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Colorful water bottle creations featured during Blenko Glass event

MILTON — Blenko Glass Co. in Milton featured its iconic colorful water bottle creations during the final days of its annual Water Bottle Week.

Throughout the past week, six classes of registered customers learned how to blow their own glass pieces. There were special sales and unique glass creations being made daily.

“The water bottle design is the thing we have made the longest at Blenko Glass,” said Dean Six, vice president and general manager for Blenko. “We have made water bottles nonstop since 1938. That is an immense number of water bottles. Other items have come and gone on the product line. We have two glass shapes that came in from the late 1940s that we still produce, and those and the water bottles are the only things that have lasted this long. They are timeless, decade after decade, as everything else comes and then goes away.”

Glass lovers from all over the world showed up, as well as Tri-State locals who wanted to add to their collections, rekindle memories of their youth and create new ones for younger folks.

In honor of Water Bottle Week, Blenko Glass created a special design of hand-made water bottles and some collector items as well.

“Each year, we try to make one special piece in a large number, as in, ‘This is the water bottle for this year,’” said Six. “This year we will feature a crystal water bottle with a dark cobalt blue loop that goes ’round and ’round through the piece in a controlled swirl.”

Blenko Glass Co. was formed in the late 1800s and eventually moved to its Milton location in 1921. Stained glass and industrial glass of all kinds was the focus early on. But eventually Blenko began to make the now-famous hand-made designs that adorn the homes of millions around the world with their various shapes and colors.

More information can be found at blenko.com.

Trump lawyers argue Democrats just want to overturn election

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s lawyers plunged into his impeachment trial defense Saturday by accusing Democrats of striving to overturn the 2016 election, arguing that investigations of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine have not been a fact-finding mission but a politically motivated effort to drive him from the White House.

“They’re here to perpetrate the most massive interference in an election in American history,” White House Counsel Pat Cipollone told senators. “And we can’t allow that to happen.”

The Trump legal team’s arguments in the rare Saturday session were aimed at rebutting allegations that the president abused his power when he asked Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden and then obstructed Congress as it tried to investigate. The lawyers are mounting a wide-ranging, aggressive defense asserting an expansive view of presidential powers and portraying Trump as besieged by political opponents determined to ensure he won’t be re-elected this November.

“They’re asking you to tear up all the ballots across this country on your own initiative, take that decision away from the American people,” Cipollone said.

Though Trump is the one on trial, the defense team made clear that it intends to paint the impeachment case as a mere continuation of the investigations that have shadowed the president since before he took office — including one into allegations of Russian election interference on his behalf. Trump attorney Jay Sekulow suggested Democrats were investigating the president over Ukraine simply because they couldn’t bring him down for Russia.

“That — for this,” said Sekulow, holding up a copy of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, which he accused Democrats of attempting to “relitigate.” That report detailed ties between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia but did not allege a criminal conspiracy to tip the election.

From the White House, Trump tweeted his response: “Any fair minded person watching the Senate trial today would be able to see how unfairly I have been treated and that this is indeed the totally partisan Impeachment Hoax that EVERYBODY, including the Democrats, truly knows it is.”

His team made only a two-hour presentation, reserving the heart of its case for Monday.

Acquittal appears likely, given that Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, and a two-thirds vote would be required for conviction and removal from office. Republican senators already eager to clear Trump said Saturday that the White House presentation had shredded the Democratic case.

Several of the senators shook hands with Trump’s lawyers after their presentation. The visitors galleries were filled, onlookers watching for the historic proceedings and the rare weekend session of the Senate.

The Trump attorneys are responding to two articles of impeachment approved last month by the House — one that accuses him of encouraging Ukraine to investigate Biden at the same time the administration withheld military aid from the country, and the other that accuses him of obstructing Congress by directing aides not to testify or produce documents.

Trump’s defense team took center stage following three days of methodical and passionate arguments from Democrats, who wrapped up Friday by warning that Trump will persist in abusing his power and endangering American democracy unless Congress intervenes to remove him before the 2020 election. They also implored Republicans to allow new testimony to be heard before senators render a final verdict.

“Give America a fair trial,” said California Rep. Adam Schiff, the lead Democratic impeachment manager. “She’s worth it.”

In making their case that Trump invited Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election, the seven Democratic prosecutors peppered their arguments with video clips, email correspondence and lessons in American history. At stake, they said, was the security of U.S. elections, America’s place in the world and checks on presidential power.

On Saturday morning, House managers made the procession across the Capitol at 9:30 to deliver the 28,578-page record of their case to the Senate.

Republicans accused Democrats of cherrypicking evidence and omitting information favorable to the president, casting in a nefarious light actions that Trump was legitimately empowered to take. They focused particular scorn on Schiff, trying to undercut his credibility.

Schiff later told reporters: “When your client is guilty, when your client is dead to rights, you don’t want to talk about your client; you want to attack the prosecution.”

The Trump team had teased the idea that it would draw attention on Biden and his son, Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukraine gas company, Burisma, while his father was vice president. But neither Biden was a focus of Saturday arguments.

Instead, Republicans argued that there was no evidence that Trump made the security aid contingent on Ukraine announcing an investigation into the Bidens and that Ukraine didn’t even know that the money had been paused until shortly before it was released.

Trump had reason to be concerned about corruption in Ukraine and the aid was ultimately released, they said.

“Most of the Democratic witnesses have never spoken to the president at all, let alone about Ukraine security assistance,” said deputy White House Counsel Michael Purpura.

Pupura told the senators the July 25 call in which Trump asked Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for the Biden investigation was consistent with the president’s concerns about corruption, though Trump never mentioned that word, according to the rough transcript released by the White House.

Pupura said everyone knows that when Trump asked Zelenskiy to “do us a favor,” he meant the U.S., not himself.

“This entire impeachment process is about the house managers’ insistence that they are able to read everybody’s thoughts,” Sekulow said. “They can read everybody’s intention, even when the principal speakers, the witnesses themselves, insist that those interpretations are wrong.”

Defense lawyers say Trump was a victim not only of Democratic rage but also of overzealous agents and prosecutors. Sekulow cited mistakes made by the FBI in its surveillance of a former Trump campaign aide in the now-concluded Trump-Russia election investigation, and referred to the multimillion-dollar cost of that probe.

“You cannot simply decide this case in a vacuum,” he said.

One of the president’s lawyers, Alan Dershowitz, is expected to argue this week that an impeachable offense requires criminal-like conduct, even though many legal scholars say that’s not true. Sekulow also said the Bidens would be discussed in the days ahead.

The Senate is heading this week toward a pivotal vote on Democratic demands for testimony from top Trump aides, including acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton, who refused to appear before the House. It would take four Republican senators to join the Democratic minority to seek witnesses, and so far the numbers appear lacking.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican ally of Trump’s, said he thought the legal team had successfully poked holes in the Democrats’ case and that the Democrats had “told a story probably beyond what the market would bear.”

He said he had spoken to Trump two days ago, when he was leaving Davos, Switzerland.

Asked if Trump had any observations on the trial, Graham replied: “Yeah, he hates it.”

Citizens react as Huntington crime rates continue to decline

HUNTINGTON — Violent and property crimes in the city of Huntington continue to decline as the city moves further from 2017, the most violent year seen in recent history.

City police officials believe new strategies employed in the past few years contributed to that drop, and they are implementing initiatives that they believe will continue to quell the number of crimes.

With violent crime down 28% since 2017 and property crime down 33% since 2016, in a joint meeting with Capt. Dan Underwood and current City Manager Hank Dial, Interim Huntington Police Chief Ray Cornwell said he believes the city is safe.

“Obviously we would like to continue to see the numbers go down,” he said. “But we believe Huntington is a safe city. Some people may perceive it as unsafe because of a few incidents that are outlying or random, and we would like to continue to combat that perception and reinforce the idea that this is a safe community.”

Local community group leaders last week praised the police response to the city’s violent 2017, stating they had seen a decline in crime. But they also said they felt the city could do more to deter lower-level crimes.

Most numbers decline in 2019 from 2018Huntington police responded to 7,541 calls in 2019. Of those responses, 2,105 reports stemmed from property crimes and 308 were for violent crimes.

Violent crime in Huntington dropped nearly 12% in 2019, down from 349 reports in 2018 to 308 last year. Huntington saw 426 violent crime reports in 2017 and 370 in 2016.

The number of homicides dropped from 10 in 2018 to seven in 2019. Forcible rape declined from 87 in 2018 to 78 in 2019, and robbery deceased more than 34%, from 101 to 66 last year.

Aggravated assault increased from 151 in 2018 to 157 last year, but Cornwell said he did not find the increase to be significant.

While former police chief Dial said over the summer that he had concerns about higher property crime numbers in the first half of the year, property crime deceased nearly 9% in total in 2019, dropping from 2,311 reported crimes in 2018 to 2,105 last year. Huntington had 2,601 property crime reports in 2017 and 2,176 in 2016.

Burglary dropped from 550 in 2018 to 466 in 2019, and larceny dropped from 1,533 to 1,392. However, arson increased from 18 to 25 last year, and motor vehicle theft went from 210 to 222.

Larger picture shows continuing drop in numbers overall

These Part I Crimes are reported to the FBI yearly by each department. It includes two categories — violent and property crimes — broken into four crimes each. Violent crime includes aggravated assault, forcible rape, homicide and robbery. Property crimes include arson, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft.

The seven homicides reported in 2019 is the least since six were reported in 2014. Robberies have also dropped 55% since 2016.

The decline in rates of homicide and robbery marks a shift from drug-related crime to more random events, Cornwell said.

While the numbers continue to drop, eradicating the city of violent crimes, especially homicides, completely is a difficult task, Cornwell said, but the city is on the path to at least reduce them.

“Obviously that’s a hard thing to prevent and predict. You can’t really have a crystal ball to foresee who is going to kill somebody,” he said. “But we can, and we have been trying to, start some initiatives that target violent offenders who are likely to become trigger pullers.”

While arson cases rose by nearly 39% last year, 15 of the 25 events occurred in the first half of the year, many of them caused by people living in vacant structures searching for warmth.

Rape reports are up 32% from 2017 to 2019, but Cornwell said much of that could be attributed to the #MeToo movement started by women in Hollywood to encourage sexual assault victims to talk about their attacks. It’s not necessarily increasing because more attacks are happening, he said.

Cornwell said the decrease in both property and violent crimes could be attributed to several things, including the Violent Crime Initiative and better patrols of vacant housing.

Community members respond

Neighborhood Institute president Donna Rumbaugh, a West Huntington resident and business owner, said she had been seeing a continuous gradual decline in crime, especially violent ones, in the past few years. The institute represents 16 neighborhood associations in Huntington.

“I’m usually robbed every year of my equipment and haven’t had that in quite some time now,” she said.

Although hesitant to speak for the neighborhood associations, Rumbaugh said she has received “spotty” feedback from those groups about crime in their area. She said she still believes overall crime is falling. Her daughter lives downtown, she said, and she doesn’t believe she has experienced severe crime.

“I think the police are taking care of a lot of the drug problems and every time they hit a place, the crime rate goes down even further,” she said. “It seems like a long-term effort by everybody.”

Stephanie Heck, the leader of the West End Neighborhood Watch Huntington, WV group on Facebook, which has more than 2,250 members, said she believes the numbers have decreased dramatically in the West End over the past two years, and attributed much of that to the leadership of Dial.

“While West Huntington still has problems with low-level street crime, we have nowhere near the level of felony violent crime that has recently been seen in East Huntington,” she said. “There are still crime hotspots in the West End, but far less violence than there was in the past.”

She said the biggest issues she sees in the West End now have to do with shoplifters, vagrants and prostitutes. Heck added she had requested city officials do lighting upgrades on Madison Avenue, and was told by Jim Insco, the city Public Works director, that the suggestion was approved and submitted to AEP for upgrades from West 5th to 14th Street.

Violent Crime Initiative and vacant housing patrols helping

The Violent Crime Initiative, an idea formed by Detective Shane Bills, was first introduced in December 2017 in response to a record-setting number of violent crime and homicides occurring in Huntington. It formed a group from various bureaus assigned to focus on offenders known for violence or their involvement in the drug trade. The offenders are targeted for rapid investigation to get them off the street quicker before their violence can escalate.

While police can focus on this group of criminals because the chance they will be involved in violence is easy to spot, it’s the randomness of the other crimes that makes a continuous decrease in the crime stats difficult, Bills said.

“It’s more of a direct personal crime, and it’s hard to get ahead of those,” he said. “We are just trying to do what we can to identify the people with the potential for violence and arrest them for other crimes before they can commit violent crimes.”

As far as property crime goes, patrol officers have been working to better patrol abandoned or vacant properties. The department got a list of vacant structures from the city’s Unsafe Buildings Commission and has had more of a presence at the homes, which directly correlates with the decrease in property crimes, he said.

The city of Huntington tore down 102 of those houses last year, which Cornwell said has also helped tremendously.

“They are an attractive nuisance for a criminal population,” he said. “You might look at it as a homeless guy just trying to get into a home to get warm is more of a nuisance crime, but that draws us away from other things we are trying to prevent. We still have to respond to those calls.”

Fewer abandoned houses brings fewer outlets for crime and places to hide, he said.

New contract helps HPD return to community policing as future of department unclear

Cornwell has been holding down the fort for the department since December, when it was announced that Dial would become Huntington’s city manager. Dial’s permanent replacement has not yet been selected and Mayor Steve Williams can take up to six months to make his decision.

So it’s too soon to say whether a new chief will bring new approaches to the department. However, a new contract reached with officers last year already has brought changes for the department.

On Jan. 4, HPD switched the officers to a 12-hour workday and broke down shift coverage districts from six to eight smaller coverage zones.

Cornwell said the change allows the department to get back closer to the traditional “beat cop” idea of policing, in which three or four officers will be assigned to cover the same zone throughout the week. This allows them to grow a closer community bond, as well as gain knowledge of what might be unusual behavior in the area and help officers stay on top of cases reported to them.

“It gives them some ownership and gets them invested more back to the idea of the beat cop — the guy who knows his neighborhood, his community and his zone,” he said. “It gives them more ownership and more investment if they have to come back to the same neighborhood and same area.”

Cornwell said working closely with the community and the department’s federal and local partners is what will help make the numbers continue to decline.

Another positive for the new contract is a 12% pay raise over a three-year period. Cornwell said he hopes this helps attract new officers who want to help in making Huntington safer. The department has several openings.