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Between substantial upgrades to emergency systems, a few noteworthy crimes, and the changing of the guard in some of Fluvanna’s top positions, the county had a busy 2017. Here’s a look at the big news story for each month in the year.



Final suspect arrested in burglary, shooting that shut down county

The Fluvanna County Sheriff’s Office announced in January that they arrested the fourth and last person wanted in the Nov. 18, 2016, shooting and burglary at a private garage on Lake Monticello Road that shut down Fluvanna County.

The accused are Gary N. Blowe, Jr., 31, of Virginia Beach; Dante Givens, 35, of Charlottesville; John Morton Abbitt, 36, of Virginia Beach; and Thomas A. Jackson, 36, of Charlottesville.

The unnamed property owner was transported to the University of Virginia Medical Center with non-life-threatening injuries.
All four suspects have been held at Central Virginia Regional Jail since their arrests over a year ago. They have not yet had their day in court.
The armed standoff resulted in the schools implementing a modified lockdown. Children remained at school for their parents to retrieve or rode home in buses that arrived well after dark.

Each of the four suspects was indicted by grand juries last summer on multiple felonies, ranging from malicious wounding to conspiracy to commit robbery.


Linda Lenherr, Fluvanna treasurer, released on bond

A judge released Linda Lenherr, Fluvanna County treasurer, on a $500 personal recognizance bond in February in connection with a charge of using confidential information for economic gain.

A jury found Lenherr not guilty at her August trial.

According to court records that stated the prosecution’s case against her, Lenherr cost the county $33,240 by waiving taxes, penalties and interest in an April 2015 sale of two properties to MCL Construction, Inc., a company owned by her son Michael Lenherr.

Lenherr testified that she had given her son the same service she would give to any Fluvanna taxpayer.

If Lenherr had been convicted of the first class misdemeanor, she would have faced up to one year in jail and up to a $2,500 fine.


Former teacher pleads guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a minor

A former Fluvanna County High School history teacher, James P. Small of Fork Union, pleaded guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a minor in Fluvanna Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court in March.

A charge of providing alcohol to a person under 21 was dropped as part of a plea deal. Small did not serve jail time. His 12-month jail sentence was suspended. He was ordered to stay away from Fluvanna County High School and the victim.


Chuck Winkler named superintendent

The Fluvanna County School Board voted unanimously in April to hire Chuck Winkler as school superintendent.

Winkler, former assistant superintendent for six years, had been serving as interim superintendent since former Superintendent Gena Keller stepped down in January to take a job with the Virginia Department of Education.

Winkler’s contract will run through 2021.


County joins school fiber network project

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors voted in May to move forward with a fiber network project that will connect key school spots onto the same network.

This project will result in fiber being laid near key county buildings. Because of this, the county can piggyback onto the project at a tremendously lower cost than if it undertook a fiber connectivity project on its own.
Supervisors therefore decided to connect the library, sheriff’s office, county administration building, Palmyra fire station, and social services building.

Federal and state money may help to significantly lower the cost of this project. Without any rebate, the total cost of the school project is $440,000. If the dollars come through, the cost will plummet to $88,000.

Owning its own fiber will allow the county to cut the amount it pays for internet to the tune of $24,000 a year. The project will therefore pay for itself in less than two years, and additional savings will continue to accrue.

Josh Gifford, IT director for Fluvanna County Public Schools, spearheaded the fiber network project.


Fluvanna firefighter killed in USS Fitzgerald collision

Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19, a Lake Monticello firefighter, was killed when the USS Fitzgerald, a 10,000-ton guided-missile destroyer, collided with the ACX Crystal, a 29,000-ton container ship off the coast of Japan in June.

Seven sailors died in the collision. The bodies of the missing sailors were found in flooded compartments on the destroyer.

Hundreds gathered at Fluvanna County High School to pay their respects to Gunner’s Mate Seaman Rigsby. Rigsby’s body was escorted by a procession led by at least a dozen law enforcement officers on motorcycles.

The funeral service lasted for just over an hour and was followed later by a private graveside service at an undisclosed cemetery.

A scathing final report released by the Navy in November cited poor training, poor communication, and fatigue as the major causes of the collision.


VDOT constructs county’s second roundabout

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) spent the month of July busily working on the county’s second roundabout at the intersection of Routes 15 and 53.

The roundabout has transformed the landscape of one of Fluvanna’s busiest T-intersections. During school and rush hour traffic, vehicles often remain stopped for several minutes. In the past, deputies would have to direct traffic during peak hours.

The roundabout cost $2.7 million and was funded by a combination of state, federal and local dollars. Fluvanna’s contribution to the project was $550,000.

Fluvanna’s first roundabout, at the intersection of Routes 53 and 600 (South Boston Road), was completed in 2013. Another roundabout is in the works for the intersection of Routes 53 and 618 (Lake Monticello Road). VDOT held a public hearing on the project in June 2017 and plans to authorize right-of-way in June 2018. VDOT will advertise the project in November 2019 and open bids in the spring of 2020. Construction of that roundabout may start in the late spring of 2020 and continue until the fall of 2021.


County beefs up emergency safety
Switches to new E911 radio system

After about 20 years of discussion and planning, Fluvanna’s new E911 radio system went live in August.

The $8.3 million system makes use of four county-owned towers: a 195-foot tower at the sheriff’s office, a 300-foot tower off Route 15, a 300-foot tower at the former Columbia Elementary School, and a 250-foot tower at the convenience center. Completing the system are two privately-owned towers: the 400-foot Dominion tower at Bremo Bluff and the 250-foot NCT tower off Route 6.

The county’s old radio system provided 35 percent coverage, which meant that in 65 percent of the county, emergency responders had spotty or even nonexistent ability to communicate with each other or to ask for backup, especially inside buildings. Fire and rescue personnel overwhelmingly supported the new system, which provides 99 percent coverage.

Approves new dispatch software
Supervisors voted in August to spend $460,000 on a new computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system that will facilitate reliable, faster dispatch to emergency situations. The current 14-year-old system is reaching the end of its useful life.

The CAD system includes new equipment, software, support, and 40 hours of training for each of the staff of 15 dispatchers. After the first year, the annual operating budget for the system will be about $45,000 a year.

The new system should be up and running this July.


Emancipation Proclamation monument to join Confederate monument in Civil War Park

The Board of Supervisors ended almost a year of debate by voting in September to place the county’s Emancipation Proclamation monument in Civil War Park in the village of Palmyra.

Determining the monument’s location was a complicated process. Supervisor Mozell Booker, the Board’s only African American member, continually advocated for placing the monument in Civil War Park, which houses a monument to Confederate soldiers and until September 2015 was unofficially known as Confederate Park.

Others, including Supervisor Mike Sheridan, called for placing the monument somewhere at Pleasant Grove, the county’s expansive park that, at one time, was a slave-holding plantation.

Plans for the memorial, created by the Fluvanna Historical Society, call for a 4-foot by 3-foot stone to be affixed with a brass plaque that reads a variant of: “To commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the American Civil War.”


Rivanna K9 Services won approval for its bid to buy the former Columbia Elementary School for $85,000 in October. The company, owned by Armin Winkler, trains dogs for military and law enforcement agencies.

Supervisors voted in September to sell the former Cunningham Elementary School to The Light Academy, a private Christian school, for $118,750.

In 2013 the Fluvanna County School Board voted to close Cunningham and Columbia Elementary Schools for budget reasons. The county took over management of the properties and tried for some time to sell them.



O’Brien re-elected supervisor; Stewart and Pullen elected to School Board

Rivanna District Supervisor Tony O’Brien won re-election in November to the Board of Supervisors over challenger Darrell Byers with 1,290 votes, or 59.8 percent, over Byers’ 855 votes, or 39.6 percent.

O’Brien joined the Board in January 2014 after his election the preceding November. His new term began Jan. 1 and will last four years.

Shirley Stewart won the Rivanna District seat on the School Board with 1,436 votes, or 67 percent, over candidate Tyler Pieron’s 685 votes, or 32 percent. Former Rivanna representative Carol Carr did not seek reelection.

Andrew Pullen won the Columbia District School Board seat with 817 votes, or 60.7 percent. Linda Staiger ran a write-in campaign for the seat. There were 529 votes for a write-in candidate, or 39.3 percent. Election data does not indicate whom the write-in voters named on their ballots. Former Columbia School Board representative Camilla Washington did not run for reelection.

Stewart and Pullen began their four-year terms Jan. 1.

Supervisor Mike Sheridan (Columbia), Supervisor Don Weaver (Cunningham), and School Board representative Charles Rittenhouse (Cunningham) ran uncontested races and won re-election for four-year terms that began Jan. 1.


Local public hearings ordered for Aqua rate increase

Aqua Virginia, the water and sewer provider for a significant chunk of Fluvanna’s population, is seeking to raise water rates by 11 percent and sewer rates by 5.4 percent, for a combined increase of 9 percent.

High water and sewer bills have been a bone of contention between the company and its Fluvanna customers for years. If the State Corporation Commission (SCC) approves Aqua’s request, the average household bill for Fluvanna residents who receive water and sewer service from Aqua will rise to $127.39 per month – an increase of 7.4 percent.

D. Mathias Roussy, Jr., SCC hearing examiner for the Aqua rate case, ordered in December that local public hearings on the rate increase take place at Central Elementary School April 5 at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Roussy also gave permission in December for Aqua to begin charging its new rates Feb. 10. If the SCC ultimately approves only part of the rate increase, Aqua must refund to customers the amount they overpaid, plus interest.

Aqua provides water and sewer service to nearly 5,000 homes, offices and other buildings in the Lake Monticello system. Lake Monticello, Sycamore Square, Nahor Village and Piedmont Village comprise the Lake Monticello system, which is Aqua’s largest system in the state. Census data leads Aqua to believe that the Lake Monticello system serves over half of Fluvanna’s population.

Aqua estimates that the average Lake Monticello system household uses 3,200 gallons of water per month.

Aqua also provides water to 40 locations in Columbia, 31 locations in Palmyra, and 28 locations in the Stage Coach neighborhood.