Guns, carcasses & ‘buzzards’ in rural Warren County, Virginia

Tempers flare over proximity of gunfire, deer carcasses and ‘Turkey Buzzards’

By Greg Johnson
Warren County Report

Neighbors seeking a county code change to add the Stonewall Estates Subdivision (SES) to the list of county subdivisions where the discharge of firearms is legally prohibit ran into a technical difficulty in the wake of a sometimes contentious Dec. 16 Public Hearing before the Warren County Board of Supervisors. That difficulty was that the request came from individuals, rather than an official neighborhood entity such as a property owners association. The subdivision does not have a formal property owners association as of yet.

Following the public hearing, County Administrator Doug Stanley told the board the reason to have county codes amended to include the discharge of firearms as a misdemeanor violation within neighborhoods was to give the Sheriffs Office authority to bring criminal charges against violators. Citing the public hearing debate, North River Supervisor Glenn White observed that property owners had already agreed not to discharge firearms within the boundaries of  the subdivision by signing the neighborhood covenants and were further subject to existing state codes on the discharge of firearms. The board majority also concluded that the matter was one in which it was necessary to have some entity other than individuals act for the subdivision.

The Board voted down a motion to approve the requested ordinance addition by a 3-2 vote, Carter, Glavis and Fox forming the majority, acknowledging that were a Property Owners Association formed, the new POA could reintroduce the request.

In introducing the public hearing on the request, County Attorney Blair Mitchell told the board that several residents of the subdivision had petitioned the board to add their subdivision to the seven subdivisions within Warren County where such behavior is subject to criminal prosecution. Mitchell said petitioning residents reported hearing extensive gunfire and produced an e-mailed photo picturing dead deer carcasses in close proximity of one home in the area. Mitchell reported that the neighborhood covenants prohibit the discharge of firearms within the subdivisions boundaries, but those covenants provide only civil remedies, not enforceable by the Warren County Sheriffs Office.

Resident Mary Dougherty told the Supervisors that residents hear gunfire throughout hunting season and expressed concern for the safety of the children and a resultant decrease in property values. She did observe that properties adjacent to the neighborhood did permit the discharge of firearms for hunting and other sporting purposes. Tom Dougherty followed and reiterated the issues his wife had expressed.

In an impassioned statement citing the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution, Herb Dunkle said that equal protection under the law was the primary underlying issue of the discussion. Dunkle, who has butted heads with the county over ordinance restrictions imposing aesthetic standards on how private property must be maintained, said county codes should not exceed Virginia state law on the use of firearms or any other property right. State law, he stated, makes it unlawful to discharge a firearm within 100 yards of any structure, road or pathway. That is all the legislation necessary to address the concerns expressed during the public hearing, Dunkle told the board.

Following Dunkle’s observations, Ray Clark said of his neighbors seeking the new county ordinance –  “These people are out of control.”

“All the property owners signed these [neighborhood] covenants prohibiting the use of firearms but they would have you believe that people are ‘running wild’ on the roads, firing guns and jumping ATV’s over car hoods,” Clark said.

Clark further stated that any resident could bring suit against any other resident in court for violating SES covenants and that the issue was a matter for civil remedy between neighbors, rather than the impetus for a county ordinance change. Clark told the Board his intention was not to ‘cast stones ‘ at any one but asserted he was being wrongly accused by his neighbors on the firearms violations. Clark surmised no civil action had been brought against him over those alleged violations due to his neighbors’ own liability on other covenant violations. He also brought the board’s attention to the Warren County map of the Cooley Road area where it had been alleged that firearm violations were taking place. Clark contended that previous speakers were exaggerating the density of the houses in the area.

Clark also directly asked the board who sent the accusing e-mail photos targeting him, adding that any deer found dead on his property were taken legally. Per public hearing guidelines, Clark got no direct response to his question from the board.

Despite Clark’s assertions about the neighborhood’s layout, another resident, Dr. Garrigan, told the board the neighborhood was too ‘tightly packed’ to permit the safe use of firearms. Garrigan supported earlier speakers’ concerns for the safety of residents and their children.

Don Eckers was next to the podium. Eckers turned to Clark in the audience and stated, “I sent the e-mails.” Board Chairman Archie Fox then admonished Eckers, reminding the speaker to address his remarks to the board, rather than others present. Eckers then told the board that “Turkey Buzzards” had been lined up on the peak of the roof of his home across the road from Clark’s property. Eckers said his wife, whom he characterized as a ‘country girl from Utah,’ told him there must be ‘carcasses nearby’ to attract the buzzards. Eckers said he later walked about thirty steps onto Clark’s property where he had seen and photographed about five deer carcasses within a 10 by 30-yard area.

Perhaps attempting to lighten the mood, Supervisor Glenn White informed Eckers that the proper name of the birds roosting on his roof was ‘Turkey Vulture,’ rather than ‘Buzzard,” or more properly, simply ‘Vultures.”

Clark, who had earlier commented that any deer on his property had been taken legally, then returned to the podium and informed the assembly it was his intention to obtain a trespassing complaint against Eckers. Clark then fingered Eckers for the earlier alleged covenant violations, citing an undue accumulation of trash bags at his neighbor’s residence.

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