A year of heroism and heartbreak

City of­fi­cials sur­round the re­mains of the burned-out ware­house at York and Jasper streets in Kens­ing­ton. The fire is re­spons­ible for the the deaths of two fire­fight­ers after spread­ing to an­oth­er build­ing ad­ja­cent to the ware­house, Tues­day, April 10, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa . (Maria Pouch­nikova)

As 2012 comes to a close, a look back shows that the North­east had a lot to cel­eb­rate and just as much to mourn.

First, the good news.

St. Hubert High School star­ted the year on the hit list, as the Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia’s Blue Rib­bon Com­mis­sion re­com­men­ded it for clos­ing. Friends of the school raised $1.3 mil­lion in six weeks to save it, and the arch­diocese ul­ti­mately an­nounced that the school would re­main open.

Last week, bull­dozers began to make im­prove­ments at Ben­jamin Rush State Park at Roosevelt Boulevard and Southamp­ton Road. Plans to de­vel­op Rush, the city’s only state park, had been put off for dec­ades. Hik­ing and bik­ing trails will be among the park’s new fea­tures when the pro­ject is done in 2013.

The former Lid­don­filed Homes pub­lic hous­ing pro­ject could soon be re­developed in­to a new Holy Fam­ily Uni­versity cam­pus. The site’s own­er, the Phil­adelphia Hous­ing Au­thor­ity, has ap­proved a sale to a de­veloper, but the trans­ac­tion awaits fed­er­al ap­prov­al. Plans call for an as­sisted-liv­ing fa­cil­ity, ath­let­ic fields and a block of re­tail shops to be built.

Fox Chase Can­cer Cen­ter be­came stronger with its new af­fil­i­ation with the Temple Uni­versity Health Sys­tem. Next-door neigh­bor Jeanes Hos­pit­al has been part of Temple since 1996.

Monsignor Nel­son J. Perez, pas­tor of St. Wil­li­am Cath­ol­ic Church from 2002-09, re­ceived a big pro­mo­tion. Pope Be­ne­dict XVI named him aux­il­i­ary bish­op of the dio­cese of Rock­ville Centre in New York.

Ta­cony act­iv­ist Louis M. Iatarola in Oc­to­ber re­ceived the His­tor­ic­al So­ci­ety of Pennsylvania’s Vo­lun­teer of the Year award at the Uni­on League.

PennDOT an­nouned in June that it would spend $212.3 mil­lion to redo a 1.4-mile sec­tion of In­ter­state 95 between Bleigh Av­en­ue and Levick Street. The work is ex­pec­ted to con­tin­ue through sum­mer 2017.

Now, some not-so-good news.

The po­lice and fire de­part­ments both ex­per­i­enced pain­ful days.

In April, fire Lt. Robert Neary, of Somer­ton, and Fire­fight­er Daniel Sweeney, of Fox Chase, died when the roof col­lapsed at a Kens­ing­ton fur­niture store. They were in­vest­ig­at­ing the store after a blaze at an aban­doned ware­house next door.

In Ju­ly, Po­lice Of­ficer Bri­an Lorenzo, of Somer­ton, was killed as he rode his mo­tor­cycle home from work. A drunk­en driver head­ing south in the north­bound lanes of I-95 struck Lorenzo head-on.

The Ro­man Cath­ol­ic clergy scan­dal made na­tion­al head­lines. In late June, after a three-month tri­al, Monsignor Wil­li­am Lynn be­came the first mem­ber of the church’s Amer­ic­an hier­archy to be con­victed in a child mo­lesta­tion case. Lynn, who is im­prisoned, is ap­peal­ing his con­vic­tion on child en­dan­ger­ment charges. A jury con­victed Lynn of al­low­ing Ed­ward Avery, a priest he knew to be a child mo­lester, to re­main in min­istry. Lynn was held re­spons­ible for crimes Avery com­mit­ted in the late 1990s in Holme Circle’s St. Jerome par­ish. Avery, who was due to be tried with Lynn, pleaded guilty be­fore the tri­al began in March.

A deadly 2011 ex­plo­sion re­turned to the head­lines in Novem­ber, when Phil­adelphia Gas Works agreed to pay a $500,000 pen­alty to settle a 334-count state com­plaint stem­ming from the gas main blast on the 6900 block of Tor­res­dale Ave. in Ta­cony. PGW em­ploy­ee Mark Kee­ley, 19, of Fox Chase was killed. Four oth­er util­ity work­ers and a fire­man were in­jured. The state’s Pub­lic Util­it­ies Com­mis­sion had ac­cused the Gas Works of vi­ol­at­ing state and fed­er­al reg­u­la­tions in its re­sponse to the gas leak that pre­ceded the ex­plo­sion.

The North­east re­ceived a big jolt last week when Teva, an Is­rael-based drug maker, an­nounced that it had ceased de­vel­op­ment plans for a drug dis­tri­bu­tion cen­ter at the former Is­land Green golf course. The Budd Co. had once built rail­road cars on the 1 Red Li­on Road site that Teva pur­chased in 2011 for $40.5 mil­lion. The prop­erty’s fu­ture is un­deter­mined.

Also in Novem­ber, the Host­ess bakery on Blue Grass Road that em­ployed 300 work­ers closed its doors. The Texas-based com­pany, best known for mak­ing Twinkies, went out of busi­ness after mul­tiple bank­ruptcies and a dis­pute with uni­on­ized work­ers.

In late Oc­to­ber, Philly got off re­l­at­ively easy as Su­per­storm Sandy raged up the East Coast. There was plenty of wind and wa­ter dam­age, and days of power out­ages in the city. The Jer­sey shore and New York were hit hard­est.

Crime con­tin­ued to plague the North­east.

In Janu­ary two men burst in­to the Jin House, a Chinese food res­taur­ant at Tulip Street and Long­shore Av­en­ue in Ta­cony, and shot own­er Xi­ang Huang to death dur­ing a botched rob­bery. The 27-year-old im­mig­rant left be­hind a wife and three chil­dren. The killers re­main at large.

On Valentine’s Day, Tyri­rk Har­ris, 27, al­legedly shot and killed his Ta­cony neigh­bor, Frank­lin Manuel Santana, 47, after Santana com­plained that Har­ris had al­lowed his dog to de­fec­ate in Santana’s front  yard. Har­ris is sched­uled for a Janu­ary murder tri­al.

One of the most  bizarre  cases was that of the tire-slash­er in the Holmes­burg/May­fair area. Res­id­ents were out­raged, none more so than Dav­id Toledo. Later, Toledo was charged in the crime.

We also said good­bye to sev­er­al well-known loc­al people.

Ar­len Specter, who moved from Kan­sas to 1213 Stirl­ing St. in Ox­ford Circle as a young man and went on to be­come Phil­adelphia’s dis­trict at­tor­ney for two terms and Pennsylvania’s U.S. sen­at­or for 30 years, died in Oc­to­ber.

Car­din­al An­thony Bevilac­qua died on Jan. 31. He had been arch­bish­op of Phil­adelphia from 1988 to 2003.

In March, former Pennsylvania Su­preme Court Justice Frank J. Mon­temuro passed away at 86. He lived for many years in Bustleton.

Ed Comly, of Bustleton, died in April at 87. The World War II vet­er­an be­came an ad­voc­ate for oth­er vets. He was among the chief pro­ponents of the open­ing of the Delaware Val­ley Vet­er­ans Nurs­ing Home, at Southamp­ton Road and Roosevelt Boulevard.

The Dun­gan Civic As­so­ci­ation lost its pres­id­ent when Wanda Ex­line died in March at 84. Rose­mary Montagno, ori­gin­al board mem­ber and long­time chair­wo­man of the Frank­lin Mills Ad­vis­ory Coun­cil, died in Novem­ber.

Ed Kelly of Rhawn­hurst died in Au­gust at 86. He was a former pres­id­ent of the Great­er North­east Phil­adelphia Cham­ber of Com­merce and co-founder of the pop­u­lar Pennypack Park Mu­sic Fest­iv­al. He was in­duc­ted posthum­ously in­to the North­east Phil­adelphia Hall of Fame in Oc­to­ber in a stel­lar class that also in­cluded as­tro­naut Chris Fer­guson; the Rev. Le­on Sul­li­van, the civil rights act­iv­ist; sol­ar power pi­on­eer Frank Shuman, and sev­en churches 200 or more years old.

While St. Hubert re­mained open, the arch­diocese closed three loc­al ele­ment­ary schools — St. Wil­li­am in Lawndale, Our Lady of Ransom in Castor Gar­dens and Our Lady of Con­sol­a­tion in Ta­cony.

The once-pop­u­lar Rilling’s Bakery, on Southamp­ton Road, made its fi­nal pound cake with but­ter cream icing in Feb­ru­ary. The bakery was open for 76 years at vari­ous loc­a­tions.

Polit­ic­ally, a con­sult­ant re­leased a re­port on Traffic Court in Novem­ber that re­vealed that court em­ploy­ees and re­l­at­ives were found not guilty in 85 per­cent of cases from 2009-11. The fig­ure for the over­all pub­lic was 26 per­cent. The re­port said the of­fices of U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, state Sen. Mike Stack and City Coun­cil­wo­man Jan­nie Black­well sought “spe­cial con­sid­er­a­tion” most of­ten. The The FBI is in­vest­ig­at­ing the court.  

Ed Neilson won a spe­cial elec­tion and later a full two-year term to re­place Den­nis O’Bri­en in the 169th Le­gis­lat­ive Dis­trict. O’Bri­en, a former House speak­er, joined City Coun­cil in Janu­ary.

An­oth­er former House speak­er, John Perzel, re­por­ted to pris­on after be­ing sen­tenced to two and a half to five years in pris­on on cor­rup­tion charges.

Gov. Tom Corbett, a former state at­tor­ney gen­er­al who led the probe of Perzel, named a Lawndale law­yer, Fran Shields, to a seat on Mu­ni­cip­al Court.

The Times had an event­ful 2012. In May, ed­it­or John Scan­lon re­tired after 25 years. Lil­lian Swan­son, a seasoned ed­it­or at The In­quirer and oth­er metro dailies, suc­ceeded him. The pa­per pub­lished a Sunday edi­tion from April through Au­gust. In Novem­ber, a sus­pi­cious fire severely dam­aged the news­pa­per’s of­fice in Tre­vose.

Look­ing ahead, 2013 prom­ises to be a year of sur­prises.

Will the state fi­nally im­ple­ment the voter iden­ti­fic­a­tion law? Will new state le­gis­lat­ive dis­tricts ever be ap­proved? And will the com­munity pre­vail in fights to pre­vent two meth­adone clin­ics from open­ing on Frank­ford Av­en­ue and State Road?

Stay tuned. ••

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­ing@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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