Crime victims honored for perseverance

By Heather Michon, correspondent

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors opened its Wednesday (April 3) meeting with a special award presentation in honor of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.

For victims, the crime itself is often just the start of a long journey – one that can require them to relive their trauma again and again as cases work their way through the justice system.

To recognize the sheer grit involved in seeing cases through to the end, Commonwealth’s Attorney Jeff Haislip and Victim Witness Coordinator Sherri Stader handed out the Lisa Black Victim Perseverance Award to survivors of two shootings that have taken place in Fluvanna in recent years.

“I absolutely love my job,” said Stader in her opening remarks. “I get to meet the most incredible, strong people in the world.”

Haislip first introduced Jackie Gillespie, a retired 33-year veteran of the Fluvanna County Sheriff’s Office and former Fluvanna sheriff who found himself in the middle of a gunfight one afternoon in November 2016.

Gillespie was helping his friends Garnette and Scott Bourne transport an old bus engine to the garage on Garnette Bourne’s property off Route 618 (Lake Monticello Road) when they were confronted by armed gunman Gary Blowe, who had been attempting to rob the apartment above the garage.

Blowe suddenly started firing at them. Showing “courage I don’t think I could summon,” Gillespie began returning fire, Haislip said, leaving several bullet holes in Blowe’s car as he fled the scene. If not for Gillespie’s actions, “Gary Blowe would have left three dead people.”

Haislip said Gillespie had worked closely with law enforcement and prosecutors as the case against Blowe and three other defendants moved through the system.

“The only thing I can say is: It was a rough day,” said Gillespie.

The second set of recipients included the survivors of an April 2017 incident on Hardware Hills Circle in Scottsville.

On the night of April 30, 2017, Michael Townsend was talking with his neighbor, Kimberly Clements, and her young son, Caleb. Suddenly, their neighbor Joe Roach began screaming obscenities and firing his rifle in their direction.

As Roach continued to fire, Townsend and Clements shielded 6-year-old Caleb with their own bodies to get him safely into the Clements’ home. Townsend returned to his home, where his wife, Judy Townsend, had alerted their daughter, Sarah Williams, who rushed to the house.

Williams was hit near the eye by a piece of shrapnel. Doctors later said she came within millimeters of sustaining a potentially fatal wound.

Sarah Williams, Kimberly Clements, and the Townsends persevered through multiple hearings, long delays, and a grueling day-long trial, but as a result, Roach “won’t be back in their neighborhood again,” Haislip said.

Gary Blowe was sentenced to 42 years in prison in May 2018; Joe Roach was given 58 years in November 2018.

The awards were handed out by Lisa Black, the survivor of a near-fatal crash caused by a drunk driver in October 2014. She was the first recipient of the award in 2017, and the award was then named in her honor.

Island Hill

Following the awards ceremony, supervisors moved through a light agenda. Chair Mike Sheridan (Columbia) and Supervisor Mozell Booker (Fork Union) were not in attendance. Supervisor Tony O’Brien (Rivanna) chaired the meeting.

Supervisors Trish Eager (Palmyra) and O’Brien attended a community meeting held by residents of Broken Island and Lake Monticello’s Riverside section over the proposed 49-unit Island Hill housing development near the intersection of Broken Island Road and South Boston Road (Route 600).

“I think the yield plan for Island Hill should be looked at very, very carefully,” said Eager, citing concerns over the parcel’s steep slopes and the small buffers between the proposed development and the existing neighborhoods. “These are things we should look at before we give it a seal of approval,” she added.

“I don’t think you have a seal of approval,” said County Administrator Steve Nichols. Approval of housing developments is an administrative decision.

Jason Stewart, director of community development, and County Attorney Fred Payne told the board that the developer had resolved several issues that came up in the initial application.

While the board may not be able to revisit Island Hill, Eager argued that “it’s time to take a fresh look at our ordinances.”

Nichols said there were potential tweaks the Planning Commission or the supervisors might be able to make to existing zoning ordinances in the short term while planning a comprehensive look in the future.

O’Brien said that most of the audience at the community meeting had seemed resigned to the idea that Island Hill was going to be built, but said the issues they raised might benefit the county in the future. “We’ll make better rural subdivisions going forward,” he said.

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