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January trial set for driver charged in Bay Bridge donuts stunt

CENTREVILLE — The driver facing charges for allegedly doing donuts on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in September will stand trial by judge in Queen Anne’s County in January 2021, the court said Wednesday.

Gary Ray Montague Jr., 22, of Dumfries, Virginia, is accused of burning out in his Nissan sports car on the westbound bridge amid heavy traffic on Sept. 27. Montague appeared in district court Wednesday to get his trial date and is expected to appear again for trial at 8:45 a.m. on Jan. 11.

Bystander videos of the 22-year-old’s alleged burnout circulated among thousands on social media in September and quickly attracted the attention of local law enforcement officers, whose investigation into the incident found that Montague was the car’s registered owner.

Police suspected the car’s driver had just left Ocean City, which hosted the H2Oi car meetup on Sept. 26, the day before Montague’s alleged burnout. After footage of the stunt went viral online, the H2Oi community came together to raise roughly $1,800 for Montague.

Montague did not say for what he might use the funds the car community raised for him, but according to court records, the nearly $3,000 in traffic fines he faces have not been paid.

Police identified and charged Montague the day after the incident on Sept. 28. He is charged with three counts of disturbing the peace, one count of disorderly conduct and 23 traffic violations. The four misdemeanors each carry a penalty of up to 60 days in jail and/or $500 in fines.

The traffic charges Montague faces, which amount to a collective almost $3,000 in fines, include reckless driving, willfully damaging a highway and driving a motor vehicle in a manner intended to cause skidding, according to an outline of the charges in court documents.

Details of the case were not discussed during the hearing Wednesday, and an attorney for Montague has not yet been entered into the record. Montague appeared by himself in court and did not comment on the case against him.

Queen Anne’s State’s Attorney Lance Richardson was not at the courthouse Wednesday and could not be reached for comment by press time. Richardson previously told The Star Democrat of Montague’s alleged stunt that he has “never seen anything this moronic before as far as conduct on the Bay Bridge.”

Talbot Interfaith wins approval for new shelter

EASTON — Talbot Interfaith Shelter won approval Nov. 17 from the Board of Zoning Appeals to open a new homeless shelter at 109 Goldsborough Street, directly next door to the current shelter at 107.

The Board of Zoning Appeals unanimously awarded TIS a special permit to purchase and renovate the existing home at 109 Goldsborough Street and open its doors within six months.

TIS plans to turn the residence into a seven-bedroom house similar to the first shelter. The new home will have space for up to 14 people. Including the first shelter next door, Easton’s Promise, TIS will be able to serve up to 28 people once the second location opens its doors.

Easton’s Promise will continue to serve families, while the new shelter will house single men and women.

The additional support was needed during a pandemic and a time of economic crisis, said Julie Lowe, the executive director of TIS.

“We’ve had to turn many individuals away lately because we prioritize families,” she said. “It would be a wonderful relief to be able to serve these people.”

Chairman Peter Cotter voiced strong support for TIS. He said additional shelter is needed in Easton, and the “applicant has satisfied all the criteria” for the permit.

Six years ago, Cotter said he voted against the first homeless shelter that opened in 2014, but this time TIS has a clean track record.

”There is some history here. One of my concerns (when) voting against the previous shelter, was there was specific evidence of adverse impact,” he said, adding he was worried about property values being lowered. “I don’t see any of that today. This adds an element to the town that we don’t have enough of.”

The vote came after the board held public hearings, during which only two residents voiced opposition to the new shelter, and five came out in support of it.

Members of the downtown business community sent letters of support to TIS, and the Easton Town Council said during the Nov. 16 hearing that it would welcome more homelessness support services.

Charlie Barton, the minister of outreach at Christ Church Easton, read a letter from the religious community backing the new shelter. He told the board that he works with Lowe, and the work they have accomplished since 2014 has been valuable.

‘I myself was homeless in my twenties, so I know what a difference this makes,” he said. “We need to provide for these people.”

TIS originally planned to open a new shelter by 2020 or 2023. In May, Lowe and Jayme Dingler, the marketing and development director, decided to accelerate their plans after the coronavirus pandemic created a mass economic crisis.

“As soon as COVID hit and people started losing jobs, we immediately knew this was going to be bad,” she said. “We needed to speed up the timeline.”

They scoured Easton for commercial properties that would allow for a special exception permit, looking at six different locations, but finding none suitable.

TIS ended up right back where it started: the owner of 109 Goldsborough Street was interested in selling the home. The owner had been renting it out until that point.

Dingler said operating facilities directly next door to each other allows for a seamless transition for the 450 volunteers they cycle through in a given year.

“Services will all be under these two roofs right next door to each other,” she said.

The roughly 10,000 square foot home will include three bathrooms, a kitchen, a laundry room and a meeting space.

Some were in opposition to the new shelter at the hearings. In 2014, many had been opposed to the opening of a homeless shelter in downtown Easton. Only two were publicly opposed this time.

One neighbor, who lives at 111 Goldsborough Street, said he was worried about a decrease in his property value and said TIS had made a commitment in 2014 not to open a second shelter on the street.

Joan Wetmore, a real estate agent with Meredith Fine Properties, also said it would lower property values.

“I just think this is a big disaster for Easton,” she said. “It’s not compatible with retail and restaurants; these people are not patrons. You’re more than doubling the square footage. And it’s definitely impacting property values.”

Lowe, the executive director for TIS, disagreed, telling Wetmore that those were concerns when they wanted to open the first shelter, but none of those issues ever surfaced or became a real problem.

“I really do not believe that this is, in any way shape or form, negative,” Lowe said.

Dingler said the home will operate just like the current one: nobody will even know it’s a homeless shelter. Property values did not go down after the first shelter opened in 2014, and they likely won’t again, she said.

Dingler pointed to a feature in Southern Lady Magazine, which pictured the house at 107 Goldsborough Street in a story about Easton. The magazine did not even know the house was a homeless shelter.

“Much of the success that our guests have is because of the setting,” she added. “It provides stability, comfort, dignity. It makes people feel welcome and a part of the community instead of relegated to the outskirts of town. It’s a home.”

Virtual town halls will be held at 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 23, and Tuesday, Nov. 24. TIS invites the community to learn more about plans for the new facility and ask any questions they might have.

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County Council delays vote on Kates Point Road after opposition from kayakers, neighbors

EASTON — The Talbot County Council voted Nov. 17 to delay the vote on a resolution abandoning a portion of Kates Point Road, with the council citing the coronavirus pandemic and a flood of public opposition to the proposal as reasons not to abandon it now.

County Council President Corey Pack said he received more than 60 emails and letters from the public. Many kayakers, swimmers and paddlers are opposed to the abandonment of a portion of that public road because they use it to launch into the Choptank River.

Pack said the vote was not needed “at this time,” noting that the resolution does not have an expiration date.

“Tabling this does not kill it, it does not mean it will expire,” he said. “But we’re in the middle of a pandemic — maybe this is not the time to do this. People want to get out now and destress and look at the marsh over there.”

Pack said the vote could be picked up at a later time, saying it could be “a week or a month” before they do so. The council agreed to do more research, but Councilman Pete Lesher said he was ready to vote against it now.

“I have enough information to see that this is not in the public interest,” he said.

Kates Point Road is a public one, though the surrounding land is owned by a wealthy property owner, Matt Friedrich. He bought the land in 2018 for more than $5 million.

Earlier this year, Friedrich — who is personally worth $11 million, and works for a Fortune 500 company, Cognizant Technology Solutions — said there was too much trespassing on his property, and he sought closure of the road so he could install a gate.

Friedrich currently lives in Chevy Chase and is renting the house to a family. But he plans to live at the home eventually, and does not want trespassers on his land.

Friedrich’s wife is a U.S. District Court Judge appointed by President Donald Trump in 2017, and his father was Klaus Friedrich, a former chief economist at Dresdner Bank in Frankfurt, Germany. Dresdner was one of the largest banks in the world in the 20th century.

The county council has expressed interest in abandoning a 0.4-mile stretch of that road in order to save money on maintaining it.

Friedrich’s neighbors came out in opposition to the proposal, with Linda Wise saying an installed gate on the road would be a hassle and only benefit Friedrich.

Pack said he had time to review Wise’s letter, and he determined the gate would limit access to her home and the Choptank for the public.

“Any gate being placed on that roadway,” he said, “would impede people going down and enjoying that side of the river.”

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Council meetings to be held remotely through January

EASTON — The Talbot County Council decided Tuesday its remaining meetings this year will be held remotely at the recommendation of the county health officer in response to local rising COVID-19 infection rates.

The council has been meeting in person on-and-off since the pandemic hit the county in March as they struggled to continue regular government operations under the constant threat of a deadly virus.

When it comes to pandemic-related issues facing the county, the lawmakers often have been split on what actions should be taken to curb the virus’s spread. Tuesday’s indefinite move to an all virtual meeting format, however, was decisive, with all five members appearing to be on board.

The change comes after the county announced it was shuttering its classrooms to students — many of whom had been receiving in-person schooling since Oct. 12 — in reaction to reported poorly trending COVID-19 metrics at the state and county levels.

Talbot County’s 7-day averaged case rate per 100,000 people increased significantly in recent days from 5.8 one week ago on Nov. 11 to 16.5 on Wednesday, Nov. 18.

Wednesday marked the county’s third consecutive day reporting a case rate above 15, which according to health experts, indicates a high virus transmission risk among individuals in a given area. Talbot’s positivity rate also has been above 5% for the last three days.

The county health department reported Wednesday just over 720 Talbot residents are confirmed to have contracted the virus since March. The majority of the county’s infections are occurring among Easton residents, according to state health data.

The Maryland Department of Health data show 556 cases have been reported among Easton residents to date; 46 in Trappe; 37 in Cordova; 26 in St. Michaels; 22 in Oxford; and 9 in Royal Oak.

Of the council’s move to remote meetings, which will be in effect at least through January 2021, Council President Corey Pack said it was the right thing to do to “stem the tide of this deadly virus.”

“I think it’s just out of an abundance of caution that we proceed through January with a virtual format,” Pack said, adding the council’s system for conducting its meetings remotely “works very well.”