Extortion and fleeing cases heading to grand jury

T-L Photo/SHELLEY HANSON JUDGE CHRIS Berhalter conducts a session on Wednesday at the Belmont County Northern Division Court in Bellaire.

BELLAIRE — Two men, including one whose alleged actions led to the lockdown of a school, will face the next Belmont County grand jury after they appeared in Northern Division Court on Wednesday.

Thomas J. Smith, 35, of 207 N. Fifth St., Martins Ferry appeared before Judge Christopher Berhalter in Northern Division Court on Wednesday. The prosecutor’s office made a motion to dismiss the case at the division court level and instead have it heard by the next grand jury. Berhalter approved the motion.

Smith is charged with extortion after he allegedly sent a woman a social media message on Dec. 3 stating that her children would not make it home safe. One of the woman’s children attends Ayers Elementary School in Martins Ferry. After the school was notified of the alleged threat, school officials and Martins Ferry police conducted a lockdown at the school. Parents were alerted and permitted to take their children home early.

Smith was on parole for an unrelated crime at the time of the alleged threat. During a revocation hearing held Monday, Smith’s probation was revoked because of the alleged threat and for associating with a known felon. After his parole was revoked, he was sentenced to serve two years behind bars with credit for 267 days served.

Meanwhile, Terry L. Watson, 30, of 147 Fort Clark Drive, Benwood faces charges of fleeing and eluding, obstructing and theft following a high-speed chase that occurred in Pennsylvania, Wheeling and ended in Martins Ferry on Dec. 18. Watson allegedly fled from police in West Virginia and Pennsylvania and traveled to Martins Ferry, where police say he eventually jumped out of his vehicle near the Laslo Apartments on Third Street. He then reportedly fled on foot, but officers found him.

Assistant Prosecutor Scott Lloyd said after the hearing Wednesday that Watson has holds from West Virginia authorities and he also expects additional Pennsylvania charges.

“Since he will not be released but only transferred to West Virginia confinement, our charges here were dismissed without prejudice to be refiled and presented to the Belmont County grand jury at the earliest opportunity,” Lloyd said.