Monday, May 19, 2014
Posted: Monday, May 19, 2014
Bristol Township police say they found evidence of a working chemical bomb lab in the home of a 30-year-old Levittown man after he allegedly detonated an explosive in his fireplace, seriously damaging the ranch home Monday.
Homeowner Thomas Piscione — who told police he makes bombs as a hobby — wasn't injured, but his hair was singed and soot covered his face, police said. As a precaution, he was examined at Lower Bucks Hospital in Bristol Township and medically cleared.
"He was extremely lucky — extremely lucky," Bristol Township Lt. Terry Hughes said.
No one else was home at the time of the explosion and subsequent fire in the first block of Midwood Lane shortly after 1 a.m. Online records showed Piscione has lived in the three-bedroom home since 2009.
Piscione initially claimed a propane tank exploded, according to police. But Levittown 2 Fire Chief Ralph Gumbert, whose fire company responded, found what he believed were “suspicious” circumstances. The probable cause affidavit said there were indications that Piscione was experimenting with bomb-making materials.
Gumbert reported finding a working lab in a back bedroom, complete with materials that could be used to make bombs. Those materials included PVC pipe, galvanized steel pipes and ball bearings, along with other materials and chemicals, police said.
Police didn't find any completed bombs or explosive devices, Hughes said.
After a preliminary police investigation, officials determined the explosion occurred after ammonium nitrate was heated in the home’s fireplace. The brick fireplace was “blown apart” and all the windows on three sides of the ranch-style home were blown out, police said.
The blast also caused drywall nails to “pop” and knocked items off shelves in parts of the house. A portion of the ceiling collapsed, a couch was burned and there was evidence of fire and smoke throughout the living room, according to the affidavit.
Piscione claimed the explosion was an accident, Hughes said. He also told police he recently purchased exploding targets and admitted detonating one in the fireplace, court documents said. Police found books on how to make bombs as well as books about serial killers in the home.
Piscione was arraigned before Bristol Township District Judge Robert Wagner Jr. on charges of felony risking a catastrophe and ungraded reckless endangerment. He was sent to Bucks County prison in lieu of 10 percent of $1 million bail.
Bristol Township police executed a search warrant at Piscione's home Monday afternoon and recovered items including firearms, Hughes said.
Next door neighbor Chris Simmons was surprised to learn that his neighbor allegedly set off an explosion. He didn't hear anything Monday morning.
Simmons described Piscione as quiet; a hello-goodbye-kind of neighbor.
"He just keeps to himself," he said. "I've been here four years, and I've only seen him ten times."
Monday, May 12, 2014
Posted: Tuesday, April 29, 2014
A Bristol Township registered sex offender missing since November was located in Texas after police say he contacted police there alleging he had been sexually assaulted.
Thomas Boyer was living in an Austin homeless shelter when he made the sexual assault report, Acting Bristol Township Police Chief Lt. John Godzieba said. When Austin police ran Boyer’s information through the National Crime Information Center, they learned he was wanted in Pennsylvania, Godzieba said.
The Bucks County Sheriff’s Office brought Boyer, 50, back to Bucks County, where he was arraigned Tuesday before Bristol Township District Judge Robert Wagner Jr. for failing to register with Pennsylvania State Police as required under Megan’s Law. He was sent to Bucks County prison in lieu of 10 percent of $20,000 bail.
Boyer, who was convicted of first-degree sexual offense in Maryland, is a Tier 3 offender in Pennsylvania, meaning he is considered at high risk for re-offending. He is required to appear in person to update personal information, including home and work addresses, with state police and be photographed at least four times a year for life.
Bristol Township police filed an arrest warrant for Boyer in January after learning he had been kicked out of the recovery house where he was living, according to a probable cause affidavit. It was the second time that state police lost track of Boyer.
Pennsylvania State Police Megan’s Law Unit notified Bristol Township police in September that Boyer missed his required registration appointment. When a detective visited the Croydon recovery house listed as Boyer’s address, he learned Boyer never lived there, the affidavit said.
Boyer’s whereabouts were unknown until November, when state police notified Bristol Township police that Boyer now claimed to be living on Old Spruce Lane in the township. A detective confirmed that Boyer was living at a recovery house at the address since September.
In January, state police again notified Bristol Township that Boyer failed to appear at a scheduled registration update appointment. But this time when an officer visited the Old Spruce Lane address, the house manager said that Boyer had been kicked out on Nov. 21 and he did not provide a forwarding address, court records said.
Posted: Sunday, May 4, 2014
Later this year, Pennsylvanians should be able to purchase the first at-home medical device that administers a drug that reverses opiate-related overdoses.
The Evizo auto-injector should be available to the general public starting July 1, under the tentative FDA approval that was secured last month. The hand-held device is designed to deliver Naloxone, a drug that binds to the opinoid receptors in the brain to stop a potentially fatal overdose within minutes.
The Federal Drug Administration’s approval of Evizo is significant in Pennsylvania and other states where Naloxone — also known under the brand name Narcan — can now be administered only by trained medical personnel, including nurses and paramedics.
A House bill under consideration in the Pennsylvania Legislature also seeks to give non-medically trained individuals access to Naloxone, but lingering questions about training and liability have stalled the measure. The FDA decision means Pennsylvania residents can get access to Nalaxone through the auto-injector, but not other delivery methods such as the nasal atomizer.
|Evizo will become available in July|
A doctor’s prescription will be required for Evizo-delivered Naloxone, but it can be written to anyone, including opinoid users, their family and friends, said David Fialko, a prevention specialist with the Council of Southeastern Pennsylvania, a private nonprofit agency focused on substance abuse issues.
But concerns remain about whether making the drug available for home use could encourage addicts or families to ignore drug problems and discourage individuals from seeking additional emergency medical help.
“This is not a green ticket to feel you are invincible,” Fialko warned at a recent meeting of the Bucks County Overdose Prevention and Education Advisory Board, during which a trainer-version of the Evizo device was demonstrated.
Federal officials fast-tracked the device’s approval, citing its ability to prevent the growing number of overdose deaths, which have tripled since 1991 with opioid-related drugs accounting for most of the increase, according to a National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors’ report released last year. At least 18 states and the District of Columbia allow non-medically trained people access to Naloxone.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that U.S. programs for drug users and their caregivers that prescribe take-home doses of Naloxone and provide training on how to use it have prevented 10,000 opioid overdose deaths.
The Council of Southeastern Pennsylvania has no immediate plans to distribute Evizo when it becomes available, Fialko said. Many details remain unknown including how much it will cost and if insurance will cover it.
“It’s not going to be cheap, I can tell you that,” Fialko added.
The Philadelphia region’s largest private health insurer, Independence Blue Cross, is reviewing the FDA approval to determine how the medication will be covered, spokeswoman Ruth Stoolman said.
Medical experts describe Evizo as easy to use, similar to an EpiPen, which is used to treat severe allergic reactions. The device is pre-filled with one dose of Naloxone. Once the package is opened, spoken instructions explain step by step how to deliver the shot, which is injected into the outer thigh.
But some people, such as Newtown District Judge Donald Nasshorn, want more information. Nasshorn, who heads the Bucks County Overdose Prevention and Education Advisory Board, said that he’d like to hear the pros and cons of the device from medical professionals.
Naloxone has been used for 20 years and studies suggest it doesn’t increase individual drug use, according to Robert Lichtenstein, a pharmacist and task force member.
Generally, the drug is considered safe, but its immediate side effects are related to opiate withdrawal including vomiting, accelerated heart rate, increased blood pressure and seizures, which require additional medical attention. Individuals also can become uncooperative or combative once the opiate is rendered ineffective, especially if the person has other drugs in their blood system.
But Fialko believes individuals would experience milder withdrawal reactions since the Naloxone concentration in the new auto-injectors will likely be less than what is associated with a “full shot” delivered at hospitals and other medical settings.
A concern among medical professionals is that Naloxone is a temporary fix. The drug works for 30 to 90 minutes leaving open the possibility it could wear off before the opioids do — triggering another overdose.
Central Bucks Ambulance and Rescue Squad Chief Charles Pressler said the FDA labeling on the at-home device should include a prominent label warning users to call 911. He has seen cases in which after paramedics administer Narcan an individual will refuse further medical treatment.
All Bucks County ambulance and rescue squads use the drug with suspected overdoses, Pressler said. Overall, he believes expanding access to the drug to the general public is a good idea since it could save a life, but he also worries it’s the equivalent of putting a Band-Aid on a bigger problem.
“People have got to be smart about what they’re doing with this,” he said. “They cannot have a false sense of security.”
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @jociavaglia
Posted: Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Four Philadelphia men accused of operating a large-scale heroin ring who authorities believe are connected to two Bucks County overdose deaths are headed to trial, though technically the case against them remains sealed under court order.
Following a 4½-hour preliminary hearing Tuesday, Bensalem District Judge Leonard Brown held Wilcidez “Wil” Nunez-Galindez, 46, Benjamin “Kenko” Cruz-Hernandez, 45, Jose “Juan” Andeno, 29, and Jesus “Johnny” DelValle Sr., 55, for trial on charges including felony drug delivery, taking part in a criminal organization and related charges. If convicted, they could each face more than 20 years in prison.
|Jesus DelValle (top, left), Benjamin Cruz-Hernandez|
Jose Andeno (bottom left) and Wilcidez Nunez Galindez
While the DA contends the ring members sold heroin linked to fatal overdoses, none of the defendants are charged with drug delivery resulting in death, a rarely used felony charge. Bucks County Chief of Prosecution Matt Weintraub said he couldn’t charge the men because he couldn’t prove the “chain of custody” with the heroin connected to the deaths.
The defense attorneys representing the men asserted the charges against their clients should be dismissed based on venue, since the drug transactions all took place in Philadelphia, not Bucks County. They also argued that the corrupt organization charges also should be dropped since final lab test results on the drugs are pending in seven of the eight buys.
Weintraub obtained formal permission from Philadelphia’s DA to prosecute the case in Bucks County. He contended a fatal heroin overdose in Newtown Township on Dec. 22, 2013, acted as the catalyst that launched the three-month drug investigation that resulted in the arrests.
On that day, a 30-year-old man was found dead in his bedroom with two empty blue wax envelopes stamped “Watch the Throne,” hypodermic needles and a spoon — all paraphernalia associated with heroin use, said Newtown Township Detective Jason Harris, one of seven witnesses who testified.
Police also found the dead man’s cellphone, which contained two phone numbers — one listed as “Kenko” and the other as “Joe’s Buddy,” which investigators say are tied to Hernandez.
The same phone numbers were found on a cellphone of another person who nearly died in December of a overdose of heroin also brand-stamped “Watch the Throne,” according to authorities.
Weeks after the Newtown Township death, authorities in Bucks County, Philadelphia and federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents launched an investigation into the alleged Philadelphia-based heroin operation believing it was selling large amounts of the drug in Bucks County.
As part of the investigation, an undercover Philadelphia police narcotics officer — identified as R.G. — posed as a low-level drug dealer who was re-selling the ring’s heroin in Bucks County. The officer testified Tuesday that he purchased heroin brand-stamped “Real Steel” eight times from the ring between January and March.
A blue wax baggie containing heroin residue found in the Bensalem motel room where a 28-year-old Holland man died of a fatal overdose on March 13 was brand-stamped “Real Steel,” Bensalem Detective Stephen Clark testified.
The dead man’s cellphone also contained the same two phone numbers tied to the suspected heroin operation. A check found the man had called the number two days before his death, Clark said.
Most of Tuesday’s hearing revolved around R.G.’s testimony including that he arranged the transactions, some of which were video and voice recorded, using the phone numbers found on the cellphones of the Bucks County residents who overdosed on “Watch the Throne.”
R.G. testified that he arranged and purchased the heroin either through Hernandez or Nunez-Galindez, and that on the final three purchases Andeno acted as the runner, delivering the drugs. Authorities believe that DelValle Sr. was the operation’s ring leader.
During one of his drug buys, R.G. testified he told Nunez-Galindez that he was selling the heroin for $15 a bag in Bucks County and asked about purchasing bulk bundles.
R.G. also testified he asked about getting bundles stamped “Watch the Throne,” which he said was popular in Bucks County. Nunez-Galindez responded that the “Watch the Throne” brand stamp was changed to “Real Steel,” but he would ask his boss about it. The request was ultimately rejected.
When R.G. asked Hernandez about buying in bulk at a lower price, he was told the request had to be approved by “Johnny” — “the guy who ran the show,” according to R.G. — who authorities say is DelValle Sr. R.G. testified he was eventually given a bulk discount rate.
Bucks County Detective Dale Keddie Jr., who headed the investigation, testified that he interviewed DelValle Sr. after he and the others were arrested March 21 when search warrants were executed at DelValle’s Braddock Street home.
The detectives seized a cellphone connected to the phone numbers found in an overdose victim’s phone, $23,000, a 9mm Ruger handgun, small amounts of cocaine, marijuana and Xanax, and 47 grams of heroin worth about $15,820 on the street.
Keddie testified that after listening to an R.G. recording purported to be of Delvalle, he believes that DeValle Sr. is “Johnny.” He also said that DeValle Sr. admitted that the drugs, cellphones and money found with the warrants were his, but he denied possessing a gun also found in a vehicle.
DeValle also told Keddie he had “other people” working for him to distribute the heroin.
Bucks County Detective Tim Carroll also testified that he interviewed Nunez-Galindez after he was arrested and that he admitted selling heroin — specifically the brand-stamps “Watch the Throne” and “Real Steel”— and he was paid $300 a week by a person he described as “like an uncle to him.”
“I knew this day was going to come,” Carroll testified that Nunez-Galindez told him.
The entire investigation and subsequent 38-page criminal case was placed under a court ordered seal, which remains for 60 days. The records were initially sealed to protect the suspects if they decided to cooperate with authorities, but when they did not, Weintraub decided to let the seal expire rather than open the record.
Last month the newspaper revealed the arrests after obtaining a copy of the sealed court record. The suspects were arrested and secretly arraigned before Bensalem District Judge Joseph Falcone under “John Doe” names. They remain incarcerated in Bucks County prison under an unknown bail.
Posted: Wednesday, May 7, 2014
Bucks County officials won’t release the medical protocols and drug lists used for inmates undergoing drug or alcohol detoxification at the county jail, citing the information as “trade secret or confidential proprietary information.”
“As PrimeCare Medical Inc. has spent considerable time, energy and resources to develop its internal procedures, they hold the same as confidential proprietary information and disclosure would not only cause harm to PrimeCare but would also offer an unfair advantage to his competitors,” the county wrote Monday in its denial of a Calkins Media request under the Pennsylvania Right to Know Law.
Last year, Bucks County contracted with the Harrisburg-based PrimeCare to provide health care services at its correctional centers. The agency also provides health care for the Montgomery County jail.
Calkins Media will appeal the rejection after consulting with Melissa Melewsky, legal counsel for the Pennsylvania News Media Association. She said she believes the county failed to meet its burden of proof under the state law.
“The denial does not meet the burden of proof, and if you file an appeal, they will have to meet their burden with the OOR (Office of Open Records),” Melewsky said. “The agency would have to submit evidence to show that the treatment protocol is worthy of protection under the (Right to Know Law). It seems like a stretch to me.”
The request was filed on March 28, following the March 22 death of Marlene Yarnall, 49, of Bensalem. She died of a cardiac arrest during heroin detox at the county jail.
“As the selection of appropriate medication will vary on a case by case basis, as well as factor in which substance(s) is involved, it is impossible to provide a complete and accurate list of all medications used in the detoxification process,” according to the county’s rejection letter. “Therefore, PrimeCare does not possess a record identifying this information.”
“It’s hard to believe they don’t have different records that would be responsive,” Melewsky said. “If there’s no comprehensive list, that’s fine and they don’t have to create one as they said in the denial, but if there are multiple sources from which you can make your own list, those records should be provided.”
Yarnall was the second inmate to die during opiate detoxification in less than six months since PrimeCare took over last July. The inmate deaths were the first at the jail since 2010.
Yarnall was incarcerated in the Doylestown Township jail on March 18 on a probation violation.
County officials said Yarnall was taking medications to ease her withdrawal symptoms and was placed on normal medical watch with guards or another inmate checking her well-being every 15 minutes. Yarnall had chronic health problems — and had suffered a heart attack last year also while undergoing heroin detox at the prison, authorities said.
Bucks County detectives are investigating her death, but a report hasn’t been released. The Courier Times was unsuccessful in reaching District Attorney David Heckler on Wednesday for an update on the investigation.
Medical experts said chronic health issues, such as heart disease, combined with an opinoid addiction, put individuals at a higher risk for dangerous complications during drug or alcohol detoxification. Standard medical protocols, including federal prison guidelines, recommend such inmates undergo medically supervised detoxification, a process that uses drugs designed to ease withdrawal symptoms and an opiate substitute that is gradually tapered.
An opiate taper drug or mental-health related medication can be added to a detox plan, as well as “comfort” medications, PrimeCare Vice President of Operations Todd Haskins has said previously. Medical staff also perform vital-sign checks twice a day on detoxing inmates and examine them three times during the first 10 days of detoxification, Haskins said.
Medical staff conduct daily checks to ensure inmates are taking prescribed medications. If not, staff is supposed to meet personally with the inmate to discuss the situation and perform additional wellness checks. Inmates who cannot be medically managed or experience “extenuating complications” are transferred to a hospital for treatment, Haskins added.