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Theft cases increase in past year

| Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, 9:05 p.m.

While 2011's spike in violent crimes appears to have been an anomaly, incidents of theft in the Ligonier Valley doubled in the past year.

Officers from Ligonier, Bolivar, New Florence and Seward boroughs and Ligonier, Cook, St. Clair and Fairfield townships filed a total of 119 criminal complaints before District Judge Denise Snyder Thiel last year.

Thirty of those complaints were related to thefts and include the charges of burglary, theft, receiving stolen property and conspiring to commit such crimes. There were 14 complaints filed for the same charges in 2011 and 20 filed in 2007.

“Since the economy has gone downhill, we've had a major increase in thefts,” Ligonier Township police chief Mike Matrunics said. “A lot of it was jewelry or junk items that could be taken in and pawned for money.”

Conversely, the number of violent crimes dwindled to two in 2012, down from 14 in 2011.

Violent crimes include charges of aggravated assault, homicide, maiming or killing animals, making terroristic threats and rape.

Officers filed two complaints in 2012 that included violent crime. They were:

• John F. Hess, 48, of Ligonier pleaded guilty to charges of cruelty to animals, simple assault and harassment in connection with a Feb. 19 incident. Two counts of aggravated assault were withdrawn in the case, and Hess was sentenced to 3 to 23 months of incarceration with credit for time served, a $150 fine plus court costs, and to undergo drug and alcohol and anger management counseling. His parole was revoked last August after another incident involving the same victim and he remains in Westmoreland County Prison, serving the remainder of the 23-month sentence.

• Ronald D. Iscrupe, 32, of Ligonier pleaded guilty to charges of making terroristic threats and simple assault after an April 6 incident where Iscrupe allegedly threatened to kill a woman and himself, while holding a 14-inch-long kitchen knife, according to Ligonier Township police. Charges of recklessly endangering another person and aggravated assault were dismissed by Westmoreland County Judge Rita D. Hathaway, and a charge of harassment was withdrawn. Iscrupe was sentenced to three years probation.

Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol remained the most frequently occurring crime in 2012. About 32 percent of criminal complaints filed last year include driving under the influence.

In addition, the 119 total number of criminal complaints filed in 2012, is up seven from 2011 and up 20 from five years ago.

“I'd like to say that we're clearing more cases than we have in previous years,” Matrunics said. “2012 was the best year of personnel for me — we had one or two officers on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week — and our follow-ups have been better. But I also think the economy has something to do with an increase in crimes.”

Ligonier Borough police chief John Berger could not be reached for comment.

Jewels Phraner is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-1218 or jphraner@tribweb.com.

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