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The Voice of West Virginia

Morgantown Library won’t have Drag Queen storytime

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Library officials have cancelled the Drag Queen Storytime event scheduled for Saturday due to threats of violence on the participants.

Library director Sarah Palfrey said the scheduled readers received death threats and did not feel safe.

“We had a event scheduled for Saturday and the volunteer readers received enough death threats that they felt they should not participate,” Palfrey said.

Morgantown Police Chief Ed Preston told WAJR News they did receive word of one threat at 8 p.m. Thursday. Preston said the person reporting it characterized it as “veiled.” Preston said the alleged target of the complaint insisted that no investigation be conducted.

WAJR obtained a copy of the report and it said, “One person made various statements that could be perceived as veiled threats.”

The report said the person who received the threat wanted it documented.

The Drag Queen event has generated a lot of conversation on social media for the last few weeks. The West Virginia Family Policy Council said Friday the event was cancelled because the library found out one of the readers had a criminal record.

The library has not said if the event would be rescheduled. It said it would have regular family story time at 10 a.m.

Drag Queen events have become popular in urban areas but they’ve also produced protests in those areas.

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Hoyer stresses importance of drills, communication at swift water training

DUNBAR, W.Va. — Helicopters were seen flying low along the Kanawha River in western Kanawha County all day on Friday but it was all part of drills.

Various local and state first responders participated in the West Virginia Swift Water Rescue Team (WVSWRT) training event with the U.S. Coast Guard and the West Virginia National Guard (WVNG) in Dunbar.

Maj. Gen. James A. Hoyer, the WVNG Adjutant General, was on hand and couldn’t stress enough the importance of events like that.

Maj. Gen. James Hoyer

“It’s not an easy thing to do. It’s not easy for the person on that hoist, it’s not easy on that aircrew to make sure that is done safely. These things need to need to be practiced,” Hoyer said.

The exercise training scenario operations revolved around a mock collision between two large vessels under/near the Dunbar Bridge with multiple casualties in the water.

More training activities included aerial hoist operations with U.S. Army UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters, surface search, and rescue operations via fast recovery boats, and rescue and recovery dive operations.

Hoyer said these pieces of training pay off in catastrophic events such as hurricane and the June 2016 floods in West Virginia. He credited the first responders around the state that rushed to the scene in southern West Virginia.

“Our death toll would have been substantially higher if the first responders hadn’t been so well trained, capable and responded so quickly,” he said.

According to a WVNG release, the complete list of civilian counterparts included members from the Glasgow and Clendenin Volunteer Fire Departments, Wheeling FD, U.S. Coast Guard, Dunbar PD, Dunbar FD, South Charleston PD, South Charleston FD, Charleston PD, Charleston FD, WVDHSEM, Kanawha County 911, and the Kanawha County Emergency Ambulance Authority.

Jake Flatley/wvmetronews.com

Participants from more than a dozen agencies look on.

Hoyer harped the importance of the WVNG assisting the civilian crews because of the Guard’s tools and experience. He said it’s equally important to show the local first responders that there is a safe environment for them.

“There is no substitute for testing communications and that face to face interaction between agencies and personnel to make sure we know and understand how each other thinks,” Hoyer said.

WVNG said the roughly 50-member WVSWRT is comprised equally of WVNG members and firefighters/first responders with experience and training in search and rescue and swift water rescue operations. In 2018 the team attained FEMA Level 2 status allowing them to deploy throughout the country in the event of natural disasters.

Happening now on the Kanawha River in Dunbar, @USCG and @WVNationalGuard holding swift water rescue training. Maj. Gen. James Hoyer will be speaking in a few moments. Hear more today @WVMetroNews pic.twitter.com/Q0lHkAagre

— Jake Flatley (@JakeFlatley) November 15, 2019

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Ballots in still-disputed Harpers Ferry election are now in lockup

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Ballots from a small-town election that has been in dispute since June have been secured in the evidence locker of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department.

There isn’t necessarily an investigation unfolding, but the election in Harpers Ferry has gone so long without a conclusion that local officials concluded additional steps became necessary to make sure the ballots are secure.

Pete Dougherty

“We determined that the best thing to do would be to take all that into custody and they are secured in our evidence room, which is virtually impregnable,” said Jefferson County Sheriff Pete Dougherty.

Placing the ballots in lockup is the latest twist in an election saga that has gone on for months.

“I would have thought a little simple election with a little over 200 votes would not require this kind of attention either,” Dougherty said.

What should happen with the historic Hill Top House Hotel property was in sharp debate when citizens of the town of about 300 people voted this past summer.

As plans to redevelop the property moved forward, residents focused on whether rights-of-way owned by the town would be used, affecting public access to a scenic overlook.

Five council positions were up for grabs.

Initially, the results showed five incumbents were the top vote getters. The top candidate got 90 votes and the fifth candidate got 83.

The candidates initially in sixth and seventh place got 82 and 81 votes.

Those candidates, Nancy Case and Deborah McGee, have been challenging the results ever since. In particular, they are contesting rulings that four provisional ballots would not be counted.

Those ballots were initially considered to be cast by voters who lived outside the municipal limits. But Case and McGee contend those voters were mistakenly listed in the nearby Bolivar voting district, not Harpers Ferry

That happened, they contend, because of an error that occurred when the four residents registered to vote through the state Division of Motor Vehicles. The mistake placed their home addresses outside the municipality.

The Harpers Ferry Board of Canvassers first took a look at the ballots and declined to count them. Case and McGee then appealed to Harpers Ferry Town Council, serving as an election tribunal. That meant two of the incumbents who could lose their seats heard the appeal.

The Council voted to leave the disputed ballots uncounted, with the town recorder and a councilman dissenting and contending that the situation was being guided by “conflict of interest and political gaming.”

So the two candidates took their case to circuit court in Jefferson County. Judge Debra McLaughlin heard the case Oct. 28 and later issued a 15-page ruling mostly in favor of Case and McGee. The judge ordered a recount, including the disputed ballots.

The same day her decision was reached, lawyers for the majority of council members filed notice of appeal to the state Supreme Court. So Judge McLaughlin ordered a temporary stay.

In the meantime, some members of council gathered early this week to attempt to conduct the re-count. Over the course of a couple of hours, though, not enough council members appeared to constitute a quorum.

Around the, the issue of the actual location of the ballots arose. That’s when the sheriff’s department got involved.

“There was a call made a couple of days ago that indicated the ballots had been moved from the location they had been purported to be stored at,” Dougherty said. “At that point, they were considered to be missing.”

Dougherty declined to specify where the ballots initially were believed to be or where they wound up. He said the sheriff’s department did locate them and made sure they would be secure.

He said the ballots did not appear to have been disturbed.

“We did not see anything that would indicate to us that the seals had been broken or that anybody had gotten into the ballots,” he said.

“But our job at that point wasn’t to try to make that kind of determination. We were just holding them and continuing to hold them for safekeeping.”

The Secretary of State’s Office, which oversees West Virginia elections, has also been involved.

Deak Kersey

Deak Kersey, the general counsel for the office, said it would be premature to make a judgment on whether the ballots were stored properly. He said the ballots had been in the town Recorder’s office, which is routinely locked but not optimal.

“There is apparently a discrepancy over why the provisional ballots were not stored in a safe, but instead kept in a filing cabinet in the otherwise-locked Recorder’s office,” Kersey stated.

Kersey added that the envelopes remain sealed with signatures of the Board of Canvassers across the seal. He described the integrity of ballots as a supreme concern.

“At this juncture,” Kersey said, “it is up to the courts to decide whether an examination of the ballots is necessary.”

Jefferson County Prosecutor Matt Harvey confirmed that his office has been looped in, but “Any investigation is being done by the sheriff’s department.”

Sheriff Dougherty said the ballots are now in a safe place in case more questions arise.

“Yes, what we’re doing is we’re holding them pending further inquiry. But we’re holding them just to make sure they’re safe and to make sure they can be produced and presented,” he said.

“And whatever the results are, are the results.”

 

 

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Complete Count Commission focused on not missing a number in 2020 Census

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Complete Count Commission established last month by Gov. Jim Justice to raise awareness and encourage the participation of the 2020 U.S. Census is looking at all the way to get the best count.

The commission met on Friday including officials organizations such as the United Way, Municipal League, Salvation Army, Red Cross, state Chamber of Commerce, and veterans organizations to establish the groundwork in what all pointed to as a crucial count.

“If we leave somebody out, it’s going to hurt our availability to get community block grant dollars, opioid dollars and critical infrastructure dollars that come into our state that is driven by our population,” U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) told the media on Friday.

Shelley Moore Capito

Capito opened up the meeting held at the state Capitol Complex in Charleston. Along with the federal dollars in danger, Capito touched on two other areas that are concerning: losing a congressional seat and the Census’ focus on technology counting with the state’s struggle in broadband.

Those voices in Washington for the state on different committees are needed now more than ever, according to her.

“We have three members of Congress that are critical, they are on critical committees in the House of Representatives. When you put our three up against the 60 that are in California, if we lose one we are losing another important voice,” Capito said.

Census officials at the meeting on Friday showed all the ways that someone can participate in the Census including plenty of options online. Capito said those are great but the focus needs to be on those who don’t have that access.

“We are an underserved area,” she said. “We have a lot of people who do not have broadband and are not accustomed to using it. I want to make sure those people that wouldn’t get on a website and count themselves are going to be counted.

Those are ones that need to have the services.”

The Census officially kicks off on April 1 of next year. Joe DiBartolomeo, one of the Governor’s Designees to the Complete Count Commission said they are working hard with those larger organizations to make people feel safe but know it’s a must.

“It’s a requirement by federal law that you comply with that and the information you put on there is not shared by any other organization in the federal government. There are no enforcement folks that have access to this information,” he said.

Secretary of State Mac Warner and state Senate President Mitch Carmichael attended Friday’s meeting.

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Police chief says numbers tell the story after 3 years of drug house ordinance

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Police Chief Maury Richards says the city’s three-year-old drug house ordinance has worked “beyond our wildest dreams.”

Richards is releasing some numbers this week that look beyond the 59 residential properties that have been shutdown under the provisions of the ordinance.

During an appearance on MetroNews “Talkline” Friday, Richards said overall crime on the block where the house is located is down significantly when you compare the year prior to the shutdown with the year following.

“Violent crime has dropped by 51 percent; property crime by 35 percent; drug calls of all kinds by 52 percent; public nuisance by 34 percent and overdose calls by 54 percent,” Richards said. “Not only is it making a difference for who lives in that house but it’s also making a tremendous public safety difference for that entire block, cleaning it up, giving the decent citizens a better quality of life.”

.@MartinsburgPD Chief of Police Maury Richards talks with @HoppyKercheval about the closure of drug houses. WATCH: https://t.co/wkudfIAoe1 pic.twitter.com/faaBFHmQ5w

— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) November 15, 2019

The numbers also show 89 arrests with the closings of 59 houses and 80 of those arrests are on felony drug charges.

“The criminal justice system has taken care of a lot of these problems as well,” Richards said.

More and more landlords are working with police, according to Richards. He said the landlords are committed to doing a better job screening potential tenants.

The ordinance reads, “Under the provisions of the Drug House Ordinance, property owners are subject to fines if they fail to take appropriate action to abate the problem after 30 days of notification. The Order of Abatement announced today contains compliance stipulations including: evicting the problem tenants, other actions to prevent the recurrence of illegal drug activity, and mandating criminal background checks on future tenants to insure they are “free from convictions for prostitution; illegal gambling; illegal possession, storage, or delivery of or trafficking in controlled substances, or other illegal drug activity.”

Richards said he also believes morale among police officers is better because they are relieved of repeat calls to the same property.

“If we can shutdown a house and we know that it reduces return calls by 90 percent–you know you’ve solved that problem. We’re saving hundreds of hours of police manpower,” Richards said.

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Kanawha Valley Report: Week 12

GAMES TO WATCH

CLASS AAA

No. 10 Huntington (5-5) at No. 7 George Washington (7-3)

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Last week: The Highlanders hung with Spring Valley but fell short, 19-11. GW edged Capital, 20-17, to ensure itself of having homefield advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.

Who to watch for Huntington: Brocton Blair is a big part of the Highlanders establishing their rushing attack and trying to limit the opposition on the ground. 

Who to watch for George Washington: Quarterback R.T. Alexander seems to get better and more comfortable by the week. With several capable wide receivers and a quality offensive line, Alexander can do damage through the air or with his legs.

No. 13 South Charleston (4-6) at No. 4 Parkersburg South (9-1)

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Last week: The Black Eagles failed to reach the .500 mark in a 62-21 loss to unbeaten Cabell Midland. The Patriots pounded Parkersburg, 49-14.

Who to watch for South Charleston: Freshman quarterback Trey Dunn has been solid most of the season, while Romeo Dunham is a big asset at defensive back and on special teams.

Who to watch for Parkersburg South: Brandon Penn has been a catalyst throughout the season. Against the Big Reds, Penn passed for 196 yards and rushed for 98 more. He had a hand in four of the team’s five offensive touchdowns and also returned a fumble 30 yards for a score in the win.

No. 14 Hurricane (4-6) at No. 3 Spring Valley (9-1)

When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m.

Last week: The Redskins secured a spot in the postseason with a 38-12 win over St. Albans. The Timberwolves held off Huntington, 19-11.

Who to watch for Hurricane: Quarterback Austin Womack and tailback Christian Hill are the keys offensively. Hill rushed for 214 yards and a pair of touchdowns a week ago, giving him more than 1,000 rushing yards in three seasons.

Who to watch for Spring Valley: The Timberwolves have numerous contributors on a balanced offense, including quarterback Nate Ellis. Ellis threw a touchdown pass to Zane Porter a week ago, while Luke Christopher reached the end zone on a run. Wyatt Milum 

No. 15 Riverside (4-6) at No. 2 Cabell Midland (10-0)

When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m.

Last week: The Warriors suffered a 25-6 loss to Greenbrier East, while the Knights knocked off South Charleston, 62-21.

Who to watch for Riverside: To have a chance at keeping this competitive, the Warriors will need to possess the ball often. That means tailback Caden Easterling and quarterback Javonte Elzy will need to be at their best.

Who to watch for Cabell Midland: J.J. Roberts is a home run threat every time he has the ball. The Wake Forest commit has stepped up all season and his speed adds another dimension to an offense that can also look for power back Jakob Caudill to produce.

CLASS AA

No. 14 North Marion (7-3) at No. 3 Poca (10-0)

When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m.

Last week: The Huskies lost out on any chance at homefield advantage in the first round by falling at Liberty Harrison, 21-8. The Dots finished off a 10-0 regular season with a 32-0 win at Wayne.

Who to watch for North Marion: The Huskies’ offense never got on track in last week’s loss to Liberty. As a result, North Marion opens the postseason with a tougher first-round matchup. To play with Poca, the Huskies need a sharp performance from quarterback Gunner Murphy, who will look to Tariq Miller and Jahkari Mesidor on the perimeter.

Who to watch for Poca: Tailback Ethan Payne easily led the state in scoring this year with 276 points that came via 46 touchdowns. Payne is a focal point of what the Dots do on both sides of the ball, but quarterback Jay Cook can also hurt opposing defenses.

No. 16 Winfield (7-3) at No. 1 Fairmont Senior (10-0)

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Last week: The Generals were no match for Mingo Central in a 55-20 setback. The Polar Bears blanked East Fairmont, 53-0, to record their 24th straight win.

Who to watch for Winfield: Tailback John Covert has been a standout throughout the season and scored all three of his team’s touchdowns in last week’s loss.

Who to watch for Fairmont Senior: Much like the aforementioned Payne, FSHS quarterback Gage Michael is squarely in the mix for the Kennedy Award. The dual threat is the straw that stirs the drink for the Polar Bears. Michael has plenty of weapons at his disposal and is protected by an experienced offensive line that features Zach Frazier, a West Virginia commit. 

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Mingo student arrested for terrorist threats

LENORE, W.Va. — A student at Mingo County’s Tug Valley High School has been arrested on multiple charges of making terrorist threats.

WVRJA

Kenneth Wood

The Williamson Daily News reported Friday Kenneth Wood, 18, of Lenore, was arrested Nov. 7 by members of the Mingo County Sheriff’s Department.

A criminal complaint filed in Mingo County Magistrate Court alleges Wood made multiple threats of intimidation against fellow students and added their names to a “kill list.”

Deputies allegedly discovered two separate lists on Wood’s computer. One list included 26 names of individuals to be “spared” and 24 names on what was labeled “kill list.”

Wood was arraigned in Mingo County Magistrate Court and is lodged in the Southwestern Regional Jail in lieu of $50,000 cash only bail.

Administrators at Tug Valley High School referred all questions about the cast to the superintendent who was unavailable for comment Friday.

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Sutton Lake to be drawn below winter pool for much of December

SUTTON, W.Va. — Those who enjoy using Sutton Lake during the fall and winter should be advised of an anticipated change in water level. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has announced plans to temporarily lower the winter pool of the lake starting Dec. 1.

The lake level will be drawn below the normal winter poll by another 30 feet dropping the elevation to 865 feet for two weeks. The purpose of the extended draw down is to allow divers and workers to install equipment and make repairs on the dam structure.

Corps of Engineers officials say efforts will be made to keep lake access points at the Bee Run ramp open for winter boat launching as well as the ramp at the south abutment. However, officials said you can expect heavy siltation on the ramps once the lake levels fall below 895 feet.

Officials also warn about changes to the navigable channel between now and the end of the year as a result of the extended draw-down and low water period. The Corps plans to start the lake’s return to normal pool levels by Dec. 14.

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USFS plans prescribed burn on Monongahela National Forest

ELKINS, W.Va. — Managers on the Monongahela National Forest have announced plans for a prescribed burn on the forest in Greenbrier county for Saturday.

The plan is to burn about 96 acres in the Brushy Mountain/Buskirk Grouse Management Area east of Mapledale.

The controlled burn is to help improve and enhance wildlife habitat, particularly for grouse, wild turkey, and the Appalachian grizzled skipper. Officials said it’s the only known population of the skipper in West Virginia.

The activity will be weather dependent and a decision will be made on the day of the burn if conditions are favorable. The area where they fire is happening will be closed to the public for several days and signs will be posted alerting about the burn on nearby roads. Residents and visitors will likely see and smell smoke for several days.

Prescribed fires are conducted under specific weather conditions and designed to accomplish pre-determined forest management goals. Monongahela National Forest follows strict guidelines for conducting prescribed burns, and takes into consideration environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, and wind. If any environmental conditions are not within limits, the burns will be postponed.

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Louisiana Tech starting QB J’Mar Smith suspended for Marshall game

— By Bill Cornwell

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Louisiana Tech won’t be close to at full strength tonight for its important Conference USA matchup at Marshall.

The Bulldogs’ athletic department confirmed through a statement late Thursday that senior starting quarterback J’Mar Smith, junior wide receiver Adrian Hardy and senior linebacker James Jackson are suspended due to an athletic department policy violation.

The statement said that Smith and Hardy will also sit out next week’s game against UAB, while Jackson’s suspension is for one game.

Tech’s updated depth chart shows that redshirt freshman Aaron Allen will start at quarterback in place of Smith, while graduate transfer Malik Stanley will fill Hardy’s X-receiver spot.

Allen has thrown nine passes in four games for 114 yards and a touchdown along with an interception this season. He steps in for the experienced Smith, who leads the 17th ranked offense in college football, having recorded 2,483 passing yards and 14 touchdowns against four interceptions this season.

Tech has won eight straight games after dropping its season opener to Texas, while Marshall is on a four-game win streak.

The winner of tonight’s game controls its destinty to host the Conference USA title game on Dec. 7.

With news of the suspensions, Marshall is a 6-7 point favorite, up a few points from what it was earlier in the week.

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