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Feds take over drugs cases
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Grand jury indictments against 2 Hampshire County residents have been dropped after federal prosecutors charged them with the same crimes last week.

Andrew Hose, 36, and Jessica Lynn Lundblad, 23, both of Augusta, were charged federally from the same set of alleged drug transactions as the Hampshire grand jury had based its charges on at the beginning of this month.

“It would be double jeopardy,” Hampshire County Prosecutor Rebecca Miller said.

Prosecutors say the duo tried to sell heroin, fentanyl and meth to a confidential informant last August. Miller said the federal indictment included an alleged transaction from this February as well.

Hose was indicted on a count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin, fentanyl and methamphetamine; a count of distribution of methamphetamine; a count of aiding and abetting distribution of meth; a count of possession with intent to distribute heroin and fentanyl mixture; and 2 counts of possession with intent to distribute meth.

Lundblad was indicted on a count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin, fentanyl and meth; a count of aiding and abetting distribution of meth; a count of possession with intent to distribute heroin and fentanyl mixture; and a count of possession with intent to distribute meth. 

The federal indictment says the pair worked at their illegal activities from June to February.

Miller said she wasn’t surprised by the federal charges.

“They prosecute distribution cases,” she said, noting that federal prosecutors have “vastly different” sentencing guidelines than the state. 

The Potomac Highlands Drug Task Force investigated. The task force consists of the FBI, the West Virginia State Police, Keyser’s police department and the sheriff’s offices from Hampshire, Hardy, Grant and Mineral counties.

On the same day Hose and Lundblad appeared in Martinsburg federal court, the U.S. Attorney’s office announced that a Hardy County man had pled guilty in Elkins to his role in dealing drugs. 

Kenneth Allan Evans, 48, of Moorefield pled to a count of possession with intent to distribute meth. He admitted to having more than 5 grams of meth, also known as crystal meth or ice, in August 2018 in Hardy County.

Evans faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million.

Eric’s odyssey
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A life-changing stroke brings out the troops at HMH 

The shoes are new, he explained. New shoes for a new chapter.

In 2019, Clemens, 40, was gearing up for a totally different chapter: he and his then-fiancée had planned to move to Hampshire County from Baltimore.

Then, everything changed.

Clemens suffered a serious stroke in Baltimore in March 2019. He was left with significant weakness on the right side of his body, as well as moderately expressive aphasia, meaning impairment with language and speaking.

Clemens underwent therapy 1st in Baltimore, then outpatient therapy with Valley Health through 2020, where he met Steve Francis, physical therapist and supervisor of inpatient rehab.

After Clemens’ relationship ended in December 2020, Francis helped admit him to Hampshire Memorial Hospital in January.

Clemens said that right after he was admitted following the stroke, it was overwhelming.

“When I got there, it was just, ‘what the hell am I doing now?’” he recalled.

Francis added that Clemens has seen leaps and bounds in his recovery.

“He has excelled in most soft skills: checkbook, paying bills, groceries,” Francis described. “You just don’t realize how much goes into a day.”

Clemens has been working on reestablishing his life skills, including relearning how to use a cell phone, improving in speech and even practicing driving.

It’s taken a team of dedicated folks to help Clemens on his journey, and he’s developed lasting friendships with them.

Take Nicole Olsen, for example.

Olsen, a physical therapy student from Shenandoah University, arrived at HMH around the same time Clemens did, and they formed a unique bond.

She said that Clemens keeps her and the therapy team on their toes.

“If we’re not here, or if we’re late, he’ll yell at us,” she explained with a laugh.

On Friday, Clemens reached a milestone while practicing his walking: he completed a lap around the PT gym without his brace.

“I didn’t even realize it,” Clemens said with a chuckle, admitting that while it was a big milestone for him in his recovery, it was also an accidental one. His banter with Olsen as he sat back into his wheelchair was playful with a tinge of pride.

That milestone is huge for Clemens, because the next step is discharge from HMH.

On Tuesday, Clemens headed off on an adventure: he flew with Francis to Texas to begin the next phase of his life. His sister lives in Houston, and he’s going to be staying with her and her family for a while.

“I don’t look it, but I am excited,” Clemens said.

Francis explained that while Clemens has made great strides in his recovery, there’s only so much the hospital can do for him.

“We’re a hospital, not an assisted living facility,” Francis said. “He’s just been seeing so much progress; everything’s falling into place.”

Clemens flew to Texas Tuesday, and Friday was Olsen’s last day. She said she was feeling a little emotional about leaving.   

“This interaction, between all of us, it’s family,” she said simply.

Francis also praised Clemens’ attitude in the face of his obstacles.

“His resilience to everything is unbelievable,” he added. “(Clemens) kept the mindset of ‘everything is OK, it’s going to work out.’”

Social worker Amanda Harman echoed Francis’ sentiment and summarized some of the emotions associated with Clemens’ recovery, saying that it’s been “amazing.”

“It’s been really amazing to see the team come together, and to see Eric’s growth,” Harman remarked. “It’s just been an incredible thing to witness, and it’s been incredibly rewarding for all of us. It’s just a good reminder of why we do it.”

Blue Bridge on track for Oct. finish
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The $12.1 million project is replacing the existing 420-foot, 3-span truss bridge with a new structure 478 feet in length. The bridge carries Route 28 across the South Branch between Springfield and Romney.

Work on the project began last April with a completion date of Oct. 15 that is still expected to be met. Contractors are building the superstructure for the new bridge right next to – and under – the existing structure.

DOH District 5 Bridge Engineer Paul Steedman said the bridge will be finished a half at a time.

“That’s called phased construction,” Steedman said. "Contractors will finish the new section of bridge 1st and open it for traffic. Then they’re going to knock down the old structure and build the other half of it.”

The existing bridge was built in 1936 by the Fort Pitt Bridge Works, of Pittsburgh. Originally known as the Grace Bridge, it was renamed the John Blue Bridge in honor of John Blue, an early settler who came to Hampshire County in 1725 and whose family figures prominently in Hampshire County history.

In October 1861, Union and Confederate troops fought a skirmish in the area on a bridge that crossed the South Branch at almost the same spot as the John Blue Bridge.

Brayman Construction out of Saxonburg, Pa., about 30 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, is building the bridge.

The project, first announced in 2015, was delayed early on, when the initial environmental impact study unearthed significant historical artifacts. DOH altered the route of the new bridge to avoid the archeological site.

The current John Blue Bridge rated poor — 4 on a scale of 0 to 9 — in a 2013 evaluation of all West Virginia bridges.

It requires painting and more maintenance than modern bridges, District 5 Engineer Lee Thorne said. A weight limit is imposed because of its age and condition.

The new bridge will look a lot like the span built across the South Branch on U.S. 50 west of Romney in 2010.

Shots, tussle, chase lead to charges
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A Shanks woman wanted for apparently firing shots at 2 men led authorities on a chase across Hampshire County Monday afternoon.

Eliza Dawn Fishel, 44, was arrested in Golden Acres subdivision and taken to Potomac Highlands Regional Jail, where she remained Tuesday afternoon. No bail had been set.

A 911 call shortly before 3 p.m. Monday said shots had been fired inside a mobile home in Shanks. When deputies arrived, Fishel was gone, but the people there said she had pulled a gun and fired it during an ensuing struggle.

Witnesses told deputies that Fishel had pulled a handgun out during an argument with a family member. The family member attempted to disarm her and another family member assisted him. During the struggle, Fishel’s firearm discharged before they wrestled it away from her.

Shortly after the shooting, Deputy John Smith saw Fishel’s vehicle headed east on U.S. 50 near Augusta. Authorities say she ignored Smith’s attempt to stop her and he pursued her, assisted by additional deputies and West Virginia State Police, 1st onto North River Road and then into Hanging Rock Subdivision, where she stopped at a residence.

Fishel was arrested and charged with wanton endangerment for the shooting. The investigation, led by Deputy Zachary Godlove, is continuing and additional driving-related charges will be filed.

Reopening stirs bluegrass hopes
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Vaccinations are up, but so are cases     

Worries about a new wave of Covid-19 across the county and state appear to be giving way to optimism that the pandemic is nearing an end.

In the last week, Gov. Jim Justice has discarded the 5-color map that has directed school closings and openings for the last 7 months and authorized fairs, festivals and concerts as of May 1.

The South Branch Valley Bluegrass Festival plans to be 1 of those.

“It’s something we need to do and the public wants,” organizer Trina Cox told the County Commission last week.

Commissioners gave their endorsement to the festival’s return on June 26 after it was canceled last year.

Cox told the commissioners the festival committee is beginning to contact groups to perform as they await guidance from the governor’s office, which is due this week.

“I’m sure you guys will come up with a plan,” Commission President Brian Eglinger told Cox, adding his hope that “stringent” rules won’t have to be in effect.

Vaccines keep rolling in from the 3 manufacturers to the extent that the Hampshire County Health Department was looking for recipients for 300 vaccinations that will be doled out Thursday. Call 304-496-9640 for an appointment.

Vaccinations continue to grow here and statewide. West Virginia leads the nation with 97 percent of the vaccines it has received already delivered to arms around the Mountain State.

In Hampshire County, 2,806 people are fully vaccinated and about another 5,120 have been partially vaccinated. That’s about a 3rd of the county’s population.

Both the state’s and county’s active cases have increased in the last week.   

The state Department of Health and Human Resources on Sunday reported 6,128 confirmed active cases. Active cases have increased every day since March 23. The last time the state went above 6,100 active cases was Nov. 5.

Both Hampshire’s incidence rate and positivity rate had been firmly in the yellow until a new data drop turned the positivity rate green Tuesday morning.

Positivity measures the number of Covid cases out of the total tested on a 7-day rolling average. Incidence is the number of active cases per 100,000 population.

Three new cases reported on Monday brought the county to a total of 15 active cases with 1 person hospitalized with the often-deadly virus. A week ago only 5 cases were active.

Over the year’s course of the pandemic, Hampshire has had 1,643 cases of Covid-19 and 32 deaths.

The most notable blip in the county’s numbers in the last week was the reporting of 2 Hampshire High School students testing positive last Thursday and another Monday.

Hampshire students all are instructed remotely on Fridays, but HHS was open Monday, only to go remote again Tuesday.

Justice called the map “a great friend that saved a lot of lives,” but said it has outlived its usefulness since so many school staffers have been vaccinated.

“We need to move forward,” he said.  

He directed all schools to be fully open unless an outbreak affects a specific school.

Prefab bridge might end lawsuit in CB
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The council accepted an estimate by Bridge Brothers to install a 50-foot single-span metal bridge for about $215,000. Other costs including attorney’s fees, a required geotechnical survey, and bank fees and interest on the loan needed to pay for the project will raise the cost to closer to $300,000.

The previous bridge collapsed a year ago, 3 years after it was closed to traffic. Since the collapse, residents of a house owned by Eric and Debbie McDonald on the far side of Dillons Run have been expected to leave their vehicles and wade through the stream to reach their home.

Back in October 2017, after the town declared the bridge unsafe and closed it, the McDonalds and Terry and Wanda Brinker, who also own property on the far side of Dillons Run, filed a lawsuit asking that the town be required to repair the bridge, which provided the only access to their properties.

The decision on the case came in the fall of 2019, when Judge Carter Williams found Capon Bridge had legally accepted responsibility for the bridge back in the 1970s and was therefore responsible for it. A few months later, the bridge collapsed into Dillons Run.

Seeking to settle the case without building a new bridge, Capon Bridge instructed the town’s lawyer to negotiate a sale of the 2 properties affected. Attempts to purchase them were unsuccessful, first because the property owners initially asked for more than the town was willing to pay, and then because they said they no longer wanted to sell.

The Town Council then discussed invoking eminent domain to seize the properties. Were they successful in acquiring the properties, the plan was to turn them into a public use area along the stream.

When the town council learned that if seizure by eminent domain were contested, a jury would be asked to determine the compensation to be given the owners, this approach was abandoned too.

Thrasher Engineering was asked to estimate replacement costs, and told the town council that the bridge lies in the 100-year flood plain and therefore requires a 50-foot span with guardrails, at an estimated cost of at least $565,000.

The town continued to seek what Mayor Laura Turner described as a “more taxpayer-friendly” solution, since any major expense would require raising taxes on Capon Bridge residents.

“Our 1st priority is to the entire town and spending every dime we have over the next 15 to 20 years to pay for a bridge that only serves 2 residents doesn't seem like the best option,” she said later.

Capon Bridge now seems to have hit on the relatively low-cost solution the town has been seeking, installing a prefabricated metal bridge across the stream. Properly maintained, it should provide access to the other side for another 50 years, the council was told.

Even this will require a bond issue and some increase in local taxes.

The mayor has asked 4 local banks to submit quotes on a loan by April 11, and a bond ordinance to finance up to $300,000 should be ready for a first reading at the Capon Bridge Town Council meeting the evening of April 13, with a possible 2nd reading April 20.

Passage of the ordinance is expected at the May 11 meeting, after which Mayor Turner said it is possible the work could be completed in as little as 4 months.

“Hopefully before winter,” the mayor said, Duff Lane should get its new bridge.