As the year winds down, I’ve polled our news reporters and compiled my list of the top stories of 2016. I’ll roll them out over the next several days. Feel free to tell me whether you agree or disagree.
–No. 16: Thrasher Wins Gold. Why not start with one of the best feel-good stories of the year. WVU rifle team member Ginny Thrasher won the first gold medal of the 2016 Summer Olympics. The 19-year-old sophomore made a perfect score of 10.9 on her first shot in the 10-meter air rifle competition and set an Olympic record with her final score. Thrasher gained international attention, but kept it all in perspective. When asked after winning the gold what was next, she replied her priority was getting back to Morgantown in time to make her 8:30 a.m. physics class.
–No. 15: Southern Sentenced. Gary Southern was the face of the 2014 Freedom Industries chemical spill that contaminated the drinking water for 300,000 West Virginians. He famously ended a press conference abruptly after the spill, saying he had had “an extremely long day.” Last February, he was sentenced to a month in prison and fined $20,000. He said in court, “Everyone knows me from an extremely poor television interview. I was very sick and intimidated,” Southern said in court. “I am truly sorry.” Some expressed disappointment with the light sentence, arguing that Southern was responsible for the disruption of lives and a threat to public health.
No. 14: Lunsford Charged. Three-year-old Aliayah Lunsford disappeared from her Lewis County home in September, 2011. Despite numerous searches and an ongoing investigation, her whereabouts remained a mystery. Then last month, apparently acting on new information, police arrested the child’s mother, Lena Lunsford, and charged her with murder. The criminal complaint claims Lunsford struck her child on the head with a blunt object. Lunsford remains in jail awaiting trial, but the child’s body still has not been recovered.
No. 13: Hechler Passes Away. To say that Ken Hechler had a full life is an understatement. He served in WWII, writing an eyewitness account to the Allied crossing of the Rhine. He interrogated Nazi war criminals. He served as an advisor to President Truman before coming to West Virginia, where he served nine terms as a Congressman and four terms as Secretary of State. Hechler was a progressive Democrat who devoted his life to public service, crisscrossing the state in a familiar red Jeep. Democrats and Republicans alike eulogized him following his death this month at the age of 102.