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Vaping, new substances top Teen Summit priorities

HUNTINGTON — The structure and messaging of the annual Teen Summit on Drug Prevention in Cabell County was similar to student-centered prevention 10 or 20 years ago — peppered with easy-to-remember tips and facts to discourage abuse among themselves and their peers.

But the substances themselves have changed, and so have the kids, coming of age in a time when drugs are enmeshed in everyday American life, said Angela Saunders, director of the hosting Prevention Empowerment Partnership.

“The kids now are different. They grew up in a different culture,” Saunders said during Wednesday morning’s summit in Huntington.

“But for the longest time, the adults thought they were going to be the ones to order the kids to make good decisions. We (adults) can want a change all we want, but they (students) can make the change.”

Vapor products and marijuana — two of the substances most commonly used by teenagers — dominated the discussions, peer groups and activities during the daylong event, attended by more than 150 students representing every middle and high school in Cabell County.

E-cigarettes and the act of vaping have been on the market for many years, but became popular with teens with the introduction of sweet flavors and more discrete delivery devices, such as the Juul. A study by the National Institutes of Health found that 37% of high school seniors use e-cigarettes, 32% of 10th-graders and 17.6% of eighth-graders.

Marijuana has been used by American teens for generations now, but it’s become more potent than ever. The average concentration of the plant’s THC — the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana — has risen from 3% a decade ago to now 13%, Saunders said.

Marijuana and vaping have even intersected in recent years with vapor cartridges that contain THC, combining a marijuana high with an e-cigarette delivery.

Scores of public health entities, including the U.S. Surgeon General and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have long warned about the startling rise of vaping among youth, which may be linked to lung and developmental diseases as well as about a dozen deaths in the U.S. this year.

But for those who preach prevention, these new substances and delivery methods pose their own complexities. They’re so new, Saunders noted, that not many evidence-based resources exist yet — although the medical consensus agrees smoking and vaping are harmful.

The novelty of vaping and high-dose THC delivery may also change how it’s perceived by students, as opposed to how they would view smoking.

While it is likely enough red flags have been raised that a student, even in the back of their mind, may recognize smoking as unsafe but do it anyway, some likely view vaping and marijuana as safer, if not completely safe, Saunders said.

The Prevention Empowerment Partnership (PEP), an initiative of the United Way of the River Cities, began around a year ago, growing out of the Cabell County Substance Abuse Prevention Partnership, which remains a subcommittee of the new organization. Building on those already established connections and programming, PEP expands those efforts into different parts of the community, targeting special types of prevention, such as suicide and human trafficking.

The United Way of the River Cities serves communities in Cabell, Lincoln, Mason and Wayne counties in West Virginia and Lawrence County, Ohio.

West Virginia’s only living Medal of Honor recipient celebrates birthday in Huntington

HUNTINGTON — West Virginia’s only living Medal of Honor recipient, Hershel “Woody” Williams, was in Huntington on Wednesday to celebrate his 96th birthday.

Williams, of Barboursville, is a retired U.S. Marine veteran who came to Bare Arms and Bombshells Burgers & BBQ on 5th Street Road in Huntington for a lunchtime birthday party, attended by well over 100 people, including many other veterans, family and guests, as well as state and local officials and dignitaries.

“I didn’t expect a crowd like this,” Williams said. “I thought there may be a few of my Marine friends here, but this is overwhelming, humbling and very much appreciated.”

The event featured the restaurant’s food, including the “flamethrower,” which is a hamburger named for Williams that includes jalapeno peppers and pepper jack cheese.

Christy Bare, who owns Bare Arms and Bombshells Burgers & BBQ with her husband, Billy, says they are a veteran-owned business.

“My husband is a veteran and our establishment is veteran-themed, so it just seemed right to put him on our wall and have him here today to help celebrate the birthday of a true American hero,” she said.

Bare said Williams is a regular visitor of their business.

“He comes here a lot and we have a lot of memorabilia on our walls about him and veterans in general, so we invited him to come here for his birthday and he accepted,” Bare said. “We are so honored every time he comes here and we recognize him whenever he comes in.”

Brenda Ritchie, of Culloden, said she comes from a military family and wanted to attend the event to give Williams a birthday card and to thank him again for his service to his country.

“My dad is a U.S. Marine, my brother is in the Army, my brother-in-law is a Navy veteran and my nephew is currently packing up to go to Saudi Arabia,” she said. “He is a family friend and it’s an honor to even know him.”

Ritchie said it was not the first birthday event she has attended to honor Williams.

“Any time I can take time to honor Woody and any other military veteran, I am going to do it,” she said. “The military has always been a part of my family and close to my heart. We would not have the freedoms we enjoy if not for our members of the military, past and present. I would like to see more people and more places recognize and honor our veterans, like they did here today in Huntington.”

Williams was born Oct. 2, 1923. He grew up in Quiet Dell in Harrison County and was awarded the Medal of Honor for heroic actions taken during the U.S. assault on the heavily fortified island of Iwo Jima in February 1945. Armed with a flamethrower and exposed to near-constant enemy fire, Williams neutralized a series of concrete-reinforced Japanese machine gun positions that had stalled his company’s ability to move off the beach and advance on the enemy.

The VA Medical Center in Huntington is named after Williams, as well as the Hershel “Woody” Williams Armed Forces Reserve Center in Fairmont, West Virginia, which is the only National Guard facility in the country named after a Marine. In addition, there is the VFW Hershel “Woody” Williams Post 7048 in Fairmont, and the main bridge in Barboursville is named for him as well.

Today, Williams loves to speak about his Gold Star Families Memorial Monument project.

“We are headed for Texas on Friday to dedicate a Gold Star Family Monument on Saturday,” he said.

He said there are only five states that do not have a Gold Star Families Memorial Monument.

“We plan to get them in those states, too,” he said.

Bombshells Burgers & BBQ donated $1,000 to the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument project in Williams’ honor.

Williams added that he believes he has made it to 96 years old because of the hard work he had to do on his family’s farm as a youth and the physical training he had to do in the Marines.

“I just never stopped exercising, and I still do it every day,” he said.

Three Kentuckians also indicted in multimillion-dollar car scheme

HUNTINGTON — Three Kentuckians have been indicted by a West Virginia federal grand jury for their alleged part of a scheme that cost a car company $4.5 million, joining two others previously indicted.

James Pinson, 44, Gary Conn, 56, and Tammy Newsome, 53, of Kentucky, have been indicted on 10 counts of fraud and identity theft. Newsome is additionally charged with aggravated identity theft.

The trio joins Frank Russo, 68, of North Carolina, and Kevin Fluharty, 58, of West Virginia, who have already been indicted for the scheme. At the time of the alleged scheme, Russo was the service manager at a car dealership in St. Albans, West Virginia, and Fluharty was a notary public who authorized signatures of customers who sold their trucks back to the car manufacturer as part of the program, according to the indictment.

All five defendants face up to 30 years in prison if convicted.

According to U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart, Pinson, Conn and Newsome organized and participated in a scheme to misuse a car company’s warranty extension program that offered to repurchase certain trucks with excessive rust damage for 150% of their value, as long as the trucks were owned by individuals and not a dealership.

Participants in the scheme would buy the trucks at wholesale prices at auction through Pinson’s car dealership, Big Blue Motor Sales of Louisa, Kentucky. Conn worked as the sales manager at the Kentucky dealership and Newsome performed administrative tasks for the business. Pinson also had a branch of the company located in Barboursville at the time of the scheme.

The group then obtained hundreds of copies of Kentucky and West Virginia driver’s licenses and used those to “purchase” the vehicles and title the trucks into the name of those residents without their knowledge.

The trucks would then be transferred from Big Blue Motor to a dealership in St. Albans, at which time Russo would send the information to the company that authorized the buybacks.

Fluharty is accused of falsifying the final repurchase documentation by allowing the co-defendants to forge the false owners’ signatures on the final documents.

The indicted defendants ran about 350 trucks through the scheme between 2013 and 2015, causing about $4.3 million in losses to the car company, Stuart said.

Although the indictment did not identify the car manufacturer, at the time of the alleged scheme, Toyota offered a buyback program for trucks that had their frames rusted out. Toyota’s policy for the buyback was to purchase the affected vehicles for 1 1/2 times their value, based on the Kelley Blue Book calculation for vehicles in “excellent” condition.

The Associated Press  

This image released by A24 shows Awkwafina, center, in a scene from "The Farewell." (A24 via AP)

Impeachment standoff: Trump sees ‘hoax,’ Dems a stonewall

WASHINGTON — Unleashing unconcealed fury about Democrats and the press, President Donald Trump railed Wednesday against the investigation into his dealings with Ukraine, hours after House Democratic leaders warned the White House to expect a subpoena for documents. Democrats accused the administration of “flagrant disregard” of previous requests and said that refusal could be considered an impeachable offense.

Separately, the Democrats accused Trump of “an incitement to violence” against a national security whistleblower and advised him and his administration not to intimidate potential witnesses in the impeachment inquiry.

The whistleblower exposed a July phone call that Trump had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in which Trump pressed for an investigation of Democratic political rival Joe Biden and his family. Democrats say the pressure on Zelenskiy, on its own, constitutes an abuse of power worthy of impeachment scrutiny.

In appearances in the Oval Office and a joint news conference with the president of Finland, Trump displayed an unusual show of anger as he defended what he has called his “perfect” phone call with Zelenskiy.

He suggested, without evidence, that House intelligence committee Chairman Adam Schiff may have committed treason, and, again without evidence, labeled Biden and his son “stone cold crooked.”

At one point, Trump demanded that a reporter pressing him on his dealings with Ukraine move on.

“Ask the president of Finland a question, please,” he said, emphasizing each word, eventually labeling the reporter “corrupt.”

Trump declined to answer yes or no when asked if he would cooperate with the House to produce requested documents on Ukraine.

“Well, I always cooperate,” he said, though his administration has repeatedly stonewalled congressional investigations. “This is a hoax,” he added.

Schiff, accusing Trump of inviting violence against the whistleblower, had said earlier that any effort to interfere with the Democrats’ investigations would be considered evidence of obstruction and could be included in articles of impeachment.

“We’re not fooling around here,” he said.

Trump showed no signs of letting up, tweeting a vulgarity during the House leaders’ news conference and saying “the Do Nothing Democrats should be focused on building up our Country.” Throwing criticism broadly, he assailed Schiff as a “low-life” and said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco has turned into a “tent city” of homeless.

Trump has tweeted in recent days that he wants to “find out about” the whistleblower and question him or her, though the person’s identity is protected by the Whistleblower Protection Act.

The Democrats said they would subpoena the White House Friday for documents related to Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings wrote in a memo to committee members that the action is necessary because the White House has ignored multiple requests.

Referring to a report on the whistleblower’s complaint, Cummings said that given the “stark and urgent warnings” the inspector general for the intelligence community has delivered to Congress, the panel has “no choice but to issue this subpoena.”

The subpoena will be directed toward acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and request 13 separate batches of documents related to the July call and related matters. The call unfolded against the backdrop of a $250 million foreign aid package for Ukraine that was being readied by Congress but stalled by Trump.

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said the subpoena is “nothing but more document requests, wasted time and taxpayer dollars that will ultimately show the president did nothing wrong.”

The subpoena announcement came as House and Senate staff prepared to meet with the State Department’s inspector general Wednesday afternoon.

A State Department email invitation said the inspector general, Steve Linick, “would like to discuss and provide staff with copies of documents related to the State Department and Ukraine.” The documents were obtained from the State Department’s acting legal adviser, according to the email.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged Wednesday he was on the phone call between Trump and Zelenskiy that is at the center of the impeachment inquiry. He also continued to push back against what he said was Democrats’ “bullying and intimidation.”

Democrats have scheduled closed-door depositions Thursday with former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and next week with ousted U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and three other State Department officials. Pompeo told the committees on Tuesday that the dates they had set were “not feasible,” but at least some of the officials are still coming.

The Democrats said that Pompeo’s resistance amounted to his own intimidation.

“Any effort to intimidate witnesses or prevent them from talking with Congress — including State Department employees — is illegal and will constitute evidence of obstruction of the impeachment inquiry,” said Schiff, Cummings and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel in a Tuesday notice to Pompeo.

They said that if he was on Trump’s call, “Secretary Pompeo is now a fact witness in the House impeachment inquiry.” And they warned, “He should immediately cease intimidating department witnesses in order to protect himself and the president.”

Democrats often note that obstruction was one of the impeachment articles against Richard Nixon, who resigned the presidency in 1974 in the face of almost certain impeachment.

The committees are seeking voluntary testimony from the current and former officials as the House digs into State Department actions and Trump’s other calls with foreign leaders that have been shielded from scrutiny. They have also subpoenaed Pompeo for documents.

Volker played a direct role in trying to arrange meetings between Rudy Giuliani, who is Trump’s personal lawyer, and Zelenskiy, the chairmen said. The State Department said that Volker has confirmed that he put a Zelenskiy adviser in contact with Giuliani, at the Ukraine adviser’s request.

The former envoy, who has since resigned his position and so is not necessarily bound by Pompeo’s directions, is eager to appear as scheduled on Thursday, said one person familiar with the situation, but unauthorized to discuss it and granted anonymity. The career professional believes he acted appropriately and wants to tell his side of the situation, the person said.

Yovanovitch, the career diplomat whose abrupt recall from Ukraine earlier this year raised questions, is set to appear next week. The Democrats also want to hear from T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, a counselor at the State Department, who also listened in on the Trump-Zelenskiy call, they said.

A whistleblower alleged in an August letter to the inspector general for the intelligence community, Michael Atkinson, that the White House tried to “lock down” Trump’s July 25 phone call with the new Ukrainian president because it was worried about the contents being leaked to the public. The complaint was eventually made public after acting Director of Intelligence Joseph Maguire withheld it from Congress for several weeks.

In recent days, it has been disclosed that the administration similarly tried to restrict information about Trump’s calls with other foreign leaders, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman, by moving memos onto a highly classified computer system.

Ukraine’s president told reporters Tuesday he has never met or spoken with Giuliani. Zelenskiy insisted that “it is impossible to put pressure on me.” He said he stressed the importance of the military aid repeatedly in discussions with Trump, but “it wasn’t explained to me” why the money didn’t come through until September.

In Russia, Putin said scrutiny over the phone call showed that Trump’s adversaries are using “every excuse” to attack him.


Associated Press writers Matthew Lee in Rome, Angela Charlton in Kyiv, Ukraine; and Laurie Kellman, Zeke Miller, Jill Colvin, Alan Fram and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in Washington contributed to this report.