The Triangle News in 5: 'Armed and dangerous' Eastern State Hospital escapee remains at large

Plus: Williamsburg will be featured on Antiques Roadshow, James City County residents are pushing for tax relief and a new creative hub is coming to Fort Monroe.

Good morning!

We’ve had an unseasonably chilly start to our week, with frost advisories being issued for Williamsburg and James City County.

It’ll remain cool and windy today, according to News 3 Meteorologist Myles Henderson, but we can expect warming into the 70s starting Thursday.

That nicer weather will arrive just in time for a bunch of outdoor events planned across the Peninsula this weekend, like the Brill Music Festival in Williamsburg, Pirate Invasion Weekend in Yorktown and the Outdoor Enthusiast Event in Newport News.

If you missed the community calendar of events published yesterday, I’ve linked to it again at the bottom of the newsletter.

And as always, if you’d like to share your thoughts on a local news topic or have questions, comments or suggestions, I’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch by hitting “reply” to this email.

Now to the news.

-Christin

1. A convicted felon is on the run after breaking out of Eastern State Hospital.

  • The man, 29-year-old Bryant Wilkerson, escaped on Saturday night and is still at large, according to Virginia State Police (VSP). Police say he is considered “armed and dangerous.”
    • “If someone does see him, they should not approach him,” James City County Police Lieutenant Monique Myers told 13NewsNow.
  • A second man, 31-year-old Austin Leigh, also escaped but turned himself in to police on Sunday evening. Wilkerson and Lee are believed to have damaged a wall in the hospital Saturday night before breaking free, a VSP spokesperson said. Both men are convicted felons and have outstanding warrants on file.
  • Leigh is now being held at Chesapeake City Jail without bond, according to WAVY News.
    • “Mr. Leigh was at Eastern State Hospital on a temporary detention order (TDO). The TDO was obtained after our medical contractor recommended Mr. Leigh be sent to a mental health facility for further evaluation,” Chesapeake Sheriff’s Office officials said.
  • Wilkerson is currently wanted on a felony probation violation. He was previously taken into custody in November 2020, after committing an armed robbery at a Food Lion in Currituck County, North Carolina, WAVY reported.
    • Wilkerson was charged with a litany of offenses, including 2 counts of conspiring to abduct by force without justification, 2 counts of felony possession of a firearm, 2 counts of conspiring to rob a residence, malicious stabbing, auto theft (grand larceny), disregarding a police command to stop, brandishing or pointing a firearm and carjacking.
  • James City County Police say they don’t believe Wilkerson is currently in James City County, but they have officers out looking for him. Police are also reportedly reaching out to Wilkerson’s friends and relatives, who may live out of state, in an effort to gather information about his whereabouts.
  • Eastern State Hospital is conducting an internal investigation into the escape to figure out how it happened, hospital spokeswoman Lauren Cunningham said.
  • The incident has also prompted Gov. Glenn Younkin to ask his Secretary of Health and Human Resources to conduct a review of the safety and security protocols used at the state’s mental health facilities, according to WTVR News 6.
    • Many local residents expressed dismay about the situation, saying the escape of the two men made them question how secure Eastern State really is.
    • “It’s something they need to be more careful about and there needs to be more security involved,” Grace Cornbrooks, a William & Mary student, told News 6. Cornbrooks added that her friends were nervous about the situation and locked all of their doors and windows.

Local residents expressed dismay upon hearing that two convicted felons escaped from Eastern State Hospital in James City County on Saturday night.

2. Williamsburg will be featured in three upcoming episodes of Antiques Roadshow.

  • Producers from the popular PBS show stopped in Williamsburg as part of an effort to “visit distinctive, historic locations across the country,” according to WHRO. The show is currently in its 26th season.
  • While there was a high demand from fans wanting to be present during the filming of the event, a limited number of people were allowed to attend due to concerns about the pandemic.
    • Antiques Roadshow ultimately sponsored an Appraisal Contest, where those hoping to participate submitted descriptions and photos of their items. Entries that impressed producers earned antique owners an invitation to attend. Guests met with experts from leading auction houses in the country to receive verbal assessments of their antiques and collectibles.
  • Producers said the crew did not leave disappointed. They found numerous extraordinary items, including a Tiffany & Co. brooch dating back to around 1905, a 17th-century Tibetan bronze Buddha and other rare gems to be revealed during the showing of the episodes.
  • The Williamsburg episodes are set to air on Monday, May 9, 16 and 23 at 8 p.m on WHRO TV 15.

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3. Riverside Health is set to open the first standalone psychiatric emergency department in Hampton Roads.

  • The new facility, which will be the first of its kind in the region, is set to open in Hampton in late 2023, Riverside Health Systems announced in a news release. It will be open 24-hours a day, 7 days a week, to provide support to community members who may be experiencing a psychiatric crisis.
    • Patients who arrive at the facility can expect to meet empathetic mental health specialists trained in the best techniques for providing assistance to people with non-physical care needs.
  • Nationwide, mental health crises account for about 13.2 million emergency room visits every year, but those seeking help often aren’t given the kind of support and resources they need. Riverside hopes its new facility can help reverse that problem in Hampton Roads.
    • “When facing a mental health crisis, many people are unsure of where to go, which often leads them to law enforcement or a traditional ER setting. While both provide the best support they can, we recognize our community needs more personalized, compassionate mental health care,” said Stacey Johnson, Executive Director, Riverside Behavioral Health Center.
    • “With 24/7 access to a psychiatric-specific emergency department, the community will have greater access to fully integrated, whole-person care during their time of greatest need. We are proud to be another healing hand for our community to grow stronger,” Johnson added.

4. Four new stores are opening in Williamsburg Premium Outlets.

  • Among the new shops is Simply Williamsburg – located near Carter’s Outlet – which features Williamsburg-themed gifts, apparel and souvenirs, WYDaily reports. Many of the store’s featured products are from the Simply Southern Collection, which sells its clothing to more than 6,000 independent retailers.
  • The outlets also recently welcomed a new custom embroidery shop, Thread Impressions, which sells custom embroidered items, including hats, shirts and purses. It’s located next to the Bath and Body Works.
  • Two other shops are also slated to open soon, according to the Peninsula Chronicle. Roots and Culture Palace – which will feature African artifacts, decor, clothing, bags, paintings, jewelry, books and more, is expected to open on May 1.
  • Savannah’s Boutique is also coming soon to the outlets. It carries women’s clothing, shoes, accessories and body products and will be located near the Banana Republic.

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5. James City County residents are pushing for tax relief following higher property assessments.

  • Residents poured into the James City County Government Center Tuesday night to ask the Board of Supervisors to lower the real estate tax rate amid rising inflation, The Virginia Gazette reports. The county’s biennial property reassessment showed a significant increase in home values, and the county’s proposed rate of 84 cents per $100 of valuation would lead to notably higher tax bills.
    • The county will pass its proposed 2023-24 fiscal budget in the upcoming months, which could lead to increases in revenue from an average 8.2% real property tax hike.
    • Alternatively, the county could lower the real estate tax to match last year’s revenue, which would mean the average citizen would pay 77 cents per dollar in annual real estate taxes.
  • According to Sharon Day, the county’s finance director, every penny added to the tax rate costs the average homeowner an additional $37 per year.
  • Several speakers at the meeting pleaded with the Board to reduce the rate, emphasizing that rising inflation is making it increasingly difficult for people to afford the cost of living.
    • “With James City County and Williamsburg, in particular, being a very popular retirement area, and with a large population of seniors we’ve got that are impacted by the rampant inflation on everything they need for their daily lives,” said resident Bruce Biederman.
    • “I’d appreciate a tax reduction. I live on a fixed income and obviously, everything is getting high today, but my grandchildren would appreciate it, also,” said retired resident Gary Lane.
  • The proposed $223.4 million budget for fiscal year 2023 is designed to fund ongoing beautification efforts, cover capital expenses, retain and recruit staff and provide services to county citizens. The majority of the county’s budget – about 70% – comes from general property taxes, which include real estate taxes.
  • A final vote will be made by the Board on May 10, but it will hold several public meetings before the decision is made. The next meeting will take place at the James City County Government Center on April 26.

6. The Virginia State Board of Elections is calling on parties to choose local picks carefully following a racist post by a Hampton official.

  • The Board of Elections will ask both parties and the court system to more carefully vet appointees to the 133 local electoral boards in the state, according to Virginia Mercury. The request comes after a Hampton Electoral Board chairman, David Dietrich, was forced to resign after a racist Facebook post.
    • Dietrich’s comments were widely condemned by local and state officials, including Gov. Youngkin, who publicly asked the official to step down immediately after he initially refused.
  • State Elections Board Chairman Bob Brink, a former Democratic State Delegate, praised Youngkin for “acting quickly and decisively as head of his party to secure this individual’s removal” during a meeting Wednesday.
    • “But as far as I’m concerned, the matter never should have landed on the governor’s desk,” Brink added. “I’m convinced that if the responsible entities had done their job and had exercised due diligence, this individual never would have been appointed in the first place.”
    • Brink emphasized that the issue isn’t partisan and said that both parties need to “appreciate the importance” of the positions on local electoral boards.
  • The state board approved a motion authorizing Brink to send formal letters on the matter to the Republican Party of Virginia, the Democratic Party of Virginia and the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia.
  • The situation involving Dietrich isn’t the first time scandals have surfaced surrounding local electoral board officials. In 2018, a judge suspended two Hopewell Electoral Board officials who were accused of using their positions to influence votes by presenting the names of three council candidates entirely in capital letters on ballots, according to the Richmond-Times Dispatch.

Local Covid-19 Update

New cases: ➕ VDH reports that an additional 8,707 people in Virginia tested positive for Covid-19 last week. That’s up from 5,669 last week. On the Peninsula, the highest numbers of cases were reported in Hampton (+154), Newport News (+65) and James City County (+55), according to WTVR.

Hospitalizations and deaths: An additional 699 people were hospitalized with Covid-19 in Virginia last week (up from 256 the week before), according to VDH data. 199 Covid-19 related deaths also occurred in the state last week (up from 131 the week before), according to VDH.

Vaccination rate: 73% of Virginians are fully vaccinated (up from 72.9% last week).

Lowest Gas Prices Today

All gas prices shown are per GasBuddy. To check the latest prices based on zip code, click here.

Good News

757 Makerspace – a new site for innovation and creativity – has opened in Hampton’s Fort Monroe.

  • The creativity hub, which brands itself the “Dream Factory,” features space to work on creative projects of all kinds. It includes a woodshop, metal shop and sewing lab as well as stations for jewelry, pottery, electronics, textiles, molding/casting/props and more, according to its website.
    • “Whether you’re an artist, designer, engineer, inventor, student, fabricator, entrepreneur, hobbyist technologist, or all of the above, this is the place to make the things you have been dreaming about. We have done thousands of classes to empower and teach individuals of all age levels,” 757 Makerspace states on its website.
  • The site is part of an effort to rebrand the historic Fort Monroe district in Hampton as a place of new ideas, according to News 3. The new hub is the second 757 Makerspace and the first on the Peninsula. The other location is near the Ghent area of Norfolk.
  • “Fort Monroe is amazingly positioned to be a great place to live and work and play, but it’s also a great place to learn,” said Fort Monroe Authority Executive Director Glenn Oder.
  • 757 Makerspace is also a coworking site, business location and working studio for local startups and creators. In addition, the site offers regular classes and events. See the schedule of upcoming classes here.

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In the National News

  • Russian forces are preparing to mount a full-scale offensive to take total control of the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine in what Ukrainian officials are calling a “new phase of the war.” The effort is expected to result in high casualties on both sides. Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told CNN the world must prepare for the possibility of Russian President Vladimir Putin using nuclear weapons. (AP)
  • Most Americans are planning to use their tax refunds to pay bills or will put it in savings amid rising inflation, a new CBS poll found. The findings come shortly after a new Labor Department report showing inflation is growing at the fastest pace since 1981. (Newsweek)
  • TSA will no longer enforce mask mandates at airports, on planes or on other mass transit following a ruling by a federal judge in Florida. Nonetheless, the ruling allows local entities the option to keep mask requirements in place, meaning the rules could vary by location or city. (ABC News)
  • The U.S appears to be entering yet another Covid-19 surge as cases rise again in most states after two months of declines. The newest wave appears to be fueled by omicron subvariant BA.2, which is believed to be about 30% more infectious than the original omicron strain. In the northeast, Rhode Island and New Hampshire have seen daily cases jump by more than 100% in the past two weeks. (PBS)
  • Elon Musk has offered to buy Twitter for $43 billion in a move he calls his “best and final offer.” Musk has frequently criticized Twitter, stressing a belief that the company should be private and needs to do more to protect free speech. In a Tweet Monday, Musk also said Twitter board members won’t be paid if he takes over the company. (Axios)

One-year-old Milana (center) and other children who fled with their families from Russian advances in the cities of Avdeevka and Kramatorsk in the Donbas region of Ukraine, play in a room at the Mercy House, a shelter for people in need, on the outskirts of Dnipro on April 15, 2022. (Photo by ED JONES/AFP via Getty Images)

Events This Week

Miss this week’s community calendar of (79!) upcoming events? You can find it here.

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