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New fall train runs to be announced

CHARLESTON — After innumerable obstacles, setbacks and delays, organizers of fall train excursions that will replace the long-running New River Train said Wednesday they will make an official launch announcement Friday, Aug. 2, and plan to put tickets on sale Monday, Aug. 5.

"Hopefully, we can get some momentum going and get people talking about it," Lou Cap-well, with Railway Excursion Management Co. (Railexco), said Wednesday of the long-delayed announcement of the Autumn Colors Express.

Friday's announcement will come 10 weeks and one day after Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., first stated in a tweet that an announcement would be "coming soon" on resumption of the excursion trains between Huntington and Hinton, where Railroad Days festivities coincide with the train runs.

That was after the cash-strapped Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society announced in February it was canceling its 2019 runs of the New River Train after 52 years of continuous operation, citing more than $180,000 of operating losses from the 2018 runs — losses attributed to higher fees and operational restrictions imposed by Amtrak, the national rail passenger service.

In between, issues with finalizing a contract with Amtrak and obtaining insurance coverage pushed Railexco's planned formal announcement dates back to June, and then July, and on to Friday.

Capwell praised Manchin's efforts to negotiate arrangements for the train with Amtrak, and said that despite bureaucratic

headaches, Amtrak management has been committed to the project.

"This is a big win for them. This is a big win for Senator Manchin," he said. "This is something they can rightfully point to and say, 'We're serious about this. We have made a real commitment to continuing excursion trains.' "

Manchin on Wednesday applauded Railexco management for continuing a 50-year West Virginia tradition, stating, "The trip from Huntington to Hinton in the fall truly showcases the beauty of West Virginia and brings joy and revenue to our state."

State tourism officials have estimated the former New River Train excursions brought in about $2.5 million of revenue annually to Huntington, where many passengers stay overnight before and after the trips, and also accounted for a majority of visitors to the Hinton Railroad Days festival.

"For over a year, I have been working hard to make sure this annual festival would continue, first advocating for Amtrak to end their crushing regulations and fees in order to save Collis P. Huntington and then working with Amtrak and Rail Excursion Management to keep this West Virginia tradition alive," Manchin said in a statement. "I look forward to the new Autumn Colors Express and will always support the Railroad Days festival however I can."

With three daily round-trip excursions scheduled for Oct. 25-27, Railexco's next challenge will be to sell tickets for the trains, which will feature 25 to 30 vintage passenger railcars, in less than three months.

That's compared to the New River Train, where tickets generally went on sale in January, nine months in advance of the trips.

"We're going to knock on every door in the state and try to sell them a train ticket," Capwell said.

Capwell said Railexco will work closely with the state Division of Tourism to promote the excursion trains, something the historical society did not do extensively.

Capwell said he believes Railexco will be able to operate the Autumn Colors Express more cost efficiently than the historical society's New River Train.

The change from operating on two consecutive weekends to three straight days will save costs of storing cars in CSX railyards in Huntington during the week. Also, plans are to provide passengers with boxed breakfasts and return-trip snacks, eliminating non-revenue-producing dining cars.

Capwell also thanked the private railcar owners, who will be providing cars for the train, for their patience.

"Our car owners have been extremely understanding during this process," he said.

Tickets are set to go on sale Monday and may be ordered by telephone or at the Railexco website, and purchasers will be able to print tickets at home, display them on smartphones or have tickets delivered by mail.


Court reporter honored for 42 years of service

HUNTINGTON — 15,360 days. That's how long Jeanne Hall's career as court reporter for Cabell Circuit Judge Alfred E. Ferguson lasted.

After 42 years, Hall retired, and she was recognized for her service Wednesday at the Cabell County Courthouse with a party and accolades from her former boss.

As she entered the courtroom where her party was set up, Hall was met with a standing ovation.

"Thank you all — I'm overwhelmed," Hall said with tears in her eyes.

In a short speech, Ferguson recognized Hall for her hard work, made jokes about their work relationship and reflected on their 42 years of working together. He also mentioned the pair have been playing a card game for more than 40 years.

"She's the only person I think that can put up with me, working for me for 42 years," Ferguson said. "We've been through a lot of ups and downs together; she's like a sister to me. I'm always trying to treat my staff as family, and we're as close as bark on a tree."

Ferguson said he hired Hall on the spot, and she began working July 1, 1977.

"She was very well qualified; I didn't even interview anybody else," Ferguson said. "She's awesome. I couldn't have had an employee any more faithful to me and loyal to me than Jeanne Hall."

Hall was also recognized by West Virginia Del. Dan Linville, who presented her with a legislative citation from the House of Delegates. A representative from U.S. Rep. Carol Miller's office gave Hall a letter and a certificate of special congressional recognition from Miller as well.

Hall is the last court reporter in West Virginia with a mastery of Gregg shorthand, which she continued to use in her career even after other court reporters began using stenotype.

"When I came to work, and I actually started reporting in '72, we were 99% shorthand writers, but then as it progressed, stenotype became the prevalent way to report," Hall said. "And it is certainly the only way to go now, and I see that. Technology has just been wonderful for the court reporter."

Hall said now that she's retired, she has more time to spend with her children and grandchildren, and she'll be able to travel more. Her family had been trying to get her to retire for the past couple years, but Hall said it hadn't felt right until now, and she wanted to find a replacement before she left.

So, during her party, Hall and Ferguson recognized Hall's replacement, Amanda Virgis, a Wayne County court reporter and Huntington native with 14 years of experience. Hall passed her "reporter pen" to Virgis, as well as her seat at the card table.

Though she's completed more than 360 criminal cases and 100-plus civil trials with Ferguson, Hall said it hasn't quite felt like 42 years.

"As I cleaned out my office, there were so many memories that popped up, and I realized I have been here that long and it has been a lot of great memories," she said. "And it was a wonderful job, a wonderful profession, and I just didn't dread going to work. I enjoyed going to work. Every day was different ... but I just got tired, and I'm ready to spend my life relaxing and doing things around the house that I want to do."


Solutions sought for city's Wall of Fame

HUNTINGTON — Four more people will be named to the Greater Huntington Wall of Fame this month, honored for their distinguished community service and the recognition they have received.

Before that can happen, it first has to be decided which four names will be removed to make room for the new honorees.

That's because the wall, located inside the Big Sandy Superstore Arena, is at capacity and cannot hold any new plaques. Of the 138 people currently on the Wall of Fame, approximately 28 have plaques sitting in storage.

To solve this, the City of Huntington Foundation's board of directors, the group that reviews nominations and votes inductees onto the wall, has formed a new subcommittee dedicated to its redesign. The committee's goal is to have a new wall designed and approved by year's end.

There's been an ongoing discussion of what to do about space for the past several years, said Maxine Loudermilk, president and CEO of the City of Huntington Foundation.

"It's a real trophy to go on that wall. Like anything else, as time goes by, it needs to be redone," Loudermilk said. "We need to redo and rethink that wall because it's just not viable like it is."

Part of the problem with the current wall is its availability, said Veronica Ratcliff, director of marketing and sales for the arena.

"The discussion has been, 'Should (the plaques) be in multiple places in Huntington and be accessible to those coming to visit?' " Ratcliff said. "The arena doors aren't always open. We do have people who call and ask to come look at the wall and take a picture of their loved one."

"It's a real trophy to go on that wall. Like anything else, as time goes by, it needs to be redone. We need to redo and rethink that wall because it's just not viable like it is."

Maxine Loudermilk

City of Huntington Foundation president and CEO

Ratcliff has been serving as secretary for the redesign subcommittee. She favors an electronic solution, which she said could solve space and availability issues.

The wall could be in the form of a kiosk and placed at several locations downtown, she said. People could come to the kiosk, type in a name and read all about the honorees.

That would be similar to the Marshall University Athletic Hall of Fame, which shows an honoree's biography on a central screen after someone selects a name from its wall.

The only problem with that plan is a question of who would build the program, said Tim Carpenter, City of Huntington Foundation board chairman.

"I have Windows 7 at my office, but when I go home I have Windows 10, which has 3D Paint and all of these things you don't know how to use," he said. "With the technology of a kiosk, who is going to maintain it and who is going to service it?"

The decision to redesign the wall comes during a time of other big changes happening at the arena. The arena has recently undergone a facelift, complete with a repainted exterior and new interior lighting upgrades.

It could also soon have a new name. There are multiple entities pursuing the naming rights for the arena, said Bryan Chambers, the city's communications director.

Big Sandy Superstore has owned naming rights to the arena for at least a decade, but that has since expired.

The arena's new name would be announced when the city presents a contract to Huntington City Council, which would have to approve it first, Chambers said.

In the meantime, there's been nothing to indicate ongoing changes at the arena will affect the wall's future there, Ratcliff said.

"No one at the arena, the city or anyone wants to see the Wall of Fame disappear," she said. "It's just run out of space and the question becomes, 'How do we move forward?' "

When honorees are named to the wall, Loudermilk has the task of removing old names to make room.

"I know their stories and I know their families," she said. "I stand there looking at the Wall of Fame with tears in my eyes. I know them. They are not just strangers."

Loudermilk said she chooses names that have been on the wall for many years and may no longer have family in the area. The removed plaques are then stored in the foundation's offices at City Hall.

The Wall of Fame has been honoring people with Tri-State ties since 1986. The 2019 list of honorees will be announced Monday, Aug. 5, and a ceremony will take place Oct. 17.

The city of Huntington owns the arena. Its facilities are managed by SMG, which manages arenas, coliseums and stadiums in multiple states.

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.


Judge: Victim failed to establish MU was 'indifferent' to rape case
Alicia Gonzales' suit against university was dismissed last week

HUNTINGTON — While the "court may have its own opinions about the appropriate actions" Marshall University should have taken against Joseph Chase Hardin, as a matter of law, Alicia Gonzales, in her lawsuit, did not establish the university was "deliberately indifferent" or "clearly unreasonable" in handling her Title IX case, ruled U.S. District Court of West Virginia Judge Robert Chambers.

Chambers dismissed Gonzales' lawsuit against the university last week, but his opinion was not filed until Monday.

Gonzales filed the lawsuit against the Marshall University Board of Governors in January 2018.

In February 2016, Gonzales reported to the Marshall University Police Department that Hardin, now 22, sexually assaulted her in her dorm room on campus, and as required by federal law, the university began an investigation.

The lawsuit alleged that the university's decision to allow Hardin to remain a student for months during a lengthy appeals process forced Gonzales to abandon her education at Marshall. She also alleged the university made mistakes during the investigation of the case.

Hardin was indicted in Cabell

County on a charge of sexual assault, but in 2017 he entered a Kennedy plea to misdemeanor battery. On Friday, Cabell County Circuit Court Judge Alfred Ferguson revoked Hardin's probation after he was indicted on four new charges of second-degree sexual assault involving Marshall students — though the alleged assaults did not take place on campus.

In order to ascribe liability to a university in Title IX cases, plaintiffs must demonstrate that the schools acted with "deliberate indifference" to known acts of harassment, which Chambers writes is a high bar and defined as a response by the school that is "clearly unreasonable in light of the known circumstances."

In her lawsuit, Gonzales says the university acted with deliberate indifference in several instances, including a procedurally flawed appeals hearing.

Chambers wrote that while there are facts in the case, such as flaws in the hearing, that point to Marshall's negligence, it is not the standard to demonstrate the university's liability. And while the plaintiff may argue the university should have expelled Hardin from campus during the proceedings rather than ban him from campus, under law the court cannot second-guess the disciplinary actions of school administrators, Chambers wrote. A claim of what a school could or should have done differently is insufficient to establish deliberate indifference, he ruled.

Chambers also wrote that there is no evidence to support that the university was deliberately indifferent before Gonzales left Marshall, therefore she was not indirectly forced to leave the university.

In the response to Marshall's motion for summary judgment, representatives for Gonzales state they have an expert witness in Title IX who would testify that Marshall did act unreasonably in light of the circumstances known, but there is no citation on record to support that assertion, Chambers said.

In a statement released Wednesday, university Senior Vice President for Communications and Marketing Ginny Painter said the university was satisfied with the court's decision and had no further comment on the case.

Gonzales' attorney, Amy Crossan, said she and Gonzales were disappointed that Gonzales will not have the opportunity to have a jury decide if Marshall complied with Title IX.

"It is distressing that Title IX case law sets such a low bar for compliance by a university to avoid liability, such that even if the university administration finds that a student was sexually assaulted by another student, yet does not expel the offending student, they can avoid liability," she said.

"It took great courage for Ms. Gonzales to stand up to the university and seek to hold it accountable for its shortcomings in regards to how it handled her on-campus assault," Crossan continued. "It is a shame that a talented and brave young lady like Ms. Gonzales felt no other option than to leave Marshall University, as she would have made a great alumna and ambassador for the university and city.

"It is a shame that by leaving Mr. Hardin on campus, he now stands accused of sexually assaulting two other students, and Marshall has been the subject of negative nationwide media accounts."

Crossan said they believe if the university had in 2016 a proper Title IX complaint process, Hardin would not have had the ability to commit the other assaults he is accused of.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.