Year of living disastrously: The best and worst of 2005

Religion and politics have never been suitable topics for dinner parties– and that didn't change in 2005. But the most innocuous of topics, the weather, took a nasty turn, as if it was tired of not being taken seriously all these years.

Simply put, 2005 was a disaster. Literally. With tsunamis, tornadoes, earthquakes, and a hurricane season that wouldn't quit, Mother Nature issued a not-so-gentle reminder that mankind can vie for world domination all it wants, but as far as weapons of mass destruction go, Mother Nature rules.

The December 26 tsunami at the tail end of 2004 foreshadowed the year to come– and how overused the words "worst ever" would become. An earthquake in the Indian Ocean spawned the death wave that took an estimated 275,000 lives in six countries, the worst natural disaster in modern times.

And 2005 was just getting warmed up. The hurricane season was another worst ever, moving beyond the alphabet and heading into Greek territory. The Gulf Coast is still staggering from Hurricane Katrina, which took out our beloved New Orleans, displaced nearly two million people and left hundreds of thousands homeless for the holidays– the worst U.S. natural disaster.

And that's just domestic catastrophe. We've barely been able to absorb that a whopping 7.6 earthquake October 8 in Kashmir killed an estimated 73,000, and that the three million homeless there face death from cold and disease.

The World Wildlife Fund released a report calling 2005 the worst for extreme weather– the hottest, stormiest, and driest. With the Arctic melting, the Atlantic like bath water, and a drought in the Amazon, we have to wonder, is global warming finally catching up with us?

With so many natural disasters taking the headlines, the war in Iraq continued on like a dull, throbbing headache. How many times can we hear about suicide bombers killing X number of people before we start skimming or tuning out the reports of deaths of (usually innocent) Iraqi citizens and U.S. soldiers– unless, of course, it's your U.S. soldier?

A year after winning reelection, President Bush's approval ratings hit new lows, and even Republicans are trying to remember why we're in Iraq– as are the indignant Democrats who voted to invade.

Second terms are always ripe for scandal, and Bush's is no exception. Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Scooter Libby, is under indictment for allegedly lying about leaking the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame to the media– and Karl Rove may follow.

Plamegate sent former New York Times reporter Judith Miller to jail for 85 days for refusing to reveal that Scooter Libby was her source for a story she didn't write. Other reporters testified, creating a queasy feeling about what that means for protection of confidential sources.

Even iconic Bob Woodward got ensnared in Plamegate in the same year the biggest secret of the 20th century– the identity of Deep Throat– was revealed. Would Mark Felt have talked to Woodward in 2005?

Indictments dethroned former House majority leader Tom DeLay, and Rep. Duke Cunningham pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from Mitchell Wade, head of MZM, which has a branch in Albemarle. MZM's nearly $90,000 in donations to Rep. Virgil Goode have his Dem challengers clamoring for him to return the money, and he obliged by donating it to charities December 12.

And although Congress had plenty of weighty matters to legislate, it took time to intervene in the removal of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube, sending many citizens scurrying to update their living wills.

Not all disasters were natural. The year continued with more unsavory revelations: The U.S. has secret prisons around the world, and the current administration defends the use of torture as a tool against terrorism. And it's the fourth anniversary for "enemy combatants" held without trial at Guantanamo Bay.

The Supreme Court got a new look when Chief Justice William Rehnquist died and Sandra Day O'Connor announced her intention to retire. John Roberts sailed through confirmation to take the chief justice spot, but the Harriet Miers nomination turned into a judicial disaster, sending Samuel Alito up to the nomination plate.

Disaster had something to do with gas prices soaring to almost $3 a gallon, but we can't even remember: Was it the war, the weather– or maybe just time for some windfall profit-taking for oil companies we wished we owned a piece of?

Disaster was averted for Michael Jackson, who was acquitted of child molestation charges. Jennifer Aniston's disaster– Brad Pitt– became one half of Brangelina, top tabloid fodder of the year.

But 2005 wasn't all bad. On the local front, we were spared natural disasters like the drought of '02 or the following year's Hurricane Isabel.

The first season of the Paramount and the Pavilion suddenly made Charlottesville a viable destination for national music acts.

And of course there was the biggest bang of all when the Rolling Stones rocked our world October 6. "Everyone seemed so happy," remarked one concertgoer. Even a bomb threat couldn't dispel the city's buzz that lasted for days, and the only disaster was experienced by those still kicking themselves for not going.

Five years into the no-longer-quite-so new millennium, it's time for the Hook to weigh in on the best– and worst– of 2005.


Rarest bust: For dog fighting. Pea Ridge Road (off Garth) resident Davey Mundie is arrested New Year's Day and convicted April 20 for organized fighting of dogs, a Class 6 felony. A 2003 law by area legislator Rob Bell had upgraded the charge from misdemeanor status.

Newest freedom: The General Assembly deregulates UVA by approving a bill that would allow it to seek "charter" status. Some worry that worker protections could be compromised.

Biggest slaughterhouse dive: Billionaire Edgar Bronfman's Buffalo Hill abattoir/meat processing plant in Madison County burns early January 20.

Best news for randy singles: The state Supreme Court rules January 14 that a law criminalizing "fornication" between unmarried people is unconstitutional.

Harshest Constitutional tampering: In February, both houses of the General Assembly pass resolutions to Constitutionally ban same-sex marriage.

Worst Valentine's gift: A man asking to see engagement rings snatches three from the counter at Glassner Jewelers February 11. On February 14, his unsuspecting fiancée asks to have two of the purloined rings sized. Two days later, Raymond Rayshawne Carter is charged with grand larceny and returns the third ring.

Harshest employment story: In early February, General Shale– long known to Virginia roadside sign watchers ("Thank you for using famous Webster Brick")– announces it will close its Somerset plant, which employs 50 to 70, after the company loses its bid to open a mine near a residential area in Barboursville.

Last act in the fugitive financier story: Richard Hirschfeld, 57, former Albemarle resident and Muhammad Ali pal, kills himself in a Miami jail January 11, the same day he was told arrangements had been made to move him to Norfolk to stand trial on federal charges. Hirschfeld had been on the lam for nearly nine years and was captured hiding in the closet of a Fort Lauderdale mansion October 1. His former associates included Fernando Marcos, Kenny Rogers, Senator Orrin Hatch, and Robert Bork.

Newest twist for 'Charlotte's-ville': In January, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors renames Whitewood Park in honor of the late Charlotte Humphris, who served as its first female chair.

Newest TV station: Fox affiliate WAHU begins broadcasting in the spring under the Gray Television umbrella, becoming its third station to open here in the past year.

Worst misspeaking: For two decades, his track record as an expert witness won forensic psychiatrist and former UVA law professor Park Dietz acclaim– and plenty of high-profile cases including Jeffrey Dahmer and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski. However, his misstatement during the trial of multiple child-drowner Andrea Yates voids her murder conviction in January.


Poshest reopening: On February 10– nearly 15 months after a deadly blaze killed two law school recruiters and injured a third– the luxurious Clifton Inn celebrates its reopening while three lawsuits are still pending. Clifton sued a survivor and a candle-maker, but by August, all suits are settled.


Biggest changing of the guard: Longtime Delegate Mitch Van Yahres retires from the General Assembly after 24 years. In November, former mayor David Toscano handily wins his 57th District seat over challenger Tom McCrystal.

Silliest bill: Virginia achieves national ridicule when the "droopy drawers" bill that would fine those whose low-riding pants reveal underwear passes the House of Delegates. Legislators come to their senses and ultimately drop the drawers bill.

Hottest seat: UVA basketball coach Pete Gillen– finishing another losing season with UVA on the eve of a $35 million fundraising push to finish the John Paul Jones Arena– resigns March 14.

Quickest hire: Just a month after Gillen leaves, the Cavaliers hire former DePaul coach Dave Leitao at a cool $925,000 per year. Published reports say that cash-slinging UVA had to buy out Leitao's DePaul contract for about $1.5 million. That's on top of the $2 million golden parachute UVA reportedly paid Gillen to dribble off the court.

Juiciest speech: In the UVA Rotunda February 2, dean of African-American affairs Rick Turner says embattled Charlottesville school Superintendent Scottie Griffin "is being dragged through the mud because she's black and female," and adds, "I don't think white people in Charlottesville will do anything for black folks," according to the account in the Progress.

Juiciest memo: February 3, a letter by Assistant Superintendent of the Charlottesville schools Laura Purnell slams Griffin as "punitive," "verbally abusive," and "bullying."


Second best golden parachute: The city pays $290,000 to buy out Griffin, who resigns April 21 with three years left on her contract.

Biggest city School Board shift: Following the Griffin debacle, voters decide they want an elected rather than appointed School Board. At press time, the appointed board is still seeking Griffin's successor.

Best loophole closing: The General Assembly gets rid of the LLC tax dodge used successfully to avoid transfer taxes by buyers like convicted thief/former Tyco CFO Mark Swartz on his $17 million purchase of Enniscorthy.

Bundoran Farm


Bundoran Farm


Biggest real estate closings: Enniscorthy's record, set in 2001, as Albemarle's biggest real estate deal, is thrice smashed in '05: first by Castle Hill for $24 million, next by Fred Scott's Bundoran Farm for a reported $33 million, and in November by Hunter Craig, who pays $46.2 million for 1,365-acre Forest Lodge on Old Lynchburg Road.


Sharpest lawsuit: Shirley Presley, the Bland Circle resident who became a household name for stringing razor wire across her property, files a $1.5 million civil suit in U.S. District Court against the City of Charlottesville and the nonprofit Rivanna Trails Foundation in February. A federal judge tosses the suit out in October.

Latest from the serial rapist: The man who's terrorized Charlottesville since 2002, when police revealed he'd committed at least seven rapes since 1997, and who is responsible for hundreds of black males being asked to submit DNA through a buccal swab, strikes January 11 in Belmont, sexually assaulting a 46-year-old woman.

Worst levees: The ones that failed August 29 in New Orleans.



Best largesse: The Pearlington bus, the Grisham, the Dave, the churches, the hair salons, and countless other relief efforts that zoomed supplies and hope to the flooded Gulf Coast.

Biggest Scottsville buzz: The IGA sells the winning $10.3 million lottery ticket in the February 12 drawing. Two months later, Scottsvillians Nancy and William Bentz claim their jackpot.

Biggest Scottsville buzz-kill: On June 1, a year and a half after a mysterious fire, Swissway Market business owner Barbara Corby Martin is arrested by federal agents and charged with arson and insurance fraud.

Hottest market: Albemarle's bi-annual real estate assessments jump 27 percent in January despite the threatened bursting of the bubble. And the area's median house price soars to $273,525 in August, up $40,000 from the previous year.


Moldiest buy: Larry Butler and Judit Szaloki discover their first home is mold-infested– and that local lawyers won't touch their case. The community steps forward to help remediate the mold, but the family faces financial ruin and a gutted house.

Worst legacy of a bucolic agricultural past: Crozet homeowners learn that former orchards bear fruit in the form of arsenic and lead hot spots, and elevated arsenic levels lead to soil remediation in the yard of one Orchard Acres home.


Biggest Ivy Road view-shed change: Over several September days, the huge rusting gas tanks that loomed over Charlottesville Oil head to the scrap heap so that petroleum-soaked soil can be removed.

Largest petroleum plume: Charlottesville Oil is also blamed for the Trading Post spill in North Garden, where 4,200 gallons of petroleum have been recovered, 3.2 million gallons of water treated, and 12 wells contaminated at one time or another.

Biggest illegal dump: Cecil and Doris Gardner allow dumping on their 16 acres in Keswick for more than 30 years, thanks to county gaffes. A January 4 fire and neighbor outrage spark a cleanup.


Brightest lights: Pen Park's 60,000-watt 50-foot lights slip through the city's cracks and violate both city and county dark sky ordinances until Albemarle residents complain.

Biggest upscale school tussle: Word that public school students in Farmington, Bellair, and Ednam (yes, they exist) are going to be redistricted from prestigious Murray Elementary in Ivy to an as-yet un-built southern elementary has the high-end neighborhoods up in arms. At the last minute, more modest Glenaire– the closest neighborhood to Murray– is sent packing to Meriwether Lewis.

Biggest turn-around: After Mary Jane Gentry dies when the drug that may have helped her Lou Gehrig's symptoms is withdrawn, UVA allows Dr. James Bennett to resume his experimental ALS drug trials.


Best revision: UVA changes its policy on sexual assaults to allow the victim to speak about the incident if she wishes, following a Hook cover story, "How UVA turns its back on rape." Annie Hylton, who came forward with her story, sues her alleged assailant, Matthew Hamilton, in Charlottesville Circuit Court for $1.85 million, and is awarded $150,000.

Worst zero tolerance: Waynesboro High principal Mitch Peeling resigns under threat of firing for having three glasses of wine– two one night, one the next– while dining with other adult chaperones on a New York field trip in April, J. Todd Foster reports in the News Virginian.

Worst loss of a Madison Avenue mind: Charlottesville resident Thomas Russell Rogers, 87, who created StarKist's Charlie the Tuna, the Keebler Elves, and 9 Lives' Morris the Cat, dies June 24.

Biggest student-plex: In April, developers Hunter Craig, Lane Bonner, and Dan Veliky propose a 533-bedroom apartment building, Grandmarc at the Corner, for the 300 block of 15th Street.

Loudest autism activism: In June, Albemarle resident (and occasional Hook contributor) Coy Barefoot announces the formation of Dads Against Mercury, a new group touting the belief that mercury causes a host of ills, including autism.

Rarest lionizing: After a late July account in the Hook of an alleged cougar sighting along the Blue Ridge Parkway, many readers offer their own brushes with the rare animals also known as mountain lions.


Biggest fox-hunting surprise: Less than a year after England bans the practice entirely, Humane Society contributor Dave Matthews bans the Farmington Hunt from his sprawling Scottsville-area farms.


Biggest professorial scandal: James Sofka is removed from his position as Echols Scholars dean and told his contract will not be renewed because of numerous complaints of alleged "inappropriate behavior," according to his dismissal letter from College of Arts and Sciences Dean Ed Ayers.

Best Nobel connection: In early September UVA research professor Barry J. Marshall, now based in Australia, shares the Nobel in physiology and medicine for discovering that most peptic and gastric cancers are caused by a common bacterium.

Worst arrest of a UVA prof: Martin Straume, founder of the UVA Center for Biomathematical Technology and its former associate director, is charged with trying to hit a female grad student with his car in front of Gilmer Hall September 13. He's also charged with stalking, making harassing phone calls, and computer invasion of privacy.


Best arrest of a UVA prof: Richard Collins, who challenged David Toscano in the May primary, is charged with trespassing May 7 while campaigning at Whole Foods. Collins is appealing his conviction and suing Shopper's World with the help of the ACLU and the Rutherford Institute.

Most controversial firing: UVA insists that charter critic Dena Bowers was not fired November 22, after 17 years on the payroll, for her outspoken views against UVA's "charter" status. The pink slip was for sending an NAACP report using her work email.

Worst news for train-hoppers: The General Assembly fails to fund additional train connections in Charlottesville, voting instead to funnel funds into a Bristol-Richmond line.

Worst news for train-track hoppers: Charlottesville police ticket dozens of train-track crossers near the Belmont Bridge after Buckingham Branch complains about the time-honored trespassing tradition.


Best day in court for former UVA quarterback Matt Schaub: The Atlanta Falcon is acquitted February 18 of misdemeanor assault and battery charges filed by a second-year student who, witnesses testified, kept saying, "Schwab, get me a job" November 4 on the Corner.

Worst stampede: A dozen UVA football fans are injured when students attempt to rush the field October 15 after the Cavs' victory over Florida State.

Saddest passings: Charlottesville Albemarle Rescue Squad assistant chief Nikki Kielar dies in a DC helicopter crash January 11; 22-year-old UVA student and snowboard team captain Brian Love dies in a February 1 accident at Wintergreen; former city councilor/teacher/author Mary Alice Gunter, 69, dies June 6 from cancer; Buford Middle School community service officer Gary Williams dies in a single-car accident in Ohio June 7; U.S. District Court Judge Harry Michael, 86, dies August 29; writer and PEN/Faulkner Award founder Mary Lee Settle dies September 28 at age 87; Spudnuts owner Richard Wingfield, 75, dies November 5; UVA student Michelle E. Collier, 20, is found dead in her city apartment November 18 with no apparent cause of death; former Albemarle School Board chairman John Baker dies December 7; UVA benefactor Carl Smith dies December 8.


Saddest loss for the Hook  newsroom: Sports columnist, recent Albemarle High graduate, and award-winning runner Kelly Watt, 18, succumbs to heat stroke July 30 just weeks before entering William & Mary. On November 19, a race is held in his honor.


Biggest break: In May, Charlottesville's own Hackensaw Boys join Dave Matthews Band, King Wilkie, John McCutcheon, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Corey Harris as major label-signed musicians when the bluegrass band inks a deal with Nettwerk Records.

Loudest wake-up call: In late June, Downtown dwellers learn the hard way that Charlottesville officials had failed to file a "quiet zone" notice with the feds. The result is two months of day and night 96+ decibel blasts from passing trains.


Most emotional sentencing: On February 16, former UVA student and convicted stabber Andrew Alston is formally sentenced to three years for the death of volunteer firefighter Walker Sisk.

Bitterest pill: Friends and family of Sisk are stunned in June to learn that a juror in the trial of his attacker blames alcohol for the killing. In a 3,000-word cover story in the June edition of the Swarthmore College Bulletin, juror Liz Kutchai describes how jurors agreed that the 18 stab wounds Alston delivered were involuntary manslaughter.


Biggest change for Fridays After 5: The Charlottesville Downtown Foundation, which founded the popular event, rides into the sunset after Coran Capshaw is given the go-ahead to build the Charlottesville Pavilion. Fridays temporarily relocates to another Capshaw venue, the old Ivy Industries/ future ACAC building on Garrett Street, while construction is completed on the Pavilion.


Biggest get for the opener: Loretta Lynn and Sissy Spacek engage in a curious concert/conversation as the Pavilion opening event July 30.


Biggest rip: A renegade July 13 storm shreds the fabric of the big tent before installation is complete.

Worst places to try to get a pizza delivered: Hardy Drive, Prospect Avenue, and Friendship Court are on Domino's and Papa John's no-deliver list. After community outcry, the companies resume limited deliveries to those neighborhoods.

Biggest Target: The much-anticipated discount store opens in Hollymead Town Center on August 26.

Best news for Motor City travelers: Over the spring and summer, Northwest Airlines begins two nonstop daily flights from Charlottesville to Detroit.


Best sign hell is freezing over: After 10 years of promising to open soon, Brian Fox opens the Corner Bodo's on June 15.


Worst mistaken identity: When a rape victim IDs him as her assailant September 2, innocent citizen Christopher Matthew is jailed for five days until cleared by DNA. In December, he sues the woman for defamation of character.

Best sign for Dems: The election of Tim Kaine for governor suggests that the conservative Republican stranglehold on the Commonwealth may be loosening. Likewise in Albemarle County, Democrat Dave Slutzky's overwhelming victory over Republican Gary Grant for a Board of Supervisors' seat signals a leftward tilt in the traditionally Republican-leaning county.


Closest race: Republican Bob McDonnell is certified attorney general more than two weeks after the November 8 election with a 327-vote lead over Charlottesville's state senator, Creigh Deeds. A recount may keep the official results in limbo until early 2006.


Biggest directorial debut: On September 16, Charlottesville-bred Jeff Wadlow, son of the late Emily Couric, brings his first film to American screens– 1,789 of them– but brings the debut (and star Lindy Booth) to the Newcomb Hall premiere. Critics consider the picture, Cry Wolf, a reasonable first try, and it ends up grossing $10 million.

Worst return of the Greenleaf grabber: Robert Terrell Haskins, who dodges an attempted rape charge for attacking a mother in Greenleaf Park in late 2002, is arrested again for assaulting a woman in her Little High Street home November 26.


Best painting: Controversy about sprayings on Beta Bridge abounds, but there's no ambiguity surrounding the black and white message that goes up on Wednesday, September 14, as hundreds of UVA students and Charlottesville citizens contribute to painting the Gettysburg Address as a symbolic stand against racist acts on Grounds.

Best reason to wear clean underwear: Citizens claim that Buckingham County sheriff's deputies are strip-searching motorists by the side of the road when the drug dog indicates a hit. Police deny the practice– or claim the two people who talked to the Hook stripped voluntarily.

Most litigious neighborhood: Dogwood Valley in Greene County, where a knock on the door usually means a subpoena.

Biggest mistrial: The three-week U.S. District Court trial of Louis Antonio Bryant, leader of the alleged drug gang Project Crud, aka the Westside Crew and PJC, and associates Claiborne Lemar Maupin, Terrance Suggs, and John Darrelle Bryant crumples when a juror reads a newspaper story and discusses it with two other jurors.


Most Wahoo exposure: UVA fourth-year Amanda Paige is Playboy's Miss October.

Biggest launch: Charlottesville's controversial $6.6 million new computer system, CityLink, goes online in July.

Biggest boutique: In November, high-end paper goods purveyor Caspari opens its second retail shop (the first is in Paris) in the former Woolworth's/Foot Locker space.

Best Lawn gossip: After the big three national networks lose their iconic 6:30pm news anchors (Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, and the late Peter Jennings), 1979 UVA graduate and Lawnie Katie Couric becomes the must-have, according to pundits. Couric reportedly earns $15 million annually for anchoring NBC's Today show.

Most tumultuous year for Planned Parenthood: The reproductive rights group staves off a court challenge to the zoning of its new facility on Hydraulic Road in July, but then seems to implode in November when four local members of the regional board resign in protest of CEO David Nova.

Worst disappointment for Albemarle Bank shareholders: Its merger with Millennium Bankshares falls through.

Most controversial hat: The "Swallow Bitch Swallow" baseball cap disappears from the shelves of Spencer's Gifts after a shopper complains.

Best push for the long-awaited (or dreaded) Meadowcreek Parkway: Senator John Warner comes up with $27 million, enough to get things going– finally.

Longest-running John Grisham courtroom drama: Katharine Almy's lawsuit against Grisham, two handwriting experts, and a St. Anne's-Belfield director for intentional infliction of emotional distress is dismissed July 8– just short of its 5th anniversary. Almy's lawyer vows to appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court.

Best year for PVCC: The community college receives a $500,000 donation from Woodrow W. Bolick and his daughter, Cynthia Bolick Stultz, followed by a $1.2 million check from Patricia Kluge and Bill Moses.

Shiniest coin: While the U.S. experiments with a profile of Thomas Jefferson on the nickel and brings back the bison, a brand new coin emerges to honor the Shenandoah Valley's ag heritage. The brainchild of Matt Cauley, the sterling silver "Shen" is available from select businesses for $18.95.

Newest connection: The North Grounds Connector, which will funnel northbound U.S. 29 traffic to and from the new John Paul Jones Arena, is finished five months early and scheduled to open in January.

Best celebrity sightings: Academy Award-winner Hilary Swank and husband Chad Lowe are spotted here in April. Ben Affleck and then-preggers wife Jennifer Garner stroll the Downtown Mall in October amid persistent rumors they're considering this area for raising baby. (An even better rumor fanned by the Washington Post had Affleck challenging George Allen for the U.S. Senate.)