Here are the week’s top stories.
1. Federal and local officials met to discuss a major trafficking case in Williamsburg.
- Local, state and federal law enforcement officials met in Norfolk on Wednesday to share new details surrounding their investigation into a large human trafficking operation.
- At the center of the investigation was Magnolia Cleaning Services, a Williamsburg-based commercial laundry facility that cleaned linens for hotels and timeshares in the Williamsburg area.
- The business smuggled 100 people, including children, from El Salvador, officials said during a news conference Wednesday afternoon. The victims were then forced to work long hours under the threat of violence and deportation.
- “I can think of no crime more heinous than someone that would use and exploit the vulnerability of a child for ill-gotten gains, whether it’s for sex or labor,” Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares said during the conference. “It’s also one of the hardest parts of the job when you see those that are so young, and so innocent with such incredible potential being exploited by such callous, cruel human beings.”
- The victims range in age from 14 to 25 and were subjected to poor living and working conditions. Court documents revealed that they were forced to live in a warehouse that lacked access to a kitchen, shower or bath. A teen had to work 11-hour, overnight shifts before attending school, investigators said. One mother was also “prevented from even caring for her infant child,” according to Jessica Aber, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
- Four people affiliated with Magnolia Cleaning Services have been sentenced in the case. Owner Jeffrey Vaughan was sentenced to 51 months in prison, while co-owner George Evans was sentenced to 30 months. Ana Aragon Landaverde, a manager for the company, was sentenced to 57 months. Salvador Jeronimo-Sis, who created false documents for the employees, was sentenced to 20 months. All four defendants pleaded guilty. The sentences include prison time, restitution for the victims and a forfeiture of $3.9 million.
2. Parents of Williamsburg-James City County students can no longer request removal of library books under a new policy.
- Parents will no longer be able to request to have books removed from Williamsburg-James City County school libraries per a new policy passed during a school board work session last week.
- The decision came after extensive debate, just days after James City County announced the termination of its joint school system contract with Williamsburg.
- Parents will still have the right to opt their own children out of accessing certain books, but they cannot request total removal from library shelves.
- Some background: In May, WJCC schools removed a book from library shelves for the first time after a parent complained about it. Parent Jill Pyles appealed to the district to remove Me and Early and the Dying Girl from Jamestown and Lafayette high schools, saying the book contained profane and pornographic content.
- During the school board meeting on August 1, Vice Chair Sarah Ortego asked what harm could be done by classifying library materials as instructional and advocated for more specific guidelines to identify sexually explicit content in books. Board member Andrea Donnor said that categorizing library materials as instructional could result in the removal of a long list of classic books.
- Debate about the topic was spurred after a Virginia Department of Education superintendentsent the board a memo in June explaining that under Virginia law, library books are not considered instructional, so parents cannot request formal reviews as they can do with curriculum. The memo clarifies, however, that local school boards can create their own definitions as to what is considered instructional material.
- Tighter parameters will be implemented surrounding the selection of library books moving forward. Previously, when funds were available, a librarian could submit a book order based on a suggested reading list submitted by book publishers. Per the new policy, librarians will need to work with additional colleagues to vet that list, and principals must now be included in the process.
- Parents can prevent their child from checking out certain titles by filling out and submitting a library restriction form, which is available in both English and Spanish under the “Back to School Forms” section of the WJCC Schools website.
- The board voted 5-2 in favor of the revised policy. The next regular meeting will be held on Aug. 15.
3. The public is invited to weigh in on a new Hampton Roads traffic survey.
- Local traffic engineers have begun to map out the most dangerous intersections in Hampton Roads, and they’re asking for the public’s input as they work to make the roads safer.
- The Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization (HRTPO) launched a new online survey to allow local residents to convey their “roadway safety concerns” in the region. Drivers can tell the HRTPO what issues they’re most concerned about and what changes they’d like to see.
- Among the Peninsula-area intersections included in the safety study are:
- James City County: Route 199 at Quarterpath Road/Mounts Bay Road
- Williamsburg: Route 132 (Henry Street) at Route 132Y/Visitor Center Drive
- York County: Hampton Highway at Yorktown Road/Theater Road
- Gloucester County: Route 198 at Route 606 (Harcum Road)
- Poquoson: Wythe Creek Road at Victory Boulevard/Little Florida Road
- Hampton: N. Armistead Avenue at LaSalle Avenue
- More than 500 local drivers have already completed the survey, according to WAVY News, and the HRTPO is hoping to receive feedback from as many local residents as possible.
- The survey can be taken here. It will close on August 15, 2023.
4. The first free grocery store on the Peninsula will soon be opening in Newport News.
- THRIVE Peninsula is gearing up to open the region’s first-ever free grocery store after receiving a donation of $225,000 and grocery store equipment from Food Lion Feeds.
- The Market will open in November 2023 at 12749 Nettles Drive in Newport News. The store is designed to help combat food insecurity and allow families on the Peninsula to have access to more food options than a traditional food bank. The goal is to promote a healthy, balanced diet while also accommodating allergies and dietary restrictions.
- An estimated 30,000 Peninsula residents will be served by The Market every year, according to THRIVE.
- “We know that roughly 60% of families who struggle with food insecurity won’t visit a food pantry because of the stigma. That stigma keeps hungry families at home, skipping meals or eating smaller meals and buying chips instead of fruit,” said Angela York, THRIVE Peninsula’s Executive Director. “By hosting a client-choice food pantry in a grocery store setting, we can connect hungry people with healthy foods in a more natural setting.”
- Food Lion and Food Lion Feeds have partnered with THRIVE Peninsula since 2011. Funding received through the grant will also support raised garden beds to grow fresh produce for The Market.
5. Two Williamsburg men and a Newport News man were killed in a triple homicide, and now an investigation is underway.
- Police are investigating after three men were found dead inside a home in Newport News early Tuesday.
- Emergency dispatchers received a report around 1 a.m. of shots fired at a home on Stallings Court, according to Newport News Police. When officers arrived, they found three men dead inside the home. All of the men had been shot, a police spokesperson said.
- Forensic investigators spent hours on the scene collecting evidence. They also reached out to neighbors to try to find out additional information about what might have taken place.
- The victims were identified Tuesday afternoon as Alvin Eugene Holiday, 61, of Williamsburg; Monroe McGilvary Jr., 60, of Williamsburg; and Derek Rico Jones, 36, of Newport News.
- Residents in the neighborhood told 13News Now that a couple with two children occupied the home. One neighbor said the area is quiet and safe and that what happened was “totally out of character for this neighborhood.”
- At a press conference Tuesday, Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew emphasized that the crime was not a random act and may have been drug-related.
- “It’s not just someone that’s running around and selected a house and broke in the door and something tragic happened,” Drew said. “When we get to the bottom of everything, I think we’re going to have two things blended together: I think we’re going to have a narcotics situation and I think we’re going to have an argument and somehow those two things blend together.”
- Drew added that police had received several calls to the home in the past. He also said that there were no signs of forced entry and that while children live at the home, they were not present during the shooting.
6. A man was killed in a construction accident in James City County.
- A man died Wednesday after a construction zone accident on Daydreamer Court in James City County’s Stonehouse neighborhood, officials said.
- James City County Police and Fire responded to an incident in the 9200 block of Daydreamer Court around 11:20 a.m. George “Sonny” Haris III, 68, of Hampton, was pronounced dead at the scene.
- Harris accidentally collided with a 1992 Ford L8000 truck owned and operated by Harris & Son Seeding Contractors, according to James City County Police. Preliminary findings indicate that Harris, who is the owner of Harris & Son, was guiding a hose behind the truck in the moments leading up to the accident. When the truck moved forward, he became “entangled with the vehicle,” which resulted in a fatal outcome, police said.
- The exact circumstances of the incident remain under investigation.
7. York County Administrator Neil Morgan has announced plans to retire.
- Neil Morgan, who has been York County’s Administrator since 2015, is planning to retire at the end of the year.
- In a letter sent to the Board of Supervisors Monday, Morgan announced that his retirement will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024, according to the Virginia Gazette.
- Morgan has dedicated much of his life to public service. Before accepting the role of administrator with York County eight years ago, he worked for the City of Newport News for 27 years and served as city manager from 2009-2013.
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