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Did you hear?

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By Tom Wilmoth

Keep your cars locked

The Bedford Police Department is urging area residents to keep their cars locked, following a string of larcenies from vehicles in the city.

There have been a dozen larcenies from unlocked cars since the first of the year, six in the past month, according to reports from the department. Items taken include money, wallets, checks, an IPOD, a Blackberry and phone charger, a camera, DVD players, a handgun and video games.

Investigator Kevin Young said cars should be kept locked and residents should call the department if they see anyone suspicious walking around. No arrests have been made in the cases and the investigations are ongoing.

Most of the larcenies have occurred from vehicles parked at residences. Leaving porch lights on could also help deter thieves.

I might also add that carports are another area to keep clear. Just this past week my son had a bicycle he received for his birthday stolen from our carport a day after it was given to him by one of his friends.

Arrests made

Arrests, however, were made this week in burglary and property damage incidents.

During the night of June 14, two juveniles were arrested in the city of Roanoke for possession of stolen vehicles. The vehicles were taken from John’s Transmissions in the 200 block of W. Washington Street in Bedford.

That same night Holdren, Eubank and Stanley was burglarized in the 100 block of W. Main Street. D. Reynolds in the 100 block of South Bridge received property damage. On June 12, there was a burglary at Floors and More in the 100 block of W. Main Street.

Change and food items were taken from Floors and More.

At least one of the juveniles was from Bedford. They were arrested after a police officer in Roanoke attempted to pull over one of the vehicles. A short pursuit ensued and they did eventually apprehend that suspect.

While cuffing that juvenile, the second vehicle drove by and the suspect identified that vehicle as also being stolen. It was stopped and a second suspect was arrested.

The juveniles have been charged in these instances and are being held at Coyner Springs Juvenile Detention Center. The Bedford Police Department is continuing its investigation into the instances and further charges may be pending.

“We’re very happy that it’s come to a conclusion with the arrest of these juveniles,” Bedford Police Chief Jim Day said.

Views of the Confederate flag

Two letters to the editor this week are voicing complaints from Liberty High School students about incidents in which they were told to remove Confederate flags from their vehicles while on school property the last day of school.

The students said the flags were being flown to show their Southern heritage, but school officials deemed the flags could disrupt the school day, so the students were asked to remove them, according to Ryan Edwards, public relations coordinator with Bedford County Public Schools.

“We’ve had a number of occasions where students have brought Confederate flags on large flag poles attached to their vehicles to school,” Edwards said, adding those instances were brought to the attention of LHS principal Dr. Cherie Whitehurst. “She felt this served as a disruption to the school day. She asked the students respectfully that they remove the flags.”

Edwards said the students were compliant and that there hadn’t been any further incidents.

“We have to do what we need to do to ensure that the learning process at the school is not disrupted,” he said. “Everyone can agree that the Confederate flag is a very emotional symbol for many people.”

The flag can be interpreted different ways by different people, Edwards said.

“What we’re looking at is a judgment call on the principal’s part,” Edwards said. “The Confederate flag evokes so much emotion in so many different ways. ...As a school administrator you have to do what you have to do to ensure the continuity of a school day.”

Edwards said the flag was deemed at LHS to be causing negative emotions from some students. “She felt the disruption was something the school did not need,” he added.

Though there is not a specific policy that deals with Confederate flags, Edwards said school principals have the jurisdiction to determine what is or isn’t a disruption to the school.

“The bottom line is that this ultimately is left in the hands of the principal to determine if a disruption to the school day is occurring,” Edwards said. “There aren’t many topics that evoke emotion more than the Confederate flag.”

He said while the school system doesn’t take a stance either way on the flag, school officials do have to ensure “that a small disruption doesn’t lead to something on a much larger scale.”

Dr. Whitehurst stated that as the flags roll down U.S. 460 on students’ vehicles and through the city of Bedford, school phones “are ringing off the hook from concerned and frightened community members.”

“It has been my approach to share with the boys, flying the flags on large poles on the backs of their trucks, to think about how they are coming across and that some people perceive them as inciting a fight,” she said in an email. “In the past after I have explained the situation to the boys, they have been cooperative and agreed not to fly their flags on their trucks when parked at school.”

Dr. Whitehurst said the school appreciates Civil War history and has a few history teachers who participate in Civil War reenactment activities. “They even use their reenactment experiences to accentuate their Civil War instructional units. The information and costumes are presented and displayed in a meaningful manner with dignity,” she stated.

But she said that she doesn’t feel flying “a large Rebel flag in the student parking lot with the word ‘red neck’ in the middle of the flag is in the same spirit.”

“It is disruptive to our school environment,” she said.

She said it’s important to remember the bigger picture.

“We need to remember that our country is at war and this is not a time for creating division.” And quoting from Abraham Lincoln she said: “A house divided cannot stand.”

“We need to rally around our country’s flag and be that ‘one nation’ that is ‘indivisible.’ The unity must begin in our communities. We need to exercise understanding, empathy and treat others as we want to be treated,” Dr. Whitehurst concluded.

In the letters to the editor, the students said they shouldn’t be stopped from exercising their First Amendment rights.

“We as proud Americans and Virginians have a heritage unique to each one of us. Our heritage includes the Civil War, a war very costly to Americans,” wrote Ernest Cook of Big Island. “Nevertheless, when trying to preserve our heritage we as Southern Americans get accused of being racist.”

Added Ryan King of Bedford: “Upon entering the parking lot we were asked by our administrator to remove the flags. I asked why and she replied that some community leaders had called the school and complained. This really shocked me, that our community leaders could be so ignorant of such matters.”

Penalties tougher

The punishment for underage drinkers who get behind the wheel will be stricter beginning July 1.

Underage drinking and driving will be punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor. Currently, the punishment is loss of license for six months and a $500 maximum fine. The new penalty will be one year in jail and either a minimum fine of $500 or 50 hours of community service.

Alcohol use by people under age 21 is prohibited in Virginia. The Commonwealth has a zero tolerance law regarding teens and alcohol use. Zero tolerance means the legal limit for teens is a .02 blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which is the normal alcohol content of the average person. Even a small amount of alcohol can result in a conviction.

Several other laws taking effect July 1 impact teen drivers. A new law requires learner’s permit holders to practice behind the wheel for more hours. It increases the minimum driving hours from 40 to 45, and at least 15 of those hours must be after sunset. The law also requires certification of the hours the learner’s permit holder drives, which must be documented on a form supplied by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Another new law affects those who drive a moped. Beginning July 1, anyone who operates a moped faster than 35 miles per hour is considered to be operating a motorcycle. The operator will be subject to the same traffic laws that govern motorcycles. Moped operators must be at least 16 years old, and every person driving a moped must carry some form of identification that includes name, address and date of birth.

Also starting July 1, the penalties for repeat violators of Virginia’s child restraint law will be more stringent. First time offenders will continue to be subject to the current civil penalty of $50, but those convicted of a second or subsequent violation on different dates could pay a civil penalty of up to $500. Virginia state code requires children up to age 8 to be properly secured in a child restraint device. Children between 8 and 16 must be properly secured by an appropriate safety belt.

Town Hall Meeting set

The Bedford Area Chamber of Commerce presents a Town Hall Meeting on June 24, noon, at Liberty Lake Park.

Citizens have an opportunity to hear from their local officials about the issues facing our community, including plans for growth and development. It’s open to the public. The $10 registration includes lunch, or attendance is free without lunch. Invited speakers include: Mayor Willard D. “Skip” Tharp, and members of Bedford City Council and Bedford County Board of Supervisors.

Register by calling (540) 586-9401, fax: (540) 587-6650 or email to chamberinfo@bedfordareachamber.com.