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Deputy chief: Police probing fatal shooting involving 5-year-old child

Elizabeth City police are investigating a fatal shooting at Hickory Village Mobile Home Park Sunday that involved a 5-year-old child.

Deputy Chief James Avens confirmed Monday that police are investigating the incident but he declined to release any details, saying it’s still under investigation. Reached again just before 4:30 p.m. Monday, Avens said the police department does not intend to issue a news release regarding the shooting.

Asked if he believed any criminal charges are forthcoming, Avens did not respond, noting again that the incident remains under investigation.

Police radio traffic indicates dispatchers initially received a call that a child had been shot in the 125 block of the mobile home park off River Road.

Charlie Lynch, who has lived at Hickory Village for 25 years, said Monday he was sitting in his yard near down the street from where the incident occurred but did not hear the gunshot. He said it’s not unusual when a shooting takes place at very close range for the sound of the shot to be muffled.

Lynch said he heard that a 5-year-old child had been shot and had died.

He said he saw police arrive along with an ambulance and fire truck.

“And they were flying when they came in here,” Lynch said. “The fire truck and the ambulance both came in and that ambulance immediately came out of there. They got the child and they got on out of here. That ambulance was rolling immediately. The ambulance went out of here pretty heavy. I’ve never heard one go out of here like that.”

Lynch said it was right after 5 p.m. when the ambulance left the park.

It’s especially sad when a child dies in a shooting, he said.

“That upsets me,” Lynch said. “I’m about the kids.”

Lynch’s neighbor David Martin said the child’s death was very sad. Martin said he doesn’t know any details about the shooting but added that he always keeps his own guns locked in a gun cabinet.

NC awards city $92K to repair, reopen Wood park

Elizabeth City has been awarded more than $90,000 in state grant funds to repair and reopen George M. Wood Memorial Park on the Camden Causeway.

City officials were notified late last week that the city’s application for $92,180 to improve the park was one of nine grants recently approved by the N.C. Division of Coastal Management. According to a press release, DCM awarded more than $1.1 million to nine towns and counties to improve public access to coastal beaches and waters.

The more-than-30-year-old George M. Wood Memorial Park, located on the causeway but inside the city limits, was closed last year after being damaged by several storms.

The park consists of a boardwalk over the Pasquotank River, extending about 200 feet out into the river from a parking lot along the shore. There is also a 65-foot wing-T section with each of the two sections having a gazebo at the end.

Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Parks and Recreation officials were concerned that the boardwalk’s pilings would also have to be replaced but a local marine construction company found the pilings were in good condition.

Repairs will include replacement of all deck boards and supporting boards on the boardwalk. Wooden handrails and edge protections boards will also be installed to improve the boardwalk’s safety and make it more handicapped accessible.

Plans also call for the installation of a concrete pad near the entrance to the boardwalk to provide a dedicated handicapped parking space.

Matt Wood, George M. Wood’s son and a former Pasquotank county commissioner, made a push earlier this year to get the park reopened. Reached Friday, he said repairing the park named for his father would be an “excellent use of the grant funds.”

“We will able to provide a great on-the-water outing to lots of folks,” he said. “I would like thank all city staff and the council for getting this done. I can’t wait to see some kids out there learning to fish.”

The grant award requires a $10,300 local match, which will come out of the parks and recreation budget.

City officials said Friday once contract documents are in place, they’ll seek bids to start the work. They did not provide a timetable for when the project might be completed.

School boards agree to continue mask mandates

EDENTON — Edenton-Chowan Schools will continue its current mask-wearing mandate for students and staff.

The Edenton-Chowan Board of Education agreed to extend the mandate at its meeting earlier this month. Board member Ricky Browder cast the lone vote against the extension.

In recommending the extension, Superintendent Michael Sasscer noted that positive cases of COVID-19 in the schools had increased in September but also that quarantines had decreased.

Under state law school districts must revisit masking policies monthly.

Sasscer told the board that “managing masks” adds an extra level of exhaustion for teachers and staff. He also said he appreciates the good work that schools are doing to curb infections and keep children safe.

When board member Gil Burroughs asked whether it was time for the district to consider removing students from school buses if they refuse to wear masks, Sasscer indicated that he didn’t think so.

Sasscer said he is concerned that disciplining students for not wearing masks or wearing them improperly on a school bus could be a “slippery slope” that erodes community support for mask wearing, particularly given the divisiveness over the masking mandate.

The school board also approved remote learning and virtual learning plans to submit to state education officials for review. The plans are in response to Senate Bill 654, which became law at the end of August and establishes a framework for districts to develop remote learning and virtual learning plans.

The board unanimously approved a remote learning plan that provides for remote instruction when school is closed because of inclement weather or when a school or individual classroom is closed because of COVID exposure.

The plan calls for teachers to provide packets of instructional materials for students who do not have access to a reliable internet connection. In addition, the plan recognizes that WiFi connections are available through some community partners such as McDonald’s and some churches.

While the remote learning plan would apply to all students in the event of a weather-related closing, or to all students in an affected school or classroom in a COVID-related closing, it also would be offered to individual students for health-related reasons if requested by a parent. The decision to approve virtual learning for any student would be based on a case-by-case review and would involve an “extreme case,” Sasscer said.

The school board voted unanimously to approve the district’s virtual learning plan.

All school districts in the state are required to revisit their masking policy on a monthly basis.

“Camden still has the same mask decision in place,” Camden County Schools Superintendent Joe Ferrell told The Daily Advance last week. Ferrell noted that the monthly review and vote by the school board is required through June 2022.

“I do not anticipate a change at the October meeting,” Ferrell said, explaining that the current policy is a hybrid plan that requires students and staff to wear a mask indoors when they cannot maintain appropriate physical distance but allows them go unmasked where physical distancing in possible and being practiced.

“It seems to be working fairly well for us,” Ferrell said.

He said that students and staff appreciate getting a “mask break” at times throughout the day and that the district’s quarantine numbers have dropped.

Perquimans County Schools has a mask mandate in place for students, staff and visitors. District spokeswoman Michelle Maddox said the school board will revisit the policy at its next meeting on Monday.

Currituck County Schools Superintendent Matt Lutz said the district’s plan is to continue is mask mandate for now. He also said it will be reviewed monthly as called for under state law.

“In an effort to keep the quarantines at a minimum, and keep students in school, there is no recommendation for a change to the mask policy at this time,” Lutz said.

Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools spokeswoman Tammy Sawyer said the ECPPS policy requiring masks to be worn on school campuses will remain in place.

“Currently, ECPPS requires all individuals, including students, employees, and visitors, regardless of vaccination status, to wear face coverings at all times while inside of school buildings or on school transportation vehicles, including school buses, vans, and other group school transportation,” Sawyer said.

Sawyer noted the board will continue to revisit the policy monthly.

Pasquotank to provide water in Newland Dec. 1

Pasquotank County will begin providing water to residents in the Newland area of the county on Dec. 1.

The county is buying the water storage and water distribution systems that serve the Newland area of Pasquotank from the South Mills Water Association for $1.4 million.

The county is using water department capital reserves to pay for the acquisition and when the deal is completed it will add 952 customers to the Pasquotank water system.

The deal was expected to add Newland to the county water system this month. However, that plan was pushed back last month to Dec. 1 because of construction delays for a temporary pumping station. The station has to be online before Newland customers can be added to Pasquotank’s system.

A permanent pump station will have to be constructed and that process is expected to take 18 months.

Pasquotank Utilities Superintendent David Smithson told the Board of Commissioners Utilities Committee Monday afternoon that work on the temporary pumping station should be completed around Oct. 27. System testing will take place beginning Nov. 1 and take around 12 days.

“Pump tests, hopefully, are projected to be next week,” Smithson said. “I feel very comfortable with this (schedule).’’

The county is going to send a letter out to the new customers explaining the switchover and officials are also going to conduct an informational session in Newland either on Nov. 16 or Nov. 18.

“I will speak at that meeting and one thing I will make very clear is that there will be hiccups,” Smithson said. “There always is and 95 percent of the customers will never know it.’’

Newland will actually start receiving Pasquotank water on Nov. 29 but customer billing won’t start until Dec. 1. The new customers will receive their first bill around Jan. 15.

“That gives us time to fill the system, fill the tanks,” Smithson said. “That way our water will be in the system. The water quality will be better, they will be getting better water.’’

Visitor spending dropped 19% in 2020 in Pasquotank

The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 put an end to a decade of year-over-year growth in visitor spending in Pasquotank County.

Visit North Carolina reported last week that visitor spending in the county dropped just over 19% to $56.2 million last year. Tourists spent around $70 million in 2019.

“We all knew this was coming, it’s just not fun to look at those numbers,” said Visit Elizabeth City Executive Director Corrina Ruffieux.

Currituck County, however, was one of 14 counties across the state that showed an increase in tourist spending despite the pandemic, jumping 3% in 2020 to $375.4 million.

Occupancy tax revenue in Pasquotank was off 21% in 2020 but those numbers through August of this year show a big rebound in lodging tax collections. In July, occupancy tax revenue was around $110,000 as compared to just over $80,000 in 2019 for the same month.

Ruffieux called January and February occupancy tax collections solid but said the rest of the year so far has produced “record-breaking collections” compared to 2019.

“It’s amazing because 2019 was our best year ever,” Ruffieux said. “We are doing phenomenally well but the question is how long will that last.”

Ruffieux said “almost every” tourism destination in the U.S. is seeing the same thing right now.

“The only communities that are not seeing what we are seeing are those that rely almost solely on convention and business travel,” she said.

While Pasquotank saw a drop in tourism revenue, the county fared better last year than most of the state, which saw a 32% drop to $20 billion. North Carolina, however, ranked fifth in the country in tourism visitation.

“We did OK compared to some of our peer communities,” Ruffieux said.

Ruffieux said Pasquotank’s proximity to the Outer Banks and its rural setting helped soften the blow a year ago and that will continue to be an asset moving forward.

“People could still travel here and do a weekend getaway and not be in the big city crowds,” Ruffieux said. “Travel research is still showing people want to be outdoors and be away from crowds. We are set up for a successful future. We have several advantages that our peer communities don’t have.’’

The state report also showed that just over 500 people are employed in travel and tourism in Pasquotank with an annual payroll of almost $16 million. The city and county also collected $2.7 million in local taxes from visitors and that saved every household in the county $329 in taxes in 2020.

Visit North Carolina reported that visitor spending in Currituck totaled $375.4 million in 2020. Food and beverage spending totaled $124 million while spending on lodging was $93.5 million.

Currituck Travel and Tourism Director Tameron Kugler said the county was able to escape many of the negative impacts of the pandemic due to the unique nature of “our short-term vacation rental accommodations.”

“As a predominantly drive-to market, our visitors can travel with their family unit by car to their vacation rental property with minimal to no contact upon arrival, if choosing to do so,” Kugler said. “In addition, our remote coastal environment is abundantly rich in open space and outdoor activities. For the safety conscious, we were an ideal travel destination during a time of significant uncertainty.”

Kugler said more tourists have flocked to Currituck this spring, summer and into the fall in greater numbers than last year. She said advanced bookings for 2022 may result in another “record-breaking year.”

“We feel extremely fortunate that visitors old and new continue to come back to Corolla and the Currituck Outer Banks,” Kugler said. “Although it is still too early to predict the 2022 season, we are hearing from many of our vacation rental management companies that bookings are ahead of last year at this time.”

Tourism generated 2,247 jobs in Currituck with a annual payroll of $88.5 million. Tourism, according to the report, generated $17.6 million in local tax revenue and $12.7 million in state tax revenue.

As a result, each Currituck resident pays $1,083 less in local and state taxes each year, the report states.

Occupancy tax revenue in Currituck this past July jumped 42 percent to around $4.2 million as compared to July of 2020 when it was around $2.9 million. This past August showed a modest jump of around $22,000 to $4,042,114 as compared to August 2020.

Currituck reported a slight decrease in September of around $90,000 to $3.9 million compared to the same month last year. Occupancy tax revenue the first 10 days of October totaled $321,000.