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Kanawha man indicted on 10 criminal counts for violent crime spree

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A Kanawha County man arrested after a violent crime spree earlier this month that included the murder of an elderly woman and the shooting of a Charleston police officer was indicted Friday on 10 criminal counts.

Kanawha County prosecutors decided to bypass a preliminary hearing for Joshua Andrew Drennen, 27, of Clendenin, and instead took the case straight to a grand jury which met this week in Charleston. The indictments were handed up Friday afternoon.

WVRJ

Joshua Andrew Drennen

The panel indicted him on counts of murder, attempted murder, malicious assault on a law enforcement officer, two counts of assault during the commission of a crime, attempted first-degree robbery, possession of a stolen vehicle, malicious wounding, first-degree robbery, and petit larceny.

Drennen was released from CAMC General Feb. 20 after being hospitalized since Feb. 11. He was shot twice by CPD Patrolman Terrence “Austin” Casto during the string of incidents.

The shooting came after Drennen allegedly murdered Barbara Steele, 77, in her West Side home and then allegedly carjacked a vehicle at the nearby Walgreens parking lot. Police said he then attempted another carjacking before encountering Casto near the Go-Mart near the Washington Street exit of Interstate 64.

Casto fired two shots at Drennen after Drennen attacked him with an antique flat iron, according to investigators.

READ: The full criminal complaint against Drennen

He has been held without bail in the South Central Regional Jail in connection with the murder charge.

Drennen will be arraigned in the near future by a Kanawha County circuit judge and a trial date scheduled.

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Treasurer’s office presents largest unclaimed property check in state history

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A former resident of Mercer County is more than $1.7 million richer on Friday, courtesy of unclaimed property in the state.

West Virginia State Treasurer John Perdue and his office presented Thomas Hunter and his wife with the largest individual unclaimed property check in state history, totaling $1,780,824.57, at the state Capitol.

“It’s exciting when your staff works so hard and is able to reach out and find individuals in this state money,” Perdue told the media.

The unclaimed money came from a trust set up by his parents which included liquidated stocks and dividends from various communications and energy companies, according to the treasurer’s office.

Hunter told the media he knew his parents had some investments.

“My parents passed away and eventually the funds ended up with the treasurer’s office. It wasn’t really a surprise, the amount of money was probably a little surprising,” he said.

Hunter said he worked with the treasury department’s Unclaimed Property Division.

According to Perdue, there have been 20 checks that his department has returned in the state to individuals and businesses of over $250,000, totaling around $9 million.

Along with the division’s location in Kanawha City in Charleston, Perdue encouraged all citizens to check out the treasury’s unclaimed property bulletin that comes out every Fall and Spring.

“They are really easy to work with, respectful and honest,” Hunter said of the division. “They will tell you what the process involves and if you follow their lead and direction, you’ll eventually get what is coming to you.”

Hunter, whose parents also grew up in Mercer County, said he has a few plans with the money including retiring early. He said a lot of it will go towards others.

“I have some young people in our family and I am an educator, so I want them to have an opportunity to get an education as well. My wife and I plan to help them out,” he said.

“Then I am going to give to some charities that my parents gave to.”

The state’s Unclaimed Property program currently holds approximately 2.2 million accounts worth $304 million, according to a release.

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Senator searches for $2 million to help with W.Va. coronavirus preparation

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Senator Ron Stollings, a doctor who is also running for governor, is looking for $2 million to help West Virginia’s preparation for a possible coronavirus outbreak.

“Where it comes from is not important,” said Stollings, D-Boone. “It’s just that we get some money, even if it’s the rainy day fund.”

Stollings made his remarks at the end of Friday’s Senate floor session. The Senate has been moving its proposed budget of more than $4.5 billion.

The trouble is, Stollings and others said, there’s not much give. Senators have other priorities such as an additional $10 million to eliminate a wait list for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to receive care at home.

This is already a flat budget year, and West Virginia’s constitution calls for a balanced budget. So Stollings is trying to identify an ounce of funding that might head off a pound of cure while the world braces for a possible epidemic.

“I think it’s really important for us to allocate this $2 million so we can get ahead of this coronavirus,” he said. “We need to do something now. We need a plan now.”

Governors and legislators in several states have proposed pumping millions of dollars into programs to combat the virus that causes the COVID-19 illness, according to The Associated Press.

President Trump has requested an additional $2.5 billion to combat the virus, while congressional Democrats have proposed nearly four times that amount.

The Centers for Disease Control says person-to-person spread will continue to occur, including in the United States. Widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the United States would translate into large numbers of people needing medical care at the same time.

Reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death. Symptoms can include fever, cough and shortness of breath. At this time, there is no vaccine to protect against COVID-19 and no medications approved to treat it.

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Dr. Cathy Slemp

So far there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in West Virginia and no patients were in the process of being tested or were otherwise under investigation for the illness, Dr. Cathy Slemp, West Virginia state health officer, said this week on MetroNews “Talkline.”

In West Virginia, the immediate health risk was said to be “low,” but that had the potential to change quickly.

“As we begin to think about the potential for community spread, now’s the time to prepare around that and so that starts to engage all of us,” said Slemp, who is also commissioner for the Bureau for Public Health in the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

“Just like you would prepare for snowstorms or other kinds of things, it’s worth taking those steps to make sure.”

Dr. Cathy Slemp, Commissioner of the Bureau of Public Health and State Health Officer gives @HoppyKercheval her insights on preparations for coronavirus. WATCH: https://t.co/wkudfIRZCB pic.twitter.com/bO6LuUPT0Q

— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) February 27, 2020

States like Texas, Washington, Minnesota, Ohio and Kentucky are assembling plans to get ready for the coronavirus.

Isaac Sponaugle

Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, asked during a House Finance meeting on Thursday afternoon whether the state budget in any way reflects additional funding to prepare for a possible outbreak of the coronavirus.

“I am concerned about this budget. We are going into a recession, and we have absolutely no money set aside for our health departments,” Sponaugle said.

“This is starting to become an epidemic. We haven’t done anything or spoken about it whatsoever. We have got to be very serious about this as a state when it comes.”

Sponaugle added, “It would be helpful if the governor’s people would come here and advise the Legislature on where we need to assist.”

Two million dollars is a conservative amount, Stollings said in an interview prior to the Senate floor session. He said it’s just startup funds for “communication, education, messaging and some equipment.”

Stollings said there has not been enough public discussion about West Virginia’s preparation so far.

“We absolutely need to be thinking and planning for this coronavirus,” he said. “It’s a virus that’s going to get out into the public. We can’t stop it. There’s no treatment for it. There’s no vaccination for it. So mostly what we have to do is have a statewide plan and excellent communication system between all the health departments.”

He concluded, “If we can’t limit the spread then this could be very impactful. And we’re not ready, I don’t think, at this point.”

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Photo gallery: Martinsburg claims sectional title with win over Spring Mills

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Photos from Martinsburg’s 64-38 win over Spring Mills in the Class AAA, Region II, Section 1 championship game. The Bulldogs will host Hampshire in the regional round Tuesday, March 3 while the Cardinals will visit Jefferson.

(Photos courtesy of Christopher C. Davis/@EP_BigCameraGuy)

 

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Senate is working out budget battle over disability waivers

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Senate is working out an emotionally-charged budget issue over funding for the home care of disabled people.

Gov. Jim Justice had promised an additional $20 million meant to eliminate a waitlist for the intellectual and developmental disabilities waiver, which allows for home care, rather than institutionalization.

When the Senate Finance Committee introduced its budget proposal this past week, the IDD waiver program was allocated half that, $10 million extra.

Justice issued a statement a day later, saying that amount is unacceptable.

Now, as the budget moves through the full Senate, that difference seems to be working out.

Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, has an amendment that would add another $10 million, bumping the full amount from $98.5 million to $108.5 million. That’s the full amount Justice sought.

“Let’s get this clarified,” Blair said in a floor speech today.

He said the amount had been lowered at first because there was no other give in the budget for other additional priorities.

“This was never an attempt to keep people from receiving services,” Blair said. “The point of the matter is we have finite resources.”

Officials with DHHR confirmed the agreement.

“We had discussions this morning with Chairman Blair and there will be a floor amendment in the Senate to add that funding back into the program at the governor’s requested amount,” Jeremiah Samples, the deputy director of the state Department of Health and Human Resources, said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”

“So we’re grateful to the Senate and the House and absolutely appreciative of the governor.”

During Friday’s Senate floor session, lawmakers voted to move the budget bill on to its third reading while keeping the right to amend it. So that lines up for passage during a session on Saturday.

Roman Prezioso

Senate Democrats also said they would offer an amendment to provide the full $20 million additional funding for the IDD waiver.

“Some families have been waiting a year or more to be approved for this funding,” Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, stated on Friday morning.

“We are going to help these families.”

Justice announced during his 2020 State of the State Address that DHHR Cabinet Secretary Bill Crouch and Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy had found a solution to fund the elimination of the waitlist.

The IDD waiver program gives individuals the choice of receiving support and services in their home and community instead of in an institutional setting. The cost of services provided by the IDD waiver is 46 percent lower than the cost of services provided by an intermediate care facility for individuals with developmental disabilities, the administration says.

Elimination of the waitlist would allow 1,060 additional West Virginians, including more than 600 children, to receive services meant to help with home care of children with disabilities.

About 4,800 people are currently served by the waiver.

“These are absolutely the most vulnerable citizens in West Virginia,” Samples said today on “Talkline.”

“This funding is to keep these very vulnerable, very needy individuals out of institutions in their communities and with their families.”

.@JeremiahSamples, West Virginia Deputy Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, joins @HoppyKercheval to discuss the IDD Waiver Program. WATCH: https://t.co/wkudfIRZCB pic.twitter.com/76wGaJpI9r

— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) February 28, 2020

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Big 12 Power Index: Jayhawks assume their normal position in league

Fun as it may have been to watch Kansas go on a streak of a dozen years without a Big 12 regular-season title, the hopes of that were likely dashed when the Jayhawks beat Baylor last Saturday to pull into a tie for first place.

The Bears have two conceivable losses left on the schedule — against Texas Tech and at West Virginia — while Kansas probably only has to worry about the season finale at Texas Tech.

Barring any pre-March Madness, both the Jayhawks and Bears should be in line for No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament.

1. Kansas (25-3, 14-1) Last week: 2

The lob to Udoka Azubuike was an unstoppable weapon for the Jayhawks against Baylor. If there’s a third meeting in Kansas City, the Bears will have to find a way to defend it without getting torched elsewhere.

2. Baylor (25-2, 14-1) Last week: 1

The top of your league is pretty dang good if the No. 2 team has lost two games all season by a combined six points.

3. Oklahoma (17-11, 7-8) Last week: 5

The Sooners snapped a three-game losing streak with a convincing 65-51 must-win over Texas Tech. Saturday’s game at WVU will show whether Oklahoma is worthy of keeping the No. 3 spot, or if beating the Red Raiders was a flash-in-the-pan.

4. Texas Tech (18-10, 9-6) Last week: 4

The Red Raiders are one of the oddest profiles of any NCAA tournament hopeful. Texas Tech is 20th in the NCAA’s NET rankings, yet only 3-9 against teams in the all-important Quadrant 1. Under the old RPI system, they’d be 56th — squarely on the bubble.

5. West Virginia (19-9, 7-8) Last week: 3

It was an incredibly ugly week for the Mountaineers, who dropped a pair of games against teams they had beaten by a combined 70 points at home. But given this team’s bizarre mood swings based on location, the next two Saturdays against Oklahoma and Baylor could end up with happier endings than you’d expect.

6. Texas (17-11, 7-8) Last week: 6

Texas is playing better than WVU or Tech at the moment, but one can’t forget about the first part of the schedule. If the Longhorns can somehow get to 20 wins by the end of the Big 12 tournament, they may just sneak into the NCAA tourney and save Shaka Smart’s job.

7. Oklahoma State (14-14, 4-11) Last week: 7

The Pokes will be a tough out in the Big 12 tourney, as they proved once again by upsetting Oklahoma last weekend. Baylor in particular probably wouldn’t be thrilled with this as a matchup in the Big 12 quarterfinals with a potential No. 1 seed at stake.

8. TCU (15-13, 6-9) Last week: 9

The Horned Frogs are squarely on the bubble thanks to their win over West Virginia — the NIT bubble. You’ve got to finish .500 to get in, and with games left against Kansas, Baylor and Oklahoma that’s going to be a tricky proposition.

9. Iowa State (12-16, 5-10) Last week: 8

It seems counterintuitive to have the Cyclones beneath the Frogs after beating them head-to-head this week. But their 30-point home loss to Texas Tech was a bit more telling of where this team is at in the pecking order right now.

10. Kansas State (9-19, 2-13) Last week: 10

The Wildcats have last place on lockdown, looking even worse than their half-man/half-mascot over the course of their current eight-game losing streak.

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Preps for COVID-19, the novel or Wuhan coronavirus, continue in West Virginia

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The risk of getting the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19 or the Wuhan coronavirus, remained “low” in West Virginia as the month of February closed.

On a national level, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were expanding testing guidelines for COVID-19 to include anyone with flu-like symptoms who recently traveled to China along with South Korea, Italy, Japan and Iran.

Most of the cases, thus far, in the United States had been imported, health officials said.

A note of warning, though, came from Dr. Christopher Braden, deputy director for the CDC’s National Center for Emerging Diseases, about what was called “an emerging, rapidly evolving situation.”

“We, as a country, as our communities, do need to start to prepare for the fact that we’re going to see community transmission in the United States,” Braden said.

Earlier this week, Dr. Cathy Slemp, West Virginia state health officer and commissioner for the Bureau for Public Health in the state Department of Health and Human Resources, said those preparations for multiple possibilities were already well underway in the Mountain State.

In Braxton County, Sissy Price, nursing director and administrator for the Braxton County Health Department, said they were providing information about illness prevention to residents while remaining in contact with other state, county and local officials about the possible threat.

The Braxton County Health Department serves 14,000 residents.

“Most of our population is 65 and older, so most of the calls and concerns I get and my staff get are (about) how is the COVID, or the coronavirus 2019, spread,” Price said.

“We share facts and not fear.”

In other countries, COVID-19 has largely spread through person-to-person contact but, in some instances, there has been community spread, meaning infections in people who were not sure how or where they became infected.

As of Friday morning, the CDC has confirmed one unknown source case in California.

“Provide yourself with enough knowledge and scientific-based knowledge (about COVID-19),” said Price.

She recommended CDC.gov and local health departments for accurate information currently and during any potential future outbreaks.

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Biser: Mohigans must deserve to win

COMMENTARY

MORGANTOWN – Coaches often talk about a culture of “expecting to win,” so much so it can often go in one ear and out the other, dismissed as coach’s speak. But when a coach insists his team must “deserve to win,” your ears perk up.

When Sean Biser took to the podium for the first time as the head football coach for Morgantown High School, he dropped a line that should have grabbed the attention of every player on his new team. Before Morgantown can expect to win, it must deserve to win.

Biser, admitted he borrowed the phrase from Mohigans’ boys basketball coach Dave Tallman, but the approach speaks to the type of culture he instilled during his 16 seasons at Keyser. Biser’s Golden Tornado teams missed the playoffs just twice and finished runner-up in 2012.

“They’re going to have to learn to trust me and I’m going to have to learn to trust them and I think that’s going to happen as we get to know each other,” noted Biser.

Morgantown has always expected to win.

It was a dominant force in Class AAA, winning four state titles between 2000 and 2006. However, the Mohigans are now 14 years removed from their last state championship and haven’t won a playoff game since 2016 when they reached the semifinals. Most of the current Morgantown players were either in diapers or not even born the last time the Mohigans hoisted the state championship trophy.

So, what makes a team worthy of expecting to win? According to Biser, it starts far away from the Friday night lights. Deserving to win begins in the weight room.

“The number one place to make that happen is in the weight room,” Biser said. “You’re going to build some toughness, some work ethic and a camaraderie in there you can’t get anywhere else.

“We’re going to do what’s right. We’re going to what’s right on the field, in the classroom, and in the community.”

Biser plans to implement the Wing-T offense he ran at Keyser, the same base offense Morgantown ran to perfection in its championship seasons of 2000, 2002, 2005 and 2006. The throwback offense requires toughness and discipline that Biser believes is learned during workouts when no one but teammates and coaches are watching.

“We’re going to build our team to be physical and fast and we’re going to do that through our strength and conditioning program,” Biser said. “We’re going to build our culture through the weight room. If you’re not willing to go in and work hard in the weight room, we’re not going to be successful on the football field.”

Coaches are ultimately measured by wins and losses, but Biser brings an unquantifiable quality to the job that was on full display in the outpouring of support from the Keyser community after he was named the new coach in Morgantown.

His impact on the community and former players can’t be measured in any statistical category, and if Biser can have a similar impact in Morgantown, wins won’t be far behind.

Leave no doubt that Biser deserved the chance to lead a proud Mohigan football program striving to regain the prominence it once enjoyed in Class AAA and that under his leadership Morgantown will deserve to win.

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WVU student killed in housing complex shooting; 2 Fairmont men charged with murder

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A WVU student from New Jersey was shot and killed at a campus housing complex early Friday morning.

According to WVU Police Chief W.P. Chedester, Eric J. Smith, 21, a sophomore, from Clementon, New Jersey, was found dead in a hallway outside an apartment at College Park Apartments just off Willey Street on WVU’s downtown campus.

Chedester said the shooting happened some time before 4 a.m.

“When officers arrived at College Park they found the victim outside the apartment in the hallway,” Chedester said Friday on MetroNews “Talkline.” Smith used to live at the complex.

Granville Police arrested two suspects without incident at Walmart at 5605 University Town Center just after 4 a.m. One of them had a gun, Chedester said.

Authorities have charged Terrell Linear, 21, and Shaundarius T. Reeder, 20, both of Fairmont, with first degree murder. Neither is a WVU student. Both were to be arraigned Friday afternoon in Monongalia County Magistrate Court.

William “W.P” Chedester, West Virginia University Police Chief, talks with @HoppyKercheval about the shooting this morning at College Park just off Willey Street. The shooting occurred this morning at approximately 4 a.m. WATCH: https://t.co/wkudfIRZCB pic.twitter.com/kDBOS5QcmV

— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) February 28, 2020

According to a criminal complaint, Linear, Reeder and Smith arrived at the apartment complex together and then got into an altercation in the parking lot. The complaint alleges Linear and Reeder later entered the apartment complex and shot Smith multiple times. According to the complaint, Linear pounded on the doors of other apartments “so people could watch” him shoot Smith.

MORE Read criminal complaint here 

Smith was majoring in multidisciplinary studies.

“It’s always a tragedy when a young person loses his life,” WVU Dean of Student Corey Farris said in a statement. “Our hearts go out to his family, those students and others who knew him. Our main priority right now is offering support to our campus community.”

Chedester said police were quickly on the scene Friday morning.

“Multiple agencies responded to support our department at the scene,” Chedester said.  “We appreciate their cooperation as our investigation continues.”

Chedester said the investigation is in the early stages and a motive is not known.

“We’re speaking with people in the complex and were nearby,” he said. .

College Park Apartments is a public-private partnership with WVU that caters to WVU students.

 

This morning, we lost a member of the Mountaineer community. We offer our support to those who knew him and anyone else who was affected by this tragedy. https://t.co/RCWSyikIqh

— WVU Mountaineers (@WestVirginiaU) February 28, 2020

Linear and Reeder are scheduled to back in magistrate court next week for a preliminary hearing. They are currently being held without bail.

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Mingo County woman struck and killed by train along U.S. 52

NAUGATUCK, W.Va. — A woman was hit and killed by a train near Naugatuck on Thursday.

The Mingo County Sheriff’s Department said Alyson Davis, 35 of Naugatuck, was struck by a Norfolk Southern train around 4 p.m. in an area along U.S Route 52.

Officials said no foul play is suspected.

Both the sheriff’s department and railroad detectives are investigating the incident.

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