Co-worker charged in killing of inn employee along Blue Ridge Parkway


Blue Ridge Parkway sign (Getty Images)

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TRANSYLVANIA COUNTY, N.C. — A man has been charged after an inn employee was found dead on a trail along the Blue Ridge Parkway Tuesday night, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Derek Shawn Pendergraft, 20, of Asheville, is charged with second-degree murder.

On Tuesday around 7:30 p.m., Blue Ridge Parkway dispatch received a call from the manager of the Pisgah Inn saying a female employee was missing.

At 10:30 p.m., the body of the employee, identified by the FBI as 29-year-old Sara Ellis, of Seminole, Florida, was found down an embankment near a path connecting the Pisgah Inn employee housing with the inn.

According to the DOJ, when initially interviewed by investigators, Pendergraft said he and Ellis got off work around 4 p.m. Tuesday and decided to go hiking on the trail around the employee housing. Pendergraft said when it began to rain, Ellis decided to go back to the housing area while he continued hiking.

Pendergraft told investigators that on his way back, he came across Ellis’ umbrella and hat on the ground, started looking for her and told management at the inn she was missing.

The manager later contacted law enforcement, saying Pendergraft was in her office and had confessed to killing his co-worker.

Pendergraft was taken into custody. If convicted, he could face a maximum penalty of life in prison.

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