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Protest rally topped news for December

December 31, 2012
Weirton Daily Times

A protest rally on the steps of the Jefferson County Courthouse Saturday that allowed hundreds of people to voice their concerns about a local rape trial leads the news in December.

The peaceful protest, which was organized by the hactivist Internet group Anonymous, included local residents who say they are outraged over what they contend is a cover-up in a case involving the alleged rape of a teenage girl by Steubenville High School student-athletes that allegedly occurred Aug. 11-12.

The rally is tied to the upcoming trial of Trent Mays, 16, of Bloomingdale and Malik Richmond, 16, of Steubenville, who have been charged in connection with the alleged crime. Their trial is set to begin Feb. 13 before visiting Judge Tom Lipps.

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WEEKEND PROTEST — A protest rally on the steps of the Jefferson County Courthouse Saturday allowed hundreds of people to voice their concerns over a local rape trial. The peaceful protest, which was organized by the hactivist Internet group Anonymous, included local residents who say they are outraged over what they contend is a cover-up in a case involving the alleged rape of a teenage girl by Steubenville High School student-athletes that allegedly occurred Aug. 11-12. - Michael D. McElwain

Earlier last week Anonymous took over a local sports fan site,, where the group posted a video and links to information about other individuals it asserted were allegedly involved in the incident. The group also posted the names and other personal information taken from social networking sites they assert is proof others were allegedly involved.

The site is private and not affiliated with the Steubenville City School District in any way. Jim Parks, owner and site webmaster, previously expressed outrage the site had been taken over and said he didn't personally know any Steubenville athletes nor was in any way involved in the matter.

There also was a police presence, but the rally stayed peaceful. Many in the gathering were silent, while others wore Guy Fawkes masks.

Mays and Richmond each are charged with rape. Mays also faces a charge of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material. The boys, released from custody in November, remain under electronically monitored house arrest and are allowed to leave their homes only for school or church. To prevent them from having contact with other students who may be potential witnesses, they were consigned to a juvenile court alternative school and barred from all extracurricular activities.

Meanwhile, the parents of a Big Red student pulled the plug on a defamation suit they'd filed against an Internet blogger and other individuals who'd posted comments concerning the alleged rape at an end-of-summer party in August.

The suit, filed in Jefferson County Common Pleas Court by Jim and Johna Saltsman, had sought to force blogger Alexandria Goddard of Columbus to purge postings referencing their son, Cody, from her website,, and to provide authorities with identifying information for 15 other "John Doe" bloggers who also posted comments on the site. It also had sought in excess of $25,000 in damages.

But last Thursday, the Saltsmans' attorney, Shawn Blake of Steubenville, filed a notice of voluntary dismissal with prejudice, meaning the charges cannot be refiled. The Saltsmans could not be reached for comment, and Blake, speaking on their behalf, would say only that, "The Saltsmans' are pleased to have reached a resolution in this case."

In a statement released minutes after Blake filed the notice of dismissal, the American Civil Liberties Union said in exchange for the Saltsmans dropping the suit, Goddard had published a statement attributed to Cody Saltsman on her website. In that statement, the youth said he "deeply regretted" his actions on Aug. 11 and said he was wrong to have posted "that picture from an earlier party and tweet those awful comments."

In other news in December:

Relations between the Jefferson County commissioners and the Community Improvement Corp. took an acrimonious turn in December, with Commissioner Thomas Graham releasing a letter suggesting CIC board member Jim Emmerling had benefited unduly from his involvement with the nonprofit, and the board member in question taking out a full-page advertisement in the Herald-Star pointing out that most of the nearly $300,000 in advertising dollars channeled through his company during the past 15 years had purchased print, radio and television advertisements promoting the county to potential investors.

The bad feelings came as the CIC's Progress Alliance prepared to hand over responsibility for economic development efforts to the newly formed Jefferson County Port Authority. Progress Alliance is the public-private partnership formed 16 years ago to coordinate economic development efforts in the county.

While they've known for months that Progress Alliance would be superfluous once the port authority was self-sustaining, the CIC and its partners businesses from throughout the county that have historically matched government funding for Progress Alliance, dollar-for-dollar were surprised by the speed with which that changeover is advancing.

Once commissioners announced they would give $100,000 to the port authority - that's $25,000 more than they'd given the CIC in 2012 - the CIC board began discussing its exit strategy, and had attended the commission's Dec. 20 meeting in hopes of getting a more precise timetable for the changeover.

At that meeting Graham, however, released the letter attacking, among other things, the board's failure to seek competitive bids for the advertising projects as well as Emmerling's support of a labor union leader for a CIC office.

CIC Chairman Bob Chapman said the organization has a little over $100,000 in the bank and "probably could operate through the first quarter" with no additional funding from the county while operations wound down.

With the resignation of Progress Alliance Executive Director Ed Looman in November, Graham said it seems like the right time to shift the funding to the port authority. We will be sending funding to the port authority annually until the authority becomes self sufficient."

Looman submitted his resignation as executive director of Progress Alliance last month to accept a job with the Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth as project manager for Jefferson and seven other counties in Eastern Ohio.

Commissioners, meanwhile, signed off on paperwork that would allow the new port authority to accept private donations from businesses.

The Community Improvement Corp. applauded the efforts of the Progress Alliance staff in 2012, saying of the 30 projects completed in the 25-county Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth region through the end of November, 10 were in Jefferson County.

Those projects created 1,200 jobs and represented a $1.8 billion investment, they said.

"It speaks volumes for what we've been able to accomplish this year," said former Progress Alliance Executive Director Ed Looman, who resigned in November to take a job with JobsOhio as Eastern Ohio project manager. "None of it would have been possible without the support we've received from our public and private partners."

Looman also thanked the board and business partners for their support over the past 56 months.

The Steubenville Planning and Zoning Commission delayed a decision on increasing building permit fees until their January meeting after commission members expressed concerns about the proposed increase.

Commission members said they need examples for contractors to use when they are talking to a client, with some suggesting a gradual increase might be more workable.

Urban Projects Director Chris Petrossi said the city's current building permit fees date back to 1965.

A steady rain stopped just two minutes before noon and a nearly 90 unit parade brought the sights and sounds of Christmas past back to downtown Steubenville on Dec. 8.

Marching bands, dance groups, horses and dogs and Santa Claus made their appearance for the Eastern Gateway Community College Christmas parade under just cloudy skies.

"The Lord gave us a beautiful hour of no rain and I was honored to be back in my hometown serving as the parade grand marshal," said professional baseball coach Rich Donnelley after the event.

Steubenville Recreation Director Troy Kirkendall told the parks and recreation board he is considering his future options and will resign from the post he has held since February 2011.

Kirkendall said he doesn't have anything else lined up yet, adding that he "will be there as long as I can. I really don't know where I am going or what I am going to do."

Kirkendall was named the director of parks and recreation in early February 2011, replacing Dwan Johnson who resigned in September 2010.

Steubenville Council passed its final budget of the year showing a roughly $400,000 carryover at the end of 2013. City Manager Cathy Davison said the city faces a projected deficit of $800,000 for 2013.

Hancock County commissioners defended their purchase of two high school football stadiums even as they prepare to take ownership of the Newell and Weirton properties, saying the they bought them strictly for economic development purposes. Commissioners said they would offer the properties "to potential clients who will create jobs and a tax base for Hancock County," and vowed that nothing will be developed on those sites "that is not for the betterment of this county."

Commissioners paid $400,000 for the two properties. .

The Jackson, Miss.-based Ergon is investing more than $78 million to expand capacity to take advantage of the increased local crude production.

The majority of the projects will be finished next year, with the remainder to be completed in 2014.

The refinery, located in Newell, opened in 1972. Ergon acquired it from Quaker State, now a subsidiary of global oil giant Royal Dutch Shell, in July 1997.

The refinery uses high-pressure hydrotreating technology to produce highly refined specialty products and fuels from local Appalachian grade crude. The facility currently processes more than 20,000 barrels of oil per day, gathering most of its oil from Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky and New York.

The Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle, owner of the old Taylor, Smith & Taylor pottery property in Chester, celebrated completion of the demolition and remediation of the site.

The century-old factory, considered a health and safety hazard, had been idled since 1981. It sat empty for more than three decades before being acquired by the BDC in July 2011 for $125,000.

The BDC leveraged local funding to secure well over a million dollars in grant funding to demolish the dilapidated structure and clean up site contaminants.

A recently completed workaround makes it unlikely, if not impossible, for Weirton's water to ever again be knocked offline for an extended period, Utilities Director A.D. "Butch" Mastrantoni said.

Mastrantoni said crews finished installing a backup - an 18-inch transmission main from the treatment plant that inter-connects to a 24-inch water main that flows throughout the city.

A Mount Pleasant man was ordered held without bond on a charge of receipt of child pornography following a hearing on Dec. 11 in U.S. District Court.

Ryan Kasler, 31, of 24 Union St., Mount Pleasant, was arrested at his home after a raid by federal authorities.

Kasler faces five to 20 years in prison on the receipt of child pornography charge after his name and address were uncovered during an investigation into a foreign company distributing child pornography, according affidavit for a criminal complaint filed in federal court. U.S. Postal Inspectors said Kasler, employed by the Martins Ferry Romanian Mission, allegedly purchased films and photos containing child pornography on 13 occasions over a five-year period.

The First Christian Church of Martins Ferry operates the Romanian Mission, and the church website lists Kasler as director of the Romanian Mission. In addition to directing the mission's day-to-day affairs, the website said he also served as onsite missionary in Arad and Ghioroc, Romania.

An unnamed witness was interviewed by the postal inspectors claimed Kasler had photographed him nude on numerous occasions between the ages of 8 and 12 years of age. The witness, now 22 years old, told postal inspectors he had known Kasler for about 15 years and had lived with him in Romania and the United States.

Jerek Q. Wesley, 23, of 118 Garfield Ave., was indicted by the Jefferson County grand jury on Dec. 6 on murder charges in connection with the March 26 shooting death of a man outside a downtown bar.

Quentin R. Nelson, 24. and Leroy Benjamin, 23, were shot around 2:05 a.m. on March 26 outside Pee Dee's at 160 S. Fourth St.

Nelson died two days later in a Pittsburgh hospital.

Wesley was indicted on single counts of aggravated murder, murder and felonious assault.

Tom Gentile, who won re-election as a Jefferson County Commissioner, was the big spender in the November general election.

Gentile spent $37,067 during the campaign. His challenger, Billy Petrella, spent $18,011, but also listed $2,853 in in-kind expenses, which generally are out-of-pocket purchases made by the candidate without a campaign reimbursement.

In the other commissioner race, Dave Maple spent $18,011 in his re-election victory over challenger Steve Vukelic, who spent $30,376.

In Mingo Junction, village council discussed sending layoff notices to all village employees, called for a public hearing on possibly turning off streetlights and changed some water policies that will affect residents with a swimming pool.

Village Clerk John Angelica suggested sending out layoff notices to all village employees effective Dec. 29, which he said would save the community about $30,000 in vacation time that will have to be paid if employees work after Jan. 1.

The village is facing a budget shortfall come 2013 because of declining income tax associated with the shutdown of the RG Steel plant, with possibly only about $208,000 in the general fund next year for employee wages.

On Dec. 4, the Brooke County Commission was asked to consider an ordinance requiring residents and businesses to post their new citystyle addresses and a procedure for those seeking to change their street's name.

The ordinance was suggested by County Sheriff Richard Ferguson, who has headed efforts to assign new city-style addresses to hundreds of homes and businesses in unincorporated areas of the county.

The assignment of city-style addresses to unincorporated areas, particularly those with Rural Delivery or Rural Route numbers only, conforms with a federal mandate intended to ease delivery by postal carriers and response by police, firefighters and ambulance crews.

The Brooke High School cheerleading squad won its 13th state championship, making Brooke the school to have won the most state titles for cheering in West Virginia.

From 1999 to 2012, cheerleading squads from the school won 13 state titles.

The Follansbee Chamber of Commerce's Citizen of the Year Award was presented to Mary Ruth Morris, who has cared for children with special needs for more than 60 years as the director of the Anderson Children's Home.

Morris came to the home as an orphan when she was 5 and following her high school graduation, was asked by its owners to stay on and help.

Also honored for their service to the community were: attorney David B. Cross, Betty Rea of the Follansbee American Legion Auxiliary, the Ohio Valley Veterans Memorial Squad, Vito's 2 Restaurant, the Follansbee Pharmacy, WesBanco and Lyle's Auto.

A Lousiana man was killed Dec. 16 while installing a natural gas pipeline in an area off state Route 67 near Camp Run Road. Brooke County Sheriff Richard Ferguson said the accident occurred while crews were using heavy equipment similar to a backhoe to lift a 120-foot section of pipeline, weighing thousands of pounds, and it swayed into another piece of heavy equipment, crashing through the windshield and striking the operator inside.

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