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The Great American Banana Split Celebration set to go virtual today

The Great American Banana Split Celebration will take place online today, Aug. 25, coinciding with National Banana Split Day.

While coronavirus-related restrictions have denied the gathering of banana split fans for the annual in-person festival in Latrobe, banana split fans can visit their local Valley Dairy Restaurant for a buy one, get one free special on the day of the event.

Alex Blystone, manager of the Valley Dairy along Route 30 in Unity Township, said the store will be selling BOGO banana splits for $5.99 all day, and mini banana splits for $3.99.

Virtual event-goers will also have the opportunity to make their own ice cream treats during two separate livestreamed demonstrations.

For the first treat, participants will need only bananas and ice cube trays — and for the second treat: Ice, rock salt and 2-gallon sealable plastic bags.

The virtual event will be livestreamed, with a slate of activities planned throughout the day, including musicians and entertainers who have prepared pre-recorded performances to be shown on the celebration’s Facebook and website, www.bananasplitfest.com.

Performers from a variety of musical genres such as folk, country and rock include: Flying Blind, AC Jones, Elias Khouri, Orion Walsh, Aubrey Burchell, The Crystal Blue Band, Andrew Mack, Vanessa Clarke-Deaver, The High Level and Daelyn Avril Ellis.

Scheduled on the virtual lineup is a “gizmos & gadgets” segment, in which one of the day’s hosts will put various banana and ice cream gadgets to the test.

An art activity is also planned, with the Latrobe Art Center leading a demonstration for younger children.

The Banana Run has also gone virtual. Participants can register for the 1 mile, 5 or 10 kilometer race at bananasplit.run through Aug. 31 and submit a photo of their time and distance.

Sign up fees range from $5 and up to $35 depending on which package the runner selects. This year’s T-shirt and medal art — designed by Crabtree mural artist and elementary art teacher Raphael Pantalone — features a banana character running away from a COVID-19 virus.

Results of a coloring contest will be featured on the celebration’s website, Facebook or during the livestream.

This year’s Banana Split Princess Pageant has also adapted to a virtual format, with nine girls from Latrobe, Derry and Ligonier school districts competing in this year’s show. The top three contestants were invited to appear during the virtual event, with one girl being crowned the 2020 princess.

A pie-eating contest pitting six contestants against one another will also take place virtually, with a lineup of challengers looking to eat an entire banana creme pie — crust and all — in the fastest time.

The event celebrates the dessert invented in 1904 by David Strickler, a 23-year-old apprentice at Tassell Pharmacy in Latrobe.

The GLLV Chamber worked with the Latrobe Area Historical Society to gather stories about the city’s history to share throughout the celebration.

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Latrobe man jailed after Derry Twp. stabbing attack

A Latrobe man accused of brutally attacking three people at a Derry Township apartment early Sunday morning was ordered held in Westmoreland County Prison without bail.

Nicholas Joseph McIntyre, 26, was arraigned Monday before Magisterial District Judge Mark Bilik on three counts each of criminal homicide, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, terroristic threats, simple assault, reckless endangerment and harassment, two counts of theft and one count of burglary.

The three victims in the alleged attack, Karen Short and her daughter Amber Short, 18, both of Derry Township, and Adam Rousson of Montreal, Canada, remained in Conemaugh Memorial Hospital in Johnstown Monday. Karen Short’s sister Cathy Tarr told multiple media outlets that her sister and Rousson are in the hospital’s intensive care unit recovering from injuries including multiple stab wounds, bites and strikes from a metal baseball bat. All three victims are expected to recover, according to WPXI-TV (Channel 11).

“I think that when he left that house, I would be shocked that he wouldn’t have thought that they were going to die with the amount and how badly they were stabbed,” Tpr. Steve Limani told the news station, “the fact that fingers were missing, the fact he bit them in their necks, their lips.”

According to court documents, McIntyre broke into an apartment on West 4th Street in Derry Township around 2 a.m. Sunday through a kitchen door, attacking Karen Short and Rousson, who were asleep in chairs on the first floor of the apartment. Rousson told police McIntyre stabbed him multiple times in the back as he and Karen Short struggled to force McIntyre out of the apartment. McIntyre stabbed Karen Short in the chest, Rousson told police, and beat all three victims with a metal baseball bat, telling them “You are all going to die tonight.”

McIntyre went upstairs and attacked Amber Short, a 2020 graduate of Derry Area High School, in her bedroom, beating her with the bat and biting her, according to police.

She told police that McIntyre told her the attack was “all your fault,” and took her cellphone and her mother’s phone as he fled the apartment.

Tarr told WPXI Monday that McIntyre “definitely went after Karen most because he felt she was standing between him and Amber. He just has been fixated with her now for a long time.”

According to court records, McIntyre was charged twice for incidents in 2019 involving terroristic threats and harassment — first for a May incident in Derry Borough, then in December for an incident that allegedly occurred while McIntyre was being held in Westmoreland County Prison.

McIntyre pleaded guilty to simple assault and defiant trespassing in connection with the May incident in Derry Borough, with other charges in the case dismissed or withdrawn as part of the plea agreement. He was sentenced to serve four months to 23 months in prison, serving 123 days according to court records. He is awaiting trial on the charges of aggravated harassment and terroristic threats stemming from the December incident.

McIntyre was sentenced to two years on probation in December after pleading guilty to criminal mischief in connection with a July 2019 incident in which he was also charged with institutional vandalism, according to court records. The county probation office in June filed a motion to revoke McIntyre’s probation, court records show.

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Council awards bid for Latrobe’s Ligonier Street underpass project

Work on upgrading Latrobe’s Ligonier Street railroad underpass will begin soon, as Latrobe City Council on Monday awarded bids to complete the rehabilitation project.

Latrobe City Manager Michael Gray said the city applied for funding through the state’s Multimodal Transportation Fund to renovate Latrobe’s three railroad underpasses located along Jefferson, Ligonier and Alexandria streets — which run beneath the Norfolk Southern Railway tracks.

“We were only allotted through the grant $100,000,” Gray said, nearly enough to cover the cost to revamp just the Ligonier Street underpass.

Gray says the city plans on reapplying next year for funding to complete the two other underpasses.

“It was really looking at the specifications on what we can afford to cover the underpass,” he said. “Ligonier Street was the least involved because it’s not getting as much concrete done. It kept some of the cost down… to keep us closer to what our grant allotment is.”

Council on Monday awarded a bid for $84,980 to 446 Painting LLC to repaint the underpass; $21,596 to Curry & Kepple for concrete repairs, and $5,200 to Schultheis Electric for LED lighting installation. Improvements will include sidewalk repairs, new lighting, and sandblasting and painting the steel structures beneath the bridges, Gray said during a May council meeting.

Sandblasting and painting will take place first, with sidewalk upgrades — which includes installing handicap-accessible curb ramps — to follow. Gray previously said electrical work to install LED lights “mainly where sidewalks are” will be the last phase.

The grant covers $70,000 of the project’s cost, with the city providing a $30,000 local match through its capital projects fund, Gray says.

Latrobe will also pay roughly $11,000 for additional costs needed to complete the project.

He added the city hopes to get started on the project “as soon as possible. We want to take advantage of the weather as long as we can. We’re really excited to have it done.”

In other business, Gray said council is currently working to amend an ordinance relating to rules and regulations at city parks.

“One of the things we’re concerned about is what should be the regulations that are enforced solely by (Latrobe-GLSD) Parks & Rec staff, and what should be ‘ordnance material’ ... that would be enforced by the police department?” Gray said. “That’s really the biggest concern, thus far, is dividing changes into those two categories.”

Last month, council discussed a proposed no-loitering rule at city parks, as well as one that would ban feeding wildlife such as birds, geese or squirrels.

“I think we should limit the enforcement of the crimes code issues to the police department,” council member Jim Kelley said Monday. “All of the rules that are not part of the crimes code, I think that should be enforced by Parks & Rec.”

Latrobe police chief John Sleasman said he “completely agrees” with Kelly.

Last month, city solicitor John Greiner noted that many of the rules discussed at the July 27 meeting — including ones prohibiting open fires, hunting, vaping or smoking, and profanity, among others — are already included in the current ordinance. He also added that rules involving more serious violations are currently covered under the disorderly conduct statute in the city’s crimes code, which are already enforceable by police.

Gray noted that the policy allows for Latrobe police to enforce “whatever is in our ordinance, currently.”

At a future meeting, council will vote on a resolution approving an agreement with Mutual Aid to provide upon request custodial blood draws for blood alcohol and substance content.

“This agreement would cover custodial blood draws in the event the police need them for DUI or other substance content,” Gray said on Monday. “Currently, the police would take the suspect or custodian to the (Excela Health) Latrobe Hospital for blood draws.”

Officials say Mutual Aid agreed to provide the service for a $52 fee, compared to $131 fees for blood draws at the hospital, according to Sleasman.

“This in no way would stop the police from utilizing the hospital for sub service as well,” Gray said. “This would be an added bonus for the city to sign the agreement to have this available option for the police.”

Added Sleasman: “It would be a lot quicker turnaround to get the blood drawn...and getting the suspect released and the officer back on the street a lot quicker.”

Council on Monday also approved a right of way and easement agreement with the Unity Township Municipal Authority (UTMA), along Mission Road next to Murphy’s Bridge by Latrobe’s solid waste transfer station.

“There’s a small section where they want an easement and right of way for a flow meter,” Gray said.

At future council meetings, officials will consider:

  • An ordinance for the use of a telecommunication device to attend meetings. Council last month discussed potentially upgrading the city’s technology for conducting virtual meetings. Officials will consider allowing council members to miss up to three in-person meetings, or to be excused for medical reasons. Officials noted Monday that Greiner is currently drafting an ordinance, pending feedback from council members. Grenier added he doesn’t “anticipate that we will be voting on this at the next council meeting;”
  • An amendment to remove the Latrobe Parking Authority from all sections of the city’s code;
  • Approving a resolution to add regular permit parking passes at the top level of the city’s parking garage for a $15 monthly fee. Gray previously said the top level, which has roughly 25 spots at a current rate of $26 per month, is “very sparsely used.” Added Gray: “This is to entice more parking at the top level and to give business owners or residents coming in the opportunity to park at different locations but with a reasonable fee”;
  • A resolution approving a contract with Scenic Pittsburgh to act as a consultant for a zoning ordinance analysis;
  • Appointing Ed Kubicek to the city’s planning commission, for a term expiring Jan. 31, 2021.

One-and-a-half-year-old Cayde Ulicne loves ice cream and was looking forward to trying his very first banana split Monday night in preparation for today’s observance of National Banana Split Day, but he fell asleep before he got a taste. Fortunately, the Great American Banana Split Celebration — which commemorates the birth of the banana split in Latrobe and will be celebrated with a virtual event this year — is a great opportunity to enjoy banana splits at one of the many local businesses offering those and other tasty treats inspired by the iconic dessert. Cayde is the son of Bulletin assistant editor Chris Ulicne and his wife Janeen. They live in Latrobe.

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Latrobe’s new police sergeant, officers honored

Latrobe’s new police sergeant was recognized with a pinning ceremony held Monday during Latrobe City Council’s special meeting.

Last month council voted to approve Det. Ron Keslar to the position of sergeant in the Latrobe Police Department, to replace retiring Sgt. Nunzio Santo Columbo. On Monday, Keslar received his sergeant stripes pin, which was placed upon his uniform by his father, Ron Keslar Sr.

“Ron is a well-respected officer within the department, with a great working relationship with outside agencies,” Latrobe police chief John Sleasman said during the brief ceremony.

“He has a strong willingness to share his knowledge and experiences with our younger officers.”

The police chief noted that Keslar has worked as co-coordinator of the city’s DUI task force. He also initiated and maintains the department’s Narcan program and “aggressively pursues the grant funding for the ballistic vests that we wear.”

“It was a great choice to promote Ron,” Sleasman added. “We’re glad to have him with us.”

Keslar says his new role is “not a whole lot different. We all work together as a team.”

His wife, Allison Keslar, and three children were also present for the pinning ceremony.

Sleasman also commended three members of the Latrobe Police Department for their efforts, which led to more than two dozen people being indicted by a federal grand jury last week in connection with an alleged fentanyl trafficking ring.

Det. Mike Wigand, Sleasman and officers Matthew Reeves and Sean Grosso were involved with the investigation.

“Approximately 11 months ago, an incident occurred in the city limits involving a fentanyl-laced heroin overdose,” Sleasman said Monday. “This tragic incident became the basis for a federal investigation into fentanyl and heroin distribution into the Latrobe area by numerous individuals from the Latrobe and Pittsburgh area.”

Sleasman noted that Wigand became the lead investigator into the incident and began a “crusade to right the wrong.”

“Wigand sought out assistance from the FBI and other resources, which led to countless hours of investigation, surveillance details, undercover purchases of narcotics and intelligence gathering of anyone involved in narcotics trafficking in and around the Latrobe area,” Sleasman added.

The four members of the Latrobe police department were sworn in as special investigators of the FBI’s Safe Streets Task Force, which “involved federal wiretap and other investigative tools to seek out and identify individuals involved in narcotics trafficking,” according to Sleasman.

“It started as a seemingly small incident in Latrobe and led to a large scale, federal heroin distribution case which resulted in 26 federal grand jury indictments, including the six defendants in Latrobe,” Sleasman added.

On Aug. 19, the federal grand jury convened and returned with the indictments.

“On Aug. 20, those indictments were served and arrests were made. All six defendants from Latrobe were found, arrested and arraigned before a federal magistrate in Pittsburgh,” Sleasman said. “The residents and visitors of Latrobe can rest a little easier knowing those responsible for a large portion of heroin coming into Latrobe recently will be held accountable for their actions,” Sleasman said. “I’d like to personally recognize these officers for an outstanding job. They should be very proud of themselves.”

The officers involved received a round of applause from council and their friends and family present during Monday’s special council meeting.