Charlottesville Breaking News

Familial hope: After East Coast Rapist arrest, Harringtons push for DNA

"Why haven't you picked me up sooner?"

That was the question that 39-year-old unemployed truck driver Aaron H. Thomas allegedly asked investigators upon his Friday, March 4 arrest in New Haven, Connecticut. Believed to be the so-called East Coast Rapist, Thomas is not suspected in the Charlottesville killing of Morgan Harrington but is linked by DNA to at least 17 attacks from Rhode Island to Virginia over a dozen years.

One Virginia prosecutor says the arrest would have come sooner if investigators had access to a controversial tool for which Morgan Harrington's parents have been pushing: familial DNA searching.

"If it had been available, this case would have been solved in '07," says Prince William County Commonwealth's Attorney Paul Ebert, adding that several females, including the three teenage girls Thomas allegedly abducted and raped in 2009 in Prince William, might have been spared.

Connecticut does not have the familial DNA searching software which might have pointed to a relative of Thomas incarcerated for a felony in Connecticut, where several of the rapes occurred.

While Virginia State Police spokesperson Corinne Geller says "no evidence" links Thomas to the 2009 killing of Morgan Harrington or to a DNA-connected 2005 Fairfax rape, Harrington's parents hope the s...

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Dumpling v. dumpling: No buffer between buffets?

The recently opened Hibachi Grill and Supreme Buffet on Route 29 may have some curious company in the near future, as a place called Ultimate Buffet has laid claim to the former Charlottesville Power Equipment building next door. Sources says it's going to be, yes, a big Asian-style buffet restaurant.

How could this happen?

It may have to do with our two-jurisdiction local governments, as the Hibachi Grill happens to be in Charlottesville, while the old Power Equipment building stands in Albemarle County. Who's gonna say no to the prospect of sales and meals tax revenue for their fair municipality?

Meanwhile, across the street sits the former Asian Buffet Restaurant building owned now by the UVA Foundation (that has sat vacant for nearly six years), a seemingly perfect place (and a place Peter Chang wanted) for an Asian buffet restaurant.

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Dust and promises: Amtrak lot finally getting paved

Good-bye dust devils and potholes. More than six years after the owners of Charlottesville Union Station first promised to pave the property's dusty parking lot, construction crews have finally gone to work, ending the public feud between the owners and some West Main Street business owners, who had called the lot a health hazard and a “blight on the Midtown landscape," and who were on the verge of filing a lawsuit.

"It's about time," says Delegate David Toscano, who made paving the so-called Amtrak lot one of his top priorities for the new year. "Not only will this spruce up the area and make it more attractive to businesses, but it will increase our leverage on the State to make sure money is available for continued rail service."

Indeed, since expanded rail service came to the town–- thanks in large part to the efforts of Meredith Richards and her advocacy group, the Piedmont Rail Coalition– Union Station has gained new prominence as a transportation hub. According to Amtrak, the station served 91,707 passengers last year, over 40,000 more than predicted for 2010, making it the fifth busiest st...

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Wrong caption on fire story

Due to a production error, the photo of the burned-down barn shown on page 13 of last week's issue was given the wrong caption. The online version of the story had the right captions.

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Final tally: Officials seek $24 million more from Dowdell's minions

With the prosecution winding down its decade-long work on the Terry Dowdell Ponzi scheme– one of the world's largest until Bernie Madoff took such crimes to new depths– prosecutors and investigators took a victory lap of sorts Friday at the Charlottesville federal courthouse. They announced an effort to seek more than $24 million in restitution atop the $34 million recovered by a quick-thinking Securities and Exchange Commission official's account freeze.

"It's a great message case," said Steve Levine, the SEC official who reportedly froze Dowdell's accounts nearly ten years ago, just a day before a pack of wire transfers were about to move the money to Dowdell and fellow conspirators. Levine notes that most of the convicts were brokers, those whose training is designed to prevent them from ever claiming that they, too, were duped.

The most recent broker to fall is Brigit "Gitte" Mechlenburg. A now 63-year-old Dane who'd been working in Massachusetts, Mechlenburg had already been barred by the SEC from the investment industry when she allegedly rounded up about $13 million from investors in what Dowdell and others had been calling their "Vavasseur" program.

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