Here’s a look at what’s making headlines around Western North Carolina:
• Six dead in collision: Six people — three adults and three children — died in a two-vehicle collision on U.S. 64 in Transylvania County, reports the Transylvania Times. None of the total of eight people in the two vehicles were wearing seat belts, according to a State Highway Patrol investigator.
• Run on guns: Handgun permits and conceal carry permits for guns have risen dramatically in Mitchell County, according to the Mitchell News, while gun and ammo sales have “been out the roof,” according to a local store owner. “In the county, handgun permits have jumped from 197 in 2007 to 342 in 2008 and conceal carry permits have almost tripled rising from 72 in 2007 to 173 in 2008, according to Sheriff Ken Fox. … The main reason for the surge Fox said, which local gun retailers have echoed, is the fear of the government eliminating or tightening gun rights.”
• Hospitals announce partnership: Haywood Regional Medical Center and WestCare will join forces under the banner of a new company that will be managed by behemoth Carolinas HealthCare System, a Charlotte-based hospital system that owns 25 hospitals in North Carolina and South Carolina, the Smoky Mountain News reports. The arrangement is not a merger, and lots of details remain to be hammered out.
What’s going on? The newspaper explains: “Health care conglomerates, often organized under one flagship hospital, are increasingly common. On the other hand, rural hospitals flying solo are increasingly rare. Smaller hospitals struggling to stay relevant in the rapidly changing world of health care are increasingly partnering up.”
• Amusement park bankruptcy details: The Smoky Mountain News reports that Maggie Valley amusement park Ghost Town in the Sky was driven into bankruptcy by BB&T’s threat of foreclosure, detail revealed in a recent federal court hearing. BB&T says it’s owed $.9.5 million. The theme park, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, is working on a summer opening.
• Apple slices to decorate downtown: The Hendersonville Times-News has the story: “First there were bears on Main Street, then there were goats and now there will be something that represents Henderson County’s agricultural background — apple slices.” The decorated slices will be displayed along Main Street beginning May 9.
• Amazing rescue: Cherokee County emergency workers pulled off an incredible rescue after a woman fell into a 66-foot-deep dry well beneath the home she was renting. She fell in after trying to rescue her Jack Russell terrier, reports the Cherokee Scout. “We basically had to tear the house apart to get her,” an emergency worker told the newspaper.
• Oldest alumna: Lula Craig, a resident of the Nebo community of McDowell County, is 103 and the oldest known living alumna of Appalachian State University, according to the McDowell News.
“She learned to ride a horse from a man who had his pinky shot off while riding the most legendary horse in America. She taught hundreds of children school at Nebo (and quite a few in Dysartsville) in McDowell County, N.C., farmed, taught Sunday school, bore six babies and watched her house burn to the ground as she stood in the cold night alone,” according to the newspaper.
• Middle-schoolers on Nick News: A group of Highlands Middle School students were interviewed for a piece on middle school kids and dating, according to the Highlander newspaper. The Nickelodeon network crew followed a few students during a spring dance.
• Four years for Boone mayor: The next mayor of Boone will serve a four-year term after the town council agreed to change its charter to change a mayor’s term from two years to four, according to the High Country Press. Boone’s current mayor, Loretta Clawson, is serving her second two-year term and intends to run for a new four-year term. The town’s charter doesn’t limit the number of terms a mayor can serve, according to the newspaper.
• Graffiti arrest: Graffiti apparently isn’t just an Asheville issue. An Appalachian State University student was arrested and faces several charges related to graffiti vandalism in Boone, according to the Watauga Democrat and The Appalachian student newspaper. A freshman music performance major is suspected of spray painting words such as “burst” and “tride” on everything from Dumpsters and electrical boxes to the walls of businesses.
• Festival season begins: Folks in the mountains love a festival, and the fun season really gets going this weekend with the Greening Up the Mountains party in downtown Sylva in Jackson County, the MerleFest music festival in Wilkes County and the Trailfest celebration of the Appalachian Trail in downtown Hot Springs in Madison County. Next month brings the Lake Eden Arts Festival and the French Broad River Festival, just to name two.
• Remembering Columbine: This week marked the 10th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting that left 12 students and one teacher dead following an attack by students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who committed suicide. WLOS anchor Larry Blunt remembers covering the event as a reporter in Denver. “I think it’s good to look back on these events that shape our lives. While it may bring back painful memories, it is inspirational to see how people are healing, growing and even find happiness again,” Blunt writes on the WLOS blog.
• Wildlife officer shoots man: The Mountain Times reports that a state wildlife officer said he acted in self-defense when he shot and killed a turkey hunter in Wilkes County. The officer said he encountered a 76-year-old man who was hunting turkey from a tree stand and baiting the birds. The man advanced on the officer and threatened him with his weapon, and the officer fired, mortally wounding the hunter, the newspaper reports.
• Honorary degree for Doc: Some UNC Asheville students are questioning whether legendary picker Arthel “Doc” Watson deserves an honorary degree from the institution, reports the Blue Banner, the student newspaper. “It can be confusing that an artist receives a degree when you have been busting your hump for one,” one student told the newspaper. “It will all depend on the message of his speech.” UNCA’s chancellor will confer the honorary doctoral degree on Watson during spring commencement.
• Tribal fund loses money: The Cherokee Times reports that members of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians are concerned about a fund for minors losing money in the bad economy. Money is set aside for each minor tribe member as part of the agreement with Harrah’s Cherokee Casino. The accounts, a portion of which is invested in the stock market, have lost a total of $60 million since December, according to the newspaper.
• Discrimination against gays: Five Mars Hill College students recently presented findings from a study they conducted a year ago for a social psychology class, reports the Hilltop student newspaper. The study involved having three sets of couples visit three local venues — a Mars Hill car dealership and restaurant and a Weaverville apartment complex —and presented themselves as a gay male couple, a lesbian couple and a straight couple by holding hands, identifying themselves as boyfriends or girlfriends and announcing intentions to marry. “The group’s study concluded that the couple that had the most discrimination was the homosexual male couple,” the newspaper reported.