The year in review

As we settled into the new millennium and adjusted to a new world order, that day in September 2001 continued to determine the events of 2003.

War, of course, was the big news, whether you were for or against the United States invasion of Iraq and many in Charlottesville took to the streets to express their displeasure.

U.S. troops invaded on March 19, and President George Bush declared victory on May 2. Yet the death toll of U.S. soldiers continued to mount, as did the costs, and Congress approved Bush's $86-billion request to continue the United States' almost unilateral fight in Iraq.

Longer-range consequences of 2003 remain to be seen. This was the year the United States rewrote its 20th-century foreign policy strategy of deterrence and instead embraced a doctrine of preemption in the fight against terrorism.

Questions about the whereabouts of those alleged weapons of mass destruction remain, and discussion about whether the country was led into war based on bogus information will certainly be an issue in 2004 as Democrats challenge Bush for the presidency.

The capture of Saddam Hussein hiding in a "spider hole" December 13 concluded one part of America's stated mission in Iraq and offered the hope that we won't be in Iraq for the rest of our lives.

Still at large: the original terrorist and purpose for U.S. military excursions in the Middle East, Osama bin Laden.

The year also raised more debate about the post 9-11 loss of civil liberties, as criticism of the Patriot Act spread. Americans discovered that the right to a speedy trial didn't necessarily apply to noncitizens– like those Afghan prisoners held in Guantanamo for two years now with no charges being filed– or legal immigrants here, who realized they could be deported after secret hearings. Police and the FBI gained new rights to spy on citizens, all in the name of fighting terrorism, and the atmosphere in the land of the free got a little chillier and a little darker.

Bio-threats remain. Anthrax is passé– in 2003, the trendy diseases were SARS, West Nile virus, and a killer flu that so far has taken the lives of over three dozen children and caused a shortage of the flu vaccine.

The dismal economy actually picked up. The stock market rose, and unemployment went down. But don't be fooled we live in a place with a low unemployment rate. A lot of people out there are still hurting, and we're far, far from those heady fin de siècle days of just a few years ago.

In the cultural, social, and legal arenas, 2003 was Year of the Queer. Never have homosexuals seen so many judicial decisions go their way. The Supreme Court declared Texas sodomy laws unconstitutional, a decision that affects Virginia's own laws on the books legislating activity in your bedroom. Episcopalians elected their first openly gay bishop, and the Massachusetts Supreme Court declared prohibitions on gay marriage also unconstitutional. Canada, our neighbor to the north, legalized same-sex marriage.

And who could have imagined a decade ago that a television show called Queer Eye for the Straight Guy would be the runaway hit of the summer, or that we'd actually add the term "metrosexual" to our vocabularies?

Yet who couldn't use a dose of exquisite gay taste and style in their lives? What's wrong with improving het-male décor, fashion, and food, and knowing how to use products with confidence? If only it were that simple, that with the right haircut, wine, and Pottery Barn sofa, life would just keep getting better.

And in the next episode, the Fab Five make over Iraq. In our dreams...

Here then is a look at the best– and worst– of 2003.–Lisa Provence, Hook senior reporter

Best sign that plague and locusts are next: While 2002 was a year of drought, 2003 has the dubious distinction of being the wettest year, and chalks up a couple of earthquakes as well. Oh, and don't forget Hurricane Isabel, which left many without power for a week.

Worst unsolved crimes: A serial rapist, genetically linked to six brutal assaults dating back to 1997 and a suspect in a dozen more, remains at large.

Worst fallout from the serial rapist: Nearly 300 African-American males have been asked to provide a DNA sample, leading to complaints of police profiling.

Best flag waving: Arby's owner Tom Slonaker takes on Albemarle County for zoning regulations that prohibit him from flying an Arby's flag in front of his Forest Lakes store. The Rutherford Institute and Libertarians join the fun until the county drops charges against Slonaker and rethinks its sign ordinance.

Best John Grisham court appearance: The mega-selling author shows up in Albemarle Circuit Court in March to demand sanctions against Katherine Almy after she drops her $11-million lawsuit against him and a handful of others, including St. Anne's-Belfield School. The case involved mysterious letters from an unknown source, handwriting experts, and alleged infliction of emotional distress.

Worst fire: The historic and deluxe Clifton Inn burns November 14, killing two female law school recruiters from a New York firm.

Lesser fires: Harris Teeter's potato chip conflagration on January 15, Scottsville's Swiss Way Market October 28, and a greasy build-up in a Farmington Country Club kitchen November 3.

Worst national fire trend: Nightclub fires. Twenty-one people die in a Chicago club stampede February 17, and 100 perish after pyrotechnics get out of hand at a Great White concert in West Warwick, Rhode Island, February 20.

Worst murders and cover-up fire: Three teens are charged in the February 19 murder of Crozet resident Nola Charles and her three-year-old son. Nineteen-year-old neighbor Rocky Fugett pleads guilty to two counts of first-degree murder in November. His sister, Jessica, and Robert Davis still face trial.

Highest profile murder: In May, under the title, "The Black Widow of Virginia," Vanity Fair magazine covers the mysterious 2001 poisoning death of a wealthy Orange County farmer and du Pont relative Hamilton A. Somerville Jr. His widow, a former hospice nurse still awaiting trial, has pleaded not guilty to murder.

Briefest tenure on the State Water Control Board: Former mayor and environmentalist Kay Slaughter faces a contentious confirmation in the General Assembly in February, then resigns in October after Republicans allege conflicts of interest.

Harshest sentence for underage drinking: George and Elisa Robinson are sentenced to eight years in jail for providing alcohol at their son's 16th birthday. They go back to court in September and get 27 months, despite the prosecution's 90-day recommendation. The case is under appeal.

Worst loss of artists in wrecks: Folk singer Freyda Epstein is killed May 17 on her way to join friends at the 30th Musicalia when Richard E. Brock, allegedly fleeing after stabbing a woman who escaped into a convenience store, plows into her and also dies. And Virginia Quarterly editor Staige Blackford dies in an auto wreck June 23, one week before he was to retire after 28 years of editing the literary magazine.

Worst sign for auto accident victims: In February, VDOT declares private roadside memorials a nuisance that will be swept away in favor of temporary markers.

Worst UVA student council run-off: Daisy Lundy reports being assaulted February 26 behind the Lawn by a white male who says, "No one wants a nigger to be president."

Worst false police report: Former Albemarle deputy Stephen Shiflett claims he's shot by a black male March 13, prompting Sheriff Ed Robb to decry the incident as a "hate crime." Albemarle police later determine Shiflett was untruthful in his account, but no charges are filed against him.

Worst alleged murder by a UVA student: Third-year Andrew Alston is charged in the fatal November 8 stabbing on the Corner of a man he'd never met, 22-year-old volunteer firefighter Walker Sisk.

Worst bashing of a UVA football player: Carson Ward is found unconscious on the sidewalk after attempting to crash a Sigma Chi Halloween party. Fourth years Kurt P. Rupprecht and John P. Selph are charged in the attack, and Ward is still recuperating.

Best hair day for Darrell Rice: The trial of the man charged in the 1996 slayings of Laura Winans and Julianne Williams in the Shenandoah National Park is postponed when hairs turn up that don't belong to Rice or the victims but could belong to the killer. Among those not excluded by the hairs: Richard Evonitz, suspected murderer of Sophia Silva and sisters Kati and Kristin Lisk.

Thinnest blue line: A young Greene County deputy named Rodney Lee Davis Jr.– a father of two with another one on the way– is slain in August while attempting to serve an arrest warrant on a suspected drug dealer who is also killed.

Worst year for Fridays after Five: The popular yet financially hurting event charges admission for the first time, and shows are drenched by record rainfall.

Worst weather disappearances: In mid-June, after his territory is thoroughly drenched by drought-ending rains, the area's water czar, Larry Tropea, inexplicably resigns. Two months later, Robert Van Winkle, NBC29's effervescent weatherman for over a decade, leaves for a television station in Florida.

Worst sign from above: After several years of drenching rains, the Albemarle County Fair suffers its biggest blow of all: High winds and heavy rain knock down a giant tent on top of terrified fair-goers on August 28.

Worst garbage disposal: Except for paper, Albemarle County dumps its recycling program, and Charlottesville doubles its trash sticker fees.

Worst commute: The Locust Avenue bridge is closed for repairs from March to July, immediately followed by a four-month closure of the Park Street bridge.

Best indication of how Charlottesville will look in the future: A new zoning ordinance heavily favors new urbanism with high-density, mixed-use university districts, and limits to three the number of unrelated adults who can live together in low-density neighborhoods. The new rules crank up the fees for Downtown Mall vendors, while banning clothes racks and table coverings in any color but black.

Best indication of how U.S. 29 north will look in the future: Albemarle Supervisors also espouse new urbanism and approve two of three mixed-use developments: Target-ed Hollymead Town Center and "neighborhood model" poster child Albemarle Place. Still seeking approval is North Pointe near Profitt Road. And on the horizon south of town, Coran Capshaw has another mixed-use project in the works between Fifth Street Extended and Avon Street.

Biggest, brightest, fastest by-right development: Mammoth Best Buy erupts with its blue facade and yellow lighted sign on Emmet Street under the 250 bypass, making some nostalgic for the cheesy familiarity of Aunt Sarah's Pancakes.

Biggest building boom: After last year's overwhelming approval of a statewide $900 million education bond referendum, UVA and Piedmont Virginia Community College get nearly $74 million for capital projects. In June, UVA releases its two-decade, $670 million "Master Plan" with a wishlist that includes New New Cabell Hall, the new basketball arena, the "Groundswalk," an arts precinct, and more parking garages.

Best sign the Danielson-Rolph era is over: The pair credited with revitalizing the Downtown Mall sell the Charlottesville Ice Park July 1 to Roberta and Bruce Williamson, Ellen Anderson, and Bob Tobey for $2.6 million (about a third of what they spent building it). And in June, Keith Woodard buys their four long-empty Main Street buildings in the so-called Wachovia block for $1.8 million.

Most popular unbuilt road: The Hillsdale Connector, which could give Seminole Square a new main drag.

Most fiercely debated unbuilt road: Still in play, now under threat of a constitutional challenge (if the City tries using an easement to make it happen)– the Meadowcreek Parkway.

Biggest defamation award: WVIR Channel 29 gets slapped with a $10-million verdict, the largest ever in Virginia, for falsely claiming that police found cocaine in the Greene County residence and business of Jesse Sheckler. That award is chopped down to $1 million in November.

Most devastating check-kiting scheme: Former Ivy Industries CEO John Reid admits writing bogus checks to save the now bankrupt Ivy Industries, which lays off 150 workers in March and eventually folds. Albemarle First Bank suffers a $2.4 million loss as a result of the scheme.

Largest Ponzi scheme: Terry Dowdell awaits sentencing for bilking investors out of $120 million.

Best quote from the Dowdell trial: One of his attorneys, Robert Luskin, tells the judge that in light of corporate scandals, what Dowdell pled guilty to is "small potatoes."

Best visit by a titular head of state: Ireland's virtually unknown president, Mary McAleese, comes for the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities' "Re-Imagining Ireland" conference May 7.

Most bizarre disappearance: Owen Young is last seen January 2, his car is found at Dulles Airport, and family and friends hold a memorial service for him on June 14. In July, he turns up very much alive in Tampa.

Best NIMBY story: Patricia Kluge's neighbors object not only to her outside-the-box plans for an around-the-vineyard subdivision, but also to her Farm Store with its gourmet treats in the wilds of southern Albemarle.

Neighbors least likely to borrow cups of sugar from each other: Kluge and Dave Matthew's mom, Val, who lives next door at historic Blenheim. Kluge tells W magazine that Matthews views the Kluge winery as a "rich-lady vanity project." "Blenheim View," Kluge's moniker for her by-right subdivision, is seen by some as a jab at Matthews.

Most tenacious neighbors: The Ivy Community Association continues to fight Faulconer Construction's plans to set up its heavy equipment shop near Murray Elementary School. Despite a September setback in Circuit Court, the ICA is taking it to the Virginia Supreme Court.

Best rewrite: Along with a $10 million renovation project, the Garrett Square low-income housing project gets a new name: Friendship Court.

Law least likely to slow begging: City Council bans "aggressive" panhandling on the Downtown Mall.

Worst sign future serial killers are lurking in our midst: The area endures a rash of animal abuse cases, including Britta, the boxer who is tossed off a bridge around July 24, and a cat found nailed to a board at a construction site. The local SPCA is terrorized when it receives abused pit bulls belonging to an accused drug dealer that are so vicious they all have to be euthanized. The General Assembly strengthens laws against dogfighting.

Case most likely to require the wisdom of Solomon: Developer Gabe Silverman sues to have his historic Court Square building separated from one equally historic building belonging to his neighbor, Pooh Johnson, and an 1838 covenant gives him the right to do so but the city refuses to give Johnson a permit to separate the joined-at-the-hip structures.

Best indicator of UVA deep-pocket donor Carl Smith's stance on the Pep Band controversy: Four months after President John Casteen apologizes to West Virginia University for a half-time skit depicting the Mountaineers as bumpkins, Smith hands over $1.5 million to fund a concert and marching band, and the Pep Band gets locked out of its instrument room. They're also banned from football games.

Best new UVA arts venue: Smith also donates $22 million for a 100,000-square-foot theater building on the west side of Emmet Street– between UVA's new sports dome and pedestrian bridge, both currently under construction.

Best new downtown theater: The City Center for Contemporary Arts, new home of Live Arts and Second Street Gallery, opens in the fall.

Best indication you can't have too many theaters: Construction begins on the Paramount.

Worst setback for traditional food-makers: Virginia wants goat cheese producers and apple cider manufacturers to pasteurize rather than let consumers decide whether to buy those products raw.

Best hairdos from our wedding issue: City Councilor Rob Schilling's mullet, and Police Chief Tim Longo's Desi Arnaz 'do.

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Worst unintended consequences from a Hook article: The underground music scene loses the Pudhouse after the July music issue lists it as a "venue." Neighbors had been complaining for years, and city officials come down hard.

Worst challenge to Hook reporting: Reader T. Rock Phillips writes in to share his disbelief that City Councilor Blake Caravati called The Hook "little smartypants" in the aforementioned Pudhouse incident.

Best reliance on a source: The July 10 Hook quotes Greene County resident Emmett Boaz, a man who has never met a topic he couldn't comment on, in almost every story, leaving readers either angered or amused.

Biggest Dave year: Dave Matthews successfully launches his solo career with the September release of his Some Devil album, a Grammy nomination for "Gravedigger," and another year with DMB landing in the top five tours.