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5 Things to Know: Second Worker Confirmed Dead in SouthPark Fire

...and four more stories from May 14-20, 2023

A firefighter looks up at a tall building aflame, he's standing at the bottom of a ladder, at the top of which is a hose that is spraying the SouthPark fire.
A Charlotte firefighter helps battle the blaze during Thursday’s fire in SouthPark. (Photo courtesy of Charlotte FD)

Second Worker Feared Dead in SouthPark Fire

City officials on Friday confirmed that two workers killed when a fire engulfed a large apartment building that was under construction in SouthPark on Thursday. The family of 30-year-old Demonte Sherrill confirmed Thursday that he was killed in the inferno, which reached five-alarm status before firefighters were finally able to put it out.

A group of firefighters look down an alley during the SouthPark Fire, on the left side of which is a large building on fire.
The SouthPark fire broke out before 10 a.m. on Thursday. (Photo courtesy of Charlotte FD)

Sherrill was one of two workers who were unaccounted for following the fire, which broke out in a construction site on Liberty Row Drive off Fairview Road. Late into Friday, the second victim had still not been identified, though officials at Friday’s press conference confirmed that the remains of two people were recovered at the scene.

Though they are still waiting for the medical examiner to officially identify each victim, a CFD supervisor has confirmed the second victim was 58-year-old Rueben Holmes of Huntsville, Alabama.

Firefighters were able to pull 15 people from the fire safely, which reportedly began in a spray-foam insulation trailer at around 9 a.m. on Thursday, including a crane operator who became stuck above the flames for some time. The fire is believed to be accidental in nature, officials said on Friday.

CMS Names New Superintendent

Dr. Crystal L. Hill was named superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) following a 6-3 vote from the CMS Board of Education on Friday. Summer Nunn, the chair of the superintendent search committee, was one of three who voted against Hill, who has served as interim superintendent since the start of the year.

Hill joined the school district in May 2022 as the chief of staff. Within six months of her hiring, she was appointed as interim superintendent effective Jan. 1, 2023. Most recently, Hill led the district in collaborative efforts with the Mecklenburg County Board of County Commissioners on the recommended budget for fiscal year 2024. This year’s recommendation from county manager Dena Diorio includes full funding of the district’s appropriation increase request of $38.9 million (more on the budget below).

Dr. Crystal Hill, the new CMS superintendent. (Photo courtesy of CMS)

Prior to arriving at CMS, Hill served as chief academic officer for Cabarrus County Schools. She began her career in education as a first-grade teacher in Guilford County Schools. Over the years, she also served in various roles including assistant principal, principal and as executive director of elementary education and federal programs in Mooresville Graded School District; curriculum coordinator in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools; and personnel director in Cabarrus County.

“Dr. Hill is an experienced school administrator and servant leader with a proven track record of success related to student academic achievement,” said Elyse Dashew, chair of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education. “She has been lauded for her role in improving academic data to the highest achievement (94% of all schools meeting or exceeding growth targets) in the history of Cabarrus County.”

School board reps Jennifer De La Jara and Lisa Cline joined Nunn in casting the only No votes on Friday.

NCGA Overrides Governor’s Vote on 12-Week Abortion Ban

The North Carolina General Assembly on Tuesday night voted to override a weekend veto from Gov. Roy Cooper, enacting Senate Bill 20, a 12-week abortion ban that will implement stricter licensing requirements on clinics statewide as well as stricter mandates on doctors visits before receiving an abortion. Senate Bill 20 will take effect on July 1.

N.C. Rep. Tricia Cotham, who switched parties in April, giving Republicans the supermajority needed to override the governor’s veto despite running on a platform that included protecting abortion rights, sent out a press release following Tuesday’s vote that read, in part, “I understand that there are extremists on both sides of the abortion issue. Some of the absolutists believe abortion is unacceptable in any circumstance and some of the absolutists believe aborting a perfectly healthy child in the 40th week of pregnancy is morally acceptable. I cannot support either of these extreme positions.” Existing state law already banned abortion after 20 weeks.

Shortly after the bill was passed into law, Republicans began speaking publicly about taking things further, as NC House Speaker Tim Moore, who has voiced his support for a six-week ban, told reporters on Tuesday night that, while he doesn’t plan to pursue any stricter regulations over the next year, “I can’t say what’ll happen two years, four years, 10 years from now.”

“Who knows who’s going to be in the General Assembly after the next election?” added NC Senate leader Phil Berger, according to reporting from WRAL. “There may be members that want to push it further on the restrictive side. There may be members who want to increase the window for the elective [procedure].”

Gubernatorial candidate Mark Robinson also confirmed in a radio interview on Wednesday that he doesn’t believe the ban goes far enough. He reiterated his support for legislation that bans abortion before most women even know they’re pregnant and explicitly said the abortion ban passed Tuesday night sets Republicans up “to get ready to move the ball” after the 2024 elections.

Earlier this month, polling from Carolina Forward and Change Research showed that likely 2024 voters in North Carolina say they opposed restricting abortion to the first 12 weeks of pregnancy by 14 points (40% in support, 54% opposed).

Mecklenburg County Manager Introduced Proposed FY24 Budget

Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio on Thursday presented her recommended budget for Fiscal Year 2024 to the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners (BOCC). The $2.3-billion recommended budget is a 7.2% increase ($156.2 million) over the current FY2023 operating budget.

To fund that budget, Diorio is recommending a tax rate of 47.31 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, 3% higher than what would be the revenue-neutral rate according to the 2023 property revaluation.

The county also plans to launch a $4-billion, five-year Capital Improvement Plan in the coming fiscal year. The County will evaluate the plan each year and adjust to account for changes in construction costs and revenue estimates while potentially adding or changing projects each year to accommodate for evolving priorities.

The 2024-2028 Capital Improvement Plan includes:

  • $2.5 billion for up to 30 projects for CMS, including 12 elementary schools, seven middle schools, 10 high schools, and a new athletic complex, assuming a school bond referendum of $2.5 billion would be placed on the ballot for voter approval in November 2023.
  • $809 million for 10 county projects, including upgrades for court and detention facilities, and a commitment to additional community resource centers providing services related to health care, economic stability, housing security, education, food security, behavioral health and more.
  • $448 million for 37 park and recreation projects, including greenways, a new park at Eastland Yards, improvements for older facilities, lake-dredging projects, and new amenities like skate parks and pickleball courts.
  • $146 million for eight Charlotte Mecklenburg Library projects, which includes relocation and expansion of the Sugar Creek and West Boulevard branches, a new branch on Nations Ford Road, the renovation of ImaginOn, and continued work on the Main Library in Uptown Charlotte.
  • $107 million for four Central Piedmont Community College projects, including a new public safety training facility.

You can read the entire proposed budget at the county’s website.

Three Gun Homicides This Week

The city saw three people killed by gun violence this week, bringing the total number of homicides in Charlotte in 2023 to 32. There were 36 at the same time last year.

Officers responded to a shots-fired call on Milton Road at around 1 a.m. on Monday and located 24-year-old Juan Santiago-Flores suffering from gunshot wounds. Medic transported Santiago-Flores to Atrium Health Main, where he was pronounced dead.

At around 5:45 p.m. on Thursday, police responded to a shooting call on Larwill Lane in northwest Charlotte, where they found 17-year-old Raynard Mahoney Jr. suffering from an apparent gunshot wound. Medic transported Mahoney to the hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.

Just before 9:30 a.m. on Friday, police responded to a call about a person down in the J.T. Williams neighborhood, where they found a victim dead from gunshot wounds. The victim’s name has not yet been released at the time of this writing.

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