Police unusually quiet on Taft assault

Information is sparse about a state school board member found injured in Raleigh.

Staff WritersMarch 8, 2010 

— Three days after a state school board member was found injured in the West Raleigh home of a Raleigh lawyer, police still are combing the crime scene for evidence and remain uncharacteristically tight-lipped about the crime.

State Board of Education member Kathy A. Taft was found severely beaten inside a two-story home at 2710 Cartier Drive late Saturday morning. Taft, 62, was rushed to WakeMed’s Raleigh campus by emergency workers after being found in the home of John Geil, a local tax and divorce attorney. Geil has been described by friends and neighbors as Taft’s boyfriend.

WakeMed officials have declined comment about Taft’s condition, but state schools superintendent June Atkinson said today that Taft is a patient in the hospital’s intensive care unit. Several school board members had been to WakeMed to try and visit Taft and the family and friends surrounding her.

“They were unable to get in,” Atkinson said, “given that she’s in intensive care.”

Taft, the mother of four adult children – two sons and two daughters – lives in a quiet Greenville neighborhood.

At a two-day school board meeting last week in Halifax County, Atkinson told Taft that she looked rested.

“She told me that’s because she had just been in Florida visiting her daughter,” Atkinson said.

Police spokesman Jim Sughrue said on Sunday that investigators hadn’t eliminated the possibility of a random attack. Officials have said little else since then about the investigation.

Typically, police will quickly release a recording of the 911 call reporting the crime, a written report from officers who initially respond to the call, general information about the victim’s medical condition and any information on a possible suspect or suspects.

But there is an aura of mystery around the Taft investigation.

Even though Sughrue said “every part of the police department” – from the assault squad to K9 units – have been out on the scene, police are holding close to their vest any theories about what happened.

Sughrue said today that the department expects to release public documents about the case soon, but detectives needed time to review the information and conduct more interviews before giving the public access to early details.

While the silence may be unusual, Sughrue insists the investigation is being handled the same as many others.

“Obviously many of the cases we investigate do not involve prominent people, and they are investigated as thoroughly,” he said.

Almost from the moment 911 operators dispatched emergency workers to Geil’s home, police have cordoned off the neighborhood. Until late Monday afternoon, the only people who were allowed to pass the police cruiser barricades were those who live on the quiet, winding street a short walk from Cameron Village shopping center.

Residents on Cartier Street say Taft was a frequent visitor to Geil’s home. According to neighbor Mary A. Jones, Taft drives a white, late model Lexus that police towed away over the weekend.

Jones’ daughter, Laura Jones, said neither she nor her mother heard anything unusual Saturday, but noted that Geil’s two-story home does not have a door facing the street. They also pointed out that the back door leads into a wooded area and a path that’s often used by residents to walk to the Harris Teeter grocery store at Cameron Village.

Taft’s neighbors in Greenville recall sometimes seeing her outdoors, playing with her grandchildren. They described her as a “kind lady” and “active citizen.”

They are confounded by the scant details police have released.

“We all know Kathy,” said Harvey Turnage, who lives at 3021 Dartmouth Drive, just across the street from Taft’s home. “We are devastated by the news and we haven’t heard anymore information about what happened.”

Another neighbor, Robert William McConnell, a retired physician, said Geil often accompanied Taft at social functions around Greenville.

“It’s just one of those things that makes you wonder if there’s a Supreme Being and why would He allow this to happen,” he said.

News researcher Peggy Neal contributed to this report.

thomasi.mcdonald@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4533

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