The Warren County Sheriff’s Office celebrated July 4th with an announcement of multiple arrests at several locations related to the thefts of a variety of vehicles, including ATV’s, motorcycles, mini-bikes, and other property, operating out of Warren County. The release acknowledged outstanding inter-departmental and community involvement in bringing charges against a criminal enterprise believed to have targeted “several counties in Virginia and West Virginia.” See full detail of the multi-faceted operation in the July 4 WCSO Press Release below:
The Warren County Sheriff’s Office has been conducting a comprehensive investigation into a recent string of thefts of all-terrain vehicles (ATV) and other crimes that have occurred throughout the county in the month of June 2021. According to Sheriff Butler, members of the Patrol, Investigations, and Special Problems and Drug Enforcement (SPADE) divisions have worked diligently with the public to piece together the individual clues and evidence that revealed the criminal enterprise operating in our county.
On 06/30/2021 at 12:14 AM, Deputy A. Stevens stopped a black 2001 Chevrolet van on Fellows Drive near Howellsville Road after the deputy recognized the driver, Troy Michael Brill from a recent contact as being unlicensed, and the vehicle was improperly registered. The traffic stop resulted in the arrest of Troy Michael Brill, age 21, of Front Royal for Possession of Narcotics (Schedule I or II drugs), and driving on a revoked driver’s license.
The passenger, Christina S. Hottinger, age 40, of Front Royal was arrested and charged with several offenses. These included Possession of Narcotics (Schedule I or II drugs), authorizing a person to operate a vehicle while the license is revoked or suspended, and two counts of violations of Family Offenses – Gross, wanton, or reckless care for a child(ren). The later charges stemmed from Hottinger’s two minor children being present within the vehicle at the time the alleged criminal offenses were observed by Deputy Stevens. Hottinger has been released on bond pending a hearing.
The children were turned over to the temporary custody of their family.
The black Chevrolet van driven by Brill and its attached, pull-behind automobile trailer was towed pursuant to his arrest, and not being lawfully titled or registered. The van and trailer were later linked to having been used in the commission of thefts of motorized vehicles.
On 06/30/2021, members of the Sheriff’s Office executed two search warrants related to this investigation. The first search warrant was served by members of the Sheriff’s Office at 03:29 PM on a single-family home on the 200 block of River Isle Lane, unincorporated Front Royal. The brief search was unsuccessful in locating Phillip C. Roberston, age 42, of Front Royal; however, Roberston was later arrested by members of the Sheriff’s Office SPADE Unit in Frederick County on an active warrant out of Warren County for Possession of a Schedule I or II drugs, not related to this case.
A black Ford Ranger pickup truck was seized at the River Isle Lane residence because it had been identified as allegedly being used by suspects in this investigation during the commission of a crime. It had been previously established by law enforcement that the group was using a variety of vehicles to conduct surveillance of homes, and then later returning in a different vehicle to steal property.
Roberston was subsequently charged with six counts of Grand Larceny – $200 or more, not from a person, which was linked to this investigation. Roberston is currently held in the RSW Jail awaiting a hearing.
A search warrant at 724 Western Drive, unincorporated Front Royal yielded the recovery of evidence linked to the investigation of the thefts of ATVs, the recovery of stolen property, and two firearms and ammunition were also recovered. Charges for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and other criminal charges are pending. Unrelated to the search warrant, the Sheriff’s Office had received a request from a school counselor for a check on wellbeing for two juveniles living in this residence. The juveniles were not on-premise and later located safe in the custody of family living elsewhere.
Major Driskill described this home as being the source of numerous citizen complaints and therefore more comprehensive investigative actions were taken during the search warrant execution. Based on the arrests of the residents, and the home is unoccupied, five canines were taken into protective custody by Animal Control Officers and transported to the local shelter. Major Driskill describes the conditions of the residence and property as being extremely unsafe, and unsanitary to the degree that the Warren County Fire Marshal’s Office was contacted.
Fire Marshall Gerry Maiatico arrived and assisted in the investigation. The preliminary findings were that the residence itself was structurally unsound, with exposed wiring, holes in the flooring and roof, and unsanitary conditions throughout. Major Driskill thanks Fire Marshal Maiatico for his quick response and assistance. The electric company was contacted and the electricity to the home temporarily disconnected to prevent a possible fire. Other county agencies, including planning and zoning and child protective services, are being contacted to further address the health and public safety concerns pertaining to this property.
Evidence developed during this ongoing investigation is believed to be linked to thefts of motor vehicles, mini-bikes, motorcycles, and other property in several counties in Virginia, and West Virginia. The Warren County Sheriff’s Office is coordinating with those law enforcement agencies, with additional charges anticipated. Investigations Supervisor Laura Nelson-Haas states her Office is still in the process of identifying some of the recovered property, and assistance from the public will be needed.
During this investigation, it was discovered that another criminal trend was emerging. It was determined that unattended motor vehicles in parking lots and rural areas throughout the county had been damaged by having their catalytic converters removed. These items are appealing to persons who wish to make a quick dollar by selling them to a scrapyard.
Aside from being resold as replacement items for older vehicles, the catalytic converter or “cats” as they are referred to on the street, are also stolen for another reason. Inside the converters are precious metals such as palladium, rhodium, and platinum, which have high-dollar values. Catalytic converters have been recovered by the Sheriff’s Office and their original and ownership are being traced.
Major Driskill credits the success of this investigation to the excellent communication and coordination between the Sheriff’s Office and the community. Many of these crimes had not been discovered or reported due to homeowners being away on vacation or having second homes in other areas. Major Driskill extends his appreciation to those homeowners who had been looking out for each other in the true spirit of a Neighborhood Watch program. Major Driskill also acknowledged the professional investigative work conducted by members of both Patrol Shifts, who were very proactive in collecting information and evidence leading to the identification of the suspects. Major Driskill stated “this was outstanding law enforcement work done by our Patrol Deputies,
and they deserve immense credit! Residents should know that they patrolled their streets, did surveillance, and more. These Deputies went beyond expectations.”
The Warren County Sheriff’s Office reminds residents that their Community Policing Unit, led by Sergeant Cindy Burke and Lieutenant Robbie Seal is actively working to enhance and expand the Neighborhood Watch program and interested homeowners’ associations should contact them.
Finally, residents are reminded to check on the unattended rural property to ensure the safety of their property and vehicles. If anything is found missing or damaged in the county, please report this by calling the Warren County Emergency Communications Center (9-1-1), or if out of the area, call (540) 635-4128. Persons having information regarding this investigation are asked to contact WCSO Investigator Kristin Hajduk at (540) 635-4128.
(Approved for release on 07/04/2021: Major J. A. Driskill)
Satellite spots Friday morning flash over Hardy, W. Va. – may verify meteor explanation of Shenandoah County BOOM
A NASA satellite designed to track electrical storm activity may provide the evidence to confirm that a meteorite strike was the cause of the loud BOOM and earthshaking reported in Shenandoah County and points west across the state border into West Virginia, Friday morning, September 17. In a social media post that day accompanying a video recording of the believed meteor flashes from viewer Sandra Dickerson of the Baker-Lost City area of West Virginia, Harrisonburg-based WHSV TV Meteorologist Aubrey Urbanowicz wrote that NASA had confirmed by email that they were “investigating this as a meteor strike, fireball.”
The following day citing Urbanowicz’s work on the story and postings of viewers’ audio and video of the event, Today Headline’s Peter Forister added that NASA’s “GOES-16 Satellite Flash Density product displayed a flash area over Hardy County” West Virginia, consistent with the 10:23 a.m. Friday event timeframe. While there was cloud cover, there were no storms reported in the area at the time, reducing the likelihood of lightning as the explanation for the flash. It was also reported that Hardy County experienced a power outage at the time of the event.
In a social media post to WHSV, a person posting as “Spicy McHaggis” stating they were a pilot in the air at the time of the event wrote: “Yeah it was a meteor. I’m a pilot and we saw from 36,000-feet along the VA/WV border. High in the sky and left a white smoke trail.”
The boom and resultant ground shaking was initially reported as an explosion – logical, maybe somebody’s meth lab blew up – or earthquake. However, area officials could not confirm an explosion in the area and the U.S. Geological Service (USGS) reported no earth-generated seismic activity in the area during the timeframe of the event.
So, as of Monday afternoon an uninvited visitor from space continues to be the leading candidate as the cause for last Friday’s regional earth-shaking event. Information Forister cited from the NASA Meteor Watch website estimated the mass of the object at about 50 pounds impacting the earth at a speed of 45,000 miles per hour, with the energy of one to two tons of TNT. NASA estimated a brightness magnitude of 12, cited as equal to a full moon (due tonight). And so far it appears our theorized space visitor had the cosmic courtesy NOT to land on an occupied patch of our planet.
Thanks, little fellow – hope the animals heard you coming and got out of the way too.
Fire and Rescue members graduate National Honor Guard Academy
On Friday, September 17, 2021, four members of the Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services graduated the National Honor Guard Academy which was held in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
“Upon completing this program, our staff will be assigned to assemble our Department of Fire and Rescue Services first ever Honor Guard to represent our community and serve our members should situations arise” stated Fire Chief James Bonzano. “This honor guard will provide one of the most visible and positive images for our department. Be it a parade, groundbreaking ceremony, sporting event, retirement or funeral, the presence alone of the honor guard immediately draws attention and raises the formality of the event” continued Chief Bonzano.
This weeklong academy consisted of a balance of informative classroom presentations and hands-on repetition of practical skills in an intense training format. Based on three key principles: preserve pride, honor and tradition; pay precise attention to detail; and build a network of local and national resources, this academy included training on basic drill and ceremonial movements; church and casket protocol; and flag etiquette.
Lieutenant Scott Richardson, Fire and Rescue Honor Guard Commander stated, “Our honor guard will be built on a foundation of honor, dignity and respect, with the utmost concern for the needs and wishes of the community, department members or affected family members.” “Our Honor Guard members share an overwhelming pride in the County of Warren and the Department of Fire and Rescue Services and will strive to reflect a positive image of both.”
For more information on the Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Service Honor Guard or to learn how the Honor Guard can participate in your event, contact Commander Scott Richardson at 540-636-3830.
County Emergency Management Update of September 20
Below is Warren County Emergency Services Coordinator Rick Farrall’s “brief” update of Monday, September 20, 2021. It includes continued numbers showing the county lagging behind state-wide COVID-19 vaccination rate by nearly 20% – 40.3% compared to the state-wide rate of 58.8%; and ahead in cases-per-100,000 population that allows comparisons between larger and smaller communities – 545 cases-per here compared to state-wide rate of 292.8 (252 more cases per a 100,000 population than the state-wide average).
- Hazardous Weather (as of 10:11 AM EDT Mon Sept. 20, 2021).
(a) DAY ONE (Today and Tonight). No hazardous weather is expected at this time.
(b) DAYS TWO THROUGH SEVEN (Tuesday through Saturday). Isolated instances of flooding are possible Wednesday night into Thursday. Isolated severe thunderstorms with damaging wind gusts are possible Wednesday night into Thursday.
- COVID-19 Data (Summary).
(a) As of today (data from 9/12-9/18), the County’s rate of new cases per 100,000 persons is 545.0, and is considered “High” (by comparison, the State rate is 292.8, and is also considered “High”). Our percentage of PCR tests that are positive is reported at 15.5% (by comparison, the State rate is 11.1%).
(b) The County’s current hospitalization count is 3.5% and the death count is 1.5% of the case count.
(c) The County’s (COVID-19) fully vaccinated rate is 40.3%; the State rate is 58.8%.
(d) Recommend all County/Town citizens, employees, and employers reinforce basic public health preventative measures, as appropriate.
|COVID-19 Level of Community Transmission – Coronavirus
To determine the level of community transmission, CDC and VDH recommend the use of two measures: total number of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 persons in the past 7 days and the percentage of nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs) including RT-PCR COVID-19 tests that are positive during the last 7 days.
- Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC)
(a) The next scheduled LEPC meeting is to be determined; anticipate the meeting on November 18, 2021 (3:00 pm to 4:30 pm). Invitations and information to follow.
School Board updated on restroom study, construction & reno projects, amphitheater
Several projects are underway, completed, or in the design stage for facilities in Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) and property owned by the Warren County School Board.
For instance, all renovations at A.S. Rhodes Elementary School are now complete, WCPS Assistant Superintendent for Administration George “Buck” Smith told the School Board during its Wednesday, September 15 work session.
New windows and roller shades have been installed, and the bus loop asphalt was resurfaced prior to the beginning of the new school year. HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems are now functioning as designed, said Smith, adding that Lantz Construction has received the full occupancy permit.
“A.S. Rhodes, as we know, is our smallest school,” Smith said, inviting members of the board to visit it to view all the improvements. “It’s a very beloved school, and it’s nice to see all the things done to it to make it more of a home for our students and our staff.”
Other completed projects include construction at Skyline High School of a greenhouse, which Smith said received its final building inspection from Warren County. At Skyline Middle School, the exterior painting of windows and the front entry columns for the historic part of the school are finished, as was the replacement of one set of concrete stairs and roughly 350 linear feet of sidewalk. There are also several upcoming and ongoing projects, according to Smith.
The Virginia Department of Education, for example, recently approved HVAC replacements at Blue Ridge Technical Center and HVAC replacement and renovations at Leslie Fox Keyser Elementary School.
The School Board during its September 1 regular meeting approved the $1.04 million contract for architectural and engineering services to Grimm & Parker Architecture Inc. for both facilities. The projects will be funded through grants and funds available in the WCPS capital improvement plan. The contract also includes design and engineering work for renovations at Leslie Fox Keyser.
The legal staff for WCPS is currently reviewing the draft contract for Grimm & Parker for the design of the upgrades and renovations, Smith said, noting that the goal is to have the final draft contract to Grimm & Parker this month.
Grimm & Parker was one of 11 architectural firms to submit a proposal in response to the Request for Proposal for Architectural and Engineering Services for the replacement of the HVAC systems at Blue Ridge Technical Center and the HVAC replacement and renovations to Leslie Fox Keyser Elementary School.
The scope of the renovations includes replacement of all HVAC equipment and associated systems, including acoustical suspended ceiling systems and lighting at Blue Ridge Technical Center and the HVAC upgrades and replacements, restroom upgrades to meet federal handicap compliance regulations, new ceilings, lights, paint, flooring, demising partitions between classrooms, and enhanced physical security to include a new secured entrance vestibule at Leslie Fox Keyser Elementary School.
Restroom study underway
Smith also provided School Board members with an update on a comprehensive study that’s being done throughout the school division on its restroom facilities. The study is focused on privacy enhancements for all students, as well as to ensure the school division remains in compliance with federal and state laws, he said.
The preliminary assessments of WCPS restroom facilities have been conducted at the secondary level by Smith, along with WCPS Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Alan Fox; WCPS Maintenance Director Greg Livesay; and WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger, and the principals — who are part of the division’s comprehensive study team.
All available single-user facilities have been identified to enhance privacy for use by any student, said Smith, and signage for those restrooms has been ordered and will be installed soon. “It doesn’t change what we’ve done in the past,” Smith said, “but it provides an opportunity for our single-user restrooms that we may have had specified for just teachers or faculty.”
The study group also plans to further assess additional partitioning to enhance privacy for restrooms. Once preliminary information has been gathered, then the comprehensive study team will be called together for review, elaboration, and recommendations, Smith added.
Additionally, Livesay is looking into partitions for the larger restroom facilities “to increase privacy,” said Smith.
New amphitheater proposed
During the School Board’s September 15 work session, Samuels Public Library Director of Operations Eileen Grady provided members with an informational presentation on a proposed agreement to build an amphitheater that would be located on the hill between Ressie Jeffries Elementary School and Samuels Public Library.
The land lies on Ressie Jeffries property owned by the School Board. The lease agreements require the library to obtain approval from both the Warren County Board of Supervisors and the School Board for any renovations or improvements to the property. Library representatives also gave supervisors a presentation on the amphitheater during their June work session.
From a programming perspective, an outdoor amphitheater would offer many opportunities for not just the library, but also for the schools and the community, Grady explained. “If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we need to be nimble,” she said. “We need to have multiple ways to approach services.”
Melody Hotek, who serves on the Library Board of Trustees and volunteers at the library, said money from the estate of her husband, Jeff Hotek, who passed away in 2018, was left to Samuels Public Library for the amphitheater. She told board members that both the Samuels Library Board of Trustees and the Friends of the Samuels Library Board of Directors support the project. “The vision for this is for library programs, school programs, and community programs,” Melody Hotek said. “I just think it’s going to be a tremendous asset.”
Dan Hotek, a local engineer, and Jeff Hotek’s brother would assist on the project. He provided School Board members with details on the project, including current photographs of the proposed location, possible designs, cost estimates, safety considerations, uses, and fundraising possibilities.
For instance, one design of the amphitheater shows a covered 40-by-24-feet elevated stage area at the hill’s bottom, with five tiers of rock wall seating in the hillside facing the stage. The seating is about 40 feet in length and the rows would be built about six feet apart, Dan Hotek said. There would be seating to accommodate roughly 120 adults or 180 children. Additional grass seating would be permitted around the stage and stone rows.
“If we do it right,” constructing the amphitheater “should have some draw” for tourism, as well as musical groups looking for venues to play, said Dan Hotek. “Ultimately, we need your go-ahead,” he told School Board members.
Superintendent Ballenger said the WCPS attorney will review the proposed agreement and then bring it before the Warren County School Board for action at a future meeting.
Board members already seem on board with the idea. James Wells, for instance, suggested an informal straw vote be taken as he’s ready to say yes to the project.
Front Royal Moose Lodge 829 supports Fire and Rescue initiative
Recently, the Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services partnered with the Front Royal Moose Lodge 829 to increase the safety and accountability of our local emergency responders operating on structure fire-type incidents.
Over the past several months, Warren County has worked alongside the Winchester City and Frederick County Fire and Rescue Departments to develop a regional workgroup. This workgroup was tasked with focusing on safety, accountability, and standardizing responses to emergencies in a regional concept.
“One of the first initiatives implemented by the workgroup was a regionalized Incident Command and Personal Accountability System Program. This program will focus on standardizing emergency operations of a fire incident, establishing incident command and personal accountability of all individuals on the incident throughout the region” stated Captain Zachary Burrows, who serves as Warren County’s representative on this workgroup. This initiative will require an unfunded mandate to change the style and design of our incident command boards to become compliant with the regionalized concept. As such, our department turned to the local community to seek alternative ways to fund this potentially live-saving program” Burrows continued.
“Upon hearing the need of our local Fire and Rescue Department, Lodge 829 was eager to assist in ensuring the safety and accountability of our firefighters and emergency responders while operating on an emergency scene. We immediately approved the appropriation of $3,500.00 of our Heart of Community Funds to support the Fire and Rescue Department” stated Wayne Sealock, Front Royal Moose Lodge Treasurer who coordinated the efforts on behalf of the lodge.
The safety and accountability of our emergency responders have been a top priority of Fire Chief James Bonzano and his leadership since taking over as Fire Chief of the department in January of this year. “These funds will be utilized to outfit all emergency response apparatus in our response system with regionalized incident command and accountability tracking boards,” stated Fire Chief James Bonzano. “Our career and volunteer responders have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to operate in a safe and accountable manner, these funds will provide the much-needed tools necessary to do just that” stated the Chief.
For more information on the Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Service or to learn how to join your community fire station, visit www.warrencountyfire.com
Royal Tint & Detailing opens in Front Royal
Nike Foster Cales of the Front Royal/Warren County Chamber of Commerce, along with fellow Chamber members, welcomed Greg Bell of Royal Tint & Detailing to our community. Royal Tint & Detailing is located at 507 N. Royal Avenue (at the Liberty).
Royal Tint & Detailing in protecting customers’ investments such as homes or vehicles by keeping them in good condition. The company’s professional technicians offer auto detailing, window tinting, and residential power-washing services with a guarantee. The trained and dedicated staff gives each car and house the attention it deserves while providing great customer service.
- Auto Detailing: Vehicles of all sizes get a thorough hand wash, cleaning, and waxing to help preserve their value.
- Auto Window Tinting: This service aims to block heat and upholstery-fading UV rays, reduce dangerous glare, and give a sense of privacy.
- Power Washing: Professionals give dirty decks, patios, driveways, and home exteriors a deep cleaning.