Whatever happened? 10 updated stories
Whatever happened after authorities slew the geese in Forest Lakes? Whatever happened to Oliver Kuttner's remarkably light car? What's the latest on the search for Morgan Harrington's killer? This week, we look back at ten classic cover stories– dramatic tales, poignant remembrances, investigative reports, and colorful profiles– to learn the very latest.–Hawes Spencer, editor
Historic decision: Tax credit case stalls School rehab
When the Hook checked in a year ago on the project to rehabilitate a historic-yet-decrepit African-American school into a community and cultural heritage center, plans were drawn, tenants lined up, and the project was just waiting on a loan. Despite almost $6 million in city funding, the private partnership in charge of the renovation said there was one other essential: historic tax credits.
In March, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit threw a wrench into that plan. Until now, Virginia's credits have been handed out to virtually any rehab deemed historic, but the Court is now declaring them taxable income to the investors who receive them.
"It threw the entire Virginia tax credit world into a tizzy," says Frank Stoner, one of the citizens on the Jefferson School Community Partnership LLLC, which will own the school, and co-founder of Milestone Partners LLC, which will renovate the aging educational building. The $17 million project anticipated collecting nearly $5 million in tax credits.
The court ruling said investors looking to slice their tax bills on such projects didn't really share any risk and their their purchase of the credits was a "disguised sale," subject to federal income tax. The decision could also leave the Jefferson School partnership liable for a huge tax bill, says Stoner.
"We're modifying the tax credit structure," says Stoner. The lender wanted to make sure the group had funding to pay the tax bill, "because no one is quite sure how this is going to go with the court ruling."
Once the building is renovated, the partnership plans to lease Carver Recreation Center back to the city and has other nonprofit tenants lined up like Piedmont Virginia Community College and Jefferson Area Board for Aging. An African-American Heritage Center takes 9,000 square feet for a museum and community center.
"We should close in a few weeks," says Stoner on June 8, "and construction will begin immediately." Stay tuned.–Lisa Provence
Brooks brother: Mark rebounds after the fatal roll
Filled with beer cans and 64 men from the University of Virginia, the windowless vehicle approached a sharp turn as it neared its Lynchburg destination. The human cargo shifted, the driver lost control, and two lives were lost.
In 2007, the Hook told what happened in the 1982 "fraternity roll," a story which earned the Virginia Press Association's top in-depth reporting award and which appears to have provoked the installation of a commemorative plaque inside the Sigma Chi house, the sponsoring fraternity.
The 25th anniversary also helped bring some closure for Mark Brooks, a Maryland man, one of the most seriously injured passengers in the back of that U-Haul truck. Like at least two others injured on the night of October 6, 1982, Brooks quietly endured a traumatic brain injury.
"When he came back to college," says friend and former UVA basketball star Tim Mullen, "it was clear he had a long way to go."
Brooks, the son of a National Institutes of Health researcher and a school psychologist, was accustomed to earning As and Bs. Instead, he relates how he ended up dropping out of UVA and moving back to Maryland. Friends disappeared, women retreated, jobs were gained and lost.
He says his last days at UVA were marked by so many inappropriate comments to attractive females that there was talk about throwing him out of Sigma Chi. "You have to behave pretty badly to get kicked out of a fraternity," notes the now 47-year-old Brooks, who wants others to understand.
"It's the kind of injury," says Brooks, "where you don't see the crutch."
With military men and women coming home from the Mideast with similar life-altering injuries, Brooks recently testified on Capital Hill about a possible connection to epilepsy, a condition he now suffers. Brooks spoke June 28 to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, but he also has a message for anyone who encounters a brain-injured person.
"Someone may seem drunk, lost, or stupid," says Brooks. "But don't assume they're drunk, lost, or stupid. They might have gotten whacked in the head."–Hawes Spencer
Trading up: Trade Center steel to mark dark day
Charlottesville may not have been at the center of 9/11, but the nation-rocking tragedy had local impact including the 99th-floor World Trade Center death of the sister of a Burley Middle School teacher. And thanks to the efforts of the Charlottesville Fire Department and some willing donors, there will soon be a memorial to the 343 firefighters who died in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
On January 27 of this year, in a solemn ceremony at the main fire station on Ridge Street, Charlottesville firefighters took delivery of a two-ton, 17-foot-long chunk of steel from the fallen Trade Center. Inscribed upon the mangled beam were three marks of "FDNY," each showing that the remains of a firefighter had been recovered nearby, according to Charlottesville Fire Chief Charles Werner.
Werner says that with requests for the Trade Center steel outpacing the supply, Charlottesville was fortunate that The September 11th Families Association and the New York Port Authority approved the plan to create a permanent memorial in the foyer of the planned Fontaine Avenue Fire Station.
The City of Charlottesville has $8.75 million currently budgeted to build the new fire house at 2408 Fontaine Avenue, next to the Amoco station and at the site of the now-demolished building that once housed a restaurant called the China Seafood Hut.
Werner, pointing out that all the expenses of creating the memorial will come from donors, credits construction company Barton Malow for donating personnel and equipment valued at $7,500 to transport the steel to Charlottesville and says that he's actively fundraising to reach a $100,000 goal.
"What we want the steel to represent is patriotism and preparedness," says Werner, "and a chance to educate all our generations about tolerance and working together toward community resilience."–Hawes Spencer
Clinosaurus rex: King Cline still shaking up Shenandoah
When peering in on Mark Cline in the summer of 2004, the Hook called him the "Barnum of the Blue Ridge" for bringing mirthful terror to the Shenandoah Valley, particularly for antic roadside attractions around Natural Bridge. Seven years later, Cline's still at it with new ideas and new antics.
This is the guy who built Foamhenge and a haunted house that's been celebrated at roadsideamerica.com; and when we visited he'd just peppered the town of Glasgow with fiberglass dinosaurs.
"We moved out of Glasgow and created Dinosaur Kingdom with them," says Cline, a man whose artistic skills may be matched only by his mastery at repurposing. He took those giant dinosaurs, cast some terrorized Union soldiers, and with his talent for mixing camp and terror, created some Civil War scenes that somehow got omitted from traditional history books.
This is the guy who once created near-panic with a set of allegedly crashed flying saucers (crafted from 1980s-era satellite dishes) by a heavily traveled roadside. Lately, though, he's presented some serious ideas.
For instance, just a few years ago he raised money for charity by climbing up a ladder to make a mold of the famous George Washington initials carved into the stone cliff adjoining the actual Natural Bridge. More recently, he spotted an old Waynesboro industrial building whose twin shafts– once they get the Cline treatment– will resemble the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center for a 10-year commemoration he'd like to orchestrate this fall.
It's not all structures. Four years after winning a Hook-sponsored Mick Jagger lookalike contest, Mark dubbed himself "Marci" and appeared for his 25-year Waynesboro High School reunion wearing makeup and drag. "I had the whole group snowed for two hours," he says, "thinking I had undergone a sex change."–Hawes Spencer
New gig: Perriello gets worlds away
A year ago, Tom Perriello was campaigning like crazy to hold onto his 5th District congressional seat, but even a presidential visit by Barack Obama wasn't enough to keep the freshman congressman in office.
This year, Perriello has been so far from Washington that he ended in the middle of epochal change in the Middle East.
"I was working on the Darfur peace project in Qatar when the events known as the Arab Spring began," says Perriello, momentarily back at his home base in Ivy.
The former U.S. congressman tried to get into Egypt during the last days of President Mubarak.
"I was detained, interrogated, and kicked out of the country," says Perriello. "It was unpleasant, but I wasn't threatened."
Still, the treatment left him wondering that if that can happen to him, who knows what was going on with Egyptian citizens. Now he's trying to support those momentous events springing from democratic uprisings, and more importantly, he says, to understand them.
Since leaving office, he's gone back to trying to resolve conflict in strife-torn areas, which he did before what some consider his long-shot win against six-termer Virgil Goode.
A lot of his work he does independently in places like Jordan, Egypt, and Qatar. He's also affiliated with a U.S. State Department-funded agency called the National Democratic Institute, which he describes as having a "democracy-building agenda."
When Perriello ran for Congress, one of his objectives was to reach a position to change U.S. policy. Now that he's been there and done that, he's seen just how difficult it is to operate from inside the House of Representatives, a system he calls both "rigged" and filled with "a lot of stagnation."
At the moment, politics are not on his horizon, but 36-year-old says he still believes in public service and problem-solving.
"I don't miss the day-to-day in Congress," he says, "but it was an incredible honor to represent the people of the 5th District." And for right now, says Perriello, "It's been fun for me to get as far away from Washington as possible."–Lisa Provence
Why they worship: C'ville psych pegs God as by-product
It was one of the hotter stories in Hook history. A psychiatrist explained how devout men can commit atrocities like the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Since the September 2004 publication of that theory as "Why They Kill," J. Anderson "Andy" Thomson has gotten even more eager to explain a dangerous nexus between testosterone and religion. He's combined the latest research into one little book purporting to explain a larger issue: why humans develop religious beliefs.
"I was waiting to see if one of the science writers would do it," says Thomson, "but nobody did. So I thought I'd give it a try."
With assistance from Clare Aukofer, Why We Believe in God(s): A Concise Guide to the Science of Faith was published this month by Pitchstone and sells for $12.95, a price-point that's part of Thomson's reach for a mass audience.
No stranger to mass audiences, he gave the 2009 keynote speech at the American Atheist convention in Atlanta with over 340,000 views on YouTube.
Thomson says his religious interest launched nearly 10 years ago during the destruction of the World Trade Center, when his adult son was inside an adjacent building. Realizing how close his family had come to tragedy, he began researching when he wasn't working for UVA student health, for Region Ten Community Services Board, and in his own private practice.
What he found was a slew of advances in the cognitive neurosciences. Anyone hoping, however, to find a single gene or brain zone for religion will be disappointed by Thomson's 144-page paperback. Just as the now-troublesome human craving for fats and sugars grew from ancient cravings for scarce nutrition, so too, says Thomson, has religion arisen, as an evolutionary by-product.
One of the simplest religious predecessors is parental attachment, which shielded humans and other primates from childhood dangers.
"Attachments glue us to parents, and religion gives us a super-parent," says Thomson, noting that there's more to it than that.
The book must have gotten its science right, as it carries a foreword by Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene, one of the landmarks in evolutionary biology.
"It's easy to understand," says Thomson, "and you don't need any specialty knowledge."–Hawes Spencer
Lightweight: Kuttner's car gains traction
It's been nine months since Oliver Kuttner and his Edison2 team collected $5 million in the Progressive Automotive X-Prize, and while Kuttner says that money's "long gone," the future of the Very Light Car– the only four-seater to meet the contest's stringent demands of getting 100 mpg with a 200-mile range– is just revving up.
"There's a lot going on," says Kuttner in early June, a day before he leaves to speak at a Detroit convention of auto industry bigwigs.
Since the victory, Kuttner and his team, including automotive engineer Ron Mathis and engineer/racecar driver Brad Jaeger– have been tag-teaming it around the globe, speaking to multinational corporations including the German petrochemical firm Bayer and manufacturer Siemans, government agencies including NASA, and at conventions, seeking partnerships and possible purchasers of a future generation of Very Light Car.
"We are starting to be regarded as world champions in mass reductions," says Kuttner, who notes that early safety tests are showing great promise that the VLC– which as a prototype weighed in at under 750 pounds– can keep passengers safe while conserving fuel.
Kuttner has long maintained that the vehicle's bullet shape and far-flung wheel-base would absorb impact, making the vehicle among the safest on the road.
"It's not theoretical anymore," he says. "We have data."
Currently, Kuttner says, there are several new models– dubbed "4.0"– undergoing testing. Recognizable as the Very Light Car, there are noticeable changes including the addition of bumpers– required by law– as well as airbags.
While several quarter-scale models exist– as does an electric version of the VLC– Kuttner says it'll be a while before the Very Light Car becomes a regular sight on roads around the world– and he's still looking for investors to help make it happen.
"We're just step by step working our way toward this car that we believe is going to change the industry," he says. "And we're not the only people who think it."–Courteney Stuart
New ice age: Main Street Arena scores a profit
Could he make it profitable? That was the question on many minds when Mark Brown stepped up to purchase the struggling Charlottesville Ice Park last summer. After all, both sets of former owners– originally Lee Danielson and Colin Rolph, then Roberta and Bruce Williamson– had publicly revealed their own difficulties turning ice into money. But a year after Brown took the purchasing plunge– paying $3 million for the facility– he says the question's been answered with a resounding "yes."
"Everything's been going great," says Brown, who renamed the ice park The Main Street Arena to help bolster its new image as a multi-use facility.
In the first months, Brown purchased and installed a removable floor, renovated the cafe area and gave up the leased office space in the building next door– an unnecessary drain on coffers, he explained. Then he set about booking events.
Among those hosted over the past year are a high-end antique show, corporate parties the Charlottesville Derby Dames, and Mixed Martial Arts fights.
"There's really good money in MMA fighting," says Brown, who notes that last year, 1,300 people turned out– the Arena can hold 1,500– for one of the bouts.
The year hasn't been without its glitches, of course. The most significant of these was a March mechanical failure of the coolers that caused the ice to thaw and flood the space, forcing Brown to close for a month.
"We had insurance," says Brown, "so it should be fine."
The latest development at the Arena is a new free Friday night country music series that kicked off June 24 with country crooner Sunny Sweeney. Though entry is free, Brown says the series will help his bottom line.
"Beer sales is the money," says Brown, who found co-sponsors for the series in Coors Light, Jim Price Chevrolet, and Virginia Oil.
One year in, "I feel pretty good about it," says Brown. "So much is up in the air, and you never know what tomorrow will bring. But in terms of operating it profitably, it can be done, and it has been done." –Courteney Stuart
No fly zone? Geese return to Forest Lakes
Nearly a year after agents from the U.S. Department of Agriculture rounded up and slaughtered 90 Canada geese residing in the Forest Lakes neighborhood, citing the alleged danger the birds pose to planes taking off and landing at nearby Charlottesville Albemarle Regional Airport, at least one new feathered family has settled in. For residents upset by last year's round up, that's reason to rejoice– and worry.
"Will CHO ask to have these new birds exterminated as well to satisfy their business agenda?" asks Art Epp, one of those residents who accused the airport and the FAA of using the bird round-ups as a public relations maneuver.
As reported in the Hook's September 2, 2010 cover story, "Unfriendly skies: Forest Lakes, the Miracle on the Hudson and Canada Geese," there's fear that the large fowl could bring down another plane, as was the case in 2009 on the Hudson Riven when heroic pilot Chester "Sully" Sullenberger became a household name.
But after conducting his own research on the probability of a the geese causing another catastrophic bird strike, Epp says he took a dim view of the round-ups that are occurring near airports around the country.
"I believe the probability of someone dying in the Forest Lakes' pools due to accidental drowning or on the Forest Lakes soccer fields due to a lightning strike far exceeds the probability of someone dying in a birdstrike incident at CHO," says Epp.
There is good news for the new geese families– at least for now.
"We have not had any requests for geese round-ups," says Scott Barras, state director for the USDA's wildlife services program. While Barras says that could change in the next few weeks– as round-ups are typically conducted mid-summer when the birds molt and cannot fly– David Shifflett, president of the Forest Lakes Neighborhood Association, says the association hasn't received any notice from the airport, and according to CHO director Barbara Hutchinson, the airport doesn't plan to make any such requests, and that pleases Epp.
"A new, peaceful vibrancy exists," he says. "Once again, the lake feels alive."–Courteney Stuart
Morgan's memory: Harringtons keep case alive
When your daughter's been murdered and nearly two years pass without an arrest, the frustration of waiting for a break in the case compounds devastating grief. For Dan and Gil Harrington, parents of slain Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington, the pain is mitigated– at least slightly– by taking action to help others.
On Saturday, June 11, the Harringtons joined a group of supporters in front of the Giant food store on Pantops for a bake sale to raise funds for the Morgan Dana Harrington Educational Wing of a school in the African nation of Zambia, where Gil Harrington visits annually through the nonprofit OMNI, Orphan Medical Network International.
"In two weeks, 15 of us saw 3,077 patients," says Gil, a nurse, of her most recent trip in April, describing the almost unimaginably bleak living conditions of villagers who live around the school. Among the conditions that Gil and her OMNI colleagues treat are tropical ulcers– infections that cause large open wounds that, without even basic first aid like band-aids, can remain open for years. Also common, Gil reports, are severe burns– particularly in children, who've fallen into the open fires used for cooking.
She holds a picture of a young boy with second and third degree burns over much of his face, and recalls struggling to find a way to cover his wound. Eventually, a small piece of fleece, fashioned into a ski-mask-style hat, offered some protection from the ubiquitous flies that carry infection and can lay eggs in open wounds.
It's far from a perfect solution, she acknowledges, but in third-world conditions, it's better than the alternative: nothing– and the actual medical treatment may not have the most impact.
"The compassion is maybe what lasts," she muses, describing the delight shown by an 80-year-old man who received his first pair of shoes.
While the fundraising goal to finish the wing is $15,000, both Gil and Dan say their presence at the Giant bake sale has less to do with raising money than with memory.
"It's important to maintain a level of awareness in the community," says Dan Harrington, mentioning the incoming crop of UVA First Years who may never have heard Morgan's name or the story of how she disappeared from outside a Metallica concert at John Paul Jones Arena on October 17, 2009 and how her remains were discovered three months later on a remote Albemarle County farm.
"They don't know that there's a killer still in this community," he says.
In addition to making continued appearances in Charlottesville, the Harringtons say they're continuing to push for a national DNA database to further enable familial DNA searches and will continue to support a proposed bill at the state level that would require campus police to hand murder cases over to local authorities.–Courteney Stuart
• The rental truck company, U-Haul, was misspelled in the print edition of this story. It has been corrected in this archived online edition.
• Andy Thomson's book is entitled Why We Believe in God(s), not Why We Believe in the God(s). It has been corrected in this archived online edition.
• Frank Stoner is still involved with the rehab of Jefferson School, but he's now with Milestone Partners LLC, not Stonehaus, as originally reported.