Caroline County made national news in 2013 with the sentencing of a bus driver and a teen suicide and made international news with the burial of a Boston Marathon bomber.
The county was in an uproar in May, when suspected Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev was buried in a private Muslim cemetery in the Dawn community.
Sheriff Tony Lippa and Floyd Thomas, chairman of the Caroline Board of Supervisors, fought to uncover the truth of the burial, as well as if any laws had been broken by placing the remains in the cemetery.
After an investigation by the Caroline County Sheriff’s Office, it was concluded that Tsarnaev had been buried legally. As outraged as local residents were, there was no basis to remove the remains.
James Lafferty, chairman of the 200-member Virginia Anti-Shariah Task Force (VAST) reached out to the federal government to resolve the final disposal of the body by disinterring the body and shipping it back to Russia where Tsarnaev originated. To date, the remains are still in Caroline County.
Some estimate that the last time Caroline got this much worldwide media attention was in April 1865 when John Wilkes Booth was shot in the neck in Caroline County near Port Royal, where he died three hours later.
BUS DRIVER SENTENCED
The driver of a discount passenger bus that crashed and killed four passengers in Caroline County at 5 a.m. on May 31, 2011 was given a six-year prison sentence on Jan. 23.
Kin Yiu Cheung, 38, of Elmhurst, N.Y., was convicted of four counts of involuntary manslaughter in November 2012, and he could have been sentenced up to 40 years in prison. However, under the punishment handed down by Caroline County Circuit Court Judge Joseph Ellis, Cheung will be incarcerated only six years because of his previously clean record and his remorse.
“You have wiped from this planet four good souls,” Ellis told Cheung through an interpreter because his primary language is Cantonese. He also told Cheung he was “not evil” but instead had made a “bad choice” in deciding to continue driving for over an hour, knowing he was too sleepy and tired to drive.
The judge read an earlier statement from Cheung that said, “My mind thought I could complete the trip, but physically I couldn’t. Four people lost their lives due to my inability to use good judgment. I often wish it had been me who died. May my soul be forgiven.”
The judge told Cheung, “You will be haunted for the rest of your life.” The mothers, brothers, sisters, grandparents and children of the four dead passengers will be haunted too. Those four won’t be around to celebrate “birthdays, Christmas or Easter but you will because you won’t be in prison the rest of your life.”
Minutes before, Cheung read slowly in English a note, saying, “I want to apologize to all the passengers…I want to extend my most sincere respect and apology to those who lost loved ones…I would give any one of them my own life” in place of their loved one.
TWO HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS DIE
The deaths of two Caroline County high school students this year was also a great shock to the community, and was a loss felt by the entire county.
Thomas Wendell Wheeler, 15, of Ruther Glen, a 10th grader at Caroline High School, died on Oct. 15.
Wheeler went into cardiac arrest during gym class at the high school. He was rushed to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. No blame has been placed on school staff for the death of the 10th grader, though the coach at the time of the incident has since resigned.
Ciera Moore, 14, a ninth grader at Caroline High, took her own life on Oct. 21. A Richmond TV station aired an interview with the student’s friend who said bullying was a contributing factor in the suicide, but other sources say that other factors were involved.
The high school held a remembrance ceremony for Moore in November. School officials, students, family members, and friends came together to celebrate the life of the girl.
Community clergy rallied together locals to come out on Nov. 3 at 5:30 p.m. and pray for the county schools, students, principals and staff members. Afterwards, the group of 800 circled the entire school building and held hands in prayer.
SCHOOL UNIFORMS PROPOSED
The idea of countywide uniform implementation for Caroline public schools has also been a source of debate between residents.
In November, the Caroline county School Board put on its first uniform forum to discuss the possible implementation of uniforms within the school system next year.
Many county residents remained opposed to this idea. Students oppose the mandated uniforms because they feel it will suppress their sense of individuality.
Some parents worry that uniforms might cost more than regularly clothes, but school officials have said uniforms are cheaper. School officials favor uniforms because they will believe uniforms will improve the image of Caroline public schools.
Those in favor of the proposed change, including Mayor of Bowling Green David Storke, suggest that uniforms will improve student moral and reduce distractions. Storke and a group of business owners approached the school board in early 2013 and suggested uniforms. The school board is expected to announce its decision in April.
SCHOOL BOND REFERENDUM PASSES
In the midst of negative news, there is always the hope for positive change. In November, 81 percent of Caroline residents voted yes for a $26.3 million school bond referendum.
Close to $21 million will go toward renovating and expanding Caroline High and $4 million will go toward improvements and expansions for Madison Elementary School. The other $1.3 million is set aside for the cost of issuing the bonds.
Some of the improvements that will be made to the high school include replacing the roof and windows, adding new classrooms, and renovating some old classrooms, replacing lighting and HVAC systems, and upgrading the electrical systems.
Madison Elementary is looking at the addition of new classrooms; computer labs, expansion of lobby area and cafeteria, and the construction of a new paved bus drop off/pick up area, and paving the parking lot.
THERAPIST CONVICTED OF ABUSING CHILDREN
Another court story that got widespread media attention was about Scott Gordon Henry, 67, of Richmond, who pleaded guilty to three charges of aggravated sexual battery and one charge of taking indecent liberties. He was sentenced to 13 years in June.
Henry was a former licensed therapist working for a Caroline counseling center. He confessed to sexually abusing two boys in elementary school, and a 48-year-old intellectually challenged man.
Even while serving time in jail, Henry made the news again. He used a bed sheet to hang himself while incarcerated at Pumunkey Regional Jail in October. He was taken to a hospital after workers at the jail revived him. He was then placed on life support, but died at the hospital a few days later.
PORT ROYAL BOUNDARIES EXPAND
The Caroline County Board of Supervisors approved the proposed boundary line adjustment for the Town of Port Royal in November. The final proposal for the boundary line was a product of a work session held in October between the Port Royal Town Council and the Board of Supervisors. A compromise was finally reached after much debate, which satisfied both town officials and landowners who will be affected by the change.
The town’s boundaries will be drawn approximately 500 feet west of the highway. This is about a quarter of the land west of U.S. 301 that the town had wanted to incorporate in the beginning of the negotiations.
By incorporating this new territory into its borders, the town will pull in businesses along U.S. 301 and U.S. 17, and the revenue they generate through business taxes will go to Port Royal instead of Caroline County. By expanding its current 78 acres, the town will bring in about $60,000 more revenue annually.
COUNTY OFFICIALS BUY NEW RADIO SYSTEM
In May, the Board of Supervisors agreed to contract with Motorola for a $6.2 million public safety radio system to comply with a mandate from the Federal Communications Commission to narrow band the radio signal.
The new system involves the latest computer technology, transmission tower equipment, and hundreds of portable radios. School bus drivers, school administrators, law enforcement officers, fire and rescue, and public utility workers use the county’s current radio system.
With the county’s old system, 82 percent of the county has radio system coverage at any given time. However, the number drops to 42 percent with some of the hand-held radios. Motorola said its system would provide 95 percent coverage or better.
FARM BUREAU BUYS STATE FAIR
The Virginia Farm Bureau Federation took over full ownership of the State Fair of Virginia and The Meadow Event Park, located in Doswell, in May this year.
Farm Bureau had owned 50 percent of the fair since July 2012. Universal Fairs held the other half of ownership. The two groups worked together to bring the fair back to life after its bankruptcy.
Universal Fairs agreed to sell the remaining ownership of the fair to the Farm Bureau so the organization could more effectively fulfill its mission of promoting agriculture. The Farm Bureau has also purchased the Virginia Equine Extravaganza.
The Meadow Event Park, birthplace of famed racehorse Secretariat, is now the permanent home for the three-day equestrian trade show.
CHRISTIAN BOARDING SCHOOL COMES TO CAROLINE
Abundant Life Academy (ALA), a Christian boarding school that serves troubled teens, was given the go-ahead by the Board of Supervisors to open a facility in Caroline County in July.
The school had entered requests for a special exception permit to use the former Remuda Ranch facility as the grounds for the academy.
Residents were less than thrilled about the idea of a facility for troubled teenagers when representatives of ALA first came to the county with their proposal in 2012. ALA officially opened their doors to students on Sept. 11. The grounds of the property include a lake, equestrian center, gymnasium, chapel, kitchen, and dining hall, and it is handicapped accessible.
The school is being used as a therapeutic environment for teenagers. The teens that are enrolled at ALA are academically unmotivated, have experimented with sex, alcohol, or drugs, rebel against parents, reject their Christian upbringing, or exhibit other problem behavior.