Page Valley’s Top 10 stories of 2022

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Amelia Ruffner King
Amelia Ruffner King addresses the Page County School Board on Jan. 20, 2022.

By Randy Arrington

LURAY, Dec. 30 — It’s always amazing to reflect on how much takes place within 12 months in our small corner of the Shenandoah Valley. Although known as a quiet place to live still, the Page Valley had its share of memorable moments in 2022 — some monumental shifts that will have impacts for years to come, and others simply a flash point in history.

While attempting to log and rank the “top stories” of the year for Page County, we decided to create concepts that groups several stories into one general thought or category. Each “story” will be framed in this way. So, a particular ranking may include several stories, groups or individuals.

As our community does each year, we experienced a number of accidents or crime-related tragedies. We decided to mention a few of those stories at the top of our “Honorable Mentions,” but we did not attempt to “rank” which tragedy may have been better or worse than another.

The thing to remember about these types of lists — and news in general — is that it is subjective; what is an important story to one reader will be completely ignored by another. Everyone has their personal interests, and certainly their opinions. Page Valley News offers this perspective on 2022 as simply a retelling of the collective experiences the community shared in the past year. The particular order of their presentation does not strengthen or weaken their importance to the lives they touched.

In addition to a few “Honorable Mention” listings at the end of the story, we also included the actual Top 10 posts on our website, strictly in terms of hits/readers, as reported by Google Analytics.

For those who greatly disagree with the inclusion, omission, or order of any issues or incidents that occurred in Page County in 2022, consider posting an original Top 10 list or suggested changes in our comment section below.

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#1 ‘Every single gun loaded and ready’

““No mask mandates. My children will not come to school on Monday with a mask on, alright. That’s not happening. And I will bring every single gun loaded and ready…”

Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022 ~ Statement by Amelia King at a Page County School Board meeting

In the midst of a mask mandate fight at school board meetings across the Commonwealth and a new governor just taking office looking to reverse the policy, the words above would haunt a Luray parent who immediately regretted uttering them.

On Jan. 20, 2022, King addressed the Page County School Board during citizen comment period regarding Governor Glenn Youngkin’s Executive Order #02, which went into effect a few days later and removed a previous mandate for masking in Virginia’s public schools. While the local school board agreed and voted, 4-2, to immediately shift from universal masking used throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to a “parent choice” option, King spoke before the vote and insinuated that she would stand for nothing less.

Just over 24 hours after making the statements above, King, 42, was arrested by Luray police officers and charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor for making an “oral threat” to a school official on school grounds.

On June 30, Judge Collins ruled that the incident did not rise to the level of “threat” intended under this legislation, but the comments did meet the merits of disorderly conduct and prompted school officials to issue a public statement and strengthen security for several days.

“I find that the behavior was disturbing,” Judge Collins stated. “I have taken into consideration that you immediately apologized, but the court must take into consideration that the comments at the time were wholly inappropriate.”

King was sentenced to one year of probation for the disorderly charge (which was deferred for one year), 20 hours of community service to be completed before a review date in court on Dec. 29, 2022, and pay court costs of $91. King must then maintain good behavior and show”no further acts of aggression toward the school board” before returning to General District Court for a final review on June 29, 2023.

“There needs to be a few hoops to jump through to make sure this inappropriate behavior stops,” Judge Collins said, “but I also want to treat her the same as any other person who has said something in a moment of passion that they wished they hadn’t said.”

King maintained that she never meant any harm and was simply a victim of a poor turn of phrase.

“It was a metaphor. I regret it. I never made that statement with any other intention than to call the newspaper and get on social media…to call attention to the situation, if they were not going to uphold that Executive Order of the Governor,” King said. “Parent choice…as Govenor Youngkin suggested.”

The YouTube video of the Jan. 20 school board meeting has been viewed thousands of times, in addition to other social media channels that simply used a clip from the video and turned it viral for a few weeks earlier this year.

#2 Historic transition on the bench

““I believe in the rule of law, and I promise to follow the rule of lawPeople remember how you make them feel…and I’ve always tried to treat everyone fairly and with dignity, and I will continue to do that.”

Tuesday, May 31, 2022 ~ Judge Kenneth L. Alger II at his investiture in Page County Circuit Court

Several intertwined strokes of history transpired at the Page County courthouse this year that will have ripple effects for many years to come. Judge Dale Houff stepped down after more than two decades on the General District Court bench, which opened the door for former Commonwealth’s Attorney Ken Alger’s appointment to the bench by the General Assembly…which lead to former assistant commonwealth’s attorney Bryan Cave’s appointment as Page County’s top prosecutor.

In March, both houses of the General Assembly confirmed the nominations of five judges submitted by the legislative delegation of the 26th Judicial Circuit to fill vacancies within the region. Among those confirmations was Alger, who was appointed as a General District Court judge.

Houff was the last General District Court judge appointed to the bench who resided in Page County back in 2001. Judge Josh Robinson, who was appointed to the circuit court in the 1970s, was born in Page County in June 1923. Alger is believed to be only the second Page County native to receive a judgeship.

Nearly 150 crammed into the circuit courtroom to witness the May 31 special session of Page County Circuit Court presided over by Judge Clark Ritchie, who welcomed fellow judges, commonwealth’s attorneys, defense lawyers, state legislators, constitutional officers, county and town officials, and others.

“If this judgeship had been elected, I have no doubt in my mind that Ken Alger would have been overwhelmingly elected,” Virginia Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) said during the investiture, noting the high volume of emails he received in support of Alger’s confirmation. “It is clear evidence of how members of his community feel that strongly about Ken and have that much confidence in him and his ability to do this job.

“It’s important for each community to have a judge,” Obenshain continued. “Judge Houff has reflected the values of this community for a long time, and I have no doubt that Judge Alger will carry on those ideals.”

On June 10, a joint session of Page County courts recognized Judge Houff’s retirement from the bench and his portrait was hung in the General District Court room he presided over since his investiture in 2000.

“I didn’t see very many bad people,” the former district judge said of the many defendants that have stood before him over 22 years. “I saw a lot of good people who did a bad thing.”

Treating everyone the same and adhering to the rule of law have been mantras that guided Houff’s legal career since he passed the bar in 1975. His even demeanor and consistent acts of common decency — both in the courtroom and the community — have left a legacy of compassion and respect.

“The way you deliver [an opinion] and explain it, is as important as the decision itself,” Houff said. “I hope people felt like they were listened to…I always tried to be careful not to be disrespectful to people no matter how they expressed themselves.”

With Judge Alger’s ascension to the bench, Virginia Code dictated Cave’s swearing-in as Page County’s commonwealth attorney the day after Alger’s investiture. Cave had announced on April 22 at the GOP’s annual Lincoln Day Dinner that he intended to pursue the position during a special election in November to fill the remainder of Alger’s term. The June 1 appointment lasted through the end of the year, and his uncontested victory at the polls on Nov. 8 holds the constitutional office through Dec. 31, 2023. Another election for commonwealth’s attorney will be held in November 2023 for the next four-year term, which will run through Dec. 31, 2027.

Another milestone occurred at the courthouse when the Page County Adult Drug Treatment Court honored its first three graduates on Dec. 12. Ritchie, Alger and Cave played key roles in getting the program off the ground in 2021.

#3 Eclipse settles over solar farms

“It’s been a long, hard road for the county and citizens…congratulations to everyone who participated in the process. I think we’ve learned a lesson…I hope these lessons have been learned after four years because it could save the county a lot of money.””

Tuesday, June 28, 2022 ~ Rod Graves, of Luray Caverns, told supervisors during citizen comment

Over the past four years, the Page County Board of Supervisors and the Page County Planning Commission have discussed the potential for solar farms or the creation of a solar ordinance to guide such projects at nearly 120 different meetings. Citizens have made nearly 600 public comments on the topic, and at least a dozen or more votes have taken place related to solar farm applications, moratoriums on solar farm applications (or construction), a proposed solar ordinance, hiring a consultant firm to draft a solar ordinance, and advertising multiple public hearings on most of the above.

However, on June 28, four years of deliberation, debate, discussion, rewrites, corrections and legal review all culminated into a 17-page document that covers the gambit of issues related to energy-producing solar facilities, from rooftop panels on buildings to large-scale industrial operations spanning hundreds of acres. The ordinance aims to protect the interest of landowners and citizens by establishing requirements for construction, operation and decommissioning of solar facilities in Page County.

About six weeks later, Page County Zoning Administrator Tracy Clatterbuck received an email from Urban Grid’s Project Development Manager Rob Propes officially ending the four-year effort to build a 100-megawatt solar farm on 559 acres along Route 340 just north of Luray.

“Urban Grid is requesting that the Special Use Permit application for the Cape Solar, LLC project be withdrawn from consideration by the Board of Supervisors,” the Aug. 16 email from Propes reads. “Please let me know if you require any other information to formally withdraw the application.”

The Cape Solar project was initially introduced in 2018 and subsequently denied by the Page County Board of Supervisors. Urban Grid resubmitted the Cape Solar application on Dec. 11, 2020, and the county accepted it even though a moratorium on new solar farm applications was in place.

In March, the Page County Planning Commission unanimously recommended denial of the Cape Solar application based on “adverse impacts”. The loss of agricultural land and the impact on the natural landscape — along with a host of environmental concerns voiced by citizens for four years — were among the reasons given for denial.

“No, we do not anticipate a third application for Cape Solar,” the county administrator told Page Valley News. “Any new applications for solar would need to comply with the Solar Ordinance.”

#4 State runner-ups show dominance in female sports

“I think it will sink in a little later…I just wish I had one more game. I wish we could have finished this one out.”

Saturday, March 12, 2022 ~ former LHS standout Emilee Weakley following the Class 2 state championship

The loss ended a run of 69-5 over three seasons for the Luray High School girls basketball team. It was their third consecutive trip to the Class 2 state title game, but the Bulldogs would let a 10-point lead and a second-straight state championship slip through their fingers in the fourth quarter. The 62-59 loss to Central of Wise at VCU’s Siegel Center on March 12 stung for a team that ended the season at 27-3 and defeated almost every other opponent in the playoffs by deep double-digit deficits.

Senior Emilee Weakley ended a historic high school career with a third-straight nod as both Bull Run District and Region B “Player of the Year” and a second-consecutive selection as the VHSL Class 2 “Player of the Year.” Weakley finished her time at LHS with more than 2,600 points — fourth among the all-time scoring leaders for girls high school basketball in Virginia. Weakley is currently playing for Division II Frostburg State University, where in her first four collegiate games the Luray alum put up 98 points and 46 rebounds.

“We’re going to enjoy this win tonight, then we’re going to go eat and relax…and when we come out tomorrow, we will just do what we do. We want to win the next pitch, the next at-bat, and then just go from there.”

Friday, June 10, 2022 ~ PCHS softball coach Alan Knight after walk-off win in state semifinal over Dan River

The Page County Panthers softball team managed three walk-off wins in the playoffs before dropping a tough, 1-0, decision to defending state champion Appomattox in the Class 2 title game on June 11 in Salem.

In the previous day’s state semifinal in Salem, the Panthers faced a tough challenge in the Wildcats of Dan River (16-3), but managed to get eight hits off D-I Radford-commit Emily McVey. Those eight hits were spread out among seven Panthers, with senior second baseman Marrisa Monger the only player to muster a second hit (for either team) all day.

In the state championship, Page was silenced at the plate by D-I, University of Virginia-commit Courtney Layne who hurled her second perfect game in two days. Layne retired 21 consecutive batters, striking out 15. In the state semifinal, the senior retired 15 straight batters (6 Ks) as Appomattox defeated Randolph-Henry, 11-0, in 4-1/2 innings. Last June, when the Raiders beat the Statesmen, 1-0, for their first state title since 1987, Layne also tossed a perfect game.

Appomattox went to the plate in the bottom of the seventh with the score 0-0 and won the state championship against Page County in their final at-bat.

The Page County Panthers (19-8) capped off a tremendous season with a tremendous effort in the playoffs, posting three come-from behind victories to earn a Region B championship and Class 2 runner-up in the state tournament. Five of their eight losses this season came at the hands of larger (Class 3) schools. While the district tournament championship was canceled due to weather, the Panthers were also the Bull Run District regular season champions.

(Our apologies to Luray High School’s Davey Johnson, who finished as a state runner-up in Class 2 cross country, for his omission from this section. With a surge in female sports, we decided to recognize our state-runner-up girls as a group. We’re certain the LHS sophomore runner will give us more to celebrate over the next two years.)

#5 Remembering Officer Winum

“Nick loved our little town…Nick knew he was exactly where the Lord needed him to be.”

Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022 ~ Kara Winum, speaking to the crowd gathered at a memorial in Ed Good Park on the one-year anniversary of Nick’s death

A large crowd of state dignitaries, local officials, law enforcement officers, local residents, family and friends gathered at Stanley’s Ed Good Park on Feb. 26 to mark the one-year anniversary of the shooting of Dominic “Nick” Winum. The Stanley police officer’s death in the line of duty inspired speeches by state legislators, Virginia cabinet members, fellow officers and colleagues.

“My children like to pretend to be superheroes,” Congressman Ben Cline (R-6th Dist.) told the crowd. “I tell them the real heroes are our police officers and firefighters…Nick Winum was a true hero, and his memory lives on today.”

“His dedication to the department will be remembered through the retiring of his badge, the naming of the new police building and the new park that is to come,” Cline told the crowd. “To his fellow officers in law enforcement who are here today, let me say thank you, and may Nick’s commitment to service remain one worth emulating.”

Just prior to the Feb. 26 memorial, former New Jersey fireman Bill Levin approached the Stanley Council about his non-profit organization — “Where Angels Play” — partnering with the community to build a playground in Nick’s memory. Fundraising efforts continue with plans to begin construction this spring or summer.

In May, Stanley Police Chief Ryan Dean and Winum’s widow, Kara, traveled to Washington to participate in several events as a kick-off to National Police Week, May 15-21. During Friday night’s candlelight vigil, the name of “Dominic J. Winum” was called among hundred of others. On Saturday, Chief Dean and Kara took some time to visit the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial before the crowds came for an address from President Joe Biden on Sunday.

“It was easy to find Nick’s name [on the Wall] because our wreath was bigger than anyone else’s,” Chief Dean mused, referring to the wreath with bright, yellow flowers made for the special ceremony at the Pioneer Bank Performance Center in Ed Good Memorial Park on Feb. 26 at the one-year anniversary.

In November, the Page County Board of Supervisors reluctantly agreed — after a second vote — to approve a request by the Town of Stanley to petition the Commonwealth Transportation Board to name the newly constructed westbound lane of the White House bridge over Route 211 just west of Luray the “Dominic ‘Nick’ J. Winum Memorial Bridge”.

The White House bridge was chosen by the leaders of Stanley because “one of Dominic ‘Nick’ Winum’s favorite spots was to sit in the area of the White House Bridge where he could enjoy the scenic view of the Shenandoah River while patrolling U. S. Highway 211 West,” according to the resolution adopted by the Stanley Council and submitted to the board of supervisors.

Both resolutions adopted by the Town of Stanley and the Page County Board of Supervisors will be sent to the Commonwealth Transportation Board for final approval, which could take several months.

#6 Charge dropped against former finance director

“It’s like a factory worker who asks his supervisor, can I take this?…and being told ‘No’… then he walks out with it [later], and shows the supervisor…here’s the [item]…and the supervisor says ‘Okay’.”

Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022 ~ Judge Clark A. Ritchie during the trial of former county finance director Dennis Click

At question were more than $13,000 in payments from county funds made by former Page County finance director Dennis Click between June 21, 2017 and May 28, 2020 to Chardon State College for tuition, fees and access codes to online books so Click could pursue a masters degree. County Administrator Amity Moler testified in October that she was “shocked and disappointed” to discover the discrepancy in late May 2020 — about two months before Click’s employment in Page County was terminated on July 27, 2020 following the launch of a state police investigation.

However, defense attorney Aaron Cook of Harrisonburg presented 15 exhibits during the Oct. 4 proceedings that showed each of Click’s educational expenses were reviewed by staff in the Finance Department, signed off on by the county administrator, paid with checks signed by the county treasurer, and then unanimously approved on the monthly warrant list by the Page County Board of Supervisors.

During his motion to strike, Cook argued that nothing presented during the three-hour jury trial showed “evidence of false statements” or fraud, which are required under the statute. After dismissing the jury to discuss the procedural motion, Judge Ritchie peppered the commonwealth with some tough questions and ultimately agreed, citing a lack of evidence.

During the seven weeks between the discovery of the education payments and the end of Click’s employment in 2020, the county worked with its award-winning finance director and then-county attorney Nathan Miller to draft a Reimbursement Agreement for repayment of the “unauthorized” funds.

“Employee agrees to reimburse Employer,” the agreement continues, “for all expenses, fees and costs in the amount of [$13,268.61] which were billed to the Employer on behalf of the Employee in violation of Employer’s policies.”

Despite discovering the “unauthorized” charges and launching an inquiry, Moler stated that the board of supervisors did not take any disciplinary action or pursue charges because “they were very happy with the job he did and thought maybe he just misunderstood the education policy.”

Since the repayment agreement began in July 2020, Click has consistently made his monthly payments of $339.02, according to Page County Treasurer Penny Gray, who was also a witness for the commonwealth in the case. The reimbursement agreement calls for the debt to be paid off at 4-percent interest in 42 monthly installments with the amortization schedule attached to the agreement showing the final payment to be made on Dec. 1, 2023.

“There is no evidence that he ever made a statement that was false…he billed the County, and told the County what it was for…it was reviewed, dispersed and approved…and in this case, it was approved by the administrator who originally said it wouldn’t be approved,” Judge Ritchie said. “The county approved it…regularly and repeatedly…they approved the expenses…after reviewing them and having staff sign off on them…Perhaps it was insubordination, perhaps it was a lack of professionalism…but there is nothing to support the charge.”

After previously residing in Elkton, Click, 34, now lives in Stuarts Draft with his wife and daughter. He worked for Page County for about four years and was hired as a controller in Albemarle County’s Department of Finance and Budget on Dec. 6, 2021.

#7 COVID hits Omicron peak

“Health care workers and hospitals are exhausted, and they are again facing increasing numbers of patients, affecting their ability to provide care.”

Monday, Jan. 10, 2022 ~ Gov. Ralph Northam after taking steps to increase hospital capacity

In many ways, it seems like something in the distant past…something that’s behind us. While everyone wants to log the COVID-19 pandemic into the history books and move on with their lives, in the early weeks of 2022 the pandemic was taking as big a toll statewide as at any point in the two-year-plus ordeal.

On Saturday, Jan. 8, the Virginia Department of Health reported 26,175 new cases of COVID-19 in a single day — a new record-high for the pandemic. Prior to the surge of the Omicron variant last winter, the previous winter’s peak [2020-21] set the state record at 9,914 cases in a single day on Jan. 17, 2021. Just 12 months ago, in late December and early January, there were 12 of 13 days in which the daily statewide COVID case counts remained above 10,000.

Page County would hit its peak about two weeks later when the state health department reported 263 new cases of COVID-19 in one week, along with a countywide positivity rate of nearly 44 percent.

As deaths lagged behind reports of new cases and hospitalizations, February of 2022 turned out to be the second-deadliest month for COVID-related deaths in Page County of the entire pandemic. A total of 19 COVID-related deaths were reported in the county that month, second only to May 2020 when there were 20 local deaths following an outbreak of the virus in a Luray nursing home.

Following the Omicron-variant surge of last winter, new COVID cases quickly dropped off and have not returned to those historic levels. New cases continue to be reported, but typically in the single digits countywide over a seven-day period. Deaths are few and far between, and currently present no more danger than other seasonal respiratory diseases like the flu.

#8 Ball snatched at Nats Park

“I bought a ticket just like you did and I deserve that ball as much as anyone else.”

Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022 ~ Comment from Washington Nationals fan after snagging a ball at Nats Park from right fielder Joey Meneses that was intended for a 9-year-old softball all-star from Shenandoah

It was a day packed with memorable moments, from riding the Metro for the first time, to an introduction to escalators at Nats Park, and for some of them — their first trip to the nation’s capital.

On July 25, the Washington Nationals notified the Shenandoah Recreation League that their three state champion All-Star teams would be invited to home games in late August to celebrate Youth Champions Day 2022. Shenandoah’s Babe Ruth 12U softball All-Stars and their Cal Ripken 12U baseball All-Stars — who both advanced to their respective world series this summer — were invited to Nats Park for free admission and some “Nat Bucks” for the concession stand on Aug. 31. Ten-year-old groups were recognized the day before, when Shenandoah’s 10U All-Stars went to see the Nationals host the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday, Aug. 30.

All 10 members of the Shenandoah 10U All-Star softball team, and their coaches, were recognized on the field before the game. Later on, some of them would have their picture taken with the “Presidents” and one even got the centerfielder to play “rock, paper, scissors” with her before the start of an inning.

Just prior to the top of the ninth inning, 9-year-old Avery Hilliard got the attention of Nationals’ right fielder Joey Meneses, who tossed over a ball. Avery stuck out her glove and leaned left to follow the arc of the throw. An adult male wearing a Nats’ jersey, who had been sitting at the end of aisle across the steps from the team, noticed what was happening, “stood up quickly” and stepped directly in front of Avery to grab the ball at the last second.

The day after the game, the team mom posted photos from the trip on Facebook and thanked the Nationals for their invitation and recognition. Then on Thursday, Sept. 1, she posted a video of the incident on Facebook, and later Twitter, with a message: “@Nationals can you get Joey Meneses to sign a baseball and send it to my daughter?

By Wednesday, Sept. 7 around 5 p.m., Regina Hilliard’s initial Twitter post had been viewed more than 5.1 million times. It was retweeted by several big fan sites. On Instagram, the Bleacher Report had 6.5 million plays on the video, with 312,000 reactions and 10,622 comments. The ESPN video on TikTok had 1.4 million views.

“Gina, we are so sorry to hear that your experience that night was negatively impacted,” reads a response to the team mom from the Nationals. “All of our fans should be able to enjoy the games they go to. We very much appreciate the support from you, your family and the rest of your championship softball team! And congrats on such a great accomplishment!”

“We will send something your way and hope that this can serve as a symbol of a good experience at the park rather than a bad one!” the message continues. “Baseball should be fun, especially at Nats Park.”

The Nationals sent Avery a baseball autographed by Meneses, along with a letter.

#9 Valley Health closes fitness center after $1M fire

“This turn of events accelerated a difficult decision.

November, 2022 ~ Jacob Meza, Valley Health VP of Operations for Ambulatory, Post-Acute, and Community Services

A local juvenile was charged with arson in relation to the Oct. 13 fire reported at Dollar Tree in the East End Shopping Center. The blaze and its impact, which spread to Valley Health’s adjacent fitness center and Uncle D’s Pool and Spas, have been estimated to cause $1 million in damages.

Everyone was evacuated from the building, and no injuries were reported. However, the loss of merchandise alone was estimated at $315,000. The entire rear of the Dollar Tree store will need reconstruction, the roof over Uncle D’s needs major repair, as well as extensive damage at the PMH Fitness Center. Estimated damages also included lost revenue due to the temporary closure of the three businesses.

The incident report by Luray Police Chief Bow Cook not only details hard evidence against the juvenile, but it also reveals a few disturbing facts about the actions of the accused after igniting the costly fire.

“Video evidence showed the fire was started on purpose by a juvenile,” the Chief’s report stated. “The juvenile waved at the patrons and staff as he was exiting the store after starting the fire. The juvenile approached an Officer and had a conversation about being a fireman when he grows up.”

The damages and temporary closure to the fitness center prompted Valley Health to announce the permanent closure of the facility, which had been struggling financially.

“Since opening in 2007, Valley Health Wellness & Fitness | Luray has been privileged to help our members pursue their fitness and wellness goals,” reads a Facebook post by Valley Health on Friday, Nov. 4. “Unfortunately, memberships at the center have never returned to pre-pandemic levels, and now the center has been closed due to the fire in the adjacent space. As a result, the difficult decision has been made to close the center permanently.”

“The Luray fitness center has operated at a loss since its opening and has been supported by Valley Health and Page Memorial Hospital as a service to the community,” said Jacob Meza, Valley Health VP of Operations for Ambulatory, Post-Acute, and Community Services. “Current post-COVID financial challenges demand that we focus our resources on ensuring that essential health care services are available locally.”

“Last month a fire in the store adjacent to Valley Health’s fitness center in Luray made the building temporarily unsuitable for occupancy. This turn of events accelerated a difficult decision. Carefully weighing a variety of factors, Valley Health has decided to not reopen the center,” Meza said. “We regret the short notice and the disruption this has caused the center’s loyal members. Valley Health remains committed to the community’s health, and is evaluating possibilities for others to operate the center going forward.”

Dozens of negative comments were posted on the Facebook message from members and local residents, who noted the importance of the facility from those who work out regularly to those who may be in rehab following a medical procedure or recovery from an accident.

Even county leaders are weighing in on the issue as District 2 supervisor Allen Louderback stated at a board of supervisor’s meeting that he wanted a Valley Health representative to appear before the board and explain taking away this valuable community service while also receiving a recent $1 million grant to address “rural health challenges.”

#10 Launch of 2023 sheriff’s race

“Yes, my opponent and I are related, however I just want to bring the best law enforcement services to the community where I live.”

Wednesday, August 10, 2022 ~ Stanley Police Captain Aaron Cubbage on running for Sheriff of Page County in 2023

While it’s certainly not the biggest story of 2022, it may very well set the stage for the biggest — or at least most-talked-about — story of 2023. In early August, Stanley Police Captain Aaron Cubbage officially announced his 2023 bid for sheriff of Page County on social media. The Facebook post includes a YouTube video (seen below) announcing the unofficial candidacy of the longtime student of law enforcement.

While neither candidate will officially file their candidacy with Page County Registrar Carol Gaunt until 2023, this is the race that many have already been speaking about in whispers around the county for more than a year.

And yes — the “elephant in the room” — it pits two first cousins (Cubbage v. Cubbage) vying for the support of the same community they have shared their entire lives.

“Yes, my opponent and I are related, however I want to bring the best law enforcement services to the community where I live,” Aaron Cubbage told Page Valley News. “Our community has given so much to me throughout my personal and professional life…I view this opportunity as a way to give back to the community that has given so much to me.”

Sheriff Chad Cubbage has confirmed that he intends to run for re-election to a third term as the Republican Party candidate. Aaron Cubbage will run as an independent.

Chad first won the role of top law enforcement officer by only 687 votes over then-incumbent Sheriff John Thomas in 2015 — with 3,389 votes, compared to 2,702 for Thomas. Former Luray Police Chief Page Campbel came in a distant third with 978 votes.

Four years later, Chad’s margin of victory shrank to 517 votes — claiming victory for a second, four-year term over Chris Stoneberger, who “resigned” from the Luray Police Department not long after the 2019 election. The vote count was 3,656 to 3,139. David Conley — a former police officer in Shenandoah and Elkton, former deputy with the sheriff’s office, and longtime campus police officer at JMU — came in a distant third, with 746 votes.

Despite facing an incumbent — and the possibility of a late third entry — Aaron Cubbage feels his 20 years of experience, extensive training and broad educational background will be things that set him apart from the field on Nov. 7, 2023.

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HONORABLE MENTION

TRAGEDIES

On July 21, Scott Simandl, 47, was apprehended at the scene and charged with the first degree murder of Jay Scott Campbell, and the aggravated malicious wounding of his son, Justice Campbell, near their home on Buzzard View Place near Shenandoah.

On May 7, the Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) received a call about a canoe that had overturned, leaving two brothers unaccounted for in the water,” a press release read. “Earlier, three brothers (ages 21, 21 and 19) were out enjoying the day canoeing on Government Pond in Page County and as they tried to turn directions, the wind picked up and the canoe overturned throwing all three men in the water. Two brothers went under and one swam safely back to shore to call for help…DWR, along with Page County Sheriff’s Office, Page County Fire and Rescue, and the Shenandoah Volunteer Fire Company dive team, were able to recover the [bodies of the] two missing men after a few hours.”

On March 23, in Page County Circuit Court, the Honorable Clark A. Ritchie agreed with the September recommendation of a jury and sentenced Ian Alexander Zimmerman to a total of 35 years in prison and a $50,000 fine for the murder and abuse of a 10-month child in his care more than two years ago.

On Sept. 26, Luray police officers arrested a Spotsylvania County man after he barricaded himself inside a home near two local schools in town with a 15-year-old female that was reported missing.

WHAT DID WE LEARN

On Dec. 7, Comer was named the National Teacher of the Year by the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) during a Nov. 30 awards gala in Alexandria. Comer has been a Family and Consumer Science (FCS) Teacher at Page County High School for the past 35 years. During her tenure, the longtime Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) advisor has seen her students earn 16 national program awards, as well as filling many state and national offices.

On Nov. 3, the Page County School Board appointed Taylor Alger as the District 1 interim board member. The seat was vacated with the passing of Tommy Lansberry on Sept. 22, 2022. Alger will serve a one-year term until a special election in November 2023. At that time, the person elected will serve the remaining two years of Mr. Lansberry’s term.

On June 2, after more than two years of discussion and awaiting state approval, Lord Fairfax Community College (LFCC) officially changed its name to Laurel Ridge Community College. Small ceremonies, with speeches and the raising of the new Laurel Ridge flag, were held at each of the college’s three locations — the Middletown Campus, the Fauquier Campus in Warrenton, and the Luray-Page County Center (LPCC).

THE TOWNS

On Nov. 8, municipal elections rendered few surprises as newcomer Alex White joined incumbents Stephanie Lillard and Ron Vickers on the Luray Council in a four-way race for three seats. In Shenandoah, newcomer Denise Meadows joined Vice Mayor Bill Kite and councilman Lynn Fox in taking three seats on council in a four-way race. Shenandoah Mayor Clinton Lucas ran unopposed for another term, and the Stanley Council saw no changes with three candidates seeking three seats. Vice Mayor Bruce Stoneberger, along with councilmen Duane Layman and Doug Purdham were sworn-in at the December council meeting.

• In Luray, officials cut the ribbon on new playground equipment at Imagination Station and two housing projects, but said goodbye to the Warehouse Art Gallery. Shenandoah opened a new museum and visitors center, while Stanley continues to add to its park amenities with a dog park and an EV charging station.

THE COUNTY

• On Jan. 14, the mother of a former inmate filed a civil lawsuit in the Page County Circuit Court seeking $1.85 million in damages for the “wrongful death” of her son while incarcerated in the Page County Jail. The 15-page claim filed on behalf of LaDonna J. Sampson asserts “gross negligence” in the “care and treatment” of her son, Cody Shotwell Brown, after the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner declared that “fentanyl intoxication” was the cause of his death on May 27, 2021.

• During the year, county government also took over the Rescue One building in Shenandoah after the volunteer group was dissolved, nearly completed the upgrade to the emergency radio system, found a new director for Social Services, and saw the departure of Economic Development and Tourism Director Nina Fox after about 18 months in the role.

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2022’s TOP 10 POSTS ON PAGEVALLEYNEWS.COM

(Based on readership or “hits” on each story, as reported by Google Analytics. It should be noted that our Obituaries far outpace any other category in terms of traffic. This list sticks to news or feature posts.)

#1 — 8,809 — Today in History: “70-Ton boulder falls onto Skyline Drive”

#2 — 6,262 — Education: “School Board lifts mask mandate, parent apologizes for ‘guns loaded’ comment”

#3 — 5,113 — Shenandoah: “Gunman arrested after Thursday’s shooting leaves one dead, one seriously injured”

#4 — 4,986 — County: “Owners of Knotts Roofing face 256 indictments for taking money and never doing work”

#5 — 4,557 — County: “Luray man charged with poisoning, filming non-consenting adult and distributing images”

#6 — 4,531 — Education: “Luray parent charged after threatening statement at school board meeting”

#7 — 4,285 — County: “Inmate’s mother sues county, sheriff, deputies for $1.85M over wrongful death”

#8 — 4,148 — Today in History: “Lost mare found in park 16 years later”

#9 — 4,145 — Luray: “Spotsylvania man arrested after barricading in Luray Avenue home with 15-year-old girl”

#10 — 3,730 — Outdoors: “Fire at Big Meadows causes $500K in damages, county ambulance wrecks en route to call”

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