Hospital deaths, ex-bishop dominated 2019 headlines in W.Va.
By JOHN RABY Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — In late August, federal prosecutors said a sweeping criminal investigation into numerous suspicious deaths at a Veterans Affairs hospital in West Virginia would be their “top priority.”
Four months later, no charges have been announced in the deaths of up to 11 patients at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg.
The deaths and investigation were voted West Virginia’s No. 1 news story in 2019 by Associated Press member newspapers and broadcasters.
A church investigation into former Roman Catholic Bishop Michael Bransfield finished second in the voting, while an education bill that created the state’s first charter schools was third.
Attorneys representing the families of men who died at the Clarksburg hospital have said at least two of the deaths have been ruled homicides, with both veterans dying from wrongful insulin injections.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia told U.S. Attorney General William Barr in a letter last summer that he had “grave concerns over the pace of the investigation.” The Democrat said VA officials had told him a “person of interest” was no longer in contact with any veterans at the facility.
A Charleston attorney announced a notice of a pending lawsuit in October over what he believed was a suspicious death at the hospital from a wrongful insulin injection.
Leslie Rubin, an assistant news director at WCHS-TV, said the hospital investigation “has left many more questions than answers. As federal investigators are taking their time with this one, as they should, more questions are mounting over how long this went on and how it could have gone unnoticed for the time that it did.
“To think that veterans who served our country died this way is unfathomable and deserves more attention than it is getting.”
In June, new Wheeling-Charleston Catholic Archdiocese Bishop Mark Brennan announced the results of an investigation into Bransfield that found a “consistent pattern” of sexual innuendo and suggestive comments and inappropriate actions toward subordinates. It also determined Bransfield misused church funds for his own benefit, spending them on dining, liquor, gifts, personal travel and luxury items.
Brennan later released a “plan of amends” that calls for Bransfield to pay the church $792,638 in financial restitution and apologize to those he was accused of sexually harassing and intimidating.
Bransfield resigned in 2018 and has previously denied wrongdoing.
In June, Gov. Jim Justice signed the education bill that allows for a staggered implementation of charter schools, limiting the state to three charters until 2023, then letting three more go up every three years afterward. It also contained a pay raise for teachers.
Debate over the creation of charters consumed the legislature after a similar bill launched a two-day teacher strike in February. Teachers’ unions claim charter schools will steer money away from public schools.
Broadcasters and newspapers were divided on their top picks. Eight different stories received at least one first-place vote.
“It was incredibly difficult to nail down a top story for the state this year,” Rubin said. “In years past, the choice was glaringly obvious.”
Rounding out the top 10 stories were:
–Two former state Supreme Court justices are sentenced in a corruption scheme, while the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up an appeal in a case involving the derailment of the impeachment process of the court’s justices.
–Coal operators continue to file for bankruptcy protection, including Ohio-based Murray Energy and West Virginia-based Blackjewel LLC.
–A West Virginia state trooper is charged with a federal crime in a November 2018 traffic stop near Martinsburg. Police dashcam video shows officers kicking and punching a teen.
–Justice faces a lawsuit trying to force the governor to live in the state capital.
–A federal grand jury issues a subpoena for state commerce records related to The Greenbrier resort owned by Justice and the PGA golf tournament held there.
–West Virginia coal magnate Chris Cline, his 22-year-old daughter and five others aboard a helicopter are killed when it crashed in July near the Bahamas.
–Justice announces his intentions to seek re-election; Manchin decides against running for governor again.