Former Forestview coach convicted of sex crimes

A former high school track and field coach was sentenced Tuesday for having sexual contact with a student while coaching at Forestview High School.

John Chandler Caldwell, 31, of Raleigh, pleaded guilty to indecent behavior toward a female student.

The girl in the case was 17 at the time of the events and was being trained by Caldwell, then 24, said Jocelyn Wright, a special assistant prosecutor in the state Department of Justice.

Caldwell first kissed the girl, a senior in high school, at a party he attended. In August 2018, the relationship escalated and the two had sexual contact multiple times over a period of about four months, Wright said this week in Gaston County Superior Court.

Caldwell performed sexual acts with the girl at the home of his father, former Supreme Court Justice Jesse Caldwell III, as well as at the home of Chandler Caldwell's grandmother and in his car after track practice, Wright said.

There is a video showing the girl wearing only a shirt and underwear in Caldwell's bedroom, and Caldwell confessed to police that he had sexual contact with the girl, Wright said.

The relationship was reported to the school at the time, but when the school administration spoke to her, the girl denied it. She later came forward because she felt Caldwell had abused her younger sister.

The young woman who The Gazette who did not give her name because she is a victim of a sex crime, spoke about her guilty plea during Caldwell's hearing, saying that she was naive at 17 and that it took her years to realize that what happened was not her fault.

“This crime tore me apart emotionally, and I have never felt so isolated and alone in my life,” she said. “In the years following this attack, I felt like I was falling through space, trying to hold on to anything that would make me feel like I was myself again.”

She said she did not see the warning flag that Caldwell displayed.

“Despite my cautious approach to life, my determination to stay on the right path, and my life of protecting myself as much as possible, it happened to me,” she added. “It took years for me to realise that what happened to me was not my fault, and by the age of 17, like many teenagers, I was constantly at loggerheads with my parents, having petty arguments and fights, hanging out with my friends late into the night, or not studying enough for an exam.”

“The feeling of wanting my own independent agency but not being an adult yet, and so I became vulnerable prey, especially to someone who was supposed to be a trusted person, a coach, not just for the sport I loved, but someone who was supposed to be there for me, to coach me through the big moments in life. At 17, I didn't see the warning signs… I was naive, but now everything has changed.”

She said she has struggled with severe depression, anxiety and panic attacks since her encounters with Caldwell.

“Over the past few years, I've lost a lot of things that made me feel like myself. I stopped running, something that brought me so much joy for most of my youth,” she said. “I've also been a musician my whole life, although over the past few years I've avoided songs, music and so many other aspects of life that I once called my own in order to avoid the pain I knew it would cause me.”

“Despite my efforts to overcome this trauma, it has truly taken more from me than I could have ever imagined. It has turned a life I once knew upside down.”

Caldwell's attorney, Rick Beam, said Caldwell was in turmoil at the time he was coaching at Forestview, and although he continued coaching after leaving the school, “he never came close to crossing the line he crossed with this young lady.”

After his arrest, Caldwell resigned from his coaching position at the University of Mount Olive, where he coached the men's and women's track and field teams. He understands that his coaching career is over, Beam said.

Judge Clifton H. Smith sentenced Caldwell to 24 months probation. Caldwell must register as a sex offender for 30 years.