Greene County’s Top 10 stories of 2012

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A state legislator who represented the 50th District for more than three decades was convicted and sentenced to prison on corruption charges; three Greene County teenagers and a motorcyclist from Canada were killed in a three-vehicle crash on Interstate 79, just south of the Ruff Creek exit; and a waste hauler from New Freeport, who pleaded guilty to 13 counts stemming from a two-year investigation by the state attorney general’s office that he illegally dumped millions of gallons of wastewater from natural gas drilling, sewage sludge and restaurant grease into streams and mine shafts in a six-county area, received a probationary sentence.


Those were among the Top 10 local stories of 2012 in Greene County.


The conviction and sentencing of Bill DeWeese and the election in November of Commissioner Pam Snyder to fill that seat was voted the top story of the year, followed by the crash that claimed four lives and injured four others.


Here is a complete list of the Top 10 stories:


1. In February, Bill DeWeese was found guilty by a Dauphin County jury of using taxpayers’ money for political purposes. His conviction came more than two years after he was indicted in December 2009 by Attorney General Tom Corbett on four counts of theft and one count each of conspiracy and conflict of interest.


The former House speaker from Waynesburg resigned from the state House prior to being sentenced to a 2 1/2-to-5-year prison term on April 24, the day of the spring primary in which he won the Democratic nomination.


However, once he was sentenced he became a convicted felon, banning him from serving in the Legislature.


DeWeese began serving his sentence May 14. However, he was released four days later when the state Superior Court found Judge Todd Hoover, who presided at trial, had failed to rule on DeWeese’s motion to grant bail while he appealed his conviction.


Hoover ruled on the motion May 22, denying bail pending appeal and sending DeWeese back to prison.


A motion DeWeese filed with Superior Court seeking to appeal Hoover’s ruling on bail pending appeal was denied May 23.


One issue that had local and state Democratic and Republican party leaders scratching their heads over the muddled mess in the 50th Legislative District was resolved when


House Speaker Sam Smith decided in May not to schedule a special election to fill the seat vacated when DeWeese resigned.


In August, a Commonwealth Court judge ruled that DeWeese was ineligible to run for re-election, opening the door for the State Democratic Committee, along with committee member from the municipalities in Greene, Washington and Fayette counties that compose the legislative district, to select a candidate to run in the general election.


Greene County Commissioner Pam Snyder was the one selected and she went on to defeat Republican Mark Fischer in November.


Snyder, who was in the first year of her third term as commissioner, will be sworn in Jan. 1 as the new representative in the 50th District.


Meanwhile, Greene County Court named Waynesburg Mayor Blair Zimmerman as Snyder’s replacement on the board of commissioners.


2. A three-vehicle crash Oct. 3 on Interstate 79, about three miles north of the Ruff Creek exit, took the lives of four people, including three Greene County teenagers.


Cullen Frazer and Benjamin Hardy, both of Waynesburg, and Byron Kerr of Carmichaels, all 18, died in the 4:35 p.m. crash that also claimed the life of Michael Cohen, 47, of Oshawa, Ontario, Canada.


State police said a sports-utility vehicle traveling north driven by Frazer crossed the median and collided with a camper being pulled by a truck and the motorcycle operated by Cohen.


At that section of the highway, the median is an earthen mound that separates north and southbound lanes. The SUV traveled up one side, overturned and rolled down the other side into the southbound lanes.


Cohen’s passenger, Sandra Cohen, also of Oshawa; as well as three other passengers in Frazer’s SUV, Justin Gillogly, 16; Thomas Miller, 16; and Joseph Lilley, 18, all of Waynesburg, were injured.


The following day, grief counselors were available at Waynesburg Central High School, where several of the teenagers had attended school. A vigil also was held for the local teens in the parking lot of the plaza behind McDonalds on Sugar Run Road in Franklin Township.


At the end of the year, state police had not yet released a final report regarding the cause of the crash.


3. A Greene County wastewater hauler was sentenced to seven years’ probation, and ordered to pay $257,316 in restitution; $100,000 in fines; $25,000 to the attorney general’s office; and to serve 1,750 hours of community service with nonprofit water service-related organizations. The sentence came after a two-year investigation by the state attorney general’s office of Robert Allan Shipman, 50, of New Freeport, and his former company Allan’s Wastewater Management, Inc.


Shipman entered a guilty plea in February to counts of theft by deception, receiving stolen property, tampering with public records or information, five counts of unlawful conduct, three counts of polluting waterways, and one count of criminal conspiracy to commit theft by deception.


He also pleaded guilty to a second set of the same charges against his company. The investigation stemmed from the illegal dumping of millions of gallons of wastewater from natural gas drilling operations, sewage sludge, and restaurant grease between 2003 and 2009. These byproducts were dumped into streams and mine shafts in a six-county area.


The theft related charges revolved around falsified manifests that allowed the company to bill customers for the full capacity of its trucks, regardless of the amount of waste actually being transported. Several former employees of Allan’s Wastewater Management testified Shipman instructed them to mix various wastewater products together in what they referred to as a “cocktail” and then dump that mixture at various locations throughout the region. Prosecutors said this was to conceal the true contents of the wastewater, allowing it to be disposed of improperly, as well as to increase the volume of disposals that were billed to customers.


In imposing the sentence in June, Greene County Judge Farley Toothman said he considered Shipman’s family obligations, his business and employment history, the presentence report, psychologist’s evaluation and character and witness statements.


In September the sentence was appealed to the state Superior Court by the attorney general’s office. In his response, Toothman maintained the sentence of probation complies with the law and is within the court’s discretion. The matter has yet to come be decided.


4. In July, Jan Caldwell, director of the Corner Cupboard Food Bank in Greene County, was selling bottled water and T-shirts as well as raffling off gift baskets at the Flashlight Drag Races to try and raise money to stave off what seemed inevitable, a food shortage like none she had experienced even in the agency’s leanest years. The food bank was operating at a shortage of nearly $50,000 for the year after state budget cuts and Caldwell was facing the very real possibility of going to an every other month food distribution in the county.


Just two months later the cupboard was becoming quite literally bare. It was then that Caldwell and her board of directors sent up a smoke signal via the media to make it known that help was needed and needed quickly. Within days an emergency food drive was organized with the help of former Greene County native Lynn Manning. Well versed in organizing an event such as this, Manning and her colleagues, Joe Cerenzia and her husband, Joseph Manning, went to work sending out email blasts and making phone calls. Manning read about the situation in her Sunday paper on Sept. 16.


On Sept. 23, the beginning of a food drive that just keeps giving was held on the Greene County Courthouse steps. Truckloads of food were dropped off. Check after check was handed to Caldwell from individuals, groups, and businesses. The Greene County Memorial Hospital Foundation added a pledge of $100,000 to the mix to be paid over 5 years with the first installment given to the food bank that day.


Including the September emergency drive, more than $250,000 in donations and 17 1/2 tons of food have been donated to the food bank. Among those who donated are some who had very little themselves, Caldwell said, noting that they understood what it is like to do without. She said she was overwhelmed but not surprised by the generosity of the community she calls home.


Not wanting to sound ungrateful, Caldwell said, the effort has been tremendous and will go a long way but it was important to note that this time next year the food bank could be in the same boat without continued support. Food costs are up and state funding is down, she said.


There are close to 6,000 clients served by the Corner Cupboard Food Bank at a barebones monthly operating expense of $10,000.


5. A husband and wife from Daisytown were charged in the Aug. 14 shooting death of Cordele Edward Patterson, 38, in a cabin on Strawn Hill Road near Spraggs.


Jason Michael Roe, 32, of 65 Main St., who claimed he shot Patterson in self-defense, was charged with criminal homicide, and his wife, Lana Kay Roe, 40, was charged with criminal homicide as an accomplice and making false reports to law enforcement authorities implicating the victim in a burglary at the couple’s home prior to the shooting.


According to testimony at two preliminary hearings, the Roes went to Patterson’s trailer in Daisytown where Jason Roe claimed they found items Patterson allegedly stole from their house.


The two then drove to a True Value hardware store in Dry Tavern where they purchased a Mossburg shotgun.


Once they arrived at the cabin, Jason Roe told his wife to go inside and wake up Patterson and tell him to follow her outside. Once outside Jason Roe fired, striking his wife by accident. Then, police said, Roe continued to chase Patterson into the cabin where he fired two round from a shotgun, killing Patterson.


6. Two of the five Greene County School Districts decided this past year to take advantage of the low interest rates on bonds to initiate building and renovation plans.


West Greene School Board is proceeding with plans to build a three-story addition to the middle-senior high school for its new elementary center.


The district’s two existing elementary schools will then be closed and elementary classes consolidated in the new addition. The project is not expected to exceed $15.39 million, of which about $2.9 million will be covered by state reimbursements.


The board also began renovations to the middle-senior high school.


Some of the work, including electrical and plumbing improvements and roof repairs, were completed during the summer. Additional work, including the installation of an air conditioning system, will be done in 2013.


Carmichaels Area School Board also developed plans to renovate its buildings. The board had considered two options: renovating all three buildings or renovating just the senior high and elementary and building a new junior high.


The board decided to renovate all three buildings a project that will cost between $23 million and $25 million, of which about $7 million will be provided by state reimbursements.


property taxes owed on the land, court and sheriff sale costs.


7. Gas impact fee legislation signed by Gov. Tom Corbett in February brought new revenue to Greene County and many of its municipalities this year.


The county as well as municipalities that had gas well drilling within or near its borders received an allotment of revenue from the state generated from fees levied on natural gas companies.


Greene County received $3.1 million in impact fee money.


It planned to earmark some of the money for replacing the roofs on the courthouse and the Fort Jackson Building.


Other projects being considered included extending the Greene River Trail, making upgrades to the 911 system, doing rehabilitation work at the fairgrounds and using some of the money for the county’s airport project and repairing some of the county’s bridges.


The commissioner also discussed using part of the funds to establish a competitive matching infrastructure improvement grant program and to cover the shortfall in state funding for human services programs.


Cumberland Township, which had 116 wells drilled, received the highest amount of any municipality statewide. The supervisors developed a spending plan that called for using part of the money for road repairs and new road equipment, supplementing funds to the police department, park imporovements and to assist local fire companies.


The money the county and municipalities received from the state this year was for 2012. The county and local governments were told to expect another disbursement from the state for 2013 in June.


8. In March 2009, Walmart was the first tenant to open at the new Waynesburg Crossing retail development in Franklin Township. It is also the last retailer to open at the site.


After failing to attract other tenants, the remaining 100 acres of property in the development was placed up for sale in September at a sheriff’s sale.


Waynesburg Crossing was developed by McHolme Waynesburg LLC, which purchased the land from the county in 2003.


The company developed the site and sold one lot to Walmart but failed to find other buyers. Norm McHolme, company principal, later explained that the property came up for sale just as the retail market and the economy began to collapse.


Much of the infrastructure at the site was developed with public money. Construction of Murtha Drive and improvements to Route 21 were completed with $9.25 million of state and federal grant money.


McHolme also received a $7.5 million loan from the former National City Bank. PNC Bank, successor to National City, filed a judgment against McHolme in May claiming the company had defaulted on the mortgage.


PNC foreclosed on the property and purchased the remaining six parcels on Sept. 14 for $146,800, an amount representing county property taxes owed on the land, court and sheriff sale costs.


9. On April 13, Meg Throckmorton, 16, of Waynesburg was practicing for a solo in an upcoming dance recital. One week later, Throckmorton became only the second person under the age of 18 in the United States to receive a diaphragmatic pacemaker after she suffered a fracture to her c-2 vertebrae.


The accident occurred while Throckmorton was performing a round-off back tuck at her family’s dance studio. It was then that something went wrong and she landed on top of her head. After receiving life-saving CPR from a parent at the studio, Throckmorton was transported to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, W.VA. where surgeon, Dr. Jennifer Knight is on staff. Recognizing that Throckmorton would benefit from the implant of a diaphragmatic pacemaker, but knowing it was not approved by the FDA for use in a patient under 18, Knight moved to action getting the proper approvals to allow the procedure. At the time, Knight was the only doctor in the state of W.Va. who had performed this implant that would stimulate the diaphragm helping Throckmorton to breathe. It was later disconnected when she no was able to breathe on her own again.


Four months after the accident, and after intensive therapy at the Shepherd Center, specializing in spinal cord injuries, Throckmorton returned home to Waynesburg where she is a senior at Waynesburg Central High School.


10. A surveillance video of the person who robbed the First National Bank in Waynesburg at 5 p.m. on Jan. 20 showed a woman in a black coat with a hood covering most of her face.


One feature Waynesburg police were able to detect in the video, however, was that the woman appeared to have no teeth.


That proved to be the case when after police arrested Evelyn Marie Fuller, 40, of Carmichaels for the crime she admitted robbing the bank to get money to purchase dentures.


Police were led to Fuller after a man who saw a picture of the robbery suspect in the Observer-Reporter contacted police and said he recognized the coat the robber was wearing as one he had given Fuller.


Fuller later pleaded guilty to the charges against her and was sentenced to 31 months to 8 years in prison.


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