Broad River protects itself against break-ins

Paul Clark

Jan Diefenbach has started locking her gate. Peggy Malone got a big dog. A series of break-ins in Broad River has shaken residents, and at least one recent arrest has done little to quell their fears.

"A lot of people have put up security cameras," Diefenbach, a teacher at Black Mountain Elementary School, said. "One of the things the (Buncombe County) sheriff's department recommends is buy an engraver and engrave your things. Lots of people have done that."

A few dozen residents convened at the Broad River Fire Department on June 17 to talk about how they can further protect themselves from break-ins and burglaries. They started meeting periodically last fall, after the first round of incidents was reported.

There haven't been a lot of break-ins in the community, Sgt. Kim Mull, the sheriff department's crime prevention and community officer, said, though community concern is high. Part of the problem is how remote much of Broad River is and how long it takes deputies – anyone, really - to drive out there from Black Mountain, much less Asheville, where the sheriff's department is headquartered.

A search of the department's online records reveals a handful of cases. Perhaps the most notable was the March 11 burglary of a home on Moxie Trail. In that incident, $100 in cash and a brand new Volvo were taken from the resident. Tracy Carroll Davis, 45, of Black Mountain was arrested on charges that include first-degree burglary, felonious conspiracy and two counts of larceny.

As of late last week, Davis was being held in McDowell County Jail on unrelated drug charges.

Other incidents are well-known among organizers of a Community Watch program created in response to the break-ins.

In May, Vaughn Gilliam's mother was sitting on the floor of her home on Upper Rock Creek Road, playing with Gilliam's infant son, when a man appeared in the window of their back door. Junior firefighters with the Broad River Fire Department often show up to borrow nuts and bolts from the Gilliams, who run a logging business. But Mrs. Gilliam, who sits on the fire department board, didn't recognize the man, who took off running when he saw her in the house, Vaughn Gilliam said.

He and his father Virgil Gilliam came home for lunch a bit later and discovered that someone had been in the shop where they keep their logging equipment. Missing were five chainsaws, about $2,000 in welding equipment, a bunch of chainsaw parts and some power tools. The value of the haul was nearly $9,500, according to the sheriff's department.

"They were speedy in what they did and seemed to know what they were looking for," Vaughn Gilliam said. "Seems like (there's been) an epidemic (of break-ins) around here lately."

There have been other incidents, but "that was the last one," Diefenbach said. "We just have to get more united with this and everyone be watchful."

Residents have created a phone tree to report and transmit people's observations and suspicions, Peggy Malone said. Reporting problems to law enforcement agencies is difficult because of where Broad River is situated, said resident Shirley Sobol, whose neighbors have lost chainsaws and power equipment. From its northern end in Buncombe County, Broad River is near Henderson, Rutherford and McDowell counties.

"It's kind of hard to coordinate which sheriff department to call, because if you do see (someone suspicious), you don't know which way they went," Sobol said.

The incidents have affected many residents' lives, said Diefenbach, who lives in the house her grandparents built in 1924.

"Years past, you knew every car on the road," she said. New houses have gone up in recent years, tucked into the woods, not always visible from the road. New residents aren't the problem, she believes. But cars come into and go out of the community that residents don't recognize. Broad River may get its share of leaf-lookers in fall and touring motorists in summer, but it's not really on the way to anywhere. Except people's homes.

"Anyone who knows about (the break-ins) is very cautious now," Diefenbach said. "We all have written down tag numbers (on cars) that don't look familiar to us. I think we're quite suspicious now.

"Most people are really friendly out here, and most people help each other out. That remains the same," she said. "But when we see someone parked on the side of the road, everyone slows down to take a second look."

Otter and Peggy Malone got a big dog and installed a gate to their property after a recent break-in at their home.

Malone knows firsthand the problems the break-ins have caused. She was at the Asheville airport, picking up her family, last September, when someone broke the locks off of her barn and workshop and stole firearms and jewelry.

"They turned everything upside down. They left all the doors open," she said. Whoever it was made an effort to get there, because her house is in a community that is about a mile from the main road.

Now, she and her husband have installed gates. And they have that big dog. "We're a lot more cautious," she said. "We lock things up a lot more, even though locks didn't stop them the first time. We don't know who to trust.

"Even though this is a wonderful community, it's harder to leave things open."