Wednesday’s hit-and-run death of a young Chesterfield County woman brought several dozen of her loved ones together Sunday evening in Shockoe Bottom to remember her. Shanice Woodberry, 22, died from injuries suffered when she and several others were struck by a car last week in the 1700 block of East Main Street in what police said was a homicide.
A 21-year-old woman was arrested Friday in connection with the death.
Woodberry’s parents, Robin Lewis and Shakim Woodberry, were among the speakers at a gathering of family and friends at 17th and East Main streets, within sight of the block where Shanice was hit by the car.
Lewis told the gathering how much she loved her daughter. “I miss painting her toes ... I miss my little best friend, my little best friend with no money,” she chuckled.
Then, speaking more seriously, she said: “I’ve got to bury my daughter. I don’t know how I’m going to do it.”
Shakim Woodberry, who lives out of state, said, “As I drove five hours to come to this situation, I said to myself, ‘I can’t have hate in my heart. I can’t walk in hate. I have to walk in love.’”
He said he can say, “I forgive her. I can say that, but I’ve got to keep coaching myself.”
Many in attendance at the vigil, organized by Charles Willis, executive director of United Communities Against Crime, held pink balloons, wore pink clothing or, like her parents, wore T-shirts with a photo of Shanice, her name and the dates of her birth and death.
Woodberry, a Monacan High School graduate, worked at a group home for people with mental disabilities and was planning to attend J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in the fall to start the nursing program.
In the hours prior to her death, she was with friends at the Image Restaurant and Lounge at 1713 E. Main St. Reports said there had been an altercation outside the club not long before the pedestrians were struck. Police responding to the scene of the accident shortly before 2 a.m. Wednesday found two women and a man who had been hit by a car.
They were rushed to a hospital, where Woodberry died. Another woman suffered life-threatening injuries. Some in attendance at the vigil on Sunday said the woman is now in stable condition.
Police later learned that a fourth person had taken herself to a hospital after being struck in the same incident.
Two women who were said to have been hit by the car and some witnesses were present on Sunday evening, but none spoke.
Shiauna M. Harris, 21, whose address was unavailable, was arrested as a suspect on Friday by Richmond police. She was in custody in the Richmond jail on Sunday, but the charges she is facing were not available. She was arrested an hour after police publicly named her.
“I’m going to let the law handle it and I’m going to let God handle it,” one of Woodberry’s uncles said Sunday evening.
“I love my niece so much. I never thought I’d see my niece on a T-shirt,” he said.
Willis said Woodberry’s mother wanted to have the vigil. “She said, ‘We want to make a statement that her daughter Shanice Woodberry is loved.’ She has a big family. She wasn’t just some young girl hanging out in the street,” Willis said.
He said, “This person that did this tragedy took off running like a coward.” Because of help from the public, there was an arrest, he said.
But two people have been lost, Willis said — Shanice Woodberry and the person responsible for her death. “There’s another young person that may not see the streets for a long time. And that young person needs help also. So we are praying for her family.”
Shakim Woodberry said, “I don’t know what to say. I don’t have a blueprint on this.”
“You never, never, never want to get that phone call like that. Six o’clock in the morning. You never want to get that phone call,” he said.
Justin Andelin, the son of Metro Richmond Zoo owner Jim Andelin, grew up with his six siblings at the zoo. The animals he was raised alongside taught him about his passion — climbing.
Now, Andelin, known as the “Zoo Ninja,” will be moving from the Great Ape Exhibits to the course of the TV show “American Ninja Warrior.” Andelin competed in the Baltimore qualifiers and will be appearing on Monday’s episode airing at 8 p.m. on NBC.
“American Ninja Warrior” features contestants attempting to complete strenuous obstacle courses in a variety of cities for a chance to move on to the national finals.
More than 70,000 ninja hopefuls per season apply to be on the show. Andelin was one of 700 selected to compete in qualifiers, and one of 100 to compete in Baltimore.
Having grown up around animals, Andelin now works as a manager at the zoo.
As a child, he would spend time watching the primates climb and try to mimic their body movements. In addition to traditional venues like rock-climbing gyms, Andelin climbs with the primates in their enclosures and in the zoo’s zipline and adventure park.
Primates have the ability to brachiate, or swing between trees in an arm-over-arm fashion using only their upper body. While humans can only “kind of” do it, Andelin said, he practices the techniques he learns through observation, whether it’s brachiation or orangutans’ ability to hang from tree branches for hours.
“Primates are six times stronger than man,” Andelin said. “Watching them and their body movements — some of it’s not possible for a man to do, but some of it is.”
It’s not just the primates. Andelin said each animal has a unique characteristic that he can learn from as a ninja, even the less “exotic” ones. Goats, for example, have incredible balance on tight ledges, while leopards have extraordinary leaping ability.
“Every animal has their unique abilities, and just growing up around them is really cool,” he said. “[They] make me want to get to my peak self because some of them have such peak attributes that are just really cool.”
Andelin, 31, also enjoys climbing around Richmond, particularly the downtown area, because there are so many features, including light posts and bridges.
Monday will mark Andelin’s first appearance on the show but his second time tackling the course. He was selected to take part in 2018’s Miami qualifier but was never featured on the show. This time, producers called to tell him he would be making two appearances in the Baltimore episode.
Also competing in Baltimore was Zach Barefoot of Midlothian. Barefoot, 22, a Virginia Tech student known as the “Barefoot Ninja,” first got some exposure to climbing when his parents held his 12th birthday party at local rock-climbing gym Peak Experiences. He enjoyed it so much that he repeated the experience for his 13th birthday and ended up joining the gym’s training team and eventually making his way to the competitive team, vying in local events all along the East Coast.
Barefoot grew up watching “American Ninja Warrior” and was chosen to compete this year after being told to try again last year. He’s unsure if he will be making an appearance in Monday’s episode — only about 30 of the 100 contestants who compete in each city’s qualifier make it to the screen, he said.
An unexpected challenge of going on the show is the shooting schedule, Andelin said. His episode was shot from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. on April 28-29, and contestants watch others compete until their name is called sometime in the middle of the night.
Barefoot agreed that the late shooting schedule was hard to adjust to; he didn’t run the course until 4:30 a.m.
“I was exhausted at that point,” he said. “The adrenaline kicked in right before I ran the course, so I didn’t feel it when I was on it, but beforehand I was thinking to myself, I could fall asleep just standing up right here.”
In terms of the obstacles, Andelin said he was most nervous for the balance-related features, because one slip could result in a major setback.
“My balance is very good, but still, one little trip and you’re down and that’s it. You get your one shot and you’re done,” he said. “The whole process is rather challenging.’
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Richmond property owners are seeing sharp real estate assessment increases that will result in significantly higher tax bills for the second consecutive year.
The average city homeowner will pay $228 more annually after a round of reassessments that saw the average home value increase 7.7%, to $266,000, according to figures provided by the Richmond Real Estate Assessor’s Office. The city mailed property owners notices last week. Homeowners in South Richmond and the East End saw the biggest jumps.
“It’s a robust market in Richmond,” said Richie McKeithen, the city assessor.
The total taxable value of all Richmond real estate for the upcoming year rose 7%. That comes on the heels of a 7.3% increase for the current year, which represented the largest annual increase in a decade.
Richmond’s real estate tax rate is $1.20 per $100 of assessed value. The rate was the subject of debate during budget deliberations earlier this spring, when Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney proposed increasing it by 9 cents. The City Council rejected his plan, citing, in part, surging assessments last year and a fear of overburdening property owners.
Combined, the back-to-back bumps mean the average city homeowner owes roughly $450 more in real estate taxes than they did two years ago. Depending on the neighborhood, that figure can be even higher.
“It’s outrageous,” said Anne Page, a landlord who owns several rental properties in the West End. One of her property assessments went up more than 11%. On another building, it climbed 14%. She said she owes roughly $1,500 more in taxes on the two properties than she paid last year.
“It wouldn’t be so painful if it was just once, but every year it has gone up excessively. We can’t charge rents to cover it.”
McKeithen, who answers to the council, runs the office that is responsible for assessing roughly 74,000 properties annually. A major factor in his calculus is home sale prices, which assessments typically lag behind. As demand in a neighborhood drives up sale prices, the assessors revise values to align them with what a property could fetch at market, he said. Owners can dispute their assessment in an effort to reduce their tax bill by filing a complaint with McKeithen’s office.
Residential property values increased citywide, but the highest rate of growth occurred in neighborhoods that historically have not been considered strong real estate markets.
“Our traditionally strong neighborhoods have done well for so long that individuals are now going into other neighborhoods that are more affordable,” McKeithen said.
The highest percentage growth came in the Swansboro and Maury assessment area in South Richmond, where the value of the tax base grew by 25%. Close behind were Oak Grove and Bellemeade, also South Richmond neighborhoods, where values grew 23% and 19%, respectively.
The increases suggested spillover activity from other neighborhoods where some buyers may be priced out, McKeithen said, like fast-growing Manchester and gentrifying Blackwell.
Likewise, the East End neighborhoods of Fairmount, Oakwood and Fairfield saw their respective values outpace the rate of growth citywide, a product of surging prices in Church Hill, McKeithen said.
Laura Lafayette, CEO of the Richmond Association of Realtors, said assessment growth in historically weaker markets should prompt conversations about what kind of tax relief the city can provide long-term residents. The city currently offers a relief program for people ages 65 and up who qualify.
Offering a relief program that is not age-restricted could reduce the chance of displacement associated with gentrification, Lafayette said.
Overall, she said she viewed the continued growth in assessments as a good thing.
“It points to interest in folks locating both their businesses and residences in the city, so that’s extraordinarily positive.”
The most potentially far-reaching state law that takes effect on Monday creates a legislative study with big stakes for high rollers who are pushing state lawmakers to allow casino gambling in almost every region of Virginia, including the Richmond area.
The scope of the study by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission now includes Northern Virginia, in addition to Richmond and four other cities specified in the new law, according to commission staff.
However, the study, due to legislators by Dec. 1, will not look at potential casino sites in other parts of the state beyond the five cities, which also include Norfolk, Portsmouth, Danville and Bristol. JLARC staff originally planned to look at other localities in the regions around those cities when it outlined the parameters of the work for the commission in May.
Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, whose wife is one of three lobbyists hired to represent Norfolk on the gambling issue, objected to what he described as “a herculean task” of studying the potential economic benefits and costs of casino operations in every part of the state. Norment is chairman of JLARC.
However, leaders of the House of Delegates — led by Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, a gambling opponent who voted against the final legislative compromise in February — still favor a statewide approach to studying an issue that is likely to dominate the new General Assembly that convenes in January for a 60-day session.
The assembly must re-enact the law next year before localities could hold voter referendums to allow casino gambling.
“The General Assembly needs as much information as possible, and limiting the JLARC study to geographic areas would not be consistent with our need for information or the study as authorized,” Cox said in a statement Friday. “I expect to see a comprehensive study.”
JLARC Vice Chairman Steve Landes, R-Augusta, said Bristol would be the only locality west of the Blue Ridge Mountains that would be considered in the casino analysis.
“Just to say you’re only going to look at Bristol and not look at Roanoke doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” said Landes, who is not running for re-election this year.
Norment suggested that the speaker’s desire to broaden the study to include parts of the state with no interest in casino gambling is a prelude to killing the initiative next year.
“Trying to enlarge and engorge it is to dilute it ... and kill it in 2020,” he said in a phone interview Friday.
Norment also called the possibility of developing a casino in Northern Virginia “a complete folly” in the face of overwhelming competition from MGM National Harbor, an established casino and resort across the Potomac River in Maryland. MGM Resorts International, which has hired two Richmond lobbyists, had no comment Friday.
Tracey Smith, associate director of JLARC who is overseeing the study, said the Northern Virginia compromise allows a national gaming consultant hired for the study to examine the fiscal and economic impact in the state’s biggest population centers, as well as two cities along Virginia’s boundaries that could draw gambling dollars from other states.
“It is short of a statewide look, but it is inclusive of the regions that would have the most revenue impact,” Smith said Friday.
JLARC does not intend to recommend potential casino sites, but she said, “We’ll be able to show the relative advantages across the different sites.”
The scope of the study is critical to the state’s biggest private gambling interest, Colonial Downs Group, which is collecting signatures for a referendum in November on off-track parimutuel betting in Dumfries, a town in Prince William County.
It also is organizing a referendum in Danville, one of the five cities in the study, and will open one of its Rosie’s Gaming Emporium locations in South Richmond on Monday.
The group, backed by investors with interests in casino operations elsewhere, already has invested $175 million in the main historical horse racing gambling operation at the reopened Colonial Downs horse track in New Kent County and a second off-site location in Vinton, in Roanoke County. It has hired about 800 people to work in those locations.
“The Colonial Downs Group is supportive of a direction that maximizes the benefit to the commonwealth,” said Mark Hubbard, a spokesman for the company at McGuireWoods Consulting. “The more information available to decision-makers, that results in the best outcome for Virginia, the better.”
In addition to McGuireWoods, Colonial Downs is represented primarily by Hunton Andrews Kurth, a Richmond law firm that is also the longtime lobbyist for Danville.
Norment represents part of New Kent and helped pass legislation to allow historical horse racing at the formerly shuttered track.
“I don’t care what Colonial Downs says about the JLARC study,” he said. “I have not been enthusiastic about Colonial Downs conducting a bunch of referendums and trying to go statewide.
“That was not part of the deal,” he added. “Right now, they are pushing the envelope.”
Virginia adopted a law in 2018 that allowed a new kind of gambling called historical horse racing. The machines look and feel like a traditional slot machine, but they’re powered by an archive of past horse races and operate under a parimutuel wagering system similar to live horse racing.
After the law passed, an out-of-state business group that advocated for the machines bought the track in April 2018 and reopened it a year later for historical horse racing, with plans for live racing in August and September.
Ultimately, Colonial Downs Group plans to invest $300 million and hire more than 1,000 people for Rosie’s operations in up to five localities that already have allowed parimutuel betting, including Richmond and Hampton, as well as Dumfries and Danville, if voters allow it in November.
Bettors pumped nearly $71 million into the machines at the two Rosie’s locations in New Kent and Vinton in May, according to a report filed with the Virginia Racing Commission. That activity produced about $4.7 million in revenue for Colonial Downs Group, and more than $885,000 in state and local tax revenues.
“Right now, they are the only game in town, and I’m sure they would prefer to stay that way,” Norment said. “But we are not in the monopoly business in gaming yet.”
JLARC has contracted with The Innovation Group, a national gaming consultant with offices in Las Vegas and three other U.S. cities, to examine the fiscal and economic impact of casino operations in the five cities and Northern Virginia. The consultant, working with JLARC staff, will analyze the potential capital investment and jobs created, and the effect on local economies and tax revenues, as well as state tax revenues from any or all potential casino operations.
The study also will evaluate the potential effects on current gambling operations, including the Virginia Lottery, historical horse racing and charitable gaming, such as bingo, as well as the potential social costs and problems from expanded gambling opportunities in the state.
The consultant also has hired Regulatory Management Counselors, based in Michigan, to evaluate potential ways for Virginia to govern and regulate new forms of gambling, including sports betting under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that allows states to conduct sports betting.
The new state law, subject to re-enactment by the assembly next year, gives the responsibility of licensing and regulating new gambling operations to the lottery, which did not seek the responsibility or object to it.
The law is a compromise that Norment helped craft this year in response to legislation to allow casino gambling in Bristol, Portsmouth and Danville, cities that all have struggled economically. The compromise includes Richmond and Norfolk because they are being considered by the Pamunkey Indian Tribe as potential sites for casinos.
Norfolk said last week that it has retained three lobbyists specifically for the gaming legislation: Angie Bezik of Virginia Beach, who is married to Norment; Chip Dicks, a former delegate from Chesterfield County; and Mindy Carlin of Virginia Beach. For other legislative business, the city relies on Kemper Consulting, which also represents the Pamunkey tribe.
“Angie and I have never discussed a word about it,” Norment said.