HUNTINGTON — Billionaire coal magnate and major Marshall University donor Chris Cline died in a helicopter crash Thursday, according to reports in the Beckley Register-Herald.
Cline, who would have turned 61 years old on Friday, was known for his philanthropy, died along with six others when the helicopter they were in went down in the waters off the coast of the Bahamas.
According to those cited in the report, Cline's helicopter was heading from the Bahamas to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, when it crashed into the Atlantic Ocean.
The Register-Herald story cited friends of Cline's who said Cline was lost in the crash along with his daughter, David Jude, Delaney Wykle, two unidentified friends and an unidentified helicopter mechanic from Florida. It was not immediately known which of Cline's two daughters — Kameron or Candice — was among those who perished.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice posted a tweet at 8:52 p.m. Thursday expressing condolences to the Cline family.
"Today we lost a WV superstar and I lost a very close friend," Justice said in the tweet. "Our families go back to the beginning
of the Cline empire — Pioneer Fuel. Chris Cline built an empire and on every occasion was always there to give. What a wonderful, loving, and giving man. . . .
"Cathy and I are praying for his family and all those involved in this tragedy."
Cline built himself into a billionaire coal tycoon and entrepreneur that landed him on Forbes list of billionaires in 2012 at No. 854 with an estimated worth of $1.5 billion. That figure grew to $1.9 billion in 2017.
The former Marshall University student, who dropped out at age 22 to get into the coal business with his father, used his wealth to become a major benefactor to the state's universities.
Cline was a major contributor to Marshall's VISION campaign in 2011 when he made a $5 million donation to establish an endowment to support new faculty and scientists for Marshall's Sports Medicine Institute.
Later, the Beckley native donated another $3.5 million to the project as it neared its end, making his own contributions $8.5 million for the project that led to the construction of Marshall's indoor athletic facility, Sports Medicine Institute, Hall of Fame and state-of-the-art soccer complex.
"It's your home state, it's your family, it's what you grew up with," Cline said in a Herdzone.com story about the complex. "You learn that these people are your family, no matter where you move to in life afterwards.
"So, everybody in this state contributed to me getting started and making it in life, and I'll probably never be able to pay them back."
For his efforts within the VISION Campaign, Marshall's new indoor facility was named the Chris Cline Indoor Athletic Complex in a ceremony on Sept. 6, 2014.
Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick, who attended Marshall University with Cline, said he was saddened at the news of his friend's passing.
"He was not only a personal friend of mine, he was a friend of Marshall and Marshall Athletics," Hamrick said. "With the naming of our Chris Cline Athletic Complex to honor his generosity, his dedication to our university and our student-athletics will live on. He was so proud of the complex and was so excited the day we dedicated it. I sure know Marshall University Athletics will miss Chris, as will I. He was a vital part of our Athletics family."
Marshall University President Jerome Gilbert also took to social media Thursday evening to express the difficulty of losing a man who had been one of Marshall's biggest supporters.
"Our hearts are heavy with the terrible news this evening of the passing of prominent Son of Marshall Chris Cline," Gilbert's tweet read. "Chris's generosity to our research and athletics programs has made a mark on Marshall University. I am praying for his family."
Cline also was a major contributor to West Virginia University.
According to reports, he donated $5 million from his Cline Family Foundation to the School of Medicine and the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics of the West Virginia University in 2011.
Cline owned a 33,413-squarefoot mansion in North Palm Beach, Florida, which is where he was expected to be returning to Thursday. He also owned a 150-acre property in Beckley that featured a lake, go-kart track and pastures for several animals, including horses, goats and llamas.
HUNTINGTON — Citizens around the Tri-State celebrated the nation's birthday with food, fun and fireworks both at family cookouts and community gatherings.
Before evening festivities began, some folks looked to beat the heat by enjoying the Independence Day holiday at Dreamland Pool in Kenova.
Cleveland Wilder, who works at Dreamland Pool, said while it was not one of their busier days, the pool was full of people enjoying a weekday off.
"People like to come out to have fun," Wilder said.
Later in the evening, the Village of Barboursville threw a family-friendly shindig on Main Street and at the Nancy Cartmill Gardens. The Village's annual Independence Day Block Party brings out Barboursville citizens and others from close by to enjoy music, food and fireworks.
Jessica Ferguson, 33, Sunni Adkins, 32 and Deklen Adkins, 6, of Huntington, said they traveled the short distance to Barboursville to check out the block party for the first time. Adkins said they attended Christ Temple Church's Fourth of July celebration on Wednesday night and wanted something to do Thursday evening.
"We just wanted to try something new from what we've been doing," Adkins said.
Adkins said they were drawn out early to the Block Party to catch the music. The YesterYear Rock & Roll Oldies Show, an eight-piece band made up of Tri-State musicians, performed renditions of favorites from the 1950s, '60s and 70s and provided entertainment before the fireworks at the Block Party.
"We just love '50s, '60s and 70s, even though we're only 30," Adkins said with a laugh.
Adkins and Ferguson both said food is one of their favorite parts of celebrating the Fourth of July.
Ferguson said the Block Party was her first time visiting the downtown part of Barboursville, and so far, it has made a good impression.
"I've never been to this part of Barboursville," Ferguson said. "It's nice. I like the community here."
At the conclusion of the Block Party, fireworks were let off from the brickyard in Barboursville, and everyone at the Nancy Cartmill Gardens had prime seating.
Follow reporter Megan Osborne on Twitter and Facebook @megosborneHD.
CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources is actively seeking an outside vendor to take over the state's foster care system and adoption, which includes more than 18,000 children, according to the department.
The DHHR released its bid Monday for the managed care organization (MCO), a move that is billed to help streamline care for children in state custody and adoptive families.
Jeremiah Samples, DHHR deputy secretary, said the three-and-a-half-year contract would be about $200 million per year. The department does not expect to spend additional money by using the MCO beyond what it's already spending on foster care, according to Samples.
"West Virginia, sadly, has more kids in state custody per capita than anywhere else in the United States," Samples said, noting the state's foster care population has significantly increased in the past few years due to the opioid epidemic.
"This procurement is going to provide our department and stakeholders with ensuring our children are receiving the best care possible."
The state's move to an MCO comes after lawmakers this year passed a bill requiring the DHHR to transfer children in foster care to an MCO by January 2020.
The vendor, which must operate out of the state, must have experience working with children and youth populations requiring specialized care, and have recent experience overseeing a similarly sized program with state government, federal government or a private health care entity.
The MCO will not be able to deny children any court-ordered medical treatments, Samples said, and the MCO will develop its own procedure for approving and denying medical service applications. Samples added an appeal process will be in place for any families denied medical services through the MCO.
The DHHR's request for quotation also lays out a list of required positions under the MCO, including a Medicaid administrator, behavioral health medical director, a
community engagement director to handle marketing, and a care management director who is a state-licensed nurse or social worker.
Additionally, Samples said vendors bidding on the job are required to submit a plan outlining how they plan to help child protective services employees with massive case loads.
Should the MCO end up profiting from overseeing the foster care system, Samples said there will be a limit on how much the company can make.
"We are not trying to enrich any company," he said.
Lawmakers also required the DHHR establish an ombudsman to monitor and investigate the MCO once hired. Samples said DHHR is in the process of hiring for that position.
More than 40 states use MCOs to oversee their foster care system, according to Samples.
The contract will also require the winning vendor to oversee West Virginia's 9,320 children and families receiving "socially necessary services," including parenting classes and the state's Birth to Three program.
Samples said he was not aware of other states that had used an MCO to manage its families and children eligible for those types of services.
Sam Hickman, executive director of the National Association of Social Workers, West Virginia Chapter, emphasized this is the first time to his knowledge a state has included socially necessary services in its managed care contract.
"Which, in a certain way, makes our kids guinea pigs," he said. "While DHHR can transfer risk for this population to the MCO, they are still our kids ... We can't just pawn them off on another entity and say that we are taking care of them."
Hickman also cited concerns that non-medical support services for children could be compromised under the MCO, which he said often require a diagnosis before rendering services.
"Ultimately, as we understand the process thus far, the MCO has about two years in which they will be working with any existing providers and trying to cultivate agreements with provider organizations that they find that they trust," Hickman said. "We don't know what happens after two years when the MCO has a list of its own preferred providers."
The move toward an MCO comes after an agreement between the state and the Department of Justice following alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act within the foster care system.
The DOJ threatened to sue the state over claims that too many children were in group homes and congregate care, and that the state had failed to adequately care for disabled children eligible for state care.
Samples said the DOJ did not recommend the state transfer children to an MCO. However, he explained that due to the cost of group care and out-of-state placements, an MCO will have it in its best interest to avoid what he called a "restrictive service."
Bids for the position are due Aug. 13.