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In Western Pa., these were the top stories in 2017

| Friday, Dec. 29, 2017, 7:21 a.m.
Residents watch as the funeral procession for slain New Kensington Police Officer Brian Shaw proceeds through Lower Burrell on Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Residents watch as the funeral procession for slain New Kensington Police Officer Brian Shaw proceeds through Lower Burrell on Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017.

A look back at the top news stories of 2017, as reported by the Tribune-Review.

UPMC, AHN to spend billions in new construction

Western Pennsylvania's rival health networks announced plans to build major hospitals. Dominant UPMC will spend $2 billion as part of a monumental expansion that includes building three specialty hospitals in Pittsburgh focused on cancer, organ transplants, and heart and vision care.

Photo by Andrew Russell


Rival Allegheny Health Network, parent of flagship Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh's North Side, will spend $700 million to build a hospital in Pine and four smaller hospitals around the region, including one in Hempfield.


Congressman Tim Murphy steps down

The career of longtime U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy became undone this year by an extramarital scandal . Murphy submitted a letter of resignation to House Speaker Paul Ryan on Oct. 5 following a report that Murphy had asked a mistress to get an abortion when he thought she might be pregnant. Murphy is married with an adult daughter and has had a staunchly anti-abortion voting record in Congress. Murphy, who represented the 18th Congressional District, also faced allegations of mistreating staffers, resigned in October.

Murphy reportedly was pressured to resign by Republican leaders. He was a member of the House Pro-Life Caucus and co-sponsored a GOP bill approved in the fall that bans most abortions after 20 weeks of fetal development.

Gov. Tom Wolf set a special election for March 13 to replace Murphy.

A former federal prosecutor and Marine Corps veteran, Democratic state Rep. Conor Lamb, 33, of Mt. Lebanon, and state Rep. Rick Saccone, 59, a Republican from Elizabeth Township, were nominated as candidates by their parties.

Photo by Dan Speicher


Opioid epidemic tightens its grip

The far-reaching grip of the decade-long opioid epidemic touched everything from families to government to law enforcement during 2017.

About 800 drug overdoses occurred in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties as of late December, pending toxicology reports that would verify the overdoses.

While the life-saving opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone was distributed widely to schools, police, first responders and the public, another deadly drug hit the streets in full force: fentanyl. The synthetic opioid, mixed with heroin or sold as heroin, quickly became a top killer. The local emergency response system has been taxed with unrelenting calls involving overdoses, while officials are paying costs related to a heavier workload in the courts and social services.


New Ken cop slain; trooper dies in crash

Westmoreland County mourned two native sons killed in the line of duty.

New Kensington police Officer Brian Shaw, 25, of Lower Burrell, was fatally shot Nov. 17 during a foot chase on Leishman Avenue. State Trooper Michael P. Stewart III, 26, of Unity, died July 14 when his police cruiser collided with a garbage truck in Ligonier Township.

Shaw, a 2010 Burrell High graduate, had completed about a half-year as a full-time officer. Rahmael Sal Holt, 29, of Natrona, was charged with murder of a law enforcement officer, first-degree murder and other offenses in Shaw's death.

Photo by Jack Fordyce


Stewart, a 2008 graduate of Greater Latrobe High School and Indiana University of Pennsylvania, died a week from his 27th birthday .

An investigation determined that the police cruiser was the at-fault vehicle, officials said, noting that a number of factors played a role in the 2:20 a.m. crash along Route 711, including the vehicle's speed, the sight distance of the roadway, and a wet roadway and fog.

More than 1,000 members of law enforcement, families and friends attended both officers' funerals.

Photo by Shane Dunlap


Pittsburgh submits bid for Amazon headquarters

The city of Pittsburgh in October submitted a very secret bid to attract Amazon's second headquarters . Pittsburgh's bid was one of 238 submitted to the online retail giant.

If Amazon selects Pittsburgh, it could bring the region more than 5,000 jobs and $5 billion in investment. Amazon wants to put its second headquarters in a metro area of 1 million people or more. It expects to announce the winning location next year.


Pittsburgh airport's $1.1 billion overhaul

Allegheny County Airport Authority officials in September announced an ambitious, $1.1 billion plan to build a new landside terminal attached to Pittsburgh International Airport's existing airside terminal.

The current landside terminal could be redeveloped or torn down, while the airside terminal would be renovated and redesigned to provide 51 gates for airlines. The overhaul comes at a time when the airport authority is looking to better serve airlines and passengers. Construction of the single-story landside terminal is expected to be completed in 2023.


Medical marijuana in high demand

The impact of a 2016 law was felt in earnest this year as thousands of people began to sign up to participate in the state's medical marijuana program . Registered patients began to receive ID cards that allow them to purchase medical marijuana from an authorized state-licensed medical marijuana dispensary.


Leechburg police chief loses his arm

Leechburg police Chief Mike Diebold lost his left arm below the elbow as he set off fireworks at a fire company carnival in June and one misfired.

After six months of recovery and learning to use a prosthetic arm, he's striving to return to work. Diebold and the borough agreed in December that he'll undergo a medical evaluation, to ensure he is able to do the job. Leechburg's chief answers police calls, in addition to overseeing three full-time and several part-time officers.

Photo by Andrew Russell


Maxwell Morton convicted in 'selfie' murder case

A Westmoreland County jury in February convicted a Jeannette teenager of third-degree murder for shooting his 16-year-old friend after viewing evidence that he memorialized the crime by photographing himself with the lifeless body.

The prosecution had sought a first-degree murder conviction against Maxwell Morton, now 19, for shooting Ryan Mangan in his mother's Jeannette home on Feb. 4, 2015. Morton claimed at trial that the shooting was an accident and that he posed for the "selfie" during his panic afterward.

Jurors saw the photograph that depicted Morton grinning in the foreground with Mangan's body slumped in a chair behind him. Morton sent the picture via the social media app Snapchat to an online gaming friend in Wisconsin, according to trial evidence. In May, Morton was sentenced to serve 15 to 30 years in prison.

Photo by Dan Speicher


Rostraver rink named 'Hockeyville USA'

In the year of the Penguins' repeat Stanley Cup championship, hockey had another, less likely standard-bearer in Western Pennsylvania: the Rostraver Ice Garden.

Although a favorite of high school and college hockey programs, the ice rink had struggled since a snowstorm caused part of its roof to collapse on Valentine's Day 2010. Then along came the 2017 Kraft Hockeyville USA contest . The ice rink won $150,000 in capital improvements in the national contest.

The summer was devoted to installing new LED lighting in the arena and new flooring in the lobby, upgrading the cooling system and renovating the locker rooms. The Zamboni received a Level-Ice Laser Leveling System, designed to ensure a uniform ice cut.

Photo by Dan Speicher


Remains of police chief killer's found

Remains of fugitive Donald Eugene Webb , suspected of killing Saxonburg police Chief Gregory Adams after Adams pulled him over in 1980, were found in July in a shallow grave near his wife's home in North Dartmouth, Mass., authorities said.

Adams' family had sought closure for decades. Police documents said Lillian Webb told them her husband died in 1997 from a stroke while hiding. The Butler County District Attorney's office granted her immunity, in exchange for information about the whereabouts of her husband's body.


Route 28 improvements on the horizon

Motorists can expect significant delays during 12 weekend closures of Route 28 in 2018, as PennDOT paves and makes other improvements to a seven-mile stretch of roadway. Work on the $35 million to $40 million project, stretching from the Butler County line to near the Creighton southbound on-ramp at Exit 13, could run from spring through December.

Also, PennDOT plans a $55 million project to alleviate congestion and improve safety along Route 28 by re-establishing two travel lanes through the Highland Park Interchange. That project is in the preliminary engineering phase; construction is scheduled for 2020 and 2021.

Photo by Louis B. Ruediger


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