58-year-old Steven W. Chase of Naples, Florida, was sentenced Monday (May 1) to 30 years in prison, along with a lifetime term of supervised release. The sentence was handed down by U.S. District Judge Richard L. Voorhees of the Western District of North Carolina.
On September 16 of last year, a federal jury found Chase guilty of one count each of engaging in a child exploitation enterprise, advertising child pornography and possession of child pornography, plus three counts of transportation of child pornography. The jury also returned a special verdict determining that Chase should be ordered to forfeit all property derived from, involved in or traceable to his criminal activities, including his residence in Naples.
Evidence at trial established that beginning in August 2014, Chase created the Playpen website as a hidden service of the Tor anonymity network, which only permitted individuals operating on the network to access the site. The Playpen website operated from a server in Lenoir. Chase served as lead administrator of Playpen, through which he and more than 150,000 other members authored and viewed tens of thousands of postings involving the sexual abuse of children. Website members employed advanced technological means in order to thwart law enforcement’s efforts, including elaborate file encryption.
Chase was arrested following a court-authorized search of his home in February of 2015. Forensic examination of a computer and devices seized during the search revealed that Chase was in possession of thousands of images depicting the sexual abuse of children as young as infants and toddlers.
Two co-defendants both pleaded guilty in 2015 and were sentenced earlier this year.
The case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, visit www.justice.gov/psc.
30-year-old Eric Todd Driggers of Gold Creek Bay of Hickory was arrested by Hickory Police early this morning (May 4) on two felony probation violations.
Driggers is on probation as he serves a 30-month suspended sentence following a felony conviction last month in Catawba County for the sale and possession of a schedule II controlled substance.
He was taken into custody at about 1:30 a.m. today at a convenience store on Lenoir-Rhyne Boulevard. Driggers was placed in the Catawba Co. Detention Facility under a $25,000 secured bond. An appearance in Superior Court was set for May 8 in Newton.
33-year-old Michael Douglas Connor of 9th Avenue SE in Hickory was arrested today (Thursday, May 4) by Hickory Police Officers. He's charged with felony possession of schedule II controlled substance, possession of marijuana up to one-half ounce, and disorderly conduct. Connor was confined in the Catawba County Detention Facility under $5,000 bond. A District Court appearance is scheduled for Friday (May 5).
33-year-old Curtis Alexander Bowers Jr. of Warrior Road in Lenoir was arrested Wednesday (May 3) by Lenoir Police Officers. He's charged with possession with intent to manufacture, sell, and deliver methamphetamine, possession with intent to manufacture, sell, and deliver schedule II controlled substance, possession of a firearm by a felon, possession of schedule II controlled substance, simple possession of schedule VI controlled substance, and failure to appear. Bowers was jailed in the Caldwell County Detention Center under $110,000 secured bond. District Court appearances were scheduled for today (Thursday, May 4) and July 18.
Alphabet Lane in Morganton has been closed for construction until further notice. Contractors are working on several projects related to the construction of the new Mountain View Elementary School that required closing the street to through traffic. Residents and visitors can still access the Morganton Aquatic Center and Mountain View Recreation Center via Bouchelle Street and First Street.
47-year-old Sherry Walker Fish was arrested Tuesday (May 2) by authorities in Lincoln County. She's charged with felony possession of a controlled substance on the premises of a penal institution. Bond for Fish was set at $10,000 secured. A District Court date is set for May 18.
32-year-old Kristen Lee Porter of Hiddenite and 29-year-old Franklin Jerome Carlton of Boomer, were both arrested Tuesday (May 2) by Alexander County Sheriff's Officers. They're each charged with felony possession of methamphetamine, and misdemeanor counts of simple possession of schedule VI controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia, and possession of open container.
The charges stemmed from a traffic stop that was conducted on Highway 16 South near the entrance of Mount Pilot Mobile Home Park. Following their arrests, both suspects were transported to the Alexander County Law Enforcement Center, where they were jailed under a $10,000 secured bond. They're both scheduled to appear in District Court next Monday (May 8).
21-year-old Allayah Danielle Ray of Sparrow Drive in Granite Falls was arrested Wednesday (May 3) by Long View Police Officers. She’s charged with larceny of a motor vehicle, resisting a public officer, and failure to appear on a count of misdemeanor larceny. Ray was detained in the Catawba County Detention Facility under $8,600 total bond. District Court appearances were scheduled for today (Thursday, May 4), June 14, and July 26.
46-year-old Donald Wayne Steadman of Glimmering Sands Lane in Conover was arrested Wednesday (May 3) by Catawba County Sheriff's Officers. He's charged with possession of methamphetamine. Steadman was jailed in the Catawba County Detention Facility under $3,000 bond. A District Court appearance was scheduled for today (Thursday, May 4).
37-year-old Jeffrey Lynn Mays Jr. and 41-year-old David Joseph Byrd, both of Taylorsville, were arrested Tuesday (May 2) by Alexander County Sheriff's Officers. They were each charged with two felony counts of breaking & entering and one felony count each of larceny of a firearm, possession of firearm by felon, and possession of a schedule II controlled substance. Mays faces additional charges for larceny after breaking & entering, and he was also charged with failure to appear on a child support warrant out of Catawba County. In addition, Byrd was charged with three counts of resisting, obstructing or delaying an officer and one count of misdemeanor assault on a law enforcement official.
At about 10:40 Tuesday morning, the Sheriff’s Office took a call regarding a break-in in progress on Rocky Springs Road. Information was received that a red Nissan pick-up truck was seen at a residence, with two subjects carrying items out of the residence and loading them onto the truck. The vehicle left with a push-mower visible in the back of the truck, traveling east on Rocky Springs Road.
The suspect vehicle was spotted by Officers, which then led to a short chase. The vehicle wrecked and hit a tree on Jim Millsaps Road. The occupants jumped out of the truck and ran into a wooded area, where Jeffrey Mays was taken into custody. All of the items in the suspect’s truck had been reported stolen during two break-ins in the area.
Other patrol Officers, including a K-9 unit, responded to the area in search of the second suspect, who was identified as David Joseph Byrd. He was not found at that time. Byrd was arrested last night on Sulphur Springs Road in the northeastern part of Alexander County
Mays was placed in jail under a $70,000 secured bond, along with a $500 cash bond for failure to appear. Byrd was jailed under a $200,000 secured bond. Both men were scheduled to make first appearances in District Court next Monday (May 8).
Room & Board will partner with The Keith Corporation (a commercial real estate firm headquartered in Charlotte) to develop a new 250,000 square foot warehouse and distribution center in Newton. The facility will be built on a 41-acre site in front of the Target distribution center on Highway 10. The company intends to invest $12,870,000 and create at least 13 new jobs by the end of 2020.
A grant equal to 50% of the new property taxes generated for three years was approved by the Catawba County Board of Commissioners on Monday and a like incentive was approved by the Newton City Council on Tuesday evening.
Room & Board, Inc. is a Minneapolis-based retailer offering modern artisan-made home furniture and accessories. It is a 37-year-old, family-owned, privately held company founded in 1980. 90% of the furniture sold by Room & Board is made in America. Room & Board has 15 stores across the United States with new stores opening this year in Portland, San Diego and Dallas.
Several furniture companies in Catawba County, including McCreary Modern, Lee Industries and Precedent (a division of Sherrill Furniture), supply to Room & Board, Inc.
For more information about Room & Board, Inc., including career opportunities, visit www.roomandboard.com or call 800-486-6554.
The Charlotte Division of the FBI is seeking assistance to identify an unknown suspect believed to be responsible for robbing five banks in five different towns in North Carolina. The FBI is working with the Hickory Police Department, the Mebane Police Department, the Mocksville Police Department, the Newton Police Department, and the Durham Police Department.
The banks robbed are as follows: BB&T at 2527 North Carolina Highway 127 South in Hickory on April 13. State Employees’ Credit Union at 1900 South Fifth Street in Mebane on April 18. BB&T on Yadkinville Road in Mocksville on April 24. First Citizens Bank at 11 South College Avenue in Newton on April 26. And State Employees Credit Union, on Ben Franklin Blvd. in Durham on April 28.
In each robbery, the suspect wore a ball cap. He is described as a black male with a dark complexion, in his mid-50’s, 5-5”-5’7”, with a thin build. Anyone with information that may help identify this suspect should call the FBI at 704-672-6100 or the other local police departments investigating these robberies.
The National Weather Service in Greenville-Spartanburg, SC has confirmed a tornado southeast of Newton on Monday (May 1) at approximately 4:00 p.m. The radar indicated circulation in two places when analyzed following reports of damage by Catawba County Emergency Management and eye witness accounts. No injuries have been reported.
On Tuesday (May 2) Catawba County Emergency Management, NC Emergency Management and the National Weather Service completed a survey of the damaged areas and found many moderate to large sized trees down, uprooted, or snapped. Most building damage was caused by trees falling. Some roof, siding, and window damage was also found.
Most of the damage was from straight-line winds, but in two areas an EF0 tornado touchdown were found. The tornado touched down twice along a 3 mile path approximately 3.5 miles southeast of Newton. The first area of touchdown was just off Jack Whitener Rd. and Sipe Rd. for a distance of 100 yards. The second touchdown occurred near Smyre Farm Rd. just south of NC Highway 16 for a distance of 250 yards.
In total, five structures were damaged, two residential structures are uninhabitable and one maintenance garage was destroyed. The other structures will be livable when repairs are completed.
Catawba County Emergency Management and Building Inspections assisted the City of Newton Fire Department immediately following the event to assure the safety of the residents and structural integrity of the damaged homes. Additional support came from North Carolina DOT to clear trees and reopen roads.
48-year-old John Dale "Butch" McQuestor of Hubbard Street in Lincolnton was arrested Tuesday (May 2) by Lincolnton Police Officers. He's charged with three felony counts apiece of possession with intent to manufacture, sell, and deliver methamphetamine and sale of methamphetamine. McQuestor was taken into custody without incident at his residence.
The warrants were the result of a six week investigation into McQuestor after the Lincolnton Police Department. The investigation began after police received numerous complaints about possible illegal drug activity involving the suspect. A news release says the investigation yielded the confiscation of a significant amount of meth with a street value of between $500 and $750.
McQuestor received a $20,000 secured bond and was placed in the Lincoln County Jail. He was scheduled to make a first appearance in District Court today (Wednesday, May 3).
31-year-old Felicia Marie Baird of West Plum Street in Stanley, N.C. was arrested by Hickory Police at about 12:30 Tuesday afternoon (May 2) on a felony warrant as a fugitive awaiting extradition to another state. She was also charged with misdemeanor unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. The warrant for unauthorized use was issued on January 30 of this year.
Baird was wanted by the jailer in Clayton, Georgia in Rabun County for failure to appear on a charge of possession of dangerous drugs. That charge dates back to September of 2015.
Baird was taken into custody without incident at the Budget Inn on Highway 70 in Hickory. She was jailed in the Catawba Co. Detention Facility under an $81,000 secured bond. Court dates were scheduled yesterday (May 3) and for May 23, both in Newton.
28-year-old Adrian Durrand “Big A” Johnson, Jr. of 5th Avenue S.W. in Hickory was arrested by Hickory Police at about 8:30 last night (May 2) on one felony count of speeding to elude arrest.
Events leading to his arrest began yesterday as Police initiated a traffic stop at 8th Avenue Drive S.W., near 4th Street S.W. The suspect vehicle, driven by Johnson, failed to stop and continued on 4th Street S.W. Officers pursued the vehicle until Johnson stopped on “C” Avenue S.E. At that time, Johnson was taken into custody without further incident.
Johnson was placed in the Catawba Co. Detention Facility under a $600,000 secured bond. He was scheduled to make a first appearance in District Court today in Newton.
36-year-old Kimberly Deanna Sechrist was arrested Tuesday (May 3) by Burke County Sheriff's Officers. She's charged with trafficking methamphetamine. Sechrist was placed in jail in Morganton under $60,000 secured bond. A District Court appearance was scheduled for today (Wednesday, May 3).
38-year-old Brandon Lee Riddle of SW Harrisburg Drive in Lenoir was arrested Tuesday (May 2) by Caldwell County Sheriff's Officers. He's charged with felony possession of methamphetamine. Riddle was locked up in the Caldwell County Detention Center under $3,000 secured bond. A District Court appearance is scheduled for Thursday (May 4).
22-year-old Mckinley Garland Yoder of Townsend Farm Lane in Lenoir was arrested Tuesday (May 2) by Caldwell County Sheriff's Officers. He's charged with felony counts of larceny of a motor vehicle and possession of a stolen motor vehicle. Yoder was jailed in the Caldwell County Detention Center under $7,500 secured bond. A District Court appearance is scheduled for Thursday (May 4).
A man previously arrested on sex offense charges in Iredell County faces numerous additional counts after further investigation. As WHKY previously reported, 39-year-old Donald Ray Fitzgerald of Deer Chase Circle in Statesville was arrested in April and charged with two felony counts each of sexual offense with a child by an adult offender and statutory rape of a child by an adult offender.
On April 19, 2017 a report was filed with the Iredell County Sheriff’s Office in reference to an individual being sexually assaulted by her family member. The report was assigned to Detective Patrick Dixson of the Special Victim’s Unit. The juvenile was interviewed at the Dove House Children’s Advocacy Center. Several additional witnesses were identified and interviewed.
As a result of further information gathered, Fitzgerald has been charged with additional offenses. He's charged with 34 counts apiece of first degree statutory rape of a minor and first degree statutory sexual offense with a minor, 68 counts of rape or sexual act with a victim 13, 14, or 15-years-old, two counts apiece of statutory rape of a minor less than 15-years-old and statutory sexual offense of a minor less than 15-years-old, and 13 counts apiece of second degree forcible rape and second degree forcible sexual offense.
Fitzgerald was processed for the additional charges at the Iredell County Detention Center. Bond was set at five-million dollars. District Court appearances are scheduled for May 10 and May 22.