Expanded manhunt for felon derails N.C. vacation plans, puts off businesses

Officials are shutting down popular campgrounds at the height of their busiest season.

PISGAH NATIONAL FOREST - Authorities have expanded a closed-off area of the Pisgah National Forest to tourists, vacationers, camps, and businesses while they continue the manhunt for a felon on the run.

But for summer vacationers, it's a long, eight-hour drive from Muncie, Indiana.

 

 

Especially when you have about 30 children in tow, anxious to slide down one of Pisgah National Forest's most popular attractions.

But for Sheri Hiestand and her group of kids in colorful swimsuits from Westminster Presbyterian Church, their trip to Sliding Rock wasn't quite what they had hoped for.

As a manhunt involving up to seven law enforcement agencies entered its fourth day Tuesday, authorities expanded their reach to keep hundreds of acres of forest off limits to hikers, bikers, campers and anyone else wanting to get into the woods for some recreation.

North Mills River Campground, Wash Creek Group Horse Camp, and all roadside camping in the area will remain closed until further notice to protect public safety during ongoing law enforcement operations. Roads and trails in this area have been closed since Sunday. This areaincludes Mills River, Yellow Gap Road, Turkey Pen Gap, Trace Ridge, and Wash Creek, according to an update from the US Forest Service's Facebook page.

 

 

Nearby businesses dependent on tourism also expressed disappointment with sales down from the closure.

Pisgah National Forest was evacuated Saturday along U.S. 276 as the road winds through popular areas including Looking Glass Falls, Sliding Rock and the Cradle of Forestry, after Phillip Michael Stroupe II, 38, robbed a man of his mountain bike at gunpoint, according to authorities.

Police on Monday arrested Stroupe's aunt, Norma Stroupe Goforth, 62, of Leicester, inside the search area for failure to leave the perimeter, said Capt. Jeremy Queen, public information officer for the Transylvania County Sheriff's Office.

Queen was unable to confirm whether she had communicated with or assisted Stroupe. She was charged with resist, obstruct and delay.

Transylvania County law enforcement was on the lookout for a man suspected in a breaking and entering reported in Henderson County, though Queen was unable to confirm whether the two incidents were connected.

The vehicle described in the breaking and entering did match the description of Stroupe's vehicle, Queen said.

Queen said Stroupe has a history of resisting arrest and violence toward law enforcement. He also described him as an outdoorsman.

Stroupe has outstanding warrants in Buncombe County for kidnapping and was released from jail in Yancey County Thursday.

He was last seen by law enforcement at 10:45 a.m. Saturday.

"We're hoping at this point he's getting tired, getting hungry and hopefully he'll do the right thing and turn himself in," Queen said. "It's time to give up."

Queen also said Stroupe threatened a man who was fishing near Yellow Gap Road with his .38-caliber revolver and attempted to coerce the man into giving him a ride out of the forest. After 30 minutes, the man persuaded Stroupe to leave, and soon after he left the man called the police. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stroupe is 5 feet, 8 inches tall with a small build, authorities have said. He has a shaved head and a large distinct tattoo on his neck, just under his chin.

Queen said Stroupe may have acquired white supremacist gang ties in prison and that he goes by the nickname "White Mike." Facebook photos of Stroupe show he has a swastika tattooed on his abdomen along with the words "One Nation."

Police evacuated people in the search area, many of whom were forced to leave outdoor gear behind. He estimated that more 10,000 people come through the area on a busy summer day, though he said police had not evacuated that many people.

Those with reservations at the Davidson River Campground and some employees are still being allowed into the area, Queen said.

Queen said 40 people from six or seven law enforcement agencies were searching for Stroupe.

For the Muncie church group, the forest closure was an adventure in itself.

"These kids are going to have a great week, and they'll probably have some stories to tell when they get back home," Hiestand said.

But local businesses were suffering losses.

A police barricade obstructed entrances for businesses including Hawg Wild BBQ and The Hub, an outdoor gear store.

Employees at The Hub said the business since the search got underway had seen sales drop 15-20 percent, a loss they would be unable recoup with insurance.

"This is huge for us," Jordan Salman, a Hub employee, said. "July is one of the only times we actually make money."

Hawg Wild remains closed.

Nick Busby, who runs the Velvet Cup, a coffee truck near the Pisgah National Forest entrance, said he lost about $500 because of the closure. He said he appreciated the safety precautions, but the police were not concerned about businesses in the area.

"I feel like they're just going by us without thinking about it," he said.

Maggie Kaufman, an employee at Blue Smoke BBQ, a food truck across from the Hub, said the business had lost close to $1,000.

Grace Adams, an employee at Dolly's Dairy Bar, said she wasn't sure how much money was lost because of the manhunt but business was very slow.

"It is July, which this should be a really busy month for us, so it’s like gone down a lot," Adams said. "We should be getting a lot more business than we are now."

Law enforcement maintained a wide perimeter around the area along U.S. 276, and the search has been concentrated where Stroupe was last spotted. It is unknown if the suspect still has access to a mountain bike he reportedly stole Saturday, "therefore the net is being widely cast," Queen said.

Queen said a command post has been set up at the Cradle of Forestry and K9 units, helicopters and reinforcements from other police departments were being brought in to assist with the search. He said the officers were being rotated and more reinforcements were on the way.

The search for Stroupe may prove difficult, however, due to the size of the search perimeter, which Queen said could not be driven around in an hour.

Queen said he had never seen an incident like this in his 20 years in law enforcement.
The helicopters have proven to be ineffective due to the forest's thick canopy, so most of the search is being conducted on foot, sometimes in treacherous terrain.

"They are out there working hard," Queen said. "They are tired, hungry, thirsty, but they are pressing on."

© 2017 WCNC.COM


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