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Families of veterans who died suspicious deaths at VA hospital continue their wait
John Hallman

A third lawsuit has been filed in connection with a series of suspicious deaths at the Louis A. Johnson Veterans Hospital in Clarksburg.

Charleston Attorney Tony O’Dell filed the suit on behalf of family members of retired Navy Seaman John W. Hallman.

The Korean War veteran was admitted to the VA hospital June 12, 2018 with a suspected small bowel obstruction. His blood sugar levels were normal when he arrived, but they plummeted during the night and he suffered sudden and severe hypoglycemia. He died just before noon on the 13th.

O’Dell alleges in his suit that “an employee of the VAMC injected Mr. Hallman with insulin during the night shift of June 13, 2018.  No physician order was issued for the insulin injection.”

This should sound familiar.  There were at least 10 suspicious deaths at the VA hospital between 2017 and 2018 and the circumstances are remarkably similar.  Each patient was on floor 3A and each experienced crashing blood sugar levels before dying even though most had no history of diabetes.

The victims who have been identified publicly include Hallman, William Alfred Holloway, Felix Kirk McDermott, George Nelson Shaw and Archie Edgell.

Authorities have a “person of interest” in their investigation, a nursing assistant who worked on the floor who has been fired by the hospital.  No charges have been filed against the unidentified individual and U.S. Attorney Bill Powell said again just this week that the investigation is ongoing.

The Office of the Inspector General for the Veterans Administration has been investigating the deaths for two years, but the agency has not yet issued its findings.

This “person of interest” is clearly the focus of the investigation. However, O’Dell believes the hospital was slow to recognize the pattern of unexplained deaths.

O’Dell charges in his suit that the hospital “had a history of failing to identify, report and track sentinel events.”

“The hospital failures and those people that allowed all this to happen are still in place.  There’s been no accountability whatsoever at the VA and that’s really disturbing,” he said.

The VA investigations have largely faded from the news in recent months. There have been few new developments to report and other big stories have dominated.  However, it is important to remember that the families of those veterans are continuing their long wait for answers.

 

 

 

 

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Lewisburg residents take part in protest urging equality

LEWISBURG, W.Va. — Lewisburg residents participated in a demonstration Thursday regarding racial inequality and oppression, similar to demonstrations nationwide sparked by the death of George Floyd.

Protesters held signs in support of the Black Lives Matter movement as part of the peaceful display.

“One voice may not be heard very loudly,” said Pastor Johnathan Turner of Shuck Memorial Baptist Church. “Two or three voices may get attention, but as we are one accord, as our voice continues to ring out, people will hear.”

Demonstrations across West Virginia over racial inequality have remained mostly peaceful.

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Push for vote-by-mail underway as voters request absentee ballots for primary

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — This year’s primary election faces a new challenge for state officials and candidates alike: addressing and handling absentee ballots.

According to the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office, 21.4% of registered voters — 262,240 West Virginians — have requested an absentee ballot. Voters have been able to use the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse for voting by mail.

West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner said the application process allows county clerks more chances to verify the identity of the voter.

“The clerk knows they have a live person on the other end, that you have a current address for that individual and you have a signature that provides a third layer of security,” he said. “The first layer is the registration signature — now an application signature — then you have a ballot signature when that person casts that ballot.”

In vote-by-mail states such as Oregon and Utah, registered voters receive a ballot application in the mail. Twenty-one other states have laws allowing elections for some local offices to be conducted by mail.

The Monongalia County Democratic Party has urged lawmakers to pass a vote-by-mail law ahead of the general election contest in November. Executive committee member Judy Ball said she understands the vote-by-mail process having previously lived in Oregon.

File

Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia

“It saves time, it saves money and voter participation seems to be higher. All those things are good,” she said.

Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, introduced legislation supporting vote-by-mail. He said there are safeguards to prevent election fraud.

“If somebody were to fill out somebody else’s ballot and send it in, the way that gets caught is through the signature verification,” he said.

Byron Fisher, the executive director of the West Virginia Republican Party, said vote-by-mail threatens the security of voting as well as the tradition of the process.

“It’s conducive to fraud and abuse, and it flies in face of the ‘one man, one vote’ principle that really upholds our system,” he said.

Warner agrees there are dangers with having mail-in ballots, noting a recent incident involving a West Virginia mail carrier. Thomas Cooper, 47, of Dry Fork faces a charge of “attempt to defraud the residents of West Virginia of a fair election” after allegedly changing requests for Democratic ballots to requests for Republican ballots.

“I don’t want 120,000 ballots out there. That is an inducement for someone to vote a second ballot, vote somebody else’s ballot or vote for someone who is deceased,” he said.

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West Virginia reaches 79 coronavirus deaths; state surpasses 2,100 cases

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Seventy-nine deaths related to the coronavirus have been confirmed in West Virginia.

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources announced the death of a 62-year-old Roane County man on Thursday.

The state also surpassed 2,100 positive coronavirus cases.

The department also released updated numbers regarding the number of confirmed cases and probable cases: Barbour (8/0), Berkeley (322/14), Boone (11/0), Braxton (2/0), Brooke (4/1), Cabell (67/2), Calhoun (2/0), Clay (6/0), Fayette (52/0), Gilmer (10/0), Grant (11/1), Greenbrier (9/0), Hampshire (31/0), Hancock (18/2), Hardy (39/0), Harrison (39/1), Jackson (138/0), Jefferson (199/5), Kanawha (228/3), Lewis (9/0), Lincoln (5/0), Logan (19/0), Marion (50/1), Marshall (30/0), Mason (15/0), McDowell (6/0), Mercer (13/0), Mineral (46/2), Mingo (6/2), Monongalia (124/11), Monroe (7/1), Morgan (18/1), Nicholas (9/0), Ohio (48/0), Pendleton (11/2), Pleasants (3/1), Pocahontas (20/1), Preston (19/5), Putnam (37/1), Raleigh (16/1), Randolph (132/0), Ritchie (1/0), Roane (9/0), Summers (1/0), Taylor (8/1), Tucker (4/0), Tyler (3/0), Upshur (6/1), Wayne (103/0), Wetzel (9/0), Wirt (4/0), Wood (50/3) and Wyoming (2/0).

Free coronavirus testing will be offered Friday and Saturday in Harrison, McDowell and Ohio counties. People must present identification to be tested, and those younger than 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

The testing sites include Monticello Playground in Clarksburg, Laughlin Chapel in Wheeling, the Tug River Health Clinic in Gary on Friday and the Keystone City Hall on Saturday.

Testing will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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Overlooked by WVU, OU’s Kenneth Murray grew into a first round pick

(Citynet Statewide Sportsline interview)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Kenneth Murray played some of his better games as an Oklahoma Sooner against West Virginia.

Those who are aware of Murray’s back story know that fact comes as no surprise.

Murray’s uncle, Lind Murray, played defensive back at WVU in 1980 and 1981. Those were the first two seasons of the new Mountaineer Field. Lind was a major reason Kenneth would eventually develop into a first round NFL draft pick.

“He definitely pushed me and pushed all of my buttons,” Murray said. “I listened and continued to grind. He was with me every step of the way and is definitely a huge reason I am in the position I am now.”

In elementary and middle school, the first sport Murray focused on was basketball. His time on the hardwood would be shortlived.

“I was really aggressive, to be honest. I would definitely use up all five of my fouls. If somebody blocked my shot, I definitely was trying to get some type of get back. That just let to a bunch of things, getting a lot of technical fouls. It just wasn’t for me.”

Murray grew up in Missouri City, Texas and turned his focus to football. He always kept an eye on his uncle’s former program.

“I wanted to go to WVU. That was my school. My uncle went there. I wanted to follow in his footsteps and be great. There was more than one WVU poster. That’s all I ever watched. That was really my first dream school.”

A trip to Austin in 2012 solidified Murray’s love for the game of football and his desire to one day compete at the highest level.

“My first time really knowing how big college football was, we went up to Austin and watched the WVU-Texas game when they first got in the Big 12. Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin and Geno Smith were on the team. I just remember after that, I was like man, I have to be a part of something like this. It influenced me a lot.”

The Mountaineers prevailed 48-45 in a thrilling contest. After the game, Stedman Bailey gave Murray his gloves.

“I probably slept with those gloves for like two years straight. I did everything with those gloves. That was something as a kid that was so crazy. It was one of the big reasons why after every game they can’t get me to keep a pair of gloves. I always give them away.”

Photo by Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Kenneth Murray (middle) reacts after the game against the Baylor Bears in the 2019 Big 12 Championship Game.

Murray continued to develop as a high school player and top-level programs were taking notice with scholarship offers. Murray went to a camp at WVU and received some interest from Dana Holgorsen’s coaching staff. But an offer never came.

He signed with Oklahoma and needed just three seasons to become the 23rd overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

“I don’t like to call it a ‘chip’, I call it a ‘boulder’. That’s really what it is. It is a big old rock sitting up there that I am constantly out there trying to prove myself right.”

Murray had no fewer than nine tackles in each of his three victories against West Virginia, ending his career with 28 stops against the Mountaineers. He had ten tackles in Oklahoma’s 59-56 win at WVU in 2018, Murray’s first game on the field he hoped to play his home games on.

“It was the last game of the season and they were pretty good at the time. It determined who went to the Big 12 Championship.

“It was a ball game. We ended up coming out with a win and it was definitely a battle.”

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma Sooners linebacker Kenneth Murray (9) during the second half against LSU.

At Oklahoma, Murray started all 42 games in 3 seasons, advancing to the College Football Playoff in each year. In April, the Los Angeles Chargers selected him with their second selection in the first round. Murray is spending some time in Morgantown visiting family as he prepares for the start of his first professional training camp in July.

“It has been one of my goals to be in the NFL and be a first round draft pick. To be able to achieve that has been like a dream. I am so happy and blessed to be in this position.”

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Justice removes Hess from State Fire Commission following social media post

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice has removed a member of the State Fire Commission following the person’s social media activity.

Martin Hess posted a photo of him on Facebook, in which he is wearing a t-shirt with a caption “All Lives Splatter.” The shirt also has an image of a car driving toward stick figures.

“Nobody Cares About Your Protest Keep Your Ass Out of the Road,” the shirt also reads.

Numerous protests have been held across the country over the past week following the death of George Floyd, in which demonstrators have marched in streets.

In a letter to Hess dated Thursday, Justice called the post inappropriate.

“I will not tolerate behavior like this from anyone representing the State of West Virginia,” he said.

Hess presides over the Gilmer County Volunteer Fire Department. He represented volunteer fire chiefs on the commission, and his term was set to expire on June 30, 2023.

Hess issued an apology Thursday evening on his Facebook page.

“Due to my post I have up set a lot of people and I am sorry for that by all means i did not mean up set any one a peaceful protest is fine as long as no one gets hurt we need to remember that all lives matter we are all the same color in gods eyes so I guess all I can do is say I am sorry and did not mean any disrespect to anyone or any group,” he posted.

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Superintendent finalists named; state board will name choice next Wednesday

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Members of the West Virginia Board of Education on Thursday interviewed three finalists for the state superintendent of schools position.

During a special meeting, the board interviewed current Superintendent Clayton Burch, Assistant Superintendent Kathy D’Antoni and Jackson County Schools Superintendent Blaine Hess.

“Each candidate brings a wealth of experience and is wholly dedicated to the children of our state,” board president Dave Perry said. “We are fortunate to have this magnitude of leadership in West Virginia working to improve the lives of children and families through education. It takes a high-caliber professional to steady the ship during the turbulent times we are in, and each finalist represents the best that our state has to offer.”

Burch has been part of the state Department of Education for 13 years and most recently served as deputy superintendent. D’Antoni also serves as associate superintendent of the Division of Technical and Adult Education. Hess, who previously taught in Jackson and Kanawha counties, is also the president of the West Virginia Association of School Administrators.

The board will name the next superintendent at its June 10 meeting.

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Andrew Shull key to ‘dominant’ Chapmanville teams

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Andrew Shull won 48 of the 52 games he played wearing a Chapmanville jersey. He sensed opponents at times knew what was coming.

“We were kind of the teams you didn’t want to play,” Shull said. “We were the team you didn’t want to see walk in the gym. You finally make it to Charleston and you are like — we have to play Chapmanville.”

Shull began his high school career at Huntington and transferred to Chapmanville at the start of his junior season.

“They accepted me and the fans, they were great. I made so many great relationships down there. I love those people. They took me in kind of like I was one of their own.”

The Tigers went 26-2 in Shull’s junior season, winning the Class AA state championship thanks to a deep and talented roster.

“We were one of the best teams to come through West Virginia. We had six college players. And we had six guys average double figures. Out of those six guys, we had guys who could go on any team and be the guy.”

Chapmanville was in line for the top seed in the state tourney this year before play was suspended in the regional round. Shull received word on game day at the barber shop.

“I was distraught. I was so mad. I am always sitting there talking to my barber back and forth. The dude is cutting my hair and I am talking to him the whole time. I didn’t say anything.”

The Tigers were seeking their third consecutive state title and were the odds on favorite with fellow seniors Obinna Anochili-Killen and Philip Mullins.

“You were going to have to stop three or four different options to stop us three at one time. We just played so well together.”

In just two seasons, Shull matched up against county rival Logan six times, winning five of those contests in an atmosphere that was unmatched.

“You get cold chills because they are screaming. Your fans are going crazy. You go by the Logan student section and they are booing you and calling you everything. And you are like, ‘Let’s go’!”

Since the March 12 shutdown, Shull has used some unique methods to build strength and stay in shape.

“I have been helping my mom in the garden, as crazy as that sounds. I put up a fence for her. I don’t know if anybody has ever done that but that is some tough stuff.”

Shull will continue his hoop career at the University of Rio Grande in Ohio, playing for former Teays Valley Christian head coach Ryan Arrowood.

“We have all new guys coming in. I am going to have to step up and be a leader.”

(Taylor Kennedy contributed to this report)

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Marshall prepping to give employees temporary pay cuts due to COVID-19

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Marshall University President Jerome Gilbert has informed employees that temporary salary cuts for some may be on the way due to the effects of COVID-19 on the institution.

Gilbert sent a message to employees, saying he is preparing to submit a budget reduction proposal to the university’s Board of Governors, including the temporary salary cuts in an effort to avoid layoffs or terminations.

A news release from Marshall said that the cost-cutting measures are necessary to balance the institution’s fiscal year 2021 budget in the face of projected enrollment declines for the fall semester due to COVID-19.

Marshall University

Jerome Gilbert

If the board approves the proposal, the university will implement Part 1 of the temporary salary reductions, which is for employees making $100,000 or more annually. The reductions will be effective with the pay period that starts July 4, and employees who make more will have higher percentage reductions, a release said.

Gilbert said in the email that after classes begin in August, administrators will know what to expect from tuition revenue and can determine whether or not additional salary reductions are necessary. If so, the university will implement Part 2 of the temporary salary reductions on Aug. 29 for employees whose annual salaries are in the range of $50,000 to $100,000.

Employees with salaries below $50,000 will not experience any salary reductions.

“Let me assure you it is our intent for the temporary salary reductions – to last no longer than one year,” he continued. “It is possible salaries could be restored to their full levels at any time during the fiscal year, depending on university revenues. Vice President Mark Robinson and I will be closely monitoring our financial status to be prepared to take restorative action as soon as appropriate.”

Examples from the salary reduction scale in Part 1 include the following: 6% reduction at $107,900; 7% reduction at $133,800; 8% reduction at $175,400; 9% reduction at $215,400; and 10% reduction at $262,400. The maximum reduction will be 15% at $470,000.

Some example data points on the Part 2 salary reduction scale are: 1% reduction at $54,800; 2% reduction at $60,750; 3% reduction at $68,450; 4% reduction at $77,775; and 5% reduction at $90,000.

The proposal to the board is expected to include freezing vacant positions and State-funded travel, cutting back on-campus events, reducing the number of graduate assistants and student workers, reducing operating, maintenance and utility budgets and reducing the number of course sections to cut instructional expenses.

In addition, the university will save $1 million a year due to strategic refinancing of university bonds in April, Marshall said.

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Justice defends comment that he wouldn’t welcome Obama: ‘not a racial bone in my body’

Gov. Jim Justice today addressed his earlier comment that he might not welcome former President Barack Obama to West Virginia, saying he was referring to Obama’s energy policies rather than his race.

Justice made the comment near the end of a Wednesday news briefing, tossing out what seemed meant to be a throwaway line about the country’s first black president at the same time there are nationwide protests over systemic racism.

Today, Justice said his comment was not intended to have racial connotations but instead was a reference to how the energy policies of the Obama administration affected coal markets in states like West Virginia.

“President Obama as a person is welcome here. But President Obama’s war on coal is not welcome here,” Justice, a businessman with significant coal holdings, said today.

Justice said his intent was not racist, making general references to relationships with black people.

“I would surely hope and pray that anybody that knows me would know there’s not a racial bone in my body,” the governor said.

“And from the standpoint of people casting stones in that regard, that’s just terrible. It’s ridiculous because that’s just not me in any way. If people only knew my extended family and all the African-American people that I associate with and that I take care of, families that I take care of and people, individuals, kids that I take care of and that I’m in communication with every day almost.”

Justice, a high school girls basketball coach, sparked controversy earlier this year after a fracas with an opposing team when he called them “thugs.” The businessman whose holdings include The Greenbrier resort has contrasted his life more than once with Kunta Kinte, the slave character in “Roots.”

Justice generated an uproar at midweek by suggesting any president would be welcome in West Virginia but one.

The governor had taken a call from President Donald Trump in the middle of Wednesday’s briefing and was describing his efforts to pitch West Virginia as a replacement site for this year’s Republican National Convention.

“I wanted him to know just how welcome he is in West Virginia,” Justice said of Trump. “And any president, you know, we should absolutely welcome all but — maybe not Barack Obama. Nevertheless, we’ll welcome any president.”

The governor often describes his close relationship with Trump. Justice was first elected governor as a Democrat but then announced he was switching to be a Republican during a 2017 rally with Trump in West Virginia.

Not long after the governor first made the comment, his administration put out a statement that he was referring to the Obama administration’s coal policies. It questioned the intent of those offering criticism.

“After a few politically-motivated individuals began questioning the tone of the comment, Governor Justice provided clarification that the remark was made specifically in regard to the effect that the Obama Administration’s War on Coal had on the West Virginia economy from 2008-2016.”

In addition to a social media storm, Justice did draw criticism from other candidates in the upcoming election.

Mary Ann Claytor

Mary Ann Claytor, an African-American running for state auditor, was among those who objected to Justice’s comments.

“I don’t always agree with your policies, but I would never tell you that you are not welcome in my home,” Claytor, a Democrat, said in comments directed at the governor.

“Whether your statement was made jokingly or not, it has ramifications to the young children that were inspired by President Obama’s election. It’s apparent that during these troubled times, we need a leader who stands for all of us, and not against us.”

Democrats vying to face Justice in the general election put out statements on social media, taking exception to Justice’s comment.

Candidate for governor Stephen Smith‘s statement on Jim Justice’s remarks: pic.twitter.com/rKFQnqAYBh

— WV Can’t Wait & Stephen Smith for Governor (@WVCantWait) June 3, 2020

At a time when West Virginians are looking for unity and leadership, yet again, Jim Justice demonstrated that he’s out of touch. Whether it’s calling student athletes thugs or singling out the first African-American president, one thing is clear: we need new leadership.

— Ben Salango (@BenSalango) June 3, 2020

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