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MetroNews This Morning 12-4-20

Funeral arrangements are being made for a Charleston Police Officer who has now died after she was shot in the line of duty earlier this week. The man accused of shooting her also suffered two gunshot wounds to the torso and remains hospitalized. A child dies in a Monongalia County house fire and an arrest is made in a hit and run in McDowell County which left a child dead. The latest Covid numbers and another delay in the Opioid Trial in Huntington against several major drug makers. In Sports, both Marshall and WVU will return to the gridiron this weekend. Those stories and more in today’s MetroNews This Morning podcast.

Listen to “MetroNews This Morning 12-4-20” on Spreaker.

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Arrest made in deadly McDowell County hit-and-run

MCDOWELL COUNTY, W.Va. — A McDowell County woman was facing multiple charges in connection with the death of a two-year-old child who died after being hit by a vehicle in McDowell County on Thanksgiving.

Angel Alberta Estep

Deputies with the McDowell County Sheriff’s Department arrested Angel Alberta Estep, 37, of War, following a search for the vehicle involved.

Estep was arraigned this week on alleged criminal counts of negligent homicide, crash involving death, failure to render aid, failure to provide immediate crash notification and failure to maintain control, according to investigators.

Bond for Estep was set at $100,000.

The child was hit around 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 26 in the Three Forks area near Bradshaw.

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Child killed in Monongalia County fire

MONONGALIA COUNTY, W.Va. — A Thursday morning house fire in western Monongalia County claimed the life of a two-year-old girl.

The Dominion Post reported the girl’s parents and her four-year-old brother, were able to make it out of the burning home on Days Run Road.

The fire was reported before 11 a.m.

Officials with the State Fire Marshal’s Office were leading the investigation into the fire cause.

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The High Risk Along The Thin Blue Line

Tuesday afternoon, Charleston Police Department patrolman Officer Cassie Johnson responded to a parking complaint on Garrison Avenue.

That sounds mundane.  Somebody is illegally parked.  There is a complaint. An officer shows up and asks the person to move their car, maybe issues them a ticket.

How many times does that happen every day in Charleston, in every city and county across the country?

Routine stuff, right?  Until it is not routine.

Tuesday’s call led to a confrontation between Patrolman Johnson and Joshua Phillips. There was a scuffle.  Kanawha County Sheriff Mike Rutherford said on Talkline Thursday, “We’re still studying the evidence and collecting everything, but it appears—right now—that he (Phillips) definitely pulled the weapon that he had prior to the officer.”

Both fired their weapons.  Phillips was struck twice, but he is expected to survive. Patrolman Johnson will not.

Her wounds were so severe that after surgery she was taken off life support and her wishes to be an organ donor were being carried out. She has now passed away.

“Her family still needs your prayers,” said Charleston Mayor Amy Goodwin.  “Officer Cassie Johnson is going to leave an amazing legacy for every woman in this city. We love Cassie. We love her family.”

By all accounts, Johnson loved her job.  The Charleston native said when she joined the force in 2019, “I’ve been working extremely hard over the last year to get ready for it.  I am really happy to finally get to follow my dreams of working with the Charleston PD,” she told MetroNews affiliate WCHS-AM at the time.

Charleston Police Chief Tyke Hunt said of Johnson, “She worked hard. She did everything right… she was doing a fantastic job.”

This has not been an easy year for the police in this country. The excesses of a few officers have caused a backlash against the police. Some on the far left are even advocating that police departments be “defunded,” as if we could somehow maintain a civil society without the “thin blue line.”

When an officer is assaulted in the line of duty, it is an assault on all of us because the police are our representatives responsible for the enforcement of our laws to help maintain order and protect us.

Patrolman Johnson’s murder is a graphic and tragic reminder that police work is dangerous, and sometimes life threatening. Officers must always remain vigilant whenever they are called, even in the case of a simple parking complaint.

 

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Marshall University hosting US surgeon general for presentation

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Marshall University on Friday will host U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams for a virtual presentation.

The Dr. Carter G. Woodson Lyceum invited Adams to speak in February as part of a series of Black History Month events, but Adams could not attend because of flight problems.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)

Adams’ presentation will happen as West Virginia and the country deal with rising coronavirus numbers; the state Department of Health and Human Resources on Thursday reported 17,428 active cases, with 1,120 cases received since Wednesday morning. The department also reported 789 deaths as well as new records for hospitalizations, intensive care cases and ventilator use.

“During this virtual visit, academic leaders will present a number of public health topics which will provoke interesting discussions with the surgeon general,” said Dr. Joseph Shapiro, dean of the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.

Shapiro will also moderate a panel about health-related issues facing the region and state.

The presentation will be open to all participates and available at https://tinyurl.com/y48dkmdo.

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Undefeated Herd welcomes Rice to the Joan

By Bill Cornwell

For the second time this season, the Marshall Football has an extended rest. 

Last week was already a scheduled off-week for Marshall (15th-ranked in the Associated Press and Coaches polls and 21st in the CFP Poll) due to Old Dominion’s decision to not play football this fall. The Herd (7-0, 4-0) also lost a November 21st  home game with Charlotte due to Covid-19 issues with the 49ers program.

Rice (1-2, 1-2) comes to Huntington this weekend to face the Herd in game which kicks off at noon and will be shown on ESPN+

The Owls were originally scheduled to be in Huntington in early October, but Covid-19 issues in the Houston, Texas area caused Rice to shut down football practices during September. 

So far this season, Rice has beaten Southern Miss (30-6) and lost to Middle Tennessee (40-34 in overtime) and North Texas (27-17).  Games in November against UTSA and Louisiana Tech were postponed and a contest set for last week at home against UTEP was cancelled after a Covid-19 outbreak in the Miners program.

This will be the 8th meeting between the Herd and Owls and Marshall leads the all-time series 5-2, including a 3-0 mark in Huntington. Marshall beat the Owls in Houston last year by a 20-7 score.

Mike Bloomgren is in his third season as Rice’s head coach and he has a 6-22 record.  

Players to watch for Rice include graduate quarterback Mike Collins, who has thrown for 802 yards and 10 touchdowns in his first 3 games for the Owls. Collins began his career at TCU. His top target is senior receiver Austin Trammell, who has six scoring grabs this year.

Defensively, Marshall will pay attention to hard-hitting Owls senior linebacker Blaze Aldridge, who had an 11-tackle game in the North Texas loss. 

As for Marshall, Head Coach Doc Holliday is proud of the way his squad has avoided the Covid-19 troubles experienced by other programs. Marshall actually kept practicing last week, even though the team didn’t have a Thanksgiving week game.

Holliday thinks that togetherness has promoted good health.

“Teams that sent their kids home for Thanksgiving have had problems,” Holliday said. “Our kids  understood they couldn’t do that or we would have had problems as well.

“That being said, they deserve a lot of credit. They deserve all the credit in the world and we’ve done something with them just about every day that we possibly could to try to keep them around us.”

Notes–Rice’s last win in the Marshall came in the 2013 Conference-USA Championship game, won by Rice by a 41-24 score. Marshall would win the league title the next year….the honors keep coming for Marshall redshirt freshman quarterback Grant Wells, as he has been named to the Davey O’Brien Award Quarterback Class of 2020. He is one of 35 players who have a chance to win the O’Brien Award, given annually to College Football’s top quarterback. Wells has completed 65.6% of his passes (126 of 192) for 1,674 yards, 16 touchdowns and four interceptions…Conference USA could possibly give Marshall another home game next week if the league decides to scrap the Herd’s scheduled December 11th game at FIU, instead sending Charlotte to play in Huntington on that same night. A decision on a possible game switch won’t come until this Saturday, according to C-USA officials.

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Trump honors West Virginia native Holtz with Presidential Medal of Freedom

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — President Donald Trump on Thursday honored former college football coach Lou Holtz with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Holtz was born in Follansbee, West Virginia, and won the 1988 national championship with the University of Notre Dame. Holtz also coached at the College of William & Mary, North Carolina State University, the University of Arkansas, the University of Minnesota and the University of South Carolina. He also coached the New York Jets for 13 games in 1976.

Holtz is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and served in the U.S. Army Reserves.

“He’s one of the greatest titans in American football history. And his towering reputation will endure forever in the chronicles of athletics, but more importantly, in the chronicles of life — because he’s really a life teacher,” Trump said. “He’s a life teacher. He teaches people how to live and how to live properly, and how to live with dignity.”

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the nation’s highest honor for civilians.

Holtz has been vocal about his support for Trump; he spoke during this year’s Republican National Convention, calling Joe Biden a “Catholic in name only.” Biden, who is now the president-elect, is a practicing Catholic.

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WVU women roll in home opener, 80-51 over North Alabama

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia used a 15-0 third quarter run and a dominant effort on the glass to defeat North Alabama, 80-51 Thursday in the home opener for the Mountaineers.

West Virginia started slow, falling behind 12-8 midway through the first quarter. The Mountaineers closed the frame on a 10-1 run to take a 20-13 lead at the end of one.

West Virginia used a 10-0 run to take a 30-16 lead midway through the second quarter and kept the double digit lead the rest of the way. The Mountaineers led 56-35 at halftime and kept the lead above 20 points for most of the second half.

“It was sloppy,” said WVU head coach Mike Carey. “I hate these kinds of games. We came in here and weren’t executing.”

Kysre Gondrezick led the Mountaineers with 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the floor. Esmery Martinez dominated on both ends of the floor, scoring 17 points and grabbing 22 rebounds.

“I loved her presence,” Gondrezick said of Martinez’s effort. “That was a phenomenal effort. Es and all of us need to be aggressive on the boards. So the fact that she led us in the interior, I am really happy about that.”

Esmery Martinez scored 17 points and grabbed 22 rebounds (Photo courtesy of WVU Athletics)

“She gets to the ball,” Carey said. “Your great rebounders, like she is, move when the ball is in the air. They anticipate a rebound. They don’t wait until the ball comes off the rim to move.”

After going scoreless in the first half due to foul trouble, Kari Niblack scored 9 points in the second half.

“We just need her to get going and get some confidence right now,” Carey said. “She didn’t play well in Vegas, got in foul trouble in the first game in Vegas. In the second game she played extremely well. She started slow and picked it up in the second half but we need Kari to play a full game if we are going to compete because Kari is a veteran and understands how we want to play the game.”

WVU’s Kari Niblack battles for a loose ball (Photo courtesy of WVU Athletics)

Madisen Smith had 8 points and dished out 8 assists. West Virginia out rebounded the Lions 61-24.

The game was played in front of family members of staff and players. The general public will not be able to attend any men’s or women’s games at the Coliseum until January at the earliest.

“I thought we had more energy in Vegas,” Carey said. “I thought the players were into it a lot more. I don’t know why, I hope this isn’t the type of team that comes out and they don’t think they are a good team and they just play down to their level. I hope that is not the case and I will make sure it is not.”

Mike Carey collected his 701st career victory. The Mountaineers (3-0) return home to host Tennessee Sunday at 2 p.m. in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.

“We can’t play any worse than we did today. We’ll play a lot better against Tennessee and we won’t take Tennessee for granted like we did today.”

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Charleston police officer dies following Tuesday shooting

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A Charleston police officer shot while responding to a parking complaint earlier this week has died, city leaders announced Thursday.

Patrolman Cassie Johnson, 28, was critically injured during an altercation on Garrison Avenue on Tuesday. She was removed from life support the following day.

Johnson joined the police department in January 2019. The Charleston native worked as a humane officer before becoming a police officer.

“All of us at the Charleston Police Department are humbled by Patrolman Cassie Johnson’s selfless service to our profession,” Police Chief Tyke Hunt said outside of Charleston Area Medical Center General Hospital. “She epitomizes the law enforcement mantra: here to protect and serve.”

Hunt announced earlier Thursday that Johnson’s unit number — 146 — will be retired on the police department’s roster. Officers will be allowed to wear pins of the number in honor of Johnson.

Patrolman Cassie Johnson (File)

Charleston Mayor Amy Goodwin ordered all city flags to be flown at half-staff. The flags will remain lowered until the funeral is held.

“To say that we are heartbroken is an understatement,” the mayor said. “We are at a loss because we have lost one of our sisters in blue.”

Hunt noted Johnson’s service to others will continue; she registered as an organ donor.

“We may never know who receives Patrolman Cassie Johnson’s final gifts, but I feel certain that those who know the recipients will see a difference in them,” he said. “I think they will see Cassie’s glow that radiates compassion and her desire to help.”

Hunt added details about the funeral service will be announced at a later time, but it will take place at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center.

The Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office, which is leading the shooting investigation, named 38-year-old Joshua Marcellus Phillips, of Charleston, as a suspect. Sheriff Mike Rutherford said on Thursday’s “MetroNews Talkline” it appears Phillips pulled a weapon before Johnson.

“You could tell that they were in a discussion, a brief scuffle occurred, a little bit more discussion, then another situation occurred where it became much more violent, obviously,” he said. “Both of the individuals were shot.”

Hunt said medical staff continue to perform surgeries on Phillips.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., offered his condolences to Johnson and her family shortly after the announcement.

“I know our entire home state feels the loss of a first responder – those who are selflessly willing to put themselves in harm’s way to protect and serve our communities,” he said in a statement. “Cassie’s legacy and service will never be forgotten.”

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., also extended her thoughts.

“So sad to hear about the loss of one of our finest, Officer Cassie Johnson. Officer Johnson answered the call, cared for us, and protected us. I hope we all take a minute to remember that police put their lives on the line every day for the safety of our communities,” she tweeted. “It’s a hard job that is rarely appreciated enough. Thank you, Officer Johnson. Our hearts go out to her family and her fellow officers tonight.”

Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., also shared his condolences on Twitter. Charleston is part of the 2nd Congressional District, which Mooney represents.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said Johnson embodied what it means to be a police officer.

“We owe Officer Johnson a tremendous debt of gratitude as her passing reminds us that, with even the most seemingly routine calls, police officers risk their lives every day to serve and protect each of us,” he said in a statement.

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Major opioid trial is paused again because of pandemic, but with possibility of starting remotely

A federal judge has again put a major opioid trial on hold because of the raging spread of coronavirus but wants guidance on how limited aspects of the proceedings could start remotely — “without receiving live testimony by remote means.”

Today made the second time U.S. District Judge David Faber has agreed to push the trial back, although today’s order leaves the trial date “until further order of the court.”

Lawyers for the plaintiffs, Cabell County and the City of Huntington, expressed support of the judge’s willingness to consider alternate means to get the trial going.

“COVID-19 is ravaging our country, and so is the opioid crisis. Both require resources and dedication now to help those in need. While a traditional trial may not be possible, progress can still be made and the facts behind the roles of the distributors in the opioid epidemic revealed. We will work with the court in every way possible to continue pushing the litigation ahead for the sake of suffering communities nationwide,” the lawyers stated.

The trial to determine how wholesalers McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen should be accountable for the costs of opioid addiction in West Virginia communities originally was scheduled to start Oct. 19. The companies deny wrongdoing.

In October, Faber issued an order pushing the trial date to Jan. 4, 2021.

Then on Nov. 30, lawyers for the drug wholesalers requested another delay because there’s no sign the spread of covid-19 would ease by then.

“Since Oct. 9, when the Court continued the previously set October trial date, the covid-19 pandemic — the reason for the continuance — has exploded, entering a new and tragic phase in West Virginia and around the country,” wrote the lawyers for the drug companies.

The companies made clear they are not asking for the case to stop altogether because of covid.

“But, while court business should not stop altogether because of the pandemic, nor can it continue as usual,” they wrote. “These are extraordinary times that call for the court and parties to act as responsibly as possible to avoid contributing unnecessarily to the pandemic.”

Citing the near availability of vaccines to hold the virus at bay, the companies proposed an April 19 trial date.

Faber took a wait-and-see approach but set pretrial conference dates for Jan. 6 and Feb. 3.

The plaintiffs include the Cabell County Commission and City of Huntington, which contend the companies compounded the drug crisis by saturating the region with shipments of prescription painkillers.

The case was part of a group of similar cases being considered in federal court in Cleveland but was released back to U.S. District Court in West Virginia’s Southern District late last year.

On behalf of the communities, the Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee in the National Prescription Opiate Litigation said citizens are dealing with not one but two health crises — the covid pandemic and the opioid epidemic.

Lawyers for Huntington and Cabell County agreed that the rapid rise of covid cases is alarming and could still intensify.

“But it is also undisputed that the opioid crisis continues unabated at the same time,” wrote lawyers for the plaintiffs, contending the opioid crisis and the covid pandemic are intersecting with each other to create unprecedented challenges.

To maintain trial progress, lawyers for the communities proposed embracing streaming technology such as videoconferencing. The lawyers proposed conducting pretrial conferences and even opening trial statements this way. Opening weeks of the trial could also include submission of deposition testimony and other non-testimonial evidence.

Because it’s a bench trial, rather than involving a jury, the plaintiffs suggested the trial could be conducted in phases and adjust to circumstance.

“The seriousness of the ongoing opioid crisis, which as noted above has only been magnified by covid justifies taking an alternative approach that both acknowledges the public health considerations presented by the pandemic while also getting the trial process underway,
so the Plaintiffs have an opportunity to have their cases decided,” wrote lawyers for the communities.

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