Jan. 2, 2006 Charges of racism and sexual harassment topped the territory's news stories in 2005. But environmental issues, such as renewable energy and waste treatment, also commanded attention. The territory finally got a bill against animal cruelty passed, and politics as usual (or unusual) played their expected role.
Sexual harassment gets a slap on the wrist
After the Senate failed to act forcefully on charges that Sen. Usie Richards sexually harassed a Senate employee, a second woman came forward in February and filed a complaint against Richards. Several other women then came forward to claim the senator had also harassed them. See: Accusers Turn Up the Heat on Usie.
Concurrent with the renewed attention to Richards, Adj. Gen. Eddy Charles came under fire for similar practices as he was facing nomination to the territory's top military position, when it came to light that a V.I. National Guard secretary filed a complaint against Charles in 1999 claiming he had sexually harassed her. See: Cloud of Sexual Harassment Hangs Over Senate Again. The woman said her charges resulted in retaliation in the workplace.
It seems that neither sexual harassment nor retaliation are unusual in the V.I. See: Sexual Harassment 'Commonplace,' V.I. Experts Say, and Two Women Who Reported Sexual Harassment are Without Jobs.
Animal cruelty fines
In a step that began the territory's move out of the Dark Ages, senators not without considerable resistance finally passed an animal anti-cruelty bill. See: Animal Cruelty Bill Becomes Law. The law brings the V.I. much closer into alignment with most other U.S. jurisdictions relative to animal cruelty laws. Not long after senators overrode a gubernatorial veto and passed the bill, an incident clearly indicating the need for the law arose. See: Investigation Into Brutally Slain Dogs Could Lead to Prosecution Under New Law. This incident was not unlike scores of others many of which the Source has reported on over the years.
Violence, civil unrest and more violence
It wasn't a good year for violence against people, either. Homicides reached their highest level, at 41 for the year, since 2002 when there were 42.
And the sparks of another kind of violence flew in June when racial slurs appeared on the home of St. John residents Esther and Jerry Frett. The FBI was called in to investigate the incident as a possible hate crime. Sparks literally turned into flames after the same Esther Frett reported she had been raped a few months later in August. See: St. John Rape Sparks Anger, Sadness, Calls for Justice.
Lack of answers about the alleged rape, coupled with other economic and racial tensions on the smallest of the three major U.S. Virgin Islands, seemingly led first to a man's car being set on fire, and not long after, his business being torched. See: Meada's Mall Fire Likely Sparked by Racial Tensions. Frett had accused him earlier in the year of assaulting her. He has since pled not guilty to the charges. Sells Pleads Innocent to Charges.
The charges of racially motivated hate crimes occurring on St. John drew attention from the island's most distant relatives on St. Croix. Community activist Mario Moorhead led the charge to bring protests to St. John on Contract Day, Oct. 1. See: Crucians Preparing to March on St. John.
Twenty-seven St. Croix residents landed on St. John to rally with St. Johnians and St. Thomians to well no one was exactly sure to do what. See: Many Calls for Unity at St. John Rally. After marching and rallying in Cruz Bay on Oct. 1, some of the protesters stayed on to disrupt businesses, causing many to wonder what the point was. See: Protestors Stop Shoppers at Starfish Market. When all was protested, marched upon, said and done, criminal justice officials remained silent on the investigations into all of the alleged crimes against Esther Frett and her husband and Robert Sells, despite repeated assurances from Police Commissioner Elton Lewis and others that significant progress had been made in the investigations.
Even before the dust from the protests had settled on Love City, as St. John is known, the island was rocked by a grisly murder its first homicide in more than five years. David Geiger was bludgeoned to death, and his bed, with his body in it, was set on fire. Geiger's 14-year-old son Nathan was also beaten and left for dead in what appears to have been a money-motivated crime. See: Homicide, Arson Suspected After Early Morning Fire. All of the suspects in the Geiger murder are in police custody.
On St. Croix the homeless were under attack. Two homeless people were killed in separate incidences within weeks of each other. See: Homeless On St. Croix Under Attack.
Politics, the Comedy, the Tragedy
But all was not gloom and doom in the territory in 2005. On the political front, two long-term senatorial opponents came together in a marriage not exactly made in heaven, after aligning not along partisan lines to help form a majority in the Legislature. The move got one of them sanctioned — and not by the church. The marriage was celebrated in true Carnival fashion as Sen. Celestino White Sr. marched down Main Street with an effigy of Senate President Lorraine L. Berry on his arm much to the delight of the crowd. Despite early predictions that the marriage wouldn't last, the couple seems to have made it through their first year together.
Much ado about something was also made in the hallowed halls, where a bill seeking to reform the nearly $1 billion-in-debt Government Employees Retirement System was batted about for months before an imperfect version was finally passed by the Legislature and reluctantly signed by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull. See: Senators Move to Reform GERS and Regulate Their Own Allotments and Governor Reluctantly Signs GERS Reform.
Moving a bit toward campaign politics, Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards proudly announced just on the cusp of 2005, in December 2004, that American Eagle would resume flights between St. Thomas and St. Croix. What the lieutenant governor failed to mention at the time was the flights were being heav
ily subsidized by the V.I. government. Four months and $2 million later the Inter Island American Eagle Flights Ended.
And under the heading no news is not necessarily good news: Despite several trips to Washington by various groups of V.I. officials and non-officials to plead the case for toning down recently enacted tax regulations that threaten the V.I.'s Economic Development tax incentive program, no significant change in the rigid guidelines has been announced. The last word from Delegate Donna M. Christensen on the matter was on Dec. 12, when she sent a press release saying that U.S. Treasury officials hope to have final regulations on the Virgin Islands Economic Development Commission tax program before the end of the year.
Environmental issues also in limbo
Little progress had been made by year's end to secure an environmentally friendly wetlands solution to St. Croix's sewage problems. See: Ocean Defense Group Continues Battle for Wetlands Solution.
On St. Thomas Vessup beach and Lindqvist beach remained in limbo as the community continued to fight to keep the two beaches from being privately developed.
And as the year drew to a close, officials at the Water and Power Authority were left with only three options to consider for sources of alternative power. After claims of dozens of companies being interested and a few that actually vied for the coveted small power provider certification from the Public Services Commission, which later was deemed unnecessary by the Legislature, only four companies actually bid for the job. See: WAPA to Choose Between Wind, Waste, Coal or Oil. One was disqualified. See: WAPA Releases Summary of Small Power Producer's Proposals.
Some of the more by no means all notable deaths of the year 2005:
Another Virgin Islander Killed in Iraq (Jose M. Rosario).
St. Croix Girl Died of Dengue Shock Syndrome (Kamarah Isaac).
Nicholas 'Nick' Friday Has Died.
Attorney General Alva A. Swan Is Dead.
Maria 'Chi Chi' Heywood Dies at 55.
Judge Alphonso A. Christian, Dead at 88.
Preservationist Edith deJongh Woods Dead at 76.
Former UVI President Arthur A. Richards Dies.
Former Sen. Douglas Canton Sr. Has Died.
Share your reaction to this information with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.