Continuing 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.
The stories voted Nos. 15 through 11 ran on Saturday and Nos. 10 through 7 ran on Sunday. Today, we’ll provide 6 through 4; 3 and 2 is Tuesday and the top story runs on New Year’s Day, Wednesday.
In February, Meadville Area Recreation Authority took a turn in an interesting direction.
Faced with a future described as “uncertain” at best in the wake of a decision by Crawford Central School Board to phase out financial support for Meadville Area Recreation Complex that had once exceeded a quarter of a million dollars per year, the authority made a decision of its own. Instead of cutting services and hunkering down to live within stringent new means, authority members decided to make a concentrated effort to attract new revenues. And instead of focusing on meeting the programming needs of the school district, their top priority since the facility opened more than four decades ago, they opted to see where a focus on meeting the programming wants of the community would take them.
The first step, taken in February, was to hold a community town hall meeting to try to figure out exactly what those programming wants might be.
In a conference room filled to capacity at Meadville Medical Center’s Grove Street facility, a seed was planted that quickly grew into the Community Advisory Team, an all-volunteer group formed in March with the goal of guiding the MARC into a thriving future.
With the authority’s 12-member board working closely with CAT volunteers, the process of community outreach has already begun. The restoration of a Crawford Central School Board member to a seat on the authority followed passage of the school district’s 2013-14 budget, which included some funding for the complex. Jon DeArment was appointed by Meadville City Council to the seat vacated by the resignation of Carol Jones when the district originally withdrew funding.
A major staff change was put into motion in early June when Executive Director Mike Fisher, who has headed the organization since 1991, announced his intent to retire.
Shortly before Fisher’s Aug. 31 retirement, the authority announced a major organizational restructuring, eliminating the title of executive director and creating two new titles — operations manager and facility manager. The job descriptions created for the newly-created titles combined the duties performed by Fisher, Assistant Director Chris Nuzback and Maintenance Supervisor Nick Maurceri. Nuzback, who has served as assistant director since Fisher was hired as director, was named operations manager; Mauceri was named facility manager.
At the authority’s annual reorganization meeting in January, long-time chairman Joe McDougal passed the gavel to Roger Gildea, who had served as vice-chairman.
Responses to joint authority/CAT outreach to local businesses have been so positive that Gildea is now optimistic about the future. “Our short-term goal was to close the budget gap during the next two to three years, and I’m confident we’re going to make it,” he said. “Our next step is to get together with CAT to map out the next steps.”
As for the community, “I am greatly encouraged by not only the interest that the discussions have sparked but the partnerships that so far have been forged — and the ones that appear to be on the horizon,” Meadville Mayor Christopher Soff said. “I think everyone will tell you that for the rec complex to succeed and prosper in the future, it will take a total community effort — and that appears to be what is happening. I’m encouraged.”
5. Boston bombings
While taxpayers across the nation raced to meet the federal April 15 filing deadline, runners from around the world gathered in Boston for a much more physical contest. Carrying on a tradition dating back to 1897, more than 27,000 runners representing 96 countries gathered on Patriot’s Day, the third Monday in April, to participate in the 117th Boston Marathon.
The winners had finished long before, but John Spataro, a judge on Crawford County’s Court of Common Pleas, had just completed his third Boston Marathon and was making a stop in the baggage pickup section when a loud noise followed by a white cloud surrounding an orange fireball erupted about 150 yards away. A second blast rang out less than 10 seconds later about a block away. Both explosions ripped through areas crowded with spectators cheering on runners approaching the finish line; in the end, three spectators died and 264 were injured.
“If I would have been 15 minutes slower, it would have been disastrous for my family and possibly me as well,” Spataro, who finished the race in 3:58:43, told the Tribune later that afternoon. His first thoughts were of his family members meeting him near the finish line, but after a few anxious moments, he was able to establish contact via cellphone.
In a reflection on the day written for a newsletter published by the Administrative Office of the Pennsylvania Courts two months after the marathon, Spataro wrote that “it seemed to me then, and now, that the focus should remain on what (the victims and their families) suffered. The 8-year-old child who was killed while waiting to see his father cross the finish line is perhaps the saddest of the many sad and painful stories to come from this tragedy.”
According to the Science section of the Boston Globe, efforts were almost immediately being put forth by researchers from fields ranging from communication theory to medicine “to salvage something of value from that horrible day.”
Ear specialists, for example, plan to spend three years following 100 patients experiencing hearing loss to see what their symptoms and recovery from the violent blast trauma can reveal about how to treat ear injuries.
Doctors leading that study have already encountered one unexpected result. “You do not want to burden (the victims) with anything else. Our biggest goal is to be sensitive to that,” the lead researcher told the Globe. “One of the interesting things is people have been very willing to participate. They want to do something better ... or have something good come out of it.”
On a legal note, authorities allege that brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev built and planted two pressure cooker bombs that exploded along the parade route. Tamerlan, the surviving brother, has pleaded not guilty to a 30-count federal indictment. With more than half the charges carrying a possible death penalty, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to decide by Jan. 31 whether to seek it. A trial date has not been set.
4. Guilty pleas
Two young Cochranton area women were sentenced this fall in Crawford County Court of Common Pleas to life in prison without parole for the gruesome killing of an Ohio woman in rural Crawford County in 2012.
Ashley Barber, 20, and Jade Olmstead, 20, were given the sentences after each pleaded guilty in county court to first-degree murder for their roles in killing Brandy Stevens, 19, of Poland, Ohio, on May 17, 2012.
The homicide stemmed from a love triangle between Barber, Olmstead and Stevens.
Both Barber and Olmstead admitted to beating Stevens severely, waterboarding the woman and burying her alive. Olmstead pleaded guilty to the crime in county court Oct. 31, while Barber pleaded guilty Nov. 14.
Barber and Olmstead each admitted to luring Stevens from her home to the Wayne Township home Barber and Olmstead shared with Barber’s parents. Stevens was lured into the woods behind the home by Olmstead and then attacked by both Olmstead and Barber.
The two women admitted Stevens was bludgeoned in the head several times with a shovel with Stevens’ head then hit repeatedly against a stump. Stevens also was choked with a rope, hit in the head with a boulder and Stevens had water poured down her throat before Olmstead and Barber buried Stevens in a shallow grave while she was still alive.
Barber and Olmstead admitted Stevens’ shoes and some of Stevens’ personal possessions were burned and Stevens’ car was put in a garage at the Barber home in an effort to cover up the crime.
District Attorney Francis Schultz said he chose not to seek the death penalty after consideration of the law and the facts in the case, and consultations with Pennsylvania State Police and the Stevens family.
“Just because something is horrific doesn’t make it a death penalty case,” Schultz said following the conclusion of the case.
“We would have to prove it was the intent of the actors to inflict substantial and unnecessary pain on the victim,” Schultz said. “In this case, they were simply ineffective in attempting to kill her. ... That’s why it took longer (to cause Stevens’ death).”
The age of the two women and their gender were factors as well, according to Schultz.
“Based on my experience, I didn’t believe a jury would give them the death penalty — being female, being that young and the fact that I didn’t think I could prove they had the intent to torture,” Schultz said.