Virginia’s official and only comprehensive report on local and statewide crime figures for 2020, is now available online. The Crime in Virginia report continues to provide precise rates and occurrences of crimes committed in towns, cities and counties across the Commonwealth. The report breaks down criminal offenses and arrests by the reporting agency.
Violent crime includes the offenses of murder, forcible sex offenses (rape, sodomy, and sexual assault with an object per the FBI’s updated rape definition), robbery and aggravated assault. Overall, Virginia experienced a 1.9 percent decrease in violent crime offenses compared to 2019. There were 15,713 violent crime offenses reported in 2020 compared to 16,018 violent crime offenses in 2019.
The following 2020 crime figures in Virginia are presented in the report:
- The number of reported homicides increased from 428 to 528 (23.4%). Victims and offenders tended to be younger males; 45.1% of homicide victims were men between 18 and 34 and 52.7% of offenders were men between 18 and 34. Nearly half (49.2%) of all homicides occurred at a residence/home.
- Motor vehicle thefts and attempted thefts increased 6% compared to 2019 during which 10,575 motor vehicles were stolen in 10,044 offenses. During 2020, there were 11,209 motor vehicles reported stolen in 10,773 offenses. In 2020, 6,366 motor vehicles were recovered (vehicles may have been stolen prior to 2020). Of all motor vehicles stolen, 40.2% were taken from the residence/home. The reported value of all motor vehicles stolen was $113,993,341.
- Drug arrests decreased by more than a third (36.7%) with the largest percentage decrease in the under 18 age group (48.6%). The number of reports of drugs seized decreased for nearly all drug types, especially marijuana (31.7%), due in part to decriminalization of possessing less than 1 ounce of the drug effective July 1, 2020.
- Burglary decreased 18.4%. Of the 11,413 burglaries and attempted burglaries, more than half (52.2%) took place at night between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., a reverse pattern from 2019 during which 54.8% of burglaries occurred during the day. Furthermore, 68% occurred at a residence/home, a decrease of 7.3% over the previous year.
- Of the known weapons reported for violent crimes, firearms were used in 83% of homicides and 50.4% of robberies. Firearms were used in more than one-third (35.2%) of aggravated assault cases.
- There were 190 hate crime offenses, involving 193 victims, reported in 2020 representing a 2.7% increase compared to 2019. Two offenses indicated more than one type of bias motivation. Nearly three-fourths (72.8%) were racially or ethnically motivated. Bias toward sexual orientation and religion were next highest (14.4%, 11.8%, respectively). Of all reported bias motivated crime, 77.4% were assault offenses (aggravated assault, simple assault) or destruction/damage/vandalism of property.
The report employs an Incident Based Reporting (IBR) method for calculating offenses, thus allowing for greater accuracy. IBR divides crimes into two categories: Group A for serious offenses including violent crimes (murder, forcible sex offenses, robbery and aggravated assault), property crimes and drug offenses, and Group B for what are considered less serious offenses such as trespassing, disorderly conduct, bad checks and liquor law violations where an arrest has occurred.
For both Group A and Group B offenses, there were a total of 206,609 arrests in 2020 compared to 274,636 arrests in 2019, representing an overall decrease in arrests in Virginia of 24.8%.
Per state mandate, the Virginia Department of State Police serves as the primary collector of crime data from participating Virginia state and local police departments and sheriffs’ offices. The data are collected by the Virginia State Police Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division. This information is then compiled into Crime in Virginia, an annual report for use by law enforcement, elected officials, media and the general public. These data become the official crime statistics for the Commonwealth and are sent to the FBI for incorporation into their annual report, Crime in the United States.
Street racing cited as two charged in Frederick County teen girl’s death
The 21-year-old brother of a 17-year-old girl killed when his car wrecked in Frederick County at high speed on August 8, has been charged along with a 26-year-old Berryville man, for illegal street racing leading to the accident that killed Sarah Michelle Ehrhardt. On Thursday, September 9, a Frederick County Grand Jury indicted Nicholas Isaiah Ehrhardt and Christopher Troy Colter on charges of Racing and Reckless Driving Causing Death. Colter was also charged with leaving the scene of the accident.
While Ehrhardt was booked shortly after the indictments were handed down, it was reported by Winchester media and on social media that the Berryville-based Colter was still being sought by authorities as the weekend approached. An early-afternoon check of the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center website Monday, September 13, indicated Colter was booked earlier that day.
Sarah Ehrhardt was a passenger in the rear seat of a Ford hatchback driven by her brother when it left State Route 7 (Berryville Pike) at high speed eastbound at 3:25 p.m. August 8. The violence of the vehicle’s crash into a fence, metal grocery store signpost, and parked vehicle tore the vehicle in half, with the rear section containing Sarah Ehrhardt coming to rest an estimated 90 feet from the front section of the car. Sarah Ehrhardt died at the scene. Her brother and his 18-year-old girlfriend, Magdelyn Germain, were both seated in the front of the vehicle. Germain was thrown from the vehicle during the accident when her seat belt system failed. She was flown to the trauma center at INOVA Fairfax Hospital where she was treated for serious, possibly life-threatening injuries, but survived. Nicholas Ehrhardt was transported to Winchester Medical Center where he was treated, and released, for minor injuries sustained in the crash.
That witness accounts and the crash scene investigation suggested the potential of racing may have been indicated by law enforcement immediately seeking help from the public in identifying a second vehicle and driver believed to have been involved in the accident. As Frederick County law enforcement reported at the time: “Speed has been determined to have been a factor in this crash and the incident remains under investigation looking into the presence of other possible factors contributing to the cause.”
Street racing is now believed to have been identified as that other contributing factor.
At the time of the accident, Frederick County law enforcement sought dash-camera footage from anyone in the vicinity of the crash, which was described as follows:
“At approximately 3:20 p.m. Nicholas was in the left lane of Route 7 coming around a bend, at a very high rate of speed, when his vehicle dipped off the left edge of the roadway and onto the gravel shoulder. From there, Ehrhardt came back up onto the pavement, where he lost control and came sliding back across both eastbound lanes and off the right shoulder of the roadway. The vehicle next made significant impacts with a fence, a business sign (on a metal post), and a parked vehicle, with the body and frame of the Ford separating into two pieces. During the course of the crash events, Germain was ejected out onto the roadway after a catastrophic failure of the seat belt system and was subsequently flown to the trauma center at INOVA Fairfax Hospital where she was treated for serious, possibly life-threatening injuries, but expected to survive. Nicholas Ehrhardt was transported to Winchester Medical Center where he was treated, and released, for minor injuries sustained after the crash.”
As noted above, Sarah Michelle Ehrhardt was pronounced dead at the scene. In an obituary posted on the Omps Funeral Home website she was described as “an avid reader” who could spend hours in her favorite used book store, who also “loved spending time writing stories, snuggling with her dogs and laughing with friends and family”. She was also cited as “a rising senior at Eukarya Christian Academy in Stephens City” who was very involved with “the Media Ministry” at her church, the Winchester Church of God.
Multi-jurisdiction effort nabs Front Royal trio in burglary-theft ring
On August 19th, 2021, the Front Royal Police Department received a report of a burglary that occurred at the Hydro Spray Car Wash in the 500 block of North Commerce Avenue. While under investigation, detectives linked a series of other recent burglaries and thefts in Front Royal and other area jurisdictions to several suspects residing in Front Royal. Arrest warrants were obtained for Tyler S. Lockette, Stephanie R. Miller, and Justin L. Conner for their involvement in a 25-day crime spree that included commercial burglaries at Royal Pawn, LDees Pancake House, Hydro Spray Car Wash, and Spot Laundromat in Front Royal. Additional charges were obtained for the theft of 2 motor vehicles and theft of property from 3 unsecured motor vehicles.
On 08/25/2021, Stephanie Miller was arrested and transported to the Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren (RSW) where she was ordered to be held on a $2500 secured bond.
On 08/29/2021, Tyler Lockette was arrested in Howard County, MD where he was held without bond and extradited back to Virginia. Mr. Lockette is currently being held without bond at the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center (NRADC) in Winchester, VA.
On 09/01/2021, Justin Conner was arrested and transported to the Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren (RSW) where he was ordered to be held without bond. The court date for all offenses has been set for various dates in September in Warren County General District Court.
The Front Royal Police Department would like to extend our thanks to the multiple citizen tips received in these cases. We would also like to thank the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, Winchester Police Department, Mt. Airy Police Department (MD), Carrol County Sheriff’s Office (MD), and the Howard County Sheriff’s Office (MD) for their support during this investigation.
This investigation is still ongoing and further charges may be forthcoming.
Anyone with any further information is asked to contact Front Royal Detective M.P. Gallagher at (540) 635-2208 or by email at email@example.com
Virginia State Police seeking public’s help with Culpeper arson
The Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Culpeper Field Office is asking for the public’s help with identifying the individual who set fire to the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) Adult Probation and Parole office building in the Town of Culpeper.
At 4:58 a.m. on June 16, 2021, the Town of Culpeper Police responded to a report of arson at the 1800 block of Orange Road. Surveillance video from the building shows the individual light something in his hand and throw it at a window of the building. The building was unoccupied at the time of the fire.
The suspect is described as an adult male. He was seen wearing a white or grey sweatshirt and baggy pants at the time of the incident.
Anyone with any information about this individual is asked to call Virginia State Police at 540-829-7742 or contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Update: Federal Prosecutors charge McDonald on 34 criminal counts in EDA financial scandal
On Tuesday morning, August 31, former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Executive Director Jennifer McDonald was arrested on a 34 count indictment handed down by the Western District of Virginia Federal Prosecutor’s Office in Harrisonburg. The 40-paragraph True Bill elaborating on the charges to a Harrisonburg Grand Jury is dated August 25, and signed by Acting U.S. Attorney Daniel P. Bubar. Of those 34 counts, 16 are for money laundering, 10 for bank fraud, 7 for wire fraud, and 1 count of aggravated identity theft regarding someone identified only as “T.T.”
The charges and outline of the case in support of them (Jennifer McDonald Indictment) echo earlier criminal indictments filed at the state level before the State Special Prosecutor’s Office in Harrisonburg turned the case over to federal authorities in late 2019. The state special prosecutor had dropped the indictments it had filed to avoid speedy trial issues due to the volume of evidentiary material – estimated at 800,000 to over a million pages at the time. Failure to meet speedy trial deadlines could have led to defense motions for dismissal of charges on the criminal side of the EDA financial scandal case.
An attempt to reach McDonald attorney Peter Greenspun at his Fairfax office for detail on his client’s arrest and bond situation was unsuccessful prior to publication. However, a check of the RSW Jail website indicated no new booking of McDonald at the tri-county regional facility.
In a statement on the McDonald prosecution released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Harrisonburg at 3 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, it was noted that McDonald had an initial court appearance on the new federal charges earlier in the day and that she was released pending trial.
While not reaching McDonald’s attorney, Royal Examiner did reach Warren County EDA Board of Directors Chairman Jeff Browne, who circulated the indictment document Tuesday morning. We asked Browne for a reaction to the long-awaited development on the criminal side of the EDA financial scandal case.
“We’re going to continue to pursue the civil case and are pleased that justice is being served on the criminal side – it’s been a long time coming,” Browne said of the nearly two-year lag time on refiling of criminal charges related to what was a $26-million-dollar civil litigation related to the allegations of criminal misdirection and embezzlement of Town-County EDA assets. That total has climbed to a $62-million claim after McDonald’s bankruptcy filing involved the state bankruptcy court in the case.
“We don’t control the criminal side, but there are some familiar numbers in this criminal filing that reflect work done by the Cherry Bekaert staff,” Browne commented of the company the EDA contracted to investigate EDA financial records during the later years of McDonald’s executive director’s tenure. “Any help we can offer, we’ll be there for federal prosecutors. But our focus is on the civil side and bringing assets back to the community,” Browne added. He noted that federal authorities are forecasting a criminal trial for McDonald in 2022.
As recently reported out of the bankruptcy process, the EDA and McDonald have reached a no-fault agreement on a debt of $9-million by the former EDA executive director to the EDA. That agreement in which McDonald admits no wrongdoing, has also been accepted by EDA civil case Judge Bruce D. Albertson. Exactly how that agreement will result in payment of that debt remains to be seen on the civil case side.
Early in the civil process, then presiding Judge Clifford L. “Clay” Athey Jr. froze some real estate assets McDonald held in her name alone, while leaving others she co-held with other family members free of possible civil liability. However, since that time several of her family members have been named as co-defendants in the EDA civil litigation alleging a McDonald-led conspiracy to move EDA assets to the personal benefit of her and others. The defendant list in that civil case has climbed to as many as 23 co-defendants alleged to have conspired and/or benefitted from the alleged embezzlements.
What implication movement on the McDonald criminal case might have on charges against some, if any, of the civil case co-defendants, some who also previously faced criminal charges dropped by the state Special Prosecutor’s Office on speedy trial/dismissal concerns, remains to be seen.
Royal Examiner will publish additional information on this evolving situation as it becomes available. This story was updated at 3:55 p.m.
Grandson who reported unresponsive Grandmother charged with her murder
On the morning of August 28th, 2021, at approximately 10:48 A.M., Frederick County Communications Center received a call, in reference to a female who was unresponsive.
The caller, David Austin Rowe, advised that his grandmother (Dianna Lynne Swaner, age 63) was laying on the floor and appeared to be deceased. Rowe advised the location of the incident was in the 1300 block Quail Run Lane, in the County of Frederick.
Frederick County Sheriff’s Office Patrol Division responded to the scene and secured the residence. The Patrol division requested the assistance of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, Criminal Investigations Division.
Through the investigation, it was determined the deceased female’s death was suspicious.
Search warrants were obtained, and the Medical Examiner’s Office was contacted. The Medical Examiner’s Office responded to the scene to assist with the investigation.
Through the investigation, it was determined the death was not an accident, but the victim had been murdered.
David Austin Rowe, age 18, the grandson to the victim, was arrested and charged with 2nd degree murder.
Operation Valley Venue IX nets 83 charges & seizure of $130,435 in illegal drugs in Northern Shenandoah Valley
The Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force conducted its ninth annual Operation Valley Venue this week. The three day operation took place from Tuesday (August 24, 2021) to Thursday (August 26, 2021), and was a collaborative effort between the task force and area law enforcement agencies. The annual operation concentrated on identifying and arresting individuals for trafficking, manufacturing, and distributing illegal narcotics within the city of Winchester, and the counties of Clarke, Frederick, Warren, Shenandoah and Page.
The Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force was assisted by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, District 11 Probation and Parole, the Woodstock Police Department, and tactical teams from the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office, and Virginia State Police. The Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force member agencies also provided additional patrol and investigative personnel to assist during the three day operation. The operation netted 73 felony charges, 8 probation violations, and 2 misdemeanor charges. Additionally, 86 probation searches were conducted, 5 search warrants were obtained and executed, and 22 interdiction traffic stops were completed. During the operation, 881 grams of methamphetamine with a street value of $87,800.00, 328 grams of heroin with a street value of $39,610.00, 8 grams of cocaine with a street value of $800.00, 7 grams of crack cocaine with a street value of $800.00, 19 doses of MDMA/Ecstasy with a street value of $380.00, 33 doses of LSD with a street value of $480.00, 3 fluid ounces of PCP with a street value of $300.00, and 70 grams of psilocybin with a street value of $350.00 was seized. The total street value of the narcotics seized during the operation was $130,435.00. In addition, $16,295.00 in currency, and 8 firearms was seized.
The Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force is comprised of law enforcement personnel from the Clarke, Frederick, Page and Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Offices, Front Royal, Luray, Strasburg, and Winchester Police Departments, and the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Culpeper Field Office. The Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force is a HIDTA funded initiative.