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Charleston lights the state Christmas tree on Joyful Night

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — It got more wet as the night went on but seeing the Christmas tree light up at the State Capitol Building Tuesday night was worth the wait for many.

Governor Jim Justice and First Lady Cathy Justice joined hundreds of Kanawha County residents for the lighting of the state Christmas tree during the annual Joyful Night celebration.

This years tree is a 50-foot Balsam Fir, hailing from the Kumbrabow State Forest located in Randolph County. Gov. Justice said he was excited to bring a much larger tree to the state capital this year as he hand selected the towering tree himself.

“Instead of having a 12 to 15 foot tree out there, I thought we needed a gigantic tree and we selected a tree that is beautiful beyond belief,” Justice said.

A little bit of rain didn’t prevent everyone from heading home early before the tree was brought to life with the colorful lights that drape it. Janice Miller, a resident on the East End, said she had seen crews decorating the tree for a few days and waited for Tuesday to see the finished the project.

“I wanted to see the lights and get excited a little bit more for Christmas,” she said.

Miller was glad she came out to the Capitol Building to see the tree, despite the rain and colder temperatures.

Supplying the Christmas music Tuesday night on the capitol steps was the Philip Barbour High School Band and the Capital High School Show Choir and Barboursville Elementary Choir. Each group performed multiple hits of the Christmas season.

Throughout the Capitol grounds, visitors could also look at trees that are decorated to honor Gold Star Mothers, along with members of the Armed Forces and first responders.

The governor called this time a year a true blessing. He wished everyone at the Joyful Night a Merry Christmas.

“All of you, have the merriest of all Christmases,” he said.

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Fairmont man convicted in WVU student murder gets a mercy trial in early 2024

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – A new trial to determine the mercy phase for convicted murderer Shaundarious Reeder is scheduled for the week of February 13, 2024.

Reeder and Terrell Linear were convicted of first-degree murder in the 2020 shooting death of WVU student Eric Smith at the College Park Apartment complex.

The jury was unable to reach a unanimous decision on the question of mercy for Reeder, and the question was submitted to the West Virginia State Supreme Court, which ordered a new jury be empaneled to hear the mercy or no mercy question.

In February of 2020, Linear and Reeder were riding back to the College Park Apartments when an argument erupted. When the car arrived at the apartment, a fight ensued in the parking lot before Smith escaped inside.

Linear and Reeder each grabbed guns from the car and went inside to find Smith. Reports indicate Linear beat on several doors so residents could witness them kill Smith. When Smith opened the door, he was hit by seven bullets fired by Linear and Reeder.

During testimony, the forensic expert said two bullets fired from the gun linked to Linear and three bullets linked to the pistol Reeder was carrying on the night of the killing hit Smith.

Linear was convicted of first degree murder and given mercy, he is being held in Mount Olive Correctional Complex.

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Former correctional officers appear for arraignment, learn their trial date

BECKLEY, W.Va. — Four former correctional officers of the Southern Regional Jail appeared in Beckley Federal Court for their arraignment Tuesday and received their trial date.

Mark Holdren, 39; Johnathan Walters, 35; Cory Snyder, 29; and Ashley Toney, 23, have all been charged in connection with the beating death of 37-year-old pre-trial inmate Quantez Burks. All four, plus Jacob Boothe, who’s scheduled to be arraigned Thursday, are accused of playing direct roles in Burks’ death by depriving him of his civil rights.

The former officers appeared before U.S. District Judge Frank Volk and a trial date was set for Jan. 23.

All of the correctional officers were detained except for Ashley Tony. She was the only one able to post bond.

Former lieutenant, Chad Lester, 33, was also arraigned Tuesday. He’s also been charged in the alleged cover-up.

All six people were indicted last week for attempting to conceal the actions of two other corrections officers, who have already pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the rights of citizens. Andrew Fleshman, 21, and Steven Nicholas Wimmer, 24, have a sentencing date scheduled for Feb. 22. They face up to 10 years in prison for beating Burks while he was restrained in their custody.

U.S. attorney for southern West Virginia Will Thompson alleges that the corrections officers that have been indicted all tried to make sure that the situation was covered up.

“At the time this happened, at the time the coverup happened, it was the guards, the people in charge at the jail – did what they could,” Thompson said. “They wanted to make sure what happened in that jail did not get out to the public.”

Burks had only been in jail for 24 hours. He died March 1.

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Police arrest accused bank robbery suspect in South Charleston

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A man has been charged with robbery in connection with the holdup at the Chase Bank in South Charleston last week.

According to a criminal complaint filed in Kanawha County Magistrate Court, Logan Anthony Hall, 24, of South Charleston, was taken into custody Tuesday after officers executed a search warrant at his residence which is a half-mile from the bank.

Hall is accused of entering the Chase Bank on Nov. 29, handing the teller a note and demanding money from them. According to the complaint, the teller complied with what the note said and then Hall allegedly took off with around $6,000.

Hall is currently being held on a $25,000 bond.

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Mountaineer Gas files suit against West Virginia American Water Company

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Mountaineer Gas announced that it has filed a civil action suit against West Virginia American Water Company (WVAW).

The gas company released a statement Tuesday afternoon, saying the gas outage which followed the water main break that occurred on Charleston’s West Side of the City of Charleston is solely the fault of the water company, not Mountaineer.

“We firmly believe the interruption of gas service to our customers is a direct result of the failure of the West Virginia American Water Company facilities, and we feel West Virginia American Water
should be responsible for the significant costs incurred by Mountaineer,” said Senior Vice President Moses Skaff.

At least 1,100 people on the city’s West Side were without gas service for around two weeks. The water main break occurred on Nov. 10 and filled over 40 miles worth of gas lines with water.

Skaff said WVAW should be the one responsible for the costs that came due to the outage. The lawsuit also claims that West Virginia American Water should pay all expenses centered around the civil actions filed.

“The company has worked around the clock to minimize the interruption in service and endeavored to keep lines of communication with local officials and customers open, and the company will continue
to do so,” Skaff said. “However, due to the pending legal proceedings Mountaineer will focus communications on ongoing developments rather than the matters at issue in the court actions.”

West Virginia American Water spokesperson Megan Hannah responded to the lawsuit Tuesday, saying the water company, “continues to reiterate that any speculation on the cause of its water main break or the Mountaineer Gas outage is premature until an investigation is complete. The company will fully cooperate with the Public Service Commission on its general investigation to determine the cause.”

The state Public Service Commission said it would conduct an investigation into the water main rupture and gas outage.

Meanwhile, the WVAW said it is working with each of their customers on the West Side who were affected by the incident and are offering an opportunity for those people to seek claims for their losses “for annoyance, inconvenience and out-of-pocket expenses.” Reimbursements are possible for qualifying customers up to $2,000 per household.

WVAW is expected to send out postcards this week to its customers with information on how to make those claims. Affected residents can process claims in person or by calling 1-800-243-2490 to speak with a dedicated claims intake representative. The water company says that people should mention that they are calling in relation to the Mountaineer Gas outage and be ready to provide necessary information.

Customers can also visit the West Virginia American Water office, located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Charleston to speak with a claims handler from December 11 through December 15. Proper verification documents are also needed when contacting a claims handler or when visiting the West Virginia American Water office.

Once approved, customers can expect to receive a check in the mail.

Gov. Jim Justice said he’s glad that the water company is stepping up to assist the people on Charleston’s West Side.

“They’re late to the party but they are coming to the party,” said Justice.

Gov. Justice spoke to the matter during his media briefing on Tuesday. He further said that the evidence that he sees leads him to believe that the outage was caused by the water main break.

“I’ve only said what I think is governed by the evidence and the evidence was that this was caused by a blowout in a main American water line and then it blew up the gas line,” he said.

More information on the claims process can be found at

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West Virginia, Pitt bring a sense of desperation into 190th Backyard Brawl

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia nor Pittsburgh need added motivation to perform how they hope to when facing one another

If for any reason the Mountaineers or Panthers are seeking extra incentive ahead of the 190th edition of the Backyard Brawl at 9 Wednesday, they don’t need to look further than recent results in what could aptly be described as early-season struggles for both squads.

West Virginia (3-4) has lost three of its last four games, struggling to overcome a shorthanded roster and stumbling down the stretch on several occasions while utilizing no more than a seven-man rotation for the most part.

Pitt (5-3) won each of its four games and has since lost three of four and two straight. Each of the Panthers’ losses — against Florida, Missouri and Clemson — came to a team from a Power 5 Conference, while their most recent victory against Oregon State is the lone win over a Power 5 foe.

“They’re coming into it with a terrible taste in their mouth,” WVU interim head coach Josh Eilert said. “We’re coming off a loss to St. John’s and losing three of four and each one them being an absolute battle. We have a terrible taste in our mouth. It’s going to probably come down to who wants it worse and that better be West Virginia.”

Pitt is striving to end a six-game skid in the storied history of the rivalry, with ESPN2 set to televise the latest edition inside the WVU Coliseum.

Nov 28, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers forward Blake Hinson (2) shoots a three point basket against Missouri Tigers guard Sean East II (55) during the second half at the Petersen Events Center. The Tigers won 71-64. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

A trio of Panthers average well into double-figure scoring and combine to average more than 50 of the 82-plus points Pitt averages. Six-foot-8 forward Blake Hinson is averaging a team-best 20.5 points, while guards Ishmael Leggett (15.1) and Carlton Carrington (14.6) are the other primary scorers.

“They’re not the type of team that’s going to pound it down low. They don’t have that type of structure. Their offensive attack really comes from those three guys in a lot of ways.

Hinson, with his surplus of size, leads the squad with 30 three-pointers on 71 attempts, while the 6-3 Leggett is the top rebounder with a 7.1 average.

Pitt out-rebounds opponents by nearly 12 on average and has six players averaging at least 4.6 boards.

“They rebound it really well at all positions. When you see guards that rebound it with those type of numbers, it’s very concerning,” Eilert said.

The Mountaineers have struggled late in games, faltering down the stretch in each of their last three losses — first against SMU and Virginia at the Fort Myers Tip-Off and most recently last Friday in their second home setback of the season against the Red Storm.

Since outscoring Missouri State by 14 points in the second half of an eight-point season-opening victory, West Virginia has been outscored, 217-178, over its last six second halves. 

Only once — when the Mountaineers outscored Virginia 31-30 over the final 20 minutes — has WVU won the second half since its first game.

“It’s pretty indicative of what we have going on with our roster trying to manage that,” Eilert said.

West Virginia has shot north of 40 percent only twice — in wins over Jacksonville State and Bellarmine, and on the latter occasion, the Mountaineers were at 41.2 percent. WVU has also struggled from the perimeter, having made only 30.4 percent of its 135 three-point attempts. 

An offensive strength of the Mountaineers has been their ability to get to the free-throw line, with WVU averaging nearly 24 free throw attempts and coming off a season-high 43 against St. John’s.

Quinn Slazinski’s 16.7 scoring average is tops on the team, with Jesse Edwards directly behind at 15.7.

Kobe Johnson, filling in for Kerr Kriisa as the starting point guard, is the team’s third double-figure scorer at 11.3, but no other Mountaineer is averaging more than 6.7 points.

Kriisa will miss his eighth game Wednesday as part of a nine-game suspension. He’s eligible to play his first contest at West Virginia on December 16 against Massachusetts.

“We’re bending and 3-4 doesn’t sit right with me whatsoever, doesn’t sit well with them or our staff,” Eilert said. “Our NET ranking [No. 209] doesn’t sit well, but it is what it is right now. I told them, ‘take a hard look at that board’ with our NET rating, who we’ve lost to, who we’ve beaten and that needs to be rock bottom for us. 

“It’s natural for a lot of people when they’re struggling to start pointing fingers or this, that and the other and try to figure out different solutions, but we have to stay the course. We have help coming and we’re going to do everything we can to put ourselves in positions to win each game and then we can look back at this point and say, ‘that was rock bottom. We figured out a way to have the resolve to continue to improve each week and each time out on the floor.’”

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Water company says it needs rate hike for infrastructure investments, capital improvements

Representatives of West Virginia-American Water defended a proposed rate hike during an evidentiary hearing before the Public Service Commission.

“It’s a very common occurrence when we make infrastructure investments and capital improvements, that those then are the main, key drivers for base rate cases,” said Robert Burton, president of West Virginia-American Water, in testimony.

West Virginia-American Water is asking for an increase of just over $41 million — about 22.5 percent across the board to customers.

An evidentiary hearing before the Public Service Commission lasted all day Tuesday and will pick up again at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.

The water company contends the rate increase reflects the cost of investments in water and wastewater upgrades that have been made since 2020 — plus upgrades projected through February 2025. Those investments total about $340 million.

Robert Burton

“The company does have an obligation to provide safe, reliable water and wastewater services, and the company would meet those commitments to continue to provide safe, reliable water and wastewater services, including investment in those systems,” Burton said.

“The difficulty is acquiring more proactive investments beyond the minimum amounts required, both into our aging infrastructure, into meeting new regulations, into meeting what are needs across the state and priorities of the commission to provide assistance to troubled systems, to failing systems, to fund extension of water services and/or wastewater services to customers who do not have those currently.”

He continued, “Those are all things that are above and beyond what it takes to meet safe, reliable water and wastewater services, which, absolutely, the company is committed to that.”

Proposed monthly bill increases for the average residential customer using 3,000 a month are estimated to be $18.95. For the average commercial customer using 16,000 gallons per month, the bump would be $101.08. And the increase would be $2,476.85 for the average industrial customer using 650,000 gallons a month.

The evidentiary hearing was preceded by months of filings by parties to the rate case. The commission also accepted letters and public comment from citizens.

Kent Carper

The Kanawha County Commission is officially a party to the case, pushing back on the rate hike. Commission President Kent Carper testified Tuesday morning, saying “our concern is the affordability of water rates at this point in time. People can’t afford the utility rates going up every other year or every year.”

Carper acknowledged the water company faces significant challenges. “But our objection is these continuous, systemic, back to back to back to back to back rate increases and surcharges and other charges. They certainly add up.

“We’re asking the Public Service Commission to send a strong message and deny this rate increase,” Carper said. “It’s just not right that the water company gets a rate increase every time they ask for it. And they get one every time they ask for it. Not what they asked for because they don’t expect to get that. But they get one every time they ask for it. Perhaps today’s the day that they should not, and send them a message.”

The hearing began with comment by Betty Jarvis, a Kanawha County resident and activist. “I don’t feel that the Public Service Commission takes care of us at all. I think we get gouged,” she said.

The rate increase request has drawn extra scrutiny over the past few weeks after a water line broke resulting in pressure that pierced a gas distribution line, knocking out gas service for hundreds of residents of Charleston’s West Side.

That issue wasn’t at the center of Tuesday’s testimony, but it did come up sometimes.

Charlotte Lane

“Do you have anything that you would like to say about the recent issue that happened on the West Side,” Commission President Charlotte Lane asked Burton, the water company president.

There’s already a separate PSC inquiry into that situation plus litigation, so Burton responded that he wouldn’t speculate about factors in the situation.

But he said, “Our main in question that did have a break on it was essentially a little over 30-year old main, a ductile iron pipe, that we have no previous break history on. I cannot speak or speculate to what occurred on the gas company’s system or why they had a break or what happened there and don’t want to do that here today.”

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Arrest made in Charleston double murder investigation

CHARLESTON, W.Va.– Police have made an arrest in connection with a double murder in Charleston.

The Charleston Police Department responded to the Vandalia Terrace Apartments in the 1500 block of Dorchester Road at approximately 1:00 p.m. Tuesday. Upon arrival, two bodies, a woman and 10-year-old boy, were found to be deceased from stab wounds. The victim’s names are not being released at this time.

Nicholas David Hanshaw, 38, of Charleston, has been arrested and charged with two counts of first-degree murder.

According to a criminal complaint filed in Kanawha County Magistrate Court, Hanshaw told workers at a local dealership that he needed a car because he had just killed two people. Police came to the dealership and learned about the deaths from Hanshaw.

Anyone with information regarding the case is encouraged to contact the Charleston Police Department at (304) 348-6480 or (304) 348-8111.

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Mountaineers await bowl spotlight in fan-friendly destination

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — While sitting in the stands watching his son Dax’s basketball game on Sunday, Neal Brown’s phone rang. Athletic Director Wren Baker was on the line with news that WVU’s bowl destination could be outside of the original Big 12 footprint of games.

“Wren called and said, ‘Hey, I know this is a little bit out of left field, but what do you think?’ Where we were the whole time is that we wanted to play a Power 5 opponent in the bowl game. I felt like that was important. That’s really where we centered our discussions on,” Brown said.

Hours later, the Duke’s Mayo Bowl matchup was officially announced with the Mountaineers (8-4) facing North Carolina (8-4) on December 27 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.

“As you work through all of the various scenarios, you try to come out with what might make the most sense,” said Charlotte Sports Foundation Executive Director Danny Morrison. “With West Virginia sitting in close proximity to Charlotte, I have always said that the best bowl experiences are when fans can drive. You have more fans and a better environment. Geography, in this particular case, worked in our favor.”

“It is a great location for our fans and even closer for southern West Virginians. It is a quality matchup versus North Carolina. They are a team that was ranked for most of the year,” Brown said.

Oct 28, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Mack Brown on the sideline against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the first half at Bobby Dodd Stadium at Hyundai Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Duke’s Mayo Bowl is one of four bowl games scheduled to be played on December 27. With a 5:30 p.m. kickoff, it is the only game until the Holiday Bowl starts at 8 p.m.

“Your viewership is going to go up,” Brown said. “You get the casual fan. Anytime you have a lot of eyeballs on you, it is really important from a recruiting standpoint and really important from a branding standpoint.”

North Carolina is led by 72-year-old head coach Mack Brown. He is in his 15th season leading the Tar Heels across two stints and he is in his 35th season as a head coach.

“He’s got a lot of energy,” Neal Brown said. “I have seen a lot of their games and I have seen him in press conferences and how he handles himself. If thought he did a really good job in TV when he did that as well. As a coordinator, I faced him a couple times at Texas. He’s done it for a really long time.”

Brown spoke with media members Tuesday from Las Vegas, where he and Zach Frazier will attend a ceremony for the William V. Campbell Trophy. Frazier is one of the nominees for the award that honors the combination of academics, community service, and on-field performance.

Final exams are set for next week and the team will ramp up pre-bowl practices in Morgantown shortly after. The Mountaineers are tentatively scheduled to arrive in Charlotte on December 23.

“We had a team meeting [Monday] morning and it was really positive. Guys are excited. They like the location. A lot of their families are going to be able to drive to the game, which is important. They are excited about the matchup,” Brown said.

“They are enjoying a little downtime, which is needed after a long season. But they are ready to get back and they’re looking forward to facing a quality team and working to get our ninth win.”

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First Lady Cathy Justice’s 2023 Limited Edition Christmas Ornament unveiled, honors children of West Virginia

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — First Lady Cathy Justice’s 2023 Limited Edition Christmas Ornament depicts the joyful spirit that children bring.

The ornament was unveiled Tuesday during a celebration at the West Virginia Culture Center, and Cathy Justice was joined by Governor Jim Justice and Department of Arts, Culture, and History Curator Randall Reid-Smith to reveal its design.

Two West Virginia artists responsible for creating and designing the 500 ornaments were also there at Tuesday’s unveiling, Tamarack’s glass blowing artist John DesMeules, and local painter Christie Saunders.   

The event also featured a sneak-peak of the Children’s Theater of Charleston’s new holiday show performance of “Mr. Scrooge.”

Cathy Justice said the ornament was somewhat inspired by her involvement with the state’s Communities In Schools drop-out prevention program which helps motivate kids to stay in school, but she said ultimately, the inspiration comes from the children themselves.

“There are so many children here, which represents what the ornament is really about and how proud of them we are,” Cathy Justice said. “We want their success to never end and they just go on to do whatever they want to do.”

She said the ornament also continues to represent the art, culture, and history of the state, with this year being designed from hand blown glass, reflecting the state’s rich tradition of glassmaking. In the past, the ornament has been made using steel, coal, and wood.

The image on the ornament depicts two children with a teddy bear standing around a Christmas tree. Saunders was charged with painting the 500 ornaments, and she said she was inspired by a sense of nostalgia from her own childhood.

“I instantly thought back to when I was a little girl and decorating the Christmas tree at my house, and then one of my favorite toys I got as a small child was a teddy bear,” Saunders said.

Saunders said DesMeules created the ornaments at his glassblowing workshop at Tamarack in Beckley, and they would be picked up and brought to her to paint.

She said she started out with a silhouette of the image depicted on the ornament and from there began adding color.

Saunders said it took her about 160 hours to paint all 500 of them, but it was well worth the task.

“It was exciting, each one of them, to hand paint,” she said. “I set up an assembly line and put the trees on, and then worked through just each little segment.”

Saunders said she hopes those who purchase the ornament to hang on their trees this year can also look back on their childhood’s fondly, as well.   

“I hope that it takes them back to their childhood and it reminds them of being young and what Christmas was back then, it was so simple back then, and you know, we were happy if we got a teddy bear,” Saunders said.

Cathy Justice said she believes children have the potential to do anything they put their minds to, and she was happy the ornament could represent that this year.

“We want children to feel good about themselves, we want them to feel like they can do anything in life they want to do and they have the support to do it, so we just wanted to honor the children of West Virginia this year,” she said.

She said to call the Culture Center at (304)-558-0220 immediately to reserve an ornament as it’s the only place in the state to buy them and they will be going fast.

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