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Missing hunter found dead

| Saturday, Dec. 6, 2003

A Hill District hunter found dead Friday morning had suffered a heart attack in the woods in South Fayette, authorities said.

A friend reported Joseph Lewis, 51, of Harry Street, missing at 9:30 p.m. Thursday. Lewis was last seen going into the woods near his friend's home along Scotch Hill Road, an area he had hunted on previous occasions.

About 70 people, including members of three fire departments, and two canine search and rescue teams, combed the woods around Scotch Hill Road overnight, until poor visibility forced them to quit at 4:30 a.m. Another hunter found Lewis' body about 7 a.m. yesterday a mile into the woods, South Fayette police said.

Lewis is the second area hunter to suffer a fatal heart attack since the state's two-week, rifle-hunting deer season began Monday. There have been eight accidental shootings, one of them fatal, in that time, state Game Commission officials said. In addition, at least two homes have been struck by stray bullets, officials said.

Swissvale
Firefighters battle apartment blaze

Firefighters from several communities were battling an apartment fire Friday night in Swissvale, emergency officials said.

Several ambulances were called to the scene, but it was unclear how many people were injured or the extent of those injuries.

The fire erupted at 8:44 p.m. along Noble Street, emergency officials said.

Kelli Serencsa of the American Red Cross said her agency was asked to provide assistance to 12 adults and a child forced out of their homes in the 8-unit apartment building.

Beaver County
Nurses avert strike

Nurses at The Medical Center in Beaver overwhelmingly approved a new contract Friday, averting a strike.

The members of the Service Employees International Union backed the 21/2-year deal by a 5-to-1 margin, said union spokeswoman Lisa Williams. Nearly 600 nurses work at the Beaver County facility, she said. The nurses had been working without a contract since Oct. 13. A strike had been called for Tuesday.

Williams declined to provide details of the deal, ironed out Wednesday by the union and hospital management. The pact expires in July 2006, Williams said.

"This will be a contract that will improve patient care by improving staffing," Williams said.

Bethel Park
Program helps cope with blues

The Mercy Health System will offer a free screening and education program today on managing holiday-related stress and the holiday blues.

"Holiday Blues -- They Don't have to Happen to You" is scheduled from 10 a.m. to noon at the SmartHealth Bethel Park Outpatient Center, 1000 Higbee Drive.

The education program will be presented by Dr. Jim Jacobson, director of community psychiatry for Mercy Behavioral Health and chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Mercy Hospital.

He suggests making a list to prioritize holiday activities that are important to you and your family. "People can easily feel overwhelmed if they commit to doing too much in too short a period of time," he said.

Highland Park
Postal Service taking letters for Santa

The U.S. Postal Service will once again be collecting letters to Santa at its reindeer paddock for delivery to the North Pole.

Children will be able to drop off their letters at the display, located in Kid's Kingdom at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium in Highland Park, through Dec. 23.

Children showing their letters to Santa at the entrance of the zoo will receive $1 off regular admission through Dec. 19.

Region
State's outbreak probe nearing end

State public health investigators are winding down their investigation into the Beaver County hepatitis A outbreak.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health is completing a second round of interviews with the 560 Pennsylvanians infected in the outbreak linked to green onions served at the Chi-Chi's Mexican Restaurant at Beaver Valley Mall.

Seventy-five people from six other states also were infected in the nation's largest hepatitis A food-borne outbreak, but it is up to public health authorities in those states to investigate those cases, spokesman Jay Pagni said Friday.

Pennsylvania authorities are trying to verify that every infection is linked to the outbreak and that each victim was counted only once, said Joel Hersh, the health department's director of epidemiology. Each year, about 260 Pennsylvanians contract hepatitis A.

Chi-Chi's lawsuits go to federal court

Six lawsuits against Chi-Chi's Mexican Restaurant and its parent firm in connection with the Beaver County hepatitis A outbreak were transferred Friday from Beaver County Common Pleas Court to federal court by the plaintiffs' attorneys.

The personal injury cases contend the restaurant and Prandium Inc., of Irvine, Calif., were negligent in the handling of food at the restaurant where more than 600 people were sickened -- and three died -- after eating there.

The lawsuits were moved to federal court because the parties are from different jurisdictions.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuits included Jacqueline Barborak, Eric D'Antonio, Douglas Miller, Conor Orend, Wayne Flaminio and Nicholle Palladini and others.

On Monday, a federal lawsuit was filed against four suppliers of green onions allegedly implicated in the outbreak. The action was filed by a Beaver County man who contracted hepatitis A, suffered liver failure and required a liver transplant after he and his wife ate at the restaurant Oct. 12.

Seniors can apply now for PACE expansion

The recent expansion of the PACE prescription drug plan will not officially take effect until Jan. 1, but the Pennsylvania Department of Aging is allowing senior citizens to apply now for the program.

Seniors will be permitted to use the 2003 PACE applications and their 2002 income information so they can receive their cards as soon as possible. Income limits for the new PACE program have been increased to the following: PACE Single, $14,500; PACE Couple, $17,700; PACENET Single, $23,500; and PACENET Couple, $31,500.

The new eligibility guidelines will allow for as many as 100,000 new senior citizens to take part in the program.

PACE and PACENET applications can be found at the Department of Aging's Web site -- www.aging.state.pa.us -- or by calling (717) 787-7313.

Blair County
Caretaker to stand trial in woman's death

A caretaker who was given probation for threatening and choking a 71-year-old paralyzed woman two years ago was ordered to stand trial on charges filed when the woman died after he allegedly threatened her.

Gary Pepple, 54, of Altoona, had initially been charged with aggravated and simple assault, recklessly endangering another person, terroristic threats and harassment in the Nov. 16 death of Dorothy Lucas. Blair County District Attorney Dave Gorman added an involuntary manslaughter charge because the county coroner ruled her death a homicide, determining that she was killed by a blood clot in the coronary artery.

Pepple was a live-in caregiver for Lucas for 15 years and was aware of her poor health, Gorman said. Lucas had a stroke four years ago and used a wheelchair.

Gorman said Pepple apparently didn't intend to kill Lucas, though he said Pepple held a knife to her throat and threatened her during an argument. After that, she had trouble breathing and was taken to a hospital, where she died, Gorman said.

Butler County
Butler man receives 6 months for embezzling

A Butler man has been sentenced in federal court to six months in prison for embezzling more than $7,500 from the firm that operated a housing complex where he worked as a resident-manager.

Senior U.S. District Judge Alan Bloch also sentenced James Caccamo, 45, to serve three years on supervised released when he gets out of prison and that he make restitution of $7,569.

Caccamo was responsible for collecting rent money for Butler Ltd., which operates the 52-unit Butler Family Housing on Kaufman Drive, Butler. Butler Ltd. received money through the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Luke Dembosky said Caccamo deposited rent payments in his own bank account. Caccamo's wife, Linda Caccamo, also was indicted and has been accepted into a pretrial diversion program under which the charges will be dismissed if she completes probation.

Moon
Bicyclist's death ruled accidental

The Allegheny County Coroner's office has ruled as accidental the death of a man who was riding his bicycle in traffic in Moon when he was hit by a motorist.

Rodney Saunders, 44, of Chestnut Street, Sewickley, was fatally injured Wednesday evening when the bicycle he was riding was struck by a car driven by Mark Anthony Abbott, 18, of Sycamore Drive, Ross.

Moon police said Saunders was riding on University Boulevard and against the flow of traffic, wearing dark clothing and had no lights or reflectors on his bicycle.

Police said Saunders was traveling in the left lane when he moved into the right lane and into the path of Abbott's vehicle.

Centre County
Coroner rules student's death accidental

A Penn State University student who died after a scuffle outside a downtown bar choked on his own vomit, and the coroner ruled his death to be accidental.

Centre County Coroner Scott A. Sayers said Friday that alcohol contributed to the death of Salvador Peter Serrano, but Sayers did not say whether a specific blood-alcohol level was determined. Serrano died of asphyxiation.

Serrano, 21 and a junior at Penn State, died Oct. 26 after a fight with employees of the All-American Rathskeller, a bar near campus in downtown State College. Police responding to a report of a fight found bar employees holding Serrano, who was unresponsive. Police and ambulance personnel were unable to revive him.

District Attorney Ray Gricar said he was reviewing the autopsy report and the final results of a police investigation. He said he would decide within two weeks whether charges are warranted.

Erie County
Technical school files for bankruptcy

A technical school in Erie County that has attracted hundreds of laid-off factory workers seeking a head start on a second career has filed for bankruptcy, but officials say they plan to keep the school open.

The Center for Advanced Manufacturing & Technology, which Erie officials consider a key part of plans to help the city rebound from manufacturing job losses, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, citing $19 million of debt and only $12 million in assets.

More than 1,300 people have flocked to the school in the past two years as Erie tries to weather a national decline in the manufacturing sector.

School President Jerry Covert said the bankruptcy filing is intended to free the school from government support.

Library system might be cut to three branches

Officials in Erie County could vote as early as next week on a major overhaul of the library system.

Erie County Executive Rick Schenker released a plan to phase out the county's six-branch library system by 2005 in favor of three branches. Two branches would be closed, and another branch would become a private institution, with $100,000 from the county to aid in the transition.

The Schenker administration said the library system must be reconfigured to counter rising costs and state funding cutbacks. The financial shortfall already has forced libraries to cut back from 54 to 38 hours weekly. At the beginning of the year, hours are expected to be reduced again to 21 hours.

The remaining libraries under the new configuration would be able to extend hours and to be open on Saturdays.

Westmoreland County
Reward offered for tips on killings

A $15,000 reward has been offered for tips in the deaths of a Westmoreland County man and two other young people found bound and shot in the head in a house near Ohio State University.

The family of one victim, Ohio State student Kayla Hurst, 21, of Granville, Ohio, and the Crime Stoppers program offered the reward for information that leads to the arrest and indictment of those responsible.

"The family is not upset with the police," said Art Morrow, an attorney for the Hurst family. "They feel the police have done their best, but they want to offer a resource available to the police, namely $15,000."

The bodies of Hurst; her boyfriend, Aaron Grexa, 23, of Hempfield; and Grexa's roommate, Eric Hlass, 23, of Russellville, Ark., were found July 23.

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