With this, 2012’s final edition of Star, we present a wrap-up of some of the most engaging, controversial and talked-about news stories in Fishtown, Northern Liberties, Kensington, Port Richmond and Bridesburg. It’s been quite a year.
Archdiocese plans to close five high schools, 45 elementary schools; St. Laurentius and St. George appeal, remain open
In early January, the Catholic Archdiocese called for the closing of five high schools and 45 elementary schools throughout the city. Representatives from St. Laurentius and St. George schools, both in the River Wards, vowed to appeal the decision.
Students at St. George Elementary School at 2700 E. Venango St. in Port Richmond were slated to move to Our Lady of Port Richmond, 3233 E. Thompson Street.
The more than a century old St. Laurentius School at 1612 E. Berks St., in Fishtown, intended to merge its student population with St. Peter the Apostle School, at 1009 N. 5th St. in Kensington.
In mid-February, however, appeals from St. Laurentius and St. George were granted, and the schools remained open.
“We are delighted with the decision,” said Sister Rita Aponik, principal of St. Laurentius, in a Feb. 22 Star story. ••
Bridesburg priest charged with sexual misconduct
The Rev. Andrew McCormick in October was again charged with involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, statutory sexual assault and sexual assault. The Roman Catholic priest was accused of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old altar boy at St. John Cantius Parish in Bridesburg in 1997.
In August, a judge had thrown out felony charges against 56-year-old “Father Andy,” but the district’ attorney’s office successfully appealed that ruling and the charges were reinstated.
McCormick left Bridesburg in 2000, and was most recently serving as a priest in Montgomery County. In 2011, he and two dozen other Catholic clergy were suspended from services while the Archdiocese of Philadelphia investigated past abuse claims against them. ••
Port Richmond’s “Romney T-shirt girl” makes national headlines
In early October, Samantha Pawlucy, 16, wore a Romney-Ryan shirt to school. After her math teacher, Lynette Gaymon, allegedly mocked her and was, in turn, removed from teaching that class, Pawlucy became the focus of a nationwide discussion on free speech.
She returned to her school, Port Richmond’s Charles Carroll High School, for a short time. She later transferred schools. The Philadelphia Inqurier reported that Mitt Romney called the Pawlucy home to thank Samantha for her support. She wasn’t home.
Both Gaymon and Pawlucy were allegedly verbally threatened in the fallout. Gaymon’s aunts told news outlets she is a “jokester” and the incident was intended to be funny.
An investigation into Gaymon’s actions following the incident did take place.
To date, the Pawlucy family will not discuss with media where Samantha now attends school, and calls to the school district and Charles Carroll High School as to Gaymon’s whereabouts were not returned. Charles Carroll High School is one of the Philadelphia public schools reccomended for closure in a list announced Dec. 13 by district Superintendent Wlliam R. Hite Jr.
Said Samantha Pawlucy in an early October interview with Star, ““People should wear whatever they want. It’s freedom of speech.” ••
Two men killed in vacant Buck Hosiery factory fire
The April 9 fire at the long-vacant Thomas W. Buck Hosiery factory at York and Jasper streets resulted in the deaths of two firefighters — Lt. Robert Neary, 60, and Daniel Sweeney, 25, who were assigned to Ladder 10 at Kensington and Castor avenues.
After the fire, conversations about responsibility, safety measures and prevention of similar tragedies took center stage. In September, firefighters’ union Local 22 filed a complaint against the city to obtain records from the night of the fire.
Local 22 president Bill Gault has said the deaths of Neary and Sweeney were “preventable,” and Local 22 alleged that a proper collapse zone was not set up on April 9. A collapse zone is a safety measure that must be set up outside a burning building at a distance one-and-a-half times the height of the walls, according to protocol.
Local 22 also demanded that Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers and his top two deputies step down due to their alleged errors during the fire. Ayers had claimed that a proper collapse zone was in fact set up.
Many other Philadelphia buildings are in the condition that the long-vacant Buck Hosiery Factory was in before it burned down, Gault had said.
District Attorney Seth Williams impaneled a grand jury to investigate the fire, and a City Council hearing in early October attempted to determine if proper safety precautions were in place. At the hearing, former Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Roger Ulshafer called emergency management at the blaze “disgraceful.”
On Oct. 24, the owner of a furniture store adjacent to the vacant factory was charged with perjury and fraud. The owner, Richard Knellinger, 40, owner of Giamari Furniture & Bedding on Kensington Avenue, was arrested Oct. 18 by members of a task force comprising agents from the U.S Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. That federal agency investigates fires and arson. ••
Officer who punched woman charged with assault
In a video that went viral across the nation, former Philadelphia Police Lt. Jonathan Josey could be seen punching a woman twice in the head Sept. 30 at a party at 5th Street and Lehigh Avenue, following the city’s Puerto Rican Day Parade.
The woman was Aida Guzman, 39, of Chester.
Days later, Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsay announced a direct-action dismissal of Josey, 39, a 19-year veteran of the department. Guzman had been charged with disorderly conduct — she admitted that she was spraying silly string at the celebration.
Those charges were later dropped, and Mayor Michael Nutter apologized to Guzman at a news conference following the incident. In November, it was reported Josey would be charged with simple assault for his actions. A judge ruled Monday that Josey would be tried Feb. 12. ••
William Panas Jr.’s parents awarded $4.7 million
In mid-February, former police officer Frank Tepper, 45, was convicted of first-degree murder for shooting the 21-year-old William “Billy” Panas Jr. near Tepper’s Port Richmond home in November 2009.
The victim’s family filed a federal suit against Tepper, who is serving a life sentence, the city and the police department earlier this month.
A federal jury on Dec. 11 awarded $4.7 million to Panas’ parents, but rejected the parents’ claim that the city and the police department contributed to the death by ignoring years of reckless conduct by the officer.
The family’s attorney, Jimmy Binns, stated that despite amassing 35 Internal Affairs complaints and logging 66 calls for assistance to his own house during his 16-year career, Tepper never was investigated or disciplined in any “meaningful” way by the police department. ••
‘Kensington Strangler’ caught
The man who strangled three women in Kensington in late 2010 was convicted of their murders in August and sentenced to three life sentences.
Antonio Rodriquez, dubbed the “Kensington Strangler,” was found guilty after a short non-jury trial.
Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey Minehart sentenced Rodriquez to three consecutive life terms without possibility of parole after listening to testimony from the families of his victims: Elaine Goldberg, 21, of Holme Circle, Nicole Piacentini of Port Richmond and Casey Mahoney of East Stroudsburg, Pa.
According to testimony at the trial, Rodriguez raped and strangled the three women, assaulted them again after they had died and then posed their bodies. ••
Managing Editor Mikala Jamison can be reached at 215-354-3113 or firstname.lastname@example.org.