News for October 27, 1999

Brown trial gets under way

by Vicki Smith
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 penalty trial.
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 McWilliams theorized.
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 West Virginia.
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 as accidental.
"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 said.
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 confidence.
"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 board members)."
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 the budget."
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 interview.
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 council members.
"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 registration.
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 intersections.
"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 children.
"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 be careful."
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."

Trick-or-treat schedule

Note: All trick-or-treating listed is set for Saturday.


6-7:30 p.m.

Lost Creek

5:30-7:30 p.m.

Nutter Fort

6-7:30 p.m.


6-7 p.m.


6-7 p.m.


6-7 p.m.


6-7 p.m.

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, Taylor said.
"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 said.
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 said.
"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, he said.
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 said.

Area schools learn significance behind Red Ribbon Week

by James Fisher
staff writer
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 Week.
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 gymnasium.

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 assessed.
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 said Monday.
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.

Clarksburg Publishing Company, P.O. Box 2000, Clarksburg, WV 26302 USA
Copyright © Clarksburg Publishing Company 1999