The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

December 27, 2013

Local and state briefs 12/28/2013


$30G grant to extend St. Francis program

St. Francis University in Loretto said a $30,000 grant from Dominion Resources and the Dominion Foundation will be used for the university to expand its environmental engineering program to better serve watershed groups and to provide engineering and science students with project-based learning experiences.

The grant is part of $85,000 in education grants awarded by Dominion to six high schools and educational institutions in Pennsylvania for the 2013-14 school year.

The grant will help to amplify the activities of St. Francis’ Center for Watershed Research & Service. It will enable student-professor teams to conduct research and service projects for local watershed restoration nonprofit organizations.

The grant also will help create an “Engineers and Scientists Serve!” seminar series for engineers and scientists active in the nonprofit sector to share their experiences with university students and the community.

For more information, visit francis.edu/environmental-engineering.

Suspect arrested in $1M jewelry robbery

PITTSBURGH – Chicago police have arrested a man who allegedly took part in a $1 million jewelry robbery near Pittsburgh.

Authorities said they questioned 30-year-old Oscar Rodriguez after he was found standing in a Chicago street just before 3 a.m. Friday. A name check uncovered his outstanding Pennsylvania warrant for robbery.

Northern Regional police Chief Robert Amann said they believe Rodriguez is one of three people allegedly responsible for stealing about $1 million worth of jewelry in May from a salesman who was in the parking lot of a store in Wexford, about 15 miles north of Pittsburgh.

Human error blamed in gas explosion

EPHRATA – Fire officials are blaming human error for a gas explosion and three-alarm fire at an apartment building that has left 22 people homeless.

The blast happened Friday morning in Ephrata, Lancaster County.

Lincoln fire Chief Randy Gockley said a maintenance man working on a furnace capped the wrong end of a gas line, causing natural gas to build up. When the worker lit the pilot light on the furnace, it ignited an explosion.

Officials estimate the blaze caused $300,000 in damage to the building and $200,000 in personal property losses.

There were no injuries in the blaze, although a firefighter collapsed at the scene and was treated at a hospital.

Strawberry test drop creates a jam

HARRISBURG – A ceremonial strawberry that’s lowered every New Year’s Eve in downtown Harrisburg has ended up in a messy jam.

The berry fell three stories and smashed during a practice run at the Hilton Harrisburg on Friday. Officials said a faulty harness clip is to blame.

The Hilton is working to build a new strawberry for revelers to ring in 2014 on Tuesday night.

Penguin babies on parade at aviary

PITTSBURGH – Visitors can now see a newborn pair of en­dangered African penguins at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh.

The chicks, a male and a female, were removed from their nest Thursday, and visitors can watch them grow up in a brooder pen.

Officials at the aviary said the chicks weighed only about 2 ounces at birth, but they already weigh more than 10 times that.

The species has been declared endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The penguins live off the southern coast of Africa.