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The top local stories of 2015
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The top local stories of 2015

From the Read more: The Journal's Pazuzu Algarad coverage from beginning to end series
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Economic development, murder and toxic waste were just some of the elements that defined the news in 2015. Here’s a look at the stories chosen by reporters and editors at the Winston-Salem Journal:

$40M Bailey power plant project moves ahead

The city of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County agreed to put a combined $6 million behind the planned $40 million redevelopment of the Bailey power plant in the downtown Wake Forest Innovation Quarter.

The power plant, at the corner of Fourth and Chestnut streets, was built in 1926 to provide electricity and steam for downtown buildings.

It stopped operating in 1997.

R.J. Reynolds Holdings Inc. fiddled with the idea of demolishing it. In 2003, company officials wanted the state of North Carolina to put up between $11 million and $17 million to help demolish the power plant, which sat on land that company officials wanted to donate to Piedmont Triad Research Park, as the Innovation Quarter was known at the time.

Dr. Richard Dean, the president and chief executive of Wake Forest University Health Sciences in 2003, said at the time that he would appreciate whatever the state can do to help redevelop the park.

“This effort enables Reynolds to fast forward its support of downtown revitalization because it needed the state’s help to accomplish this goal,” he said.

All these years later, the power plant remains.

It’s now the centerpiece project adjacent to a $111 million redevelopment of the nearby 60s Buildings, to house the Wake Forest School of Medicine and parts of the Wake Forest University campus.

The combined estimated cost of the Bailey and 60s projects comes to $151 million.

The Innovation Quarter and its development partner, Wexford Science and Technology, see the power plant as a site that can be converted into a space containing restaurants, entertainment venues, offices, labs and a minority business acceleration center.

“As the Innovation Quarter and the Winston-Salem economy continue to grow, the amenities that a repurposed Bailey power plant could provide have become more and more needed,” said Eric Tomlinson, president of the Innovation Quarter. “Students, residents and workers require more places to gather, to socialize and to recreate — all essential elements to creating a true knowledge community.”

Algarad commits suicide

Pazuzu Algarad bled himself to death Oct. 28, alone in a cell at Central Prison in Raleigh.

Somehow, Algarad had managed to carve into a major blood vessel in his left arm. Keith Acree, a spokesman for the N.C. Justice Department, said Algarad, 36, used something to cut himself; investigators with the State Capitol Police have been unable to determine what that instrument was.

The autopsy report said Algarad was found in a pool of blood on a bed in his cell. Prison officials discovered him about 3 a.m. and tried to resuscitate him.

According to the autopsy, his fingernails were short, undamaged and contained embedded blood.

Algarad also had Satanic symbols and writings on his body, including “Lucifer” and “666.” He also had a black Nazi sign and a black demon on his body, according to the autopsy report.

They pronounced Algarad dead at 4:20 a.m.

Algarad, an avowed Satanist, was accused of killing one of two men buried for five years in the backyard of the house where he lived in Clemmons. He was facing charges of first-degree murder and accessory after the fact to first-degree murder.

His girlfriend, Amber Nicole Burch, 25, faces similar charges.

They are accused of fatally shooting and then burying Joshua Fredrick Wetzler and Tommy Dean Welch in 2009. Krystal Nicole Matlock, 29, has been charged with accessory after the fact to first-degree murder.

According to arrest warrants, Algarad is accused of killing Wetzler in July 2009, with Burch and Matlock helping to bury the body.

Autopsy reports said Wetzler was shot at least seven times, including three times in the head.

Arrest warrants allege that Burch killed Welch in October 2009, with Algarad helping her to bury Welch’s body. Welch was shot once in the head, according to autopsy reports.

ASU wins bowl game

Appalachian State University pulled off a remarkable comeback to win the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl on Dec. 19 in Montgomery, Ala., over Ohio University.

For most of the game, Appalachian State trailed.

“At halftime, we talked about we can either lay it down now and we’ll get beat pretty bad in the second half, or we can fight,” coach Scott Satterfield said.

“Before I could even get the word ‘fight’ out, our kids were yelling, ‘Fight!’” Satterfield said. “So that’s what they did in the second half, and no matter what circumstances we faced in the second half, we never quit. We never panicked.”

Appalachian State came out of the third quarter still down: 24-7.

But in the fourth, the team managed to add 24 points. The last three points came in the final seconds of the game. With time running out, and Appalachian State down 29-28, Zach Matics kicked a 23-yard field goal right down the middle to put his team ahead.

Final score: 31-29.

It was Appalachian State’s first bowl game since it moved up to the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision. As if that were not enough, the Mountaineers’ final record of 11-2 broke the Sun Belt record for wins in a season. It was also their 17th win in their last 19 games, with one of those defeats coming this year at No. 1 Clemson.

Hanes and Lowrance close

A $15.4 million project to replace Lowrance Middle School seemed to be on a fast track for approval in January.

The project was part of a $41.6 million spending plan discussed between members of the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners and Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools to replace Lowrance Middle and Konnoak Elementary schools, as well as update parts of several other schools.

“They’ll have no problem,” said Dave Plyler, the county board chairman. “I guarantee we have enough votes.”

Lowrance Middle School, connected to Hanes Magnet Middle School off Indiana Avenue, housed the district’s middle school program for exceptional children and served about 130 students, many of whom have cognitive and physical impairments.

“Our EC (exceptional children) and special needs students are in some of our worst conditions,” Darrell Walker, the districts’ assistant superintendent for operations, said at the time.

But some parents expressed safety concerns about the proposed site for the new Lowrance.

The proposed school was going to be built on the worst possible section of campus because levels of one particular toxic chemical — tetra-chloroethylene (known as PCE) — were above state safety standards.

In 2011, the level of concentration of PCE in the groundwater was 2,500 micrograms per liter — more than 3,500 times the state safety standard for groundwater of just 0.7. In 2012 and 2013, the level kept rising. In 2014, the level was 8,050 — more than 11,000 times the state’s safe groundwater standard.

A lack of information from school officials about the toxic waste exacerbated the problem.

Even critics of the proposed site agreed that a new Lowrance school building could be built on the contaminated site — with proper protective barriers and ventilation systems. But school officials did not disclose information about such barriers and systems, how much they would cost or how they would be maintained.

As it turns out, Kaba Ilco, the manufacturer off Indiana Avenue tasked with remediation of the waste site, had agreed “in concept” to pay for the protective barriers, according to school officials. But these measures — and Kaba’s offer to pay for them — were not included in the school administration’s presentations to the public, parents or the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education.

Trust was eroding.

Parents started wondering whether toxic chemicals in the groundwater were infiltrating as vapor into the existing Hanes and Lowrance buildings. On this point, the science was unclear. There weren’t enough data sets to conclusively say either way. No air-quality tests had been carried out for seven years. Meanwhile, the plume of toxic waste continued to migrate over two decades. In some areas of campus, the plume had gotten bigger. In other areas, it had gotten smaller.

Kelly Pennell, an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky, supported the idea of implementing some sort of air-mitigation system. Doing so, she said, may save money in the long run because the air-quality testing can be expensive.

“There isn’t enough data since 2007, right?

“We have this seven-year gap, not knowing what the indoor-air quality is,” Pennell said. “We don’t know. That’s the bottom line — we don’t know.

“So I would probably want at least some preliminary data in the short term. I’m not talking about two years of data collection.

“Get some data and then decide what you’re going to do,” she said.

Over two decades, chemicals linked to cancer and other illnesses had migrated through groundwater from spills at the manufacturing site across the street. The chemicals lie about 35 feet underground, under parts of the school campus in concentrations thousands of times above state safety standards.

After weeks of discussion, investigation and public outcry, a majority of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education erred on the side of caution, deciding to carry out testing — and move the students. Hanes sixth-grade students were moved to Smith Farm Elementary. Seventh-and eighth-graders went to the former Hill Middle School. Lowrance students went to Atkins High School.

The toxic plume beneath the school buildings is producing potentially hazardous vapors, and the vapors are entering the buildings, but they are not remaining in the buildings in significant levels, according to tests carried out in February.

Beltway project moves ahead

Gov. Pat McCrory announced in November that the eastern leg of the Winston-Salem Northern Beltway would be paid for as a result of transportation provisions he signed into law in the 2015-17 budget.

The result is that it will be possible to fully complete the beltway from U.S. 52 north of Winston-Salem to the existing Interstate 74/U.S. 311 freeway running between Winston-Salem and High Point, the governor’s office said.

When finished, the eastern leg will be designated I-74.

The beltway isn’t the only goodie in the stocking for Winston-Salem and Forsyth County. There’s money to widen I-40 to six lanes over the Yadkin River, and the purchase of right of way to expand U.S. 158 toward Guilford County into four lanes has been moved up.

Attorney Matthew Bryant wasn’t cheering, though. He represents many landowners who have sued the state to force purchase of their properties in the path of the beltway. Bryant pointed out that the announcement doesn’t speed up anything on the western leg of the beltway from U.S. 52 to Clemmons.

“The west side will still rot on the vine,” Bryant said in an email.

The turn of fortune for the eastern leg came after a year of on-again, off-again hopes by local officials that the state would somehow find money to build the freeway. McCrory and the N.C. House and Senate all had competing plans with different amounts of highway money.

The only beltway segment currently under construction runs from Business 40 to U.S. 158.

Family killings near King

In a year that brought horrific images of violence in other parts of the United States, there was a mass killing here, too.

A "mass killing" is described in federal statute as three or more murders occurring during the same incident, with no distinctive time period between the murders. The incident typically involves a single location, according to the report, where the killer murders a number of victims in an ongoing incident.

In February, a Stokes County man fatally shot his two sons, wife and himself, according to the Stokes County Sheriff’s Office.

The bodies of Coleton Tarpley, his wife, Amanda, and their two sons, Coleton and Charlie, were discovered when a Stokes County Sheriff’s deputy went to their mobile home on Ralph Boyles Road, north of King off N.C. 66.

All had been shot in the head.

Court records indicate there was strife within the marriage, with the couple separating last year, setting off a custody dispute.

Bruce Palmer, the brother of Amanda Tarpley, said that the couple had gotten back together in the summer of 2014 to work things out with counseling. Things seemed to have improved for a while, but her family heard more troubling accounts of the relationship in the weeks leading up to the deaths, he said.

Coleton Tarpley, 35, was operations manager of the field division of Stanleyville Paving. At the time of her death, Amanda Tarpley, 34, had nearly completed a one-year program in medical billing and coding at the Living Arts Institute on Stratford Road in Winston-Salem.

The younger Coleton, 9, was a third-grader at Poplar Springs Elementary School, and Charlie, 6, was a first-grader in the exceptional children’s program.

Central Library razed

The word “renovation” just doesn’t cut it.

The Central Library in downtown Winston-Salem is gone — all but the steel beams of one section. In its place, for now, near the corner of Fifth and Spring streets, there’s a large gap in the city’s architectural makeup. But the gap won’t be there for long.

On Oct. 1, construction crews broke ground on a new $28 million library.

It had been almost a year since the library closed to the public and almost five years since voters approved bond money to finance the project. By the summer of 2017, a new state-of-the-art library with 101,000 square feet will stand.

The Forsyth County commissioners decided in a 4-3 vote in 2013 to use the current site off Fifth Street rather than select a new downtown location.

The project is part of a $40 million bond package that was approved by voters in 2010 for library projects.

WSSU shooting on campus

Anthony White Jr., a sophomore at Winston-Salem State University, had decided to focus on his studies rather than play sports in college. “He went academically because he wanted to do sciences, and the football schedule wouldn’t allow him” to do both, his mother Xavier Martin said.

White, 19, was fatally shot on campus Nov. 1.

Police officers found him in a parking lot near Wilson Hall. Another WSSU student, whose name was withheld by authorities, was wounded as well. Jarrett Jerome Moore, 21, a former WSSU student, was charged with murder and discharging a weapon on school property.

The shootings happened during homecoming week.

WSSU was on lockdown for more than three hours the night of the shootings, from 1:30 a.m. to 4:50 a.m. Students were alerted on Twitter to stay inside while on campus. Students who were off campus, some of whom were at the Winston-Salem fairgrounds at a homecoming costume party, were told not to come back until the lockdown was lifted.

Later in the week, at a vigil, Chancellor Elwood Robinson, whose installation had been among the week’s highlights, found himself in the role of comforter. Quoting from Psalm 30, he urged students to turn their grief into something greater. Weeping comes in the night, Robinson said, but joy comes in the morning.

“We seek the joy that comes in the morning,” he said.

Stokes, Walnut Cove halt fracking

The Stokes County Board of Commissioners and the Walnut Cove Board of Commissioners each voted to place a three-year halt on fracking in their respective areas.

The votes represented a move by local governments to control the way fracking may unfold in the communities that may ultimately be affected by it, despite legislation passed by the General Assembly that tried to wrest much of that control.

The Energy Modernization Act of 2014 largely stripped local governments of the ability to regulate fracking. But the law left local governments a window to regulate it as long as local measures do not entirely ban it.

The Stokes commissioners used that window by halting the county from issuing local zoning permits related to oil-and-gas development for three years.

It’s about the water.

“We dig wells here in Stokes County from 60 feet to 800 feet, so when you have a fossil fuel that’s 60 to 300, it’s in our water table,” Commissioner James Booth said.

Shortly after the Stokes vote, state lawmakers passed a bill aimed at blocking local governments, including Stokes and Walnut Cove, from adopting local ordinances related to oil-and-gas development that go beyond state regulations.

It didn’t matter. After the bill passed, Walnut Cove passed its own moratorium. Sue us, the Walnut Cove commissioners might as well have said.

“It stands until it’s actually challenged,” Mayor Lynn Lewis said, referring to the moratorium.

The board’s concerns about clean drinking water were confirmed in the unlikeliest way.

Over the summer, the town of Walnut Cove found itself at the center of a fierce criticism when it allowed state environmental regulators to use town property in the Walnut Tree neighborhood to drill a core hole to collect samples of shale. State environmental officials were probing for the presence of shale oil or gas.

Fracking opponents lambasted the commissioners for allowing it.

At the time, Commissioner Sharon Conaway said she’d rather know what was underground so that the board could deal with it. As it turns out, the samples showed the potential risks because they indicated that shale resources may lie near well water.

Conaway later championed the moratorium — one that she had written.

“We need to be heard. We have a right to look after our community,” she said.

Travis Page dies in police custody

The Winston-Salem Police Department says that Travis Page put up a struggle when four police officers tried to arrest him Dec. 9.

In handcuffs, Page, 31, became unresponsive.

A little while later, he was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

Community leaders — including Mayor Allen Joines and Winston-Salem City Council members Dan Besse, James Taylor and Derwin Montgomery, as well as The Ministers Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity — called on the police department to release video footage of the arrest.

So far, the police department and Jim O’Neill, the Forsyth district attorney, have declined to do so, saying it would interfere with the investigation.

Once the investigation is complete, Chief Barry Rountree said, he would have no problem with releasing body-camera footage.

According to the police department, four police officers responded to a Family Dollar store off Rural Hall Road just before 7:30 p.m. Wednesday on a report of a gun being fired. When they arrived, they found Page, who police said matched the description of the man firing a gun.

Police said Page resisted arrest and one of the officers used pepper spray on him.

The officers tried to revive him and called Forsyth County EMS. Page was then taken to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

The four officers — Cpl. Robert Fenimore and Officers Christopher Doub, Austin Conrad and Jacob Tuttle — were put on administrative duty, which is standard procedure, pending an investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation.

Journal reporters Richard Craver, Fran Daniel, Meghann Evans, Arika Herron, Scott Hamilton, John Hinton, Michael Hewlett, Jordan Howse, Brant Wilkerson-New, Lisa O’Donnell and Wesley Young contributed to this article.

bgutierrez@wsjournal.com

(336) 727-7278

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