Billionaire Bronfman dies, state coughs up for gun range, sentencing in road race death: News briefs

Edgar M. Bronfman Sr. died December 21 at age 84. Photo: Pierre Roussel Edgar M. Bronfman Sr. died December 21 at age 84. Photo: Pierre Roussel

Check daily and pick up a copy of the paper Wednesdays for the latest Charlottesville and Albemarle news briefs and stories. Here’s a quick look at some of what we’re following.

Farewell, Edgar Bronfman Sr.

Billionaire philanthropist Edgar M. Bronfman Sr., who owned a farm in Albemarle County for decades, died on Saturday, December 21, at his home in Manhattan at the age of 84. His sprawling obituary in The New York Times details his role in the growth of the Seagram Company, the 1975 kidnapping of his son, and his fearless efforts to recoup Jewish assets looted by Nazis during World War II.

Born to money as heir to the Prohibition-era liquor company founded by his father in Canada, Bronfman was a shrewd businessman who expanded Seagram into an international liquor empire known for distilling popular brands including Chivas Regal, Wild Turkey, and Seagram’s 7. As president of the World Jewish Congress from 1981 to 2007, he is credited with, among other things, convincing Swiss banks to return to the rightful heirs $1.25 billion dollars deposited by Jews before the Holocaust. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1999.

Locally, Bronfman owned Georgetown Farm near Free Union, where bison roamed free—until they were turned into burgers. That 1,000-acre parcel was broken into parts and sold off over the past few years. According to the Times, he leaves behind his wife, Jan Aronson, seven children and 24 grandchildren, among them local singer Lauren Hoffman.

State money offered for gun range 

State Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has announced the state is stepping up to cover more than half the expected cost of a controversial police gun range in Albemarle County, The Daily Progress reported over the weekend.

The state is contributing $2.9 million to the regional firing range, which police told reporters is expected to cost approximately $4.8 million. The facility would be a training center for more than 400 officers in Central Virginia.

Initially conceived as an outdoor range, the project generated controversy over the last year as residents living close to its planned location in Keene voiced strong opposition, expressing worries about noise, safety, and pollution. Officials have since settled on making the shooting range an indoor facility, but are still looking for a place to build it.

The receipt of the state money—just shy of $1 million each for the city, county, and UVA police departments—will help ensure the project can move forward, police said. The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will take up the question of where to site the range at its next meeting on January 8.

Sentence in road-racing death

The Crozet man who pleaded guilty in July to a felony racing charge in the death of a Charlottesville 18-year-old is now serving one year in prison, The Daily Progress reports.

Thomas Clayton Appleton, 25, gave up his driver’s license and went to jail last Wednesday after judge Cheryl Higgins denied his request to report to jail on December 26.

Appleton was driving on Garth Road on his way to work at Kroger on September 5, 2012, when he and Taylor, who didn’t know each other, started racing. Witnesses, including Taylor’s passenger, said Taylor eventually tried to pass Appleton, but the two cars bumped, shooting Taylor’s vehicle off the road, where he hit a stump, then collided with several trees. The roof of Taylor’s BMW collapsed onto him, and he died at the scene. Appleton kept driving, turning himself in later that day when he saw news reports about the wreck.

Judge Cheryl Higgins handed down a 10-year sentence with nine years suspended, as recommended by prosecutor Jon Zug. He’ll have to maintain good behavior for those remaining nine years, and must petition a court to have his license reinstated.

Pilot dead after plane crashes in county yard

Before it slammed into a front yard in northern Albemarle County on December 18, the plane piloted by New Jersey doctor Gregory Voit was suffering an audible malfunction, according to a witness who saw it moments before it went down.

“It was dipping to the sides and cutting off,” said local photographer Will Walker, who was outside working on his house off Burnley Station Road when the single-engine, six-seat Beechcraft flew over at what Walker estimates was an altitude of 1,000 feet. “It sounded like an old Honda—like it was running out of gas,” he recalled. “Then it disappeared over the tree line.”

About five minutes later, Walker heard sirens. “I felt so bad for whoever was inside,” he said.

A mile away, the plane struck several trees before slamming into a front yard in the 3100 block of Preddy Creek Road. A recording of the 911 call posted online by NBC29 reveals a frantic effort by witnesses at the scene to revive Voit, who had been flying in to Charlottesville to pick up his son, a student at UVA.

He was declared dead at the scene by first responders. The cause of the crash remains under investigation.

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