Underage Drinking a ‘Terrific Problem’ in North Carolina

Cases of underage drinking made for a long meeting of the state Alcohol Beverage Control Commission last Wednesday.

The case against La Res was the main draw for attention. The Chapel Hill restaurant and bar was investigated for its role in the fatal wrong-way crash on I-85 in July.

Records show Chandler Kania, a 20-year-old UNC student, and a group of underage friends were served alcohol at La Res hours before police say Kania drove the wrong-way on I-85 for at least six miles before crashing into another vehicle head-on, killing three of the four passengers.

But after the ABC board meeting, chair James Gardner said, rather than focusing on one infraction, he was more disappointed with the frequency of underage drinking cases the commission hears. Of the 122 offers in compromise ratified on Wednesday, Gardner said two-thirds of them involved underage drinking.

He added the commission is now in the second phase of a mission to curb what some consider a public health risk.

“The first phase was to bring everybody’s attention to the fact that underage drinking in this state is a terrific problem,” Gardner says. “The second phase is to try to get parents and the middle school children to talk together about what the problem is.”

Gardner said it is important to get the message to those middle school students and parents to start the education process. But he added training servers and reminding them of their responsibilities was another key spoke in the fight against underage drinking.

“This is especially true in all of our college towns,” Gardner says. “We have trained over 4,000 permit holders [and] servers this year. And we will continue to do it into next year, going into every college town in the state of North Carolina.”

Gardner said with the training that is offered by state and local officials, enforcement efforts will also be increased.

“With ALE and the local ABC enforcements, we have stepped up our activities in trying – in particular in college towns across the state – to see that every permit holder in the state of North Carolina understands that it is their responsibility not to serve anybody under 21 years old.”

More than $200,000 in fines were brought in at the November meeting alone as part of the more than 120 offers in compromise agreed to by businesses across the state and the ABC Commission.

Gardner said the commission has brought in more than $800,000 throughout the year and anticipates nearly $1 million in fines by year’s end. He added that money is redistributed to local schools across the state. Wherever the violation occurred, that school district receives the funding.

Of the 120-plus offers agreed to, 22 of those establishments that were fined for not being in compliance were located in Orange County.

Businesses that sell alcohol in Orange County are facing nearly $44,000 in fines or having their alcohol permits suspended for 439 days, collectively. Those numbers are just related to the November board meeting of the state Alcohol Beverage Control Commission.

Local Efforts

Chapel Hill Police Lieutenant Josh Mecimore says the department has an investigator whose primary role is as a liaison between local police and the state Alcohol Law Enforcement and the ABC Commission.

“A big part of his role is organizing those alert operations where we do either compliance checks or we might have officers out doing loud party patrols during specific times of year,” Mecimore says. “Frequently those center around prom season and graduation time for the high school, graduation time for the university.”

Seven of 34 Chapel Hill businesses checked in August during a compliance sweep were cited for selling alcohol to an underage patron.

“Those underage buyers are using their own ID,” Mecimore says. “It’s not like they have a fake ID that says they are over 21. They have their ID that says that they are 19 or however old they are.

“So they either didn’t check the ID at all or they checked it, it says that the person is under 21 and they still served them.”

That failure rate is actually an improvement over checks in recent years.

Mecimore says businesses included in compliance checks are made up of a combination of random selections and businesses that were previously cited.

Mecimore says Chapel Hill Police have a multifaceted effort against alcohol-related incidents. But he adds, in a college town, underage drinking is a major focus.

“I regularly tell people the reason for that is far less about what the legal drinking age is and far more about what we see as a result of people either over-consuming or irresponsibly-consuming alcohol.”

Mecimore says police see many cases where a suspect and victim have consumed alcohol, including physical assaults and sexual assaults.

Jim Wise is the student assistance program specialist at Chapel Hill High School and the lead in that role for all middle and high schools across the district. Wise says there is coordination with local police and schools for enforcement and education.

“We’ll do more of that with the high school,” Wise says. “Bring [police] in for events around safe driving, impaired driving. But we’ll do legal education. They come in, they’ll present in driver’s education classes for instance.

“The traffic officers will come [and] they’ll talk about safe driving, but they’ll talk about all of the issues around impairment and distracted driving.”

Wise says education about drinking starts in middle school health classes and continues until graduation.

“The one piece that really seems to resound and be effective with young people is to talk to them about brain development, brain biology and how use, especially at young ages, can affect the development of their brains,” Wise says. “And with such a premium put on education in this community, it’s a message that doesn’t just resonate with young people.

“But it also resonates with parents, staff and pretty much any community member.”

Wise says Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools conducts its own survey every two years regarding underage drinking in high schools across the district. Wise says, in 2013, 32 percent of high school students responded they had consumed an alcoholic beverage in the last 30 days. Wise says that number is down three percent from 2011. But Wise says he is more disturbed that 17 percent of students responded they did binge drink, which is consuming five or more alcoholic drinks in one sitting. He says that number has not changed much in recent years.

“One of the powerful things is, since this is our data, the students can’t say, ‘Well that’s those kids in Georgia or North Dakota,’” Wise says. “We can say, ‘No, this is what you and your peers said you’re doing.’

“So we really do feel like this is accurate and local information that we can do something with.”

Wise says it is important for parents to be involved in the conversation with their school-aged children and for parents to avoid glorifying past bad decisions.

“But to be able to say, ‘This happened and it was scary,’” Wise says. “Because I think we all have personal stories of people we may have grown up with we know who had some really scary, impactful things happen to them because of involvement and decisions they made around alcohol use or other substance use.”

Wise says he expects new data related to underage drinking gathered this spring.


Orange County Board of Adjustment Denies SUP Request for Event Center

A special use permit that would have allowed a landowner to build a party barn was denied by the Orange County Board of Adjustment Monday night.

The party barn was planned to be built on a 22-acre plot of undeveloped land in Orange County. It was intended to hold wedding ceremonies and other large events.

Members of the surrounding Morrow Mill Road community showed up at the meeting to argue against the building of the party barn.

One resident said this development would change what she loved about the community.

“We have been there for 10 years now, in this quiet neighborhood that we love,” she says. “And we would never have looked at that home if that event center had been there.”

She adds knowing the event center would have been there would have been enough for her family to look for a home elsewhere.

“And that’s something that concerns us for other people that are interested in the area,” she says, “that they would be deterred by having to live next to an events center, especially people with young kids.”

In order to be issued a special use permit, the owners of the land, Kara and Chris Brewer, were required to prove to the board the new use would be harmonious with the neighboring community, would not reduce the value of the surrounding property and would maintain the public health, safety and general welfare. If they could not prove all three, then the permit would be denied.

The attorney for the surrounding community said the Brewers did not provide adequate proof.

“It is up to the opponent only to show that [the applicants] have missed the burden on only one of these,” he says. “I would submit to you that they have failed to carry the burden on any of them.”

The board agreed, voting that the Brewers and their attorney had not proven any of the three requirements.

Although they stopped the Brewers acquiring the SUP, the people on Morrow Mill Road may yet see the party barn they fought so hard to deny.

Planner Michael Harvey said the property owned by the Brewers counts as a farm, which can build without the SUP to attract agritourism.

“Like it or not, an agritourist operation, which the state has indicated includes a wedding venue,” he says, “is a legitimate recognized agritourist activity.”

After the decision, Brewer declined comment on what she planned to do with the land.


Case Against Suspect in Fatal Wrong-Way Crash Continued

20-year-old Chandler Kania appeared in the Battle Courtroom in Hillsborough on Tuesday morning facing three counts of second-degree murder, among other charges, relating to a fatal wrong-way crash on I-85 in July.

The case was continued until January 12, 2016. Assistant District Attorney Jeff Nieman asked for the continuance as the state is still awaiting the crash reconstruction from the State Highway Patrol.

Kania’s attorneys, Roger Smith Jr. and Wade Smith, had no objections to the request.

Chandler Kania and members of his family sat in the middle rows of the courtroom as Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour was presiding over the proceedings.

Kania is still on crutches recovering from broken bones suffered in the crash, but Roger Smith says the mental recovery will take much longer than any physical recovery for his client.

“He’s doing the best he can,” Smith says. “He’s struggling every day with what’s happened here and just struggles with his thoughts about the victims’ families here.

“His prayers go out to them. But he’s struggling every day with this.”

Smith adds that the distress permeates through all of the members of Kania’s family.

“He has real genuine concern,” Smith says, “and you can see it in his entire family’s face. They’re just doing the best they can, and they struggle day by day.”

Wade Smith says the Kania family is still concerned for the families of the victims of the crash, while also coming to the realization that Chandler will very likely be spending time behind bars.

“They think about the victims in this case as much as they think about their son,” Smith says. “I don’t think his mom has stopped weeping since this happened. They realize that this is a long journey. There’s a long way to go.

“And that their son will certainly go to prison, there’s no doubt.”

Smith adds the family remains hopeful Kania will have chance to have a life after prison that would honor the victims and their families.

Chandler Kania is accused of driving his 2005 Jeep Wrangler the wrong way on I-85 in Orange County for at least six miles before striking another vehicle head on, killing three of the four passengers. 49-year-old Felicia Harris, 46-year-old Darlene McGee and six-year-old Jahnice Beard were all killed in the crash. A nine-year-old girl suffered several broken bones as a result of the accident.

Court documents show Kania’s blood-alcohol content was a .17 the night of the crash, more than double the legal limit to drive in North Carolina, and that several of Kania’s friends had fought with Kania to take away his keys. Kania allegedly physically fought them off before leaving the fraternity house on the UNC campus.

Kania was a student at UNC and was enrolled in classes this fall at Carolina before the crash but is no longer a student. Kania was found with the identification of an older brother in the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity at UNC the night of the crash.

Chapel Hill restaurants He’s Not Here and La Res have been investigated by state officials for their role in the incident after records show Kania and several other underage patrons were served alcohol.

Chandler Kania has been charged with three counts of second-degree murder, three counts of felony death by motor vehicle, felony serious injury by motor vehicle, and several charges related to the underage possession of alcohol and driving while impaired.

The Orange County District Attorney’s Office does intend to use aggravating factors in arguments for the murder charges.

Kania was indicted on all charges in September.

His next scheduled court appearance is January 12.

Attorney Roger Smith says it is too early in the proceedings to know if a plea deal will be reached or if the case will go to trial.

Chandler Kania was released from the Orange County Jail in July after posting a $1 million bond and has been recovering at his parents’ home in Asheboro.


Orange County Vaccination Rates High Throughout Schools

Outbreaks of preventable diseases across the country in recent months prompted debate over childhood vaccinations.

Nearly 150 Americans, most of them Californians, were sickened earlier this year in a measles outbreak that began at Disneyland.

California Governor Jerry Brown has now signed legislation that bans non-medical exemptions for parents.

In North Carolina, parents can opt out of vaccinating their children through medical or religious exemptions.

Orange County health officials released immunization records this week detailing vaccination rates in public and private schools.

Judy Butler is the community health services supervisor for the Orange County Health Department, and she says this information was compiled from an annual communicable disease report.

She says outbreaks of preventable diseases are up in some cases simply because there are more children who are not fully vaccinated.

“For one thing, we have more children who are not vaccinated because of parental choice,” Butler says. “Not a large number, the vast majority of our kids are vaccinated.

“[Outbreaks] just bring more attention to the fact that children who are not vaccinated are definitely at greater risk if they’re exposed to these diseases.”

Butler adds the risks for children who have been vaccinated also goes up as the percentage of unvaccinated children increases.

“Because the vaccines are not 100 percent effective,” she says, “the more often they are exposed, the more likely they are to become ill with one of the vaccine-preventable diseases as well. Even though they’re fully vaccinated.”

99.2 percent of students in Orange County Schools are vaccinated and 98.78 percent of Chapel Hill – Carrboro City School students are vaccinated. But that number drops to just below 96 percent for charter schools and just over 93 percent for private schools.

Those figures line up with Butler’s expectations.

“Because I’ve worked in the county for so long, I knew that we had a couple of private or charter schools where we had more parents who are not as inclined to vaccinate their children,” Butler says. “So, no, I can’t really say there was any surprise. Not to me anyway.”

Emerson Waldorf has the lowest vaccination rate throughout public and private schools in Orange County at just over 62 percent of student vaccinated. A reason for the dramatic drop at Emerson Waldorf is because 84 of the 222 students claim religious exemptions.

Butler says there is not verification required to justify a religious exemption in the Tar Heel state.

“North Carolina does not require any specific information,” she says. “All they require is that a parent say that they choose not to vaccinate their children for religious reasons.”

Butler adds there are medical exemptions to not vaccinate children as well.

“And we’re not talking because they didn’t feel good after their last vaccine or because they often ran a fever after a vaccine,” she says. “We’re talking about kids with serious medical problems that prohibit them from getting vaccines.”

Butler says a new tendency among parents has been to not vaccinate children due to fear of vaccinations causing other medical problems. But Butler says these have been proven to be nothing more than medical myths.

“A lot of the fears and a lot of the misinformation that parents had about vaccines causing certain disorders, such as Autism, has been disproven,” Butler says.

All rules governing vaccination rates are regulated at the state level.

You can find information regarding schools in the Orange County School System, Chapel Hill – Carrboro City School System and Orange County private and charter schools through these links.


With An Eye To Diversity, Orange County Tackles Aging Issues

Orange County’s government includes a Department on Aging, tasked with developing programs and working with community partners to address the unique issues faced by local senior citizens. Among other things, the department helps operate the county’s two senior centers, the Central Orange Senior Center in Hillsborough and the Seymour Center in Chapel Hill.

But it’s not enough simply to have programs for “senior citizens” in general – because not all senior citizens are alike, nor do they all face the same issues. With a diverse population, how do county officials ensure they’re meeting the needs of all Orange County’s residents?

Zhenzhen Yu and Ana Lima are bilingual social workers with Orange County, and Ryan Lavalley is an occupational therapy consultant. They joined Aaron Keck on WCHL Thursday to discuss how Orange County’s Department on Aging addresses the needs of a diverse population.


For more information on Orange County’s Department on Aging, visit its page on the county’s website.


Launch Chapel Hill Named No. 4 Best University Business Accelerator

A business incubator at UNC-Chapel Hill has been named one of the top programs in the country.

Launch Chapel Hill reached rarefied air this week when UBI Global named Launch the number four best performing university business accelerator in North America.

Dina Rousset is the program manager for Launch. She attended the award ceremony in Toronto, on Tuesday.

“It’s an amazing honor for us,” Rousset says. “Some of the other awardees were groups like the MassChallenge, which is huge – millions of dollars in budget and, I think, about 50 employees, [and] 1871 – another huge organization.

“So that, in Chapel Hill, by the town, the county, the university and then a private donor coming together, its just amazing that we’ve been able to accomplish and be on the same stage as some of those larger players.”

Rousset says Launch makes the innovative mindset being instilled by leadership at UNC more tangible.

She says Launch provides much needed support for young businesses with big ideas.

“We really heavily layer on mentoring resources,” she says. “We help them get access to networks and access to capital that really allows them to scale out their businesses.

“We work with students, faculty, staff and members of the community.”

Rousset adds that a sense of collaboration permeates the community to make Launch Chapel Hill a feasible program.

“Not only the university, the town, the county, the downtown partnership,” Rousset lists, “but, as well, partners from across the community – accountants and lawyers and marketers and [public relations] folks, different departments across UNC and even some at Duke – come in and volunteer their time to work with the startups.

“We really want to thank the community for that.”

Launch accepts a new class of entrepreneurs twice every year; in July, the program brought in seven local companies. Rousset says companies accepted by Launch have gotten past the idea portion of the development process.

“They will have tested their ideas,” she says, “which means they will have gone out and they will have spoken to some customers.

“They’ll really be ready to scale.”

Rousset says Launch is currently accepting applications for businesses that would like to be part of the program.

“We accept a new cohort of companies, or class of companies, every January and July,” she says. “Right now through November 15, we are accepting applications for our cohort that will begin in January.”

The seven companies accepted in July are preparing to host its first “demo day” in early December at the new Silverspot Cinema at University Place.


Kindergarten Readiness Program Aims to Close Achievement Gap

A local program is helping low-income and at-risk children prepare for kindergarten.

66 children from low-income families or that were identified as needing additional support participated in a summer kindergarten readiness program from the Family Success Alliance to prepare those students for the start of kindergarten.

Dr. Michael Steiner is a pediatrician at the North Carolina Children’s Hospital and serves as an adviser to the Family Success Alliance. He says data shows significant improvements in the assessment scores of children who participated in the first year of this program.

“This program is currently the entry point into this long pipeline,” Steiner says. “We promise to continue developing programs that will build the pipeline, strengthen partnerships and make resources available to children and their families as they successfully move through their school years with early college and early career being the end goal of our work.”

Sheldon Lanier is the Director of Equity Leadership in the Chapel Hill – Carrboro City School District, and he says students showed major growth in the short summer program.

“Overall, the students that were enrolled in the program moved from nine percent to 67 percent in terms of proficiency,” Lanier says. “When we’re talking about proficiency, we’re talking about leveling the playing field and having students ready to enter into kindergarten and actually, I don’t want to say compete, but basically be able to achieve on the same level as students who may have already gotten some of those resources.”

Lanier adds students at New Hope Elementary went from zero percent to 63 percent proficient, while students at Carrboro Elementary went from 33 to 61 percent proficient and participants at Frank Porter Graham showed the largest improvement from zero to 74 percent proficient.

Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools Assistant Superintendent Magda Parvey says programs like this will help close the achievement gap.

“The Kindergarten Readiness Program really aligns very nicely with the work we’re doing to help address the achievement gap,” Parvey says. “Specifically, in terms of pre-teaching and preparing students in advance of being in school. It aligns very much with our K-12 initiatives in terms of strategies that are evidence-based.

“We really appreciated the it-takes-a-village approach that the Family Success Alliance provided, and we were very honored to be a part of that.”

These three schools were chosen to participate because they are in the two zones selected in late 2014 by the Family Success Alliance to focus efforts during the first year of the program’s existence.

Amber Wilson is the Assistant Principal at New Hope Elementary Schools. She says she has seen first-hand the impact this program has had on preparing students for kindergarten. She says a major step to ensuring students are ready begins with reaching their parents.

“To start out our program at New Hope, we also brought parents in and did an informational session, which we felt was really beneficial,” Wilson says. “And, more importantly, at the end of our program we brought our parents back to celebrate the success that we had during the program.

Wilson says every parent with a child in the program attended the end-of-session banquet.

“It was so sweet. The kids were all dressed up in their little dresses and stuff. And they were so excited to share with everybody what they had learned. And they felt good about themselves.”

Wilson adds the student’s confidence and comfort level with the school experience carried over into the new school year.

Claudia Yerena is the mother of a student who went through the program this summer. She says she can see a difference in the preparedness level in her five-year-old son who just entered kindergarten and her seven-year-old.

“It’s a huge difference between them,” Yerena says. “My older boy was very scared and shy and refusing to go to school. It’s totally different with my second boy.

“He was so excited. He was ready to go. He has more confidence. He also started with more academic skills.”

Steiner says that funding will be crucial to continue this program, and the FSA in general, in the future. Funding has been set aside by the Orange County Commissioners. Steiner says the group will look to other funding sources to ensure the program continues.

Parvey says that getting the students prepared for the day they enter school greatly increases the chance to close the achievement gap and Lanier says teachers can push a classroom further if all students are on equal footing on the first day.


Compass Center Holds Events for Domestic Violence Awareness Month

The Compass Center for Women and Families is holding events throughout the month of October to raise awareness for domestic violence victims.

Mary Parry is the development director at the Compass Center, and she says the organization offers many forms of support to the community.

“Through our programs with career and financial services, access to legal resources,” she lists. “We work with local public schools in the health classrooms, working with prevention.

“And we also are Orange County’s primary resource for domestic violence crisis services.”

Parry says it can be hard initially for victims of domestic violence to come forward and ask for help.

“Trusting is an important part of being comfortable reaching out,” she says. “And Compass Center is a place with a very supportive environment for people to reach out. Not only victims, but friends and family of victims who might be concerned about situations that their loved ones are in can reach out to us.

“We have a 24-hour domestic violence hotline, and we have confidential services.”

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. And the Compass Center is holding events throughout the month to raise awareness and funds to continue providing these services to the community.

“One we were really excited to find out about was an offer by City Kitchen of Chapel Hill at University Place,” she says. “All month long, City Kitchen will be donating $5 to Compass Center for every signature drink that is ordered.

“So City Kitchen has come up with the Berry Mint Compass, which is a drink that folks can order anytime through the month of October and Compass Center will receive that support.”

Parry says they are taking the opportunity to ask the community to come to City Kitchen for a happy hour Thursday night from six until nine o’clock.

“Inviting the community to come out, take home a little bit of information about domestic violence and our impact in the community,” she says, “and just meet with out supporters in the community to celebrate our impact.”

Events will be held over the next few weeks, culminating with a screening of the movie Private Violence and a panel discussion at the Varsity Theatre on October 28.


Orange County Commissioners Move Forward with $125 Million Bond

The Orange County Board of Commissioners took another step toward issuing the largest bond in county history Tuesday night.

The board unanimously approved a motion to move forward with a bond that would be worth $125 million. The commissioners decided that $120 million of the bond will go toward repairing school buildings in the county and $5 million will go to affordable housing. When the bond was originally discussed, all of the money was expected to go to the schools. But, due to public outcry for funding for affordable housing, some commissioners changed their mind, including Chair Earl McKee.

“I’m one of the folks that originally thought, ‘schools only,’ because the needs of the schools were so great,” he says. “But I think that, possibly along with some other commissioners, we realized that schools and affordable housing do go together.

“They actually compliment one another.”

Chapel Hill-Carrboro PTA member Jill Simon told the board the issues of affordable housing and the school repairs are interrelated.

“I also want to add that at Frank Porter Graham there are almost 50 percent of families who are in economically fragile situations,” she says. “And so that’s a really good example of how I am not asking for the money for the schools to be against money for housing.

“Our families and buildings need help in both situations.”

Commissioner Barry Jacobs said he thought it was important to include both issues in the bond.

“I would like to suggest that we think of this bond package as the Goldilocks bond,” he says, “and that we’re trying to get it to be just right. I think it’s important that we get it to be just right. And I think that it’s important that it be as inclusive as we can possibly make it.”

Jacobs, along with commissioners Penny Rich and Mark Dorosin, pushed to raise the total of the bond to $130 million in order to give another $5 million to affordable housing, but lost the vote. Dorosin said he thinks $10 million should be committed to see the affordable housing progress the commissioners want.

“I think it’s critical both politically and legislatively to have that money in the bond,” he says.

To go along with the bond, the board also unanimously approved a change in the budget allocation for affordable housing and school repair. The board agreed to commit at least $1 million out of the budget each year for the next five years to both issues.

The board will have to formally introduce the bond to the public before April. Once the bond is introduced, the commissioners must have a separate meeting to take public comment before they can vote on whether to put the bond on the ballot.


Suspect Pleads Guilty to Striking Chapel Hill Police Officer with Vehicle

A Durham woman was sentenced to between 77 and 105 months in Orange County prison on Thursday, after striking a Chapel Hill Police Officer with her vehicle, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

50-year-old Joanne Kay Hall entered a guilty plea to charges of possession of a stolen vehicle, felony fleeing and eluding as well as assault on a government officer in connection with the incident.

Joanne Hall

Hall was charged in May after she ran into Chapel Hill Police Officer Drew Cabe with a vehicle. Assistant District Attorney Lamar Proctor tells WCHL that, on the day of the incident, Hall had left a drug treatment facility in Wilmington, stolen a vehicle, and was stopped for driving 65 in a 45 mile-per-hour zone while driving through Chapel Hill.

Proctor says Hall then led Cabe on a chase down Fordham Boulevard. Cabe eventually cornered Hall’s vehicle and exited his police cruiser. At that point, Hall ran into Cabe, tossing the officer onto the vehicle. Cabe then fired three shots into the left rear tire of the vehicle and Hall was taken into custody.

Proctor says that Hall apologized in court on Thursday before being taken back to jail.