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The Free Press WV

►   NJ Cop Says Sex on Duty Shouldn’t Have Led to Firing

“I honestly don’t think so.“ That’s the no-so-honest answer a former New Jersey police officer gave to Union County prosecutors who asked him if he had sex in his police car while on the job. Fernando Sanchez ultimately reversed that line and admitted to having sex with more than one woman during work hours, sometimes in his car. MyCentralJersey reports Sanchez lost his job and was no longer a member of the Plainfield force—where he had served since 1999—as of September 23, 2014. Now, he wants his job back. In fact, that request is why the details of his case are now accessible to the media, MyCentralJersey explains: Police internal affairs investigations are not made public, but cases before the state Civil Service Commission are.

The commission in October ruled in support of the city; Sanchez is appealing, per his former attorney. He thinks he should have been handed a suspension, his reasoning being that when investigators learned of his dalliances, he put a stop to those rendez-vous. What the city had to say: “An officer who engages in such conduct clearly cannot be relied upon to exercise the necessary tact, restraint, and good judgment in his relationships with the public.“ How Judge Leslie Z. Celentano framed his arguments: “border[ing] on ludicrous.“


►   3 Puerto Rico Cops Killed by Fellow Cop: Officials

Authorities say an argument between a cop and three of his colleagues apparently led the officer to shoot and kill all three of them Monday at police headquarters in Ponce, Puerto Rico, the AP reports. The officer, identified by Puerto Rican newspaper El Vocero as 50-year-old Guarionex Candelario Rivera, allegedly shot to death his boss, Lt. Luz Soto Segarra, 49, as well as Cmdr. Frank Roman Rodriguez, 49, and 42-year-old policewoman Rosario Hernandez de Hoyos, per the New York Daily News and the AP. The suspect was holding the three captive and cops were about to begin hostage negotiations when he killed his co-workers, a police spokeswoman tells the AP. “There are no words to describe this tragedy where three colleagues have lost their lives,“ Associate Superintendent Juan Rodriguez Davila said via a post on the Puerto Rico PD’s Twitter page, per CNN. “Our condolences for the families.“

Puerto Rico’s police department, said by the AP to be the second largest in a US jurisdiction, has already been the subject of much scrutiny: Earlier this year, Mother Jones called it “America’s worst police force” for its “long record of corruption, shootings, and impunity,“ while Latin Correspondent labels the “beleaguered entity” as being rife with officers who aren’t trained well and are paid little, and some of whom use the department to “establish and maintain their own criminal network.“ The suspect, who was arrested and is now in custody, was said to have worked in the department’s anti-drug division, the AP notes. Authorities also had to evacuate the station to check out reports of an explosive device in the suspect’s car, the news agency adds.


►   This Is the ‘PS4’ a Boy Got for Christmas

“This is the best present ever, thank you, Santa!“ was 9-year-old Scott Lundy’s initial reaction when he unwrapped his big gift Christmas morning: a Sony PS4. But that exuberance quickly turned to tears when Scott and his dad, Brian, actually opened up the box to set the game console up and found a fake wooden model inside, complete with what WHDH describes as a “crude drawing and message” scrawled on it. “He’s crying and he’s upset and he’s in the playroom by himself and he just wants to be alone. … I was crushed,“ stepmom Kristin Lundy tells WFXT. She adds in a Facebook post describing the incident: “This has ruined his belief in Santa.“ The family took the PS4 back to the Saugus, Mass., Target where it had been purchased, and they were told this kind of thing takes place on occasion.

“It happens through the distribution, the assembly line or something,“ Brian tells WHDH. Kristin notes in her Facebook post that the same thing happened to Scott’s cousin. A Target manager managed to restore the Lundys’ Christmas spirit, giving them a brand-new console not made out of wood, plus a $100 gift card and an extra game. They “couldn’t have been any kinder,“ Kristin tells WFXT. The Lundys had to employ a bit of subterfuge to pull off the return, as Scott still believes in Santa: They told the boy that Santa’s elves picked up the PS4 at Target because they don’t do electronics at the North Pole, and that a “rogue elf” was responsible for the mistake, per WFXT. They plan to pen a complaint to Santa about the elf.


►   Lost Teen Survives 4-Degree Utah Night

After spending a frigid night lost in the marshes of a bird refuge near the Great Salt Lake, a 14-year-old Utah boy was found alive—and is expected to make a full recovery, KSL reports. Brayden Neilson suffered hypothermia and is being monitored for any lasting damage to his hands after being exposed to what Fox13 reports was a 4-degree night. The teen and a friend were hunting in the Ogden Bay Bird Refuge about 40 miles north of Salt Lake City early Saturday morning and the two became separated, with only Brayden’s friend making it to their truck. They both placed 911 calls around 9pm, but the information Brayden provided was “confusing and inconsistent,“ as KSL puts it. “There was some concern he was starting to get hypothermia and was maybe hallucinating,“ Weber County Sheriff’s Lt. Lane Findlay tells KSL.

Police say that attempts to “ping” Brayden’s cellphone failed to provide a specific location. Later, the phone’s battery died. Hours into the search, which included helicopters, authorities discovered Brayden’s sled of supplies, but no Brayden. His brother tells KSL that around 1am, the teen called his grandmother and said he was about five minutes from his Bluffdale home, despite being more than an hour away. “It didn’t make a lot of sense,“ says Findlay. Brayden ultimately walked 6 to 7 miles to the Antelope Island Causeway in Syracuse, where he found a landline and again dialed 911 around 6am Sunday. Findlay says Brayden likely has his warm hunting clothes to thank for his survival; Brayden’s brother tells KSL the teen had removed his gloves, and his hands were blue when he was found.


►   Cops: Woman ‘Consumed Everything She Could’ in Walmart

From psychosis to tooth decay, the ravages of meth are well documented. Here’s a new one: Police say a 25-year-old woman told them she shot up meth, after which she allegedly drove a motorized shopping cart through a Florida Walmart while gorging on purloined grub and guzzling five-finger-discount wine, WNCN reports. Police arrested Josseleen Elida Lopez last Tuesday on retail petit theft and drug paraphernalia (two empty syringes) charges. A loss prevention officer at the mega-retailer’s Lecanto location allegedly saw her driving the motorized cart with a half-empty bottle of wine inside, according to WPTV.

Now on the case, store security reportedly observed Lopez grab a package of sushi, eat a piece, and then return it to the shelf. Next on the menu were mini muffins and cinnamon rolls, consumed in the same fashion as the sushi. Then the main course: a whole rotisserie chicken, which she ate most of. By the end of the meal, Lopez had allegedly drained two bottles of wine. All told, she consumed $32.36 in food and drink, per the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office probable cause affidavit. When police asked Lopez why she did it, her response, per the affidavit: “She stated that she was hungry and did not want to take any of the items outside of the store, but did consume everything she could while inside the store.“ She added that she knew it was wrong. Lopez is being held on $1,500 bond.


►   Family Seeks Long-Lost Triplets via Facebook

Cynthia Bush says her parents were “appalled” when she became pregnant with triplets at 16 in 1971. They sent her from upstate New York to stay with an aunt in Kansas until she gave birth and adoptions were arranged through Catholic Charities. Bush eventually married the biological father of the babies and had three more children, but says she “always wondered about them.“ Now 61, Bush has embarked on a social media search to find the triplets she gave up, with help from her 36-year-old daughter. “It sounds corny but I always felt I’ve had something missing in my life,“ Christina Wilcox tells NBC News. “I wonder if that’s what it is.“ A photo of Wilcox holding a poster with details of the triplets’ births—including their March 9, 1972, birth date—has been shared some 5,000 times, and the story has gained international attention, as here at the UK’s ITV News.

Wilcox says several people who worked at Trinity Hospital in Dodge City have contacted her, including one nurse who thinks the triplets were separated. If so, that would have violated Bush’s written preference that they be kept together. But complicating things is that a priest, since deceased, provided Bush’s aunt with updates on the boys for years, telling her they were together and doing well. In addition to social media, the family has reached out to Catholic Charities for help finding the boys. “I’d like to find them, but I don’t want to disrupt their lives completely if they don’t know they are adopted,“ Bush says.


►   Doctor May Blame Double Murder on Cough Syrup

A doctor accused of murdering his partner and their 2-year-old son in 2011 will go on trial in April next year—and he may blame cough syrup for the grisly killings. Louis Chen’s defense team in October filed papers signaling that they will argue that the 43-year-old was suffering from psychosis caused by a buildup of the drug dextromethorphan in his system, reports the Seattle Times. The defense declaration suggests Chen’s Taiwanese genetic makeup made it harder for him to metabolize dextromethorphan, found in many over-the-counter cough medications. Police have suggested Chen killed partner Eric Cooper because of an impending breakup and custody battle in which Chen’s alleged prescription drug abuse may have been exposed, the Times reports.

When Chen didn’t show up for his first day at work in a Seattle hospital in the summer of 2011, police found him covered in blood at his apartment, along with the bodies of Cooper and their son, Cooper Chen, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported at the time. Cooper had been stabbed more than 100 times and the toddler’s throat had been cut. Chen, who fathered the boy with a surrogate mother, spent more than a week in the hospital being treated for self-inflicted stab wounds. University of Washington law professor Mary Fan tells the Times that she has “definitely heard of induced psychosis through taking various drugs,“ but not in any cases involving cough syrup, and she predicts the case will hinge on whether Chen’s “intoxication” was voluntary or involuntary. Chen faces life without parole.


►   4.4 Quake Rattles Southern California

A moderate earthquake shook an inland area of Southern California near San Bernardino on Tuesday night, giving a start to thousands across a heavily populated area, with more than one person comparing it to a rumbling big rig. There were no immediate reports of damages or injuries, however. The magnitude-4.4 quake hit in foothills northwest of San Bernardino about 5:38pm at a depth of about 3 miles, according to the US Geological Survey. Aftershocks of magnitude 3.8 and 3.2 came minutes later, and dozens of tiny aftershocks followed in the next few hours.

People reported feeling the earthquake throughout the suburbs east of Los Angeles, which is about 50 miles southwest of the epicenter. Brenda Torres, 24, a waitress at Papa Tony’s Diner in San Bernardino, says customers were a bit shaken but kept calm. Nothing in the restaurant rattled or broke and the quake was so short there wasn’t even time to take cover under a table. “At first I thought it was a semi-truck that had hit the building or something,“ she says. Laura Melgoza, 23, a college student and cashier at WaBa Grill in San Bernardino, says she and her co-workers headed toward the front of the building as the restaurant shook. “I was just panicking,“ she says. “It was the biggest one that I’ve felt.“


►   911 Dispatcher Demoted for Playing Video Games on Job

A Florida 911 dispatcher has been reprimanded and demoted for playing video games on the job. The Palm Beach Post reported Tuesday that 52-year-old Charles Morris was demoted from training officer to dispatcher. The paper reports that an internal investigation conducted by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office revealed Morris played hand-held video games instead of dispatching 911 calls for a shooting and for a hit-and-run crash in October. Sheriff’s spokeswoman Teri Barbera says Morris was reprimanded in early November. Morris has been employed with the sheriff’s office since 2004.


►   Oklahoma Quake Knocks Out Power to 4.4K Homes

A strong, 4.3-magnitude earthquake woke many people in the Oklahoma City area early Tuesday and knocked out power to thousands of homes, the latest in a series of temblors that’s prompted state regulators to call for more restrictions on oil and gas operators. The quake struck at 5:39am near the city of Edmond, which is a suburb north of Oklahoma City, according to preliminary data from the US Geological Survey. A smaller earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 3.4 hit the same area about 10 minutes later. No injuries were immediately reported, but the quake knocked out power to about 4,400 homes and businesses; electricity was restored quickly, Edmond spokesman Casey Moore said.

Oklahoma has become one of the most earthquake-prone areas in the world, with the number of quakes magnitude 3.0 skyrocketing from a few dozen in 2012 to more than 720 so far this year. Many of the earthquakes are occurring in swarms in areas where injection wells pump salty wastewater—a byproduct of oil and gas production—deep into the earth. As a result, state regulators have begun reducing the volume or shutting down disposal wells in response. The epicenter of Tuesday’s quake was located just outside a previously implemented “cutback zone,“ where disposal well operators were directed in July to reduce the amount of volume they inject, Oklahoma Corporation Commission spokesman Matt Skinner said. He added that there were no high-volume injection wells operating in the area of Tuesday’s earthquakes.

In The World….

The Free Press WV

►   North Korea’s OS Has ‘Malicious Functionality’

Check out North Korea’s computer operating system, and it feels almost like you’re using a Mac. Red Star OS is a “fully featured desktop system,“ German researcher Niklaus Schiess tells Motherboard, complete with word processing software and a revamped Firefox browser. But like almost everything else in the totalitarian nation, something more nefarious lies underneath, per Schiess and Florian Grunow, who both scrutinized a version of the Linux-based OS that was leaked in 2014. They presented their findings Sunday to the Chaos Communication Congress—what Reuters calls “a gathering of hackers and security researchers"—in Hamburg, Germany. “We found that the features implemented in Red Star OS are the wet dream of a surveillance state dictator,“ the two say, describing a “fear-driven” OS that features “malicious functionality.“

Among the features of the OS are custom-developed encryption and the watermarking of documents and multimedia files so they can be tracked as they’re transferred from computer to computer via USB sticks, Reuters notes. “It’s definitely privacy invading, it’s not transparent to the user,“ Grunow says, per the news agency. It “touches files you haven’t even opened.“ There’s also a built-in firewall, anti-virus scanner, and a program that reboots the OS or displays an error message if anyone tries to mess with the OS, per Motherboard. What made the OS particularly interesting to Grunow and Schiess is the fact that the nation is using the open source Linux OS, which can be customized for a user’s particular purposes—in North Korea’s case, snooping on its own, per Re/code. “North Korea abuses the principals of free software to provide an operating system that suppresses free speech,“ the researchers note in their CCC abstract.


►   Top N. Korea Negotiator Dies in ‘Car Accident’

Traffic accidents aren’t a common cause of death in North Korea—unless you happen to be chief of the United Front Department tasked with improving relations with the South. According to state media in Pyongyang, Kim Yang Gon, the 73-year-old department chief, died in a traffic accident early Tuesday, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will preside over his funeral on Thursday. Han Park, a professor of international relations at the University of Georgia, tells CNN that car crashes are very rare in North Korea and the negotiator’s death looks suspicious. “His predecessor in the same position died in a car accident,“ Han says. “I’m puzzled. I’m extremely puzzled.“

Kim—described by state media as the leader’s “closest comrade-in-arms and steadfast revolutionary comrade"—was chief of a delegation that helped pull the Koreas back from the brink of armed confrontation in August and played a major role in organizing earlier summits, the BBC reports. Pyongyang watchers note that North Korea hasn’t named a successor and predict that whatever the circumstances of Kim’s death, dialogue between North Korea and South Korea will probably now be suspended and relations will remain tense.


►   Priest Suspended Over Christmas Eve Hoverboard Stunt

A priest rolling around his church on a “hoverboard” while singing May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You on Christmas Eve earned a round of applause from his congregation and a quick suspension from his diocese, NBC News reports. It’s unknown how the birthday boy felt about the whole thing. According to Sun Times, the unnamed priest’s song-and-roll routine took place just before the end of mass at a church in the Philippines. Fortunately for those who couldn’t be in attendance, the whole thing was caught on video. “That was wrong,“ Rappler quotes a statement from the Diocese of San Pablo as saying. “[Mass] is the Church’s highest form of worship. Consequently, it is not a personal celebration where one can capriciously introduce something to get the attention of the people.”

The priest’s suspension was announced Tuesday, with the diocese stating that the priest is repentant and views the incident as a “wake-up call,“ Sun Times reports. “[He] will spend some time to reflect on this past event,“ reads the diocese’s statement. “He would like to apologize for what happened.” A group advocating for a return to the traditional Latin mass used the priest’s hoverboard jaunt as evidence of the further degradation of Catholic worship. “This calls for a reparation,“ the group posted on Facebook. According to NBC, so-called hoverboards were one of the most gifted items this Christmas. But Rappler reports they are facing a possible ban in the Philippines.


►   ISIS Leaders Connected to Paris Attacks Killed in Airstrikes

In the past month, the US and fellow coalition members have killed 10 ISIS leaders—including two linked to the deadly Paris attacks—with airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, Reuters reports. Charaffe al Mouadan was killed December 24. He had a connection to the suspected leader of the Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud. “Al Mouadan was actively planning additional attacks against the West,“ the Hill quotes Army spokesperson Steve Warren. A second man with connections to the Paris attacks—Abdul Qader Hakim—was killed in an airstrike December 26, Reuters reports. “We’re striking at the head of this snake,“ the Hill quotes Warren. “We have not severed the head of this snake yet, and it has still got fangs.“

Gilmer County Circuit Court Report

The Free Press WV

On Tuesday, December 22, 2015 Chief Judge Richard A. Facemire held Court in Gilmer County through the afternoon.


•  Two fugitives from justice waived extradition to their home states.

Anthony Thompson waived to return to Maryland with Jonathan Fuller waiving to return to Virginia.

Both were represented by Melissa Roman of Buckhannon and authorities in their states had until 4 p.m. Sunday, December 27, 2015 to pick them up at Central Regional Jail or they would be released.


•  Three juvenile matters were heard.


Various criminal matters were heard:


•  State of West Virginia vs. Andrew Taylor

He had a pretrial hearing and his case remains on the trial docket for January 5th. He is represented by Christopher Moffatt of Charleston


•  State of West Virginia vs. Kevin Curry

He was in Court for arraignment on his new indictment and to have bond set and/or reduced.

In the boundover matters from magistrate Court his bond was $1,250,000.00 cash only and he is represented by court appointed attorney Kevin Hughart of Sissonville.

Bernard Mauser appeared and was retained as counsel in the Circuit Court matters.

Mauser is from Sutton and Curry’s bond was lowered to $150,000.00 cash or surety and home confinement.

He will have a suppression hearing on Friday, January 15, 2016 and his trial is currently set for Tuesday, January 26, 2016.


•  State of West Virginia vs. Randall Lambey

He was before the Court for revocation of his probation.

Judge Facemire sentenced him to one year in Central Regional Jail and suspended the sentence and placed him on home confinement in Clay County.

He is to pay at least $100.00 on child support arrears per month.

He made admission to paragraph 3 of the revocation and Clinton Bischoff of Summersville stood in as his attorney in place of Andrew Chattin who was unable to appear.


•  State of West Virginia vs. William Hardman

He appeared by video arraignment from Central Regional Jail asking for his bond to be reduced.

Judge Facemire reduced his bond to $500,000.00 surety with home confinement.

Hardman is represented by Clinton Bischoff and special prosecuting attorney Steve Jones is representing the state.


•  State of West Virginia vs. James C. Miller

He was before the Court with his attorney Valentina Wheeler, and after successfully completing the program at Anthony Center for Youthful Offenders he was placed on 5 years probation in Gilmer County.

However, he has a sentence to serve in Nicholas County first.


•  Judge Facemire also heard and granted an infant settlement in a case involving a car accident.

Governor Tomblin Looks Back on 2015

From budget shortfalls to comprehensive reforms,
2015 brings challenges and progress for West Virginia

The Free Press WV

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin looked back on 2015 – highlighting both challenges and new steps forward on issues that have defined his term as governor and his ongoing efforts to secure a bright future for West Virginians in the New Year and for years to come.

“Each year serving as your governor has presented a number of unique challenges and progress worth celebrating. As we look back on 2015 and forward to the New Year, I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue serving the people of West Virginia,” Governor Tomblin said. “In the past year, we worked hard to manage our state budget shortfall and address our state’s substance abuse epidemic. We have secured a several large-scale economic development opportunities and created a variety of new programs to help put West Virginians back to work and on the path toward a bright and successful future. As we move forward on the path we’ve worked hard to create, it is important to reflect on the past year to help us create an even better 2016.”


SUCCEEDING ON A NATIONAL STAGE FOR MAJOR ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS

In February, Governor Tomblin announced global consumer products giant Procter & Gamble (P&G) would build a new manufacturing plant in Berkeley County, an investment of approximately $500 million. The new facility will be the 26th manufacturing operation in the country and the first plant built in the United States since the 1970s. In September, Governor Tomblin joined state and local officials to break ground on the Tabler Station plant, bringing 1,000 construction jobs and 700 full-time positions to the Eastern Panhandle, P&G’s fifth-largest workforce in the United States.

“Welcoming P&G to the Eastern Panhandle will forever be one of my favorite memories as your governor. We’ve worked hard to bring new jobs and opportunities to West Virginia for West Virginians, and our people are ready to get to work,” Governor Tomblin said. “This past year brought significant growth for many companies that call the Mountain State home. This year, we celebrated expansions by Sistersville Tank Works in Pleasants County, Conley Fabrication in Wood County, Cenergy in Cabell County and a number of others to congratulate West Virginians on a job well done.”


MANAGING STATE BUDGET SHORTFALL AND RENEWING A COMMITMENT TO FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY

In January, Governor Tomblin joined Senate President Bill Cole, House Speaker Tim Armstead and representatives from the West Virginia Legislature to announce positive returns on the state’s investments and a proposed $44 million decrease in the Rainy Day Fund contribution for the 2016 fiscal year budget. After months of sluggish severance tax collections, however, Governor Tomblin announced a 4 percent across-the-board reduction for most state agencies.

“Reducing our fiscal year 2016 budget was a difficult decision caused by several factors beyond our control,” Governor Tomblin said. “Although these reductions were not easy for any of us, they are necessary for us to maintain a balanced budget. These cuts also allow us to use much less of our state’s Rainy Day Fund to fill the projected shortfall – a move that ultimately helps maintain our bond rating and reducing borrowing costs. This fund was created for unexpected and difficult times such as this, and our decades long commitment to fiscal responsibility has put is in a better position than most states across the country. As we move into the New Year, I encourage the Legislature to consider opportunities to diversify our state’s revenue base and continue our fiscally sound policies well into the future.”


TRAINING A SKILLED WORKFORCE FOR JOBS OF TODAY AND TOMORROW

Since becoming governor in 2011, workforce development has been one of Governor Tomblin’s top priorities. In conjunction with the West Virginia Workforce Planning Council, Governor Tomblin hosted the state’s first Workforce Summit, a comprehensive review of the state’s workforce development efforts for education, business and industry leaders across the state.

“For years, the West Virginia Workforce Planning Council has operated behind the scenes, but we have a great story to tell and it’s time we start telling it,” Governor Tomblin said. “The Workforce Summit highlighted the significant progress we’ve made with folks from across the state to expand workforce training and education programs, giving West Virginians the best opportunities to develop the skills they need to achieve success in high-demand fields. These efforts are guaranteed to help us develop the workforce that companies operating here need.”

In October, Governor Tomblin also announced an additional $7.6 million in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Labor to help coal miners affected by layoffs and mine closures take advantage of job training and career services for new careers, if that’s a choice they wish to make. This grant funding provides tuition assistance – up to $5,000 – for classroom and online skills training, supports 25 on-the-job training positions and provides meal, travel and child care allowances for both miners and their families.


IMPROVING EMERGENCY AND STATE OF EMERGENCY RESPONSE EFFORTS

In February, a 109-CSX train traveling through West Virginia derailed near Mt. Carbon, Fayette County, requiring the evacuation of nearby residents for several days. In a coordinated effort including the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety (DMAPS), the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM) and federal partners, statewide volunteer organizations arrived on site to respond to residents’ needs.

In March, in preparation for winter weather caused by Winter Storm Thor, Governor Tomblin issued a statewide State of Preparedness to give state agencies the authority to mobilize resources to address heavy rainfall, potential flooding, high winds and winter weather. A day later, the governor issued a statewide State of Emergency to combat snow and icy conditions, as well as significant flooding to ensure the safety of residents across the state.

As recommended by the After Action Review following the 2014 chemical leak, the state created an official Facebook page for residents to receive real-time response updates directly from agencies responding to the event.


SHOWCASING ALL THAT’S WILD AND WONDERFUL ABOUT THE MOUNTAIN STATE

In July, Governor Tomblin welcomed 24 governors and their families to The Greenbrier for the 2015 National Governors Association Summer Meeting. This meeting marked the state’s first time to host the nation’s governors in more than a half century. Over the weekend, Governor Tomblin had the opportunity to sit down with governors from across the country and work together to identify innovative solutions to problems faced by many states, including federal transportation funding, efforts to combat substance abuse, unique approaches to economic development and other areas of interest.


OFFERING HELP AND HOPE IN WEST VIRGINIA

This September, Governor Tomblin took the a significant step forward in the fight against substance abuse with the launch of 844.HELP4WV,  a statewide 24-hour substance abuse help line, designed to provide those struggling with substance abuse with resources and information about available treatment and recovery services in their local communities. The governor also launched a new brochure detailing 150 service providers in every region of the state. This brochure is available online and at local courthouses, hospitals, schools, churches, DHHR offices and libraries in all 55 counties.

“Substance abuse is a heartbreaking problem individuals and families across West Virginia face every day,” Governor Tomblin said. “As your governor, I’ve made the fight against substance abuse a centerpiece of my administration, and I was proud to take our efforts to the next level by offering residents the opportunity to call for help, overcome their addiction, and return to their families, communities and workplaces. We’re already seeing great success. Since September, the call line has connected more than 600 people with the resources they need to begin the road to recovery.”

In October, Governor Tomblin welcomed President Barack Obama and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, a native West Virginian, to the Mountain State for the President’s community forum on substance abuse.

“I was pleased to welcome President Obama to West Virginia,” Governor Tomblin said. “His visit not only allowed us to not only bring the troubling issue of substance abuse to the forefront for both federal and state leaders, but also highlight the collective efforts happening in towns and communities across West Virginia to put an end to substance abuse and connect people who are struggling with the treatment and services they need to overcome their addiction.

“A few weeks later, I traveled to Martinsburg to host my Substance Abuse Summit, a comprehensive review of West Virginia’s efforts to combat substance abuse problems in the Mountain State. The event included an overview of programs and initiatives in place – both on a state and local level – to fight this problem and put those struggling with substance abuse in contact with the resources and services they need to begin the road to recovery.

“Since becoming governor, I’ve worked to tackle the substance abuse epidemic that has touched the lives of many West Virginians and adversely affected many West Virginia communities,” Governor Tomblin said. “This Summit helped us bring together a diverse panel of speakers to share their experiences, struggles and accomplishments in the fight against substance abuse. I’m confident we will continue to work together in the coming year to identify more ways we can enhance our efforts to create a brighter future for generations to come.”


WORKING TO SUPPORT AND SUSTAIN OUR ENERGY INDUSTRY

In October, Governor Tomblin joined Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolfe and Ohio Lt. Governor Mary Taylor in Morgantown for the landmark Tri-State Shale Summit, a first-of-its-kind gathering that brought together business, non-profit and government leaders from all three states. The Summit focused on cooperation when possible, marketing the Appalachian Basin as a region to compete in the worldwide energy economy to secure the downstream jobs likely to follow development of the Marcellus and Utica shales.

Also this fall, Governor Tomblin announced that West Virginia plans to submit a plan for the state to comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, while continuing the legal fight against the federal rule.

“I’d prefer we start working this now so that when the time comes, we have an initial plan in place. By submitting this initial proposal, we’ll have two additional years and the flexibility we need to complete a final plan. If the EPA feels the state’s plan does not meet its standards, we have at least developed a starting point that gives us the opportunity to work toward a proposal that balances the environmental protection we all support with the economic growth and development we must maintain.“

Lewis/Gilmer 911 Center to Fill Employee Shortage

The Free Press WV

WESTON — The Lewis/Gilmer 911 Center is expected to hire four full-time employees in 2016 in order to fill vacancies.

No new positions are being created, said Lewis County Commission President Agnes Queen. She said Director Bill Rowan has four vacancies and needs replacements. Rowan said that because of limits on the time frame of applications, previous applications have expired, and he will have to acquire a new list of interested employees.

“We would like to start them and put them to work March 1, if I can get everything… We’re ready to go,” Rowan said.

Three of the positions are existing vacancies, and one position was left vacant by a resignation that was approved by the Lewis County Commission at its regular Monday meeting.

“Since we are so short now, and it’s going to take the instructors to train, you’ll see a considerable amount of overtime in other people to fill those shifts,” Rowan said, adding it could take a minimum of three to six months to train the hires.

Rowan said the training manual for the position has been revised to be more coherent to the employees. Rowan said that although the position offers benefits from day one, he would like to place limits on when those benefits can be used. For instance, the employees can still accrue vacation time during their training period, but he wants to prevent employees from using that accrued time until after the training period has transpired, he said.

Lewis County Commission commended the work of Sheriff’s Deputy Charlie Kirkpatrick.

“Charlie Kirkpatrick went above and beyond the call of duty as an officer,” Queen said. “I was contacted by a local citizen who said they felt that this person needed to be recognized for his efforts. Apparently, he had been at the scene of an individual who had a heart attack.”

Queen said that she was told Kirkpatrick performed CPR on the individual all the way from the original scene to the hospital. She said he didn’t stop until the staff at Stonewall Jackson Memorial Hospital until the staff came to take over.

“He had another call just like it in the next shift,” Whetsell said, adding that the events took place Dec. 16 and 17. “That’s a phenomenal individual that we are truly blessed to have as a part of our law enforcement.”

In other events, Queen said Lewis County had its own little Christmas miracle, so-called by a Kentucky household that was missing a family dog before Christmastime. One of the family members is a truck driver whose dog escaped — and was then struck by a vehicle — near the Jane Lew Truck Stop. The owner was unable to catch and retrieve the dog, so he left contact information behind in case anyone saw the dog.

Just days before Christmas, Animal Control Officer John Snyder was faced with the option to euthanize a dog in dire need of medical attention. Queen said he was very compassionate and insisted the dog be saved. The dog’s picture was posted on Facebook and it was recognized and returned to the family who had it treated by a veterinarian.

In other news, voters in Lewis County’s Precinct 16 will no longer cast their ballots at the Stone Coal Fishing Club because of a potential change in ownership of the club. County Clerk Cindy Rowan said the club has shut down and someone else will be taking it over, and her office is unaware of the club’s status.

“I’m afraid to wait and find out what’s going to happen,” Cindy Rowan said.

County Administrator Cindy Whetsell explained that this change is to err on the side of caution in case whoever takes over the building may not wish for the facility to be used as a voting precinct. The clerk’s office needs time to process a change in voting precincts, so making the change now will prevent any potential for an issue later, she said.

All voters in the affected precinct will now cast ballots at the Lewis County Emergency Medical Squad building. Rowan said a county precinct already votes there, and there have not been problems or issues. All registered voters affected by the change will all be notified individually.

In other news, after hearing from Weston City Council, Commissioners agreed on a joint meeting arrangement to foster relationships and share knowledge between the two governing bodies. They agreed to meet together regularly at 6 p.m. on the fifth Wednesday of each month.

Queen said joint meetings between the governing bodies have happened in the past, and she looks forward to doing it again. The other commissioners also have said they are on board with the idea.

In other news, the Lewis County Senior Center will act as the fiscal agent in the exchange of funds awarded by the Mountain Lakes Convention and Visitors Bureau to Lewis County First, Whetsell said. They will receive $2,500.

~~  Melissa Toothman - Exponent-Telegram ~~

Booth Goodwin to Step Down as Federal Prosecutor in U.S. Attorney’s Office

The Free Press WV

United States Attorney Booth Goodwin answered months of speculation about a potential run for governor of West Virginia December 28, 2015 with an announcement that he will step down from the U.S. Attorney’s Office at the end of 2015. He said he would return to private law practice, according to a news release from the Department of Justice.

On the December 27 edition of “The State Journal’s Decision Makers,“ a weekly public affairs television show, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin, when asked about rumors of his intentions to run for political office, said he has spoken with his wife and “prayerfully reflecting” on “next steps, whatever those next steps might be.“

Goodwin’s wife is Amy Shuler Goodwin, the commissioner of the West Virginia Division of Tourism and former director of communications for Governor Earl Ray Tomblin and chief spokesperson for former Governor Bob Wise.

“I’ll tell you the truth, I’m just now getting to the bottom of the stack of work that stacked up while I was in the Don Blankenship trial, and I really am not prepared at this point to talk,“ Goodwin said during the television interview.

Goodwin, a Ripley native, graduated from West Virginia University with a degree in economics and received his law degree from the Washington and Lee University School of Law. After law school, Goodwin practiced for five years with the Charleston law firm of Goodwin & Goodwin LLP where he engaged in commercial and personal injury litigation, closed multi-million dollar bond transactions, filed reports with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission and handled commercial and residential real estate transactions.

Goodwin was first appointed and sworn in as Assistant United States Attorney in in January 2001 and has served as the presidential-appointed head of the office since May 2010. As a federal prosecutor, Goodwin personally secured convictions in virtually every type of case that his office handles, many of them matters of regional and national significance.

“It has been the greatest honor of my life to serve as United States Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia,” Goodwin said in a prepared statement. “The unparalleled success of this office during my tenure is a tribute to and a result of the extraordinary dedication of the lawyers, staff and law enforcement personnel with whom I have been privileged to serve.

“Their commitment to the safety and security of this nation and West Virginia has been and will continue to be an inspiration.”

West Virginia Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas said in an emailed statement Goodwin “has chosen to walk away from his responsibilities to pursue his own political ambitions.“

“Goodwin has spent his career as President Obama’s lawyer and is obviously now looking to advance Obama’s liberal, anti-coal agenda as a candidate,“ Lucas said.

Did You Know?

The Free Press WV

‘AFFLUENZA’ TEEN TO RETURN TO U.S.

Ethan Couch, 18, and his mother gave away their location to investigators by using a cellphone to order a Domino’s pizza.


WHAT CASE IS FAR FROM OVER

Tamir Rice’s grief-stricken mother has sued police, the policemen involved in his shooting could still be disciplined and federal investigators are reviewing it.


RAMADI GAINS COME AT HIGH COST

The advance of Iraqi forces into the heart of Ramadi in some ways vindicated the U.S.-led coalition’s strategy for rolling back extremists - but the same tactics might not work elsewhere.


TRUMP EVOKES MONICA LEWINSKY CASE

The Republican front-runner is reviving memories of Bill Clinton’s affair with the White House intern and his turbulent interactions with black voters during South Carolina’s 2008 primary.


WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION DECLARES GUINEA EBOLA FREE

It’s the first time there are no known cases anywhere since the virus emerged in Guinea two years ago.


ALASKA PILOT CRASHES INTO OFFICE BUILDING

Doug Demarest, 42, was not authorized to fly the Civil Air Patrol Cessna 172 that smashed into a building in downtown Anchorage, killing him and setting a building ablaze.


ISLAMIC STATE LEADERS KILLED IN AIRSTRIKES

A U.S. military official in Iraq says several of those killed were linked to the Paris attacks or other plots against the West.


WHO IS REVISING ITS RULES OF CONDUCT

Twitter is emphasizing that it prohibits violent threats and abusive behavior by users, as critics are calling for the online service to adopt a harder line against extremists.


WHICH FORMER ‘GLEE’ STAR IS IN TROUBLE WITH THE LAW

Authorities say former “Glee” star Mark Salling has been arrested in Los Angeles for investigation of possessing child pornography.


EAGLES FIRE CHIP KELLY WITH ONE GAME LEFT IN HIS THIRD SEASON

Kelly was released Tuesday night just before the end of a disappointing season that began with Super Bowl expectations.

In West Virginia….

The Free Press WV

►   Health Care Authority set to “weigh the evidence” in hospital merger case

HUNTINGTON, WV — It will be a few months before the state Health Care Authority reaches a decision on the Cabell Huntington Hospital request to take in St. Mary’s Medical Center in a merger, HCA Chairman Jim Pitrolo said.

The authority heard two days of testimony last week on Cabell Huntington’s certificate of need request. Steel of West Virginia argued against the merger.

“I think both sides did a really good job of presenting all of the information that’s needed to make a decision,” Pitrolo told MetroNews. “I believe because of the volume of it, it will take some time to go through and deliberate it.”

Cabell Huntington’s case was based on improving the quality of care, the ability to recruit specialized doctors and centralizing patient records. While Steel of West Virginia claimed the merger would drive up health care costs by eliminating competition.

“What we have to deliberate on is whether there’s truly a need. Whether it’s better for the citizens of that area of West Virginia to have these two hospitals merge,” Pitrolo said. “So we’ll have to weigh the evidence and see if we can approve their certificate of need in which they are requesting a merger.”

The Federal Trade Commission filed an administrative complaint in November claiming the merger would diminish care and make that care more expensive. Pitrolo told MetroNews the issues the HCA and FTC are considering are separate.

“We look at need and they look at competition, anti-trust type things,” he said. “We don’t so much look at competition we look at the need of the services in that area.”

Cabell Huntington needs to clear both the state and federal hurdles for the merger to go through, according to Pitrolo.

The involved parties are waiting on the transcript from last week’s hearing. The attorneys from both sides will then submit legal briefs recommending the decision the HCA should make. That decision could come sometime during the first quarter of 2016.


►   Ex-magistrate admonished after challenging man to fight

WINFIELD, WV — The state Judicial Investigation Commission has publicly admonished a Putnam County magistrate who resigned earlier this month, calling his handling of a Hurricane man’s case “a travesty of justice.“

Media outlets report that the admonishment stems from Scot Lawrence’s handling of an August court proceeding in which he was filmed taunting Hurricane resident Troy Sexton and challenging him to a fight. Lawrence said Sexton had called him a “piggy” in a previous motion and had said “oink, oink” when passing a police trooper before proceedings began.

According to the admonishment from the commission made public on December 18, Lawrence will not face disciplinary action since he agreed to resign as magistrate and never again seek judicial office in West Virginia.

Lawrence left a letter of resignation on his desk December 06.


►   Coal industry on track for record low in mining deaths


Amid layoffs and idled operations, the U.S. coal industry is close to setting a record low for on-the-job deaths in coal mines.

In late December, there were 11 deaths in coal mines nationwide for the year, putting the industry on track to best the record low of 16 set in 2014.

Pennsylvania is leading the nation with three deaths, the most in that state since 2008. If the numbers hold it would be the first time since 2009 that West Virginia did not record the nation’s most coal mine fatalities. So far, West Virginia has had just two mining deaths, tied with Kentucky and Illinois, which had the most recent on December 8. An equipment crash underground at the MC #1 mine in southern Illinois killed 20-year-old Tyler Rath, who had been mining for two years.

Alabama and Virginia have each had one mining death with just a few days left in 2015.

Seven deaths have occurred in underground mines, and four of those were attributed to roof or wall failures.

Employment in U.S. coal mines has been on the decline in recent years, especially in Appalachia, as operators cut ties with costly underground operations to better compete with cheaper western coal and a plentiful supply of natural gas.

Coal employment nationwide was down in November from 72,700 to 64,700, an 11 percent drop, compared to last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Kentucky, mines have lost about 4,000 jobs between 2012 and 2014.

Bruce Watzman, a spokesman for the National Mining Association, said the industry has had a heightened focus on safety with a goal of zero fatalities. He said the reduction in mine employment in recent years may also be a factor in the record low deaths.

“We’ve long said that a safe mine is a productive mine, and in the competitive marketplace that exists today it’s important that mines operate at optimum performance and that means safely,“ Watzman said.

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration is withholding comment on the fatal numbers until the year is over, according to a spokeswoman.

But after last year’s record low, federal mine safety officials credited the changes they made after the Upper Big Branch disaster in West Virginia in 2010 that killed 29 men, which included more aggressive inspections at mines with poor safety records, many of them in Appalachia.


►   About 3 dozen to take US citizenship oath in Charleston

CHARLESTON, WV — About three dozen people will take the oath of United States citizenship early next month in Charleston.

U.S. Attorney Joseph R. Goodwin will preside over the naturalization ceremony January 07 at the federal courthouse. The guest speaker will be Erica Mani, chief executive officer of the American Red Cross in West Virginia.

Goodwin’s office says in a news release that the prospective new citizens come from 25 countries.

In USA….

The Free Press WV

►   ‘Affluenza’ Teen Found in Mexico With Darkened Hair

“Affluenza” teen Ethan Couch is a fugitive no more. The 18-year-old and his mother were detained near the Mexican beach town of Puerto Vallarta on Monday after weeks on the run, reports CNN. Few details were released about their capture, but the prosecutor’s office in Jalisco state says the Couches were picked up when they couldn’t prove they were in Mexico legally, reports CBS News. Authorities there had been working with US officials on the case since Saturday, reports AP. The Couches—Ethan appears to have dyed his hair black—have been handed over to immigration authorities for deportation to the US, specifically to Tarrant County, Texas.

The pair disappeared weeks ago after a video surfaced that allegedly shows Ethan Couch at a party and in possible violation of his probation in the fatal drunk-driving case that featured his unusual but successful defense; such a violation could result in a 10-year sentence. The Dallas Morning News notes Couch failed to check in with his probation officer on December 10. A ruling is pending on whether Couch’s case will be moved from juvenile to adult court when he turns 19 in April, though authorities already have warned that he might face big-boy jail.“ It remains unclear whether his mother, 48-year-old Tonya Couch, will face charges.


►   Bakery Owners Pay $135K Over Gay Wedding Cake

An Oregon bakery that refused to make a cake for a lesbian couple and then refused to pay the $135,000 damages award that ensued has decided to finally pay up. A spokesman for the state Bureau of Labor and Industries tells KOIN that Aaron Klein, co-owner of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, paid $136,927.07 on Monday to settle the damages and interest. The spokesman says that with the help of a private collections agency, the bureau had already recovered around $7,000 from a garnished bank account belonging to Aaron and Melissa Klein, who closed their bakery in 2013 and now run the business from home.

The couple was ordered to pay damages after authorities decided they had violated the civil rights of the two women who ordered a wedding cake. The Kleins’ lawyer tells the Oregonian that they still plan to appeal the ruling, but they decided it didn’t make sense to rack up interest charges while the case was pending. “The prudent thing to do, given the generosity of people who have contributed funds, was to take care of it and continue the fight,“ he says. And supporters have definitely been generous: The Kleins have received more than $515,000 from supporters since their case became national news, including at least $400,000 from a Continue to Give campaign that’s still receiving a steady stream of donations.


►   Tamir’s Family Has Strong Words for Prosecutor

A grand jury on Monday declined to indict a white police officer in the killing of Tamir Rice, and now his family has a few words about the case. In a statement, Tamir’s family says it was “saddened and disappointed by this outcome—but not surprised.“ It accused Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty of “abusing and manipulating the grand jury process to orchestrate a vote against indictment.“ Among other things, the family charged that McGinty improperly hired use-of-force experts to tell the grand jury that Loehmann’s actions were reasonable. The family renewed its request for the Department of Justice to step in and conduct “a real investigation.“ Federal prosecutors in Cleveland noted Monday that a civil rights investigation into the shooting is already underway.

Also, Mayor Frank Jackson says the city and the police department will conduct an internal review that could result in disciplinary action against the two officers, who were removed from street duty and have been on restricted duty since the shooting. Tamir’s family has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the two officers and the city. McGinty says it was a “tough conversation” with Tamir’s mother when she was told there would be no charges. “She was broken up, and it was very hard,“ the prosecutor says. While condemning the decision, Tamir’s family echoed the prosecutor in urging people to express themselves “peacefully and democratically.“ Barricades were set up outside the county courthouse in Cleveland, and about two dozen people gathered to protest.


►   Man Drives His Tesla Into Pool, Dies

An 85-year-old Texas man with a friend in the car drove his Tesla into a neighbor’s swimming pool Sunday afternoon and ended up dead, the Houston Chronicle reports. The driver and his female passenger were in his garage when, somehow, he crashed the car through a brick wall and into the pool. “He and my sister were together coming back from Bellville,“ the passenger’s sister tells KPRC, adding that her sister thinks the man might have hit the gas pedal instead of the brake pedal.

Once it hit the water, the sister says, the car sunk slowly enough that her sister was able to escape out a window. The driver “said, ‘Get out of the car.‘ She got out of the car, trying to get him out of the car, but the way they’re made with the console and the seat belts and everything, it just didn’t happen,“ the sister says. Unable to escape from the car, the man was pronounced dead at a local hospital; an autopsy is pending.


►   Daring Suspect Hops Fence, Steals Police SUV

A suspect in Washington state arrived at the Auburn Police Department’s secured city lot on a bicycle Sunday evening and left in a police SUV that had a full tank of gas and a fully loaded rifle inside, KIRO 7 reports. A police commander tells Q13 Fox that the suspect shimmied up and over the fence—which a KIRO 7 reporter notes on Twitter is only about 3 to 4 feet tall—into the lot, then smashed the 2012 Chevy Tahoe right through the lot’s locked front gate. Police say there may have been a spare key located somewhere in the vehicle, per KIRO 7.

The SUV, which would have been obvious with its Auburn PD logos and police lights, was recovered Monday morning in Mercer Island, the News Tribune reports. It was found on a lot where a home is under construction after a construction worker called it in, per KIRO 7. The police-issued rifle, which had been locked into a cage, was still inside the SUV, as was the pricey gear used for traffic investigations, the station notes. The suspect is still at large.


►   345-Mile Boat Chase ‘Out of a Mission Impossible Movie’

Some Christmas Eve: Members of the US Coast Guard spent it in high-speed pursuit of three suspected boat thieves across the Gulf of Mexico, NBC News reports. The chase began when a sheriff’s marine unit in Fort Myers, Fla., responded to a tip about a 36-foot powerboat being stolen. Incredibly, the 300-horsepower boat rammed them at full throttle, bouncing off the hull and damaging the vessel: “It was like something out of a James Bond or Mission Impossible movie,“ Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott tells the News-Press. The stolen boat, capable of hitting 75mph, outran the marine unit into the Gulf but was soon tracked by three Coast Guard aircraft and two boats.

The pursuit lasted nearly 20 hours as the boat made evasive maneuvers and stopped several times to refuel (the thieves apparently brought their own gas). It came to an end about 125 miles east of Cancun, Mexico, and 65 miles west of Cuba, where the Coast Guard arrested David Llanes Vasquez, 33, of Miami, Raul De La Vega Sauri, 25, of Homestead, and Vidal Farfan-Ramirez, 23, of Mexico, on several charges. Officials say the alleged thieves may have targeted the $350,000 boat for parts, smuggling, or other illegal activities. “They weren’t going to quit, neither were we,“ says Commander Randy Brown, who noted the many pleasure boats cruising in the area. “It clearly could have had a more tragic outcome.“

In The World….

The Free Press WV

►   Boko Haram attacks northeast Nigerian city, town, 80 killed

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — Boko Haram Islamic extremists struck a city and a town in northeastern Nigeria with rocket-propelled grenades and multiple suicide bombers Monday, killing at least 80 people, witnesses said.

In Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, at least 30 were killed and more than 90 wounded in overnight blasts and shootouts, and another 20 died in a bombing outside a mosque at dawn Monday, said Muhammed Kanar, area coordinator of the National Emergency Management Agency.

A twin suicide bombing also killed at least 30 people in Madagali, a town 150 kilometers (95 miles) southeast of Maiduguri, witnesses said. Danladi Buba said two women blew themselves up at a market near a busy bus station at about 9 a.m. Brig. Gen. Victor Ezugwu, the officer commanding in northeast Adamawa State, confirmed the attack but said casualties have yet to be established.

The attacks appear to be a challenge to President Muhammadu Buhari’s declaration last week that Nigerian security forces have “technically won the war” against Boko Haram and that it is now capable of no more than suicide bombings on soft targets.

Maiduguri, with a population of about 1 million people, now hosts almost as many refugees — among the 2.5 million people driven from their homes in the 6-year-old Islamic uprising. About 20,000 people have been killed in Nigeria and hundreds others elsewhere as the insurgents have carried their conflict across its borders into Cameroon, Niger and Chad.

The military said there had been multiple attacks at four southwestern entry points to Maiduguri.

In another blast, two girls blew themselves up in the Buraburin neighborhood, killing several people, according to civil servant Yunusa Abdullahi.

“We are under siege,“ Abdullahi said. “We don’t know how many of these bombs or these female suicide bombers were sneaked into Maiduguri last night.“ He said some residents have found undetonated bombs.

Maiduguri is the birthplace of Boko Haram, which emerged as a much more radical entity after Nigerian security forces launched an all-out assault on their compound in the city, killing 700 people in 2009.

Acting on information provided by a captured insurgent, Nigerian troops “intercepted and destroyed” 13 suicide bombers and arrested one female suicide bomber in repelling the attackers, Maj. Gen. Lamidi Adeosun, the commander prosecuting Nigeria’s war against Boko Haram, told reporters.

Defense Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Rabe Abubakar tweeted that “Boko Haram Terrorists On suicide bombing #mission during the Festive period were nabbed in #Kaduna & other areas.“ Soldiers arrested seven Boko Haram bomb specialists in the northern city on Sunday, according to PR Nigeria, which issues government statements.

Just outside Maiduguri, militants firing indiscriminately from the back of three trucks attacked the outlying village of Dawari, soldiers engaged them, and as people were fleeing, a woman ran into the area yelling “Boko Haram, Boko Haram.“ When people gathered, she detonated herself, according to village head Bulama Isa.

A rocket-propelled grenade then exploded, setting alight grass-thatched huts, and a second woman blew herself up, according to Isa. Among those killed was the village chief and 10 of his children, according to residents Ahmed Bala and Umar Ibrahim.

A soldier said the insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades into four residential areas on the outskirts of the city. Soldiers fired back, and many civilians were caught in the crossfire, according to the soldier, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to journalists.

Three suicide bombers blew themselves up at a home near Bakassi Estate, killing 18 people Sunday evening, another soldier told The Associated Press.

A nurse at Maiduguri Specialist Hospital said dozens of critically wounded, mainly children and women, may not survive. A doctor at the hospital later said four of the wounded have died and the number of injured has risen to about 100. Like the nurse, he spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to reporters.

The nurse said the hospital was so overflowing with patients that some had to be cared for in the maternity ward. About 60 people had wounds from bullets and shrapnel from explosive devices, she said. Other wounded people had to be sent to other hospitals in the city.

Among them was a baby found dead, still tied to the back of her mother, who survived after being hit by shrapnel, the nurse said.

It was hard to do a body count because so many had been blown into pieces, she said, describing torsos and dismembered arms and legs.


►   Russia removes Iran’s enriched uranium as per nuke deal

VIENNA — A landmark nuclear deal with Tehran moved closer to implementation Monday, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announcing that tons of enriched uranium that could potentially be turned to use in atomic arms were on a ship heading from Iran to Russia.

Kerry hailed the development as “one of the most significant steps Iran has taken toward fulfilling its commitments” under the July 14 nuclear agreement, in comments that expanded on information The Associated Press received from a senior Russian diplomat earlier in the day.

That envoy, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to be cited by name, said Iran had permitted Russia to take possession of and ship out most of its low-enriched uranium. Low-enriched uranium is suitable primarily to generate nuclear power and needs substantial further enrichment for use in the core of a nuclear warhead.

But Kerry said that the shipment also included the remaining stock of Iranian uranium that already had been enriched to higher levels, just a technical step away from what is needed to form the fissile core of a nuclear bomb.

The July 14 deal aims to reduce Iran’s ability to make nuclear weapons — something Tehran says it has no interest in.

Under the agreement, Iran committed to shipping out all except 300 kilograms (about 650 pounds) of its low-enriched uranium and to either export the uranium it has that is enriched to near 20 percent, process it into low-enriched uranium or turn it into fuel plates to power a research reactor.

Kerry indicated both steps were completed Monday, announcing that more than 25,000 pounds (12.5 tons) of enriched “uranium materials” were in the hold of a Russian ship steaming toward Russia. He said the shipment included the near-20 percent enriched uranium that had not yet been turned into fuel plates.

The nuclear deal aims at increasing the time Tehran would need to make a nuclear weapon from present U.S. estimates of a few months to at least a year. Kerry said the export of enriched uranium means a significant move toward that goal by more than tripling “our previous two-three month breakout timeline.“

The July agreement also commits Iran to sharply reduce the number of its centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium, as well as to re-engineer a reactor to cut its output of plutonium — another pathway to nuclear weapons. The U.N.‘s International Atomic Energy Agency, which is monitoring the progress of the Iranian implementation, says both of those measures are well underway.

The Russia-Iran accord under the July deal foresees that Moscow ship Iran around 140 tons of raw uranium in exchange for Tehran’s low-enriched uranium, and Ali Akbar Salehi, who heads Iran’s atomic energy organization, recently said that his country already received the uranium ore.

In return for Tehran’s acceptance of more than a decade of constraints on programs that could be used to make nuclear arms, most international sanctions imposed over its nuclear programs will be lifted. Iran will have access to about $100 billion previously frozen assets and fully return to the oil market.

That will happen after the IAEA confirms that Iran has met all commitments. That stage of the Iran-six power deal, known as implementation day, is expected sometime next month.


►   South Korea, Japan reach landmark deal on WWII sex slaves

SEOUL, South Korea — An apology from Japan’s prime minister and a pledge of more than $8 million sealed a breakthrough deal Monday in a decades-long impasse with South Korea over Korean women forced into Japanese military-run brothels during World War II.

The accord, which aims to resolve the emotional core of South Korea’s grievances with its former colonial overlord, could begin to reverse decades of animosity and mistrust between the two thriving democracies, trade partners and staunch U.S. allies. It represents a shift for Tokyo’s conservative government and a new willingness to compromise by previously wary Seoul.

A statement by both countries’ foreign ministers said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe “expresses anew his most sincere apologies and remorse to all the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women,“ the euphemistic name given the women.

Historians say tens of thousands of women from around Asia, many of them Korean, were sent to front-line military brothels to provide sex to Japanese soldiers.

It wasn’t immediately clear if Abe would be issuing a separate written statement or if it would be directly delivered to the 46 surviving former Korean sex slaves, now in their 80s and 90s.

The language mirrored past expressions of remorse by other prime ministers, although it was seen by some in Seoul as an improvement on previous comments by Abe’s hawkish government, which has been accused of whitewashing wartime atrocities.

Another deciding factor was that the 1 billion yen ($8.3 million) — to create a foundation to help provide support for the victims — came from the government, not private sources, something Tokyo has resisted in the past.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said Seoul considers the agreement “final and irreversible,“ as long as Japan faithfully follows through with its promises.

Later Monday, Abe called South Korean President Park Geun-hye and reiterated his apology. He said Tokyo would implement the deal and called the issue settled irreversibly. Park said she hoped the two countries will build mutual trust and open a new era in ties based on the agreement.

After phoning Park, Abe told reporters that the agreement was based on his commitment to stop future generations from having to repeatedly apologize.

“Japan and South Korea are now entering a new era,“ Abe said. “We should not drag this problem into the next generation.“

Park issued a separate statement saying the deal was the result of her government’s best efforts to resolve the sex slave issue, given its urgency. “Most of victims are at an advanced age and nine died this year alone,“ she said.

“I hope the mental pains of the elderly comfort women will be eased,“ Park said.

The initial reaction of former sex slaves was mixed. One woman said she would follow the government’s lead, while another vowed to ignore the accord because Tokyo didn’t consider the money to be formal compensation.

“Isn’t it natural to make legal compensation if they commit a crime?“ said Lee Yong-su, 88, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

Some in Seoul saw the deal, while not perfect, as an important step forward.

“If we brushed aside this deal, the comfort women issue would remain unresolved forever,“ said Lee Won Deog, director of Institute of Japanese Studies at Seoul’s Kookmin University. “Elderly women would die one by one; South Korea and Japan would engage in history wars and find it harder to improve ties.“

Many South Koreans continue to feel bitterness over Japan’s brutal colonial occupation of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945. But South Korean officials have also faced calls to improve ties with Japan, the world’s No. 3 economy and a regional powerhouse, not least from U.S. officials eager for a strong united front against a rising China and North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear-armed missiles that could target the American mainland.

The U.S. welcomed the announcement, with Secretary of State John Kerry applauding the two leaders’ “courage and vision.“

“We believe this agreement will promote healing and help to improve relations between two of the United States’ most important allies,“ Kerry said in a statement.

The spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general said Ban Ki-moon welcomed the agreement and appreciated the “leadership and vision” of Park and Abe.

Japan appeared emboldened to make the overture to Seoul after the first formal leaders’ meeting between the neighbors in 3½ years, in November, and after South Korean courts recently acquitted a Japanese reporter charged with defaming Park and refused to review a complaint by a South Korean seeking individual compensation for Japan’s forceful mobilization of workers during colonial days.

Seoul, meanwhile, said it will refrain from criticizing Japan over the issue, and will talk with “relevant organizations” — a reference to civic groups representing the former sex slaves — to try to resolve Japan’s grievance over a statue of a girl representing victims of Japanese sexual slavery that sits in front of the Japanese Embassy in downtown Seoul. Yun said South Korea recognizes Japan’s worries about security over the statue, where anti-Tokyo protests take place weekly.

There has long been resistance in South Korea to past Japanese apologies because many here wanted Japan to acknowledge that it has a legal responsibility to the women.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida later emphasized in a closed-door briefing with Japanese reporters that Tokyo doesn’t consider the 1 billion yen as compensation, but “a project to relieve emotional scars and provide healing for the victims.“ It will include medical services, health checks and other support for the women, he said. All compensation issues between the countries were settled by a 1965 treaty that restored diplomatic ties and was accompanied by more than $800 million in economic aid and loans from Tokyo to Seoul, he said.

But Kishida said the comfort women system “deeply hurt the honor and dignity of many women under the involvement of the Japanese military at the time, and Japan strongly feels responsibility.“


►   Belgium Arrests 2 It Says Plotted ‘End-of-Year’ Terror

Two people have been arrested in Belgium on suspicion of planning attacks in Brussels during the holidays, the federal prosecutor’s office said Tuesday. The investigation revealed “the threat of serious attacks that would target several emblematic places in Brussels and be committed during the end-of-year holidays,“ the prosecutor’s office said. A source close to the investigation says the Belgian capital’s main square, thronged this time of year with holiday shoppers and strollers, was one of the suspected targets. “On the Grand Place, there are a lot of people, as well as soldiers and police who are patrolling, as well as a police station nearby,“ the source says.

The two suspects were arrested following searches Sunday and Monday in the Brussels area, the Liege region, and Flemish Brabant, the prosecutor’s office said. It did not disclose their names or further information about them. One was charged with acting as the leader and recruiter of a terrorist group planning to commit terrorist offenses, the other with participating in a terrorist group’s activities as a principal actor or co-actor, the prosecutor’s office said. During the searches, military-type training uniforms, ISIS propaganda, and computer materials were seized and are being examined. However, no weapons or explosives were found, according to the prosecutor’s office, which says the probe was not connected to the November 13 attacks in Paris.


►   Whoops: Malaysia Airlines Plane Flies the Wrong Way

Searchers are still looking for the rest of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, while the airline’s Flight 17 downed in Ukraine remains the subject of a criminal investigation. Now a new incident has come to light, and it isn’t likely to help the airline’s reputation: A Christmas Day flight from New Zealand’s Auckland airport to Kuala Lumpur started off its journey flying in the wrong direction, the Independent reports. Flight MH132 usually shoots northwest over Australia on its way toward the Malaysian capital, but this time FlightRadar24.com shows a path that took the plane south instead. “The flight plan the airline filed with us was going to Kuala Lumpur but via a slightly different route than the pilot was expecting,“ says a spokeswoman for Airways, the company that manages New Zealand’s air traffic control. And the pilot was indeed alarmed, noticing the different path just eight minutes into the flight and asking air traffic controllers why the plane was headed that way.

“The pilot [did] a very good job by noticing it, querying it and not just blindly flying off and ending up in the Southern Ocean,“ aviation expert Peter Clark tells the New Zealand Herald. Clark explained that while flights headed to Kuala Lumpur sometimes take a more southern route when there’s bad weather or strong headwinds, it appears in this case there was simply an error. A statement posted Sunday on the Malaysia Airlines website notes that “on December 24th 2015 our flight MH132 from Auckland to Kuala Lumpur was given the latest flight plan by the airline’s Operations Dispatch Centre (ODC) whilst Auckland’s Air Traffic Control (ATC) was inadvertently given an earlier flight plan. Both routes were following an approved flight path and the aircraft had enough fuel for both routes.“ It adds that the airline would investigate, per the Sydney Morning Herald.

Holiday Greetings

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Forest Enhancement Information Meeting Set for January 05, 2016

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GLENVILLE, WV — The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the National Wild Turkey Federation will co-host a forest enhancement information meeting in early January.

As part of the NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program, NRCS and partner agencies have developed the Cerulean Warbler Appalachian Forestland Enhancement project. Its goal: To enhance 4,000 acres of forest habitat on private lands over the next five years. Restoration of 75 acres of mineland is also a component.

Residents in Doddridge, Gilmer, Harrison, and Lewis Counties are encouraged to attend as parts of all four counties may be eligible for technical and, in some cases, financial, assistance.

The meeting is free and open to the public.

It will be held at 6:30 PM January 05, 2015 at the Leading Creek Elementary School, 15300 US Highway 33 West, Linn, West Virginia.

For more information click H E R E.

Investor Groups: Fracking Companies Need More Public Disclosure

CHARLESTON, WV - Companies fracking for gas do a poor job of informing the public, according to investor groups. Their just-released scorecard faults Chesapeake Energy for secrecy.

The third annual “Disclosing The Facts” scorecard graded the largest gas producers on disclosure in areas such as water pollution, methane leakage, the use of toxic chemicals and community impacts. Chesapeake scored only four out of a possible 39.

Danielle Fugere, president of As You Sow, one of the groups behind the scorecard, said they found more than two-thirds of the companies were not properly informing investors or local communities.

“Leaks, spills and explosions continue to make headlines,“ she said, “even as 70 percent of the energy companies continue to get failing marks.“

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A scorecard assembled by investor groups faults
gas producers for secrecy about fracking risks
.

The investor groups argue that public disclosure will encourage voluntary use of well-established best industry practices - in areas such as water use, waste disposal, leak detection, and traffic and road impacts.

Without proper disclosure, said Steven Heim, managing director of Boston Common Asset Management, problems in those areas can be like sailing around hidden rocks for investors. He said this is going to be increasingly important, with low gas prices putting pressure on producers to cut corners.

“To what degree that they can be a low-cost operator, particularly with the low prices for gas, now, and oil,“ he said. “Our concern is how well that they can also be responsible environmentally and to their local communities.“

The industry often will cite its economic importance when arguing against government regulation, but Richard Liroff, executive director of the Investor Environmental Health Network, said they stay out of that debate. He said they argue to the companies that voluntary disclosure and good corporate citizenship are good for long-term profitability.

“We hold shares in the companies. We have access to senior management,“ he said. “We can say, ‘Look, here is the business case for doing all these good things that will position the company well competitively and also be good for the environment and local communities.‘ “

Chesapeake did not immediately return a call requesting comment. The scorecard praises CONSOL Energy for dramatic improvement. EQT is a bit above the middle of the pack.

~~  Dan Heyman ~~

WV Secretary of State Predicts Strong Online Voter Registration Numbers Heading into 2016

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CHARLESTON, WV — More West Virginians are expected to register to vote online as the new year approaches, according to West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant.

“I just anticipate even more usage,” Tennant said. “It’ll be even more successful than it is now.”

Tennant predicted the more candidates that announce their campaigns, the more people will become engaged in their new online voter registration (OVR) application system announced earlier this fall.

Last month, over 1,000 submissions were received via the Secretary of State’s website. Over 400 submissions were from new online voters. Tennant predicted the same numbers for the end of December.

“As I look at these numbers, it remains consistent that about 40 percent of those are brand new voter registration applications, which then tells me that the other 60 percent is split between address change, party change or name change,” Tennant said.

West Virginians from 54 out of 55 counties have used the new system. Pendleton County still remains without a single submission this month, Tennant noted.

As the holiday season continues into the new year with family gatherings this week, the Secretary of State’s Office is encouraging people to register online.

“Folks are registering at the same time. We’re seeing same last names, same addresses and we see the same time stamp when they’re coming through and applying to register to vote, so this is a great opportunity for families,” she said.

With West Virginia now being one of 26 states to offer online voter registration, Tennant said the new system goes “above and beyond” the paper application.

“It’s a sense of accomplishment and more importantly it’s a sense for the voters to say ‘this makes it easier for me to get registered,‘” she said.

The deadline to register to vote in the Primary Election is April 19, 2016.

Primary Election Day in West Virginia is May 10, 2016.

WV Standardized Testing Discussions Won’t Be Made Public

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CHARLESTON, WV — A new West Virginia commission’s discussions of possibly changing standardized testing won’t be public.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail Reports that State Schools Superintendent Michael Martirano has formed a commission to study and suggest changes to end-of-year standardized testing.

State education officials say the meetings of the 25-member commission won’t be open to the media or to the wider public.

The commission is composed of unidentified parents, teachers, superintendents and lawmakers, among others.

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, which requires states to give annual standardized tests to practically all students in reading and math for grades three through eight in addition to one grade in high school.

West Virginia currently goes beyond the requirement by testing grades nine, 10 and 11 in high school.

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