Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 26, 2012

Crime in 1 poor W.Va. county outpacing last year

Associated Press

GRANTSVILLE (AP) — The number of people living in tiny Calhoun County has barely changed in the past decade, but officials say serious crimes have been soaring.

Last week, a grand jury indicted four people in three deaths, one of them a 2-month-old girl. The unrelated death of another infant is under investigation.

During the first quarter of 2012, the number of arrests and prosecutions has been outpacing last year, Magistrate Court Clerk Gary Smith told the Parkersburg News and Sentinel (  

Authorities handled 86 felony crimes and 350 misdemeanors in all of 2011, he said. By March 20, they’d already handled 42 felonies and 102 misdemeanors.

“It seems to be escalating,” said Smith, a longtime resident who until recently could recall only one murder in the county of 7,600.

In 2008 and 2009, the county had fewer than 55 felonies, he said, but during 2010, there were 70.

Calhoun County, one of West Virginia’s smallest, has neither a four-lane road nor a traffic light.

“We are a small, sleepy little town with a lot of stuff going right now,” Smith said. “I don’t know what the answers are, but it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.”

Sheriff Alan Parsons, a resident since 1968, and Calhoun County Commissioner Bob Weaver say a stronger law enforcement presence in a region with chronically high unemployment could be driving the trend.

“After a number of years of fairly low performance, the West Virginia State Police have really stepped up to the plate,” Weaver said. “... I am really happy with them. They are doing what they are supposed to do.”

State Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Baylous said the agency is constantly shifting resources to meet the public’s needs.

Calhoun County Prosecutor Rocky Holmes — one of only seven part-time prosecutors in West Virginia — said the Grantsville Police Department and the sheriff’s department have added officers, too.

The state Department of Health and Human Resources, meanwhile, has increased the number of Child Protective Services workers in the county.

“We used to have one,” Holmes said. “Now we have five.”

U.S. Census Bureau figures for Calhoun County show that more than 20 percent of residents live below the federal poverty level, compared with a statewide rate of about 17 percent.

The median household income of $26,922 was lower than the state average of $38,380 between 2006 and 2010, and the unemployment rate has remained among the highest in West Virginia.

February figures released Monday by Workforce West Virginia put Calhoun’s unemployment rate at 13.2 percent, behind only Hancock County at 13.9 percent. Neighboring Wirt and Roane counties were at 13 percent.

— Information from: News and Sentinel (Parkersburg, W.Va.),