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Wheeling Park bus case in jurisdictional limbo

WHEELING, W.Va. — Any potential criminal proceedings associated with alleged inappropriate behavior by members of the Wheeling Park High School boys’ basketball team aboard a school bus returning from Morgantown likely will not move forward because of jurisdictional uncertainty.

It’s been nearly three weeks since alleged sexual misconduct and other actions occurred on the school bus as it returned from a West Virginia University basketball game. The bus was carrying members of the basketball team, coaches, an unidentified adult female and at least two juvenile females.

The matter stems from an investigation by Ohio County Sheriff’s Deputy Chad Clatterbuck, who works as a school resource officer at Wheeling Park High School, into events that took place Jan. 26. However, it’s unclear where things happened, which has prosecutors uncertain as to who should handle the case.

Clatterbuck’s six-page report, released last week, along with postings on social media paint a picture of the evening.

Wheeling Park’s basketball team ate dinner in Wheeling on Jan. 26 before boarding a bus for a trip to Morgantown to watch WVU play Kansas State, a game the Mountaineers won by a 70-55 score.

Postings on social media show many of the players and coaches who attended the game, and photographs taken at the WVU Coliseum show a group of young men having a good time while watching a basketball game.

Much of the return trip was what one would expect from a group of 15- to 18-year-olds. However, at some point, according to video from the bus’ on-board cameras, one of the players pulled down his pants, exposing himself as he stood in the aisle.

Another player followed suit, exposing himself before urinating in a bottle, then capping the bottle and tossing it on the floor. All of this was recorded by the video system, and viewed after the fact by Clatterbuck, Ohio County Schools Superintendent Dianna Vargo, Athletics Director Dwaine Rodgers, head coach Michael Jebbia, assistant coach Terry Payne and Wheeling Park administrators Katrina Lewis and Stephanie Bugaj.

At some point after those incidents took place, things took another turn, when one of the players who was seen exposing himself on video was allegedly assaulted by two others. According to Clatterbuck’s report, one player put the alleged victim in a choke hold from behind while another sat on his legs, pulled down his pants and allegedly fondled his genitals.

All of this happened without the coaches or other chaperones on the bus being aware.

Late in the evening on Saturday, Jan. 30, four days after the WVU game, Clatterbuck received a phone call. Vargo and Rodgers were on the line, and informed him they had just learned from Jebbia what happened on the bus.

Jebbia, who was on the trip, told Vargo and Rodgers that earlier on Jan. 30, he learned of the alleged assault when Payne was contacted by a parent of a student from the bus. It is unclear when Payne was notified of what happened.

Prior to Wheeling Park’s Jan. 30 game, Jebbia and Rodgers said they spoke to the alleged victim, who confirmed the assault. Jebbia suspended two of his players for that night’s game.

The phone call to Clatterbuck set in motion a three-day investigation that included meetings with staff members, interviews with the students involved and consultations with local prosecutors to determine what, if anything, could be done.

The first step involved talking with the alleged victim on Feb. 1. Clatterbuck met with the victim, who is 18, one of his parents and administrators Lewis and Bugaj. The victim confirmed the alleged events that took place on the bus surrounding the assault. He said after the students let him go, he stood up, spit at them and sat back down in his seat.

Clatterbuck told the student that he believed he was a victim of a crime. The victim, however, told him he did not wish to pursue criminal charges.

Clatterbuck later that day met with Vargo and others to view the video recording from the bus, which showed the students, one of whom was the alleged assault victim, exposing themselves in the aisle, but did not show the alleged assault. School officials have termed that a “malfunction” of the bus’s video recorder.

Following the video footage, Clatterbuck said Vargo asked him if the activity on the video appeared criminal.

“I advised Vargo that I would define the exposure incidents as criminal in nature and as misdemeanors; however, the reported (assault) incident could be a felony offense. I advised that having viewed the film it was my obligation as a law enforcement officer to document all my observations and forward any known evidence to the Ohio County Prosecuting Attorney for consideration of prosecution,” Clatterbuck wrote.

Vargo also asked Lewis and Bugaj about their investigation into the assault. Both administrators said they had spoken to the other two students involved, and that they admitted their roles.

On Feb. 2, school administrators informed all four students involved in the incident, including the victim, that they were suspended from school and could not play sports for 10 days. The two students who allegedly held the victim down also were recommended for expulsion.

One of the main questions that’s been asked since details emerged last week is, simply, who’s responsible?

According to West Virginia Department of Education Transportation Director Mike Pickens, each school bus that takes a trip such as this one has an “administrator in charge” who is responsible for what happens on the bus. He said the driver is responsible for driving the bus. It is the responsibility of the administrator in charge to monitor activity on the bus.

That administrator could be Jebbia, or the county could have appointed one of his assistants. It’s unknown just who was in charge on that bus because Ohio County administrators have refused to answer any questions.

Pickens also addressed the malfunction of the bus’ digital video recorder, saying while it’s uncommon for the recorder to stop working, “like all mechanical hardware, I suppose it could malfunction.”

Vargo, through the county’s spokesman, Gabe Wells, said she could not comment on any aspects of the investigation at this time, “but she would when she can do so.”

Messages left with Jebbia and board President Shane Mallett also were not immediately returned.

For the investigation to move forward, jurisdiction has to be determined.

Clatterbuck, in his report, noted that after extensive viewing of the video footage, it appeared “all exposure incidents that occurred while the bus was in transit did not take place in Ohio County.”

Just where they happened is now the crux of this issue.

No one is disputing that crimes might have occurred, or that charges could be filed. Clatterbuck met Feb. 2 with Ohio County Prosecutor Scott Smith and Assistant Prosecutor Gail Kahle and the prosecutors determined that two players could be charged with indecent exposure and one could face a charge of unlawful restraint.

However, Smith said he will not file charges because he doesn’t have jurisdiction.

For a return trip from Morgantown, the bus had to travel through Monongalia County, Greene County, Pa., Washington County, Pa. and then Ohio County. The video evidence is unclear as to where any of the incidents took place.

Smith said it is up to the Ohio County Sheriff’s Department to forward the information to other law enforcement jurisdictions where the events could have happened.

Sheriff Pat Butler does not plan to contact the other jurisdictions.

“It is a shame that we cannot determine where it happened so we could have the appropriate agency do the investigation,” he said.

West Virginia State Police spokesman Lt. Michael Baylous and Trooper Matthew J. Jardine of the Pennsylvania State Police both said they are unaware of any investigation in their respective states.

Representatives from the Monongalia County Prosecutor’s office and from the District Attorneys offices in Greene and Washington Counties also confirmed they have not been contacted.

Tara Tighe, spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld, said that federal office also is not involved in the case.

The question now is whether the case will move forward at all.

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