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STORMY TIMES

South Boston News
SoVaNow.com / January 02, 2019
2018 was a year for the history books, for reasons good and bad. From Clarksville’s Bicentennial celebration to record flooding and storm damage to ongoing progress on a new consolidated school for county middle school and high school students, these were the stories that dominated the headlines in 2018.

Epic weather takes a heavy tolll

2018 goes down as the wettest year on record and also the earliest that most people living in Southside Virginia experienced a major snow event — when more than a foot of snow blanketed the area the weekend of Dec. 8-9. That, however, was hardly the worst of the year’s weather surprises.

The year began with an arctic blast that shattered low temperature records, dumped nearly a foot of snow and ice on roadways, forced school and business closures, and created driver mayhem with local police responding to more than 42 calls in one 24-hour period. Students at Park View Middle School were placed on a modified class schedule for the first few weeks of the new year after the deep freeze knocked out the boiler system used to heat the school building.

Prolonged rainfall throughout the spring drove up water levels and increased the volume of debris in Buggs Island Lake. By late May the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees management of the reservoir, was forced to close boat ramps and day use areas around the lake in order to implement flood operations.

With the heat index soaring into triple digits by early July, the National Weather Service warned residents to guard against heat exhaustion and heat stroke by staying hydrated and as much as possible avoiding direct sun.

As if the winter freeze, heavy spring rains and summer heat were not enough, Hurricane Florence took direct aim at the region in September. By the time the storm departed the area, more than 50 roads were closed due to flooding, washouts or fallen debris, several houses were damaged or destroyed by a tornado that hopscotched through the county, a 10,000 gallon underground fuel tank at Bluestone Middle School was forced to the surface and had to be removed, and farmers raced to save tobacco, soy and other crops in their fields, many of which were flooded from the foot of rain that accompanied Florence.

Tropical Storm Michael, which struck in mid-October, was predicted as a minor event, but it left a path of death and destruction as it tore through the community — adding to losses already suffered by local residents after the remnants of Hurricane Florence.

A 62-year-old Charlotte County woman and her 36-year-old son drowned when a flash flood overtook their vehicle on Mount Harmony Road near Eureka, and another 77-year-old woman was pulled from her car just in time after fast-rising waters from the Meherrin River swept her vehicle off Robinson Ferry Road near Lawrenceville.

A line worker was electrocuted while working to restore power to the more than 12,000 Dominion Energy and Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative customers whose power was knocked out by downed lines and broken poles. Rainfall that drove lake levels up to nearly 315 feet forced the closure of boat ramps and most campgrounds throughout the county and once again resulted in the cancellation of classes at local schools — his time for two and a half days.

Farmers whose crops were severely damaged by Hurricane Florence suffered additional losses from Michael, particularly tobacco farmers whose curing barns lost power for an extended period of time.

Mother Nature was not yet done with Southside Virginia. Thousands were again left without power for several days and schools were closed in early December when foot of snow and ice brought the county to a standstill in what has been called one of the earliest major snowstorms in decades.

County moves forward with consolidated secondary school

Members of the Board of Supervisors and School Board began 2018 still at odds over where to locate the new countywide school complex for students in the middle school and high school grades — all attending badly outdated facilities at Bluestone and Park View. In December 2017, supervisors approved spending $10,000 on an option for nearly 180 acres located at the corner of Wooden Bridge Road and U.S. 58 in Baskerville, but the county had not exercised the option.

School trustees held fast to their desire for no-strings attached funding from the Board of Supervisors — the county would provide the funds and the School Board would decide how best to spend the money, including choosing a locale for the new school complex.

Despite ongoing tensions and a lack of formal agreement on a site for a new campus, trustees in January moved forward with hiring an architect to design the new secondary facility. It was the first indication that school leaders were willing to proceed with the planning and design phase of a campus to replace four aging high and middle school buildings.

By March, with still no confirmed site for the new school, trustees hired Richmond architects Ballou Justice Upton to design the new consolidated facility. School Board Chairman Brent Richey warned at the time that if supervisors did not move forward with plans to purchase land for the building, the project would be halted within 30 days.

The drama over the school complex continued into May. As supervisors were moving forward with plans to borrow an additional $40 million in construction money — they’d borrowed an initial $50 million in 2017 — architects with Ballou Justice Upton were telling members of both boards it would take at least $135 million to design a 330,000 square foot facility, complete with a 35,000 square foot aquatic center, 4,000 seat football stadium and running track, 1,100 seat auditorium, 2,000 seat gymnasium, separate teacher lounge and teacher development center, agriculture barn with classrooms, wrestling room, culinary arts center, two auxiliary gyms, and separate soccer, baseball and softball fields for the high and middle schools.

That same month, supervisors nixed the plan, telling architects to go back to the drawing board and come up with a design that could be built on a $100 million budget.

The Board of Supervisors softened its stance on funding for the school complex in August, agreeing to raise the budget above the $100 million previously approved. By September members had agreed to spend $120 million for construction of the school and a new sewer line that would run from Baskerville to Boydton along U.S. 58.

At the end of October, the Baskerville site was purchased and architects were moving forward with design plans — though not without ongoing pushback from school trustees who jockeyed to include what each saw as the most important elements of the school design: an ag barn, an auxiliary gym for the middle school, and green spaces for the students.

Broadband roll-out

With multiple providers looking to expand broadband internet in out-of-the-way areas of Mecklenburg County, local officials began the year by asking the public to identify their most pressing internet needs. County officials issued a survey which they said would be used to assess which broadband options would best fulfill market demand.

In March, Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative received $2.6 million from the Virginia Tobacco Commission to get into the broadband business by creating a fiber optic network across its service area. By September, MEC celebrated the initial roll-out of fiber optic internet by announcing that three homes in the Chase City area were now receiving ultra-high-speed broadband through MEC’s Empower initiative.

Working with Microsoft, Lake Country Satellite launched free community wi-fi service in downtown Boydton in October; that same month, Buggs Island Telephone (BIT) debuted its high-speed internet service for 100 customers in the Bracey area.

By the end of the year BIT was eyeing a second broadband project for homes in Bracey and MEC was working on Phase II of its broadband project.

Solar farms on the rise

Supervisors approved a third solar farm for the Chase City area in early February despite changes to the county’s zoning ordinances and comprehensive plan that established stricter standards for companies looking to install utility-scale solar farms on existing farmland. Because the Otter Creek Project (a 682-acre farm planned for Spanish Grove Road) filed its permit request prior to the rule changes, and because many residents in the Chase City area signed a petition in support of the farm, supervisors voted in favor of issuing a special use permit for the Otter Creek project.

Moving forward, county officials say they will require future solar farm sites to be less than 500 acres and at least one mile from the nearest town.

Hoping to fill the demand for workers in the area’s booming solar industry, Southside Virginia Community College teamed up with the Tobacco Commission, industry advocacy group MDV-SEIA, and several solar companies including one that would be building a utility-scale farm near Chase City to design a 40-60 training program for solar installers. The first class began in September.

Eager to jump on the solar farm bandwagon, Ladybug Solar, LLC asked the county to approve their project for a 578-acre solar farm on land owned by the Hundley family and others at the intersection of Highway 903 and Redlawn Road near Bracey. The proposal received pushback from most neighbors living near the site despite claims made by the developer that nearby residents were in support of the farm.

Planning Commission members, on a close vote — 4-3 with three members absent — gave a thumbs-down to the proposal. Now, it is up to the Board of Supervisors to decide whether to allow the Ladybug Solar project can move forward. The appeal is expected to be heard in January 2019 at the regular meeting of the Board.

Clarksville celebrates its 200th anniversary.

The Town of Clarksville kicked off a year-long bicentennial celebration in April, taking part in Virginia’s 85th Annual Historic Garden Week. The event brought garden lovers from across Virginia to Clarksville on April 28 for one-day tour of historic homes and gardens, where guests viewed works of Plein Air artists and sipped wine from local wineries.

A commemorative coin and T-shirt was created to mark the year-long bicentennial event, and the town community theatre group wrote and performed an original play incorporating Clarksville’s history into a humorous whodunit.

The Town’s regular July 4th festivities took on a bicentennial flair with a birthday cake float and a community picnic of hotdogs and birthday cupcakes.

The full celebration took place in October during Clarksville’s traditional Harvest Days festival. Over the course of three days, there were testimonials and proclamations offered by local leaders, slide presentations and videos highlighting the town’s history, and a community-wide church service, along with the usual Oktoberfest and Harvest Days festivities.

The party ended in December with a Tobacco Ball and the crowning of the Tobacco Queen, Mildred Jolly — the last woman to represent Clarksville at Virginia’s annual Tobacco Festival.

Kids=Play becomes a reality

The dream of three local teens was realized on Nov. 9 when a ribbon-cutting was held for their all-inclusive playground in South Hill’s Centennial Park. It was the culmination of a two-year project that began when Park View High students Nylah Custalow, Madilynne Tanner and Olivia Tanner were asked to create a community service project for their FBLA class. They envisioned Kids=Play, an all-inclusive, handicap accessible playground for local families and visitors.

To turn their design into reality, the three had to find a location, which they did by reaching out to South Hill Mayor Dean Marion. They needed to raise money to purchase and install playground equipment and prepare the site — setting a goal of $100,000. They had to hire a contractor with a background in handicapped accessible play equipment (they hired Cunningham Recreation), and they assembled a group of community volunteers to help install the equipment and created a board to oversee ongoing needs of the project.

Even though the Tanner sisters had graduated from Park View High School and were attending Virginia Tech by 2018, they never gave up on their dream, returning to South Hill for fundraisers and during the build. Custalow will graduate from Park View High School in the spring of 2019.

According to the three student project leaders, the playground facility is designed for the enjoyment of typically developing children as well as children with autism, hearing impairments, cognitive disabilities, cerebral palsy, spina bifida and other physical and developmental needs.

Elections 2018 bring change

The 2018 elections were not without their drama, even for sleepy Southside Virginia. First-term 5th District Congressman Tom Garrett dropped a bombshell that shook the Virginia GOP in late May when he announced that he would not seek re-election. The news came at the end of a week of negative media coverage with allegations of abusive behavior and ethics violations by the Buckingham congressman and his wife. Garrett denied the reports but at the same time acknowledged he was an alcoholic and would be seeking treatment.

As Republicans scrambled to find his replacement on the ticket, local Democrats were seeing a chance to retake control of the seat which they lost in 2010 when Robert Hurt defeated Tom Perriello.

In the end, 5th District voters bucked the tide that swept much of the U.S., which saw a wave election hand control of the U.S. House of Representatives over to Democrats. Southside voters in the district stayed true to their GOP-leaning ways, overwhelmingly supporting former Air Force officer and Nelson County businessman Denver Riggleman over his Democratic rival, retired journalist Leslie Cockburn of Rappahannock. Riggleman’s support in the southern part of the district was key to his 6.6 point victory in the 5th District as a whole.

Uranium mining back on the frontburner

For nearly 40 years, Virginia has enforced a ban on uranium mining due to environmental concerns. Throughout the time, Virginia courts have been steadfast in their refusal to overturn the ban, despite repeated attempts to get them to do so by Virginia Uranium, Inc., the Canadian-based company seeking to mine the Coles Hill site upriver in Pittsylvania County — believed to be one of the largest deposits of the yellowcake in the United States, with an estimated worth of $5-6 billion. In May, at the behest of Trump Administration Justice Department lawyers, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments on the central question of whether the federal Atomic Energy Act preempts Virginia regulatory authority to bar uranium mining.

Oral arguments took place Nov. 5 with lawyers for VUI and the Justice Department making their case against pushback from lawyers for the Commonwealth, the legislature and localities whose water supplies could be impacted if uranium tailings find their way into the Dan, Staunton or Roanoke rivers. A ruling by justices is expected in early 2019.

VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital opens its CARE Building

In February, VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital continued its plan to usher in a new era of patient care in Southside Virginia with the opening of its new C.A.R.E. comprehensive medical services building. The building is located on the new hospital campus on the north side of South Hill.

The name C.A.R.E. reflects the services offered in the center — clinics, administrative offices, rehabilitation services and education. More specifically the building will be home to Cardiology Services, ENT & Pulmonology, Family Care Center, Orthopedic Service, Pain Management, Surgical Services, Urological Services, Women’s Health Services and a new family dental clinic.

Passages in 2018

This year’s passages included the loss not only of beloved residents, but also the destruction of an iconic building and the retirement of a local member of the judiciary — Circuit Judge Les Osborn, presiding judge for Virginia’s 10th Judicial District.

Nancy Alford. In March, friends and family were stunned by the murder of Nancy Alford, local psychologist and wife of Sanford Memorial Baptist Church minister John Alford. She died after burglars tied her up and set the family’s Lake Gaston house on fire during a home invasion. Her husband was savagely beaten during the incident. He was hospitalized with second degree burns to his face, hands and arms and inhalation burns in his lungs that he suffered while trying to save his wife before escaping the fire. She died in the blaze. It took North Carolina authorities less than five days to capture the suspected culprits, Kevin Munn and Lester Kearney. Both men had long criminal histories.

Munn pleaded guilty to Nancy Alford’s murder as well as the murder of Henderson, N.C. businessman, Thomas Ellington, in an unrelated case in May. He was sentenced to two consecutive terms of life in prison. In July, District Court Judge John Davis found that Warren County, N.C. prosecutors could move forward with the capital murder trial of Lester Kearney after John Alford was able to positively identify him as one of the two men who broke into his home on the day his wife was murdered. So far Lester’s case has not been set for trial.

Evan Ashad Smith. Also in March, Bluestone High School students learned of the tragic death of senior Evan Ashad “Meek” Smith. He was just 18. Smith was slain by a juvenile offender on Endly Street in Chase City in what was suspected to be a gang-related shooting. While police would not attribute a motive to the shooting, in its aftermath Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols acknowledged being told by law enforcement that they suspected gang involvement in the shooting. He also posted a message on the school division website announcing an increased presence of law enforcement at the schools for safety reasons and due to a “series of events in Mecklenburg County that have been connected to violence.”

Smith’s death was an all-to-real reminder of the increase in gun and gang-related crimes sweeping the country.

Doris Hester. Mecklenburg County lost a longtime community leader and veteran educator in October with the passing of Doris Hester, at age 90. In addition to serving as a teacher and principal in the Mecklenburg County school system for 40 years, Hester oversaw elections in the county for more than a decade as Chair of the Elections Board, led the Mecklenburg County YMCA through much of its recent growth, and volunteered with numerous church, educational, and civic groups.

When she wasn’t volunteering, you could often find Hester indulging in one of her favorite pastimes — playing bridge.

Floyd Kirby. One of the area’s most decorated combat veterans of World War II, Floyd W. Kirby, died December 19 at the age of 98. A veteran of the Army Air Force during World War II, Kirby flew 35 combat missions as a B-17 bombardier in the European Theater and was decorated with the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

After retiring from Burlington Industries, Kirby began a second career in real estate. Before he retired at the age of 94, he was thought to be one of the oldest active real estate brokers in the United States, if not the oldest. When he was not selling real estate, Kirby could be found sailing on Buggs Island Lake. This avid sailor was one of the founders of the Kerr Lake Yacht Club.

Hon. Leslie M. Osborn. After 19 years on the bench, Judge Leslie M. Osborn decided to trade in his gavel and robe for a fishing pole. On Dec. 31, 2018, Osborn retired as the Presiding Judge for Virginia’s 10th Judicial District, presiding over courts in Mecklenburg, Halifax, Charlotte, Lunenburg, Prince Edward, Appomattox, Cumberland and Buckingham counties. Replacing him as Presiding Judge will be Halifax Circuit Judge Kimberly S. White, while Circuit Judge S. Anderson Nelson will oversee the criminal docket in Mecklenburg County.

Planter’s Warehouse. Clarksville’s historic tobacco warehouse succumbed to the ravages of wind and rain from Tropical Storm Michael, collapsing into the street in a hail of bricks and mortar on October 11. The landmark building, which stood for more than 160 years, was home to Virginia’s oldest continuously existing tobacco market and was undergoing renovation when the front façade of the surviving building was blown down by the storm. Shortly after, Dave McCormack of Waukeshaw Developers promised to move forward with plans to transform the property into a mixed-use commercial and residential project, though new plans would be needed. As of the end of the year, no new work was taking place at the site.

County Decals. Few mourned the news that as of January 1, those pesky county decals needed to be removed from car windshields. In 2017 the Board of Supervisors agreed to stop issuing the stickers, which could be purchased only after residents paid their personal property tax bills. In lieu of the decals, the county opted to tack a $25 fee onto the property tax bill of every vehicle owner.

Virginia State Police found that decals, which were affixed to the center bottom of a vehicle windshield, interfered with crash avoidance technology often found in newer vehicles. The ruling also impacted the placement of vehicle inspection stickers. Once a vehicle is inspected and issued a 2019 sticker, the new inspection sticker must be placed in the lower left corner of the windshield.

Clarksville Co-Gen Plant. Dominion Energy shuttered its 138-megawatt coal-fired plant in Clarksville in April. The two-unit plant, formerly known as Mecklenburg County Co-Gen, was initially put into commercial operation in December 1992. As larger and more modern plants came online, Dominion relegated the Clarksville plant to “peaking facility” status — one that generally runs only when there is a high demand for electricity.

Ricky Allgood. Popular Bluestone music teacher Ricky Allgood put down his baton in May, ending a 42-year career as the leader the Marching Barons. Allgood was an institution among concert and band teachers in Virginia. During his tenure, the Bluestone marching and concert band became one of the most decorated band programs in Virginia, winning well over 1,000 trophies and performing up and down the East Coast and in the Bahamas. There was not a dry eye in the house as Allgood directed his final spring concert on May 6.



Record setting catch

Buggs Island Lake proved once again to be a great place for fishing when, in March, South Boston angler Del Pool shattered the state record by hooking a Freshwater Drum weighing in at 29.38 pounds. For his achievement, Pool earned a plaque from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and holds the title of “State Record Holder.” Pool, who’d been fishing on Buggs Island Lake for more than 40 years, said the drum was the largest fish he’d caught.

In August, Wayne German of West Virginia set a new record for largemouth bass caught in Buggs Island Lake when he hauled in a 10.43 pound, 25.4 inch fish from the Rudds Creek area. The previous record was held by Michael Hayes who caught a 9-pounder in March 2010.

Crimes stories

2018 was a year during which several significant cases drew to a close or first broke into the headlines.

Three suspects involved in the January 2016 murder of Terrance Coleman of Boydton and his two dogs were sentenced during 2018. Quashawn Jamal Lester, the triggerman in the deadly shooting, will spend the next 70 years in prison. Getaway driver Dakerie Daniels received a 45-year active sentence and the third individual, Jaquan Hickman received an active sentence of 28 years in prison. Judge Leslie Osborn, in sentencing Hickman, agreed with the assessment of Commonwealth’s Attorney Allen Nash that the evidence showed that Daniels and Lester were the leaders in the murder plot and for that reason Hickman did not deserve a sentence as long as that given to Lester. At the same time, Hickman was not entirely innocent and for that reason he was given an active sentence of 28 years.

A former teacher and principal at Centra Rivermont School in Chase City, Heidi Bradshaw Sheets, was sentenced in February to a minimum of five years in prison after pleading guilty to sex crimes involving a teenage student. A five-year sentence was handed down by Judge Osborn for Sheets’ involvement with the student in Mecklenburg County, but there were additional charges pending in Halifax County for her involvement with the same student.

In March, former Clarksville rescue squad medic William Maurice Medley was sentenced to 33 years in prison for the murder of his estranged wife. Medley received an active sentence of 30 years on the murder charge and an additional 36 months for child abuse since three children were in the home at the time of the December 2016 slaying.

A $1.4 million Ponzi scheme ended in March when Michael Sullivan of South Hill was sentenced to five years in prison. Sullivan, while doing business as Kenhill Financial, embezzled money from at least 15 investors during a three-year period. His lawyer Patrick Hanes described Sullivan’s actions as a failed investment strategy.

A South Hill man, Jesse R. Wiley, Jr. was sentenced to 40 years in prison in June for the attempted murder of his girlfriend Wendy Ashworth. In a bizarre twist, during Wiley’s sentencing Ashworth told Judge Osborn she still loved Wiley and hoped to marry him one day.

22-year-old Willie Lee Hicks, Jr. of South Hill was sentenced to life in prison in August after he was convicted of raping his 12-year-old cousin.

Professed child pornographer and child molester Harry William Smith, Jr. of Boydton pleaded guilty in October to 21 sex and pornography related charges in a deal that reduced his potential sentence from 400 years in prison to 285 years. His sentencing is set for April 25, 2019.

As the year drew to a close, alleged fraud by Russell Ashby Lundy, III, former owner of Lundy Motors in South Hill, resulted in 101 felony charges, including 99 counts of obtaining money by false pretenses and two counts of forgery. He stands accused of pocketing more than $1 million from the scheme. His next trial date is set for Feb. 1.



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