Charlottesville Breaking News

Life behind bars: Eric Abshire defiant at sentencing

After declaring his love for his late wife and his innocence in her death, a defiant Eric Abshire, convicted in October of killing Justine Swartz Abshire, spoke aloud in court. It was the first time the 37-year-old made a statement since entering his not guilty plea last March.

"Justice for Justine will never happen," said Abshire. Minutes later, Orange County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Bouton confirmed the jury-recommended life sentence for the first-degree murder.

"You demanded trial by jury," said Bouton. "We provided you with the jury."

Although their service ended with the October 25 conviction, at least two jurors attended the January 12 sentencing hearing.

"I was here to make sure the sentence we recommended was upheld," explained juror Michelle Hooper, who says she's had no second thoughts. "We all felt very strongly about it."

Before the sentencing began, Abshire's attorney, Charles "Buddy" Weber, unsuccessfully moved to have the verdict tossed, claiming that the medical evidence hadn't explained how Justine died on November 2-3, 2006, the night Abshire claimed to have found her as the ostensible victim of a hit-and-run on Taylorsville Road near Barboursville.

At trial, prosecution witnesses offered evidence suggesting...

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Simpson's folly? Nelsonian gets serious about Alaska race

After more than a generation as the unofficial ambassador of Nelson County, Russ Simpson suddenly finds himself unrecognizable. The proprietor of a popular roadside stand along U.S. 29 has recently shed over 40 pounds, part of his quest to race a snowmobile across the frozen surface of the state once known as "Seward's Folly."

"My weight now is what it was in high school," says Simpson, laughing as he recalls a longtime Apple Shed customer asking him for the whereabouts of the owner.

"I recognized him," says another friend, Alan Van Clief. "But it's not the Russ Simpson I've been seeing for eight or 10 years."

Simpson is in the final days of training for the world's longest snowmobile race, the Iron Dog, an event whose four-time champion is Todd Palin. And Simpson says he got a phone call from Alaska's so-called "First Dude" after visiting Wasilla in search of a race partner.

"I thought it was my brother-in-law playing a joke," says Simpson.

As it turned out, Palin was trying to be helpful, but rookie racer Simpson won't get to compete with Palin this year. He'll have to content himself with the so-called "trail class," the mere 1,100-mile version of the Iron Dog. But for Simpson, there's something larger at stake than pride: his life.

Five years ago, he was diagnosed with Stage 2-B melanoma in his shoulder– "basically from standing in the sun when we...

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Meadow Creek Parkway: Rubber hits road

The man touted as instrumental in getting what was long called the Meadow Creek Parkway built– or at least 1.4 miles of it– wasn't there. Former U.S. Senator John W. Warner, 84, checked into the hospital the night before the January 6 ribbon-cutting/unveiling of the portion of the road named in his honor.

Most of the speakers at the ceremony invoked Warner's name and how much he'd done for Charlottesville and Albemarle: the $27-million federal earmark for the parkway's unbuilt interchange that revived the aging project in 2005, the levees that keep the James River out of oft-flooded Scottsville, and National Ground Intelligence Center and its $2 billion payroll, which, according to former supervisor Forrest Marshall, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld wanted to move to Maryland.

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Restaurant Week tip: Reserve early for semi-annual food fandango

From January 23 to 29, Charlottesville will once again experience the hugely popular Restaurant Week, which draws eager diners from within Charlottesville and the surrounding area. The week of three-course, fixed price menus is sure to put an end to every citizen’s obligatory New Year’s Diet.

Held twice a year, the Hook-sponsored event has been in existence since the summer of 2009. It will boast some of the old favorites– Keswick Hall's Fossett's, the Old Mill Room at the Boar’s Head Inn, and The Melting Pot– but will also feature some new talent.

Da Luca, Tempo, and West Main Street's newest venue, Balkan Bistro, are just a few of the most recent additions to the line-up, with the full list of 20 participants at

The manager and owner of Balkan Bistro, Annja Andelic, hoping to expand the reach of her Eastern European cuisine, says she's “very excited” about participating and keeping her “fingers crossed” about a possible business boom in the dreary winter month– a sentiment echoed by Anna Harrison, publisher of the Hook.

Harrison says Restaurant Week is held in January and July because these are “two of the slowest times of the year for restaurants,” so the seven days of non-stop feasting is a “good way to boost revenue and is great for the economy.”

Restaurant Week not only delights culina...

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Monsoon, switched: Friends season Market Street with Siam

How did two Thai art students wind up taking over Monsoon, Charlottesville's oldest Asian fusion restaurant? Well, to hear 31-year-old "Kitty" Ashi tell the story, it began in Bangkok.

Kitty hails from a restaurant-running family, but it was in art school in Bangkok that she became friends with the now 29-year-old restaurant co-owner, "Pooh" Dutdao.

Starting as a dishwasher, Kitty arrived first in America and began working her way up the ranks at a corporate restaurant, Tara Thai. Last summer, while looking for an opportunity, she spotted an online ad saying that Monsoon, started over 20 years ago, was for sale. By this point, Pooh had moved to Central Virginia and Tara Thai as well.

"It's kind of like destiny," says Kitty.

Building owner Lu-Mei Chang had found a duo willing to carry on some traditions– even while revamping the menu toward Thai specialities.

Today, lunch specials are $7.99, and dinner starts at just a penny more. The restaurant at 113 Market Street, which they bought from Chang last June, is now called Monsoon Siam.

"We kept the Monsoon name," says 31-year-old Kitty, "because we wanted to give her respect."

True to their art school roots, the two have adorned the walls with some of their original artworks, including collages of stained wood, and they've installed a record player– yes, playing vinyl&...

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