2018 in review

Looking back at some of the year’s biggest stories

Times Observer photo by Josh Cotton Matthew White walks into court with photos of his children affixed to his shirt. After a little over one hour of jury deliberations, White was found guilty of first degree murder. He was sentenced the following day.

These kinds of lists are always subjective.

We get that.

So we present our take on Warren County’s biggest news of 2018 – from crime to business and project development to “soft news” stories.

Crime

Matthew B. White, 35, of Chandlers Valley, will spend the rest of his life in a Pennsylvania state prison for murdering his wife, Jessica L. White, on June 21, 2017.

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry Keith White and Son Excavating has demolished large, unused sections of Warren Mall. The owner’s plan is to turn the mall in an open-air center.

He was given the sentence in May after he was found guilty via jury trial.

“You repeatedly have shown no remorse because you do not believe you committed this crime,” President Judge Maureen Skerda said to White.

“You may not recognize this, you may not recognize that you are guilty of this crime, but you are,” she said. “The jury has spoken.”

She agreed with comments made by others that “it’s clear that” Jessica “has been stolen from society,” and that she treated him with “more grace than you probably deserve.”

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Times Observer file photo The emotion that came for Riley Horner when he experienced the ability to see the colors red, green, and yellow for the first time.

Kellie A. Gentz, 31, 256 Thomas Lane, Tidioute, was charged by the Pennsylvania Attorney General in September.

Investigators allege in the criminal complaint that Gentz “took… Morphine liquid pain medication and Fentanyl from a medication bottle prescribed to a cancer patient.” They indicate Gentz then took the morphine and “replaced the liquid with similar in color Gatorade to create a fraudulent inventory” before returning it to her medication cart.

Gentz then “administered liquid Gatorade as if (it) was morphine to a terminally ill cancer patient,” the affidavit states, while working as an LPN at a Warren nursing home.

That case is still ongoing.

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Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry The officers of the Conewango Township Police Department salute during a funeral service held at Warren Area High School for K-9 Choper, who died as a result of an accident during a training exercise.

More than 16 years after he was last seen, Damien Sharp has now been declared legally dead.

City of Warren Police Detective Tony Chimenti, who has been involved in the investigation since the beginning, testified in an October hearing.

“It’s still an open investigation since 2002,” he said. “We’ve chased down leads upon leads.”

“It is apparent to the court that no one has heard from Damien Sharp since 2002,” Skerda said. “My condolences to you. May this event bring you some closure.”

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It took almost 21 years, but an arrest was made in the Las Vegas murder of Nadia Iverson, a 1995 graduate of Youngsville High School.

Her body was found on May 8, 1997, in a public housing complex that was undergoing renovation.

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Arthur L. Sewall Jr., a former officer with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, was arrested and charged with murder and sexual assault on Jan. 11.

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A Colorado man was found guilty on all counts in April in the murder and dismemberment of Clarendon-native Ashley Mead.

The Boulder Daily Camera reports that jurors found 33-year-old Adam Densmore guilty of first-degree murder, tampering with a human body, tampering with physical evidence, and abuse of a corpse.

According to the Daily Camera, authorities believe Mead was killed in Boulder and her body at least partially dismembered at the home of Densmore’s parents just outside of Shreveport, Louisiana. Mead’s torso was discovered in a suitcase in Oklahoma. No other remains have been found.

Government

Warren City Council approved a roundabout for the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and Market Street at November’s council meeting.

District Press Officer Jill Harry said there would be no work undertaken at the intersection until 2020.

Cost estimates have varied throughout this process but Boyer-Krantz said that PennDOT is “hoping” the project is “going to end up around $2 million, maybe a little more.” Those estimates have varied because of the kind of material – concrete – that will be installed to handle truck traffic.

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The Warren County Commissioners agreed to undertake an emergency radio project with a total price tag of approximately $1.8 million.

The commissioners agreed to buy the equipment — including 374 radios — and share it with entities, including local fire and police departments.

The P25 system, when operational, will allow emergency responders to communicate with one another directly, something that is not possible with the existing system.

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A long-duration lawsuit against the now-defunct economic development outfit GRO-Warren was resolved.

In January, a settlement agreement was reached in a lawsuit that essentially pitted the City of Warren and the Redevelopment Authority against GRO-Warren, which allegedly that mismanaged a $500,000 state grant for development on Liberty Street.

The Times Observer previously reported that the city had lent the money to GRO-Warren. With the dissolution of GRO-Warren, the city was forced to step in for the organization and fulfill the repayment agreement at a total 20-year cost of $727,176.

The state granted a request to take the $187,000 already paid, along with the $140,000 from the settlement, and consider it as “full satisfaction” of the agreement.

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Work continues on the dam at Chapman State Park.

But the project is unlikely to be completed in time to allow Warren County Winterfest to proceed fully in January.

Park Manager Tyson Martin said in November that a bi-weekly job conference resulted in a “revised contract end date” of Feb. 17, 2019 “barring weather delays and shut-downs for sub-freezing temperatures.”

Wes Ramsey with Penn Soil RC&D confirmed that the sled dog races and canine weight pull “is moving ahead” and that the Salvation Army would like to pull off the polar plunge.

Business

One of the original anchor stores in the Warren Mall closed in 2018.

The Bon-Ton filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March.

In April, it was announced that the Bon-Tons at Warren Mall and Chautauqua Mall would be open for another 10 to 12 weeks.

The situation for the local stores is “pretty much the same for all our stores across the country,” Vice-President of Public Relations and Special Events Christine Hojnacki said. “Today we started our going-out-of-business sales to liquidate our stores.” The sale was expected to last 10-12 weeks.

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Struthers Library Theatre Executive Director Marcy O’Brien announced in July that the theater was named the 2018 Outstanding Theatre of the Year by the League of Historic American Theatres.

“This is huge,” O’Brien said. “This is one of those rare over-the-moon experiences. We — our staff and board of trustees — are beyond thrilled.”

The award is given for “excellence in community impact, quality of programs and services, and the quality of physical restoration,” she said.

In May, it was announced that Wendy McCain would take over for O’Brien (retiring) as executive director.

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Fire ravaged a staple of the Warren business community in June.

The fire at Warren Tire Center on June 14 was determined to be “accidental or undetermined,” according to the Pennsylvania State Police fire marshal.

Adding to the intensity and the longevity of the fire, according to City of Warren Fire Chief Sam Pascuzzi, were around 3,000 tires in an outbuilding and around 2,200 gallons of waste oil in the main structure.

The business is still offering services and a new foundation is being built.

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Warren General Hospital is officially affiliated with Allegheny Health Network and LECOM Health. The affiliation agreement signing was held in September.

Warren General Hospital’s CEO Rick Allen said Warren General will retain control of its own operations as an independent hospital while AHN and LECOM will provide clinical support for emergency care and hospital staffing, ongoing obstetric care through St. Vincent, which is an AHN hospital in Erie and has been providing obstetrics to WGH since 2016. Students from LECOM will be gaining clinical experience at Warren General.

Other news

The only color Riley Horner had ever seen until October is blue.

As career center students and his family watched, Riley put on a pair of EnChroma high-performance glasses.

As Riley described it, the inability to see color made the world like a black bulletin board with black letters stapled to it. He could see that something was there, he explained, but it was often difficult to tell exactly what that something was.

He’d been able to compensate for the visual deficiency, just as most people who are colorblind can do throughout their lives. But when it came to his coursework at the WCCC — and his future employment opportunities – the inability to see red, green, or yellow had become a significant challenge.

Once everyone had recovered from the initial wave of emotion, when asked what his favorite color was now, Riley laughed, still a bit awestruck, and thought for a moment.

“Probably still blue,” he answered with a shrug.

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The community turned out to support the Conewango Township Police Department.

Choper, a five-year-old German shepherd who had been on the force for three years, died as a result of injuries sustained in a training incident.

The outgrowth of that accident, though, was the community raising funds sufficient to acquire and train a new K-9 officer, Nic, by the end of the year.

Nic was sworn is as a member of the Conewango Township Police Department in November.

“I am so blessed and very happy to introduce my new partner and best friend K-9 Nic,” K-9 Officer Scott Neiswonger said. “I want to thank everyone and all of the businesses that have made this possible. It has been amazing to receive all of the support I have…. I am looking forward to working and continuing our education in the community.”

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Skills USA National Champion Caleb Eyler is uncommitted and looking at options.

He could accept a full-ride scholarship.

The 18-year-old from Sugar Grove could take the thousands of dollars of scholarship money he has been awarded to other schools.

Eyler could skip all that and take the abundance of skills he has and tools he has won and go straight to work or maybe hold out until a head-hunter from a major nationwide company comes calling.

His skills are not in question.

In the field of automotive collision repair, Eyler has little competition.

For two years, Eyler’s scores were not only the best in the high school level he competed in, but would have taken first at the college level as well. In response, no gold medals were awarded at the college level those years.

Gold at states qualified him for nationals for the past two years.

Out of the 50 competitors — the best their states have to offer — Eyler came in 13th last year. And, this year, he finished first.

“It’s just something I naturally took a skill at,” he said.

Development

The Northern Pennsylvania Regional College has moved into the PNC Building at the corner of Liberty St. and Second Ave. in downtown Warren.

The fifth floor will be the home of the administrative offices of the NPRC.

Commissioner Ben Kafferlin said that the fourth floor is currently reserved for potential NPRC expansion while the final use of the third floor has yet to be determined.

PNC Wealth Management, which occupies the first floor and a portion of the second floor, will remain in the building.

And the rest of the second floor will be utilized by a co-working space.

The Warren County Development Association has been the driver behind the project.

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A downtown senior living proposal has been proposed for downtown Warren.

The property in question is 231-237 Pennsylvania Ave. W.

The funding for the project would come via federal tax credits administered by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.

The concept plan for the roughly 40-unit apartment building being designed for Warren.

As far as a timeline, the application deadline for the tax credit program is in October with awards being announced the following April 2019.

If awarded in the first round, construction could follow in October 2019 and roughly 10 months to one year to complete.

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The City of Warren in March submitted an application for state funding that would result in the construction of a hotel at the base of Liberty Street in downtown Warren.

The application seeks $7,026,000 through the state’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) to be matched locally by the assessed value of city property, a loan to be taken out by the city and private investment.

Total cost of the project, according to the application, is $14,052,000.

Should the project be funded by the state, a proposed schedule details the award being made in January.

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There is some obvious progress toward turning Warren Mall into an open-air center and the ownership expects a new tenant to move in soon.

In August, Keith White and Son Excavating was tearing out walls, ceilings, and roof in the area just south of the main Bon-Ton entrance.

“Demolition has started and we expect to be completed in a few weeks,” Cocca Development of Boardman, Ohio, President Anthony Cocca said.

There are still businesses in areas that Cocca Development, the owner of the mall, has said will be eventually torn down.

“We are finishing up a Shoe Department suite next to Ollie’s right now and plan to turn over to them in September,” Cocca said. “They are the larger format that Shoe Show owns.”

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