Va. Senate hopes to ease reckless driving threat on some interstates

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WASHINGTON — Drivers caught traveling 11 mph faster than the speed limit on parts of Interstate 95, among other Virginia highways, would no longer come with the threat of jail time under a bill passed by the state Senate Tuesday.

Under current law, any speeding violation over 80 mph automatically becomes a reckless driving charge, a misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine, even if the posted speed limit is 70 mph.

The change, proposed again by Sen. David Suetterlein of the Roanoke area, would raise the automatic reckless driving threshold to 85 mph. It would remain reckless driving to travel 20 mph or more over any speed limit that is lower than 70 mph.

Although the Senate has supported similar bills since the legislature approved the 70 mph speed limits in 2010, such measures have died in the House.

The Senate voted 23-16 in favor of the bill in a vote that did not track along party lines.

“I hope the House now sees the wisdom of it,” Suetterlein said.

Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, whose district includes portions of Interstate 81, argued that the reckless driving penalties keep many people from driving faster than 80 mph, which keeps highways safer.

“When there’s a problem on Interstate 81, somebody dies a fiery death,” Obenshain said. “It is not a panacea, but it saves lives.”

Fairfax Sen. Scott Surovell, a lawyer who has represented drivers facing reckless driving charges, said the penalties that would remain — fines and points on a driver’s license — could still serve as a deterrent.

“I don’t believe that the fact that this is reckless driving versus speeding deters anybody from driving 80 versus 85,” Surovell said. “The people that come to me that are charged with reckless driving often have no clue they can go to jail for driving 81 mph on a road in Virginia. In most other states, this is not the kind of thing you can go to jail for.”

Sen. Dick Black, R-Loudoun County, called the threat of jail time for traveling 11 mph over a speed limit “fundamentally unfair.”

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At Metro’s Wiehle-Reston East station, weekend parking will stay free

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WASHINGTON — When Metro starts charging for parking on Saturdays in a few weeks, the Silver Line garage at Wiehle-Reston East will remain free.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to pull the garage out of the program, after previously failing to get an agreement from the Metro Board to keep all Metro parking in Fairfax County free on Saturdays.

“Wiehle station is really a great opportunity for us to continue to introduce people to the Metro on Saturdays by maintaining the free parking,” said Cathy Hudgins, Hunter Mill district supervisor and Metro Board member. “This is not an objection outright for all of the stations. … But at least until the [Silver Line] extension has been completed and some time there, I think this is still a good opportunity for us to introduce people to rail, and they get [to] use the free parking on Saturdays.”

The county has the authority to block the pilot program at Wiehle-Reston East because it owns the garage, even though Metro operates it, Metro spokeswoman Sherri Ly said in an email.

“Metro’s changes to parking fees and hours apply to Metro-owned garages and surface lots. The Wiehle-Reston East parking garage is owned by Fairfax County and is managed by Metro under the conditions set by the county,” she wrote.

Metro fully expects some version of the expanded weekday parking fee hours, Saturday parking fees and other efforts to squeeze more money from garages to continue in the budget year that begins July 1.

The pilot program testing the changes that begin Feb. 5 is designed to work out exactly how to apply the changes, and to identify a price point for weekend parking.

Fairfax County Transportation Director Tom Biesiadny estimates that about 700 cars would park at the Wiehle-Reston East garage each Saturday if the $2 parking fee were applied there. The weekday parking fee there is $4.95.

Other parking changes

On the Orange Line, the weekday cost to park at the usually empty West Falls Church lot will drop from $4.95 to $3 during the six-month pilot program, in an effort to draw more riders to the station.

Supervisor Linda Smyth hopes the word gets out on the change, because she does not believe many people are aware.

“I’m looking at things like the upcoming work on [Interstate] 66 when we’re really going to need to get people off of 66 and this may actually be a very good opportunity to get people back on Metro and into that parking garage as well,” she said.

The lower fee will also be tested in Landover, Maryland.

Elsewhere, Supervisor Jeff McKay wants to make sure the consequences of changes — like the significant expansion of stations with an additional parking fee for people who do not ride Metro — are fully analyzed.

Franconia-Springfield is one of the many new stations where the additional fee will apply, which could increase costs for Virginia Railway Express riders who park at the station.

While McKay was positive about the reasons for many of the parking changes, he wants to ensure parking fees do not deter riders from using the Metro system.

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2 more teens arrested after man set on fire in Annandale

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WASHINGTON — Police in Fairfax County have arrested two more teens who they say beat a man in Annandale, Virginia, and then set his backpack on fire over the weekend.

The two teens are both 15. One was arrested Monday night and the other was arrested Tuesday morning, Fairfax County police said in a news release.

Police previously arrested a 14-year-old, who they said took part in the attack, as he fled the 4500 block of Commons Drive Sunday afternoon.

Police said they believe they have now arrested all the suspects involved in the attack on the man, who has only been identified as a 47-year-old Fairfax County resident.

All three teens face attempted robbery and malicious wounding charges.

Police said the man was initially sleeping when the teens set fire to his backpack. The man, who had burns on his clothing and his backpack, was treated at a hospital Sunday night and released.

Police have said they believe the teens were trying to rob the man’s backpack and were attempting to burn the straps off the backpack in order to steal it. Police said on Tuesday they do not believe the incident is gang-related.

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Virginia Senate passes bill to allow guns in churches

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The Virginia Senate has passed legislation aimed at allowing guns in church in response to a deadly church shooting in Texas.

The Republican-controlled chamber voted along party lines Tuesday to approve the measure, which would repeal a state law prohibiting weapons in a place of worship during a religious service.

A state Attorney General’s opinion from 2011 says current law already allows Virginians to carry guns in churches, subject to a church’s permission. But GOP Sen. Ben Chafin, the bill’s sponsor, said the legislature needed to clarify and cement the right to carry a gun in church into law if a church allows it.

Last year, a gunman opened fire during a Sunday service at a Baptist church in Texas, killing more than two dozen worshippers.

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Civil rights leader Wyatt Tee Walker dies; worked beside MLK

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CHESTER, Va. (AP) — The Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker, who helped assemble the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “Letter From Birmingham Jail” from notes the incarcerated King wrote on paper scraps and newspaper margins, has died.

He was either 88 or 89. Family records showed different years of birth, said his daughter, Patrice Walker Powell, who confirmed his death.

Powell said her father died Tuesday morning at an assisted living facility in Chester, Virginia.

Walker was brought in by King to be the executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, three years after the civil rights organization was founded.

He already was a top civil rights leader in Virginia, where he had led a “Pilgrimage of Prayer” in Richmond against school segregation on New Year’s Day 1959.

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Bobcat stuck in car grille gets checkup

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WASHINGTON — The wild bobcat that was struck by a car in Virginia and taken on a 50-mile ride after getting lodged in the car’s grille has just received another checkup and could be released back into the wild next month.

That’s according to an update on the website of the Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro. The center has been caring for the injured bobcat — officially known as Bobcat #17-2688 — since she was struck in November and suffered a fractured jaw, bruised lungs and cuts to her back.

The cat was recently sedated and underwent a complete set of radiographs, blood work and urinalysis, according to the Jan. 23 update. The X-rays revealed the cat’s jaw fracture has fully healed, meaning the cat is ready to eat whole food again.

Before, the cat had been subsisting on what are known as rat slurries — essentially rat smoothies — and center staff said they noticed she had been looking a little thin.

“While the cat has been readily eating her diet of rat slurries as her jaw fracture healed, the liquefied diet offered in captivity hasn’t quite kept the bobcat’s weight steady,” the center wrote in the update.

In the coming weeks, the bobcat will be offered a variety of whole prey while the center’s staff monitors that she is successfully transitioning away from her liquid-based diet. Center officials say they hope to released the “feisty” cat back into the wild by late February.

The bobcat was struck last year on Thanksgiving Day by a woman driving from Gloucester County, Virginia, to her workplace in Richmond.

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Felines were airlifted from island in frozen Chesapeake Bay

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TANGIER, Va. (AP) — The National Guard had to fly groceries to an island in the Chesapeake Bay when December’s cold snap froze the water. But there was another mission underway: helping the island’s homeless cats.

The Baltimore Sun reported Monday that last month marked the first-ever “cat lift” from Virginia’s Tangier Island. The island’s estimated 500 felines outnumber humans in this isolated fishing and tourist community.

Helen Woods, a flight instructor from Laurel, Maryland, said she asked fellow pilots to bring cat food and possibly rescue some cats. One resident had just died, leaving 14 cats homeless.

Four pilots went. One was 70-year-old David Johnson of Baltimore. He flew two cats to a Maryland animal shelter in his Grumman Tiger airplane.

He said it was fitting, a “cat rescuing a cat.”

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Mountain Valley Pipeline clears another regulatory hurdle

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ROANOKE, Va. (AP) — The federal government has approved preliminary construction for parts of the Mountain Valley Pipeline in West Virginia. The 300-mile natural gas pipeline would also run through parts of southwestern Virginia if it’s fully approved.

The Roanoke Times reported Monday that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s approval was limited to work on access roads and construction yards in West Virginia. But it marked the first time the line met all requirements for preliminary construction anywhere along its proposed route.

FERC has yet to take a similar action for the Virginia section. It would pass through the Roanoke and New River valleys.

The preliminary greenlight was a step backward for pipeline opponents in Virginia. Legal challenges are pending. And at least two state agencies have yet to sign off on it.

___

Information from: The Roanoke Times, http://www.roanoke.com

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Teen accused of killing girlfriend’s parents ordered jailed

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FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) — A Northern Virginia teenager charged with killing the parents of a girl he had been dating is being held at the county’s juvenile jail after being released from the hospital.

Friends and family say the parents, 48-year-old Scott Fricker and 43-year-old Buckley Kuhn-Fricker, intervened in their daughter’s relationship with the 17-year-old boy after learning he espoused neo-Nazi philosophies.

Police say the teen, whose name has not been released, entered the Frickers’ home last month and shot the parents and then himself.

The suspect, from Lorton, had been under police guard while in the hospital recovering from his injury.

On Monday, Fairfax County Police said the teen appeared via teleconference for a detention hearing, and a judge ordered him held at the juvenile facility while he awaits trial.

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Court to hear appeal from man on death row in police slaying

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A federal appeals court is set to hear the case of a Virginia man who was sentenced to death for killing a police officer in 2005.

Thomas Porter was convicted of capital murder for shooting Norfolk police Officer Stanley Reaves three times in the head.

Porter testified he shot Reaves in self-defense because he feared for his life during an encounter with the officer. Prosecutors said Porter shot Reaves because he had an outstanding warrant and knew he was committing a crime by carrying a gun.

Porter’s lawyers argue that he was convicted and sentenced to death by a biased jury. The defense cites a juror who improperly failed to disclose that his brother was a deputy sheriff.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear arguments Tuesday.

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