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Peaceful protest planned for Saturday in Canonsburg

Encouraged by the momentum surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement and the hundreds of demonstrations that have been held across the country since George Floyd died in police custody on Memorial Day, a group of young adults from the Canonsburg and Washington areas have planned a peaceful protest on Saturday in Canonsburg.

“We’re just trying to continue to bring awareness to the social injustice that’s been happening not just recently, but for centuries,” said Ahmad Morris Walker, 22, of Canonsburg, one of the organizers of the protest. “For centuries, black people have been living in fear of the law. We have to be consistent with (the protests). In 1963, when they were doing sit-ins, it took days and months and years. It’s an uncomfortable thing to talk about, but you want to keep people talking about it and having these uncomfortable conversations until change is made.”

The Canonsburg protest follows other peaceful protests against racism, policing and inequality in the justice system that have taken place in the city of Washington and on the campus of California University of Pennsylvania in the weeks after the death of Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died in Minneapolis when a white police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

The rally will start at noon in the parking lot of the Canonsburg Borough Building. At about 1 p.m., a march is scheduled to proceed from Pike Street onto North Jefferson Avenue, Arch Street, and North Central Avenue before ending back at the borough building. 

The protest should conclude around 1:30 p.m.

The parking lot will be closed, and there will be a rolling closure of the roads during the walk.

Walker said he and the organizers – Kurt Adkins, Kierra and Brianna King, Zhiere Patmon, Faith McClendon and Dara Thomas – contacted Canonsburg Mayor David Rhome and police Chief Alexander Coghill and have been working with the borough to ensure a safe and peaceful protest.

The protest will be similar to one held in front of the Washington County Courthouse on June 6 that drew an estimated 400 people, and will include speakers.

“I am planning on standing tall with this group, and any group that feels they need their words to be heard,” said Rhome. “If we as people would listen to each other, I believe we would have a better world to live in. My hope is that by working together, standing together, and talking together, we will start to bring love and kindness into our conversations, and it will be better for our communities.”

Walker was among those who helped organize the protest in the city of Washington, and said the response to the demonstration, and those that have taken place across the country, has been energizing.

“We see the change that’s happening and to actually be a part of it is amazing,” said Walker, a Canon-McMillan High School graduate who is scheduled to graduate from Slippery Rock University this fall with a bachelor’s degree in public health. “It’s actually weird. My friends and I talk about this all the time – we compare it to the things we learned about in textbooks in school. It’s encouraging, but it’s sad that we have to do this in 2020, that we’re still fighting for equality. But we’re taking up the mantle. It’s empowering.”

Doggone tight spot
Doggone tight spot

It’s been a rough year for Renee Gilmer, an Avella native who now lives in Massachusetts. She lost her job in February, but on Friday, she almost lost much more.

Gilmer had decided to spend the past few weeks staying with friends on their Avella farm. Friday afternoon, she was playing with her three dogs near a pond on the property when her 10-year-old black Labrador retriever, Dutch, fell 20 feet into an 18-inch drain pipe.

Editor’s note: This video includes some mild language.

“Dutch was retrieving a stick, and he slipped down the pipe,” Gilmer said in a Tuesday interview.

She went to the other end of the pipe and stood in a ravine for three hours calling to Dutch.

“He was barking and crying ’cause he couldn’t come to me,” Gilmer said. “It was the worst feeling in the world to me. These dogs are my kids.”

Firefighters from Avella and West Middletown responded to the property along with the county’s Department of Public Safety and the county’s Animal Response Team to try to get Dutch out of the pipe. They were able to get a camera in the pipe to see that Dutch was still alive, but by 2 a.m., Gilmer said, they still were unable to get him out, and called off the rescue for the night.

“When I knew he was alive in that hole, of course I couldn’t sleep,” Gilmer said. “I could hear him barking, and I was just hoping that if I went to the door, he’d be on the porch.”

That night, Gilmer reached out to BJ Gaughan, the superintendent for Robinson Pipe Cleaning. He’s gotten calls about items stuck in pipes before – including dead rodents or animals causing a blockage – but never a live animal such as a dog.

“I was praying all night, and I couldn’t even sleep ’cause I was just worried about it,” Gaughan said.

Gaughan arrived on the property by 6 a.m. Saturday with a higher quality camera to send through the pipe. He and Codie Noga, a friend of Gilmer’s, started yelling down the pipe to see if Dutch was alive. Dutch didn’t respond.

“We were assuming the worst,” Gaughan said. “I could see about four inches of water building up in the pipe.”

When they put Gaughan’s camera in the pipe, Dutch turned around and looked at it.

“We were like, ‘Oh, my gosh; it’s still alive,’” Gaughan said. “I’ve never seen nothing like that before. It was so big compared to the size of the pipe.”

Once they knew Dutch was alive, Gilmer contacted Gary O’Brien, owner of O’Brien’s Confined Space Rescue Services in Marietta, Ohio. He put a team together and drove to Avella.

“The issue is an 18-inch pipe – that’s pretty small,” O’Brien said Tuesday. “It’s unbelievable because he fell butt-first. He was curled up in a ball.”

After hearing Gilmer’s story, O’Brien put a team together and made the drive to Avella.

“Each of us had prior commitments that we canceled to be able to do this,” he said. “I would want someone to do this for my dog.”

O’Brien said that a few years ago, he had to put down his Lab, Jake.

“I thought, if Jake was in that hole I’d want to go after him,” O’Brien said. “The hardest thing was telling Renee that, if I feel there is a probability that one of my employees is going to get hurt doing this, I have to abandon the rescue.”

That team member was Carri Tucker, who drove three-and-a-half hours from Maryland Saturday to climb into the 18-inch pipe to retrieve Dutch. She’s worked in industrial safety for 20 years, and has done confined space work for years.

That Saturday, Tucker was planning to go to a winery with friends, so she worked out in the morning. Then she got a call from Gary about Dutch.

“He said, ‘I can’t pay you for this,’” Tucker said Tuesday. “A lot of people have fallen on hard times right now. When he told me that (Gilmer) had lost her job and that it was an older dog – it just spoke to my heart. I’m one person who probably has the skill set to get the dog out of the pipe.”

Tucker’s been in an 18-inch pipe before, but never in an emergency situation like this, she said. Saturday afternoon the pipe already had water in it, and it was about to rain.

“I was cocking my head, and the poor dog had its head cocked up all night,” Tucker said.

Tucker crawled 200 feet into the pipe to get to the dog. Then she got her second workout of the day.

“Dutch is at least 100 pounds,” Tucker said.

Plus, she said, he was wet, scared and digging his paws in uncooperatively.

“He did that to me for 200 feet,” she said.

The space was so tight, Tucker’s arms were out in front of her and she couldn’t properly crawl. She said she had to mostly use her wrists and hands to pull him while in a plank position.

“I was so spent after that, I couldn’t even take the (safety) harness off,” she said.

But she got Dutch out, and he wasn’t injured, though he did have 10 minutes of business to take care of after being scrunched up in the pipe for 24 hours.

“He came out of the ravine,” Gilmer said. “He heard me and he ran to me up the ravine. I didn’t have to take him to the vet or anything.”

Everyone on scene was amazed that Dutch was unharmed, including Tucker.

“The only thing that everyone there thought about was the safety of this dog and getting it out alive,” Tucker said. “We all have a lot of concerns right now and there’s a lot of negativity that you can get focused on, but nobody that day thought about anything negative.”

Gilmer said it was an emotionally draining two days and that she’s never cried so much. She tried to pay O’Brien’s team and Gaughan for their help, but they wouldn’t take it.

“I still can’t believe it,” Gilmer said. “But it really showed me that there are such good people in the world.”

O’Brien said his company had just purchased a new rescue truck, which they’ve decided to name Dutch. They also made a sticker for the side of the vehicle that resembles the black Lab.

“This was not something I could charge someone for,” O’Brien said. “All the right people came together, and we got it done. We are all on this earth to help each other. I really try to do that.”

editor's pick
Greene Cove Yacht Club, county commissioners at odds over trail access

The Greene River Trail isn’t long as rails-to-trails conversions go, measuring just 5.2 miles.

But it’s gotten even shorter since the recent closure of the trail’s northern entrance at Greene Cove Yacht Club, Clarksville, and access from the south.

Newly posted signs direct walkers, joggers and bicyclists to stay off the approximately one mile of crushed stone path on Greene Cove’s property.

The closure came about late last week because of a dispute between the owners of the yacht club and Greene County.

The Greene County commissioners, in a news release posted on the county’s website, note that trail users can continue to access the Greene River Trail at Rices Landing and Carmichaels.

At the heart of the matter are two legal terms: “easement,” which entitles someone who is not the landowner to limited use of property, and “indemnification,” which means to secure against hurt, loss or damage.

Arthur J. Boyle, now 87, was the sole owner of the Greene Cove Yacht Club. The Greene County Industrial Development Authority approached him, said his son, Terry, and requested an easement that was recorded in February 2001.

In granting ingress and egress, Arthur Boyle did not ask for monetary payment.

“He said, ‘Certainly,’” according to Terry Boyle. “But he needed to have some protection afforded to him. The agreement he entered into has an indemnification.”

Terry Boyle described his father’s role in the trail development as “an act of kindness.”

At some point – Terry Boyle said, “without our knowledge” – the industrial development authority “made a deal between them and some other entity in the county.

“We feel the county did not live up to their end of the bargain,” said Terry Boyle, who with his brother, Morgan, own Greene Cove Enterprises Inc. They purchased the marina and related operation from their father 17 years ago, and for the past two years, the Boyles have been seeking what Terry Boyle called “reclarification of the easement agreement that we have.”

In an attempt to iron out the dispute, Terry Boyle said he and his attorneys met with Greene County officials, including the solicitor, but when they reached an impasse, Greene Cove first posted a “no trail access” sign and then placed Jersey barriers.

“This is not what I want to do,” Terry Boyle said. “We’re asking the county to do what we wanted to do all along, indemnify Greene Cove. I’ve been very polite. We don’t want to be heavy-handed here.

“I terminated the recreational trail easement agreement last Friday,” Terry Boyle continued. “I’m on the hook now. Anything that happens is my responsibility.”

Greene Cove pays taxes on the trail property, Terry Boyle said, and he is also picking up the tab for a premises liability insurance policy.

For years, people used the trail without incident, but that changed three years ago.

An Observer-Reporter news story dated Aug. 25, 2017 said the day before a man in his 60s suffered head and arm injuries when what was described as a “huge tree” fell near the Greene Cove Yacht Club trail entrance. The victim, who was unidentified at the time, was flown by medical helicopter to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, W.Va.

The victim, Beranger Nemal of Millsboro, filed suit May 2019 in Greene County Court against Greene Cove Yacht Club Inc. and Greene Cove Enterprises Inc.

Nemal’s complaint alleges that the deteriorated tree was located on Greene Cove’s property. The case is still open, according to docket entries.

“I am not going to open myself again,” Terry Boyle said he told the commissioners. “You’ve made it clear you won’t defend me.”

The commissioners issued a news release on the situation.

“The easement owner is demanding coverage of $5 million per incident as well as an indemnity clause that would hold the county broadly liable for incidents on the easement to include intentional negligence,” according to the news release.

“Two attorneys employed by the county with more than 80 years of municipal law experience between them and the underwriters for the insurance company found the demands unreasonable.”

Commission Chairman Mike Belding, in a statement included in the posting, said, “It is unfortunate we couldn’t maintain this easement at a reasonable risk to the taxpayers of Greene County, but one of government’s primary responsibilities is to protect the public from (undue) risk.

“The proposed changes to the easement agreement present risks that are not acceptable. Our subject matter experts in municipal law and the insurance industry have significant concerns about the liability that would be presented to the taxpayer should this proposed agreement be accepted.”

Paul R. Robinson, one of the attorneys representing the yacht club enterprise, disagreed.

In an email, Robinson wrote, “The original easement, which was given by the Boyles to Greene County at no cost, had the same indemnity and insurance obligations as the new easement.

“After the incident on the trail, the county breached its agreement to indemnify the Boyles and have them named as additional insureds on the county insurance policy as promised. All the Boyles requested was to make the indemnity and insurance provisions enforceable by including the required language to make them enforceable considering the county’s decision to ignore the terms of the original easement.”

Of the $5 million amount, Robinson wrote, the figure “was included by the county and its solicitor, and it was meant to provide insurance coverage to Greene County citizens who were injured using the trail due to improper maintenance of the trail by the county.”

He called the lack of an agreement between Greene County and Greene Cove “unfair to the Boyles and the residents who have enjoyed using the donated property to access the river trail.”

Belding on Tuesday declined comment beyond the county’s original news release.

editor's pick
COVID-19 cases stabilize in Washington and Greene counties

The number of COVID-19 cases did not increase Tuesday in Washington and Greene counties, and they remained at 156 and 30, respectively, according to the state Health Department.

Meanwhile, Allegheny County reported 27 new cases, taking its total to 2,113, and one new death from the virus, which has killed 174 people there since late March.

State Health Secretary Rachel Levine reminded residents they have a responsibility to continue to protect the public by wearing masks, maintaining social distancing and washing hands frequently.

“Together we can protect our most vulnerable Pennsylvanians, our essential workers and our health care system,” Levine said.

There were 362 additional positive cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, bringing the statewide total to 79,483. The virus has killed 6,276 people in Pennsylvania after 33 new deaths were announced Tuesday.