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MANASSAS, Va. (AP) – A Virginia school board chairman has called for the superintendent to resign, alleging he minimized the seriousness of a car accident. The Washington Post reports that Prince William County Public Schools superintendent Steven Walts was driving a school district car when he struck a moped in Manassas in August. Police said the moped rider was airlifted to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. Last week, school board chairman Ryan Sawyers called on Walts to resign. In an email to Walts and the board, Sawyers said Walts falsely characterized the accident as “minor.” District spokeswoman Diana Gulota said Walts immediately reported the accident to police and school district officials. She said he would not comment on the call for his resignation. The accident was previously reported by the Prince William Times.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – Environmental activists, business groups and a retired U.S. Navy admiral in Virginia have blasted the Trump Administration’s offshore drilling plan.
The critics claimed outside a public comment session Wednesday that drilling would interfere with military training near the world’s largest Navy base and imperil tourism and fishing along that stretch of Atlantic coast.
The group converged near a hotel conference room in Richmond where the administration sought public comment on its plan to expand oil and gas drilling on the East and West coasts.
Groups supporting the energy industry and consumers also showed up and pushed back. They say drillers and the military have shared space in the Gulf of Mexico and that technology has improved since the Gulf’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, making accidents less likely and cleanup easier.

CROZET, Va. (AP) – Witnesses to a collision between a train carrying Republican congressmen and a garbage truck in rural Virginia have told investigators the truck entered the railroad crossing after safety gates came down to warn drivers about the approaching train. A preliminary report on the Jan. 31 crash was issued Wednesday by the National Transportation Safety Board. The probable cause of the accident hasn’t yet been determined. One trash company employee was killed, while the truck driver, another employee and several others were injured. The report said data taken from the camera on the Amtrak train – carrying dozens of Republic lawmakers to an annual strategy retreat in West Virginia – showed that as the crossing came into view, the gates were down and the trash truck was on the crossing.

MONTREAT, N.C. (AP) — The Rev. Billy Graham, who transformed American religious life through his preaching and activism, becoming a counselor to presidents and the most widely heard Christian evangelist in history, died Wednesday. He was 99. Graham, who long suffered from cancer, pneumonia and other ailments, died at his home in North Carolina, spokesman Mark DeMoss told The Associated Press. More than anyone else, Graham built evangelicalism into a force that rivaled liberal Protestantism and Roman Catholicism in the United States. His leadership summits and crusades in more than 185 countries and territories forged powerful global links among conservative Christians, and threw a lifeline to believers in the communist-controlled Eastern bloc. Dubbed “America’s pastor,” he was a confidant to U.S. presidents from Gen. Dwight Eisenhower to George W. Bush.

In 1983, President Reagan gave Graham the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor. When the Billy Graham Museum and Library was dedicated in 2007 in Charlotte, former Presidents George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton attended.

“When he prays with you in the Oval Office or upstairs in the White House, you feel he’s praying for you, not the president,” Clinton said at the ceremony.

President Donald Trump tweeted : “The GREAT Billy Graham is dead. There was nobody like him! He will be missed by Christians and all religions. A very special man.”

Beyond Graham’s public appearances, he reached untold millions through his pioneering use of prime-time telecasts, network radio, daily newspaper columns, evangelistic feature films and globe-girdling satellite TV hookups. Graham’s message was not complex or unique, yet he preached with a conviction that won over audiences worldwide.

“The Bible says,” was his catch phrase. His unquestioning belief in Scripture turned the Gospel into a “rapier” in his hands, he said.

A tall, striking man with thick hair, stark blue eyes and a firm jaw, Graham was a commanding presence at his crusades. He would make the altar call in his powerful baritone, asking the multitudes to stand, come down the aisles and publicly make “decisions for Christ,” as a choir crooned the hymn “Just As I Am.”

By his final crusade in 2005 in New York City, he had preached in person to more than 210 million people worldwide. No evangelist is expected to have his level of influence again.

“William Franklin Graham Jr. can safely be regarded as the best who ever lived at what he did,” said William Martin, author of the Graham biography “A Prophet With Honor.”

Born Nov. 7, 1918, on his family’s dairy farm near Charlotte, North Carolina, Graham came from a fundamentalist background that expected true Bible-believers to stay clear of Christians with even the most minor differences over Scripture. But as his crusades drew support from a widening array of Christian churches, he came to reject that view.

He joined in a then-emerging movement called New Evangelicalism that abandoned the narrowness of fundamentalism to engage broader society. Fundamentalists at the time excoriated the preacher for his new direction, and broke with him when he agreed to work with more liberal Christians in the 1950s.

Graham stood fast. He would not reject people who were sincere and shared at least some of his beliefs, Martin said. He wanted the widest hearing possible for his salvation message.

“The ecumenical movement has broadened my viewpoint and I recognize now that God has his people in all churches,” he said in the early 1950s.

In 1957, he said, “I intend to go anywhere, sponsored by anybody, to preach the Gospel of Christ.”

His approach helped evangelicals gain the influence they have today. Graham’s path to becoming an evangelist began taking shape at age 16, when the Presbyterian-reared farmboy committed himself to Christ at a local tent revival.

“I did not feel any special emotion,” he wrote in his 1997 autobiography, “Just As I Am.” ″I simply felt at peace,” and thereafter, “the world looked different.”

 After high school, he enrolled at the fundamentalist Bob Jones College, but found the school stifling, and transferred to Florida Bible Institute in Tampa. There, he practiced sermonizing in a swamp, preaching to birds and alligators before tryouts with small churches. He still wasn’t convinced he should be a preacher until a soul-searching, late-night ramble on a golf course.

“I finally gave in while pacing at midnight on the 18th hole,” he said. “‘All right, Lord,’ I said, ‘If you want me, you’ve got me.’”

Graham, who became a Southern Baptist, went on to study at Wheaton College, a prominent Christian liberal arts school in Illinois, where he met fellow student Ruth Bell, who had been raised in China where her father had been a Presbyterian medical missionary.

The two married in 1943, and he planned to become an Army chaplain. But he fell seriously ill, and by the time he recovered and could start the chaplain training program, World War II was nearly over.

Instead, he took a job organizing meetings in the U.S. and Europe with Youth for Christ, a group he helped found. He stood out then for his loud ties and suits, and a rapid delivery and swinging arms that won him the nickname “the Preaching Windmill.”

A 1949 Los Angeles revival turned Graham into evangelism’s rising star. Held in a tent dubbed the “Canvas Cathedral,” Graham had been drawing adequate, but not spectacular crowds until one night when reporters and photographers descended. When Graham asked them why, a reporter said that legendary publisher William Randolph Hearst had ordered his papers to hype Graham. Graham said he never found out why.

The publicity gave him a national profile. Over the next decade, his massive crusades in England and New York catapulted him to international celebrity. His 12-week London campaign in 1954 defied expectations, drawing more than 2 million people and the respect of the British, many of whom had derided him before his arrival as little more than a slick salesman.

Three years later, he held a crusade in New York’s Madison Square Garden that was so popular it was extended from six to 16 weeks, capped off with a rally in Times Square that packed Broadway with more than 100,000 people.

The strain of so much preaching caused the already trim Graham to lose 30 pounds by the time the event ended. It remains his longest revival meeting ever.

As his public influence grew, the preacher’s stands on the social issues of his day were watched closely by supporters and critics alike. One of the most pressing was the civil rights movement. Graham was no social activist and never joined marches, which led prominent Christians such as theologian Reinhold Niebuhr to publicly condemn Graham as too moderate.

Still, Graham ended racially segregated seating at his Southern crusades in 1953, a year before the Supreme Court’s school integration ruling, and long refused to visit South Africa while its white regime insisted on racially segregated meetings.

In a 2005 interview with The Associated Press, before his final crusade which was held in New York, Graham said he regretted that he didn’t battle for civil rights more forcefully.

“I think I made a mistake when I didn’t go to Selma” with many clergy who joined the historic Alabama march led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “I would like to have done more.”

Graham more robustly took on the cause of anti-Communism, making preaching against the atheist regime part of his sermons for years.

As America’s most famous religious leader, he golfed with statesmen and entertainers and dined with royalty. Graham’s relationships with U.S. presidents also boosted his ministry and became a source of pride for conservative Christians who were so often caricatured as backward.

But those ties proved problematic when his close friend Richard Nixon resigned in the Watergate scandal, leaving Graham devastated and baffled. He resolved to take a lower profile in the political world, going as far as discouraging the Rev. Jerry Falwell, a founder of the Moral Majority, from mixing religion and politics.

“Evangelicals can’t be closely identified with any particular party or person. We have to stand in the middle, to preach to all the people, right and left,” Graham said in 1981, according to Time magazine. “I haven’t been faithful to my own advice in the past. I will in the future.”

Yet, in the 2012 election, with Graham mostly confined to his North Carolina home, he all but endorsed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. And the evangelist’s ministry took out full-page ads in newspapers support a ballot referendum that would ban same-sex marriage.

His son, the Rev. Franklin Graham, who runs the ministry, said his father viewed the gay marriage question as a moral, not a political, issue. Graham’s integrity was credited with salvaging the reputation of broadcast evangelism in the dark days of the late 1980s, after scandals befell TV preachers Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker.

He resolved early on never to be alone with a woman other than his wife. Instead of taking a share of the “love offerings” at his crusades, as was the custom, he earned a modest salary from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

His ministry was governed by an independent board that included successful Christian businessmen and other professionals — a stark departure from the widespread evangelical practice of packing boards with relatives and yes-men.

“Why, I could make a quarter of a million dollars a year in this field or in Hollywood if I wanted to,” Graham said. “The offers I’ve had from Hollywood studios are amazing. But I just laughed. I told them I was staying with God.”

While he succeeded in preserving his reputation, he could not completely shield his family from the impact of his work. He was on the road for months at a time, leaving Ruth at their mountainside home in Montreat, North Carolina, to raise their five children: Franklin, Virginia (“Gigi”), Anne, Ruth and Nelson (“Ned”).

Anne Graham Lotz has said that her mother was effectively “a single parent.” Ruth sometimes grew so lonely when Billy was traveling that she slept with his tweed jacket for comfort. But she said, “I’d rather have a little of Bill than a lot of any other man.”

She died in June 2007 at age 87.

“I will miss her terribly,” Billy Graham said, “and look forward even more to the day I can join her in heaven.”

In his later years, Graham visited communist Eastern Europe and increasingly appealed for world peace. He opened a 1983 convention of evangelists from 140 nations by urging the elimination of nuclear and biological weapons.

He told audiences in Czechoslovakia that “we must do all we can to preserve life and avoid war,” although he opposed unilateral disarmament. In 1982, he went to Moscow to preach and attend a conference on world peace. During that visit, he said he saw no signs of Soviet religious persecution, a misguided attempt at diplomacy that brought scathing criticism from author Alexander Solzhenitsyn, among others.

“It’s worth taking a risk for peace,” Graham contended, although he was clearly stung by the controversy.

Graham’s relationship with Nixon became an issue once again when tapes newly released in 2002 caught the preacher telling the president that Jews “don’t know how I really feel about what they’re doing to this country.”

Graham apologized, saying he didn’t recall ever having such feelings and asking the Jewish community to consider his actions above his words on that tape. Health problems gradually slowed Graham, but he did not cease preaching.

In 1995, his son, Franklin, was named the ministry’s leader. Along with the many honors he received from the evangelical community and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Graham received the $1 million Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion in 1982 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 1996.

Graham will be buried by his wife at the Billy Graham Museum and Library.

“I have been asked, ‘What is the secret?’” Graham had said of his preaching. “Is it showmanship, organization or what? The secret of my work is God. I would be nothing without him.”

GOOCHLAND, Va. (AP)  The autopsy of a Virginia woman found dead in a wooded area says she was mauled to death by her dogs.  The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports the Goochland Sheriff’s Office announced Tuesday it’s closing the investigation into 22-year-old Bethany Lynn Stephens’ death in light of the results. Stephens was found last December near her father’s home on Manakin Road.  The report says the medical examiner found defensive wounds on Stephens’ hands and arms from “trying to keep the dogs away from her” and that there was also evidence of her face, torso and arms having been chewed on by animals after she died.  Sheriff Jim Agnew, who released a seven-page report on the investigation, says the case will remain closed unless “somebody steps forward with some really strong evidence.”

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) _ Police in Charlottesville have charged a Richmond man for a second time after he allegedly removed tarps covering statues of Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. The Daily Progress reports police received a call Friday reporting that the black tarps covering the statues had been removed. When officers arrived at Emancipation Park, they spoke to witnesses who identified two men as suspects. Officers charged 34-year-old Christopher James Wayne with trespassing and vandalism. The second man was not charged. Wayne was charged with trespassing earlier this month after the tarps were removed three times over the weekend of Feb. 3. The tarps were placed over the statues in August after a woman was killed when a car plowed into a crowd of counterprotesters at a white nationalist rally.

Photo: William & Mary

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (AP) _ William & Mary has named a woman to lead the university for the first time in its 325-year history. The school in Williamsburg said in a statement Tuesday that Smith College provost Katherine Rowe will become its 28th president. She will replace W. Taylor Reveley III, who is retiring this summer after 10 years. Rowe has served as provost and dean of the faculty at Smith since 2014, working as its chief academic officer. Her areas of research and scholarship include Shakespeare as well as Medieval and Renaissance drama and media history. William & Mary said Rowe has been a leader in digital innovation of the liberal arts and transformed Smith’s liberal arts curriculum. She also increased diversity in the faculty and broke national fundraising records for women’s colleges.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – The Trump administration will soon hold its only scheduled public meeting in Virginia on offshore drilling.
The Daily Press reports that officials will be available to answer the public’s questions Wednesday in Richmond.
The Republican president’s decision last month to open most of the nation’s coast to oil and gas drilling horrified environmentalists, and many elected officials from both major political parties oppose it. But energy groups and some business organizations support it as a way to become less dependent on foreign energy.
The meeting is being held by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which is part of the Interior Department. It will run from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Four Points by Sheraton Richmond Airport. Participants can ask questions or submit written comments.

HARRISONBURG, Va. (AP) – A federal judge has refused to postpone a hearing in a lawsuit brought by developers seeking possession of land in several Virginia counties for a controversial pipeline project. Atlantic Coast Pipeline is seeking possession of several properties in Augusta, Bath, Buckingham and Cumberland counties for the natural gas pipeline, which would run through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. The judge declined Monday to postpone a Feb. 26 hearing regarding land in Bath County, but he ordered developers to turn over more information and gave property owners more time to respond. Disputes over land in other counties also will be addressed at next Monday’s hearing. Developers say federal environmental regulations require completion of any tree felling by March 14, and that missing that deadline would push back construction until November.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – Virginia’s Republican-controlled House of Delegates is embracing Medicaid expansion after years of opposition.
The House included Medicaid expansion in the proposed state budget Sunday, saying President Barack Obama’s health care law is here to stay and it’s no longer reasonable to block health coverage for about 300,000 low-income Virginians. Republicans want to mandate work requirements and cost-sharing provisions for some Medicaid recipients.
Republicans had blocked Medicaid expansion for years, saying its long-term costs were unsustainable. The change of heart comes after several new Democratic House lawmakers won election last year after campaigning specifically on expanding Medicaid. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam has made expansion a top priority.
But the GOP-controlled Senate has indicated it still opposes expansion, setting up a potential stalemate in the final weeks of the 2018 legislative session.

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