Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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December 31, 2012

Big headlines tell the stories of 2012

BLUEFIELD — The year 2012 will be remembered for dramatic and troubling headlines across southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia.

From a violent wind storm that left thousands in the dark to the murder of a well-known southern West Virginia mayor, 2012 proved to be another tumultuous year for the region.

As we celebrate the waning hours of 2012, the editorial board of the Daily Telegraph has selected the Top 10 Stories of 2012. They include:

1.Tragedy strikes at Mercer County serpent handling church.

A Mercer County pastor, Mack Randall Wolford, 44, of Green Valley, died on May 27 after being bitten by a timber rattlesnake during a religious service at the Panther State Forest in McDowell County. The story quickly captured national attention.

Wolford, pastor of the Full Gospel Apostolic House of the Lord Jesus in Matoaka, was bitten in the thigh by the timber rattlesnake during a homecoming service. The church in question had a history of practicing serpent handling. A freelance photojournalist from Washington who was at the homecoming service when Wolford was bitten reported that about 25 people were in attendance and witnessed the incident.

Parishioners transported Wolford to a residence in Mercer County a short time after the snakebite. Emergency personnel also were contacted a short time later. Wolford was pronounced dead at Bluefield Regional Medical Center.

McDowell County Prosecuting Attorney Sid Bell later ruled that serpent handling was a “constitutionally protected religious service.” However, Ken Caplinger, chief of state parks in West Virginia, said state officials were unaware of serpent handling services taking place at the Panther Wildlife Management Area. Caplinger said if asked — the state would not allow such a service to take place.

2. Powerful wind storm leaves region in the dark — thousands evacuated from Mitchell Stadium as derecho strikes.

With the exception of a large and ominous cloud in the sky, there was otherwise no advance warning of the approaching calamity. And the timing couldn’t have possibly been worse. A crowd of thousands was assembled at Mitchell Stadium for the Second Chance Rocks the Two Virginias Concert. And a derecho was fast approaching.

The National Weather Service in Blacksburg, Va., said a derecho is a persistent and intense mesoscale thunderstorm complex that follows a straight line. The term derecho is Spanish for direct or straight ahead. It is a storm capable of producing hurricane force winds in the mountains — as residents across the region found out on June 29.

Emergency responders across the region were able to safely evacuate Mitchell Stadium. Thousands were removed from the stadium without injury before the 80 mph wind gusts pounded the stage Eric Church and Jake Owen were to perform on. The destructive winds even moved a 5,000-pound wall that was beside the stage.

Damage across the region was widespread following the powerful wind storm, including downed trees and power lines. More than a half million customers in Appalachian Power’s service area were left without electricity — on a weekend when the mercury soared into the triple digits. The misery continued for almost two weeks for many across the region before their electrical service was finally restored.

The Second Chance Rocks the Two Virginias concert was rescheduled — and successfully completed — in late August. The second attempt at the concert once again attracted a crowd estimated in the thousands.

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