BY MIKE FUHRMAN
After their 6-year-old daughter was injured in a golf cart accident during a party for a youth football team at Troutman ESC Park, a Statesville couple is questioning the actions of the town manager and the perceived indifference of elected town officials.
Hayden and Samantha Faulkenberry claim that their daughter Remi suffered serious injuries to her right leg when she was dragged by a golf cart driven by Town Manager Ron Wyatt on the afternoon of November 20.
Wyatt has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing. While acknowledging that he was driving the cart when the child was injured, the town manager said he was operating the golf cart in a safe manner. He claims the couple’s complaint is the latest chapter in an ongoing disagreement started by another family member.
The accident that sparked the complaint against Wyatt occurred at the town park while the Faulkenberry family was attending a party for the Troutman Elementary School football team that Hayden had helped coach to a county championship.
“He was going fast,” Remi said when asked to describe how she was injured. “I fell off.”
As she was dragged along the concrete, her leggings were shredded and a swath of skin was scraped off her knee and the upper part of her shin. The injury, which the family documented with photos, caused Remi to miss school for a week because she was in pain and could not walk, according to her parents.
In the aftermath of the accident, the couple said the Troutman Police Department has refused to file a report documenting the incident. They remain frustrated that town council members did not personally respond to a letter requesting that the town manager be disciplined.
“Mr. Wyatt’s vile actions brought pain and suffering to my family,” Hayden Faulkenberry wrote in the letter to council members eight days after the accident. “His representation of the Town of Troutman’s governance is a discredit to the town and the council.”
In an interview with Iredell Free News, Wyatt said he had done nothing to warrant the Faulkenberrys’ efforts to get him fired. The girl’s parents, he said, should not have allowed her to ride on the golf cart if they were concerned about her safety. Furthermore, he cast doubt on the child’s version of the accident, saying that her injuries were consistent with someone who had attempted to jump onto a moving vehicle, missed, and then held on and was dragged.
“Did an incident occur where a child was injured? Absolutely,” Wyatt said. “But all of a sudden they send emails to town council … saying what a bad man I am and I have threatened people and I have coerced my way into everything that’s here — and all of them are going to be remembered if they don’t fire me.”
Wyatt said he briefed the town council and mayor about the incident during their meeting in early December. In a three-sentence letter dated December 12, Town Attorney Gary Thomas notified Hayden Faulkenberry that the council had received his letter and referred the matter to him. “If you believe your daughter has a claim, it can be submitted to the Town’s insurer,” Thomas wrote.
Mayor Teross Young, in a phone interview with Iredell Free News, declined to answer questions about the incident, citing the advice of the town attorney. The town manager continues to have the confidence of the council and the mayor, Young said.
‘She was dripping blood’
The families of the players and coaches involved in Troutman Elementary’s championship football season gathered at ESC Park at 4 p.m. on November 20 for hot dogs and pizza. Many of the kids were running around with their friends, tossing the football and playing on the playground while their parents socialized in the area of the park pavilion.
Hayden Faulkenberry was one of five assistant coaches for the team and his 8-year-old son Carter was one of the players. Troutman Police Chief Josh Watson, who was also present at the party with his family, was the head coach.
At some point, Wyatt arrived at the party and began giving kids rides on the town golf cart, which is a registered motor vehicle and is equipped with turn signals, seatbelts and rearview mirrors. The Faulkenberrys said as far as they know he wasn’t invited to the gathering.
Remi was one of several kids who went for rides on the cart, and her mom said she kept tabs on her daughter because she did not know at the time who the driver was. “She was always fine,” Samantha Faulkenberry said. “She was never alone.”
Some time later, Samantha said she looked across the field and saw Remi on the ground on her hands and knees about a hundred yards away. Next, she saw the driver reach down and pick her daughter up and put her in the cart on his lap.
“No one actually saw her fall,” Samantha said.
About 10 minutes later, the Faulkenberrys said, the driver returned to the pavilion. That’s when they saw that Remi was crying and realized she was hurt.
The driver did not offer an explanation for what happened, they said. The parents described his demeanor as “cold and nonchalant.”
“I grabbed her and cradled her,” Samantha said.
“She was dripping blood,” Hayden added.
They took their daughter into the pavilion and applied wet paper towels to her injuries. Watson, the police chief, retrieved a first-aid kit and offered band-aids, the Faulkenberrys said, while the driver lingered in the background. Shortly thereafter, Hayden, Samantha, Remi and Carter left the park in search of medical supplies.
The next day, about 24 hours after the accident, Hayden Faulkenberry received the following text message on his phone:
“This is Duck Wyatt — I was checking in on your daughter. I could not sleep well worried about her and you and your wife. I felt so terrible that precious little girl got hurt because of me trying to do something fun for the kids.”
The Faulkenberrys later learned that Wyatt was the town manager, and that Chief Watson had given him Hayden’s phone number.
I hear, ‘Stop! Stop!’
The Troutman manager takes offense at what he says is a smear campaign. The truth, Wyatt said, is that the Faulkenberrys’ daughter had ridden in the golf cart earlier in the day. Before taking a load of kids on what he said was the final loop of the day, Wyatt said he told Remi not to get on the cart so another child could have a turn. He was adamant that he did not see her on the back of the cart when he started the loop or see her fall off.
Parents who were at ESC Park saw their kids hopping on and off the cart and riding around the cart throughout the event. Some took photos, Wyatt said, and all of the parents had ample opportunity to prevent their children from riding. He said he kept the cart on the sidewalk because it was smoother than the grassy field.
On that last ride, as Wyatt was about one-third of the way through the loop, “I hear ‘Stop! Stop!’ And I looked back and stopped. I look back and (the girl) is laying face down on the concrete, and she’s whimpering a little bit. I go and pick her up. I said, ‘Honey, are you okay?’ I can see the right knee … is torn all to hell. She had a raspberry about the size of a softball above her knee to below her knee. Her other ankle — the stockings were tore a little bit over there — and there was an abrasion on her ankle on that side.”
When Wyatt looked over at the pavilion where the parents were congregating, no parents were looking or saying anything. No one came running or motioned for him to return to that area, he said.
“I picked the little girl up, and she starts to whimper a little more. I said, ‘Honey, you’ll be okay. I’ll take you to your mama or your daddy or both.’ “
“She said, ‘It hurts.’ “
“I said, ‘Honey, I can see. That’s a pretty serious abrasion.”
Wyatt said he comforted the girl until they completed the loop. He said he did not cut across the grass and take a more direct route because he thought hitting the bumps in the field would make her uncomfortable. When they arrived at the pavilion and Samantha Faulkenberry asked what happened, Wyatt said he told her he did not know if she fell or jumped.
According to Wyatt, two boys reported that the girl ran after the golf cart, grabbed ahold of it and was then dragged before she let go and fell to the ground.
The town manager said he was among those who tried to render assistance at the pavilion, along with Chief Watson, and others. And he confirmed that he sent the text message to Hayden Faulkenberry the following day to check on Remi.
Within two or three days, however, Wyatt said there were rumors circulating that he was impaired at the time of the incident. The town manager said he heard “from a community member who I trust very much who said, ‘Dude, was you drinking and run over some girl on a golf cart?’ “
“I wasn’t drunk,” Wyatt insisted. I hadn’t drank anything in — I couldn’t tell you when.”
Wyatt was not required to undergo an alcohol/drug screen after the accident. Town policy requires an alcohol/drug screen only if an employee is involved in an accident resulting in death, injury requiring medical transport, substantial property damage or a reasonable suspicion of being under the influence,
‘Is he untouchable?’
In the days after the accident, Mark Faulkenberry, Remi’s grandfather, reached out to Chief Watson and asked the TPD to provide an incident report detailing what happened.
Mark Faulkenberry is retired from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and works as the assistant director of the law enforcement training program at Mitchell Community College. In his experience, he said it is common for law enforcement agencies to write incident reports, which provide basic information about what happened, along with the names of the individuals involved and any witnesses.
Chief Watson, who said he did not witness the accident, has declined to provide such a report. In an interview with Iredell Free News, the chief explained that the TPD does not write reports about accidents that do not occur on public roadways, highways or parking lots.
“Whether it was a town manager or any private citizen driving a golf cart on a sidewalk in the park, we wouldn’t do a report,” Watson explained.
The incident did not involve a motor vehicle striking another object, which he said exempted the incident from a North Carolina statute that requires a report be filed by the appropriate law enforcement agency for any crash involving a personal injury or that causes more than $1,000 worth of property damage. For incidents that occur in towns or cities, that responsibility is assigned to the municipal police department.
Several current and former law enforcement personnel who spoke on the condition that their name not be used told Iredell Free News that they disagreed with Chief Watson’s interpretation of that statute. The law, they said, mandates an incident report be filed by the TPD because there was a motor vehicle involved, in this case a road-worthy golf cart bearing an N.C. license plate, and there was an injury.
Wyatt, who is also a former sheriff’s deputy, disagreed with that assessment, arguing that the incident did not involve a motor vehicle and did not warrant a report because it occurred on a sidewalk in a park.
Recognizing that the police chief is in a tough position in this case because the incident involves the chief’s direct supervisor, Mark Faulkenberry turned to other agencies for assistance. He asked officials at the N.C. Highway Patrol and the Iredell County Sheriff’s Office if they would write an incident report. Both agencies declined, saying the accident did not occur in their respective jurisdictions. Entreaties to the State Bureau of Investigation and District Attorney’s Office for help proved to be just as unfruitful, the grandfather said.
Several local attorneys that the family contacted for assistance also declined to get involved because of their past association with Wyatt when he served as the Iredell County register of deeds. He resigned that position after being offered the Troutman town manager’s position in December of 2020.
“Is he untouchable?” Mark Faulkenberry said. “That’s the sense I get.”
‘For what reasons would you do that?’
Wyatt said the idea that he is getting special treatment or that the police chief is involved in a cover-up of some sort is nonsense. The elder Faulkenberry, he said, bears a grudge against him because of a past misunderstanding involving the use of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge and is attempting to use his granddaughter’s injury to even the score by tarnishing his name.
“A grandparent who was not on site don’t get to say factually this happened, this happened, this happened, (or) this person is saying this and this person is saying that,” Wyatt said.
Unprompted during an interview with Iredell Free News, Wyatt rattled of the names of all the agencies that Mark Faulkenberry had contacted, detailing the grandfather’s efforts to spark some type of investigation.
“Are you (kidding) me?” the town manager asked. “For what reasons would you do all of that?”
Mark Faulkenberry said Wyatt’s claim that he has a vendetta against the town manager based on some past misunderstanding is ridiculous.
More than anything, they said they want town officials to acknowledge that their daughter was injured as a result of the town manager’s actions. And they want the town council to do something about it.
“Why do I have to jump through hoops to get anywhere with the town on this?” Hayden asked.
“They’re just sweeping it under the rug. They’re burying it,” Samantha added.