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Posted January 1, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Year in Review: Violent crime, fatal fire top public safety stories for 2012

By Joe Beck

The Northern Shenandoah Valley's biggest news in crime, courts and public safety during 2012 ran the gamut from the unsolved slaying of a Winchester newspaper reporter to protracted legal battles stemming from accusations of fraud and other financial improprieties at the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging.

There was also a near-fatal stabbing in Linden, a deadly Winchester house fire that took the lives of two children and the shooting death of a Woodstock man during a struggle with law enforcement officers.

Area reporter's death classified a homicide

The Fauquier County Sheriff's Office classified the death of Winchester Star reporter Sarah Libbey Greenhalgh as a homicide within a few hours after her body was discovered July 9 during a fire at her home on Dunvegan Drive in Upperville.

The case has remained under investigation with no arrests or publicly identified suspects. An autopsy report concluded that Greenhalgh, 48, died of a gunshot wound to the neck.

Police said Greenhalgh was last seen alive by acquaintances the evening before her body was discovered in the fire.

Man brings board labeled "high-powered rifle" into Sandy Hook Elementary

Law enforcement officials arrested Christopher Garrit Johnson on Dec. 19 and charged him with disorderly conduct after they were called to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Strasburg to investigate a man with a 2 x 4 board labeled "high powered rifle."

Authorities said Johnson carried the board into the school through a front door and walked into the central office before he encountered school officials and was taken into the principal's office.

A criminal complaint against Johnson states his actions spread "fear and panic among school staff and administration." School officials said Johnson did not have any interactions with students during his time in the buildings.

Shenandoah County Public Schools Superintendent B. Keith Rowland said new safety measures will be considered when the school system's safety committee reconvenes in 2013. Meetings with parents on school safety are also being planned, he said.

Sandy Hook Elementary School bears the same as the school in Newtown, Conn. that was site of a mass shooting a few days earlier in which 26 students and educators died.

Powerful storms pass through valley

A pair of powerful storms rocked the Northern Shenandoah Valley in 2012, part of a broader trend of unusually severe weather that plagued the East Coast.

Both the derecho storm on June 30 and July 1 and Superstorm Sandy in late October inflicted less damage on the region than other areas that were more directly in their paths. But their effects were still felt by local officials and utilities that were forced to respond to the high winds and heavy rain.

Shenandoah County officials estimated about $20,000 in costs linked to debris disposal and paying overtime to municipal workers as a result of the derecho. Front Royal and Warren County officials said their costs would be no more than $10,000 in each of their jurisdictions.

Utility companies such as Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative reported much higher costs to restore power to customers affected by the derecho.

Front Royal officials estimated that Sandy dropped 3 ¼ to 3 ¾ inches of rain and collapsed many trees and limbs.

Sandy was also blamed for a power outage in Woodstock and flooding that washed out parts of some streets in Strasburg.

Two dead in Christmas Eve murder-suicide

Two men, members of the same family, died of gunshot wounds in a Christmas Eve murder-suicide on Christmas Eve in the 5100 block of Main Street in Stephens City.

Frederick County Sheriff's Office investigators identified the men as Charles David Jenkins, 56, of Round Hill Park Road, Toms Brook and Burley Dale Puffinberger, 24, of Main Street, Stephens City.

A news release from the sheriff's office said Puffinberger was declared dead in the parking lot of Clem's Garage where he had pursued Jenkins and shot him twice before killing himself with a single gunshot. Authorities said Jenkins was Puffinberger's father-in-law, and the two had an antagonistic history.

Jenkins died of his wounds at Winchester Medical Center later in the evening, according to the news release.

Bank robber who shot at police gets six life terms

A bank robber involved in a shootout with Winchester police in 2011 was sentenced to six life terms and ordered to pay $27,000 in restitution on Oct. 17 .

James Louis Whittlesey, 53, was sentenced after pleading guilty to five counts of aggravated bank robbery, two gun counts and one count of attempted escape from custody.

Whittlesey, who robbed banks in Pennsylvania and Delaware, hit the United Bank at 1041 Berryville Ave., Winchester, on Oct. 14, 2011. He was finally caught in December 2011 in Canada and was extradited.

Woman stabbed at Apple Mountain Lake

Sheriff Daniel T. McEathron praised bystanders who came to the rescue of a woman during a stabbing in the Apple Mountain Lake subdivision on Aug. 14.

The stabbing left Lakisha Henry, 33, of 90 Rambo Court, Linden, in critical condition at Inova Hospital in Fairfax, where she was transported by helicopter from the roadside crime scene on Apple Mountain Road just north of Interstate 66. She survived what McEathron described as numerous stab wounds and was released from the hospital several weeks later.

Her husband, Ricky Brian Henry, 32, also of 90 Rambo Court, was charged with attempted murder and aggravated malicious wounding.

An eyewitness to the stabbing reported three or four men fought Lakisha Henry's assailant and held him off while others cared for her in the minutes before sheriff's deputies and paramedics reached the scene.

Barton Garihan Jr., who lives nearby, described a scene with "a tremendous amount of blood all over her, him and on the ground."

McEathron called the actions of Garihan and other bystanders "encouraging and gratifying."

"They did something to help the victim and keep the aggression from continuing," McEathron said.

Legal battles intensify, then fade, in SAAA financial crisis

The financial crisis that rocked the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging in 2011 spilled into the courts in 2012 with mixed results for the agency and two former executives who filed lawsuits in connection with their dismissals.

The agency board voted to settle a lawsuit and countersuit involving Helen Cockrell, its former executive director, who was fired in September 2011.

Board chairman John Hudson cited mounting attorney and accounting fees and a likely lack of return on the costs of continuing the lawsuits as the main reason for settling with Cockrell.

Meanwhile, the Virginia State Police launched a criminal investigation into whether fraud or other kinds of white collar crime may have been committed at the agency. The state Department for the Aging triggered the investigation when it turned the results of its own investigation into the SAAA over to the state police. Warren County Commonwealth's Attorney Brian Madden was still awaiting the final results of the investigation as the year drew to a close.

The agency won a tentative victory on another legal issue when a judge dismissed the complaint in a lawsuit filed against the SAAA by another former executive who was fired around the same time as Cockrell.

Ann T. McIntyre, the agency's director of development, sued for more than $2 million, claiming agency officials had defamed her in statements to newspaper reporters by falsely connecting her to suspicious expenditures and money management practices at the agency.

McIntyre revived the lawsuit by filing an amended complaint that remains active in circuit court.

Boyce gets 20 years in crash that killed family

A man convicted in the drunken-driving-related deaths of a couple and their two children was sentenced in September in Frederick County Circuit Court to a total of 20 years in prison on four counts of aggravated involuntary manslaughter, plus several lesser charges.

Retired Circuit Judge Benjamin Kendrick imposed the sentence on Steven A. Boyce 22, of 221 Hawk Trail, Shawneeland. Boyce's convictions stemmed from a fiery vehicle crash on June 26 at the intersection of Martinsburg Pike and Interstate 81.

Amanda and Mark Roe and their children, Caleb and Tyler, died in the accident.

Test results later showed Boyce had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.33 percent at the time that his Chevrolet S10 pickup truck rear ended the Roe family's Jeep Cherokee sport utility vehicle, according to evidence presented at an earlier court hearing.

Fire takes lives of two Winchester children in their home

Two small children died in the second floor bedroom of their home in Winchester during a fire on Aug. 23.

The victims, 4-years-old and 6-years-old, died as heavy smoke filled the second floor, and attempts by family members to rescue them failed.

Firefighters arrived at the home of James C. Jenkins and Shannon Berg at 210 Summit Ave. around 9:40 p.m. and used a ground ladder to rescue an adult male through a second floor window. One adult was taken to Winchester Medical Center for treatment of burns and later taken to a Washington, D.C. burn unit.

Neighbors said the 4-year-old boy, Braydon, was days away from starting kindergarten and the 6-year-old boy, Landon, was about to enter first grade.

Prosecutor says police acted properly in shooting knife-wielding man

Shenandoah County Commonwealth's Attorney Amanda Wiseley concluded that the shooting death of Woodstock man while he struggled with four law enforcement officers was a proper use of force.

Wiseley said she would file no charges after reviewing the results of a state police investigation into the death of William Henry Long, 34.

Long slashed Deputy Tom Frazier across the neck with a knife as Frazier and three Woodstock officers tried to bring him under control on the front porch of 330 Shaffer St., according to police accounts. The struggle ended when Frazier fired two shots into Long's upper chest, authorities said.

Police said one of the Woodstock officers, Heath Painter, was cut on the arm during the confrontation. Officer Matt Rhodes suffered hearing damage when Frazier fired his gun close to Rhodes's head, Wiseley said.

"Mr. Long was repeatedly given commands to drop the knife," Wiseley said. "He was fighting the officers. He would not drop the knife. He continued to struggle with the officers."

Sheriff Timothy C. Carter said Frazier "came within an inch of his losing life" as a result of Long slashing at him with the knife

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com

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