Black ice, slick roads begin the day
Snow squalls and cold temperatures have made roads slick in spots across the region this morning. Some highways are snow covered and there are patches of black ice on many roadways, and crews are treating surfaces in preparation for the morning commute. Take your time while traveling this morning.
Mail carrier dies in crash
An Orwigsburg woman is dead following a two vehicle crash in West Penn Township Thursday morning. Frackville state police indicate that 63 year old Fern Gerber was delivering mail, driving in a westerly direction on Route 895 and attempted to make a U-turn on the roadway. The vehicle crossed into the path of a car driven by 28-year-old James Tout of Jim Thorpe, which was eastbound. Tout's car struck the right side of Gerber's vehicle. Gerber was pronounced dead at the scene by Schuylkill County Deputy Coroner Larry Neff. Tout, nor his passenger, 28-year-old Eric Steigerwalt, had only minor injuries. The crash happened before noon.
Berks bank robber identified
A Reading man has been identified as the suspect in a bank robbery earlier this week in Shoemakersville. Hamburg state police say that 43 year old James Steven Weitzel entered the Wachovia Bank at 455 Main Street, demanded cash and fled. He is described as being a white Hispanic male, 5 feet 10 inches tall, about 175 pounds, with brown eyes and bald. He is also reported to have numerous tattoos on his right arm, and the name "Robin" tattooed on the right side of his neck. Crime Alert of Berks County is offering a reward of up to $5-thousand-dollars for information about Weitzel's whereabouts. Contact Hamburg state police at 610-562-6885, or Crime Alert Berks County toll free at 877-373-9913.
Pa. gov promises bankruptcy exit help for Boscov's
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Gov. Ed Rendell says the state has secured $35 million in federal loans to help regional department store chain Boscov's exit bankruptcy. Rendell said Thursday the loans would be financed through a program that allows governments to guarantee loans for economic development with federal community development block grants. Reading-based Boscov's filed for Chapter 11 protection in August and announced that it would close 10 of its 49 stores. Rendell says Boscov's won't have access to the federal loans if it can't obtain bridge loans that are part of more than $300 million in financing the chain will need to exit bankruptcy. Boscov's is in the midst of court hearings in Delaware on its bankruptcy sale to two former executives.
Car flips on icy road
Two Georgia men escaped injury when their vehicle flipped on Interstate 81 during a snow squall Thursday afternoon. 24-year-old Matthew Demmon was driving north on the Interstate near mile marker 113 in Foster Township when he lost control of his Chevy Silverado. The truck traveled into the median where it flipped and came to rest on the driver's side. Demmon, and his passenger, 22 year old Casey Demmon, were not wearing their seatbelts, but were not hurt. The crash happened after 6pm last night.
Schuylkill Haven state police are investigating a theft at a Wayne Township warehouse earlier this week. Sometime between Saturday and Wednesday, unknown persons removed cases of bath and body supplies, and candle lanterns from a storage area at K&S Flower and Vine Warehouse on Route 183. No estimate of the items value was given. Anyone with information should contact Schuylkill Haven state police at 593-2000.
Pa. sheds 7,000 jobs in October, reaches lowest number of jobs in state since February 2007
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Gov. Ed Rendell is warning that the state's economy could get worse before it improves, and said he says cuts in state spending to offset a deepening deficit could be
painful. Pennsylvania officials say the commonwealth lost 7,300 nonfarm jobs in October, leaving payrolls at the lowest level in 20 months. The state Department of Labor and Industry also said the unemployment rate in Pennsylvania rose one-tenth of a percentage point to 5.8 percent. That matches the state's five-year high that it also hit in August. Rendell says hundreds of millions of dollars in new state spending on infrastructure projects like bridges and water and sewer facilities could put people to work. He is pressing the federal government to follow suit. Generally, Pennsylvania's economy has fared better than the rest of the nation.
The state's jobless rate in October stayed below the national rate for a sixth straight month. And Pennsylvania has shed a smaller percentage of its jobs this year than has the rest of the
Pa. lawmakers, judges, to reap automatic 2.8 percent COLA raises
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Pennsylvania lawmakers, top executive branch officials and state judges are in line for 2.8 percent cost-of-living raises as the state grapples with a worsening budget picture. The increases are tied to the regional consumer price index and boost the pay of more than 2,000 government officials annually. But Gov. Ed Rendell says he will consider suspending increases for his nonunion appointees and top staff. On Dec. 1, Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille's salary will rise to nearly $192,000. The pay for county judges will be
nearly $162,000 and nearly $81,000 for district justices. Rank and file members of the state House and Senate will see their base pay increase to just over $78,000. Members of leadership
get larger salaries, topping out at just above $122,000 for the House speaker and Senate president pro tempore. Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati says he will consider
taking away the cost-of-living raises for legislators in discussions about cutting spending to offset a deepening budget deficit. Cost-of-living raises for most of the state's approximately
80,000 employees are protected by labor contracts.
Pa. Capitol expected to overflow with hundreds of mourners at lieutenant governor's memorial
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - A memorial service will be held Friday for the late Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll. The casket of Pennsylvania's first female lieutenant governor will be carried into the Capitol during the noon service, and it will be on display through Saturday afternoon. Officials say Knoll will be just the second person known to receive that honor in the current building. Workers fit 300 seats into the Capitol Rotunda on Thursday, but officials say hundreds are expected from all levels of government to come to pay their respects to Knoll. Speakers scheduled include Gov. Ed Rendell, Sen. Hillary Clinton and U.S. Rep. John Murtha. Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Harrisburg Diocese will lead the invocation and benediction. Seventy-eight-year-old Knoll, of suburban Pittsburgh, had battled neuroendocrine cancer since July and died Nov. 12. She served two four-year terms as state treasurer and won statewide elections in 1988 and 1992. In 2002, she beat out eight other candidates in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, and went on to win the office as Rendell's running mate.
Scarnati poised to take on bigger role as Pa. Senate elects leaders for new session
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - The state Senate's top leaders will keep their posts in the new session, although officials say Sen. Joe Scarnati also will hold the gavel as lieutenant governor and two new faces will join budget negotiations. The majority Republicans re-nominated Scarnati, of Jefferson County, to a second term as president pro tempore of the 2009-10
session. Under the state constitution, Scarnati also assumes the duties of lieutenant governor for the late Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll, who died Nov. 12 after a four-month battle with cancer.
Scarnati, a Republican, will not have a role in the Democratic administration's operations or policymaking. But he is not dismissing the idea that he could use the position to advance his
or his party's positions on important issues. Republicans, who hold a 29-20 majority in the Senate, re-elected floor leader Dominic Pileggi of Delaware County. Democrats re-elected their longtime floor leader, Robert J. Mellow of Lackawanna County. The chairmanships on the Senate Appropriations Committee, which handles bills that affect state spending, were up for grabs. Republicans elected third-term Sen. Jake Corman of Centre County while Democrats elected fourth-term Sen. Jay Costa of Allegheny County.
Pa. senators ask insurance commissioner to reject proposed merger of 2 big health insurers
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - A Pennsylvania Senate committee is urging the state insurance commissioner to block a proposed merger of the state's two largest health insurers.
The Republican-controlled Senate Banking and Insurance Committee voted 10-4 to recommend rejection of the proposed consolidation of Independence Blue Cross and Highmark Inc.
Although state law gives lawmakers the authority to evaluate and comment on the merger, the committee's recommendation is not binding. Sen. Don White of Indiana County, the committee's Republican chairman, says the merger would reduce competition in Pennsylvania's health-insurance market. The insurers say the merger would produce $1 billion in savings that would benefit subscribers, the uninsured and other charities. In a joint statement, they say information gathered through 11 public hearings and tens of thousands of documents filed with the
department has bolstered their arguments for the merger. Insurance Commissioner Joel Ario says he won't isssue a decision before the end of January.
Pa. Turnpike begins layoffs as buyout period ends
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - The Pennsylvania Turnpike has begun laying off employees after only 20 workers accepted voluntary buyout offers designed to offset falling traffic numbers and
declining toll revenues. Turnpike CEO Joe Brimmeier says his goal is to reduce payroll
expenses by 7 to 10 percent, so more people will be let go in the coming weeks. He calls the layoffs a difficult and uncomfortable process. Brimmeier says the turnpike has almost 2,300 employees across the commonwealth. Summer traffic volume dropped by 1.6 percent compared with last year and officials expect a 4.4 percent revenue shortfall for the current fiscal year. The turnpike wants to cut expenses by $10 million immediately, with further cost savings to be identified later. Brimmeier has said the 545-mile highway system will not reduce
services and intends to follow through on a $500 million-a-year capital improvement effort.
Pa. Supreme Court upholds death penalty for man who killed 6 in racial shooting spree
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has upheld the death penalty for a man convicted in a racial shooting spree in suburban Pittsburgh that eventually left six people dead. The court's ruling Thursday means that Richard Baumhammers will remain on death row.
Baumhammers, who is white, went on a rampage in on April 28, 2000. He shot his Jewish neighbor, two Indian men, two men of Asian descent and a black man. He was sentenced to death for five of the murders. The sixth victim, who had been left paralyzed, died last year of
complications from pneumonia. Baumhammers' attorney argued in March that jurors should have heard more evidence in his criminal trial about his mental illness.
FBI agent slain in Pa. was on bureau's fast-track to success, but is remembered as family man
PITTSBURGH (AP) - An FBI agent slain in a suburban Pittsburgh drug raid was on the bureau's fast-track to success. But family and co-workers of Special Agent Sam Hicks say he
would much rather talk about something only slightly older than his FBI career: his 2-year-old son, Noah. Hicks would have been 34 on Thanksgiving. He died Wednesday morning after he was shot as he and nine other officers raided the home of Christina and Robert Korbe in the rural suburb of Indiana Township. The law enforcement agents were at the house to arrest Robert Korbe, one of 35 people targeted in a suburban drug sweep. Forty-year-old Christina Korbe has been charged with criminal homicide. She has told police she thought she was firing at a burglar. Hicks' colleagues remembered him as an extraordinary agent and a quick study. They said Hicks would rather be in civvies than a suit, and on the streets gathering intelligence or grabbing drug dealers than behind a desk.
Ethics panel denies NE Pa. judge's objections to scathing report, schedules penalty hearing
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Pennsylvania's judicial ethics panel holds a hearing next month to decide what penalty a county judge should face for behavior the panel described as "antithetical to standards of common decency." The Court of Judicial Discipline on Thursday dismissed Luzerne County Judge Ann Lokuta's objections to the court's findings of fact. The ethics panel concluded last month that Lokuta failed to perform her duties, terrorized courthouse workers and dispatched employees on her personal errands. A hearing on what penalty to impose will be held in Harrisburg on Dec. 9. She faces potential removal from the bench where she has served
since 1992. Her lawyer, Louis Sinatra, has declined comment.
Testimony to resume Friday in North Carolina in sergeant's court-martial
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) - Testimony is scheduled to resume Friday in North Caroline in the court-martial of a New York National Guard sergeant charged with killing two superiors with an anti-personnel mine in Iraq. The military judge recessed court Wednesday after telling the
jury that defense witnesses wouldn't be available Thursday. Defense attorneys for Staff Sgt. Alberto Martinez of Troy, N.Y., began questioning their witnesses Nov. 12. Martinez has pleaded not guilty to premeditated murder charges in the 2005 deaths of Capt. Phillip Esposito, of Suffern, N.Y., and 1st Lt. Louis Allen, of Milford, Pa. If convicted, Martinez could face a death sentence. the judge also told the jury that defense lawyers expect to wrap up their case Monday.
WASHINGTON (AP) - President George W. Bush leaves for Peru this morning and a summit of Asia-Pacific nations. The White House says he'll try to get them behind the financial rescue plan approved at the G-20 meeting last week in Washington.
BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) - It's proving a brighter day so far on world markets. European markets are following the lead of most Asian stock exchanges, which rebounded significantly. Japan's Nikkei rose 2.7 percent. Futures trading suggests Wall Street will open higher.
WASHINGTON (AP) - People who've exhausted their jobless benefits will apparently get some holiday relief. President George W. Bush is expected to sign an extension that would mean an extra 13 weeks of checks for people in some states.
SEATTLE (AP) - The grim economy is expected to have little or no impact on charitable donations over the holidays. The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University says historically, charitable giving is recession-proof. One survey says donations may rise.
WASHINGTON (AP) - Attorney General Michael Mukasey is spending the night in a Washington, DC, hospital after collapsing yesterday during a speech. There's no word yet
what caused it, but Mukasey is said to be alert and talking.