Boone County 2013 ‘Year In Review’

Fred Pace

January 1, 2014

BOONE COUNTY – It was a year that saw tragedy, crime, controversy and compassion in Boone County in 2013.

The Coal Valley News editorial staff selected its top 10 stories of the year for 2013 last week. Here are the highlights of those stories that captured the attention of readers throughout the year.

10) Wild Wonderful Whites arrested – In 2013 two of the featured members of the “Wild, Wonderful Whites of West Virginia” movie documentary were in the news in 2013 after being arrested.

Sue Ann White, 44, of Uneeda, known as “Sue Bob” and one of the family members that appeared on the 2009 documentary “The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia,” was arrested Monday, Aug. 5th, near Lenore in Mingo County for allegedly driving under the influence of several different intoxicants.

She is the youngest sister of Jesco White, also known as the Dancing Outlaw.

Mingo deputies spotted a red Ford Mustang leaving the Marathon Gas Station in Lenore after receiving a tip about a car matching that description being driven by a woman under the influence.

Lts. J.D. Ferris and R.L. Hatfield stopped the car after it crossed the white line, according to a criminal complaint. They identified White as the driver and asked for her vehicle information. The deputies noted her slurred speech and glassy eyes.

White was taken to Williamson Memorial Hospital after failing field sobriety tests.

A urine sample tested positive for benzodiazepines, cannabinoids and opiates, the complaint said. White told deputies she’d smoked marijuana and consumed oxycodone and other prescription pills including Neurontin, which is used to treat seizures.

On Nov. 8th, Mamie Warner, a.k.a. Mamie White, was booked on charges of first offense driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance and assault and battery of a police officer with a weapon.

Warner, 60, was taken to the Southwestern Regional Jail in Holden and placed on a $25,000 bond.

9) 160 miners lose jobs – In August, layoffs were officially set at several Boone County coal mines, but most of the 160 miners were let go at the time of the June announcement and given their two months pay under a federal law that requires two-month notice from large employers.

Those layoffs already had been affecting Boone County businesses near the mines.

Independence Coal Co. closed its entire Allegiance, Cook and Justice No. 1 mines in Seth, while the Spartan Mining Co. shut down the Liberty Processing Plant in Madison.

The companies cited market conditions as the reason. All the workers were notified back in June of the layoffs. The two companies are owned by Alpha Natural Resources.

8) McClure win race for Danville mayor, again – In June, Town of Danville Mayor Mark McClure won for the 9th straight time, which allowed him to continue as the current longest continually serving mayor in the state of West Virginia.

McClure, of the Citizen’s Party, defeated Independent Party candidate Justin Chafin, 82 votes to 31 votes in unofficial results in the municipal election at the Danville Community Center.

“I really appreciate the support and trust I have received from the citizens of Danville,” McClure said. “The town, the people, the city workers, the business owners and the entire community are the best any where.”

McClure, a 62-year-old coal miner, has diligently served the people of Danville for 35 years, after being appointed a councilman on the Town of Danville Council when he was 29-years-old.

Also, in August the Danville town manager was sworn in as the newest delegate in the state legislature.

Josh Barker was appointed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to replace 22nd Delegate District representative Josh Stowers, who resigned to accept a position in the state treasurer’s office.

7) Longtime Madison doctor passes away — A longtime Madison doctor passed away this past weekend on Saturday, July 27th.

Dr. John Mark Snyder, 56, of Turtle Creek passed away peacefully in the evening, according to his obituary from Handley Funeral Home in Danville.

A former coal miner, Dr. Snyder was a graduate of Gary High School, Bluefield State College and The West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine. Dr. Snyder proudly made his home and practiced medicine in Madison for the past 25 years.

6) Bias named Rotary ‘Citzien of the Year’ — Rev. Thomas Bias is the Madison Rotary Club’s 2013 Citizen of the Year. The announcement was made at the club’s annual dinner on Thursday, June 13th, when the surprised recipient — who attended the event, along with his wife Nancy, as guests of a Rotarian friend — was called to the podium.

“I’m hardly ever at a loss for words,” said Bias, a retired educator, minister, and community volunteer, but I really don’t know what to say. I’m very surprised, and honored, to have been chosen for this award.”

He thanked the Rotarians and praised the club for the good work Rotary does, not only locally but also nationally and internationally. Actually, ‘Tom,’ as his many friends know him, is a former Rotarian himself having held membership in the Marmet club and the Madison Rotary club.

Annually since 1995, the Madison Rotary Club has chosen an outstanding individual in the community to receive the Citizen of the Year award. The selection is based on community service and a willingness to lend a helping hand whenever and wherever needed to benefit fellow citizens and community projects. Tom is such an individual and his lifelong deeds of volunteerism, kindness, and concern for his community more than meet the criteria to become Rotary’s Citizen of the Year.

Tom held several positions in Boone County’s schools during his 28 years as an educator—teacher, principal, coach—and along the way he mentored and encouraged hundreds of students, setting an outstanding example for them to follow as they matured into adulthood. He has a BA degree in Secondary Education and earned a MA degree in School Administration, both from Marshall University.

Tom has been in the ministry since 1989, and in 1990 received a Master of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is ordained in both the United Methodist Church and the American Baptist Church and has served several churches in Boone County and other areas, and currently is pastor of the Van United Methodist Church.

Throughout his life Tom has always had a willingness to help out in his community and county whenever called upon. He served on the Boone County Board of Health for 25 years. He has been a member of the Boone Memorial Hospital’s Board of Trustees since 2011, and he previously served a partial term in the West Virginia House of Delegates.

Tom is a past noble grand, Boone Lodge (Odd Fellows) of Madison; member of O’Dell Lodge No. 115, Madison; vice president and member of the Legislative Committee for the Boone County Retired School Employees; a former member, president, and chaplain of Boone County Gideons Int.

Tom is married to the former Nancy Green, also a retired teacher. They are the parents of daughter Caroline Hatfield, and son Nick, both Boone County school teachers, and grandparents to Hope and Max Hatfield. He and Nancy reside just outside Madison at Washington Heights.

5) Patriot Coal announces the end of mountain top removal operations – At the end of 2012 and into the beginning of 2013, Patriot Coal continued to phase out mountaintop removal and other forms of strip mining, in a move Patriot officials say is in the best interests of their company, its employees and the communities where it operates.

In a deal with citizen groups and environmentalists, Patriot said it would never seek new permits for large-scale surface mining operations, according to details of the settlement that were made public in federal court.

St. Louis-based Patriot continued some existing and smaller mining projects, but also implemented a cap on surface production and eventually stopped all strip mining when existing coal leases expired.

Ben Hatfield, president and CEO of Patriot, said the plan would help his company emerge from bankruptcy, focus on underground mining, and curb mountaintop removal’s effects on coalfield communities.

4) Major drug bust in Boone County — In September, Boone County law enforcement announced a major drug bust. At least 10 people were arrested following a major drug raid in several locations in Boone County.

Jennifer Vint, Shelbie Darrell Vint, Sara Beth Bolyard, Mary Kathryn Borwder, Paul Michael Smith, Clinton Halley, Joseph Garland Bias, Timothy Brown, Scotty Hagert and Charles Scott Kingery have all been taken to the Southwestern Regional Jail, according to State Police initial reports.

The bonds on those arrested ranged from $100,000 to $200,000 for each person.

State Police Sgt. Charles Sutphin said an undercover drug buy was made in the county to begin the arrests. A raid was then conducted at a residence on Bias Branch Road in Madison.

In making the arrests police found heroin, marijuana, an active methamphetamine lab and a number of prescription drugs.

Authorities said an active meth lab was discovered inside a Boone County home where two people were living, and those residents were arrested.

Meth product also was hanging from the ceiling in another Boone County residence.

The suspects were arrested at multiple locations throughout the county, State Police said.

A criminal complaint alleges some of the suspects delivered marijuana, hydrocodone or methamphetamine.

Police said most of the arrests were not connected.

All the suspects were part of an investigation that has been under way for several months, police added. Some of the suspects have been charged with selling the drugs three to four times to undercover officers.

3) Boone County drops controversial lawsuit against local pharmacies – In a rare non-unanimous vote by the Boone County Commission, a lawsuit in September was dropped. The lawsuit was intended to reduce prescription drug abuse by targeting alleged “pill mill” pharmacies in Southern West Virginia.

But a majority of the commissioners later said they changed their minds after speaking with state Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, about Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s 2012 substance abuse bill, which tightened restrictions on prescription pills.

“I just think it was done wrong,” said Boone County Commissioner Eddie Hendricks, who voted to withdraw the lawsuit. “There wasn’t a great deal of evidence [against the pharmacies].”

Commission President Mickey Brown said federal, state and county investigators improperly influenced him to authorize to the lawsuit against the pharmacies - two of which are located in Boone County. Brown said he voted earlier this month based on “hearsay evidence.”

“I questioned my decision,” Brown said. “I know these are not pill mills.”

The lawsuit named six pharmacies: Larry Drive-In Pharmacy in Madison; Medicine Stop in Uneeda; Meds 2 Go, Meds to Go Express and Alum Creek Pharmacy, all in Alum Creek; and Trivillian’s Pharmacy in Kanawha City.

2) Opening of Alpha Natural Resources’ “Running Right Way Leadership Academy” – In June, Alpha Natural Resources officially opened a new mine safety facility in Julian that is the first of its kind to offer extensive mining curriculum, along with hands-on training with the most modern and latest state-of-the-art technologies.

The “Running Right Leadership Academy” is a comprehensive education and training facility for mine safety and operations.

“The success of our company and industry starts with safety,” said Kevin Crutchfield, chairman and CEO of Alpha Natural Resources. “The Running Right Leadership Academy is the culmination of years of planning and hard work, and we are proud to have brought this concept to reality. The scale and scope of the facility is the first of its kind in the industry, demonstrating our leadership and commitment to the well-being of our employees.”

Crutchfield says the new academy offers hands-on learning for those in the mining industry like nowhere in the world.

“This is a manifestation of Alpha’s Running Right Way Policy,” he said. “This is a historic beginning for the future on mine safety, health and training.”

Alpha has invested approximately $23 million into the facility and development of the curriculum, which is extensive and integrates a broad range of subject areas including technical, safety and leadership skills. It will be a resource for miners who work underground, as well as surface miners and office support personnel.

The Alpha Academy is a 136,000 square foot campus that includes classroom space for up to 300 people; a 96,000 square foot lab that can simulate mine situations and conditions; labs for electrical, welding and maintenance skills training; the latest mine safety technologies, including air flow sensors and multi-gas hand held detectors; a command center for mine rescue and emergency preparedness training; and facilities and equipment for supervisory leadership skill training.

“Virtual reality simulators will allow participants to operate continuous mining machines, roof bolters, scoop and haul trucks and receive real-time feedback on their performance,” said Keith Hainer, senior vice president of Alpha’s Operations Performance Group.

State and local elected officials, community leaders, employees and other business partners, also attended the event.

“They have been a great corporate neighbor and partner,” said Boone County Economic and Development Director Larry Lodato. “They are an important part of our community and have been heavily involved in community service in our area. This facility is a great benefit not only to the coal mining industry, but also to the local community as well.”

“This is a great day for Boone County,” said Boone County Commission President Mickey Brown. “To have this type of facility here is only going help boost the local economy as well as help our local fire departments and other first responders with training as well.”

Alpha officials said in addition to training its own employees, its new academy would also be used by local fire departments and other in the mining industry.

1) Boone Memorial Hospital receives federal funding for construction of new hospital — U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), along with Senators Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin (both D-W.Va.), announced federal funding to support the construction of a new hospital facility and clinic at Boone Memorial Hospital.

For almost five decades, Boone Memorial has helped serve the health needs of generations of families and I have been proud to work with them, said Rahall.

“This major financing is a needed shot in the arm for Boone Memorial, its dedicated workforce, and most importantly, the families they serve,” he said. “Federal investments, like this, help raise the health and the quality of life for the entire region.”

Boone Memorial has been an important hospital serving West Virginians for decades.

“It’s great news that they are receiving this funding,” said Rockefeller. “I have been working with Boone Memorial for years to get this project off the ground and to make sure that they get the resources they need to provide the best services for West Virginians, and they have done an outstanding job. I have known the hospitals CEO, Tommy Mullins, for years, and I know how dedicated he is to expanding access to health care in southern West Virginia, which is something I have always felt strongly about. We have been able to work closely to move this project forward and I greatly appreciate Tommy’s hard fought efforts for Boone County and our state.”

“I’m so proud of Boone Memorial CEO Tommy Mullins and his entire staff for having the tenacity and commitment to meet the needs of the people of Boone County,” Manchin said. “Tommy’s perseverance all these years along with the capable work of his dedicated staff are making all the difference in the lives and health of our residents. With a loan program like this, everyone has some skin in the game and a vested interest in seeing this hospital succeed.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development has approved a Community Facility Direct Loan of $31,800,000 for Boone Memorial Hospital to construct, equip, and furnish 78,700 sq. ft. of hospital facility and clinic space.

New construction is needed because the current facility was designed for medical practice in the 1960s.

The current facility would be extremely costly to renovate or remodel due to the method of construction, hospital officials said.

It is also extremely energy inefficient, lacks needed storage, has inadequate environmental controls, and the safety and security systems do not meet new standards, officials added.

The funds are expected to be drawn from USDA as needed, with the Hospital paying only interest through the construction period.

Total cost of the project is $34.3 million.