News from Across the Region

High mercury levels found in fish

High levels of toxic mercury have been found in walleye caught in the Western North Carolina lakes Santeetlah and Fontana, prompting a state health warning.

Mercury occurs naturally but is released into the environment by burning coal, such as in power plants. When it falls into water, it can accumulate in fish. Eating high-mercury fish over time can pose health risks, especially for children and developing fetuses.

N.C. health officials warned pregnant women, women who may become pregnant and children under 15 not to eat walleye from lakes Santeetlah and Fontana. Others should eat no more than one meal of the fish a week.

Health advisories exist for several freshwater fish species caught in the rivers of Eastern North Carolina, and for largemouth bass caught anywhere in the state. For more information: www.epi.state.nc.us/epi/fish or call the N.C. Division of Public Health at 919-707-5900.

Bruce Henderson

Meck briefs

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' new Parent University and Torrence Creek Elementary got new leaders this week.

Jerri Haigler was named executive director of Parent U, a parent-education effort. She takes a vacant post in the communications department, focusing on family and community services. Haigler was CMS's chief spokeswoman before leaving to work in community relations at Central Piedmont Community College.

Penni Beth Crisp, assistant principal at Torrence Creek, was promoted to principal of the Huntersville school.

Ann Doss Helms

Two Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools – Huntersville Elementary and Providence Spring Elementary – have been named No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon schools by the Department of Education.

They are among only six schools in North Carolina and 320 nationwide to receive the award, which is based on academic achievement.

Three other schools were from the Charlotte metro region – East Elementary, Kings Mountain; Jefferson Elementary, Shelby; and Iron Station Elementary, Lincoln County.

The program honors public and private schools that are either academically superior or demonstrate dramatic gains in student achievement to high levels.

Steve Lyttle

Region briefs

Cumberland County | Fayetteville

A man convicted of contempt of court for taking a cell phone video says he will appeal the case because he meant no harm and was just “camera-happy.”

Jaime Cornelius Brown was sentenced to 18 months probation for taking the video last week in District Court Judge Robert Stiehl's courtroom, The Fayetteville Observer reported Wednesday.

People aren't allowed to take photos or recordings in N.C. courtrooms without a judge's permission.

Brown said he came to court to support a friend who was facing an assault charge and started recording in case a witness said something entertaining.

“I got camera-happy because it's a new phone,” he said.

Stiehl said it could undermine the judicial system if people are allowed to make videos that could be posted on the Internet. He imposed $421 in fines and court costs and had the phone seized.

“It's just not appropriate to tape domestic violence trials for entertainment purposes,” he said.

Associated Press

Charleston County, S.C.

A federal judge has formally dismissed a lawsuit over who found the sunken Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley off the Charleston coast.

Senior U.S. District Judge Sol Blatt Jr. issued an order Tuesday ending the case.

Underwater archaeologist Lee Spence said he found the Hunley in 1970. But the state gave shipwreck hunter Clive Cussler credit for finding the sub in 1995.

Cussler's National Underwater and Marine Agency later sued Spence, arguing his claim damaged the agency's reputation. Cussler asked last month that the suit be dismissed, saying it had caused Spence mental trauma and physical ailments.

The Hunley became the first submarine to sink an enemy warship when it rammed a black powder charge into the Union blockade ship Housatonic in 1864. The Hunley sank about the same time.

Associated Press

Durham County | Durham

Durham is listed by Black Enterprise magazine as the best place to retire, based on quality of life, affordable health care and other considerations.

Black Enterprise is the most recent national publication to release a list of desirable retirement spots. It considered a number of factors when tabulating its annual list of “20 Best Places to Retire” in the October issue. Asheville, the only other Carolinas city on the list, was No. 11.

The rankings, in a survey created by the magazine's editors, gave places 40 percent of the total score for quality of life, 20 percent for health care, and 15 percent each for taxes and leisure. Arts & Culture and climate were each given 5 percent of the total score.

Associated Press

Gaston County | Gastonia

A woman who reportedly was sitting on railroad tracks was struck and killed by a train Tuesday night in Gastonia.

It happened about 10 p.m. along May Street near Brown Street in north Gastonia. That is a short distance north of Franklin Boulevard.

Gastonia police have identified the victim as Betty Darlene Nixon. They aren't sure why she was sitting on the tracks, but they say an investigation into the death is continuing.

Steve Lyttle

Carolinas Coast

Officials in Ocean Isle Beach are waiting to see if Tropical Storm Hanna did enough damage to get federal help to repair 40 feet of road washed out by the storm.

The Sun News of Myrtle Beach reports that water pushed inland by Hanna caused part of Shallotte Boulevard to collapse early Saturday morning.

Ocean Isle Beach officials say they won't decide how to pay to repair the road until teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency finish assessing damage in North Carolina.

If FEMA finds about $10 million in damage in the state, the federal government would pay three-quarters of the cost to repair the road.

Associated Press

A new study by Conway-based Coastal Carolina University says Tropical Storm Hanna dealt a $22 million blow to the S.C. tourism industry.

Taylor Damonte with the school's Brittain Center for Resort Tourism says occupancy rates fell from 70 percent in 2007 to 28 percent for the same September weekend. The study estimates the storm caused more than $10 million in losses for the lodging sector alone.

Researchers say Hanna also cost coastal governments about $710,000 in taxes and fees.

Hanna made landfall near the N.C. line early Saturday. The storm caused little physical damage in the Carolinas.

Associated Press

Police digest

Cabarrus County | Concord

Gov. Mike Easley announced Wednesday that the state is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to arrests and convictions in the double homicide at the Sun-drop Bottling Co. plant.

That brings the total potential reward to $85,000. On Monday, Concord police announced the city's reward had been increased to $75,000. They circulated a sketch of someone who was seen leaving the building just after the shootings.

On June 13, longtime Sun-drop employee Donna Barnhardt and job applicant Darrell Noles were gunned down in the plant office. Police said robbery may have been the motive.

Gail Smith-Arrants

Pickens County, S.C. | Pickens

A prisons expert says the man prosecutors want executed for raping and strangling a Clemson student would likely face death in prison if he were allowed to mix with other inmates.

James Aiken told a Pickens County courtroom Wednesday that Jerry Buck Inman's multiple sex-related convictions and tattoos like the swastika he bears on his arm would make him a target for members of white-supremacy gangs who look down upon sex offenders displaying their symbols.

Inman pleaded guilty last month in the May 2006 death of 20-year-old Tiffany Marie Souers in her apartment near campus.

Prosecutors concluded their case for Inman's execution Tuesday. Circuit Judge Edward Miller will decide on the death penalty or life in prison because Inman pleaded guilty.

Associated Press

Robeson County

The last of nearly two dozen Robeson County lawmen prosecuted in a federal misconduct investigation has been sentenced to six months in prison.

The Fayetteville Observer reported Wednesday former sheriff's deputy Waldo Pat Stallings pleaded guilty to making false statements to a government agency. He also received two years' probation.

Stallings was among more than 20 law enforcement officers who pleaded guilty in the last two years to crimes that included kidnapping, theft of federal money and satellite piracy.

Former Robeson County Sheriff Glenn Maynor is serving a six-year sentence after pleading guilty to perjury and conspiracy charges. His sentence also included $17,550 in restitution.

Associated Press