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Del. Matt Fariss, R-Campbell County, who has been charged with malicious wounding and is accused of driving his SUV into a woman who had been a passenger in his vehicle, has missed the March 30 deadline for filing his intent to once again seek the Republican nomination in the 51st House of Delegates District.
Doug Barringer, the chairman of the district’s GOP committee, announced this at the panel’s monthly meeting in Rustburg on Thursday, Rick Boyer, a Lynchburg attorney specializing in election law, said Friday.
With his failure to meet the deadline — intentional or not — Fariss has handed his party’s nomination in the heavily Republican-leaning district to Eric Zehr, his sole challenger in this nomination contest. Barringer said at the party meeting Thursday that the district’s GOP convention, which had been scheduled for June 10 at Rustburg High School, would be canceled. There’s no Democratic candidate in this district so for now Zehr is unopposed.
Barringer said in a phone interview Friday that he sent Fariss several reminders this week reminding him that his paperwork was due. “I was watching for it all day and we tried to call each other a few times but never got to speak,” Barringer said, adding that he could only speculate about why Fariss did not file. “I’m sure that we’ll find out one way or another in the coming days.”
Fariss, who could still run as an independent in the general election set for Nov. 4, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Friday.
Zehr said in an email to supporters that because the convention was canceled, there was no longer the need to recruit delegates. “We can get right to the work of knocking doors and meeting the citizens of the district. We are going to need your help and we will be asking you in the coming days to join our team in reaching out,” he said.
Zehr also thanked Fariss for “his years of service in the House of Delegates.”
A Lynchburg native and a resident of Rustburg, Fariss, 54, was first elected to the House of Delegates district in 2011, succeeding Del. Watkins Abbitt Jr., an independent who retired after 26 years in office.
Fariss currently sits on the Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources committee, the Appropriations and Public Safety committees, and the Health, Welfare and Institutions committee.
The charges against Fariss stem from an incident that happened the afternoon of March 2. According to Virginia State Police, the lawmaker was heading south on U.S. 501 in Campbell County in his 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe when the vehicle crossed the center line, continued off the northbound side of the road and struck a pedestrian, who suffered minor injuries. The woman told authorities she had been a passenger in the SUV prior to the incident.
Fariss left the scene but turned himself in the next day and met a state trooper at the magistrate’s office, state police said. He was charged with one count of malicious wounding, a Class 3 felony; one count of failing to stop after an accident, a Class 5 felony; and one count of reckless driving, a Class 1 misdemeanor, according to state police and online court records.
Fariss was released on a $7,500 bond and is due to be arraigned in Campbell County General District Court on May 16.
Zehr is a former member of the Campbell County Board of Supervisors, representing Rustburg from 2014 until 2018. He has also served as the chairman of the Campbell County Republican Party and of the 59th House District Republican Committee, which is now the 51st district after the Virginia Supreme Court approved new legislative maps in 2021.
In his email to supporters Friday, Zehr vowed to be “a fighter, not a follower” in Richmond.
“The voters of the 51st district are tired of extremist Democrats in Washington and Richmond robbing us of our freedoms. They are ready to fight back,” Zehr said. “They are ready to send a fighter to Richmond. And I look forward to being their voice in the House of Delegates.”
Barringer, the district’s GOP chair, said that local Republicans reacted favorably to Zehr’s nomination by default. “I think people generally feel very good about Eric. He’s run a very positive and active campaign already,” Barringer said.