Graduation plans for the Class of 2020 are ongoing by Warren County Public Schools (WCPS), as are renovation costs for A.S. Rhodes Elementary School.
The Warren County School Board during its May 20 regular meeting unanimously voted to approve and provide authorization for the interim superintendent to sign an upgrade agreement with the Front Royal Electric Co. totaling $17,859.54 for labor, overhead, equipment, and materials. The work will be performed by the Town of Front Royal’s Department of Energy Services.
The renovation design for A.S. Rhodes Elementary School included the upgraded electrical service, which will support the new HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) and other related building systems, according to WCPS Maintenance Director Greg Livesay.
“This requires a larger transformer, additional utility pole and the necessary underground primary conductors and wiring between the utility pole and transformer,” explained Livesay, who attended the meeting remotely. “This work can only be accomplished by the utility provider, Front Royal Electric” and was not included in the original base bid.
Fork District School Board member Catherine Bower motioned to approve the request while Happy Creek District School Board member James Wells seconded the motion, with School Board members Kristin Pence (South River District) and Ralph Rinaldi (Shenandoah District), who attended remotely, and Chairman Arnold Williams, Jr. (North River District) also voting to approve the item.
Livesay said that the estimated installation for the new services are expected to occur in early June, which would allow the electrical subcontractor to maintain its schedule for providing the new electrical.
During the work session portion of the School Board’s meeting, WCPS Interim Superintendent Melody Sheppard provided an update on commencement discussions regarding the Class of 2020, which to date has been unable to hold traditional celebrations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sheppard reported that a May 12 survey was sent to all high school seniors at both Skyline High School and Warren County High School detailing two types of graduation ceremonies being considered for the Class of 2020. According to Sheppard, the two choices were:
1. Individual Graduation Ceremony, which would be held during the first part of June and would allow a scheduled time for each senior to graduate. Each senior would wear a cap and gown and parents would be invited to attend. Seniors would walk across the stage and accept their diplomas and pose for photos. A video compilation of the individual graduation ceremonies then would be distributed to all seniors.
2. Traditional Graduation Ceremony with a contingency plan that would take place during the first weekend in August. The ceremony would be held in the football stadium at each high school. The graduates would sit in chairs spaced 6-feet apart on the field. Each graduating senior would be allowed to invite four people, who would sit in groups on both the home and visitor bleachers in each high school stadium. There would be plans in place to ensure social distancing. Part of the contingency plan would be that if a traditional graduation ceremony could not be held due to the number of people allowed in one place, WCPS would hold individual graduation ceremonies during the first part of August.
The survey, which ended on May 17, asked the high school seniors to weigh-in on which ceremony they preferred, Sheppard said, noting that almost 50 percent of them chose option #2.
Sheppard said she meets on Thursday with the Graduation Committee to continue discussing the plan and related safety protocols. The Warren County Sheriff’s Office also would be involved with the outdoor graduation ceremonies to help with crowd control, she said.
In other action items, the Warren County School Board unanimously approved a resolution regarding its need to hold closed meetings for interviewing WCPS superintendent candidates.
Section 2.2-3712 of the Code of Virginia allows public bodies to announce such closed meetings at a prior open meeting. Such announcements are good for 15 days. The School Board intends to start interviewing candidates later this month.
The School Board also unanimously approved additional teacher and instructional assistant positions to support the increase in Virginia Preschool Initiative slots awarded by the Virginia Department of Education.
“This will allow us to serve 130 students versus the 92 we are now able to serve,” said WCPS Special Services Director Michael Hirsch. “This will generate $114,000, which will cover the cost of the teacher and instructional assistant salaries and benefits at a total of $94,491.”
Additionally, the School Board unanimously voted to approve the donation of a 2003 International School bus (unit #64) to the Warren County Sheriff’s Office.
Bus #64 is well past its service life and was removed from the fleet, WCPS Transportation Director Aaron Mitchell told School Board members on Wednesday night. “The floor needs to be replaced and the cost to replace it makes it no longer financially viable to keep it in the fleet,” he said, adding that the air conditioning units also need to be replaced.
The vehicle has been parked and was set for disposal when WCPS found out that the sheriff’s office needed a vehicle that could be transformed into an incident command unit, Mitchell explained, noting that the sheriff’s office would be responsible for the cost of converting the bus.
The School Board’s next meeting will be held on June 3. To view the entire School Board May 20 meeting, watch the Royal Examiner video below.
Grand re-opening & ribbon cutting at Code Ninjas
Code Ninjas at 133 N. Royal Avenue in Front Royal held its grand opening on July 31, 2021. Nike Foster Cales of the Front Royal/Warren County Chamber of Commerce along with Board of Supervisors Chairman Cheryl Cullers and Vice-Mayor Lori Cockrell welcomed Kimmee Hancock LaCross and husband Chris to the Front Royal business community.
Code Ninjas is where kids learn to code while building their own video games. This is where they learn problem-solving, critical thinking, and STEM skills in a fun, safe, and inspiring environment.
Coding has been called the literacy of the 21st century for good reason. Just like math, science, and literature, coding is a key aspect of understanding our technologically advanced world. There’s a huge need for a generation that not only understands technology but how it works. Regardless of whether your kids one day pursue a career in coding, Code Ninjas teaches them confidence, logic, resourcefulness, and problem-solving skills that will serve them for the rest of their lives.
Front Royal children ages 7-14 can look forward to visiting the new Code Ninjas center to learn how to code in a fun, safe, and social learning environment where gaming is celebrated, and STEM is cool. Everything about Code Ninjas is built around fun, which keeps kids coming back. But the center also provides the results that parents are looking for, as their children gain coding and problem-solving skills they’ll need for the jobs of the future.
Code Ninjas accomplishes this with a robust, game-based curriculum made up of nine belts, just like martial arts. The curriculum is self-paced, but not self-taught; kids get immediate help and encouragement from Code Senseis and fellow students as they advance from white to black belt. The program keeps kids motivated with little wins along the way, and “Belt-Up” celebrations where they receive color-coded wristbands to mark their graduation to the next level. By the time a child finishes the program, they will publish an app in an app store.
Code Ninjas offers a variety of opportunities for children to get involved, including a flexible drop-in program, camps, and Parents Night Out events on weekends.
For more information about the Front Royal Code Ninjas, please visit https://www.codeninjas.com/va-front-royal.
VDOT: Warren County Traffic alert for August 2 – 6, 2021
The following is a list of highway work that may affect traffic in the Staunton transportation district during the coming weeks. The Staunton District consists of 11 counties from the Alleghany Highlands to the northern Shenandoah Valley: Alleghany, Bath, Rockbridge, Highland, Augusta, Rockingham, Page, Shenandoah, Frederick, Clarke and Warren.
Scheduled work is subject to change due to inclement weather and material supplies. Motorists are advised to watch for slow-moving tractors during mowing operations. When traveling through a work zone, be alert to periodic changes in traffic patterns and lane closures.
*NEW* or *UPDATE* indicates a new or revised entry since last week’s report.
*UPDATE* Mile marker 7 to 15, eastbound and westbound – Overnight alternating lane closures for paving operations, 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. through September 3.
No lane closures were reported.
No lane closures were reported.
Route 624 (Happy Creek Road) – Road closed between Front Royal eastern town limits and Route 647 (Dismal Hollow Road) for a safety improvement project. Follow posted detour. Estimated project completion December 10.
Vegetation management may take place district-wide on various routes. Motorists are reminded to use extreme caution when traveling through work zones.
Traffic alerts and traveler information can be obtained by dialing 511. Traffic alerts and traveler information also are available at www.511Virginia.org.
The VDOT Customer Service Center can assist with reporting road hazards, asking transportation questions, or getting information related to Virginia’s roads. Call 800-FOR- ROAD (800-367-7623) or use its mobile-friendly website at my.vdot.virginia.gov. Agents are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Warren County Republicans hold forum for upcoming School Board seats
On July 29, 2021, the Warren County Republican Committee (WCRC) held a candidate forum for the upcoming Warren County School Boards seats in the Happy Creek, North River, and Fork Districts.
The candidates vying for an endorsement from the Warren County Republican Committee are Antoinette Funk and Stephanie Short (Happy Creek), Melanie Salins (North River), Andrea Lo, and Al Gunn (Fork). Andrea Lo was not in attendance at the forum.
As event moderator and former Committee Chairman Steve Kurtz noted that the committee can only endorse, not nominate. That has essentially been legally interpreted to mean that a candidate cannot carry a political party designation by their name on an election ballot. That does not prevent them from carrying one on sample ballots handed out by political committees outside polling places to reflect a Party’s endorsement.
The Royal Examiner will be having each candidate on an upcoming “Meet the Candidate” Town Talk in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.
After the forum, the WCRC voted and choose to endorse Antoinette Funk, Happy Creek District, Melanie Salins, North River District, and Al Gunn, Fork District. Al Gunn is the only candidate that is a write-in candidate. The others names are on the ballot in the upcoming November election.
Dynamics of second Brinklow murder plea deal explained
A second plea deal has been reached in the Tristen Brinklow murder case. On Friday, July 23, in Warren County Circuit Court Richard Matthew Crouch, 38, pled guilty to Second Degree Murder, among other related and unrelated charges, in the September 2019 death of the 20-year-old Brinklow. From the evidence gathered, including from co-suspect George Lee Good, now 29, and another jail inmate to whom Crouch talked extensively, some of those conversations of which were recorded, about the circumstance of Brinklow’s death, Crouch alone is believed by the prosecutor’s office to have been Brinklow’s murderer.
Good’s plea arrangement, which will be before the court on the 9 a.m. morning docket, August 13, indicates a possible total of 35 years, with all but 10 years suspended. Good’s recommended active incarceration of 10 years involves 5 years for his involvement in concealing Brinklow’s body; and one year each to serve on 5-year sentences for guilty pleas to obstruction of justice, conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine; distribution of methamphetamine; possession of a firearm by a convicted felon; and malicious wounding, the latter related to another incident.
The plea agreement for Crouch indicates a possible total of 60 years incarceration, with 20 years recommended suspended, leaving 40 years facing the 38-year-old. Bell added that if the Crouch plea agreement is accepted by the court, with sentencing guidelines applied, it was likely Crouch would serve 29 to 31 years of the recommended 40. With no parole currently in Virginia, Bell noted the defendant would be in his late 60s at the time of his projected release.
In charges related to Brinklow’s death, Crouch pled guilty to second-degree murder (30 years incarceration recommended), concealing a dead body (5 years), and defiling a dead body (5 years). He also pled guilty to several charges he was already incarcerated on prior to being charged in the Brinklow murder. Those were unlawful wounding and two counts of strangulation related to a domestic case with an ex-girlfriend that occurred on September 24, 2019, two days prior to Brinklow’s murder, established to have occurred on September 26, 2019; and one charge of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine. Five-year sentences on all those charges were recommended suspended.
In an extended phone conversation Wednesday afternoon, Commonwealth’s Attorney John Bell explained the dynamics and reasoning for the Crouch plea agreement. Among those was a condition indicating Crouch “has accepted responsibility for the crimes for which he is pleading guilty” and another noting that if the plea is accepted by the court, “the Defendant has no grounds to appeal …” his conviction.
Bell said that with a coming legislative change authorizing Circuit Court level appeals “by right”, a change expected to greatly increase the number of appeals in the future, assuring no appeal upon an agreed-upon conviction seemed a good course to take. In fact, Bell indicated that the State was planning the appointment of seven additional appeals court judges to deal with the anticipated increase in appeals of circuit court convictions.
Bell also noted that while Crouch, and Good for that matter, were charged with First Degree Murder in the case, subsequent evidence indicated a lack of a normal prerequisite, premeditation. The first-degree aspect was hung on an allegation that Brinklow was restrained from leaving the hotel room where the three were gathered when the murder occurred, resulting technically in an “abduction” aspect, which can qualify as a First Degree Murder.
Bell elaborated that prosecution evidence indicated that Crouch had become a daily methamphetamine user, leading to the two violent incidents of September 24 and 26, the latter Brinklow’s murder. The first, two days earlier, was an assault involving the strangulation of an ex-girlfriend, Inez Driss. Evidence, including a broken “hyoid” bone in Brinklow’s throat, is consistent with strangulation, Bell said.
The commonwealth attorney said that while on the run from arrest in the assault on his ex-girlfriend, which involved Crouch’s mother as a driver in transporting Crouch’s ex, he, Good, and Brinklow gathered at the motel room where methamphetamine was used. Crouch’s already aggravated and drug-fueled paranoid state apparently worsened, leading him, in addition to concerns about his mother’s whereabouts, to think Brinklow was wearing or had stolen some of his clothes. This led to the physical assault resulting in the 20-year-old Brinklow’s death on September 26, 2019.
His body was later put in a refrigerator by Crouch, with Good’s assistance, and the body was moved by a friend’s pickup truck to a remote location where it was discovered still in the refrigerator by two teens in a severely decomposed state on December 2nd at Digs Landing in the Rivermont area of Warren County. However, the body was not publicly identified until December 16th following state forensic work, and a DNA match to Brinklow, previously only known as missing, was made.
Crouch and Good were charged for murder in the case on December 31, 2019. Both men were incarcerated without bond on unrelated violent crimes at the time the Warren County Sheriff’s Office brought the charges in the Brinklow case against them. Crouch was then housed at Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren County (RSW) Regional Jail and Good at the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center (NRADC) in Frederick County.
Good was arrested in Frederick County at a DUI checkpoint on December 7 (2019). At the time, he was wanted in connection with a non-fatal November 27 shooting on the 200 block of Cloud Street in a residential area adjacent to Front Royal’s Downtown Business District.
And so this chapter of the Front Royal and Warren County illegal drug culture is playing out in the courts in the wake of violence and murder on the streets.
Regional warning of possible severe weather this afternoon and evening
Thursday afternoon, July 29, shortly before 1 p.m., Warren County Emergency Services Coordinator Rick Farrall issued a severe weather alert for the region, including but not specific to Warren County. Below is the 12:57 p.m. alert in its entirety:
“There is a possibility of severe thunderstorms this afternoon, please see below:
“As of 8:22 AM EDT, Thursday, July 29, 2021, this Hazardous Weather Outlook is for portions of eastern West Virginia, northern and central Virginia, and central and western Maryland:
DAY ONE, Today and Tonight: Scattered severe thunderstorms with damaging wind gusts, large hail, and isolated tornadoes are possible this afternoon and this evening. Additionally, isolated occurrences of flash flooding are also possible.
DAYS TWO THROUGH SEVEN, Friday through Wednesday: No hazardous weather is expected at this time.
Governor Northam announced that there will be no mask mandate; mask recommended but not required
On July 29, 2021, Governor Northam announced that there will be no mask mandate. Northam did say that wearing masks in public indoor settings with a higher risk of coronavirus transmission “is not a requirement, but a recommendation.”
The Governor’s Twitter account also sent out the following:
The Governor said that more information would be released soon.