Charlottesville Breaking News

Digging deeper: On becoming a Hook reporter

One of the first stories I wrote as a full-time employee for the Hook in 2005 was about the planned renovation of a Downtown park. I spoke to advocates of the renovation, city parks and rec officials, the architects, local residents, and cranked out a piece you'd find in hundreds of small community papers. I was happy with what I wrote. It was good, solid reporting about a community project, and I'd spoken to everyone involved. But after my editor, Hawes Spencer, read the piece, he looked forlorn sitting at his desk— hurt even— as if someone had just given him some bad news he was trying to process.

"A million dollars?" he said, stating the price of the planned renovation of the park, made up of a combination of city funds and private donations. "That park doesn't even need to be renovated."

Indeed, I had lived near the park for years, had played with my kids there when they were young, and my oldest son and I had carved our names in a beautiful old tree, one that would come down with the renovation, along with many others. It was a classic old park with great tree cover, a wonderful steel merry-go-round, room to run around, and a basketball court. The new design would fell over a dozen trees, add designer play structures called "spicas," include a "weeping" water wall, and a round basketball court.

"Can you dig a little deeper here?" Spencer asked. "This reads like a press release."

I understood what he meant imme...

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What they say about the Hook

Since its inception, the Hook has shone a spotlight into the darkest corners of our community, forcing us to confront issues that most would just as soon ignore. This unwavering commitment to telling the truth, no matter how unpopular or difficult, is what George Orwell considered a revolutionary act, and we have been blessed to have revolutionaries among us such as Hawes Spencer, Lisa Provence, Courteney Stuart and Dave McNair. We are better off because the Hook called the county to task for installing red light cameras that do little for safety while fattening the government’s coffers. They questioned the mindset behind police shootings of unarmed citizens, ABC raids of college students buying bottled water, and lockdowns of residential streets. And they reminded us of the incongruities of using an assault team of 10 agents to raid a 39-acre farm, supposedly because a military helicopter spotted a solitary marijuana plant growing wild in a yard. Without a doubt, Charlottesville will be worse off for the Hook’s absence. My only hope is that those remaining outposts of freedom in this town— both activists and journalists— will continue to call for transparency and accountability and keep a small...

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Correction: Person, not company, gave money

Our September 5 cover story, "Angels among us: How Charlottesville is becoming a hot spot for start-ups," stated that Jaffray Woodriff's firm Quantitative Investment Management provided funds for start-up Vivid Cortex. Woodriff personally provided funds. We apologize for the error.

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Farewell and thanks

Dear Hook readers,

Thank you. Thank you for reading this paper each week, for offering story ideas, for taking our calls and sharing your expertise and opinions as sources in the thousands of stories we have run since this paper launched in 2002. Thank you for writing letters praising or excoriating our work, for commenting on our website. For being part of a local news enterprise that was born of a desire to serve the community. Thank you, also, to Hook advertisers, who invested their hard-earned dollars in our pages and thereby supported the mission of local investigative reporting.

There are several journalists whose work made this final cover story possible, and, incidentally, none have ever worked for the Hook. They were "newsmen" at the Daily Progress in 1963, and the series of stories they penned in the immediate aftermath of the death of beloved local football star Pat Akins provide a historical record of the tragedy and the investigation that followed. Their stories, which bear no bylines, offer a powerful reminder that the role of a journalist is not just to inform the community, not just to serve as a government watchdog, but to create the first draft of history.

In this particular case, with a police file still closed due to the ongoing nature of the investigation even 50 years later, and potential witnesses and story sources scattered around the country or no longer living, the roadmap crea...

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A real drag? 1963 killing of Pat Akins remains the coldest case

One of the town's biggest boys lay dead underneath one of the town's smallest cars. Initially, cops claimed that 19-year-old James Patrick Akins had been dragged from Greenwood to Charlottesville under a Triumph TR3.

"Hit-Run Car Drags Former Rock Hill Star 12 Miles," roared the headline in the Daily Progress on March 19, 1963. The explanation was greeted with immediate incredulity by friends of the muscular athlete and fans of the low-slung British roadster. Disbelief intensified when word spread that the body was found largely intact and devoid of broken bones. The local coroner declared that Akins couldn't have been dragged more than 100 yards.

While another medical examiner would enter the case and embrace the theory of the dozen-mile-dragging, public opinion never did; the rumor mill went into overdrive.

"Charlottesville was certainly buzzing," says longtime resident Bob Lyons, who knew both Akins and his father. "Nobody believed the story that a small car dragged him all those miles."

Fifty years later, last month's reunion for Akins' former Rock Hill Academy schoolmates is still buzzing with questions about his death. The teenagers who lost a friend 50 years ago are now in their in their late 60s, some with teenaged grandchildren of their own. They fear that with each passing year, the chances of resolution— and justice for Akins— diminish.

"I think all of us want to know what happened to him," says one, Helen Hatzenbe...

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Editor's Note
4Better Or Worse