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The Voice of West Virginia

Make-A-Wish grants Huntington girl’s wish for 16th birthday cruise

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A Cabell County teenager will get her wish to celebrate her 16th birthday on a Caribbean cruise with her family this summer.

Hannah, a Huntington girl who has cancer, is one of the young people in the Mountain State who will benefit from a $7,500 grant courtesy of the Trusted Choice Independent Insurance Agents of West Virginia for Make-A-Wish Greater Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

“I am so incredibly grateful for your generosity that you’ve shown all of us kids,” Hannah said via video during a Tuesday check presentation at the state Culture Center in Charleston.

Make-A-Wish works to fulfill the wishes of children with life-threatening conditions.

“We could not do this work without donors such as Trusted Choice and others in the community who support us,” said Jo Beth Smith, southern West Virginia regional manager for Make-A-Wish Greater Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

“It allows us to spend time working on the wish and thinking about positive things that we can do with the family

The $7,500 grant is part of a national commitment Trusted Choice Independent Insurance Agents of West Virginia makes to support local Make-A-Wish chapters each year.

“We have a remarkable opportunity to give back to children who are in need who are in our area,” said Terri Dodrill, president of IIAWV.

“What you can see in any child’s face or their eyes or their family, to have that kind of opportunity when all likelihood is they’ve had a pretty tough road before they get to a presentation like this, it is joyous.”

At any given time, between 550 and 650 wishes are pending with Make-A-Wish Greater Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

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Life sentence handed down for Mercer County murder and decapitation

MERCER COUNTY, W.Va. — The prosecuting attorney in Mercer County is looking to West Virginia’s Legislature to increase penalties for meth distribution as a way to possible stem, what George Sitler calls, a meth epidemic that continues in southern West Virginia.

“There’s no question that this insidious drug is causing violent and unpredictable behavior,” Sitler told MetroNews on Tuesday, a day after a Virginia woman was sentenced in Mercer County Circuit Court to life in prison with no chance at parole for a 2018 murder in Lerona.

Roena Mills

Monday’s sentencing for Roena Mills, 43, of Rural Retreat, Va., followed her conviction in December on a charge of first-degree murder with no recommendation for mercy for the death of Bo White, 29.

“Ms. Mills has never shown any remorse or any regret,” Sitler said.

“This was a horrible crime and the mother of the victim has been present throughout this whole ordeal and was as satisfied as she could be by the result.”

Mills was fueled by meth, Sitler claimed, when she went to White’s home in Lerona on Easter Sunday seeking drugs and money.

At the time, she was in a long-term relationship with White’s father, Jimmy, but also was involved with Bo White, according to trial testimony.

“There was evidence introduced that indicated that she had abused methamphetamine on her way there,” Sitler said.

“So while this would have been a run-of-the-mill drug robbery or drug dispute in most situations, she was unhinged by the drug and that’s what resulted in the brutal slaying and decapitation of this young man.”

White’s body was found on Apr. 1, 2018.

George Sitler

His head was later located in a wooded area about a quarter of a mile from his home.

“She (Mills) was raving when she was apprehended that she needed to finish her job and that the police needed to take her back and let her get her heads. There’s no evidence that more than one head was involved, but she was obviously out of her mind,” Sitler said.

Mills could opt to appeal.

“This is another example of the horrible behavior that methamphetamine abuse can cause,” Sitler said of the case.

He has been backing legislation, set to be introduced during the 2020 Session, that would raise sentences for meth distribution from the current one to five years to a possible three to 15 years.

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Separate accidents claim 2 lives in Kanawha County

BIG CHIMNEY, W.Va. — Two men were killed in separate traffic collisions Monday night in Kanawha County.

Authorities said Charles Keith Asbury, 37 of Charleston, was killed in a two-vehicle crash on Interstate 79 south that happened at around 6:30 p.m. Kanawha County deputies said it appears Asbury was watching videos on his phone when he ran his car into a flat-bed tractor trailer traveling in the same direction. The truck driver was not injured.

Southbound traffic had to be detoured between Big Chimney and Mink Shoals for a few hours while an investigation took place.

The Kanawha County Sheriff’s Department is investigating the death of a pedestrian that occurred at around 9 p.m. Monday on U.S. Route 119 in the Clendenin area.

A driver of a jeep says Warren “Wyatt” Young, 20, of Elkview was walking with his back toward traffic at around 9 p.m.near Arbuckle Road when he hit him. The driver says he couldn’t avoid the collision. Young was pronounced dead at the scene.

A county ambulance crew told deputies it passed through the area just minutes earlier and almost hit Young.

Deputies have filed no charges at this time. An autopsy has been ordered.



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MetroNews This Morning 1-28-20

A Virginia woman who decapitated a man in Mercer County gets life in prison, no trial date and little common ground after a court hearing on a suit against opioid distributors, misdemeanor charges against Marion County Delegate Mike Caputo are dismissed, plans are solidified to move ahead with a flood wall for Milton, and in Sports the Mountaineers climb in the national polls. Those stories and more in today’s edition.

Listen to “MetroNews This Morning 1-28-20” on Spreaker.

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Customers’ growing frustrations with Frontier Communications

The West Virginia Public Service Commission has a thick file on Frontier Communications.

The PSC, which regulates public utilities in the state, received nearly 2,000 complaints about Frontier just last year. The customers were upset about the quality of phone and internet service from Frontier.*

West Virginia customers are not alone. An investigation by the Minnesota Department of Commerce in 2018 found that Frontier “failed to provide adequate, reliable phone service to Minnesota customers.”  Last Month, Minnesota announced another investigation into Frontier’s “billing and customer service practices.”

The New York Public Service Commission determined last year that “several Frontier Communications subsidiaries have significant service-quality problems, including escalating complaint rates, lengthy repair durations, and localized reliability issues.”

There’s even a website——where angry customers vent and exchange horror stories about the service.

The company is in deep financial trouble, with $16.3 billion long-term debt and $356 million in debt payments due March 15.  Bloomberg reported recently that Frontier is “asking creditors to help craft a turnaround deal that includes filing for bankruptcy by the middle of March.”

Frontier released a cryptic statement about its financial condition.  “Frontier’s business and operations are solid and serving our customers remains our top priority.  As we have said publicly, Frontier is evaluating its capital structure with an eye to reducing debt so as to be able to better serve our customers.”

West Virginia PSC Chair Charlotte Lane told me on Talkline last week that the agency is on top of the issue.  Last year, it ordered a management audit after repeated service complaints.  That audit is scheduled to be finished by March 19.

Lane said the agency will use the audit to determine a way forward to improve service for Frontier’s 300,000 customers in the state.  “I think we have a lot of power and we will exercise it,” she said.

Analysts believe Frontier over expanded over the last decade, spending $10 billion in cable and broadband just as customers were starting to cut the cord.  Additionally, Frontier’s purchases included some aging wired and rural networks, such as the Verizon system in West Virginia.

However, Frontier knew what it was getting into when it moved into West Virginia and the company made a commitment to quality service.  The landlines remain vital in West Virginia because many parts of the state do not have reliable cell service.

West Virginia customers don’t care much about debt restructuring by their communications company.  All they want is what they are paying for—reliable service.  The responsibility rests with the PSC to ensure that happens.

*(The West Virginia PSC does not regulate internet service.  The agency forwards those complaints to the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office.)

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Business owners sentenced to prison after failing to pay taxes

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Two West Virginia business owners were sentenced to multiple months in prison each on Monday after failing to pay employment and income taxes.

Russell and Karen Rucker operated Rucker, Billups and Fowler Inc., an insurance agency based in Huntington. Rusell Rucker served as president since late 2013, and Karen Rucker was the financial officer.

The Ruckers failed to pay $143,226 in payroll taxes from wages, diverting funds for their benefit. When facing pressure from the IRS, the Ruckers deposited the money into the bank account of another person. The couple also attempted to evade IRS levies by using a series of bank accounts undisclosed to the IRS.

The Ruckers also sought to not pay Russell Rucker’s individual income taxes for 2001, 2002 and 2005. The loss to the IRS is at least $250,000.

Russell Rucker was sentenced to 18 months in prison, and Karen Rucker sentenced to six months in prison.

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North Carolina doctor admits to role in drug operation

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A North Carolina doctor admitted to authorities Monday to traveling to West Virginia to take part in a racketeering operation.

Dr. Roswell Tempest Lowry, 85, began working at the Charleston HOPE Clinic after learning about the position in May 2014. The HOPE Clinic was a facility that aimed to address chronic pain through medications.

Lowry did not have any experience in pain management. During this time, Lowry traveled from North Carolina to West Virginia and stayed at a hotel while working.

Lowry admitted customers’ files were not being properly kept and lacked relevant medical information. Most customers paid with cash, with many patients from outside of the state.

For his work, Lowry received hourly pay and a bonus based on paying customers.

Lowry faces up to five years in prison. His sentencing date is May 4.

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Multiple groups push for criminal justice changes

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Multiple advocacy groups have come together in asking West Virginia lawmakers to make changes with the state’s criminal justice system.

Representatives of the groups on Monday urged lawmakers to tackle multiple issues connected to a problem facing the state’s jails and prison: overcapacity.

“We’re talking about folks that have paid their debt. They’ve paid their debt to society,” said Jason Huffman, state director for Americans for Prosperity.

“The fact of the matter is the folks that end up incarcerated are going to be released one day. It’s in everyone’s best interest that these folks come out better than they went in.”

Americans for Prosperity and other organizations are asking state lawmakers to take steps to reduce the state’s prison population, including transitioning to a pretrial system not based on bail fees, utilizing sanctions already on the books and establishing forfeiture reporting procedures.

The coalition notes the state’s correction facilities are at more than 25% overcapacity, and the prison population has increased by 50% since 2000.

“We believe that West Virginia should meet its overcrowding crisis head-on with a comprehensive criminal justice package that protects due process, ensures proportionate punishment, and better supports successful reentry, to reduce the number of individuals who are unnecessarily trapped in the justice system.,” the groups stated in a Jan. 23 letter.

Huffman was joined by leaders of the ACLU of West Virginia, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, American Friends Service Commission, the state chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, the West Virginia Citizen Action Group. Mountain State Justice, the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy, the Catholic Conference of West Virginia and the Office of the Kanawha County Public Defender.

The groups are also requesting to allow individuals to petition for their charges to be expunged as a result of a plea arrangement.

Huffman noted West Virginia already has expungement, but the policy should be broader.

“When people are re-entering society, they are seeking to become active and a contributing member to society,” he said. “We want to see that expungement expanded.”

The groups are also pushing for the expansion of the Fresh Start Act, a federal law allowing people to expunge certain nonviolent offenses from their records.

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Ridgedale Elementary additions opening soon

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Ridgedale Elementary School will soon open a two-story, eight classroom addition, giving the institution much-needed space and allow the next phase of improvements to begin.

During an appearance on WAJR-AM’s “Ask the Educator,” principal Sheri Petitte said the student body has increased from 400 students to more than 500 pupils over the last five years.

“As we continue to add students, it becomes more and more crowded and we have used every space in that building in order to have a classroom,” she said.

Petitte said the new building is attached to the existing structure and will house pre-K and upper elementary grades. Once this portion of the project is complete, they will begin additional work.

“The second part of phase I will take one of our hallways that we have five existing classrooms and renovate those into kindergarten classrooms that meet the state code policy but, most importantly, meet the needs of our students,” she said.

Petitte also noted the drop-off area will be enhanced to improve car and bus traffic.

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Clutch plays lead Wayne past Nitro, 63-59

WAYNE, W.Va. — A transition jumper by Kierstin Stroud with fifteen seconds to play and a defensive stop lifted Wayne to a 63-59 win over Nitro in a compelling Cardinal Conference matchup.

While the game tied at 59, Stroud sprinted down the court and connected on a jumper from the elbow, giving the Pioneers a 61-59 lead. With five seconds left, Nitro’s Baylee Goins, who led all scorers with 25 points, could not connect on a corner 3-pointer which would have given the Wildcats the lead. Wayne grabbed the rebound and made a pair of free throws with under a second remaining to secure the win.

“We did show a lot of composure,” said Wayne head coach Wade Williamson. “We came off a really bad loss the other day where we didn’t show a whole lot of composure. We’ve grown a little bit and have made plays in situations where we didn’t make them in before.”

The first half featured eleven lead changes and neither team led by more than five points. Nitro led 27-26 at halftime. The Pioneers opened the second half on a 12-2 run, giving them their biggest lead of the game at 38-29.

“We were able to hold them to one shot and then we were able to get out and run ourselves,” Williamson said. “We got some transition buckets to start the third quarter.”

The Wildcats however closed the third quarter on a 7-1 run, cutting the deficit to 39-36 at the end of the frame.

Neither team led by more than four points in the fourth quarter. Goins’ 3-pointer with 45 seconds left gave the Wildcats a 59-57 lead. A pair of Wayne free throws evened the score at 59, setting the stage for Stroud’s heroics.

Sara Hooks led Wayne (12-2) with 16 points. Alana Eves added 15 and Jasmine Tabor chipped in with 14.

Goins (10-5) led the Wildcats with 25 points and Brooklyn Bowen added 14.

This win likely gives the Pioneers an inside track on a top two seed in their sectional tournament.

“It is big for us to maybe get a couple of home playoff games. We still have a lot of work to do. There’s still a whole month of games left.”

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