After reading the second Warren County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) press release on the early morning, April 2nd traffic stop, physical seizure, and subsequent death of 77-year-old Ralph Ennis, Royal Examiner contacted Main Street Pawn proprietor Ralph Waller and his wife, Sue. It was the Waller pawn shop at which Ennis was located in downtown Front Royal on March 11 following an endangered, missing person report issued by Pennsylvania State Police was received by local law enforcement concerning Ennis. That release further indicated that involved Sheriff’s Office personnel “spoke with a local businessman who graciously offered to let Mr. Ennis stay at his shop until family arrived to assume care for him.”
Putting two and two together, we guessed that local businessman might be Waller. Ralph Waller and his wife Sue confirmed that it was them with whom Ennis was left on March 11 and that they personally knew Ennis prior to his recent contacts with local law enforcement.
As has been reported, including with accompanying FOIA-requested Front Royal Police Department body camera footage of Ennis’s violence-tinged taking into custody on April 2, Ennis died 13 days after his traffic violation stop by WCSO personnel after being in medical care at two hospitals and Blue Ridge Hospice in Winchester. Following his April 2nd taking into custody, Ennis was immediately transported to Warren Memorial Hospital (WMH) in Front Royal, then transferred to Winchester Medical Center (WMC) with what had been determined at WMH to be “signs of a hemorrhage within his head.” According to the initial WCSO release the arrest or “criminal investigation” process stopped when Ennis was transported to the hospital for treatment of his injuries.
He died at Blue Ridge Hospice Winchester on April 15. Results of an autopsy conducted by the State Medical Lab have not yet been released. Jennifer Smith, the Administrator at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Manassas told Royal Examiner that results could take 12-16 weeks, though her office hopes to have results within 90 days.
As has been reported by Royal Examiner among other news outlets from D.C. to Harrisonburg, the Virginia State Police (VSP) are investigating the circumstances of Ennis’s physical seizure and subsequent death; and a Special Prosecutor, the Prince William County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office, has been appointed should charges be filed following the conclusion of the VSP investigation into the behavior of officers at the scene on April 2 and the cause of Ennis’s April 15th death.
‘He was just an easy-going, sweet guy’
But who was Ralph Ennis? That’s what Royal Examiner set out to discover in contacting the Wallers. Yes, it has been reported that he was considered an “endangered missing person” who should not be allowed to continue driving when located on March 11 due to possible cognitive issues “consistent with dementia or Alzheimer’s,” as reported in the WCSO releases on the circumstance of his being taken into custody April 2. Ennis drew the attention of multiple WCSO units for erratic driving and a failure to initially pull over during what has been described as a “low-speed” traffic pursuit at from 63 to 40 mph in 55 to 45 mph zones beginning at 1:16 a.m. April 2. But what is the rest of the story?
“I’ve known him for 20 years,” Ralph Waller told us. “He came in here to the pawn shop – he knew another pawn shop owner that I knew from up in Manassas. He came down here, and he’d tell me about his friend up there, Dale. And I said, ‘Well, I know him’ and we started talking – and he’s been coming here forever.”
“He was a bricklayer, a hard-working bricklayer at that time,” Sue Waller observed of the Ralph Ennis they met two decades ago. “He was just an easy-going, sweet guy. He would look at you and kind of grin, and he’d say, ‘Can I buy some lunch for you?’ and we’d say, ‘No, can we buy it for you’.”
“Sue would be trying to take the guns and the jewelry and put it away. And he’d always come and get the box for her, take it over and put it in the safe for her,” Ralph observed of Ennis’s tendency toward helpfulness.
The Wallers called Ennis “a social person who really liked people,” which led him into forays in Flea Market sales. In fact, a mutual friend, Bill Barnett, who stopped by the pawn shop while we were talking, told a story about when Ennis decided to get out of his flea market endeavor. Barnett said Ennis decided to sell his trailers with various goods they were loaded with, and he decided to buy one. “I went to pay him and he said, ‘No, you’re a friend – I’m trying to get rid of this stuff and you’re helping me out, there’s no charge for you’.”
“Well, he asked me – ‘Do you like birds?’ and I said, ‘Yea, I love to watch the birds,’” Sue chimed in of that period, adding, “He brought in a really nice book on birds, and I said, ‘No, you can sell this at your flea market, and he said, ‘No, I want you to have it. So, he gave this book to me that I have upstairs. But that’s just the kind of person he was.”
Over the years, Ennis also became a regular figure at Bible Study classes that gathered in a portion of the Wallers’ downtown East Main and Chester Street property. “He’d get here early and he’d say, ‘Give me the keys and I’ll open up the door, I’ll be back here’.”
“He loved it when people came in, especially Bible Study. Everyone knew him, and it was like setting your clock on Sunday. He didn’t want to miss it,” Sue said.
Ralph Waller explained that at one point, Ennis had lived in Stephens City in Frederick County. Eventually, his wife, Linda, moved to Pennsylvania to be closer to family there, they said. According to the Wallers, Ralph Ennis had a home built for his wife to relocate to in Pennsylvania, putting the home in her name.
But with most of his interests remaining further south, Ennis first stayed in Maryland for perhaps a year, the Wallers said. “So, he would drive down here from there, near Breezewood,” Ralph said. Eventually he relocated at least part-time here, staying for about a month at the Baymont Inn on Commerce Avenue at East Main Street in Front Royal, living with his two cats, of whom he was very fond, the Wallers noted. In fact, they said that the time of the April 2 traffic stop, Ennis had his two cats travelling with him.
We asked the Wallers about their friend’s recent cognitive issues, leading to the March 11 endangered missing person alert in which it was instructed that when found, Ennis should not be allowed to continue driving on his own. Ralph began with a nod to the involved sheriff’s office deputies on that occasion. “They were very professional; the four people involved were nice and very helpful.
They asked him where he was and he said, ‘I’m at the pawn shop’ and they said, ‘Well, what town are you in?’ and he had a little trouble, he said, ‘I’m here, at the pawn shop’.
“His wife had called in the report and told them he shouldn’t be driving,” Ralph noted. “His son came up here on March 11th with the Senior Alert,” Sue noted of Ennis’s son Ian, who had visited them at the pawn shop earlier the day we spoke to them. Ralph noted that, “The deputy told me, ‘Don’t let him drive,’ and I said, ‘I promise you he won’t drive; I’ll give the keys to his son.”
Not being doctors, the Wallers expressed mixed feelings about their friend’s cognitive diagnosis as to an onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s versus possible mini-strokes impacting specific memory areas. “When we were in the hospital (with Ennis), he remembered the preacher’s mother – and that was four months before, when she was in Florida. He said to him, ‘Oh yea, did your mom ever get back?’ – How do you remember that if you’ve got dementia?” Ralph asked of Ennis’s ability to recall specifics from lone conversations several months earlier.
Sue recalled, “Our preacher, he (Ennis) had been up to his house one time, and he remembered how to get up there. He just went up there to visit and our preacher was mowing his grass and his lawnmower wasn’t very good and he said, ‘Well, I’m going to have to get a lawnmower,’ and (Ennis) didn’t say anything. But the next day, he came down from Pennsylvania – he went all the way to Pennsylvania and came back down with a lawnmower and gave it to him. That’s the way he was. He was very kind-hearted and soft-spoken,” Sue trailed off at the memory.
At this point, we broached the topic of the early morning April 2nd traffic stop and their friend’s death 13 days later after being in continued hospital or hospice care in the wake of the circumstance of that encounter with county law enforcement. Had they seen the FOIA-released Front Royal Police bodycam of the arrest, and if so what was their perception of what they saw?
“Have I seen it? Absolutely, I’ve seen it a hundred times,” Ralph replied.
“Yes, it made me cry,” Sue said softly.
Of his reaction to what he’d seen, Ralph said, “I was looking at it, and I was trying to figure out why they brought the dogs out. It looks like they could have just walked up and handled the deal. It’s sad from all standpoints,” Ralph said, pointing to possible youth and inexperience contributing to deputies’ actions in the early-morning traffic stop around 1:30 a.m. at the Crooked Run Plaza 7/11.
“You can’t categorize the whole group from that,” Ralph added of overgeneralizing departmental behavior, pointing to the above referenced “professionalism and helpfulness” the Wallers and Ennis encountered from WCSO deputies on March 11. “That was in the daytime; this happened at night,” he observed of varying circumstances between the two law enforcement encounters.
“But look, somebody’s got to take charge of the situation. And it looks like to me there was nobody in charge there … I wonder who gave the order to tackle him,” Ralph said of the second phase of physical contact between deputies and Ennis that sent the two involved deputies to the ground on top of Ennis and left his back-of-head wound diagnosed at WMH as “signs of a hemorrhage within his head.”
“I’m telling you, I can see this scenario with these young guys out there – somebody gives them an order and they think ‘we’ve got to be aggressive’,” Ralph observed. But from this reporter’s few viewings of the FRPD bodycam footage, no clear audio of orders being issued were apparent leading to either physical confrontation with Ennis, the first leading to Ennis’s face being slammed with an audible thud into his 2016 Ford pickup truck, leaving his face bloodied, as he is being cuffed.
“They’re out there trying to do their job – they don’t know who it is,” Sue offered of the southbound Route 522/340 late night low-speed chase of someone not immediately responding to the pull-over notice of flashing lights behind them. – “But once they saw him, it looks like they could have,” again she trailed off, perhaps silently reflecting, “handled it differently.”
A Salute to General Daniel Morgan: Virginia’s Revolutionary War Hero
Honoring a Legend: SAR Dedicates Plaque at the Historic Burwell-Morgan Mill.
Millwood, Clarke County, Virginia – General Daniel Morgan, a stalwart of the American Revolution, was honored with a dedication ceremony hosted by the Colonel James Wood II Chapter of the Virginia Society Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) on 15th September 2023. The picturesque Burwell-Morgan Mill served as the backdrop for the event, with a bronze plaque celebrating the General’s extraordinary life taking center stage in the meadow.
Daniel Morgan’s journey from a young New Jersey lad to a Virginia legend is one for the books. As a youngster who could hardly read or write, he ventured to Virginia, making the Shenandoah Valley his home. From his humble beginnings as a teamster to playing a crucial role in the War for Independence, his life was nothing short of extraordinary. Morgan’s resilience was evident when, after receiving a near-fatal injury from an ambush outside Fort Edward, he carried the scars and stories proudly. His tactical brilliance shone brightest at the Battle of Saratoga and later, Cowpens, setting the stage for Cornwallis’ eventual defeat.
The event was a grand spectacle, with the Virginia SAR State Color Guard presenting colors and dignitaries from various societies paying their respects. Marc Robinson emceed, while Paul McComb undertook chaplain duties. The guest list was illustrious: Mid-Atlantic District Vice President General James Engler, Sr; Virginia Society SAR President Ernie Coggins; representatives from DAR and C.A.R., among others. Dale Corey painted a vivid picture of Morgan’s life after which numerous SAR Societies and DAR Chapters presented wreaths in the General’s honor.
As James Graham, Morgan’s biographer, once wrote, his “strength and spirit, his frank and manly bearing, his intelligence and good humor” made him beloved by many. This sentiment echoed throughout the ceremony as attendees remembered the General’s influence on the colonial victory.
The event reached its crescendo with Anita Bonner and Jocelynn Wilson leading the attendees in a rendition of “God Bless America,” culminating in a musket salute by the Virginia State Color Guard.
In an era where heroes often emerge from the pages of fiction, General Daniel Morgan’s story stands as a testament to the mettle and spirit of real-life warriors. This dedication serves not only to commemorate his incredible life but also to inspire future generations to value sacrifice, strategy, and resilience.
In From New York State Larry Tuttle Sr. Steps to the Plate, I Mean McDonald Federal Trial Witness Box
With the federal criminal prosecution of Jennifer McDonald again on hold, this time from Tuesday, September 19 through Friday, September 22, if not longer, due to what was described by the prosecution as an “unexpected health issue,” we decided to fill the gap with a recounting of earlier testimony this writer witnessed in the wake of his own testimony of Wednesday, September 13. As previously reported, McDonald is charged on 34 counts related to the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (FR-WC EDA, EDA) “financial scandal,” as it has come to be known. Those charges include bank fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and aggravated identity theft.
As reported in my lead story on my two days, September 12 and 13, in the 10th Western District of Virginia federal courthouse, among the other witnesses scheduled that day after my testimony was Larry Tuttle Sr. Tuttle identified himself as defendant Jennifer McDonald’s stepfather George Hassenplug’s cousin. He is a resident of Monroe, New York, he told the prosecution during direct examination. He also noted that he was last employed in 1993, before being in “a terrible car accident,” after which he has survived on Social Security disability benefits of about $1700 a month, he said in response to a direct examination question. Spending some time near Tuttle and what I believe was his wife in the courthouse third-floor hallway prior to either of our testimonies, I could see that he had some difficulty moving around, rising, and sitting back down.
As I watched his testimony following my own, the prosecution’s interest in Tuttle soon became apparent. He testified that as a favor to his cousin, George Hassenplug, he had signed some apparently partial real estate documents sent to him at his New York home during the time frame coinciding with some of the Jennifer McDonald real estate transactions that later came under legal scrutiny as allegedly involving misdirected EDA assets. Tuttle testified that while he knew who Jennifer McDonald was due to his cousin’s relationship with her by marriage to McDonald’s mother, that he did not know her personally and had never met her.
Asked if he was close to his cousin George Hassenplug, Tuttle replied that he “had been” from the 1990s to 2017 and that they had talked on the phone three to four times a week regularly during that period. Tuttle also testified that he didn’t own, nor was he invested in any property. As for real estate experience, he noted that he had a mortgage on a home prior to his accident.
Prosecution counsel asked Tuttle if he knew William “Billy” Biggs or had ever discussed business opportunities with him. Biggs was a long-time Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors member and treasurer during and prior to McDonald’s EDA executive directorship, circa 2008 to 2018. Tuttle replied “no” to both questions, the second one on the “business opportunities” query after a defense objection was overruled by Judge Elizabeth K. Dillon.
Tuttle was then asked a series of questions, many about loans apparently attributed to him involving real estate transactions involving the defendant. Had he ever loaned $3 million to facilitate a real estate transaction brought to him by his cousin? Tuttle laughed as he said, “No.”
Had he ever loaned $1.9 million to McDonald’s Da Boys LLC real estate company? This one drew a somewhat nasally laugh accompanying his “No” response, leading to an apology to the court for snort-laughing his answer, which drew some sympathetic laughter from the jury.
Tuttle was also shown a “Death Settlement Agreement” with his name on it — “I’ve never seen this before in my life,” he testified. Another “No” followed a question about a $1.75-million loan on mortgages.
If I heard correctly, Tuttle estimated he currently had $29 in his savings account, leading to his level of amusement at the financial questions being asked of him, particularly his loaning large amounts of money to facilitate real estate transactions.
Tuttle did say, however, that a portion of paperwork regarding a Buck Mountain Road transaction sent to him attracted his attention enough that he asked his cousin George Hassenplug if he should sign it. He said he was told that he shouldn’t worry, that “the deal will fall through in a couple of months.” Asked if he was involved in a $1.95-million loan related to that sale, he again replied, “No.” It might be recalled that the Buck Mountain Road transaction involved another witness that day in court, William Vaught Jr. That transaction saw the sale and repurchase of that property at an approximate $600,000 loss to the buyer in under a month, as the deal apparently did “fall through,” as predicted by George Hassenplug to his cousin.
William Vaught Jr.’s testimony indicated he was told that ITFederal principal Truc “Curt” Tran was initially involved in that projected purchase but had later backed out. It is believed that the Aggravated Identity Theft federal charge against McDonald involves Tran’s assertion his name was forged in documents related to this real estate transaction. This reporter did not see Tran’s testimony due to his status as a pending witness at the time of that testimony.
Back to Tuttle’s direct examination, he was asked if he had ever received money from Jennifer McDonald. “No,” came his now familiar reply. Had he received $560,000 related to a Rileyville Road transaction? Once again, the answer was “No”.
Asked about his signature on a $1.075-million loan, Tuttle replied that he did not believe it was his. He observed that he “wrote a lot neater” than the signature on the document. He added that it was possible it was his signature, but he doubted it and did not recall signing that document.
Near the end of his direct examination, Tuttle was asked if he’d ever received money for his willingness to put his signature on the documents sent to him by his cousin. “No,” he replied. How about “gifts?” came the follow-up question, to which he responded in the positive, citing what he estimated as a $10 T-shirt sent to him. That led to the prosecution’s introduction of Exhibit 534, a photo of that T-shirt which had “That’s Mr. Tuttle” and letters appearing to be “COTB.” Asked the meaning of the T-shirt lettering, Tuttle said he was told it meant “Taking Care Of Business or something to that effect.”
On a brief cross-examination, the defense raised the specter of a Little League baseball game he had attended at which he had been asked to leave by an umpire after questioning ball and strike calls involving a nephew. The “That’s Mr. Tuttle” on the T-shirt was a reference to his responding, “That’s Mr. Tuttle to you,” to the umpire, defense counsel asserted. Tuttle said he had been asked to leave the game but denied that he had responded, “That’s Mr. Tuttle to you,” to the umpire.
And with that and a brief re-direct examination to clarify a date on one of the documents shown him, Larry Tuttle Sr.’s turn at the plate, I mean on the witness stand, ended.
Rabies Outbreak Detected in Front Royal’s Feline Population
Warren County Health Department Issues Directives on Containment and Prevention.
A recent incident in the Oregon Hollow Road area of Warren County has sounded the alarm bells for local pet owners and animal enthusiasts. A feline displaying signs of rabies infection was detected, prompting immediate action by the Warren County Animal Control Deputies.
On September 14, 2023, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office attended to an animal control call involving a seemingly ill feline. The on-scene Animal Control Officer found a confined cat among several others on the property. The complainant highlighted a troubling trend: people frequently desert cats in the area.
The caged feline’s behavior raised suspicions of a potential rabies infection. This suspicion was later echoed by a local veterinary clinic, where the cat was taken for a professional opinion. The unfortunate confirmation led to the feline’s humane euthanization, and its samples were sent to the Warren County Health Department for further testing.
By September 20, the grim results were in. The Warren County Animal Control Officer received confirmation that the feline was indeed infected with rabies. Given the severity and potential spread of this disease, the Warren County Health Department acted promptly. They issued a directive that, for public safety reasons, all remaining cats on the property would be trapped and humanely euthanized.
The Warren County Sheriff’s Office has since amplified its efforts to spread awareness. Residents are urged to update their pets’ rabies vaccinations and to exercise caution, especially around unfamiliar animals that may exhibit erratic or unusual behavior.
Rabies, a potentially fatal disease, poses a severe threat to both animals and humans. The quick response by Warren County Animal Control highlights the significance of early detection and intervention. As the county grapples with this challenge, collaboration and vigilance among residents will be paramount. Warren County’s residents are encouraged to stay informed, taking the necessary precautions to ensure their safety and that of their beloved pets.
Michael S. Williams Receives Prestigious 2023 Community Builder Award
Unity Masonic Lodge No. 146 Honors a Community Pillar.
In a heartwarming ceremony, Michael S. Williams was recently presented with the 2023 Community Builder Award. Acknowledging his unparalleled contributions to the betterment of the community and his dedication to nurturing young minds, Williams’s recognition came as a testament to his tireless efforts.
Jennifer Knox, Principal at E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School, initiated the event, expressing her gratitude for the presence of all attendees, specifically highlighting the Early Act Program. “It’s evident just how much you all cherish the moments you spend at the school with Mr. Williams,” she stated, reflecting on the evident warmth and respect the community holds for him. Knox, not missing a beat to praise the initiative, shared her appreciation of the program during a recent district board meeting, emphasizing the positive impacts it has brought about.
The highlight of the event was the words from Will Bryan of the Unity Masonic Lodge No. 146. Taking a jovial moment to impersonate Michael, Bryan, amid laughter and playful banter about misplaced glasses, transitioned to the reason for the gathering. Addressing the young attendees, he sought acknowledgment for the deep respect and appreciation the community holds for Williams. By the sea of raised hands, it was evident Michael was indeed a beloved figure.
The Community Builder Award, Bryan announced, was being presented to Michael Shawn Williams for his “outstanding service to the community.” The accolade didn’t just commend his services but recognized the profound impacts of his efforts, making the community a more vibrant, cohesive space for everyone. The gesture, from Unity Masonic Lodge No. 146, underscored the value of individuals like Williams in the broader fabric of the community.
Closing his tribute, Bryan added a personal note, reflecting the sentiments of many present. “We appreciate you,” he began, his voice holding a mixture of gratitude and admiration, “I am a better man because I’m around you.”
Michael S. Williams’s receipt of the 2023 Community Builder Award was more than just a ceremonial recognition. It was a moment of collective gratitude from a community that has benefited from his unwavering dedication and service. In the words and gestures of both young and old, one thing was clear: Michael S. Williams’s impact resonates deeply within the hearts of many.
A Tale of Two Visions: Butler’s Achievements vs. Cline’s Commitments
Butler and Cline: Two Distinct Visions for a Safer Warren County.
In a riveting forum, Warren County citizens gathered to hear from two stalwart contenders, Mark Butler and Crystal Cline, both vying for the coveted position of Warren County Sheriff. With a term lasting four years, the stakes are high, and the commitment deeper.
Crystal Cline, having served the Front Royal Police Department for over two decades, began with a heartfelt thank-you to the chamber for facilitating the forum and the community for their presence. She reminisced about her deep roots in Warren County, highlighting her involvement ranging from the Mom’s Club to coaching the traveling volleyball team. Cline’s main thrust was the need to restore leadership and integrity to the role of sheriff. She voiced concerns over the dissolution of the Animal Control Division and the pressing need for dedicated School Resource Officers (SROs). Most poignantly, she discussed the department’s retention issue and the imperative of a full staff. Addressing Sheriff Butler’s claim about a massive drug bust, Cline firmly stated that such an incident hadn’t transpired in Warren County and stressed the significance of integrity in leadership.
On the flip side, Sheriff Mark Butler, the incumbent, recounted the tumultuous period four years ago when Warren County grappled with a major scandal. He emphasized the changes he had championed during his tenure, such as attaining the accreditation that was lost in 2019, introducing community policing, and enhancing safety – all while lessening the taxpayer’s burden. One of his crowning achievements, he mentioned, was the confiscation of 77,000 fentanyl pills last year, which he tied to a broader narrative on the devastating drug epidemic. Butler concluded by affirming the commitment of his department to the Constitution and the rights it guarantees to the citizens.
As November 7th approaches, the air in Warren County is thick with anticipation. With two distinctly passionate perspectives on the table, the choice voters make will significantly shape the future of the county’s law enforcement.
District 31’s Destiny: Foreman, Morrison, and Oates Lay Their Cards on the Table
A Night of Passionate Pitches: Who Will Lead the 31st District Forward?
The auditorium was thick with anticipation as three formidable candidates – Steve Foreman, Grace Morrison, and Delores Oates – took to the stage, each presenting their visions for District 31 in the House of Delegates.
Grace Morrison, a compelling independent contender, has deep ties to Warren County, having moved there in 2011. Living atop a picturesque hill with her family, Morrison is firmly grounded in the community. Underscoring her desire to provide genuine representation for District 31, she spoke about the importance of unfettered and unrestricted communication between delegates and the residents. A strong believer in the Virginia Constitution, she vowed to remain transparent and amenable, aiming to serve the people first and foremost.
Democratic hopeful Steve Foreman took the audience on a journey through history, recalling the legacy of America’s representative democracy birthed in the House of Burgesses. With a heart-centered on public education, Foreman is keen to recognize and champion the needs of teachers while also pushing for more competitive school funding. He emphasized the imperative for families to have a strong foundation, advocating for rights that range from fair wages to ensuring safety from gun violence. His commitment to unity, compromise, and the collective good was unmistakable.
Rounding out the trio was Republican nominee Delores Oates. Born and raised in the district, her profound connection to the community was palpable. Having served on the Board of Supervisors, she understands the intricacies of governance firsthand. Oates accentuated the importance of school choice and its potential to raise overall education standards. She also highlighted her commitment to preserving rural values, safeguarding elections, and defending the Second Amendment.
With such diverse perspectives and visions for the future of District 31, the citizens of Warren County face an important decision. As election day approaches, the anticipation grows, promising a pivotal moment for the district’s future.