Top 10 of ’12

Sheriff Shirley’s indictment tops list of year’s news

The federal indictment and subsequent re-election of Jefferson County Sheriff Bobby Shirley has been selected as the top news story of 2012 by the Spirit of Jefferson editors.

1. Lawman gets in trouble with the law

Sheriff Robert “Bobby” Shirley entered a plea of not guilty in June after being indicted for his role in the beating of Mark Daniel Haines, now a convicted bank robber, during his 2010 arrest. after being indicted for his alleged role in the beating of Mark Daniel Haines, now a convicted bank robber, during his 2010 arrest.

Shirley, a Democrat who won a close re-election in November, will begin serving his second term next month.

Haines filed a separate civil suit against Shirley ahead of the sheriff’s indictment by federal officials. The indictment charges that Shirley used excessive force against Haines and subsequently falsified a use of force report to cover up the incident.

No other officers face criminal indictment, though nine have been named as defendants in Haines’ excessive force lawsuit, including deputies from the Jefferson and Berkeley Sheriff’s departments and Ranson police departments, and the West Virginia State Police.

Shirley maintains he comported himself properly during the arrest. His criminal trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 22 in Martinsburg. If convicted on both counts he faces a maximum 30-year sentence. The civil suit is scheduled for trial late next year.

 

2. Derecho rips through Jefferson

An extremely intense thunderstorm system that tore through the county on June 29 left residents without electricity and water for days, causing many to flee to hotels and shelters.

The derecho, as the unusual bow-shaped storm system was called, left more than 300,000 people throughout the state without power – and air conditioning – during an oppressive heatwave. It also left hundreds of downed trees and limbs in its wake, which brought down phone and power lines, crushed cars and seriously damaged homes.

Power losses for the Harpers Ferry Water Works meant that the town was supplied only by reserves in water tanks. Luckily, power was restored shortly before the tanks went dry.

The county Health Department and Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management quickly stepped in, setting up “cooling stations” where affected residents could obtain ice, water and rest in an air-conditioned environment.

Repairs came to the area slowly, due to the considerable amount of damage. Some two weeks later, a few residents still remained without power.

3. New W.Va. 9 opens

With no fanfare, the new section of W.Va. 9 opened on Nov. 14.

The new four-mile section of four-lane highway – which connects the top of the Blue Ridge Mountain, passes over the Shenandoah River and joins with U.S. 340 near Charles Town, thereby bypassing the community of Mannings – cost some $113 million, with more than 40 percent of those funds going toward construction of a new bridge across the Shenandoah River.

Department of Transportation officials had hoped to host an opening ceremony, but scheduling conflicts caused the ceremony to be canceled.

Need for the new construction was first outlined in a 1978 Division of Highways study that predicted traffic on W.Va. 9 would more than double between 1992 and 2012. The late U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd secured funding for the project.

4. Patrick Morrisey elected to statewide office

Republican Patrick Morrisey made history last month as he unseated five-term incumbent Democrat Darrell McGraw to become West Virginia’s next attorney general. He will take over his duties next month.

For months before the vote, Morrisey challenged McGraw to public debates, but McGraw demurred, as he had in previous elections.

Morrisey, a former health care lawyer and lobbyist, as well as a popular figure with the local Republican Party, ran a campaign centered on ethics reform, pro-business growth policies and promises to fight federal regulations which, he argues, have overstepped legal and constitutional prerogatives.

He won Jefferson County and the broader Eastern Panhandle by strong margins, but captured the state by a slimmer 2.4 percent.

Morrisey’s victory broke a number of long-standing historic trends. He will become the first Republican attorney general elected in the state since 1933 and the first attorney general from the Eastern Panhandle in state history.

5. Washington High loses beloved coach

Washington High’s football coach Mike Grant died Sept. 14 after a long battle with brain cancer. At their next game, an away competition against Musselman High, players sported No. 75 on their helmets and observed a moment of silence in memory of their coach.

6. Mountain State University no more

At the start of 2012, Mountain State University was a thriving private school with campuses in Martinsburg, Beckley, Florida, North Carolina and elsewhere. This month, the school held its final commencement. Stripped of its accreditation this summer, the school faces numerous lawsuits filed by nursing students and others. The Chicago-based accrediting body this month rejected MSU’s final effort to have time to re-establish its academic programs. The University of Charleston has stepped in to take over many of the programs MSU offered, and Shepherd University is also making plans to bring classes to Martinsburg as MSU shuts down.

7. Jane Tabb retakes commission seat

After six years out of office, Republican Jane Tabb will resume her duties as Jefferson County Commissioner next month. She defeated incumbent Democrat Frances Morgan in November.

Growth and planning issues were the centerpiece of debate in the campaign.

Tabb defeated Morgan by a 16-point margin, a drastic reversal from the outcome in 2006, when Morgan narrowly ousted Tabb.

When Tabb first won election in 2000, she was Jefferson County’s first female commissioner. With Tabb’s victory, the commission will be made up of three Democrats and two Republicans.

8. Redistricting lawsuit a near-miss

A lawsuit filed by the Jefferson County Commission challenging the layout of the state’s congressional districts made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court only to be thrown out without a hearing.

The suit, filed by attorneys Stephen Skinner and David Hammer, argued that the Second Congressional District – which stretches from Jefferson County to Kanawha County, is only tens of miles wide at its narrowest point, and was made more populous than either the First or Third Districts – failed to uphold the U.S. Constitutional standard of “one person, one vote” and the state constitutional requirement that districts be compact.

Skinner and Hammer prevailed when the case was heard by a federal three-judge panel in Charleston in a 2-1 decision. After lawyers for Senate President Jeff Kessler and House Speaker Mike Thompson appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts issued a stay until the appeal could be heard, causing the 2012 elections to be conducted with the existing map.

Then, in September, the court issued a decision in the case without hearing any oral arguments. The high court reversed the lower federal tribunal, saying that the judges had not shown adequate deference to the West Virginia Legislature, which created the map. With that decision, the congressional district map will be allowed to stand until the next redistricting session in 2021.

9. Bad year for Company 5

The year proved tumultuous for Blue Ridge Mountain Volunteer Fire Company, but officials say they hope to leave the past behind and move forward in their task of providing fire and emergency medical services to residents on the Blue Ridge Mountains.

After scandals involving accusations of arson committed by former department members as well as embezzlement by the department’s former treasurer, Susan Roxanne Carter, a minor shakeup in leadership brought aboard community activist Ed Burns.

But Burns’ term as president was short-lived, and he complained that the company’s board of directors had blocked his attempts to shore up the company’s practices. Months after his resignation, Burns died in a July 16 accident on his property.

Following Burns’ departure, Fred Collins was elected president, also on promises to promote openness, good business practices and improvement of company morale. He told the County Commission that Company 5 had hired an accounting firm to review its books and that all evidence of fraud had been turned over to prosecutors.

In October, prosecutors released a slew of indictments against Carter – 134 felony counts – alleging that she had embezzled more than $14,000 from Company 5.

10. A local student tries for Miss America

Shepherdstown native Spenser Wempe traveled to Las Vegas in January to compete in the Miss America pageant. In the competition’s more than 90-year history, no Miss West Virginia ever has won the title.

The last Eastern Panhandle resident to compete as Miss America was Tiffany Lawrence, today one of the county’s representatives in the Legislature. She reigned as Miss West Virginia 2006.

Other top news stories of 2012 included protests by commuters to Maryland officials’ plans to change MARC train service; an end to the controversial power company’s plan for the multi-state power line known as PATH; Washington High senior Hannah McCarley’s selection to attend the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., as one of the youngest delegates there; the conclusion of the Shepherdstown 250 celebrations; Washington High’s quarterback Tyler Wilt, who is battling cancer, had the chance to hang out with New York Jets’ quarterback Tim Tebow before a September game in East Rutherford, N.J.; a deadly trailer fire in Shenandoah Junction in January that left a mother and son dead; the construction of a new Middleway fire station; and in June, the groundbreaking for a new site for Jefferson Memorial Hospital.

Editors also cited as top news the discussion of layoffs by the Jefferson County school board; the hubbub over the state’s plans to build a highway through the recently completed Ryan’s Glen subdivision; Mark Osbourn’s retirement as principal at C.W. Shipley Elementary and his subsequent election to the county school board; the celebration of the 200th birthday of African-American icon Martin Delany, born in Charles Town; a September rafting trip to Harpers Ferry by President Obama’s daughters; and the surprise firing in November of state schools chief Jorea Marple, who’d just toured Ranson Elementary and other local schools.

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