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Charges filed in Shamokin church burglary

SHAMOKIN — Two men have been charged in relation to the Sunday, May 5 burglary at Trinity Evangelical Congregational Church located at 28 W. Arch St.

Robert L. Yost, 33, of 32 N. Anthracite St., Shamokin, and William Bender, 39, of 23 Gold St., Shamokin, have both been charged with burglary, criminal trespass, criminal conspiracy and theft by unlawful taking relating to the incident. Both men are also facing drug-related charges, which stemmed from their apprehensions.

According to police, several items were stolen from the church, including a cross, collection plates and church paperwork.

The incident was called in to authorities by a church volunteer, who confronted one of the burglars during the act, causing him to flee.

About an hour later, officers spotted one of the items believed to be stolen from the church on the front porch of a home on Anthracite Street, near the residence of Yost.

Later that day, a witness came forward to police, stating that Bender was in possession of a priest’s robe at his residence on Gold Street.

Police responded to Bender’s residence, were granted permission to search the home, and found a black robe in plain view hanging in the bedroom, authorities said. Bender told police he found the robe.

Police also found marijuana and drug paraphernalia in an adjacent property that Bender had access to, police said. Bender then received additional charges of possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Three days later, police organized a stakeout of Bender’s home, which is known by police to be visited by Yost frequently, according to an affidavit of probable cause.

Police observed Yost entering the building, during which time Shamokin police and probation officers converged on the property. Yost exited the rear of the building in an attempt to flee, but due to fencing and the pitch of the mountain behind the house Yost quickly surrendered, court documents show.

Police then found a silver metal marijuana smoking device with burnt marijuana residue in Yost’s pocket, according to court documents. Yost was then charged with additional charges of flight to avoid apprehension and possession of drug paraphernalia.

During an interview with police, Yost allegedly admitted to burglarizing the property, but said he did not vandalize the church. During an interview with The News-Item last week, church members reported that someone had defecated in a bucket inside the building and drew satanic symbols within the building.

Yost had an outstanding warrant for a 2016 DUI arrest, during which he allegedly had amphetamine, methamphetamine, Diazepam and Nordiazepam in his system.

Yost was arraigned Monday before Magisterial District Judge John Gembic III and remanded to the Northumberland County Jail in lieu of $45,000 bail.


Local
Dozens of cats found in Watsontown home, building condemned

WATSONTOWN — A Watsontown home has been condemned after more than a dozen cats were found in what police have described as “unlivable conditions.”

Council on Monday approved Watsontown Code Enforcement Officer Ed Wenger to “take any and all measures necessary to resolve the situation at 720 Ash St.” A notice of violation of property maintenance code document released by the borough lists Suzette M. Young as the property owner.

Following the meeting, police Chief Rod Witherite said his department received a complaint that numerous cats may have been living inside the home, which was believed to be vacant.

On May 2, Witherite said he went to check out the situation and “immediately smelled feces and animal urine” as he approached the house.

Upon looking in a window, Witherite saw “mounds of cat feces” and what he “perceived as unlivable conditions.”

He immediately filed for a search warrant for the property, and notified the Pennsylvania SPCA. Witherite said the PSPCA requested to become the lead agency in the investigation and sent a team to execute a search warrant on the property. Watsontown police assisted.

“I believe they took approximately 12 cats out,” he said. “At least two (cat) carcasses were found in the house… with mounds of feces in the house several feet high.”

Through the course of the investigation, Witherite said police learned Young was living in the home at night.

Since initially removing the 12 cats from the home, Witherite said traps were set inside and additional cats have been found.

“Visibly, some of those cats had medical issues,” Witherite said. “(The PSPCA) is getting a full physical evaluation on each of the animals.”

He said the carcasses are also being examined to determine if the cats died from malnourishment.

Witherite said the PSPSCA could file charges in the office of District Judge Michael Diehl, of Milton, once the investigation is concluded.

The notice of violation of property maintenance code issued by the borough to Young states the interior of the home “has a large accumulation of feline feces and urine and presents a hazard to the health and welfare to the occupants and the general public.”

The notice states that corrective actions must begin by May 12 and be completely resolved by June 8.

“The property shall be vacated and all feline feces and urine shall be removed from the structure and made sanitary,” the notice states. “No re-occupation shall be permitted without the inspection and express permission of the code officer.”

According to a complaint report issued by Witherite, Young told police she was glad the conditions were discovered so she could “start over.”

In other police business, Witherite reported to council that he received a letter from McEwensville borough council President Clyde Smith requesting information on how much Watsontown would charge to provide police protection to McEwensville, the scope of the coverage and the amount of police time available to McEwensville.

According to Witherite, a 2017 census indicated McEwensville has 273 residents. He relayed to Smith that Watsontown would charge approximately $30 per resident for full police coverage.

It was noted that the councils of both boroughs would have to approve any agreement of police protection to be provided to McEwensville.

In other business, council approved New Enterprise Stone and Lime, of Winfield, to conduct repaving work in the borough this summer. The approval was contingent upon PennDOT approval of the bid documents.

New Enterprise filed a $91,410 bid for the work, the lowest of the three bids filed. The other bids were: HRI, $99,765; and Mid-State Paving, $94,407.

Borough Manager Jay Jarrett paving will take place along portions of Liberty Street and Woodland Avenue. As part of the project, base repairs will also take place at the intersections of Eighth and Main streets, and along Brimmer Avenue and Oak Lane.

Council also approved its yearly $8,000 contribution to the Montgomery House Warrior Run Area Public Library.


Local
Man charged with operating meth lab gets 2 to 4 years in state prison

SUNBURY — A 53-year-old Locust Gap man was sentenced Monday by Judge Paige Rosini to 2 to 4 years in state prison for operating a meth lab in his home, where his 2-year-old and six-month-old grandchildren also lived.

Matthew Scott Smithey, of 164 Main St., P.O. Box 165, also was ordered to pay a $250 fine plus costs for operating the meth lab on Dec. 5.

Rosini imposed concurrent sentences of 15 to 30 months in state prison for endangering the welfare of children and 3 to 6 months in state prison for possession of methamphetamine.

The charges were filed by Mount Carmel Township police.

Additional charges were not prosecuted under a plea agreement with the district attorney’s office.

In an unrelated case, Smithey was sentenced by Rosini to 72 hours to 6 months in county prison for driving under the influence of alcohol and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine plus costs. He also had his driver’s license suspended for 12 months.

The DUI charge was filed by Coal Township police relating to a Jan. 5 incident.

Police charged Smithey and his wife, Sheila L. Smithey, on Jan. 22 with eight felonies and five misdemeanors after a state police lab report concluded items found in their home contained the presence of methamphetamine.

Sheila Smithey is scheduled for a status conference May 20 before President Judge Charles H. Saylor.

According to a police report, Patrolman Michael Pitcavage said Northumberland County Children and Youth caseworker Brittany Duke requested police assistance for a visit to the Smithey home on Dec. 5 on an allegation that Sheila Smithey, caregiver to her grandchildren, was using methamphetamine.

Pitcavage said Duke was escorted to the residence by Patrolman Travis Bremigen, where they were welcomed into the home by Sheila Smithey. In the living room and kitchen area of the trailer, Bremigen observed camping fuel, butane, rubber hosing, coffee filters and what appeared to be meth-making material in a glass case.

Bremigen reported Smithey began to cry when he pointed out the items. She asked not to take the kids and claimed she didn’t use meth, but that her husband uses and makes it on the back porch.

Smithey gave written consent to a search of her home and assisted Bremigen in locating items throughout the property. On the back porch, Bremigen allegedly found two gallon milk jugs with a substance inside and hosing coming from the top.

Duke, Smithey and the children were told to leave the trailer for their safety due to the items that were found.

A state police team determined the meth-making operation to be non-operational, but functional. Evidence was gathered and released to a state police forensic scientist, who concluded the items taken from the home contained necessary materials to manufacture methamphetamine and contained traces of the drug.

Pitcavage said Matthew Smithey later spoke with Chief Brian Hollenbush and allegedly told him on multiple occasions he has a drug problem and only makes meth for personal use.


Local
City discusses CDBG usage

SHAMOKIN — Shamokin City Council honored members of the Shamokin Area Middle-High School’s Powerlifting Team for their team and individual achievements in recent state competition. The team, coached by Nate Rhodes, placed third overall.

Prior to the start of the city meeting, a Community Development Block Grant meeting was held to allow for public input on where the state grant money should be spent.

Lynn Dixson, the city’s director of Community and Economic Development, stated that the estimated CDBG funding for the current fiscal year would be roughly the same amount received as last year — $296,249. A second public hearing is scheduled for 6:45 p.m. on June 10 to further discuss the matter.

Following Dixson’s opening remarks, there was no public input, leading Director of Public Works Charlie Verano to request that leftover grant money be used primarily for street paving projects.

The meeting was them turned over to Jennifer Seidel, a member of the Anthracite Region for Progress, to explain faith-based community initiatives and partnerships, relative to the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty’s (SHECP) summer internship program. Seidel informed attending members of the public that a total of seven interns from various universities will be visiting Shamokin for a one-week period from May 25 through the end of the month. They will assist with various community service projects such as working on city ordinances, Act 47/Home Rule assessment and identification and prevention of drug-related problems such as opioid addictions.

“SHECP has decided to pattern its national program based upon what we’re doing right here in Shamokin in partnering with our faith-based community,” said Seidel.

Of the seven SHECP interns, Seidel noted that three would be working at City Hall, one with the Police Department and three others with the Shamokin Area School District and Central Susquehanna Opportunities (CSO).

“These young people will be out in our community meeting all of you and attending our public meetings. We’re already working on internships for next year and if anyone has any ideas as to how these bright young minds can come into our community and make a difference through addressing poverty issues, please let us know,” she added.

Seidel thanked the Franciscan Friars for their generosity in partnering with the city and also informed the public that a group of young friars will be visiting Shamokin on the weekend before Memorial Day.

“They’ll be out on the streets painting at the park, cleaning up vacant lots and working at the local food pantry, just to name a few of their tasks.”

Citizen comments

Mike Duganitz, of Shamokin, expressed his concerns over drivers speeding up and down Shamokin Street, particularly near the corner of Chestnut Street where young children get on and off the school bus each day.

“I’d like to know if we could get a stop sign put in at that corner? We have a lot of cars flying up and down there with young children getting in and out of those buses,” he said.

Council agreed to look into the matter further with PennDOT to see what options may be available.

Police business

Council approved motions to hire two new full-time police officers, Tyler R. Bischof and Wesley R. Fleming, to the Shamokin Police Department force, as per recommendation of the Civil Service Board and Chief Darwin Tobias III. Fleming’s approval was contingent upon his successful completion of the Police Academy Act 120 certification and also upon him signing a reimbursement agreement should he leave the force prematurely.

Tobias also stated that this week is National Law Enforcement Week (May 12-18). He noted that a Memorial Day March will begin at 9 a.m. Monday, May 27 at the Arch Street Playground.

Boards and committees

Joseph Galina was appointed to a new four-year term to the Redevelopment Authority Board by Mayor John Brown.

New business

Motions to allow the Music in the Park Summer Concert Series to serve alcohol at certain events at Kehler Park and to allow Covered Bridge Brewhaus LLC, located at 506 N. Eighth St. to allow seating outside of their establishment during hours of business from 6 to 10 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays, both failed to pass.

With regard to the outside seating, council members Verano and Moyer expressed concerns over whether or not the sidewalk seating for patrons would allow enough room for handicapped passers-by.

“How much room is left on the sidewalk for wheelchairs to pass through?” questioned Verano.

Moyer followed by asking, “Are there any other restaurants in the city that currently have outside seating?”

A motion to allow Oak Grove United Methodist Church to use the Shamokin Street Playground every Saturday in July from 10 to 11:30 a.m. to host children’s events was approved. Councilman Dan McGaw, the city’s director of Parks and Recreation, requested permission to write a letter to the Oak Grove UMC inviting them to join city events at Kehler Park that are being held on the same dates, which was also approved.

A motion passed to allow Covered Bridge Brewhaus LLC to have a food truck parked in front of their establishment during their normal business hours of 6 to 10 p.m. Thursday and Saturday. Council approved the motion, provided that the serving window of the truck face the sidewalk, as per councilman Scott Roughton.


Larry Deklinski / LARRY DEKLINSKI/STAFF PHOTO 

Landon Honicker, a member of the Locust Gap “B” team in the Mount Carmel Area Junior Baseball League watches “A” teams Locust Gap and VFW play last Tuesday.