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9/11: a personal memoir

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(Author’s note: this commentary was written on Sept. 11 and 12, 2001, as events transpired. Today, September 11, 2019, Royal Examiner reprints an edited version to commemorate the 18th anniversary of that horrific day in memory of those who died and those they left behind.)

The World Trade Center twin towers presented a surreal backdrop to lower and even near mid-town Manhattan – Photo/Roger Bianchini

The faint ring of a telephone stirred me from a restless sleep. I grudgingly opened my eyes and realized that it was fairly early in the morning on Tuesday, a weekend for me in my current employment cycle … I stumbled into my adjacent office and without my glasses tried to make out the caller ID through a sleep-encrusted blur. I lift the receiver.

“Turn on your television!” my friend Dewey’s voice commanded excitedly. “We were watching one of the World Trade Center buildings burning after a plane ran into it about 15 minutes ago and another one just flew into the other building!”

“When,” reality and dreams seemed to be mixing though I thought I was awake.

“Now!!! A second ago,” Dewey said & I knew this was not a “Jerky Boys” prank phone call. I hung up the phone without responding. I understood as my mind snapped to, that the information was presented not for discussion but for action. I was at my complex of three televisions at the far end of my third-floor loft apartment over the Main Street Mill that was so reminiscent to me of the fifth-floor walkup loft I had sublet for a year 11 blocks north of the World Trade Center some 20 years earlier. I hit the on button on the smallest of the three, the old 13-inch that I had gotten from my mom. It sat several feet from my living area couch and was my preferred home-alone viewing screen. Perhaps its size helped me maintain the illusion that I wasn’t really addicted to it.

The crystal-sharp satellite picture quickly focused and I picked up the remote and, punched in channel 970, the satellite channel for the NBC affiliate in Washington, D.C. As a child, it would, as likely as not, have been the morning news station I would be watching as I got ready for school and my parents prepared for their respective federal government jobs in D.C. and Rosslyn, Virginia.

There they were, the twin towers gleaming in a bright September morning against a cloudless, bright, blue sky; except for the huge plumes of black smoke pouring from the top 20 or so floors of both buildings. I flashed on the old ‘70s movie “Towering Inferno”. How did that movie I’d never seen more than about 10 minutes of at a time end?!? How many were saved? How long did it take to finally – just burn out?

Bryant Gumble’s calm TV voice hypnotically recited the facts as known at – I flicked the info button to see the time, 9:07 a.m.

“Two planes … believed to be a 737 and a 767 … 18 minutes apart … North Tower first, then the South Tower … Not known if intent or accidents … Here it is. Watch to the right of your screen and you’ll see the second plane as it approaches and plows into the South Tower.”

Oh man, that wasn’t an accident! There was malevolent intent apparent the first time I saw it. That building was a target. But can’t alarm the public with unsubstantiated theories – public, I have public there!!!

I raced back to my office for the phone. Stuart and Annie Lee, my friends since college days in Richmond, Virginia, at old VCU, the urban university; Stuart and Annie, whom I sublet that Lower Manhattan loft from in 1979-80, when I had my New York state of mind experience, still lived in that five-story walkup, 11 blocks from the World Trade Center.

Two-one-two, two-zero-two, NYC/DC, I always transpose those area codes in my head. I dial two-one-two … The line picks up on the second ring. It is Annie’s voice, “Hello” – she seems breathless.

“Annie, what the hell is going on up there,” I blurt out not letting on how relieved I am to hear her voice.

“I don’t know but it’s pretty bizarre,” she replied.

We used to joke about whether the North Tower, the closest one to their loft, would fall on their building if it tipped over on its side northbound. It seemed that close, those big rectangles looming out of their back windows and over the rooftop deck Stuart had built. That was after their 1977 wedding in Charleston, South Carolina, Annie’s home turf. I glanced at the time on the caller ID. It was 9:11 a.m. – REALLY?!? I thought without verbalizing it.

“I just saw a tape of the second plane hitting the second building,” I said.

Annie hesitated, then said, “Roger, I was down there when they exploded.”

I was stunned. She had been closer than her home, at 9 in the morning. Was she nuts? What was Annie, an artist, a sculptor doing in the financial district at 8:45 in the morning? I must have verbalized the question as well as thought it.

“I was at the fish market they have in the parking lot on the east side of the Trade Center on Tuesdays and Thursdays (that’s an acceptable reason, I thought). We heard a plane and we all ducked. We knew it didn’t belong there so low over the city. Then the building exploded and we had to run under this building overhang to get away from all the burning debris that was coming down after the explosion. After the second explosion I thought I better get out of there and I went to look for my bike, which was on the Trade Center side. Luckily it was OK and I just came in the door when you called.

“You said the plane HIT the building?” she trailed off, apparently just making the connection between the low-flying plane that had caused those at the fish market to duck reflexively and the first explosion. “I didn’t, we didn’t – Listen Roger, I don’t mean to cut you off but I want to clear the line for my mom. I know she’s going to try and call or I should call her before the lines get clogged up.”

“OK, sure. Where’s Stuart,” I wanted to make sure the calm in her voice included knowledge of Stuart’s whereabouts before we disconnected.

“He’s here.”

“Good. You all take care and stay in touch.” I hung up.

They were OK.

That she was down there in physical jeopardy had jolted me …

I was back at the TV. I plopped on the couch. It was 9:15. It was like I was hypnotized, the emotional trauma of world-changing events perceived at an almost subconscious level. In a weird way it was like 1963 and 1968. But no, it was 2001 – the real first year of not only a new century but a new millennium; 2001, much bigger deal than 1901; none like it since 1001 – a thousand-year bookmark on the pages of history. So, I channel surf throughout the morning of September 11, 2001.

The World Trade Center, the Pentagon are in flames! All air traffic to the U.S. being diverted and all planes in the states being brought down. How?

“A plane down in the woods of western Pennsylvania – Camp David may have been the target” is theorized on the air.

BUT THEN – a huge plume of smoke in lower Manhattan. What the … ?!?!

Is there only one building there?

It’s gone.

In a panic I look for competent reporting and a familiar voice. CNBC broadcasts from lower Manhattan, competent, who knows; familiar and boots on the ground, yes.

“One of the two World Trade Center towers has collapsed,” a camera shot from across the Hudson River – lower Manhattan looks like it is on fire – back to NWI (News World International) – they had the live feed from a New York City ABC affiliate earlier with a poor guy trapped on the 85th floor because the fire doors locked up, which building was he in? Is he dead? He said things were under control and stabilizing and he was giving directions to where he and one other person were trapped with windows blown out – the firemen must have been going up …

Watching NWI with their main Canadian affiliate as … the … second tower … collapses from the top down – “Oh my God. Oh my God,” the on-air voice repeats calm but distraught – how is that even possible? – as off camera, yelling and screaming with no pretense of calm maintained as the North Tower joins its sibling on the ground … where am I?!!? Two 110-story buildings … gone …

I watch lower Manhattan from across the Hudson River again. It is totally enshrouded in smoke. Are people suffocating in that? Could you breathe in there?

Again try Stuart and Annie. Nothing …

Then tears came and I sobbed with worry for my friends and for my old neighborhood; for 50,000 or 5,000 people, I didn’t know; for two buildings that had stood like a magical, surrealistic backdrop to an already magical skyline for a quarter of a century or more; for the firemen and the cops who went in there trying to get trapped people out … It’s just enormously, monumentally tragic and screwed up and I don’t feel bad about crying …

That it has come to this is tragic in more than the obvious ways. Things will never be the same. A dark thought flashes into my consciousness – is that what it is really all about?

As the day progresses I follow the pending collapse of adjacent buildings, watch ghost-like, dust-covered people stumble, walk calmly with their briefcases or run from the rubble and spreading, spewing cloud that covers lower Manhattan.

As the skies over America clear of all air traffic for the first time in the age of air travel, an age that has existed all of my life, I wonder how the next attack will come, who will bring it and why …

As the day progressed into night, lower Manhattan took on an eerie look as powerful spotlights bracketed debris and the continually rising cloud of smoke from fires burning deep within the rubble of 220 stories, estimated at 1.2 million tons of debris that will take a year to clear …

Who knows how long it will take my mind – or anyone’s – to assimilate what has happened.

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I-66 Outside the Beltway Project: Lane closures and traffic changes – Week of September 22, 2019

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Transform 66 Outside the Beltway Project construction continues throughout the corridor during daytime and overnight hours as weather conditions allow. Current activities include:

• Lifting of bridge beam at the I-66/Route 28 Interchange

• Constructing bridge foundations at I-495, Route 28, and Route 123 interchanges

• Constructing retaining walls along I-66 and Route 28

• Demolishing structures

• Small charge dynamite operations along I-66 in Prince William County

• Clearing trees and brush, grading, and installing drainage throughout the corridor

• Demolishing closed ramps at Route 123 Interchange

• Bridge work for new Bull Run Drive overpass

• Bridge work for the new I-66 West collector-distributor road over Route 234 Business (Sudley Road)

• Continued work at the future park and ride lots at University Boulevard (Gainesville) and Balls Ford Road (Manassas)

• Continued work on the new E.C. Lawrence Park Access Road

• Relocating underground and overhead utilities along I-66 and Route 28

• Corridor-wide roadway maintenance as needed

The Transform 66 Outside the Beltway project will add express lanes stretching 22.5 miles from the Capital Beltway to Route 29 in Gainesville, rebuild major interchanges along the I-66 corridor, create thousands of new park and ride spaces, and expand trail options for cyclists and pedestrians. Learn more at Transform66.org.

Upcoming Lane Closures and Traffic Changes
The following planned lane closures are expected to have significant traffic impacts. All work is subject to change based on weather and schedule. Find the latest information on travel conditions and work zones by visiting 511virginia.org or downloading the Virginia511 app.

ROUTE 29 / GAINESVILLE
Ramp from I-66 East to Route 234 (Prince William Parkway) South
Tuesday, Sept. 24: Midnight to 4 a.m.
Overnight ramp closure for crews to shift lanes on the ramp. Traffic will be detoured farther east to Route 234 Business (Sudley Road), make a left at the traffic signal onto northbound Sudley Road, follow signs to I-66 West, and then exit onto Route 234 (Prince William Parkway).

ROUTE 234 BUSINESS (SUDLEY ROAD) / MANASSAS
I-66 East from Route 234 Business to Route 29 Centreville
Monday, Sept. 23, through Thursday, Sept. 26: 7 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Friday, Sept. 27, and Saturday, Sept. 28: 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.
Two lanes will be closed for paving operations.

I-66 West from Route 29 Centreville to Route 234 Business
Sunday, Sept. 22: 9 p.m.to 5 a.m.
Monday, Sept. 23, through Thursday, Sept. 26: 9 p.m. to 10 a.m.
Friday, Sept. 27, and Saturday, Sept. 28: 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.
Two lanes will be closed for paving operations.

ROUTE 28 (SULLY ROAD) / CENTREVILLE
I-66 East from Compton Road to east of Route 28
Ramp from I-66 East to Route 28 North
Sunday, Sept. 22, through Thursday, Sept. 26: 11 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Three lanes will be closed with periodic 30-minute stoppages on I-66 East at Route 28 nightly between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. for crews to lift bridge beams into place over I-66. The ramp from I-66 East to Route 28 North will also be closed. Traffic will be detoured farther east to Route 286 (Fairfax County Parkway) North, then follow signs to I-66 West back to Route 28 North. All lanes will reopen by 5 a.m. each morning.

Route 28 North between Route 29 and I-66
Tuesday, Sept. 24, through Thursday, Sept. 26: 11 p.m. to 4 a.m.
There will be a full closure of Route 28 North at I-66 each night for crews to install bridge beams over Route 28. The ramp from I-66 East to Route 28 North will also be closed. Traffic will be detoured farther east to Route 286 (Fairfax County Parkway) North, then follow signs to I-66 West back to Route 28 North.

Route 28 South between Braddock Road and I-66
Tuesday, Sept. 24, throughThursday, Sept. 26: 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Two lanes will be closed each night for crews to install bridge beams over Route 28. The ramp and two left turn lanes from Route 28 South to I-66 East will also be closed nightly from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Traffic will be detoured farther south to Route 29 (Lee Highway) North, stay right for Route 28 North, then follow signs to I-66 East.

I-66 East from Route 234 Business (Sudley Road) to Route 29 Centreville
Monday, Sept. 23, through Thursday, Sept. 26: 7 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Friday, Sept. 27, through Saturday, Sept. 28: 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.
Two lanes will be closed for paving operations.

I-66 West from Route 29 Centreville to Route 234 Business
Sunday, Sept. 22: 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Monday, Sept. 23, through Thursday, Sept. 26: 9 p.m. to 10 a.m.
Friday, Sept. 27, and Saturday, Sept. 28: 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.
Two lanes will be closed for paving operations.

ROUTE 286 (FAIRFAX COUNTY PARKWAY)
No significant traffic impacts scheduled.

ROUTE 50 / FAIRFAX
No significant traffic impacts scheduled.

ROUTE 123 (CHAIN BRIDGE ROAD) / OAKTON – CITY OF FAIRFAX
No significant traffic impacts scheduled.

ROUTE 243 (NUTLEY STREET) / VIENNA
No significant traffic impacts scheduled.

I-495 (CAPITAL BELTWAY)
I-66 West from I-495 to Gallows Road
Ramp from I-495 North Express Lanes to I-66 West
Sunday, Sept. 22, through Friday, Sept. 27: 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Two left lanes will be closed on westbound I-66 for new Gallows Road bridge construction in center median. The ramp from the northbound I-495 Express Lanes to westbound I-66 will be closed nightly. The ramp from the northbound I-495 Express Lanes to westbound I-66 will be closed nightly, with a detour to I-66 East to Route 7 (Leesburg Pike) West, make a left at the traffic signal, then stay to the right and follow signs to I-66 West.

Ramp from I-66 East to I-495 North
Wednesday, Sept. 25, and Thursday, Sept. 26: 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Single lane closure for bridge work. Drivers should expect occasional 20-minute stoppages and slowdowns on the ramp.

Ramp from I-66 West to I-495 South
Saturday, Sept. 28: Midnight to 5 a.m.
Overnight ramp closure for crews to set concrete barrier. Traffic will be detoured farther west to Nutley Street South, stay to the right for I-66 East, then follow signs to I-495 South.

Ramp from I-495 North Express Lanes to I-66 East
Saturday, Sept. 28: Midnight to 5 a.m.
Overnight ramp closure for crews to shift lanes. Traffic will be detoured to I-66 West to Nutley Street South, stay to the right and follow signs to I-66 East.

Commuter Alternatives
VDOT and the project team have invested in a broad range of programs to help commuters and others stay mobile and safe during construction. Learn more about carpool, vanpool, telework, and commuter bus alternatives.

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TOWN TALK: A conversation with local entrepreneurs on bringing economic development to our community

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Town Talk is a new series on the Royal Examiner where we will introduce you to local entrepreneurs, businesses, non-profit leaders and political figures who influence Warren County. Topics will be varied but hopefully interesting. If you have an idea, topic or want to hear from someone in our community, let us know. Send your request to: news@RoyalExaminer.com

In this talk, we’ll meet Robert Hupman, Candidate for South River District, Ben Ferri, local real estate expert, Lloyd Knight, financial advisor, Alex Stieb, Lux Solutions and Stan Murzyn, SimpleRoof.

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Wildcat golfers suffer close loss to Hawks

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Junior Michael Kelly led Wildcats in tough loss to Skyline on Wednesday

The WCHS Golf team had a match Wednesday, September 18, at Shenandoah Valley Golf Course in Front Royal. The team lost a hard fought match against Skyline High School 191 – 194. WCHS Coach, Matt Wadas, stated that “although they lost the match, the team had fun and played well. Jackson Pond posted a personal best of 47.”

WCHS junior Michael Kelly was top finisher for the Wildcats, placing second in the match, shooting a 45. Jackson Pond placed third overall in the match. First year Wildcat Will Waller shot a 50, placing third for Wildcats.

The Wildcats’ next match will be the District Conference Match on Monday, September 23 at Bryce Resort Golf Course at Basye, VA.

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EDA in Focus

FRPD project ‘double draw’ draws EDA Finance Committee’s attention

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From United Bank to the EDA, office seen here from the Monroe Ave. intersection with Kendrick Ln. where the new FRPD headquarters is located …

The so-called January double draw on the United Bank account the Economic Development Authority is using to pay for work or debt service on the Front Royal Police Station project was a topic of conversation at Friday morning’s EDA Finance Committee meeting. The double draw involves a second deposit from the EDA’s Construction Account into its checking account from which payments are made.

It came to light in recent weeks that a January 30 transfer of $1.1 million to the EDA checking account was not necessary because of a January 8 transfer of $2.8 million from which funds were still available.

Finance Committee Chairman and EDA Treasurer Tom Patteson raised the issue, stating, “Nothing was lost, stolen or misdirected.” He added that the Town, for whom the EDA has been overseeing project payments, had not been charged interest for the period of time the second checking account deposit had been received until the requisition for project payments utilizing the second deposit.

… for work on those headquarters last January – at issue is why and how a second January deposit. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini. Video by Mark Williams.

Retired Warren County Finance Director Carolyn Stimmel, who has been helping with the audit and bookkeeping review of EDA finances in the wake of the financial fraud investigation, observed that the second draw was made during a time of transition for the EDA. That transition included the hiring of an interim executive director for resigned Executive Director Jennifer McDonald.

Stimmel noted that one thus far unsolved mystery of the second January draw on the construction account was that no draw request signed by an authorized EDA official has been discovered.

“The process was flawed but the money was used for the correct purpose,” Committee member Jorie Martin noted, adding, “There was no malfeasance,” in that once deposited into the payment checking account the money was eventually used for payments on the FRPD headquarters project.

“We do want an explanation of how this happened,” current EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons told the committee and media present.

The January 30 deposit carried a draw notice addressed to then EDA and County Attorney Dan Whitten stating the deposit was being made “upon your request”. But prior to his weekend departure for the county attorney’s job in Prince George County, Virginia, Whitten said he hadn’t made the request and noted he didn’t have the authority to make it. He also has indicated in the past that the January 8 draw was set in motion by former EDA Executive Director McDonald prior to her December 20 resignation.

From left, Carolyn Stimmel, Jorie Martin, Tom Patteson and Doug Parsons ponder how a second FRPD project bank transfer was made without evidence of a draw request.

EDA Treasurer Patteson and others with the authority to request the draw at the time have also denied having requested the second January draw. Bank officials have not yet publicly commented or responded to requests for information about where the impetus for the January 30 draw came from.

So while the process remains a mystery under investigation, according to the EDA the end result seems to be mysteriously-transferred money spent on what it was supposed to be spent on, without undue expense to the Town of Front Royal.

Projects
The Finance Committee also discussed negotiations and the bid process on several outstanding projects. Those include repairs on the residential apartment building at 514 East Main Street attached to the old Stokes Mart building at 506 East Main; roof repairs at 1325 Progress Drive in the EDA’s Happy Creek Technology Park; and a contract negotiation on the Fairgrounds Road property. Prior to his early departure from the 11 a.m. committee meeting, Greg Harold told the committee he had another meeting with the Afton Inn developers on a mutually agreeable path forward.

Harold has previously told the EDA board that the developer is anxious to be allowed to resurrect the project halted upon filing of the EDA civil litigation in March due to the alleged use of the project to move some misdirected EDA assets. However the development group 2 East Main Street LLC was not cited as involved in that alleged misdirection of EDA assets. The EDA suit contends that former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald utilized project funds for unauthorized transfers for personal use.

Greg Harold, left, has continued to meet with Afton Inn developer 2 E. Main St. LLC which is anxious to be allowed to restart the redevelopment project.

The EDA hopes to have several bids in place on repairs to the 514 East Main Street apartments within the week. It has given the three displaced tenants notice the EDA will stop covering their living expenses in a nearby motel as of September 30. Parsons later noted the tenants will be allowed to apply their rent payments to their accommodations until they are resituated in the repaired apartments.

Attorney
Conversation early in the meeting indicated that Interim County Attorney Jason Ham of Litten & Sipe LLP had declined to also serve as EDA attorney. Parsons later explained that Ham indicated potential conflicts of interest between the County and EDA Attorney roles due to the swirling civil litigation had made him uncomfortable serving in both positions.

The EDA will utilize the services of counsel from Sands-Anderson, the Richmond-based company handling the EDA’s civil suit filed March 26. Bids on legal services long term are expected to be in by Monday. The EDA is exploring the use of independent counsel from the County’s in the wake of the prevalence of potential conflicts of interest that became increasingly apparent as the financial investigation and consequent litigation evolved in recent months.

See the entire open meeting of the EDA Finance Committee in this Royal Examiner video:

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Warren County Sheriff’s Office responds to incident near Target

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Route 522 corridor area. Target is the large building in top of photo.

Warren County, VA- On September 19, 2019 at approximately 2:17 pm, Warren County Sheriff’s Office Communications received a call about a male subject, exhibiting signs of a mental health issue, in the grassy are between Target and the south bounds lanes of Rt. 522 north.

Warren County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrived on scene and observed a male subject, wearing only boxer shorts, walking around erratically while holding a sharp edged weapon against his torso.

Assisting deputies arrived and quickly established a perimeter, containing the male to the grassy area.

Crisis Negotiation Team members arrived on scene and established communications with the male. A short time later, the male subject dropped the weapon and was taken into custody without incident. After refusing EMS attention on scene, he was transported to Warren Memorial Hospital for a mental health evaluation.

Warren County Sheriff’s Office personnel were assisted by Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and Warren County Fire and Rescue.

Contact for this incident is Lieutenant Bockey at 540-635-4128 or via email at ltbockey@warrencountysheriff.org

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WCHS Cross Country Teams place 2nd in Central Quad Meet

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Warren County HS Cross Country teams place second in Central Quad Meet.

Both Warren County Girls and Boys Cross Country teams placed 2nd at the Central (Woodstock) quad meet on Wednesday, September 18th, 2019.  Competing in the meet were WCHS, William Monroe, George Mason, and Central High Schools, which was held at the North Street Park in Woodstock, VA.

The top three WCHS runners in the Boys’ race from were DJ Staton, finishing 1st overall;  Malachi Quinn, 5th overall; and Patrick Trautlein, 8th overall. Top runners from WCHS in the Girls’ race were Ryleigh Breeden, 2nd overall; Nicole Ranney, 4th overall; and Kiersten Tanner, 5th overall.

Both teams next compete on September 28, 2019 at the Uniontown Invitational (PA).

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