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Gaudenzia abandons plan to open women's recovery house in South Strabane Township and East Washington

Gaudenzia Inc. has abandoned plans to open a women’s recovery house in a Wilmont Avenue home in South Strabane Township and East Washington Borough.

The nonprofit organization withdrew an application for a text amendment to a South Strabane Township ordinance that would have permitted the proposed long-term residential home for pregnant women and mothers recovering from drug and alcohol addiction to operate at the home at 100 Wilmont Ave.

South Strabane manager Brandon Stanick confirmed Gaudenzia pulled the request for the rezoning of the property sometime late last week.

“They withdrew the request, so they’re not going to pursue it,” said Stanick.

Gaudenzia’s plan to purchase the home for an estimated $649,000 and open a residential rehabilitation facility on the nearly seven-acre property was met with resistance from residents from South Strabane and East Washington.

Gaudenzia held an informational meeting nearly two weeks ago to discuss details, where residents of the two municipalities voiced their opposition to the nonprofit’s plans and asked Gaudenzia representatives to open the recovery home in a different location.

Residents met the following day to plan an organized grassroots opposition.

The proposed recovery facility would have housed as many as 16 women with up to two children each, under the age of 12, for a total of 48 occupants.

A needs assessment conducted in 2018 revealed a shortage in Washington County for programs for pregnant women and mothers recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.

Gaudenzia provides treatment to pregnant and parenting mothers in residential care, along with their children, in Pennsylvania and other states.

A call to Gaudenzia for comment was not returned Monday.

Department of Health explains cancer cluster results; parents, concerned groups call on Gov. Wolf, DOH to investigate cancers

Families who have been affected by Ewing sarcoma in Washington County and Canon-McMillan School District, along with residents concerned by the number of cancer cases in Southwestern Pennsylvania, expressed frustration Monday at the results of a Department of Health study that determined there is no cancer cluster in the area.

Dozens attended a meeting held Monday by the DOH at Canon-McMillan High School, where officials discussed how the state health department arrived at “no conclusive findings” of a cancer cluster following an investigation.

According to the investigation, rates of Ewing sarcoma weren’t “consistently or statistically significantly higher than expected.”

Six cases of the rare childhood disease have been diagnosed in Washington County since 2005.

The authors of the study, however, said the number of cases was so small that the higher-than-expected rates weren’t “statistically significant.”

But residents voiced concerns that the investigation didn’t include three confirmed cases of Ewing. Two men, Mitchell Barton of North Strabane Township and David Cobb of Canonsburg, are undergoing treatment and completed treatment, respectively, for Ewing.

A third man, Kyle Deliere, who died in 2013 following a battle with Ewing, was not included in the study because, according to the report, he did not live in Washington County.

However, Deliere grew up in Cecil Township and lived in the township at the time of his diagnosis.

They also were frustrated that the Pennsylvania Cancer Registry, whose data was used for the investigation, does not include information including environmental factors.

Many in the audience believe fracking could be responsible for the cancers, and demanded that the industry be shut down.

Cindy Valent, whose son, Curt, died from Ewing sarcoma in 2011, just after he turned 23, is among those who believe there is a link to fracking.

“If you would put a map up with the drilling sites and the cancer cases, I think you’d find a connection,” said Valent. “We want an investigational study into what’s causing this. If it’s Gatorade that’s causing it, then that’s fine, but that’s all we want – a study.”

David Cobb’s wife, Alison, told the panel she and her husband, who previously lived in Virginia and Florida, moved to Southwestern Pennsylvania three years ago and he was diagnosed with Ewing about a year-and-a-half ago.

He completed treatment in August.

She wonders if there is a connection between her husband’s cancer and the fracking industry.

Cobb said they stopped using the water in their home the day David was diagnosed, and now use purified water that is delivered.

Alison Cobb also was angry that her husband wasn’t included in the study, apparently because of a software error on the part of the Pennsylvania Cancer Registry.

“My 7-year-old spent 15 Friday nights this past year going to the Hillman Cancer Center watching her daddy get infused and eating pizza because that’s the life we lived, and you’re going to tell me he’s not included in your report because your software wasn’t updated?” she asked.

Residents also were upset that Gov. Tom Wolf didn’t attend the meeting, despite a petition asking for his presence there.

At a press conference held before the DOH meeting, affected parents and other groups called on Wolf to further investigate the cancers, despite the DOH report.

In attendance were Kurt and Janice Blanock, whose son, Luke, died in August 2016 from Ewing.

Janice Blanock, who broke down in tears, said, “We don’t know what caused our son’s cancer. However, taking into consideration the high numbers of rare cancers in Washington, Greene, Westmoreland and Fayette counties, 67 in the last 10 years, six of which were Ewing sarcoma cases in the Canon-McMillan School District, it should seem obvious to anyone with an ounce of common sense, sincere heartfelt concern, and true courage, that we need to be looking at environmental issues and triggers. If Gov. Wolf and our state representatives that we elected choose to ignore our pleas for an investigation, there most likely will be long-term negative effects on the health of our children, our grandchildren as well as our communities and the environment.”

Continued Blanock, “I’m not a doctor, I’m not a scientist. I’m a mom. Something is wrong. I’m not sure, but they need to do something.”

Sarah Rankin, public health nurse for the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, said that around 55 compounds used in fracking are either known, probable, or possible carcinogens.

“We have heard loud and clear from residents that they want to know if something in their environment is contributing to these high rates of cancer,” said Rankin.

State Rep. Tim O’Neal, who, along with State Rep. Jason Ortitay and Canonsburg Mayor David Rhome, organized the DOH meeting, reiterated their concern with getting answers.

O’Neal said he and Ortitay are working to get state funding to investigate the cause of the cancers and he has requested an investigation by the National Institute of Health.

O'Neal, a resident of South Strabane Township, said, he believes fracking, along with other possible causes, should be investigated.

“The whole reason we are here today is because we care. I’m raising two children clearly within the affected areas of all the fracking,” he said. “I don’t care what we find out. If we find out that something is causing this, we’re going to begin to address that issue. It may be fracking – and I don’t know the answer – but I also don’t know if it is something else.”

editor's pick
U.S. Supreme Court won't hear Jordan Clemons' death penalty case

“Petition denied.”

In a two-word order issued on the first Monday in October, the United States Supreme Court declined to review Jordan Clemons’ conviction and death penalty for the 2012 murder of Karissa Kunco.

Clemons, now 30, was found guilty of first-degree murder by a Washington County jury, which chose to impose the death penalty after hearing trial testimony in 2015. Kunco’s body was found in Mt. Pleasant Township.

District Attorney Gene Vittone was notified by the nation’s highest court via email, but he said the Supreme Court’s decision opens another avenue for the defendant.

“It ends his direct appeal,” Vittone said. “I’m sure he’ll be filing other things, and we’ll address it.”

Clemons’ next attempt to have his conviction overturned is likely to be a petition through the Post-Conviction Relief Act. His attorney, Marc A. Bookman, did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

Vittone relayed information about the Supreme Court’s decision to the victim’s father.

“He treated this case like it was his own daughter,” said Paul Kunco of Baldwin, a suburb in Pittsburgh’s South Hills.

“We were warned very well about this whole process. I get a heads-up every time they do some sort of appeal.”

Of the latest development, Kunco said, “We’re not surprised. His case is very weak, but you never know. It does give you a little stress.”

His, daughter, Karissa Kunco, would have been 29.

“She’s still with us, just not physically,” Kunco said, noting that a room to accommodate a mother and up to four children at the Women’s Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh has been named after his daughter thanks to a benefactor.

“Many women and children sleep safer and a lot more peacefully,” he said.

Kunco, 21, Clemons’ former girlfriend, was last seen alive on Jan. 11, 2012.

One of the issues before the nation’s highest court dealt with whether Clemons waived his right to have a lawyer present during his initial contact with police in January 2012 after he had consumed alcohol.

As to Clemons’ right to have a lawyer present when his mother drove him to the state police barracks so he could turn himself in, Vittone wrote, “Miranda warnings were properly given to” Clemons, who “then immediately provided a statement which placed him with the victim the evening that she disappeared. This statement was admitted at trial.”

Vittone’s position was that these issues were put to rest when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld Clemons’ conviction and death penalty.

In his attempt to have the U.S. Supreme Court intervene on his behalf, Clemons claimed postings on a Facebook page known as “Karissa’s Army” and other pre-trial publicity precluded a fair trial in Washington County, violating his constitutional rights. Clemons sought an out-of-county jury to weigh testimony in his case.

Bookman cited the large number of followers writing comments, some of which were racially charged, on the Facebook pages and signing a petition to change domestic violence laws as reasons to prejudice a Washington County jury. Karissa Kunco had filed a protection-from-abuse petition against Clemons in Allegheny County for which he failed to appear in court.

In his brief, Vittone wrote that although Public Defender Brian Gorman raised the publicity issue at a pretrial hearing, the defense attorney did not bring it up again at jury selection before Washington County Judge Gary Gilman.

Clemons, an inmate in the State Correctional Institution at Greene County, asked the U.S. Supreme Court last May for permission to proceed as a pauper.

Bookman is an attorney from the nonprofit Atlantic Center for Capital Representation in Philadelphia.

Other than the two-word denial, the only additional information appearing on the U.S. Supreme Court’s docket in Clemons’ case is that documents related to the case were “distributed for conference” on Oct. 1.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf declared a moratorium on executions in Pennsylvania, the last of which occurred in 1999.