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Man dead in Lincoln County house fire

HARTS CREEK, W.Va. — The state Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating a fatal fire that occurred Wednesday evening in Lincoln County.

A 70-year-old man died as a result of the fire at a home near the intersection of state Route 10 and Dry Branch Road in Harts Creek.

There’s no word yet on what caused the blaze.

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MetroNews This Morning 5-13-18

Governor Justice say the gift cards rewarding those under age 35 for getting a Covid vaccine are on the way. The state is ready to begin administering Pfizer vaccinations to those ages 12 to 15 in W.Va. The extra unemployment benefit those out of work have gotten for the last several months due to the pandemic, may end early. First Lady Jill Biden comes to West Virginia today. Families of the victims of those killed by a former employee of the Clarksburg V-A react to her sentence. In sports, a WVU golfer gets an individual at-large bid into the NCAA tourney and the Mountain East Conference baseball tournament start today. Those stories and more in today’s MetroNews This Morning podcast.

Listen to “MetroNews This Morning 5-13-21” on Spreaker.

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Reta Mays May Be Responsible For More Deaths Than She Has Admitted

The Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General’s investigation into the murders of veterans at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg has left open the possibility that Reta Mays is responsible for more deaths than she has admitted.

Tuesday, Mays was sentenced to life in prison for murdering seven veterans, and assault with intent to murder an eighth veteran, by injecting them with fatal doses of insulin which triggered hypoglycemia.  The Veterans Administration has settled lawsuits holding the former overnight nurses’ aide responsible for two additional deaths.

That is ten total deaths, and the criminal investigation is closed.  However, an appendix in the OIG report raises the issue of other potential victims, though it does not specifically attribute the deaths to Mays.

Reta Mays

“We have not found that yet [emphasis added],” Michael Missal, Inspector General of the Department of Veterans Affairs,” told me on Talkline Wednesday.

Missal said investigators examined every death that occurred in the ward where Mays worked.  Sixty-six of those patients had at least one hypoglycemic event, which can occur naturally or unnaturally when insulin is administered.

Missal then chose his words carefully.  “We didn’t see any others that rose to a criminal level where you can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.”  That is a high standard, and one that is not easy for prosecutors to meet.

The OIG then made a point to leave the door open to further investigation.  “We have asked the VA to have people from outside Clarksburg look at any patients where there were quality health concerns,” Missal said. “We will be monitoring what the VA is doing and if they find others that raise issues then we will pursue them.”

“So, our work is not done,” he said. “We’re going to continue to follow through.”

Throughout the investigation there has always been the suggestion that the serial killer’s death toll would rise. Charleston Attorney Tony O’Dell, who is representing families of many of the victims, believes Mays killed more than ten veterans.

O’Dell said 21 patients on the floor where Mays worked died within 24 hours of the patient’s expected discharge or being moved to a lower level of care. “These people were not dying,” O’Dell said.

“The report leaves little doubt that Reta Mays killed or caused harm to many more veterans than she has admitted to,” O’Dell said.  “Many families deserve to know what the VA and the OIG know.”


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Manchin joining Biden, Garner on West Virginia trip
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. (Office of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., will join First Lady Jill Biden and actress Jennifer Garner on their trip Thursday to West Virginia.

Biden, Garner and Manchin will visit a coronavirus vaccination site at Capital High School, where the three will also deliver remarks.

The first lady and Garner were originally scheduled to visit Arnoldsburg Elementary School in Calhoun County; the school system in on remote learning because of coronavirus-related issues.

The three will arrive and depart from Charleston’s Yeager Airport, and the three will speak to members of the West Virginia National Guard before leaving West Virginia.

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RCB ends Bridgeport’s 12-game winning streak, 7-4

BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. — Robert C. Byrd scored six unanswered runs to hand Bridgeport their first loss in their last 13 games. The Flying Eagles posted three-run frames in the fifth and sixth innings to win 7-4 at the Bridgeport Baseball Complex.

Less than 24 hours earlier, RCB (12-3) squandered multiple late leads against another Class AAA power Morgantown before falling 13-12 in nine innings.

“After coming away last night feeling pretty low, it feels good to come out here and not only be in the game but win the game as well,” said RCB assistant coach Hunter Sowders.

The Indians (12-2) erased an early deficit by scoring four runs in the bottom of the first inning. However, they would manage just three hits in the final six innings. Starter Nathaniel Junkins pitched four scoreless frames for the Flying Eagles, striking out five batters.

“I think it was the seniors we have on this team, (Xavier) Lopez and (Grant) Lowther just putting their arm around him and telling him to calm down.”

In the top of the sixth, RCB plated three runs after their first five batters in the inning reached base. Nicholas George’s two-run double capped the scoring and gave the Flying Eagles a 7-4 lead. Lowther then entered from the bullpen and got the final six outs, four of them by strikeout.

“(Grant) wanted Bridgeport and he told us that today. We knew he was going to be first in the pen. That curve ball that he throws it really nice. For him to be able to throw it for strikes is really big.”

RCB is now 9-0 against Big 10 Conference opposition.

“We knew that we could play with a lot of people in our area. We wanted this win. We knew where it would set us up for the Big 10. To win the Big 10, you have to go through Bridgeport every year.”

Lowther (2 IP, 1H, 0 R) picked up the win in relief while Ryan Goff (3 IP, 3 R, 2 ER, 4 K) took the loss. Nate Paulsen, J.D. Love and Drew Hogue had multi-hit games for the Indians. George doubled twice and drove in three runs for the Flying Eagles.

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May Madness in the Mountain State

The most unusual and perhaps most memorable high school basketball season in West Virginia is now complete. 

It will always be remembered for its delayed start caused by COVID-19 and expanded post-season format which crowned not three but four champions in both girls and boys tournaments. 

The Metronews Radio Network broadcast all 56 games and televised the eight championship games. 

Emmy Award winning producer Dan Lohmann of Pikewood Creative gathered video, still photos and broadcast audio to tell the story of West Virginia’s first-ever May Madness and the memories that will last a lifetime for all participants and fans. 

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DHHR to begin administering Pfizer vaccine to younger West Virginians

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources has announced West Virginia children between the ages of 12 and 15 will begin receiving the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine.

The announcement Wednesday follows decisions by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the Food and Drug Administration to authorize the vaccine’s use among younger people.

“This is an important step in our fight against the pandemic,” state Health Officer Dr. Ayne Amjad said. “Younger populations are contracting the virus and spreading it and choosing to be vaccinated will help stop the spread. We encourage all eligible West Virginians to choose to be vaccinated as soon as they get the opportunity.”

The West Virginia Joint Interagency Task Force will work with local bodies, state agencies and pharmacies in coordinating the administration of doses.

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Senators promise action on VA hospital failures that allowed veterans’ murders

Following the sentencing of former nursing aide Reta Mays, West Virginia’s U.S. senators say hard work must be done to assure confidence in the Clarksburg veterans hospital where multiple patients died after being administered lethal doses of insulin.

Joe Manchin

Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., says he is meeting Monday with Denis McDonough, secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

“I want to make sure he understands the need to absolutely overhaul the management and the practices of the VA hospital,” Manchin said today.

Mays was sentenced to seven consecutive life terms in the deaths of eight veterans at the hospital in Clarksburg. Civil suits filed by families seek to hold the Department of Veterans Affairs responsible for even more deaths.

Mays admitted to killing veterans Robert KozulRobert Edge Sr.Archie EdgellGeorge Shaw, a patient identified only as W.A.H., Felix McDermott and Raymond Golden. She is also accused of administering insulin to “R.R.P.,” another patient who was not diabetic, with intent to kill him.

All had checked into the hospital to seek healthcare and all had expected to recover. None were being treated for diabetes, yet their blood sugar crashed under suspicious circumstances. Mays admitted causing their deaths by administering unnecessary and lethal doses of insulin while she worked the overnight shift.

MORE: Families describe loss as former VA hospital aide is sentenced to multiple life terms

Concurrently with the sentencing, the inspector general for the Veterans Administration released a scathing 100-page report concluding that, although Mays killed the veterans, the hospital and its leaders were responsible for the conditions allowing her actions.

“While responsibility for these criminal acts clearly lies with Ms. Mays, the OIG found inattention and missed opportunities at several junctures, which, if handled differently might have allowed earlier detection of Ms. Mays actions or possibly averted them altogether,” according to the report by the Office of Inspector General for Veterans Affairs.

Manchin said that’s a call to action.

“I had said before that I couldn’t get involved because of the investigation. Now with the report being done and the sentencing of Reta Mays we can go further, quicker and faster and make something happen and make the changes that need to be made,” Manchin said.

The inspector general’s report concluded that Mays’ earlier employment history meant she never should have been hired by the veterans hospital, which didn’t complete proper background checks. Allegations of excessive use of force were leveled against Mays while she worked as a corrections officer at the North Central Regional Jail.

And she also should not have had access to the insulin that caused fatal hypoglycemic episodes among the veterans. Medication rooms and carts were not properly secured on Ward 3 where Mays worked, the OIG report concluded, giving her unauthorized access.

“How in the world did they not know by doing a background check on Reta Mays that she should not be at that hospital, did not have the qualifications and had very poor recommendations for performance for other places she worked?” Manchin asked.

“How did they leave all the medicines on the carts unprotected?”

The inspector general’s report described some corrective actions by the facility — “to improve medication security, nursing policies and processes and general oversight.”

The report noted that cameras were installed to provide views of Ward 3A’s four hallways and entrance, and a motion-activated security camera was installed in the 3A medication room.

The Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center released a statement this week expressing condolences to the families as well as gratitude for the inspector general’s investigation. The statement noted VA has reached financial settlements with  a more than a half dozen families of veterans through the Federal Tort Claims Act.

During the OIG investigation, the statement contended, VA put in place safeguards to enhance patient safety, including medical chart audits, checks and balances within pharmacy quality assurance processes and quality management reviews.

“While this matter involving an isolated employee does not represent the quality health care tens of thousands of North Central West Virginia Veterans have come to expect from our facility, it has prompted a number of improvements that will strengthen our continuity of care and prevent similar issues from happening in the future,” according to the statement.

Manchin was not impressed.

Speaking on MetroNews’ “Talkline,” the senator said “The whole statement you just read is pure BS. If they think they’ve corrected all that right now, I haven’t seen that correction.”

.@Sen_JoeManchin speaks with @HoppyKercheval about the Inspector General's Report. WATCH:

— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) May 12, 2021

Michael Missal

Michael Missal, the inspector general for the VA, said he hopes the Clarksburg VA and similar hospitals for veterans around the country will take the report to heart. He said some of the recommendations — such as underscoring hiring practices or properly securing medicine — were extended to hospital administrators even before the report was released.

“Do we inform VA? Absolutely. Our role is to help VA improve. Our role is to help veterans get the highest quality healthcare,” Missal said during a Wednesday morning roundtable interview with reporters from around the country. “We are going to immediately let VA know you have failings here.”

He continued, “If we found something that we thought needed to be changed to improve the quality of healthcare, the answer is yes.”

Michael Missal, @VetAffairsOIG, joins @HoppyKercheval to discuss former VA Hospital nurse assistant Reta Mays. WATCH:

— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) May 12, 2021

Julie Kroviak

The inspector general emphasized that veterans hospitals need a culture that puts patients first. In this case, the inspector general concluded, that was deeply lacking with disastrous results.

“If that isn’t the culture promoted by leadership you will eventually get to shortcomings,” said Julie Kroviak, deputy assistant inspector general for healthcare inspections.

The VA announced last Christmas Eve that the hospital’s director, Glenn Snider Jr., would no longer serve in that role. Snider was reassigned and has been working at a regional office.

“Any type of personnel decision is really VA’s to make,” Missal said when reporters asked why Snider wasn’t fired.

The medical center’s top executive for nursing was also reassigned last Dec. 28.

Shelley Moore Capito

Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., agreed that the inspector general’s report underscores major concerns.

“Reading this report is just devastating. The failures at the Clarksburg VAMC outlined within this report are absolutely unacceptable,” Capito stated.

“The findings show a collapse of administrative and clinical responsibility that has led to unimaginable consequences, which makes it clear that updated policy and procedure is desperately needed.”

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Justice considering eliminating $300 extra unemployment benefit early

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice said Wednesday he’s considering eliminating the $300 weekly additional unemployment benefit that thousands of state residents receive before its September expiration date.

Governor Jim Justice

Justice said he’s heard from employers that can’t fill jobs. He said some people still need the benefits but there are some that don’t.

“We got plenty of folks that are hurting and not speaking of those folks in any way but you’ve got a lot, a lot, a lot of other folks that are scamming the whole system,” Justice said. “Our businesses are pleading with our people. We’ve got to have you back to work.”

Governors in more and more states have taken the step to eliminate the additional benefits. Iowa and Tennessee announced decisions to do so Tuesday. There are nine other states that made the move earlier.

Justice, who was short on specifics Wednesday. said his move would be two-pronged.

“Not only are we looking at moving forward to shorten that time period and go all of the way out to the end but we’re also looking at another tradeoff that could really help incentivize those folks to get back on the job. We need them back to work,” Justice said.

But West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy Senior Policy Analyst Sean O’Leary said the trouble with employers filling jobs is more about transitioning out of a pandemic than it is people deciding not to work because they get $300 extra on top of their weekly unemployment benefits.

“It takes some time to adjust and of course there’s going to be some issues and the labor market is going to take maybe a month, two months to adjust to that and get back to normal. We’ve not had a global pandemic like this before,” O’Leary told MetroNews.

Sean O’Leary

O’Leary said it’s not that there are more jobs but the openings have come back very quickly and the workforce, for various reasons, has had trouble keeping pace.

O’Leary said the $300 extra benefit is helping ease the transition. He said eliminating it could slow the economic recovery.

“We still have in West Virginia and nationwide more unemployed workers than job openings and if you cut that off you’re cutting off that income because there’s not jobs for them. We hear that there are but the data is telling they’re not there. If you cut that off then their spending is going to go down,” O’Leary said.

He said the additional benefits have helped West Virginia’s economy.

Total unemployment in West Virginia just under 43,000 residents, a number that’s been falling in recent months, O’Leary said.

“Right now we’re seeing an economy on the verge of taking off,” he said.

Justice seemed to indicate Wednesday that his patience was about ready to run out.

“This nation was built on people’s work. I’m a real believer that work brings real gratification and honor and everything else. We’ve got to get our people back to work,” Justice said.

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Thoughts and observations from the Class A and Class AA state tournaments

One year after the start of the pandemic brought an end to high school basketball season before boys teams could compete at the state tournament, there were memories aplenty on the hardwood in Charleston.

Some thoughts and observations from the Class A and Class AA state tournaments, which culminated with Man and Williamstown as state champions. (Note: Class AAA and Class AAAA will publish tomorrow.)

Class A

—— Man’s Austin Ball is a force. The 6-foot-7 junior was as steady and consistent as any player in Charleston, scoring 72 over three games to lead the Hillbillies to their first state championship.

When Man struggled to produce offense for much of the title game against defensive-minded Pendleton County, Ball came through in a big way, scoring 10 points in each half to finish with 20 of the game’s 79 points.

Ball’s 72 points led all players at the state tournament and were 20 more than the next highest Class A scorer — Tug Valley guard Caleb May, who scored 52 in two games.

Ball has the skill set to play at the next level and adding strength to his 185-pound frame will only enhance his chances of making that opportunity happen at the Division I level.

Regardless of what the future holds for Ball, he’ll always remember his dunk that marked the final points of the title game and set off a frenzied celebration from the Man faithful.

—— Pendleton County had an impressive showing in its state tournament debut. PCHS played to its strengths, using a methodical style to get past Greenbrier West and Tug Valley, before falling short against Man in the final. The Wildcats had the score and tempo at their preferred pace against the Hillbillies, but came up short down the stretch and were outscored 11-0 to end the game.

Coach Ryan Lambert worked wonders with an experienced Pendleton team, one that rode post players Josh Alt and Bailey Thompson. The Wildcats finished 4 of 17 on three-pointers in Charleston, including 3 of 10 in the title game. Guard Tanner Townsend was 4 of 11 on triples — meaning the rest of the roster did not hit a three and attempted only six.

Without a shot clock, the Wildcats had no difficulty slowing down games and working for the best available shot, which combined with holding opponents to 41 points on average, nearly led Lambert’s team to a championship.

PCHS did not surrender 50 points in any of its 18 games this season. There was some thought that Pendleton’s 40-game win streak dating back to the start of last season was largely predicated off of its schedule, but the Wildcats proved otherwise.

Although Pendleton started four seniors, Lambert’s culture and ability to get players to buy in leaves the Wildcats with plenty of hope in the future.

—— Cameron had a quick stay in Charleston after falling to Tug Valley in a quarterfinal, but the Dragons showed plenty of promise in the 69-55 loss.

CHS trailed by just five through three quarters and was hurt by 6-7 junior Trevor Beresford (the younger brother of former West Virginia player Logan Routt) being in foul trouble. Two of Cameron’s five starters and three of its eight players to see action in Charleston are seniors, suggesting this season could be a springboard for the Dragons.

Class AA

—— Williamstown won its first state championship since 1962 and much of it can be attributed to the Yellowjackets’ defense and free-throw shooting.

WHS held opponents to 28.6 percent field-goal shooting, including 20.5 on three-pointers. The defensive field-goal percentage, along with surrendering 40 points on average, were tops among all 32 teams in Charleston.

In a semifinal victory over Chapmanville and the title game against Poca, the Yellowjackets’ 2-3 zone caused fits for the Tigers and Dots.

For the tournament, seventy-three of the 154 field-goal attempts against Williamstown were three-pointers, and only 15 were made.

As for the free throws, Williamstown made 45 of 62, including 35 of 44 in the semifinal and final. WHS coach Scott Sauro discussed the importance of his team making 21-of-27 tries from the charity stripe following the victory over Chapmanville. His players must have been listening, as they followed it up by making 14 of 17 in the final, including 10 of 13 during a fourth quarter in which they did not record a field goal as they held off a furious charge from the Dots.

The battle between Poca and Charleston Catholic in a Class AA semifinal will be a memory for some time. Photo by Eddie Ferrari

—— Poca’s 42-40 win over Charleston Catholic in a semifinal was the most thrilling of the seven Class AA state tournament games from a viewing standpoint.

While the first half was low scoring and saw PHS enter the break with a 17-9 lead, the Irish scored 20 points in the third quarter on the strength of six three-pointers. That enabled Catholic to lead for all but 14 seconds of the fourth quarter.

Only when Virginia commit Isaac McKneely made three-pointers with 23 seconds remaining and again in response to an Aiden Satterfield basket with 1.7 seconds left, were the Dots in front in the fourth.

That final sequence, which featured McKneely hitting a triple to give Poca a 39-38 lead and then another for the final points, was one of the more memorable games in state tournament history.

It was a tough way to go out for an Irish team that was plenty good enough to win it all, but missed all four fourth-quarter free throw attempts and finished 0 for 6 for the game.

Catholic, however, should feel anything but defeated in the aftermath of a tough season-ending loss. Satterfield and fellow senior Zion Suddeth displayed nothing but class in postgame interviews, following in the footsteps of Hunter Moles, who seems to relate to his players as well as any coach in the state.

McKneely was also gracious in defeat the next day, accepting responsibility for his 4 for 22 shooting performance against Williamstown, while vowing to get back in the gym Monday and continue working on his game. He didn’t become the state’s top recruit on accident.

—— Ritchie County’s first trip to the state tournament ended with a 10-point loss to Charleston Catholic in a quarterfinal, but the Rebels held their own.

Despite making 7-of-8 three-pointers in the opening half, Ritchie still faced a five-point deficit at the break after the Irish connected on 7-of-9 triples.

Sophomore Ethan Haught, the son of Rebels’ coach Rick Haught, was an all-tournament team selection after scoring 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting, to go with eight rebounds and five assists.

Haught’s return should only increase expectations ahead of next season for a team that earned its way to Charleston despite being the third seed in a three-team section.

Three of the team’s five starters are seniors, including leading scorer Graden McKinney, but the state tournament experience is something that can’t be replicated.

—— Bluefield is no stranger to state tournaments or state championships, though the Beavers were far from a shoo-in to get to Charleston this season.

A 49-42 loss to Poca in a quarterfinal left Bluefield with a 9-10 record, but the Beavers showed plenty of promise and shot 60 percent (18 of 30) in the loss.

BHS won four straight games before its season-ending setback and hung with the Dots throughout. Sophomore Caleb Fuller had a game-high 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting, and with only three seniors, the Beavers will expect to return to Charleston with a better record next season.

They could also benefit from the development of R.J. Hairston, a 6-3 freshman who scored six points in 29 minutes against the Dots.

“We’ll be back up here,” Fuller said. “I promise you that.”

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