A1 A1
editor's pick
Driver identified in fatal crash

The driver of a vehicle who died in a multi-vehicle crash Thursday morning on Route 22 near the Burgettstown exit in Hanover Township has been identified.

Jerry Saragas, 38, of Wheeling, W.Va., was killed in the crash that occurred shortly after 10 a.m. Thursday in the westbound lanes about three miles east of the West Virginia state line, the Washington County coroner's office said Saturday.

Saragas was traveling east and lost control of his vehicle before crossing the median into the westbound lanes. Another vehicle then struck his vehicle, state police said.

He was not wearing a seat belt.

State police were assisted at the scene by Hanover Township police, and Hanover and Weirton volunteer fire departments.

Two medical helicopters were dispatched to take the injured to area hospitals, the dispatcher said.

Route 22 was closed in both directions for much of the day Thursday, reopening just before 3 p.m.

editor's pick
Hickory Apple Festival still going strong thanks to local women

The mere thought of the annual Hickory Apple Festival coming to an end shook them to the core.

Jessie Merckle and Ashley Clark knew this would take a major leap of faith and hard work, but the two women in their mid-20s decided to save the festival and continue its rich tradition.

The 36th annual Hickory Apple Festival will run Saturday and Sunday at 160 Main St. (Route 50). The festival, which is hosted by Mount Pleasant Township Volunteer Fire Company, will feature food, live music and other entertainment.

“The one thing I love most about the festival is that no matter how big the task is in making preparations, there’s always that small-town, community feel to it. It is free admission and a chance for everyone to come together,” said Merckle, 25.

“The food is almost all homemade and the desserts are all homemade. The festival really keeps with the small-town feel and that is what I loved so much about it growing up. Ashley and I are humble to be taking over the leadership roles because our grandparents have been so involved. They have really been awesome guiding us through. They have been a huge help.”

How about those apples?

Rumors had surfaced the 2018 Apple Festival would be the last.

Merckle’s grandfather, Duane Scott, had been involved in the festival for all 35 years and was the chairman of the festival for 17 years.

Clark’s grandmother, Mary Jane Engel, also had been involved with the festival for 35 years. She is a key volunteer during the baking portion for the festival and always in the apple booth with the rest of her family.

“There was a rumor that last year was going to be the final year because nobody wanted to take on the management role,” Merckle said. “Ashley and I stepped in to run this year’s festival. We both grew up with the festival our whole lives.

“Many times, we would go straight from school to the fire hall to help our grandparents bake apple pies and apple crisp. Festival weekend, Ashley would always work in the apple booth with her family, and I would jump around wherever needed (breakfast, lemonade, pie booth, popcorn, etc.).”

Merckle said it has been the “biggest honor” to follow in the footsteps of her grandfather in helping to run the festival.

I look up to him in so many ways and all I want is to make him proud,” she said of her grandfather. “Ashley is very close with her grandmother and she definitely looks to her for advice and guidance.

“We’re hoping to grow the festival so others can enjoy the weekend as much as we always have.”

Clark said the festival is the largest fundraiser of the year for the fire department, which makes it an important event. But she also points to the good will and togetherness it fosters in the community.

“In a community like ours, it is crucial to have a fire company,” Clark said. “The festival means a lot to us and a lot of people. Jessie and I grew up together, knowing each other since I was 6 years old, and she was 5 years old.”

Clark said with how close her family is to the Merckles, the festival has provided a real opportunity to ensure they stay connected.

“She and I have spent a lot of time at these festivals over the years,” Clark said of her friendship with Merckle. “We couldn’t imagine a fall without it.”

The two young women have managed their time, juggling work with their newfound responsibilities leading the festival.

What makes the situation unique – and more challenging – is Merckle lives in Winston-Salem, N.C. She is the sports director at the YMCA there and has worked remotely on the festival for the most part.

“Ashley and I have talked on most Mondays, but other days as well,” said Merckle, a former NCAA All-American javelin thrower for Wake Forest. “I have done the ordering from down here and a lot of the organizing. I have gone back a few weekends. I have missed out on a few things, but we have made this work.

“I’ve actually been home quite a few weekends,” she added. “It’s not as bad or tough as everyone might think. I can do most of my work over the phone or on the computer.”

Clark said good communication has made it much easier for her and her partner to make preparations.

“We kept in touch along the way and our communication with one another, the volunteers and everyone else was great,” said Clark, a financial analyst for Dick’s Sporting Goods. “It was tougher for Jessie than me. We’ve made it work.

“We’ve learned a lot of lessons,” she added. “I wouldn’t ever have expected to be running this with Jessie at 26 years old, but when we heard that it might not be anymore, we both jumped in. We have plenty to do. It’s been a lot of work. We’re excited, though, and glad to be able to keep it going.”

In addition to crafts, children’s rides and a petting zoo, the festival will feature a pancake breakfast, sandwiches, fire-roasted chicken and other food and live music. The festival will be led-off by the Fort Cherry High School Band.

Bond revocation hearing set for man accused of child luring

A South Strabane Township man accused of child luring will face a bond revocation hearing later this month after he was accused of violating conditions of his bond.

Jan Ondra, 66, appeared before Washington County Judge Gary Gilman Thursday morning at the Washington County Courthouse. Gilman set the hearing for 1 p.m. Oct. 17.

Herbert Terrell, Ondra’s attorney, unsuccessfully asked Gilman to dismiss the district attorney’s motion to revoke his bail.

Ondra is accused of attempting to lure a 10-year-old girl into his van in Clarksville in June. As part of his bond conditions, Ondra is forbidden from having contact with children. He was released after posting $25,000 bond.

Last Saturday, Ondra reportedly approached three children leaving a dance class at North Strabane Town Center and offered them candy.

Ondra was met by a small group of protestors Thursday as he walked into the Washington County Courthouse.

Bible in hand, Ondra shouted at the protestors and media from the courthouse steps.

“The truth will come out,” he said, invoking the name of Jesus Christ.

One of the protestors, a Washington resident who asked to be identified only as Kim, said that although she does not know Ondra personally, she has seen him in different stores.

“With this happening with him, this should open people’s eyes ... They need to pay attention. He’s not the only one,” she said. “We need to be more vigilant. There are children everywhere that this is happening to.”

Following the hearing, Terrell said Ondra maintains his innocence.

“To have a criminal charge pending is very depressing, and its discouraging, but I think he is going to be strong and go forward,” Terrell said.