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Mt. Pleasant man to stand trial for alleged home explosion threat

| Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

A Mt. Pleasant man will stand trial for allegedly disconnecting a natural gas line in his home recently during a suicide threat that resulted in the evacuation of 19 area homes.

Mark Halfhill, 52, of 802 W. Vine St., on Feb. 21 waived his right to a preliminary hearing before Norvelt District Judge Roger F. Eckels on charges of risking a catastrophe and recklessly endangering another person filed by borough police. Halfhill initially was committed to Westmoreland County Prison on $50,000 cash bond following his arrest after the three-hour incident, according to an affidavit of probable cause filed by Assistant Chief Daniel Zilli.

Upon waiving his right to the recent hearing, Halfhill's bail was changed to $50,000 unsecured bond so that he could be taken from the prison to an undisclosed mental health treatment facility where he will await trial, based on an agreement reached between the office of Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck and Halfhill's defense counsel, Eckels said.

Halfhill's formal arraignment is scheduled for April 17 in the Westmoreland County Court of Common Pleas before county Judge Debra A. Pezze.

The incident began when Halfhill's sister called 911 around 10:45 p.m. Feb. 5 after she said her brother called her and said he had sharpened his knives, disconnected the gas line and “once enough gas was in his residence ... he was going to blow up his house,” Zilli wrote.

When police arrived, they discovered Halfhill's car in the driveway, no footprints in the snow and a “strong odor of natural gas” hanging in the air, the affidavit said. Halfhill ignored repeated telephone calls.

Police officers and members of the Mt. Pleasant Fire Department immediately evacuated neighbors within a one-block radius.

Police repeatedly tried to contact Halfhill via telephone and loudspeaker. They blew sirens but got no response.

Utility companies arrived to shut off the gas and electricity.

Around 2 a.m. Feb. 6, borough officers broke out a front window of the home to allow the gas to escape and to get Halfhill's attention. They saw him walking inside the home and ordered him to come out.

When Halfhill emerged, he was taken into custody by borough police. At the Mt. Pleasant police station, he admitted that “he disconnected the gas supply to his furnace, then sat in a chair under the leaking line in an attempt to commit suicide,” the affidavit said.

A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or