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Independence Township man killed in shooting

An Independence Township man was shot and killed Wednesday night, according to the Washington County coroner.

Joshua Ryan Bowland, 31, was pronounced dead at 156 Camp Ground Road, Independence Township, at 11:29 p.m. The coroner’s office said the cause of death was a gunshot wound, and it was ruled a homicide.

According to the coroner’s office, Bowland was shot by his mother’s significant other, Arnold Lee Webster, 64, also of 156 Camp Ground Road. The shooting occurred about 8:45 p.m.

Webster was arrested at the scene and arraigned on a charge of possession of a prohibited offensive weapon because of a sawed-off shotgun found at the home.

He was released Thursday from Washington County jail on a $5,000 unsecured bond set by District Judge Robert Redlinger.

According to the criminal complaint, Webster shot Bowland in the chest with a rifle-style firearm. Police said Bowland died of a single gunshot wound.

Bowland’s mother told police there were multiple firearms in the house. Police executed a search warrant shortly after midnight Thursday.

The shotgun was found under a mattress in Webster’s bedroom. Webster claimed ownership of the gun and was taken into custody, police said.

Attorney: Opioid lawsuit ruling pressures drug companies to settle local suits

A $572 million ruling against drug manufacturer Johnson & Johnson in Oklahoma could eventually lead to a global settlement, which includes local counties, said an attorney representing local governments in a similar lawsuit.

An Oklahoma judge ruled the drug manufacturer helped ignite the opioid crisis through deceptive marketing tactics. Purdue Pharma, which manufactures OxyContin, was also named in the lawsuit. The company settled with the state in March for $270 million.

“They want to try to settle these things, and I think that’s where the pressure has gone,” said attorney Robert Peirce, who is representing regional counties including Fayette, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland.

Among the four counties, 1,247 overdose deaths were reported between 2015 and 2018, according to OverdoseFreePA. Addiction has a far-reaching impact on county government and taxpayers, including the cost of incarceration, probation, autopsies, Children & Youth Services and education programs.

“Unless you are directly affected, you don’t see the cost on the families, you don’t see the cost on the children who are taken away from their families because their parents are addicted, you don’t see the impact on our court system,” said Washington County Commissioner Larry Maggi.

The opioid crisis costs Washington and Fayette counties millions of dollars every year, commissioners said. About 80 percent of incarcerated people were charged with crimes related to addiction in Washington County, Maggi said, and about 90 percent of crimes in Fayette County involve drug abuse, said Fayette County Commissioner David Lohr.

About 70 to 75 percent of the Fayette County annual budget pertains to addiction, Lohr said.

“It’s just massive. I don’t think people really understand the scope of the cost,” he said.

Lohr said he anticipates the lawsuit could be tied up in court for many years. He hopes that the county can work with pharmaceutical companies to reach a settlement for a quicker resolution, suggesting drug manufacturers could fund a location in Fayette County to provide treatment and create additional jobs for residents.

Pierce said attorneys have received no response to the proposal from Fayette County. A global settlement would likely involve a combination of financial payouts to governments and funding for treatment facilities, he said.

The ruling publicized the manufacturing company’s involvement in the crisis, he said.

“It basically let the public know that all these manufacturers were very much involved,” he said. “It’s pretty hard for even a layperson to say, ‘Opioids aren’t going to hurt you. Opioids aren’t habit forming.”

Commissioners said filing the lawsuit was not a decision they took lightly, but felt was necessary to recoup costs to the taxpayers.

“I think that they obviously admitted that they are part of the problem by wanting to settle, and we just have to see how this plays out from here,” Fayette County Commissioner Vincent Vicites said. “But we are in a position in Fayette County to collect on these damages, and it’s only fair to the taxpayers.”

The damages would return to Fayette County and help mitigate addiction problems in the future, he said.

The hunt is on for DNA at Meadowcroft

AVELLA – There might not be gold in the hills surrounding Avella, but there could be some DNA.

More to the point, there could be some ancient human DNA lurking in the sediment at the Meadowcroft Rockshelter, the oldest site of human habitation in North America.

On Friday, Devlin Gandy, a Ph.D. student at Britain’s University of Cambridge, is due to don a hazmat suit and collect sediment samples from the deepest part of the Rockshelter. Those samples will later be tested at the Centre for Geogenetics in Denmark to see if any human DNA from as far back as 14,000 years ago can be found.

There’s no guarantee that any will, Gandy noted, but if some does turn up, it would offer researchers insights on how North America was populated. Any DNA unearthed could also contain similarities to modern-day American Indians, and would be compared by researchers to DNA samples collected at other sites.

“This is cutting-edge stuff,” said Dave Scofield, the director of Meadowcroft. “The agency that he is working with is one of the leading research facilities for ancient DNA.”

Even if no DNA is discovered, the collection of the samples at Meadowcroft marks another milestone in the research that has been carried out there since it first came under scrutiny by archaeologists in the early 1970s. Scofield pointed out that when the Rockshelter was first being excavated almost a half-century ago, it was done with an assist from a clunky computer with a dial-up modem from the University of Pittsburgh. That was state-of-the-art then, and hunting for DNA in sandstone particles is trailblazing now.

Gandy’s research has received a thumbs-up from James Adovasio, who excavated the Rockshelter from 1973 to 1978 and is now the site’s director of archaeology.

Without deploying new methodology at places like Meadowcroft, “the product is frozen in time,” Adovasio said.

Along with welcoming visitors and being a National Historic Landmark, Meadowcroft remains an active site for researchers. In fact, one-third of it remains to be excavated, Scofield said.

South Strabane to address Manifold Road flooding

South Strabane Township plans to apply for Local Share Account money to pay for a stormwater improvement project behind Manifold Road.

The “stream bank restoration project” will address a flooding issue that’s been occurring in the 700 block of Manifold, according to township manager Brandon Stanick.

The creek that floods regularly – an unnamed tributary of Chartiers Creek – sits between Manifold Road and the development at Old Mill Boulevard that includes Hobby Lobby and Field & Stream.

“It’s apparent that there has not been any type of past improvements made to the creek,” Stanick said. “I’m not sure if we’ve had to close the road, but it’s to the point where the fire department is responding because people’s homes are flooding.”

The project will focus on 1,600 feet – 800 on either side – of the creek bank, starting with the southern end of the SMS Group property and north to Berry Road. Sarah Boyce of Widmer Engineering, who’s working with the township on the project, said the banks of the creek are too steep.

“That causes erosion when the water gets high and moves fast,” she said. “It causes the banks to collapse or undercut.”

Boyce said the project will stabilize those banks by “reconfiguring them,” reducing the potential for erosion. She said the state Department of Environmental Protection has deemed the creek “impaired.”

“They say there’s too much sediment in the stream that’s causing environmental issues,” she said. “This is one of those projects that will benefit the township as a whole.”

The project is expected to cost about $800,000. Stanick said he doesn’t expect to get the full $800,000 from LSA, but that the township will seek grants from other entities, as well. The deadline for the LSA grant application is Sept. 25.

“This is a long-term project,” Stanick said. “We’re just starting by securing funding sources. If we get LSA funding, we’re not going to stop there.”

In addition to flooded homes, the SMS Group, a technical services company at 750 Manifold Road, has experienced a lot of flood damage from the creek. The company made an agreement with the township earlier this year that it would invest in upgrades to the stormwater system in that area, if the township takes over ownership and maintenance of those upgrades.

SMS Group’s plan is to put in storm drainage parallel to the road and to install additional inlets and storm pipes, according to a project engineer overseeing the project.

Stanick said the township’s bank stabilization project will “check a lot of boxes,” since it also will contribute to requirements the township needs to meet for its Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit – a five-year permit that will need to be renewed in 2023.

Sediment removal falls under one of six best practices in the permit’s pollution reduction plan, Stanick said.

“The pollution we’re talking about is mainly sediment and the discharge of unnatural substances into the stream,” he said. “This is where the MS4 permit becomes tangible – where you can actually see the improvements.”

Stanick said the bank stabilization project is expected to prevent about 71,800 pounds per year of sediment entering the stream. That number, he said, represents 20% of the township’s “required load reduction” for the MS4 permit renewal in 2023. He said the township supervisors will discuss during budget season different proposed projects to meet the other 80% of the required sediment reduction for the permit.