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March 23, 2013

Method to shut bar relatively new in county

JOHNSTOWN — A woman who lives nearly a football field away from an embattled Oakhurst bar said she can’t sleep at night because of yelling and fighting at the establishment.

“The bar is not run the way it was 10 years ago. Patrons at the establishment are now more out of control and violent,” the woman recently told an investigator for the state’s Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement.

Another woman said she is afraid to come out of her home at night because of the stabbings, shootings and fights she’s witnessed at the bar – Edder’s Den, located at the edge of the Oakhurst Homes.

Shooting firearms into the air, drunken driving and drug activity has a 17-year resident of the Oakhurst area worried about what is happening to his community.

These concerns are a sampling of what neighbors around the bar at 534 Sheridan St. say they live with, concerns that played a role in legal action by Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan and an order late last week by President Judge Timothy Creany to padlock the doors.

That all may change, but it likely will not be until after Monday’s hearing in front of Creany, when he is expected to hear testimony from law enforcement and others regarding the impact of the bar on resources and the community.

Using a state civil statute, Callihan is asking Creany to determine Edder’s Den is a nuisance bar and close its doors for a year.

This approach in dealing with bars and nightclubs that attract drugs and a violent clientele is relatively new in Cambria County, although former District Attorney and now Judge Patrick Kiniry in 2007 was prepared to take a similar approach.

With the help of Johnstown police, Kiniry and his staff compiled a three-inch thick case against Palumbo’s Tavern in the west end of the city.

“People were unable to sit on their porches, unable to take evening walks,” Kiniry said of the violent activity in and outside the bar run by David Ferg Jr.

But before the civil lawsuit could be filed, word reached the owner of the property, Arthur Palumbo of Windber, who stepped in and closed the bar.

In the summer of 2012, a deal was reached between the owners of a bar on Pittsburgh’s South Side to close its doors and sell or transfer the liquor license after a man was shot in the back inside the establishment.

Resolution to a nuisance bar often comes before the case reaches the court, said Mike Manko, spokesman for Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala.

“There are very few times we’ve actually gone into court to get a bar closed,” Manko said. “Usually there is a consent agreement and it usually involves the liquor license.”

Documentation of a significant amount of bad activity is needed for a bar to be closed by the courts, Manko said.

Along with statements from impacted Oakhurst residents, the Edder’s Den lawsuit includes reports from each time the Johnstown Police Department was called to the bar or the area immediately around it when patrons were involved.

Beginning June 30, 2010, through November 26, 2012, the officers responded to 68 complaints ranging from disorderly conduct to shots fired.

An aggressive approach by Blair County authorities has brought some relief for residents in Altoona.

Several years ago, court action closed the Panda Bar in downtown Altoona after illegal drugs and crime got out of hand, staff of the office of Blair County District Attorney Richard Consiglio said.

Consiglio said more recently, drugs and violence got out of control at the Mirage, also known as the Palace and The Tin Cup, but the liquor control board stepped in and pulled its license before any local court action was taken.

The establishment still operates, but as a “bottle club,” a place where patrons bring their own alcohol, Consiglio said.

Using the state’s civil statute to close down bars that draw a troublesome crowd often bent on violence is becoming an increasingly popular way to improve a community, said one state official.

No longer is it the role of a district attorney primarily to prosecute crimes in the courtroom, said attorney Richard Long, executive director of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association.

More and more, district attorneys are finding themselves striving to improve the quality of life in the communities they serve, Long said.

The welfare of a community is a concern of Callihan’s that has surfaced, especially when addressing the court in defendant sentencings.

While she fell short of mentioning Edder’s Den during the February sentencing of Philadelphia natives Marquis Neal and his cousin Anthony Harvey for the 2011 murder of J-Quan Lewis, a Queens, New York, native, the veiled reference was evident.

“These two individuals came here to our city from Philadelphia, really with no purpose, no jobs, no addresses,” she told the court about Neal and Harvey. “They drifted from address to address, girlfriend to girlfriend, from bar to bar.”

Callihan described the fear of residents in Oakhurst as “great,” especially when there is gunfire in the middle of the day.

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What is the biggest key to reducing gun violence in Johnstown?

Tackling the area's drug problem.
Controlling folks moving into city housing.
Monitoring folks in treatment centers and halfway houses.
Tougher sentencing by the court system.
More police on the streets.

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