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VA clinic moving from mall to Crossroads Center

At a crossroads, the Veterans Administration selected Crossroads.

Seeking a larger space for its Washington County outpatient center, the VA decided upon the Crossroads Center in downtown Washington. The move to 95 W. Beau St. is short, about two miles from its current location, Washington Crown Center, where it has been a tenant for more than a decade.

But this is a strategic relocation, as the VA facility will more than double the operating space it had at the mall. It will occupy the entire second floor of the Crossroads Center, about 22,000 square feet.

“We added services, so we needed a bigger space,” VA spokeswoman Sheila Tunney said. “We saw about 4,600 (different) individuals at that clinic (last year), and not just Washington County veterans.”

Those new services include limited audiology services and more telehealth spaces.

There will be convenient access for veterans and visitors. They will be able to enter the clinic from the fourth floor of the city parking garage thanks to a pedestrian bridge, which is under construction.

This also is a quick relocation, as VA staffers will begin to serve patients April 1 – in less than three weeks.

Valor, the new operator of the clinic, submitted the bid for Crossroads Center.

This relocation will be another blow for Crown Center, which in recent years has absorbed the departures of Macy’s, Gander Mountain, Bon Ton and Payless Shoe Source. However, Civil Knox, general manager of the North Franklin Township mall, said that once several new tenants are on board – by the end of this month – the mall will be at 88 percent occupancy.

Washington County has had a VA outpatient facility since 2001. VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System runs that and four other regional clinics: in Fayette, Beaver and Westmoreland counties and Belmont County in Ohio. The system also operates the University Drive and H.J. Heinz III medical centers in Pittsburgh.

Referring to the new Washington site, Barbara Forsha, interim director of VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, said in a statement: “We are thrilled to begin serving our veterans in this state-of-the-art clinic. The larger space lets us add face-to-face services and to expand telehealth, where a provider in Pittsburgh or another location uses video technology to see and treat a patient.”

Although the clinic will be open for business April 1, a grand opening and open house is scheduled for May 30 from 1 to 3 p.m. A veterans town hall will follow at 5 p.m. at American Legion Post 175, 168 Park Ave., Washington.

Veterans can check on their eligibility and enrollment status by calling 412-822-2040. For more information on VA care, visit pittsburgh.va.gov and facebook.com/vaphs.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect Civil Knox's correct job title.


Localnews
editor's pick
N. Franklin rejects responsibility for W. Chestnut St. flooding

North Franklin Township supervisors Tuesday rejected a proposal to assume responsibility for a crushed groundwater pipeline that has caused repeated flooding of West Chestnut Street.

The supervisors unanimously refused the request from several property owners who believe the pipeline is the “township’s problem,” supervising Chairman Ron Junko said.

“We are not going to take over responsibility for it,” Supervisor Bob Sabot added.

State Department of Transportation and North Franklin officials have met with some of the property owners near where the street meets Franklin Farms Road to discuss the flooding that occurs during heavy rain.

Township solicitor Michael Cruny said the pipeline was built in the 1940s to reroute a stream, and that no official surveys or drawings exist on the project.

The pipeline is believed to be crushed 90 feet east of Franklin Farms and to travel past many businesses in the area.

“It’s never been part of a township project,” he said.

He said the extent of the problem wouldn’t be known until the pipeline is exposed in a project that could be costly.

“You’ll never know until you get in there,” Cruny said.

The Guttman Group of Speers, which owns a gasoline station in the area, has been relieving the flooding by turning on a pump when the water reaches a certain level, Cruny said.


Harry Funk / Harry Funk/Observer-Reporter 

Robin Matthews and Bob Giacometti 2

Harry Funk/Observer-Reporter

Harry Funk/Observer-Reporter

Robin Matthews and Bob Giacometti perform during Valentour’s Unplugged.


Localnews
Prosecution concludes case in third day of trial

A Washington man on trial for a double shooting that left one person dead six years ago claimed in an apparent confession to police hours later that he had an accomplice who may have also fired a gun during the botched robbery.

“In my mind is – I’m not saying Ray shot him or didn’t shoot him – but in my mind is, Ray shot him,” Brandon Wolowski said in a recorded statement he made at the station early on the morning of Jan. 9, 2013. He did so hours after police said Matthew Mathias, 37, and his girlfriend, Michelle Powell, 45, were allegedly shot by Wolowski, who was trying to steal Mathias’ extensive gun collection at the couple’s house in the city’s West End.

Wolowski, now 24, faces a criminal homicide charge, plus other charges stemming from the shooting of Powell and the robbery. He could face the death penalty if he’s convicted of killing Mathias.

Police appear to have discounted Wolowski’s references to the accomplice – one named Ray or otherwise. No one else was ever charged with having participated in the robbery-shooting.

But Noah Geary, Wolowski’s court-appointed lead attorney, spent much of a lengthy cross-examination on questioning city Detective Daniel Stanek on how thoroughly police checked out the statement they got from Wolowski, who was 18 at the time, before filing charges against him just eight hours after the shooting.

The 32-minute recording of the interview between Wolowski and Stanek, the lead investigator in the case, was played for Washington County jurors Wednesday, the third day of Wolowski’s trial before Common Pleas Judge John F. DiSalle.

Prosecutors played the recording after calling Stanek to the witness stand, where he spent most of the day. The government concluded its case that afternoon. The defense is expected to call its witnesses when the trial resumes this morning.

In the interview, Wolowski said he’d gone armed to Mathias and Powell’s house with someone named “Ray” to steal the guns because he was facing eviction if he didn’t come up with about $1,200 in rent, but “didn’t want anything to happen to Matt and Shelly.”

In the recording, Wolowski said he heard someone else fire a gun, but didn’t say for sure who did. He admitted to then firing his own gun at Mathias and Powell before running out the back of the house and joining “Ray,” who was already waiting in a vehicle outside.

Powell testified Monday Wolowski had come over with crack cocaine for the couple before pointing a gun at her and demanding Mathias’ firearms, which were locked in a safe.

The government focused on how Wolowski incriminated himself during his interview with the detective.

“Did he tell you that he shot Matthew Mathias?” Deputy District Attorney Leslie Ridge asked Stanek.

“Yes,” Stanek replied.

She asked the same question with Powell as the victim, eliciting another “yes” from her witness, and got another affirmative answer when she asked if Wolowski had been on a “mission to get rent money.”

Trial evidence shows Wolowski signed a waiver of his Miranda rights at about 12:40 a.m., after he’d already been in the custody of investigators for several hours. Stanek said he spoke with Wolowski for about 40 minutes before taking the recorded statement, which started about 1:20 a.m.

Wolowski said the pair encountered an “Ashley” at one point that night. Geary noted Stanek didn’t ask for more details about this person. Police also didn’t check phone records to verify Wolowski had called his younger brother following the shooting, as he’d claimed.

Police were empty-handed when they followed up on other parts of the statement.

Wolowski said he’d thrown the “snubnose” he’d used in the robbery out a car window as he and “Ray” left the scene of the shooting. Investigators never found a gun when they searched in the section of Addison where Wolowski said he’d discarded it.

According to previous testimony, Mathias was found dead outside. Powell fled to a house across the street where a 911 call was made at about 7:30 p.m.

Powell described the shooter as a “white male with dark hair.” Questioned by Ridge, Stanek agreed neither of two other young men police encountered early in their investigation matched that description.

The two others Ridge named were Jatrevton Bledsoe, at whose Addison Street apartment Wolowski was found by police, and Terrance Cohen Jr., whose father’s house was next to the building where Bledsoe lived. Cohen told police Wolowski arrived with a gun and asked him to hold onto it.

Police later found that revolver in the basement. Ballistics testing matched that gun to a bullet removed from Powell.

Geary noted that type of .38-caliber revolver isn’t commonly called a “snubnose.”

During another line of questioning, Stanek said he took “Ray” to be “Jay,” or Bledsoe, based on details like Wolowski saying he’d been at “Ray’s” place when police knocked on the door there. Bledsoe previously testified he’d been at home when Wolowski arrived and asked for a change of clothes.

Stanek said another detective had gone to a Denny’s restaurant to check Bledsoe had been there that evening, as he’d claimed, and rule him out as a suspect. A receipt showed he had been there.

Still, Geary said the timing of the receipt only put Bledsoe at the restaurant “over an hour” before the shooting.

Geary also focused on physical evidence he said police could have analyzed but didn’t. For example, Stanek conceded Wolowski said he’d been in a vehicle, but Bledsoe’s car was never searched for blood or other evidence.

Finally, the defense attorney said Stanek never said in his report that he’d gotten a definitive clarification of who “Ray” was.

“Everything that he was saying was enough for me to understand that he meant ‘Jay,’” Stanek replied.