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Woman gets probation for blast in school

| Thursday, Oct. 27, 2005, 12:00 p.m.

A former laundry matron at Perry Traditional Academy accused of blowing up a school laundry room by lighting a large firecracker was sentenced Wednesday to five years' probation after pleading guilty to several misdemeanor charges.

Bernadette Wilson, who lost three fingers in the May 2004 blast, also was ordered to pay Pittsburgh Public Schools $12,000 for damage to the North Side school.

Wilson, who denied lighting the firecracker -- described by investigators as an "M-200" -- pleaded guilty to criminal mischief, possessing an illegal firework, reckless endangerment and drug possession. The District Attorney's Office dropped arson and felony drug charges in exchange for her plea.

Police said Wilson, 56, of the North Side, lit the firecracker at her desk in the pool-side laundry room on May 19, 2004. No one else was injured. Wilson was fired.

"The payment of restitution and those things that happened to you will satisfy the court," said Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge John A. Zottola.

Police investigating the blast found bags and bottles of cocaine and marijuana in Wilson's purse and desk. Investigators would not say if they believe Wilson was on drugs at the time.

When Zottola asked Wilson why she brought the firecracker to the school, she replied, "I don't know where it came from."

After yesterday's hearing, Wilson said she did not light the firecracker and was not on drugs.

"It was just a freak accident," she said, tears still running down her cheeks from the hearing. "Now I have to live with this for the rest of my life."

Wilson said she still is not working. When asked how she would come up with the money to repay the school district, she replied, "By God's will."

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