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Top 10 stories of 2012


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FILE/SUZANNE CARR ROSSI/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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Date published: 12/30/2012


The Battle of Fredericksburg is a familiar story here. But December's full-bore commemoration of the Confederate victory's sesquicentennial has people from near and far looking at it in new ways. Events kicked into high gear in Fredericksburg on Dec. 8 with "Fire on the Rappahannock" river crossings, house-to-house fighting and the Battle of Marye's Heights. More than 1,400 re-enactors took part.

The next day, the city's Irish Brigade monument was rededicated. Thousands joined a procession from the Rappahannock River to Sunken Road, retracing Union footsteps. At the Stone Wall, there was music, a fireworks fusillade, U.S. military units, 21-volley howitzer salute and more. "It will stand as one of the most deeply poignant experiences of my life," one participant said.

C-SPAN, the Smithsonian, the National Park Service and media outlets filmed events, which concluded Dec. 15, the anniversary of the Yankees' nighttime retreat into Stafford.

--Clint Schemmer

John Morton loved flying. His 13-year-old son, Kyle, loved spending time with his father.

On Saturday, Sept. 29, the two went to Shannon Airport to spend time together in the air, but something went terribly wrong. The Cessna 150M they were in crashed, killing them both.

"It's a pilot's wife's worst nightmare," Kristy Morton said in an interview two days after the crash from the family's home in Stafford County's White Oak area.

The crash happened after the plane took off at about 5:15 p.m. Witnesses said the Cessna went up sharply and then plummeted to the ground. It landed in the River Heights mobile home park near the airport. John, 48, and Kyle died at the scene.

The National Transportation Safety Board released its preliminary report about the crash in November, and said the plane nose-dived "following an in-flight loss of control during initial climb from Shannon Airport."

What that loss of control was and what caused it remain unclear.

The full investigation will take 12 to 18 months and will focus on the specific cause.

--Scott Shenk

Laurence Alan Stewart II, who is suspected of trying to kill his former girlfriend and two Stafford deputies by bombing their homes early Oct. 30, was apprehended three days later some 2,000 miles away--in Montana, following a high-speed chase involving numerous officers. During the chase, police said, pipe bombs similar to the ones that exploded at homes here were thrown from the fleeing vehicle.

No one was seriously injured, though significant property damage occurred at the two homes in Stafford and one in Fredericksburg. Stewart, 25, is charged with multiple offenses locally, including two counts of attempted capital murder of a law enforcement officer. He remains in custody near Great Falls, Mont., and faces charges as the result of the wild chase that started out as a routine traffic stop.

--Staff report

Call it a Christmas miracle.

After decades of debate, work has finally begun on the perennially congested Falmouth intersection, where U.S. 1 crosses U.S. 17/Butler Road in south Stafford.

Demolition of nearby buildings began on Dec. 17, and utility lines are slated to be moved underground between February and October 2013.

Actual construction on the intersection, which includes the addition of eight lanes, is expected to start in the spring of 2014. It could take two years to complete the $25 million project, which includes landscaping.

And just in time, too. By 2016, if nothing were done at the intersection, the average wait at the four-way light was projected to be nearly four minutes. With the improvements, VDOT says, the average wait will be 56 seconds.

--Edie Gross

Commonwealth's attorneys in two counties ruled that the fatal shooting of a Fauquier County teen shot multiple times by two Stafford County deputies in his home on Nov. 2 was a justifiable homicide.

Evan Newsom, 17, was killed at his Tacketts Mill Road residence in Fauquier right on the Stafford line. Deputies from both jurisdictions responded there after Newsom reportedly abandoned a car and assaulted a neighbor.

A joint statement by the prosecutors indicated that the Liberty High School senior committed "suicide by police." They wrote that an intoxicated Newsom attacked a Stafford deputy with a knife, cutting his sleeve and his arm. That deputy and another Stafford deputy responded to the "clear, direct and imminent attempt to kill or do grave bodily harm" by opening fire. Prior to that, Newsom had reportedly assaulted his mother and a neighbor.

Newsom's mother, Angela, said before the ruling that she does not believe the shooting was justified and there was no good reason for police to go into the home to confront her son.

--Staff report

In November, a year and a half after a fatal bus crash in Caroline County that killed four passengers, Sky Express bus driver Kin Yiu Cheung was found guilty of four counts of involuntary manslaughter.

Cheung, 38, faces up to 40 years in prison when he is sentenced in Caroline Circuit Court on Jan. 23.

Cheung did not take the stand during his trial, but his attorneys admitted that he fell asleep while driving.

The prosecution put on 16 witnesses, mostly crash survivors, who described in detail the horrifying events that took place before the low-fare tour bus flipped over on Interstate 95 just south of the Carmel Church exit.

They described how the bus was swerving in and out of the lanes and how irritated Cheung was during a majority of the trip, where he was seen buying large quantities of coffee and Red Bull energy drink.

A front-seat passenger, who is fluent in Mandarin Chinese, said Cheung spent a lot of time on his cellphone, and she overheard him complaining that he didn't get enough rest.

At the end of the nearly four- hour trial, Judge Joseph J. Ellis told Cheung he found his conduct "to be so gross and wanton" that he had to find him guilty of all four counts.

--Portsia Smith

The Free Lance-Star news staff also voted on the top 10 stories of 2012. Here are the results of that poll:

1. Derecho

2. Brian Strobel's death

3. (tie) Patricia Cook case and Battle of Fredericksburg

5. Pipe bombing case

6. Microburst destroys Cheer Fusion

7. (tie) Michael Hash freed after 12 years in prison after judge dismisses 2000 murder charge. Special prosecutor later declares Hash "totally free." And Evan Newsom case

9. (tie) Mary Katherine Greenlaw elected as Fredericksburg's first female mayor; U.S. National Slavery Museum bankruptcy debacle; voting machine problems in Spotsylvania County on Election Day