Local news round-up May 7, 2012

Classes and finals may be over, but people in Morgantown are still setting fires. According to the Morgantown Police Department, three suspects were arrested for throwing items into fires over the weekend. According to the press release:

On May 5, 2012, Mark David Euga Jr., 20 years of age was arrested at the corner of North Spruce Street and Fife Street as he was throwing combustible items on a street fire. Mr. Euga was also charged with underage consumption at the time of this incident.

On May 5, 2012, Kyle G. Whelen, 20 years of age was arrested at the corner of Dallas and Forest Street as he was throwing a couch on a street fire. Mr. Whelen was also charged with underage consumption at the time of this incident.

On May 5, 2012, Justin David Myers, 21 years of age was cited for throwing combustible material onto a fire that was burning in a dumpster at the corner of 3rd Avenue and McClain Alley.

This reminded me to check in with West Virginia University officials to see when they would be releasing the numbers of expulsions and suspensions for this year. The numbers will be ready next week. According to Assistant Dean of Students Melanie Cook, the numbers will show total violations and sanctions for academic and behavioral violations.

In other words, they won’t state how many students were expelled specifically for fire-related activity. When I asked how that would risk identifying students, Cook responded, “Our University counsel has advised us against doing so; they think it could be possible for others to identify them.”

Recently the Dominion Post has published a couple updates on stories I’ve been following.

  • Landlord ordered to pay $20K – In February 2008, Morgantown landlord Gary Walden settled a civil lawsuit by agreeing to pay $175,000 to tenants he was accused of sexually harassing or groping, and a $50,000 fine for violating the West Virginia Fair Housing Act. As part of the settlement, Walden was barred from nearly all contact with tenants for eight years, and if he had to make contact with a tenant he was required to fill out an incident report within 12 hours for the West Virginia Human Rights Commission to review. In September 2008, the Human Rights Commission alleged that Walden violated the terms of the settlement by harassing tenants, having contact with tenants when he wasn’t supposed to, and by not providing or filing some documents required by the settlement. The hearings were held between September and December 2008, but the judge has just recently ruled Walden to be contempt of the settlement agreement in four areas: 1) Intentionally initiated direct contact with tenants and improperly entered leased dwellings; 2) Failed to maintain complete and timely records related to tenant contact and dwelling entry; 3) Failed to maintain and provide tenant information; 4) Failed to provide notices of Fair Housing Rights to tenants. Walden was ordered to pay $5,000 for each violation to the Human Rights Commission. In February 2012, Walden was charged with conspiracy and entering without breaking after a tenant woke up to find him sitting on her bed and rubbing her leg while she slept. According to the DP’s article, that case is still pending.

And if anyone is interested, I have completed my Master’s research project, “Inspecting Sunnyside” – Creating a Blog About Off-Campus Student Housing and Student Issues. It’s now available to view on wvuScholar. Also, I’m graduating. Finally.

– Leann

Morgantown fire chief says apartment platform not up to code

Earlier this month, a West Virginia University student, Brian Weithenauer, died after falling from an apartment window. Weithenauer climbed out of the apartment’s bathroom window onto a platform to smoke a cigarette. The wooden platform had no railing.

The apartment is located above the High Street nightclub Rain. This is the second person to fall from the apartments above Rain within the last eight months – Brianna Smith fell from a window in August and foul play wasn’t suspected. Smith survived, but had several injuries.

It has still not been reported if they fell from the same window or apartment. However, according to an article originally published in the Dominion Post in August, “Mark Sanger, manager of Rain, said the area where the woman fell is behind the building in an alleyway only accessible through Rain.” They both fell into the same alley, but Smith was reported as falling from a back window at 240 High Street. All reports of Weithenauer say he fell from 250 High Street.

The alley is between Rain and the Monongalia Magistrate Court. From the street, the platform and ladder don’t seem to be visible.

In today’s Dominion Post, Morgantown Fire Chief Mark Caravasos said the platform and wrought iron ladder outside the bathroom window where Weithenauer fell do not meet fire code as a fire escape. The platform should not be made of wood, and he said the ladder seemed to have been built when the building was built in the 1920’s.

The Dominion Post also had records of the last code enforcement inspection of the apartment from Dec. 20, 2010. The article stated there were only three minor items on the list, none of which included the platform. Code enforcement is required to inspect an apartment once every three years.

Caravasos said the fire department had no record of inspecting the apartments because they are registered as a duplex with the city. The fire department doesn’t inspect single-family residences and duplexes. This is something I’m going to have to look into, because it doesn’t make sense. There’s no information about fire code on the city of Morgantown’s website, and it directs people to call someone for more information. Morgantown follows fire safety regulations set forth by the National Fire Protection Association.

In a previous post, a commenter questioned why code enforcement didn’t catch the platform after Smith fell in August. I’ve searched through all the stories I could find about her fall, but nothing mentions a code enforcement or fire inspection. The stories at that time seemed to focus mostly on identifying Smith and the status of her recovery. Maybe because she had such a high alcohol content at the time of the fall, officials blamed that and not the window/building?

– Leann

Hunt’s pay not likely to be reduced despite cuts to Sunnyside Up’s funding

Sunnyside Up may not have much money to work with during the next fiscal year.

The Dominion Post published an article in Sunday’s edition about the Sunnyside Up funding cuts, and spoke to Councilwoman Jenny Selin, who is also a member of the Sunnyside Up board of directors. Selin said that it is not likely that Executive Director Jim Hunt’s salary will be cut.

Hunt receives a salary of approximately $86,000.

Selin told the DP:

“Once you hire someone, you usually do not go back and ask them to take less.”

As previously reported, Morgantown City Council voted to cut Sunnyside Up’s funding first by 25 percent in early March, then again another 25 percent a couple weeks later. West Virginia University matches whatever the city pays, so that means the university will also be cutting 50 percent of funding.

Last year, Sunnyside Up received $100,000 from Morgantown and $100,000 from WVU, totaling the group’s funding to $200,000. After the cuts, the group will receive a total of $100,000 in funding for the next fiscal year.

After Hunt’s salary of about $86,000, that would leave the organization with approximately $14,000 to use for operation.

Hunt is also a member of Clarksburg City Council.

(Photo credit: www.cityofclarksburgwv.com)

According to the Clarksburg Exponent-Telegram, council members earn $2,500 per year. The article also states that “Clarksburg council members may also opt to receive health benefits through the city of Clarksburg.” At the time of the article, October 2010, Hunt was one of the five council members who claimed full benefits.

According to the Dominion Post, Hunt said that he “doesn’t receive any health insurance or retirement through Sunnyside Up,” and that about $10,000 of his salary is in lieu of those benefits.

The most recent tax forms for Sunnyside Up available on GuideStar are from 2010 (PDF available here). Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Total revenue: $204,842
  • Total expenses: $173,865
    • Salaries, compensation, employee benefits: $90,176
      • Hunt’s salary: $83,200
    • Professional fees and other payments to independent contractors: $25,309
    • Occupancy, rent, utilities and maintenance: $8,010
    • Printing, publications, postage and shipping: $4,008
    • Other expenses: $28,862

The organization is said to have savings in the bank, but will it be able to continue operating if it only receives approximately 14 percent of its usual funding?

– Leann

Student dies after falling from High Street apartment

West Virginia University student Brian Weithenauer died Sunday morning after falling from a platform located outside a top-floor apartment into an alley. The apartment was above the nightclub Rain on High Street.

The 19-year-old Weithenauer was from Toms River, N.J.

A bell-ringing ceremony will be held soon in his honor, according to The Daily Athenaeum.

According to an article in the Dominion Post, Morgantown Police Chief Ed Preston said Weithenauer fell into the alley between the Monongalia Magistrate Court building and the building that houses Rain around 1 a.m. The alley is only accessible through the bar.

I was downtown earlier and decided to get some pictures of the area, but at the time I didn’t know it was in an alley only accessible through the bar. However, you can see from the photos that there isn’t a visible alley between Rain and the other buildings.

Rain is located at 250 High Street. The silver door to the right of the main door is the entrance for the apartments.

On the backside of the building that houses Rain is the Monongalia County Magistrate Court and Mid-Nite Adult, which is located on the right side of the white fence.

Rain’s owner, Janet Amores, told the Dominion Post that she was out of town, but a manager told her that Weithenauer was attending a party in an apartment upstairs and did not enter Rain. Rain is an 18 and over nightclub, according to DubVNightlife.com.

Preston said no foul play is expected, but they will continue to investigate. Morgantown Chief Code Enforcement Officer Mike Stone told the Dominion Post his office will “probably check the building for code violations,” after the police complete their investigation. Outdoor platforms are required to have railings.

No platforms were visible from the front or back of the buildings on street-level.

According to the city of Morgantown’s rental property list, the apartments at 240-250 High Street are owned by Inner City Pro Real. There are two units, and the rental license expires Dec. 20, 2013. The units were last inspected Dec. 20, 2010. Those are the only units listed for that company.

A quick search of Google and the Yellow Pages showed no results for “Inner City Pro Real.”

Amores told the Dominion Post that Phil Shuman owns the building.

Another resident of Morgantown fell from the apartments above Rain just eight months ago.

On August 25, 2011, Brianna Smith fell out of a window from a fifth-story apartment above Rain. Smith had broken toes, broken foot bones, a shattered heel, liver trauma, three broken teeth, brain hemorrhaging and various bruises, cuts and scratches. She lost 9 inches of her intestine, had 10 staples put in her head and had to have her ear re-attached, according to a story that ran in the Dominion Post.

Preston said foul play wasn’t suspected.

Smith said she had no recollection of how she got to the apartment or how she fell from the window. The last thing she remembered was dancing at Rain, and the next thing she remembered was waking up in a hospital bed, confused and frantically trying to pull out IVs.

It took police several hours to identify Smith because she couldn’t communicate and didn’t have her ID on her. She was identified when police released a description of her tattoos and her roommate recognized them and called police.

Smith had a high alcohol content which surprised her because she only remembered having one shot. She thought she may have been drugged because her friends said she started acting weird and disappeared. She then went with people she didn’t know to the apartment upstairs, and no one said they saw her fall from the window.

Preston told the Dominion Post he wasn’t sure if Weithenauer had fallen from the same apartment as Smith.

The Morgantown Police Department is asking anyone who has information about the Sunday morning incident to call the detective unit at (304) 284-7454.

– Leann

UPDATE (4:56 p.m.)Brianna Smith is speaking out about the recent incident on her Facebook page, which is public.

Morgantown landlord charged with entering without breaking and conspiracy

Gary Walden, a 61-year-old Morgantown landlord previously accused of sexual harassment, was arrested Monday for “entering a tenant’s apartment uninvited and rubbing her leg,” according to an article in today’s Dominion Post.

(photo credit: The Dominion Post)

Walden was charged with entering without breaking and conspiracy. His bond was set at $15,000, and he was held at North Central Regional Jail as of Monday afternoon. As of today, Jan. 22, he seems to have been released.

The resident of Dunkard Avenue apartment, located in Westover, called police on January 17 and told them that she woke up in her bed and found Walden touching and rubbing her leg. She was also missing $900, according to the criminal complaints.

Walden and another man, 55-year-old Robert L. Wilson of Westover, told police they were at the apartment at the time of the incident. Walden told police that he was there to collect rent. The accuser and another person confirmed rent wasn’t due for 15 days.

Wilson was arrested Saturday for without breaking and conspiracy, but is free on $5,000 bond. He had assisted in changing the locks the day before the incident occurred, and an employee of Walden’s gave him the master key after the locks were changed, according to the article.

This was not Walden’s first time inappropriately touching tenants. According to the article:

Walden settled a civil lawsuit in early 2008 by paying tenants he allegedly groped $175,000, and paying a $50,000 fine for violating the West Virginia Fair Housing Act. He also signed an agreement that restricted his contact with tenants to emergency situations and required him to file reports with the Human Rights Commission when he has contact with tenants.

Later that year, the commission filed a complaint accusing Walden of violating the agreement, but West Virginia Deputy Attorney General Paul R. Sheridan said a ruling is still pending, according to the article.

UPDATE: (Feb. 22, 3:08 p.m.) I found an article from Walden’s 2008 sexual harassment case – Landlord Settles Sexual Harassment Suit

UPDATE (Feb. 23, 10:00 a.m.): New post with more background information on Walden – Morgantown landlord Walden has history of harassment

– Leann