Radford resident, Delegate at odds over Memorial Day event phone call

A Radford resident believes he has been threatened by a member of the Virginia House of Delegates over last week’s Memorial Day ceremony.

Gary Harris, a member of the Radford VFW Post 776, was one of the chief organizers of the 21st Annual Memorial Day ceremony held at the Bisset Park Gazebo on May 31.

Harris told The Patriot that on the day before the event, he had arrived home around 5 p.m. to feed his dog after spending most of the day in the park preparing for the ceremony.

“My phone rang, and someone knocked on my door at the same time,” Harris recalled.

At the door was a good friend of his, and on the phone, Harris said, was 12th District Delegate Chris Hurst.

“I told my friend to be still a minute until I got through,” Harris said.

Harris recalled Hurst saying, “This is Chris Hurst. Are you Gary Harris?”

“I told him I was, and he said he had one question for me,” Harris said. “He wanted to know why he wasn’t the speaker at the Memorial Day event.”

Harris said Hurst had spoken at the event three times in the past.

“I told him I did not want a politician this year, we wanted a military guy,” Harris explained, noting that he was joined in organizing the event by fellow VFW member Dana Jackson, also a member of the American Legion.

Speaking at the event were Lt. Col. Anthony Kozar of the Radford Army Ammunition Plant and Jason Ballard – a Lt. Col. In the Army Reserves and an active member of the VFW.

And Hurst’s opponent in the 12th District House race.

According to Harris, Hurst responded that “the one you got to speak – isn’t he running for elected office?”

“I didn’t really catch the ‘running for elected office’ part and I said, no,” Harris added.

According to Harris, Hurst responded, “well, isn’t he running for an office?”

“I said, ‘yeah, but he doesn’t hold an office,” Harris said.

According to Harris, Hurst pressed the issue.

“I still think I should have represented Radford,” Hurst said, according to Harris.

“I just told him I didn’t want politicians in this ceremony,” Harris said to which Hurst charged, “Well you brought politics into it.”

Harris said he replied, “No, I did not, and I will give you three reasons why I didn’t consider you. One, you’re a politician. Two, you are a lousy speaker. And three, nobody likes you because you’re a drunk driver.”

Harris said Hurst then asked, “What did I say (at past ceremonies) that you didn’t like?”

“I told him I didn’t listen to him, but I’ve got a friend here who did, and he told me you were a lousy speaker, and if you want his phone number, I’ll give it to you and you can call him,” Harris claims.

“Then you got caught drunk driving and you got off,” Harris said he told Hurst.

“I didn’t use my position to get off,” Hurst responded.

Harris was speaking of an incident in January of 2020 when Hurst was detained by a Christiansburg Police officer and released following a traffic stop on the U.S. 460 Bypass.

According to news reports at the time, Hurst was stopped and blew a breathalyzer reading of .085, which is above the state’s drunk driving limit of .08.

Christiansburg Police said following the incident that the officer released Hurst because of his overall performance during field sobriety tests and because he had a sober companion in the vehicle who could drive. And because, according to the state Constitution, legislators in active session can’t be arrested for anything short of treason, a felony or breach of the peace.

Also, the officer determined that by the time Hurst was brought into the magistrate’s office for a formal breathalyzer test, he would be under the legal limit. Only the formal breathalyzer test is admissible in court.

Neither the officer nor Hurst mentioned during the incident that he is a member of the House.

Later an internal review by the Christiansburg Police Department found the officer’s actions were consistent with every other DUI case he had investigated during that year.

“Then he wanted to know what qualifications my speaker (Ballard) had, and I told him he served four combat tours and was awarded a Bronze Star. I asked him how many tours he had and how many Bronze Stars? He didn’t have an answer for that,” Harris said.

Harris claims Hurst said something else “that I didn’t catch,” and then said, “I would receive repercussions for picking the speaker that I did. I asked, ‘are you threatening me?’ He said, ‘No, but you will receive repercussions.’”

Contacted about the call this week, Hurst told The Patriot that he didn’t threaten Harris.

“I did not threaten Mr. Harris,” Hurst stated flatly.

“I care about the annual Memorial Day event and think it’s important that all veterans feel welcomed. I heard from some veterans in Radford who were dismayed that an apparent change was made for partisan reasons. I shared that concern with Mr. Harris and said I worried it might have consequences for the integrity of the event in the future,” Hurst said.

He continued, “It’s unfortunate that rather than move past the issue, it is being brought up again as hearsay to stoke a partisan divide.”

At the end of the conversation Harris said he then asked if Hurst wanted him to cancel his speaker on the eve of the service.  “He said, ‘well, I have thought of that.’”

“I told him, ‘Well, it aint going to happen and as far as I’m concerned, this conversation is over’ and hung up,” Harris said, adding he had told Hurst earlier that he had placed the call on speaker phone for all to hear.

Harris said since the event, he has received many calls and texts praising the event.

“Both of the speakers were great, and neither was political,” Harris said, noting that Hurst attended the event.

Harris said had he known during the event that Hurst was present, he would have gone and spoken to him.

“And I would have told him what I think about repercussions,” Harris said.

“I don’t give a crap. I served my country and been a good citizen. I’m 75 years old and I don’t care what anybody thinks of me or says to me. I’ve been through the fire before, and I’m not going to let a whiny politician get under my skin.”