Ground-to-air fireworks now available in West Virginia


CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginians will have access to a greater variety of fireworks under a law that debuts this week.

The law that goes into effect Wednesday allows for the use of some aerial fireworks. Those can be sold by businesses licensed by the state fire marshal and include rockets and artillery shells. Customers must be 18 and have a valid state identification.

In the past, residents had to travel out-of-state to obtain such fireworks.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed a bill into law earlier this year expanding the type of fireworks allowed.

Municipalities can regulate the use of consumer fireworks within their boundaries.

Chris Wood named Davis & Elkins College president


ELKINS, W.Va. (AP) — Chris Wood has been named the 15th president of Davis & Elkins College.

The college’s Board of Trustees announced Wood’s selection Wednesday from among more than 60 candidates following a yearlong search.

The Huntington native’s appointment is effective Aug. 1.

The 51-year-old Wood currently is vice president for advancement at Wesley College in Dover, Delaware.

Wood succeeds Buck Smith, who served six of the past eight years and will retire again as president emeritus.

In a statement, Wood says while he has not been actively seeking a college presidency, he found that Davis & Elkins’ liberal arts education offerings, faith-based roots and location in his home state were “enticing and captivating.”

Wood has a bachelor’s degree from West Virginia Wesleyan College and a post-graduate degree from Northwestern University’s theological seminary.

Water utility proposes surcharge for $88.8M spending plan


CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Customers could pay a surcharge to support $88.8 million in infrastructure spending under a plan introduced by West Virginia American Water.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail ( ), citing documents filed with the West Virginia Public Service Commission, reports that the proposal is expected to fund roughly $45 million in main replacements through the company’s water system by 2020.

The proposal also includes about $20 million for a 7-mile pipeline that would connect Weston to Webster Springs, a project that would equal more than 22 percent of the money spent under the proposed surcharge.

West Virginia American Water CEO Jeff McIntyre said the surcharge would help reduce the size and frequency of the company’s rate increases. He says it would also improve the reliability of the distribution system.

McIntyre said the distribution system serves more than 169,000 customers in 19 counties across the state.

The proposal comes months after the Public Service Commission approved an $18.2 million annual rate increase for the company.

Advocates for a Safe Water System, a group that is trying to organize a public takeover of the company, said the company has failed to show that the plan is the most cost-effective way to address the needs of customers.

Bullet manufacturer to build plant in West Virginia


QUINCY, W.Va. (AP) — An ammunition company announced plans Tuesday to build a bullet factory in southern West Virginia and add 400 jobs.

Ranger Scientific LLC officials said the company has acquired 1,000 acres on a reclaimed mountaintop removal coal mine in eastern Kanawha County. The 150,000-square-foot facility will produce more than 500 million rounds of specialty rifle ammunition each year.

Ranger President and CEO Daniel Pearlson said the company chose West Virginia over six other states. According to media outlets, he said bullet manufacturing is expected to begin by 2018.

The plant will mass produce “harmonically tuned” rifle ammunition, which is used in Olympic and other international competitions as well as by expert hunters and in specialized U.S. military applications. Those types of bullets reduce weapon vibration during firing.

The ammunition will be available to both consumers and military customers. The company said military veterans would be among those hired at the facility.

The plant is big news in a state that has seen thousands of layoffs in the coal industry over the past year. West Virginia had the third-highest seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in the nation at 6.4 percent in April. Alaska and Illinois had the highest at 6.6 percent.

“We’re proud of the business climate we’ve created in our state and look forward to seeing this project come to fruition,” Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said in a statement. “We’re always excited to see companies locate and expand in West Virginia, and Ranger Scientific’s plan to hire hundreds of West Virginia workers is great news.”

Ranger Scientific has been based in Austin, Texas, according to Texas secretary of state records. The company registered with the West Virginia secretary of state’s office on March 23.

“We’re proud to be an American company, based right here in West Virginia,” Pearlson said.

Exhibit on Sen. Byrd’s career opening at Tamarack


BECKLEY, W.Va. (AP) — A traveling exhibit on the career of the late U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd opens at Tamarack in June.

The Register-Herald in Beckley ( ) said the exhibit shares Byrd’s story as the longest-serving senator, his early life and entrance into politics and rise to leadership positions.

Raymond Smock is executive director of the Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education. Smock says the exhibit opens people up to tell their own stories about Byrd. Smock says the exhibit features aspects of Byrd’s career in which he helped West Virginia and helped preserve its natural beauty.

The exhibit will open at Tamarack on June 10 with a gala reception and will end its run on July 6.

The traveling exhibit was created to honor the 100th anniversary of Byrd’s birth in 2017.

Huntington officials: Needle exchange program succeeding


HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — The city of Huntington says a program that allows drug users to trade in dirty syringes for clean ones is showing signs of success.

The program was established in September at the Cabell-Huntington Health Department and involves elected officials, health professionals, private businesses and members of the recovery community.

Recovery Point of Huntington Executive Director Matt Boggs said in a news release from the city that the program has had steady usage.

The exchange program offers educational materials and recovery coaches. The coaches are at the Health Department to provide peer support to anyone who seeks treatment Wednesday afternoons.

The release says city officials believe substance use and abuse trends will decrease due to the program and other efforts.

Police: Pair plotted to steal coal exec’s SUV and sell it

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Two suspects in the fatal shooting of a former coal chief executive in southern West Virginia were planning to steal his vehicle and sell it, authorities said Thursday.

The body of Bennett Hatfield, 59, was found Monday at a cemetery where he had been visiting his wife’s grave near the Kentucky-West Virginia border the day before. His SUV was found nearby.

Anthony Arriaga, 20, of Delphos, Ohio, was arraigned on a first-degree murder charge Thursday in Mingo County Circuit Court. He was ordered held without bond pending a June 3 preliminary hearing.

Based on interviews with Arriaga and others, authorities believe Arriaga and Brandon Lee Fitzpatrick, 18, of Louisa, Kentucky, hatched a plot to steal a vehicle, Mingo County Prosecutor Teresa Maynard said.

According to Maynard, the two saw Hatfield’s SUV at the Mountain View Memory Gardens cemetery in Maher and Fitzpatrick dropped off Arriaga, who had a gun given to him by Fitzpatrick.

Hatfield resigned in 2015 as president and CEO of Patriot Coal, a month before the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for the second time. He was International Coal Group’s CEO when a 2006 explosion at the Sago Mine in northern West Virginia killed 12 miners.

Maynard said the random shooting led authorities to believe that Arriaga had no connection to Hatfield.

“They were just driving by,” Maynard told The Associated Press. “They wanted to hijack a car, they said. And that was just the nice one that they happened to drive by and see.”

Investigators believe Arriaga and Fitzpatrick wanted to get $10,000 to $15,000 by selling Hatfield’s SUV to a chop shop, Mingo County Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Joe Smith said.

Maynard said Fitzpatrick intended to get Hatfield’s vehicle, but after Hatfield was shot, Fitzpatrick disappeared and left Hatfield’s vehicle behind. Authorities believe Arriaga was the shooter.

Authorities still aren’t sure why the two suspects were in the Williamson area, which is about 50 miles from Fitzpatrick’s hometown. Maynard said authorities still have to interview Fitzpatrick, who is charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy. He was being held in the Kenton County, Kentucky, jail, pending extradition proceedings.

Maynard said Arriaga has no connections to southern West Virginia and came to the state because he was childhood friends with another co-defendant, Ricky Peterson, 20, of Wayne. It was through Peterson’s friendship that Arriaga met Fitzpatrick, Maynard said.

Peterson is charged with being an accessory after the fact, obstructing and providing false information to an officer. Authorities said Peterson told a state trooper he had no knowledge about Arriaga or Hatfield’s death, but two others at Peterson’s residence told the trooper that Arriaga had been there and had spoken with Peterson.

Authorities believe Arriaga sneaked along a river bank next to the cemetery after the shooting on Sunday and asked some neighbors to take him to Wayne County, where Peterson lived. A man who drove Arriaga to Wayne County contacted authorities after hearing about Hatfield’s death.

Police helped track Arriaga to Wayne County and, through cell phone records, to Allen County, Ohio, where he was arrested Tuesday, said Mingo County Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Joe Smith.

Smith said Arriaga’s mother, Angela Marcum, was present at her son’s arrest Tuesday.

On Wednesday, police in Elsmore, Kentucky, stopped a vehicle carrying Marcum and Fitzpatrick, and officers confiscated methamphetamine, said Elsmore Police Chief Timothy Thames.

Marcum, 43, was charged with trafficking and possession of a controlled substance, having an expired driver’s license and making a false report.

WVU recommends new 5-year contract for president


MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia University is recommending a new five-year contract for President Gordon Gee.

A news release says school’s board of governors made the recommendation Thursday. The deal next goes to the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, which has final approval authority.

The terms of the contract have not yet been disclosed.

Gee returned as president of WVU in March 2014. His two-year contract is worth $775,000 annually, including $125,000 from the WVU Foundation’s Milan Puskar President Chair Endowed Fund.

The contract expires June 30, and the new proposed deal would take effect July 1.

He was also president of the university from 1981 to 1985.

The Higher Education Policy Commission is slated to take up the contract on June 24.

More volunteers sought at Greenbrier Classic


WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. (AP) — The Greenbrier Classic’s free ticket giveaway has prompted officials to look for more volunteers to help this year’s golf tournament run smoothly.

Greenbrier owner Jim Justice says in a news release he’ll hold a drawing in which one volunteer will win $20,000 at the end of the tournament.

The tournament is the week of July 4 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Earlier this month, Justice announced that fans will get in for free.

Volunteers will receive a tournament shirt and other items, including meal vouchers. They can choose between a free round of golf or a spa treatment.

Volunteers working four to seven shifts will get a one-night stay at the resort. Those with eight or more shifts will get a round of golf for two and a two-night stay.

Resettlement group considers bringing refugees to Charleston


CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A refugee resettlement service is considering opening an agency in Charleston that would help refugees move to the area.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail ( ) reports that resettlement agency Episcopal Migration Ministries is working with the West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry to turn the city into a “resettlement community.”

Representatives from Episcopal Migration Ministries met with residents of Charleston Thursday to discuss the possibility of helping refugees move to the city. They also scheduled meetings with city officials, police and social service providers.

To turn to city into a resettlement community, organizers in charge of the effort will need to raise about $90,000 for upfront costs.

Jeffrey Hawks, a consultant for Episcopal Migration Ministries, says the U.S. Department of State will ultimately determine if the city can become a resettlement community.