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There's at least one downside to a declining murder rate

Street Talk

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Have a Heart?
UK Recording Studio Firm Picks Richmond For U.S. Base
New Recycling Contractor: Keep Your Cheapo Plastic
Urn's Vandals, Restorers Remain Public Secrets
"Andrew's Buddies" Gets Some Big Ones

Have a Heart?

"It's one of those unintended things," he says, still somberly bemused by the notion. "I guess you really can't please everybody."

As the federal prosecutor in charge of Richmond's Operation Exile, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Miller has good reason to be proud. For years, violent crime has been down here, across the board, and of course Exile has received its share of the credit. So it was with a certain mild self-satisfaction, a bit of gentlemanly complacence, perhaps, that during a recent hospital physical he accepted the good doctor's congratulations on a job well done.

Of course, the physician added in a playful aside, the nurses in Transplant might give Miller a good piece of their mind if they heard he was there. Why? With the drop in city homicides, they believed, there also had been a decline in the number of young, healthy hearts and other organs available for donation and transplant.

It turns out the nurses were right.

"They are down," says Doug Wilson of LifeNet Transplant Services, which coordinates organ procurement in central Virginia. The region's decline in the number of organs received from those who die of gunshot wounds (from 19 in 1997 to nine in 1999, down 53 percent) roughly matches the decline in Richmond homicides themselves (from 139 in 1997 to 74 in 1999, down 47 percent).

The region's total organ donations from all causes of death are relatively flat (from 70 in 1997 to 64 in 1998 and 1999), according to LifeNet. They are up nationally, but according to a report last week from the Richmond-based United Network for Organ Sharing, the percentage arising from homicides has dropped to its lowest level in at least five years.

A rise in donations due to other causes of death, particularly strokes and brain hemorrhages, has more than offset the decline, but those donors tend to be older persons, whose hearts, for example, generally are not considered as good for transplants as (characteristically younger) homicide victims'.

Sheldon Maguire, clinical director of the Virginia Transplant Center at Henrico Doctors' Hospital, says fewer heart donations have meant fewer heart transplants at the center: from 15 in 1997 to eight last year and only one so far this year. "That's something that all the centers are experiencing," she says, and the UNOS report indicates heart transplants have dropped into the low single digits at Richmond's two other heart transplant centers, MCV Hospitals and the McGuire VA Medical Center.

In addition to the decline in homicides, Maguire and others cite increased use of seat belts and air bags, advances in paramedic care and other factors in the reduced number of young heart donors. They hope increased awareness of the need for hearts and other organs will help: Sign up to be an organ donor when you renew your driver's license and tell your family of your wishes, they ask. Expect promotional campaigns in April, National Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness Month, to remind you.

Rob Morano

UK Recording Studio Firm Picks Richmond For U.S. Base

Citing the city's location and charms, one of the world's largest designers and builders of recording studios has picked Richmond for its U.S. headquarters.

London-based Recording Architecture Limited, which has built hundreds of studios — for recording companies and individual artists, such as Pink Floyd, U2 and other big-name acts — will open an office on Franklin Street in Shockoe Bottom, the firm's president says.

"We've done a little work over the years in the U.S. ... but not as much as our reputation worldwide would reflect," says Roger D'Arcy. "Recently, we seem to have broken through some invisible barrier and currently have a half a dozen projects."

The first studio it completes in the United States will be in Richmond. The planned $1 million-plus, 4,000-square-foot facility for Rainmaker Recording and Creative will double as Recording Architecture's U.S. showroom.

"We've made quick friends with these guys," says Rainmaker owner Bill Grishaw. Like other, larger sound-production firms in town, Rainmaker pays the bills with bread-and-butter work on commercials for advertising agencies, but hopes to record more with independent musicians, he says.

But don't plan on the city becoming a little Nashville, New York or L.A. anytime soon. "We don't see our main future work base as Virginia but potentially anywhere in the U.S.," D'Arcy says. "Richmond seems ideally placed [and] I personally fell in love with Richmond and the guys at Rainmaker during my first visit. I sense that Shockoe Bottom is just bursting to go somewhere."

The studio, in the Superior Building at 1901 Franklin St., should be finished by May, Grishaw says.

- Rob Morano

New Recycling Contractor: Keep Your Cheapo Plastic

No good deed goes unpunished, and while Richmond and other participating localities of the Central Virginia Waste Management Authority now have a lower-cost recycling contractor, the most visible change to recycling residents and easily irked environmentalists has been that low-grade plastics, such as grocery bags and salad containers, are no longer accepted.

Stop right there, says Bill Farrar, spokesman for the city's public works department. He explains that even though the previous recycling contractor, Waste Management, would take such items, they weren't being recycled but dumped into Waste Management's landfills.

Mike Benedetto, vice president of Tidewater Fiber, the new recycler, says the items just don't have enough market value to make them worth recycling, and his company doesn't have its own landfills in which to dispose of them. Not accepting low-grade plastic items and disposing of them itself keeps the company's costs to the VWMA down, he adds. (Narrow-neck plastic bottles, such as milk jugs and other drink containers, which are made of heavier plastic, are the only plastic items recycled.)

What to do? If you're serious about protecting the environment, Farrar and Benedetto say, stop using cheap plastic.

— Rob Morano

Urn's Vandals, Restorers Remain Public Secrets

It is a tale of two mysteries.

The first began Nov. 15, when a Historic Richmond Foundation tour-van driver discovered that the large, decorative urn in front of Monumental Church had tumbled from its stony perch and was lying damaged nearby. While its base had deteriorated over the years, the police report lists vandalism as the apparent cause and no arrests have been made, says Chandler Battaile, executive director of the foundation, which maintains the property.

It would be a most despicable act, especially considering that Monumental Church is not only one of the city's most important landmarks but also the memorial to the site's awful theater fire of Dec. 26, 1811, in which 72 people, including the state's governor, perished. Their remains are buried in a vault beneath the church, and the urn-topped monument in front symbolized their sacrifice. (The location, 1224 E. Broad St., has an interesting pre- and post-fire past as well. In 1788, Virginia ratified the U.S. Constitution there, and an earlier theater on the site was destroyed by fire before the tragedy of 1811.)

Monumental Church was designed by Robert Mills, Thomas Jefferson's only pupil of architecture. And according to "Architecture in Downtown Richmond" by Robert Winthrop: "John Marshall was on the building committee; the Marquis de Lafayette worshipped there, as did Edgar Allen Poe's family. It was the seat of the Episcopal Bishop of Virginia. One of its ministers, Leonidas Polk, later became both a bishop and a Confederate general."

Whatever decapitated the urn from its base in front of the church, however, the second, happier mystery of this tale is the identity of the benefactors who have made pledges to help repair and restore it. Battaile says those "private commitments" and a requested grant from Save Our Sculptures in Washington, D.C., could enable Historic Richmond Foundation to restore the entire urn-and-base monument — a project estimated at $76,000 — by the end of spring.

- Rob Morano

"Andrew's Buddies" Gets Some Big Ones

Since 1991, Joe Slay has helped raise $1 million to fight the disease that keeps his 13-year-old son, Andrew, in a wheelchair. Now he's giving himself 100 days to raise a million more.

It could be easier the second time around.

Slay and the organization he and his wife, Martha, founded nine years ago — Andrew's Buddies — now have a national sponsor to back them, a world-record holder to represent them, and a smart, Web-site-based campaign to promote their fight against spinal muscular atrophy, the No. 1 genetic killer of children younger than 2.

The sponsor is Richmond-based AMF Bowling Inc. Vice President Merrell Wreden says AMF was looking for a charity to support during its 100th anniversary year, and the largely Richmond-based fight against SMA was a "perfect tie-in." Also serendipitous was the fact that Guinness World Record-holding bowler Thomas Becker was already committed to fighting the disease because of his relationship with a little girl with SMA in his hometown of Denver. To help raise money to fight the SMA that eventually claimed her, he set a new continuous-bowling record (30 hours and 48 minutes) and now has signed on for the Richmond-based effort.

In 100 days starting April 12, Becker will bowl 100 strikes at AMF lanes in each of the 50 states. Slay, president of Martin Public Relations, will promote the tour and help obtain the corporate contributions in each of the 50 cities — including Richmond — to reach the $1 million goal.

The money will accelerate gene testing that has found the source and unlocked the workings of SMA, and now seeks to remedy it, Slay says. A cure is still a few years away, "but not a decade."

One already has been too many.

- Rob Morano

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