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City Hires Humane Society to Investigate Shelter

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City Hires Humane Society to Investigate Shelter
Forget The Lightsaber — Where's The Port-A-Potty?
Hazardous Materials Scare Grips Henrico County
Jackson Ward Historic Homes Still Standing, For Now
Whither Legacy?

City Hires Humane Society to Investigate Shelter

he City of Richmond has hired the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to conduct a three-day investigation of the Richmond Animal Shelter, a city spokesperson says. The city will pay the group $10,000 for the investigation, according to a verbal agreement not yet signed as of Style's presstime.

An internal investigation being conducted by the city's auditors office along with its human resources and employee relations department has been under way since mid-March, when five employees leveled allegations in a Style Weekly interview of continued problems at the shelter. Among other problems, employees charged that animals were not being fed properly and that euthanasia was being performed improperly.

The internal investigation into those charges continues. Mayor Timothy Kaine says results of that investigation most likely will be released after city management is through with its budget process May 12.

HSUS will bring at least three shelter experts to Richmond for a three-day investigation, says Sally Fekety, director of animal sheltering issues for the national group. She says the investigation will be "fully comprehensive."

"We don't leave stones unturned," she says.

In the meantime, it appears that plans may be moving ahead to make major changes in the administration of the shelter. Kaine says talks of privatization are still "on the table" since the summer of 1997 when the city put out a request for proposal for privatization and received no bids. Also, Jeanne Bridgforth, president of Save Our Shelter (S.O.S.), says she has been talking with 1st District Councilman John Conrad about the establishment of a shelter advisory board which would have administrative control over the shelter. Conrad did not return calls for comment by presstime. — Janet Giampietro

Forget The Lightsaber — Where's The Port-A-Potty?


Official Richmond, Virginia Line for Star Wars Episode I -- Web site organizing the line.

As a wise, wrinkled 900-year-old green Jedi once said, "There is no try. Do or do not."

A group of at least 30 Richmonders are definitely doing something — they're planning to camp out for five days in front of Virginia Center Commons to get tickets for "Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace."

"I plan on seeing it from 12 to 12 [on opening day] if I can get the tickets," says Paul Seward, who is hosting a Web site for Richmond "Star Wars" fans who want to join the line.

Line campers planned to meet with theater officials last weekend, after Style's deadline, to work out details such as where to put tents and sleeping bags.

They'll start the line May 14, five days before the film's official release date. Seward, 26, a Web developer for Techead in Shockoe Bottom, says he plans to sit in the line in shifts, on nights and weekends, though he'll camp out the night before because he has taken May 19 off to see the film.

A native Richmonder, Seward's been a "Star Wars" fan since he was 5, but acknowledges that his own "fandom menace" perplexes those close to him, such as his fiancee. "She thinks I'm a freak ... but she buys me 'Star Wars' stuff," Seward says, laughing.

Keith Abbott, a music publicist, says he's camping out because "I'm 29 and I really haven't done anything like this in a long time. ... When you're married and own your own business, you get into a daily rut and we just want to break the routine. When you can sit down with other fans and be a kid again, that's what I want to achieve."

Seward hopes the Web site will feature digital photos of fans in line and message boards to connect to other fans waiting in lines around the nation. Local fans are also talking about using the line to gain sponsorships to raise money for charity.

Believe it or not, it's not the only "Star Wars"-related event going on, either. All three local Books-A-Million stores will feature "Star Wars" trivia contests on May 18 from 7 to 9 p.m. and the Doghouse, a Shockoe Bottom club at 1719 W. Main Street, plans a "Star Wars"-themed party May 15. — Richard Foster

Hazardous Materials Scare Grips Henrico County

If a toxic chemical oozes out of the ground, but no one can detect any trace of it, does it contaminate anyone?

If five Richmond City utilities workers and an ER nurse are to be believed, the answer is, "Yes."

Where's Fox Mulder when you need him?

On April 26, five Richmond utilities workers sent to read a meter at a warehouse on the 4000 block of Sarellen Road in eastern Henrico County noticed a chemical smell and felt some "irritation," according to Bob Wichser, chief utilities engineer. The men quickly called their supervisor, who alerted the Henrico County Fire Department.

"We got a call that some workers were exposed to a blue substance oozing out of the ground," says Dan Boatwright, the Henrico County Fire Department's Battalion Chief in charge of the department's Hazardous Materials Team.

"We couldn't find anything," says Boatwright, who got to the site about 30 minutes after the call came in. "If something came out of there, it would still be there, unless it was smoke," Boatwright says.

Nonetheless, the workers' supervisor sent them to the emergency room at Capital Medical Center. Once there, the mysterious contagion infected an ER nurse. She began complaining of symptoms like those described by the workers: "headache, dizziness, tingling and joint aches," says ER Dr. John Carmack. And although the nurse complained of a "metallic smell," Carmack says, "I didn't smell it."

He isn't sure how the nurse got infected, but thinks maybe whatever was "contaminating" the workers' clothes somehow infected the nurse.

Carmack gave the workers and the nurse pure oxygen, the standard treatment for gas inhalation. The next day, in a follow-up visit, Carmack gave the workers a clean bill of health.

And what exactly were the workers exposed to?

"Turns out it wasn't hazardous materials, or hazardous waste," says Michele Quander-Collins, utilities information manager. She says a Virginia Power cable buried beneath the meter had somehow caught fire, and the fumes from the smoldering wire's insulation was what the workers were exposed to.

The truth is now out there. — Mark Stroh

Jackson Ward Historic Homes Still Standing, For Now

Eight Jackson Ward historic homes that received a brief stay of demolition when historic preservationists applied for a grant to move them out of harm's way may be in need of saving again.

There's been no word from the federal government about the grant, and demolition in the Convention Centre's expansion footprint is under way.

"I don't know what the decision is or when it's coming. We're still desperately trying to get word," says Doug Harnsberger, chairman of Richmond's Commission for Architectural Review, who co-authored the grant.

But all the news from Jackson Ward isn't bad.

Harnsberger says that the estimates he has received for moving the eight buildings are far lower than he originally expected. The grant asked for more than $2 million, but Harnsberger says some firms have said they could move the buildings for as little as $800,000.

Harnsberger and Kent Ruffin, the director of the Historic Jackson Ward Foundation and a community representative to the Convention Centre Authority, hope that in light of the low estimates, money from the Convention Centre's demolition fund could be used to move the houses.

"If the grant money does not come through, the people [involved] will sit down and evaluate options at that time. There is money in the budget for [moving the houses]," Ruffin says.

In addition, Ruffin and Harnsberger hope that they will succeed in a petition to extend Jackson Ward's Old and Historic designation from 3rd Street to 4th Street. That will protect buildings that are threatened with being razed for parking lots.

"The city and the preservation community must resolve this challenge in a way that preserves the buildings in this community," Ruffin says. "This community is not replicable." — M.S.

Whither Legacy?


Keep Legacy Campaign -- Find out how you can help keep the show on the air.
-- The latest news and info.

What's happening with "Legacy?"

Some Richmond actors who appear on the UPN television show wish they knew.

UPN has officially placed the show on hiatus, replacing its Friday night slot with "America's Greatest Pets," though some unaired shows may broadcast this summer. (The official "Legacy" Web site has been replaced with an ad for UPN's animated Dilbert show.)

"Legacy," a period soap opera set in post-Civil War Kentucky, debuted in October 1998 and is filmed in Richmond. Its producers are said to be shopping it around to other networks in case UPN drops it, as expected. Its rating haven't been good but it has a small, loyal fan base, some of whom are organizing mail campaigns over the Internet to save the show.

"I've been champing at the bit wondering if anything is happening," says local actress Bridget Gethins, who plays an Irish maid also named Bridget on "Legacy."

Mark Joy, who plays Col. Griffith, a wealthy landowner, says, "If it isn't picked up, it was a great ride while it lasted and there's always been something else around the corner for me. I've sort of let go of it already."

Gethins says she's been hearing rumors that the producers were talking to NBC and she's also heard rumors that the show wouldn't film in Richmond anymore, but so far, they're just rumors.

Though neither Gethins nor Joy remains very hopeful about the show's future, they say they would return to the show if it were resurrected.

Says Joy: "I definitely think it has an audience and it has a place and if UPN or whoever would bring it back would just give it a chance, I think it would have several years of airtime." — R.F.

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