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2020 Newport News 

Woman, dog die in Newport Twp. Fire
Jim Halpin _ Citizens Voice

NEWPORT TWP. — A woman and her dog were killed in a fire that broke out at a home early Friday morning.
Firefighters were dispatched to 322 Old Newport St. at 7:26 a.m. to a report of a structure fire, prompting a response from crews across the area. Police confirmed one woman was dead and a man had escaped the fire.
Authorities did not immediately name the woman, but her son identified her as Diane E. McKenzie, 77. John McKenzie, of Hunlock Creek, said his father was the person who escaped the burning home.
“He’s a mess,” McKenzie said. “He just wants to be with her now. Such regret. He doesn’t know what to do without her.”
McKenzie said his father had been painting a picture upstairs Friday morning and came downstairs to find smoke.
“He went and woke her up,” he said. “He got the side door open and he went to bring her out with him. When he turned around, she went back in.”
His mother had gone back to get the family dog Lilly, he said.
“That dog was the love of both of their lives,” McKenzie said.
McKenzie said that his father tried going back for his wife but that the fire was too intense.
“Then people were dragging him out because there was so much smoke and the flames,” he said.
A neighbor called John McKenzie and told him about the fire at his parents’ house, he said.
“I came here and I seen the flames coming out the front,” McKenzie said. “There’s nothing really you can do.”
The Luzerne County Coroner’s Office removed the body around 11 a.m. Friday.
State police fire marshals were investigating the cause of the fire, which had saddened the neighborhood.
“I just pray for the family and hope that they recover from this tragic tragedy and hope that they can get through the holidays peacefully,” neighbor Tiffany Conden said. “It’s just really heartbreaking to see folks pass away, especially around the holidays.”


One person dies in Newport Twp. Fire
Jim Halpin – Citizens Voice

One person was killed and another escaped a house fire that broke out in Newport Twp. on Friday morning.
The fire at 322 Old Newport St. was reported shortly before 7:30 a.m. and drew a response from firefighters across the area.
Police confirmed one person was dead and another person escaped the fire.
A state police fire marshal was in scene investigating.
Authorities would not say whether the fire appeared suspicious.
There was no word on the fire’s cause


Human remains found near Susquehanna River
Times Leader

NEWPORT TWP. — State police are investigating after human remains were located in a wooded area along the Susquehanna River on Saturday morning.
Around 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, state troopers from PSP Wyoming, along with members of the criminal investigation unit, were summoned to Newport Township for reports of human remains near the Susquehanna River.
The victim’s identity is unknown at this time, and the investigation is ongoing, with more information to be released pending further forensic testing.

Newport Township man arrested on child pornography charges

A man from Newport Township was arrested Wednesday on allegations he downloaded an image of a semi-nude girl.
Neil Minnich, 46, of Sharpe Street, admitted he used his cellular telephone to download the picture to his photo gallery but later claimed he deleted the photograph because he did not want the image on his device, according to court records.
Minnich was arraigned by District Judge Donald Whittaker in Nanticoke on charges of possession of child pornography, dissemination of sexual materials and criminal use of communication facility. He was jailed at the Luzerne County Correctional Facility for lack of $100,000 bail.
According to the criminal complaint:
Luzerne County detectives and West Hazleton police, members of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and state police Northeast Computer Crime Unit, in early November received a cyber-tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
The cyber-tip alleged a cellular telephone and an email address linked to Minnich was used to upload an image showing a girl exposing herself on Sept. 20.
Detectives obtained a search warrant that verified the cellular number and email address of Minnich, the complaint says.
A second search warrant was served at Minnich’s residence Wednesday when he was confronted about the image.
Minnich told detectives, according to the complaint, his Google account was disabled about two months ago. Minnich claimed he contacted Google to retrieve personal family photos because he was unaware his cellular phone uploaded photos to cloud storage, the complaint says.
When Minnich was shown a picture of the semi-nude girl, he allegedly admitted to seeing the picture he downloaded to his cellular phone photo gallery. Minnich claimed he deleted the photograph from his celluar phone after a short time because he knew it was illegal and did not want the picture saved in his device, the complaint says


Mother of deceased baby gets house arrest for filthy home
James Halpin – Citizens Voice

The Glen Lyon mother whose baby died while living with four siblings in squalid conditions was sentenced Tuesday to serve nine months on house arrest.
Charlene June Riera, 40, previously pleaded guilty to five felony counts of child endangerment over allegations that police found her five children, then aged 6 months to 11 years old, living in a home with feces smeared on the floors and garbage bags festering in the basement.
Luzerne County President Judge Michael T. Vough imposed the sentence Tuesday, ordering Riera to serve three years in the Intermediate Punishment Program, the first nine months on house arrest with electronic monitoring.
“Hopefully you learned your lesson and you’ll take care of your kids,” Vough said.
“Yes, I did,” Riera said, tearing up.
Police began investigating Riera when her daughter, 6-month-old Nora Riera, died in the family home at 48 Arch St. in the Glen Lyon section of Newport Twp. the morning of Jan. 4.
The Luzerne County Coroner’s Office ruled the death accidental, listing the cause of death as “asphyxiation due to mechanical compression.”
Riera was not charged with causing her daughter’s death.
The child endangerment charges stemmed from the conditions inside the home, which police said had an empty refrigerator and was rigged with multiple space heaters in lieu of a central heating source.
The home was filthy, with garbage, leftover food and clothing scattered around, according to police.
Investigators found animal feces on the floors along with a large bird cage containing two cockatoos and a chicken, the charges alleged.
During the hearing Tuesday, caseworkers testified that Riera has made substantial improvements since her arrest and has had no incidents during visitations with her four surviving children.
“Her home was inspected in March. It passed inspection,” Children and Youth Services Caseworker George Wolf said. “It was well-maintained.”
Riera also told the court that caseworkers had informed her she would regain custody of her children “if everything goes well today.”
In addition to the IPP sentence, Vough ordered Riera to follow all recommendations by children and youth services.
Riera declined to comment as she left the courthouse.


Man wary of online sex sting arrested in online sex sting
James Halpin – Citizens Voice
A Glen Lyon man who repeatedly expressed concern about being arrested for having an underage sexual relationship was arrested Monday morning for sexting with someone he thought was a teenage boy, according to police.
Stephen Prokop, 34, of 24 Engle St., is accused of engaging in sexually explicit conversations and soliciting a nude picture from what he thought was a 15-year-old boy.
The boy turned out to be Kingston police Detective Stephen Gibson.
According to the complaint, Prokop first made contact with Gibson on a social media site on Sept. 28. After being told the fictitious boy was 15, Prokop wrote he was looking for friends and fun, but “can’t do the fun part with you for three years.”
He also wrote that he was surprised people would meet the boy.
“Usually ppl don’t meet up with ppl under 18, ya never know if it’s a cop or something,” the complaint quotes Prokop as writing.
During a series of messages sent in the following weeks, Prokop went on to ask for a picture of the boy and engaged in increasingly sexually explicit conversations, according to the complaint.
Prokop eventually asked the boy to call him by the nickname “daddy” and, in one of the final conversations, again expressed concern about going to jail, police said.
“Just gotta be really careful I don’t wanna end up in no check out hotel,” the complaint quotes him as writing. “Well it has happened. Not with me, but it’s all over the news, ppl get arrested for hanging out with ppl under 18, It happens man.”
Police charged Prokop with felony counts of unlawful contact with a minor, solicitation to commit sexual abuse and criminal use of a communication facility.
Magisterial District Judge Brian James Tupper arraigned Prokop on the charges Monday afternoon and set bail at $200,000.
Prokop was being held at the Luzerne County Correctional Facility with a preliminary hearing set for Nov. 17.

Glen Lyon man latest arrested in Kingston underage sex sting


KINGSTON — Municipal police have made yet another arrest of a man they say solicited a fictitious minor online to engage in sex acts.
Stephen Prokop, 34, of Glen Lyon was arrested and arraigned on Monday after police say he sent multiple sexually explicit messages to someone he thought was a 15-year-old boy online, but was actually a detective.
Prokop is the 18th such arrest made recently by Kingston police.
According to the criminal complaint:
Prokop reached out to the detective on Sept. 28 while the detective was posing as a 15-year-old boy on a social media site.
When advised that the boy was only 15 years old, Prokop said that he was looking for fun but “can’t do the fun part with you for 3 years.”
Prokop told the boy that he was a cook and a marathon runner, and said that he was surprised that anyone would want to meet up with the boy because “usually ppl don’t meet up with ppl over 18, ya never know if it’s a cop or something.”
The conversation resumed on Oct. 9 with Prokop asking the boy what he was up to, and sent some photos intermittently between Oct. 10 and Oct. 22 of him wearing various medals from races that he said he ran in. He also asked the boy to move onto another social media site, and that he didn’t want to use his personal phone to text the boy.
On Oct. 23, Prokop sent a message talking about “some hotties” he saw at Kirby Park the day before, and when the boy said that maybe he would go there sometime, Prokop said that maybe they would see each other there.
On Nov. 4, Prokop asked the boy for a picture and, after some confusion, clarified that he wanted to see a picture of the boy’s “package.”
From there, Prokop inquired about the possibility of meeting up somewhere near where the boy lives, and continued to ask for photos of the boy.
He expressed his interest to meet for sex, but said that they had to be careful so Prokop didn’t end up in jail, saying “…it’s all over the news, ppl get arrested for hanging out with ppl under 18.”
Prokop also asked the boy to start referring to him by a nickname, which they agreed upon would be “daddy.”
Kingston police arrested Prokop on Monday, and he was arraigned on Monday afternoon in front of Magisterial District Judge Brian Tupper. He was charged with multiple felonies, including two counts of unlawful contact with a minor as well as charges relating to criminal solicitation and criminal use of a communications facility.
Prokop was lodged at the Luzerne County Correctional Facility for failure to post $200,000 in bail, and he’ll await a preliminary hearing set for Nov. 17.


One Killed in crash
Edward Lewis – Times Leader

In Newport Township on Sept. 15, state police said Newport Township police were involved in a pursuit on East Main Street involving a motorcycle, operated by 20-year-old Jaylin R. Williams, of Pittston. 
State police said 911 received multiple calls about a motorcyclist driving erratically.
A Newport Township police officer pursued Williams who was driving at a high rate of speed and lost control of his 2004 Suzuki motorcycle that struck a curb.
Williams was thrown from the motorcycle and struck a utility pole, state police said.
Williams died from injuries sustained in the crash


Glen Lyon woman pleads guilty to child endangerment
James Halpin - Citizens Voice

A Glen Lyon woman accused of housing her children in a filthy home has pleaded guilty to child endangerment charges.
Charlene June Riera, 40, entered her plea Wednesday before Luzerne County President Judge Michael T. Vough, who set sentencing for Nov. 10.
Police began investigating Riera when her daughter, 6-month-old Nora Riera, died in the family home at 48 Arch St. in the Glen Lyon section of Newport Twp. the morning of Jan. 4.
An autopsy determined the baby died of “asphyxiation due to mechanical compression,” and the Luzerne County Coroner’s Office ruled the death accidental.
Riera was not charged with causing her daughter's death. The allegations alleged that police found her children, ages 6 months to 11 years old, living in a home with feces smeared on the floors and garbage bags festering in the basement.
Riera remains free on $25,000 unsecured bail pending sentencing.


Takeout mini-bazaar benefits volunteer fire company and church 
Denise Allabaugh – Citizens Voice

NEWPORT TWP. — After Newport Twp. Consolidated Fire Company and St. Faustina Parish were forced to cancel previously planned fundraisers due to COVID-19 concerns, volunteers came together to hold a takeout mini-bazaar Saturday at St. Faustina Grove.
Area residents wearing masks lined up at the fundraiser to purchase potato pancakes, haluski, piggies, Manhattan clam chowder and shrimp bisque.
They included 85-year-old Hunlock Creek resident Jean Fritz, who said she was glad they held the mini-bazaar because she loves the food and wanted to support St. Faustina Parish and Newport Twp. Consolidated Fire Company that includes Glen Lyon-Alden Hose Co.
Fritz purchased eight potato pancakes and two containers of Manhattan clam chowder.
“It’s good food. Everything is very good. They’re good cooks,” Fritz said. “I miss all the church bazaars. We have to support everybody.”
Fundraiser coordinator Jason Poremba said fire company volunteers typically hold a food sale on Good Friday but they were forced to cancel the April fundraiser as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. St. Faustina Church also canceled its annual three-day bazaar.
Volunteers came up with the idea to hold a takeout mini-bazaar a month ago and Poremba said he was happy they served a steady crowd of customers. They limited the event to 250 people at a time due to COVID-19 restrictions.
He said the event was important to raise money for both St. Faustina Parish and fire companies, which have fewer volunteers.
“During the height of this, we weren’t allowed to have anything,” Poremba said. “Our Good Friday sale is a very big fundraiser for both organizations and we weren’t able to have that so that was a big loss to us.”
Len Paczkowski, captain of Newport Twp. Fire Police, said volunteer fire companies operate on a minimum budget so the fundraiser was important.
“We need fundraisers. Fundraisers are a big part of our budget,” he said. “When we lost the Good Friday food sale and that was more than 50% of our fundraising budget which goes into operations. Hopefully, we’re going to put some of that back with this.”
Paczkowski said they also applied for a grant and hope to get back more funds they lost as a result of canceled fundraisers. They’re always looking for new avenues to raise funds, he said.
“Fundraising to volunteer fire companies is integral to operations,” he said. “Without it, you end up ceasing to exist because you can’t pay your bills. If we don’t do it, it falls back on the taxpayers and they’re already overtaxed.”
St. Faustina volunteer Mike Yalch, who was busy Saturday preparing potato pancakes in a hot kitchen, said the church bazaar is its biggest fundraiser of the year so canceling it affected the parish.
The church held raffles and tried to raise funds other ways but he said it won’t offset all the funds typically raised at the three-day bazaar.
Yalch has volunteered for more than 40 years to maintain St. Faustina Grove and raise funds.
He said St. Faustina Grove benefited in some ways from the COVID-19 restrictions because outdoor events with up to 250 people could be held here.
The funds raised Saturday will not only help the volunteer fire companies, but Yalch said they could be put back into maintaining St. Faustina Grove.


Newport Township police charge man with violently shaking infant

Township police arrested Skyler Roy Coleman on allegations he violently shook a 2-month-old boy casing serous injuries to the infant’s brain and cervical spine, including what a pediatrician described as “too many to count’ retinal hemorrhages to one eye, according to court records.
Police allege Coleman, 23, inflicted the injuries to the infant inside a residence on West Kirmar Avenue from March 2019 to June 2019. Coleman relocated to an apartment on Clifton Drive, Bloomsburg, since the alleged incidents.
The infant’s mother told police she had to take the baby from Coleman several times because he would cradle the baby tight and shake or bounce the baby whenever the infant would cry. She described Coleman’s actions with the baby were “too rough” and she had to remind Coleman to support the baby’s head when he held the infant, court records say.
Police said the infant has been receiving medical care at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville with the possibility of permanent Cerebral Palsy due to bleeding of the brain.
Coleman was arraigned by District Judge Donald Whittaker in Nanticoke on three counts of aggravated assault and one count each of simple assault, recklessly endangering another person and endangering the welfare of a child. He was jailed at the Luzerne County Correctional Facility for lack of $75,000 bail.
According to the criminal complaint:
Police said emergency medical technicians responded to the West Kirmar Avenue residence on May 5, 2019, when the infant stopped breathing. The baby began breathing when the mother blew into the infant’s mouth.
The mother told police she was in the kitchen when Coleman came running inside holding the baby saying there was something wrong. When the mother rubbed the baby’s chest and blew into the mouth, the grandmother called 911 prompting the response by emergency medical technicians.
Police said the baby was transported to Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Plains Township.
The mother followed up with a visit to a pediatrician on May 14, 2019, when the doctor noted the baby’s head had enlarged since the emergency room visit nine days earlier. The mother reported the baby had unexplained vomiting that continued for several days after May 5, 2019.
Emergency medical technicians again responded to the residence on June 7, 2019, when the baby stopped breathing. The mother told police Coleman was dressing the baby who was crying when he gave the infant to her saying, “I can’t do this,” the complaint says.
The mother claimed an undershirt was around the baby’s neck when Coleman gave her the infant.
Police said the infant was initially taken to Geisinger Wyoming Valley and flown to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville due to the extent of injuries.
A program director for the Pediatric Residency and Child Abuse Team at Geisinger told police the infant sustained a ligament injury to the cervical spine, head and brain trauma and “too many to count” retinal hemorrhages to one eye. Police noted in the complaint the pediatrician noted the baby sustained the injuries by “being violently shaken on more than one occasion” caused by a non-accidental head trauma.
The mother told police Coleman apologized for making her life a mess and admitted to “bouncing” the baby prior to the May 5 and June 7 incidents, the complaint says.


State police: Missing money behind Glen Lyon standoff

A man surrendered early Thursday morning several hours after he refused to exit his home after a physical domestic dispute about missing money from a safe.
State police troopers with the Special Emergency Response Team surrounded the home at 81 Coal St. in Glen Lyon when a township police officer went to the residence to investigate a domestic disturbance.
The township officer allegedly saw George William Karavitch inside the home with his hands on the shoulders of a child in front of him. Karavitch closed the door on the officer, according to court records, resulting in a several hour standoff with authorities.
Court records say a woman reported Karavitch “went off the rails” and accused her of stealing $200 from a safe. She kept telling Karavitch she did not take the money.
During an argument, she claimed Karavitch pushed her causing her to fall into a couch. She grabbed Karavitch as she slipped resulting in Karavitch grabbing her neck and choking her, court records say.
She allegedly told police she felt she was going to blackout as Karavitch released his grip around her neck, according to court records.
Karavitch told the woman, “I was this close to killing you now,” court records say.
When an officer arrived at the house, Karavitch grabbed a 4-year-old boy and closed the front door.
Other officers arrived and when the front door was opened, Karavitch stood behind the child and closed the door.
Troopers wearing body armor and carrying assault rifles responded who set up a perimeter around Karavitch’s house. A heavily armored Bobcat with a battering ram attachment was brought in by state police.
Coal Street was closed as residents of the street were instructed to stay indoors or were not permitted to return during the incident.
Karavitch surrendered at about 12:30 a.m. Thursday.
Karavitch was arraigned by District Judge Joseph Zola of Hazleton on charges of strangulation, simple assault and harassment. Court records say he was released on $35,000 unsecured bail


Man faces charges after Newport Twp. standoff Wednesday night


A Newport Twp. man faces charges after he allegedly assaulted a woman and holed up in his home with a child during a standoff with police Wednesday night.
The incident began when township police responded to 81 Coal St., in the township's Glen Lyon section, for a reported domestic disturbance, according to a criminal complaint filed by state police.
According to the complaint:
A woman told police that George W. Karavitch, 30, had pushed her and grabbed her by the throat during an argument in which he accused her of taking $200 in cash from his safe.
The woman said that after Karavitch released his grasp, he told her “I was that close to killing you now.”
When police arrived at the home at about 6 p.m. Wednesday, the woman had left, but an officer observed Karavitch inside the residence. When Karavitch saw the officer, he grabbed a 4-year-old boy by the arm and closed the door without speaking.
The officer called for backup and later observed Karavitch standing behind the boy, with his hands placed on the boy's shoulders, the complaint states.
State police responded and a standoff ensued. Karavitch eventually surrendered.
Police charged Karavitch with a felony count of strangulation and a misdemeanor count of simple assault. He was arraigned Thursday morning and released on $35,000 unsecured bail.
A preliminary hearing is scheduled for July 22.


SCI Retreat to close by Saturday


NEWPORT TWP. — The State Correctional Institution at Retreat is set to close by Saturday, but state Sen. John Yudichak said he is determined to find a new occupant.
“We’ll continue conversations on how we can repurpose that facility so the community at large is not negatively impacted by the loss of 400 jobs for years to come,” said Yudichak, I-Swoyersville, who was part of a contingent that unsuccessfully fought to keep the facility open.
Yudichak expects many ideas will be explored for corrections, other state agencies or the private sector.
“We’ll look at all options,” he said, noting a timely plan is in the best interest of taxpayers because it would cost a couple of million if mothballing is necessary to protect the property for future sale or reuse.
For now, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections will maintain the site for minimal operations in case it is needed to deal with a future coronavirus outbreak, the state said in an announcement about the closure date.
The facility temporarily housed some new state inmates during the pandemic so they could be monitored for symptoms before they were released into the general population at other locations.
In total, 1,166 inmates were tested at the site, with only 13 positive results, said Tabb Bickell, the department’s Executive Deputy Secretary for Institutional Operations.
“I would like to thank SCI Retreat employees for stepping up to the challenge of turning their facility into a reception facility during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Bickell said in the release. “They made a huge impact on our work to slow the spread of the virus throughout our system.”
Gov. Tom Wolf had agreed to the department’s recommended closure in January, with the understanding employees would be relocated to other state correctional facilities within 65 miles of the Newport Township one. Under the now-completed relocation process, some employees chose different positions within the department or state, and others retired, the announcement said.
The Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association said Thursday it does not have a statement on the closure date announcement at this time.
Yudichak said he was aware of several Retreat workers assigned to other state correctional facilities, requiring one-way commutes of 45 minutes to an hour.
Advocates won the first battle to stop a proposed closure several years ago but lost this one because the state administration was determined to reduce the number of prisons, Yudichak said.
“It’s been a long road over the last four to five years with all the ups and downs,” he said.
He expressed “profound gratitude” to the workers, their families and the surrounding community. Employees covered the demand for a coronavirus quarantine site, knowing it wouldn’t change the facility closure outcome, he said.
“They did their jobs with grace and professionalism. Every report I’ve read about the quality of the workforce and efficiency met every standard and exceeded expectations,” he said.
The prison was the township’s largest employer, which is a “big blow,” Yudichak said.
Township officials increased municipal real estate taxes 10.3% this year, requiring a payment of $35 more on a $100,000 property, in part to help make up for the loss of approximately $20,000 in local services tax revenue from prison workers, according to a prior published report.
“We’ll be working with Newport Township to try to get the municipality back on its feet,” Yudichak said.
Accessed by a bridge over the Susquehanna River, the site has gone through several chapters since the Central Poor District of Luzerne County established an almshouse for the indigent there in 1878, according to the corrections department website. A hospital for those with mental health conditions was added in 1900, it said.
The property was known as the Retreat Hospital for the Insane and Almshouse for 30 years and renamed the Retreat Mental Hospital in 1930. The county operated that facility until 1943, when it was transferred to state control, the department said.
The hospital formally closed in 1981, and it opened as a state prison in January 1988, the site said.



Former baseball player, coach John Kashatus surprised by Corbett award

Longtime coach is 3rd recipient for contributions to local athletics.
John Kashatus is a believer.
Three years ago, the Dallas Mountaineers needed someone to believe in their baseball team when they dug themselves out of a poor start and got in position for a playoff run.
“He told our kids that we were going to win a state title,” said John’s son and Dallas manager, Ken Kashatus. “He says, ‘I won one 50 years ago in 1967; it’s 2017. There’s no reason we can’t win another one.’”
Speaking from experience as someone whose life has been spent in and around athletics, John Kashatus detected that team had the chemistry and work ethic to win it all. Dallas completed one of the most magical runs ever by a local high school team, proving Kashatus right and winning the PIAA Class 4A championship.
John Kashatus, 78, a coach, official, player, teacher and genuine lover of sports — who served as chief statistician and so much more for his son’s 2017 Dallas ballclub — was rewarded during Monday’s Citizens’ Voice Virtual Athlete of the Week Ceremony with the Neil Corbett Award.
“I was kind of stunned,” Kashatus said. “It brought one or two tears to my eyes.”
Named after former Citizens’ Voice sports editor Neil Corbett, a friend of Kashatus with whom he serves on the Wyoming Valley Athletic Association, the award celebrates people who have made significant contributions to scholastic athletics in the area.
After graduating from Newport Township High School, Kashatus played semi-professional baseball from 1961-62 with Mocanaqua and 1963-67 with Glen Lyon.
He wrapped up his semi-pro playing career with the 1967 Ashley All-Stars, who won a state title and advanced to play in Wichita, Kansas, in the National Baseball Congress Tournament. There, Ashley put up a fight and made memories of a lifetime, including losing against a Fairbanks, Alaska, team led by Bob Boone and Bill “Spaceman” Lee.
“That was really the last year of my playing days,” Kashatus recalled. “I was a player/coach on the team. I started as a player and I ended up being a coach because we did recruit some top-notch ballplayers.”
Kashatus was in overdrive that year, playing in baseball and softball leagues, as well as coaching baseball and basketball teams.
“So ’67 was a pretty busy year for me,” he said. “My wife and I got married in October after all the dust cleared.”
In addition to 36-plus years spent teaching at Nanticoke and Newport schools, as well as coaching some basketball, Kashatus’ career was highlighted by a 21-year tenure as manager of Nanticoke Area’s baseball team.
According to his Luzerne County Sports Hall of Fame profile, Kashatus had a career 404-294-11 record leading high school, American Legion and Keystone State baseball teams.
One year after he led one of his greatest Trojan teams to the 1988 District 2 Class 3A championship, Kashatus set up the Triple Play Baseball Camp that served young ballplayers from 1989-98. Former players, as well as coaches from in and out of Northeast Pennsylvania, served as instructors.
“For 10 years, I thought we had one heck of a staff,” Kashatus said.
Kashatus also refereed basketball for 22 years. He had the high-profile assignment of officiating the 1991 PIAA Class 2A boys basketball semifinal in which GAR eliminated Carbondale, 51-48, thanks to a 27-point effort by Bobby Sura.
“They played that Eastern Final at the CYC in Scranton,” Kashatus recalled. “Prior to that, all the games were refereed with three guys. The Eastern Final was a two-man crew, myself and Sammy Ceccacci. The CYC was packed to the rafters.”
After his managerial run with Nanticoke Area baseball ended, Kashatus did some public address work for the Trojans. He also was an assistant coach for Luzerne County Community College under his former player, Jim Domzalski, before joining his son’s staff at Dallas.
John Kashatus not only keeps one of the cleanest and most reputable scorebooks in the Wyoming Valley Conference, his son said, but he pores over statistics, pitchers’ eligibility, who’s hot, who’s not and everything else about upcoming opponents.
“It goes beyond keeping book,” Ken Kashatus said. “He does a lot of scouting on all the opponents we see.”
John Kashatus and his wife, Sally, have two children, Ken and Karla. They also have six grandchildren, Abigail, Jack, Evan, Cole, Olivia and Ian.
They were all thrilled to see John Kashatus receive a well-deserved honor Monday.
“When I was a young man, my grandmother always told me, ‘If you want to have a successful life, hang around with good people,’” John Kashatus said. “I think I’ve been blessed with that, with good friends, with parents who shared their sons with me. I’ve been blessed by that, and obviously a family who was willing to put up with me during all that time, especially my wife.”


$60K grant awarded to for blight removal in Glen Lyon

NEWPORT TWP. — A $60,000 grant has been awarded for blight removal in the Glen Lyon section of the township, State Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-119, Newport Twp. announced Tuesday.

The funds will be used to remove four properties at 125 - 131 East Main Street.

The largest dwelling partially collapsed a few weeks ago causing the township to seek emergency bids to fell the unsafe building.


Fire community in mourning after veteran firefighter’s death

Bob Kalinowski - Citizens Voice  

Members of the fire service in Luzerne County are grieving the unexpected death of a beloved veteran fireman and community advocate who died on duty Saturday in Newport Twp.

Firefighters throughout the area are mourning the loss of Joe Nealon, who died following a medical issue while working with the Newport Twp. Fire Department.

“We are going to miss him. All of us are. We’re all brothers,” said Hanover Twp. Fire Chief Joe Temarantz.

Nealon was a firefighter in Newport Twp., Ashley and Hanover Twp, having got his start in Ashley in 1980. He served as the chaplain in Hanover Twp., tasked with being the prayer leader during trying times like the one now facing the local fire service following Nealon’s death.

“He was dependable, reliable and always willing to lend a hand. He always had a smile on his face. Joe was a friend to all,” said Newport Twp. Fire Chief John Floryshak. “It was really tragic. I still can’t believe it. He is and always was a very well liked man.”

All of the departments Nealon belonged to paid tribute to him on Facebook, and each posted photo tributes to mourn his passing with black bunting adorning the stations.

“This morning the unthinkable happened and we have lost one of our own. With very heavy hearts and tearful eyes we must announce the passing of a very dedicated member of our department: firefighter/chaplain Joseph Nealon Jr. passed away this morning while on his tour of duty with the Newport Township Fire Department,” the Hanover Twp. Fire Department posted. “Joe was the definition of selfless service serving countless years as an emergency medical technician, firefighter, chaplain, and as a police officer. Our thoughts and prayers are with Joe’s family during this very difficult time. Rest easy Joe, we will take it from here. God speed brother!”

Newport Twp. Fire Department said the members were experiencing “deep sadness” with having to announce the line-of-duty-death of Nealon.

“Joe was a long time member of the Glen Lyon-Alden Vol Hose Co. Joe will always be remembered for his big smile and loving heart,” the Newport Twp. department wrote. “Joe, your memory will live on forever. We love you my friend and will never forget you. God speed and rest well, and we’ll take it from here.”

The Ashley Fire Department, where Nealon got his start 40 years ago, also praised Nealon.

“It is with a very heavy heart our bunting once again hangs at the 111 station. Life member/past chaplain Joe Nealon Jr. passed away today,” Ashley fire crews wrote. “Our hearts go out to his family. Always here for Ashley Rescue Hose Co. No. 1, Joe was instrumental in the development and managing of the Fireman’s Park. We would kindly ask that you keep his family in your prayers. God speed Joe and God bless.. You are and will be sadly missed.”

Two arrested in separate pursuits in Newport Township


Two men were arrested in separate pursuits that originated in Newport Township over the weekend.
David John Thomas, 28, of Route 29, Hunlock Township, was arrested for initiating a pursuit while driving an all-terrain vehicle on Sunday. ‘
Ansel B. Goolcharan, 39, of Queens, New York City was arrested when he crashed during a police-initiated pit maneuver near McAdoo on Saturday.
Thomas arrest
According to the criminal complaint, police spotted Thomas driving an ATV with a female passenger in the area of West Kirmar Avenue and Alden Mountain Road at about 8:20 p.m. Sunday.
Thomas turned onto Robert Street where police attempted a traffic stop.
Police said Thomas initiated a pursuit and accelerated at a high rate of speed passing a vehicle. Thomas turned onto Church Street and attempted to turn into a driveway where he crashed the ATV that flipped onto its side.
Thomas and the passenger were thrown from the ATV but were not injured.
Police said Thomas has a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage, the complaint says.
Thomas submitted to a blood test at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center.
A firearm was recovered from a backpack carried by Thomas, police said.
Thomas was arraigned by District Judge James Haggerty in Kingston on charges of fleeing or attempting to elude police, recklessly endangering another person, drunken driving and eight traffic violations. He was released on $5,000 unsecured bail.
Goolcharan arrest
According to the criminal complaint, police spotted a BMW with an inoperable brake light at West Kirmar Avenue and Alden Mountain Road at about 10:24 p.m. Saturday.
The driver, identified as Goolcharan, failed to use a turn signal when he turned onto Alden Mountain Road.
Goolcharan failed to stop and initiated a pursuit with police driving into oncoming lanes of travel nearly striking another vehicle.
Goolcharan briefly stopped on Church Road in Slocum Township. When an officer attempted to open the driver’s side door, Goolcharan reversed his vehicle and struck a parked 2013 Toyota Tacoma, the complaint says.
During the brief stop on Church Road, police recognized the driver as Goolcharan who was wanted by U.S. Marshals.
Goolcharan drove forward striking the officer with the open driver’s side door, the complaint says.
A Rice Township police cruiser was nearly struck as Goolcharan turned south on Interstate 81.
Police in the complaint reported Goolcharan reached speeds in excess of 100 mph on the interstate where state police deployed spike strips that hit the driver’s side tire of his vehicle.
State police conducted a pit maneuver that stopped Goolcharan near the McAdoo exit.
Goolcharan was arraigned by District Judge James Haggerty in Kingston on charges of aggravated assault, simple assault, fleeing or attempting to elude police, criminal mischief, disorderly conduct, obstruction administration of justice, accidents involving damage to unattended vehicle, three counts of recklessly endangering another person and nine traffic violations.
He was jailed at the Luzerne County Correctional Facility for lack of $150,000 bail.



Charges filed after gunfire strikes house in Newport Township

Township police arrested a man they say discharged a firearm multiple times on Saturday, striking a neighboring house that was occupied.

Mulazim M. Mateen, 40, allegedly fired a handgun during an argument with his girlfriend outside their residence at 63 E. Main St. just before 3 p.m.

Police said a neighbor’s residence was struck by two rounds. Several shell casings were recovered from the outside of Mateen’s residence and a .380-caliber Ruger was found in dresser inside his house, according to court records.

No injuries were reported.

Mateen told police, court records say, he defended himself when a black man fired a handgun at him in a drive-by shooting.

According to the criminal complaint:

Police responded to Mateen’s residence for a domestic disturbance involving gunfire. Witnesses told police they observed a woman attempting to enter the residence but a man, identified as Mateen, was keeping her outside.

Witnesses claimed they then saw Mateen exit the residence and discharge a firearm three times before going back inside, the complaint says.

Police said the woman, two children and Mateen exited the residence as authorities were setting up a perimeter.

The woman denied any involvement telling officers they were arguing. She then stated she heard gunshots coming from a vehicle that followed her on East Main Street.

A state police trooper with the Forensic Services Unit recovered two projectiles from a neighbor’s house, which was occupied at the time of the shooting.

A search warrant was served at Mateen’s residence resulting in the handgun being discovered in a dresser.

Mateen told police he was arguing with the woman and while outside, a man in a vehicle fired shots at him. Mateen claimed he ran into his residence to get his handgun, and fired multiple rounds at the vehicle as it drove away, the complaint says.

Mateen was arraigned by District Judge James Dixon in Hazle Township on three counts of recklessly endangering another person, two counts of discharge a firearm into an occupied structure, and one count each of illegal possession of a firearm and disorderly conduct. He was jailed at the county correctional facility without bail as Dixon deemed him a danger to society.


Authorities target illegal ATV use


Newport Twp. police and officers with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources recently targeted illegal all-terrain vehicle use in the township, state Sen. John Yudichak announced Monday.
Large numbers of people from out of the area, and even out of the state, had been descending on the Lee section of Newport Twp. to illegal ride in Pinchot State Forest land and then trespass on private property owned by the Newport Aggregate quarry and Earth Conservancy, Yudichak, I-14, of Swoyersville, reported.
An area in Lee had been used as an unloading zone and a gathering spot for the ATV riders.
“I would like to thank DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn and District Forester from the Pinchot Forest District, Nick Lylo, for acting swiftly to collaborate with the Newport Twp. Police Department on a well-planned enforcement operation to dissuade future illegal riding ...” Yudichak said. 
As a result, three people were cited for trespass with trucks and trailers and two for illegally driving on roadways. Seven trucks and trailers were removed from Earth Conservancy property.
“Our department was being inundated with calls about people driving ATVs and off-road vehicles illegally on state land and both Earth Conservancy and Newport Aggregate land. We discovered that the problem was even more serious than we originally thought after responding to a serious ATV accident near the area where people were congregating. One of our officers discovered over 40 vehicles with ramps and trailers and an abundance of trash on state land,” Newport Twp. police Chief Jeremy Blank said. 
Newport Twp. manager Joseph Hillan thanked Yudichak and DCNR.
“The Lee Section of our township has become a popular gathering place for out-of-town residents, and the support we received here on such short notice, shows us our state officials are here for us as we continue to combat these issues moving forward,” Hillan said.


Driver topples tombstones during pursuit through Newport Twp. Cemetery
Bob Kalinowski – Citizens Voice


A suspect leading police on a wild vehicle chase Sunday afternoon in Nanticoke and Newport Twp. veered into a cemetery, where he toppled multiple tombstones and tore up grass gravesites before plowing through a metal fence and back onto residential streets.
Police eventually cornered the driver in his mangled car a short distance away on Alden Road in Newport Twp. and took him into custody.
Investigators said the 29-year-old suspect was taken to the hospital for a mental health evaluation and charges are pending consultation with county prosecutors.
“It was pretty wild. There were a bunch of police cars chasing him,” said eyewitness Joe Bargella, 66, whose Newport Twp. backyard faces Holy Trinity Cemetery. “I heard, ‘bang, bang, bang,’ from him knocking over the headstones I guess.”
Police said the incident started when police were called to a home on College Street in Nanticoke on the report of a person throwing furniture from a second story window.
The man fled the home and led responding officers on a pursuit through city streets. State police, along with officers from Newport Twp. and Hanover Twp., soon responded as well.
After the chase entered the cemetery, the man initially was on a paved road that loops around the cemetery and, at one point, it looked like police had the driver boxed in, Bargella said. But the driver reversed, made a quick maneuver, and drove into the grass in between and over tombstones. The driver drove through the cemetery, knocking over grave markers, and then plowed through the cemetery’s metal fence.
Police caught the man moments later, ending the chase.
The Rev. James Nash, of St. Faustina Church, the city’s consolidated Catholic parish that includes the former Holy Trinity Church, toured the cemetery destruction shortly afterward.
“Vandalism is always sad, but when it occurs at a sacred spot like a cemetery, it takes on a special sadness,” the Rev. Nash said. “We will do all we need to do to restore the cemetery to its original dignity.”


SCI-Retreat to be used for inmate quarantine

NEWPORT TWP. — Instead of closing, State Correctional Institution at Retreat will be quarantining.
Due to the coronavirus, all newly sentenced state inmates and parole violators will be filtered through the Newport Twp. prison for a quarantine period before being transferred to SCI-Camp Hill — the normal first stop for inmates, the Department of Corrections announced Monday.
“Currently, we have no positive cases of COVID-19 in our state prison inmate population, and we are working to delay the virus entering our system,” Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said. “This change in how we receive newly sentenced inmates and parole violators will reduce the number of ways individuals enter our system. With this plan, moving forward, only one facility will be involved, greatly reducing the ways the virus can enter our system.”
Department officials said the move is temporary and didn’t say how it affects Gov. Tom Wolf’s plans to shutter SCI-Retreat. After months of debate, Wolf announced in January his final decision to close the prison, which employs about 400 people, by the end of June.
Wetzel sent a letter today to all county prisons informing them that the department is pausing new commitments for several days to prepare for the transition.
In preparation for the influx of inmates to SCI-Retreat, officials are transferring SCI-Retreat inmates to other state prisons, while leaving a number of inmates to work in dietary and maintenance areas. Officials also are increasing the medical staff and medical supplies at SCI-Retreat.
“As always, the good people of Newport Twp. and Luzerne County step up in a time of need, and this time it is the Department of Corrections that needs to put SCI Retreat back in service to house state inmates who are currently being housed at county correctional facilities,” State Sen. John Yudichak, I-14, Swoyersville said. “The Pennsylvania DOC has assured us all precautions will be taken to ensure the employees of SCI Retreat and the public will be safe during the transfer and housing of these inmates. We are all in this crisis together, and together we will come through it stronger than ever.”
Mark Truszkowski, eastern vice president of the state corrections officers union who served for nearly two decades as an officer at SCI-Dallas, said the union has asked Wolf’s office “for all inmate movement to stop period.”
“The governor’s office was asked on Saturday and as of today our request has not been answered,” Truszkowski said.
New female inmates and parole violators will continue to be received at SCIs Muncy and Cambridge Springs.


Newport Township man charged with killing dog


NEWPORT TWP. — Township police arrested Scott A. Slominski on allegations he shot and killed a dog after a fight with his wife, according to court records.
Police found a deceased mixed Pit bull/Mastiff, about 18 months old, at Slominski’s residence on West Main Avenue at about 12:30 p.m. Saturday. A second dog, a Boxer, was not harmed, police said.
A .357-caliber revolver loaded with five rounds was recovered by police. Two spent shell casings were also recovered.
Slominski told police he shot the dog because the two dogs were fighting but his wife, Shannon Slominski claimed her husband shot the dog because he was drinking and she left the house during an argument, court records say.
According to the criminal complaint:
Police responded to Slominski’s house for a report he shot a dog. When officers arrived, they learned Slominski and his wife had been involved in domestic dispute prior to the shooting.
Slominski told police he shot the dog because the dogs were fighting. He became aggressive and charged at an officer before he was arrested and placed in the back seat of a cruiser.
Police in the complaint say Slominski repeatedly kicked the door, causing it to push away from the vehicle frame.
Shannon Slominski told police they were fighting because he was was drinking and was intoxicated. She also stated he was “acting like an a—hole,” the complaint says.
Slominski allegedly shot the dog when his wife left the house.
Neighbors told police they heard Slominski screaming for help after he shot the dog.
After Slominski calmed down, he claimed he shot the dog because the dogs were fighting. He told police, “I shot my dog,” and “what did I do, I shot my dog,” the complaint says.
Police said the two dogs did not have a history of aggressive behavior.
Slominski was charged with a felony count of aggravated cruelty to animals and a misdemeanor count of cruelty to animals. He was arraigned by District Judge Joseph Carmody in West Pittston and released on $7,500 unsecured bail.


Glen Lyon mom waives child endangerment charges
James Halpin - Citizens Voice

The Glen Lyon woman accused of housing her children in a filthy home waived her right to a preliminary hearing on five child endangerment charges Wednesday morning.
Charlene June Riera, 39, reached a deal with prosecutors to reduce the severity of the charges she is facing from second-degree felonies to third-degree felonies, which were then bound over to county court. She is due to appear before Luzerne County President Judge Michael T. Vough for a dispositional hearing April 27.
Police began investigating Riera when her daughter, 6-month-old Nora Riera, died in the family home at 48 Arch St. in the Glen Lyon section of Newport Twp. the morning of Jan. 4.
An autopsy determined the baby died of “asphyxiation due to mechanical compression,” and the Luzerne County Coroner’s Office ruled the death accidental.
Riera is not charged with causing her daughter’s death, but is facing charges alleging state police found her children, ages 6 months to 11 years old, living in a home with feces smeared on the floors and garbage bags festering in the basement.
Police say the home also lacked a main heating source and had a refrigerator empty of food.
Based on the conditions in the home, police contacted Luzerne County Children and Youth Services, which took protective custody of the four surviving children.
Riera remains free on $25,000 unsecured bail pending her next court appearance.


Police: Mother housed her kids in filth

The mother of a baby who died last month was charged Thursday with child endangerment alleging her five children lived in a squalid home with no food or main heat source.
Charlene June Riera, 39, of Glen Lyon, is accused of housing her children, ages 6 months to 11 years old, in a home with feces smeared on the floors and filled garbage bags festering in the basement.
Riera declined to comment after being arraigned on five felony counts of endangering the welfare of a child at central court.
According to a complaint filed by Pennsylvania State Police, authorities began their investigation when Riera’s daughter, 6-month-old Nora Riera, died in the family home at 48 Arch St. in the Glen Lyon section of Newport Twp. the morning of Jan. 4.
An autopsy determined the baby died of “asphyxiation due to mechanical compression,” and the Luzerne County Coroner’s Office ruled the death accidental.
But police say when they entered the home they were hit by a foul odor and observed filthy conditions, including garbage, leftover food and clothing scattered around. Officers also observed animal feces on the floors of multiple rooms, police said.
The home featured a large bird cage containing two cockatoos along with a chicken, as well as an overturned cat litter box in an upstairs room, according to the complaint. There was also a baby crib that was filled with clothing and empty soda boxes, police said.
The basement had a large number of filled garbage bags, and the refrigerator didn’t contain any food, according to police.
Investigators also noted the home lacked a main heating source and was instead rigged with multiple space heaters.
Based on the conditions in the home, police contacted Luzerne County Children and Youth Services, which took protective custody of the four surviving children.
In court Thursday, Riera told Magisterial District Judge Ferris P. Webby Sr. that the children remain in foster care.
Newport Twp. Code Enforcement deemed the home unfit for human habitation based on the amount of “garbage and filth” police found. State police Cpl. Robert Betnar told the judge that, although the house failed an inspection on Feb. 4, Riera has been working to improve the property, which she owns along with her husband.
Riera informed the court that her husband, 36-year-old Bolivar Patricio Riera, had nothing to do with the condition of the property because he is in prison. Court records show Bolivar Riera was sentenced last August to serve three to six years in state prison on charges of aggravated indecent assault with forcible compulsion and unlawful sexual contact with a minor.
Webby allowed Charlene Riera to remain free on $25,000 unsecured bail, with orders for her to continue rehabilitating the property. Charlene Riera, who is already on probation from a previous driving under the influence conviction, was also ordered to continue drug and alcohol treatment and to take parenting classes.
A preliminary hearing was set for March 11.


Wolf follows through, announces SCI-Retreat's closure

Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday announced the state will close State Correctional Institution at Retreat, resulting in the displacement of more than 400 jobs in Luzerne County.
Citing a Department of Corrections deficit of $140 million for fiscal year 2019-20 and the prospect of saving an estimated $40 million annually by closing the prison, Wolf said he decided to close the prison so the department could remain a “good steward of taxpayer money.”
“As a result of the significant budget deficit and continued decrease in the inmate population, among other factors, it would be fiscally irresponsible to not close the prison,” Wolf said in the statement.
The decision, which was expected, drew swift criticism from the vocal opponents of the closure.
“To save money, Pennsylvania is closing prisons at a time when 60% of inmates return to prison within three years,” the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association said in a statement. “Pennsylvania’s system is bursting at the seams. State lawmakers must hold the Department of Corrections accountable for putting money over public safety, or prisons in their legislative districts will be next.”
Area lawmakers were also quick to criticize the move.
“It is very difficult to express my frustration with Gov. Wolf’s ideology and ultimate decision to displace hundreds of hard-working and dedicated employees,” said state Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-119, Newport Twp. “We have fought hard from day one to prevent the closure of SCI-Retreat and remain committed to the employees who work tirelessly to keep our community safe. ... I am sorry to learn our words fell on deaf ears. The impact of this closure will be felt well beyond the prison walls.”
In a joint statement, state Sens. John Yudichak, I-14, Plymouth Twp.; Lisa Baker, R-20, Lehman Twp.; and John Gordner, R-27, Berwick, blasted Wolf’s decision.
“We are extremely disappointed that Gov. Wolf has chosen to close SCI-Retreat, and accept the critically flawed recommendations made by the Department of Corrections that ignored the voices of the people, the communities, and the business owners of Luzerne County,” the senators wrote. “The decision is devastating news to Newport Twp. and neighboring communities in Luzerne County, and foreshadows troubling trends ahead for the Department of Corrections related to overcrowding and disciplinary problems we are already experiencing at SCI-Dallas that make our prison system less safe and less stable.”
The prison, which sits between the Susquehanna River and a mountainside, was targeted for closure in part because it is only accessible by an old bridge that leads to U.S. Route 11 in Hunlock Creek. During bad floods, like in 2011, the prison is left in “complete isolation” because flooding shuts down Route 11 in both directions, according to the department.
According to Wolf’s announcement, state law mandates a four-month closure process, meaning the prison will not be shuttered at least until May 17.
In the meantime, the medium-security prison’s 955 inmates will be relocated to other prisons based on their individual security and medical needs, according to the announcement.
The more than 400 correctional officers and other Department of Corrections employees at the prison will be given the option to relocate to the six other DOC facilities that are within a 65-mile radius, the governor said.
“I understand that a closure is tough on the employees, the community and the inmates and their families,” Wolf said. “The DOC staff will work to ensure a smooth transition for all involved and I will be in touch with DOC executive staff throughout the closure process.”


DOC recommendation to close SCI-Retreat draws criticism from local lawmakers

State taxpayers are projected to spend at least $1.2 million per year to mothball and maintain a shuttered State Correctional Institution at Retreat, but closing the prison is in the state’s overall best financial interest to achieve a savings of nearly $60 million per year, according to a report released Wednesday.
In the report, the leaders of the state Department of Corrections recommended closing the facility to plug a projected $140 million budget deficit and respond to a dwindling inmate population, a decision that would eliminate 400 jobs from Newport Twp.
The report concedes the closure will indirectly affect 890 total jobs in the area, which local legislators say could be a loss of tens of millions of dollars to the local economy. In addition, the loss to local vendors that do business with SCI-Retreat will be around $13.5 million, the report said.
The DOC report is just a recommendation, though local legislators say it seems the decision is final and will be rubber-stamped by Gov. Tom Wolf, as early as today.
Wolf has said all SCI-Retreat workers would be offered jobs at one of the six state prisons within 65 miles of SCI-Retreat, which are SCIs Coal Twp., Dallas, Frackville, Mahanoy, Muncy and Waymart.
Despite the promise, the report notes a hiring freeze at those facilities implemented in August has led to only 78 correctional officer vacancies. SCI-Retreat has 270 correctional officials. There are 128 non-correctional officer jobs available at those prisons, the report said.
In a joint statement, state Sens. John Yudichak, I-14, Plymouth Twp., Lisa Baker, R-20, Lehman Twp. and John Gordner, R-27, of Berwick, criticized the recommendation and said the entire closure process violated Public Safety Facilities Act 133, which required a public hearing before state facilities could be closed and a 90-day notice. The law was passed after Wolf tried to close SCI-Retreat in 2017.
“We stand with the brave men and women who have given their heart and soul working at SCI-Retreat and the communities of Luzerne County. We vehemently disagree with the findings made in the report by the Department of Corrections to recommend the closure of SCI-Retreat,” they said. “As we have done in the past, we stand in a bipartisan manner to call upon Gov. Wolf to reject the findings made in this report and keep SCI Retreat open.”
The DOC defended the closing in its report.
“The selection of SCI-Retreat is the least impactful selection of the DOC facilities because it is one of the oldest facilities and presents significant physical plant challenges,” the report said. “Although the Department acknowledges concerns over the impact of the closure of SCI-Retreat, the Department is in a position to ensure the retention of jobs, the safety of the public and the security of the inmates.”
Process was
a ‘charade’
State Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-119, of Newport Twp., said the closure process was nothing more than “a charade.”
“I’ve met privately with Gov. Wolf and discussed the impact of this proposed closure, but it appears he will move forward with his recommendation. I expect an announcement by weeks end,” Mullery said. “Now we must focus on the displaced employees and ensure their transition to new facilities is expeditious and safe. For those who cannot undertake a transition, we need to offer assistance in the form of education and/or career training.”
A review by the state Department of Labor and Industry determined the job prospects of those who don’t want to transition to a new prison. The department determined 108 employees had “good” prospects at finding a different job, while 285 had “fair to difficult” chances and 26 would have a “difficult” time.
Once the prison closes, SCI-Retreat’s 955 inmates will be moved to other prisons in the state.
Following a hearing on Oct. 17 at Greater Nanticoke Area High School, controversy erupted after a hot-mic video surfaced online in which DOC Secretary John Wetzel joked with fellow administrators that he was only pretending to pay attention and seemed to indicate SCI-Retreat’s fate was already made regardless of what happened.
Wetzel was then removed from the decision-making and another hearing was held at the Nanticoke Municipal Building.
“Secretary Wetzel’s comments caught on a microphone at the first SCI-Retreat hearing told us all we needed to know. This process has been a sham from the beginning — and it’s a dangerous one because it puts money over public safety,” said Larry Blackwell, president of Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association. “Our prisons are bursting at the seams and are more violent than ever — no matter how often the Department of Corrections manipulates its statistics on violence and inmate population. It’s time for the Pennsylvania General Assembly to hold this department accountable or more prisons are going to close in their districts.”
Yudichak said the closure of the prison would amount to the economic death penalty to Newport Twp. and Luzerne County.
County Manager David Pedri said he was disappointed.
“The Department of Corrections report is truly upsetting as it does not take into account the truly negative economic impact that this closure will have on Luzerne County and Newport Twp. After review, it seems that the Department made a decision first and then put together a report to back that decision,” Pedri said. “Our thoughts are with the many courageous employees who will now have to uproot their families and their way of life. I’m hopeful that Governor Wolf changes course and chooses to keep SCI Retreat open.”
SCI-Retreat history
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 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.
Repairs done, needed
The report notes a total of $914,020 in repairs have recently been completed at SCI-Retreat with several major projects underway.
The work completed included roof repairs, a new steam pipe installation, a steam tunnel replacement, repairs to a wheelchair lift, renovations to the main lobby and emergency bridge repairs.
Future work needed at the aging prison was cited as main reason to close it. The work includes:
• The bridge, built in 1898 and moved to SCI-Retreat grounds in 1951, is in the middle of a $2 million repair project and currently is down to one lane due to safety issues. Additionally, it will cost $1 million to paint the bridge to prevent future corrosive damage. Total replacement, recommended by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, would cost between $15 million and $20 million.
• Three aging oil-fired burners, last modified in 1969, have passed their service life and replacement parts are not available.
• Necessary new road and parking lot paving is estimated to cost $1 million.
• A perimeter security system needs replacement at a cost of $1.2 million.
After SCI-Retreat closes, the state has agreed to continue to pay its quarterly $32,000 bill to the Shickshinny Sanitary Sewer Authority for five years. The prison accounts for 48% of the authority’s business. Additionally, the state will keep paying its obligation of $37,411 per month to the authority for capital improvement projects until reaching the total it owes of $352,646.
After it’s closed, the cost to keep the utilities on, maintain the property, and keep it secure will total about $1.2 million per year, the report said.
The state hasn’t announced any plans for the property after it closes. The report notes that selling a prison is “challenging,” as SCI-Pittsburgh, which closed last year, sits vacant without a buyer. However, other prisons, such as SCIs Cresson and Greensbured, have sold for $600,000 and $950,000 respectively, the report said.


Coroner: Newport Twp. baby’s death accidental

A baby found dead at her family’s Newport Twp. home over the weekend died after accidentally asphyxiating, according to the Luzerne County Coroner’s Office.
While the death was determined to be accidental, police say their investigation continues with Luzerne County prosecutors and Luzerne County Children and Youth.
Nora Riera, 6 months, was found unresponsive at 48 Arch St. in the Glen Lyon section of Newport Twp. around 9:30 a.m. Saturday.
An autopsy Dr. Gary Ross conducted Monday afternoon revealed Riera died of “asphyxiation due to mechanical compression,” according to the coroner’s office. The manner of death was ruled accidental.
After responding to the home for the death investigation, police summoned a township code enforcement officer, who determined the residence was unfit for human habitation because of squalid living conditions.
Several pets were also removed from the home, police said.
Despite the death being ruling accidental by the coroner’s office, state police are still investigating, said Cpl. Robert Betnar, crime unit supervisor for state police at Shickshinny.
“Is the investigation over? No, it’s not closed,” Betnar said. “We are continuing to work with the district attorney’s office and Children and Youth.”
No charges have been filed in the case.


Infant's death investigated in Glen Lyon

State police are investigating the death of a 6-month-old girl in Glen Lyon.
On Saturday, a Newport Twp. Code Enforcement Officer was called to assist at the scene of the child’s death at 48 Arch St., according to a release from state police at Shickshinny. The Code Enforcement Officer determined the residence was “unfit for human inhabitation” and cited the “squalid” living conditions discovered inside.
According to police, an autopsy for the child is scheduled for a later date, and both the cause and manner of death are pending the autopsy and further investigation. An officer from the Shickshinny station said they were not commenting on anything related to the investigation at this time.
Also according to the release, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was contacted and assisted in the removal of several animals from inside the residence. Other organizations who are assisting in the investigation are the Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office, the Luzerne County Coroner’s Office, the Newport Twp. Police Department, and the Pennsylvania State Forensic Services Unit. 

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