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February 6, 2013

COAL TOWNSHIP - Four people were injured in a two-vehicle crash on Route 61 near Ranshaw shortly before 3 p.m. Tuesday. Police say an SUV driven by 60-year-old David Ratzlaff, of Shamokin, swerved into the oncoming lane to avoid a car making a turn off the roadway and hit a car driven by Howard Splitt Sr., of Mount Carmel. Ratzlaff's wife, 60-year-old Marilyn, was trapped in the vehicle and had to be cut free. Splitt was traveling with his elderly mother, Hazle Rooney. All four occupants were taken to the hospital by ambulance. David Ratzlaff and his wife Marilyn were treated and released from Geisinger Medical Center. Hazel Rooney remains in critical condition while there was no update available for Splitt. The crash closed route 61 for about an hour as crews cleared the scene.

STATE COLLEGE - State College Police are investigating a robbery that happened Tuesday at the Super 8 Motel located at 1663 South Atherton Street. Police say the suspect approached a clerk at the front desk of the motel and told him that a vending machine was damaged. The clerk left the front desk unattended to check on the vending machine and the suspect then went behind the desk and removed money. The clerk returned and confronted the suspect and the suspect told him that he had a gun and fled the motel running towards Atherton Street. State College Police then responded to a Burglary at Dunn Mowery Insurance and Benchmark Construction located at 1500 South Atherton Street that had occurred earlier in the morning. It was determined that the same bandit from the Super 8 Robbery was also involved in the Burglary. The office building had been entered and several items were removed from the building. Anyone with information on the Robbery and Burglary or anyone who can identify the suspect is asked to call the State College Police.

MIFFLIN - A suspected arson took down a storage building Tuesday morning in the village of Walnut in Juniata County. Beale Township Fire Chief Shawn Stidfole tells the Sentinel it took about seven hours until the scene at 133 Vine Street was cleared. The cause of the fire is under investigation. The fire was reported just before ten yesterday morning. Stidfole said the storage building belonged to Harold Sheaffer, and wood and tractors were among items lost in the fire. Stidfole says a fire on January 31st at 2140 Cider Press Road, also in Walnut, is also under investigation and may be related to the Tuesday fire.

SHAMOKIN - Two men were caught by police early Tuesday morning while burglarizing a downtown business, and also admitted to stealing copper wire from an abandoned city house. 20-year-old Robert Zellers III, of Coal Township, and 50-year-old Kevin Kish, of Shamokin, face felony counts of burglary and related counts for allegedly breaking into the Nature's Health Food Store, on East Independence Street, and an abandoned property at 169 North Grant Street in Shamokin. The News Item reports, the two were caught Tuesday morning around four a.m. in the basement of the food store. They are both jailed in the Northumberland County Prison.

SHAMOKIN - An accused arsonist charged in the January 28th fire that destroyed two buildings on East Sunbury Street in Shamokin has been offered a plea agreement by the county district attorney's office. The News Item reports, the agreement calls for 21-year-old James Neidlinger Jr., of Shamokin, to plead guilty to two felony counts of arson involving reckless burning. Neidlinger, who sent his charges onto Northumberland County court during a hearing yesterday, requested a bail reduction but was denied and was recommitted to jail on $200,000 cash bail.

MAHONING TOWNSHIP - A Geisinger nurse confronted about narcotics violations last year now faces more charges. The Press-Enterprise says 59-year-old Patricia Herbert of Danville refused to go through a court ordered program and now faces an additional 12 counts. The initial charges dealt only with not documenting the administration of drugs. Herbert was accused of discrepancies in the amount of drugs removed from the inventory as compared to the amount of medicine given to patients.

SELINSGROVE - One Snyder County jail inmate is charged with smuggling drugs into the lockup and another had to have surgery to remove a container of pills from her body. It’s the third drug bust inside the prison in less than a year, prompting county officials to consider new ways to detect contraband, including scanning devices, since prison staff in Pennsylvania may not perform cavity searches on inmates without probable cause. The latest bust at the county jail took place when heroin, Methadone and tobacco began turning up on January 10th after 27-year-old Ashlee White, of Shamokin, was brought in on a bench warrant. She tested positive two days later for methadone. Snyder County District Attorney Michael Piecuch says contraband inside prisons will continue to be a problem as long as inmates are willing to take the risk of using their bodies to smuggle illegal items in. White now faces charges of felony delivery of contraband to inmates and one count of felony possession of contraband by an inmate.

BELLEFONTE – Another person has come forward saying he was abused by Jerry Sandusky. Centre County authorities are saying very little about the latest person to come forward. The person filing the complaint is not from Centre County-but claims the abuse occurred in Centre County-and has no ties to the second mile. It triggered a new investigation with county administrators wondering how many more Sandusky related expenses they'll still be paying- besides transporting to court. The latest report comes as Penn State says they're negotiating with up 25 victims- in settling civil suits.

POTTSVILLE - Schuylkill Health will strengthen security at its two Pottsville hospitals following an incident Sunday in which a Shenandoah man broke into three operating rooms at the South Jackson Street facility. John Simodejka, president and CEO of Schuylkill Health, says, "There will be improvements but we haven't decided exactly what they will be, but it won't be related to staffing. Our security guards are the ones who found this person." Aimee Tysarczyk, director of communications for the state Department of Health, said Tuesday that the department does not have specific regulations related to security. On Sunday, Pottsville police charged 34-year-old Larry Dettery, with breaking into three operating rooms on the seventh floor and causing more than $5,000 in damage. He’s jailed in $75,000 bail.

DANVILLE - Geisinger hospitals have seen a sudden surge in cases of toddlers ingesting chemicals from colorful laundry detergent “pods” resembling candy or toys. Dr. Melanie Weller, assistant chief resident of pediatrics at the Janet Weis Children’s Hospital, has seen two cases of detergent packs being swallowed by children in the past two weeks. She recalled a total of a half dozen such cases over the past two months. The pods, sold by Tide and other detergent makers, hit the market last year. Between February and August 2012, there were 3,000 ingestions from the pods reported nationally to the Centers for Disease Control.  Weller recommends parents keep items like the detergents and other household cleaners locked away so that children can’t accidentally poison themselves. Weller was not aware of any children dying from exposure to detergent. But some victims have required ventilators to help them breathe.

WILLIAMSPORT – Williamsport Mayor Gabriel Campana is facing heat as he prepares to introduce an ordinance requiring those who rent and their landlords to register by providing proof of their identities and residency with the city Codes Department. During a public safety committee meeting Tuesday, Campana was grilled by those on the committee about his proposed ordinance. Council has not viewed the proposed ordinance that remains in draft form and is being reviewed by the City’s Attorney. At issue is the Constitutionality of the ordinance under privacy laws and the possibility of having resident’s private information exposed to the public. Meanwhile the City’s Police Department says the intention of the proposed ordinance is not to collect Social Security numbers but to make sure renters can verify and prove who they say they are.

BLOOMSBURG - A Bloomsburg University professor collapsed at the start of her class Monday night and died after days of suffering from a headache. Students in Gloria Cohen-Dion’s seminar on writing the Constitution called 9-1-1 and went searching for other faculty. Another professor carried her to the waiting ambulance gurney. On Tuesday, colleagues, former students, and friends recalled the 77-year-old’s zeal for political discourse, her nurturing demeanor, and an outsized personality that rivaled her small stature. The Press Enterprise reports, Cohen-Dion taught at Bloomsburg University for 20-years prior to her unexpected death Monday.

WILLIAMSPORT – Showing a deficit of about a $3.5 million for the 2013-14 school year, the Williamsport Area School District presented a preliminary budget Tuesday to show how it would begin to make up the difference. The proposal included a property tax increase of .347 mills which means a property assessed at a value of $100,000 would see their taxes go up $34.70. The school board did give the district permission to file for exceptions that would allow it to go above the allowed index. The Sun gazette reports, the budget has expenditures increasing $6 million from last year while revenue only increased $2.6 million. School officials say now that Governor Corbett has presented his state budget proposal; they expect the deficit to be cut in half.

SELINSGROVE - Selinsgrove Area Middle School student Ashley Phillips plans to prepare for the coming Central Pennsylvania Spelling Bee by practicing in front of her family. Phillips is one of 36 spellers vying for a chance to compete in the national Scripps-Howard Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., this spring. Phillips was among 150 sixth- through eighth-graders in 66 Pennsylvania schools eligible to take a 100-word written test on January 27th and a chance to qualify for the state bee. Phillips will compete in the state bee at one p.m. February 23rd in the WITF Public Media Center in Harrisburg. Also competing in the state bee is Mount Carmel Area Junior-Senior High School student Aleah Alderson.

HARRISBURG - An ambitious budget proposal released Tuesday by Gov. Tom Corbett would boost Pennsylvania's core state government spending by nearly 3 percent while increasing support for public schools, cutting business taxes and counting on the Legislature to adopt long-term changes to public pensions. It also includes strategies intended to confront a transportation funding crisis, and get the state out of the liquor business. The transportation funding is tied to a move to lift the cap on a tax on the oil company franchise tax. Corbett took care in his address to argue that he is suggesting that the state change the tax rate. Senator David Argall of Schuylkill County agrees that there needs to be more done for the state’s highways and bridges. The distinction may be too fine for many. The move to connect educational funding to liquor privatization is objectionable to some lawmakers. Senator Eugene Yaw of Lycoming County says of Corbett’s budget, “It’s going to be a challenging few months.” Beyond those hot-button issues though, there is reason for optimism, as lawmakers said that the state government’s budget is in a much more healthy position now than it had been at similar points in Corbett’s first two years in office. Senator Jake Corman of Centre County says there is also the sticking issue of pension reform and how that may affect the upcoming budget. He says no matter what, a balanced budget will be passed. Under the governor’s liquor privatization plan, $200 million a year from the sale of licenses to operate retail stores selling wine, liquor and beer would be made available to schools. Senator John Gordner, of Columbia County, said that the education funding — outside the amount tied to liquor privatization — demonstrates how the strain of austerity is less intense. Corbett has proposed a $90 million boost in basic education funding, $100 million in accountability block grants that many school districts use to fund full-day kindergarten, and the state has announced that it will not reduce the amount of funding for higher education. Gordner says “Last year, we started with a $400 million deficit, this year; we are starting $160 million to $170 million to the good.” Most lawmakers suggested that transportation funding may be the most likely to be addressed, simply because the need to act is so great.

HARRISBURG - The state secretary of public welfare says he's leaving the job but hasn't given the governor a letter of resignation or set a date. Gary Alexander on Tuesday confirmed his impending resignation, first reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer. Alexander says he's leaving to explore unspecified private-sector opportunities and to spend more time with his family. In December, an online news reported that Alexander was still living in Rhode Island, nearly two years after joining Gov. Tom Corbett's administration. State-filed reports indicated Alexander drove more than 41,000 miles in state-owned vehicles from July 2011 through June 2012, including more than 21,000 miles of "commute'' trips.