2019 Newport News (Archived)
Funding announced for ATV facility in Newport Township
The Wolf Administration announced new grant funding totaling $647,300 that will support more than 157 new miles of all-terrain vehicle (ATV) trails, increasing opportunities for outdoor recreation at five sites in the commonwealth.
In Luzerne County, the Earth Conservancy received $62,000 to prepare a feasibility study for an ATV facility in Newport Township.
“These investments will support new miles of ATV trails for residents and visitors to enjoy, boosting the economic impact on nearby communities,” said Cindy Adams Dunn, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary. “The funds are generated when ATVs are registered, and are then put back into increasing opportunities for this outdoor recreation.”
DCNR’s ATV grant program can help to buy land; develop plans and surveys; construct and maintain ATV trails; buy equipment; and conduct educational programs relating to ATV use.
With a few limited exceptions, all ATVs in Pennsylvania must have a registration issued by DCNR. Pennsylvania has around 285,000 registered ATVs. The grants are administered by DCNR with funding provided from ATV registrations.
Police: Man assaulted, strangled woman
Michael P. Buffer - Citizens Voice
A Memphis man is facing charges he assaulted and strangled a Newport Twp. woman and illegally possessed a firearm, according to an arrest affidavit filed by state police Thursday.
The man, Ulandus Xavier Mayes, 30, had an arraignment Thursday, and District Judge Donald Whittaker set bail at $100,000 cash. The alleged victim, Lanish Knight-Soules, was letting Mayes stay with her after he arrived Tuesday on a bus from Memphis, police said.
Mayes is a convicted felon from Georgia and Tennessee and had a prior conviction for distribution of marijuana, police said.
Constable charged with molesting young girl
James Halpin - Citizens Voice
A state constable has been charged with raping a young girl for years beginning when she was 5.
Ronald Ebert Jr., 52, of 52 Newport St., is accused of bribing and pressuring the girl to perform oral sex on him while he was supposed to be watching her.
According to the complaint, the victim, now 22, went to police in March to report Ebert had molested her from the age of 5 until after she turned 11.
It began when Ebert, who was staying at her home with her parents, was lying on a couch and the girl touched his penis, the charges say.
After that, Ebert brought the girl into a bathroom and directed her to perform oral sex on him, the complaint alleges.
The encounters continued happening several times a week, with Ebert convincing the girl what was happening was normal, according to police. Ebert would also give her money and use guilt to get her to comply, warning he would “get a new girlfriend to do it,” if she wouldn’t, the complaint alleges.
After the girl turned 11, Ebert tried to have intercourse with the girl but she stopped him because it hurt too badly, police said. That was the last sexual encounter between the two, the girl told police.
Investigators say they verified that Ebert used to live in the home and that the girl’s siblings recalled her and Ebert disappearing together while he was watching the children.
Police charged Ebert with rape of a child, aggravated indecent assault, indecent assault, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and corruption of a minor.
Magisterial District Judge David A. Barilla arraigned Ebert on the charges Wednesday afternoon and ordered him jailed at the Luzerne County Correctional Facility with bail set at $50,000.
A preliminary hearing was set for Nov. 27.
Police: Nanticoke man assaulted estranged wife, slashed her tires
A Nanticoke man was denied bail after being arrested on accusations he assaulted his estranged wife twice within six hours Tuesday at her Glen Lyon apartment and slashed the tires on her car.
Newport Twp. police filed two criminal complaints against the alleged attacker, Ryan David Casey.
Casey, 31, of River Street, Nanticoke, is charged with strangulation, burglary, simple assault, trespassing, harassment, endangering the welfare of children, and criminal mischief.
Following Casey’s arraignment on Tuesday afternoon, Magisterial District Judge Donald Whittaker ordered Casey jailed in the Luzerne County Correctional Facility.
Whittaker denied Casey bail.
According to arrest papers:
Casey showed up at the East Main Street, Glen Lyon, apartment of his ex-wife, Sammi, around 6:50 a.m. after she blocked him from messaging or calling her. As she opened the door, Casey barged in and started choking her to the point she couldn’t breath and nearly passed out, she said.
Casey only stopped when her children demanded he stop, arrest papers say.
After Casey fled, the woman noticed all four tires on her car were slashed.
The woman called police to report the incident around 7:06 a.m., but denied medical attention, police said.
Police say they were called back to the woman’s apartment around 12:47 p.m. after Casey returned and broke into the home by kicking open the front door.
The woman said she hid in a closet, but Casey found her and dragged her out.
Police said Casey kicked and punched the woman, bloodying her nose. The couple’s 11-year-old son tried to intervene, but Casey pushed him out of the way and continued the attack, police said.
In the meantime, the couple’s 9-year-old daughter fled to a neighbor’s house to call 911. Casey eventually stopped the attack and fled, police said.
Police said they apprehended Casey upon arrival at his home in Nanticoke.
Yudichak: SCI-Retreat closing gives Luzerne County an economic 'death penalty'
Using Department of Corrections terminology, state Sen. John Yudichak on Thursday at a public hearing accused Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration of ordering the economic “death penalty” for Luzerne County with plans to close State Correctional Institution at Retreat in Newport Twp.
Yudichak, D-14, Plymouth Twp., said he’s watched Luzerne County “rise from the ashes of anthracite” coal mining during his 20 years in the state legislature, but the area still struggles economically compared to other regions of the state.
Closing SCI-Retreat, in addition to the proposed closure of the White Haven Center for the intellectually disabled in White Haven, would amount to a “catastrophic” loss of over 850 family-sustaining jobs for Luzerne County, Yudichak warned during the hearing at Greater Nanticoke Area High School chaired by Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel.
“After decades of working to dig ourselves out of the mine hole, why would state government kick Luzerne County back down the mine shaft?” Yudichak asked. “This is more than cruel and unusual punishment. It is the potential death penalty.”
Hundreds of people in attendance, mostly SCI-Retreat workers, loudly applauded following Yudichak’s comments.
Citing budget constraints and a shrinking prison population, the Wolf administration has proposed closing SCI-Retreat and sending its 1,000 inmates to other prisons in the state. The administration has said 400-plus employees would be offered jobs at one of six other DOC facilities in Northeast Pennsylvania — SCIs Coal Twp., Dallas, Frackville, Mahanoy, Muncy and Waymart — all within 65 miles of SCI-Retreat.
The hearing began with DOC officials reading a statement from Wolf.
“I do not take the decision to close a prison lightly,” Wolf said.
Wolf vowed to work with staff members, the union and legislators and review all the testimony presented before making a final decision. But he noted DOC needs can’t be dictated only by the impacts on communities where prisons currently exist.
“No community should rely solely on a prison for economic viability,” Wolf said in his statement.
SCI-Retreat, which sits between the Susquehanna River and a Newport Twp. mountainside, is by far the largest employer in the municipality.
Newport Twp. manager Peter Wanchisen told the DOC panel leading the hearing that the closing would devastate the township, which contains the downtrodden Glen Lyon, a section of the township has been classified as the most distressed place in Pennsylvania.
“We are not looking for a handout from Harrisburg. We are looking for a helping hand. Please do not close this facility,” Wanchisen pleaded.
Bernadette Mason, the superintendent of SCI-Retreat, asked DOC officials and the governor to reconsider the decision.
“I am here to humbly ask that every effort be made to allow for the facility to stay open,” Mason said. “To the staff of SCI-Retreat, we are one family, brothers and sisters who stick together. I am with you every step of the way.”
During his comments, Yudichak noted the closure would be felt far beyond Newport Twp. to the tunes of millions of dollars per year.
Since SCI-Retreat is only accessible by using a bridge from Route 11 in Hunlock Twp., businesses along Route 11 — like Stookey’s Bar-B-Que and Morris Family Restaurant in Plymouth Twp. — would see a big loss of business, Yudichak said.
Sen. Lisa Baker, R-20, Lehman Twp., asked Wetzel not to endorse a “foreclosure on our future.”
She noted the state, in recent years, spent $1 million for a new natural gas hook up at SCI-Retreat and wondered what the state will still owe to the gas company.
Additionally, the prison is by far the largest customer of the Shickshinny Sanitary Sewer Authority, which also serves the residents of Shickshinny, Conyngham Twp. and Salem Twp.
Baker noted the authority has an outstanding loan through 2036 to pay for upgrades, which were designed assuming SCI-Retreat would continue to be a customer.
The senator warned that the average ratepayer in those three municipalities who now pays $60 a quarter might see their bill skyrocket to $500 every three months, or $2,000 a year, if SCI-Retreat is eliminated.
Baker said the authority already has a 30 percent delinquency rate on bills.
“To pile on a big rate increase, the delinquencies will rise and soar,” Baker said.
Prior to Baker’s testimony, DOC officials said the department has agreed to continue paying its $37,000 quarterly sewer bill for five years.
Don Williams, a prison safety advocate from Nanticoke, told Wetzel about how his son Eric, 34, was murdered by an inmate while working in federal prison after cost cutting measures reduced staff.
“To try and fix a budget problem by putting all these officers lives in danger is very ill advised,” Williams said. “I hope something doesn’t result like what happened to my son.”
The crowd, some with tears in their eyes, gave Williams a standing ovation.
Dave McElwee, a retired SCI-Retreat captain from Bloomsburg, said he wants an investigation launched to see if partisan political motivations were behind Wolf, a Democrat, trying to close two state facilities in Luzerne County.
“It’s a retaliation on Luzerne County for voting for Donald Trump,” McElwee said.
His comment drew the loudest applause of the night.
Trump, a Republican, routed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Luzerne County in the 2016 presidential election, despite a nearly two-to-one registration advantage for Democrats.
Several people who asked questions wondered why Wetzel in his budget request before the state legislature indicated a prison closure wasn’t likely but now seems to support one.
In 2017, Gov. Tom Wolf targeted five prisons for possible closure, including SCI-Retreat. Following meetings, protests and public outcry, the governor opted to just to close SCI-Pittsburgh.
After Wolf tried to close SCI-Retreat in 2017, the state legislature passed the Public Safety Facilities Act, which required a public hearing before state facilities could be closed and a 90-day notice.
Wolf first proposed closing SCI-Retreat on Aug. 29, so the earliest a decision could be made is Nov. 29, Wetzel said.
He said a decision will likely be announced the first week of December.
“This isn’t just an exercise,” Wetzel said. “This is a difficult decision. We are going to take all due caution.”
Support for SCI-Retreat overflows at hearing
Gathering in the auditorium of the Greater Nanticoke Area High School, state officials, employees of the State Correctional Institute — Retreat and others came out in an attempt to convince the state Department of Corrections to keep the state prison open.
But as corrections officials tried to assurance the hundreds in attendance Thursday evening about the possible prison closure, one state senator likened it giving Luzerne County the “death penalty.”
Thursday’s hearing was necessitated by Act 133 of 2018 — passed in part due to a previous attempt to close the prison in 2017 — which requires closures of public institutions like correctional facilities to come after a period of public comment and investigation into the economic impact of the closure. Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration and the corrections department announced their plans to close the Newport Township-based prison in August.
Overseen by Corrections Secretary John Wetzel, the hearing began with assurances form the department that, despite the difficulty of the potential closure, the state would be taking all necessary precautions to ensure the local economy and prison employees would be impacted in the least negative way possible.
Paul Macnowsky, regional director of the Department of Community and Economic Development, said that the economic effects of a closure could be tough, but added that he believed the troubles could be surmounted with the right kind of help from the state.
Macnowsky specifically highlighted a potential loss of $1,300 in taxes each year from any employees of the prison who move out of the county for work, should they be placed at a prison outside the county.
He also said it was estimated that slightly more than 50% of the employees would be relocated to correctional facilities that would, on average, decrease the length of their commute, as the state has guaranteed all employees would be placed at a prison within 65 miles of SCI-Retreat.
A hiring freeze has been placed at the six correctional institutions within that radius in order to make room for the 409 employees who would be affected by the closure, said another official.
It was repeatedly said throughout the night by state officials that the decision to close the prison does not come lightly, with a statement from Wolf being read saying the governor wants to provide a system that is more “fair,” but also fiscally responsible.
However, during the period of public comment, criticism of the plans was sharp, drawing the ire prison employees and elected officials, including state Sens. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, and John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township.
Yudichak’s comments were particularly impassioned, saying the closure of the prison, when coupled with the White Haven State Center, would be disastrous to the local community, saying the two closures would result in a loss of 800 total jobs locally.
In a fiery speech, Yudichak spoke about how proud he was of the Luzerne County community for rising “from the ashes of anthracite.”
“So after decades of digging out of that mine hole, why at this time, why at this time would the Wolf administration and the Department of Corrections kick Luzerne County back down the mine shaft?” Yudichak asked. “It’s more than cruel and unusual punishment; it is the possible death penalty of Luzerne County shaking its status of having the highest unemployment rate in the state.”
Before thunderous applause from the nearly 300 people gathered in support of the prison, Yudichak asked the department to actually take the public comments into consideration.
“Live up to the spirit of Act 133 and keep SCI-Retreat open,” he said.
Leo Kaskel, an employee at the prison, also spoke heatedly, saying that the prison is needed to not only keep the community safe, but to help rehabilitate prisoners.
“(Closing the prison) inherently increases the possibility that, when reentrants come home, they’ll remember that the Department of Corrections treated them as a number,” he said, saying shipping inmates to other prisons would only increase overcrowding. “These people will become our neighbors again.”
Kaskel said he’s not worried about the employees — he said they’re tough; he know’s they’ll survive.
“I’m worried about what we are saying as a commonwealth when we are taking away another property, another asset from our citizens for budgetary reasons,” he said, with emotion in his voice. “We can do better than this. This is not an opportunity to reduce our footprint, but to improve our footing.”
A spokesperson from the Department of Corrections said the state’s decision about the prison could come in 60 to 90 days.
Earth Conservancy president will retire early next year
After serving as president and CEO of the Earth Conservancy for 25 years, Mike Dziak said Thursday he is retiring early next year.
He will be replaced by Terence J. Ostrowski, a senior civil engineer employed by Borton-Lawson Engineering.
Dziak, 78, a Harveys Lake resident, previously worked for IBM for 27 years and returned to the area in 1994 to lead the Earth Conservancy in acquiring 16,000 acres of former Blue Coal Land and putting the property back into productive use.
He said he has been trying to retire for more than a year but was seeking a good replacement to finish the Earth Conservancy’s mission. About 6,000 acres still needs to be addressed, he said.
He and the board of directors, chaired by John McCarthy Jr., concluded that Ostrowski is the “guy for the job,” Dziak said.
Ostrowski has worked at Borton-Lawson in Wilkes-Barre since 1998 and has provided engineering and planning expertise on several Earth Conservancy projects.
“Terry is a good replacement,” Dziak said. “I’ve known him for 15-plus years and he’s very capable. I think he will be an excellent leader for the organization going into the next decade.”
Dziak said he will remain at the Earth Conservancy until the end of January next year and will be available after that to answer questions throughout 2020 to ensure a smooth transition.
Dziak said some of the Earth Conservancy’s recent success stories include NorthPoint Development bringing Chewy.com, Adidas and Patagonia to Hanover Twp. on what was once mine-scarred land.
NorthPoint Development also is constructing a 2.4-million-square-foot business park that spreads through Hanover Twp. and Nanticoke with three large warehouses.
True Value Company is occupying about 1 million square feet of warehouse space and plans to create hundreds of jobs and e-commerce company Spreetail has opened in a 610,000-square-foot fulfillment center. NorthPoint Development also plans to construct a third warehouse on the site and in all, the project called Hanover 9 is expected to create more than 1,500 jobs.
The Earth Conservancy also is working with a New Jersey-based developer who wants to purchase a parcel of land in Nanticoke and Newport Twp.
Dziak said since the $90 million South Valley Parkway project is finally getting done, it has sparked economic development on all this land.
“It took a long time to get there,” he said. “It took many, many years. There were some projects that we worked on that took close to 10 years. When things come together like they have over the last year and a half, it is really neat for the region.”
Mike Dziak retiring as Earth Conservancy head
Mike Dziak is retiring as president/CEO of Earth Conservancy after 25 years and will be replaced by Terence J. Ostrowski, the nonprofit announced Thursday.
The nonprofit was created in 1994 to acquire 16,000 acres of former Blue Coal Land, much of it mine-scarred, and put the property back into productive use.
“It’s been a good run,” said Dziak, 78, of Harveys Lake. “It’s always hard to leave something that you’ve worked at for 25 years, but it’s time to move on.”
About 6,000 acres remains, and Dziak estimated it will take another 10 to 15 years to address the rest.
Of the 10,000 acres already processed, 8,000 acres will remain green space or undeveloped forever, Dziak said.
The remaining 2,000 acres now houses residences and businesses, including the Chewy.com, Adidas and Patagonia Inc. structures visible from Interstate 81 at a Hanover Township site once containing an unsightly giant pit and other black remains from past coal mining.
In a release, Earth Conservancy Board of Directors Chairman John McCarthy Jr. said Dziak has been a “tireless leader” and a “passionate advocate” for preserving open space, protecting critical water resources and reclaiming and repurposing mine-scarred land in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
|“This dedication has made a profound impact on our region, and he’s made an indelible mark on those he has worked with,” McCarthy said.
Ostrowski, a professional engineer, will take over as head of the nonprofit when Dziak’s retirement takes effect Jan. 31, the release said. Ostrowski has worked at Borton-Lawson in Wilkes-Barre since 1998 and has provided engineering and planning expertise on several Earth Conservancy projects.
“His deep knowledge of the region and his engineering talents will prove invaluable as Earth Conservancy moves forward with its mission in the years to come,” the release said of Ostrowski.
Dziak said he will share his extensive institutional knowledge of coal land history during the transition and after retirement, if needed. He plans to pursue other interests and spend more time with family, including four grandchildren.
Earth Conservancy has spent nearly $50 million reclaiming more than 2,000 acres, largely aided by government grants and land sales, Dziak said last year.
Much of Earth Conservancy’s focus is now on a 2,200-acre swath known as the Bliss/Truesdale site located primarily in Hanover and Newport townships. This project will create a mix of residential, industrial and public open space after it is cleaned up, Dziak has said. Between 400 and 500 acres must be reclaimed, he said.
Dziak said Thursday a developer has expressed interest in 130 acres of the first 200-acre section that Earth Conservancy is working to reclaim.
Hearing on SCI-Retreat closure expected to draw large crowd
Bob Kalinowski - Citizens Voice
Union leaders representing the workers of the embattled State Correctional Institution at Retreat say they have yet to see an agenda for this week’s public hearing about the proposed closure of the prison.
One thing certainly on the agenda, they say, will be a huge crowd of the prison’s workers, their families and friends who are faced with an uncertain future.
The public hearing, which local lawmakers have said appears to be a mere formality since the decision has already been made, is slated for 7 p.m. Thursday at Greater Nanticoke Area High School.
“I would like to think it’s going to be packed,” said Larry Blackwell, president of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association. “We’re hoping to fill the place and let the decision makers know how it’s going to affect people.”
SCI-Retreat employs about 400 people and local lawmakers say the loss of that many family-sustaining jobs will devastate the local economy.
The prison, on a hill along the Susquehanna River in Newport Twp. that is only accessible by crossing a bridge from Route 11 in Hunlock Creek, has survived closure talk before.
In 2017, the prison, the largest employer by far in Newport Twp., was one of five state prisons being considered for closure by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. In the end, the governor only shut down SCI-Pittsburgh.
Now, it’s the lone target.
While some lawmakers have signaled that the Wolf administration has already finalized its decision, the union plans to keep fighting.
“We are holding out hope,” Blackwell said.
State officials say the 400 workers will be offered jobs within the Department of Corrections and have often noted there are six other facilities located within 65 miles of SCI-Retreat — SCIs Coal Twp., Dallas, Frackville, Mahanoy, Muncy and Waymart.
Citing a shrinking prison population, the administration says the 1,000 inmates at SCI-Retreat will be absorbed in the state’s other facilities.
Blackwell said the shrinking population is the result of more lenient parole standards that are letting inmates out from their sentences sooner.
“People in this administration want more prisons closed and inmates out in the community, but in the last several months, we saw six murders by five parolees in Pennsylvania,” Blackwell said. “I don’t think its time to be closing prisons when the parole murder numbers are as high as they’ve been that I have ever known of. The budget cuts can’t put public safety in jeopardy.”
Hank McNair, the statewide union’s vice president, spent 12 years of his career working at SCI-Retreat and knows many of the workers who will be affected.
“This one I have a personal interest in. This is the jail I was associated with,” McNair said.
McNair, of Hanover Twp., said if Retreat closes “there will be a lot of people who have to make a lot of tough decisions here.”
“There’s people who just started. Some said they are probably going to leave and get a new job because they don’t want to commute. There’s a couple who are just going to retire and hang it up,” McNair said. “The sad thing is there is a lot of employees scared, not knowing what’s going on with their future.”
SCI-Retreat, which sits between the Susquehanna River and a mountainside, first opened as a county-owned home for the poor.
It later became a state-run mental health hospital until 1981, when it closed. The facility reopened as a state prison in January 1988.
The prison is in Newport Twp., but it is only accessible from U.S. Route 11 in Hunlock Creek.
A distinctive feature of the complex is a bridge that spans the river. Staff and visitors have to cross the bridge, from Hunlock Creek to Newport Twp., to get to the prison.
In 2017, the state Department of Corrections listed the “pros and cons” for each of the five prisons that were being considered for closure in an internal report of recommendations for possible prison closures.
The limited access to the prison was cited by the department as one reason the prison was a candidate for closure.
The lone access road is a problem because during bad floods, like in 2011, the prison is left in “complete isolation” because flooding shuts down Route 11 in both directions, according to a memo released by the department.
IF YOU GO
A hearing about the proposed closure of State Correctional Institution at Retreat in Newport Twp. will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday at Greater Nanticoke Area High School, 425 Kosciuszko St., Nanticoke.
LCCC hosts tribute ceremony marking 9/11 anniversary
Silvana Medina vividly remembers watching people running through the streets of Manhattan and the plumes of smoke chasing them on Sept. 11, 2001.
On that day, she worked in New York City in the fashion industry. She never went back.
Medina, 54, later moved to Newport Twp., where she now resides.
On Tuesday, the 18th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, Medina was on hand for the Sept. 11 remembrance ceremony at Luzerne County Community College’s Walk of Honor.
“It was a horrible day. I’ll never forget,” Medina said, holding a small U.S. flag she brought.
Medina said she rode the subway from Brooklyn to Manhattan every day and admired the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers.
“That would make my morning,” Medina said. “Sept. 11th was a beautiful morning just like today.”
LCCC President Thomas Leary said the Walk of Honor was created as a tribute to a Newport Twp. family that had a loved one who died on Sept. 11.
Michael Carlo, 34, whose family is from the township’s Wanamie section, was a New York City firefighter who died that day. The Walk of Honor, which features a replica of the World Trade Center, has a plaque honoring him.
“The Walk of Honor started as a tribute to Michael Carlo,” Leary said.
Leary said the college is a big supporter of first responders, having created the Public Safety Training Institute on its Nanticoke campus.
State Sen. Lisa Baker, R-20, Lehman Twp., said the passage of 18 years hasn’t lessened the powerful emotions people have of Sept. 11.
“Never forget is a powerful phrase. We have a solemn obligation to recall everything about 9-11,” Baker said.
Baker recalled a story about a retired New York City detective she got to know after he moved to Lake Wallenpaupack.
The man spent 28 days digging through the Sept. 11 rubble.
“He is one of the countless responders struck by cancer, likely caused from his exposure at Ground Zero,” Baker said.
Douglas Fawbush, director of LCCC’s safety and security department, served as emcee of the program and closed out the event by asking people to always remember Sept. 11.
“I ask you to remember all the heroes lost on and since Sept. 11,” Fawbush said. “Please never forget.”
Valley With a Heart rallies riders for good causes
Marcella Kester - Times Leader
For three years Angela Evans has volunteered her time each Labor Day weekend to help Valley With A Heart.
This year, the organization is helping her family in return.
The local nonprofit held its annual benefit and motorcycle ride Sunday, bringing roughly 2,000 attendees to Holy Child Grove in Sheatown for a day of live music, raffles, kids activities, vendors and more.
This year’s benefit included poster children Alexandre Bain — Evans’ son — and Jayla Green, and was held in memory of longtime volunteer Paula Samselski.
Despite completing chemotherapy just days before the benefit, Evans took a break from volunteering in the kitchen to speak of her son and share his story.
Diagnosed with a brain tumor four years ago, Alexandre has already completed a series of surgeries and travels to Danville every six months. This year the Hanover Township family learned that the tumor began to grow back — and that Evans is fighting her own battle.
She was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer earlier this year and already completed nine rounds of chemotherapy. Evans is scheduled for surgery later this month with radiation following after.
When asked how she handles it all, Evans gave a simple, honest response.
“I have no choice. I need to work to keep health insurance, or else neither of us will get the care we need,” she said.
Valley With A Heart stepped in to cover some everyday expenses over the last few months, such as utility bills. Now, the family is waiting to see if a new medication for Alexandre will be covered by insurance or not.
For 19 years Valley With A Heart has helped seriously ill children and their families locally, according to organization president Rick Temarantz. It supplies everything from gas and grocery cards to assisting with medical bills, utilities and more.
The volunteer-based nonprofit is also nearing a milestone of raising a collective one million dollars, Temarantz added.
“Nobody in the staff benefits from this. Strictly all volunteers, so our pie chart is all one color,” he said with a smile. “This is all local and everything that we make here, we spend here.”
Wilkes-Barre resident Jarrid Shula has been attending the benefit and ride for the last few years. He said he’s happy to help the cause, and to see something so positive come out of the area.
“It’s fantastic, well-organized. It’s good to see everybody get together for a good cause,” he said. “I see a lot of humans, but not humanity anymore. People forgot where they came from.”
Taking the stage alongside Evans, Alexandre’s grandmother, Ladonna Bain, traveled from Idaho to attend the event and show her gratitude.
“We thank you guys from the bottom of our hearts for being here and supporting this family,” she said, tearing up. “What you guys are doing here and what these volunteers are doing here today is totally amazing.”
To learn more about Valley With a Heart, visit http://www.valleywithaheart.com/.
Official fighting for Newport Twp., job after prison closure proposal
Paul Czapracki, president of the Newport Twp. Board of Commissioners, once again has a fight on his hands with the proposed closing of State Correctional Institution at Retreat.
He’s fighting for his township and for his job.
Czapracki has been a maintenance worker at the state prison for about a decade. After the prison, which employs more than 400 people, was saved from closure in 2017, he thought it would be safe for years to come.
Then, township officials got word Wednesday the Department of Corrections huddled employees to inform them the jail would be closing and they’d have to transfer to another facility.
“This is like getting hit by a bomb,” Czapracki said. “We just went through this two years ago and thought we were safe for a while.”
While Czapracki is concerned for his own future at work, he’s also worried about his coworkers and constituents.
The economic impact to Newport Twp. would be harmful, Czapracki said. He noted how a study last year determined the township’s Glen Lyon section is the most distressed place in Pennsylvania.
“This is not helping. A lot of people from Glen Lyon work at the jail,” Czapracki said.
Czapracki said the Department of Corrections guaranteed employees they could keep their jobs at the same pay, but would not be reimbursed for travel expenses if they were offered other jobs around the state.
Czapracki noted that SCI-Retreat, in recent years, upgraded its natural gas system, installed new piping and enhanced its alarm system.
Additionally, he pointed out the prison is the biggest user of the facilities of the Shickshinny Sanitary Sewer Authority, which upgraded its systems recently.
Czapracki said he hopes to again rely on the township’s state legislators, Sen. John Yudichak, D-14, Plymouth Twp., and Rep. Gerald Mullery, to fight against the closure.
In 2017, Gov. Tom Wolf targeted five prisons for possible closure, including SCI-Retreat. Following meetings, protests and public outcry, the governor opted to just to close SCI-Pittsburgh.
This time, SCI-Retreat is the lone prison slated for closure. Wolf also plans to close the Sharon Community Corrections Center, a halfway house in Western Pennsylvania.
Fellow Newport Twp. Commissioner Mike Roke also vowed to fight the closure.
“Certainly I hope our representation can pull off the same thing they did last time. Everybody came together,” Roke said. “We didn’t get a game plan together yet. We will express the same sentiments we did last time around.”
Roke said he assumes the township will lose good, productive members who will be forced to more elsewhere in state if the prison closes.
Roke said he wonders what will happen to the SCI-Retreat inmates in a system that is already overcrowded.
“I’m not a prison expert, but if you close the jail, where are you going to put these prisoners? Are you going to build a new facility, or put them in other facilities are already overcrowded?” Roke said.
Police arrest man following Newport Twp. crash
Authorities have arrested a man in connection with Tuesday morning’s crash on Alden Mountain Road that partially severed a teenage girl’s arm.
Police say Christian Burgos, 24, had picked up the girl, 16, from her home to have sex in a church parking lot prior to the crash, which occurred around 7:30 a.m.
Investigators say Burgos does not have a driver’s license and appeared to have been speeding leading up to the crash.
Burgos, who told police he has been visiting Harrisburg from Puerto Rico, is charged with accidents involving death or personal injury while not properly licensed, recklessly endangering another person, interference with the custody of children and corruption of minors.
Newport Twp. police Chief Jeremy Blank said more charges are possible as the investigation is ongoing.
After the car, a 2007 Audi A6, careened off the road and down an embankment, the girl’s arm was crushed and pinned between the car and two large trees, police said.
Fire crews say they worked for 40 minutes using the Jaws of Life, airbags and chainsaws to free the girl and bring her to an ambulance.
According to arrest papers:
While crews worked to rescue her, the girl asked to speak to police.
She said her mother didn’t know she left the house and that Burgos had picked her up to have sex outside a local church.
Police said Burgos was detained at the scene because he didn’t have identification and didn’t speak English, so police could not identify who he was.
After the girl was extricated, ambulance crews took her to the former K.M. Smith school, where a LifeFlight helicopter landed. She was flown to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville.
Police said she suffered a partially severed right arm at the shoulder joint and experienced severe bleeding.
An update on her condition was not immediately available Tuesday night.
Investigators said they called in a Spanish-speaking local police officer to act as an interpreter when questioning Burgos.
They said he was informed of his rights and agreed to speak to police.
Burgos told investigators he picked up the girl to have consensual sex with her and took her to the parking lot of a Nanticoke church. He said they had sex on a prior occasion at an area motel.
Police said Burgos acknowledged the girl’s mother knew the two had developed feelings for each other and she had taken steps to keep them apart.
The girl’s mother told police Burgos did not have permission to take the girl from her home.
Police say the girl was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash.
Alden Mountain Road was closed to allow for a Pennsylvania State Police accident reconstruction.
Burgos was arraigned Tuesday evening by Magisterial District Judge Donald Whittaker in Nanticoke.
Whittaker denied Burgos bail and ordered him jailed in the Luzerne County Correctional Facility.
A preliminary hearing is slated for Sept. 4 at 11 a.m. in Luzerne County Central Court.
Woman sentenced to jail in fatal hit-and-run crash
Lisa Marie Yurkin stood before a judge Thursday and broke down in tears as she apologized for killing Jason Filip.
“I cannot express now or at any time the remorse I feel. ... There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of your son. Not a day,” Yurkin, 53, of Newport Twp., told Filip’s parents. “I did not see him. I did not see your son. I am so sorry.”
Citing Yurkin’s “heartfelt apology” for the hit-and-run crash, Luzerne County Judge Michael T. Vough sentenced her to 11˝ to 23 months in the Luzerne County Correctional Facility.
Filip’s father, Dwayne Taggart, 49, of Hanover Twp., said the family believes Yurkin is remorseful and is glad to have some measure of closure.
“It’s just tough, no matter which way you look at it,” Taggart said after the hearing. “There’s nobody winning this case, or anything. She has to live with it for the rest of her life. We have to live with this for the rest of our life. At least she turned herself in and we got some justice.”
Yurkin was accused of hitting and killing Filip while he was walking home from the 6 String Saloon at 1474 Sans Souci Parkway the night of Feb. 24, 2018.
Later the day Filip’s body was found, Yurkin went to police headquarters saying she might have hit Filip on her way home from a friend’s house in West Pittston, prosecutors said. She admitted drinking four beers in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, earlier in the day, but she denied being drunk on her way home, according to prosecutors.
Yurkin claimed she failed to stop because she thought she had hit a deer.
In June, she pleaded guilty to a felony count of vehicular homicide.
During the sentencing hearing Thursday, Vough ordered Yurkin to pay $2,430 in restitution to Filip’s family and said she will be eligible to be released from jail five days a week to walk to her job at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital.
Yurkin was remanded to the county jail to serve her sentence.
Newport Twp. woman gets prison time over Sans Souci death
It’s jail time for a Newport Township woman who pleaded guilty to a count of homicide by motor vehicle earlier this year.
Lisa Marie Yurkin, 53, appeared before Luzerne County Judge Michael T. Vough for sentencing Thursday afternoon, after she pleaded guilty in June to a third-degree felony count of homicide by vehicle.
Yurkin had been accused of fatally striking Jason Filip, 36, of Hanover Township, on Feb. 24, 2018, while he was walking on the Sans Souci Parkway.
Yurkin fled after the accident, and Filip died on scene.
In exchange for her plea, Yurkin was allowed a reduction in charges, after she was previously facing a second-degree felony count of accidents involving death.
At her sentencing hearing on Thursday, Vough ordered Yurkin to spend between 11˝ and 23 months in the Luzerne County Correctional Facility.
However, during that time, she will be able to maintain her employment at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital, to which she will be allowed to walk from the prison for her shifts.
Yurkin was also ordered to pay $2,430 to the family of Filip to help cover the costs of the funeral.
Yurkin was traveling south on the Sans Souci when she struck Filip near the Six Strings Saloon. Two people leaving a credit union next door found him on the side of the road just after midnight.
Yurkin surrendered her vehicle later that day, telling police she thought she had hit a deer or another animal.
She denied at the time of her arrest that she was intoxicated at the time of the incident.
She was remanded to the Luzerne County Correctional Facility to begin her sentence after Thursday’s hearing.
Glen Lyon man sentenced to years in state prison on child sex charges
A Glen Lyon man, who was arrested last year near the Mexican border, was ordered to spend at least three years in prison after pleading guilty earlier this year to charges stemming from child sex crimes.
Bolivar Riera, 35, appeared before Luzerne County Judge Michael T. Vough to be sentenced on two separate cases, both involving sex crimes.
Out of Newport Township, Riera was accused by a teen girl of sexually and physically assaulting her for several years. The girl told an interviewer at the Luzerne County Advocacy Center she slapped Riera in the face in an attempt to resist, but he would grab her by the wrists, pinch her and slap her when she resisted.
Riera was also facing charges of indecent assault and aggravated indecent assault out of Wilkes-Barre.
The man was taken into custody in Webb County, Texas, which borders Mexico, before being extradited back to Pennsylvania.
Court records show Riera pleaded guilty in May to one count each of aggravated indecent assault, unlawful contact with a minor and corruption of minors. Other charges against him were withdrawn by prosecutors.
Vough ordered Riera to spend between 24 and 48 months in state prison on the aggravated indecent assault charge, to be followed by another period of between 12 and 24 months in prison on the unlawful contact with a minor charge, for a total of between three and six years in prison.
Vough also sentenced Riera to between three and six months in prison on the corruption of minor charge, but that sentence will be served concurrently, or at the same time, as the other two, effectively nullifying it.
Riera will be forced to register as a sex offender for 25 years, and may have no contact with his victims, any witnesses or any other minors.
He was remanded to the Luzerne County Correctional Facility to await assignment to a state prison
Officials cracking down on code violations in Glen Lyon
An angry couple gave Code Enforcement Officer Joe Hillan an earful Thursday morning after they spotted him taping a quality-of-life citation to the door of their Coal Street home in the township’s Glen Lyon section.
The four abandoned vehicles in the couple’s yard are an eyesore, Hillan told them.
“They’ve been warned and they keep violating the law, so we cited them,” Hillan said.
The couple will be cited $50 for each vehicle under the township’s Quality of Life Ordinance, he said.
The citation was one of 46 quality-of-life tickets township officials and police wrote out Thursday during a code enforcement sweep of the township’s Glen Lyon section. They also issued 10 property maintenance violations.
Most of the citations were issued for out-of-control grass and weeds and excessive clutter on properties, including abandoned vehicles One was issued to the owner of a boat that was in a parking lot being used to store items.
“That’s not being used as a boat,” Building Inspector Jeff Pisanchyn said. “You can’t imagine some of the stuff we see.”
Hillan, a lifelong resident of Glen Lyon, said he is mindful the town was named in one study in 2016 as the most distressed place in Pennsylvania. However, he doesn’t think that’s any excuse for people to neglect their properties.
“We are not asking for the world. Just clean up,” Hillan said. “It doesn’t take money. Just cut your grass and keep your property clean.”
Hillan was joined Thursday by Pisanchyn, of Pisanchyn Inspection Agency, and three Newport Twp. police officers.
At the time of the 2016 study, nearly a third of properties in Glen Lyon were vacant. Hillan said a portion of the township’s housing stock was purchased at sheriff’s sales and then neglected by the new owners.
Police Chief Jeremy Blank, who lives in Glen Lyon, said some people simply don’t do anything to the properties they own.
“For the most part, it’s a nice town, but you have certain people who refuse to do anything with their properties,” Blank said.
Hillan said more code enforcement pushes are planned for the future, issuing a warning to property owners to clean up or be cited.
“We do it everyday, but sometimes we try to do a bigger push like today,” Hillan said.
Man who sliced own face after argument with girlfriend pleads guilty to assault charge
A Newport Township man pleaded guilty Thursday to charges stemming from allegations he injured his girlfriend during a fight.
Police said the defendant sliced his own face with a razor blade in an attempt to frame his girlfriend in the fight.
Patrick M. Kulina, 31, appeared before Luzerne County Judge Michael T. Vough on Thursday, where he pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count each of simple assault and filing a false report.
Prosecutors withdrew counts of strangulation and harassment.
Kulina was arrested in May after an altercation at the couple’s Old Newport Street apartment.
Kulina’s girlfriend told police that Kulina arrived at her place of work with her daughter, while drinking alcohol from a travel cup. He was denied entry to the building by security.
While the girlfriend was heading home, she spotted Kulina and offered him a ride.
Upon arriving at home, she told police, Kulina attacked her, struck her head off a counter and punched her in the head.
She allegedly fought back, punching him in the face causing a laceration near his eye as he strangled her.
She fled to a neighbor’s apartment.
When police arrived, Kulina denied he was drinking, but officers smelled alcohol on his breath. They also noticed a rolling pin and a bloody razor on the counter.
Kulina claimed the woman assaulted him, causing lacerations on his face, but officers then noticed the razor blade and the rolling pin were missing.
He later admitted to cutting himself with the blade in an attempt to have the woman arrested.
After Kulina pleaded guilty Thursday, Vough immediately sentenced to spend a year on probation.
He was ordered to have no adverse contact with either the victim or any of the witnesses. He also must maintain full-time employment.
Developer plans hardware store in Newport Twp.’s Wanamie section
Luzerne County Planning Commission granted preliminary approval Thursday for developer Robert Cragle to begin site work to construct a 4,000-square-foot hardware store with 2,000 square feet for lumber storage in the Wanamie section of Newport Twp.
Cragle, a union electrician for 25 years, plans to build the store on a 3-acre vacant site at 1001 Center St. next to his home.
He said after the meeting that he originally wanted to open a sporting goods store. After seeing a demand for lumber and other materials in the area, however, he thought opening a hardware store with lumber storage would be a better idea.
There is no hardware store in Newport Twp. and not everyone in the area always wants to travel to big chains like Home Depot and Lowe’s, he said. If something breaks, he said he believes people just want a quick fix and they don’t want to travel far to get a part they need.
Cragle hopes to complete the store in two years. He is currently doing wiring work at True Value Company, which is occupying more than 1 million square feet in a distribution center in Hanover Twp. near Luzerne County Community College.
With his background in electrical work and construction, he said he could offer personal service and advice.
Luzerne County Planning Commission granted Cragle preliminary approval to add approximately 22 parking spaces to the site.
Heath Eddy, executive director of Luzerne County Planning Commission, said Cragle can start grading and improving the property but he still needs to receive permits before he can start building as well as final approval for his sewage plan from Newport Twp
Glen Lyon teen charged in robbery
David Singleton - Citizens Voice
A Luzerne County teenager faces robbery, theft and other charges after city police say he stole $160 from someone he met in West Scranton under the pretext of selling a video game console.
Jaden Monche, 17, of 212 E. Main St., Glen Lyon, was arraigned Wednesday and held in Lackawanna County Prison on $25,000 bail.
Joshua Owen told police he met Monche and two other people May 3 at a convenience store on South Main Avenue after making plans to buy a PlayStation 4 console in exchange for $160 and his old PlayStation 2. Owen got into a car with the trio and handed $160 to Monche, police said. Monche then pulled a knife and ordered Owen out of the car before it sped away with the victim’s money, cellphone and a backpack with the old Playstation console.
Monche’s preliminary hearing is scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday.
Wrongful death suit filed against Kingston nursing home
The estate administrators of a Glen Lyon woman filed a wrongful death suit Monday against a Kingston nursing home, alleging caretakers failed to adequately treat bed sores that ultimately claimed her life.
Donna Ricketts, 67, died of septic shock and other ailments brought on by the lack of care she received at ManorCare Health Services-Kingston, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit, filed by Ricketts’ sons, alleges she did not have any pressure ulcers when she was admitted to the facility at 200 Second Ave. on Oct. 13, 2017.
The staff was aware that Ricketts, who suffered from leg swelling, was at risk for skin breakdown yet did not implement a plan for preventing pressure ulcers from developing, says the complaint by Pittsburgh-based attorney A. Michael Gianantonio.
Soon after being admitted, Ricketts began developing bed sores, yet the staff still failed to implement interventions, according to the complaint.
During her time at the facility, Ricketts steadily lost weight and developed more sores, including a large sore on her right hip that developed a “black necrotic cap,” the complaint alleges.
On Feb. 19, 2018, Ricketts was admitted to Wilkes-Barre General Hospital to be treated for sepsis and an acute ulcer, according to the complaint.
“Because of the infection developed as a result of the avoidable pressure wounds, Ms. Ricketts’s condition continued to deteriorate until she passed away on March 12, 2018,” Gianantonio wrote.
The complaint alleges ManorCare failed to take appropriate action to prevent and treat Ricketts’ pressure sores. The estate is seeking unspecified damages.
Glen Lyon woman charged with threatening to blow up county building
A woman from Glen Lyon was charged earlier this week after she allegedly threatened to blow up the Luzerne County Children and Youth Services building on North Pennsylvania Avenue.
Tina Marie Billotti, 42, of East Main Street, made the alleged threat that was overheard by another woman in the lobby on Monday, according to court records.
Billotti was charged by the county sheriff’s department with terroristic threats and disorderly conduct. She was released on $10,000 unsecured bail after she was arraigned by District Judge Alexandra Kokura Kravitz in Pittston.
According to the criminal complaint:
A sheriff deputy stationed at the building was approached by Children and Youth Supervisor Brian Steve at about 12:30 p.m.
Steve told the deputy there was a woman, identified as Billotti, in the lobby area who made threats to blow up the building.
Another woman with children in the lobby overheard Billotti saying if she did not get her children back after a hearing in October, she was going to return with a bomb and blow up the Children and Youth building, the complaint says.
Billotti was detained by the sheriff deputy.
After being read her Miranda rights, Billotti stated the reason she threatened to blow up the building was she was upset at Children and Youth and with her situation, the complaint says.
The alleged threat to Children and Youth is not the first time the county agency has been targeted.
Phillip Finn Jr., 49, of Plains Township, was charged in March 2017 after he allegedly firebombed Children and Youth Services after the agency took his 8-year-old daughter from him. Finn was indicted by a federal grand jury in July 2017, and a superseding indictment was filed against him in May alleging he attempted to get a witness to withhold information.
Warehouse project eyed for coal land near LCCC
By Borys Krawczeniuk - Citizens Voice
A New Jersey developer has plans for up to 1.5 million square feet of new warehousing on reclaimed former coal mining land near Luzerne County Community College.
Earth Conservancy President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Dziak revealed the project after a news conference in downtown Scranton where a federal Environmental Protection Agency official announced another $500,000 grant to help the conservancy clean up more abandoned mine land near the college.
The New Jersey developer’s warehouse project would sit on about 130 acres in Nanticoke and Newport and Hanover townships. It is separate but not far from several warehouses built in the neighborhood by Missouri-based NorthPoint Development, Dziak said. Dziak declined to name the New Jersey developer because the deal remains incomplete.
The company would likely develop the 130 acres in 2021. Plans call for multiple buildings, but could change.
“We’ll see how they configure it,” Dziak said. “A lot depends on the market. Right now, big buildings are in vogue.”
In the last few years, NorthPoint has developed warehouses in the same neighborhood for Spreetail, an online home and garden products retailer; Chewy.com, a pet products manufacturer; Adidas, the sneaker company; Patagonia, a clothing retailer; and True Value, the hardware retailer.
Reclaiming the 130 acres will cost about $7 million by the time the land is ready for development, Dziak said. The project will include a roundabout at Middle Road and Prospect Street that feeds an access road to the land, he said.
He has no estimate of the number of jobs the project will create because its nature remains so uncertain, he said.
“We won’t know that for a long time,” Dziak said.
The $500,000 grant will help pay for the design of a $3 million project to clean up another 50 acres unrelated to the New Jersey developer’s project, Dziak said.
EPA has awarded the conservancy about $4 million over the years to clean up rocky and scarred abandoned mine land, a remnant of the region’s long-gone coal mining era. In all, the conservancy has cleaned up more than half the more than 16,000 acres of former Blue Coal Co. land in Luzerne County that it acquired in August 1994 for about $12.5 million. Former U.S. Rep. Paul Kanjorski helped obtain the land with a special $20 million federal budget earmark.
Police: Man cut face in scheme to implicate girlfriend
James Halpin - Citizens Voice
A Newport Twp. man beat and choked his girlfriend while in a drunken rage, then cut his own face with a razor as part of a scheme to get her thrown into jail, according to police.
Police said the trouble began when Patrick M. Kulina, 31, of 143 Old Newport St., took a bus to his girlfriend's work, drinking alcohol from a travel cup with her 4-year-old daughter in tow. Security officers denied entry to Kulina, who was drunk, and his girlfriend, Sally Atkins, subsequently gave him a ride home, the charges allege.
When police responded to Kulina's apartment around 6:10 p.m. Tuesday, Kulina claimed Atkins attacked him with a rolling pin that was on the kitchen counter.
Kulina claimed he had not been drinking, but police said he smelled of alcohol and they observed an empty vodka bottle on the floor of the apartment, which was in a state of disarray and appeared to have been the scene of a struggle.
Officers also observed multiple bruises on Atkins' head, neck and chest, police said.
Atkins reported when they got to the apartment she told Kulina to leave but he pushed his way inside. Kulina then began throwing Atkins around the apartment, hitting her head on the kitchen counter and squeezing her neck so she could not breathe, according to police.
At one point during the struggle, Atkins punched Kulina in the face, causing a cut near his right eye with a ring, the complaint said.
Police said as Atkins was leaving the apartment, Kulina occupied himself by "throwing himself face first onto the floor."
After speaking with Atkins in another apartment, police noticed a razor that had been on the counter of Kulina's apartment had been moved and the rolling pin was gone. Kulina also had new injuries and was bleeding from his forehead and the right side of his face, police said.
Kulina claimed all the injuries on his face were the result of being attacked by Atkins, according to the complaint. However, Patrolman Thomas Nalbone had taken pictures of Kulina when he first arrived on scene, and the pictures showed Kulina sustained additional injuries while he was alone in the apartment, police said.
Confronted with the pictures, Kulina admitted he cut himself with the razor in an effort to have Atkins arrested so he could stay in the apartment, the complaint said.
Police charged Kulina with aggravated assault, strangulation, simple assault, making a false report and harassment. Magisterial District Judge Joseph D. Spagnuolo Jr. arraigned him on the charges Wednesday morning and set bail at $100,000.
Kulina was being held at the Luzerne County Correctional Facility with a preliminary hearing set for June 5.
Bureau of Forestry probes wildfires around Nanticoke
Staff Report - Citizens Voice
The Bureau of Forestry is investigating wildfires that were intentionally set around Nanticoke.
The bureau is offering a $1,500 reward for information that leads to an arrest.
According to a news release:
Several wildfires were set the evening of April 3 in Newport Twp. and Hanover Twp. outside of Nanticoke.
At the time the fires were set, eastern Pennsylvania was under a "red flag warning," a warning issued by the National Weather Service to indicate increased wildfire danger.
The fires burned dozens of acres.
"Circumstances around all of these fires have led us to the conclusion that the fires have been intentionally set. Some of the fires have put public and firefighter lives and property at risk, which is of great concern," said Michael Kern, chief of the bureau's Division of Forest Fire Protection, in the press release. "Intentionally setting a wildfire is arson and we take that very seriously. We are asking for anyone who may have information to come forward."
Information can be forwarded to bureau Special Investigator Terry Smith at 717-362-1472 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Anonymous tips also will be accepted but do not qualify for the reward.
Newport Twp. man charged with cruelty to animals
Eric Mark - Citizens Voice
A Newport Twp. man failed to provide veterinary care for his injured pit bull after it was attacked by another dog last month, authorities allege.
Burton Steltz, 52, is charged with aggravated cruelty to animals, cruelty to animals and neglect of animals in connection with the incident.
According to an affidavit filed by a humane society police officer for the SPCA of Luzerne County:
An officer responded to Steltz’s Center Street home on March 16, after the SPCA received a call about an incident the previous evening in which a dog was allegedly hurt.
Steltz told the officer his dog Dusty had been attacked by another of his dogs and had a broken leg. Steltz allowed the officer to see the injured dog, which was lying on its side and unable to get up, with blood coming from its ears. The dog had visible puncture wounds, the officer observed.
The officer told Steltz the dog needed immediate veterinary treatment, but Steltz said he would not have the money until he got paid. He agreed to sign the dog over to the SPCA so it could receive immediate care.
The dog was taken to Northeast Veterinary Referral Hospital, where a veterinarian determined it had severe soft tissue injuries. After the dog was released to the SPCA, an examination revealed puncture wounds to its chest, neck and legs and other injuries.
Steltz was arraigned Wednesday and released on $50,000 unsecured bail. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for May 15.
Glen Lyon man sentenced for child pornography
As a first time offender, a Glen Lyon man was eligible for a probationary sentence on charges he downloaded and viewed child pornography.
Instead, Kyle Christian Kazmierski will spend several months in jail.
Kazmierski, 28, appeared Friday before Luzerne County Judge Michael T. Vough to be sentenced on 13 counts of child pornography and a single count of dissemination of children engaged in sex acts. He pleaded guilty to the charges in January.
Kazmierski’s attorney, Vito DeLuca, told Vough his client was eligible for the county’s Intermediate Punishment Program for first time offenders. Kazmierski also has been attending counseling since his arrest by state police in July.
Vough asked Kazmierski if he was employed.
“I haven’t been able to find a job,” Kazmierski replied.
“How do you support yourself?” Vough asked.
DeLuca said Kazmierski resides with his parents.
Vough sentenced Kazmierski to nine-to-23 months in the county correctional facility followed by three years probation. He also must register his address with authorities for 25 years under the state’s Megan’s Law.
State police said they found 13 videos of children engaged in sex acts on a computer inside Kazmierski’s home on Engle Street. Kazmierski told troopers he had been viewing child pornography for four to five years, court records say.
Kazmierski had been free on $100,000 bail, and was sent to jail after the sentencing hearing.
Glen Lyon’s enduring miracle
By William C. Kashatus, Citizens' Voice correspondent / Published: December 14, 2014
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What would December be like without a brand new Christmas film? Since the 1930s, Hollywood has given us a long list of yuletide movies, including: “A Christmas Carol,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” “White Christmas,” “It’s A Wonderful Life,” “The Santa Clause,” and, of course, this year’s black comedy, “A Merry Friggin’ Christmas,” coming to theaters soon.
Few local residents realize, however, that “The Miracle of the Bells” was a popular TV re-run every Christmas for nearly a decade in many parts of the nation. Although the movie received mixed reviews after it premiered in 1948, later audiences came to appreciate the film’s simple but enduring message of “faith, hope and renewal.”
For those who live in the Wyoming Valley, “The Miracle of the Bells” represents a culture and a time we will never see again. It also continues to spark the interest of the movie-going current generation because of its fascinating — if not controversial — backstory.
Based on the best-selling novel by Russell Janney, “The Miracle of the Bells” told the life story of Olga Treskoff, an aspiring local actress and native of Glen Lyon, a once-bustling coal town in Newport Township. Some scenes were shot on location with as many as 600 residents being used as “extras” at $10 each. Also featured are several of the town’s prominent structures, including St. Michael’s Church and the once imposing coal breaker.
“Miracle of the Bells” is a touching story about an aspiring actress named Olga Treskovna (played in the film by Alida Valli) who escapes the sooty environment of Coaltown, Pennsylvania, for Hollywood. Through a series of incredible circumstances, Olga manages to land the highly coveted role of Joan of Arc in a film about the French heroine’s life. Tragically, Olga dies suddenly after wrapping up the film’s final scene.
Marcus Hook, a hard-nosed movie producer (Lee J. Cobb) wants to reshoot the film with another, better-known actress, rather than risk losing a fortune on an “unknown” who he can no longer groom for stardom. But press agent Bill Dunnigan (Fred MacMurray), who has journeyed to Coaltown to learn Olga’s life story, tries to persuade Harris to release “Joan of Arc” as originally filmed.
To create a national demand for the release of the movie, Dunnigan enlists the aid of Father Paul (Frank Sinatra), the priest of a poor parish named “St. Michael the Archangel,” and purchases a day’s worth of bell ringing from the local churches. In the middle of the publicity stunt, a miracle occurs at St. Michael’s when mine subsidence beneath the church causes the statues of the Virgin Mary and St. Michael to turn seeming to stare at Olga’s casket. As a result, the bells continue to ring for three full days.
This “miracle,” originating in the simple goodness of a young movie actress born and raised in Coaltown, not only convinces Harris to change his mind, but transforms the community from spiritual poverty to faith, hope and love for each other.
The inspiration for Janney’s novel was Olga Treskoff, who was born Anna Trotzski on May 7, 1892 in Glen Lyon. Her family lived at 66 E. Main St. and her father, Jan, and some of her brothers worked in the coal mines. After elementary school, Anna worked as a domestic servant for a wealthy family in Wilkes-Barre. By 1913, she had moved to New York City, changed her name to Olga Treskoff (after the title role of a 1913 film starring Helen Gardner), and appeared in several silent films.
In 1920, Olga met Russell Janney, a Broadway producer. They became business partners as well as lovers. Between 1921 and 1934 the couple co-produced several plays and musicals on Broadway and in London. The most successful of these was a 1925 musical titled, The Vagabond King, in which Olga had the role of Lady Mary. In mid-1937, Olga became ill with cancer and died a year later on April 21, 1938.
Devastated by her untimely death, Janney, at age 46, accompanied her body to Glen Lyon. Her funeral was held at St. Michael the Archangel Church and she was buried in the parish cemetery. Though he continued to produce plays, Janney often returned to Newport Township to visit Olga’s grave site. During one of these visits he was inspired to write the novel, “Miracle of the Bells.” Published in 1946, the novel became an immediate best seller.
In October 1946, Janney sold the rights to Jesse L. Lasky and Walker MacEwen, producers for RKO Pictures, which released the film two years later in 1948. The novelist netted $100,000 plus five percent of the producers’ gross up to the first $4 million. After $4 million, Janney was to receive 10 percent of the producers’ gross, with no maximum limit set.
Interestingly, Irving Pichel, who directed the film, did not want to shoot any of the scenes in Glen Lyon. The town’s well-constructed houses, paved streets and bustling business district did not meet his expectations of what a dilapidated mining town should be. Instead, he tried to convince producers Lasky and MacEwen that a sound stage with unpainted shacks, muddy streets and culm banks would make the scenery more realistic to the expectations of moviegoers.
Ultimately, a compromise was reached. While most of the filming would be completed at a reproduction movie set of a Pennsylvania mining town at RKO’s Forty Acres ranch in Culver City, Calif., some of the scenes would be shot on location in Glen Lyon.
Film location wasn’t the only sticking point, either. Frank Sinatra’s ties to organized crime almost prevented him from securing the role of Father Paul. Producer Jesse Lasky had to ask the Catholic Church for its approval before signing the star to the part. In return, Sinatra, who was born and raised a Catholic, donated his salary to the church.
The crooner actively pursued the role hoping to steal the spotlight from Bing Crosby, who also played a singing priest in the film, “The Bells of St. Mary’s,” three years earlier. To be sure, the two actors were competing for top billing at the box office in the 1940s. Although Sinatra insisted on having several songs written into his role, the only one the producers agreed to was “Ever Homeward,” a popular Polish folk song.
Casting presented other problems, too. Clark Gable and Cary Grant were considered favorites for the lead male role of Bill Dunnigan. Either heart throb would have been a much better choice than Fred MacMurray, who eventually landed the role. Gable and Grant were more suave and debonair than MacMurray, who is best remembered as the father-figure from the 1960s TV sitcom, “My Three Sons.” But neither of those leading men was available at the time of the filming.
Several actresses were also considered for the part of “Olga,” including Ingrid Bergman, who played opposite Crosby in “The Bells of St. Mary’s.” But she was filming her own Technicolor version of “Joan of Arc.” Thus, Alida Valli, an Italian actress who resembled Bergman, was given the part of Olga. Just 26 years old, Valli was already widely regarded as the “most beautiful woman in the World” by the motion picture industry.
Perhaps the most damning obstacle to the film’s success was the employment of three different screenwriters. Originally, Janney was given sole responsibility for the screenplay. But producers Lasky and MacEwen reconsidered because of the novelist’s lack of experience with the silver screen.
Instead, Ben Hecht, one of Hollywood’s most popular screenwriters, was hired. But Hecht only agreed to the assignment if he didn’t have to read Janney’s novel. Insisting that reading the book would “interfere with his creative genius,” Hecht’s resistance was probably due to laziness.
To appease Janney, Quentin Reynolds, a good friend and editor of “Collier’s” magazine, was hired to read the novel and report the contents to Hecht. Further complicating matters, playwright DeWitt Bodeen was assigned to produce the screenplay for the role of Father Paul.
“The Miracle of the Bells” premiered in New York City on March 16, 1948. But “The Hollywood Reporter,” one of two national rags devoted exclusively to the movies, announced the previous October that the film was to be shown in Los Angeles in December 1947 in order to qualify for the 1947 Academy Awards.
Despite the finagling, the movie received mixed reviews and failed to receive a single Academy Award nomination. “New York Times” film critic Bosley Crowther attributed the failure to the mediocre screenplay produced by three different writers who “conspicuously overlooked several of the morally-salvaged characteristics of Janney’s novel.”
The film lost approximately $500,000 at the box office; a debt that was never repaid to the Bank of America. Instead, the Bank assumed the copyright of the film and joined with Paramount Pictures to find a television audience to recoup their losses. Nor did the controversy end there.
According to the American Film Institute, Raymond Polniaszek, Glen Lyon’s sole undertaker, sued RKO for $500,000 in damages in August 1948. Polniaszek claimed that he had been negatively caricaturized as “Nick Orloff” in the film and that he participated in a number of real-life events that were depicted, including the burial of a woman named Olga Trotski. The disposition of that suit was never disclosed.
The film’s success finally arrived in the mid-1950s, when “The Miracle of the Bells” was shown in southern California at Christmas time for nearly a decade – a holiday tradition that was replicated by many television stations nationwide — and scored the highest viewer numbers of any television program.
Sadly, Glen Lyon, the bustling coal town of the 1940s, no longer exists. Its anthracite industry is long gone and with it went some of the most prominent structures in town, including the breaker and St. Michael’s Church.
But thanks to Russell Janney’s novel and the re-release of the film in 2013 by Olive Productions in DVD and Blu Ray formats, future generations have the opportunity re-live “The Miracle of the Bells,” and discover a mining town that, for a brief moment, captured the hearts and imaginations of moviegoers across the nation.
William Kashatus teaches history at Luzerne County Community College. Email him at Bkashatus@luzerne.edu. The author wishes to thank Elaine Slabinski for the inspiration for and assistance with this column.
For further reading: Russell Janney, “The Miracle of the Bells” (1946)
Newport Township man charged with child pornography
State police arrested a man who allegedly downloaded child pornography on a computer.
Michael Vincent Rokosz, 28, of West Main Street, Wanamie, admitted he began viewing child pornography for personal gratification because mainstream pornography would not "work" for him, according to arrest records.
Rokosz was arraigned Wednesday by District Judge Thomas Malloy in Wilkes-Barre on 17 counts each of dissemination of photos or videos of children engaged in sex acts and child pornography plus a single count of criminal use of a communication facility. He was jailed at the Luzerne County Correctional Facility for lack of $50,000 bail.
According to a criminal complaint:
State police with the Computer Crime Task Force learned in early December that a computer was being used to share child pornography.
Investigators tracked the computer to Rokosz's address where a search warrant was served Wednesday.
Rokosz admitted to investigators he views pornography for gratification. He claimed there was a point in time when mainstream pornography would not "work" for him and began viewing child pornography.
Rokosz alleged he has been viewing child pornography for about five years using certain search words. He would search for child pornography every four or five months and delete the images or videos from his computer.
Investigators allege they found 12 images or videos of child pornography on Rokosz's computer.