Originally created 11/18/02

Across the southeast



Jailer, county sheriff cleared in prison fire

RALEIGH, N.C. -In the six months since the deadliest jail fire in North Carolina history claimed eight lives, the head of the state agency that inspects county jails has overhauled his safety programs and increased pressure on local officials to improve their lockups.

A district attorney decided Friday that there was no criminal wrongdoing in the case, specifically clearing the county sheriff and the jailer on duty at the Mitchell County Jail the night a wall-mounted heater apparently caused a stack of leaning cardboard to ignite.

The May 3 blaze was the first fatal jail fire since North Carolina began its jail inspection program 35 years ago.

The evening blaze began in storage room and thick smoke pouring through the building. The jailer pulled a towel over her face and tried to crawl to the inmates, but each cell door had to be unlocked manually. Seven of the inmates died still behind bars on the second floor.

Sinkhole has become a tourist attraction

HICKORY, N.C. -A massive sinkhole in the parking lot of a restaurant has created headaches for city officials and the restaurant's owner.

But it has also generated plenty of attention on the community, even becoming a tourist attraction of sorts.

The massive hole been featured on a morning show in Tucson, Ariz., and on radio shows in Colorado. The Hickory Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau is fielding sinkhole questions from New England, Michigan, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana and other places.

"They ask ... how they can get furniture and then they ask about the sinkhole," bureau President Millie Barbie said. "I guess all publicity is good. We certainly now are on the map."

Cherokees contribute more to politicians

CHEROKEE, N.C. -The Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians is giving more money to political campaigns - and apparently gaining more political clout - thanks partly to its massive mountain casino.

The casino opened five years ago, allowing tribal leaders to offer their people better schools, health care and other amenities.

Like other tribes across the country, the tribe is making more political donations. Through October, the Cherokees had contributed at least $120,000 to 2002 political campaigns, according to campaign-finance reports. That included donations to two dozen N.C. General Assembly candidates, said Eastern Band Chief Leon Jones.