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Top Westmoreland County news stories of 2009

| Friday, April 27, 2012, 3:02 a.m.

1. Ground broken on $60M 9/11 tribute site

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Gov. Ed Rendell and other officials participated in the Nov. 7 groundbreaking for the memorial to the 40 passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93 killed Sept. 11, 2001, when a hijacked jetliner crashed near Shanksville, Somerset County.

The National Park Service aims to have the first phase of the $60 million, 2,200-acre memorial completed for a dedication on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

2. Flood victims denied aid

Victims of June 17 floods in Westmoreland and surrounding counties were twice denied aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The county's loss, including municipal infrastructure damage, totaled more than $15 million. Relief came on Sept. 10 from the U.S. Small Business Administration, as a request by Gov. Ed Rendell for a disaster declaration for the region provided access to low-interest, long-term loans.

3. Republicans gain ground

Westmoreland County Republicans gained ground in the November elections as Bryan Kline was elected clerk of courts, breaking a 50-year drought for Republicans in Westmoreland row office races. Elected to the Court of Common Pleas were Republican Michele Bononi and Chris Scherer, who won both the Democratic and Republican nominations in the May primary.

4. Ex-trooper sentenced in slaying

Former state trooper Kevin Foley was sentenced June 1 to life in prison for the slaying of Blairsville dentist John Yelenic, who was found slashed and stabbed to death in his home on April 13, 2006. In November, an Indiana County judge rejected an appeal by Foley to overturn the conviction.

5. Mountain View Inn closes

The historic Mountain View Inn in Unity closed its doors on Jan. 25. New owners of the property, James and Daniel Snyder of Upper St. Clair, razed a portion of the old inn and other buildings to make way for new commercial development and a planned reopening of the old hotel's Mountain Laurel wing as a 53-room lodge.

6. Iron City Brewing moves to Latrobe

Citing the prohibitive cost of upgrading its facility in Pittsburgh's Lawrenceville neighborhood, Iron City Brewing Co. in June moved production of its Iron City, IC Light and other brands to the former Latrobe Brewing plant, once home of the iconic Rolling Rock brand.

7. Three killed by trains

During a four-month span, a teen and a mother and her son were killed by trains while crossing tracks in Derry. In November, a 57-foot section of fence was built to discourage pedestrian access to a commonly used shortcut across the Norfolk Southern main line to the town's shopping district.

8. Loyalhanna murders unsolved

The April 23 murders of three women in a family-operated Loyalhanna Township auto glass shop remain unsolved despite the compilation of a 500-page investigatory report that Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck termed "voluminous in both its complexity and intricate in the details." The victims were Doris Lee Martin Murphy and her daughter, Kris Lynn Murphy, both of Conemaugh in Indiana County, and Doris Murphy's sister, Edith Tietge, of Loyalhanna.

9. Live power line kills woman

Carrie Goretzka died June 5, three days after being severely burned by a 7,200-volt power line that fell on her outside of her Hempfield home. Rescuers were delayed in assisting her until power could be shut off. In July, her family filed a lawsuit against Allegheny Energy Inc., claiming the utility failed to properly maintain the line.

10. Charges brought in "Baby Mary" case

Warren Bircher was bound over for trial July 22 on homicide and related charges in the death of "Baby Mary," having been accused of abandoning a newborn infant to die in a Fayette County creek in 2000. On Dec. 15, his attorney asked that the homicide charge be thrown out because of varying accounts of the death given by the baby's mother, who pleaded guilty to third-degree homicide in October.

Best quotes from 2009

"It was like McDonald's, only instead of food they were serving cocaine."

State police Cpl. Kenneth Munshower after John Edward Sieckowski Jr. and his son, James "Jimbo" Sieckowski were charged with drug offenses following raids on a garage in West Newton and their Sewickley Township home that police say turned up cocaine and oxycodone.

January 18


"It was an apparent suicide attempt, although not a very good one."

Westmoreland County Prison Warden John Walton after an inmate at the prison jumped from a second-floor cellblock but was not injured.

March 11


"They said they 'don't know nothing about nothing' -- that's the phrase I got from them. They weren't able to tell us the same story that they told police ... . I call it selective amnesia."

Washington County Assistant District Attorney Josh Carroll after charges against a suspected shooter were withdrawn when two victims called as prosecution witnesses refused to testify in one of several cases involving violence between teens and young men from Donora and Monessen.

April 18


"Trains can't swerve."

CSX spokesman Bob Sullivan commenting on a Masontown man's death after being struck by a train on the railroad tracks near River Avenue.

April 23


"We saw two dogs sitting on a ledge just as casual as can be. But both were probably praying to God somebody would give them a hand."

Eastern Derry firefighter Dave Bollinger, who helped rescue two Labrador retrievers stranded on a ledge some 250 feet from the bottom of Hanson Quarry in Derry Township.

July 22


"They don't need a director down here. They need a circus clown because I have no control over my budget, and I have no control over my staff."

Fayette County Veterans Affairs Director Floyd "Wayne" Coddington, the sixth director of the agency in five years, before leaving the job.

August 13


"You (David J. Robertson Jr.) don't deserve to be sentenced once for killing two people. You'd have killed 100 people if there had been 100 people in that home when you went in there. My only hope is that you return to Florida. I sure hope you're going south."

Fayette County Judge John F. Wagner Jr. commenting on an appellate court ruling that compelled him to shorten the prison sentence of the Florida man on two counts of conspiracy to murder Edward and Karen Marie Povlik, a Connellsville Township couple found shot to death Jan. 1, 1995, in their home.

Nov. 19

Additional Information:

2009 events

Jan. 12: Unity-based Kennametal Inc. said it would expand cost-cutting measures to eliminate about 150 jobs in Pennsylvania, among 800 jobs worldwide it would cut in 2009 to save about $70 million a year.

Feb. 12: About 21,000 Allegheny Power customers in Westmoreland County were among 300,000 customers in a four-state region left without electricity after high winds roared through, snapping tree limbs and power lines.

March 5: More than 20 fire companies battled a blaze that destroyed the historic Irwin Hotel.

April 22: After two months as interim president, Daniel J. Obara was given a permanent appointment to the top job at Westmoreland County Community College near Youngwood.

May 1: Edgar Wiltrout was sentenced to serve at least 10 years in prison for setting the 2008 fire that gutted the 70-year-old Hollow Tavern.

June 24: Dr. Christian Vittone, a family practice physician from Laughlintown, and a longtime patient, Michael Miller of Blairsville, were charged with conspiring to obtain thousands of painkillers over a four-year period using the names of Miller, his wife and his mother, as well as two of Miller's employees.

July 6: Four guards were fired by the Westmoreland County Prison Board and two resigned in the wake of an investigation into the alleged June 8 beating of inmate James Edwards.

Aug. 17: Paul Ucman, the estranged husband of Debra Hardy, was convicted of stealing more than $5 million in jewelry from his wife's Rostraver mansion built by her first husband, lumber magnate Joe Hardy.

Sept. 22: The death of Penn State University freshman Joseph Dado was ruled an accident. The 18-year-old Unity resident fell 17 feet into an exterior stairwell on the University Park campus after a night of drinking at two fraternities.

Oct. 14: St. Vincent College President Jim Towey announced that he would step down in June from the position he has held since 2006.

Nov. 21: Excela Health announced a $5 million project to expand and redesign the emergency department of Westmoreland Hospital in Greensburg.

Dec. 18: Indiana University of Pennsylvania's faculty passed a vote of no confidence in President Tony Atwater. The results of the online vote, announced at an IUP Council of Trustees public meeting, reflected what the faculty union termed Atwater's 'imperialistic' leadership style that alienates faculty, students and community members.

Dec. 19: Joe Hardy, the multimillionaire founder of 84 Lumber Co., was married to a 51-year-old Florida woman in a private ceremony at the Hardy family's Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington. The marriage is the fourth for both Hardy and his bride, Rebecca L. Davis.

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