By Rachel Stone
Recently, local residents complained about trash and Virginia Military Institute cadets parking their cars in the lot behind Pure Eats, according to Lexington Police Chief Al Thomas.
“This was problematic,” Thomas said. “We were getting complaints from citizens. We addressed it then, and it’s an ongoing issue.”
There were still empty beer boxes, crushed cans, candy wrappers and cigarette butts surrounding the cars on the property last week. Cadets are not allowed to have cars inside the Rockbridge County lines — including Lexington — until theirfinal year.
Three weeks ago, a VMI cadet, who wished to remain anonymous because of the rule, reached out to someone he knew in Lexington. He asked if there was anywhere in Lexington where he could park his car because he previously kept it in the parking lot behind Pure Eats.
Kasey Potter, manager at Pure Eats, said that trash wasn’t a problem. When told about the beer cans and other trash littered around the lot two weeks ago, she said she would talk to the owner, John Blackburn, and call back. After a week, Potter had not called back or returned phone messages.
After the Lexington Police Department approached VMI about the problem behind Pure Eats last month, the 1st Class President at VMI, Scott Beasley, took it upon himself to get the larger problem of cadets’ unauthorized cars under control. Seniors at VMI are called 1st Class; juniors are called 2nd Class.
“It was brought to my attention by the Commandant of Cadets that there was a problem with trash and cadets in the Pure Eats parking lot,” Beasley said in an email. “Therefore I sent a message to the Second Class requesting that IF they had a car in county to please remove it, and to stay out of the parking lot of Pure Eats unless using it as a costumer.”
Stewart MacInnis, Communications Director at VMI, said having a car as a cadet is a privilege for the 1st Classmen, and they don’t want to lose it.
“We’re saying [underclassmen are] not supposed to have cars in Lexington,” he said. “We know some do. We don’t always know who or where they keep them.”
According to the anonymous cadet, the email gave about two weeks’ notice, saying underclassmen had to move their cars out of the county by Nov. 1 or potentially get caught and face the consequences. And the risk is high.
Mark Judy, a 1st Classman at VMI, said that if a cadet were caught, he or she would get 10 demerits, six weeks confinement (meaning confined to post), 30 penalty hours (marching in a circle with your rifle) and loss of the right to have a car as a 1st Classman.
Even with this punishment at stake, Judy said he had his car in Rockbridge County his 2nd and 3rd Class years. He said he is from a military family who frequently moves, and he wasn’t going to ask his parents to drive from Chicago to come pick him up for a four-day break. He guessed that 30 to 40 percent of the 2nd Classmen have their cars hidden throughout the county.
“[This rule is] a bummer, it really is,” he said. “I mean I understand why – because Lexington is a small place as it is. . . If you’re savvy with staying quiet and really avoiding town as much as possible — once you’re out of county, you’re at a safe point.”
For the 1st Classmen, a room of four to six cadets gets one parking space on post, according to MacInnis. He said additional cars are kept at the Stonewall Shopping Center parking lot on E. Midland Trail near the city limit. VMI has an arrangement with the owner of the land, and pays a fee to allow the cadets to park there, MacInnis said. Any 1st Classman who brings a car to Rockbridge County is supposed to register with the school with a one-time $30 registration fee.
Many underclassmen cadets are also willing to pay – someone else. The anonymous cadet said he paid $25 per month to Pure Eats to park his car in the lot behind the restaurant. After the email was sent to all the underclassmen, he moved his car farther away from post.
Not all underclassmen pay for a spot though.
“I was lucky,” Judy said. Residents on W. Nelson Street said he could keep his car there for free. “It just depends on who you know.”