A1 A1
Case against father accused of aiding son in shooting deputies moves forward

HUNTINGTON — A Cabell County magistrate has ruled blocking a door and not unlocking it was enough probable cause for the case of a man accused of aiding his son in the shooting of two Cabell County Sheriff’s deputies last week to move forward.

Michael Lane Pinkerman, 56, is charged with two felony counts of attempt to commit a felony and accessory to attempted first-degree murder in the incident, which resulted in his son’s death.

His case was bound over to a grand jury Friday after Cabell County Magistrate Dan Ferguson determined prosecutors had enough probable cause that he probably had committed a crime in the shootout for the charges to move forward. His bond is set at $300,000 cash only.

Pinkerman was arrested Oct. 30 after he was accused of aiding his son, Michael Lane Pinkerman II, in not allowing deputies to enter their Blue Sulphur Road home to execute a search warrant in regards to the Oct. 28 or 29 shooting of the Ona Volunteer Fire Department building and a stolen firearm the younger Pinkerman allegedly possessed. He did so by blocking the family’s back door, authorities said.

As a result, Cpl. Jim Johnston was shot twice in the back, but was protected by his bulletproof vest. Deputy Jared Cremeans was shot through one hand and his shoulder. His other hand was struck by a bullet, and another grazed his head. He was also shot twice in the chest, but was wearing a bulletproof vest.

The investigation into Pinkerman II started after someone shot 13 rounds into the front bay doors of the Ona VFD, where Pinkerman II was a former member. Pinkerman II was pointed to as a suspect by camera footage and firefighter statements.

Testimony at Friday’s preliminary hearing from Deputy Nate Rogers and Johnston, one of the deputies struck by gunfire in the shootout, indicated when officers went to speak with Pinkerman II earlier in the day, he had exited the home with a firearm. Deputies somehow determined that firearm had been stolen, obtained a search warrant and returned with a tactical SWAT team of 12 to 14 deputies later in the day, about 6 p.m.

Laura Pinkerman, 62, wife of Michael Pinkerman, testified she and her husband were clueless about the deputies’ initial visit to the home that day. They had been out of the home until about 4 p.m. while at church. When they returned home, they had not spoken to their son, who was in his room, where she admitted he stored magazines and loaded firearms.

Rogers testified the tactical team arrived at the scene and approached the back of the house in typical formation. They chose the back door because that was from where Pinkerman II had exited the home earlier in the day. Rogers and another deputy got out of line to check an outbuilding and Johnston approached the house with a battering ram and Cremeans behind him. Rogers shortly after rejoined them.

Laura Pinkerman testified she had just finished making dinner when she saw deputies in the front yard. She believed there had been a car wreck or something along the road until she heard banging on the back door.

She went to the door and deputies told her to open the door, but she instead went to put her beagle in a safe place. As she was doing that, her husband stood in front of the door and the incident began.

She said she never heard them identify themselves or say they had a search warrant. She and her husband kept asking what the incident was about and questioned why the officers were there.

Johnston and Rogers said multiple deputies identified themselves, said they had a search warrant and asked both Pinkermans to open the mostly glass door. When they didn’t after multiple commands, Johnston began hitting the door with a battering ram. On the third time, he hit the glass, shattering it. At one point, the door was breached with the ram, the deputies said, but the defendant shut the door and braced himself against it.

Laura Pinkerman said the senior Pinkerman had been trying to open the door, but the door had been jammed and he was unable to do so before they breached the door. She did not see him shut the door, as the deputies testified. She later testified the door had been open.

She said eventually her son came out of an area toward the door. While she was unsure if he had a gun, his stance made her believe he did. A deputy soon yelled out “gun” and then the shooting began, she said.

Rogers saw a muzzle flash from behind the defendant and retreated behind a wood pile before firing back.

Laura Pinkerman said it all happened in seconds.

“I’m just yelling, ‘What do you want? Why are you here? Why did you shoot my son?’” she said. “I’m yelling, ‘Michael. Michael. Talk to me,’ and I didn’t get an answer. I thought he was dead. I said, ‘Why are you killing my son?’”

Rogers testified by this time, the elder Pinkerman had retreated to the kitchen and out of sight. He saw Johnston and Cremeans struggling and feared the worst. Johnston said the two didn’t have anywhere they could retreat, so they returned fire.

“I felt horrible pains in my side area. At that point I realized I was hit. I tripped over the (battering ram) I had dropped. I was falling away from the doorway,” he said. “I remember going to put my hand down to catch me from falling because at that point he was still advancing. I was worried he was going to the doorway, and if I’m lying in front of the doorway I’m an easy target.”

Nearby he saw Cremeans had also been shot. Cremeans ran toward him before the two walked down a hill to where an ambulance had been on standby. The two went to the hospital before Pinkerman II came out of the home.

Rogers said after a ceasefire, the defendant eventually exited the house, complaining he was hurt. While the defendant was combative, he was “passive aggressive” and would not comply with deputy commands, he said. It took several deputies to place him into handcuffs.

Laura Pinkerman later exited the home, dog in hand, and testified she thought her son was dead after seeing blood on the walls and floor and getting no response from him. She testified the elder Pinkermans were then led away from the property as police secured the scene.

She later testified she believed her son died well after the incident, before being cut off at objections.

On Friday, Cabell County Sheriff Chuck Zerkle said both deputies were having successful recoveries.

Johnston has already returned to work and Cremeans is going through rehab and follow-up doctor appointments. Zerkle said he is hopeful Cremeans will soon return to work. He said he expects Cremeans will return to work on light duty.

The elder Pinkerman was also struck by gunfire in the hand and hip, but was released from the hospital.

The defendant will remain housed at Western Regional Jail in Barboursville pending future hearings in his case.

Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.

Downtown ‘crawl’ highlights local businesses

HUNTINGTON — With temperatures certainly making it feel like Christmas, area businesses in downtown Huntington kicked off the holiday shopping season Friday with the third annual Downtown Huntington Crawl.

More than 50 downtown shops and restaurants participated in the crawl, many offering one-time deals and food samples that won’t be offered any other time.

Participants who visited a selection of 24 specific shops were entered in a drawing for a basket of items and gift cards valued at $500.

The event was created three years ago as a way to get more people thinking about shopping locally during the holidays. It was also created to showcase the variety of downtown businesses that people might have overlooked in completing their holiday wish lists.

US officials identify 'strong culprit' in vaping illnesses

NEW YORK — U.S. health officials announced a breakthrough Friday into the cause of a mysterious outbreak of vaping illnesses, reporting they have a “very strong culprit.”

The same chemical compound was found in fluid taken from the lungs of 29 patients across the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. The compound — vitamin E acetate — was previously found in liquid from electronic cigarettes and other vaping devices used by many of those who got sick.

This is the first time they’ve found a common suspect in the damaged lungs of patients, officials said.

“We are in a better place in terms of having one very strong culprit,” said the CDC’s Dr. Anne Schuchat.

But agency officials cautioned they cannot rule out all other toxic substances, and it may take animal studies to clearly show vitamin E acetate causes the lung damage that’s been seen.

More than 2,000 Americans who vape have gotten sick since March, many of them teen and young adults, and at least 40 people have died. The bulk of the cases occurred in August and September but new cases are still being reported.

Vitamin E acetate has only recently been used as a thickener in vaping fluid, particularly in black market vape cartridges. While vitamin E is safe as a vitamin pill or to use on the skin, inhaling oily droplets of it can be harmful. It’s sticky and stays in the lungs — the CDC’s Dr. Jim Pirkle likened it to honey.

Many who got sick said they had vaped liquids that contain THC, the high-inducing part of marijuana, with many saying they got them from friends or bought them on the black market.

E-cigarettes and other vaping devices heat a liquid into an inhalable vapor. For years, most products contained nicotine, but THC vaping has been growing more common.

Symptoms of the vaping illness include trouble breathing, chest pain, fatigue and vomiting. Imaging tests show lung injuries and doctors can’t find infections or other causes.

About two months ago, New York drew attention to vitamin E acetate when the state’s public health lab discovered it in samples of vaping products from sick patients. In some instances, it made up more than half of the liquid in the cartridges.

The chemical has shown up in tests in other labs, too, including a U.S. Food and Drug Administration lab in Cincinnati that found vitamin E acetate in half of the more than 400 THC samples.

For the latest test, the CDC used fluid extracted from the lungs of 29 patients in 10 states, including two who died. Lab workers looked for a range of substances that had been found in various vaping devices, including nicotine, THC and other marijuana components, plant oils, mineral oil and cutting agents used on the black market.

It was an exhaustive list of more than 1,000, said Pirkle, who oversees agency’s chemical analysis labs.

The one substance that came up in all 29 was vitamin E acetate.

“To me what’s important here is both what they found, and what they didn’t find” said Scott Becker, head of the Association of Public Health Laboratories. “This was the only thing they found.”

Pirkle said animal testing is now a priority and might produce results within a year.

“We really need the animal study to nail down cause and effect,” he said.

Comprehensive health center opens in Milton

MILTON — Honoring the past and looking toward the future, Valley Health on Friday celebrated the grand opening of a new comprehensive health center in Milton.

The new 15,000-square-foot, $6.5 million community health center, located just off the interstate in Milton, is open for business and is home to family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, OB/GYN, behavioral health, clinical pharmacy and Quickcare services, with dentistry services coming soon. Fruth Pharmacy is also operating a full-service, drive-through, retail pharmacy at the site.

The health center replaces Valley Health’s previous facility located at 1 Harbour Way in Milton, which the organization had outgrown.

“This is an office where a family medicine patient or an internal medicine patient or a pediatric patient or an OB/GYN patient can come through those doors, have their medical appointment, then be seen by a behavioral health consultant — the same day if needed — right there on the spot to help not only their medical but their emotional needs as well,” said Dr. Mathew Weimer, chief medical officer for the Milton facility. “We are adding dental services here, which is really a big need for our patient population. You all know how important dental care is to your overall health, so we are really excited about that.

“We have this fortunate situation. To think about a primary care center like this, you can have all that stuff happening for the patient, often in one day. You just don’t see that. If you live it every day sometimes you forget it, but it’s really important to remember how remarkable that is.”

The facility was built in part with help from grants from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, including a $1 million infrastructure grant and a grant to purchase dental equipment.

Pam Kania, regional administrator for HRSA Region III, said Valley Health receives $7 million in grants from her organization every year, and leaders do a great job of getting supplemental grants as well, such as the dentistry grant.

Valley Health also received a $180,000 quality improvement award grant this year, and Kania praised the organization for using an HRSA student loan repayment program to attract and retain quality employees.

“A community health center like this in Milton has a positive impact on the entire community,” Kania said. “It means people are getting their health care at the health center instead of utilizing the emergency room. It means children are getting the immunizations that they need to stay in school and stay active. It means that women are getting the prenatal care they need to deliver strong and healthy babies. These investments of federal dollars into health centers absolutely improve the health of the community, but they boost the economy, too, by creating jobs in industries like construction as well as jobs at the health center itself.”

While serving the community, Mary-Beth Brubeck, Valley Health vice president of finance and chief financial officer, said they also wanted to honor the legacy left in the community by the Mountaineer Opry, which used to stand where the health center is now.

“Community health centers are more effective at positively impacting the patients they serve when they understand the culture of the community,” Brubeck said. “This very property has served the community for decades.”

For nearly 50 years, the Mountaineer Opry hosted world-class bluegrass acts. Brubeck herself grew up at the opry, watching her parents perform.

Larry and Mary Stephens, who ran the opry in the end and attended Friday’s grand opening, donated memorabilia to Valley Health. Photos of the memorabilia were turned into a mural to honor the memory of the opry. The mural is in the entryway of the health center.

The health center at Milton is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, with an hour lunch break at 12:30 p.m. Quickcare hours are 5 to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday. To make an appointment, call 304-743-1407.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.