Keeping in mind the car which mowed down and killed a young woman during crowded demonstrations in Charlottesville and terrorist attacks abroad where vehicles were used as weapons against pedestrians, Salem officials blocked busy street intersections with large city vehicles during Olde Salem Days on Saturday.
The crafts and street festival that takes place each year on the second Saturday of September annually attracts crowd estimated at more than 30,000 people – many from out of town.
Monday night following a 15-minute City Council meeting, Salem City Manager Kevin Boggess confirmed that recent vehicle attacks on crowds were part of the reason city dump trucks and other vehicles were placed from Thompson Memorial and side streets west to the Main and Fourth Street intersection.
The idea was to keep drivers from accidentally or on purpose driving through the thousands of shoppers at Salem’s annual street festival that is sponsored these days by the Salem Rotary Club.
“It made sense to use city vehicles,” he said. “There are folks who are lost and drive through barricades but not if there is a big piece of equipment in the way.
There was a city truck at every intersection, and the larger-than-life haz-mat truck across all three lanes at Thompson Memorial Drive at Main Street. “Dump trucks were used at north-south streets. Lots of folks who noticed that said they thought it was a good idea. That way we don’t have to deal with folks who want to drive through” when the streets are closed, vendors are set up along each side and thousands of people are walking in the middle of the streets.
At the Salem City Council meeting, Vice Mayor Bill Jones said he was “Impressed how you blocked the streets with trucks.”
Councilman James Martin thanked all the city departments that had a hand in Olde Salem Days. “The city looked great. It was great to see so many people coming into the city.”
Councilman Jane Johnson agreed, and said she had heard a lot of positive remarks “about what is going to be in the new year” in downtown Salem changes.
Also after the meeting, Boggess vowed “We’re going to fix it,” referring to the World War I “cannon” – actually a German 77 mm field gun – in the grassy triangle at the intersection of Boulevard, College and Third Street.
Early Sunday morning around 2:30 a.m. an allegedly drunk driver plowed into the big gun, and was arrested after he fled. It was the second time in three years someone hit the artillery piece.
Driver Skylan Chambers of Roanoke, 26, was charged with driving under the influence, hit-and-run and driving on a suspended license, Salem Police said. Chambers had been driving a Pontiac Aztek when he allegedly hit the gun.
Street Department crews placed the gun upright Monday, and the city is waiting to see what insurance does about paying for damages, Boggess said.
He said the wooden wheels on the World War piece – which were replaced in 2014 – will not have to be redone this time, but the gun’s frame is bent. The cannon has been a war memorial since 1926 in one location or another, since American Legion Post 19 in Salem got it from New Jersey.
It was moved from what then was the old Roanoke County Courthouse on Main Street, now owned by Roanoke College, after the college bought the property. There is a marker at that intersection which lists the names of Salem-area men who died in the Great War.
At the Sept. 11 Council meeting that took only 15 minutes, Council:
- Appointed road viewers to consider getting rid of an unimproved portion of Pearl Street at Norfolk Southern Railroad. “The lot does not have proper frontage to be a public street,” Assistant City Manager Jay Taliaferro said.
- Passed an ordinance on first reading that would raise fees from $20 to $25 to collect late motor vehicle/personal property taxes.
- Authorized the City Manager to execute a deed of release for a construction easement at 528 Chapman Street where a Novozymes building is located, and
- Approved a performance contract with Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare that increases the amount of contribution from Salem from $103,000 to $124,000, and probably, to $150,000 in future years. The city manager explained the move would make all jurisdictions using Blue Ridge Behavioral services giving equal contributions. Vice Mayor Bill Jones, who was running the meeting in the place of Mayor Randy Foley who was out of town on business, said the cost of mental health and substance abuse services “would be unaffordable if we went in by ourselves.”