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A pair of migrant families from Brazil wait to be processed by U.S. Border Patrol agents after passing through a gap in the border wall from Mexico in Yuma, Arizona, June 10 to seek asylum.


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Opioid epidemic shifting, says coalition

The opioid epidemic is not getting better or worse, but shifting, the Northumberland County Opioid Coalition has found.

The coalition, formed in 2018 to address the epidemic, said the majority of overdoses had been contributed to heroin, but, in the past few years, almost all overdoses are due to multiple substances and synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl.

According to data collected by OverdoseFreePa, there were 27 reported accidental overdose deaths in Northumberland County that occurred in 2020, of which fentanyl was identified in 70% of cases, followed by methamphetamine (41%), heroin (37%) and amphetamine (22%).

In 2016, the same amount of deaths were reported, with fentanyl and heroin being identified in 48% of cases, followed by indomethacin (19%), methamphetamine (7%) and alprazolam (4%).

The county data follows the state trend, with fentanyl identified in 27% of cases in 2015, and increasing to 70% in 2018.

The Northumberland County Opioid Coalition continues to work to facilitate connections with the community and its stakeholders to create initiatives that address the overdose crisis and work to reduce substance use disorder, which is a disease that involves the chronic use of opioids.

It meets monthly and has subcommittees that focus on community outreach, crisis response, law enforcement, medical and youth engagement.

The coalition consists of prominent community leaders and members of area human services organizations, addiction and counseling agencies, community-based nonprofits, government, schools, medical systems and the Northumberland County Drug and Alcohol Agency.

It is supported by The University of Pittsburgh’s School of Pharmacy Program Evaluation and Research Unit and the Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way.

The coalition’s efforts to reduce substance abuse disorder and support individuals in recovery are seen in their involvement with Oasis Community Recovery Club, which is located in the basement of the American Legion building, 210 E. Independence Street, Shamokin.

Danielle Houtz, president of the Oasis, said the organization holds support meetings (AA, NA, SMART, Nar-Anon and family mentorship), drop-in hours for individuals looking for addiction support and social events for the recovery community.

The organization’s purpose, she said, is to prevent relapse and give individuals a place to go to rebuild a sense of social normalcy by providing opportunities for people in recovery to gather in no-pressure social environments, to provide people in recovery a chance to give back to their community through volunteerism and to provide awareness and resources for maintaining sobriety,

For more information, contact Oasis Community Recovery Club by calling 570-500-0759, emailing oasis.recovery.club@gmail.com or by visiting oasis4recovery.com.

Another effort to fight addiction, which is supported by the Northumberland County Opioid Coalition and Northumberland County Drug and Alcohol Agency, is a federal grant that was awarded to the county, entitled Rural Response to the Opioid Epidemic, or RROE. This funding, which in total is $635,000, includes interventions and community-based partners to decrease substance use, recidivism and arrests, while supporting positive initiatives, education, prevention, recovery and support services.

RROE program activities and interventions including case management, Free2BeMom, Law Enforcement Treatment Initiative, peer services and social support, recovery housing and transportation, and the Strengthening Family Program.


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Cheerleaders prep for districts

COAL TOWNSHIP — Nine regional cheerleading squads will compete Saturday for the right to go to the Competitive Spirit Championships in Hershey.

The Shamokin Area School District will again host the District 4 cheerleading championships, starting at noon in the high school gym.

Competing first in co-ed will be Williamsport, Canton and Sugar Valley. They will be followed by small varsity (one to 15 members) made up of Jersey Shore, Milton, Bloomsburg and Troy. Competing in large varsity (16 and more members) will be Mount Carmel and Montoursville.

District 4 will have a total of five qualifiers for the state championships. There will be four qualifiers in 2A and one qualifier in 3A.

Williamsport is guaranteed a trip to Hershey since they are the only 3A team competing. Shamokin and Southern Columbia, which have qualified for states in the past, are not slated to perform.

Tickets should be purchased in advance by visiting the District 4 website.


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City holds first meeting under new administration

SHAMOKIN — The City of Shamokin made several reappointments to boards and committees Monday during its first regular meeting since new elected officials were installed from the November general election.

William Dobson was reappointed to the city housing authority by 4-0 vote, with Councilman Joseph Leschinskie Jr. abstaining. Leschinskie said he abstained due to a relationship with Dobson through the campaign of former Councilwoman Jennifer Seidel. He said he has no ill will toward Dobson, but chose not to vote due to his ongoing legal issues involving Seidel.

The board unanimously reappointed Charles Sosnoskie to the Shamokin-Coal Township Joint Sewer Authority for a five-year term and also unanimously reappointed Eugene Garancheskie to a five-year term on the zoning board. Jerry Splane was removed from the zoning board by unanimous vote after council said he is no longer a resident of Shamokin.

Council also accepted by 4-0 vote, with Leschinskie abstaining, to accept the resignation of Erik Seidel from the city’s planning committee, effective retroactively to Dec. 31.

Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA) Authority Chairman Jim Backes presented a check to the city in the amount of $5,000 as a donation from the off-road facility. Following a successful year, the AOAA has donated $131,000 to local communities, the majority of which was given to Northumberland County totaling $75,000, officials said.

Newly-appointed city solicitor Ed Greco said he has reached out to former solicitor Frank Konopka, who told him there were no pending matters he needed to be aware of regarding city business.

City Administrator Robert Slaby was unanimously reappointed to his position as certifying officer for environmental reviews and council also agreed to open a new bank account with M&T Bank to be used for grant money from the Department of Community and Economic Development.

During citizens’ comment period, resident Jesse Storm, a local real estate manager, said he is disappointed the board reappointed officials who had held positions with the city’s committees and boards in the past.

“Everybody voted for the same people who were already on the boards and committees, so the assumption is no one is looking to change,” Storm said.

Storm also outlined several perceived issues with how the city’s housing authority operates and offered advice to council on how to potentially combat the problems.

Leschinskie said, “I want to say, as far as the boards and committees, to everyone out there, it’s that time of year when there’s turnover with peoples’ terms running out. If there’s anyone interested in getting involved, stop in at city hall and ask someone what (positions) are available. Join in and help out.”

Slaby echoed Leschinskie’s comments, saying it’s not easy to get people to volunteer for city positions.

Councilwoman Barbara Moyer, who is now the director of parks and recreation, told the public the recent ice storm forced the temporary closure of the 99 Steps.

She said crews are unable to use ice melt on the steps for fear of damaging the landmark, so the only alternative was to close the steps for public safety.

Leschinskie, who is overseeing the city’s street department, commended employees for their hard work during the weekend’s treacherous weather.

“The street department was out at 4 a.m. Friday trying to take care of roads and Sunday at 5 p.m. in preparation for cleanup with the weather over the weekend,” he said. “I want to thank (city foreman) Kevin Richardson for making sure the roads were clear and taken care of in a timely manner.”


Southern Columbia's Kole Biscoe, top, and Benton's Caden Temple fight for position during the 138-pound match at Southern Columbia High School on Tuesday. Biscoe won his season debut, 3-1.


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Local police actively investigating recent rash of vehicle break-ins, vandalism

SHAMOKIN — Local police are working together in an attempt to solve a rash of vehicle break-ins and vandalism reported during the past month that have resulted in more than $20,000 in damage and property loss.

Shamokin and Kulpmont have been hit the hardest during the crime spree.

Shamokin Police Chief Raymond Siko II said between 30 to 35 incidents involving vehicle break-ins and vandalism are being investigated. He said most of the incidents have occurred in the Bunker Hill area and Fifth Ward.

Kulpmont Officer-In-Charge Steve Mazzeo said there have been between 20 and 25 vehicle break-ins and acts of vandalism in the community during the past month. He said the majority of the incidents have occurred in the south end of the borough.

The break-ins and vandalism have resulted in approximately $10,000 in damage and property loss in each municipality.

Trooper Aaron Brown said state police at Stonington are investigating a couple vehicle break-ins in Kulpmont, a purse being stolen from a vehicle at Wolf’s Crossroads in Rockefeller Township and a burglary at Miller’s Crossroads United Methodist Church in Shamokin Township that resulted in a loss of $1,000.

Other similar break-ins and vandalism have been reported in Coal Township, Mount Carmel, Mount Carmel Township and the Sunbury, Milton and Lewisburg areas.

Siko said similarities exist among many of the break-ins and acts of vandalism. He said police have a “person of interest” who may be connected to some of the break-ins and vandalism, but he believes multiple vandals are responsible for causing the damage and stealing items from vehicles.

Anyone with information about the break-ins or thefts is urged to call Shamokin Police Department at 570-648-5708 or state police at Stonington at 570-286-5601.


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Commonwealth Court rules against Shamokin Area School District regarding tuition payments

HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court on Monday affirmed a November 2020 Northumberland County Court of Common Pleas order in favor of Northwestern Human Services Youth Services Inc. (NHS) and against the Shamokin Area School District regarding tuition and lease rental payments the district received from home school districts and the Department of Education.

NHS is a nonprofit corporation that operated Northwestern Academy, a juvenile justice complex for adjudicated delinquent and dependent youth. The academy was located in Coal Township, closing several years ago.

The School Code says the district is required to provide educational services to the adolescents who resided at the academy. It also requires school districts whose students are residents at the academy to make tuition payments for those students to the district as the host school district.

Thus, the Shamokin Area School District was the conduit between NHS and the other districts throughout the commonwealth for tuition expense for the education of the juvenile offenders.

From the 2002-03 school year through the 2012-13 school year, the district elected not to educate the academy’s students in its schools. Rather, in 2003, the district and NHS agreed that NHS would provide state-mandated education to the academy’s students on academy grounds.

The contract provided for the exchange of necessary information for the assessment of the reimbursement from the school district, and the arrangement for the district to obtain the same with allowance for an administrative fee of 7%.

In 2007, NHS filed an action against the district alleging that the district had received lease rental payments from both the department and the students’ home districts, it had deposited the funds in an escrow account and refused to pay NHS.

On March 14, 2008, Northumberland County Court ordered the district to dissolve the escrow, and to pay the funds held in escrow after deduction of the administrative fee.

On May 25, 2018, NHS filed a petition for contempt. On Jan. 10, 2019, Northumberland County Court held a hearing, which the trial court recessed for the parties to file briefs. The court has yet to rule on the matter.

On June 19, 2015, NHS filed a separate complaint in Northumberland County court alleging breach of contract.

According to the complaint, on July 1, 2013, the district assumed responsibility for providing both regular and special education services and, on that date, the parties entered into a lease agreement under which the district would provide educational services.

NHS sought unpaid tuition and related expenses, including allegedly withheld tuition payments the district received from home school districts and the department.

The district denied the allegations.

On Nov. 18, 2020, Northumberland County Court found in favor of NHS, ordering the district take the steps necessary to identify monies collected and due to NHS, and provide NHS with an accounting.

The district in turn appealed to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, presenting five legal issues for the court’s review, including whether the county court erred by holding that the parties entered into a binding contract.

The district argued that the county court erred by holding that the contract extended beyond the 2002-03 school year. In support of its position, it asserted that the contract execution did not comply with the School Code because it was not approved by a majority of school directors and lacked statutorily-required signatures.

NHS successfully countered that the district waived these issues because it challenged the contract’s enforceability and term for the first time on appeal.

The Commonwealth Court found that the district did not previously allege the contract was enforceable, but instead admitted that it had “entered into a contractual relationship” with NHS to provide for the education of academy students.

The Commonwealth Court said county court properly found that the district is obligated to fulfill its statutory and contractional obligations to NHS.


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Hearing set for Tuesday for Zerbe Township supervisor charged with felony wiretapping

SHAMOKIN — A preliminary hearing for Zerbe Township Supervisor Walter A. Paczkoskie, who is charged by state police with a felony count of wiretapping and other offenses, is set for 9:30 a.m. Tuesday before Magisterial District Judge John Gembic III.

Paczkoskie, 59, of 1042 Shamokin St., Trevorton, who was sworn into office Jan. 3 after winning a seat on the board of supervisors in the Nov. 2 general election, is charged by Trooper Josiah Reiner with wiretapping, misdemeanors of stalking or repeatedly committing acts to cause fear and disorderly conduct, and a summary of harassment relating to an incident with township street department workers Ed Reed and Greg Snyder and township police officer Steve Forgues.

Paczkoskie was arraigned on the charges Thursday by Gembic and released on $5,000 unsecured bail.

He is being represented by attorney Joseph Michetti.

If convicted of the felony offense, Paczkoskie may be forced to vacate his seat as a supervisor since the state Constitution states it is illegal for a convicted felon to hold public office.

Northumberland County District Attorney Tony Matulewicz said his office didn’t initiate the investigation. He said Zerbe Township police, who initiated the investigation, contacted the district attorney’s office for advice. Matulewicz said he recommended state police take over the investigation to avoid an apparent conflict of interest.

Paczkoskie is accused of calling fellow Zerbe Township Supervisor-elect Daniel Zablosky prior to engaging in a discussion with the three men, who police said were unaware the conversation was being transmitted to Zablosky.

Police said the incident occurred Dec. 5, 2021, near state Route 225 in Zerbe Township.

When interviewed by police about the incident, Zablosky said Paczkoskie asked him to remain on the line to listen to the confrontation so he could back him up later if need be.

Police said Paczkoskie then approached the men and questioned why they were collecting samples outside of times that had been specified. Reed told him the group was authorized to take the samples by then-Zerbe Township Supervisor Michael Schwartz. Schwartz is no longer in office after being defeated in the most recent election.

Police said after the discussion, Paczkoskie pulled out his cell phone and spoke into it.

“Forgues indicated that neither he, nor anyone else there, knew anyone else was listening to the conversation through Paczkoskie’s phone,” according to a criminal complaint.

When interviewed by police, Reed said he had noticed Paczkoskie following the group as they went around collecting water samples prior to him pulling in to talk to them.

Reed said Paczkoskie has been at odds with him for about 10 to 12 years ever since there was an issue with Paczkoskie’s business not reporting a toilet on the public sewer line that showed up in a smoke test conducted by Reed.

When Paczkoskie arrived to confront the men, Reed said he turned away due to their history, which also included a more recent incident in October 2021 during which Paczkoskie told Reed to go with him outside of a local bar so he could “beat his ass,” Reed alleged.

As part of the investigation into the wiretapping incident, state police interviewed Reed’s neighbor who said he has seen Paczkoskie driving past Reed’s home on several occasions. The neighbor also said Paczkoskie told him if he was elected as supervisor he was going to fire Reed from his position with the township. When told Reed couldn’t be fired because of the union, Paczkoskie reportedly responded by saying he would then make life so miserable for Reed that he would want to quit, according to a criminal complaint.


Grand Ole Opry House April 28, 2020, in Nashville, Tennessee.


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