Charlottesville Breaking News

The road: Death count mounts in Albemarle

"Let me grab my phone– I'm expecting a victim's family to call."

That's Sergeant Sean Hackney on November 17, the morning after the fifth person has died in less than a week on an Albemarle County road. He's operating on an hour-and-a-half of sleep, and all the officers in Albemarle police's traffic unit are working a fatality.

At the Albemarle police station on 5th Street, the bland cubicles stand in sharp contrast to the grisly scenes officers encounter out on the street. A map of the county is dotted with pushpins– 19 of them, representing all the locations where people have had fatal encounters with vehicles this year.

There are motorcycle accidents– three of them. There's the tragedy of backing up and realizing too late that a child is behind the car. There are the seemingly inexplicable single-car accidents. Sergeant Hackney has seen them all.

Scottsville Road has had two deaths. Earlier this year, Black Cat Road had two in a row.

"We do see geographical trends," says a clearly frustrated Hackney. "Right now, it's all over the county south of 64."

But why the recent spate of deaths, pushing Albemarle to 19 so far this year, the highest death toll since 2003's record 24 fatalities?

'What we see over and over again are speed, seatbelts, and alcohol," says Hackney. "We see at least one of those in most accidents."

The vast majority have all three factors, and Hackney points out that impaired dri...

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Occupy talk: Council wants campers moved, not ousted

With its seats filled and with huddled masses of humanity lining the aisles and anterooms, City Council Chambers had never in recent memory appeared so crowded. But in the end, the literally dozens of pro-Occupy Charlottesville speakers didn't get exactly what they wanted, which was unlimited permission to remain ensconced in Lee Park after their current permit expires on Thanksgiving Day.

Occupy campers and their supporters– one as young as twelve years old– thronged Charlottesville's governing body for four hours during Council's November 21 meeting. When it was over, the mayor said he had no plans to oust the protestors– who have peacefully inveighed against American economic disparity. But Mayor Dave Norris also said he wanted them to relocate, as some North Downtowners have grown tired of the round-the-clock spectacle of porta-potties and about 50 tents in the one-acre park.

However, at least one City Councilor, Kristin Szakos, expressed firm solidarity, even offering an impassioned First Amendment defense of the effort which began in October with a few placards and which now includes scores of people and a nightly campfire.

"For me," said Szakos, "the occupation is speech. Free speech doesn't end af 11 o'clock, and it doesn't end after Thanksgiving."

That's the kind of support that kept the faithful– most wearing some bit of red fabric as a sign of solidarity– under Council's fluorescent lights when they might...

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1959's triumph: 'Charlottesville 12' get pair of plaques

The "Charlottesville 12," the African-American boys and girls– now men and women– who boldly strolled into Venable Elementary School and Lane High School 52 years ago to break down the walls of segregation, finally got to see their struggle commemorated with  a pair of permanent historic markers. The signs were dedicated Friday, November 18 on the grounds of the two schools, one of which is now the Albemarle County Office Building.

"That's the most amazing thing," said John Martin, in a post-ceremony interview as he gestured toward the steel marker on the grounds of what had been Lane High School. "I would have never dreamed it."

Martin, who now lives in Richmond, told the story of what it was like to be a 14-year-old on the front lines of integration in a 2004 Hook cover story.

The commemorations include another chance to meet the Charlottesville 12, an 11am Saturday, November 19 event in the Venable auditorium.

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Rice Hall: UVA cuts ribbon on $65 million smart building

UVA officials cut the ribbon Friday morning on a $65 million building that can provide real-time reports on its own utility usage while educating the next wave of brainiacs. The November 18 event celebrated Rice Hall, a center for information technology engineering and a place that welcomes the future with several nods to the past.

The base of the structure, for instance, recalls that icon of postbellum urbanity, H.H. Richardson, with a sloped base that the lead architect calls a "batter." Executed in a dark-hued brick (as Richardson often did), the base leads up to areas of lighter brick, bands of contrasting stone and brick; and it's all capped with a deeply projecting cornice.

Unlike the cornices of Richardson's day, however, this one is streamlined. And in another bold break with the past, fully 40 percent of the structure's surface area is glass. At the entrance, which faces west-northwest, the glass is sheathed with a layer of steel for which even the designer doesn't seem to have a name.

"Modern portico screen thing would be good," says lead architect Roxanne Sherbeck, indulging a reporter's stab at a moniker. Discussing the unique steel curtain that shields the entrance and the westerly windows from the harshest sun, she says the design was inspired by Thomas Jefferson's colonnades, such as those on his famous Lawn– albeit in a vertical form.

Other sun-sensitive devices inc...

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Biscuit backstory: Flips would have rewarded Craig's fees

In its first two years in the hands of speculators, doomed housing development Biscuit Run rang up over $7 million in expenses, including nearly a quarter million dollars paid to lead investor Hunter Craig. That's according to a court filing in the lawsuit in which Craig and company, already partially bailed out by taxpayers, are suing for nearly $20 million in additional public funds.

According to the filing at the Albemarle County Courthouse, the former owners concede they paid $240,000 to Craig Management LLC to oversee the property's rezoning in 2007. That's more than the group, organized just two years earlier, paid its environmental engineers, its traffic consultants, or to the civil engineers who designed the master plan for an intended 3,100-unit development on the nearly 1,200 acres southwest of Charlottesville.

Most expense categories, however, fall far short of what the group spent in its first two years on legal fees– over $700,000– and on the biggest expense of all: millions in interest on borrowed money that pushed their company, Forest Lodge LLC, to the brink of insolvency and so traumatized one of its lenders that it issued a special report to shareholders about the delinquent loan.

Much of the bleeding came to a halt on December 30, 2009, when Biscuit Run was sold to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation as a state park, a deal heralded by the outgoing governor, Tim Kaine, as a "bargain." However, investiga...

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