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Mardi Gras Casino officials cut the ribbon after large remodel

NITRO, W.Va. — Bigger, better and brighter is how President and General Manager of Mardi Gras Casino Eric Althaus described the new facility.

Officials from the casino and all over the Kanawha Valley gathered there on Thursday for a ribbon-cutting event to the 18-month remodel that wrapped up this past week.

Eric Althaus

“A lot of work has been put into this renovation,” Althaus told MetroNews. “Now we can market out that the major renovation is done. You can come in and not have to worry about the sound or dislocation of slot machines, you can actually come in and take advantage of every amenity that we have.”

The inside of the building was, in fact, brighter as a new lighting system was a key addition. Improvements of note were the removal of the ceiling grid to add to the square footage of the building, new carpets, slot bases, machines, and chairs throughout the entire property.

The popular café grill doubled in size during the renovation and now has its line on the right side of the restaurant avoiding the front doors and ATM.

The entrance through those front doors has changed as there is no longer a wall with a bar on the other side. Althaus said the move to knock that bar down and add small service bars will add to the guest experience with a more open floor plan and better sightline.

The 34-year old facility had 850 slots gaming slots before the remodel, and got down to around half of that during the construction.

Althaus said while the casino currently has 844 slots, the classics are back and new games have been added with more plans in the future for game expansion.

The new logo for Mardi Gras Casino.

“We can go up to as much as 1,000 with the floor plan that we have right now,” he said. “As we get the occupancy back and come back to the property, they will see slots back that they loved to play. It may not be in the old location as it was, as the entire gaming floor changed, but we have all those same themes along with new themes.”

In addition to the new slots, new table games have been added along with a new players club, promotional stage, and a high limit room.

Althaus hinted at more plans to expand in the future, starting with a makeover of the Louie’s Lounge entertainment area in 2020.

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Kanawha fuel contracts will see decreases over the next 2 years

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Kanawha Valley Regional Transportation Authority and more than four dozen other governmental offices and agencies are going to pay less for gasoline and diesel during the next two years after new fixed price contracts were signed Thursday.

The KVRTA Fuel Task Force bids out the fuel contracts every two years. The new deal with Savannah, Georgia-based Colonial Fuels will drop the price of diesel by roughly three cents over the next two years from the current $1.98 a gallon to $1.95 a gallon. The new contract calls for a gallon of gas to drop from the current $1.76 a gallon to just more than $1.64 a gallon over two years.

“We’re real excited,” KVRTA General Manager Doug Hartley said. “For the next two years we’ll actually be spending less on fuel than we did the previous two years.”

The authority’s KRT buses use the most fuel. Hartley said it’s around 700,000 gallons of gasoline and 500,000 of diesel annually.

The contract also covers the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Department, Kanawha County Ambulance Authority, county offices and just about any local government office or agency that operates vehicles. The City of Charleston was also part of the bid opening. It’s going with two contractors to meet its fuel needs. The city will also pay less for fuel, Hartley said.

Having a fixed price contract helps with budgeting and provides assurance, Hartley said.

“We are guaranteed our delivery of the fuel uninterrupted. We are able to provide fuel for different agencies throughout the county so they don’t get an interruption of fuel,” Hartley said.

The new contract goes into effect next week. Hartley said Colonial Fuels will purchase the fuel from local depots and the refinery in Catlettsburg, Kentucky. .

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West Virginia National Guard builds obstacle course at Sissonville High

SISSONVILLE, W.Va. — Engineers with the West Virginia National Guard recently completed an obstacle course for Sissonville High School’s Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps.

The project began in June after a request from the high school. The effort was part of an Innovative Readiness Training program project, which allows military units to provide services to communities.

Soldiers built the obstacle course over a week; the course includes an up and over bar, low jumps, rollover log, four vault logs and double pull over bar.

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Arrest made in July 4 West Side murder

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A man wanted in connection with a July 4 murder in Charleston was arrested in Philadelphia Wednesday, authorities said.

Braheem Griffin

Braheem Jamal Griffin, 25, of Charleston, is charged with first degree murder in the shooting death of Trequan “Tre” Gibson, also of Charleston.

Charleston police issued an arrest warrant for Griffin two days after Gibson was killed. His body was found on the ground in front of the 2nd Avenue Community Center on the city’s West Side at about 11 p.m. on July 4.

Griffin was arrested by U.S. Marshals. The circumstances surrounding the arrest were not immediately available. He’ll face extradition back to West Virginia.

Charleston police included Gibson in a September list of six defendants they were looking for in connection with violent crimes.Gibson graduated from Riverside High School last May. He was a basketball player at both Riverside and earlier at South Charleston High School.

His coach last season at Riverside, D.J. Johnson, told MetroNews after Gibson’s death that he had potential off the court.

He said Gibson had potential off the basketball court.

“He had an aptitude to go to college. He wanted to go to college. He wanted to do better for himself,” Johnson said. “I always felt that if he could get an environment change and get out of here, I felt he could achieve all of the goals he had set for himself. It’s just sad where we are at.”

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Love Thy Neighbor walk raises awareness, brings community together

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Community members in Charleston walked into the heart of downtown Wednesday for a cause.

Led by Roark-Sullivan Lifeway Center and Kanawha County Collective, dozens turned out for the second annual Love Thy Neighbor walk to raise awareness for Hunger and Homelessness during its awareness week.

“I thought it was appropriate that we come together as a collective among all service providers who provide for individuals experiencing homelessness,” John Thompson, the Executive Director of Roark-Sullivan Lifeway Center said.

“I stress homelessness, not homeless because there are no homeless people there are people without a home. Homelessness is such a pejorative term.”

The walk started Wednesday at 10 a.m. at Roark-Sullivan on Smith Street, continued down Capitol Street, and ended at Adelphia where the group had lunch and raised more money for their cause. Adelphia had pledged a certain percentage of all bills Wednesday to go towards homelessness and hunger.

Volunteers had collected non-perishable food items to be donated to Manna Meal, which was also visited during the walk.

Thompson said its called Love Thy Neighbor for a reason.

“Each and every individual in the community is our neighbor, whether they are experiencing homelessness or not,” he said. “They are people who need to be reintegrated into the community and not ostracized and labeled as addict, homeless. It’s loving thy neighbor and we are all neighbors.”

According to Feeding America, more than 268,000 people are struggling with hunger in West Virginia.

Thomspon urged anyone that wants to help with the drive to go to the Kanawha Valley Collective website or the event’s Facebook page.

Along with food, the organizations have been asking for blankets, gloves, socks, sheets, towels, and washcloths.

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UPDATE: Kanawha County authorities arrest man for Southridge break-ins

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Kanawha County Sherif’s deputies arrested Christopher Witthohn on Wednesday, a day after video captured him allegedly breaking into several cars.

Witthohn, of Coopers Creek, was released from South Central Regional Jail on Tuesday. He later allegeldy committed several break-ins at Big Sandy Superstore at the Southridge Shopping Center. He also stole a 2005 Toyota Sequoia.

Deputies found Witthohn and the car on Lelo Lane in Coopers Creek.

Witthohn was wanted on two counts of breaking and entering auto, one count of attempted breaking and entering auto and a count of grand larceny auto.

 

ORIGINAL POST — An Elkview man released from jail on Tuesday is wanted in connection with car break-ins shortly after his reported time of release.

Charleston Police said Christopher Peter Witthohn, 44, is wanted on two counts of Breaking and Entering Auto and one count of Attempted Breaking and Entering Auto in addition to one count of Grand Larceny Auto for incidents in the parking lot of Big Sandy Superstore at Southridge.

Witthohn allegedly began breaking into multiple vehicles around 1 p.m. by busting out windows. Surveillance video captured the suspect gaining entry into a black 2005 Toyota Sequoia (WV registration 1TD401) and stole the vehicle from the lot.

According to police, the vehicle was last seen traveling on Southridge Boulevard toward U.S. Route 119. The vehicle has not been recovered.

Witthohn was identified after the surveillance video was taken to the South Central Regional Jail, where he was seen walking from that direction. Authorities at the jail said Witthohn was released from jail at 10 a.m. that morning.

Anyone with information as to Witthohn’s whereabouts or the location of the stolen vehicle is asked to call the Charleston Police Department at 304-348-8111.

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Charleston man arrested after sexual contact with child

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A Charleston man is behind bars after allegations of sexual abuse against children.

Members of the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office arrested 50-year-old Rhett Aaron Bowen on Friday. He was wanted for first-degree sexual assault after allegedly making sexual contact with a male juvenile at a vacation bible school.

After Bowen’s arrest, additional people contacted the Charleston Police Department saying Bowen acted inappropriately around them. According to Charleston police, Bowen frequently was around places in Kanawha City.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Charleston Police Department Criminal Investigation Division at 304-348-6480.

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Putnam County contractor sentenced up to 20 years in prison after not completing work

PUTNAM COUNTY, W.Va. — A Putnam County contractor will spend time behind bars after failing to complete promised work.

John Luikhart, 32, of Buffalo, received a prison sentence between two and 20 years after entering a plea deal with Putnam County prosecutors weeks ago.

The state Attorney General’s Office investigated complaints of unfinished and fraudulent work and referred the case to the Putnam County Prosecutor’s Office.

“This prosecution and punishment should serve as notice to all who would defraud consumers,” Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said. “Our office will aggressively pursue anyone who seeks to illicitly take money for services that they do not perform.”

Luikhart pleaded guilty to felony charges of fraudulent schemes and obtaining money by false pretenses, as well as a misdemeanor count of being a person prohibited from possessing a firearm. He agreed to pay restitution worth several thousand dollars to an air conditioning company as well as two customers.

Luikhart also has a case pending in Jackson County.

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Health event focuses on overcoming addiction, stigma

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — In a first for Cabin Creek Health Systems, the organization held a discussion on Tuesday regarding addiction and ways to overcome the stigma surrounding recovery.

The event, held at South Charleston’s LaBelle Theatre, opened a space regarding treatment options and allowed people an understanding of the difficulties surrounding the misuse of drugs.

“Far too often, we get kind of bogged down with the nuances or the litigation or any number of other variables. We don’t spend enough time in the space of this is a positive event and there is hope for future recover for individuals,” said Dr. Jake Van Horn, a behavioral health provider at Cabin Creek.

Van Horn said there is a stigma and poor information surrounding recovery options, and the organization wants people to be comfortable when considering treatment options.

“If the world is telling you that you’re not worth recovery, you aren’t as likely to seek recovery,” he said.

One of the recovery options presented at the discussion was Red Barn Stables, which offers activities with horses that allow people to examine their recovery.

“A person might set up an obstacle course that might represent a challenge that they’re facing or a goal that they would like to reach,” Martha Minter with Red Barn Stables said. “We may do an activity where we identify things that they want to do more of that will contribute to their wellness or things they might want to do less of regarding their wellness.”

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With no changes to health care coverage imminent, attention already focused on future PEIA proposals

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — While premiums and benefits will not change for state employees in the next fiscal year, eyes are already on the future.

The Public Employees Insurance Agency will need to spend $100 million over the next two years to prevent individual costs increases as the state continues to face growing health care insurance expenses.

Members of the PEIA Finance Board have held three public hearings so far regarding their proposal for fiscal year 2021; more than 20 people took part in Tuesday’s event at the state Culture Center in Charleston.

The public hearings are scheduled from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., but Tuesday’s event ended shortly after 6:30 p.m. because of a lack of speakers.

While many of the attendees of the Finance Board’s public hearings this month have been satisfied with what will go into effect, Fred Albert, the president of the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, noted there is uneasiness about the future.

“The following year, we know that there’s probably going to be some increases,” Albert said. “Our legislators need to do their job and find a permanent, long-term funding source to fix this PEIA situation for a long, long time.”

Albert said members of his union are happy with the upcoming plan, which will go into effect in July.

“This is a very unusual year,” he joked to MetroNews. “I’ve been coming to PEIA hearings with the Finance Board for many, many years as a leader with AFT, and this year, it’s good. We came actually thanking the board for their work as being good stewards of managing the public funds that take care of PEIA.”

The state Legislature approved $105 million earlier this year to keep hikes or cuts from happening.

PEIA Director Ted Cheatham said reactions at the public hearings so far have been positive.

“We have made no changes. There is nothing to be concerned about yet, so people are pretty pleased things have moved along,” he said.

Yet in his public comments, Albert stressed the need for a permanent funding solution for PEIA before the state cannot cover a rise in health care costs.

“That’s what we asked for in 2018, and that’s what we’re asking again,” he said.

Cheatham agreed, saying health care costs will increase between 7% and 10% annually.

“On a plan of our size, that’s around $50 million. Could be more, could be a little bit less,” he said.

“It’s an escalating amount of money. Finding a sustainable source by saying, ‘Let’s take this tax revenue source that generates $20 million a year” … that’s not a growing rate of money. It needs to grow to cover this escalating cost.”

Albert challenged lawmakers to come up with a solution; he noted AFT-West Virginia is not endorsing a specific plan.

“It’s their job. It’s not our job to find a source for them. That’s our legislator’s jobs. That’s why we elect them,” he said.

The Finance Board will hold forums at the Beckley Raleigh County Convention Center on Wednesday at the Martinsburg Holiday Inn on Thursday. Both events are scheduled to start at 6 p.m.

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