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Lovett’s Flat school site sells
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The 36-acre Lovett’s Flat property in Capon Bridge was sold in less than 15 minutes at the April 10 auction in Romney.

The property, previously owned by the Hampshire County Board of Education, who bought it for $250,000 in 2000, was sold for $191,000 to Hampshire County bus driver Gerald Berg Saturday morning at the 9 a.m. auction.

The property, situated in the Bloomery district, was auctioned off by Darwin Plumlee, an auctioneer out of Martinsburg, who teamed up with Sherrard’s Auction Company in Capon Bridge to get the property off the board’s hands.

Four years ago, the board declared that the Lovett’s Flat property was surplus, and an appraisal in 2018 valued the land at around $145,000.

The original purpose of the land had been to possibly construct a high school on the eastern end of the county, but an engineering report in 2017 made it clear that the land couldn’t actually be used for school construction because of 2 main issues: the lack of safe entrance onto U.S. 50 and the potential for flooding.

When Hampshire High opened on Sunrise Summit in 1964, Capon Bridge’s high school closed. The School Building Authority at the state level has declared that it won’t fund the construction of a new high school if the school has less than 800 students.

That declaration put a pin in the plans of a new Capon Bridge High School, and emphasized the need for the board to sell the property.

The bidding began on Saturday at $100,000, and when the bidding reached $186,000, Plumlee took a moment to consult Superintendent Jeff Pancione and the board members present to determine if the board could take that amount. After opening the bidding back up, Berg was the final bid at $191,000, rounding out the morning after about 12 minutes total.

The land is technically 35.897 acres, and Berg, the winning bidder, was required to pay a 10 percent deposit when the auction closed Saturday and will have to pay the rest within 60 days.

‘No salvaging anything’
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• On GoFundMe, search for “Phillip Combs.” The $5,000 goal had $1,350 Tuesday morning.

• Write a check to “Benefit for Phillip Combs” at any Bank of Romney location.


Fire destroys nearly remodeled home

Phillip and Mandi Combs and their daughter Maddie were unharmed, but their dogs Remy and Benjie and cat Samson were consumed by the quick-spreading fire along with all their possessions.

“They had what clothes they had on that day and that’s it,” Phillip’s mother Brenda said. “There’s not anything left. There’s no salvaging anything.”

Fire crews from Augusta, Romney, Slanesville, Capon Bridge and North River Valley were called to the 911 report just before 5 p.m. Tuesday, April 6. The Augusta Rescue Squad also responded.

“By the time they got there the house was fully engulfed in flames and beyond control,” Brenda Combs said. “It burnt to the ground.”

The fire consumed the house so quickly that all crews could do was try to contain it from spreading to other buildings on the property.

Brenda’s husband, Robert, tried to go back inside the house and save the animals, but the heat and flames pushed him back out.

“He ended up with some burns and smoke inhalation,” Brenda said, but he didn’t require hospitalization.

None of the Combs were in the house that Phillip, who works at Home Depot, had been remodeling.

Mandi, a housekeeper at Winchester Medical Center, had just dropped off some things she bought for the kitchen — a new deep farmstyle sink, ceiling fan and lighting — and then went to buy groceries with her mom at Food Lion.

Brenda said she looked out her dining room window that afternoon and saw smoke on the horizon. It was coming from the home she and her husband, Robert, had helped the couple build. She called 911 and then she called Mandi.

The 3 are staying with family now and planning their next move.

“It was devastating to all of them,” Mandi’s dad Dan Beavers said. “They’re trying to sort things out a little bit.”

One thing’s certain: they don’t want to rebuild on that site.

“They need everything,” Dan said, but noted that at the same time they have nowhere to store any donations like furniture or appliances.

“The best thing to give would be money,” he said.

A fund has been set up online at gofundme.com. Just search for “Phillip Combs.”

A fund has also been established in Phillip’s name at The Bank of Romney. Checks or cash can be dropped off at any of the bank’s locations.

And plenty of help has come in already. Both Brenda and Dan had praise for the outpouring of support from Maddie’s schoolmates and the staff at Romney Middle School.

‘A life of hell and horror’
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They told where rescue operator Sabrina Droescher had buried dogs that died there.

Some never made it that far. The remains of others were found in garbage bags around the property.

In all, Sheriff Nathan Sions reported Tuesday morning, 21 dead dogs in various states of decay have been uncovered.

And by the end of Tuesday, the last of 102 live dogs had been removed from the property off Timber Mountain Road, about 4 miles north of U.S. 50 — a herculean effort by deputies, veterinarians, animal control workers and volunteers from legitimate pet rescue outfits as far away as New York.

Now Droescher faces 103 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty, Sions said.

And she will be in magistrate court Friday morning in an effort to keep ownership of about 7 of the dogs removed from her property.

The recovery of dogs from Love Shack, 383 Cabin Road, began a week ago on Monday when Sions and deputies served a warrant on Droescher to search the premises.

It was the conclusion to months of negotiating with Droescher over improvements she needed to make to her operation after neighbors complained.

What they found onsite was overwhelming and sparked outrage among the rescue groups helping.

“Aside from the awful conditions in which the dogs were existing, many have injuries and medical needs which happened after their arrival at the ‘rescue,’” Smithtown, N.Y.-based Guardians of Rescue posted on Facebook. “To add to their distress, the surviving dogs were surrounded by the dead bodies of their friends.”

Volunteers at Shirley’s Angels Rescue based in Winchester talked about anger, tears and a sense of helplessness.

“These dogs were sent here for their second chance at life. They were supposed to be safe and cared for until homes were found,” one of their Facebook posts read. “But that’s not what happened. They didn’t find safety or love. They found a life of hell and horror until their death.”

Margaret’s Saving Grace Bully Rescue in Shenandoah County, Va., noted that 7 of the 14 dogs it has taken are positive for heartworms.

“These dogs are truly in dire need of medical,” the group posted.

A 4th organization, Pitiful Paws Rescue out of Huntington said it was coming to Hampshire County Tuesday to help.

Mountainview Veterinarian Services has been tending the dogs, Sions said, and volunteers from the county’s animal shelter have been helping.

Cpl. Phoebe Lahman is leading the investigation.

Sions said last week that Love Shack Pet Rescue would not be able to continue operation here under Hampshire County’s dog control ordinance.

Review staff members Nick Carroll and Emma June Grosskopf contributed to this report.

Picnic, prom and ticketed graduation
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Hampshire Trojan Logo

Hampshire’s 2021 seniors get their marching orders

That all starts with graduation.

After feeling out the emotions of the seniors, the staff and the community as a whole, HHS principal Mike Dufrene landed on a fairly simple graduation plan: 4 tickets per graduating senior.

“It’s just the right thing to do,” he explained. “My commitment is to the seniors and people who raised them.”

Last week, Dufrene met with seniors and HHS staff and presented a different graduation plan, a 2-part ceremony with graduates only on the evening of Friday, May 28, and an opportunity for family to attend an abbreviated ceremony the following day.

After considering the plan further and listening to the seniors, staff and families, Dufrene said he thought that having 1 event Friday evening with 4 tickets per graduate is just the better way to go.

“I feel much better about giving 4 tickets and letting (the seniors) decide who attends,” Dufrene said. “In a perfect world, we’d be at 100 percent capacity, but I think it’s still going to be a good day.”

The graduation is going to take place on Rannells Field, and there will be a guest list at the front gate so family members can easily check in. The ceremony will also be livestreamed for folks who aren’t able to attend.

Since the ceremony is planned to be outdoors at 6 p.m. that Friday, there’s always the possibility that it might rain, but Dufrene has a plan.

Saturday, May 29 is the rain date for the graduation ceremony, and Dufrene said he’s willing to adjust the ceremony if it means the class of 2021 can graduate on Rannells Field.

Worse comes to worst, Dufrene said, if it’s raining on Friday night and there’s no opportunity to squeeze in a ceremony between downpours on Saturday, the graduation will move indoors to the auditorium and be seniors-only.

“As principal, there are a lot of things I can control,” Dufrene remarked. “I can’t control the weather.”

Along with graduation, there are 2 other milestone events for seniors planned in the upcoming month and a half: a Senior Day and a senior prom.

Senior Day, a cross between a field day and a senior picnic, will include food, music and games out on the football field. It’ll be held from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. on April 30, a Friday, so that all students and staff can be involved, including virtual students. Transportation will also be provided for students who may need it.

 “We want to make sure all kids are included,” Dufrene said.

Prom is the next big-ticket item, and at the school board work session April 1, Dufrene went into detail about how it’ll work.

It’ll be held Saturday, May 15, from 8 p.m. until 11 p.m., and it’ll be seniors only, with no guests and no underclassmen.

Dufrene explained that in his discussions with the Hampshire County Health Dept. and head nurse Rhonda Dante, it was recommended to keep the numbers of prom attendees as low as possible.

“We’ll have it at the school so we can have it under our control,” he said. “ We can set it up how we want.” The setup will include the gymnasium, the cafeteria and an outdoor portion in the back parking lot.

“At the end of the day, my focus is on our seniors and on their families,” Dufrene pointed out. “You can’t please everyone. We are going to give them something special.”

He added that he has “confidence” in the plan for the seniors over the next month or so, especially when it comes to graduation.

“I’m thankful we have a school community that comes together to solve problems instead of complain about them,” he said. “We’re doing the right thing.”

Depending on the state of Covid numbers in Hampshire County over the next few weeks, all senior plans are subject to change, and events like the Baccalaureate ceremony and the athletic awards are currently in the planning stage, and more information will be released as plans are solidified.