POINT PLEASANT — As the Point Pleasant Register’s “Mason County: A Year in Review” continues, part two of the series examines the stories the community was talking about from July - December in 2011.
July began with the mystery of three residents who had vanished in June – Tonda Nelson, Ashley (Baird) Crawford and her husband Jeff Crawford. This trio, and their separate fates, would begin to unfold over the summer and into the fall, making it one of the most talked about stories of 2011. However, the lede story through much of July was the murder of Rene A. Gonzalez of Gallipolis Ferry with three suspects arrested in what law enforcement officials called a “murder for hire.” AEP also announced it was putting its carbon capture project on hold at the Mountaineer Plant, citing “poor economic and policy climate conditions,” and PVH named a new CEO in Thomas Schauer. However, July ended much like it began with the case of three missing people which turned into a case of two homicides when the bodies of Tonda Nelson and Ashley Crawford were found in Gallipolis Ferry late in the month – there was no sign of Jeff Crawford.
With the sting of three murders in July and a missing person still an accounted for still lingering in the air, August began quietly with the 50th Mason County Fair providing a welcome distraction. Also, as the month went on, the new redistricting plans for both the West Virginia Senate and House of Delegates – the House of Delegates plan produced disappointment in Mason County which had been battling for its own delegate but was denied, again.
September began with the Fifth Annual Tribute to the River Festival, followed later in the month by the 10th anniversary of the Mothman Festival which packed visitors from all around the world into downtown Point Pleasant. Also in September, many different, local organizations paid tribute to the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on America.
October began with voters going to the polls in a special election which chose Earl Ray Tomblin as their next governor. In Point Pleasant, motorists were happy to learn the completion date for the bridge replacement project on Jefferson Blvd. had been bumped up from May of 2012 to December of this year – the contractors were offered roughly $50,000 as an incentive from the state of West Virginia to get it done quicker, and, they did. The Mason County Detachment of the West Virginia State Police reported its summer eradication efforts resulted in 2,451 marijuana plants being seized from 44 different plots. Drugs continued to be in the news when Mason County Sheriff’s Department Deputies arrested two men from Dayton on drug charges – Antione Cheeks with possession with intent to deliver and Joshua Coleman with possession of less than 15 grams. Residents in Ashton gathered to save their post office at a hearing held by the United States Postal Service – these hearings would be played out at the Southside, West Columbia and Hartford Post Offices, all of which are slated for possible closure. Also making the news, Jerry W. Tucker, a former funeral home owner in Mason County, was charged with embezzlement of preneed funeral funds; the annual Battle Days Festival and the Mason Harvest Festivals were held; Point Pleasant’s Skate Park began to take shape; upgrades to U.S. 35 began to move forward with bid opening dates announced; the Mason County Commission joined Putnam County in a lawsuit to fight the new House of Delegates restricting plan; and Douglas Pauley, the developer of the Milton Place housing project, came under fire from the US Attorney General’s Office, as did West Virginia State Treasurer John Perdue.
In November, Mason County took its fight for its own delegate to the West Virginia Supreme Court and eventually lost despite having more than enough population for that delegate. Also in November, Mason County Sheriff David L. Anthony, II, was arrested on a wanton endangerment charge. Anthony posted bond and has reportedly been participating in a 90-day inpatient rehab program. He has not returned to his post as sheriff since his arrest and the Mason County Commission has shown its support for Chief Deputy Jeff Fields who took over Anthony’s duties in his absence. Anthony waived his right to a preliminary hearing and will take his chances with a grand jury. Also in November, community leaders were honored as the first “Spirit of the Community” winners and both the Wahama White Falcons and Point Pleasant Big Blacks were fighting for a spot in the state high school football finals.
December began with the Mighty Mighty Big Blacks making their first trip to Wheeling Island Stadium to play for their first state football championship and though the team lost 34-7 to the Wayne Pioneers, it was an unforgettable season for the team and community. Also in December, the case involving the murders of Tonda Nelson and Ashley (Baird) Crawford took yet another turn when W.Va. State Police named Jeff Crawford the prime suspect in those murders, saying an eye witness to the crime came forward in July claiming Jeff Crawford killed the two women. Jeff Crawford remains unaccounted for and his family, who has mounted several search efforts for him, believes Crawford is innocent. Also in December, it was announced two former administrators at PVH are suing the hospital and its 19-member board of directors for wrongful termination, claiming they were terminated for being gay; W.Va. State Police were investigating a string of armed robberies at local gaming parlors; and Christmas turned tragic for one family when an elderly woman, Anna V. Deal, 78, was found dead inside her Main Street apartment in Point Pleasant after a fire broke out.