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Prosecuter dies

June 27, 2002|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

David H. Savasten, who gave up his civil law practice to be Morgan County's full-time prosecuting attorney last year, died Tuesday at the age of 60.

Law colleagues who knew Savasten as a polished, committed, witty attorney were stunned by how quickly an autoimmune disorder took his life.

"We'd all heard about it. It's a fairly small community," said John Adams, who used to prosecute cases with Savasten in Morgan County. "But we assumed that given the advanced state of medicine, there'd be a fix in it for him."

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"David had never been sick, not even a cold," said his wife, Gloria Jean Ritchey Flowers. "He was very healthy."

When Savasten first heard his diagnosis about a month ago, his reaction was, "I'm going to get rid of it. I'm going to get better," his wife said.

Prednisone, a steroid, helped at first, but his condition worsened.

Savasten continued to work as a prosecutor during his illness. Flowers said his last day on the job was Friday; she took him to the hospital Saturday.

Savasten grew up in Youngstown, Ohio. On his way to law school at the University of Virginia, he passed through Berkeley Springs, W.Va., and decided it was "a quaint little town," Flowers said.

In 1973, seven years after he received his law degree, Savasten remembered the mental notes he had kept and moved to Berkeley Springs to escape a declining Youngstown, Flowers said.

Savasten opened a law firm that same year. In 1975, he joined with C. William Harmison to create a new firm, where Savasten practiced for 26 years.

Along the way, Savasten was Morgan County's prosecuting attorney. He held the job from 1981 to 1988 and again from 1995 to 2001.

The job was part time until last year, when the county made it full time. Savasten chose his county job over his civil practice and continued to prosecute.

Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely, who knew Savasten through his work as a special prosecutor, said he was "very competent at what he did and he liked what he did."

"I think David was very skilled, very persuasive on his feet with a jury," said Del. Charles H. Trump IV, who served as Morgan County's prosecuting attorney in between Savasten's two stints.

Trump said he learned how much Savasten loved the courtroom through the many cases they tried against each other.

He also loved his job - he had to or he wouldn't have done it, Adams said.

"When you're a prosecutor, the phone rings all the time," including the middle of the night, he said.

"He loved the courtroom and seeing justice done," Flowers said. "He took his work very seriously. He would have sleepless nights."

The anxiety didn't show. Adams said that for an attorney, a sign of experience is "you become very comfortable in the courtroom" - or at least you hide your jitters well.

Savasten had that, he said.

"He was very relaxed, very experienced," Adams said.

Adams became prosecuting attorney in 1993 and made Savasten his assistant. Not long after winning the next election, Adams resigned. Savasten was appointed and made Adams his assistant.

One of the most memorable cases they prosecuted together was that of a lay minister in Paw Paw, W.Va., who was charged with molesting young boys, Adams said. The lay minister was convicted, and on appeal, the conviction was upheld.

Colleagues said Savasten's sense of humor was keen.

"He always told people he had brown hair when it was gray," Adams recalled.

"He had a sharp wit, although he took the job seriously," said attorney David Camilletti.

Flowers said it was Savasten's dry humor and their shared loved of singing in the church choir that drew them together.

After dating for four years, they decided to marry. They made plans for a big church wedding in August.

Then, Savasten found out about his illness. That changed everything. He told Flowers, "You never know. I could get hit by a bus."

Their priest married them June 5.

"He was a gentleman and I will miss him," Flowers said.

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