Morning Headlines: Lawsuits Against Drug Companies Could See Trial; FirstEnergy Fined for Gas Leak

Mar 8, 2018

Here are your morning headlines for Thursday, March 8:

  • Stark County high schoolers hospitalized after being sickened by candy;
  • Some lawsuits against drug companies could go to trial;
  • NOPEC to give back $9 million to customers through temporary rate reduction;
  • Condemned Ohio killer could spared ahead of next month's execution;
  • Natural gas well is capped after fiery explosion;
  • U.S. EPA calls for action on Lake Erie algae blooms, but leaves out new federal regulations;
  • FirstEnergy and Cincinnati contractor fined for deadly gas leak;
  • Part of Stark County's bed tax increase will fund local arts events;

Stark County high schoolers hospitalized after being sickened by candy
About 20 high school students were sickened by candy in Stark County. Authorities say five students at Perry High School were taken to a hospital Wednesday morning and then emergency crews returned to the school in the afternoon following more reports of illness. Some students were taken to hospitals by their parents. Perry's Police Chief didn't specify the type of candy but says it’s being sent to Stark County's crime lab to determine if it had been laced with a substance. The Perry Local Schools issued a statement saying the district is working with police and will take disciplinary and legal action if necessary.

Some lawsuits against drug companies could go to trial
The federal judge overseeing hundreds of lawsuits against drug companies says some of the cases may go to trial. Attorneys met in Cleveland earlier this week for the latest round of settlement talks in the matter of drug companies’ role in the opioid crisis. In a court filing, U.S. District Judge Dan Polster said both sides agreed some barriers could not be solved through the talks. All parties agreed to “limited litigation” in which both sides could test some of the cases before a jury. The trials would include discovery and motions, and the outcomes would help inform future trials or settlement talks.

NOPEC to give back $9 million to customers through temporary rate reduction
The Northeast Ohio Public Energy Council, or NOPEC, is getting reduced rates for nearly half a million electric customers. The four-month rate reduction will return roughly $9 million to customers. More than half of that money will come from a settlement between NOPEC and Akron-based FirstEnergy Solutions, which terminated its contract in 2016. The rest will come from excess earnings by NOPEC. The natural gas aggregator serves customers across the region, including parts of Portage and Summit counties.

Condemned Ohio killer could be spared ahead of next month's execution
A condemned Ohio killer scheduled to die next month should be spared because of the possibility of other suspects and other questions, attorneys plan to argue to the state's parole board today. At issue before the board is the conviction and death sentence of William Montgomery for fatally shooting a Toledo woman during a robbery in 1986. Montgomery's attorneys say an examination of the woman’s autopsy casts doubt on the state's version of the killing. A co-defendant pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Montgomery in exchange for prosecutors dropping death penalty charges.

Natural gas well is capped after fiery explosion
A company whose natural gas well exploded and caught fire in eastern Ohio last month says the well that had continued leaking methane has been capped. The newly drilled well being readied for production exploded Feb. 15 in Belmont County, sending a plume of gas and brine into the air before igniting. Texas-based XTO Energy will be working with state regulators to determine the cause of the explosion and the amount of methane leaked.

U.S. EPA calls for action on Lake Erie algae blooms, but leaves out new federal regulations
The U.S. EPA called for stepped-up efforts Wednesday to reduce nutrient pollution that contributes to algae blooms in Lake Erie but recommended no new federal regulations to accomplish the task. The plan sets targets for reducing phosphorus that feeds giant algae masses. The blueprint seeks a 40 percent reduction in the amount of phosphorus entering the lake by 2025. A coalition of environmental groups said the federal plan included positive goals but lacked teeth. Ohio and Michigan are already behind the pace needed to achieve phosphorus reduction targets and are unlikely to achieve them through voluntary measures alone.

First Energy and Cincinnati contractor fined for deadly gas leak
Akron-based FirstEnergy and a contractor have been fined for a gas leak that killed two workers and injured four others. The gas leak happened last August at the utility’s largest coal-fired power plant in Pennsylvania. Cincinnati contractor EnerFab was doing maintenance work at the time of the incident. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration found the two companies failed to communicate, and EnerFab did not provide proper equipment to protect workers from the gas. FirstEnergy is facing nearly $80,000 in fines, while EnerFab is being fined more than $200,000.

Part of Stark County's bed tax increase will fund local arts events
Commissioners in Stark County say part of a new bed tax increase will go toward marketing local arts events. The 10-year agreement is expected to give about half a million dollars to local arts and tourism groups, including Visit Canton and ArtsInStark. The county’s bed tax was doubled in October to 6 percent. The Hall of Fame Village is exempt from the increase. The funding would be split between event promotions and community grants.