As the year winds down, I’ve polled our news reporters and compiled my list of the top 16 stories of 2016. I’ll roll them out over the next several days. Feel free to tell me whether you agree or disagree. Today, 12-9.
No. 12: Ben Hatfield Murdered. One Sunday afternoon in late May, Ben Hatfield had gone to the Mountain View Memory Gardens cemetery in Mingo County. Hatfield, an engineer and long-time coal executive, often made the trip to tend to the graves of his late wife and other relatives. Police say Anthony Arriaga, 20, and Brandon Fitzpatrick, 18, were looking for someone to rob, presumably to get drug money when they spotted Hatfield’s SUV. Police accuse Arriaga of shooting and killing Hatfield and Fitzpatrick of being an accomplice. Both are awaiting trial.
No. 11: Mountaineers, Holgorsen Surge. Mountaineer Nation entered the 2016 season with modest expectations and uncertainty about the status of Coach Dana Holgorsen. But the Mountaineers used a combination of a balanced offense led by the overachieving Skyler Howard at quarterback, a surprisingly staunch defense and some luck to click off ten wins against two losses. The Mountaineers were still in contention for a Big 12 title late in the season and even had an outside shot at the playoffs. Holgorsen and defensive coordinator Tony Gibson were rewarded with new contracts and West Virginia entered the bowl game against Miami ranked as high as 12th.
No. 10: Blankenship Sent to Jail. Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship was convicted in 2015 of conspiring to violate mine safety standards following an investigation into the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine that killed 29 men. Last April, Federal Judge Irene Berger sentenced Blankenship to one year in prison. Berger told the powerful former coal executive, “You should be someone that we are able to tout as a West Virginia success story… however we are here as a result of your part in a dangerous conspiracy.” Blankenship reported to a federal prison in California the following month. Later in the year, he penned a manifesto that he sent to politicians and media telling his side of the story and professing his innocence.
No. 9: Jonas Shuts Down West Virginia. Two giant low pressure systems joined together over the Appalachian Mountains in late January to produce, literally, the perfect storm. Winter Storm Jonas covered West Virginia with snow accumulations ranging from over three feet in the eastern mountains to a foot in the Ohio Valley. The community of Glengarry in the eastern panhandle reported 40 inches. The record snowfall brought the state to a standstill. Governor Tomblin issued a state of emergency, as highway crews struggled to clear roads so schools and businesses could reopen. Fortunately the snow was light and fluffy so there were fewer power outages than expected. For years to come, West Virginians will show off pictures demonstrating just how much snow Jonas dumped on the Mountain State.