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Northeastern’s Jordan Jones completes an easy two-points during the Eagles 67-37 win over Edenton’s Holmes High, Wednesday night.

EC triple murder suspect will return to NC soon

The Elizabeth City man charged with three counts of homicide in a December shooting is expected to return to Pasquotank County soon from Virginia to face the charges in court.

Nia Yasmeen Tariq, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney, said Rickey Etheridge Jr. signed a waiver of extradition in Norfolk General District Court Thursday morning, clearing the way for him to be returned to North Carolina.

“He is expected to be sent back to Elizabeth City before Feb. 8 to face the charges he has there,” Tariq said, noting Etheridge faces three counts of homicide. “A control date in Norfolk court has been set for Feb. 9 to verify he was transported back to North Carolina.”

Etheridge Jr., 34, of the 1100 block of Megan Drive, has been indicted by a grand jury in the fatal shooting of three people, including a 3-year-old girl, near the intersection of Perry and Jordan streets on Dec. 2 around 5 p.m.

Etheridge was indicted Jan. 3 with three counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of 18-year-old Jaquan Tobias White, 39-year-old Takeyia De’Shay Berry, and Berry’s 3-year-old daughter, Allura Pledger.

Etheridge was arrested Dec. 15 in Norfolk, Virginia, on a fugitive warrant and transported to the city’s jail.

Elizabeth City police have declined to release any details about the fatal shooting incident.

Hula High

Northeastern High students dressed for a luau cheer on the Eagles during the varsity boys basketball game against John A. Holmes High at Northeastern, Wednesday night. Northeastern defeated Holmes, 67-37.

Currituck schools to keep mask mandate for now

CURRITUCK — After setting a weekly record for COVID-19 cases among students, Currituck Schools will continue its mask mandate for students and staff until at least next week, possibly longer.

The Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday during a special meeting to keep the mask mandate in place until the board meets again on Jan. 20. The board voted unanimously on Dec. 16 to end its mask mandate on Jan. 18 in favor of an optional policy.

Before Thursday’s vote, Superintendent Dr. Matt Lutz told the board that since students returned to school on Jan. 6 from Christmas break that 71 students have tested positive for COVID. That is the most since the first week of school when 64 students tested positive.

“It is the highest five-day period we have had this school year,” Lutz said of the current number. “We are spiking.’’

According to the Centers for Disease Control’s COVID Data Tracker, Currituck County reported 270 new cases of COVID in a seven-day period ending Wednesday. That’s a case rate of 972.52 cases per 100,000 people.

The county’s COVID positivity rate — the percentage of tests that come back positive — rose above 35% on Monday. A total of 575 COVID tests were performed in the week since Thursday, Jan. 6.

Board Chairwoman Karen Etheridge said following Thursday’s vote that the board will decide next week whether to keep the mask mandate in place for another 30 days.

“We will reevaluate the situation on Jan. 20 and we will have some updated information at that time to see if it is going to continue spiking like it has this past week,” Etheridge said. “Then we can make an informative decision. We will make a decision at the general meeting (Jan. 20) whether to continue with masks for the next 30 days. We have to vote monthly according to state law.’’

Masks are still also required on all school buses, which is a federal mandate.

Board member Dwan Craft suggested that the true number of positive COVID cases could be even higher. A school official said during the meeting that the absentee rate at one elementary school was recently at 15%.

“I have talked to many people who have said, ‘I have all the symptoms and I am not going to be tested because I don’t feel like waiting in a line in my car or I can’t get a test,’” Craft said. “For whatever reason they just say they are going to go ahead and quarantine.”

Etheridge said she agreed with Craft’s assessment.

“People have the symptoms but they are choosing not to get tested,” Etheridge said. “They don’t have the test and they are out and about. They have COVID, they are working, they are just spreading it like crazy.”

The board voted unanimously on July 27 to start the school year in August with a mask optional policy for students and staff in grades K-12.

But just five days into the school year the board voted unanimously to reverse course and make masks mandatory inside school buildings. The board then voted in December to end the mask mandate Jan. 18 before voting to keep it Thursday.

During the week of Oct. 18-22 only seven students tested positive for COVID but that number jumped to 25 the week after Thanksgiving.

Board member Janet Rose asked school officials to bring information on staff absences to the Jan. 20 meeting

Lutz told the board that there have been challenges finding substitute teachers during the latest surge but that the district is managing the situation.

Currituck currently tests students and at the Dec. 16 meeting school officials said there was a 13-hour turnaround for results.

City: COVID aid still available for housing, utility expenses

Elizabeth City officials are reminding city residents needing help paying for housing or utilities because of the COVID-19 pandemic that there’s still money available to assist them.

The Coronavirus Care Collaborative continues to offer assistance to low- and moderate-income households that have been affected by the pandemic, a city official said this week.

Qualifying households are now eligible for up to $5,000. That’s a significant increase from the $1,800 originally allowed by the N.C. Department of Commerce. The state agency approved raising the cap on assistance to $5,000 on Oct. 15.

According to the city, households may qualify for assistance from the CVCC fund if they’ve experienced any COVID-related harm since March 10, 2020. Examples of COVID-19-related harm include not only a member of the household contracting the virus, but also someone in the household losing work because of pandemic-related restrictions on businesses.

Assistance payments are made directly to a client’s housing or utility provider to eliminate risk of eviction or disconnection.

As of early this week, 89 low- and moderate-income families had received a total of $126,685.88 in assistance through the CVCC. Of that amount, $85,890.66 had been provided in housing assistance and $40,795.22 allocated in utility assistance. Households are eligible for both types of assistance up to the $5,000 cap. Before the cap increased, the average household assisted through the CVCC received $1,423.44.

The CVCC is a joint initiative of the city and the Albemarle Area United Way, which administers the fund. For more information about the CVCC, email or call the United Way at 252-333-1009.

Sheriff: Hertford not seeing recent increase in crime

HERTFORD — Perquimans County’s sheriff doesn’t think crime in Hertford has increased in recent months — even if some surface indicators might make it look that way.

Resident Marc Christian said at Monday’s Hertford Town Council meeting that he believes crime has gotten worse since Hertford’s police department was disbanded and the Perquimans Sheriff’s Office took over law enforcement in the town last July.

Christian said Hertford has law enforcement but he doesn’t believe it has enough. He’d like to see town officials devise a plan for reviving Hertford’s police department.

Sheriff Shelby White, when asked Wednesday about Christian’s comments, said he does not think crime has gotten worse over the past few months. In fact, he thinks the reverse is true.

“My personal opinion is that crime has gone down,” White said.

White said deputies make such an effort to be visible in high-crime areas of Hertford that people might see them patrolling frequently and conclude that crime has worsened in those neighborhoods. But in fact it’s a crime prevention strategy to have those frequent patrols, he said.

In addition, White said the kind of reporting system that the Sheriff’s Office uses might give the appearance of an uptick in crime, even though that has not happened.

White explained that the activity log the Sheriff’s Office turns into the town each month includes not only responses to reported crimes but also activities such as building security checks, unlocking locked vehicles and business escorts.

White said he believes the town police department was using more of a traditional crime reporting system that only included actual crimes. Because the new activity log includes more types of calls, it appears there’s more crime when in fact there isn’t, he said.

The Perquimans County Sheriff’s Office has added five sworn officers and an administrator as part of its contract with the town of Hertford to provide law enforcement protection inside the town limits.

The policing contract is a result of town councilors’ majority vote last year to dissolve Hertford’s police department, citing the high cost of operating a standalone policing agency.

Town officials determined that contracting law enforcement services through the Sheriff’s Office could save the town hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

The town is providing the sheriff’s office $350,000 under the contract, and also vehicles and equipment.

Fast track rejected for Elaine Riddick Charter School

HERTFORD — The State Board of Education last week rejected a request to expedite the application for the Elaine Riddick Charter School in Perquimans County.

The accelerated application process would have allowed the planned charter school to open in August of this year.

The state’s Office of Charter Schools clarified Tuesday that rejection of the accelerated application means the school will have to reapply for fast-track status in the next application cycle.

Both the Perquimans County Board of Education and Perquimans County Schools superintendent sent letters to the Office of Charter Schools stating the opening of the Elaine Riddick Charter School would have a negative financial impact on the school district.

Superintendent Tanya Turner said the Perquimans County Schools would lose an estimated $591,120 during the Riddick school’s first year of operation, and $1,064,016 by its fifth year of operation.

Turner’s and the school board’s letters also defended the school district’s own record of academic achievement in light of claims made in the Riddick school’s charter application.

“The claims made by Elaine Riddick Charter (in its application) are very inaccurate and misleading,” Turner’s letter states. “Perquimans County has no low performing schools.”

The impact statements from Perquimans County Schools also noted the involvement of Torchlight Academy Schools as a consultant for Elaine Riddick Charter School. The State Board of Education voted last week to terminate the charter of Three Rivers Academy in Bertie County, which was operated by Torchlight. The board’s decision followed a lengthy state investigation that found academic, fiscal, and governance shortcomings at the low-performing school.

Responding in an Oct. 6 letter to state officials, Elaine Riddick Charter School Board Chairman Tony Riddick called the Perquimans officials’ claims “erroneous.” He also said it was the charter school board’s hope “to have a positive working relationship with the local school district.”

The State Board of Education in its decision last week cited the recommendation of the Charter Schools Advisory Board, which recommended the fast-track status for the application not be approved.