|Michael Ware (Center)|
Friday, September 4, 2015
HONESDALE, Wayne County — “I hate you.”
Joe Keffer said he rarely uses the word “hate” to describe his feelings. But it is the one he chose to direct at the New York man who let his underage, unlicensed teenage daughter drive on the day she was involved in an accident that killed Keffer’s 15-year-old son Cullen and two of Cullen’s friends, all incoming Council Rock South sophomores.
“I reserve hate for the most egregious things in this world,” Keffer told Michael Ware, 54, of Scarsdale, during his victim impact statement Thursday at Ware’s sentencing. “Mr. Ware, I hate you.”
In an emotionally charged sentencing hearing before a packed court room in Wayne County, Judge Raymond Hamill sentenced Ware to 6½ to 16 years in state prison and ordered him to pay more than $73,000 in restitution to the families of the three boys. His attorney vowed to appeal the sentence.
“This sentence under all circumstances is ridiculous,” Robert Reno said.
Ware pleaded guilty last month to three counts each of involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment — admitting he gave permission to his daughter Julia to drive his 2001 Chevrolet Suburban on Aug. 30, the day of the accident. He initially told state police his daughter took the vehicle without his knowledge.
At his sentencing Thursday, Ware expressed remorse, telling the families he will never be able to feel the loss they experienced.
“Neither I nor my daughter Julia meant any harm that day,” Ware said. “May the boys rest in peace.”
Ware’s statement came after emotional victim impact statements from Keffer and the families of the other two victims — Shamus Digney and Ryan Lesher, also both 15 — who died following a rollover accident after they accepted a ride from Ware’s then-15-year-old daughter Julia.
Lisa Lesher in a statement directed at Ware said she will never understand why he let his daughter drive his SUV the morning of the accident, not once but twice. She lost control of the SUV on Goosepond Road, rolling it over and injuring herself, another 15-year-old girl, Ryan Keim, also from Northampton, and killing the three boys.
“You even had the audacity to ask her to bring home a breakfast sandwich,” Lesher said, her voice often cracking. “Your desire to be the ‘cool’ dad devastated our entire community. How could a father allow this?”
Charles Digney also chastised Ware, calling him responsible for the circumstances that led up to the accident and too “lazy” to drive his daughter. He spoke about how at the accident scene his severely injured son Shamus had to be held down by witnesses and first responders because he wanted to help his friends.
“Shamus was taken away from us in an incredibly selfish act. How dare you think you are above the law,” Digney said. “Your complete lack of common sense amazes me. From this moment forth, I don’t think you can call yourself a dad.”
Keffer described the “ripples of grief” the boys’ deaths have had on the community as well as their families. All three boys were the youngest in their respective families. Keffer talked about that constant backdrop of sorrow that hangs over his family.
“We were all robbed last Aug. 30,” Keffer said. “And ironically grand larceny wasn’t among the charges.”
Still, Ware’s attorney urged Hamill to ignore the presentencing report recommendations of five to 15 years in prison, calling it “excessive.” Reno emphasized that his client did not give his daughter permission to drive four other passengers the day of the accident, and he had no way of knowing she would pick up the boys.
He emphasized that Ware’s only crime was allowing his daughter to drive with one passenger, her 15-year-old friend. Reno urged Hamill to impose a 12- to 23-month sentence in the Wayne County jail.
“Mr. Ware is a dad. He is not turning in his dad card today,” Reno said. “Mr. Ware is not an evil dad who only cares about himself. What has to come out of this case is healing.”
But Hamill was not moved. The judge didn’t hold back his emotions before handing down his sentence. At times his voice broke with anger and he was almost pounding on the bench. He repeatedly called Ware’s actions reckless, stupid, irresponsible, preventable and selfish.
“Julia put more miles on your car that weekend than you did,” Hamill said.
He quoted presentencing material from the county probation department in which Ware claimed he thought it would be OK to let Julia drive because she was in a sparsely populated area. He also claimed his father let him drive when he was 14, Hamill said.
The judge noted that he reviewed letters on his behalf that described him as a good worker, trustworthy and loving father, who also cared for his 85-year-old mother who has dementia. He pointed out he reviewed the 35 victim impact statements from family and friends of the three boys.
“Your failure to be a father and say no caused these tragic deaths,” Hamill said. “A car is a deadly weapon as the families of Cullen, Shamus and Ryan know well.”
Hamill expressed exasperation that Ware had his teenage daughter take full responsibility for the accident for 60 days, noting the truth didn’t come out until Julia’s friend told police that Ware gave Julia permission to drive.
“You never spoke the truth and you let your daughter bear this alone,” Hamill said. “How? How does any parent do that? I don’t believe a word you say.”
Wayne County District Attorney Janine Edwards, who prosecuted Ware and his daughter Julia, expressed satisfaction with the sentence. Ware faced a potential maximum prison sentence of 21 years.
“Since the beginning of this case, it’s been very clear to the judge and to me this was a very serious matter that needed to be taken seriously,” Edwards said. “As a parent I think this struck a chord with everyone in the courtroom. This was such a preventable crime.”
“Today’s sentence is absolutely a message,” Edwards added.
Julia Ware, the four boys and the other 15-year-old girl went to breakfast that morning at a nearby barbecue restaurant and, on the return trip, Julia was speeding, failed to negotiate a turn, lost control of the vehicle and flipped it in Paupack Township, near the Lake Wallenpaupack resort community where they were staying for the Labor Day weekend, according to court documents.
Julia Ware, now 16, of Pleasantville, New York, was charged as a juvenile and also admitted guilt in the fatal accident. She received no jail time and instead was sentenced to community service, indefinite probation and ordered to pay restitution.
Her father, described as the “fun parent,” did not attend any of her court appearances. He and Julia’s mother have been divorced since Julia was 2.
Among those in the courtroom were Marie Drobnicki. The fatal accident occurred right outside her home on Goosepond Road.
“I’m just hopeful the families can get some closure,” Drobnicki said after the sentencing. “I was hoping this would give me a little closure, too. It hurts so much. Every day I walk out to my mailbox I can see the accident scene there. I’ll never get over this.”
Following the hearing, Keffer and Ed Lesher both expressed satisfaction with the sentence.
“I’m not a hateful person. I don’t engage in hate, but somebody’s negligence takes away your son’s life. His direct actions took my son away and how can you not hate someone who does that?” Keffer said. “Mr. Ware will not have to endure a lifetime of misery that our three families and ourselves will.”
Lesher said that Ware serving jail time brings him a little closure, but that he is not done with the case. He plans to seek a retrial for Julia Ware.
“We got him. He is being punished,” Lesher said. “She got off too easy. She should be punished, too.”
Posted: Friday, September 4, 2015
Pope Francis isn’t visiting Bucks County as part of his historic two-day trip to Philadelphia later this month, but local first responders are preparing as though he is.Locally, final public safety plans are still on the drafting board while officials await better information about SEPTA rail pass ticket sales — which have been slower than expected — and the number of high-occupancy vehicles registered to attend and expected to pass through Bucks towns on the journey to Philadelphia.
Absent that information, though, preliminary emergency response plans include opening First Aid stations and using all-terrain vehicles, along with expected parking restrictions and road closures, officials said.
Heavy traffic is expected along major highways countywide, but especially in Bensalem, Bristol Township, Tullytown, Warminster and Middletown where rail stations are located. More traffic increases the likelihood of accidents, as well as slower fire and rescue response times, officials said.
“We are advising people to carpool or drop off visitors to the (Cornwells Heights) train station,” Bensalem Mayor Joseph DiGirolamo said. "We are expecting the worst when it comes to traffic, and we want to do our best to control it.”
Bristol Township encompasses several major traffic arteries to I-95, the Pennsylvania Turnpike and the Burlington Bristol Bridge and also has one of the five regional rail stations in Bucks operating during the papal weekend. As a result, its preliminary emergency response plan anticipates potential gridlock traffic, Bristol Township Emergency Management Coordinator Kevin Dippolito said.
If heavy traffic is anticipated along Route 13, Dippolito plans to open a First-Aid triage station in the St. Thomas Aquinas banquet hall, which is across the street from the Croydon train station, starting at 6 a.m. to midnight Sept. 26 and 27. The station will be staffed by an emergency medical technician, paramedics and, if possible, a doctor, the entire weekend, Dippolito said.
In Bucks County, ambulance and rescue squads are also expected to position staffed ambulances at the train stations throughout the weekend during the peak travel hours, according to local officials.
Two hybrid all-terrain vehicles will be assigned to the Bristol Township Police Department and Dippolito has borrowed two more that will be used to transport people if emergency vehicles are blocked by heavy traffic. He has requested electronic traffic sign boards from the county to let driver's know what is ahead.
At least one emergency management official will staff the township’s command center all weekend to monitor traffic and weather. In the event of gridlock, Dippolito said he has identified eight potential access points to I-95 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike that can be accessed by firetruck tower ladders or on foot.
All Bristol Township fire stations will have crews in station at peak traffic time, Dippolito said. Additional rescue squad medic units will be staged at the Croydon Fire Company and the Edgely Fire Company to protect both ends of the township in the event of traffic gridlock.
A final planning meeting for Bristol Township is set for the Monday before the papal weekend visit.
“People have no idea the potential impact this is going to have,” Dippolito said. “There has never been anything like this. There has never been a traffic prediction like this.”
Middletown plans to finalize its emergency response plan for the papal weekend two weeks before the visit, Emergency Management Coordinator James McGuire said. The Tuesday night before the visit, McGuire will be holding a tabletop exercise with first responders to run different scenarios.
“Middletown’s process that we are following is the same thing we’d do for any special VIP that comes in. If there is a big event that comes into town we run through the same process for the most part,” McGuire added. “This is a state of preparation. That is really what it is. We want to be responsible to our community.”
The Langhorne-Middletown Fire Company plans to have full crews manning both its stations during the papal weekend, Chief Frank Farry said. The fire departments' main role will be helping local emergency medical services.
All hands will be on deck at the Penndel-Middletown Emergency Squad starting at 5 a.m. Saturday before the papal visit, said Hugh Cooperman, chief of operations for the squad. All 14 full-time paramedics and EMTs will be working.
Another 15 volunteers have indicated they’ll make themselves available, he added. Also 10 servicemen who are certified first responders out of Fort Dix in Burlington County, New Jersey, have volunteers to help, Cooperman said.
The Penndel-Middletown squad typically handles 10 to 30 calls in a regular weekend, Cooperman said.
Five ambulances will be strategically placed throughout the township in the event of anticipated traffic congestion including one at the William Penn Fire Company Bristol-Oxford Valley Road substation.
The squad will also run a triage center out of the Middletown emergency medical services command center at the Barix Clinic parking lot at the Oxford Valley Mall, Cooperman said. He has been promised three special all-terrain vehicles. An advanced life support ambulance will also be stationed there, as well as a special trailer, designed for mass casualty incidents, that will have cots, urinals and bedpans, he said.
Another special all-terrain vehicle will be stationed at the I-95 entrance in Middletown off East Lincoln Highway along with a county sheriff, an emergency medic and firefighter in the event of an emergency on the highway.
The squad members and employees underwent special triage training last month to refresh their skills; the squad has mass casualty training twice a year.
“We’ve never had anything to this scale,” Cooperman said.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @jociavaglia
Posted: Thursday, August 27, 2015
Once believed to be the hottest ticket in town, SEPTA has sold a little more than 100,000 of the 350,000 special rail passes for the much anticipate Philadelphia weekend visit of Pope Francis next month.
At a press conference Thursday, the Philadelphia transit agency announced it has sold 50,000 of the $10 passes for September 26, the first day of the pope’s Philadelphia appearance, and another 60,000 for Sunday, when the pope is expected to celebrate a free public Mass on the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum.
As of Monday, slightly more than one quarter of the 40,000 rail passes for the five Bucks County regional rail stations for September 27, the day the pope is scheduled to deliver his Mass from the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum, SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams said.
Locally, the Warminster station has the highest number of sales -- 4,000 out of the 10,000 available passes; the Croydon station has sold the fewest tickets -- only 1,000 of 5,000.
Bucks County emergency management officials have been eagerly anticipating rail ticket sale information, considered a critical factor in traffic and emergency management planning. Most local municipalities' planning, so far, has been based around maximum rail ticket sales, according to officials.
Bristol Township Emergency Management Coordinator Kevin Dippolito said Thursday that he has no immediate plans to adjust his first responder plans, which include a First Aid station and additional emergency medical units.
“Once the (SEPTA) ticket sales have stopped and I know how many have been sold for each day then I’ll make any adjustments that are necessary and appropriate,’ Dippolito said.
A major concern among municipalities has involved parking, since the number of available expected rail riders far outnumbers available parking space at the train stations which ranges from a low of 200 spaces at the Croydon rail station to 1,929 spaces at Cornwells Heights.
Local municipal emergency management officials say they’ve been told that parking at the train stations will be extremely limited since the transit agency plans to use the lots for crowd control, and spaces will be restricted to only handicapped parking.
On Thursday, the transit agency said that 23,000 additional private parking spaces will be located near some – but not all – rail stations on Sept. 26 and 27; Williams said information and maps detailing where the additional parking will be available will be released next week.
Middletown police confirm they’ve secured parking arrangements with the Oxford Valley Mall, roughly a one mile walk to the Woodbourne Regional Rail station, which will be transporting up to 10,000 people each day. The mall has 8,000 parking spaces. A “limited” number of people who are physically unable to walk will have a shuttle bus available to and from the Woodbourne station.
There will be no parking at either the Croydon Train Station or the Tullytown-Levittown station lots, where as many as 5,000 people could take the train each day, according to municipal officials.
If more charter and other high occupancy vehicles opt for the rail travel rather than driving into Philadelphia, it would likely reduce traffic congestion even in the area around the train stations, Dippolito said.
SEPTA officials on Thursday described the rail pass sales as steady since they became available, first through a lottery system and now they are sold at the regional rail stations. There has been increased interest in bulk sales from businesses and churches that are considering busing attendees to rail stations rather than driving into the city, Williams said.
SEPTA officials emphasized that public transportation including the Broad Street subway line and trolley system is the easiest travel option for people who want to participate in the World Meeting of Families activities.
Regional rail passes will be sold up to the week before the event. All the rail stops in Center City are no more than a 1.8 mile walk from Logan Circle, where most of the World Meeting of Family activities are centered. Event organizers plan to have Jumbotrons set up at the so-called “Francis Fair Ground” area broadcasting the Papal Mass.
Rail pass sales have been a big missing puzzle piece for transportation engineers and municipal officials who are formulating plans to deal with traffic congestion and volume related to the pope’s visit.
The most recent traffic map created by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission suggests Route 13, the Burlington Bristol Bridge connecting to New Jersey, I-95, Route 1, Route 413 and Pennsylvania Turnpike will be the heaviest traveled traffic arteries in Bucks County during the pope weekend.
The models were created based on a project 1.5 million visitors and 11,000 high-occupancy vehicles traveling into Philadelphia, said Matt Gates, manager of the office of modeling and analysis for the DVRPC. The map also did not take into account traffic around the rail stations that will be operating that weekend.
A final traffic volume and congestion projection model should be ready the second week of September, he added.
The most recent traffic model predicts congestion will be “quite a bit worse” in Montgomery County than Bucks with near gridlock around the Blue Route, the Route 422 Interchange and the Northeast extension, and the Pennsylvania Turnpike west of Fort Washington, Gates said. But the traffic models, so far, have used the maximum attendance predictions -- 1.5 million -- during the weekend, he added.
In Bucks County, the highest congestion would be around I-95, a volume Gates described as similar to a weekday rush hour.
Once the World Meeting of Families closes its charter bus registration Monday, engineers will have information about where the buses are coming from, which will help predict traffic patterns, Gates said. The planning models reflect typical weekend traffic, as well as the anticipated pope-related traffic.
The biggest remaining unknown will be how many people will decide to drive into Philadelphia that weekend including unregistered charter buses. Unregistered buses will not have parking credentials in Philadelphia and they will not be allowed to travel on the Schuylkill Expressway between Citizens Bank Park in South Philadelphia and West Conshohocken in Montgomery County.
Vehicle travel within Philadelphia is expected to be extremely limited with parts of major highways into the city closed including Route 1, Schuylkill and Vine Street expressways closed starting Sept. 25. Within downtown Philadelphia, vehicles won’t be allowed to enter a 3-square-mile zone beginning at 6 p.m. Sept. 25. Certain streets within the zone will be restricted to emergency vehicles.
The Benjamin Franklin Bridge linking New Jersey to downtown Philadelphia will be closed to vehicles from 10 p.m. Sept. 25 to about noon Sept. 28. The bridge will remain open to pedestrians and PATCO Speed Line rail service.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email: email@example.com; Twitter: @jociavaglia
Posted: Friday, August 21, 2015
A 44-year-old Warminster contractor is accused of accepting more than $2,000 from a Northampton resident to build a patio roof two years ago, but never starting work.
A homeowner in the Ivyland section of Northampton claims he entered into a contract with Ian Schneider, of Schneider’s Contracting, to build a roof over the patio of his South Traymore Avenue home in July 2013, according to a probable cause affidavit. Schneider’s Contracting is registered with the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office, as required under a 2009 law, police said.
The homeowner paid Schneider $2,500 of the $4,500 that the contractor estimated the home improvement project would cost, which is beyond the one-third deposit that contractors can request under the Pennsylvania Home Improvement Contractor law.
Schneider agreed to a start day of July 22, 2013, for the project, which was to be completed by Aug. 3 the same year, in time for a planned party the homeowner was hosting.
Two days before construction was scheduled to start, Schneider asked to push back the start date until the end of the week, and promised to call the homeowner on July 24, 2013, court documents allege.
Sometime after July 25 that same year, Schneider called the homeowner’s wife who promised he’d be out on July 31 to start the roof, and that it would be completed by Aug. 3, police allege. But on July 29, Schneider contacted the homeowner by email saying he needed another week extension.
After Schneider moved the start date to Aug. 12, the homeowner requested his down payment be returned since the project wasn’t going to be started or completed by Aug. 3, the affidavit said. Schneider became “argumentative” and told the homeowner he was contacting his attorney and accountant.
Court documents do no indicate if there was further communication between the homeowner and Schneider after the email conversation.
Schneider was arraigned Friday before District Judge William Benz on two felony counts of receiving advanced payment for services and failing to perform, and deceitful business practices. He was sent to Bucks County prison in lieu of 10 percent of $25,000 bail.
Posted: Thursday, August 20, 2015
Someone tortured Rocky, leaving the now 6-year-old boxer with nearly two dozen rib fractures on both sides of his chest. Some ribs were broken more than once, according to a veterinarian who treated him and described the injuries as “massive.”
Even the attorney representing the Montgomery County man accused of the abuse agreed that Rocky was battered. But there is no evidence his client hurt the dog, attorney Craig Penglase argued at a preliminary hearing Wednesday for Christopher George, 43, who is charged with felony cruelty to animals.
“No one testified that anyone saw him do anything malicious to this dog,” Penglase said.
Consider the entire context of the case, Assistant District Attorney Chris Decker asked District Judge Jan Vislosky. Consider that the injuries to Rocky and changes in his behavior didn’t start until after the dog’s owner and George moved into a home in Falls in October, he said.
The dog’s owner testified that shortly after the move, George banished Rocky to the basement. The first suspicions of abuse, authorities believe, surfaced when the girlfriend found Rocky’s paws bleeding at the nail beds and a cut on his nose. George told her Rocky must have gotten into something in the basement, she said.
She told the court that she made a vet appointment, but George convinced her to cancel it claiming they had no money or time to take Rocky to the vet.
A few weeks later, she said, Rocky had trouble walking up the stairs. She asked George about it, and he claimed the injury happened when he tripped over Rocky after the dog ran in front of him.
The first week the couple lived together, George called her at work and said Rocky got out of their fenced yard and ran away, the ex-girlfriend said. But the gate to the fence didn’t swing freely and opened only when someone lifted and pushed it, she said.
Rocky’s owner said she called animal control and the police fearing someone stole her dog. She said that George claimed he was out looking for the dog. Two hours later, she received a call that a boxer matching Rocky’s description was spotted on Cabot Boulevard, five miles from the couple’s home.
She found the dog there in the middle of the road, near where George, a truck driver, typically parks his work truck at the end of the day, according to the affidavit.
She took him to a vet, who she said discovered a bump on the dog’s head that turned out to be a deep puncture wound.
Two days before Christmas, Rocky had a new cut above his eye and a cut on his mouth, she testified.
On Christmas Eve, George called her at work and said he put Rocky out in a downpour because the dog bit him, she claimed. When she got home, she found Rocky outside with blood dripping from his mouth, side and paws, she testified.
“There was blood everywhere,” she said.
She took the dog to the vet, who told her it appeared the dog was abused, according to court documents.
The dog also had been diagnosed with subcutaneous emphysema, she said. Yet, George had been constantly exercising Rocky, whose activity should have been limited, she said.
Veterinarian Dr. Carrie Phelps testified that the subcutaneous emphysema is a condition where air accumulates under the skin typically as the result of a rib or lung injury.
Phelps added that Rocky had 23 rib fractures in various states of healing, a condition she had never seen in her career outside of an animal struck by a car.
George, who was held for trial following Wednesday’s testimony, is free on $25,000 bail.
Back in 2003, George was convicted of animal cruelty for kicking to death three of another ex-girlfriend’s puppies and severely injuring a fourth puppy. He was sentenced to six to 12 months of house arrest, records show.
Posted: Wednesday, August 19, 2015
Years before a 25-year-old Northampton man was killed when his motorcycle struck a SEPTA bus, Lower Southampton officials knew the intersection where the accident happened was dangerous, according to a civil suit filed Tuesday in Bucks County Court.
As far back as 1999, Lower Southampton officials identified the intersection of Bridgetown Pike and Elmwood Avenue as a “location where traffic improvement should be investigated,” according to the lawsuit filed on behalf of the estate of Vladislav Shalupov by attorney Robert Lynch, of the Lower Southampton firm of Hoffman, Michels & Sternberg.
Shalupov suffered fatal injuries when his 2002 Yamaha sports bike struck a SEPTA bus as it was turning left from Elmwood Avenue onto southbound Bridgetown Pike shortly before 6 p.m. Nov. 14, 2013.
On impact, he was thrown and pinned under the bus and died three days later, according to the suit, which is seeking in excess of $50,000 in damages and names SEPTA, bus driver Nate Myers, PennDOT and Lower Southampton as defendants.
The bus driver was speeding and disregarded a stop sign at an intersection on Elmwood Avenue before Bridgetown Pike, the suit claims. The bus did stop at Bridgetown Pike before turning left, according to the suit.
But the bus blocked the northbound lane of travel during its turn, placing it in the path of Shalupov, who was traveling north on Bridgetown Pike, the suit alleges. Myers was issued a traffic citation for failure of duties at a stop sign and pleaded guilty, according to court records.
The suit alleges that the bus was unable to safely make the turn without entering and remaining in the northbound lane of Bridgetown Pike for “some distance” beyond the physical intersection because of the road design.
Lower Southampton solicitor Michael Savona on Wednesday said that he was not aware of the lawsuit, had not reviewed it and was not in a position to comment. The newspaper was unsuccessful in reaching Lower Southampton Manager John McMenamin for comment Wednesday. A SEPTA representative would not comment because of the ongoing litigation.
Lynch claims that township officials and SEPTA were aware of the inability to safely operate a bus through the intersection, and the Bridgetown Pike design as it approached Elmwood Avenue provided “insufficient time” for the bus to safely turn.
In the suit, Lynch cites documents from Lower Southampton that suggest the township knew that the problem intersection needed to be addressed, but failed to prioritize it as a street improvement project or act in a timely manner to make the improvements.
The documents, according to the lawsuit, suggest that in 2005, township officials were told that existing conditions on Bridgetown Pike, including the intersection with Elmwood Avenue, “serve heavy traffic volumes which exceed capacity. This results in congestion at intersections, poor levels of service and decreased safety for both vehicular and pedestrian traffic.”
The same year, the township authorized the payment of $170,000 for the engineering cost of a road improvement project that was expected to be completed by December 2006. That did not happen.
The suit alleges the township added the installation of a traffic light at Bridgetown Pike and Elmwood Avenue into a larger scale road improvement project that “unnecessarily delayed” the correction of the intersection. That project included modernizing and interconnecting 10 intersections along Bridgetown Pike to Route 213 including road improvements such as pavement, curbing, drainage and sidewalk changes, the suit said.
By September 2008, the township failed to complete the engineering phase of the project and no modifications were made to correct the known dangerous conditions that existed such as the installation of a traffic signal, the suit said. Township officials also acknowledged that the intersection met “traffic signal warrants and the installation of a traffic signal at this intersection will improve operations and safety at this intersection.”
Lower Southampton submitted a formal application to PennDOT requesting installation of a traffic signal at the intersection in March 2013, eight months before the fatal accident.
“They knew for a very long time about this intersection and they didn’t do anything to act,” Lynch said.
Posted: Tuesday, August 18, 2015
The day Robert Dietz died, he started work on a water main job at 7 a.m. Shortly after 9:30 p.m., he called his wife to tell her he was still on site, but expected to finish soon.
An hour later he was dead of a heart attack.
His widow, Judith Dietz, blamed his employer — Lower Bucks County Joint Municipal Authority in Bristol Township — for her 48-year-old husband’s sudden death in November 2007. Robert Dietz worked as a field maintenance manager for 20 years for the public water authority, a job that involved heavy labor and long workdays.
Judith Dietz filed a workers’ compensation claim seeking benefits for herself and her child for a work-related death. Under the federal law, a widow with one child is entitled to an award of 60 percent of a worker’s wages and up to $3,000 for burial expenses.
On Friday, a three-judge Pennsylvania appeals court reversed a denial of her claim, finding that Dietz had proved her claim that a “causal connection” existed between the 14-hour workday involving heavy physical labor and her husband’s fatal heart attack.
The authority had denied liability and the complaint then went before a workers’ compensation judge.
At the subsequent hearing, Dietz testified that her husband’s job involved heavy labor, including jackhammering roads, repairing water main breaks and cutting tree roots out of the sewer system. He frequently worked longer than a 40-hour week and was always on call.
During their last conversation, Dietz told his wife that he had been doing roadwork and jackhammering for hours, and he and his coworkers were tired because they’d been on the job site a long time, according to court documents. Judith Dietz said her husband did not complain about feeling ill and there was nothing unusual about the conversation, court documents said.
About an hour after their conversation, one of Robert Dietz’s coworkers came to the house and took his wife to a hospital, where Judith Dietz learned he had died on the job, according to court documents. He was in full cardiac arrest when first responders arrived at the work site. There was no autopsy.
Judith Dietz testified that her husband smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for at least 13 years; in 2004 or 2005 the family doctor ordered a stress test and it showed no sign of heart disease. He took medication for high cholesterol for about a year. He was 6 feet, 2 inches tall and weighed about 200 pounds.
Dietz also presented deposition testimony from a board certified emergency medicine and thoracic surgeon who reviewed her husband’s available medical records, death certificate and his wife’s testimony.
He found the medical records showed that in 2002 Dietz was diagnosed with a mild narrowing of the leg arteries that did not require treatment. He also went to the hospital that year twice complaining of chest pain, but neither time was diagnosed with cardiac problems, according to court documents.
The doctor concluded that Dietz’s heart attack occurred when a sudden blood clot developed in a heart artery. A clot can develop as a result of cold weather, stress and physical labor that releases adrenaline, which tends to thicken the blood, and a small tear in the lining of the heart artery, which leads to sudden clotting, the court documents said.
But in a deposition submitted by LBCJMA, an internal medicine doctor with a focus on cardiology disputed Dietz’s expert. He said that as of 2000, Dietz had peripheral artery disease in his legs, which is a hardening of the arteries that restricts blood flow. At the time, the expert said, his doctor advised him to stop smoking, but he did not.
The authority’s expert witness claimed it is common for people with PAD to also have coronary artery disease and suggested that Dietz’s heart attack was inevitable. The doctor added there was nothing unusual about the work Dietz was doing the day he died, since he had performed the same job for 20 years.
The judge initially ruled that Dietz failed to show her husband’s heart attack was “causally related” to his job and denied the fatal claim petition. Dietz appealed and the Worker’s Compensation Appeal Board vacated the denial on the grounds that the judge applied an incorrect standard. The board found that Dietz had only to prove a connection between the death and the employment, not that he experienced more strenuous than usual duties.
The case was remanded to the original judge who, using the correct standard, granted the fatal claim petition, court documents show. The authority then appealed, and the appeal board reversed the judge’s decision, in part because neither the doctor nor Dietz’s wife knew what duties he performed on the day of his death and the lack of witness testimony from coworkers about his activity, the court documents note.
Judith Dietz filed another appeal, which resulted in the commonwealth judges’ review of the case. The panel found the doctor’s testimony for Robert Dietz supported the findings that working on a field maintenance crew for 14-plus hours caused the cardiac event and death and that the board erred when it required Dietz’s widow to show evidence of his specific duties the day of the heart attack.
“The overwhelming circumstantial evidence in this case shows that exertion from (Dietz’s) regular work activities over the course of a 14-hour workday caused his heart attack,” Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt wrote in the decision.
The authority has 30 days to appeal the decision. Attorney James Downey III, who represents the LBCJMA, directed questions to the attorney for the authority’s insurance carrier, but did not provide the attorney’s name.