HOVENSA sells gas 'below cost' to empty tanks

ST. CROIX - HOVENSA today left the wholesale price of gasoline and diesel fuel at its truck racks unchanged after lowering prices two weeks in a row.

The company, which has stopped storing petroleum products for customers at its shuttered refinery on St. Croix and is in the process of shutting down operations completely, does not intend to replenish its fuel supplies.

Regular and premium gasoline, along with diesel fuel, were still available at HOVENSA's truck loading station as of Friday, but it was not clear how much longer supplies would last.

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Legislature to hear $1 million request to begin legal battle

ST. CROIX - The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to take testimony Tuesday on a bill that would appropriate $1 million to the Governor's Office to hire lawyers to launch a legal battle the governor said he plans to pursue against HOVENSA and its owners.

Invited testifiers on the bill include Acting Attorney General Terri Griffiths, Acting Finance Commissioner Valdamier Collens, Acting Office of Management and Budget Director Nellon Bowry, and Simon Jones-Hendrickson, the governor's chief economist and fiscal policy adviser.

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HOVENSA lays off final 101 employees

ST. CROIX - Sunday marked the day that HOVENSA officially laid off its remaining employees and some contractors - although others are still working to complete the shut down at the former South Shore refinery.

HOVENSA had been operating its idled refinery as a petroleum storage facility, leasing out storage space for petroleum products to customers. However, storage services for customers also stopped as of Sunday, according to the company's spokesman.

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Man shot five times in St. Thomas slaying

ST. THOMAS - On the first day of the third month of the year, the territory clocked its 12th homicide.

It was the sixth shooting death on St. Thomas, where Acting V.I. Police Commissioner Delroy Richards said he believes the rash of shootings is retaliatory among a small group of people.

Details on the latest slaying were minimal and Police officials could not be reached by presstime.

However, in a statement sent by V.I. Police Department spokesman Kevin Jackson, Police said the shooting took place just after 9 a.m. Sunday in Anna's Retreat.

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Public comments sought on revision of state elections plan

ST. THOMAS - Starting today, the public has 30 days to review and comment on the latest revision to the V.I. Elections System state plan.

The plan, which is required by the Help America Vote Act of 2002, is the second revision for the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The State Plan Advisory Committee was formed to conduct the review of the plan. The committee was led by former St. Thomas-St. John District Board of Elections member Claudette Georges and St. Croix District Board member Glenn Webster and included members of the public who responded to a call for volunteers to serve on the committee.

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Maintenance issue cancels flights days before arrival of new seaplane

ST. CROIX - Three Seaborne Airlines seaplane flights were canceled Saturday after a pilot reported a "vibration" on a flight from St. Croix to St. Thomas.

Gary Foss, the president and CEO of Seaborne Airlines, said it is not unusual for an airline to cancel flights and that his company has a 95 percent completion rate.

"If there's any chance safety could be compromised we don't take any chances," Foss told The Daily News.

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Department needs help to refurbish pool

ST. CROIX - The Sports, Parks and Recreation Department said it will use grant writers, business sponsorship and pleas to the community to try to raise the $100,000 it needs to renovate the Vincent Mason Sr. pool in Frederiksted.

Last summer, department had to close the pool for three-and-a-half weeks and spend $16,000 to repair the fiberglass epoxy resin on the side walls of the pool that was peeling off, according to Krystal Flores, the marine sports coordinator for Sports, Parks and Recreation.

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$2 million Powerball tickets sold in Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico

ST. CROIX - The Caribbean was a lucky place to buy Powerball tickets this weekend because one person in the Virgin Islands and one person in Puerto Rico each turned a $3 investment into $2 million, according to the Powerball website.

Someone in St. Thomas, St. Croix or St. John matched five of the six numbers in Saturday's drawing.

The numbers drawn were 11, 17, 25, 28, 46 and the Powerball number was 12, according to the website.

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Luis board clarifies Senate testimony on pay raises given to hospital workers

ST. CROIX - The Luis Hospital board on Friday released a statement aimed at clarifying when and what it knew about pay raises and retroactive pay that hospital executives gave out, saying members wanted to "clarify some misperceptions that were portrayed" during a Senate committee meeting this week.

"I did not feel that the chairman accurately portrayed the actions of the board," said Kim Jones, who sent out the press release on behalf of the board, including board chairman Dr. Anthony Ricketts. "There was confusion, especially with regards to the knowledge of the board, and with regards to the approval of the board. And the hospital board, the current board as it stands, did not approve any of those raises or any of the retro."

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Luis board to share improvement plan

According to a statement issued by the Luis Hospital board, it has agreed to publish a plan for the hospital: "A Vision for Systems Improvement Agreement Success."

The systems improvement agreement is the document hospital officials developed and then signed with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in November, outlining in broad strokes the hospital's responsibilities as Luis staff work to correct deficiencies CMS uncovered and meet basic standards for quality of care.

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USDA commodities to be distributed on St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas

The V.I. Education Department Special Nutrition Programs will distribute bonus USDA commodities next month as part of the Emergency Food Assistance Program.

Food will be distributed to eligible recipients:

- Beginning at 7 a.m. March 7 at Lockhart Elementary School on St. Thomas.

- Beginning at 9 a.m. March 14 at Julius Sparauve School on St. John.

- Beginning at 7 a.m. March 21 at Charles Emanuel School on St. Croix.

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Officials pleased as Henderson students are back in class

ST. CROIX - Education officials said Friday the transition from Alexander Henderson Elementary to four other schools around Frederiksted has been a smooth one and that the 430 students formerly of the school are now in a "safe comfortable environment conducive to learning."

Thursday "went better than expected," St. Croix Superintendent of Schools Colleen Williams said. "Everybody was in place, buses arrived on time and the children left on time."

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Condo Row beaches closed after sewage pump failure

The LBJ Pump Station experienced a mechanical failure on Wednesday that resulted in a sewage spill in the immediate area and adjacent sea, according to a statement issued Friday by the V.I. Waste Management Authority.

Crews responded and isolated the in-house pump equipment to cease the bypass of sewage late Wednesday morning, and the onsite backup diesel pump system was used to restore normal sewage pumping operations at the facility.

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St. Thomian writes book to help children

ST. THOMAS - A St. Thomas native who has been a longtime special needs teacher has taken her experience and turned it into a colorful lesson children that it is OK to be different with the release of her first children's book, "Hammer the Hyperactive Hound."

Rachel Davis, who teaches special education in Greenwich, Conn., wrote the book to highlight the need for better understanding of children with "comprehensive needs, emotional disturbance, behavior problems across many socioeconomic backgrounds."

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Businesses reminded that health permits have expired

The V.I. Health Department issued a statement Friday that all health permits to serve the public have expired, effective Monday.

Businesses that do not renew their permits could face fines and possible loss of their health license, according to the Health Department.

Additionally, all establishment operators and workers assisting with food and drink preparation must obtain an individual health card, which can be obtained at Health Department Community Health clinics. A picture I.D. or Social Security I.D. is required.

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EDC program called 'business welfare'

The Economic Development Program, a tax benefits program under the Economic Development Authority, is called a "business welfare" program in an audit report published by the V.I. Inspector General Thursday.

The report found that the program was often operated in conflict with the V.I. Code, that very little compliance monitoring took place and that businesses that were not eligible still received benefits.

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WAPA board OKs cost overruns, $5,000-a-month St. Croix condominium

ST. THOMAS - The V.I. Water and Power Authority board Thursday approved a number of contract extensions and heard updates from the staff on various projects.

The board approved:

- A contract extension and a price increase to prepare Unit 17 available for propane conversion. WAPA Executive Director Hugo Hodge Jr. said a number of issues were encountered that delayed the project. The original contract was for $2.6 million. The board approved to add $383,658 and extend the deadline from Dec. 16, 2014 to April 30.

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Senators worried police becoming a family business

ST. CROIX - Although Police Commissioner designee Delroy Richards Sr. wanted to talk about the serious staffing issues facing his department, the senators at Thursday's nomination hearing before the Rules and Judiciary Committee wanted to talk about nepotism and patronage instead.

At about the same time Richards was testifying on St. Croix about how he and the V.I. Police Department plan to combat violent crime in the territory, a drive-by shooting took place on Brookman Road - one of the most heavily traveled roads on St. Thomas.

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Man hurt in St. Thomas shootout between people in 2 vehicles

ST. THOMAS - A man was injured Thursday in a mid-afternoon shootout between people in two vehicles on one of the island's busiest roads.

Witnesses on the scene said at about 2:30 p.m. Thursday, one car was on Brookman Road and the other was on the road leading into Mariendal, just off Brookman Road.

When one car passed in front of the other, they opened fire and the people in the other car shot back, according to witnesses.

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Breakdown closes Bordeaux Fire Station

ST. THOMAS - The V.I. Fire Service has temporarily closed the Bordeaux Fire Station and relocated its trucks and personnel to the Emile Berry Fire Station in Dorothea.

At the same time, the firefighters from Dorothea will fill in at the Tutu Fire Station, where a truck is out of service for repairs.

"All emergency calls for the Bordeaux community will be handled through the Dorothea fire station. 911 operators are aware of the temporary closure and will dispatch the closest fire service to any emergencies accordingly," Fire Service Director Eugene Farrell said in a press release.

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Recreation pick stresses swimming

ST. CROIX - The nomination for Gov. Kenneth Mapp's choice to head the Sports, Parks and Recreation Department, Pedro Cruz, sailed through the Senate Rules and Judiciary Committee with a favorable recommendation Thursday in Frederiksted.

Among his priorities for the government agency, Cruz said he plans to focus on teaching Virgin Islands children to swim in an effort to promote the territory's marine industry.

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Port Authority to stage emergency drill at King Airport

The V.I. Port Authority will conduct a full-scale emergency drill from 8 a.m. to noon today at King Airport on St. Thomas.

The exercise is tailored to test first-responders and stakeholders who play a key role in disaster response and recovery, as per the airport's emergency plan.

The drill will cover emergency response procedures in the event of a major commercial carrier accident, according to

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AG vows to prosecute Daily News

ST. THOMAS - Acting Attorney General Terri Griffiths told executives of The Virgin Islands Daily News on Thursday morning that she will prosecute the newspaper on criminal charges because of its telephone calls to obtain comment and information from her.

"I'll be filing criminal charges against you," Griffiths said as she abruptly left a meeting at The Daily News' offices on St. Thomas.

Griffiths' departure concluded a volatile session in which she accused The Daily News of harassing her by calling her cell phone after business hours to seek her comment on news events.

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St. Thomas solar project put to work

ST. THOMAS - With the official dedication of the new solar energy facility in Estate Donoe on Wednesday, the territory now is getting about 8 percent of its peak load from a renewable resource.

The 17,960 solar panels carpet the rolling valley along the Donoe Bypass, soaking up the sun to make power.

The $20 million solar facility will be owned and operated by Main Street Power, the company that built the project, for the next 25 years. The power generated at the facility will be sold to the V.I. Water and Power Authority and will lower ratepayers' bills by about 3 to 5 percent, according to WAPA.

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WAPA mourns son, co-worker

ST. THOMAS - V.I. Water and Power Authority Executive Director Hugo Hodge Jr. said Wednesday was a bittersweet day.

The "WAPA family" is thrilled to have a major solar project come to completion, but the employees are mourning the loss of one of their own, he said.

On Sunday, one of WAPA's water system employees, 24-year-old Jama Rhymer, the son of WAPA's Chief Operating Officer Gregory Rhymer, died in a car crash on Veterans Drive.

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USDA commodities to be distributed across territory

The V.I. Education Department Special Nutrition Programs will distribute bonus USDA commodities next month as part of the Emergency Food Assistance Program.

Food will be distributed to eligible recipients:

- Beginning at 7 a.m. March 7 at Lockhart Elementary School on St. Thomas.

- Beginning at 9 a.m. March 14 at Julius Sprauve School on St. John.

- Beginning at 7 a.m. March 21 at Charles Emanuel School on St. Croix.

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Where Henderson students will go

The 430 Henderson Elementary School students being displaced for three weeks while repairs are being made to the school's roof will be split between four schools.

- 83 students in kindergarten through second grade will attend school in six classrooms at Eulalie R. Rivera Elementary School.

- 109 students in grades three and five will be installed in four classrooms at Charles H. Emanuel Elementary School.

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Thieves to blame for school closing

ST. CROIX - A leaky roof has forced Education officials to close Alexander Henderson Elementary for at least 15 school days after children there complained of itchy eyes, sore throats and irritated skin.

Beginning today, the 430 students who attend the school in Concordia will have classes for the next three weeks at one of four different schools while repairs are made to the school's roof.

Education Commissioner designee Sharon McCollum said recent heavy rains have caused the roof to leak in places, allowing water to pool under the roof and causing fiberglass insulation to get wet in places and drop to the floor below.

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Officer suspended without pay in assault

ST. CROIX - V.I. Police Commissioner designee Delroy Richards Sr. clarified a number of questions surrounding a weekend incident in which a police officer was arrested and charged with assault after officers said she punched a man in the face during a domestic dispute.

Officer Ashley Benton, 26, was suspended without pay after her arrest just before 4:30 a.m. Saturday outside a bar in La Grande Princesse.

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Griffith defends raises, decisions

ST. CROIX - Luis Hospital Chief Executive Officer Dr. Kendall Griffith on Tuesday defended his decision to hand out pay raises valued at more than a million dollars annually while the hospital failed in meeting basic quality standards, struggled with keeping medications and supplies in stock and could not make payroll without a government bailout.

"It is a judgment call that I stand by, and I would not do things any differently than I have done," Griffith said during a hearing of the Senate Health, Hospitals and Human Services Committee.

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Forensics team disputes officer's shooting claim

ST. THOMAS - Despite a V.I. Police officer's claim that someone shot at his police vehicle while he was driving down Veterans Drive Friday night, police officials said Tuesday that no evidence of a bullet was found.

"After careful examination of the patrol vehicle that suffered a shattered window on the evening of Friday, Feb. 20, members of the VIPD's Forensics Team have concluded that no shot was fired, causing the damage," V.I. Police spokesman Kevin Jackson said in a written statement.

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Smell closes Henderson again

ST. CROIX - After ending classes Tuesday morning because of a pervading stench, Alexander Henderson Elementary School will remain closed today while Education officials try to determine what is causing the stink and can be certain that it is safe for everyone to attend.

Students were dismissed just after 9 a.m. on Tuesday - after being released in the early afternoon Monday when school officials and government education administrators determined that it would be safer for children to remain outside of the building.

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Army Corps issues dredging permit

ST. THOMAS - After months of waiting, the V.I. Port Authority has received the last federal permit needed to start the dredging project in Crown Bay.

Port Authority Executive Director Carlton Dowe said the permit was approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Monday.

With the permit in place, dredging of the East Gregerie Channel - which leads to the Monsanto Marine Terminal in Crown Bay - will begin immediately.

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Taxicab Commission to offer test quarterly

The V.I. Taxicab Commission will offer testing for the Taxi Class "C" license once per quarter, beginning in March.

Prior to the exam, each applicant is required to attend the Taxi & Tour Professional Development Seminar comprising nine classroom hours.

The first seminar will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday and from 9 a.m. to noon on Friday.

Registration forms for the seminar are available at the Taxicab Commission offices on St. Thomas at 8201 Sub Base; on St. Croix at 3274 Estate Richmond; and on St. John at the Battery in Cruz Bay.

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Folk-Life Festival to return to Annaberg ruins Thursday

In celebration of Black History Month, the V.I. National Park and the Friends of Virgin Islands National Park have partnered to present the 24th Annual Folk-Life Festival from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday and Friday at the Annaberg Sugar Plantation Ruins on St John.

The theme for this year's program is "Keeping it Alive," and the program is intended to give students an opportunity to learn about and inspire an appreciation for their rich cultural heritage.

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Parole board to hear 23 cases

ST. CROIX - The V.I. Parole Board will hold hearings today and Friday to determine whether 21 men will continue to serve out their prison terms.

The board also will decide whether two parolees should be returned to prison for violating the terms of their release.

On the list are five inmates who have been convicted of murder, including Lloyd Canegata, Nathaniel Hazell, Jamal Arthur, Michael Jackson and Joseph Ettinoff.

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Parole hearings

Parole hearings scheduled for today and Friday:

Joseph Elliott Jr. - First-degree burglary; possession of a dangerous weapon; possession of stolen property.

Harim Prince - First-degree assault.

Jamal Arthur - Second-degree murder.

Nathaniel Hazell - Second-degree murder.

Lloyd Canegata - Second-degree murder.

Luis Davis - First-degree attempted robbery.

Luis Rivera - First-degree attempted robbery.

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UVI medical school achieves 'candidate' status

The University of the Virgin Islands Medical School has cleared the first hurdle on its way to becoming an accredited institution.

At a meeting this month, the Liaison Committee for Medical Education reviewed UVI's application for accreditation and deemed the university a "candidate school" for accreditation.

The next step will be a site visit, which likely will take place during the summer, according to UVI officials.

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Schneider officials get to brag to senators

ST. CROIX - A preliminary report from surveyors who conducted a three-day inspection at Schneider Regional Medical Center indicates the facility will maintain its accredited status with The Joint Commission, according to information hospital officials presented to a Senate committee on Tuesday.

"SRMC is proud to report that our facilities continue to meet The Joint Commission Accreditation standards for hospital and laboratory services," Chief Executive Officer Bernard Wheatley said.

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Senators attempt to revamp STARS bill

ST. THOMAS - For years, local lawmakers have been trying to fine tune the Sustainable Tourism through Art-based Revenue Streams Act, known as the STARS Act, to create an effective program to lure film, music and video productions to the territory.

Those efforts continued Monday before the Senate's Economic Development, Agriculture and Planning Committee hearing.

The latest version of the bill repeals the existing law and replaces it with a revamped version, sponsored by Sen. Clifford Graham.

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Luis CEO defends handing out huge raises as central government borrowed to pay bills

ST. CROIX - In a prepared statement, a Luis Hospital official responded to a Daily News special report published Monday and defended his actions giving out pay raises worth more than a million dollars annually while the hospital failed to maintain basic quality care standards and could not meet its own payroll.

Luis Hospital Chief Executive Officer Dr. Kendall Griffith also defended handing out more than $600,000 in retro pay.

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Heavy rains blamed for odor that closes Henderson Elementary

ST. CROIX - Classes at Alexander Henderson Elementary School were dismissed early Monday after students and staff complained of a foul odor on the campus in Concordia.

Superintendent of Schools Colleen Williams said rainfall during the weekend - the National Weather Service said 0.22 inches fell between Saturday and Sunday - created "conditions not conducive to learning" at the Frederiksted school.

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Questions remain on cop's arrest

ST. CROIX - Even as more questions arose Monday, the V.I. Police Department has released no further details about the arrest of an officer who is accused of punching a man in the face outside a St. Croix bar on Saturday.

A woman police identified as Officer Ashley Benton, 26, appeared Monday for her advice of rights hearing before V.I. Superior Court Judge Miguel Camacho on a charge of simple assault and battery.

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Candidates have until March 13 to apply to take firefighter test

The V.I. Personnel Division has announced the schedule for testing for entry level firefighters in the St. Croix District.

The sign-up period will be from March 2 through March 13, and testing will be conducted May 11-15.

All interested candidates must sign-up and submit a complete application package by close of business on March 13.

Qualified candidates will be able to pick up their study preparation manuals April 9-10.

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How Luis Hospital reported raises

Luis Hospital documents obtained by The Daily News show that in Fiscal Year 2014 - which ran from Oct. 1, 2013, to Sept. 30, 2014 - the hospital officials paid out salary increases worth $721,211 annually.

During just four months of FY 2015 - from Oct. 1, 2014 to Feb. 5, 2015 - hospital officials also gave out big salary increases, worth $543,460 annually, hospital documents show.

The way the hospital organized the information blurs the picture. Luis Hospital officials did not respond to Daily News requests seeking more information and clarification.

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Luis Hospital hands out $720,000 in raises as hospital's finances crash

During a period in which the V.I. Government repeatedly had to bail out Luis Hospital so it could make payroll - even sending borrowed money after the St. Croix hospital used up its entire appropriation - hospital officials handed out salary increases valued at more than a million dollars annually and more than $600,000 in retroactive pay.

The pay increases the hospital awarded in Fiscal Year 2014 - at the same time the hospital was on the brink of losing its U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services certification and failed to make the basic improvements required before the hospital could meet CMS quality of care standards - had an annual value of at least $720,000.

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Luis Hospital financial manager has long arrest record Charges include domestic violence, disturbance of the peace, fighting, DUI, resisting arrest

Luis Hospital assistant chief financial officer Michael Younger, who was hired last year and became acting CFO within months, has a troubled history of run-ins with the law.

Younger's history includes multiple arrests in Colorado and a guilty plea last year to a felony assault charge there stemming from a 2011 domestic violence incident.

Court records indicate that he is on probation on that charge, which is a Class 6 felony, the least serious class of felony in Colorado.

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Driver dies in St. Thomas wreck

ST. THOMAS - One person is dead and another is in critical condition after an early morning car crash Sunday on Veterans Drive.

Emergency 911 dispatchers received a call at 4:20 a.m. reporting a collision near the pump house on Veterans Drive involving a 2001 Toyota Echo and a 2010 Chevy S-10 pickup truck.

The driver of the Toyota, Jama Rhymer, 24, was pronounced dead on the scene and a 22-year-old female passenger was transported to Schneider Hospital, where she was in critical condition, according to the V.I. Police Department.

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Senate president tells Mapp to try again on nominations to V.I. Port Authority

ST. THOMAS - Concerns have been raised about the three nominations to the V.I. Port Authority board, made by Gov. Kennth Mapp last week.

Senate President Neville James sent a letter to Mapp on Thursday expressing his concerns about the nominations.

James asked that the names be withdrawn and nominations be resubmitted to comply with Virgin Islands law.

Mapp submitted the nominations of Shirlene Taylor, Hugh Pemberton and Michael Watson to the Port Authority board Tuesday.

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HOVENSA cuts price of gas another 15ยข

ST. CROIX - For the second time in a row, HOVENSA lowered its wholesale price on regular gasoline significantly, dropping it by 15 cents.

HOVENSA also reduced the wholesale price of premium and diesel fuels by 15 cents per gallon.With the change in price, independent gas station operators in the territory are paying $3.10 per gallon for regular gasoline, $3.59 per gallon for premium gasoline and $3.31 per gallon for diesel fuel when they buy their fuel wholesale from HOVENSA. Those prices include the 14-cents-per-gallon tax that HOVENSA collects for the government.

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