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Posted December 30, 2013 | Leave a comment
Year in review: Public safety officials busy with heroin, cigarettes, fires in 2013
By Joe Beck
Illegal drug and cigarette sales commanded heavy attention from public safety officials throughout the Northern Shenandoah Valley in 2013 along with a pair of murders that shook Shenandoah County and several fatal fires. Area fire departments found themselves putting out real fires and figurative ones in the form of the dissolution of one local department and a shortage of volunteers in many jurisdictions.
Law enforcement steps up efforts to curb heroin use and sales
A stunning increase in the number of heroin deaths and non-fatal overdose cases led to an expanded police crackdown on the drug throughout the area.
As of early December, law enforcement officials believed at least 20 people died from heroin overdoses and 100 more suffered non-fatal overdosesin 2013.
Authorities blamed much of the rise in addiction on former users of oxycodone and other prescription drugs turning to heroin. Traffickers shuttled between the Northern Shenandoah Valley and Baltimore, where heroin has been cheaper and easier to obtain and use than other drugs.
Law enforcement officials launched several major enforcement initiatives, including one in June that led to the arrests of 94 in Frederick, Shenandoah, Warren, Clarke and Page counties and area towns and cities.
Nicole Dawn Miller, 25, could become only the 41st woman executed in the United States after being charged with capital murder in the death of a 20-month-old toddler left in her care.
A criminal complaint states Woodstock police found the boy in Miller's apartment on June 3 with "numerous bruises on his face and body that appeared suspicious." Miller has contended the boy may have fallen off a bed or that he was pushed off the bed by her son.
The boy died two days later at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville.
Edinburg man charged with first-degree murder
Less than two weeks after police arrested Miller, Shenandoah County authorities arrested Claude Delmus Shafer Jr. and charged him with first-degree murder after a day and a half investigation into the death of Phyllis Henrietta Kline.
Deputies found Kline's lifeless body in her home. They had been summoned by members of her church who had become concerned when Kline did not appear at Sunday services. The church members went to her home and called deputies when they saw signs that something was wrong.
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner issued a preliminary finding that Kline was stabbed to death.
Security gets new attention after man with board unsettles school officials
The tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., had its own non-violent echo in Shenandoah County when a man made an unsettling entrance into a local school by the same name.
Shenandoah County deputies arrested Christopher Gerrit Johnson of Strasburg and charged him with disorderly conduct in a case that continued to linger throughout 2013. A jury trial is scheduled for March 14 in circuit court.
Johnson is accused of entering Sandy Hook Elementary School in mid-December 2012 - days after the Newtown school massacre - with a board bearing the words "high powered rifle."
Johnson's attorney, David Silek, has argued that his client's actions at the school did not constitute disorderly conduct and raised issues of freedom of expression.
Shenandoah County school officials conducted three public safety forums in early 2013 to hear ideas for school safety improvements from parents and other community members.
Former SAAA executive director Helen Cockrell pleads guilty to embezzlement
Helen Cockrell's guilty plea in mid-September to three counts of embezzlement involving the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging came after an investigation begun in August 2011 found irregularities in the agency's finances.
The ensuing turmoil led to staff reductions, financial turmoil and months of fear for the agency's survival that has abated in the last year.
Cockrell is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 10 in Warren County Circuit Court. Her plea agreement with the prosecution calls for two felony counts to be reduced to misdemeanors after a year if she performs 200 hours of community service, pays SAAA $10,674 in restitution and adheres to good behavior. The reduction to misdemeanors would be accompanied by the imposition of a suspended jail sentence.
Fires claim lives of area residents
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or email@example.com
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