In late January, residents here and in West Virginia were both shocked and sickened to learn that more than 4,000 pounds of animal carcasses — many from Fairfax County — had been found dumped in a pile in a forested area near Capon Bridge, W. Va.
BUT NOW, the three people authorities believe are responsible for the deed have been indicted in that state on charges stemming from this incident. They are Ronald Lee Henry Jr., 38, of 22309 St. Louis Road in Middleburg; Jason Scott Light, 21, of P.O. Box 262 in Capon Bridge; and Shane Douglas Richmond, 27, of P.O. Box 75 in Capon Bridge.
Henry was a part-time employee of Family Pet Cremations in Chantilly and a full-time employee of the Fairfax County Animal Shelter. And he and the two other men are each charged with one count of creating an open dump and one count of unlawful disposal of litter.
Both charges are misdemeanors, punishable by as much as a year in jail. In Virginia, a $2,500 fine could also be levied; but in West Virginia, the stakes are much higher.
"Fines can go up to $25,000," said Lt. Harry Shaver, with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) Law Enforcement Section. "It depends on the poundage, type and severity of the materials dumped." (Shaver is the executive officer for the Romney District, and Capon Bridge is in that district).
Until the discovery of the dead animals, Family Pet Cremations had a contract with both Fairfax and Montgomery counties to cremate animals from their shelters. But when animals from both shelters — more than 250 total — were found in West Virginia, the contracts were cancelled.
On Feb. 3, a company press release from Family Pet Cremations pointed the finger of blame to a "subcontractor" — someone who worked full time for Fairfax County's Animal Shelter and part time for the crematorium.
ATTORNEY Bill Schewe, representing the business, gave further details that afternoon during a press conference. He said faulty equipment led to the unfortunate turn of events.
"When the crematorium's incinerator was out of service recently, it hired a subcontractor — [the person employed at both places] to dispose of the animals," said Schewe. "They were to be buried on a farm in Winchester properly, and the individual in question was paid [to take care of it]."
But the animals were never buried and, some time during the weekend of Jan. 28-29, they were found by a local resident on private land in Hampshire County, W.Va. The huge pile was discovered in a subdivision with new roads being developed. It was in a fairly remote area, but some residents had already moved into their new homes.
Some of the dead animals still had rabies-vaccination tags and name tags. And although most were dogs and cats, also included were mice, rats, rabbits, squirrels, raccoons, foxes, hawks and deer.
According to the DNR, "Some of the animals had been decapitated and a few had intravenous tubes still inserted in their forelegs. More than 4,000 pounds were removed from the wooded area near Capon Bridge, W. Va., on [Jan. 30], due to the potential risk to the environment and human health."
That same day, members of the Hampshire County Sheriff's Department, the DNR Law Enforcement Section and Fairfax County police all began investigating this find. Then on March 6, Hampshire County prosecuting attorney Steve Moreland met with the DNR conservation officer.
Moreland received the report of the investigation, plus an overview of the evidence, for his review, and then decided who to charge and with what. Last Monday, May 8, the Hampshire County grand jury indicted Henry, Light and Richmond. All three will be arraigned on their charges, May 22, at which time they'll decide whether to enter pleas or have trials.
SO WHAT was the connection between Henry and the other two people — both of whom live in the same town where the dumping took place? Shaver attributes it to "happenstance at a convenience store. We believe we'll be able to prove that Mr. Henry was at the same location as the other two men and might have solicited their assistance."
In addition, a similar stack of animal remains was found around Christmastime, about 20 miles away, in the George Washington National Forest in Hardy County, W. Va. It contained 50-60 animals — dogs and cats, plus wildlife such as deer, squirrels and possums.
In this case, as well, authorities say the trail leads back to the Fairfax County Animal Shelter and Family Pet Cremations of Chantilly.
"There's no doubt, by the proximity, that these two sites were linked," said Capt. Woody Lipps with the U.S. Forest Service's Law Enforcement Department in Roanoke. "Animals linked to Fairfax County were found at both sites. And [Family Pet Cremations was] in the loop for animals at both sites because Fairfax County contract[ed] with Family Pet Cremations to dispose of their animals."
The Capon Bridge dumping is being prosecuted by the state of West Virginia because those animals were found on private property. Any charges arising from the dumping in the national forest would be handled by the federal government.