On Monday, August 15, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Manassas released the cause and manner of death for Ralph Ennis, 77, who died on April 15, 13 days after a traffic stop by the Warren County Sheriff’s Office during which he was injured and then hospitalized.
In an email response, Arkuie Williams, Northern District Administrator of Virginia’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner told Royal Examiner that: “The cause of death is complications of Alzheimer disease, cerebral amyloid angiopathy, and hypternsive atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. The manner of death is natural.”
Royal Examiner responded with the following questions to Williams:
“Does that rule out that his head trauma injuries suffered 13 days earlier had no impact on the below stated causes, most particularly cerebral amyloid angiopathy, and hypternsive atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease?
“Is there any possible debate that the brain bleed and shock-trauma of April 2, could have aggravated his pre-existing conditions and these combined natural causes of death? – Thank you for any clarification.”
Williams responded, stating, “Our office is unable to provide any additional information to the public. We are restricted to only providing the cause and manner of death for our death investigations.”
Several weeks prior to the traffic stop, Ennis had been the subject of a Silver Alert on March 11, 2022, following an endangered, missing person report issued by Pennsylvania State Police on behalf of Ennis’ wife, Linda. Deputies located Ennis in downtown Front Royal at his longtime friends Ralph and Sue Waller’s East Main Street pawn shop. The Wallers offered to let Ennis stay there until his son Ian could travel to Front Royal from his Staunton home and take his father home.
Mr. Ennis died on April 15 under the care of Blue Ridge Hospice in Winchester, where he had been transferred several days earlier by the affiliated Winchester Medical Center.
“All we know is he was in good health and he never got out of the hospital after that happened – and that’s a FACT,” Ralph Waller said of the Medical Examiner’s finding Ennis died of natural causes less than two weeks after his injuries incurred during the traffic stop.
Contacted, Ennis’ son Ian said he had received the medical examiner’s report but declined further comment at this time. Ralph Ennis’ wife Linda also stated that she had received the report today but had no further comment.
On April 2, 2022, Ennis was stopped by the Warren County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) for traveling eight miles over the speed limit and driving erratically on Winchester Road southbound toward Front Royal, the Sheriff’s Office stated in a previous media release.
The pursuit continued for about 3.75 miles, with Ennis eventually pulling into the 7-11 convenience store at 251 Crooked Run Plaza, where he parked his truck. By this time, the Sheriff’s Office release stated, “additional WCSO deputies and a Front Royal Police Officer were on scene, or just arriving as the high-risk traffic stop was underway.”
Video footage from the bodycam of a Front Royal Police Officer, who was called to assist with the traffic stop, shows the 77-year-old Ennis moving slowly toward deputies with his keys held out. A first deputy grabs Ennis and roughly pulls his hands behind his back cuffing him and slamming his head into his truck cab. A second Warren County Sheriff’s Office deputy then charges the scene, tackling both Ennis and the first deputy, taking both to the ground with the elderly Ennis on the bottom, apparently striking his head hard on the paved parking lot.
WCSO Major Jeffrey Driskill previously stated that Ennis was taken to Warren Memorial Hospital where Emergency Department physicians suspected “signs of an internal head hemorrhage” after which Ennis was transported to Winchester Medical Center. Driskill previously stated that Mr. Ennis was “exhibiting signs of cognitive issues consistent with dementia or Alzheimer’s.”
Former Northern District Administrator Jennifer Smith, of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, first told Royal Examiner in a May email, “This case is pending. Currently, cases are taking roughly 12 -16 weeks to complete, as with all cases the OCME goal is to complete them within 90-days.” Each subsequent inquiry regarding the status of the autopsy and lab tests yielded the same information.
The Warren County Sheriff’s Office has been tight-lipped regarding an internal investigation into the traffic stop. Sheriff Mark Butler previously told Royal Examiner that a “board of inquiry” comprised of WCSO senior officers and a member of an outside law enforcement agency had been formed, but no information has been released about who is on that panel.
After the traffic stop, one of the two involved deputies was reassigned to administrative duties; another was placed on administrative leave with pay. When asked if one or both of the deputies had left the employ of the WCSO, Butler declined to comment.
Contacted Monday by Royal Examiner, following the Medical Examiner’s release of information in the Ennis case, Sheriff Mark Butler stated, “My heart and prayers go out to all families involved in a trying time for all. The Warren County Sheriff’s Office will continue to work and hold itself in a professional matter at all times. “
When asked about the employment status of the deputies involved in the traffic stop, Butler stated that he could not discuss personnel matters.
Virginia State Police Investigator Adam Galton was assigned to investigate the circumstances related to the incident and subsequent death of Ennis. Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney John Bell referred the case to a special prosecutor; consequently the Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office is overseeing the VSP investigation and will decide whether to charge the deputies once the investigation is complete.
Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office Chief of Staff Anthony Kostelecky previously told Royal Examiner that he had no comment regarding the investigation or when it might conclude.
Within the Warmth of Main Street’s Honey and Hops, Reaching Out Now’s President Samantha Barber and Her Staff Share a Vision for Youth Center with the Community
Beginning at 2 p.m. on December 9 at Honey and Hops, located at 212 East Main Street A, non-profit Reaching Out Now (RON) held a fundraiser with a meet and greet atmosphere, serving food and drink to the community as Honey and Hops continued to hold regular business. All were invited to hear more about RON’s vision for revitalizing the old Santmyers Youth Center, its new name revealed at this fundraiser to be the Raymond E. Santmyers Student Union and Activity Center. Questions were welcomed as RON President Samantha Barber and her staff shared information and emphasized the importance of community involvement.
The possibility of a revitalized youth center is quickly becoming a reality, as asbestos has been removed from the flooring of the original building, and Barber and staff have identified what they need to do to be ready for the projected April opening. They look forward to receiving the keys to the building next month, as well as continuing to troubleshoot problems, and addressing aesthetic concerns that may overlap with opening in April. Their interactions with the County and Town have been amicable, and they look forward to continuing that partnership.
A new youth center, offering tutoring opportunities and other activities that provide guidance and hope to young people, is a possibility that resonates deeply with many among our town’s leadership. They remember the Santmyers from when they were young people, dealing with all the unique challenges that face young people across our community. People like Councilman Bruce Rappaport and Councilman Glenn Wood reminisced with each other about the haven Raymond Santmyers and his family provided to the community’s youth. It was a drop-off point where parents could be confident that their children were cared for, safe, and mentored for their brightest future.
Even Mayor Lori Cockrell, native to Warren County, did not attend the youth center as often as Rappaport and Wood but can testify nonetheless to what a rock that establishment was to their community. This is a concern that interests public servants like Cockrell, Wood, and Rappaport, the time it took to attend the fundraiser being worthy pie slices out of their busy schedules.
Our newly elected sheriff, Crystal Cline, was also present with her husband, George, and she took advantage of an open mic opportunity to share just how much the center meant to her as a young person and how much it continues to mean to her as a point of contact with people who will never forget their time together there. It is a wonderful way of putting children on a positive path.
At one point in the program, Samantha Barber indicated a suggestions box where anyone could leave messages expressing what they hope to see in the new youth center. “You can dream with us, per se,” she said. All of Warren County’s youth, be they public schooled, private schooled, or homeschooled, will be the top priority for Barber and her team; that is why input from parents and students from all walks of life is so important to her. Of course, anyone wishing to donate to or become more involved with RON’s mission can reach them at https://reachingoutnow.org.
The program featured a raffle and an auction, the proceeds of which go to making the Raymond E. Santmyers Student Union and Activity Center a reality. As the mayor and others prepared to unveil the youth center’s new name, Barber said, “We do everything intentionally, and we wanted to make sure that [the new name] represented community, that it represented what the next generation is going to remember; this is past, this is present, and this is future.” After the unveiling, she added in reference to Raymond Santmyers, “He passed away in 1976, and I was born in 1976. Again, passing the torch on to the next generation … being inclusive of what he represented, his heart, his soul, will live on in this youth center as we continue to carry this forward. And I am so humbled that I was chosen for such a time as this, to lead this for our kids and bring this to life.”
County Overseen EDA Takes Care of Business at Last Meeting of 2023
The Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (FR-WC EDA) held its monthly meeting on Friday, December 8, 2023, at 8 a.m. All seven Board members and legal counsel were present.
The regular meeting began with Committee and Board Reports. Board Vice-Chair J.D. Walter and Treasurer Jim Wolfe announced that the Board will be having a Strategic Planning Meeting on Friday, January 12, 2024. The Asset Committee Chair, Jorie Martin, provided an update on the ongoing maintenance at the 400 Kendrick Lane building. Warren County Director of Economic Development Joe Petty discussed the FY-2025 budget schedule and an overview of the previous Open-Door Business Session in November. The Board then approved online banking access for the Chair, Treasurer, and a designated County staff member.
During the new business portion of the agenda, Equus Capital Partners provided an update on their due diligence as part of a contract to purchase property within Stephens Industrial Park. In addition to typical findings from geotechnical work and preliminary engineering, they are working with the gas company on dedicating a defined width of the gas line easement, which dates back to 1949.
After the Equus presentation, a status update on the TransPortation Opportunity Fund (TPOF) was given. The Board then approved the 2024 Regular Meeting Schedule, the second term option in the current lease agreement with CCAP, and extended the Baldwin Grazing lease an additional year.
The Board concluded the meeting with a closed session to discuss the potential disposition of real property to business prospects and legal consultation on active litigation. Following the closed session, the Board authorized Joe Petty to dispose of two vehicles owned by the EDA; approved extending the contract on Stephens Industrial Park, Parcel 2, until December 31, 2024; and approved a resolution authorizing legal counsel to draft a lease for the Avtex Parking lot.
As noted above, the FR-WC EDA will be having its Strategic Planning meeting on Friday, January 12, 2024 (8 a.m.), and their next regular monthly Board meeting will be held on Friday, January 26, 2024, also at 8 a.m. at the Warren County Government Center.
(From a release by the Warren County-overseen FR-WC EDA)
Collaborative Effort Leads to Swift Arrest in Warren County
Four Law Enforcement Agencies Join Forces in High-Risk Operation.
In an exemplary display of inter-agency cooperation, four law enforcement bodies in Warren County successfully collaborated to apprehend a dangerous suspect involved in a drive-by shooting. This operation, occurring in the early hours of December 9, 2023, highlights the effectiveness of coordinated efforts in ensuring public safety.
The operation commenced following a distress call from the Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Office (RCSO) to the Warren County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO). The call was regarding a high-risk vehicle stop linked to a drive-by shooting in Culpeper County, reported less than an hour earlier.
The suspect’s vehicle, identified by the Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) and spotted by an RCSO lieutenant, was followed into Warren County. Recognizing the gravity of the situation and the potential risk to public safety, RCSO sought additional support from WCSO. The Front Royal Police Department (FRPD) was also involved, setting up spike strips at the county line as a precautionary measure.
The high-risk vehicle stop, strategically executed on Route 522 South before reaching more populous areas, led to the peaceful surrender of the suspect. This outcome was a testament to the meticulous planning and coordination among the WCSO, RCSO, CCSO, and FRPD.
The suspect, identified as Demetre Dominique Skinner from Manassas, VA, faces multiple charges, including shooting from a vehicle, aggravated malicious wounding, and the use of a firearm during a felony. The joint operation’s success underscores the importance of inter-agency collaboration in handling critical situations.
The victim of the shooting was airlifted to UVA Charlottesville and is currently in critical condition. The incident, according to detectives, was isolated to the Culpeper area, involving only Skinner and the victim.
The swift and effective action of the four collaborating agencies in apprehending a dangerous individual serves as a reminder of the critical role law enforcement plays in community safety. The successful outcome of this joint operation not only ensured the swift administration of justice but also prevented potential further harm to the residents of Warren County and its surrounding areas.
VDOT: Warren County Traffic Alert for December 11 – 15, 2023
The following is a list of highway work that may affect traffic in Warren County during the coming weeks. 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.
No lane closures were reported.
Mile marker 299 to 300, northbound and southbound – Shoulder closures for mowing operations, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. through December 18.
Mile marker 299 to 300, northbound and southbound – Overnight lane closures and traffic-lane shifts as needed, 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. through March 2024. Shoulder closures 24/7. Work zone speed limit: 55 miles an hour. Work is related to southbound acceleration ramp extension and bridge widening, with estimated completion in fall 2024.
*NEW* Route 55 (Strasburg Road) – Flag traffic control between Stoney Mountain Drive and Shenandoah County line for inspection of bridge over Norfolk Southern Railway, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday (December 10).
*NEW* Route 340/522 (Winchester Road) – Southbound alternating lane closures between Route 637 (Guard Hill Road/Riverton Road) and Front Royal town limits for inspection of bridge over Crooked Run, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday.
No lane closures were reported.
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.
Penny Lane Hair Co: A Fresh Cut on Front Royal’s Main Street
Front Royal Celebrates the Opening of Penny Lane Hair Co on Main Street.
In a vibrant ceremony, the Front Royal/Warren County Chamber of Commerce, led by Executive Director Nike Foster Cales, welcomed a business to its new location in the heart of the town. Penny Lane Hair Co, located at 413 E Main St, opened its doors amidst the cheers and support of the local community, including Mayor Lori Cockrell and Supervisor Walt Mabe.
The air was filled with excitement as Mallory Deinert, the owner of Penny Lane Hair Co, was greeted with warm applause and cheers from a crowd that included Chamber members, friends, and representatives from various local businesses. The event not only marked a new business opening but also symbolized the ongoing revitalization and diversification of Main Street’s business landscape.
Mayor Lori Cockrell expressed her enthusiasm, reflecting on the uniqueness of each ribbon-cutting event she has attended since joining the council and becoming mayor. “Each opening brings something new to our community, and we’re thrilled to support them all,” she remarked. Her words echoed the sentiment of inclusivity and diversity that the town prides itself on.
Supervisor Walt Mabe also shared his satisfaction with the expansion of downtown, noting the importance of adding varied businesses to the area. “It’s a sign of our town’s growth and vitality,” he said.
For Mallory Deinert, the opening of Penny Lane Hair Co. is the culmination of a lifelong dream. Overcome with emotion, Deinert shared her journey, “I’ve always wanted to be on Main Street, and now here we are, just a few doors down from my mom’s business. It’s a dream come true.” She dedicated this milestone to her family, mentioning her late father, her brother, and her mother, whose birthday coincided with the opening.
The community’s support was palpable as Deinert thanked everyone for their encouragement and shared her excitement for the future of Penny Lane Hair Co on Main Street. Her story is a testament to the power of local support and the importance of small businesses in building vibrant communities.
The opening of Penny Lane Hair Co. is more than just a new business on Main Street; it’s a symbol of the community’s resilience, growth, and commitment to supporting local entrepreneurs. As Front Royal continues to welcome diverse businesses, it strengthens its reputation as a supportive and dynamic place for commerce and community.
McDonald Defense Counsel Renews Motions, Including for a New Trial, as Feb. 12 Sentencing Date Looms
Federal officials in Harrisonburg have verified that defense counsel for former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Executive Director Jennifer McDonald has filed renewed motions seeking a new trial for their client, as well as the overturning of several of the 34 guilty verdicts a federal jury of six men and six women in Harrisonburg delivered on November 1. Verdicts being sought to be overturned include several counts of bank fraud and one of aggravated identity theft. The latter of those charges involves the use of ITFederal principal Truc “Curt” Tran’s name in promoting one of the real estate transactions McDonald was convicted of using to misdirect money to her personal benefit or that of others under the guise of conducting FR-WC EDA related business. Attempts to reach defense counsel about their filing were unsuccessful as of publication.
The defense has submitted its motions, similar to ones denied by Judge Elizabeth K. Dillon at trial, as the sentencing of McDonald, set for 10 a.m., Monday, February 12, 2024, looms over their client, who remains free on bond. The defense motions reiterate points made by federal Public Defenders Office attorneys Andrea Harris and Abigail Thibeault at trial and in closing arguments delivered October 31. The three defense witnesses called on that final day of the trial appeared to be presented in an attempt to discredit some of the 67 witnesses called by the prosecution in the trial that began on August 21 and ended on November 30, following several delays of a week to several weeks due to a need to suspend or reschedule the trial because of medically verified illnesses or issues of involved parties, on several occasions defendant McDonald.
The new motions, like those rejected at trial, focus on the defense’s central contention that McDonald and the FR-WC EDA had entered into a secret agreement behind closed doors to pay McDonald $5 million or more in exchange for her not filing a sexual harassment or assault lawsuit against local government officials over actions she alleges during her tenure as FR-EDA executive director. The lone signature on a defense exhibit submitted in support of this scenario belonged to former FR-WC EDA Board Chair Patty Wines, who was by then several years deceased. The prosecution asserted the signature was a forgery. Other EDA officials called by the prosecution, including board member Ron Llewellyn, also unhappily called as one of the defense witnesses on October 31, denied any knowledge of the existence of such a document. It was noted during trial testimony that such a document could not have been approved without a full vote of the EDA Board of Directors.
The defense motion for a new trial centers on the asserted exclusion of evidence related to the alleged sexual harassment secret agreement. Arguments about the exclusion of a transcript of grand jury testimony given by someone with alleged knowledge of the secret agreement or the absence of that person being called as a witness at trial appear to be at the center of the mistrial/new trial motion. There is also an objection to a related jury instruction given by Judge Dillon, noting that the prosecution didn’t have to produce every piece of evidence or potential witness related to the case at trial.
According to the federal 10th Western District of Virginia website, thus far a hearing date on the new defense motions has not been set for the Harrisonburg federal courtroom.
McDonald was accused of diverting as much as $ 6.5 million of EDA assets to her direct personal benefit out of an estimated $26 million alleged to have been moved under false pretenses during a four-year period (2014-2018) of her executive leadership of the FR-WC EDA. Part of that larger total, a $10-million loan with additional developmental expenses estimated at as much as $2 million, was approved in support of Tran’s ITFederal company’s development plan earmarked for 30 acres of the 148-acre Royal Phoenix Business Park property in Front Royal at the former Avtex federal Superfund site. EDA officials and civil cases attorneys assert that a $10-million loan and subsequent addition of developmental expenses were achieved under false pretenses as to Tran’s ability to achieve his submitted developmental plan. However, at the time some of these McDonald-involved real estate transactions were occurring, between 2016 and 2018, information was being circulated that Tran was planning to invest in other business opportunities at other locations in the county. Tran has said such investments were discussed but never finalized and never signed on to by him.