Charlottesville Breaking News

Sanctions: Allied Concrete attorneys want $900K in legal fees

The tragic day in 2007 when an Allied Concrete mixer crossed paths on Route 53 with the car of a young married couple, it took more than 25-year-old Jessica Scott Lester's life. Today her widower faces sanctions and possible perjury charges, and the career of the well-respected attorney who represented him has ended in shambles.

"Don't worry about sanctions," attorney Matt Murray wrote in an email to his client, Isaiah Lester, which was read in opening and closing statements by opposing counsel. "If we get sanctioned, after the trial, you'll have plenty of money to pay it."

After any elation and vindication Jessica Lester's husband and parents may have felt with the record $10.6 million wrongful-death verdict in December 2010, nearly a year later, the case has turned sharply.

A judge sliced Isaiah Lester's $8.58 million award almost in half and ordered monetary sanctions against Lester and Murray for spoliation of evidence during the trial, an amount the attorneys representing Allied Concrete's insurance company put at over $900,000.

Amid the dozen or so lawyers at the sanctions hearing September 23 in Charlottesville Circuit Cour...

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Gusty: Byrom Park gets breezy opening

Albemarle County dedicated its second new park in three months, the Patricia Ann Byrom Forest Preserve Park, on August 19.

The family of Byrom joined county officials and neighbors to cut the ribbon on the 600-acre multi-use park. Two three-mile loops– so far– offer opportunities for hiking, biking, and horseback riding.

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Visceral, disturbing: 'Straw Dogs' remake better than the first

This new version of Straw Dogs is a reasonably close adaptation of the 1971 film by Sam Peckinpah. Change the location from England to Mississippi, change a mathematician into a screenwriter, keep the bear trap and the cat found strangled, and it tells the same story. It is every bit as violent. I found it visceral, disturbing and well made.

James Marsden and Kate Bosworth star in the roles originally played by Dustin Hoffman and Susan George, as an intellectual and his wife who move to a rural area where he can work undisturbed. There is something about this man and his sexy wife that disturbs the locals down at the pub, and what begins as a subtle competition over territorial rights (in the Darwinian sense) escalates implacably into a full-blown lethal struggle. The lesson learned is that the egghead contains the possibility of using great violence when his home and wife are threatened. At the beginning he doesn't know that. Full review.

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Snuffed out? Fire ban puts a damper on UVA tradition

A tradition as old as the UVA Lawn itself was recently snuffed out, at least temporarily, as University officials announced last week that students living on the Lawn and the Ranges would no longer be able to use their fireplaces.

According to UVA maintenance director Michael Merriam, a consulting firm hired to inspect the 106 chimneys found that they were too unsafe to use. Fearful, perhaps, of a repeat of the 1895 fire that destroyed the Rotunda, and with none of the rooms equipped with sprinkler systems, Merriam says the decision was made to ban fires and seek proposals to repair the fireplaces and chimneys.

In addition to cracks and corrosion in the steel and concrete liners, Merriam says that inspectors found that mortar had fallen out of the chimneys, gaps had opened up in the fire walls of the hearths, and that dampers and flues were faulty. (The damage was detected before the recent earthquake.)

"At a minimum, the chimneys will have to be relined," says Merriam. "But in many cases the chimneys will have to be re-pointed, fireboxes will have to be resealed, and dampers will have to be fixed. It's an extensive amount of work."

Indeed, Merriam estimates that it will cost between $1-3 million to repair the chimneys, depending on the scope of the work. While he says that some proposals have already been received, there's been no decision made yet on what will be done– or whether students will ever be able to use the fir...

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Naked emperor? 'Glitchy system' triggers call for school leadership change

In the wake of the Hook's recent cover story Glitchy system: Inside the student software debacle, which examined the County's purchase of a faulty student information system and revealed potential conflicts of interest between school administrators and Schoolnet, the company that supplied the software, school board members have been bombarded with complaints from angry parents.

"We need new leadership for our schools, and we need it now," writes Carmen Garcia, founder of CASE (Citizens of Albemarle Supporting Education), in an email to County School board chair Steve Koleszar. "I hope you'll wake from your peaceful slumber and realize that, as a friend of mine brilliantly reminded me, the emperor has no clothes."

Garcia, who founded her group of County school parents last year in response to the implementation of the controversial 4x4 class schedule, contends that the student information system debacle is another mistake by superintendent Pam Moran.

"We have tried to warn you and the public about the huge conflict of interest we perceived as Dr. Moran's image and words were used to advertise SchoolNet's products," Garcia writes. "Now that the trut...

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