2013-01-02 / Front Page

2012 Year In Review Top Stories

Economy showed small signs of recovery; two new commissioners take the reins
By Jean Snyder
STAFF WRITER

Fulton County began 2012 much in the same way as the rest of the nation – focused on the economy and hoping that Congress will avoid the “fiscal cliff” that could result in financial woes if taxes are permitted to raise to levels before the tax cuts enacted by former President George W. Bush.

The end of the year also brought sadness to the heart of the entire nation as 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Conn., were gunned down by a mentally troubled young man who took his own life as well as the life of his mother on December 14. The tragedy brought about a national dialogue on controversial issues such as gun control, the availability of and access to mental health services, and how to assure safety in schools.

In a tragedy of another sort, a late autumn Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the eastern coast in October when it became the largest Atlantic hurricane on record (as measured by diameter, with winds spanning 1,100 miles). Preliminary estimates of losses due to damage and business interruption are estimated at $65.6 billion, which would make it the second-costliest Atlantic hurricane, behind only Hurricane Katrina. At least 253 people were killed along the path of the storm in seven countries. In the United States, Hurricane Sandy affected 24 states, including the entire eastern seaboard from Florida to Maine and west across the Appalachian Mountains to Michigan and Wisconsin, with particularly severe damage in New Jersey and New York. Its storm surge hit New York City on October 29, flooding streets, tunnels and subway lines and cutting power in and around the city. Damage in the U.S. is estimated at more than $63 billion.

Business and economy

The year ended with an economy that is showing only small signs of improvement, although local unemployment figures continue to show small gains often followed by small losses. Fulton County began the year with an unemployment rate of 8.9 percent in January, while October’s rate was 8.6 percent. During the year, the jobless rate never went below 7.5, and yet never went back into the double digits recorded in 2011. The highest rate recorded for 2012 was 9.2 percent.

In JLG-related news, Frank Nerenhausen was appointed president at JLG effective August 1. He replaces Wilson Jones in the position as Jones accepted a promotion to chief operating officer and president of Oshkosh, JLG’s parent company.

In a move that local farmers say could affect their financial stability, the United States Dept. of Agriculture closed the local Farm Services Agency in McConnellsburg during 2012. The closing came about even though more than 70 attended a public meeting in late January to plead for keeping the office open. In the end, the Mc- Connellsburg office was consolidated with Franklin County’s office, but officials told farmers they could also use other offices, such as Bedford County, if they were closer. In May, it was announced that offices would close in Blair County, Hollidaysburg, Pa.; Carbon County, Lehighton, Pa.; Fulton County, McConnellsburg, Pa.; Lebanon County, Lebanon, Pa.; Mifflin County, Burnham, Pa.; Perry County, New Bloomfield, Pa.; and Wyoming County, Tunkhannock, Pa.

In another move that county citizens say could affect their economy, the United States Postal Service (USPS) announced in early 2012 that it was targeting two county post offices for possible closure. The offices included Wells Tannery and Crystal Spring. Later it would be announced the offices would likely stay open, but with reduced hours.

In the meantime, residents of the Waterfall area received a survey from the USPS asking them to choose one of four options that include having the office stay open, but with shorter window hours; requesting a “discontinuance study” to be performed by the Postal Service and expand roadside mailbox delivery to all customers; asks for the completion of a discontinuance study that would in turn allow for a contractor, many times a local business owner, and to provide for an alternative location known as a “village post office.” These alternative locations, according to the Postal Service, allow stamps and flat-rate products to be offered with service hours generally more expansive than what the local post office may be able to offer. The fourth option would be a discontinuance survey to allow for the office to close and relocate the post office box service in Waterfall to a nearby post office. A public community meeting is scheduled for January 17.

In other economic news, at year’s end, two out of three of the county’s three school districts announced they would hold the line on taxes in their 2013 budgets. The Southern Fulton and Forbes Road districts approved a budget with no real-estate tax increase, while the Central Fulton School District hiked the real-estate tax rate by .6412 mills to 28.5220 mills.

At year’s end, the Fulton County Board of Commissioners voted to raise real-estate taxes by 1.2 mills, taking the millage from 10.95 to 12.15 mills.

At its annual state-of-thecompany meeting in November, Fulton County Medical Center announced a profit of $450,000, a turnaround of nearly $1.5 million over last year’s loss of $983,000.

First announced in 2011, in February of 2012, plans for Susquehanna to buy Graystone Tower Bank (formerly The First National Bank of McConnellsburg) were finalized, and the Needmore branch of the bank was officially closed on February 17, resulting in the loss of employment both there as well as layoffs at the McConnellsburg bank.

General Fasteners, a Michiganbased company that has been pro- viding fasteners, adhesives, hoses, cables and clamps along with an additional 25 plus products as well as processes and materials to manufacturers since 1952, moved into its new home in July. The company is leasing a building in the Fulton County Business Park that was built and is owned by Randy and Sue DeShong. The company, which was formerly located on Buchanan Trail, now has 25,200 square feet of space for its local operations.

In May, Jackie and Bret Cornelius opened a new crematorium behind their family-owned business, Kelso-Cornelius Funeral Home.

Schools

In other school news, all three school districts lost their superintendents during 2012, once again raising the debate about whether or not Fulton County needs three school superintendents. Forbes Road School Superintendent Fred Foster announced in March that he would leave the district in April and, in April, the district hired Mark Loucks, a former elementary principal at Claysburg Kimmel, to a three-year contract at a starting salary of $83,000.

In August, Southern Fulton School Superintendent Kendra Trail resigned her position, creating controversy among board members and school faculty. Citing “another opportunity,” Trail did not elaborate on her plans. In November, the district hired former Central Fulton Superintendent Hervey Hann as an interim superintendent through June 30, 2013, at a salary of $57,400 from November through June.

Central Fulton School Superintendent Dwayne Northcraft resigned his position abruptly in September, and, in November, the district hired former elementary school Principal Dixie Paruch as its new superintendent. In a fiveyear contract that begins in February 2013, Paruch will receive a starting salary of $115,000.

After several years of bargaining and concessions, the Southern Fulton School District and the Southern Fulton Education Association finally reached an agreement in June for a five-year contract retroactive to July 1, 2010. Concessions were made on both salaries and health care costs.

Also in June, the Forbes Road School District Board of Directors approved a three-year contract with its teachers, effectively ending collective bargaining and reaching a deal prior to the end of the current contract. The threeyear contract commenced on July 1, 2012, and will run through June 30, 2015.

Also, on a school district-related note, at the end of 2012, all three school boards reorganized. Cory Gress will once again head the Central Fulton board, while Teressa Bard will again chair the Forbes Road board, and Allen Morton will preside over the Southern Fulton board.

Cowans Gap

Former Cowans Gap State Park manager Steven Behe relocated to Shawnee State Park, where he serves as assistant regional parks manager for Region 3. He was replaced at Cowans Gap in April by Ryan Donovan. Behe logged just shy of 20 years with the state park located in the scenic Allens Valley area of Fulton County, while Donovan, 28, was employed over the last three years as park manager at Col. Denning State Park. Col Denning draws in around 80,000 visitors annually in comparison to the more than 440,000 who visit Cowans Gap.

Politics

For most of the year, an entire nation was focused on the presidential election. In the end, President Barack Obama was re-elected by nearly 3 percentage points and scored a decisive Electoral College vote, winning 332-206 of the votes. Fulton County, however, heavily favored Obama challenger Mitt Romney, casting 77 percent of the county’s presidential votes for him.

Two new county commissioners joined incumbent Commissioner Craig Cutchall at the beginning of the year. Newly elected commissioners Rodney Mc- Cray (R) and Irvin Dasher (D) took office in January, with Mc- Cray being elected chairman by his fellow commissioners.

Judge Richard J. Walsh of the Court of Common Pleas of the 39th Judicial District announced in January that he would retire at year’s end after 14 years on the bench. An election will be held in 2013 to select a replacement for a full 10-year term.

County renovations

Bids were awarded in March 2011 for a renovation of the county’s courthouse complex. The multi-phase renovation has basically been completed except for the jail renovations. Although original plans called for the old jail to be razed, two members of the Fulton County Historical Society, noting that the jail was a significant historical building, were able to prevail in saving the old structure. The former board of commissioners eventually agreed to stand the costs of the interior renovations to the historical building, while the Fulton County Historical Society agreed to pay for exterior renovations. At year’s end, work is continuing on the jail renovations, which will include a brick facade. The bricks are being handmade by Redland Brick of Williamsport, Md., and their appearance is similar to ones made in the 19th century. When completed, the building will, once again, be used as the sheriff’s office. Also in 2012, the old probation office on the east side of North Second Street was razed, and plans are moving forward to renovate the old domestic relations office for use by District Magisterial Judge Wendy Mellott.

Sewage plant upgrade

At the end of 2010, contracts were awarded for a $5.4 million upgrade to the existing plant south of McConnellsburg. Work began in 2011 and the project was completed in 2012, meeting the deadline of May 2012 when all 180 plants in Pennsylvania that were mandated to upgrade had to have the work completed. Officials said then that the authority was forced to make the upgrade in order to be in compliance with new laws and regulations that mandate a reduction in nitrogen and phosphorous (nutrients) flowing into the Chesapeake Bay.

Crime

A local crime received national media attention in August 2012 when Vickie Jo Mills, 33, Mc- Connellsburg was arrested and charged with 10 counts each of aggravated assault, simple assault and recklessly endangering another person after admitting to poisoning her live-in boyfriend with eye drops over a three-year period. During that time, the man suffered ongoing physical symptoms. Mills said her intent was only to get him “to pay more attention to her.” She eventually pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated assault by attempting serious bodily injury. The remaining charges were dismissed with prejudice. Although she was scheduled for sentencing on December 11, in November it was announced that upon request by her attorney, Mills will undergo a psychological evaluation prior to sentencing. She could face a maximum penalty of 20 years incarceration and a $25,000 fine.

Crimes against children dominated the news once again in 2012, but this time most of the news was sentencing for perpetrators of crimes committed in 2011 and earlier. In November 2011, a Hustontown man was arrested and charged with three counts each of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault, indecent assault; two counts of rape and one count of statutory sexual assault, indecent exposure, corruption of minors and unlawful contact with a minor relating to alleged ongoing sexual encounters between Dennis Lane, 62, and a minor boy. A preliminary hearing originally scheduled for Monday, November 22, 2011, was rescheduled for January 10, 2012. Lane was originally remanded to jail in lieu of $100,000 bail. In March, the bail was increased to $250,000 after Lane had pled guilty. The bail increase was granted after new information came to light regarding Lane’s alleged attempt to make contact with his victim. In March 2012, Lane was sentenced to 11-22 years in a state correctional institution.

A McConnellsburg man accused of sexually assaulting and molesting several young boys over a five-year time frame entered a not-guilty plea in Fulton County Court of Common Pleas in December 2010 to all 55 criminal offenses filed against him during the summer. Woodrow “Woody” Keefer pleaded not guilty to a long list of charges that included six counts of rape, nine counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, three counts of unlawful contact with a minor, three counts of statutory sexual assault, 24 counts of indecent assault, four counts of indecent exposure and three counts of the corruption of minors. The charges against the 63-year-old man came to light earlier in 2010 after three young men, ranging in ages 16 to 22, provided Pennsylvania State Police officers from the McConnellsburg barracks with information regarding the alleged acts that occurred between January 1999 and December 2004. Following a two-day trial in December 2011, a jury of his peers found him guilty of six counts of rape; nine counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse; 24 counts of indecent assault; four counts of indecent exposure; and three counts each of unlawful contact with a minor, statutory sexual assault and the corruption of minors. In March 2012, Keefer was sentenced to 18 years in a state correctional institution on a total of 18 counts ranging from rape and unlawful contact with a minor to indecent assault and indecent exposure

A Brush Creek Township man released in July 2011 on unsecured bail for a variety of sexual offenses was arrested again in August 2011 on accusations he assaulted two young girls this year. L.D. Andrew Keebaugh Jr. was arraigned on 12 counts each of indecent assault involving individuals less than 16 and 13 years of age and four counts of the corruption of minors. Already listed as a sex offender dating back to 2000 through Megan’s Law, Keebaugh was remanded to the Franklin County Prison in lieu of $150,000 bail. Two months after his arrest for a sex crime dating back to February 1998, he entered a plea to rape and aggravated indecent assault, while two additional indecent-assault cases brought to light later were withdrawn as part of a sentencing agreement. In February 2012, Keebaugh was sentenced to six years in a state correctional institution on one charge of involuntary deviant sexual intercourse, aggravated assault and indecent assault.

A Big Cove Tannery man accused of the indecent assault of a young boy was sentenced in 2012. Sixty-one-year-old James Edward Brown was arrested by Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Michael Davis in late September on 12 counts of indecent assault, four counts of indecent exposure and one count of the corruption of minors. He has remained in custody in lieu of $100,000 bail. Brown waived arraignment proceedings in November and entered a plea of guilty to one count of indecent assault of a person less than 13 years old and the corruption of minors. He was sentenced in February 2012 to 15 months in a state correctional facility.

Two Fulton County residents were jailed in November 2011 amid allegations of child abuse after a 2- year-old child was hospitalized with what medical personnel deemed as lifethreatening, if left untreated, injuries. Twenty-six-year-old Joscelyn Amber Murray and Lance Alan Hixon, 32, were arrested on November 16, 2011, by Pennsylvania State Police following an investigation that got under way earlier in the month when the female juvenile was taken to Fulton County Medical Center for treatment of injuries. Murray and Hixon were arraigned by Magisterial District Judge Devin Horne on one count each of aggravated assault, endangering the welfare of a child and simple assault. In June 2012, Murray was sentenced to 20-84 months in a state correctional institution on one count each of endangering the welfare of a child and simple assault. In the meantime, Hixon, who initially entered a guilty plea and then withdrew the plea, will reappear in court on January 3, 2013, for a trial on charges of aggravated assault, endangering the welfare of children and simple assault.

In February, 2011 a Mc- Connellsburg man fatally shot his ex-girlfriend before taking his own life near the woman’s home on Cito Road in Ayr Township. The tragic story surrounding the kidnapping, subsequent homicide of 39-year-old Tina Marie (Sipes) Souders and the suicide of her killer, Ricky L. Hann, continued to be in the news in 2012. Following the tragedy, Fulton County District Attorney Travis Kendall argued successfully that Paul Weachter, the bail bondsman who arranged $100,000 bond for Hann prior to the murder should have to forfeit the bond. The judge in the case concurred, and in April ordered the forfeit to the county. However, the Pa. Superior Court overturned the order, and DA Kendall said he would seek the allowance of appeal with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Aaron Michael Deneen, Mc- Connellsburg, was sentenced in November 2012 to 27-84 months in a state correctional institution for robbing the Penn’s Village branch of the F&M bank in Mc- Connellsburg on August 28. He was taken into custody several days later. Deneen walked away from the bank with nearly $7,000 in cash.

Bard securities fraud case

In May 2012, a U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania entered final judgment in a civil suit brought by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) against Warfordsburg financial advisor Robert Glenn Bard and his firm, Vision Specialist Group, for securities fraud.

Judge William W. Caldwell issued the final judgment on May 17, ruling in favor of the SEC and against the defendants. The judg- ment ordered the defendants permanently restrained and enjoined from violating, directly or indirectly, Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933, Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act of 1934, Exchange Act Rule 10b-5 and sections 206 (1) and 206 (2) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. The judgement also ordered Bard and Vision Specialist Group liable for disgorgement of ill-gotten gains of $450,000, a $2.5 million civil penalty and prejudgment interest of $53,039, a total of $3,003,039. Bard failed to make the payment to the SEC.

In July 2012, Bard pled not guilty during arraignment proceedings to 21criminal charges of securities fraud, wire fraud, mail fraud, bank fraud and making false statements to the FBI brought against him by the U.S. Department of Justice for allegedly defrauding 43 investors of more than $3 million.

The 21-count indictment was unsealed after Bard’s arrest by an FBI agent at his home near Warfordsburg. He was taken to Harrisburg, where he appeared before a federal magistrate judge and was released on $50,000 unsecured bail.

A federal grand jury handed down the 21-count indictment July 18, charging the former financial advisor, whose clients lived mostly in and around Warfordsburg, with one count of securities fraud, 14 counts of wire fraud, three counts of mail fraud, one count of bank fraud, one count of investment advisor fraud, and one count of making false statements to the FBI.

The court set the criminal trial for early October, but Bard was granted a continuance upon request of his attorney. Bard’s trial is now scheduled to begin with jury selection April 1, 2013.

Tragedy

Highway accident deaths once again brought sadness to the county in 2012. In February, a one-vehicle accident on Great Cove Road near Burnt Cabins in Dublin Township claimed the life of a Hustontown teen. Ashlyn Buterbaugh, 18, was pronounced dead at the scene on February 1 as the result of the accident. A Forbes Road senior, Ashlyn was the vicepresident of her senior class.

Tragedy struck northern Fulton County again in July when two teens were killed and two more seriously injured in a car accident near North Valley Road close to Wells Tannery on July 10. Bryant Andrew White, 18, Wells Tannery, and Cody Gregory Gracey, 17, Hustontown, were pronounced dead at the scene, while rear-seat passengers Cheyenne Hege, 18, Mc- Connellsburg, and William Hess, 19, Fort Littleton, suffered major injuries in the accident.

In memoriam

As the year ends, many take time to reflect on the lives lost during 2011 – bright lights extinguished, young and old – all missed by their families and friends. Fulton County lost two community leaders near the year’s end with the passing of Freda Raker in November and H. Lyle Duffey in December.

Raker, 85, McConnellsburg, passed away on November 1 at home with her family by her side. Raker was a co-founder of Overly-Raker Inc., once the largest soft sculpture manufacturer east of the Mississippi. Founded in 1973 by Raker and her longtime friend, Helen Overly, the company once employed as many as 200 people in the Fulton County area. Raker served as the vice president and creative director/designer until the company was sold in 1996. Although remembered by her many co-workers and employees for her many creative skills in business, Raker was also a consummate artist, sculptor and designer. Freda had an unassuming quality that allowed her to get many things done for the community while always preferring to stay in the background. If the old adage is true that “you have to be a friend to have a friend,” then her friends numbered well into the hundreds. Her smile, her kindness and her genuine interest and compassion for all will be missed by the many whose lives she touched so gracefully.

Duffey, 90, Big Cove Tannery, passed away on December 28 at Fulton County Medical Center. He was a lifelong resident of Fulton County and was a community leader, serving on many boards and in community organizations. In 1953 he joined the staff of The First National Bank of Mc- Connellsburg, where he served as an executive officer for more than 30 years. He was a member of the board of directors of the bank for 45 years. He was also a member of the board of directors of JLG Industries for 23 years. He is remembered by many as a community banker who did business the way it once was done – with a friendly smile, conversation and a handshake. After retiring from the bank, he responded to a call to the ministry. He enrolled in the Wesley Theological Seminary course of study and served as pastor of the Lemasters United Methodist Church for eight years. He was a member of the Mc- Connellsburg United Methodist Church at the time of his death. His booming voice and his friendly smile are being remembered as Fulton County, once again, sadly says goodbye to a native son.

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