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Ex-bus driver faces state prison
  • Updated


A former school bus driver was sentenced last Wednesday (June 9) to 32-76 months in state prison and $2,000 in fines for DUI and six separate counts of endangering the welfare of children, in connection with a 2019 incident.

Brandon Harvey, 27, of Sugar Run, appeared in person before President Judge Russell Shurtleff and following sentencing was taken into custody for his role in a Dec. 13, 2019, incident in which he was transporting children in the Wyoming County portion of the Wyalusing Area School District, and drove off the side of the roadway.

Court records show Harvey had a blood alcohol level of .181 — more than twice the legal limit — within two hours of the accident.

At his guilty plea in May, Harvey was told by Judge Shurtleff that he could face as much as 53 years in state prison and $100,000 in fines because there were 11 children on the bus.

Although DA Jeff Mitchell said that family members of the victims witnessed Harvey’s sentencing, none chose to address the court ahead of it.

Others sentenced Wednesday in a mix of virtual and in-person hearings with Judge Shurtleff in the main courtroom:

Melissa Ann Bowman, 21, of Hop Bottom, was sentenced to 59 days-6 months in county jail and a $1,000 fine for DUI of a controlled substance on Dec. 28, 2019; and to 12 months probation and a $500 fine for possession of a controlled substance by a person not registered on Jan. 27, with sentences to be served consecutively; and to 12 months probation and a $500 fine for possession of drug paraphernalia on Jan. 27, with this sentence to be served concurrent to others.

William Davison Conner, 30, of Kingsley, was sentenced to 35 days-6 months in county jail and a $1,000 fine for DUI of a controlled substance on July 6, 2018.

Michael Lewis Connolly, 34, of Carbondale, was sentenced to 6 months probation, commencing with 15 days house arrest, and a $1,000 fine for DUI on Oct. 14, 2018.

William Paul Fisher, 56, of Hop Bottom, was sentenced to 12 months probation and a $500 fine for statement under penalty on June 17, 2020.

Jonathan Richard Gardner, 41, of New Milford, was sentenced to 12 months probation and a $500 fine for possession of drug paraphernalia on Aug. 11, 2019.

Jennifer Lyn Heinbach, 45, of Exeter, was sentenced to 2-12 months in county jail and a $500 fine for possession of drug paraphernalia on Feb. 8, 2020.

Charles T. Jones II, 54, of Dalton, was sentenced to 6 months probation commencing with 15 day house arrest and a $1,000 fine for DUI on June 28, 2020.

Christopher A. Lane, 19, of Endicott, N.Y., was sentenced to 72 hours-6 months in county jail and a $1,00 fine for DUI of a controlled substance on Feb. 29, 2020.

Joshua Allen Manning, 29, of Nicholson, was sentenced to 1-12 months in county jail and a $500 fine for disorderly conduct on Sep. 3, 2020.

Bruce Edward Miller, 26, of Tunkhannock, was sentenced to 55 days-12 months in county jail and a $500 fine for disorderly conduct on Oct. 17, 2018.

Richele Mortimer, 49, of Tunkhannock, was sentenced to 4-12 months in county jail and a $500 fine for possession of drug paraphernalia on Jan. 14.

Albert Nemeth Jr., 67, of Jermyn, was sentenced to 6 months probation and a $300 fine for DUI on Jan. 22.

Joseph John Petrikonis III, 37, of Laceyville, was sentenced to 72 hours-6 months in county jail and a $1,000 fine for DUI on Feb. 9.

Nicholas Anthony Price, 22, of Nicholson, was sentenced to 6 months probation and a $300 fine for DUI on Nov. 26, 2020.

Jane Marian Sondej, 62, of Greenfield Township, was sentenced to 72 hours-6 months in county jail and a $1,000 fine for DUI on Dec. 24, 2020.

Jamie Franklin Turner, 30, of Tunkhannock, was sentenced to 11-23.5 months in county jail and a $500 fine along with having to register as a sex offender for his lifetime for criminal attempt to commit statutory sexual assault on a victim more than 11 years younger on June 1, 2019.

Richard Brady Zacharias, 49, of Noxen, was sentenced to 6-18 months in county jail and a $500 fine for firearms not to be carried without a license on Dec. 8, 2020.

Moment for reflection
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Some 149 seniors graduated Friday night from Tunkhannock Area High School in Memorial Stadium where with a gentle breeze behind their backs, they reflected on the memories and ‘The Moment.’

Valedictorian and senior class president Jack Chilson said, “This was not the storybook ending to our high school experience that many of us anticipated, but rather an unexpected turn of events.”

Despite having been “dealt an unimaginable blow,” he said, “I admire your efforts to persist through the darkest days in hope of the light that awaits.”

Chilson spoke about the experiences of his own family members, of legacies left behind, and then noted what really mattered.

For example, he said of high school principal Todd Bosscher, that he would be remembered not so much for administrative tasks completed, “but for his unmatched school spirit and his ability to remind us of our common purpose by saying ‘Good morning Tigers. It’s going to be a great day because we’re the high school.”

The bottom line, Chilson implored is “We will be most remembered by how we treat others, how we conduct ourselves on a daily basis, and the impact we make on the people and world around us.”

Salutatorian Jillian Landon said that as she looked around the stadium Friday, “I am perplexed as to where the time has gone.”

She, too, spoke of a school that looked differently during a pandemic.

While some other schools went fully virtual because their obstacles were overwhelming, Landon said in a speech laced with gratitude, “Our district was ready to take these challenges head on.”

“Whether it was attending school two and then eventually four days a week, our school district and teachers made sure we had the necessary tools at our fingertips to continue to learn,” Landon added.

She said she also was thankful for those moments “each one of us has had a passion awoken by a teacher.”

Moreover, she told her classmates, “We need to thank each other. These past four years have not been easy. We’ve been there through thick and thin... We pushed ourselves in school to learn, but most importantly we had fun.”

Jason Azarovich was selected by the class members to provide the faculty address, and he acknowledged he had been privileged to see most of the class grow up over the past 11 years.

Then, he said, Friday the 13th (March 13, 2020) arrived, “and we were all hit by a giant metaphorical bus.”

“It hit you all in the third quarter of your high school lives, and you — no, we — quickly realized COVID had different plans for us all,” Azarovich said. “And, despite it sometimes being a dysfunctional time, you kept pushing on.”

As superintendent Heather McPherson took to the podium, she also noted something unique about this Class of 2021. “Not once did I receive a complaint from any of you,” she smiled.

She chose, as a symbol of the class, the dragonfly for its resilience through the ages.

Class vice president Anna Brown spoke of “Living in the moment” and “Turning our moments into memories.”

She said (we) “are now ready to move beyond our small town and become who we were meant to be... I hope you can smile a little bigger, laugh a little louder and hold on a little tighter.”

But don’t forget to celebrate, Brown said, noting that her fellow class members “hosted the best prom ever and are breaking the lock-in barriers tonight by going to Kalahari.”

“We deserve to walk out of here with our heads held high,” she said. “We did it.”

TA school board votes to raise taxes
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The Tunkhannock Area School Board changed course from six weeks ago, and voted Thursday night to raise property taxes by two mills for the 2021-22 school year.

No one in the audience spoke up about the impact that such a millage change would have on taxpayers, calculated at 2.56 percent increase.

On April 22, with only six board members in attendance, the board voted unanimously to adopt a new preliminary final school year budget with a zero tax increase.

Board member William Prebola said then that he wasn’t in favor of raising taxes and this year particularly with COVID and the way it has affected the community, “I just don’t think we need to go there. This is the year we need to give a break to the community.”

However, after board member John Burke introduced a motion Thursday to adopt a 2021-22 final budget with a 2-mill increase, Prebola seconded it and acknowledged, “My heart’s not in it, but I think we have to.” They were joined in support of the measure by board members Phillip Farr, Shana Gregory and Holly Arnold. Voting against the measure to raise taxes were Bill Weidner, Bill Swilley and Lori Bennett. Board member Rob Parry was not at the board meeting.

An increase of two mills, according to budget material handed out, would allow the district to see an increase of local revenues around $572,000 with the district to enlarge its designated fund balance for retirement by $500,000, and enlarge its unassigned fund balance by $72,000.

At the time of the April 22 preliminary vote, TA chief executive officer Shane Powers warned the board as well as those in attendance at the school board meeting that the budget preliminarily approved might not look like the final vote on June 10 and in the interim offered some fodder for board members to ponder.

She noted at a couple of meetings that 85 percent of the budget was essentially fixed costs which could not be negotiated. At a previous meeting, Prebola had requested comparative information against neighboring school districts, and expressed some unsettlement that the per pupil costs at Tunkhannock Area were out-of-line with other districts, with Swilley suggesting a budget one year showing Tunkhannock spending $19,920 per student per year.

Although still high, Burke said Thursday that the numbers for Tunkhannock were in a ballpark with Wyalusing and Lackawanna Trail, and he believed the issue was because of a higher cohort for special education programming — a demographic that historically required higher costs per student.

“It is a challenge,” Farr said, also noting rising health costs that sometimes seem hard to contain.

Arnold also reminded the body, about recent tax reassessments of Procter and Gamble and WalMart which will have a growing impact for property tax holders, and will seriously affect tax revenues for the long term which will have to be made up.

“If we raise taxes by three mills, we might barely make up the decline of tax revenue from P&G and WalMart,” Arnold said, taking a long view “of when we’ll take a huge hit into the future.”

Prebola acknowledged the challenge of the public wanting quality programs, but not wanting taxes increased. “This will be the start of a time for really making difficult decisions,” he said.

During the meeting the board also:

  • Adopted a resolution transferring $150,000 from the General Fund to the Enterprise Food Service Fund;
  • Heard a report from Bill Prebola from the board’s Extracurricular Committee that while summer programming is going on the district would be closed to any Sunday programming and activity on district grounds;
  • consented to the sale of a tax parcel adjacent to district property;
  • gave a second reading of four board policies (on extracurricular participation of home education students; comparability of services; electronic signatures and records; and community volunteers).
  • approved allowing two students who live near the Sullivan County line to attend classes in the Sullivan County School District;
  • appointed Arnold as TASB’s voting delegate to the PSBA delegate assembly;
  • approved purchase of Flyleaf decodable readers
  • allowed for a $9,000 transfer of funds within the athletic funds budget; and
  • gave the superintendent permission to apply for Emergency Instructional Time for 2021-22.

In superintendent Heather McPherson’s report, the board

  • heard her assessment that all was a go for the June 11 commencement, and she gave a shout out to high school principal Todd Bosscher and others for having everything ready;
  • approved the resignation of Brendan Tomaino as a full-time security guard;
  • approving the retirement of Intermediate Center teacher Catherine Chapla;
  • approved the transfer of Donna Demuysere from paraprofessional to general secretary;
  • approved an agreement for school-based mental health services between TASD an Youth Advocate Programs; and
  • approved Mary Rice, Sellina Kopa, Dorene Zalewski, Roxanne Veety, Stacy Salucio, Debbie Johnson, Crystal Meyers, Maureen Burton, Stefanie Williams, Allison Theobald, Allison Wilson, Wendy Morris and Sarah Paddock as staff for the TASD Summer Program.

TA softball bound for states

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EL grads complete big test
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It was a day 2021 graduates at Elk Lake High School have been waiting for most of their young lives.

The 68 senior students were not sure if they were even going to have a school year when the COVID-19 pandemic was causing so much uncertainty in schools all over the area. Saturday morning, inside the Elk Lake High School gymnasium, the students were able to gather as a class for maybe the last time, have their name called by Superintendent Ken Cuomo and receive their diplomas.

“Your senior year started with more questions than answers,” EL principal John Warnero said to the graduates. “You didn’t suffer, you survived a global pandemic, and we got through this journey together.”

Students echoed that statement in their speeches. Salutatorian Catalina Martinez-Cases said that “instead of lamenting on what the class lost, we chose to make the best of what we had.”

“We were left with many unanswered questions. It was not an easy road getting here,” Martinez-Cases said. “This last year has tested us beyond what we could have ever imagined. We’ve lost out on many special moments, but we have persevered and come out stronger.”

The COVID-19 pandemic caused many hardships for the students, but it wasn’t the only obstacle valedictorian Taegan Mills faced during her high school career.

Mills underwent brain surgery during her sophomore year, something she said “had the greatest impact on my high school career.”

“Having to miss two-and-a-half months of school was extremely difficult,” Mills said. “Through my experience, I learned how to balance school and my own health, and how to push through difficult situations.”

When the pandemic hit during her junior year, she continued to push forward with her education.

“The pandemic continued to teach me to stay strong even though it seemed like there was no end in sight,” Mills said. “Even after experiencing so many unknowns, we continued to push forward and to never give up, even though the road seemed to be a dead end.”

Class President Charity Kasson talked about how even though the pandemic caused a lot of obstacles, the class was still able to have the best senior year they possibly could under the circumstances.

“No obstacle has ever stopped us before and neither did this one,” Kasson said. “We were still fortunate enough to have great experiences our senior year. A big thanks to the school board, faculty and staff for making sure we were able to get as much as we could.”

“I encourage everyone to overcome the obstacles that will come your way, to strive to be the best version of yourself by your definition and push yourself to achieve your dreams,” Kasson said.

In the keynote address, Elk Lake High School English teacher Lauren Shovlin talked to the graduates about the meaning of ‘home.’

“I’ve had one of the greatest blessings and honors to teach almost every single soul that stands here in green and white, and throughout these years we have built a home together,” she said.

“My classroom itself was your home for the first 15 minutes of the day,” Shovlin said. “For many of you, it was your home where you were able to feel ‘ok’ knowing that you were in your safe space.”

Cuomo had one last final message to the graduating class before they received their diplomas from Elk Lake School Board members.

“These past 13 years you have become physically, mentally and spiritually strong,” he said. “The rest of your life and dreams begin today. Go live them.”

Trail graduates grateful
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Lackawanna Trail High School graduated 64 on Thursday at Lions Pride Stadium in a picture perfect ceremony that belied the year just completed.

It was the second graduation for Trail — with others having completed their requirements last February in the midst of the pandemic and ready to move on.

In opening remarks, principal Mark Murphy pointed to the school in the distance and noted, “Those classrooms behind you are where these graduates marched into school last fall, masked up, Chromebooks in hand, sanitizer at the ready, prepared to take on a senior year that none of us knew for certain would even get off the ground.”

Superintendent Matt Rakauskas also noted that 12 months ago he felt that no class had endured as much as the class of 2020.

“Now I see it differently,” he said, noting the 2021 class members “had to go through what the Class of 2020 did, plus a full year of ups and downs. Your senior year included social distancing, wearing masks, and learning virtually when COVID cases put us above the acceptable threshold.”

But Rakauskas said his comments were not meant to focus on the pandemic, but rather on teamwork. “Teamwork is what will help you achieve success and fulfillment from this day forward.”

Murphy paused to remind the class to remember Caleb Earl, his indelible smile, and the memories we made with him. He walked the winter graduation, but lost his life weeks later in a tragic motor vehicle accident. Murphy noted, “We have reserved his seat on the field tonight with the class, where he belongs and we know he is here in spirit to support them tonight.”

Prior to the seniors receiving their diplomas, faculty gave out department awards to those who excelled in each of the academic disciplines.

Taylor Vlassis received the art award; Maggie Reppa received the music, French and social studies awards; J.J. Sharpe received the business award; Lillie Trunk received the English Award; Morgan Faist received the Spanish and math awards; Abigail Wilson received the science award; and Celia Fortney received the technology education award.

The top three students academically had an opportunity to address their fellow graduates.

Abigail Wilson of West Abington Township ranked third in her class and was recognized as a commended student.

The thrust of her speech was about pride, noting that “putting in time to make ourselves better and more educated people” is something to be proud of.

She added that knowledge and growth do not stop as one receives a diploma. “Make sure the life path you are on tomorrow makes the person you are today proud.”

Salutatorian Margaret Reppa of Dalton talked about success and versions of truth. She said, “I don’t get to tell you what is or isn’t success. No one does. There is not one unilateral standard.”

She added, “What matters is that you keep striving for whatever you define as success, even when things get hard. What matters is that you do not surrender.”

As for truth, Reppa said, she likes to follow her mother’s advice: “You’re not trying to find your truth forever, you’re trying to find your truth for now.” She added, “what I’ll do 10 years from now or three months from now doesn’t matter. What matters is that I know my truth for now, what matters at this moment in time.”

Valedictorian Morgan Faist spoke from a spirit of gratitude, thanking her teachers “who had to reinvent their way of teaching with new technology, a new environment and new challenges.”

She also expressed thankfulness for being from a small town, which “has given us the ability to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, the ability to take a risk and put ourselves out there. At this moment in our lives, we have everything to gain and nothing to lose.

“Never forget your roots at 28 Tunnel Hill Road,” she smiled.

Following the presentation of diplomas, senior class president Celia Fortney offered a class farewell.

“I couldn’t have chosen a better group of kids to spend the last 13 years of my life with,” she said.