COVID-19 numbers keep dropping, the search continues in Shenandoah, March wins a primary and Herring loses in court.

Daily Number

15 – You might say Sunday marked an anniversary, even if no one celebrated it. Today’s number stands for the 15 barrels of gunpowder that Gov. Dunmore ordered removed from Williamsburg’s powder magazine. The year was 1775 and on April 20, one day after the battles at Lexington and Concord, Gov. Dunmore ordered that the gunpowder be removed from the Williamsburg magazine and stored in a Royal Navy ship. 

That didn’t go over so well with Virginia residents, who demanded the gunpowder be returned. Williamsburg’s city council agreed, saying it was paid for by local taxes and so the gunpowder should be back under local control. On April 25, the House of Burgesses got involved, officially opposing Dunmore’s decision. What happened next? Well for that, you’ll have to wait until later this week, as we highlight more of the story. 

Today marks another anniversary, but this one might be a little easier to guess. The year was 1607. Anyone want to guess what happened in Virginia? We’ll tell you in tomorrow’s Download. 


Most COVID Numbers Keep Dropping

The numbers keep dropping across Virginia and that’s a good thing. On Sunday, the state’s positive test rate fell to 5.5%, the lowest it’s been in nearly a year. That rate involves all COVID-19 tests taken over a seven day period. Out of this latest batch, only 5.5% of people tested positive for the virus. 

The overall number of new cases also dropped to 884. Until Sunday, Virginia hadn’t seen a day with under 950 new cases since March. While all those points are positive, there is one red flag medical officials point to with concern. The total number of hospitalizations is on the rise. On April 1, there were 26,536 people hospitalized due to COVID-19 in Virginia. As of Sunday, that number stood at 28,090. 


March Wins Virginia Republicans’ Only Spring Primary

A Christiansburg business owner collected 54% of the vote in Saturday’s Republican primary. Marie March won the District 7 primary, looking to fill a seat in the House of Delegates. The seat came open this year after Republican Nick Rush announced his retirement. Rush has represented District 7, which includes Floyd County and portions of Montgomery and Pulaski counties, for the last decade. 

March, who owns the restaurants Due South and Fatback Soul Shack in Christiansburg, picked up 1,387 votes. Sherri Blevins finished in second place with 660 votes and Lowell Bowman came in third with 514 votes. 

That’s the only primary for Republicans this spring. The statewide nominees will be decided in an unassembled convention May 8. 


University of Richmond Creates Diversity Committee

Does the University of Richmond do a good job when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion on campus? That’s what university officials want to find out. On Friday, the school’s board of trustees unanimously voted to create a committee focused on all three topics. 

Set to begin work as students return this fall, the committee doesn’t have a specific assignment yet. Instead, the board members agreed to finalize details over the next month, with plans released to the public by this summer. 


Saturday’s Trivia Answer: That’s Complicated

There’s a couple things astronauts have to do in order to go on a mission to the International Space Station. Yes, you have to go through the program, prove you can handle space flight and pass several dozen tests. But on Saturday, we asked beyond all that, what was the one thing you have to do before being approved for a trip to the ISS. Anyone guess?

You have to learn Russian. Why? Well, as you may recall, the U.S. shut down its space shuttle in 2011. As of now, if you want to go to the ISS, you have to do it using Russian Soyuz vehicles. That means training at Moscow’s Gagarin Cosmonaut Center, where you’ll learn to operate the vehicle. Also, if there’s a problem, you’ll learn how to talk it through with Russian specialists who built the craft. But to do that, first you have to speak their language.


Look Up in The Sky Tonight

We talked about this a bit last week, but just a reminder that a “pink moon” will be rising tonight. Tonight marks one of the closest points the moon comes to Earth in its orbit. As a result, it’ll appear bigger and brighter. 

How big? Well, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, a regular “super moon” is 7 percent bigger and 15 percent brighter. Since the ‘Pink Moon’ comes closer to Earth than that, it’s normally 10 percent bigger and 20 percent brighter.

But if it’s not pink, where’s the name come from? Well, you can thank early settlers for that. This full moon typically happens at the same time as a flower blooms in the Appalachian Mountains. The creeping phlox or moss phlox, which can be found all over Virginia, produces light pink flowers. The settlers called it “moss pink” and labeled the annual supermoon a ‘Pink Moon’.

NASA folks say the best time to go out and see tonight’s moon is at 11:32 p.m.


Search Continues in Shenandoah National Park

The search continued Sunday as people looked for a teenager in Shenandoah National Park. Eighteen-year-old Ty Sauer was last seen Thursday on Skyline Drive, at mile marker 35. He stands 6’3 ft, weighing about 187 lbs. He’s white with dirty blonde hair and might be wearing glasses. 

No one has seen or heard from Sauer since Thursday night, which triggered three days of searching through the national park. Over the weekend, 15 search and rescue operators, five dog teams, multiple U.S. Park Service helicopters and Shenandoah National Park staff all joined the operation. Now officials are closing certain trails and portions of the park, as the search stretches into Monday. 

As of Sunday night, the following areas are closed in Shenandoah: 

  • Catlett Mountain Trail
  • Catlett Spur Trail
  • Corbin Cabin Cutoff
  • Hannah Run Trail
  • Hazel Mountain Trail
  • Nicholson Hollow

Anyone with information about Sauer is asked to call 1-800-732-0911. 


Ghaisar Case Goes Federal 

A federal judge ruled against Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring and Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano on Friday. Judge Claude Hilton said U.S. Park Police officers Lucas Vinyard and Alejandro Amaya will face charges in federal court, rather than state court as Herring and Descano requested. 

The two officers shot and killed Virginia resident Bijan Ghaisar during a traffic stop in 2017. Originally indicted in Fairfax County, the pair face manslaughter and weapons charges. 

The incident happened Nov. 17, 2017, as Ghaisar was driving his Jeep Grand Cherokee on the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Alexandria. While stopping in traffic, he was hit from behind by an Uber driver, in what was described as a fender bender, due to minor damage done to both vehicles. The Uber driver and passenger both called 911. 

Ghaisar, meanwhile, drove off without giving his insurance information to the Uber driver. In Virginia, that’s a misdemeanor charge. Park Police started chasing Ghaisar, but that was a violation of their own rules. Park Police have no authority to follow a vehicle outside of their jurisdiction, unless a felony has been committed.

When they located Ghaisar’s Jeep Grand Cherokee, officers pulled him over. The officer who went up to the vehicle drew his gun and Ghaisar drove off. They pulled him over a second time, again the officer came up with a gun drawn and again, Ghaisar drove off. The third time they pulled him over, both officers approached the vehicle with guns drawn. As the vehicle again started moving, they fired 10 times.

Now this is where Friday’s decision has an impact. Attorneys for the two officers claimed they should be immune from state prosecution because they were acting as federal officers when the shooting happened. The Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution states that federal officers can’t be tried for their actions on duty in state courts.

Herring and Descano, however, had argued the two officers had violated their own department’s policies by first engaging in the chase and then by shooting at a moving vehicle. The judge disagreed.