Former fire chief pleads guilty to embezzlement

Former Mint Hill fire chief, Jeremy Russell, pleaded guilty to one account of embezzlement Tuesday in the Charlotte U.S. District Court.  For nearly two years Russell stole $225,000 from the Mint Hill Volunteer Fire Department and the Town of Mint Hill by creating a sham business called Regional Medic & First Responder Supply Connection.  Mint Hill invoices were sent to his fake company and bank account.  The announcement from the U.S. Attorneys Office in Charlotte reads:

Russell generally kept the invoices to amounts under $5,000 and got the corresponding checks signed off by those at the Town and Fire Department with payment authority. According to the charging document, Russell picked up the checks at the mail drop and then deposited them into the bank account in Regional Medic’s name…According to the bill of information, Russell used the money to fund his personal lifestyle and a gambling habit.

The plea comes after a federal investigation of Russell’s actions.  The Town of Mint Hill received a federal subpoena May 24 and has been cooperating with investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Attorneys Office involving Russell.   The town took disciplinary action against him in April, and he resigned from his position as the Fire/EMS Operations Director.

The embezzlement charge has a maximum term of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.  Russell has agreed to pay restitution “to all victims directly or indirectly harmed by the defendant’s relevant conduct.”


Cyclists gather for Honor the Warriors Bike Ride

The Military Family Lifestyle Charitable Foundation and the United Service Organizations of North Carolina sponsored last Saturday’s third annual Honor the Warriors Bike Ride at the Mint Hill Park on Fairview. Approximately 60 veterans, service members, and citizens biked together in an effort to support military families. Three rides were staggered: 66 mile, 34 mile, and 15 mile rides. Brian Talkington (pictured), a 14-year Army soldier stationed at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, traveled to Mint Hill to support wounded veterans. Photo by Amanda Waters


St. Luke’s celebrates 25 years

Parishioners at St. Luke’s Catholic Church on Lawyers Road celebrated the church’s 25th anniversary last weekend with their annual fall festival, which corresponds with St. Luke’s feast day. The celebration included a ferris wheel, bouncy house, train rides, games and prizes, live music, exotic animals, and a number of food and goods vendors.
The church first gathered 25 years ago in a movie theatre in Matthews and quickly moved to a store in the Mint Hill Festival shopping center. The current building was opened in 1994, and St. Luke’s is making plans to construct a new building. Photo by Amanda Waters


Fire department receives grants for cameras

Fire Chief John Phillips accepts a grant from Tom Lott of AmWINS and Lynette Cardwell of the Fireman’s Fund. Commissioner Mickey Ellington and Town Manager Brian Welch display the new thermal imaging cameras purchased with the grant money. Photo by Derek Lacey

By Amanda Waters

Staff Writer

Last Wednesday the Mint Hill Volunteer Fire Department received grant money for thermal imaging cameras.  The insurance company AmWINS, represented by Tom Lott, a member of the fire department, presented the $12,461 check in conjunction with the Fireman’s Fund, represented by Lynette Cardwell.  Town representatives Brian Welch, Beth Hamrick, and Mickey Ellington were in attendance, along with fire department board members Bobby Reynolds, Albert Leath, Phil Angelo, and charter member Bobby Long.

The grant was used to purchase two Scott Safety Eagle Attack thermal imaging cameras.  The cameras are among the newest tools available for fire fighters, introduced June of last year.  They are lighter in weight and easier to use, compared to the cameras they are replacing.

“We are extremely excited about the development of this thermal imaging tool,” Tony Topf of Scott Safety said in an earlier statement.  “Efficiency, quality and convenience factors are what make the Eagle Attack imager unique.  We’ve designed this innovation around what the customers have said rather than around what we think first responders may need.”

Images shot by the germanium lens are displayed on a screen showing heat represented by colors.  Yellow indicates temperatures of 200 degrees or more, when water turns to steam.  Orange is for 500 degrees or more, when common building materials will combust.  Temperatures of 800 degrees are represented by red and indicate the point of flashover, when smoke fills an area and becomes hot enough to ignite.

In the last few decades, more building materials and household items are being made of synthetic materials.  When these items burn, they produce a darker, thicker smoke than natural materials.  Firefighters 50 years ago could expect flashover after 30 minutes of flames, but today flashover occurs in three or four minutes, becoming an extremely dangerous problem.

The cameras will allow firefighters to find bodies lost in a smoke, find unaccounted for firefighters, find the source of a fire in thick smoke, and find missing people at night.

“Thermal imagery for the fire service is something that is becoming more needed,” said Phillips.  “We’re thrilled to have these cameras.”

The two new cameras will assist the fire department as it serves 39 square miles and a population of about 28,000 people.  The 18 full-time firefighters and 70 volunteers have begun training how to use these life-saving tools.


Charlotte Academy of Music

Regina Ziliani is one of the lucky people who can say she does what she loves every day.  She has been playing and learning about music since a young age, and has taught music lessons since 1988.  Her teaching career grew into a successful business; after overtaking her house she decided to open Charlotte Academy of Music, located on Idlewild Road where it’s hard to draw a distinction between Mint Hill, Matthews, and Stallings.

Charlotte Academy of Music opened in 2008, and although other area music centers are closing their doors, the academy is gaining students and thriving.  Ziliani attributes that to the family atmosphere provided by her staff.  Faculty are university trained music professionals who are personable to customers of all ages – the academy is open to children and adults

Classes offered at the Charlotte Academy of Music include piano, guitar, voice, strings, brass, woodwinds, and percussion, as well as ensemble classes like a children’s choir and glee clubs.  Students have the opportunity to perform in recitals, the informal Blue Note Lounge concerts, and nationally recognized auditions.  The academy has over 350 students who practice in nine studios with professional equipment and a small library of music.

Ziliani and her staff understand the educational opportunities given to those dedicated to music.  Recently, Mint Hill resident and academy student, Hannah Williams, was named a state finalist in the N.C. Music Teachers Association Piano Contest.  Ziliani has assisted her advanced high school students with college applications and program auditions, which helps students earn scholarship money and receive the best education.  Even if her students intend to study something other than music, she explains to them that by highlighting their musical endeavors they can set themselves apart in the application process.

“Many of our academy families have been with us since we opened our doors, and it is a pleasure to see how music has enriched their lives.  With music study students not only learn a valuable lifetime enriching skill, but also learn time management, self-confidence, discipline, and much more,” said Ziliani.


News Notes & Happenings

Upcoming government meetings

The Board of Adjustment is meeting Monday, September 24 at 7:30 pm pending business.  The Board of Commissioners is meeting Thursday, September 27 at 7 pm and Thursday, October 11 at 7 pm.  The Parks and Recreation Committee is meeting Tuesday, October 9 at 8 am.  The Quarterly Developers Workshop Thursday, October 11  6 pm.  The Mint Hill Board of Commissioners allows up to three development pre-application proposals to be presented for comments only at the workshop.


Science at the library

The library offers science events in addition to its many literary events.  Rookie Science: Let’s Get Charged Up! invites elementary-aged children to discover the world of science and electricity through books, hands-on educational activities, and experiments.  Parents can register their children by October 1.  The class is October 11 at 4 pm.



The Independence High School PTSA meeting is scheduled for Thursday, September 20 at 7:15.  Everyone is encouraged to attend.


Student honored with publication

Queen’s Grant High School reported an alumnus, Paul Finger, was published in the Sociedad Honoraria Hispánica quarterly magazine ¡Albricias! for a poem he wrote in his Spanish class as a senior.  He received a copy of the magazine with his poem, as well as a monetary reward for his writing.  Finger graduated in 2012 and is currently attending Columbia University.


Alzheimer’s Support Group

Alzheimer’s Support Group will meet Monday, September 24 from 7-8:30 pm at Matthews United Methodist Church room 213/215, located at 801 South Trade Street in Matthews.


Children’s consignment sale

Blair Road United Methodist Church, located at 9134 Blair Road, is offering children’s clothes, baby items, furniture, toys, games, maternity clothes, and more.  All proceeds go to missions to help women and children.  The sale is Saturday, October 6 from 8-11 am, and the half-price sale is 11:30 am to 1 pm.  For more information, call 704-545-6785 or visit


Indy class reunion

The Independence High School class of 1967 class reunion will be October 20 at Jimmie’s Restaurant.  Social hour is from 6-7 pm, followed by dinner.  For more information, contact Regena Brown at