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WCSO announces arrests related to regional vehicular theft ring



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)

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Kwon’s Champion School in Front Royal announces second-degree black belt achievements



On Saturday, August 13, 2022, two Front Royal, Virginia natives achieved their second­-degree black belts in mixed martial arts self-defense worldwide.

Pearl W. Nickens Jr., age 69, and Aries W. Nickens Bolanos, age 13, attend Kwon’s Champion School in Front Royal. They study mixed martial arts under World Grandmaster H.Y. Kwon. Pearl and Aries have been studying mixed martial arts for over six years and have exceeded many expectations.

From left to right: Aries W. Nickens Bolanos, Grandmaster H.Y. Kwon, and Pearl W. Nickens Jr.

Grandmaster Kwon states that both students had almost perfect scores for passing. Pearl strives to accomplish every task set before him. He’s very open-minded, physically fit, and knows that martial arts are not just for fighting but for helping others in many different ways. Grandmaster Kwon then asked Pearl’s wife, Donna Nickens, and daughter, Dominique Nickens, “How much has Pearl changed?” They both stated that he’s become more passionate about working with others and more willing to listen to the situation before passing judgment. “Overall, he’s grown more than we ever thought he would.”

Grandmaster Kwon then talked with Aries, who asked his family about his schoolwork and listening. Aries spoke to his mother, Dominique Nickens, asking, “How often do I listen to you, Mam?” She then responded, “100% of the time.” “How is my schoolwork, Mam?” “School work is excellent. He’s got straight A’s and is in all advanced classes.” Grandmaster Kwon asked Aries’s grandparents, Pearl and Donna Nickens, “How much has Aries changed since he began?” They responded, “Aries is more respectful and open to trying new things. He stands up for all the little guys. He doesn’t like bullies and doesn’t let bullies pick on anyone when he’s around. He knows everyone deserves a chance in life, sometimes more than one.”

Grandmaster H.Y. Kwon’s Champion School teaches you many skills and techniques, such as self-defense, confidence, respect, and an all-around healthy way to express stress and manage weight. All goals are achievable if you take them one step at a time.

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Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Patient of the Week: Barred Owl



This is the difference a bath (or three) can make!

One of Loudoun County’s amazing Humane Law Enforcement Officers truly went above and beyond to rescue this Barred Owl after it was found down in a wastewater management facility.

Photos / Blue Ridge Wildlife Center

The owl was found covered in thick, slimy waste material. With soaked feathers, flight and thermoregulation (maintaining body temperature) was difficult to impossible for this bird. It is shocking that it was able to get out of the tank and onto land!

Upon arrival to BRWC, the owl was given fluids and warmed so that we could safely sedate for the first bath. Once bathed, we could see the burns on many areas of the skin from the waste material.

After three baths and lots of care, the patient was moved to an outdoor enclosure. The team still monitored the owl closely as its burns healed and it worked to recondition its feathers.

After five days in care, we are happy to report that this patient had a successful recovery and has been released!

We are lucky to have so many amazing animal control officers in our area who help rescue wildlife everyday – special thanks to Officer Bremy of Loudoun County Animal Services for this amazing rescue!

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.

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Medical Examiner: Ralph Ennis died of ‘natural causes’



On Monday, August 15, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Manassas released the cause and manner of death for Ralph Ennis, 77, who died on April 15, 13 days after a traffic stop by the Warren County Sheriff’s Office during which he was injured and then hospitalized.

In an email response, Arkuie Williams, Northern District Administrator of Virginia’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner told Royal Examiner that: “The cause of death is complications of Alzheimer disease, cerebral amyloid angiopathy, and hypternsive atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. The manner of death is natural.”

Royal Examiner responded with the following questions to Williams:

“Does that rule out that his head trauma injuries suffered 13 days earlier had no impact on the below stated causes, most particularly cerebral amyloid angiopathy, and hypternsive atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease?

Front Royal Virginia

“Is there any possible debate that the brain bleed and shock-trauma of April 2, could have aggravated his pre-existing conditions and these combined natural causes of death? – Thank you for any clarification.”

Williams responded, stating, “Our office is unable to provide any additional information to the public. We are restricted to only providing the cause and manner of death for our death investigations.”

Several weeks prior to the traffic stop, Ennis had been the subject of a Silver Alert on March 11, 2022, following an endangered, missing person report issued by Pennsylvania State Police on behalf of Ennis’ wife, Linda. Deputies located Ennis in downtown Front Royal at his longtime friends Ralph and Sue Waller’s East Main Street pawn shop. The Wallers offered to let Ennis stay there until his son Ian could travel to Front Royal from his Staunton home and take his father home.

See: Who was Ralph Ennis? Local friends mourn the loss of ‘an easy-going, sweet guy’ – Royal Examiner

Mr. Ennis died on April 15 under the care of Blue Ridge Hospice in Winchester, where he had been transferred several days earlier by the affiliated Winchester Medical Center.

“All we know is he was in good health and he never got out of the hospital after that happened – and that’s a FACT,” Ralph Waller said of the Medical Examiner’s finding Ennis died of natural causes less than two weeks after his injuries incurred during the traffic stop.

Ralph Ennis in Winchester Medical Center, according to his visitors, about ten days after the traffic stop. Photo Courtesy Ralph & Sue Waller

Contacted, Ennis’ son Ian said he had received the medical examiner’s report but declined further comment at this time. Ralph Ennis’ wife Linda also stated that she had received the report today but had no further comment.


On April 2, 2022, Ennis was stopped by the Warren County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) for traveling eight miles over the speed limit and driving erratically on Winchester Road southbound toward Front Royal, the Sheriff’s Office stated in a previous media release.

The pursuit continued for about 3.75 miles, with Ennis eventually pulling into the 7-11 convenience store at 251 Crooked Run Plaza, where he parked his truck. By this time, the Sheriff’s Office release stated, “additional WCSO deputies and a Front Royal Police Officer were on scene, or just arriving as the high-risk traffic stop was underway.”

Video footage from the bodycam of a Front Royal Police Officer, who was called to assist with the traffic stop, shows the 77-year-old Ennis moving slowly toward deputies with his keys held out. A first deputy grabs Ennis and roughly pulls his hands behind his back cuffing him and slamming his head into his truck cab. A second Warren County Sheriff’s Office deputy then charges the scene, tackling both Ennis and the first deputy, taking both to the ground with the elderly Ennis on the bottom, apparently striking his head hard on the paved parking lot.

WCSO Major Jeffrey Driskill previously stated that Ennis was taken to Warren Memorial Hospital where Emergency Department physicians suspected “signs of an internal head hemorrhage” after which Ennis was transported to Winchester Medical Center. Driskill previously stated that Mr. Ennis was “exhibiting signs of cognitive issues consistent with dementia or Alzheimer’s.”

Former Northern District Administrator Jennifer Smith, of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, first told Royal Examiner in a May email, “This case is pending. Currently, cases are taking roughly 12 -16 weeks to complete, as with all cases the OCME goal is to complete them within 90-days.” Each subsequent inquiry regarding the status of the autopsy and lab tests yielded the same information.

Investigations status

The Warren County Sheriff’s Office has been tight-lipped regarding an internal investigation into the traffic stop. Sheriff Mark Butler previously told Royal Examiner that a “board of inquiry” comprised of WCSO senior officers and a member of an outside law enforcement agency had been formed, but no information has been released about who is on that panel.

After the traffic stop, one of the two involved deputies was reassigned to administrative duties; another was placed on administrative leave with pay. When asked if one or both of the deputies had left the employ of the WCSO, Butler declined to comment.

Contacted Monday by Royal Examiner, following the Medical Examiner’s release of information in the Ennis case, Sheriff Mark Butler stated, “My heart and prayers go out to all families involved in a trying time for all. The Warren County Sheriff’s Office will continue to work and hold itself in a professional matter at all times. “

When asked about the employment status of the deputies involved in the traffic stop, Butler stated that he could not discuss personnel matters.

Virginia State Police Investigator Adam Galton was assigned to investigate the circumstances related to the incident and subsequent death of Ennis. Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney John Bell referred the case to a special prosecutor; consequently the Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office is overseeing the VSP investigation and will decide whether to charge the deputies once the investigation is complete.

Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office Chief of Staff Anthony Kostelecky previously told Royal Examiner that he had no comment regarding the investigation or when it might conclude.

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Tree Stewards announce a welcoming addition to the Royal Shenandoah Greenway



If you drove along South Street in Front Royal last Friday or Saturday, you may have noticed a lot of activity along the section of the Royal Shenandoah Greenway that crosses Royal Plaza. On Friday, the crew from the Department of Public Works was busy digging holes in preparation for a major tree planting. On Saturday, August 13th, members of the Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee, the Front Royal Warren County Tree Stewards, the Front Royal Warren County Anti-Litter Council, and citizen volunteers came together to plant 18 Crepe Myrtles (Natchez variety) and 4 native SweetSpire shrubs along the greenway.

This idea to create a “boulevard” of trees sprang from a meeting in March, with groups sharing their missions and hopes for planting more ‘greenery’ along the Greenway. For this project, an allée of Crepe Myrtles was anticipated to be a win-win, creating a better experience for greenway users as well as beautifying both the Plaza and South Street that are so well-traveled by locals and visitors.

The project was made possible through funding from the Beautification of Front Royal Committee and with kind permission from the management of Royal Plaza. Jim Osborn, the Town’s Arborist, guided the project from tree selection to planting day, and the Public Works crew will follow up with watering needs to assure these new trees get off to a good start. The Department of Public Works also added an additional street light for safety along the path prior to planting. Our thanks to the DPW crew; Eric Ebling, Bill Simmons, John McDonald, Allen Pack and J’son McConnell.

Plans are underway for more collaborative projects of this type around Front Royal. We invite you to drive by South Street and take a look at this welcoming addition to our lovely town!

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A view from a bench on Main Street: Sue Laurence, White Picket Fence



On Saturday morning, our publisher Mike McCool joined White Picket Fence proprietor Sue Laurence on a bench in front of White Picket Fence, on the 400 block of Main Street in Front Royal, and discussed all the events going on in Front Royal this fall, from Octoberfest, Festival of Leaves and Zombie Walk to name a few – all happening in Front Royal.

The big news is the 50th Annual Festival of Leaves happening on October 14-15, 2022 in downtown Front Royal.  The Festival of Leaves has been reorganized and is now under the direction of the Front Royal Independent Business Alliance (FRIBA).

On October 14, 2022, the Town of Front Royal will kick off the festival with a “block party” at the Town Commons, providing music and fun for all ages. More information is available at There is still room for vendors, and applications are available on the Festival website.

Click here to find out more information on the 2022 Zombie Walk.

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VDOT: Warren County Traffic alert for August 15 – 19, 2022



The following is a list of highway work that may affect traffic in Warren County during the coming weeks. Scheduled work is subject to change due to inclement weather and material supplies. Motorists are advised to watch for slow-moving tractors during mowing operations. When traveling through a work zone, be alert to periodic changes in traffic patterns and lane closures.

*NEW* or *UPDATE* indicates a new or revised entry since last week’s report.

Mile marker 0 to 15, eastbound and westbound – Right shoulder closures for utility work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Saturday (August 13).

Mile marker 8 to 7, westbound – Right lane closures for utility work, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Saturday (August 13).

Mile marker 299 to 300, northbound and southbound – Right shoulder closures for utility work, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Saturday (August 13).

Route 55 (Strasburg Road) – Shoulder closures for utility work in the area of Route 664 (Whipporwill Road), 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. through Friday.

No lane closures were reported.

Vegetation management may take place district-wide on various routes. Motorists are reminded to use extreme caution when traveling through work zones.

Traffic alerts and traveler information can be obtained by dialing 511. Traffic alerts and traveler information also are available at

The VDOT Customer Service Center can assist with reporting road hazards, asking transportation questions, or getting information related to Virginia’s roads. Call 800-FOR- ROAD (800-367-7623) or use its mobile-friendly website at Agents are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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Thank You to our Local Business Participants:


Aders Insurance Agency, Inc (State Farm)

Aire Serv Heating and Air Conditioning

Apple Dumpling Learning Center

Apple House

Auto Care Clinic

Beaver Tree Services

Blake and Co. Hair Spa

Blue Ridge Arts Council

Blue Ridge Education

BNI Shenandoah Valley

C&C's Ice Cream Shop

Christine Binnix - McEnearney Associates

Code Ninjas Front Royal

Cool Techs Heating and Air

Down Home Comfort Bakery

Downtown Market

Dusty's Country Store

Edward Jones-Bret Hrbek

Explore Art & Clay

Family Preservation Services

First Baptist Church

Front Royal Women's Resource Center

Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce

G&M Auto Sales Inc

Garcia & Gavino Family Bakery

Gourmet Delights Gifts & Framing

Green to Ground Electrical

Groups Recover Together

House of Hope

I Want Candy

I'm Just Me Movement

Jen Avery, REALTOR & Jenspiration, LLC

Key Move Properties, LLC

KW Solutions

Legal Services Plans of Northern Shenendoah

Main Street Travel

Makeover Marketing Systems

Marlow Automotive Group

Mary Carnahan Graphic Design

Merchants on Main Street

Mountain Trails

National Media Services

No Doubt Accounting

Northwestern Community Services Board

Ole Timers Antiques

Penny Lane Hair Co.

Philip Vaught Real Estate Management

Phoenix Project

Reaching Out Now

Rotary Club of Warren County

Royal Blends Nutrition

Royal Cinemas

Royal Examiner

Royal Family Bowling Center

Royal Oak Bookshop

Royal Oak Computers

Royal Oak Bookshop

Royal Spice

Ruby Yoga

Salvation Army

Samuels Public Library

SaVida Health

Skyline Insurance

St. Luke Community Clinic

Studio Verde

The Institute for Association & Nonprofit Research

The Studio-A Place for Learning

The Valley Today - The River 95.3

The Vine and Leaf

Valley Chorale

Warren Charge (Bennett's Chapel, Limeton, Asbury)

Warren Coalition

Warren County Democratic Committee

Warren County Department of Social Services

Warrior Psychotherapy Services, PLLC

WCPS Work-Based Learning

What Matters & Beth Medved Waller, Inc Real Estate

White Picket Fence

Woodward House on Manor Grade

King Cartoons

Front Royal
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