The Voice of West Virginia
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Dec. 1 edition of MetroNews This Morning is ready to go.
We cover news and sports across the state of West Virginia plus Hoppy Kercheval’s commentary in a 15-minute podcast.
Listen to today’s edition here.
SHINNSTON, W.Va. – A Shinnston man is facing a count of cruelty to animals. Police allege he shot and killed a dog on Wednesday.
Deputies from the Harrison County Sheriff’s Department were called to a home on Odells Knob Road and met with Tyler Beale, 28. Beale told deputies the dog would not behave, so he took it outside and shot it.
Beale admitted to deputies that he shot the dog from about 15 feet away with an AR-15 type 223 caliber rifle. Beale then walked up to where the dog was lying and shot again.
Beale is being held in the North Central Regional Jail on a $25,000 bond.
On February 28, 2022, 37-year-old Quantez Burks was brought to the Southern Regional Jail near Beckley on a charge of wanton endangerment. The following day, he was dead. A private autopsy determined Burks died of a heart attack after sustaining a severe beating.
The story from correctional officers at the jail was that the injuries were sustained while trying to restrain Burks, who bumped an officer and was combative. Questions persisted about the officers’ versions of events, including those raised by Burks’ family, and now a federal grand jury has returned a sweeping indictment in the case.
Five former correctional officials—Mark Holdren, 39; Cory Snyder, 29; Jonathan Walters, 35; Jacob Boothe, 25; and Ashley Toney, 23 now face a series of charges related to Burks death. A sixth defendant, former correctional lieutenant Chad Lester, 33, is accused of covering up the use of unlawful force.
According to the indictment, Holdren, Snyder and Walters forced a handcuffed Burks into an interview room where there was no camera and beat him. They are accused of then dragging Burks to a cell and dropping him on the floor where the beatings continued. Two defendants—Boothe and Toney—are accused of failing to intervene to stop the beatings.
Burks died hours later and, according to the indictment, that is when the cover-up began. All six of the defendants are charged with conspiring to prevent the truth from coming out. They are charged with falsifying records, lying to investigators and intimidating witnesses.
For example, count seven accuses Snyder of falsely telling investigators that Burks was running away from him to the interview room and bumped into a wall multiple times. Count eight charges Walters with instructing a correctional officer to lie about the events. Count ten accuses Boothe of instructing fellow officers to tell investigators that Burks attacked them.
It took federal investigators months to pull together all the relevant details. A break came when two other correctional officers—Steven Nicholas Wimmer, 24, and Andrew Fleshman, 21, agreed to plead guilty to violating Burks’ civil rights and in return they can be witnesses against other defendants.
Wimmer and Fleshman face up to ten years in prison. However, the remaining defendants could face up to life in prison, if convicted. It is important to note that an indictment is an allegation, and all defendants have a presumption of innocence.
Jail is not supposed to be a pleasant place, but individuals in the custody, care and control of the state have a right to expect a level of safety and protection. According to the indictment, the very individuals entrusted by the public to provide that security are now the ones accused of acting like vicious criminals themselves.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A Danville man was sentenced Thursday for stealing from programs receiving federal funds.
Jerry D. Elkins, 54, received three years of federal probation, including 10 months on home detention. He must also pay $94,197.93 in restitution.
Elkins admitted to fraudulently obtaining $94,197.93 of federal abandoned mine land (AML) remediation sub-grant funds while he was employed by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). He also set up a shell limited liability company in order to receive a portion of the sub-grant award funds.
Court documents and statements show that from about April 2017 until on or about August 7, 2019, Elkins assisted Aleksey Krylov and one of Krylov’s companies with their application for a DEP AML pilot program sub-grant. The DEP receives grant funding from the United States Department of the Interior Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE). Since 2016, the state of West Virginia has received $181 million in Abandoned Mine Land Economic Revitalization (AMLER) block grant funds.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said that Elkins and Krylov and his company proposed to construct and operate an aquaponics facility that would produce commercial quantities of vegetables and fruits at a project site near Madison. In August and September of 2018, Elkins registered a limited liability company, Wanaque River Holdings LLC (“Wanaque”), in Delaware. He then opened a bank account for the company at a bank in Charleston, West Virginia. Elkins admitted that Wanaque had no other legitimate business purpose besides receiving obscure payments from Krylov.
From about October 19, 2018, to around August 7, 2019, Wanaque received $94,197.93 in electronic fund transfers and checks from Krylov and his companies. Elkins admitted that he fraudulently converted the money that originated from the aquaponics project’s sub-grant reimbursements from the DEP.
The U.S Attorney’s Office also said that Elkins admitted to trying to conceal and cover up his activity and the nature of his dealings with Krylov by failing to list his interest in Wanaque when he signed the federal OSMRE State Employee Statement of Employment and Financial Interest form on February 20, 2019.
On July 27, 2023, Krylov, 42, of South Orange, New Jersey, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting theft from programs receiving federal funds. He’s awaiting his sentencing.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Kanawha County Commission voted to accept a settlement regarding the Paint Creek Chemical Spill Litigation.
The lawsuit against the trucking company, Gadsden, Gaillard and West LLC, had been in mediation since September. The trucking company made an offer of $500,000. The agreement that was met was for each county commission, the Kanawha County Commission and the Fayette County Commission, to receive $250,000.
“After extensive negotiations with the parties and the mediator, the trucking company has offered to the county commissions, plural, $500,000 total,” said Chris Settles, Deputy County Attorney.
The Commissioners agreed to put the money in a Special Fund, with some of it going towards their legal fees. The Fayette County Commission has yet to discuss or accept the offer from the trucking company, but the Kanawha County Commission agreed to the offer.
The commission said the remaining funds are expected to go toward “bringing Paint Creek back to its original glory.” Commissioner Lance Wheeler said the commission will allow the Paint Creek Watershed Association to be involved in how the remaining funds are used in the area.
“They were the ones that did all the hard work in getting that creek back to its glory,” said Wheeler.
A member of the Watershed Association was in attendance for the commission’s Thursday meeting. The man said the Association already has a few ideas on what they could potentially use money from the Special Fund for at Paint Creek.
“We could ask for additional money to help us do additional stream structures,” he said.
Commissioner Wheeler said they will undoubtedly hold conversations in a future meeting to decide with the Association on how the money gets used. Prior to that, the commission will aim to get some assistance from the federal and state governments.
“Let’s do everything we can to get money from the federal government and the state, and then use this money on the backend,” said Commissioner Wheeler.
The lawsuit, which was filed by the Commission back in January, states that approximately 3,000 gallons of Empigen, a hazardous material commonly used in cleaning products, spilled into the creek in the early morning hours of Aug. 25, 2022.
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — When West Virginia welcomes St. John’s to the WVU Coliseum for Friday’s 7 p.m. matchup airing on ESPN2, Josh Eilert will embark on his seventh game as a head coach. The Mountaineers’ interim coach will oppose Red Storm head coach Rick Pitino, a 2013 inductee into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame with 1,127 more games coached than Eilert.
“He’s a Hall of Fame coach and has done incredible things throughout his career. I’ve watched and followed him as my career has advanced,” Eilert said. “So many things he does on the basketball court are admirable and it’s been fun to see how successful his programs have become at every school he’s been at. But I had the same type of feeling going against coach [Tony] Bennett at Virginia. He’s done an incredible job there and I’ve always really admired him and the way he handles his program and the discipline he instills.
“It’s certainly an honor to go against coaches of that stature, but I don’t put too much into it. I figure out what I can control from a game-planning perspective to put ourselves in the best position to win the game.”
In that regard, the Mountaineers (3-3) figure to benefit more from a slower-paced affair in the Big East-Big 12 Battle as they continue to work through a limited rotation that utilizes seven or eight players.
The Red Storm (4-2) have nine players averaging at last nine minutes over all six games to this point, while 6-foot-7 sophomore RJ Luis Jr. returned from injury to make his season debut last Saturday against Holy Cross and scored 14 points in 16 minutes.
St. John’s has assumed the identity of Pitino, whose teams through the decades are known for full court pressure defense and aspiring to play uptempo.
“He’s certainly going to try to be as physical as possible knowing he has the bodies and probably going to keep the pace as high-paced as possible,” Eilert said. “I’m going to try to do the exact opposite. It’s going to be who can impose their will given their circumstances. I would totally anticipate him turning the pressure up on us and trying to wear us down the best he could.”
West Virginia did not react well to full court pressure from SMU back on November 20 when the Mustangs rallied for a 70-58 victory in the Fort Myers Tip-Off. WVU was outscored by 23 points in the second half of that matchup and finished with 15 turnovers — its second-highest single game total this season.
More than the Mountaineers’ 15 turnovers in that game, they were doomed by 7-for-27 shooting over the final 20 minutes and an inability to play the game at a slower pace.
“We have to learn from that game, because there is a lot of similarities to what we’re going to face against St. John’s,” Eilert said. “In hindsight, coming out of halftime, we kind of got into an up and down battle when we probably didn’t have to. We would break their press, and as a coach, you always want to be in attack mode, and if you have those numbers, you want to try to take advantage of those numbers. We didn’t convert on several occasions where we could’ve probably pulled the ball out, ran some offense and slowed the pace down. We have to be conscious of that and try to learn from our mistakes in the second half against SMU.”
West Virginia enters with a season high of 70 points — a figure the Red Storm have surpassed in five of its six games. St. John’s has scored 90 or more points three times, including consecutive victories with 91 points.
According to kenpom.com, St. John’s is 56th nationally in adjusted tempo with an average of 71.7 possessions per game, while West Virginia is 287th with an average of 66.6 possessions.
“He’s going to keep throwing guys at me and he’s going to keep turning up the pressure when he can,” Eilert said. “We have to be poised and steady. We can’t get rattled. It was the same message against SMU and for the most part, we did a pretty good job with their pressure. It was us not converting when we did have a numbers advantage and making sure when we can control the pace, we don’t fall into that realm of getting up and down when we don’t need to.”
There is a strong element of familiarity with both Pitino and St. Johns’ personnel from WVU forward Quinn Slazinski. Slazinski spent each of the last two seasons playing for Pitino at Iona, and oddly enough began his college career at Louisville, where Pitino had a successful tenure from 2001-2017.
Slazinski signed in April to play at St. John’s, before changing his mind and joining the Mountaineers three months later.
“St. John’s is going to press us from the start. We’ve come up with a plan and been studying it all week of how to release and break that pressure,” Slazinski said. “Their thing is trying not to let you get the ball past half court. We threw in a couple new offenses. This is a big game and it’s important to kind of learn from our past. We were up 11 at SMU and they sped us up in the second half. It was good for us to create a plan, because we know St. John’s is going to be the same way.”
While the Mountaineers would prefer a half court contest against St. John’s, they’ll also need to increase their offensive output.
WVU is averaging 62.7 points, shooting 38 percent overall and less than 30 percent on 125 three-point attempts. Perhaps the most telling statistic is West Virginia’s 73 assists and 74 turnovers.
“You can show them quick shots, not converting when you have numbers and what you’re going to have to face on the defensive end,” Eilert said. “That was a big message coming out of the Bellarmine game. We took a handful of really bad shots early in the clock. Consequently, we were guarding for 30 seconds and giving up an offensive rebound and guarding for another 20.
“You have so little margin for error, especially when you’re fatigued and guarding that long and then somebody breaks down. We have to control the game with our offense. That was the message going into the Bellarmine game. Obviously it didn’t get quite through to them, but if we can learn from those mistakes, be more efficient on the offensive end and be poised with the ball and take care of it, we’ll have a chance.”
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CEDAR GROVE, W.Va. — One person was killed in a single-vehicle crash in eastern Kanawha County Thursday afternoon.
The wreck occurred at around 3 p.m. on Kelleys Creek Road near Big Mountain Road not far from Cedar Grove.
The vehicle went into a nearby creek, authorities said.
The name of the victim wasn’t immediately released.
Senator Shelley Moore Capito says she supports aid to American allies Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan but won’t vote to move ahead with a supplemental appropriation bill unless it also includes significant reforms for United States border policy.
“I’m not gonna vote to let the bill go forward until we have substantive changes at the border because I think this priority is just as high as some of the others,” Capito, R-W.Va., said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline,” referring to the 60-member cloture threshold in the Senate for debate to conclude and move toward passage votes on legislation.
President Joe Biden last month proposed a $106 billion package that includes aid Ukraine and Israel and additional financial support for border security.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has aimed to bring the bundled legislation to the floor by next week. Congressional Republicans have been pushing for U.S.-Mexico border policy changes to halt the flow of migrants.
“The biggest holdup to the national security assistance package right now is the insistence by our Republican colleagues on partisan border policy as a condition for vital Ukraine aid. This has injected a decades old, hyper-partisan issue into overwhelmingly bipartisan priorities,” Schumer stated in a letter to colleagues.
In a Senate Republican press conference earlier this week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the border policy changes are a must.
“I think it’s important for Israel, for Ukraine, for Taiwan — and also to secure the border,” said McConnell, R-Ky.
“I called the president last week to make sure he understood that there wouldn’t be a bill without incredible effort to get on top of our disastrous southern border situation. I hope that made the point because I think on our side I’ve been the most enthusiastic supporter of the underlying bill, but this has to be a part of it. It’s extremely important that it be a part of it.”
Right now, the proposal includes $4.4 billion for the Department of Homeland Security and $3.1 billion for additional Border Patrol agents, asylum officers and processing personnel. It also includes $1.4 billion to help state and local governments with shelter and services for migrants. And the request seeks $1.2 billion in additional funding to boost narcotics detection and interdiction at the border.
Capito has said the bill needs more support for deterrence.
During a briefing today with West Virginia reporters, she reiterated her support for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan. But she described herself as applying leverage to the border security elements of the bill.
“So in order for our national security interests to be served, we have to have a four-prong approach here on a supplemental, which are the four that I mentioned — our own national security at the border, Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan,” Capito said.
She said any bill “must have significant immigration policy changes in there that will affect the actual flow of people coming into our country before I will vote for that — keeping in mind, I support the other provisions of that package. But this is the leverage that I think we can make changes in our immigration policy.”
Capito noted the work of a bipartisan group on immigration, with the involvement of representatives from the White House.
“So I’m not overly optimistic here,” she said, “but I know that in order for this policy to go through with aid of places that I think is exceedingly important, it must have that border policy changes incorporated in it because of the importance to our own national security.”
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ROMNEY, W.Va. — More than two dozen people are charged with being part of a drug ring in the Potomac Highlands and Eastern Panhandle regions of West Virginia.
U.S. Attorney Bill Ihlenfeld announced Thursday 26 people have been indicted by a federal grand jury for the distribution of methamphetamine, fentanyl, and cocaine.
Ihlenfeld appeared with representatives of law enforcement agencies at a Thursday news conference in Romney.
“What was a major drug operation in that part of the state, we’ve disrupted the supply from Pittsburgh to the eastern panhandle,” Ihlenfeld said on MetroNews “Talkline” Thursday. “Hopefully, we’ve put a dent in the problem; obviously, we can’t make it go away with just one roundup.”
Ihlenfeld said Dorian Scott Burks, also known as “Cash,” 28, of Pittsburgh, provided methamphetamine to Andrew Ross Hose, 54, of Berkeley Springs. Then Hose and others redistributed methamphetamine, as well as fentanyl and cocaine, in Hampshire, Morgan, and Berkeley counties.
Officers seized drugs, guns and money during their investigation.
“It’s a good day in places like Romney, Berkley Springs, and Bunker Hill to be able to identify these people and get them in handcuffs,” Ihlenfeld said. “I anticipate getting them federal convictions, some time in prison, and supervised release on the other side.”
Ihlenfeld said the drugs are coming from the southern border of the United States, and in many cases, they are manufactured in Mexico using precursors from China.
“The highest level we could get in this particular investigation was someone from Pittsburgh and that’s not unusual in cases where we bring someone to a major city like Pittsburgh, Columbus, Cleveland, or Baltimore,” Ihlenfeld said.
Suspects from Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia were charged with drug trafficking for assisting Burkes and Hose in the indictment.
“Then you have people below them that are less sophisticated and more in it to make a few bucks and supply their own habit, so there are verying levels,” Ihlenfeld said.
The investigation was conducted by the Potomac Highlands Drug Task Force, which is comprised of members from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the West Virginia State Police, the Hampshire County Sheriff’s Office, the Mineral County Sheriff’s Office, the Hardy County Sheriff’s Office, the Grant County Sheriff’s Office, and the Keyser Police Department. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and the Berkeley County and Hampshire County Prosecuting Attorney’s Offices assisted.
Those indicted include:
John William Malcolm, 56, of Huntington, West Virginia
Alexis Mary Walsh, 29, of Verona, Pennsylvania
Stephen Michael Leeper, also known as “Pee Wee,” 59, of High View, West Virginia
Andrew Scott Sager, 54, of Berkeley Springs
Teresa Danielle Pyles, also known as “Tree,” 29, of Romney
Whitney Lynn Mathias, 34, of Cross Junction, Virginia
Hailey Lynn Oliff, 27, of Keyser
Marilynn Hope Baker, 26, of Shanks
Michael Lee Ramsbottom, 67, of Berkeley Springs
Shaylyn Boutilier, 32, of Romney
James Palmer Hodge, also known as “Jimmy,” 52, of Shanks
Gary Lee Whetzel, 61, of Berkeley Springs
Phyllis Susan Forbes, 37, of Romney
Sathira Ewers, 41, of Purgitsville
Lance Reed King, 48, of Berkeley Springs
Bobby Dillon, 38, of Hedgesville
Michael Steven Manzie, 37, of Cross Junction, Virginia
Bradley Allen Lopp, 34, of Bunker Hill
Jacobe Wesley Goforth, 29, of Martinsburg
Eric Keith Turner, 37, of Winchester, Virginia
Kyle Andrew Sensel, 23, of Falling Waters
Amy Nicole Mayhew, 35, of Falling Waters
Kelly Mills, 34, of Middletown, Virginia
Lottie Broadway, 23, of Martinsburg
Six former West Virginia corrections officers have been indicted in the beating death of Quantez Burks, a pretrial defendant at Southern Regional Jail, in a “blind spot” not monitored by a surveillance system after he was restrained, handcuffed and in the custody of multiple officers.
Five of the officers are accused of playing direct roles in his death, depriving Burks of his civil rights, while another is accused of taking part in a coverup.
The six corrections officers join two others who already pleaded guilty earlier this month to depriving Burks of his rights. So a total of eight corrections officers have now been implicated the actions surrounding his beating death at the jail.
“We have no tolerance for abuse of any kind to be inflicted on inmates that are housed in our state facilities and we are committed to the safety, quality of life, and to the well being of those in the care of the legal system in our state,” stated Mark Sorsaia, secretary of the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security.
Burks, 37, had only been in jail 24 hours. He had been arrested Feb. 28, 2022, and charged with wanton endangerment and obstructing an officer, allegations related to discharging a firearm at his home during an argument. He died March 1.
The central allegation is that after Burks tried to push past a corrections officer and leave the jail’s C-pod, officers restrained him in handcuffs and beat him in an interview room. The indictment alleges the officers forcibly walked him to the interview room that was already occupied by an inmate, who was ordered to leave.
The officers then repeatedly struck and assaulted Burks, the indictment alleges, before forcibly walking him to another location known as the A-pod and he collapsed on the floor. Even after that, the indictment alleges, the beatings continued.
After Burks was at first reported to have died of natural causes, his family pushed for their own autopsy that revealed a heart attack brought on by blunt force trauma.
Sorsaia said state officials alerted federal investigators to the situation at the jail.
“Under the law those charged with crimes are entitled to a full adjudication by our courts according to the Constitution. We will continue to provide full transparency and cooperation to law enforcement in this matter,” Sorsaia said. “Furthermore, we continue to extend our deepest sympathies to those who are grieving the loss of a loved one.”
The Burks case has been a major aspect of ongoing concern about conditions at the jail. Thirteen deaths were reported over a year’s time at Southern Regional Jail in Beaver, Raleigh County. A class action lawsuit was filed last fall over conditions at the jail and then settled earlier this month for $4 million.
The new grand jury indictment alleges that guards retaliated against Burks for an attempt to leave his assigned pod and then tried to cover up what happened.
Five former correctional officers — Mark Holdren, 39; Cory Snyder, 29; Johnathan Walters, 35; Jacob Boothe, 25; and Ashley Toney, 23 — have been charged in connection with an assault on Burks, identified in the court filing only by his initials.
All five correctional officers, as well as a former lieutenant, Chad Lester, 33, were also charged for covering up the use of unlawful force.
They join corrections officers Andrew Fleshman, 21, and Steven Nicholas Wimmer, 24, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the rights of citizens during a hearing on Nov. 2. Fleshman and Wimmer are scheduled for sentencing Feb. 22 and face up to 10 years in prison.
A component of their plea is agreement that they would cooperate with additional aspects of a federal investigation.
The grand jury indictment alleges that the day Burks died, Holdren, Snyder and Walters conspired with other officers to use unlawful force against him. The indictment further alleges that Holdren, Snyder and Walters struck and injured him while he was restrained and handcuffed, and that Boothe and Toney failed to intervene in the unlawful assault, resulting in his death.
The indictment alleges that all six defendants conspired to cover up the use of unlawful force by omitting material information and providing false and misleading information to investigators. The indictment also charges each defendant individually with engaging in misleading conduct toward another person to hinder, delay or prevent the communication of information of the possible commission of a federal offense.
The indictment alleges that Walters, Holdren, and Boothe submitted incident reports that contained false and misleading information, as well as omitted the fact that officers had assaulted Burks. The indictment also charges Lester, Holdren, Snyder, Toney and Boothe with making false statements to the FBI about the circumstances surrounding his death.
The maximum penalties are life in prison for each of the civil rights offenses, five years in prison for each of the false statement offenses, and twenty years in prison for each of the remaining offenses.
Earlier this month, after former jail guards Fleshman and Wimmer pleaded guilty to depriving Burks of his rights, the former inmate’s mother said more consequences would come.
Kimberly Burks, in statements outside the federal courthouse in Beckley, described a frenzy of group behavior at the jail.
“They act as a pack,” Burks said. “This is an ongoing investigation. It is not over. This is just the beginning. Nick Wimmer and Andrew Fleshman have been found guilty of conspiracy today. They are guilty.
“Based on their participation, the weakest link out of the whole crew, they all will get time and they are all going down.”
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