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Greene County receives grants for affordable housing projects

Greene County recently received nearly $1 million in state grants for affordable housing options and projects that are underway.

The Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Fund awarded $900,000 to the Greene County Redevelopment Authority. About $800,000 of that will go to the Nineveh Heights project in Morris Township. The other $100,000 will go to the county’s Home Purchase Fund Program to assist first-time home buyers.

“This was a great grant application for both of those areas,” said David Calvario, executive director of the Greene County Redevelopment Authority. “Our goal is to get people into home ownership down the road.”

Calvario said the Nineveh Heights project has been in the works for the last five years and has predominantly been worked on by the Morris Township supervisors.

Supervisor Bob Keller said the project started when Consol donated the property – more than 90 acres off Carter Road – to the township, “with the stipulation that a portion would be undermined and we weren’t allowed to build until 2020.”

Keller said the longwall mining was completed in early 2018, but the two-year buffer was to allow for subsidence. He said the township had lost about 50 homes due to mining, and Consol buying up property.

“One of the problems we have is a declining population,” Keller said. “The decline in my township was 100 percent industrial-caused. The homes were bought out by industry.”

In 2000, the census for Morris Township was 1,040, with a 20 percent growth from 1990 to 2000, Keller said. It was the largest census growth in the county, he said. But the next decade didn’t go as well, dropping to 840 population, the largest census loss in Greene County, Keller said.

“It’s consistently been dropping, and it’s about the industry that drives them out,” he said. “This was predominantly done through coal. It’s been a significant impact on our community.”

Keller said he suspects the township will be in the low 700s by the 2020 census.

“We have to try to revitalize our community,” he said. “I hope this is more than a chance.”

As part of a “community give-back agreement,” Keller said Consol paid for a sewage treatment plant for Nineveh and the development area for the new homes. It cost about $1 million and was “funded predominantly” by Consol, he said.

Morris Township has hired Wind Ridge Engineering to start “laying out the first track” of the housing development, Keller said, which he estimates will be about 26 homes.

“The layout of the development will be done this fall,” Keller said.

The township will pay the engineering costs, which Keller estimated would be around $80,000. So far, they’ve used Act 13 Impact Fee money to cover the costs, he said. The $800,000 grant – one of the first grants they’ve received for the project – will be used for the project’s infrastructure, such as roadways, stormwater management, utility lines and any grading work that may need to be done, Keller said.

Calvario said Threshold Housing Development Inc., a nonprofit organization formed in 1991 by Fayette County Community Action, will be building the homes for the first phase. Threshold Housing provides affordable homes to low-income families in Fayette, Greene and Washington counties.

In the potential second and third phases of the Nineveh Heights project, Calvario said private developers might have an opportunity to build there as well.

“I’ve had multiple people over the years ask me when it’s going to be ready,” Keller said. “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure it’s an affordable place to live.”

First-time home buyers will also benefit with affordable places to live, thanks to the other $100,000 portion of the grant, which was distributed through the Greene County Redevelopment Authority to Blueprints Greene County for the Home Purchase Fund Program.

Jessica Hayjack-Bates, program director of Blueprints, said the $100,000 will be used to assist first-time homebuyers in Greene County with a downpayment or a closing cost fund. Those homebuyers, she said, will need to meet income guidelines in order to be eligible.

“We’re really excited to be able to offer a program like this in Greene County,” Hayjack-Bates said. We want to help as many residents as we can. So many people want to purchase a home, and we can help them make that dream a reality.”

Associated Press 

Associated Press

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Dozens of charges withdrawn for funeral director accused of keeping remains in locker

Dozens of charges of abuse of a corpse and intentional desecration of a public monument were withdrawn against a former funeral director who was accused of keeping cremated remains in a storage locker.

Stephen E. Kezmarsky III, 51, of Uniontown waived his remaining charges, including theft, tampering with records and obstruction of justice, to the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas Tuesday. His $500,000 bond was changed to unsecured, meaning he does not have to post bail to be released. Kezmarsky will be under house arrest on electronic monitoring as a condition of his release.

Kezmarsky was already facing charges in separate cases for allegedly stealing about $600,000 from more than 150 victims who were pre-paying for funerals at the former Kezmarsky Funeral Home between October 2005 and March 2017. The new charges stem from the discovery of records and remains kept in plastic containers, which were found in a storage locker rented by a relative.

Officials are still working to identify the remains of 21 people found in the locker at Holiday Park Storage. Fourteen of those remains were not labeled. They also found boxes of paperwork related to the funeral home business. Kezmarsky previously denied having additional paperwork, investigators said.

Twenty-one misdemeanor counts each of abuse of a corpse and intentional desecration of a public monument were withdrawn. He still faces seven felony counts of theft, 14 counts of tampering with records and 21 counts of obstruction of justice, which are misdemeanors. He entered a general waiver, meaning he did not agree to a tentative plea deal.

Kezmarsky is represented by attorney Stephen Colafella of Beaver.

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Superior Court ruling comes amid ongoing lawsuits over 2016 murder-suicide

A state appellate court rejected a bid by a father of a woman who was murdered by her estranged husband two years ago to have himself appointed executor of his daughter’s estate.

The seven-page ruling that the Superior Court issued on Monday held that Richard Kopko lacked standing to remove his granddaughter, Morgan Miller, from her role as executrix of the estate of her mother, Tierne Ewing.

Kevin Ewing severed a court-ordered GPS monitoring device from his ankle and abducted his wife from a West Finley Township home early on Aug. 30, 2016, sparking a daylong manhunt. That night, he murdered her and then shot himself in a barn several miles away, later dying of his self-inflicted injury.

At the time of those events, Ewing was already the subject of pending criminal charges and a restraining order on behalf of his wife, who told police that two months earlier her husband had kidnapped, beaten and tortured her for more than a week.

Attorney Richard Thiele – who represents Kopko and Annelle Kopko, Tierne Ewing’s mother – initially asked to be named executor in Washington County Orphans’ Court early last year amid a parallel lawsuit against Rosalee Riggle, Kevin Ewing’s mother, in Washington County Court of Common Pleas.

As part of a response to the case, Riggle’s attorney, James Harvey, had argued that the Kopkos lacked the ability to pursue two of the claims in their lawsuit – wrongful death and survival action – because they lacked an interest in their daughter’s estate.

As Richard Kopko’s attempt to have himself named executor moved through orphans’ court and then appeal, Thiele amended the Kopkos’ lawsuit to remove those counts. The latest version of their complaint still includes counts of negligence, among others, against Riggle. Riggle’s attorney has argued both lawsuits against her should be dismissed for legal insufficiency.

Meanwhile, Miller brought a similar case in August 2018 against Riggle, Washington County and several companies – including Alcohol Monitoring Systems Inc. and Vigilnet America LLC – that were associated with the monitoring device Kevin Ewing was required to wear.

In June, Common Pleas Judge Michael J. Lucas agreed to consolidate the Kopkos’ and Miller’s lawsuits into one case.

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Officials say potential tragedy avoided with arrest of Canonsburg man

A Canonsburg man – whose behavior was so concerning to his neighbors that they took to sleeping in shifts to monitor him – was arrested after allegedly ordering 1,000 rounds of ammunition.

Harry Wesler III, 49, of 101 Cecil St., has been incarcerated in the Allegheny County Jail since Friday on a charge of attempted possession of ammunition by a convicted felon.

Police said Wesler had ordered 9mm ammunition on July 12, and it was inadvertently delivered to a neighbor.

“The resident wanted to turn the package over to police because he or she felt that it was a dangerous situation and ‘something bad was going to happen,’” the criminal complaint states.

Because of a prior conviction, Wesler is a felon and unable to possess firearms or ammunition.

What followed was a joint investigation involving the Canonsburg Police Department, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and the office of U.S. Attorney Scott Brady.

When the ammunition delivery was reported to police, Canonsburg officers were already familiar with Wesler.

Canonsburg Sgt. Charles Tenny said numerous calls had been placed to 911 regarding threats from Wesler to harm himself.

According to the complaint, Canonsburg police had responded 14 times to his home for mental health checks, 10 of those because he had threatened to commit suicide.

The most recent threat came July 19. When police arrived at his residence, there were five large kitchen knives laid out on the table, according to the complaint.

Just a day before, Tenny had contacted Wesler concerning the ammunition order. Wesler told Tenny he had ordered the ammunition, and that he was in possession of a firearm, according to the complaint.

Nella Naccarato, the owner of the building Wesler lived in, said his behavior had her and her other tenants fearful of what he might do.

She had been in the process of evicting Wesler, who was on a month-to-month lease, from the apartment.

Wesler had lived there since May of last year. Naccarato originally gave him until the end of February to vacate.

Except instead of leaving, Wesler replaced the locks, Naccarato said.

According to Naccarato, Wesler was ordered to leave by July 31 by a judge. That hearing took place on July 8, just days before police say Wesler ordered 1,000 9mm rounds.

Naccarato described Wesler as “tormenting” her and his neighbors. She said he was frequently banging on his ceiling and making threats, and that neighbors were aware he had guns.

This led to the neighbors taking turns sleeping to keep an eye on Wesler.

“We all watched. When he made noise, they all came over to my apartment. It was a dangerous situation. I’m just glad it’s over,” Naccarato said.

That the building is located directly across from Falconi baseball fields only exacerbated their worries.

“There are kids that play at those ball fields,” Naccarato said.

Police executed a search warrant at Wesler’s apartment on Friday. According to Tenny, he had the means to utilize the ammunition he ordered.

“We’ll never know what he was planning to do,” Tenny said.

Canonsburg Mayor David Rhome said the involvement of the community is instrumental in cases such as this one, and helped lead to Wesler’s arrest.

“Where the location is, I, along with the police department, truly believe we averted a tragedy,” Rhome said.

Naccarato expressed gratitude for the work of Canonsburg Police Chief Alex Coghill, Tenny and Rhome.

“Chuck Tenny is a heck of a man,” Naccarato said.

Tenny also extended credit to the ATF, Brady and Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Lanni for their assistance.

According to Tenny, the matter is still an active investigation.