Charlotte, NC

Queen City Roundup 3/4: CMS driver suspended over cheek swabs, Amazon partners with UNC and more

Collin Cunningham

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It is Friday, March 4, and here's what every resident of the Queen City needs to know until Monday(Carissa Rogers/Unsplash)

By Collin Cunningham

(CHARLOTTE, N.C.) Happy Friday, Charlotteans! Serving as your gateway to the weekend, today's Roundup starts with the story of a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools bus driver accused of offering students $5 to collect saliva samples. Facing a March 11 deadline to improve conditions at the Mecklenburg County Detention Center, jail officials said a woman died in her cell on Wednesday.

Amazon is collaborating with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte to offer free tuition to its crop of over 12,000 employees in the Metrolina region, and we'll tell you which programs are on offer. Today's Music Month pick takes a look at a new album and upcoming shows for a pair of Charlotte rockers who call themselves Thunder Love. And our Friday staples, the weekend reading list, will give readers something to chew on over the weekend.

1. Swab story: Meck. Co. health director reacts after CMS suspends bus driver accused of paying students for saliva

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Back in October, CMS voted to increase bus drivers' hourly wages from $15 to $17.75 in response to transportation staff shortages(Courtesy of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools)

What happened: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools placed a bus driver on suspension on Monday after parents claimed the employee had offered ten students $5 to collect saliva from the inside of their mouths. CMS parent Mone Davis told WCNC that her daughter had "been taken advantage of" by the driver, who allegedly framed the swabs as COVID-19 tests.

On Wednesday, CMS school board member Rhonda Cheek called on the district to expand its investigation into the incident, adding that she's "had enough over the past year."

Why it matters: CMS students apparently weren't the only ones to receive offers for cheek swabs: WSOC reports that a man named Bernard has been canvassing North Tryon Street offering the same amount of money through an organization called the National Institute of Molecular Diagnostics.

Responding to the cheek-swabbing allegations, Mecklenburg County Health Director Raynard Washington said such tests are often ineffective and said he "can't tell you why somebody would pay someone to do a COVID-19 test."

2. Out of the warehouse: Amazon to fund workers' tuition at UNC Charlotte

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Amazon announced its intention to hire 3,500 Charlotte-area employees in September, including at a new fulfillment center in Pineville(Courtesy of UNC Charlotte)

What's happening: The more than 12,500 people employed by Amazon in the Old North State will soon be able to attend any of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte's 171 bachelor's programs, UNC Charlotte announced Thursday. The news comes as the multination company plans to dump $1.2 billion into its Upskilling 2025 initiative, which seeks to teach new skills to 300,000 of the company's over 1 million U.S. employees.

The tuition benefit also applies to students transferring to UNC Charlotte from Central Piedmont Community College, Rowan Cabarrus Community College and Wake Technical Community College, according to a UNC press release. Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles said the city is "fortunate" that "two powerhouses" are partnering to "train, educate and expand the workforce in the Charlotte region and North Carolina."

3. State investigating after woman died at Mecklenburg jail

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Reminiscent of a series of mid-90s parking garages, the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office houses the county's jail on East 4th Street(Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office)

What happened: The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation is looking into 31-year-old Francine Laney, who died in her cell at the Mecklenburg County Detention Center on Wednesday. Staff from the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office discovered Laney unresponsive around 6:20 p.m. before a nurse unsuccessfully performed CPR on her.

Mecklenburg Sheriff Gary McFadden said in a media release that his department was "deeply saddened to report this death."

Why it matters: Per The Charlotte Observer, Laney is the fourth person to die in the jail since May of 2021. The news comes within two weeks of the MCSO's March 11 deadline to increase staffing at the building after North Carolina's health department released a report linking recent violent incidents to employee shortages at the facility in February. The sheriff's department responded by hiring roughly 10 private guards from an external agency to assist with MCSO operations, according to WCNC.

4. Music Month: Powerful blues duo Flame Tides brings 'Bonfire Tsunami,' 2 shows to Charlotte

Who's up: Hayley Moran and Rocketman Neely comprise Charlotte's Flame Tides, a power-rock pair whose one-ton riffs merge with invigorating lyrics to create a pop-rock pastiche that sounds like it crawled out of a basement in 1994. That's a compliment, and one Moran and Neely would probably take highly after forming in 2017, releasing two full-length albums over the past half-decade.

What to stream: The band released their sophomore project, "Bonfire Tsunami," in December of 2021, exclusively available for purchase at The Poet's Vault record store on South Boulevard in Charlotte. But readers can still stream "Run to the Ocean," the aptly named first single off "Bonfire Tsunami" above and catch them when they play at...

Where to see them perform: Flame Tides are set to bring waves of fire to a show tonight at 8 p.m. at The Milestone Club at 3400 Tuckaseegee Road in Charlotte's Lakewood neighborhood, where they'll be joined by Stormwatchers, Something Went Wrong and Dark Sun Kut. Readers can buy tickets starting at $8 here or catch the Tides' next performance with Neon Deaths and True Lilith at Petra's Bar for $5 on Saturday, April 9.

5. Weekend reading list

It was a busy week in Charlotte. and the Roundup can only be so long. Here are a few stories that weren't touched upon but still deserve readers' attention.

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I cover the city of Charlotte, North Carolina for NewsBreak's Creator Program. Check back often for daily headline roundups to learn what's happening in the Queen City!

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