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Z-no-digital
Gas prices trickling down for Memorial Day

North Carolina drivers are projected to pay less at the gas pump this Memorial Day weekend than they did last year, AAA Carolinas said Monday.

Currently, regular unleaded gas averages $2.65 a gallon in the Triad, down 2 cents from last year.

According to GasBuddy.com, the lowest gas price in Forsyth County on Monday was $2.43 at Gashopper, 890 W. Northwest Blvd. in Winston-Salem.

However, AAA Carolinas said it is likely prices could drop further between now and Thursday, the start of the five-day holiday weekend.

“While gas prices have been up and down across the Carolinas, they are shaping up to be around 15 to 20 cents cheaper than last Memorial Day weekend, so we expect many Carolinians to hit the road to celebrate the long weekend,” AAA Carolinas spokeswoman Tiffany Wright said.

The agency is expecting that a record 1.3 million North Carolinians will drive to their holiday weekend destination, up 3.6% from last year.

Another 99,000 North Carolinians are expected to fly to their destination, up 4.8% year over year.

The agency says the busiest drive times will be late afternoon on Thursday and Friday as commuters leave work early and mix with holiday travelers.

Over the Memorial Day holiday period in 2018, there were 3,462 crashes in North Carolina, resulting in 17 fatalities.

Memorial Day weekend marks the beginning of the “100 deadliest days” driving period — the period when teen traffic deaths historically rise, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. It runs from Memorial Day through Labor Day.


Z-no-digital
Wake Forest grads urged to seek truth, find time for reflection

On a day of celebration for nearly 2,000 graduates from Wake Forest University, they were reminded to be cautious of what they read and to take time for personal reflection.

Frederick Ryan Jr., the publisher and chief executive officer of the Washington Post, said the graduates could trust the information they obtained at Wake Forest, but they will need to verify information outside of the university. He cautioned there is much false information, and the term, “fake news,” has made things even more treacherous.

That’s “used to deliberately muddy the line to accept alternative facts,” Ryan said.

Technology has also made things more difficult, with the spreading of falsehoods, Ryan said.

“Poorly sourced stories or outright lies create information to be weaponized, impugn reputations or inflame campaigns,” he said.

Ryan said he wasn’t referring to President Donald Trump’s “Twitter tirades,” which the media has largely learned to ignore, but the practice of calling the press or anyone else an enemy of the people. His point garnered applause from the crowd.

“That verbal assault creates a dangerous environment that could lead to physical harm against Americans,” Ryan said.

He said the Washington Post is extraordinarily cautious in what it reports, triple-checking everything.

“We live in a time where fact and truth is blurring. What many seek out is not information, but affirmation,” Ryan said.

He urged the graduates to broaden their horizons and surround themselves with people who have differing viewpoints and perspectives. Ryan told them to also think twice before reposting something on social media or forwarding it. And he encouraged them to be skeptical of information that seems too good to be true.

Wake Forest President Nathan Hatch urged graduates to follow the advice of storyteller Matthew Dicks, to take five minutes a day for reflection.

“Review your life. What’s the most storytelling moment of your day?” Hatch asked. “Develop a rich, meaningful inner life. Few of us take time to hear that inner voice.”

Several medical school graduates and faculty took the time to show they were mindful Monday to remember someone they lost. Many wore purple ribbons in honor of Tori McLean, a medical school student who died of cancer.

Zoe Helmers, 22, of Philadelphia, majored in Spanish with an education minor. She plans to go to New York with Teach for America following graduation, going into a lower-income school for two years to teach. She said she can’t wait to begin her new adventure but is sad to leave Wake.

“It’s been an amazing four years,” she said. “I wouldn’t take anything back.”

Kingsley Bustamante, 22, of Miami, is a first-generation college student who majored in economics. He walked across the stage with a Colombian flag draped around his neck.

“It’s part of my identity,” Bustamante said. “I’m as much Colombian as I am American.”

A professor who’s also from Colombia, Diego Burgos, gave him a high-five after Bustamante got his diploma.

He said being the first in his family to go to college was a little daunting.

“At first I was a little nervous, being away,” he said. “But Wake provided me with opportunities I wouldn’t have been able to have.”

He’s returning home after graduation to help his parents and search for jobs.

“I’m excited but sad that I’m leaving all this behind,” Bustamante said.

Another first-generation student, Kyle Flaherty, 21, said he decided to go to college after his father impressed upon him at a young age not to let other people close doors to him. Flaherty, of Chesapeake, Va., was interested in computers as a child and decided to major in the field at Wake Forest.

“I was playing computer games, and I wanted to learn what happened when I pushed buttons. It’s not just magic,” he said.

Flaherty said he grew up in a high-poverty area and didn’t have computer classes in high school so he began at Wake Forest at a disadvantage. He began his freshman year cultivating a close relationship with Dr. Errin Fulp, who helped with his interest in security — an interest he got from a father in the military.

He’s ultimately graduating and going into a career with Capital One, working in cyber security in Richmond, focusing on encryption services.

“I want to change banking for good. Credit is essential,” he said. “I’m still helping people in society.”

And in his down time, Flaherty plans to continue to listen to his inner voice and work toward his ultimate goal: opening a STEM school in an area that needs it.


Columnists
Another weekend, another mass shooting. Thirteen have been shot in 2 violent episodes this spring.

Judging solely by a preponderance of small but well cared for homes in the area, the 4200 block of Cody Drive looks to be a placid, quiet place.

An older man labored behind a push mower in the afternoon heat Monday. Another guy had his head under the hood of a car. Two others lingered under shade trees in a cul-de-sac.

Yet there were signs of disturbance less than 48 hours removed from the chaos of a shooting death in the street Saturday night.

A pair of detectives, nearly identical in matching Winston-Salem Police Department golf shirts, khakis, sunglasses and closely cropped hair, knocked on the door of a house littered with lawn furniture, an empty cooler and trash spilling over from a large can — almost certainly the scene of a house party.

When no one answered, the detectives waved down the occupants of a small black Honda who’d just been interviewed by a TV news crew and asked a few questions of their own.

For the second time in as many months, whether authorities want to call it one or not, sleepy little Winston-Salem has suffered a mass shooting.

Thirteen people with gunshot wounds — one young man died — in separate incidents that took less time than it takes to fill a car with gas.

For what, exactly?

These things usually wind up taking the form of a scorecard. The places, more so than faces, become iconic. Outside family and friends, nobody remembers the dead.

Thirteen at Columbine. Thirty-two at Virginia Tech. Twenty-seven in Newtown, Conn. Fifty-eight in Las Vegas.

The same goes on here at the local level. Witness the standard closing line from the official police news release about the shootings Saturday that left 23-year-old Jalen Cockerham dead in the 4200 block of Cody Drive.

“This is the 6th homicide to occur in 2019, as compared to 9 homicides for the same period of time in 2018.”

Just six?

The first mass shooting happened in April outside a troublesome nightspot in the 500 block of North Cherry Street.

A conga line of strip clubs and bars filled the space through the years. Xpressions, Winkers, Harper’s, Lollipops, Nova Lounge, whatever its proprietors want to call it, the name didn’t matter because trouble inevitably followed the place like flies to an outhouse.

Early on the morning of April 7, a Sunday, seven people suffered gunshot wounds outside the club. Cops found three victims, all in their 20s, outside the club. Three other victims made their way to local hospitals on their own.

Investigators’ best guess is that there were at least two shooters — 12 shell casings from two different caliber guns were found — and that those involved had been fighting about … something.

The next one, this past weekend, happened on quiet Cody Avenue, where another fight over God knows what resulted in another mass shooting.

Six people were struck by gunfire just after 11 p.m. Saturday. Cockerham, an aspiring hip-hop artist, died. A second person, police said, was in critical condition. The other four suffered non-life threatening injuries from bullets, and yet another person reported injuries from a related assault.

And for what, exactly?

Violence too great to ignore

Thousands clicked (or shared) online versions of that story by mid-morning Monday.

Whether that’s due to prurient interest, concern, fear or plain old curiosity is anyone’s guess, but my money’s on the prurient — or the morbid — mostly because of the collective shrug these things tend to inspire.

Just six? One dead? That’s nothing.

I’d even venture to say that nobody — not even police tasked with unspooling this latest mess — is looking at either incident as a mass shooting.

The victims, apparently, weren’t strangers and neither incident carried a whiff of randomness. Both resulted from fights of some sort made worse by the hot-headed instinct to settle disputes with firearms.

Nor was there anything particularly unusual about the weapons involved. Not by American standards.

There are no indications that anyone used assault rifles, high-capacity magazines or any of other gimmicks favored by modern mass murderers — just dime-a-dozen semi-automatic handguns available to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Weekend shootouts with 13 people shot, one killed and one left in critical condition over … what? Women? Money? An insult, real or imagined?

The dead man, according to his social media persona, appeared to have a fixation with gun culture. That’s neither a knock nor a slight; it’s just one fact among many that make up the entirety of someone’s story.

A recent post that quoted a rapper, left without comment, is sad for its somber prescience: “Your funeral gonna be more packed than your birthday party. Because (people) would rather see you on your back than on your feet.”

The scope of the recent violence is too great to ignore. In two months, we’ve had two mass shootings. If you’re keeping score, that’s 13 victims shot in less time than it takes to tweet.

It was just another weekend in America, two more mass shootings in a nation awash in blood. Only this time, again, it was our turn.


Crime
Animal cruelty charges dropped against a man initially accused in greenway horse shootings. He pleaded guilty to having a stolen gun.

Forsyth County prosecutors dropped all but one of the charges against a Winston-Salem man in connection with a Muddy Creek Greenway incident last year that left one horse shot to death and two other horses injured.

Alonzo D’Juan Cross, 20, of the 4100 block of Ogburn Avenue in Winston-Salem, pleaded guilty on May 16 in Forsyth District Court to one count of possession of a stolen firearm, according to court records. More than 12 other charges, including three counts of felony animal cruelty and three counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, were dismissed by prosecutors as part of a plea arrangement, court papers said.

Prosecutors said there was not enough evidence to move forward with the animal-cruelty charges.

“Based upon the evidence that was available to us, we would not have been able to successfully prosecute Cross for shooting the horses,” Assistant District Attorney Jane Garrity, who prosecuted the case, said in an email Monday. “What we believe and what we can prove are often two different things. It is also worth noting that the victims were supportive of our efforts.”

Forsyth District Court Judge Ted Kazakos gave Cross a suspended sentence of six months to 17 months in jail. He placed Cross on supervised probation for one year. Cross also has to pay $960 in restitution.

Ben Porter, Cross’ attorney, could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.

Three juvenile males were also charged in the case. Garrity said she could not comment on the status of those cases because they involve juveniles.

“Ultimately, Alonzo Cross was the sole adult charged and was prosecuted as a felon using all of the available and admissible evidence at our disposal,” Garrity said.

Three horses shot

on Greenway

The shootings happened at Muddy Creek Greenway on the morning of May 12, 2018, a Saturday. Police said the three teenagers and Cross drove three stolen vehicles — a Chevrolet Impala, a Ford Bronco and a Ford Ranger pickup — onto the greenway, which is off Robinhood Road. The greenway is meant only for bicycles and pedestrians. Police got a call that the vehicles were speeding on the greenway. When officers got there, they found the wounded horses.

Arrest warrants alleged that Cross used a .22-250-caliber rifle to shoot Jelly, one of the horses, in the head, killing her. Warrants alleged that Cross used a 12-gauge shotgun to shoot another horse named Dixie several times, resulting in gunshot wounds to the horse’s body. Cisco, a third horse, was injured from stray pellets breaking his skin.

A week before the shooting incident, two of the three teenagers accused in the case broke into a man’s house, stole 10 guns and later took his Chevrolet Impala, search warrants said. Two of the teens were 15 at the time and one was 14, according to arrest warrants.

Cross was linked to the crime through an anonymous woman who called Winston-Salem police and told investigators that one of the teenagers and Cross had something to do with the horse shooting. Police started watching Cross’ house.

They also started watching the teenagers’ house, where they saw two different teens walk out and get on bicycles, search warrants said. The two were later seen in the parking lot of a shopping center on Peters Creek Parkway. A Winston-Salem police detective reported seeing one of the teenagers tampering with a car while the other served as lookout.

Winston-Salem police took the two teens into custody, and one of them talked to Winston-Salem police, also giving them a picture from his Snapchat social-media account. The picture showed the inside of the Impala, with a double-barreled shotgun visible.

That teenager denied involvement in stealing the guns or the Impala, but he admitted that on May 11 he and two other young men broke into several cars while driving the stolen Impala. The two other teenagers stole the Ford Bronco and the Ford Ranger, according to the search warrant.

The teenager told police that another boy driving the Ranger picked up Cross, who was a passenger when the truck was driven onto the greenway, and that he “heard shots from a loud gun coming from behind him as they were driving past the field.”

The boy told police they continued driving, doing burnouts and drifting, for a short period of time and that he heard two more gunshots coming from behind him, the search warrants said.

Cross and the three teenagers returned to Cross’ house on Ogburn Avenue. Police later searched Cross’ house and seized guns.

After the shooting, the owner of the horse named Cisco, Russell Robinson, a U.S. Army veteran who served two tours in Iraq, was inspired to participate in a highly selective program in which veterans train wild horses. He told the Winston-Salem Journal in August 2018 that Jelly’s death inspired him to create a veteran-horses program similar to the Texas program in which he was selected to participate.

Garrity said prosecuting animal-cruelty cases remains a priority for the Forsyth County District Attorney’s Office and added that Winston-Salem police worked “tirelessly on this case to bring some justice on behalf of the horses that were so callously shot by those involved.”

“As an avid horse lover and former competitive horseback rider myself, it was also important to pursue charges against anyone who would harm such majestic animals,” she said. “In prosecuting this case, I spent many hours consulting with the owners of the horses and the victims and paid homage to the horses at the memorial erected on the Greenway.”


photo courtesy Winston-Salem police 

Cross