Child lead exposure in Lehigh Valley exceeds Flint, Mich.

The rates are higher in Allentown, Easton and Bethlehem than the statewide rate and more than in Flint, Michigan.

Children in the Lehigh Valley’s three cities had significantly h…

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Driver hit tree at 70 mph in drunken crash that killed 3 friends, police say

The driver in a crash that killed three hunting buddies traveled at 70 mph in a 30 mph zone an estimated 1.5 second prior to the truck’s airbag being deployed, court records said.

Thomas Howey, involved in fatal crash involving huntersThomas Howey, 49, of Palmer Township (Courtesy photo) 

The Palmer Township man charged with vehicular homicide and drunken driving in a November crash that killed his three hunting buddies was going 70 mph on a 30 mph road just before his pickup truck slammed into a tree, according to court records.

Thomas J. Howey Jr., 50, had a blood-alcohol content of 0.14 at the time of the crash, court records said.

Pennsylvania State Police at Blooming Grove charged Howey with three counts each of homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence and homicide by vehicle, as well as drunken driving and traffic offenses.

Timothy Gerhard, 58, of Plainfield Township; Barry Foose Jr., 46, of Easton; and Eric Dunbar, 38, of Roseto, were pronounced dead at the scene of the crash in Greene Township.

A police analysis of Howey’s Ford F-150’s airbag showed he was driving 70 mph in a 30 mph zone 1.5 seconds prior to the airbag deploying, court records said.

Howey was sent to Pike County Prison in lieu of $30,000 bail, with a preliminary hearing tentatively scheduled Feb. 16 before District Judge Shannon Muir.

Driver was drunk in crash that killed 3 hunting buddies, police say

An affidavit of probable cause filed by Pennsylvania State Police Trooper James Rabel in Hawley, Pennsylvania shed more light on the details of the crash at 4 p.m. on Nov. 29.

Rabel said it appeared the truck scraped a smaller trees prior to crashing into the larger tree, where the vehicle came to rest on the 100 block of Mozzette Road, Greene Township.

A significant amount of debris surrounded the wreck, including several vehicle parts, including a missing front wheel and a red door, records said. A witness called 911.

Driver was drunk in crash that killed 3 hunting buddies, police sayFrom left, Timothy Gerhard, Barry Foose Jr. and Eric Dunbar were pronounced dead at the Nov. 29, 2015, crash in Greene Township, Pike County. (Courtesy photos | For lehighvalleylive.com)

Foose and Dunbar were found dead in the backseat and Gerhard was found partially-ejected from the front passenger seat and also deceased, Rabel states in court records. None of the men were wearing seat-belts, police said

Howey’s eyes were bloodshot, he had slurred speech and there was an odor of alcohol as he spoke to Trooper Rabel, court records said. Howey told Rabel he couldn’t recall the actual crash or what led to the crash, according to the affidavit of probable cause.

Howey was hospitalized in critical condition at Lehigh Valley Hospital.

Howey remembered driving the other three men back to his cabin on Mozette Road, he told the trooper. He allegedly admitted consuming four to five beers at Renegades Saloon in nearby Newfoundland, Pennsylvania, prior to the crash. A server at the bar when interviewed by police said the same.

Howey’s daughter, Amanda Stephan, an only child and mother of two who lives next door to her parents in Palmer Township, told lehighvalleylive.com in December her father had owned the cabin with Gerhard.

Hunters in fatal wreck recalled as hard-working family men

Howey and Gerhard worked together at Asbury Graphite Mills in Franklin Township, Warren County. Howey is a foreman who has worked for the company for more than 30 years. Gerhard was the plant manager and worked there 40 years, according to his family.

The pair often hunted together. The crash occurred the day before the start of Pennsylvania’s two-week firearms season for white-tailed deer. Foose was married to Howey’s cousin. Dunbar was a friend of Foose’s whom he had just introduced to the others.

Pamela Sroka-Holzmann may be reached at pholzmann@lehighvalleylive.com. Follow her on Twitter @pamholzmann. Find lehighvalleylive.com on Facebook.

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Many Allentown children face toxic lead threat

More children living in Allentown have dangerously high high levels of lead in their blood than in any other Pennsylvania city, City Council was warned Wednesday night.

“A study came out today that noted Allentown was number one in Pennsylvania for incidents of lead exposure in children,” resident Chris Cocca told council.

He said Allentown’s levels are over the lead limit that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consider dangerously high.

“That’s a public health crisis and we need to declare it as one,” said Cocca.

His warning was based on a Wednesday news article on vox.com, an on-line news site, which used 2014 Pennsylvania Health Department statistics comparing 20 cities in the state.

According to that state study, 23.11 percent of children under age seven in Allentown face health problems from lead poisoning. No other Pennsylvania city has that many at risk.

In Altoona, it was 20.45 percent, followed by Scranton at 19.45 percent, then Johnstown at 18.26 percent.

While alarming, discussion of the health threat at the City Council meeting did not emphasize the age group of children endangered by lead, which might have left some to incorrectly conclude that risk applied to 23 percent of all children living in Allentown.

For example, Cocca told council: “Our children, at the rate of 23 out of 100, have levels of lead in their blood that the CDC says are dangerously high.”

Vicky Kistler, director of the city’s health bureau, is preparing a “white paper” for City Council in response to the vox.com report, said city managing director Francis Dougherty.

Dougherty said city officials saw the report Wednesday and directed Kistler to prepare the document.

He said her document will explain what the city is doing “and what we need to do going forward. I hope to have that to council soon.”

Jeff Glazier, the city’s new controller, suggested Allentown may have the highest rate in the state “because we test more kids than anybody else.”

Glazier admitted he’s not sure that’s the answer, adding: “That’s not to lessen one’s concern. It just may explain the magnitude of the issue. I’m sure we can get a better explanation at some point in the future.”

Glazier said the vox.com article states the primary cause of the problem is the deterioration of aging lead-based paint.

“It also points out the Pennsylvania does not have mandatory testing for children.”

Dougherty said Allentown’s lead problems are almost exclusively because of the city’s old housing stock.

While lead was banned from paint in 1978, many older dwellings still contain layers of pre-1978 paint, according to the state Health Department in its 2014 Childhood Lead Surveillance Annual Report.

That report states Pennsylvania ranks third in the nation for having the most housing units built before 1950.

“Our children are sick, because of where they live,” said Cocca. “That’s simply because our housing stock is rotting away. And it’s dangerous.”

He said lead can come from dust and paint chips, “which is a condition of poverty in our housing stock. It seems as though it’s all coming from environmental components being inhaled or ingested.”

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, lead can be harmful to humans when ingested or inhaled, especially to children under the age of six.

“Lead poisoning can cause a number of adverse human health effects,” states EPA. “It is particularly detrimental to the neurological development of children.”

EPA warns even low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in behavior and learning problems,
lower IQ and hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems and anemia.

The agency warns: “In rare cases, ingestion of lead can cause seizures, coma and even death.”

“We’re eight times worse than Flint, Mich.,” claimed Cocca, adding that city is experiencing its highly-publicized public health crisis because of too much lead in its drinking water.

Warning council he was about to share technical information, Cocca said: “One micron is smaller than a human hair in width. I think it’s about one-hundredth of a human hair.”

He said the CDC considers dangerously high level of lead exposure in children to be five microns in one deciliter of human blood.

In Flint, said Cocca, said the percentage of children with more than five microns of lead per deciliter of blood in their systems is 3.21 percent. “In some neighborhoods in Flint, it’s as high as six percent.”

“According to the research published today, the percentage of children in Allentown with five or more microns of lead per deciliter of blood in their bodies is 23 percent,” he said.

Cocca said the vox.com report shows Pennsylvania has 18 cities that are worse off than Flint.

“Allentown is number one of those 18,” he said. “Those cities include Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Erie and Scranton.”

According to the 2014 state study, 14.32 percent of children under seven in Bethlehem have too much lead in their blood.

In Easton, it is too high in 15.81 percent of those younger children.

In Reading, it is too high in 16.14 percent.

“Why is it so bad here?” asked Cocca. “We have to look at best practices in cities that have our same housing stock.”

“I’d like to see if we can do something about this,” said council member Julio Guridy. “We need to do a lot more. It’s an emergency type of situation for us.”

Guridy suggested calling a meeting in City Hall to get advice on steps the city should take in response to the ranking.

Hotel operations and development firm ensures ‘three-diamonds’ status for Americus Hotel

A leading suburban Philadelphia based hotel operator, developer, and management firm Wednesday told the Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone Development Authority (ANIZDA) it would be able to resurrect Allentown’s Americus Hotel, formerly the grand dame of downtown hotels and transform it into a “three-diamonds” rated hotel.

This rating would secure tax incentive backing from the authority.

Principal Derek Sylvester of Gulph Creek Hotels of Wayne said, “We have great experience in getting a hotel off the ground. No one else delivers as much expertise from the top.”

In recent years, the company has renovated and rejuvenated both Philadelphia’s Crowne Plaza Hotel and Newark, New Jersey’s Spring Hill Suites located across from the airport.

Smaller market venues have included revamping the Holiday Inn in York and a 12-story Hyatt Place hotel in downtown State College.

“The Americus has to be a three-diamonds hotel in order to keep it operationally viable,” said Sylvester.

ANIZDA required the “three diamonds” bar be set for the Americus when developer Al Abdouche approached months ago for its support on the renovation.

A “three diamonds” standard for the Americus would classify it as above-average.

Sylvester commented Abdouche currently has successfully redone a number of the hotel’s rooms and installed the proper accent walls, attractive tile and draperies, and an energy efficient heating and cooling system.

He noted in order for the hotel to gain market share, Gulph Creek would be hiring sales representatives to book not only rooms but banquet and meeting facilities.

He said his firm manages all hotel aspects including public areas, banquets, meetings, and condominium living spaces.

Project cost estimates from Pittsburgh engineering and architectural firm Michael Baker International totaled $15.7 million to get the Americus up and running with a $2.5 million contingency fund for unexpected construction costs.

Last summer, ANIZDA required a professional engineering and architectural firm construction cost estimate be submitted by the Baker firm which the board also approved.

In his address to the authority, Michael Baker’s Lehigh Valley Office Manager Ralph Eberhardt said his firm’s construction estimate costs do not include a historically accurate restoration to the hotel which would cost considerably more.

Eberhardt said the next step of producing actual construction drawings outlining the project’s particulars may change some cost estimates.

Abdouche’s next step in the project application stage is to secure a lending commitment from a financial institution and produce a business plan for the hotel outlining such items as the tax revenues it would expect to generate for the city and state.

The Americus’ owner assured his venture is secure, insured and will apply for a historical structure renovation tax credit.

He also promised a to hire an on-site field engineer to ensure the building is “three diamonds compatible”.

Rain, power outages strike downtown Reading

It seemed for most of Wednesday the rain would not let up.

In Pottstown, Montgomery County, flooding forced school buses to find alternate routes.

“It’s just something you don’t want to risk. You want to make sure they stay away from areas like tha…

West End Fire Co. ladder truck receives national exposure

West End Fire Co.’s newest ladder truck is featured in a nationally distributed 2016 calendar.

The ladder truck was selected out of 500 other trucks nationwide, Battalion Chief Kevin Neubert told council at Wednesday evening’s meeting.

The 2015 tru…

South Whitehall OKs King George Inn Plan

The South Whitehall Township Board of Commissioners granted preliminary approval to the redevelopment of King George Inn project.

“This area will be revitalized and redeveloped,” said Township Manager Howard Kutzler on Wednesday night.

Under the pl…