Tuesday October 29, 2013

Flu season is officially upon us.

The Health Department said cases have been reported in Henderson and Jefferson Counties along with Perry County here in the mountains..

Health officials said it is so important for people to get the flu vaccine.

The very young and the very old are most at risk.

The more people who are protected, the fewer who will get sick and spread the virus.

The flu season started in August last year, doctors say so far flu season is off to a slower start this year.

The flu vaccine takes about two weeks to start working but isn't fool proof.

If you find yourself suffering symptoms, health officials said it's important to see a doctor right away.

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Kentucky political leaders have rolled out an initiative intended to find ways to bolster the economy in Appalachia.

Gov. Steve Beshear and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers held a joint press conference in Hazard on Monday to unveil the latest effort, which they dubbed SOAR, which stands for Shaping Our Appalachian Region.

Beshear said the economic woes of recent years have hurt Appalachia and intensified the hardships of families in the mountain region.

He and Rogers have scheduled a summit of public and private sector leaders to find solutions to problems the region faces.

Beshear and Rogers cited the loss of thousands of coal jobs in eastern Kentucky as one of the reasons for calling the summit, which will be held on Dec. 9 at the Eastern Kentucky Exposition Center in Pikeville.

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Operation UNITE and several local police departments teamed up this weekend to get more than one ton of medicine off the streets.

The National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day is only seven years old, but is seeing progress year after year.

Operation UNITE racked up more than 2,000 pounds of medicine during the annual event.

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Dirt track race car driver, Josh McGuire, is recovering after a violent crash at the 201 Speedway during the Halloween 50 Saturday night in Johnson County.

Hundreds watched the crash happen at the track and thousands have seen it online via YouTube.

Track officials say McGuire was going somewhere around 100 MPH as he entered the first turn on his fourth lap...when his car began to flip.

Doctors say that McGuire has a fracture in his C1 vertebrae and he was flown to St. Mary's Hospital in Huntington, West Virginia, where he is now recovering but his family says he will be okay and is very lucky.

Doctors do not think McGuire will need surgery, but will spend the next three months in a neck brace.

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State officials are applying for a license to sell alcohol in the restaurant at Pine Mountain State Park.

The city of Pineville has annexed the lodge and restaurant into the city limits and Pineville allows restaurant alcohol sales.

Gil Lawson, spokesperson for the state tourism office, says the state is preparing to submit the application to the ABC this week.

If approved, the restaurant would sell beer, wine, and liquor.

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Singer Kree Harrison will be this year's celebrity guest on the Santa Train for its 71st trip through Appalachia.

The train runs along a 110-mile route, beginning in Shelby, Kentucky, and travelling through part of Virginia before ending in Kingsport, Tennessee.

Along the way, it distributes more than 15 tons of gifts, including toys and food.

This will be Harrison's second trip on the Santa Train.

She first rode in 2001, when she was 11 years old.

Now the "American Idol" runner-up is working on her debut album and recently made an appearance at the Grand Ole Opry.

More information on the Nov. 23 journey is available at www.teamsantatrain.org.

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A $1 million Powerball ticket was sold in Paintsville, Kentucky, but the winner has not come forward.

Kentucky Lottery says that the ticket for Saturday night's drawing matched the five white balls, but not the Powerball.

The ticket was sold at the Paintsville Smart Shop located at 1074 3rd Street.

The winning ticket had the following numbers: 4 6 34 49 56.

The winner has 180 days from Saturday's drawing to claim their prize.

Monday October 28, 2013

This morning at 10:00am, Governor Steve Beshear, Congressman Hal Rogers, Senate President Robert Stivers and Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo are expected to announce what they call "a major initiative" to revive Eastern Kentucky's economy.

The event will be held on the campus of Hazard Community and Technical College.

The announcement is in response to the loss of more than 6,000 coal mining jobs in the region in the last two years.

WYMT-TV will carry the announcement live at 10:00am.

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Officials are asking travelers to be cautious this morning on Route 3 in Martin County by the Federal Bureau of Prisons United States Penitentiary.

Crews are working to rescue twenty horses from that road in Martin County.

They say close to ten of the horses are already contained.

Crews believe they will be working for several more hours.

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There are new developments in the federal case against the former mayor of Martin, as her step-son was arrested when officials say he threatened witnesses in the investigation.

James "Stevie" Robinson is now in jail after a FBI agent and an agent from the Kentucky Attorney General's Office arrested him late Friday afternoon in Floyd County.

As officials conducted their investigation that led to the federal indictment of former mayor, Thomasine Robinson, and 3 others including her daughter ... they found serious threats were being made to witnesses.

Floyd County Attorney Keith Bartley says it is clear the attempt by Robinson was to also prevent even more information from coming out in what is still an ongoing investigation.

Stevie Robinson's father, James Robinson, was also arrested and charged last November with menacing and terroristic threatening after he made threats to current Martin mayor, Sam Howell, after Howell defeated Robinson's wife, Thomasine, in last year's election.

Stevie Robinson is currently in the Floyd County Detention Center, being held on a $500,000 cash bond. He is already on probation and parole for being convicted of a federal crime in another state.

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A Knott County grand jury indicted a man accused of shooting at sheriff's deputies.

Timothy Slone faces two counts of attempted murder and criminal mischief charges.

Police say earlier this month, he shot at deputies Mike Caudill and Leo Slone.

Caudill and Slone returned fire hitting Slone during the shootout.

An arraignment date is set for November 14th.

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The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration has labeled two West Virginia coal mines and one in Kentucky as pattern violators, meaning they've repeatedly broken federal health and safety regulations.

One is Pocahontas Coal Co.'s Affinity Mine in Raleigh County, where two men died within two weeks of each other in February.

The others are Brody Mining's Brody Mine No. 1 in Boone County, W.Va., and Tram Energy's Mine No. 1 in Floyd County, Ky.

They're the first added to the list since MSHA began using new screening criteria in March.

MSHA director Joe Main said Thursday his staff is reviewing several other mines that could be added.

Friday October 25, 2013

On Thursday night there was a big break in a Knott County murder investigation.

Kentucky State Police arrested 37-year-old Gary Ward, of Johnson County, for the murder of Christina Barnett.

Earlier this month, a Knott County Grand Jury heard evidence from state police and issued a warrant for Ward.

Ward is charged with murder, evidence tampering and abuse of a corpse.

Today marks one month since Barnett's body was found under a pile of trash in a wooded area just off Highway 80 in Knott County by her sister and some friends.

Barnett's mother, Donna Hale, said she believes Ward is the man her daughter met online.

As of Thursday night Ward was being held in the Kentucky River Regional Jail in Hazard.

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Four people who worked for the Floyd County city of Martin - including the former mayor and her daughter - were indicted Thursday on fraud charges.

Former mayor Thomasine Robinson and three others misused federal money and took part in a scheme to defraud the Social Security Administration, according to prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney's office.

The nine-count indictment targets Robinson, her daughter and former Martin Community Center director Rita Whicker, former city employee Ginger Halbert and city bookkeeper Ethel Clouse.

The four women are charged with conspiring and social security fraud, misappropriating money from a federal program and aggravated identity theft.

If convicted, they could spend at least two years in prison on each count.

Robinson was voted out of office by three votes in November 2012.

The four women will be arraigned Nov. 5 in federal court in Pikeville.

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The mystery of what happened to a well-known Floyd County lawyer who disappeared four months ago has been solved.

Friends were concerned Clyde Johnson had died when he went missing June 24, but police confirmed finding him earlier this week at a campground in Port O'Connor, Texas, which is on the Gulf of Mexico north of Corpus Christi.  

This is according to Attorney Ned Pillersdorf, a friend of Johnson's.

Pillersdorf said he was told that when a Texas police officer approached Johnson at the campground this week, Johnson told the officer he was fine and to leave him alone.

Johnson, 47, was a fixture in Floyd County, representing more than 100 clients, serving as president of the county bar association and helping coach high school football.

In June, Johnson told his secretary that he was going to take his dog, Pete, and go fishing, and would not be back until June 24.   He never returned and state police opened a missing person investigation.

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United Steel Workers and officials with the Harlan Health and Rehab Center have a reached a tentative agreement that could avoid a strike.

The United Steel Workers sent a ten day strike notice to the nursing home last week.

The notice says if an agreement is not reached by midnight on October 31st, employees have the option go on strike.

The local Union Steel Workers President say they reached the tentative agreement Wednesday night with a federal mediator.

The employees will vote on Monday whether to accept it.

Thursday October 24, 2013

One of three Letcher County residents charged with conspiring to steal more than $1 million worth of trucks and heavy equipment has pleaded guilty and will be sentenced next month in federal court in Pikeville.

61 year old Roger Tolliver of Deane, is scheduled to appear at a sentencing hearing on November 5, during which Tolliver will admit to his role in an interstate theft ring which brought stolen pickup trucks, dump trucks, trailers, and other equipment to Letcher County.

Tolliver was originally charged in March 2012 after the Letcher County Sheriff ’s Department found some of the stolen equipment on Tolliver’s property at Deane and at a natural gas well site nearby on Rockhouse Mountain.

Also charged in the case are Henry Anthony Hall, 50, of Jenkins, and Sharlene Pierce, 41, of Neon. Neither Hall nor Pierce have entered pleas in the case.

The government will recommend that Tolliver be sentenced to not more than 15 months in prison and ordered to pay restitution of $135,598.

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The Letcher County Fiscal Court has asked County Attorney Jaime Hatton to explore the possibility of getting some type of an exemption from the new City of Whitesburg payroll tax for magistrates who do not spend most of their time in the city.

District Four Magistrate Keith Adams brought up the issue in the closing minutes of the fiscal court’s October meeting on Monday night.

Letcher County Judge/Executive Jim Ward said that while he understands that employees at the courthouse and other county employees who work in the city limits are subject to the tax, he questions whether the magistrates should have to pay the entire tax when most of them work out of their homes or offices in their districts and are only in the city for meetings.

For a full rundown of the October Fiscal Court meeting see this week's Mountain Eagle.

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A Floyd County man is dead and police are calling it murder.

Police are keeping quiet about the details but did tell us 52-year-old Timothy Austin was found dead in his home on Hibiscus Court Tuesday afternoon.

Neighbors say Austin was new to the neighborhood living in an apartment above a store called the Bargain Basement.

The Floyd County Coroner says Austin was pronounced dead around 12:15pm Tuesday afternoon.

Officials are not releasing his cause of death.

The coroner says Austin's body was taken to Frankfort for an autopsy.

Anyone with information should contact Kentucky State Police.

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The search continues for an escaped inmate in Breathitt County.

Police say 31-year old Brandon Nipper managed to escape from the Breathitt County Jailer one week ago.

Nipper had just been picked up on a receiving stolen property charge when officials say he made a run for it.

If you know where he is, you should call the Jackson Police Department at 606-666-2424.

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Some Sheriffs from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia are planning to speak at a "Stand in the Gap" event this Saturday.

Eleven Sheriffs from the three border states are part of a panel to discuss the drug problem, what new drugs are surfacing, and what can be done to help stop the drug problem.

The event is called, "Illicit Drug Activity, Alcohol Related Problems, and Associated Family Violence."

The Sheriffs attending will have an opportunity to address the issues in their county.

The meeting is open to the public.

It starts at 10:00am on Saturday in Stand in the Gap headquarters in the old church building in Cumberland Gap, Tennessee.

Wednesday October 23, 2013

A woman was hospitalized after a hit-and-run Tuesday in Martin County.

Claudia Johnson was walking on Spence Branch Road in the Milo community around 5:00pm when a car hit her and drove away according to Sheriff Garmon Preece.

Johnson was transported to Three Rivers Medical Center in nearby Lawrence County.

Preece said she had injuries to the back of her head after she was hit and drug several feet.  

According to the sheriff the vehicle that hit Johnson could be a white Ford station wagon.

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Kentucky's auditor says a former school superintendent assigned his wife to a job with an inflated salary, costing the Martin County School System an extra $200,000 over four years.

The report released Tuesday by Auditor Adam Edelen also says Mark Blackburn, the ex-superintendent, also  awarded a privately funded scholarship to two of his children.

Current Martin County schools Superintendent Steven Meadows says the district will create or strengthen policies to avoid a repeat of such incidents.

Blackburn now works in the school system as an elementary school teacher.

Blackburn says he's disappointed at how the auditor has portrayed the findings and says his children earned the scholarship money on their own.

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Officials dedicated the new judicial center in Pike County Tuesday afternoon after millions of dollars spent and years of work.

Many in the community debated the removal of some historical buildings that once sat in its place but officials say it was worth it.  

Officials say they will be placing pictures and artifacts of the buildings they had to tear down in the lobby of the judicial center.

The $33 million/92,000 square foot building includes technology officials say will improve productivity and help the city and county continue to move forward.

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School districts across Kentucky have maxed-out local property taxes in an effort to make up for cuts in state and federal funding in recent years.

The result is an inequality among the state's 173 districts that has turned school boards into political exiles.

Eighty-one districts, including Letcher County, have adopted rates increasing revenue by 4 percent, the largest amount allowed without being subject to a voter recall.

Seventy-six districts approved similar measures last year, while 26 school boards have yet to set a rate.

Kentucky School Boards Association spokesman Brad Hughes told The Courier-Journal the districts have no other choice but to turn to taxpayers.

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Kentucky now has a new emergency operations center that has been built to stand up to any weather catastrophes that hit the state, including winds of up to 250 mph.

Gov. Steve Beshear said the $11.8 million facility will be a lifeline to all of Kentucky's 120 counties in times of trouble.

Kentucky has dealt with a series of natural disasters in recent years, including tornadoes, floods and ice storms that have resulted in federal emergency declarations.

Nearly $10 million of the funding for the center came from FEMA.

The remainder was covered by the Kentucky Department of Military Affairs and the Office of Homeland Security.

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Hollywood has come to the mountains as filming is underway in Big Stone Gap, VA for a movie starring Ashley Judd, Patrick Wilson and Whoopi Goldberg.

Recently, film crews descended on the town to make "Big Stone Gap", a movie based on a series of novels by Adriana Trigiana.

Trigiana is a Big Stone Gap native.

The film will feature locals as extras.

The city manager said they plan to sell merchandise that will promote both the town and the movie.

Those will be available in shops around town.

City officials hope the movie will bring an increase to the economy of Big Stone Gap.