When Budget Cuts Hit Home

The Free Press WV

So, this is what cutting the state budget is going to look like.

The state Division of Forestry is now limping along after laying off 37 employees, about one-third of the agency’s workforce.

In one way, the cutbacks make perfect sense. Changes and reductions in the severance tax have resulted in a decline of $1.13 million in appropriations for this fiscal year.  Forestry industry lobbyists worked with the Tomblin administration to try to fill the cuts—raising the severance tax was an option—but no agreement was reached.

Forestry’s biggest expense is in personnel so if the money isn’t there, cuts have to be made.

However, in another way the layoffs make no sense at all.

West Virginia is the third most forested state in the nation.  Logging companies have historically worked hand-in-hand with Forestry to ensure that the rules are followed.  That’s not going to be possible now because of the reductions.

Dan Cooley, who is in charge of the Division of Forestry’s Region 2 operations, has lost seven of his nine agents. “If we were by a job we would stop by and do preventive work. We also do a final check on every job. We would walk the job and make sure all their water control was in place,” Cooley told MetroNews’ Brad McElhinny.

“Now there are just two and myself,” Cooley said. “We can’t really function as it is now.  Without us there, there’s no one to check reclamation on logging jobs.”

McElhinny reports that those responsibilities are supposed to be picked up by other agencies.  “If there’s a complaint that logging has built up mud on a road, the state Division of Highways will handle it. If a complaint focuses on logging sediment running into a stream, that becomes a problem of the Division of Environmental Protection.”

Forestry is under the state Department of Commerce and Secretary Keith Burdette predicts the result will be agencies now responsible for logging will respond to complaints and issue citations and fines rather than working with logging companies to prevent problems in the first place.

“There won’t be anyone to say on a regular basis ‘Don’t do this. Fix this,’” Burdette said.

It’s understandable that the forestry industry did not want to absorb a higher severance tax, but it may be worse off in the long run because it appears to be losing regulatory certainty.  Now those Forestry inspectors won’t be there to help keep loggers out of trouble.

Cutting the budget is never as easy as it sounds, particularly when every line item has the support of a constituency group.  However, eliminating 37 productive foresters from a state payroll of over 37,000 is a questionable place to start.

~~  Hoppy Kercheval ~~

500 Totes Donated by United Way of Harrison County to UHC

Marking the 50th Anniversary of International Literacy Day

The United Way of Harrison County - through a grant from Depend and United Way worldwide, donated 500 totes with books to United Hospital Center pediatrics and obstetrics in honor of International Literacy Day (ILD) on Thursday, September 08.

Depend(r) (a brand of Kimberly-Clark) and United Way are partnering to promote healthy, active and independent living throughout an individual’s life, with a focus on volunteering. As a result, United Ways in nine U.S. cities and in Ontario, Canada are expanding their volunteer activities and outreach.

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In addition to the grant from Depend, the Harrison County United Way also formed a new partnership with the Harrison County Reading Council, which enabled the local United Way to purchase books at a very reasonable cost.  Therefore, allowing an additional 100 totes to be provided to United Hospital Center. Pictured left is Sharon Mitchell, RN, nurse manager of pediatrics at UHC; Tina Yoke, director of Harrison United Way; Helen Roberts, Reading Council President, Harrison County Schools Curriculum Specialist; and Abby Messenger, Federal Programs Curriculum Coordinator, Reading Council Member.

In addition to the grant from Depend, the Harrison County United Way also formed a new partnership with the Harrison County Reading Council, which enabled the local United Way to purchase books at a very reasonable cost.  Therefore, allowing an additional 100 totes to be provided to UHC.

The United Nations’ (UN) International Literacy Day annually falls on September 8 to raise people’s awareness of and concern for literacy issues in the world. This year will mark the 50th anniversary of International Literacy Day.

“Together on this day, and every day, we help to shine a spotlight on the importance of literacy,” said Tina Yoke, director of the Harrison County United Way. “In countries all over the world, the day raises people’s awareness of and concern for literacy problems within their own communities.” 

“How reassuring it is to know that our local United Way is actively working to touch the lives of others through such a generous donation,” said Misty Harlow, RN, labor and delivery nurse manager. “I am honored that UHC was selected.”

Included in each tote are three children’s books, a bookmark listing the benefits of reading, inserts containing tips on reading to babies effectively and information on additional, helpful resources for mothers. 
“Our pediatric patients will have the opportunity for countless hours of enjoyment,” said Sharon Mitchell, RN, pediatrics nurse manager. “This gift will help to start a home library for a lifetime of independent reading.”

“The United Way is thrilled to be able to donate to both the maternity ward and pediatrics at UHC,” said Yoke.  “The community has been so generous to us and this is just one way we can give back to West Virginia.”

Did You Know?

The Free Press WV


The Democratic presidential nominee says she pressed on with a busy campaign schedule despite being diagnosed with pneumonia because she “just didn’t think it was going to be that big a deal.“


Republicans call the tech expert who set up Clinton’s private email server and representatives from the company that maintained it to testify at a congressional hearing.


Residents and observers say most of the country is calm so far amid the latest attempt by the U.S. and Russia to bring some quiet in the country’s devastating civil war.


The U.S. sends two nuclear-capable supersonic B-1B bombers streaking over South Korea to cow Pyongyang after its recent nuclear test.


An imam says the Fort Pierce mosque’s members are “saddened and scared” by the fire, started on the 15th anniversary of 9/11 and the start of the Muslim holiday, Eid al-Adha.


Hailey Brouillette is not one of millions who have seen her own rescue, and that of her dog Sassy, from a car sinking into Louisiana floodwaters, but she finally gets to meet the man who saved her life.


A shift is in the air at the Toronto International Film Festival, where a crop of racially diverse films are poised to disrupt two straight years of the “OscarsSoWhite” protests.


Two men rush the stage where the suspended U.S. Olympic swimmer had just finished performing on “Dancing with the Stars.“


The NCAA pulls seven championship events from North Carolina due to a state law that some say can lead to discrimination against LGBT people.


Ben Roethlisberger throws for 300 yards and three touchdowns and DeAngelo Williams runs for 143 yards and two TDs as Pittsburgh beat Washington 38-16.

Submissions for the Anthology of Appalachian Writers, Charles Frazier Volume IX

The Free Press WV

The Anthology of Appalachian Writers, Charles Frazier Volume IX, is now accepting submissions of original works of fiction, poetry, memoir, creative nonfiction, and essays for inclusion in the 2017 volume of the anthology.

The Anthology of Appalachian Writers is a publication that encourages a long-established tradition of storytelling, love of language, and creative expression associated broadly with the area of the country known as Appalachia.

Though the principal mission of the anthology is to provide a venue for publication of new writers, it also provides a collection of literature and scholarship that contributes to an understanding and appreciation for the region as well as the heritage writer whose name is associated with each volume. Poetry, fiction, memoir, creative nonfiction of established writers, as well as new voices appear in each annual volume of the anthology. 

The 2017 anthology centers on the work of North Carolina writer Charles Frazier, recipient of the Appalachian Heritage Writer’s Award and 2016 Appalachian Heritage Writer-in-Residence (AHWIR) at Shepherd University.  Frazier’s 2007 novel Thirteen Moons will be the 2016 West Virginia Center for the Book’s selection for the One West Virginia Common Read. 

Frazier will be in West Virginia in the Eastern Panhandle during the Appalachian Heritage Festival and AHWIR, September 23 through October 01, 2016.  Charles Frazier has worked throughout 2016 with the AHWIR Program in selecting winners of the West Virginia Fiction Competition and creating a reservoir of scholarship about his fiction.

That scholarly work can be seen at the AHWIR website at

Writers interesting in submitting original works of poetry, fiction, memoir, creative nonfiction, and essays should visit the anthology website for details:

Submissions that connect in some way to the work of Charles Frazier will be given preference for inclusion in the volume.

Frazier is author of the award-winning Cold Mountain (1997), Thirteen Moons (2007), and Nightwoods (2011); he is working on a new novel soon to be released about the second wife of Jefferson Davis, Varina Davis.

Anthology submissions should be sent electronically to Dr. Sylvia Bailey Shurbutt, managing editor of the Anthology of Appalachian Writers: .

In West Virginia….

The Free Press WV

►   Hazard Mitigation Meetings Planned for Floods

West Virginia officials are planning several meetings in flood-ravaged areas about grants to help homeowners reduce risks during future disasters.

The Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management says the first meeting about the federal Hazard Mitigation Grant Program will take place Tuesday behind Clendenin City Hall.

Other meetings will be Wednesday at Elkview Middle School; Thursday at Alderson City Hall; September 19 at Geary Elementary/Middle School; September 27 at Marlinton Town Hall; and September 28 at Alumni Hall in Richwood.

A meeting for White Sulphur Springs, Ronceverte and Caldwell will take place October 3 at a location to be determined. Officials also haven’t announced the location for an October 4 meeting for Rupert, Charmco and Rainelle.

The June 23 floods killed 23 and destroyed homes, businesses and infrastructure.

►   Former Human Services Agency Director Faces Fraud Charges

A former director of a Welsh-area human services agency is facing possible time behind bars after being arrested on embezzlement and fraudulent schemes charges.

The West Virginia State Police say in a statement that 42-year-old Shanita Evans was charged Friday with fraudulent use of an access device, embezzlement, fraudulent schemes and obtaining under false pretenses.

Authorities believe the alleged offenses occurred while Evans was the executive director of Stop Abusive Family Environments from July 2012 to February 2016. No sum of money was released.

State police began investigating after being contacted by SAFE board members.

If convicted, each of the charges carries a possible sentence of one to 10 years in prison.

It’s unclear if Evans has an attorney.

►   Firefighters Fear Forestry Cutbacks Could Affect Fire Season

Southern West Virginia firefighters are worried about the effects of recent forestry cuts as the forest fire season looms.

Nearly 40 foresters lost their jobs earlier this summer as a result of a $1.7 million budget shortfall for fiscal year 2017.

Chris White, head of fire prevention and suppression for Region 2, which oversees the southern region of the state, says if early indicators of dryness are true, the fire season, which starts October 01, could be devastating.

White says his firefighting team was cut by nearly a third when the Division of Forestry reduced its staffing levels.

During the forest fire season last year, firefighters battled 648 blazes that burned more than 16,700 acres of forest lands, the most acreage burned since 2010.

►   Forbes names Pikewood National 2nd-hardest course in U.S.

Forbes Magazine named Pikewood National Golf Courseat No. 2 among its list of the Five Hardest Golf Courses in the United States.

Other courses in the Forbes list include The International in Bolton, Mass., Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill., Oak Tree National in Edmond, Okla., and Kiawah Island Ocean Course in Kiawah Island, S.C.

Pikewood National is a par-72, 7,649-yard private course located near Morgantown.

“High atop a mesa in the mountains near Morgantown, West Virginia, is the breathtaking Pikewood National,” wrote Forbes contributor Erik Matuszewski. “Designed in the tradition of classic architects like Donald Ross and Alister MacKenzie, this challenging, picturesque and ultra-private course is a spectacular walk through mature forests and immense rock outcroppings.”

Last spring, Golf Digest ranked Pikewood National among “America’s Hardest Golf Courses.” Since opening in 2004, Pikewood National has been recognized by Golf Digest as the best new private course in America and listed among its “World’s Hundred Greatest Golf Courses.”

“Pikewood National is the most challenging, fair and beautiful course in the world”, says Dow Finsterwald, a former Ryder Cup captain and PGA champion who serves as pro emeritus at Pikewood National.

Pikewood National was designed by John Raese and Bob Gwynne, whose vision was to incorporate classical design with modern construction techniques. Raese is the owner of West Virginia Radio Corporation, the parent company of MetroNews.

“We are delighted to have been selected by Forbes for this honor,” Raese said. “Forbes Magazine is one of the most widely recognized and informative publications in the world. The ‘Five Hardest Golf Courses in the United States’ is a very impressive list, particularly when you consider that Oakmont, a course known for both hosting U.S. Opens and its difficulty, is not on the list.

Gwynne said Pikewood National was designed to be challenging and fair. “We wanted to test a player’s level of skill and have the course identify areas needed for improvement in a player’s game. It is exciting to see Forbes recognize Pikewood in this way.”

Forbes assembled its list by taking the USGA Course Rating System into consideration, along with both slope rating and bogey ratings. “So difficulty is gauged for your scratch golfers as well as your average amateur who tees it up once a week,” Forbes wrote.


U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) joined U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz in West Virginia to discuss the future of coal. Senator Manchin and Secretary Moniz participated in a panel discussion at the Innovation Forum at West Virginia University and toured the Longview Power Plant.

“Coal is an abundant, affordable and reliable energy source. Right now, American ingenuity should be harnessed – not restrained – to advance clean coal technology in order to protect our future at home and around the globe,” Senator Manchin said. “I will continue to push the federal government to re-commit to that principle, to collaborate with us, and to ensure reliability and affordability in our clean energy future. I secured a commitment from Secretary Moniz last year to have him come see firsthand the innovation and strength of the West Virginia energy industry, and I am pleased that Secretary Moniz has accepted my invitation to visit West Virginia and meet with hardworking West Virginians who are actively developing the clean coal technology that our country and the world can use for decades to come.”

►   Nuclear gauge reported stolen in West Virginia

Federal regulators say a nuclear gauge has been stolen in southern West Virginia.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says in a news release the portable gauge containing sealed radioactive material was reported stolen from an engineering firm technician’s truck in Beaver on Saturday.

The statement says the gauge, used for soil measurements, apparently had been locked two different ways as required by NRC regulations.

The NRC says the gauge presents no hazard if the materials remain locked inside the container, while tampering with them would carry a risk of potentially dangerous radiation exposure.

The NRC says anyone seeing the yellow gauge should contact the NRC at 301.816.5100 or the Raleigh County Sheriff’s Office at 304.255.9300.

►   WVU alumnus challenge hits $1M in flood relief donations

West Virginia University says more than $1 million in donations will help West Virginia flood victims through a challenge match from Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick.

Kendrick is a WVU alumnus. He had said after devastating floods in late June that he would match contributions to the WVU Foundation dollar-for-dollar up to $500,000.

The university says in a news release that more than 1,600 donors have given more than $502,000.

The floods killed 23 people in the state.


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In USA….

The Free Press WV

►   Millennials Are in the (Gentler) Army Now

As gun ownership drops among young Americans and the Army trains a generation more accustomed to blasting out emojis than taking aim at targets, drill sergeants are confronting a new challenge: More than half of raw recruits have never held, let alone fired, a weapon, reports the AP. An independent research group finds that young people, who form the bulk of the Army’s rookie soldiers, went from a 1977 peak of 45% gun ownership to just 13% in 2014. Drill sergeants tasked with transforming them into competent marksmen are adjusting their approach, dropping the tendency to bark out orders and are adopting a more mentor-like coaching attitude. “You don’t hear any drill sergeants yelling, unless it’s a huge safety issue,“ said Staff Sgt. Randy Fisher, one of 600 drill sergeants working with recruits at South Carolina’s Fort Jackson. “We don’t want the soldiers to get all freaked out.“

Amid blasts of semi-automatic rifle fire at one of Fort Jackson’s 30 ranges, Army drill sergeants pace behind four dozen soldiers aiming M-4s at distant targets. The hard-nosed, barked commands from basic training are absent. During a lull in shooting, drill sergeants lean over to offer guidance in measured tones. The Army is blending decades-old training fundamentals for recruits with a “back-to-school” refresher for some of its most battle-hardened drill sergeants. Staff Sgt. Harry Lichtenberger said those new to guns often become the Army’s best shooters. “We find that those who have fired weapons have quirks, bad habits.“ Several recruits said the training approach worked. Pvt. Lorraina Casas, 18, a first-time shooter, says, “I’m confident shooting.“ Good marksmanship is a requirement to graduate from combat training for all soldiers, no matter if bound for a combat or support unit. “All soldiers are soldiers first,“ says Lichtenberger. “No matter what their job, they have to be able to defend themselves and their comrades.“

►   Heroin Epidemic Checks Into America’s Libraries

The same qualities that make libraries ideal for studying and reading—unfettered public access, quiet corners and nooks, minimal interaction with other people—also make them appealing places to shoot up heroin, reports the AP in a look at the trend. In Norfolk, Va., a 47-year-old man died after a patron found him in a library restroom. In Batesville, Ind., and New Brunswick, NJ, police revived others in library restrooms using a popular antidote. The body of a homeless man who frequented a suburban Chicago library might have been there for days, fully clothed and slumped on the toilet on the quiet third floor. The empty syringe and lighter in his pockets and cut soda can in the trash pointed to a heroin overdose. “We were all very shocked and of course worried about how this could happen in our spaces,“ says the library’s executive director. The inherent attributes of public libraries leave them especially exposed. They’re free and open for whoever walks in, and lingering is welcome, no transaction or interaction required.

“This is happening everywhere and that public libraries haven’t done anything wrong to cause it,“ said Josie Parker, director of the Ann Arbor District Library in Michigan. Her library already had removed bathroom ceilings and toilet tanks where people could hide drugs and restroom entrances that could be locked. Police routinely walk through the library, and social workers set up shop there, checking in with folks. All that, Parker said, strips away anonymity. “Anonymity allows people to do things they wouldn’t do otherwise in public places,“ she said, “and if you can take away anonymity, you can help change behavior.“ Boston’s libraries have needle drop boxes and have offered overdose prevention training for employees and residents. At the Humboldt County Library in Eureka, Calif., a librarian realized a man apparently sleeping in a chair was actually unresponsive, and injected Narcan into his leg. “I felt grateful that we had this Narcan on hand and that we were able to save his life, but it was kind of surreal,“ she says.

►   For Sale: U.S. Nuke Plant. Cheap

After spending more than 40 years and $5 billion on an unfinished nuclear power plant in Alabama, the nation’s largest federal utility is preparing to sell the property at a fraction of its cost, reports the AP. The Tennessee Valley Authority has set a minimum bid of $36.4 million for its Bellefonte Nuclear Plant and 1,600 acres of waterfront property on the Tennessee River. The buyer gets two unfinished nuclear reactors, transmission lines, office and warehouse buildings, eight miles of roads, a 1,000-space parking lot, and more. Initial bids are due Monday, and at least one company—Nevada-based Phoenix Energy—has expressed interest in using the site for alternative energy production, and says it will offer $38 million. But TVA says it isn’t particular about what the buyer does—power production, industrial manufacturing, recreation, or even residences would all be fine with the agency. “It’s all about jobs and investment, and that’s our primary goal for selling this property,“ says a rep. TVA hopes to close the deal in October.

Work began at Bellefonte in the mid-‘70s on the backside of the nuclear energy boom. The utility initially planned to construct four reactors at the site, but demand for power in the region never met early expectations and work halted in 1988. A series of starts and stops preceded TVA’s decision earlier this year to sell Bellefonte. “If you’re going to make 1,200 megawatts you need to sell it to somebody, and if there’s no need for it you’re not going to finish,“ says the site’s manager. “And that’s really what’s happened.“ Sales of US nuclear plants aren’t that unusual; the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry group, says at least 30 units have been sold in part or whole since 1999. The sale of Bellefonte is creating hope for residents who gave up long ago on the promise of thousands of good-paying, permanent jobs. “It was a great thing but then they just pulled the plug and left,“ says a local mayor.

►   Firefighter Charged in Young Son’s Hot Car Death

There was no evidence that a Tampa-area firefighter deliberately left his toddler son in a hot pickup truck for eight hours, but the circumstances amount to criminal neglect, a sheriff told a Florida newspaper, per the AP. Troy Whitaker, 41, of Palm Harbor, faces an aggravated manslaughter charge in the death of his 23-month-old son, Lawson. According to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, Whitaker left Lawson in his pickup truck for eight hours Friday instead of taking the boy to day care. “This is one of the toughest of all circumstances because of what it involves,“ Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told the Tampa Bay Times. “It involves a father who left his kid in the car for eight hours with no explanation.“ There was no evidence that impairment from drugs or alcohol was a factor in Lawson’s death, Gualtieri said. The Pasco-Pinellas state attorney’s office will decide whether to prosecute after doing its own investigation, said spokesman Bruce Bartlett.

Whitaker declined to speak with reporters when he was released on $50,000 bail early Saturday, according to the newspaper. Friends and neighbors questioned the decision to charge Whitaker, who the sheriff’s office said was a firefighter for Hillsborough County Fire Rescue. Whitaker strapped Lawson into his car seat in the truck Friday morning to take his 5-year-old sister to school, authorities said. Lawson, likely asleep, was left in the driver’s side back seat, facing forward, while his father was inside their Palm Harbor home studying for a fire department promotional exam, the sheriff said. Whitaker walked his dog outside during the day and got into the truck to drive to the grocery store around 3:30pm without noticing the boy. The boy was discovered when Whitaker returned home and began unloading groceries around 4:30pm, according to the sheriff’s office. A neighbor said Whitaker was screaming and inconsolable when he pulled the boy from the truck.

►   After a Disappearance, a Chilling Arrest

After 17-year-old Sara Kopetsky disappeared without a trace in 2007, ex-boyfriend Kylr Yust was considered a person of interest but was never charged. Now, the 27-year-old is a suspect in another disappearance—and the circumstances are chilling. Police say Yust was the last person seen with 21-year-old Jessica Runions, who was last seen Thursday evening and whose burnt-out car was discovered early Saturday in Raymore in suburban Kansas City, the Kansas City Star reports. Yust was arrested early Sunday on charges of “knowingly burning” the vehicle and is being held in the Benton County jail.

Family members tell KSHB that Runions was at a party Thursday with her boyfriend, who has been Yust’s friend since childhood. Search dogs have been unable to find any of trace of her. KMBC reports that Yust was released from prison in February on a drug conviction, and his other convictions include assault, theft, and animal cruelty for stomping a kitten and throwing it in a river. Runions’ mother says she has received support from Kopetsky’s mother. “People say they understand what you’re going through, but they don’t really understand. She does,“ Runions told the Star. “She knows this numbness I’m feeling, this anger I’m feeling because I can’t do anything.“ She says that instead of focusing on Yust, she wants people to concentrate on the search for her daughter.

►   Driver Killed, Teens Hurt in Bizarre Airport Bus Crash

A school bus driver was killed and up to 20 of her passengers were hospitalized after a bizarre crash at Denver International Airport Sunday afternoon. Cops say the driver had picked up 28 members of the Legacy High School football team and four coaches when she inexplicably circled back to the airport, veered off a roadway, and crashed into a concrete pillar, the AP reports. Officials say the driver died at the scene around 20 of her passengers were taken to local hospitals, including at least two in critical condition and two in serious condition.

The Adams 12 Five Star Schools district school bus was one of three that had been picking up passengers who had joined the team’s trip to a tournament in California. “The bus driver circled back around to this level. We don’t know why,“ a police spokesman tells the Denver Post. “The early information from the other bus drivers is that it was quite curious to them. They really don’t know why.“

►   Man Shot Cousin to See if Bulletproof Vest Worked

A Florida man is behind bars after becoming the latest person to realize too late that bulletproof vests shouldn’t be tested when people are still wearing them. Cops say Alexandro Garibaldi, 24, fatally shot his 23-year-old cousin Joaquin Mendez in Tampa Saturday night after Mendez tried on the vest and wondered aloud if it still worked, the Tampa Bay Times. A witness told police that Garibaldi said “Let’s see” and fired at his cousin. Officers called to the scene found the wounded cousin, who died after being hospitalized, and a vest with a bullet hole in it. Garibaldi, who initially told police he found his wounded cousin after hearing a shot, is being held without bond on a manslaughter charge, WESH reports.

►   Firemen Weep at Scene of Fire That Killed 5 Kids, 4 Adults

What local fire officials are calling the worst fire in Memphis, Tenn., in almost 100 years swept through a one-story home Monday, killing nine people, including five kids, USA Today reports. Per the Commercial Appeal, the city’s fire director, Gina Sweat, confirmed the deaths at a press conference and said one child is still in bad shape at a local hospital. She added the fire appears to have started in the living room, though fire officials are still checking out the evidence. NBC News reports there was a smoke detector in the home, though Sweat says it’s unclear whether it was working; she also notes that the windows were barred, which may have prevented the victims’ escape.

Among the dead are an unidentified 18-year-old man, 56-year-old Carol Collier, 27-year-old Lakeisha Ward, and 61-year-old Eloise Futrell. The children who died, said to all be Futrell’s grandkids, ranged in age from 3 to 16. “I’ve never seen firemen cry, but they were bawling like babies when they brought the children out,“ a neighbor tells the Appeal. Family members say the children’s father had run out to the store, and he came upon the deadly scene when he arrived back home. “Our hearts are ripped in two,“ Futrell’s niece says, and Sweat says the firefighters at the scene feel the same. “Nothing in our training can truly prepare us for this heartbreaking event,“ she says, per NBC.

►   Hungry Teens in US Turn to Sex Work: Report

Hunger is forcing some teens in low-income communities across the US into the sex trade, according to a report by the Urban Institute. The authors looked at poor teens in 10 communities across the nation and found that, in most of them, girls turn to “selling their body” and “transactional dating” with older men, and boys shoplift and sell drugs to pay for food. “People have to do other things,” a teenage boy in Illinois told the authors. “They do what they have to do to survive because not everyone can go out and get a job.” Susan Popkin, the lead author of the report, “Impossible Choices,“ called the findings “new and shocking.“ She told the Guardian: “The level of desperation that it implies was really shocking to me. It’s a situation I think is just getting worse over time.“

An estimated 6.8 million 10- to-17-year-olds do not have enough to eat, of which 2.9 million have “very low food security,“ the researchers said. “A small subset of teens make risky decisions in big and small communities alike because family poverty has increased, working-class wages have stalled, and cash assistance from government programs has wilted.“ The food budget is one of the first to be cut when families are in crisis, they said, adding that the results raise questions about the priorities of a Congress more focused on spending on very young children. The study casts doubt on the legacy of Bill Clinton’s sweeping welfare reform two decades ago, notes the Guardian. Among the institute’s recommendations: expanding school meals in the summer and after class, creating jobs for kids, and keeping kids out of the criminal justice system. Says Popkin: “One of the things we see, particularly around girls, is that if they get caught up in the criminal justice system, they get treated as status offenders, so they get arrested ... instead of receiving the support they should be having for being exploited.“

►   After Alabama Peace Rally, Gunfire Kills 1, Injures 5

It was a night that kicked off with peace and ended up in violence. Police in Birmingham, Ala., say one person was killed and five were injured as they stood in the streets of a public housing community after an anti-violence rally Sunday night, reports. Cops say as many as five dozen shots were fired at around 8:15pm, about an hour after the rally ended, from what were likely multiple guns; police think the shooting began with one person and that others then jumped in with their own firearms. While police rep Bryan Shelton says the five wounded aren’t critically injured, a man identified by friends as Bobby Clayton died from his injuries.

Residents in the Gate City community describe a chaotic scene, with bullets flying past as children milled about and residents enjoyed the evening on their porches. “I’m getting as low as I can and trying to get my family in the house,“ says one resident who had just thrown a first birthday party for his son. “The events of tonight are disheartening and troubling,“ Shelton says, adding there’s currently no motive or suspects, per NBC News. “More lives could have been lost tonight due to reckless actions.“

►   Mosque Where Orlando Gunman Prayed Goes Up in Flames

Before Omar Mateen shot up the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and killed 49 people in June, he had been a longtime regular at the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, showing up at Friday services for 13 years. That mosque went up in flames early Monday, per the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office, and officials are investigating it as an arson case, CNN reports. Per CBS News, a statement from the sheriff’s office says surveillance video at the mosque shows a person approaching the building “just moments before a flash is seen and the fire starts.“ Mosque leaders say they’d been receiving threats—including those that said the mosque would be set ablaze—since the shootings, WPEC reported in June.

What made the mosque notable, in addition to it being Mateen’s place of worship, is that Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha, believed to be the first American suicide bomber in Syria, also attended services there. But another attendee told CNN in June that there was nothing unusual about the mosque and that “we never hear any stupid things coming out from anybody. It’s very low-key.“ As for the link to both Mateen and Abu-Salha, he notes, “It’s very strange to me.“

In The World….

The Free Press WV

►   Assad Makes Rare Public Appearance as Truce Starts

The latest attempt to bring peace to Syria has officially begun: A ceasefire brokered last week by the US and Russia went into effect Monday morning, reports the BBC. However, this being Syria—whose civil war is a many-sided conflict—it remained unclear just how effective it would be. The Syrian government and its main allies, Russia and Iran, say they will abide by the weeklong truce, but the country’s most powerful insurgent groups have not yet said whether they will, reports AP. If the truce holds for a week, the US and Russia would begin intelligence sharing and target coordination against the Islamic State and al-Qaeda-linked militants. Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar Assad vowed that his government would take back all its land from “terrorists.“

Assad spoke during a rare public appearance that included attending prayers for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha in the Damascus suburb of Daraya, which had surrendered last month and reverted to government control after a four-year siege. “We call on all Syrians to turn toward reconciliation,“ he said. Italy, meanwhile, says a Syrian cease-fire could pave the way for political negotiations aimed at ending the long and bloody conflict. Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni told reporters after talks with his Cypriot counterpart that a cessation of hostilities must happen before talks can begin. CNN has a primer on the truce.

►   8 Chinese Tourists Walk Into Israeli Hummus Joint, Rack Up $4.4K Tab

How did eight Chinese tourists rack up a tab worth about $4,400 at an Israeli hummus restaurant? That’s what the Israeli Foreign Ministry is asking after the group was charged a hefty 16,500 shekels for dinner, the New York Daily News reports. “Naive customers are a very shaky basis for a business plan, and by behaving this way we are destroying with our own hands the budding potential of the Chinese market for Israel,“ complained an Israeli tourism group to Globes; some 47,000 Chinese visit Israel each year. The bill at the popular Abu Ghosh Restaurant included:

  • $1,064 for a private room
  • $173 for hors d’oeuvres and salads
  • $1,569 for booze
  • $838 for main courses
  • $400 service charge
  • $359 for desserts

Restaurant owner Jawdat Ibrahim defended the bill and said the Chinese asked him to close the eatery on one of his busiest nights. “They sat there from 3pm on Friday until midnight, and became rowdy and drunk,” he said, noting that the group added a 10% tip. “They enjoyed themselves and thanked me, and now, two weeks later, they’re trying to besmirch us.” The tourism group disputed that, saying the Chinese arrived at 7pm and never asked him to close the place. HummusGate has prompted an inquiry by the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the Israeli Embassy in China, which is trying to track down the tourists, the Washington Post notes.

►   American Jailed for Floating Into Canada on Mattress

As the judge put it, “Pardon the pun, but it seems to me you wanted to get there, come hell or high water.” That was apparently the case for an American nabbed while crossing illegally into Canada on an air mattress, CBC reports. Officials say John Bennett, 25, was busted last week after he washed up on shore in New Brunswick and was spotted by a local resident. “He was wet and carrying his boots,“ said prosecutor Peter Thorn. Bennett told Royal Canadian Mounted Police that he had tried to cross the border at Calais, Maine, the normal way, but was denied entry after a background check turned up criminal mischief charges pending in the US, the Guardian reports. He said he had to get to the town of St. Stephen to protect his pregnant girlfriend from a violent ex-boyfriend.

So he bought an inflatable mattress at a Walmart in Maine, used a wooden board as a paddle and headed out on the St. Croix River. “He, in his mind, thought he needed to do what needed to be done to get over there to see her and ensure that she was OK,” Thorn said, adding that there has been no word yet from the “so-called fiancee’s side.“ Bennett pleaded guilty on Thursday to illegally crossing the border, and a judge sentenced him to two months in jail—but not before noting the unusual nature of the case. Even the prosecutor said the “gallant” act has tugged on heartstrings. “I sense that there’s this element of a Romeo-Juliet type of thing,“ he said.

Governor Tomblin Celebrates One-Year Anniversary of 844-HELP4WV Call Line

Call center has received more than 5,000 calls for help around substance abuse, mental health
The Free Press WV

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin joined state and local officials at the 844-HELP4WV call line headquarters in Charleston to commemorate the one-year anniversary of West Virginia’s first statewide 24-hour substance abuse call line, and highlight the state’s progress in the fight against substance abuse.

“I am proud of the work we’ve done and the progress we’ve made together to help those struggling with addiction, especially through the HELP4WV call line,” said. Governor Tomblin. “As we mark the one year anniversary of the help line, we also look ahead to the challenges that remain – and recommit ourselves to helping more West Virginians overcome addiction.”

In the year since Governor Tomblin launched the call line, more than 5,200 calls have been received. Of those, 2,250 were individuals seeking help, all of whom were connected to at least one resource to begin or continue treatment. The help line was a recommendation of Governor Tomblin’s community-driven regional substance abuse task forces, which are set to hold their 20th round of meetings this fall.

The call line is administered through a collaborative partnership between the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) and First Choice Health Systems, whose employees are professionally certified and trained to engage callers in conversation. They work on a one-on-one basis to determine the best steps moving forward for each individual.

No callers are placed on hold and can be immediately connected with treatment staff to help determine the most appropriate treatment option. Follow-up phone calls are placed after the first appointment, the first month, and the first three months to help patients stay on track and have access to any additional clinical information or resources on community-based programs and local support groups.

Snapshot of Substance Abuse Resources & Programs in West Virginia

•The 844-HELP4WV call line is available 24 hours a day, seven days per week and accepts phone calls and text messages. The website - - includes a live online chat application.

•Substance abuse prevention services are provided in all 55 counties in West Virginia. More than 130 crisis detoxification beds in residential treatment facilities exist across the state with more sites under development. An additional 118 beds are designated for short-term, post-partum, youth and long-term treatment. Nearly 700 beds are available to those seeking help and support at peer and provider recovery homes and facilities.

•The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently announced $53 million in funding for 44 states to combat opioid abuse. West Virginia is set to receive support in its efforts to prevent overdoses and strengthen drug misuse prevention, among other initiatives.

•Today, the National Governor’s Association invited West Virginia to attend a learning lab, State Strategies for Reducing Overdose and Deaths from Heroin and Illicit Fentanyl. A team will attend workshops focusing on innovative policies and programs and best practices to increase access to substance abuse treatment and improve timeliness of overdoes reporting and response.

•The West Virginia Division of Corrections offers programs focused on combatting substance abuse in the state’s prisons and jails. Nine Residential Substance Abuse Treatment (RSAT) units in correctional centers across the state provide six-month to one-year courses of inpatient treatment with a total reach of 491 inmates. The RSAT model has been expanded to regional facilities.

•Through a pilot program overseen by the DHHR, medication assisted treatment is available for paroling or discharging inmates who have completed substance abuse programs and show motivation for continuing treatment. As of June, 29 inmates had received this treatment before leaving their facility. This pilot program has been expanded through legislation passed this year and has begun development in regional jails.

•Both prisons and jails offer outpatient substance abuse counseling programs, including 12-step peer-to-peer programs and a 39-session program focusing on addiction education, transitional skills for recovery and relapse prevention.

Our Protest Tradition – And Why Now More Than Ever We Must Cherish It

The Free Press WV

As this election season comes to full boil, we should remember the importance of civil disobedience to our history. It is one of the few tools ordinary people still have to organize for change. With corporations spending unlimited campaign cash, and states requiring photo ID at voting booths, it’s through protest that we loudly proclaim that we won’t be silenced.

Where would we be if the colonists hadn’t staged the Boston Tea Party to protest their lack of representation? Where would we be without protestors sitting where they were told not to sit, marching across bridges and to our Nation’s Capital, and standing in solidarity fully aware of the physical, legal and financial consequences awaiting them?

Speaking in Reno, Nevada, in late August, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton could have listened to some advisors and refused to take the hate-bait that floods daily from Republican candidate Donald Trump. But to her credit, she decided to speak up. As’s Terrance Heath wrote:

“In a scorching takedown of Donald Trump and his alt-right allies, Hillary Clinton reminded Americans that silence never defeats hatred, but that it must be called out and exposed for what it is.”

Her choice was a clear reminder that we cannot defeat hate by being invisible – it’s up to each of us to stand up and step forward. We must all confront a challenger aiming to make racism mainstream. We are called at this moment to make sure that never happens. Decency will defeat hate, but we must speak up and speak publicly.

When I’ve confronted racism in my life, I didn’t do so by complaining about it to my friends and going home. I organized and took action. One way I did this was through protest.

After finishing high school in Virginia, I went to college in Pennsylvania, where I was the only African American in my class. Coming from the state that prides itself as the home of the Confederacy, I didn’t expect Pennsylvania would be the first place where I’d protest for racial equality, but that’s what happened.

One evening, I went with a group of friends to celebrate a classmate’s birthday at the local café. We waited patiently to get served even after others were served. My white friends didn’t know why service was so slow. I knew why.

“It’s because of me,” I said. But they didn’t believe me because their experience of racism was limited to atrocities of hate groups. One of my friends approached the waitress, who told her the restaurant’s owner wouldn’t let her serve us.

We protested. We staged sit-ins and lobbied our student government, which voted to boycott the restaurant. Finally, the restaurant changed its practices.

More than 50 years later, one of the friends with me that evening recalled how painful it had been for her. Seeing the discrimination that I’d spent my young life steeling myself against opened her eyes to an experience she hadn’t seen before.

Our protest was about more than vindicating the right of black and brown people to eat in a restaurant without discrimination. For me, protest was a way to exert my humanity and claim that I am a person exactly like everyone else in our free nation.

That’s why, at the age of 70, I engaged in civil disobedience to support my friends who need a path to citizenship, and was arrested. I decided to stand with them, just as my friends stood with me.

We need to do a lot of soul-searching, remember our history lessons – and stand together.

When we’re willing to put our lives on hold and use our bodies to stand up for good, we demonstrate that we’re not afraid, and that we reject the politics of prejudice and paranoia. I’m willing to stand up for what is right, just like so many before me. Are you?

~~  Janice “Jay” Johnson ~~

DMV Online Vehicle Registration Renewals Top 100,000

The Free Press WV

West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) Commissioner Pat Reed is proud to announce that DMV’s online services portal recently hit over 100,000 vehicle registration renewals.  “We are so excited that West Virginia citizens are taking advantage of the opportunity to “Skip the Trip” and utilize our customer-friendly web site to do business transactions from the comfort of their homes, any time or day of the week,“ she said.  “And we are also pleased to share that attendees of the West Virginia State Fair, August 12th through the 21st in Fairlea next month, can take advantage of those same online services at our DMV booth in the West Virginia Building.“

Online services, including the popular vehicle registration renewals, paying driver’s license reinstatement fees and checking your driver’s license status are just a few of the services highlighted at that will be available at the Fair.  Commissioner Reed also remarked that, “Even though we like for you to stay at home and use our online services, we are also excited for our customers visiting the Fair to stop by and see us.  We’ve got some great things in store for visitors of what I consider to be the ‘New’ DMV.“

For more information, please visit the DMV website at, or call the DMV Call Center at 1.800.642.9066.

Florida Couple Pleads Guilty to Defrauding the Government On Braxton County, WV, Bridge Project

The Free Press WV

A Florida couple has admitted falsifying pay records for workers on a federal bridge painting contract in Braxton County, WV, more than four years ago.

Nomiki Vavlas, 50, and Michael Vavlas, 52, of Tarpon Springs, pleaded guilty to committing fraud against the United States, U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld II said.

The Valvlas’s own and operate VHP Enterprises Inc., a company that specializes in painting and sandblasting. They were awarded a federal contract for the Braxton County, WV, bridge project, for August 2011 through September 2012.

The project was subject to the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires employers to pay a minimum hourly wage rate to all employees. The couple did not pay the full wage rate for overtime hours worked by project employees and falsified payroll reports that were submitted to the West Virginia Division of Highways by mail.

They each face up to five years in prison with a fine of up to $250,000. 

The Department of Labor Office of Inspector General and the West Virginia Commission on Special Investigations handled the investigation.

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