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Tractor-trailer hauling Mason jar lids crashes on I-70 in Fallowfield

A tractor-trailer carrying 45,000 pounds worth of Mason jar lids crashed through a guardrail on Interstate 70 in Fallowfield Township early Tuesday and rolled down an embankment before coming to rest on its roof near a stream.

The crash happened in the eastbound lanes near the Monongahela/Centerville interchange shortly after 6 a.m., a Washington County 911 dispatch supervisor said.

When emergency responders arrived, they found the cab and trailer upside down about 30 feet down an embankment just a few feet from the stream.

The driver, Sherzoo Makhmudoy, 28, of Philadelphia, was able to get out of the vehicle on his own but suffered minor injuries in the crash, state police said. He was taken by ambulance to Penn Highlands Mon Valley Hospital in Carroll Township for treatment, police said.

Diesel fuel spilled from the rig and had to be stopped from getting into the waterway by a hazardous materials crew that also responded to the scene.

One eastbound lane of I-70 was closed for nearly 11 hours while a towing crew removed the wreckage from the hillside, the 911 dispatcher said.

The tractor-trailer was carrying a load of 45,000 pounds of metal Mason jar lids, police said. The vehicle was badly damaged in the crash, but the load did not appear to spill out of the trailer.

Firefighters from Fallowfield Township and Bentleyville responded to the crash, along with an ambulance crew from Rostraver-West Newtown Emergency Services.

State police in Belle Vernon are investigating the crash.

The Prexie Center: After-school program offers welcoming spot for kids

It’s a gloomy Tuesday afternoon, but inside The Prexie Center, a free after-school program at Washington High School, the mood is cheerful.

“Hey, my man, good to see you!” says volunteer Tom Kwiatkowsi, who welcomes each teen and hands them a beverage as they move through a line and grab a hot dinner of stuffed paninis, green beans, and fruit.

The center, open on Tuesdays and Thursdays, provides hot meals and snacks, and much more.

There, students can relax on couches and chairs, study and do homework at tables, shoot pool or play air hockey, play chess and board games, read a book, work on their video game skills in a lounge area, or just hang out and socialize with friends.

On this Tuesday, two Wash High students sang along to Meghan Trainor’s catchy “Made You Look” while they played a life-sized Connect Four game.

Another teen, holding a rook, mulled making a move while playing a game of chess with Pastor Lem Woodson, a youth pastor at Champion Christian Center.

Others worked on homework assignments.

The Prexie Center opened its doors Sept. 9, 2021. It was founded by Marsha Pleta, a longtime member of the Washington School Board, and Patricia Cherry, co-pastor of New Dominion Birth Kingdom Ministries, who envisioned a welcoming after-school spot for kids.

“Our kids need a safe place, and I was thinking about this idea for about eight years; what can we do to help these kids?” said Pleta.

It turned out that the answer was in plain sight – a little-used media center at the high school that included a kitchen and freezer.

With funding from Cherry’s church (The Prexie Center is not affiliated with Washington School District), Pleta and Cherry got to work, turning the space into an area that meets the needs of students.

The center includes a kitchen, a pantry filled with food, snacks and personal hygiene items; washers, dryers and laundry detergent for students to wash clothes; and access to showers, along with towels, washcloths and soap.

Special programs and classes are offered throughout the year, including movie nights, crafting, painting, cooking, crocheting, etiquette and self-defense courses, exercise and strength training, and karaoke. Local youth pastors lead optional spiritual talks to end the day.

Attendance ranges between 30 and 70 students in grades eight through 12, and the center is open from 3 to 6 p.m.

The Prexie Center is staffed with about nine volunteers who, along with Pleta and Cherry, mingle among the kids, cheering their accomplishments and offering support and encouragement.

“We have seen (the kids) come together as friends, talking to each other, getting to know each other,” said Cherry. “I really feel so happy to be here. I’m enjoying getting to know the young men and ladies. We’re here for them if they need to talk, if something comes up.”

Kwiatkowski, who is retired, is heading into his second year of volunteering at The Prexie Center. He has volunteered at nonprofits throughout his life, and finds himself inspired by the high energy and positivity that fills the center.

“I really enjoy being with the young people. I want to be able to set an example for them, make sure they learn a little bit about how adults should act,” said Kwiatkowski. “I love the kids. I enjoy getting to know them. But it’s not so much about my enjoyment – if I can put a smile on one kid’s face, make one kid happy, that’s why I’m here.”

Senior Tyler Myers is a frequent visitor at the center.

“I like The Prexie Center because I get to hang out with all my friends, because I never get to see them half the day when I’m at Western Area Career and Technology Center,” said Myers. “We get some good food made by Miss Sandy Thomas, (Washington School District police Chief Carmine) Molinaro comes by, Pastor Lem hangs out with me. It’s fun.”

This year, funding for the center is being provided by D&M Painting of Washington.

Local businesses regularly donate snacks and supplies.

Budd Baer recently donated a car that the teens use to learn about car care and maintenance, and Pleta – emphasizing the importance of students getting driver’s licenses and having access to cars to get to work and school – aims to add a driver’s education program.

At Christmas, Pleta and Cherry opened a “store,” where kids were able to choose blankets, pillows, clothes, shoes, and other items that had been donated.

Pleta is planning a day trip to Presque Isle in June for Prexie Center students who meet attendance and academic requirements.

Woodson said The Prexie Center is “absolutely essential.”

“These kids get community outside of the normal school day. They get to be around each other, and we get to be in here and be around them, mentor, show them some love,” said Woodson. “I wouldn’t call it a refuge, but that’s exactly what it is. It’s a refuge and a nice place for fellowship, and that’s great.”

The center welcomes all students – whether they drop in after sports practice or extracurricular activities, or if they stay all three hours because there is no adult at home after school.

“I want these kids to know that there’s a big, beautiful world out there and it’s open for them. I tell them, ‘You define your future, you get to choose. There are people who want to help you and all you have to do is reach up get yourself out there,’” said Pleta.

Pleta said she was worried that no teens would show up when The Prexie Center opened its doors.

“The first time, we had 24 students come, and we’ve just grown from there,” said Pleta. “I adore these kids. I want them to have futures, I want them to have hope. Let’s just give kids hope for their future.”

Peters Township council rejects aquatic center bids

Peters Township council has officially pulled the plug on the aquatic center at Rolling Hills Park.

Council unanimously rejected all bids at its Monday meeting. Officials voted quickly with no discussion before moving on to other business, but their decision had been a foregone conclusion.

Township Manager Paul Lauer told council at the end of December that they had received a low bid of $17.35 million from the Hermitage-based Hudson Companies.

He said at the time that his recommendation would be to reject the bids when it came up for a vote.

The bids far exceeded the $10 million council had budgeted for the project. Council had previously rejected an $11.4 million bid in 2021.

“I don’t think even if you got a survey back that 100% of the residents of this township wanted it, I don’t see how we could justify spending $17 million on it,” council member Frank Kosir Jr. said at the December meeting.

Council received four additional bids for the aquatic center, the highest coming in at $19.7 million from the Morgantown-based Fairchance Construction.

Peters Township received multiple grants for the aquatic center, most recently a $631,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Lauer explained at council’s December meeting that while the township cannot repurpose the funds for another project, they have a five-year window before having to forfeit the money.

Had the aquatic center come to fruition, it would have featured a pool, water slides, lazy river and a splash park.