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Truck driver charged with reckless driving in van crash that killed 4 members of Blackstone church

A Norfolk man has been charged with reckless driving in a Dinwiddie County crash that killed four members of Shiloh Baptist Church in Blackstone and injured seven others who were inside a van headed to a church revival.

State police said Monday that they have charged Robert Lee Allen, 47, who was driving a Ford F-450 truck pulling a trailer loaded with metal about 6:45 p.m. May 28 when he failed to stop in time on U.S. 460 and struck the church van from behind. The impact caused the van to overturn several times before it finally came to rest on its side on the right side of the highway.

The church van was hit as it was slowing to turn toward the parking lot of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Dinwiddie, where members were headed to attend a revival.

Allen’s truck ran off the left side of U.S. 460 and struck a guardrail. He was taken to a hospital for treatment of minor injuries.

Killed in the crash were James Farley, 87, a former groundskeeper at Shiloh Baptist Church; Wartena Somerville, 36, an elementary school teacher and the mother of a young child; Delois Williams, 72, chairperson of the church’s deacon board; and Constance Wynn, 85, a former Lunenburg County schoolteacher who served as town councilwoman from 1987 to 2010.

Police said the crash remains under investigation.

Two days after the crash, Dinwiddie Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill said her office was collaborating with state police in the investigation and “charging decisions will be made when it is appropriate to do so.”

Reached on Monday, Baskervill said she could not immediately comment because she has not yet received materials from state police about the reckless driving charge the agency filed or the underlying evidence. She also declined, for now, to say whether additional charges were being contemplated.

The charging document against Allen has not yet been received by Dinwiddie General District Court, a clerk said Monday, so no court date has been set for him.


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'The ball comes last': Two former VCU stars want to change the way girls soccer is coached

The wall of tween girls draped over the railing couldn’t have cared less about the score on the scoreboard, or that their shoes were soggy and their hair dripping from a steady rain that persisted most of the night.

They were waiting for the last person to walk off the soccer field at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C. last October, after the U.S. Women’s National Team picked up a 7-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago in the Women’s World Cup qualifying tournament. (The U.S. opens play in the World Cup on Tuesday at 3 p.m.)

But it wasn’t U.S. soccer stars Alex Morgan or Carli Lloyd that captivated the girls’ attention that night. It was Lauryn Hutchinson, a Trinidad & Tobago defender and co-founder of Richmond-based EVLV, an all-girls soccer program that aims to tap into the best of girls’ potential, both on and off the field.

EVLV’s training programs work with young girls and professional athletes alike on soccer skills. But self-esteem, confidence and courage are coached and flexed with just as much intensity as juggling and volleys.

On that night last fall, as the stadium emptied of everyone but a skeleton crew to clean up, Hutchinson purposely lingered on the outskirts of the field, talking and taking pictures with her dedicated school-age entourage. To the nearly 3,000 spectators in attendance, or anyone watching the game on television, she wore Trinidad & Tobago’s No. 17.

For a very small contingent, however, who crowded around her, she was simply “Coach Lauryn.”

***

At its core, EVLV is about growth, in all the ways a girl can experience that.

Soccer is just the tool.

EVLV was founded in 2017 by Hutchinson and Breiana White, close friends who met in high school while playing for clubs in soccer-dominant Northern Virginia. Both were recruited to play at VCU by then co-head coach Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak, a member of the gold-winning 1999 U.S. Women’s National Team.

Those were the days, healthy and injury-free, White, 28, and Hutchinson, 27, joked last month as they sat in their newly acquired 3,000-square-foot space inside the Sports Center of Richmond, or SCOR, at 1385 Overbook Road. Within this space, EVLV offers private, semi-private and small-group training, as well as sessions on everything from nutrition and meditation for athletes, to female empowerment and academic excellence.

And, well, perhaps there’s been a dance contest or two and maybe a few rounds of karaoke. There’s always music — always.

After spending several years working with and coaching co-ed and girls’ soccer teams from Powhatan County to Mechanicsville, both women agreed that there’s not enough emphasis on teaching the women’s game to young girls, and too few female role models.

“I will never understand coaches who coach females, [who] do not watch the female game,” Hutchinson said. “It’s not that one is lesser than the other,” she said about men’s and women’s soccer, “it’s just different.”

“We have a ton of respect for the men’s game, but why would you paint a picture for a young girl to be [Lionel] Messi, when she will never be Messi,” Hutchinson said, referring to the Argentinian player widely regarded as one of the best men’s soccer players in the world.

“Can she learn things? Of course,” Hutchinson continued, but why not showcase the likes of Australian team captain Sam Kerr, for example, or USA’s power defender, Becky Sauerbrunn. “Let’s paint the right picture.”

In addition to the training programs, EVLV offers summer camps that blend soccer with serious but lighthearted conversations about issues facing girls today. There’s winter training, too, and futsal, a fast, 5-on-5 game that’s played indoors on a small court with a heavier ball.

White said there’s more to coaching than instilling technique. Within soccer culture, “We don’t spend enough time on the mental side,” White said, and unlike boys, “[girls] take everything to heart.”

She admits she struggled with confidence as a young player. “I always thought that I was never good enough,” she said. But “if you can have someone reinforce that it’s OK to make mistakes, that [athlete] is going to want to try new things.”

That also means, from time to time, she and Hutchinson will postpone a private training session for a few minutes — or more — to help an athlete work out her life issues first. A clear mind means more focus — and fewer injuries — on the field.

“If you’re not mentally in it, you’re not going to be able to give it your all,” White said. “We’re about the individual [and] how can we make them better, and if it’s not soccer, then how else can we help you?”

“We put these kids first ... [and] build relationships,” White said, then added: “There’s so much more to the girls’ game that we want to expand on.”

***

Expanding horizons means getting out of your comfort zone. International soil definitely helps.

White and Hutchinson left Monday for France with 13 high school girls for an 11-day World Cup training program where they’ll train with and play against their international peers in four games around Paris. They’re also attending two U.S. Women’s World Cup games.

This is EVLV’s first international trip with its athletes. Hutchinson said they hope to make it an annual occurrence, because girls need to know there are opportunities outside the United States.

“Some of these girls don’t even know they can go overseas after college and get paid ... to kick a ball,” she said.

Both Hutchinson and White have played abroad. White traveled to Germany as a high school student while training with the Olympic Development Program, a national identification and development program for top youth players.

Hutchinson plays on the women’s national team for her father’s native Trinidad & Tobago. She played in the 2011 Pan American games in Mexico, then in Women’s World Cup qualifying games for the small island nation in 2014 and 2018.

“I went from playing with college players ... to having to mark Alex Morgan and players like Marta,” Hutchinson said, referring to the forward on Brazil’s national team considered one of the world’s best female soccer players.

Playing on the world stage was electric, Hutchinson recalled, but the conditions under which she and her Trinidad & Tobago teammates trained and traveled were not. The apparent lack of resources compared to the men’s teams, Hutchinson said, has only strengthened her and White’s advocacy of the women’s game. They support the members of the U.S. Women’s National Team, who in March filed a class-action, gender discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation, citing, among other things, unfair pay and working conditions.

“Every time we get a chance to complain, we will, because we deserve the best,” Hutchinson said. “We’re tired of the money that we’re earning going to places where it doesn’t belong.”

That advocacy and leadership are why parents say they didn’t hesitate when presented with the opportunity to send their daughters to France for what one parent called a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

“Europe is home to [soccer] and the intensity Americans have for it is nothing compared to over there,” said Stacy Smyth. Her daughter, Carly Smyth, was introduced to Hutchinson and White when they worked in Powhatan several years ago and since then, “her confidence in her soccer skills has definitely grown.”

Emma Barrett is a rising junior at Collegiate who’s been training with EVLV since its start, though she had known Hutchinson and White for several years. She’s among the French contingent and her mother, Stephanie Call, credits the duo with teaching not only soccer, but communication and teamwork — “life skills,” as she called them.

“They have changed our lives and they are her role models,” Call said. “She knows they believe in her, she knows she can be herself — and they will challenge her.”

Call said she’s sought out the duo for help in making soccer decisions relating to local club play. Her daughter, she said, has played for several organizations, but through it all, “EVLV has been the right fit — it just really has helped her turn into the young lady she is.”

Barrett said recently that she’s not nervous about traveling, rather “I’m more excited just to get an opportunity to play with people from all over the world,” she said. “Soccer is a universal sport, and not a lot of sports are like that.”

“Even if we can’t speak the same language ... you can communicate just through playing,” she added.

Word of mouth has been EVLV’s sole means of growth, though both women hope to reach a larger audience through community outreach efforts. Hutchinson has started going into local middle schools to talk to girls.

EVLV “will grow into whatever it’s supposed to be,” Hutchinson said, though the mission is clear: “It’s about impacting lives — the ball comes last.”


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Virginia State Police  

A Ford F-450 truck pulling a trailer loaded with metal rear-ended a church van that was slowing to turn off U.S. 460 in Dinwiddie County on May 28, killing four people.


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Firm seeks to add Baptist associations as defendants in $82 million lawsuit involving local sex abuse case

Clark

A law firm representing eight boys sexually molested by a volunteer youth group leader at Immanuel Baptist Church in Colonial Heights has filed a motion to add three affiliated church associations as defendants to an $82 million lawsuit that says the entities failed to warn or protect the victims.

The personal injury firm Breit Cantor Grana Buckner originally filed suit last year against Immanuel Baptist, convicted child abuser Jeffrey D. Clark and two former church leaders, including Clark’s father. The law firm now is seeking to amend the suit and add as defendants the Southern Baptist Convention, the Baptist General Association of Virginia and the Petersburg Baptist Association.

Immanuel Baptist Church was a member of those associations when Clark abused the boys between 2010 and 2015 after meeting them through the church’s youth organization.

“The whole purpose of our complaint is that these are governing bodies so to speak, larger umbrella entities that the Immanuel Baptist Church was a member of, and they have the power to control and to put into place measures or policies — or to do something — in order to help protect these children,” Breit Cantor attorney Kevin Biniazan said Monday in an interview.

The Southern Baptist Convention, the world’s largest group of Baptists, has more than 47,000 churches and institutions with about 15 million members. From 2015 to 2018, SBC received from $190 million to $210 million from its member churches, including from $800,000 to $2 million every year from the Baptist General Association, according to the lawsuit.

In April 2016, Clark, then 46, was sentenced to serve 25 years in prison for sexually abusing seven boys from 12 to 17 years old. The abuse ranged from fondling to sodomy, prosecutors said at the time.

The lawsuit identifies an eighth alleged victim who was not part of Clark’s criminal cases in Colonial Heights and Chesterfield County. The plaintiffs are now between ages 14 and 24.

Clark molested two of the victims, 12 and 16, in Colonial Heights, including one incident that occurred in the youth room at Immanuel Baptist Church at 620 Lafayette Ave.

The five other boys, 12 to 17, were abused in Chesterfield, where Clark lives in the 3400 block of Burnettedale Drive, prosecutors said in 2016.

Clark selected his victims through their involvement with the church’s youth group, which Clark led, prosecutors said.

Breit Cantor originally filed an $82 million suit in May 2018 against Immanuel Baptist Church; Clark, the youth leader convicted of molesting the boys; Alvin “Ted” Clark, who the complaint says held various leadership positions at the church; and Fred K. Adkins Jr., who at the time was the church’s junior pastor and one of its administrators.

The lawsuit says that after one of the victims made an allegation against Clark, Clark and his father called the boy a liar and threatened him and his family unless he recanted his allegation, which the boy then did. That enabled Clark to continue working at the church and preying on children, the suit says.

Biniazan said adding the Southern Baptist Convention and the two other church associations as defendants shouldn’t “be a procedural issue for us.”

“Essentially, the only parties that can contest or object to this motion would be parties that already are within the action,” Biniazan said. If the court rejects the motion, “we could just refile” the suit and add the other defendants, he said.

The three associations have not yet been served with the amended 11-count, 72-page complaint. That will be done once the motion to add them as defendants is granted, or a revised complaint is filed that adds them, Biniazan said.

Roger Oldham, Southern Baptist’s vice president for communications and relations, declined to comment for now.

“Southern Baptists grieve whenever they learn of an instance of sexual abuse in a church setting,” Oldham said in an email. “We have not yet reviewed the details of this case, so will reserve comment until after we file an answer.”

The suit says the Southern Baptist Convention for decades has exercised its power to control the conduct, policies and practices of its member churches and entities, including the Baptist General Association of Virginia, the Petersburg Baptist Association and Immanuel Baptist Church.

In 2002, according to the suit, the SBC issued a resolution titled On the Sexual Integrity of Ministers, “acknowledging its ‘fallenness and the need to prevent such appalling sins from happening within [its] own ranks’ when referencing sexual abuse by members of the Convention’s churches similar to the abuse exposed in the Roman Catholic Church.”

The SBC at that time urged the “training of pastors, missionaries and educators; accountability to the highest standards of Christian moral practice; discipline for those guilty of sexual abuse; [and] the removal of predatory ministers,” the suit said.

In making the pronouncement, the suit says, the SBC acknowledged that Baptist pastors, employees and volunteers were sexually abusing youth members of its Convention at its member churches, but still took no action against any known predators and failed to warn or protect its members from them.

The suit further contends that neither Immanuel Baptist Church nor the governing bodies conducted any background checks or other screenings of Clark, “an unmarried middle-aged man ... who lived alone with an elaborate game-room tailored for child entertainment, possessed child pornography, demonstrated sexually pervasive behavior [and] posted internet ads half-nude to gain the company of younger men.”

Even after the allegation of sexual misconduct against Clark had been made, Immanuel Baptist continued to allow Clark to supervise and host youth group members, included chaperoning overnight camping trips and sleepovers at his home, and he was promoted to “Leader of the Youth Group” in 2010, the suit says.

The suit seeks $10 million in compensatory damages for each of the eight victims, plus a total of $2 million more in punitive damages and to cover medical expenses.


Obituary
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Michael Morchower 1940 — 2019
Michael Morchower, flamboyant Richmond defense lawyer known as 'Magic Mike,' dies at 79

Michael Morchower, a flamboyant Richmond criminal defense lawyer whose headline-generating representation of rascally clients earned him the moniker “Magic Mike,” died Sunday at a nursing home in Farnham on the Northern Neck. He was 79 and had been in declining health for several years.

Mr. Morchower, a Bayonne, N.J., native with an urban patois that endured despite six decades in the South, took as clients accused killers, drug dealers and scandal-stained politicians.

From the 1970s until his retirement in 2012, his practice thrived, built around protections for criminal defendants carved out by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“He’d go to court — the guy was guilty — and he could get him off. That was his strength,” Learned D. Barry, a veteran Richmond prosecutor, said of Mr. Morchower, an adversary in homicide cases for over 30 years. “I don’t think he spent hours and days preparing a case. He just used common sense.”

At 6-foot-3, his dark hair swept back, a white handkerchief jutting from his suit coat pocket and favoring convertible sports cars with a “Magic M” vanity license plate, Mr. Morchower was difficult to miss — a swashbuckler in a city where lawyers usually are mannered and given to understatement.

“He was a fighter,” said John W. Luxton, who practiced with Mr. Morchower for nearly 40 years. “He would fight with the police. He would fight with the prosecutors. Somehow he wouldn’t make it personal. He had a lot of friendships with people on the outside he would fight in the courtroom.”

Before private practice, Mr. Morchower was an FBI agent, posted to its New Orleans office, an assistant U.S. attorney in Richmond and a federal magistrate, supervising arraignments and bond hearings.

Luxton said Mr. Morchower’s government service imbued him with an appreciation for defendant rights, because “he had seen a lot of the abuses.”

Mr. Morchower’s high-profile clients included former Richmond Councilman Henry W. “Chuck” Richardson, whose political career was derailed by drug charges, and two men convicted in 1977 of flying 3 tons of marijuana into Hanover Airport — a case for which Mr. Morchower won a new trial after a federal court agreed jury selection was flawed.

Mr. Morchower, the youngest of three sons born to a couple in the real estate business, was educated at New York Military Academy and the University of Richmond, which he attended on a basketball scholarship, and its law school.

Mr. Morchower, who lived in Weems in Lancaster County, is survived by his wife, Kathy; a son, Todd, and a granddaughter. Another son, Randy, died in 2015.

Funeral arrangements were not immediately available.


Chesterfield
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Chesterfield school officials asking parents for students' transportation plans as bus routes are drawn for upcoming school year

Chesterfield school officials are asking parents for updated information on how their child will be getting to and from school this fall as the school system tries to avoid the bus transportation problems it faced last year.

Tim Bullis, the school system’s executive director of communications, told the Chesterfield School Board at a Monday work session that the district is sending messages to parents to glean information about their child’s travel plans for the coming school year.

“We understand that there is definitely a digital divide, and there’s also a language barrier in our school system so we will also use multiple communication tools,” Bullis said.

“We’ll do so in multiple languages, and we will do so in electronic and hard copy [surveys].”

On Monday night, the school system sent a text message to parents with a link to a survey asking them if their child would be riding a Chesterfield school bus from home in the morning and back in the afternoon or whether they had alternative travel plans.

The information is being culled as school officials are working to map out the coming school year’s bus routes in a system which saw its share of late buses, driver shortages and frustrated parents at the beginning of the school year.

School Board Member Carrie Coyner said people might not pay attention to the district’s surveys, noting that with the end of classes this week, some parents may not have the coming school year on their mind.

“The only way people are going to give you this information in the time you need it is if it’s tied to you don’t get your class schedule, you don’t get your teacher assignment,” Coyner said.

Bullis acknowledged that parents may not be as responsive to the school system’s queries as summer break approaches.

Another key issue is that some families don’t know what their day care plans are for the coming school year, Bullis said.

After school officials finalize the bus routes, parents will be able to go onto E-Link, a website where they can get information about their child’s bus route and bus stop, Bullis said.

The school district also plans to allow parents to download a mobile application, called MyStop, to let them track in real time where their child’s bus is located as it drives along its route.

That application would also provide an estimated time of arrival at the child’s bus stop.

The school system has been using computer software as it tries to map out more efficient bus routes that have been drawn by hand for years. The system has 7,500 bus stops and 512 routes that have been drawn using a “pen to paper” method, according to Chesterfield school officials.

The presentation at Monday’s work session is part of a series of regular updates on transportation issues that school board members are receiving as they try to avoid the types of driver shortages and late buses that affected the system this school year.

A bright spot in the school system’s efforts to improve its transportation issues is that, amid recruitment efforts, the school system has more bus drivers now than it did this time last year, said Nita Mensia-Joseph, the district’s chief operating officer.

At the end of June 2018, the school system had about 475 drivers, Mensia-Joseph said. Now, the school year is ending with 502 drivers, she said.

“That’s much better. We’re retaining our drivers,” Mensia-Joseph said.

A key concern for the school system is that it could lose drivers in the month before school starts in August after annual contracts run out and some drivers opt not to return.