A lot can change in the course of a decade.
But while different events mark each year, some topics endured in Asheville: Development. Hotels. Apartments. Affordable housing. Beer. Restaurants. Asheville Police. Asheville politics. Natural disasters. The I-26 Connector.
In no particular order within each year, here are many of the stories that captured headlines and attention in the decade now closed. No doubt this is a compilation of highlights, not a comprehensive list.
2010: Obamas visit Asheville and a big GOP win in the General Assembly
Snowstorms: Ask any parent who had school-age children and they’ll likely remember the snow and the accompanying days out of school. Storms that started in December 2009 ended the winter with 39.2 inches by March 2010 at the airport. A whopper of a storm then hit at Christmas 2010.
Obamas in Asheville: For three days in April, Asheville was in the national spotlight. President and first lady Barack and Michelle Obama decided to vacation here, and it seemed everybody wanted to know what they were doing.
Wong trial: It was a tragic case that captured the interest of Western North Carolina: the 2008 murder of N.C. Trooper David Shawn Blanton Jr. during an Interstate 40 traffic stop in Haywood County that left behind a grieving widow and a prematurely born son who later died. The trial was moved to Catawba County. Wong was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Health care reform: The ebb and flow of the national issue triggered emotional highs and lows in both supporters and opponents through the passage of the sweeping Affordable Care Act on March 21.
Shuler-Miller race: As the midterm elections approached, it appeared likely Republicans would make significant gains in national positions. Frustration by Democratic voters over Shuler’s “no” vote on health care reform was not enough to sway the race in favor of Republican challenger Jeff Miller, and Shuler wound up being re-elected with 54% of the votes. It would be his final term in Congress.
Larchmont apartments: A Mountain Housing Opportunities development was hotly debated when it came before City Council in March 2010. Advocates of affordable housing saw the infill project near jobs and public transportation as the ideal place to put such complexes in the city. It took council almost four hours to listen to the 33 members of the public who spoke on the project and to decide. Council unanimously approved a rezoning needed for the project to move ahead, but the margin of victory was narrower than it appears. Because some neighbors had filed a legal protest petition, state law provides that six of council’s seven members would have to go along for the rezoning to pass. The apartments came online in 2012.
Downtown vandalism: On May Day, a mob of black-clad people marauded through downtown, breaking business windows and damaging property. Eleven were caught, and an anarchist group claimed responsibility.
Lightning kills woman on Max Patch: Bethany Lott, 25, of Knoxville, Tennessee, was hiking June 4 at the Madison County scenic spot when she was struck and killed by lightning. Compounding the tragedy was that her death happened moments before Richard Butler, her boyfriend and companion that day, was going to propose marriage.
I-26 wreck kills 5: A dump truck accident Oct. 24 that caused a line of cars to stop on Interstate 26 near Fletcher suddenly became much more. A tractor-trailer driven by a Wisconsin man plowed into the back of the line, causing a chain-reaction pileup that resulted in five deaths.
Maggie Valley mudslide: A 30-foot-high wall of mud and debris traveled 3,000 feet down Buck Mountain, crossing Rich Cove Road in at least two places and damaging three homes after a system of retaining walls at Ghost Town in the Sky failed during heavy rain on Feb. 5.
Texting-while-driving fatality: Ashley Johnson, a student at Buncombe County Early College, died in a crash on Long Shoals Road that was caused by distracted driving. After her death, Johnson’s father Amos spoke out, imploring drivers to be safe on the road.
Historic GOP win: Republicans gain the majority in both houses of the General Assembly for the first time in more than a century. The change ushers in a rightward shift in the state legislature, including new abortion restrictions, cuts to the university system and a same-sex marriage ban that was eventually overturned by federal courts.
Moogfest: The sixth edition of Moogfest, an annual, multiday music, art and technology festival, was held in Asheville for the first time. It took place in five stages at places in downtown Asheville, attracting around 7,000 people a day. The festival would move to Durham four years later, after its parent company, Moog Music, cited a lack of public and private partners in Asheville.
2011: Asheville Fire Department mourns Jeff Bowen, Gerrymandering in the 11th
Firefighter death: Asheville Fire Department was rocked by tragedy on July 28, as Capt. Jeff Bowen, a 13-year department veteran, died in a fire at 445 Biltmore Ave. The father of three was searching the fifth floor of the building and put out a “mayday” call. He was 37. Ten other firefighters were treated for injuries sustained in the blaze. The city would go on to name the Patton Avenue bridge for Bowen.
Buncombe County districts: The GOP-majority General Assembly threw a curve at the Democratically-controlled Board of Commissioners, changing the election of members from an at-large system to one with three districts that mirrored N.C. House districts. The law, passed in May along party lines, also added two seats, making for a seven-member board with Republicans holding three spots.
APD chief retires: Amid controversy over an evidence room that was missing guns, drugs and money, APD Chief Bill Hogan announced in April that he would retire the following month. He had been chief since 2004.
A-B Tech tax referendum: A controversial tax to bolster the capital needs of Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College passed by a slim margin in November. Buncombe County voters approved a quarter-cent sales tax increase that supporters said would provide millions for sorely needed renovations and new buildings. Voters approved the referendum by fewer than 500 votes. More than 33,000 votes were cast. Robert Malt, executive director of the Sales Tax Opposition Partnership, which organized to fight the sales tax increase, said he was disappointed with the results. As much as 20% of the money was misspent (see 2019).
Occupy Asheville: In the fall, a group of more than 200 protesters set up camp around Asheville, speaking out against corporate greed and preferential treatment, social inequality and a lack of compassion in America for the poor. It was part of a larger, national movement, the “Occupy Wall Street” effort that spread to numerous American cities. The movement in Asheville wound down in 2012.
Gerrymandering hits the 11th: Now in control of the redistricting process, General Assembly Republicans draw new maps greatly favoring GOP candidates in the state House and Senate as well as Congress. As part of gerrymandering techniques known as “cracking” and “packing,” urban areas with high concentrations of Democratic votes are split and added to districts with more Republicans.While part of Asheville stays in the 11th, a large section is split off into the 10th, which runs east all the way to the suburbs of Charlotte.
WE DO Campaign launches: The Campaign for Southern Equality launches the WE DO Campaign, through which same-sex couples would repeatedly request – and typically be denied – marriage licenses in Asheville. Buncombe County Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger would become North Carolina’s first government official to accept a marriage license request from a same-sex couple in 2013, solidifying Asheville as an organizing hub for LGBTQ rights.
Troy & Sons opens: Expanding Asheville’s alcohol profile beyond beer, the city’s first craft distillery, Troy & Sons, opened in a building in east Asheville next to Highland Brewing Co., making white corn liquor and building on the heritage of moonshine.
2012: Meadows wins redrawn 11th, big breweries move into Asheville
Tavern slayings: On April 4, a gory scene started in front of witnesses at Mike’s Side Pocket Tavern on Haywood Road and ended a block away near a city bus carrying more terrified bystanders. In the end, all three victims died from stab wounds, marking one of the city’s most violent and chaotic crime scenes in years. Police say Steven Wike, 45, of Wilmington, instigated the stabbings, using what one witness described as “the biggest knives I’ve ever seen.” After being thrown out of the now-closed bar earlier in the day, Wike returned and attacked three people, killing two of them. Wike fatally stabbed Harold McHone, who suffered five wounds to the chest and abdomen. He also killed Phillip Davis.
Mark Meadows elected: In a redrawn 11th Congressional District, conservative Republican Mark Meadows swept to victory, flipping the district after Democrat Heath Shuler opted not to run for reelection. Meadows would go on to chair the Freedom Caucus. In late 2019, he announced he would retire from Congress.
Sierra Nevada chooses Mills River: In January, Sierra Nevada Brewing of Chico, California, announced it would build its long anticipated East Coast expansion brewery in Mills River at the Ferncliff Industrial Park near Asheville Regional Airport. At the time, Buncombe County was home to 10 craft breweries. Asheville Brewing Co. president Mike Rangel said Sierra Nevada’s expansion “really establishes us as more of a craft brewing mecca.”
New Belgium picks Asheville: It didn’t take long for other major beer news. In April, New Belgium, maker of the popular Fat Tire ale, rolled out plans for a new brewery on the banks of the French Broad River. It picked Asheville over a list of competitors including Philadelphia, drawn by the city’s sustainability, bike paths and greenways as much as the growing microbrew scene The Fort Collins, Colorado, company, said it would invest $175 million over the next seven years, bringing 154 jobs to a brewery to be built on the site of the former WNC Livestock Market on Craven Street. In 2019, it agreed to be acquired by Australian company Lion.
2013: Bye-bye, Bele Chere, hello Mayor Esther Manheimer
Asheville City Schools leader quits: Allen Johnson announced in April that he would retire in May. The school board voted to let him leave with a controversial payout of $175,000. He had served as the district’s leader since 2008.
Mountain Moral Monday: Thought to have been the city’s best-attended political protest in at least two decades, Mountain Moral Monday drew a huge crowd to Pack Square. The crowd, led by the Rev. William J. Barber II, protested actions of the General Assembly and Gov. Pat McCrory on women’s issues, voting rights, school spending and other issues was easily more than 5,000.
Bele Chere ends: The popular Asheville festival ended its 35-year run. The city run festival was becoming harder to sustain as a money maker. Area businesses both praised and lamented the festival’s demise.
Esther Manheimer elected: A City Council member since 2009, Esther Manheimer was elected Asheville’s next mayor in November, winning 68% of the popular vote.
Seven Falls conviction: Keith Vinson, the former developer of the failed Seven Falls development in Henderson County, was convicted in October on all 13 counts he was charged with, including conspiracy to commit bank fraud, conspiracy to defraud the United States, misapplication of bank funds, wire fraud and money laundering. In 2015, he would be sentenced to 18 years in federal prison.
Hank Dunn leaves A-B Tech: Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College’s leader, Hank Dunn, announced in October he would leave the post come Jan. 1, 2014. No reason was given for the departure. Dunn helped win voter approval in 2011 of a special quarter-cent tax in Buncombe County to fund new buildings and renovations at the school, but he and county officials also clashed over how to use those proceeds. Dunn admitted earlier in 2013 to actively trying to keep County Commissioner Mike Fryar, a critic of Dunn and the tax, off the school’s board of trustees.
River Arts District development: In October, City Council unanimously approved a zoning change to allow a major development on the empty site of the former Dave Steel facility. Developer Harry Pilos laid out a plan for a 209-apartment RAD Lofts project. As of December 2019, the site has yet to be developed.
2014: Caleb Johnson wins ‘American Idol,’ breweries continue to expand
Asheville restaurateur and activist Laurey Masterton dies: The community mourned in February after the death of a beloved Asheville woman. Masterton, who succumbed to cancer, was best known for her activism, her work as a chef and her passion for cycling and Asheville.
Martin Nesbitt dies: Mountain residents mourned the death of longtime legislator Martin Nesbitt, who died from cancer at 67. The Democratic minority Senate leader earned the respect of legislators on both sides of the aisle for his support of education and willingness to champion everyday issues of constituents.
Caleb Johnson wins “American Idol”: After 26 songs sung on live TV to millions of viewers across 13 weeks, the Asheville rocker won the ultimate prize in May.
Moogfest moves: Moog Music retooled what previously was a weekend music festival into a five-day event designed to celebrate art, technology and music. The event lost more than $1 million. After 2014, the festival would pull out of Asheville and move to Durham.
Police recording rallies: In September, it was learned that city police have spent the last decade recording video of public gatherings under a seemingly unorganized system that now has officials working to comply with state law. At least some of the gatherings were political. The recordings raised free speech issues, advocates across the political spectrum said. The practice came to light after at least two people complained about a police forensics officer recording a Mountain Moral Monday rally at Pack Square Park. The Citizen Times sued for release of the videos and won.
N.C. ranked worst state for teachers: North Carolina came in dead last at 51st on WalletHub’s list, which included D.C. The state came in at 47th for salaries adjusted for the cost of living and ranked 48th in per pupil spending, ahead of Tennessee, Arizona and Idaho. The list did not take into account the teacher raises approved this summer by state lawmakers.
Judge strikes NC gay marriage ban: Just after 5 p.m. Oct. 10, a federal judge in Asheville struck down the state’s ban, approved by state voters in 2012, paving the way for same-sex marriage to begin immediately. Five days earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would not hear any appeal of a July ruling by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond striking down Virginia’s ban. That court has jurisdiction over North Carolina. Buncombe County Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger kept his office open until 7 p.m. to issue marriage licenses to 19 waiting couples.
Hundreds protest Ferguson verdict in Asheville: Nearly 200 people rallied in downtown Asheville the November day after a grand jury decided not to indict the white officer who fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in a case that touched off waves of sometimes violent protests around the nation and ignited fierce debates on race relations in the U.S.
New DA in town: Longtime District Attorney Ron Moore lost his re-election bid to defense attorney Todd Williams in the May Democratic primary. Williams had no Republican opponent in November. Moore had been DA for 24 years.
Turner beats Moffitt: In another big political upset, Democrat Brian Turner unseated two-term Republican incumbent state Rep. Tim Moffitt in November in Buncombe County’s most expensive and hotly contested local race that year. He has retained the House District 116 seat since.
APD chief retires: Asheville Police Chief William Anderson announced in November that he would retire at year’s end. His decision came about a month after a quarter of the city’s officers signed a petition saying they had no confidence in the department’s leaders. A Citizen Times investigation into the department found allegations of on-the-job retaliation, an increase in officer resignations and administrative errors that led to officers using expired radar guns. Hundreds of traffic cases were dismissed.
Brewery boom: From 2009-13, the Beer City USA poll existed, and Asheville dominated. During the poll’s run, the Asheville area was transformed into the nation’s East Coast craft beer capital, with both Sierra Nevada Brewing and New Belgium Brewing building their East Coast expansions here. Oskar Blues built its expansion in nearby Brevard. Wicked Weed jumped on the scene in 2012. The poll shut down in 2014, but the boom continued.
2015: Asheville gets first female police chief, NC legislation allows religious objection to same-sex marriage
More: Top stories in 2015
Civil rights landmark: In a landmark decision June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutional right of LGBTQ Americans to marry. From Asheville to Spruce Pine, people in WNC organized gatherings to celebrate the historic ruling. More than 200 people, young and old, gathered in downtown Asheville. Buncombe County Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger was one of the first in the state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after U.S. District Court Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr. declared the state’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional Oct. 10, 2014. Later, a two-story rainbow flag was flown outside of City Hall, which drew its own share of controversy.
Religious objection to same-sex marriage: On June 11, North Carolina passed legislation that exempts magistrates and some registers of deeds workers with “sincerely held religious objection” from carrying out same-sex marriage ceremonies. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory vetoed the bill, but it was overridden by the General Assembly.
New APD chief: Tammy Hooper, a 26-year veteran of the Alexandria, Virginia, Police Department, got the nod, becoming the third chief in four years and the city’s first female chief. Hooper, 49, began work July 20 and wasted no time in overhauling the department’s organizational structure. She would be on the job until January 2019
Innocence settlements: Kenneth Kagonyera and Robert Wilcoxson, who served 11 years behind bars for a murder they did not commit, settled federal lawsuit against Buncombe County, former Sheriff Bobby Medford and several detectives in April and July. Kagonyera’s suit cost the county $515,000. Wilcoxson’s cost $5.1 million. The overall price to settle with the five men who say they were wrongfully accused in the 2000 murder of Walter Bowman came to $7.9 million. That included attorney fees to defend Medford and civil litigation. Insurance picked up $2.9 million, while county taxpayers were on the hook for $5 million.
Codd murders: Cristie Schoen Codd, 38, and Joseph “J.T.” Codd, 45, were reported missing March 15 by family members. Acting on leads generated from a tip, investigators the next day found human remains in a wood stove on the property of Robert Jason Owens, about a mile from the Codds’ home. That led to his arrest. In 2017, Owens, 37, admitted killing them and also pleaded guilty to two counts of dismembering human remains. Owens’ name has also been linked to the disappearance of Zebb Quinn, who was last seen Jan. 2, 2000.
Double murder: In late October and November, the city was gripped by the disappearance and later discovery of the double murder of Alexandra Diz and Tatianna King, who were found in the French Broad River after a week of searching. Pierre Lamont Griffin II was charged with their murders. In November 2017, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
City time capsule: Asheville unearthed a time capsule from underneath Vance Monument, placed there in 1897 when the obelisk was constructed and dedicated. It was wedged beneath a Masonic cornerstone block at the base. Among the capsule’s contents: the only known copy of The Colored Enterprise, a newspaper representing about a third of Asheville’s population in its day.
Lake Julian power plant’s future: In May, Duke Energy Progress announced it would build a natural gas facility at Lake Julian, replacing a decades-old coal-fired plant. (That new plant is set to be online anytime now, as 2020 dawns.) Environmentalists and local officials hailed the announcement. Duke then announced plans for a 45-mile transmission line from Campobello, South Carolina, to Lake Julian to guarantee backup power for the plant. Caught off guard by the “volume and intensity” of opposition, the utility dropped those plans in November. Duke instead decided to change plans to reconfigure the existing plant with two smaller gas-burning units.
Waking Life controversy: In September, West Asheville’s Waking Life Espresso became embroiled in controversy after its co-owners chronicled their graphic sexual conquests of women in forums they believed were anonymous. The men issued apologies, but protests grew outside the shop.
AdvantageWest closes: AdvantageWest, the regional economic development entity whose funding was slashed by the state, ended its operations at the end of the year. The organization served 23 western counties.
Robert Beatty and “Serafina”: Asheville author Robert Beatty leaped onto the literary scene with the first of his books, “Serafina and the Black Cloak” in 2015. The middle-grade novel, set at Biltmore Estate and complete with a trailer filmed there, was the first of four “Serafina” books. Beatty would also release “Willa of the Wood” in 2018.
City Council shakeup: In November 2015, Asheville voters chose three new faces for City Council seats: Brian Haynes, Keith Young and Julie Mayfield. Voters sent a message that they were concerned with the red-hot pace of hotel building and other development in the city, especially downtown. One-term Incumbent Mark Hunt lost his re-election bid, landing fifth in the voting.
2016: Wildfires burn thousands of acres of WNC, HB2 met with significant pushback
Wildfires: In the fall of 2016, WNC was on fire. The Party Rock Fire in near Lake Lure and Chimney Rock spread across 7,142 acres of state park land and private property starting Nov. 5 and burned for a month. Miraculously, no life was lost.
But the bigger fires were farther west, blowing across the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests, state parks and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They began with the Dicks Creek Fire Oct. 23 northwest of Sylva. The Boteler Peak Fire started Oct. 25 on Boteler Peak near Old Highway 64 east of Murphy, which was the only fire to be started by lightning strike. The Tellico Fire and Rock Mount Fire burned the largest at 14,000 and 24,000 acres, respectively.
And on the Tennessee side of the Smokies, the wildfire toll was devastating. Fires raged through Gatlinburg on Nov. 28, killing 14 people, injuring nearly 200 others and damaging nearly 2,500 homes and businesses for a total estimated cost that could exceed a billion dollars.
Jerry Williams shooting: Jai Lateef Solveig Williams, 35, was shot and killed by Asheville police Sgt. Tyler Radford on July 2 at Deaverview Apartments, a subsidized housing complex in West Asheville. The case sparked questions over whether a white officer used excessive force in shooting Williams, who was black. It led to a series of rallies and meetings, including an overnight protest in APD headquarters, intended to address fears that race and poverty played a role. On Dec. 22, Buncombe County District Attorney Todd Williams announced his finding that the shooting was justified.
HB2: North Carolina House Bill 2, which became known simply as “HB2,” was enacted in March, requiring schools and other government agencies to designate restrooms designed for use by more than one person at a time for either male or female use. And it required transgender people to use the restroom of the sex listed on their birth certificate. It was met with swift and significant pushback, including the loss of economic development deals, events by the ACC, NCAA and NBA, as well as major musicians and more. A compromise to repeal parts of the bill was reached in 2017, but opposition remained.
2016 election: Politics is local, and the 2016 election of Donald Trump was no exception. WNC voters cited health care, a stagnant economy, Supreme Court nominations and a healthy distaste for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton as reasons to get a Republican into the White House. A September visit by candidate Trump drew a significant crowd to downtown Asheville with scuffles and protests in and outside the U.S. Cellular Center. The case of a disabled woman who said she was struck during a protest, drew national news. On the state level, the governor’s mansion flipped to a Democrat, with the ouster of Gov. Pat McCrory in favor of Roy Cooper.
Water fight: Asheville fought off a years-long attempt to seize its water system by the Republican-majority General Assembly. In 2013 the state legislature said because the city system included some smaller noncity systems that had been added during the Great Depression, the water infrastructure should now be given to the Buncombe County Metropolitan Sewerage District. But in December 2016 the N.C. Supreme Court invalidated the law, saying the city should keep control.
I-26 Connector: After years of designing, negotiating and delays, the North Carolina Department of Transportation made a decision on the route of the I-26 Connector through the west side of Asheville. In May, it picked Alternative 4B, the most expensive option but one that achieves longtime goals of many area residents who favor alternative modes of transportation and a boulevard-style connection between West Asheville and downtown.
Eyes on Asheville: The region became even more alluring for tourists, punctuated by Lonely Planet naming Asheville its top U.S. destination for 2017.
West Asheville HGTV dream home: A modest bungalow came to stardom after its transformation into a high-dollar “Urban Oasis” through an HGTV show. In June, it was purchased by a couple, and in November those new owners were cited by the city for running an illegal short-term vacation rental out of the West Asheville house.
2017: Wanda Greene accused of kickback scheme, Wicked Weed bought by AB InBev
Buncombe County investigation: News in August that County Manager Wanda Greene was accused of a years-long kickback scheme rocked the government. The story would dominate the news for more than two years, ending with the sentencing of Greene and four others in August 2019.
William A.V. Cecil dies: The man who brought his family’s home, the Biltmore Estate, back from the brink died in October at age 89. The grandson of the estate’s famous founder, George Washington Vanderbilt III, he devoted himself to the estate’s preservation, and he was determined to make it self-supporting. The 8,000 acres, including the French-style chateau and on-site attractions such as the Antler Hill Village retail area and a winery now host more than 1.4 million tourists annually, but during the mid-20th century the estate struggled financially. Cecil was 89. Less than three weeks later, his widow, Mimi, died at age 89.
From the archives:How much is Biltmore House worth?
Movement in Zebb Quinn case: Robert Jason Owens, who had pleaded guilty in April 2017 to the March 2015 deaths of the Codds, was indicted in the death of Zebb Quinn. In one of the area’s longest-running cases, a Buncombe County grand jury returned the indictment, charging Owens with first-degree murder for Quinn’s Jan. 2, 2000 death.
Wicked Weed bought: Founded in Asheville in 2012 by Walt and Luke Dickinson and their friends Ryan, Rick and Denise Guthy, Wicked Weed announced in May it was being acquired by brewing giant Anheuser-Busch InBev. Within hours of the announcement, Wicked Weed became a flashpoint for a continuing conversation about homegrown industries and their place in an economic landscape dominated by large corporations. In the two years since, the brewery has grown and nurtured a few pet projects.
Spiked trail: In February, hikers and authorities alike were baffled by the appearance of spikes on the popular Pinnacle Park trail. Work to clear trails turned up 50-60 of the spikes, which were nails with the nail heads clipped off after being hammered into tree roots.
Bomb threat at AVL: Michael Christopher Estes, 46, was charged with attempted malicious use of explosive materials and unlawful possession of explosive materials in an airport after building a bomb and leaving it by the baggage claim on Oct. 6. In 2018, he pleaded guilty to the latter count, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Estes told federal law enforcement that he planned to “fight a war on U.S. soil,” according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court.
Cool Asheville: The accolades and tourist magnetism continued, as Forbes called Asheville among the 15 “coolest” places to visit in 2018.
Eclipse: Life stopped for an afternoon on Aug. 21, 2017, as WNC was in the direct line of a solar eclipse.
Blue Ridge Parkway visitation: Buoyed by the eclipse, the 469-mile roadway through North Carolina and Virginia hit an all-time record for visitation, with 16.1 million people traveling the curvy, mountainous road in 2017. It slipped in 2018, to 14.7 million visitors.
2018: Billy Graham dies, Tammy Hooper resigns as police chief
Billy Graham dies: On Feb. 21, the Rev. Billy Graham was called home, dying at his Montreat home surrounded by family. His funeral a week later would draw dignitaries, including most living presidents.
Johnnie Rush: Body camera footage obtained by the Citizen Times and published on Feb. 28 showed a black man, Johnnie Rush, being beaten by a white APD officer, Christopher Hickman, after Rush was accused of jaywalking. The incident occurred in August 2017, but many city officials learned of it only after the publication of the video and an accompanying story. Hickman would be arrested and the city would reach a $650,000 settlement with Rush. In 2019, Hickman pleaded guilty to felony assault. He will serve no jail time if a unique — and controversial — restorative justice program is completed.
West Asheville shooting: In April, a mother and two of her children were shot to death in their West Asheville home before the shooter turned the gun on himself. Erica Nichelle Smith, a 32-year-old mother of six, was dead. Three of Smith’s children also were injured. Police say Smith’s boyfriend, 35-year-old Maurice Garner, was the shooter. He was found near the home with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Hooper resigns: In the wake of a white officer’s beating of a black pedestrian accused of jaywalking — captured by body camera video — Tammy Hooper in November announced she would resign as police chief, effective in early 2018. During her tenure, she made major changes in the department’s organizational structure, oversaw a drop of 2.5 percent in property crimes from 2016-17, and added officers on downtown patrol. But she struggled to establish good relationships with minority communities. Violent crime climbed from 2015-17. A police intelligence monitoring operation of civil rights groups Asheville Black Lives Matter and Showing Up for Racial Justice drew fire from community groups and some City Council members. And a civil rights group analyzing city data found 24% of traffic stops involved African-American drivers, though blacks are 12% of the population.
Mission sale: In August, Mission Health announced it had agreed to be acquired by HCA Healthcare for a staggering $1.5 billion. Attorney General Josh Stein would approve the deal in January, after protections were added for rural hospitals.
A-B Tech taxes: Records revealed that about 20% of all revenue generated by a tax that community leaders promised would fund a $130 million building plan at A-B Tech when they pitched it to county voters in 2011 was actually spent on capital projects. In fat, more than $400,000 of sales tax revenue that officials said would fund only new construction at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College instead was diverted to pay county employees, including corrupt administrators Wanda Greene and Jon Creighton.
Cancer kills firefighter: The cancer death of Asheville firefighter Will Willis was ruled a “line of duty death” by the N.C. Industrial Commission. In only the second time in state history, the ruling meant his family would receive disability benefits and Willis’ name will be added to a state memorial in Raleigh. The ruling also further validated the growing crisis of cancer as the leading cause of death among firefighters. Nearly a year later, in September 2019, the January death of Assistant Fire Marshal Karen Shuart, 58, from ovarian cancer and cancer in her intestines was also ruled in the line of duty.
City Council districts: A bill that established district elections for five of seven seats on Asheville City Council beginning in 2020 became law in June. It also did away with primary elections for council, providing for only one round of balloting on Election Day, and changes the years in which council elections were to be held. (See 2019.)
Quentin Miller elected:Buncombe County voted in a new sheriff in November, after Van Duncan decided to retire with 12 years under his belt. The 25-year veteran of the Asheville Police Department clinched the seat after a hard-fought battle with Shad Higgins, the owner of a Weaverville tire and wheel shop. He is the county’s first African American sheriff.
2019: Mission becomes part of HCA, hotel moratorium set for one year
Mission sale closes: Mission Health officially became part of HCA Healthcare, with the closing of the landmark sale. The Tennessee-based hospital giant finalized its acquisition of the Asheville health system on Jan. 31, ending roughly a year of negotiations with a $1.5 billion deal that could have far-reaching impacts on the future of health care in WNC. The deal placed Mission’s six-hospital system and its nearly 12,000 employees under the umbrella of for-profit HCA.
Buncombe County officials sentenced: Former Buncombe County manager Wanda Greene, along with assistant managers Mandy Stone and Jon Creighton, Business Intelligence Manager Michael Greene and longtime engineering contractor Joe Wiseman, were sentenced on Aug. 28. Wanda Greene was given 7 years in prison and ordered to pay a $100,000 fine. U.S. District Judge Robert Conrad called the 68-year-old the “architect” of a culture of corruption in Buncombe County and said Greene engaged in “out-of-control criminal activity” despite her nearly $250,000 annual salary and generous retirement benefits as a county employee.
Dogwood Health Trust names leader: The foundation born out of the proceeds of the Mission Hospital sale named its first CEO in August. Antony Chang, founding president of Empire Health Foundation in Spokane, Washington, was picked from a pool of approximately 125 applicants. He will formally join the new foundation in November.
Ellen Frost indicted: An 11-count grand jury indictment on July 16 charged former Buncombe County Commissioner Ellen Frost with conspiracy, federal program fraud and mail fraud. The most serious charges against her carry a maximum prison term of 20 years and a $250,000 fine. Frost, a Black Mountain Democrat who served as a commissioner for about six years, pleaded not guilty July 31 to fraud and conspiracy charges. She requested a jury trial.
APD chief hired, quits: After just two months on the job, Asheville Police Chief Chris Bailey announced his resignation, citing a desire to return to family in Indianapolis. City manager Debra Campbell hired him in June, and he started July 29. He replaced former Chief Tammy Hooper, who resigned following turmoil over the police beating of a black pedestrian and news she ordered an intelligence operation to monitor local civil rights groups. A 15-year-old criminal incident could have cost Bailey his job shortly after he was hired, preventing him from being certified as a law enforcement officer in North Carolina.
Hotel moratorium: On Sept. 24, after months — if not years — of growing outcry over continued hotel building, Asheville City Council voted in a yearlong moratorium. As of fall 2019, hotels approved since 2015 included 2,761 hotel rooms, with 39% of them downtown, according to the city. Less than half have opened, with the rest under construction or slated to be built. Over the course of the year, City Council members intend to seek counsel on smarter development strategies to offer developers more reliable expectations.
City Council district elections: In its Oct. 22 meeting, City Council approved ordinances to amend Asheville’s charter, reversing a state-imposed election system instituting new districts planned to take effect for the 2020 election. Council voted 6-1 to return to the longstanding at-large system where all city voters choose all members of the body.
Hotel Arras opens: Years after downtown’s BB&T Building was sold to developers, the gleaming, Art Deco-style Kimpton Hotel Arras opened on Pack Square in November.
UNC Charlotte shooting: Riley Howell, 21, a T.C. Roberson alumnus and UNC Charlotte student died at the hands of a campus gunman. He was praised as a hero for stopping a shooting before it took more lives. He received a Purple Heart and at year’s end was honored by the “Star Wars” franchise with a Jedi in his name.
Another new APD chief: In December, city manager Debra Campbell introduces her top three candidates to fill the vacant Asheville police chief role. She expects a decision in January.
Blue Ridge Parkway ranger disciplined: In October, nearly a year and a half the top law enforcement officer for the busiest section of the Blue Ridge Parkway was arrested for drug possession and relieved of his badge and gun, he was out of work. The National Park Service declined to say whether Greg Wozniak was removed or resigned, citing privacy issues. Wozniak’s record had been expunged. The Citizen Times, through a Freedom of Information Act, request obtained a copy of the arrest record, as well as an investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility, which investigated Wozniak’s actions.
A-B Tech president to retire: In March, Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College President Dennis King said he intended to retire as of January 2020. King was appointed president in 2014 following the departure of previous President Hank Dunn. No new leader has yet been hired.
Editor Todd Runkle, plus so many other Citizen Times staffers, contributed to this story, pulled from stories in our archives.
Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to reflect that Ashley Johnson was a student at Buncombe County Early College.