The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

October 11, 2012

Midday Briefing | Funeral to be held for couple allegedly slain by grandson

Associated Press

FRANKLIN — Visitation and a funeral Mass have been set for a northwestern Pennsylvania couple who were allegedly slain by their 13-year-old grandson.

Funeral home visitation for 69-year-old George Fross and 67-year-old Dorothy Fross is scheduled Thursday at a funeral home in Franklin, not far from the Sandycreek Township home where they were shot on Sunday. Their funeral will be Friday at 11 a.m. at St. Patrick Church, also in Franklin.

Their grandson, Zachary Proper, of Oil City, has been charged as an adult with shooting the couple after claiming they spoke ill of his mother.

The boy remained in the Venango County Jail, also in Franklin, on Thursday.

A defense attorney has not returned requests for comment.

The boy's attorney still has the right to ask a judge to consider moving the case to juvenile court.


NTSB to provide update on chopper crash probe

TOBYHANNA — A spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board says investigators will be providing an update on their investigation of a helicopter crash that killed two people and injured a third in northeastern Pennsylvania.

The chopper crashed in a wooded area in Coolbaugh Township as it approached an airport in bad weather Tuesday night. NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss says investigators are on the scene and plan to provide an update on the investigation at the crash site at 2 p.m. Thursday.

Authorities have identified the victims as 52-year-old William Ellsworth, of Califon N.J., and 51-year-old Tighe Sullivan, of Darien, Conn. A third man, Stephen Barral, of Bernardsville, N.J., was seriously hurt.

Officials say the men were on their way back from a golf outing in New York and hit bad weather.


Marcellus driller settles with land owners

DARLINGTON — A natural gas drilling company has settled federal lawsuits by western Pennsylvania landowners who contested the company's drilling leases and were, in turn, countersued by the company for permission to cut down trees sometimes inhabited by a protected bat species so the wells could be drilled.

A spokeswoman for Chesapeake Appalachia LLC declined to comment on the settlements filed Wednesday in federal court Pittsburgh. Attorneys for the landowners in Beaver County couldn't immediately be reached for comment and settlement terms weren't disclosed.

The landowners claimed they were tricked into signing unfair leases later purchased by Chesapeake. Chesapeake countersued to get permission to clear trees from the land earlier this year before Indiana bats began living in them. Trees can be cut from Nov. 1 to March 31 because the bats hibernate in caves during those months.


Appeals court upholds 7 state guards' suspensions

PITTSBURGH — The Commonwealth Court has reversed a labor arbitrator's decision to reinstate seven suspended guards at the state prison in Pittsburgh, four of whom are awaiting trial on charges they abused inmates serving child-sex sentences.

The court ruled three other guards who had the charged dropped or thrown out against them should still remain suspended, too.

The court found the seven guards didn't file grievances challenging their suspensions within 15 days as required by law. The court disagreed with the arbitrator who ruled a year ago that the indefinite suspensions violated a labor contract so the time limits didn't apply.

The focus of the investigation remains 60-year-old Harry Nicoletti of Coraopolis, who is scheduled for trial in January but claims charges that he raped or otherwise abused child molesters at the prison are "made up."


Exec stops paychecks to imprisoned councilman

ERIE — A northwestern Pennsylvania county executive has ordered the finance director to stop issuing paychecks to a councilman who's serving a year in federal prison for Social Security fraud.

Erie County Executive Barry Grossman tells the Erie Times News it would be a "gross insult" to taxpayers for 63-year-old Ebert Beeman to continue drawing his $8,779 annual salary when he can't attend meetings or do county business.

Beeman has refused to resign his office so the district attorney is petitioning the courts to have Beeman removed, but that could take months.

Beeman's attorney says he's not sure Grossman has the power to stop the payments while Beeman remains a "sitting councilman."

Beeman began his sentence in August for using a fraudulent Social Security number to apply for two credit cards and two jobs since 2007.


Parks director's dismissal raises questions

HARRISBURG — The dismissal of Pennsylvania's state parks director is raising questions about whether Gov. Tom Corbett is making plans to allow mining or timbering on the lands.

John Norbeck told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this week that his last day will be Oct. 19 after he received a termination letter from the state's human resources office.

Corbett administration officials are not saying why they wanted Norbeck out, but say there's no connection to resource development issues.

Norbeck told the newspaper he opposed one company's plans to mine limestone beneath Laurel Ridge State Park in southwestern Pennsylvania and objected to discussion by an administration official about allowing commercial timbering operations in state parks.

Norbeck was hired in 2006. Democratic Rep. Bud George wants a hearing on the matter.