Looking Back at 2007: A Changing Community
Press Release: Martinsville Bulletin
Sunday, December 30, 2007
By GINNY WRAY - Bulletin Staff Writer
Like most years, 2007 was filled with good news and bad. But many area residents will remember it as the year that former Henry County sheriff H. Frank Cassell went to prison.
Cassell is serving eight months in a federal prison for his role in a corruption scandal at the sheriff's office. He was one of 20 people indicted by a federal grand jury in the case.
Cassell pleaded guilty on Sept. 11 to one count of making a false statement to a federal agent and was sentenced to eight months in prison. He began serving that sentence on Nov. 6 at the U.S. Penitentiary-Canaan near Scranton, Pa.
The cases of most of the others were resolved in 2007, although former sergeant Robert Adams - the only person to stand trial in the scandal - has appealed his conviction on two charges.
Other Martinsville Bulletin headlines throughout the year reflected changes taking place in the community, growing educational opportunities and crimes.
One of the largest symbols of the future is grounded in the past. The Virginia Museum of Natural History's new $28 million facility opened with a sold-out gala March 30 featuring Gov. Tim Kaine.
There were advances in education in the area. The New College Institute honored its first graduates in December, and all Martinsville schools were accredited for the first time this year. Patrick Henry Community College could receive a new motorsports/workforce development building if a proposed state bond package is approved by the General Assembly in 2008.
To foster growth, land was added to the Patriot Centre at Beaver Creek industrial park and a new industrial park is being created south of Martinsville, near the North Carolina line. Also, the area's shell building was completed and is being marketed to prospective companies.
But some industrial plants also closed. Ridgeway and Dutailier furniture companies shuttered their local operations. Plant closings by Bassett, Stanley and Hooker furniture companies reflected the continued decline of domestic manufacturing.
Other companies expanded, including J.G. Edelen Co. and Blue Ridge Aquaculture. Gildan met its $7 million capital investment goal within 16 months of starting operations in Henry County and plans to exceed its projected 175 employees in three years. So far, it has 140 full-time employees and 100 temporary workers.
The area lost three servicemen - Lt. Ryan Betton, Pvt. Daniel Fisher and Pfc. Rush "Mickey" Jenkins - all of whom died in the line of duty in the past 12 months.
In addition, several people who have held leadership positions in the area died in the past 12 months. They include former Martinsville mayors Allan McClain and Francis West; former city councilman Bruce Dallas; Bill Adkins, local homebuilder and activist; and Ben Gardner, a local lawyer who was instrumental in creating the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp.
On Nov. 6, Henry County voters elected a new sheriff, Lane Perry; supervisor, T.J. Slaughter; and school board members, Joe DeVault, Betsy Mattox and Charles Speakman. A new sheriff, Dan Smith, and a new commonwealth's attorney, Stephanie Brinegar, were chosen in Patrick County. Republican Don Merricks of Danville was elected to represent the 16th House District in the General Assembly.
Martinsville gained a new city manager, Clarence Monday, after Dan Collins resigned from the post to join the Virginia Department of Transportation in April. City Councilman Mark Anderson resigned because he is moving to Danville.
Also in April, area students held memorial events and activities following the massacre of 33 students and staff at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.