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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Virginia"

Volunteers help build 100 affordable homes for Northern Va. families

WASHINGTON — At first glance, it would have been easy for passers-by to mistake the Wednesday morning gathering on Donora Drive in Alexandria, Virginia for a block party.

There, a crowd of about 30 gathered under a tent in the middle of the closed street and mingled over thermoses of hot coffee and boxes of fresh doughnuts.

But it wasn’t a block party. It was a building party — to celebrate Habitat for Humanity of Northern Virginia’s 100th home.

“This is the American dream,” said Mehrangiz Sadieva, who attended the morning event alongside hammer-wielding business executives from companies such as Freddie Mac, Leidos and JBG Smith.

Sadieva knows, firsthand, the joy the new two-level house will bring to its future owners. Her family’s Habitat for Humanity home is also under construction just down the street. Currently, she lives with her husband and their two teenage children in a one-bedroom apartment in Alexandria, Virginia.

“This future house that we have will tremendously change our lives. We will be financially more stable and secure, we will have a place to call our house … to have a different life,” Sadieva said.

In the 28 years since the Northern Virginia Habitat for Humanity chapter launched, it’s provided local families with affordable homes, most of which are built by volunteers. This year, the nonprofit broke ground on its 100th house, which it plans to complete by next summer.

“We’ve got more families than we possibly have properties for right now, so any time that we can afford to purchase (land or a property that needs renovating), it means another family is going to have safety and stability and financial hope, thanks to an affordable home,” said Margaret Anne Lara, director of engagement and marketing for Habitat for Humanity of Northern Virginia.

How does Habitat for Humanity work, exactly? Families can apply to receive a home on the organization’s website, and candidates are nominated by the staff and selected by the board. Chosen families purchase their homes, pay a mortgage through an affordable payment plan and even attend financial counseling.

Plus, they put in sweat equity. Lara said families that receive homes contribute up to 400 hours of time with the organization, framing, painting and working in the Habitat for Humanity store.

Noemi Riveira, director of real estate development at Habitat for Humanity of Northern Virginia, said the organization hires contractors to complete the electrical, plumbing and roofing components of the energy-efficient homes. Some even come equipped with solar panels — all in an effort to keep utility bills low for the homeowners.

“We were just talking to a family a few months ago and they were telling us … they haven’t paid an energy bill for the last three to five months. And the last one they paid was about $30, which was one of the hottest months of the year,” Riveira said.

AJ Jackson, executive vice president of social impact and investing for JBG Smith, was one of the executives in attendance at Wednesday’s build. Jackson said his employer, a development company, has had a long-standing relationship with Habitat for Humanity, and it was nice to see business leaders from other sectors share a similar interest in creating more affordable housing.

“It seems like within just the broader Washington business community, there’s more of a focus on the importance of housing affordability among non-real estate members of the business community, which is exciting for us because I think that creates the opportunity to get greater engagement and greater political attention to the issue of housing affordability, beyond just the traditional voices,” Jackson said.

Future homeowner Sadieva said she has been blown away by the kindness of strangers throughout the Habitat for Humanity process. She is expecting to receive the keys to her new three-bedroom Alexandria home in July.

“It’s good to know that there are such kind people who donate their time and just do good,” Sadieva said.

“Living in America, having your own house, raising your kids to have a good future — all the opportunities in contributing to society, that’s all awesome.”


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Police: Man dead after mother’s boyfriend stabs him in Falls Church

WASHINGTON — A 27-year-old man is dead after police say he was stabbed by his mother’s boyfriend early Wednesday morning in Falls Church, Virginia.

Fairfax County Police say they found Oscar Daniel Diaz Fuentes inside the apartment suffering from a stab wound to the torso when they responded to the 2900 block of Charing Cross Road, near the Merrifield Shopping Center around 1 a.m.

Fuentes was taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Jose Adalberto Vasquez Hernandez, 36, faces a homicide charge in the stabbing. Police say he was outside the apartment building when they arrived.

Police say both men lived in the apartment and the two had an altercation earlier that night. Hernandez later returned and stabbed Fuentes.

Police continue to investigate the incident.

Below is a map of where the stabbing happened.

Westlake Legal Group staticmap?key=AIzaSyAUgwUVDbpkDzjtqaM9s73ohlXdWjsSukg&zoom=13&center=38.872959,-77.221535&size=640x300&maptype=roadmap&markers=color:red%7Clabel:%7C38.872959,-77 Police: Man dead after mother’s boyfriend stabs him in Falls Church Virginia merrifield mclean Local News Joslyn Chesson jennifer ortiz fatal stabbing Fairfax County, VA News fairfax county police crime


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Amazon is a ‘game-changer’ for Crystal City (and good for JBG Smith, too)

WASHINGTON — Amazon’s choice of Northern Virginia for half of its new headquarters will jump-start Crystal City, which is still recovering from Base Realignment and Closure-related office vacancies. And, it’s good business for Crystal City’s dominant commercial real estate owner, JBG Smith.

JBG Smith has an exclusive leasing and development partnership with Amazon as part of the company’s decision to invest $2.5 billion there. That will include leases at existing buildings and the development of a new headquarters location in what is now dubbed National Landing.

National Landing encompasses Crystal City, the eastern portion of Pentagon City and the northern portion of Potomac Yard.

Within that area, JBG Smith owns 6.2 million square feet of existing office space and 2,850 units of existing multifamily space, and controls 7.4 million square feet of additional development space.

That does not include Amazon’s agreement to purchase additional land owned by JBG Smith, where one of the new Amazon HQ2 buildings will be located.

“This decision is a game-changer for our local economy and will breathe new life into a market that is still recovering from the headwinds of BRAC, the global financial crisis and sequestration,” said JBG Smith CEO Matt Kelly.

Here are some of the transactions Amazon is expected to take with JBG Smith:

  • Lease 500,000 square feet of existing office space at 241 18th St. South, 1800 South Bell St. and 1770 Crystal Drive.
  • Purchase land from JBG for potential development up to 4.1 million square feet.
  • Start predevelopment and planning of the first office building before the end of 2018, with construction expected to begin in 2019.
  • JBG Smith will serve as property manager and retail leasing agent for all Amazon buildings in National Landing.

Amazon also has the option to expand its footprint in the National Landing area to 8 million square feet.

Virginia is also investing $195 million in infrastructure improvements, including improvements to the Crystal City and Potomac Yards Metro station, a pedestrian bridge connecting National Landing and Reagan National Airport, and safety improvements for pedestrians crossing Route 1.


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DC-area home prices hit highest October level in a decade

WASHINGTON — Home sales are slowing in the Washington region, but prices are still rising, with the median price of a house or condo that sold in the metro last month hitting the highest level for an October in 10 years.

The median sales price in the Washington metro area in October was $426,475, up 3.2 percent from a year ago, according to MarketStats by Showing Time based on listing activity from Bright MLS.

Sales volume across the D.C. area was $2.1 billion, down 3.9 percent from a year earlier. The number of closed sales in October was down 6.1 percent from a year ago. Pending sales, or listings with contracts signed but not yet closed, were down 4.7 percent, to the lowest October level since 2014.

More sellers are entering the Washington-area market, with new listings last month up 7.5 percent from a year ago, which was also the highest October level in a decade. Total inventory rose for the first time since May 2016, and was up 2.7 percent from a year ago.

Sellers in October got on average 97.8 percent of their asking price, down from 98.0 percent a year earlier.

Falls Church, Virginia, remained the most expensive jurisdiction, with an October median selling price of $805,500.


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Multiple crashes in slim time frame cause concern in Montgomery Co.

WASHINGTON — Rain-slicked roadways and poor visibility Monday night are being blamed for a series of vehicle crashes and pedestrians struck within a three-hour period in Montgomery County, Maryland.

“Between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., Montgomery County Fire and Rescue crews have responded to … more than a dozen collisions, in addition to six pedestrians struck,” said Pete Piringer, public information officer for Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service.

The first of the evening’s crashes involving a pedestrian happened around 5 p.m. in downtown Rockville, at Beall Avenue and Gibbs Street. The woman who was struck was taken to the hospital with life-threatening injuries. The driver was not injured, and police have identified her as Anne Marie Sugrue, 24, of Gaithersburg.

Another five pedestrians were struck in separate incidences and suffered traumatic injuries, but Piringer said their injuries did not appear to be life-threatening.

An adult was struck around 6 p.m. at Carrol and Flower avenues in Takoma Park. About a half-hour later, another adult pedestrian was struck in the 20900 block of Frederick Road in Germantown. Then, approximately, 15 minutes later at 6:45 p.m., a teenage pedestrian was struck at Elm Street and Arlington Road. Around 7 p.m., a pedestrian was struck on the Rockville Pike at Halpine Street.

The three-hour period closed when a pedestrian was struck on University Boulevard and E. Franklin Street in Silver Spring around 8 p.m.

“Police are investigating all the circumstances of those,” Piringer said, adding that the series of crashes all took place after sunset with wet road conditions and poor visibility.

The Montgomery County Council has already summoned county traffic officials to a 2 p.m. briefing Tuesday on pedestrian and traffic safety along state highways. The briefing was called after four Kennedy High School students waiting for a school bus were struck in Aspen Hill, when a car careened onto the sidewalk along Georgia Avenue/Md. Route 97.

In addition to the pedestrians struck in Montgomery County, Fairfax County police said a man was struck and sustained life-threatening injuries at Old Courthouse Road Northeast and Westwood Drive around 5 p.m. Police said the man was outside his vehicle inspecting damage from a crash when he was hit by another vehicle.

Elsewhere, a pedestrian was critically injured in the D.C. around 9 p.m. when they were struck by a passenger bus at New York Avenue and North Capitol Street NW.


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Northern Va. coat, blanket drive aims to provide warmth to Syrian refugees

WASHINGTON — For the sixth straight year, Northern Virginia residents are providing warmth to Syrian refugees facing a cold winter in refugee camps. The region’s annual, month-long blanket and coat drive is underway.

“Over the past few years that we’ve been holding this drive, Northern Virginia has sent over 100,000 blankets and coats to Syrian refugees, abroad,” said Sharon Bulova, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in a Friday news conference Friday.

The drive is organized by the NOVA Relief Center, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life of refugees. Springfield, Virginia-based Paxton Companies transports the donated goods free of charge and Maersk, the world’s largest container shipping company, ships the blankets and coats free of charge.

“We want to encourage everybody who can to bring out donations to any of the number of locations,” said Martin Nohe, a member of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, “Understand that the donations of coats and blankets you make to this drive are going to directly help those individuals who are most in need of help,” he said.

There are drop-off locations for lightly used blankets and coats in Fairfax, Loudoun, Arlington and Prince William Counties and in the city of Alexandria. Find the location of your closest drop-off spot on the NOVA Relief Center website.

The coat drive ends Dec. 8.

The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that there are 5.6 million people who have fled Syria since the start of the Syrian Civil War in 2011. Many are seeking safe haven in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. Millions more are displaced from their homes inside Syria.


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Veterans History Project, stenographers work to collect stories

Westlake Legal Group VHP-Rob-Jones-opt-727x485 Veterans History Project, stenographers work to collect stories Virginia Veterans History Project veterans day Local News Government News Fairfax County, VA News court reporters

Rob Jones is among veterans whose oral history has been recorded by the National Court Reporters Association. Here, he is being interviewed by NCRA past President Chris Willette, as Tricia Rosate transcribes and Joe Donahoe records video. (Courtesy NCRA)

Westlake Legal Group VHP-Shilo-Harris_opt Veterans History Project, stenographers work to collect stories Virginia Veterans History Project veterans day Local News Government News Fairfax County, VA News court reporters

Retired Staff Sgt. Shilo Harris (front right), who received life-threatening injuries while serving in Iraq, is interviewed by retired Lt. Lynn Hinckley (front left).

Cecilee G. Wilson (back right) provides Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) while Amber Fraass (back left) transcribes. (Courtesy NCRA)

Westlake Legal Group VHP-HLAA-opt Veterans History Project, stenographers work to collect stories Virginia Veterans History Project veterans day Local News Government News Fairfax County, VA News court reporters

April Weiner of the National Court Reporters Association and Foundation, and Nancy Hopp, former foundation chair, accepted a plaque on behalf of NCRF from the Military Order of the Purple Heart. (Courtesy NCRA)

WASHINGTON — Cracking open a textbook or reading official accounts of events isn’t the same as hearing someone talk about something they’ve experienced firsthand. That’s part of the charm of what’s being accomplished by the Veterans History Project.

Since 2000, the Veterans History Project — mandated by Congress — of the American Folklife Center for the Library of Congress has been capturing veterans’ stories that might otherwise be lost and making them available online.

The project has preserved the stories of more than 108,000 vets, including that of Frank Buckles, who was the last surviving U.S. veteran of World War I. He passed away at his West Virginia home on Feb. 27, 2011. (Read a transcript of his interview here.)

More recently, the project sat down with former Marine Rob Jones, of Vienna, Virginia, who completed 31 marathons in 31 days on Veterans Day in 2017 to raise money and awareness for wounded warriors. 

The National Court Reporters Association and Foundation have been part of the effort from the beginning, by transcribing thousands of interviews already on file or as they happen live.

“Court reporters are uniquely qualified to transcribe interviews because they have to type out a minimum of 225 words per minute for their certifications,” said April Weiner, development relations manager with the National Court Reporters Association and Foundation.

Just to clarify, that impressive number of words per minute is done shorthand on a stenotype machine.

Members also help capture the stories of Holocaust survivors and attorneys who’ve done Legal Aid pro bono services.

“It’s just so incredible to hear their stories, to hear their sacrifice,” Weiner said. “To hear what they’ve done for our country, what they’ve been through, just to hear their bravery, their courage.”

“It’s so different to hear the firsthand perspective.”

Having stories transcribed is helpful for people with hearing loss and for researchers, such as documentarian Ken Burns, who can use keywords to search for specific topics, places or events.

As technology evolves, electronic voice recognition systems are becoming more common for translations of audio into print and for closed captioning.

Marcia Ferranto is the executive director and CEO of the National Court Reporters Association. She believes the hearing loss community should demand the greatest quality possible in getting captions.

“And, that’s always going to be a person behind a machine rather than an electronic recording,” Ferranto said. “Nothing can replace the human component.”

About half of the stories told to the Veterans History Project have been digitized and are available online.

New additions are still being collected, though. Families are encouraged to have loved ones participate and to contribute associated memorabilia that can be reviewed by families and researchers through the ages.

“You can schedule an appointment, they will go upstairs into the archives, they will bring down your veteran’s box of memory, and you as a family can sit down downstairs in the Library of Congress and experience it,” Ferranto said.

“We watched a family do that — request the history of their great-grandfather. They were all able to experience ‘his story,’ and it was very, very moving.”


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Alexandria teen to be sentenced in MS-13-related killing of Md. girl, 15

WASHINGTON — The teenager who disappeared for a month last year, only to be charged with a brutal gang-related murder on her return, will be sentenced Friday.

Venus Iraheta, 18, of Alexandria, pleaded guilty in January to charges of first-degree murder, abduction and gang participation in the death of Damaris Reyes Rivas, 15, last year. She faces a maximum sentence of life in prison on the murder charge, 10 years each on the others.

Iraheta was 17 when she disappeared for a month in January 2017. Her return was captured live in February of that year while her mother was being interviewed by WTOP’s news partner, NBC Washington.

By the next morning, she was one of 10 people ultimately charged in connection with the death of Rivas, of Gaithersburg, Maryland. Her body was found near Lake Accotink Park, in Springfield, Virginia, in February 2017; the police said at the time that they believed she’d been killed in January.

Iraheta confessed last January to stabbing Rivas several times, saying Rivas was targeted because the group thought she had lured Christian Sosa Rivas, an MS-13 clique leader and Iraheta’s boyfriend, to his death.

Sosa Rivas’ body was found in the Potomac River near Dumfries earlier that month. Six people were arrested in his death.

In a statement and an interview with WTOP in January, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Morrogh laid out the details of the murder:

Reyes Rivas had run away from home; her mother reported her missing Dec. 10, 2016. On Jan. 8, 2017, one of the other defendants, Jose Castillo Rivas, whom prosecutors said Reyes Rivas knew, picked her up and brought her to Lake Accotink Park, in Springfield, Virginia. The rest of the 10 defendants were waiting.

Prosecutors said Iraheta hit Reyes Rivas in the face, knocking her down. Video from Iraheta’s cellphone shows the gang members demanding information about Sosa Rivas’ death, prosecutors said, as well as another defendant, Jose Torres Cerrato, “telling the group they have to torture her first because she had to tell them everything.”

Iraheta told Reyes Rivas “she was going to die that day,” Morrogh said in the statement, and the group forced Reyes Rivas to stand in snow without her shoes or shirt in order to feel the same cold Sosa Rivas did when his body was dumped in the Potomac River, while they demanded information about Sosa Rivas’ death.

They then brought her back into Castillo Rivas’ vehicle, to take Reyes Rivas to another location nearby. After they got there, the entire group attacked her.

Iraheta demanded to know whether she had slept with Sosa Rivas, Morrogh said in the statement. Also, Iraheta cut a tattoo he had given Reyes Rivas off her hand, told her she would “see her in hell,” and stabbed her in the neck and chest several times, Morrogh said in the statement. Others stabbed her as well, and the video was then sent to MS-13 leadership in El Salvador “for promotions within the ranks of the gang.”

“She was a primary actor” in Reyes Rivas’ death, Morrogh told WTOP in January, “and this is a very violent and dangerous street gang. We’re always pleased when we take another off the street.”


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Woman arrested in 2017 McLean shooting deaths first thought to be murder-suicide

WASHINGTON — Police in Fairfax County, Virginia, say they have arrested a woman in connection with the shooting deaths of her sister and mother in a McLean case that had originally been investigated as a murder-suicide.

Megan Hargan, 35, was taken into custody in West Virginia, Fairfax County police said in a tweet Friday morning. Authorities are expected to provide more details about the arrest at a 1:30 p.m. news conference. WTOP will have a reporter at the news conference.

The bodies of Helen Hargan, 23, and Pamela Hansen Hargan, 63, were found shot to death inside their McLean house in July 2017. Police had initially said it appeared Helen Hargen shot her mother and then turned the gun on herself.

However, police documents filed last November indicated they believed the crime scene “may have been altered and staged” to look like a murder-suicide. Suspicion fell on Megan Hargan after she attempted to make “fraudulent” wire transfers from her mother’s accounts after her death, according to police search warrants.


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Vigil marks nearly 1 year after Virginia man fatally shot by Park Police

Westlake Legal Group bijan1-647x485 Vigil marks nearly 1 year after Virginia man fatally shot by Park Police Virginia u.s. park police police shooting Local News Ghaisar family george washington parkway Fairfax County, VA News Bijan Ghaisar

A sign now marks the area where 25-year-old Bijan Ghaisar was fatally shot by U.S. Park Police nearly a year ago, on Nov. 17, 2017. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)

Westlake Legal Group bijan2-647x485 Vigil marks nearly 1 year after Virginia man fatally shot by Park Police Virginia u.s. park police police shooting Local News Ghaisar family george washington parkway Fairfax County, VA News Bijan Ghaisar

A vigil was held in honor of Bijan Ghaisar on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, nearly a year after he was fatally shot by U.S. Park Police. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)

Westlake Legal Group bijan3-647x485 Vigil marks nearly 1 year after Virginia man fatally shot by Park Police Virginia u.s. park police police shooting Local News Ghaisar family george washington parkway Fairfax County, VA News Bijan Ghaisar

Ghaisar’s parents were also at the vigil. His father, James Ghaisar, thanked people for coming on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)

Westlake Legal Group bijan4-647x485 Vigil marks nearly 1 year after Virginia man fatally shot by Park Police Virginia u.s. park police police shooting Local News Ghaisar family george washington parkway Fairfax County, VA News Bijan Ghaisar

Virginia state Sen. Scott Surovell organized the vigil. He lives about two blocks away from the shooting scene. He called the lack of answers about what happened nearly a year ago “disturbing.” (WTOP/Michelle Basch)

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — Dozens of people lit candles and stood in the dark Thursday night at the intersection of Fort Hunt Road and Alexandria Avenue in Fairfax County, Virginia, to remember an unarmed driver shot by U.S. Park Police along that road nearly a year ago.

Bijan Ghaisar, 25, was shot on Nov. 17, 2017. The accountant from McLean died 10 days later.

Ghaisar’s parents attended the candlelight vigil. His father, James Ghaisar, wept as he thanked people for coming and shared hugs with many of them.

Key questions about Ghaisar’s case are still unanswered. For example, the reason for the shooting and the names of the officers involved have not been released.

Westlake Legal Group DPvGIHTV4AAi-4B Vigil marks nearly 1 year after Virginia man fatally shot by Park Police Virginia u.s. park police police shooting Local News Ghaisar family george washington parkway Fairfax County, VA News Bijan Ghaisar
Bijan Ghaisar was a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, and his family has described him as a ”kind and gentle soul.” (Courtesy Ghaisar family)

“Our hope is that with so much participation and so much kindness and (so many) voices, hopefully, the wall of silence is broken and justice is served,” James Ghaisar said.

On the night of the shooting, Bijan Ghaisar’s Jeep Grand Cherokee was rear-ended on the George Washington Parkway in Alexandria. He drove away from the scene of the accident; Park Police spotted his SUV and began a chase.

According to a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by his family, Ghaisar stopped three times as he was being followed, and each time, officers got out of their cars and pointed guns at him.

When Ghaisar stopped the third and final time, officers fired nine shots at him at close range. His family said he was shot four times in the head and once in the wrist.

Within a few days of the shooting, the investigation was turned over to the FBI.

“The small good news is the FBI has said they’ve concluded their investigation and turned it over to the Department of Justice,” Rep. Don Beyer said at the vigil.

But, the congressman from Virginia added, “Our frustration now is we would like justice not to wait months or years to make a determination. Department of Justice lawyers will decide … were Bijan Ghaisar’s civil rights violated and to what extent? In other words, will the Park Police be charged and what will they be charged with? And that’s the kind of conclusion we need.”

“We also need to see the investigative report,” Beyer said. “There’s so much now that the family doesn’t know. Why did they pull their weapons? What were they thinking? Why did they shoot?”

Virginia state Sen. Scott Surovell, who organized the vigil, lives just two blocks from the shooting scene.

“It’s really disturbing. If an officer had been shot that night instead of a civilian, we would have had a press briefing that night about what happened, and we would have had charges within 24 hours. But, when a police officer pulls the trigger, it just seems to take forever,” Surovell said.

Several signs placed at the shooting scene by the family have been removed, Surovell said, and he doesn’t know who did it.

Surovell decided to put up a sturdy, wooden sign that reads, “One Year, Zero Answers.” It includes details about another vigil planned on Nov. 17 to mark exactly one year since the shooting. That vigil will be held at the Lincoln Memorial from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.


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