Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Today's News- Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Before testimony could begin in the Shenandoah beating trial Tuesday, Judge William Baldwin addressed the jury about several matters. One of the jurors had asked if they could visit the scene of the crime around the Vine Street playground. Baldwin was adamant in saying that jurors should only consider the case on the basis of testimony alone. He also cautioned the panel against watching an episode of NBC's Law and Order tonight, as it deals with three high school basketball players implicated in a case similar to the trial they are hearing. Two of Derrick Donchak and Brandon Piekarsky's friends who were with them when Mexican illegal immigrant Luis Ramirez was beaten took the stand. Brian Scully went first, and recounted his involvement at the scene. Scully admitted that he did in fact ask 15-year-old Roxanne Rector whether "it was pretty late for her to be out" while accompanying Ramirez on the night of July 12th. That set the events in motion for the beating in which Donchak and Piekarsky are charged. Scully admitted that his original story to police was not completely true, to protect the others involved, and also told the court that Piekarsky instructed him not to tell about kicking Ramirez in the head while he was down on the ground. Scully was the first to talk to police the morning after the fight. Colin Walsh, who was originally charged with criminal homicide in Ramirez's death, also took the stand and admitted to throwing the punch that knocked the victim to the ground, striking his head against the street. Both Walsh and Scully also recounted the meetings that were held that night, and the next day at Brandon Piekarsky's house to "get their stories" straight. Scully still faces juvenile charges of aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation for his role in the fight. Walsh, who took a federal plea deal to violations of the Fair Housing Act for violating Ramirez's civil rights, admitted that he could face as much as 9 years in jail for his role. That sentence could be reduced to 4 years for his cooperation with the District Attorney's office. Walsh admitted that he took the deal to protect himself. The other details of Walsh's testimony to federal authorities has been sealed.

Victor Garcia, a friend of Luis Ramirez, was questioned by prosecutors and the defense as he recounted what happened on July 12th. Garcia had dropped Ramirez and Roxanne Rector off near the Vine Street playground, but was summoned via cell phone to help Ramirez as the fight broke out. Garcia said that when he arrived, Ramirez was lying flat on the street, foaming at the mouth. Garcia said he was struck behind the head, but he wasn't sure who attacked him. Two other people testified in the afternoon session, one an EMT from the Lost Creek Ambulance who described Ramirez' condition while lying on the ground. Richard Examitis said that Ramirez was unconscious and non responsive when he arrived.

During Tuesday's testimony, it came to light that an unidentified man appeared at the scene with a gun, pointing it at the boys. Colin Walsh told District Attorney Jim Goodman that the man said to the teens "its not cool what you did" after the fights between them and Ramirez was over. Lt. John Kaczmarczyk of the Mahanoy City Police Department testified in the afternoon, stating that a BB gun, described as resembling a .45 caliber automatic. Its not clear if its the same weapon that Walsh had described. Testimony wrapped up at 3:30 due to humid conditions in the courtroom.

Officials from the Shenandoah Valley School District continue to monitor attendance of students at the trial. WPPA/T102 News has learned that about a half dozen students were in court during the first two days of testimony, violating the policy established by the district last week. Only direct relatives of Derrick Donchak and Brandon Piekarsky who have been excused from classes are allowed to miss school for the trial. The district's policy indicates that students may not be able to participate in graduation activities.

The media has been well represented at the trial of the Shenandoah teens. But rules established by the court, banning the use of electronic devices in the courtroom were broken yesterday afternoon, as a filmmaker was spotted using a cell phone. That device had rung earlier in the session. David Turnley was removed from the courtroom mid afternoon following the incident. Sheriff's deputies reminded all media that anyone caught using a cellphone in the courtroom for any reason would have their credentials pulled and removed from the remainder of the trial.

A hearing was held for a Luzerne County man involved in the robbery of a Port Carbon convenience store yesterday. Port Carbon police are investigating the April 9th holdup at the Turkey Hill Minit Market. 19 year old Joshua Wagner is charged with three counts of criminal conspiracy for his involvement as the alleged getaway driver. Officials say that 45 year old William Tierno is also implicated in the robbery. He's currently in Luzerne County Prison, charged with his involvement in a stabbing in Hazleton. A third man, only identified as Cuba is still at large. Wagner is jailed in the county prison, as he is on probation for a prior burglary.

A home in Spring Glen, Hubley Township, was destroyed by an early morning fire Tuesday. Officials say that they were called to Kushwa Road before 3am. The property is owned by Timothy and JoEllen Fetterolf. The cause of that blaze has not yet been determined.

Schuylkill Haven state police are investigating a burglary at a Frailey Township business. Someone broke into the Keystone Potato Products plant on Shermans Mountain Road over the weekend. Two fork lifts were taken, valued at $46-thousand dollars. The investigation continues.

From neighboring Northumberland destroys the Salvation Army thrift store in Sunbury and heavily damaged two others Tuesday night. Crews from Northumberland County were supported by firefighters from Synder and Union counties in battling the fire on Market Street, according to the News Item. Smoke blanketed downtown Sunbury. Heavy smoke and fire were pouring from the second floor of the Salvation Army building when firefighters arrived after 7pm. Two firefighters were injured. Fire officials will survey the damage for a cause today.

Investigators now say that a brush fire near Ashland Friday night was caused by an explosion at a working meth lab. Borough fire crews uncovered the lab during their firefight, and contacted Ashland police. All of the makings of a meth lab were found at the site, including a stove, ammonia tanks and starter fluid. State police cleaned up the site on Saturday. County drug task force investigators and Ashland police are working to find out who ran the lab in the area of Ninth and Oak Streets.

ERIE, Pa. (AP) - The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation says a portion of eastbound lanes of Interstate 90 near Erie should reopen by 6 this morning. Police say a motorist in the westbound lanes hit another car going the same way near Erie. The driver then crossed the median and hit a truck.

WASHINGTON (AP) - Veteran Sen. Arlen Specter calls his allegiance switch to the Democratic Party a "painful decision," but he found himself increasingly at odds with a Republican Party
that has moved to the right. Specter stunned Capitol Hill with the switch. He tells Democrats he won't be an automatic 60th vote.

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell says it would help the Democratic Party if U.S. Senate candidate Joe Torsella would step aside. That's because longtime Sen. Arlen
Specter is leaving the Republican Party and plans to run for another term in next year's Democratic primary.

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Pennsylvania state health officials say they expect they'll eventually confirm a case of swine flu, but none has surfaced in the state yet. State Health Secretary Everette James and acting Physician General Dr. Stephen Ostroff say labs in the state were testing samples from people with flu-like illnesses.

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Pittsburgh police are looking for a suspect in the shooting death of a 16-year-old boy found in a city bar. Police say the boy had multiple gunshot wounds and was taken to a city hospital where he later died. Police say the boy had left another store near the bar when he was shot, then ran into the bar.


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