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Huntington on track to demolish 100 unsafe homes in 2019, development director says

HUNTINGTON — The city of Huntington is three quarters of the way through a goal to demolish 100 dilapidated and unsafe structures by year’s end.

Speaking to Huntington City Council members Tuesday, Director of Development and Planning Scott Lemley said he is confident the city will reach its goal. Doing so would leave the city with fewer than 100 identified unsafe and dilapidated structures on the unsafe building list, he said.

“The contractor still has 18 more, which we call in the hopper, which could come down at any moment,” Lemley said. “He will be getting another 14 on top of that in the next two weeks.”

Lemley provided council members with a booklet updating them on the status of Project B.A.N.E., which stands of Blight and Nuisance Elimination. The booklet contained the location of demolished structures and the cost of those associated demolitions.

During his State of the City address in February, Mayor Steve Williams announced a plan to prioritize a list of nuisance structures and then demolish more than 100 before 2020. The project is funded by money collected from private donations, largely from anonymous sources. The city reached its 50th demolished structure in May. The city has torn down at least another 25 structures since then, Lemley said Tuesday.

“I have no doubt we are going to meet our goal of at least 100 structures by the end of the year,” he said.

Last week, AT&T announced a $24,000 donation to go toward tearing down three abandoned houses in the city and a $20,000 donation toward a mental health wellness center for the city’s first responders.

One of those demolitions funded by AT&T was in the 900 block of Bruce Street, a two-block street with a small concentration of veterans living in Habitat for Humanity homes.

Council member Carol Polan applauded Williams’ office and the Development and Planning Office for demolishing the Bruce Street structure, which she said had been a problem for a while.

“Our veterans were tough when they served in Word War II, the Vietnam War, the Korean War,” Polan said. “Living there on the street, this has made their lives greatly enhanced by this.”

Structures already demolished by the city include commercial properties, burned-out homes and dilapidated garages or outbuildings. Lemley said about two unsafe structures are added to the unsafe building list each month. Approximately $140,000 to $150,000 remains in the demolition account, he said.

“We greatly appreciate every dollar,” he said. “Anyone who wants to donate, we will work with them and get even more of these structures down.”

Each year, Lemley and Christal Perry, demolition specialist, drive through the city looking to see if any structures should be added to the unsafe properties list. People may also call in to complain about potentially unsafe homes.

Once a house is determined to be unsafe, they work to notify the homeowner, which can take several months in some cases. Homeowners have to go before the Unsafe Building Commission, which looks at the property and determines if it needs to be demolished. Once approved, the commission will determine the level of urgency of the demolition.

The city has a contract with one demolition company, which bypasses the need to bid out the demolition projects and seek approval from City Council for each home being torn down.

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

Huntington Post 16 celebrates century of continuous operation

HUNTINGTON — American Legion Huntington Post 16 is turning 100 years old Saturday and is marking the occasion with a celebration.

Members will gather at the American Legion’s 6th Avenue location to reflect on the past century and look ahead to the future. There will be a program, a spaghetti dinner and, of course, birthday cake.

Chartered by U.S. Congress on Oct. 19, 1919, Huntington’s American Legion is one of the oldest posts in the country. The national American Legion itself was chartered Sept. 16, 1919.

“We’ve been in continuous operation for the past 100 years; that’s quite a feat,” said Fred B. Buchanan, American Legion Post 16 liaison.

Saturday’s celebration will begin at 6 p.m. with a program featuring several guest speakers. Post 16 Commander Shannon Harshbarger will lead the celebration with the Pledge of Allegiance and Buchanan will give remarks about the POW/MIA table, which symbolizes service members who were prisoners of war or missing in action.

Barbara Burdette, department commander of the American Legion Department of West Virginia, and Huntington Mayor Steve Williams also will give remarks.

A dinner, prepared by the American Legion Auxiliary Unit 16, will include spaghetti, coleslaw, rolls, coffee or iced tea and birthday cake.

“We’re not going to be having a big fancy program because it’s not about the program; it’s about our longevity,” Buchanan said.

Buchanan said membership at the local American Legion has been waning in recent years. There are currently about 350 members, which is significantly down from about 2,300 members several decades ago.

However, Bunchanan said the American Legion always will play an important role in the community and following any future wars to come. The American Legion was founded on four pillars to take care of veterans and their families: promote Americanism, strengthen national security and to look after children and the future, he said.

Since membership is controlled by Congress, Bunchanan said he hopes new changes implemented by the Trump administration will help with a decrease in members. Any service member who has seen one day of active duty since Dec. 7, 1941, is eligible to join the American Legion organization. This includes students at service academies like West Point or the U.S. Naval Academy, who are considered to be in current active duty.

Beginning in 2018, The 100th American Legion National Convention celebrated a 15-month commemoration to honor the organization’s first century of service. The national organization held its centennial celebration last month in Indianapolis.

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

Submitted photo  

Submitted photo Nikki Riniti, left, as Anna, and Sophie Eastone, as Elsa, perform “Disney’s Frozen Jr.,” which wraps up this weekend in Huntington.

Vandergriff gets maximum sentence for murder in Putnam County

CHARLESTON — A Putnam County circuit judge on Thursday handed down the maximum possible sentence for a man who ran over another man, killing him in 2018.

Judge Joseph Reeder sentenced Morgan Creed Vandergriff to spend 40 years in prison.

A jury convicted Vandergriff of second-degree murder during a four-day trial in August.

Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Jennifer Scragg Karr and Vandergriff’s defense attorneys all agreed Vandergriff struck 38-year-old John Maynard with his 2003 Chevrolet Cavalier at about 3:45 p.m. May 9, 2018.

Vandergirff’s attorneys, Brian Escue and Carl Holster, said Vandergriff accidentally struck Maynard after Maynard threw a beer at Vandergriff’s car, causing him to lose control of his vehicle.

Karr said Vandergriff struck Maynard with his car after Maynard yelled at him for driving past two stopped school buses in Ranch Lake Estates in Scott Depot, West Virginia.

Witnesses reported to police that Vandergriff illegally drove around two school buses and drove his car to the right side of the road and struck Maynard, pushing him 20 feet away from where he had been standing, according to the criminal complaint filed in Putnam Magistrate Court.

One of Maynard’s neighbors testified that she saw Maynard almost “do a cartwheel” when the vehicle struck him. He was declared dead at the scene.

Neighbors also testified they did not see Maynard throw a beer at Vandergriff’s vehicle.

Vandergriff remained in the area near the scene, and a Putnam County Sheriff’s deputy took him into custody that evening.