Top Crime Stories: Law enforcement kept busy with crimes ranging from car chases to murder investigations

As 2017 winds to an end, The News Herald takes a look back on some of the top crime stories of the year in Burke County and surrounding areas. Find the top news stories from 2017 in Sunday’s edition.

Nonprofit director charged with embezzlement


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Jesse Carswell, former executive director for the Meeting Place Mission was charged in February for embezzling more than 100,000 from the nonprofit.

The executive director for the Meeting Place Mission was charged and arrested in February after embezzling funds, which police say he used to gamble multiple times.

Jesse James Carswell, who served as ED of the nonprofit organization for four years, was found by police in Virginia and was extradited back to Burke County and placed in jail.

He was charged with embezzling more than $100,000 from the organization between the dates of March 5, 2015 and July 27, 2016.

Suzy Fitzgerald, MPM board chair, posted on their Facebook page a message to the public.

“Yes, lots of money was stolen, and those funds were desperately needed. We have however been able to recover and even move forward in the six months since this began. We are currently running all our programs at capacity and with success. Our hope is that the community will stand behind us as we make our efforts to find justice public.”

After Carswell’s arrest, Fitzgerald told T he News Herald they have restructured their finance committee and the way they handle their bank accounts and checking.

“For now, we are doing it jointly as a board and then with our director of programming,” Fitzgerald said. “At least two people have to sign off on everything. At least two people have to sign the checks and two people have to check the bank account, so we have more safety measures in place.”

Police shut down Hildebran hotel


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Residents at Lowman’s Motor Court carry their belongs toward the motel after police padlocked doors with a temporary restraining order.



After police received a temporary restraining order, Lowman’s Motor Court in Hildebran was shutdown in February by Burke County Sheriff’s Office after authorities say it had been a nuisance for years.

Since 2006, police have been called to the motel more than 750 times for things such as forcible rape, assaults with and without deadly weapons, fights, recovery of stolen property, firearms and the apprehension of individuals fleeing other jurisdictions, according to a previous News Herald article.

Police arrived at the motel with a temporary restraining order and told a total of 15 residents to gather their belongings and leave, the article said.

Three people at the motel were arrested after it was shutdown on charges of possession of drug paraphernalia, probation violation and an assault on a female.

One resident said he came back to his room from the hospital and was told to gather his belongings and leave. He said he knew there were suspicious things happening, but he didn’t feel it was fair that everyone had to leave because of other people’s criminal activity.

DA determines fatal officer-involved shooting was lawful


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Sheriff Steve Whisenant speaks with a deputy while the SBI gathers evidence at the scene of a deadly officer-involved shooting Aug. 21.



District Attorney David Learner determined that an officer who shot and killed a man Aug. 21 acted lawfully.

The shooting happened when a deputy with the Burke County Sheriff’s Office responded to a violent domestic dispute off U.S. 70 near Dysartsville Road.

During the dispute, Jeffrey Jacobs, 42, pointed a CO2 pistol at his wife and the deputy, Sheriff Steve Whisenant said. The deputy demanded more than 30 times for Jacobs to drop the gun, according to a press release from the DA’s Office.

The deputy then fired a single shot that struck Jacobs in the chest. Toxicology reports showed Jacobs had methamphetamine and alcohol in his system at the time.

Jacobs’ CO2 pistol was an exact replica of a real gun , Whisenant said. Whisenant did not release the deputy’s name.

Teacher charged with multiple sex crimes against children


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Michael Lowman appears in court Sept. 18 after being charged with multiple child sex crimes.



A former fourth-grade teacher at George Hildebrand Elementary School was charged with multiple sex crimes against children Sept. 18.

Lowman was caught after creating a social media account using a fake name and inappropriate photos of a boy he thought was either 14 or 15.

Lowman said he enjoyed looking at child porn, fantasized about students he had taught and is attracted to children who are 10 and older.

District Attorney David Learner said in court that Lowman has had inappropriate contact with minors for eight years and had “sought out some contact this year” with a child who was in his fourth-grade class last year.

Despite Learner’s arguments, Judge Mark Killian reduced Lowman’s bond from $250,000 to $125,000 on Sept. 19.

Lowman faces two felony counts of second-degree exploitation of minors and one felony count of indecent liberties with a child, according to court documents.

Mother charged in son’s death gets probation


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Jamie Basinger listens as a judge reads out the details of her plea deal during court Dec. 11. She pleaded guilty to the involuntary manslaughter of her son and was given 36 months of probation



A Morganton woman who spent 245 days in jail after her 3-year-old son froze to death was given 36 months of probation after taking a plea deal in December.

Jamie Basinger was arrested a month after her son, Landyn Melton, was found dead March 15 on the front porch of a home she was staying in. She was charged with one felony count each of involuntary manslaughter and child abuse.

Basinger was at the home with her boyfriend, Joshua Steffey. Both admitted to using meth two days before and marijuana the day before Landyn was found dead.

An autopsy showed Landyn died from hypothermia the day after celebrating his third birthday. Temperatures were around 20 degrees with a wind chill at the time of his death.

Basinger finally went home Dec. 11 after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter to get the child abuse charge dropped.

Assistant District Attorney Michelle Lippert brought up multiple pieces of evidence during court that she said proved Basinger’s guilt. The evidence included smudged fingerprints Landyn left on the glass door of the home.

A judge gave Basinger credit toward a 19- to 32-month prison sentence for the 245 days she awaited trial. The sentence was suspended and only will have to be served if Basinger violates her 36-month probation.

Driver charged for striking, killing firefighter


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Firefighters from Triple Community Fire Department transport the body of fellow firefighter Jason Hensley to his gravesite Oct. 13 after he was struck and killed by a vehicle.



A Triple Community firefighter was struck and killed by a truck Oct. 9 on U.S. Highway 70 near Drexel Road.

Jason Keith Hensley, 40, was picking up storm debris when he was killed, according to a press release from Fire Marshal Mike Willis.

A GMC truck driven by Randall Hugh Stewart, 58, was travelling east on U.S. Highway 70 when it struck Hensley, who was wearing reflective gear, said 1st Sgt. K.B. Joines of the N.C. State Highway Patrol. The truck then crashed into a fire truck.

A Drexel police officer and another firefighter also were at the scene, and all emergency vehicles had their emergency lights on, Joines said.

Stewart was charged with driving while impaired, no operator’s license, reckless driving, possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.

A procession featuring multiple fire departments was held on Interstate 40 as Hensley’s body was brought back to Burke County from the medical examiner’s office. Another procession was held to transport his body to and from the funeral.

Since the wreck occurred, highway patrol has used 3-D technology to recreate the wreck and brought the actual vehicles involved back to the scene to recreate the conditions.

Stewart’s bond was increased to $75,000 on Oct. 11 after previously being set at $25,000.

Morganton man charged with murder for stabbing neighbor


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Gerald Buff appears in court Nov. 27. Prosecutors decided not to pursue the death penalty after Buff was charged with murdering his neighbor.



A Morganton man was charged with murder for stabbing his neighbor Oct. 6 on Bill Epley Avenue.

Gerald Dean Buff, 61, was charged with the crime after the victim, Jimmy Ray Causby, was pronounced dead at the scene, according to a release from the Burke County Sheriff’s Office.

The sheriff’s office did not provided any details regarding what led to the stabbing, but neighbors said they heard an argument before it happened.

Rebekah Meise said her mother was in a relationship with Buff. She also said that Buff and Causby were more than just next-door neighbors — they were best friends.

Causby was giving Meise and her boyfriend a ride to her mother’s home on Bill Epley Avenue just before the stabbing happened, Meise said. When they arrived at the home, Buff was outside walking around, she said.

Meise said Buff stabbed Causby shortly after they pulled into the driveway, following a brief argument about a stolen welder.

Prosecutors since have announced that they will not pursue the death penalty for Buff.

Morganton man charged with murder after police find altered crime scene


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Law enforcement officers analyze a broken window at a home on Gold Mine Road on Nov. 8. The person who lived in the home said the window was broken by a man, who he shot for breaking in.



A Morganton man was charged with murder after he reported Nov. 8 that he shot and killed Kevin Lewis McSheffrey Jr., who he said was breaking into his home.

Although he made the report, Steven Adam Taylor, 38, was charged after investigators determined the scene appeared to have been altered.

Taylor said he heard someone threatening to kill him while breaking into his home. Taylor then shot McSheffrey in the head.

Although McSheffrey’s body was found inside, blood was found outside and in the bathtub. Investigators also determined that someone tried to burn fabric at the scene.

Taylor and his girlfriend, Shana Duckworth, were taken to BCSO headquarters separately for interviews. Both appeared to be impaired.

Investigators later were told that McSheffrey was the former boyfriend of Duckworth. The DA’s Office announced it would not pursue the death penalty in court.

Man leads police on chase, sniffed out in dryer by K-9


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Preston Green (third from left) is arrested by Public Safety Officer Jeff Gillstrap after he was found hiding in a dryer in October.



A Lenoir man led police on a short chase through Morganton in October after he allegedly left a gas station without paying for the gas.

Police were eventually led to a residence in downtown Morganton where the suspect, Preston Green, was thought to be.

Public Safety Officer Stacey Huffman showed up on scene with K-9 Jaros who was used to search the home and, eventually, began alerting that human scent was coming from the dryer in the basement. Police used tactical shield to enter into the basement since it was unknown whether the suspect was armed or not, said Capt. Jason Whisnant.

After police placed Green in the patrol car, he told The News Herald that he was not the one that police were chasing.

“I didn’t run, I was at the house and I got warrants … I don’t know nothing about the car or anything like that,” Green said. “I didn’t run, but if that would have been me, I would have run.”

Green was charged with felony fleeing to elude arrest, speeding, possession of a stolen motor vehicle, larceny of gas, reckless driving, resisting arrest and multiple traffic violations, Whisnant said.

Green had three warrants out of Caldwell County including failure to appear on charges of breaking and entering, failure to appear on charges of careless and reckless driving and fictitious tag and communicating threats.

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