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2019 Year in Review

by on December 26, 2019 7:43 AM

Editor’s note: This is the first of two parts looking back at 2019 as covered in the pages of The Centre County Gazette. Part II will appear in the Jan. 2, 2020, edition of The Centre County Gazette.

JANUARY

n Almost three years ago, Penn State freshman Timothy Piazza died following a hazing incident at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. In January 2019, Penn State published a report outlining 31 hazing violations among student organizations between 2013-18. Under the new Timothy J. Piazza Anti-hazing Law, universities will be required to update the reports biannually every January and August. The law was introduced by state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, and supported by Piazza’s parents. This law also toughens criminal penalties for hazing and increases reporting and educational requirements for institutions and organizations.

n Former Pappy Chuck Candy Shoppe owner Chuck Kormanski was charged with embezzling $167,420 from a local church. He pleaded guilty to 10 charges of unlawful taking in June and is currently serving his sentence at Centre County Correctional facility.

n Wrapping up January was a tragic incident in downtown State College. Jordan Witmer, 21, of Benner Township, fatally shot Dean Beachy, 62, and Steven Beachy, 19, of Ohio, at about 10:15 p.m. The shooting took place inside the bar area at P.J. Harrigan’s.

Witmer also critically injured 21-yearold Nicole Abrino. After fleeing and crashing his car, Witmer broke into a Tussey Lane home where he fatally shot 62-yearold resident George McCormick just before killing himself.

After the investigation, authorities said in April they could determine no apparent motive in the shooting.

FEBRUARY

n Days before the second anniversary of their son Timothy Piazza’s death following a pledge initiation at now-banned Beta Theta Pi fraternity, Jim and Evelyn Piazza filed a wrongful death lawsuit against 28 former Beta Theta Pi members, reaching a settlement with the University.

Among those named in the complaint are fraternity members still facing criminal charges and others who have already pleaded guilty to a variety of misdemeanor charges including hazing. Following Piazza’s death, Penn State implemented sweeping changes among Greek-letter organizations with numerous new requirements and rules related to alcohol, education and reporting.

n THON, the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, conquered its goal yet again this past February. When it was all said and done, the reveal showed the philanthropy raised $10,621,683.76 that was given to the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Children’s hospital, which will in turn, donate that money to families with children battling cancer. Since 1977, all of THON’s efforts culminated in 46-hour-long weekends. It has raised more than $167 million and has dedicated more than 5 million hours planning and raising money.

MARCH

n The community was left with so many questions and concerns after Osaze Osagie was shot dead by State College police on March 20 after he allegedly confronted officers with a knife after they arrived at his home to serve him a mental health warrant. Authorities said Osagie then came after responders and one officer shot and killed him. After the investigation by state police, Centre County District Attorney Bernie Cantora announced in May that the use of force was justified and no charges were filed against the police officers involved. In response, State College and Centre County put together a task force to review mental health crisis procedure in the county.

Osagie parents later announced in September they intended to sue the State College Police Department for the wrongful death of their son.

n A Bellefonte man is facing more than 100 charges of rape and indecent assault related to the alleged sexual abuse of two children. Donald Lee Lamey Jr., 36, was charged on March 1 with 113 counts of rape of a child, 105 counts of aggravated indecent assault of a child, 242 counts of indecent assault of a person younger than 13, 23 counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child and two counts of corruption of minors. Lamey was interviewed by police and denied the accusations. At a forensic interview in May, one of the children said they awoke one night to Lamey performing a sexual act and that the same thing occurred the following night.

APRIL

n After aiding in an armed bank robbery in 2017, one of the two men involved with the robbery, along with bomb threats, was sentenced to nine years in federal prison. Rodrequis A. Council, a 33-year-old former University of Louisville football player, pleaded guilty in U.S. Middle District Court of Pennsylvania to one count of armed robbery for working with Marquis Buckley, 41, to rob SPE Federal Credit Union on Science Park Road in August 2017. In issuing the sentence, Judge Matthew Brann cited Council’s “extensive criminal history” and wrote that at the time of the credit union robbery, Council was on supervised release from a prior robbery.

n After countless rumors in just one day, the Jonas Brothers played a surprise show at Champs Downtown on Allen Street. The band’s visit to State College came after Joe Jonas spent the past few weeks leading the charge for Champs in the #BarstoolBestBar Twitter tournament. Jonas and Champs brass were introduced by Penn State football coach James Franklin, who also invited them to be on the sidelines for the Nittany Lions’ White Out game that season.

n After closing his old restaurant and lounge location in December, owner David Letterman brought the Bonanza subs back to downtown Bellefonte at the new Bonfatto’s Italian Market and Corner Café location. Also in April, Red Horse Tavern owners Justin Leiter and Courtney Confer announced plans to open Sammi’s at the old Bonfatto’s location. More exciting news for Bellefonte came when Axeman Brewery announced plans to open at the former Cerro Metal Plant.

n Time and Mother Nature have taken their toll on the historic structure of the Egg Hill Church in the deep woods of Potter Township. The building was constructed by congregation members in 1860. Architectural inspections determined the building was basically sound, free of rot and insects, but needed some work on its foundation. The repairs were completed.

MAY

n Fred Keller won a special election over Marc Friedenberg in May to take over the 12th District seat in the U.S. House of Representative after GOP Rep. Tom Marino announced his resignation less than a month into his fifth term in office.

n Success came early for 17-year-old Zoe Brown as she jumped into a new business venture. The State College Area High School student launched “Ritzy-Babes,” a vintage haute couture jewelry business. Through some trial and error, Brown learned how to create jewelry that she felt would be nice enough to sell. She opened up her shop on etsy.com and publicized her new business via social media.

n Pennsylvania health officials declared an outbreak of hepatitis A in the commonwealth in May, citing an increasing number of cases over the past year. The state reported 171 cases of hepatitis A in 36 counties. Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said that neighboring states of Ohio and West Virginia have seen more than 2,000 cases of hepatitis A since January 2018.

n Two Centre County youngsters were selected as Miracle Kids to represent Geisinger Janet Weis Children’s Hospital at various events throughout 2019. Anthony Fitzgerald, of State College, and 3-year-old Lucy Roop, of Port Matilda, were two of the six chosen to continue the efforts of the Miracle Kids program. Anthony and his twin brother, Alex, were born 10 weeks early and suffered from twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome. Anthony received too much fluid at birth and had a small brain bleed. At 9 months old, he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. At 3 years old, Lucy spiked continuous high fevers with no real explanation for their cause. After she complained about shoulder pain, her doctors ordered blood work, which showed an extremely low blood cell count. Further testing found that Lucy had leukemia.

JUNE

n In the midst of the summer, legendary local varsity softball coach for Philipsburg-Osceola, Jim Gonder, announced his retirement. Gonder helped lead the Lady Mounties to a number of Mountain League championships during his time, earning 20 titles. Gonder and his accomplishments and contributions will live on in the history of P-O.

n Happy Valley Launchbox helped State College entrepreneur Allan Woolway premier his invention, the FootAnchor, in June. FootAnchor is a device designed to help individuals who have trouble getting out of bed due to a shoulder injury or surgery and also other issues relating to the back, neck or obesity. Along with Happy Valley Launchbox, Woolway worked with the Penn State Small Business Development Center to get his product out into the market. Woolway is on his way to getting FootAnchor known on a national level and is working on the establishment of a program with the local veteran’s association which will donate the product to those in need.

G. Kerry Webster, Gazette editor, and Vincent Corso, staff reporter, contributed to this report.

 

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