In West Virginia….

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►  WVU experimental rocketry tearing for test flight

West Virginia University’s experimental rocketry team is planning a test next month on its 12-foot fiberglass rocket leading up to international competition later this year.

The team will travel to Maryland in April for the first test flight at a Tripoli Rocketry Association event. So far, the team has used simulations to gauge the rocket’s mechanics, and the test flight will provide an opportunity to make any needed adjustments.

The team is preparing for competition at Spaceport America Cup near Las Cruces, New Mexico, in June. More than 110 teams from colleges and universities in 11 countries are expected.

The West Virginia University team’s rocket is designed to carry 8.8 pounds of payload 10,000 feet into the sky.

►  New River Gorge National River Prescribed Fire Planned

A New River Gorge National River official says a prescribed fire is planned for Friday.

The burn is to occur in an oak woodland area in the Grandview area of the park.

The park has planned several prescribed fires through the end of May, ranging in size from 4 to 45 acres, and totaling about 95 acres.

Prescribed fires allow fire managers to conduct a safe burn under optimal conditions and with resources available in order to decrease risks from wildland fire to life, property and resources. The fires also allow managers to restore ecological processes and meet resource management goals.

Updated information on facility or trail closures and fire activity will be posted on the park’s social media sites.

►  Coal Slurry Spills into Crooked Run in Boone County

According to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP), an Imminent Harm Cessation Order remains in effect at the Admiral Processing operation near Peytona, WV in Boone County. This follows the announcement that a coal slurry leak was reported there March 23. Admiral Processing is an affiliate of Alpha Natural Resources.

Jake Glance, Public Information Officer with the WVDEP, says all the outfalls, or the water leaving the processing facility, have been stopped. “Stockpiled coal is being moved out of the area to facilitate site clean up,” Glance said in a press release Friday. “Water containing coal slurry is being pumped from containment ponds to slurry ponds.”

Inspectors with the WVDEP’s Division of Mining and Reclamation (DMR) believe the slurry leaked from a hole ½ inch wide in a 90 degree elbow joint in a pipe and the hole had a maximum flow of 30 gallons per minute. The slurry leaked for approximately three hours. The amount of coal slurry leaked into a containment pond and then into Crooked Run is still uncertain.

DEP inspectors say the facility had an alarm system on the site that was to alert them if pressure significantly dropped in the pipe, indicating leaking slurry. But it appears the amount that was leaking was not large enough to trigger the alarm.

Crooked Run flows into Drawdy Creek, which in turn flows into the Coal River. A full chemical and biological assessment is being conducted on Drawdy Creek. Additional enforcement action against Admiral Processing is possible pending the result of the biological assessment.

DEP inspectors are also investigating a report of a second coal slurry leak at the site at approximately 5:45 p.m., when contaminated water was being pumped out of Crooked Run. A pump backfilled because of a valve fail, causing a second release. The amount of coal slurry leaked in the second incident is under investigation.

The nearest public water system is Lincoln County PSD, which has an intake approximately 17 miles downstream on the Coal River. St. Albans also has an intake on the Coal River, approximately 35 miles downstream. The West Virginia Bureau for Public Health (BPH) continues to coordinate with the water utilities.

►  Justices End Kanawha County Domestic Violence Court Program

The West Virginia Supreme Court has disbanded Kanawha County’s domestic violence court program, which had been put in place more than five years ago as a way to monitor the cases more closely.

Gary Johnson, the Supreme Court’s administrative director said the decision came Wednesday after officials received complaints about the county’s program, which was launched in 2012.

Johnson declined to comment further on the complaints, which had been referred to the Judicial Investigation Commission.

Under the streamlined program, Kanawha Magistrate Julie Yeager handled all of the county’s domestic violence cases. Those cases will be distributed among Kanawha County’s 10 magistrates.

Yeager says she thought the program was successful and was unaware of any complaints.


The Free Press WV

  • Conservatives hope to overrule Senate parliamentarian:  “Some Republicans are arguing that Vice President Mike Pence, serving as the president of the Senate, should disregard the advice of the Senate parliamentarian and allow provisions to repeal more of the mandates of the 2010 health care law [to be included in reconciliation.] … [But t]here does not appear to be much appetite among Senate Republicans for overruling the parliamentarian on a matter of law…”  Roll Call

  • Some Dems ponder deal:    “A group of Senate Democrats is beginning to explore trying to extract concessions from Republicans in return for allowing Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch to be confirmed … [One idea would] allow confirmation of Gorsuch in exchange for a commitment from Republicans not to kill the filibuster for a subsequent vacancy during President Donald Trump’s term … The current talks are limited to about a half-dozen Democratic lawmakers. They haven’t made an offer to Republicans yet, and Democratic leaders wouldn’t support one.”    Politico

  • Trump had a private dinner with Mark Halperin last week:  “The dinner, which took place in the White House residence, came as Halperin and his co-author John Heilemann are at work on a book about Trump and the 2016 campaign. The sources also said [Trump] has given senior advisers the go-ahead to speak with Halperin for the book, a move that indicates how much Trump has come to trust the ‘Game Change’ co-author and former ABC News and Time Magazine reporter. Outside the White House, Halperin’s level of access has already raised eyebrows among political reporters who believe he is too cozy with the president.”    CNNMoney

  • ‘Hello, Bob’: Trump called a Washington Post reporter to say the health-care bill was dead. This is what he said.  “So, we just pulled it,” the president, calling from a blocked number in the Oval Office, began his conversation with The Post’s Robert Costa.    Trump was speaking, of course, of the Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, which had been languishing for days amid unrest throughout the party as the president and his allies courted members and pushed for a vote.  Before Costa could ask a question, Trump began explaining why the bill had been called off.    THE WASHINGTON POST

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In USA….

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►  Ex-Penn State President Guilty in Sandusky Scandal

Former Penn State president Graham Spanier was convicted Friday of hushing up suspected child sex abuse in 2001 by Jerry Sandusky, whose arrest a decade later blew up into a major scandal for the university and led to the firing of beloved football coach Joe Paterno. Jurors found Spanier guilty of one count of child endangerment over his handling of a complaint against the retired assistant football coach but found him not guilty of conspiracy and a second child endangerment count, the AP reports. Spanier showed no emotion when the verdict was read after 13 hours of deliberations. The trial centered on how Spanier, 68, and two other university leaders handled a complaint by then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary, who reported seeing Sandusky sexually molesting a boy in a team shower in 2001. They told Sandusky he could not bring children onto the campus anymore but did not report the matter to police or child welfare authorities.

Sandusky was not arrested until 2011 after an anonymous tip led prosecutors to investigate the shower incident. He was convicted the next year of sexually abusing 10 boys and is serving a decades-long prison sentence. Four of the eight young men testifying at Sandusky’s trial said they were abused after 2001. “Evil in the form of Jerry Sandusky was allowed to run wild,“ Deputy Attorney General Patrick Schulte told the jury. Two of Spanier’s former lieutenants, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor child endangerment charges a week ago and testified against Spanier. But all three denied they were told the encounter in the shower was sexual in nature. Schultz and Curley testified they never told Spanier that the incident reported in the shower was sexual, rather calling it “horseplay.“ But McQueary contradicted them, testifying he did say it was sexual.

►  Suspect in Wisconsin Shooting Spree Identified

A northern Wisconsin man struggling with debt allegedly killed his wife’s divorce lawyer during a shooting spree that left three other people dead, including a police detective. Court records show 45-year-old Nengmy Vang initiated divorce proceedings in 2015 against his wife, Naly Vang. The couple was scheduled for a final pre-trial conference next month. Naly Vang wasn’t hurt in the shooting, and it’s unclear whether the two even encountered each other during the rampage. The records show she lives at the family’s home in Weston while Vang resides in the apartment where police eventually captured him. The Wausau Daily Herald reported Nengmy Vang was allowed to take four guns with him when he moved out of the family residence. The records also show Nengmy has a long history of financial problems.

Investigators have said the shootings followed a domestic dispute between the couple, but they’ve released no details about what may have happened between them. Nengmy Vang went to a Rothschild bank around midday on Wednesday, where he allegedly shot and killed workers Dianne Look and Karen Barclay. He then traveled to nearby Schofield and killed 43-year-old attorney Sarah Quirt Sann at her office. Sann represented Naly Vang in the divorce case, the AP reports. He then fled to his apartment in Weston and barricaded himself inside. As police were setting up a perimeter around the apartment he shot and killed Jason Weiland, a 40-year-old Everest Metro Police Department detective, according to authorities. Police eventually shot and wounded Vang and took him into custody. Investigators have not said why he opened fire at the bank.

►  Man Possibly Coerced Into Murder Confession Freed

An Idaho man who experts say was coerced into a false murder confession is now free after spending half of his life behind bars, the AP reports. An eastern Idaho judge released Christopher Tapp on Wednesday after vacating his rape conviction and resentencing him to time served for the 1996 murder of Angie Dodd. The release came after years of work by advocates including Judges for Justice, the Idaho Innocence Project, and the victim’s mother, Carol Dodge.

Angie Dodge was 18 and living in an Idaho Falls apartment on June 13, 1996, when she was sexually assaulted and murdered at her home. Tapp was a 20-year-old high school dropout at the time, and was interrogated for hours and subjected to multiple lie detector tests by police. He eventually confessed, but DNA evidence taken from the scene didn’t match Tapp or any of the other suspects in the case.

►  Man to Pay $20K Fine After ‘Unconscionably Stupid’ Stunt

In July 2015, a young man in Canada decided it was time to promote his cleaning company and hatched a plan: Tie $10,000 worth of industrial-sized balloons (around 100 in all) to a lawn chair with an advertising banner hanging from it, take off, and then leap from the chair with a parachute strapped to his back, landing in the Calgary Stampede chuckwagon races. That’s not exactly how it went. Daniel Boria was forced to bail early in bad weather and landed elsewhere—and was arrested for his trouble, reports the CBC. After pleading guilty to dangerous operation of an aircraft in December, he was on Friday sentenced to pay about $20,000, which includes a fine, victim impact fee, and donation. Provincial court Judge Bruce Fraser called the stunt “unconscionably stupid,“ adding that “there is no precedent for so foolish an escapade.“

Fraser said the lawn chair made it up to an estimated 14,000 feet, into the flight paths of commercial airplanes. (“I saw a WestJet flight go right below me,“ he says in this video, which notes he flew for about an hour and traveled at least 6 miles.) Boria has apologized for the danger he caused but insists he has no regrets, reports the Canadian Press. The Star noted in 2015 that he broke his ankle when he separated himself from his balloon contraption and crash-landed; the lawn chair ended up landing in a farmer’s field. Outside court, Boria, now nicknamed “balloonatic,“ told reporters: “Why climb the highest mountain? Why 85 years ago fly the Atlantic? Why do the Oilers play the Flames? I chose to fly a chair; not because it is easy but because it is hard.“

►  3-Year-Old Twins Drown as Father Sleeps

A 3-year-old girl and her twin brother died in what police are calling a “tragic accident” in a Missouri pond after they apparently wandered from home as their father slept. Platte County Undersheriff Maj. Erik Holland said Arrabelle and Elijah Wagner were found Monday in the private pond behind their home near Edgerton, about 30 miles north of Kansas City, the AP reports. When their father awoke and realized they were missing, he called 911 twice. Frantic neighbors called as well, the Kansas City Star reported. Arrabelle was found first. Someone was trying to revive her when emergency crews arrived and rushed her to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

People scoured the house thinking Elijah might have gone inside to fetch help. Meanwhile, divers searched the pond, where he was eventually discovered near a covered dock. He was pronounced dead at the scene. “We don’t have anything at this point that leads us to believe that this was anything other than a tragic accident, but as with all deaths, we’re going to investigate it thoroughly,“ Holland said. Investigators are talking with the children’s father. No information was immediately available about their mother.

►  Missing Teen Reportedly Told Relative to Call Cops

Tad Cummins researched “teen marriage” and how his Nissan Rogue might be tracked by authorities in the days before he allegedly kidnapped 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation says, per the Tennessean. While his Internet search history “might potentially speak to his intentions,“ it also raises “major concerns,“ a rep tells CNN. Adding to the unease is a report suggesting Cummins—who authorities believe fled with two guns—took Elizabeth against her will. Her brother reportedly tells HLN that Elizabeth warned a sibling to call police if she wasn’t home by 6pm on March 13, the day she and Cummins disappeared.

“She didn’t think she was going to be gone that long, I guess, because she did expect to be home by dinner,“ James Thomas says; authorities say they are trying to authenticate the report. According to police, a friend dropped Elizabeth at a restaurant in Columbia, Tenn., on the morning of March 13. She was seen pumping gas in the area around that time but may have been 80 miles south in Decatur, Ala., by that afternoon, authorities add. Despite 650 leads as of Tuesday, there has not been a single verified sighting of Elizabeth since. Cummins, who authorities say took out a $4,500 loan in the days before the pair vanished, has not been sighted either.

►  School Under Fire After ‘Slave Auction’

Parents at a New Jersey school are outraged after white students held a reenactment of a slave auction of a black child during class, the AP reports. A spokesperson for the South Orange Maplewood school district outside New York says the assignment was not authorized by the district. Spokesperson Suzanne Turner says a substitute teacher was in charge of the class at the time. She says the district is looking into training and improved supervisory protocols for substitute teachers.

The mock slave auction happened in the same district where students created posters for slave auctions as part of a curriculum about the colonial era. Superintendent John Ramos said at a board meeting Monday night that there was no intent to be demeaning in either assignment.

►  John Hinckley Is Back Home With Mom—but Is He ‘Better’?

The man who tried to kill Ronald Reagan to impress actress Jodie Foster was released from a mental facility in September after nearly 35 years, and now that he’s home (under rigid limitations) with his nonagenarian mom in Williamsburg, Va., 61-year-old John Hinckley Jr. is trying to rebuild his life, once telling doctors: “I would like to be known as something other than the would-be assassin.“ But in her piece for Daily Intelligencer, Lisa Miller dives into the questions that have haunted those examining Hinckley’s case for years: namely, did Hinckley truly suffer from extreme mental illness or was he simply a narcissistic criminal? And if mental illness was to blame for the 1981 assassination attempt that wounded Reagan and three others (including press secretary James Brady, who died more than 30 years later from his injuries), is it possible Hinckley is now rehabilitated and able to safely co-exist in society?

Miller examines Hinckley’s complicated mental status: A professor once wrote Hinckley “didn’t seem like a stereotypical crazy person,“ and a psychiatrist testifying at his trial called him a “defiant, arrogant, spoiled brat.“ Yet he was obsessed with Foster; had “grandiose, homicidal, and suicidal” thoughts; and was initially deemed a “schizotypal personality” who was “unpredictably dangerous.“ Hinckley’s apparent mental improvement over the years (he was eventually allowed furloughs home) and empathy toward feral cats at the hospital bolstered his case that he was “better.“ But Miller offers glimpses of cracks in the veneer (lies about insignificant items, inappropriate interactions with women) that underscore the complexity of figuring out whether a violent person still lurks underneath the recluse, now living what Miller calls “a curious life.“ More at New York.

►  Police: 83-Year-Old Man Stole Ambulance

Authorities on Long Island say an 83-year-old man has been arrested after checking himself out of a hospital and stealing an ambulance, the AP reports. Police say Donald Winkler was upset with the quality of care he was receiving and checked himself out of New York’s Nassau University Medical Center around 1am Tuesday. Investigators say Winkler then stole an ambulance from the hospital parking lot that had the keys in the ignition. Police say they later found the man at a nearby 7-Eleven. Investigators say he admitted to taking the ambulance. Winkler was arrested and taken back to the hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. Bail was set at $3,000 at a bedside arraignment. Winkler is charged with second-degree grand larceny.

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►  U.S. General’s Taliban Theory: ‘Absolutely False,‘ Says Russia

There’s been lots in the news about Russia lately, and a high-ranking US Army general just added to the mix—this time regarding the country’s involvement with the Taliban. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the supreme allied commander of Europe for NATO, told the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday that he’s noticed an uptick in Russian influence on the insurgent group in Afghanistan, and he raised the possibility that Moscow is giving the group supplies, reports Reuters. Russia and the Taliban deflected any insinuation that their relationship has ventured into equipment provisions, with Taliban officials telling Reuters that Russia has offered only “moral and political support.“ As for Russia’s take on a possible supply chain: “Absolutely false,“ a Russian Foreign Ministry rep told RIA Novosti, via the Tasnim Iranian news agency.

As Stars and Stripes notes, Russia has tried to evade full-on criticism for its Taliban rapport by claiming the militants are going after ISIS, not Afghani forces. However, Army Gen. John Nicholson, in charge of US forces in Afghanistan, has said he rejects the “public legitimacy” that Russia tries to impart on the Taliban. NBC News reports that Scaparrotti’s theory comes just hours after reports that the Taliban had taken hold Thursday of the district center of the “hotly contested town” of Sangin, although that hasn’t been confirmed. Scaparrotti didn’t offer any elaboration on what provisions he thinks may have been offered by the Russians, or when this supposed handover may have taken place.

►  Amazon Spirit Blamed for Man’s Mysterious Disappearance

Maykool Acuña spent nine days lost in the rainforest—possibly due the machinations of an evil tree sprite—but was kept alive by a group of helpful monkeys. National Geographic, whose reporter was embedded with the team searching for Acuña, has the highly improbable story. Acuña was inside Madidi National Park in the Bolivian Amazon with a tour group when he disappeared without a trace. The owner of the tour agency says the 25-year-old Chilean was acting weird and refused to participate in a ceremony honoring Pachamama, or Mother Earth, at the agency’s lodge: “His face just didn’t look normal.“ Acuña stepped away from the group for five minutes and vanished, becoming the first person to go missing inside Madidi in 15 years.

The group searched the rainforest for hours and couldn’t find a single track belonging to Acuña or any sign he’d even ever been there. Park rangers believed Acuña had angered Pachamama, who in turn allowed him to be spirited to an alternate dimension by a no-good sprite named Duende. Rangers searched the park for 10 hours a day, but they also hired two shamans to retrieve Acuña from whatever dimension he was being kept in. After nine days, Acuña was finally found—dehydrated, swollen, and covered in bug bites—less than a mile from the lodge. “I want a Coca Cola,“ he told rescuers. Acuña says he survived by following a group of monkeys, who dropped fruit and led him to shelter and water. Acuña doesn’t know what compelled him to run into the rainforest without his sandals, phone, or flashlight, but rangers believe they have an answer: Duende. Read the full story HERE .

►  Family of Teen Who Drank Liquid Meth at Border Gets $1M

Customs and Border Protection has paid $1 million to the family of a Mexican teen who died three years ago after sipping liquid meth at the US-Mexico border. Cruz Marcelino Velázquez Acevedo, 16, was traveling through the pedestrian entrance at the San Ysidro Port of Entry on November 18, 2013, when border officers discovered two jars of amber liquid inside his knapsack, reports the San Diego Union Tribune. The Tijuana high school student said the liquid was juice, according to his family’s lawyer, Eugene Iredale. But officers Adrian Perallon and Valerie Baird told him “to drink the liquid to prove [it],“ Iredale says. The boy took four sips of what turned out to be liquid meth and began “screaming in pain,“ reports NBC San Diego.

Acevedo died of acute methamphetamine intoxication two hours later. And though Iredale suspects he was paid a small sum to carry the drugs, he was “basically a good boy” who was treated with “the most inhuman kind of cruelty,“ he tells the Washington Post. “To cause him to die in a horrible way that he did is something that is execrable,“ especially as officers could have tested the liquid easily, he adds. While “it’s never enough when you lose a human life,“ the Mexican Consul General in San Diego notes Acevedo’s family is “at peace” with the $1 million settlement reached in January after a lawsuit accused Parallon and Baird of wrongful death and other crimes. Both officers remain at work with Customs and Border Protection.

►  Fatima Siblings Will Become Saints

The two young siblings who Catholics believe saw a vision of the Madonna six times in the Portuguese village of Fatima in 1917 will be made saints, the Vatican said Thursday, per Reuters. Francisco and Jacinta Marto, along with their cousin Lucia Dos Santos, said they received three messages or “secrets” from Mary: the first was a vision of hell and the second was interpreted to be a prediction of World War II and the rise of communism in Russia; the third was not revealed until 2000 by the Vatican, which says it predicted the 1981 assassination attempt of Pope John Paul. Also in 2000, Pope John Paul beatified the Marto siblings, one of the final steps required before sainthood. The siblings died several years after receiving the visions.

Pope Francis on Thursday officially recognized a miracle attributed to the siblings, the last requirement that needed to be fulfilled before they could become saints, the New York Times reports; that same day, he signed the canonization decree, per the AP. While no date has officially been set for the canonization ceremony, one theory is that it will be held in May when the pope visits the Fatima shrine, exactly 100 years from the day the first vision occurred. A shrine official says the miracle involves a Brazilian child cured of a disease. There is also a push for Lucia Dos Santos, who became a nun and lived to age 97, to be beatified. Also Thursday, Pope Francis said he would canonize three Mexican adolescents killed for their faith in the 1500s.

►  Families ‘Speechless’ as Pilot’s Dad Floats New Crash Theory

German prosecutors concluded co-pilot Andreas Lubitz was suicidal when he locked the captain out of the cockpit and flew a Germanwings plane into the French Alps in 2015, killing all 150 people on board. But on the second anniversary of the crash, Lubitz’s father is floating a new theory. At a press conference Friday, Guenter Lubitz said his son had suffered from depression in 2009 but “loved life” at the time of the crash and “had no reason to plan and carry out a suicide,“ per the BBC. To the dismay of victims’ families, Lubitz, 63, instead argued his 27-year-old son was incapacitated by a carbon monoxide leak in the cockpit of the plane while the captain was locked out.

Prosecutors agree Andreas Lubitz hadn’t been recently diagnosed with depression, but they say he suffered from a “psychological illness” months before the crash and was likely taking anti-depressants, per the AP. That’s not enough to convince journalist Tim van Beveren, who spoke at the press conference alongside the elder Lubitz. He accused prosecutors of “poisoning” the investigation from the beginning by failing to pursue other possible leads into the cause of the crash. He also questioned the plane’s airworthiness certificate, reports Deutsche Welle. A lawyer representing victims’ families says they were left “shocked” and “literally speechless” by Friday’s “irresponsible” display, per Euronews.

►  Mubarak Goes Home for First Time in 6 Years

Ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is back at home, free following his release from custody after six years of legal proceedings, reports the AP. Mubarak left the Armed Forces hospital in Cairo’s southern suburb of Maadi Friday morning and went to his house in the upscale district of Heliopolis under heavy security measures, says an Egyptian official.

The 88-year-old Mubarak was acquitted by the country’s top appeals court on March 2 of charges that he ordered the killing of protesters during the 2011 popular uprising that led to his ouster. During those 18 days of unrest at the start of the Arab Spring movement, an estimated 800 protesters were killed in clashes with security forces, reports the BBC.


The Free Press WV
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GOP Budget Slashes Higher Education and Threatens to Close Schools

The Free Press WV

Governor Jim Justice alerted West Virginians to the public health care emergency that would be created if the Republicans implemented their budget cuts to Medicaid. Today, the Governor is shining a spotlight on how the Republican budget cuts are putting the state’s colleges and universities on the chopping block.

The GOP’s proposed framework means between $50 million and $75 million cut from the state’s institutions of higher education.  Click HERE to see the complete list of schools exposed to their plan.

Governor Justice echoed the calls of Marshall University President Jerome Gilbert and West Virginia University President Gordon Gee to the West Virginia Legislature not to make “devastating” budget cuts to higher education.

“The Republicans don’t want to let the people of West Virginia know just how destructive their cuts will be to higher education,” said Governor Jim Justice. “They need to own up to the fact that West Virginia’s schools can’t afford to take a hit like this and may result in several of them shutting their doors. If we strangle our schools into oblivion it will hurt our students and the future of our workforce. It’s not right and the public needs to be aware of it.”

President Gee and President Gilbert released a joint statement yesterday asking state legislators to take higher education cuts off the table in trying to balance the state budget, citing how the universities have already had to endure millions of cuts in previous years.

“President Gee and I are taking a stand together in support of preserving state funding for higher education as an investment in the future of our state and its people,” said Gilbert. “It doesn’t make sense to cut off one of the primary paths a state has to successful economic growth—and that’s an educated workforce. Higher education is absolutely vital to having the workforce companies want when they are looking to locate or expand facilities.”

Gee said, “I realize it may seem easier to cut our way to success. However, the worthier option is to invest in those things that will bring prosperity to our state. The best way to propel West Virginia into prosperity is to leverage its assets. West Virginia University, Marshall University and our sister institutions here in West Virginia are assets to this state. And we remain committed to helping our state’s leaders forge solutions that will drive real change.”

“Marshall alone has had $11.5 million in state cuts over the past several years. Another significant reduction in our state allocation will give us no choice but to effectively pass the cut directly on to our students in the form of a sizeable tuition increase,” said Gilbert. “That will be a real hardship for our students, three-fourths of whom are from West Virginia.”

Gee added, “We have always protected our academic mission and done our best to keep our tuition affordable and accessible. However, West Virginia University has taken nearly $30 million in state reductions over the past three years. Any additional significant reductions would jeopardize the quality and value of an education that a student at West Virginia University receives, as well as the programs and services we provide to the state.”

DHHR Announces Emergency Energy Assistance Program for Low Income Residents

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The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) today announced applications for the Emergency Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP) will be accepted beginning Monday, March 27, 2017, until funds are exhausted.  The federally funded program assists eligible state residents who have a termination notice in paying their home heating bills. 

Residents whose primary source of heat is either gas or electricity must provide their shut-off notice when applying for Emergency LIEAP. Those using other primary heating sources or bulk fuel may qualify for assistance if their heating fuel is at a low level during the application period.

Households that received direct payment of regular LIEAP benefits must verify that the payment was used for home heating by submitting a current receipt with the Emergency LIEAP application. Failure to submit verification of payment may result in a denial of the application.

Eligibility for Emergency LIEAP benefits is based on income, household size, whether or not the household is responsible for paying its home heating bill, and if a home heating emergency exists.  Income must be at, or below, 135 percent of the federal poverty guideline for the household size.  This program requires a face-to-face interview with a DHHR worker and clients must provide a copy of their termination notice with the application.

To qualify, households must meet all program guidelines and be in an emergency situation that will disrupt the primary heating source if not met.

 The maximum allowable gross income levels for Emergency LIEAP Fiscal Year 2017 are listed below:



1   Person


2   Person


3   Person


4   Person


5   Person


6   Person


7   Person


8   Person


9   Person


10   Person


For each additional person, add $468. 


The program is limited to the amount of federal funding allocated to West Virginia under the LIHEAP Block Grant.

To apply, residents must go to their local DHHR office. A list of local offices may be found at or by calling 304.356.4619.

Explore Land Resources Programs at GSC

Faculty in Glenville State College’s Land Resources Department and staff in the Office of Admissions invite prospective students to attend an event to learn more about the Natural Resource Management programs offered at GSC. Land Resources Exploration Day will take place on Friday, April 07 beginning at 9:15 a.m. at GSC’s Waco Center.

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The open house event will feature activities for interested students to learn about wood identification, geocaching (treasure hunting using a GPS), wildlife trapping, soil and water analysis, fun with land fundamentals, and more. There will also be information on career opportunities in natural resource management.

For more information call the Office of Admissions 800.924.2010 or click HERE to sign up.

“Spring Aboard” — Boaters Urged To Get Educated Before Boating Season

The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Section, in partnership with the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA), encourages boaters to enroll in a boating education course before the kickoff of the boating season. WVDNR is participating in the “Spring Aboard” — Take A Boating Education Course national campaign through March 25, 2017.

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U.S. Coast Guard statistics indicate that 80 percent of boating deaths, where the level of operator education was known, occurred on boats where the operator had never received boating education instruction.

“To be a safe boater, you have to be educated. These Boater Education courses are vital to promoting a safer, more enjoyable day on the water. In addition, a ‘Sober Skipper’ is a safer boater,” said Col. Jerry B. Jenkins, Chief of the DNR Law Enforcement Section.

Forty-nine states and U.S. territories require proof of completion of a boating education course of some powered vessels. In West Virginia, all persons born after December 31, 1986, must complete a boating education course before operating a motorboat in the state. For a summary of West Virginia’s regulations and available Boater Education courses,  visit

The WVDNR Law Enforcement section offers both online courses and in-class courses, which are taught by experienced Boater Education instructors and Natural Resources Police Officers.

In West Virginia….

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►  47 of 55 West Virginia counties lost population last year

U.S. Census figures show population declines in West Virginia’s southern coal-producing counties led to an overall drop in the state’s population last year.

The figures released Thursday show 47 of the state’s 55 counties lost population from 2015 to 2016, including 20 counties that lost more than 200 residents.

Nine of the 10 counties that lost the most population were in southern West Virginia, which has seen a downturn in the coal industry in recent years. Kanawha (kuh-NAW) County lost 1,966 residents, the most in the state.

Three Eastern Panhandle counties saw population gains, led by Berkeley County with a boost of 1,890 residents.

Monongalia County, home of West Virginia University, gained 631 residents.

Overall, West Virginia’s population fell by 9,951 to 1.83 million. The only state to lose more residents was Illinois.

►  Steve Paine is the new WV superintendent of schools

Members of the state Board of Education voted for Steve Paine to be the new superintendent of schools.

Paine was state superintendent during the Manchin administration from 2005-2011. He’s currently the interim superintendent in Wayne County.

Paine starts Monday at a salary of $230,000 a year.

Tom Campbell, the state school board president, said it worked out well that Paine is available right away because of the challenges the state is facing. The state’s public education system could be subject to significant budget cuts under a proposal by the Republican leaders in the state Legislature.

“Whatever they work out, getting that budget administered for the next fiscal year is going to be a challenge,” Campbell said after today’s state board meeting.

He replaces Michael Martirano, who had announced his departure for this summer but who instead will leave immediately. The board issued a public statement thanking Martirano for his service. Martirano has been superintendent since 2014.

“He was most gracious when I talked to him on the phone. We do thank him for his service and wish him well,” Campbell said.

The other candidates for the job were current state Chief Career Technical Education Officer Kathy D’Antoni and Jackson County Superintendent Blaine Hess. The three finalists were chosen from an original list of 12 applicants.

All three were interviewed today. Members of the state school board came out from an executive session about 4 p.m. and voted unanimously for Paine as their choice.

“They were all good candidates,” Campbell said. “We’re hopeful they’re all going to stay involved in the education system. The consensus the board came up with was at this time Dr. Paine is the best person for this job.

“Having had the position before, he does have a great deal of experience with the position and how to implement it.”

Paine joined the West Virginia Department of Education in 2003 as the deputy state superintendent of schools after serving as superintendent of Morgan County Schools. He has also served as principal, assistant principal, teacher and curriculum director in the Upshur and Harrison county school systems. Paine is the recipient of the prestigious Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award. Paine has an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership Studies, and an M.A. in Educational Administration. He also has a B.A. in Education.

“I am humbled to be appointed as the Superintendent of Schools and once again serve the students throughout West Virginia,” Paine stated in a release from the state Department of Education.

“I am committed to ensuring that our education system provides all children the opportunity for a world-class education and I look forward to working closely with the State Board, Governor Justice, our lawmakers and educators to prepare the students of the Mountain State to be successful in life.”

Gov. Jim Justice, who campaigned in part on doing away with the Smarter Balanced standardized test and the A-F school grading system that were products of Martirano’s time in office, has largely made over the state school board in a matter of weeks.

Early Wednesday evening, Justice named appointed Jeffrey D. Flanagan of Kanawha County and Frank Vitale of Monongalia County as the newest members of the board. In January, the governor announced the three new members all at once — longtime educators Miller Hall, Barbara Whitecotton, and Chuck Hatfield. In early February, Justice named educator Dave Perry of Fayette County to the board.

The presidents of West Virginia’s teachers unions, interviewed at the Capitol Rotunda, said they are enthusiastic about Paine’s return.

“We’ve worked with Steve in the past when he was superintendent before. We have a good relationship with him. We know he is favorable to the students, to the teachers who teach the students and all school employees,” said Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia.

“We really believe he can work with the department, with the state board and with educators to move us forward.”

Dale Lee, the president of the West Virginia Education Association, had a similarly positive reaction.

“He is very teacher-friendly, cares tremendously about the kids of West Virginia,” Lee said. “I’m looking forward to him starting on Monday and moving the state forward. It’s time for all educators come together, united, and fight off some of the crazy things that are happening in public education.”

Lee said a top priority is to fight off possible cuts to the state’s K-12 education system.

“That would destroy public education in many of our counties,” he said. “We need to all unite and say enough is enough.”

►  Traffic Stop in Nebraska Leads to Major Marijuana Bust in West Virginia

Nearly 20 pounds of pot was found at a home on Bradford Drive in Crab Orchard on Wednesday, March 22, 2017.  Benjamin Villanave was arrested and charged with Possession with Intent to Deliver.  He was arraigned in front of a Raleigh County magistrate.

The Beckley- Raleigh County Drug and Violent Crime Task Force was tipped off about the home after a traffic stop in Seaward County, Nebraska.  The driver of the car had $57,000 and told deputies that it came from a marijuana sale in Raleigh County, WV.  Homeland Security contacted the West Virginia State Police.

During the search of the Crab Orchard home, officers found 19.48 pounds of marijuana.  According to a release, that is worth around $80,000.  There were also 51 canisters of THC oil, $6,000 in cash and 13 guns.

►  West Virginia Senate Considers Hike in Video Lottery Wager

West Virginia’s Senate has begun advancing legislation to increase the maximum wager to $5 for a single video lottery game.

The bill approved by the Senate Finance Committee also would set the state share of gross profits from limited video lottery revenues at 50 percent starting July 1.

The current wager limit is $2.

The state profits share has ranged from 30 percent to 50 percent, rising with the average daily gross income per terminal.

The legislation is poised for a vote by the full Senate.

►  Governor Justice Tells Contractors They Play A Key Role In Building A Brighter Future For West Virginia

outing his $2.8 billion Roads Building plan and how it will rescue West Virginia’s dying economy, Governor Jim Justice spoke Wednesday to more than 200 contractors, engineers, architects and others during the opening of the annual West Virginia Construction and Design EXPO at the Charleston Civic Center.

“We’ve got to do something to get out of the ditch we’re in,” Governor Justice said. “My roads plan is the pathway to prosperity for West Virginia. We are talking about 48,000 jobs, good jobs, instantly. Once we get started it will open up our state to real progress…tourism will explode. I’m tired of being 50th and if we don’t do something about it right now we’re going to die 50th.

“We’re better than that in West Virginia,” Governor Justice added.

“Again, this transportation building plan is going to put tens of thousands of West Virginians to work immediately. The payroll taxes alone that will be generated comes to greater than $250 million…that doesn’t even take into account the multiplier effect.

“You have to believe me when I tell you we are on the cusp of catastrophe if we keep kicking these problems down the road,” Governor Justice stated. “If we don’t move prudently and move now, this will spiral out of control and we won’t ever be able to fix it.”

Governor Justice went on to say that Senate Finance Chairman Mike Hall and House Finance Chairman Eric Nelson recognize the severity of the state’s fiscal crisis and that “they get it, they understand it”.

Michael Clowser, executive director of the Contractors Association of West Virginia, said his group, that represents 450 companies that employ more than 20,000, is on board with what the Governor is trying to do to jumpstart road and bridge construction and maintenance in the Mountain State.

“Governor Justice has put forth an aggressive plan to invest in West Virginia’s transportation system,” said Clowser. “His proposals will provide immediate improvement to West Virginia’s highways and bridges which have reached a critical state of disrepair.

“The Governor’s plan will also provide an immediate benefit through job creation and economic growth. Another compelling argument is safety. West Virginia’s fatality rate on rural roads is three times higher than the fatality rate on all other roads in the state.  Every surrounding state has invested in their highway program. We are pleased Governor Justice is doing the same for West Virginia.”

►  House to vote Friday on eliminating Department of Education and the Arts

A bill that would eliminate the state Department of Education and the Arts is scheduled for third and final reading Friday in the House of Delegates.

The bill (HB 2524) eliminates the cabinet secretary’s office and the Office of Professional Development. It returns the Educational Broadcast Authority and the state Library Commission to independent status. It shifts state Office of Rehabilitation Services to WorkForce West Virginia and the Division of Culture and History to the Department of Commerce.

Education and the Arts oversees various commissions which appear to run well on their own, House Education Committee Chair Paul Espinosa (R-Jefferson) said.

“It appeared inefficient to continue to have to leave a secretary of the commissions all of whom existed and operated well for many years and are led by capable governor appointees,” Espinosa said.

The language of the bill focuses more on eliminating the Office of Professional Development. It says the state Board of Education shall come up with a system for professional development and help the individual counties to the extent they need it. Professional development be from the bottom up, Espinosa said.

“It empowers our local school districts, our principals as the instructional leader of their school, to work collaboratively with their educators in their school to determine what professional development they need rather as opposed to determining it here in Charleston,” Espinosa said.

Delegate Larry Rowe (D-Kanawha) was unsuccessful in his attempt to amend the bill Thursday. Rowe said the arts will lose its advocate if the cabinet secretary’s office is eliminated.

“When the governor and the cabinet are sitting around trying to figure out all of the ‘gotta’ stuff, ‘We gotta fund Medicaid. We gotta do this. We gotta do that.’ Who is it at the cabinet level–who in that meeting is going to tap on their shoulder and say, ‘What you gotta do is help the dreams of our youth,‘” Rowe said.

The short title of the bill is “Improving the focus on school-level continuous improvement processes.”


The Free Press WV

  • GOP governors chafe at Trump budget:    “They have complained to the White House about reductions they see as harmful or arbitrary, and they plan to pressure members of Congress from their states to oppose them. Of acute concern to Republicans are a handful of low-profile programs aimed at job training and economic revitalization, including regional development agencies like the Appalachian commission and the Delta Regional Authority, which serves eight Southern and Midwestern states, seven of them with Republican governors. They are also protective of grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and a $3.4 billion job-training program funded through the Labor Department.”  NYT

  • Homeland Security pressures sanctuary cities:  “On Monday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released its first report listing jurisdictions that refuse cooperation with federal immigration authorities … The U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) on Tuesday questioned the constitutionality of ICE detainers and the truthfulness of the DHS report.”    The Hill

  • Donald Trump has his eyes set on Mars — but at the expense of Earth’s environment.  Trump on signed the NASA Transition Authorization Act, which adds a human mission to Mars to NASA’s agenda while also green-lighting a $19.5 billion budget for 2017. But it’s not all good news — Trump’s proposed budget would repurpose money from cuts to four Earth Science endeavors, most of them climate-related.  MIC

  • ‘Trump Troubadour,’ who attended 45 Trump rallies to honor his late son, feels ‘betrayed’ because of health care  Trump told Kraig Moss he would help stop the heroin epidemic. But now the president is backing a health-care bill that strips away coverage for drug addiction treatment.  THE WASHINGTON POST

  • “White Working-Class Death Rate to Be Elevated for a Generation”:  “Researchers who sounded the alarm on increasing white working-class mortality blamed the trend Thursday on economic upheaval that created a web of social issues so tightly interwoven that even successful policies would take years to unsnarl them … ‘The story is rooted in the labor market, but involves many aspects of life, including health in childhood, marriage, child rearing, and religion,’ the authors wrote. Without their traditional moorings, whites increasingly turned to chemical crutches. Alcoholism worsened. Suicide climbed. And when doctors began to hand out opioid prescriptions more freely during the 1990s, addiction took root.”    Bloomberg

Did You Know?

The Free Press WV


Abandoning negotiations, Trump demands a make-or-break vote on health care legislation in the House, threatening to leave “Obamacare” in place and move on to other issues if Friday’s vote fails.


The 52-year-old Briton who was shot dead during the rampage near Parliament had a long criminal record and once was investigated for extremism — but was not on a terror watch list.


Senate Democrats vow to impede Judge Neil Gorsuch’s path to the Supreme Court, setting up a political showdown.


Israeli police nab a 19-year-old hacker who they say is the main suspect in the wave of bomb threats against Jewish community centers in the U.S.


The deepening U.S. involvement against Islamic State militants in northern Syria indicates the Pentagon will likely send even more troops in coming weeks.


A Maryland high school is thrust into the national immigration debate after a student is allegedly raped there by two students who came to the country illegally.


The approval on Friday will end years of delay for a project that has served as a flashpoint in the national debate about climate change.


The documents point to an apparent CIA program to hack Apple’s iPhones and Mac computers using techniques that users couldn’t disable by resetting their devices.


New research says more cancer-causing mutations are due to random chance than heredity or poor lifestyle choices.


John Thompson III is fired as Georgetown’s basketball coach after two consecutive losing seasons at the school his father led to a national championship.

The Free Press WV

AT&T and Verizon are pulling their ads from YouTube and other sites that run Google ads

Companies are boycotting Google after it was revealed that some of their ads have appeared next to extremist videos on YouTube.

Advertising executives suggested the Google boycott smacks of “opportunism” and a chance to gleefully bash the biggest player in the online ad industry

Companies like L’Oreal, McDonald’s, Audi, and HSBC have also pulled their ads.

Apple has acquired an app called Workflow

The iPhone maker described the automation app as the “most innovative” app in 2015.

Facebook’s Safety Check feature was activated in London after the Westminster attack

The feature asks people in the area of the incident if they are safe, and publicly marks them as such if they say they are.

Google veteran Vint Cerf warned against suppressing the internet

Some countries, such as Germany, are looking to tackle the issue of fake news being published online.

Baidu’s value took a $1.5 billion plunge after chief scientist Andrew Ng announced he’s leaving

Ng joined Baidu in May 2014.

Microsoft’s LinkedIn is starting to roll out a new feature called “Trending Storylines”

The feature highlights multiple perspectives on the biggest news of the moment.

Google is updating its popular Maps app with new features to let friends view each other’s location in real-time

The location-sharing only works if you decide to share your current location with a specific person, and you can limit how long a friend sees your location.

A law firm is trying to put together a class action lawsuit claiming Tesla misled consumers about the self-driving capabilities of Autopilot 2

Hagens Berman is pitching the lawsuit to Tesla owners on its website with the tagline: “Did you pay a premium for Tesla’s Autopilot 2 (AP2) safety features? You may be entitled to a refund.“

Fitbit was trading at a record low of $5.46 a share on Wednesday, down another 2.5%, or $0.14

Back in November, the company reported disappointing third quarter earnings that saw Fitbit lose one-third of its value.

In USA….

The Free Press WV


►  Top 10 U.S. Jobs in 2017

In the market for a new job? Consider one of these, which jobs website Indeed ranks as the top 10 jobs of 2017. Indeed put its rankings together based on number of job postings, growth opportunity data from 2013 to 2016, and salaries of at least $70,000, USA Today reports. Roles in tech and computer science dominate:

  1. Full stack developer: Average base salary $110,770
  2. Data scientist: $129,938
  3. Development operations engineer: $123,165
  4. Salesforce administrator: $89,702
  5. IT engineer: $85,563
  6. Salesforce developer: $108,089
  7. Quality engineer: $71,111
  8. Digital project manager: $73,169
  9. Cloud engineer: $118,878
  10. Management consulting analytics manager: $90,994

Click for the FULL TOP 25.

►  Utah Man Killed in London Terror Attack

Not much was initially revealed about the two civilians killed in Wednesday’s terror attack in London, which also ended in the death of a British cop and the attacker being gunned down by police, but now there are a few details on at least one of the deceased: a Utah man celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary with his wife in the British capital. The Salt Lake Tribune identifies the man as 54-year-old Bountiful resident Kurt Cochran, who reportedly plummeted off the Westminster Bridge onto a concrete surface below when the attacker plowed his vehicle into pedestrians. Cochran’s wife, Melissa Payne Cochran, is said to be one of the dozens of others who were injured, with a head cut and broken rib, though she’s expected to be OK.

In a message on Facebook, Shantell Payne, whom the Tribune says is Cochran’s sister-in-law, called the tragedy “heart wrenching and raw” and said it had “rocked our family.“ She also posted a link to a GoFundMe account to raise money to help Melissa Cochran—who the Tribune says ran a music and rehearsal studio with her husband—pay her bills while she’s recuperating. The GoFundMe, which has so far raised more than $13,000 of a $50,000 goal, notes that the couple were spending their last day on a European tour visiting Melissa’s parents, who are members of London’s Mormon temple. Trump called Cochran “a great American” in a Thursday morning tweet, sending “prayers and condolences” to the Utah man’s loved ones.

►  19-Year-Old Israeli Busted in JCC Bomb Threats

A Jewish teen with American-Israeli citizenship is behind dozens of threats made against Jewish community centers in the US, Israeli police say. The 19-year-old male living in the Ashkelon area of Israel was arrested Thursday after a months-long investigation involving the FBI, Israeli police rep Micky Rosenfeld tells CNN. Police say the teen used neighbors’ internet connections, voice manipulation, and other “advanced camouflage technologies” to hide his identity while making threats against Jewish centers in the US, Australia, and New Zealand, the New York Times reports, via Israel Radio. However, police believe he’s also responsible for hundreds of other threats around the world over two or three years, reports Haaretz.

Those include threats against shopping malls and airports. In one case, he forced a Delta flight to make an emergency landing, police say. Authorities say five computers, antennas, and other equipment were seized from his residence. Per Haaretz, the teen tried to grab the gun of an officer who arrived to arrest him; he was previously found unfit for military service in Israel. Police had previously said they were searching for a single individual believed to be behind the majority of more than 100 bomb threats made against Jewish centers in the US this year. “This is the guy we are talking about,“ Rosenfeld says. The teen appeared in court on Thursday.

►  Sword Killer Went to NYC to Attack Black People, Cops Say

A white US Army veteran from Baltimore bent on making a racist attack took a bus to New York, the “media capital of the world,“ randomly picked out a black man who was collecting bottles on the street, and killed him with a sword, police said Wednesday. James Harris Jackson turned himself in at a Times Square police station early Wednesday, about 25 hours after Timothy Caughman staggered into a police precinct bleeding to death. “I’m the person that you’re looking for,“ Jackson told police, according to Assistant Chief William Aubrey. Jackson, who was arrested on suspicion of murder, told police he’d harbored feelings of hatred toward black men for at least 10 years, authorities said. He traveled to New York on March 17 and had been staying in a Manhattan hotel, the AP reports.

“The reason he picked New York is because it’s the media capital of the world and he wanted to make a statement,“ Aubrey said. Jackson was wandering the streets in a long overcoat concealing a 26-inch sword when he encountered Caughman, who was collecting bottles from trash cans, police said. Jackson stabbed him repeatedly in his chest and back, they said. Caughman, who was 66 years old and lived nearby in a transitional house, was taken to a hospital by police shortly after he arrived to the station house. He died at the hospital. Investigators said they believed Jackson was considering other attacks but surrendered after noticing his photo in media reports. He had two knives and told investigators where they could find the sword, police said. The sword was retrieved from a trash can not far from the scene.

►  Lawyers Want ‘Affluenza Teen’ Released From Jail

Lawyers for Ethan Couch are asking the Texas state Supreme Court to release the “affluenza teen” from jail, NBC DFW reports. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, a judge sentenced Couch to 720 days in jail last April after he skipped a probation check-in and ran to Mexico with his mother. The pair went on the lam following the release of a video that apparently showed Couch partying in violation of his parole. Lawyers for Couch say the judge didn’t have the authority to sentence Couch to jail time because the judge only has purview over criminal cases. They say Couch’s is a civil case because it originated in juvenile court, the New York Daily News reports. Couch’s case was transferred to adult court when he turned 19.

Couch was sentenced to 10 years’ probation in 2013 when he crashed his pickup truck into a group of people helping a disabled vehicle. Couch was drunk at the time, and four of the people died. A psychologist defending Couch said the teen never learned the difference between right and wrong and was suffering from “affluenza” thanks to his rich upbringing. Couch’s lawyers filed the motion to release him from jail last Friday. The motion has already been denied twice in lower courts.

►  Guy Who Knew Dylann Roof’s Plan Sentenced

The only person with whom Dylann Roof shared his racist plot to massacre worshippers at a historically black South Carolina church was sentenced Tuesday to 27 months in prison for failing to report a crime and for lying to the FBI. Joey Meek cried at sentencing Tuesday in Charleston by the same federal judge who presided over Roof’s trial, which ended in January with Roof being sentenced to death for the slaughter of nine people at Emanuel AME church. “I’m really, really sorry. A lot of beautiful lives were taken,“ said Meek, per the AP. Meek had faced 27 to 33 months behind bars. US District Judge Richard Gergel said he hoped the sentence would serve as a deterrent for anyone in the future who learns of something so serious and fails to come forward to authorities.

Meek said Roof shared his plan to shoot blacks at the historic African-American church in Charleston during a night at Meek’s house where they drank vodka, snorted cocaine, smoked marijuana, and played video games. Authorities said that was about a week before the June 17, 2015, killings. Meek signed a deal with prosecutors in 2016, agreeing to plead guilty to lying to authorities and failure to report a crime. Federal prosecutors said he had lied to the FBI by first denying Roof shared his plan. Authorities said he also had stopped a friend from calling police after hearing about the shooting to report Roof as a suspect. Meek agreed to help prosecutors as part of his 2016 deal. But they never called him during Roof’s trial, in which Roof acted as his own lawyer for much of the proceedings and put up almost no defense.

►  Bill to Let Church Create Police Force Advances in Alabama

A bill designed to allow a church to have its own police force is moving forward. Alabama’s Senate judiciary panel has passed a measure that would let Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham create the force, reports NBC News. The force would coordinate with local police to protect the 4,100-member church, which has 2,000 students and teachers at two K-12 schools and a seminary on its sprawling campus, says the church’s administrator. He cited the recent attacks on churches and schools as the motivation for the move, while a concerned member tells the AP, “Anyone can wander in here unchallenged at any time.“ The bill now moves on to the full Senate.

“Officer presence is the No. 1 line of defense,“ says longtime Republican Representative Arnold Mooney, who introduced the bill and whose wife and daughter work at Briarwood Christian School. The ACLU of Alabama is among those opposing the bill on constitutional grounds, along with another that would allow churches in the state to appoint armed congregants to provide security with legal protections: “These bills unnecessarily carve out special programs for religious organizations and inextricably intertwine state authority and power with church operations.“ The AP notes that the police-force bill passed the Legislature last year, but Governor Robert Bentley did not sign it. Bentley has not said what he would do this year.

►  9/11 Lawsuit Filed Against ‘Duplicitous’ Saudis

A lawsuit representing the families and estates of about 800 victims of 9/11 has been filed in Manhattan federal court, with the Saudi Arabian government in its sights, WPIX and NBC News report. Of the 19 plane hijackers that day, 15 were Saudi nationals, and three of those reportedly had employment history with the government there. Accusations in the newest consolidated complaint, compiled in large part via an FBI investigation, include embassy officials being instrumental in assimilating some of the 9/11 attackers into the US via English instruction, funding assistance, and help in finding a place to live. Saudi authorities also allegedly offered special passport codes to a handful of the terrorists that smoothed their way into the US. The suit also says Saudi royals turned a blind eye regarding money they donated to certain “charities,“ which was really being shifted to al-Qaeda.

“The Saudis were so duplicitous,“ aviation attorney Jim Kreindler tells WPIX, noting while Saudi Arabia was putting up a good front as a US ally, it was secretly enabling terrorism. (USA Today notes Kreindler’s law firm is handling the new suit, which is seeking unspecified monetary damages.) Per NBC, more than a half-dozen lawsuits against the Saudi government have filtered into federal court since September, when Congress rejected then-President Obama’s veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which gave families of 9/11 victims a way to circumvent sovereign immunity to sue the Saudis. Obama was against JASTA, saying the tables could be turned so other nations can file suit against the US. Attorneys for families and the Saudis are to appear in court Thursday to hammer out the multi-case logistics.

►  Spring Breaker Sees His 210 Beers Go Down the Drain

While his buddies were partying in Destin, Fla., an Alabama teen spent the start of his spring break in jail. Police in Okaloosa County, Fla., say they pulled over 19-year-old University of Alabama student Alden Whiteside on suspicion of reckless driving on Friday but soon discovered his alleged need for speed was just the tip of the iceberg, reports KTRK. Authorities say Whiteside was traveling to Destin for spring break with seven 30-pack cases of Natural Light beer, plus a fake ID and pot. “He basically had 30 beers for each day he was going to be [in Florida],“ a police rep tells the Northwest Florida Daily News. Whiteside now faces charges of unauthorized possession of a driver’s license, underage possession of alcohol, and possession of marijuana.

“If you’re only 19 years old and heading to spring break in Destin with seven 30 pack cases of beer in your truck, marijuana in the center console, and an altered driver’s license to make your age 24, you probably don’t want to be speeding and driving recklessly on Interstate 10,“ reads the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office caption of a photo of the stacked beer cases, viewed more than 11 million times on Facebook. “We hope [the photo] reaches and convinces a multitude of spring breakers to make good choices,“ the sheriff’s office says in a separate post, adding in a comment that, yes, all the beer was poured out. A parting quip that’s been liked more than 25,000 times: “All the dumb decisions and it started off with buying natural light.“

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