LOCAL NEWS

Monday October 27, 2014

UNEMPLOYMENT DOWN IN SEPTEMBER

Letcher County unemployment dropped in September to 10.9 percent from 11.5 percent. The Kentucky Office of Employment and Training says Unemployment fell in all 120 Kentucky counties between September 2013 and September 2014, the second month the state's had a year-over-year drop in all counties.  The highest unemployment is in Jackson County at 13.2 percent and Warren along with Daviess Counties were lowest at 4.8 percent.

SEATBELT VIOLATION LEADS TO DRUG BUST

A Letcher County traffic stop results in the driver's arrest on drug charges. Police say Anthony Couch was pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt and when searching his SUV officers found a large quantity of prescription painkillers along with 2 grams of cocaine and a firearm. Investigators say the drug's street value is over $5500. Couch was lodged in the Letcher County Jail.

WOMAN SHOWS UP TO COURT INEBRIATED

A Knott County woman passing out at a court appearance is jailed on public intoxication charges. Police say Kathleen Hall told court officers she took the prescription painkiller tramadol before going to court and also that “she had been around friends that smoked weed.” Hall pleaded guilty to the public intoxication charges and was sentenced to 90 days. She is due back in court next month on the original charges to which she showed up inebriated.

PROBATION REVOKED ON DRUG CHARGES

A Harlan County man is now serving his original sentence on drug charges after a judge found he violated the terms of his probation. Shawn Whited of Benham was convicted of trafficking a controlled substance. Whited will now be in jail for 6 years. Public records show Whited has a number of prior arrests including failure to appear in court.

TSA TAKES ISSUE WITH AREA AIRPORT

Appalachian Air's first flights out of Pike County begin today but there's been some last-minute glitches with the Transportation Security Administration that may impact the new service. The Appalachian News Express reports the Transportation Safety Administration rejected plans submitted by local officials to have TSA screen passengers and baggage at the Pikeville-Pike County Regional Airport . Screening in Pikeville lets travelers seamlessly board other airlines’ planes in Nashville once they arrive on Appalachian Air. A consultant who worked to get commercial service out of Pikeville says they're still seeking TSA approval to screen at the airport.

PHELPS STORE SEVERELY DAMAGED

Fire at a Pike County convenience store and motel resulted in the shutdown of the roadway near the building for several hours. Police say no one was hurt in the fire yesterday morning at the One Stop at Kentucky 194 and Highway 632 in Phelps. The fire's cause remains under investigation but authorities say it does not appear to be suspicious.

DRUNK DRIVING ALLEGATION DELAYS SENTENCING

Sentencing for a Harlan County man on burglary charges is rescheduled after he's arrested for drunk driving. Teddy Joe Reese was scheduled to appear on Friday for sentencing on second-degree burglary charges stemming from thefts in Cumberland in 2012. Reese's attorney told the judge neither he nor the Commonwealth's attorney knew about Reese's arrest prior to his sentencing appearance. Sentencing is rescheduled for January and Reese may also be charged with DUI.

NEW ROAD OPENING

Drivers get to try out the new section of US 460 in Pike County in December. The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet announced the first eight miles of the roadway, beginning on U.S. 23 at Robinson Creek, will be opened December 17 following a ribbon cutting ceremony. Drivers can access the road at U.S. 23 south of Pikeville, at Greasy Creek, Wolfpit, or KY. 195. The remaining 8.7 miles is expected to be completed by 2020.

Friday October 24, 2014

ENERGY EFFICIENCY A-OK AT REC CENTER

It turns out the energy inefficiencies at Letcher County's 3 year old recreation center reported by an outside consultant are incorrect. In September the consultant - Comfort and Process Solutions - told the Fiscal Court contractors who built the center didn't correctly inspect the facility so its HVAC systems were wasting energy, costing the county nearly $44,000 annually. This week CPS told the court it made a mistake and the HVAC systems are operating as designed.

CITY SUED FOR IMPROPERLY FIRING POLICE OFFICERS

The City of Prestonsburg and Mayor Jerry Fannin is sued for improper termination by 3 former police officers. Court papers say Steve Little, Chad Penix and Brian Walker were terminated without given a hearing before the city council, only being told either by letter or by a secretary they had been fired. The plaintiff's attorney says that violates the Kentucky Police Officer's Bill of Rights. According to the Floyd County Times the suit also claims the terminations were wrongful saying that political ideologies and age was a factor.

LOYALL CLOSER TO GETTING NEW FIRE TRUCK

A city in Harlan County is making progress toward acquiring a new fire engine. The Harlan Daily Enterprise reports the Loyall City Council passed a resolution to enter into a low-interest loan agreement with the Kentucky Fire Commission to borrow no more than $30,000 to pay for the truck, which is expected to cost around $170,000. The rest of the money comes from grants and around $40,000 from the fire department's account. Annual funding from the state and other sources is being used to pay back the loan.

SUSPECTED SYNTHETIC MARIJUANA SELLERS CONVICTED

2 Wise County, Virginia men are found guilty of selling synthetic marijuana. Court papers say Cecil McConnell Junior and Douglas Stephens sold the products in their respective stores labeled as potpouri or incense, and with a warning they were not for human consumption - but knew those buying the items weren't using them they way they were being sold. 6 others involved with the scheme took plea deals and all 8 are to be sentenced in January.

MAN HELD ON MULTIPLE CHARGES INCLUDING RAPE

A Floyd County man suspected of rape and kidnapping is held on $25,000 bond. Arrest records say Christopher Hayden from Prestonsburg held a woman against her will then beat and sodomized her. The Floyd County Times reports that according to corut records Hayden has a lengthy criminal history but never has been convicted for a violent offense. Hayden is due in court on Tuesday.

SUSPECTED DRUNK DRIVER CAUSES CRASH

DUI charges are pending against a Harlan County man involved in a 2 car crash. Police say a pickup driven by Joshua Hiestand of Evarts rear-ended a car that had stopped to make a left turn on Kentucky 38. The car's driver and a juvenile passenger were hospitalized. An officer tells the Harlan Daily Enterprise that Hiestand appeared nervous and had difficulty understanding the policeman's instructions. He's held at the Harlan County Detention Center.

HAZARD POLICE ON THE MOVE

Work is underway to relocate the Hazard Police Department to the former McDonald's restaurant on East Main Street. That building has been vacant since August and the Hazard Herald reports the city and the police department are talking about the relocation, but no firm timetable for the move is established. Chief Minor Allen says the move will double the department's space and add more parking. The department has been on High Street for around 20 years.

INDICTMENT HANDED DOWN ON STATE REPRESENTATIVE

A state lawmaker from Pike County is indicted by a federal grand jury on charges he paid off a mine reclamation inspector to ignore violations.  Court papers say Rep. Keith Hall of Phelps and former state mine reclamation inspector Kelly Shortridge worked together in a suspected scheme to ensure Hall's mines passed inspection.  The indictment said Hall and Shortridge set up a shell consulting company which received money from a company Hall owned. The court's actions against Hall are not expected to affect the November election.

Thursday October 23, 2014

STORE ROBBER REMAINS AT LARGE

A man armed with a club made off with hundreds of dollars from a Letcher County convenience store. Police say it happened early yesterday morning when the man - described as white, around 5-10 with an average build - went into the Ermine Double Quick Convenient Mart, surprising the single employee on duty. He demanded cash from the register and from an area behind the counter, then took off on foot along Highway 119 north. Anyone with information on the man's whereabouts is asked to call State Police Post 13 in Hazard.

FOUNDATION AWARDS GRANT

A Floyd County private high school received a grant for a program helping students needing instruction outside of traditional classroom settings. The Bingham Trust awarded the David School a grant for $175,000 and school officials say the plan is to use the money for expansion of its shop and garden programs. While the school sells items made in both programs, administrators say the real focus is on teaching business skills to the participants.

SALT PRICES SKY HIGH

With winter just a few weeks away, municipalities are dealing with sticker shock when it comes to buying road salt. The Enterprise reports Harlan County is paying nearly 30 percent more this year and ordering in more salt than before to prepare for a difficult winter. County road supervisor Marvin Goins says the higher costs may mean cutting back on salting flat areas and salting only hillsides. He says the county's 17 truck fleet is ready to go when the snow flies.

GRANT AWARDED FOR BROADBAND BUILD OUT

The company providing telecommunications services to Dickenson County, Virginia is awarded a $3 million federal grant to build out an internet broadband network in the Carney Ridge area. The Bristol Herald Courier reports Scott County Telephone Cooperative previously deployed several broadband networks with funding from the US Department of Agriculture through its Community Connect grants. A timeline for constructing the new network hasn't been established.

WHEN IS THE ROAD BEING FIXED?

Weeks after flooding tore through an area of Floyd County, residents say they're still waiting for their road to get fixed. Those living along Ward Branch in Cow Creek turned out at a Floyd County fiscal court meeting where they were the heavy rains make it impossible to get the road cleaned up. The Floyd County Times reports County Road Supervisor Mike Jarrell told one resident they will be out there when weather permits.

PLAYGROUND LEASE HAMMERED OUT

Harlan County's Board of Education and Fiscal Court come to terms on a property lease agreement for a playground at Cumberland. The Enterprise reports the board will first have to deal with a drainage problem before construction can begin. School Superintendent Mike Howard says the first step in the process is arranging for a site survey and he is taking care of that.

NEW LIBRARY OPEN FOR BUSINESS

Pike County opened its new library and one of the high-tech features is the availability of around 30 computers for public use. The doors to the new facility in Pikeville opened last week and staff say they've had around 450 people a day come in just to use the computers. An official grand opening hasn't been scheduled.

EX PARAMEDIC CHARGED WITH THEFT

A former Wise County Virginia paramedic charged with inappropriate activities with a minor now faces embezzlement charges. Andrew Justin Rose of Appalachia is indicted by a Wise County grand jury on multiple counts of stealing money from the now-defunct Appalachia Rescue Squad during 2013. In July Rose was arrested on the inappropriate contact charge and for using an electronic device to propose an indecent act. He is due in court on the embezzlement charges November 3 and on the other charges November 25.

Wednesday October 22, 2014

SOCIAL MEDIA BLAMED FOR EBOLA RUMORS

Pikeville Medical Center reacted quickly to rumors spread via social media that the hospital admitted a patient with Ebola. The Floyd County Times reports hospital president and CEO Walter May issued a statement denying the reports and added staff intends to be prepared if an Ebola patient did come to the hospital. In addition to training, the hospital is preparing an isolation room to treat those with contagious viruses. May says creating panic and hysteria by spreading false rumors on social media distracts people from things that are important, such as getting a flu shot.

BOND REVOKED IN HARLAN COUNTY FOR TENNESSEE MAN

It's back to jail for a Tennessee man for a bond violation in Harlan County. A judge revoked Jonathan Howard's $10,000 bond on burglary and drug charges because he's facing charges in Bell County. Howard also faces new charges in Harlan County dating back to 2011 when police say he had a stolen check from a health clinic. He's is now held at the Harlan County Detention Center on $51,000 full cash bond plus $2000 bond secured by 10 percent.

WHICH NIGHT TO TRICK OR TREAT?

An annual tradition for kids is causing a controversy in Floyd County. The dispute is over which night kids are allowed to trick or treat - Halloween night or the day before. According to the Floyd County Times the fiscal court approved moving the date to the 30th - a Thursday - because of concerns the activity has over regular Friday night happenings like high school football. The ruling overruled Judge Executive Doc Marshall's original declaration that Halloween was trick or treat night. Now Marshall has overruled the fiscal court because according to deputy judge Lois Marshall only the judge executive has the power to authorize which night kids can go collect their candy. Adding to the controversy is a decision by the Prestonsburg City Council to have kids trick or treat on the 30th.

POWER DISTRIBUTION UPGRADE COMPLETED

Kentucky Power marks the completion of a 20 mile long high tension electrical line between Perry and Knott Counties. Officials say the $50 million project took 5 years to complete and makes service more reliable especially during high demand periods in winter and summer. The addition of the 138,000 volt distribution line also means service improvements in parts of Leslie and Breathitt Counties.

SEARCH WARRANT NETS DRUG ARREST

A Pike County man faces drug and weapons charges following a police raid. State Police say the Criminal Interdiction Team searched a home in the Ferrels Creek community and found an undisclosed amount of illegal drugs, narcotics, money and weapons.  James Elkins of Lick Creek was taken into custody. Police ask anyone with information on illegal drug sales to call in anonymous tips at 1-800-222-5555.

ALTERNATIVE INSTRUCTION OKAYED FOR WEATHER RELATED CANCELLATIONS

Snow days in 2 mountain school districts won't necessarily mean missed days of classes this year. Leslie and Perry County school districts are 2 of 13 statewide approved by the Kentucky Department of Education to use alternative methods of instruction when classes are cancelled because of weather. Previously only a handful of schools were approved to use alternate instruction on school days. Last year Leslie County students missed 35 days of classes due to the weather.

STATE GRANT PAYS FOR SECURITY IMPROVEMENTS

Two Dickenson County, Virginia elementary schools are receiving security upgrades. According to the Dickenson Star the new equipment at Sandlick and Ervinton Elementary schools will cost over $77,000, with over 80 percent of that paid for by a state security equipment grant. In total $6 million was awarded statewide for the upgrades to 373 schools in 100 state divisions.

Tuesday October 21, 2014

NEW EKU FACILITY BEING BUILT

Ground is broken on an expansion to Eastern Kentucky University's facility in Letcher County. The facility in the Lilly Cornett Woods previously served as a research center for EKU but it doesn't have lab resources or anywhere for visitors to stay.  Two buildings are being constructed , complete with two labs and and bunks. The center is expected to be completed by next May.

TECO SELLS MINE, EXITS MINING BUSINESS

Perry County Coal Corporation is sold by parent TECO Coal to a Booth Energy Group subsidiary and once the deal is done it means the end for TECO's mine ownership. In announcing the $170 million dollar sale to Cambrian Coal Company, TECO says current employees are receiving a  US Department of Labor required Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notice which starts a 60 day clock before any layoffs or plant closings take place. TECO says it gave the notice in order to give the new owners maximum flexibility in the operations of the company, but a company spokesperson says Cambrian expects to keep most of the current workforce.

HCTC AND EKU INK AVIATION DEAL

Hazard Community and Technical College inks a deal with Eastern Kentucky University giving HCTC aviation students a easier path towards earning a bachelor's degree. The arrangement allows students to study at HCTC then transfer to EKU or remain at HCTC to finish their Bachelors in Aviation. Access to Wendell Ford Airport in Perry County for HCTC students is also part of the agreement.

MWD FILES FOR RATE HIKE

Pike County's water utility applies to the state Public Service Commission to raise rates for the first time in 20 years. The Appalachian News Express reports if the request from the Mountain Water District is okayed, residential rates would go up by 25 percent and wholesale customers would see a tiered rate hike but only after existing contracts expire. The filing is in the preliminary stage and it may take a year for the increases to be okayed.

ARRESTS MADE IN HARLAN COUNTY BREAKIN

3 teenagers are among the 5 people arrested in connection with a Harlan County burglary. Police say the group broke into a home off Kentucky 840 in Loyall and took guns and over $3200 in cash. The 2 adults - Jessica Middleton and Morgan Boggs, both of Harlan - are jailed on $20,000 full cash bond each, and the teenagers are in juvenile detention. Investigators say Middleton was the getaway driver and her cell phone had details on the home's layout along with locations to gain entry into the house.

SENATE RACE REMAINS TIED

The latest Bluegrass poll shows it remains a statistical dead heat between Senator Mitch McConnell and challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes. McConnell now has a one point lead over Grimes among those responding to the poll taken between the 15th and the 19th, which was  conducted for WKYT-TV, the Lexington Herald-Leader, the Louisville Courier-Journal, and WHAS-TV  The last poll showed Grimes with a 2 point lead, but in both polls the numbers fall within the margin of error.

LOTS OF RAIN THIS MONTH

The National Weather service confirms what many already know: It's been a rainy October, more so than normal. According to the Harlan Daily Enterprise nearly 8 of inches of rain is recorded at the Baxter station - around 3 times the amount that usually falls for the month of October. The record set in 1977 is 9.22 inches  Meterologists say the rain should lighten up for the second half of the month.

DONATIONS EXCEED GOAL

Police in Wise County Virginia collecting donations to get a headstone for a 2 year old girl killed by her mother's boyfriend ended up raising 5 times more than the marker's cost. The officers who worked the case of Emma Baldwin say a donation of $6000 is made in her name to the Southwest Virginia Children's Advocacy Center.