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J.F. Webb quarterback Braden Cooper (16) sets off on a touchdown run during the Warriors’ 2021 game with Carrboro. Cooper figures to be a key to the team’s fortunes in new head coach Elijah Sessoms’ first season at Webb.

Former DSS building set to be sold to YMCA
  • Updated

HENDERSON — Vance County earlier this week moved forward in the process to sell the old Department of Social Services building at 350 Ruin Creek Road to neighboring Henderson Family YMCA.

The Vance County Commissioners’ Properties Committee had already passed a recommendation for the sale last week before the full board moved on Aug. 1 to enter further negotiations with the YMCA and authorize the county attorney and manager to develop an offer to purchase and contract for future board approval.

YMCA’s offer was $1 million — $100,000 less than than that of competing bidder Vaya Health’s. The appraised value of the 20,000-square-foot building is $1,180,000.  

The board’s motion to move forward with the sale was made by Commissioner Archie Taylor and seconded by Commissioner Gordon Wilder. The vote passed 4-2 with commissioners Carolyn Faines and Yolanda Feimster voting no.

Commissioner Dan Brummitt, who serves on Vaya’s regional board, said that despite awarding the building to the YMCA, Vance County needed to address mental health concerns.

Vaya oversees Medicaid, federal, state and local funding for services and support related to mental health, substance use disorder and intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“We’re very fortunate that we have two organizations that serve our community that are vying for this building,” Brummitt said, “and it looks like based on the deliberation of the committees and so forth, that the interest is in moving with the YMCA. I’m fine with that but what I want for us to pay attention to is that we had 564 involuntary commitments in Vance County last year.

“A number of those were youth. The resources it takes to handle those with the current format of taking them to the hospital and police officers or deputies having to sit with them tie up hundreds of thousands of dollars of resources each year. We need to make an effort to support Vaya.”

There had been some concern by board members that Vaya’s offer included a request that the county act in good faith to secure alternative funding that could be used to offset operational or upfit costs.

“Vaya, as you all know, would like to use it for a regional diversion center for behavioral and mental health,” County Manager Jordan McMillen said. “And then the YMCA has talked about renovating it for a few years for a dedicated space for their youth services and to expand their summer camp and existing youth programming. There was a great deal of conversation at the committee level between the two offers. There was some conversation around the unknowns from the Vaya offer, particularly around the good faith efforts to identify funding and what that looks like.”

Faines said she was “excited” the YMCA won the bid but echoed Brummitt’s concerns about mental health while also asserting that the YMCA’s paid membership would be a barrier for some.

McMillen recited the YMCA’s assurance that “well over 60%” of its summer camp program participants are non-members.

Feimster wanted more information about both proposals, which were considered last week by the three-person Properties Committee of Taylor, Brummitt and Board Chairman Leo Kelly Jr.

Correction: The original version of this story has been corrected to show that Vaya's offer did not exceed the appraised value of the building. 

Fire damages house in rural Vance Co.
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HENDERSON — An early-morning fire badly damaged Paul Knight’s home off Spring Valley Lake Road in rural Vance County on Friday.

Vance County Fire Department Chief Chris Wright said the cause of the fire is still under investigation. In monetary terms, the damage is likely equivalent to about 75% of the home’s value.

Flames “burned the roof almost completely off,” Wright said, adding that the fire appeared to have “started in the attic area.”

Knight blames an electrical fire and said the second floor of the home was “gutted” and most of the first floor too. He was able to escape the burning structure safely, but some of his dogs had to be rescued from the home.

A Minnesota native, the retired Knight has resided in the Spring Valley Lake Road home since 2001 and for the last three years by himself since his wife’s passing. On Friday morning, going on no sleep, he said he would soon be off to Clarksville, Virginia to visit his son and take a nap.

Wright’s department took the lead in battling the fire, which happened at about 2 a.m., and got mutual aid support from the Cokesbury and Drewry volunteer fire departments.

Firefighters also called in tankers from the Ridgeway, Townsville, Hicksboro, Watkins and Epsom volunteer fire departments, as the fire was intense enough that they didn’t have enough water on hand initially to control it. The house is more than 2 miles away from the nearest fire hydrant.

The Vance County Rescue Squad and Vance County EMS also lent a hand.

Firefighters and an “animal rescue team,” as Knight described it, helped save a number of dogs that were inside the house, providing oxygen to one of the dogs to help it survive. By the daylight hours, Knight had accounted for all 10 of his dogs, which are now being temporarily housed in a kennel.

“Those guys were so good,” Knight said of the emergency responders. “Those guys just came out and they fought tooth and nail and stayed with it right up until 10 o’clock this morning. They were doing their dang best.”

Knight said he hopes to rebuild the home.

Kellen Holtzman contributed to this report.

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

DA finds February shooting justified, but questions GCSO tactics
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OXFORD — A Granville County Sheriff Office deputy’s shooting of an armed man in February was “reasonable and legally justified” under state law, but it followed a “tactical decision” that put both men in danger, the region’s top prosecutor says.

Moreover, the death of Makari Jamel Smith, 23, underscores that rural law enforcement needs “more and better resources” when it comes to handling people who are experiencing a mental health crisis, District Attorney Mike Waters said.

Waters based his decision against charging the deputy not just on the fact that Smith was armed with a shotgun, but that he raised it past the “low ready” position and fired it in the deputy’s “general direction.”

The incident occurred the evening of Feb. 9 near a home on Reavis Road, following reports of a domestic disturbance and that Smith was having mental health issues.

In a memo explaining his decision, Waters said video from the deputy’s body camera showed the shot Smith fired was “in the same plane” as the deputy. Asked for clarification, he said Smith “fired off his right hip,” neither pointed directly at the deputy nor pointed away.

Smith was armed with a 20-gauge Charles Daly shotgun that, once taken into evidence, was found to have in it a spent shell and four remaining rounds. In his memo, Waters didn’t say whether the shotgun was a pump action or semi-automatic, but when asked, he clarified that it was a pump action.

The deputy had a 9mm Glock 17 pistol. He fired three times; there were 14 bullets remaining in the weapon after State Bureau of Investigation technicians took it into custody. The pistol can hold 17 shells in its magazine plus one in the chamber.

Deputies responded after emergency dispatchers first received a 911 hang-up call from the Reavis Road home. Dispatchers called back twice. The first time, a man later identified as Smith told them “everything is not OK and he is having a schizophrenic breakdown,” before hanging up. The second time, Smith again answered the phone, and dispatchers heard in the background a woman later identified as his mother saying everything was not OK. They heard Smith tell her she was overreacting before he hung up again.

Unbeknownst at the time to emergency personnel, Smith just minutes before the first 911 call had twice texted his mother, first to say “Let’s weigh my options here,” and second to say “kill myself or kill myself.”

Dispatchers summoned law enforcement, two Granville sheriff’s deputies and Stovall’s police chief arriving on the scene about 15 minutes later. They learned that Smith had left the home with a shotgun.

They looked for Smith, but in their initial 40 minutes on the scene didn’t find him. Smith’s mother left to see a magistrate about getting a restraining order and an involuntary commitment order. Officer learned during this time that Smith was having mental-health issues, had assaulted his mother before the 911 call, that she “was fearful,” and that he had prior military experience. Smith’s subsequent obituary said he was a U.S. Army veteran.

Officers left the scene, but about five minutes later, Stovall’s chief got a call reporting that Smith had returned and was in the roadway with a gun.

Deputies returned, the first finding Smith outside his bedroom window reaching inside. Smith “retrieved a shotgun through the window” and held it with both hands, “not pointed at the deputy,” who had drawn his or her own weapon and was about 30 yards away. Smith “backed away maintaining possession” of the shotgun “despite the deputy’s clear commands.”

More deputies arrived, and a patrol supervisor “called off the search in the woods due to concerns about officer safety.” But instead of leaving entirely, the decision was made to leave one deputy — the one who eventually shot Smith — behind and have the other “withdraw with vehicles,” Waters said.

Audio on the supervisor’s body camera recorded the deputy assigned to stay behind telling colleagues to take his truck with them, and that he “would prop up right there in the bush.”

But he apparently didn’t think things would end well. “You already know what fixin’ to go down,” he told his colleagues. “I tell him to drop that [weapon] and he don’t drop it. I’m just letting you know.”

His body camera recorded the sound of rustling leaves, and the image of a light shining onto Smith. The deputy asked Smith his name, and told him “we can talk about it.” The deputy then said “ya’ll come on,” followed by “Please just drop the gun” and “I don’t want to do this.” The shooting followed.

The account in Waters’ memo differed in at least one key detail — the decision to leave behind a single deputy — from what Sheriff John Hardy told reporters in February.

“The 23-year-old male subject exited the residence armed with a shotgun and ran into the woods,” Hardy said in February. “As deputies were searching for the subject and attempting to secure the scene, the subject fired at one of the deputies. The deputy returned fire, striking the subject.”

Waters said the deputy “reasonably believed that Smith would shoot him.” Moreover, deputies had to reckon with the fact of Smith being armed and on the loose near other homes.

But the “unfortunate series of events” should “reinforce the need for continuing efforts of law enforcement to find more effective avenues to help defuse situations that may arise during a mental health crisis,” Waters said.

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

Teachers get raises in new state budget
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HENDERSON — Vance County Schools Superintendent Cindy Bennett said this week a pay increase for teachers, albeit modest, was “very much appreciated” by the teachers in her district.

Last month, Gov. Roy Cooper signed off on the two-year, $27.9 billion state budget, which included an average 4.2% raise for public school teachers along with a teacher bonus program. The budget also included $56 million for the opportunity scholarship program that gives state funds for students to attend private schools.

Beginning public school teacher yearly salaries will now start at $37,000, which is about $2,000 higher than the previous starting figure.

Bennett said the legislature addressed the need to increase teacher salaries as well as the shortage of teachers around the state.

“With a great shortage of teachers right now,” Bennett said, “there really is no drive or motivation for people to go into schools of education to become teachers when you look at a starting salary that’s below $40,000, in all honesty.

“They know there’s a shortage, so how could we help that pipeline? So let’s at least show that we are trying to increase the salary. For those that are here, let’s give them a little increase as well so hopefully they’ll stay.”

All public K-12 teachers are getting a raise, but the average-increase figure depends on where a teacher falls on the state schedule salary, which has built-in, yearly salary increases, determined by “steps” that are based on years of experience.

When teachers hit the 15-24-years-of-experience mark, the increases stop until year 25 when they resume.

“Although funding does not necessarily come at the same time that things are legislated,” Bennett said, “it’s always then retro to July 1, which is the beginning of our fiscal year.”

The state budget also includes $2,800 in bonuses for teachers and $100 million for teacher supplements.

Vance County is receiving $2,482 in teacher supplement assistance per state-funded teacher in addition to $1.1 million in county-allocated supplements and benefits.

Those supplement numbers are dependent on the number of teachers in a county. For Warren County, the figures are $2,669 and $439,259. For Granville County, it’s $1,510 and $897,030.

Counties like Wake and Mecklenburg get no money under the plan since they are already able to offer significantly larger supplements through local tax dollars.

Reporting for EdNC, which covers public education matters around the state, Alex Granados offered the following breakdown of the budget bonuses:

Teachers and principals will also be getting bonuses delivered in various ways.

First, any state employee making less than $75,000 a year gets a $1,500 bonus and any state employee making more than that gets a $1,000 bonus. So, teachers should be getting a $1,500 bonus under that plan and most principals will be getting a $1,000 bonus.

In addition, teachers will get another $1,000 bonus, as well as an additional $300 that is repurposed money for merit-based bonuses that can’t be given this year because of a lack of valid accountability data thanks to COVID-19 disruptions. Principals will get another $1,800 bonus. The end result is that most teachers and principals should get $2,800 in bonuses.

Non-certified education personnel will be getting the $1,500 bonus for state employees.