Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Today's News-Tuesday, August 26th, 2008


Walsh and Piekarsky get bail

Two Shenandoah teens have been granted bail by a Schuylkill County Judge. Attorneys for Brandon Piekarsky and Colin Walsh presented motions to President Judge William Baldwin
to free them from Schuylkill County Prison, where they've been incarcerated since July 25th. Both are charged with third degree murder and related counts in the death of Luis Ramirez. Family members expected that both teens would be released from jail by nightfall.

Former gang member speaks at Shenandoah

A former gang member from California came to Shenandoah Valley High School last night to talk about prejudice, racism and the ways to begin the healing process, following the events of the last month in the borough. Albert Gonzales, a nationally known crisis intervention expert, engaged a crowd of about 50 people to look at the root problems in Shenandoah, and all across the nation. Its all about being accountable for your actions, according to Gonzales:


Gonzales will address students at Shenandoah Valley in two assemblies today.

Fire burns barn in Washington Township, cattle spared

Quick work saved the lives of 20 head of cattle while a barn burned to the ground in Washington Township Monday afternoon. Scott Moyer and his family were able to move the animals to a nearby field. Firefighters were able to keep the blaze away from their home on Covered Bridge Road. Fire officials believe that the blaze was accidental.

Cases of rare blood cancer at 33

Their the only known cases in North America and 33 have been confirmed right here in eastern Pennsylvania.


That's hematology/oncology Dr. Paul Rhoda from Geisinger Hazleton Cancer Center with the latest information on the polycythemia vera illness. Representatives from the agency for toxic substances and disease registry from Atlanta, along with the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Infectious Disease spoke to the public on their five-year study of PV. Tamaqua Mayor Chris Morrison is happy something is finally being done:


A panel consisting of 20 or more experts in areas such as state and federal agencies, the National Institute of Health and doctors from major academic institutions throughout Pennsylvania will decide on the next course of action.

Reading man arrested on drug charges in Pottsville

An undercover drug buy by Pottsville drug agents nets the arrest of a Reading man. City police picked up 33-year-old Alfred Alonzo Mayo for selling crack cocaine earlier this month. Mayo was also on parole for similar crimes. Following arraignment on the drug charges and a parole detainer, Mayo was locked up in county prison. Further charges are also pending.

Biz plan winners announced

Two fledgling businesses in are co-winners in this year's Pottsville Business Plan Competition. Michelle Schuettler, owner of The Dirty Dog, a self service pet washing facility, and Jonathan Paroby, the owner of full service photo operation Schuylkill Photo Memories, will receive a 5 year interest free loan, business and financial services and other amenities in their prize packages. Paroby, a veteran photographer, says that the business plan competition was eye opening:


The competition, broken down in three phases, helps would-be entrepreneurs who have a dream to own their own buisness started in 2004.

Obama's choice of Biden raises stakes for McCain

DENVER (AP) - Barack Obama's choice of Joe Biden as a running mate sets the bar for John McCain. The GOP nominee-in-waiting is in the final stages of deciding who should join him on the ticket, and Obama's selection of Biden is certain to figure into McCain's calculation. His short list of contenders reportedly includes former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, as well as former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge and, perhaps, Democrat-turned-independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. A dark-horse pick - like Gen. David Petraeus or former Secretary of State Colin Powell - also is possible. The announcement is expected soon, and McCain's upcoming schedule is fueling speculation. He is to appear at a rally in Ohio on Friday, and another in Washington, Pa., on Saturday - that one with Ridge.

Appalachian poverty rate may dip slightly

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The number of Appalachian residents living in poverty is expected to fall slightly. But anti-poverty experts say the slight improvement should be short-lived as wages drop, the job market weakens and household expenses rise. The U.S. Census Bureau plans to release figures Tuesday on income, poverty and health insurance coverage from 2007.
In 2006, America's poverty rate was 12.3 percent, down from 12.6 percent the year before.
Economist Jared Bernstein at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., says 2007 was probably as good as it gets for awhile. Appalachia includes all of West Virginia and parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

Home sales, prices mostly fall in Northeast

UNDATED (AP) - Homes sales tumbled in most big Northeastern cities last month - with only Passaic, N.J., showing a healthy jump in activity. According to two reports released Monday, sales of distressed properties dragged down median prices in the entire region. The National Association of Realtors says sales of existing homes in the Northeast declined nearly 12 percent in July from a year ago, while the median price in the Northeast was $278,700, down almost 5 percent from July 2007. That reflected the national trend: sales dropped more than 13
percent year-over-year, while the median price decreased 7.1 percent to $212,000. But the Associated Press-Re/Max Monthly Housing Report, also released Monday, showed July sales dropped by at least 20 percent in five of the nine Northeast cities tracked. The report analyzed
home sales recorded by all real estate agents in those cities, regardless of company affiliation.
Real estate agent Ellen Renish of Continental Realty says the sales pace has improved over the last several months in Philadelphia.

Altoona to bid out 8,400 acres for gas drilling

ALTOONA, Pa. (AP) - Altoona is planning to seek bids on 8,400 acres of land for gas drilling that could generate millions of dollars for the city. The bids will be advertised in mid-September. The lease will include a $16.8 million upfront bonus payment, in addition to a 15 percent royalty on gas revenue. Penn State Cooperative Extension gas well expert Ken Balliet estimates the royalties could generate as much as $54 million over 20 years for the city. The move by the city is part of a rush in Pennsylvania to make good on interest in drilling into the Marcellus shale.

Belt air hearing set for Tuesday

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - It's the public's turn to comment on proposed federal rules that would allow coal mines to continue using conveyer belt tunnels for ventilation. The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration has scheduled a public hearing on the rules Tuesday in Charleston. The United Mine Workers has criticized ventilating with belt air, saying the practice is dangerous. Additionally, MSHA's proposal would require flame-resistant belts, carbon monoxide detectors instead of heat-sensing fire alarms, standardized directional signals on lifelines leading to escape routes, emergency air supplies and airtight shelters, among other things. The rules are required by federal legislation adopted after the fatal 2006 Sago Mine explosion in West Virginia and other high-profile accidents.

Central Pa. school district faces strike threat

ROARING SPRING, Pa. (AP) - An Altoona-area school district is facing a strike threat after eight months of talks have failed to yield a deal with teachers. More than 130 members of the Spring Cove Education Association voted Monday to strike if a deal is not reached soon. It was
unclear if there was a time limit set. Union President John Fitzpatrick says the major sticking points are health care and salaries. He says little progress has been made. Spring Cove School District Superintendent Rodney Green says negotiations are proceeding with "mutual trust and respect." There are more than 2,170 students enrolled in the district, which employs about 250 people.

Second lawsuit filed in Philly child death

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Attorneys for the Philadelphia parents charged in the starvation death of their bedridden daughter have filed another lawsuit intended as a class-action on behalf of
28,000 children. The federal lawsuit is filed against the city and state on behalf of children and parents receiving services from the city Department of Human Services. It claims the agency is unsafe, resulting in neglect and deaths of innocent children. It calls for appointment of a federal overseer. Mayor Michael Nutter condemned the lawsuit. He says reforms are under way at the agency and calls the lawsuit irresponsible. A civil lawsuit was already filed seeking damages on behalf of 14-year-old Danieal Kelly. Prosecutors have charged the girl's mother, Andrea Kelly, with murder, and her father, Daniel Kelly, with child endangerment.

Bedford Cty. DA faces private criminal complaint

BEDFORD, Pa. (AP) - A south-central Pennsylvania district attorney is facing a private criminal complaint after he admitted to having an extramarital affair in his office. Bedford County District Attorney William Higgins insists he committed no crime. On Monday, 34-year-old Higgins told the Altoona Mirror the case against him is politically motivated. It is unclear
what the accusations against Higgins include. When charges are filed against district attorneys the Attorney General's Office becomes the prosecutor. The Attorney General's spokesman Kevin Harley says a prosecutor will be assigned to Higgins' case. Higgins, a Republican, says he met the woman at a fundraiser last month, and at the end of the night they went back to his
office and had sex.

Philly police officer critically injured in crash

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - A Philadelphia police officer is listed in critical condition after a crash between his police cruiser and another car. Police say Officer Christopher Simone was responding to a call to assist another officer around 1 a.m. Tuesday when his police car collided with another auto at a downtown intersection. Police say the emergency lights and sirens on Simone's car were in use. Police commissioner Charles Ramsey went to Hahnemann University
Hospital to meet with the injured officer's family. Doctors say Simone, a Ninth District officer, has a leg injury, a fractured rib, and a head injury. His prognosis is said to be good. The driver and two passengers from the other car were also taken to Hahnemann for evaluation. Their conditions were not immediately available.

Shocking: Philly police get their first Tasers

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - The Philadelphia Police Department has begun issuing Tasers to some officers. Up to a dozen officers who completed a training program are carrying the electrical stun guns. Officials sifted through prison data on inmates who had mental health issues and decided to focus training on de-escalation techniques and tactics in three police districts in North
Philadelphia. Lt. Fran Healy says the specially trained officers will use Tasers as a less than lethal use of force during potentially violent encounters, especially with people in "mental crisis."
Healy calls the Tasers "just an additional tool." Police also carry pepper spray and batons.
Officials hope to have about 160 officers trained in the program by the end of 2008.

Pittsburgh police fire volunteer police chaplain

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Pittsburgh police are without a chaplain after Chief Nate Harper fired the volunteer filling the post due to questions raised about her religious credentials. Lara Zinda filled the post for about 10 months, assisted by a partner, Keith Smith. Harper says there were "discrepencies with their documents." He says Smith also has a criminal record. He says Zinda brought Smith and was fired last week as a result. Zinda and Smith both say they are reverends with the Methodist Institute, part of the Methodist Church in America in Newgate College.
But the Western Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church says it knows of no such organization. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says it was unable to reach Zinda and Smith for comment on Monday.

SBA helps suburban Philly fire victims with loans

CONSHOHOCKEN, Pa. (AP) - Residents of the burned-out Riverwalk at Millennium apartment complex in suburban Philadelphia can now get help applying for low-interest federal loans. A disaster assistance outreach center has opened in Conshohocken, Pa. The Small Business Administration has set up shop at the Montgomery County fire academy. A recent federal disaster declaration means that low-interest loans are available to renters, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that were affected by the blaze nearly two weeks ago. Resident Rudy Tacconelli says the outreach center has been helpful. He says he and his family "lost pretty much everything." Representatives at the center also will help residents replace important documents destroyed by the fire.

Pittsburgh light-rail tunnel to be dug by 2009

PITTSBURGH (AP) - The Port Authority of Allegheny County says it will resume tunnel boring work in Pittsburgh this week and plans to have two light-rail tunnels completed by year's end.
The tunnels are part of a $435 million plan to expand Pittsburgh's light-rail service. It will connect the city's downtown area to its outlying northern shore, home to popular sports stadiums. The 500-ton boring machine completed the first tunnel last month. Port Authority spokesman David Whipkey says the second tunnel should be completed by the end of the year.

DENVER (AP) - Hillary Rodham Clinton is in the spotlight tonight. Barack Obama's former rival for the top spot on the Democratic ticket will deliver a much-anticipated speech at the Denver convention. She's expected to urge her disappointed supporters to line up in unity behind Obama.

WASHINGTON (AP) - The government says sales of new homes in the U.S. unexpectedly rose 2.4 percent in July. A lot of sellers were cutting prices, and this turned some cautious house hunters into buyers. The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller index shows home prices dropping a record 15.4 percent during the second quarter.

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Census Bureau reports the nation's poverty rate held steady last year at 12.5 percent, not statistically different from the 12.3 percent in 2006. There were 37.3 million people living in poverty in 2007. Also, the number of people lacking health insurance dropped by more than 1 million in 2007.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) - Hurricane Gustav is growing rapidly as it closes in on Haiti. Forecasters say maximum sustained winds are near 90 miles per hour. It could become a Category 2 hurricane with winds of 96 or higher before hitting Haiti. Gustav's center is
now about 50 miles south of Port-au-Prince.

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - Court documents show the mother of a missing Florida toddler wanted to give the girl up for adoption before she was born. Documents released by prosecutors show Casey Anthony's mother insisted that she keep the child. Three-year-old Caylee has been missing since June.


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