Prison staff continue to be sickened despite statewide lockdown

By Steve Pope | September 1, 2018

Corrections officers are are still being effected by an unknown substance despite a statewide lockdown of all state correctional facilities that is now in its third full day.

According to daily incident reports, 57 staff members have fallen ill since May 31, after coming into contact with a substance. All but one received medical treatment and thus far, five have been given Narcan.

The most recent case involves a corrections officer at SCI-Greene, who earlier today started to feel dizzy and became pale after opening a broom closet.  The officer was transported to a local hospital. No further information on the incident has been released.

In some cases officials have identified the substance using field tests kits similar to what police use to test suspected narcotics.  The substances that have been identified thus far include, fentanyl, amphetamines and synthetic cannabinoids.

As a result of the lockdown it is mandatory that all staff use protective equipment, especially gloves, when dealing with inmates or their property. In addition, all visits have been suspended, inmates are locked in their cells and they can only receive mail from attorneys or other similar officials.

According to an Aug. 21 report prison officials announced increased security measures to combat the growing problem. The new measures include, additional training of staff in the use of protective equipment; expanding the use of body scanners; increased screening of inmate mail and expanding the use of K9 units.

Prison officials have declined to say how long they expect the lockdown to last.

Steve Pope can be contacted at




Man who made fake calls to 911 while drunk given probation

By Terri Hill | August 31, 2018

A Tarentum man who called 911 several times in 2017 saying he was injured and severely bleeding, causing emergency workers to launch a two hour search, admitted in court Thursday that he was pretending to be hurt.

David Thimons, 49, pleaded guilty to six charges including, false alarm to agency of public safety, criminal mischief, false reports to law enforcement, obstructing emergency services, and other related crimes. He was sentenced to one year probation by Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Manning.

According to court documents Thimons told a call taker that he had fallen in a ravine near Bull Creek Road in Harrison and was badly injured. He said that he was about to pass out and had to hang up to stop one of his legs from bleeding. At one point during a second call he told a dispatcher his leg was broken.

Thimons’s frantic calls led police and EMS to launch a massive search to locate him. Emergency crews from Tarentum, Fawn, Harrison and Brackenridge spent close to two hours searching. A state police helicopter also aided in the search. Crews also used ATVs during the search.

The search was ended when he was spotted walking towards his car, which ironically was parked close to the parking lot of Trinity United Methodist Church, the site chosen for the command post.

Police say Thimons was not injured and smelled of alcohol. His attorney said Thimons completed an alcohol rehabilitation program.

While Thimons denied calling 911, police found a record of he calls on his cellphone.

Terri Hill can be contacted at

Leader of multi-county theft ring sentenced to serve 2 to 4 years in prison

By Amanda Klein | August 29, 2018

The alleged leader of a burglary ring that authorities say stole over $150,000 worth of equipment from business and construction sites was sentenced Wednesday to serve two to four years in prison.

David Wray, 47, of Washington Township, Fayette County led the four man ring that stole equipment from 16 business and one residence during one month in 2016, court filings allege.  He pleaded guilty earlier this year to numerous charges of conspiracy, theft, burglary and racketeering.

During a March 2016 search, authorities recovered numerous firearms, farm tractors, construction equipment, two ATVs, as well as drug paraphernalia from Wray’s residence in Fayette County, his family’s farm in Clearfield County, as well as the residences of his accomplices throughout Western Pennsylvania.

According to former state Attorney General Kathleen Kane, Wray and two other men were arrested by members of the state Auto Theft Task Force as they were stealing tires from two businesses. Task force members had been staking out the two locations due to recent thefts.

“These individuals were conducting thefts and burglaries in Southwestern Pennsylvania for years,” state Attorney General Josh Shapiro said. “In addition to victimizing local businesses for thousands of dollars, investigators discovered the ringleader was hoarding 19 firearms, some of which were also identified as having been stolen.  We’re holding these dangerous individuals accountable, and we’ve shut this crime ring down.”

All three of Wray’s codefendants have pleaded guilty to their roles in the thefts. In May, one man was sentenced to a year of probation after pleading guilty to trespassing. The remaining two are expected to be sentenced later this year.

Amanda Klein can be contacted at


All Pennsylvania state prisons put on lockdown after numerous workers sickened by unknown substance

By Terri Hill | August 29, 2018

All state correctional facilities in Pennsylvania have been placed on immediate lockdown while authorities try and determine what is making staff members sick, according to a release from the Department of Corrections.

In addition to the lockdown and visitation being suspended, only mail from attorneys and the courts are being distributed to inmates.

It is now mandatory that staff use protective equipment,  especially gloves and extra caution is to be taken when parole violators and new inmates are received into the prison system.

From Aug. 6 through Aug. 27, 23 staff members have been sickened by an unknown substance that corrections officials believe is being smuggled into facilities.

So far this month two women have been caught attempting to smuggle drugs into two prisons.

According to online court records and a news release from the Department of Corrections, Madir Destiny Coney, 23, of Darby, was arrested on Aug. 26 after officials watched her pass an unknown item to an inmate during a visit. The inmate attempted to flee from officers and swallowed the item.

Coney was arrested by state police and is charged with several drug offense, including delivery of a controlled substance. She was transported to the Clearfield County Jail and has since been released.

Guards at SCI-Camp Hill thwarted a similar attempt on Aug. 25, when guards stopped a female visitor before she was able to smuggle drugs into the prison.

According to the DOC, the woman was standing in line waiting to enter the prison and appeared nervous. A drug sniffing K9 alerted to the woman’s upper body region. After being questioned by an investigator, she admitted to hiding the drugs in her pants. The drugs tested positive for amphetamines, according to a preliminary field test.

The names of the two women were not specifically mentioned in the releases.

The symptoms that staff members experience vary, although most report feeling dizzy. Most return to work the same or the next day.

In an Aug. 21 report the Wolf Administration vowed to aggressively address the threat the substance is posing to staff and inmates and new measures are being put in place to increase safety at the facilities including, new training in the use of protective equipment; expanding the use of body scanners; increased screening of inmate mail and expanding the use of K9 units.

Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said today, “The state’s Opioid Command Center is giving complete support to this action. And Corrections thanks all state agencies for their support, especially the Pennsylvania Department of Health, for providing additional gloves and personal protective equipment.”

The problem is not confined to Pennsylvania. Over 20 staff members at an Ohio prison were treated Wednesday been treated after being exposed to an unknown substance. There has also been numerous reports of staff sickened in Illinois prisons while searching housing units.

It is unknown how long the lockdown will last.

Terri Hill can be contacted at





Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro alleges sex abuse cover-up by Vatican and high-ranking church officials

By Steve Pope | August 28, 2018

In two recent interviews Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro accused Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik of lying when he claimed there was no cover-up of child sex abuse cases. He also said the Vatican participated in covering up some cases.

Mr. Shapiro said during an interview published Monday in the New York Times, that contrary to public statements made by Bishop Zubik and former Greensburg Bishop Lawrence Brandt, that they welcomed the release of the grand jury report both men, “were working behind the scenes to shut the report down.”

“There were all kinds of efforts being led by our opponents within the church and supporters of the church, really powerful lobbyists and lawyers” who filed legal documents or took steps “to either derail our investigation or shut it down,” he said.

Neither man was specifically named by Mr. Shapiro during the interview.

In a Tuesday interview with CBS This Morning, Mr. Shapiro took issue with Bishop Zubik’s Aug. 14 statement saying, “There was no cover-up going on.” “He’s not telling the truth and the church’s own documents prove that,” he said.

During the interview Mr. Shapiro also responded sharply to church supporters and others who have said that the abuse occurred years — even decades ago saying, “Child rape in 1970 is the same as child rape 2018.  It is never acceptable and it is never okay to cover it up.”

According to court records 13 current or former clergy members have filed objections with the Pa. Supreme Court objecting to the release of their names.  The report was released with their names redacted and the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on their objections in Sept.

The grand jury report released two weeks ago names over 301 priests that were alleged to have abused children throughout Western Pennsylvania, some cases date back over 40 years.

In another interview on Tuesday, he said the Vatican was aware that some abuse cases were being hushed. During the interview with NBC’s “Today Show” Mr. Shapiro said, “We have evidence that the Vatican had knowledge of the cover-up.” However, he added that he could not speak specifically regarding Pope Francis.

Labeling the abuse as “criminally and morally reprehensible,” the Vatican in an Aug. 16 statement responding to the report expressed “shame and sorrow.” Vatican spokesperson Greg Burke added, “The Holy See treats with great seriousness the work of the Investigating Grand Jury of Pennsylvania and the lengthy Interim Report it has produced. The Holy See condemns unequivocally the sexual abuse of minors.”

What is believed to be the first lawsuit brought by an alleged abuse victim, was filed in Pittsburgh Tuesday, according to a news release from Alan Perer, the man’s attorney.  The court filing is a three page Writ of Summons which merely provides notice that a claim has been filed in court.

The lawsuit, the release said, is based on information in the grand jury report taken from Diocese records including information regarding John S. Hoehl, who was employed as a priest, pastor, and later as a high school Headmaster by the Diocese.

The report lists more than 20 complaints of abuse allegedly committed by Hoehl.

Mr. Perer said in the release that his client was never made aware of Hoehl’s sexual abuse history and that he was diagnosed as a pedophile, because of the Diocese’s conspiracy of silence and fraudulent concealment. Mr. Perer said he will  argue in court the normal statute of limitations in this and similar cases do not apply because of the concealment.

According to the release additional cases are expected to be filed.

A Pittsburgh Diocese spokesman did not return a phone call Tuesday seeking comment regarding the lawsuit.

Steve Pope can be contacted at


Suspended Westmoreland County Sheriff’s Dep’t captain found guilty after failing to show for a court hearing

By Amanda Klein | August 28, 2018

A captain with the Westmoreland County Sheriff’s Department who is currently on paid administrative leave was found guilty in absentia after he failed to appear for a court hearing on Monday.

Travis Day, 24, was scheduled to appear before District Magistrate Anthony Bompiani after being cited on Feb. 10 by a state trooper for driving behind the state police barracks in Greensburg. He was charged with failing to obey a traffic control device.

State police say there are signs clearly posted at the barracks that no one is permitted behind the building. Despite the signs, Day was found driving behind the building at 2 a.m., claiming he was there to meet a landlord.

Judge Bompiani sentenced Day to pay a $195 fine after he failed to show for the hearing, according to  online court records.

Day, who has no prior law enforcement experience was appointed in Feb to be a captain in the department. He was placed on paid leave after he was dismissed from a training program at Penn State for “alleged violations of the program’s code of conduct,” according to the University.

According to online court records Day is facing harassment charges in connection with his dismissal from the program. A hearing in the case has not been scheduled.

Amanda Klein can be contacted at


Mother faces child endangerment charges after children found hanging out second story window

By Steve Pope | August 26, 2018

A Natrona Heights woman is charged with endangering the lives of her four children after police found two of them hanging out of a second-story window late Friday.

Deondra Bundy, 30, is charged with four counts each of endangering the welfare of children and recklessly endangering another person.

Police allege in a criminal complaint they were called to the women’s home on Garfield Street around 7:30 p.m. after a neighbor reported seeing the children hanging out the window. When they arrived police saw a broken window, as well as clothing on the ground below. “Officers could also hear an infant child inside the residence screaming.” 20180826_165227-1

After attempting to get the children to open the door, police entered the apartment through a window using a ladder, the complaint said.

Police found urine or vomit on the floor, no food in the home and two of the children appeared to be sick or injured. One child had a swollen eye and several bruises. Another one, police say, “Showed no signs of life at first when we attempted to wake them.” The child woke up only after an officer made physical contact.

One child told police Bundy had been gone for over five hours after telling her children she was going to the store. Neighbors told police that Bundy leaves them alone every day.

After being checked at a hospital, the four children were placed in the custody of CYF where they will remain pending an investigation.

Around 11 p.m. a neighbor saw Bundy return home and  attempted to speak with her. Bundy immediately ran off, but was arrested a short time later during a traffic stop of a vehicle in which she was a passenger.

She is currently in the Allegheny County Jail after being unable to post a $10,000 bond. Her preliminary hearing is scheduled for Sept. 5 at 1 p.m.

Steve Pope can be contacted at