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The Voice of West Virginia

One dead, one in custody following UTV crash

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — A Jefferson County man is charged with DUI causing death after a UTV crash.

State police said the crash happened Saturday on property near Knotts Road in the Shepherdstown area.

Troopers said Francis Johnson, 22, of Harpers Ferry, wrecked an UTV and his passenger, Taylor Thomas, 22, also of Harpers Ferry, was ejected. He died a short time later at Jefferson Medical Center.

Johnson was later charged with DUI causing death.

The investigation is ongoing.


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$300 million at stake for Justice companies in hearing over personally-guaranteed loans

Three hundred million dollars will be on the line for Gov. Jim Justice and his family’s network of companies during a Monday morning hearing in a small town courtroom.

For many years, Justice was described as West Virginia’s only billionaire, but Forbes downgraded him after 2021 debt disputes. Justice’s political persona has been as a businessman who can buzz the numbers. He is currently running as a Republican for U.S. Senate.

This case presents major financial risk.

Attorneys for the Justice companies and their longtime lender, Carter Bank & Trust, will finally square off at 10 a.m. Monday in a courtroom in Martinsville, Va. The hearing, originally set for last month, had been delayed until now.

The lawyers will make their cases over whether it’s fair to require the Justices to pony up the millions of dollars they had guaranteed on loans  that have gone into default.

Gov. Jim Justice

Carter Bank in April filed to collect on confessed judgments adding up to $302 million, plus interest and attorneys fees, in Martinsville Circuit Court in Virginia. The claims cited personal guarantees by Governor Justice, his wife Cathy and their son Jay, who is the named executive of the family’s coal operations.

The confessions of judgment are written and signed agreements accepting liability in instances of default. In such circumstances, the note may be presented to the court without even notifying the debtor or having a hearing. By signing, borrowers may sacrifice their right to be heard in court.

The confessed judgments filed by Carter Bank apply to loans on James C. Justice Companies, Justice Family Group, Greenbrier Hotel Corp., Greenbrier Golf and Tennis Club, Greenbrier Sporting Club, Players Club LLC, Oakhurst Club, Greenbrier Medical Institute, Justice Low Seam Mining, Twin Fir Estates and Wilcox Industries.

Those loans had come due April 15.

Lawyers for Justice’s companies responded by filing motions to set aside the confessed judgments in the 11 cases.

The filings contend that enforcing the judged confessions is a radical step and that the Justice companies deserve a chance to offer a more detailed defense.

“Confessed judgements are one of the ‘harshest legal tactics’ available to creditors, as such provisions waive a party’s right to notice and opportunity to be heard as dictated by the Fourteenth Amendment,” wrote attorneys for the Justice businesses, referring to due process guarantees.

“Defendants therefore must, as a matter of state law and due process, be afforded an opportunity to establish those defenses in the ordinary course, by having this matter placed on the trial docket.”

Separately, the Justice companies filed a $1 billion suit against Carter Bank and bank officials as individuals last month, alleging bad faith practices that have severely restrained the flexibility of the Justice companies to conduct their business.

“Because of Carter’s significant control over their businesses, Plaintiffs have had little choice but to endure Carter’s oppression until they can escape it by paying off their loans,” wrote lawyers for the Justice companies in the federal filing.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia on behalf of Governor Justice, first lady Cathy Justice, son Jay Justice and 15 of the Justice family companies.

Lawyers for Carter Bank are trying to get the lawsuit dismissed or have it transferred to the Western District of Virginia, contending that’s the proper venue because most Justice business operations, the bank’s headquarters and the bankers who have been named in the lawsuit are all there.

Two filings filed last week that lay out that argument also contend the Justices should have been well aware of the loan documents they were signing, as well as the repercussions of not keeping up with payments.

“In what has become a pattern, whenever Plaintiffs default on their loans from Carter Bank and face the inevitable consequences of their default, they frivolously sue Defendants,” wrote the lawyers for Carter, “claiming that they were victims of ‘economic duress,’ a laughable notion when it comes to James C. Justice II, the Governor of West Virginia and one-time reputed billionaire.”





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West Virginia Academy hopes for recognition in New York this week

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The West Virginia Academy, a West Virginia public charter school, is days away from learning if they are the winner of the national $1 million Yass Prize or one of eight finalist awards, each worth $500,000.

John Treu

The winner will be announced in New York City this coming Wednesday.

The first charter school in the state is now one of 33 other institutions nationwide named semifinalists for the award referred to as the “Pulitzer of Education Innovation.”

“Our school has been viewed and vetted by this outside group; a national and very well-respected group has looked at our school and said this is a good thing for the students and the state of West Virginia, and they’ve given us a huge stamp of approval,” West Virginia Academy Chairman Jon Treu said.

The announcement was made following the four-week Accelerator program. During the program, schools are evaluated as they collaborate with experts from business, education, and policy. The accelerator is another step in the process to qualify for the event next week in New York.

“They were pretty extensive in making a site visit, coming out to our school, and seeing what’s happening,” Treu said. “The committee was definitely attuned to what we were doing during the accelerator, so a lot of the process has already happened.”

More than 1,000 schools nationwide entered the competition back in March and now the estimated 300 students and 30 workers at the academy will learn this week if they are the winners.

“We want to enjoy the journey as we’re doing it,” Treu said. “We really are making miracles happen, and we really are taking a very different approach to education, and it’s working already.”

West Virginia Academy operates the Suncrest Campus on Chestnut Ridge Road, with plans to expand to two other locations in the future. The Falling Water Campus would serve middle and high school students, as would the proposed Preston Campus, at the current site of the Preston County Youth Center, where WVA currently conducts its indoor sports.

“The objective of using the funds is really toward expanding our school and helping to continue what we’re already doing, but perhaps more effectively,” Treu said.

Treu said the process has immersed them in not only their charter school operation, but it has also provided the opportunity to meet other running schools and industry experts.

“It was just good for us to hear from others to help us stay focused on that mission that we’re doing this to help children, and we’re doing this for West Virginia, and we’re already seeing that happen,” Treu said.

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West Virginia receives national certification for success of Communities In Schools initiative

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State education leaders say a national certification West Virginia received last week will help boost efforts to get the Communities in Schools (CIS) initiative in all 55 counties by next year.

Cynthia Sorsaia

Cynthia Sorsaia, coordinator at the West Virginia Department of Education’s (WVDE) Office of Support and Well-being, said they still have two more counties to reach.

“We are in the process of working with Nicholas and Pleasants (counties), so I am so excited that the talks are in the works,” Sorsaia told MetroNews.

WVDE recently became the first state department of education to receive the national certification for CIS. The expansion of CIS across 53 counties and 260 schools has impacted over 100,000 students.

CIS is meant to help children nationwide achieve goals in school, in the workforce and in life.

“It’s a wonderful model that doesn’t come and tell anybody how to do things. It just provides that framework and I think that’s why it’s working,” Sorsaia said.

Communities are asked to identify their needs and then the state works to provide connection to state and federal resources.

“A lot of times that’s the bridge that empowers kids to really stay in school and achieve in life because sometimes the schools are not there. It’s those community resources that we’re able to connect students and families to that help bridge that gap,” Sorsaia said.

Students may need services for a variety of reasons, Sorsaia said.

“Maybe it’s an academic need that they need support. It might be a behavioral need, or an attendance need. They really work with the student to do a needs assessment. What’s going on that’s causing you trouble in school?” she said.

Sorsaia said the program has grown, in large part, to the commitment of First Lady Cathy Justice who started their CIS statewide initiative in Greenbrier and two other counties in 2018.

The CIS Friends with Paws program, which provides therapy dogs to schools within CIS counties, has helped students affected by poverty, substance misuse or other at-risk situations.

State Schools Superintendent Michele Blatt said in a statement last week the program is working.

“We know that teachers and schools cannot support children alone,” Blatt stated. “CIS is that critical ingredient that connects students and families to life-changing resources. With many of the pillars of stability removed from our communities, CIS site coordinators step in and fill a void with compassion, expertise and the ability to draw upon a network of support. As a result, children remain in school and thrive because there is a connected community that cares for them.”

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Photo gallery: WVU improves to 9-0 with 107-43 win over Delaware State

(Photo gallery by Teran Malone)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Six Mountaineers scored in double figures as West Virginia upped their record to 9-0 with a 107-43 win over Delaware State Sunday afternoon at the Coliseum.

JJ Quinerly filled up the stat sheet with 25 points, 12 assists, 8 rebounds and 7 steals. Kylee Blacksteen (16), Jordan Harrison (13), Jayla Hemingway (10), Tavy Diggs (10) and Tirzah Moore (10) also reached double digits in scoring.

West Virginia will return from a week-long break on December 18 when they host Wright State.


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WVU students will take final exams this week

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — This is final exams week for students at West Virginia University and the Carruth Center is ready to provide help and counseling for students feeling the stress of the fall semester culmination.

Sara DiSimone

Sara DiSimone is the interim assistant director of outreach and campus engagement, and she said many students are feeling the pressure while preparing for an evaluation of the final measure of what they’ve learned.

“The deadlines are catching up with us, and maybe we’re feeling a little nervous about going home after being on campus,” DiSimone said. “So, the anxiety is up, the stress is up, and it makes it tough for us to function.”

First, she said students should be thinking about their physical health in addition to their mental well-being and course load. Time has to be set aside to do all the things that put the brain and body in the optimum position to perform.

“Making sure you’re taking care of yourself is important,” DiSimone said. “Making sure you’re getting the rest you need, making sure you’re fueling the body like it needs. making sure you’re getting enough water and body movement—sometimes those get lost during this busy time.”

DiSimone suggests making a schedule that compartmentalizes study, recovery, and taking care of yourself. The schedule provides a guide and check to ensure students are completing the tasks, whether school-related or personal, to make the most of their performance.

“Making sure we are scheduling time for downtime is important, and I think that sounds contradictory to what we’re trying to achieve,” DiSimone said. “But if we don’t have time away from studying, we can get really burned out.”

Keeping in mind that the performance may not meet expectations is also important. DiSimone advises students to allow themselves some grace as they navigate the week because there will be some rough patches. One of the most important things for students to do is recognize and accept help.

“I like to think of it as carrying a bag of bricks on my back,” DiSimone said. “I don’t have to carry that bag of bricks on my back by myself; I can let someone take some of those and have an easier load to carry.”

The Carruth Center is located at 390 Birch Street on the second floor of the Student Health Building. Satellite offices are also located at the College of Law, the Athletics Clinic and Support Psychology, and the Health Sciences Campus. If students need to speak with someone to start the application process, call 304-293-4431.

“We are here through the break, and even until next semester, we don’t leave,” DiSimone said. “So, students can schedule an initial appointment here at Carruth at their convenience, and they can do that online or by calling here.”

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Beckley Police treating overnight shooting as homicide investigation

BECKLEY, W.Va. — Beckley Police are looking into a Sunday shooting as a homicide after the victim was killed.

Officers responded to the shooting on Clyde Street in Beckley early Sunday morning at approximately 1:20 a.m. They arrived to find one male victim suffering from a single gunshot wound.

EMS attempted life-saving measures but were unsuccessful and the victim, identified as Traysouan Robertson, 20, of Beckley, was pronounced dead on the scene.

The Beckley Police Department Detective Bureau is currently investigating the case as a homicide. More information will be released as it becomes available.

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DHHR to hold additional meetings in Wood County to address issues of homelessness, drug and mental illness

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — State health officials say they want to learn more about the issues of drugs, mental illness and homelessness in Wood County heading into the new year.

Christina Mullins

A meeting was held with Wood County stakeholders last month where the state Department of Health and Human Resources heard about the challenges county leaders face and what can be done to boost recovery efforts.

DHHR Deputy Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders Christina Mullins told MetroNews Wood County is situated on the border of Ohio which is contributing to the flow of drugs into West Virginia and people from out-of-state who need services.

“The fact that they are near an interstate, and they do border Ohio, but they also have some differences in composition around the number of residential treatment beds for substance use disorder,” she said. “Their treatment centers tend to be larger so when people are discharged, they place a greater need on the community resources there in Wood County.”

Mullins said some of those challenges are unique to Wood County.

“What we’re seeing in that community is that child protective services referrals, homelessness and mental hygiene commitments are higher than we would expect based on just their demographic data,” she said.

Wood County has to reevaluate how to use its resources, Mullins said.

“While Wood County has a lot of resources, it lacks some of the community resources that are more widely available in other areas of the state,” she said.

During last month’s meeting, there was a discussion of the St. Joseph Recovery Center and initiatives there to address substance use disorder and mental health challenges. SJRC offers specialized programs for adults and veterans including medication-assisted treatment, medical and psychiatric evaluation, medication management, professional therapy, supportive counseling, and peer recovery support services.

Mullins said the DHHR plans to hold more meetings in the future.

“We do expect to do some follow up meetings in Wood County. We’re still working on defining the problem for Wood County and we anticipate continuing that work into 2024.”

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Candidates for governor criticize state’s approach to opioid settlements; Morrisey defends decisions

West Virginia’s litigation in a range of lawsuits over opioid addiction is bringing in a total of $940,386,000, and Republican candidates for governor say it could have been more.

During a MetroNews debate, the candidates blamed another, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, for not being aggressive enough. And they also questioned Morrisey’s influence over the West Virginia First Foundation, which is the entity established to divvy up the money to alleviate the effects of drug addiction in communities around the state.

Morrisey opted against participating in the debate, saying it was too early in the electoral cycle. He participated in a streamed interview, solo, with another news organization instead.

Chris Miller

Businessman Chris Miller, one of the Republican candidates for governor early on criticized Morrisey for his absence as well as his earlier work history as a lobbyist representing pharmaceutical companies.

“You know what’s not leadership? When Patrick Morrisey was a lobbyist, he showed up every single day for special interests,” Miller said. “Then when the voters, when the taxpayers, have serious questions, he doesn’t show up at all. He’s hiding in his basement like Joe Biden. That’s not what leadership is.”

Opioid settlements

Later, the conversation turned more specifically to the opioid addiction crisis. West Virginia has led the nation in per capita drug overdose deaths.

The West Virginia First Foundation is starting to get organized, is moving toward hiring an executive director and has $217 million in the bank so far. Morrisey, whose office took the lead in the statewide drug lawsuits against distributors, wholesalers and pharmacies, has been at the center of organizing the foundation.

Miller said the amount available to the state should have been more.

“Simply put, he’s a bad negotiator,” Miller said. “If you look at the per capita settlements of the surrounding states versus what West Virginia got, we got sold down the river.”

When reminded that West Virginia is in line for nearly a billion dollars overall, Miller responded, “should have been three times that, at least. We were at the heart of the opioid epidemic.”

Moore Capito

House Judiciary Chairman Moore Capito, another Republican candidate for governor, agreed.

“We had the opportunity of a lifetime recently to bring dollars and funding in to prevent this with the opioid settlement. Patrick Morrisey is not here tonight because he can’t answer the difficult questions that West Virginians are asking about that sketchy deal,” Capito said. “He’s a former pharmaceutical lobbyist that reached a sweetheart deal with the drug companies.

“The facts are that he went at it alone. He didn’t join the national class action lawsuit because he wanted a political win for himself for the campaign that he’s not here to talk about tonight. And what happened because of that? We left hundreds of millions of dollars on the table, and we shipped millions of dollars out of state to trial attorneys.”

Capito has questioned whether Morrisey would unfairly benefit politically from what the West Virginia First Foundation now does. Capito raised that issue again during the debate.

“I don’t know where Patrick Morrisey is tonight in his Washington, D.C., apartment watching or wherever he is, but we asked him simply to do this: make a pledge to the people of West Virginia that you won’t use this money that needs to be distributed on need and need alone for your political gain.”

Morrisey addresses opioid litigation decisions

Patrick Morrisey

Morrisey addressed his role in the opioid crisis during a separate, streaming interview with HD Media. He described the results as “the number one per capita settlements in the country.”

Responding to criticism over millions of dollars in attorneys fees following the opioid settlements, Morrisey said, “Usually when you get it right you’re going to get attacked by someone.

“What my office controlled, not only did we get the number one per capita settlements in the country, but the state-based legal services are actually the lowest in the country. So we actually got the most amount of money for the lowest fees. That’s a big win. So I think the misnomer that some of these people out there didn’t realize was West Virginia negotiated a great deal as a state.”

He concluded, “We didn’t leave any money on the table.”

On the West Virginia First Foundation, Morrisey responded to questions of openness.

“We need for there to be transparency in terms of the total dollars that are being spent, and I think people should be part of the process,” he said. “I think it’s critical that people are going to get full access to these records to know all the dollars that are being spent, they’re going to know the grant process, they’re going to be able to participate.”

Touched by opioid crisis

The West Virginia MetroNews debate asked candidates if their own lives have been touched by the opioid crisis.

Mac Warner

Mac Warner, a Republican gubernatorial candidate who has served two terms as Secretary of State, described friends and colleagues who lost loved ones to drug addiction over a very short period of time.

“That’s when it smacked me that said, yes, we’ve got this opioid crisis and it has to be dealt with,” said Warner, who advocated for public outreach to try to stop experimentation with hard drugs.

Miller said the crisis has personally touched him and his family.

“I’ve been sober from alcohol and opiates since April 1 of 2004. You asked a direct question about who’s been touched by it. I’ve been touched by it. Family members have been touched by it,” Miller said.

“And it’s very, very hard. This is something that I’m very, very passionate about. You will never find anyone else in the history of West Virginia who has been through what I have been through and will focus on making sure that we eliminate the opioid epidemic right here in our state.”

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Marion County Schools announce plans to auction 5th Street Gym property

FAIRMONT, W.Va. — The Marion County Board of Education has announced plans to put the 5th Street Gymnasium facility up for auction.

Donna Heston (File)

Marion County Schools Superintendent Donna Heston says the facility is currently used by several youth basketball leagues, and the Fairmont Senior High School baseball program is operated from the facility.

“We’ve had several individuals reach out to us with interest in participating in the auction for the 5th Street Gym, and they’ve expressed their interest in it,” Heston said.

The board approved the sale of the White School to a behavior evaluation firm that plans to maintain some services for students and families in Marion County Schools.

“We are working in ways, like we have with the other properties, to fold that programming into our current facilities and be able to auction off that third property,” Heston said.

Heston and the BOE hope the 5th Street Gymnasium sale will end at the White School with a transfer of some services. If that is not the case, Heston said he will work to identify new locations to continue the activities.

“Our intent and hope is that they will still go and be purchased by a buyer that will provide services in collaboration with Marion County Schools, but certainly in support of our youth, families, and community,” Heston said.

The district maintains 21 schools and 23 facilities, and the 5th Street Gymnasium will be the third property auction of the year. The sale of the aging Meadowdale Elementary School was approved after the completion of a new $1.5 million wing at East Dale Elementary School, funded by the School Building Authority.

“The Marion County Board of Education has done a wonderful job, particularly in the last several years of carefully looking at our budget and minimizing expenditures, maximizing support for students, and making reductions when we can.”

Proceeds from the sale of the properties are being put into property maintenance costs in the district.

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