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Man charged in fair road collision

MASON COUNTY. W.V.a. — A man is charged with DUI causing injury after hitting 5 people walking near the Mason County Fair.

Deputies allege Christopher Lewis Sturgeon, 40, was driving drunk when he struck the pedestrians near the fair’s front gate Friday night.

Four of the 5 were treated at Pleasant Valley Hospital. The other victim was flown to Cabell Huntington Hospital. Their conditions were not immediately released.

Sturgeon is in jail.

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Multiple buildings destroyed in Wheeling fire

WHEELING, W.Va. — Several building were destroyed in a two-alarm fire in East Wheeling Saturday afternoon.

According to the Wheeling Fire Department, the original blaze broke out in the 1400 block of Jacobs Street. The flames spread to two other buildings and a structure in an alley.

The department said the buildings were destroyed

An investigation was launched into what may have caused the fire.

There were no injuries reported.

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Scam investigation underway in Clarksburg

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – Police in Clarksburg are warning the public, specifically older ladies, about a group scam targeting shoppers at the Kroger store on Emily Drive.

Reports indicate the group will try to distract a shopper with a question while another member of the group takes the victim’s wallet or purse from a shopping cart.

The scammers then immediately use debit or credit cards to buy gift cards. Police say the losses total $40,000 and some of the gift cards have been redeemed as far away as California.

Police ask the public to remain alert, don’t leave purses or wallets unattended and report any suspicious activity. Any information regarding the scam can be left by calling 304-624-1610.

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‘Heart-to-heart’ with Brown motivated Smith in hopes of expanded role offensively

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Over his first two seasons at West Virginia, wide receiver Reese Smith showed flashes that he belonged and could be a steady contributor.

Smith’s statistics were nearly identical in 2020 and 2021, when he caught a total of 25 passes for 252 yards and one touchdown, which came last season in a loss at Kansas State.

Yet after catching 11 passes for 128 yards over 10 games of a COVID-19 impacted true freshman season, Smith didn’t make the leap he was hoping to in 2021 when he surpassed his reception total by one but for 4 fewer yards than what he had accumulated the previous year.

The Danville, Ky., native is hopeful significant improvement will be on display this season.

“Going into the offseason, I knew I had to improve on a lot of things,” Smith said. “I knew where I stood and me and coach [Neal] Brown had one of those sit down heart-to-hearts. I knew I had to get better at several things. I attacked winter workouts with [head coach for football strength and conditioning Mike Joseph] and his staff.

“In the spring, I got unlucky and pulled my hamstring, but then got to play in the spring game. I have gotten a lot faster and stronger and I knew I had to do that in order to play. Building and stacking days has definitely helped.”

In large part because of his familiarity and long-standing relationship with Brown, Smith had no reservations meeting with the head coach that had just completed his third season in Morgantown.

Smith starred at Boyle County High School, where Brown was also once a standout receiver before going on to play at Kentucky and Massachusetts.

“I went in there with a mindset of how can I be better on the field and he’s going to tell me straight up,” Smith recalled. “He recruited me ever since I was a sophomore in high school. We had one of those conversations where it was, ‘Coach I need to play more. I’m playing a lot of special teams, but I want to play a lot more offense.’ He told me what I had to do and was straightforward. Coach Mike was in there and told me what I had to do as well. I attacked every day and kept in the back of my mind what I had to get done.”

The 5-foot-10, 187-pound Smith felt he was making significant progress in the offseason, but then suffered a hamstring injury that caused him to miss much of spring football drills.

“It knocked me down. I was really frustrated at first,” Smith said. “I’m not one of those guys that’s going to feel sorry for myself and lay down. I went right back to work the next day. I was getting treatment two or three times a day and doing everything I could to get back. It was a day by day feel. I eased back into it and was fortunate enough to practice the last week and play in the spring game.”

Getting some work in during the spring also afforded Smith the opportunity to work with first-year WVU offensive coordinator, as well as newly hired receivers coach Tony Washington.

After feeling healthy again, Smith was able to learn and work on Harrell’s concepts, while also gaining valuable repetitions in April.

“I knew it was an Air Raid offense and he liked to throw it a lot,” Smith said. ‘Coach Brown pulled me aside and told me he was going to hire Graham Harrell and told me a little bit about him. I actually knew him from when he played at Texas Tech, because I watched him growing up a little bit. I feel like I fit in the offense very well. He likes to throw it and go four wide, which is good for me.”

While Smith is hoping to see his role grow offensively as a sophomore, he has played extensively on special teams each of his first two seasons at West Virginia.

It was a major adjustment out of high school for Smith, who because of his offensive and defensive prowess, rarely played special teams at the prep level.

“I had no idea how important special teams was before I got here,” he said. “I didn’t play them in high school besides punt return and that was it. Our high school coach really believed that if you played both sides of the ball, you weren’t playing special teams. When I got here, it was a slap in the face a little bit, but once I got to playing, I loved special teams. Playing special teams kind of kept me in the game and kept me focused.”

Smith, the Mountaineers’ first commit in the 2020 recruiting class, hopes to continue making a mark on special teams in 2022, while assuming an expanded role as one of two primary slot receivers along with Sam James.

Early indications put him on track to do just that.

“Reese is having a phenomenal camp,” Washington said. “He’s been stacking up days repeatedly and playing fast. He’s repeatedly been one of the highest GPS guys in terms of speed. He’s playing really well and Reese is definitely going to see a lot of early action.”

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Photo gallery: West Virginia holds open practice, annual Fan Day

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Less than three weeks before the September 1 season opener at Pitt, West Virginia was back at it again Saturday.

The Mountaineers held their annual Fan Day in the morning, before conducting an open practice for two hours inside Milan Puskar Stadium.

(Photos by Teran Malone)

 

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DMV makes improvements to REAL ID application process

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — There’s a new digital service at the state Division of Motor Vehicles’ that gives drivers better access to obtaining a REAL ID.

REAL ID Headstart offers a guided path through pre-enrollment by allowing applicants to verify their identity, upload required documents and schedule their REAL ID appointment.

The federal deadline to get a REAL ID is May 3, 2023.

“We know that the rush is coming as the REAL ID deadline approaches. While many West Virginians already have a REAL ID, this new service shows that we’re still doing everything in our power to help minimize the crowds in regional offices,” said DMV Commissioner Everett Frazier in a statement.

West Virginia is one of only a few states to offer a REAL ID pre-enrollment service like REAL ID Headstart.

A change to the federal law is in progress to support a completely digital upgrade. The law still requires the required documents be presented in-person and verified by the DMV.

REAL ID Headstart is available at dmv.wv.gov.

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Former WVU football recruit not guilty of sexual assault, still faces burglary charge

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – A jury of six men and six women found former WVU football player not guilty Friday on a sexual assault charge.

The panel acquired Vincent Chukwudi-Okoli, 19, of Germantown, Maryland, on second degree sexual assault.

Jurors deliberated through the day Friday, and at one point were reminded of an Allen charge by Monongalia County Circuit Court Judge Cindy Scott when an impasse was reported. The Allen charge are instructions given to a hung jury urging them to reach a verdict.

Judge Scott also rejected a request to rehear testimony, telling the panel they would have to rely on memory.

Chukwudi-Okoli remains in custody on a burglary charge, but will be released if he is able to post a $10,000 bond.

Chukwudi-Okoli, a member of the 2020 recruiting class did not play for the team and entered the transfer portal in March of 2021.

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WVU Foundation reports near record fundraising year

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The West Virginia University Foundation has achieved another year of over $200 million in donations.

B. J. Davisson

In a final report ahead of the start of the 2022-23 school year, WVU Foundation executive vice president and chief development officer BJ Davisson announced that they received nearly $214 million in donations. The donations were lower than the record high received in 2021 but is still considered a significant number despite recent economic effects caused by inflation and post-pandemic recovery.

“Having secured about $214 million, not quite up to our big record year last year with $270 (million), still an amazing result I think, in light of everything happening in our country,” Davisson said.

According to Davisson, the donations were received from several different avenues, with the majority donated via alumni or fundraising events. While alumni donations were taken in multiple spurts, individual donations were given by more than 20,000 people, when combined, lead to 39,347 gifts to the WVU Foundation. Thirty-two donors gave gifts of $1 million or more.

“We really practice what we call an omni-channel approach, to reaching out to folks,” said Davisson. “A lot to social media, personal contact, written communication, posting events that kind of bring people closer to the institution.”

The majority of the $214 million received will be directed at the discretion of the donor. For 2022, Davisson reports that more than 30 divisions of WVU received donations as part of the campaign, which are used to fund scholarships and improvements to facilities. This doesn’t include “current use” donations and endowments which are directed for any use the university sees fit.

“That represents gifts to about thirty separate units, colleges in the institution,” Davisson said on the directed donations. “Including Potomac State, and Beckley, the Chambers College, medicine, everything.”

Past donations received by the WVU Foundation, have contributed to several constructions projects in recent years. Among them, are the WVU Medicine Children’s Hospital, the new facilities for the John Chambers School of Business and various projects for the WVU Athletic Department. As the 2022-2023 school year, Davisson says the approach to garner donations will be very much the same as it has been in recent years.

“What we’re going to do is follow the university’s lead, I think we are very blessed to represent a fine institution that continues to make significant strides and improvements,” he said.

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Guard members begin training for jail help Monday

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — For the second time since 2018, the state Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation is calling on the West Virginia National Guard to help it give a break to some overworked correctional officers.

Gov. Jim Justice signed an executive order Thursday calling on the Guard to help during the next year.

Jeff Sandy

State Homeland Security Secretary Jeff Sandy said the DCR needed similar help four years ago.

“Bless the governor for doing this, that’s what the National Guard will be doing for us, giving these people some time to take off work,” Sandy said during a Friday appearance on MetroNews “Talkline.”

Sandy said it’s not uncommon for some correctional officers to work in excess of 60 hours a week.

State Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Bill Crane said the Guard proudly supports other state agencies in time of need.

“Our personnel have accomplished this mission in the past with success and we have a great group of volunteers who are ready to step up and alleviate the staffing shortages for our state’s correctional officers,” Crane said in a Friday news release. “The most important thing we can do is ensure that there are appropriate levels of safety and security in facilities across the state to help ensure our citizens and the men and women of corrections are safe.”

There are currently 1,006 worker vacancies across the entire DCR with the most in the correctional officer entry level position.

“That’s 277 (vacancies),” Sandy said.

State Adjutant General Bill Crane

A lot of those are in Eastern Panhandle facilities where the vacancy rate tops 60%.

Sandy said anywhere from 80 to 125 members of the Guard could help fill shifts. He said the Guard helped for about 6 months in 2018.

Guard members volunteering for the duty will begin training in Charleston on Monday. They’ll report to facilities throughout the state on Aug. 22. The service will be considered State Active Duty status.

The work of the Guard will be in a support role. Members will not have direct contact with inmates. They’ll perform duties having to do with “administrative functions, control center management, camera operations or other duties that are not in direct contact with inmates.”

There were 109 service members who helped in the state’s jails and prisons in 2018.

Sandy said they’ll continue to work to fill the many vacancies. He said Corrections had its vacancies down to 500 in January 2020 following three years of raises supported by Gov. Justice but then COVID hit and that changed everything when it comes to recruiting and retaining workers.

“It’s competition with everyone now in our world,” Sandy said.

Entry level correctional officers are paid $33,000 annually.

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Five hurt and one arrested in accident on Mason County fairground

POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. — Five people are recovering after they were struck by a vehicle Friday evening near the Mason County fairgrounds.

According to Mason County Sheriff Corey Miller, The incident happened around 6 p.m. Friday on the Fair Ground Road just a few hundred feed from the fair entrance.

Deputies arrested an adult male at the scene, but the nature of the charges against him were not revealed.

Four of the victims were transported to nearby Pleasant Valley Hospital for their injuries. A fifth victim, a teenager, was flown to Cabell-Huntington Hospital by HealthNet.

Sheriff Miller said a criminal investigation is underway into the incident which also resulted in several parked cars being damaged.

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