Charlottesville Breaking News

Closing in? Foul play now cited in Abshire death


Grief over the death of their daughter is compounded by the pain of not knowing how she died, says Steve Swartz, seen here dancing with Justine at her wedding on May 28, 2006– five months before her death.

Sixteen months after Justine Swartz Abshire was found dead on a dark and winding country road in Orange County, the apparent victim of a hit and run, newly released state police information seems to support her parents' long-held belief that her death was no accident.


Although Justine, a 27-year-old kindergarten teacher, had reportedly called her husband to pick her up after her car broke down that night, police now say two independent mechanics found nothing wrong with her 2002 Ford Mustang, which started up at the scene of the accident. Even more significant, however: Justine may not have been hit by a car.

While police haven't yet released the full autopsy report, Special Agent Mike Jones of the Virginia State Police now reveals, in contrast to earlier reports that called her death merely mysterious, that Justine was quite possibly a victim of foul play.

Jones says Justine sustained "massive amounts" of blunt trauma sometime before her death and that he doesn't believe she was hit by a car–...

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Dowdell's wife, daughter, others guilty in ponzi

Already stung nearly six years ago by the jailing of her husband and the auction of her house and jewels, the wife of one of the world's largest con artists has been sentenced to five years in jail. Fifty-year-old Mary Dowdell was one of four conspirators sentenced yesterday in Charlottesville federal court for their roles in one of history's biggest ponzi schemes. Dubbed the Vavasseur scheme and the subject of the Hook's June 26, 2003 cover story, the globe-spanning crime defrauded investors of over $100 million. Yesterday's sentencing also included co-conspirators: 66-year-old Innovative Business Consulting boss Michael Hardesty, and two Dana Point, California, brothers. The court found that 57-year-old Gregory Smyth and his

59-year-year brother, Mark, the elder of whom is a disbarred lawyer, were recruited by the jailed Terry Dowdell to continue siphoning funds his way. "These defendants participated in a scheme in which many victims lost millions of dollars," U.S. Attorney John L. Brownlee said in a statement. Following a week-long jury trial in the federal court, f...

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Boxer/Fidelity building demo to commence

A $350,000 demolition of the former Boxer/Central Fidelity Bank building at 200 East Main on the Downtown Mall is scheduled to begin in a "couple of weeks," according to a representative for Minor Family Hotels, the firm building a 9-story "boutique" hotel on the site. See photo right. Given the history of this hotel idea, which was proposed by developer Lee Danielson in 2004, it's hard to believe it's really going to happen, but according Cliff Harrison, an owner's rep for Minor Family Hotels, it's a done deal. "Yes, it's going to happen," says Harrison. "We'll start by putting up barricades around the site, and then the demo should take about two months." Everything but the black granite facade and eight feet of wall down Second Street is scheduled to be demolished. Harrison says

he expects the full arsenal of demo equipment to be on hand, back-hoes,...

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Rice might have to keep the GPS

Last summer, less than a week out of jail on a decade-long attempted kidnapping conviction, Darrell David Rice took to surfing the web for pornography on his mother's laptop computer. That admission has already pushed the federal court in Charlottesville to force Rice into sex offender treatment, random polygraphs, and genital testing. Now, the court will hear arguments this Friday that could potentially keep Rice under surveillance for the duration of his three-year probation. For Rice, released July 17, 2007, the transition to normal life seems to get tougher every day. In late summer, when neighbors in his idyllic Maryland town realized they had an attempted kidnapper in their midst, they reacted like zoo-goers in the presence of a hungry tiger. Residents of Kent Island began flooding message boards with rumors that Rice was on the verge of– if not in the process of– another attack. "I have repeatedly advised citizens calling me to allow the federal agents

supervising Mr. Rice to do their job and not engage in activities that escalate the tension," wrote Frank M. Kratovil Jr., the State's Attorney for Queen Anne's County, where Rice now lives at his mother's spacious waterfront home. Despite the plea f...

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Wheelchair video released

Albemarle County Police released the dash-cam video tape shot from the front of Officer Gregory C. Davis' patrol car when he struck wheelchair pedestrian Gerry Mitchell in a West Main Street crosswalk on November 5. In a brief press conference preceding the release, Albemarle County Police Lieutenant John Teixeira expressed the department's regret over the incident. "We're very sorry," he said, in what may be the only official apology Mitchell will receive. As shown in the video, Davis turns left on a green light and strikes Mitchell's chair, throwing the chair forward and Mitchell onto the street. A red "don't walk" symbol is visible. Within seconds, Davis and witness Ben Gathright rush to Mitchell's side, and quickly hoist him back into his chair. Mitchell, who is wheelchair bound because medication he takes to control AIDS has rendered his leg bones too brittle to support him, says he suffered a torn rotator cuff and possible fr...

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