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Brooke County officials leading investigation after body pulled from Ohio River

MINGO JUNCTION, Oh. — The Brooke County Sheriff’s Department is leading the investigation after a body was pulled from the Ohio River near Jefferson County, Ohio on Tuesday.

After being pulled from the water into a rescue boat from Wellsburg, the body was identified as missing person Sabrina Hicks, 48 of Steubenville, Ohio, WTOV-9 reported.

Along with the Brooke County Sheriff’s Department, the Jefferson County (Ohio) Sheriff’s Office, and police in Mingo Junction are helping with the investigation.

Hicks had been missing since November 13. Her body will be sent to the state medical examiner’s office for an autopsy.

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With running back Constant out of the picture, where will WVU turn?

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia’s 2020 football recruiting class suffered a jolt over the weekend when running back Lamy Constant announced on Twitter that he was opening up his commitment.

Constant, previously a four-star recruit, had committed to the Mountaineers just a month prior and was seen as one of the biggest fish in Neal Brown’s first signing class.

Thank you for the love. Unfortunately there was miscommunication and a misunderstanding on both my part and the coaches. I thank them for their interest and the WV fans for their love.

— Lamy S. Constant (@ConstantLamy20) December 8, 2019

Multiple sources have indicated that the decision to move on was mutual, and indeed more on West Virginia’s end. Among other factors, dropped Constant to a three-star prospect following an underwhelming senior season.

As a junior, Constant ran for 1,087 yards and 11 touchdowns in 10 games. His production dropped off considerably this year, when he rushed for 422 yards and four touchdowns in seven games according to New York City’s Public Schools Athletic League website.

Specifics aside, an important reality remains: the Mountaineers are down to 14 commits with early signing day looming on Dec. 18, and are now in the market for a running back.

Brown alluded to West Virginia’s need at the position in his season-ending press conference last Friday.

“We’ve got to do a better job finishing runs at running back,” Brown said. “We have to do better in space at running back. We can get a little better than that. But we’ve got to recruit guys that can compete for playing time. The more competition you have in the room, the more push there is to get everyone better. We’ve got to get some bigger, more explosive guys in that room.”

At the moment, the spotlight is primarily on junior college running back La’Damian Webb. Webb is a freshman at Jones (Miss.) Junior College. The 5-foot-8, 195-pound back signed with Mississippi State in December 2017, but as reported by Rivals’ Keenan Cummings he did not qualify because his ACT score was flagged.

Webb had 940 rushing yards for 10 touchdowns and 151 receiving yards for two touchdowns in nine games this season and was named a second team NJCAA all-American.

He was undoubtedly on the radar yet out of reach for Brown’s Troy coaching staff when he was in high school, where he was named Alabama Mr. Football at Beauregard High in Opelika, Ala.

As a junior, Webb rushed for 359 yards and five touchdowns in Alabama’s Class 5A state championship game — both state records. His video-game numbers for that season added up to 3,242 yards and 47 touchdowns on 311 carries.

West Virginia’s ace-in-the-hole in Webb’s recruitment is defensive line coach Jordan Lesley, who spent five seasons coaching at Mississippi junior colleges and remains well-connected in the region.

However, Webb is not expected to make his decision until February’s signing day. He took an official visit to Ole Miss this weekend despite the fact new coach Lane Kiffin had yet to arrive in Oxford as the Rebels’ new head coach or assemble a full coaching staff. To this point, that has been Webb’s only official visit.

Based on West Virginia’s list of uncommitted running back offers, things could get a bit dicey should the Mountaineers miss on Webb in February. If that ends up being the case, the NCAA transfer portal may become the most likely means for adding to a position of need next season.

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West Virginia businesses honored for exporting to new countries

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — More than two dozen West Virginia companies and many more individuals working for those companies were honored Tuesday at the state Capitol for successfully exporting to a new country in 2018.

The honorees received the Governor’s Commendation for International Market Entry Award inside the Governor’s Reception Room on the West Wing of the Capitol.

State Commerce Secretary Ed Gaunch told the crowd that he has learned a lot from these businesses over the past year.

“I never go into a business that I don’t come away learning something. All of my business cards have my cell number on it, people call me. I am constantly getting remarks, comments, and suggestions on how we can make things better,” Gaunch said.

26 companies received awards, 10 for the first-time, including Doc’s Tea in Inwood, Mountaineer Brand in Martinsburg, American Muscle Docks and Fabrication in Wellsburg, Blue Ink Technology in Huntington, Chestnut Hill Candle in Chester, The Homer Laughlin China in Newell, J&M Industrial in Millwood, Constellium Rolled Products in Ravenswood, and Mustang Sampling in Ravenswood.

Schonstedt Instrument in Kearneysville, DRK Studios in St. Albans, Industrial Bolting Technologies in Charleston, JQ Dickinson Salt-Works in Charleston, and Preiset Scientific in St. Albans, Athena Sciences Corp in Fairmont, ND Paper in Fairmont, Best Business Strategies in Glen Dale, APG Polytech in Apple Grove, Sport Outfitters in Williamson, IstoVisio in Morgantown, Caperton Furnitureworks in Berkeley Springs, Direct Online Marketing in Wheeling, MEDI-KAL Resources Inc. in Wheeling, TROY Group in Wheeling, Wheeling Truck Centers in Wheeling, and Multicoat Products in Fraziers Bottom all received awards.

VIEW: Individual and company award winners

A total of 77 countries were represented, a release said. Five countries appeared as markets for West Virginia companies for the first time: Vanuatu, Somalia, Lesotho, Central African Republic, and Liechtenstein. Countries that were the most frequent market destinations included Australia, Canada, Poland, Singapore, and the United Kingdom.

Each company received a framed piece of currency from each new country to which the business began exporting, the West Virginia Development Office said. The presentation is based on the tradition of displaying the first dollar a business earns.

“According to the numbers I have been given, since 2002, there have been 2,200 awards presented to 169 companies who have sold products to 188 countries around the world,” Gov. Jim Justice’s Chief of Staff, Mike Hall said at the ceremony.

“On behalf of the governor, I thank you and I congratulate you.”

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Bonus photo gallery #2: Martinsburg claims 8th title in 10 years

WHEELING, W.Va. — Photo gallery from Martinsburg’s 49-21 win over Cabell Midland in the Class AAA state championship game.

(Photos courtesy of Christopher C. Davis/@EP_BigCameraGuy)

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Stollings says “getting arms around” opioid epidemic key to state’s future

MADISON, W.Va. — State Senator Ron Stollings says if elected governor he would establish the Governor’s Office of Substance Abuse to serve as a clearinghouse for funding and programs to battle the ongoing opioid epidemic.

Stollings, during an appearance Tuesday on MetroNews “Talkline,” said such an office could help point the state’s response in the right direction.

“We’re getting a lot of federal funding being kicked out into particularly these federally qualified health centers, use that to the degree you can,” Stollings said. “Any settlement dollars have to be used wisely and in some cases it needs to be held back in a future fund because we really don’t know what’s going to happen to these children.”

Stollings said he’s very concerned to children who have been impacted by drugs at birth. Those associated with neonatal abstinence syndrome.

“If we don’t spend money early on in these children’s lives and these grand-families who we need to support then we’re not going to have enough money at the end of the system, such as jail costs and societal costs,” Stollings said. “Less invest early up front. It can potentially save you money down the line.”

Senator Ron Stollings, Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate, talks with @HoppyKercheval about his plan on dealing with West Virginia’s drug issue. WATCH:

— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) December 10, 2019

The legislature created the state Office of Drug Control Policy in a bill in passed in April 2017. The office is under the state Department of Health and Human Resources. It’s responsible for providing administrative support and funding to combating substance abuse, as well as collect crime and overdose data.

Stollings, a 34-year practicing physician in Boone County, has focused his campaign on the opioid response. In a new television ad, Stollings says the state can’t move forward “unless we get our arms around this opioid disorder.”

Stollings said state lawmakers have taken some steps in recent years to address the epidemic including limiting the prescription of opioids and given primary care physicians more opportunity to help with long-term treatment but he said more should be done. He said he wants to take what has worked in places like Huntington and Martinsburg to communities statewide.

When asked Tuesday if he has ever over-prescribed opioids, Stollings said doctors didn’t know what they currently know.

“I think in general everyone (doctors) tended to be a little too liberal but that’s 20-20 hindsight,” he said. “Back in those days we were told, ‘Look if they’re taking it for pain and not for a buzz you have a very slight chance of being addicted,’ now we know different.”

Stollings said substance use disorder is a disease and the stigma that comes with it should be eliminated.

“Most people that have been around this a long time, folks at WVU and Marshall, folks who get it absolutely agree with me on that,” Stollings said.

Stollings is one of several candidates who plan on seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for governor in next May’s primary election. Other announced Democrats include Stephen Smith, Jody Murphy and Ben Salango.

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Cabell sheriff welcomes plans for new I-64 exit near Culloden

CULLODEN, W.Va. –Cabell County Sheriff Chuck Zerkle is among those who like the idea of a new Culloden exit on Interstate 64.

Zerkle, who formerly served as the chief of police in Milton, is well aware of the congestion created at the Milton and Hurricane exits during peak traffic hours. The Culloden exit, which would be split between the two, would likely eliminate a lot of the congestion.

“I believe it’s going to benefit Hurricane and Putnam County as much as it is Cabell,” Zerkle told MetroNews Tuesday. “You lean one side you’re in Putnam County and you lean the other side you’re in our county. I don’t see how it could do anything but help.”

The state Division of Highways held a public meeting Monday with maps of proposed options for the exit. The tentative plan would create a diamond-shaped exit near Benedict Road that would go into a a three-lane connector between I-64 and U.S. Route 60.

There are six miles between the Milton (exit 34) and Hurricane (exit 28) exits.

“A lot of people get off at Hurricane to go back toward Teays Valley and then a lot get off at Hurricane just to come back toward Milton. It will be a win -win for everyone,” he said.

The DOH is working through a preliminary environmental study. Once approved it could move to the next phase next spring. Officials estimated the exit would require the relocation of about 10 homes in the Culloden community.

Interstate 64 between Charleston and Huntington is the busiest stretch of interstate in the state.

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Annual Marshall football toy drive set for Saturday

BARBOURSVILLE, W.Va. — The Marshall football team is set to continue its tradition of giving back to the community during the holiday season.

The annual toy drive, that has happened since Coach Doc Holliday began, is at the Walmart in Barboursville on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The goal of the drive is to fill the Herd’s equipment truck with toys that will go towards kids in need in the tri-state area.

“There’s a lot of kids in the tri-state area and throughout the state of West Virginia that struggle to get what they need. This gives us a chance to put a smile on their face,” Holliday said on Tuesday’s MetroNews ‘Talkline.’

The entire team is slated to be there to help holiday shoppers and children look for the perfect gifts. In recent years, the team stuffed the equipment truck with over $30,000 worth of toys. Anyone that donates to the toy drive can earn raffle tickets to be entered to win special prizes.

Holliday said his team enjoy the event partly because some of them grew up less fortunate.

“They woke up at Christmas sometimes and didn’t have a whole lot there. They have a true understanding of what it means at Christmas when you don’t have a whole lot. So for them to go out and provide for somebody else, they enjoy it,” Holiday said.

.@DOCMUFB, coach of @HerdFB, joins @HoppyKercheval to discuss the Marshall gift drive and the Gasparilla Bowl game against UCF. WATCH:

— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) December 10, 2019

Holliday said that nearly all the toys go to children in local communities and around the state of West Virginia. As tradition, the team will bring a few down to Florida for their bowl game on December 23. The team does an annual trip to a children’s hospital in the city hosting its bowl game.

Marshall plays against Central Florida on December 23 at 2 p.m. in the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa Bay, Florida at Raymond James Stadium.

The game will be broadcasted on ESPN.

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Generation West Virginia launches year four of Impact Fellowship program

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Generation West Virginia has opened its application process for the fourth year of the ever-growing Impact Fellowship program.

On Tuesday, officials from the organization announced 21 positions with 12 Host Employers across the state for 2020. The Impact Fellowship program is aimed at attracted and retaining young professionals to jobs around the state.

“The program is working to connect people with the kinds of career opportunities they need to stay in West Virginia, come home to the Mountain State or choose to move here for the first time,” Natalie Roper, Generation WV Executive Director told MetroNews.

The program has continued to expand from its roots of seven positions with five host companies in its first year in 2017. Since then, the program has generated 53 full-time fellowship job positions.

Cristin Dolan, a 2019-20 Impact Fellow is in one of those positions as a Staff Scientist/Technician in the Geo-Environmental Group. Dolan, a recent WVU graduate from Wheeling, works for the TERRADON Corporation in Poca and spoke about the program on Tuesday.

“I never would have found this job and be where I am without the fellowship,” she told MetroNews. “TERRADON is just not a corporation that was on my radar during graduation. Now I am so thankful to be where I am because I am learning unique skillsets that will take me far in where I’d like to go in my career.”

Host companies for year four of the program include Alpha Technologies, American Benefit Corporation, Arnett Carbis Toothman LLP, Core 10, green Bank Observatory, Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, McKinley Architecture, and Engineering, Pendleton Community Bank, TC Energy, TERRADON, United Bank, and the West Virginia Advocacy Network.

Dolan said she works to apply engineering principals to a variety of geologic and engineering projects. “My background being chemical engineering really lends well to the environmental side of things where I can really lean into the different environmental projects,” she said.

APPLY: Impact Fellowship Program

There have been positions from architecture and engineering to software development, cybersecurity, energy, and the environment, Roper said. She added it varies year-to-year because Generation West Virginia works with employers to fill needs.

“Some years we’ve had more business positions than engineering or a copywriting position versus a research and analysis position. It really varies year to year because we work closely with employers to identify what hiring gaps they have and work to fill the needs,” Roper told MetroNews.

During a fellowship year, Impact Fellows work four days a week with their Host Employer and spend each Friday volunteering at a local nonprofit organization in the state. Roper credits the Volunteer Fridays as a reason behind the program’s 100-percent retention rate.

The press conference at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center marked the beginning of the Phase 1 application period that ends on February 9. From there, applicants are cut down to begin a more extensive interview process that includes a video.

Each position is a minimum salary of $31,000 and includes benefits. Since launching in January of 2017, the program has received nearly 800 applications.

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West Virginia grower reports ‘ample supply’ as Christmas tree season continues

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — At the age of 82, a Christmas tree grower in Braxton County tells MetroNews has no plans to get out of the holiday greenery business.

“I should have enough trees to last for at least ten more years if I don’t plant anything else,” said Ed Grafton, owner of Berry Fork Enterprises which is located in Heaters.

“But we’re planning on putting in another group of trees this spring. We usually plant about 3,500 to 4,000 trees and figure about a third of them will make it to Christmas tree size.”

Grafton planted his first tree on the property in 1973.

By the 1990s, it was one of more than 300 Christmas tree farms operating in West Virginia.

That number, though, has continued to fall since then, according to information from the West Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association.

Like many, Grafton can only watch the decline.

“I think there’s a shortage of finding trees, at least in this state, primarily attributed to the fact that there are so few growers now,” he said.

“There are probably about 20 counties in the state where there are no growers at all and most counties only have one grower.”

For the past couple of years, there have been reports of tree shortages nationwide.

One cited reason was fewer plantings during the years around the 2008 recession.

It can take up to ten years for a tree to grow to six to nine feet tall.

“Despite a tight supply, there will be a real tree for everyone who wants one in 2019,” Tim O’Conner, executive director of the National Christmas Tree Association, told NBC last month.

Data from the National Christmas Tree Association showed growers nationally sold 5 million more trees in 2018 than in 2017 at an average price of around $75.

Last year, 28 percent of real trees were purchased at choose and cut farms, like Berry Fork Enterprises, while the same percentage were bought at large chain stores, survey results showed.

A list of remaining choose and cut Christmas tree locations in West Virginia was available in the state Division of Forestry’s 2019 Christmas Tree Book which was posted HERE.

Grafton was not concerned about a shortage.

“I think we’ll have an ample supply to get us through the season,” he said.

Grafton used to do some wholesale tree sales, but now only offers choose and cut tree sales at his Heaters property from Friday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., during the holiday season.

Hours have been reduced from past daily operations partly because Grafton has been recovering from a heart attack.

He was predicting Norway spruce trees would be the most popular for his customers this December, though demand had been high for White Pine and Canaan fir trees as well.

“I personally get a real kick out of meeting families and helping them get something that they will enjoy the season with. That keeps me going,” he said when asked about his longevity in the Christmas tree business.

“That’s the fun part of it, to get the kids out there to run around and find the tree that they want to take home with them.”

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Moore: Jump Start Savings Plan could be a boost for W.Va.

MORGANTOWN – For some time, 529 college savings plans have been a way save money for the numerous expenses associated with earning a college degree. However, no such savings plan exists for the recent community college and technical school graduate who may be looking to start their own business or pursue additional certifications or training.

At least not yet.

Republican candidate for West Virginia Treasurer, Riley Moore, is proposing to institute such a program if elected to office.

“You can buy books and computers with a college savings account, why can’t we prepare our working class folks here, our blue-collar workforce here in West Virginia the tools to succeed?” Moore said during a guest appearance on Talk of the Town with Dave & Sarah on WAJR-AM.

Listen to “Dave & Sarah | December 10, 2019” on Spreaker.

According to Moore, the program would mirror the current Smart 529 College Savings Plan. Under that program, individuals and family members can save and invest pre-tax money to be put toward college eductions. What Moore is proposing is provide a similar savings account but instead of later using the money to pay for tuition or books, use the money to pay for equipment, licenses, certifications and other necessary expenditures associated with an individuals chosen field.

While the actual cost of attending a community and technical college can be covered by the state, Riley asserts the hidden costs of entering a skilled trade remain a hindrance for many West Virginians.

“When I was going through my first line of work as a welder, one of the things that was a road block to realizing some of my dreams as a tradesmen and going out on my own to start my own business was the cost of some of the equipment,” Moore said.

Moore is confident the plan would help spur small business in the state and be a boost to the labor unions in West Virginia.

“And it’s going to allow West Virginia to lead. There are no other states in the county doing this right now. I’ve talked to a number of national level state treasurers’ organizations and they love the idea. This is an opportunity for West Virginia to be a leader in how we are preparing our workforce for the future.”

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