Latrobe City Council welcomed the city’s newest police officer Monday night, Zachary Lukon.
Lukon will fill the position vacated by Officer Raymond Swiderski, who is moving to a new post as the school resource officer (SRO) for Adelphoi’s Dr. Robert Ketterer Charter School.
Latrobe Police Chief John Sleasman previously said that Lukon is “a good kid” who is highly qualified for the position.
Lukon, who graduated from Derry Area High School in 2002, St. Vincent College in 2007 and the Westmoreland Municipal Police Officers’ Training Academy in 2017, previously served as a part-time officer in Derry Borough and worked a full-time position at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP).
He also attended the U.S. Border Patrol Academy in Artesia, New Mexico, and served as a K-9 officer for the Border Patrol from 2008 to 2013.
“He has a lot of great qualifications,” Latrobe City Manager Michael Gray told council last month.
Meanwhile, Sleasman again noted that Latrobe Police Sgt. Robert Rummell is slated to leave the department in December, and so he’s hoping to have a replacement lined up and ready to step in right away — meaning the city will be looking for another new officer.
The chief previously said he’s in the process of working with the city’s administration to look into possibly updating the civil service regulations and guidelines used for testing for new officers. Lukon was the last candidate remaining on the previous list of qualified applicants put together by the Latrobe Civil Service Commission, so the city likely will be looking to create a new list soon to help with the search for Rummell’s replacement.
In other business Monday night, council approved the following items:
• An agreement between the city and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) AFL-CIO, Council 83 Local 629, with a new contract for 15 city employees working in the public works and clerical departments. Gray said the agreement includes a 3% raise for each of the 15 employees, adds President’s Day as a paid holiday, and increases the contributions they must make toward their health care insurance coverage;
• An ordinance amending Chapter 262 of the city code, dealing with fire pits and small recreational fires, which sets the procedures for residents to re-apply for one of the city’s five-year fire pit permits and lays out a $50 fine for violations, which must be paid within five days and which can be appealed through council. Three consecutive violations also gives the city the right to terminate the connected permit;
• Making the east side of the 1000 block of Alexandria Street permit parking only;
• An ordinance amending Chapter 327 of the city code concerning street excavations;
• Ratifying council’s verbal decision last month to award a contract for repaving two alleys in downtown Latrobe in order to address stormwater concerns;
• Accepting the resignation of Donald Albert from the Latrobe Civil Service Commission and the Latrobe Planning Commission, and appointing alternate Dr. Steven Selip to replace Albert on the civil service commission;
• A confirmation of the city’s intent to disclaim any right it has to a piece of property on Josephine Street which was inadvertently made a part of the public right-of-way many years ago. The tiny sliver of land is now a part of a private property, as was originally intended.
In other business:
• Council voted to table a proposal to appoint Karen Meholic as assistant city secretary shortly after holding a brief executive session to discuss personnel matters. Councilman James Kelley said there are “questions he’d like to further discuss” regarding the matter before any decision is made;
• Gray said that there have been multiple complaints recently related to the use of drones in the city which reportedly are invading people’s privacy and flying too close to homes. He said the state enacted a law last year which lays down ground rules for drones and that if any resident notices a violation, they should report it to the police;
• Latrobe Fire Chief John Brasile reminded residents that if they notice any violations of the city’s fire pit ordinance, they should call 911 to report them so that there is a proper record of the incident and so the fire department has the authority to investigate;
• Council briefly discussed numerous recent complaints regarding fireworks being set off in the city at extremely late hours at night, and indicated that it would look into what provisions the city code has for controlling noise and public nuisances;
• Gray reported that on Monday, Aug. 26, a contractor will begin repair work on the downtown parking garage, which will take six weeks to complete. During this time, there will be some temporary traffic restrictions in the garage, but it will remain open and in operation for the duration of the project;
• The city will be seeking bids for repairs to a water line break on Pine Street after it sprung up during recently completed paving work on Pine and Josephine streets, Gray said;
• Council recognized the members of the 4th of July Celebration Committee, including Carol and Gary Greenawalt, who are retiring, as well as the members of the Great American Banana Split Celebration Committee.
Derry Borough officials spent several weeks preparing for a Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) flood project inspection conducted Monday. Now, they must wait until fall to get the results — and see what improvements the state agency mandates.
Council president Chad Fabian said the DEP checked the lower end of the borough’s flood project between Norfolk Southern property and Shrum Field. The inspection is required every two years, he said.
“They were basically looking for missing joints, cracks in the wall, anything that compromises the integrity of the flood project,” he said after Monday’s regular council meeting, adding that the DEP also inspected box culverts at West 5th Avenue and Mentor Street.
Fabian said the borough should receive a full report in October or November.
“They will tell us (what to fix) until they come back two years from now,” he said. “Whatever they say we have to fix, we’ve got to come up with the money to fix it.”
The borough’s public works employees spent about two weeks prepping for the visit, Fabian said.
“Cutting grass, removing trees, filling cracks along the flood project wall, pulling rocks,” he said of the prep work. “When the DEP comes in, they don’t want to see anything in that channel. They want to see a clean (flow) because it gets the water from the lower end of town out as fast as possible.
“The guys busted hump the last two weeks to make it happen.”
Also Monday, council approved the submission of paid expenses from Gibson-Thomas Engineering Co. Inc. for preliminary and final design costs for the East Owens Avenue extension project. The invoices, from Oct. 20, 2015, to June 3, 2019, in the amount of $12,641.68, will be submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) for reimbursement tied to previously awarded multimodal grant funding. The borough will be reimbursed $8,400.
Fabian said the only project items left are the removal of the small North Ligonier Street bridge and some final paving work. He couldn’t say when the bridge, previously the lone thoroughfare to Coles Cemetery, will be removed.
Council also discussed:
In other business, council approved:
Ligonier Valley School District students heading back to school later this month will notice a change as they navigate the halls, as the school board on Monday approved motions related to adding a school resource officer to cover three school buildings and a school security guard for another.
The district was awarded funding to cover the cost of adding school security personnel through a two-year grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.
School directors approved a memorandum of understanding with the Ligonier Valley Police Department for a school resource officer for the 2019-20 school year to cover R.K. Mellon Elementary, Ligonier Valley Middle School and Ligonier Valley High School.
Officer Shawn Knepper will serve in that capacity for the upcoming school year after recently completing the required school resource officer training.
“We’ve got a desk for him, he has the official Ligonier Valley badge, he has a grand master key, he can get in anywhere, any time,” Superintendent Dr. Christine Oldham said of Knepper.
The district and police department worked quickly to iron out details of the agreement to bring Knepper into the school resource officer role, Oldham said.
“When I agreed to do this, I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting myself into. I thought maybe I was just kind of a hired gun in the school where I get to high-five the middle and elementary school students and fist bump the high school students and razz them in the halls,” Knepper said. “After attending the weeklong training, which was amazing, I realized that the program is so much more. It’s really the root of community-oriented policing.
“By putting an officer in the schools, you’re breaking down the barriers between the police and your community. Building relationships is the biggest part of us being there. Yes, I am in the school with a gun, I’m there to stop a threat and keep everybody safe, but ultimately, it’s about breaking down those barriers between the police and students and being there as an informal counselor and a law-related educator.”
Knepper will spend time at each of the three schools at the southern end of the district each week, Oldham said.
“We are excited because Shawn is a known face around all the schools. The learners know him, the staff’s familiar with him... We’re thrilled to have him,” Oldham said. “He’ll be interacting with kids throughout the day, providing learning opportunities, connecting families maybe to social service kinds of needs.”
The district had been in discussions with the Ligonier Valley Police Department and St. Clair Township officials regarding placing a school resource officer at Laurel Valley Elementary before opting to hire Clinton McChesney, a former state trooper, to provide school security guard services there at an hourly rate of $18. The hiring is contingent upon receipt of all required paperwork and finalization of a contract by the district’s solicitor.
In other business, the school board approved:
A Derry Township man sped past a state police patrol vehicle at more than 100 mph on Route 217 near Torrance and fled an attempted traffic stop early Sunday before police tracked him down at his home, police allege.
According to court documents, Cpl. Matthew Eicher used a certified speed gun for half a mile to clock the 2002 Chevrolet Tracker that Mark Joel Wherry, 58, was driving at 110 mph after it passed Eicher’s patrol vehicle on Route 217 at 12:22 a.m.
Eicher wrote he tried to pull Wherry’s vehicle over after it missed a turn at the Gray Station Road intersection, but Wherry fled the scene.
According to the affidavit of probable cause, Eicher saw Wherry wearing a fedora hat and glasses as he approached the intersection with his patrol vehicle’s emergency lights and siren activated, but Wherry ignored verbal commands and fled east on Gray Station Road.
Police tracked Wherry to his mobile home “where he was laying on the couch inside the trailer … with his fedora hat laying next to him,” according to the affidavit, and police asked a female occupant of the house to wake Wherry, “who was passed out,” so he could be questioned.
Wherry smelled of alcohol and had trouble keeping his balance as he was questioned outside the trailer, according to the affidavit. He allegedly claimed he had arrived home a short time earlier after having some alcoholic beverages at a family picnic, according to the affidavit.
“Wherry then became very aggressive with his language and attempted to return inside his mobile home,” Eicher wrote.
Wherry allegedly resisted arrest when Eicher attempted to place him in handcuffs, and two other troopers called to the scene had to help restrain Wherry.
A breath test at the scene revealed Wherry’s blood-alcohol content reading was .178%, more than twice the legal limit to drive in Pennsylvania.
Wherry was arraigned Sunday before Magisterial District Judge Charles R. Conway on charges of fleeing or attempting to elude police, driving under the influence, resisting arrest, careless driving and exceeding the maximum speed limit by 65 mph. He is free on $125,000 unsecured bond awaiting an Aug. 21 preliminary hearing before Magisterial District Judge Mark Bilik.
A Westmoreland County judge’s order allocating taxpayer funds so defense lawyers can hire a ballistics expert to help build an appeal of a death row inmate’s conviction has come under fire from county prosecutors.
District Attorney John Peck and Assistant District Attorney Jim Lazar on Monday challenged a court order signed last week by Westmoreland County Court of Common Pleas Judge Meagan Bilik-DeFazio allocating $2,500 in taxpayer funds for Kevin Murphy’s defense lawyers to hire a private ballistics expert to review evidence used against Murphy in his 2013 triple-murder trial.
Murphy, 58, of Loyalhanna Township was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder for the 2009 shooting deaths of his mother, sister and aunt at a family-owned auto glass repair business in Loyalhanna Township.
Murphy’s mother, Doris Murphy, 69, sister Kris Murphy, 43, and aunt Edith Tietge, 81, were each shot in the back of the head with a .22-caliber revolver linked to Murphy, police said.
According to prosecutors in the case, the women were killed because they didn’t approve of Murphy’s romantic relationship with a married woman and didn’t want her to live at the family home near Saltsburg.
Murphy was represented during his 2013 trial by private attorneys, who retained their own ballistics expert prior to the trial.
Court-appointed attorneys Brian Aston and Ken Noga claimed a new ballistics expert is needed to review evidence used against Murphy in his trial to craft a yet-to-be-filed appeal.
Two bullet fragments from one of the victims could not be linked to a weapon owned by Murphy and recovered at the scene, Aston and Noga contended, and DNA evidence used in Murphy’s trial indicated an unknown person had contact with the gun.
Prosecutors weren’t notified of the court order allocating taxpayer funds for Aston and Noga to hire a ballistics expert, and should have been allowed to challenge the need for one, Peck and Lazar said, since Murphy’s previous defense attorneys had already hired an expert in the field.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2016 denied Murphy’s initial appeal, ruling the evidence presented was sufficient to support the convictions.
Mary Isenhour is one of the most powerful and influential women in Pennsylvania government that you may never see, hear or read about in statewide media.
Isenhour is the first woman appointed to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB). She won state Senate confirmation and took office nearly two months ago.
Yet, she views her job with gender neutrality.
“It’s basically administrative,” she said after her state Senate confirmation hearing in June.
The state’s liquor control board functions are oversight, regulatory enforcement, education and revenue generation.
As an PLCB member, she shares in the oversight of nearly 21,000 private businesses licensed to sell alcoholic beverages in the commonwealth. They include restaurants, taverns, hotels, country clubs, golf courses, banquet halls, beer distributors and more.
Most importantly, Isenhour expressed awareness of the PLCB’s revenue-generating capacity for Pennsylvania. State liquor store profits, along with alcoholic beverage taxes, contributed nearly $475 million to Pennsylvania’s general fund budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year.
Contributions for the fiscal year that ended June 30 are still under audit, she said. Some legislative budget experts quietly said that equals more than 2 cents in sales tax revenue.
Isenhour expressed awareness of the PLCB’s revenue generation and said one goal of hers is to maintain state store profitability.
The newest PLCB member recently voted to appropriate $150,000 for local police department alcohol education.
“I’m not a mother, but I have nieces and nephews, so I want to do everything to ensure that young people are educated in the dangers of alcohol abuse,” she said. “Plus, responsible consumption as adults.”
Isenhour stressed her strong support for alcohol education grants to local law enforcement and youth groups.
Her administrative experience includes guiding Gov. Tom Wolf’s first legislative agenda that included modernization of the state store system, as well as permitting beer and wine sales in grocery stores.
Later, Isenhour become Wolf’s chief of staff.
Prior to joining Wolf’s administration, she served as national political director of the National Democratic Legislative Committee in Washington, D.C., and later as executive director of the Pennsylvania Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.
Other PLCB members include former congressman Tim Holden of Schuylkill County and Mike Negra of Center County