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Jefferson Co. fire companies battle early morning blaze

SIGEL — Five fire companies responded to a house fire Thursday morning at the McNutt residence on Route 949 north of Sigel.

The site of the fire is almost directly across the road from the new Sigel Volunteer Fire Company hall. Several firefighters were at the hall and responded in record time.

Sigel Fire Chief David Smith told the media the first broke out at the home around 11 a.m. and was likely started due to an outside woodburner. He believes the wind caused it to spread to the home.

Additional units responded from Brookville, Pine Creek, Warsaw and Summerville.

Tankers were used to shuttle water to the fire scene.

The firefighters also had to combat the extreme cold.

The frigid temperatures quickly froze any standing water making the scene hazardous for the firefighters.

Two people were inside at the time and were able to get out.

Media reports indicate that one firefighter was taken to a hospital to be treated for an undisclosed reason.

Oh, baby!
Kaia Renee Bastow is Penn Highlands DuBois New Year's baby

DuBOIS — Robert and Krystal Bastow, of DuBois, were surprised when they found out they are the parents of Penn Highlands DuBois’ 2018 New Year’s baby.

Kaia Renee Bastow was born at 1:23 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 2. She weighed 8 pounds, 11 ounces and was 20 inches long.

“It wasn’t until a couple hours after she was born that we found out,” said Robert. “I was shocked at first, because I did not expect it, especially not the day after New Year’s out of all the people that were due around this time.”

Kaia Renee was due on Jan. 6.

“They induced me early because I had hypertension. My blood pressure was really really high,” said Krystal.

The couple arrived at Penn Highlands for the scheduled induction at 7 a.m. Jan. 2 and Kaia was born about six hours later.

This labor was especially easy compared to the birth of their first child, Stella Rose Bastow, who is now 2.

“With my first, I went into the hospital Friday night and didn’t have her until Monday morning,” Krystal said. “She (Kaia) was really quick.”

Stella is excited to have a new baby sister, according to her parents.

“She’s very, very protective of her already,” said Robert.

Crystal said she can probably go home soon, but doesn’t know about Kaia.

“She has a little bit of jaundice so they want to monitor that,” Krystal said.

Kaia, who is also Life’s Journey OB/GYN’s New Year’s baby, is also the granddaughter of Phoebe Crouch and Kevin Crouch, both of Reynoldsville, and Sherry Bastow, of Olean, N.Y.

Former CCCTC employee files whistleblower lawsuit

CLEARFIELD — A former Clearfield County Career and Technology Center employee has filed a Whistleblower lawsuit against the school, claiming he was terminated for reporting that a former executive director had inappropriate images on her computer.

Franklin Walk of Clearfield has filed a lawsuit in the Court of Common Pleas of Clearfield County, claiming the school violated the state’s Whistleblower Law when it terminated his employment at the school last September.

According to the lawsuit, Walk had been employed at the school since 2004 and was the school’s computer systems administrator and it was his job to repair and maintain the school’s computers. He was paid an annual salary of $47,500.

At some point in 2016, former Executive Director Elizabeth Frankhouser asked him to repair her computer. Walk removed the hard drive from the computer, installed a new one, and transferred all the data from the old drive to the new drive.

Walk then placed the old hard drive in an old parts bin in his office at the school. On March 19, Walk received information from other staff members at the school that Frankhouser was allegedly showing sexually explicit photographs to other staff members using a cell phone. The lawsuit does not state whether the cell phone was privately owned or supplied by CCCTC.

Walk was concerned that there could be inappropriate material on the school’s computer system and to avoid placing sexually explicit material on the school’s computers, Walk took Frankhouser’s old hard drive home for examination.

At home, Walk discovered pictures that were not appropriate to be on a public school computer. Fearing repercussions related to his job, Walk anonymously delivered prints of the images to the chairperson of the Joint Operating Committee, which is comprised of a school board representative from each sending school at CCCTC.

Records show that in 2016, the JOC chairman was Jeff Shaffer of Curwensville Area School District with Ronald Matchock of Curwensville Area School District as Superintendent of Record. In 2017, the JOC chairman was Todd Jeffries of Philipsburg-Osceola School District and Gregg Paladina of Phililpsburg-Osceola as Superintendent of Record.

As a result of providing those images to Allen, Walk said in the lawsuit that he believes Frankhouser’s computer was then confiscated, examined and these and possibly other images were found — and she was urged by the JOC to resign immediately.

At first, Walk said he resisted admitting he was the whistleblower, fearing reprisals and repercussions.

Walk was subsequently confronted and asked if this information was obtained as a result of his work, and he orally admitted that it was.

Walk was subsequently suspended and later terminated for removing school property from the school, according to a letter he received from the Fanello Willett Law Offices dated Sept. 27, 2017.

“The plaintiff by virtue of his employment became aware of actions and items stored on school computers that were manifestly inappropriate, immoral and illegal. He attempted in the best way he knew how to bring this to the attention of the appropriate authorities fearing at all times for the safety of his job,” the lawsuit states. “He was obviously correct.”

Walk is requesting back wages, payment for the missed pension during the period, fringe benefits and counsel fees.

Walk is represented by attorney James Bryant of Bryant & Cantorna of Millheim.

CCCTC is represented by Carl Beard of the Beard Law Group of Altoona. In its preliminary objections to the lawsuit, CCCTC argues that the lawsuit is legally insufficient, lacks specific facts and it “fails to conform to law or rule of Court such that dismissal of the complaint is appropriate.”

Beard argued that the plaintiff did not meet the criteria required under the state’s Whistleblower Law.

“Reports of vague or subjectively wrong conduct are not considered wrongdoing under the Whistleblower Law,” the CCCTC motion states.

It also argues that the plaintiff did not show a connection between the report and the alleged retaliatory act.

Beard also argues that the lawsuit lacks facts and specificity.

“A review of the Complaint demonstrates that it is largely devoid of any material facts with respect to when Plaintiff retrieved the subject hard drive, discovered the “inappropriate” pictures and printed and delivered those pictures to the operating committee’s chairperson; significantly there are no facts stated as to the substance of any alleged report to the chairperson,” the motion states.

“As a result of Plaintiff’s insufficient specificity, the CCCTC is unable to adequately prepare its defense because of Plaintiff’s vague and general allegations.”

CCCTC is asking the court to dismiss the complaint or direct the plaintiff to plead with more specificity.

A hearing on the the defendant’s preliminary objections is scheduled for next Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. in Courtroom No. 1 before President Judge Fredric J. Ammerman.

Strano Taylor stumps in St. Marys

ST. MARYS — If there was one takeaway that residents and local officials could glean from a speech Kerith Strano Taylor gave Thursday night, it was that nobody was coming to save them.

“We’re going to have to save ourselves,” the U.S. Congressional candidate said.

Strano Taylor, a Democrat, officially announced in mid-December her candidacy for Pennsylvania’s 5th Congressional District. It will be her third go at a seat Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Bellefonte) has held since 2009, having previously lost to him in the 2014 and 2016 general elections.

Thompson is seeking re-election in 2018. Strano Taylor will be running in the primaries against of Marc Friedenberg, who according to the Centre Daily Times announced his candidacy in September.

Currently, Strano Taylor practices family law at her firm in Brookville and serves as Jefferson County’s guardian ad litem, which she has done since 2004. Pennsylvania’s 5th District, its largest, stretches from Erie County to Clearfield, comprising 16 counties in part or in whole.

Despite having lost to Thompson twice before – and despite the “routine” slaughter of Democrats in the district –Strano Taylor said Thursday that things would be different this time and that she’s learned from past attempts at the 5th House seat.

She also spoke of a political shift in the Democrats favor, and mentioned Democrat Doug Jones recent victory in Alabama’s special senate election as proof.

“The wind is blowing in our direction. I don’t see that changing any time soon because I don’t see Donald Trump’s character changing any time soon. But more importantly, the Republican Party is destroying our country as we know it, and I don’t see that changing any time soon either,” she said.

Strano Taylor defined in her speech her campaign’s three tenets: education, jobs and community. She said that these three things come from having grown up in Brookville, where her family owned a business, and having sat the Brookville Area School District’s board of directors.

“From that perspective I know exactly what it is that we ask of teachers. I don’t think (Thompson) has any idea,” she said.

She criticized Thompson for his support of the Republican-led tax reform bill, the House version of which would have done away with a $250 deduction that school teachers can take for purchasing their own supplies.

Strano Taylor spoke of her own accomplishments as well: she said she served as a member of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s Juvenile Court Procedural Rules Committee and was sworn in as a member of the U.S. Supreme Court bar in October.

“You can see what I can accomplish when I set my mind to it. I work hard for the people and things that I believe in. I suspect that if we all work hard together, we can make the 5th District that we all can believe in,” she said.