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Marshall wide receiver Talik Keaton makes a touchdown reception during an NCAA football game against Eastern Kentucky on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020, at Joan C. Edwards Stadium in Huntington.

Huntington celebrates Fourth of July with fireworks, music

HUNTINGTON — It was a celebration in downtown Huntington on Friday as people packed the streets for live music and fireworks to kick off the holiday weekend.

A collaboration between 9th Street Live and Dawg Dazzle, the festivities featured the two events coming together to celebrate both the nation’s independence and the city’s 150th anniversary as music filled the air on 3rd Avenue between 9th and 10th streets.

The event was free and featured music from Austin Adkins & The Coal Dust Hollar Band, MadHouse, and Rob McNurlin and the Beatnik Cowboys. Joslyn & the Sweet Compression performed as part of 9th Street Live.

People who missed Dawg Dazzle or other local fireworks shows Friday and Saturday have a couple more chances to see the colorful displays as the region celebrates the holiday Sunday.

In Barboursville, the village will host its annual celebration featuring food provided by local food trucks beginning at 6 p.m. A fireworks display will be conducted at the Brickyard beginning at 10 p.m.

In Wayne County, a fireworks display will occur in Lavalette at 10 p.m. The display will be performed by the Lavalette Volunteer Fire Department, and was facilitated by a partnership between Baker’s Towing and Giovanni’s Lavalette.

Cornwell leaves Huntington Police Department with understanding of empathy

HUNTINGTON — In his 25 years with the Huntington Police Department, Chief Ray Cornwell said he learned about the importance of empathy.

Cornwell’s retirement was announced in June. His last day was Friday. Mayor Steve Williams appointed HPD Capt. Eric Corder to serve as interim police chief.

Cornwell was appointed to become police chief in April 2020. He spent about four months serving as interim police chief after former Chief Hank Dial became city manager. Cornwell said when he began his career, he did not have plans to become chief of police.

“When Hank decided to leave, there was a void and I felt obligated to step up. I had always planned on working 25 years and then retiring, so it was a hard debate on whether I should stay longer or not,” Cornwell said. “But after a lot of deliberation, consideration, discussions with my wife, we just decided it would be better for me and my family to follow through with our plans.”

He said he feels like he is leaving the relationships between the department and different groups, like the city government, City Council and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge, in a better place. The estimated police department budget for next year is over $15 million.

“With the way things are right now, with the state of the city and the leadership, not just there at City Hall, but also here, too, I genuinely feel like I can walk away leaving it in good hands,” Cornwell said.

“Chief Cornwell led the Police Department through the COVID-19 pandemic, and he was the architect of HPD’s adjustment to the new 12-hour work shifts, which allowed the department to increase the number of officers patrolling our neighborhoods,” Williams said in a news release about Cornwell’s retirement. “Furthermore, property crimes have fallen 8% and violent crimes have decreased 5.6% under his watch.”

Cornwell said he didn’t consider becoming a police officer until Dial encouraged him to do so. Before joining the police force, Cornwell worked as a night manager in a video rental store. Dial stopped by the business to put up a police officer recruitment sign.

“He came to where I was working and he asked if he could put up a recruiting poster, and I said, ‘Sure,’ and he left,” Cornwell recalled. “And he turned around and he came back in and he goes, ‘You’re going to come take our test, aren’t you?’ And I said, ‘Sure, why not?’”

Dial said it was a privilege to serve with Cornwell on the force. He said he recruited Cornwell because he believed he had good ethics and intelligence to be a police officer. Cornwell’s term as chief was extremely different as it has been during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dial said.

“I think that he was able to manage the police department at a time unprecedented for anyone else and he looked out for our community and the members of the department extremely well,” Dial said.

The reason Cornwell decided to join the police department was to help the community.

“This is my home, this is where my family lives, all my friends live here, and I wanted to try and make things better,” Cornwell said.

Cornwell served in various roles within the department, working his way up from patrol officer to corporal and then to work in Records and Administrative Bureaus. He also served as midnight shift watch commander, managed the Office of Professional Standards and was captain of the Patrol Bureau.

For about half of his life, Cornwell has been part of HPD. He said he believes serving the residents of Huntington is “a worthy job.”

“Obviously, you know, there’s good times and bad times. We see some traumatic things, but I genuinely feel like this is a worthy job. A lot of us think of it as more of a calling than a job, you know,” Cornwell said. “But I believe it is necessary. I believe it is worthy, and I genuinely believe we do good out here in the community every day.”

Cornwell said his career with the department taught him a lot about empathy. He said some may think that working in a police department would make you not want to work with people, but it’s been the opposite for him. He said one of the things that he is most proud of is how HPD officers conduct themselves each day.

“We deal with people oftentimes on the worst day of their life. And you just try to help them through it as best you can. I would say the world could probably use a little more kindness and a little more empathy,” Cornwell said.

The chief said the world has changed a lot since he became an officer in 1996. The problems and how they are addressed are different. Cornwell said HPD has advanced areas like forensic investigation and officer training. The process to join HPD has also become more selective.

“The kind of things you look for in a police officer today are different than they were 20 years ago. I would say we have evolved,” he said.

Training is a key change, the chief said. The department has made steps to have more non-lethal options. Force training revolves around de-escalation, he said. In a recent City Council Finance and Administration Committee meeting, Cornwell discussed a proposal to buy 25 new Tasers and supporting equipment for officers as part of certifying more officers for that device.

“We’ve always had a strong respect for human life here, but tactics and training change and evolve in response to what the citizens and the community expect from us,” Cornwell said. “And I would say that I couldn’t take credit for that myself. I would say that it’s just something that we’ve had to learn and we’ve had to grow, not just for our safety, but the citizens’ safety.”

Manpower is a national concern as there is a shortage of qualified police applicants, Cornwell said. However, HPD has hired 14 people in the past year. On Aug. 28, the department will have another test for new officers.

During Cornwell’s tenure as chief, the department switched to a 12-hour shift model. The new schedule has shifts that overlap so officers can cover more areas. The change came about after the FOP approached the department’s administration. After mapping out the schedule, a team from different areas of the department looked into the idea. The department planned to try the shifts for a year. Cornwell said it has worked out and is well received by officers.

Huntington crime rates continued to fall under Cornwell’s tenure. Since 2017, overall criminal offenses have declined. From 2017 to 2020, there was a 31.89% decrease. For 2021 from January to May, crime was also down when compared to the first five months of each year since 2017.

“The reality of it is any successes I’ve had are owed completely to the hard work that the men and women of this police department do every day and our citizen partners out there, the people we work with that support us,” Cornwell said. “They do a great job every day. My job is just to facilitate and to help make sure they have the tools and the resources they need to succeed.”

The search now begins to find a permanent police chief. Williams has previously said that after naming an interim chief, he will begin the application process for potential candidates.

“I know the mayor has plenty of good choices for the next chief of police,” Cornwell said. “And regardless of what happens, whoever he chooses, I have no doubt whatsoever that the men and women here of the Huntington Police Department will step up and rise to the occasion.”

And for that next chief, Cornwell said it is important to have faith in the co-workers.

“Have faith in them, have faith in their training, have faith in their values and just let them do the job,” he said.

Marshall students get unique real-world experience in pandemic

HUNTINGTON — When the pandemic hit the U.S., college students across the country were sent home.

Ripley Haney, of Barboursville, was finishing her sophomore year in Marshall University’s nursing program when the university canceled in-person classes. Life thrown out of whack, Haney said she wished she was able to do more to help like her older peers who had already graduated from the program.

But as she began work on her junior year, she got an email. The Cabell-Huntington Health Department was looking for help to inoculate the community against COVID-19. The offer was open to nursing, pre-medicine, pharmacy and medical students, and was available thanks to the health department’s $1.07 million Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant.

For those studying health care, the pandemic provided a rare chance at hands-on, real-world experience working with patients and providing vaccines.

For Haney, it meant a chance to work within her field and get experience giving vaccines.

“(When I got the email), I thought it would be cool,” she said. “It will be in the history books. I thought it would be good experience to give more vaccines, which we don’t do much of in nursing school. I thought it would be good experience but also cool to be able to tell my children I helped give vaccines during the pandemic.”

Students could work in all areas of the vaccine center: getting patient information, waiting with them after the vaccine and administering the vaccine. Haney said she mainly administered vaccines.

“It made me more confident when people would tell me it was the best shot they ever had; it didn’t hurt,” Haney said. “It made me feel good to know that they thought I, a 21-year-old, was doing a good job.”

The pandemic brought about unique experiences for even medical students.

Tori Snoad, a fourth-year medical student at the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, flexed her vaccine-administering muscles in February in Logan County. The vaccine was newly released and Snoad was part of the team administering the first vaccines in the county.

“It had just become available to the general public, and it was really encouraging because there was a line out the door,” Snoad said. “It was a good start after a long year.”

While medical students get much more hands-on experience than undergraduates, the opportunity still provided Snoad with a chance to flex her physician muscles by practicing administering vaccines and speaking with patients. This was after a rough year watching the pandemic spread through the community.

“It was rough,” Snoad said. “We had to gear up with (personal protective equipment). We had to wear masks, N95s, men had to shave their beards, no white coats. We were required, then encouraged, to wear googles … I always try to wear all my protective equipment, but it was rough. I wouldn’t say the experience as a third-year (student) was diminished, but it wasn’t as good as it could have been. We weren’t exposed to sick patients. They didn’t want to spread it or for students to get sick. There was a small lack of clinical experience.”

The highlight of the extra experience for both Snoad and Haney was getting to practice speaking with patients. Haney said talking with patients and hearing their stories is why she wanted to become a nurse in the first place.

“How to talk to patients is extremely important when going into health care,” Snoad said. “I’ve seen questions about the vaccine, like, ‘Will it impact me long term?’ ‘Do I get a booster?’ ‘Does it change my DNA?’ I’ve learned that when you are in science and health care, we understand what is going on with the vaccine, what’s in it and how it’s given. When people are being weary of the vaccine, you can’t throw everything at them at the same time. They know — they’ve seen the news — but something deep down is preventing them from getting it. So hear them out and let them think about it. To hear from someone from the health care field is more influential, even more so when you hear out their concerns and issues.”

In West Virginia, where vaccine hesitancy is still fairly high, Snoad said the practice of listening and hearing patients is even more important. And Snoad said she understands where people are coming from. She wasn’t sure if she would get the vaccine until she was able to do her own research and discuss it with her colleagues, determining it was the best option to keep those she loves safe.

Both health care professionals said they were grateful for the learning experience. As Dr. Michael Kilkenny told the Cabell-Huntington Health Department’s Board of Health at its June meeting, you can train for emergencies but still in the moment you must be able to adapt. Snoad said just watching her peers adapt is a lesson she can take with her no matter what specialty she chooses.