HIGH POINT — The six hours of repeated phone calls that Dean Kahl’s wife made to the Guilford County COVID-19 vaccination appointment line this past Friday turned out to be worth the effort.
The retired college chemistry professor emerged from the clinic in High Point on Monday morning grasping paperwork after his vaccination. Kahl was among the first to get a shot at the Guilford County Division of Public Health clinic in the High Point University Community Center at the former Oak Hollow Mall.
Men and women started showing up nearly an hour before the first appointments at 9 a.m. Monday, the opening day of the clinic.
Kahl told The High Point Enterprise that his wife called off and on for six hours, battling busy signals and disconnections, to secure an appointment for him.
“She was tenacious,” said the professor who retired to High Point after teaching at Warren Wilson College near Asheville.
Kahl qualified for a vaccine shot because he’s 78. The High Point clinic currently is giving shots to adults over the age of 75 — his wife is 71.
Guilford County public health officials acknowledge that they have been overwhelmed by the response of people trying to secure an appointment, which jammed up phone lines. All COVID-19 vaccine appointments are booked through Jan. 21, said Worley Smith, Guilford County communications manager.
The county has temporarily suspended the appointment reservation phone line. People wanting appointments can check the website www.healthyguilford.com.
The county took calls to set 5,000 appointments during the first 36 hours after the appointment phone line opened at 8 a.m. Friday, Smith told The Enterprise. The county’s goal is to offer up to a combined 500 vaccinations each day at clinic sites in High Point and Greensboro.
“We understand that everyone is eager to schedule their appointment and apologize for the long phone wait times,” said Heather Skeens, director of the Guilford County Department of Health and Human Services. “On average on our first day we saw over 1,500 people in the phone queue. We have been working through the calls as quickly as possible.”
Retired customer service center manager Wayne Morris, 79, of Oak Ridge said he made about 100 calls over three hours Friday before he got through to secure an appointment at the High Point clinic.
“I’m scared to death of this virus,” he said.
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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second story in a two-part High Point Confidential series. Part one of “The Kiss of Death” was published Sunday and can be found online at hpenews.com.
The irony probably was not lost on James Andrew Baker.
Newspapers obviously called his girlfriend’s death the “kiss of death” slaying because, according to Baker, the rifle he was holding accidentally discharged and killed his lover, Viola Lankford Parker, as she leaned over to kiss him.
But the case could’ve meant death for Baker, too, who was charged with first-degree murder. If convicted, he could’ve faced the death penalty.
More than 60 years after the sensational 1959 case, it’s not clear why Baker was charged with first-degree murder. At the time, deputies told The High Point Enterprise “certain circumstances not revealed to the press had led to his indictment,” but they refused to say what those circumstances were.
By the time the case went to trial — in mid-November, about 2½ months after the Aug. 31 shooting death — the charge had been reduced to second-degree murder, apparently because there was no evidence of premeditation.
That was obviously good news for Baker, but there was bad news, too — the trial was not going well.
For starters, a deputy’s testimony did not jibe with Baker’s story of what happened the morning he and Parker had gone frog-hunting. According to the defendant, he was sitting on a tree stump beside his lover, holding a .22-caliber rifle across his knees, and the gun accidentally fired when Parker leaned over to kiss him.
According to the deputy, though, the slug entered Parker’s body about 1½ inches above her left breast and came out some 4½ inches lower than that — a virtually impossible trajectory if things actually happened as Baker said they did.
In another discrepancy, the deputy pointed out that when he met Baker at the scene of the shooting, next to a woodland pond in Davidson County, Baker showed him how he’d been holding the rifle when it discharged. In court, though, Baker testified he hadn’t had his hands on the gun at all — that it had mysteriously fired on its own.
But guns don’t fire by themselves, do they? Did Baker really think the jury would buy that?
Maybe, maybe not. But the defense presented two other witnesses — including Joe Bailey, the rifle’s owner, who had loaned it to Baker for his frog-hunting excursion — who testified that the weapon had fired when they didn’t have their hands on the trigger. Bailey said the rifle fired on its own one time when he was running through the woods chasing a squirrel.
The incredulous prosecutor, Horace Kornegay, mocked such a preposterous theory, and even staged a dramatic courtroom demonstration to show that guns don’t just randomly discharge without someone pulling the trigger.
“He beat (the rifle) barrel-first on the floor of the courtroom in an effort to get it to fire. It did not,” The Enterprise reported. “On a second occasion, he slammed it to the floor butt-first, and still it did not fire.”
The charismatic prosecutor also mocked Baker for showing up to court with a Bible in his hand and a gaudy 3-inch crucifix around his neck.
“Jailhouse religion,” Kornegay scoffed, suggesting the defendant was treating the crucifix “like a rabbit’s foot.” If Baker was such a godly man, he argued, how is it that he fathered an illegitimate child while he was married? And why did he have illicit affairs with several other women?
Nonetheless, as the jury deliberated his fate, Baker clutched the Bible to his heart, nervously rubbed the crucifix and even shed tears in the courtroom.
After three hours of deliberation, the jury returned with a somewhat surprising verdict — not guilty.
A relieved Baker, who said he had hoped to marry Parker once their divorces were both final, referenced his so-called “jailhouse religion” after the acquittal.
“God was with me, and I’ll see Viola in days to come,” he told the court. “...This is something I’ll never be able to get off my mind. I would have been glad to change places with (Viola) at any time.”
It was a bittersweet moment for the young man. His lover’s fate had been sealed with a kiss, but not his own.
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HIGH POINT — Visit High Point has added a slew of young professionals to its leadership ranks as the organization tries to help the tourism industry recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
The board of directors last month installed five new members, four of whom are under the age of 40. It also elected new officers, including Jenni Lynch as chairwoman.
She said it’s a critical time for Visit High Point to focus on building its younger leadership.
“We didn’t have the magic number of 40 in mind, but it just so happens that four of the five do happen to be under 40, and we’re very pleased about that,” said Lynch, who previously served as vice chairwoman. “We were somewhat intentional in that regard — trying to recruit and involve more young people with strong skill sets that we need, that High Point needs.”
The new board members are Weldon Morris Hussey of Alderman Company, Patrick Walker of Courtyard by Marriott High Point, Derek Cress of JH Adams Inn Trademark Collection by Wyndham, Dave Nicoletta of Giannos Restaurant, and Jonathan Marquez of Northwood Animal Hospital.
All except for Nicoletta are under 40, according to Nancy Bowman, director of sales and marketing for Visit High Point.
Each replaced board members whose terms expired.
This is the first time the organization’s board has strategically recruited young professionals, President Melody Burnett said. She credited the High Point Young Professionals Network and Business High Point Chamber of Commerce with helping identify candidates.
“Each one of our new members brings a wealth of diverse skill sets and value to position High Point as a destination that visitors will enjoy and that locals will want to promote,” Burnett said.
The pandemic has taken a toll on the hospitality industry as hotel room bookings have plummeted. This has driven down hotel occupancy tax receipts, which are Visit High Point’s chief revenue source.
Lynch, a High Point attorney, said the new board members will help the organization continue to adapt to the economic fallout from the pandemic and react to the needs of the industry.
“Dave (Nicoletta) owns Giannos and has been a very powerful advocate for the restaurant industry, trying to help them identify resources,” she said. “Jonathan (Marquez) has a strong financial background. Of course, we want to be a more pet-friendly destination. He’s in the right business to help us with that focus. Pre-COVID, I think he did a lot of events for Northwood involving the community and people who have pets. So he’s even got event experience.”
She said she thinks that, as COVID-19 vaccines continue to be distributed, consumer confidence will increase and pent-up demand will help the tourism industry recover.
“We are very optimistic. We’re very hopeful that we will begin to sense a recovery later in 2021,” Lynch said. “But I think realistically, we won’t feel close to a full recovery for probably two or three more years.”
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