Stories written by Jo Ciavaglia, award-winning multimedia newspaper reporter at the Bucks County Courier Times in Bucks County, a suburb of Philadelphia, Pa.
For more information about Jo, check out her Linked-in profile, as well as her Facebook fan page, Instagram and Google+
A typical meal at Panera Bread doesn’t cost nearly $3,000.
But that is what one local customer at the popular chain restaurant ended up paying after her wallet was stolen in August at the restaurant in Lower Southampton.
The story the victim told police about how her wallet was snatched sounds familiar, not only to Lower Southampton police but also law enforcement from the Philadelphia and New Jersey regions who have experienced Panera pickpockets.
One local detective said he’s been told that the thieves are professionals targeting Panera restaurants. But a spokeswoman for the St. Louis company said say its corporate office and franchisee, which operates bakery-cafes in Bucks and surrounding counties, are not aware of any organized rings targeting its customers.
Since November, pickpockets have hit customers at the Panera in the 200 block of Street Road at least five times, according to published reports.
Middletown police said one report of a wallet theft at the Panera Bread in Langhorne Square had been reported so far this year and that no suspects have been identified. Bensalem police said they don’t have a problem with pickpockets at the Panera on the 2600 block of Street Road near Parx Casino. The Courier Times was unsuccessful in reaching police in Warrington and Willow Grove, where other Panera Bread restaurants are located.
Across the Delaware River in Burlington County, N.J., a number of pickpocket incidents have been reported at Panera Bread. A location on Centerton Road in Mount Laurel has been hit five times since November, according to police reports.
What victims frequently report is that the chairs they were occupying and on which their purses were hanging were bumped by someone — usually a woman. Victims also report wallets stolen out of unattended purses.
In at least two Lower Southampton cases, the suspects moved a table toward a victim’s chair until it was against it, then reached into the targeted person’s purse and took the wallet, said Detective Eric Landamia said.
The next thing the customer knows, thousands of dollars in charges appear on their missing credit or debit cards within hours after they were stolen, police said.
The pickpockets almost never make a purchase at the restaurant. Rather the suspect sits at a table as if waiting for someone, Landamia said. In some cases, the thieves work in pairs.
Lower Southampton police last month issued an arrest warrant for Dawn Tamika Johnson, 40, of Philadelphia, in connection with the August theft, but arrests are rare. Most of the time the suspects escape in rental cars registered under phony names, according to police.
Johnson is charged with 38 felonies including 16 counts of identity theft and 13 counts of access device fraud in the Aug. 14 theft.
Johnson allegedly bumped her chair into the victim’s chair several times while the two were seated at neighboring tables at the Panera Bread, according to a probable cause affidavit. The woman later discovered her wallet, containing four credit cards, was missing.
The woman then found out that 16 transactions had been attempted using her stolen credit or debit cards -– all on Aug. 14 during a two-hour window, according to police. Seven transactions totaling $2,781 went through, according to court documents. The transactions were made at Lowe’s, Target, Finish Line, Macy’s and Walmart in Bensalem and Philadelphia.
Police identified Johnson as a suspect after viewing surveillance footage from some of the stores where the victim’s credit cards were used.
The recent theft mirrors a pattern also seen at the Lower Southampton restaurant.
Police said a wallet theft attempt was foiled Feb. 28 after the suspect was caught in the act by the victim’s son. The suspect had dropped her purse near the victim’s and, while retrieving it, reached in the other woman’s purse and took out a wallet. After she was confronted, the suspect returned the wallet and left the restaurant.
The next day, a customer of the same restaurant reported that her wallet had been stolen by two women and her stolen credit cards used at four stores, for a total of $2,477 in purchases, police said.
Four days later, pickpockets hit the same restaurant, stealing a wallet from a purse hanging on the back of a chair and running up $3,500 in unauthorized charges, police said.
Those theft cases remain unsolved, police said.
“Apparently it’s a full time job for most people,” Landamia added. “You almost have to get them in the act.”
It was a bittersweet reunion Tuesday between Dusk and her family.
The 7-year-old black pup with a white muzzle will be back in the fenced-in yard she fled four days earlier.
But she will be going home with little hope of regaining her ability to see after someone likely beat her in the head so hard her eyes popped out of their sockets.
“We’re happy to have her back,” Marie Waligorski said. “We never expected to get her back this way.”
The reunion took place at the CARES specialty veterinary clinic in Middletown, where Dusk was treated after police found her Friday morning in the parking lot of a business in the 5300 block of Emilie Road -- about 300 feet from her Bristol Township home.
Jessica Finnell took in the injured Dusk
Since Friday evening, Dusk had been living with Jessica Finnell, a Bucks County emergency dispatcher who handled the first 911 call about the dog, whom she called Lady. Finnell suspected the dog was not a stray. She was well-behaved, appeared well fed and was housebroken.
When Finnell returned the dog Tuesday, she said it was clear that they were her family.
“She was excited, tail-wagging. She seems happy that they were there,” Finnell said. “I’m happy for her. I miss her like crazy, but I’m happy she is back in her home and can have some of her normal life back.”
At home, Dusk prefers spending most of her time in the backyard, where she has a dog house, said Waligorski’s son, William Schilling, who adopted Dusk as a puppy when living in Tennessee.
The family’s backyard is fenced-in, between 4 and 6 feet high, he said. When Dusk managed to scale it, they built the fence higher, Schilling said.
What the family didn’t know -- until after they reviewed footage from home surveillance cameras -- is that Dusk recently started jumping over the fence again -- usually about 2 a.m., and returning before 7 a.m., when the family woke up, Schilling said.
When Dusk didn’t come to the door for her food Friday, the family realized something wasn’t right, Schilling said. They looked for her Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the neighborhood, but the trail went cold, Schilling said.
Waligorski said she hasn’t slept since Dusk went missing.
“She is a terribly sweet dog,” her son added.
The family didn’t know that Bristol Township recently added Saturday hours for animal control calls, so they didn’t call until Monday. That same day, Waligorski was online and saw a story about an injured dog found in Bristol Township, near her home.
When Waligorski saw the photo of the dog, she knew immediately it was Dusk, Schilling said.
After meeting with the family, reviewing video and pictures of the dog and checking the county dog license number, township Animal Control Officer Tom Morris confirmed Tuesday that “Lady” is “the same dog.”
That someone could intentionally hurt a 40-pound dog is unimaginable, the family said.
“It’s so crazy to know it was so close to home. It’s something you don’t really imagine happening,” Schilling said. “It’s really hard to take it all in that someone could really do that to a creature that has been nothing but loving.”
The CARES vets put Lady’s eyes back into their sockets, but her left eyelid had to be heavily stitched to keep the eye from falling out again, Finnell said. There is zero chance she’ll regain her sight in that eye, Finnell said she was told.
There is also little chance she will see again out of her right eye, Finnell said, adding that's what she was told by a CARES ophthalmologist who examined Dusk on Tuesday
But the surgeon who also examined the dog on Tuesday said its jaw is lining up and she might not require plates to hold together her fractured skull while it heals.
Finnell said the vet who first examined Dusk on Friday said the animal had multiple skull fractures but no road rash or abrasions that would suggest being hit by a car. Rather, the vet said, it’s more likely someone hit the dog in the head with a baseball bat.
Finnell said she will continue handling the online ChipIn account she opened Sunday to raise money for Dusk’s ongoing medical care. As of Tuesday afternoon, nearly $2,500 had been raised, according to the website.
“I will give them whatever is needed, as it is needed, and if there are funds left in the account after her care I’ll donate to a (similar) cause,” she said.
Meanwhile, Morris is determined to find the person responsible for beating Dusk. He visited nearby businesses to review video surveillance tapes Tuesday.
“When I find the person or persons who did this, I am definitely going to prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law,” he added.
A Bucks County SPCA humane officer said the agency is not involved in the case, which is being handled by Bristol Township police.
The first time that emergency dispatcher Jessica Finnell overheard the 911 call during her shift last Friday morning she thought, that can’t be right.
Another dispatcher for Bucks County Emergency Services took the report from a man who said he found a dog with both eyes hanging out of the sockets. Finnell’s job that day was notifying police about it.
But the call had to be a mistake, she thought. Either that or the dog had to be dead.
She later learned from police that the 40-pound mutt with a black coat and white muzzle was alive, and alone.
Not for long though.
Don’t let them put her down, she told the Bristol Township animal control officer who retrieved the dog from the parking lot on the 5300 block of Emilie Road and took it to the CARES specialty veterinary clinic for treatment.
“I’ll do whatever I can to help her,” she said.
That included taking the newly blind dog into her Warminster home.
“She is phenomenal,” Finnell said Monday night, as she knelt on the living room floor of her apartment where she fussed over the dog she has named Lady. “She is amazing. She is unbelievable. I totally fell in love with her.”
The vet estimated Lady is 7 years old and she shows signs of having been nursing, though it is unclear how recently, Finnell said. Lady is well-behaved and housebroken.
“I don’t know what happened with her, but she is perfect,” Finnell added.
At CARES, a veterinarian was able to put Lady’s eyes back into their sockets, but her left eyelid had to be heavily stitched to keep the damaged eye from falling out again, Finnell said. There is little chance she will see out of the eye again. The right eye isn’t much better, either.
At the moment, the vet believes she is completely blind, Finnell said.
The vet found multiple skull fractures, but no road rash or abrasions that would suggest the animal was hit by a car. Finnell was told by the doctor it’s likely someone hit Lady in the head with a bat, which can pop out the eyes.
Bristol Township covered about $300 worth of medical expenses for Lady. That’s the cost covered for a stray. The money covered some initial care, the stitches, the eye relocation, some pain medication and some antibiotics. But additional medical care will likely be necessary.
Lady may need plates to hold her skull together until it heals, Finnell said. She also will need a CT scan and ultrasound of her abdomen to rule out other internal organ damage. Her left eye may need to be removed.
Finnell will be taking her back to CARES on Tuesday to see an ophthalmologist and surgeon.
She has started a fund through ChipIn, a website, to cover Lady’s ongoing medical care and more than $1,200 was raised in the first 24 hours. Next, she plans to look into opening a dedicated bank account for Lady as well. She can hardly keep up with the emails she has received from people asking about Lady.
“Thanks for caring so much to take care of her. Although she was so unfortunate to have experienced this, I am sure what you do for her from this point out will far exceed the damage,” one woman wrote on the comments section of the ChipIn website promoting Lady’s cause.
“It’s a sad testament that such evil people exist in this world. Thanks so much, Jessica for the love you have shown to Lady! You’re both in my prayers!” another woman wrote.
The newspaper was unsuccessful Monday in reaching either Morris or police to see if they have developed any leads or information into who might have beaten Lady.
Meanwhile, Finnell, a single mom of two who works 10- to 12-hour shifts, is adjusting to a new routine with a new family member. She hasn’t had a pet in the house since she was a child.
The first two days Lady mostly rested, but on Monday she started exploring the house, even went outside for a walk, Finnell said. She is eating and drinking without any problems. A representative with the Blind Dog Rescue Alliance contacted Finnell with advice for helping Lady adjust to a newly sightless life.
Finnell is emphatic that she wants to do what is in Lady’s best interest, even if it means giving her up to someone with more experience caring for a sick and blind dog. Though she isn’t sure she could bear letting her go. Since coming home with Finnell, Lady is often at her side.
“I would love to have you,” she said, looking at Lady.
A Lower Makefield man who police stunned six times with a stun gun after he allegedly attacked his caretaker and then three police officers nearly a year ago is headed to trial.
Ernest Tkac, who turned 69 this month, waived charges of aggravated assault, simple assault, reckless endangering and resisting arrest Tuesday before Morrisville District Judge Michael Burns. Now his case heads to Bucks County Court in Doylestown.
The District Attorney’s Office withdrew three other aggravated assault charges and a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge.
Lower Makefield police allege that Tkac, whom they say is a diagnosed schizophrenic, attacked his live-in caretaker about 5 a.m. Nov. 9 causing facial injuries.
When police arrived at Tkac’s home in the first block of Rita Road for a domestic call, they heard a man inside yelling and recognized the voice as Tkac’s from a previous call at the same address.
After a police officer knocked on the locked front door, identifying himself as police, the door suddenly swung open and Tkac allegedly charged at him, hitting him in the back of the neck with his forearm and pushing him down the steps.
Tkac then fell to the ground after another officer shot him with a stun gun in the upper shoulder and lower back, according to a probable cause affidavit. A few seconds later he got up again. A third officer joined the other two in attempting to take Tkac into custody, but he still fought, police said.
Tkac began flailing his arms and legs when the officers attempted to cuff him, police said. He rolled onto his stomach and tucked his arms and hands under his body.
He was again stunned but continued to resist attempts to take him into custody, keeping his hands and arms tucked under his body so police were unable to gain control of his wrists, police said.
After being stunned a third time, Tkac rolled himself onto a flowerbed and downhill, breaking away the stun gun wires, according to court documents. Tkac got to his feet and ran down a driveway and into the street.
A police officer chased after him and fired the stun gun a fourth time, striking Tkac in the back, court documents show. Tkac fell face first in the front yard of his home but still fought off police, they said.
So the stun gun was used a fifth time and police finally got the handcuffs on Tkac’s wrists but could not bring Tkac’s arms behind his back, the affidavit shows.
Once Tkac was stunned a sixth time, officers immediately pulled his arms to the back and took him into custody, according to court documents.
During the struggling with Tkac, one police officer broke his right finger, and two other officers had numerous scratches on their hands, police said.
Tkac was admitted to Lower Bucks Hospital in Bristol Township for an evaluation, police said. He’s now in Bucks County prison in lieu of 10 percent of $50,000 bail.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email: jciavaglia@phillyBurbs.com; Twitter: @jociavaglia
The Pennsylvania Senate anticipates saving a little more than $2.5 million this fiscal year under its new health benefit plans, while the House anticipates $3 million in savings. The House’s expected savings come even though the new three-year medical benefits contract includes a rare and expensive health plan option that was eliminated by the Senate earlier this year.
The new medical and health benefit contracts for lawmakers and legislative staff approved by both branches of the state Legislature took effect July 1, when the state fiscal year started. So far, the Senate only has released information about the new medical benefits plans that cover the majority of its workers.
Neither the Senate nor the House will know the exact costs of the coverage until after the fiscal year ends on June 30. The Senate’s savings estimate is based on the elimination of the high-cost indemnity plan and other copay changes.
Indemnity plans are virtually nonexistent in the private sector today. With indemnity plans, the insurer generally pays 100 percent of medical bills after the insured meets an annual deductible. Plus, the insured can see any health care provider who accepts the insurance. There is no provider network of medical professionals.
The popularity of indemnity plans declined dramatically in the 1990s, as businesses converted to managed-care plans with cost-saving features, such as provider networks, pre-certifications and referrals. Only 5 percent of active state employees in the U.S. were enrolled in indemnity plans as of 2009, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Pennsylvania taxpayers cover most of the cost of health benefits for employees of the Legislature. Employees contribute 1 percent of their salaries toward medical insurance premiums. For the average lawmaker, that’s about $800 a year.
Calculating the total legislative staffer contribution isn’t so easy. Neither the House nor Senate could provide an average employee salary.
But a 2011 Associated Press analysis showed the average House GOP staffer earned $36,000 and contributed $360 a year for the medical coverage, and the average Senate Democratic Caucus staffer earned $52,000, and contributed $520 a year.
The holdup with details of the House’s medical benefits information is blamed on its new insurer, Highmark Blue Shield, which also insures Senate employees, House Chief Clerk Anthony Barbush said. Highmark replaced Capital Blue Cross, which had insured most House employees.
The Highmark contract, which covers the majority of House employees, has yet to be finalized. When it is, it can be posted on the state Treasury website, Barbush said.
“According to our benefits office, because this change in benefits plans took place for such a large number of employees in such a short time frame, the contract has been held up in the Highmark legal office,” said Brooke Wheeler, the House’s Right-to-Know law administrator.
A total of 1,816 House employees and 869 Senate employees received health benefits as of June.
The Highmark medical plans include the choice of an indemnity plan or a Preferred Provider Organization plan, Barbush said. The House also eliminated one of the two HMO options available last fiscal year.
The House renewed an HMO plan through the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center that enrolled 18 employees last year. Those premiums increased 14 percent this year over the 2011-12 fiscal year to $5,181.24 for individual coverage and $14,533.20 for family coverage.
The House last year spent $44.2 million on medical, vision, prescription and dental benefits for active and retired members. Barbush was unable to provide a cost breakdown for current House employees only.
House employee medical and drug plan premiums ranged from $4,543 to $20,420 last fiscal year, depending on the plan and the number of people covered.
In a joint statement, spokesmen for the Democratic and Republic House leadership said that the House has worked quickly to “head off skyrocketing healthcare costs with the primary goal of ensuring the most efficient use of tax dollars.”
The House has also slashed health care and operating costs more than $15 million over the past few years, added spokesmen Bill Patton for the Democratic leadership and Steven Miskin for the Republican leaders.
“The new contract essentially offers identical coverage for less cost — including significantly lower rates for the indemnity plan — altogether saving the taxpayers about $3 million (this year),” the statement said. “We will continue working towards further health care savings.”
Meanwhile, the Senate attributes the largest part of its projected savings to the elimination of indemnity medical plans as of April 1 for active and retired employees. The Senate also: increased copays for doctor visits (from $5 to $10 for regular visits; from $10 to $20 for specialists; and from $25 to $50 for emergency room visits without hospital admission); and increased copays for brand-name prescription drugs for which no generic is available (from $12 to $25) and for brand name drugs for which a generic is available (from $25 to $40).
The Senate had projected “at least” a 15.4 percent increase in indemnity plan costs this year had the option been continued, according to Chief Clerk Russell Faber.
“We have recently been told that the preliminary projection for our PPO cost increase this year will be in the neighborhood of 5 percent,” Faber said.
The combined Senate plan changes are “conservatively” estimated to save $10.3 million over four years, with most of the savings the result of dropping indemnity plans, Faber said. The Senate’s new medical, vision and prescription drug contracts expire June 30. The dental contracts for both the House and Senate expire June 30, 2014.
In the current fiscal year, annual premiums for Senate drug and medical coverage combined range from $9,322 for an individual to $26,183 for a family, according to the Highmark contract. Under the previous indemnity plans, the premiums (including drug coverage) last year ranged from $12,566 for individual coverage to $35,453 for a family.
The total cost of providing medical and supplemental health benefits for active and retired Senate employees for the previous fiscal year was roughly $24 million. Of that, a little more than $17 million reflected costs for active employees, with $12.2 million spent on medical and hospital benefits. About half of the $12.2 million was attributed solely to indemnity plan premiums.
Forty-seven percent of current employees were enrolled in the indemnity plan option before it was eliminated, compared to 53 percent in the PPO, Faber said.
“Even though the active (employee) PPO plan had 15 percent more people enrolled than the indemnity plan, the total cost of the PPO plan was 42 percent less than the total cost of the indemnity plan,” he added.
For instance, prior to the change, the individual premium for an indemnity plan was $859.57 a month — more than double the $393.17 monthly cost of the individual PPO premium, Faber said. The reason for the difference is the PPO plan had a healthier population, Faber said.
To merge into a single PPO plan for all Senate employees, Highmark had to account for the less-healthy population of indemnity plan members, Faber said. As a result, individual PPO premium rates jumped to $583, but the rates for former indemnity plan members dropped to $599.39 a month.
“While the PPO costs have increased, the overall plan costs will decrease due to the old indemnity plan trending at a higher rate than the PPO plan — 15.4 percent increase versus 9.5 percent increase,” Faber said.
Faber declined to release information about the type of health plans in which individual senators are enrolled, though it did release that information in 2011. Faber said the information on the senators is exempt under the Right-to-Know law, and was mistakenly released previously.
Following the release of that information last year, three Bucks County lawmakers — Sen. Tommy Tomlinson, R-6, Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-12, and Rep. Katharine Watson, R-144 — switched from indemnity plans to the cheaper PPO option during the 2012 open enrollment period.
As of last year, all Bucks County and eastern Montgomery County representatives were enrolled in PPO health plans, except Rep. Kate Harper, R-61, who was enrolled in an indemnity plan.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email: jciavaglia@phillyBurbs.com; Twitter: @jociavaglia
Did You Know?
To read the entire "State of Health" series and ongoing coverage visit this link.
Only one of the 50 Pennsylvania senators is not receiving state health benefits this year: Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lancaster, Dauphin, Chester, Berks and Lebanon).
Only two of the state's 203 state representatives are not receiving state health benefits this year: Sheryl Delozier, R-Cumberland, and Rep. Martin Schmotzer D-Allegheny.
Alert neighbors are being credited with the arrest of two Bristol men whom police say burglarized a pharmacy during the power outage following Hurricane Sandy and hundreds of prescription medications -- mostly painkillers.
Shortly before 5 p.m. Tuesday, Michael Whiteley, 25, of Fillmore Street, and Matthew Vickers, 30, of Pine Street, used a hammer to smash the front window of the Mill Street Pharmacy, Bristol police said.
Since the hurricane knocked out power in most of Bristol, the pharmacy’s alarm didn’t work, Bristol Sgt. Joe Moors said.
Suspects Michael Whiteley and Matthew Vickers
“And the suspects knew that,” he added.
Once inside, the pair stole 500 tablets each of acetaminophen and 2 mg alprazolam, 100 tablets of 10 mg methadone, five bottles of cough syrup with codeine and 1,500 tablets of 5 mg and 7.5 mg hydrocodone, according to a probable cause affidavit and Moors.
Police were able to catch the suspects seven blocks away on the 700 block of Pond Street, after neighbors offered police a description of the suspects and a direction of travel, Moors said.
“I credit the residents from the Mill Street neighborhood for getting involved and helping with the quick apprehension of the suspects,” he added. “At a time when all the power is out, people are looking out for each other.”
Whiteley and Vickers were arraigned Wednesday before Newtown District Judge Donald Nasshorn on charges of burglary, theft, manufacture, delivery or possession with intent to manufacture or deliver and conspiracy. They were both sent to Bucks County prison in lieu of 10 percent of $100,000 bail apiece.
Lower Bucks Hospital’s top executive has confirmed that the hospital will close its cardiac rehabilitation unit by the end of the month and said more changes involving patient services are likely at the Bristol Township hospital.
The elimination of services doesn’t violate the lease/purchase agreement between Prime Healthcare Services and the Bucks County Redevelopment Authority, because that document doesn’t dictate how the for-profit Prime runs the hospital, said redevelopment authority Director Robert White.
Prime leases the hospital building and property, which is owned by the redevelopment authority.
Under a separate asset purchase agreement, the California-based hospital chain is only required to continue operating Lower Bucks Hospital as a community hospital with an “open and accessible” emergency department for at least five years, White said.
The closure of the cardiac rehab unit is expected to impact three employees, who might be able to transfer to other positions, Lower Bucks Hospital CEO Peter Adamo said Friday. The news closure follows Thursday’s announcement that 30 hospital employees were being laid off.
Adamo said every area of the hospital is under scrutiny for potential savings, cuts or elimination, and low-volume and expensive services that patients can find elsewhere — such as open heart surgery — could be eliminated.
“Every aspect of this hospital is suspect right now,” he added. “If you are losing $1 million or more a month, something has to change.”
One of the more “ominous” situations involves the hospital’s maternity unit, Adamo said. It delivers about 1,000 babies a year, loses about $1 million a year and employs fewer than 100 workers.
The private OB-GYN practice that provided 60 percent of the hospital’s maternity patients recently stopped referring patients to Lower Bucks, putting the program in danger of closure, Adamo said. Hospital officials are attempting to find a new obstetrics group to fill the gap, but that could prove futile.
“It’s pretty ominous right now,” he said.
The layoff situation has captured the attention of the union that represents hospital nurses and other health care employees there. Union representatives were scheduled to meet Friday with Adamo to discuss the future.
“Of course we have concerns (about Prime),” said Mark Warshaw, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals. “We’re hoping for the best.”
Warshaw said a positive sign is that Prime hasn’t closed any hospitals it has acquired.
The layoff news took some employees by surprise, since an Aug. 28 press release announcing the sale to Prime stated that the company would maintain all services, including the ER, maintain all union contracts, “hire” all current hospital employees, and invest at least $10 million over five years in capital improvements.
Prime Healthcare Services officially took over operations of Lower Bucks Hospital Oct. 11, a transfer approved by the redevelopment authority. County taxpayers remain responsible for the debt service on the $14 million loan that let the hospital emerge from bankruptcy in January.
In 2010, the Bucks County commissioners agreed to let the redevelopment authority borrow the money by issuing bonds backed by the county and the hospital’s dedicated .05 percent from Pennsylvania table games revenue at Parx Casino in Bensalem.
Under that arrangement, the redevelopment authority took title to the property as collateral and the hospital committed its right to the future gaming revenues to pay the debt service on the bond.
Lower Bucks Hospital had agreed to repay the $14 million with interest over 20 years and buy back the property. The total amount the hospital promised to repay would be almost $30 million. It’s unclear if Prime has agreed to the same terms.
Prime is bound to the lease/sale agreement that requires that it lease the property until Dec. 15, 2030, White said. Prime also agreed to pay off the hospital’s remaining liabilities in its bankruptcy reorganization plan, including a $1.2 million note to unsecured creditors and a $2 million mortgage on a surgery center.
Prime Healthcare Services operates a chain of 20 hospitals, most on the West Coast. It specializes in buying financially challenged hospitals.
Lower Bucks struggled financially for years, bleeding more than $17 million from its reserve over the four years prior to filling for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January 2010. That year, the hospital brought in less money than it spent overall, with a more than 6 percent loss of overall revenue and a more than 7 percent drop in patient revenues, according to a 2011 analysis by the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council.
At a county Orphans’ Court hearing in September, former hospital CEO Albert Mezzaroba reportedly testified that, without the sale to Prime, the hospital would be forced to close immediately — just nine months after emerging from bankruptcy.
Mezzaroba reportedly told the judge that months after emerging from bankruptcy, the hospital encountered cash flow problems because two major suppliers demanded pre-payment for goods; others demanded payment on delivery.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email: jciavaglia@phillyBurbs.com; Twitter: @jociavaglia
The Bucks County district attorney has ruled that a Middletown police officer was justified when he shot and killed a 64-year-old man last month after he came at officers with a knife.
"So far as I am concerned, this certainly appears to be a case of suicide by cop," District Attorney David Heckler said Tuesday. "I, frankly, find that distressing for police."
But one of Michael Devine's sons says he still has questions and no one from Middletown police or the DA's office has spoken to the family about the investigation.
"I haven't seen anything. I haven't talked to anybody," Tony Devine said. "All these things transpire without any insight for the families. We're kind of stuck at the mercy of whatever investigation they're doing."
West Lincoln Highway home where Mike Devine lived
Heckler said he sent a letter to Middletown's police chief advising him that the Feb. 23 shooting of Devine was ruled "entirely" justified, under the circumstances.
The ruling was made after Heckler reviewed Middletown's internal investigation and a separate county detective-led investigation was concluded. Both Middletown police officers involved in the incident provided voluntary statements.
Heckler also reviewed recordings of the 911 calls that Devine made during the early morning hours, reporting a burglary in progress at his home in the 1600 block of West Lincoln Highway.
When Middletown police arrived at the home, Devine -- wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt with the hood covering his head and holding a large kitchen knife -- approached Joseph Schuck's marked SUV, Heckler said.
As Devine approached the car, he threatened to kill the patrolman, according to the DA.
Schuck "retreated" 30 feet in the patrol SUV, placing it between him and Devine. The officer got out of the car, drew his service weapon and ordered Devine to drop the knife and get on the ground, Heckler said. Devine ignored the commands and continued approaching the officer, Heckler said.
At this point, a second Middletown patrol car arrived on scene. Patrolman Joseph Buckley saw that Devine was still headed toward Schuck with the knife raised. He drew his service weapon and also ordered Devine to stop and drop the knife.
Devine then started coming toward Buckley and, when Devine was within 12 to 14 feet of the police officer, Buckley fired a single shot, Heckler said.
The bullet traveled through Devine's hand and into his chest, fatally wounding him. He was pronounced dead a short time later at St. Mary Medical Center in Middletown.
Later, police found no indication of a burglary at Devine's home.
After the shooting, Tony Devine, a Bristol Borough councilman, said his father recently had been depressed because of health problems and was worried that he was becoming a burden on the family.
His father retired about four years ago from a custodian job at Neshaminy High School because of health problems, his son said. He worked for the district for 15 years -- a job he loved, Devine said.
Michael Devine experienced chronic pain from a neck injury, Tony Devine said, but had weaned himself off prescription pain medication within the last six months. To his knowledge, his father wasn't taking painkillers, Devine said.
Heckler said there was no indication Devine was behaving "erratically," slurring his words or that he otherwise appeared to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
After the shooting, Tony Devine said a county detective allowed him and his mother to listen to a recording of the 911 call his father made. "After hearing the tape ... it opens up more questions than anything else,' he added.
As of Tuesday, Devine said no one from the DA's office had called to tell him the shooting was ruled justified.
"To me, I'm just very shocked that all these investigations and reports are transpiring without the family being aware of anything," Devine said. "We're still mourning. You have a family who was devastated and you don't know what is going on."
Since 2009, at least seven Bucks County police officers have been involved in shootings. The most recent incident happened earlier this month, when Bensalem police shot at a 25-year-old man after he called 911, then answered the door and allegedly pointed a gun at the officers.
No one was injured in that incident. The suspect who pointed the gun, John Breese of the 1600 block of Neshaminy Valley Drive, has a preliminary hearing scheduled next month on two counts of first-degree felony aggravated assault and related charges. Heckler's office is reviewing Bensalem's reports on the shooting.
A Middletown police officer shot and killed the father of a Bristol councilman early Thursday, after the man came at officers with a knife, the Bucks County district attorney confirmed.
Michael Devine, 64, of the 1600 block of West Lincoln Highway was shot once in the chest shortly after 3:30 a.m. and died a short time later at St. Mary Medical Center in Middletown.
Mike Devine and his granddaughters
"At this juncture, nothing has indicated anything but a justifiable shooting," DA David Heckler said about his office's investigation. "But we'll dot all our ‘I's and cross all our T's."
Heckler is not releasing the name of the officer who fatally shot Devine, and he did not know if the officer had been taken off duty.
The Courier Times was unsuccessful in reaching Middletown police Chief James Kane immediately for comment.
Devine called 911 to report a burglary in progress at his home, but when a police officer arrived at the scene Devine approached the officer's marked SUV with what appeared to be a large knife, Heckler said.
The officer got out of the vehicle, which then was between him and Devine, drew his service weapon and told Devine to drop the knife, officials said.
As this was happening, another Middletown police officer arrived, saw Devine with the knife and attempted to distract him, police said. Devine then started to approach the second officer with the knife raised, Heckler said.
The second officer drew his service weapon and shot Devine once in the chest.
Heckler said there was no indication of a burglary at Devine's home. He expects his office will make a ruling on the shooting within a week.
The latest shooting is at least the sixth involving a Bucks County police officer since 2009. The most recent incident happened in December when a Bensalem police officer shot and wounded a knife-wielding suspect on a domestic call. The district attorney ruled the shooting justified.
Devine is the father of Bristol Councilman Tony Devine, who said that his father recently had been depressed because of health problems.
Tony said that his father sounded down when he last spoke with him a few days ago. His dad worried he was a burden to the family.
"He was looking for something to feel good about," Devine said. "I really feel my dad was looking for some type of answers."
His father retired about four years ago from a custodian job at Neshaminy High School, a job he loved, because of health problems, Devine said. He had worked for the district for 15 years.
Michael Devine experienced chronic pain from a neck injury, Tony Devine said, but had weaned himself off prescription pain medication within the last six months. To his knowledge, his father was not taking painkillers, Devine said.
Since his retirement, his father spent more time with his 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
"He loved being around his grandchildren," Devine said.
He said his father was a fair man who did the right thing.
Tony Devine recalled one time years ago when his father was injured in a minor car accident with a teenage driver. Someone tried to persuade him to lie about an existing injury to increase his insurance award. But his father refused, saying that he wasn't going to put "this kid through the ringer," he said.
"He was a very good man, a good heart, very solid upstanding citizen. He truly cared about people," Devine added. "My dad was a sweetheart."
Recent Bucks County shootings involving police officers
Bensalem police fired one shot that hit a Bensalem man who allegedly assaulted his mother on Dec. 8 and then he allegedly lunged at police with a knife above his head, knocking a second officer backwards and down stairs. The suspect Victor Arango was arrested and taken to Aria Health's Torresdale Campus, where he was treated. The Bucks County District Attorney ruled the shooting justified.
Bristol Township police shot and injured Robert Ritsky, 46, after he allegedly pointed a shotgun at police officers outside his Newportville Road home. Ritsky, who police said appeared intoxicated, initially had pointed the gun at himself, but then he turned it toward police. The Bucks County District Attorney ruled the shooting justified.
A Plumstead police officer shot and killed a fugitive who authorities believed was armed, following a high-speed police chase that ended in a crash.
The officer fired the shot that killed Brian Simmermon, 40, of Riegelsville, because he believed Simmermon, who had been reported to be carrying a loaded handgun, was turning to fire a bullet at him.
During a foot pursuit following the chase and crash, the officer saw the only other policeman involved in the foot chase collapsed on the ground. Dockery initially feared his fellow cop had been shot. The Bucks County District Attorney ruled the shooting justified.
A Bristol police officer shot and killed a 69-year-old Bristol man who pulled a knife during a traffic stop.
An investigation into the shooting determined that Charles Smith had a blood alcohol level more than three times the legal limit the night he was shot and killed on April 9. Police responded to a 911 call that Smith was weaving in traffic and hit several parked cars. When officers approached the car and ordered him to get out, he ignored the orders.
When one of the police officers broke the driver's side window and put his hand into the car to turn off the ignition, Smith reached into the center console and pulled out an 8-inch chef's knife and began making slicing motions at the officers.
Another officer reached in and pushed on Smith's shoulder, but he continued to struggle. That's when the first officer shot Smith once in the chest. The Bucks County District Attorney ruled the shooting justified.
A Middletown police officer shot and killed a 21-year-old man on April 24 after he threatened the officer with a brick.
Police responded to a report that a man had attacked a 17 year-old girl outside the food court at the Oxford Valley Mall, choking her and sticking his fingers in her eyes. The suspect, Tommy Lovett, of Middletown, ran from mall security. A Middletown police officer arrived at the scene and told him to stop, but Lovett ran into a wooded area.
When the officer caught up, Lovett swung a tree branch at the officer, then climbed over a large fallen tree. The officer followed and was preparing to use pepper spray to subdue Lovett. Lovett then picked up a brick.
The officer, whose back was against a tree, told Lovett to drop the brick, but he did not stop and raised the brick over his head. The officer fired one shot that didn't hit Lovett or cause him to drop the brick. The officer then filed two more shots that hit Lovett. The Bucks County District Attorney ruled the shooting justified.
A Bristol Township police officer fired a single shot, killing a suspect who charged at her wielding a piece of broken glass.
The incident occurred at a Mill Creek Road apartment complex on Feb. 25. Randall Pagano, 26, was schedule to meet with his probation officer at his apartment. When Pagano refused to let the probation officer in, he contacted police for backup. Two Bristol Township officers responded.
Pagano did not answer the door, so a maintenance worker unlocked the door. A large barricade of furniture blocked the doorway. The police and probation officer squeezed through the barricade and searched the apartment. They found Pagano in a door-less closet in the bedroom wearing only underwear.
Pagano did not respond to their commands to leave the closet and was pepper sprayed twice before he punched out an empty glass aquarium in the closet. He grabbed a large shard of glass, which the police officers ordered him to drop. He did not.
Pagano lunged at the three men, and one officer fired once hitting Pagano in the chest. The officers administered First-Aid before Pagano was taken to St. Mary Medical Center and pronounced dead. The Bucks County District Attorney ruled the shooting justified.