Stories that made their mark in 2021: Here's a breakdown of the 10 most popular reads

Katelyn Waltemyer
Jackson Newspapers
Hank, who has been at the shelter for a year, is a redbone mastiff mix while Casper, who has called the shelter home for nine months, is a mixture of lab and Great Pyrenees.

As we head into another year, it's important to look back to remember what mattered the most and caused ripple effects in Jackson County. 

Jackson Newspapers has compiled a list of the top 10 stories from 2021. This list was generated with two standards in mind: selecting stories with the most views that also encapsulate the values, or growing pains, of the county. 

Here's our list: 

Sheriff shoots down diversity 

Jackson County elected Ross Mellinger as sheriff in November 2020. Since taking office in 2021, Mellinger has made news for reasons outside of law enforcement. 

Ross Mellinger is sworn in as Jackson County Sheriff by
Judge Thomas Evans as Mellinger’s wife April holds the
Bible.

After Kataluna Enriquez won the Miss Nevada USA Pageant in late June, Mellinger took to his Facebook to express his opposition to the first openly transgender woman advancing to the Miss USA Pageant.

After creating multiple demeaning posts, one of which he called being transgender "a craze." Jackson Newspapers asked Mellinger for comment, to which he declined. 

Mellinger made the post on Tuesday, June 29.

The story garnered much attention and led several former residents of Jackson County who are members of the LGBTQ+ community to share their unpleasant experiences in their hometown. 

West Virginia is the 30th most welcoming state to the LGBTQ+ community, according to 24/7 Wall St.

Read the whole story:Jackson County Sheriff posts disparaging social media comments about pageant winner

Bursting animal shelter 

Jackson County's animal shelter has been waiting on a newer and bigger facility for years. At the Dec. 15 county commission meeting, bids for the new facility were accepted and came in around $2 million. 

But in the meantime, the shelter deals with the space it has now. In July, reporter Suzette Lowe wrote about the shelter's desperation to get animals adopted. 

G-Pa is ready for adopton.

With 52 dogs and 46 cats, things were getting tight. 

"We make do," Teresa Hager, Jackson County's Humane Officer said in the article. 

Read the whole story:Animal shelter is at full capacity: Adopters needed

Questionable allocation of CARES funding

After receiving an anonymous tip from a concerned resident about how the county commission spent its CARES funds, Jackson Newspapers spent months following the money. 

Even though the county could have gotten complimentary assistance from the West Virginia State Auditor’s Office, it chose to have local lawyers fill out the applications instead. It cost the county 10% of its federal monies. 

Jackson County got $3.2 million. That meant $324,190 of it went to lawyers. 

Read the whole story:Exclusive: Jackson County got $3.2M for 91 employees. 10% went to lawyers.

ATV ride went wrong 

Owning a four-wheeler is practically a right of passage in Jackson County. If you don't have your own, you've ridden on one. Chances are, you loved it. 

Wind bellows through your hair, the smell of freshly cut grass greets you as you zoom past a neighbor. It helps you haul equipment from point A to B on your property. They're useful and fun. It's obvious why people like them so much. But, if not handled properly, they can be lethal. 

Tresten Williams was welcomed home by a handful of family and friends Friday afternoon.

The average four-wheeler is 700 pounds. Every year in the U.S. there are more than 600 deaths and 100,000 injuries involving alternative terrain vehicles, according to ATV Annual Report. 

Tresten Williams, of Ravenswood, was added to that statistic this year. The 16-year-old was leaving McDonald's when he took a turn too sharply. He doesn't remember the rest. 

Things didn't look good. Williams was in a medically induced coma, covered in wires and surrounded by machines for weeks. Jackson County pulled together, though. There was a prayer vigil at his church. Countless people sent him letters of encouragement. His mom didn't leave his side for weeks  she couldn't leave until he opened his eyes again. 

Since he woke up, Williams has been a storm to be reckoned with. He advanced through rehab and was welcomed home Oct. 1 to emotional friends and family. 

Tresten Williams was in a comma for weeks. Now he's back home.

Fights against mask mandates 

Disagreement over how to treat the pandemic in classrooms has ignited a fire at many school board meetings across the U.S. in 2021. Many of these meetings now have law enforcement present to handle altercations, if and when, they arise. 

Even though there haven't been any physical altercations or the need to have a police officer present at the board's meetings, Jackson County's Board of Education has been spat on by countless angry parents this year. It all began Sept. 2 when the board voted to reenact its mask policy. 

The room was filled with disheartened parents and a few joyous teachers and medical professionals. 

Once the mask mandate went into effect, pushback immediately ensued. It wasn't just parents of students scrambling for exemptions teachers were, too. 

At the Oct. 7 board meeting, Gilmore Elementary School teacher Colleen Worley elected to have a public hearing into her case for not complying with the board's mask mandate. She argued that the board didn't give people like herself enough time to pursue a medical exemption. 

Worley stood in front of the board Oct.7 arguing that she should not face an unpaid suspension.

Citing that traditional masks lead to mental health issues like explosive anxiety and face shields had negative effects because of her skin cancer.

In the end, the board voted to uphold Superintendent Blaine Hess' decision by issuing unpaid suspension for the six days Worley didn't comply with the mask requirement. 

FIVE MORE POPULAR STORIES FROM 2021:

  1. Friends and family members remember Cheyenne Johnson as kind and sweet

  2.  New Ripley restaurant Roadhouse 2081 is now open for business

  3.  School bus fire determined an accident. Four buses involved, at least two are totaled.

  4. Jackson General Hospital braces for the worst as COVID cases continue to spike

  5. There’s no shelter in Jackson County. How does that play out with poverty, homelessness?

— Katelyn Waltemyer (she/her) is the General Assignment and Enterprise Reporter for Jackson Newspapers in Jackson County, West Virginia. Have a news tip on local government or education? Or a good feature? You can reach Katelyn at kwaltemyer@jacksonnewspapers.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kate_Waltemyer.