Lower Burrell police should have dog, handler by end of May

Liz Hayes
| Tuesday, April 9, 2013, 12:36 a.m.

The Lower Burrell Police Department should have a police dog and its officer-handler on staff again by the end of May.

Patrolman Steve Cernava on Monday began canine-officer training at Shallow Creek Kennels in Sharpsville, north of Sharon, Chief Tim Weitzel said.

During the six-week program, Cernava will be paired with a German shepherd that will join the department once the training is complete.

The new dog will be trained in tracking, drug detection and helping to apprehend suspects, Weitzel said.

Cernava, a 15-year veteran of Lower Burrell's police force, has not been a canine officer before, the chief said.

“He's got a lot of energy to get it done,” Weitzel said. “It will be good to have a K-9 again.”

Patrolman Derek Kotecki was the department's canine officer until he was killed in the line of duty on Oct. 12, 2011. His police dog, Odin, was retired to live with Kotecki's family.

The department requested a German shepherd, the same breed as Odin, Weitzel said.

A specific dog has not been selected for Lower Burrell, Weitzel said. Each of the 17 officers in the training program will be paired with available dogs during the first few days of class as they bond.

The officers remain at the training facility near the Ohio border throughout the week, Weitzel said. He joked that Cernava drew the short straw and is sleeping in the room closest to the kennels of barking dogs.

The cost of the dog and training, estimated at $13,000, is being funded through a donation from Trib Total Media, Weitzel said. That's the parent company of the Valley News Dispatch.

Longtime sergeant retires

Sgt. Ted Meixelsberger retired on April 1 after 32 years with the department, Weitzel said.

Meixelsberger, 57, of Upper Burrell suffered serious leg injuries two years ago when a drunken driver crashed into his police car as he was responding to a call in New Kensington. He returned to duty last year.

“We could have lost him then,” Councilman David Regoli said. The accident occurred about six months before Kotecki's death.

The other driver, Jessica Blandford, then 23, of New Kensington was found guilty of aggravated assault while driving drunk. She was sentenced in September to serve up to 23 months in jail. Since she was given credit for time served at an inpatient alcohol abuse-treatment program, she was expected to serve about six months in jail. Court records indicate she is on parole.

Meixelsberger filed a lawsuit in January seeking damages in excess of $30,000 from Blandford and the Terrace Inn, which allegedly served Blandford drinks shortly before the crash.

Regoli, Mayor Don Kinosz and other city officials thanked Meixelsberger for his years of service.

Regoli quipped that his experience with Meixelsberger began when Regoli was a teenager and received a warning from Meixelsberger for driving carelessly when he squealed tires while leaving a parking lot.

Kinosz said he is hopeful the city will be able to fill the vacancy created by Meixelsberger's retirement, but the mayor said he needs to review finances and discuss the situation with council.

If the position is filled, the officer will be the fourth hired in the last year, joining new Patrolmen Stephen Aulerich, Vincent Sekanick and Brendan Noll.

The department would have 16 full-time officers, including Weitzel, if Meixelsberger is replaced.

Kinosz said council also is continuing to negotiate a new police contract with officers. The last pact expired in January. Kinosz said he is hopeful a new deal will be reached soon.

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or lhayes@tribweb.com.

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