmas parade, which drew quite a bit of fanfare — and floats — to downtown was mentioned, and Ellington said keeping the city clean from litter should be a focus.

Some City Council members also discussed community outreach, and how to better publicize economic development successes and opportunities.

“There’s a lot of people that don’t know that Henderson has these kinds of opportunities,” said Councilman Garry Daeke.

“We have the growth that’s happening in the counties around us, coming from obviously [around] Wake County,” Daeke added.

“It’s going to get here at a time and place but we are preparing to be ready for that and putting the pieces in place. There’s incredible opportunity here in the next [five to 10] years.”

Specifically on the economic front, City Manager Terrell Blackmon announced earlier in the meeting that the city had been awarded a $750,000 federally-funded Community Development Block Grant for projects like building reuse, demolition and community housing.

Referencing the city’s ongoing effort to revitalize its Elmwood District and Flint Hill, Blackmon said “exciting” things were getting ready to happen in Henderson.

“It’s some money the city hasn’t seen in a while as it relates to the Community Development Block Grant program,” Blackmon said. “I see this just as a building block for doing more in the community. We have some local developers as well as community partners that we hope to continue to work with that will assist in improving housing conditions here in Henderson.”

Teen killed in Sunday traffic accident
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OXFORD — A single-car crash in northern Granville County on Sunday killed one teenager and injured another, N.C. Highway Patrol troopers say.

The accident happened when a 2006 Nissan Sentra driven by 16-year-old Gabriel Pitchford crossed the centerline as it traveled east on Rockwell Road in the Stovall area, ran off the road to the left and overturned.

Highway Patrol 1st Sgt. Kenneth Ellerbe said Pitchford was ejected from the car and died at the scene. A second teen, also 16, was taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

Neither was wearing a seatbelt, a factor in the severity of the crash along with the car’s speed, Ellerbe said.

Hubble telescope's bigger, more powerful successor to soar
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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — The Hubble Space Telescope’s successor is a time-traveling wonder capable of peering back to within a hair’s breadth of the dawn of the universe. And it's finally on the brink of flight.

It will be the biggest and most powerful astronomical observatory ever to leave the planet, elaborate in its design and ambitious in its scope. At a budget-busting $10 billion, it is the most expensive and also the trickiest, by far, to pull off.

Set to soar after years of delay on Friday, the James Webb Space Telescope will seek out the faint, twinkling light from the first stars and galaxies, providing a glimpse into cosmic creation. Its infrared eyes will also stare down black holes and hunt for alien worlds, scouring the atmospheres of planets for water and other possible hints of life.

“That’s why it’s worth taking risks. That’s why it’s worth the agony and the sleepless nights,” NASA's science mission chief Thomas Zurbuchen said in an interview with The Associated Press.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said he's more nervous now than when he launched on space shuttle Columbia in 1986.

“There are over 300 things, any one of which goes wrong, it is not a good day," Nelson told the AP. "So the whole thing has got to work perfectly.”

The Webb telescope is so big that it had to be folded origami-style to fit into the nose cone of the European Ariane rocket for liftoff from the coast of French Guiana in South America. Its light-collecting mirror is the size of several parking spots and its sunshade the size of a tennis court. Everything needs to be unfolded once the spacecraft is speeding toward its perch 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) away.

“We’ve been waiting a long time for this,” said the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's planet hunter Sara Seager. “Webb will move our search for life forward, but to find signs of life we have to be incredibly lucky.”

Named after the man who led NASA during the space-trailblazing 1960s, the 7-ton James Webb Space Telescope is 100 times more powerful than Hubble.

The 31-year-old Hubble — increasingly creaky but still churning out celestial glamour shots — focuses on visible and ultraviolet light, with just a smattering of infrared light.

As an infrared or heat-sensing telescope, Webb will see things Hubble can’t, providing “an entirely new perspective on the universe that will be just as awe-inspiring," said Nikole Lewis, deputy director of Cornell University’s Carl Sagan Institute.

Webb will attempt to look back in time 13.7 billion years, a mere 100 million years after the universe-forming Big Bang as the original stars were taking shape. Scientists are eager to see how closely, if at all, these initial galaxies resemble our modern day Milky Way.

To out hustle Hubble, Webb requires a considerably bigger mirror spanning 21 feet (6.5 meters). It also needs a canopy large enough to keep sunshine and even reflections from the Earth and moon off the mirror and science instruments. The shiny, five-layered thin shade stretches 70 feet by 46 feet (21 meters by 14 meters), essential for keeping all four instruments in a constant subzero state — around minus 400 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 240 degrees Celsius).

The most daunting part of the mission: Unfolding Webb’s mirror and sunshield following launch, and locking them into perfect position. The gold-plated mirror consists of 18 motor-driven segments, each of which must be meticulously aligned so they can focus as one.

NASA has never attempted such a complicated series of steps remotely. Many of the mechanisms have no backup, so the failure of any of 344 such parts could doom the mission.

Hubble had its own debacle following liftoff in 1990. A mirror defect wasn't detected until the first blurry pictures trickled down from orbit. The blunder prompted a series of risky repairs by shuttle astronauts who restored Hubble’s sight and transformed the machine into the world’s most accomplished — and beloved — observatory.

Webb will be too far away for a rescue mission by NASA and its European and Canadian partners.

To avoid a repeat of the Hubble fiasco, Zurbuchen ordered an overhaul of Webb after joining NASA in 2016, 20 years into development. Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor.

The sunshield ripped during a practice unfurling. Tension cables for the shade had too much slack. Dozens of fasteners fell off in a vibration test. All this and more led to more investigations, more delays and more costs.

The problems continued even after Webb’s arrival at the South American launch site in October. A clamp came loose and jolted the telescope. A communication relay between the telescope and rocket malfunctioned.

Now comes the long-awaited liftoff, set for 7:20 a.m. EST Friday, with fewer spectators expected to travel to French Guiana because of the Christmas Eve timing.

It will take Webb a full month to reach its intended parking spot, four times beyond the moon. From this gravity-balanced, fuel-efficient location, the telescope will keep pace with Earth while orbiting the sun, continuously positioned on Earth’s nightside.

It will take another five months for chilling and checking of Webb’s infrared instruments before it can get to work by the end of June.

The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore operates Hubble and will also oversee Webb. At least five to 10 years of observing are planned.

“Personally, I think that even with all of the hype, the Webb will still exceed expectations,” said the institute’s Ori Fox, who will use Webb to study supernovae, or exploded stars. “Many of what are considered Hubble’s most inspiring discoveries were not part of the original plan.”

His colleague, Christine Chen, who will focus on budding solar systems, finds serendipity “perhaps the most exciting aspect” of Webb. “The universe is more weird and wonderful than astronomers can imagine.”


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.