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Former Freedom Exec Enters Plea

A former owner of Freedom Industries has pleaded guilty to charges stemming from last year's chemical spill in Charleston. William Tis entered the plea on Monday in federal court in Charleston to federal Clean Water Act violations. Tis faces up to a year in prison when sentenced June 22. Plea hearings are scheduled Wednesday for Freedom environmental consultant Robert Reynolds and tank farm plant manager Michael Burdette, and on March 23 for the company itself. All are charged with federal Clean Water Act violations and are expected to plead guilty. Ex-Freedom owner Dennis Farrell and former President Gary Southern face trial later this year on spill-related charges.

Plea Hearings Happening this Week for Former Freedom Executives

Two former executives at Freedom Industries are due in court for plea hearings today on charges stemming from last year's chemical spill in Charleston. Ex-Freedom owners Charles Herzing and William Tis will enter pleas today, and plea hearings also are scheduled on Wednesday for Freedom environmental consultant Robert Reynolds and tank farm plant manager Michael Burdette and on March 23 for the company itself. All are charged with federal Clean Water Act violations and are expected to plead guilty.

Local Girl Wins Spelling Bee

While confident having been there before, Varun Kukkillaya nervously spelled the word "requisite" on Saturday to become the 2015 Gazette-Mail Regional Spelling Bee champion for the second year in a row. The Charleston Daily Mail reports the 14-year-old John Adams Middle eighth grader will now advance to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. Varun will now advance to the Scripps National Spelling Bee, taking place May 26-28.

Man Arrested After Holding a Woman Against Her Will

A woman called 911 Sunday to say she was being held against her will by a man named Robert Bonds of the Cabin Creek area. The Kanawha County Sheriff's office says the victim, Anessia Hicks was able to get away and meet with deputies, and said Bonds had used a stun gun on her and that he had physically assaulted her with other items inside their home. Deputies had reason to believe he might have a gun inside so the SWAT team responded, and after warrants were issued the SWAT team went inside. They found Bonds there and he was taken into custody without incident. Once in custody he complained of chest pain and was taken to the hospital to be checked out, and from there he was to appear before a magistrate or be taken to the South Central Regional Jail.

Belle Residents Back Home After Evacuation

Residents in Belle have gone home after voluntary evacuating due to a potential mine blowout. The state Department of Environmental Protection said Saturday that families began returning to their homes as conditions at a Hughes Creek-area mine stabilized. About 150 homes were affected by the "voluntary evacuation" late Friday night. Water flow from the old coal mine was returned to about the same rate as before Friday's heavy rains. Kanawha County emergency officials were advised that there is nothing to indicate an imminent threat. While only a few homes are near the mine, officials had said other roads could be covered by water and debris and cut off from emergency services. Mine discharge has been monitored since it started eight days ago.

Former Logan Assessor Sentenced

A former Logan County assessor will spend five years on probation for violating federal banking laws. Russell R. "Rick" Grimmett's sentence includes six months on home confinement. Grimmett had pleaded guilty in December 2014. He admitted he and an associate withdrew cash from the Logan Bank and Trust in Man in amounts less than $10,000, a banned practice known as structuring. Federal law requires banks to report all cash transactions exceeding $10,000. Grimmett agreed to resign as assessor as part of his plea agreement. He also agreed to forfeit $150,000.

Governor Calls for Extra Session

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is calling for the Legislature to stay for an extended budget session. State lawmakers received the message Thursday for the budget session, which has been standard practice. The Legislature's 60-day regular session ends Saturday. Tomblin has called for the budget session to conclude Wednesday at the latest. Tomblin's proposed budget anticipates using $15.5 million from the state's Rainy Day Fund. It doesn't include tax increases. It's the Legislature's job to pass a balanced budget. Tomblin can make line-items vetoes in the spending plan that lawmakers pass.

Counties Can Seek Waivers for Snow Days

The West Virginia Board of Education has approved a waiver process aimed at giving counties flexibility in making up school days cancelled because of weather. The policy approved this week will allow counties to seek waivers from the state-required 180 instructional days for school days cancelled due to states of emergency. A bill granting similar exemptions is pending in the Legislature. The policy would go into effect if lawmakers don't pass the bill before the session ends in the coming days. Both the bill and the policy allow counties to meet the equivalent of 180 instructional days, instead of providing 180 separate instructional days. Preliminary figures show Barbour and Calhoun counties have cancelled 18 school days this year.

Volunteers Move Animals Over Concerns About Landslide

Volunteers at the Kanawha Charleston Humane Association moved hundreds of animals last night due to concerns over the landslide at Yeager Airport. WCHS TV reports some animals were moved to a temporary shelter they set up at Camp Virgil Tate in Kanawha County, and others were being taken to foster homes. Two homes have been evacuated as well, and a church has canceled services while crews dig a channel to alleviate some of the pressure that engineers think is causing the slide.

Airport Slide Continues to be Monitored

More now on a story we brought you yesterday...Yeager Airport officials have asked residents of two homes to leave after part of a hillside slipped. The slip also is a potential threat for Keystone Apostolic Church. Yeager executive Director Rick Atkinson says church officials are looking for an alternative site to hold services while repairs are made. Wednesday night services were canceled this week. Atkinson gave the airport's governing board an update on the slip during an emergency meeting on Wednesday, and says the slip developed over the weekend in a corner of the safety overrun area at the end of the main runway. He says the slip hasn't affected the safety area's ability to stop any aircraft that overruns the runway. The airport has offered hotel accommodations to six people who live in the two homes.

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