Tanya Tise slipped into a parking space outside the Vivian H. Burke Public Safety Center a few minutes before 8 a.m. Wednesday.
She went first to greet a handful of familiar faces, retired cops and friends who knew her husband Lt. Aaron Tise, a shift commander who was killed on the job 27 years ago. They hugged, laughed and got caught up.
Next, she crossed the parking lot. She nodded to a detective, who greeted her by name, and spoke briefly to a reporter. She held tight to a large red, white and blue bouquet she’d brought to place at the police memorial wall. “I guess I’d better get up there,” Tise said finally.
It was nearly 8 sharp, and a ceremony to honor her husband was about to begin. Close to 100 cops, plain-clothes detectives and uniforms, working patrol officers and brass alike, snapped to attention.
“Lt. Aaron Tise,” called out Cpl. Fleurette Gregory-Phillips, a member of the Winston-Salem Police Department’s honor guard. “End of watch June 26, 1992.”
A rough year
Tanya Tise knew how the End of Watch memorial ceremony would go. She’s been to plenty of them in the past and, God willing, will attend many more.
But knowing doesn’t make it any easier.
“The closer I get to tomorrow,” she’d said Tuesday afternoon, “the more I think about 27 years ago. … You still have in the back of your mind ‘What if somebody had done something different?’ But you can’t think that way. God has control.”
Still, it’s impossible not to consider the what-ifs — particularly in this instance.
Lt. Tise — he’s still Gerome to Tanya — wasn’t shot to death. Nor was he killed in a high-speed crash.
He died as the result of a stupid, mindless stunt: his police cruiser was crushed by an out-of-control road grader that had been stolen by joy-riding teenagers.
Early on the morning of June 26, 1992, police responded to a call about teens fooling around with heavy construction equipment parked off New Walkertown Road. They spent a half-hour looking around but didn’t find anything.
Two hours later, they were back. That time, they saw — and heard — the grader rumbling down East Street. Tise, the shift lieutenant, saw it coming directly at his cruiser and tried to escape through the passenger door.
He never had a chance.
Four teenagers were charged the next day with first-degree murder, assault and larceny. Charges against three were dropped.
But the fourth, a young man named Conrad Crews who’d been ID’ed as the driver, was charged with first-degree murder. The following year, Crews pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole.
Last year, the state parole commission held a parole hearing. Tanya Tise had to sift through boxes of records and old newspaper clippings — to relive the whole horrible night — to prepare for her testimony.
Parole was denied in early June 2018. Not too long after that came the End of Watch observance for 2018.
“Last year was rough, especially with that hearing,” Tise said.
The days leading up to this year’s ceremony brought about familiar — and mixed — emotions.
She felt the sadness and a touch of anger, of course, the same as anyone would. But for Tise, there’s also pride — even a little gratitude — in that the police in this city take the time to honor their own.
“It just takes your breath. Everything comes back,” she said. “We’re proud there’s a memorial down there and they’re not forgotten. I’m glad Gerome’s not forgotten.”
Wednesday’s observance was by design solemn. Members of the department’s honor guard took turns standing watch in front of the memorial wall all day.
As Tanya Tise greeted folks, cops (and ex-cops) filtered in. The retirees were easy to spot; the men grow beards and long hair the day after they file their papers.
Members of the traffic-enforcement unit glided in on department issue motorcycles. Detectives wearing khakis and golf shirts with embroidered badges gathered in clusters. Trainees in orange T-shirts ran up as a group. Uniforms, brass and a handful of off-duty officers came, too.
Few, if any, ever knew Lt. Aaron Tise. Some hadn’t even been born when he died. They don’t need — or particularly enjoy — reminders about the price their jobs can exact. But they came anyway, same as Tanya Tise. It’s a duty and an honor.
At 8 sharp, Gregory-Phillips called end of watch and a minute of silence was observed. Tise laid her bouquet at the wall and lowered her eyes. Just like that it was over.
“It’s just been so long, people don’t really remember all of it,” Tise said. “It’s nice that they do.”
For more than a decade, Michael Todd Pegram used several jobs — a counselor at the Kernersville Family YMCA, a volunteer firefighter, a hockey coach and a local DJ — to get access to boys as young as 10 and sexually assault them multiple times in the 1990s and early 2000s, a Forsyth County prosecutor said in court Wednesday morning.
He invited many boys that he met through the YMCA to his home, a violation of the agency’s policy, where he made them lie beside him in bed, watch pornography and perform sexual acts. He told at least one boy that the pornography was about love.
Pegram was formally charged with sexually assaulting eight boys between 1991 and 2001, according to indictments. The boys are now grown, and six of the eight men sat in Courtroom 5A and watched Pegram plead guilty to five counts of first-degree sex offense, one count of attempted first-degree sex offense, one count of statutory sex offense with a child and 21 counts of taking indecent liberties with a child. At the time of his November 2017 arrest in Florida, Pegram was employed at Walt Disney World and was taken into custody in front of one of Walt Disney World’s All-Star resorts.
Judge Stanley Allen of Forsyth Superior Court consolidated many of the charges into two consecutive sentences totaling a minimum of 24 years to a maximum of 30 years and four months in prison. He consolidated another set of charges and sentenced Pegram to three years in prison that Pegram will serve at the same time.
Many of the men told Allen that they were psychologically damaged from the abuse and that it took years of therapy to come to terms with what Pegram did to them. They kept the abuse to themselves, never telling their parents until recently after a criminal investigation started. One man said that soon after he told his mother about the abuse, she committed suicide.
But he also said he forgave Pegram and after he spoke, he hugged several of the men waiting to speak before taking his seat.
Another man said he hasn’t forgiven Pegram.
“He stole my innocence, he stole my childhood, he stole my virginity without my permission,” he said. “If you’re asking for my opinion, send him to prison for the rest of his life because that’s what he deserves.”
Pegram worked as a counselor and a teen director from March 1988 to March 2002, officials at the YMCA of Northwest North Carolina have previously said. Bruce Boyer, former executive director of the Kernersville YMCA, told Kernersville police detectives that Pegram was fired in 2002 after violating YMCA policy. Without approval, he took a group of boys to an all-male revue at a local hotel, Assistant District Attorney Kia Chavious said after court.
She said based on the investigation, it doesn’t appear that YMCA officials were aware that Pegram was sexually assaulting children or that he had groups of young boys over at his house. Employees told police that YMCA officials had been aware that Pegram had taken young boys on non-YMCA locations, a violation, Chavious said. YMCA employees were not allowed to socialize with children outside of the YMCA. Pegram’s personnel records have been destroyed, per policy, so it is not clear if he was ever reprimanded before he was fired in 2002.
The YMCA of Northwest North Carolina sent out a statement Wednesday afternoon, saying it was “saddened to hear and learn what these victims and their families experienced.”
“When the YMCA became aware of these allegations, we launched a third-party investigation to learn as much as it could about the allegations, some of which occurred well over 25 years ago,” the agency said in its statement.
The YMCA said it is committed to “ensuring the safety and welfare of all of our members, especially children.”
It wasn’t until May 28, 2017 that one of the eight boys, a man now in his 30s, reported Pegram’s abuse of him to the Kernersville Police Department.
He told police he was finally able to come forward after many years of therapy and he was worried that Pegram was continuing to abuse children because Pegram owned MTP DJ Productions, which provided entertainment services for weddings and other events, Chavious said. It was through that business that Pegram came into contact with middle- and high-school-age children.
According to search warrants, the man told police that Pegram sexually assaulted him 40 to 50 times when the man was between the ages of 10 and 16. He alleged that the sexual assaults happened between 1996 and 2002. The man told police that Pegram abused him at Pegram’s house in the 200 block of Adams Street in Kernersville.
Kernersville police also talked to the man’s brother, who also said Pegram sexually abused him, Chavious said.
In many of the cases, Pegram would make young boys lie beside him in bed, force them to watch pornography and then demand that they perform sexual acts.
He would also make the boys perform oral sex on him. Some boys complied and other boys refused. Often, Pegram would threaten to kill the boys’ parents or say the boys were behaving badly if the boys told their parents about the sexual abuse.
Chavious said the sexual assaults not only happened at Pegram’s house; they also occurred at the Kernersville Family YMCA at 1150 W. Mountain St.
Pegram also allegedly sexually assaulted another boy in the shower.
At least one alleged sexual assault happened at Piney Grove Fire Department, where Pegram was a volunteer firefighter.
Search warrants in the case indicated that Pegram may have videotaped some of the sexual assaults. One of the men told police that he remembered video equipment in Pegram’s bedroom, where the alleged sexual assault happened and that he saw Pegram place several cassettes he believed contained evidence of the assaults in a tin box. The tin box was wrapped in duct tape and Pegram buried it in the backyard.
Kernersville police talked to another man who accused Pegram of sexual assault, and that man said he remembered a video camcorder in Pegram’s bedroom.
Chavious said in court that Kernersville police seized numerous tapes but none featured any evidence pertaining to the alleged sexual assaults. Some videotapes were in such poor condition that police could not watch them.
Jones Byrd, Pegram’s attorney, said there’s no excuse for what Pegram did but added that Pegram was going through a dark time when the alleged incidents happened. He said Pegram feels remorse for what he did and agreed to plead guilty so that the men he is accused of assaulting would not have to testify in a trial.
Pegram, dressed in a dark blue jumpsuit, did not say anything before he was sentenced.
Allen said he was particularly disturbed that Pegram was a firefighter, a position of trust.
“This gentlemen is a poster child for a predator, a sexual predator,” he said. “I’m sort of amazed that it was able to go on for so long.”
The General Assembly has approved a controversial bill that makes seats on Surry County’s three school boards partisan, despite vocal opposition from those boards.
The N.C. Senate voted 39-7 Wednesday to approve slight changes that the N.C. House made to Senate Bill 674 before passing it.
The legislation was filed as a “local bill,” meaning it cannot be vetoed by the governor. The new law will go into effect with the 2020 election.
On Tuesday, the House voted 62-49 in favor of SB674. One Democrat voted in favor of the bill; no Republicans opposed.
On Monday, the House Rules and Operations Committee deadlocked 10-10 on the bill, which required the committee’s chairman, state Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, to break the tie.
Surry County has three school systems — Elkin City, Mount Airy City and Surry County.
Under the bill, the members of those school boards will serve four-year terms, and board candidates will be required to state a political party when filing for office. Party affiliations will appear on ballots. Vacancies will be filled by choosing from nominees submitted by the departing member’s political party.
SB674 was introduced as a local bill May 21 by state Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and state Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Wilkes, who represents Surry and four other counties in Northwest North Carolina. The two House members who represent Surry County — state Reps. Kyle Hall, R-Stokes, and Sarah Stevens, R-Surry, supported the legislation.
“This bill will increase voter participation in school board elections, and I believe that party affiliation gives voters a sense of a candidate’s philosophy,” Berger said in a written statement.
“That’s especially true of an issue like education, where there’s a fairly stark divide between Republicans and Democrats,” said Berger, whose legislative district includes part of Surry County.
The Republican-controlled Surry County Board of Commissioners expressed similar sentiments before its 3-1 vote on April 1 to request partisan school-board elections.
When questioned by House Rules and Operations Committee members about the school boards’ opposition to SB674, Stevens acknowledged Monday that a major impetus for the bill is Berger’s belief that all school boards in the counties he represents should have partisan elections.
House Bill 517, which would make the Stokes County school board partisan, cleared the House on April 11 but has not been heard in the Senate Elections and Ethics Law Committee. That bill has the support of the school board and Stokes County commissioners.
Meanwhile, on April 10, a state House bill that would have staggered Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school-board elections failed to clear a legislative committee on a 10-10 vote. That bill also was filed as a local bill.
Under the provisions of that bill, HB490, all nine seats on the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education — two in District 1, three at large and four in District 2 — would be up for election in 2022. Board-member positions are for four-year terms, and the last election was in 2018.
But in 2024, the four seats in District 2 would be up for election again under HB490. The next election would be in 2028 and every four years afterward. District 1 and the at-large seats would stick with the current election schedule.
On May 7, state Reps. Donny Lambeth and Debra Conrad, both R-Forsyth, said they put on hold HB490 and HB518, which would require Forsyth County commissioners’ approval of any changes made by the school board pertaining to school choice and attendance zones. Lambeth said they took that action after recent discussions with Malishai Woodbury, the school board’s chairwoman.
A bill to change Winston-Salem City Council elections was also tabled after discussions between Lambeth and local leaders.