Stories written by Jo Ciavaglia, award-winning multimedia newspaper reporter at the Bucks County Courier Times in Bucks County, a suburb of Philadelphia, Pa.
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A Philadelphia man drove an illegally registered car to his preliminary hearing for his alleged role in an international car theft ring, police said.
So did the person who sold him the car, who was at the hearing but not as a defendant, police said.
The cars were spotted in the parking lot of district court last month in Bensalem by Trooper Paul Movsesian, of the state police auto theft task force. Movsesian was there for the July 24 hearing for Dennis Koroma and others charged by the Pennsylvania attorney general with stealing at least 57 luxury cars worth more than $2.3 million last year.
Koroma, 25, allegedly drove a 2001 Honda Accord with a fake temporary registration tag that he allegedly purchased the day before the hearing, police said.
Movsesian noticed the Delaware paper tag and checked its vehicle identification number, according to court records. The VIN check showed that the car was assigned a salvage title, making it illegal to operate on the road, court documents show.
When state police confronted Koroma in the courtroom, he produced the Honda’s keys and said he bought it from Walid Haida, 34, of Philadelphia, according to court documents.
The Delaware Department of Motor Vehicles confirmed the tag and registration were counterfeit.
Koroma, who is free on bail on the auto theft charges, was charged last week with 16 third-degree felony counts of tampering with public records, forgery and conspiracy and 10 related misdemeanors in connection with the illegally registered car. He was arraigned Monday before Bensalem District Judge Joseph Falcone and released on $40,000 unsecured bail.
The other car — a gray 2006 Ford Mustang coupe — had a temporary Pennsylvania tag, which also was fake, police said. Haida, identified as the owner, was inside the courtroom July 24 too, as a spectator, police said.
Haida produced a fake temporary registration and insurance card for the Mustang and told Movsesian that he sold the Honda to Koroma and obtained the temporary Delaware registration documents for him, according to the affidavit.
State police have issued an arrest warrant for Haida for charges identical to Koroma’s.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email: jciavaglia@phillyBurbs.com; Twitter: @jociavaglia
A Warminster man tried to gouge out his father’s eyes and then attacked Northampton police officers who were trying to arrest him, breaking one officer’s hand, police said.
Charles Erickson IV, 31, of the 600 block of East Street Road, attacked his father, Charles Erickson III, 61, in his Northampton home early Sunday morning, injuring him so badly that blood seeped out of his eyes, police said.
When officers responded to a report of an assault about 3:30 a.m., they found the elder Erickson, dressed only in underwear, at a gas station at routes 232 and 332. He was bleeding from his face and told police his son was “trying to kill him” and that he was still in the family house, according to court documents.
Two police officers went to the home on the 100 block of Strawberry Lane, but no one answered the door.
After the father gave them permission to enter, the officers found a bizarre scene, according to court documents.
Downstairs, water was pouring through the dining room ceiling. Upstairs, police found the younger Erickson on the floor of the master bathroom. His legs were tucked up to his chest and his arms folded up to the side of his head with his fists clenched, police said.
The bathroom floor was covered in blood and water, and water was gushing from a broken toilet, police said.
Cpl. Christopher Cully and Patrolman Ryan Share repeatedly ordered Erickson to lie face down on the floor, but he ignored their commands and attempted to avoid arrest, according to court documents.
Cully fired a Taser into Erickson’s lower back area while Share sprayed his face with pepper spray. Share then attempted for a second time to handcuff the suspect, but Erickson continued kicking and throwing his arms, court records show. During the confrontation, Share broke his right hand.
Both of the Ericksons and Share were taken to St. Mary Medical Center in Middletown for treatment. The older Erickson was later transferred to Wills Eye Hospital for additional treatment.
His eyes were swollen with blood seeping through them, according to court records, and he had numerous scratches on his face and head along with “substantial” bruising on his nose, cheeks and mouth.
The older Erickson later told police that his son had pushed him to the ground and started choking him before going for his eyes.
The younger Erickson was discharged from St. Mary on Tuesday and arraigned before Northampton District Judge William Benz on five felony assault charges, including three counts of aggravated assault, as well as related misdemeanor and summary offenses. He was sent to Bucks County prison in lieu of 10 percent of $75,000.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email: jciavaglia@phillyBurbs.com; Twitter: @jociavaglia
A 41-year Bensalem school district employee is charged with stealing more than $400,000 worth of truck tires and other auto parts over more than a decade and selling them for an annual profit of at least $20,000.
Frederick Lange, of Karen Court in Croydon, who turns 68 Thursday, is the lead mechanic and shop foreman for the district. He allegedly took the stolen items to his home during lunch breaks and at the end of his workday and arranged for their sale during work hours, according to police.
Lange was arraigned before Newtown District Judge Donald Nasshorn Tuesday on three, third-degree felony charges of theft by unlawful taking, criminal use of a communications facility and receiving stolen property. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison. He was sent to Bucks County prison in lieu of $200,000/10 percent bail.
The arrest was the result of an ongoing investigation involving the district’s school bus garage, according to a probable cause affidavit.
Bensalem police received “credible” information from three confidential sources that a mechanic known as “Fred” had been stealing truck tires, batteries, brakes and other auto accessories for 10 to 12 years, according to the affidavit.
On Monday, a police officer observed Lange’s 2004 GMC pickup truck at 7 a.m. at the school bus garage parking lot. About 55 minutes later, Lange was observed leaving the garage property in a blue district van, according to the affidavit.
The van was followed to his home and stayed there about two minutes. After the district van left the house, Lange was followed back to the bus garage. Immediately after the school van left Lange’s home, police said, they went to his property and saw two new truck tires with labels and stickers attached.
Later Monday, while conducting surveillance at Lange’s home, a maroon van was seen backing into the driveway. The van driver and Lange were observed moving truck tires from the rear of the property to the parked van, according to the affidavit.
Police detained both men and took them to police headquarters. The tires were seized and confirmed to be Bensalem School District property, police said.
During a police interview, Lange admitted the tires at his house were stolen from the Bensalem School District. He also told police that he had been involved in an “ongoing pattern” of theft for the last 10 to 14 years, during which he stole auto parts every month, according to the affidavit.
Among the items Lange admitted stealing: heavy and medium duty truck tires, batteries, brake pads, maxi brake chambers and transmission fluid and filters, according to the affidavit.
He told police he had sold about 100 newly purchased school district tires each year for the last 10 years, and estimated he earned a profit of $20,000 to $27,000 a year from the sale of the stolen property, the affidavit said.
He also told police he made many of the transactions and agreements to sell the stolen items during his scheduled work hours using his cellphone, the affidavit said.
A Bensalem School District spokeswoman Tuesday declined to say Lange is still an employee, calling the matter personnel related.
In a statement, district officials noted that, in June, the school board retained the private accounting and advisory firm EisnerAmper LLP to conduct a forensic audit and operational review of designated departments in the wake of recent misconduct by district employees.
The district also stated that “new controls” have been put into effect immediately, though the statement did not say what those measures are.
“We believe these activities, while reprehensible, if found to be true, would soon have been detected because of the board’s proactive stance,” the statement said. “The taxpayers of Bensalem deserve to have full accountability of their tax dollars and the board is committed to ensuring that the taxpayers are protected and the laws of Pennsylvania will be fully enforced.”
In May, the district confirmed information that some facilities department employees allegedly had falsified time records. Two employees resigned and one retired, Superintendent David Baugh said. No one has been charged.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email: jciavaglia@phillyBurbs.com; Twitter: @jociavaglia
A second longtime Bensalem Township School District bus mechanic has been charged with stealing district property, after police were tipped off by the first employee who was accused of stealing and reselling auto parts.
Martin “Marty” Chappell, 61, of Crescent Avenue in Bensalem, was arrested Monday as part of an ongoing criminal investigation into the theft of auto supplies and other property at the district’s bus garage.
Chappell, who worked for the district 21 years as a mechanic, is accused of stealing more than $2,300 worth of auto parts and supplies in multiple thefts from the garage over an extended period of time.
Police said they found out about the thefts after last week’s arrest of another longtime district school bus mechanic, Frederick Lange, 68, of Croydon. Lange, lead mechanic and shop foreman for the district, is charged with stealing more than $400,000 worth of truck tires and other auto parts over more than a decade and selling them for an annual profit of at least $20,000.
After Lange was arrested Aug. 21, he told police that about a month earlier, he discovered that four 17-inch Hancook tires were missing from the tire cage in the bus garage, according to a probable cause affidavit.
The next day, Lange said that he saw the same new Hancook tires on Chappell’s white Chevy Tahoe SUV, the affidavit shows. He also suspected that Chappell had been stealing other truck and auto parts and accessories from the district’s bus garage, police said.
In an Aug. 20 telephone call with police about the tires on his Chevy Tahoe, Chappell said he bought them more than a month earlier at a Bristol Township tire store, but he couldn’t produce a sales receipt, police said. Later that day, police said they recovered two stolen Hancook truck tires of a similar size from Chappell’s next door neighbor.
When police spoke to an employee at the store where Chappell said he bought the tires, they had a different story.
The employee said Chappell had called earlier that week and asked for a receipt for four 17-inch Hancook tires, according to the affidavit. The employee told Chappell he couldn’t give him a receipt because the store didn’t sell that brand of tires.
The employee also told police that a few years ago, Chappell would bring in brand new tires, which hadn’t been purchased at the store, and exchange them for different sizes and tires, police said. The practice was discontinued after a few exchanges, police said.
The day after Chappell told police he bought the tires at the store, he called to tell them he had bought them on Craigslist, a free online advertising site, the affidavit said. But he still couldn’t provide a sales receipt.
On Aug. 22, Bensalem police and the Bucks County district attorney each received calls from anonymous sources claiming that Chappell was involved in the same criminal activity as Lange, police said. One of the sources — a former school bus garage employee — told police that Chappell was seen stealing small truck parts at the end of his work shifts. The source also told police that district-owned tools, auto supplies and small truck parts were in Chappell’s home garage.
Later that day, police executed a search warrant at Chappell’s home garage, where a “significant” quantity of auto parts and supplies were seized, including boxes containing auto parts that were addressed to the Bensalem School District at the school bus garage address, police said.
Police also found a receipt for a purchase made by Bensalem School District and paid for by cash and four mounted 17-inch Hercules tires, which police believe were on Chappell’s Chevy Tahoe before he replaced them with the Hancook tires.
Chappell was arraigned Tuesday morning before Lower Southampton District Judge John Waltman on charges of theft by unlawful taking and receiving stolen property, third-degree felonies punishable by up to seven years in prison. He was sent to Bucks County prison, but later released after posting 10 percent of his $50,000 bail.
The newspaper was unsuccessful in reaching Chappell for comment Tuesday afternoon.
Following Lange’s arrest last week, Bensalem Superintendent David Baugh announced the immediate implementation of tighter inventory controls, including increased levels of review, checks and balances and monitoring.
The announcement followed the school board vote to retain a private accounting and advisory firm EisnerAmper LLP to conduct a forensic audit and operational review of designated departments in the wake of recent misconduct by district employees.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email: jciavaglia@phillyBurbs.com; Twitter: @jociavaglia
After allegedly swiping thousands of dollars worth of cigarettes, police finally burned the so-called smoking bandit Friday.
Philadelphia police arrested Daniel Haggard, 44, who has no fixed address, hours after he allegedly pulled his latest cigarette caper at a CVS drug store in the 9800 block of Bustleton Avenue in the Northeast section of the city, not far from the Bucks County border.
A 7th District Philadelphia police officer caught Haggard carrying a trash bag filled with cigarettes as he got on a SEPTA bus around 8 a.m. in the 5200 block of Frankford Avenue, about four hours after the drug store was burglarized, police said.
Police also believe Haggard stole a van around 6 a.m. Friday, after the drug store burglary, but abandoned it.
He is being held by Philadelphia police and is expected to be formally charged with at least six burglaries in Bucks and Philadelphia. Bensalem police have already filed an arrest warrant for two burglaries Haggard is suspected of committing in the township.
The CVS was the fourth store Haggard allegedly burglarized since his spree began in Bucks County on Aug. 6, when he allegedly stole $4,500 worth of cigarettes and a 6-pack of Miller Light from a Bensalem beer store.
All together, police say he stole more than $6,800 in items — nearly all of it cartons and loose packs of cigarettes in Philadelphia, Bensalem and Lower Southampton.
The early morning burglaries occurred in beer and drug stores with Haggard allegedly using a cinder block or broken asphalt to shatter the bottom panel of glass front doors, crawling inside and stuffing the stolen items — mostly cigarettes — into a plastic trash bag he kept in the back pants pocket, police said.
Following the widespread media coverage the burglaries generated, police received tips that lead to Haggard being developed at the suspect seen in various surveillance video clips and photos that police released.
Surveillance footage of smoking bandit
The Bensalem detectives and the Philadelphia Police Burglary Task Force attempted to locate Haggard, but found out that he was homeless. They were in the process of acquiring arrest warrants for him when he was taken into police custody.
Haggard, who uses at least eight aliases, has a lengthy criminal record in Pennsylvania, according to online criminal records. Most recently he was sentenced to five years prison in 2006 after pleading guilty to a 2004 burglary in Bucks County.
In Bucks County, police believe that Haggard is responsible for a Lower Southampton burglary at the Trevose Beer Store in the 500 block of Andrews Road on Aug. 11, two similar cigarette burglaries in Bensalem on Aug. 6 and 9 and others in Philadelphia.
For a few weeks earlier this year, Joseph Bucci lived the very good life. Now he’s paying for it.
Literally, his attorney said Thursday.
The 22-year-old Bensalem man, who gained notoriety as the bank-error bandit after police say he withdrew nearly $70,000 mistakenly deposited into his account, has sold many of the items he bought using the money including a car, attorney Michael Parlow said.
He is also working and plans to repay the $67,300 he spent, Parlow said.
Bucci was prepared to make a lump sum repayment for more than $10,000 to Wells Fargo on Thursday, Parlow said, following a preliminary hearing before Bensalem District Judge Joseph Falcone where Bucci waived charges of receiving stolen property and theft of property lost by mistake to Bucks County Court.
The offenses are third-degree felonies that carry a maximum seven-year jail sentence, if convicted. But Parlow says his client will apply for a special first-time offender program. If he stays out of trouble, the charges against him will be expunged.
Bensalem police contend that Bucci knew the money that appeared in his Wells Fargo bank account in March was not his. At the time, his account balance was $35.46, according to a probable cause affidavit in the case.
But rather than return the money, he allegedly went on a month-long spending spree that ended with him being arrested and charged with two felonies in May. Among the items police say Bucci bought are airline tickets, a used car, clothing, food, gas, furniture, and a dog, according to the affidavit.
In mid-April, an internal investigation by Wells Fargo found that a teller at the bank’s Hellertown branch typed in the wrong account number and deposited $69,300 worth of checks from a lawyer’s office into Bucci’s account instead of his client’s account.
By that time though, police say, Bucci had withdrawn all but $2,000 of the amount accidentally transferred into his account.
Parlow says that his client didn’t just use the money for himself; he helped family and friends, so in his mind it didn’t seem like stealing.
“He’s a young kid that did a childish thing, but he recognized that he was wrong,” he added.
A Bensalem woman is facing homicide and related charges in a high-speed, drunken-driving accident in Bristol Township last year that took the life of a 30-year-old Montgomery County woman.
Bristol Township police say Pauline Redonggo-Beffert, 46, of Iris Avenue, had a blood alcohol content of .086, which is just above the state’s .08 limit for driving, when her 2010 Chevy Camaro slammed into the back of a motorcycle, killing Janel Cook of Elkins Park and injuring Michael Martell, 43, of Philadelphia.
Police allege Redonggo-Beffert was driving at 92 mph in the minutes before the fatal crash. She was traveling at between 62 and 82 mph at the moment of impact, according to court documents.
The accident happened July 31, 2011, on the 6600 block of New Falls Road shortly before 2:30 a.m. when Redonggo-Beffert’s Chevrolet Camaro collided with the back of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle, police said.
The force of the crash threw Martell, the motorcycle’s driver, and Cook off the bike. Martell sustained pelvic fractures, a foot fracture and a dislocated shoulder. The Camaro ran over Cook, who later died from her injuries, police said.
The speed limit on that portion of New Falls Road is 40 mph, police said.
In November, the case went before a Bucks County grand jury, which returned an indictment against Redonggo-Beffert earlier this month on charges of criminal homicide, homicide by vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, homicide by vehicle, DUI and related offenses. Bucks County Assistant District Attorney Matt Hoover, who is prosecuting the case, declined to say why the the grand jury was needed.
Redonggo-Beffert was arraigned Wednesday morning before Bristol District Judge Frank Peranteau and released after posting 10 percent of the $100,000 bail.
A police investigation alleges that Redonggo-Beffert and her then-boyfriend, John Hughes, 50, of Philadelphia, had been drinking beer at a VFW post in the area of Frankford Avenue and Welsh Road in the city’s Northeast section. Redonggo-Beffert told police she allegedly drank four beers; Hughes drank five, according to the presentment.
After leaving the VFW, the couple drove to Hughes’ home, then Redonggo-Beffert’s home before heading to Redonggo-Beffert’s father’s home in Levittown when the crash occurred, according to the grand jury presentment.
A couple who witnessed the fatal crash told police that they encountered the speeding Camaro about 15 minutes before the accident. They had been driving east on New Falls Road when they noticed the Camaro following them so closely that the passenger worried it would strike their car, according to the presentment.
While the two cars — both Camaros — continued traveling on New Falls Road, Redonggo-Beffert’s car moved side to side and flicked its high beams on and off, according to the grand jury presentment.
As the two cars approached Durham Road — where their side of New Falls Road opens to two lanes — the passenger testified that the Camaro behind them “took off” quickly to the right and continued speeding. The witness also noticed that the driver was a woman with short hair.
The couple said that the other Camaro sped through a steady red light at Bristol-Oxford Valley roads, which is about 1¼ miles from the crash scene, according to the presentment and probable cause affidavit.
Before 2 a.m., Martell had picked up Cook from the Bristol Township bar where she worked. Earlier in the evening Martell admitted he also drank three or four alcoholic beverages that night, but his BAC was .03, according to the presentment.
They rode about 10 miles, Martell testified, before heading back to the bar where Cook worked. Martell was driving east on New Falls Road in the right-hand lane preparing to stop when he heard “tires on the road” behind him. Before he could react, his motorcycle was struck from behind and he was thrown.
As he was on the ground, Martell testified that he heard a male voice — later identified as Hughes’, saying, “She never saw you coming,” according to the presentment.
In a statement presented to the grand jury, Redonggo-Beffert said the motorcycle was in the left lane and switched to the right lane near the McDonald’s on New Falls Road, and she couldn’t stop in time to avoid contact, according to the indictment.
In grand jury testimony, Hughes claimed that the motorcycle “came out of nowhere” and cut right in front of their car. He testified he did not see the vehicle in the left lane nor did he see it switch lanes.
Hughes testified that Redonggo-Beffert’s driving was “fine to him,” according to the presentment.
There was nothing unusual about her massage appointment on that May afternoon — until she felt her chiropractor’s fingers inappropriately touch her, a 70-year-old woman testified Wednesday.
“I was thinking, I can’t believe this is happening,” said the woman, who was the lone witness in a preliminary hearing for Dr. Matthew Lieber, 47, of Yardley, who is charged with felony and misdemeanor aggravated indecent assault.
Following an hour-long hearing, Morrisville District Judge Michael Burns held Lieber for trial in Bucks County Court in Doylestown on both charges.
The woman reported Lieber to police a few days after her May 17 appointment with him at the Yardley Chiropractic and Massage Center on Main Street in the borough. Bucks County detectives investigated.
The woman testified that she was stunned when Lieber inappropriately touched her during the hour-long session.
The woman said that she had been a patient of Lieber’s for a couple of years and regularly scheduled therapeutic massages with him to treat medical conditions such as arthritis and migraine headaches.
She said he never touched her inappropriately before that day.
The woman told the court that her 4:30 p.m. appointment for a full-body massage was going as usual until she felt Lieber’s fingers in her genital area.
“I looked straight at him and said, ‘I need you to stop what you’re doing,’” she said.
Lieber’s response was surprising, she testified.
“You have to know I’ve always been attracted to you,” the woman testified Lieber told her. “You’re a very beautiful woman and very sweet.”
The woman said that she ended the massage and did not respond to what Lieber said.
Under cross examination by Lieber’s attorney, Sara Webster, the woman said that she paid Lieber for the session, let him kiss her on the cheek and hug her and made another appointment, which she didn’t keep.
Webster asked the woman to recall if she regularly exchanged hugs, kisses or handshakes with Lieber, but prosecutor Nate Spang objected — calling the questions irrelevant — and Burns did not allow the question.
Webster asked the woman if Lieber had given her previous indication that he was attracted to her.
“Have you ever talked about dating?” Webster said.
“Each other?” the woman replied, sounding surprised.
Generally, Webster answered.
“No,” the woman replied.
Records show that Lieber has been a licensed chiropractor in the state since 1995, and recently renewed his license. No disciplinary action has been taken against him, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State. He remains free on $150,000 unsecured bail.
After the hearing, Webster said her client has a “stellar” reputation in the community.
“He was absolutely shocked she made this allegation that anything was improper,” Webster said. “Absolutely everyone is in support of him. He has a stellar character.”
A Bristol Township man with a suspended driver’s license has been charged in a hit-and-run accident that fatally injured a 23-year-old Bristol Township man last month.
Jonathan Simmons, 27, of Atkins Avenue, surrendered to Middletown police Tuesday and was arraigned on charges of accident involving death or injury, reckless endangerment and three summary traffic violations: driving while suspended, failure to stop and render aid and failure to notify police.
The most serious charge is accident involving death or injury, a third-degree felony that carries a maximum seven-year prison sentence, if convicted.
Police say that Simmons, a father of two with a third child on the way, was driving his father’s red 2001 Cadillac Deville westbound on the 4900 block of New Falls Road about 12:30 a.m. July 21 when he allegedly struck John Rearick.
Rearick was hit from behind as he walked in the road’s travel lanes, according to a probable cause affidavit. He suffered massive head trauma and a ruptured spleen and died of his injuries July 28.
A passing motorist who stopped to help Rearick told police that a red Cadillac sedan left the scene and made a left turn into the Plumbridge section of Levittown.
Bristol Township police followed a trail of fluid from the damaged car from the scene and through Plumbridge to Veterans Highway before they lost it, according to Middletown police Lt. Ken Mellus.
Two days after the accident, Middletown police obtained surveillance video of the crash from Penn Jersey Auto, which is across the street from the accident scene.
The black-and-white footage confirmed what the passing motorist initially described: a car consistent with a Cadillac sedan pulled around Rearick after hitting him and seconds later turned left into Plumbridge, according to the affidavit.
Despite the video, Middletown police had no leads directing them to Simmons as a suspect, Mellus said.
Victim John Rearick
On Tuesday, Simmons, accompanied by his attorney, Louis Busico, turned himself in to Middletown police and admitted to driving the Cadillac at the time of the accident, the affidavit said. The car was turned over to police as evidence.
At Simmons' arraignment before Middletown District Judge John Kelly Jr., Busico said that his client works two jobs -- at a local dairy and a liquor store. He has no criminal record, though he has several traffic violations, including two prior convictions for driving while suspended or revoked, according to a check of online criminal records.
With Bucks County Assistant District Attorney Matt Hoover’s approval, Kelly released Simmons on $500,000 unsecured bail, but as part of his release he is forbidden to drive.
Following his arraignment, Simmons declined comment.
No friends or family of Rearick's attended the arraignment. A family member said the Rearicks were not allowed to be at the arraignment and that Simmons was escorted out another door at the police station while the family met with the district attorney.
Later Tuesday afternoon, no one was at the Rearick’s home in the Junewood section of Levittown.
PECO Energy announced that it will immediately suspend installation of its new “smart” electric meters after some local fire officials attributed them to the cause of a handful of recent house fires.
In response to the safety concerns, PECO will also begin replacing some of the installed Sensus model meters with an L&G model starting Saturday to see if it performs differently, spokeswoman Cathy Engel Menendez said Wednesday. An extensive analysis of the meter data collected so far will be completed before the replacement work begins, she added.
Engel Menendez did not immediately know how many of the 186,000 smart meters installed in Bucks and Northeast Philadelphia will be replaced with the new model.
“We believe that installing the L&G meters may possibly prevent the issue that we’ve had with the overheating in the future,” she said.
Simultaneously, PECO will work with Sensus to develop safety features that will be remotely installed on existing replaced meters, Engel Menendez said.
The first safety feature will automatically shut off electric service if any issue with the meter is detected. PECO will begin installing the feature on existing Sensus meters starting Aug. 26 and it should take five days to complete.
A second safety feature will be available starting Sept. 6 and will include an early alarm signal that will immediately alert PECO if a problem is detected and allow the utility to immediately respond to prevent an escalation, Engel Menendez said. That feature will also take five days to install on existing new meters.
Fire marshals in Bensalem, Bristol Township and Upper Makefield have attributed the new smart meters as the source of a few recent house fires in their communities.
Earlier this week, PECO Energy said it is aware of fire-related problems in 13 meters it has replaced since March, though it maintains the meters are not faulty. In its completed investigations into the fires, PECO found that existing conditions with equipment on the customer’s side can cause the smart meters to overheat.
PECO technicians also have repaired more than 4,500 pieces of meter-related equipment during meter replacements in an effort to reduce any potential fire risks with the devices, Engel Menendez said.
PECO is required to replace the meters of its 1.6 million business and residential customers in the Philadelphia region and part of York County as part of a 2008 Pennsylvania energy efficiency law. The law requires all Pennsylvania utilities to update meter technology to encourage energy conservation.
Some Bucks County fire marshals say newly installed “smart” electric meters appear to be the cause of a handful of recent house fires, though PECO Energy says its investigation shows the meters are not faulty.
The Upper Makefield fire marshal determined a recently installed electric meter box was the origin of an accidental fire that moderately damaged a home Sunday morning at Canal Run West and Lookout Lane in Washington Crossing. A failed positive connection on the meter apparently caused the fire, according to an Upper Makefield Police press release.
PECO Energy is aware of fire-related problems in 13 of the 186,000 meters it has replaced so far in Bucks and Northeast Philadelphia since March, PECO spokeswoman Cathy Engle Menendez said. In its completed investigations, the utility has found that existing conditions with equipment on the customer’s side can cause the smart meters to overheat.
Electric meters are considered PECO property while the equipment where the meter attaches is considered the customer’s responsibility, Engle Menendez said.
PECO workers were on site at the Upper Makefield fire Sunday, but that investigation is ongoing, Engle Menendez said. She did not know how many of the 13 investigations are outstanding.
To address the potential fire risk, PECO has trained its meter technicians who are replacing the meters to look for issues that could cause an overheating problem, inspect the meter and the customer’s equipment and make any necessary repairs before completing the meter replacement, Engle Menendez said.
So far, PECO technicians have repaired more than 4,500 pieces of equipment during meter replacements, Engle Menendez said.
PECO is required to replace the meters of its 1.6 million business and residential customers in the Philadelphia region and part of York County as part of a 2008 state energy efficiency law. The law requires all Pennsylvania utilities to update meter technology to encourage energy conservation.
The meter-related fires are on the minds of Bucks County fire marshals, who say they’re aware and monitoring the situation in their towns. Bensalem and Bristol Township have recently reported fires that started in the newly installed electric meters, according to several fire marshals.
Lower Makefield Fire Marshal Kevin Richards said he has seen recent fires that started at or near the electric meters in the township, but he can’t comment on whether the meters were the cause. Richards added that he has talked to PECO about the situation and he was told they’re working on the problem.
“Everybody is concerned,” said Falls Fire Marshal Richard Dippolito, who says his town hasn’t seen any problems yet.