News for October 27, 1999
Brown trial gets under way
by Vicki Smith
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
CHARLESTON -- Ricky Lee Brown torched his house with five children
inside so he could claim $61,000 in insurance money and buy a dream house
in the country, prosecutors charged Tuesday at the opening of his death
Brown signed a contract for a new house Dec. 4, 1997, just three weeks
after the fire.
Brown's two stepdaughters were left in their bedroom, and three younger
children were taken into a bathroom and told to wait while Brown, his wife
and their housemate tried to douse the fire, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert
But no one tried to put out the flames on Nov. 21, 1997, and "the evidence
will prove ... that Ricky and the women did not leave this house until
it was fully engulfed and they knew the kids couldn't get out," he said.
One boy and girl were found with legs intertwined, indicating they
held onto each other before collapsing from the smoke. The girl's face
was clean, apparently covered with a washcloth until she passed out.
The body of the youngest victim, 3-year-old Jimmy Ables, was found
under the pullout sofa a few feet from the front door because he apparently
didn't stay put.
"He died there because that's the last place he knew he could find
his mother," McWilliams said.
Brown, his wife, Barbara, and housemate Janette Ables are accused of
pouring gasoline throughout their Weston home and setting it ablaze to
cash in on house and life insurance policies. All three parents and two
other men in the house at the time escaped the fire unhurt.
If convicted on one of the 15 federal charges against them during separate
trials -- arson causing death and affecting interstate commerce -- each
parent could be sentenced to death.
Ricky Brown's trial, which got under way with the selection of 12 jurors
and six alternates Tuesday, is the first federal death penalty case in
His attorneys say the fire was a tragic accident that outraged a community
and created a cry for justice.
Brown, a poor, learning disabled, unemployed man in a middle-class,
well kept neighborhood, is nothing more than a scapegoat, defense attorney
J.T. McCamic said.
"He has people coming and going all hours of the night, he has dogs
barking all the time, he's working on cars in front of the house. He doesn't
fit in. So when the blame game starts, it's not hard to figure out where
the fingers are going," McCamic said.
The defense blames the fire on Jimmy Ables, whose 5-year-old sister,
Rayshell, also died in the fire with playmates Brandon, Kimberly and Seronica
Castner, ages 8, 9 and 10.
At least two of the children had been caught playing with matches or
lighters, McCamic told the jury, but prosecutors refuse to accept the fire
"They want to see an insidious crime here. They want to see people
forcing children into rooms," he said. "We have a lot of hysteria. We have
a lot of pressure. We have a lot of emotion. All that, combined together,
forces someone to act."
McCamic urged the seven women and five men to remember the faces of
the children, shown in black-and-white photos on a projection screen, as
they determine whose version of the fire is the truth.
"If you can wipe the tears away ... and look at the facts, you'll see
he's not guilty," McCamic said.
Prosecutors, however, say the motives are clear: Money and freedom.
"They did this because they were tired of their children. Their children
interfered with their lifestyles," McWilliams said.
Nor could Ricky Brown have acted alone in the insurance plot. Had either
mother objected, at least one child would have been saved, McWilliams said.
"The children were not only important victims, they were necessary
victims," he said. "The defendant could not have one pair of innocent eyes
-- much less five-- survive this fire to tell how Mommy and Daddy sprinkled
liquid around the house."
Ricky Brown, who was 23 at the time, stood to collect $61,449 in insurance
money, including the $15,000 on his 33-year-old wife's children. Because
he had been unemployed and collecting only Supplemental Security Income,
it would have taken him at least 10 years to make that much money, McWilliams
Prosecutors will present more than 100 photographs, expert witnesses
and scientific evidence during the trial, which is expected to run through
mid-December. That evidence will show burn patterns indicating gasoline
was poured at both the front and rear entrances to the house, and that
a third, diversionary fire was set in one of the bedrooms, McWilliams said.
"Though we cannot show you which parent poured the gasoline, we will
show you they had to work together to do that," he said.
Water Board members vote to stop their benefits
by Shawn Gainer
Clarksburg Water Board members removed themselves from all benefits
and wrangled over several other issues at a marathon meeting Tuesday.
A motion to remove current board members from all benefits excluding
salary passed unanimously. However, a motion to remove past members from
benefits passed once and was then overturned after member Pat D'Anselmi
decided to change her initial vote in favor of the motion against it.
At issue were life, health and prescription coverage provided by the
board to Dominick Policano, who served twice as a water board member, from
Dec. 1, 1980 to June 30, 1981 and from March 20, 1982 to June 30, 1985.
Policano also served as project coordinator for the construction of the
water treatment plant from July 1, 1985 to July 1, 1998. According to a
legal statement from the law firm Steptoe & Johnson, Policano was an
independent contractor while a project coordinator and received compensation
of $100 per month salary plus full life, health, and liability insurance.
Policano's insurance and prescription coverage costs the Clarksburg
Water Board between $1,100 and $1,200 a month, depending on fluctuating
prescription costs, said Dan Adkins, finance director of the water board.
Delegate Frank Angotti, D-Harrison, has voluntarily removed himself
from benefits he received as a former board member. Policano is the only
former member currently receiving benefits.
Member Charles O. Thayer III made the motion, arguing that the board
must do everything it can to address financial problems and regain public
"When I came on to the Water Board, I thought I'd come on to the gravy
board when I found out what was available to me," Thayer said. "We're operating
in excess of a $400,000 deficit and the public is crying out for something
to be done."
Board President Robert Glotfelty opposed the motion. Glotfelty said
he thinks an opinion paper provided by attorney C. David Morrison of Steptoe
& Johnson indicates that removing Policano from benefits could prompt
legal action from Policano for breach of contract.
"I'd hate to pay for a legal opinion, then turn around and go against
it," Glotfelty said.
In the opinion paper, dated Oct. 25, Morrison stated that benefits
Policano received are equivalent to deferred compensation for previously
rendered services as project coordinator for the treatment plant. Morrison
further stated he believes that canceling those benefits would "likely
constitute a breach of contract."
D' Anslemi said she changed her vote because she was worried that the
Water Board could be the target of a lawsuit.
"I want to stop this but I don't want to get sued," D'Anselmi said.
"We only have $1 million in liability coverage for the three of us (current
D'Anselmi presented a motion to retain the early retirement benefit
structure for Water Board employees but remove those benefits for employees
hired after Oct. 26. It passed by a 2-1 vote with Thayer dissenting. Thayer
has criticized policies that allow retiring employees to receive pay for
up to 120 days of unused sick leave.
"I don't think we should jump in and change it for the people who are
already here," D'Anselmi said. "I don't think it will put a big drain on
Patsy Trecost, general manager of the Water Board, pointed out that
employees of the City of Clarksburg can receive compensation for up to
90 days of unused sick leave upon retirement.
He added that he expects four retirements among Water Board employees
over the next four years, including himself.
Thayer would not be swayed from his opposition.
"I'm hoping we're here to correct our $400,000 deficit," he said. "The
easy thing to do is ask the people who pay the water bills to bail us out.
I can't support it."
Thayer, who has also criticized overtime paid to salaried supervisors,
presented a motion to discontinue payment of overtime for salaried employees
who are not working foremen and supervisors in the field.
Trecost and Adkins would be affected by the motion. Members agreed
to conduct a work session on the matter Monday.
Thayer said he opposes the practice because it has no parallel in business
or the federal government. Glotfelty defended the overtime policy.
"If you're going to take overtime away from Patsy, when do the extra
hours and being on call all the time become excessive?" Glotfelty asked.
In other business, a motion by Thayer to eliminate a $350-a-month car
allowance for Trecost failed for lack of a second.
Two finalists vie for city manager post
Names withheld as 'professional courtesy'; may be announced on Nov. 1
by Paul Leakan
Clarksburg City Council members said Tuesday that they've pared their
list of candidates for city manager to two finalists but declined to reveal
who they're considering.
Council members completed their final two initial interviews for the
position Thursday night in a closed-door session.
Councilman Jim Hunt said it was important not to reveal who the finalists
are right now because he and some other council members believe the finalists
should be notified in advance that they've made the final cut and that
their names will soon be released to the public.
"It's professional courtesy," Hunt said.
Aside from being courteous, Hunt said it's important for council to
contact the finalists' references and ask them whether they are still available
for the job before releasing their names.
The finalists may be contacted sometime today. After the candidates'
backgrounds are checked, council members will conduct a second and final
Hunt said the finalists likely would be announced during a special
session Monday, Nov. 1.
The finalists appear to be a good fit for the city, according to some
"They have a can-do attitude," said Councilwoman Kathryn Folio. "They
appear to not be afraid to get right into it."
Councilwoman Margaret Bailey was also impressed.
"It looks like a positive for Clarksburg," she said. "They have experience
where we need it."
Council has interviewed a total of nine candidates after receiving
54 applications for the post.
The candidates were required to have a bachelor's degree. The job will
pay $63,000 per year with benefits.
Council members want to have a new city manager in place by Dec. 1,
but they have not set an official deadline.
The position has been vacant since Percy Ashcraft left office on Oct.
1. Ashcraft resigned from the post after citing a "steady pattern of meddling"
in administrative affairs by some city council members.
Since Ashcraft's departure, Finance Director Frank Ferrari has served
as the city's interim city manager. Ferrari has indicated that he is not
interested in being a candidate for the position.
Police urge extra caution this Halloween
by James Fisher
Local police are warning children and parents to be extra cautious
this Halloween season, in part because of an alleged child abductor who
is believed to be living and/or operating in North Central West Virginia.
"Children should watch where they go," said Clarksburg Police Officer
Tommy Thomas. "Don't go too far off the main road and be aware there is
danger out there. If they see anything or anyone suspicious, they should
call 911 immediately and ask for an officer."
In recent weeks, local FBI and West Virginia State Police officials
have been looking for a man who they say was involved in at least one kidnapping
and several attempted abductions in Pennsylvania.
The man is described as a white male between 20 to 30 years old. He
is of average height, weight and build with dark hair. Authorities said
he was driving a two-door teal-colored compact car, believed to be a Geo
Metro, with a gray cloth interior. The car has a decal in the left side
rear window and is believed to have either a Virginia or West Virginia
Many local departments say they will have extra patrols out during
the trick-or-treat period on Saturday and are watching carefully to ensure
a safe Halloween.
Salem Police Chief Todd Howell said more officers will be out and police
will even block some streets to vehicle traffic. Shinnston Police will
have at least three officers on duty for the trick-or-treat, according
to Chief Jim Terango. The Clarksburg and Bridgeport departments also have
plans for additional officers.
"The shift supervisors are also aware of the situation and the regular
patrols are looking for this guy," said Clarksburg Police Lt. John Walker.
"But I think we should stress that there have been no sightings of this
guy in our area."
Stonewood Police Capt. Rick Miller said all three officers will be
on duty and also several volunteers will be monitoring the streets and
"We're going to try to cover every intersection and have someone on
every street," Miller said. "The police officers will be very visible and
we'll be keeping a close eye on everything. This is really a group effort
by city officials and the community."
Terango said Halloween may be a prime time for someone who preys on
"It's always a possibility with that many folks out and a lot who don't
know each other," he said.
Aside from the sheer number of children and adults who will be out
walking the streets for trick-or-treat and the fact that many people are
only familiar with their own neighbors, Terango said the nature of the
holiday adds to the potential problems.
"The reason a lot of people don't know each other is because they're
out in costume," he said. "It's also not that unusual to see adults dressed
up. The main thing is for the kids to be accompanied by an adult and to
Bridgeport Police Chief Jack Clayton echoed Terango's sentiments and
said the possible presence of adults who prey on children has come to the
forefront of many people's minds.
"I think we should reinforce the fact the mom or dad or another responsible
adult should accompany kids when they're out," he said.
Other general tips for parents as well as trick-or-treaters include
wearing reflective or light-colored clothing, carrying a flashlight, traveling
in groups and carefully inspecting candy.
"There's strength in numbers," Thomas said. "Also, don't go past the
time for trick-or-treating. When it's time to go home, finish up and go
home. It's not worth some extra candy to risk your safety."
Note: All trick-or-treating listed is set for Saturday.
State's method of paying for prisoners called into question
by Paul Darst
Every spring, counties around West Virginia engage in what has become
almost a ritual.
They file lawsuits in small claims court to get payment for housing
state prisoners in their local jails.
The state stops paying counties for their expenses around the end of
the fiscal year because the Legislature never allots enough money to continue
doing so for the whole year.
But the Harrison County Commission wants the area's legislative representatives
to see that the practice is stopped. And they might have the support of
one local state lawmaker.
"This has been a recurring issue," Commissioner Beth Taylor said. "It's
been an unfortunate reality over the years."
In an effort to avoid the problem next year, the commission sent a
letter to state Sen. Joseph Minard on Sept. 16. In the letter, it asked
Minard to bring up the issue during the 2000 legislative session.
Minard responded to the commission with a letter of his own, which
the commission reviewed at a Tuesday meeting.
"If during the 2000 legislative session this issue is brought before
me, I will take your opinions and information into consideration," Minard
said in the letter.
Enlisting the help of a state official will help solve the problem,
"I'm glad to know he will bring this up, and is willing to address
this during the session," she said. "
By not allocating enough money to pay local jails for use of their
space, the state leaves some counties in a financial bind, Taylor said.
"I've been in other courthouses and have become aware of the fact that
if these payments are not coming in, they can't even make payroll," she
And even when the payments do come in from the state, they do not cover
the costs of keeping state prisoners, Sheriff Wayne Godwin said.
The state will pay only $25 a day per prisoner, he said. A study by
the state auditor's office shows that it costs counties $35 a day to house
a state prisoner.
"That really makes the taxpayers of Harrison County come out in the
hole," Godwin said.
"If we have 25 state prisoners here, that's $250 a day that we lose.
That adds up to a lot of money."
The county currently has no state prisoners, but the number can fluctuate
daily, he said.
The financial problem is only compounded when the state stops the payments
all together at the end of each fiscal year, Godwin said.
The situation, however, might disappear when the North Central Regional
Jail in Doddridge County is completed in March of 2001, he said. When that
facility opens, most state prisoners will be housed there -- but at a higher
cost to the state.
Housing a prisoner at a regional jail costs $43 a day, Godwin said.
Municipalities from around the county house prisoners in the Harrison
County Jail, and all of them pay the $35 fee, Godwin said. The state is
the sole exception when it comes to paying jail fees.
"If we take a prisoner to a regional jail, it costs us about $40 a
day," he said. "We have to pay. Everybody but the state has to pay. The
legislature is the only one who can do anything about this."
Running out of money in a budgetary area like the state does with its
prison fees is something no other governmental body is allowed to do, Taylor
"We're not allowed to do that, so why should they," she said. "We have
to be fiscally responsible and so should the state."
Few, if any, counties have taken steps to raise the prisoner issue
with the Legislature, Taylor said. But the problem needs to be fixed.
"A lot of people have the opinion that they are not in a position to
make demands from the state government," she said. "They stand in line
and take what the state government dishes out to them.
"We don't feel like that. We are mandated with a job, and we ask that
the state does its job."
Public Service Commission ruling says Shinnston must improve water service
by Paul Darst
A year-long legal battle between the City of Shinnston Water Corporation
and a group of residents might be nearing an end.
Thirty-four residents of Tetrick Road won a victory Friday when the
West Virginia Public Service Commission ruled that the city must upgrade
its water service.
Although the city still can appeal the case to the West Virginia Supreme
Court of Appeals, the residents are hopeful that the city will drop the
issue and move forward with upgrading its service, said Richard Shingleton,
one of the co-complainants.
"There has been enough money wasted on this, and there has been enough
of a bitter taste left in everyone's mouth," Shingleton said. "I pray that
it will go away now."
Under the ruling, the city must replace the current two-inch water
lines that service the area with six-inch lines, according to the PSC decision.
Shinnston City Manager Jeff Silka was unavailable for comment.
An administrative law judge, who makes recommendations to the PSC,
earlier advised a ruling in favor of the city.
But on Friday the PSC took the rare step of not following that recommendation
in this case.
The complainants are happy for the victory, Shingleton said.
"We've fought for this for years," Shingleton said. " ... Everybody
up here is thankful for all of the help and cooperation we've received.
"I don't want to gloat about winning. I just want to be able to take
a bath without having to carry water from Saltwell Road."
Residents of Tetrick Road, near Big Elm Elementary School, have contended
with low water pressure during peak-use times for years, Shingleton said.
The situation worsened last year when residents had no water at all
during peak-use times, he said. That's when residents banned together and
filed the complaint with the PSC.
The two-inch lines there now are not big enough to service the area,
which has grown during the past 50 years, Shingleton said.
Five decades ago, residents of the area paid to have the lines installed,
then turned them over to the city to maintain.
But the lines remained the same size while the area continued to grow,
Most new water lines that are installed today are six inches in diameter,
so the new lines should meet the needs of the Tetrick Road area, Shingleton
Area schools learn significance behind Red Ribbon Week
by James Fisher
For more than 10 years, Americans have been wearing red ribbons as
a symbol of the drug- free movement and also to commemorate the death of
a federal drug enforcement agent.
Enrique Camarena was tortured and killed by drug traffickers in Mexico
in 1985. In response to his death, angered parents across the country began
wearing red ribbons to symbolize their commitment to creating a drug-free
America. In 1988, Congress officially declared Oct. 23-31 as Red Ribbon
All this week, area schools and the Clarksburg Police Department are
teaming up to recognize Camarena's death and celebrate the drug-free message.
As a part of the celebration, many schools are releasing red balloons.
"We've always done something for Red Ribbon Week," said Clarksburg
Police Drug Awareness Resistance Education officer Tommy Thomas.
"We always tied red ribbons on our cruiser antennas, but the last couple
of years we've decided to do a little more," Thomas said. "We decided to
make this a big week and let the children know why we have it."
Thomas said that even a few years ago, school children may not have
known the reason behind the event. Now, children are being told about Camarena's
sacrifice and why they should be drug-free.
On Monday, children at Nutter Fort Elementary School and Gore Middle
School released a three-foot red balloon, Thomas said.
At 9 a.m. today, St. Mary's Elementary School and Notre Dame High School
will each release a red balloon. At 10 a.m., 350 smaller balloons will
be sent skyward from North View Elementary School and at 1 p.m., about
300 balloons will be launched from Adamston Elementary School.
"The idea for the red balloons actually started at Adamston," Thomas
said. "They were the first school in Harrison County to launch the balloons."
Also participating in Red Ribbon Week will be Hope Gas.
"We'll probably be letting off some balloons Thursday or Friday," said
Hope Gas spokeswoman Linda Thorn. "We'll have some other activities in
the courtyard and we'll probably see if we can get Tommy (Thomas) to come
out and speak."
Red Ribbon Week is celebrated by more than 100,000 schools and businesses
country-wide, making it the most successful drug program ever held, according
to a press release from Positive Promotions, a national group that helped
promote the event.
Area news in brief
Clarksburg officials recognize firm for building subdivision
Clarksburg officials were on hand Tuesday at a ceremony to recognize an
Ohio firm that has built the first new residential subdivision in the city
limits in the last 10 years.
Mayor David Kates and other city officials recognized Errol Kahoun,
president of the Quarry Development Company of Columbus, for building the
Quarry subdivision along the Despard/Summit Park road area. The subdivision
currently has 15 single-family homes and 28 apartments on the property,
with four more apartment units under construction.
The subdivision was a cooperative effort between the city, the developer
and the West Virginia Housing Development Fund, according to James Hunt,
manager of the Clarksburg field office.
"Mr. Kahoun has made a big investment in the community and his company
has been excellent to work with. Because this was built in the city limits,
residents of the Quarry will have fire, police, snow removal and all other
essential services available," Hunt said.
Boone County Commission plans memorial for miners
CHARLESTON (AP) -- The Boone County Commission plans to honor all coal
miners who have died in mining disasters with a National Coal Miners Memorial.
The memorial will be built next to the vacant Nellis Community Church
in Nellis, a coal mining town built by American Rolling Mill Co.
"We wanted something to help people understand the terrible cost the
coal mine industry has had," said Charlotte Halstead, the project manager.
The memorial's design will be unveiled Nov. 6 in the Nellis Elementary
Greenbrier assessor admits property errors were made
LEWISBURG (AP) -- A malfeasance charge against Greenbrier County Assessor
Clyde Bowling has been dropped after he admitted some properties were improperly
Bowling sent a letter to special prosecutor Carl Harris admitting that
"not all real property" in the county was assessed at its actual value.
He promised to correct the problems.
In exchange, Harris agreed to drop the malfeasance charge, the prosecutor
Raleigh County Circuit Judge Robert A. Burnside signed an order making
the agreement official. Burnside was named to the case after both of Greenbrier
County's judges recused themselves.
Raleigh County man sentenced on sewage dumping
BECKLEY (AP) -- A Raleigh County man received a one-year sentence for violating
the federal Clean Water Act by dumping raw sewage into a New River tributary.
U.S. District Judge David Faber Tuesday also ordered James Bragg of
Lanark to be on probation for one year after completing his jail term.
Bragg, 47, admitted that in June 1996, he allowed untreated sewage
to flow from a treatment plant into Pledge Branch. The treatment plant
serviced a Grandview subdivision he owned.
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Copyright © Clarksburg Publishing Company 1999