Unprecedented: Behind the '08 ball

This has not been our best decade. The Hook, born only months after 9-11, has grown up in a grimmer time than those giddy, fin de si├Ęcle days when the biggest worry for the new year was how Y2K would affect computers. Remember?

It's not like we haven't seen some doozy years already this millennium: war, drought, and Hurricane Katrina. But in a downer decade, 2008 really takes the cake with the three unprecedented Es: economy, energy, and elections. 

We're in uncharted territory here, and our heads are still spinning as we watch the economy crumble, taking down venerable institutions like Wachovia and Lehman Brothers– and the UVA endowment– as well as our own retirement funds, if we had them. Haven't we always heard what's good for GM is good for the country?

We don't want to say Depression, but that's what we're thinking.

And gas. Can there be anything crazier than a $2 fluctuation in prices in one year? In three months? Let's recap: A year ago, prices were over $3. Charlottesville hit $4 a gallon in June, and after an expensive summer of cruising for burgers, Hurricane Ike brought fears that gas would go even higher.

Instead prices started to fall– free fall, actually– and by September were around $2.57 a gallon, plunging on to $1.72 at the end of November, and by mid-December, a gallon of regular could be had for $1.48. Unprecedented.

Politics also took us to places many never expected to see in this lifetime. A woman and an African American battled through the hotly contested, grueling Democratic primary season. And 2008 became the year that the United States elected its first black president, a guy named Barack Hussein Obama, and citizens seem hopeful that it's "change we can believe in." Unprecedented.

Two years ago Virginia was officially dubbed a purple state as it shifted from red to blue, but 2008 saw it plop firmly in the blue camp– at least for this year– supporting a Democratic president for the first time since 1964. 

Closer to home was the astounding defeat of six-term Congressman Virgil Goode by upstart Ivy Dem Tom Perriello by a mere 745 votes in the ultra-conservative Southside 5th District. Unprecedented.

Is it over yet? Still reeling, the Hook remembers the best– and worst– of crazy '08.

Most controversial public works project: The $200-million-plus expansion of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir to supply water for 50 years by increasing the size of the reservoir and piping water 9.5 miles from the Rivanna Reservoir is questioned, and even as more citizens urge another look at the feasibility and cost of the plan, and City Council calls a halt, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors remains committed to the mega-reservoir. As the estimate for dredging the Rivanna Reservoir soared to Panama Canal-proportions of more than $225 million, dredgers came out of the woodwork seeking to bid on the job many believe will provide plenty of water at a fraction of the dam cost.

Second most controversial public works project: The $7.5 million re-bricking of the Downtown Mall, long sought by downtown merchants and pedestrians tired of their Manolos catching in cracks, sets off a firestorm over brick size and the timing of the project, and prompts a December backlash petition questioning whether it should be done at all.

Most outraged softball players: Charlottesville's decision to rip out two heavily used softball fields at McIntire Park and lease the public land to the YMCA has leagues crying foul. 

Most likely to blame the victim, part 1: The year begins with charges dropped against Gerry Mitchell, the wheelchair-bound artist crossing West Main who was struck November 5, 2007, by an Albemarle cop and subsequently ticketed, even though he was in a crosswalk. Officer Gregory Davis was not charged for plowing into Mitchell, and Mitchell never got an apology from the city. The video from the police car of Mitchell getting mown down to the Black-Eyed Peas' "My Humps" becomes a YouTube sensation.

Most likely to blame the victim, part 2: Charges are dropped January 22 against Dorothy Hamlin, who was struck by a dump truck while crossing JPA in her wheelchair and ticketed for failing to obey a pedestrian signal.

Saddest trial: Raelyn Balfour, the JAG School mother who left her nine-month-old son in the car while she went to work, goes to trial January 23. A jury acquits her of involuntary manslaughter.

Saddest end to the school year: Eleven-year-old Aziz Damar Booth had just finished the sixth grade at Walker Upper Elementary School when he's fatally shot in his home June 3.

Saddest legislative loss: Long-time delegate, former mayor, and city councilor Mitch Van Yahres dies February 8 at age 81. Even in death, Van Yahres remains a politician; his obituary urged his mourners to support Barack Obama.

Saddest local ties to Mumbai terror: Alan Scherr and his 13-year-old daughter, Naomi, die November 26 at the Oberoi Trident hotel while on a Synchronicity pilgrimage to India. 

Biggest international incident: Charlottesville City Council, never a body to limit itself to city affairs, lends its support to Tibetan independence and flies a Tibetan flag at City Hall March 4, drawing the ire of the People's Republic of China, which expresses "grave concern" at Charlottesville's meddling in its internal affairs. In June Mayor Dave Norris joins 31 other U.S. mayors who sign a petition opposing military action in Iran.

Biggest five-alarm scoop: In the course of reporting on a 2007 fire on Lewis Mountain Road that killed Brett Quarterman, 25, and seriously injured Ashley Mauter, 24, Hook senior editor Courteney Stuart discovers the ineffectiveness during slow-smouldering fires of the standard ionization smoke alarms found in most homes; her story sparks a run on photoelectric alarms in local hardware stores. With local firefighters, the Hook tests three different smoke alarms June 10, confirming that fires can smoulder for a long time before ionization alarms go off, which can be deadly when those depending on them are asleep. 

Biggest porn trial: Staunton Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Robertson goes after After Hours Video store, charging owner Rick Krial and clerk Tinsley Embrey with six felony and four misdemeanor obscenity counts. Federal prosecutor Matthew Buzzelli joins Robertson; the defendants bring in Larry Flynt's attorney, Paul Cambria. A jury finds Krial guilty in August of one count of obscenity for City Girls Extreme Gangbangs.

Biggest kiddie porn trial: In a surprise turn, former white supremacist golden boy Kevin Strom pleads guilty to one count of child porn possession January 14 after having had enticement of a minor and witness intimidation charges dropped the previous fall; he's sentenced to 23 months in prison. 

Biggest break in an unsolved murder: Two years after Dani Howard was found dead in the street in Gordonsville, a 16-year-old who had stayed in the house she shared with her boyfriend is indicted March 13. The teen, Gary Christopher Johnson, a.k.a. "G-Money," is found guilty December 12 of four counts, including first-degree murder.

Biggest break in a 20-year-old unsolved murder: Albemarle police arrest Alvin "Butch" Morris in May for the 1988 murder of Roger Shifflett, who was found shot five times at the now-razed Southwind Gas and Grocery on Route 20 south he owned with his wife. Morris, now 67, married Shifflett's widow, Stone Robinson Elementary secretary Barbara Shifflett Morris, shortly after the father of five's death. (Butch Morris will go to trial April 13, 2009, for three felonies, including first-degree murder.)

Grimmest unsolved murder: Marion "Buzzy" Ennis' bloated corpse was discovered two years ago in Buckingham, and no arrests have been made.

Biggest public endowment: UVA reports $5.1 billion June 30.

Biggest hit to an endowment: In the year-ending market bloodbath, by October 31 UVA loses nearly $1 billion, while trying to peddle $1.8 billion in private equity investments in a fire-sale environment. All this before the fourth-quarter numbers come out.

Best part-time job: During the early-October Wachovia collapse, it's revealed that UVA President John Casteen earns $220,000 a year for serving on that bank's board.

Best news for rape victims at UVA: The U.S. Department of Education rules in November that the University of Virginia can't punish sex assault victims if they speak about their cases.

Best rescue: A February 21 sexual assault on Grady Avenue is interrupted by a friend (who was talking to the victim by phone when she was attacked) who calls 911, and by a neighbor who hears something in her yard. Arrested is Christopher Allen Noakes, 39, who was charged with attempted rape, forcible sodomy, robbery, and abduction, and sentenced August 26 to 40 years in jail.  

Best Buckingham trial: Publicist to the stars/chicken farmer Tommy Garrett cops a plea deal on his 15 felony counts of check forging and uttering April 18, pleading guilty to a Class One misdemeanor charge of entering the property of another with the intention of damaging it.

Worst laid plans: Barracks Road Shopping Center owner Federal Realty Investment Trust creates a springtime fervor when it files plans in May to strip the canopy off the nearly 50-year-old shopping center, riling merchants who argue retail is hard enough without their customers getting wet.

Worst hit businesses: Thirty-five-year-old Ron Martin Appliance goes under in February. The Citgo "We Pump It" on Ivy Road unhooks its pumps September 30 and forces loyal customers to self-serve. Properties owned by Church Hill Homes go into foreclosure in October. Circuit City announces in November it will close its store in Charlottesville, and a week later, that the company is bankrupt. Sage Moon Gallery shuts its doors in early December, soon to be joined by Migration: A Gallery. At least 20 employees at Lexis Nexis get pink slips. Glassner Jewelers in Barracks Road announces plans to close after the holidays.

Best resuscitation: Vinegar Hill Theatre's demise is announced October 28 at the end of the Virginia Film Festival, only to have white knight Visulite-owner Adam Greenbaum swoop in a day later to save the 32-year-old art house.

Most ambitious, despite the economy: Charlottesville House and Home publisher Eric Lund launches The Next50, a magazine targeting aging baby boomers, but suspends both publications with the December-January issues. The Young Men's Shop returns to the Downtown Mall after an 11-year stint at Seminole Square and abandons YMS Clothiers for its original name. Cavalier Films decides to self-distribute its locally made Familiar Strangers, which opens November 14 at the Regal and hangs on through Thanksgiving.

Most anticipated show: Bruce Springsteen returns April 30 for a show at John Paul Jones arena, more than 23 years after the Boss first rocked Charlottesville November 17, 1974, at Mem Gym.

Most anticipated hip-hop show: Jay-Z becomes the first of that genre to play John Paul Jones Arena October 25.

Most difficult show to see: Van Halen cancels shows at JPJ Arena not once, but twice– the first February 22 and the second March 11– before finally showing up May 2.

Most shocking gag order: Longtime Charlottesville Parking Center critic Spencer Connerat clams up and gives up his right to sue CPC with the sale of three shares for $5,000. 

Largest city investment in a parking lot it doesn't own: The CPC announces in October that no one has met its minimum $17.5 million price tag for the one-acre lot on Water Street, despite the City of Charlottesville spending over $400,000 to snag the asphalt, including $153K for a design contest in 2007 and $250K for a feasibility study.

Happiest return: Selden Tilden's wedding band had been missing 25 years when it turned up April 2, after a plumber pulled it– and a bunch of rusted cutlery– from a drain in front of Ben & Jerry's at Barracks Road, where the ring had lodged since it slipped off Tilden's finger when he was washing dishes at Ken Johnson's Cafeteria in 1982.

 Biggest crime spree: Former Western Albemarle High students Slade Woodson, then 19, and Brandon Dawson, then 16, close down Interstate 64 March 27 when they start firing at occupied vehicles. The pair rack up 15 charges in Albemarle and five in Waynesboro, where they fire into an occupied house. When police burst into Yonder Hills Farm early March 28 to arrest the duo, Dawson's father is shot. Underage Dawson gets 180 days in juvenile detention. Woodson, having been sentenced to two years in Waynesboro, asks for a new lawyer December 3 for his local trial.

Biggest reason to ponder what to drive during a crime spree: Woodson uses an eye-catching '74 orange AMC Gremlin, which is captured on video at the DuPont Community Credit Union in Waynesboro when he's blowing out the window of a parked car there, and later is found abandoned off U.S. 29 north near the Greene County line.

Most violent weekend: Early July 19, Joshua Magruder, 19, is gunned down on Monticello Avenue. Charged in his murder are his cousin, Bobby Wayne Gardner Jr., 25, Trenton Michael Brock, 20, and Theodore Calvin Timberlake, 20. Around 7pm that evening, a shooting on Page Street sends an 18-year-old to the UVA Medical Center; and Calvin Earl Maupin, 18, and Robert Jason Burr, 22, are charged in that incident.

Most national exposure for an unsolved crime: ABC's Primetime Crime focuses on the death of kindergarten teacher Justine Swartz Abshire, 27, who allegedly was run down by a hit-and-run driver on a dark Orange County road November 3, 2006. Her widower, Eric Abshire, whom some suspect of murdering Justine, appears on the hour-long July 30 show, as does Hook senior editor Courteney Stuart, whose coverage brought the story to ABC's attention. By October, the mother of Eric Abshire's children takes out a protective order against him.

Most Olympians: Shot putter Adam Nelson, soccer player Angela Hucles, rowers Wyatt Allen, Melanie Kok, and Lindsay Shoop, softball player Ruby Rojas, and swimmer Vanja Rogulj– all with Charlottesville ties– go to Beijing. Shoop takes the gold.

Most elusive cat: When an alleged sighting of the Crozet cougar is reported in March, the Hook sets up its own cougar cam to capture the mystical beast. Instead, fox, raccoon, and vultures hog the lens.

Worst news for yapping dog owners: Albemarle makes non-stopg barking a misdemeanor.

Worst news for the neighbors of yapping dogs: Barking has to be endured for 30 minutes before complaining to the county. And if the neighbor owns more than five acres, his canine can bark with impunity.

Best news for train riders: Funding miraculously turns up for an additional daily Amtrak passenger train from Charlottesville to New York, allegedly starting next fall.

Biggest dump clean up: Albemarle County declares the 16-acre Cismont dump owned by Cecil and Doris Gardner all tidied up October 17 after taking the couple to court in June and fining them $200. The dump was believed to have been grandfathered in, but after a 2005 conflagration– the second one on the property– the county decided the junkyard wasn't legal after all.

Biggest voice change: Mac McDonald is ousted as "Voice of the Cavaliers" by the Virginia Sports Network, which controls the broadcasting of UVA sports, and is replaced by Dave Koehn. Adam Gottschalk also gets the boot from broadcasting UVA sports at WINA, but a few weeks later turns up with a sports talk show at WKAV. 

Biggest art upheaval: Esteemed Second Street director Leah Stoddard abruptly "resigns" May 5. Paramount executive director Ed Rucker also resigns without notice May 2, and management of the Paramount is turned over to John Paul Jones general manager Larry Wilson.

Biggest protest: President George W. Bush's last-minute visit to Monticello for the Fourth of July galvanizes local activists– and Bush fans– and challenges two of Charlottesville's most cherished ideals: freedom of speech and good manners.

Most confounded approach to free speech: Mr. Jefferson's U bans signs at football games, then backs off after protests threaten to detract from the football team's 5-7 losing season.

Biggest immigration brouhaha: Charlottesville resident/Russian native Gennady Denisenko is handcuffed and hauled away from his American wife, Melinda, at the immigration office in Fairfax, where the couple had gone to get their marriage of six years recognized, and sits in federal detention for six months with the threat of imminent deportage to the Soviet Union until he's abruptly released October 15.

Biggest foot in mouth: Syndicated talker Michael Savage strikes a nerve in July when he proclaims autism "over-diagnosed" and describes most victims of autism as "a brat who hasn't been told to cut the act out." WINA drops his show in July.

Best sign the honeymoon is over: In March, CNet founder Halsey Minor and developer Lee Danielson break ground on the luxury Landmark Hotel on the Downtown Mall; by November Minor has fired Danielson, but the project limps on.

Windiest: Tornado-monium strikes Charlottesville two weeks after a devastating twister in Suffolk. A May 8 tornado warning has some citizens huddling in their basements all night at the behest of newscasters, while others call the coverage "sensationalized" and "irresponsible."

Worst loss of a local legend: Writer, UVA prof, former Virginia Poet Laureate, and bon vivant George Garrett, 78, dies May 26 at his home.

Worst loss of a Hollywood legend: The UVA alum whose special-effects wizardry made immortal movies such as Aliens, Terminator 2 and Edward Scissorhands– Stan Winston– dies June 15 in his Malibu home at age 62.

Worst loss of a DMB legend: Dave Matthews Band saxophonist LeRoi Moore is seriously injured in a June 30 ATV accident at his Albemarle farm, and dies seven weeks later on August 19 in Los Angeles. 

Worst loss of a DNA legend: Scientist and civil rights activist Eugene Foster, the man who genetically linked the families of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, dies July 21 at age 81.

Easiest recycling: Charlottesville initiates commingled recycling that allows city residents to toss paper, plastics, glass and cans all into the same bin.

Most salmonella cases: Sixteen reports close the place "where students, tourists and townpeople meet" for almost two weeks this summer. The Tavern had racked up 60 health code violations since 2003 and vowed a cleaner operation.

Most predictable crackdown: City police periodically target pedestrians who cross the railroad tracks at unauthorized spots, and this summer's sting operation yields hundreds of trespassing tickets on the Corner at 15th Street that entail either a $106 fine or 20 hours of community service.

Best expenditure of public funds: Charlottesville buys 55 Automated External Defibrillators– AEDs– to put in all public buildings throughout the city.

Best makeover: Montpelier strips the pink-stuccoed layers of the DuPont years to reveal the home of fourth President James Madison, and celebrates the five-year-long restoration September 17– Constitution Day.

Darkest anniversary: September 19 marks 50 years since massive resistance closed Venable Elementary and Lane High schools to prevent African-American students from studying there.

Best foreshadowing of worse to come: Albemarle real estate assessments, after years of averaging 15 percent increases, climb just 14/100ths of one percent. "It's really unprecedented," says county exec Bob Tucker in February, articulating what would become our theme for the year.