Year in Review 2018
The Inter-Mountain looks back on the 10 biggest local stories of 2018. It was a year marked by tragedy and controversy, but also hope and stories of success.
Flash flooding buckles Barbour County
June 29, 2018
PHILIPPI — Flood waters had receded in Barbour County by Thursday morning, but the wreckage left behind by Wednesday night’s rushing waters was still visible — especially the damage to some of the county’s roads and bridges.
The flash flooding began after 11 p.m. Wednesday evening, and quickly forced authorities to close several roads, including the Teter Creek Road, Porter Shaver Road, Caisson Road, Shiloh Road, Mill Creek/Brushy Fork Road and the county line between Barbour and Tucker County.
According to the Barbour County Office of Emergency Management, emergency responders performed several water evacuations overnight in which community members had to be rescued as flood water was trapping them inside their homes. There were no reported vehicle water rescues, officials said.
One transformer exploded during the storm Wednesday night, with minimum damage along Morgantown Pike on Route 92, officials said.
The flood waters caused tremendous damage to portions of Route 38, which on Thursday displayed ripples in the pavement, with strips and shards of the road surface torn loose and resting against the guard rails.
Sections of several small bridges in Barbour County gave way during Wednesday night’s flooding, leaving deep holes in the pavement.
More than a dozen roadways in Barbour County were washed out by the flooding, county officials said, and repairs will be ongoing.
Woman arrested in killing in Elkins
Dec. 18, 2018
By Tim MacVean
Senior Staff Writer
ELKINS — Charges were reduced Monday for a Maryland woman accused of killing a man at an Elkins residence.
A preliminary hearing was held Monday for Vanessa Faye Logan, 32, of Oakland, Maryland, after allegations of her fatally shooting Spencer Christian Zoller, 49, on Nov. 18.
Before the preliminary hearing, which was meant to establish probable cause for Logan’s arrest, Randolph County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Parker made a motion to reduce the sentence from first-degree murder to second-degree murder.
“Prior to preceding, with all the evidence, the state would move to reduce the offense from first-degree murder to second-degree murder,” Parker said. “The state has had the opportunity to investigate this case, to meet with the investigating officer and to review witness statements at this time, and does not believe that we have sufficient evidence for premeditation; therefore, first-degree murder would not be appropriate as the charge in this case at this time. Based upon the state’s investigation, the state’s consultation with the investigating officers and the review of the investigation, the state would move to reduce the offense to second-degree murder.”
Harry Smith III, defense counsel for Logan, did not object to the reduction of charge against his client.
Additionally, probable cause for Logan’s arrest was ruled to have been met, meaning her case will be bound over to the Randolph County Circuit Court for presentation to a grand jury and possible indictment.
Two officers with the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office provided testimony during Monday’s hearing, regarding the fatal incident.
The first officer requested to provide testimony regarding the alleged incident was RCSO Deputy Z.T. Pingley. After identifying Logan in the courtroom, the officer said that three witnesses at the residence — Christina Wolford, Joshua Hedrick and Jessica Ray — identified Logan as the shooter.
“We pulled every person who was a witness on the scene separate and we got initial statements on who was the person that fled,” Pingley said. “At that point, they all said the same name and that was Vanessa Logan.”
Logan allegedly fled the scene, with the assistance of Christopher Warren Koch, 32, of Elkins, and remained as a suspect until early December.
“We had a tip line open and some of the information that came through, which was credible, said that Mr. Koch had provided transportation to Ms. Logan to Dollar General to buy hair dye and attempts to set up a transfer of money through Walmart,” Pingley testified.
Koch — who officials have confirmed was an EMT with both Randolph and Upshur counties — was arrested on Nov. 27 and charged with one felony count of accessory after the fact.
Logan, roughly two weeks later, was arrested by officials with the United States Marshal Service on Nov. 29.
Pingley testified that Ray was allegedly providing CPR to Zoller when police arrived; however, he added, Wolford later admitted to hiding the alleged murder weapon between cinder blocks at a residence two homes away.
“We received information that Ms. Logan had talked to a woman that we were speaking with,” Pingley testified. “At that point, Ms. Logan identified that Christina Wolford may have had that weapon and hid it after calling 911.”
Pingley added the weapon had been found in the location described.
Following Pingley’s testimony, the prosecution called RCSO Sgt. B.A. Talkington to the stand, who said he was told by Logan that she had been threatened by Zoller.
“Ms. Logan stated she was at the residence on Gum Road and it was related to drugs. She said she had went into a bedroom to look at some purses and she heard a commotion,” he testified. “When she went out, Spencer Zoller and Jessica Ray were in the living room area or the residence, she stated that Spencer Zoller said, I believe, and this is paraphrasing from memory ‘B—-, get down on your knees, you know the drill, get on your knees, I’m taking everything you’ve got. You’re being robbed.’
“She said at that point she grabbed a gun, pointed it at Mr. Zoller and pulled the trigger. She pointed it at him, he turned, she pulled the trigger and then she left,” Talkington continued. “I asked her if she thought she hit Mr. Zoller and she said she knew she hit Mr. Zoller when she fired the gun.”
Talkington further testified all witnesses told police that Zoller entered the residence through a locked door in the rear of the home and he was armed with what was described as a “curtain rod,” “metal bar” and “club.”
Prior to the probable cause ruling, Parker gave a closing statement, asking for the court to make the finding. Smith did not provide a closing statement on behalf of Logan.
“The state would just request you find probable cause on the reduced charge of second-degree murder. As indicated from the evidence and the testimony, the victim, Spencer Zoller, was shot in the back,” Parker said. “As this court is aware, the laws in the state of West Virginia, obviously shooting someone in the back with a gun is likely to result in their death, so based upon the evidence that has been presented, the state would request the court find probable cause.”
At approximately 4:20 p.m. Nov. 29, the United States Marshal Service, along with members of the Mountain State Fugitive Task Force apprehended Logan at the Healthy Heights Trailer Court in Monongalia County, according to a press release from Alex P. Neville, chief deputy U.S. Marshal for the Northern District of West Virginia.
Logan was charged with first-degree murder on Nov. 18, after Randolph County Sheriff’s Office deputies were called to a residence located on Gum Road, near Elkins, and found Zoller deceased on the living room floor.
Logan allegedly fled the scene prior to the arrival of law enforcement officers.
According to the release, on the same day the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office referred the murder warrant for Logan to the United States Marshals.
“Deputy U.S. Marshals were able to rapidly establish leads pointing them to Monongalia County in the hunt for the murder suspect,” the release from Neville states.
“At approximately 3:30 p.m., Marshals and task force officers established surveillance of a target address within the Healthy Heights Trailer Park, determining Logan was inhabiting the suspect dwelling.”
Logan was apprehended without incident and delivered to local authorities for presentment before a county magistrate, police said.
The West Virginia State Police, Elkins Police Department, United States Forest Service Law Enforcement and Randolph County EMS assisted at the Randolph County scene.
Koch was arrested Nov. 27 and charged with one felony count of accessory after the fact.
According to a press release from Brady, an investigation by deputies determined Koch was “instrumental” in assisting the murder suspect, Logan, in evading law enforcement for nearly two weeks.
Koch allegedly provided Logan transportation and assisted her with a place to stay to avoid arrest. He further helped her secure items to change her personal appearance in an effort to further avoid detection, the release states.
Text message exchanges between Koch and Logan indicate he gave her a ride to Dollar General Store on the day of the alleged shooting so she could purchase hair dye. While she was on the run, Koch additionally attempted to provide Logan financial support using Walmart money exchange, according to a criminal complaint filed in Randolph County Magistrate Court.
Officers seized Koch’s cell phone and he admitted to police he had been in contact with Logan since the alleged incident and attempted to wire her money, court documents state.
Raffety sworn in as U.S. Marshal
Oct. 27, 2018
By Brad Johnson
CLARKSBURG — J.C. Raffety, a former FBI agent who later headed the police forces in Elkins and Buckhannon, was sworn in Friday as a United States Marshal, the second time he has taken that oath in his career.
President Donald Trump nominated Raffety to be the United States Marshal for the Northern District of West Virginia, which includes court locations in Elkins, Clarksburg, Martinsburg and Wheeling. The U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination in May.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., was on hand to witness the ceremony Friday afternoon at the U.S. District Courthouse in Clarksburg.
Raffety told The Inter-Mountain he was “humbled” by the event.
“My heartfelt gratitude is extended to President Donald J. Trump and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, without whose support such an appointment would not be possible.
“But I would also like to remember my many friends throughout the yeats who contributed to this occasion, especially those in law enforcement,” Raffety said. “I have been blessed beyond expectation at having worked among the finest.
“My family, of course, has been more than supportive of my career and I recognize the sacrifices made by them in that support over the decades.
“I cannot forget, of course, those members of the public who entrusted me and had faith in me to do right as a law enforcement officer,” he said.
Raffety began his law enforcement career in 1970 with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, where he served for 30 years as a special agent and supervisory special agent in Washington, D.C., Virginia, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
According to his resume, while with the FBI, he “conducted numerous and successful investigations specializing in organized crime/public corruption, violent crimes, white collar crimes, property crimes and domestic terrorism.”
Following his retirement from the FBI, Raffety served as chief of the Buckhannon Police Department from 2000 to 2001. In 2002, he was appointed by then-President George W. Bush to be U.S. marshal for the Northern District of West Virginia, and he served in this capacity until 2010.
He served as chief of police in Buckhannon from March 2000 to December 2001.
In addition, Raffety served on the Upshur County Commission from 2011 to January 2017. He did not seek election to a second term on the commission.
He spent much of 2017 serving as both interim chief and special investigator for the city of Elkins.
A number of Randolph County residents made the trek to Clarksburg to show support for Raffety, including Randolph County Commissioner Mike Taylor, Randolph County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Parker, Elkins City Council members Carman Metheny, Bob Woolwine and Charlie Friddle, Lynn Phillips representing Gov. Jim Justice, Rhett Dusenbury representing Congressman Alex Mooney, Jim and Sue Sayres, and Steve Herron, publisher of The Inter-Mountain.
Raffety was sworn in Judge Gina Groh, chief district judge for the U.S. District Court Northern District of West Virginia.
Raffety’s granddaughter, Mallory Jay Moss, led the Pledge of Allegiance during the ceremony.
Kiess excited to represent state
May 8, 2018
By Tim MacVean
Senior Staff Writer
ELKINS — A longtime native of the area whose childhood dream has become a reality during his senior year at West Virginia University is looking forward to the opportunities before him.
Trevor Kiess donned the buckskin and carried the musket, leading WVU athletics after being named the 65th Mountaineer mascot earlier this year.
“On Feb. 24, 2018, which is actually my mom’s birthday, I was named the 65th Mountaineer Mascot. It was announced at the men’s basketball game against Iowa State. That night was one of the best nights of my entire life,” Kiess said in a recent interview. “Achieving my dream after all of the hard work and long hours I put into it was so awesome. Even up to this point, it still seems so surreal. As a kid from West Virginia, life doesn’t get any better than this. I can’t thank the entire community enough for all of their support over the last several months; everyone has been absolutely amazing.”
While serving as the alternate mascot in 2017, Kiess took on the Mountaineer role for the football team’s Oct. 28 contest with Oklahoma State in Morgantown, and the Nov. 4 home game against Iowa State.
“Over the course of the last year, I have served as the alternate Mountaineer, and during that time I was able to do a few football games. I had dreamed of bringing on the Mountaineers at Mountaineer Field for my entire life,” Kiess said. “When I actually had the opportunity to do it in front of 60,000 fans, it was everything I thought it would be and more. I stepped in for two home football games during that time, but I didn’t have an opportunity to travel with the team. However, this year, I will have the opportunity to be at every football game, both home and away, and also travel to the men’s basketball tournaments.”
Kiess said he became fascinated with WVU athletics at a young age, and talking to a former Mountaineer mascot gave him the aspiration to represent the school in the same manner.
“Growing up, being the Mountaineer was always something that fascinated me. Starting in middle school, I really started obsessing over Mountaineer athletics, but it wasn’t until high school that I realized that I could be the Mountaineer myself,” he said. “Jonathan Kimble, the Mountaineer at the time, came to visit Elkins High. Upon finding out that I was a huge WVU fan, Jonathan and I had a little conversation. In that moment, I realized there wasn’t much of a difference between us. Our conversation made me realize that if I work hard and stay determined I could actually become the Mountaineer.”
He added he feels it is an honor to represent the people of West Virginia, not only during home contests but across the country.
“Officially, the Mountaineer is considered a mascot. However, that’s not really the way I see it. Instead, I see the Mountaineer as an ambassador and representative for the entire state of West Virginia. Having roots in both Randolph and Tucker counties, I definitely have a special affinity with this part of the state,” Kiess said. “We are so fortunate to live in such a beautiful area, and being from here is something that I am very proud of. Throughout my term as the Mountaineer, I will have the opportunity to travel all across the country, but during those travels I’ll never forget where I come from and I look forward to showing the entire country how wonderful our great state is.”
Kiess officially became a Mountaineer for the first time when he began attending Third Ward Elementary School — home of the “Little Mountaineers” — in fifth grade.
“Until I was 12 years old, I actually lived on my family’s farm right outside of Parsons. However, both my mom and dad are originally from Elkins, and since mom was a teacher in Randolph County, we always commuted over to go to school,” Kiess said. “In elementary school, I went to North Elementary School from kindergarten until fourth grade, and then moved over to Third Ward and became a ‘Little Mountaineer’ for fifth grade.”
His family moved to Elkins in middle school, and he became active in sports and also played trumpet, he said. Kiess continued in athletics throughout his career at Elkins High School and graduated as co-valedictorian in 2014.
“I greatly enjoyed my time in high school. I made some amazing memories with a ton of wonderful people, …” he said. “The work ethic and perseverance that I developed during those years have really helped me during my entire college career.”
He continued, “While in high school, I was very active in both Elkins High School football and basketball. When I think about my time in high school, sports really helped shape my experience.
“I was blessed with several great coaches in high school, including Greg Hott and John Lawson, and I still see and talk to both on a regular basis. I had a lot of fun wearing the orange and black, and I always look back on those days with a smile.”
Kiess is the son Jeff and Sharon Kiess. He has one brother, Chrisstopher. His maternal grandparents are the late Blair Isner and the late Eloise Isner, and his paternal grandparents are the late Chriss Kiess and Sharon and Jim Blosser.
Kiess, a senior accounting major minoring in pre-law and legal studies, is a graduate of Elkins High School and was captain of the EHS Fighting Tigers football team. He is a member of the Chimes Junior Honorary and Beta Gamma Sigma Honorary. He serves as an accounting intern for the WVU Foundation and a farm assistant with Cheat Riverbend Farms Inc. in Parsons.
He has served as a student intern with the office of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin III in Washington, D.C.; as a student-athlete tutor; as the director of community service for the Mountaineer Maniacs; and is a former member of Students Optimistic for Curing Kids.
$20M announced for Corridor H work
Dec. 7, 2018
From staff reports
ELKINS — The Robert C. Byrd Corridor H Highway Authority announced Thursday that millions of dollars in funding is being allotted to help with the project in both Randolph and Tucker County.
Robbie Morris, Chairman of the Corridor H Highway Authority said the authority is praising the work of Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, Sen. Joe Manchin, III, and West Virginia Secretary of Transportation Tom Smith in securing $20 million for the construction of Corridor H in Tucker County through a BUILD grant.
“This is a great day for Corridor H,” Morris said. “It has been over a decade since federal money was specifically awarded for the construction of Corridor H. Our federal delegation has been working with U.S. Secretary Elaine Chao to ensure our BUILD grant was approved and I am happy to see it was.”
The grant will be used for paving, traffic control measures, and guard rails on the two sections of highway between Kerens in Randolph County and Parsons in Tucker County.
“Gov. Justice and Secretary of Transportation Tom Smith have made it clear that completing Corridor H is a top priority for West Virginia,” Morris said. “Their application for this grant is one of many ways they are demonstrating their commitment to this critical transportation infrastructure project.”
The Robert C. Byrd Corridor H Highway Authority was established in 1997 by an act of the legislature to promote the construction and use of Corridor H.
Capito announced Thursday the funding will support the West Virginia Department of Transportation with two specific projects: a bypass around Berkeley Springs that includes construction of the Fairview Connector; and the construction of approximately 10 miles of a four-lane expressway in Tucker County as part of the Appalachian Development Highway System.
“This is a much-needed investment in two critical projects that will make West Virginia roadways safer and more efficient. Not only is this good for travelers and those living in Berkeley Springs and Tucker County communities, but it’s good for commerce and our state’s economic potential by better connecting West Virginia to transportation hubs around the country,” Capito said. “From my first day in the Senate, I have advocated for Corridor H and similar projects that will greatly improve our transportation infrastructure, and I’m glad my conversations with Transportation Secretary Chao have proved beneficial to West Virginia. I will continue working to help deliver similar resources.”
Manchin said completing Corridor H is vital for West Virginia.
“Investing in American infrastructure is one of the most important steps we can take to put people back to work and get our economy moving again,” Manchin said. “I have personally discussed the need for BUILD Grant infrastructure funding with Secretary Chao and stressed to her the vital need to West Virginia. I was very disturbed by the lack of funding within this program for Appalachia last year. I continue to believe that the construction of transportation infrastructure can spur economic development in our state, which is why I have worked with the Department of Transportation to encourage them to make changes to this critical program, and I am happy to see that West Virginia is reaping those benefits today. I will continue to push for increased funding to complete Corridor H and the Appalachian Highway Development System.”
Manchin stated in a press release that the completion of this section of Corridor H between Kerens and Parsons will provide residents of West Virginia and visitors to the state easier access and safer roads by linking east central West Virginia to Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and points North and South along I-81.
Corridor H has already had a significant impact by increasing economic vitality and investment in towns like Elkins and Moorefield along the highway, the release stated. The Appalachian Regional Commission has found that while much of east-central West Virginia has well-regarded schools, workforce, and natural resources, the main issue holding the region back is accessibility, and the completion of Corridor H would help solve that problem. BUILD Grant funds will help construct approximately 10 miles of a 4-lane expressway as part of Corridor H.
Residents argue over merits of needle
July 14, 2018
BUCKHANNON — Community members addressed Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department’s board members regarding a controversial subject — the recently implemented needle access program.
On Thursday evening, more than 60 people attended the health board meeting, which was relocated to The Event Center at Brushy Fork due to the anticipation of a large crowd.
In April the Buckhannon-Upshur Health Department, in partnership with Milan Puskar Health Right, implemented a harm reduction program, in which syringes, Naxalone, equipment for injection, proper disposal containers, wound treatment, counseling and information on drug treatment programs are offered to clients the second Thursday of every month.
The needle access program is designed to aid in the prevention of spreading infectious diseases — HIV, Hepatitis C and Hepatitis B — which is common among intravenous drug users who share or use unclean needles.
Since the announcement seemed to blindside the community, residents have shared their concerns and opinions about the program at Upshur County Commission meetings, a Buckhannon City Council meeting, an educational forum and during Thursday’s health board meeting.
On Thursday, several residents argued that the program should be suspended until it can be reassessed with guidelines and until the public can become more acclimated with the services offered to clients.
Burl Smith said he did not see the effectiveness of the current program, as it seems the county is taking a step back with the state’s opioid epidemic.
“Harm reduction program, I feel, is putting a square peg in a round hole,” said Smith. “It’s just trying to make it fit when it really doesn’t.”
Several community members were dismayed to find that the harm reduction program is not a one-to-one needle exchange.
“I’m not opposed to providing support; however, I am opposed to enabling a negative behavior without accountability,” Amy Cale said. “And I don’t know what this program is doing if it’s not a one-to-one exchange.”
As a teacher, Cale said she was concerned that students would bring needles into the classrooms.
“If you hand out just 100 needles a month to one household in a year that’s 1,200 needles within that one home that’s not accounted for,” she said. “Chances are those needles are going to end up on the school bus in the classroom and more than likely it is going to be the dirty needles that are not accounted for.”
Cale asked that accountability be required within the needle access program.
“Require names, addresses, if there’s children in the home. When we call as an educator to report an incident the DHHS’s first question is how many children and what are their ages,” she said. “Why are we not asking that when we’re handing out materials that’s namely a drug addiction with children in the home?”
Sharla Smith agreed with Cale, saying “We are not opposed to this program. We simply want guidelines. That’s it.”
Because the current program has no age guidelines, Smith stressed that the requirements need to be tightened.
“Who in their right mind would think that a minor could go to a van and leave with everything they need to be a heroin addict other than the drug?” she said. “Me, myself, if I would find my minor going to the van doing that I would feel that there could be legal action taken because you’ve contributed to a minor.”
Also at Thursday’s meeting, some residents urged the health department to continue the harm reduction process, stressing that needle access can prevent an infectious disease outbreak in the community.
Dr. Richard Kiley of Appalachian Community Health Center, asked, “Would you rather have a person have a needle exchange or die of HIV, Hep C, Hep A, Hep B?”
“It is not a sin to be addicted. It is a problem that needs to be addressed,” he said.
Kiley said the issue with the needle access program should be a situation where “we’re here to help each other and we’re going to help each other in any possible way we can.”
“We need to offer hope, not fear,” he said. “We need to offer opportunity, not deny opportunities and access.”
Angela Mchaffey echoed Kiley’s sentiments.
“If you think that the drug issues or there aren’t very many people using needles around here, and that it’s less because we’re a small rural area, I have to tell you it’s just much more hidden,” Mchaffey said, who has been a nurse for more than 20 years.
“As a nurse taking care of patients, kissing the foreheads of people who are dying because they waited to come in because they were afraid of how they would be treated by our own community by nurses and doctors,” she said. “I mean, these people died where if they would have came when they first realized they were sick we might have been able to do something to help them.”
Mchaffey said the implemented program is trying to “help put things in the practice to help prevent long-term poor outcomes.”
“We can’t do that if we’re not looking at best practices,” she said. “And as health care providers that’s what we do. We look at best practices. We look at research and that is how we decide what needs to be done and what is best on how we do those things.”
Dr. Lyndsi Cress explained that harm reduction programs not only aid in the prevention of infectious disease, but opens doors for addicts seeking rehabilitation.
“(The harm reduction programs) are also acting as an access point for these patients to come and be counseled and be supported and allow them the opportunity to go into rehab should they choose,” she said.
Cress continued, “People that do these programs are five times more likely to enter into a rehab program than if they had not. They are also a third less likely to share needles if they have clean needles and education that tells them how to perform the injection practices.”
The last person to speak for the evening was Rich Clemens, who said he appreciated the work of the board.
“It’s not easy sitting on that side of the table. I’ve sat on that side of the table on many issues … And it’s not easy,” he said. “I encourage you not to suspend this program. Keep it going. Don’t turn your back on the people that need you the most right now.”
Clemens said perhaps the board should form a committee to discuss implementing guidelines to the current program.
“But don’t stop it,” he said.
Following the public’s opportunity to speak, the board members continued with their regular monthly meeting.
During board member comments, Larry Carpenter said the board appreciates the public’s input and “will take it into consideration.”
“We’re here because we care about you and this community,” he said. “And our sole purpose is to protect you and our community.”
sentenced to life in prison
July 3, 2018
By Tim MacVean
Senior Staff Writer
ELKINS — Lena Marie Lunsford-Conaway showed no emotion Monday afternoon as she was sentenced to life in prison for the killing of her 3-year-old daughter, Aliayah.
Judge Jacob Reger sentenced Lunsford-Conaway, 35, to life without mercy Monday for her conviction on one felony count of murder of a child by parent, guardian, custodian or other person by refusal or failure to provide necessities.
Reger also sentenced her to a determinate 40-year sentence on one felony count of death of a child by parent, guardian, custodian or other person by child abuse; a sentence of 2-10 years on one felony count of child abuse resulting in injury; and 1-5 years on one count of concealment of a deceased human body.
All the sentences are to run consecutively. Lunsford-Conaway was ordered to pay $2,000 in fines, to pay court costs and must also provide a DNA sample. Reger waived her attorney fees. She has two years to pay the fine and court costs.
Lunsford-Conaway seemed to show no remorse when she addressed the Lewis County Circuit Court Monday afternoon, saying she felt she did not receive a fair trial.
“With all due respect, I feel there is no possible way that I could get a fair trial in Lewis County,” she said. “Hopefully, soon, I will be given a new trial somewhere else where they will base their decision on the facts of the case.”
Lunsford-Conaway’s defense counsel, Tom Dyer, did not comment on behalf of his client during the sentencing hearing.
Lewis County Prosecuting Attorney Christina Flanigan did not present any testimony during the hearing but asked for the maximum sentence due to the nature of the charges for which Lunsford-Conaway was convicted
“I think, as far as the sentencing aspect of the case, just the facts of the case itself, we have a young 3-year-old who suffered an injury at the hands of her mother, the one person who we all believe is there to protect us at all costs and to love us unconditionally,” she said.
“She denied that child medical care and then disposed of the body. Based on that, your honor, the state contends she should receive no leniency and the state asks the court to sentence her to the 40 years on the death of a parent, guardian or custodian and run all four charges consecutive to one another,” she said
Flanigan also cited that within the pre-sentence investigation report, Lunsford-Conaway has a history of both federal and state convictions, some dating back as far as 2001.
Before handing down the sentence, Reger said the evidence in this case is some of the most compelling he had seen in his career, and referenced testimony from Lunsford-Conaway’s other two daughters about witnessing their mother strike Aliayah and being forced to go with her to dispose of the body of their sister.
“I have reviewed the pre-sentence (investigation report) in this case, I listened to the testimony, and, of course, the court, when a case starts like this — there are a few pre-trial motions so I had some idea — but the court doesn’t know what the evidence is before the trial really gets started,” he said.
“When I listened to the evidence in this case it is some of the most compelling evidence I’ve seen in my 25 years. Some of the testimony that was presented by the state, and I’m talking about specifically your two daughters who came in here and had to testify in this case, so that’s part of it.
“As it relates to this case, as Ms. Flanigan said, this child should have been protected by you. Instead you put this child in a position where she is no longer with us,” Reger continued.
“You’ve had an impact on a lot of people in and around your family because of this that will have to live with the rest of their lives. The seriousness of this case I can’t emphasize enough.”
Reger also commended officers on the “herculean efforts” that were made to find Aliayah based on what they were told by Lunsford-Conaway.
“I will say, based upon what you told law enforcement, they made herculean efforts to try to find this little girl. They didn’t find her and the jury has decided why they didn’t find her and that’s because she was deceased,” he said.
Following the sentencing hearing, Craig Cole, who adopted the two Lunsford daughters who testified during trial, said he is happy the verdict and sentencing phase is finalized.
“It has been a long journey for our family and we are really glad to have it finished and officially put this behind us,” he said.
He added Lunsford-Conaway’s comments show that she does not want to take responsibility for the death of Aliayah.
“Once again, I think it just shows who she really is. The legal team and the law enforcement team, from what I have seen, have gone above and beyond and they wanted to make sure that she had a fair trial,” Cole said. “From day one that we got involved, that was their concern and I think it just shows that she does not want to take accountability for her actions.”
Cole said, at this time, he is not going to worry about the appeal process and will focus on the Aliayah Lunsford Foundation, which is meant to “inspire everyone to make a difference in the lives of other people, to provide funds for a memorial scholarship, to hopefully one day open a youth ranch that will be used to provide healing to the disadvantaged,” according to the foundation’s Facebook page.
“Right now, as far as we are concerned it is finished and we are going to just put it behind us,” he said. We are going to continue with the Aliayah Lunsford Foundation and, to us, that is really what we want to do is memorialize Aliayah and make sure that her story continues to get told and she is never forgotten.”
Cole said he believes this sentence will protect children and keep them safe from Lunsford-Conaway.
“(I was) very relieved to know that Lena will never be able to do harm to another child again,” Cole said. “We are very glad.”
Also during Monday’s hearing, Reger addressed handwritten motions — penned by Lunsford-Conaway and given to her attorney — that had been received by the court as late as Monday morning.
“I’m going to deny any of the motions based on the fact that they were not timely filed and, in addition, like I said, in reviewing them there is nothing that shocks the conscience of the court to continue this and most of the information that was in there had to do with the facts of the case,” Reger said. “There is nothing there that would make me think that I need to move this out anymore.”
Lunsford-Conaway will have 30 days to file a notice of appeal once Reger files the judgment and commitment order. They will be allotted 120 days to complete the appeal to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
On April 23, Lunsford-Conaway was found guilty by jury of one felony count of murder of a child by parent, guardian, custodian or other person by refusal or failure to provide necessities, one felony count of death of a child by parent, guardian, custodian or other person by child abuse, one felony count of child abuse resulting in injury and one felony count of concealment of a deceased human body.
Aliayah Lunsford went missing in 2011 and her body was never found. Lunsford-Conaway’s two older daughters had testified she hit Aliayah Lunsford in the head, then put her body in a clothes hamper and dumped it in the woods.
Pipeline sites moving forward
July 14, 2018
By Tim MacVean
Senior Staff Writer
ELKWATER — The Atlantic Coast Pipeline project is moving forward rapidly as staging areas and mobile offices are being set up.
Denise Campbell, community liaison for the ACP, said the Elkwater staging area in Randolph County is working toward being completely up and running.
“They have the mobile offices moved in and are working on getting the internet and getting connected to that,” she said. “The yard (in Elkwater) has approximately 150 employees currently.”
Campbell added when the Elkwater yard is running at “full capacity” she anticipates 400 to 500 employees will be at the site.
“The expectation is somewhere between 400 and 500 workers when we reach full capacity,” she said. “Every week there are more people added … within the next four to six weeks it is expected to be running full steam ahead. Every week it just continues to grow.”
Campbell said welders in Randolph County are expected to begin this coming week and the Randolph yard, as well as the Upshur, Pocahontas and Harrison county staging areas, are coming together.
“Everything is moving along very quickly, the yards are in really good shape and we are just trying to get the mobile offices to where all the utilities are available so they can work there,” she said. “We are expecting all that to be completed, if not by this week, by the end of next week so people can start occupying those mobile offices.”
Campbell said that Rockford Construction Company, of Dallas, Texas, is one of four companies assisting with the project and will be working out of the Elkwater yard.
Campbell said that Workforce West Virginia, in Elkins, has applications for laborers unions available for those interested in employment. They will verify identification and send the application to the laborers union in Clarksburg.
Campbell urged individuals not to report to the yard at this time seeking employment as safety concerns could arise.
To speak with officials for Teamsters 175 in Charleston is 304-744-2193. The number for the laborers union in Clarksburg is 304-622-7841.
For more information, Campbell can be contacted at 304-614-4904.
As proposed, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline route will begin in Harrison County and travel southeast about 100 miles before crossing into Virginia.
One mile will be located in southwestern Harrison County and about 20 miles will be located in northwest Lewis County.
The proposed pipeline route will include about 23 miles in Upshur County, running south of Buckhannon and Tallmansville; about 30 miles in Randolph County; and about 25 miles in Pocahontas County near Slatyfork and Dunmore. The pipeline will be 42 inches running underground.
Dominion Energy is the company that plans to build and operate the 600-mile pipeline, along with Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas.
Letter with 325 signatures presented to city
July 6, 2018
By Brad Johnson
ELKINS — A letter bearing 325 signatures was presented to Elkins city officials Thursday evening calling for action on the dilapidated properties issue.
“Absentee property owners and neglectful property owners are not made to pay anything, and it’s not fair,” local attorney Ty Nestor told Elkins City Council members during the public comment section of their meeting Thursday. Nestor offered his services at no cost to draft the letter for local residents.
The letter was presented to city officials during the public comment section of the meeting by Kathy Vance, the organizer of the Town Hall series of meetings which have focused on distressed properties.
“I’d like you to look over this, all these ordinances that you already have, and enforce them,” she told city officials. “Not all of these properties need torn down. A lot of them just need cleaned up.”
The letter included the signatures of three former mayors of Elkins — Judy Guye Swanson, Jimmy Hammond and Steve Shepler.
Van Broughton, the current mayor, accepted the letter from Vance, who also distributed copies to all the City Council members.
Later in Thursday’s meeting, Broughton said, “I will get with the city attorney and we will review it. We’ll get that to the committees as quickly as possible and get back to you.”
Nestor also offered comments to The Inter-Mountain before Thursday’s meeting.
“We can’t ignore that Elkins has many ordinances available to it to deal with its dilapidated properties,” he said. “In fact, the enforcement of these ordinances would provide an additional revenue stream for the city and is being ignored. While it’s being ignored, responsible Elkins residents are paying B & O taxes, water, sewer and garbage fees, fire fees, a 1 percent sales tax, and the absentee and neglectful landowner is being forced to pay nothing. All of this is occurring when our Water Department is walking out over pay and a significant number of the town’s structures are decaying, causing irreparable harm.
“From a legal perspective it’s frustrating,” Nestor said. “Courts all over the country have consistently held that municipalities enjoy a great deal of discretion about whether they must enforce their own laws. Writs of mandamus against the city in the Randolph County Circuit Court may not be successful in all cases, but those that can be properly maintained will at least get some attention placed upon this issue.
“The best way to deal with the distressed properties right now is by a cooperative and collaborative approach. Having a plan is better than not having one at all,” he said. “Hopefully, the meeting had with City Hall, and the fact that three former mayors signed the letter that was presented, will raise some eyebrows and will get things headed in the right direction. If not, I fear that the next course of action will be accessing the courts in some capacity and formally addressing the Municipal Home Rule Board with this concern.”
Last August, Elkins city officials learned their application to amend the city’s original Home Rule plan was approved.
Nestor is a Republican candidate for a District 43 House of Delegates seat in the November election.
During the Town Hall meetings over the past two years, residents and business owners have repeatedly complained that the city of Elkins is not responding to their requests for help on the dilapidated properties situation.
The group decided to give the city of Elkins 60 days to respond to the letter and make progress on dealing with the properties. The deadline will be Aug. 28.
Teachers cheer pay deal to end walkout
March 7, 2018
By Brooke Binns
ELKINS — After a nine-day walkout, teachers across the state return to their classrooms today.
Teachers in Randolph County say they are happy to be headed back to school today as well as thankful for the ongoing community support during the statewide walkout period, following news that state legislators approved the requested pay raise for teachers and state employees.
Many people expressed emotion during Tuesday’s Randolph County Board of Education meeting because the walkout period had finally ended.
“We are very proud of our employees and the professionalism they showed,” said Randolph County Schools Superintendent Gabriel “Gabe” Devono during the meeting. “You all did a great job.”
Board President Donna Auvil echoed Devono’s comments, saying she visited all local informational picket sites and all employees were professional in their efforts to raise awareness and support during the walkout.
Ramista Lanham, teacher at Tygarts Valley Middle School, said she looks forward to catching up with her students.
“I cannot wait to see my kids to hear their understanding of what occurred over the last two weeks as well as their opinions. I have missed catching up with them day to day,” she said. “I am thankful for the community support, the support from our superintendent and administration, as well as parents during the crazy saga of the last two weeks.”
Ellen Fortney, teacher at Coalton Elementary School and Homestead Elementary School, said the walkout period was an emotional time for teachers.
“Someone asked if we would be glad to get back to school (Wednesday) and hear all of the children’s loud voices, and I said, ‘Next to standing without them for nine days, that will be the sweetest sound on Earth,” she said.
Dawn Kittle, teacher at Third Ward Elementary School, said she is excited to be back in the classroom.
“I am pleased that the West Virginia Legislature decided to invest in our students and education,” she said. “I am excited to be back in the classroom and with my students so we can now conquer another battle, fractions.”
Paula Marco, teacher at Coalton Elementary and American Federation for Teachers vice president for Randolph County, thanked the board members for their constant support in the past several weeks.
“On behalf of AFT Randolph and the Randolph County Education Association and Service Personnel Association, I am here to thank you, thank you, thank you, Mr. Devono and our board of education, for supporting us so much for these past nine days,” Marco said. “It’s been really difficult, and we could not have done it without you. We don’t give up on our kids, and we didn’t give up on this either. Thank you for allowing us to continue our fight for our kids and for this cause.”
Brittany Wamsley, a teacher at Homestead/George Ward Elementary, was one of many who traveled to Charleston as part of the peaceful demonstrations designed to prompt higher pay for state employees and action on state workers’ insurance program.
Wamsley said she felt “pure excitement” about the prospect of returning to her classroom, but she also was proud to be part of the statewide movement and political process.
“I can tell you one man told me that as a teacher I needed to diligently do my job, but I must also continue to fight the good fight. I will continue to go to bat for my students and public education anytime that it is under attack,” Wamsley said in an email Tuesday. “As educators we have to be the voice for those that we teach. I have learned the true meaning of advocating for my students. However I have also learned to advocate for myself. I need to take care of my family while shaping the minds of West Virginia’s future.”
Wamsley added she was thankful for her co-workers and other teachers throughout the state.
“They make me proud to be an educator. I couldn’t have asked for a better community. We are blessed to live in such a wonderful town, county and state.”
Ellen Shepherd, president of West Virginia Education Association for Randolph County, said community support was very high during the walkout period, which helped public employees in their fight.
“I think community support helps us in three ways. First, it helped keep us feeling optimistic. Second, it got more people talking about what is going on in Charleston and more people contacting their legislators,” Shepherd said. “The final way this helped us was when legislators (told) us that we (didn’t) have support we have stories and pictures to prove that is not true.”
She added people in the community showed support by honking, waving, dropping off food for picketers and food for the backpack program.
“We have even had people from out of state send food and money to buy food for the program,” she said. “People (came to) picket with us, stopped to visit, emailed, called and messaged. Every bit of support makes a huge difference for all of us. It’s been overwhelming.”
Not only were members of the community supportive of teachers and service personnel, teachers and staff remained supportive to their students throughout the walkout period.
BOE member Lisa Wamsley noted she was able to see that students do come first to teachers.
“Even though teachers weren’t in the building, they were still out making sure their kids are taken care of,” Wamsley said. “It really does show a lot about the staff that we have and that they’re willing to come in on their own time or take away an hour or two for a cause that they’re fighting for to take care of the kids — because kids come first in the heart of a teacher.”
Board members also noted several teachers throughout the county met with students for athletic practices, choral performances and advanced placement class studies.
Devono noted makeup days have not yet been officially scheduled, noting he will meet with principals, school staff members and state BOE officials in Charleston in the upcoming days to look at the calendar and decide how to proceed accordingly.