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Rape case topped news in October

December 29, 2012
Weirton Daily Times

A juvenile judge at the Jefferson County Justice Center ruling there was probable cause for rape charges to continue against two Steubenville High School students and athletes topped the news in October.

Visiting Judge Tom Lipps on Oct. 12 did dismiss kidnapping charges against Trent Mays, 16, of Bloomingdale and Malik Richmond, 16, of Steubenville. The judge also ruled a charge against Mays of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material will continue.

Mays and Richmond were charged in connection with a sexual assault that witnesses said occurred on the night of Aug. 11 into the morning of Aug. 12. The victim's parents came to City Police on Aug. 14 to make a report.

Lipps said there was eyewitness testimony that sexual conduct occurred. The judge said there was probable cause the victim was drunk and impaired and the juveniles charged knew it.

A hearing then was scheduled for Nov. 1 to determine whether Mays and Richmond would be bound over to adult court or will remain in the juvenile system.

Mays and Richmond at the time were ordered to be held in the Jefferson County Juvenile Detention Center.

Later in the month, the family of a Steubenville High School student filed a lawsuit in Jefferson County Common Pleas Court against the the operator of an Internet blog site claiming their son has been defamed in connection with a rape investigation.

Cody Saltsman and his parents, James and Johna Saltsman, filed the lawsuit through their attorney, Shawn Blake, seeking an injunction to force Alexandria Goddard of Columbus, who runs the blog site, to remove alleged false and defamatory statements from the blog site. The Saltsmans also are seeking monetary damages in excess of $25,000.

The lawsuit claimed Goddard created several blogs on her Internet site regarding the sexual assault. The lawsuit also names 15 people as defendants by the fictitious names they created and registered on the blog.

The lawsuit contained postings that Blake claimed were false and defamatory to the Saltsmans, including that Cody Saltsman was the "mastermind" and "orchestrator" of the sexual assault and also participated.

The lawsuit stated the false and defamatory statements were published with the intent to harm the Saltsmans' good names and reputations by falsely accusing them of criminal acts.

On Thursday, Blake asked the court to dismiss the case. He said only that they were "pleased to have reached a resolution in the case."

In other news in October:

Hundreds of Tri-State Area residents on Oct. 18 waited outside Indian Creek High School to catch a glimpse of former President Bill Clinton as well as support President Barack Obama's bid for re-election in November.

Hundreds of area residents waited for hours for a chance to hear Clinton talk presidential politics.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich hinted in October that Esmark Steel's plans to reopen an idled cold-rolling mill in Yorkville could be just the tip of the iceberg.

Esmark Chairman and CEO Jim Bouchard said the Kasich administration was instrumental in closing the $6.5 million deal for the Yorkville mill, working with his company and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop a remediation plan that addresses unresolved chemical spills that former owner RG Steel neglected to correct two years ago.

In addition to the Yorkville mill, now known as Ohio Cold Rolling Co., Bouchard also acquired a 50 percent ownership stake in the nearby Ohio Coatings Co. tin plating facility, partnering with South Korea's TCC Steel.

Both mills were acquired from bankrupt RG Steel, which also sold its property in Steubenville to River Rail Development, a division of Wheeling-based Strauss Industries, and its Mingo Junction plant to New York-based salvage company, Frontier Industrial.

Also in October, Steelworkers in Weirton and at 13 other ArcelorMittal locations across the country ratified a new, three-year labor agreement giving them a 4.5 percent pay raise spread over the life of the contract plus guarantees the company will reinvestment in its mills.

The deal also cements health care coverage for retirees and improves coverage for active workers.

United Steelworkers union Local 2911 leaders said 94 percent of ArcelorMittal's hourly work force nationwide voted to ratify the agreement. In Weirton, the percentage was even more overwhelming - 99 percent.

Negotiations took almost 13 weeks, with the company initially demanding a $28-per-hour reduction in wages and benefits, most of it in health care cuts. The company also had demanded a different pay scale for new hires, something the union adamantly opposed.

Under the agreement, workers were to receive a $2,000 lump sum payment within 30 days and another $500 payment in May 2014. They'll also see a 2.5 percent pay raise on Sept. 1, 2013, and a 2 percent jump on Jan. 1, 2015.

The United Steelworkers union said bankrupt RG Steel's efforts to get bankruptcy court approval to pay 21 "key employees" nearly $800,000 to stay on the job for the balance of 2012 was a "slap in the face" for thousands of workers who've lost their jobs and benefits.

"Specifically, the company wants to pay a $2,000 monthly stipend for each individual to allow them to purchase health insurance, along with bonus payments of three months' salary if the individual stays through Dec. 31," the USW told members. "Hiding behind the curtain of confidentiality, RG has refused to name these 21 people, but said these employees perform 'essential functions' relating to sales, accounting, treasury, IT and other unidentified 'administrative' functions."

A meeting was held Oct. 30 between federal, state and local officials at the Jefferson County Airpark to discuss the runway expansion project.

But local officials already are looking forward to the next improvement - a GPS instrument approach - that they believe will open the airport for even more development.

The Ohio Department of Transportation and Ohio Department of Development have each contributed a $750,000 grant, with the Jefferson County commissioners kicking in $500,000, to expand the runway.

The meeting was to discuss how to proceed with the project, from selecting an engineer to contractors.

County Commissioner Tom Gentile said a committee of county and airport officials met prior to the meeting to go over qualifications submitted by prospective engineers. Gentile said six firms submitted qualifications and three were eliminated at the meeting.

Gentile credited U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, with going to the Federal Aviation Administration to get the federal agency to certify the approaches for the expanded runway.

Gentile added the runway use has increased in the past year with the oil and gas industry development.

The runway will be expanded from 4,400 feet to 6,000 feet long and from 60 feet wide to 75 feet.

Some corporate jets can't use the existing runway because of insurance requirements for a longer runway.

A unique public-private partnership in October raised the nearly $40,000 needed to save a rail spur in Wellsburg serving Graphic Packaging and Eagle Manufacturing.

The spur was in danger of being classified inoperable by Norfolk Southern Railroad until the West Virginia Public Port Authority, Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle and city of Wellsburg teamed with the two companies to underwrite the repairs, which included new crossties, a relay single shoulder tie plate, new track spikes, reinstalling existing anchors from removed ties and hand-tamping new cross ties.

The port authority and BDC each pitched in $5,000 for the project, with the city of Wellsburg contributing $1,000. Graphic Packaging anted up $18,000 and Eagle, $9,000.

The Jefferson County grand jury on Oct. 3 indicted a city man who was caught with a large amount of crack and powder cocaine and faces about 70 years in prison if convicted.

Geary L. Harper Jr., 25, of 514 S. Labelle Court was indicted on three counts of having a weapon as a convicted felon, carrying a concealed weapon and five counts of possession of drugs. Two of the drug possession charges contain specifications of being a major drug offender, which could result in additional 10-year sentences.

Harper previously was indicted by the grand jury on an escape charge for failing to report to his parole officer. City Police saw Harper and arrested him on Sept. 10. Jefferson County Prosecutor Jane Hanlin said Harper had a backpack with 70 grams of cocaine, 8 grams of heroin and six and one-half oxycondone pills, cash and a firearm. Harper was taken to the county jail.

Harper called his girlfriend from the county jail and told her where a stash of drugs and guns were located at a house. Hanlin said the calls from the jail are recorded. She said prisoners are warned about the recordings.

The case against Harper is pending in court.

Toronto's water distribution system was discussed during the Oct. 8 council meeting.

At the time, Mayor John Geddis told council the city was preparing the groundwork for an estimated $1.9 million in water infrastructure upgrades throughout the city, including replacement of water lines and new hydrants. Geddis said funding for the project could conceivably come from a variety of grant sources as well as a low-interest, long-term loan from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

"The EPA is going to give us 30 percent forgiveness (on any loans)," said Geddis.

Geddis also cited several sources for grant funds he's pursuing for the project. The mayor also said he's applying for up to $600,000 for the project from the state's Community Development Block Grant funds to possibly fund the proposed project.

Two state grants were accepted by the city during the Oct. 1 New Cumberland Council meeting.

State Sen. Jack Yost, D-Wellsburg, and state Sen. Orphy Klempa, D-Wheeling, presented council with two state grants -a $6,333 grant from the Governor's Community Participation Grant for improvements at the city's water and sewage systems; and a $5,000 grant from the state senate's discretionary fund, which will be used for a curtain for the City Municipal Building's multi-purpose room.

The Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle parlayed funding from local government into big gains for the community, Executive Director Pat Ford said in October.

BDC gets $25,000 annually from the city of Weirton, $30,000 each from Brooke and Hancock counties, and $5,000 from Beech Bottom, as well as contributions by business and industry in its service area.

Ford told Weirton Council that since the BDC board reorganized and redefined its goals in 2009, they'd been able to assist the private sector in creating 139 new jobs with a combined annual payroll of $3.9 million and helped preserve 453 jobs with a combined annual payroll of $11.8 million, all of it in the two-county area.

The BDC's total investment in the two counties has been $38.7 million - almost evenly split between public dollars ($19.5 million) and private investment ($19.2 million).

The grand jury also returned a misdemeanor assault indictment against a former Tiltonsville police officer.

Benjie Coblentz, 27, of Senecaville was indicted on the assault charge.

The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation was contacted to investigate the assault, which took place on April 16.

Tiltonsville Police Chief Jerry Davis said on-duty officers responded to an alarm call at Buckeye SouthWest Middle School on Walden Avenue, when they were approached by a man who said he was just assaulted. Davis said the man had head and upper body injuries.

The victim told the officers that five people were in a vehicle, with four wearing masks. One jumped out of the vehicle and started to beat him. Davis said the man gave a description of the vehicle and then told the officers they were talking to people in the same vehicle just prior to the beating. The police chief said the officers recognized the vehicle belonged to an off-duty officer.

The case is pending in Dillonvale county court.

New Cumberland officials unveiled a consultant's recommendations in October for making the Station Hill sidewalk safer for pedestrians.

The preliminary engineering report, prepared by KCI Technologies of Morgantown, calls for relocating the sidewalk, placing it on the current embankment with a fence and grade separation that would keep vehicular traffic particularly heavy trucks safely away from pedestrians.

KCI's Eric Lord, senior landscape architect and project manager, said there'd be two well-defined, handicap accessible crosswalks one at the railroad tracks, the other at North Court Street. The idea, he said, would be to funnel foot traffic to either of the crosswalks.

The Ohio Valley Fair Housing Center agreed to a one-year contract with the Jefferson County commissioners on Oct. 15 to provide fair housing services for the county.

The Ohio Valley Fair Housing Center was created in early 2011 by the Steubenville Fair Housing Practices Commission because of anticipated cuts in Community Development Block Grant funds.

"The city's Fair Housing Practices Commission will continue to exist for housing discrimination issues in the city. But the Ohio Valley Fair Housing Center will be able to work in different communities," Urban Projects Director Chris Petrossi explained at a March 2011 meeting.

The contract called for the county to pay the Ohio Valley Fair Housing Center $3,000 to act as the county's representative on all matters related to fair housing efforts.

Steubenville Mayor Domenick Mucci said a growing number of investments in the city indicate the city is moving forward.

Mucci delivered his second-annual state of the city address to a sparse crowd on Oct. 23 at Eastern Gateway Community College.

Former Progress Alliance Executive Director Ed Looman called Mucci's remarks "encouraging."

Mucci reviewed each city department, including the city health department where, Mucci said, a community health assessment was conducted in 2011.

Steubenville Council listened during an Oct. 30 sunshine meeting to an educational tutorial on fiscal status for communities facing financial problems.

Council heard a nearly one-hour presentation by Bob Burlenski of the Ohio Auditor's office who discussed fiscal caution, fiscal watch and fiscal emergency rules for communities.

"I am not here to sound any extreme alarms. This is just a general educational session because there have been some changes in the state law. I am explaining tools that any community can use to avoid fiscal problems," stated Burlenski.

On Oct. 2, Bob Sadler, a Beech Bottom councilman and superintendent of the Hammond Public Service District, told fellow council members funds were secured to establish a backup water supply for more than 13,000 customers in Beech Bottom, Wellsburg and the Hammond district.

Sadler said Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin was the latest to allocate funds for the estimated $170,000 project, which will establish links between the water suppliers. He said the links may be opened temporarily when each supplier's water source is disrupted by line breaks or other mechanical failures, power outages, floods and other problems.

Visitors to the Wellsburg Applefest, Oct. 5-7, got a sneak peak at the new Brooke County Museum and Cultural Center. While there was still work to be done, museum board members and other volunteers had created displays depicting an 1890s kitchen, dining room and bedroom, 1920s kitchen, one-room schoolhouse and many other aspects of the county's history.

They continue to renovate the former G.C. Murphy Store at 704 Charles St., which was purchased using a $90,000 grant from the West Virginia Division of History and Culture.

On Oct. 22 members of Brooke Hills Free Methodist Church near Wellsburg celebrated the completion of a $1.9 million addition with a special service and luncheon.

Under the leadership of the Rev. Bryce Grieco, the church's pastor, a committee of church members secured nearly $1 million in pledges, of which about $650,000 had been paid, for the 16,900 square foot addition.

The addition included a new, 440-seat sanctuary to accommodate the church's growing congregation.

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