Press Club

A group of thieves went on an overnight crime spree this weekend, breaking into 14 cars and stealing another three, according to Arlington County police.

The crimes were first reported early Sunday morning and spanned at least three residential, North Arlington neighborhoods — Bellevue Forest, Donaldson Run and Westover — according to an ACPD crime report.

The thieves stole cash and personal items from cars and also drove off with three vehicles that had keys left inside. Two of the stolen cars were later found in D.C.

Police were not able to provide a description of any of the suspects.

More from ACPD:

GRAND LARCENY AUTO/LARCENY FROM AUTO (Series), 2022-05150056/05150063/05150066/05150070/005150071, 3000 block of N. Oakland Street/3000 block of N. Quincy Street/2900 block of N. Stafford Street/3700 block of 30th Road N./5700 block of 11th Street N. At approximately 4:45 a.m. on May 15, police were dispatched to the report of a vehicle tampering. Upon arrival, it was determined that the victim was inside his residence when he observed the unknown suspect enter into his unlocked vehicle in his driveway. The victim knocked on the window, during which the suspect entered into a nearby waiting vehicle and fled the scene. The investigation determined the suspect(s) entered into and rummaged through approximately 14 victim vehicles and stole personal items and an undisclosed amount of cash from several of the vehicles. Additionally, it was discovered three vehicles with keys inside were stolen from the 3000 block of N. Quincy Street, 2900 block of N. Stafford Street and the 3700 block of 30th Road N. During the course of the investigation, two of the stolen vehicles were recovered in Washington D.C. The remaining stolen vehicle is described as a red in color, 2019 Ford Edge bearing VA license plate UMT3257. There is no suspect(s) description. The investigation is ongoing.

Numerous car-related crimes have been reported in Arlington over the past month, encompassing the thefts of or from about 30 vehicles, not including this latest spree. That’s in addition to another eight or more that have been broken into without a reported theft.

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A Virginia State Police vehicle (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Both Virginia State Police and Arlington County police are planning coffee-centric community engagement events in the coming weeks.

This Saturday, April 16, state troopers will be at the Italian Store in Westover (5837 Washington Blvd) from 10 a.m. to noon, ready to engage with the public. VSP will also be recruiting at their “Coffee and Conversation with Virginia State Police” event, looking for new hires to join their ranks.

With continuing staff shortages, VSP recently started offering a $5,000 hiring bonus for those who complete the academy and a training program.

There is also a chance new state hires could be working more closely here in Arlington. In November, the County Board approved a mutual aid agreement that allows troopers to aid Arlington police in keeping the nightlife scene in Clarendon and Crystal City safe.

ACPD, meanwhile, is set to host the first “Coffee with a Cop” events of 2022 later this month.

On Tuesday, April 26, officers will be at the Starbucks at Penrose Square on Columbia Pike from 10:30 a.m. to noon and at East West Coffee on Wilson Blvd in Clarendon from 2-3:30 p.m.

“It’s an informal opportunity to ask questions, discuss public safety and get to know the officers and neighbors in your community,” police said.

The department has been hosting these coffee-centric engagement events since at least 2015.

ACPD also continues to struggle with staffing shortages, recently announcing that the department would cut back on some services while those reporting minor crimes well after the fact are increasingly directed to do so online rather than with an on-scene officer.

https://twitter.com/ArlingtonVaPD/status/1512425141908619273

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(Updated at 1:40 p.m.) Fire damaged a house in the Tara-Leeway Heights neighborhood, a few blocks from Westover Village.

The fire broke out shortly before 3 p.m. Saturday, reportedly in an outdoor deck area next to the house, which sent a column of dark smoke into the sky. The fire then spread to the home and the attic.

A large fire department response blocked streets around the home, near the intersection of 18th Street N. and N. Lexington Street. It took nearly an hour to extinguish all of the flames and hot spots. Firefighters remained on scene several hours after the initial dispatch, documenting the scene and investigating the cause of the blaze.

No injuries were reported.

On Monday afternoon, the Arlington County Fire Department revealed that the blaze started after the smoldering contents of a metal fire pit were dumped near a wooden fence. The fire caused more than $300,000 in damage, ACFD said in a press release, below.

On April 2nd, at approximately 2:55 pm, units from the Arlington County Fire Department were dispatched to a reported outside fire impinging on a nearby single-family dwelling. Crews quickly arrived on the scene and found a well-advanced fire that had spread from outside, into the home. Firefighters were able to extinguish the bulk of the fire quickly and spent a significant portion of the incident opening up void spaces to check for any potential fire spread. There were no injuries reported to firefighters or civilians, and units cleared the scene that evening just before 7 pm.

The Arlington County Fire Prevention Office determined the cause of the fire to be improperly discarded fire debris from a metal fire pit placed near landscaping and a wooden fence. Initial damage estimates are more than $300,000. The Arlington County Fire Department and Fire Prevention Office would like to remind everyone that open flames or discarded fire debris should be kept at least 15 feet away from combustible material until fully cooled. For more information on grilling and open burning, please visit Grilling/Open Burning – Official Website of Arlington County Virginia Government (arlingtonva.us)

Video courtesy Stephanie Minkoff

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Arlington Chorale is presenting “Through Troubled Times” this weekend, a performance that was originally slated for two years ago prior to Covid-related shutdowns.

On Saturday (March 19) at Westover Baptist Church, the 56-year-old local chorus group will be finally performing a show that was initially scheduled for March 14, 2020. The show was canceled two days before it was set to happen due to the increasing number of Covid cases in the county.

“These works are the last pieces we rehearsed together before everything shut down in 2020 — we had to cancel the concert two days before,” Arlington Chorale’s artistic director Ingrid Lestrud tells ARLnow. “I think we all have memories of rehearsing this music in pre-pandemic times before masks and social distancing.”

“Through Troubled Times” features “dark dramatic moments and soaring beautiful melodies,” according to a press release, and will be highlighted by a performance of a two-century-old work that holds a “message of finding hope in turbulent times strongly [that] resonates with audiences today.”

In addition, Arlington Public Schools student Ava Yi, 13, will conduct the chorus in a performance of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” She won a virtual auction last spring that helped raise money for the group.

“Our shared human experiences over the last two years during the pandemic certainly adds a new perspective to this repertoire,” Arlington Chorale board president and soprano Ellen Keating said in a statement.

This will be only the group’s second concert back in front of a live audience since pausing performances two years ago.

The 60-member local, nonprofit chorus was first established in 1966. It’s a mixed-voice group, meaning both women and men sing together. Over the years, it has performed at a number of significant regional events including the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in 2018 at Nationals Park.

Lestrud says the last two years have made rehearsing and keeping members difficult, but this year’s auditions renewed her optimism.

“I was blown away by all the audition requests I received! Most of our new members are in their 20s, and our singers range in age from 19-84,” she says. “It’s truly an intergenerational group that values inclusivity and diversity.”

With almost half of the 60-member group new and shows upcoming in May and June, Lestrud is confident the chorus’s future is bright.

“Most of the singers sang in choirs throughout high school and college, and they’re looking for a group where they can sing high quality choral music and be challenged to create something beautiful together,” she says. “Many of our members have recently moved to the area, and they joined the Arlington Chorale in order to meet people and become a part of our community.”

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An Arlington man is facing numerous charges after an alleged abduction and shot fired along Columbia Pike.

The incident happened Tuesday night near the western end of the Pike in Arlington.

“At approximately 9:56 p.m. on January 11, police were dispatched to the report of a dispute,” said today’s Arlington County Police Department crime report. “Upon arrival, it was determined that the known suspect and female victim became involved in a verbal dispute. During the incident, the suspect allegedly brandished a firearm, threatened the victim, attempted to force her into a vehicle before discharging a round into the air and fleeing the scene.”

A suspect was later arrested.

“Officers identified the suspect, obtained warrants and subsequently located him and took him into custody without incident,” ACPD said. The 27-year-old man is facing an array of charges including “Abduction, Brandishing a Firearm, Assault & Battery, Reckless Handling of a Firearm, and Discharging a Firearm in a Public Place.”

Separately, a 33-year-old Arlington man is facing charges after an incident Wednesday night in the Westover area, on the 1100 block of N. Kenilworth Street.

“At approximately 10:36 p.m. on January 12, police were dispatched to the report of a person with a gun. Upon arrival, officers determined the suspect’s location inside an apartment, announced themselves as law enforcement and gave him commands to exit,” said the crime report. “The suspect exited the residence with a firearm in his hands, complied with officers commands to drop the weapon and was subsequently taken into custody without incident.”

“The investigation determined that the witness was inside her residence when she heard a loud noise coming from across the hallway and observed the suspect allegedly banging on an apartment door, making threatening statements and armed with a firearm,” the crime report continued.

A suspect was arrested and is facing charges of Reckless Handling of a Firearm and Disorderly Conduct, according to ACPD.

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For the second time in three days, a food delivery driver was robbed last week by a knife-wielding man in Westover. This time, however, an arrest was made.

The first incident, as previously reported, happened last Tuesday around noon, on the 5800 block of Washington Blvd in Westover.

“The victim was delivering food items to the suspect’s residence when the suspect opened the door and allegedly produced a knife and demanded that the victim leave the items,” an Arlington County Police Department crime report said. “The victim placed the items on the ground and left the scene before contacting dispatch. Warrants were obtained for the suspect. The investigation is ongoing.”

The second incident happened Thursday around dinner time, in much the same manner. From ACPD:

ROBBERY, 2021-12300151, 5800 block of Washington Boulevard. At approximately 6:40 p.m. on December 30, police were dispatched to the report of an armed robbery. Upon arrival, it was determined that the victim was delivering food items to the suspect’s residence when the suspect opened the door and allegedly produced a box cutter and demanded that the victim leave the items. The victim placed the items down, exited the building and contacted police. Officers obtained warrants for Robbery and Defrauding a Restaurant for [The suspect], 36, of Arlington, VA.

It was not until Sunday, however, that officers went to arrest the man. A barricade situation and attempt to flee from police ensued.

“When officers attempted to serve the warrants at the suspect’s residence on January 2, he barricaded himself inside the apartment before attempting to flee out of a second story window,” said the crime report. “He was taken into custody and transported to an area hospital for treatment of non-life threatening injuries.”

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Arlington police have not had much of a holiday break.

An eventful weekend has given way to a busy week, with three additional notable incidents over the past couple of days, each involving knife-wielding suspects.

The first happened near Crystal City on Monday night, when police say a drunk man with a knife injured two people.

From an ACPD crime report:

MALICIOUS WOUNDING, 2021-12270168, 2900 block of S. Eads Street. At approximately 9:45 p.m. on December 27, police were dispatched to multiple reports of an individual armed with a knife attempting to enter a vehicle. Upon arrival, officers located the suspect and detained him without incident. The investigation determined that the victim observed the male suspect in the parking lot of a business with a knife in his hand. The victim entered his vehicle and was approached by the suspect, who allegedly struck the rear window with the knife. The suspect began to yell at the victim, then shattered two of the vehicle’s windows. The victim then exited his vehicle to find safety inside a nearby business, when the suspect approached and struck him in the face. The victim sustained minor injuries and later declined the treatment of medics. The suspect then approached another business in the 2800 block of S. Eads and attempted to gain entry. When he was refused entry by an employee, the suspect allegedly threatened him with the knife and continued to yell and act disorderly. While attempting to restrain the suspect with the help of an additional witness, the employee sustained minor lacerations that did not require the treatment of medics. [The suspect], 41, of Oxon Hill, Md., was arrested and charged with Malicious Wounding (x2), Attempted Malicious Wounding, Destruction of Property, Attempted Carjacking, and Drunk in Public. He was held on no bond.

Then, just before noon on Tuesday, a person with a knife allegedly threatened a food delivery driver in Westover.

ROBBERY, 2021-12280065, 5800 block of Washington Boulevard. At approximately 11:56 a.m. on December 28, police were dispatched to the report of an assault just occurred. Upon arrival, it was determined that the victim was delivering food items to the suspect’s residence when the suspect opened the door and allegedly produced a knife and demanded that the victim leave the items. The victim placed the items on the ground and left the scene before contacting dispatch. Warrants were obtained for the suspect. The investigation is ongoing.

A motive for the first two incidents was not immediately clear.

Finally, last night an 18-year-old suspect was arrested after a fight that led police to surround a home in the Virginia Square area. Police say the suspect injured two officers while being taken into custody.

ASSAULT ON LAW ENFORCEMENT, 2021-12280160, 1400 block of N. Lincoln Street. At approximately 8:47 p.m. on December 28, police were dispatched to the report of an assault with a knife in progress. Upon arrival, officers heard noise consistent with an active fight occurring inside the residence, established a perimeter and gave commands for the occupants to exit. A short time later, the victim exited the home, followed by the suspect. Officers gave the suspect lawful commands and attempted to take him into custody, however, he began to act disorderly and fight officers, striking two officers multiple times. A brief struggle ensued, and the suspect was subsequently taken into custody without further incident. The two officers sustained minor injuries and did not require the treatment of medics. [The suspect], 18, of Fredericksburg, Va., was arrested and charged with Assault & Battery on Police (x2) and Obstruction of Justice. He was held without bond.

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(Updated 5:30 p.m.) The child who was struck by a driver a few weeks ago while riding his scooter in Westover has returned home, police say.

A Cadillac sedan struck the child in the afternoon on Nov. 17 as the driver exited a county-owned alley onto N. Longfellow Street. The boy was reportedly pulled from under the vehicle and was conscious when medics arrived to rush him to a local hospital.

“The toddler has been released from the hospital and is reportedly doing well,” said Ashley Savage, a spokeswoman for Arlington County Police Department, told ARLnow yesterday afternoon.

No additional details about the nature of the toddler’s injuries were provided, although initial reports indicated he had suffered a serious head injury.

The driver stayed on scene while police began their investigation, which Savage said Tuesday “remains an active and ongoing critical crash investigation.”

Following the crash the look of the alley has changed, as some thick hedges — one of a number of safety concerns neighbors articulated about the alley — have come down. Workers could be seen trimming back the hedges last Thursday.

Reached by phone Tuesday, a family member of the homeowner declined to comment about the hedges.

On the day of the crash, Arlington County’s code enforcement division received a complaint about the house with the hedges, spokeswoman Erika Moore told ARLnow Wednesday afternoon.

“Code enforcement cited the property owner under Chapter 10 of the County Code and sent a notice as required,” she said.

Chapter 10 covers trash, recycling and care of premises, and says the following: “It shall be the joint and several duty of each owner or occupant of property to cut back or remove trees or parts thereof, hedges, shrubs, vines and other vegetation which encroaches upon any sidewalk, alley, roadway, street or highway and which impairs or obstructs any pedestrian or vehicular traffic.”

Other safety threats in the area, according to residents, include drivers traveling at a high rate of speed on N. Longfellow Street and on the alley, which connects N. Longfellow Street and the cul-de-sac at 15th Road N. Additionally, streetlights on the alley were dim or out, making it hard to see after nightfall, though the crash occurred during daylight hours.

The crash led the Westover Civic Association to ask on Nextdoor for reports of similar accidents or incidents in the area, which the civic group intends to present to the Arlington County Board.

In conjunction with a fatal crash one week prior in Green Valley, near Drew Elementary School, the incident prompted Arlington County to launch a review of a common thread between them: alleys.

“Our team is evaluating the crash locations in detail now and will conduct a holistic assessment on alleys from now into the spring,” Department of Environmental Services spokeswoman Katie O’Brien told ARLnow on Tuesday.

In the other crash, a man who was reportedly speeding down an alley on his motorcycle collided with a school bus carrying children.

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The four-decade-old, Arlington-born Lebanese Taverna is launching a new membership service, providing customers with a “Chef’s Tasting” menu or a curated selection of Lebanese wines at home every month.

“This is a way to share our culture, like the things we do at home, the snacks that we eat, and the things that my parents used to make,” co-owner Grace Abi-Najm Shea tells ARLnow. “This is kind of deconstructing the food and the culture from the restaurant and bringing it to your home.”

The rotating offerings will highlight “some of the more authentic and under-explored parts of our menu,” the website notes. This could include stuffed rolled cabbage, shanklesh (Lebanese cheese balls), or okra and lamb stew.

“This is for the person who’s willing to be adventurous,” Shea says.

The wine membership (called “A Lebanese Wine Tour”) includes options for two, four, or six bottles a month and will have wines from “old, historic vineyards to new up-and-coming wineries.”

The first food and wine membership boxes will be available for pick-up or delivery starting later this month, Dec. 16.

Lebanese Taverna’s first location opened in 1979 in Arlington’s Westover neighborhood and remains a staple of the community’s commercial strip. The restaurant was founded by immigrants Tanios and Marie Abi-Najm, who had come to the U.S. to flee the civil war in their home country of Lebanon.

Since then the restaurant has expanded to more than a dozen locations in Virginia, Maryland, and D.C., including different concepts like the fast-casual Lebtav, which has a location in Ballston. The original Westover restaurant at 5900 Washington Blvd remains at the heart of the company, which is now run by the five Abi-Najm siblings, including Grace.

She says the last 20 months, which saw dining rooms shuttered and a rise in takeout and delivery, have been a “roller coaster” and have made it clear that the family needs to adapt to a new reality for restaurants, Shea said.

“I’m sure you’ve heard the word pivot a thousand times, but restaurants have to find different ways to get their products to their customers and find new customers,” Shea says.

The membership idea was born out of the success the family has seen with the Lebanese Taverna Market at 4400 Old Dominion Road near Waverly Hills, where customers are able to take home dishes, snacks, and wines.

Throughout the pandemic Arlington has remained a stronghold for Lebanese Taverna, Shea said, noting that quick service and takeout business have remained particularly strong here. Locations outside of the county saw bigger drops in business.

“In Arlington, they have watched us grow up. They have a special place in our heart and I think we have a special place in their heart,” said Shea. While talking, she got a little choked up.

“Arlington has been our biggest cheerleader since day one,” Shea said.

Overall, Lebanese Taverna is at about 80% to 90% of pre-pandemic sales, she notes.

Despite tough times, the restaurant and the family has continued to help charitable causes they believe in. Last summer, Lebanese Taverna spearheaded a fundraising drive to support relief efforts in Lebanon after an explosion in Beirut killed hundreds and injured thousands. Over $150,000 was raised through those efforts, Shea says.

This past August, the family also helped raise money for Lebanese citizens to assist with their fuel and electricity needs. Around the same time, the restaurant worked with the World Central Kitchen to provide meals for Afghan refugees.

Shea is encouraged by the continued return to normalcy with sales returning closer to pre-pandemic levels and cooking classes at the Lebanese Taverna Market coming back in January. But she remains concerned about the future due to the newly-announced variant and the already-here cold weather limiting outdoor dining.

“As good as I feel about where we are today is as scared as I am about tomorrow,” she says.

Meanwhile, Shea and her family will keep serving Arlingtonians flavors of their home country, whether it’s inside a restaurant or at home, as they have been for more than 40 years.

“My whole family is so passionate about our culture, our food, our cuisine,” she says. “We are looking forward to giving customers something a bit different than the restaurant experience.”

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Arlington County police are investigating gunshots that were fired in the Westover neighborhood Monday morning.

In a crime report today, ACPD said that residents in the area heard gunshots around 5 a.m. Monday. Bullet holes were later found in the door of a home on the 1100 block of N. Kensington Street, one block from Westover Park.

No one was hurt.

More from the crime report:

MISSILE INTO OCCUPIED DWELLING (late), 2021-11290074, 1100 block of N. Kensington Street. At approximately 9:51 a.m. on November 29, police were dispatched to the late report of suspicious circumstances. Upon arrival, officers located damage to the door of a residential building and recovered evidence confirming shots had been fired into it. The investigation determined that residents heard gunshots at approximately 5:00 a.m. No injuries were reported and there is no suspect(s) description. The investigation is ongoing.

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Prompted by two critical crashes in two weeks, Arlington County is taking a look at a common thread between them: alleys.

Last week in Westover, a car struck a toddler, who is now recovering from serious injuries, while exiting an alley onto N. Longfellow Street. Neighbors say the alley is frequented by cyclists and pedestrians, including students from nearby schools, but has dangerous blind spots.

Two weeks ago in Green Valley, a motorcyclist — who witnesses say exited the 23rd Street S. alley at a high speed — died while trying to avoid hitting a school bus. Instead, he flew off his motorcycle and into the bus, which had children onboard.

A team that includes Arlington County police, Virginia State Police, transportation engineers, public health representatives and a representative from the County Manager’s office will be evaluating these crashes, while county transportation engineers will be looking at other local alleys to find improvements, says Katie O’Brien, a spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Services.

“As part of our Vision Zero Action Plan, we regularly review and evaluate critical crashes to identify actionable items that we can implement and respond to quickly,” O’Brien said. “In addition to reviewing this terrible incident [in Westover], the team is taking a systematic examination of alleys throughout the County to improve safety given the recent tragic crash that also occurred at an alley on 23rd Street S.”

The toddler from Westover remains hospitalized but is recovering, says Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman Ashley Savage. The child, who was pulled from under the striking car before first responders arrived on scene, suffered serious injuries including, reportedly, a fractured skull.

Meanwhile, the body of the 26-year-old Alexandria man who died in the motorcycle crash will be transported overseas for his funeral.

Both crashes remain active and ongoing investigations, Savage said, adding that there are no additional details to provide.

Blind spots add peril to Westover alley  

In Westover, neighbors say the alley where the crash occurred is frequented by students headed to Swanson Middle School and folks on bikes and with strollers, who use a hole in the fence at the end of the alley to get to school or to the Custis Trail.

“It’s actually a more trafficked area than it might appear to be,” said one neighbor, Stefanie Cruz.

But it has blind spots for drivers. Where it intersects with N. Longfellow Street, there’s a large hedge to the right and a house to the left that neighbors say can obscure oncoming pedestrians, playing kids and traffic.

“It’s a dangerous alley, and it’s been a dangerous alley, and I don’t know if anyone’s been paying attention to that,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that it took something like this to make the alley safer.”

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