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Cecil, North Strabane grow most in 2019 Census estimates

Cecil Township continues to grow, and Cindy Fisher isn’t surprised.

“Cecil is a very popular place to live because of lower taxes, housing construction, police and fire services, and easy access for commuters,” said the township supervisors chair. “A lot of people work at Southpointe and want to be close to their jobs.

“The township provides a rural feel while providing the amenities of larger communities. And we expect the numbers to keep growing because large portions of the township are undeveloped.”

2019 Census estimates by township with percent change

Ahead of its official 10-year population count, due later this year, the U.S. Census Bureau this week released 2019 population estimates for municipalities nationwide. Among 90 incorporated communities in Washington and Greene counties, Cecil not only posted the largest increase in residents since the official 2010 Census, but also the biggest jump percentage-wise. The bureau pegged the township’s population for July 1, 2019, at 13,054 – a bump of 1,783 residents, or 15.82%, from 11,271 nine years ago.

Last year’s figures are estimates, to be sure, but they lend insight into trends of population growth and decrease. Of those 90 municipalities in the two counties, only seven posted increases from 2010. All are in Washington County – Dunlevy Borough and the townships of Cecil, Chartiers, Mount Pleasant, North Strabane, Peters Township and South Strabane.

Greene County has 26 municipalities (20 townships and six boroughs) and nearly half – 12 towns – lost 7% or more of their population. Washington has 64 municipalities (32 townships, 30 boroughs and two cities).

Washington County’s growth has decidedly been in its northern township. North Strabane, according to the estimated numbers, experienced the second largest percentage increase in the county over the nine-year period – 7.96%. New housing also has bumped upward there, putting that township’s 2019 figure at 14,475, up from 13,408 in 2020.

Peters likewise experienced a population gain, from 21,213 to 22,044 (3.92%) – a bit better than Chartiers (7,818 to 8,104, 3.66%) and South Strabane (9,346 to 9,430, 0.90%) did. The estimated population for Mount Pleasant last year was 3,517, a mere two residents more than in 2010, a 0.06% rise.

Dunlevy, along the Monongahela River, experienced a 7% residential increase from 2010, from 381 to 408.

The city of Washington has lost an estimated 1.6% of its population since 2010, dropping from 13,663 to 13,433 last year. That is a loss of 230 residents. Washington, however, still has the third largest population in the county.

Peters, according to the Census figures, remained Washington County’s most populous municipality in 2019, more than 7,500 residents ahead of the runner-up, North Strabane. Cecil is fourth, 379 behind Washington. South Strabane is fifth.

Monongahela, Washington County’s other city, had an estimated 4,102 residents last summer, down 4.6% from 4,300 in 2010.

Among towns outside Greene and Washington counties: Uniontown fell from 10,372 to 9,719 (6.3%); Brownsville Borough from 2,331 to 2,224 (4.59%); Brownsville Township from 683 to 645 (5.5%); Monessen from 7,720 to 7,237 (6.3%); Rostraver Township (11,363 to 11,007 (3.13%); and Smithton from 399 to 373 (6.5%).

Behind the Mask

Editor’s note: Behind the Mask is a series intended to offer a glimpse at area medical professionals who are working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Joseph Muntan is an emergency department nurse and interim stroke care coordinator at Monongahela Valley Hospital – the hospital he credits with saving his life following a battle with cancer.

In 2018, Muntan was awarded Mon Valley Hospital’s Cameos of Caring Award, sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing to recognize nurses who demonstrate excellence in nursing care and embody the essence of the nursing profession.

A lifelong Monongahela resident and graduate of Ringgold High School, Muntan graduated from the Penn State University paramedic program.

He worked for Tri-Community and Rostraver/West Newton EMS where he served residents of the Mon Valley until January 2009, when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He underwent treatment and went into remission, but in December of that year, the cancer metastasized and he was diagnosed with Stage IV abdominal cancer.

After a large hospital gave him a 35% chance of surviving, Muntan went to Mon Valley Hospital for a second opinion. He underwent chemotherapy at MVH Cancer Center, and has been cancer-free since completing treatment there.

Surviving cancer inspired Muntan to embark on a mission: to become a nurse.

“But the real goal was to become an emergency department nurse at the same health system that saved my life,” he said.

Muntan also has served as a firefighter for the Monongahela Volunteer Fire Department for 26 years and has worked for nearly a decade as a part-time telecommunications officer for the Washington County 911 Center.

Q. What is your favorite breakfast?

My favorite breakfast consists of French toast, eggs and fresh fruit.

Q. Do you like roller coasters? Why or why not?

When I was young I was terrified of them. I am still not fan of them. If something could go wrong, it probably would happen when I was on it.

Q. What is the best thing going on in your life right now?

My girlfriend, Meredith Terek, and I will be graduating in one week from Grand Canyon University, having achieved our BSN degrees. Also, we have just settled into our new home in Carroll Township.

Q. What are some of your guilty pleasures?

Hog Fathers barbecue and Black Rifle Coffee.

Q. Who are your favorite musical artists or bands?

I mostly listen to modern country. Hands down, Garth Brooks is my favorite artist. Once in a while I still revert back to the ‘80s hair bands.

Q. What do you want to tell people about the COVID-19 pandemic?

First, I want people to listen to the experts and their recommendations. The pandemic hasn’t hit us as hard as other places yet. I believe the reason for this is that everyone in our communities united together as one and made the sacrifices necessary to keep COVID-19 from changing our population forever. Secondly, I don’t want anyone to feel worried about coming to the hospital in their time of need. One of the biggest misconceptions is that a person increases their chance of being exposed when seeking medical attention. Since the beginning of this pandemic, we have taken extraordinary strides in ensuring everyone’s safety that comes to our facility. Please don’t wait if you feel that you have an emergency. Lastly, be that neighbor! The one who checks on their elderly neighbors. The one that reaches a helping hand out to our neighbors who have been laid off. The one that cares about the future of our communities. Be the one who can proudly say, “We are #monvalleystrong.”

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Gov. Wolf: Staying at home during COVID-19 pandemic has saved thousands of lives

Staying at home has saved more than 7,000 lives in Philadelphia alone during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Tom Wolf said Wednesday.

Wolf was repeating numbers cited in a Drexel University in Philadelphia report this month that studied the spread of the virus in metropolitan areas across the nation.

Sheltering in place after the virus was detected in Pennsylvania in early March likely saved many other lives across the state, Wolf said during an afternoon teleconference with reporters.

The governor also said he planned to release guidance soon on how to resume fall athletics, including the NFL.

“I think life is going to be different,” Wolf said.

The yellow or caution phase of his reopening, which will move to 49 of the state’s 67 counties, limits gatherings to 25 people. Southwestern Pennsylvania, including Washington and Greene counties, moved to the yellow phase May 15.

“The goal is trying to make sure people are safe and getting back to a normal life as soon as possible,” Wolf said.

As of Wednesday, the novel coronavirus had killed 4,767 people statewide, including five in Washington County.

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Counties file brief with U.S. Supreme Court case against governor

A “friend of the court” brief prepared on behalf of four Southwestern Pennsylvania counties was filed in the U.S. Supreme Court this week, claiming that Gov. Tom Wolf and Dr. Rachel Levine, secretary of health, violated constitutional rights by ordering certain businesses to close to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The brief, filed by attorney Thomas W. King of Butler, voices concerns of his home county plus Washington, Greene and Fayette in the case of Danny DeVito, a Republican legislative candidate from Carnegie, Kathy Gregory, a laundry, a public golf course and lounge and a real estate company.

The counties joined with DeVito “and friends,” as the case is captioned, in an attempt to have the U.S. Supreme Court consider the case on appeal from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Earlier this month, the highest court in the land declined to immediately clamp down on the governor and secretary of health by issuing what’s known as a “stay,” after DeVito lost a split decision in the state Supreme Court.

Whether to involve the counties in the legal proceeding was also a split along party lines among the four boards of county commissioners controlled by Republicans. Wolf is a Democrat.

In the brief, the counties took on the governor over a decision he made, without consulting the Legislature, on which businesses could continue to operate as life-sustaining, while others, deemed not to be life-sustaining, were shuttered. The counties also took issue with the handling of the waiver process.

The counties asked the U.S. Supreme Court to consider that once restrictions began to be eased, “a matter as arbitrary as the placement of a county line will determine whether a citizen of the Commonwealth is permitted to pursue (his) livelihood and be free to pursue ... lawful employment.”

The counties claimed the governor’s stated intention to elevate some counties on “red” alert to “yellow” cautionary status violates the equal protection guarantees of the Constitution.

It gave as an example Wolf’s declaration that real estate agents and brokers are not life sustaining and, therefore, must be closed in order to advance his goal of “social distancing.”

It called the classification “arbitrary and irrational” because a real estate agent “would be perfectly capable of carrying on a real estate practice with very limited client contact,” such as “one to two customers visiting or viewing a vacant piece of real estate, while maintaining a six-foot distance, while wearing a mask, and while not touching.

“On the contrary, a title insurance company, closing a real estate transaction on the same type of property that the (agent) is prohibited from showing,” is legally permitted to have people congregating in offices and coming into close contact with others, to finalize a real estate transaction.

The four counties moved from red to yellow last Friday.

As of Wednesday, Pennsylvania reported 4,624 deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus and 63,666 people infected.

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Details revealed in Independence Township homicide

AVELLA – Arnold Lee Webster shot and killed his girlfriend’s son following heated arguments and shoving matches last year in Webster’s Independence Township home, where he kept an illegal stockpile of firearms, court records allege.

Webster, 65, was arrested in the case Tuesday and also accused of shooting Joshua Ryan Bowland Aug. 28 while he stood beside his mother and his girlfriend ran to a neighbor’s residence with her two young children, the affidavit indicates.

The shooting happened about 8:45 p.m. after Bowland arrived at 156 Camp Ground Road with his girlfriend, April Birtwell, to return a car they had borrowed from his mother, state police stated in the affidavit.

Webster went outside to confront the couple after hearing them argue. Webster then went inside where the arguing continued.

Police said Webster began calling Birtwell degrading names when Bowland stepped in to defend her.

The mother, Josephine F. Bowland, tried to de-escalate the argument, at which time Webster shoved her, charging documents indicate.

Webster then grabbed the victim by the throat and pushed him into a cabinet near where a .45-caliber rifle was stored in a corner, the affidavit says. Webster allegedly grabbed the rifle, chambered a round, telling Joshua Bowland to leave or he would be shot.

The victim called Webster’s bluff, and Webster then shot him once in the chest while the victim was making no threats or advances, police said.

Troopers found Webster on his front porch when they arrived, and Bowland dead on the floor between the kitchen and dining room.

Police said they returned early the next day with a search warrant and found a sawed-off shotgun under a mattress and nine other firearms in Webster’s control.

Webster pleaded guilty to charges of robbery and aggravated assault in 1978, making it illegal for him to possess firearms, police said.

He was sent Tuesday to Washington County jail without bond on charges of homicide, voluntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment, illegal possession of firearms and possessing a prohibited offensive weapon.

Police initially charged Webster with possessing an prohibitive offensive weapon, and withdrew that case in October.

Deputy Washington County District Attorney Jason Walsh said prosecutors needed to file all of the charges against Webster in the same document, something the investigation delayed until Tuesday.

He is scheduled to appear for a preliminary hearing at 10 a.m. May 29 before District Judge Ethan Ward.