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Big Bang Theory
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Meteor likely created boom heard 'round the region


Satellite imagery of the flash that produced a boom across the region Friday morning.

If you’re still wondering about that boom so many people heard Friday morning, NASA has some solid, well, speculation for lack of a better word.

Imaging from a satellite operated jointly by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows a flash across the Potomac Highlands and neighboring Virginia shortly after 10:25 a.m.

If it was a meteor that fragmented, it created “an energy of a few tons of TNT,” NASA’s Meteor Watch reported on its Facebook page Friday afternoon.

That was loud enough to be heard from Cumberland to Front Royal and points in between.

“Scared hummingbirds,” Sharon Saville of Romney reported.

Folks from Purgitsville (James Wheeler), Augusta (Jale Allen), Green Spring (Corena Mongold) and Burlington (Tom Widener) all weighed in on the NASA Facebook page.

“It was definitely a meteor,” Pilot Andrew Mock posted. “We were climbing through 30,000 feet over this area when it appeared and left a contrail after it vaporized in front of us.”

Not everyone was buying into the science.

“Get Mulder and Scully out there,” Michael Cortese posted. “That’s their area.”

The flash was picked up by the GOES 16 satellite, the 1st of a series of Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites operated jointly by NASA and NOAA.

The National Weather Service in Pittsburgh said normally the satellite detects lightning.

“However, there were no thunderstorms in the vicinity at this time,” the NWS noted.

Its conclusion was a meteor exploded while falling through the atmosphere, which NASA later seconded.

Friday morning’s meteor had a magnitude of -12, the same brightness as a full moon, NASA said.

Assuming the meteor had a typical speed of 45,000 miles per hour, NASA estimated its size at around 50 pounds.

Pieces likely fell across the state line in Virginia.

Hit-and-run becomes a murder case
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An Augusta woman was charged Thursday with 1st-degree murder after apparently running her vehicle over a man in a ditch.

The case began as a hit-and-run 911 call early Sept. 12 along Jersey Mountain Road, but surveillance cameras showed a different story.  

The Hampshire County Sheriff’s Office said Staci A. Matheney, 45, appeared to “deliberately and intentionally run over” Rodney A. Stewart, 46, of Capon Bridge shortly after 2 a.m. that Sunday.

Surveillance recordings from a business in the 300 block of Jersey Mountain Road — a little more than a quarter mile north of U.S. 50 — showed Stewart driving into the business’s parking lot at 1:07 a.m. Authorities said Stewart, Matheney and 2 other women in the car all appeared intoxicated.

After arguing and fighting went on in the car, Stewart got out and walked toward the road, ending up lying in the ditch, the videotape showed authorities.

They say Matheney then got out of the passenger’s side, got behind the wheel and drove around the parking lot several times. At 2:08 she apparently aimed the vehicle at Stewart and drove over him.

When a passerby discovered Stewart about 10 or 15 minutes later, authorities said, he was alive, obviously intoxicated, but didn’t appear to have major external injuries, probably because the car ran over him while he was in the ditch, authorities speculated.

But when Stewart was transported to Hampshire Memorial Hospital, “severe” internal injuries were discovered, injuries that led to his death around 6:55 a.m. — injuries that authorities said were consistent with him being run over.  Stewart was identified by his fingerprints and his body was sent to the State Medical Examiner for autopsy.

 Deputies found Stewart’s vehicle Sunday evening, speaking with Matheney and the 2 backseat passengers.

Prosecutor Rebecca Miller authorized charges that led to Matheney’s arrest Thursday.

Chief Deputy John Alkire said no other charges have been filed in the case, which is still under investigation. West Virginia State Police have been assisting in the investigation.

Matheney remains in Potomac Highlands Regional Jail without bond.

Chambers’ 6th book tackles mental health
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Melinda Chambers’ newest book may be her most personal, and grown-up, tale yet.

“Melby” begins in the 1950s, when Melinda Chambers was a child. It’s set in a town with a big state mental hospital — just like Weston where Melinda Chambers grew up.

“It’s my story,” the retired educator says. “I was born in 1950. My mother died; my father died. I lived close to the hospital.”

Melby, the book’s heroine, ends up in the state hospital, misdiagnosed. But with a little unexpected help, she emerges from the grim experience stronger, achieving great things.

In that regard, Chambers says, “Melby” is much like her 5 previous books.

“The message is kind of the same — to be a better person,” the Romney-area resident says.  “It’s not a children’s book, although my grandkids all read it.”

The 72-page tale makes a not-always-comfortable evening’s reading. There’s an uncompromising look at the way mental health issues, and patients, were treated a half-century ago.

Chambers says the issue isn’t handled all that better today.

“The stigma of mental health is still real,” she says. “We don’t have enough qualified people to talk to people.”

Some of that stigma extends to her.

“I have anxiety,” she says, “that I really have to work with all the time.”

She was diagnosed with anxiety 30 years ago, but found prescription medication that deals with it.  

“My husband will tell you,” she says. “I take medication. I’ll tell anybody that. Back then I would have had to go in the hospital.”

 The hospital, and the strip mines around it, are integral to Melby’s story — and a find on the abandoned mine land is key to the happy ending.

Chambers thinks a positive message is key to a good story — a ray of sunshine, even though she points out that most of “Melby” was written at night.

But different books require different approaches.

“One book had to brew for 5 years. It took 2 hours to write,” she says with a laugh.

She says a couple more books are brewing, but nothing’s on paper yet.

“I want my books to be my legacy,” she says. “I’m not in it for the money obviously.”

“Melby” is available locally at Anderson’s Corner in Romney and Spring Valley Market on Sunrise Summit. A copy is in the Capon Bridge Public Library.

The book can be ordered on Amazon.

Publisher Headline Books recommends “Melby” for ages 10 and up. Chambers’ other books are “We Are Whoooo We Are,” “The Day the Snapdragons Snapped Back,” “Fraidy Cat,” “Chilly Billy” and “And We Helped.”

Chambers has been featured on Lifetime television, the New York Book Festival, West Virginia Book Festival and Los Angeles Book Festival.

When the hearse goes by
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Green Spring 'family' gears up for the haunting season

GREEN SPRING — A not-so-little operation on Screamin’ Hollow Road has been putting Green Spring on the map for about 30 years now, and there’s no sign of slowing down at the House of the Setting Sun.

There are signs, however, alerting visitors to “Watch for Children of the Corn,” have a “Happy Halloween” and, a classic, “Beware.”

House of the Setting Sun in Green Spring is opening this weekend, and volunteers are putting the finishing touches on preparations to scare the “yell” out of visitors.

The haunted house, which is by far the county’s top spooky-season attraction, is sponsored by Community Involvement for Kids, and volunteers, young and old alike, have spent the last 6 months putting their blood (gory, fake blood, of course) sweat and tears into preparing the haunt for opening day.

Obviously, the elephant in the room is Covid, and since numbers have continued to climb here, director Saundra Stinnette pointed out that there would be some regulations for the visitors to the haunt.

“Everyone that comes through has to wear masks,” she said.

Hand sanitizer stations will also be implemented around the site, and social distancing will be the norm as groups move through the house.

This year, House of the Setting Sun has a “Wendell Manor Hotel” theme, complete with a haunted wedding in the main room, a mausoleum and several outdoor attractions, including a trip through the corn. A bright sign warns folks to “watch for children of the corn,” and a sign by a gravesite attraction explains the eerie background of the phrase “saved by the bell.”

The preparations for the haunt begin in April, giving volunteers about 6 months to prep the site to scare the “yell” out of visitors once the doors open at the end of September.

Creepy additions to the décor are picked up at trade shows during the year, Stinnette explained, pointing out that the organization finds spooky elements that will work for them and they adapt them for their use.  

And it’s not a walk in the park to get the attraction ready, Stinnette said.

“It’s not all fun and games,” she explained. “I mean, there’s a lot of fun, but we do keep (the kids) going.”

Community Involvement for Kids is a program that allows kids to earn a scholarship through hours of community service, and there’s a lot of work to be done for the House of the Setting Sun. Kids and other volunteers, some from Hampshire County and some who even drive from western Maryland to help out.

This year, Stinnette said, it’s been a little bit tougher to get volunteers, so she’s counting on her reliable returners for their help.

“My devoted people are so devoted,” she said. “We’re like one big family.”

It’s not hard to see the “family” element: as the kids and other volunteers rush around the Green Spring property, trying on masks, putting together fences, adjusting decorations, Stinnette barks orders at them lovingly.

“See?” she laughed. “Just like a family.”

The doors to the attraction creep open this weekend, with Friday, Sept. 24 as opening night.

If you can’t make it Friday, have no fear: the haunt will be open weekends through Halloween, every Friday and Saturday from 7:30 to 11 p.m. On Saturday, Oct. 30, the haunted house will have their annual “black out” night, where lights are off and the scare factor is turned all the way “on.”

And, of course, the attraction will open for business on Halloween night, which falls on a Sunday this year.

The ticket cost is $15 in cash only per person, and it includes access to the haunted “hotel” and other attractions, as well as the “Bloody Stump Saloon,” which is an escape room complete with a puzzle table where guests can try their hand at solving different challenges 1-handed.

There’s only 1 person who can win in the Bloody Stump Saloon, and losers may lose more than they bargained for.

For about 30 years, the haunt has been an attraction for Hampshire Countians to spook and be spooked. Stinnette thanked community partners that have played a role in helping the attraction get on its feet from the very beginning.

“We just want to help people, and help kids,” Stinnette added. “And out of other traditions in the county, this one stuck.”


911 Center activates new text feature
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Residents now have another way to access 911 dispatchers during an emergency: through text.

The Hampshire County 911 Center announced Monday that residents would now be able to text to 911 in a crisis where a voice call may not be possible. All cell providers are expected to have activated this feature within the week.

“Text to 911 is a great resource we’ve added to better serve our community. For our deaf, hard of hearing and speech-impaired communities, this offers them streamlined access to emergency services,” the 911 Center posted on Facebook Monday. “To others that find themselves in situations where speaking isn’t an option due to emergent circumstances, this allows them to safely get information to our staff.”

In addition to making 911 services more accessible for deaf, hard of hearing and speech-impaired individuals, this feature could be an advantage in a county where cell service can be spotty, not to mention offering a safe alternative to folks in situations where speaking out loud may put them in danger (active shootings, domestic violence or home invasions, for example).  

So, how does it work?

It’s simple. In an emergency, create a new text message on your phone. In the “To” field, just type 911. No dashes, no parentheses and no periods. Just 911.

Then, in the text message, include the following:

1. The location of the emergency. Include the city, the name of the business, park, fishing access, trailhead, highway, etc. Be as specific as possible.

2. The nature of the emergency.

3. Your name.

Number 1 is of the highest importance, but keep the text messages as short as possible. Forego using abbreviations, text slang or emojis. Make sure you stay in close contact with your cell and be prepared to answer follow-up questions if need be. If it’s safe to do so, remain on scene until help arrives.

The 911 Center reminded folks that while sometimes, with bad reception, sending a text is easier than making a phone call, some degree of cell reception is required for texts to go through.

When you’re texting “911”, don’t include any other recipients in the text message.

If you don’t receive an initial response from a 911 dispatcher, contact 911 through voice call.

And of course, don’t text and drive, and don’t text 911 if there isn’t an emergency.

Virus numbers stay high here
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Hampshire County is continuing to see high numbers in the ongoing fight against Covid-19.

Over the last week, the Health Department has been posting daily updates on Covid cases throughout the county, as opposed to a weekly update. Monday’s totals placed the county firmly at 110 active cases and 30 new cases since Sunday, and the county saw another death last week due to complications from the virus.

The Health Department reported the death of a 52-year-old Augusta woman last Thursday, bringing the total number of Covid-related deaths in the county to 39.

The Health Department continues to urge residents to get vaccinated, mask up, social distance and practice good cleaning measures.

While it is possible to contract Covid even after getting vaccinated, the shot protects from severe illness associated with the virus and, in many cases, hospitalization.

Health Department director Tamitha Wilkins pointed out a few changes to the department’s contact tracing protocol.

“Right now, we are having the National Guard help us with contact tracing. Whoever the positive case is, they may be getting a call from a blocked cell or a different phone number,” Wilkins noted. “And we are only making 1 phone call attempt (to the positive individual), instead of 3. That’s why it’s important to pick up the phone, even if you don’t know the number.”

Additionally, the call will only come to the positive case, who will then have the responsibility of notifying their close contacts.

Wilkins also pointed out that one of the issues the department is seeing is that after folks get tested for the virus, they aren’t isolating with their household until they receive negative results.

“We have parents who are sick that send their kids to school,” she added. “If anybody is getting tested, they need to isolate until results come back.”

With send-off tests, results usually take about a day or 2 to return. Rapid tests are offered at E.A. Hawse in Romney, or at Spring Valley Family Care in Springfield.

The daily testing from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. in the hospital parking lot (the mobile testing through WV Labs) is not a rapid test.

UPMC-Western Maryland was operating under temporary EMS diversion last Wednesday (meaning that the emergency department was limiting patients arriving with lower severity of illness), but by Friday the diversion was lifted.

The Health Department also posted that they were monitoring 2 outbreaks in the county. The Center for Disease Control defines an outbreak as 2 or more patients who have contracted the virus that are linked (for example, in an office, in a classroom, etc.).

“Please do your part and social distance, wear masks in large crowds, sanitize hands and vaccinate,” posted the Health Department Monday.