Meadville Tribune

December 28, 2013

Readers choose biggest local stories of the year

Meadville Tribune

— Starting today, The Meadville Tribune presents the most important Crawford County-area news stories of 2013 as voted upon by you, the readers. Weeks ago, we asked readers to narrow down about 25 of the year’s stories to a top 15, and the following are the results.

We begin with the stories voted Nos. 15 through 11, and during the next five days, we’ll narrow the list down to what is believed to be the most important story of the year. On Sunday, we’ll provide Nos. 10 through 7; 6-4 is Monday; 3 and 2 is Tuesday; and the top story runs on New Year’s Day, Wednesday.

15. Big flood

The City of Meadville’s new Stormwater Management Program had barely gone into effect when rain pouring down fast and hard on already-saturated ground triggered flooding and road closures throughout the area and sent stormwater manhole covers popping into the air. While relatively quick fixes repaired much of the damage done by the late-June storm, one lane of Market Street remains closed to traffic at the Pine Alley intersection after a series of blockages gave water attempting to run down the city’s longest box culvert nowhere to go.

Almost three-quarters of a mile in length, the box culvert in question runs under Pine Alley from Grove Street to Willow Place, carrying Neason Run into Mill Run at the French Creek Parkway. Built in 1936, it consists of a series of 3-by-4-foot and 6-by-7-foot four-sided concrete “boxes” laid end to end. Trapped by branches and rocks and anything else that managed to find its way into the culvert, the water blew stormwater manhole covers into the air; when that didn’t provide the necessary relief, it broke through the concrete top of the box culvert and the roadway that traveled above it in several locations.

“It was a very difficult situation,” Meadville Mayor Christopher Soff said. “Unfortunately, I don’t know if there could have been a more prominent display of why we need stormwater management — and the effects of not having things in place to accommodate events like that.”

14. Vernon Place

Ground was broken and up to $25 million in financing was approved by Crawford County Hospital Authority for Vernon Place, Meadville Medical Center’s proposed new outpatient center in Vernon Township.

Plans call for the physical transformation of the 44-acre site of the former Meadville Mall and present KMart properties on Routes 6, 19 and 322 to begin in 2014. Located about three miles west of Meadville, the site is across from MMC’s Yolanda G. Barco Oncology Institute.

Work on the first phase of the project, which will house the hospital’s sports medicine, physical, occupational and speech therapy, occupational medicine, women’s diagnostic services and comprehensive state-of-the-art radiology technology as well as a new headquarters for Orthopedic Associates of Meadville and the Vernon branch of Meadville Area Family YMCA, is scheduled for completion by the fall of 2015.

Three separate financing notes, including a taxable note up to $8 million to be used for construction of the facility for Orthopedic Associates of Meadville, which will lease space at the complex from the hospital, were approved. The other notes are a tax-exempt note up to $7 million to be drawn upon in 2013 and a $10 million tax-exempt note up to $10 million to be drawn upon in 2014.

13. Jail report

Responding to public allegations of alleged misconduct at the Crawford County jail by staff, the Crawford County Prison Board agreed to have an independent review of jail operations conducted.

In January, the prison board voted to have the National Institute of Corrections review jail operations at no cost to the county. The move was in response to public criticism about the jail’s operations.

The NIC, an agency within the Federal Bureau of Prisons, had two representatives interview inmates, jail personnel and members of the public, including critics of the jail. The NIC representatives also reviewed records during a two-day visit to the facility in March.

The NIC has no official jurisdiction over county jails and can only make recommendations. In April, the NIC released a report on county jail operations, finding the jail “is a very well-run facility.”

However, the report cited room for improvement in staff training and inmate grievance procedures, and noted the jail’s improving inmate health care situation.

In wake of the report, the jail hired a full-time training coordinator rather than relying on administrators to coordinate training.

12. Most Wanted 100

Crediting the success of local deputies and public citizens lending a hand, the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office captured its 100th “Most Wanted” person in the spring.

The arrest of Jesse Spangler on May 3 secured an approximate 80.6 capture rate for the Sheriff’s Office since the program began in 2010.

“Crawford County’s Most Wanted” is a weekly report from the county’s Sheriff’s Office on a person wanted by the Crawford County Court of Common Pleas. Reports, published Tuesdays in The Meadville Tribune, feature the wanted person’s picture, physical information and charges.

Sheriff Nick Hoke was surprised to have caught so many fugitives in such little time but understood the outpouring of public information, attributing it to the community’s “pro-law enforcement” attitude.

Spangler’s arrest was expedited by a tip two probation officers received from someone who spotted him at his residence earlier that week, proving Hoke’s point that the public around the county can serve as extra eyes and ears for law enforcement.

“Citizens in this county and country do whatever they can to lend a hand,” Hoke said.

11. Panthers prevail

Saegertown Junior-Senior High School had one of its most successful athletic years in school history, winning a team boys cross country state championship in November, an individual state wrestling title in March and three district crowns during the spring season.

On Nov. 2 in Hershey, the Panthers won the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Class A boys cross country crown. Saegertown’s top five runners each finished in 17:42 or better to improve upon last year’s third-place finish at states.

Leading the way was Morgan Schenberg in 17:01, followed by Brendon Barclay (17:05), Brad Amy (17:16), Matt Schenberg (17:35) and Wyatt Fleischer (17:42).

On March 9, also in Hershey, sophomore Devin Brown won the PIAA Class AA 106-pound championship, the third individual wrestling title in school history. Ranked the No. 1 106-pound Class AA wrestler in the state for a portion of the year, Brown lived up to the hype by earning a victory via pin fall in overtime of the PIAA championship match.

Brown has since transferred to Franklin Regional in the Pittsburgh area.

Saegertown wrestling also had one of its most successful years as a team, with three in addition to Brown earning state medals. The Panthers also advanced to the state tournament as a team for the first time in school history.

Also, over four days from May 24 to 27, the Panthers won District 10 championships in baseball, softball and boys volleyball. It is believed to be the first time a school of Saegertown’s size won those three District 10 titles in the same season.