Latest North Carolina news, sports, business and entertainment at 11:20 a.m. EST
Lawsuit continues against novelist Sparks, school he started
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – A federal judge says the former headmaster of a private Christian school founded by novelist Nicholas Sparks can continue to sue the author, the North Carolina school, and the foundation Sparks created to support it.
U.S. District Judge James Dever III ruled last month that a jury should decide whether the author of “Message in a Bottle” and “The Notebook” defamed Saul Hillel Benjamin and violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Sparks allegedly told parents, a job recruiter and others that the former Epiphany School of Global Studies headmaster suffered from mental health problems. Benjamin was in the position for less than five months and said he was forced out.
Attorneys have proposed settlement discussions for next month and a potential trial starting in March. Sparks’ public relations firm and attorneys didn’t respond when invited to comment.
Felon’s sentence stands after driving SUV through house
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – A fleeing felon who plowed his speeding SUV straight through a sleeping woman’s bedroom while trying to escape North Carolina law officers can’t claim he was wrongly convicted of a felony because evidence was lacking he caused more than $1,000 in damage.
The state Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that Donald Leon Gorham II was rightfully convicted of speeding to elude arrest through three counties and a neighborhood near Burlington.
Gorham tore through Reidsville’s city limits at 80 mph (129 kph), hit a guardrail, steered up a driveway, splintered through a house, then clipped a shed. A woman was lying in her bed with her head less than a foot away from where Gorham’s Chevrolet Tahoe passed through the house.
Gorham is a habitual felon serving a 10-year prison sentence.
Lawsuit: Atrium Health cheated workers out of benefits
(Information from: The Charlotte Observer, http://www.charlotteobserver.com)
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – A federal class action lawsuit alleges Atrium Health falsely claimed to be a government entity and cheated employees out of retirement benefits.
The Charlotte Observer reports a group of former employees filed the lawsuit Monday. The lawsuit says Atrium’s false claim allows it to skirt the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act, which requires employers to set aside minimum pension amounts. The act doesn’t cover government employees. The lawsuit says Atrium is not a government entity because it’s financially autonomous from the government.
The lawsuit also says employees are overcharged for health care provided by MedCost, a company co-owned by Atrium. Atrium was previously called the Carolinas HealthCare System and is Charlotte’s largest employer. Atrium declined the newspaper’s request for comment but said it would review the lawsuit.
Democrat wins state Senate 19 seat, breaks GOP supermajority
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – A Democratic challenger for North Carolina Senate District 19 has won the seat after the Republican incumbent failed to request a recount prior to the deadline to do so.
News outlets report Republican Sen. Wesley Meredith of Fayetteville had until 5 p.m. Monday to request in writing a recount of the vote totals that showed him losing by 433 to Kirk deViere.
With the latest victory, Democrats will hold 21 Senate seats to 29 seats for Republicans in the General Assembly, breaking the supermajorities that hobbled Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes.
In the House, Mecklenburg County GOP incumbent Rep. Bill Brawley has requested a recount in his close race with Democrat Rachel Hunt. If the results stand, Democrats will have 55 seats in the House to 65 for Republicans.
Swastika painted on Duke mural honoring synagogue victims
DURHAM, N.C. (AP) – Duke University officials say someone painted a Nazi symbol on a mural honoring victims of last month’s Pittsburgh synagogue massacre.
University president Vincent Price said in a letter to the school community that a red swastika was painted Sunday night on the tribute to those who died in the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue. The East Campus Bridge and tunnel underneath are spaces where students can paint messages ranging from campus event promotions to memorials.
Price condemned the swastika as cowardly vandalism.
Price said increased security will continue at campus locations including the Freeman Center for Jewish Life.
He also said security cameras will be installed at the bridge because of hateful messages. The Chronicle student newspaper reported that a Latin Heritage mural was defaced in September.
Trump, first lady accept official White House Christmas tree
WASHINGTON (AP) – President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump have received the official White House Christmas tree.
The 19 1/2-foot (6-meter) tall Fraser fir was grown on a farm owned by Larry Smith of Newland, North Carolina. Strains of “O Christmas Tree” played Monday as horses pulled a wagon carrying the tree up the White House driveway to the North Portico.
The Trumps walked around wagon to inspect the tree before going back inside the White House.
The fir is headed for the Blue Room, where it will become the centerpiece of Christmas at the White House. Volunteers spend the weekend after Thanksgiving decorating the mansion.
Smith’s Mountain Top Fraser Fir farm provided the tree after winning the National Christmas Tree Association’s annual contest.
North Carolina commission latest to approve utility merger
The North Carolina Utilities Commission has approved the proposed merger of troubled South Carolina utility SCANA with Dominion Energy.
The utilities announced the commission’s approval in a news release Monday. The merger remains contingent upon approval from the Public Service Commission of South Carolina.
Previously, the merger had received approval from a number of agencies, including the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which approved the indirect transfer of the operating license for the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station from SCANA subsidiary South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. to the Virginia-based company.
SCANA needed a buyer after spending $5 billion on a pair of reactors abandoned a year ago at V.C. Summer, costing thousands of jobs. The move spawned more than a dozen lawsuits and followed the bankruptcy of lead contractor Westinghouse.
COLORADO FAMILY KILLED-THE LATEST
The Latest: Prosecutors say man choked wife, smothered kids
DENVER (AP) – Prosecutors say a Colorado man strangled his pregnant wife and smothered their two young daughters.
Christopher Watts received three consecutive life sentences without a chance at parole on Monday, nearly two weeks after pleading guilty to avoid the death penalty.
Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke’s comments on how Watts killed his family are the first time authorities have discussed how the family died.
Authorities had prevented release of the autopsies for Shanann, Bella and Celeste Watts, saying their cause of death would be crucial evidence if Christopher Watts was tried for murder.
Rourke said Shanann Watts’ only injuries were on the right side of her neck, showing marks from fingers or finger nails.