It’s time for a year-end list of the top West Virginia news stories of 2018. With input from Jeff Jenkins, Chris Lawrence and Brad McElhinny, here are my top 12 stories.
12. Voters pass Amendment One. West Virginia was one of just 17 states that used taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions for poor women through the Medicaid program. The policy was based on a 1993 state Supreme Court decision that said a state law prohibiting such payments violated the state Constitution. The state Legislature proposed an amendment to the Constitution which said, “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion.” Pro-choice advocates argued the language was purposely vague and that, if passed, would open the door to outlaw all abortions. The amendment narrowly passed 52 percent to 48 percent.
11. Lunsford convicted. Three-year-old Aliayah Lunsford disappeared from her Lewis County home in 2011, setting up an extended search by authorities, family members and volunteers, but she was never found. Five years later police arrested Aliayah’s mother, Lena, and charged her with the murder of her child and she went on trial in April. Two of Lunsford’s children, who had moved in with adoptive parents, testified against their mother saying she struck Aliayah with a wooden bed slat and disposed of the child’s body. The jury convicted her of murder and she was sentenced to life in prison. The child’s body has never been recovered.
10. Gazette-Mail goes bankrupt. The Charleston Gazette-Mail, a family-owned paper which for years set the news agenda in West Virginia, filed for bankruptcy in January. The filing came just nine months after the paper and reporter Eric Eyre won a Pulitzer Prize for his investigative reporting on the state’s opioid crisis. Two months after filing, the Chilton family, which had owned the Gazette for decades and the Mail since 2015, sold the paper to HD Media of Huntington for $11.5 million.
9. Sports betting arrives. The West Virginia Legislature, with bipartisan support, passed a bill allowing sports betting at the state’s five casinos. Governor Jim Justice, who owns the Greenbrier Resort and Casino, let the bill go into law without his signature because of the conflict of interest. A few months later, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 1992 federal law that banned wagering on sports in all but a few states. The Hollywood Casino at Charles Town was the first to offer sports betting, but all five casinos would have a sports book by the end of the year.
8. Rockwool stirs controversy. State and local officials announced with much fanfare in July 2017 that Rockwool Group planned to build a $150 million manufacturing facility in Jefferson County to make stone wall insulation. Some members of the community hailed it as an economic boon that will generate 150 good paying jobs, but a groundswell of opposition has emerged from people who fear the plant will be a dangerous polluter. The controversy has bitterly divided the community.
7. WVU football excites, disappoints. The 2018 Mountaineer football season promised to be one of the most entertaining in memory because of NFL prospect Will Grier at quarterback and a talented group of receivers. Grier and the offense did generate record-setting numbers and plenty of thrills. However, the Mountaineers faded down the stretch, losing games against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. A win against either would have put them in the Big 12 championship game. Mountaineer Nation had added disappointment when Grier announced he would not play in the bowl game, but instead prepare for the NFL draft.
Monday, the top six West Virginia stories of 2018