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Kernersville YMCA appeals suit alleging officials mishandled child sexual abuse allegations against former counselor

Kernersville YMCA appeals suit alleging officials mishandled child sexual abuse allegations against former counselor

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A lawsuit against Kernersville YMCA is headed to the N.C. Court of Appeals. The lawsuit alleges that officials at Kernersville YMCA did nothing about allegations a counselor sexually assaulted nine men when they were boys in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Attorneys for the YMCA are appealing a decision by a Forsyth County judge to transfer the lawsuit to Wake County to resolve a motion to dismiss the suit. The men suing the YMCA argued that the motion dealt with constitutional issues that could potentially jeopardize the state law that made it easier for victims of child sexual abuse to file civil lawsuits. Attorneys for the men said a three-judge panel in Wake County should decide the issues and not a Forsyth County judge. 

Judge Richard Gottlieb of Forsyth Superior Court agreed, sending the case to Wake County. But last month, Gray Wilson and Lorin Lapidus, attorneys for the YMCA, filed a notice of appeal. 

The current legal dispute is over a law known as SAFE (Sexual Assault Fast Reporting and Enforcement Act), which increased the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits based on child sexual-abuse allegations. But attorneys for the YMCA argue that the state law violated their constitutional rights to due process.

Gov. Roy Cooper signed the SAFE Act into law Nov. 7, 2019. Under the law, people who say they were sexually abused when they were under 18 have two years to file a claim from the time that the alleged sexual abuser was convicted in criminal court. In other cases, they have until they are 28 to file civil cases. 

The lawsuit alleges that former YMCA counselor Michael Todd Pegram, 48, sexually assaulted nine men when they were boys and that the YMCA failed to do anything. 

Pegram pleaded guilty in June 2019 to five counts of first-degree sex offense, one count of attempted first-degree sex offense, one count of statutory sex offense and 21 counts of taking indecent liberties with a minor. He is serving up to 30 years in prison. 

According to the lawsuit, Pegram used several jobs — a counselor at Kernersville YMCA, a volunteer firefighter, a hockey coach and a local DJ — to lure boys as young as 10 and sexually assault them multiple times in the 1990s and early 2000s. He invited the boys to his home and took them on trips. He made them lie beside him in the bed, watch pornography and perform sexual acts, prosecutors and the lawsuit said. 

Some of those sexual assaults happened at Kernersville YMCA, and Pegram handpicked some of the boys to be part of what he called "Todd's Thunderbirds." 

YMCA officials have denied all allegations that they were negligent. 

Attorneys for the YMCA will file an official written brief in November, according to court papers filed with the N.C. Court of Appeals on Sept. 16. 

It could take months before the court of appeals issues a decision. 

336-727-7326

@mhewlettWSJ

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