Around the State

CHARLESTON – A task force on substance abuse has made policy and program recommendations for the Legislature to consider when lawmakers begin their 60-day regular session Feb. 13.

One of the recommendations offered by the Governor’s Advisory Council on Substance Abuse: Raise state alcohol and tobacco taxes and put the new revenue toward prevention, early intervention, treatment and recovery services.

  Another suggestion made by council addresses drug disposal options, including take-back events. It also suggests issuing public assistance by electronic card instead of by check to reduce the flow of paper money.

The group also suggests the development of women’s treatment facilities in Ohio County and in a 10-county region that includes some southern and Ohio River counties.

According to federal figures, West Virginia suffers the nation’s highest drug overdose death rate.

COMFORT

Boone Countian charged: A 53-year-old man has been arrested charged with making terroristic threats after police say he threatened to bring a gun to an elementary school.

Officials with the Boone County Sheriff’s Office say Herman Dewayne Pickens went to Sherman Elementary School in Comfort and showed an empty gun holster on his belt to school staff. Officials said Pickens had visited the school several times this month and made threats of not leaving his gun in his vehicle the next time he came in to the school.

Pickens was being held on $100,000 bond.

MARTINSBURG

New probe into deaths: Police say the deaths of a Berkeley County man and his 9-year-old son now are being investigated as a double homicide.

Police initially believed 56-year-old David Cole Hutzler killed his son, James Hutzler, set their mobile home on fire and then killed himself. Their bodies were found after the fire on Jan. 6 in the rear bedroom of the mobile home near Glengary.   Both had been shot.

State police Senior Trooper C.S. Maynard says new physical evidence indicates both deaths were homicides. He would not provide details.

A $1,000 reward for information leading to an arrest is being offered through Crime Solvers.

MORGANTOWN

Lynch likes Panetta news: Former prisoner of war Jessica Lynch calls Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s announcement allowing women in combat roles good news for the U.S. military.

The West Virginia resident says women have long been integral to victories in the fight for freedom.

Lynch was 19 when she was captured after her Army unit took a wrong turn and came under attack in Iraq in 2003. She was rescued after nine days in captivity.

Lynch urges Americans to support military men and women, and to push U.S. officials to ensure they have proper training and equipment.

Panetta says allowing women to fill combat roles will strengthen the U.S. military’s ability to win wars. But military leaders must decide which, if any, jobs will still be open only to men.

HUNTINGTON

Campus on alert: Marshall University police are advising students and faculty to be alert following two robberies and a reported sexual assault near the campus within four days.

Huntington police have arrested three people in connection with the robberies. The sexual assault case remains under investigation.

Marshall Police Chief James Terry urges students and faculty to watch their surroundings.

An electronic alert that Terry sent to students this week says city police and the Marshall police department have both increased patrols.

HELVETIA

Appalachian Mardi Gras: West Virginia’s smaller, colder version of Mardi Gras gets underway Feb. 9.

The traditional Swiss celebration of Fasnacht occurs every year in the scenic but remote Randolph County village of Helvetia. It’s goal: to scare off Old Man Winter.

Festivities begin at 3 p.m. with an open mic in Star Band Hall. The Helvetia Mask Museum and General Store will be open all day, and the Candlelight Parade begins at 8:30 p.m.

Participants and onlookers alike don masks of all shapes, sizes and styles for the parade and masked-ball square dance that follows. Admission to the ball is $10 per adult and $5 for children 11-17.

Then the symbolic Old Man Winter is ripped from his spot above the dance fire and tossed into a bonfire.

CHARLESTON

$10M in mortgage loans: The state Housing Development Fund is offering a mortgage loan program for homeowners.

The $10 million program is available to first-time home buyers as well as homeowners who want to find a home of greater value. Income and home price limits for the program vary by county.

Housing fund spokesman George Gannon says the principal and interest paid by mortgage recipients will be put back into the program.

Gannon says $6 million for the program came from a construction loan that West Virginia University Health Sciences paid off. The rest came from a fund used to insure the housing fund’s bonds.

LOGAN

Murphy memoir: “America’s Got Talent’’ winner and Logan native Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. is working on a memoir.

Terra Alta-based Headline Books Inc. says Murphy has signed an exclusive contract with the company to publish the book. It’s expected to be published in June.

The jazz singer said in a statement that he’s happy a publisher in his home state can help him tell his story. While Murphy said he’s not a saint, he hopes the book will inspire readers to “dream big and never give up.’’ Novelist Rick Robinson will be helping Murphy with the book.

Murphy won the NBC talent show and a $1 million prize in 2011, along with headline show in Las Vegas.

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS

Chesney coming to The Greenbrier: Kenny Chesney will be the headline act for a series of concerts during at the 2013 PGA Tour’s Greenbrier Classic golf tournament.

The Greenbrier announced Thursday that Chesney will perform on July 4 at the State Fair of West Virginia’s amphitheater in Fairlea the same day the tournament begins at the resort in White Sulphur Springs.

Other concert acts have yet to be announced. Last year’s acts included Toby Keith, Rod Stewart, Lionel Ritchie and Bon Jovi.

REEDY

Horses found dead: A Roane County woman is being sought on animal cruelty charges after more than a dozen dead horses were found on her farm.

A Jackson County circuit judge issued an arrest warrant Thursday for 41-year-old Tory Morgan. The warrant charges her with 36 counts of animal cruelty.

Law enforcement officials obtained a warrant to search the property near Reedy after receiving complaints last week.

Roane County Prosecutor Josh Downey says 14 horses were found dead and 20 others were severely malnourished.

CHARLESTON

Need for more guards: Members of the state Regional Jail Authority have endorsed a plan to hire 100 new full-time employees.

Thursday’s move must be approved by the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety and the Division of Personnel.

Executive director Joe DeLong told the authority that hiring the workers at the 10 regional jails will cost about $2.4 million a year in salaries but should reduce the authority’s overtime costs by at least $3.6 million annually.

Employee compensation in the 2011-12 budget year totaled $31.8 million – including some $7.2 million in overtime pay. “We pay out enough money in overtime that it equates with 185 full-time positions,” DeLong said.

DeLong said original staffing plans failed to account for employees being off for holidays, vacation days or sick leave. That means 648 current correctional officers must make up the difference, often with mandatory overtime.

The understaffing contributes to burnout and high turnover rates. And the long hours for existing employees leads to liability suits and Workers’ Compensation claims for incidents and accidents, he said.

– Compiled by Christine Miller Ford, with reporting from The Associated Press

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