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Top Penn Hills Progress stories of 2013

| Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Above, Penn Hills Senior High School students make their way into a brand-new high school building that opened just in time for 2013.
Stephanie Strasburg | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Ronald Robinson, 35, is led into court before the reading of the verdict January 15, 2013 in the Allegheny County Courthouse downtown. Robinson was convicted of second dergree murder in the death of Penn Hills police officer Michael Crawshaw and first degree murder in the death of Danyal Morton.
Aaron Loughner | For the Penn Hills Progress
Coach John Tate speaks with his team prior to their playoff game against Norwin on Friday, Feb, 15, 2013, at Gateway High. Tate's team went on a late run in 2013 to make the playoffs for the first time in four years.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Penn Hills Police Chief Howard Burton looks down at drugs seized from a Penn Hills home. Three men were charged with possession of more than $10.5 million of cocaine, $612,389 in cash, and two handguns in April.
Patrick Varine | Penn Hills Progress
Imagine Penn Hills officials are building a new home for students in the former Anter building, above, located at 1700 Universal Road. The building was previously a school until the mid-'70s. Imagine officials plan to add a second building to the campus.
Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald poses for a photo with the Bronko Nagurski award for the NCAA college football defensive player of the year during a news conference in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Dec. 9, 2013. Donald averaged 2.2 tackles for loss per game while ranking 10th in forced fumbles and 13th in sacks per game.


Then: Penn Hills High School students attend the second half of their 2012-13 classes in a brand-new, $59 million senior high school.

Now: Beginning with the start of the 2013-14 school year, students, staff and parents were dealing with frequent bomb threats, left in high school bathrooms. Eleven bomb threats have been made against the high school since the start of the year.

• • •

Then: Code enforcement employees Mary Lou Flinn and Joseph Probo, fired in January 2012 after being accused of violating the municipality's residency requirement, step up their efforts to save their jobs by filing a federal lawsuit.

Now: Flinn and Probo filed a state labor grievance shortly after being fired, but the state Labor Relations Board has yet to issue a ruling. Labor officials said state funding cuts have created a sizable backlog in the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board's caseload.

• • •

Then: Ronald Robinson, convicted of two counts of murder in the shootings of Penn Hills police officer Michael Crawshaw and Penn Hills resident Danyal Morton, is sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

Now: District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. declined at the request of Crawshaw's family to pursue the death penalty against Robinson.


Then: The families of Kimberly Griffith and Mary Saflin — who were killed during 2011 flash flooding on Washington Boulevard in Pittsburgh's East End — filed an eight-count lawsuit naming the City of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority, Allegheny County, ALCOSAN, Moon-based Chester Engineers, PennDOT, the state and Chrysler as defendants.

Now: The case is not yet resolved and is moving through the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas.

• • •

Then: After a three-year drought, first-year coach John Tate helps lead the Lady Indians varsity basketball team back to the WPIAL playoffs, where they fell in the first round to Norwin.

Now: The Lady Indians are off to a 3-3 start (as of Dec. 19) in the 2013-14 campaign.


Then: Linton Middle School sports teams walloped their competition. The seventh- and eighth-grade boys basketball teams posted undefeated seasons, on the heels of the girls basketball and boys soccer squads doing the same.

Now: The boys soccer team finished this season with a 7-8 record; the seventh-grade girls basketball team went 14-2, and the eighth-grade girls basketball team was 12-4. The boys basketball seasons began in early December, and will run until mid-February.


Then: Akeem Willie of Homewood was sentenced to 20 to 40 years in prison in the shooting death of Dalyn Jones, 18, in August 2011. Willie pleaded guilty on third-degree murder charges after shooting Jones outside the Frankstown Road McDonald's restaurant, purportedly over a drug deal.

Now: Willie is serving his sentence at the Camp Hill State Correctional Institution in south-central Pennsylvania.


Then: Police seized more than $10.5 million worth of cocaine after following a suspect's vehicle from the Days Inn hotel in Monroeville to a residential home on Pinewood Square in Penn Hills.

Now: Faustino Hernandez Rodriguez, 36, of Mexico; Leland Cobbs, 42, of Homewood; and William Wilson, 42, of Penn Hills were arrested after police discovered a total of 21 kilograms of cocaine.

• • •

Then: Incumbents rule the day in Penn Hills elections, with council and school-board incumbents winning victory in the May primaries. Sara Kuhn and J-Lavon Kincaid won on the council side, with Jennifer Burgess-Johnson, Bob Hudak, Linda Molitierno, Pauline Calabrese and William Phifer earning ballot spots for school board.

Now: Kuhn and Kincaid beat out challengers Brent Rambo and Linda Rupert; all school board candidates but Phifer won election and were sworn in at the Penn Hills school board's December meeting.


Then: Penn Hills school officials disclose a desire to potentially take over management of the Boyce Campus Middle College program, an alternative high school for at-risk students serving Penn Hills, Plum and Gateway. Plum school board members were considering ending their participation in the program due to budget concerns.

Now: Penn Hills ultimately opted to take over management of Boyce Campus Middle College. Plum officials said they will allow currently enrolled BCMC students to graduate, then revisit the district's participation.

• • •

Then: The Penn Hills Power U19 travel soccer team won the PA West Edinboro Open Tournament for the second consecutive year. The Power has won the tournament in three of the past six years.

Now: The Power will look to win its fourth Edinboro open title in seven years in the summer of 2014 under the tutelage of coach David Kun.


Then: Penn Hills Council approves a zoning amendment paving the way for landowner Joseph D'Andrea to expand the building currently housing Vocollect Inc.

Now: A group of nearby residents filed suit in the Allegheny Court of Common Pleas, challenging the council-approved zoning amendment. The two sides were in negotiations as of mid-December to reach a potential agreement for D'Andrea's future use of the property.

• • •

Then: Penn Hills Council denies a request from the Imagine Penn Hills charter school to keep its modular classroom trailers for an additional year. Deputy Mayor Sara Kuhn chastised Imagine for not having a backup plan, despite the fact that a Frankstown Road property Imagine officials had targeted as a backup site was placed into receivership and rendered unusable.

Now: Imagine officials are developing the Anter building, a former school, at 1700 Universal Road for use as a future Imagine site. Developers said the building will be ready in time for the 2014-15 school year.


Then: Nearly 700 residents are mailed 5-year-old sewer bills by eastern-Pa. collection agency Portnoff & Associates, contracted by the municipality. Many residents say they never have seen the bills which Portnoff is attempting to collect, which come primarily from the time period in which Penn Hills switched billing agencies from Central Tax Bureau to the local water authorities.

Now: Residents continue to seek remedy from council. Penn Hills Deputy Mayor Sara Kuhn says at a council meeting that people should pay their bills if they owe, but would like to see something done about the penalties and late fees being tacked on by Portnoff.


Then: A bomb threat is made against the high school. Students and staff are evacuated. By late September, police have interviewed a student suspect, but make no arrest.

Now: An additional 10 bomb threats have been made since the first. No arrests have been made. If a student is found responsible, superintendent Thomas Washington said they will be made to pay restitution for the time lost to evacuations and searches, and could possibly face domestic terrorism charges.


Then: Council incumbents Sara Kuhn and J-Lavon Kincaid win election to Penn Hills council; incumbents Jennifer Burgess-Johnson and Bob Hudak are joined on Penn Hills school board by newcomers Linda Molitierno and Pauline Calabrese.

Now: Molitierno and Calabrese were sworn in, along with Burgess-Johnson and Hudak, at the school board's December meeting; Kuhn and Kincaid will be sworn in at council's first meeting of 2014.


Then: Penn Hills graduate and University of Pittsburgh defensive lineman Aaron Donald starts racking up honors, winning the Bronko Nagurski and Lombardi awards.

Now: Later in the month, Donald brought home more hardware: the Chuck Bednarik Award and Outland Trophy, marking him as one of the top defensive college football players in the nation.

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or

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