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DHHR: Six more COVID-19 deaths in West Virginia

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Department of Health and Human Resources reported six additional West Virginia deaths attributed to COVID-19 on Tuesday morning.

The number of deaths statewide was at 147 with the following victims included: a woman from Logan County, age 72, a woman from Wyoming County, age 71, two women from Mercer County, ages 89 and 82, and two women from Grant County, ages 89 and 83.

“As this pandemic continues, it doesn’t get any easier to report the deaths of our residents. Our sincere condolences are extended to these families,” said Bill Crouch, DHHR secretary.

Overall, DHHR said 7,875 positive COVID-19 cases had been confirmed since March out of 330,447 lab tests.

That number included 121 new cases compared with Monday morning.

Active case numbers totaled 1,865.

Hospitalizations were up to 130 statewide which was a pandemic high.

As of Tuesday’s morning, West Virginia’s cumulative infection rate was 2.38 percent while the daily infection rate was 2.45 percent.

CASES PER COUNTY (Case confirmed by lab test/Probable case): Barbour (29/0), Berkeley (672/27), Boone (105/0), Braxton (8/0), Brooke (66/1), Cabell (399/10), Calhoun (6/0), Clay (18/0), Doddridge (6/0), Fayette (153/1), Gilmer (17/0), Grant (120/1), Greenbrier (93/0), Hampshire (76/0), Hancock (108/4), Hardy (60/1), Harrison (229/3), Jackson (165/0), Jefferson (289/7), Kanawha (947/13), Lewis (27/1), Lincoln (94/0), Logan (246/0), Marion (188/4), Marshall (126/4), Mason (63/0), McDowell (60/1), Mercer (203/0), Mineral (123/2), Mingo (180/2), Monongalia (933/17), Monroe (20/1), Morgan (29/1), Nicholas (36/1), Ohio (269/3), Pendleton (41/1), Pleasants (13/1), Pocahontas (41/1), Preston (104/21), Putnam (199/1), Raleigh (251/8), Randolph (206/5), Ritchie (3/0), Roane (16/0), Summers (14/0), Taylor (58/1), Tucker (10/0), Tyler (15/0), Upshur (37/3), Wayne (210/2), Webster (4/0), Wetzel (43/1), Wirt (7/0), Wood (244/12), Wyoming (34/0).

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Teays Valley Christian duo nets WVU offers

(Citynet Statewide Sportsline interview with Teays Valley Christian head coach Travis Tarr)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Huntington Prep graduate Isaiah Cottrell is getting his Mountaineer career started as a freshman at WVU. A pair of players who competed against him this year could soon join Cottrell in Morgantown.

Teays Valley Christian Prep rising juniors Jerome Beya and Josiah Davis both recently received scholarship offers from Bob Huggins. Davis is a 6-foot-3 guard and Beya is a 6-foot-9 post player.

“Jerome is a freak athlete,” said Teays Valley Christian head coach Travis Tarr. “He is an elite rim protector. He rebounds and starts transition really well. He has a really good motor.”

Beya is a native of the African nation of Congo. Tarr likens his ability to WVU rising sophomore Oscar Tshiebwe.

“He is a very similar player in what you see in Oscar with the intensity that he plays with and the physicality. In regards to him getting better, what we are focused on right now with Jerome is his body development. He is a little lean so we are putting weight on him. He has a great touch with both the left and the right hand around the rim. He is still developing his instincts with his back to the basket.

“He got into the sport in seventh or eighth grade in Africa in an NBA camp. He then came here as a freshman and during that time, he really just played off his athleticism.”

In addition to WVU, Beya has received scholarship offers from Illinois, North Carolina State, Oregon, South Florida, Temple, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and Xavier. Beya’s performance in TVCS’ season finale against Huntington Prep in February drew significant attention.

“There were several college coaches in attendance at that time. He was going against Isaiah Cottrell, who has signed with WVU. Cincinnati was present, Clemson was present and I believe Illinois was there. They got to see his shot blocking tendencies and his athleticism and the speed he plays at.

“From a development standpoint, he is coming along very quick.”

Josiah Davis is a native of Canada. He averaged thirteen points per game for Teays Valley Christian in his sophomore season and WVU represents his first ‘Power 5’ scholarship offer.

“He is a bulldog. Josiah was a recruit that we got to see during the summer last year and he was a combo guard. He plays naturally off the ball. But he knows for him to get to the next level, he has to be a point guard.

“He has a huge ceiling and is somebody West Virginia fans would love.”

The pandemic has limited in-person recruiting visits for both players and the duo still has plenty of time to field offers before committing.

“From a coaching standpoint, we will weigh pros and cons. Recruitment is still early for these guys. If we get to have a season this year, which I pray we do, we will have an opportunity to have a lot of college coaches in.”

Poca rising junior Isaac McKneely also holds a WVU scholarship offer in the Class of 2022.

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MetroNews This Morning 8-11-20

Covid 19 outbreaks continue at several elder care facilities in West Virginia. There is some good news on the overall Covid 19 front this morning in the Mountain State where we are not seeking huge spikes. Testing continues ton WVU students ahead of the fall semester. Huntington officials continue a tax freeze to help business owners and residents amid the pandemic. Paying for the cost to draw down federal unemployment benefits for those who have lost their jobs in the pandemic will be steep. Will schools be safe this fall…we take a look. In sports: the college football season is up in the air, but the Mountaineers are on the field and preparing for Game 1. Those stories and more in today’s MetroNews This Morning podcast.

Listen to “MetroNews This Morning 8-11-20” on Spreaker.

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Putnam County doctor convicted of illegally prescribing pills

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — A Putnam County doctor will be sentenced in November for unlawfully distributing opioids to his patients and fueling addictions.

Dr. Ricky L. Houdersheldt, 68, of Hurricane was convicted of 17 counts of distribution of controlled substances outside the scope of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose following a six-day federal trial.

The drugs prescribed included hydrocodone, morphine, fentanyl, oxycodone, acetaminophen codeine phosphate and diazepam, according to case records.

At times, the claim was, the drugs were prescribed in dangerous combinations.

For one female patient, prosecutors alleged Houdersheldt would meet her in parking lots instead of at his office to provide prescriptions in an attempt to establish a sexual relationship with her.

The Drug Enforcement Administration was involved in the investigation focused on Houdersheldt, who was indicted last September, along with the Hurricane Police Department as part of the Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force.

Houdersheldt’s sentencing date was set for Nov. 23 in front of U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers in the Southern District of West Virginia.

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Mingo County woman sentenced for 2017 shooting death in Ohio County

WHEELING, W.Va. — Fifteen years in prison is the sentence for a Mingo County woman who shot and killed a Louisiana man at an Ohio County hotel in July 2017.

Freda Davis, 38, was sentenced Monday in Ohio County Circuit Court via video conference for the death of Terry Pendergrist, Jr., an oil and gas worker.

Pendergrist’s death at the Wheeling’s McLure Hotel had originally been ruled a suicide.

It was early 2019 before Davis was charged with his murder.

Last week, she entered an Alford plea, admitting no guilt, for voluntary manslaughter.

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Huntington City Council extends refuse fee, B&O tax freezes

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The Huntington City Council on Monday agreed to extended freezes on refuse fee and business and occupation tax payments, which were previously in effect because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The changes were first put into place to provide residents and businesses with financial relief as the coronavirus limited incomes and consumer spending. The previous pauses expired June 30.

Huntington Mayor Steve Williams

“It is our feeling that our residents continue to need relief during this outbreak,” Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said.

Williams said he also spoke to retail owners about the tax freeze, in which they said the action was helpful.

“Without fail, they said their margins are so tight that every little bit helps,” he said.

The city council voted unanimously on both ordinances.

The pause will be in effect for the period dating between July 1 and Sept. 30. Williams said council members will discuss a possible second extension in October.

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DOT announces paving efforts in northern West Virginia

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The West Virginia Department of Transportation is planning to complete $2.6 million worth of road paving projects in northern counties over a 45-day period.

Gov. Jim Justice and transportation officials on Monday announced efforts to take place in five counties:

— Daybrook Road in Monongalia County.
— Quaker Fork in Marion County.
— Margaret in Marion County.
— Slaughter Run Road in Doddridge County.
— Big Elk Creek Road in Harrison County.
— Duncan Run in Harrison County.
— Brandonville Pike in Preston County.
— Bolyard Road in Taylor County.

Jimmy Wriston, the Department of Transportation’s deputy secretary, said favorable interest rates and bonds have put the agency in the position to complete multiple paving projects.

“Over the next few months you’re going to see probably more than $100 million — maybe as much as $130 million of additional work — above and beyond the normal program,” he said.

The projects are not part of the Roads to Prosperity or the Medical Access Road programs.

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Tony Fields II becomes second Arizona transfer to find his way to WVU

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Former freshman All-America selection and three-year starting linebacker Tony Fields II is bound for Morgantown. The Arizona transfer announced his verbal commitment to join the Mountaineers Monday evening on his Twitter site.

Committed to West Virginia University. #TrustTheClimb pic.twitter.com/qIBAS6lY14

— Tony Fields II (@T_Fields1) August 11, 2020

Fields will be reunited with WVU cornerbacks coach and co-defensive coordinator Jahmile Addae. Addae recruited the Las Vegas native to Arizona in 2017. Fields is the second Arizona defensive player to transfer to WVU this offseason. Safety Scottie Young has arrived in Morgantown and is practicing with the Mountaineers.

Arizona Wildcats linebacker Tony Fields II (1) celebrates after a sack against the UTEP Miners (Photo by: Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports)

Fields has been an every-game starter for three seasons with the Wildcats. He earned Freshman All-America honors in 2017 from ESPN.com and 247 Sports. He has racked up 287 tackles, 8.5 sacks and a pair of interceptions in 37 career games at Arizona.

Houston Cougars running back Dillon Birden (25) is defended by Arizona Wildcats linebacker Tony Fields II (1) (Photo by: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports)

Fields listed WVU, Minnesota and Texas as his ‘Top 3’ list on July 27.

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Absentee ballot request period begins Tuesday

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia voters on Tuesday can start applying to receive an absentee ballot for this year’s general election.

The West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office is allowing people to request an absentee ballot by citing the coronavirus — much like the June primary election — yet registered voters will not receive an application in the mail this time. Voters instead will have to submit an absentee ballot request form online or contact their county clerk.

“This is an improved way of requesting that,” Secretary of State Mac Warner told MetroNews. “It reduces the touches of human hands by the U.S. Postal Service and clerks, all of those places where human error did enter into the process in the primary. We’re going to eliminate that by automating it, transforming the process, and allowing people to go online and directly request their absentee ballot.”

According to the Secretary of State’s Office, nearly 50% of primary voters — 225,000 West Virginians — chose to vote by mail. Voter turnout in general elections is traditionally greater than primary election turnout.

“I’ll suspect we’ll have that many and perhaps a few more in the general election,” Warner said. “It really depends on COVID-19 and whether it flairs back up, and people’s comfort level.”

Warner, however, noted concerns regarding the safety of absentee voting.

“If you won the lottery, would you put that lottery ticket in the mail or would you take it down to the lottery commission yourself?” he said. “Most people would hand-deliver it because we’ve all experienced difficulties with the mail.”

Warner said although the U.S. Postal Service is efficient “most of the time,” important items are better handled in person; he encouraged voting early or on Election Day if possible.

“If you have that legitimate COVID-19 concern, there is no reason to put your health at risk and you can vote absentee. Everybody is eligible to do that in West Virginia,” he said.

Former Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, who is Warner’s opponent in this year’s Secretary of State contest, said she has doubts about the effectiveness of the online portal.

“(Voters) may be anticipating that they would be receiving an application that they could apply for a ballot to be mailed to them,” she said.

Tennant argued some people lack internet access to submit a request form or research how to contact their county clerk’s office, limiting opportunities to vote.

“We’ve been talking about how we are going to get students to learn virtually and online, and how we’re going to have to put 1,000 hot spots around the state because the internet is so bad,” she said. “It’s bad for students and teachers. It’s also bad for voters.”

When asked if voting by mail is a secure process, Tennant answered yes. A Pendleton County postal worker was charged in May after tampering with absentee ballot request forms; Thomas Cooper admitted to changing party identifications from Democrat to Republican.

“That county clerk caught it immediately because she knew the folks who had sent in the postcard, but there’s also several layers (of security),” Tennant said in favor of voting by mail. “You have a statewide voter registration database. You have a database within the county clerk’s office.”

Voters interested in receiving an absentee ballot can submit a request at https://govotewv.com or by contacting their county clerk’s office.

“You can also track your application and see if your county clerk has received the application or whether your ballot has been sent out or received,” Warner said of the website.

Voters will begin receiving ballots on Sept. 19, and applications will be accepted through Oct. 28. The final day of voter registration is Oct. 13.

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Governor Justice to host VP Pence for pricey gathering at The Greenbrier

Gov. Jim Justice, who says he is not a politician, is hosting a pricey fundraiser at The Greenbrier with special guest Vice President Mike Pence.

The event is this Saturday at the resort owned by Justice and his family.

“Governor Jim Justice is excited to welcome Vice President Mike Pence back to West Virginia. President Trump and Vice President Pence’s strongest ally in West Virginia is Governor Jim Justice. They have worked to grow our economy, create more jobs, and tackle the drug crisis,” said communications director Clay Sutton for Justice’s re-election campaign.

Pence fundraiser

The campaign did not say how many people are expected at the fundraiser.

Mike Pence

Pence is chairman of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

Justice is leading West Virginia’s coronavirus response, with daily briefings urging people to wear masks, wash hands and stay away from large gatherings.

The governor last month lowered West Virginia’s social gathering limit from 100 people down to 25.

“The 25-person limitation applies only to purely social gatherings,” according to state guidelines.

The limit does not apply to “group meetings, conferences or other special events held for essential businesses and operations, as defined by the emergency order signed by Justice. “Such meetings, conferences, or other special events will need to plan for social distancing between attendees based on CDC recommendations.”

Social distancing will be practiced at the fundraiser, promised Sutton, the Justice campaign communications director.

“The event with Vice President Pence will adhere to all COVID-19 mask requirements, social distancing, and personal protection policies recommended by local, state, and federal governments,” he stated Monday in response to MetroNews questions.

Invitations that went out to potential Republican donors suggest RSVPing quickly because space is limited.

The price to participate is significant.

The invitation starts with roundtable seating available for $25,000 a person.

There’s an $11,200 per person level that includes a photo opportunity.

There’s a $2,800 per person luncheon.

Or those who can’t attend are invited to give whatever they can.

Justice, owner of The Greenbrier as well as coal and agriculture holdings, often describes a close relationship with President Trump, a fellow Republican who refers to him as “Big Jim.”

Justice’s campaign benefited in 2019 from an appearance by Donald Trump Jr. at The Greenbrier. That pre-pandemic fundraiser brought in $193,454 for Justice’s campaign.

But Justice has repeatedly said he is a businessman, not a politician.

“I’m not a lifer politician who has had a government job and got rich for it,” Justice said during a regular coronavirus briefing on July 31.

ProPublica, The Associated Press and other media outlets reported that Justice-owned companies received up to $24 million in Paycheck Protection Program meant to provide economic relief from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Greenbrier, among the Justice companies benefiting, listed “0” in a column about the number of jobs that would be retained on account of the loan.

Justice, over and over, has emphasized that he is interested in the responsibilities of being governor, not politics.

“I don’t deal with my campaign,” he said Friday. “I’ve never been to our campaign headquarters.” 

Paul Hardesty

Meanwhile, Justice’s campaign announced a fundraising team to be headed by Democratic state Senator Paul Hardesty, a former Justice companies lobbyist who is not running for re-election, and businessman Larry Pack, a Republican.

“I am honored to have two superstars who are helping my campaign. Paul and Larry share my vision and love of West Virginia. I appreciate their hard work and support of my campaign,” Justice stated in the announcement.

Hardesty was named by Justice to the Senate to represents Boone, Lincoln, Logan, and Wayne Counties after the resignation of an incumbent Democrat, Richard Ojeda.

“I’ve known Governor Justice a long time. He’s an experienced commonsense businessman who has a record of getting results. I am proud to support his re-election campaign, and I look forward to working with him to move West Virginia forward,” Hardesty said in a statement about his fundraising role.

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