Summersville Man Charged With 400 Counts of Sexual Assault

From the Beckley Register-Herald:

Man faces 400 counts of sexual assault

Register-Herald Reporter

Bond was set at $12 million for a Summersville man who is facing 400 counts of first-degree sexual assault by a parent, guardian or custodian.

Howard H. Neil, 70, of 147 Euclid Drive, was taken to Central Regional Jail following his arrest Monday.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled this morning in magistrate court, but Nicholas County Prosecutor Mark Hudnall said Thursday it was unlikely the hearing would proceed because Neil had not retained an attorney.

The alleged assaults occurred over the course of four years, 1998 to 2002, when the child was between the ages of 7 and 12.

Hudnall said the investigation is continuing.

Sheriff’s deputies arrested Neil on Monday because it was believed he posed a flight risk, Hudnall said.

The investigating officer Deputy Vicki Rains.

— Bill Billeter

Bus Driver’s Pretrial Hearing Continued

From the Beckley Register-Herald:

Bus driver’s pre-trial hearing continued

Christian Giggenbach
Register-Herald Reporter

A pre-trial hearing in the case of a Monroe County school bus driver charged with DUI has been continued until March 10 because his court-appointed lawyer asked to be dismissed from the case, officials said Tuesday.

Clyde Watson Jr., 62, of Union, was scheduled to appear Tuesday before Monroe Magistrate Nancy Crews, but his court-appointed lawyer, Jeff Rodgers of Lewisburg, filed a motion to recuse himself, according to court documents.

The reason for the recusal request was not given in the document, and Rodgers was not available for immediate comment Tuesday.

Watson, a 14-year veteran bus driver, was charged with DUI while transporting minors after he crashed his bus into a ravine with 11 children on board Feb. 4. A preliminary breath test indicated Watson had a small amount of alcohol in his system, .022.

About a week later, Watson apologized to the community and board members in a letter given to schools Superintendent Lyn Guy in which he admitted to an ongoing alcohol problem and being impaired the day of the bus crash. The school board held an emergency meeting the following Monday and announced in a brief news release that Watson had resigned.

However, after obtaining both of Watson’s letters through a Freedom of Information Act request, The Register-Herald learned Watson did not resign his position, but rather the letter stated he was “retiring effective immediately.”

When asked about the discrepancy Tuesday, Guy said Watson could not make up his mind on whether to resign his position or retire and he chose to retire after learning he risked some benefits if he quit his job.

“He told me he was going to lose some of his benefits if he was fired, so I wrote the news release as a resignation,” Guy said by phone Tuesday. “We had already set up a termination letter and had a termination hearing scheduled. I don’t know if it makes too much difference. My goal was to make sure that he never drove another bus again.”

If convicted, Watson faces two days to 12 months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.

— E-mail:

cgiggenbach@register-herald.com

18 Students in Kanawha County Allege Molestation by Piano Teacher

From today’s Charleston Daily Mail:

Note: Usually in a criminal trial, evidence of past bad behavior, or alleged past unlawful behavior, is inadmissible to prove that the person acted in conformity with the past behavior in the case at trial. However, in instances where the past conduct is extremely similar to the current charges, it can be used as evidence to prove modus operandi – or as it is usually referred to, his “M.O..” In sexual molestation cases, many of the old allegations will have long passed the statute of limitations, but they can still be used to convict on current charges. – John H. Bryan, West Virginia criminal defense attorney.

17 more former students claim molestation by music teacher

by Zack Pettit
Daily Mail staff

Seventeen more people have come forth and accused St. Albans music teacher Jack Pierce of sexual abuse, police said. All 17 accusations were made by males who had taken lessons from Pierce, St. Albans Police Detective Mark Burdette said. Some of the incidents date back to 1968, he said.

Pierce, 61, has taught private piano and voice lessons for more than four decades. He was arrested Tuesday and charged with first-degree sexual abuse in connection with allegations made by former student Joshua Willard.

Burdette, the lead investigator in the case, said the newest complainants have accused Pierce of nearly identical behavior that Willard reported.

Willard, 18, filed a complaint Jan. 3, alleging Pierce had sexually abused him in 2004 when he was 14 years old.

Since Tuesday, Burdette said police have heard from former students across the country, coming from as far away as Oklahoma.

“The claims are pretty much identical,” Burdette said. “They said (Pierce) made them sleep in bed with him. They’re saying he rubbed their backs, stomachs and genitals. We know some of them are legitimate.”

Willard told detectives he and his brother were dropped off at Pierce’s St. Albans home to spend the night and watch movies, according to the complaint filed in Kanawha Magistrate Court.

Later that night, Willard was coerced into sleeping in Pierce’s bed while his brother slept downstairs on a couch, the complaint said.

While in bed, Pierce began fingering the teenager’s belly button and fondling him through his pants, according to the complaint.

The night’s events made Willard feel uncomfortable, and the next morning he told his mother what had happened, the complaint said.

His mother did not contact police, but she removed her children from Pierce’s classes.

Willard reported the claim to police last month, and Pierce was arrested and taken to South Central Regional Jail. He has since posted bond.

Burdette now is asking any other alleged victims report to police headquarters or mail their written statements to police.

He said it is common for a flood of complaints to come in after an arrest has been made, especially when a case involves juveniles.

“Juveniles don’t want to say anything because they are afraid of what their friends will think of them,” he said. “They don’t want that hassle or publicity. They want to keep it hush-hush.”

He said other victims often feel more comfortable coming forward and more willing to take a stand if someone else’s allegations become public.

Burdette said police are working to substantiate the claims by looking at Pierce’s detailed records dating back to 1989.

“He kept meticulous accounts,” Burdette said. “We will find every single one of these complaints. Everything is documented. He wrote when kids spent the night, went to dinner.”

One of Pierce’s former students, Derek Chase, 23, of Racine, has not contacted police and said he doesn’t plan to.

But he said he was involved in a “similar situation” to what Willard has reported.

Chase previously lived in Winfield and took voice lessons from Pierce for about four years, beginning when he was a sophomore in high school.

He said his former teacher often took him out to dinner, to movies, even to Broadway shows in New York and a luncheon at The Greenbrier.

Chase said he at first didn’t think anything was out of the ordinary, but his feelings about his teacher changed after an incident he would only describe as being “similar” to what Willard reported.

Chase said he didn’t want to go into detail.

“I know what he’s done to me,” Chase said. “I know I’ll be held accountable for what I say, but I know from my experience he’s guilty.”

Chase, who now works for Massey Energy, is married and expecting his first child.

He said he didn’t go to police for several reasons.

“In my case, I didn’t really think I had anything to stand on because I was 18 (at the time),” he said. “In a way, it’s embarrassing to even talk about. It’s a messed up situation.”

Chase said he stopped taking lessons from Pierce not long after the alleged incident.

But some other people who know Pierce describe the man as “courteous,” and say they can’t believe the accusations against him.

Beverly McCormick of St. Albans said she has been a friend and a neighbor of Pierce’s for about 48 years.

“I can’t believe any of it’s true,” she said. “It’s a big shock, big surprise. He’s somebody I go to Wal-Mart with and go to the movies with.”

Burdette said he thinks the allegations have been difficult for many people in St. Albans to deal with.

“It’s kind of hard for them to believe because he’s considered a kind of pillar of the community,” he said. “It’s something they can’t comprehend or conceive him doing. He’s buffaloed people.”

Burdette said he isn’t sure how long the investigation will continue, or how many students might be involved.

Police have said there are 200 students enrolled in Pierce’s music lessons right now. Burdette estimated Tuesday that Pierce has taught anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 students over the course of his career.

Pierce has a preliminary hearing scheduled for Feb. 21.

He was Drinking: Monroe County Bus Driver, Admits Drinking Problem

Note: It appalls me that I received criticism for being “mean” when this man receives nothing but excuses for his behavior. The facts are these: He drank, he drove a school bus filled with children, he drove the school bus off a 120 foot cliff, he lied and said he drank Nyquil, he lied and said he had a medical problem, then he finally admits the truth. Well, words are cheap. Trust me, many people facing criminal charges have the innate ability to sound extremely sorry and remorseful for what they have done. In the following news article, his written apology is quoted. However, it looks to me like one of those apologies that is not really an apology. In other words, “I’m sorry but it wasn’t me – it was the alcohol making my decisions for me.” He should take real responsibility for his actions and come to grips with the fact that he did make a “knowing” choice. He selfishly chose alcohol over the safety of the innocent children who he was entrusted to protect. Both he, the Board of Education and the State of West Virginia better pray that none of these children have been injured – John H. Bryan, Attorney at Law.

From today’s Register-Herald:

Bus driver resigns, admits drinking problem

By Christian Giggenbach
Register-Herald Reporter

Saying “I hit rock bottom,” a veteran Monroe County school bus driver arrested last week on a DUI charge has resigned after admitting to having “a problem with alcohol.”

Clyde Watson Jr., 62, of Union, tendered his resignation to Superintendent Lyn Guy Saturday, and Guy presented it to the school board during a special session Monday evening.

“Mr. Watson, who was involved in the bus accident on Feb. 5, 2008, and was charged with DUI, had written a letter of apology to the board president, the superintendent and the transportation director Feb. 7, two days after the accident,” Guy said Tuesday in a faxed news release.

In the letter, Watson admitted to having an ongoing alcohol problem, according to Guy.

“It has been through the constant support and encouragement of my closest friends, for the first time in years, I’m willing to admit to myself that I have a problem with alcohol,” Watson wrote. “As difficult as that was for me, it is even more difficult to admit to each of you.”

Guy could not be reached for further comment Tuesday. School officials said Guy will be absent for the rest of the week due to an out-of-state conference for superintendents.

Watson, a school bus driver for 14 years, crashed his 33-foot-long bus into a 120-foot ravine with 11 school children aboard Feb. 5. There were no injuries.

“I hit rock bottom Tuesday morning (Feb. 5). I can’t change the fact that I committed a great moral and ethical injustice, and risked the lives of many,” Watson said in his apology letter.

“What I can change is my life and the direction it was headed in before those kids got on my bus … It is with heavy heart that I can tell you that at no time would I have knowingly put my kids at risk. I did, however, let the influence of alcohol unfortunately impair my judgment.

Watson was charged with DUI with minors in a vehicle, according to a criminal complaint filed by State Police Sgt. J.L. Cooper.

At the scene, Watson had a preliminary breath test which indicated a small amount of alcohol was present in his blood, about .022.

Watson told police he had taken Nyquil, which contains alcohol, the night before the accident.

Cooper said Tuesday he will contact the Monroe prosecutor’s office concerning Watson’s alcohol admission and resignation to the school board.

“He has already given us a statement saying he did not drink during the day of the accident,” Cooper said Tuesday. “If Mr. Watson wishes to revise his statement, then I will be glad to speak to him.”

Monroe Prosecutor Rod Mohler could not be reached for comment Tuesday. State Police are awaiting the results of Watson’s blood tests from a hospital visit the day of the accident, Cooper said.

Although a driver is presumed intoxicated by the state when his or her blood alcohol content is .08, police can charge a driver with DUI at lower BAC levels if the consumption of alcohol has impaired his or her ability to drive.

If convicted, Watson faces two days to 12 months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.

School board member Bill Shiflet said a disciplinary hearing had originally been scheduled for Monday prior to Watson’s resignation.

A Register-Herald request for a full copy of Watson’s resignation and apology letter was denied by school officials.

School officials also said Watson had an unlisted phone number. It is uncertain if Watson has hired an attorney to represent him in the criminal case.

Shiflet said Watson’s letters did not specifically mention what type or how much alcohol he had consumed prior to taking the wheel of the bus.

When asked what liability Watson’s actions may have caused the county, Shiflet was unsure.

“It’s a very tragic event and we are very thankful that no one was injured,” Shiflet said by phone. “It certainly could have been a lot worse than it was.”

Your Author Confronted On Street Regarding Monroe County Bus Accident

Yet another update regarding the Monroe County School Bus DUI Case: a well-known local citizen approached me on the street this morning and criticized my comments regarding the driver of the now-infamous DUI School Bus as being too harsh.

I will reiterate what I told him in case there are others who feel my comments were too harsh. My initial reaction was perhaps too harsh given that subsequent mitigating information was released regarding a possible medical condition that may have caused the accident. Furthermore, I initially read the Register-Herald article as stating that he had a BAC of “.22” when in fact it was “.022” – which is obviously a big difference. For this reason, I subsequently redacted my initial comments and provided an update with the new information on this Blog.

The point is, that if I was mistaken about the facts, then I agree that my language was too harsh and I apologize. If the driver had not been drinking, then I was wrong in using such strong language. Although, anyone who has previously driven off a 120 cliff while driving a school bus filled with children – whether drunk or not – should not be given a second chance to drive children around on mountain roads. So, to a certain extent, it doesn’t matter whether he was intoxicated or not. The fact is that it happened, and it can’t be attributed to icy roads.

However – and this is a big however – if he had been drinking, then I stand by my comments 100%. I don’t care if the driver of the bus is Mother Theresa, I will side with the children 100% of the time. If that man got behind the wheel of that bus, putting the lives of 11 innocent children at risk, then he deserves nothing less than 11 years in prison (1 year for each child), plus lifetime revocation of his license. My opinion may be unpopular to the friends and family of the driver, but I base my opinion on principle, not public opinion.

After I told this to the aforesaid citizen who confronted me on the street, he replied that, “well he did do it – he already resigned, but you shouldn’t say things that are mean.” Let it be known from here forward, if you recklessly or negligently hurt innocent children in my community, then I will write “mean” things about you on this Blog. – John H. Bryan

See update here.

Update – Monroe County Bus Driver Had Possible Medical Condition

From today’s Beckley Register-Herald:

Bus driver’s medical condition probed

Christian Giggenbach
Register-Herald Reporter

Prosecutors say they are investigating a possible medical condition with a Monroe County school bus driver charged with DUI following a bus crash involving 11 children Tuesday.

A well known Charleston DUI defense lawyer also said the bus driver should never have been charged with DUI because his preliminary breath test proved he was not intoxicated.

Monroe Prosecutor Rod Mohler told the Register-Herald on Thursday the case against Clyde Watson, Jr., 62, of Union, was moving forward with “extreme caution” because of the accident.

State Police arrested Watson and charged him with DUI while transporting minors. Watson’s bus crashed down a 120-foot ravine with 11 children aboard about 7:20 a.m. near the Monroe-Greenbrier county line. There were no injuries were reported.

“What little we know is at this point there was a trace level of alcohol in his system,” Mohler said Thursday. “Even at that low level, you can still be considered under the influence. However, there are some issues that need to be explored regarding whether (Watson) might be a diabetic and how alcohol of any amount would affect his system and be shown on a breath test.”

Watson was administered a preliminary breath test by a Greenbrier County sheriff’s deputy which found a .022 level of alcohol in his body.

Mohler said the case would be “explored fully and completely” to determine whether Watson was “criminally responsible regardless of his condition.”

A phone listing for Watson could not be found Thursday.

Watson told police he had taken Nyquil, which contains alcohol, the night before and felt “funny” just before the accident.

School officials said Watson previously had a spotless 14-year safety record as a bus driver. Superintendent Lyn Guy said Watson was suspended from his job pending the resolution of the DUI charge.

Although .08 is considered the legal limit for driving under the influence, State Police Trooper J.L. Cooper said a person can be charged with DUI for much lower levels if alcohol impairs the ability to drive.

“You have to justify that the alcohol limit caused the impairment,” Cooper said.

Barbara Allen, a deputy with the state attorney general’s office, said any driver with an “appreciable measure of alcohol” can be charged with DUI.

“Once a driver’s alcohol level reaches .08, you are presumed to be under the influence,” Allen said Thursday. “If the level of alcohol is below that, you can still be found guilty if a jury concludes based on all the facts and circumstances that your ability to drive was impaired because you were under the influence of alcohol.”

But the question remains whether Watson’s reported .022 alcohol level is enough to justify a DUI conviction, Charleston lawyer Carter Zerbe said, and whether Watson was under the influence at all the morning of the accident.

“The .022 level is so low that it is evidence in and of itself that the bus driver was not under the influence of alcohol,” Zerbe, who is among the state’s top DUI defense lawyers, said Thursday. “I don’t know what basis there was for charging this bus driver for violating that section of the law.”

Zerbe said preliminary tests are not admissible as evidence at trial. In Watson’s case, a second, more reliable test was not given because too much time had elapsed from the first breath test, according to the criminal complaint.

However, hospital records containing Watson’s blood tests are being subpoenaed to determine what levels, if any, there were of alcohol in his system, police said Wednesday.

“If the initial breath test was .022 and if it was accurate,” Zerbe said, “I would imagine the blood test will be exculpatory.”

A hearing in the case is expected to be scheduled next week. If convicted, Watson faces two days to 12 months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.

Note: The first time I read the article, I thought it said he had a .22 BAC – which is common in black-out type situations. Upon reading the updated article and re-reading the prior article, I noticed that it said “.022.” Having formerly prosecuted DUI’s in North Carolina (actually they are called DWI’s) I agree with Mr. Watson’s lawyer that there is no way this man can be charged. First of all, since he is a bus driver, he could be charged if he registered a .04 BAC. However, the preliminary field sobriety test is not admissible in court, so he could not be convicted even if the field test read over a .04 – which it didn’t. They would have to have an intoxilyzer result that is admissible – which doesn’t exist in this case. Lastly, it would not be fair to put this man before a jury when the only evidence of intoxication is the accident itself. – John H. Bryan, West Virginia criminal defense attorney.

See UPDATE here.

Monroe County School Bus Driver Careens Down Ravine, Charged With DUI

From today’s Beckley Register-Herald:

School bus driver faces DUI charge

Union man arrested after mishap involving 11 kids

Christian Giggenbach
Register-Herald Reporter

State Police arrested a Monroe County school bus driver Tuesday and charged him with DUI after his bus, carrying 11 students, careened down an 120-foot ravine before coming to rest upright over a small creek.

Monroe Schools Superintendent Lyn Guy told The Register-Herald no children were injured in the 7:20 a.m. accident and all were rescued by EMS responders who built a rope line along the steep embankment.

Clyde Watson Jr., 62, of Union, was charged with DUI with minors in a vehicle, according to a criminal complaint filed by Sgt. J.L. Cooper.

Watson, a 14-year school bus driver, was arrested at the scene prior to being transported to Greenbrier Valley Medical Center in Fairlea. He was later was released from custody after posting $1,000 bond in Monroe Magistrate Court.

The criminal complaint said Watson registered a preliminary blood-alcohol content of .022 at the accident scene.

“The defendant was not tested on the intoximeter due to the elapsed time of first contact with an officer,” Cooper said. “However, blood was collected at Greenbrier Valley Medical Center.”

Results of Watson’s blood tests were unknown Tuesday and Cooper could not be reached for comment.

“In his statement, the defendant advised that he had felt ‘funny’ just before the accident,” Cooper said. “He also advised that he had taken Nyquil last night.”

Although the legal limit for driving under the influence is .08, state laws allow police to charge drivers with DUI who have lower BAC levels. Monroe Prosecutor Rod Mohler could not be reached Tuesday for clarification concerning Watson’s arrest and whether there are special circumstances when minors are in the vehicle.

State CDL laws require licensed drivers to be under .04 BAC while driving, according to State Code.

Guy said Watson has been suspended from his job pending the resolution of the DUI charge. She noted he previously had a spotless record for 14 consecutive years as a bus driver. A phone number for Watson could not be found in several telephone directory listings.

If convicted, Watson faces two days to 12 months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.

Guy said seat belts are not required on school buses, but the heavily padded seats may have contributed to the children’s safety.

“None of the kids had a scratch on them,” Guy said. “The padding on the seats are heavy and kids complain about them at times because they are so tight to get into.”

The accident occurred on Highland Park Road, about two miles from U.S. 219, Guy said.

“Apparently, Mr. Watson over-corrected the steering after running off the right side of the road during his morning bus route,” she said. “The bus left the one-lane road, taking out a telephone/power pole, traveled over 120 feet down an embankment and then came to rest upright at the bottom of a ravine.”

Guy said no injuries were reported from the students, ranging in age from 5 to 16, or Watson. The first person at the scene of the accident, Guy said, was the father of two of the children on the bus. The parent was driving to work when he stopped after noticing the downed telephone pole.

“The parent went down into the ravine and got on the bus with the children and checked them out,” Guy, who was unable to identify the parent, said. “He checked out the kids and everyone seemed to be fine.”

Guy said the bus came to rest with its front wheels across a small creek. Prior to the rescue, Allegheny Power crews responded to the scene because of the downed, live power lines. The rescue could not take place until power was cut to the downed lines, Guy said.

Ronceverte Fire Chief Jody Campbell said more than 30 emergency responders aided in the children’s rescue and subsequent bus recovery. The Union and Ronceverte fire departments, Union Ambulance, Greenbrier County Ambulance, state and county police all aided in the rescue effort, he said.

“First we went in and cut a trail with power saws and we were able to get the children and they walked out of the bus under their own power,” Campbell said. “We constructed a hand rail with the ropes and individually escorted everyone up the rope line and the steep embankment.”

The children were then loaded onto an awaiting school bus and transported to Greenbrier Valley Medical Center, he said.

“Within an hour and a half, all victims from the bus were transported to the hospital,” Guy said.

Campbell said the bus was not recovered from the ravine until about 2 p.m., and that required the assistance of two large wreckers. The bus sustained heavy damage to its front end and a broken windshield, he said.

The bus was transported to the county’s bus lot, where it will stay until state inspectors review it, Guy said.

Note: See UPDATE here.

Beckley Driver Charged With DUI After Injuring Baby in Crash

From today’s Register-Herald:

Baby, mother injured after car crash; driver charged with DUI, police say

Amelia A. Pridemore
Register-Herald Reporter

A Daniels woman allegedly under the influence of an inhalant crashed a car through a yard and two fences, went over and up two embankments and struck a building, injuring another woman and a five-month-old girl, Beckley police said.

Angel L. Stoots, 25, of Danmont Vista, was charged with DUI with injury, DUI with child endangerment, driving without a license and having no insurance, Cpl. Will Reynolds said. She was being held Saturday at Southern Regional Jail on $5,000 bond.

Stoots was in the driver’s seat of a 1998 Chevrolet Monte Carlo parked behind the Pagoda Motel on Harper Road Friday evening, Reynolds said.

An adult female passenger was in the front seat and the passenger’s 5-month-old daughter was in a child safety seat in the back.

Stoots was reportedly inhaling an unidentified “intoxicating substance,” Reynolds said. She claimed she passed out while the car was in gear and stepped on the gas pedal.

The Monte Carlo went across North Pike Street and into a resident’s back yard in the 1000 block of West Neville Street, Reynolds said. The car then tore down two fences and went over a six-foot embankment. After going through a resident’s parking spot and through grass, the car went up a three-foot embankment and struck a brick building in the same block of West Neville.

The passenger and her daughter were taken to Raleigh General Hospital, Reynolds said. The baby had a knot on her head and the passenger complained of head and back pain. Stoots was not hurt.

The passenger told police she was not involved in Stoots’ activities and that she tried to get herself and her child out of the car, Reynolds said.

Note: As a West Virginia criminal defense attorney, I usually lament that people are overcharged and usually do not deserve the amount of prison time that comes with various charges. However, in situations like these, with a dirt-ball that would selfishly and recklessly hurt an innocent baby, I fear that the penalty will not be great enough. This woman should be locked up and the key thrown away. What is going to stop her from hurting another innocent child? At the very least her driving privileges should be revoked for the remainder of her pitiful life. – John H. Bryan, West Virginia criminal defense attorney.