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Gilbert says Marshall is taking ‘wait and see’ approach on conference realignment

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — As conference realignment in college athletics has quickly become the topic of conversation heading into another academic year, Marshall University President Jerome Gilbert says his institution is taking a ‘wait and see’ approach.

On Tuesday, one day after both schools notified the Big 12 Conference they would not renew their grant of media rights with the league upon its expiration in 2025, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas formally requested an invite to join the SEC that same year.

Those moves have sent shockwaves through the college landscape with additional movement imminent in the Power 5 football conferences of the Big 12, ACC, SEC, Big Ten, and Pac 12. Marshall, a member of Conference USA, is part of the Group of 5 in football along with schools in the Sun Belt, AAC, MAC, and Mountain West.

Jerome Gilbert

Gilbert told MetroNews on Tuesday at an unrelated event that most Group of 5 schools are taking the same approach as Marshall, watching what happens with the Power 5 schools.

“If there is more movement there, then there might be some individuals universities that would move up to the autonomous five. In which case, that would create an opportunity for discussions within the Group of 5 to reshuffle,” Gilbert said.

“It’s ultimately too early to start talking about that. If it’s just two teams and the Big 12 reestablishes themselves and does not dissolve or come down to a smaller number, I think things will stabilize. If more universities were to depart, I think we would see more movement and more unstable conditions in all the different conferences.”

It remains to be seen what happens with the remaining eight Big 12 schools, including West Virginia University. Some universities have publicly expressed displeasure of the move coming from Texas and Oklahoma, which many expect to happen sooner than 2025. The likely decision by most Big 12 schools would be to find other homes as Texas and Oklahoma were the anchors.

If the conference attempts to stay afloat, an idea would be to add a few premiere Group of 5 institutions from the AAC. Gilbert said if the dominoes begin to fall in the Group of 5, he did not rule out a complete reshuffle of everyone including Conference USA and Sun Belt.

“One idea is we could all get together and say let’s redivide the schools into more regional conferences, which would be a good thing,” Gilbert said.

Conference USA is far from a regional conference, with 14 schools spanning from El Paso, Texas to Norfolk, Virginia and into Florida, divided into two seven-team divisions in football. Marshall’s first football season in Conference USA was in 2005 but the conference has since seen realignments with numerous schools leaving in 2013 to join the then newly formed American Athletic Conference (AAC).

Conference USA Commissioner Judy MacLeod released a statement on Tuesday saying, “Conference USA continues to monitor the ever-changing landscape of collegiate athletics. Our Board of Directors met Monday morning and will remain engaged, discussing recent developments and evaluating opportunities to strengthen and best position our member institutions collectively.”

Statement from Conference USA Commissioner Judy MacLeod:

— Conference USA (@ConferenceUSA) July 27, 2021

Gilbert told MetroNews that he has enjoyed Marshall’s time in Conference USA. Gilbert became the 37th president of Marshall in January 2016, after the last realignment.

“It’s a very large conference, spans from West Texas to West Virginia and beyond. It’s a challenge in terms of distance. I’ve gotten to know the presidents at the other institutions. It’s been an enjoyable association,” he said.

“And I get to travel to the away games in some far away places.”

But Gilbert is set to leave Marshall at the end of his current term in July of next year. At the end of June, veteran Athletic Director Mike Hamrick stepped down at Marshall and Jeff O’Malley began serving as interim athletic director.

Gilbert said even with the uncertainty up top in the administration in the next year, he is confident Marshall will land on its feet no matter what happens with conference realignment.

“I don’t think that will have any negative impact on Marshall. We are such a strong brand athletically,” Gilbert said. “We just won the national championship in soccer, we’ve always been strong in football, we have a good basketball program and other sports. So our athletic brand is so strong, I don’t think there would be any danger of anything negative happening to Marshall.

“I think there is an opportunity for positive things happening for Marshall as all of this reshuffles.”

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Young group of Blue Devils step in at St. Marys after 10-win season

ST. MARYS, W.Va. — In the most unique and challenging football season of 2020, games were scheduled on a few days notice, Sunday afternoon playoff games were frequent and in the case of St. Marys, the final playoff game was contested on Thanksgiving weekend. The Blue Devils navigated a 10-1 season with a second Class A state title under head coach Jodi Mote.

“I guess it is just memories that you will always have with you and people will know what you are talking about,” Mote said. “Hopefully, twenty or thirty years from now because hopefully we don’t have to deal with (COVID) again. We are just thankful we were able to finish the year out and the young men won the state championship. We’re thankful for that.”

Last year’s team included thirteen seniors and several multi-year starters. This fall, a much younger group steps in with just three starters returning on both sides of the ball.

“We have some younger kids and some inexperience to try to figure out where we are going to be, position-wise and getting that group to come together as a team on offense, defense and special teams. That will be our goal this year.

“We’re trying to get them to understand it is their time. They are no longer playing on Monday nights, they are going to be playing on Friday nights. That in of itself, it is important for them to see that.”

Among the notable returners are senior linemen Riley Boley and Wyatt Norman. Junior Cody Houser is also back as a starter. Some linemen could be shifted to skill positions if needed.

Now entering his twentieth season leading the Blue Devil football program, Mote knows that one of the most important ingredients for improvement this fall could be patience.

“Focus on positives and work on negatives and try to improve every day. Patience is definitely something you have to endure.

“I have always lived by the difference between success and failure is how you choose to respond to adversity. And you are going to face adversity. Are you going to get back up or are you going to lay down? I believe these young men will get back up and fight.”

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DHHR: COVID-19 hospitalizations increase to mid-June levels

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Department of Health and Human Resources recorded three additional COVID-19 deaths in case information released by the agency Wednesday morning.

The new deaths include an 87-year old male from Webster County, an 87-year old female from Fayette County, and a 54-year old male from Logan County.

Total deaths are now at 2,939.

Active COVID-19 cases continue to increase. There were 1,758 active cases Wednesday after 196 cases were added.

Hospitalizations are now at 127, the highest number of patients since 132 people were in the hospital on June 11. Patients in ICU are now at 53, the highest number since June 10.

Vaccination rates haven’t moved much in recent days. The state’s dashboard says 56.3% of state residents over the age of 12 have been fully vaccinated.

DHHR reports as of July 28, 2021, there have been 3,110,060 total confirmatory laboratory results received for #COVID19, with 166,493 total cases and 2,939 total deaths.

— WV Department of Health & Human Resources • 😷 (@WV_DHHR) July 28, 2021

Overall confirmed COVID-19 cases per county include: Barbour (1,536), Berkeley (13,029), Boone (2,201), Braxton (1,047), Brooke (2,269), Cabell (9,049), Calhoun (403), Clay (544), Doddridge (653), Fayette (3,629), Gilmer (893), Grant (1,320), Greenbrier (2,921), Hampshire (1,939), Hancock (2,870), Hardy (1,591), Harrison (6,321), Jackson (2,293), Jefferson (4,855), Kanawha (15,663), Lewis (1,346), Lincoln (1,615), Logan (3,332), Marion (4,745), Marshall (3,590), Mason (2,123), McDowell (1,661), Mercer (5,273), Mineral (3,010), Mingo (2,808), Monongalia (9,493), Monroe (1,238), Morgan (1,267), Nicholas (1,951), Ohio (4,368), Pendleton (726), Pleasants (963), Pocahontas (689), Preston (2,975), Putnam (5,445), Raleigh (7,163), Randolph (2,884), Ritchie (772), Roane (671), Summers (870), Taylor (1,322), Tucker (550), Tyler (759), Upshur (2,021), Wayne (3,223), Webster (593), Wetzel (1,417), Wirt (469), Wood (8,033), Wyoming (2,102).

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Nobody hurt in plant explosion in Kanawha County

BELLE, W.Va. — Officials are investigating the cause of a morning explosion at a Kanawha County chemical plant.

The explosion, according to emergency officials, happened in a furnace in the Kureha Unit of the Chemours Plant at Belle.

“They’re down for maintenance and were trouble shooting a furnace and had an explosion,” said C.W. Sigman Kanawha County Director of Emergency Management.

Nobody was injured and no chemicals were involved in the incident. It’s also unclear if the furnace was used to heat the building or used to heat a product produced in the plant. An investigation into the explosion is underway.

Kureha issued the following statement:

Kureha had an equipment failure this morning in equipment used for process heating. This resulted in some damaged ductwork.

Those close to the plant may have heard the noise when the ductwork failed.

There were no injuries, no exposures and no environmental releases.

The equipment was being serviced by the equipment vendor at the time of the failure and the plant was not in operation at that time.

As a precaution, the site alarm was sounded and surrounding community was asked to shelter in place.

Investigation of the cause of the failure has started.


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MetroNews This Morning 7-28-21

New guidelines from the CDC look to start requiring masks again, Governor Jim Justice says he’s not near calling for that but does encourage more people to get vaccinated. Meanwhile, more financial problems for the Governor’s personal business empire. The embattled President of West Virginia State makes changes to her leadership team. The first public hearing on redistricting happened last night in Winfield. In Sports, Texas and Oklahoma formerly seek admittance to the Southeastern Conference. Those stories and more in today’s MetroNews This Morning podcast.

Listen to “MetroNews This Morning 7-28-21” on Spreaker.

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First hearing on redistricting held in Putnam County

WINFIELD, W.Va. — West Virginia legislators on Tuesday held the first public hearing about redistricting, in which lawmakers heard from residents about their concerns regarding the current districts.

The hearing at the Putnam County Judicial Building marked the start of a series of in-person hearings scheduled to take place across the state. The Joint Committee on Redistricting is responsible for using U.S. Census data for establishing new districts for state and federal offices.

While Tuesday’s event only attracted 10 speakers, the group was adamant about their opposition toward dividing the county into several districts.

“Pretty much, everybody said the same thing,” Delegate Steve Westfall, R-Jackson, said. “That Putnam County was really gerrymandered up and is really cut up. You’ve got delegates representing it that live in Lincoln County and Logan County, and they want more representation.”

Putnam County Democratic Executive Committee Chairman Ben Barkey said lawmakers should consider districts to create as many districts with one delegate per county as possible.

“I think it’s been a huge problem,” he said. “Candidates from outside of the county have to represent our county. Many of our folks don’t know who their representative is.”

Lawmakers are still waiting for U.S. Census data to draw new legislative districts. Sen. Glenn Jeffries, D-Putnam, said the committee will be rushing to ensure the new map is ready at least one year before the 2022 election.

“It’s going to be a challenge for anyone that’s wanting to run for office,” he added. “They got to make a quick decision on whether they want to relocate somewhere to be in that district, or whether they are going to run or not.”

The next public hearing will take place Thursday at the Chief Logan Lodge Hotel Conference Center in Logan. The event is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.

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WVU’s Deskins discusses pending Viatris facility closure

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — With the closure process of the Viatris facility in Morgantown slated to begin Saturday, a leader with West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research says the planned action shows the importance of economic diversity.

Viatris, a company formed following the merger of Mylan Pharmaceuticals and Pfizer subsidiary Upjohn, will close the plant as part of an international business plan. Around 1,400 workers at the Morgantown facility will lose their jobs as a result of the action.

John Deskins (File)

John Deskins, the director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research, said West Virginia has struggled with low labor participation rates and an image issue.

“We already had plenty of challenges to begin with,” he said. “We already had plenty of things we need to do to improve our economic prosperity, so this is a step in the wrong direction.”

Deskins added the state has to take steps to make the region more attractive to potential businesses, which will make West Virginia more resilient to economic changes.

“If this loss were to happen in some of the areas that are very small and very rural, it could take decades to recover,” he mentioned.

Mike Puskar and Don Panoz founded Mylan Pharmaceuticals in 1961, and the Morgantown facility opened four years later with a focus on manufacturing various supplements and generic medications.

Johanna Puskar, Mike Puskar’s father, said the corporation’s culture changed after her father stepped down in October 2009.

“The ones that knew my dad and worked for my dad, I feel really sorry for them because they have gone through Hell. They’ve been ripped off,” she said. “For the employees that did not work for my dad, I hope people tell them the stories about my dad.”

Lawmakers have petitioned federal officials about keeping the facility open. State legislatures approved resolutions during this year’s regular legislative session asking Gov. Jim Justice and congressional delegates to seek another operator or investor.

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Nearly 3 dozen people indicted for multi-state drug trafficking conspiracy

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Authorities arrested multiple people Tuesday after previously being indicted for a multi-state drug trafficking conspiracy.

Multiple local, state and federal agencies collaborated on the investigation, in which 34 people from West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and the Dominican Republican have been indicted for an operation that included large amounts of heroin, fentanyl, cocaine base and cocaine hydrochloride. The shipments went from Hagerstown, Maryland to Berkeley County between August 2020 and June 2021.

Luna Mota, the owner of Top 3 Sources in Hagerstown, Maryland, allegedly used her business for having and selling controlled substances.

The U.S. Attorneys Office for the Northern District of West Virginia released a list of people who face charges:

— Lenin Erasmo Luna Mota, 48, of Hagerstown, Maryland and the Dominican Republic.
— Juan Manuel De La Rosa-Tejeda, 35, of Hagerstown, Maryland and the Dominican Republic.
— Daniel Inoa-Rodriguez, 21, of Hagerstown, Maryland.
— Shawn Gorsira, 50, of Hagerstown, Maryland.
— Ana Ercilia Luna, 36, of Hagerstown, Maryland and the Dominican Republic.
— Stephany Rodriguez, 32, of Hagerstown, Maryland.
— Dominick Mickens, 38, of Hagerstown, Maryland.
— Jackie Devon Thompson, 41, of Frederick, Maryland.
— Tyrone Lewis, 42, of Hagerstown, Maryland.
— Alan Clark Tolliver, 41, of Hagerstown, Maryland.
— Miguel Angel Santiago Caraballo, 30, of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.
— Carl Lomax Wynn, 56, of Hagerstown, Maryland.
— Marcus Deon Longus, 27, of Hagerstown, Maryland.
— Thomas Moore, 38, of Hagerstown, Maryland.
— Samuel Rose, 48, of Martinsburg.
— Deondre Trayham, 32, of Martinsburg.
— Branden Watson, 38, of Martinsburg.
— Caleb Sinclair, 35, of Martinsburg.
— Destiny Dabbs, 29, of Martinsburg.
— Felicia Johnson, 34, of Martinsburg.
— Brian C. Dixon, 49, of Martinsburg.
— Christina Anders, 25, of Hagerstown, Maryland.
— Edwin Orrillio, 34, of Hagerstown, Maryland.
— Paul David Fairburn, 26, of Hagerstown, Maryland.
— Edson Velasquez-Lopez, 50, of Martinsburg.
— Chelsea Nicole Pinkcett, 33, of Martinsburg.
— Daniel Hardy, 33, of Martinsburg.
— Eliseo Rozas, 43, of Berkeley Springs.
— Ron Bowers, 52, of Martinsburg.
— Angela Dawn Gregory, 47, of Martinsburg.
— Demitre McCoy White, 40, of Martinsburg.
— Devron Jerel Brown, 33, of Martinsburg.
— Lester Luna, 27, of Hagerstown, Maryland.
— Carlos M. Nunez-Arias, 51, of Hagerstown, Maryland.

The indictment also includes items requested for forfeitures, such as more than $400,000 in cash, a .22-caliber pistol, ammunition and six vehicles.

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U.S. Senate deal provides hope of National Guard reimbursement in time for training

The U.S. Senate has hatched a deal to reimburse the National Guard — including in West Virginia — for the cost of pitching in to protect the U.S. Capitol following the Jan. 6 mob attack.

General Bill Crane

Brig. Gen. William Crane of the West Virginia National Guard today said he is enthusiastic that a deal could be reached. A big remaining question is whether the funding is assured in time to proceed with Guard training in August. Without it, there was significant doubt that the funding would allow the coming month’s training.

The deal was announced Tuesday by U.S. Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., in cooperation with the committee’s ranking member, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala.

The $2.1 billion proposal also would secure funds for Capitol Police, more pandemic resources and increase support for Afghan refugees.

“We have the responsibility to take care of the Capitol Police in the wake of their incredible service on January 6th, and to reimburse our National Guard for costs incurred protecting the Capitol,” Leahy stated.

Both the Senate and the House will have to pass the measure by the end of the week to assure upcoming National Guard training across the country won’t be disrupted. The National Guard considers August 1 the deadline to assure the upcoming training can still happen.

Across the nation, the National Guard has said, the uncompensated expense for that duty amounts to $521 million. West Virginia’s share would be almost $6 million.

Joe Manchin

Senator Joe Manchin, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he supports the proposal.

“In the days, weeks and months following the January 6th attack, our brave servicemembers protected the United States Capitol with integrity and honor. More than 475 West Virginia National Guardsmen and women served alongside servicemembers from every state, protecting our Capitol and democracy when we needed it most,” stated Manchin, D-W.Va.

“We must ensure our National Guardsmen and women are able to continue their training and drills, which is in jeopardy if we fail to reimburse them for their service after the January 6th attacks. This funding package is essential to the safety and security of our nation, and I am pleased my bipartisan colleagues came to a reasonable agreement to fund these priorities.”

Shelley Moore Capito

Senator Shelley Moore Capito, also a member of the Appropriations Committee, has also expressed support for supplemental appropriation to cover the National Guard and the Capitol Police.

“I’m very much in support of this,” Capito, R-W.Va., said during a news briefing this month. “I think we need to take care of our Capitol Police and our National Guard.”

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3 people in custody after Charleston shooting, pursuit

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Three people face charges following a traffic stop Tuesday in Charleston, in which one man attempted to escape police on foot and two others escaped authorities.

Joseph Scott Larch, 38, of Charleston and 20-year-old James Evans of Elkview were taken to a hospital for treatment following their interactions with police. Kanawha County Sheriff’s deputies arrested Brandon Bandy, 26, of Elkview after the incident.

According to Charleston Police Chief Tyke Hunt, police officers pulled over a vehicle without a visible license plate near Court Street around 2:30 p.m. Four people were in the car at the time.

While officers were conducting a vehicle information check and checking for possible warrants, Larch ran away from officers. As officers pursued Larch on foot, he shot at officers with a firearm. The officers fired their guns at Larch and struck him multiple times. Two police officers treated Larch at the scene and called for paramedics.

“That speaks volumes of the character of the Charleston Police Department,” Hunt said. “To just have someone try to take your life and now you got to change gears and do the best you can to save theirs.”

Hunt said Larch is in critical condition. He also noted the man has a criminal history with the city of Charleston.

During the gunfire, Evans fled the scene with the vehicle. Officers located the car on West Side Hill and pursued Evans before he crashed in the 900 block of Valley Drive. Hunt said Evans had crash-related injuries.

Bandy ran from the scene as officers were chasing Larch. The Kanawha County Sheriff Office informed Charleston police of deputies arresting Bandy in the Jordan Creek area.

Larch faces charges of attempted murder and wanton endangerment, while Evans has been charged with fleeing with reckless indifference. Hunt noted Evans was also wanted on federal charges.

Bandy had misdemeanor capiases for driving under the influence and possessing a controlled substance without a prescription. He will also be charged for fleeing authorities.

No police officers were injured.

Hunt said the fourth person cooperated with authorities. Their name has not been released.

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