Doctor: Girl’s death was ‘call to action’

The death of an 8-year-old girl last May has sparked a recent organized effort to combat domestic violence in Asheville and Buncombe County.

Buncombe County health practitioners, law enforcement, area leaders and support agencies met in July at Mission Hospital to begin to address the problem of violence against women and children in the county.

As part of the group’s zero tolerance of domestic violence, participants identified three immediate responses: to complete a safety assessment, including what data is available and what evidence exists regarding the effectiveness of current or proposed strategies; to identify innovative prevention strategies and evaluate the idea of a community-wide collaborative response to domestic violence and sexual violence.

Subcommittees working on each of those areas and have met numerous times within the past couple of months. The next meeting of the full group will be Oct. 1, though the location has yet to be determined.

Dr. Kellett Letson, chairman of the OB-GYN division of Mountain Area Health Education Center, in Asheville, prompted the effort. Letson said he was moved to action after the tragic death of Erica Phillips in May. Phillips and her mother, Jennifer Simpson, were run down by Simpson’s fiancé as they walked along Smokey Park Highway in Candler, according to police reports.

Reports said that Simpson and her fiancé, Harry Kimmons, 27, of Candler, had been arguing in the parking lot of the Candler Bi-Lo grocery store. When the argument escalated, Simpson and her daughter got out of Kimmons’ vehicle and began walking westbound. A short time later, Kimmons struck Simpson and her daughter with his vehicle, reports said.

Phillips died shortly after transport to Mission Hospital. Simpson suffered head trauma and multiple broken bones to her lower extremities, according to published reports.

“That tragedy in Candler was somewhat of a call to action; however, the problem is in every community and in way, way too many households,” Letson said. “As an OB-GYN, I see the direct and indirect consequences of domestic violence.”

A community-wide approach is essential to addressing domestic violence, he said. Neighbors must contact the police when they hear violent fights; teachers must be alert to signs indicating that students have witnessed or experienced violence at home; medical professionals can help by talking to victims of violence they treat; and members of the clergy can discuss options available to victims of domestic violence.

“I think it takes us all working together to change the culture and attitude within our community,” Letson said. “If the goal is to provide services to victims of domestic violence, we can do more if we work together.”

Helpmate has experienced a significant increase in the need for the services of the Asheville-based agency that assists victims of domestic violence, said Valerie Collins, executive director. The organization provided services to 1,615 individuals from July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2012, and provided emergency shelter to 97 women and 67 children.

“A lot of women seek help in different ways; not all come to Helpmate,” Collins said.

“I’m very excited about this particular direction to address domestic violence,” she said of the united initiative, which also includes Buncombe County Health and Human Services, the YWCA of Asheville, the Buncombe County district attorney’s office, the United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County, Our VOICE, Watershed Capital, Western Highlands Network, Child Abuse Prevention Services, Pisgah Legal Services and others. “Our approach will be centered around the victim’s point of view.”

“One thing this group can accomplish is to give us the tools we need to help prevent domestic violence and to make our community a safer place for women and children,” Letson said.

Find out more

For more information, visit Helpmate’s website or call the office at 828-254-2968. If you are in crisis and need help, call the 24-hour crisis line at 828-254-0516. Help is free and confidential.

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Peggy Manning is a contributing reporter for Carolina Public Press. Contact her at

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