OC Sheriff’s Office Investigating Home Invasion

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office is investigating a home invasion from early Tuesday morning. Officials say it occurred in the vicinity of New NC 86, south of I-85.

The suspects, reportedly, entered the residence by force and identified themselves as “POLICE OFFICERS.” The suspects then were able to gain control of the victims. The victims were not injured, but the family’s dog was shot during the incident – the dog was not seriously injured and was treated at a local animal hospital.

The Sheriff’s Office says the incident does not appear to be a random act. Authorities describe the suspects as black males, who were dressed in all black. They, allegedly, fled the area in a black or dark-colored vehicle.

The investigation is ongoing, anyone with information is asked to contact the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

http://chapelboro.com/news/crime/oc-sheriffs-office-investigating-home-invasion/

DOT Preparing for Long Night as Inclement Weather Looms

The possibility of inclement weather throughout our area has led to the state Department of Transportation going into overdrive to prepare the roadways.

Mark Mueller is the Communication Officer for the division of the DOT that oversees Orange County, and he says they have been watching the forecast to most efficiently prepare.

“It’s looking like .01 – .12” of accumulation,” he says. “The potential for down tree lines usually happens at .25 – .5” – so it does not look like that’s going to be happening.”

Mueller adds crews have been preparing all day to ensure the equipment will be up to the task for a long night’s work.

“We’re looking to have crews start around 7 o’clock [Tuesday] evening,” he says. “And we’re expecting 30 – 35 people on hand.”

Mueller says the lingering rain has caused a change of plans for how they typically prepare thoroughfares.

“They’re not planning, at this point, to put down any salt brine, since there’s rain in the forecast,” he says. “But they’re likely going to be putting down the hard salt.

“[It will be put down] at a minimum on the bridges, likely on the roads – depending on how the forecast comes.”

Mueller says the DOT is advising commuters to stay off the roadways, if at all possible, and to exercise caution if you are traveling.

http://chapelboro.com/news/safety/dot-preparing-long-night-inclement-weather-looms/

Freezing Rain May Lead to Slippery Commute Wednesday

Winter has officially settled in across the Tar Heel state, and our area is no exception. After seeing heavy rain early Monday morning, temperatures have fallen and led to the possibility of some icing as we continue through the week.

The National Weather Service has issued alerts – including a Winter Weather Advisory for Orange County and a Winter Storm Watch for Durham and Wake Counties – that will go into effect late Tuesday and remain through mid-day Wednesday.

NWS Meteorologist Shawna Coakley says Tuesday we expect to have lingering drizzle, but the real problems may develop late Tuesday night into Wednesday morning.

“We’ll have temperatures right within a few degrees of freezing, and that brings with it a chance of freezing rain,” she says.

Coakley says we are not expected to see major accumulation, but “certainly you could get some glazing on surfaces. And you might see some difficulty with travel on roadways and walking on sidewalks.”

Coakley adds the chance of inclement weather will be rather widespread.

“We’re looking at the whole area for this, the entirety of central North Carolina,” she says.

The Wednesday morning commute may be a slippery one, if the variables of the forecast develop over the next 24 hours.

After that, Coakley says the temperatures will climb above freezing for the foreseeable future and the chance of rain will diminish to close out the week – taking any chance of inclement weather with it.

http://chapelboro.com/news/weather/freezing-rain-may-lead-slippery-commute-wednesday/

Orange County Rabies Cases on the Rise in 2014

Rabies cases throughout Orange County were up sharply for 2014 when compared to previous years.

Orange County Animal Services Director Bob Marotto says the number of confirmed rabies cases nearly doubled.

“We had our final laboratory-confirmed rabies case on December 30, in Hillsborough,” he says. “That was the 23 laboratory-confirmed rabies case we had in 2014.”

There were 12 confirmed rabies cases in both 2012 and 2013.

Marotto says there is no exact science to predicting how many cases a given area may see each year, but there are data points that reveal certain trends.

“The historical data that we have indicates that there is a cycling in these numbers,” he says. “We saw, in 2014, the beginning of an upswing.”

He says these trends typically run in one-to-three-year cycles. Marotto also points out there were 23 confirmed cases, meaning the possibility exists the number of rabid animals was even higher – those cases just were not confirmed by the state lab.

Marotto says residents need to be prepared for increased cases in the future.

“There is rabies here,” he says. “It probably will never go away in our lifetime. Therefore, we need to be prepared individually, as households, as pet owners, and as a community.”

That includes taking steps to ensure the safety of our pets, and Marotto says monitoring your surroundings, as well as your pet’s environment, is vital.

“We’re all better off without having our animal outside unattended,” he says. “If we are with our animal, the likelihood that there is going to be an encounter is reduced because we can remove our pet and ourselves from the situation.”

Staying current with the law is also a way to help protect you and your animals from rabies. North Carolina law states that all cats and dogs over 4 months must be current with their rabies vaccine at all times. And the Orange County ordinance calls for pets to wear a rabies vaccination tag.

If your vaccinated pet has an encounter with a rabid animal, they are required to receive a rabies booster shot within five days, or they will be treated as an unvaccinated animal. In the case of an unvaccinated pet, the choice is between euthanasia and having the animal quarantined for up to 6 months.

Marotto says the best thing is to make sure your pet is vaccinated, and you can do that through Orange County Animal Service’s low-cost vaccination clinics.

http://chapelboro.com/news/safety/orange-county-rabies-cases-rise-2014/

Common Themes Develop Among 2015 Priorities

Flipping the calendar to a new year can cause reflection over what happened over the previous 12 months. It can provide a clean slate for starting new. And it can present new challenges.

Managing growth and fighting poverty are two ideas that would seem to counter each other. But, throughout our community, this juxtaposed theme continues to emerge. The message from many community leaders is that we must continue to strive for growth, while lending a helping hand to those in need.

In that vein, Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt says he is excited about the two zones in Orange County chosen by the Family Success Alliance, aimed at helping children from low-income families continue on to higher levels of education.

Kleinschmidt adds that Chapel Hill, specifically, has to focus on the “Design 2020” development project and work toward a public transit solution.

“We’re going to be exploring some new ways of financing bus purchases,” he says. “The earmarks that David Price, our congressman, used to bring to us to buy new buses are gone, and we have to find new ways to do that.”

Meanwhile, in neighboring Carrboro, Mayor Lydia Lavelle says they will be focusing on bringing more projects to the town.

“As the economy continues to do a little better, we’re hoping to see some more projects come forward over the next year,” she says, “including projects like the library.”

Kristen Smith, with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, says that she believes there will be a reenergized spirit to help those that are less fortunate.

“I think some people are renewing their focus on poverty,” she says, with the goal of finding “how we can come together and collaborate around that.”

Smith cites the UNC Global Research Institute, whose focus will be on “Feeding a Hungry World” for the 2015 – 2016 and 2016 – 2017 academic years.

Mayor Tom Stevens says the Town of Hillsborough will be focusing on ways to systematically build citizen engagement and leadership throughout the community. He adds that promoting tourism will be a key, along with managing growth.

“We’re going to have two new neighborhoods,” he says, “so we’re going to have a lot of new folks in town.”

Stevens adds that he believes Hillsborough can welcome new residents and hold on to its “small-town character.”

Riding the tourism wave, Laurie Paolicelli, with the Orange County Visitors’ Bureau, says that they are working to continue bringing in higher numbers of visitors to the area.

“We’re trying to work with our partners to figure out: Do we stay open a little later? Do we offer night lighting, more way-finding, more marketing of the area?” she says. “We have a lot of opportunity and a lot of smart leaders.”

Paiolicelli adds that it will be important to continue bringing in visitors to fill hotels that are targeting our community.

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/common-themes-develop-among-2015-priorities/

DA Woodall Says NC Death Penalty System Needs Reform

Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall has announced that if a conviction is brought against the two men charged with murdering 59-year-old UNC professor Feng Liu in July, he will not be seeking the death penalty.

Woodall says, “I don’t think, at this time, North Carolina has an effective death penalty.”

He says he is not opposed to the death penalty, but adds that the entire system is not in a functioning state.

“I do not have any moral opposition to the death penalty,” he says. “I think there are circumstances – extremely rare circumstances – where it is warranted. I don’t think that the law, as we have it presently in North Carolina, is sufficient to ensure that we carry it out properly.”

Woodall adds that in a case where capital punishment is on the table, there are many factors that go into that decision.

Botched executions in other states have sparked a nationwide review of the death penalty system. Earlier this year in North Carolina, two half brothers were exonerated on murder charges and released from prison after nearly 30 years behind bars. Both men were originally sentenced to death; one had his sentenced reduced to life in prison.

Woodall says that in many cases a term of life in prison can bring a victim’s family more closure than a death sentence.

“It would take decades for the sentence to be carried out,” he says, “if it were ever carried out. And victims’ families have to deal with it for decades.”

If North Carolina is going to continue to be a state that has the death penalty as an option for prosecutors, Woodall says the entire system needs to be reformed. He cites an example from the federal system that could serve as a model for North Carolina.

“For a federal prosecutor to pursue the death penalty,” he says, “they have to go before a federal panel that looks at the evidence. The defense actually gets to present a short version of their case. And that panel determines if it’s a death-penalty case.”

Woodall says this provides more consistency in the process, adding that he believes that is one thing missing in North Carolina.

“I believe it’s very important for an elected prosecutor to have a great deal of discretion to determine how the law is going to be enforced in his or her jurisdiction,” he says. “But I do think if you’re going to have the death penalty – the ultimate punishment – there has to be some way to ensure that it is going to be used consistently throughout the state.”

Juries issued three death sentences in North Carolina in 2014 – in 2013 juries returned one death sentence and none were returned in 2012, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The state of North Carolina has not executed a prisoner since 2006.

http://chapelboro.com/news/crime/da-woodall-says-nc-death-penalty-system-needs-reform/

No Death Penalty in Case of Murdered Professor

Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall will not be seeking the death penalty in the case of a murdered UNC professor from July of this year.

59-year-old Feng Liu was hit in the head with a landscaping rock on July 23rd, while he was walking near West University Drive and Ransom Street and died the next day at UNC Hospitals.

Two men were arrested in connection with the case the next day.

They’re charged with first-degree murder – a capital crime – but Woodall says there are issues that exist with the death penalty, in its current form.

“The death penalty is really in a state of uncertainty,” he says. “There has not been an execution [in North Carolina] in many years. There are lots of challenges to our death penalty statute and the scheme that is used in North Carolina. That’s true all over the country.”

DA Woodall also says that, based on recent history, he does not believe a death verdict would ultimately be handed down.

“[Even] as horrific as the circumstances of this case are, I think it’s extremely unlikely that there would be a death verdict in this case,” he says. “I talked to the Liu family, and they did not want it pursued as a death penalty case.”

Woodall says the discussion with the victim’s family does not make the decision of whether to pursue the death penalty or not, but it does factor into his equation.

The next step in the Liu trial is a court date set for April, which Woodall refers to as an “administrative” appearance.

Woodall adds that the investigation is ongoing and new discoveries are being made. Those discoveries must then be shared with the defense throughout the trial.

The district attorney is not expecting to have evidence back from the state crime lab before the next trial date.

“It will not be a case that’s for trial for some period of time,” he says. “Waiting to get the evidence back from the crime lab will take, probably, close to a year.”

27-year-old Troy Arrington, of Chapel Hill, and 23-year-old Derick Davis II, of Durham, have been charged in killing the professor.

The two men face charges of armed robbery in addition to first-degree murder.

http://chapelboro.com/news/crime/no-death-penalty-case-murdered-professor/

Zones Chosen By FSA Council To Create Pipeline to Success for Children

The Family Success Alliance Council has chosen two of the six geographic zones to enact a pilot program with the goal of creating a pipeline of success for children living in poverty.

Dr. Michael Steiner, with UNC Health Care, announced the selection following a committee vote.

“Congratulations to Zone 4 and Zone 6, and the Family Success Alliance will look forward to continue working with you and starting the next steps of the process.”

Zone 4 represents central Orange County, specifically between I-40 and I-85. Zone 6 covers a densely populated area from downtown Chapel Hill to Highway 54.

Representatives from the six zones that were being considered for the pilot program gave their pitch to the council during a special meeting, on Tuesday evening.

Delores Bailey, from the non-profit EmPowerment, represented Zone 6. In her pitch to the council, she focused on a need of young children in the community.

“There’s been a major setback in the Head Start program,” she says. “And that alone has been responsible for the groundwork and young people growing. If we’re missing that Head Start piece, we’ve got to have resources that wrap around what we’re missing from there.”

Zone four was campaigned for by Aviva Scully from Stanback Middle School and New Hope Elementary’s Rosemary Deane.

Deane says that during some community events they were able to break down barriers and establish a cumulative goal for the area.

“During our forum, we had families from all over come together. You could see a common vision of what they want for our community,” she recalled.

They are looking to calm some of those concerns with the help of pilot program from the Family Success Alliance Council.

One common theme developed throughout the meeting. No matter which zones were ultimately selected, the ball was rolling and each zone would have the support of the zones that were not chosen.

As for those zones that were not selected, Orange County Health Department Director Dr. Colleen Bridger cautioned that this was a pilot program, so there was no firm timeline for involving the other zones. But she made clear the intention was to do so.

“We need to try it and see how it goes. And then as soon as we can, we want every single zone to be involved in this.”

Doctor Bridger adds that the zones that were not selected will be encouraged to continue their work, and the council will be able to provide some guidance following their next meeting in February.

Meanwhile, the implementation of the pilot program will immediately go into action in zones four and six. Feedback from the success of these programs will be documented and passed along to other areas throughout the community to encourage similar efforts.

http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/zones-chosen-fsa-council-create-pipeline-success-children/

Organizations Team Up To Help Unemployed

Getting the unemployed back to work is the goal of a new program being rolled out by a partnership of local organizations.

The Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness and Chapel Hill-based Community Empowerment Fund are joining forces to launch a new program called Job Partners.

“We’re starting Job Partners, which is a program that’s designed to combat unemployment in the Chapel Hill area through facilitating connections between local employers and community members,” says CEF’s Kaity Taylor.

Taylor says that Community Empowerment Fund started in 2009 by micro-financing loans to help people get back in the job market.

“We started offering savings opportunities [and] financial education, as a support for people who are looking to seek employment, housing, and financial freedom,” she says.

Jamie Rohe, with the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness, adds that there is one thing that stands out about the Job Partners program.

“[I’m impressed with] how relational they are. They will have one-on-one advocates working with their clients, sometimes two-on-one.”

Rohe says, “It’s so important and it’s so effective to make their clients feel like someone really cares about them. Somebody takes the time to learn about them.”

According to Taylor, maintaining those connections is paramount to the success of Community Empowerment Fund.

“CEF really focuses on developing those relationships, exploring those relationships, understanding the factors that are at work, and the things that are impacting people’s lives.”

Rohe adds that the relationship extends far beyond the job search.

“They work very hard to make people become job ready,” she says. “And then (they) really cream off the people who are ready and connect them to employers. And then maintain that connection after the people are employed, to make sure it’s working out.”

The organizations are looking for community members that live in Chapel Hill, have strong connections in the area, and are willing to use those connections to better the entire community.

If you would like more information on how to get involved, you can visit the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness website or call CEF at (919) 200-0233.

http://chapelboro.com/news/business/organizations-team-help-unemployed/

Orange County Deputies Looking For Lobster Chef

Orange County authorities are on the lookout for an alleged breaking-and-entering lobster chef.

Investigators with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office are looking into reports of a break-in at Antioch Baptist Church – specifically in the kitchen, according to Lieutenant Tim Horn.

“The suspect had, apparently, been in the process of fixing a meal,” says Lt. Horn. “They had a lobster tail that was cooking. There were noodles on the stove. There was hot chocolate that had been fixed and poured. But the suspect fled from the church.”

The suspect apparently was spooked out of the kitchen by a cleaning crew around 10 o’clock Friday night, December 5. Lt. Horn adds that K-9’s tracked the suspect for approximately 80 yards from the church before losing the scent.

The chef has also made sure to remove any evidence that could be tracked back to where the food was acquired. Lt. Horn says, “It appeared that the plastic wrapping that came on the box itself had been removed, which would have had a barcode, a store name, or some kind of identifying mark that we could track down.”

So, while they are not sure where the food came from, Lt. Horn says they know where it was not stolen from the church.

“The food products that were consumed were not from the church – the suspect brought them to that location,” Lt. Horn says. “It’s possible that they went to the store and got those items, and for whatever reason decided to cook them at Antioch. It’s also possible that some of these items may have been taken from an outdoor freezer.”

Anyone with information regarding the incident – whether you saw someone near Antioch Baptist Church the night of the incident, or perhaps you’re missing a lobster tail from your outdoor freezer – is encouraged to contact the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

http://chapelboro.com/news/crime/orange-county-authorities-looking-lobster-chef/