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Canonsburg vet surprised with Quilt of Valor

When Larry Kaucic was invited to his sister’s house for a family get-together earlier this month, and told to wear red, white and blue and bring a flag with him, he didn’t think anything of it.

“I just thought, you know, my family is very patriotic,” the Canonsburg man said in a recent interview. “We haven’t been together because of this coronavirus thing, so I just thought, you know, we were getting together.”

Larry is number three of six siblings, Ann Foster, Susan Cook, Chuck Kaucic, Cass McMahon and Wendy Redinger. They surprised him with a special gift at this family gathering March 12, which they called a “patriot party.”

“I walked into the living room, and I realized something was going on,” Kaucic said. “My brother and his wife were on Zoom on the computer and that’s when they presented me with the quilt.”

Larry’s sisters live in the Bridgeville area, but for the past 39 years, his brother, Chuck, has lived in Palmer, Alaska. Chuck discovered a group where he lives that make “Quilts of Valor” for veterans. He decided to nominate his brother for a quilt.

Quilts of Valor, Chuck learned, is a nationwide organization made up of people who volunteer to sew personalized, patriotic quilts for veterans. He found a chapter in Chambersburg, whose members accepted the challenge of making a quilt for Larry.

“These people do this out of passion for our men and women in the service,” Chuck said.

In a news release, the leader of the quilting group that made Larry’s quilt, Jackie Karavias, said they “believe passionately in the recognition of our service members and are honored to be able to give back in this small way.”

Chuck said he was honored to nominate Larry, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1970-74.

“He was just doing his job like so many military veterans do,” Chuck said. “My brother was the proverbial toughest kid in the neighborhood. If anything happened in this country, I’d want to be behind my brother.”

When Larry received his draft notice at the beginning of the Vietnam War, he decided to join the Marines, “to prove to myself I could do it,” he said. His father, Lawrence A. Kaucic Sr., was also a veteran, who joined the U.S. Army at age 30 and was stationed in Germany.

Larry’s quilt was hand-stitched and had his name and service information on it.

“I opened up the quilt and that thing was all handmade,” he said. “It’s beautiful. I was really set back by it. I’ve had other quilts, but nothing like this one. It was very humbling.”

After he opened the quilt, his family had a little ceremony, during which they recited the Pledge of Allegiance, read the “Soldier’s Prayer” and “talked about how lucky we are to live in America.”

To maintain the surprise, the quilt was initially shipped to Cook’s home in Moon Township. She said it took about six weeks to plan a day they could all be together.

“I was so impressed that these women were so dedicated to honoring veterans that they did this,” she said. “I’ve never made a quilt, but I know it takes time and money. I just thought it was terrific, and I think Larry was pretty awestruck. He had even read the instructions, which tell you how to hang it on a wall, but he said, ‘No, it’s to be used.’”

Aging services meeting with success in efforts to get seniors COVID-19 vaccines

Aging services in the region have been fielding hundreds of calls this week from senior citizens who are looking for help in scheduling a COVID-19 vaccine.

The calls started Monday shortly after the state Health Department ordered vaccine providers to work with Area Agencies on Aging in order to get more older adults a dose, especially those without computers.

“We’re willing to help anyone,” said Leslie Grenfell, executive director of the agencies in Washington, Greene and Fayette counties.

“The program is reaping measurable results,” the state Department of Aging said Thursday.

Washington County officials said Wednesday that they are up to the task of getting more people to vaccination clinics after the state widened the 1B eligibility list to include grocery store employees and agricultural workers.

Fayette County commission Chairman Dave Lohr his county has an “army of people” working to help people find vaccines.

He said Fayette estimates about 65% of the people in the 1A category wanted to be vaccinated, including those 65 and older.

“We’re one of the best in the state in administering this and getting it done,” Lohr said.

Washington Health System has been designated as the coordinator of Greene County’s vaccination efforts, said Mike Belding, chairman of the county commissioners.

“So far everything has been extremely smooth,” Belding said Thursday.

The county has offered facilities for clinics and will provide security and traffic control for the efforts.

“We’re overly prepared,” Belding said.

He said about 40% of those who have been eligible for a vaccine in Greene didn’t want a shot.

The state announced 3,893 new virus cases Thursday as medical experts across the country expect another surge in COVID-19 infections. To date, more than a million Pennsylvanians have tested positive for the virus.

The virus has killed 25,120 state residents in the past year after 27 new statewide deaths were reported, including one in Fayette County.

Washington County added 10 new virus cases, taking its cumulative total to 15,154. Greene added 11 new cases to its total of 2,876. Fayette saw 23 new cases added to its total of 11,239.

Floyd's girlfriend recalls their struggles with addiction

MINNEAPOLIS – George Floyd’s girlfriend tearfully told a jury Thursday the story of how they met – at a Salvation Army shelter where he was a security guard with “this great, deep Southern voice, raspy” – and how they both struggled mightily with an addiction to opioids.

“Our story, it’s a classic story of how many people get addicted to opioids. We both suffered from chronic pain. Mine was in my neck and his was in his back,” 45-year-old Courteney Ross said on Day Four of the murder trial of former Officer Derek Chauvin for digging his knee into Floyd’s neck.

She said they “tried really hard to break that addiction many times.”

Prosecutors put Ross on the stand as part of an effort to humanize Floyd in front of the jury and portray him as more than a crime statistic, and also explain his drug use.

The defense has argued that Chauvin did what he was trained to do when he encountered Floyd last May and that Floyd’s death was caused by drugs, his underlying health conditions and his own adrenaline. An autopsy found fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system.

In other testimony, David Pleoger, a now-retired Minneapolis police sergeant who was on duty the night Floyd died, said that based on his review of the body camera video, officers should have ended their restraint after Floyd stopped resisting.

He also said officers are trained to roll people on their side to help with their breathing after they have been restrained in the prone position.

“When Mr. Floyd was no longer offering up any resistance to the officers, they could have ended the restraint,” Pleoger said.

“And that was after he was handcuffed and on the ground and no longer resistant?” prosecutor Steve Schleicher asked.

Yes, Ploeger replied.

Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter, accused of killing Floyd by kneeling on the 46-year-old Black man’s neck for 9 minutes, 29 seconds, as he lay face-down in handcuffs, accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a neighborhood market.

The case triggered large protests around the U.S., scattered violence and widespread soul-searching over racism and police brutality. The most serious charge against the now-fired white officer carries up to 40 years in prison.

Earlier, Ross said she and Floyd first met in 2017 and struggled with addiction to painkillers throughout their relationship – testimony that could help prosecutors blunt the argument that drugs killed Floyd. Medical experts have said that while the level of fentanyl in his system could be fatal to some, people who use the drug regularly can develop a tolerance to it.

Ross said they both had prescriptions, and when those ran out, they took the prescriptions of others and also used illegal drugs.

“Addiction, in my opinion, is a lifelong struggle. ... It’s not something that just kind of comes and goes. It’s something I’ll deal with forever,” she said.

In March 2020, Ross drove Floyd to the emergency room because he was in extreme stomach pain, and she learned he had overdosed. In the months that followed, Ross said, she and Floyd spent a lot of time together during the coronavirus quarantine, and Floyd was clean.

But she suspected he began using again about two weeks before his death because his behavior changed: She said there would be times when he would be up and bouncing around, and other times when he would be unintelligible.

Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson drove hard at Floyd’s drug use in cross-examining Ross, asking questions aimed at showing the danger of overdose and death.

Under questioning from Nelson, Ross also disclosed that Floyd’s pet name for her in his phone was “Mama” – testimony that called into question the widely reported account that Floyd was crying out for his mother as he lay pinned to the pavement.

Also Thursday, a paramedic who arrived on the scene that day testified that the first call was a Code 2, for someone with a mouth injury, but it was upgraded a minute and a half later to Code 3 – a life-threatening incident that led them to turn on the lights and siren.

Seth Bravinder said he saw no signs that Floyd was breathing or moving, and it appeared he was in cardiac arrest. A second paramedic, Derek Smith, testified that he checked for a pulse and couldn’t detect one: “In layman’s terms? I thought he was dead.”

Bravinder said they loaded Floyd into the ambulance so he could get care “in an optimum environment,” but also because bystanders “appeared very upset on the sidewalk,” and there was some yelling. “In my mind at least, we wanted to get away from that,” he said.

Smith likewise said there were “multiple people” with “multiple cellphones out,” and “it didn’t feel like a welcoming environment.”

Chauvin’s lawyer has argued that the police on the scene were distracted by what they perceived as a growing and increasingly hostile crowd. Video showed somewhere around 15 onlookers not far from where Floyd lay on the pavement.

Bravinder said after he drove the ambulance three blocks and jumped in back to help his partner, a monitor showed that Floyd had flatlined – his heart had stopped. He said they were never able to restore a pulse.

On cross-examination, Chauvin’s lawyer questioned why the ambulance did not go straight to the hospital, and he pressed Smith on Floyd’s condition as he lay on the pavement, in an apparent attempt to plant doubt as to whether Chauvin was directly responsible for his death. The paramedic expressed himself in blunt terms that Floyd was “dead” or “deceased.”

Ross began her testimony by telling how she and Floyd met at a shelter where Floyd was a security guard.

“May I tell the story?” she asked. “It’s one of my favorite stories to tell.”

She said she had gone to the shelter because her sons’ father was staying there. But she got upset that day because the father was not coming to the lobby to discuss their son’s birthday. Floyd came over to check on her.

“Floyd has this great, deep Southern voice, raspy,” Ross recalled. “And he’s like, ‘Sis, you OK, sis?’ And I wasn’t OK. I was like, ‘No, I’m just waiting for my sons’ father.’ He said, ‘Can I pray with you?’”

“This kind person, just to come up to me and say, ‘Can I pray with you?’ when I felt alone in this lobby, it was so sweet,” she continued. “At the time, I had lost a lot of faith in God.”

Minnesota is a rarity in explicitly permitting such “spark of life” testimony about a crime victim at trial. Defense attorneys often contend such testimony allows prosecutors to play on jurors’ emotions.


This story has been corrected to fix the wording in the Schleicher quote to “after he was handcuffed” instead of “when he was handcuffed.”


Webber reported from Fenton, Michigan.


Find AP’s full coverage of the death of George Floyd at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-george-floyd