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Relative charged in teen’s murder
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Authorities update case with juvenile suspect 

When Johnny’s body was discovered July 18 in a shallow grave in a hard-to-reach wooded area near where he was staying, the Hampshire County Sheriff’s Office said a suspect had been identified and a 16-year-old relative of Johnny’s had been charged with burglary, but did not link the 2.

On Monday, Sheriff Nathan Sions said the male juvenile initially charged with “unrelated crimes” was later charged with the murder.

“Newly elected Prosecutor Rebecca Miller is moving the case forward,” Sions said. “This was an isolated incident and there is no reason to believe any further danger exists in this immediate area related to this crime.”

He said no further information can be released on the case because the defendant is a juvenile.

Johnny’s adoptive father, Angel Jaquez, confirmed in an interview with local television in Hartford, Conn. in late July that a relative was involved.

“It’s a family-related person so you have to balance your emotions and things and maybe not — it’s hard,” he told WFSB, a CBS affiliate.

Reporting in Hartford-area media said his adoptive parents, Angel and Janis Jaquez, sent him to Hampshire County as the Covid-19 pandemic spread because so many members of Johnny’s family in Connecticut work in healthcare.

Johnny arrived here in March to stay with his aunt, a high school teacher, and her 6 children, another aunt, Elizabeth Adams, told the Hartford Courant. Johnny studied remotely from here to graduate 8th grade from King Philip Middle School in West Hartford last spring.

He was reported missing early on July 12 after he was last seen the night before.

Nearly a week after the 5-foot-6, 92-pounder disappeared from the Golden Acres home where he was staying, his remains were found nearby.

Golden Acres lies east of Augusta and north of U.S. 50 off North River Road.

The state’s chief medical examiner said the teen died of a single gunshot wound to his head and ruled the case a homicide.

Johnny was memorialized as remarkable youngster. He studied Chinese for 3 years. He had traveled to Italy, Sweden, Peru, Colombia, Spain, France and England.

He loved basketball, playing on a championship rec league team a year ago, and harboring hopes of playing sports at Hall High School in West Hartford, which he would have started at in the fall.

The teen had spent much of his early childhood in foster homes, relatives told the Hartford newspaper. The Jaquezes adopted him before he reached school age.

“He was so loving,” a cousin, Evan Adams said. “Other than eating, he loved to laugh.”

Further comment on the case from Sions or Miller is unlikely because West Virginia law goes to great lengths to protect the identities of juveniles.

Miller’s office has made no statement on the case and neither did her predecessor, Betsy K. Plumer, who left office Jan. 1 after deciding not to pursue election. Plumer was appointed prosecutor in September 2017.

Details could emerge if the circuit court rules that the teen can be tried as an adult.

Angel Jaquez said in August that he thought the possibility existed of moving the case out of the juvenile justice system because “the crime was so gruesome,” but offered no further details.

Fentanyl killed 9 in 2020
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Fentanyl played a part in 9 of 11 overdose deaths in Hampshire County last year.

Drugs were once again the county’s leading cause of sudden deaths — not brought on by disease or natural causes — in 2020.

By last week the Hampshire County Clerk’s office had recorded 251 deaths for 2020. That’s on par with 2019’s total of 253, but well above the 165 filed by around this time of year for 2018 and 173 for 2017.

Death certificates from 2020 will continue to trickle into the clerk’s office for months, particularly any that required autopsies or come from out-of-state.

A new cause of death, Covid-19, was recorded on 5 certificates filed so far for 2020.

The 2 biggest killers remain heart disease and cancer.

Heart attacks, heart failure, coronary artery disease and related illnesses claimed 73 Hampshire County lives in 2020.

Lung cancer (15) was the leading type of cancers in the county last year. In all, 56 people here died of some form of cancer.

Sudden deaths came to 26 people — 11 from overdoses, 8 from traffic or ATV accidents, 3 by falling, 2 suicides and 1 each of murder, drowning and exposure.

The OD victims ranged in age from 28 to 56. Nearly all occurred in their own homes.

Fentanyl can kill within minutes, before emergency responders can arrive and inject Narcan, an antidote for opiates. Merely touching the synthetic drug can result in death.

The vehicle accidents included a pair on ATVs in the spring and a motorcycle accident.

Two of the people who died after falling were women in their 90s. The 3rd was a man in his 50s who the death certificate noted had a history of chronic alcohol abuse.

Other causes of death included 21 from COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), 6 by strokes, 19 from the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease,

Nine people were listed as having died of natural causes.

After 13 weeks, HHS reopens
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The spread of Covid-19 slowed enough and the weather finally cooperated enough that the high school could reopen its doors for the 1st time since Nov. 17, also a Tuesday.

“I felt like a freshman this morning, all nervous and excited,” said principal Mike Dufrene. “It’s just awesome to have them back. I was out when the buses were arriving, and everyone seemed like they were ready to get off the bus and back in the building.”

The county improved to Orange Status on the state’s 5-color map tracking the pandemic’s spread on Sunday after being the state’s only red county the previous 2 days.

That shift out of red allowed high school students to rejoin their younger brothers and sisters in class after the long, long interlude of remote instruction only.

“It feels great, blessed to be back and hopefully getting on the hardwood soon,” junior Zack Hillsaid.

The return to class meant practice could begin for the winter sports season as well Tuesday.

“It’s so great to be back on the court again with my Hampshire Trojan family,” senior basketball player Lainee Selan said. “Can’t wait to bond again with all the girls. This is where the rubber meets the road.”

Gov. Jim Justice last month ordered schools to reopen for grades 8 and under regardless of color status and for high schools to be in attendance if the status was anything but red.

Since then Hampshire has had half its younger students in class on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other half on Wednesdays and Thursdays. All students are instructed remotely on Fridays.

School would have been in session on Monday at HHS, but overnight freezing rain kept buses off the road and the entire county was on remote instruction.

With more potential winter weather on the way, Dufrene wants to make sure communication channels stay open for families, students and staff.

“We want our kids back fully,” he added. “I want to know their biggest challenges and struggles with remote (learning). We need that constant communication, at the very least once a week.”

The school board will revisit the AB schedule at next Monday’s meeting, which was postponed from this week because of the weather.

They are considering 3 options: keeping the AB schedule completely, staying AB except for students who are at risk of failing going to a 4-1 schedule (4 days in person with virtual Fridays) or picking a future date for everyone to go back to the 4-1 schedule.

Justice: Start eliminating income tax
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Hampshire County’s Ruth Rowan, the ranking Republican delegate, escorted Gov. Jim Justice into the joint session of the House of Delegates and State Senate.

“I had the honor of introducing Governor Justice for the State of the State address,” Rowan said.

Justice outlined his plan for cutting the income tax in half for most earners in his fifth address at the state Capitol. Lawmakers opened a 60-day session at the statehouse last Wednesday.

Fully eliminating the tax would cut nearly half of the state’s budget, or about $2.15 billion. Nine states do not currently have a state income tax, and the idea of joining that group is an enticing proposition for West Virginia Republicans who believe it will spur economic investment in the state.

But Justice said the proposal initially would only cut the state income tax by half for everyone except “the super highest earners,” who would see a reduction by one-third.

“You take one bite of the elephant at a time,” he said.

Additional details of Justice’s proposal weren’t immediately available, but he said he did not want to “cut to the bone,” and instead wants to find new revenue sources.

“I think what we’re going to have to do, that’s going to hit the everyday man, is we’re going to have to raise sales taxes by 1.5% if we’re going to eliminate our income tax,” Justice said. He did not specify how much taxes on tobacco and soda would go up, which he said was also aimed at “trying to make us healthier.”

The state soda tax of a penny for a 16.9-ounce bottle has not increased since it was implemented in 1951, and the tax on cigarettes last went up to $1.20 per pack in 2016.

He also did not detail his wealth tax. He said it would be “miniscule” and target “those that are very, very well-to-do, that can pay just a little bit extra.”

Earlier on Wednesday, budget officials said West Virginia’s revenues were mostly unchanged from last March, thanks to federal pandemic aid, low interest rates and tax collections faring better than what was worst feared. The federal government’s stimulus checks are thought to have boosted sales tax revenue.

But revenue from personal income and corporate taxes slightly fell, and the motor fuel tax that funds state road projects collected 17.5% less than the previous year.

The state’s rainy-day funds, combining to be over $900 million, are untapped in the proposed budget totaling $4.56 billion.

Vaccines up, infections down
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The improving conditions that sent Hampshire High School back to class Tuesday for the 1st time in 3 months are breathing relief into a healthcare system strained for 11 months by Covid-19.

 Vaccines were administered to 319 county residents last week by the Health Department and its partners Hampshire Memorial Hospital, E.A. Hawse, and the county’s EMS and Office of Emergency Management.

As that number climbs, other vital statistics surrounding the virus are dropping.

Just 4 cases were confirmed Monday, bringing the county’s active total to 33. That’s the lowest active caseload since the 1st week of November. Four people are hospitalized.

The net effect has been to move the county from red to orange status on the state’s 5-color map tracking the virus.

The county’s infection rate — the number of positive cases per 100,000 population — dropped from 25.89 on Saturday to 16.03 on Sunday, well below the red threshold of 25.

The positivity rate — the percentage of tests that indicate the virus — fell past the red threshold of 8 percent as well, dropping from 8.25 on Saturday to 5.86 Sunday.

The numbers continued to improve Monday and Tuesday.

Since the pandemic erupted last March, Hampshire County has had 1,515 confirmed cases and 27 deaths.

The County Health Department confirmed 2 deaths over the weekend, bringing its total in line with a number the state had posted for a week.

“The death count has increased by 2 due to the state determining 2 deaths to be considered Covid-related,” the Health Department posted on Facebook Saturday. “The deaths were not reported to the local health department.”

They were a 75-year-old man from Rio who died on Dec. 21 and a 95-year-old woman from Romney who died on Christmas Eve.

Another Covid-related death with Hampshire ties occurred Saturday when 1990 HHS grad Delmar Dean Jr. lost his months-long battle with the disease in the Northern Panhandle

Dean was the 2nd state correctional officer to die from the disease.

Gov. Jim Justice announced Dean’s death Monday, a somber note amid good news statewide in the battle against Covid-19.

The number of active cases in West Virginia has declined for 30 straight days as 391,186 doses of vaccine have been administered in clinics being held in all 55 counties of the Mountain State.

West Virginia continues to lead the nation in the percentage of vaccine received that has been administered.

The statewide registration system for the vaccine has been used by more than 250,000 people.

“We need you to continue to pre-register,” Justice implored. Vaccines are available to any West Virginian age 65 or older.

Cicadas to return in spring
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It’s time for the cicadas to return to Hampshire County.

This “brood” of cicadas is Brood X (10), which last emerged in 2004. This spring will see a return of Brood X on the East Coast, from Delaware to Georgia, Indiana to Kentucky and, of course, West Virginia.

“I think they’re coming,” said Bill Pownell with the Division of Forestry’s Romney office. “They skip around so much. We have ’em all over the state at different times.”

The Eastern Panhandle will be seeing these insects in full this spring; Berkeley, Grant, Hampshire, Hardy, Jefferson, Mineral and Morgan counties, in particular.

There are actually 3 cicada species that emerge every 17 years. The WV Extension Service notes that these species are only found in eastern North America.

These periodical cicadas spend most of their life cycle underground, feeding on the roots of deciduous trees, and when they’re developed into their 17th year, they emerge from the soil.

When can Hampshire County expect to see (and hear) cicadas this spring?

Cicadas emerge from the ground when the soil temperature reaches about 64 degrees. Generally, this giant dirt exodus happens in mid-May, and the insects die off by late June. The emergence itself will only last a few days, and usually 1st occurs at dusk.

In their 1st 24 hours above-ground, cicadas flock to the trees and begin their deafening calls which can approach 100 decibels (almost the intensity of a chain saw), emanating from the males in their attempt to attract mates.

Something to look forward to this spring.

Cicadas may cause harm to woody plants during their egg-laying process, where they slice into branches to drop their eggs. This can result in the tips of the branches to wither in a condition called “flagging.” This generally occurs in trees with longer branches as opposed to small, bushy plants. Though “flagging” branches might be less picturesque when it comes to the landscape, there isn’t much evidence that cicadas actually are a long-term threat to plant and tree life.

They don’t harm people either, the WVU Extension Service points out. They don’t bite or sting humans or their pets.

Though long-term harm to plant life isn’t likely, there are still some ways you can prepare for Brood X to make their home in Hampshire this spring.

Studies show insecticides to cicada-proof trees might not be the best avenue. Netting the trees with mesh blocks cicadas from laying eggs on tree-branches results in the least amount of damage, said Michael J. Raupp with the Tree Care Industry Magazine. If you determine which of your trees are at most risk for potential cicada damage, you can prepare accordingly for spring to arrive.