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Festivals falling to Covid
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Founders Day, Apple Harvest call it quits

Four of the biggest fall festivals within driving distance of Hampshire County have also been called off for 2021 and a 5th is being scaled back.

Founders was to begin Friday night, Sept. 24 and run Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 25-26.

The same weekend was scheduled for the 68th annual Hardy County Heritage Weekend and the Leaf Peepers Festival in Tucker County.

Organizers of both said last week that they’re canceled this year.

So are a pair of apple butter festivals – in Burlington on Oct. 2-3 and in Berkeley Springs a week later.

The next weekend, Oct. 16-17, is Garrett County’s big Autumn Glory Festival. Oakland announced last week that it still plans to host the parade on Oct. 16, a Saturday. But other events, including the craft fair and fireman’s parade, have been called off.

Like nearly every organizer involved in the 6 festivals, Capon Bridge’s Peg McMaster said the decision to cancel was sad, but necessary in the face of the Covid-19 virus’s delta and mu variants.

“This was a tough decision,” she said, “as many people have participated in the planning of a highly anticipated festival.” 

Burlington United Methodist Family Services expressed similar regrets and concerns.

“In the end, the safety of the volunteers as well as the visitors to the festival were taken into consideration,” Communications Director Cindy Pyles said.

Burlington’s decision was also fueled by some of the lingering after-effects of a fire in April 2020 that destroyed much of its unique equipment for making apple butter.

A machinist in New York who was hand-crafting a new apple peeler has been unable to get some of the finishing parts, Pyles said.

“This is a commercial grade, one-of-a-kind machine that makes the production of nearly 2,000 gallons of butter needed for the festival,” she noted. That’s in addition to the hundreds of volunteers working together the week prior to the event.

“The spread of Covid just makes our work too dangerous,” Pyles said.

The story was much the same in Hardy County for Heritage Weekend.

“We cannot, in good faith, host an event,” organizers said on the event’s website. “This was not a decision that was taken lightly and was made only after conversing with local health officials.”

In Tucker County, similar reasons were reported.

“This is the safest decision,” the Alpine Festival Board that organizes Leaf Peepers posted on Facebook.

Cases double in county
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Hampshire County’s alarming increase in Covid cases doubled last week.

The Health Department reported Monday that the county had 255 new cases diagnosed in the previous 7 days and 188 were active.

That’s up from 88 active a week earlier.

“Please be patient with us,” the Health Department asked, noting the huge new load of contact tracing.

Young people continue to make up a big chunk of the cases here. The DHHR’s website on Monday reported 17 cases among 5- to 11-year-olds and 44 total cases for people 20 or younger.

In the schools, 7th grade at Romney Middle and 4th and a pre-k class at Romney Elementary are virtual, quarantining due to Covid exposure, and they won’t return until Monday. The 6th grade class at RMS that was out last week is back in the classroom.

“We’re still doing the mitigation strategies, cleaning, wiping doors and surfaces,” explained Superintendent Jeff Pancione. “We’re also trying to get kids outside.”

He added that students are able to have maskless breaks throughout their school day, and the concept of “required masks” doesn't mean that students have their faces covered for 6 to 8 hours daily.

“Teachers can take them on 5, 10-minute breaks,” he pointed out. “We’re trying to give them as many breaks as possible.”

Up at the high school, more spaces are being allotted for outdoor classrooms on the campus, providing students with ample opportunity to head outside and take a break from wearing masks.

The overall surge here parallels the rise across West Virginia.

The state set a 1-day record for new cases last Thursday and broke it Saturday.

Thursday also saw a 1-day record in intensive-care cases and those on ventilators.

6 charged in Jan. 3 botched kidnaping
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ROMNEY — Four would-be kidnapers and 2 men who foiled their plot with gunfire have all been indicted.

Hampshire County’s grand jury handed up counts against the 6 last week. For the rest of the 30-plus indictments, turn to the story on Page 4A.

The 6 are:

• Austin Lee Fairman, 20, conspiracy to commit attempted kidnaping and conspiracy to commit burglary.

• Gregory Thomas Corwell, 43, 4 counts of wanton endangerment with a rifle; 4 counts of conspiracy and 1 of malicious wounding.

• Michael Paul Anderson, 55, attempted kidnaping, burglary, 2 conspiracy counts, wanton endangerment and use of a firearm in a felony.

• Terry Bruce Livermore Jr., 42, attempted kidnaping, burglary, 2 conspiracy counts, wanton endangerment and use of a firearm in a felony.

• Edward John North Jr., 60, attempted kidnaping, burglary, 2 conspiracy counts, illegal possession of explosive device, wanton endangerment and use of a firearm in a felony.

• Gregory Shawn Robinette, 42, 4 counts of conspiracy to commit wanton endangerment.

A 911 call shortly after 10 p.m. on Jan. 3, a Sunday, said a home invasion was occurring and a man was being beaten on Tupelo Loop, east of Route 28 a little north of Springfield Assembly of God.

While state police were en route to the home, a 2nd call came in saying a Chevrolet truck was leaving with bullet holes in it. A 3rd call followed for assistance with a man suffering from a gunshot wound on Frost Drive, about 2 miles south of Points off Jersey Mountain Road.

At the Tupelo Loop home, which was Corwell’s, State Police were told that 3 men carrying pistols barged into the house, saying they were taking a woman there with them along with personal belongings and a car.

The trio was apparently Anderson, Livermore and North.

But Corwell apparently began firing at the men, wounding Fairman in the leg and chest.

The invaders retreated to their truck while taking fire from outside.

The Tupelo Loop residents got into a vehicle and began chasing the truck with gunshots fired on the road.

In Points, officers found 3 men outside a black Chevrolet pickup, detaining them and seizing 2 handguns.

The truck’s backseat floorboard had a puddle of blood on it and more blood led into the house there, where officers found Fairman still bleeding.

Hampshire County EMS transported him to Winchester Medical Center for treatment.

The others were taken into custody.

Behind a tree in the woods surrounding the residence, police found body armor, knives, handguns and an explosive device.

That brought the bomb technicians from the State Police detachment in Martinsburg to secure the device.

Love Shack owner loses her dogs
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ROMNEY — A woman’s love for her own dogs couldn’t overcome the mountain of evidence against her dismantled rescue operation in court last week.

Love Shack Rescue owner Sabrina Droescher lost her bid to regain possession of 5 dogs and keep a 6th that authorities were afraid to take away from her.

“I just want my family back,” Droescher told Judge Charles Carl Thursday morning during her appeal hearing.

But Carl said she cannot keep 6 dogs she claimed as her own after the county shut down her rescue operation and pulled 103 dogs out of there in early April.

Working against her in the circuit court hearing was the evidence that the 6 dogs she claimed as her personal property were suffering the same intestinal parasites that the others were.

Assistant Prosecutor Charlie Johnson likened it to a child custody situation, saying that if 1 child in a family is found to be neglected, then the law assumes all are.

“There is no excuse for what happened here,” Carl told Droescher as he ordered her to pay the county $4,533 for the expense that animal control has incurred in keeping the dogs.

Magistrate Ron DiCiolla had reached the same verdict on April 16, but Droescher appealed to the circuit court. Thursday’s hearing was a trial de novo, meaning Carl heard testimony and viewed evidence as though the earlier proceeding hadn’t happened.

Droescher has 30 days to appeal Carl’s ruling to the State Supreme Court.

“I’m not sure how I want to proceed,” she said after Thursday’s hearing.

If she does not appeal, the dogs will be put down in accordance with county ordinance.

“They have already killed 4 of my dogs that never harmed a soul,” Droescher lamented. “They will undoubtedly kill Sasha, who has also never harmed anyone despite the fact that she has been with me for 5-and-a-half years and goes everywhere with me.”

Sasha was left in Droescher’s custody when the other dogs were removed because animal control officials said the dog was too great a threat to their safety.

The other 5 dogs she sued for — Darby, Cassandra, Betty, Emily and Slone — have been in the county animal shelter for 5 months.

Droescher represented herself, which proved a disadvantage as Carl at times corrected and at times admonished her on legal procedure.

She pressed animal control officer Terrie Eversole about conditions at 2 properties Love Shack Rescue used, and Droescher owned, off Timber Mountain Road.

“There were too many dogs too close together,” Eversole testified.

Hampshire County Sheriff’s Deputy Phoebe Lahman, who headed the investigation, said that enclosed places reeked of urine and ammonia.

Neither Lahman nor Eversole noted any distinction between the rescue dogs and those that Droescher claimed as her own.

Droescher’s only witness, Linda Stronza of Berkeley County, testified that she had no doubts about the defendant’s care of her animals.

But she was forced to admit under cross-examination that she had never set foot on the Love Shack Rescue property and grew quiet as Johnson showed her pictures of the conditions there.

Droescher faces 103 misdemeanor criminal charges of animal neglect. The mountain of evidence has delayed proceedings in magistrate court. A pretrial hearing has yet to be scheduled.

Because Droescher still faces the criminal charges, Carl cautioned her against making any statement at last week’s civil hearing, but Droescher wanted to speak.

“The dogs were taken care of,” she contended. “The inanimate objects were not,” she said explaining conditions there.

Hit-and-run claims life
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A hit-and-run accident on Jersey Mountain Road killed a person early Sunday morning.

Authorities said Monday that they have the identities of both the victim and the driver, but are not releasing names while the collision is under investigation.

The body was found in the ditch of the 300 block of Jersey Mountain Road, near Northern Eagle Distributors, in the early morning hours, the sheriff’s office said.

The sheriff’s office said the vehicle involved has been secured and evidence is being reviewed.

The victim’s body has been sent to the State Medical Lab for autopsy.

“Upon completion of our investigation, we will consult with our Prosecutor regarding potential charges,” the sheriff’s office said.

West Virginia State Police are assisting in the investigation.