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News
Mt. Vernon welcomes new U.S. citizens July 4th

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — Lance Cpl. John Ramirez knows what it’s like to have a loved one taken away.

Ten years ago, guerrilla fighters in Columbia abducted his uncle, taking him away from Ramirez and his family. It was a trying situation, one that left Ramirez thinking that he would never see his uncle again, he said.

But by the “grace of god” Ramirez’s uncle was returned to him, he said.

His family then came to the U.S. in 2000. Ramirez became a Marine in 2007.

On Sunday on the Fourth of July, at the home of this nation’s first president, he became a U.S. citizen. (more…)

News
Heat wave takes aim at region

STAFFORD COUNTY, Va. — After an Independence Day weekend with relatively low humidity, Mother Nature will drive the mercury back up across the region this week.

The National Weather Service has placed most of the Washington area, including Fairfax, Prince William and Stafford counties, under an excessive heat advisory until late Wednesday. Temperatures are expected to shoot above the 100-degree mark this week, up to 103 in some places, according to the weather service.

It’s going to get even hotter in places to the west, along Virginia’s Interstate 81 corridor, according to the weather service. (more…)

News
Fire officials warn of illegal fireworks danger

Elliott Winstel and Amanda Howland shop for fireworks in North Stafford. (Photo:Mary Davidson)

Amanda Howland and Elliott Winstel visited a roadside fireworks stand in Stafford County late last month. They asked the stand attendant, who set up shop at the corner of Va. 610 and Shelton Shop Road in North Stafford, if they had mortars.

Mortars, often used by professional pyrotechnic companies hired to produce large fireworks displays, are illegal in Virginia.

And that’s what the shop keeper told them, so they settled on buying a less powerful collection of fireworks which the shop keeper had in stock.

Fire chiefs across the region last week said the best way to see fireworks is to attend a professional display.

But if you plan on using illegal fireworks, officials say they will take your fireworks, write you a summons or both. (more…)

News
Bus fares to rise next week

Get ready to shell out more change to ride buses in Prince William County.

Starting July 6, fares on all Potomac and Rappahannock Transportataion Commission buses will go up, meaning that bus riders will pay more to get to work or to ride around town. (more…)

News
Fairfax sex assault now linked to Harrington case

Morgan Harrington, 20, disappeared last fall at a concert in Charlottesville. Her remains were found on a farm outside the city in January.

There appears to a new lead in the case of slain Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington.

State and local investigators say forensic evidence has linked her case to that of a woman who was abducted and raped in the City of Fairfax in 2005.

Harrington is the 20-year-old Roanoke woman who disappeared outside of a Metallica concert at the University of Virginia’s John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville last October.

After a police search, her skeletal remains were found in an Albemarle County farm outside the city in January. (more…)

News
Update: Missing woman found near home

UPDATED AT 10 A.M.: A woman who was missing from Fairfax County was found this morning near her home.

After search and rescue teams mounted a search this morning near the woman’ s home in the 2600 block of Arlington Drive, just six miles north of Ft. Belvoir, they found her at the end of her street, according to Fairfax police.

Police were concerned because the woman has a medical condition and had not been seen since Sunday afternoon. (more…)

Traffic
VRE offers free rides after massive delays

Fredericksburg line train 309, coming from Fredericksburg to Washington’s Union Station, was late making it back to pickup passengers for its 5:15 p.m. departure from the Washington rail hub.

After completing it’s midday run as train 301, which left Union Station at 12:55 p.m., the train encountered problems on its return trip south of Franconia, said VRE spokeswoman April Maguigad.

When it reached Union Station, passengers boarded, but the train and left about an hour late. (more…)

News
Boat sinks into Occoquan

A boat that began taking on water sank in the river.

Jeff Frederickson watched a boat sink into the Occoquan River on Wednesday morning.

“It was about 11 a.m. when we noticed its port side sinking into the water, and then the bottom of the boat lift up against the dock,” said Frederickson, the dock master at Fairfax Yacht Club.

The unattended 35-foot boat started taking on water, and then its left side tilted down allowing it to sink five feet to the bottom. No one was on board and no injuries were reported.

The boat then began leaking gasoline into the river, then Fairfax fire and rescue officials and the Coast Guard were called.

Fire officials floated booms in the water to contain the gasoline seeping from the boat, said Frederickson. They look much like the booms now being used off Louisiana’s gulf coast to contain the massive BP oil spill.

Frederickson also used “oil pads” Wednesday afternoon that float on top of the water to help soak up the gasoline. He said there were no signs of oil leaking from the boat.

 The Coast Guard also used ties to secure the right side of the boat, which was exposed from the water, to the boat dock to keep it from sinking further.

It’s estimated the sunken boat caused about $5,000 damage to slip where it was docked.

Divers will be called in Thursday to place objects described as pillows that will placed under the sunken craft. They will be inflated with air, which will help right the boat. It will will then be lifted out of the water, said Frederickson.

The sunken boat drew the attention of others at the yacht club.

“Sure the boat has sunk, but everything seems to be OK, and were glad to hear it’s not oil thats leaking out; just gas, and it’s OK because gas evaporates,” said Joe Policastro of Fairfax.

*This story originally appeared on PotomacLocal.com on Wednesday June 16, 2010.

Traffic
Plan to use taxes to build HOT lanes explored

Photo: Mary Davidson

Commuters use a busy Interstate 95 near Woodbridge on a weekday morning. Photo: Mary Davidson

Taxpayers could get a bill for the cost to build High Occupancy Toll lanes on Interstates 95 and 395.

Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean T. Connaughton said his office is reviewing plans which explore the financial viability of converting HOV lanes between Dumfries and the Pentagon to toll lanes, and then extending then south to Stafford and Spotsylvania counties.

Part of those plans, presented by the Virginia Department of Transportation at Connaughton’s request, include slapping taxpayers with a portion of the construction costs for the proposed lanes.

Another scenario has two private firms, Texas-based Fluor, Inc. and Australia’s Transurban, which would operate, maintain and profit from the lanes for up to 80 years, harboring all of the construction costs, said Connaughton.

VDOT’s plans could become public in the next few weeks, after they are reviewed the Federal Highway Administration, said Connaughton.

The renewed interest in building the lanes follows a combined $20,000 donation from Fluor, Inc. and Transurban to the Virginia GOP last month, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.

After giving $25,000 to Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell during his 2009 campaign, Fluor, Inc. also donated $15,000 to McDonnell’s inaugural committee in January, according to VPAP.

In addition to donating to R. Creigh Deed’s gubernatorial campaign last year, Fluor, Inc. has donated $13,500 to state Democrats so far in 2010, VPAP showed.

The I-95 / 395 HOT lanes project was put on hold in August when VDOT said Fluor Inc. and Transurban couldn’t come up with enough private investors for the project.

Then Arlington County sued state and federal officials claiming that required environmental impact studies needed before the lanes could be built were not done, and that the lanes would adversely affect residents who live along I-95.

Arlington leaders last fall courted Prince William County officials about joining their suit, but they declined after reading the suit’s allegations that only rich, white suburbanites from Stafford and Spotsylvania counties would benefit from the new lanes.

*This story originally appeared on PotomacLocal.com on Tuesday June 15, 2010.

News
Report finds failings after campus shooting

Jason Michael Hamilton was charged in a December 2009 shooting at Northern Virginia Community College’s Woodbridge campus.

School officials in a new report say there was a delay in communicaiton following a shooting at a Woodbridge community college campus in December.

After shots were fired at Northern Virginia Community College off Neabsco Mills Road on Dec. 8, it took up to 40 minutes to send voice and text messages to students, faculty and staff informing them of the shooting, and telling them to shelter in place, according to The Fortnightly.

No one was injured, but systems put in place after the deadly 2007 Virginia Tech shootings  – such as a designated operations room that was supposed to provide access to computers, phones and television news channels – were not utilized, the newspaper reported.

The report also shows there was limited access to security camera feeds, and that Prince William police – who were called to immediately after the shooting – were not able to get into the campus’ police office, which hindered their ability to get keys to classrooms, and the get the building’s floor plans which were later used in a campus-wide search to ensure everyone had evacuated.

Jason Michael Hamilton, who was 20 at the time of the shooting, is set to appear in court Aug. 16 on an attempted murder charge in connection to the shooting.

Police say the shooter used a high-powered rifle that was purchased at a nearby sporting goods store. After walking into the school building, the gunman then walked into a fourth-floor classroom and fired two shots at a math professor who was standing just feet away from him. The teacher was able to evade the shots, the gun jammed, students fled and the shooter surrendered to police.

*This story originally appeared on PotomacLocal.com on Monday June 14, 2010.

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