Crime & Courts

NC Man accused of killing co-worker near Blue Ridge Parkway. He says he ‘blacked out,’ feds say

Law enforcement members remain at the Pisgah Inn after a body was found on a hiking trail, Thursday, July 26, 2018 near Brevard, N.C. Sara Ellis, a female cook who went missing at a scenic North Carolina inn was killed by a co-worker during a hike and left along a path near the famed Blue Ridge Parkway, federal authorities said Thursday. (Angela Wilhelm/The Asheville Citizen-Times via AP)
Law enforcement members remain at the Pisgah Inn after a body was found on a hiking trail, Thursday, July 26, 2018 near Brevard, N.C. Sara Ellis, a female cook who went missing at a scenic North Carolina inn was killed by a co-worker during a hike and left along a path near the famed Blue Ridge Parkway, federal authorities said Thursday. (Angela Wilhelm/The Asheville Citizen-Times via AP) AP

A 20-year-old man is accused of killing a woman he worked with at the Pisgah Inn near the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Derek Shawn Pendergraft was charged Thursday in the death of his co-worker, 29-year-old Sara Ellis.

Ellis was reported missing from the hotel Tuesday evening, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Pendergraft told investigators he and Ellis went hiking shortly after 4 p.m., but Ellis decided to return to the hotel’s housing area for employees after it started to rain.

Scenic Inn Worker Killed.JPG
Derek Shawn Pendergraft Buncombe City-County Bureau of Identification via AP

He continued his hike, Pendergraft told investigators. When he returned, he said, he saw Ellis’ hat and umbrella lying on the ground and informed hotel management she was missing, the release states.

Officials found Ellis’ body later that evening near the hotel.

On Wednesday, the manager of the Pisgah Inn called officials to tell them Pendergraft was in her office and confessed to killing Ellis, according to the release.

In a recorded interview, Pendergraft said he “blacked out” when Ellis decided to turn around during their hike, according to an affidavit.

“When I came to, I felt like it had not been a single blink of my time. I blinked and I was looking into the face of (Sara),” Pendergraft said, according to the affidavit.

He described the position and condition of Ellis’ body in a way that was consistent with how her body was found, the document states.

Pendergraft was arrested Wednesday. On Thursday, he was charged with second-degree murder in Ellis’ death. The charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

His next court appearance is Aug. 6 in Asheville, court records show.

LaVendrick Smith: @LaVendrickS
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