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TOP PRINCE WILLIAM NEWS STORIES OF 1996



Wednesday, January 1 1997; Page V03

1. Karynne Sheldon Disappearance: Two-year-old Karynne Sheldon disappeared from the front yard of a Prince William home in October. For 10 days, her parents searched the woods in central Prince William County with the help of hundreds of police officers and community members. Rewards were offered. A picture of the red-haired youngster became ubiquitous on posters and TV news programs. On Halloween, her body was found floating in the Occoquan River, less than a mile from where she had disappeared.

2. New Cannons Stadium: In July, Arthur L. Silber, owner of the Prince William Cannons baseball team, proposed to build a $150 million sports and entertainment complex that would include a new 10,000-seat minor league stadium, a hotel, an office building, a convention center, 450,000 square feet of retail stores, an ice hockey rink and a performing arts center. He said he plans to build the complex somewhere along Interstate 95 near Potomac Mills mall. Silber, an eccentric banker from Maryland, said he expects the county to help fund construction of the stadium through revenue bonds to be paid back from ticket sales. County officials said they were intrigued by the proposal but took a wait-and-see attitude.

3. FBI-Bennett Case: Police arrested former FBI agent Eugene Bennett in June after he allegedly lured his ex-wife, also a former FBI agent, to a church and threatened to blow up her minister. The bizarre case revolved around a bitter divorce and custody battle in which Bennett accused his ex-wife, Marguerite Bennett, of having an affair with novelist Patricia Cornwell. Prosecutors charged Eugene Bennett with six felony counts of manufacturing a bomb and attempting to murder his ex-wife. Police also allege that Bennett planted explosive devices at two community colleges and orchestrated a failed life insurance fraud scheme.

4. Route 29 Stalker: In March, Alicia Showalter Reynolds was killed along Route 29 in Culpeper, the apparent victim of an attacker police identified as the Route 29 stalker. The possibility of an attacker who lures women from their cars on a major north-south route through Prince William generated concern and fear in the community. State police say they think the stalker has flagged down about 25 women along Route 29 and offered them rides. In November, police released a profile of the killer and said they think he will kill again if he is not caught.

5. Youth Curfew: Prince William police proposed a sweeping curfew for youth younger than 17 in an effort to crack down on juvenile crime. Under the plan, youngsters caught out after 11 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends could be arrested or taken to a temporary holding area, where they would receive counseling and wait for their parents to be called. Critics called the plan an infringement of the rights of young people. Advocates called it a popular way to deal with the increasing number of crimes committed by juveniles. The Board of County Supervisors delayed action on the proposal until early 1997.

6. County Leadership Changes: After six years in the job, County Executive James H. Mullen left Prince William in October to become city manager of Colorado Springs. His departure came less than five months after he shook up the top ranks of Prince William government by ousting Planning Director Doug James and Economic Development Director John Gessaman.

Mullen had criticized both men, saying he was disappointed with the county's ability to attract and keep businesses. Today, all three top positions are held temporarily while county leaders search for permanent replacements.

7. Transportation Issues: For much of the year, residents of western Prince William debated the future of highways and railroads through their communities. Two studies by the Virginia Department of Transportation emerged as the focal points of arguments over the future of the countryside in rural Prince William.

Opponents of the realignment of train tracks and construction of a new freeway through western Prince William lost the first round to stop the freeway when county supervisors endorsed the massive road project in December. Opponents were more successful in eliminating certain proposals for routing the train tracks near Lake Manassas. 8.School Crowding Continues: More than 1,600 new students started attending classes in Prince William, increasing the strain on already crowded schools. At Woodbridge and Hylton High schools, classes were held under stairwells and students learned to traverse the campus via one-way hallways.

The School Board decided not to change the attendance boundaries or the school schedule to ease congestion. Instead, School Board members and county supervisors pointed fingers at each other for the problem, then decided to join forces to blame state officials.

9. Development Debate: A decision by the Comprehensive Plan Task Force to recommend slowing the pace of town house construction was the latest development in a yearlong debate over how to control residential growth. Prince William officials complained throughout the year that the growth in the residential sector -- without corresponding growth in the commercial area -- was having a negative effect on the county's finances. Members of the building industry argued that critics were unfairly targeting new and cheaper homes for the county's financial problems.

10. Videotape Case: John Lee Jenkins, Potomac High School's activities director, was arrested after allegedly luring teenage girls to a school bathroom where he had hidden a video camera in a cardboard box. Several girls who attended a weekend football game said Jenkins offered to give them rides to the bathroom on his golf cart. Some of the girls became suspicious, and one told her mother, who confronted Jenkins. Police charged Jenkins with three felonies, but he later pleaded no contest to one charge of videotaping a girl in a bathroom. In the plea, Jenkins agreed to quit his job at Potomac High and get psychological counseling.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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