As another year winds down, the Greene County Messenger is taking a journey back in time to review the biggest local news stories that occurred in 2011.
Throughout the year, there was never a shortage of big news that impacted the small rural corner of the Commonwealth, and the Messenger was there to cover it all every step of the way.
Join us as we review the most memorable news stories that grabbed Greene County’s attention this past year, a comprehensive look back at what happened in our communities and neighborhoods over the past twelve months.
The 2011 Year in Review will be published in two installments. This week, we focus on the biggest news stories that occurred in the first six months of the year.
(NOTE: The following articles are presented in chronological order. They are NOT listed by order of importance or precedence.)
Superior Court upholds Elrod conviction
The state Superior Court in January upheld the conviction and sentence of an Alabama man convicted of homicide by vehicle in the 2008 deaths of two men in Greene County. David Trent Elrod, 48, was convicted of two counts of homicide by vehicle and various summary offenses in the deaths of David Wimert, 46, and Terry Gene Caryl, 47, both of Port Huron, Mich.
The accident occurred on Interstate 79 south, between the Waynesburg and Kirby exists on April 15, 2008.
The Ford truck in which Wimert and Caryl were riding was crushed between two tractor-trailers, state police stated.
Elrod, 42, who was driving one of the rigs, rear-ended the truck, pushing it into a second tractor-trailer.
He was sentenced to six to 22 months in prison in October 2009.
In the appeal, Elrod’s attorney alleged there was not enough evidence to support homicide by vehicle convictions because there was no evidence he recklessly caused the deaths.
However, the Superior Court judges believed that there was evidence that Elrod was distracted before the crash and failed to anticipate an upcoming construction zone.
The judges also found that Elrod failed to slow down his vehicle in the construction zone.
Wimert, who was driving, and Caryl died from injuries in the collision. Police said the truck burst into flames after it was crushed.
Testimony indicated that Elrod was going 65 mph, heading into a construction zone where traffic was stopped. A state police accident reconstructionist testified that Elrod had 24 seconds to react.
Holbrook man ordered to stand trial
A Holbrook man was ordered to stand trial in February on third-degree murder charges after he allegedly crashed the car he was driving while intoxicated into a car in Pittsburgh in November 2010, killing a 7-year-old girl.
Pittsburgh police said Travis Isiminger, 23, of Holbrook was charged with homicide by vehicle while intoxicated, recklessly endangering another person, reckless driving while intoxicated, aggravated assault while under the influence of alcohol and speeding.
During a preliminary hearing held in February, prosecutors changed Isiminger’s charge of homicide by vehicle to a charge of third-degree murder because they said his actions were reckless to the point of malice, which is required for a third-degree murder charge.
Following the hearing, all charges against Isiminger were held for trial in Allegheny County Court.
Police said Isiminger was driving a Ford Mustang on East Carson Street in the city’s South Side section when it collided with a Toyota Camry driven by Nicole Cleland of Pittsburgh.
Cleland, along with her daughters Lexa Cleland and Kathleen Cleland, were all taken to Pittsburgh hospitals for treatment following the crash, police said.
Lexa Cleland was pronounced dead in the emergency room of Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh less than hour after the crash.
Kathleen Cleland, an 11-month-old infant, suffered minor injuries.
Police said Nicole Cleland also suffered injuries.
Following the crash, police said Isiminger fled the scene on foot but was captured by police a short time later.
His blood-alcohol level following the crash was more than two times over the legal limit, police said.
Businessman facing nearly 100 criminal counts
A preliminary hearing for a Greene County businessman facing nearly 100 criminal charges for allegedly illegally dumping millions of gallons of wastewater across the region and overbilling his customers over a six-year period was scheduled for March but was continued.
Robert Allan Shipman, 50, of Holbrook is accused of illegally dumping waste, including production water from natural gas drilling operations, sludge from sewage treatment plants and grease water from restaurants, that cannot go into a normal sewer system.
Agents from the state attorney general’s office filed 98 charges against Shipman and 77 charges against his business, Allan’s Waste Water Service Inc., also of Holbrook.
Shipman turned himself into state police to face the charges on March 17. He was arraigned before Magisterial District Judge Glenn Bates. A preliminary hearing for the charges was scheduled to be held before Bates on March 25, but the hearing was continued. According to reports, Shipman waived his right to a preliminary hearing in September before Bates.
Charges were filed after a statewide investigating grand jury recommended criminal actions.
Between 2003 and 2009, numerous businesses retained Shipman and his company to haul and dispose of water waste, but instead of doing so in a legal manner, Shipman told his drivers to mix the wastes together into a “cocktail,” prosecutors allege.
The mixes were then allegedly dumped at locations across the area, including in Greene, Fayette, Washington, Allegheny and Westmoreland counties.
The reason the wastes were mixed was two-fold, prosecutors alleged: it enabled Shipman to conceal the true nature of the waste and he was able to increase the volume of disposals billed to customers.
Former drivers for Allan’s Waste Water Service testified “cocktailing” most commonly occurred with grease loads, according to the presentment.
Then, Shipman told the drivers to take the waste to various disposal sites and say it was either sewage sludge or production water.
Production water is the wastewater produced by gas well drilling operations.
The grand jury found that Shipman told his drivers to falsify their manifests so he could bill customers for the full capacity of the truck, regardless of how much waste was actually being hauled and disposed of.
Between 2003 and 2009, Shipman allegedly received about $250,000 from overbilling, the presentment alleged.
Shipman also is accused of instructing employees to shred and discard actual manifests in order to generate new fraudulent invoices that would be sent to customers, forging drivers’ signatures and other information on those bogus manifests.
His former administrative assistant testified she saw Shipman forge manifests between 2005 and 2008 so that he could bill customers for more waste than was actually hauled.
The woman, who quit in 2008, also told the grand jury that Shipman intimidated his drivers into forging manifests, and that the business made millions of dollars yearly.
The grand jury presentment also alleged that Shipman told his drivers to leave water valves open at gas wells. That would allow production water to flow onto the ground and into nearby waterways to conceal the illegal discharge, prosecutors alleged. That typically occurred after dark or during heavy rains, prosecutors alleged.
Drivers for the waste company also were allegedly told to park their trucks in the business’s garage, and dump wastewater into the floor drain. That drain leads directly into Tom’s Run stream, which leads into Dunkard Creek, according to court paperwork.
Shipman also is accused of discharging waste into Morris Run Creek and Rush Run.
Shipman and his business were both charged with corrupt organizations and multiple counts each of theft by unlawful taking, theft by deception, deceptive business practices, forgery and tampering with records. Both face various other charges.
The charges carry substantial prison terms and fines in excess of $1.5 million for Shipman and $1.2 million for his company.
Consol, company agree to build mine water treatment plant
Consol Energy said in April that it has an agreement with an Illinois company to build a plant to treat mine water from three northern West Virginia coal mines, including two that played a part in the September 2009 fish kill in Dunkard Creek.
Consol and Veolia Water Solutions and Technologies, based in Chicago, partnered to design and build a zero-liquid waste discharge plant near Mannington, W.Va., to treat water from Consol’s Blacksville No. 2, Loveridge and Robinson Run mines.
Construction of the plant, which is expected to be operating by May 2013, is part of Consol’s requirements to comply with a consent decree issued by the U.S. Justice Department in March in response to an Environmental Protection Agency complaint alleging Clean Water Act violations at six Consol mines in West Virginia.
In part, the complaint alleges that discharges containing high amounts of chloride and total dissolved solids (TDS) from Blacksville and Loveridge contributed to condition that harmed aquatic life and led to the golden algae bloom in Dunkard Creek, which meanders about 40 miles through Greene County before flowing into the Monongahela River.
The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection said toxins produced by the algae killed the aquatic life in the creek, but never determined the source of the algae.
The consent decree requires Consol to pay a $5.5 million civil fine, $500,000 to West Virginia for the fish kill and build the $200 million plant in Mannington, Marion County, to treat discharges from Blacksville, Loveridge and Robinson Run, which are in the Monongahela watershed.
Final design of the plant was expected to be completed later in the year, Consol said. Construction was scheduled to start in July and full operation will commence by May 2013.
Veolia will primarily utilize local personnel through its office in Pittsburgh and local construction partners to build the plant, Consol said. The project is expected to create about 200 construction jobs over the next 2 1/2 years and will require about 20 permanent employees to operate the plant, Consol said.
Consol and Veolia are working on an agreement for operating and maintaining the facility.
DEP withdraws order for Consol to rebuild dam
The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) withdrew an order in April requiring Consol Energy to repair the Duke Lake dam and restore the lake in Ryerson Station State Park in Greene County because the earth was still shifting near the dam.
The DEP ordered Consol in November 2010 to make the repairs after saying a study proved long-wall mining caused cracks in the dam that forced the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) to drain the 62-acre lake to keep the dam from failing in 2005.
Consol, which appealed the order, began long-wall mining near the dam in 2004 and cracks began appearing in the 515-foot concrete dam in 2005, according to the DEP.
The lake was drained in July 2005 and the spillway of the dam was removed in August 2005 to prevent rain and runoff from refilling the lake.
The DCNR, which operates the park, and its consultants told the DEP that the site of dam continues to move, precluding the design and repair of the structure.
Consol said the discovery that the earth is still moving proves the company’s claim that mine subsidence didn’t cause the problems in the first place.
“We believe that the DEP’s recent determination that the Ryerson park dam site is still moving supports our position in this case from the beginning: The damage to the Ryerson Station Park dam was not subsidence relation,” said Consol Executive Vice President Jerry Richey. “Consol Energy remains dedicated to working with the DCNR to find a creative solution that will allow this important community amenity to be restored as quickly as possible. We are committed to to environmental stewardship and Consol spends hundreds of million of dollars each year demonstrating that commitment.”
Officials with the DEP and DCNR declined to comment on the new findings or Consol’s response to them, citing ongoing litigation over repairs estimated at $58 million.
DeWeese trial set for January 2012
A Dauphin County judge set a January 2012 trial date for state Rep. Bill DeWeese and a former district office aide who are accused of doing campaign-related work when they were supposed to be performing legislative duties.
In an order issued in June, President Judge Todd A. Hoover also gave DeWeese, 61, of Waynesburg and Sharon S. Rodavich, 55, of Carmichaels until July 30 to file any pretrial motions.
DeWeese and Rodavich are each charged with conflict of interest, theft by unlawful taking, theft of services, theft by deception, theft by failure to make required disposition of funds and criminal conspiracy to commit theft by unlawful taking.
The state attorney general’s office alleged that DeWeese used government employees and resources to run his political campaigns on the taxpayers’ dime, and Rodavich participated.
Among the allegations made were that DeWeese had a staffer in Harrisburg whose job consisted, in part, of fundraising for campaigns between 2002 and 2007.
During a July preliminary hearing, an agent from the attorney general’s office testified DeWeese testified before a grand jury that mixing legislative work and campaign work “was part of the culture” in Harrisburg.
However, DeWeese’s attorney said at the time that DeWeese also told the grand jury that staffers were told to take compensatory time, vacation time or personal days to do campaign work.
Parents of Mt. Morris child who died in house fire file suit
The parents of a 13-year-old Mount Morris girl who died in a house fire in Waynesburg last year while staying overnight with a friend filed suit in June against the homeowner and tenant of the house, claiming their negligence caused the fire.
Donna J. Holbert of Mount Morris and Thomas R. Holbert of Bobtown, who filed the wrongful death lawsuit in Greene County Court, are the parents of Ava Holbert, who died as a result of injuries sustained in a fire at 505 N. Richhill St. on Jan. 11, 2010.
Ava Holbert was an overnight guest at the home when the fire broke out. Also killed in the fire was 11-year-old Noah Havrilesko, whose father, James L. Havrilesko of Richeyville, previously filed suit against the same people — Noah Havrilesko’s mother and maternal grandfather — claiming their negligence caused the fire. That suit was filed by attorney Daniel Webster of Uniontown.
Ava Holbert was staying with one of Noah Havrilesko’s older sisters who escaped the fire.
The house, which was destroyed in the fire, was owned by John R. Gatten of Beallsville. Stacey R. Havrilesko of Waynesburg, Gatten’s daughter, lived at the home with her three children.
The Holberts’ suit was filed by Schiffman & Wojdowski and Carl R. Schiffman and Daniel S. Schiffman of Pittsburgh.
The Holberts’ suit claims that the property was in “an unsafe and dangerous condition which caused and/or exacerbated the ability of the fire to spread without warning.”
The suit also claims that there were no working smoke detectors or fire extinguishers, and Ava Holbert died as a result of the negligence of Gatten for not properly maintaining the property.
The suit claims that Stacey Havrilesko left candles burning and unsupervised while she slept; had lit candles knowing that the same candles had caused a fire earlier that day; failed to turn off an electric burner on a stove; and failed to turn off a glue gun.
Also, the suit claims that Stacey Havrilesko consumed “alcohol and/or prescription and/or illegal drugs when young children requiring supervision were on the property and in her care.”
Also named in the suit was State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. The Holberts are seeking monetary damages for pain and suffering and funeral costs.
Waynesburg police investigated the fire and determined that it was accidental.
A Waynesburg police officer was patrolling the streets on midnight shift when he saw smoke coming from the windows of the house. He pulled up to the house and saw the flames coming from under the front porch roof around 5:13 a.m.
The officer was able to rescue Anna and Abbigale Havrilesko and their mother, Stacey Havrilesko, from a low roof of the house.
More algae found near Dunkard Creek
The same type of algae responsible for the massive fish kill in Dunkard Creek two years ago was found in June in a pond near the creek in Wayne Township.
The Pennsylvania and West Virginia departments of environmental protection (DEP) said the golden algae does not pose a danger to people and is harmful to aquatic life only when it releases toxins.
“There’s no evidence of any aquatic life being impacted. There’s no evidence to suggest any harm at this point,” said Pennsylvania DEP spokeswoman Katy Gresh.
An algae bloom that is not receiving enough nutrients will release toxins to kill aquatic life to create the nutrients it needs to survive and there is no way to treat golden algae without harming other forms of algae, the state agencies said.
Both DEPs, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, the West Virginia Natural Resources Division and Consol Energy have stepped up monitoring of the algae and water quality.
Consol staff reported finding the algae during routine water monitoring and sampling in the pond, which is just over the West Virginia border downstream from Blacksville, W.Va., on June 9, according to the DEPs.
The town of Blacksville, W.Va. owns the small, one-tenth-of-an-acre pond. The Pennsylvania DEP is obtaining permission to treat the pond if necessary, Gresh said.
The pond was tested because recent rains caused it to overflow into the creek, said Kathy Cosco, a spokeswoman for the West Virginia DEP.
Environmental staff from both states collected samples from the pond and various sites along Dunkard Creek immediately after Consol reported the discovery and they are waiting for the results of tests on the samples, the DEPs said.
Consol shut off discharges from its St. Leo mine before the algae was discovered and the company shut off discharges from its Blacksville No. 2 mine as a precaution, the agencies said.
On June 21, the West Virginia DEP flew over the area looking for discoloration from algae in bodies of water in the area.
Golden algae caused the 2009 fish kill in a 40-mile stretch of Dunkard Creek in Greene County.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency said discharges from Consol’s Blacksville No. 2 and Loveridge mines containing high levels of chloride and total dissolved solids (TDS) led to the algae bloom.
In March, Consol agreed to pay a $5.5 million civil fine for federal Clean Water Act violations at six West Virginia coal mines including Blacksville and Loveridge, and to build a $200 million plant to treat discharges from those mines and the Robinson Run mine. Consol also agreed to pay West Virginia $500,000 for the fish kill. Half of the $5.5 million fine goes to the federal government and half goes to West Virginia.