Latest North Carolina news, sports, business and entertainment at 11:20 a.m. EDT
N Carolina trial into partisan gerrymandering wrapping up
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – A three-judge panel is considering whether North Carolina courts will venture where the U.S. Supreme Court refused to go, deciding if politicians can be too extreme in drawing voting districts to their advantage.
The judges are expected to begin deliberating after closing arguments Friday in the two-week trial. A ruling is expected in weeks or months. The losing side is expected to appeal the decision.
Judges are deciding whether legislative districts redrawn in 2017 to address racial bias violate the state constitution because they so favor Republicans that elections were predetermined and GOP control solidified.
The trial came a month after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a separate case involving North Carolina’s congressional map that it’s not the job of federal courts to decide if boundaries are politically unfair.
2 sentenced for trying to smuggle cocaine through airport
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – Two Jamaican men have received prison time in separate cases for trying to smuggle cocaine through North Carolina in their suitcases.
Federal prosecutors said in a news release that Keshon Kevino Hawthorne flew into Charlotte on his way to New York with cocaine hidden in two suitcases last year. He received 33 months in prison Thursday after previously pleading guilty to cocaine-related charges.
Prosecutors say Christopher Anthony Samuels was sentenced to 30 months in prison this week on cocaine-related charges. Authorities say they found bags containing cocaine hidden in the liners of his suitcase when he flew into Charlotte, also on his way to New York last year.
Defense attorneys didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment.
Prosecutors say both cases resulted from a Homeland Security airport drug initiative.
EXPLOSION INJURES AGENTS
2 North Carolina bomb squad agents injured in explosion
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – Two state bomb squad agents have been taken to a burn center after explosive materials blew up while they were working to render them safe.
The State Bureau of Investigation issued a news release saying two of its agents were assisting the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office east of Fayetteville when the explosion happened early Friday.
Deputies had called the SBI agents late Thursday to help with a search that uncovered bomb-making materials. The SBI says that as the agents worked to render the materials safe, they were both injured in an explosion.
The release didn’t give further details about the investigation.
Both were taken to a burn center in Chapel Hill, with one airlifted due to the seriousness of his injuries. One was in critical condition and the other stable.
MURDER SUSPECT CAPTURED
North Carolina authorities capture fugitive slaying suspect
LANCASTER, S.C. (AP) – North Carolina authorities have captured a suspect who they say had been on the run since slaying a mother during a botched home invasion.
Union County Sherriff’s officials said on Twitter they captured 25-year-old Bryon Blair Watkins in South Carolina on Friday morning. News outlets report that hours prior, SWAT teams and heavy police presence surrounded a home he was thought to be inside, but officials didn’t locate him until the next day.
Sheriff’s department officials say Watkins helped break into a Monroe, North Carolina, home July 12 and kill Lucero Sosa Capote, a mother of five.
Watkins is being charged with first-degree murder, first-degree burglary, robbery with a dangerous weapon, possession of a firearm by a felon, discharging a firearm in an occupied dwelling and assault on a child under 12.
PHARMACEUTICAL MANUFACTURER EXPANSION
Merck pharmaceutical company to expand in North Carolina
DURHAM, N.C. (AP) – The global pharmaceutical manufacturer Merck is set to expand in North Carolina, creating about 425 new jobs.
News outlets report the company is expected to build a 225,000-sqaure-foot facility in Durham to manufacture the active ingredients for a shot that helps prevent cervical cancer.
The New Jersey-based company was offered about $12.5 million in state and county incentives. It will be required to invest $680 million in the project by the end of 2023.
Merck says the Durham plant is also stopping production of a drug, cutting up to 300 full-time and contract workers. Production of that drug is moving to its facility in West Point, Pennsylvania. The company is also expected to invest $30 million to expand a packing center in Wilson County, North Carolina, creating up to 30 more jobs.
North Carolina seeks public comment on use of drones
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – The state Transportation Department wants to hear from North Carolina residents about what they think of drones.
The department’s Division of Aviation has begun an online survey to gather comment about drones.
Basil Yap is the unmanned aircraft systems program manager for the state Transportation Department. He says DOT wants to consider people’s opinion when making decisions about drones.
The survey asks for comments about the current and future applications of drones, including noise, privacy and safety issues, and the improvements to people’s live such as assistance with search-and-rescue operations.
The department has used drones in new ways, including bridge inspections, the monitoring of storm damage and delivering medical supplies.
Girl Scouts volunteer in Smokies; learn about conservation
GATLINBURG, Tenn. (AP) – A group of eight Girl Scouts from across the country spent part of their summer volunteering in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Their efforts included rehabilitating trails, cleaning campgrounds, removing invasive plants and providing educational programs to visitors.
The park says the high schoolers worked alongside women leaders who taught them how to operate equipment and use hand tools. They also explored career opportunities in conservation and park management.
The program was a collaboration between the Student Conservation Association, the Girl Scouts of America and the National Park Service.
One participant was Noelle Myshock of Michigan. She said in a news release, “I met so many strong women in the park service on this trip. They inspired me to be strong and confident.”
BIG DONOR-NORTH CAROLINA-INDICTMENTS
US takes nearly $500K tied to NC political bribery case
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – An independent political committee that prosecutors allege was created to help an insurance magnate bribe North Carolina officials has relinquished the nearly $500,000 it had left to the federal government.
A midyear campaign finance report filed last week shows the North Carolina Growth and Prosperity Committee handed over the money one day before the criminal case was announced in April.
Federal prosecutors declined to answer emailed questions Thursday. The committee’s treasurer didn’t respond.
Treasurer John Palermo, Durham insurance magnate Greg Lindberg, ex-North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes and a fourth man were charged with trying to pay state Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey for special treatment.
The indictments say the committee created with $1.5 million of Lindberg’s money was to funnel money to Causey, who reported the alleged bribery attempt.