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Forensics back in murder trial
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ROMNEY — Long-stalled movement toward trying an Augusta teen accused of killing his cousin lurched into gear at a preliminary hearing last week.

Austin Holmes-Evans is charged with 1st-degree murder in the July 2020 death of 14-year-old Johnny Adams, but prospects for a trial have been delayed again and again as prosecutors awaited the return of forensic evidence from West Virginia’s state crime lab.

Friday afternoon, Prosecutor Rebecca Miller was able to tell Judge Carter Williams the evidence was in — DNA from the scene and a ballistics report, both now shared with defense counsel Craig Manford of Martinsburg.

Williams did not set a trial date, but indicated that he will at the next pre-trial hearing, scheduled for 9 a.m. Nov. 3, when he should also rule on an unusual prosecution motion.

Miller has asked that Williams review notes from interviews Holmes-Evans’ 5 brothers and sisters had with the Child Advocacy Center beginning shortly after Adams’ death.

The interviews are normal procedure. The purpose of reviewing what was disclosed is to determine whether anything was said that materially could affect the prosecution or defense.

“The defense usually makes this motion,” Williams noted.

Miller said she was asking for the review as a precaution. The interviewing agency has 3 weeks to provide the information to Williams and he will have 10 days or so to review the material and disclose any pertinent information.

A trial date or a waiver of Holmes-Evans’ right to a speedy trial are key on Nov. 3.

Under West Virginia law, the state has 2 terms to bring a defendant to trial unless the defendant waives the deadline or circumstances arise that demand an extension.

Holmes-Evans was indicted in May, so he must face trial by the end of the September term, on Dec. 31. He has not waived his right to a speedy trial yet.

Fourteen-year-old Johnny Adams’ body was discovered July 18, 2020, almost a week after he disappeared from the home in Hanging Rock Subdivision where he had been staying since March.

He died of a gunshot to the head, the medical examiner’s office ruled.

Holmes-Evans, then 16, was arrested at the time on a burglary charge. His identity was not revealed because of his age until a grand jury handed up 5 counts against him in May — 1st-degree murder, burglary, kidnapping, use of a firearms in a felony and concealing human remains.

‘Brave, fierce, brilliant’
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SUSAN GRADY, 1956-2021

Susan Grady’s legacy lives on in her passion for cancer research

“Be a flamingo in a flock of pigeons,” she’d say.

In her life, Susan certainly stood out from the pigeons; she was a flamingo who, as her sister Patty Wygal described, was “brave, fierce, brilliant.”

Susan wore many hats throughout her life:

She was valedictorian of her Hampshire High School graduating class.

She obtained 3 degrees after graduating high school: an associate’s degree form Allegany College of Maryland, a B.S. from Frostburg State and a masters in Adult Education from Marshall.

She worked for Hampshire County Schools as an accountant, and then about 15 years later, as personnel director.

She coordinated adult education at the Potomac Highlands Jail.

One of her most identifiable hats, however, was that of a Relay for Life trailblazer here in the county.

 “She actually formed the 1st walk in Hampshire County for Relay for Life,” Patty recalled. “Two years later, then I was diagnosed.”

Being cancer survivors was something the sisters had in common, and they never missed a Relay.

Susan and Patty, her older sister by 9 years, have been leading the county’s efforts for the American Cancer Society’s Relay ever since that 1st fundraiser 20 years ago, up until Susan’s passing last Wednesday.

Patty said that her sister’s passion and drive was always evident when it came to raising money for cancer research.

“It was one of our passions, and a way to give back,” Patty said. “If there’s any good part about cancer, it made us determined to help others. Relay doesn’t just help 1 person. The research helps everyone.”

Since the county’s 1st Relay 2 decades ago, the community has raised over $1 million for cancer research.

 Susan’s legacy is her leadership in the community. Her older sister said that even though Susan was younger, she served as an inspiration for her and for many.

“She was my baby sister, but she was a guiding light in my life,” Patty said. “We always went to all of the (Relay) events and dinners together.”

Sisters, cancer survivors and an unbreakable, dynamic Relay duo, Patty said her sister’s passing would leave a “big void.”

“She was always a leader,” Patty said. “She was always determined.”

While her passion for cancer research was unparalleled, Susan was also a dedicated mother of 2 and a grandmother of 1. Her sister said that her family was the “most important thing in her life,” and that they were a close-knit group. 

After the news of her passing, the Hampshire County Relay for Life page overflowed with photos of Susan at various Relay events here, wearing a purple t-shirt and a wide smile in nearly all of them.

Pictures may be worth a thousand words, but the words to describe Susan are best summed up in just 3:

“Brave, fierce, brilliant.”

28th ‘Warm’ season beginning
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Warm the Children – the charity that has never spent a dime on anything other than warm clothes for children – is now taking applications for its 28th year.

Patty Anderson, who heads up the community-wide nonprofit effort, says Warm the Children has the capacity to help more kids than it has the last couple of years.

In 2020, 413 children from 170 families were given winter coats, hats, gloves, socks and other items that amount to at least 1 full outfit. That’s down from 600-plus a few years before.

While applicants have to be income eligible, Anderson noted that the income level needed is not that low.

“The guidelines are liberal,” she said. “Many folks, even with a couple of parents working, could qualify for it.”

She said a 4-member family with income as high as $50,000 could qualify. Last year’s limit was $4,367 a month for a family of 4.  

“If you are working, but short on cash, be sure and apply,” she urged.

The deadline is Nov. 17 and Anderson hopes to have all the clothing distributed before Thanksgiving.

“That way they get it before we have cold weather,” Anderson said.

Even after the deadline, Warm the Children will try to help.

“We are always open to receiving applications even after that if they move in, are in need or didn’t know about the program or whatever,” Anderson said.

Applications are available at all the schools, and some will go home in backpacks for children in the weekend meal programs. Churches and food pantries have applications too. The application is also published weekly in the Review.   

Warm the Children has a couple of little siblings as part of its giving family.

Warm Up to Reading, which began a few years ago, provides books to recipients. Anderson said anyone who wants to donate well-respected books for children from pre-k to 10th grade would be appreciated.

And for the 2nd year, gently used clothing will be available to fill in gaps in the official program.

Anderson said the used clothing will be given to other siblings (over 16) in eligible families or to children with needs that aren’t eligible, such as when a grandparent is caring for a child, but doesn’t have official custody.

Eastern West Virginia Community Action is taking applications. A 2-step system determines eligibility of participants based on financial need. 

The initial application can be picked up at Eastern W.Va. Community Action, 500 E. Main St., Suite D, in Romney or at Anderson’s Corner, or clipped out of the Hampshire Review. Those applications are reviewed and Patricia Estill at Eastern W.Va. Community Action will provide 2nd-phase applications to finish the eligibility screening.

All of the money donated by the community goes directly toward buying clothing items. Warm the Children workers are all volunteers and none of the money raised goes to administrative or overhead costs. Every penny is spent on clothing and given back to the community.

Volunteers shop for deals all year long. Clothing is purchased and stored throughout the year to help ensure volunteers can pick up new items when they’re on sale to help maximize funds and better utilize the donations they receive.

For more information on the program, call Anderson at 304-671-2369. To submit applications, call Estill at 304-822-5584 or visit Eastern West Virginia Community Action.

A beautiful fall? Maybe later
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The guy in Hampshire County who knows trees best says we could be in for a decent year of fall color.

Just be patient.

“I think by the 20th we ought to be seeing some color,” said Bill Pownell, the Division of Forestry’s regional forester in the Romney office. “I would guess the peak will be the week of the 27th.”

That’s a little later than the state Department of Tourism’s “official” fall foliage map predicts. It projects peak season to be mid-October for Hampshire and surrounding counties.

The formula for great fall color starts with cold nights — which Hampshire County hasn’t really gotten to yet — and some moisture.

“It’s not dry any more,” Pownell noted Monday. “We had the drought, but we’ve recovered from that. It ought to be fine.”

The best color scenario is a growing season with plenty of moisture, followed by a dry, cool and sunny autumn with warm days and cool, but frost-free nights, environmental biologist Jim Egenrieder has explained.

As fall progresses, cells in each tree leaf create the abscission layer, which prevents new chlorophyll from developing.

“Severe drought causes the abscission layer to form earlier and leaves often dry up or drop before they change color,” Egenrieder says. “Heavy rain and wind can cause the leaves to fall before they fully develop color.”

In layperson’s terms, Pownell has noted, day length is the trigger and a cold snap brings the color on.

That could be good news for the Potomac Eagle, which began its daily fall foliage schedule Saturday, running through Nov. 7.

The tourism train will run through the Trough at 1 p.m. Mondays through Fridays in October and at 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 29.

Spotted lanternfly confirmed in Hampshire
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The spotted lanternfly is here.

West Virginia’s Department of Agriculture has confirmed the insect pest’s presence in Hampshire County, by a homeowner in Capon Bridge.

A Facebook post by WVDA indicates a 2nd confirmation has occurred in the High View area.

The invasive plant hopper, which is native to China, feeds on grapes, apples, hops, walnuts and hardwood trees when it can’t find its preferred meal, an invasive plant called the Tree of Heaven.

Spotted lanternflies have been in the Winchester area for a couple of years and were sighted in Mineral County last year. A colony is living around Frankfort High School.

A quarantine on Winchester and Frederick County prohibits transporting plant materials, trees, firewood, RVs, grills, mowers, Christmas trees, landscaping items and children’s playhouses.

But West Virginia has no such rules.

Instead, WVDA is asking residents to check their vehicles for the hitchhikers.

“Even a simple shopping trip to a neighboring county can be responsible for introducing the pest into an area lacking spotted lanternfly,” said James Watson, WVDA’s expert on the pest. “The importance of these routine self-conducted inspections of your vehicles and transported items cannot be overemphasized.”

Susan Parker, environmental educator with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, agreed.

 “So many people in Hampshire County travel daily to Winchester, which is now a heavily populated area with spotted lanternflies,” she explained. “Inspect your vehicles before leaving heavily-infested areas.”

If you spot one, Watson says, kill it.

Then, report the specimen to the WVDA by email, bugbusters@wvda.us, or phone, 304-558-2212.

WVDA then can assess the site and begin monitoring and control strategies.

The WVDA and the USDA are taking an “aggressive” approach to the eradication of the insect, and they need all of the help they can get from residents in the county.

The spotted lanternfly is a flying insect that’s usually an inch in size with unique, polka-dotted wings.

Nymphs (freshly-hatched insects) are red or black in color with white spots.

They may look pretty, but their effect on trees and plants is downright ugly.

The insects pierce the bark of trees and remove large amounts of sap, adding stress to trees and vines and lead to the loss of necessary carbohydrates and other nutrients needed for new growth.

The insects lay eggs in late summer and fall on trees or vehicles, which can lead to the quick spread of the bug throughout the region. When the eggs hatch, they look for a place to begin an infestation.

Mast improves, except for oaks
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Sassafras is up wildly, but more worryingly, white oak is down.

West Virginia’s 2021 mast report is in and the results show good news for wildlife and challenges for hunters.

This is the Division of Natural Resources’ 51st annual survey of the nuts, berries, leaves and shoots that wildlife consumes. Generally, a bad mast year means deer, bears, squirrels and turkeys must forage widely, making them easier for hunters to find.

The 2020 report was the worst ever. This year’s is up significantly — 61% above last year and 8% above the 50-year average.

“Oak production improved over the last year but is still below its long-term average,” said Chris Ryan, supervisor of DNR’s Game Management Services.

That worries wildlife biologist Rich Rogers in DNR’s Romney office.

“White oak acorns are much more palatable than the red and black oak,” he noted.  White oak production in this region was more than double 2020’s, but is still 36% below the 50-year average.

Rogers said it’s spotty.

“Some places you look, it’s not present,” he said, “then go 2 miles down the road  and it’s there.”

White oak is 1 of 8 species (mostly acorns) that make up hard mast, the typical fall feed for deer, bears, turkeys and squirrels.

Soft mast encompasses 9 species from apples to greenbriers that make up the main diet during the summer.

Soft mast recovered from 2020, sometimes in spectacular fashion. Sassafras in this region was up 1,192% from a year ago, hawthorn up 882% and crabapple up 707%. They were all up from their 50-year averages too.

Among the hard mast in this 8-county region, beech is 178% higher than the 50-year average.

But along with white oak, down 36% over the 50-year average, other species of oak fared poorly this year too — chestnuts down 40%, black and red oaks off 40%, scarlet oaks down 34% and scrub oaks down 61%.

Rogers says the abundance of mast will keep bears feeding through December; they tend to hibernate earlier when there’s not much to eat.

“Hunters should find plenty of bears ’til the end of the year,” he said.

Predictions from Rogers and the report also include:

• Squirrel hunting will have a lot of targets next year because this year’s plentiful mast will increase reproduction.

• The whitetail seasons, from archery to buck to muzzleloader, should be similar to 2020.

• This spring’s cicada infestation was good news for wild turkeys, and hunters. The gobblers should be in abundance this fall.

“That’s it in a nutshell,” Rogers quipped.