Twin Oaks terror: Mysterious chopper buzzes commune
Twin Oaks in Louisa is a peace-loving farm community with 100 members. But the usual calm was shattered August 31 when a low-flying helicopter terrified residents for about 20 minutes.
Almost as frightening to Twin Oakers: the difficulty in finding out which government agency buzzed them.
Kele Tasinari was on her way to the barn to herd the dairy cows at 4:10pm when she noticed a helicopter flying low. Helicopters had buzzed before, say several residents, but never so long and so low.
Five minutes later, the aircraft was still there when Tasinari left the barn to get a cow from the pasture.
"The 'copter came right over where I was, at about treetop level," she recounts. "I got really scared. I curled up in a ball and put my hands over my ears."
Two days later, Tasinari is still shaken. "We live nonviolently," she explains of the self-supporting community established in 1967. "This was close enough that it could harm me. It invaded our space and where we live."
Fellow resident Marcello Lanfranchi, who was sunbathing nude during the incident, is angry at what he calls "governmental intimidation." He estimates the helicopter circled about six times.
"I simulated masturbating" as in, "You're wasting your time, dude," says Lanfranchi, who then pantomimed "call me." The chopper left.
"Honestly," says Lanfranchi, "I feel like I've been cruised, which I wouldn't mind, if I could at least see who was hot for me."
Twin Oaks resident Kristen Dakota describes a dark-green aircraft with no readily visible markings. She says she called 911 and was told deputies from the state police were taking pictures of the county.
Not so, says State Police Sergeant Kevin Barrick. "Ours are white with red and blue markings that say 'Virginia State Police.' That sounds like the military."
Louisa Sheriff Ashland Fortune says he's doing his own investigation and thinks it was the state police or military. "They both do it all the time," he says.
Another possibility is Louisa's drug taskforce, which goes out this time of year looking for pot plants. But they weren't that day, the sheriff says. He suggests the federal Drug Enforcement Agency.
So are Twin Oakers big troublemakers? "I haven't had any trouble with them," says Fortune. "We wouldn't need any law enforcement if everybody lived like they do at Twin Oaks."
Certain areas of the Twin Oaks property not open to the public are clothing-optional. Is there any chance renegade feds were cruising the property in hopes of seeing naked bodies?
Special Agent Ben Butcher at the Richmond office of the DEA doesn't think so. Moreover, on that day, his agency was busy with the Richmond flooding.
Over at Fort Lee near Petersburg, Army spokesperson Sandy Ellis pleads innocent. "We don't have any aircraft," she explains. "I can't imagine who would have an unmarked aircraft. That's only in the movies." She suggested checking with Fort Eustis.
"I checked with our flight schedules," says Betty Bartz at Fort Eustis in Hampton Roads. "Ours were here." Fort Eustis Army helicopters are olive drab and have markings, she adds. Bartz suggested contacting the National Guard, among others.
Paydirt. Virginia National Guard confirms that it had an OH-58 Bell Jet Ranger in the Louisa area assigned to a drug eradication mission around the time Twin Oaks was buzzed. Spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Chester Carter says the helicopter was looking for marijuana in support of Operation Green Harvest, and that a Virginia State Police officer was on board.
"That's strange because nobody I talked to knew anything about it," says Barrick over at the Virginia State Police. He promised to investigate further, but at press time, he had not gotten back to The Hook.
Carter says the chopper stayed at least 500 feet above the ground except for one time when it went below at the request of the unnamed law enforcement officer.
Twin Oakers say the helicopter was at treetop level, which they estimate at about 100 feet.
If Twin Oaks residents have a complaint, Carter says, they should file it with the Virginia State Police. "The National Guard is community-based," says Carter. "People have a right to know. We're adamant about that."
Dakota does indeed plan to file a complaint about the allegedly "joy riding" helicopter. "I felt as if a police car on I-64 were playing chicken with me," she says, "rather than checking to see if I were speeding."
A Twin Oaks woman plans to file a complaint about this alleged National Guard helicopter that buzzed the community for 20 minutes August 31.
PHOTO BY TWIN OAKS RESIDENT "COYOTE"