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Storm causes widespread damage county-wide

SUNBURY — A line of powerful thunderstorms, accompanied by high winds, that passed through the area late Sunday night through early Monday morning resulted in widespread damage and power outages. Tornadoes hit some parts of the state, including Union County.

In Northumberland County, wind gusts as high as 43 mph were reported Monday by the National Weather Service in State College.

Three tornadoes touched down in the state, one Sunday and two others early Monday.

“An EF1 tornado was confirmed along (Route) 193 in East Buffalo Township, Union County, a few miles west of Lewisburg, with estimated wind speeds of around 90 mph,” National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Steinbugl said.

That twister damaged a church and destroyed a barn in East Buffalo Township.

Another did significant damage to nine trailers near Benton in Columbia County and also affected about a dozen homes and businesses, blowing one roof completely off.

The tornado on Sunday struck in northwestern Pennsylvania, causing “significant destruction” in Starbrick, Warren County. A lumber company was damaged and a boat was lifted off the ground.

Teams are trying to confirm reports of other twisters. Winds and torrential rains also washed out roads and knocked out power to tens of thousands of utility customers. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

As of Monday afternoon, PPL was working to restore service to a number of power outages, according to Steven Jeffrey, public safety director in Northumberland County.

“The northern part of the county seems to have been the hit the hardest,” he said. “One important request we’re asking from the public is for them to be patient and understand that right now our emergency crews are dealing with a number of issues and are doing the best they can to resolve them. We respectfully ask that everyone please keep the 911 lines clear and only report serious emergencies.”

To report an outage, go to pplelectric.com/outages.

Today’s forecast predicts a slight chance of rain after 2 p.m. Otherwise, it will be mostly sunny, with a high near 59 and winds at 10 mph to 13 mph. The chance of precipitation is 20 percent, with showers possible after 8 p.m.


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99 years young

KULPMONT — Monday was a day for celebration at Life Geisinger, as its oldest attendee turned 99 years young.

With two of his daughters and his sister-in-law in attendance, World War II veteran Roland Ferentz, of Shamokin, was celebrated by staff and senior citizens, members of Kulpmont American Legion Post 231 and a representative from Rep. Kurt Masser’s (R-107) office.

In honor of Ferentz’s service, all veterans in attendance were also honored at a special table set up for them. They included Forrest Leer, Mark Shaffer, Bill Painter, Thomas Moffitt, Myron Turlis, Ed Bendas, Doug Gurnsey, Dolores Holloway and staff member Teresa Bohner.

Ferentz, who served in the Army, is the father of four children, 10 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. He was married to his wife, Mary, for 57 years before her passing.

In a short speech, Wendy Rishel, outreach and enrollment coordinator, said Ferentz enjoys bowling, fishing, casinos and ginger brandy.

Ferentz’s daughters are grateful a program such as Life Geisinger exists for their father to attend.

“For us, it’s a place for dad to go and to just develop more and be more active in his older years, and it’s a fantastic program,” said his daughter, Margaret Ferentz.

Ferentz lives in his home with 24/7 care, and Life Geisinger makes it easier for him to do that.

His daughter, Mary Ann Charnosky, is happy the program allows her father to continue his long-standing tradition of being a very sociable person without having to move into a nursing home.

“It’s a wonderful program to keep people at home. I can’t thank the girls and the program enough for all they’ve done,” Charnosky said.

One-stop shop

Life Geisinger has been in Kulpmont for 11 years and services Northumberland, Montour, Columbia and parts of Schuylkill counties.

What makes the program unique is it allows those 55 and older to stay within their homes and communities while being provided care services and support. The center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, but care is provided seven days a week.

Considered the nursing home alternative, Life Geisinger enrollees are able to have their medical care taken care of at the center’s medical clinic five days a week. The senior center/adult day care provides them the opportunity to socialize, eat a hot meal and enjoy activities outside of their home.

Additionally, Rishel said attendees have access to physical and occupational therapy on a daily basis.

With half of its 85 enrolled members living alone, the program also provides in home care, according to Rishel. This care includes a personal care aide who assists with things like bathing, dressing, cleaning, laundry, food preparation and more.

Because many attendees no longer drive or have caregivers who are unable to drive them to the center every day, transportation is provided through the Life Geisinger buses that deliver people to and from the site.

Rishel said daily needs such as medication, personal care supplies and more are also provided.

About 55 attend the center daily, and with a capacity of 84 people, Rishel said there’s plenty of open spots available for new enrollees.

“We are a Medicare- and Medicaid-funded program,” she said. “We’re a national program, which is known as the program of all-inclusive care for the elderly.”

With four locations, Life Geisinger provides assistance in nine counties throughout Pennsylvania.

“We change lives one senior at a time, and individuals who enroll with us, their quality of life increases tremendously because now they’re getting their medical care, they’re taking their prescriptions correctly, we’re monitoring them,” Rishel said. “They’re also getting out of their house and socializing a bit, so all of those pieces combined gives them more quality, and the respite it provides for the family members who are their caregivers is huge.”

To learn more about Life Geisinger and for those interested in attending, go to www.geisinger.org/health-plan/plans/life-geisinger or call the Kulpmont Life Geisinger at 570-373-2100.


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Judge schedules re-sentencing hearing for Gundrum in October

SUNBURY — Northumberland County Judge Paige Rosini scheduled a resentencing hearing Monday for a former Milton resident charged as a juvenile with stabbing to death his childhood friend in 1993.

Norman Gundrum, 42, who appeared for a status conference with his attorney, Joseph D’Andrea, of Dunmore, is scheduled for a resentencing hearing Oct. 2-3 before Rosini.

Northumberland County Assistant District Attorneys Robyn Zenzinger and Michael Sullivan will represent the commonwealth at the resentencing hearing.

Gundrum, who didn’t make any statements in court other than saying thank you to the judge, reserved comment to the media upon being escorted from the courthouse back to SCI-Coal Township.

In January, Rosini ordered the district attorney’s office to provide all discovery evidence to D’Andrea so a court schedule could be developed.

Mitigating experts most likely will be called upon to testify at the hearing.

According to recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings, Gundrum may be resentenced to life in prison with or without a chance for parole, granted a new sentence with a minimum and maximum incarceration period, or receive a reduced sentence.

Murder defendants 15 and younger at the time of the offense could be resentenced to 25 years to life in prison, while defendants who were 16 or 17 at the time could be resentenced to 35 years to life in prison.

Gundrum was 16 when charged Dec. 9, 1993, with stabbing to death Bobby Coup. He was sentenced Jan. 27, 1995, in Northumberland County, to life in prison without parole.

Previous hearings for Gundrum and convicted child murderer Brandon Brown, of Coal Township, were continued by Rosini and President Judge Charles Saylor, respectively, pending a state Supreme Court ruling on how to litigate cases involving juveniles charged with criminal homicide who were sentenced to life in prison.

Brown, who is represented by Sunbury attorney James Best, was 15 when charged by Coal Township police with kidnapping, assaulting, raping and killing his 6-year-old neighbor, Jasmine Stoud, on Aug. 11, 2001, in a wooded area not far from their West Walnut Street homes.

He was sentenced to life in prison without parole after being convicted of all charges by a jury in Northumberland County on Jan. 24, 2003. In addition to the life sentence, Brown also was ordered by then-President Judge Robert B. Sacavage to serve a consecutive sentence of 17 to 70 years for kidnapping, rape and other charges.

Brown is now 33 and incarcerated at SCI-Forest.

Gundrum and Brown are among hundreds of Pennsylvania offenders sentenced to life without parole for crimes committed as juveniles whose cases are being revisited because of a pair of Supreme Court rulings.

Pennsylvania leads the nation in those serving mandatory no-release sentences for crimes committed as minors, the result of laws that long treated teens charged with the most serious crimes like adults.

After the Supreme Court barred such sentences for juveniles in 2012, Pennsylvania officials argued that did not apply to those already in prison.

Three years ago, the nation’s highest court said the ban must be applied retroactively, triggering new sentencing hearings and parole for inmates across the country.


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Vellner pleads no contest to two counts of indecent assault

SUNBURY — A 50-year-old Kulpmont man pleaded no contest Monday to two misdemeanor counts of indecent assault involving incidents with two female juveniles in the borough.

Michael Vellner entered the plea before Northumberland County President Judge Charles Saylor and will be sentenced within 90 days, following a pre-sentence investigation and an assessment by the Sexual Offenders Assessment Board to determine if the defendant is a sexually violent predator.

Under the plea agreement with the district attorney’s office, felony offenses of aggravated indecent assault and other charges will not be prosecuted.

Vellner was represented by public defender John Broda.

By pleading no contest, Vellner is neither admitting nor denying guilt but acknowledges that enough evidence exists that could lead to a conviction on the charges at trial.

He was charged by state police at Stonington with inappropriately touching a 14-year-old girl on April 4, 2015. Vellner also was charged by Kulpmont police with inappropriately touching a 13-year-old girl in December 2017.

He remains in Northumberland County Jail.


Tim Zyla / TIM ZYLA/STAFF PHOTO  

Shamokin Area’s Abby Doss swims during the PIAA Class AA 500-yard freestyle finals during the state championship meet Saturday, March 17 at at Bucknell University’s Kinney Natatorium.


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Straight-line winds take down trees in North'd Cty

MILTON — Heavy thunderstorms that blew through the Central Susquehanna Valley early Monday morning sparked an EF-1 tornado in Union County and fueled straight-line winds in Northumberland County, all of which toppled trees, caused some damage to buildings and knocked out power to thousands.

Union County Emergency Management Coordinator Michelle Dietrich, along with officials from the National Weather Service and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, toured areas of Buffalo and East Buffalo townships, as well as Lewisburg Borough, which sustained storm damage.

According to a release issued by Union County Public Safety, the National Weather Service determined an EF-1 tornado with straight-line winds followed a north-to-south path, touching down in Buffalo Township.

Several homes, barns and outbuildings sustained damage and numerous trees were knocked down in the storm. There were no injuries.

“After talking with several individuals and emergency responders, it helped to make an accurate assessment of what occurred during the early morning hours,” the release said. “Many residents advised they have never heard the sounds or remember a storm of such intensity and took shelter in their basements.”

Northumberland County Emergency Management Agency Coordinator Stephen Jeffery said he and his staff toured East and West Chillisquaque townships.

“What we are seeing, the majority of everything has to do with straight-line winds,” Jeffery said. “We observed some damage throughout Mexico Road ... what we saw indicates straight-line winds.”

Jeffery said the storm primarily knocked down trees and caused some minor property damage.

John Banghoff, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in State College, said there were no plans to send a team of investigators to Northumberland County.

He said forecasters were examining areas of Benton to determine if a tornado had touched down there.

“There was some pretty consolidated damage in Benton ... and some additional damage in Millville,” Banghoff said.

A team from the National Weather Service was expected to visit Dushore Monday to determine if a tornado had touched down there.

Late Monday morning, PPL Regional Affairs Director Tracie Witter said 22,300 customers throughout PPL’s 29-county coverage area were without power.

“Since the start of the storm, our crews have restored power to about 55,300 customers,” she said. “We still have about 700 damaged locations across the territory to address, with more outages expected to occur (Monday).”

She said the continued wind guests were expected to contribute to the additional outages.

Witter expected power to be restored throughout Northumberland County by late Monday night. She anticipated power to Union County customers taking about 24 hours longer, with restoration anticipated by 11 tonight.

At 7 a.m. Monday, Witter said 1,384 PPL customers in Union County were without power. That number had been reduced to 594 by 11:40 a.m.

In Northumberland County, 2,631 customers were without power as of 7 a.m. Monday. That number had increased to 2,657 by 11:40 a.m.

“We have hundreds of workers and support personnel that will be working to get power restored,” Witter said.

Witter described Monday’s outage as being a “multi-day event.”

“We are prepared to work around the clock to restore power,” she said. “Our crews will continue to work as safely and quickly as possible around the clock until every customer is restored.”

In addition to utility crews working throughout the area, cleanup was also underway Monday.

Carter Schrock said the property his family owns along Follmer Road, near Milton, sustained damage which he expected to take most of the day Monday to clean up.

“We had a couple of roofs blow off our sheds,” he said. “Some shingles blew off (our house). We have quite a few trees down and some limbs.”

Vaughn Murray, West Chillisquaque Township supervisor, was inspecting the damage throughout the township.

“From what I’ve seen, there are trees down all over,” he said.

Murray spotted a tree down on top of a car in the area of Astro Village, as well as numerous other damage in the area.

Numerous roads were reported by PennDOT to be closed across Union, Northumberland, Montour, Columbia, Snyder and Sullivan counties.

Witter is advising everyone to avoid downed power lines and to report fallen wires to PPL by calling 800-DIAL-PPL.

“If you must run a generator, make sure you run it outdoors, in a well-ventilated area,” she said. “Use flashlights, not candles, to reduce fire risk.”