The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

March 22, 2013

Local and state in brief: Fire damages office trailer


Staff and wire reports

BOSWELL — Fire caused moderate damage early Friday to an office trailer at Performance One Trucking Co., located on Route 30 just outside Boswell.

The fire started in a supply room at the rear of the structure, said Boswell 1st Assistant Fire Chief Mike Sopich. Firefighters did a good job of knocking it down quickly, he said. The fire extended just a little distance into an adjacent room, he said. There was smoke and heat damage throughout the structure.

The cause of the fire, reported at 2:30 a.m., is under investigation, he said.

Also responding were volunteers from Jenners-town, Stoystown, Acosta, Sipesville and Richland Township.

Fugitive caught in Johnstown

An Indiana man who is wanted in three counties was apprehended Thursday at a residence on the 200 block of Barron Avenue in Johnstown by the U.S. Marshals Service Western Pennsylvania Fugitive Task Force.

James Robert Shaffer, 29, was found hiding behind some debris in the attic.

Shaffer is charged with burglarizing the Aztec Well Service, Indiana, on Jan. 19. There are outstanding bench warrants against him in Cambria and Jefferson counties.

The Fugitive Task Force is comprised of officers from the sheriff’s departments in Cambria and Blair counties, U.S. Marshals, state police and state parole officers.

LIHEAP deadline extended

Residents who need assistance to pay home heating bills now have through April 26 to apply for financial help through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, LIHEAP.

The federally-funded program was slated to end March 29.

Applicants can apply for a LIHEAP grant online at www.compass.state.pa.us.

For additional information on the program, or to download an application, visit www.dpw.state.pa.us and click on “For Adults,” or call toll free, 866-857-7095.

City police probe abduction try

Johnstown police are looking for a white man in his late 50s or early 60s who tried to abduct a girl walking at Hickory and Horner streets around 8 p.m. Friday.

Sgt. Patrick Goggin said the man, who has gray hair, tried to talk the 16-year-old girl into getting into his pickup. The girl fled and so did the man, Goggin said.

The man was driving a red and silver Ford pickup with the exhaust system protruding through the bed of the vehicle.

Inquest to probe market shooting

GREENSBURG – A coroner has scheduled an inquest into a state trooper’s fatal shooting of a man who reportedly attacked the officer with scissors at a Westmoreland County supermarket.

Westmoreland County Coroner Kenneth Bacha will hold the inquest Tuesday at the county courthouse in Greensburg. Bacha routinely holds such public hearings on police-related shooting deaths.

A 10-year veteran trooper identified by Bacha as Chad Cope, shot 26-year-old Seth O’Donnell of East Huntingdon Township on Jan. 4, allegedly after O’Donnell tried to stab the trooper with scissors. Police have said most of the blows were absorbed by the trooper’s bulletproof vest, though he did receive six stitches for a cut to his head.

Police said O’Donnell was acting erratically before police were called to the Save-A-Lot on Route 119 after O’Donnell began eating snacks without paying for them.

Alleged beer burglar caught

ALTOONA – A man has been jailed on charges he climbed through a roof vent in a failed attempt to steal two 30-packs of cheap beer from a Blair County store.

Online court records don’t list an attorney for 20-year-old Derek Dasher, of Tyrone, who faces a preliminary hearing April 4 on burglary and other charges.

The Altoona Mirror reported that Dasher climbed into the cooler at Cassidy’s Brew Zoo through the vent about 5 p.m. Wednesday while the store was still open for business.

Police say he took two packs of Keystone Light worth $36.99 and ran out the back door, but was caught by an employee.

Police said Dasher was in the store’s office when they arrived and acknowledged stealing the beer.

He remained in the Blair County Prison on Friday.

Century-old whiskey consumed

GREENSBURG – Fifty-two bottles of well-aged whiskey disappeared between his lips, police said, and now it’s time for a Westmoreland County man to settle up.

John Saunders, the former live-in caretaker of a Scottdale area mansion, faces criminal charges for allegedly drinking more than $100,000 worth of the owner’s whiskey.

Owner Patricia Hill found nine cases of whiskey hidden in the walls and stairwell of the century-old Georgian mansion built by coal and coke industrialist J.P. Brennan after she bought it in 2012.

The Old Farm Pure Rye Whiskey was produced in the early 1900s by the nearby West Overton Distilling Co.

“My guess is that Mr. Brennan ordered 10 cases pre-Prohibition,” said Hill, a New Yorker who bought the house to convert it into a bed-and-breakfast. “I was told by his family that family members used to greet him at the door each day with a shot of whiskey.”

Scottdale police told The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that Saunders drank dozens of bottles of the whiskey valued at $102,400 by a New York auction house.

Saunders, 62, of Irwin, was charged with receiving stolen property and theft. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.

Hill told police Chief Barry Pritts she stored the whiskey in the original cases, which contained 12 bottles each. After Saunders moved out, Hill said she discovered last March that the bottles in four cases were empty.

DEP secretary resigns

HARRISBURG – Gov. Tom Corbett’s environmental protection secretary will leave the post next month after two years of guiding the agency that regulated Pennsylvania’s natural gas boom amid clashes with environmental advocates, federal regulators and Democratic lawmakers.

Michael Krancer, who was a state environmental law judge and lawyer for energy giant Exelon Corp. before joining the Republican governor’s administration, helped oversee Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission and handled emerging issues of river and air pollution as Pennsylvania worked to modernize its laws to address new drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques.

Corbett said Krancer, 55, of Bryn Mawr, will return to private law practice after April 15 with the Philadelphia-based firm Blank Rome, where he will serve as chairman of the firm’s energy, petrochemical and natural resources practice.

Christopher Abruzzo, one of Corbett’s deputy chiefs of staff, will serve as acting secretary until a successor is named, Corbett said.

NBC to air Sandusky interviews

STATE COLLEGE – NBC plans to air excerpts of jailhouse interviews with former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky next week

Sandusky’s lawyer said the interviews were given to a documentary filmmaker working on a defense of Joe Paterno.

The network said in the segment, to be broadcast Monday on the “Today” show, the convicted sex offender will give his account of the encounters that landed him in prison and discuss his former boss, who was accused in a university-funded investigation of covering up allegations against Sandusky in a bid to preserve the football program’s reputation.

Sandusky, 69, is serving a 30- to 60-year prison term after being convicted in June of 45 counts of child sexual abuse of 10 boys, including violent attacks inside campus athletic facilities.

Ex-chief to plead guilty

PITTSBURGH – Former city police Chief Nate Harper will plead guilty to charges that he conspired to steal city police funds deposited into unauthorized police credit union accounts and failed to file federal tax returns from 2008 to 2011, his attorneys said Friday.

Harper’s lawyers made the announcement at a news conference on a day of fast-moving developments in the federal investigation after prosecutors announced the grand jury indictment. Harper pleaded not guilty to the charges at an arraignment, and the judge said the former chief could remain free.

U.S. Attorney David Hickton called Harper’s actions “the worst kind of public corruption,” and said it was “a sad day” for authorities who had worked closely with the soft-spoken, generally well-liked and seemingly humble man on issues ranging from gang violence and security for the G-20 economic summit in 2009.

“This is puzzling and baffling behavior,” Hickton said.

Later, Harper begged off appearing at the news conference at the last minute because he was “embarrassed and distraught,” defense attorney Robert DelGreco said. The 36-year police veteran has lost 20 pounds since Mayor Luke Ravenstahl demanded his resignation Feb. 20 after meeting with the FBI about the investigation, Harper’s attorneys said.

But the former chief, who came up through the ranks of Pittsburgh’s roughly 800-officer force and was chief since 2006, takes “full responsibility” for his actions, said Robert Leight, another Harper attorney.

Turnpike Commission member quits

HARRISBURG – A Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission member who told a grand jury he did not disclose resort gift certificates he received from an engineering firm said he’s resigning immediately.

Bill Lincoln, a former state Senate Democratic floor leader, said in a Friday statement that he’s no longer able to do the job because of “personal stress” and ongoing health issues.

He didn’t specifically mention last week’s grand jury report that alleged a “pay-to-play” culture at the turnpike commission.

He had served as a turnpike commissioner for eight years after being nominated by former Gov. Ed Rendell.