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Equine virus not found in county

The state departments of Agriculture and Health recently reminded Pennsylvanians to take precautions against mosquito bites for themselves and their animals to protect against Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE).

EEE is a virus carried by birds and mosquitoes which is potentially fatal.

Horses are particularly susceptible to getting the disease.

“It can create fever and depression (in horses) and it would be similar to what we would see with the West Nile Virus,” said Dr. John Brockett, veterinarian at Huntingdon Veterinary Service. “We have had West Nile Virus problems in this area, particularly last year, which was a high mosquito year.

To date in Pennsylvania, animal mortalities have been reported in Erie, Carbon, Luzerne, Mercer and Monroe County, with one wild turkey, four horses and pheasants having died as a result of contracted the virus.

Luckily, EEE is not particularly common in central Pennsylvania.

“The one good thing with this EEE outbreak is that we’re relatively protected by the mountain ridges around us. It’s been an endemic problem in New Jersey for years, but I don’t expect it to get into our area. More recently there’s been an outbreak in Erie County. It’s more of a concern for both people and horses in the eastern part of the state and also into the northwest great lakes region.”

Brockett encourages anyone traveling with a horse outside of the county to vaccinate their animal for the virus beforehand.

When spending time outdoors people should cover exposed skin and use insect repellent containing 20% or more DEET to prevent mosquito-transmitted diseases.

No human cases have been identified in Pennsylvania yet this year. Since earlier this week, the CDC (Center for Disease Control) has confirmed 20 cases nationwide with 11 confirmed deaths.

Nathan can be reached at nwoods@huntingdondailynews.com.

Court denies appeal in case

A Huntingdon man’s claim he received insufficient preparation before taking the stand, and thus requires a new trial, has been again rejected by the state Superior Court which determined other testimony, more so than the defendant’s performance in front of the jury, led to conviction.

Dustin Scott stood trial Jan. 19, 2016, and was convicted of aggravated and assault and simple assault, charges stemming from an altercation with his then-pregnant girlfriend in August 2015. According to trial testimony, Scott was discharged that same day from the hospital where he was treated after consuming bath salts laced with bleach.

In this most recent appeal to the Superior Court, Scott and counsel argue that Scott’s trial attorney, Christopher Wencker, provided little preparation to Scott prior to his testimony; the appeal further argues the lack of preparation is responsible for a heated verbal argument that broke out between Scott and District Attorney David Smith in front of the jury, thus having a direct impact on the trial’s conclusion.

Huntingdon County Assistant District Attorney Julia Wilt, who handles appeals, said the DA’s office is pleased the appeal was met with denial.

“We think the Superior Court made the correct decision,” Wilt said.

In its conclusion, the Superior Court decided Scott failed to establish he was prejudiced by any alleged failure by his trial attorney to prepare him to testify.

The court states: “Even if (Scott) has not engaged in the argument with the District Attorney, it is unlikely that the outcome of the trial would have been different. The testimony of the other witnesses, including the victim and the doctors who testified regarding the victim’s shattered jaw which resulted from (Scott’s) actions, was sufficient to establish the elements of a conviction for aggravated assault.”

According to court documents and testimony given at trial, the victim, 13 weeks pregnant at the time of the assault, suffered a fractured jaw when Scott punched her in the head.

“I instantly knew my jaw was broke,” the victim testified at trial. “I couldn’t close my mouth.”

The injury, according to testimony, required the victim to have her mouth wired shut and to follow a liquid diet for nine weeks, according to Daily News accounts from the trial.

Huntingdon County President Judge George Zanic sentenced Scott March 3, 2016, to seven to 14 years in state prison.

Scott filed a direct appeal, which resulted in the Superior Court affirming Zanic’s sentence in April 2017 and his request for allowance of appeal was then denied by the state Supreme Court.

An instant Post-Conviction Relief Act petition was filed in July 2018 and denied in February of this year. A notice of appeal was filed Feb. 27, 2019, which led to the Superior Count’s most recent denial.

Scott took that stand at his 2016 trial to address his intentions the night of the assault, claiming he did not mean to cause bodily harm to the victim. Under the Pennsylvania Crimes Code, a person may be convicted of aggravated assault if he or she “attempts to cause serious bodily injury to another, or causes such injury intentionally, knowingly or recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life.”

The Daily News report on the trial described Scott as being “agitated” during cross-examination, prompting Judge Zanic to dismiss the jury for a brief recess so he could talk to Scott about his behavior.

“You’re not helping yourself at all trying to spar with the district attorney,” Zanic said, according to The Daily News report. “I’m not going to lecture you in front of the jury, but you losing your temper is not helping you one bit in your situation. You’re being judged in this case by a jury and your reaction and your frustrations are not appropriate.”

Zanic continued: “I have deputies very close and I can feel what is happening in the courtroom to (the point of) being concerned with the jury’s safety.”

Zanic further told Scott that he his behavior continued, he would be removed from the courtroom and the trial would proceed without him.

“It’s very important that you testify with poise and what just happened there was very concerning,” the judge said, per The Daily News account.

The Superior Court, after reviewing the case, determined Wencker had advised Scott that he could be called to testify and that Wencker had also provided general guidance to Scott for how to conduct himself on the stand.

The Superior Court referred to testimony at the PCRA hearing in which Wencker explained he didn’t go into great detail on Scott needing to maintain his demeanor on the stand. He testified that, based on his multiple interactions with Scott leading up to trial, he was under the impression Scott was a “fairly level-headed” person and, therefore, didn’t require additional preparation.

Wencker testified at the hearing he advised Scott if he ends up testifying, to answer truthfully, to speak out loud, to think about each question and to gather his thoughts before answering a question.

Rebecca can be reached at dnews@huntingdondailynews.com.

Local authorities outline, advise winter prep

The Wolf administration recently outlined the winter preparation to be conducted throughout October leading into the winter months.

PennDOT press safety officer Monica Jones said maintenance sheds in PennDOT’s District 9 are stocked with material and will be ready when winter weather arrives.

“The amount of materials meant for each area is based on the previous year,” Jones said. “This means things like tonnage of salt, salt brine (a mixture of salt and water), plows, works and equipment are governed by the amount needed last year.”

Jones noted a large amount of snow last year warranted the materials used.

“Huntingdon County saw an average of 30 inches of snow. This necessitated the number of materials that will likely be used this year: 6,300 tons of salt, 242,258 gallons of salt brine and total coverage of 1,231 snow-lane miles,” Jones said.

With the state preparing for large snowfalls and remedying treacherous roads, mechanics urge drivers to prepare now for winter driving.

Jenn Perrin, a service department employee of Huston Ford, advised local drivers to get cars checked out right before or around the time the weather turns cold.

“Make sure to get your car check right before or when cool weather rolls in,” said Perrin. “Pay attention to things like fluids and tires. Antifreeze, optimal tire traction and the like are all important when trying to avoid car accidents during the winter season.

Gary Hagans, the owner of Gary Hagans Tire and Repair shop, shared similar advice.

“There’s a lot you’ll want to get checked out,” Hagans said. “Check the coolant and antifreeze levels, tread depths on the tires, tire pressure (over-inflation can lessen traction), whether the windshield wipers are free from ice and whether the wiper solvent is suited for low temps.”

Hagans recommended now is the best time to prepare vehicles for winter; the sooner, the better.

“Always start preparing either early or midway into October,” Hagans said. “Now is the time.”

Program helps students recruit donors

Though these Huntingdon Area Middle School students are not old enough to donate blood just yet, that doesn’t mean they can’t help save the lives of other people.

Thanks to the Future Blood Donor program, 7th and 8th grade students in Brock Anders’ gold group at HAMS will be helping to recruit adults to donate blood as well as volunteering at a blood drive that will be held at the Huntingdon Area Middle School from 1-6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 21.

Lydia Wallace, account manager with American Red Cross in Huntingdon, Mifflin, Juniata, Perry and Cumberland counties, said this a meaningful way to engage students about the importance of donating blood, though they’re not old enough to do so.

“We educate students about what’s involved in donating blood,” she said. “We help them to recruit parents, relatives and others to donate on the students’ behalf.”

Wallace also mentioned this is the first this particular program, the Future Blood Donor program, was presented in a school in Huntingdon County, however, she said this is something in which any school can participate.

“A donor who comes to the event can say who they are donating on behalf of,” said Wallace. “Students who recruit the most adults have an opportunity to win a lanyard as well.”

Adults who donate next Monday will also have the opportunity to win $500 gift cards as well.

Students will be helping with signing in volunteers, giving snacks to those who have donated and greeting donors as they arrive.

Right now, Wallace said there’s an urgent need for blood donations, and school season is a great time for them to replenish their supply.

“We’re hoping to get at least 25 pints of blood at the drive,” she said. “We have lingering shortages from the recent hurricanes as well as other incidents, and with schools not in session during the summer, we’ve had to pool from other places to get blood. School vacations definitely impact blood drives.”

Wallace presented this program, highlighting the importance of donating blood and explaining why people would need blood, thanks to the help of Linda Miller, guidance counselor at HAMS, and Anders, who’s gold group will be volunteering and recruiting volunteers.

“I know you don’t have a lot of time to recruit,” she told students in her presentation Tuesday. “But, it’s enough time to recruit the amount we need.”

Though the goal for the drive is 25 pints, Anders encouraged the students to get so much more.

“If every student here recruits one person, we could have at least 90 pints of blood,” he said.

Anders said this is an opportunity for students to learn the importance of community service, and that’s how Miller connected him with Wallace and the Future Blood Donor program.

Protecting the future

A new collaborative between the state Department of Corrections (DOC) and state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) will help inmates gain a skill that will help them upon release and will help achieve the state’s goal of planting 95,000 acres of riparian buffers by 2025.

The Correctional Conservation Collaborative (CCC) between these two agencies, along with the help of nonprofit partner the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, officially kicked off with the planting of 400 tree seedlings in a 2-acre area as a riparian buffer to a tributary to the Juniata River in Smithfield Township Wednesday morning.

County and state political dignitaries were in attendance to witness and assist in the planting.

Inmates from SCI Huntingdon were the first to participate in the program, which the goals are to reduce recidivism through correctional education, empowering re-entrants to start businesses and increasing diversity in the conservation and natural resources industries, and as a result, they were the first “graduates” of the program Wednesday.

The 17 participants from SCI Huntingdon have been attending weekly class and field sessions on everything from stream ecology to entrepreneurship since July.

Shea Sherver, a DCNR representative, thanked Tina Hicks-Kern, corrections employment and vocational coordinator at SCI Huntingdon, for her tenacity to bring this program to SCI Huntingdon.

“This woman is a force of good,” she said. “She reached out to me a couple of years ago, and it led to a tree tenders training, and then we did a pruning workshop with the community and pruned trees in Huntingdon, but she kept coming back and asking what else we could do with DCNR.”

Sherver said this is around the same time that Teddi Stark, riparian buffer expert with DCNR, and Ryan Davis, who is the forest program manager for the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, were envisioning the riparian buffer forest vocational training program.

“Huntingdon has been this great place to pilot this program, and Tina has been on top of her game, because you need a local champion to pilot this program,” she said. “Outsiders can only get so far, so Tina has definitely been the champion here.”

She also thanked Stark and Davis for their hard work to scale up the CCC to make it what it is.

“Without them, this Correctional Conservational Collaborative wouldn’t be where it is today,” said Sherver. “They’ve allowed this program to grow into more than it could have been if it was just me.”

Sherver also thanked the SCI Huntingdon inmates who, on Wednesday, just as a start, planted 400 trees in less than two hours.

“We’ll never forget you, and you’re always going to be the first graduating class,” she said. “Thank you for your willingness to learn. That’s been the biggest thing that’s kept us motivated and wanting to come back. We really want to see you succeed and we recognize the potential in all of you.”

DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn, said conservation work has been a deep part of the ethic, and reforesting it is critical for the future.

“I think you’re really going to see in the next couple of years a gain in traction for conservation,” she said. “I think when you come out in the free world, having a background in conservation will lead you to good places. We need a big work force in conservation. Thank you for choosing this topic, and I think it will lead you to interesting places.

“We’re all aware of the environmental challenges coming our way, so for you to have this personal knowledge and interest, I think it will be very critical,” said Adams Dunn. “We’re proud of you, and we’re motivated by you.”

Kate Fritz, executive director for the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, said she’s grateful for those within her organization who aided DCNR and the DOC to get this program to where it is and to usher in the first graduating class of the CCC.

“Today marks the beginning of something new for graduates and a new opportunity and a bright path forward for the state as well,” she said.

Fritz thanked all involved for their dedication to trying something new.

“I want to thank them not just for lifting up the quality of our water and lands, but for living the quality and care of our society, increasing the talent of our green jobs workforce,” she said. “We, as the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay seek to be the glue between different sectors and and stakeholders across the Chesapeake Bay Watershed to find a common ground and common benefit. The state is taking a leadership role.”

Brandon Flood, state Board of Pardons secretary, said programs like the CCC can be the thing that gives inmates the tools they need to succeed once they’re released from prison.

“I’m a Democrat, and amongst Democrats, they loathe anything they believe that exploits inmates and anything to do with inmate labor,” he said. “But, it’s not about about exploitation, it’s about empowerment. It’s about broadening your horizons.”

After remarks, inmates and officials planted trees and a graduation ceremony was held for them.