COVER- Tough times: The best and (mostly) worst of 2007


Something about 2007 makes us uneasy. 


Maybe it was an unfortunate spring, when April 16 became a day that, in Virginia, will live in infamy after armed student Seung-Hui Cho kills 32 people at Virginia Tech.

Maybe it's the recession, fueled by the crashing housing market, the ripple effects of which have even best-place-to-live Charlottesville wincing in pain. Locally, the subprime mortgage collapse closes the doors of American Home Mortgage. Venerable builder R.D. Wade closes shop. New houses go unsold, builders scale back, and subcontractors moan. The glutted housing inventory sits at 3,500 houses– nearly three times the number available three years ago.

Maybe it's the price of gas. We yelped last year about gas prices when the national average price was $2.39, and now it's soared again at the beginning of December to $3.04 according to AAA, and there's talk of $4 per gallon. Ouch.

Maybe it's the cost of everything else going up– except housing and wages– so that our higher-than-ever grocery bills feel like inflation even though it's a recession.

Maybe it's the ongoing war in Iraq and the debate over whether waterboarding is torture. Even though the surge seems to have slowed casualties– 3,880 American deaths as of November 30, and over 28,000 wounded– the candidates vying to take George Bush's job acknowledge there's no easy way to get out. And the U.S. seems to be itching for a fight with Iran, despite news that it isn't quite the nuclear threat it's been portrayed.

Maybe it's the longest presidential campaign ever. And we don't even go to the polls for another 11 months.

Remember the drought of five years ago? It roared back, and while we aren't likely to run out of water this year, it's going to be 2011 before the Ragged Mountain reservoir is built, and its pipelines could take another decade, so don't get too thirsty. Meanwhile, the ripple effects of drought restrictions dry up farmers, landscapers, and lawn services.

Okay, it's not all unrelentingly grim news for 2007. 

The silver lining of the Tech massacre was an outpouring of Charlottesville-to-Blacksburg support, as the longtime UVA-Tech rivalry was put on hold and nearly everyone in America pretty much declared: Ich bin ein Hokie.

Charlottesville breathes a sigh of relief in August when Nathan Antonio Washington, the serial rapist who terrorized the community with a string of rapes over 10 years that made black males unwitting suspects, is arrested.

And there's an upside to flat housing prices: real estate assessments won't go up 20 or 30 percent as they have the past few years.

There's even an upside to global warming: as unnaturally long as the summer was, it was great to be wearing shorts in October and not having to turn on the heat 'til late November.

With dire assessments in mind, the Hook chronicles the best and worst of 2007. And to paraphrase Scarlett O'Hara, tomorrow is another year.

Most judgmental: Albemarle Circuit Court Judge Paul Peatross retires, and local lawyers vie to don the black robes. Defense attorney Cheryl Higgins elbows out six other contenders, including Charlottesville General District Court Judge Robert Downer and Albemarle Commonwealth's Attorney Jim Camblos, to become Her Honor.

Worst year for Camblos: Besides losing a judgeship for the second time, the four-term prosecutor is ousted by voters in November in favor of political novice Denise Lunsford.

Biggest upset for the Supes: Challenger Ann Mallek wrests the White Hall district seat on the Albemarle Board of Supervisors from incumbent David Wyant, which heralds a shift in the 3-3 deadlocks frequently found on the board.

Biggest upheaval in Virginia politics: Senator John Warner, 80, announces his upcoming retirement from the U.S. Senate seat he's held for 30 years, setting in motion a scramble that has Governor Mark Warner vying for the seat against an as-yet undetermined Republican contender.

Biggest upheaval in white supremacist circles: National Vanguard founder and Greene County resident Kevin Strom is indicted January 3 for child porn possession and intimidating a witness. By April, the feds add "enticement of a minor to perform lewd acts." When Strom goes to trial in October, the enticement and intimidation charges are thrown out of court; he heads back on the porn charges in January.

Most reassuring right upheld from the Strom trial: It's not illegal to masturbate in the privacy of one's home– even in front of photos of naked bodies with teen girls' heads superimposed.

Most colorful protesters: Eleven local members of Code Pink, a national anti-war organization, occupy Representative Virgil Goode's 1st street office on four consecutive Wednesdays and are arrested for trespassing. Their 30-day sentences are suspended April 6 with two years' good behavior.

Best parking lot plans: The city funds a $128,000 competition for a design for property it doesn't own– the Water Street lot– offers a $25,000 prize, and comes up with some nifty designs, the winner being a Charlotte firm called Little.

Longest Grisham lawsuit: New life is breathed into one (first filed in 2000 against the mega-selling author) by former St. Anne's-Belfield mom Katharine Almy, when the Supreme Court of Virginia rules the case was erroneously dismissed in Albemarle Circuit Court, leaving Almy free to prove intentional infliction of emotional distress stemming from Grisham's sleuthing to determine if she was a mysterious letter writer. 

Latest Grisham lawsuit: Bill Peterson– the district attorney responsible for the incarceration of Innocent Man Ron Williamson, subject of a Grisham nonfiction book last year– and Oklahoma SBI agent Gary Rogers accuse Grisham of libel and seek $75,000.

Latest Lethal lawsuit: Lethal Wrecker settles a $20-million suit with Peter Weatherly, who was seriously injured when a Lethal truck plowed into him in 2006. On June 2, a Lethal truck on I-85 near Durham loses its left rear wheels, which slam into a truck carrying hazardous materials. The incident shuts down the interstate and critically injures the truck's driver.

Best time for a new name: Lethal owner George Morris sells his company; it's now known as Cavalier Wrecker.

Best farewell to an old name: The Prism Coffeehouse, the 40-year-old music venue on Rugby Road that closed in 2006 after an internal meltdown, reopens as 214 Community Arts Center. Its former artistic director, Fred Boyce, keeps the name and relocates the Prism to Patrick County near the NC border.  

Most important lesson learned at the Free Speech wall: Threats are not protected under the First Amendment, as John Guiliano discovers when he's detained for 10 days after writing his name on the monument and expressing his desire to kill abortion providers with his AK47.

Grisliest murder trial: Necrophiliac wife-killer Anthony Dale Crawford is convicted February 9 for the November 2004 capital murder of his wife, Sarah, whose nude body he left in the Quality Inn.

Most unsolved, suspicious deaths of young women: In Orange County, where kindergarten teacher Justine Abshire, 27, is run down on a dark county road early November 6, 2006, and Danielle Howard, 22, is shot in the back on a dark Gordonsville street February 22. No arrests have been made in either case.

Most shocking Charlottesville murder: Jayne Warren McGowan, 26, is discovered dead from gunshot wounds in her St. Clair avenue rental November 9. Police arrest 18-year-old Michael Stuart Pritchett and 22-year-old William Douglas Gentry Jr. three days later. Police say the men, charged with capital murder, had no connection to McGowan.

Moldiest: The mold-infested house at 2207 Wayne Avenue is sold at auction September 24, more than two years after Larry Butler and Judit Szaloki purchased the troubled structure. While community volunteers remediated– and gutted– the house, Szaloki says mold returned this summer.

Priciest laughter: Evan Almighty, filmed in Crozet last year by '81 UVA grad Tom Shadyac for "north of $170 million," gets a warmly received sneak preview at the Paramount in June, but national critics and audiences are less kind to the most expensive comedy ever filmed.

Newest shelter: Shadyac purchases the First Christian Church on Market Street and sets about turning it into a day shelter for the homeless– prescient, considering the spike in mortgage foreclosures.

Newest waves: By the time of our August cover story, startup radio station 106.1 The Corner had blasted from startup to #4 in the coveted 25-54 demographic.

Biggest flip: Ice park developer Lee Danielson bought the Central Fidelity Bank building and planned to put a nine-story hotel on the site. When those plans fell through in 2006, he sold it to Lynchburg-booster Oliver Kuttner for $3.7 million. Earlier this year, Kuttner sells the building back to Danielson for $4.5 million. Danielson's partnership with Cnet founder Halsey Minor presumably puts the hotel back on schedule.

Biggest budget: Flush with a $7.8 million surplus from 2005-06, and real estate assessments up on average 15 percent, Charlottesville proposes a budget 12 percent higher than last year– and ends the year with a $6.7 million surplus. 

Most divisive line item: The city earmarks nearly $1 million for its own ambulance and eight emergency staffers, leaving the all-volunteer Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad, which receives no city funding, feeling out left out in the cold. The move prompts psychiatrist Barbara Haskins to run– unsuccessfully– for City Council.

Newest hair trends on City Council: Former planning chief Satyendra "the Urban Turban" Huja, and dreadlocked public housing coordinator Holly Edwards join incumbent mayor David Brown on Council in its first fall election. Kevin Lynch and Kendra Hamilton step down at the end of the year. 

Biggest fashion contretemps: Jaberwoke on the Corner ignites a firestorm in March when it bans the white t-shirts and baggy clothes popular with hip-hop fans, drawing the wrath of the NAACP, but ultimately drops its dress code and, by August, retools the restaurant as Three.

Biggest black eye for white t-shirts: Gangs of teens sporting that attire beat up approximately a dozen people in the downtown area between March and July. The attacks cease after police arrest a couple of juveniles– and school begins again.

Latest on William Beebe: The 12-step apologist cops a plea and is sentenced in March to 18 months in jail for the alleged 1984 frat house rape of Liz Seccuro. He's out in less than six months, then gets a job at Smoothie King in Richmond, from which he's promptly fired.

Most dubious nod to UVA: The General Assembly modifies Virginia's Freedom of Information Act to make it "UVA proof" after Mr. Jefferson's university denies employee Will Shaw's FOIA request, which he says was job related. 

Worst BB gun brandishing: A week after the Virginia Tech massacre, police receive reports of a gunman outside UVA's Wilsdorf Hall. Students barricade themselves in the building, and one is hospitalized with a panic attack. Arrested are four students who were filming a skit for a Japanese class, and they're charged with brandishing a weapon: a broken, plastic BB gun.

Most tragic memory lapse: Raelyn Balfour forgets her eight-month-old son, Bryce, is in the back seat of her SUV when she parks at the Judge Advocate General's School March 30, and the baby dies of hyperthermia. Balfour is charged with second-degree murder and felony child neglect, later reduced to involuntary manslaughter.

Biggest bomb hoax: Fake bombs shut down Brownsville Elementary and Henley Middle School March 20, and two Henley students are arrested. 

Most pervs: Charlottesville has 1,800 separate IP addresses used to download child porn, according to the Southern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children task force. 

Most child porn charges: Possession charges are pending against aforementioned white supremacist Kevin Strom and former Peace Lutheran paster Gregory Briehl. Former Albemarle girl's soccer coach Raja Charles Jabbour, a Lebanese citizen, is sentenced to nine years in prison for soliciting sex with a minor online and for possessing hundreds of sexually explicit images of children, some involving bestiality. In August, Crozet resident Walter D. Gregory Jr., 44, is charged with 17 counts of possession; Stephen Michael Fortney, 27, of Yellowstone Drive, is charged on 10 counts (seven possession, three attempted possession), and Bryan Petersen Malmstrom, 29, of Barracks Road, is charged with 17 counts.

Biggest molestation lawsuit: A Nelson County man using the pseudonym "John Nelson" sues Albemarle Social Services for over $4 million, claiming the department botched "highly dubious allegations of child abuse" brought by the man's former fiancee, and ignored evidence the allegations were false, according to the suit.

Worst role models at Western Albemarle High: Former social studies teacher Richard Neal Willetts, 26, who taught at Western during the 2005-06 school year, is sentenced to 10– count 'em– 10 years December 4 for sexually enticing minors over the Internet, and JV softball coach Alisha D. Stewart, 24, of Faber is charged with two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor after a 15-year-old girl shows up drunk in class May 1.

Worst role model at Charlottesville High: Former choir director and Mt. Zion Church music director Jonathan Spivey pleads guilty to four counts of custodial indecent liberties after coming on to at least four boys and is sentenced to 21 months, far less than Willetts, who only emailed his victim while Spivey was having sex with his in the choir room.

Biggest changing of the guard: Eugene Williams-led Dogwood Housing, which was dedicated to providing affordable housing, sells for $6.4 million to Keith Woodard, and with help from the city and United Bank, he pledges to keep 58 of the 73 units affordable.

Biggest changing of the clerical guard: Longtime Albemarle clerk Shelby Marshall announces she'll step down at the end of the year after 40 years, opening the way for her deputy, Debbie Shipp, who handily wins the job in November and promises to make the clerk's office smoke-free. 

Least welcoming to ice-cream trucks: Gated community Lake Monticello in Fluvanna denies access to the Mobile Munchies ice cream truck owned by residents David and Diane Welsh.

Worst loss to Liberty University: The Reverend Jerry Falwell, 73, dies May 15.

Worst armed robbery: William "Billy" Godsey is fatally beaten while escorting his wife, Sarah, manager at Wood Grill Buffet, in the restaurant parking lot in the wee hours of April 12.

Least successful bank robbery: Jeffrey Alan Adams, who stopped for some pre-heist bottled water at a gelato shop, tries to hold up Union Bank and Trust June 1 and is foiled by city inspector Cory Jordan, who calls 911.

Most sobering case: On June 11, Elisa Kelly and George Robinson begin their 27-month sentence for providing booze for minors in 2002; they're paroled November 19.

Best reason to slow down and sober up: The state's abusive driver fees go into effect July 1, tacking an additional $1,050 to those charged with reckless driving for going 20mph over the speed limit, and DUIers pay an additional $2,500. A study released December 5 finds the fines have not slowed fatalities, and the state may have to suspend 300,000 licenses in the next two years because of failure to pay the stiff fees.

Lightest load: Albemarle schools stop allowing nonprofits to send fliers home in backpack mail when School Board members decide June 14 that arguments about vacation Bible school and atheist summer camp notices are eating up too much instructional time.

Biggest bootleg bust: FBI agents raid the Pic and Pac on Stewart Street July 2 and confiscate 1,900 pirated CDs and DVDs.

Biggest arrest: The man suspected in at least seven DNA-linked rapes stretching to a 1997 attack in Waynesboro, Nathan Antonio Washington– a father of four, Daily Progress newspaper carrier, and Harris-Teeter butcher– is arrested at his Abbington Crossing townhouse August 13 and charged in two sexual assaults. He pleads guilty December 10 and agrees to a four life-term sentence.

Most miraculous: The "Blessed Mother Apparition" shows up at the Synchronicity Foundation for Modern Spirituality in Nelson County, but speaks only to its founder, Master Charles Cannon.

Dam-dest thing: The historic Woolen Mills dam, c. 1830, is partially (and controversially) breached in August after six years of effort by Rivanna Conservation member Jason Halbert, who wants to see the American shad swim upstream again to spawn after a nearly 200-year hiatus.

Quickest sell-out: Tickets for the April 14 Starr Hill Music Hall performance of former Fluco Chris Daughtry, now a national music sensation, sell out in seven minutes.

Most presidential candidates: Hillary comes to the Paramount September 23; Obama breaks Pavilion attendance records October 29; and Dennis Kucinch celebrates Pearl Harbor Day December 7 in the Albemarle County Office Building. (And President Bush's daughter announces she's marrying a Darden student.)

Most popular place to have sex on the Downtown Mall: On rooftops using the fire escape at the former First Christian Church– at least until an August 22 mid-morning tryst viewed from the Wachovia tower alerts police, and the fire escape is modified to prevent access from the ground.

Most controversial conservation easement:  John and Amy Harris' plans to build a 19,500-square-foot dwelling on a tract on Turner Mountain that specifies one house on two cleared acres spark a firestorm when the county determines that by removing the stove in the existing, 4,200-square-foot house, it can be considered an outbuilding. These modifications clear the way for the new mansion and outrage the original easement grantor, Richard Selden. The Public Recreational Facilities Authority, the easement co-holder, disagrees with the county December 6 that two houses can exist on the parcel, and asks for funding for its own attorney.  

Worst first-day-of-school surprise: Hundreds of Albemarle sixth graders and their parents find out the day before school starts that tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (TDaP) boosters are mandatory, and 62 children miss their first day of middle school because of the late-breaking news.

Highest profile animal cruelty charge: Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick lands in jail when he pleads guilty in Richmond to operating an illegal dogfighting ring out of his Surry County home.

Least welcoming: Kent Island, Maryland, residents hit the panic button when convicted kidnapper Darrell Rice, who was at one time indicted in a 1996 Shenandoah National Park double slaying and is also suspected of being the Route 29 stalker– both of which he denies– is paroled to the seaside community following his July 17 release from prison.

Saddest 25th anniversaries: The disappearance of 12-year-old Katie Worsky on July 12, 1982, and the fatal Sigma Chi fraternity roll in a U-Haul October 6, 1982.

Worst clerical error: Incorrect paperwork keeps Jennifer White in jail for more than a month after a grand jury fails to indict her August 20, setting off a round of finger pointing between Charlottesville Clerk Paul Garrett, Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman, and the Public Defender's office. White is indicted October 15 for obtaining money under false pretenses and goes back to jail.

 Worst blow to the "eat local" movement: Jean Rinaldi and Richard Bean of Double H farm are arrested September 21 for improperly labeling their pork "certified organic," and state agents bleach their meat to render it inedible.

Worst time to cross the street, part 1: When a speeding cop turns onto Water Street September 28 just as Richard Silva and friends celebrating his birthday enter the crosswalk, Silva screams at him to slow down. Officer Mike Flaherty arrests Silva and his fiancee, Blair Austin, and charges them with public swearing and intoxication. Austin, whom Flaherty throws to the ground, is also charged with obstruction of justice. The couple are found not guilty November 29.

Worst time to cross the street, part 2: At the same time Albemarle police officer Greg Davis turns left onto West Main on November 5, wheelchair-bound Gerry Mitchell is in the cruiser's path. Mitchell is knocked out of his chair and ticketed. 

Worst choice of a witness: Hook reporter Courteney Stuart is subpoenaed to testify in the Silva/Austin drunk in public trial and is prepared to launch a constitutional challenge, but is dismissed from being a witness when the Commonwealth and defense lawyers stipulate the accuracy of her article on the incident.

Latest strategy to stop the Meadowcreek Parkway: The McIntire Park golf course has been declared eligible to be a "historic" landmark.

Best get for Charlottesville's entertainment scene: The Police play John Paul Jones Arena November 6.

Best upcoming gets for JPJ: The Boss comes to town April 30, and Van Halen is down for February 22.

Worst angst for concert goers: So many shows, so little money. With Charlottesville's recent wealth of venues and tickets that can cost upwards of $100, fans must decide how to stretch their entertainment budgets, while promoters must pick shows that will pack 'em in.

Best kind of problem to have: See above. 

The original version of this story misidentified Kevin Strom as founder of the National Alliance rather than National Vanguard, and that has been corrected online.