Monday, June 24, 2013

Bucks, Montco bank robberies approach 4-year high

Posted: Sunday, June 23, 2013

Across the nation, bank robbers have followed the path of floppy disks and CD players, but not in Bucks and Montgomery counties.
Holdups here are poised to hit a new four-year high, according to FBI statistics.

While security experts say the only thing easier than robbing a bank is catching a bank robber, that isn’t always the case. So far roughly half of the 27 bank robberies in the two counties reported since October are unsolved, according to the FBI.
Overall, bank robberies in Bucks and Montgomery counties have increased 9 percent since October 2010, according to FBI statistics. That’s bucking a national trend of heists plummeting over the last decade. If the pace continues at a moderate rate this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, the two counties will exceed the 39 bank robberies reported in fiscal year 2010, a Philadelphia FBI supervisor said.
What is driving the uptick is a matter of speculation, security and law enforcement experts said.   
Illustration by Morgaine Ford Workman
The counties’ proximity to Philadelphia — and convenient access to major roads — gives robbers fast getaway routes, said Joe Bushner, an FBI supervisor whose territory covers Montgomery and Bucks. Suspects may avoid banks near where they live since it increases the chance they’ll be identified.
Also, robbing a bank is easier than ever. No weapon is necessary. The proliferation of bank branches in high-traffic places such as supermarkets also lets criminals conduct surveillance and examine escape routes with a greater chan ce of going unnoticed, Bushner added.
Security and law enforcement experts, including Bushner, strongly suspect that just a handful of criminals are behind the recent robbery wave here.
“All you need is a few extra serial guys and you just went up by 10, potentially,” he said.
Overall nationally, bank robberies have dropped at a rate faster than other crimes over the last 20 years. Last year, 3,870 bank robberies were committed, according to preliminary FBI data. That’s down from more than 5,000 from a year earlier — and roughly half the number reported in 2004, according to recent FBI statistics.
Make no mistake, though, experts say, although losing popularity, bank robbery remains a more profitable crime than burglary or convenience store robberies.
The average take in a bank heist was a little more than $7,500 in 2011, according to the most recent FBI statistics available. In 89 percent of the 2011 robberies, a suspect escaped with money, and only 20 percent of the time some or all of it was recovered by authorities.
Another motivation to rob a bank may be that rarely are first-time offenders caught, according to a former FBI bank robbery expert. If they keep robbing banks, the odds of capture increase, but the FBI estimates an average of 40 percent of U.S. bank robberies are not solved.
Some law enforcement officials, though, believe serial robbers are likely behind some of the unsolved bank heists. But there isn’t enough evidence to pursue charges against them when they’re finally caught in connection with another one.
In Bucks and Montgomery counties, 38 percent of bank holdups committed in fiscal year 2012 remain open cases, according to the FBI.
“It is a high,” added Robert McCrie, a professor of security management at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. “They beat the system with this crime.”
Serial bank robbers are becoming more common, security experts say. The FBI believes that at least two serial bank robbers are responsible for most of the current bank heists in Bucks and Montgomery counties.
The FBI in Philadelphia believes the most recent Montgomery County heist committed June 19 at a Wells Fargo Bank in Lower Moreland is the same suspect who robbed a Sovereign Bank in Cheltenham on June 13 and May 28, as well as two other Philadelphia banks last month.
The suspect descriptions in each case were similar including that he wore the same Nike hoodie, similar face coverings and used the same gun in four of the five robberies, an FBI spokeswoman said.
At least four unsolved holdups in Bucks and Montgomery counties since last year are attributed to the work of an armed gunman who frequently wears a jacket and tie, and ski mask or pillow case with eye holes cut out.
Two bank robbers convicted last year — Albert Jannett of Bensalem and Fawzi Atra of Northampton County — were responsible for nine robberies last year, including ones in Bucks and Montgomery counties.
“You can’t just do one. If you do one, you’ll continue,” said William Rehder, a former bank robbery expert for the FBI. “Bank robbery is an addictive crime. All this is very, very exciting. When they actually score the money, the feeling of exhilaration is equal or better than the high they get from some of the narcotics.”
McCrie has studied bank robbery and those who commit it for 30 years. He says it has evolved from a largely violent crime to a more passive one, and more than half the time a weapon is never displayed. Even the number of robbers who threatened to use a weapon has dropped from 3,431 in 2003 to 2,331 in 2011 nationally.
But the crime has pitfalls. The people most likely to be killed during a bank robbery are not customers, staff or police, but the robber, according to recent FBI statistics. The last bank customer killed in a holdup was in 2003; the last time a bank employee was killed was 2008.
“(Bank robbers are) losers really. It’s an irrational act,” McCrie added. “They can commit several crimes successfully, and if they continue they are absolutely going to be apprehended.”
Bank robberies last experienced a surge in the 1970s, a time of great social unrest in the United States when the serious and violent crime rates were increasing, McCrie said. The trend continued into the 1980s when a rise in drug addiction continued fueling a need for fast cash, he said.
By the 1990s, frazzled financial institutions started taking steps to make themselves less desirable targets.
Banks installed bullet resistant barriers at teller windows and access control units that limited the number of customers in the bank, they made wider use of dye packs, implemented no hats and sunglasses policies and stationed customer greeters near entrances. Tellers were trained to immediately hand over the money, a strategy aimed at getting the robber out of the bank quickly.
The strategies worked somewhat. U.S. bank robberies dropped from a peak of nearly 9,400 in 1991 to 7,465 in 2003, according to FBI statistics.
More recently, technology has played a key role in protecting banks and capturing suspects, said Doug Johnson, vice president of risk management police for the American Bankers Association in Washington, D.C.
Today more than half of the nation’s bank branches participate in an American Bankers Association’s Bank Capture system, a database that allows financial institutions to report, share and analyze robbery and other crime information in real time, Johnson said.
Better computer technology also has made distributing suspect photos and information easier and faster. More banks are investing in nearly undetectable tracking devices.
Advances in high-resolution imaging have allowed law enforcement to more quickly identify — and apprehend — bank robbery suspects often within hours or days after the crime.
Two of the three robbery suspects apprehended in Bucks County cases since January were identified after their photos were released to the media, police said.
Michael Riccitello, 56, of Trenton, who is charged in a March 23 Falls robbery and an April 13 attempted robbery in Morrisville, was developed as a suspect after a friend recognized his picture in a local newspaper, police said.
Another deterrent that law enforcement frequently attributes for the decline involves changes in federal sentencing guidelines. Unlike other crimes, bank robbery suspects can be tried in both state and federal court without risk of double jeopardy.
And newer federal guidelines leave judges little leeway in sentencing, unless they write a separate opinion on why they are straying from the guidelines, Rehder said. Before 1987, federal judges determined the length of a defendant’s prison sentence, which could have ranged from five to 20 years, and convicted bank robbers could have been eligible for parole after serving only one-third of their sentence.
The changes also increased penalties for using a weapon during a bank robbery and prior criminal history.
As a result, most convicted bank robbers now serve more prison time and at least 80 percent of their sentence before parole eligibility, Rehder said.
“You’ll get the money,” he added, “but you’ll also get jail time.”

Video: Accident leaves one man dead, another facing DUI charges

One man was killed and another man seriously injured in March after the car they were riding in left the road, tore down an embankment off Route 13 in Falls and landed in Martins Creek.  Police suspect the driver was intoxicated after he told police that he and his passenger had started drinking at 9 a.m. that day.

Video: Welder's torch responsible for bizarre cell phone tower fire

Bensalem cell phone tower ignites June 21, 2013 after welder's torch sets fire to insulation while performing maintenance work on Byberry Road tower.  The fire forced evacuations of nearby residents and township workers for at least two hours and closed Byberry Road between Hulmeville and Knights roads until late Friday night.  The fire left the cell tower leaning and had to be dismantled.  Video by Jo Ciavaglia

Police: Gun Bristol Twp. man allegedly used in shooting purchased before conviction

Posted: Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Bristol Township police believe the gun a 67-year-old man used to allegedly shoot his grandson following a fight in their home was legally purchased.
Alfred Fluck is not allowed to own a gun because of a 1980 felony burglary conviction. Police Lt. Terry Hughes said Tuesday that police believe the gun belongs to Fluck, but it was purchased before his conviction.

Fluck is accused of shooting — then stabbing — his grandson Edward Connelly, 23, following a fight Sunday night between the two men that allegedly occurred after the younger man came home intoxicated and wanted to ride his scooter. Family members reportedly tried to stop him due to Connelly's intoxication.  
Albert Fluck
Fluck was arraigned Monday night before Lower Southampton District Judge John Waltman on two counts of aggravated assault, simple assault, illegal possession of a firearm and recklessly endangering another person. He was sent to Bucks County prison in lieu of 10 percent of $1 million bail.
Bristol Township police say the incident started around 9:30 p.m. According to a probable cause affidavit, Connelly was allegedly intoxicated and tearing up the family’s home.
But before police arrived at the home in the 800 block of Linton Street, they received word from the Bucks County radio room that the dispute escalated to a stabbing, according to the affidavit. Connelly, his mother, stepfather and Fluck live in the home, police said.
What police didn’t learn until after they arrived at the scene and talked to witnesses is that Fluck allegedly shot Connelly in his back at point-blank range and later allegedly stabbed him.
Witnesses said Connelly had returned home drunk and he was acting "argumentative and belligerent" with family members, according to court documents. Witnesses told police that Connelly wanted to ride his scooter but family members were attempting to stop him because of his intoxicated condition, said Lt. Terry Hughes.
While Connelly and his stepfather were arguing, police say, Fluck came out of his bedroom, and he and Connelly started a shoving match that escalated into a fist fight.
When Connelly’s mother tried to break up the fight, she was punched in the face, police said, adding she was not treated for the injury.
Fluck, who fell during the struggle, left the room. The fight appeared over and Connelly started calming down, court documents said.
But Fluck wasn’t finished, according to officials.
He returned to the living room with a gun and shot his grandson, who was on his knees with his face against the couch, police said. Fluck allegedly fired a second round from the 32-caliber handgun near Connelly’s neck, but missed.
"(Connelly’s mother) told police that her son did not need to be shot by her father as no lives were in danger," according to the affidavit.
After shooting his grandson, Fluck returned to his bedroom and shut the door, police said. He did not say why he allegedly shot Connelly, police said.
After he was shot and injured, Connelly got up and walked outside the house briefly, police said. He returned to the house where he went to his grandfather’s bedroom and broke down the door, court papers said.
The two men started fighting again. This time, though, other people intervened. But before the men were separated, Fluck pulled out a folding knife and stabbed Connelly in the back, police said.
Connelly was taken to Aria Health’s Torresdale campus where he underwent surgery to remove a bullet from his abdomen. He was still hospitalized as of Monday morning, police said.
Fluck, who suffered facial injuries, was also taken to Lower Bucks Hospital for treatment of an undisclosed health problem but he was released Monday, police said.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Social media taking a big role in finding missing people

Posted: Monday, June 3, 2013 

When a 20-year-old Northampton man vanished last year, local police used traditional investigation tools: air and ground search teams, media alerts and missing person fliers.

The family and friends of Brian Shipley, though, turned to cyberspace, creating the Facebook page “Please Help Find Brian Shipley” to gather information about his whereabouts. A friend purchased a Web domain in his name and launched a website that generated more than 25,000 views before Shipley reappeared alive and well three months later.

Earlier this year, the disappearance of 19-year-old Middletown resident Christopher King prompted an outpouring of online activity. A post of King that appeared on the Facebook page for Carl Sandburg Middle School, where he once attended, was shared nearly 10,000 times before King was located alive six days later.
Illustration by Morgaine Ford Workman
The power of social media surfaced again last week after family and friends of a 25-year-old former Middletown man missing in Arizona turned to the outlet to circulate information, gather leads and organize search parties. The “Brian Histand Missing Person”Facebook page has generated more than 1,300 likes as of Friday, four days after it was created.

The law enforcement community, too, is increasingly using social media outlets in missing person cases recognizing the value of crowd-sourcing, the practice of obtaining services or content by soliciting large groups, especially online communities. Police are not only using Twitter and Facebook to disseminate information about missing people, but also they monitor missing individuals’ social media account activities to obtain information on potential whereabouts.
“It’s not just my eyes and the family’s eyes, it’s their friends, their friends, their friends and their friends,” Temple University assistant journalism professor Susan Jacobson said. “It’s really a powerful way to find something outside of your immediate environment, your immediate network.”
Recently the French government announced that its police agencies have abandoned in-progress searches for adults who are missing, but not endangered such as crime victims. Police are instead directing families to turn to social media.
Among the most early, and prolific, users of social media to locate missing people is the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which has collaborated with Amber Alert to distribute information on missing and endangered children.
While it may be remembered for its brief, but memorable, milk carton campaign, the NCMEC has maintained a Facebook account with a page for each of the 50 states and pages for the U.S. districts and territories since 2011. It also uses electronic billboards, Twitter, Myspace and YouTube, said Bob Lowery, executive director of the agency’s missing children’s division.
Due to the combination of social media proliferation and the Amber Alert system, missing children are found faster than ever today, said Lowery, a former law enforcement officer. When the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children opened in 1984, the recovery rate for missing children was about 66 percent, he said. Today the recovery rate is 98.5 percent.
“I’d rather follow up 1,000 tips that were bad in the hopes of finding that one that leads to the recovery of a child,” he added.
Locally, the Bensalem Police Department has enthusiastically used social media to enhance police investigations, including those involving missing persons. The department regularly sends out alerts on Twitter and Facebook seeking the public’s help.
Most recently, the department launched a smart phone application that provides the public with department contacts, lets individuals submit a tip, commend an officer, or ask a question.
“Any way of broadcasting information out about a crime, any media source that we can get out to the public as rapidly as possible, is a major advantage than what we had years ago,” Bensalem Sgt. Andrew Aninsman said. “We’re successful when we put anything on Facebook and Twitter.”
The Northampton police are in the process of developing a dedicated social media site and hope to open a Facebook page and possibly a Twitter account within the next few months.
Northampton Detective Sgt. William Klein believes that the combination of old-fashion police investigation and online resources ultimately helped police locate Brian Shipley and verify that he was safe.
“In this specific investigation, the use of social media outlets by the friends and family of our missing person was extremely instrumental in disseminating relevant information to the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time,” Klein said. “Individuals that were unlikely to have been associated with (Shipley), and may not have been interviewed, were able to contact us.”
Not everyone in law enforcement has embraced social media as an investigation tool. Among the skeptics is Falls Lt. Todd Pletnick.
While information is critical, particularly in a missing person investigation, Pletnick pointed out that social media tips are essentially hearsay, unfounded or, at worst, misleading. For police to investigate bad information wastes not only time, but resources, he said.
The impersonal nature of online resources also makes Pletnick uncomfortable. The online venue may attract attention seekers who are inclined to embellish or make up information, he said.
“People are less likely to lie to your face. We want to see eyeballs and lips move, rather than speculation over these social media things,” Pletnick added. “Everyone wants to be a street detective, then (police) are on the hook for every piece of that information.”
But investigators such as Bensalem’s Aninsman pointed out that online tips pose no greater accuracy risk than the ones called into hotlines, a tool that police have used for years.
Social media doesn’t replace old-fashion investigation, but provides the community an avenue to get involved, he added.
“As part of our job we get information that isn’t valid,” Aninsman said. “I’d rather get information that turns out to be invalid than no information at all.”

Woman's conscience sparks confession of cookie and coffee theft from church

Posted: Friday, May 31, 2013

Catholic guilt struck a Penndel woman a week after she allegedly stole food and drinks from a church in the borough.
Police don’t know if the woman is of the Catholic faith, but the church she allegedly burglarized is. She was choked with guilt, Penndel police said.

So she confessed to Penndel’s police chief a week after she and a man broke into Our Lady of Grace and stole cookies and other food-related items, he said.
The 51-year-old’s alleged secret began to crumble on May 10, when Chief Joseph Sciscio was speaking with her about an unrelated landlord/tenant issue. During the conversation, the woman told him that something was bothering her, according to a probable cause affidavit.
She told police that she and Michael Scuderi, 38, of South Bellevue Avenue, had forced their way into the South Bellevue Avenue church on May 2 and stole food that belonged to the church’s Alcoholics Anonymous program, the affidavit shows.
The woman, who isn’t being named because she hasn’t been charged in the burglary yet, then handed over to Sciscio some of the stolen items, including coffee, Oreos and bulk packets of sugar, according to court documents. Scuderi, she said, still had some of the food at his home, the court records show.
The chief then spoke with a crossing guard on duty the day of the burglary who recalled speaking to a man who was carrying a large orange bag accompanied by a woman. He said something to the man in reference to the bag.
“You’ve got a full load there,” the crossing guard remembers saying, according to police.
A church worker also said that other items had recently gone missing from the church. They included bulk coffee, creamers and more cookies, the chief said.
The day after the cookie confessional, a search warrant was executed on Scuderi’s home, and two coffee containers believed to be church property were found, police said. Scuderi family members also told police that the coffee was stolen from the church, court papers show.
Besides the food items, two Suboxone film packets were found in Scuderi’s bedroom, as well as suspected drug paraphernalia, according to police. Suboxone, a narcotic, is used in the treatment of opiate addiction.
Scuderi was later arrested and arraigned Thursday before Penndel District Judge Daniel Baranoski on charges of burglary, theft, receiving stolen property and related offenses. He was sent to Bucks County prison in lieu of 10 percent of $50,000 bail.
The woman was arrested on drug-related charges days after her burglary confession and will also face charges similar to Scuderi’s, in a few days, Sciscio said.

Hulmeville residents want sex offender treatment center closed

Courier Times staffer named Journalist of the Year in Pennsylvania

Posted: Saturday, May 18, 2013

Courier Times Staff Writer Jo Ciavaglia on Saturday won the coveted Journalist of the Year award from the Pennsylvania Women's Press Association.
The award and $250 was presented to Ciavaglia at the PWPA's luncheon awards ceremony at the Hilton Harrisburg. Her selection was based on the number of awards she collected this year in the annual PWPA contest.
The competition is especially significant since journalists complete with their peers in all newspaper circulation categories. Ciavaglia was up against writers employed by the largest metropolitan papers in the state including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Associate Editor Jackie Massott, who is Ciavaglia’s supervising editor, complimented Jo’s hard work as a breaking news reporter for Calkins Media.
“Jo is dedicated to getting to information that affects the everyday lives of our readers,” Massott said. “She is tenacious in her pursuit of a story, yet caring enough to get people to open up. Although she gets a thrill being the first to alert readers to breaking news, her goal is to inform with accuracy. She truly deserves to carry the title of state reporter of the year. We are proud of her.”
Ciavaglia earned five writing awards from PWPA in addition to the Journalist of the Year honor:
First Place, Outdoors/Environmental Coverage: “Fracking Law: Gag or Guarantee?”
First Place, Health and Medical reporting:"Doctors can put brakes on driver's licenses"
Second Place, Religion: “It’s the end of the world — but not as the Maya know it”
Second Place, Enterprise/Investigative: “Child Abuse Law is Painfully Lacking”
Honorable Mention, General News Story: “Suspended but still driving.”

This year, PWPA had more than 230 entries from more than 50 journalists from across the state.
Jo Ciavaglia

Judge says dog owner snookered him, warns others

Posted: Thursday, May 16, 2013 

Call it the case of doggie deception.
A Bucks County district judge says he fell for a dog owner’s story that her wiener dog had a right to be in the courtroom with her for medical reasons. Now Judge Daniel Baranoski is warning his county colleagues to be on the lookout for similar phony service dog claims.

On Tuesday, the woman appeared before Baranoski in his Penndel courtroom for a hearing on a traffic ticket. As she waited for her case to be called, she sat in the gallery with a dachshund on her lap.
When Baranoski questioned the dog’s presence, the woman answered that he was a service dog.
What service does the dog provide? Baranoski asked.
“Psychological,” the woman said, then she handed the judge a business-card size paper stating the dog was “properly registered” with the “United States Service Dog Registry.”
Baranoski, who admits he didn’t know much about service dogs, let the woman and dog stay, but heard her case next to get the dog out of the courtroom.
Later, the judge and his staff learned that the documentation the woman provided is not required under the Americans with Disabilities Act. And the organization that issued it is considered questionable, according to service dog handlers and organizations.
The incident shines a light on a growing national problem involving healthy, able-bodied dog owners who circumvent the Americans with Disabilities law to get the all-access public pass reserved for service and assistance dogs, advocates for the disabled and service dog experts say. Such deception is making life harder for people with disabilities who rely on service dogs and face additional scrutiny and skepticism from business owners.
Complicating matters is the same federal law that allows service dogs to accompany people with disabilities also lets virtually anyone claim to qualify. Falsely claiming a service dog isn’t illegal, either. The law also doesn’t require that service dogs be registered, certified or undergo specific training.
As a result of such loopholes, online businesses offering to identify or register “service dogs” — sight-unseen, often for a fee — have flourished, said Corey Hudson, president of Assistance Dogs International North America, which represents 95 accredited service dog training groups in the United States.
With a service dog designation, dog owners can bring their pet into restaurants, courtrooms, hotels and restricted housing. They pets also can fly for free in airplane cabins rather than cargo holds, and ride on public transportation.
“We firmly believe that the majority of people that purchase this assistance dog paraphernalia are, in fact, violating the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Hudson wrote in a letter to the U.S. Attorney General’s Office about the problem.
The newspaper was unsuccessful in reaching the United States Service Dog Registry for comment Wednesday. But according to its website, the organization provides “free and voluntary online self-registration” of service dogs. It also sells service dog identification products, including a $50 documentation package.
The group describes itself online as “an independent, non-governmental, privacy-conscious and secure service ... for disabled individuals who qualify under the Americans with Disabilities Act to use a service or assistance dog.”
The website also states that registrants are required to “pass through its ‘Education Gateway,’ ” which requires reading and accepting six registration terms, including “minimum training standards for a service or assistance animal” and “the definition of a service or assistance animal.”
Under Americans with Disability Act regulations, a service dog is individually trained to work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with physical, sensory, psychiatric or other mental disability. The tasks the dog performs must be directly related to the person’s disability.
Since 2011, the law has specifically disqualified dogs whose only function is to provide emotional support or comfort.
While businesses are allowed to ask people with service dogs if the dog is required for a disability and what tasks the dog is trained to do to mitigate the disability, they cannot ask that a person to disclose a disability, said Toni Eames, president of the International Association of Assistance Dog Partner.
A clever person who knows the law and its limitations can easily get around the questions, especially since many people are reluctant to question someone with a service dog, Eames said.
“Around the time of the Westminster Dog Show, suddenly you see many people who started to fly with so-called service dogs,” Eames added. “The airlines couldn’t do much about it, as long as a dog is really well-behaved.”
Behavior is the biggest giveaway that a service dog is legitimate, Hudson said. Properly trained service dogs won’t appear restless or jump or bark. They obey the owner’s commands, perform tasks and lie down passively when instructed. Businesses can exclude service dogs that are not behaving properly or if the presence constitutes a fundamental alteration of the business or poses a direct threat.
Service dog training is a long process, said Hudson, also chief executive officer of Canine Companions for Independence, the largest nonprofit provider of assistance dogs.
Certified service dogs in programs like his are trained for two years, generally starting when they are puppies. The graduation rate is low because standards are so high. Consider that last year Canine Companions for Independence graduate 255 service dogs, Hudson said.
The wait for an assistance dog is generally six to 18 months, which is why some people turn to private training or home training, said Eames, who is visually impaired and uses an assistance dog. Those individuals also sometimes buy generic service dog vests available online, she said.
“I don’t know how we strain out the phonies,” she added. “People have come up to me and said, ‘I’d like to take my dog into a restaurant or fly with my dog, how do I get one of those (guide dog) harnesses?’ I usually answer them in a snarky way like, ‘Try going blind.’ “

Shunning praise, Lower Southampton man hails his kids, firefighters

Posted: Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Tom Tacconelli ran into this home and saved 2 neighbors

He ran into a burning home to save two neighbors, but what Tom Tacconelli wants to emphasize is the heroic role that his 8- and 10-year-old kids had in the Christmas Day rescue.
While outside during the late morning of Dec. 25, the Lower Southampton man smelled something strange. The odor wasn’t like smoke from a chimney or wood stove, he said, it was something less pleasant.

He, along with his son and daughter, went to investigate. Soon Tacconelli saw smoke rising from the shingles of his neighbor’s roof. As he ran into the burning house, he yelled for his kids to run to their Dalton Road home and call 911.
That is exactly what they did.
“They did a great job when it came to reacting in a time of need, and they did what they were taught,” he said. “For as scared as I was, I can only imagine how fearful they were. But they held it together.”   
Firefighters at Christmas Day 2012 fire
While his children notified police and firefighters, who responded in minutes, Tacconelli kicked down the front door and pulled out an injured woman who was in the living room.
He then returned to the house to try to rescue an elderly man on the second floor, but smoke and fire pushed him back. So he filled trashcan lids with water and tried to extinguish the fire.
When first responders arrived, Tacconelli — covered in soot — simply returned home and let firefighters and police take command. They rescued the man on the second floor and put out the fire.
The woman was severely injured but survived. The man clung to life for five months before recently succumbing to his injuries. The fire was caused when an oxygen tank exploded while a resident was smoking a cigarette. A flash fire followed.
Looking back, Tacconelli believes what he did wasn’t heroic. It was a split-second decision on his part. He doesn’t like talking about the fire, and he hasn’t, except with some family.
Tacconelli says his role that day was small. He insists on heaping credit on who he called the real heroes — the volunteer firefighters and police officers who risked their lives that day. “They were great,” he said.
Lower Southampton wanted to recognize Tacconelli along with the volunteer firefighters for his efforts that day, but he wouldn’t hear of it. That bothered his longtime friend and neighbor, Sam Pozzuolo.
“To me, I’m honored to know the man,” Pozzuolo said.
So he submitted Tacconelli’s name for the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania annual Good Samaritan Hero Award without telling his friend. So when the Red Cross notified Tacconelli about the honor, he initially refused it, said Jane Ward, the Bucks County liaison to the Red Cross chapter.
Pozzuolo had to talk him into accepting the recognition.
“When I did talk him into it, he said, ‘I want my kids to come up too because they called 911. If they hadn’t done that (firefighters) wouldn’t have gotten here so soon.’ ”
So when Tacconelli accepts his award Thursday morning as one of eight Bucks County residents honored as “Real Heroes,” his kids will be beside him.
“It’s not about recognition, it’s about doing the right thing,” Tacconelli said. “Any person in that neighborhood would have done the same thing in a heartbeat.”

Home invasion victim testifies: “I told him, ‘I ain’t got no $10,000’ ”

Posted: Wednesday, May 15, 2013 

Nothing appeared out of the ordinary when he and his wife arrived home after spending the evening at a 76ers basketball game, the Bristol Township man said.
Until he saw his wife jump backwards and drop her purse in the living room.
Out of the kitchen emerged a stranger wearing a hoodie with the hood pulled over his head, gloves on his hands, and a black mask covering the lower half of his face. He pointed a handgun at them.
He wanted money. A lot of money, the 47-year-old man testified Tuesday at a preliminary hearing for two Bristol Township men — one described as a close family friend — charged with the Feb. 23 home invasion and extortion plot.
Money, the man says that he didn’t keep in the house.
“I told him, ‘I ain’t got no $10,000’ ” he testified. “I told him I had my money in the bank.”   
Kalyn Walker (left) and Jimmy Wilson
The homeowner was among four witnesses Tuesday who testified during the hearing for Kalyn Rahshun Walker, 22, of Fleetwing Drive, and Jimmy Lee Wilson, 29, of Bath Road. They are charged with robbery with immediate threat of injury, theft, extortion, terroristic threats, unlawful restraint and conspiracy.
Wilson, police say, wasn’t in the house during the invasion but did play a role in the crime.
Bristol Township police allege that Walker, the masked intruder, used a handgun to force his way into the Crabtree Drive home on Feb. 23, tied up the family, stole $56 and threatened to harm the man’s children if he didn’t produce $10,000 on Monday.
Police say the couple’s 17-year-old daughter was home alone when Walker knocked on the door and, once inside the home, ordered the teen to take him to her parents’ bedroom where he rummaged through a dresser, while asking the girl where her parents kept the safe.
On the witness stand Tuesday, the man said that when Walker confronted the couple in the living room he ordered them to empty their pockets; he then threw their cell phones onto the floor in an attempt to break them.
Next, Walker handed the wife and daughter rope and told them to tie each other up, then he led them to a bathroom, the man testified. He returned to the living room and demanded that the homeowner produce $10,000, he said.
After searching the bedroom for money, Walker told the homeowner that he had better find $10,000 by Monday afternoon or he’d kill his children, the man testified. He told the man he’d provide further instructions for where to drop the money.
Walker then allegedly ordered the man to remove his shoelaces and use them to tie his hands before leading him into the same bathroom with his wife and daughter. He told them to count to 30 before leaving the room, the man testified.
He added that, as promised, on the following Monday morning, he received a call from the gunman saying he was to put $10,000 cash into a black knapsack and leave it in a commercial trash bin by a hardware store off Route 413 and Ford Road. The first call was followed by more calls and text messages from the same number, including one upping the demand to $20,000, he told the court.
“Did you recognize the voice as the same individual in your house?” Bucks County prosecutor Mark Furber asked.
“Yes,” the man replied.
But under cross examination by Walker’s court-appointed attorney, Niels Ericksen, the man admitted that the only part of the gunman’s body that he could see were his eyes — though the man insisted he recognized them as Walker’s.
Ericksen also questioned how the man could recognize the gunman’s voice when he never heard it before and police didn’t have him compare his voice to others. The man’s response: He heard the voice when the man was in his home.
“I’d know that voice anywhere,” he added.
The man also acknowledged that he didn’t contact police until two days after the home invasion, but there was no testimony about why he waited. Police previously said the man failed to immediately report the crime out of fear.
Under cross examination by Wilson’s public defender, Ann Faust, the man said that Wilson was not the intruder. The prosecution described Wilson as a close friend of the homeowner’s family.
“You didn’t see my client on Monday either,” Faust said.
“No,” the man answered.
But police say that after they set up surveillance at the drop point and caught Walker when he retrieved the backpack filled with 100 $1 bills, he confessed to participating in the robbery and extortion plot and named Wilson as his co-conspirator.
Bristol Township patrolman Jarrod Eisenhauser, who interviewed Walker after he was taken into custody, said that Walker admitted to making calls about the ransom, but said that Wilson sent the text messages. The officer also testified that Walker alleges Wilson drove him to the home invasion and waited in a car outside.
Following testimony Tuesday, Bristol Township District Judge Robert Wagner Jr. held the men for trial on all charges. Each remains in Bucks County prison in lieu of 10 percent of $1 million bail.