According to Buncombe County Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger, as of Dec. 20, his office had received 3,625 death records for 2018; Reisinger said he would expect the county to record about another 100 deaths by year’s end. Below, we look at local deaths that generated conversation within the community or spurred local activism.
Victims of the opioid epidemic: According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an average of 115 people die each day as a result of overdosing on opioids in the United States. The exact number of opioid-related deaths in Buncombe County is unknown. Local officials, business owners and nonprofit organizations continue efforts to confront the epidemic and its lethal consequences.
Feb. 18 Tyler Garrison: The founder of Junk Recyclers and The Regeneration Station, Garrison, 34, died in a vehicle accident in Dallas, Texas.
Feb. 21 Billy Graham: The prominent evangelist died in his Montreat home. Throughout his adult life, Graham played an integral role in revitalizing the evangelical political movement. While his work was celebrated by many, his views — including those on same-sex marriage and national political issues — made him a controversial figure to others.
Feb. 27 Will Willis: The Asheville Fire Department engineer died at the age of 34 from a rare form of kidney cancer. The N.C. Industrial Commission ruled his death as having occurred in the line of duty, setting a new precedent for the state and acknowledging concerns about the effects of exposure to toxic chemicals on firefighters .
April 8 Richard Sales: The chief of Reynolds Volunteer Fire Department died in a traffic accident at the age of 52.
April 16 Harry Anderson: Best known for his role as Judge Harry Stone on the TV series “Night Court,” Anderson, 65, died in his sleep of a stroke in his Asheville home.
April 18 West Asheville family: Erica Nichelle Smith, 32, along with two of her children, Keithan Whitmire, 15, and Harmony Smith, 13, were killed at their West Asheville home. The shooter, Maurice Garner, who was Smith’s boyfriend, also died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound the following day. In a press conference following the tragedy, Asheville Police Chief Tammy Hooper implored residents experiencing or aware of domestic abuse to reach out to local service providers, including Helpmate.
June 17 David Belcher: The former chancellor of Western Carolina University died of cancer at 60.
July 1 Derrick Lee Jr.: A student at Valley Springs Middle School, Derrick Lee Jr. was killed in a drive-by shooting in the Lee Walker Heights public housing neighborhood. The murder remains unsolved, and a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest is being offered. Eblen Charities has established a fund to help aid the 12-year-old’s family.
Sept. 25 Marie Colton: The former state legislator died at the age of 95. Colton was elected to a seat in the N.C. House in 1978 and represented Buncombe County until 1994.
Sept. 25 Brandi Angel: The local rapper was shot and killed near Bartlett Arms Apartments. The 27-year-old, who was the mother of a 1-year-old daughter, had recorded six albums. In 2013, she graduated from the Green Opportunities Training Team program. Her murder remains unsolved.