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Z-no-digital
Winston-Salem State has found its next athletics director. Etienne Thomas, the athletics director at Kentucky State, also a HBCU school, will start Jan. 1, 2020.

Winston-Salem State University has selected its next athletics director.

Chancellor Elwood Robinson announced on Wednesday afternoon that Etienne Thomas will replace George Knox, who has been serving as the interim athletics director since Tonia Walker resigned in May 2018. Thomas, the athletics director at Kentucky State, a historically black university in Frankfort, Ky., will take over at WSSU on Jan. 1, 2020. Both are Division II schools.

“Ms. Thomas brings to Winston-Salem State University more than 19 years of experience as a seasoned athletics administrator,” Robinson wrote in a letter sent to faculty and staff members Wednesday. “Currently serving as the Director of Athletics at Kentucky State University, she has worked at both Division I and Division II institutions, among them North Carolina Central University, San Jose State University, Howard University, Saint Paul’s College, and the University of Iowa—a Power 5 conference school.”

Thomas will become the third female athletics director in WSSU history following Walker and Anne Little, who held the position in the late 1990s.

Thomas also will become the seventh athletics director WSSU has had. The others have been Clarence E. “Big House” Gaines, Al Roseboro, Little, Percy “Chico” Caldwell, Bill Hayes and Walker.

Thomas is a 1996 graduate of N.C. Central University and also received her doctorate from the University of Iowa College of Law.

“She is a trailblazer, and she brings the critical leadership skills and executive presence needed to meet the university’s strategic goals related to athletics,” Robinson said in the letter. “She understands how WSSU athletics fits into our strategic plan, and knows that it is as important for our student-athletes to succeed in the classroom in addition to on the field.”

In April, Robinson announced that the university had narrowed the candidates for athletics director to John D. Lewis, Enzley Mitchell IV and Paula Jackson. However, it reopened the search in late May while Knox continued to run the program.

Robinson said Thomas is familiar with WSSU and the CIAA.

“Having worked at a sister UNC System institution and as a North Carolina native, she is very familiar with WSSU, our programs, our alumni, and the challenges and opportunities of Division II athletics,” Robinson said in his letter.

A news conference on her selection will be held this morning at Bowman Gray Stadium’s field house.

“I am excited to welcome this dynamic leader to the university,” Robinson wrote.

Knox, a WSSU graduate, will return to his former job as associate athletic director for compliance at WSSU.


Columnists
Simple question about electric bill has complicated answer

Marshall Gangel is a details guy.

Why else would anyone read a monthly bill from Duke Energy so closely that he can now cite how much the company charges per kilowatt hour?

Or reel off a list of “riders” — varying monthly add-on charges allowed by law — down to the decimal point and penny tacked onto each month’s bill?

And then sit down to do the math to try and figure out exactly how much he’s paying per month?

And more importantly, why?

“Over the course of a year, these mystery fees have cost me $67 which isn’t a lot,” he wrote in an e-mail. “But apply this across all homes in (North Carolina) and it becomes big money.”

Doing the math

Gangel is the first to admit that his quest to learn more about the pennies, percentages and fees buried down deep in his Duke Energy bill seems a little, shall we say obsessive.

But then again, we all might be better off if we followed his example. My old man wasn’t wrong in all his harangues and bromides about managing money.

(“Mind your pennies and dollars take care of themselves. … A penny saved is a penny earned. … A fool and his money make for a hell of party.” … The old man really had a way with words and clichés.)

Gangel, an analytical, left-brained kind of guy approaching 40, says he first took a deeper interest in his Duke bill when he started trying to track the energy used by various appliances in his house.

“You put a unit on the breaker box in the house and it will ‘listen’ to all the current coming into the house and make predictions on what will use the most energy, the refrigerator, the stove, the washing machine,” he said.

I pretended to understand what he was talking about and we proceeded from there. Gangel explained that led him to investigate places in his house where he might cut down on energy usage — money — and that in turn had him checking the fine print on his monthly statement. “Reverse engineer my Duke Energy bill,” he called it in an e-mail.

He used rate information published on Duke’s Website — www.dukeenergy.com/hom/billing/rates — and found that his bill was being calculated at 9.1 cents per kilowatt hour instead of 8.7179 cents.

Gangel asked friends to do the same math, and found their rates were higher than advertised, too. And because he was that far in, Gangel decided to invest more time calling the company looking for an answer.

“I called Duke Energy 3 times and spent at least 2 hours on the phone with their billing department,” he wrote in an email.

The best explanation he could find was that the fees were “various riders” but couldn’t be more specific. Gangel did see that his bill had a “Renewable Energy Rider” as a line item on the bill but nothing else.

“It’s possible there’s a perfectly logical explanation and I just found the one representative that one day who didn’t have the answer,” Gangel said in a subsequent phone conversation. “I’d just like to know.”

Vetted and approved

The short answer to Gangel’s very specific question about riders is that … wait for it … it’s complicated.

Jimmy Flythe, Duke Energy’s director of government and community relations for the West Region, provided an answer. (Try squeezing that title on a business card.)

“All of our rate information is on our website and all is approved by the NC Utilities Commission after thorough review,” he wrote in an email. “The details can be somewhat complicated.”

And how.

The renewable energy rider is really a thing and it’s a per account charge for 87 cents and is included on the bill.

The other riders, which are calculated per kilowatt hour and “adjusted periodically,” Flythe wrote, include a REPS (Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard) charge for the cost of expanding the use of solar and renewable energy; a DSM/EE Adjustment (Demand Side Management and Energy Efficiency) to recover the cost of offering those programs to customers; and Fuel Rate Adjustment to recover the cost of natural gas, uranium and oil to generate electricity.

Did you catch all that? Me, neither.

The bottom line is that those “various riders” have been vetted by the state Utilities Commission and Duke Energy is allowed to charge them.

They’re similar to requests the company has made to recoup some of an estimated $9.6 billion in costs associated with cleaning up coal ash at Duke plants and in state waterways.

Lawyers have argued about how much of that should be passed along to consumers. Duke is collecting $175 million annually from some 3.4 million customer accounts in North Carolina for coal-ash costs.

Eventually we’ll forget about the coal-ash mess until some sharp-eyed guy reads his electric bill and begins to question riders and surcharges that, when multiplied by millions of customers, add up to real money.

And our only option will be to pay it or live in a cave.


Crime
Authorities ID man accused of shooting his wife and a Davidson County deputy before being shot himself

LINWOOD — A shootout in western Davidson County’s Linwood community Wednesday between a rifle-wielding man and sheriff’s deputies sent three people to the hospital, including the accused shooter, his wife and a deputy, authorities said.

Deputies went to 167 Cox Ave. around 9:45 a.m. after getting a call about a domestic disturbance there, said Sheriff Richie Simmons of Davidson County.

Terry Keith Simerson, 57, of Lexington was arguing with his wife, Pateama Killian, 52, and Simerson had what police called a high-powered rifle, according to the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office and a Davidson County court document.

The first two officers to arrive —a training officer and a trainee, according to the sheriff — were met with a barrage of gunfire, the sheriff’s office said in a statement.

One of the deputies was shot in the foot. Simmons declined to identify the deputy.

Simerson then shot his wife, Simmons said. She was hit in the abdomen, the sheriff’s office said.

Deputies saw Killian suffering from the gunshot wound in the front yard of her home, the sheriff’s office said. Simerson is accused of firing at the deputies as they tried to approach Killian and provide her with life-saving measures, the sheriff’s office said.

Deputies returned fire

More law enforcement officers arrived on the scene, and more shots were fired, with authorities eventually shooting Simerson twice, Simmons said. He was hit in the “lower extremities,” authorities said.

“He started spraying rounds at our deputies, and we returned fire and struck him twice,” Simmons said.

The entire incident was over in about 15 minutes, Simmons said.

After the brief standoff, Simerson was arrested and taken to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries, the sheriff’s office said. Killian, who also was taken to Wake Forest Baptist, has been released, Simmons said.

Charges will be filed against Simerson after he is released from medical care, Simmons said.

The deputy was treated and released, investigators reported Wednesday afternoon.

Denton police, Lexington police, the Highway Patrol and the N.C. Wildlife Commission also responded to the scene.

The State Bureau of Investigation will determine whether the deputies were right to fire their weapons, Simmons said.

The SBI investigates every law enforcement-involved shooting in North Carolina.

According to Davidson County property-tax records, the property at 167 Cox Ave. is owned by Ann Killian, and there are two mobile homes on the tract. Authorities blocked the road about a half-mile from the scene.

Simmons said he doesn’t think the shooting will impact the trainee’s decision to join law enforcement.

“I don’t think it’s going to affect him one bit,” Simmons said.

On Aug. 26, Judge Jimmy L. Myers of Davidson District Court ordered Simerson to stay away from his wife’s home, have no contact with her and her two daughters, according to a domestic-violence protection order.

Myers also ordered Simerson not to assault or threaten his wife or her two daughters.

His wife alleged in court papers that Simerson had threatened her and her daughters on May 16.

Simerson also was prohibited from possessing, receiving or buying any gun, and Simerson was ordered to surrender to the sheriff’s office any gun, ammunition and gun permits in his possession, according to the protection order.

The order remains in effect until Aug. 26, 2020.


Z-no-digital
Search warrants: Winston-Salem Police believed Jason Mitchell killed 61-year-old man over allegations of stealing power and then he and his wife buried him in backyard. Forsyth County prosecutors were never able to prove it and the human remains are still unidentified.

Winston-Salem police detectives believed that Jason Michael Mitchell murdered a 61-year-old man who went missing four years ago and that he and his wife buried the man in their backyard in Pfafftown, according to search warrants a Forsyth County judge unsealed Wednesday.

On Feb. 6, 2015, two days after Gordon Reid went missing, private investigator Tim Wooten recorded a video of Jason and Mary Mitchell digging a deep hole behind their house at 3555 Brookbank Drive, the search warrants said. Two pickup trucks and two large sealed bags were outside the house that afternoon. And dirt was piled 2 feet high, the warrants said.

About five months later, Winston-Salem police and Forsyth County sheriff’s deputies would find a small collection of human bones in the area where Jason and Mary Mitchell were digging. The couple would be charged with felony destruction of human remains to conceal a death. They were never charged with murder. Forsyth County prosecutors dropped criminal charges against the two at the end of August after the couple’s attorneys filed motions to dismiss.

Jason Michael Mitchell, 38, shot himself to death on Sept. 23.

The charges were dropped because a DNA profile could not be obtained from the human remains that could identify them. In other words, prosecutors may have believed the human remains belonged to Reid but they couldn’t prove it. And without identifying the human remains, it would be impossible to prosecute Jason and Mary Mitchell on the criminal charges.

Michael Grace, attorney for Mary Mitchell, and John Bryson, attorney for Jason Mitchell, did not immediately return messages seeking comment on Wednesday.

Reid’s name became publicly associated with the criminal cases of Jason and Mary Mitchell because it appeared on a June 29, 2015, order sealing a search warrant in the case. Over the past four years, authorities have been tight-lipped about what connection there was between Reid and the Mitchells. All that was publicly known was that Reid lived in a van at 158 Motor Road. Jason Mitchell owned the rental house next door, at 152 Motor Road.

According to search warrants, Reid did odd jobs for Jason Mitchell and the two men may have had a disagreement over allegations that Reid was stealing power from Mitchell’s rental house.

Video recorded couple digging hole

The investigation into Reid’s disappearance began March 12, 2015, when his niece reported him missing. She told police that she and other family members had not heard from him in six weeks.

Winston-Salem police detectives talked to the owner of the house at 158 Motor Road and searched the property. They also talked to Wooten, who formerly worked at the Winston-Salem Police Department and the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office. He served briefly as chief deputy of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office last year before abruptly resigning. He currently works as a private investigator for his company, Triad Investigations.

According to the search warrants, Wooten was investigating Jason Mitchell on allegations of identity theft. Wooten said Wednesday that he learned that Mitchell had been contacting former employees of a company that was suing Mitchell and impersonating Wooten.

LPI Inc. and RecDirect filed a lawsuit in Forsyth Superior Court in 2013 that accused Mitchell of breaching a contract that required him to sell 320 space heaters. During the litigation, LPI Inc. alleged that Mitchell broke into one of their facilities in Kingsport, Tenn., and gave false statements in court documents. LPI Inc. also accused Mitchell of not turning over specific documentation.

A Forsyth County judge awarded $168,454 in compensatory damages and attorney fees to the two companies.

The search warrant said that on Feb. 6, 2015, Wooten went to the couple’s house at 1:30 p.m. and recorded the two digging a hole in the rear section of their property. A red pickup and a white pickup were backed up to the property. Two large orange-colored sealed bags sat in between the front of the two trucks. At one point in the video, according to the search warrants, Jason Mitchell is seen standing in the hole. At another point, Jason Mitchell is shown getting what appears to be a crow bar or another tool.

“In another portion of the video Jason Mitchell and Mary Mitchell can be seen digging and putting the dug up dirt to the side,” the search warrants said. “The dirt pile appears to be approximately 2 feet in height...”

Dispute over stealing power

After getting information from Wooten, police Detective Michael Ognosky went back to the owner of 158 Motor Road. The owner told Ognosky that Reid had used an extension cord from the van to get power from the rental house Jason Mitchell owned. That resulted in higher power bills for Jason Mitchell.

The owner said that just before Reid went missing, Reid and Jason Mitchell got into an argument over the issue. Cell phone records showed that on Feb. 5, 2015, Jason and Mary Mitchell were in the area of Motor Road. Reid’s cell phone records indicate that he was in the Motor Road area around the same time, according to the search warrants.

Search warrants said that the couple remained in the Motor Road area until before 5 p.m. Reid’s last phone call was at 6:04 p.m. that day. And at 6:55 p.m., Jason and Mary Mitchell’s cellphones showed them at their Brookbank Drive house.

On June 25, 2015, the day authorities searched the couple’s property, Jason Mitchell told police that he never had a disagreement with Reid, that he didn’t know anything about power-bill increases and that he digs holes on his property to burn wood. He would not give authorities permission to search his property.

In court papers, Grace and Bryson argued that prosecutors never produced any evidence that Reid was dead or any link between Reid and Jason and Mary Mitchell. Lt. Gregory Dorn said that the missing person case on Reid is inactive. But detectives are still investigating.

Efforts to reach Reid’s family members Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Prosecutors have the option to refile charges against Mary Mitchell if new evidence is found. The human remains have been sent for testing at the University of North Texas. A final report of that testing won’t be available until March 2020.