During a December 2006 presentation on community safety and local crime trends, Lt. Dan Courtney urged residents to abandon idealistic notions of a crime-free suburban utopia and accept the fact that communities safe enough for unlocked cars and homes are a thing of the past.
"There's no going back to the '60s and '70s," said Courtney, supervisor of the Criminal Investigation section of the Fairfax County McLean District Police station. "I can't emphasize enough that as this area evolves, it's going to become more urban and we are going to have a metropolis."
On Dec. 10, 2006, more than 70 residents from both Great Falls and McLean packed into the McLean Government Center's community meeting room to listen to Courtney and two other crime prevention officers from the McLean District Station detail major local crime trends and offer advice on how to avoid being a victim.
"This was the best showing we ever had for one of these meetings," said Crime Prevention Officer Patrick Lucas.
The packed December meeting was indicative of the impact that had been made by the various criminal activity of the past year. In 2006, crime was on the minds of most residents living in McLean and Great Falls — a phenomenon that began when the year kicked off with a quadruple homicide and suicide incident involving residents of both communities.
ON CHRISTMAS MORNING of 2005, 27-year-old Nathan Cheatham shot and killed his mother, Sheila Cheatham, 53, in the driveway of their McLean home on Lewinsville Road. Nathan Cheatham then drove to the Sycamore Springs Lane home in Great Falls where his friend Adam Sebastian Price, 19, was just waking up to celebrate Christmas with his mother, Janina C. Price, 50, his older brother Alex, 20, and family friend, Christopher James Buro, 20. Leaving his truck running in the driveway, Cheatham walked toward the house, indiscriminately firing more than 50 bullets from his 9mm handgun. Once inside, Nathan Cheatham forced his way into each bedroom, methodically killing the victims hiding inside them. He then turned his gun on himself, committing suicide in the master bedroom of the house. The only survivor was 20-year-old Alex Price, who managed to phone police and remain undetected by Cheatham in the basement.
The killing spree was deemed by police as one of the worst murders in Fairfax County in more than a decade. Since 1995, there had been only three other triple homicides in Fairfax County. The Christmas morning killings brought the county's number of homicide victims for 2005 to a total of 22 — a 10-year high for Fairfax County.
The tragedy left residents shaken and stunned, although it was not the first time that homicides had occurred in Great Falls. In March of 2005, Jayant Kadian, a 20-year-old Great Falls resident and Langley High School graduate, was charged with murdering his mother, stabbing her 30 times with a kitchen knife. And in August of 1995, Edward Y. Chen, then 29, killed his parents and brother, hiding their bodies in the family's Great Falls home for four years. Chen, a Herndon High School graduate, was arrested in 2002 and sentenced to 36 years in prison.
Although the Christmas morning murders were attributed to Nathan Cheatham's personal struggles with substance abuse and mental illness, the homicides still left residents feeling uneasy. In the months that followed, numerous other incidents occurred, adding to residents' ever growing concern for their safety.
IN JANUARY, police caught George Charles Dalmas, III, a serial burglar who was charged with 17 counts of burglary and 16 counts of grand larceny. According to police, Dalmas — a mid-level administrative employee at the CIA — had stolen thousands of dollars worth of jewelry and other possessions from numerous homes in McLean. In addition, police found approximately 1,000 pairs of women's undergarments in Dalmas' home.
On Valentine's Day of 2006, a McLean couple was the victim of a home invasion at their residence on Lewinsville Road. Two men posing as police forced entry into the home brandishing handguns. The victims were tied together, and the suspects ransacked the house, taking jewelry and credit cards before leaving.
On June 28, three homes and 16 vehicles were burglarized between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. in The Reserve, a luxury residential development in McLean. Thieves were able to enter two of the homes by using garage door openers that were found in vehicles parked in front of the houses.
"The big problem was that they had their cars in the driveways, but left them unlocked, and with the garage door opener in the car — that means I have access to your home," said Master Police Officer Tom Harrington.
On July 13, McLean experienced its second murder suicide of the year when William Lash, III shot his 12-year-old autistic son William Lash, IV, with a shotgun, and then took his own life with the same gun. William Lash, III had gotten into an altercation with his wife Sharon Zackula. Zackula fled their McLean home and called police. Like the 2005 Christmas murders, the Lash murder-suicide incident stunned local residents.
"Nothing like this has ever happened here before," said Kyaw Tha, a neighbor of the family. "It's so strange and so sad."
IN AUGUST, Great Falls was targeted by a group of scam artists who traveled from door to door asking for donations for their overseas baseball games — and as the fall progressed, there seemed to be an increasing number of home and car burglaries in Great Falls.
"We've been here six years and we've never had any problems," said Jacqueline Jones, a resident who had her car broken into in September. "I feel like this is really on the rise and what they need to do is patrol more at night… we've lived here for so long and have always felt so safe, and I was just so startled by the whole thing."
In November, the Great Falls Citizens Association (GFCA) created a Crime Watch Task Force. Working in conjunction with the community e-mail network "Neighbors," the Task Force put out a community survey to collect data on incidents that had occurred in recent months. The group then organized a community focus group, and arranged for police officers from the Reston District Station to give a presentation on safety precautions and local crime issues at the December Citizens Association general membership meeting. Ironically, the Great Falls Library was broken into just two days before the community crime focus group met there.
Once again, residents were stunned by an unexpected crime. The Great Falls Library did not have a security system or security cameras — a fact that was probably well known to the thieves, according to local police; $54,000 of computer equipment was stolen from the library in the Nov. 2006 heist.
"We've had minor incidents here and there — scams, people posing as facilities maintenance — but nothing like this," said Linden Renner, branch manager of the Great Falls Library. "This was major."
In December of 2006, police gave presentations on local crime trends and personal safety tips at the Great Falls Citizens Association general membership meeting, and at the public community meeting in the McLean Government Center. Whether it is through improved self awareness or improved communication with local police, residents of McLean and Great Falls seem determined to guard themselves against crime in the coming year.
<bt>The days of unlocked doors and open garages may be gone, but rather than lose heart, residents of McLean and Great Falls are focused on planning for the future — one in which both communities are beautiful, pedestrian-friendly and socially connected. In 2007, the McLean Revitalization Corporation will continue in its efforts to shape its walkable, community friendly "Main Street" concept for downtown McLean. Residents of Great Falls are also strategizing for the future.
In the fall of 2006, at the request of Dranesville District Supervisor Joan DuBois, the Great Falls Citizens Association began its "2020 Vision Project." Between the fall of 2006 and the spring of 2007, members of the 2020 Vision Project committee are carrying out a multi-part study that will collect community input on what residents of Great Falls would like their community to look like by the year 2020.
"Joan DuBois asked us specifically to prepare this long-term vision so the county can have an idea of what we want," said Kathleen Murphy, one of the co-chairs of the 2020 Vision Project committee. "Our approach is an iterative, multi-month dialogue among all of the constituents of Great Falls."
The project has already put out multiple community surveys and held small focus group meetings for various community groups such as seniors, local business owners and artists. In the coming year, the 2020 Vision Project committee will continue to hold focus groups, and will mail a detailed community survey to every resident in Great Falls. The goal is to have some sort of community consensus on the future of Great Falls by the spring of 2007.
"I think as we go forward it's important to be able to say that as Fairfax County grows and sees more people and needs more housing, there is also a need in a county like this, for a place like Great Falls," said John Ulfelder, chair of the Great Falls Citizens Association Land Use committee.
ONE OF THE MAJOR issues that has been brought into the spotlight as the result of the 2020 Vision Project is whether or not sewer should be brought to the Great Falls Village Center. The Village Center businesses and the Great Falls Volunteer Fire Department are currently operating on a failing septic system, and are subsequently using the pump and haul method to handle excess waste.
Proponents of sewer argue that public water will make it easier for local businesses to thrive, will allow more restaurants and other "high water users" to lease space in the Village Center, and will make life much easier for the residents of the Great Falls Volunteer Fire Department. Opponents of sewer say that the introduction of a public water line will pave the way for increased commercial development and endanger the rural small town feel that defines the community of Great Falls.
In February of 2007, the Great Falls Citizens Association general membership meeting will concentrate on the issue of sewer, and local residents are encouraged to attend and offer their input. Sewer verses septic will be one of the major issues of 2007 for residents of Great Falls.
<sh>Million Dollar Mark
<bt>When real estate assessments were released by Fairfax County in the spring of 2006,