The Voice of West Virginia
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The Quick Response Team at the Monongalia County Department of Health received a $1 million grant in the latest round congressional-directed funding.
This grant, which was announced by U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, will fund a data-driven effort to support continued improvement and widen their reach in the county. A full-time data analyst will conduct the three-year study, which could begin as early as next month.
“To get this through the U.S. Department of Justice is a huge deal to us,” QRT Coordinator Brittany Irick said. “We’re excited and really grateful for the opportunity, and I look forward to what we’ll be able to do with this.”
Irick said that over the four-year life of the team, so far they have connected thousands of people who have recently suffered an opioid overdose with medical and recovery services. The team has also distributed thousands of free naloxone, the overdose-reversing drug.
Irick said they applied for the same grant unsuccessfully in 2020 and 2021; they skipped 2022 before coming up with a new application in 2023.
“Luckily, the Bureau for Justice Assistance has been really good at providing feedback on previous applications as to why they weren’t funded, and we took that information and really tried to implement it into this application process.”
The Monongalia County QRT has earned the United States Attorney Award for Outstanding Community Drug Prevention and has collaborated and trained with QRTs in Michigan and Kentucky.
Irick said their focus will be on identifying gaps in their data collection while attempting to maximize the data available from partner agencies and larger organizations.
“There’s always room for improvement, and that’s what we’re doing with this grant,” Irick said. “We want to make sure we’re getting all the data and doing all of the right things to help our community that we can.”
Once the data is available, Irick expects to have a better picture of their performance in the community and where impactful improvements can be made.
“Looking at the numbers and asking, have we had an impact on reducing overdose fatalities and reducing the number of overdoses in our county?” Irick asked. “That’s really hard to determine because there is a lack of data that tells us we’ve been successful at that.”
As the relatively young team gains more experience, the data can be a multiplier in the continuing battle against opioid addiction.
“Try to determine how we can make better decisions within our QRT to be successful and reach more people,” Irick said. “Ideally, our idea of success is reducing morbidity and mortality and lowering overdose fatalities.”
The QRT was created by the Monongalia County Health Department with a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration grant from the federal government.
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KINGWOOD, W.Va. — The tradition continues in downtown Kingwood Wednesday with the opening of the 81st Preston County Buckwheat Festival.
Festival General Chairman Harry Hayes said planning for this year’s event, which runs through Sunday, started immediately after cleanup last year.
“There’s obviously hundreds of volunteers and thousands of hours that are put into putting this festival on,” Hayes said on WAJR’S “Talk of the Town.” “The community comes together to really help support this great festival, which benefits the Kingwood Volunteer Fire Department.”
Hayes said more than 10,000 buckwheat pancake and sausage dinners are prepared each year for the community with the proceeds benefiting firefighters. The Kingwood Fire Department meals are $12 for adults and $7 for kids from 3 to 12 years old.
“The buckwheat cakes and sausages are at our community building,” Hayes said. “Those are all-you-can-eat buckwheat cakes; you pay for the dinner, and you can eat as many buckwheat cakes as you want, and it comes with sausage as well.”
The Buckwheat Festival is known for its parades. The Firefighter Parade is the first procession of the festival that starts at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, and on Friday, the School Day Parade will step off at 2 p.m. The parade lineup this year includes an appearance by the West Virginia University Marching Band.
“On Saturday, we have the Farmer’s Day Parade at noon, and we have the WVU Marching Band marching in the parade, and they’ll follow that with a field show,” Hayes said. “So, we’re really excited to have the WU Marching Band.”
Hayes said there will also be a full Midway featuring amusement rides and concessions provided by Shaw & Sons Amusements. All-day ride passes are $15 for Wednesday and $25 on all other days of the festival.
“This year we’re bringing back a big Ferris Wheel; it’s the first time it’s been back for a number of years,” Hayes said. “So, there’s a great chance to get up on the Ferris wheel and see beautiful views of Kingwood and the surrounding mountains.”
Entertainment during the festival ranges from karaoke, open mic, and Morgantown-based country band Moonlight Drive.
“We’ll feature the Davisson Brothers on Saturday night at 8 p.m.,” Hayes said. “We’ll also have Dylan Schneider, an up-and-coming country star, headlining on Friday night, along with some other good regional and national touring bands.”
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Greg Carey and Joe Brocato discuss the battle of unbeaten teams on Friday between Mingo Central (5-0) and Scott (5-0).
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Today on MetroNews This Morning:
–Kanawha County Deputies identify a man killed in an officer involved shooting
–Parkersburg city council puts a ban on camping in public places aimed at curbing homeless issues
–Huntington’s waste water treatment plant may be the filter for water from East Palestine, OH before it goes back into the Ohio River.
–In Sports, Josh Eilert is ready to begin his tenure as the interim head coach for Mountaineer Basketball
The infamous criminal Willie Sutton supposedly said he robbed banks “Because that’s where the money is.” True or not, the answer got to the heart of the motivation for bank robbery.
The United State Congress, primarily the U.S. House of Representatives, is engaged in a bitter budget dispute. If no agreement is reached by the start of the new federal fiscal year October 1, federal government services will be disrupted and hundreds of thousands of federal employees will be furloughed without pay.
A handful of far right Republicans in the House are clogging up the budget process. They say they are trying to rein in spending further than the bipartisan budget agreement reached earlier this year. It is also likely these same Republicans are using their budget leverage to force out Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
The politics are intriguing, and a shutdown will trigger lots of speculation about who gets the blame and what the political fallout will be. But let’s get back to where the money is… and is not.
The deeper cuts the Republicans want are in the category of discretionary spending. The Washington Post reports the conservatives want to return to 2022 levels, and that would mean “cutting more than $100 billion from agency budgets.”
That’s not nothing, but discretionary spending makes up only about one-sixth of the federal budget. “The government’s biggest annual expense, though, and the main projected drivers of U.S. debt are the entitlement programs Medicare and Social Security.”
Those popular social programs are off the table, as are the military, border enforcement and veterans’ benefits. “Republicans have also ruled out higher taxes as part of any deal to lower the deficit,” the Post reports.
So, here is the question: Can you really make government smaller by refusing to consider the biggest portions of government? The biggest spending occurs in areas that no politician wants to touch.
In fact, for example, politicians proudly tout that Social Security will not be impacted. President Biden said on September 14, “They (Republicans) want to raise the Social Security retirement age, which means a 13 percent cut in benefits for seniors who retire at 67.”
That sounds reassuring until you consider this report from the non-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget: The Social Security retirement fund is scheduled to become insolvent by 2033. “In that year, annual benefits would be cut by $17,400 (or 23 percent) for a typical newly retired dual-income couple.”
The Fiscal Responsibility Act passed earlier this year reduces deficits by $1 to $2 trillion over the next ten years. Republicans and Democrats signed on to that deal, which is a healthy way to legislate. It is a start, and the only politically safe way to get spending under control is to do it in a bipartisan fashion, unlike the futile efforts of a handful of House Republicans.
But going forward, if Congress ever wants to get truly serious about the annual deficits and the debt, it will have to go where the money is.
CROSS LANES, W.Va. — Detectives with the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Department (KCSD) are continuing their investigation into an officer-involved shooting that turned deadly.
On Saturday, Kanawha County Deputies were attempting to serve an arrest warrant from Logan County for Brian Edward Spencer, 43, from the Sissonville area.
According to the KCSD, deputies came to the Rodeway Inn in Cross Lanes when Spencer began firing gunshots at the deputies from his vehicle. The deputies then returned fire. Spencer was shot and killed in the exchange.
Detectives are still examining physical evidence and attempting to locate potential witnesses to the incident.
Anyone who witnessed the shooting or has information about it that could be helpful to investigators is asked to contact Detective/Sergeant Adam Crawford at 304-357-0560.
More information about the investigation is expected to be released at a later date after a review from the Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. All cases of officer-involved shootings are sent to the Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for review.
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The significant improvement West Virginia’s defense has shown over the opening month of the season is as important a factor as any as to why the Mountaineers carry a three-game win streak into Saturday night’s showdown at TCU.
Over their last two games, the Mountaineers have allowed one touchdown and 19 points, stifling Pitt and Texas Tech to the point West Virginia defeated both despite failing to pass for 100 yards on both occasions and combining for 467 total yards.
“The last two games, you could maybe call them ugly, but that’s kind of beautiful from an offensive lineman’s perspective,” center Zach Frazier said. “Run the ball, controlling the game. I like that. No matter how it happens, a win is a win.”
If the two most recent outings are beautiful from Frazier’s perspective, they’d have to be equally, if not more alluring to defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley.
After West Virginia struggled defensively throughout a 5-7 season in 2022, the Mountaineers are generating a more consistent pass rush, getting strong play from linebackers that were unknown with the exception of returning leading tackler Lee Kpogba and doing a better job at avoiding coverage breakdowns that too often led to big plays.
“Nothing is more valuable than experience. That’s experience in the scheme of your defense as opposed to where they’ve come from,” Lesley said. “It takes a little bit of time. It’s just continuing to improve on what we’re doing. The kids are playing better. Simple as that.”
The Mountaineers made no bones about needing to improve their tackling, and thus far, they’ve done just that.
Increased physicality throughout preseason camp also appears to be paying off.
“We’re tackling better than last year. We’re playing harder,” Kpogba said. “We’re more hungry this year considering that we didn’t get the results we wanted last year. We didn’t play that well last year on defense and we wanted to improve.”
West Virginia hasn’t forced a turnover in two of four games, but already has five interceptions after picking off four passes all of last season.
The defense has also been especially productive on third downs, with opponents converting at a 25 percent rate (14 for 56). Texas Tech was 2-for-18 on third down and 5-for-8 on fourth down, meaning the Mountaineers stopped the Red Raiders on 19 of 26 drive-ending scenarios.
“It was a complete reversal of a year ago,” head coach Neal Brown said. “They’ve seen those stats. We put them in front of them every single day. Texas Tech was 15-of-20 on third and fourth downs in Lubbock last year and we didn’t get off the field. We reversed that. It’s a prideful group. A prideful defensive staff and prideful defensive players.”
One week earlier, Pitt was 4 for 13 on third down and failed to convert both of its fourth-down attempts.
“A big difference,” Brown said. “We’re doing a better job in our zone coverages and some of our eight and seven-man drops, we’re doing a better job of covering people. We’re creating more pressure as well whether we’re sending three, four or five. We’re getting in some more friendly down and distances, which means we’re better on first-and-10, and we’re getting teams in more third-and-longs.”
Even through the first two games, when WVU’s defense wasn’t as stingy or productive as what it’s shown in two contests since, the Mountaineers held Penn State to 3-for-9 on third down and Duquesne to 5-for-16.
By preventing opponents from converting third downs 75 percent of the time, West Virginia is tied with Michigan for seventh nationally.
A year ago, WVU opponents generated a first down on 66 of 162 third downs, leaving the Mountaineers 86th among 131 FBS teams with their 40.7 conversion rate.
The Mountaineers’ pass rush, which has yielded seven sacks and 14 quarterback hurries, has been critical in allowing the defense to get off the field at a far higher rate. WVU opponents also have seven sacks, but only three quarterback hurries.
“First down is always key in that,” Lesley said. “It’s getting them off schedule and behind the chains. When we do, it’s really just been great team defense and everything working together, whether it’s something we play in coverage, simulating pressure or bringing pressure. The guys feed off each other. They hold each other accountable. Guys like Aubrey Burks, Lee Kpogba, Jared Bartlett — they know more people’s jobs than their own, so they’re able to communicate and look around. That’s probably been the biggest difference.”
On certain third downs, West Virginia has enjoyed the luxury of mixing and matching personnel to better fit a situation. That could mean playing two bandits (such as Jared Bartlett and Tyrin Bradley) together. It could be moving safety Marcis Floyd around to where he’s at spear or cornerback in a nickel package. It can also mean turning up the heat in pass-rushing packages by utilizing Tomiwa Durojaiye, Davoan Hawkins, Jalen Thornton or Asani Redwood.
“It gives you a little more ability to get the guys you need to be on the field while still being able to fit things that you may see that people like to do to you in a sub package,” Lesley said. “People saw us use both the bandit and a spur in that package. It’s pretty simple what we’re asking them to do. It’s no different than coverage structure. It’s having the best guys for what the situation is on the field at the same time.”
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — 13 weeks have passed since Josh Eilert was elevated to interim head coach of the program he has worked in for 16 seasons. Those weeks have been filled with re-recruiting his existing roster, filling out the team with transfer portal additions and laying down a foundation for short-term and potentially long-term success.
The WVU men’s basketball team began official preseason practices on Monday, six weeks in advance of the regular season opener on November 6 against Missouri State.
Of the 14 players on this year’s roster, only four played in a game for the Mountaineers last season. While a lengthy summer of practices and an international trip would have been ideal, Eilert is making the best of a truncated and turbulent offseason.
“One of the biggest concerns I had was chemistry. You look at the beginning of the summer and you think you are going to Italy and you are building chemistry and you are getting six games under your belt and spending two weeks with each other. That wasn’t the case,” Eilert said Tuesday. “The revolving door of the roster, some of these guys got here just a few weeks ago. We’re trying to do everything we can as a team and build that chemistry. You can have the best pieces in the world. But if they don’t work together and mesh, it isn’t going to work.”
Following Bob Huggins’ removal as head coach after a DUI arrest in June, four veteran players — Tre Mitchell, James Okonkwo, Joe Toussaint and Mo Wague — left the program and transferred to other schools.
“I think some of them would have left anyway. Even before everything went down with Coach Huggins, we were looking at bringing certain pieces in to really load up the roster. But I had my concerns that certain guys would leave if we brought those pieces in anyway.
“You really had to look at those guys that were graduating. Those guys that were graduating and had immediate eligibility, you wonder if they are going to take that chance.”
Eilert was able to retain two of the most heavily-recruited newcomers in former Syracuse center Jesse Edwards and former Arizona point guard Kerr Kriisa.
“Anytime you look at championship teams, they have a really good point guard and they have a really good big. Then they have a lot of good pieces around them. That was my main concern — keeping Jesse and keeping Kerr and having those guys to build around.”
Kriisa led the Pac-12 in assists per game in back-to-back seasons. Eilert is hopeful Kriisa can also look for his shots as well.
“We are going to have to beg him to probably become a little more aggressive in terms of looking to make a shot because he really is a pass-first guy, trying to get everyone involved and running the show.”
WVU is still awaiting word from the NCAA on an immediate eligibility waiver for fifth year guard and Montana State transfer RaeQuan Battle. There’s no timetable for a decision.
“That waiver certainly looms over our head. It is something I am very concerned about. That would hurt our cause drastically because he is a special player.
“Defensively, he would be one of those guys if you go back to the ‘Press Virginia’ days, he would fit right in because he is so smooth and so athletic and quick-twitched compared to everyone else on the floor.”
As the interim head coach for the 2023-2024 season, Eilert is placed in a unique position. He certainly has an opportunity to secure the permanent position but has no guarantees beyond his ten-month contract.
“There’s no case study for this. I couldn’t go back and look who has been through this or who can I call?
“I did talk to several people who went through similar situations. Joe Mazzulla presented a great amount of perspective. But his situation certainly wasn’t like mine. [Texas head coach] Rodney Terry went through it but they were halfway through the season. His situation certainly wasn’t like mine. I have never been a head coach. But I am taking this thing day-by-day. We’re learning. We’re growing and we’re figuring this out together.”
Mazzulla, a former WVU point guard who played for Eilert, led the Boston Celtics to the NBA Eastern Conference Finals in a year where his interim tag was removed midseason.
“[Mazzulla] said, ‘Just look at it as probably the greatest opportunity of your life. In a lot of ways, you are playing with house money’. And I am. I have a chance to show myself, prove myself and be a leader of this organization.”
Eilert and his coaches continue to recruit high school players for the Class of 2024 and beyond.
“Anybody would be doing themselves a disservice if they didn’t look at the macro side of things. I am put in place to be the leader of West Virginia Basketball. So I am going to do what is best for West Virginia Basketball. That’s first and foremost. If things go south with Josh Eilert here at the helm, I want it to be where I put West Virginia in the best place possible. Yeah, I am going to recruit for the future.
“I am going to keep these guys together and we are all going to pull in the right direction. And we’re going to do it the right way. We’re excited about that and we’re excited about representing this university and this state. Where it is going to go from here we don’t know. But I promise you we are going to pour our heart into it.”
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — After less than six months on the job, the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia has parted ways with executive director Danielle Walker.
MetroNews has confirmed Walker, a former member of the House of Delegates from Monongalia County, is no longer with the organization.
“We are unable to provide comment at this time, as this is a personnel matter. We can confirm that Eli Baumwell has been serving as the interim executive director since Sept. 15,” said Anne Farmer, president of the ACLU-WV Board of Directors in a statement to MetroNews.
Walker was announced as the new executive director of the ACLU-WV on April 1, becoming the first black woman to lead the organization. At the time, Walker called her selection a “humbling honor.”
Requests for comment from Walker were not returned.
Walker’s predecessor, Joseph Cohen, praised her selection and described her as a visionary leader.
“She is committed to the ACLU’s principles, and she will inspire the next generation of leaders in West Virginia. I could not imagine a more perfect person to take over the organization that I love so much,” Cohen said.
Walker resigned from her seat in the House of Delegates and resigned from her role as vice-chair of the West Virginia Democratic Party to take the job with the ACLU-WV.
Walker was first elected to the House of Delegates in 2018 and became one of the chamber’s most outspoken, progressive members. During her time in the legislature, she referred to the ACLU-WV as a “steadfast and fierce advocate.” Walker led protests at the capital against abortion bans as well as bans on gender-affirming care for children.
Baumwell served in the same role prior to Walker’s appointment in April. He did not seek the permanent job earlier this year.