Eric Frein: What we learned today about his manhunt and capture

Posted by Reblog: Lehigh Valley News.

Now that a full day has passed since the capture of Eric Frein, here's what we know in the wake of his arraignment Friday and imprisonment in Pike County, Pa.

Phillipsburg man gets neighbors out of home as fire spreads through row

Posted by Reblog: Lehigh Valley News.

"They came and got me and my two kids and told us to get out immediately," said a neighbor at 139 Mercer St.

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Before a row of homes were invaded by flames and smoke Friday evening, one Phillipsburg neighbor thought the sound of a smoke detector was a Halloween decoration. 

“I went inside and sat down for three or four minutes,” said Jerry Strickland, 51. “I came back outside and (the house across the street) was smoking.”

A string of row homes at 141, 143, 145 and 147 Mercer St. were eventually damaged by the fire about 7 p.m.

Strickland ran across the street and knocked on the door of 145 Mercer St. to warn the residents. While the fire started at 143 Mercer St., Strickland said he already knew those people had left that house to go trick-or-treating.

“They didn’t know until I knocked on the door and told them that the house next door was on fire,” Strickland said of the residents at 145 Mercer St. “You could hear the crackling inside the house (at 143 Mercer St).”

The homes at 141 and 147 Mercer St. were supposed to be vacant, but Chief Richard Hay said one may have been occupied. All four homes in the neighborhood of tightly-packed rowhomes are uninhabitable, he said.

“They came and got me and my two kids and told us to get out immediately,” said a neighbor at 139 Mercer St., who did not want her name published. That home was not damaged.

Responding firefighters found heavy flames on the first and second floors of 143 Mercer St., Hay said.

“The fire free-burned across the attics and walls of 145 and 147,” Hay explained. The lack of fire walls or fire stops contributed to it spreading so quickly, he said. 

One firefighter was being monitored for smoke inhalation, but no other injuries have been reported, Hay said. The displaced families are being assisted by the Red Cross.

The “substantial fire loss” requires an investigation by the Phillipsburg Fire Department, Warren County Fire Marshal, Phillipsburg Police Department and the Warren County Prosecutor’s Office, Hay said. Such a probe is typical when dealing with so much damage and is not an indication this was an arson, Hay explained. The investigation is expected to start Saturday morning.

Jim Deegan may be reached at jdeegan@express-times.com.

Phillipsburg fire damages row homes

Posted by Reblog: Lehigh Valley News.

Firefighters responded to the 100 block of Mercer Street.

UPDATE: Phillipsburg man gets neighbors out of home as fire spreads through row 

A blaze damaged row homes Friday night in Phillipsburg.

Firefighters responded to the 100 block of Mercer Street about 6:45 p.m., according to emergency radio reports. 

Smoke was pouring from homes at 141, 143, 145 and 147 Mercer Street. 

Phillipsburg officials didn’t immediately return a call for more information.

Jury rules for former ESU administrator accused of sexual assault

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 A jury says a former university administrator in northeastern Pennsylvania is not guilty of allegations that he sexually harassed or assaulted students.

The verdict in the federal civil rights trial was issued Friday in favor of Isaac Sanders, the former vice president of advancement at East Stroudsburg University.

The Pocono Record says Sanders’ lawyer reported he was elated and considers it the first step toward vindicating his reputation.

Three former university students claimed he offered them campus jobs and paid tuition in order to groom them for sexual advances.

They claimed he groped them, and one claimed he forced the student to perform oral sex on several occasions.

Sanders was never charged with a crime, but the school fired him in 2008. The lawsuit followed a year later.

Woman on bicycle struck, killed by hit-and-run driver near Morgantown, state police say

Posted by 69News:.

A woman riding a bicycle on a rural road near the border between Berks and Lancaster counties was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver, state police said.

The accident happened around 9 a.m. Friday in the 400 block of Shirktown Road in Caernarvon Township, Lancaster County, about three miles south of Morgantown, Berks County.

The victim was identified by troopers on the scene as Roseanna O. Newswanger, 56, of Narvon.

Police said they don’t have much of a description of the striking vehicle, except that it is a large commercial vehicle with light-colored brown dirt on the front bumper and undercarriage. It was traveling south on Shirktown Road.

Anyone with information about the case or the vehicle involved is asked to call state police in Lancaster at 717-299-7650.

Twelve residents hope to win Bethlehem Council seat

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A dozen candidates hope to fill the Bethlehem City Council seat of Karen Dolan, who has resigned after being the subject of a grand jury investigation.

With no extensive public interviewing process, City Council intends to select one of the 12 during its next public meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

The person picked apparently will be sworn in immediately and then will serve until Jan. 4, 2016.

Dolan’s resignation takes effect Saturday, although the grand jury that investigated her had recommended she resign sooner.

The 12 who applied for the vacant seat are:  Basilio Bonilla, Michael Colon, Dennis Douvanis, Julie Edgar, Earl Kinsley, Esther Lee, Olga Negron, Lynn Rothman, Grace Smith, Christopher Spadoni, Louis Stellato and Thomas Stoneback.

No background information about the candidates was released publicly Friday.

Spadoni, a lawyer, was City Council’s solicitor for 17 years. In February, council replaced him with Atty. John Spirk.

Rothman and Colon sought to be appointed to council at the beginning of this year, when Cathy Rauscher was picked to fill the seat vacated by Robert Donchez, who had been elected Bethlehem’s mayor in November.

That selection process, which involved public interviews with all the candidates, initially drew 16 interested residents. But the number later dropped to 13, then 11.

On Jan. 30, council met for six hours interviewing those 11 candidates for that vacant seat.

This time, cover letters and resumes from applicants for the seat were accepted by the city clerk’s office until noon Friday. That information was forwarded to council’s six members by 4:30 p.m. Friday.

Council members will base their decision on written questions given to the applicants, as well as any conversations they have with them between now and Wednesday night.

Dolan announced her resignation after an Oct. 9 grand jury report recommended she resign, based on its finding that she had used her position to influence city officials to write-off nearly $128,000 owed the city by the non-profit Fox Environmental Center, which she founded.

 

 

Jury rejected prosecution’s explanation to South Side Bethlehem gunbattle, lawyer says

Posted by Reblog: Lehigh Valley News.

Rene Figueroa, who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault, among other charges, is still accused of murder-for-hire.

A Northampton County jury cleared one of the alleged gunmen in the South Side Bethlehem gunbattle and found his co-defendant not guilty of the most serious charges Friday.

Rene Figueroa offered the same blank stare he’s carried the past three weeks as the jury of six men and six women convicted him of the involuntary manslaughter of Yolanda Morales and aggravated assault of Angel Figueroa. The jury also convicted him of carrying a firearm without a license and receiving stolen property — the .40-caliber handgun he used to shoot his two victims.

Javier Rivera-Alvarado showed no reaction either as the jurors found him not guilty of all 20 charges against him, including three counts of attempted homicide. Soft cries of relief and anguish rose from the audience as Judge Anthony Beltrami noted that Rivera-Alvarado could be released from prison with no other charges pending.

“My client was facing the death penalty and he got convicted of a misdemeanor,” said Jack McMahon, Rene Figueroa’s defense attorney, after the verdict. “I think it’s a complete repudiation of the government’s theory.”

Frustrated friends and family of the victims filed out of the courthouse, declining to comment. Many of them got onto their phones and wept as they spread word of the verdict. Angel Figueroa waved away reporters as his power wheelchair carried him away from the courthouse.

Victims anything but, defense says

McMahon and Ed Andres, Rivera-Alvarado’s defense attorney, assailed the prosecution’s account of the Dec. 2, 2012 shootout. Police said Rivera-Alvarado started the deadly firefight by pulling a gun on Orialis Figueroa outside the Puerto Rican Beneficial Society and shot him, Morales and Luis Rivera before Orialis Figueroa knocked him out with a baseball bat.

Witnesses testified Rene Figueroa then stepped out of a nearby parking lot and fatally wounded Morales and paralyzed Angel Figueroa. Orialis Figueroa took Rivera-Alvarado’s gun and shot Rene Figueroa as he retreated into the club, police said.

But the defense teams pinned the fault on the alleged victims, saying Orialis Figueroa and his nephews attacked Rivera-Alvarado after mistaking him for a man who started an altercation inside the club. Orialis Figueroa and his nephews, whom McMahon dubbed the “Magnificent Seven,” lied on the witness stand about what happened or who hid the baseball bat after the fight. Oriais Figueroa fired into the air in an effort to scare Rivera-Alvarado’s attackers away, the defense teams argued.

“It was a smart jury, a conscientious jury. I thank them. My client thanks them,” McMahon said.

Murder-for-hire charge still awaits

First Assistant District Attorney Terry Houck noted the case was extraordinarily difficult. Investigators had to make sense of a crime scene that spanned 60 yards of East Third Street, the inside of the club and trauma units of St. Luke’s University Hospital in Fountain Hill. At least 18 shots were fired, and a forensic expert said the bullets in Morales’ body were too badly damaged to link to a weapon.

“The good news is a very dangerous man is off the streets for a while, though not as long as we’d like,” Houck said after the verdict.

Prosecutors will seek the 10- to 20-year maximum sentence for the aggravated assault, and the other charges can be run consecutively, Houck said. The involuntary manslaughter charge carries a maximum sentence of two-and-a-half to five years.

Beltrami did not set a sentencing date for Rene Figueroa. He still faces charges for allegedly smuggling a cell phone into the Northampton County Prison and allegedly soliciting a Northampton County Prison inmate to kill witnesses of this trial.

In the murder-for-hire allegations, police said Rene Figueroa offered to bail James Martin out of prison and pay him $50,000 for killing Orialis Figueroa and his wife Shajuan Hungerford. Martin testified about Rene Figueroa’s plan during the gunbattle trials, and prosecutors presented audio tapes of Rene Figueroa instructing his wife Sonia Panell about how to bail out Martin.

McMahon dismissed Martin’s testimony as a dangerous inmate seeking a plea deal and a prosecution team desperate enough to give it to him to shore up a weak case. McMahon also represents Figueroa on those charges but said after the verdict, “I’ll worry about that later.”

Federal prosecutors allege Panell tried to hire another killer to assassinate Orialis Figueroa, Hungerford and Angel Figueroa. The would-be hitman was actually an FBI informant who recorded their conversations, according to court documents. Hope Lefeber, Panell’s defense lawyer, claims her mentally and emotionally vulnerable client was entrapped by the informant so he could stay in the FBI’s good graces.

Mixed verdict for defendants in Puerto Rican Beneficial Society shooting

Posted by 69News:.

One of the defendants accused in a shooting at a social club in Bethlehem has been found not guilty of all charges. The other has been found not guilty of the most serious offense.

Rene Figueroa was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. He was found not guilty of criminal homicide.

Javier Rivera Alvarado was found not guilty of all charges.

The jury reached the verdict just before 5 p.m.

Figueroa, 34, was on trial for the shooting death of of Yolanda Morales, 23.

His co-defendant, Javier Rivera Alvadrado, 40, faced attempted homicide charges.

Prosecutors said Figueroa was the first to fire shots in the gun battle outside the Puerto Rican Beneficial Society in Bethlehem in 2012.

‘Heart of the City’ initiative begins 2nd phase in Allentown

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Two blocks in the heart of Allentown are about to get a makeover.

Officials announced Friday the second phase of the “Heart of the City” initiative.

More than $400,000 from the city, state and Sacred Heart Healthcare System will go toward revitalizing the 500 and 600 blocks of Chew Street.

Crews will install dozens of new street lights, as well as new trees and crosswalks. The roads will also be repaved.

The “Heart of the City” initiative work began in 2011 around Sacred Heart at Fourth and Chew streets.

Swan song for ESU music program

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The swan song has played for the music program at East Stroudsburg University.

School officials say the Fine Arts Music Baccalaureate program has been placed in moratorium.

ESU says the decision was made last year, but the administration was required to issue a formal letter of retrenchment to the two faculty members who will be affected by Oct. 30

There are currently five students in the program, and they’ll be allowed to complete their requirements.