In-Depth Reporting 2016

The New HeroinThe New Heroin

Heroin is back. In Virginia, the number of deaths from a heroin overdose has more than doubled in the past three years. Rockbridge County is not immune. The Rockbridge County Drug Task Force says it has seen a 150 percent increase in both heroin possession and trafficking cases in the last year. Heroin was a popular recreational drug in the 1970s and 1980s, but lost its relevance with cocaine's rise in popularity. Now heroin is back, and it's cheaper, stronger and more addictive than ever before.

Butting Heads

Butting Heads

Image from Pixabay courtesy of

Smoking causes one in five deaths in the United States every year and costs $300 billion in health care costs. Nearly 20 percent of Virginians smoke, a rate that is 3 percentage points higher the national average. Perhaps not coincidentally, Virginia also has the country's second-lowest tax on cigarettes-
30 cents per pack-at a time when the national average is more than five times that. Virginia lawmakers propose raising the cigarette tax rate almost every year, but it has not budged since 2005, even as other tobacco states have raised theirs. All five states that border Virginia now have significantly higher cigarette tax rates-and the District of Columbia's is $2.50 a pack. A higher cigarette tax leads to fewer smokers and more state revenue. But with tobacco's deep roots in Virginia and Philip Morris' headquarters in Richmond, future attempts might just be...butting heads.

Sharing in ShenandoahThe Business of Sharing

Eight years after these services started in 2008, Airbnb and Uber are two of the largest marketplace platforms in the "sharing economy," a form of peer-to-peer commerce that has enabled exchanges of goods and services directly between individuals, not corporations.

In Lexington and Rockbridge County, Airbnb is proving to be a formidable alternative accommodation, especially on busy weekends at the area's three universities. And now, state and local governments are starting to consider regulations that might change the lodging landscape.

Borrowing TroubleBorrowing Trouble

In December 2014, Cheryl borrowed $250 from a payday lender to buy her children Christmas gifts. Even after working 40 hours a week in the Rockbridge area, she couldn't pay back the loan and the piling fees until three months later. Cheryl's family is only one of 2.5 million American families who take out payday loans each year. Millions more consumers pay high fees to use alternative financial products, including car title loans and open-ended lines of credit. In a month, a federal administrative proposal might change how much consumers pay for alternative credit, where to get it and how to repay.

A Jarring TruthA Jarring Truth

Has youth football seen the end of its glory days? As high-profile concussion research gains the attention of parents, football players and Hollywood, the lasting effects of even minor hits to the head point to potential problems for the sport's youngest players. In Rockbridge County, football remains a pillar of the community, where nearly 200 local kids join more than 1 million Americans aged 8 to 12 in tackle football each year. The community also boasts a decades-old high school rivalry and three college teams. But as parents are made more aware of the prevalence of concussions in football, will America's favorite pastime change?

In-depth reporting 2015

Pink-Collar Crime

Embezzlement. Forgery. Fraud -- all crimes long associated with men in positions of influence in the workplace. But white-collar crime has gotten a makeover. One Lexington lawyer says 100 percent of the embezzlement cases he's defended in the last five years have been committed by women, known as pink-collar criminals. In fact, records from the past 15 years show that women in the Rockbridge area have stolen at least $2.2 million from business owners, churches and even elderly family members.

It's no coincidence that so many defendants are women. While women are still trying to work their way into top jobs, they are often hired as bookkeepers, office managers or bank tellers -- positions where they handle or oversee the funds of a business, church or other organization. And in small communities, where there is little oversight and lots of trust, women who begin taking money might find that they can continue to steal for years without getting caught. Some may be fueled by greed, others by hardship, but the bottom line remains the same: Embezzlement is a violation of trust. Embezzlers are the co-workers, friends, even babysitters for the very business owners whose bank accounts they wipe out. Why are there so many cases of pink-collar crime in the Rockbridge area? What motivates these women to cross that line, and how do communities handle their cases when they do?

Welcome to Buena VistaIt's a city accustomed to seeing its name in the news, but often not for the right reasons. Buena Vista, just seven miles from better-known, more historic Lexington, has had its share of economic troubles. The city began as a vision of prosperity during a late-19th century land boom. By the mid-20th century it was home to thriving factories and well-paying blue-collar jobs. But today the city faces millions of dollars in crippling debt. Construction of a municipal golf course that was expected to help change the city to a tourism-based economy backfired, pushing the city deeper into debt and prompting more negative headlines when it twice defaulted on its loan. But the now-familiar news accounts of Buena Vista's troubles often miss something: the stories of the 6,700 people who live there. Learn what it means to live, work and hope in a city of uncertainty.