Charlottesville Breaking News

What's next: Is the quake just the beginning?

Unless you were in the presence of a perceptive animal– and there were scattered reports of skittish dogs– it came without warning four seconds after 1:51pm on a sunny Tuesday, August 23. At 5.8 on the Richter scale, it was the biggest earthquake to hit Central Virginia during human habitation, the biggest in Virginia in the era of measured earthquakes, and, according to the state geologist, taking note of reports stretching from Canada to South Carolina, "the most-felt earthquake in human history."

Like Hurricane Camille, which struck Central Virginia in 1969, it would be several days before the extent of the damage became known. Most severely hit were schools and houses in Louisa County, a place that's home to about 33,000 people– and one very strong earthquake.

Shawn Lawson's husband was in the shower of their rented home when the pink ceramic tiles suddenly began popping off the wall. Outside, the porch roof collapsed. And inside, Lawson huddled over a nephew and grandson as the walls cracked and the chimney tumbled onto a picnic table in the yard.

"I don't know that it's liveable," said Lawson of the house, pointing to myriad cracks a few hours after the big shake.

Scenes of lost chimneys, cracked walls, and shifted foundations were repeated across Louisa. Within days, officials had tallied the property damage at nearly $7 million. And that doesn't count the schools, two of which have been ruled out of service for the dura...

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Stalking, assault: Charges against UVA law student dismissed

Third-year UVA law student Daniel Watkins walked out of Albemarle General District Court without the stalking and assault charges that had followed him since his May arrest. On August 30, Judge William Barkley granted a defense motion to strike the charges brought by a female law student whom Watkins had dated for about a year.

Barkley ruled that Watkins' alleged threats to kill the girlfriend if she ever dated or had sex with another man were undermined by her courtroom testimony that she didn't believe him when he supposedly made the statements in February.

As for the stalking charge, the judge noted that the former paramour initiated contact when she texted Watkins twice after she'd gotten a letter of no contact from a dean, and that the two supposedly offending encounters– one in the Law School parking lot and the other at a Student Bar Association event at the Foxfield steeplechase races– were "nothing sinister" given that the two attended the same school.

In court, Watkins was accompanied by his law school friend, Johnathan Perkins, the man who admitted to a high-profile fabrication of a tale of police harassment in May, and also by his father, Anthony Watkins, who said after the charges were thrown out, "It's been our prayers th...

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Tritium trouble? Nuke fears rise with quake, self-policing

After the nuclear catastrophe that followed the earthquake and tsunami in Japan last spring, some Central Virginia activists cautioned that a similar nightmare could unfold right here at the Dominion-operated North Anna nuclear generating plant in Louisa County. Despite Dominion's assurances that the plant made it through the August 23 earthquake unscathed, activists contend that the quake, which measured 5.8 on the Richter Scale and had an epicenter just eleven miles from the plant, may have been more catastrophic than anyone is admitting. New information bolsters their fears.

On Monday, August 29, the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced that the quake may, in fact, have produced force that exceeded the North Anna plant's specifications and that the Commission is sending a special Augmented Inspection Team to assess the damage.

"Initial reviews determined the plant may have exceeded the ground motion for which it was designed," says the release, which also assures that "no significant damage to safety systems has been identified."

That's small consolation to one prominent nuclear watchdog, who says it's not what's above ground that gives him the greatest concern.

"Central to the issue is mil...

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Crosswalk bombshell: Officer texting before hitting wheelchair man

For nearly four years, the dashcam video of a County police cruiser striking a wheelchair pedestrian in a crosswalk in broad daylight was the most shocking aspect of the case. Now, a new court filing drops additional bombshells– including one that may explain how it happened.

New information revealed in the course of the victim's civil lawsuit indicates that immediately before the incident, the Albemarle officer, Gregory C. Davis, was involved in "excessive texting." Furthermore, according to the document, Officer Davis may, under oath, have intentionally downplayed his texting.

"Members of the public who have seen this video probably wondered how in the world this officer could have missed this person in a wheelchair," says attorney Richard Armstrong. "This finally explains."

Messages left with Davis, his attorney, and the chief of police were not returned; and police spokesperson Darrell Byers says the ongoing litigation prevents comment.

The November 5, 2007 accident created widespread outrage, particularly after release of the dashcam video showing clear conditions at the intersection of West Main and Fourth Streets.

Feelings were already running high since the officer went uncharged while the injured man in the wheelchair, Gerry Mitchell, was served with a ticket in his UVA hospital bed. In the months following the ac...

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Snap: Waiting for Irene

Citizens visit the Corner district Saturday, August 27 in advance of the rain from Hurricane Irene.

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