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State Fire Marshal’s Office seeking help on 2018 fatal fire
William and Richard Copley (West Virginia State Fire Marshal’s Office)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia State Fire Marshal’s Office is seeking the public’s help with an investigation regarding a 2018 fatal fire.

According to the agency, the bodies of William and Robert Copley were found in the burned remains of their Wayne County home on May 31, 2018. Authorities determined the Copleys were victims of a double homicide.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the WV Arson Hotline at 800-233-3473. The Fire Marshal’s Office is offering a $10,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of people responsible for the act.

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Man dies in Wayne County wreck

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A man died Tuesday morning in a wreck in Wayne County.

The crash happened around 6:40 a.m.

According to the West Virginia State Police, Jerome Bronson was traveling north on Spring Valley Drive when he crossed the centerline. He struck a vehicle traveling in the southbound lane.

Troopers noted Bronson was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the incident. The driver and passenger in the second vehicle did not report any injuries.

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Interim meeting site visit helps lawmakers understand new I-79 interchange need

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A proposed additional exit off Interstate 79 near Morgantown is picking up more key support.

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay

House of Delegates Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, who got a look at the area during this week’s interim committee meetings in Morgantown, said it appears the new interchange would be a big help to the Morgantown Industrial Park.

“Right there is a place where we can see a lot more growth and a lot more expansion if we relieve some of the pinch points transportation and infrastructure are causing right now,” Hanshaw said during a Tuesday appearance on WAJR’s “Talk of the Town.”

The interchange is key to the expansion of Mountaintop Beverage. The company is expected to operate up to 100 semi-trucks daily from the industrial park. Company officials were on hand when state lawmakers toured the area Monday.

Hanshaw said the expansion shows the glaring need to expand the capacity of access not just for safety, but for productivity as well.

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. (U.S. Senate Photography)

“The role of government in our society is that public safety and infrastructure are the two primary functions of government, at least from my perspective,” Hanshaw said. “There’s perhaps no better example of that than the need for that Harmony Grove interstate exit.”

U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito urged U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to get behind the new exit during a Senate committee hearing last month.

“I didn’t want to leave this opportunity unchecked,” Capito told Buttigieg. “Safety is your priority and this is a safety issue because of a business park which is growing. It would take a lot of truck traffic out of those local areas.”

Gov. Jim Justice

Gov. Jim Justice threw his support behind the project in a statement released earlier this month.

“Morgantown and all of north central West Virginia is a region of our state that continues to grow like crazy. This project to reshape I-79 is a large but necessary undertaking to provide convenient access to the industrial park and other areas where business is flourishing more than ever before,” Justice said

Being in person helps

Hanshaw said being on the site and looking at conditions helps lawmakers better understand an issue as well as what types of solutions are best remedies. In this case, it was valuable to see how the proposed exit would remove a great deal of truck traffic from Westover streets and away from two schools in the area.

“When you don’t make regular visits to an area and you don’t experience the traffic congestion that comes with 20,000 students and their automobiles on the road it’s difficult to talk about that or explain what the impact of a new interstate exit or highway expansion can be,” Hanshaw said.

Contact with the people in addition to the issues was also very important. Hanshaw is familiar with names and places, but to be able to talk with the people involved helps them understand how policies developed in Charleston are actually put into practice.

“When we hear about it in the Capitol building in Charleston it’s often at a theoretical level or in the abstract,” Hanshaw said. “But, when you’re actually standing in a waste water treatment plant or when you’re actually standing on a pad where a $100 million investment is being constructed in real-time- it’s all very real.”

The Federal Highway Administration has to give the final approval for the exit.

“In October 2020, the state Department of Transportation entered into an agreement with private developer and MIP owner Enrout Properties to allow the company to explore the feasibility of building a new interchange off of I-79. Enrout agreed to prepare a justification report, environmental document, and design study – at no cost to the WVDOT – exploring the proposed new interstate access,” the state previously said.

Enrout’s study must be approved by the state DOH and FHA.

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Junior college defensive back Jaylon Shelton commits to West Virginia

West Virginia dipped into the Lone Star State for the latest addition to its football team.

Junior college defensive back Jaylon Shelton announced Tuesday his commitment to the Mountaineers. Shelton comes to Morgantown with three seasons of eligibility remaining and is immediately eligible for the upcoming 2022 season.

Shelton, a native of New London, Texas, spent each of the last two seasons at Tyler Junior College in Tyler, Texas. He was redshirted during the 2020 campaign.

Shelton recently visited West Virginia, and although he followed the trip to Morgantown with a visit to TCU, Shelton settled on the Mountaineers. He also held an offer from Indiana.

The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Shelton could get a look at various positions within the Mountaineers’ secondary. He is the second addition to West Virginia’s secondary within the last few days, joining Colorado State transfer Rashad Ajayi, a cornerback with one season of eligibility left.

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Monroe County aerospace facility releases statement in connection with labor dispute

MONROE, W.Va. — Collins Aerospace Systems released a statement on Tuesday, less than 24 hours after around 250 workers there went on strike.

Employees of Collins Aerospace Systems, which is in Monroe County, are members of the United Steel Workers. The work stoppage began Monday after workers and the company failed to reach a new agreement on a contract.

The statement from the company read, “We are disappointed that union members failed to ratify the contract. Collins Aerospace presented a fair contract offer that would recognize and reward our employees’ contributions while keeping us competitive, and one that would keep our manufacturing employees amongst the highest paid in the area.”

“In addition to wage increases, we offered lower healthcare premiums, a cash ratification bonus, a cash appreciation award and additional sick leave. Collins has a structure in place to continue operations and we do not expect this to impact delivering on our commitments to our customers.”

The workers were locked out of the workplace.

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Middle school girls show off STEM skills at robotics competition

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A robotic competition for middle school girls around the state was held Tuesday at the Clay Center by WVU Tech and the NASA Katherine Johnson Independent Verification and Validation Facility.

The competition is part of the VEX Educational Robotics to Advance Girls Education.

Vex Educational Robotics to Advance Girls Education is a project to support and inspire middle and high school girls to explore and inspire careers of STEM in the state.

“The competition is very unique in that we are trying to engage underrepresented populations as females only represent about 26% of the STEM workforce right now,” Johnson IVVF Program Manager Todd Ensign told MetroNews. “NASA and funders across the state believe that with increase equity and access we will have better outcomes with more of the female population going into STEM careers.”

Among those on hand Tuesday was a robotics team from Sissonville Middle School named Duck Dimension. The team won the state middle school championship in March.

Laila Davis, Kacie Long, and Baylee Brooks also won the award for excellence, which is the highest award given at the state level.

“We had a good strategy going in and felt like we were most prepared,” said team member Laila Davis. “We felt accomplished and it felt good winning because of how much effort we put into the competition.”

Kacie Long also added how robotic competition sparked her interest for a STEM career saying “I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did but now I would like to go into engineering as a career.”

American science communicator Emily Calandrelli was also in attendance Tuesday during the competition at the Clay Center. She gave a keynote speech to inspire girls about going into STEM careers and to show what’s possible.

Story by Chayce Matheny

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Kanawha leaders move toward relaxing ATV restrictions

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Kanawha County Commission approved a motion Tuesday to develop a plan and schedule meaningful public discussion on proposed changes to the county’s ATV ordinance.

The move comes after the county’s planning office hosted several public hearings earlier this month.

Kent Carper

Commission President Kent Carper said it’s time to draft a plan, hear from the public again and then vote on it.

“I’s a blend. It’s a tough call and there will be some criticism on this,” Carper said Tuesday.

Carper drafted the current ATV ordinance more than a dozen years ago. It’s very restrictive when it comes to where and when the machines can be operated. Carper admitted Tuesday it’s time to change the measure.

“Is it time to modify it? I think it is. I’m not a bit surprised that some people like it the way it is,” Carper said.

Commissioner Ben Salango said the county can forget any hopes of an Upper Kanawha Valley recreation plan if the current ordinance isn’t changed.

“Right now you haul your side-by-side in and then you want to fill it up with gas and you have to haul it to the gas station, then haul it to the trail head. It’s very cumbersome and will prohibit economic development,” Salango said.

There were dozens of ATV deaths a year in the state in the early 2000s but those numbers have drastically decreased in recent years. Salango said that’s due to safety improvements.

Ben Salango

“They truly have (changed),” Salango said. “We went from having three-wheelers to now having side-by-sides that are enclosed. They are much safer now,” he said.

Kanawha County Planner Cassidy Riley, who conducted the public hearings, said they heard from residents on both sides of the issue but most agreed relaxing the current restrictions would help economic development.

“Proponents of keeping the restrictions in place were very agreeable to the idea that we would alter the current ordinance to promote economic development in the Upper Kanawha Valley,” Riley told the commission. “We’re trying to craft this in a way that will make Kanawha County a destination location.”

Carper said the county may take a hybrid approach.

“I do believe we’ll have to target it. Maybe we’ll do a pilot program, mark the highways in a certain area and get the word out,” he said.

Carper said relaxing the ordinance would not excuse drunk driving, reckless driving and noise all hours of the night

The commission said it would consult with the sheriff’s office before coming up with a final plan.

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Commissioners: Property tax changes could sacrifice buses, ambulances, libraries and more

West Virginia’s largest county government is responding to a legislative request to assess how changes to property taxes could affect the bottom line, and that version is a black hole of financial turmoil.

Kanawha County says the full effect could amount to more than $61 million, casting doubt on whether services could be sustained for services like bus transportation, ambulance response, senior centers and more.

“If ratified this fall, Amendment 1 would provide a mechanism to eliminate more than $61 million in constitutionally-protected funding that currently supports local government in Kanawha County,” commissioners wrote in a letter today.

“Potential losses include $17 million to the county constitutional elected bodies and the county’s public safety levy, $35 million to the Kanawha County Board of Education, $8 million to the county’s 15 cities and towns and nearly $1 million to the Kanawha County library system.”

Kanawha County Commissioners were responding to a request for information from state Senate Finance Chairman Eric Tarr, R-Putnam.

This fall, West Virginia voters will consider a constitutional amendment that could allow legislators to make changes to property tax rates. Property taxes have been defined in the state Constitution since the early 1930s. Most of the money from personal property tax goes to county school boards, county commissions and municipalities.

Tarr sent a letter last month to county assessors and sheriffs asking for specific numbers on the kinds of property subject to taxation, particularly motor vehicles and business machinery, equipment and inventory.

Kent Carper

Kanawha County commissioners discussed the issue during a meeting today, thanking Tarr for raising the question.

“I really am grateful that Senator Tarr did ask for this information,” said Commissioner Kent Carper, a Democrat.

But commissioners also complained that state lawmakers have opened up the property tax issue with too little inquiry up front.

Ben Salango

“Am I correct? This is the first time anyone from the state reached out to us to find out how it would affect local government?” asked Commissioner Ben Salango, also a Democrat. “And that comes after they voted to put this on the ballot.”

Last year, lawmakers passed a resolution to prompt the constitutional amendment vote.

“There’s never been a public hearing on this,” Carper said at today’s commission meeting.

“So no public hearing, no input from local government and not even an inkling of what it might cost local government when they decided to pass it and put it on the ballot,” Salango replied.

Paul Espinosa

State legislators have said they know county governments will need the means to make up the money that has been generated through property taxes, but they have not yet specified how. Presumably, that would come during consideration of even more legislation if the public approves the constitutional amendment.

“I think what you’re going to see is the Legislature beginning to roll up its sleeves and at least doing some of the preliminary work so that as our county officials and our public education officials ask us for a little more idea as to how we’re going to do that and ensure they continue to receive the level of funding they’re currently receiving — obviously we want to try to get some of that work done so we can give them a little better idea of how we think that would work,” Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, said this week on WEPM Radio’s “Panhandle Live.”

Tom Bloom

Counties across the state have started trying to determine how their budgets might be affected.

Monongalia County is concerned that services could be sacrificed if property taxes are cut, Commissioner Tom Bloom said last week on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”

“My biggest concern is that the public will not have all the information to make a good decision,” Bloom said, outlining concerns about how counties could make up the money and whether future legislatures would be consistent with their property tax power.

“There is no financial, fiscal plan of how to do this — and that’s our biggest concern.”

Kanawha commissioners are already bracing for uncertainty. During today’s commission meeting, they listened to a request for financial support to improve a local ball field. Such requests may become hard or impossible to fulfill in the future, they suggested.

“If Amendment One passes, we can’t do these any more,” Salango said. “That’s it. I mean, people are going to have to go to the state to get this money. So when their infield needs turfed, when they need new lights, when they need scoreboards, when they need uniforms…”

At that point, Carper started chiming in: “robotics, food, medicine, ambulances, police cars, fire trucks.”

Salango concluded, “It’s going to have to come from the State of West Virginia.”

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Commendations acknowledge first responders on extremely unusual call

NITRO, W.Va. — First responders to a bizarre incident on the Donald Legg Memorial Bridge in the Nitro area received unit citations this week for their quick action.

Firefighters from Nitro, Institute, Teays Valley, and St. Albans along with the Nitro Police Department all responded to the incident on May 5th. A woman wrecked her car on the bridge, then somehow went over the edge of the bridge. However, she didn’t fall to the water below, she wound up on the catwalk under the bridge.

“It was an extraordinary event. It was a high incident, but low frequency from what we normally run. We train for a lot of things and all of the training came into play that day,” said Nitro Fire Chief Casey Mathes.

To handle the incident all barge traffic on the Kanawha River was stopped and all motor vehicle traffic in both directions on I-64 was stopped for several hours. Every department had a role according to Mathes.

“It was a multi-task. We shut the river down and had a rescue boat in the water in case something did go bad. We had an operation on top with a rope rescue,” he explained.

Nobody is sure how the woman wound up there, but the communications and coordination between departments helped safely rescue the woman and get her to out of harms way.  No first responders were injured either.

“We wanted to recognize each department for an extraordinary job they did for making quick decisions, selflessness, and determination to resolve the call,” Mathis said.

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Lawmakers explore conflicts between medical marijuana law and workplace safety

West Virginia lawmakers have been exploring the gaps between legalization of marijuana products for medical purposes versus the desire to assure employees aren’t impaired in the workplace.

Legislators from the Joint Standing Committee on the Judiciary spent more than an hour of interim meetings in Morgantown on Tuesday morning with two experts on medical cannabis and employment law.

West Virginia lawmakers, like counterparts in other states, may grapple with various conflicts in laws meant to allow people with chronic medical problems to gain relief through medical marijuana products up against other policies meant to assure employers maintain safe workplaces.

“I think Americans want people to be able to use marijuana for medicine. I think they also expect employers to prevent people from operating a motor vehicle over the public roads if they’re potentially impaired and to take steps to make sure people don’t get hurt,” said Nancy Delugo, an attorney specializing in drugs and alcohol workplace issues with  the Littler Mendelson employment law firm.

Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, asked how lawmakers could best address gray areas in the law. “So where would you suggest that the Legislature place its focus or better provide clarity to let both cardholders and employers know where they stand?”

Aaron R. Lopez of Political Capital LLC said many states are challenged to define what being impaired truly is, Lopez said — “giving a name to it.” He said that requires an assessment of what best fits for West Virginia “to make sure that your employees and employers have a safe workplace.

“Impairment is impairment whether you’re impaired from alcohol, whether you’re impaired from lack of sleep, whether you’re impaired from medical cannabis or from other drugs and opiate use, and I think trying to find a definition or a standard that could trigger, possibly, a test or something that an employer can lean on would help. It would also help the employee understand if I come into work and I’m meeting these factors I could get in trouble as well.”

Delugo noted that West Virginia law does, generally, protect anyone from discrimination or retaliation because they are certified to use medical cannabis products. Also, employers can prohibit workers from performing any task considered to be life threatening while under the influence.

“So the employers would love some clarity on whether you have to wait for them to come to work impaired before you prohibit them from performing that life-threatening task or if you can simply say ‘Look, if you test positive for marijuana, we are not going to put you in that role that is life-threatening,'” she said.

States have a range of policies on that issue, she said, outlining safety-sensitive duties such as working with flammable materials, overseeing workplace childcare, operating motor vehicles or handling equipment.

“You can either kind of clarify the positive test sufficient to allow an employer to prevent someone from working on any task the employer thinks could be life-threatening or providing a laundry list of positions that you think would be inappropriate for medical marijuana users to hold while they they’re actively using their medication,” she said.

Even so, conflicts may continue, said Lopez.

“The state has, once again, made this a legal program for patients in the state — and so we’ve got to make sure if you’re made it legal for them to use now all of a sudden you’re saying ‘Yeah, but now you’re not going to be able to work.”

Delugo agreed.

“Yeah, that’s exactly the tension there.”

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