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Mariflor Ventura made headlines earlier this year for helping her Buckingham neighbors during the pandemic.

Dubbed an “Arlington superwoman” by ABC 7, Ventura has been finding and distributing donations and handing out food and basic supplies for a year — an experience that has changed her life.

But now, she is drowning in donations and buckling under the weight of unyielding need. Still, Ventura is determined to give a leg up to people who have fallen on hard times and is looking for ways to structure and sustain her work.

“I love Arlington,” she said. “Whatever I can do, I’m here.”

Ventura, who is a bus attendant with Arlington Public Schools, began helping her neighbors last year during the lockdowns when school was virtual. Through a local Facebook group, she found items for free and distributed them to her neighbors.

The network expanded quickly, especially after giving an interview in Spanish, which reached immigrant communities as far as Woodbridge.

“This year has been busier than when I started,” she said. “I’m going to have to take a vacation from the donations to spend time with my kids.”

Eventually, Ventura migrated her operation from the “Arlington Neighbors” Facebook group to her own Buckingham Mutual Aid Organization Arlington group. She recently started an Amazon wishlist to facilitate in-kind donations.

“I stopped fundraising because I don’t want to manage money,” which could open her up to criticisms about how it is spent, she said.

The Amazon wishlist goes beyond the basics. There are decorations so families could have proper graduation parties for their older kids and bubble wands, water guns and coloring books to occupy kids this summer.

All these ideas have come from Facebook group members, she said.

“They have good ideas and they like to help,” she said.

But Ventura has a wishlist of her own: A separate space for the donations, a nonprofit designation, and a regular assistant to keep track of appointments and help distribute items.

She has been considering the now-vacant apartment downstairs from her. Even the nearest storage facility is far away and the move might confuse people who are used to coming to her house. There was talk about finding a church basement, but that fell through, she said.

As it stand right now, her home is filled with donated items waiting to be given away.

“There’s no space to clean — there’s a tiny little space where we watch TV in the dining room area,” she said. “Some days, I give up and say, ‘I’m not going to do anything. I’ll just try to relax.'”

She laughs. “Normally, I’m a very organized lady. My mom taught me to have my clothes picked out for the next day.”

Ventura said some connections are working on turning the organization into a nonprofit, but that will take some time. In the interim, she imagines creating some kind of free thrift store.

The Arlingtonian knows what it’s like to have nothing. At one point, Ventura lost her job, her apartment and her car. But someone opened a door for her to start working at the county, and she worked her way up.

“From my experience, I can help more people,” she said.

She said it is hard for many immigrants to adjust to life in the U.S. — to find jobs, seek out assistance or just feel comfortable visiting a park.

“I hear from them that it’s their dream to come here, but when they come, they [realize] it’s not easy to live here,” she said. “It’s hard to find a job and if you don’t have family here, it’s harder. It’s just like they are stuck. Somebody has to help them up.”

Ventura said her neighbors are also returning the favor.

“It’s not like I’m the hero,” she said. “They see how I help and they’re helping in return.”

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Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) is looking to rename the post office on N. George Mason Drive after Jesus Collazos, a beloved postal worker who died of the coronavirus.

Collazos left the poor neighborhood of his childhood, Barrio Obrero in Columbia, for the U.S. in the 1980s. He settled in Arlington with his wife, where he delivered mail for 25 years and they raised a family, the Washington Post reported last year. He was known for responding to letters to Santa Claus and for his friendly presence.

Collazos retired in 2019, and in 2020, was diagnosed with lymphoma. Before treatment could begin, he died of COVID-19 at 67.

“The Congressman found the story of Mr. Collazos’ career and tragic death during the pandemic extremely compelling, and given his service as a mail carrier it made natural sense to try to rename a postal facility in his honor,” said Aaron Fritschner, the communications director for Beyer’s office.

The post office at 2200 N. George Mason Drive serves the 22207 zip code. Beyer’s office is currently seeking local input, including discussions with Arlington County and nearby civic groups, Fritschner said. So far, the local feedback has been “very positive.”

Yorktown Civic Association President and County Board candidate Mike Cantwell said his community’s support for renaming the post office on Nextdoor was “overwhelming.”

“I personally didn’t know him and I just wanted to say after reading all those comments, I fully support renaming the post office for him,” Cantwell said. “It’s amazing to see one person so beloved by the community.”

On Nextdoor, residents remember Collazos for the way he went the extra mile to help elderly residents and always knew someone who could help with a home improvement project. They also were overwhelmingly supportive of the renaming.

“Jesus Collazos was a neighbor,” said one resident of the Leeway Overlee neighborhood. “We called him the ‘Mayor of 24th Street.’ Sorely missed and it would be such a great tribute to his contributions to our community to name a post office in honor of him.”

A Tara-Leeway Heights resident recalled how Collazos helped her mother later in life. He came up to the door, knocked and opened it, announcing himself and putting the mail on the TV stand.

“My mom thought so highly of him,” she said. “He just did stuff like that. He was a person who really ‘saw’ those around him.”

Another poster from Tara-Leeway Heights said Collazos was well-connected in Arlington.

“If we needed the name of someone to help with anything having to do with the house, he knew someone,” the poster said. “He made us all feel like we were his friends. We miss him terribly. He made such a positive impact on everyone he met.”

Another commenter recalled that when Collazos developed lymphoma, neighbors inscribed their well-wishes and prayers on a canvas, which “was carried and placed in front of his home.”

Some residents said the post office may not live up to Collazos’ legacy. The building has been plagued by undelivered and missing mail and packages, as well as some reported instances of stolen mail.

“I would hate to see a taint on his memory for ignored and continued issues at this particular [post office],” said a Yorktown poster.

But Cantwell said if the renaming goes through, there will be a big spotlight on the post office.

“Only good things happen when you have a big spotlight on something like this,” he said.

Collazos also delivered mail in the 22205 zip code, but that post office is already named for Preston King, a WWII fallen soldier, Cantwell said.

Renaming the N. George Mason Drive post office will require federal legislation.

“The renaming of federal buildings is a function of Congress, so the next step here would be legislation offered in Congress,” said Fritschner.

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(Updated 4:55 p.m.) At 10:50 p.m. on Friday, Patrick McNair and his wife Danielle were getting ready to bed when they heard a crash. In a few seconds, the power went out.

Outside their home along the 4800 block of Old Dominion Drive, near Marymount University, they saw a mangled car starting to smoke.

“I put shoes on and ran as quickly as I could,” Patrick tells ARLnow.

By the time he got there, the car was so full of smoke he could not see in and no response came from inside when he knocked on the window. The door would not budge.

As he was bracing himself to break the window with his hand, he remembered his son’s baseball bat was in his car. Danielle unlocked the car and Patrick retrieved the bat and broke the window. He described the driver as unresponsive, with cuts, scrapes and what appeared to be a broken leg.

Another neighbor, Roger Casalengo, arrived and the two men managed to get the driver out of the car. They set her down 25 feet away and she revived enough to tell them no one else was in the car.

“At this point, the entire front of the hood is on fire, and all under the hood is on fire,” McNair said. “By the time she was laid down, the car was engulfed in an inferno and the tree was on fire.”

Looking back, McNair said if he and his wife had just walked to the car, or waited for the police to arrive, “she would have absolutely been burned alive.”

Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman Ashley Savage said police were dispatched to the 4800 block of Old Dominion Drive at about 10:51 p.m.

“Upon arrival, it was determined that the driver was traveling westbound on Old Dominion Drive when she allegedly lost control of the vehicle and collided with a fire hydrant, utility box, tree and utility pole,” Savage said.

She confirmed the role the two men played in saving the girl and said Arlington County Fire Department extinguished the vehicle.

“The driver was transported to an area hospital with injuries considered non-life-threatening,” Savage said.

After an investigation, the driver — who was under the age of 18 — was charged with driving after consuming alcohol.

On Saturday, McNair said he connected with the driver’s mother, who updated him on the two nights her daughter spent in the hospital, recovering.

“She was just in tears and very thankful for our efforts that we were able to save her daughter,” he said. “It was a very crazy event but we were thankful and happy to have gotten her out of there.”

Photos courtesy Patrick McNair and Michael Lindsay

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Morning Notes

Metro on Modified Snow Plan — “On Monday, February 1, Metrobus will operate on a moderate snow plan. Service on some routes will be suspended and detours will be in effect on selected routes to avoid areas prone to hazardous conditions such as hilly terrain and narrow streets. Metrorail service is expected to operate on a regular weekday schedule.” [WMATA]

Arlington Vaccination Stats Might Be Higher — “Over 140,000 Northern Virginia residents have now received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to Virginia Department of Health data, but that does not include federal employees and current and retired military service members who may have received vaccines through the federal government.” [InsideNova]

Fallen Capitol Officer to Be Buried at ANC — Brian Sicknick, the U.S. Capitol Police officer killed during the Jan. 6 riots, will be lie in honor at the Capitol before being buried at Arlington National Cemetery. “Officer Brian Sicknick’s service and sacrifice will never be forgotten. These honors, accorded to few, are richly deserved by one who gave his life in defense of American democracy,” Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) said in a statement. [Press Release]

ACPD: Trespasser Kicked Officer — “Arriving officers observed the suspect outside the business, however, he began to flee on a bicycle. As the officers attempted to make contact with the suspect, he got off the bicycle and approached the officer’s cruiser. When the officer exited their cruiser, the suspect began to walk away and ignored lawful commands. The suspect was detained without further incident, however, while sitting on the curb, he became irate and kicked an officer.” [ACPD]

Recounting Presidential Visits to Arlington — “Which of our 46 presidents spent time in Arlington, before or during their tenures? Most, if not all, would have passed through during cross-Potomac travels, and in modern times most visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Pentagon.” [Falls Church News-Press]

COVID Cases Among DCA Construction Crew — “The two-part, $650 million modernization of Reagan National Airport is still expected to be completed this year… While the health crisis hasn’t slowed construction, it has apparently affected the workers building the project. About 63 Project Journey workers have tested positive for Covid-19 since March, and most of those cases, 26, were discovered in December, according to MWAA.” [Washington Business Journal]

It’s February — Today is Feb. 1, the first day of February. Tomorrow is, of course, Groundhog Day.

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Morning Notes

Crystal City Development Approved — “The Arlington County Board today approved JBG Smith’s plan to develop Crystal Gateway, a nine-story office building with ground-floor retail,  at 101 12th Street S. in Crystal City. Community benefits associated with the project include the developer conveying 54,500 sq. ft. of land for Gateway Park, which will connect Long Bridge Park to Crystal City.” [Arlington County]

Teacher Groups Banding Together — “Representatives from teacher associations in Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, Arlington and Manassas Park will host a news conference Monday urging a return to virtual-only learning. In a statement Sunday evening, the Fairfax Education Association said it ‘stands with our colleagues from the Northern Virginia region to ask the Governor to return the Commonwealth to a full Phase II of the reopening plan and to recommend that our schools return to a fully virtual method of instruction.'” [InsideNova]

Feedback Sought for Police Chief Search — “The County Manager has launched a search for a new leader of the Arlington County Police Department. During the first phase of the search, the County is interested in hearing from the community. ‘We value the perspective of every resident and business,’ said County Manager Mark Schwartz… You can offer feedback through December 11.” [Arlington County]

Joint Chiefs Chair’s Wife Saves the Day — “When a bystander collapsed at the Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery Wednesday, a nurse was nearby and rushed to his aid. She happened to be the wife of the nation’s top military officer, Gen. Mark Milley.” [NBC News]

‘Click It or Ticket’ Starts Today — ” The Thanksgiving celebration is traditionally one of the busiest travel weekends of the year. As the holiday approaches, the Arlington County Police Department is teaming up with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on a high visibility Click It or Ticket campaign.” [Arlington County]

State Sen. Pushing Pot Legalization — “We’re continuing to build a bipartisan coalition to #legalize responsible adult use of #marijuana in Virginia. I am working hard to ensure that ending the war on drugs is a top priority.” [@AdamEbbin/Twitter, Virginia Mercury]

N. Va. Delivered State for Biden — “Updated counts from the Virginia Department of Elections show that President-elect Joe Biden, a Democrat, defeated Trump by over 520,000 votes in Northern Virginia, defined as the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William and the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas and Manassas Park… Across the rest of Virginia, Trump, a Republican, defeated Biden by about 70,000 votes, winning 50.2% to Biden’s 47.9%.” [InsideNova]

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Three first responders who braved dangerous conditions during significant fires received top honors at today’s Arlington County Fire Department Recognition and Awards Ceremony.

ACFD’s highest level of recognition is the Medal of Valor-Gold, which honors a member of the fire department who performs an act of valor or heroism in life threatening conditions while trying to save another person. Firefighter/EMT Chad Aldridge received the award for his attempts to rescue two people trapped in a 2014 house fire in Nauck. Aldridge escaped the deadly blaze with first- and second-degree burns, which he sustained when a flashover occurred.

Lt. Fred Kawatsky and firefighter/EMT Jason Updyke received the Medal of Valor-Silver for performing acts that involve great personal risk. They assisted with rescuing victims at a 2014 apartment fire near Columbia Pike. The two moved a wheelchair-bound victim to a safer place inside the smoke-filled building and provided medical care when the person stopped breathing.

Fire Chief James Bonzano and Deputy Chief John Warren presented these and other awards. A total of 23 awards were given to both uniformed and non-uniformed members of the fire department, an Arlington police officer, an Emergency Communications Center dispatcher and three civilians.

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Air Florida Crash Hero Dies

Melvin “Gene” Windsor, who helped rescue passengers after Air Florida Flight 90 crashed into the 14th Street Bridge, passed away in South Carolina on Sunday.

Windsor was a rescue technician aboard the U.S. Park Police Eagle 1 helicopter on Jan. 13, 1982, when Flight 90, taking off from National Airport during a snowstorm, lost altitude and crashed into the bridge before plunging into the icy Potomac River.

With roads clogged due to the snowstorm, emergency crews had trouble reaching the crash site, and those that did were ill-equipped to rescue the survivors from the water. Windsor and Eagle 1 pilot Donald Usher arrived less than 20 minutes after the crash and began plucking survivors from the river and bringing them to shore.

In bad weather, with the helicopter skids at one point dipping into the water, Windsor and Usher’s efforts were daring — but ultimately pivotal in saving the lives of the five survivors. The rescues earned the pair a valor award from the Interior Department and the Carnegie Hero Fund medal.

Windsor, a Rockville native, most recently lived at Surfside Beach, S.C. He leaves behind his wife of 42 years, Maureen, several sons and daughters, 16 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, according to his obituary.

Windsor was 74.

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Morning Notes

The Stories Behind the Valor Awards — Wednesday’s Arlington Chamber of Commerce Valor Awards ceremony included some incredible tales of heroism in the line of duty by Arlington’s first responders. In addition to acts of bravery by firefighters and paramedics, there were stories of valor among Arlington’s law enforcement officers, including police officers who prevented a suicidal man from jumping off the Key Bridge in January, an officer who pulled the occupants of a burning, wrecked car to safety, and a Sheriff’s deputy who jumped on the electrified Metro tracks to come to the aid of a man hit by a train near Clarendon. [Sun Gazette]

Shirlington Dog Park Cleanup — Volunteers are being sought for a spring cleaning at the Shirlington Dog Park along Four Mile Run. The cleanup is planned from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 14. [Examiner.com]

Moran to Host ‘High Level Cyber Summit’ — Rep. Jim Moran will be hosting a summit and panel discussion in Arlington entitled “Cybersecurity in a Time of Defense Austerity.” Among the panelists will be the Department of Defense’s Chief Information Officer and representatives from the National Security Agency (NSA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), U.S. Cyber Command, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The summit is being held on Tuesday, April 24 at the Virginia Tech Research Center in Ballston.

Olympic Gold Medalist Visits APS Schools — Steve Lopez, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in taekwondo, visited  students at Arlington Science Focus School and Washington-Lee High School. Lopez encouraged students “to say ‘yes’ to a healthy lifestyle and ‘no’ to underage drinking.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Photo courtesy Michael Resnick

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Arlington recognized some of its bravest paramedics and firefighters at an awards ceremony last week.

The 2012 annual Arlington County Fire Department Recognition and Awards Program was held Thursday morning at Fire Station No. 5 in Crystal City. Below banners recognizing the station’s role in responding to the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, and amid the periodic blare of the fire department dispatch loud speaker, nearly a dozen individual firefighters and paramedics and a dozen fire and EMS crews were recognized for their heroism in the line of duty.

Many of the awards given out on Thursday stemmed from two major incidents.

On Sept. 8, 2011, multiple Arlington rescue crews were dispatched as mutual aid to Fairfax County to assist with widespread flash flooding. Those crews performed daring swift water rescues as flood waters from Tropical Storm Lee trapped motorists in their vehicles.

For helping to rescue 12 individuals stranded in flood waters near I-495 and Telegraph Road, Engine 109 firefighters Corey Sherrill and Joaquin Ibarra received the fire department’s Gold Medal of Valor. For helping to rescue 14 individuals over the course of four hours during the flooding, Engine 107 firefighters Fabian Manino, Frank Rachal, Richard Quinn and Timothy Morgan received the Bronze Medal of Valor. Among those rescued by the firefighters were children, senior citizens and a woman who was eight months pregnant.

The other incident happened in Arlington in the early morning hours of June 1, 2011. Around 1:45 a.m., fire crews were dispatched to a house fire on the 5100 block of N. Carlin Springs Road. As firefighters arrived, a man ran out of the burning house and screamed that his wife was trapped on the second floor.

Responding to his pleas for help, firefighters Alexander Dimoff, Jacob Johnson and Battalion Chief S. Doug Insley climbed a ladder to a second story bedroom. Amid heavy smoke, Johnson found a woman lying unconscious on the floor near the bed. The three men were able to lift the woman and hand her off, through the window, into the arms of firefighters Chad Stamps and Mark Jaquays, at the top of the ladder. While still on the ladder, the two firefighters used their medical training to stabilize the patient — who was in respiratory arrest — and then brought her to the ground level where she was transported to a local hospital.

The woman survived the ordeal. Dimoff, Johnson and Insley were awarded the Gold Medal of Valor, while Stamps and Jaquays were awarded the Life Saving Medal.

In a speech before the award presentation, County Board member Chris Zimmerman acknowledged that such dramatic incidents are relatively rare in Arlington, and that the firefighters who stand at the ready to risk their lives every day are heroes in their own right.

“You may not have saved a life this week, but you have saved 210,000 people every day from having to worry about it,” Zimmerman said. “And that’s something that’s… a great service to this community. For that, on behalf of the people of Arlington, I thank you.”

More photos, and a full list of the awards and citations issued this year, after the jump.

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A trio of Good Samaritans were rewarded for their heroic deeds with a fresh pizza delivered by the Arlington County Police Department.

Police officers dropped off the pizza and some commemorative plaques on Friday night as a way to say ‘thank you’ to three men who helped stop a late night attack in Ashton Heights over the summer.

According to police, two of the men were sitting out on their porch, waiting for a pizza delivery around 2:30 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 14, when they heard a woman scream. The woman, police say, was knocked to the ground by a 25-year-old man after repeatedly rebuffing his unwanted advances. Upon hearing the scream, the men chased down the suspect and held him until police arrived. The third man rushed to the victim to comfort her while awaiting police.

The suspect, Fidencio Gonzalez-Acetun, was arrested and charged with abduction. He’s currently awaiting trial.

During the course of their heroism, the men missed their pizza delivery. As a good-humored recognition of their small sacrifice, police delivered a hot, fresh pizza along with the plaques on Friday.

The men told NBC4 that the gesture “means a lot” to them.

Photo courtesy Arlington County Police Department

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Two Arlington County police officers are being honored by the International Association of Chiefs of Police for their role in the arrest of Jorge Torrez.

Torrez, a former Marine, was convicted of rape and abduction after two February 2010 incidents in Arlington. He’s also charged with murder in the 2009 death of a Naval Petty Officer.

Here’s the press release from the Arlington County Police Department:

The Arlington County Police Department is pleased to announce the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Highway Safety Committee has selected two Arlington County officers as the grand prize winners of the 2011 Looking Beyond the License Plate award. The 3M Traffic Safety Systems Division has partnered with the IACP Highway Safety Committee for 13 years to recognize police officers who use license plates to solve serious, non-traffic related crimes.

On February 27, 2010, around 4 a.m., police responded to the 600 block of North Wakefield Street for a call about an abduction. Two young women were walking to a residence when a man confronted them with a handgun. The suspect forced them inside the house where he restrained them. The suspect then forced one of the victims to leave the house with him and she was forced into the suspect’s vehicle. Four hours later, the victim was found seeking help and medical treatment in a neighboring jurisdiction. She was suffering from serious injuries and was transported to an area hospital.

During the investigation of these crimes, Corporal Timothy Clifford and Officer Andrew Nucelli recalled seeing, and running the license plate, of a vehicle that matched the description of the SUV used in these crimes. That information lead to the owner of the SUV, Jorge Torrez. This police work was instrumental in the identification and subsequent arrest of the suspect.

Jorge Torrez was not only convicted of 14 charges including Abduction with the Intent to Defile, Forcible Sodomy, Robbery, and Rape, he was later charged with the death of a Naval Petty Officer and linked by DNA to the a double homicide of two young girls in Illinois that occurred in 2005.

Corporal Clifford and Officer Nucelli will each be honored at a banquet at the IACP Annual Conference in Chicago, Illinois, next week.

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