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Woman dies in Chartiers Township fire

An elderly woman described as “everybody’s grandma” died after a fire ripped through her Chartiers Township home Wednesday night.

Officials did not release the name of the victim, but family members said her name was Grace Thomas. A neighbor described Thomas as “an awesome woman.”

Firefighters were called to the blaze at the home at 235 Sprowls Ave. shortly after 8:30 p.m.

Neighbors called 911 after they saw flames coming from the home.

Tammy Williams, who has lived across the street from Thomas since she was a little girl, was inside her home when she smelled smoke. She said she went outside and saw firefighters had already arrived.

Williams said she had been close friends with Thomas’ daughter while they were growing up, and she spent a lot of time at the Thomas home.

“She was the best woman in the world. We had such fun at her house. We played there all the time,” said Williams. “We had a ball with her. She was the best mom and grandma there was.”

Firefighters from Chartiers Township, Houston and North Strabane Township responded to the blaze, which is under investigation by the state police fire marshal.

Thomas was believed to be in her 90s.

Family members and neighbors consoled each other and looked on while firefighters walked through the debris.

Said family member Deraye Oakely, “She was an awesome woman and a grandma to everyone. She was a prayerful woman, and for this to happen to her is awful.”

Father of Columbine mass shooting victim speaks at Cal U.

CALIFORNIA – Rachel Joy Scott, the first person killed at Columbine High School two decades ago, created a legacy in her diaries that is still being heard around the world.

Her father, Darrell Scott, said his daughter also was compassionate toward others and wished to eliminate prejudice. She was murdered April 20, 1999, while eating her lunch outdoors.

“Rachel died on Hitler’s birthday,” Scott said Wednesday during an in-service day for teachers and other school professionals associated with Intermediate Unit 1.

Scott said his family decided to forgive the shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who killed themselves after murdering a dozen children and one schoolteacher.

His son Craig was in the school library when the killers, wearing black trench coats and carrying pipe bombs, walked in and killed 10 students.

Craig Scott and two of his friends dove under a table together, and he was the only one of the three who came out alive.

The younger Scott said he heard the shooters yelling racial slurs before a black student was shot in the head with a shotgun.

One month before Rachel Scott died at 17, she wrote a two-page essay in which she expressed her desire to create a chain-reaction of kindness to span the globe. It was titled, “My Ethics, My Codes of Life.”

Her words of inspiration, including other things she jotted down in six diaries, spawned a nonprofit organization, Rachel’s Challenge, that spreads her story about creating a culture of kindness within schools and other organizations.

Scott said his program offers challenges to audiences, beginning with encouraging people to look for the best in others.

The other challenges discussed Wednesday were encouraging people to not limit dreams and let their words be soft and pleasant.

Celeste Van Kirk / Celeste Van Kirk/Observer-Reporter 

Firefighters work at the scene of a fire in Chartiers Township Wednesday.

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New county policy addresses elections office workers, candidacy

Seeking to prevent conflicts of interest, the Washington County commissioners expect to adopt a policy today prohibiting elections office employees from running for elected office.

The commissioners, who also stated they want to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest, are seeking to maintain public confidence “throughout the entire elections process,” including voter registration services.

“No current employee from the adoption date of this policy forward shall seek a newly elected position,” according to the policy.

Also, no new staffers will be considered for employment in the elections office while they are running for or serving as an elected official.

One elections office employee, Troy G. Breese, is running to retain his seat on Washington School Board in the Nov. 5 general election.

Because he won a Republican nomination in the May primary before the policy’s adoption, he will be covered by a “grandfather” clause.

“We don’t want to disturb someone’s existing rights,” said J. Lynn DeHaven, Washington County solicitor, indicating that, if elected to school board, Breese could again run for the office. But he could not, for example, run for mayor while a county elections office employee.

Larry Spahr, a longtime Union Township supervisor, retired as Washington County elections director Jan. 31. He lost an election to retain his township supervisor’s seat in 2017.

Melanie Ostrander, Spahr’s successor, said the policy originated with the commissioners.