Here’s a look at what’s making headlines this week across Western North Carolina:
• Early voting turn-out is brisk: The turn-out at early voting sites in Western North Carolina, and across the state, has been brisk. At UNCA, students for the first time can vote on campus, reports The Blue Banner.
• Hospital troubles The WestCare Medical Center, which operates Swain County Hospital in Bryson City and Harris Medical Center in Sylva, lost $3.2 million over the summer and is looking at how to stop the financial bleeding. WestCare is considering an affiliation with Haywood Regional Medical Center and another hospital, reports the Smoky Mountain News.
• PrideFest hangs on: Out in Asheville’s blog, Outloud, reports that the Oct. 11 PrideFest event came together despite last-minute organizational problems. Still, the event was small and will hopefully evolve “from a lesbian potluck shy-fest into something more,” according to the blog. “Keep in mind that you know your festival is in trouble and under promoted when not a single right-wing, bible-thumping blowhard shows up to protest and disrupt it.”
• One hot credit card: Concerns about financial accounting at local fire departments have arisen after the wife of the former Cruso Fire Department chief pleaded guilty to misusing her husband’s department-issued credit card. Renee Mills Henson of Canton pleaded guilty in Haywood County Superior Court to 64 felony counts of obtaining property by false pretense, according to the Haywood County News. Henson, 40, racked up more than $3,200 in merchandise and services by buying everything from gas and prescription drugs to shopping at Wal-Mart and paying her cell-phone bill.
• The cattle report: If you need to know how the sale of slaughter cows and feeder cattle went recently, Madison County’s News Record & Sentinel has it for you. “The feeder supply included 32 percent steers, 42 percent heifers, and 27 percent bulls. Near 16 percent of the run weighed over 600 lbs.”
• Wal-Mart prepares to open: The new Wal-Mart Supercenter on Airport Road in south Asheville is scheduled to open Oct. 29, reports the Pisgah Mountain News. The store will eventually employ about 400 workers. The older Wal-Mart on Hendersonville Road will close for remodeling and plans are to have it reopen in 2010 as a “mini supercenter,” according to a Wal-Mart spokesman. “The Hendersonville Road store is 120,000 square feet, compared to 209,000 square feet for the new supercenter on Airport Road.”
• Breast cancer awareness month: October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and several newspapers have stories or columns about the issue. The Black Mountain News interviewed local survivors. “I certainly wasn’t expecting to have breast cancer, and the diagnosis was a jolt,” Lisa McLemoore, a first-grade teacher, told the newspaper. “Prayer got me through the diagnosis and treatment. I made myself take it one day at a time.”
• Woolly worm’s winter forecast: The woolly worm that won the right to call this year’s winter weather at the annual Woolly Worm Festival in Banner Elk predicts cold, snowy weather this winter, reports the Watauga Democrat. “The annual woolly worm winner is touted as having an 87-percent accuracy of nearly or mostly predicting the winter weather, based on the previous 30 years of festival history.”
• Crazed deer: From Andrews, the Cherokee Scout filed this report: “A Fairview Road woman held onto the horns of a rampaging deer for more than 10 minutes on Oct. 11, saving the life of her elderly father, who had been knocked to the ground and attacked by the deer.”
• Over-priced gas:The owner of Duncan Oil Co. has agreed to repay customers who bought gas from his company’s Big D gas stations in Hayesville, Marble and Murphy during the height of WNC’s gas crunch last month, the Cherokee Scout reports. Sam Duncan Sr. settled with the N.C. Attorney General’s Office, which investigated complaints of gas gouging, but told the newspaper that he never over-charged customers. “If we raised our price for greed, why would we have limited sales to 10 gallons and cut our store hours? Our stores were never out of gasoline.”
• Deadly car crash: Four people died recently in a two-vehicle wreck on U.S. 441, reports the Sylva Herald.
• Smoke shop’s a success: The Hookah Lounge and Coffee Shop in downtown Hendersonville is a hit, reports the Hendersonville Times-News. “Since moving to our new location five months ago, we have expanded our hours, added Gelato Italian ice cream, and took on a larger customer base,” business owner Allison Wierman told the newspaper.
• Why are old inns always haunted? The Highlands Inn has a resident ghost, reports the Highlander.
• Long-lasting love: Helen and Joe Rowland, a couple that began courting in 1937 after they met at the town roller rink in Marion, recently celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary, reports the McDowell News. The secret to a happy marriage? “We don’t argue and fuss,” Helen Rowland tells the newspaper.
— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor