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Wolf to allow fans into sporting events

On second thought ...

Gov. Tom Wolf has had a change of heart and will allow a small number of fans into sporting events.

The governor’s guidance for sports during the COVID-19 pandemic was changed Wednesday to allow spectators into games.

But fans will now count toward the 250 for outdoor events and 25 for indoor events.

Under those circumstances, it is unlikely that many, if any at all, will be permitted into athletic events at some schools.

“From what I’m hearing in the text chain, everyone is in the same boat,” said Ricci Rich, athletic director at Trinity High School.

“They don’t have any room for spectators. It doesn’t give us any spectators for football or volleyball. Right now, you have to count every single head.”

Rich said he would favor the PIAA allowing two pods, each that would hold 250 people. One would be on the field and the other in the stands.

“Hopefully, we can have 250 in the stands who are never near the players on the field and 250 on the playing surface,” Rich said.

Rich said it would benefit some sports but called the move by the PIAA “kicking the can down the road.”

Players, coaches, band members, cheerleaders, officials, media, security and game workers all count toward the 250 limit. At best, that leaves only a handful of spectators. Rich doesn’t see the band being cut out to give more spots to spectators.

“The experience is more important for the kids being there than the spectators,” Rich said.

At Canon-McMillan High School, athletic director Frank Vulcano said the school was already at the 250 limit for football and 25 limit for volleyball.

“The governor didn’t do us (athletic directors) any favors,” Vulcano said. “We already have 253 in the band alone. We had to limit them to 50. We have 85 football players, and I had to cut them to 50. We have 12 cheerleaders instead of 20-some. We are right at 25 for volleyball. The governor made the change, and he didn’t change anything.”

Vulcano said, “All the governer did was create problems for us. Parents think they are going to get into games now, and we don’t have room for them. And it’s not our call. This didn’t help us at all.”

Vulcano said 25 people in his gymnasium means it is at 1% of capacity. Even now, some reserves on the volleyball team will have to stand outside the gymnasium so the 25-person limit can be maintained.

Smaller schools have an advantage, but not much.

“Everyone is scrambling trying to get a plan together,” said Linda Messich, athletic director at Mapletown High School. “We’re trying to figure it out.”

Bill Simms, athletic director at West Greene, said some fans will be able to watch football games, but that won’t be the case for volleyball.

“Now you are going to have the argument why do the football parents get to watch them and the volleyball players parents don’t,” said Simms. “Take Canon-Mac, for example. Their gym holds 3,000, and they are allowed 25. It makes no sense. In the reality of it, it’s good that one or two parents will get to see their son play football. At the same time, it causes controversy for the indoor sports. The parents won’t get to see them play volleyball. I think we can all socially distance to get one or two parents into a volleyball game.”

In August, the PIAA voted to allow the games to be played but without spectators. Such were the fears of spreading the coronavirus.

Wednesday’s action came on the same day the state House of Representatives passed a measure to allow schools the ability to decide whether to admit spectators to high school sports. It moves on to the Senate.

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Washington County adds 20 additional COVID-19 cases

Washington County added 20 additional cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday morning, bringing its total to 1,086 cases since the onset of the pandemic. No new deaths were recorded in the county.

Greene County’s numbers were unchanged, remaining at 140 cases. Fayette County added five more cases, bringing its total since March to 699.

Allegheny County has seen its numbers go up and down in recent days, and on Wednesday 68 new cases were reported in the county, with nine new deaths. Across Pennsylvania, there were 816 additional positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the statewide total to 135,611. There were 21 additional deaths statewide. There were 164,110 tests administered in Pennsylvania between Aug. 26 and Sept. 1, with 4,760 positive cases.

In a Wednesday afternoon briefing, both Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Debra Bogen, the director of the county’s health department, said they are participating in a vaccine trial, with Bogen saying, “I want to be part of the solution.”

Fitzgerald also noted that Allegheny County’s daily COVID-19 numbers have been “much better than what we were seeing a month-and-a-half to two months ago.” He pointed out, however, there was the potential the numbers could spike again with college and university students returning to the county. Both Bogen and Fitzgerald said they were concerned that case numbers could go up following the Labor Day weekend.

“I do worry,” Bogen said. “I think that’s part of my job. Our last surge happened on the Fourth of July. We’re hoping not to see the same on the Labor Day weekend.”

Judge imposes maximum penalty on former police officer charged with official oppression

Professing his innocence, former Monongahela police Officer Dustin DeVault said he’d “rather have a bullet put through” his head than take advantage of a woman.

DeVault, 48, pleaded “no contest” to a charge of official oppression that the state attorney general’s office revealed nearly a year ago based on a grand jury presentment.

In a “no contest” plea, a defendant does not admit guilt, and that was evident when Judge Valarie Costanzo told DeVault he had the right to address the court.

The former officer said, “I’m honest. I did not commit any of these crimes.

“I know there is a higher court. When I stand before the Lord, you will know I’m not lying. I’ve never touched any female. If I was guilty of that, I’d rather have a bullet put through my head.”

Deputy Attorney General Patrick Schulte, also given the opportunity to speak, said, “I’m stunned by (DeVault’s) lack of responsibility and accountability. He said the victim is lying. Everyone is lying except the defendant” who “assigns blame for this to everyone but himself.”

The woman who told the grand jury that DeVault inappropriately touched her and asked her to engage in sex with him was not present in court Wednesday, but she submitted a victim impact statement.

The victim has also sued DeVault in Washington County Court. Her attorney, Al Lindsay of Butler, identified her in a video news conference as Jesse Cimino of Westmoreland County.

Cimino alleges she first met DeVault in the summer of 2018 when the officer pulled over her vehicle on Route 88 in Union Township for having a burned-out taillight. He did not issue her a ticket and later promised to help her become a police officer or a soldier.

Dismissed were additional second-degree misdemeanor charges of indecent assault and obstructing the administration of law June 1 when DeVault entered an open plea to official oppression.

Invoking state sentencing guidelines, Costanzo imposed the maximum penalty – two years’ probation – on DeVault for someone who has no prior record.

She also ordered him to pay a $5,000 fine – again, the maximum – although DeVault’s attorney, Almon S. Burke, unsuccessfully asked for a lesser amount.

“Especially during COVID-10, you never know if your job is going to continue or not,” Burke said after the proceeding.

After five years as a police officer, DeVault is earning $17 an hour as a truck driver supplying Lowe’s home improvement stores, and he supports five children.

Although he was arrested for drunken driving and was admitted to the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program, it happened so many years ago that it was discounted for sentencing purposes.

Heather DeVault, the defendant’s wife of eight years, testified she had known him since childhood and said her husband has a good reputation in their community for doing his job, sometimes to a fault.

Burke, a former Washington County assistant district attorney and federal prosecutor, said police officers find themselves in difficult situations every day and “people they’re dealing with are not necessarily telling the truth.” He said he considers police work to be one of the most difficult jobs in society.

“Our No. 1 goal in this prosecution is that this man never be a police officer again,” Schulte said outside the courtroom. “He can never be a police officer as long as he’s on this side of the grass. He doesn’t have to admit guilt.”

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Commissioners to begin reviewing fiscal policies of county-related agencies

The Washington County commissioners announced late Wednesday afternoon they have asked for a review of county-related agencies’ fiscal and financial policies.

The commissioners have tapped Controller Michael Namie and the county finance department to perform the task.

The organizations to be examined are the Washington County Conservation District; the Washington Drug and Alcohol Commission Inc.; Washington County Tourism Promotion Agency; Washington County Transportation Authority; Washington County Redevelopment Authority; Washington County Authority; and Washington Greene County Job Training Agency.

Although the redevelopment authority and Washington County Authority have similar names, they are two separate entities.

The redevelopment authority administers the Local Share Account of casino gambling proceeds and many federal programs. And while the county authority has overseen the development of Southpointe II, it also owns Courthouse Square and its parking garage, administers a county loan pool, and may helm the future development of the proposed Cool Valley along Morganza Road, Cecil Township.

Namie is an independently elected official, and commissioner-appointee Joshua Hatfield is in charge of the two-person finance department, which prepares the county’s annual budget, among a myriad of other tasks.

Commission Chairman Diana Irey Vaughan called the review “nonpartisan,” with herself and Commissioner Nick Sherman as Republican elected officials while Maggi and Namie are both elected Democrats.

“With many of these organizations administering programs on behalf of the county, it is the board’s desire to ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent on appropriate expenses,” Irey Vaughan said.

She also wants to see if administrative costs and general expenses are uniform and if best practices are being implemented.

“I look forward to obtaining and sharing the results of our reviews with the taxpayers,” said commission Vice Chairman Maggi.

Although each agency is independently audited, the commissioners want there to be followup discussions during which the county will offer suggestions to improve and strengthen each organization’s financial policies and add transparency for the public through any new policies.

“I believe this process we will leave us with stronger, more viable organizations and programs that will deliver better services and be in a healthier financial position to lead Washington County into the future,” Sherman said.

The commissioners “started looking last year at some expenses that were not disallowed, but did not conform with county policy,” Irey Vaughan said, such as regular group lunches for employees not related to travel.

She wants to see the review done annually to make sure the agencies continue to conform with county policies.

“In my 25-year tenure, the county has never looked at this information,” Irey Vaughan said.