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Twelve to testify at hanging inquest

| Wednesday, April 16, 2003

A dozen witnesses are scheduled to testify today in the Allegheny County Coroner's office at an open inquest into the hanging death of a Wilkinsburg man in a Mt. Oliver police holding cell.

Damian Jordan, 24, apparently hung himself with a T-shirt in the cell Oct. 4, 1999, after being arrested earlier in the day on charges connected to a domestic dispute with the mother of his child.

Although an autopsy revealed some trauma-related injuries to his body, the coroner's office ruled Jordan's death a suicide.

When Coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht earlier this year conducted an inquest into the Dec. 23 death of Charles Dixon, 43, of Altoona -- who stopped breathing while being arrested by Mt. Oliver police following a disturbance at a party -- Jordan's family asked Wecht to reopen the older case.

Pittsburgh North Side mission offers meals, services

Light of Life Rescue Mission is hosting Holy Week activities, including an Easter meal that will be served from noon to 6 p.m. Thursday at the mission, 10 E. North Ave., North Side. Volunteers also will deliver meals to senior citizens who live in high-rise apartment buildings on the North Side.

The meal will be preceded by a worship service scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday in the mission chapel.

A Good Friday fish dinner is set for 5 p.m. Friday at the mission, and Easter Sunday sunrise services are scheduled for 6:45 a.m. Breakfast will follow.

Light of Life Rescue Mission is a nonprofit, Christian nondenominational mission dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of homeless and nearly homeless men, women and children.

McCandless Man killed in crash with cement truck

A West Deer man was killed Tuesday morning in a four-vehicle wreck on Babcock Boulevard in McCandless.

Christopher Gazzo, 24, died shortly after 9 a.m. when the car he was driving was involved in a head-on collision with a cement truck between Kummer Road and Apple Hill Lane, McCandless police said. The car and the truck each collided with other vehicles.

The driver of a sport utility vehicle suffered minor injuries, police said. The driver was not identified.

Babcock Boulevard was closed between Kummer Road and A.W. Beattie Technical School for at least three hours after the accident.

McCandless Panel to hear views on malpractice rates

A Pennsylvania Senate committee will meet from 2 to 5 p.m. today at UPMC Passavant, 9100 Babcock Blvd., McCandless, to hear testimony about medical malpractice insurance rates.

The hearing is one of a series being conducted by the Senate's Banking and Insurance Committee. So far, the committee has heard from doctors, lawyers and insurers who have given their views on the problem of high malpractice insurance rates charged to Pennsylvania health care providers.

The committee is chaired by Sen. Gib Armstrong, a Republican from New Providence, Lancaster County.

Ross Power to be out for maintenance work

Ross residents in the Kinvara residential plan can expect their power to be out between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Thursday while Duquesne Light Co. upgrades electrical systems in the neighborhood.

The work involves replacing underground electrical cable, Duquesne Light officials said.

The streets that will experience an outage are: Kinvara and Tara drives; Sloan, Rebecca, Kinsdale, Shannon, Kinvara and Glen Dalough courts; and Woodland Road.

The Kinvara plan was one of the original residential developments in which common overhead utilities such as electric, phone and cable were buried underground. After periodic review of the operations and maintenance of this underground system, Duquesne Light determined that the plan justified an upgrade.

The rain date for the work is April 22.

Beaver County Firefighters battle 300-acre brush fire

It took firefighters from a number of Beaver County communities eight hours to extinguish a brush fire Tuesday that burned about 300 acres along Route 60 in Independence, not far from the Green Garden Plaza, county emergency officials said.

A number of grass fires in Butler County prompted emergency officials there to ask residents to use common sense when starting fires outside on windy days.

Firefighters from numerous communities in Armstrong and Clarion counties last night were still battling a large fire that was burning in the woods and fields near East Brady in Clarion County, emergency officials said.

Bethel Park Man killed in motorcycle crash

A motorcyclist was fatally injured Tuesday afternoon in a collision with a car along Route 88 in Bethel Park, a spokesperson for the Allegheny County Coroner's Office said.

Shane Schulte, 20, of Bethel Park, died in Allegheny General Hospital, North Side, about an hour after the accident that occurred at 1:20 p.m., the spokesperson said.

Washington County Students rescued from car before it explodes

Residents in the Dally Road area of Long Branch are credited with saving the lives of three California Area High School students whose car crashed into a tree and burst into flames in Washington County.

The students -- whose names and ages were not released -- were flown to Pittsburgh hospitals for treatment after the accident Monday evening in the rural community. The extent of their injuries were not available Tuesday.

Roscoe fire Chief Tom Wilkinson said the neighbors pulled the students from the wreckage while the engine was on fire. The students were out of the vehicle when the rest of the car burst into flames, Wilkinson said.

Penn Hills School evacuated after restroom fire

Penn Hills Senior High School had to be evacuated briefly Tuesday morning after someone started a fire in a third-floor girls restroom.

Penn Hills Fire Marshal Jack Mason said a smoke alarm went off between 10:30 and 10:45 a.m., prompting the evacuation of about 1,500 students into the stadium. Firefighters arrived to find that school staff members had already extinguished the fire, which was started when a roll of toilet paper was ignited, causing the plastic holder on the wall to smolder.

Firefighters used exhaust fans to clear smoke out of the restroom and third-floor hallway. Classes resumed within 15 minutes of the alarm.

School officials are trying to determine who started the fire. There were also reports of firecrackers being set off while students were outside the building, Mason said.

Cambria County Man says infant's death an accident

A Virginia man charged with killing a 3-month-old boy in Cambria County told investigators he accidentally hit the infant's head on a door jamb and a sink and then fell on a wet floor with the baby in his arms, police said.

Jeffrey Quinderz Smith, 23, of Chesapeake, was charged with criminal homicide, involuntary manslaughter and other offenses in the death of Mikhi Brantley, police said. Smith was baby-sitting Mikhi on April 8 at a Stonycreek apartment while the infant's mother went shopping, township police Sgt. Thomas C. Ruckser said.

Smith told police he shook Mikhi and splashed water on his face when the infant choked on formula, Ruckser said. Smith also told officials that while he was trying to help Mikhi, he hit the infant's head on the way to the bathroom and the baby's head struck a sink when Smith slipped, Ruckser said.

The child died the next day in Children's Hospital in Oakland.

Blair County Man killed in boat accident

A boat carrying twin brothers capsized on a Blair County lake during the first day of trout season, killing one of the men.

James J. Softy, 44, of Cresson, Cambria County, died Sunday afternoon at Altoona Hospital, a day after the boat from which he was fishing tipped over on a lake in Canoe Creek State Park.

Softy and his brother, Raymond, were not wearing life jackets, but personal floatation devices were in the boat at the time of the accident, Coroner Patricia Ross said. It was the second fatal boat accident in the state this year, the state Fish and Boat Commission said.

Centre County Suspect says he attacked 'droids'

A Centre County man who told police his mind was controlled by "brain-wave technology" and that he was defending himself from "government droids" was ordered to stand trial on charges of killing his parents with a baseball bat.

Daniel Opdenhoff, 24, is accused of killing former State College Area superintendent William Opdenhoff, 56, and his wife, Georgeann, 54, on Oct. 19 in their home in College Township.

State College police Detective R.W. Ralston, who questioned Daniel Opdenhoff in New York City, testified that Opdenhoff said he was defending himself from "droids" -- human replicas that tried to manipulate him. When shown pictures of his parents' bodies, Opdenhoff appeared to faint.

Despite that, Opdenhoff never directly acknowledged that he had attacked his parents, Ralston said. Instead, he insisted that the victims were "droids" who had replaced his parents, and sometimes said that he wasn't the one who had attacked them.

Erie County Judge won't throw out killing case

A judge rejected the latest attempt by a man accused of killing his girlfriend in Presque Isle State Park to have the case thrown out, clearing prosecutors to resume the oft-delayed, nearly 15-year-old case in Erie County.

Attorneys for James Fleming claimed the 12-year delay in his arrest for the June 1988 death of Janine Kirk hurt his defense because witnesses had died.

Although four witnesses, including the first state park police officer to arrive on the scene and one of two state troopers to investigate the crime, have died, the judge ruled Fleming failed to show they would have helped his defense. Miller also ruled prosecutors did not intentionally delay the case to gain an advantage.

Tourists found Kirk's partially buried body on Beach 3 at Presque Isle on June 25, 1988, but a grand jury that heard evidence in the case between 1990 and 1992 did not recommend indicting Fleming. Fleming was arrested in August 2000.

Venango County Men convicted of bear poaching

A Montana man awaiting trial on poaching charges in that state and two other men have been convicted of killing a bear out of season in Venango County.

Dean Edwin Ruth Sr., 36, of Seeley Lake, was fined $800 and charged $2,500 in restitution for killing the bear.

Also convicted, fined and ordered to pay restitution were Richard L. Perry Jr., 40, of Butler, and Joel Michael Mellon, 24, of Pleasantville, Venango County.

The charges stemmed from a search Jan. 15 of property owned by Ruth's father, Gale Edwin Ruth, 73, of Pleasantville. Agents said they found photographs of game and other items that implicated Dean Ruth and the others of poaching.

Dean Ruth and his wife, Renita Ruth, 37, moved from Pennsylvania to Montana several years ago. They remain free on bond while awaiting trial in Montana on charges of unlawfully killed wildlife and unlawful possession of a gun silencer.

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