2014 Year in Review

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Editor’s note: Over the next several days, we will take a look back at some of the top stories, news makers and images that shaped the year.


Primaries needed for Polk commissioner seats

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Primary elections were necessary in both the Democrat and Republican races for the Polk County Board of Commissioners as four candidates from each party filed for three open seats. Filing for this year’s election ended Feb. 28 at noon with Shane Bradley (R) being the last candidate to file for commissioner. Bradley joins incumbents Ted Owens (R) and Keith Holbert (R) as well as newcomer Jake Johnson (R) as Republican candidates. Democrats will also need a primary to narrow candidates to three nominees as incumbent Ray Gasperson (D) filed as well as newcomers Bill Ingham, Lee Mink (D) and Kenneth Brady (D).

Green River Watershed assessment finds erosion, sedimentation

The Polk County Board of Commissioners reviewed a Green River Watershed assessment, which found the streams to be relatively stable, but there are areas of erosion that need to be addressed.

Polk County hires two new school resource officers

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office hired SROs Jesse Smith and Ashley Cromer to be floating officers at all six schools and the Polk County Early College. Both SROs were previously employed by the sheriff’s office with Cromer serving as a reserve officer and Smith as a bailiff.

Polk settles with county manager for $178k

Polk County Manager Ryan Whitson did not return to his job as commissioners agreed to a $178,590 settlement for his resignation. The majority of the Polk County Board of Commissioners on March 3 accepted Whitson’s resignation, approved the terms of a voluntary separation agreement and transferred $178,590 from the county’s fund balance.

Polk courthouse evacuated

There were about 500 people in the Polk County Courtroom on March 17 when the fire alarm began sounding. The building was immediately evacuated with the problem determined to be not a fire, but the sprinkler system.

McGraw rejects plea deal in wife’s murder case

Although a courtroom full of family and friends wearing ribbons in memory of Vanessa Mintz, who was found murdered more than three years ago in Saluda, thought they were gong to hear a guilty plea from husband Travis McGraw, they instead watched him reject the plea deal. A special session was held on March 21 in Polk County Superior Court with Judge Marvin Pope hearing McGraw, 47, of Hendersonville reject the plea.

Polk to purchase new ambulance for $102k

Polk County Commissioners met March 17 and approved purchasing a 2013 Ford E-350 Braun Express ambulance demo for $102,110. The county purchased the ambulance from Southeastern Specialty Vehicles out of Youngsville, N.C.

Stott named police benevolent officer of the year

Lt. Nick Stott was honored as the North Carolina Police Benevolent Association’s Mountain Chapter Officer of the Year for his dedication.

Tryon prepares to “tie one on” for April Fool’s festival

Tryon was decorated with neckties lining Trade Street in preparation for the town’s ninth annual April Fool’s Festival. The festival was held this year on April 5.

Polk collects almost 57k doses of medicine

Local law enforcement collected almost 57,000 doses of prescription medicine during a recent Operation Medicine Drop. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office, the Tryon Police Department, Tryon Fire Department and the Saluda Police Department participated in the medicine drop on March 22.

March winds knock out power to 4k

March left the foothills area like a lion as winds on March 29 and 30 knocked out power to approximately 4,000 area residents and businesses.


Police chase ends in crash in Polk County

A police chase that began in Cleveland County on March 31 ended in a crash in Polk County along Hwy. 74 near Columbus. Once in Polk County, law enforcement deployed stop sticks around the 167-mile marker. The driver of the vehicle being chased tried to avoid the stop sticks, swerved and hit the sticks with one side of the car, lost control and hit a truck on the ramp near the exit, according to reports.
There were seven people inside the truck who were all taken to the hospital.

Steeplechase honored J. Kelly Murphy III

Tryon Riding & Hunt Club announced that the 68th Block House Steeplechase, being held May 3 at FENCE, will be run in honor of J. Kelly Murphy III. Murphy has been a Block House volunteer for more than 20 years.

Fire destroys 14 acres in Tryon

A fire in Tryon that could be seen for miles on April 1 was a woods fire in the Plum Tree Lane and Jackson Street Extension area that burned approximately 14 acres following residents burning trash.

Meth found hidden inside woman involved in chase and wreck

Methamphetamine was found inside a body cavity of a woman involved in a three-county police chase that ended in Polk County on March 31. Doctors found a reported 19 grams of methamphetamine hidden inside the body cavity of Kimberly Dawn Whitworth, 28, of Shelby.


Jason McCraw, principal of Landrum High School

District One Schools announced McCraw as new principal at Landrum High School

During a special board meeting on April 3, the District One Schools Board of Trustees approved the appointment of Jason McCraw as the principal of Landrum High School.

Vaughn Creek Greenway dedication Saturday April 12

On April 12 the Tryon Parks Committee celebrated the official opening of the Vaughn Creek Greenway.

Pavillon opens first sober living residence for women

Pavillon, a private, nonprofit residential and outpatient drug and alcohol treatment center, announced the opening of a new sober living and recovery residence for women on its Mill Spring campus. The new facility, the Cottage, is Pavillon’s first sober living residence for women.

Polk County commissioners approve spending $22k for county jail repairs

After the Polk County Jail received write-ups from both the state and the health department, commissioners approved spending $22,268 to make the necessary repairs.

Alcohol allowed at some McCreery Park events in Saluda

The Saluda Board of Commissioners decided by a 3-1 vote to allow Top of the Grade concert participants to bring alcohol to the events as well as alcohol to be served at McCreery Park for this year’s Green River Games and Green Race awards.

Early voting for primary begins

Polk County residents participated in early voting for the 2014 primary election beginning on April 24.

Mill Spring couple sentenced to federal prison for tax fraud

A Mill Spring couple was given prison sentences in federal court April 24 for collecting more than $3.5 million in fraudulent tax refunds. Senita Birt Dill, 46 was sentenced to 27 years in prison, according to a release sent Friday, April 25 from Anne M. Tompkins, U.S. attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. Ronald Jeremy Knowles, 42, was sentenced to five years and 10 months in prison, according to the release. U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger also ordered the couple to serve three years under court supervision and to pay $3,978,211 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service, according to reports.


Polk County Special Olympics: Giving and receiving

Until last year, Special Olympics programs had been absent in Polk County for some time. Then, Jane Ollis jump-started the event. This year’s competition was held April 25 at Polk County High School with 64 athletes who participated in various track and field events.

Polk votes almost 1k early for primary

Polk County voters turned out 938 voters for the primary election. Early, or one-stop voting ended May 3. According to unofficial results released by the Polk County Board of Elections Office, 536 voted Democrat, 397 voted Republican, two voted unaffiliated tickets and three voted Libertarian.

Gasperson(D), Holbert(R) high vote-getters in primary

Incumbent Polk County Commissioners Ray Gasperson (D) and Keith Holbert (R) were high vote-getters in their parties in the May 6 primary with Bill Ingham (D), Shane Bradley (R), Ted Owens (R) and Lee Mink (D) also winning bids, according to unofficial results from the Polk County Board of Elections Office Tuesday night.  Kenneth Brady (D) and Jake Johnson (R) did not win a bid for a county commissioner seat.

Polk softball squad is conference runner-up

After big wins against Swain County and Hendersonville, Polk County High School’s varsity softball team clinched second place in the Western Highlands Conference with a 9-3 record.

Seasons of Life Home Care to run adult day services

After six months of Polk County supplementing costs to operate the adult day health center, a new provider has agreed to run the facility. The Polk County Board of Commissioners met May 5 and approved a contract with Seasons of Life Home Care Inc., a private, nonprofit corporation based in Columbus.

K9 rescue at Little Bradley Falls

On May 1 the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, Polk County Animal Control, Saluda Fire & Rescue and Henderson County Rescue Squad responded to the bottom of Little Bradley Falls for an animal rescue. A German Shepherd missing from the area since stormy weather the previous Monday was lost in Little Bradley Falls and saw a couple from Asheville walking 30 feet below. The dog jumped attempting to reach the people.  The couple pulled the dog out of the water and notified 911.

Record crowds at Steeplechase

Record crowds at Steeplechase

Record crowds for Block House Steeplechase
A new date and perfect weather proved a winning combination for the 68th running of the Block House Steeplechase on May 3 at FENCE. The record attendance was a great kick-off to a new tradition of “Derby Day in Tryon,” so named because the new Block House date coincides with The Kentucky Derby.

Campobello suspects arrested in armed robbery

The Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office arrested two Campobello, S.C. residents, Jacob Floyd Bailey, 29, and Crystal Lane Roddy, 31, on May 7.  Bailey was charged with armed robbery and possession of a weapon during a violent crime, according to sheriff reports. Roddy was charged with accessory before the fact of a felony and accessory after the fact to the crime, according to sheriff reports. Investigators said three people went to a home on Old Hwy. 14 in Spartanburg County and took medication from a man at gunpoint.

U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of prayer in government meetings

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that prayers at government meetings do not violate the Constitution and that news had Polk County Commissioner Chair Ted Owens singing praises this week. The Polk County Board of Commissioners met May 5 when Owens announced the Supreme Court’s decision made earlier in the day regarding a lawsuit in the Town of Greece, N.Y.

Seven bald pythons confiscated

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office and Animal Control confiscated seven bald pythons from the Green Creek area. Animal Control Sgt. Michael Herman stated that it was against Polk County ordinances to have such reptiles without a special permit.  The reptiles were taken into custody by a reptile specialist from South Carolina.

Polk sees 14.4 percent turnout for primary

Polk County’s 2014 primary turned out the least voters in at least a few years at 14.4 percent, according to unofficial election results. Polk had a total of 2,212 residents vote in the May 6 primary. Of the total, 938 voted early and 1,274 voted on Election Day.

Pea Ridge Baptist Church celebrated 100th anniversary

The history of Pea Ridge Baptist Church, located on Highway 108 E. past Mill Spring, was recalled as the church celebrated its 100th anniversary.

Polk approves new recreation fees

Polk County families who utilize the county recreation department’s school’s out, afterschool, summer camp and Gibson Pool have different rates beginning immediately. The Polk County Board of Commissioners met May 5 and approved changing the rates, which mostly affect how multiple children are charged within a family.

Polk moves toward repairing DSS building

After a lengthy closed session during Polk County’s May 5 meeting, commissioners decided to move forward with seeking a project manager and construction bids on work to repair the county department of social service (DSS) building.

Polk soccer squad moves to second round of state tourney

Polk County High School’s soccer team took control and defeated Wilkes Central, 4-1, at Polk, in Wednesday’s first round of state playoff action.

Ballard finishes in tie for ninth in state 2A golf tournament

Polk County senior Will Ballard closed with a 76 to finish in a tie for ninth place out of 84 players in the state 2A golf championship in Southern Pines.

Polk relay team places fourth in state

Polk County High School’s 4×800 meter relay team with members Eli Hall, Jacob Wolfe, Sean Doyle and Caleb Brown, placed fourth in the state and also set a new school record with a time of 8:14.49.

Tobacco banned in Saluda city buildings, vehicles and parks

Smoking and e-cigarettes are now banned from city-owned buildings, vehicles and parks in Saluda. The Saluda Board of Commissioners met May 12 and approved the final version of an ordinance to ban tobacco products. The ordinance does not include city sidewalks, but does include McCreery Park and its pavilion and Spring Park downtown.

McGraw leaves courthouse in ambulance

The murder trial of Travis Lee McGraw was supposed to begin on May 19, but after waiting for the defense’s motion to continue to be heard, McGraw left the courthouse in an ambulance. About an hour before Superior Court Judge Tommy Davis could hear the motion to continue the trial or other motions to suppress evidence, McGraw fell and hit his head on a bookcase.

Use of food stamps rises in Polk County

The use of food stamps in Polk County increased during the recession, assisting families in stretching their food dollars, contributing to local spending and helping spark a national debate about the future of the federal nutrition program. The proportion of Polk County residents receiving food stamps hit 14.0 percent in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Services. That’s an increase of 6.9 percentage points since 2007, the year the recession started. Polk County’s food-stamp usage rate is lower than the state rate.

PCHS FFA floriculture team places third in state

The Polk County High School FFA floriculture team placed third at the Western Regional FFA Rally and is prepared to compete in the NCFFA state championship in June.

McGraw rejects last minute plea deal

During pretrial motions on May 21, murder suspect Travis McGraw rejected another plea deal in the murder of his wife, Vanessa Mintz.
Motions to suppress evidence were denied Wednesday morning by Superior Court Judge Tommy Davis with McGraw attempting to delay the trial again, which was also denied.

Jason Farmer welcomed as new LHS head grid coach

Newly-named Landrum High School head football coach Jason Farmer, a Boiling Springs native, returned to Spartanburg County after a two-year head-coaching stint at Greenville’s Woodmont High School. Spartanburg District One School Board of Trustees held a special meeting and named Farmer to replace former Cardinals’ head coach Russell Mahaffey, who resigned to take over as defensive coordinator at Woodruff High School.

McGraw takes stand in own murder trial

Murder suspect Travis McGraw took the stand May 30 in what continued to be a trial full of surprises.



Jury finds McGraw guilty

Travis McGraw was found guilty of first-degree murder on June 4 around 3:45 p.m. A jury of twelve unanimously found him guilty of murder. McGraw was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Tractor-trailer accident brings traffic to a stand still on eastbound I-26

I-26 eastbound turned into a parking lot Wednesday after an accident involving a tractor-trailer and an SUV between mile markers 61 and 62 (less than one-half mile east of mile marker 61.) Traffic was routed through Saluda on Hwy 176.

Polk man arrested for manufacturing marijuana

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office arrested a Tryon area man on marijuana charges after identifying plants growing in a flowerbed in the front yard, according to sheriff reports. Kim Christopher Luedi, of 1941 U.S. Hwy. 176 was arrested and charged with maintaining a vehicle/dwelling/placed for a controlled substance, manufacturing marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia, according to the sheriff’s office.

Polk approved to run own tag office

Polk County received state approval to run its own license plate office with plans to house the new tag office, the driver’s license office and its tax office in the current early college building.
The Polk County Board of Commissioners met June 2 and announced the recent approval from the state.

Polk records second lowest unemployment rate in state

April’s numbers are in and Polk County ranked the second lowest unemployment rate out of 100 counties in the state for April. Polk County’s unemployment rate only dropped 0.6 percent from its March rate, but it moved Polk from the third lowest in the state to the second lowest, according to the N.C. Department of Commerce. Polk County’s rate decreased from 4.8 percent in March to 4.2 percent in April. Polk County’s April 2013 unemployment rate was 5.9 percent.

Saluda named playful city third consecutive year

Saluda was honored as a 2014 Playful City USA designation for the third time for their efforts in increasing awareness of the need for play.

Polk County High School graduation ceremony

Polk County High School graduation ceremony

Polk County High graduated 150 Friday in class of 2014

On the same day that World War II veterans, many of them high school graduates in the early 1940s or before marked the 70th anniversary of D-Day and the subsequent victory in Europe, 150 members of the Polk County High School class of 2014 set out to make their mark in the world.

Columbus Town Manager Jonathan Kanipe resigns

The Town of Columbus will have new direction soon as town manager Jonathan Kanipe announced his resignation. Kanipe announced he is resigning his position to accept the town administrator position for the Town of Biltmore.

Polk sheriff arrests two on child sex offenses

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office made two arrests for child sexual offenses on two separate incidences. Both unrelated incidences involved children under the age of 12, according to police reports. Timothy Edward Hill, 43, of Scott Lane, Columbus was arrested on June 9 and charged with one count of felony first-degree sex offense of a child and two counts of felony indecent liberties with a child, according to the sheriff’s office. Hill received a $140,000 bond. On June 4, the sheriff’s office arrested Angel Chamale Iquic, 41, of Old Crowe Lane, Tryon and charged him with four counts of felony male rape, according to sheriff’s office reports. Iquic received a $420,000 bond.

Mountain View BBQ, festival to be featured on Food Network

During this year’s festival, local barbecue restaurant owner Shane Blackwell, of Mountain View BBQ & Deli, along with the Blue Ridge Barbecue festival will be featured on a new television show on the Food Network channel.

Blue Ridge BBQ

Blue Ridge BBQ

Warren County Pork Choppers named BBQ grand champions

Blue Ridge Barbecue and Music Festival first timer Donny Bray won the Grand Champion barbecue award with him team Warren County Pork Choppers at the Tryon festival on June 14. This was Bray’s seventh grand champion title this year, but his first trip to Tryon’s festival.

Downtown Tryon gains historic study list approval

After being denied in 2008 and resubmitting earlier this year, a section of downtown Tryon has been approved by the state for the study list to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Armed career criminal sentenced to 15 years for firearm violation

A South Carolina man was sentenced in federal court on June 10 for being a felon in possession of a firearm, announced Anne M. Tompkins, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. Lawrence Doe, Jr., 30, of Beaufort, S.C. was sentenced by Chief U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger to 180 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release.

Polk makes marijuana, liquor-making arrest in Green River Cove

Following up on complaints in the area, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office arrested a man on June 5 for manufacturing marijuana and manufacturing non-tax paid liquor, according to sheriff’s office reports.
Heath Dale Potter, 36, of 2137 Green River Cove Road, Saluda, was arrested and charged with felony manufacturing marijuana, felony maintaining a vehicle/dwelling/place for a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia, simple possession of schedule VI (marijuana) controlled substance, manufacturing alcoholic beverage without a permit and possessing/concealing non-tax paid liquor, according to the sheriff’s office.

Columbus approves 10 percent increase in water/sewer rates

Columbus water and sewer customers saw an increase in rates as the town approved its new budget with a 10 percent rate increase.
Columbus Town Council met June 10 and approved the new budget for fiscal year 2014-2015 following a public hearing.
The new budget includes the water and sewer rate increase and a 1.5-cent increase in the fire tax, which the Polk County Board of Commissioners approved.

Polk sheriff’s office makes chop shop ring arrest

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office along with the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicle License and Theft Bureau broke up a chop shop ring in Green Creek.
Tyler Lee Cates, 23, of 710 Johnson Rd., Rutherfordton was arrested and charged with felony permit place used chop shop, felony altering vehicle identification numbers, felony possession of stolen motor vehicle, felony possession with intent to sell/deliver marijuana, felony maintaining a vehicle/dwelling/place for a controlled substance and misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia, according to sheriff reports.

Groundbreaking ceremony for Tryon International Equestrian Center

Groundbreaking ceremony for Tryon International Equestrian Center

Plans for international equestrian center in Polk announced

Construction has been ongoing for months, but Polk residents, and the rest of the world, found out on June 25 what exactly is being constructed and just how large and luxurious Tryon Resort, formerly known as White Oak, is going to be for Polk County. An announcement and groundbreaking ceremony was held at the international equestrian center and retreat, located just off Hwy. 74’s Pea Ridge exit. Mark Bellissimo, managing partner of Tryon Equestrian Properties, made announcements Wednesday to a crowd of a few hundred invited to the property. The biggest announcement was that of a planned 150-room hotel to be managed by Sheila C. Johnson’s Salamander Hotels & Resorts, one of the country’s top luxury hotel management companies.