Melissa Ichiuji is a local artist and Front Royal resident who is a founding member of the Warren County Project for the Arts (WCPA), dating to its February 2020 inception. The placement of new downtown Arts Project banners advertising dining and other business opportunities in Front Royal’s downtown, including as part of the late spring implemented weekend walking mall phenomena, gave Royal Examiner the opportunity to meet her and others involved in a growing downtown arts movement.
“We are a group of local artists, residents and some town administrators who have gotten together as a committee; we are a branch of the Architectural Review group (Board of Architectural Review, BAR) – sort of an informal committee, this is all volunteer. Our mission is to curate and facilitate public art in Front Royal, Virginia.”
Ichiuji said the group has also been working with the Façade Grant Program that is part of the State-administered Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) downtown revitalization project the Town has received to make physical improvements geared toward downtown economic revitalization of localities in the Commonwealth. As part of their work in this regard, the Arts Project group has been involved, not only in the building wall-side mural project underway, but also development of some advertising banners to coincide with the Town’s weekend closing of portions of East Main Street to vehicular traffic to facilitate a walking mall aspect to Front Royal’s Historic Downtown Business District.
That impetus began in late May to help revitalize downtown businesses, initially particularly restaurants, hit hard by the Coronavirus pandemic State-mandated business closings and social distancing restrictions that while unpopular with some, have helped Virginia stay on the moderately impacted side of the national equation that has seen over 200,000 reported deaths over an eight-month period.
“So, we believe that art is a universal language that can elevate the spirit of the community and especially in this time it’s a little bit divided, it’s the one way we can elevate the town and have it come together,” Ichiuji continued, pointing to the banner we were standing under in front of Element, one of downtown Front Royal’s featured eateries. “And this is one of the ways we’re doing that as kind of a quick pick me up of Main Street since the walking mall is going to be open until November 30th just as kind of a quick, colorful addition to liven up the street.”
She noted the financial assistance of one local citizen, the semi-anonymous “Frank” acknowledged at a recent Front Royal Town Council meeting for his financial assistance in facilitating the sign and banner project.
“This was kind of pulled off pretty quickly, and Frank was kind enough to support this effort. So, without his help it would not have been expedited and maybe wouldn’t have happened. So, we’re very thankful to Frank,” Ichiuji said with a nod to the nearby and camera-shy patron of the banner project.
“Our original mandate, self-proclaimed mandate, was to upgrade the quality of the public art offerings in town,” Arts Project artist Chris Stephens added as this reporter recruited an Art Project group photo op. “We weren’t in the mural business; we were just in the review of signs and murals. And now we are about to create some murals, have funding for them, and now the signs were added as we were asked to do something for the closing of Main Street every weekend.”
Kate Fristoe was acknowledged as one of the involved artists in the banner project present for our start of the September 25-27 weekend look at the new banners. We asked Fristoe about her involvement.
“I got involved because my dad is one of the founders of the group. And I’m also a local artist with a little bit of experience with murals, mostly indoor murals. And I mainly do logos and graphic design. So, it just kind of happened that I became the resident committee designer for this project. And we aimed to give something really fresh and colorful and indicate there was a walking mall because it seemed not everybody knew about that. So, we wanted to make some noise and get people excited,” Fristoe said as I gathered those present for a shot under one of the “Dine Front Royal” banners at Element.
An artist noted for her work on those walking mall pole banners, not present for our Friday look at them, was Dagmara Weinberg. So, here’s a shout out to Dagmara for her stellar street pole banner work. Fristoe was cited for her work on the large “Walking Mall” banners at either end of East Main Street, as well as the sandwich boards on side street intersections as at the Chester Street barrier. Also acknowledged though not present, was committee member Mary Ellen Lynn, also a town electric department employee.
And as that photo gathering was proceeding, Joe Petty rode up on his bike and joined the group, which acknowledged the County Zoning Administrator as a part of the Arts Project team. So, we asked Joe about his involvement with the Warren County Project for the Arts.
“I am a citizen of Warren County and Front Royal, grew up here and am passionate about fine arts. And as Chris said, we came together to bring quality art to Warren County, whether that is through murals, exhibitions; it could be music, performing arts. We just really wanted to create this mechanism for artists to come together in our community that we thought was lacking.”
Petty asserted the presence of an artists’ community in the town and county that has perhaps been more to the forefront of local culture in the past, than it has been in recent years. That led this reporter to invoke the name of late indoor and outside wall mural and Village Commons sundial sculptor Patricia Windrow, who was a forerunner in the creation of public art in Front Royal in the years before her death.
“There are great artists here, there’s been examples of it in the past,” Petty acknowledged with a nod to Windrow, “And we wanted to bring that spirit back, especially down to Main Street. We think that art provides an experience, it creates place-making and it creates community. We wanted to bring that here … and when people leave Front Royal, we want them to leave with that positive experience,” Petty observed of the Warren County Project for the Arts impetus and direction.
“We kind of got together before the COVID hit, and yea, the walking mall created an opportunity to do some things; and so did the Community Development Block Grant. And we’re trying to take advantage of that opportunity. And hopefully that will spur more excitement and murals, public art, sculptures – there’s bands out here now,” Petty noted gesturing to walking mall sites where businesses have brought live music to their doorsteps.
“It’s exciting to see new things happening that we just haven’t seen before and hopefully art can be a part of that,” Petty concluded of the Warren County Project for the Arts involvement in helping present a best face forward for this community, beginning with Front Royal’s Historic Downtown Business District and the Town’s exploration of a weekend walking mall concept.
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.
Dog who saved her family missing – reward offered for Luna’s return
Around 10:30 p.m., Saturday evening, July 24, Luna the dog broke loose from her Point of Woods home tether to chase a deer. She hasn’t been seen since and her family, whose lives she is credited with saving about four years ago, are desperately seeking her return.
We’ll let Luna’s “mom” Emily Williams Lambert, explain their beloved dog’s special place in this family’s heart:
“Late Saturday night, July 24 around 10:30 p.m., she got loose trying to chase after a deer and we haven’t seen her since. She was attached to her leash when she ran.
“Luna is 6 years old, approximately 40 pounds, and is beige with a white chest. Her back right leg was operated on in May, so you can still see where she was shaved. Luna is friendly and loves treats and snuggles.
“Like most pet owners, we adore her and feel life is better with her in it. I am a firm believer that she is the reason that my three kids, husband and myself are alive and well today – she alerted us in the middle of the night that our house was on fire and we were all able to escape unharmed.
“There will be a reward offered for her safe return. We have searched both sides of Point O’ Woods, High Knob, Lake Front Royal and hung posters. We just want her home, safe and sound,” Emily told Royal Examiner.
And now we are telling you – Has anyone seen Luna or believe they may have, and might be able to offer information to help reunite her with the family who loves her, and owes her, so much?
Remember her name, and if you see Luna, call her and maybe offer some of those snuggles or treats as a reward for coming to you. And then call the Lambert family at 540 622-4373.
We’d LOVE a happy ending to this story.
Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Patient of the Week: Red Fox
These babies aren’t babies anymore!
After nearly 5 months of care, including syringe and bottle feeding, our red fox babies aren’t babies anymore! While we take joy in every animal we release, seeing our fox kits grow up from eyes-closed kits to competent and wild juveniles hits us right in the feels.
We have now soft-released these juveniles so that they can begin hunting and perfecting their skills. During this transition time, we continue to provide food for them to fall back on, in case their hunting doesn’t go as well as expected. We use trail cams at the release site to monitor whether our foxes are returning for food, and to make sure we aren’t inadvertently feeding and congregating other animals instead! Over time, they’ll come back less and less as they solidify their skills and disperse to find other den sites.
We are always looking for more areas to release our animals, especially within Clarke County, Virginia. If you have appropriate property that you’re willing to allow us to erect temporary caging for soft-releasing foxes or raccoons, or to release other animals, especially groundhogs and skunks, please contact us at email@example.com or call us at (540) 837-9000!