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Pa. high court says no to row office appeal

| Friday, June 13, 2003

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal from Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril H. Wecht contesting the chief executive's authority over county row offices.

Wecht has argued since June 2000 that Allegheny County's home rule charter does not give county Chief Executive Jim Roddey power to oversee the coroner's office and other row offices.

The dispute began over Wecht's opposition to Roddey's plan to implement a countywide job performance and merit-hiring system.

Wecht has portrayed the battle as an attempt to preserve the independent management of his office, while Roddey has described his standards on working hours and merit hiring as a strike against old-time political patronage.

Butler County
Man who killed teen pleads guilty

A Butler County man who told police he fatally shot a 13-year-old boy after mistaking the teen for a groundhog has pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter.

Herbert Knepp, 55, of Butler, also pleaded no contest to a charge of aggravated assault for shooting Michael Buzard in July.

Knepp told police he believed the boy -- whom authorities say was wearing camouflage and lying flat on the ground while hunting alone in the evening -- was a groundhog when he fired a shot from his girlfriend's back porch.

Buzard, of Stratford, Conn., was visiting relatives when he was shot in the neck. He died a short time later. Authorities said he was not wearing the fluorescent orange clothing that is required of hunters.

North Side
Police investigating spate of burglaries

Pittsburgh police are investigating eight burglaries in a 24-hour period on the North Side, including a smash-and-grab at a Spring Garden store that netted the thief 60 cartons of cigarettes.

Police Cmdr. Ed Kelly said the break-ins -- which do not appear to be connected -- occurred during a 24-hour period and stretched from Brighton Heights to Troy Hill. Thieves made their way into seven homes through doors and windows taking cash and jewelry.

Just before 3:30 a.m. yesterday, a man threw a large stone through the front window of the Tobacco Outlet on the 1900 block of Spring Garden Avenue. A video from a surveillance camera showed the man -- wearing a bandana over his face -- stealing boxes of cigarettes before police arrived.

Family of fugitive controller gets truck

The family of Gilbert Martinez has retrieved his 1998 pickup truck seized last week to pay for the bond he forfeited when he skipped trial, Allegheny County Sheriff Pete DeFazio said Thursday.

A nationwide warrant was issued in January for Martinez, 59, when he failed to appear for trial on charges of drug delivery, cocaine possession and possession with intent to deliver. Martinez is a former senior manager in the City Controller's office.

A judge forfeited Martinez's $6,000 bond. DeFazio said the Martinez family attorney, Gary Zimmerman, came to the sheriff's office on Wednesday, paid the necessary court fees and went with family members to the towing company to take custody of the truck.

DeFazio said the manhunt for Martinez is continuing. Martinez's wife, Rita Rose Martinez, 58, is awaiting a preliminary hearing on charges of hindering apprehension of her husband.

Pittsburgh firm gets $30K for port security

A Pittsburgh firm has been awarded $30,000 to increase port security.

Great Lakes Terminal & Transport of Pennsylvania is among 199 government agencies and private companies to share in $170 million in federal grants.

The money will be used for security upgrades, such as new harbor patrol boats, surveillance equipment and construction of new command and control facilities.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced the grants Thursday. Pennsylvania facilities will receive $3.1 million in port security grants.

State senator wants to tap tobacco funds

State Sen. Jane Orie announced Thursday that she plans to propose a bill that would require $1 million of the tobacco settlement fund to be used to warn pregnant women about the dangers of smoking.

The $1 million would be spent on a media-awareness campaign and on warning signs posted where tobacco products are sold, said Orie, who plans to introduce the bill next week.

The percentage of babies born in Pittsburgh to women who smoke was about double that of a 50-city average from 1990-2000, according to one research report.

Risks include fetal and infant deaths and premature and low birth-weight babies. Neonatal costs related to smoking during pregnancy amount to $350 million a year in Pennsylvania and convincing pregnant smokers to stop could save millions of dollars in direct medical costs, Orie said.

2 men arrested in heroin investigation

Police in Butler County arrested two East Liberty men and confiscated nearly 100 stamped bags of heroin.

Narue Racardo Finn, 26, and Janeal Denise Wyley, 21, are accused of delivering the heroin to a residence along Freeport Road in Summit. Both are charged with possession and delivery of heroin. Police also seized a 1998 Ford Taurus during the course of the investigation.

A hearing is scheduled for June 17 at the office of District Justice Joseph O'Donnell.

Tractor-trailers from clothing caper found

Three tractor-trailers taken from a Wall terminal and filled with $1.2 million worth of clothing have been located in central Pennsylvania, but the apparel is still missing.

The trucks were found at a truck stop near Interstate 81 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Middlesex, about 15 miles west of Harrisburg.

The theft from a trucking terminal outside Pittsburgh occurred May 30. Officials believe it was the largest theft of its kind ever in western Pennsylvania.

The FBI has been searching for the load of Chaps by Ralph Lauren-label clothing and Warnaco Inc. of New York City, the manufacturer of the clothing line, has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of the merchandise.

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