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Regional News from WTAJ

SOMERSET COUNTY - Police are asking for your help to find suspects in the burglary of a local business. 

State police in Somerset say someone stole several tools from Eagle Concrete on East Bakersville Edie Road in Lincoln Township. 

They say it happened sometime between 9:00 PM Thursday night and 11:00 AM Friday morning. 

Anyone with information is asked to call police. 
Centre County -- Multiple crashes and icy conditions forced police and PennDot to close the interstate for hours.

It was an eerie scene for dozens of drivers Saturday night, looking out on to I-80 eastbound at the Bellefonte exit 161, and seeing darkness, not a single car of truck whizzing by.

Fire police closed the road at that exit after they say a tractor trailer crashed a few miles up. 

Other crashes throughout the afternoon also closed portions of the interstate.

Some drivers, like truck driver Phil Forney, spent over 3 hours on the roadway.

"Three and a half hours we sat," says Forney, a truck driver who was just hoping to get home for dinner in time Saturday night. "We got out of that and then here we sit again."

Forney says he passes time by scrolling on social media sites, relaxing and taking it easy.

"There's not much you can do."
PORT MATILDA, CENTRE COUNTY -- Freezing rain combined with icy bridges led to a number of accidents here on interstate 99. It was closed for a few hours until it was reopened around 7 Saturday evening.
 
Steve Kibe, Fire Chief, Port Matilda Fire Company, said, "Basically I-99 was a parking lot. There were backups in all directions -- every bridge was frozen solid."
 
That's how Steve Kibe found I-99 this afternoon -- hundreds of stranded drivers like Bill Latchford stuck on the icy roads.
 
Bill Latchford, who was stuck in traffic, said, "Some people were stepping out of their vehicles and as soon as they do they slip and fall down because it's a sheet of ice."
 
Marla Fannin with PennDOT, said, "We're at the beginning of the winter season. It can take some time to acclimate to come out of summer or fall and now we're moving to winter where you don't have dry conditions."
 
Kibe says there were at least 20 cars involved in fender benders and wrecks making it basically impassable from State College to Bald Eagle -- something this stretch of road hasn't seen.
 
Kibe said, "It's been a long time. I'm not sure it's been this bad since I-99 opened through here."
 
Latchford said, "As soon as it hit 29 degrees, the water hitting my windshield turned to thick ice."
 
Salt trucks were out for hours working to open I-99. Latchford says there was plenty of warning before this storm hit our area.
 
Latchford said, "From what I understood, it hit Pittsburgh first and slowly moving East and PennDOT just dropped the ball."
 
PennDOT says this is the first hit of winter weather and to always be on alert when you hit the road.
 
A car crashed off of Pennington Road in Warriors Mark around 2:30 Saturday afternoon.
 
One person was injured in this accident.
 
A few hundred yards down the road - a truck overturned -- the driver was not injured.
 
Officials say road conditions contributed to those two crashes.
BEDFORD COUNTY - Police say someone kicked in the front door of a home on Briar Valley Road in Bedford Township, and stole an ATV, a Playstation and four hundred dollars in cash. 

Police say it occurred Friday sometime between 3:00 PM and 11:30 PM.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Bedford State Police.
HOPEWELL TOWNSHIP, BEDFORD COUNTY - Police are investigating an alleged hit and run accident.

State Police in Bedford said it happened on Plank Road in Hopewell Township around 2:30 A.M. Friday.

A car driving North on Plank Road allegedly crossed both lanes of travel, ran off of the road and hit a mailbox.

Police said the driver then left the scene. Anyone with information is asked to call police.
STATE COLLEGE, CENTRE COUNTY - Some Penn State students heading home for Thanksgiving found themselves in a scary situation Friday night when the bus they were traveling on caught fire.

It happened along I-76 between Morgantown and Downingtown, near Philadelphia.

The Fullington bus left State College and was heading for Philadelphia.

All of the passengers got out okay, but most of their luggage was lost in the fire.
ALTOONA, BLAIR COUNTY - An Altoona crash sends three people to the hospital Saturday night.

It happened on the ramp heading onto Route 22 West near Plank Road in Altoona. Firefighters do not believe this crash is related to the icy conditions, but are investigating.

Officials said the injuries were not serious.
It's a chance of a lifetime for four dancers at Charlenes' School of Dance in Cresson. 
They were chosen as the only four from Pennsylvania performing in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade--- along with 500 other dancers. We were at their last practice Friday night.

STATE COLLEGE, Centre County -- Shoppers interested in hitting the stores during Thanksgiving night, may have a tough time if they're looking to do so in State College. Few stores downtown will have their doors open Thanksgiving day.

One of the shops, Ye Olde College Diner, will be open Thanksgiving day but for a good cause.  They're serving turkey dinners for 50 cents with all proceeds going to the charity. 

"We have maybe on Diner employee and maybe the boss [working]," says Jim Kline, the Diner Bakery Manager. "All the people who serve the dinner are volunteers."



Aside from the Diner, Sharkies will be opening at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving night.

The following stores will be closed but open on Black Friday:
- Chili's
- Panera Bread
- Connections
- Metro
- Jersey Mike's
- McClanahan and McClanahan's Downtown Market
- The Family Clothesline
- Student Book Store
- Appalachian Outdoors
- Rapid Transit


ALTOONA, BLAIR COUNTY - A former Altoona City Police Officer is charged with abusing his own children.

According to the criminal complaint the Craig Zahradnik's children made the allegations. Zahradnik's attorney says his client is innocent, but this type of charge is hard to fight.

According to the criminal complaint Zahradnik grabbed his sons arm hard enough to leave significant bruising on a visit to pick up his children last weekend. It says he also threw him to the floor and his other child saw it happen and told police the same story.

The criminal complaint also says the child testified that during an earlier visit Zahradnik choked the child and threatened both children with a taser.  During that incident the children said they hid in the basement because they were afraid.
Zahradnik faces charges of Aggravated Assault, Stalking, Endangering the Welfare of a Child and several other crimes. But Zahradnik's lawyer says this is all coming from Zahradnik's ex-wife. He says she was unhappy with the way the custody hearings ended in October. So he believes this was a tactic to keep custody of the children. Zahradnik's ex-wife filed a PFA against him earlier this week.

Attorney John Sisto was trying to get the custody agreements finalized before the holidays and doesn't think it’s a coincidence that this was filed right before thanksgiving. Sisto says it's difficult for a parent to fight these kinds of charges because they have to go into court and question the testimony of their own children.

Zahradnik was released on bail late Friday afternoon.
Members of the Hollidaysburg Area Women's Club are spending the weekend braving the cold to collect non-perishable food items at the Hollidaysburg Hometown Market on Church Street. 

Now in it's 12th year, organizers are hoping for the community's continued support.

Jamie Baser, Hollidaysburg Area Women's Club explains, "The organizations we give it to are always so thankful. They tell us stories about the families they give it to. It's just very heartwarming and something we really appreciate doing."

Volunteers will be Saturday and Sunday from 9 am to 8 pm each day. All items will then be distributed to those in need ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.
ALTOONA, BLAIR COUNTY -- The Salvation Army says they missed their goal last year, but they're hoping to rebound with the help of volunteers like John Logan.
 
John Logan has been tapping along with his bells since last Friday when the Salvation Army bell ringing started.
 
"I work as many days as they need me,” said Logan. “I can do it the whole season."
 
And he has been a volunteer -- for the last 15 years.
 
"I never know if I'll ever be on the other side of that kettle,” said Logan. “There are a lot of people that don't realize what this kettle stands for."
 
Logan is one of the many bell ringers helping The Salvation Army reach a goal of $69,000 this year after a disappointing holiday season last year.
 
Captain Laura Duesenberry, Salvation Army, said, "Well last year the goal was just over $100,000 and they only made $67,000, so that was a huge hit for us."
 
Logan said, "It kind of hurt the after school programs, the summer programs -- programs to help other people."
 
This year they're out a little earlier because thanksgiving comes later -- so they can have as many days as possible to raise money.
 
Logan is retired and spends upwards of seven hours each day outside, and it's fair to say he's pretty focused -- he doesn't take any breaks.
 
Eric Pugh with The Salvation Army said, "The Lieutenant told me just to come over and stand with him no matter what to make sure he's okay."
 
John Logan, Bell Ringer "I just want to give back something back to help others that might not have the chances I've had."
 
He'll be out for weeks so The Salvation Army can meet their goal and meet demand for services in our area.
 
John and other bell ringers will be out until Christmas Eve collecting donations.

JOHNSTOWN, CAMBRIA COUNTY--- Hayley Butler plead not guilty to homicide, endangering the welfare of children and other charges Friday in the death of a baby boy.

Heartbreaking testimony was heard during the 23 year olds preliminary hearing in a Johnstown courtroom.

Butler was arrested and charged two days after Brennon Everett died at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh.  Medics were first called to the Clover Street home in city’s Moxham neighborhood August 15, 2014 for a child in cardiac arrest.  One of the first people to get there in a matter of minutes was a city firefighter.  He testified about the baby’s lifeless body laying face up on the table.  He noticed his body was covered in bruises and a bump on his head.  The county coroner also testified and said Brennon’s death was caused by blunt force trauma and was determined to be a homicide.  The third to testify was a specialist from Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh.  She told the court the injuries Brennon suffered “could only be caused by child abuse.”  She went on to say his injuries were severe and traumatic, that there was nothing else that could have caused those injuries other than abuse.  The doctor said some of the injuries she believed were caused by a “twisting, pulling and yanking motion.”

Brennon’s mom Rebecca and her sister were emotional during the hearing listening to testimony.

"I was an emotional wreck pretty much," said Rebecca Everett, Brennon’s mom.   "Most of the stuff I knew, but there were some things I wasn't aware so it was kind of hard."

Brennon was staying with his dad Shawn Hill and partner Butler in Johnstown.  They were granted temporary custody of Brennon for the summer.  The doctor told the court that Brennon was a healthy, normal baby prior to staying with Butler.

A city detective testified to Butler changing her story about what happened to him.  At first it was “Brennon fell in a pack and play,” then at a second interview “Brennon fell leaning up against a chair.”  The doctor testified with Brennon’s injuries it would have been impossible for him to stand due to the severe pain he would have been in.  An autopsy revealed Brennon had multiple fractures throughout his body.

"The doctor’s testified to the extensive, violent injuries that Brennon Everett suffered,” said Tamara Bernstein, Assistant District Attorney.  “She also indicated through her testimony which is very powerful from the injury occurring the symptoms would be immediate."

The defense had no comment, Butler was taken back to the county jail she is not eligible for bond.

BLAIR COUNTY - Altoona Police filed aggravated assault and endangering the welfare of a child charges against a former officer.

Craig Zahradnik's lawyer says the charges are in connection to an ongoing custody issue with his ex wife. He also says his client is innocent. 

According to the criminal complaint Zahradnik grabbed his sons arm hard enough to leave significant bruising, choked the child, and threatened two children with a taser.

HARRISBURG - The State Health Department says it's reviewing a court order that could affect the closing of health centers across the state. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ordered the Corbett administration to reopen state health centers in 26 counties, including Blair, Clinton,  Mifflin, and Somerset counties.
 
A union representing healthcare workers, and state lawmakers including Senator John Wozniak from our region had sued to keep the centers open. The court agreed with their argument that the Corbett Administration didn't have the authority to close the centers.

State officials contended many public health services formerly provided by the centers are now performed by the private sector, and that most of their operating  funds go for leases, not services.

The health department says it will comment on about the future of the centers, when it completes its review.

SOMERSET COUNTY - More than half a million dollars has been raised for the United Way, but officials say they haven't reached their goal yet.

The Untied Way of the Laurel Highlands announced today they're half way through the fundraising campaign for the year.

So far it is at 45 % of their $1,100,000. To date $504,000 has been raised.

The United Way helps 25 organizations in Cambria and Somerset Counties.

ALTOONA - You may run into a change in traffic flow Saturday near the entrance of an area hospital. A sign company will be installing UPMC Altoona letters on the top of the hospital's tower building, between 10 a.m. and noon. During that time, a crane will be located in the main driveway between the emergency department walk-in entrance,  and the ambulance entrance.

UPMC Altoona says both entrances will be available, but the traffic pattern will change while the letters are being placed. Security personnel will be there to help direct and manage traffic.

CAMBRIA COUNTY - Cambria County Commissioners say they won't be increasing taxes in 2015.

The total budget for the county is just under 64 million dollars.

Commissioners say they'll have a surplus of about $21,000.

The budget goes up for public review on Wednesday.

BLAIR COUNTY - A tractor trailer caught fire on the Interstate on Friday afternoon.

The driver was hauling scrap aluminum south on Interstate 99.

A little after eleven a fire started near the rear driver's side wheel when the driver was in Snyder Township, Blair County.

No one was hurt in the fire, but it had traffic backed up near the Bald Eagle exit.

State Farm reports that cooking fires are the number one cause of home fires and injuries. Pennsylvania ranks 3rd in the nation for cooking fires on Thanksgiving Day, behind Georgia at the number two spot, and New York coming in with the most cooking related fires.  

 

The day with the most cooking fires a year is usually Thanksgiving Day, but in 2013 it was Christmas Day.  It is always best to try and prevent cooking fires from happening.

 

Some tips to stay alert and prepared are to check food regularly, and remain in your home while cooking. If you are frying, grilling, or broiling food stay in the kitchen, also keep anything that could catch on fire away from the stove.

 

If a cooking fire occurs, get out of your home and call 911 immediately after you leave.