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Last updated: Mon, 01 Dec 2014 19:09:44 GMT

 ‘Elves’ give family Christmas memories Mon, 01 Dec 2014 04:41:00 +0000
BY JEFF BRANSCOME / THE FREE LANCE-STAR Seven-year-old Lily Noakes hung an ornament on her family’s first real Christmas tree on Sunday.She also glided down a slide made of ice—another ...more

Seven-year-old Lily Noakes hung an ornament on her family’s first real Christmas tree on Sunday.

She also glided down a slide made of ice—another first for the 3-foot-4-inch youngster with the pink shoes and glittery pants.

And she received her first Pez dispenser—one featuring Olaf, a snowman character from the animated Disney movie “Frozen.” Her mom instructed her to eat the candy in moderation.

A lot of people had a part in the memorable day for Lily, a first-grader at Stafford County’s Conway Elementary School who has been fighting brain cancer for most of her life.

In September, Lily’s family learned that the tumor in her head had grown, and she could no longer participate in a clinical trial at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

So a group of Conway Elementary School employees, including a teacher who lost her stepson to brain cancer in 2012, decided to offer up another kind of treatment. They’re making memories for the family of four.

“That was our whole goal—what kind of things could we do so they could have these memories,” said Susan Pearson, a Conway teacher whose stepson David died from brain cancer in 2012. Her family founded David’s KIDS, which provides monthly gifts to pediatric cancer patients.

On Sunday, the Pearson family took Lily; her parents, Melanie and Eric Noakes; and her 9-year-old brother, Landon, to National Harbor’s ICE!, which has ice slides and Christmas-themed ice sculptures.

While they were gone, some Conway employees, or elves as they call themselves, decorated the inside and outside of Lily’s house with everything Christmas—multicolored lights, garland, a blowup Santa and more. “I had to do a little conniving, and I asked Melanie ‘Can you trust me with a key?’” said Pearson, whose home was also decorated by friends after her stepson’s cancer diagnosis. “And she said, ‘Of course I can trust you.’”

Conway Principal J.R. Raybold contributed a live Christmas tree, which he put on the family’s back deck in the Heather Hills neighborhood in southern Stafford. The family already had an artificial tree inside.

The Conway elves also had chili and Chick–fil–A nuggets waiting for the family, who arrived at about 3:30 p.m. A gift basket with a cookie-making kit was on the kitchen table.

“Oh my goodness,” Eric Noakes said as he walked into the house.

Later, he added, “It feels good considering what’s going on. It gets your mind off things.”

Within minutes, a bare-footed Lily had placed the first ornament, a round white bell with a red bow, on the real tree.

Dawn Mitchell, a Conway elf and paraprofessional in Lily’s first-grade class, said helping to decorate the house was the least she could do.

“It’s very sad that a little girl that hasn’t had a chance to really live has to go through something like this,” said Mitchell, who has two children of her own.

Andrea Wright, another elf and special education teacher at Conway, said anybody at the school would go out of their way to help a student. “When someone needs something, we all come together to help out,” she said. “That’s one of the things I love most about that school.”

Those who know Lily describe her as feisty—saucy even. She also has a lot of resolve.

For instance, Lily was determined to participate in a school fundraiser that has donors pledge money for every lap students run around a grassy area outside. Lily couldn’t run, but she did complete 16 laps with her walker—shaking her head no whenever her teacher asked if she needed a break.

Afterwards, Conway nurse Susan Farrar knelt beside Lily to ask if she was OK, recalled Jessica Corwin, a Conway elf and Lily’s first-grade teacher. Lily went to hug the nurse, who scooped the child into her arms and carried her back to class.

“She comes to school every day and does everything that’s asked of her,” Corwin said. “She’s never said, ‘I can’t do this.’”

Lily, who has a breathing tube on her neck, can be hard to understand at times. But that wasn’t the case on Sunday, after she found a bag of marshmallows in a Christmas stocking from the Conway elves. “Marshmallows!” she exclaimed more than once.

The stocking also contained Pez, glow sticks and other goodies.

At one point, Lily pretended a glow stick was a magic wand and said she was turning her mom into Olaf, the snowman from “Frozen.”

Melanie Noakes gave her daughter a hug and kissed her on the forehead. “I’m Olaf, and I like warm hugs,” she said.

Lily squeezed her eyes shut and smiled.

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402

jbranscome@freelancestar.com

 

 LOCAL BRIEF: Sensory Santa visits scheduled at disAbility Resource Center Mon, 01 Dec 2014 04:00:00 +0000
The disAbility Resource Center will host a Sensory Santa visit for children who need a quieter, less-overwhelming environment to visit with Santa Claus.The center is located at 409 Progress St. ...more

The disAbility Resource Center will host a Sensory Santa visit for children who need a quieter, less-overwhelming environment to visit with Santa Claus.

The center is located at 409 Progress St. in Fredericksburg.

Santa will visit on Sunday from 3 to 6 p.m., Dec. 12 from 6 to 8 p.m., and Dec. 13 from 1 to 5 p.m.

Visits can be scheduled by calling the center at 540/373-2559.

Accommodations are provided with notice.

Siblings and families are welcome, and parents should bring cameras.

 COLUMN: How much faster will high-speed rail be? Mon, 01 Dec 2014 04:00:00 +0000
WHAT KIND of impact could we expect from the proposed 123-mile “high-speed” rail line that would run through the Fredericksburg region?The project—only in the study phase and nowhere near happening ...more

WHAT KIND of impact could we expect from the proposed 123-mile “high-speed” rail line that would run through the Fredericksburg region?

The project—only in the study phase and nowhere near happening anytime soon—would add a third track and allow trains to reach speeds of 90 mph.

According to Amtrak, their trains run at a high of 150 mph, with more than half running at 100 mph or faster.

According to the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, Amtrak trains are restricted to 70 mph between Richmond and Washington, D.C., the corridor through which the high-speed trains would run. Restrictions in some spots cut those speeds to 45–55 mph.

The high-speed rail project loses some of its luster when compared to those Amtrak speeds.

Dear Scott: Could you please answer the following question?

When coming north on U.S. 1 and turning right onto Butler Road there is a “No Turn on Red” sign.

Why?

It was not there before the construction, and I do not understand why it is there now.

When the traffic going in that direction gets the green light, they are able to turn right without any problems.

Why not on red?

It is very frustrating to sit there while all three other directions get to go and all three other directions are allowed to turn on red.

—Morgan Jenkins, Stafford 

The Virginia Department of Transportation made the no-right-turn change in July 2012 after fire and rescue crews raised a question of safety.

The emergency responders said there were instances of cars turning right on red and blocking the way for safety vehicles to make it through, which also created the potential of head-on crashes.

The issue—of emergency vehicle delays and the no-right-turn-on-red—should go away when the new intersection is completed because there will be more lanes, allowing more room for emergency vehicles.

When the project is finished, in 2015, Butler Road will have four lanes on the westbound side (headed toward U.S. 17) and the eastbound side will have two lanes, which will revert back to one lane at Carter Street.

The intersection project is slated to be finished in September 2015.

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436

sshenk@freelancestar.com

 

 Germanna names co-op leader top philanthropist Mon, 01 Dec 2014 01:34:00 +0000
BY JEFF BRANSCOME / THE FREE LANCE–STAR Kent Farmer, a Caroline County native who has worked for the Rappahannock Electric Cooperative since 1979, was recently named the Germanna Community College ...more

Kent Farmer, a Caroline County native who has worked for the Rappahannock Electric Cooperative since 1979, was recently named the Germanna Community College Educational Foundation’s 2015 Philanthropist of the Year.

Farmer, 57, is currently president and CEO of the cooperative, which Germanna President David Sam says has a mission similar to that of community colleges. The co-ops serve rural areas that large electric companies do not.

“It makes sense that you work at the electric cooperative,” Sam said in a statement. “They were founded on the principle of not leaving anyone behind—not even those in the remote corners of the country.”

Farmer and the cooperative are among the Germanna foundation’s “most staunch supporters,” helping to provide scholarships, internships and jobs, Germanna spokesman Mike Zitz said in an email.

Farmer, who was raised in Milford and now lives in Port Royal, says the cooperative had 25,000 members when he started as a management trainee in 1979. It nows has about 160,000 members—making it one of the largest electric co-ops in the country.

“I enjoy the business model itself,” Farmer said. “We’re not in business necessarily to make profits for shareholders. Our customers and our shareholders are one in the same.”

In addition, Farmer is past president of the Rappahannock United Way board, which he says was his first foray into community service.

“Just having the opportunity to see where the community’s dollars got to help … makes all of it worthwhile,” he said.

He’s also part of the Fredericksburg Regional Alliance and serves on an advisory board for the University of Mary Washington’s College of Business.

Local attorney Charlie Payne said Farmer—a friend of his—has facilitated a community-first culture through initiatives such as “Project Big Heart,” which was launched by cooperative employees. Last year, employees raised $83,000 through the program for various causes.

And the cooperative participates in “Operation Round Up,” which encourages members to round up their utility bills to the nearest dollar. The spare change goes to people in need.

“For a company this size, it is unique for its president and CEO to be very engaged in the front line of assisting our community,” Payne said in an email.

Farmer said he was honored to receive the Philanthropist of the Year designation, but noted that he often gets credit for the efforts of a lot of people.

“When all of us try to help … it makes it a better place to live and raise your family,” he said.

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402

jbranscome@freelancestar.com

 Caroline seeks woman in deadly crash Mon, 01 Dec 2014 01:32:00 +0000
BY PORTSIA SMITH / THE FREE LANCE–STAR A woman indicted on seven felony charges and a misdemeanor is wanted in Caroline County in connection with a 2013 crash that killed ...more

A woman indicted on seven felony charges and a misdemeanor is wanted in Caroline County in connection with a 2013 crash that killed a Spotsylvania County woman and injured four others.

Valerie Faye Gorham, 53, was indicted in May on four counts of maiming as a result of driving while intoxicated, involuntary manslaughter, reckless involuntary manslaughter as a result of driving under the influence, driving under the influence of drugs and possession of a controlled substance.

According to Virginia State Police reports, a two-vehicle collision occurred around 1:15 a.m. on June 26, 2013, in the northbound lanes of I–95 near Ladysmith.

Five relatives were heading north in the center travel lane in a 1998 Nissan Sentra when it was struck by a 2003 BMW X-5 traveling south in the northbound lanes.

The 19-year-old driver of the Nissan and three of her passengers, all of the Fredericksburg area, sustained serious, non-life-threatening injuries.

Her back-seat passenger, 48-year-old Lucia Chavez of the 1000 block of Dewberry Drive in Spotsylvania, died at the scene.

Gorham, who was driving the BMW, was not seriously injured, but toxicology reports did find trace amounts of cocaine in her system.

Caroline County Commonwealth’s Attorney Tony Spencer said Gorham and her attorney were aware that she was going to be facing these charges and she Gorham was expected to turn herself in, but no one knows where she is.

Spencer requested the assistance of the U.S. Marshal Service’s Fugitive Task Force to help find her.

Gorham is described as a black female standing 5 feet 9 inches tall weighing about 150 pounds. She has black hair and brown eyes.

She is known to have ties to Washington, D.C., Silver Spring, Md., Newport News and Robersonville, N.C.

Anyone with information on her whereabouts is asked to call the Virginia State Police at 804/553-3445.

Portsia Smith: 540/374-5419

psmith@fredericksburg.com

 

MOST WANTED

This is part of  an occasional series about the people sought by police in the Fredericksburg area. Each installment will feature photos, information about charges and numbers where you can contact authorities if you have information about the fugitives’ whereabouts.

 

 King George schools will help expand summer lunch program Mon, 01 Dec 2014 01:27:00 +0000
By CATHY DYSON / THE FREE LANCE–STAR King George County schools are offering the use of their largest kitchen to volunteers who put together lunches for children in the summer.School ...more

King George County schools are offering the use of their largest kitchen to volunteers who put together lunches for children in the summer.

School Superintendent Rob Benson said the King George Summer Lunch Bunch could operate in the kitchen and commons area of King George High School. He said it makes sense to have volunteers store food and make lunches in a larger space that’s centrally located.

“As a school division, we are happy to support the program,” he said.

So is King George Supervisor Jim Howard. In September, he announced he wanted to increase the efforts of the Lunch Bunch, volunteers who make and deliver free lunches throughout the community twice a week during June, July and August.

This past summer, volunteers from five county churches delivered 5,000 lunches. They covered six routes with stops at town

houses, apartment buildings and trailer parks.

Each day required about 25 to 30 volunteers.

Howard wants to expand the effort to at least three days a week next summer, and eventually, every day of the week.

Funding isn’t the problem: it’s finding enough volunteers for the tasks.

Howard recently met with Lunch Bunch volunteers, Benson and Carolyn Anita Davis, coordinator of food services for King George schools.

Davis said she had applied for a grant to cover the cost of a cafeteria worker who could help the volunteers.

Howard also said he wants to beef up another program related to making sure kids have enough to eat when they’re not at school.

Those who already get free or reduced lunches get goody bags on Fridays filled with items such as applesauce, macaroni and cheese, nutrition bars or pudding.

“They put a little bit of food to tide them over for the weekend, until they’re back at school,” Howard said.

Churches provide the food for the bags.

“It’s another one of the goals I’ve set for myself, to get this program going a little more,” Howard said.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

 

 King George employees will get pay increases Mon, 01 Dec 2014 01:24:00 +0000
BY CATHY DYSON / THE FREE LANCE–STAR The King George Board of Supervisors recently gave county employees an early Christmas present, but workers will have to wait until next year ...more

The King George Board of Supervisors recently gave county employees an early Christmas present, but workers will have to wait until next year to get it.

King George finished fiscal year 2014, which ended June 30, with a preliminary surplus of about $1.3 million. County Administrator Travis Quesenberry suggested some of the extra money be used to increase county employees’ pay raises for the current fiscal year from 1 percent to 2 percent.

“The employees have been working hard, and I think they deserve the raise,” Quesenberry told the supervisors Nov. 18.

Supervisors agreed and are scheduled to appropriate the money on Tuesday. Dec. 2 The raises will take effect Jan. 1.

Supervisor Chairman Joe Grzeika said employees deserve the pay hike because their “good stewardship and budget management” caused the savings.

Some general fund expenditures were lower than expected, said Finance Director Robyn Shugart. Other items that contributed to the surplus were more revenue in property and local taxes, and the fact the school system returned $345,000 of unused funds to the county, she said.

Raises for county and school employees were an issue earlier this year in King George. Even though county schools got $300,000 less than expected in state funding, the School Board pushed for 2 percent raises for employees while the Board of Supervisors had money for only half that amount for their workers.

The supervisors weren’t happy with the difference. They’ve stressed in past discussions that all county employees should get the same pay raise.

“We look at King George County as a unified team,” Grzeika said this summer. “When there’s a difference, it creates issues for everyone.”

At a meeting between the two boards in August, the School Board defended its position on raises. Superintendent Rob Benson said school officials had contacted cohorts in Caroline, Colonial Beach, Fredericksburg, Stafford and Spotsylvania—and learned King George teachers made less at every level.

After the pay comparisons, supervisors said they understood the need for raises for school workers.

The additional 1 percent for county workers will cost $45,000, Shugart said. Another $266,000 will go to the rate stabilization fund, and the rest of the surplus will remain in the fund balance.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

 

 HOLIDAY: Downtown Christmas tree is aglow Sun, 30 Nov 2014 04:03:00 +0000
 State senator proposes softer pot penalties Sun, 30 Nov 2014 04:01:00 +0000
BY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS RICHMOND—A Virginia state senator has introduced a bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.The Richmond Times–Dispatch reports that the bill is sponsored by Sen. ...more

RICHMOND—A Virginia state senator has introduced a bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The Richmond Times–Dispatch reports that the bill is sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin, a Democrat from Alexandria.

Under the proposal, the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana would be decriminalized. Currently, that’s punishable by a $500 fine and 30 days in jail.

“It would decriminalize simple possession of an ounce or less, but not decriminalize it to the extent done recently in Colorado and Washington state,” he said.

Among other things, the bill also would reduce the criminal penalties for distribution and possession with the intent to distribute by creating a presumption that a person who grows no more than six plants would be raising them for personal use. The bill would also soften some laws concerning marijuana paraphernalia and limit the forfeiture of property from the sale or distribution of 1 pound or more of marijuana. Currently, there is no minimum amount.

Virginia State Police figures show that in 2013, there were more than 24,000 marijuana arrests in the state.

“The criminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana ruins far more lives than it impacts in any kind of positive ways,” Ebbin said.

Edward McCann, policy director for Virginia NORML, which advocates for the legalization of marijuana, said the legislation is supported by the ACLU and the NAACP.

“This is not just a conversation starter; we need to pass this bill,” said Edward McCann, policy director for Virginia NORML, which advocates for the legalization of marijuana.

“We’ve been talking to many of the members. … I think there is general support for the core of the bill, which is removing criminal penalties for people who possess small amounts—even from Republicans.”

 Generic drug prices skyrocket Sun, 30 Nov 2014 02:56:00 +0000
BY ELLEN JEAN HIRST / Chicago Tribune   CHICAGO—After calling for a routine prescription refill, Craig Elliott got a shock: His bill was going up fivefold.The 44-year-old piano tuner and ...more

 

CHICAGO—After calling for a routine prescription refill, Craig Elliott got a shock: His bill was going up fivefold.

The 44-year-old piano tuner and guitar instructor, who has health insurance, used to pay $20 for a three-month supply of his generic epilepsy drug as a member of Walgreen’s Prescription Savings Club. But recently, the price shot up to more than $100, forcing him to order month by month.

“I’ll get by … (but) I don’t like now having a larger bill every month,” Elliott said.

Countless other Americans are feeling the same sticker shock.

Historically costing pennies on the dollar compared with a brand-name drug, generic drugs have long been considered a vital weapon in the fight to contain soaring health care costs. But in the past year, the price of many generics is disconcertingly moving in the wrong direction, drawing the attention of Congress and pinching the wallets of consumers as well as pharmacies and insurers.

“We are talking about the need of the American people to be able to afford the medicine that their doctors prescribe,” said U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of a Senate health care subcommittee, at a hearing. “There appears to be now a trend in the industry where a number of drugs are going up at extraordinary rates … We wanted to know if there was a rational economic reason as to why patients saw these price increases or whether it was simply a question of greed.”

Experts say raw material shortages, industry consolidation and medical advancements that make replicating brand-name drugs more expensive have all contributed to skyrocketing costs.

According to Catamaran, a pharmacy benefit manager that administers prescription drug programs, consumers and insurers paid an average of $41.88 for a generic drug prescription in recent years, up from a four-year average of $14.21 between 2005 and 2009.

Today, more than a third of generics cost insurers and consumers more than $100 per prescription, company data show.

“People who don’t have insurance, they’re picking up the full fare of these drugs,” said Catamaran’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Sumit Dutta. “And they’re often not in the best place to handle the cost.”

A Pembroke Consulting analysis of federal data shows the price pharmacies pay for generics over the past year has soared, too, by as much as 17,700 percent. One in 11 generic drugs have more than doubled in acquisition cost for pharmacies over the past year. To cope, insurance companies have introduced co-pay tiers.

Walgreen Co., which cited the skyrocketing generic drug prices as an obstacle for 2015 profits, has a similar tiered system with its Prescription Savings program, a membership plan that offers discounts on services and drugs.

The generic epilepsy drug that Elliott takes, Carbamazepine, had previously been on its list of value-priced generics but was removed when the price increased, a Walgreen spokesman said.

According to Pembroke Consulting, the average pharmacy acquisition cost of that drug increased about 22 percent between July 2013 to July 2014.

The rising prices have caught the attention of Congress and last month Sanders and Maryland’s Rep. Elijah Cummings requested financial documents from 14 pharmaceutical companies across the country.

Last year, CVS Caremark announced a partnership with Cardinal Health, giving it more generic drug buying power. Walgreen Co. works with AmerisourceBergen and Alliance Boots and McKesson announced its acquisition of Celesio in January. Those three groups wield a huge amount of purchasing power, which should keep generic drug prices down.

“What the American people are entitled to know,” Sanders said, “is why there are a number of generic drugs that have seen a huge increase in prices in recent years.”