We’re Celebrating 1,000 Editions of the Post

By Linda Cicoira — Today marks a milestone for the Eastern Shore Post and the world of publishing in Accomack and Northampton counties.

You are about to read the Post’s 1,000th edition, and the staff is as excited about it as those were who brought you the first edition on June 2, 1999. Actually, deadline day is always a thrill for us as the pages are combined into your favorite locally owned, free hometown newspaper.

Troy Justis, the Post’s advertising manager, has been with the Post since the start, or 19 years, and brought the milestone to the attention of all. Linda Cicoira has been writing a column and reporting politics, crime, and education and making photos for the paper for 12 years. Angie Huether Crutchley, the classifieds manager, who is an occasional writer and photographer, has also served as an on-the-road sales representative. She’s been at the Post for a decade.

The paper was started by two journalists, the late Candy Farlow, who was the publisher, and Cheryl Nowak, the editor. Both did the news writing and were columnists. Both already had plenty of experience in the business. They worked together for about 10 years until Farlow sold her shares to her partner. 

Bill Sterling kicked off sports coverage for the Post in 2012. He and Nowak married and then two years ago they retired. The paper was purchased by business partners Ace Seybolt and Connie Morrison. Sterling now occasionally writes for the paper.

Since then, the new dynamic duo has continued the tradition of bringing comprehensive local news coverage to their readers. Morrison manages the enterprise and is the paper’s editor. She’s added food pages and the latest in theater to the mix. Seybolt contributes his knowledge from his many years as an entrepreneur. 

More employees joined the staff. Kimberly Perry is the Post’s graphic designer, Krystle Bono does sports and related photos, Stefanie Jackson covers Northampton County, Sam Sellard sells ads, and novelist David Martin serves as copy editor. James Brown has been delivering the papers to your favorite businesses for about 14 years. Anthony Justis and Chris Lilliston also make deliveries. This summer the Post’s intern was Parks Nunnally.

For years, Justis and his wife, J.J., wrote a NASCAR column and J.J. kept the books for the newspaper. They were the recipients of the first stork visit to the Post when their daughter, Baylee Justis, arrived in December 2000. The second baby arrived when Darbee Justis was born in 2002. Troy has also been blessed with two grandchildren and a third is on the way since he started working at the Post. Troy’s late son, Taylor, and late mother, Sherri, also worked for the post. Farlow was his mother-in-law. And he and J.J. married while working for the paper. 

The Post’s first edition was published around the time school was ending for the term in 1999. That inaugural edition featured then Sen. Chuck Rob on the cover. He visited Kiptopeke Elementary to offer congratulations on its designation as a National Blue Ribbon School. Former Chincoteague Police Chief Willis Dize and former Chincoteague Councilman Terry Howard were shown on the front page shaking hands.

During that first year of the Post, coverage included Hurricane Floyd, the devastating storm that damaged about 200 homes, including 20 on Tangier Island. The havoc was estimated, at one point, at more than $5 million and mostly occurred in Accomack County.

Believe it or not, Northampton officials were grappling with what to do about the poor conditions of county schools in 1999, an issue that continues to be debated by the school board, board of supervisors, and local parents today. 

Also, in 1999, for the first time since 1951, rabies was discovered in a dog on the Eastern Shore. That happened near Hallwood. Another issue of the day was a commuter toll on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel that caused people to fear that Northampton would turn into a bedroom community for Hampton Roads. That possibility still crosses the minds of many who live on the Eastern Shore.

In December 1999, the old Accomack County administration building was demolished to make room for the new courthouse where general district and juvenile and domestic relations courts have resided ever since.

The Post was there to take you into the new millennium and plans to be 

around after your great, great, great, great-grandchildren turn 100 years old. We brought you the details when Walmart came, when the hospital moved, the saga of arson with Tonya Bundick and Charlie Smith, and when the huge rocket blew up at Wallops Island. We also brought you the first photo ever taken in Northampton Circuit Court, the one with the longest continuous court records in the country, in July 2017, when Cicoira made a picture of killer Winston “PeeWee” Leroy Burton.

In May 2006, Farlow wrote about the permit that was approved to allow a temporary 175-foot pier to be erected at an estate near Eastville with a promise to completely remove it by the end of August of that year. The more than $25,000 structure was for the wedding of NASCAR driver Kurt Busch. 

Farlow also wrote about the future of the Onancock Carnival grounds in 2006 and about former Exmore Police Officer Mark Linton making it through the first round of voting in the Country Music Television’s Music City Madness Competition. The list of her stories and insights from her columns are endless.

The late Bill Massey, a former Post stockholder, was always about the Shore writing feature stories. For one, he told us about Mr. B of Accomac and his win of the Award of Merit at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Dog Show held at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Ron West also wrote for the Post for years covering Northampton and its towns and giving all the latest about the Coast Guard.

In June 2019, the Post will celebrate its 20-year anniversary. That’s when we give you even more Post history, and you will hear from each of us.

Northampton Schools Bask in ‘Phenomenal News’ of SOL Accreditations

By Stefanie Jackson — For the first time in more than a decade, Northampton has more than one of its four public schools fully accredited – in fact, it has three fully accredited schools, Superintendent Eddie Lawrence announced to the school board Aug. 9.

Northampton High School, Kiptopeke Elementary School, and Occohannock Elementary School have all achieved full accreditation, and Northampton Middle School is accredited with conditions.

“They can only get better,” Lawrence said of the preliminary Standards of Learning (SOL) test results that have been released by the Virginia Department of Education.

All SOL subjects require a 70 percent passing rate for full accreditation except English, which requires a 75 percent passing rate.

The SOL passing rates at the high school as of Lawrence’s Aug. 9 report are: English, 80 percent; math, 70 percent; science, 84 percent; and history, 71 percent.

Lawrence attributed the lower passing rate in math to the fact that the middle and high school were short one shared math teacher this past school year.

The middle school’s SOL passing rates are: English, 65 percent; math, 65 percent; science, 65 percent; and history, 78 percent. The school, accredited with conditions, fares largely better when looking at average SOL passing rates over the last three years: English, 67 percent; math, 72 percent; science, 69 percent; and history, 75 percent.

Initiatives to improve performance include increasing the quantity and quality of writing across the school division and challenging students with higher level questioning.

Kiptopeke Elementary School SOL passing rates currently stand at: English, 73 percent; math, 75 percent; science, 87 percent; and history, 78 percent. 

Kiptopeke student SOL performance improved across the board since the previous year except for a slight drop in English, but Kiptopeke’s three-year average English passing rate of 77 percent is sufficient for full accreditation.

Lawrence called the report that not two, but three of four Northampton schools are simultaneously fully accredited “phenomenal news … I can’t tell you how proud I am” of the teachers and staff.

Occohannock Elementary School, the only Northampton school to achieve full accreditation last year, held its ground. Its current SOL passing rates are: English, 83 percent; math, 82 percent; science, 76 percent; and history, 87 percent.

Northampton schools also made strides this past school year to improve attendance and reduce chronic absenteeism, which correlates to student academic performance. Lawrence said the final numbers exceeded his expectations.

At Northampton High School, the number of students who missed 18 or more school days, or about 10 percent or more of the instructional year, dropped by more than half, from nearly 30 percent to about 13 percent of students.

The rate of chronic absenteeism at Northampton Middle School dropped from almost 24 percent to less than 20 percent. At Kiptopeke Elementary, it fell from about 16 percent to less than 11 percent. At Occohannock Elementary, it dipped from about 17 percent to less than 11 percent.

Lawrence credited the gains in attendance to the hard work of Director of Special Programs Keren Plowden’s truancy team and lots of phone calls to parents.

Northampton High School also increased its graduation rate from about 83 percent to 91.5 percent. Another student who recently completed graduation requirements will further increase that percentage.

On Wednesday, Aug. 8, the joint committee of school board members and county supervisors forming the plan to renovate or reconstruct the aged and deteriorating Northampton High School met for the first time.

Before the committee can examine all possible options for the building, its first task is to determine the number of students to be served by the facility, the amount of square footage needed per student, and the total square footage needed. 

The committee meets Wednesdays at 4 p.m. in the Northampton High School library; meetings are open to the public.

Accomack Board Explores Funding Change After Tourism-Poultry Kerfuffle

By Linda Cicoira — Accomack supervisors are unhappy the Eastern Shore Tourism Commission did not act to reprimand its director.

The words “Outlaw Industrial Chicken Farming,” posted at a recent economic summit attended by the governor and other top state officials, and attributed to Kerry Allison, executive director of the tourism commission, reverberated at the supervisors’ session.

Supervisor Grayson Chesser brought up the topic. “You don’t point a gun at anything you don’t intend to shoot,” he said his father always told him. Chesser compared Allison’s words to the weapon. Likewise, he said, “Words out of the mouth are like bullets out of a gun.” Once you shoot them off, you can’t take them back, he explained.

Chesser said Allison showed “An alarming lack of understanding of the economy of the Eastern Shore. I don’t know her well …  She may be a wonderful person. To me, her remarks were callous and insensitive. They were like a slap in the face to me and my neighbors … the people who work in the poultry plants are my neighbors. I see them every day. When you say outlaw, that’s saying these people are not worth anything to our economy.”

“Our people work in the houses, they work in the plants, they drive the trucks … what’s more value added than taking an ear of corn or some soybeans and turning it into a chicken?” he asked. And then turning that into fried chicken. “That’s twice value added,” he said. “These are good jobs.”

Chesser referred to two people who came before the board recently telling the stories of what Tyson has done for them.

“Without the poultry plant, you wouldn’t have a Walmart (and) you wouldn’t have a hospital because you wouldn’t have the population to support” them, he continued. “These are not minimum wage jobs. And if you are smart … you can work your way up the ladder.”

It may not rank up there with Marie Antoinette telling the people who had no bread to eat cake, “But it is close,” he said. Chesser was referring to the famous bride of France’s King Louis XVI and her alleged response to learning peasants were hungry in 1789.

“It makes me so mad I could bite nails in two,” Chesser said, adding that he needed to stop talking so that he didn’t do as he said earlier and “shoot bullets” with his speech.

Chairman Robert Crockett agreed with Chesser. “Poultry is our anchor tenant,” he said. “That would be devastating for us … high ranking state officials saw that … to make such a comment … is harmful to this county … now back in Richmond, you know they are talking about this.”

Crockett made the motion for county staff to explore a new approach of promoting tourism in Accomack by teaming up with local chambers “and to assist Chincoteague for the first time.”

Supervisor Ron Wolff mentioned an email supervisors saw about the subject from Steve Potts, chairman of the tourism commission and a business owner on Chincoteague. “We didn’t discuss poultry period,” Wolff said Potts wrote. The tourism chairman’s comment was taken to mean Allison was not speaking for the commission when she wrote her remark in a survey taken by the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission.

Wolff complained Potts did not report a course of action to reprimand Allison. “There still should have been some type of discussion” between Potts and Allison. “Did she act alone?” Wolff wondered out loud.

Northampton County does not allow poultry houses. It also does not have a poultry plant. Chesser said 10 percent of Northampton residents work for the two plants in Accomack. The tourism commission budget is funded with $86,500 from Accomack and $144,000 from Northampton.

Convictions on 3 of 12 Counts in Murder-for-Hire Trial

By Linda Cicoira — The suspected shooter in a murder-for-hire case was convicted by an Accomack Circuit Court jury Friday of three counts of conspiracy. The panel was deadlocked on nine other counts including the attempted capital murder of an Eastern Shore Drug Task Force informant and his then-girlfriend last Halloween in the Boston area of Painter.

The six women and six men then returned to the jury room to debate sentences for the three convictions. Approximately an hour later, the foreperson said the jury recommended a total of 17 years in prison for Roquan Leeteq Rogers, who goes by Kake, Cake, Young Sam, or Little Sam, 19, of Benjamin Banneker Road in Exmore.

A breakdown showed 10 years for conspiracy to commit capital murder for hire, five years for conspiracy to commit capital murder involving a prisoner, and two years for conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice.

When the jurors were polled, a male juror said that he did not agree with the recommendation.

Defense lawyer Curtis Brown then motioned for a new trial. Judge W. Revell Lewis III denied the request but agreed to accept a brief on the subject. Brown has 21 days to prepare and submit the document. Once the court receives it, Accomack Commonwealth’s Attorney Spencer Morgan will have 10 days to respond.

Meanwhile, Rogers was taken back to Accomack Jail, where he is being held without bond.

Even if Lewis does not grant a new trial for the conspiracy convictions, Morgan could retry the other counts because the jury did not decide those. Morgan declined to comment Monday when asked what would be done.

Testimony disclosed Nathaniel “Nate” Johnson, 31, was the informant who was given money from the task force to buy cocaine from the defendant’s brother, Akeem Rogers, in Northampton County, and from Evron Terrell Strand, in Accomack County. Johnson testified against Akeem Rogers and was set to attest to selling cocaine to Strand, who was charged with being the mastermind of the attempted murder plot.

Akeem Rogers’ trial was in October 2017. About two weeks later, Johnson and Desiree Smith, 19, were walking in Linhaven Circle when they were shot.

Both Johnson and Smith testified that Roquan Rogers was the shooter. Johnson was shot in the back and buttocks. He said he recognized the defendant that night by the unusual shape of his mouth, his dreads, and his body style. Smith said she saw his face when she turned to look and the flash of the gunfire illuminated him. Both said they knew him.

During a short break in testimony, while Smith was on the witness stand, Judge Lewis accused an unidentified man in the gallery of attempting to intimidate Smith.

Roquan Rogers pleaded not guilty to attempted murder of Johnson; using a firearm in the attempted murder; conspiracy to commit capital murder between August and November 2017; conspiracy to murder by a prisoner; attempting to intimidate or impede a witness; making threats against a witness; maliciously wounding Johnson and Smith; attempted murder for hire; murder for hire of another from a prisoner; and use of a firearm to maliciously wound Johnson and Smith.

Former Northampton Commonwealth’s Attorney Bruce Jones worked with Morgan to prosecute Roquan Rogers. Jones retired in December. He was the prosecutor at Akeem Rogers’ trial.

Three days were initially set aside for the trial, which ran into a fourth day. The tension was high in the courtroom with Brown objecting to many of Morgan’s questions to witnesses. Brown unsuccessfully attempted several times to persuade Lewis to declare a mistrial.

Cynthia Harmon, who was also charged in the murder-for-hire scheme, testified that she set up the hiring by Strand with Roquan Rogers and several others. She identified herself as Strand’s partner in the illegal business. Her son Debrandon Harmon was amount those asked to kill Johnson, she said. Cocaine, weapons, and cash were confiscated from her home.

The third Rogers brother, Rovonte Rogers, 22, of Exmore, was sentenced five years in prison Monday in Northampton Circuit Court to possession with intent to distribute cocaine. All three brothers are awaiting trial on cocaine related charges in Northampton from indictments filed in May.