At its January board meeting, Kevin Gregg, Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) chief of maintenance and operations, briefed the Commonwealth Transportation Board on the extreme weather event Winter Storm Frida.
VDOT is currently coordinating with its partners at the Virginia State Police (VSP) and Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) to develop a multi-agency after-action review. This review should take about six to eight weeks to complete and will address public messaging and communications, the mobilization of resources, coordination among agencies, and how to mitigate the challenges that the three agencies will face in future extreme weather events.
Winter Storm Frida affected the entire Commonwealth. Heavy rain fell across the state before changing to heavy, wet snow, falling at historic rates of up to 3 inches per hour and extreme temperature shifts of more than 40 degrees. High winds contributed to downed trees and approximately 500,000 households experienced a loss of power.
Preparation for inclement weather is a formal, operational procedure for VDOT, VSP, and VDEM. Statewide teams meet ahead of all significant inclement weather events to receive official weather forecasts and review response plans, material levels, staffing updates, and communications strategies.
Outreach to the public formally commenced on Jan. 2, with media releases from VDOT district teams on local impacts and a statewide release with a look at wider impacts. Communications teams conducted more than 14 interviews with the media on Jan. 2 with messaging regarding the risks of the storm. Communications continued throughout the storm with district and central office updates, releases, social media, and direct messaging.
Crews were staged along the Interstate 95 corridor beginning at 5 a.m. Monday for snow-removal operations. Traffic levels were high in the hours leading up to interstate incidents, with northbound and southbound I-95 volumes significantly higher than 2019 levels.
Snowfall rates in the Fredericksburg area reached a historic 3 inches per hour. Many commercial vehicles had challenges climbing hills on I-95, disabling large trucks, stopping traffic flow, and blocking routes for snowplows and towing vehicles. With the record snowfall rates, the snow accumulation further disabled vehicles and impeded response efforts. Power outages impacted cell towers and traffic cameras making communications with those conducting response efforts difficult.
With nearly 4,000 VDOT staff members and more than 16,800 contractors, teams across the state worked around the clock to clear blockages and reopen roadways.
Extreme challenges were encountered on other major roadways in the Commonwealth, including I-64, I-81, Route 1, Route 3, and Route 301 during this storm.
In addition to impairing Virginia’s roadways, snow, ice, and downed trees caused serious service disruptions to Amtrak routes. Amtrak, CSX, and Norfolk Southern worked to get trains to the nearest available station while clearing more than 1,200 trees from tracks statewide.
This was an extreme weather event for Virginia and many locations of the Commonwealth bore the brunt of this storm. Some households lost power for more than a week, and more than 1.5 million cubic yards of debris have started being cleared from the remnants of Frida.
“I want to thank the thousands of VDOT employees and contractors along with the men and women of the Virginia State Police who worked around the clock to respond to this statewide weather event,” said Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine. “We look forward to the final multi-agency after-action review and comprehensive timeline to improve future coordinated response efforts.”
“While the after-action review is underway, we are not waiting to implement changes ahead of our next storm, such as improving our messaging to travelers using VDOT’s network of changeable message boards,” said VDOT Commissioner Stephen Brich. “The agency’s top priority is and will remain the safety of the traveling public, and our teams are committed to learning from this, then incorporating those lessons into our standard operating procedures.”
Top 10 tips to avoid tax season fraud
Each year, taxpayers’ personal information is compromised through phishing scams or by unscrupulous tax preparers. With tax season kicking off on January 24, IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) wants taxpayers to be aware of tax-related fraud.
“As the investigative arm of the IRS, we see the impact that fraudsters have on taxpayers,” said Darrell Waldon, Special Agent in Charge of the Washington D.C. Field Office. “This tax season, we want to remind U.S. taxpayers about ways they can protect their wallets and personal information.”
Tips to avoid tax season fraud include:
- Choose a tax preparer wisely. Look for a preparer who is available year-round.
- Ask your tax preparer for their IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). All paid preparers are required to have one.
- Don’t use a ghost preparer. They won’t sign a tax return they prepare for you.
- Don’t fall victim to tax preparers’ promises of large refunds. Taxpayers must pay their fair share of taxes.
- Don’t sign a blank tax return. Taxpayers are ultimately responsible for what appears on tax returns filed with the IRS.
- Make sure you receive your refund. Your refund should be deposited into your bank account, not your tax preparer.
- The IRS will not call you threatening legal action. If you receive a call like this, hang up.
- Don’t respond to text messages, emails or social media posts claiming to be the IRS. They may contain malware that could compromise your personal information.
- Don’t click links or open attachments in unsolicited emails or text messages about your tax return. These messages are fraudulent.
- Protect your personal and financial information. Never provide this information in response to unsolicited text messages, emails, or social media posts claiming to be the IRS.
Recent cases of tax preparer fraud:
- D.C. tax return preparer sentenced to 14 months in prison for carrying out a tax scheme
Yohanness Ayechew of Washington, D.C., was sentenced to 14 months in prison last November for filing false tax returns and causing at least $250,000 of loss to the Internal Revenue Service. He and his business partner operated Endalk and Yohannes Associated, L.P. in D.C. since 2011, where he prepared false income tax returns for clients that overstated business expenses and claimed exemptions to give them bigger tax returns than they were entitled to receive.
- Former Maryland tax preparer sentenced to more than two years in federal prison for a tax fraud conspiracy
Anita Fortune, of Alexandria, Virginia, was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison last summer, followed by three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay restitution for filing false tax returns using a false ID provided by her co-conspirators. She and her co-conspirators also fabricated, inflated, and improperly claimed deductions on their clients’ returns to inflate their refunds.
For more tips on choosing a tax professional or how to file a complaint against one, visit IRS.gov. Taxpayers who suspect tax violations by a person or business may report it to the IRS using Form 3949A, Information Referral. Taxpayers can report phishing emails to firstname.lastname@example.org or IRS impersonation scams to TIGTA.gov.
This year’s tax season began Monday, January 24, and continues through Monday, April 18 for most taxpayers. U.S. taxpayers are subject to tax on worldwide income from all sources and must report all taxable income and pay taxes according to the Internal Revenue Code. Taxpayers found to be committing fraud may be subject to penalties including payment of taxes owed plus interest, fines, and jail time.
IRS-CI is the criminal investigative arm of the IRS, responsible for conducting financial crime investigations, including tax fraud, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, public corruption, healthcare fraud, identity theft, and more. IRS-CI special agents are the only federal law enforcement agents with investigative jurisdiction over violations of the Internal Revenue Code, boasting a nearly 90 percent federal conviction rate. The agency has 20 field offices located across the U.S. and 11 attaché posts abroad.
Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Patient of the Week: Red-tailed Hawk
Sometimes, it takes a village!
This adult Red-tailed Hawk was spotted hanging from its leg in a tree. It’s possible this bird got stuck when it tried to get at a squirrel’s nest that was also found in the tree.
Thankfully, the finder was able to get assistance from an arborist and the Boyce Volunteer Fire Company to climb up the tree and free the bird.
You can view the video of the rescue on the Boyce Volunteer Fire Company’s Facebook page. The rescue went well, and the hawk was brought to us for evaluation.
Upon admission, we noticed the patient had a degloving injury (top layers of skin and tissue were torn away) on the leg that was stuck, and had weak use of the foot below the injury. The wound was cleaned and bandaged, and the bird was started on pain medications and antibiotics. This patient has already started to eat on its own, but it is not yet using the weak leg fully.
Sometimes, it takes a village to save an animal! We are so thankful to the many people who were involved in this bird’s rescue, and to the photos that the Boyce Volunteer Fire Company shared with us of its rescue.
We’ll be monitoring this bird’s progress closely, and hope to get it back out to the wild soon!
Looking for an easy way to help native wildlife? Become a monthly BRWC donor! For as little as $5/month, you can provide year-round, sustainable support that helps us fulfill our mission.
Front Royal based substance abuse recovery program receives grant
Harvest Missions Outreach Center’s Exodus program has been awarded the Rappahannock Electric Power of Change grant. Each month Rappahannock Electric members give to The Power of Change. These donations are invested back into Rappahannock Electric communities through grants to organizations that work towards improving REC communities.
Harvest Missions Outreach Center’s Exodus program is a faith-based intensive outpatient substance abuse recovery program. The program utilizes evidence-based curriculum in a faith-based setting to provide a comprehensive recovery program. The grant made it possible to expand their curriculum to include the Matrix Model for Criminal Justice Settings. The Matrix program, which is used by drug court programs across the country, is designed to meet the needs of law-involved clients who struggle with addiction to alcohol and other drugs. The program focuses on overcoming criminal thinking and strategies for successful recovery skills. With the implementation of the Matrix curriculum, the Exodus program will be able to provide services to those who are in the criminal justices system in Warren County.
To assure that finances are not a barrier to treatment, there is no fee for the Exodus program. The program is supported by grants, contributions from local churches and individual donations (Clients are asked to make a contribution of whatever they can afford, even if it is only $1.00).
Harvest Missions Outreach Center is located at the former United Methodist Church in Happy Creek (1652 Happy Creek Rd). To find out more about the program, visit harvestmissionscenter.org or call (540) 645-6450.
Element Risk Management acquires new agency, expands local footprint
Element Risk Management has acquired Stoneburner-Carter Insurance, located in Front Royal, Virginia.
Stoneburner-Carter Insurance was established in 1985 and is a three-generation family firm based in Warren County, Virginia, formerly at 11 Water Street, Front Royal, VA 22630. Stoneburner-Carter has served their clients well by putting them first and delivering first-rate customer service. For over 35 years, they have taken pride in knowing that the insurance they offer is the best for their clients’ families and businesses. Stoneburner-Carter has been committed to working with and protecting their community.
“Stoneburner-Carter has always treated their clients as friends and neighbors. That is a core value of Element Risk Management and we will continue to provide the personalized service that their clients are accustomed to. We look forward to them joining us at Element Risk Management,” said Dave Rivell, Partner at Element Risk.
Element Risk Management is an independent insurance agency based out of West Chester, Pennsylvania. Element provides personal, commercial, and specialty insurance, as well as risk management solutions. For more information, visit www.ElementRisk.com.
Kindness is contagious at LFK Elementary School
On Monday, January 24, 2022, Leslie Fox Keyser Elementary School kicked off The Great Kindness Challenge week. LFK joins other schools and millions of students around the world in the Great Kindness Challenge 2022. Students and staff are creating a kinder and more compassionate community by practicing how easy it is to be kind to others during this week-long event.
The GKC initiative, presented by Kids for Peace, is a global campaign that promotes kindness in kindergarten through grade twelve schools. It is a positive, action-based bullying-prevention initiative that creates a school culture of kindness, compassion, unity, and respect.
Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind. – Henry James
Update: Bentonville teen dies off Chincoteague Bay after boat capsizes, boy, 17, missing
Update January 22, 2022 – The Virginia Marine Police are investigating a boating incident that left one dead and one missing.
At approximately 9:22 am on January 22, 2022, the Virginia Marine Police received a call regarding a capsized vessel in the Chincoteague Bay near Curtis Merritt Harbor. Witnesses reported that a 16-foot John Boat carrying four people was struck by a wave causing the vessel to capsize. All four people went into the water. A Good Samaritan was able to rescue two people who remained with the vessel. The United States Coast Guard (USCG) recovered one deceased adult male, identified as Corey Alles of Bentonville Virginia. A 17-year-old male remains missing.
The Virginia Marine Police will resume the search for a missing 17-year-old male in the morning. The other adult male and a 17-year-old male were transported to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
The United States Coast Guard, Virginia Marine Police, Virginia State Police, Maryland State Police, and the Chincoteague Police Department are assisting with the investigation.
The Virginia Marine Police and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission offers its deepest condolences to the families during this time.”
More information to follow as it becomes available.
A Bentonville teen died, and another teen is missing after their Jon boat capsized it Saturday morning in the Chincoteague Bay, according to a media release from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.
The incident occurred around 9:20 a.m. near Curtis Merritt Harbor at the southern end of the island. A wave apparently hit the 16-foot boat, according to Marine Police and all four people went into the water.
Marine police stated that on board were two 17-year-olds, a 19-year-old and 18-year-old Corey Alles of Bentonville, VA.
A good Samaritan rescued two of the passengers near the boat, while the U.S. Coast Guard recovered the body of Alles. Officials say the 19-year-old man and one of the 17-year-olds were taken to the hospital with injuries considered non-life-threatening.
The release said that a 17-year-old male is still missing, and marine police will continue their search for him in the morning.
The U.S. Coast Guard, Virginia Marine Police, Virginia State Police, Maryland State Police, and the Chincoteague Police Department are all jointly
conducting the investigation. The families and the next of kin have been notified.
Officials declined to comment if the missing teen was from the Front Royal/Warren County area. This story will be updated as more information becomes available.