Local

Cultural center fundraising hits $1M mark

The Afro-American Cultural Center has hit the $1 million mark in its campaign to raise $3.5million in support of a new cultural center being built on South Tryon Street.

Work on the Founders Society Campaign began in March and will continue through June 2009. The money will go for a variety of expenses at the new Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts. So far, 105 individuals or companies have made pledges and/or contributions, including a $150,000 pledge by Fifth Third Bank.

“We are soliciting support throughout greater Charlotte, calling on individuals, families, businesses and churches to support our historic project,” said Deon Bradley, AACC president and chief executive officer. “Indications are that we will have more good news to report by the end of this year.”

The new 44,000-square-foot cultural facility is scheduled to open in fall 2009. Contributions can be made online at www.aacc-charlotte.org.

Mark Price

Meck briefs

Charlotte

A Pennsylvania-based nonprofit organization will work with community leaders to study whether to establish an arts and technology center in Mecklenburg County that would be modeled after a program in Pittsburgh.

The Pittsburg program was founded in 1972 by Bill Strickland and features youth arts programs and work force and career training for adults. Leaders say both programs have been successful, with an average of 96 percent of youth participants graduating from high school and 89 percent moving on to higher education. In 2006, the adult program had a job placement rate of 85percent.

Affiliate centers have been established or are being planned in cities across the nation, including Cincinnati and Philadelphia.

At a kick-off event for the study held Thursday, Strickland said the arts and technology centers are not meant to compete or duplicate existing local services; rather they look for new ways to serve adults and children.

The study will take up to 18 months to complete. It will cost $150,000 and be paid for using a mixture of public and privately-raised money, including $25,000 approved by Mecklenburg County commissioners. County Manager Harry Jones and Arts & Science Council President Lee Keesler also participated in Thursday's event. April Bethea

The annual Picnic for the Disabled, presented by Physically Disabled Adults Inc. will be held noon to 4 p.m. Saturday at Marion Diehl Recreation Center, 2219 Tyvola Road. The event is free to people with disabilities and their care givers. The festivities, which will be held rain or shine, include a meal, bingo, door prizes, music from Hickory Grove Baptist Church and dancing.

This marks the 29th year of the picnic, which is Mecklenburg County's largest annual gathering of people with physical or mental disabilities. Details, Barry Dodd, at 704-536-9497. Mark Price

Mecklenburg teens who want to be heard on education, government and other issues are invited to a 2008-09 kick-off meeting for Mecklenburg Youth Voice.

The group, created two years ago by the nonprofit Kids Voting, gives young people a chance to meet with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Peter Gorman, school board members and candidates for public office. It is open to all Mecklenburg high school students, including those in private or charter schools.

The introductory meeting will be Wednesday from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Education Center, 701 E. Martin Luther King Blvd. Details: www.kidsvoting.org (click “Students,” then “Mecklenburg Youth Voice”) or contact Amy Farrell, amy@kidsvoting.org or 704-343-6999. Ann Doss Helms

Regional briefs

Raleigh

A woman who had a child without arms or legs has told the state Pesticide Board she was sprayed repeatedly with pesticides while pregnant as she worked at an N.C. tomato farm.

Twenty-two-year-old Francisca Herrera testified Wednesday she was repeatedly exposed to pesticides at the farm run by Ag-Mart.

The News & Observer of Raleigh reported Wednesday's testimony in Raleigh was the first from workers in the case.

Herrera says supervisors ignored her complaints of frequent headaches and stomach pains.

The board is considering whether Ag-Mart violated worker safety laws. The Florida company denies that and says it will offer testimony when the hearing resumes in November from a worker who will testify she was never sprayed.

Ag-Mart attorney Mark Ash said Herrera's testimony proved nothing. Associated Press

Carolinas Coast

Congressional testimony from an environmental lawyer and an N.C. congressman show different opinions on whether beach drivers should be banned from some Cape Hatteras beaches.

Republican Rep. Walter Jones and Derb Carter of the Southern Environmental Law Center testified in Washington Thursday before a U.S. House subcommittee.

Jones told the subcommittee the ban hurts business on the Outer Banks, and has introduced legislation only to regulate off-road vehicles.

Carter said the new restrictions appear to be helping birds and turtles make a comeback, noting that more than 2,500 vehicles used the beaches during the Fourth of July.

Under an out-of-court settlement, the National Park Service closed three areas along the seashore to beach drivers and pedestrians to protect the wildlife. Associated Press

An effort to protect sea turtles that nest on North Carolina's barrier islands has turned into a bitter feud in the small town of Caswell Beach.

A faction of pro-turtle volunteers want to trap and kill foxes that sometimes dig up the turtle nests.

Turtle Watch says traps are needed on 5 acres across from the Oak Island lighthouse. The group says the best place to trap is near the fox dens.

Most residents oppose the trapping, concerned about killing one animal to protect another. They said the traps pose a safety risk to children and dogs, and removing the foxes will only increase the number of beach rats, squirrels and rabbits on the island.

Associated Press

North Carolina

North Carolina's Planned Parenthood has endorsed Democrats Kay Hagan for U.S. Senate and Bev Perdue for governor.

“Barack Obama, Kay Hagan and Bev Perdue are strong champions for high-quality, affordable reproductive health care and honest sex education,” Walter Klausmeier, president & CEO of Planned Parenthood Health Systems Action Fund, said in a news release. Jim Morrill

Police digest

Gaston County

Officers from six agencies on Thursday arrested more than two dozen people suspected of selling drugs in Gaston County.

The all-day effort involved police from Gastonia, Mount Holly and Belmont, along with the Gaston County Sheriff's Office, the N.C. Treasury Department, and the State Bureau of Investigation. The operation focused on suspects in the Mount Holly and Stanley communities of eastern Gaston County.

Authorities said planning for Operation Hurricane began more than six months ago. Steve Lyttle

Mecklenburg County

Pineville

Pineville police are looking for the driver of a truck that smashed into a fence and caught fire early Thursday morning.

The incident happened shortly before 1:45 a.m. on Main Street.

Pineville police Sgt. Corey Copley said a Toyota Tundra pickup knocked down about 30 feet of chain link fence. The fence wrapped itself around the truck's drive shaft.

About a half-mile west of there, the fencing caught fire, and the blaze spread to the truck, Copley said. The driver abandoned the vehicle near N.C.51 and Downs Circle, and a passerby called police.

Copley said police aren't sure whether the driver was injured, and they don't know who owned the truck, because there was no license tag attached. The vehicle also was not reported stolen, he said.

Police are hoping to find the owner by using the vehicle's identification number.

Anyone with information in the case is asked to call Pineville police, 704-889-2231. Steve Lyttle

Onslow County

Jacksonville

Onslow County Sheriff Ed Brown says a Mexican court has approved returning to the United States a Marine corporal charged with the murder of a pregnant colleague.

Brown said Thursday he expects to have Cpl. Cesar Laurean in his custody in about a week. But both the prosecutor and Laurean's attorney said it may be several weeks before he returns.

Prosecutors have charged Laurean with first-degree murder in the slaying of Marine Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach. The 20-year-old from Vandalia, Ohio, was eight months pregnant when she was killed late last year.

Laurean fled to Mexico as the search was under way for Lauterbach, and was arrested there in April. As part of an agreement with Mexican authorities, he will not face the death penalty in North Carolina. Associated Press

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