On July 4, 1980, 63-year-old Doris Booth was driving home from her job at Dulles International Airport when two youths pulled alongside her car and said there was something wrong with her rear tire. When she stopped to see what was the matter, the youths grabbed her. She was beaten, raped, sodomized and left for dead along Rte. 7 outside Leesburg.
Somehow she managed to drag herself to her car where she found her keys but not her clothes. All she wanted to do was go home.
"Then I thought, well no, I'm 63 years old and I didn't do anything to deserve this," said Booth in an interview recently. Instead, she drove naked to the Loudoun County Sheriff's Department, where she laid on her horn. Deputies brought her a sheet and called Irene Wodell, director of Loudoun County's Victim Witness Program.
Wodell brought her a bathrobe at the hospital, talked to her in a soothing voice, held her hand, stayed with her.
"Irene was always there," said Booth. "She helped me more than I could ever express."
Wodell and the 42 volunteers in the program helped more than 4,000 victims and witnesses last year in Loudoun County. The Victim Witness Program has been called the most thorough-going of its type in the nation and Wodell is credited for her "groundbreaking" work in the county.
"Irene invented much of this stuff," said John H. Stein, deputy director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance, adding that Wodell is often selected to help start similar programs around the county. "Here's a woman who cares about her community, who likes people, who likes politics . . . and she's put it all together."
"Anybody can be a victim," said Wodell. "People don't know how traumatic that is until they are a victim."
Wodell, who is 45, officially started helping people in 1978. "There were victims and there were witnesses and no one was meeting their needs," she said. She wrote the first grant and started recruiting volunteers, who "are really responsible for this program," she said.
"You don't have burnout with volunteers," said Wodell, a former teacher. "We don't punch a clock, we work 'round the clock."
Wodell's volunteers include nurses, retired principals, social workers and homemakers aged 16 to 84.
They get four weeks of on-the-job training and provide services throughout the criminal justice system.
The volunteers' work with victims ranges from talking with them immediately after a crime, arranging for a place to stay to monitoring judges' orders for restitution, a payment frequently made to victims by those convicted of a crime. The volunteers' work with witnesses ranges from informing them when their trial date has been changed so they don't miss work to keeping defense and prosecution witnesses from sitting together in the waiting room.
"People like to know what's going to happen when they get into court," said Judy Brinegar, 40, one of Wodell's longtime volunteers. "The whole courtroom presence -- it does scare people."
Brinegar's main responsibility is monitoring restitution, which defendants pay directly to the clerk of the court. Brinegar volunteers about three to four days a week, going through the receipt books and compiling a list of people delinquent in their payments for the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office, which orders them back into court. Currently, Brinegar is monitoring more than $2 million in restitution payments in 380 cases.
Wodell carries a beeper and sits in front of a police scanner when she is not darting back and forth to the courthouse. She is in constant contact with the Loudoun County Sheriff's Department and the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office, but stresses that the program is a separate entity funded by the county and through donations or fund-raising efforts. She is paid $23,000 a year.
"On purpose she sought to have the program housed in county government but not attached to the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office," said Stein. "I don't know of any other such programs as thorough-going as hers.
Loudoun County Sheriff John R. Isom agrees: "Largely the success of the Victim Witness Program is due to the efforts of Irene . . . . We'll either page her on her beeper or bell boy or just call her at home."
Other jurisdictions are watching Wodell. There are 12 full-time programs in Virginia, said Mandie Patterson of the Victim Services Program in Richmond, and she anticipates that number will grow to 25 by the end of the year. Nationwide, there are 400 to 500, she said.
Fairfax County, which has allocated $157,000 for start-up costs for a similar program, hopes to have a director hired by December, said Maj. Michael W. Young, of the Fairfax County Police Department, which will oversee the program.
"I think what you see in Loudoun County is ground-breaking types of work," said Young. "She Wodell is recognized as being a leading practitioner."
As Loudoun County has grown, so has the Victim Witness Program, and Wodell continues to look for volunteers -- and more bathrobes, which bulge out of grocery bags in her offices at 115 Harrison St. in Leesburg.
In addition to bathrobes, volunteers now take along rape kits, which include soap, toothpaste, a wash cloth, comb, underwear and a card with the program's number (777-3399) on it.
Meanwhile, Booth was so affected by Wodell and her program that she has been a volunteer for five years. Now, she is trying to start a similar program in West Virginia.