Police and county officials say they’re prepared. Hotels are filling up. And many in the community are ready to see the trial that sparked national attention begin — and end.
Barring a last-minute delay or plea bargain, the Jerry Sandusky trial will be under way Tuesday with the beginning of jury selection. Centre County and local officials said they’re ready and eager to put it behind them.
County Commissioner Chris Exarchos said the big issue, logistically, for the county is not the trial itself, but handling the media that it has drawn.
“In a small town, with no huge parking garage and large national media trucks, that’s more of an issue,” he said.
But, he added, local and county officials have now been through such scenarios several times, and are ready.
“I think things are going to go well,” he said. “We’re as prepared as we can be.”
The outsized media vans have been parked around the county courthouse in downtown Bellefonte periodically since charges of child sex abuse were first filed against the former Penn State assistant football coach last fall.
‘Finalizing our operations’
Bellefonte Police Chief Shawn Weaver and other local officials had planned for the influx of media, with some expected to stay for the whole trial, which could take several weeks.
“We are finalizing our operations plan as I type this,” he said in an email Friday afternoon.
“Some minor prep work still needs hashed out as far as putting names of officers into certain slots on paper,” Weaver said. “But the nuts-and-bolts work is done and final.”
Weaver briefed Bellefonte Borough Council members earlier this month about the big-picture preparations.
“We are planning to man the intersection to the front of the courthouse with traffic personnel on the ground,” he said Friday. “Expect to see officers on foot beats downtown throughout the entire trial.
“Security measures are in place and will be heightened when the actual trial kicks off,” Weaver said.
Some services moved
Starting June 11, court administration offices will offer some services out of Penn State’s Katz Building off Park Avenue on campus, making it easier for people to park, get in and get out.
The prothonotary, probation and the public defender will have satellite offices on the third floor of Katz.
Sheriff Denny Nau will have extra staff to help things run smoothly at the courthouse. He said the media have been very cooperative about keeping the front of the building clear.
Nau’s staff will also be ready to help get witnesses in and out of the courthouse and provide extra security, as needed.
In this case, the media attention doesn’t just mean more work for the county and police. The news focus also is translating into increased business for area hotels.
Ashley Bowersox, sales manager at HFL Corp., said that company’s hotels have been taking reservations related to the trial since last week.
The Sandusky proceedings have meant about a 20 percent lift in business at all HFL hotels — Sleep Inn, Comfort Inn and Suites, and Country Inn and Suites — with an average stay of 14 days, she said.
‘Difficult to get around’
Bellefonte borough Manager Ralph Stewart said the experience of hearings, including the preliminary hearing that drew media from across the country before being waived, has prepared staff in the Victorian town that also serves as the county seat.
“I think everything is in order,” he said. “We’ve spent a considerable amount of time preparing for this.”
He said the community, including businesses and offices, will try to operate as usual as much as possible.
“We still want people to come into the community as they normally would and do business as they normally would,” he said. “We’re stressing that while this large event is taking place, the rest of the community will continue to operate.”
Those are the plans at Brother’s Pizza in Bellefonte. Owner Holly Maldonado said business there did not pick up when the attention-getting preliminary hearing took place in December.
If anything, that court event had a negative effect on the number of people stopping in to eat at the Allegheny Street restaurant and other eating establishments in town.
“We expected it to be busy, and it was worse than a normal day,” she said. “We’re not really preparing any more than we normally would.”
‘His day in court’
She and others said they’re looking forward to seeing Bellefonte get back to normal — including traffic and parking.
“All those news trucks make it very difficult to get around town,” Maldonado said.
Exarchos, too, said the community is ready to return to talking about things such as Penn State football.
“Obviously, we want to put it behind us,” he said. “It’s not the kind of spotlight we want on Centre County.
“But, on the other hand, we want to make sure Mr. Sandusky gets a fair trial. We don’t want to jeopardize his day in court.”
CDT staff writers Matt Carroll, Cliff White and Mike Dawson contributed to this report. Anne Danahy can be reached at 231-4648. Follow her on Twitter @AnneDanahy.