Friday, October 30, 2015

Half of workforce to be laid off at Wyoming County mine

A southern West Virginia coal operator announced Thursday its plans to cut its workforce in half at a large Wyoming County operation.

Cliffs Natural Resources issued WARN notices to 220 workers at its Pinnacle Mine near Pineville. The layoffs will take place in 60-days.

The company also announced its third-quarter earnings Thursday and it wasn’t a good three months. It had consolidated revenues of $593 million, a decrease of 39 percent from last year’s third-quarter revenues of $980 million.

Sales of 2016 West Virginia Wildlife Calendar begin

(AP) — A painting of two male turkeys in the snow is featured on the cover of the 2016 West Virginia Wildlife Calendar.

The calendar also includes paintings of a groundhog, a brook trout, a pair of coyotes and a dragonfly.

The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources says all of the calendar's paintings were done by West Virginia artists. A brief description of the animal and the artist's contact information accompanies each painting.

The calendar also includes several articles. It is available for sale for $10 at DNR district offices, card stores, convenience stores and drug stores across the state.

Sales proceeds are used to help fund the DNR Wildlife Diversity Program's projects, such as monitoring bird populations.

Prosecutor suspended after pulling gun on fake spiders

(AP) — An assistant prosecutor in West Virginia has been suspended after pulling a gun and threatening to shoot fake spiders scattered around the office as Halloween decorations.

Logan County Prosecuting Attorney John Bennett tells media outlets that Chris White informed other employees that he is "deathly afraid of spiders" before threatening to shoot. Bennett says he was out of the office at the time but was told about the incident by shaken employees.

He says White assured him the gun wasn't loaded. Bennett suspended White on Wednesday, several weeks after the incident, because employees were still upset.

The spider decorations have been removed, and Bennett has barred anyone other than the agency's investigator from carrying guns in the office.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Marshall University to offer 3 new degree programs

(AP) — Marshall plans to offer three new degree programs.

The programs approved by the Marshall Board of Governors on Wednesday include a Bachelor of Arts degree in sport management, and master's degrees in clinical and translational science, and social work.

Marshall says in a statement that the new programs will be offered beginning with the fall 2016 semester.

US attorney urges reversal on children's treatment center

(AP) — A federal prosecutor is urging West Virginia to rescind its approval of a proposed children's psychiatric hospital in Logan.

U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld objected to the 70-bed facility in an Oct. 13 letter to Karen Bowling, the state health and human resources secretary.

In June, the U.S. Department of Justice criticized the state for too often placing children in institutions rather than in home-based services.

Health department spokeswoman Sarah Lieu said Bowling approved the facility so children being treated in out-of-state facilities can be returned to West Virginia. But Ihlenfeld wrote that the out-of-state facilities are closer to home for some children than the proposed Logan treatment center. He also said there has been a lack of transparency in the planning stage.

Prosecutors again question key witness in ex-coal CEO's case

(AP) — Prosecutors are dissecting a key government witness' testimony that helped ex-Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship's attorneys argue his company prioritized safety.

In federal court Thursday, the prosecution questioned former Massey subsidiary president Christopher Blanchard, who told the defense he didn't break any laws or conspire with Blankenship to break laws.

Prosecutors began questioning Blanchard last week under an immunity agreement, and then Blankenship's attorneys followed them.

Blankenship is charged with conspiring to break mine safety laws and lying to financial regulators about safety at Upper Big Branch Mine, which exploded in 2010, killing 29 men. Blanchard's subsidiary oversaw the mine.

Grimes predicts low turnout in Kentucky governor's race

(AP) — Kentucky's chief election official said she expects fewer than 1 million of Kentucky's 3.2 million registered voters will cast ballots in the state's general election on Tuesday.

Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes said 14,000 people have voted absentee as of Monday. That's down from 27,000 people who had voted absentee at this time in 2011, when Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear won re-election.

Grimes said she suspects many voters are more focused on the 2016 presidential election, which has dominated national media coverage. She noted that while voter registration numbers have increased, voter participation in the last two gubernatorial elections have fallen.

Polls open at 6 a.m. local time on Tuesday and close at 6 p.m. local time. Voters can verify their registration and polling place location online at

Workforce shortage faces Kentucky's next governor

(AP) — Kentucky's major employers say they can't find enough qualified workers as the state climbs out of a national recession.

In Henderson County, Darrell Littrell says he wants to hire 50 people at his tool and die shop and pay them up to $100,000 a year. But he says he cannot find anyone with the skills to do the work.

The problem has become a big issue in Kentucky's race for governor. Republican nominee Matt Bevin said he would push for more vocational training and de-emphasize the importance of four year degrees. Democratic nominee Jack Conway said he would put more career counsellors in public schools to advise juniors and seniors as they plan their future.

The election is Tuesday.

West Virginia State Police awarded ‘Best Cruiser’ in the nation

West Virginia state troopers will now be on the roads driving what is considered the “Best Cruiser” in the nation named by the American Association of State Troopers.

An award ceremony was held Thursday morning at the West Virginia State Police Academy in Institute to recognize the vehicle that was ‘liked’ by over 17,000 people on Facebook.

The contest was based on photos that were posted of each state police cruiser nationwide. AAST Vice President Jeffrey Lane said West Virginia had the highest total number of ‘likes.’

The West Virginia State Police cruiser will be featured on the AAST’s 2016 trooper calendar.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Blackhawk finalizes buy-outs on 6 Patriot Coal mining operations

Blackhawk Mining announced Wednesday the purchase of six Patriot Coal mining complexes in central and southern West Virginia has been finalized.

The buy-outs include Patriot’s Panther, Rocklick, Wells, Kanawha Eagle, Paint Creek and Midland Trail mining operations.

The announcement followed a federal bankruptcy judge’s decision earlier this month to approve a reorganization plan that allowed Patriot to sell a majority of their operating assets to Blackhawk.

The company plans to resume production immediately at the purchased mines to remain committed to its customers in a timely manner, according to a news release.
Patriot, based in Scott Depot, declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in May.

Blackhawk is a privately owned coal mining and marketing company headquartered in Lexington, Ky.

Natural gas prices lower at start of heating season

(AP) — Kentucky residents who heat their homes with natural gas are facing much lower prices as the seasons change and temperatures drop.

The Kentucky Public Service Commission says natural gas prices are down by more than a third from this time last year, and have fallen by more than two-thirds from the peak reached in 2008.

On average, Kentucky consumers can expect their total gas bills to be about 21 percent smaller this November than a year ago, based on consumption of 10,000 cubic feet of natural gas. The average total bill for 10,000 cubic feet — including base rates — is projected to be about $83.74.

That's down about $23 from last year and a decrease of more than $67 — or about 44 percent — since November 2008.

Beshear urges people to check out options on kynect

(AP) — A new enrollment period is about to start for Kentuckians searching for coverage through the state's online health insurance marketplace.

Gov. Steve Beshear's office says depending on location, people signing up for coverage through kynect — the state's health exchange — can choose from as many as seven insurance companies. Enrollment begins Nov. 1 and runs through Jan. 31, 2016.

One of the largest insurance providers on the state's exchange won't offer plans for 2016. That insurer, Kentucky Health Cooperative, currently serves about 51,000 members.

Beshear made stops in Lexington and Louisville on Tuesday to encourage people in need of health coverage to check out options on kynect.

His office says kynect has added a shopping tool further helping consumers target the search for plans that best fits their needs.

After shooting, all Prestonsburg officers must wear vests

(AP) — On the heels of a shooting in which an officer was injured, an eastern Kentucky police department is requiring all officers to wear bullet proof vests while on duty.

Prestonsburg Police Officer Adam Dixon was shot in the chest last week while trying to catch a suspect who fled after a traffic stop. He survived and is expected to recover even though he wasn't wearing a bulletproof vest.

Assistant Police Chief Gerald Clark told media that the shooting "was a wake-up call." He said wearing the vests had been optional before but now it is mandatory for officers to wear them.

The suspect accused of shooting Dixon, Robert Powers, pleaded not guilty on Monday to attempted murder of a police officer and flagrant non-support.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Defense continues to contend ex-coal CEO focused on safety

(AP) — With a key government witness on the stand, a former coal boss' defense team continued to contend his company prioritized safety and disciplined people when they made mistakes.

In Charleston federal court Tuesday, ex-Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship's attorneys continued questioning former Massey subsidiary president Christopher Blanchard. Blanchard has testified since Thursday under an immunity agreement with the government.

Blankenship is charged with conspiring to break mine safety laws and lying to financial regulators about safety at Upper Big Branch, which exploded in 2010, killing 29 men. Blanchard's subsidiary oversaw the mine.

Blanchard continued to tell defense attorney William Taylor that he did not conspire with Blankenship to break safety laws.

Taylor discussed dozens of citations, memos and other documents to say Massey was concerned about safety under Blankenship's watch.

The Latest: Search widens for suspect in officer shooting

(AP) — Here are the latest developments in the search for a man accused of shooting at law officers in Tennessee and Kentucky:

Police have widened the search for a man accused of shooting at law officers in two states, and are raising the possibility that he might now have a companion and a pickup truck.

Kentucky State Police said Tuesday that the investigation into Floyd Ray Cook's whereabouts has turned up multiple leads that expanded the search statewide.

The 62-year-old Cook faces an attempted-murder charge in Tennessee for shooting and injuring an officer last Saturday. Authorities say he later fired at a state trooper in Kentucky. The trooper was not wounded.

Authorities say Cook might have access to a beige 2006 Ford Ranger with Kentucky license plates.

State police Trooper Billy Gregory says Cook might also now be accompanied by another man. He described them as possible "associates." Gregory says investigators are going through a list "people and places and things to check out."

KSP Post 09 Civilian Receives Award

On Wednesday October 21, 2015, Timothy Hopkins, Maintenance Worker II, Post 9-Pikeville, received the Maintenance Support Service Award highlighting his performance over the past year. The award is presented to a Kentucky State Police civilian employee who represents the best of what our agency has to offer.
“Post 9 was built in 1983, which means it is over 30 years old, but you would never know it.  Mr. Hopkins has personally painted post, a three story building, assisted in laying new floor tile, sealed the parking lot, and is always keeping the facility in a high state of readiness.  He has also saved thousands of taxpayers’ dollars by doing these things.  Mr. Hopkins is a valued member of the KSP team and supports our mission daily. “ said KSP Post 09 Commander, Captain Anthony Taulbee.

Mr. Hopkins has served Post 09 for 7 years.

Virginia insurance prices going up under health care law

(AP) — Federal officials say the cost of a benchmark plan on the health care exchange will go up 4 percent for Virginia residents.

The increase for 2016 coverage in Virginia is lower than the average for the 37states that are using the website. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says premiums for the benchmark plan across all states relying on the federal exchange will go up an average of 7.5 percent.

The benchmark plan is the second lowest-cost silver plan.

Some states are seeing double digit increases, while rates are decreasing in a handful of states.

The third open enrollment session begins on Nov. 1. At the end of the 2015 enrollment period, more than 385,000 Virginians had selected a plan on the exchange.

MSHA releases mining death statistics for 2015 fiscal year

WASHINGTON, D.C— The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration announced a summary Monday of mining deaths in the United States from July 1 through Sept. 30.

Seven fatalities occurred in industry accidents in that time period. In the first nine months of 2015, 25 fatalities occurred, eight fewer than in the same period last year.

“These deaths remind us why we must continue our vigilance and ensure effective safety and health programs are at work throughout the industry,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. “The hard-working men and women of the mining industry deserve no less.”

Fourteen miners died on the job in mines in the 2015 fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30. Half of those were in the third quarter, which saw seven miners die.

KSP Investigates Fatal Accident in Johnson County

Kentucky State Police, Pikeville Post, is investigating a fatal collision that occurred in Johnson County during the afternoon hours of Monday, October 26, 2015.

 The initial investigation indicates that Susan Hensley, 43 years old of Inez, Kentucky, was traveling south in the northbound lane of US 23 in the Hager Hill community of Johnson County.  The vehicle operated by Hensley struck the trailer tire of a semi-truck commercial vehicle owned by Big G Express, Inc.  

After the initial collision, Hensley’s vehicle proceeded to leave the roadway, and overturned multiple times over an embankment. Hensley was pronounced deceased at the scene by Johnson County Coroner J.R. Frisby. 

Evidence at the scene indicates Hensley was not wearing her seatbelt at the time of the collision, and alcohol is a possible contributing factor.

Student suspended following lockdown of West Virginia school

(AP) — Police say a student has been suspended after reports of a gun prompted the lockdown of a West Virginia school.

Mingo County Sheriff James Smith tells media outlets that no weapon was found.
Smith says Mingo County Central High School was placed on lockdown on Monday after the student told another student that he had a gun in his shoe.

The sheriff says the school was placed on lockdown again on Tuesday morning as a precaution. The lockdown has been lifted.

Information about the incident will be forwarded to the Mingo County prosecutor's office, which will determine whether any charges will be filed.

Cop-shooting suspect appears in court

A man accused of shooting a Prestonsburg police officer and then holding police at bay during an overnight standoff finally appeared in court Monday morning. 28-year-old Robert Powers, of Auxier, was arraigned in court today on a charge of attempted murder of a police officer, as well as for a previous charge of flagrant non-support.  An automatic plea of not guilty was entered.

Powers will next appear in court for a preliminary hearing November 2nd at 1:30.

Jail runaway appears in court

Appearing in court yesterday was Caleb Slone, who was returning from a hearing on multiple charges last week, including rape and child sexual abuse, when he slipped away from deputies transporting him back to jail. Slone remained on the run overnight, until he was found hiding under the Allen-Dwale Bridge Friday morning.

Slone was originally being held pending charges of first-degree rape, two counts of sodomy and eight counts of sexual abuse. Four of the sexual abuse counts deal with a victim under 12 years old.