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Toddler death defense – ‘a horrific accident’ – prosecution ‘Really?’

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Chad Ritchie – Courtesy Photos RSW Jail

FRONT ROYAL – The defense scenario in the case of a 29-year-old man accused of Second Degree Murder in the death of his girlfriend’s 22-month-old toddler last year was the primary point of interest in first-day developments in the trial of Chad Andrew Ritchie.

That scenario presented by defense co-counsel Jason Ransom and Jonathan Silvester during opening statements Monday afternoon, December 10, is that Ritchie accidentally caused Malachi Zimmerman’s death in a frantic attempt to administer CPR (Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation) after finding the child unresponsive and not breathing after leaving him for about 30 seconds while preparing him for a bath.

While acknowledging that Ritchie told authorities that he had “smacked” both Malachi and his twin brother Micah earlier in the day for misbehaving, not listening and fighting with each other – Malachi three times, his brother once – the defense contended that Malachi attempted to climb out of the tub while unattended, falling backward onto his head causing his initial traumatic symptoms.

Ransom told a 9-man, 5-woman jury including two alternates that Ritchie had administered CPR as one would to an adult, with two hands and two arms thrusting fully at the abdomen of the child. The result of the incorrectly-administered CPR was, not only stomach bruising found on the child, but a ruptured intestine that bled into the child’s stomach cavity eventually leading to cardiac arrest and death, the defense told the jury.


However, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton opened the commonwealth’s case by presenting witnesses that brought that scenario into question.

Among those witnesses were Warren County Sheriff’s Office Dispatcher Jessica Henry and first responders at the scene on the 900 block of Blue Mountain Road on November 8, 2017, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT’s) Terrence Banks and Austin Cucciardo, the latter with Advanced Life Support (ALS) credentials.

Both Banks and Cucciardo agreed under cross-examination that incorrectly administered CPR could do damage to a child Malachi Zimmerman’s size. They noted CPR to a child that young and small should be administered with two fingers or two thumbs and less pressure than one would apply to an adult.

Cucciardo testified that in talking to Ritchie at the scene in an attempt to pin down a cause for the child’s condition, the defendant told him he had left the child in the bedroom while going to prepare the bath and found him unresponsive when he returned there.

“Are you sure it wasn’t the bathroom?” defense counsel asked about where Ritchie said he left the child.

“No, he said he left him in the bedroom,” Cucciardo replied.

Taking a different tack, defense counsel returned to its theme that Ritchie loved his fiancé’s children, telling Lt. Henry of the sheriff’s office that their calling him “daddy” was “one of the best things in his life.”

The defense told the jury in its opening statement that their client and Tabitha Zimmerman met at their workplace, Rubbermaid, and that Chad Ritchie had assumed the role of the father the children had never had from their biological father.

“Did Mr. Ritchie seem upset,” Ransom asked Cucciardo of his conversation at the scene with the defendant.

“He had a very blank stare on his face,” the first responder replied.

Cucciardo also testified that before taking over treatment from EMT Banks at the scene he had tried to establish some cause for the child’s condition. He said he ruled out an opiate overdose but “noted bruising and burns on the patient indicating that something else was going on.”

That supposition led to an immediate defense objection, which was sustained.

“Were you able to determine what caused the cardiac arrest,” Layton then asked his witness of his work at the scene.

“No,” Cucciardo replied.

During several cross-examinations, the defense elicited testimony from first responders that a towel on the bathroom floor showed signs of having the child’s head wrapped in it. They also elicited several observations that Malachi’s hair appeared to be wet.

In his testimony, EMT Banks said that after three rounds of two-minute CRP he received three “no shock advise” reports on attempts to defibrillate the child. Cucciardo later testified that meant that there was no shockable heart rhythm to revive. Warren County Fire and Rescue transported Malachi to Warren Memorial Hospital, where the toddler was pronounced dead.

The prosecution played Dispatcher Henry’s phone conversation with Ritchie to the jury. During that conversation, Henry tries to calm Ritchie down in order to talk him through the proper way to administer CPR to a toddler.

According to case records, the child’s mother Tabitha Zimmerman called the Warren County Sheriff’s Office at 6:36 p.m. Wednesday, November 8, 2017, to report that one of her 22-month old sons was not breathing. Zimmerman was not in the house, according to the documents, but had been told by Ritchie that one of her sons was not breathing.

Tabitha Zimmerman

According to the criminal complaint, “The mother stated that Chad Ritchie, her boyfriend and the person caring for her two children, had called her and stated he was with her son at their shared residence in Warren County.”

In the prosecution’s opening statement Layton told jurors that the trial was likely to be lengthy with much evidence presented – “Take nothing for granted – from either side,” he said.

Of the prosecution perspective on the case’s bottom line, Layton told the jury, “Malachi Zimmerman and his twin Micah began the day healthy in the custody of Chad Ritchie – at the end of the day Malachi Zimmerman, 22 months old, was at Warren Memorial Hospital dead; and his brother was being moved from hospital to hospital to be treated for his injuries.”

Day two of the trial will begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday morning, December 11, with the prosecution calling its seventh witness. In discussing when certain witnesses might be subject to recall in the defense case, Ransom estimated Wednesday or Thursday for recalls as the defense begins presenting its counterpoint to the prosecution scenario.

Malachi and Micah’s mother, 29-year-old Tabitha Zimmerman has also been charged on two counts of cruelty and injuries to children revolving around what prosecutors contend was a willful neglect of signs of a pattern of abuse by her boyfriend/fiancé Ritchie. The Ritchie defense said in its opening statement that older marks on the children were the result of being active toddlers prone to falling and rough play with each other, not a sign of any pattern of abuse.

Zimmerman’s trial is slated for this April. Her attorney John Bell was an interested observer at day one of the Ritchie trial. Tabitha Zimmerman is released on bond; Ritchie remains incarcerated at RSW Regional Jail.

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Crime/Court

Missing juvenile located, Arkansas man arrested

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A 14-year-old Frederick County juvenile has been located safely and an Arkansas man is under arrest, at this time, facing various charges to include abduction. Rae-Anna Allen was last seen leaving her home in Winchester on Sunday, January 9th around 11:07am and was later reported missing by her family. Deputy J.A. Tanner and Investigator B.J. Hazelwood worked in tandem to attempt to locate Rae-Anna and began re-tracing her movements through digital forensics and with the assistance of other law enforcement agencies. Electronic footprints had shown a strong possibility that Rae-Anna was mobile in a vehicle and no longer in Frederick County, or the Commonwealth of Virginia, by early Sunday evening.

Law enforcement officials in Virginia and Tennessee began checking for video surveillance along the I-81 corridor, in areas where cellphone towers indicated Rae-Anna’s phone had recently been active. The hope was to spot the juvenile, and any person she may be with, or a vehicle she might be traveling in for a nationwide Amber Alert to be issued. The Frederick County Sheriff’s Office had over 3,000 social media post shares of Rae-Anna’s disappearance that reached over 170,000 people including the National Center for Missing and Endangered Children who then shared that information to thousands more.

A possible location for Rae-Anna 1,100 miles from Winchester, in Arkansas, was obtained and is where the Hempstead County Sheriff’s Office executed a search of a home overnight. Sheriff’s deputies found Rae-Anna in the company of 22-year-old Christopher Lane Stone of Hope, Arkansas and immediately took the male into custody. In Frederick County, Deputy Tanner obtained a warrant for abduction that was served on Stone by HCSO at 2:48 am. A follow-up investigation is being conducted by the Arkansas authorities and further charges, from that jurisdiction, are pending.

The Frederick County Sheriff’s Office wishes to acknowledge and thank: The Virginia State police BCI High Tech Division, the Blountville (TN) Sheriff’s Office, the Green County (TN) Sheriff’s Office, the United States Marshalls Service, the National Center for Missing and Endangered Children and the Hempstead County (AR) Sheriff’s Office.


Sheriff Lenny Millholland is proud of the work of his people, and grateful for the support and assistance from the community in getting critical information on Rae-Anna out to so many people so quickly, resulting in locating and bringing this missing juvenile home safely.

Frederick County Sheriff’s Office seeks help in locating missing teen

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New fencing up, Holloway’s ‘Dog Day’ in court ends with dismissal and payment of court costs

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On the 10 a.m. Wednesday morning (Jan. 12) docket in Warren County General District Court, a misdemeanor charge of dogs running at large against Front Royal Mayor Chris Holloway was dismissed with payment of $104 in court costs. Holloway was not in court, but was represented by counsel John O’Neill. Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Lindsay LeHew represented the prosecution and Judge W. Dale Houff presided. The charge carries a maximum $200 fine.

Contacted outside the courtroom, O’Neill explained the resolution as typical of a defendant coming into compliance on this type of charge. He noted that Holloway’s construction of new fencing capable of holding his two large Bull Mastiffs on his Virginia Avenue property had been verified by involved Warren County Sheriff’s Office Deputy C.R. Clatterbuck and that the Commonwealth had been notified of the defendant’s effort to come into compliance in preventing future escapes of his two large canines.

Completed fencing preventing future dog escapes netted Chris Holloway a ‘dogs at large’ dismissal with court costs of $104. Royal Examiner Photo by Roger Bianchini

Holloway’s summons was issued on Nov. 28 in the wake of a complaint by Holloway neighbor Cheryl Langlais after she and her adult son were charged by the dogs along Virginia Avenue, one of which was said to have grabbed ahold of the son’s clothing in an aggressive manner. When multiple previous complaints involving the Holloway’s dogs were noted by law enforcement the summons was issued.


Holloway cited in November dog charge

Mayor built fence prior to obtaining zoning permit – is a pattern emerging?

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Shooting death at Frederick County residence under investigation

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At approximately 11:50 a.m. today (Dec. 30), a shooting was reported in the 100 block of Dick’s Hollow Road in Frederick County which has resulted in the death of one person.

  • The Sheriff’s Office can confirm that a male subject was shot by the homeowner during some type of verbal or physical altercation.
  • There were multiple subjects in the residence at the time with one subject fatally struck by gunfire.
  • Early indications are that there was only a single shot fired.
  • The subject who fired the weapon is in custody.
  • There is no ongoing threat to the community currently.
  • The identity of the victim is not being released pending notification of next of kin.

Details are limited at this time as this incident remains an active crime scene with law enforcement still processing evidence and speaking to witnesses and suspects. A more detailed press release will be forthcoming in the future.

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Holloway cited in November dog charge

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After numerous complaints of his large mastiff dogs running loose in the neighborhood Mayor Chris Holloway has been issued a summons to appear in Warren County Circuit Court on Jan. 12, 2022, at 10 a.m.

According to a November 28 citation issued by Warren County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant C.R. Clatterbuck, Holloway was charged with a single count of dogs running at large, which carries a maximum $200 penalty.

Clatterbuck’s incident report states he arrived in the area of Academy Drive and Virginia Avenue for a dog bite call and “observed two very large brown dogs in the middle of Academy Drive.” He wrote that he “observed a male subject (identified as Holloway) attempting to contain the dogs, but the dogs were not listening.” Once the dogs were contained and Clatterbuck spoke to Holloway, the dog owner “explained that his dogs were nice and did not bite anyone,” the report states.

 

Holloway’s property is from the Virginia Avenue/Academy Drive intersection near where the incident occurred. Royal Examiner File Photo by Roger Bianchini


 

The citizen who made the initial call for assistance, Cheryl Langlais, reached out to Royal Examiner the evening of the incident. She relayed that she and her adult son had been walking in their neighborhood when the dogs approached the pair in a menacing manner. She stated that the dogs had frequently roamed the neighborhood and she felt that the situation was “an accident waiting to happen”.

Langlais said in a telephone interview that the dogs were “growling and barking before grabbing my son’s arm and leg.” It was at that point that Langlais called police, hastily telling the dispatcher that the dog had “bitten my child” before ending the call and attempting to help her son.

Langlais explained that though the dog grabbed her son, its teeth had latched on to loose portions of his clothing and not penetrated to his skin. Clatterbuck’s report confirmed that there was no bite injury and noted that the dogs had “come up to them and nudged them hard.”

Upon speaking to Holloway, Clatterbuck writes in the report that “Mr. Holloway showed me in the rear of his fence, he had green fence post driven into the ground to attempt to contain the dogs due to a short fence issue.” Holloway, according to the incident report, stated that he had been pricing fencing at a local store and planned to install a new fence.

Fence construction is underway on Dec. 5 at the rear of the property off Academy Drive near the R-MA entrance. Below, a sign warning ‘beware of the dog’ as well as ‘no trespassing’ signage was posted on Holloway’s property the morning after the incident. Courtesy Photos

Following that conversation, Clatterbuck wrote that he contacted dispatch and “spoke to other deputies who both advised me we have dealt with the same issue with same dogs multiple times.” He stated that Holloway was issued a summons for dog at large and given information regarding available fencing.

Langlais told Royal Examiner that she had tried to be neighborly regarding Holloway’s dogs and had tried to help “round them up” in the past when they had escaped from the waist-high fence.

“All of this could have been avoided with an act of civility on Holloway’s part, had he simply apologized or inquired if everyone was okay. He is not neighborly, not a good citizen, particularly as a leader.”

Royal Examiner reached out to Holloway for comment, but he did not respond.

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UPDATE: I-81 Rest Area Shooting Suspect Deceased; Investigation Remains Ongoing

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The investigation continues into a shooting that occurred at a Frederick County Rest Area along Interstate 81 Sunday (Dec. 26) morning.

Shortly before 9:30 a.m., a man and woman became engaged in a domestic dispute at the southbound I-81 Rest Area at the 320-mile marker. When the dispute turned physical, several individuals who happened to be at the Rest Area tried to intervene for the woman’s safety. The 34-year-old male, Cesar Juarez Avila, then began firing at the woman and individuals who had intervened. The woman and three males were shot. Avila fled the Rest Area driving a Chevrolet Malibu.

Photos courtesy of Virginia State Police.

The female and two male victims were transported to Winchester Medical Center for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries. A third male victim was flown to Fairfax Inova Hospital for treatment of serious, but non-life-threatening, injuries.



State police, with the assistance of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, secured the Rest Area and began actively following up on leads concerning Avila’s whereabouts.

Shortly after 12 p.m. Sunday, a Frederick County Sheriff’s Deputy spotted the Chevrolet Malibu traveling on Airport Road in Frederick County. When the sheriff’s deputy and state police pulled in behind the Chevrolet, it sped away and a short pursuit ensued. Law enforcement positioned their vehicles around the suspect vehicle and forced it to a stop. When the Malibu came to a stop, law enforcement witnessed shots being fired inside the Malibu. When troopers approached the vehicle, they located Avila in the driver’s seat suffering from a gunshot wound.

Avila was transported to Winchester Medical Center, where he succumbed to his injuries. Avila’s body was transported to the Office of the Medical Examiner in Manassas for autopsy and examination.

No law enforcement discharged their weapons during the course of the incident. A handgun was recovered from inside the Malibu.

The incident remains under investigation by the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Culpeper Field Office.

The I-81 southbound Rest Area was reopened to the public at approximately 4 p.m. Sunday.

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Virginia State Police investigating deputy-involved shooting in Rappahannock County

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At the request of Rappahannock County Sheriff Connie Compton, Culpeper County Sheriff Scott Jenkins, and Madison County Sheriff Erik Weaver, the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation Culpeper Field Office is investigating a pursuit and shooting that involved their personnel.

At 5:30 p.m. Friday (Dec. 17, 2021), the Town of Culpeper Police Department issued a “Be On the Lookout” to regional law enforcement for Jeremy A. Yates, 21, of Culpeper, Va. An Emergency Custody Order (ECO) had been obtained for him and it was believed that he may be armed with a gun.

At approximately 9 p.m., a Madison County Sheriff’s Deputy observed a 2018 Chevrolet Colorado stopped in the roadway on Rt. 231 (Etlan Rd) in Madison County. As deputies from the Madison County Sheriff’s Office approached the Chevrolet, Yates sped away and a pursuit ensued. During the course of the pursuit, Yates began firing shots at passing vehicles. When the pursuit continued north on Rt. 231 into Rappahannock County, a Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Deputy became involved in the pursuit. It was during this time that Yates fired and struck a Rappahannock County Deputy’s vehicle multiple times.

As Yates was driving south on Rt. 707 (Slate Mills Rd) near the intersection of Rt. 644 (Reva Rd) – which is inside the Rappahannock County but right at the Culpeper County line – he began shooting at Culpeper County Sheriff’s Deputies who were stopped in the roadway and facing north on Slate Mills Road. The Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office personnel returned fire. The Chevrolet Colorado then ran off the left side of the road, collided with an embankment, and overturned.


Deputies attempted to render first aid, but Yates died at the scene. His remains were transported to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Manassas for examination and autopsy.

Two handguns were recovered from the Chevrolet Colorado.

No deputies or other persons were injured during the incident. No citizens have reported their vehicles being struck by bullets from when Yates was firing at other vehicles.

The investigation remains ongoing at this time.

Anyone with additional information regarding this incident is encouraged to contact the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation at 540-829-7400 or questions@vsp.virginia.gov.

 

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