Monday, March 24, 2014

Middletown couple who died in fire identified

Posted: Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Middletown couple killed Tuesday night in a house fire died of smoke inhalation and thermal burns, according to Bucks County’s coroner.
Caroline Jenkins, 65, and her husband Raymond, no age available, had gone out to dinner about 90 minutes before the fire broke out in their North Elmwood Avenue home, authorities said.
Their deaths have been ruled accidental, Coroner Dr. Joseph Campbell said.
On Wednesday, township Fire Marshal James McGuire said the fire started in the basement of the home and may have been burning for a while before it was reported shortly after 8 p.m.
There were no smoke detectors in the house, McGuire added.
McGuire declined to say what caused the fire, saying the investigation is continuing and Middletown police and the Pennsylvania State Police fire marshal are involved. He added it could be a few weeks before a final determination is made.
Middletown firefighters investigating Elmwood Avenue 
Raymond Jenkins, who was pronounced dead at the scene Tuesday night, was found on the first floor of the home near the basement steps, McGuire said. An autopsy found he suffered “extensive burns” and smoke inhalation, Campbell said.
Caroline was found on the second floor in her bedroom, McGuire said. She was rescued and rushed to St. Mary Medical Center, where she later was pronounced dead. She suffered mostly smoke inhalation, but also had some burns, though not as badly as her husband, Campbell said.
The home is in a remote area off Periwinkle Drive accessed by an unpaved road near Wisteria Avenue. On Wednesday morning, police set up a road block at Wisteria Avenue while fire officials continued with the investigation and cleanup.
The home was build before 1776 and McGuire suspects that holes in the floor that were created for registers that were part of the original heating system may have contributed to the fire spreading. The farmhouse was heavily damaged and parts were declared structurally unsound, McGuire said.
Volunteer firefighters from the Parkland, William Penn, Penndel, Lower Southampton and Langhorne-Middletown companies battled the blaze until it was placed under control shortly before 10 p.m. None of the nearly 40 firefighters were hurt in the blaze.

Users being charged under law intended for dealers

Posted: Sunday, March 23, 2014

For three weeks, the 19-year-old woman couldn’t afford her Percocet fix. So, when a friend from Upper Southampton got his hands on the prescription painkiller and offered her some, she took her usual number of pills to get high.
The Delaware County woman overdosed and died that night in December 2011. Multiple drugs, including the Percocet, were found in her system, according to autopsy results.
The 20-year-old who gave her the painkiller was arrested under what was then a little-known Pennsylvania law: drug delivery resulting in death.
The seldom-used statute was amended five months before the woman’s death to reclassify it as a first-degree felony punishable by up to 40 years in prison. This enhancement made it easier for prosecutors to get a conviction since they no longer have to prove intent, but only that a defendant provided the drug that caused the overdose death.
While the drug delivery felony charge against the Upper Southampton man was later replaced with a misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter charge due in part, according to the prosecutor, to a request by the woman’s family, authorities have not backed away from charging others with the crime.
Last year, two more people in Bucks County were charged with drug delivery resulting in death, and one was charged with the offense in Montgomery County. In all three recent cases, the defendants allegedly shared heroin with a person who died of an overdose.
But going after people who share — rather than sell — drugs that lead to a fatal overdose wasn’t the intent of the enhanced law, according to the Bucks County lawmaker who introduced the legislation amending the law.
“My intent was targeting the person on the street selling the drug, and knowing the drug could harm or kill the person. My intent was to go after drug dealers,” said state Rep. Bernie O’Neill, R-29, of Warminster.
O’Neill’s amendment ultimately removed the malice requirement, increased the charge from a third-degree to a first-degree felony and doubled the potential maximum prison sentence from 20 to 40 years. The charge now can be applied to anyone who intentionally administers, dispenses, delivers, gives, prescribes, sells or distributes any controlled substance.
The original law came to his attention after the overdose death of a friend’s son. The man was addicted to prescription painkillers, but couldn’t get into a treatment program, so he started buying methadone on the streets. The drug is a prescription painkiller used to treat heroin addiction.
A dealer sold the man a bad batch of the drug, but police could charge the dealer only with illegally selling the drug, O’Neill said. To charge him with the death, a prosecutor would have had to prove the drug dealer knew he was selling bad drugs that could harm or kill its users, O’Neill said.
The change in the law was touted as a new get-tough measure aimed squarely at drug dealers. Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler even mentioned it recently in announcing new efforts to stop the rise in overdoses and deaths from heroin and prescription drugs. Last year, 88 of the 113 accidental deaths in the county involved drug overdoses — including 41 heroin deaths, according to county coroner statistics.
But the change has also generated conversation among prosecutors, defense lawyers and the drug treatment community over whether such aggressive laws are effective crime deterrents or whether they punish the people they were created to help.
The effectiveness of the law as a deterrent is unknown. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University and the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, leading drug treatment research and advocacy groups, haven’t studied the issue.
Eight other states have laws that allow charges to be filed when someone provides drugs to an individual who dies as a result, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The others are New Jersey, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Rhode Island and Washington.
New Jersey and Pennsylvania are the only states where the charge is a first-degree crime.
Chief of Prosecution Matt Weintraub
Only 15 people in Pennsylvania have been convicted under the law, according to the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing. Eleven convictions were between 2006 and 2012. The number of arrests couldn’t be determined.
Across the river, New Jersey’s Strict Liability for Drug-Induced Death law has been on the books since 1987. It allows a person to be charged for the manufacture, distribution or dispensing of methamphetamines, lysergic acid diethylamide, phencyclidine or any other controlled dangerous substances that results in death after being injected, inhaled or ingested.
Under the law, a defendant cannot argue that the victim knowingly contributed to his or her own death by taking a drug. A conviction under the law carries a 10- to 20-year prison sentence.
Like Pennsylvania, New Jersey prosecutors have only used that law sporadically. The New Jersey Law Journal identified and examined 32 prosecutions as of 2011 and found that 25 involved friends or family members of the overdose victim.
In four cases, the relationship was unknown; three cases involved drug dealers. Of the 25, only six were convicted of strict liability.
While Pennsylvania prosecutors don’t have to prove intent under the enhanced law, they must show the drug a defendant provided was the single cause of death, which could be difficult when multiple drugs or alcohol are involved.
In 2011, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld an appeals court ruling that reinstated the charge against a woman in the 2009 overdose death of a Western Pennsylvania man. The man fatally overdosed on cocaine and heroin in the home of an acquaintance with whom he shared drugs the day he died, according to published reports. The woman later pleaded no contest to a charge of involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 6 months to 2½ years in prison.
Until 2012, the Bucks County DA hadn’t prosecuted a case since the law was changed.
The first case was against the Upper Southampton man charged in the Broomall woman’s death.
Nicole Lavery (L) and Rhiannon Radetzky

Last year, Rhiannon Radetzky, 22, and Nicole Marie Lavery, 39, were charged in separate drug death cases that are both awaiting trial in Bucks County. They’re accused of ignoring overdose signs, prosecutors say.
The deaths occurred only hours and miles apart in Bensalem on the same day in September and during the same month 63 overdoses involving opioid drugs occurred in the township, police said. Six overdoses were deadly, police said.
Bucks County Chief of Prosecution Matt Weintraub agreed the law’s thrust should be aimed at those who sell drugs. But there are occasions when it’s appropriate to apply the law to someone who provided or shared drugs, Weintraub said.
A potential scenario would be where two people share drugs and one of them goes into cardiac arrest or suffers a seizure and the other person fails to provide medical aid or call 911. Another instance could be if one of the drug users has clear knowledge that the drug was particularly potent or potentially fatal.
As long as an “unbroken chain” exists connecting an individual with an overdose death, Weintraub said, a person can be arrested even if he or she lives outside the county. “That is where we are looking at charging that crime,” he said.
For criminal defense attorneys, the law raises questions such as whether it could be used against someone who indirectly provides access to prescription drugs that result in a fatal overdose.
Doylestown criminal defense attorney Charles Jonas said that, under the current law’s wording, anyone who provides someone with an illegal drug or controlled substance could be charged under the enhanced law if someone dies as a result of taking the drug. (Marijuana is an exception.)
Jonas added that the law treats drug users and drug dealers as equally criminally liable.
“It’s obvious the intent is to penalize the people who are profiting and selling drugs and someone dies,” he said. “Prosecutors haven’t gone to that statute and used it before under circumstances if someone was using drugs and sharing. I don’t know why they are using it all of a sudden.”
Attorney James Swetz, president of the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, agreed the law has the potential to cover not only drug dependent individuals, but recreational drug users and a “whole range of activities.”
One of the problems, Swetz said, is that the law was derived from a faulty premise.
“If you pass a joint, let’s say that (it) is laced with something, and you don’t know that it has an adverse reaction (for) someone, you could be found guilty of the first-degree felony,” he said. “You’re going to have the circumstance where you have prosecutors charging first-degree felonies against a class of people that the Legislature probably didn’t intend to cover, except for the deterrent aspect.”
Swetz added that the Legislature could fix the law with an amendment that makes it clear the first-degree felony charge applies only to drug dealers or traffickers.
The advisory board of the Council of Southeastern Pennsylvania has taken no stance on the enhanced law, said David Fialko, a prevention specialist with the council. But, he added, “there are few up sides to prosecuting a drug-dependent person.”
When she was using drugs, Sara Colvin says she overdosed eight times. The 33-year-old Bucks County woman hasn’t used now for 2½ years. She believes drug-dependent people face a sort of Sophie’s Choice if they find themselves with someone who has overdosed: Call police and risk serious jail time or let the person die.
“It really is putting people in a compromising position,” added Colvin, who chairs the Bucks County Drug Court Alumni Association.
Colvin said she has no opinion on the drug delivery resulting in death law, but pointed out that the law presumes that drug-dependent people make rational choices.
“I don’t know that a single drug addict is not going to share their drugs with someone strictly because they think they’ll get more jail time,” she said.
Perkasie resident Steve Calderbank, 46, who said he hasn’t used drugs since he was 22, doesn’t believe that charging drug-dependent people with a first-degree felony will be an effective deterrent for most addicts. He said laws involving drug-induced deaths are meant to make politicians appear they’re getting tough on drugs, but they aren’t addressing the underlying addiction issue.
“Addiction exists outside of logic. Why would a mom of two kids leave her kids to go out and cop drugs? Good people do horrible things to feed their addiction,” he said. “I happen to believe a lot of what we do with drug addicts and alcohol is punish them, not treat them. More often, we’re punishing the victim. We’re not punishing the right people.”

Coroner: Bucks inmate died of heart failure during heroin withdraw

Posted: Monday, March 24, 2014

A 49-year-old Bensalem woman found dead inside her Bucks County prison cell suffered sudden cardiac death during heroin detoxification, according to the Bucks County coroner.

Marlene Yarnall was found dead in her cell in the “F” module of the prison shortly before 11:30 a.m. Saturday, said Dr. Joseph Campbell. She was alive when the prison guards checked on her around 8:15 Saturday morning, Campbell said. She had suffered a heart attack last year while in the county jail, he added.

An autopsy found Yarnall, a heroin addict, had heart disease, an enlarged heart, and high blood pressure, which contributed to her death, Campbell said. Heart disease isn't uncommon among long-term heroin users, Campbell added.   
Yarnall was on detox watch at the prison, where she had been held on a probation violation since March 18, said county spokesman Christopher Edwards. She was taking recommended medications designed to ease withdrawal symptoms, he added.
The county jail doesn't have a special “detox” wing and the number of prisoners experiencing drug or alcohol withdraw varies daily, Edwards said.

Yarnall was sentenced to time served and 24 months probation in January after pleading guilty to manufacture, delivery or possession of drugs with intent to distribute, according to online court records.
Corrections Director William Plantier is expected to meet Tuesday with the jail’s health care consultant to get more information about Yarnall’s death. PrimeCare Medical of Harrisburg has been providing services at the county jail and juvenile detention center since last July under a three-year contract approved by the county commissioners.
The Courier Times was unsuccessful Monday in reaching Plantier for further comment on the prison’s medical protocol for inmates experiencing drug or alcohol withdraw symptoms.
Yarnall is the second drug-withdraw related death at the county jail in five months.
Philadelphia resident Valene Karaharisis, 29, was found dead in her cell reportedly of complications related to heroin detoxification on Oct. 20, 2013. She had been in the jail since Sept. 25, serving time on a credit card fraud charge, officials said.
The district attorney’s official reported Karaharisis last spoke with a prison staff member around 4 a.m. the day she died. She was running a fever and was on medical watch at the time, the DA’s office said. Her cause of death wasn't immediately available Monday.
At the time of Karaharisis’ death in October, Plantier said that during a normal medical watch, a corrections officer observes the inmate every 15 minutes and makes a log entry. An inmate monitor also makes observations every 15 minutes and logs the entries, according to officials. The timing is designed to keep watch over the inmate every seven to eight minutes.
Opiate drug withdraw can be “very violent,” Campbell said, with individuals suffering tremors, hallucinations, stomach pain, diarrhea and vomiting, but it is rarely fatal. Symptoms usually start within 12 hours of the last heroin use.
But if an individual has pre-existing health problems, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, the detoxification process can be more dangerous, he added. Symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea can create dangerous medical complications, such as aspiration (breathing in stomach contents), dehydration and chemical imbalances in the body.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email:; Twitter: @jociavaglia

Monday, March 17, 2014

Expert: Chemical suicides a scary, growing trend

Posted: Thursday, March 13, 2014 

The smell of rotten eggs in the air was certainly unpleasant, but nothing alarming for Miriam Favano Dougherty when it roused her from bed around 3:30 a.m. Sunday.
She went into her bathroom, then the hallway, where the smell was stronger. That is when the Lower Southampton woman decided to go downstairs to ask her son Daniel if he smelled it, too.
Daniel, a college student, was home on spring break. He wasn’t in bed, but his cellphone was plugged in. Next she checked the powder room, which is when she saw the sign taped to the door.
Daniel Favano in the middle of his brothers
It listed chemical names and warned the reader not to enter.
“Three breaths will kill you,” the note read, she said.    
Behind that barricaded door, her 22-year-old son was dead, a suicide that brought hazardous materials and emergency response crews to the Chalet Village apartment complex where the family lives. About 30 apartment residents had to be evacuated for several hours until the scene was rendered safe.
Only later did Favano Dougherty learn her son had mixed chemicals to create a cloud of poisonous hydrogen sulfide gas, a suicide method that some experts say is growing.
The chemical suicide is the second in Bucks County in four years. In 2010, a 33-year-old man killed himself using the same lethal combination to create hydrogen sulfide as he sat in a car parked in a Richland garage, according to press accounts.
That man also taped signs to the car’s windows warning of poisonous gas inside and urging readers to call hazmat units. Two police officers who responded to the call were exposed to the gas fumes for only seconds and did not require treatment, according to press accounts.
“These chemicals are very, very accessible,” said Bob Brzenchek, criminal justice lead and assistant professor for the legal studies program at Peirce College in Philadelphia, who has studied the trend. “The numbers speak for themselves.”
Between 2008 and June, 2011, at least 72 incidents of chemical suicides have been documented, Brzenchek said, citing a New York Times story. Often this method results in injuries to first responders and bystanders, he added.
As in Favano and the 2010 Richland case, often the person who commits suicide leaves a warning note behind, Brzenchek said.
No note warned emergency responders at the scene of an attempted suicide by chemicals in Kingston Township, Luzerne County, in 2011, when a man crashed into a tree while driving after mixing the deadly chemical combination in his car, Brzenchek said.
About four or five EMS units ended up quarantined at a hospital, and the entire hospital was eventually quarantined.
The public should take precautions if they come into contact with such a suicide, he added.
“Size up the situation and you have to use common sense,” Brzenchek said. “Do not open the door no matter where you are. If you come upon a scene and you smell something like bitter almonds or rotten eggs, that’s one of your first signs that there is something wrong.”
In Lower Southampton, the apartment complex owner has hired a contractor to handle removal of the remaining chemicals Daniel Favano used, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Debra Fries confirmed Thursday. The chemicals have been secured and they are being stored in a secure area at the complex, pending their removal, Fries said.
Despite her son’s final warning posted on the powder room door, Favano Dougherty tried to break down the door, throwing her body against it. But Daniel had barricaded it on the other side.
She then ran back upstairs and got her other son, husband and 2-year-old grandson out of the residence. They were all treated at a local hospital for fumes.
Daniel Favano
Chemical suicide is something Favano Dougherty had never heard of before Sunday, when a paramedic told her it’s a growing trend, she said. She has spent the days since her son’s death learning everything she can about this little-known suicide method.
“I want to prevent anyone else from doing this,” she said.
The family hasn’t been able to access his computer to see if there was any inkling he was planning suicide.
She was up with Daniel until 10 p.m. Saturday. His older brother — who turned 24 on Thursday — was up with him until midnight. His mother remembers them laughing. He had lunch plans for Monday.
“There really was no sign. No one depressive day. Nothing is on his (smart) phone; I’ve gone through every textbook, copy book. We’ve talked with his friends — nothing,” she said. “It’s a quick death; that is my only solace I have.”
Daniel was studying clinical psychology at Temple University and maintained a 3.6 grade point average, his mother said. He reached the rank of colonel in his high school’s Junior ROTC program, she said.
Since Sunday, Favano Dougherty has been wearing Daniel’s Temple sweatshirt so she can be closer to him.
Her son was quirky; a huge fan of the British science fiction series “Dr. Who,” he preferred classical music and Josh Groban. Daniel was born on Halloween, the 12th of 13 babies born at the hospital that day, his mom said.
“He was my ‘Boo-Boo,’” she said. “He’d go out and go up to the doors and say, ‘Trick or treat — it’s my birthday,’ and he’d get double the candy.”
Daniel loved long walks and he logged five miles every day. He taught himself to read music. He was also self-taught on the violin, flute and ocarina, also called a vessel flute.
“And he could play well,” Favano Dougherty added.
The family is planning to hold Daniel’s funeral a week from Saturday. He will be cremated because his body is too toxic to bury, Favano Dougherty said. She can’t touch his body because of the chemicals, she said.
“I can’t say he was the light of my life — all my sons all are — but every day he made me laugh,” she added. “Not one person has told me he was depressed at all. Everyone is asking me why.”

Falls man arrested in courthouse hit & run

Posted: Thursday, March 13, 2014 

A 52 year-old Falls man has been charged with driving his SUV into the entrance of a closed Falls district court house.

William Shaw, whose last known address was the 1400 block of Bristol Pike, was arrested hours later when he returned after the building opened to take care of some court business, police said. 

Judge Jan Vislosky’s staff never got the chance to find out what Shaw wanted because shortly after he arrived, a Falls police officer inside the building noticed an odor of alcohol on Shaw’s breath, according to court documents.
William Shaw
That officer also recalled that Shaw drove a red Chevy Blazer, the kind of vehicle a witness told police was involved in a hit-and-run accident shortly after 4 a.m. at the same New Falls Road courthouse.
By late Thursday afternoon, Shaw was standing before another district judge where he was arraigned on a list of charges including burglary, criminal trespassing and institutional vandalism. Bristol Township Judge Robert Wagner Jr., who will oversee the case, sent Shaw to Bucks County prison in lieu of 10 percent of $500,000 bail.
The judge also required as a condition of bail that Shaw stay away from Vislosky’s court and anyone who works there.
Falls police say the hit-and-run accident caused about $5,000 worth of damage to the doors and front foyer of the court. The SUV did not breach the court’s main office, which remained secured. The incident forced the cancellation of hearings scheduled for the day, but the court remained open for general business. No one was injured.
Damaged court entrance
Police say that a man driving to work around the time of the accident reported that he saw a red mid- to full-size SUV back up and ram the front entrance of the court, then drive away, police said. When police investigated the crash scene, red paint transfer was found on the smashed doors.
When the officer saw Shaw at the court building later, he asked where his Blazer was. Shaw wasn’t forthcoming, but agreed to be interviewed at police headquarters, according to a probable cause affidavit. During an interview there, Shaw allegedly adm
itted to purposely striking the building because of ongoing proceedings at Vislosky’s court that he was involved in, according to police.
Shaw also directed police to his Blazer, which was found behind a building on Falls-Tullytown Road. The SUV had damage to the driver’s side tail light and quarter panel, police said.
At his arraignment, Shaw, who is unemployed, told Wagner that he was “actually pleading innocent,” before later telling the judge that he had money to make restitution.

Former teacher charged in child porn case

Posted: Friday, March 14, 2014 

A former New Hope Academy teacher, who also served as an administrator, faces child pornography charges after police said he downloaded more than 100 sexually explicit images involving children from his computer.
In an interview with police, Eric Gana, 37, of Trellis Road in Middletown, admitted downloading and viewing child porn on computers at his home, court records show.
Eric Gana
A New Hope Academy administrator confirmed Saturday that Gana no longer works at the school. His name was to be removed from the school’s website Saturday.
Gana was director of media promotions and a teacher of digital photography and video production at the school.
Gana was a school employee as recently as Wednesday, Penndel police Chief Joseph Sciscio Jr. said.
According to a probable cause affidavit, Sciscio, while conducting an online investigation into individuals sharing child pornography, downloaded 113 images of suspected child porn from Gana’s computer over the course of two days in February.
On Wednesday, Sciscio, with Middletown police, executed a search warrant at Gana’s residence and recovered more images of child pornography on computers at the home, court records show.
Gana was arraigned before Penndel District Judge Daniel Baranoski on Friday on felony charges of child pornography, disseminating photos or film of child sex acts, and criminal use of a communication device. He was released after posting 10 percent of $10,000 bail.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Megan's Lawbreakers Lack of manpower, communication means lack of enforcement

Editor's Note
The second in a two-day series about enforcement of Megan's Law requirements. 

Posted: Monday, February 24, 2014

For two months last year, state police lost track of a 41-year-old former Bensalem resident and convicted child rapist. When he was later found, he wasn't arrested on Megan’s Law violations.

Why? No arrest warrant had been filed for Jamie Lee Herr, a Lancaster County native who hadn't updated his address and other personal information with state police as required by law four times a year.
Herr was found in October in Lancaster County, where he was taken into custody on a parole violation. Two months earlier, he had been considered noncompliant with Megan's Law in Bensalem, where he had been living.
But Bensalem police said they were never notified by state police that Herr wasn't following the rules, so they didn't begin an investigation. If an investigation had been conducted, he could have been charged with violating the law.
It wasn't the first time Herr didn't do what was required by Megan's Law after being listed on the state registry in 2010.
In 2012, he pleaded guilty in Lancaster County for failing to comply with reporting requirements and was sentenced to 11 to 23 months in prison, according to online court records.
But without an arrest warrant, officials in that county didn't realize Herr was noncompliant with Megan's Law when he was arrested in October, said Mark Wilson, Lancaster’s chief of adult probation. And Lancaster County couldn't pursue violation charges against Herr since he was registered as living in Bensalem, Wilson said. 
State police didn't file charges against Herr either, although they could have done so with approval from the Bucks County District Attorney's Office, state police said. But it would be "very unusual" for them to do that without notifying Bensalem, Lancaster District Attorney Craig Stedman said.
The difficulty with filing violation charges against sex offenders who are found in another jurisdiction and aren't following the law is a concern with enforcement of the Megan's Law system, experts say.
Other concerns with the law include:
• The state's Megan's Law Unit is responsible for administering the registration process and managing the public registry for more than 15,000 sex offenders. But enforcement responsibility lies mostly with local law authorities, who have limited resources.
• While state police send requests to local law enforcement to look into noncompliant offenders, they don't routinely follow up on the outcomes. 
• State and local police face no deadlines for referring, initiating or completing an investigation into a suspected Megan’s Law violator.
• Local authorities have complete discretion over whether to investigate and file criminal charges for Megan’s Law violations, state police said.
• Until recently, state police didn't have a dedicated officer solely responsible for compliance monitoring or additional federal funding for compliance efforts resulting from the state’s implementation of stricter federal sex offender guidelines. 
As a result, months can pass before police start checking into the whereabouts of a noncompliant offender, according to a review of criminal complaints involving suspected Megan's Law violators, theMegan's Law registry and police interviews.
Most of Pennsylvania’s more than 15,000 registered sex offenders — 96 to 97 percent — are listed as compliant on the Megan's Law registry. That means most offenders follow monitoring requirements, which include at least annual in-person registration with state police. Megan's Law offenders can be required to register their addresses and other personal information for 15 years, 25 years or lifetime.
A registered sex offender can be found noncompliant for many reasons, but typically it’s for failure to appear for a mandatory update, Pennsylvania State Police spokesman Adam Reed said. Nearly 75 percent of Pennsylvania's Megan's Law offenders must update their registration every three months for the rest of their lives. 
But missing a mandatory update doesn’t automatically mean an individual faces criminal charges.
“If an offender remains at the same address, and all information previously reported remains current, the investigating agency may elect to ensure the offender verifies, but take no other enforcement action,” Reed said.
At least a few Bucks and Montgomery county offenders regularly ping-pong between compliant and noncompliant without violation charges being filed, according to registry records and online court records. 
When a sex offender fails to update information, the state police Megan’s Law Unit notifies police where the offender lives. Sometimes that is the state police.
“Every effort is made to do so in a timely manner,” said Lt. Todd Harman, director of Pennsylvania’s Megan’s Law Unit program.
That doesn't always happen, as was the case with Herr and Bensalem.
But Bristol Township Acting Police Chief Lt. John Godzieba believes that state police are “fairly prompt” in sending investigation requests. Delays, said Godzeiba, can be blamed on state police relying on regular "snail" mail — not email or registered mail.
Whether police file charges for alleged violations depends on the circumstances, Middletown police Lt. John Michniewicz said.
Middletown didn't press charges last year against two out-of-state noncompliant sex offenders who worked in the township, Michniewicz said. The men had been at least one year overdue updating registrations with state police, but the department opted to refer their findings back to state police for further investigation, Michniewicz said. 
Registered sex offenders, including those on parole or probation, are mailed reminder notices about upcoming mandatory in-person updates, state police said.
The Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, which oversees about 2,700 sex offenders, is notified about noncompliant offenders through the national database Sex Offender Registry Tool, spokeswoman Sherry Tate said.
Before the state implemented SORNA in 2012, the parole board reviewed thousands of cases to determine if it was supervising offenders who now would be required to register under the new law, Tate said. The federal law designed to create a national sex offender registration system to better track offenders increases the number of offenses that required registration and the frequency of mandatory updates. 
But computer problems forced staff to complete some of the registrations on paper, which may have contributed to notification delays for state police, Tate added.
“Now, we get a monthly list of offenders who are not in compliance from Pennsylvania State Police and we check to see if they are under supervision,” Tate said. “If so, we work to get them back in compliance.”
Upper Makefield attorney Marci Hamilton, recognized as a national legal expert in child sexual abuse, believes sex offender registries provide the public with false comfort.
“Law enforcement doesn’t like these lists because it makes them look ineffective,” she said. “No police department has the resources to adequately track offenders once they are out of prison.”
Unless registered sex offenders are under court-ordered supervision, they are essentially on an “honor system” when it comes to checking in with state police and providing accurate information, added Laura Ahearn, executive director of Parents for Megan’s Law. The Stony Brook, N.Y., nonprofit center provides assistance on Megan’s Law related issues.
“What we have found is there are efforts to keep the registry up to date, but unless the state gives ... the resources, you will find it’s out of date,” Ahearn said. “If you want an updated and accurate registry, it has to be funded.”
The head of Bucks County’s leading victim advocacy organization agrees that without proper resources and manpower overseeing offenders as closely as they should is difficult.
“It's the intent of the law versus the letter of the law," said Kathy Bennett, associate director of the Network of Victim Assistance in Bucks County. "Once an offender is off probation or parole, there is less oversight."
In states like Pennsylvania, where Megan’s Law responsibility is divided between state and local authorities, a "very messy and complicated system" is created, said Cynthia Calkins, an associate professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.
“We set up this system that offenders have to check in and we have to keep track of them and note address changes, but people at the system level don’t have the resources to keep up,” Calkins said.
Generally, Megan’s Law enforcement is better when state police are responsible since they more likely have available resources, law enforcement experts said.
But Pennsylvania’s Megan’s Law Unit of 29 employees lacks the staffing necessary for large-scale, regular random compliance checks, said Doug Denney, chief of the Mid-Atlantic Region’s Sex Offender Investigations branch of the U.S. Marshals Service. But that situation is changing.
Last year, Pennsylvania was awarded $360,000 in new federal funding earmarked for states that adopted the federal sex offender registration law. The money came from a 10-percent penalty assessed against states that have not substantially implemented SORNA. 
About $40,000 of the money will be used to create absconder task forces, which will investigate noncompliant offenders. State police will run the task forces and coordinate with local authorities in areas with high numbers of noncompliant offenders, said Robert Merwine, director of the Office of Criminal Justice System Improvements for the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. The funding will cover officer overtime.
The rest of the funding will be used for training police how to register and verify sex offenders and electronically connecting the state’s CAPTOR system, which electronically manages incarcerated and paroled offender information, and the SORT system, an electronic database of registered sex offenders, Merwine said.
State police recently hired a full-time Megan’s Law compliance officer who is responsible for monitoring the sex offender registry for noncompliance and following up on investigation notices sent to local authorities, Harman said. The officer will also work with local and federal officials to conduct compliance sweeps, Harman said.
Previously, compliance monitoring was only one of the duties of a Megan’s Law officer, Harman said.
“Given the increase in the size of the registry, and the potential for greater numbers of offenders to fall from compliance due to more onerous reporting requirements, a dedicated position was proposed and approved,” he added. 
Sometimes police need help tracking down noncompliant offenders, so they call in the U.S. Marshal Service.
This was done last year for convicted rapist Christopher Keefer, who was eventually apprehended in July living in Bristol Township. The former Philadelphia man was considered missing for more than two years after failing to update his registration. He was convicted of raping a 13-year-old boy in 1996.
Keefer was the only noncompliant sex offender in Bucks or Montgomery counties the U.S. marshals helped apprehend during the last fiscal year.
Since 2006, the U.S. Marshals Service has assisted state and local authorities with locating and apprehending the highest risk noncompliant offenders. The agency’s sex offender investigation units provide overtime funding and manpower to state and local police, said Richard Kelly, chief inspector for the U.S. Marshal Service’s National Sex Offender Targeting Center.
In Pennsylvania last year, the marshals participated in 12 operations and assisted with more than 2,000 sex offender compliance checks and 195 arrests of Megan’s Law violators, said the U.S. Marshals Service Denney. Most suspects arrested were in the Philadelphia region, Denney said, which boasts the state’s largest number of registered and noncompliant sex offenders.
But the last time the marshals participated in a compliance check operation involving Bucks County was more than three years ago, when it targeted 143 high-risk sex offenders in Bucks and two other counties, Denney said. The five-week detail found 11 noncompliant offenders.
“There are people who go to great lengths to hide that they aren’t where they say they are,” Denney added. “Those types of people, you might not find, unless you’re doing a compliance check.”