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Marshal’s death tops year of local news

January 2, 2012
The Inter-Mountain

Editor's note: The Inter-Mountain's coverage area saw an abundance of significant news stories in 2011, many of which, like the shooting death of a U.S. deputy marshal and the disappearance of a Lewis County toddler, attracted statewide and national interest. In reflection, The Inter-Mountain offers its annual Top 10 listing of news. On Tuesday, the top sports stories of 2011 will publish in The Inter-Mountain.

No. 1 - U.S. Deputy Marshal Derek Hotsinpiller killed

On Feb.16, the Elkins community was rocked when U.S. Deputy Marshal Derek Hotsinpiller's life was taken as his team tried to serve a search and arrest warrant on Charles Smith, 50, at his residence at 319 Central St.

Gunfire erupted on Central Street as Hotsinpiller and a team consisting of U.S. deputy marshals and members of the West Virginia State Police entered the home. Smith was wanted for possession of cocaine with the intent to deliver.

Hotsinpiller died from injuries he sustained when Smith opened fire with a shotgun on law enforcement. Two other deputy marshals were injured in the exchange and Smith was killed.

Law enforcement spent the next several days investigating the scene of the shooting and charges were brought against three people living in the residence.

Sherry Lou Smith, 49, of Elkins, widow of Charles Smith; Cassandra Smith, 25, of Elkins, daughter of Charles Smith; and her boyfriend, Anthony Lambert, 24, of Montrose, were arrested April 20 after a federal grand jury named them in a 14-count indictment.

Sherry White pleaded guilty to making false statements to law enforcement in September.

Cassandra Smith pleaded guilty in October to one count of knowingly making false, fraudulent and fictitious statements to ATF and FBI agents on Feb. 16, 2011.

Anthony Lambert pleaded guilty to providing false information to law enforcement in August.

No. 2 - Aliayah Lunsford goes missing

Three-year-old Aliayah Lunsford went missing from her family's Bendale home in Weston on Sept. 24 and hasn't been seen since.

Aliayah was reported missing by her mother, Lena Lunsford, at approximately 11:30 a.m. that Saturday morning. Lena Lunsford said she went to check on Aliayah because she had been sick and found no signs of the girl.

Aliayah was last seen wearing purple pajama pants and a Dora the Explorer sleep shirt.

Soon local, state and federal authorities were working the case with hundreds of civilian volunteers searching the near the West Fork River, hillsides and anywhere anyone could think to look.

Eventually the FBI offered a $20,000 reward in hopes of spurring information from the public that could lead to the child's recovery. As of yet, there are no solid leads to what might have happened to Aliayah. There also are no suspects of note being mentioned by law enforcement.

Since her disappearance, the community has banded together, primarily without the participation of Lena Lunsford and her husband Ralph Lunsford, to seek answers to what may have happened to Aliayah.

Supporters held a balloon launch Oct. 24 for the missing girl and they have participated in several area Christmas parades to bring attention to her case.

No. 3 - Randolph County Prosecuting Attorney Richard Busch resigns

After an investigation into alleged "personnel issues" with the Randolph County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, former Prosecutor Richard Busch resigned Dec. 5.

His 15-minute resignation notice was hand delivered to the Randolph County Commission office the day commissioners expected a report from a hired Charleston-area attorney.

By late December, the hired attorney, Jim Lees, told commissioners in a letter that what was found during his investigation was considered "moot" because Busch had left his office.

In June, Circuit Court Judge Jaymie Godwin Wilfong found Busch in contempt of court for making false statements to the court during a criminal proceeding. During the hearing in which Wilfong found Busch in contempt of court, it was revealed that the judge had filed complaints against the Busch with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

During Busch's time in office, several cases were dismissed, some with and some without prejudice, because of prosecutory errors.

Since Busch's resignation, the County Commission appointed Michael Parker to fill the remaining approximate one-year term.

No. 4 - Nearly $250 million AES Laurel Mountain Wind Farm project opens

One of the most highly visible changes in our region in 2011 was the AES wind farm project on Laurel Mountain. The nearly $250 million project has placed a total of 61 windmills along a 12.5-mile stretch in Randolph and Barbour counties.

John Arose, general manager of the AES project, said the wind farm created nearly 350 construction jobs during its initial phases, along with 13 permanent jobs. The wind farm will generate $450,000 in county taxes and $340,000 in state taxes annually, he said.

"We anticipate $1.5 to $2.5 million being brought into the community's economy," Arose said earlier this year. "We have a $1 million payroll and we are creating nonmanufacturing-type jobs that would not have been here if we wouldn't have been here."

Arose said AES chose Laurel Mountain for its first West Virginia site because of the quality of the local wind source, ideal access to utility grids and landowners willing to lease property.

No. 5 - Business industry affected by poor economy

Business closures and layoffs in late 2011 have affected many workers in our area.

Coastal Lumber in Dailey announced that it would cease operations at all of its locations Aug. 12. A letter to its employees from President and Chief Executive Officer Victor Barringers said he hoped the closure was only temporary.

The Dailey yard employed 60 people.

One of the largest employers in Randolph County announced it would be reducing its work force by 116 employees in November.

Jennifer Johnson, senior manager of corporate communication for Armstrong World Industries, confirmed the layoff stating a very challenging economy as the reason.

In mid-December, the third largest employer in Hardy County, American Woodmark Corp., also announced it would close its plant in Moorefield.

The company manufactures cabinetry for the remodeling and new construction industries. The closure of this plant will lead to the displacement of more than 400 workers.

The exact date of its closure is not known, but it is anticipated it will be early in 2012.

No. 6 - Davis Health System plans expansions

New and exciting projects began in 2011 on the Davis Memorial Hospital campus.

Davis Health System's first major expansion since 1994 got off to a start Nov. 10 with a ground-breaking ceremony for a $13 million addition. The renovation and construction will encompass 73,000 square feet designed to bring physicians and outpatient services - like radiology, day surgery and laboratory - into one modern, convenient location.

The remodeling and construction project will allow physician and outpatient services to be centralized in one area, creating a more comfortable and efficient patient experience.

The three-story addition will connect to the existing building and create a new patient entrance. When completed, patients should be able to park their car, see their primary care physician, complete any lab work or X-ray, consult with a specialist physician and get their prescriptions without having to drive anywhere else.

The Davis House, a restoration project of a historic property on the corner of Reed Street and Harrison Avenue, found funding through employees, community leaders, board members and area residents.

The house is designed to be a home away from home for patients receiving cancer treatment. More than 30 percent of those receiving treatment at the Cancer Care Center travel from at least 50 miles away. The renovations will provide lodging and a kitchen where patients and families can make a meal.

On Dec. 8, a gathering of support was held at Davis Memorial Hospital, where it was announced that $560,000 in donations and pledges had been collected for the Davis House and that the first stage of renovations have begun.

Steve Johnson, director of support services at Davis Memorial Hospital, said the goal for completion of phase one is fall 2012.

No. 7 - Barbour 911 director charged in pistol incident

On Sept. 2, Larry Allen, the director of Barbour County 911/Office of Emergency Services, walked into Philippi Elementary during a "code red drill" with a full-faced mask and fired .22-caliber "starters" at school staff.

The West Virginia State Police investigated Allen's actions and charged him with seven counts of assault. West Virginia State Police1st Lt. R.J. Simon revealed in a news release that Allen used "gross negligence and acted unlawfully" when he entered the school.

Allen pleaded not guilty to the charges in September, and he was released on a $1,000 personnel recognizance bond. During the arraignment in September, Barbour County Prosecuting Attorney Leckta Poling said there were two classrooms of students and one student in the hallway who are considered victims in the case, as well as teachers.

No. 8 - Randolph County's school levy goes into affect, while voters in Upshur County reject theirs

While a Randolph County school levy was going into effect, a levy in Upshur County was meeting a far different fate.

Backed by one of the highest early voter turnouts in the state, Upshur County voters rejected a proposal by a nearly 3-1 margin. The levy funds, coupled with a $13.8 million grant from the state's School Building Authority, would have funded a new Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School and renovated another nine schools. The SBA funding was diverted to another county after the bond election failed.

The Randolph County school levy went into effect in 2011, providing $1 million in maintenance support and another $800,000 in technology support.

More than $500,000 was allotted to each school's Local School Improvement Council. About $42,000 was set aside to use as matching funds for grants for a variety of improvement projects and equipment purchases. About $135,000 was appropriated for extracurricular support, including renovations to the Elkins High School track.

The levy also includes $55,000 for elementary field trip support, and another $50,000 for local library partnerships and $80,000 for ArtsBank.

No. 9 - Barbour County voters reject fire fee

Voters in Barbour County soundly defeated a proposed countywide fire fee during the special election held Oct. 4.

There were 2,394 votes cast against the measure and 1,436 votes for the fire fee. Only 37.49 percent of the cast ballots were in favor of the fee.

Under the measure, residents would have been assessed a $40 yearly fee and there would have been no charge for each building on the property. Residents who own various pieces of land would have been assessed according to total acreage, with those owning more than 500 acres being assessed $80 per year.

Business owners would have been charged $80 per building and rental property owners would have been assessed $40 per year, with an additional $10 for each additional rental unit more than 10.

After the failure of the countywide fire fee, a spokesman for Belington Volunteer Fire Department asked Belington City Council members if they would consider raising the city fire fee from $2 to $5 monthly for residential customers, and from $5 to $10 monthly for commercial customers because of an increase in workers' compensation fees.

Belington council committee members met with a delegation from the Belington Volunteer Fire Department to try to work out a recommendation for council. To date, no further action has been taken on that request.

No. 10 - Severe windstorm hits Randolph County in April

A little before midnight April 27, some residents of Elkins woke to hear wind ripping though town and destroying parts of buildings.

There was talk of a small tornado that night as people surveyed damages; but it was later determined that a strong, straight-line wind barreled its way from the Randolph County Industrial Park to Davis & Elkins College.

Among the most damaged buildings were Elkins Builder's Supply, the VFW Post No. 3647, Davis & Elkins College, the Shilo Baptist Church and the private residence of The Inter-Mountain Editor Linda Howell Skidmore.

After the winds tore through town, emergency workers took to the streets to clear and cut large trees that were uprooted and blocking the roadways.

No one was injured during the storm, but it left homeowners and business owners cleaning up and rebuilding for several months.


Other 2011 headlines of note:

Beverly woman killed when stolen rotors strike her vehicle

Elkins city clerk's office undergoes major restructuring

October plane crash near Moorefield kills three people

First baby born in Pocahontas County hospital in eight years

Parsons downtown sees revitalization



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