GREENSBORO — Regional jets have always been the barely-tolerated stepchild of big jets like the Boeing 737.
But they’re a necessity in the airline business that often doesn’t need to deploy larger jets in smaller markets with fewer passengers — like the Piedmont Triad. Regional jets typically cram 70 passengers into a smaller twin-engine craft with cramped luggage storage and limited service, often as the first or last leg of a connecting trip to the smallest airports.
But United Airlines wants to change that, turning the dowdy little jets into a first-class experience that greets executive passengers at even the smallest airports where they often begin long journeys.
“If they’re flying Greensboro to London, Greensboro to Tokyo, we’re able to offer premium from end-to-end” said Nick Depner, United Airlines’ director of sales. “We’re very proud of that.”
United says it’s the first airline in the world to offer truly first-class seats in a regional jet.
United showed off its reconfigured Bombardier CRJ-550 Friday on the concrete apron at Piedmont Triad International Airport to media and corporate travel managers.
Greensboro is one of the first markets to get one of United’s 10 reconfigured regional jets. The jet they showed off Friday will be making regular flights to Chicago from PTI.
From the outside it’s an unremarkable jet, but inside, the fresh, new seats and large first-class section of the cabin say that this is a different kind of travel experience for the high-end passenger.
Instead of finding a way to squeeze more seats onto a plane like many airlines do, United removed 20 seats from the CRJ-550 and created room for 10 high-profit, first-class seats up front. The wide seats have legroom for days and something few airlines can offer: A self-service snack and drink bar.
The jets have only one flight attendant who will have to balance duties up front with serving the economy-class passengers in the rear.
While the flight attendant is occupied, passengers up front can help themselves to a well-stocked cabinet filled with cookies, deli snacks, bananas and drinks available in glass tumblers. Hardly the conical plastic cups and pretzels you’ll see in economy.
“This is the kind of stuff passengers have always wanted to touch and never been able to do it,” Depner said.
Even economy-class passengers benefit from the changes. The aircraft features enough space for 70 roll-on bags, far more than the 50 spots available previously in such jets.
United currently makes two daily flights between Greensboro and Chicago on the jets but by spring there will be at least four flights a day on the planes, including routes to Dulles International Airport and Newark.
On any given day the airline makes between 11 and 14 flights in and out of PTI.
United spokesman Luke Punzenberger said the new jets offer Greensboro passengers a private jet experience in the small cabin of a commercial airliner.
Greensboro is one of the first markets to get the modified jets, with only 10 in use systemwide by United. By next year the airline plans to be flying 54 of the special jets.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say this is going to be revolutionary,” said Punzenberger. “It’s a regional flying experience unlike anything I’ve seen.”
A former Winston-Salem police officer facing child-abuse charges left his son in the care of his girlfriend, even though the Forsyth County Department of Social Services warned him against doing so, according to a memorandum from an assistant city manager that was obtained by the Winston-Salem Journal.
Winston-Salem police Cpl. David Benjamin Ingram, 36, of Trace View Drive, was fired Oct. 1. Ingram was arrested in August and charged with felony negligent child abuse, inflicting serious physical injury and misdemeanor contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Arrest warrants alleged that his 3-year-old son suffered a fractured femur in June because Ingram left the child improperly supervised. Specifically, police allege that he left his son in the care of his girlfriend, Jaimie Leonard Binkley, 31, who is charged with felony child abuse, inflicting serious physical injury.
Binkley is also facing charges of misdemeanor child abuse and contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile based on allegations that she bruised the boy sometime between Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 of 2018. Ingram faces misdemeanor child abuse and contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile charges stemming from that incident.
When Ingram was initially arrested, the Winston-Salem Police Department suspended him, pending termination. The police department launched both a criminal investigation and an internal investigation to determine if Ingram had violated any departmental policies. That internal investigation led to his termination on Oct. 1. Ingram filed a grievance, and an informal hearing was held on Oct. 15, according to a memorandum from Assistant City Attorney Evan Raleigh. City Manager Lee Garrity sent Ingram a letter on Oct. 16 informing Ingram that Garrity was upholding the decision to terminate him.
Ingram did not immediately return a message seeking comment on Friday. Binkley could not be reached for comment. Efforts to find a phone number for Binkley were not successful.
Winston-Salem police had gotten a report on alleged child abuse involving Ingram’s son on June 19. The day before, Ingram had left his son, Sebastian, in Binkley’s care. Raleigh says in the memorandum that police investigators determined that Ingram knew Binkley was facing a charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor in connection to his son and still left his son in Binkley’s care.
According to the memorandum, Ingram received a letter dated Feb. 21, 2018, from the Forsyth County Department of Social Services. The letter said that Binkley had been added to a list maintained by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services of people found responsible for the abuse or neglect of children, Raleigh wrote in his memorandum. The letter also told Ingram that Binkley should not be left in a caretaking role. The memorandum does not provide any details about the alleged abuse or neglect that prompted the letter.
Despite the letter, Ingram let Binkley act as a sole caretaker of his son. In one undated incident, Binkley left Sebastian in the care of her 10-year-old son while she left for three hours, the memorandum said. Sebastian was later found with suspicious injuries on his face and head after a reported fall.
Ingram initially told Winston-Salem police that he didn’t know anything about the letter from Forsyth County Department of Social Services. But according to the memorandum, police investigators were able to get a copy of that same letter from Ingram’s cellphone. Ingram eventually admitted that he had seen the letter but “he did not believe the language contained in the letter precluded him from placing his son in (Binkley’s) care.”
In a section entitled “Grievant’s Position,” Raleigh wrote that Ingram contended that his son broke his right femur when his leg was caught in a bed frame. Ingram also said that Binkley was not home when Sebastian was injured. He also didn’t believe that Binkley was guilty of the incident leading to the misdemeanor child- abuse charge, according to the memorandum.
Ingram said during the hearing on his grievance that he was not guilty of the criminal charges, did not violate departmental policies and should be reinstated as a police officer.
According to the memorandum, Winston-Salem police talked to qualified medical personnel who determined that Sebastian’s injuries were not accidental.
Ingram was released from custody after posting a $5,000 bond. He is scheduled to appear on Dec. 19 in Forsyth District Court. Binkley was released on a $50,000 bond and is also scheduled to appear on Dec. 19 in Forsyth District Court.
Who is Steve Claude?
To his Wake Forest teammates, Claude is the wide receiver who just turned 23 and has the maturity to back up his standing as one of the oldest players on the team.
Claude is also the guy who rejoined the football team about a week before the 2017 season started and ended up making three special teams tackles in the Belk Bowl.
“I mean he’s one of those kids, he’s just easy to fall in love with,” Coach Dave Clawson said.
That’s because there’s so much more than what’s on the surface.
“It’s cool, not a lot of people know. Of course my best friends, they know what I’ve been through and how I grew up and stuff,” Claude said. “But if you just see me, I don’t show it because I want you to see a happy person at Wake Forest, living life.
“If I go back home, everybody knows, ‘Oh, Lucky,’ — that’s my nickname — ‘He made it out of this, he made it out of that, that’s Lucky.’”
Not a lot of people know Steve Claude outside his being thrust into a larger role over the past couple of weeks for Wake Forest.
Not a lot of people know that Claude was born without a stomach and had to have one built for him, undergoing four surgeries before his first birthday, or that he had heart murmurs as a baby that caused his heart to stop at one point.
They don’t know he grew up in the Graveyard Projects of Little Haiti in Miami or that his mother was given a diagnosis of uterine cancer when he was 12 and still deals with the pain today.
They don’t know that when Claude left Wake Forest in 2017, he cut grass and drove for Uber to help pay bills because he feared a kidney disease would claim his mother’s life.
Through it all, Claude is able to project the image of being a happy person — and even the shortest of conversations with him will be genuine — because of a decision he made in January 2017.
It wasn’t much of a choice. He just couldn’t tell his mom, Latrebah Dixson, that he was leaving Wake Forest to move to Savannah to be with her after she was told she had the potentially fatal kidney illness.
He knew what her reaction would be.
“I would’ve told him no,” Dixson said. “We’re kind of two of the same people because he tries to do what’s best for me and I try to do what’s best for him.”
After Wake Forest won the Military Bowl in December 2016 and its football program had finally emerged from the depths of seven straight losing seasons, Claude went to Savannah, Ga. That’s where Dixson had gone to live with one of Claude’s aunts after she learned she had a kidney illness — complications stemming from uterine cancer.
While Claude officially left the team in January 2017, less than a month after the Military Bowl, the reality was he was figuratively absent before the bowl.
“I was consistently going to talk to (assistant head coach/receivers Coach Kevin Higgins) every day like, giving him updates, telling him what was going on and stuff,” Claude said. “He was asking me like, ‘What do you plan on doing? We want to be prepared to hold your scholarship and stuff in case you change your mind or in case you do want to come back.’
“But at that time in my head, I was like, ‘No, I want to be there for my mom.’ Football was the last thing on my mind.”
The origin of Claude’s nickname is simple: He’s lucky to be alive. The specific event, as Claude says, was when he was a baby and his heart stopped for a few seconds. Dixson revealed, though, that her son was born without a stomach and that he had to have one built for him.
“He had four major surgeries by the age of one. And that’s how he earned his name,” she said.
Claude turned 23 on Thursday. He’s one of the oldest players on the roster, and so of course teammates joked that it was like he was turning 30.
That’s also derived from a maturity that was only enhanced when Claude stepped away in 2017.
“Kind of exposed him to real life fast, so it kind of left him numb to a lot of things after having to grow up and hear his mom say she may die,” Dixson said. “And it kinda numbed him to other things around after that.”
Claude was forced to grow up quickly.
“So we had a big talk about how she could pretty much, could like, die. We had a talk about that, so that matured me quick,” Claude said. “When she got sick again, it was like wow, life’s hitting. Life’s hitting hard.”
It wasn’t the first time.
Claude’s birthday Thursday also was the 10-year anniversary of one of his best friends being shot and killed in Miami.
“Once you have death around you 24-7, all the time, it’s like, ‘OK. Oh, such and such died.’ You’re like, ‘Man that’s crazy,’ and you just move on about your day,” Claude said. “You just look at it as we all just have to die one day, and that was just their time. Your time is going to come at some point.
“You can’t sit back and dwell over their passing, you’ve gotta live your life to the fullest while you can.”
The takes-a-village part of raising kids isn’t exclusive to stable areas. Claude wasn’t head and shoulders faster and more athletic than others where he grew up — but his mentality was different, and that’s one reason he’s not still there.
But that’s not the only one.
“When they see you trying to make it out and trying to make a way for yourself in life, they actually like, push you to be greater, push you to do more,” Claude said. “My neighborhood and the people I was around, they always said like, ‘We want you to be different from everybody else, we want you to go and make it.’”
It helped that Claude was indirectly exposed to the dangers of his environment.
“I was never into drugs like smoking or drinking and stuff because I saw the effects it had on people firsthand; I saw it — you see it in your face like every day,” Claude said. “With homeless people and crackheads going to the store every day and like, and just to see them drunk and see people get killed because they said the wrong thing while they’re drunk, or people get drunk and shoot up clubs.
“You see the effects of it and you’re like, ‘Yeah, I don’t want that life. I want to live and have a prosperous life, I want a family, I want a wife and kids.’”
If there are any tears during tonight’s Senior Day celebration, they’re likely to be from Dixson.
And they won’t be tears of sadness. They’ll be tears of happiness and joy.
“He’s a kid with very little emotion, I don’t know why. Well, I know why. But he doesn’t like displaying his emotions,” she said.
So many members of Wake Forest’s senior class represent the steady progress of the program over the past five years. Offensive linemen Jake Benzinger and Nate Gilliam carved out larger roles from redshirt seasons to backups to starters; that was the path for cornerbacks Essang Bassey and Amari Henderson and linebacker Justin Strnad, too.
As Wake Forest heads into its final home game of the 2019 season, Clawson has reflected on how important this senior class has been for his program to climb the ladder of the ACC. This season has seen the Deacons nationally ranked for the first time since 2008. They appeared in the College Football Playoff rankings for the first time in school history, and if the Deacons win their final three games, the senior class will leave Winston-Salem with the second-most wins in school history.
It’s a class that has already wrapped up its fourth straight winning season — the first time since 1948 that a group of seniors will leave Wake Forest without being on the field for a losing season.
Claude was part of a program-building undertaking at Champagnat Catholic School in Miami, and he wanted a similar situation in his college choice, along with the value of a Wake Forest degree.
“When it came down to it, he picked Wake Forest, and I asked him: of any school that he would’ve picked, why did he pick that school?” Dixson said. “He said the academics for one, and then he said that he sees that they’re trying to build their program.
“So he wanted to be a part of it.”
Claude is among the group that Clawson has lauded this week for committing to Wake Forest when success was only an idea, not quantifiable in wins or bowl berths. It’s a unique class for the Deacons — every player either spent a redshirt season as the Deacons went 3-9 or committed to the program off such a season.
But if he had to do it all over again, Claude would still leave Wake Forest in 2017 — despite it putting him back at ground zero in his football career for the Deacons.
It didn’t sit right with Dixson, though.
“He was sad, he didn’t like it,” she said. “And I didn’t want him to be unhappy. I would prefer him to not being there with me and being happy than to be there with me and not, you know, feel comfortable in his surroundings.”
And Claude wanted to return to the team. He just couldn’t tell his mom that — though she eventually wore him down and persuaded him to come back.
“When I got there, she knew that I missed Wake. I missed my teammates and my coaches and my friends here, I missed playing football there. The culture at Savannah State just wasn’t for me,” Claude said. “… I just went there, and it was just a big shift. Yes, I was dealing with it because I knew I was home for a greater purpose, but … I just couldn’t do it.”
Dixson persuaded Claude to return to Wake Forest. That wasn’t going to be easy; Wake Forest gave away his scholarship because he had been sure he was leaving.
There wasn’t a spot for him with the Deacons, and it was too late in the process to join a team that had gone through spring practices, summer workouts and was into fall camp.
Claude was working out with Savannah State’s football team, and a turning point came quickly.
“One day I just had enough. It was like a morning workout, and I guess three or four other players were there for the morning workout. Like, the rest of the team was like — skip it,” Claude said.
“I just had enough, so I was like — I called up Coach Clawson and I was just like, ‘Coach, I can’t do it, I want to come back.’ … Coach Clawson was like, ‘I understand, but that scholarship is gone.’ So I was devastated.”
Though it might have felt like it then, the door wasn’t closed for Claude just yet.
“He left because his mother was sick,” Clawson said. “… And we didn’t have a scholarship. I said, ‘Steven, I’d love to have you back. The second we get one,’ and we got one. ‘Would you like to come back?’
“I think he appreciated Wake Forest more after he came back than he probably did before he left.”
Dionte Austin, a cornerback and close friend of Claude’s, decided to transfer from Wake Forest during fall camp in 2017. It opened a scholarship and led to the phone call Claude didn’t know he would get.
Once Claude rejoined Wake Forest, it brought forth a new set of challenges.
Claude had missed seven months, a crucial time for receivers and quarterbacks to develop chemistry. And despite Claude working out and staying in shape while he was away, he came back to Wake Forest weighing in at about 206 pounds — he left at about 193.
“I was back, I was heavier,” he said. “Because I was working out and I was running and stuff, so I wasn’t conditioned like (strength and conditioning coach Brandon Hourigan) has us conditioned. I was heavier, so coming back — I was like, ‘Wow, I need to get back into shape and stuff.’”
Claude caught one pass that season, a 13-yarder in a rout of Utah State. His impact on the field came on special teams, and his impact in the locker room and receivers’ meeting room was made by mentoring teammates based on his life experience.
“I felt great, like I had an impact during that season,” Claude said. “It was a lot to get pumped up and go out and do those things because in the back of your head, you’re like, ‘Man, I wish I was playing and stuff.’
“But at the end of the day … I had in my mind, ‘Yo, on these units, make an impact wherever you can.’”
His impact on special teams came as no surprise to Higgins, his position coach.
“Steve is a quintessential team player. He’s going to do whatever we need to be successful, he’s worked extremely hard with Atorian Perry, just being a big brother, if you will, to him, helping him find his way,” Higgins said.
The Deacons need Claude.
Claude had seven catches in his first three seasons at Wake Forest, and then opened this season with six catches for 70 yards against Utah State.
But he’s had only five catches since then, three of which came in the blowout of Elon. Claude’s promising first game faded from focus with the stellar seasons of Sage Surratt and Scotty Washington on the outside, and then Hinton in the slot once he was healthy.
With Surratt out for the season and Washington missing the last two games, the Deacons are in desperate need of a playmaker or two on the outside.
“When those guys went down, we kinda hoped that he’d be the stable, consistent one …” Clawson said of Claude. “He’s assignment-wise and all that, he’s good. It’d just be great to see him make a few more plays.”
Claude knows that’s the case, too.
“I still feel like I have more to prove, more I can give to the team and stuff,” he said. “And I feel like there are still plays out there on the field to make, and I’m gonna do my best to make them.”
Claude will be joined on the field for Senior Day festivities by four of the people he credits with keeping him on course — mom, dad, stepmom, stepdad.
“Although you see the struggles they go through, you see all this and you offer to help, they’re like, ‘No, we’re the parents, we’ve got it. Go do what you’ve gotta do on the field and in the classroom and we’ll handle the rest,’” Claude said.
He was able to break through and help when he went to Savannah and was cutting grass. The past two-plus years have been about a return to focusing on football and school.
Claude will graduate in December with a degree in communications. He wants to play in the NFL, and he’ll spend the months between Wake Forest’s bowl game and Pro Day training in Winston-Salem and Miami. After football, whenever that time comes, he’ll have his degree and a plan. Claude has been working with former Deacon Elontae Bateman, who works in student-athlete development at Wake Forest, and thinks a career in insurance could be the path.
“I feel like me making it to play college football, getting my degree in a couple of weeks, it’s like … I feel like I’ve fulfilled what they’ve dreamed of from the beginning,” he said.
Indeed he has. And there are three games left for Claude to fulfill more dreams.