Thursday, September 15, 2011
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Fernando Carrillo Sanchez, a 23-year-old immigrant from Guatemala, stands charged with killing Strand, 49, the manager of the Onley Pizza Hut.
Commonwealth’s attorney Gary Agar presented evidence that showed that the black Ford Expedition that was stolen from Strand’s Melfa home was found several days later near the residence of the accused man.
He said also that Carrillo Sanchez made and signed a confession the night he was picked up by the police and that there was a previous unspecified relationship between the two men. Investigators found Strand’s telephone number on the defendant’s cell phone.
Gladys Church, a relative of Strand’s, answered Agar’s questions about May 1, the day she found Strand lying naked, face-down and covered with blood in his bed at his Melfa home.
Church said she became concerned about Strand when he failed to pick her son up from his late- night job at Perdue. She picked up her son herself and drove to Strand’s house.
“We went there at about 2 a.m.,” she said. There were no lights on and his SUV was not there.
“The next morning, we kept calling and calling and he didn’t pick up,” Church said, adding she was nervous because Strand never missed work.Church told the court she made repeated calls to Strand’s telephone and went to talk to some of his friends to ask if they knew where he was. No one did, she said.
At about 1 p.m., Church said she went to the police.
“I told them my Uncle Johnny was not answering his phone.” Church and her son drove to Strand’s home again.
The door was locked and his vehicle was not there. She said she and her son used a credit card to gain entrance to the trailer.
She began to sob almost uncontrollably as she described the horrific scene.
“We walked in. I got halfway down the hall.” Her son, ahead of her screamed, “‘Oh, no, Don’t come in here.’ I said, ‘I am coming in.’”
“He was lying on his stomach, face to the wall,” she said. “I could see blood splattered up the headboard, up the wall and on the floor.”
“I was screaming. We went back outside. I said, ‘Somebody killed him. Why, why.’”
Beverly Jacks, a volunteer emergency technician with the Melfa Fire and Rescue, was the next to arrive on the scene.
Jacks described the scene just as it had been told by Church. She said it looked like Strand had been dead for some time.
Tom Hedge, an investigator for the sheriff’s department at the time, described the murder scene. He said Strand had trauma to his head from multiple blows.
There were no signs of forced entry or a struggle, he said.
He said the wounds were consistent with the victim being killed where he lay, describing him as “unaware.” He found a blue Little League baseball bat covered in blood under the bed where Strand lay.
Strand’s vehicle was not located until four days later. The sheriff’s department received a tip that it was in Dreamland One mobile home park. They found the vehicle and asked neighbors to which trailer it belonged.
A person was seen running to that trailer, he said, and then refused to answer the door when police knocked. Finally three men came out and all were taken into custody.
Investigator Anthony Bright, with the help of an interpreter, questioned the suspect for several hours. He described Carrillo Sanchez as “very calm.”
“He began to cry and then made a confession,” Bright said. The accused man said he was forced into sex with Strand, Bright said. He claimed that Strand hit him with the baseball bat. Bright said he saw no wounds or bruising on the defendant’s body.
Carrillo Sanchez was defended by attorney Garrett Dunham.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
ONLEY -- Surrounded by family members and friends, Shakia Austin of Melfa sat inside the Pizza Hut restaurant patiently waiting to see the building be dedicated to her late uncle, Johnny Strand.
Matching her mother and several others in attendance Saturday, Austin wore a white T-shirt printed with a picture of Strand and the nickname, "Uncle J" written beneath in cursive letters.
"I came to celebrate my uncle and remember how kind he was to people, how kind he was to me," Austin said. "He tried to help anybody and everybody."
More than 30 people gathered inside the restaurant to attend the dedication ceremony to Strand, a former manager there well-known for his kind personality and generosity.
Strand, who had worked at Pizza Hut since it opened in 1990, was slain three months ago. Shortly after he was reported missing, the 49-year-old manager was found dead inside his Melfa home May 1.
Fernando Carrillo Sanchez, 23, of Accomac was charged with second-degree murder after being located by nearby residents, according to the Accomack County Sheriff's Office.
As a way to help remember Strand and his many contributions, a small plaque was recently made and affixed to a dining room wall inside the restaurant.
Pizza Hut employee Jason Bennett of Onancock, who had worked with Strand for five years, reflected on Strand's cheerful and encouraging attitude while he waited for the plaque to be unveiled by District Manager Gil Liberty.
"He had a smile on his face every morning," Bennett said. "And he always strived for the best in us."
Liberty's comments immediately mentioned Strand's importance.
"He meant so much not only to this restaurant but so much to our franchise as a whole," Liberty said.
In addition to the plaque, a scholarship fund in Strand's name is also in the process of being established.
According to Liberty, the fund will be awarded each year to one senior each from Nandua and Arcadia high schools who "understands what kindness is," just like Strand had.
Liberty hopes several individuals will make donations so students can apply for the scholarship next year.
Once the plaque's covering was removed by Liberty, Strand's former co-workers, friends and family members lined up to see the small nameplate on the wall beside the kitchen door --a spot where Strand stood as he greeted customers.
"Welcome to Johnny's Place," the plaque reads, written below a picture of Strand standing in front of the restaurant.
Last month, Austin began working at Pizza Hut because she felt that working there is what Strand would've wanted.
She's working toward following in her uncle's footsteps and "making the service great" for customers.
"I know he's smiling down on me telling me I'm doing a good job," said Austin.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Saturday, July 17 at 11:00 AM
at his former restaurant in Onley, Va.
The public is invited to the event.
A plaque honoring Strand will be mounted in the dining room in the Onley Pizza Hut. Plans for a scholarship fund in honor of Strand are currently being talked over and will be announced soon.
Strand was found murdered at his Melfa residents on May 1st after he did not report to work. Fernando Carrillo Sanchez, 23 of Accomac, was arrested on May 5th in connection with Strands death and charged with 2nd degree murder. Sanchezs preliminary hearing will be at 11:00 AM on August 6th in Accomack's General District Court.
Saturday, May 8, 2010
In 36 years of writing stories on local people for this newspaper, no one was ever as grateful or appreciative as Johnny Strand, the popular Pizza Hut manager who was slain last weekend at his Melfa home.
I have received scores of notes and letters from people who I have profiled during my time here, but Johnny's thank you was the most memorable.
Not long after I wrote a profile on Johnny for the "Virginia's Eastern Shore" special section in 2007 -- ironically, that issue appears in today's paper -- Johnny came into the News office in Accomac and called a few employees he knew up front in the lobby, including me.
He then read a hand-written message he had penned on a thank you card. It read:
You wrote articles over the years
To make one happy or shed tears.
It's true what I've heard, you're one of a kind,
You gave Johnny Strand a chance to speak his mind.
With my voice, I spoke of my strife,
with your pen you wrote of my life.
Together, you and I have touched so many,
A smile restored, a broken spirit replenished.
So I thank you so much, for not taking away
From the spirit of a man who had a lot to say.
Thank you Mr. Sterling,
and the rest of the Eastern Shore News family,
Mr. Johnny Strand
Since that day Johnny thanked me again every time I saw him. Just two weeks ago he was thanking me for the article as if I had written it the previous week.
The truth is Johnny never stopped hearing about the article with the power of the Internet. The story was picked up by the Associated Press and turned up in newspapers and websites all over the country. Johnny said he heard from strangers who just wanted to say they were inspired by his story.
And what a story it was. I knew when I walked away from that interview three years ago, Johnny's story sounded like a movie script that producers would reject because people just wouldn't believe it. But Johnny was the real deal.
The writing had little, if anything, to do with the powerful message Johnny delivered in that interview. Johnny gave me far too much credit in that card that I treasure even more today than when he presented it.
In 1990, Strand was walking along U.S. Route 13 as the Pizza Hut was being built in the Chesapeake Square shopping center in Onley. A man hailed Strand and asked if he wanted to earn some extra money by unloading a truckload of construction materials being used to build the restaurant.
Strand, who had no car and was unemployed at the time, because it was January and he usually worked on area farms, gladly accepted the offer.
The Pizza Hut manager who was checking on the progress of the construction took notice of how Strand hustled back and forth as he was unloading the truck. He called Strand aside and asked him if he wanted a job when the restaurant opened in a few weeks.
So on the first day Pizza Hut opened Strand was a dishwasher.
Strand said in that interview his mission was to be the best dishwasher possible. "I took control of my area. I'm like that. I wanted those dishes to be so clean you could see your face in them."
Strand was soon promoted to assistant cook and then lead cook. When the manager saw how friendly Strand was with people, he made Strand a server. Strand then became a shift manager and eventually assistant manager of the restaurant.
Strand worked for five other managers, and in 2002 when the position was again vacant Strand was asked by Pizza Hut officials to be the manager. He turned them down -- twice, in fact.
Gil Liberty, the district manager for Pizza Hut, came to Strand for a third time. Liberty was present at that 2007 interview because he wanted to impress upon the reporter just how he felt about Strand.
Liberty told Stand, "You are here 55 hours a week anyway. Everyone thinks you are the manager. Why don't you take this position and earn the benefits and the extra money that comes with it?"
Strand explained he was very busy with his church and was a member of a traveling gospel choir at Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church in Bayside, near Onancock.
Liberty promised Strand the job would not interfere with attending church. "I say that because I know you are the right person for the job," Liberty told Strand.
Liberty said at that 2007 interview, "Johnny is the face of Pizza Hut on the Eastern Shore. When you say Pizza Hut around here you think of Johnny Strand. When you say Johnny Strand, you think of Pizza Hut. He has such great people skills, both with the public and the employees. Everyone loves to work for him."
Strand was recognized by the community and Pizza Hut for his contributions. He worked with schools, youth groups, churches, the Foodbank, the DARE program and numerous other groups to help raise funds or provide pizzas as incentives for achievement. It seemed everyone knew Strand and his willingness to help others.
The walls of the restaurant are plastered with drawings from local students and photographs of athletes from every school on the Shore.
Many of his employees are area students, and he often sat down with them and asked about their grades. He told them he was far from a perfect student in high school, but mistakes today can have more impact than when he was at Onancock High School in the 1970s.
"I want to find the good in everyone," said Strand. "I go to the schools and tell students that if they work hard and do a good job, their self-esteem will rise and good things will happen to them," said Strand, who had at the time missed only one day of work in 17 years. He took a day off to go watch Nandua High School play for a state basketball title.
Strand might not have been perfect in high school, but Pizza Hut received rare perfect scores from the Health Department. Pizza Hut's reviews were usually rated "excelling."
Strand's love in high school was music. He was taught by his cousin, Jesse Poulson, also an active member of his church.
He was good enough that he was supposed to go to the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and be a member of the college choir. But his mother had a leg amputated due to complications from diabetes two months before he was to graduate from high school in 1978. His father died one month later. As the youngest of 10 children and the only one still at home, it was up to Johnny to care for his mother at their home near White Rabbit.
"I missed a chance to go to college, but I wouldn't change a thing," said Strand, who wiped away a tear at that interview when talking about his mother.
Although he never married, Johnny said he had more than 50 nieces and nephews he followed closely.
His funeral will surely be attended many of the people he touched through the years. His tragic loss from a senseless crime will be felt throughout the community.
But although his life was cut short, the incomparable Johnny Strand will continue to inspire others to be their best, as he always tried to be.