Just prior to 9 a.m., Friday morning, May 29, Warren County Fire & Rescue responded to a report of a train derailment in the 4000 block of John Marshall Highway/Route 55 East of Front Royal in the Linden area of Warren County. A notice of the incident was posted shortly after 10 a.m. on the county fire & rescue Facebook page.
County Emergency Services reported no injuries or public health threat from the derailed cars. According to the department’s initial “Incident Notice”, first responders found all five locomotives and 14 of 50 rail cars being pulled, derailed. However, traffic in the area was not impacted.
And while it was reported that some “limited hazardous materials” were part of the Norfolk Southern train’s cargo, none of the cars containing that material were among those that derailed. First responders also determined that none of the “limited hazardous materials” had leaked from their tanks on the still upright rail cars.
So, it was determined there was no immediate public health threat from the derailment.
Both the Warren County Sheriff’s Office and Virginia State Police, as well as Norfolk Southern Railroad personnel were assisting at the scene. Those units were awaiting the arrival of additional Norfolk Southern personnel to begin the cleanup.
Additional information on the cause of the derailment, what the “limited hazardous materials” were, and the cleanup process will be reported as it becomes available.
Royal Examiner Videographer Mark Williams went to the scene around 11 a.m. and took this exclusive video footage:
Fire & Rescue Incident Notice
Following is the entirety of the original Warren County Fire & Rescue “Incident Notice” posted on the department’s Facebook page shortly after 10 a.m.
“The Department of Fire and Rescue Services, Warren County Sheriff’s Office, Virginia State Police, and Norfolk Southern Railroad are currently operating on the scene of a train derailment in the area of the 4000 blocks of John Marshall Highway. There is currently no threat or danger to the community.
“At 8:57 AM, the Department of Fire and Rescue Services responded to a reported train derailment in the 4000 blocks of John Marshall Highway. Units arrived on the scene to discover 5 locomotives pulling approximately 50 rail cars. Five locomotives and 14 cars left the track and derailed, leaving the remaining cars on the track.
“Fire and Rescue personnel were able to determine that no injuries occurred. While the train was hauling limited hazardous materials, no hazardous materials cars derailed or product leaked from their tanks.
“Units are currently awaiting the response of Norfolk Southern Railroad to begin the cleanup process.
“Citizens are urged to stay clear of the area, no traffic is effected at this time.”
Rabies Outbreak Detected in Front Royal’s Feline Population
Warren County Health Department Issues Directives on Containment and Prevention.
A recent incident in the Oregon Hollow Road area of Warren County has sounded the alarm bells for local pet owners and animal enthusiasts. A feline displaying signs of rabies infection was detected, prompting immediate action by the Warren County Animal Control Deputies.
On September 14, 2023, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office attended to an animal control call involving a seemingly ill feline. The on-scene Animal Control Officer found a confined cat among several others on the property. The complainant highlighted a troubling trend: people frequently desert cats in the area.
The caged feline’s behavior raised suspicions of a potential rabies infection. This suspicion was later echoed by a local veterinary clinic, where the cat was taken for a professional opinion. The unfortunate confirmation led to the feline’s humane euthanization, and its samples were sent to the Warren County Health Department for further testing.
By September 20, the grim results were in. The Warren County Animal Control Officer received confirmation that the feline was indeed infected with rabies. Given the severity and potential spread of this disease, the Warren County Health Department acted promptly. They issued a directive that, for public safety reasons, all remaining cats on the property would be trapped and humanely euthanized.
The Warren County Sheriff’s Office has since amplified its efforts to spread awareness. Residents are urged to update their pets’ rabies vaccinations and to exercise caution, especially around unfamiliar animals that may exhibit erratic or unusual behavior.
Rabies, a potentially fatal disease, poses a severe threat to both animals and humans. The quick response by Warren County Animal Control highlights the significance of early detection and intervention. As the county grapples with this challenge, collaboration and vigilance among residents will be paramount. Warren County’s residents are encouraged to stay informed, taking the necessary precautions to ensure their safety and that of their beloved pets.
Michael S. Williams Receives Prestigious 2023 Community Builder Award
Unity Masonic Lodge No. 146 Honors a Community Pillar.
In a heartwarming ceremony, Michael S. Williams was recently presented with the 2023 Community Builder Award. Acknowledging his unparalleled contributions to the betterment of the community and his dedication to nurturing young minds, Williams’s recognition came as a testament to his tireless efforts.
Jennifer Knox, Principal at E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School, initiated the event, expressing her gratitude for the presence of all attendees, specifically highlighting the Early Act Program. “It’s evident just how much you all cherish the moments you spend at the school with Mr. Williams,” she stated, reflecting on the evident warmth and respect the community holds for him. Knox, not missing a beat to praise the initiative, shared her appreciation of the program during a recent district board meeting, emphasizing the positive impacts it has brought about.
The highlight of the event was the words from Will Bryan of the Unity Masonic Lodge No. 146. Taking a jovial moment to impersonate Michael, Bryan, amid laughter and playful banter about misplaced glasses, transitioned to the reason for the gathering. Addressing the young attendees, he sought acknowledgment for the deep respect and appreciation the community holds for Williams. By the sea of raised hands, it was evident Michael was indeed a beloved figure.
The Community Builder Award, Bryan announced, was being presented to Michael Shawn Williams for his “outstanding service to the community.” The accolade didn’t just commend his services but recognized the profound impacts of his efforts, making the community a more vibrant, cohesive space for everyone. The gesture, from Unity Masonic Lodge No. 146, underscored the value of individuals like Williams in the broader fabric of the community.
Closing his tribute, Bryan added a personal note, reflecting the sentiments of many present. “We appreciate you,” he began, his voice holding a mixture of gratitude and admiration, “I am a better man because I’m around you.”
Michael S. Williams’s receipt of the 2023 Community Builder Award was more than just a ceremonial recognition. It was a moment of collective gratitude from a community that has benefited from his unwavering dedication and service. In the words and gestures of both young and old, one thing was clear: Michael S. Williams’s impact resonates deeply within the hearts of many.
A Tale of Two Visions: Butler’s Achievements vs. Cline’s Commitments
Butler and Cline: Two Distinct Visions for a Safer Warren County.
In a riveting forum, Warren County citizens gathered to hear from two stalwart contenders, Mark Butler and Crystal Cline, both vying for the coveted position of Warren County Sheriff. With a term lasting four years, the stakes are high, and the commitment deeper.
Crystal Cline, having served the Front Royal Police Department for over two decades, began with a heartfelt thank-you to the chamber for facilitating the forum and the community for their presence. She reminisced about her deep roots in Warren County, highlighting her involvement ranging from the Mom’s Club to coaching the traveling volleyball team. Cline’s main thrust was the need to restore leadership and integrity to the role of sheriff. She voiced concerns over the dissolution of the Animal Control Division and the pressing need for dedicated School Resource Officers (SROs). Most poignantly, she discussed the department’s retention issue and the imperative of a full staff. Addressing Sheriff Butler’s claim about a massive drug bust, Cline firmly stated that such an incident hadn’t transpired in Warren County and stressed the significance of integrity in leadership.
On the flip side, Sheriff Mark Butler, the incumbent, recounted the tumultuous period four years ago when Warren County grappled with a major scandal. He emphasized the changes he had championed during his tenure, such as attaining the accreditation that was lost in 2019, introducing community policing, and enhancing safety – all while lessening the taxpayer’s burden. One of his crowning achievements, he mentioned, was the confiscation of 77,000 fentanyl pills last year, which he tied to a broader narrative on the devastating drug epidemic. Butler concluded by affirming the commitment of his department to the Constitution and the rights it guarantees to the citizens.
As November 7th approaches, the air in Warren County is thick with anticipation. With two distinctly passionate perspectives on the table, the choice voters make will significantly shape the future of the county’s law enforcement.
District 31’s Destiny: Foreman, Morrison, and Oates Lay Their Cards on the Table
A Night of Passionate Pitches: Who Will Lead the 31st District Forward?
The auditorium was thick with anticipation as three formidable candidates – Steve Foreman, Grace Morrison, and Delores Oates – took to the stage, each presenting their visions for District 31 in the House of Delegates.
Grace Morrison, a compelling independent contender, has deep ties to Warren County, having moved there in 2011. Living atop a picturesque hill with her family, Morrison is firmly grounded in the community. Underscoring her desire to provide genuine representation for District 31, she spoke about the importance of unfettered and unrestricted communication between delegates and the residents. A strong believer in the Virginia Constitution, she vowed to remain transparent and amenable, aiming to serve the people first and foremost.
Democratic hopeful Steve Foreman took the audience on a journey through history, recalling the legacy of America’s representative democracy birthed in the House of Burgesses. With a heart-centered on public education, Foreman is keen to recognize and champion the needs of teachers while also pushing for more competitive school funding. He emphasized the imperative for families to have a strong foundation, advocating for rights that range from fair wages to ensuring safety from gun violence. His commitment to unity, compromise, and the collective good was unmistakable.
Rounding out the trio was Republican nominee Delores Oates. Born and raised in the district, her profound connection to the community was palpable. Having served on the Board of Supervisors, she understands the intricacies of governance firsthand. Oates accentuated the importance of school choice and its potential to raise overall education standards. She also highlighted her commitment to preserving rural values, safeguarding elections, and defending the Second Amendment.
With such diverse perspectives and visions for the future of District 31, the citizens of Warren County face an important decision. As election day approaches, the anticipation grows, promising a pivotal moment for the district’s future.
School Board Reviews Several Division-Wide Policies to Improve WCPS Practices
The Warren County School Board, during an almost four-hour long work session held on Wednesday, September 20, reviewed several division-wide policies in an effort to either craft new policies or update others related to items including class video surveillance, student discipline, drugs and substance abuse, goals for school community relations, and threat assessment teams, among others.
Additionally, the board, during a closed session at the end of the work session/retreat, voted to accept the resignation of Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) Technology Director Timothy Grant, effective Sept. 30. Starting on Oct. 2, WCPS Finance Director Robert Ballentine will resume the additional duties Grant also held as the School Board Clerk, and Doug Stefnoski will take over as WCPS Interim Director of Technology, according to two personnel reports issued by WCPS and presented to the School Board.
Grant told the Royal Examiner that he has taken a job as the new tech director for Frederick County (Va.) Public Schools. “I will miss everyone here,” Grant texted, “but it’s an opportunity for me to grow as a technology administrator.”
During the work session, School Board Chair Kristen Pence, Vice Chair Ralph Rinaldi, and School Board members Andrea Lo, Antoinette Funk, and Melanie Salins discussed numerous policies, bylaws, and regulations. WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger was also present.
The group regularly exchanged ideas and answered questions posed by several parents and educators who attended the public meeting, which was held at Skyline Middle School, where a recent student assault on another student has stoked requests for improved parent notifications, student discipline, and video cameras, among others.
That incident follows the June 12 indictment of former WCPS preschool teacher Kayla Ann Bennett, who taught at Hilda J. Barbour Elementary School. Bennett is charged with two felony counts of Cruelty/Injure a Child and four misdemeanor charges of assault and battery. Bennett’s defense has filed six not-guilty pleas to the charges, and she remains free on an own-recognizance bond.
Some work session particulars
The School Board members discussed how to improve communication with the public during their meetings, particularly for those parents, educators, or other citizens who may not want to speak openly about specific sensitive issues or topics.
For instance, Rinaldi suggested allowing parents, educators, or concerned citizens to sign up to speak to the board during a closed session that could be held at the end of a regular meeting or work session so that certain topics could be shared openly and honestly with the five board members.
Because such a process would make those discussions non-public when School Board meetings are public meetings that get videotaped, other board members said the board would have to check with its attorney to make sure the process would be legal.
Depending on what the attorney says, the board decided it may or may not hold a separate meeting sometime before its Wednesday, October 4, regular meeting. It would be an open meeting beginning at 5:30 p.m. that follows the normal community participation process, and then starting at 7 p.m., people who have signed up or who are in the audience and want to speak to board members privately could do so during a closed session.
“I mean, we’ll try it, and we’ll figure out what’s wrong with the plan immediately and go from there,” Pence said.
The discussion about school discipline policy was prompted by resident Virginia Cram, whose son attends Skyline Middle School and was recently assaulted and had his jaw broken by another student during gym class.
Cram asked the board what they had done since she spoke to them about her son’s assault during the board’s September 6 meeting. Cram and others think that the principal should be fired for what they say was improper handling of the situation, but the School Board does not have that authority, the superintendent does. And WCPS personnel issues are private.
In response to Cram’s question, Pence said that for the past two weeks, the attorney has been looking through the policies that the board has in place to try to provide members with feedback on how to move forward with any changes or new policies.
Additionally, she said that several School Board members also visited Skyline Middle School to observe students and faculty and to have separate conversations with teachers and administrators “to try to get better background information” on what the discipline problems are at the school.
“But to be quite honest with you,” Pence told the small audience, “this is where our discussion is going to happen because we can’t have that discussion outside of the public.”
Pence and Rinaldi, who visited the school together earlier this week, reported that they saw good teacher coverage in the hallways to stop students from running or correct inappropriate behaviors.
“Typical kids in the lunchroom, a little bit of handsy-ness with each other, same thing they would do at the food court in the mall. And they were corrected. I saw an assistant principal go up there and correct a couple of kids in the lunchroom,” added Rinaldi. “Typical middle school behavior. I walked into every bathroom, there was nothing going on in there.
“I saw some non-participation in PE, which I didn’t care for. I’m a former PE teacher,” he said. “So, with all that being said, I didn’t see kids sneaking under the bleachers. I looked under the bleachers. I didn’t see anything going on there. So my impression was, yeah, there’s a few things that need to be tightened up.”
Lo also visited the school and said she basically saw the same things. Some of the poor behaviors she witnessed sparked questions for her, she said, such as: What are the next steps? Is there more that I’m not seeing? Should there be more that I’m not seeing?
Lo also said that she talked to about ten teachers and five other people who were either administrators or office staff.
“A couple of themes that I saw was that teachers have seen improvement since the start of the year. My guess would be since all eyes are on Skyline Middle School, perhaps some of that has even gone since our last meeting,” Lo said. “I did see administrators who told me that this was the second day that they were handling tardy passes in a different way and recording those differently. And the feedback that I received was that there were fewer people in the halls today than there had been last week.”
Salins, who homeschools her own children, said her experience was quite different when she visited the school last week.
“I saw very different things when I was here. I didn’t see the principal at all,” she said. “I saw teachers trying their very, very best to get what I will not consider as normal middle school behavior under control. I mean, I coached inside of middle schools, and I have a middle schooler. I don’t see a teacher being told that a student is going to F her up and then a whole host of other threats and then being just sent back to class. I don’t find that to be acceptable. I still didn’t see the principal during any of that. The random slapping, cussing teachers; the teachers were absolutely out in the halls doing their best, telling kids not to do this, not to do that. But I saw a lot of eye rolls” from students.
Pence said that “all eyes are on Skyline Middle School right now.”
“Everyone is painfully aware of the concerns that have been brought up here,” Pence said. “And so from a board standpoint, our job now is to, one, make sure that our policies are appropriate, are the policies that we need, and then from there, we need to make sure that they’re enforced because the policies are not going to be useful in having if we’re not going to follow them.”
“As a start, we know that we have discipline policies in place, and are they being enforced in our schools? Are disciplines handed out according to the student code of conduct?” he wrote.
Other important takeaways from the meeting, Ballenger said, were suggestions to look into possibly increasing the presence of adults at Skyline Middle with central office staff. He also said they will continue to look into and address concerns and provide support.
“We want to make sure that disciplines are handed out according to the student code of conduct at all schools and see if there are any teachers that would like to volunteer to have cameras installed in their classroom,” added Ballenger, noting that the board also reviewed updates to the camera policy and members were provided policy revisions and updates from Sands Anderson as part of the policy revision and update.
Following the board’s closed session, he said members approved the personnel report, the personnel report addendum, the team leader supplements, and added a supplement for a technology supervisor to Grade 37.
Rising Above the Norm: Two Visionaries Battle for South River’s Educational Future
Meeting Passion with Dedication: A Glimpse into South River’s School Board Forum.
South River District’s School Board Forum, held Thursday evening, offered an eye-opening perspective into the future of Warren County’s educational framework. The two candidates vying for a place on the board, Leslie Matthews and Kristen Pence, shared compelling narratives and aspirations for the district’s student populace.
Leslie Mathews opened the forum, emphasizing her deep ties to Warren County. A product of its schools, she took pride in her education, immediately stepping into the workforce post-graduation. In her words, she is a “straight shooter” and a “down-to-earth go-getter.”
On the other side, Kristen Pence, an incumbent, spoke about her track record since 2020. Highlighting her unwavering dedication, Pence reaffirmed her commitment to creating a safe, inclusive learning environment and focusing on issues like teacher retention, discipline enforcement, and the elimination of drugs from schools.
The evening’s discourse tackled contentious subjects such as disciplinary measures in schools. While Pence highlighted the need for uniform consequences and community involvement, Mathews, viewing things from a parent’s perspective, called for stronger rules and heightened accountability.
Improving school attendance was another hot topic. Pence emphasized reducing bullying and fostering a positive school culture, while Mathews advocated for creating a welcoming and encouraging academic atmosphere.
Addressing the significant teacher turnover problem, Matthews spotlighted the importance of valuing and listening to teachers. In contrast, Pence talked about mentorship programs and leveraging the “Grow Your Own” initiative.
Mathews closed her remarks by envisioning a fully-funded school system, stressing parental involvement, discipline, and the essential role of leadership in navigating challenges. Pence concluded by detailing her rich history of community service, showing her vast experience and ongoing dedication to South River’s student community.
South River District stands at a crossroads, with two capable women bringing unique perspectives and solutions. It’s a testament to the importance of educational leadership and the community’s investment in shaping the future.