By Carl Blankenship, Madeline Wagoner and Elisabeth Strillacci
SALISBURY — Places all across Rowan County were lit up with emergency vehicles but no catastrophes were in sight Tuesday night.
National Night Out is a community police awareness event and municipalities across the country hosted their own versions of it Tuesday evening. There were a half-dozen spread throughout Rowan County with a mix of food, games, information and safety presentations.
Mixed in with the fire trucks and police vehicles, even medical helicopters made an appearance for safety demonstrations.
At Spencer’s North Rowan area event, a crash simulator gave people an idea of what it is like to be in a low-speed collision. The town also coordinated with other emergency agencies to hold a crash reenactment at Park Plaza.
The scenario involved a drunk driver crashing into the side of a vehicle with two passengers. Carson High School drama students played the people in the crash, outfitted with fake blood and makeup. Spencer Police Sgt. Brian Leonard questioned the “drunk” driver and administered breathalyzer and field sobriety tests while firefighters and EMS workers extracted the pair of victims from the smashed car. Firefighters pried and ripped doors off the car with hydraulic rescue tools. In the scenario one victim didn’t make it and the other was critically injured.
A Novant medivac helicopter landed across the street at a designated landing zone at the N.C. Transportation Museum and EMS took the injured patient to be airlifted.
Otherwise the evening was a chance for people to get information about local organizations, meet police and other first responders, and enjoy some free food.
Whosever Will Let Them Come Ministry donated the food again this year, cooking hot dogs and homemade fixings. The church doubled down this year, bringing 800 franks instead of last year’s 400 because it gave them all away last time. Bishop Chris Brown credited College Barbecue for donating the buns and Pepsi for donating as well. The food was free, but people kept offering donations anyway. Brown said that money will help the church bring back more food next year.
“I thank God for what Spencer is doing here bringing the community together and letting them mingle with one another,” Brown said.
Brown said events like this show people everybody is somebody and they can get along together.
“I want Spencer and Rowan County and the world to know this is what it’s all about. This is what we’re supposed to be doing,” Brown said.
Toward the southern end of Rowan County, Landis and China Grove held separate events. Bounce houses from Mr. Bounce, The Brook Church ice cream truck and plenty of free hot dogs were shared with attendees who danced and climbed rock walls.
Landis’ public safety teams rallied at the J. Fred Corriher Jr. YMCA soccer field where community members had the chance to dunk a police offer for $5 and $10 donations. One of the unfortunate candidates on the hot seat was Landis Police Chief Zach Lechette, who is also the public safety director.
He said Landis has been planning its National Night Out since March with the help of $9,000 from community sponsors.
“We’re also thankful for all the local businesses who have come out to participate,” Lechette said. “We try to make it better and better every year. It’s a great way to have all of us connect with the community.”
Marshall and Chase mascots from the show Paw Patrol rode in on a golf cart, dancing and giving high-fives to children and adults alike as Novant and Atrium Health helicopters flew over the field of activities and vendors. The night concluded with a fireworks show over the trees behind the soccer field at 9:15 p.m.
China Grove citizens gathered at the China Grove Community Park, where families played under the spout of water from a firetruck. Nick Carpenter, Amily Calamari and Sgt. Will Frazier were at a table passing out color-changing cups, temporary tattoos and stickers branded with the China Grove Police Department. They said talking and interacting with children is the most rewarding part of National Night Out.
“It’s a time where kids and families can learn and connect with the department,” said Frazier.
China Grove’s festivities kicked off at 4 p.m. before wrapping up at 7 p.m.
Kannapolis Police Chief Terry Spry welcomed the return of the city’s event at Veterans Park after a two-year hiatus, noting it is part of a larger effort at a collaboration between the community and the department.
“This is what post-COVID should look like,” he said. “There comes a point when you need to make a withdrawal. If you haven’t been making deposits, there isn’t going to be anything there to draw on. This is a deposit, and it’s how trust is built.”
“We have had such a diverse group of people here tonight,” said Annette Privette Keller, communications director for the town. “I’ve watched kids walk right up to officers and begin talking, and end up playing. It’s just what we hoped to see.”
Finishing a cherry Italian ice, 10-year-old Reagan Sydnor said she would be quite comfortable approaching an officer for help on the street, rather than being alarmed by his uniform, after the event.
Salisbury’s National Night Out on Bell Tower Green was combined with the Community Resource Fair, usually held twice a year. The fair brings together local agencies specializing in health, addiction, education and family support all in one place, and combining the two events seemed a logical, efficient use of the time and of community gathering, said Jim Greene, city manager.
In addition to food, music and games including huge checkers, corn hole and ring toss, there was information available on numerous programs for residents and backpacks and school supplies free for the taking. Chief Jerry Stokes said, like many of the other towns hosting events, it was good to see so many turn out after two years off.
“I came here to let my kids have a good time with other people from Salisbury,” said Antonio Jackson, 39, a local resident. “Right now, a lot of people are having a hard time with income because of COVID, and this is great chance for them to have some fun for free, and to get some needed school supplies.” He added that the recent spate of shootings in the city has had parents concerned, so it was a relief to have a family-friendly, safe event to take his children to.