LOCAL NEWS

Wednesday September 18, 2013

Officials with James River Coal Company have confirmed they have furloughed 525 coal miners at three mines across our region.

Officials with the Richmond, Virginia based company said Monday night the layoffs occurred at operations at the McCoy Elkhorn complex in Pike and Floyd counties, the Bledsoe complex in Leslie and Harlan counties and the Long Branch Surface mine in London.

The company says the layoffs are due to a weak coal market and says the restart of the operations is subject to market conditions.

James River mines thermal coal for power generation and metallurgical coal used to produce steel.

It also has operations in southern West Virginia and southern Indiana.

The company also idled several mines and reduced production at others back in March.

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The Lawrence County Attorney says the wet-dry petition for the City of Louisa is invalid.

In a press release Tuesday, Michael T. Hogan said after a review of the wet-dry petition submitted to the Lawrence County Clerk to set a wet-dry election, it has been deemed as invalid under Kentucky law.

Hogan says that under changes to Kentucky law earlier this year, only the first four class cities are permitted to sell alcohol.

Louisa is a class five city.

The classes are primarily based on population.

Hogan says that there are options with moving forward. He says the petition can be rewritten and it be called a "moist vote", which means alcohol could be sold in some restaurants, organizers can ask for the city to be reclassified, or they can challenge it in court.

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There are more than 65,000 bridges in America in need of repair or replacement.

Sara George, information officer for Kentucky Transportation Cabinet District 12 said several bridges are slated for maintenance in District 12, which includes Floyd, Johnson, Knott, Lawrence, Letcher, Martin and Pike Counties.

None in District 12 are "fracture critical," a term used to describe a structure that could collapse should a critical component fail, but federal records show more than 100 bridges in the Commonwealth do carry that distinction.

State transportation officials say there is no cause for alarm.

In Eastern Kentucky, transportation officials say the biggest hurdle remains securing funding for future projects.

Kentucky spends about $30 million annually on bridge repair and another $30 million on bridge replacement.

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A Knott County man accused of avoiding police pleaded not guilty.

Rocky Wicker Junior was in court Tuesday morning after he was charged with running from police and possession of a controlled substance and a firearm

His father Rocky Wicker Senior was charged with shooting a parole officer after police say he fired at probation and parole officers who were looking for Wicker Junior last week.

Wicker Junior will have a preliminary hearing next Tuesday.

Tuesday September 17, 2013

Hundreds of coal miners throughout the region could be without jobs.

Word is spreading that one coal company laid off or furloughed hundreds of miners.

However, company officials will not confirm any of it.

James River Coal Company runs several mines in Eastern Kentucky with the latest layoffs appearing to be centered around Pike, Harlan and Leslie Counties, with potentially more than 500 jobs affected in Pike County alone.

As of right now there is no word on specific numbers or if the layoffs will be permanent.

Officials at James River Coal have not made any comments.

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A man last seen in Pike County has been missing for more than three months.

Valerie Kelly says her husband, Jimmy Kelly,  left the house on June 12th to go run errands but never returned.

The only sign of Kelly came when his car was discovered in the Kelly Mountain area of Shelby Gap in Pike County.

Officials at Kentucky State Police Post 9 in Pikeville say they are actively investigating leads in the case.

Now, family members are offering a $10,000 reward for any information leading to the where abouts of Kelly.

Anyone with information is asked to contact KSP Post 9 in Pikeville.

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It has been a turbulent five months since Mingo County, West Virginia Sheriff Eugene Crum was gunned down on a lunch break April 3rd.

Now, county commissioners have named who will serve out the remainder of Crum's term.

Commissioners appointed former Chief Deputy James Smith to the post during a special meeting Monday.

Smith has been with the sheriff's department for more than 13 years, serving five of them as chief deputy.

Smith will serve the remainder of Crum's term, and says he plans to run for election once that term is out.

Sheriff Crum's widow Rosie Crum stepped into the job for a while, but stepped down last month.

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The city of Benham in Harlan County is without a mayor.

The decision ends a legal battle spanning several months.

It all started last November when Benham City Council held a special meeting to discuss personnel issues.

By the end of the meeting, then-mayor John Dodd resigned and his wife Shirley, was appointed to replace him.

Benham resident Roy Silvers was concerned with the council's meeting saying Kentucky's Open Meeting's Law had been violated.

He first filed a complaint with the city before moving on to the Attorney General.

Judge Henry Johnson ruled in Silver's favor and signed an order removing Shirley Dodd from office.

The city council now has 30 days to appoint a replacement mayor.

Monday September 16, 2013

A Harlan County woman pleaded guilty in connection with a murder more than two years ago.

34-year-old Rachel Osborne is one of two people accused of killing 58-year-old Steven Gibson in June of 2011.

Friday she took a deal and pleaded guilty to wanton murder and robbery.

Her defense attorney says she agreed to a twenty year sentence and to testify against the other defendant, Timothy Turner.

Turner's trial is scheduled for January.

He has pleaded not guilty to murder and other charges.

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Officials with the Hazard Police Department say they have charged three men under the age of 18 with 3rd-Degree Burglary.

Two of those three are also charged with Criminal Mischief following two incidents this weekend at the baseball field in Perry County Park and the Perry County Senior Center.

Police say the vandals caused thousands of dollars in damages, destroyed property and many items were stolen including two vehicles.

Officials with the Hazard Police also said that most of the stolen items have been recovered.

The three people charged are currently being held at the Breathitt County Detention Center.

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A federal inmate faces a possible death sentence after being charged with killing a fellow prisoner at a federal prison in eastern Kentucky.

The U.S. Justice Department is weighing whether to seek execution for 31-year-old John Travis Millner.

Millner is scheduled for arraignment on Sept. 26 in federal court in Ashland on charges of murder by a federal inmate serving life in prison and first-degree murder.

Prosecutors say Millner attacked another inmate in January 2009 at the United States Penitentiary Big Sandy at Inez, Ky. in Martin County with a homemade ice pick before strangling him to death.

Millner's attorney, Patrick Nash of Lexington, said his client will plead not guilty.

Millner has a long record of violent crimes in Virginia and Washington, D.C.

He is currently housed at a maximum security facility in Lewisburg, Pa.

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A judge dismissed criminal charges against Harlan County Judge-Executive Joe Grieshop on Friday during a preliminary hearing.

He faced several charges including burglary and theft related to moving the Chaplain Corps property.

The judge ruled there was no criminal intent.

After testimony from several witnesses in the preliminary hearing, the special-appointed judge dismissed all charges.

Sheriff Marvin Lipfird filed the charges regarding property the Chaplain Corps had in a county building two years ago.

The Sheriff testified when a company wanted to rent the building, Grieshop moved the chaplain property out of the building to the jail or other places.

The judge dismissed the charges without prejudice which means it could be presented to a grand jury at a later time.

The judge also told the Sheriff and Chaplain Corps they could file a civil suit in the matter.

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The city of Benham in Harlan County is without a mayor.

The decision ends a legal battle spanning several months.

It all started last November when Benham City Council held a special meeting to discuss personnel issues.

By the end of the meeting, then-mayor John Dodd resigned and his wife Shirley, was appointed to replace him.

Benham resident Roy Silvers was concerned with the council's meeting saying Kentucky's Open Meeting's Law had been violated.

He first filed a complaint with the city before moving on to the Attorney General.

Judge Henry Johnson ruled in Silver's favor and signed an order removing Shirley Dodd from office.

The city council now has 30 days to appoint a replacement mayor.

Thursday September 12, 2013

This news from William Farley with the Mountain Eagle:

In a move that will put Whitesburg level with most surrounding cities, the Whitesburg City Council voted unanimously at its September meeting to institute a one-and-a half percent payroll tax on people working in the city.

The move came after the council heard bad economic news about issues with the city waterworks and met in executive session to discuss pending litigation with Veolia Water, which ran the city’s water and sewer operations for a number of years.

In related news, 36 City of Whitesburg employees are being furloughed one day of each two-week pay period.

Whitesburg Mayor James W. Craft said that finances of the city have caused the mandatory days off for employees of the administration, street department and water department.

Fire and police department employees have been spared the furlough.

In the two months since the furloughs began, Craft says the city is saving an average of $4,000 a month.

For more on this story and the entire Whitesburg City Council meeting see this week's edition of the Mountain Eagle.

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Also from the Mountain Eagle, Jeff Breeding has been sworn is as the newest member of the Fleming- Neon City Council.

Mayor Susie Polis swore in Breeding before he joined the council in addressing the agenda for its September meeting.

Breeding fills the seat vacated by Everett Duncan, who resigned after he moved out of the city.

The annual Neon Days celebration will be held this Friday and Saturday, September 13 and 14, in Neon

This year’s Neon Days celebration will also mark the city’s 100th birthday.

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Following the recent layoff of two office personnel and a parttime deputy by the Letcher County Sheriff ’s Department, the Letcher County Fiscal Court has voted unanimously to extend a loan of $20,000 to the sheriff ’s department to prevent any further layoffs.

At the Sept. 6 special meeting, Judge/Executive Jim Ward told the court that the funds will be taken from the Road and Bridge Fund and will be repaid as soon as county tax revenues come in.

The sheriff ’s department derives most of its income from collecting county taxes.

Fifth District Magistrate Wayne Fleming made a motion to extend the loan and the vote was unanimous to approve the loan.

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Officials say one person is dead after an accident on U.S. 23.

Police say they got the call just before 3:00 Wednesday afternoon that there was a two car accident on U.S. 23 at the intersection of 321.

Police say it appears a red Chevrolet SUV pulled out onto U.S. 23 from 321 into the path of a coal truck that was in a northbound lane.

The coal truck then hit the SUV in the driver's side and pushed the vehicle down 23 before coming to a stop.

The woman driving that SUV was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police say the driver of the coal truck was not injured

The accident is still under investigation.

Police have not released any names.

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A man convicted of falsely reporting a gunman at the University of Virginia's College of Wise will spend two years on supervised release.

Bryant Alexander Hairston also must pay more than $4,000 in restitution to law enforcement and counseling agencies who responded to the January incident.

The 20-year-old Martinsville man pled guilty in May to two counts of making false statements.

Police said Hairston called 911 and reported seeing a gunman on campus.

The bogus report prompted university officials to place the school on lockdown.

Hairston was a student at the school at the time of the incident.

Wednesday September 11, 2013

The search is over for the son of the man accused of shooting a parole officer Monday in Knott County.

Rocky Wicker Jr. was arrested Tuesday afternoon at a home in the Mousie community following a tip.

According to State Police, Wicker Jr. tried to run, but authorities were able to arrest him on an outstanding warrant.

Investigators said state probation and parole officers were looking for Wicker Jr. Monday afternoon at the home of his father, Rocky Wicker Sr. in connection with a parole violation from 2010.

As Officer Brian Melvin approached the home, Wicker Sr. is accused of shooting the officer in the arm, then firing at a car with three other officers inside.

Wicker Sr. was arrested Monday and charged with four counts of attempted murder and wanton endangerment.

Officer Melvin is expected to spend at least another day at Hazard ARH but a full recovery is anticipated.

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The U.S. Department of Justice says a 30-year-old inmate at the U.S. penitentiary in Jonesville, Virginia in Lee County was found dead in the gymnasium.

Demetrius Hall was serving a 152 month sentence for armed assault on a police officer and armed robbery.

Staff responded to the gym and found Hall unresponsive.

He was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.

An autopsy will be performed to determine the cause of death.

Foul play is not suspected.

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A woman was taken to the hospital and two others are behind bars after a stabbing Tuesday in Harlan County.

According to police, the fight took place near a food stamp distribution office in downtown Harlan around noon and spilled over into the building's parking lot.

21 year old Ginger Pendleton and 26 year old Ashley Massey were fighting when Pendleton pulled a knife and stabbed Massey twice.

Harlan Police Chief Mike Thomas said it appears the two women had been taunting each other and had exchanged threats over Facebook about an ex-boyfriend.

Police also arrested Massey's niece, 20 year old Dominique Thomas, 20, for causing a disturbance at the scene.

Massey was taken to Holston Valley Medical Center in Kingsport, Tenn.

Her condition was not immediately available, but police said her injuries were not life-threatening.

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On Tuesday afternoon officials at the Leslie County Detention Center contacted law enforcement after 26-year-old Ricky Hendrix escaped a second time.

Hendrix was just caught early Saturday morning after escaping the first time in May.

Around 11:40 am Tuesday, jail coordinators said Hendrix kicked out the jail van window, rolled onto Kentucky Route 118 and ran away.

This incident occurred near Detention Road, which is the jail's driveway.

Court Security Officer Bryan Adams said Hendrix was coming from court, wearing leg irons and a belly chain.

Local law enforcement and two state troopers checked up and down the Hyden Spur and surrounding communities.

Hendrix was caught near the Hyden Spur getting in a vehicle and is now in custody.

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A southwest  Virginia court reporter has been sentenced for obstructing justice.

66 year old Ernest Benko of Norton, Va. was accused of lying to investigators in the case of a Wise County attorney charged with obtaining controlled substances by fraud.

According to the U.S. Attorney's office, Benko was hired by that attorney in May 2009 to record sworn statements in the attorney's case.

Investigators later determined those statements were false.

The U.S Attorney said Benko lied during interrogations with FBI agents and Virginia State Police.

Benko pleaded guilty in June.

A judge sentenced him Tuesday to 15 months in prison.