Charlottesville Breaking News

Toomy triumphant: Ragged Mountain fire case fizzles

A man living near the infamous February wildfire that scorched hundreds of acres in Western Albemarle testified that he saw a distinctive male figure on a John Deere tractor ignite a ruinous blaze on a day when burning was not just illegal, but– with abnormally high winds– practically insane.

"I saw a person at the brush pile leaning over it and then backing off," testified Ivy resident Mitchell Sams at the trial of developer Alexander Toomy. "When I first saw it, it was just one little puff, as if you had just lit a small piece of paper."

That was as close as the prosecution could get to putting Toomy– a Drew Carey lookalike– at the scene of the pile in the Ragged Mountain Farm subdivision. But with Sams about 1,500 feet away and his view admittedly skewed by branches, it wasn't close enough to convince the judge.

In the six-hour, May 31 trial in Albemarle General District Court, Toomy produced a diverse array of witnesses and telephone records backing his claim that he was juggling hay deals and sipping a beer inside a barn while watching a televised UVA basketball game. Judge William Barkley required little time to rule that there was insufficient evidence to convict Toomy on the pair of misdemeanor reckless burning charges.

"Why did they ever prosecute him?" asks Andy Hord, another neighbor who testified to...

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Target located: Missing Fluvanna man's car found in store lot

The vehicle missing Fluvanna County man Robert Lee Hourihan was last seen driving when he disappeared on April 8 has been located in a Target parking lot in La Plata, Maryland. The missing man's whereabouts, however, remain unknown, leaving his family as confused and fearful as they were when he first vanished.

Thirty miles southeast of Washington, D.C. and nearly 140 miles from Charlottesville, La Plata, a town of less than 9,000 residents in southern Maryland, is not exactly a hub, and Hourihan's parent's express confusion over the discovery.

"How did it get way up there?" asks his mother, Melinda Hourihan, informed by a reporter of the white 1994 Chevy Cavalier's location.

Lt. David Wells of the Fluvanna County Sheriff's Office, leading the investigation, declines to offer details of the car's recovery or any other developments in the investigation.

As previously reported in the Hook, Hourihan kissed his wife of 14 years goodbye on Friday morning, April 8, then left for his job as an electrician in Richmond. Multiple witnesses reported seeing the car, which bears the license plate TARA MAE, sometime around 7:40am on Shannon Hill Road and again around 5pm exiting I-64 onto Fifth Street in Charlottesville around 5pm, although it is not known whether he was driving at that time.

While Hourihan'...

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Surgeons of sauce: Docs spice up BBQ

If you live in Charlottesville and you've broken any bones, there's a good chance orthopaedic surgeon Dr. David Heilbronner put you back together. The Charlottesville native has been in private practice here since 1991; he served on the faculty of UVA's orthopaedic department for most of the 1980s. But a second career was born five years ago when his daughter's soccer team needed to raise money for a tournament trip to Italy.

While fixing people was a career, fixing dinner had always been a passion, inspired by Heilbronner's father, who used to cook all the "fancy" meals for the family.

"We would go on culinary adventures when I was growing up and even years later would talk about memorable dishes – the sweetbreads in a tarragon sauce in San Francisco, the fritures in Narbonne, France and everything in between," says Heilbronner. " His encouragement led me to running a small catering business when I was in high school and then to a summer of 1969 job as a baker at Grossinger’s Hotel in the Catskills."

That summer Heilbroner says he lucked out be off the weekend there was a certain famous music festival held at a farm in New York.

"But that's a whole other story," he says. 

Heilbronner says he's always done the cooking in his family, as its always been his favorite way to relax.

"My philosophy has always been so many r...

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Why Waldorf? No vaccines lets measles hit hard

Did they fear an autism link or were they adhering to the Waldorf school founder's opposition to vaccines? Whatever their reason, the parents of the measles-infected Charlottesville Waldorf School student chose not to vaccinate, and they've now experienced the repercussion of leaving their child susceptible to an illness that was virtually erased 40 years ago. It's been gone from this country so long, says one health official, that many people don't remember measles as a potentially fatal illness.

"It's not in their mind anymore, so they're more afraid of the vaccine than the diseases," says Dr. Lillian Peake, head of the Thomas Jefferson Health District, who confirms that three of the four local people who contracted measles last month– including two children– hadn't been vaccinated. (The vaccination history of the fourth, says Peake, is unknown.)

Measles arrived in Charlottesville in May via an adult female who contracted the illness on a trip to India, says Peake. It wasn't long before that woman– who was hospitalized with complications from the respiratory virus famous for its signature rash– had spread the disease to a group that may be more vulnerable to such preventable disease: students at the Waldorf School.

Founded in the early 20th century by Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner, the Waldorf educational method is often praised for inspiring creativity and morality in its students  and...

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Whole Foods goes affordable (for a day anyway)

For passerbys on Sunday morning, it may have appeared as if Whole Foods had been taken over by a mob of Toyota Prius owners armed with reusable shopping bags.

With a new and highly-anticipated store opening this Tuesday in the K-Mart shopping center on Hydraulic Road, Whole Foods offered a Black Friday-style sale on the morning  of June 5 with 50 percent off everything in the entire store (except booze) in order to clear the shelves before moving day.

Soccer-moms and bargain-shoppers came out in droves for the 8am opening at Shoppers World shopping center on U.S. 29, with some eager patrons lining up as early as 6am in order to get first dibs at the place whose prices sometimes get it called "Whole Paycheck."

Some shelves were cleared within minutes of the opening, and the lines to check out (even the lines just to get in the building) remained ample for hours.

No fights or injuries reported by press time.

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