What a year.
In 2014, Centre County had high moments, low points and interesting in-betweens that meant plenty of news to cover, pictures to take and stories to write. As we head into 2015, let’s take a moment to remember the year we are leaving behind.
Football, football, football. For a team that couldn’t play in the postseason, the Nittany Lions made a ruckus in the new year starting with the formal Jan. 2 announcement that Bill O’Brien was departing as head coach, heading to take the reins of the Houston Texans in the NFL.
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Nine days later, it was a different story, with the university breaking the news that James Franklin would leave Vanderbilt to become Penn State’s 16th head football coach.
“I grew up watching Penn State football, and now to be at the helm of such a storied program is a tremendous honor. It’s important to me to be a part of a university that strives for excellence in everything they do,” Franklin said.
Heroin was the first big story of February. In the first week, the state Attorney General’s Office Bureau of Narcotics Investigation used information gathered over two years to pick up eight of 10 people in connection with a web of traffic bringing the drug from Philadelphia, through Williamsport, and into Centre County. The arrests brought a spotlight to the drug’s growing popularity in the region.
Penn State named its new president Feb. 18. Although Eric Barron would not move into the big office at Old Main until May, the board of trustees announced that he would leave Florida State to come back to the school where he had spent 20 years.
Former Penns Valley athletic director Donald Hosterman was arrested Feb. 19 on charges that he stole money from sporting events in the school district. Initial accounts set the amount at about $400, but the Millheim man later had more charges added for stealing $22,800 from the Mountain League, where he had served as treasurer. Hosterman pleaded guilty in August, receiving a $750 fine and a 90-day house arrest sentence as part of two years of probation.
Eric Crader, of Pleasant Gap, was charged with 1,278 counts of sexual abuse including 213 counts of child rape for assaulting two children over a period of years. He waived his hearing on those charges March 5. He would plead guilty to the rape charges in July and was sentenced to 50 to 100 years in state prison in October. The case stood out for the law enforcement and social services community as an example of the system working properly. Crader’s crimes came to light because of the courage of one of the victims who sought help, saying “I don’t want to be hurt anymore.”
It’s not often that an old car makes national news, but it happened when the late Larry Brown’s 1969 Ford Shelby Mustang GT500 428 Cobra Jet was uncovered in Centre Hall. The rare classic netted $280,000 at an auction that gathered huge attention among collectors and enthusiasts across the country. Ultimately it would only move to the county next door when George Cowfer, of Decatur Township, Clearfield County, gave the winning bid.
Reliance Fire Company of Philipsburg was put in a bad position when firefighter and treasurer Ryan Allen Jones was charged with stealing $14,000 from the company’s checking accounts. The other firefighters didn’t find out until unpaid bills almost saw the lights shut off. Jones entered a guilty plea in October but has not been sentenced.
The primary election in an off-year might not seem exciting, but in Centre County it made for two interesting developments. Incumbent state Rep. Mike Fleck, R-Three Springs, lost the Republican nomination to write-in votes for Huntingdon County Treasurer Richard Irvin. It didn’t mean an automatic end to the race, though, because Fleck took the write-ins for the Democratic side, setting up a replay in November in which Irvin ultimately won the 81st District seat.
The election also saw a rare victory for school ballot initiatives when the State College Area School District referendum was approved, allowing plans to move forward for the construction of a new high school.
Inmate Omar Best saw a courtroom for his trial on charges of raping a 24-year-old Rockview clerk in 2013. It took a jury just two hours to find him guilty on all charges. Best would be sentenced in September to life in prison for crimes District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller called “a picture of savagery.”
Early in May, Boalsburg Cemetery was vandalized to the tune of more than $100,000 in damage, just weeks before the annual events that celebrate the town as the birthplace of Memorial Day. The culprit was not caught, but the community rallied to raise money and make repairs.
On Memorial Day, another cemetery was vandalized in Pine Hall, Ferguson Township. Timothy Penrod was arrested for that incident, which State College police also linked to two cases of arson in the Orchard Park area earlier in the month. Penrod pleaded guilty in October and is serving eight to 22 years in state prison.
On June 12, Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers swarmed the Centre Region, closing eight Asian restaurants, confiscating boxes of evidence and taking at least 11 people into custody for questioning. ICE officials later said 10 people had been detained on federal warrants. They were identified as being illegally in the country, natives of China, Guatemala, Thailand, Mexico and Indonesia. Charges have yet to be announced by the federal government.
It was the Fourth of July when a Julian woman, Susan Bachman, 37, jumped from her parents’ moving car on Interstate 80 as they drove her to Clarion Psychiatric Center to seek treatment. Her whereabouts remain unknown, despite an aggressive campaign by her family to find her.
Penn State announced the third of its major management changes in July with the revelation of Sandy Barbour as the new athletic director, taking over for Dave Joyner.
Bellefonte had a brush with fame as celebrity chef Robert Irvine brought his popular Food Network show “Restaurant Impossible” to town. Irvine worked his makeover magic on Mamma Lucrezia’s on Allegheny Street. The show aired Sept. 24.
State College native Joe Machi competed on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing,” and was among the final four contestants.
Frederick Rice, 53, of Harrisburg, caused a Ferguson Township neighborhood to be shut down when a pipe bomb was discovered in his car. Rice intended to use the explosive in a vehicle belonging to his wife’s lover, he told police. Rice entered a guilty plea to making the bomb and five counts of reckless endangerment in December. He has yet to be sentenced.
It was the story Penn State fans had been waiting to hear for two years. Barely a week after winning the first game under Franklin’s guidance, the Nittany Lions saw the rollback of some of the historic sanctions levied by the NCAA after the Sandusky scandal. The repeal was in response to the positive report of athletic integrity monitor George Mitchell. It paved the way for the team to go to a bowl game, which was made possible by the November win over Temple.
Harris Township Supervisor Christopher Lee was arrested on federal charges of child pornography and exploitation. Lee, remains in custody in Columbia County Prison pending his Feb. 5 trial in Williamsport.
State Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman and Treasurer Rob McCord’s lawsuit against the NCAA and Penn State over enforcement of the Endowment Act that would keep the $60 million Sandusky scandal fine in Pennsylvania heated up when Commonwealth Court Judge Anne Covey declined the defendants’ request to dismiss the case. Covey said she wanted to settle the issue of the consent decree, the document by which the university accepted the NCAA sanctions. The battle would get more interesting in November with the release of emails in the case that pointed to the NCAA bluffing the university into accepting the sanctions and Covey accusing the college sports organization of “forum shopping” to federal court for a more favorable verdict.
The Penn State board of trustees dismissed a request from Gov.-elect Tom Wolf to hold off on a long, drawn-out vote on restructuring the board. At the September meeting, a plan was put forward. Chairman Keith Masser decided not to wait until January and, instead, the board voted, over the objections of the nine alumni-elected trustees, to compromise by approving the original plan but not removing the Cabinet secretaries’ votes.
Centre County Judge Bradley P. Lunsford was removed from all criminal cases except DUI court on Dec. 5. President Judge Thomas Kistler signed the order but has declined to comment on the reason behind the move.
Penn State fans got in one last tailgate for the Pinstripe Bowl, with a chance to revel over kicker Sam Ficken’s final point, which put the team up over Boston College for the win.