Thursday, August 22, 2013

DA: Tullytown woman knew she was pregnant before birth of stillborn son

Posted: Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A 38-year-old Tullytown woman who concealed the home birth of her stillborn son last week knew she was pregnant, contrary to what she told police three days after the child was born, according to the Bucks County district attorney.
Bucks County detectives and Tullytown police said they learned that Lorie Bendorovich knew of her pregnancy after they executed a search warrant at the Lakeside Drive home where she lives with her parents and two teenage sons, DA David Heckler said.

“It is evident she was aware at some juncture she was pregnant,” Heckler said.
An unidentified man believed to be the child’s father told a detective Saturday that he had sex with Bendorovich in late October, and that in mid-November Bendorovich told him she was pregnant, according to an affidavit of probable cause. The man is not the father of Bendorovich’s other children, Heckler said.
The man offered to raise the child with Bendorovich or by himself, and also offered to be a“surrogate” for the child, but a few days later Bendorovich told the man that she was no longer pregnant, according to the affidavit.
No evidence shows that Bendorovich either tried to self-abort or had prenatal care, Heckler said.
Lorie Bendorovich
Bendorovich, accompanied by her parents, made no comment following her arraignment before Bristol Township District Judge Robert Wagner Jr. on misdemeanor charges of concealing the death of a child and abuse of a corpse. She was released on $500,000 unsecured bail and faces a potential maximum of seven years in prison if convicted of both charges.

As a condition of her bail, Bendorovich must continue to live at her parents’ home, where police say Bendorovich gave birth on July 15, and she must contact a counseling service.
Heckler’s office did not file homicide charges after a preliminary autopsy Friday found the newborn showed no sign of air in his lungs after the birth. Coroner Dr. Joseph Campbell estimated the baby was born at 36 weeks; a normal full-term pregnancy is 38 weeks.
“The child never took a breath,” Heckler said, adding his office has ordered further pathological testing but it could be months before those results are available. A final medical finding will be made after those results are in.
Tullytown police were called to the Bendorovich home about 11 a.m. Thursday after a friend of Bendorovich’s niece called 911 to report a dead baby in a trash bag.
When police arrived, they were met by Bendorovich, who allowed them into the house and led them to her bedroom, where a police officer saw a black plastic bag on the floor near the bed, according to the probable cause affidavit.
A Bucks County detective who responded to the scene, touched the outside of the black plastic bag “and felt what appeared to be a small head, and fingers and toes,” according to the affidavit. The detective cut into the bag and smelled an odor he recognized as decomposition, and saw the infant’s head.
The woman allegedly claimed she did not know she was pregnant until she went into labor early July 15, according to documents.
After giving birth, she allegedly placed the newborn in a black plastic trash bag, where Bendorovich’s teenage son found the remains on Thursday morning, according to Heckler. The teen was investigating a strange smell and discovered the decomposing infant, he added.
In an interview with detectives, the woman admitted delivering the boy in her bedroom, then holding the baby’s head and tapping its feet but getting no response. She did not attempt any lifesaving measures, according to the affidavit.
She believed the baby was dead and placed him in the trash bag, according to police.
“Ms. Bendorovich stated she didn’t know she was pregnant or exhibit any signs of pregnancy throughout her pregnancy term,” according court documents. “She told no one of the birth and death of the child including family, friends, medical personnel or law enforcement.”
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email:; Twitter: @jociavaglia

Life and Death in Your Hands: Strangulation more common in domestic abuse cases

Posted: Monday, July 22, 2013 

When Lower Makefield police responded to a domestic disturbance earlier last month, they found a crying woman with red marks around her neck and upper chest.
During an argument with her boyfriend, the woman was strangled so hard that she vomited, she told police.
“I thought I was gonna die,” she said, according to court documents filed in connection with the June 16 incident.
Another Lower Makefield woman accused her boyfriend of strangling her to the point she nearly lost consciousness after she tried to end their relationship in May. A month earlier, a Bristol Township woman told police that her boyfriend strangled her during an assault and she “possibly” blacked out, according to police reports.
These stories are being heard more often by domestic abuse workers, police and prosecutors. Since January, at least nine Lower Bucks area residents told police that they were strangled during a domestic incident. All but two were women.
Non-lethal strangulation has become more common in domestic abuse cases in the United States over the last decade, but its seriousness has been historically minimized by the legal, law enforcement and medical communities since most victims survive, experts say.
But strangulation is ranked as more dangerous than other forms of physical abuse, and studies suggest that strangulation is often a predictor for homicide. Repeated strangulation can lead to other serious health problems, abuse experts say.
A 2008 study in the Journal of Emergency Medicine suggested that the risks of an attempted homicide increase about sevenfold for women who have been strangled by their partner. The study also found that 43 percent of women murdered in domestic assaults, and 45 percent of victims of attempted murder, had been strangled by a partner in the previous year.
“If someone was stabbed and survived, we’d say that was a very close call. If someone says she was strangled and survived we don’t say, you were lucky,” said Gael Strack, CEO of the National Family Justice Center in San Diego, Calif.
At least five women were fatally strangled by intimate partners or spouses between 2007 and last year in Bucks and Montgomery counties, according to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
While most domestic violence murder victims are shot or stabbed, strangulation has moved up to the third-most frequent cause of death in Pennsylvania, reflecting about 10 percent of the 110 domestic-related murder victims last year.
Last year, nine people were fatally strangled in the state, and strangulation was listed as a contributing cause in two other deaths, according to the coalition’s annual report. Four of the 76 domestic violence-related victims were killed by strangulation in 2000.
Strangulation was the focus at a coalition education conference last year, legal director Ellen Kramer said. In recent years, the group has worked on raising awareness among law enforcement and legal communities about its dangers, Kramer said.
Last year, the coalition worked with the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association to develop an officer training program on strangulation.
Some local domestic abuse experts and law enforcement members say they are seeing strangulation more frequently in domestic incidents.
“This year specifically I have recognized within reports references to abusers’ ‘hands around neck,’ ” said Lower Makefield police Sgt. Gail Jones, who follows domestic abuse cases in the township.
Bucks County’s domestic violence prevention program, A Woman’s Place, doesn’t keep statistics on the types of abuse reported, but it has noted a “definite” increase in clients who report being strangled, said Linda Thomas, the agency’s director of institutional advocacy.
Many women have told Thomas that they saw stars or light before blacking out. She added that many people think once the strangulation stops and they can breathe again, they are not injured.
As little as 10 seconds of pressure on the carotid arteries in the neck is enough to deprive the brain of oxygen and cause someone to lose consciousness. If the pressure continues, brain death can occur in as quickly as five minutes, said the National Family Justice Center’s Strack.
But even if the pressure is released — and consciousness regained — the person may experience serious, potentially fatal, injuries. Swollen vocal cords can block breathing and lead to death hours or days later.
Repeated incidents of strangulation can cause permanent artery and blood vessel damage that can result in an increased risk of early stroke. Blocking the jugular veins prevents de-oxygenated blood from exiting the brain, increasing the risk of brain damage, which can be cumulative.
“No one understands that,” she added.
When Lois Fasnacht worked as a domestic abuse advocate, she recalled often hearing victims describe abusers as grabbing them around the throat and shoving them against the wall.
“That is a form of strangulation but you don’t think of it that way,” said Fasnacht, who is now a domestic abuse training specialist for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “A lot of other people think strangled means death. A lot of people say when you’re strangled, you’re dead.”
Among the challenges with prosecuting non-lethal strangulation has been that, unlike a black eye or broken nose, the injuries may not be obvious, Strack and others said. A 1995 study found that in half of the strangling cases, people have no immediate signs of external injury, and 35 percent of the time the injuries are too minor for police to photograph.
Strangulation presents with more subtle immediate signs, such as redness or scratches around the neck or chest, bloodshot eyes, dizziness, vomiting or loss of consciousness. Hours or days later, bruises also can form around the neck.
Without signs of external injury, proving felony assault is difficult for prosecutors. Proving attempted murder is also tough since prosecutors have to prove the defendant intended to kill — not scare or control — the victim, experts say.
But police can build a strong case if they know to ask the right questions, such as did the abuser say anything during the strangulation, and the injury signs to look for in suspected victims, Fascnacht said.
“Law enforcement and prosecutors are starting to realize that it is a very deadly action, very lethal — I have your life in my hands,” Fasnacht said. “Just because you see the word choking, doesn’t mean this isn’t dangerous.”
The National Family Justice Center Alliance received a $400,000 U.S. Justice Department grant to fund a strangulation training institute, and Strack has traveled the country helping lawmakers draft bills and leading seminars for police.
As domestic violence programs have focused more efforts on education and training involving strangulation, police officers are doing a better job at identifying it and charging appropriately, Strack said.
As many as 30 states in the last five years have, under certain conditions, made it a felony to intentionally impede someone’s breathing, following cases involving domestic-related murders in which, before being killed, the victim reported nonlethal strangulation incidents.
But Pennsylvania is among the roughly 20 states where nonlethal strangulation is not defined as a crime. It is generally considered an assault that could be graded as a misdemeanor or felony. The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence has pushed for an amendment to the state’s assault statue to break out strangulation as a separate offense, but the bill has not found a sponsor.
Among the nine recent alleged non-lethal strangulation cases in the Lower Bucks area, most suspects were charged with simple assault, and in some instances, recklessly endangering another person.
Three cases included a felony charge of aggravated assault, but earlier this month a district judge dismissed the charge against the boyfriend of the Lower Makefield woman who said she was strangled to the point of vomiting. The man was held for trial on all other charges including simple assault.
Elsewhere, though, over the last five years, prosecutors have increasingly treated domestic cases involving accusations of strangulation more seriously, said Scott Burns, executive director of the National District Attorneys Association in Virginia. When strangulation is involved, it often results in more serious charges against defendants than in the past, he added.

“When I was a DA 10 years ago if we had a boyfriend strangle a girlfriend, he would have been charged with domestic violence. Today I may charge him with aggravated assault or attempt to cause death or serious bodily injury,” Burns said. “I just think it is education and a new heightened concern for that criminal act. It’s like DUI 40 years ago.”
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email:; Twitter: @jociavaglia

ATF investigating Nifty Fifty's fire

Posted: Sunday, July 21, 2013

A fire at a popular Bensalem eatery is under investigation by local and federal officials after an early morning blaze that left Nifty Fifty’s heavily damaged Friday, Bensalem police said.

The two-alarm blaze was reported at 6:48 a.m., less than an hour after the restaurant opened, Bensalem Director of Public Safety Fred Harran said.
The building was evacuated and no injuries were reported, but in the aftermath a firefighter was taken to Aria Health Torresdale for observation due to a heat-related problem, Bensalem fire investigator Rob Sponheimer said.
Heavy fire conditions through the roof and front of the building forced firefighters to battle the blaze outside the building instead of inside, Sponheimer said.
Firefighters placed the blaze under control within two hours, Harran said.
Sponheimer said Friday night that the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is assisting in the investigation into the fire. He added that the bureau agents are assisting because the fire was considered a major loss at a commercial building.
Only employees, not customers, were believed to be in the building when the first call came in.
Sponheimer said officials believe the fire started on the west side of the building in an empty space between the restaurant ceiling and the attic flooring.
Street Road in Bensalem was closed for hours between Mechanicsville and Knights roads and traffic was detoured.
Fifteen fire companies from Bensalem and surrounding communities assisted in battling the blaze.
In addition to Bensalem, Nifty Fifty’s has locations in Northeast Philadelphia, Ridley Township, Clementon, N.J., and Turnersville, N.J. The Bensalem restaurant opened in 2000.
Earlier this year, a fire damaged the Ridley Township restaurant. The fire cause was ruled electrical, according to published reports.
The chain specializes in 1950s decor and a menu that features homemade French fries, hand-dipped milkshakes and freshly ground and formed beef burgers. The Bensalem restaurant also has a miniature golf course attached.
According to official records, the stores are owned by Robert Mattei, 73, of Del Ray Beach, Fla.; Leo McGlynn, 52, of Swarthmore; Brian Welsh, 48, and Joseph Donnelly, 49, both of Springfield; and Elena Ruiz, 46, of Drexel Hill.

Tullytown mom reportedly said baby was stillborn, she didn't know she was pregnant

Posted: Sunday, July 21, 2013

Bucks County detectives are investigating the death of a three-day old boy whose mother said she delivered the baby alone in her Tullytown bedroom and believed he was stillborn, according to court documents in the case.
The woman allegedly told investigators Thursday that she did not know she was pregnant until she went into labor early Monday, according to documents. After giving birth, she placed the newborn in a black plastic trash bag where he was found on her bedroom floor by the woman’s son Thursday morning, documents said.

The newspaper is not identifying the woman since she had not been charged with a crime.
The Bucks County coroner was expected to perform an autopsy on the newborn Friday to determine the cause of death, but the newspaper was unsuccessful in reaching coroner Dr. Joseph Campbell for comment.
Tullytown Acting Police Chief Sgt. Dan Doyle on Thursday night declined to reveal details of the investigation pending the autopsy report, but he did say they had a “person of interest” and that an arrest was “likely.”
Bucks County Detectives served a search warrant Thursday seeking any evidence of a birth of a child including bedding, clothing, pillows, pregnancy kits, medical records, a desktop computer, black plastic trash bags containing the deceased infant and other “evidence of birth” in the home, specifically a rear bedroom identified as the woman’s, according to the warrant.
Police were called to the Lakeside Drive home about 11 a.m. Thursday after a friend called 911 to report a dead baby in a trash bag. When police arrived, they were met by the woman who allowed them into the house and led them to her bedroom, where a police officer saw a black plastic bag on the floor near the bed, according to the probable cause affidavit attached to the warrant.
The woman’s son allegedly found the bag Thursday and opened it, saw the baby inside, checked for signs of life, then closed the bag, according to the affidavit.
A Bucks County detective who responded to the scene, touched the outside of the black plastic bag “and felt what appeared to be a small head, and fingers and toes,” according to the affidavit. The detective cut into the bag and smelled an odor he recognized as decomposition, and saw the infant’s head.
In an interview with detectives, the woman admitted delivering the boy in her bedroom where the newborn was found and placing him in the plastic bag after believing he was dead.
“She stated she did not know she was pregnant during her pregnancy and that she did not notify anyone including medical personnel or law enforcement about the birth,” according to the affidavit.
The woman consented to a search of the home and she also consented to a DNA swab for testing, according to the court documents.

Police: Middletown chiropractor fraudulently billed for massages at Newtown gym

Posted: Friday, July 19, 2013

A Middletown chiropractor associated with the Newtown Athletic Club is accused of fraudulently billing the Philadelphia region’s largest health insurance company for thousands of dollars in regular massages performed by spa employees at the Newtown Township gym.
The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office has filed charges against Dr. Christopher Sepanski, 46, who listed addresses in Lower Makefield and Tucson, Ariz., alleging that he billed Independence Blue Cross for non-medical services and services he never performed between 2008 and 2010. The AG’s office alleges Sepanski was fraudulently reimbursed at least $9,808 for massage services to at least eight people.    

The chiropractor was arraigned Thursday before Middletown District Judge John Kelly Jr. on charges of fraud, theft, criminal attempted theft, corrupt organizations and conspiracy and released on $10,000 unsecured bail.
The investigation was launched in 2008 after an Independence Blue Cross employee, who also was a member of the Newtown Athletic Club, was told by an employee of the Salon & Spa inside the gym that she could get a free massage — which normally costs $95 — and her health insurance would be billed, according to a probable cause affidavit.
The Courier Times was unsuccessful in attempts to reach Newtown Athletic Club owner Jim Worthington for comment.
The newspaper was also unsuccessful in reaching an attorney general’s office spokesperson for comment.
The Blue Cross employee says when she scheduled her massage appointment, she was asked for her insurance card. The receptionist told her that “Dr. Chris” submits the bills to the insurance company for reimbursement, according to the affidavit.
The patron questioned the employee how a chiropractor could bill for a massage if she never saw or was examined by the doctor, according to court documents. She also told the employee she worked for Blue Cross and was concerned about this billing practice.
The employee subsequently notified Blue Cross’ loss prevention about what she learned. Two undercover investigators were assigned to visit the gym-based salon, where they were told they could get massages and their Independence Blue Cross health coverage would pay for it, court documents said.
The investigators asked salon employees to check to make sure that their health plans would cover the cost and they were told it would be covered, according to the attorney general. One investigator was specifically told she was entitled to 12 massages a year, court documents said.
But before they could get the massages, the investigators were told they had to see Sepanski at his Middletown chiropractic office. The attorney general alleges that Sepanski billed the massages as medical procedures performed by a medical professional at the Middletown medical office.
The investigators made separate appointments with Sepanski, but both claimed they were not examined nor had any chiropractic treatments. Both described the consultation as lasting seven minutes, according to the affidavit.
During the consultations the undercover employees said Sepanski asked if they were seeking massages to relax or for a medical problem. Both answered the massages were for only relaxation, according to the affidavit.
One of the investigators said that during her consultation, Sepanski told her that if she received anything in the mail asking about the “date of accident” to let him know, according to the affidavit.
The investigators subsequently scheduled and received 21 and 18 massages, which were performed at the NAC salon by salon employees, according to the affidavit. On nine occasions, the investigators were asked to sign a blank doctor’s “exam form” from Sepanski’s chiropractic office. Both were billed for Saturday massages that they never received, according to the affidavit.
A former salon employee interviewed by investigators said the salon manager told her to ask clients if they had health insurance. If they had coverage, she was told to ask if they wanted massages and the health plan would pay for it.
The employee, who had Blue Cross health coverage, said she received seven “free” massages at the salon and only signed a blank medical form and mark if she was in pain to get the massages. She also told investigators she was never examined or treated by Sepanski or anyone at his office, who billed insurance for 13 massages, according to court documents.
The former spa manager at the NAC told investigators that she was told to promote the massage service at the salon and tell members that health insurance would cover it, according to the affidavit. The employee said it was a “common practice” to make a copy of insurance cards of the member who received a massage and have the member sign and date a “medical body sheet” and both items were forwarded to Sepanski.