Tuesday, August 18, 2015
Posted: Sunday, August 16, 2015
Natalie Ciafrei visits her best friend’s Facebook profile page a few times a week to read posts left by others. Sometimes she leaves a message too or “tags” him in a post she thinks he’d like. Sometimes she’ll just scroll through old photos.
That her friend died in a car accident doesn’t matter to the 20-year-old Middletown woman. He lives on for her, even if online only.
“I go back and read our conversations from before he passed away. I still read back the messages I sent him. Even just to look at pictures,” she said. “Instantly, if I’m having a rough time, when I Iook at his page I get a sense of relief. I talk to him and connect with him through there.”
Less than a generation ago, social media was created as a way to connect the living, but experts in fields such as religion, sociology, psychology and communication believe it has evolved into a medium for sharing not only our everyday lives, but our afterlives.
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and dozens more online networks have become the new obituary notice, tombstone, even the roadside memorial, where mourners have instant, real-time access to a dead loved-one’s life.
The phenomenon is transforming mourning from a typically private, somber, structured ritual into a casual, permanent public forum. That has raised questions about proper decorum and privacy, experts agree. There is growing debate over whether keeping the dead alive online helps, or hurts, the living left behind.
Among the earliest appearances of online mourning occurred after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when scores of websites were created to remember victims lost in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. The sites provided an accessible forum for friends and family to read messages from strangers and those who knew their loved ones long before the creation of sites such as MySpace and Friendster.
Since then, social media has created a virtual cemetery with some estimates suggesting that at least 30 million of the more than 1 billion profiles on Facebook — the largest social media network — have outlived users. Most people maintain more than one social media account, and new services are promising to keep online identities intact after death. Take ”Dead Social”(http://www.deadsocial.org/), for example. It’s a free social media tool that will distribute ongoing prerecorded messages post-mortem.
Estate lawyers have started urging clients to include final directions on how their “digital assets” should be managed after death.
“You’re sharing your life, but one of the most important things that will happen is the one thing it’s impossible for you to share,” said Jed Brubaker, a leading scholar in the field of digital identity and an assistant professor in information sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
“There is no ‘I’m dead’ button and when would you click it anyway?”
Little large-scale research exists showing the extent that social media has changed how people view death, but what is available suggests that social media has provided a new context for encountering and engaging in death and mourning, Brubaker said.
Grieving has always been a communal function. What social media has done is vastly expand the number of people participating in group mourning, Brubaker said. As a result, casual acquaintances, even long forgotten childhood friends, are often counted among mourners.
Mainstream religions have built-in grieving rituals such as a Mass and prayers for the dead and incorporating late loved ones in these rituals, said Candi Cann, a Baylor University religion professor whose research focuses on death and dying and memorializing the dead.
But digital culture is filling a huge vacuum for many who reject the traditional Western bereavement model that urges the bereaved to emotionally detach from the deceased. Online mediums promote the bereavement model Continuing Bonds Theory, which encourages the living to integrate the dead into their daily lives, Cann said.
“It’s healthy,” she added. “Mourners need to have a relationship with our dead and reintegrate them into our lives.”
For some people, the way to maintain departed loved ones in their lives is keeping grandma’s quilt on a bed or cooking mom’s recipes, Cann said. For others, it’s using the World Wide Web.
The extended support network is one aspect that mourners, particularly immediate family, report they like most about social media, Brubaker said. People enjoy hearing stories they didn’t know about a departed loved one and reading different perspectives of how someone impacted others’ lives, Brubaker said.
Jack Robinson Sr. died suddenly following a hunting accident in December 2013, but his Facebook page remains active. His children have no immediate plans to take it down, either.
“I thought, personally, after a year it somehow deletes itself,” Robinson’s daughter Kathi Ramirez said. “I meant to talk to my brother about taking it down, but every time I go on there, people are commenting. It’s scary sometimes. I’ve connected with so many people that have touched my father’s life. People I didn’t even know. It’s very strange.”
Robinson, a former Bensalem police captain, is buried in Bensalem, a three hour-drive from his daughter’s Susquehanna County home and a long plane ride for her brother, who lives in Norway. So their dad’s Facebook page is the easiest way to stay connected with him, Ramirez said.
Seeing the old photos and posts will sometimes reduce her to tears, but they also inevitably bring a smile to her face in a way a graveside visit can’t, she said.
“My dad was a very, very, very huge part of our lives. He was our best friend. He was the center of our world. We think of him every day. It’s kind of neat to look back.”
The proliferation of social media has also created what Brubaker calls the “six degrees of network effect” — which involves a person not directly connected to a death, but is a close friend, coworker or casual acquaintance of someone who is. Should such a person post condolences on the page of the person you know? What about the friend of your friend?
Other questions emerging about proper social media etiquette revolve around aspects such as funeral selfies, filming funeral services and the use of emoticons in condolence messages, experts said.
Then there are the people who are late to the funeral, so to speak, the ones who missed the original news feed announcing a death, Brubaker said. Birthday notifications are among a common trigger for learning about a previously announced death, which often leads to a sense of guilt.
“There is an expectation they will learn quickly about a death because of the vehicle and, even something two days later, can seem like learning about it so terribly late,” he said.
Natalie Ciafrei learned about her best friend’s death two years ago while scrolling through the news feed notifications on her Facebook profile.
“I was in tears. I didn’t know what to say, how to react to it,” she said. “It was one of those things I hadn’t talked to him in a few days and I had no idea what happened to him.”
In retrospect, though, Ciafrei said she doesn’t think the way she learned of his death had any impact on her reaction. She wonders if she would have found out about it at all without social media. Visiting his profile often brings a roller coaster of emotions, she added, but it’s worth it.
“I felt upset for a few minutes, and then I felt better because I still talked to him. It makes me feel like he’s always going to be there, even when he isn’t physically.”
Morrisville resident Holly Harman visits the Facebook profiles of her father, who died almost two years ago, and a close friend who died five years ago. While she also visits her father’s grave site on his birthday and Father’s Day, the Facebook profile has become a family gathering post.
“I just leave sentimental messages when I think of them because of a certain situation I’m in or something pops in my head,” said Harman, 58. “It’s just kind of venting in a way the frustration of not being able to tell them that in person.”
Harman believes social media helps but also prolongs grieving. Then again, she added, her grandmother died 25 years ago and she still grieves for her. After another close friend died, she found herself wishing he had a social media account she could visit.
“Now that he’s gone, you are totally cut off,” she said.
Such reactions make sense to Jean Dolan, an adjunct communications instructor at Bucks County Community College. Social media enhances interpersonal communications since people are often more comfortable sharing and expressing deep emotions from behind the safety of a computer screen.
“For some people it may be replacing the phone call or the stop by and visit,” she said. “But some people were never comfortable seeing people face to face after a tragedy. People can reveal themselves more deeply through social media. It’s a bit of a safer way for us to connect.”
Dolan is among the BCCC employees and alumni who regularly visit and post messages on the Facebook profile for former English professor and Bucks County Poet Laureate Allen Hoey. The Solebury resident died suddenly in 2010. She visits Hoey’s profile page on his birthday, as well as the day he died, and when she sees a story or article he might have enjoyed.
“It’s a way for those of us, other colleagues and friends ... to connect and still remember him,” she said.
In his research, Brubaker has found that it’s often the friends or distant family members who have the strongest emotional connections to the deceased’s leftover social media accounts.
“Often the case is the immediate family ... needs it the least. Close family members have memorializing practices that are private,” he said. For everyone else, the social media account gives them a space to engage in that. Increasingly we’re learning, we’ve gained literacy among death and social media that these spaces are memories.”
While many family members draw comfort in a deceased loved-one’s online presence, others consider it a frustrating roadblock — a pause button — in the grieving process.
One Wisconsin couple had to get a court order in 2012 to gain access to personal messages on their adult son’s Facebook account after he died by suicide.
Until earlier this year, Facebook took a largely hands-off policy toward removing deceased user’s profiles. Family members could petition to deactivate a dead user’s account. Also the profile could be converted into a “memorial page,” where visitors could share memories on the person’s timeline and interact with past posts. Only existing “friends” could access the page, and they couldn’t “tag” the person in a post or send a message.
Facebook changed its policy this year to allow users to either request an account be permanently deleted after death or assign third party as a “legacy contact” to take over of some aspects of an original profile.
Buckingham resident Robin Rosenthal hasn’t deactivated either Facebook accounts for her late husband or mother, though they have both been dead for about five years. The reason why isn’t sentimental.
“I don’t know how to close the Facebook accounts or my mom’s email,” she said. A lot of people like to have them up because they write things and they want people to remember their loved ones. I’m not in that group.”
She has her husband’s driver’s license and passport to remember him. She has her memories and other keepsakes from her mother. They are the reminders she cherishes, Rosenthal said. But since the Facebook accounts remain active, Rosenthal gets occasional notices about them in her Facebook news feed, which she calls a source of sadness.
“Facebook to me isn’t that important. It’s just another loose end I have to tie up,” she said. “For me it’s part of the journey. Life goes on. I just feel it’s something I have to take care of. What am I going to do let it float out there forever?”
The history of social media
Usernets and Bulletin Board Systems — the earliest forms of online communication — hit the Internet allowing users to exchange data over phone lines.
America Online launched AOL and email, which for many people was their introduction into the World Wide Web.
Classmates.com is launched. The social networking site allows users to find and connect with former acquaintances and classmates. Craig’s List starts as an email distribution list to friends of Craig Newmark featuring local events in the San Francisco Bay Area; in 1996 it became a Web-based service that expanded into other classified categories.
AOL’s Instant Messenger is born allowing for real time instant online communication
Following the Sept. 11 attacks, online memorials pop up in cyberspace including one for families ofCantor Fitzgerald employees who died in the World Trade Center http://www.cantorfamilies.com/
Friendster.com launched, as did Meetup, another online social networking site that helped organize offline group meetings in various locations worldwide. Meetup users enter their zip codes or city and the topic they want to meet about, and the website helps them arrange a place and time to meet.
MySpace.com launched, as did Linked-In and Photobucket. Google bought the blog-publishing service Blogger.com, which allows multi-user blogs with time-stamped entries.
Facebook is founded as a way for college students to connect. It opened to the general public in 2006 and overtakes MySpace as the most popular social networking site in 2008. Also launched were Digg and Flickr, World of Warcraft, a multiplayer online role-playing game, and Vimeo, a video-sharing website where users upload, share and view videos.
The video-sharing website YouTube is launched, as is the entertainment, social networking and news website Reddit, which allows registered users to submit content, including posts or direct links. In 2006, Conde Nast Publications acquires the site from the University of Virginia roommates who founded it.
Facebook created the “Like” button, and Foursquare, the local search and discovery mobile app, is launched.
Instagram is launched as a free smartphone mobile app; also launched was Storify, a social networking service that lets the user create stories or timelines using social media outlets. It opened to the public in 2011.
Pinterest, Google Plus and Snapchat are launched.
Vine, the short-form video sharing service, where users share six-second long looping video clips, is launched. User videos are published through Vine’s social network and can be shared on other social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
Periscope, the live video streaming app for IOS and Android devices, is launched.
Posted: Sunday, August 16, 2015
Recent worker deaths in Bucks County under OSHA investigation
Three seconds. That was all the time Tony Gabriele had to react after an earthquake-like shaking started in the control room of a Bristol Township cement storage and distribution center, where he worked as a maintenance mechanic.
Security video from inside the room — in a trailer next to a 125-foot tall steel silo — showed a severe vibration started suddenly, about 10 minutes before midnight on Jan. 7, according to the results of a recently completed federal safety investigation into the silo's fatal collapse.
Gabriele’s reflection was seen in a window as he jumped up and tried to move away. But he had no time to escape to safety after the collapse of the silo containing more than 32,000 tons of cement powder at Riverside Construction Materials, according to the draft report issued by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and obtained by the newspaper through a Freedom of Information Act request. The final version of the report will be the draft, an OSHA spokeswoman confirmed.
The body of the 49-year-old Bristol Township man was found four days later, buried under cement powder and debris near the office trailer about 40 feet from the silo. An autopsy found he died of multiple injuries as a result of being buried.
The federal investigation into the cause of the silo collapse took OSHA six months and 11 site visits. The draft report concludes the accident likely occurred because of a combination of successive cycles of heating and cooling that led to cracks in the steel shell and the recent use of explosives to loosen hardened cement at the bottom of the silo.
No fines were issued for safety or health violations since OSHA didn't find any definitive evidence that Silvi Group Companies, which owns Riverside Construction Materials, violated standards and laws. But the agency noted the company had "inadequate maintenance records" for the silo that collapsed. The company also operates other related businesses in Bucks and Chester counties, and in New Jersey.
The OSHA report recommended the company hire a professional engineer familiar with the operation of cement storage and distribution to inspect the two remaining cement storage domes on the property to ensure safety standards. The agency is finalizing comprehensive safety recommendations for the company and those recommendations will be available to the media and public after they're completed, an OSHA spokeswoman said.
Philadelphia attorney Ben Huggett, who is representing the Silvi Group Companies in matters related to the accident, said the company agrees with the agency’s “ultimate conclusion” that there were no violations of law associated with what he called the “tragic accident.” The company hasn't received any OSHA report identifying any of its findings related to its operations as a result of the investigation, he said.
No structural damage was discovered in the remaining cement storage domes during an inspection by the original manufacturer, Huggett said. He disputed the OSHA contention that the company's records were inadequate, stating the "majority" of records were destroyed as a result of the accident.
OSHA's report noted that leftover cement and cement dust in the steel silo had been exposed to water, primarily as the result of a leaky roof. That material hardened over the years, forming chunks ranging from softball to boulder size that blocked the flow of cement into the tunnel and the chucks were found in the debris field after the collapse, inspectors noted.
A month before the collapse, the company twice used explosives in the silo to dislodge cement “rocks” blocking the bottom discharge gate, according to OSHA.
A seismograph was used to monitor a residential building located 650 feet away from the blasting site, but it wasn't used to monitor the silo shell, about 60 feet from the blasting. The waves induced by the blasting could “easily” have traveled to the silo shell and “possibly caused a crack in the relatively rigid weld,” OSHA found, which is why it concluded blasting could have contributed to the fatal collapse.
OSHA also cited a phenomenon called thermal ratcheting as possibly contributing to the collapse. In thermal ratcheting, the walls of outdoor metal structures expand during the day and contract at night when temperatures drop. The movement of the cement dust in that process could cause increased tension in the walls, leading to fractures, the report stated.
The agency found the steel silo at Riverside Construction Materials before the collapse was in a “very similar” condition to one involved in a 1996 collapse in the southwest U.S., where thermal ratcheting was identified as the cause, the report said.
The report also stated that most of the information involving the steel silo’s use, maintenance and repair records came from company officials, not documents. The company had no site plan or record of the silo shell thickness, which would have guided the adequate maintenance necessary, the report found. While OSHA noted that cracks in the roof had developed at times and had been repaired, no records exist of the exact type, size, quality or method of repair. Logs, policies and programs and documentations of activities on site were largely destroyed in the collapse, OSHA said.
“With the complete destruction of the site, the scope of the inspection was limited primarily to the actual accident,” the report said.
The federal agency found that a power loss resulting from the collapse triggered an automatic alert through the company’s security system at 12:06 a.m. Jan. 8 — less than a half hour after the collapse. But there was no warning siren or automated 911 notification, the report found. The company’s emergency action plan described all notifications as being conducted by phone, a method that met OSHA requirements, the report said.
Video footage from another security camera in a different part of the destroyed control room prior to the collapse showed the actual breech of the silo. The subsequent accident investigation found the silo failed at the side closest to the control room.
The surveillance video shows the cracking began near the bottom of the silo near the entrance to the tunnel, where the cement powder is discharged, and continued upward. A second vertical crack toward the river side of the silo occurred, but it likely developed as the silo lost structural integrity, the report speculated. In addition to the control room, a bulk truck filling station was also destroyed in the collapse.
The collapsed silo, which company officials referred to as the “steel silo,” was the middle one of three silos used to store cement powder. It had a 32,500 ton capacity and was manufactured in the 1980s. The silo was filled to near capacity when it collapsed, OSHA found. OSHA’s engineering evaluations found that, under normal conditions, the silo shell should have been able to contain the stored cement without failure, so its design met federal standards.
Finding Gabriele's body took roughly 100 hours following the collapse. The Edgely Fire Co. and 15 other local fire companies from Lower and Upper Bucks County, technical rescue teams, local police departments, contractors and other community members searched for the worker. Firefighters working in shifts sifted through several thousand tons of cement powder and used heavy equipment to remove steel beams of the collapsed tangled steel silo building.
July 28, 2015
A 42-year-old tree trimmer was killed while crews were removing trees from a Northampton property. Rodney Hunsicker Sr., of Lehighton, in Carbon County, was killed after he was ejected from a bucket above a truck, which then landed on top of him when the truck tipped over, police said. The accident happened on Andrea Drive in the Holland section of the township.
Hunsicker was an employee of Rick’s Tree Service in Ivyland, which was hired to remove trees from the property. During the removal, the bucket truck was positioned on the side lawn of the property.
As Hunsicker was moving the cut limb from the backyard to the street, the weight of the limb caused the truck to tip over, Northampton police Chief Michael Clark said. The bucket and the boom, or extended arm, then fell on top of the man.
A 51-year-old Mount Laurel, New Jersey, man was killed after he was buried alive under a rock salt mountain that collapsed on the backhoe he was operating at the seaport near the GROWS landfill.
Gustav Propper, of Propper Bulk Handlers Corp, of Mount Laurel, New Jersey, was an independent contractor hired to manage the salt pile for International Salt, which rents dock space at the port.
An OSHA investigation found due to the extended time the salt pile was stored on the pad a hazardous condition developed while the operator was digging near the base of the stock pile. The exposed portion of the stock pile was standing nearly vertical and not cascading down to a safe angle of repose, the report found. Propper Bulk Handlers were fined $2,142 for violations, according to OSHA.
Among OSHA recommendations for Propper Bulk Handlers develop a safe means of digging at the salt stock pile to keep workers at a safe distance in relation to the height of the pile and the natural angle of repose to prevent the possibility of the material from engulfing and employee or equipment and manager should have a presence on the site.
A 50-year-old northern New Jersey man was buried alive in sugar at a Fairless Hills processing plant, an accident that a subsequent investigation suggested could have been prevented.
The joint Univision and ProPublic investigation found that a manager ordered a safety device removed because it was believed to slow production, and it was common practice for employees at the CSC Sugar plant to climb on top of the sugar inside hoppers since the Roebling Road warehouse opened in 2012; The report cited hundreds of OSHA documents in the Feb. 25, 2013, death of Janio Salinas-Valerda, who died of asphyxiation.
OSHA fined CSC, which refines and distributes sugar to food manufacturers, $25,855 after the accident. But after the plant installed a safety guard and started using a new procedure to break up sugar clumps the agency reduced the fine to $18,098, according to the investigation.
Posted: Thursday, August 13, 2015
A 59-year-old homeless man is accused of selling two rifles, one a semiautomatic, for $8 to a 9-year-old Bristol Township boy outside a convenience store.
Reginald Sisco admitted to selling the weapons to the boy, claiming he found them in the woods and needed money, police said.
“It was stupid. I am sorry,” he told police when they tracked him down at Lower Bucks Hospital after receiving a call about a man who refused to leave the facility shortly before 1:30 a.m. Thursday, according to court records.
The same officer who took the report of the rifle sale answered the hospital call and noted that Sisco matched the boy’s description of the man who sold him the weapons, the probable cause affidavit in the case shows.
The boy’s grandfather called police Wednesday evening after the boy brought the .177 caliber Beeman air rifle and .22-caliber Marlin rimfire semiautomatic rifle to his house to show him, court documents note.
The boy claimed he bought the rifles from the man outside the 7-Eleven in the 800 block of Route 413 in Bristol Township, police said. Neither rifle was loaded with ammunition, Acting Lt. Ralph Johnson said.
One of the rifles was stolen during a burglary Tuesday at R&D Automotive on Second Avenue in the Croydon section of the township, police said. Sisco said he worked there and heard about the burglary, police added.
Sisco was arraigned Thursday before District Judge Gary Gambardella on felony charges of receiving stolen property and possession of a firearm by a minor. He was sent to Bucks County prison in lieu of 10 percent of $500,000 bail.
Posted: Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Yes, Tyrone Lester fatally stabbed a 23-year-old Philadelphia man in June, but it was in self-defense, according to his attorney.
Public defender Laura Riba pointed out that Lester, 29, of Philadelphia, flagged down a police officer after fatally wounding Miguel Feliciano when a child custody exchange turned violent in the parking lot of the Salem Crossing complex in Bensalem on June 14.
During a preliminary hearing Wednesday for Lester, Riba argued that District Judge Joseph Falcone should dismiss the charges, including a general homicide count, against her client since the evidence — including a detective’s testimony — supported a self-defense case.
“It’s clear here Mr. Lester wasn’t the initial aggressor here,” Riba said.
But Bucks County prosecutor Tom Gannon countered that contrary to Lester’s initial statement to police that Feliciano pulled him out of his car, witnesses said Lester got out of his car on his own.
Detective Jack Gohl testified that Lester told him that Feliciano — who was much larger than the 5-foot, 3-inch Lester — approached him while he was seated in his Jeep at the complex on the 3500 block of Street Road waiting for a custody exchange between Feliciano and his ex-wife, whom Lester was dating.
Lester claimed Feliciano grabbed him out of the vehicle and started punching him, Gohl told the court. Lester managed to grab a sheath knife he kept in his Jeep and started swinging it at Feliciano in an attempt to get him off, the detective said he was told. Feliciano was stabbed five times, including fatal wounds to his neck, court records show.
Lester said that he saw blood and knew he injured Feliciano, so he and his girlfriend got into the Jeep and drove toward the Bensalem police station — flagging down a police car on the street and telling police what happened and that he was scared, Gohl said.
The detective added that after the stabbing Lester had what appeared to be an eye injury, which Lester said was the result of Feliciano attacking him, and he was covered in blood.
But some witnesses said Lester got out of the Jeep with the knife in his hand and confronted Feliciano, according to court documents. Another witness said that Lester pulled out the knife when it appeared he was losing the fight with Feliciano.
While being questioned by Riba, Gohl said Lester was afraid of Feliciano, who he said previously threatened him.
Falcone held Lester for trial on charges of homicide and possession of an instrument of crime. He remains incarcerated in Bucks County prison without bail.
Posted: Wednesday, August 12, 2015
A 39-year-old Middletown man already accused in the painkiller overdose death of his 27-month-old son now faces a murder charge after a prison inmate reportedly claimed he confessed to killing his son to get back at his wife.
Bucks County Chief of Prosecution Matt Weintraub, who is prosecuting the case, on Wednesday said that he expects to get paternity results later this month, which will determine if Coco Kollie Wallace fathered Sebastian “Buddy” Wallace, who died in October after ingesting enough oxycodone to kill an adult three times over.
Middletown police alleged that Wallace illegally obtained the opiate prescription painkillers on which his son fatally overdosed when he was charged with general homicide in November. A general homicide charge covers a variety of potential grades and degrees of intentional death.
But last month, the DA’s office upgraded the charge to first-degree felony homicide, after an attorney representing the other Bucks County inmate approached prosecutors with the claim that Wallace confessed to his client that he killed his son, according to court documents in the case.
“Obviously that is a game-changer,” Weintraub said.
The inmate told authorities that Wallace said he killed his son because he didn’t believe he was the boy’s father, according a search warrant and other court documents in the case. The inmate claimed Wallace told him that his wife had been cheating on him around the time Sebastian was conceived, and he wanted to “get back at her,” according to court documents.
The informant claimed that Wallace was crying when he confessed and asked God for forgiveness for what he did. He also claimed Wallace showed him a photo of Sebastian and his daughter that he kept in a Bible.
Wallace’s attorney, John Kerrigan Jr., on Wednesday said that his office is investigating the informant’s background, including reviewing his criminal record.
Kerrigan added that jailhouse informants are not reliable witnesses.
“They are a plague. They are people who are trying to get out of jail. They’ve been around the block a few times. Many times they know, if they come up with information, the DA’s office will help them out,” Kerrigan said.
In a sworn affidavit, Wallace’s mother told authorities that Sebastian had slept with his father in the living room the night before he died. Wallace, Sebastian and his daughter lived with his mother in a Middletown apartment complex.
Wallace’s mother told authorities that Sebastian did not appear sick or have any injuries the day before he died, court documents show.
Authorities obtained search warrants for Wallace’s jail cell as well as a DNA sample based on the informant’s information, according to court records.
When Middletown Detective Andrew Amoroso went to get the DNA sample, Wallace allegedly asked him if he believed what the informant told them about his son. Wallace also told the detective that the informant made up the story because Wallace wouldn’t buy pills from him in prison, court documents allege.
“Coco said that (the informant’s) girlfriend brought him 500 pills and (the informant) would hide them inside his mouth and sell them to inmates.”
When Amoroso asked Wallace how the inmate could know so much about his case, Wallace replied he must have seen it on the news, court documents note. Wallace also reportedly denied telling the informant anything about the case and said he only showed him pictures of his children.
The inmate has not previously informed for the District Attorney’s Office, Weintraub said. The DA’s office vetted the inmate and is confident he is telling the truth and plans to call him as a witness, Weintraub added. He requested the inmate not be identified for safety reasons.
In court filings, Weintraub told the informant he could not promise him anything because doing so could taint the inmate’s testimony. But, Weintraub said, if the inmate testified truthfully, he would be willing “if necessary” to testify truthfully for the informant.
Weintraub confirmed that the district attorney’s office has agreed not to certify the case for the death penalty because Wallace waived his right to a jury trial. A bench trial before Judge Wallace Bateman is tentatively scheduled for November.
Posted: Tuesday, August 11, 2015
A few Bucks County corrections officers knew him as “John, the foot guy,” but to more than a dozen other prison workers, Carl Gaither was an anonymous, annoying, frightening voice with a sexual fetish for feet.
A voice that knew personal details about some of the women, according to testimony at a nearly three-hour long preliminary hearing Tuesday for the 35-year-old Bristol Township man accused of making nearly 1,000 sexually explicit and harassing calls to 25 female prison employees.
He knew one had red hair and another had two kids, they testified. He knew some of their first names, but never gave his during the phone calls. He mostly talked about his sexual fantasies involving their feet, they said.
Witness after witness told the court in Bristol Township similar stories of repeated anonymous sexually explicit calls they received between November and April 1.
The women all worked for Bucks County prison and state prisons in Coal Township in Northumberland County, Camp Hill in Cumberland County and Houtzdale in Clearfield County. Half of the women are corrections officers who work in the same female unit at the Bucks County prison.
Some witnesses said they were annoyed by the caller. One county corrections officer testified the man would keep calling back for 20- to 30-minute stretches, and others said he attempted to get personal information.
Others were alarmed. A nurse at Camp Hill testified the caller once described a sports team sticker on her car, claimed he knew her husband worked at the prison and left a note on her car.
A Houtzdale corrections counselor testified via video conference she received 33 calls from the same man between November and March. The calls kept coming even after her work extension was changed.
One woman testified the calls made her “sick.” Mostly the caller wanted to talk about her feet, though some conversations also involved pantyhose, she told the court. The caller said he wanted to buy her socks.
A clerk at Houtzdale testified she received two calls to her direct extension between January and March. During one, the man asked if she wore pantyhose, saying he wanted to rip them off and have sex, she said. After that, she testified she started transferring his calls to the security office. The caller, who knew her first name, then got angry and threatened her, she said.
The women who testified said that after the calls kept coming, they were directed by their respective prison security offices to try to keep him on the phone to get more information such as his name. The closest he got was calling himself “John, the foot guy,” one woman said.
Eventually, the women said they just started hanging up as soon as they recognized his voice.
One Bucks County prison guard testified that the details the caller knew about her coworkers had her worried he had hacked into the prison’s camera system.
“Is he watching us? I really thought he could see us,” she said.
A case manager at the county prison testified the phone calls became so disruptive she had to stop answering her phone.
Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Matthew Villano also took the stand Tuesday, saying he inherited the investigation after the employees complained about the lewd and constant calls. In late January, a trace was set up at Houzdale Correctional Institute and eventually led to a phone registered to one of Gaither’s alias, “James Gunther,” but with Gaither’s real birth date, court records note.
Gaither’s ex-girlfriend also testified that he had harassed her with calls and emails after their relationship ended.
Gaither allegedly sent her letters and tried to call her numerous times when he was incarcerated in Bucks County prison in 2013. She turned in the letters, which included explicit statements involving feet and toes, authorities said.
Gaither also served time in state prisons in Coal Township, Camp Hill and Houtzdale, authorities said. Most recently, Gaither was in Bucks County prison from Feb. 25 to March 3 after he was arrested on burglary and related charges.
Following testimony Tuesday, District Judge Joanne Kline held Gaither for trial on all charges including tampering with records of identification related to the cell phone he bought under an alias. She did reduce the number of counts of stalking and harassment from 27 and 26, respectively, to 16 apiece.
Gaither remains incarcerated in Bucks County prison in lieu of 10 percent of $75,000 bail.