The Voice of West Virginia
As the pace of Covid-19 vaccinations has slowed across the country, states and communities are trying creative incentives to encourage individuals to get their shots.
New Jersey and Connecticut are buying beers for the newly vaccinated. “This is the place to be, and the drinks are on us. What more could you ask for?” Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont said.
The Hill reports that Detroit is handing out $50 prepaid debit cards to individuals who bring in an unvaccinated person to get a shot. Maryland will pay $100 bonuses to state employees who get vaccinated.
And West Virginia Governor Jim Justice has floated a plan to offer $100 U.S. Savings Bonds to individuals 16 to 35 who get vaccinated. However, that idea has run into trouble. As it turns out, buying a couple hundred thousand savings bonds is a little complicated.
Justice has not given up on the idea, but he has now broadened it to possibly just giving $100 in cash to shot takers.
“We have our savings bond situation or a hundred dollars,” Justice said during his Wednesday briefing. “I don’t know that we’ve gotten through the details of how all that’s going out, but anybody who’s 16 to 35 that has gotten their shot will receive this.”
As is often the case, Justice’s heart is in the right place, but he is shaky on the details.
The problem with the savings bond idea, along with the logistics, is that the gratification is deferred. It takes 20 years for a savings bond to reach full maturity. The information age has shortened our attention span dramatically. A study by Microsoft Corporation last year found that people start to lose concentration after eight seconds.
Telling someone that their savings bond will be worth $100 in 20 years is like quoting the old Chinese proverb to them: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Why even bother?
However, if individuals know they are going to receive a specific and immediate benefit for a vaccination, they may be more likely to get in line.
A survey of unvaccinated Americans by the UCLA Covid-19 Health and Politics Project found that one-third of them were likely to get a shot if they got a cash payment of $50 or $100.
If a large percentage of the population does need to be bribed—er, incentivized—to get vaccinated, it would be more effective to reward them with immediate gratification. Hand them a reward in their right hand while they are getting a shot in their left arm.
As I have said before, it is unfortunate that West Virginia may have to pay people just to do the right thing for themselves and others. After all, virtue is its own reward.
However, if a bribe is what it takes to reach at least an 80 percent vaccination rate for West Virginia and put this pandemic behind us, then start handing out the cash.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Michael Toepfer grew up dreaming of the scenario he found himself in late Wednesday night.
With fifth-seeded Wheeling Central trailing No. 4 Nitro by two points and 3.8 seconds remaining, the Maroon Knights’ junior guard threw an inbound pass to teammate J.C. Maxwell, who quickly got it back to Toepfer. Following two dribbles, Topefer connected on a three-pointer from the top of the key that beat the buzzer to lift Wheeling Central to a 40-39 victory over the Wildcats in a Class AAA quarterfinal at the Charleston Coliseum.
“It was amazing,” Toepfer said. “I always dreamed about doing that when I was younger. I’m just happy it went in for my teammates, especially the seniors.”
With the win, the Maroon Knights (13-2) advance to a semifinal Friday and will meet No. 8 Hampshire.
Neither team led by more than five throughout the game, and the Wildcats (15-4) appeared set to overcome the 37-35 deficit they faced after Central’s Ryan Reasbeck made a triple with 2:16 left.
Nitro pulled even on Joseph Udoh’s layup, then took a 39-37 lead when Kolton Painter scored inside with 1:01 to play.
The Wildcats had a chance to put the game out of reach, but Bryce Myers missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with eight seconds remaining. Nitro then gave two fouls to get to five team fouls for the half, but never committed a sixth foul before Toepfer’s game winner.
“I couldn’t see if we did or not, but we didn’t get the foul. The plan was to foul though,” NHS coach Austin Lowe said. “It’s my fault. I should’ve called timeout and been better prepared for that. It’s my responsibility to make sure they know what’s going on.”
Had the Wildcats’ fouled again, Toepfer said the Maroon Knights were prepared to give them a similar look as to what transpired on the winning shot.
“We’d have taken it back out and run the same play,” he said. “They didn’t and luckily it went in and we got the win.”
Central held the largest first-half leads at 13-9 and 15-11, but the Wildcats closed the half with a 7-2 surge to lead 18-17.
“They were up one, but we’d held them to eighteen, which is good,” Central coach Mel Stephens said. “In a low-scoring game, you have to gut it out a little bit and we were able to do that and make the play at the end.”
Udoh scored the first basket of the second half, but Central answered with a 12-4 run and went up by five on Leyton Toepfer’s three with 3:56 left in the third.
The Wildcats, however, answered with five straight points and tied it at 29 on Udoh’s dunk just ahead of the fourth quarter.
Reasbeck led all players with 17 points. Michael Toepfer added 11 and Leyton Toepfer scored nine, with the trio accounting for all but three Central points.
The Maroon Knights made 9-of-26 threes, while the Wildcats hit only 1 of 15.
“We made them work for everything they got,” Stephens said. “My guys basically had that attitude that they weren’t going to lose. They want to stay and play another game.”
Trevor Lowe led Nitro with 14 points and eight rebounds. Painter scored 13 and Udoh added 10 points and 10 rebounds.
“Credit to Wheeling Central, they made a big-time shot in a big-time situation,” coach Lowe said. “It’s a tough way for these guys to go out.”
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Had someone told veteran Poca coach Allen Osborne that Bluefield would shoot 60 percent from the field in its Class AA quarterfinal matchup, he likely wouldn’t have liked his team’s chances to advance.
But as has always been the case for Poca under Osborne, pace of play was imperative, and the second-seeded Dots controlled it to claim a 49-42 victory over the seventh-seeded Beavers on Wednesday at the Charleston Coliseum.
“We’re fortunate to advance and you have to give Bluefield credit,” Osborne said. “They shot sixty percent, hung in there and battled.”
The victory sends Poca (12-4) to a semifinal Friday where it will face No. 3 Charleston Catholic.
The Dots made 7-of-11 field goals in the opening quarter to build a 17-10 lead, but the Beavers (9-10) answered by making 6-of-8 second-quarter shots.
“I knew when I saw our seed we had our hands full,” BHS coach Buster Large said. “I have so much respect for coach Osborne and their players.”
Still, the Dots led 26-17 following a Jackson Toney three-pointer 2:03 before halftime, only for Bluefield to close on a 7-0 run and pull to within two. All seven points were scored by Caleb Fuller, who had 12 of his team-high 18 points in the opening half.
“We had a (nine)-point lead and relaxed,” Osborne said. “Our defense wasn’t intense like we need it to be. We challenged them at half and they responded. It was a good, solid win for us.”
PHS created separation in the third quarter and much of it was because the Dots held the Beavers to four field-goal attempts and scored eight points off turnovers. After BHS pulled to within two on a Jae’on Flack triple 1:47 into the second half, the Dots outscored the Beavers 8-2 the rest of the period, with forward Ethan Payne accounting for six points.
Virginia commit Isaac McKneely drained a three to start the fourth quarter and give Poca its largest lead at 40-29. Bluefield got no closer than seven the rest of the way, as half of McKneely’s 14 points came in the fourth quarter.
“We had our chances and we never make excuses at Bluefield,” Large said. “We had our chances so many times to get back in the game and we couldn’t.”
Payne led Poca with 17 points and Toney added 11 with three triples in the victory.
“It’s always good to have teammates like these that can bail me out sometimes,” McKneely said. “I’m not going to score thirty every game. These guys picked me up and credit to them.”
The Dots had only five turnovers and shot 50 percent, while assisting 13 of their 19 field goals.
The Beavers made 18-of-30 shots, but did not record an offensive rebound and had 11 turnovers.
“We were concerned about taking care of the ball and only had five turnovers,” Osborne said. “We were concerned about offensive rebounds and didn’t give one up. We wanted to keep them in front of us, play out on the perimeter and keep them off of the boards. Our defense was much better in the second half.“
Bluefield also failed to score a point from the free-throw line, while Poca was 6 of 9.
BECKLEY, W.Va. — Members of the Beckley and Woodrow Wilson High School communities came together Wednesday for a vigil honoring Dwayne Richardson.
The event took place three days after Richardson, 18, died from a gunshot wound in a Terrill Street incident. Richardson played on the high school’s basketball team, and the shooting happened days before the team’s first game in the state boy’s high school basketball tournament.
“I’m very thankful for this last year,” Richardson’s mother Keyisha Richardson said. “All of his dreams came true. I mean, everything single thing that he asked for. I don’t know if I was just in a giving mood.”
Beckley police announced Wednesday that Jeriamyah Jacob Fortner, 20, of Beckley, turned himself in for Richardson’s death. Police said Fortner inadvertently shot Richardson while handling an AR-15 rifle.
Woodrow Wilson High School’s first game is against Morgantown High School. Game time is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The attorney representing the Mon-Preston Fraternal Order of Police is satisfied with changes made to Morgantown’s citizens’ police review board, but she is still planning to continue pursuing legal action.
Teresa Toriseva is representing the body over a dispute related to the body and the proposed Civilian Police Review and Advisory Board. City officials agreed last month to remove the authority for the board to conduct investigations and hearings into alleged police misconduct.
“Most of what offended civil service and violated state law has been taken out of this ordinance,” Toriseva said Wednesday. “In concept, of course, the FOP is not opposed to what some of the goals are.”
Toriseva still has concerns about the proposal, including provisions allowing the board to interview witnesses and provide the police chief with input about a final decision on discipline.
“Unfortunately, we’re still headed to court,” she said. “It is a much more discreet couple of issues than what really was a disaster of a proposal that has mostly been gutted.”
Toriseva and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey have raised concerns about the review board, noting how some provisions would violate portions of state code. Toriseva noted Wednesday she is hoping to avoid taking the matter to court, but it is an option if the related ordinance passes.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Daniel Alkire didn’t care where his Hampshire team was seeded in the Class AAA state tournament.
Alkire simply wanted the Trojans to have an opportunity to play in Charleston, which they earned with a victory in a Region I co-final. But when Hampshire was seeded eighth and matched up with top seed Robert C. Byrd, few people would have predicted a lengthy stay for the Trojans in the Capital City.
“Seedings and rankings don’t mean anything,” Alkire said.
Perhaps not, but they seemed to matter until Wednesday.
Behind a stellar effort from Drew Keckley and solid defensive play, the Trojans defeated the Eagles 53-47 in a state quarterfinal at the Charleston Coliseum. It marked the first win for a No. 8 seed in state tournament play. No. 8 seeds had been 0-45 until Hampshire broke through.
“It’s how you go out and play,” Alkire said. “We don’t look into seedings. We know who we are. We know what we can do.”
What the Trojans (15-4) did was overcome a 39-34 deficit with 7:09 remaining to earn a spot in a semifinal Friday against the winner of No. 4 Nitro/No. 5 Wheeling Central.
“The last thing that we talked about before we came out of the locker room was that we learned today the seeding didn’t mean anything,” Eagles’ coach Bill Bennett said. “We saw our friends from fairmont (No. 2 seed Fairmont Senior) stumble and we kind of followed suit.”
After Bryson Lucas’ three-pointer put RCB (13-2) up five less than 1 minute into the fourth quarter, the Trojans prevented the Eagles from scoring again until another Lucas triple with 2:12 remaining. A pair of foul shots from Keckley gave Hampshire its first lead of the second half at 40-39 with 5:15 left. Keckley added a pair of jump shots within 10 seconds of each other to stretch the advantage to five, and it grew to seven on Mikhi Anderson’s follow-up basket with 3:01 left.
Still, the Eagles had a chance after Lucas’ third and final three of the final quarter allowed them to trail 48-45 with 40 seconds left. But one possession after questionable decision making resulted in Anderson’s missed three-pointer, Keckley tried one himself — and made it with 29 seconds remaining.
“As any coach would be, I’m saying, ‘bad shot, bad shot, great shot.’ Anymore, it’s a respect thing and we talk things out,” Alkire said. “They’re smart. They know their shots. Fortunately the second one went in.”
Anderson’s two free throws with 13 seconds left provided the final margin.
The Trojans made 12-of-15 foul shots, while the Eagles finished 5 of 15.
“Sometimes we were our own worst enemies,” Bennett said.
Neither team led by more than six throughout a competitive opening half, though the Trojans finished on an 8-2 run to overcome their largest deficit of the game and tie it at 25 entering halftime.
While RCB got 10 first-half points from Lucas and shot nearly 50 percent (11 of 23), the Eagles hurt their cause with nine turnovers as they struggled with Hampshire’s fullcourt pressure.
“Defense and pressing is what we’ve built ourselves on,” Alkire saiod. “Regardless of who we’re playing, we’re going to do what we do and that’s press. Our last defensive play is our first offensive play. We’re going to try and get out and run. That usually happens off long misses, turnovers and steals. We preach defense and we know what we have defensively.”
Lucas’ three started the second-half scoring and the Eagles never trailed in the period, matching their largest lead of the game on a Gavin Kennedy triple before settling for a 36-32 advantage entering the fourth.
Keckley had 25 points on 9-of-14 shooting.
“I’m not one to sit here and talk about myself,” Keckley said. “It all came from my teammates. They picked me up in the first half when we were down and needed points. In the second half, I found opportunities and took what I could get.”
Trevor Sardo added 12 points, while Anderson finished with nine points and a game-high 12 rebounds — helping Hampshire out-rebound RCB, 34-28.
“Each person has a role that helps our team in a different way,” Sardo said.
Lucas finished with 25 points and eight rebounds. Jeremiah King added 10 points. Outside of that duo, the Eagles made only 5-of-28 shots.
“I’m disappointed for these guys,” Bennett said. “They’ve had a tremendous season. I feel like I let them down tonight. Most of the responsibility is on me. My job is to make sure they’re ready to play.”
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Before the Charleston Catholic High School boy’s basketball team began Wednesday’s Class AA quarterfinal game against Ritchie County High School, players paid tribute to two West Virginia athletes who died in the last month.
Charleston Catholic players wore t-shirts during warm-ups honoring Capital High School student K.J. Taylor and Beckley Woodrow Wilson High School student Dwayne Richardson. Taylor was shot on Charleston’s West Side on April 7, and Richardson died in a shooting incident in Beckley on Sunday.
Taylor and Richardson both played on their respective school’s basketball teams.
“It’s tough for everybody. It’s tough for the whole state. It’s tough for these guys right here,” Charleston Catholic head coach Hunter Moles said after the game. “Some of our guys grew up with K.J. It’s just tough for them.”
Moles added the t-shirts were the least his team could do to honor Taylor and Richardson.
“You don’t have to post everything on social media,” he said. “I think at the end of the day, they know what you care about and how you care about it.”
Charleston Catholic won Wednesday’s game 68-58.
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LANSING, W.Va. — U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin unveiled a sign Wednesday for the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.
The ceremony, held at the Canyon Rim Visitors Center at Lansing near Fayetteville, follows the approval last December of the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve Designation Act. It was legislation that redesignates the New River Gorge National River as the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. The area becomes the 63rd national park in the United States.
Capito told MetroNews Wednesday the redesignation is already paying off with more visitors.
“Whether they’re in the hospitality business or outdoor tourism—their numbers are way up. There’s way more visitation at the park as we thought,” Capito said.
The area is the 20th National Preserve in the country.
Capito said the redesignation makes the New River Gorge a destination.
“They say there are (already) a variety of license plates in the parking lots and people are really excited to see it,” Capito said.
Check it out –> We officially have a new sign here at @NewRiverNPS!
Can’t wait to see the impact our nation’s newest National Park will have on our great state! pic.twitter.com/BDg9vqxIxI
— Shelley Moore Capito (@SenCapito) May 5, 2021
The redesignation has gotten a lot of good coverage. There have been feature stories in a number of national and regional publications.
Capito said area business owners are getting ready for the increased traffic.
“I talked to a business owner today (Wednesday) and her business is really going to hinge on more people coming in because of the national park. Now we’re looking at ways to accompany larger amount of people. It’s all snowballing in a good way,” Capito said.
Discussion about the redesignation began in 2018. The act creating it was passed in the year-end legislative package last December.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Former state Health Officer Dr. Rahul Gupta said during testimony Wednesday at the landmark opioid epidemic trial taking place in U.S. District Court in Charleston that he commissioned a report on overdose deaths in West Virginia to “learn from our dead so we could help the living.”
Gupta, who is now the senior vice present and chief medical officer for the national March of Dimes, was a witness for the plaintiffs in the trial that has the City of Huntington and Cabell County suing three large drug distributors, AmerisourceBergen Drug Co., Cardinal Health Inc. and McKesson Corp., for allegedly fueling the epidemic by dumping nearly 100 million pills into the region over a decade.
Gupta said when he started as the state Commissioner of the Public Health and state Health Officer for the Tomblin administration in January 2015, he was told his priorities were “opioids, opioids, opioids.”
The state was in the middle of the epidemic when overdose deaths we seeing percentage doublings each year.
“We here in West Virginia were drowning because of these deaths when compared to the rest of the country,” Gupta told U.S. District Judge David Faber Wednesday. “We were ground zero.”
Gupta also called what was happening in West Virginia “a tsunami of death and suffering. It was above and beyond anything we had ever seen.”
He said the opioid epidemic that swept through the country began in West Virginia.
“We were the canary in the coal mine,” Gupta said.
Gupta spent most of his direct testimony commenting on the study he commissioned: West Virginia Drug Overdose Deaths Historical Overview 2001-2015.
He said the report looked back at the origins of the epidemic and its ongoing impact. Gupta testified that during the 2001-2015 time frame, 6,001 state residents died from an overdose with at least one opioid in their system. Gupta said at one point an average of 3.5 controlled substances were found in the systems of those who suffered drug overdose deaths.
“They were not only dying but using a lot of combination of drugs also,” Gupta said.
Gupta also said many of those who were dying were in the prime of their lives.
“That was one of the heartbreaking aspects of this epidemic,” Gupta said. “The type of people who were dying were of the average working age of West Virginians, 35 to 54.”
There were 765 overdose deaths in West Virginia between 2012-2015 involving oxycodone, Gupta said.
Overdose deaths were moving from pills to heroin by 2015. He said the switch came after federal investigations began. He said doctors were prescribing fewer opioids and pill mills were being shut down.
Gupta called for another report to analyze all overdose deaths that occurred in 2016. He said 830 residents had died.
“We went through every overdose death. We created the last 12 months before death. That has allowed us to learn. This is the highest level of study you can do. This wasn’t a sample. This was the gold standard,” Gupta said.
Under cross-examination, lawyers for the drug distributors criticized Gupta for expanding his answers beyond yes and no. They also said much of his information came from an outside study.
Gupta is scheduled to return to the witness stand Wednesday.
The day began with testimony from Dr. David Courtwright, a historian on the subject of U.S. opioid epidemics.
He testified there have been four great opioid epidemics, the first beginning after the Civil War.
The second epidemic occurred in the late 1940s and involved heroin addiction among people of color in the inner cities
The third epidemic, according to Courtwright, took place in the late 1960s and into the 1970s with heroin use significantly increasing among young adults
Courtright told the judge the supply of drugs has been a key in each epidemic. He also said diversion has also been an issue in each. Each of the first three epidemics had a congressional response.
The lawyers for the drug distributors had no questions for Courtwright. Before dismissing him as a witness, Judge Faber told him he found his testimony “enlightening and helpful.”
There is no jury in the case. It’s a bench trial with the testimony being considered by Faber.
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BECKLEY, W.Va. — Beckley police have charged a man for the Sunday night shooting death of Beckley Woodrow Wilson High School basketball player Dwayne Richardson.
Authorities announced Wednesday afternoon that Jeriamyah Jacob Fortner, 20, of Beckley, has been charged with voluntary manslaughter and four counts of wanton endangerment.
The incident happened around 9:20 p.m. Sunday at a residence located at 509 Terrill St. According to a police news release, Fortner inadvertently shot Richardson while recklessly handling an AR-15 rifle.
“He was intentionally pointing the weapon at this group and intentionally pulled the trigger,” Chief of Detectives Lt. David Allard said. “However. he had thought the weapon was unloaded.”
A private vehicle was taking Richardson to the hospital when those inside waved down police officers and an EMS crew. Richardson, 18, died later at Charleston Area Medical Center.
Detectives initially received conflicting statements about what happened. They searched the residence and recovered physical evidence. Detectives interviewed Fortner on Tuesday and obtained warrants for his arrest Wednesday.
Fortner turned himself in on Wednesday. He was taken to the Southern Regional Jail pending arraignment.
According to Allard, Fortner was the person who called 911 and was in the vehicle at the time.
A memorial service was set to be held at Woodrow Wilson High School Wednesday evening. The school’s basketball team is scheduled to play in the state boy’s basketball tournament Thursday against Morgantown.
Members of the Charleston Catholic team wore t-shirts Wednesday honoring Richardson and former Capital High School student K.J. Taylor, who died last month in a Charleston shooting.
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