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SCA parent alleges teacher made threats at school

CATAWISSA RR — A Southern Columbia Area alumnus and parent expressed disappointment with the school district at Monday’s school board meeting, claiming a teacher had made homicidal and suicidal threats on school property in October but is back at work in the district.

Josh Maciejewski, co-owner of Function of Beauty in Catawissa, said he provided the school board with a statement at a January executive session regarding the teacher and shared the statement with the press Monday evening.

“The parents I have shared that statement with privately so far have all expressed similar levels of concern, angst and outrage that was expressed by me and other parents that came to that executive session,” Maciejewski said.

He alleged at the meeting there has been “an ongoing issue for seven years in one form or another with this teacher,” adding parents didn’t believe their children when they spoke up “because what they were saying was so ridiculous they couldn’t believe it was true.”

Maciejewski told the board it was the district’s last opportunity to communicate with parents on issues that have occurred since the allegedly threats in October, one week after a Southern Columbia Area student committed suicide due to alleged bullying.

Since the suicide, the district has worked with parents to revise its bullying policy and clarify language defining what constitutes bullying, punishments for offenders and the system through which to report the incidents. Counseling has been offered to students in the wake of both the October suicide and the suicide of another student last week, not believed to be related to bullying.

However, Maciejewski said this is not an isolated issue, so “it’s not going to be a limited time event that has been corrected through whatever counseling or psychological treatment that has occurred in the last month and a half.

“The homicidal and suicidal actions that occurred in that building are a limited incident,” he said, “but all the things that led up to that, all the indicators and warning signs, have been going on for much longer than that with no action.”

Following the meeting, Maciejewski told the press on the day in question, the Locust Township Police Department was called by the school via a cellphone. He said the threats were made to parents, not students, but following the incident the teacher allegedly fled campus on foot. He alleged police responded to the call, and the school was not placed on lockdown following the teacher’s leaving.

The teacher had returned to school as of two weeks ago, he said.

The school board had no response to Maciejewski’s statements.


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Bonding with 'Grease': Friendships created through months of practices

CATAWISSA RR — When Southern Columbia Area High School’s production of “Grease” is performed this weekend, the audience will watch a culmination of months of practices.

What the audience won’t see, however, are the friendships that have been created between castmates whose backgrounds are as diverse as the characters they portray. The cast and crew consists of athletes, musicians, singers and dancers who have tirelessly worked to present sold-out shows at 7 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

“I made really close connections with all the rookies who came in this year,” said junior Kiersten Brecht, who plays Sandy Dumbrowski. “I think they are really fun to work with.”

Two of those rookies are Oak Six and John Stabinski, who will play Vince Fontaine and Sonny LaTierri, respectively. The senior football linemen who were part of this season’s state championship team wanted to try something new and give back to a program that they said works just as hard as any athletic team.

“I didn’t know what to expect at first, but I am actually enjoying it quite a bit,” Six said following a performance at Life Geisinger in Kulpmont Thursday afternoon. “I am making new friends and meeting new people. That’s the main reason I like it.”

Six said the brief performance in front of about 30 people, which was the first in front of the public, brought a renewed energy going into this weekend’s shows.

Stabinski said the biggest similarity between football and “Grease” is the amount of things to remember. He compared the number of football plays to that of words and movements in the musical.

“It’s very much the same thing, except in football there’s a game a week and with (musicals) we have one weekend to do this — so you better make a statement,” he said.

He was encouraged by his girlfriend, Mikaela Brouse, who was cast as Rizzo, to join the musical. He was pleasantly surprised at how close he bonded with his classmates.

“With football we are close, but this is even closer,” he said. “The last couple of years, I always thought I should do something different than just sports. I wanted to give back to a different program that doesn’t get a whole lot of light on it and is shadowed by sports, here. I am glad I did it.”

Senior Zachary Honabach, who will portray Danny Zuko, said the musical focuses on the turbulent lives of students in high school and is comparable, to a degree, to life as a Tiger. “Grease” features many scenes with almost every cast member, a stark contrast from last year’s production of “Shrek,” which contained multiple scenes featuring only certain characters, he added.

Another difference in “Grease,” he said, is that his character of Lord Farquaad in “Shrek” was more comic relief, whereas Danny is a more dramatic role.

“I always wanted to try a character like this,” he said. “The musical is a classic that everybody knows. It’s an honor to be given a chance to play this amazing character. I am very happy with what I am doing.”

Brecht pointed out that she is completely different from Sandy, a shy girl who moves to America, but noted that she loves playing the character made famous by Olivia Newton-John.

Brecht enjoys the songs “You’re the One That I Want” and “Sandra Dee (Reprise)” because they provide some of the few opportunities to dance in the musical.

After months of sometimes five-a-week practices, Brecht was thrilled to get a chance to perform in front of the public at Life Geisinger last Thursday, which was followed by a trip with her castmates to Palmer’s Diner in Coal Township for milkshakes and photos.

“There’s so many people who are involved in this musical,” she said with excitement. “It was nice to see people smiling at Life Geisinger and relating to this musical.”

Directed by Letha Stone, the cast includes Dee Dee George, Gabby Kaminski, Allie Willhouse, Toren Cooper, Maura Blusius, Victoria Slagle, Cally Seidel, Mikaela Brouse, Dylan Kramer, Ethan Dunkelberger, Franklin Brassard, Emma Steely, Joe Lobos, Meredith Fahringer, Susan Gembic, Abby Henrichs, Lauren Smith, Colby Adams, Dylan Briggs, Olivia Long, Lauren Rovito, Abby Knoebel, Kianna Rizzo, Emma Schultz, Kianna Rizzo and Toren Cooper.

The pit are Bonny Klinger, Monna Tomtishen, Wes Fahringer, Todd Davis, Frank Ginitz, Jake Stahley, Emma Hayman, Alex Eby, Lilly Sudol and Olivia Thompson.

Production staff include assistant director Brittany Hower, Janelle Neidig, Alicia Lewis, Mackenzie Brouse and Taylor Rhodes.

Stone thanked the board of education, administration, staff, parents and numerous individuals who volunteered with the production team and patrons for their support.


Larry Deklinski / LARRY DEKLINSKI/STAFF PHOTO  

Lourdes’ Jacob Rees (5) and Ty Klembara defend Mount Cavalry’s Jack Hilsher in the first quarter of a PIAA Class 1A first round game Friday at Shamokin.


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Judge cancels jury selection for "sovereign citizens" accused of squatting

SUNBURY — Northumberland County President Judge Charles H. Saylor has canceled jury selection for an imprisoned couple claiming to be “sovereign citizens” who are accused of squatting in a Mount Carmel Township home. The judge made the decision because he believes they are attempting to make a mockery of the court.

John and Jane Doe, whose real names are believed to be Kevin Gilgeours, of Jamaica, Queens, New York, and Kathleen Claxton, of Brooklyn, New York, appeared before Saylor Friday morning for a pre-trial conference.

But the judge, citing the couple’s refusal to cooperate with the court and statements made not recognizing any authority in the court, abruptly ended the proceeding and set jury selection in the case for Monday.

However, around 2:40 p.m. Friday, Saylor issued identical orders for each defendant canceling jury selection.

The order states, “At the time set for a hearing on the defendants’ written request filed on March 4 for the application of Rule 600, the defendants refused to proceed to support the request. Rather, the defendants continued to assert this court lacks any authority or jurisdiction to adjudicate the charges set forth in the information.

“The defendants are themselves being obstructive in court, and this court finds it is futile to conduct any rational colloquy with either defendant. Under the circumstances, jurors will not, at this time, be exposed to the defendants’ present attempt to make a mockery of the authority of the court, the rules of procedure and the applicable law.”

Gilgeours and Claxton are charged by Mount Carmel Township police with a felony of criminal trespass and misdemeanors of endangering the welfare of a child, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and causing a public nuisance.

They are accused of squatting in a home at 808 W. Fifth St., Connorsville, near Mount Carmel Area schools, on Aug. 29.

Attorneys John Broda and Marc Lieberman are serving as standby counsel for Gilgeours and Claxton, respectively.

The couple had their $20,000 cash bail reduced to unsecured bail in October but have yet to comply with the court by signing a bail bond or being fingerprinted. They remain in Northumberland County Jail.

Police broke down a door to enter the home as Claxton and Gilgeours, who claimed to be “sovereign citizens,” resisted arrest. Sovereign citizens renounce their citizenship and believe they are immune to laws.

Mount Carmel Township Patrolman Patrick McAndrew said the house was “unfit for human habitation” and in “deplorable” condition. A 4-year-old girl was taken into custody by Northumberland County Children and Youth Services.

The couple had been living in the home since purchasing it through a tax sale in 2015. There was no running water or power to the home, police said.

Mount Carmel Township Police Chief Brian Hollenbush said neighbors had complained of the couple taking showers in the rain naked. They allegedly used buckets as toilets.

They lost the home for not paying taxes and it was purchased by Frank DeVizia, of White Mills, Wayne County, at the July 24 Northumberland County judicial sale.

On Aug. 29, DeVizia reported people trespassing on the property and said his maintenance man for Real Capital Group LLC had been chased away by a male and female a few days prior when he attempted to make contact.

McAndrew reported police went with DeVizia to the home, where Gilgeours allegedly came to the window and refused to open the door. He then walked away from the window and returned with a cellphone he used to record the officers.

From the second floor, Claxton allegedly was heard yelling that officers had no legal grounds or proper court paperwork allowing them to enter.

The two refused to open the door and, when orders were issued that police were going to make entry, McAndrew said the male forced himself against the door and began barricading it.

More police units were called and, upon further refusal from the squatters to allow entry by police, Mount Carmel Lt. David Donkochik used a ram to attempt forced entry, police said.

A window was broken in an attempt to subdue the pair using pepper spray, but the effort was unsuccessful. The door was eventually forced open enough for police to use a taser on the male, after which they were able to take both into custody without further use of force.

The girl was found sitting on a bed in a second-floor bedroom.


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Wounded Warrior Patrol gifts vacation to city veteran, family

With five kids ages 6 to 15, Air Force veteran Chris Berkheiser and his wife, Stacy, haven’t had many opportunities to pack up and enjoy a fun-filled, relaxing vacation.

That all changed on Feb. 24 when they joined 14 other veterans and their families for an all-expense-paid weeklong trip to Seven Springs Mountain Resort near Pittsburgh, courtesy of the Wounded Warrior Patrol.

Berkheiser, of Shamokin, served from 2000 to 2006 and did two tours during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. During his time overseas, he lost both his sister and grandmother, which led him to come home early and played a large role in his suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

During a picnic at Knoebels held by the Lebanon VA this summer, Berkheiser signed up for the Wounded Warrior Patrol project and, in January, he learned he had been chosen to take a vacation with his family as part of the program.

“They were all very surprised,” he said of his family. “With us having a big family, we don’t get to go on vacation, so to have an all-expense-paid trip to get to go away and be with other veterans and be in such a relaxed setting was great.”

Each family was given a sponsor to assist them throughout the program, making sure every one of their needs was met so they could truly enjoy every second of the trip without worry. The Berkheisers’ sponsor was David Sonnen, whom Berkheiser said went above and beyond for them.

Sonnen made sure everyone was equipped with ski gear and had lessons set up for the kids, and he would pick the kids up and take them bowling or for ice cream if mom and dad wanted a little extra time on the hills or visiting the Flight 93 memorial.

Berkheiser had never had an opportunity to visit the 9/11 memorial in Shanksville dedicated to the men and women who lost their lives attempting to take back control of Flight 93 during the terror attacks.

“It was very sobering and it pulled on a lot of emotional strings. You go in that memorial and they have all the people on the wall that were on the plane that had passed away, and then there’s a section that has airplane seats with the air phones that were on the plane and you listen to them. You can hear the people on the plane calling their families and their last moments,” said Berkheiser.

He described the experience as “surreal” and “eye-opening” and left with a book detailing the events of that day on Flight 93.

Spending time with other veterans and their families during the trip was important to Berkheiser because it helps reiterate that there are more people than he knows dealing with the same post traumatic stress issues as him, and it allowed families to interact with others who understood what they were going through.

“You talk about stuff with your family, you tell them some of the things you that you went through,” he said, “but it really opens their eyes and they get to see other veterans like you that have gone through the same thing, dealt with the same struggles, and they get to see other people and talk to them and hear their stories.”

It wasn’t just a vacation for Berkheiser, but it was an “experience” from the moment he was chosen until the moment it ended. He was so grateful for the opportunity he said he felt inclined to share it.

“They really care about each person in your family from youngest to oldest getting to experience the whole thing, and they also want the husband and wife to enjoy it as well. The whole week was just a wonderful experience and the financial burden of it is completely taken care of.”

For more information on the organization, go to www.woundedwarriorpatrol.org.