Here is a look at the top stories of local interest published in The Indiana Gazette during the week of Feb. 16-22:
SUNDAY, FEB. 16
The Dad Band, an Indiana amateur jazz quintet, has teamed up with the Indiana Arts Council to organize Indiana’s first Westsylvania Jazz and Blues Festival, which will bring national headliners to IRMC Park on May 24.
The event will commemorate the 10th anniversary of the group. The free, outdoor festival on North Seventh Street will serve not only to bring local and national jazz musicians of all ages to Indiana, but also to generate business and educate people so they have an appreciation for jazz.
MONDAY, FEB. 17
State police at Indiana charged a Saltsburg man with attacking six staff members of Indiana Regional Medical Center. Police said Russell Reynolds, 23, of Saltsburg, assaulted the IRMC staffers at 9:30 a.m. Saturday.
Reynolds was charged with aggravated assault, harassment, disorderly conduct and making terroristic threats. Other details were not available from police. Mark Richards, a hospital spokesman, said the assault happened in IRMC ’s intensive care unit and none of the staffers were seriously hurt.
TUESDAY, FEB. 18
The Marion Center Area School District directors on Monday approved a preliminary 2014-15 general fund budget that for now has a shortfall of more than $139,000, equivalent to 2.59 mills of real estate tax.
But district business manager Richard Martini said he is optimistic the directors will be able to “chip away” at the shortfall before a final budget is due at the end of June.
A 2.59 mill tax increase would add roughly $32 to the tax bill of an average property owner in the district. The preliminary budget for next year lists anticipated expenditures of $23,399,987 and expected funding of $23,260,960.
WEDNESDAY, FEB. 19
A former chief operating officer who stole more than $9 million from his Indiana County gas drilling company to feed his casino gambling habit has pleaded guilty to conspiracy, mail fraud and income tax fraud. Larry Dean Winckler, of Robin Street, White Township, will be sentenced May 30 by U.S. District Court Judge Terrence McVerry, who accepted his guilty plea on Tuesday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Melucci and defense attorney Martin Dietz agreed that federal guidelines call for a sentence of just over five years in prison to as much as 6? years. Winckler, 53, has agreed to forfeit more than $481,000 in a bank account, jewelry including four Rolex watches and a house in Rockton, Clearfield County, to help satisfy the debt.
THURSDAY, FEB. 20
Armed school resource officers will now patrol the Blairsville-Saltsburg School District under a plan implemented Wednesday with the hiring of three retired state police troopers. The school board voted unanimously to hire Michael Schmidt, Kirt Allmendinger and Kirk Nolan, all of whom worked at the Indiana or Greensburg state police barracks and are retired with various ranks. The officers will be paid through a $40,000 Safe Schools grant, according to Ian Magness, assistant superintendent at Blairsville-Saltsburg.
Blairsville-Saltsburg is the second school district in Indiana County to hire armed officers; Marion Center Area implemented a similar plan in 2013. There will be at least one armed officer at each side of the school district at all times, Magness said. Officers will carry their own firearms, in addition to a Taser, pepper spray and handcuffs. They will wear uniforms and bullet-proof vests.
FRIDAY, FEB. 21
Jack Edmundson Jr., 43, of Saltsburg, has been ordered to stand trial in the fatal shooting of a western Pennsylvania gun shop owner, for which the district attorney may pursue the death penalty. The trial was ordered after a preliminary hearing Friday where state police testified about a surveillance video which captured the shooting.
Police say the video clearly shows Edmundson grabbing a gun from a display case and shooting 62-year-old Frank Petro at Frank’s Gun & Taxidermy in neighboring Conemaugh Township on Dec. 31. Edmundson called 911 and claimed to have been defending himself from an attack, but Trooper Robert Valyo says that’s not consistent with the video. Police believe Edmundson shot Petro after Edmundson extorted more than $130,000 from Petro by pretending to be an undercover officer investigating Petro’s winnings in an illegal lottery.
SATURDAY, FEB. 22
The Blairsville fire department’s water rescue team used a small inflatable boat Friday afternoon to evacuate a couple from their West Bolivar home as it was threatened by rising flood water.
George Burkley, chief of the Blairsville volunteer fire company, said Tubmill Creek was jammed with ice and overflowed its banks, sending water over Creek Road near West Bolivar and around five homes on the opposite side of the road. The water rescue team put Tom and Mary Sue Garland, of 901 Creek Road, into the boat and pulled them to higher ground, then returned to the home and turned off some of their home’s utilities and retrieved Mary Sue Garland’s wheelchair.