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Navigation apps can distract drivers

Navigations apps, such as Waze and Google Maps, have become travel staples for many Huntingdon County residents.

These apps allow users to post warnings of certain on-road obstacles, including recent crashes and road work.

Police cars parked on patrol, however, have also been identified by drivers.

One local officer discusses what issues this use of navigation apps pose to police and drivers alike.

State police trooper Joseph Dunsmore, community service officer for Troop G in Hollidaysburg, confirmed that the main objective of patrols is to maintain public safety.

“What we want the public to understand is that our patrols are to keep the motoring public safe,” Dunsmore said. “Speeding is the number one cause for automobile crashes. Our efforts when out on patrol are to deter drivers from speeding, from being distracted; we are trying to reduce the number of auto accidents as much as we can. Even when patrolling officers are engaged in clerical work, the presence of their vehicles is meant to act as a deterrent.”

Dunsmore, too, raised concern regarding potential distractions navigation apps can become for drivers.

“The issue with these applications is that they can be a distraction to drivers,” Dunsmore said. “Focusing on an application takes attention away from driving.”

When asked of instances of this in Huntingdon County, Dunsmore could not identify any first-hand accounts. However, he believes it still should be addressed.

“Sadly, I have no first-hand knowledge of whether this has caused issues within the county,” Dunsmore said. “I really couldn’t say. Although, if others are raising concern, it should be addressed in a meaningful capacity.”

Joshua can be reached at jblattenberger@huntingdondailynews.com.

Gene editing underway in US

The gene editing tool called CRISPR was recently used for the first time in the United States at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

“In a nutshell, CRISPR is a technique that has been developed that allows one to edit DNA in cells,” said Dr. Jill Keeney, professor of biology at Juniata College. In our cells we have chromosomes, with genes on the chromosomes made up of bases...and when we get changes in those, that affects how they function.”

Three patients have been treated as part of the study for the past three months, and the initial report seems promising.

Two of the patients have multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, and the third has a sarcoma, cancer that forms in soft tissue.

The plan is to treat 15 more patients to assess the technique’s effectiveness.

“With these approved trials, if it works, it would be really phenomenal. It’s a powerful technique. If it works, we could fix cells that have these errors. The issue with it is that there have been other gene therapies that have been around for a long time and these techniques always end up having side effects, something we call off target insertions,” said Keeney.

“What has to happen is you have to put in DNA with the right sequence to fix the DNA with the wrong sequence, but when you put it into cell it can go into places you don’t want it to go. The genome is so big it’s difficult to control that.”

This new technique has a level of sophistication other therapies can’t compare with, however.

“CRISPR is far, far more accurate than other therapies. CRISPR can actually fix the problem where it’s at.”

It’s not easy to tell when, if ever, gene editing techniques will become common practice, as there is much that’s unknown.

“It’ll depend on outcome of these trials. It has to be approved first,” said Keeney

“We don’t know how long after that it will take to determine if there are side effects: one year or two year or five years. And we don’t know how permanent the change CRISPR makes would be. There’s no reason to think the changes would not be permanent but we don’t know. It is a new scientific technique.”

Nathan can be reached at dnews@huntingdondailynews.com.

Ordinance calls for rental licenses

Huntingdon Borough renters and landlords recently received postcards in the mail informing them of the “Residential Rental Unit” ordinance, which was passed to protect the welfare of tenants.

Huntingdon Borough Manager Chris Stevens believes the new law is needed.

“It’s for the safety of the residents,” he said. “Right now, rental owners are pretty much free to do whatever they want. Now we can inspect the residences to make sure they’re safe.”

Effective Jan. 1, 2020, rental unit owners must apply for and obtain a residential rental unit license for each unit, which will require each unit be inspected.

“It’s for the landlord. They have to have the inspections done. It’s basically to check that there are no bare wires or any other serious safety concerns. If there are deficiencies, like exposed wiring, they’ll be required to fix them. The actual renters don’t have to do anything,” said Stevens.

Borough code enforcement officer Jim Morris will carry out the inspections.

“Our code officer (Jim Morris) will carry out the inspection. There is going to be over a longer timeline,” said Stevens. “He’s going to have to do college units, as well, but once the initial inspections are out of the way, the process of maintaining the license won’t be difficult for the owners.”

Stevens said Morris will begin scheduling inspections with landlords after Jan. 1.

“Some will take longer than others since we have a lot of out-of-town landlords,” he said.

Stevens said the license fees were set as low as possible.

“We tried to set the fees so that they just cover the hours it takes to do the inspections,” he said. “It’s not a money-maker for the borough.”

The cost of licenses are $25 for a house, $20 for a mobile home and $15 for an apartment.

The ordinance was first proposed in April 2018 and was passed in May.

Tom Mincemoyer, owner of Mincemoyer Rentals, owns a number of properties in the borough. He said he’s spoken with other rental property owners in the borough about the ordinance.

“People were just surprised,” he said. “There was a public meeting that was held by the borough when this was first floated and there was a lot of participation. It was not well received.”

Mincemoyer said there were a lot of questions at the time of the ordinance’s proposal.

“To the borough’s credit, they did back off and had meetings, and I participated in that,” he said. “But for the last six months or so I haven’t seen or heard anything about this and all of a sudden—boom. It’s been passed and you have until Jan. 1 to get the applications in.

As a rental property owner, Mincemoyer said he feels the the communication process was lacking.

“It would have been nice for them to have another open session for people to ask questions,” he said.

Mincemoyer owns hundreds of rental in Huntingdon, as well as properties in Blair County.

“I’m familiar with this circumstance from having rentals in the State College area,” he said. “The paperwork part of the process to receive the license is significantly more onerous, but the fees are comparable. And I think the process that was used to inform people and collect input about this was probably lacking.”

Despite his concerns with the process, Mincemoyer said the ordinance itself has a lot of merit.

“I think the intent of the ordinance, which is primarily the safety of the occupants, has a lot of merit. In fact, it’s typical of municipalities to have that sort of thing in place, especially those that have a fair amount of rental housing.”

Nathan can be reached at nwoods@huntingdondailynews.com.

Mount Union funeral home has new owners

For nearly five decades, the Mount Union community and beyond trusted the Robert D. Heath family with its funeral needs. Prior to that, the Clark family was known for the same.

Those trusted services will continue for many years, thanks to the guidance of a new owner and name.

Garrett Anderson purchased the Heath-Anderson Funeral Home & Cremation Services, formerly the Robert D. Heath Funeral Home, on East Shirley Street in Mount Union in July.

“We want the community to know they can expect the same compassionate care the (former directors) Matt and Will Heath provided, but with new faces,” said Anderson.

While he might be new to Mount Union, Anderson has nine years of funeral experience.

Anderson is a 2010 graduate of Thiel College in Greenville, where he earned a degree in biology, with minor concentrations in medical biology and business administration. He then continued his education at the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science (PIMS).

Anderson has owned the former Charles M. Kennedy Funeral Home, now Anderson Family Funeral Home in Cresson since January 2018.

While the compassionate service won’t change, Anderson said he has introduced some updates at the funeral home.

“We’re not looking to reinvent the wheel — Matt and Will’s services were top notch,” said Anderson, “but things change and there are a few things we’ve been able to implement.”

Since taking over in July, Anderson has started to offer video tributes for families.

“It’s a meaningful keepsake,” he said. “Families bring in photos and the video plays during visitation. It’s taking the place of the easels and photo boards and it makes it easier for families. They bring the photos to us and we handle it, start to finish.”

Anderson has also created some additional space within the funeral home, transforming a casket selection room into a place where families can fellowship.

“In June, a law was passed that allows funeral homes to have food on the premises,” said Anderson, noting that previously, food was not permitted in funeral homes. “It must be in a separate room, so we added tables and chairs and families now have a place where they can bring food or have it catered. They can step away from the viewing or visitation or they can stay here between viewings.”

Anderson said the room offers seating for approximately 45 people.

In an effort to simplify choices for families in their time of grief, Anderson downsized the casket selection room, moving it to a small parlor.

“We want to offer them options, but not too many,” he said. “We want to simplify things for our families and make it easy to understand so people aren’t overwhelmed.”

The son of a veteran, Anderson shows deep respect for those who have served their country. Both of his funeral homes are exclusive providers of Veterans Funeral Care™ and participate in the “Retire Your Flag” Program.

“For any veteran who is cremated, we drape a retired flag over the casket at the time of cremation,” said Anderson. “It’s symbolic of that flag having one last duty. We cut out a star from that flag and present it the family with a certificate.”

In addition, Anderson also supports Operation Toy Soldier.

“Operation Toy Soldier is a nonprofit that provides new unwrapped toys to local Reservists in our provider network,” he said. “Men and women in the Reserves, yes, they have a job to come back to, but their pay is not guaranteed and this program helps to bridge that gap. All of the toys stay in our communities.”

Toys can be dropped off at the funeral home, as well as First National Bank in Mount Union, through Sunday, Dec. 15.

A second community outreach event includes “We Remember” service planned for 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, at the funeral home in Mount Union.

“We are offering this service for anyone who has lost a loved one,” he said. “It’s an inspirational service for anyone in the area, offering words of encouragement, comfort and hope with others sharing a loss.”

Light refreshments will be served. To reserve a seat or for more information, call the funeral home at 542-4581 by Monday, Dec. 2.

Anderson is a member of the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), the Pennsylvania Funeral Directors Association (PFDA), Cresson Lions Club, Eastern Cambria County Chamber of Commerce and the Sons of the American Legion Post 238, Cresson. He and his wife, Madison, have a son, Colt, 4, and a Weimaraner, Modi. They reside in Cresson.

Also serving the Mount Union funeral home is supervisor Joseph Gallagher and funeral assistants Heath Himes, Martin Young and Terry Rogers.

Anderson hopes to serve the Mount Union community for many years, but running a business comes with expenses, so he acknowledges he’s not able to offer payment options for families at this time.

“We want to be able to continue operating so that families don’t have to travel out of town for funeral services,” he said.

He acknowledges the legacy the Heath family has left him.

“The Heath family served the community for a long time and they deserve to spend their retirement with their family,” said Anderson. “I’m honored they saw me as the most suitable fit to continue that legacy. We want to be part of this community.”

Becky can be reached at bweikert@huntingdondailynews.com.

Parties gear up for 2020

With the general election in the rear view, political parties have already begun looking ahead to the 2020 elections.

Connie Kough-Pittenger, chair of the Huntingdon County Democratic Committee, has identified recruitment as one of the party’s top priorities in the year ahead.

“We will be recruiting volunteers and getting that into place. Then, as we learn who our regional director will be, that person will be in the county and counties, getting things going,” she said. “I would say the general mood is feeling the need to work hard to try to increase the Democratic turnout for 2020.”

Bill Hoover, one of the county’s representatives on the state Republican Committee, has the sense the Republican Party is in good spirits heading into 2020.

“People are very optimistic,” he said.

Kough-Pittenger believes this election cycle the committee will see more volunteers than in the 2016 presidential election.

“I would guess we had in the neighborhood of 70 volunteers in 2016,” said Kough-Pittenger. “We’ll probably have more for 2020 because of the environment and all that is at stake. I’ve had people reaching out to me and volunteering and I expect that will continue as we get closer to the elections.”

The first stirring of 2020 election action in the county kicked off recently when Todd Rowley announced he will seeking the Democratic nomination for the 13th Congressional District.

In the coming months, the Democratic committee will open its campaign headquarters.

“We will have our campaign office, as we do during major elections, but the opening has yet to be determined,” said Kough-Pittenger.

Hoover said the state committee recently did its part in preparing for 2020 by officially getting behind the party’s most prominent candidate and raising the funds needed to hopefully see him reelected.

“Well, at our last meeting we did vote to endorse Donald Trump,” he said. “That was the first step.”

Hoover said there are many pieces to the puzzle to achieving reelection.

“A lot of that involves money, raising money to get the advertising before the primary next year to promote our candidate,” he said. “Money is the lifeblood of politics, and all advertising is expensive. Almost all of the money is raised by donations.”

Noah Zolnak, a Juniata College student and president of the Juniata Democrats Club, has spearheaded efforts on campus to collect votes for the Democratic Party in the recent elections.

“For 2019 elections, we did canvassing to get people to vote. The Sunday night before the election we knocked on the door of every registered Democrat we could to encourage them to come out to vote. We’ll be doing the same in 2020,” he said.

Kough-Pittinger is grateful to have a relationship with the politically-minded college community, especially one that is eager to get involved.

“We have a great collaboration with the Juniata Democrats. Noah and other Juniata Democrats attend our monthly meetings. They have an active club on campus under his leadership. We’re very fortunate to have that kind of involvement,” she said.

The youth voters could be a potential boon for the party.

“We do seem to have more young people becoming involved. We’re very happy about that. That is one demographic we’re always working to get more involved in the party,” said Kough-Pittenger.

Zolnak has seen membership in the Juniata Democrats increase since last year.

“We had about 60 members last year, and we have 78 members signed up currently. We see a lot of people who are pro-Democratic Party on campus,” he said. They’re very motivated for 2020. This past year we were just trying to get students to vote. They’d ask, ‘why should I care about local politics?’ And I’d say, ‘Well, because you live here.’”

The increase in club membership and motivation is likely linked to the fast approaching presidential election.

“Honestly, my generation only really cares about national politics. There’s a strong excitement for 2020,” he said.

Zolnak has been pushing for some big names to come to campus as the primaries draw near.

“In June, I started this project trying to get a Democratic candidate to visit Juniata,” he said. “I’ve heard back from Joe Biden’s campaign, Corey Booker’s, Andrew Yang’s and Kamala Harris’s, so we’ll see. It would be amazing to have them on campus.”

Hoover said the state committee is anxious for the year ahead.

“We will be glad when this impeachment process is behind us and we can finally start accomplishing some of the things the citizens of the United States want to be accomplished,” he said.

Huntingdon County Republican Committee chair C. Arnold McClure was not available for an interview.

Nathan can be reached at nwoods@huntingdondailynews.com.