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Communities hoping there's no repeat of 2018 flooding

BRIDGEVILLE – Even as all hell was breaking out, Teresa Davis vividly recalls how the rising water that was inundating the kennel she operates on Baldwin Street in Bridgeville was strangely tranquil.

“It was very calm, still and black,” Davis said.

Until the evening on June 20, 2018, it had been a fairly routine day for Davis. A Wednesday, she had returned to her home in Upper St. Clair from the Canine Club when a call came that Baldwin Street was being overrun with water. All-day rain, capped by an almighty deluge shortly after 8 p.m., had caused nearby McLaughlin Run Creek to overflow. It caused water to spill into the street and the businesses and residences that line it. What Davis describes as “a tsunami” came roaring down Baldwin and slammed into the Canine Club. While 10 dogs that were being boarded at the Canine Club were rescued, five drowned in water that rose as high as eight feet.

Those dogs were not the only casualties from flooding one year ago today that devastated parts of the South Hills. A 63-year-old Upper St. Clair woman was killed when she ventured out of her car, and was swept away by floodwaters. Her body was found the next day in Bridgeville. An Outback Steakhouse restaurant on McMurray Road in Upper St. Clair was destroyed, vehicles were lost, and scores of homes and residences sustained damage that is still being repaired 12 months later.

Meanwhile, officials have absorbed lessons from the flood and are trying to take steps to make sure another summer day where a couple of inches of rainfall in a couple of hours doesn’t wreak as much havoc.

Bethel Park is expanding its view of stormwater, according to Timothy Moury, a councilman in the borough. Council is “looking further up the watershed and (has) identified six possible projects,” he said via email. Moury added that council will be awarding contracts for three of the projects at its July meeting, and is in the design phase for additional projects in 2020. The borough is also scrutinizing its roads and streets to make sure they can adequately handle any future downpours.

“When you get nearly four inches of rain in less than one hour, it’s almost impossible to predict where the water will go,” Moury said. “We had homes get water that had never had any issues in the past on June 20, 2018.”

In the meantime, some houses on Bridgeville’s Baldwin Street remain empty, while some businesses have reopened. Davis is hoping that the Canine Club will be welcoming dogs again in the next few weeks. And Bridgeville officials are hoping to get grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to purchase homes and businesses from willing sellers on Baldwin Street, tear down the properties, and convert them to green space.

Buildings would be sold at their pre-flood values under the proposal, with FEMA paying 80 percent of the purchase price, and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency covering the remaining 20 percent. Bridgeville is also looking at doing away with the baseball field in McLaughlin Run Park and making it a retention pond.

Mike Tolmer, the president of Bridgeville Borough Council, said his community is working with its neighbors to try to come up with long-term solutions to flooding woes.

“The landscape of our area has changed drastically,” Tolmer explained. “Weather is changing, there are more severe storms. ... It’s all of us. What can we do together to solve the problem?”

auphold / Adrianne Uphold/Observer-Reporter 

Adrianne Uphold/Observer-Reporter

Bryan and Wilma Cale have created more than 100 diorama boxes.

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Smith Township man killed in Saturday collision with water truck

A Smith Township man was killed in a vehicle accident Saturday when a water truck crossed into his lane, according to police.

Vincent W. Badamo, 66, was taken from the scene of the accident to Weirton Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, the Smith Township Police Department announced Wednesday.

The accident occurred about noon Saturday at 266 Smith Township State Road. Badamo was driving a sedan, and a passenger in the front seat was taken to a Pittsburgh hospital by helicopter.

Police said the passenger did not suffer life-threatening injuries.

Kameron L. Donahue was driving the water truck, which is owned by the New Stanton-based HB Trucking.

According to police, Donahue was traveling south, crossed the double-yellow line to avoid a vehicle making a left hand turn and struck Badamo’s vehicle.

Slovan Volunteer Fire Department, Hanover Township Fire Department, Washington County Ambulance and Chair Service, Fort Cherry Ambulance Service, Hancock County EMS and Hanover Township Police Department assisted at the scene.

The accident remains under investigation by the Smith Township Police Department, state police and the district attorney’s office.

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Two longtime Washington police officers retire

Lt. Dan Stanek read his first true crime book at 8 years old. That’s when he knew he wanted to be a criminal investigator when he grew up.

“When I was 8 years old, I wanted to be a police officer,” Stanek said at a Washington City Council meeting June 6, just minutes before his retirement was approved. “Almost 29 years after becoming a police officer, it’s time for me to move on.”

Washington police are losing about 50 years of experience with the retirement of two longtime officers this month. Stanek’s last day was Saturday, and Sgt. Michael Sulerud’s last day will be June 25, after 21 years. City council approved both of their retirements at the meeting, after which Stanek and Sulerud – although he wasn’t present– received a standing ovation for their service.

“We can’t thank you enough for the work that you do,” Mayor Scott Putnam said. “You have been a tremendous asset to our police department and you will be missed.”

Both men worked with Chief Robert Wilson back when he was still a patrol officer.

“It’s been an honor working with both of them,” Wilson said. “They served the city well.”

Wilson said the department will use a Civil Service process for promotions to the positions the two men are leaving behind, as well as for hiring two new officers to replace those being promoted.

“You have 50 years of police experience walking out the door at the same time – it will take some time to replace them,” Wilson said. “From the bottom of my heart, they will be missed.”

Stanek started in the police department just three days after he turned 22. His first shift was a really busy night, he said. In 1996, he started in the detective unit, and in 2004, he took over the crime unit. His first homicide was a baby found in a trash can.

“I had two homicides in my first 72 hours,” he said.

Stanek investigated the 2014 shooting death of 10-year-old Ta’Niyah Thomas. She had heard gunshots in her home at 450 W. Chestnut St., and as she ran in fear to her mother’s room, she was shot twice and killed.

Police determined robbery was the motive behind the shooting, and eventually charged four men, Anthian Goehring, 29, Douglas Cochran Jr., 19, Malik Thomas, 21, and Richard White, 19, all of Washington.

Stanek called it a difficult case, due to how young the victim was and other circumstances of the case, but also rewarding to bring the four men to justice.

Sulerud, like Stanek, has been in police work 29 years, the last 21 of them in Washington as a patrol officer. He said that at 16, he witnessed an intense car crash at a Missouri campground where he worked. He helped out at the scene, holding a patient’s head off the ground until emergency services arrived. That’s when he knew he wanted to spend his life helping others.

“I have seen a lot of different things, both good and bad,” he said. “The most satisfying thing is knowing that you’ve helped some people.”

Both men remember last year, when they worked at Washington Health System’s Neighborhood Health Center, after a car crashed through an exterior wall, killing a woman who worked in the building.

Sulerud said that while working the tragic scenes, homicides and disturbing incidents, sometimes they have to try to block out emotions. Stanek said having a “strong family base” and being involved in the positive aspects of the community help them stay balanced when dealing with both highly emotional cases and day-to-day police work.

They said that after a while, “you just know” when it’s time to retire.

“There’s guys here that are completely capable of taking over,” Stanek said.

Stanek, who has three children, ages 19, 13 and 12, plans to stay in the area after retirement.

“I’m thankful to have the career I did,” Stanek said. “It’s what I always wanted to do. It’s been rewarding, frustrating and challenging. I’m going to miss it, and I’m going to miss the guys.”

Sulerud, too, said he would miss “the guys,” the camaraderie and being there for each other.

“It’s basically a family,” he said.