Jul 252014


Jul 24, 2014

By Andrew Ruiz, Digital Journalist

GREENVILLE, N.C. – Two weeks of hard work wrapped up for sixth and seventh grade students wishing to be innovators.

The Middle School Innovator’s Academy is a two-week, team-based education workshop for innovators from Pitt and Wake County Public Schools. Participants are specially selected for the program, which is taught by ECU and NCSU faculty, undergraduate and graduate students.

Participants learn creative ideation skills, practical sketching techniques, 2-D and 3-Ddigital imaging essentials, physical model building strategies and presentation skills. The students present their creative innovations at the graduation ceremony.

Emerson Asbell created an automatic lawn mower. He says he came up with the idea to free up some of his father’s time.

Wayne Godwin, the program’s director says they are always amazed by the projects students come up with.

“The idea that someone goes into a closet and invents a new idea is just not realistic.” Godwin said. “It takes teams to do these kinds of things. Putting them all together is what creates this energy that you feel today.”

The courses take place in ECU’s state-of-the-art Innovation Design Lab. This is the academy’s fifth year. DSM was one of the Academy’s sponsors.

“At DSM we are trying to make things better for people today and generations to come and watching these kids develop all these ideas is just incredible.” DSM Site Director Jim Lawless said.

The follow up to the program will be in the classroom. Come this fall, 3 Pitt County Middle Schools will have Science- Technology- Engineering and Math labs.

Jul 252014


By Michael Abramowitz

Friday, July 25, 2014

The line of nearly 400 people in Greenville on Thursday — which wrapped around Third Street across from the Pitt County Courthouse to the Fourth Street entrance of The Martinsborough — was not for a political rally or protest group.

Those in line carried karate kick stands, bow-tie makers, altered scuba gear, foam wedding cakes and dozens of other gadgets and game plans, hoping to convince someone inside to cough up the needed financial backing to change ideas into cold, hard cash.

They came from Pitt County and other parts of North and South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee and Virginia, prepared for a chance to swim with the sharks of ABC TV’s hit reality show, “Shark Tank,” which held an open casting call for next season’s lineup, scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. on Sept. 26.

For those who have not seen the critically-acclaimed show entering its sixth season, ‘Shark Tank’ features several business venture capitalists, known as sharks, who seek investment in the best businesses and products that America has to offer. The sharks — tough, self-made, multi-millionaire and billionaire tycoons — give budding entrepreneurs the chance to make their dreams come true and potentially secure business deals that could make them millionaires.

Finding entrepreneurs to pitch their concepts to the sharks is the job of Scott Salyers, head casting producer for Shark Tank.

“Our team travels around the country, looking for entrepreneurs to put in front of the sharks,” Salyers said. “We go wherever we need to go to find the best entrepreneurs that America has to offer and who will make money for the sharks. That could be done making cookies, selling an app solution or building an airline.”

Unlike other reality shows, Salyers said it is not necessary to focus his search on finding entertaining people.

“Don’t have to do that,” Salyers said. “It’s entertaining just watching these people pursue their livelihoods. They’re trying to get an infusion of cash to keep their businesses and ideas from dying. That’s dramatic enough; that’s why people watch. This isn’t Jersey Shore; it’s the American Dream.”

Ratings for ‘Shark Tank’ have been climbing each year, Salyers said. That is unusual for reality shows, which seem to reach a plateau before viewers slowly lose interest, he said.

“This is a reality show that people watch and discuss with their kids,” Salyers said. “Colleges and universities across the country use ‘Shark Tank’ in their entrepreneurial programs, discussing what pitchers do right and wrong.”

Underlining Salyers’ evaluation of typical contestants, Melanie Hollis and her daughter, Lydia, 16, arrived in town from Nashville, Tenn., to be the first of 240 people to pitch their product in the auditions.

“We are huge fans of the show and never miss an episode,” Melanie Hollis said. “There’s no show out there that gives budding entrepreneurs, like Lydia, the opportunity that ‘Shark Tank’ does.”

Inside the audition room, the Hollises joined five other pitchers, each one facing a stand-in shark— a staff member trained to evaluate contestants’ business plans and personal appeal. They pitched Lydia’s invention, the “Bow Tie Backslider,” a small device that converts a patch of decorative cloth into a bow tie without having to actually tie a proper knot.

Many of the potential contestants were Pitt County residents, including Odette Holmes of Greenville, who owns Sharpe Innovations with her son, Cameron. He patented a universal adapter that allows people to transfer data from one mobile device to another.

“We’re asking the sharks for future investment to raise our production capabilities and lower our price point so we can have adequate inventory on hand,” Holmes said. “We have what it takes to pitch this product and convince the sharks how valuable this technology is. If you want to pursue success, you have to believe in your product.”

U.S. Cellular sparked ABC’s interest in casting for ‘Shark Tank’ in Greenville, said Dana Dorcas, sales director for U.S. Cellular’s southeast region. Greenville, Des Moines, Iowa, and Milwaukee, Wis., are three strategically important cities to the company, and are the smallest cities that ABC has included in its Shark Tank casting search.

“This event gives business owners and entrepreneurs an opportunity to showcase some of their products, services and business ideas,” Dorcas said. “We really appreciate the support we get from small businesses here, so we made the choice of Greenville as one of the three cities we could select.”

Carl Rees, development director for the city of Greenville, watched as the action unfolded at the casting call. The scenario could not be better for promoting what the city sees in its economic future, he said.

“It’s another exciting demonstration of the importance that we place on our downtown commercial district, illustrating the sector as a magnet for entrepreneurship,” Rees said. “There are entrepreneurs here from across the East, pursuing their dreams to be on ‘Shark Tank’ and also being exposed to Greenville and its entrepreneurial community. Small business development is where the greatest chance to spawn innovation and grow jobs lies, and what each of these people here today with an idea is here for.”

Successful pitchers will move through a series of audition steps that, beginning in September, could culminate with a chance to pitch their dreams in Los Angeles to actual billionaires looking for worthy investments.

Jul 252014


By Anne Blythe and Tammy Grubb

July 25, 2014

CHAPEL HILL — Feng Liu had a lunchtime routine that his colleagues and lab partners at the UNC-Chapel Hill school of pharmacy knew well.

The 59-year-old Durham resident usually had a bite to eat and left his lab for a brisk 30-minute walk on campus or through nearby Chapel Hill neighborhoods. Typically, he returned cheerful and invigorated by the midday exercise.

On Wednesday, the research professor at UNC’s Eshelman School of Pharmacy never came back.

Chapel Hill police said Liu suffered a severe head injury during a robbery at the intersection of Ransom Street and West University Drive about 1 p.m. Wednesday. Prosecutors said during a brief court hearing Thursday afternoon that the two men who robbed Liu hit him in the head with a rock.

The internationally known scientist died early Thursday morning, leaving a college campus grappling with grief, a sense of unease and numerous questions about how such violence could occur in broad daylight in such a tranquil neighborhood.

“I am heartbroken over this horrible tragedy,” Chancellor Carol Folt said in a statement. “I want to assure you that safety and security of students, faculty, staff and visitors on Carolina’s campus and in the surrounding community is my highest priority.”

Derick Davis II, 23, of 2429 Scots Pine Crossing, Durham, and Troy Arrington Jr., 27, of 128 Johnson St., Apt. 5, Chapel Hill, have been charged with first-degree murder. Both are being held in the Orange County jail.

Chapel Hill police spokesman Lt. Josh Mecimore said information from a passer-by who had seen something suspicious in the neighborhood just west of campus helped lead police to the suspects.

No electronic monitoring?

Davis has multiple convictions for felony breaking and entering and larceny, dating to 2007, in Durham County, according to state Department of Public Safety records. He was released from supervised probation on June 30, records show.

Arrington previously was convicted of drug, assault and firearm-related charges, according to Department of Public Safety records.

Arrington also has a pending court date next month in Durham on charges that include breaking and entering, larceny of a dog, obtaining property by false pretenses, conspiracy and being a habitual felon.

Orange County officials said Arrington should have been wearing an electronic ankle monitor as part of a pretrial release program in Durham designed to cut down on jail expenses.

Efforts to reach supervisors of the pretrial release program on Thursday were unsuccessful.

That Durham officials were supposed to be monitoring the suspect sent a familiar chill through Chapel Hill.

Eve Carson, a popular UNC-CH student body president, was kidnapped, robbed and murdered in 2008, and two Durham men who were supposed to be under the watch of the probation office there have been convicted of her murder.

Laurence Lovette, one of those men, is on trial this week in Durham, accused of robbing and killing Abhijit Mahato, a Duke University graduate student found shot to death inside his apartment in January 2008.

“The death of Professor Feng Liu as a result of a serious assault and robbery Wednesday afternoon is a horrible tragedy and a loss for the Chapel Hill community,” Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said Thursday in a statement. “A safe and secure environment is fundamental to our quality of life in Chapel Hill and, as a community, we must not tolerate such senseless violence.”

Optimist, always happy

As word of Liu’s death spread across campus, a deep sense of loss and shock took root in the pharmacy school.

Liu, who oversaw seven people in his lab and was widely published in the United States and overseas, had a reputation for being optimistic, happy and extremely outgoing.

He lived in Durham with his wife and family. Russell Mumper, the vice dean of the pharmacy school, described him as a “loving husband and father who will be greatly missed.”

Liu received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in pharmaceutics science at Shenyang Pharmaceutical University, China, and his doctorate at the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy.

UNC recruited Liu and a team of researchers from Pittsburgh in 2005. Liu’s focus was gene and drug delivery. He used nanotechnology to try to find ways to improve drug delivery, primarily to cancer patients.

In Chapel Hill, he was recalled as a caring mentor whose passion and zeal for his research were infectious.

On Thursday, Liu’s colleagues and friends had more questions than answers about how the man who regularly greeted them with a smile and bubbling enthusiasm ended up so brutally beaten.

Several people walking through the neighborhood just past the western rim of campus had come upon Liu, barely conscious in the roadway. His breathing was shallow, according to a man who called 911, and he had blood coming out of his ears. The caller told the dispatcher that Liu was on his side and stomach and that a woman studying pre-med and another person were with him, according to the 911 call. Liu moved his arms in the presence of the caller but did not respond to the passers-by.

Police informed the pharmacy school late Wednesday that Liu had been assaulted and taken to the hospital.

Liu’s colleagues and friends found out Thursday morning that he had not survived.

“The school is really in mourning,” said Mumper, the vice dean. “People knew him as a colleague, a friend, a mentor. He was loved in all these capacities. We’re just trying to wrap our heads around what happened.”

Jul 252014


By Lynn Bonner

July 25, 2014

A major Medicaid overhaul that largely disregards the wishes of health care providers, the state House and Gov. Pat McCrory won overwhelming support in the state Senate on Thursday in a 28-17 vote.

The overhaul would introduce to the state commercial managed care for Medicaid patients, a move that doctors and hospitals are fighting. But after several years of overruns, legislators crave “budget predictability” for Medicaid. After a final, confirming vote of the Senate, the bill will move to the House, where members will agree to or reject it. Here’s a look at what was approved and what others want.

What the Senate bill would do:

Insurance companies would compete with managed care networks run by doctors, hospitals or other health care providers for Medicaid enrollees.

The managed care groups will be given a set sum of money for each patient enrolled in their plans. By 2018, the provider-led plans would lose money if their health care costs are higher than their allotted budgets.

The bill would also remove Medicaid from the control of the state Department of Health and Human Services and have a paid board of directors run the health insurance program, which now costs about $13 billion a year and covers 1.7 million low-income children, select parents, the elderly and disabled. The Medicaid director would work for the board.

Democrats’ amendments:

One adopted; to avoid conflicts of interest on the new board that would run Medicaid.

Two rejected; one to expand Medicaid and the other to put two Medicaid recipients on the governing board.

How the Senate bill differs from the House proposal:

The House has agreed to a system of regional managed care networks but wants to have only provider-led groups running them, barring commercial Medicaid managed care.

Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican and sponsor of the House Medicaid overhaul proposal, said this week that he was not satisfied with the Senate vision because it has insurance companies managing Medicaid.

What the governor wants:

Though he is supporting the House proposal, which would have provider-led groups fully responsible for Medicaid overruns by 2020, McCrory initially favored a plan that would have providers form Accountable Care Organizations. Providers would have been paid as they are now, receiving a fee for each service.

ACOs keep part of the money if patient care costs less than predicted and lose some of the money if care costs more. To share in the medical savings, ACOs must also show patients are getting good care.

On Monday, McCrory was talking about Medicaid with doctors, nurses and administrators at Moses Cone Hospital in Greensboro. Moses Cone and area doctors run an ACO called Triad HealthCare Network that covers more than 7,000 people on Medicare.

Dr. Tom Wall, the network’s executive medicaid director, said those at the meeting told McCrory they wanted provider-led health care.

A provider-driven system “to manage Medicaid patients would be the most successful plan for North Carolina and our community,” Wall said.

Commercial Medicaid Managed Care opponents:

The N.C. Hospital Association and the N.C. Medical Society oppose the move to commercial managed care for Medicaid.

“Today the Senate had a clear choice between the health of our state’s most vulnerable citizens and the health of Wall Street corporations, and they chose the corporations,” N.C. Medical Society CEO Robert W. Seligson said in a statement Thursday. “Despite strong alternative proposals from the North Carolina House, Governor McCrory and the health care community on the best way to improve patient care and quality and provide budget predictability, senators voted against this consensus.”

Jul 252014


By Jay Price

July 25, 2014

The N.C. State University trustee who was arrested by U.S. Capitol Police on Wednesday after entering a congressional office building with a loaded pistol in a bag was released Thursday by a judge without having to post bond. But he still faces a felony weapons charge, according to court records.

Ronald William Prestage, 59, of Camden, S.C., was charged with carrying a pistol outside a home or business. The judge scheduled a preliminary hearing for Aug. 13.

Police found the 9 mm Ruger during a routine search after Prestage entered the Cannon House Office Building around 9:20 a.m. Wednesday. It was in an ankle holster inside his briefcase, and was discovered during an X-ray screening, The Associated Press reported, citing a court document. Prestage then said he had a South Carolina concealed carry permit.

Prestage, who was trained as a veterinarian, is president of a major livestock producer, Prestage Farms of South Carolina, a division of his family’s Clinton-based Prestage Farms. He was voted president-elect of the National Pork Producer’s Council this year and frequently lobbies on behalf of the pork and turkey industries.

Prestage was part of a group that was scheduled to meet with various lawmakers in Washington on Wednesday, among them Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, whose office is in the Cannon building. The topics on the agenda were turkey and agriculture issues, said Allen Klump, a spokesman for Duncan.

It’s unclear why Prestage was carrying the gun. Neither the attorney who represented him Thursday nor a spokeswoman for Prestage Farms returned calls.

According to court records, Prestage’s attorney for his arraignment Thursday was Robert J. Spagnoletti, the former attorney general for the District of Columbia and a former president of the District of Columbia bar.

In 2012, Prestage Farms donated $10 million to NCSU’s poultry science department, which was renamed the Prestage Department of Poultry Science.

Prestage was named to the university’s 13-member board of trustees last year.

According to a national pork council news release, Prestage is mainly responsible for Prestage Farms’ sow and turkey operations in South Carolina and swine in Mississippi.

Jul 252014


By Ben Cohen

July 25, 2014

Ohio State fired the director of its acclaimed marching band after a two-month university investigation into potential hazing practices found the group’s culture was sexualized and intimidating.

The investigation, which the school said in a 23-page report released Thursday was initiated by a parent complaint, said that band members were subjected to sexual harassment that was ignored by the band’s director, Jonathan Waters.

David Axelrod, an attorney for Waters, said Waters disputed the report’s portrayal of his attempts to reform the band’s culture, and that he planned to fight to clear his name.

The allegations of Ohio State’s inappropriately sexual culture included musicians marching through the stadium in their underwear; band members referring to each other by vulgar nicknames; “rookies” being forced to endure forms of hazing; band members abusing alcohol on road trips; and the band keeping a song book that changed the lyrics of Ohio State’s and other schools’ songs to make them more explicit and misogynistic.

The report also raises two allegations from 2013 of band members sexually assaulting other band members. One student was expelled by a student-conduct hearing, the report said. After the other alleged sexual assault, in which a female band member accused a male band member, Waters decided to exclude both from the band’s next trip, until he was advised by the school that the alleged victim must be allowed on the trip, or else the school risked the possibility of a Title IX complaint.

The investigation—which was conducted by the school’s compliance office and was based on interviews with Ohio State’s band leaders, including Waters, and 10 current or former band members—concluded that the band’s culture “facilitated acts of sexual harassment under both university policy and Title IX,” the federal gender-equity law governed by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights that prohibits sexual discrimination.

Axelrod, Waters’s attorney, disputed the characterization of Waters’s involvement and said some of the allegations predated Waters’ tenure as director, which began on an interim basis in June 2012. In the report, Waters’s assistant director told the school’s compliance officers that “no one has worked harder to address the culture than Waters,” who played the sousaphone in the band as an Ohio State student and had worked with the band since 2000.

The school said in a news release Thursday that former Ohio attorney general Betty Montgomery would lead another inquiry into the band’s culture to “ensure that change is swift and impactful.”

Ohio State’s marching band, known for decades as “the best damn band in the land,” as legendary former coach Woody Hayes once described it, plays the Buckeyes’ home football games and ranks among the most famous bands in college football.

During the last football season, the band made waves with its inventive halftime shows, which were viewed millions of times online. Their use of modern marching-band technology resulted in the band being featured in a television commercial for Apple’s iPad.

Jul 242014


July 23, 2014

An anonymous gift of $1-million has been given to the Family Autism Center at East Carolina University.

The major gift will help the center expand its services by increasing its professional staff and expand services for people with autism in Eastern North Carolina.

Marcy Romary, interim president for ECU’s Medical & Health Sciences Foundation, said the recent gift was motivated by the donor’s close relationship with grandparents of a child on the autism spectrum.

The Autism Center’s director, Dr. Michael Reichel, says he and his staff couldn’t be happier.

Since May 2013 the center has been providing developmental testing and screening tools that can identify children who might have autism spectrum disorders, developmental delays, pragmatic communication disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other significant neurobehavioral conditions.

The center is located at 108-B West Fire Tower Road in Winterville.

Despite ongoing research, no one knows exactly what causes autism, and there is no single test to diagnose it.

Jul 242014


July 23, 2014

By Brandon Goldner

GREENVILLE, N.C. – East Carolina University received an anonymous $1 million gift for its Family Autism Center to expand its services.

Dr. Mike Reichel, director of the center, said the facility can’t see adult autistic patients.

He said this is the first step to possibly following the center’s young patients through adulthood.

“The kids that we’re serving now. They’re growing up. They’re getting older. So we want to be available to them,” Dr. Reichel said. ‘We can not do that now