A1 A1

President Joe Biden listens to Grant Beebe, Assistant Director for Fire and Aviation at the Bureau of Land Management during a visit to the National Interagency Fire Center, Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, in Boise, Idaho. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

top story
Medical investigator testifies about numerous prescriptions for narcotics issued by Kraynak

WILLIAMSPORT — A medical review nurse investigator testified Monday that 39% of 54,820 prescriptions covered by Anthem Insurance and issued by Dr. Raymond Kraynak to his patients between January 2012 and November 2014 were controlled substances.

Lorraine Boothe, a special investigator with Anthem Insurance, was among four witnesses to testify during the second week of Kraynak’s scheduled four-week jury trial before Chief U.S. Middle District Judge Matthew William Brann.

Boothe spent 90 minutes on the witness stand in Courtroom No. 1 at the U.S. Federal Courthouse talking about the extremely large amounts of prescriptions issued by the defendant, including opioids such as oxycodone and hydrocodone.

Boothe said 80% of Kraynak’s top 10 prescribed medications were narcotics.

Kraynak, 64, was indicted in December 2017 on 12 counts of unlawful distribution and dispensing of a controlled substance, five counts of unlawful distribution and dispensing of a controlled substance resulting in death and two counts of maintaining locations at 28 E. Fifth St., Mount Carmel, and 235 W. Spruce St., Shamokin, for the purpose of unlawfully distributing controlled substances.

Federal prosecutors have accused Kraynak of operating a “pill mill” in Mount Carmel.

{span}The indictment states Kraynak allegedly prescribed more than six million opioids, such as Oxycontin, Vicodin and fentanyl, between May 2012 and July 2017. Prosecutors seek to hold him responsible for the overdose deaths of five patients that occurred between October 2013 and May 2015.

No doctor in all of Pennsylvania prescribed more doses of opioids in the 19 months leading into July 2017 than Kraynak’s 2,792,490.

Boothe said Kraynak was responsible for 21.3% of all prescriptions for controlled substances in the Express Scripts Network. Comparably, Family Medicine Prescribers in Pennsylvania were responsible for 4.63%, while Family Medicine Prescribers nationwide were responsible for 6.32%, according to Boothe’s testimony.

Express Scripts Network, the largest pharmacy benefit manager in the country and one of the largest pharmacies, made a referral Jan. 29, 2015, to Anthem Insurance about the unusual amount and types of medications issued by Kraynak, who has been suspended from his medical practice.

Boothe said she investigated the matter and sent a letter to the Pennsylvania Board of Osteopathic Medicine in Harrisburg regarding her alarming findings.

“That’s a lot of pills and a dangerous drug combination,” she said.

Kerry Appel, 64, of Bloomsburg, who worked part-time for Kraynak conducting chart audits after retiring as a medical records technician from the Federal Bureau of Prisons in 2012, described the records at the doctor’s Mount Carmel office as being in “disarray.”

Appel, who also worked as a receptionist for Kraynak for two years in the late 1980s or early 1990s, said she started noticing some missing information in patients’ files and brought it to Kraynak’s attention, whom she claimed just laughed it off.

She said her recommendations about updating the files “fell on deaf ears.”

Appel said Kraynak had offices in Kulpmont, Mount Carmel, Ashland and Shamokin. She described the Mount Carmel office as “chaotic” due to the volume of patients Kraynak had.

She claimed at one point there were 60 to 70 patients per day at the office and that Kraynak saw a lot of patients for only a minute.

Appel said, “People wanted their prescriptions and some of the patients were aggressive and verbally abusive toward the staff.”

After agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration seized numerous charts and other information from his office in 2016, Appel recalled Kraynak saying, “The DEA doesn’t have anything.”

She said Kraynak’s office was in a state of chaos following the confiscation of records.

A few weeks later, she said his patients couldn’t get their prescriptions filled at local pharmacies.

Appel, who said Kraynak treated many people who didn’t have insurance for free, accused the doctor of dispensing medications to people already addicted to drugs.

“That was wrong,” she said. “I was trying to do good while I worked for him, but nobody listened.”

Appel, who said she wasn’t a disgruntled employee, said she worked for Kraynak until about two weeks before he was charged and lost his medical license.

A 41-year-old Girardville woman testified that Kraynak fed her longtime addiction to pain killers and claimed the doctor forcefully kissed her, grabbed her hand and placed it on his crotch during a visit to his Mount Carmel office.

The witness said she never reported the incident to police because she felt ashamed and sick over it and was afraid Kraynak would drop her as a patient.

She said a lot of lives would have been different if she came forward and reported the incident to police.

The woman, who is not being identified due to the sexual nature of her accusation, said she stopped going to Kraynak, who was her family doctor since the age of 5, for about a year (2009 to 2010) following the incident. But she said she came back to him due to her addiction and received more prescriptions from the doctor.

She said Kraynak never apologized to her about the alleged incident in his office.

After experiencing back pain from an April 12, 2012, car accident, the woman said Kraynak increased the dosage on her pain killers during her visits to his office every two weeks.

The woman, who was addicted to opioids for 13 years before “stopping her addiction” four years ago, said Kraynak provided her with multiple drugs including Vicodin, Alprazolam and Adderall.

She said, “I couldn’t be without them. I got sick without them. I convinced myself that I needed them and I experienced withdrawal many times.”

The woman, who has four of her own children and three stepchildren, claimed life as an addict was a horrible experience that prompted her to separate from her husband and family and become homeless. The witness said things got so bad that she lived in a car for about a year.

“I was ashamed and embarrassed by my addiction,” she said.

She said her 52-year-old husband was very supportive of her during her addiction and did everything possible to wean her off drugs.

Her husband of 16 years said, “My wife was addicted to opioids. She was a completely different person on drugs. She was our son’s number one fan and used to go to all our kids’ activities, but then she stopped going to all the events and just stayed in bed all the time.”

He said Kraynak was responsible for getting his wife addicted to opioids.

“She was a total mess and walked around like a zombie,” he said. “She even began snorting drugs. I tried to get her to go to rehab, but she didn’t want to hear it.”

The witness said his wife told him about the alleged incident at Kraynak’s office when she claimed the doctor kissed her and placed her hand on his crotch.

The husband said he wanted to go after Kraynak, but he didn’t want to get arrested.

He said Kraynak later gave him prescriptions for narcotic pain medications such as Percocet that he gave his wife. He claimed Kraynak knew the prescriptions were for his wife even though they were made out to him.

“I was sick of my wife being sick and I tried to be a doctor,” he said.

Each of the witnesses responded to questions posed by Assistant U.S. Attorneys William Behe and George Rocktashel, and Assistant Federal Public Defender Thomas Thornton.

The trial resumes this morning.

top story
Monuments crafted from steel of WTC donated to Shamokin, Coal Township during emotional 9/11 service (copy)

SHAMOKIN — Monuments crafted with steel from the Twin Towers that were destroyed 20 years ago were donated by the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation to Coal Township and the City of Shamokin during a memorial service at Claude Kehler Community Park.

The monuments, measuring about 2 feet high and engraved with the words “WTC, 9/11, Never Forget,” were unveiled by long-time city firefighter and former councilman R. Craig Rhoades and retired New York City firefighter Anthony Tomesheski, both of whom now work for the foundation.

Wearing his firefighting gear, Shamokin Mayor John Brown told the story of Siller, an off-duty Brooklyn firefighter who was last seen running through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel on his way to the World Trade Center.

“Determine to carry out his duty, Stephen donned his gear and began to race on foot through the tunnel towards the towers. That’s why I wore my gear today,” Brown explained. “Stephen gave his life at the towers saving others.”

Brown said Siller’s heroic death is a reminder for all to live life to the fullest. The noble feat, the mayor continued, lives on through the work of the foundation.

Tomesheski was among thousands of first responders in the months following 9/11 who meticulously searched the massive pile of debris, known as ground zero or The Pile, in an effort to find victims.

“My company was from the Bronx, and we were relocated to a company in Lower Manhattan after the towers were hit and came down. We were sent down to dig that evening and I tried to rescue people and help people. And it was really chaos,” he said. “I had 20 years when the towers were hit. After they were hit, the months afterward, I really had my issues with God and how this could happen. And I kind of resolved that and continued on (as a firefighter) for another eight years.”

Tomesheski recalled sleeping at a firehouse and commandeering municipal vehicles heading in the direction of Ground Zero. That was the routine, he said, until shifts divided between routine calls and working at Ground Zero was established.

He said thousands of sheets of papers and photographs of missing people hung throughout Lower Manhattan is forever etched in his mind.

“It’s amazing, 20 years now. It’s still surreal. Sometimes I look up in the clouds and I think those guys are going to launch back,” he said of the firefighters killed on 9/11. “How much of a scar that is that will never heal. I just want to make sure everyone remembers the phrase ‘Never Forget.’ We teach our children that because there’s people that still hate us.”

In recognition of his efforts, Shamokin memorial service organizer Mike Dugnaitz gave Tomesheski a painting, drawn by local artist Claude Harrington, that depicts the Twin Towers. Rhoades and Tomesheski then presented the monuments to Brown and Craig Fetterman, president of the Coal Township Board of Commissioners.

“The souls of those people that were lost that day are in these monuments,” Rhoades said as he lifted a black drape. “To touch this steel, and just think this was part of those buildings where almost 3,000 people were killed, to me becomes very sentimental.

“Everyone is welcome to take a look and put your hand on this steel — and just feel the presence of the lives that were lost,” he added.

Holding back tears, Brown thanked Rhoades for his service to the community and as a project manager for the foundation overseeing the construction of homes for disabled veterans. Fetterman described first responders as an asset to the “twin communities” of Coal Township and Shamokin.

The emotional presentation was part of an hour-long service that followed a procession of first responders, elected officials and event organizers who traveled from the municipal lot on Independence Street to the park along Arch Street. Bells rang through the city and township as firefighters carried a large American flag that would be raised at the park’s flagpole.

Following a rousing performance of the “Star Spangled Banner” by Sharon Styer, Duganitz led attendees in the pledge of allegiance.

In the innovation, Friar Mike Lasky, pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish, spoke of pages of a Bible that had fused to a chunk of steel when the burning Twin Towers fell to the streets below, killing hundreds of first responders, including 343 firefighters.

“You have heard it said, ‘eye for eye and tooth for a tooth. But I say to you do not resist evil. But whoever shall strike you on the right cheek, turn to him the other one also,’” he read from the Gospel of Matthew. “So many chapters, so many verses. But these were the words from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount that were found at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11 attacks.”

He remembered Father Mychal Judge, a Franciscan friar, Catholic priest and chaplain of the New York City Fire Department — the first certified fatality of the attacks.

“He, like the other first responders on that day 20 years ago, turned the other cheek to save lives. When they were knocked down, they rose up again and again, so long as they had breath within them,” Lasky said.

State Rep. Kurt Masser recalled watching the events unfold at his home and restaurant, and learning of the heroic actions of firefighters who rushed to the World Trade Center.

“The buildings went dark, but yet these firefighters — while everyone else is running away from the scene — were running towards it,” Masser remarked. “I remember all of the heroic acts. I remember all the customers and friends of mine who would come into my restaurant that day and sat in stunned silence. No one spoke. We watched for hours watching that TV, and no one spoke.”

Masser said he will never forget the horrific acts of the terrorists, but also the following weeks when the nation came together.

“We were one,” Masser said. “We came together as a country. We need to do that more, folks.”

The program included an acoustic performance of “God Bless the USA” by Mark Soskoskie, cascading taps, remarks by Peter Brown, of the American Red Cross; and benediction by Rev. Sarah Hershberger, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church.

top story
City of Shamokin allocates 2021 CDBG funding

SHAMOKIN — Council approved the city’s allocation of 2021 Community Development Block Grant funds.

The city is set to receive $316,934, less $53,700 for administration costs, next year. Council allocated $78,900 for demolition, $169,334 for street reconstruction, $10,000 for the Sunbury Street Community Garden and $5,000 for code enforcement.

Council received correspondence from Shamokin Fire Bureau Chief Steve Jeffery, who advised that the bureau will be transitioning into an all-tone style of dispatch for most calls to expedite the response of requested apparatus.

Jeffery stated in a letter addressed to council that the bureau continues to struggle to respond effectively to calls. The bureau, he continued, has taken steps to address the issue, such as cross training and recruiting new members.

Councilman Scott Roughton, a long-time firefighter, explained that during certain calls only nearby units are dispatched. Now, all units will be dispatched for calls in and outside the city, except for requests for fire police and the quick response unit (QRS).

“We are going back to what we had done with the fire department for many years — it’s known as an all-tone. That way, every station hears the call,” Roughton explained. “It doesn’t mean every piece of apparatus is going to the call. It’s about (firefighters) going to the station to fulfill the manpower for that apparatus.”

Chief staff have indicated they remain interested in fire companies merging to better serve the community. A merger, unlike a consolidation, would allow stations to combine, but keep their independent fundraising operations, Roughton added.

In other business, council:

• Increased the rate of part-time code enforcement officers to $10 an hour.

• Permitted SABER to host the annual Halloween parade, following the same route as in the past, at 6 p.m. Oct. 26 with a rain date of Oct. 27, and various parties to host a football pep rally following the conclusion of the parade at the municipal lot off Independence Street.

• Entered into a service agreement between ProChamps and the city related to rental properties.

• Notified the public that the monument crafted from the steel of the WTC will be available to view during Mayor John Brown’s office hours Wednesday at City Hall. The relic will likely be at the Shamokin-Coal Township Public Library on Friday. A permanent location has not yet been decided.

• Accepted the first reading of a trailer, commercial and recreation vehicle parking ordinance. The ordinance will be on public display at City Hall.

Shamokin quarterback Brett Nye is sacked by Selinsgrove’s Spencer George in Saturday afternoon’s game at Kemp Memorial Stadium.

top story
State commits $250K to Mount Carmel Area Community Center

MOUNT CARMEL — On Saturday morning a check for $250,000 was presented to Cathy Besser, Mount Carmel Area Community Center (MCACC) board president, by state Sen. John Gordner and state Rep. Kurt Masser on Saturday morning following the Phillips Phun 5K Run benefit held for the center.

The run, a 3.1 mile course, took competitors around the new building’s construction site. Gordner, one of the 50 participants involved, said the run provided an excellent view of the building site.

“The purpose of the check presentation was to show that this is a realistic project and the commonwealth supports it,” Gordner said.

The community center, a concept just two years ago, is now entering it’s first phase of construction. The project will renovate the Phillips mansion, located on 50 West Ave., formerly owned by American Legion Post 91.

“I was thrilled beyond belief,” Besser said. “It’s the boost we really needed to get this started.”

With the funding acquired through the state, Besser said they plan to start working on the building’s exterior structure, beginning with the roof. According to Besser, this is scratching the surface of the project’s renovation goal with estimated repairs totaling $3.5 million.

One of the major initiatives will be the installation of an elevator. Besser added that while they will be upgrading and refurbishing the building to bring it up to code, she intends to preserve as much of the original structural elements as possible.

“We will have a whole host of things to offer to the public,” Besser said.

The second floor of the community center will house the Mount Carmel Area Historical Society. In addition to the society, a variety of clubs and events are in the planning stages.

The large venue hall upon completion will be available for rent by the public for gatherings such as weddings and bridal showers. The community center also is equipped with a stage where Besser said she plans to hold live music events such as dance recitals and karaoke nights.

On the first level, Besser is planning a public computer area for local students who do not have access to the internet or computers at home.

“This is going to be a great asset to the Mount Carmel area,” Masser said.

Besser is calling on volunteers to help out with a cleanup day from 9 a.m. to noon on Oct. 9 at the building.

“Were looking for some handymen to help us prepare for the winter,” Besser said.

Those who are unable to volunteer can support the efforts of the board at their next fundraising event taking place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 23 at Mount Carmel’s Downtown Fall Festival. The group will be hosting a pumpkin decorating contest for adults and children.

top story
New art studio to host classes through fall

TREVORTON — For those seeking new passions, local artist Phoebe Heath debuted her personal working art studio, Anthracite Creative Works, on Saturday and plans to offer classes to the public.

Located on 321 W. Shamokin St., the studio occupies a 1930s auto garage, which has been transformed into her art workshop.

Heath earned her Master of Fine Arts at Kutztown University and certification in art education at Millersville University. She was an art instructor at Palmyra Area High School for six years before deciding to pursue her own endeavors during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Everything in the world around me was changing,” Heath said.

According to Heath, Anthracite Creative Works will serve not only as a personal art studio, but as a gallery and classroom for local artists interested in honing their artistic abilities. Heath believes it to be a much-needed asset within Line Mountain Elementary School, which presently does not have an art instructor.

Starting Sept. 21, fall class series will meet from 5 to 6 p.m. every Tuesday. An additional class may be scheduled from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., depending on turnout.

The fall series is offered to students grades first through 12, and will take place over the course of 11 weeks. The cost is $200 per student, which will include art supplies and a personal sketchbook.

Heath’s education approach is structured around the “Teaching for Artistic Behavior” method, or TAB, for short. Heath will lead skill-building exercises, which she refers to as “boot camps,” to educate her students in handling various art materials and applying those skills within different mediums. Her first boot camp will utilize black markers and drawing pencils to work in black and white mediums.

The second installment of her series will encourage independent studies, allowing students to use what they’ve learned at each boot camp and create their own works in mediums of their choice.

“Kids are so naturally passionate about creativity,” Heath said.

Heath is limiting class sizes to eight students, which will ensure that each student receives one-on-one instruction.

“I’m planning at the end of the class series an exhibition for the kids to showcase their artwork,” Heath said. “A small reception with refreshments, inviting friends and family of the student.”

Despite the fact that her fall series is exclusively available to school-aged artists, Heath will be offering two individual sessions geared toward adult learners.

On Oct. 9, Heath is offering a Plein-Air outdoor painting session from 4 to 6 p.m. The location is to be announced.

“We will be painting the landscape from life using water color materials,” Heath said.

From 6 to 9 p.m. Nov. 13 she will host an adults-only Fall Night Out Drawing Party. Participants will engage with a variety of fall-themed subjects to draw inspiration from.

“It’s my spin on the sip and paint industry,” Heath said.

Anyone interested in any of Heath’s art classes can register at www.annthracitecreativeworks.com.

From left, Mike Turlis, executive director of the Danville Ronald McDonald House accepts a check for $3,500 for Camp Dost from Joe “Moose” Meyer, Kulpmont100 treasurer.