Friday, January 1, 2010

Top Ten Stories of the Decade

The following is from the Bluefield Daily Telegraph. It is their collection of the top stories of the decade, for this area. Here's the link - Story is below.

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Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — Ten years into the first decade of the 21st century, the region has endured unprecedented challenges and horrific tragedies.

As the first decade of the new millennium nears an end, the editorial board of the Daily Telegraph has selected the Top Ten Stories of the Decade. The top stories are:

1. The great floods of 2001, 2002 and 2003:

July 8, 2001. May 2, 2002. Nov. 19, 2003. They are dark days that will forever be etched in the memories of families across southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia. Torrential rains were followed on all three dates by a sudden onslaught of rising waters that ripped through the historic coalfields of southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia.

The ravaging waters of 2001 destroyed or damaged more than 1,500 homes and businesses in McDowell County alone. Hundreds of bridges were washed away, and roads collapsed across the region. Just 21 days after the July 8, 2001 disaster, McDowell County was threatened by high waters again, and a 3-year old boy died after being swept away by flood waters. A mere 10 months later, and tragedy struck again. This time seven people in McDowell County alone died as a result of the ravaging flood waters. The second flood also damaged 12 schools in McDowell County, and destroyed Panther Elementary. Thousands of books were lost at the McDowell County Public Library, and a four-acre coal sludge impoundment failed following the May 2002 storm, discharging 5,000 gallons per minute of black water — or water containing coal particulate matter — into the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River until crews were able to plug the breach in the dam.

Widespread flooding forced hundreds from their homes again on Nov. 19, 2003, as a slow moving storm dumped up to 4 inches of rain across the region. Mercer County was ground zero for the third disaster in 2003, as homes and businesses across the region were once again damaged and destroyed.

2. Massacre at Virginia Tech — a national tragedy in Blacksburg, Va.:

On the morning of April 16, 2007, the region and the entire nation watched in horror and mourned for the victims of the Virginia Tech massacre. In the horrific shooting, Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people on campus before turning the weapon on himself. A nation mourned as the town of Blacksburg became the site of America’s deadliest shooting disaster in modern history. Students from Graham High School who were on the campus of Virginia Tech at the time of the shootings were not injured. President George W. Bush visited the campus shortly after the massacre. As a period of mourning continued in Blacksburg, the Hokie Nation expanded to include millions across the country who were shocked and saddened by the unthinkable tragedy.

3. Massacre at the Appalachian School of Law:

Years before the Virginia Tech massacre, tragedy struck the campus of the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy on Jan. 16, 2002.

Peter Odigihizuwa, 43, a student at the law school, went on a bloody rampage at the college campus killing Dean L. Anthony Sutin and Professor Thomas Blackwell in their offices and fatally shooting student Angela Dales, 33, in a school lounge, along with shooting and wounding three other students. Odighizuwa is currently serving a prison term of six consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole.

4. The rise of OxyContin abuse in region:

The abuse of the prescription narcotic OxyContin reached epidemic levels in Southwest Virginia and southern West Virginia — giving birth to a horrific scourge of prescription narcotic abuse that continues to plague the region to this very day.

Law enforcement officials across the region, including Tazewell County Commonwealth Attorney Dennis Lee, found themselves on the frontline in the battle against OxyContin. The rise of so-called Hillbilly Heroine garnered national attention after Time magazine came to Tazewell County to chronicle the epidemic. While the ensuing national attention upset some — including stories of a man who allegedly traded a mule for OxyContin — it nevertheless highlighted the challenge faced by lawmakers in combating the growing epidemic.

While he doesn’t consider Southwest Virginia to be the “birthplace of OxyContin,” Lee told the Daily Telegraph in 2007 that the problem first gained widespread media attention in our region thanks, in part, to the Time magazine report.

“This is one of the first places to report the problem,” Lee said. “Back in 1988 or 1989, we had a drug round-up, and we were going through the files. Practically every buy in the drug round-up was for OxyContin.”

In the following months, Lee said the first local media reports of the emerging epidemic were published. “We did get some of the first press, but that drug caused problems in Louisiana, Maine and other areas as well,” Lee said.

5. Local soldiers join the global War on Terror:

Two years after the horrific terrorist attacks on Washington and New York, the War on Terror moved to a new battleground, and local soldiers answered the call of duty in Iraq. Local soldiers across the region were deployed overseas, including the West Virginia National Guard’s 1st Battalion of the 1/150th Armored Calvary Regiment at Brushfork, the 276th Engineer Battalion in Richlands, now known as the 1033rd Engineer Support Company, as well as citizen soldiers from the 201st Field Artillery in Hinton.

As the War on Terror progressed, several soldiers from across the region made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

6. Horrific murder shocks region:

The Dec. 22, 2003, slaying of 25-year-old Heidi Brown shocked the greater Princeton community, and the region.

Brown’s family reported the woman missing just before Christmas of 2003. The investigation into her disappearance intensified on Feb. 13, 2004, when a dog located and apparently dragged a dismembered leg belonging to the woman to the front porch of a residence in Princeton. The same dog then helped police locate additional human remains after trained K-9 units were unsuccessful. Earnest Jeffrey Meadows, 37, of Princeton, was sentenced on Sept. 26, 2005, to a term of life in prison with mercy, plus an additional 40-year prison term, after pleading guilty to Brown’s murder.

7. History crumbles in Bluefield:

Time took its toll on the city of Bluefield as a number of landmarks collapsed, including the historic brownstone, the six-story Matz Hotel and the old Colonial Theater. The first landmark to fall was Bluefield’s brownstone structure — the old People’s Bank Building — which partially collapsed on Nov. 19, 2008, and ultimately had to be razed along with portions of adjoining buildings.

Another historic structure in downtown Bluefield — the near century old six-story Matz Hotel — collapsed during the early morning hours of Feb. 27 creating a sea of rubble along Princeton Avenue and downtown Bluefield. No one was injured and no passing vehicles were struck or trapped under the debris.

The collapse of the Matz also destroyed the marquee and front lobby of the Colonial Theater, a structure built in 1916. The demolition of both structures took weeks to complete. The Matz Hotel — a landmark that occupied a prominent position in Bluefield’s city skyline for 98 years — was originally erected in 1911.

City officials are now seeking federal funding for the construction of the proposed Colonial Intermodal Center that is planned at the former site of the Matz and the Colonial Theater.

8. A decade of school closures and consolidations:

Big Creek High School. Iaeger High School. Pocahontas High School. PikeView Middle School. School closures and consolidations angered parents across the region, and bitter battles ensued in McDowell and Tazewell counties.

In McDowell County, the state Board of Education assumed control of the local school system in 2009 after an audit found more than 260 deficiencies throughout the school system. When the local and state board entered into an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build new schools outside of the flood zone, parents, community leaders and concerned citizens protested the proposed closure of Big Creek High School. A long consolidation battle followed. Ironically, Big Creek High School is still open, and won’t officially close until next spring. A surprise decision by the Tazewell County School Board in 2008 to close Pocahontas High School also enraged the sleepy Pocahontas community. Angry parents fought a long and spirited battle to save their school, but were ultimately unsuccessful. The construction of a new PikeView Middle School in Mercer County, and the proposed reconfiguration of four feeder schools, also prompted opposition from some families in Mercer County.

9. Man fatally stabbed 107 times in Bluefield; suspect escapes police custody; “America’s Most Wanted” joins nationwide manhunt:

Police said a 14-year-old teenager stabbed her father to death 107 times at his Country Girl Road residence near Bluefield on Feb. 23, 2004. Kayla LaSala, who was charged with first-degree murder in connection with the death of her father, Steven Michael LaSala, later escaped police custody after she removed an electronic monitoring device from her ankle and super-glued it to a family cat. The television show “America’s Most Wanted” joined in the nationwide manhunt for LaSala, who was later found in Florida with a man she met on the Internet. She was located by authorities after a tip was received through the website of “America’s Most Wanted.”

Kayla LaSala was sentenced in April 2005 after being convicted of first-degree murder in the death of her father. The teen appeared before Circuit Court Judge Derek C. Swope on May 1, 2008, after turning 18. Swope ruled that she would remain in custody. LaSala remains in the custody of the Department of Corrections and is expected to eligible for parole in 2018, according to the Mercer County Prosecuting Attorney’s office.

10. Father charged with killing 5-year-old daughter:

The Jan. 15, 2007, death of 5-year-old Brooklyn Holcomb shocked and saddened residents across Mercer County. The girl’s father was charged with second-degree murder and child abuse resulting in death in a case that spanned more than two years.

Mercer County Circuit Court Judge William Sadler imposed the maximum sentence of 80 years during the July 26 sentencing hearing for Ronald Holcomb, 36, of Princeton for the death of 5-year-old Brooklyn.

Holcomb received 40 years for second-degree murder and an additional 40 years for child abuse resulting in death. Sadler ruled that both sentences were to run consecutively.

The long case dates back to Jan. 15, 2007, when Holcomb first brought his daughter to Princeton Community Hospital. When seeing the extent of the girl’s injuries — severe head trauma, bruising and internal injuries — the Princeton Police Department was contacted. The child was transported to Charleston Area Medical Center where she died Jan. 17, 2007.

— Contact Charles Owens at

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