The MOV Year in Review: Covid, Retirements, Court cases
PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (WTAP) - The scene on the first weekend of 2021: hundreds created an unusual Sunday afternoon traffic jam in downtown Parkersburg, in an effort to get the first several dozen available COVID-19 vaccinations.
Scenes like this perhaps persuaded Gov. Jim Justice to declare West Virginia was “vaccinating its way out of the pandemic”.
West Virginia actually led the nation in “shots in arms” in early 2021, and, in June-on West Virginia Day-the governor announced he was officially lifting the mask mandate imposed during 2020.
He also that day announced the first winners of the “Do It For Babydog” sweepstakes, a contest nearly identical to one Gov. Mike DeWine established in Ohio-”Vax-A-Million”-a few weeks earlier, designed to encourage people to get vaccinated.
Among the winners present that day: a Mineral Wells woman who won $1,000,000.
But then came the Delta-then, at year’s end, the Omicron variants-and it appeared we were no closer to the end than we were at the beginning of the pandemic in March, 2020.
22 months into the pandemic, West Virginia had reported more than 5,000 deaths and Ohio’s death toll was more than 28,000.
The major summer festivals resumed in 2021 after being shut down the year before. That included the Belpre and Parkersburg homecomings and the Ohio River Sternwheel Festival.
But some events earlier in the summer were cancelled for another year, and the three-year old Marietta Sweet Corn Festival ended for good, after it was called off for a second year.
Two law enforcement leaders stepped down due to allegations of a “hostile work environment” in their offices. Wood County Sheriff Steve Stephens retired December 1, after a “no confidence” vote by several of his deputies and a series of lawsuits. Former long-time deputy and county 911 director Rick Woodyard was sworn in to replace him.
Marietta Police Chief Rodney Hupp retired in July and was replaced by Capt. Aaron Nedeff.
Several West Virginians were among those arrested after the January 6 protests at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. that briefly delayed Congress’ certification of the results of the 2020 election. Among the notables: newly-elected delegate Derrick Evans, who resigned after the protests before he officially took his seat in the legislature. Former Parkersburg city councilman Eric Barber pleaded guilty late in the year to charges related to the insurrection, and is scheduled to be sentenced at the end of March.
A scandal involving a holiday toy drive rocked Pleasants County in late summer. Prosecutor Brian Carr and Assistant Prosecutor Paul Marteney were both disciplined, and the county’s magistrates resigned, over a promotion where minor traffic offenders were given an option to contribute money and be forgiven their offenses. It was learned some more serious offenders were allowed to do the same.
A number of murder cases delayed due to the pandemic, were resolved in Wood County during the year.
James T. Hendershot was found guilty in May for the death of his father in 2018. Chester Lilly III was convicted in July for the 2019 stabbing death of Travis Peters. Dominic McClung was the last of three people sentenced for the Labor Day weekend, 2019 death of Karen Yeager in Parkersburg, and Michael Johns was sentenced in late May for the death of Christopher Valkos in February, 2020.
Cases that happened in 2021: Hillary Dennison was charged with killing her father and fiancee in Williamstown, Eric Mullins is charged with the death of Lisa Rogers, whose body was found in a home at 13th and Latrobe Streets in late November.
In Washington County, Isiah Campbell was sentenced, and two others remain charged, for the near-fatal beating in February of Devon Ours.
Lionel Gore has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, for the death of his mother in November. Authorities say he killed Diane Gore before setting her New Matamoras home on fire.
And, after more than 25 years, Scott Hickman was charged with the 1995 deaths of a mother and his young child, while their mobile home was destroyed in a Washington County fire. Authorities have long stated Kimberly and Daniel Fulton were murdered before the fire broke out.
In other cases, a former Marietta Middle School basketball coach was accused of having sexual contact with teenage boys. Nicholas Hall was accused of a series of bomb threats over several days in May, mainly targeted at Washington County schools, but which extended as far as schools in the Columbus area. And a Marietta man, Nathaniel Becker, was arrested and charged in connection with the discovery in October of several potentially explosive devices on barges along the Ohio River.
Concern over the growing number of addiction treatment centers and group homes was a hot topic in both Parkersburg and Vienna during the summer. Both cities’ councils voted to place a moratorium on new facilities, while it’s determined how they may be contributing to the area’s homeless population, as well as their proximity to residences.
Gov, Jim Justice proposed what he called a “game changer” to the West Virginia Legislature, in the form of a repeal of the state’s income tax. But lawmakers and several business groups balked at the taxes that would have replaced income tax, and the measure was given a resounding defeat when it got to the floor of the House of Delegates.
Some notable passings included a three-year old girl, Jillian Harlow, who lost her battle with a prenatal heart disorder in April.
And a long-time fixture on WTAP’s “Daybreak”, Susan Sheppard, passed away in April. The noted storyteller and astrologist led the “Haunted Parkersburg” tours during the Halloween season.
The year ended with the closing of financially-troubled Ohio Valley University, nearly 18 months after it had been placed on probation by college accreditors. The school’s board of trustees in early December voted not to offer classes for the spring semester, just as West Virginia’s Higher Education Policy Commission rescinded the Christian school’s ability to award degrees.
Some retirements and planned retirements were announced late in the year. Parkersburg Police Chief Joseph Martin, one of the longest-serving police chiefs in the city’s history, retired on Christmas weekend. And Wood County Clerk Mark Rhodes told WTAP first he would not run for re-election, when his term comes up in the 2022 election.
A personal note:
It has been my privilege to serve the entire Mid-Ohio Valley for more than four decades. Thank you for electronically inviting me into your homes every night.
And Happy New Year!
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