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‘Monster’: 7 life sentences for ex-hospital worker in deaths

By JOHN RABY Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A former nursing assistant who killed seven elderly veterans with fatal injections of insulin at a West Virginia hospital was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday by a federal judge who called her “the monster that no one sees coming.”
Reta Mays has a history of mental health issues, and offered no explanation Tuesday for why she killed the men. But U.S. District Judge Thomas Kleeh told her “you knew what you were doing” before sentencing her to seven consecutive life terms, a punishment that means she’ll likely die in prison.
Mays, 46, pleaded guilty last year in federal court to seven counts of second-degree murder for intentionally injecting the men with unprescribed insulin at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg.
While the deaths accumulated during her overnight shifts at the hospital in 2017 and 2018, Mays conducted internet searches on female serial killers and watched the Netflix series “Nurses Who Kill,” Kleeh said. He also said she repeatedly denied her involvement, telling investigators three times that she had no knowledge of the crimes.
“Several times your counsels made the point that you shouldn’t be considered a monster,” Kleeh told Mays. “Respectfully, I disagree with that. You are the worst kind. You’re the monster that no one sees coming.”
Mays cried and apologized in addressing the court briefly before learning her sentence.
“I know that there’s no words that I can say that would alter the families’ pain and comfort,” she said. “I don’t ask for forgiveness because I don’t think I could forgive anyone for doing what I did.”
Hospital officials reported the deaths to the VA inspector general and fired Mays after evidence pointed to her.
An interview with Mays after her guilty plea was included in a lengthy report released after Tuesday’s sentencing by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Inspector General detailing deficiencies at the hospital.
In it, she said she administered insulin to patients she believed were suffering so they that could pass “gently.” She said she also had great stress and chaos in her personal and professional life, and that her actions gave her a sense of control.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Jarod Douglas called her actions “predatory and planned, not reactionary.”
“These men were not in need of mercy by the defendant,” Douglas said. “In the end it wasn’t the defendant’s call to make.”
Mays’ attorney, Jay McCamic, described her long history of depression, anxiety, mental health and other medical issues, including a trip to the emergency room when a patient knocked her unconscious with a punch to the face in May 2016.
“Many, many people ask why, why did Reta do this?” McCamic said. “Most people want to have a nice, linear story applied to the conspiracy, a unified motive of why someone would set upon the idea of taking the life of others and go forth with that idea. Unfortunately, why is not a question that can be answered here. Reta doesn’t know why. Her family doesn’t know why.”
Mays, of Reynoldsville, had served in the Army National Guard in a noncombat position in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Her duties at the hospital included measuring patients’ vital signs and blood glucose levels. VA nursing assistants are not qualified or authorized to administer medication, including insulin, prosecutors said. The hospital’s nursing assistants also were not required to have a certificate or license as a condition of continuing employment.
Then-U.S. Attorney Bill Powell said there were about 20 suspicious deaths at the medical center during the time Mays worked there, but charges were only brought in cases where the government thought it had sufficient evidence.
The second-degree murder charges involved the deaths of Army veterans Robert Lee Kozul Sr., 89, Archie D. Edgell, 84, Felix Kirk McDermott, 82, and William Holloway, 96; Navy veteran Robert Edge Sr., 82; Air Force veteran George Nelson Shaw Sr., 81; and Army and Air Force veteran Raymond Golden, 88.
She also was sentenced to an additional 20 years for assault with intent to commit murder involving the death of Navy veteran Russell R. Posey Sr., 92.
Separately, the federal government has agreed to the settlement of numerous lawsuits filed by veterans’ families alleging a widespread system of failures at the hospital.
The VA is responsible for 9 million military veterans. The agency’s former director was fired in 2018 in the wake of a bruising ethics scandal and a mounting rebellion within the agency. Robert Wilkie took over as Veterans Affairs secretary in July 2018.

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West Virginia Headlines

Consultant: West Virginia city was bombarded with opioids

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A new analysis of opioids in West Virginia shows the city of Huntington and its surrounding county were overwhelmed with shipments of prescription drugs, nearly all of which came from three large drug distributors on trial in a landmark case.
Data consultant Craig McCann of Washington, D.C., testified for the plaintiffs Monday in a lawsuit against distributors AmerisourceBergen Drug Co., Cardinal Health Inc. and McKesson Corp., The Herald-Dispatch reported.
According to McCann, an analysis of data showed that from 2006 to 2014, about 110 million doses of hydrocodone and oxycodone were shipped to Cabell County and Huntington, which accuse the three distributors in federal court of fueling the area’s opioid epidemic.
About 90% of the shipments originated from the defendants, who unsuccessfully objected to McCann’s testimony.
During the nine-year period, there were an average 39.9 hydrocodone and oxycodone doses per person shipped nationally, compared to an average of 72 doses per person in West Virginia and 122 doses per person in Cabell County and Huntington.
When 12 other opiates were included, the numbers grew to 48.8 doses per person annually nationwide. That figure nearly doubled for West Virginia and nearly tripled for Cabell County, McCann said.
The county and city argue that “The Big Three” drug distributors created a “public nuisance” by flooding the area with prescription pain pills and ignored the signs that the community was being ravaged by addiction.
Attorneys for the manufacturers last week attempted to shift the blame away from their clients by arguing that what happens after delivery is out of the suppliers’ control. They argued West Virginia’s labor-intensive mining and industrial sectors may have led to workers with a greater need for painkillers. They also pointed out that the companies had no authority over illicit street drugs, the cause of the current crisis.
The trial could last into mid-June.
Similar lawsuits have resulted in multimillion-dollar settlements, but this is the first time the allegations have wound up at federal trial. The result could have huge effects on hundreds of similar lawsuits that have been filed across the country.
Huntington was once ground zero for the addiction epidemic until a quick response program that formed in 2017 drove the overdose rate down. But the pandemic undid much of the progress.

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Ex-operator of WVa pharmacy fined in prescription case

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The operator of a former pharmacy in southern West Virginia has agreed to pay a $250,000 fine to settle federal allegations that it illegally filled prescriptions of controlled substances.
Mountaineer Drug Inc. stopped operating a pharmacy in the Boone County community of Whitesville in October 2019 during the ongoing federal investigation, prosecutors said in a news release Monday.
From 2015 to 2019, the pharmacy filled prescriptions that were not written for legitimate medical purposes in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, the statement said.
“As our nation reels from a staggering rise in overdose deaths, the Drug Enforcement Administration remains committed to stopping those unscrupulous medical professionals who put personal greed above patient care,” said Special Agent in Charge Todd Scott, head of the DEA’s Louisville division.

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West Virginia Headlines

WVa ‘ready to go’ with Pfizer vaccine for 12 to 15 year olds

By JOHN RABY Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia is prepared to begin administering coronavirus vaccines to 12- to 15-year-olds now that U.S. regulators have expanded use of Pfizer’s shot to them.
James Hoyer, a retired major general with the National Guard who is leading the state’s interagency coronavirus task force, said Monday morning the state was “ready to go” once approval was given for those as young as 12.
Later Monday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration declared the Pfizer vaccine safe and offers strong protection for younger teens. Shots could begin as soon as a federal advisory committee issues recommendations for using the two-dose vaccine in 12- to 15-year-olds, expected Wednesday.
Gov. Jim Justice estimated there are 78,000 children ages 12 to 15 in West Virginia.
He called on adults to “help us get those kids vaccinated. Those kids need protected. You need protected. And with all that being said, kids from the side effects that they could possibly get and everything from this (virus), in every way need vaccinated.”
In addition to a previously announced plan to offer $100 savings bonds to young people who get a shot, Justice said the state also is working on offering gift cards as an alternative.
“We’re going to give people the flexibility to go two different ways,” he said.
West Virginia has given at least one dose to nearly 55% of its eligible population over the age of 16. More than 45% of state residents have received at least one dose and about 38% are fully vaccinated, state data show. Eighty percent of residents ages 65 and over have received at least one dose.
Justice announced plans last week to lift the statewide mask mandate on June 20 after officials projected more than two-thirds of eligible residents will be vaccinated by then.
The number of active virus cases in the state on Sunday dipped below 7,000 for the first time in two weeks. Active cases peaked at more than 29,000 in early January, fell under 5,200 in early March and climbed to near 7,500 in early April.
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Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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West Virginia Headlines

Georgia firm buys mall in West Virginia’s capital city

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A mall in West Virginia’s largest city has been sold to a Georgia-based firm.
The price of the sale of the Charleston Town Center Mall to Hull Property Group of Augusta, Georgia, was not immediately released, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported.
Hull Property Group operates malls in 15 other states, according to its website.
In recent years, anchor stores Macy’s and Sears closed at the Charleston mall, and several stores have shut since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The Charleston Town Center can and should continue to be a viable shopping and dining destination,” said Hull Property Group owner Jim Hull. “Our goal is to reposition Charleston Town Center by working with Charleston leaders and downtown property owners to create a successful future for not only the mall but the entire downtown area.”
The mall was placed in receivership in January 2018. U.S. National Bank purchased it for $35 million a year later at auction.

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Free rides, beer and savings bonds: Vaccinators get creative

CARLA K. JOHNSON and MICHELLE R. SMITH Associated Press
Free beer, pot and doughnuts. Savings bonds. A chance to win an all-terrain vehicle. Places around the U.S. are offering incentives to try to energize the nation’s slowing vaccination drive and get Americans to roll up their sleeves.
These relatively small corporate promotion efforts have been accompanied by more serious and far-reaching attempts by officials in cities such as Chicago, which is sending specially equipped buses into neighborhoods to deliver vaccines. Detroit is offering $50 to people who give others a ride to vaccination sites, and starting Monday will send workers to knock on every door in the city to help residents sign up for shots.
Public health officials say the efforts are crucial to reach people who haven’t been immunized yet, whether because they are hesitant or because they have had trouble making an appointment or getting to a vaccination site.
“This is the way we put this pandemic in the rearview mirror and move on with our lives,” said Dr. Steven Stack, Kentucky’s public health commissioner.
Meanwhile, more activities are resuming around the U.S. as case numbers come down. Disneyland is set to open Friday after being closed for over a year, while Indianapolis is planning to welcome 135,000 spectators for the Indy 500 at the end of May.
Still, rising hospitalizations and caseloads in the Pacific Northwest prompted Oregon’s governor to impose restrictions in several counties, and her Washington counterpart was expected to follow suit.
Demand for vaccines has started to fall around the country, something health officials expected would happen once the most vulnerable and most eager to get the shot had the opportunity to do so. Now the vaccination drive is moving into a new, more targeted phase.
“This will be much more of an intense ground game where we have to focus on smaller events, more tailored to address the needs and concerns of focused communities,” Stack said.
Nationally, 82% of people over 65 and more than half of all adults have received at least one dose of vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But while vaccinations hit a high in mid-April at 3.2 million shots per day on average, the number had fallen to 2.5 million as of last week. S ome places are no longer asking for their full allotment from the government, and many large vaccination sites and pharmacies are letting people to walk in, no appointment necessary.
The slowdown in the U.S. stands in stark contrast to the situation in the many poorer corners of the world that are desperate for vaccine.
Demand has dropped precipitously in the rugged timberland of northeastern Washington state, where Matt Schanz of Northeast Tri County Health District is at a loss for what to try next.
Seventy-six percent of residents remain unvaccinated in Pend Oreille County and 78% in Ferry County, and a whopping 80% in Stevens County have not had even one shot. On Wednesday, only 35 people in all three counties booked a first dose through the health agency, down from a peak of 500 daily appointments a few weeks ago.
Schanz ticks off the efforts so far in the three counties where he is the health agency’s administrator: Newspaper ads, signs and mailers sent with utility bills. Drive-thru vaccination sites at fairgrounds and fire stations. A call center and online scheduling. Outreach to pastors, Republican elected leaders, employers in the lumber industry and an aluminum boat manufacturer. TV and radio interviews.
“Have we reached that point of saturation?” Schanz asked. “How many people do we have who are going to be the hard no’s, and how many are the hesitators and the wait-and-see folks?”
Uncertainty about the vaccine is the biggest barrier, he said: “People say, ‘Jeez, I don’t want to be a government experiment.'”
Chicago officials are planning vaccination sites at festivals and block parties and are working with barber shops and hair and nail salons to pair free services with vaccination.
“The idea here is to bring the party, bring the vaccine and really have this be a convenient way for people to get vaccinated,” Chicago Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said.
Several companies have announced that employees can take paid time off to get vaccinated. In Houston, 31-year-old Elissa Hanc works for one of them, 3 Men Movers.
Her employer started offering the benefit before President Joe Biden announced a tax credit for small businesses to provide paid time off for those getting vaccinated or recovering from the side effects.
“I have a few friends who work where management is not making it a priority to get the vaccine,” Hanc said. “They’ve let me know in no uncertain terms how lucky I am to work where I do.”
Dr. Eric Topol, head of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, said that employers should give paid time off and that other incentives are needed to boost vaccinations. He pointed to West Virginia, which is giving $100 savings bonds to young adults who get their shot.
“We also need health systems and universities to mandate vaccination — that no one can be employed or on campus/medical facilities without having been vaccinated,” Topol said in an email. He also said the nation needs to mount a “counteroffensive” against anti-vaccination websites and activists.
Other companies are getting into the spirit with marketing pitches.
Krispy Kreme began offering a free doughnut a day to anyone showing proof of having been vaccinated. In Cleveland, a movie theater is supplying free popcorn through the end of this month.
Several marijuana dispensaries around the country are giving out cannabis treats or free rolled joints. On April 20, marijuana advocates offered “joints for jabs” to encourage people to get vaccinated in New York City and Washington.
Some breweries around the country are offering “shots and a chaser.”
In Alaska, which traditionally has low vaccine confidence, the Norton Sound Health Corp., with a hospital in Nome and 15 clinics across western Alaska, has given away prizes, including airline tickets, money toward the purchase of an all-terrain vehicle, and $500 for groceries or fuel.

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West Virginia Headlines

West Virginia Supreme Court justices participate in Law Day

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Supreme Court justices are taking part in Law Day activities next week.
The justices will participate in a virtual awards ceremony Monday for the state bar’s Women in the Profession Committee’s Law Day student contests, the court said in a news release.
The contests were open to students across the state and involved essay-writing, poetry, songwriting and performance, poster creation and social media marketing.
After the awards are presented, justices will give a virtual tour of the Supreme Court chamber.
“I hope that events like Law Day encourage more students, especially girls, to see themselves as lawyers or judges in the future, Justice Beth Walker said. “It’s a great way to introduce students to our profession.”
Chief Justice Evan Jenkins praised the committee’s civic education efforts and congratulated the participants in the competition for “outstanding work.”
President Dwight D. Eisenhower founded Law Day in 1958 to celebrate the role of law in the U.S. and promote understanding of the profession.

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West Virginia Headlines

Arrest warrant issued for teenager in WVa student’s slaying

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Police in West Virginia have issued an arrest warrant for a teenager in the fatal shooting of a high school student.
Charleston Police Chief Tyke Hunt said Wednesday a warrant for first-degree murder was issued for Dekotis Thomas, 19, of South Charleston, in the April 7 shooting of Kelvin “KJ” Taylor.
Hunt said police are seeking information on the whereabouts of Thomas.
Taylor, 18, was shot in the chest. He had played football and basketball at Capital High School and was set to graduate next month.
Taylor’s funeral was held April 16 at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center.

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Man dies in equipment collapse at inactive mine site

MADISON, W.Va. (AP) — A man working to to tear down old silos at an inactive mine in West Virginia died when one of the structures collapsed on equipment he was operating, authorities said.
James Simpkins, 73, owned a recycling company that was tearing down the silos Wednesday at the former Hobet mine in Boone County, Danville Fire Chief Justin Chafin told news outlets. One of the silos fell on an excavator Simpkins was operating, he said.
Crews dug through the rubble and found Simpkins, who was pronounced dead at the scene, officials said.
It is not clear what caused the collapse, but Chafin said it appears to be an accident.

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Ex-West Virginia police officer accused of excessive force

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A former West Virginia police officer has been indicted on federal charges that he used excessive force during an arrest.
A federal grand jury in Charleston indicted Everett Maynard on Tuesday on one count of depriving the detainee of his civil rights under color of law — language used to describe crimes committed while on duty. If convicted, Yates would face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
Maynard, 44, is accused of using excessive force while he was a Logan police officer. The incident left the detainee injured, the U.S. Justice Department said in a news release.
The statement did not release details of the incident, including when it happened or the races of Maynard or the detainee.
It wasn’t immediately known whether Maynard has an attorney who could comment on the charge.