Speedy: Court no-show leads to candidate arrest
The Democratic primary is still two months away, and already one of the City Council contenders has run afoul of the law. Wesley Bellamy announced his candidacy March 6; on March 27, he had a press conference to announce it was the clerk's fault he was arrested for failing to show up in court.
Bellamy, 26, a computer teacher at Albemarle High and founder of a mentoring/boxing organization called Helping Young People Evolve– HYPE– was the first of two African-American men to declare their candidacy in the oft-white field of council contenders.
Within two months in early 2012, he picked up four summonses in Albemarle County: driving with a suspended license, which was amended to no operator's license, and reckless driving on January 10, 2012; driving 73mph in a 55mph zone on February 26, and speeding again on March 10, this time going 70mph in a 55mph zone.
Earlier this year in Charlottesville on February 16, Bellamy was again charged with driving with a suspended license. It was his failure to appear in court March 14 that resulted in a bench warrant.
He turned himself in to police March 25. At his March 27 press conference, a bowtie-wearing Bellamy explained that he'd called the clerk's office in Charlottesville General District Court to reschedule the March 14 hearing.
"I feel that it's important as leaders to realize miscommunication occurs from time to time and people make mistakes," said Bellamy. "I am aware the clerk is human and did not put in the records the correct address or that I asked for a continuance."
The city General District Court clerk did not respond to multiple phone calls from the Hook. By email April 2, Bellamy declined to comment on the reason for his suspended license until after his court hearing, "[a]fter which, I will answer all questions," he promises. He also seems to back away from finger-pointing at the clerk. "All I can say is that the clerk and I had a misunderstanding," he writes.
"I was at his press conference and he explained it all away as a clerical error," says Charlottesville Democratic chair Jim Nix. "I'm disappointed he didn't tell us about these things. It's not a good way to begin his campaign."
Just two years ago, another City Council candidate, James Halfaday, was arrested after he signed a false declaration that he lived in the city.
"I'm quite sure Wes Bellamy lives in the city and is qualified to run," says Nix. "I don't think he's made a false statement."
It turns out Bellamy isn't the only council candidate with a problematic driving record. Melvin Grady, 44, a teacher at Buford Middle School, admits he's had his own run-ins with the law, including driving while intoxicated about 13 or 14 years ago. He was charged with a third DWI in 2004, according to Charlottesville court records. A jury acquitted him in 2005.
Albemarle court records show that in 2006, Grady was charged with reckless driving for going 93mph in a 65mph zone, and twice he was charged for driving with a suspended license.
"I was driving to work and I was being hard headed," he says of the suspended license charge.
"I paid my dues," says Grady. "Once you start paying those fines, it's costly."
Grady also was charged with misdemeanor assault in October 2007 in Charlottesville, a charge that was dismissed. "That was just bogus," he says. "Someone was upset because I asked them to leave my property. They went to the magistrate and filed a false warrant."
Because of his own record, Grady says he can relate to Bellamy's woes. "I learned my lesson," he says. "I'm licensed now, and I'm straight."
And as a math teacher and track coach, Grady was also motivated to change his driving style. "You can't do that and be a role model," he says.
As for the other Dem candidates for council, incumbent Kristin Szakos picked up a 45mph-in-a 25mph ticket in 2009; Bob Fenwick failed to obey a highway sign in 2007 and was cited for no registration in 2012, and UVA grad student Adam Lees shows no traffic violations in Charlottesville and Albemarle court records.