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The Perquimans County High School volleyball team celebrates after winning its third round NCHSAA Class 1A state playoff match against Neuse Charter School, Saturday at Perquimans County High School in Hertford.

Sentenced to life, Woodley flees then recaptured

An Elizabeth City man convicted of first degree murder Friday and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole fled from the Pasquotank County Courthouse after his sentencing.

Raymond Eugene Woodley III was quickly apprehended and returned to custody a block or so from the courthouse, according to police.

Woodley, 21, whose last known address was the 700 block of Greenleaf Street, was arrested on May 18, 2018, by the Elizabeth City Police Department and charged with first-degree murder in the death of Trevon Demetrius Blount.

Blount was shot eight times and later died at Sentara Albemarle Medical Center, according to police.

Judge Jeff Foster presided at Woodley’s trial, which began Jan. 12 and concluded Friday. The jury found Woodley guilty of first-degree murder and he was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.

During the COVID-related court shutdown last year defense counsel Tonza Ruffin requested last week’s session of Superior Court as the date for the trial, according to District Attorney Andrew Womble.

As Woodley was being escorted by deputies toward a vehicle to be transported to Albemarle District Jail before being transferred to state custody at Central Prison in Raleigh, he tried to flee but was quickly recaptured, Womble said.

Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten said Lt. Steven Judd of the Sheriff’s office and Sgt. Eddie Rodriguez of the Elizabeth City Police Department captured Woodley on Church Street and took him back into custody.

Woodley was handcuffed but had broken his leg shackle, according to Wooten. Investigators later found the leg shackle where Woodley had hidden it in the cell, according to the sheriff.

Wooten said Woodley ran from deputies as he was being taken out of the back door of the courthouse to a transport van.

“Courthouse security and deputies were in place and doing exactly what they were supposed to do,” Wooten said, adding that Woodley was only able to get as far as he did because a courthouse security officer tripped and fell.

Although Woodley had also been charged with witness intimidation and assault on a jail employee, he was only tried on the murder charge, Womble said.

Woodley was accused of punching Officer Brian Johnson at Albemarle District Jail in March of last year after Johnson ordered Woodley to hang up the phone, according to ADJ Administrator Robert Jones. Johnson suffered a slight concussion but was able to return to work the next night, Jones said.

Woodley also had been charged with two felony counts of witness intimidation. Warrants charged him with having an “associate” contact two witnesses and threaten them in an attempt to keep them from attending court and testifying at his trial.

Honoring King's legacy: COVID affects participation at King events

The COVID-19 pandemic and Elizabeth City State University students’ delayed return to campus because of the pandemic combined to significantly reduce participation at several Martin Luther King Jr. Day events in Elizabeth City on Monday.

Only three people participated in the annual Martin Luther King Jr. March from the ECSU campus to Charles Creek Park. The trio were joined by a motorcade of five vehicles that drove the route along Southern Avenue. Two police cars and an ambulance rounded out the motorcade.

Elsewhere, Penni Fritz of Herford was the lone volunteer for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service event at the Elizabeth City Habitat for Humanity Sale Store on Monday.

Typically several hundred people, many of them ECSU students, participate in the annual march. And last year, around 30 volunteers, including about 20 ECSU students, showed up to volunteer for the King Day of Service event at the Habitat store.

Organizers cited the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that ECSU students don’t return to campus until Wednesday for significantly reducing the number of participants at both events. ECSU announced last week that students’ return to campus was being pushed back to Wednesday because of concerns about the virus.

Following the march, organizer the Rev. Timothy Stallings told a small group gathered at Charles Creek Park that all preachers need to lift their voices against racism.

“Jesus, let the black pastors, let the white pastors, open up their mouths,” Stallings prayed during the invocation. “I pray that pastors will preach the life, death, burial, resurrection and second coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But in between let them say something about George Floyd. Let them say something about Breonna Taylor. Let them say something about Ahmaud Arbery.”

Stallings was referring to Floyd, an African American man who was killed May 25 during his arrest by a white Minneapolis police officer who placed his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes. Taylor was a Black emergency medical technician shot and killed by Louisville, Kentucky police officers executing a no-knock warrant at her apartment March 13 as part of an investigation into drug dealing. Arbery was a Black man shot and killed Feb. 23 by a white man in Georgia who was one of three men pursuing Arbery as he jogged through a neighborhood.

All preachers need to lift up their voices against hatred and racism, Stallings said.

“Ahmaud Arbery was like me,” he said. “I love to jog. I love to walk through my community.”

Two men saw Arbery jogging and thought he was a burglar, Stallings said.

“We’ve got to stop that type of thinking,” he said. “We should not be afraid of one another.”

Stallings said he has family members who are law enforcement officers and he prays every night for law enforcement. He said he thanks God for good police officers.

“I need police officers,” Stallings said. “We need police officers.”

Stallings carried a megaphone during Monday’s march and chanted slogans such as “No Justice No Peace” and “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” as well as “Love Conquers Institutional Racism.”

This was the third year in a row that Fritz has volunteered at the Habitat for Humanity store on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. She spent part of the morning packing up Christmas items that had been for sale. Fritz wore a mask and gloves as she packed up the items.

“I’m just doing what I can to help out,” Fritz said. “We have had bigger crowds here in past years. I am social distancing from the two other people that are here.’’

Habitat year-round volunteer Jim Turdici of Elizabeth City and a store employee were also working Monday. Turdici, who said he was there in part to coordinate volunteers for the Day of Service event, wasn’t surprised by Monday’s turnout.

“It’s one of those things that until they get the shots a lot of people will be reluctant to come out and work in a public place,” Turdici said. “That’s too bad because there are a lot of good organizations that need it.”

Hertford residents return home following evacuation for gas line breach

HERTFORD — Seventy-five Hertford residents were able to return to their homes Monday evening roughly four hours after being evacuated because of a natural gas leak.

According to Perquimans Emergency Services, a two-inch gas line owned by Piedmont Natural Gas was ruptured shortly before noon while a utility crew was repairing a damaged power pole near the intersection of Edenton Road and Market streets.

Perquimans Emergency Services said it was advised of the incident at 2:08 p.m. and immediately sought the evacuation of residents living a half-mile downwind of the ruptured line. An emergency shelter for residents was set up at the Perquimans County Recreation Center.

Piedmont Natural Gas was able to repair the ruptured line by 6 p.m., allowing residents to return home, Perquimans Emergency Services said. As a precaution, residents were offered the option of having an escort home by members of the Hertford Fire Department.

Emergency officials advised residents that they may continue to smell mercaptan, an additive to natural gas to make leaks easier to find, for a while as repairs to the ruptured line are completed. The odor is not harmful, the agency said. 

The power pole that utility crews were repairing prior to the gas line breach was broken after a tree being cut fell on a power line, emergency services said. The Hertford Fire Department responded to the fallen tree and the town's Public Works Department was called to assess and repair the damaged pole, the agency said.

Steinburg: Funds for library, crime lab study priorities

Because state officials never agreed to North Carolina’s biennium budget for 2019-21, millions of dollars earmarked for Elizabeth City State University are now gone, state Sen. Bob Steinburg says.

But Steinburg, R-Chowan, said getting money restored for a new library at ECSU and money for a feasibility study creation of a state crime lab on campus will be two of his top priorities when the General Assembly convenes next week to work on a 2021-2023 biennium budget and other issues.

“Obviously, those are very high on my list,” Steinburg said Monday.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the $24 billion 2019-2021 budget passed by the Republican-led House and Senate in June 2019, saying it didn’t include funding for Medicaid expansion or give teachers a big enough raise.

The House voted to override Cooper’s veto but the Senate never held a vote because it lacked the number of votes needed for an override.

The budget vetoed by Cooper included $32 million for a new library at ECSU and $2.5 million to fund a feasibility study for establishing the crime lab on the campus.

Steinburg said the budget vetoed by Cooper was the best state budget for the region in 25 or 30 years and “maybe ever.”

“That budget that had all that good stuff in there for northeastern North Carolina is now gone,” Steinburg said. “Anything that was in it, it doesn’t matter. We have to start from scratch.”

Getting money for the library and the crime lab study may prove difficult as the General Assembly still needs to determine the financial impact that COVID has had on state finances.

“I am going to advocate for them very strongly, but I just don’t know what our fiscal picture looks like,” Steinburg said. “We have to assess what the fiscal situation is as it relates to what kind of funds we will have to work with. But going into the budget cycle those are two jewels I want to see incorporated in this new budget.”

Prior to the pandemic, North Carolina had a $4 billion surplus. Steinburg said that allowed the state to weather the financial impacts of COVID better than most other states.

“I haven’t seen the numbers yet, but I can say with complete confidence that North Carolina is in better fiscal shape at this point in time than any other state in the nation,” Steinburg said. “The reason is because we had a $4 billion surplus which we have used to help sustain us over the 10 months of COVID and the peril and pain that was delivered to our economy.’’

Republicans hold a 28-22 advantage in the Senate and a 69-51 majority in the House. Steinburg is hopeful the two parties and Cooper will be able to work together this year.

“A top priority will be putting a budget together,” Steinburg said.

Another top priority for Steinburg will be for a continued push to separate the Department of Corrections from the Department of Public Safety and make it a separate agency. The Department of Corrections became a part of DPS in 2011.

“We think many, not all, of the problems that exist in corrections is a result of it being in the Department of Public Safety,” Steinburg said. “The Department of Corrections, and this is not a criticism of DPS, is so big that it has to be on its own. It was an experiment to try and save some money and it is not being run in a manner that is efficient.”

Steinburg will remain as chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Prison Safety while also serving as chairman of the Appropriations on General Government Committee and the State and Local Government Committee.

Steinburg will also serve on the Agriculture, Energy, and Environment Committee, the Commerce and Insurance Committee, the Judiciary Committee, the Pensions Committee and the Appropriations on Justice and Public Safety Committee.

Jobless claims rise in Nov. as workforce grows

Ninety-one more Albemarle residents were unemployed in November than in October, increasing the five-county region’s jobless rate by two-tenths of a percent to 5.4%.

According to the N.C. Department of Commerce’s latest county-level data, 2,500 residents were unemployed in Pasquotank, Currituck, Camden, Perquimans and Chowan counties in November. That compares to 2,409 who filed unemployment claims in October.

Despite the slight uptick in unemployment claims, the combined workforce in all five counties grew. Thanks largely to a significant increase in Chowan and a smaller one in Pasquotank, the number of employed in the area grew to 46,110, up from 45,954 in October. The other three counties in the area — Camden, Currituck and Perquimans — reported decreases in their workforce.

Statewide, the number of people seeking jobless benefits actually decreased by a little more than 640 to 301,765, lowering the state’s unemployment rate, not seasonally adjusted, to 6.1%. The rate for October was 6.2%.

The state’s labor force, meanwhile, decreased by a little more than 9,000 workers to 4.97 million.

All five area counties reported increases in their numbers of unemployed, with Chowan, Pasquotank and Currituck responsible for 77% of the increase.

Currituck and Camden counties continued to post the lowest jobless rates in the region, with Currituck’s rate ranked fourth lowest statewide and Camden just behind it with the fifth lowest.

Both counties posted unemployment rates in November of 4.7%, which was a .2% increase from October’s adjusted rate of 4.5%. Both counties’ unemployment rates were still more than 1% higher — Currituck’s was 1.5% higher — than they were a year ago, before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Chowan County reported the largest increase in unemployment in November: .4%. Its rate was 5.4%, compared to 5% in October. Chowan had the state’s 31st-lowest rate in November, down from 20th lowest in October. Chowan’s pre-COVID jobless rate in November 2019 was 4.1%.

Pasquotank’s jobless rate rose by the second-highest amount in the area: .3%. Its 6.2% rate in November was the state’s 65th lowest. Elizabeth City’s unemployment rate, meanwhile, rose .2% to 5.8%, which was still lower than Pasquotank’s rate as a whole. Pasquotank’s pre-COVID jobless rate was a full 2% lower in November 2019. Elizabeth City’s jobless rate then was 4.2%.

Perquimans, whose jobless rate in November was the state’s 36th lowest, saw its rate click up only .1%. Its pre-COVID jobless rate in November 2019 was 4.5%.

For the fifth straight month, no area county had a higher jobless rate than the state rate.

Chowan reported the largest numerical increase in jobless claims in November: 21. Its number of residents filing unemployment claims climbed to 313. That compares to October, when 292 filed claims.

Chowan also reported the largest increase in workforce: 169 workers. In October, its workforce totaled 5,679. A month later it was 5,848.

Currituck and Pasquotank each reported the second-largest numerical increase in unemployed persons: 18. Currituck’s number of residents filing unemployed claims climbed to 650. Its workforce, meanwhile, contracted by 14 to 13,855.

As the area’s largest county, Pasquotank continued to have the largest workforce: 16,811. That’s an increase of 31 workers. Its number of jobless, meanwhile, grew to 1,048.

In Camden, only eight more people filed unemployment claims in November than October. Two-hundred nineteen claims were filed, compared to 211 in October. The county’s workforce, meanwhile, fell by 9 to 4,632.

In Perquimans, one fewer person filed for jobless benefits in November compared to October — 270 versus 271 — while the county’s workforce fell by 21 to 4,964.

According to the Commerce Department, unemployment increased in 76 North Carolina counties in November after decreasing in all 100 counties in October. In addition, 13 counties — including Camden and Currituck — reported rates of 5% or lower, while only one county — Scotland, with a rate of 10.5% — had a rate of 10% or above. By comparison, 20 counties had a rate of 5% percent or less in October. Scotland had a 10.5% rate in October as well.

The commerce department plans to release county-level data for December on Jan. 26.