Two displaced after fire ravaged apartment
building in Nanticoke
Two people were displaced as a result of a fire that ravaged an apartment
building Monday night.
Crews were dispatched to the building on East Broad Street at 9:25
p.m. for a report of a commercial structure fire. Fire Chief Kevin
Hazleton said the building is part of Birchwood Rehabilitation and
Nursing Center and housed up to 4 apartments.
Hazleton said crews arrived to find fire blowing out of the rear and
side of the structure.
It was blowing, but the (fire) members made a good hit on it,
The apartment where the fire originated sustained heavy fire damage,
and the rest of the building sustained smoke damage, according to
Hazleton. Only two people were living in the building.
No injuries or pet deaths were reported. Hazleton said a Pennsylvania
State Police Fire Marshal is expected to look into what caused the
Denise Allabaugh - Citizens Voice
He's taking a shot on downtown Nanticoke.
Edward Rodriguez, 32, the former general manager at Johnny Rockets
at Mohegan Sun Pocono in Plains Township, has opened Cool Beanz, his
first business, at 71 E. Main St.
The bistro features specialty brewed coffee and tea, smoothies, breakfast
and lunch fare, including panini sandwiches, hot dogs, salads, soups
and sweets like pies, muffins, cookies and cupcakes.
Rodriguez, who has worked in the food industry since he was 15, said
starting his own business was something he always wanted to do.
"It is a risk, but I needed to take it to see if I can succeed,"
he said. "If I didn't take the risk, I would never know and I
would regret it. I took a big risk, something that I never did before,
and I'm putting all my chips in it and hopefully it pays off in the
long run for me and my family."
When he was looking for a place to open his new business, he stumbled
on the location in Nanticoke, the former Coffee's Coffee owned by
It is located across from Luzerne County Community College's Health
Sciences Building and Geisinger's family practice facility and near
"There are a lot of students here," Rodriguez said. "There's
the doctor's office and there are patients here and people from the
Several vacant storefronts are located next to Cool Beanz, but there
are plans to revitalize downtown buildings in the future as part of
a streetscape project, said Interim City Manager Donna Wall.
A sewer project was recently completed and a new water main will be
put in the downtown area, Wall said. New street lights are planned
in the future and Nanticoke received a $5.6 million federal grant
for the project, she said.
"Overall, I think there's a lot of progress that will be made
downtown," Wall said. "Anybody who wants to get on board
and bring businesses here, the city welcomes them here."
Rodriguez said he hopes to see other vacant buildings in Nanticoke
"I'm hoping to see other stores and different things to bring
more of the community out," he said. "I hope they revitalize
downtown and a lot more foot traffic comes by. Without customers,
I won't be open."
The eatery is open Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday
and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Delivery is offered 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
For information, call 570-258-2315.
Nanticoke saves $2,000 by tax bill switch
The city is saving over $2,000 by switching to a private sector company
to print and mail tax bills, officials say.
The decisions to switch to Berkheimer Tax Office was brought before
and agreed on by council in May 2016. The official start date was
Jan. 15, 2017.
Jennifer Polito, the citys finance director, said the city is
saving $2,104 by having Berkheimer mail real estate tax bills.
Berkheimer is doing it for less, said Donna Wall, the
interim city manager. Previous Times Leader reports show Berkheimers
$2.25 rate per bill and $1.25 reminder mailings saves the city 25
cents per bill.
We are getting same services that the county was giving for
less, Polito said.
Wall also said the county wouldnt separate out municipal tax
from the county tax when they billed residents.
We separated it to make it easier for the taxpayers to pay since
they are now separated and due at different times, Wall noted.
School taxes, also handled by Berkhimer, are mailed in August while
the city taxes are mailed in March. The countys tax will be
issued in February.
The city didnt raise taxes in 2017. Mayor Richard Wiaterowskis
budget kept the millage rate at 5.93. A mill is a $1 tax for every
$1,000 of assessed value. The breakdown of millage includes general
purpose millage at 4.75, debt services at 1.15 and .0194 for the Mill
Hazleton is the only other county municipality which issues a separate
city tax bill.
Nanticoke native bestowed Congressional award
A Nanticoke native has been posthumously honored for his service
with the Civil Air Patrol during World War II.
Louis Testaguzza, who died on Sept. 18, 2015, was presented a certificate
of Special Congressional Recognition on Nov . 15, 2016. He was 87.
The certificate reads:
In recognition of the Congressional Gold Medal Award for invaluable
contributions in the United States Civil Air Patrol during World War
II, when they forged the path the organization and its volunteers
still follow today.
Testaguzzas sister, Julie Golanoski, of Nanticoke, said she
was very happy that her brother received such a prestigious honor.
Its belated, but he finally was recognized for his service,
Golanoski said. Im very proud of my brother. He started
his aeronautical career as a teenager even before he drove
a car, he was flying an airplane.
Golanoski said Testaguzza and his two friends joined the Civil Air
Patrol, calling themselves The Three Musketeers.
His loyalty was always strong to his home town of Nanticoke,
Golanoski said. We grew up on West Church Street, where I live
According to the Civil Air Patrols California Wing, after two
attempts to get the Congressional Gold Medal awarded to the Civil
Air Patrol World War II era veterans, the medal was finally authorized
by Congress and President Barack Obama in May 2014 and the medal awarded
on Dec. 10, 2014.
The CAP said while over a replica hundred medals have been awarded
to date, the organization continues to search for living members and
the families of deceased members who are eligible for the award to
ensure they are recognized for their service.
One such recipient was the family of Testaguzza, who served as a cadet
in the Pennsylvania Wing during World War II, attached to the Wilkes-Barre
Squadron, near Scranton.
Testaguzza soloed in a Piper J-3 Cub at 17 years of age and then enlisted
in the U.S. Marine Corps seven days after graduating from Nanticoke
High School, and he served as an aircraft mechanic.
In 1949, he was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps, but later
joined the California Air National Guard and was commissioned a second
lieutenant after completing flight training and earning his pilots
wings from the U.S. Air Force in 1953, where he flew P-51 Mustangs
and F-86 Sabre jets.
Testaguzza graduated from Northrop University in 1955 with a degree
in aeronautical engineering and began his civilian career in the burgeoning
California aerospace industry, eventually landing at Lockheed. In
1962, 2d Lt. Testaguzza was recalled to active duty during the Cuban
Missile Crisis and was later promoted to the grade of major and placed
in command of the 938th Communication Squadron.
He was again recalled to active duty in 1968 during the USS Pueblo
crisis. In 1969, Maj. Testaguzza retired from the Air Force after
more than 22 years of active and reserve service.
Testaguzza continued to work at Lockheed while attending law school
at night and after graduation, was admitted to the California State
Bar, Federal District Court and U.S. Supreme Court. He retired from
Lockheed in 1989 with over 30 years of service, but remained active
as an aviation consultant for McDonnell Douglas.
Testaguzza remained active in aviation and became a certified flight
examiner in 1988 at the age of 60 and continued to give check flights
until the age of 85. Testaguzza passed away at the age of 87 on Sept.
18, 2015 in Palo Alto, California.
The Congressional Gold Medal was presented to Testaguzzas widow,
Marlene, and his son, Brett, at John J. Montgomery Memorial Squadron
36 in San Jose by California Wing Commander Col. Alan Ferguson and
assisted by Squadron 36 Commander, Capt. Steven Angus. More than 60
CAP members were in attendance.
Testaguzza was born in Nanticoke to Italian immigrants Dominic and
Mary Testaguzza. His father worked in the coal mines and his mother
ran a boarding house.
Testaguzzas obituary noted that he lived his life to the
fullest, and he always said Life is not a rehearsal, live
Civil Air Patrol California Wing Commander Col. Alan Ferguson presented
the Congressional Gold Medal of Maj. Louis Testaguzza, a native of
Nanticoke, to his widow, Marlene, and his son, Brett, during a ceremony
on Nov. 15, 2016, in California.
About the Civil Air Patrol
The numbers alone tell a story of heroic sacrifice: At least 59 CAP
members were killed in the performance of their missions, with nearly
half 26 dying during the coastal patrols. Those patrols
alone accounted for 86,685 missions involving 244,600 flight hours
and more than 24 million aerial miles.
CAP was founded Dec. 1, 1941, a week before the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
The coastal patrols began within three months, after the Petroleum
Industry War Council requested protection for oil tankers falling
prey to German torpedoes. Over the next 15 months, members used their
own planes to watch for U-boats, sometimes dropping bombs when they
spotted one of the submarines.
The Congressional Gold Medal marks the first major recognition CAPs
members have received for their World War II service. Fewer than 100
are believed to be alive today.
Nanticoke family crazy about Patriots
The Felici family of Nanticoke keeps their Christmas tree up every
year until the New England Patriots football season is over.
They like when its still up in February, like this year. That
means their favorite team made the Super Bowl again.
Over the years, the familys Christmas tree shed traditional
ornaments to become what it is today a shrine to the Patriots.
This years tree a white pine with lots of red, white
and blue flair has held up remarkably well as the Patriots
prepare today to play in their seventh Super Bowl in 16 years.
This is the best one weve had. Weve had ones where
all the needles fell off and it was like a stick, Kelly Felici,
Her husband, Pete, 39, convinced her to become a Patriots fan when
they started dating in the 1990s. She was a Raiders fan who converted
at the right time. Soon after she made the switch, the Patriots developed
into a dynasty under head Coach Bill Belichick and star quarterback
Some accuse her of jumping on the bandwagon of a winner.
I get called it. Hes not. Hes an original,
But Pete Felici said hes not immune to the taunts when people
see him decked out in Patriots attire. He recalls a particular time
about a decade ago when an elderly man was giving him a hard time
at a gas station after seeing him in his Patriots jacket.
Hes like, Did you just jump on the bandwagon?
I said, Ive been a fan for as long as I could remember,
Pete Felici recalled.
Pete Felici said he became a fan as a kid while visiting relatives
in Connecticut. It was cold out and they got him a New England Patriots
sweatshirt. Ever since then, he has been rooting for the Patriots.
After converting his wife, they have been to about 15 Patriots games
over the years in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Their daughters, Lexy,
13, and Brook, 10, are backers of the Patriots too.
Even they get teased by classmates about supporting the mighty Patriots,
They always bring up Deflategate, Lexy said,
referring to accusations New England deliberately underinflated footballs
used for their offense to suit Bradys preference.
All this ribbing most of it good-hearted comes with
the territory for backing a team that has been on top of the game
so long, the family says.
Over the years, Pete Felici said hes tried not to brag about
how good his team has been, but his buddies love to tease him when
Especially with all the Steelers and Eagles fans, he said.
Pete Felici said it has been a great time to be a Patriots fan because
he realizes the team isnt going to be great forever.
Its been a great run. The Belichick-Brady combination,
they have it figured out, Peter Felici said.
Family fearful with man's alleged killer
still at large
As Tina Letavish laid on her living room couch in the early morning
hours of Jan. 18, she watched her son walk out the front door to meet
Almost immediately, she heard a scuffle erupt. A flurry of gunshots
"I got up from the couch. By the time I got to the door Brandon
was coming back to the door saying someone shot him. It was like two
seconds," Letavish recalled Thursday. "He was running back
and forth in the house screaming that he didn't want to die. I replay
it every day all day in my head. All I see is my son begging for his
Smith, 20, died a short time later at the hospital from multiple gunshot
More than two weeks later, the man police identified as the killer,
convicted drug dealer Antoine McNeal, remains at large.
Letavish said her family - which includes her husband and Smith's
three younger siblings - is fearful with the killer still on the loose.
It adds to the unease of having to live in their apartment at 185
W. Church St. where Smith took some of his last breaths, she said.
"I really wish they would catch the guy," Letavish said.
Nanticoke police Chief Tom Wall said the U.S. Marshals Service is
hunting for McNeal, who was last known to live in Wilkes-Barre.
Wall wouldn't reveal how McNeal, 32, was identified as the suspect,
but confirmed drugs had something to do with the crime.
"There was drug activity involved, but the motive is unclear
at this time," Wall said.
Smith's sister, Destiny Crooks, said her brother used marijuana for
anxiety, but never dabbled with other drugs.
Letavish, 47, said Smith, one of her nine children, didn't tell her
a lot about his personal business and she didn't ask a lot of questions.
She said he was a kind, good kid who never got in trouble.
Unlike the suspect, Smith had no criminal history, according to a
search of court records.
Smith and McNeal knew each other from working at Kappa Graphics in
Hughestown, though Smith hadn't worked there for months, his mother
said. A company official declined comment.
"We have family friends that worked there. They had told us this
guy was watching Brandon and was envious of Brandon. They would tell
Brandon, 'Don't trust him.' Brandon didn't trust this kid. He was
warned about him," Letavish said.
What baffles Letavish is how the suspect ended up outside their house.
She said Smith was very private and didn't let a lot of people know
where they lived.
"I can't believe Brandon would let him near our house,"
In the aftermath of Smith's death, Letavish said the family was disheartened
to hear people online assume he was adopted because he was the only
black person in the family.
"It really hurt me to read that he was a foster child. He was
my son - my biological son and I never raised my children to think
they were 'step' anything. We are a very close family," Letavish
Another misconception, she said, were erroneous reports that her family
was a longtime neighborhood nuisance. She said they had just moved
there in November and had caused no trouble.
Letavish moved her family to Pennsylvania from Binghamton, New York,
about 10 years ago.
They lived in the Tunkhannock area for a while before moving to Nanticoke.
They moved to Ohio for a short time, then returned to Nanticoke.
"We have a lot of friends here," Letavish said.
Smith initially went to Tunkhannock Area schools, but later was moved
to the Alternative Learning Center in Plains Township for some disciplinary
reasons, his mother said.
After dropping out of school, Smith worked as a garbage picker for
J.P. Mascaro & Sons, which was also the first job for several
of her older sons who now live on their own.
"I gave him a lot of credit for that. He stuck it out,"
Smith was injured on the job and had to quit after he hit his head
off a utility pole one day during trash pickups, Letavish said.
Most recently, Smith was looking to return to school, his mother said.
Instead of planning to help him in his next chapter in life, they
had to plan for a funeral they couldn't afford, she said.
Smith's family has sent up a fund online to pay for the $2,000 they
still owe in funeral costs. To donate, go to www.gofundme.com/3boa8v4.
On Sunday, they will be thinking of Smith a lot as his beloved New
England Patriots play in the Super Bowl.
"We are all rooting for the Patriots for Brandon," Letavish
HUNT FOR SUSPECT
Authorities continue to search for Nanticoke homicide suspect Antoine
McNeal, 32, last known to live in Wilkes-Barre.
Anyone with information about McNeal's whereabouts is asked to call
state police at Wyoming at 570-697-2000.
DONATE TO FUNERAL COSTS
The family of Nanticoke homicide victim Brandon Smith, 20, is trying
to raise money to pay for $2,000 they still owe in funeral costs.
To donate, go to www.gofundme.com/3boa8v4.
Suspect named in Nanticoke murder
Eric Mark - Citizens Voice
Police have named a suspect in the murder of a Nanticoke man early
Antoine McNeal, 32, of Wilkes-Barre, shot and killed 20-year-old Brandon
Smith outside Smiths home on West Church Street in Nanticoke
at 2 a.m. Wednesday, police allege.
Police obtained an arrest warrant against McNeal on Thursday. He had
not been located as of Thursday night and is considered armed and
dangerous, police said.
According to police, Smith and McNeal got into an altercation that
resulted in McNeal shooting Smith several times.
An autopsy conducted Thursday morning determined that Smith died of
multiple gunshot wounds inflicted during a homicide, according to
the Luzerne County Coroners Office.
McNeal faces charges of homicide, illegal weapons possession, criminal
use of a communication facility and evidence tampering, according
to court records.
Anyone with information about McNeal or his whereabouts is asked to
call state police at Wyoming at 570-697-2000.
Neighbors question safety after Nanticoke
Gunshots rang out on the west side early Wednesday, leaving one man
dead and some neighbors questioning their safety in an era of absentee
The victim, Brandon Smith, 20, was shot repeatedly outside a home
at 185 W. Church St. about 2 a.m. following an altercation with a
person with whom he appeared to be acquainted, according to state
We do believe that its possible that it can be (drug)
related, but right now all of the evidence isnt in, said
Nanticoke police Chief Thomas Wall, whose department is jointly investigating
the slaying with state police. We have some leads but we dont
have anybody in custody at this time.
Witnesses reported hearing gunshots break the early morning quiet
in an area that has had recent problems.
I heard two, possibly three, gunshots, said a witness
who did not want to be identified for her safety. And then about
two seconds later I heard the guy scream.
Police rushed to the scene and arrived to find Smith outside the home,
suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. He was taken to Geisinger
Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Plains Township, where he was pronounced
dead about 3 a.m., according to the Luzerne County Coroners
An autopsy is planned for Thursday morning.
Smith did not appear to have a criminal history in Pennsylvania based
on the birth date state police provided.
But neighbors of the home where he died say the location was known
as a troubled property.
Desiree Deitz, 35, said the tenants Smith, a woman and a young
girl have only lived at the property a few months but have
already earned a reputation for disrupting the peace.
Theyre constantly fighting, they got their window smashed
out a couple weeks ago, Deitz said.
The house has seen high turnover in recent years, as has another nearby
property she said has been causing problems with drugs.
Deitz blamed the neighborhoods problems on absentee landlords
who only care about collecting the rent.
Thats the problem in this town. The absentee landlords,
they dont care. They rent to whoever and then we are affected,
Deitz said. Its sad because Im trying to raise a
family. Theyre trying to raise a family. Our neighbors have
been here for years. Our friend across the street, she lives there
alone. Shes lived there her whole life. Its terrifying.
It really is terrifying. I dont like to come home and see police
crime-scene tape down the street from my house.
The shooting caused police to close West Church Street down for hours
as they processed the crime scene. By Wednesday afternoon, the street
had been re-opened to traffic.
While a reporter was on the scene, state police investigators returned
to look for evidence that was mentioned in an interview, Wall said.
Right now, were just doing some interviews and following
up on some leads that we have, he said.
The shooting is the second Nanticoke has experienced in recent weeks.
Kenneth Powell, 30, was shot in the back after allegedly confronting
an unidentified man who broke into his East Spring Street home the
morning of Dec. 8.
Powell and his girlfriend, Courtney Padden, 26, were presented with
felony drug-trafficking charges after police say they found a large
bag of marijuana, drug packaging materials and nearly $13,000 in cash
inside the home.
Smiths death is the second homicide of the year for Luzerne
County following the Jan. 11 slaying of Brock Earnest, 40, of Montandon.
Keith Williams, 40, is charged with criminal homicide after prosecutors
say he shot Earnest, who was sitting on a couch, following a fight
between the men at Williams home in Fairmount Township.
SCI-Retreat forum focuses on safety
Eric Mark - Citizens Voice
A public forum Tuesday on the potential closure of State Correctional
Institution at Retreat focused on the potential danger to corrections
officers and inmates.
Don Williams takes that issue personally. His son, Eric Williams,
was killed in the line of duty as a corrections officer at U.S. Penitentiary-Canaan
in Wayne County in 2013.
On Tuesday, Don Williams led the forum at Luzerne County Community
College devoted to keeping SCI-Retreat open. He implored Gov. Tom
Wolf not to close SCI-Retreat Newport Townships largest
employer or other state prisons as a cost-cutting measure.
The state Department of Corrections on Jan. 6 issued a list of five
state prisons, including SCI-Retreat, two of which could be closed
to cut expenses from the state budget.
Closing prisons and moving inmates to other correctional institutions
with empty beds would put more corrections officers and inmates at
closer quarters where bad things can happen, Williams said.
Weve established there is going to be overcrowding,
he said. Its a formula for disaster.
Williams noted that when his son was killed by an inmate wielding
a home-made weapon, three things stood out: He was alone, he was unarmed
and the prison was overcrowded.
The greater the number of inmates a corrections officer must supervise,
the greater the chance of an inmate attack on an officer, according
to Williams, who is president of Voices of Joe, an advocacy group
that lobbies for improved working conditions and safety for corrections
Altering the staff ratio by 1 percent will increase assaults
by 30 percent, said Shane Fausey, vice president of Voices of
Fausey asked the many corrections officers in attendance if they had
ever been attacked by an inmate. More than a dozen hands instantly
shot up into the air.
What do you think the end result will be? if state prisons
fill to capacity or beyond, Fausey asked.
Fausey and Williams questioned whether closing state prisons would
save as much money as Wolf projected or even save anything
at all, after the final accounting is done.
All it would take is one riot for the prison consolidation plan to
wind up costing more than it saves, Fausey said.
He cited the days-long riot at Camp Hill state prison in 1989 as a
bad precedent. It cost $14 million to repair the damage and clean
up after the disturbance, he said.
Thats a far cry from the pennies they are going to save
by closing prisons, Fausey said.
There could be a societal cost as well, Williams said. If prison populations
reach or exceed maximum, parole boards might release some inmates
early to ease overcrowding, he said.
One of my biggest fears is they are going to release people
into society with no plan for how to deal with them, Williams
Prison consolidation and overcrowding would impact the many inmates
who require mental health treatment, according to Tuesdays panel
which included state Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-Newport Township,
state Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, Luzerne County District
Attorney Stefanie Salavantis and county Manager David Pedri.
How many of these inmates are going to get this treatment, which
we are required to give them? Salavantis asked.
Williams suggested that denying inmates mental health treatment could
be cause for federal authorities to intervene.
The panel unanimously supported Yudichaks call for Wolf to delay
making a decision on closing prisons. As of now that decision is scheduled
for Jan. 26, with the affected prisons to close by June 30.
This has been driven by the budget, not driven by safety,
Officials: SCI-Retreat closure would devastate
It will be bad news for Greater
Nanticoke Area School District if State Correctional Institution
at Retreat closes as part of a state prison consolidation.
That was the message hammered home at a Friday press conference by
state lawmakers, district officials and corrections officers who work
at SCI-Retreat, which houses 1,100 inmates and employs more than 400
workers on the prison grounds off U.S. Route 11 in Newport Township.
The closure of SCI-Retreat, and possibly SCI-Waymart in Wayne County
or SCI-Frackville in Schuylkill County, would have a devastating
impact on the economy of Northeastern Pennsylvania and especially
communities in the Greater Nanticoke Area, said state Sen. John Yudichak,
The three prisons are on a list of five state correctional institutions
targeted for possible closure as a cost-cutting measure, the state
Department of Corrections announced last week.
Gov. Tom Wolf has said he wants to focus on education rather than
prisons, Yudichak said.
The senator, speaking in a conference room at his alma mater, Nanticoke
High School, described that concept as a false choice.
Life is not that simple, Yudichak said. Crime still
exists. Drugs remain a problem.
Taxpayers should not be forced to choose between safe streets and
quality schools, Yudichak said.
Yudichak and state Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-Newport Township, on Friday
continued their week-long rally in support of SCI-Retreat, noting
that Wolf and state Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel overestimate
the cost savings that closing prisons would realize.
According to Yudichak and Mullery:
SCI-Retreat is the second-largest employer in Greater Nanticoke
Area, behind only Luzerne County Community College.
If the prison closes, the school district would lose about
90 families and 200 students, resulting in a loss of about $100,000
in tax revenue.
The losses could force district officials to cut programs and
services, such as a pre-kindergarten program that district Superintendent
Ronald Grevera said the district would like to expand rather than
About 350 SCI-Retreat employees live in Luzerne County, so
most school districts in the county would be impacted if the prison
I am not sure how we would overcome the loss of revenue,
Four corrections officers at SCI-Retreat, all fathers of children
who attend district schools, sat next to the officials gathered at
the conference table.
The men and their families face harrowing uncertainty about their
future, said Mark Truszkowski of the PA State Corrections Officers
The Department of Corrections has guaranteed jobs somewhere in the
state to corrections officers who currently work at prisons that will
close, but that will require officers to either relocate or commute
long distances, Truszkowski said.
That will affect the officers children and families, according
We are hurting the developmental stages of these children,
Mullery questioned the timetable established by Wolf to decide which
prisons will close.
That decision will be made on Jan. 26, Wetzel said last week.
There is no magic to (that) date, Mullery said.
He and Yudichak urged the governor to extend the deadline and make
decisions on potentially closing prisons as part of the state budgeting
process, which will last throughout the first half of 2017.
All we are asking is to extend the deadline, Yudichak
The fight to keep SCI-Retreat open will continue for the 12 days until
that deadline arrives.
The state House of Representatives Northeast Delegation will send
a letter to Wolf expressing dismay at the governors
plan to close prisons, Mullery said.
The letter will urge Wolf to delay the decision until public hearings
are held, at which those affected by potential prison closings may
testify, according to Mullery.
Also, busloads of corrections officers plan to attend a hearing in
Harrisburg on Jan. 23, at which three Senate committees will review
the plan to potentially close state prisons, according to Truszkowski.
We are going to pack the place, he said.
Yudichak, Mullery say closing SCI Retreat
would hurt education at GNA
State Sen. John Yudichak said Friday if Gov. Tom Wolf cares more
about schools than prisons, he should consider the adverse impact
closing the State Correctional Institute at Retreat would have on
the quality of education in the Greater Nanticoke Area School District.
Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, and state Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-Newport
Township, held another news conference on the governors plan
to close two state prisons this time, the two legislators were
at their alma mater, the districts high school. SCI Retreat
is on a list of five state prisons from which two are scheduled to
be chosen for closure on Jan. 26.|
Yudichak and Mullery and other state legislators have been asking
the governor and Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel to
extend the deadline to allow for more time to gather information,
such as the economic impact any closing would have on the host communities.
Gov. Wolf wants to invest in schools, not prisons, but that
is a false choice, Yudichak said. Pennsylvanias
taxpayers want to invest in both. Closing SCI-Retreat will jeopardize
$1.6 million in funding for the Nanticoke School District and threatens
important educational programs like Pre-K instruction.
Joining Yudichak and Mullery were Dr. Ronald Grevera, superintendent
of the Greater Nanticoke Area School District, district school board
members, and five members of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers
Association who work at SCI Retreat and whose children attend school
in the district.
A closure of SCI-Retreat means we could lose 90 families and
more than 200 students, Grevera said. We cannot absorb
such a staggering exodus of families and students, as well as the
second largest employer within the district. It is simple math
if the prison closes, secure funding for our schools will be
Yudichak and Mullery stressed that the prison is integral to the entire
community, both as an employer and as an important part of the criminal
The 139 heroin overdoses in Luzerne County demonstrates that
drug abuse remains a problem in the county and crime remains an issue
in our community, Yudichak said.
Mullery said no one knows when the dominoes will stop falling
if the governor closes prisons prematurely.
I have yet to hear a compelling reason why this decision needs
to be made on Jan. 26, let alone a compelling reason to target three
prisons in Northeastern Pennsylvania, Mullery said.
Yudichak said closing SCI Retreat would result in a loss of $100,000
in tax revenue to the school district. He said the pre-K program at
Nanticoke costs approximately $190,000 per year. He said the loss
of revenue would not only have an immediate effect on the program,
it could be lost.
Grevera said any cuts to the pre-K program would have a significant,
measurable negative effect on the quality of education in the district.
He said elementary students have been found to be better at reading
and math because of the pre-K program.|
We should be expanding our pre-K program, not cutting it,
Grevera said. With a potential loss of $1.6 million in funding,
Im not sure how we would ever recover from that.
The DOC and Wolf Administration has been holding meetings to determine
the economic impact closing a prison would mean to each of the five
possible areas. Yudichak and Mullery have estimated closing SCI Retreat
would see a $57.3 million hit to the regions economy.
The legislators have asked that Wolf delay a decision on prison closings
and resume budget talks, with the hope that enough cuts can be found
to avoid significant measures, such as closing two prisons. Some 2,500
inmates would have to be relocated and about 800 employees reassigned
if two prisons are shut down.
Yudichak cited Northeastern Pennsylvanias 6.3 percent unemployment
rate, stating that closing SCI Retreat would see that number rise
Yudichak and Mullery said they feel state legislators have been shut
out of the decision-making process.
These are tax dollars, Yudichak said. We should
be a part of this process.
Mullery said there are some 2,000 to 2,500 state inmates currently
housed in county correctional facilities. He said those inmates, if
returned to state facilities, would eliminate the need to close prisons.
If this is a numbers issue, as Secretary Wetzel has stated,
then that would resolve that, Yudichak said. There has
also been talk of the state accepting federal inmates. We will have
a new president on Jan. 20. We should allow for more time to see if
that agreement can be reached.
Nanticoke police chief responds to criticism
A discussion about illegally parked commercial vehicles during Wednesday's
city council meeting caused police Chief Tom Wall to question if some
city residents have negative attitudes.
"It's been brought to my attention that nothing happens in Nanticoke."
Wall said during the meeting. "Have you read the papers lately?"
Wall said some of the complaints aired at council meetings are "very
minuscule" on the police scale and pointed to the number of heroin
deaths in the county - 140 in 2016 - as an example of one of the problems
his department is forced to face.
Wall did reassure citizens that anything called in to him or the police
department will be addressed, but, in some instances, it may be low
on the police's radar.
He was answering complaints from John Telencho and Lou Gianuzzi about
illegally parked commercial vehicles.
"I know this isn't the most important thing in the world,"
Gianuzzi said. "But there has to be something flowing."
Gianuzzi is upset that tractor-trailers park on conservation land
near the bridge connecting Nanticoke with Plymouth Township. It wasn't
the first time Gianuzzi has complained about the trucks. Minutes from
as early as June show him questioning interim City Manager Donna Wall
"You don't know what they're hauling," Gianuzzi said, claiming
they could be hauling explosives or dirty soil.
Solicitor William Finnegan said he had tried to make contact with
the owners of the land to buy the parcel because it sits next to a
larger property the city owns. Finnegan said he's reached out "twice
in writing and once by phone" to the owner, who has yet to respond.
"It's a grey area," the police chief said about citing the
owner of the property.
"It's private property. We don't own it," Donna said.
Gianuzzi was also concerned with the loss of a $40,000 contract between
the police department and Warrior Run to patrol the borough. Finance
Director Jennifer Polito said the appropriate revisions to the department's
budget have been made.
"We did pull the $40,000 from the budget.
to hopefully try to increase revenue in the police department,"
The next council meeting will be held 7 p.m. Jan. 18 in council chambers,
15 E. Ridge St.