Monthly Archive for August, 2011

Officer Texting Before Hitting Wheelchair-Bound Man

Remember Gerry Mitchell—the wheelchair-bound AIDS survivor who was ticketed by Charlottesville Police after he was hit by an Albemarle Police cruiser in late 2007? (He was ticketed in the hospital, since he’d been hospitalized with his injuries.) Charges of jaywalking were dropped a couple of weeks later, and a few weeks after that, video of the incident was made public. Mitchell sued police for negligence, malicious prosecution, and intentional infliction of emotional distress in June of 2009, and that was the last news in the matter.

It turns out that the police officer behind the wheel was engaged in “excessive texting” immediately prior to hitting Mitchell, Courteney Stuart writes for The Hook. That information came out as a result of the civil suit. Officer Gregory C. Davis obfuscated this information back in August 2009, early in the lawsuit, disclosing only that “[o]n another occasion I was found to have used my cell phone excessively,” without calling up that occasion came immediately prior to his hitting Mitchell.

What hasn’t been established here is whether the officer was texting at the very moment that he hit Mitchell—that is, whether it’s actually the cause of the accident. Note, too, that § 46.2-1078.1 of the Virginia Code prohibits texting while driving, but it doesn’t apply here because a) wasn’t law until a year and a half after the incident and b) has an exemption for “the operator of any emergency vehicle.”

Did We Dodge a Bullet with Lake Anna?

The story of Dominion’s Lake Anna nuclear plant is now an international one, with media outlets around the world writing about the apparent narrow escape that we made from serious trouble as a result of today’s earthquake. (For example, here’s a Reuters piece.) The quake turns out to have been the biggest one in Virginia in at least a century, and the biggest one to hit the east coast in 67 years, since a 5.9 in New York during WWII. That apparently lulled regulators into figuring that big quakes are uncommon enough that they’re not worth worrying about when building a nuclear power plant, since Dominion spokesman Jim Norvelle said in March that the plant was designed to withstand a magnitude 5.9–6.1 earthquake. We had a 5.8. In today’s Reuters article, Dominion is already upping that number, with Norvelle now saying that “the plant was designed to withstand an earthquake of up to 6.2 in magnitude.” An MIT engineering professor is quoted as saying that “the size of the vibrations from this East Coast earthquake are probably less than you would feel in a loud nightclub”—obviously this man has either never been in a 5.8 earthquake or he’s never been in a nightclub—by way of defending the structural integrity of nuclear power plants, but it’s Dominion who’s saying that this earthquake was just barely within the design limits of their plant, and it’s hard to imagine why they’d make up a story like that.

For some perspective, here’s the location of the epicenter of the initial quake relative to the location of the nuclear power plant:

Complicating things, there are interest groups on both sides. The energy industry is sure to want to present this as no problem whatsoever. (Recall the Tokyo Electric Power Company insisting this spring that everything was A-OK with the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, even as it was clear to everybody that it had melted down fully and become extremely dangerous.) Some environmental groups are sure to want to present this as being a clear danger, a canary in the coal mine, and that an earthquake at any moment could send a cloud of deadly radiation across central Virginia. In the middle of this all of us who actually live here, caught between competing narratives. Keep some potassium iodide on hand—always a good idea when living near a nuclear power plant—and try to take all of this with a grain of salt.

Defeated Democrat Running for Clerk as Independent

Pam Melampy, who came in third in Saturday’s three-way Democratic nomination race for Clerk of Court, is running in the general election anyway, Graham Moomaw reports for the Daily Progress. Melampy got 12% of the vote in the firehouse primary. In order to run for the Democratic nomination, Melampy had to promise that she wouldn’t support any opponent of the nominee—Llezelle Dugger, as it turned out—a promise that she’s clearly decided to ignore. (Such an agreement is in no way legally binding, and is simply intended to place people’s reputations on the line to prevent them from doing exactly this.) Dugger had been without a challenger in the general election, but Melampy’s last-minute filing with the State Board of Elections—today was the deadline—means that there will be a race after all.

5.8 Earthquake Centered on Mineral

An impressively strong earthquake shook up the central east coast just a few minutes ago, a 5.8 magnitude quake centered on Mineral, which is midway between Charlottesville and Richmond. Though we’ve had a few quakes of this size in the past few hundred years, it’s been a while since we’ve had one this big. We had one in 2001, a 4.5 in 2003, and a 2.7 in Nelson in late 2009, but a 5.8 is a lot stronger than any of those. The shaking was felt from North Carolina clear to New York. What was it like where you are?

5pm Update: Note that it was just in March when Dominion Power’s Lake Anna nuclear plant was named the 7th most at-risk nuclear plant, in the event of an earthquake. So what was the facility designed to withstand? “A magnitude 5.9–6.1 earthquake.” The plant’s reactors shut down automatically, but after the Fukushima nuclear plants reduced the surrounding area to a radioactive wasteland following their March earthquake, that’s not as reassuring as Dominion might think it is.

Huja, Galvin, and Smith Nominated for Council

Democrats nominated incumbent Satyendra Huja and newcomers Kathleen Galvin and Dede Smith for City Council yesterday, Charlottesville Tomorrow reports, and ousted three-term clerk of court incumbent Paul Garrett in favor of challenger Llezelle Dugger. A record 2,524 Democrats voted in the all-day firehouse primary. Huja and Galvin were both clear preferences of a majority of voters—winning on the first ballot—but it took five rounds of counting via instant-runoff voting before Smith finally emerged as the third-most-popular candidate, narrowly beating Paul Beyer by 31 votes.

The three Democrats nominated for Council will now run against the five independent candidates (Republicans have yet again failed to put forth challengers) for the November election. Nobody else is running for clerk, making Dugger the presumptive winner.

6:30 PM Update: The unofficial tallies have been released. These are the numbers for council, and these are the numbers for clerk. What stands out here is that Dugger trounced Garrett and fellow challenger Pam Melampy, with 1,534 votes to Garrett’s 656 and Melampy’s 294. The numbers from the council race show that all three nominees were also the top three vote-getters in the first round of voting, indicating that the results may not have been different with a traditional balloting system.



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