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Man claims shooting was accident
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In a 911 call recorded shortly after a fatal shooting, a man who later would be charged with murder claimed he shot himself, his girlfriend and their son all by accident, but the woman he is accused of shooting seemed to contradict his account.

Michael Dale Summerow, 38, is charged with murder and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury in the shooting of Ashley Ladwan Johnson, 36, and their 2-year-old son, Elijah, who died.

In a 911 call made by Johnson, she said, sobbing, “My husband, my fiance shot the phone out of my hand, and I’m bleeding, and he shot our son.”

As the dispatcher asked questions, Johnson added that Summerow shot Elijah in the eye, and that Elijah was lying on the floor.

“In the eyeball? Is he breathing?” the dispatcher asked.

What Johnson said next wasn’t clear.

“OK, … he shot the phone out of your hand, and you are bleeding, and he shot your son in the eyeball?” the dispatcher asked.

“Yes,” Johnson said.

Midway through the call, Summerow took the phone and began talking to the dispatcher, begging for an ambulance. His speech slurred, he said that the shootings were accidental.

“My son’s hurt. Please,” Summerow said.

“OK, I’m getting them on the way,” the dispatcher said. “Is your son breathing?”

“The gun went off. I’m sorry,” Summerow said.

Summerow went on to say that he was cleaning the rifle when it fired.

The dispatcher said, “OK, you’re saying, when the gun went off, it shot her in the hand and him in the eye?”

“Yes,” Summerow said, pausing. “And I’m shot also.”

“You’re shot also?” the dispatcher asked.

“Yes,” Summerow said.

“Where are you shot at?”

“In the face,” he said. “I didn’t mean to do it. The gun went off,” he said again, later in the call. “I’m not going to fight nobody. I’m laying on the couch.”

Reporter Kara Fohner can be reached at 828-610-8721.

Man left legacy of love
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One night in the 1970s, George T. Crowell Jr. ventured into the Buffalo Cove area to find someone who owed him a debt, and he brought his son, George Crowell III, with him.

They pulled up at the end of a road, the night pitch black around them, and George Jr. yelled to someone at a house across the hollar, his son said.

“It was a little hollar with a creek running through it. All you could see was a kerosene light in the window,” he said.

The man recognized Crowell by the sound of his voice.

“The point I’m trying to make — families, he knew their brothers and sisters and relations to them,” Crowell III said. “He loved people. Some people like a lot of people, and some people don’t. He was the type of person that really liked people.”

Crowell Jr.’s daughter, Vale Crowell Biddix, said that George Crowell Jr., who died March 10 at the age of 91, was always concerned about others.

“He loved people, just always loved them,” he said. “Daddy knew most everybody in Lenoir at one point in time,” she said.

He said that when Crowell Jr. was at church and saw someone new come in, “he’d ask me if I knew them. I’d say yay or nay. And he would always, always go over to them and tell them how glad he was that they were there. And he truly meant it. It wasn’t just to be doing that.”

Crowell Jr. operated Crowell’s Inc., a store in Lenoir that sold appliances, among other things. The store was established in 1937 by Crowell Jr.’s father, George Crowell Sr., and later was managed by George Crowell III as well.

Biddix’s son, Geoffrey, said that Crowell Jr. was known for giving people credit to purchase items at the store, sealing the deal with a handshake.

“It was, ‘Do what you can, and we’ll figure it out together,’ ” he said.

George Crowell III said that he worked for his father for years, going to the store after school before eventually graduating and working at the store full-time.

“Dad and I actually worked together about all the time, ever since I was little,” he said. “He taught me responsibility, how to care for different things.”

George Crowell Jr. was born in New Hanover County in 1929. He briefly lived in Cherryville before eventually settling in a house on Stonewall Street in Lenoir with his father and uncle, Biddix said.

Biddix said that when she was growing up, Crowell Jr. would sing in the car on the way to school and always kissed her goodbye when he dropped her off. As a father, he was reluctant to discipline her. She said one time, when her mother sent her to him to be disciplined, he took her in a room and said, “I’m just going to hit you one time. You yell really loud.”

He also was known for taking the moral high ground, once resigning from a board when he felt the head of the board was “using too much of the people’s money.”

He also was a philanthropist, aiding a variety of charity efforts or nonprofits, including the Robin’s Nest Child Advocacy Center.

“Everything around here that you could give to, Daddy gave to,” Biddix said.

But in 2020, when he was awarded the L.A. Dysart Award, which honors people for their service to the community, “About his whole speech when he got up was about his customers and the people in that store and what they meant to him,” Biddix said.

Kelly Howell, one of George Crowell Jr.’s grandchildren, said that as a child, she and her sister, Jordan, would stay the night with their grandparents, and he would take them on adventures.

“We were always outside exploring, riding on his golf cart, swimming, playing golf at Cedar Rock Country Club, or in his wood shop” in the basement of his house, she said. “Throughout my life, even as a very small child, I remember him always being on the front row at any event that I may have been participating in, with a smile that radiated just how proud he was.”

She said that his adoration extended to his great-granddaughter, Howell’s young daughter, Allie.

“Boy, the look in his eyes told the story. He loved her with his whole being, just like his granddaughters. The first time he held her at the hospital when she was born was the most purest look of love I had ever seen of him. Just this past year you would find him, keep in mind he was 90 at the time, on the floor on his hands and knees rolling a race car back and forth with her,” she said.

Michele Crowell, George Crowell III’s wife, said that he was always gracious and welcoming to her.

“And at our wedding, George, I remember he came up and took my hands, and he said, ‘Welcome to our family,’ ” she said.

Reporter Kara Fohner can be reached at 828-610-8721.

CCC&TI lauded for work during pandemic
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Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute is one of four North Carolina community colleges being held up as models for how they navigated the COVID-19 pandemic and kept students enrolled in classes.

The four were the only community colleges in the state that did not see significant drops in enrollment as colleges shifted to online-only or hybrid models of teaching. Overall, enrollment in the state’s community colleges dropped 11% from the fall 2019 semester to the fall 2020 semester.

An article for Education NC, an education advocacy group, reports that several common themes in the efforts of the four colleges — the others are Isothermal Community College in Rutherford County, Davidson-Davie Community College, and James Sprunt Community College in Duplin County — may have helped students stay in school:

• Students and faculty alike don’t like online classes. CCC&TI President Mark Poarch told EducationNC that the college conducted focus groups and student surveys and found a clear preference for in-person classes, so the college tried to get back to that as soon as it could be done.

• Greater efforts to communicate with students. Edward Terry, CCC&TI’s executive director of community relations, is quoted in the article about the college using multiple channels — email, the college’s website, social media sites — to deliver the same information in as many places as possible to be sure it’s seen.

• Making support services more easily available when students can’t come to campus. For instance, CCC&TI began offering students the ability to sign financial aid documents online.

• And a little bit of luck. CCC&TI was lucky in a couple of ways: In 2019 it had created the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, a support system for professional development, which aided faculty members in the shift to online teaching; and before the pandemic struck the college had undertaken some recent technology initiatives that would prove key, including the distribution of 125 Chromebooks to students and working with Google to enable some classes to be taught via videoconference.