Charlottesville Breaking News

Another death: Albemarle traffic fatalities rise to 21

In November, after five people died in crashes in less than a week and with 19 deaths for the year, Albemarle was looking at its highest number of traffic fatalities since 2003.

Since then, two more people have died.

The most recent death occurred January 6, more than a week after a 6:30am collision near Western Albemarle High School in the 5900 block of Rockfish Gap Turnpike.

According to Sergeant Darrell Byers with Albemarle Police, Kenneth Eugene Hughes, 77, of Roanoke, was heading east on U.S. 250 in his Nissan Rogue on December 28, when Michael Carson Ragland, driving a tractor trailer, was making a U-turn. Ragland has been charged with failure to yield the right of way, and other charges may be pending, adds Byers.

In 2010, Ragland was found guilty of that same charge in Louisa. Records show he was also convicted of making an improper lane change in Albemarle in 2008.

Initially, medical personnel didn't think Hughes' injuries were life-threatening, says Byers. "We didn't learn about [his death] until after the new year. We learned about it from FOIA requests." The Freedom of Information Act requests came from lawyers, says Byers, who adds that a crash reconstruction team is studying the incident.

Gaetan Fraser, 45, a truck driver from Quebec on his way to Florida with relatives, became Albemarle's 20th fatality December 21 when he swer...

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Officer blamed: Police ticket own in pedestrian incident

The last time an Albemarle County Police cruiser and a pedestrian tangled, it was the pedestrian who got the ticket in an incident that gave law enforcement a black eye and a lawsuit. This time, following a January 13 accident, it's the Albemarle County officer who's facing a charge.

On January 24, eleven days after the incident left a jogger with minor injuries, officer Caroline Ann Morris, 35, was cited for failure to yield the right of way for allegedly striking the man at the eastbound off-ramp of Interstate 64 and Fifth Street Extended.

Prior to Morris' citation, which was filed by Albemarle Corporal Jonathan Shenk, the Hook spoke with the victim, 41-year-old Albemarle County teacher Carlos Pezua. While Pezua declined to confirm one of his friend's allegations that he was tossed up on the hood of the cruiser in the approximately 5:30pm incident, he noted that he was satisfied with the post-crash conduct of Morris and the investigating officers, calling them "courteous and professional."

So why did it take nearly two weeks to issue a ticket?

"Sometimes, there is clear evidence that would cause an officer to bring forth charges immediately," says County police spokesperson Darrell Byers. "Other times, we confer with the Commonwealth's Attorney."

While Byers says a police officer wouldn't receive preferential treatment fr...

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Life behind bars: it's more than just pouring drinks

Everyone knows the story of Charlottesville's most famous bartender, you know, that musician guy who worked at Miller's before becoming a world renowned rock star... what's his name?

Well, many other local bartenders have attracted their own, albeit smaller, fan base. Indeed, while lots of factors go into creating a bar's atmosphere– lighting, decor, and menu choices, among them– in many cases, the single most significant element of a bar's appeal– and what keeps the regulars coming back– is the man or woman doing the pouring.

"They're friends out in the public square," says attorney Benjamin Dick, whose name adorns a stool downstairs at C&O restaurant where for years, bartender Barry Umberger would have drinks ready for regulars before they could order and knew the details of his frequent patrons' lives.

"He was also a friend and attending consultant on every kind of thing from A-Z," says Dick, who says Umberger's decision to sail to the Bahamas with his wife– and stay– left a hole.

"He was a bartending psychologist," Dick notes. "His generosity was abundant, and that's why so many people kept coming in."

Umberger may have been a master of his trade, but...

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Local legislators: Tebow, triggermen among their bills

Every January, the six men representing the gerrymandered chunks of Albemarle and Charlottesville (and Rustburg!) head east on I-64 to participate in Virginia's part-time legislature. For 60 days, they'll strive for a budget and deal with the 2,228 bills (at last count) that the General Assembly's 140 members bring to the table, down from the 2,900 they wrote in 2008.  Mercifully, most bills die in committee, but some become part of Virginia's law.

With both the Senate and House of Delegates firmly in Republican hand, do any bills rise to the wacky level of 2007's attempted ban on droopy drawers or 2008's truck nuts bill?

"I don't think there's anything stranger than usual," says Richmond Sunlight creator Waldo Jaquith. "What's notable is that the stranger legislation has a better chance of becoming law because there are more far-right Republicans. In the past, the Senate acted as a brake to the crazier legislation coming out of the House."

But that was before that body split 20-20, with Republican Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling ready to cast tie-breaking votes.

Delegate David Toscano, who represents Charlotte...

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Biscuit Run reform: Deeds would loosen secrecy... some

In Virginia, tax returns are so sacred that a section of code forbids state officials from revealing individual info– even if those individuals have reaped millions of dollars for their land from state taxpayers.

Such was the case of Biscuit Run, where developers attempted to parlay a dubious $88-million appraisal– practically double the land's $46.2-million boom-time purchase price– into a bail-out for the underwater development by re-purposing the land as a state park and taking $11.7 million in tax credits atop the $9.8 million sales price, all aided by a Virginia law that shrouds the details from public scrutiny.

It was only a leaked appraisal that allowed the public to see how Biscuit Run's former owner, Forest Lodge LLC, was attempting to recoup its losses at taxpayer expense. And with Virginia's land conservation easement program, which has been called the most generous in the country, handing out over $100 million a year to landowners, the potential for abuse is significant.

Last year, even as outrage mounted, the program's creator, State Senator Creig Deeds, declined to promise major reform. However, now that the Biscuit Run backers have risked further...

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