More state money to help Philadelphia schools remove lead paint

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Gov. Wolf announced Wednesday that the state is kicking in extra money to help Philadelphia schools continue to remove lead paint from their buildings.  

Visitors’ shoes stick to the flypaper-like adhesive mats at the entrances to rooms at Heston Elementary School in West Parkside. The walls, windows and floors are covered with plastic sheets as crews work to stabilize lead paint.  

Assistant principal Audrey Fields says crews started the job in April.

“They actually did work last year but there are still places that we’ve discovered still have paint peeling, walls (sic) were coming off of things, kids were touching things and had stuff on their hands,” Fields said.

After reports of dangerous lead levels in Philly classrooms, the state last year allocated an extra $8 million for lead paint stabilization. The district contributed another $8 million. 

Wolf visited Heston Wednesday to say the state was giving more.

“I’m proud to announce another $4.3 million in state funds for lead paint stabilization that will make classrooms and hallways of Philadelphia schools safer,” Wolf said. 

Wolf said that money, though, is not enough. He used the occasion to push his Restore PA proposal, which would provide $4.5 billion for state infrastructure improvements funded with an extraction tax on Marcellus Shale gas.

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20-year-old man charged for threatening to ‘shoot up’ Haverford College, kill parents

MEDIA, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — A 20-year-old Tredyffrin Township man has been arrested after he threatened to kill his family and “shoot up” Haverford College.

On July 26, Haverford Township police were notified that Frank Wang, a former Haverford student, told another former student that he thought about killing his parents and carrying out a shooting on campus. 

Police issued a search warrant for Wang’s home in Wayne. There was no evidence of firearms or weapons, but they seized a cellphone, a computer and flash drives for further investigation.

“We take all threats to our schools very seriously,” said Delaware County District Attorney Kat Copeland in a press release, “and will prosecute those who threaten the safety of our schools to the fullest extent of the law.”

Wang was charged with terroristic threats — a first-degree misdemeanor. He’s being held at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility in Thornton. 

His bail is set at $100,000, which includes a risk assessment.

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Couple who beat 4-year-old to death after he spilled cereal will spend rest of their lives in prison

NORRISTOWN, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — The Willow Grove couple who beat a 4-year-old boy to death because he spilled his cereal are on their way to state prison, where they’ll spend the rest of their lives.

Montgomery County Judge Risa Ferman told Kieff King what he and Lisa Smith did to 4-year-old Tahjir Smith is “the stuff horror movies are made of.”

And the judge told Smith her actions made the last few months of her own son’s life a torture chamber.

She sentenced 27-year-old King and 20-year-old Smith each to life in prison along with an additional 15-to-30 years behind bars.

Related: Couple on trial for murder, accused of beating 4-year-old to death for spilling cereal

Prosecutor Ed McCann said Smith’s own words show how terrified the boy was of his own mother.

“He spills his cereal and he’s so afraid, he’s running away and he’s stuttering about it when he’s confronted about it and he urinates on himself. That just speaks to the kind of fear he was in at this point.” McCann said. 

Smith’s attorney detailed the abuse she suffered when she was a child, saying she got pregnant with Tahjir when she was sexually assaulted when she was 13. 

Ferman noted adults completely failed her and this is the collateral damage of child abuse, and many people “have Tahjir’s blood on their hands.” 

At trial, the medical examiner testified the injuries Tahjir suffered from being beaten by a flip flop by Smith and King were similar to injuries people suffer in building collapses. He also had scars on his back from being hit by a belt and previous rib fractures from being squeezed.

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Pennsylvanians can get a gender-neutral driver’s license within a year, PennDOT says

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — PennDOT is planning to offer Pennsylvanians a gender-neutral option on driver’s licenses within a year. 

PennDOT spokeswoman Erin Waters-Trasatt said state officials have been monitoring the issue and recently decided to move forward as more and more states have issued similar options.

The new license would denote an “X” in the gender section rather than “male” or “female.”

Waters-Trasatt conceded, however, that PennDOT still has work to do on logistics for it.

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“We know we’re proceeding with the ‘X’ indicator, it’s just a matter of what a customer may or may not need to supply and what that means for us,” she said. “There’s a lot of IT and systems issues, obviously, to make these types of changes. So it’s really just looking at a practical level of what we need to do.”    

PennDOT has the authority under the state motor vehicle code to make the change without the approval of the Pennsylvania Legislature.

Waters-Trasatt noted the gender adjustment will not interfere with the ongoing REAL ID driver’s license program.

“We expect to be offering this option at least before this time next year, but we’re working on it as quickly as we can,” she added.

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After 3 years of renovations, Franklin Square gets upgraded fountain

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A newly upgraded fountain in Franklin Square was unveiled Wednesday, and it took three years to complete.

“In 1837, City Council passed a resolution calling for, ‘a fountain of grand proportions,'” explained Amy Needle, executive director of Historic Philadelphia.

She said the grand fountain and the park were in disarray until 2006, when it was renovated by her nonprofit organization. Now, the newest renovation comes just in time for the park’s 13th renovation birthday.

“The Franklin Square Fountain has original marble and the original wrought-iron fence all around it. And now with the fountain show, we’ve added nozzles, shooters, gimbles, fans, all that make up this choreographed fountain show,” she said. 

Those at the fountain debut were impressed with the show. 

“The fountain sprouts, they moved really nice with the music,” said one spectator. 

And in honor of the park’s 13th birthday, Needle said they’ll be adding programming four days a week throughout the month of August. 

Evening shows will also have the additional element of lights.

“It’s so important in our city to have green space that can be accessed by everyone, so this fountain show will just be another attraction that people can come and enjoy,” Needle said. 

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Philly man’s wrongful conviction overturned after 22 years behind bars

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Another Philadelphia man’s murder conviction was overturned Tuesday after he spent 22 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit.

Testimony decades later revealed the prosecution’s entire case was based on the lie of a single witness.

John Miller was in his 20s when he was convicted for the 1996 robbery and murder of a Philadelphia parking attendant. The key piece of evidence to his conviction was the testimony of a witness who claimed Miller told him he committed the crime.

However, that testimony was false. The witness even wrote to the victim’s family to admit to his lie.

“It was essentially the statement of one person who claimed that John Miller confessed to him,” added attorney Tom Gallagher, who represents Miller. “At the preliminary hearing, that one witness recanted and has recanted at every opportunity ever since. And even more interesting, in 2011, admitted to the murder himself.”

Gallagher, chair of the executive committee at Pepper Hamilton, took on the case in 2011. Last month, his team convinced a federal court to order a new trial. On Monday, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office filed a motion to drop the charges, citing insufficient evidence to uphold the conviction and city Brady violations by prosecutors, who withheld information that would have impeached the key witness. 

The court approved the motion on Wednesday, and now, Miller will go free.

“Mr. Miller will be released from prison, where he has been serving a life sentence,” said Gallagher. “He’s grateful for the help and he’s grateful that he’ll be able to return to his family.”

Earlier this month, Chester Hollman was also exonerated after 28 years behind bars for a murder he did not commit. In May, Terrance Lewis was set free, too, after 21 years of wrongful incarceration. He has sued the city citing rampant police misconduct.

Miller’s case is the ninth exoneration under Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner.

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A third party goes after traditionally Republican seats in Philadelphia City Council

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Two new candidates joined the race for Philadelphia City Council-at-large Wednesday. They’re backed by the Working Families Party, and they’re targeting seats traditionally held by Republicans. 

Kendra Brooks and Nic O’Rourke filed twice the number of signatures needed to get on the ballot, which Brooks says shows their pro-public schools, justice reform and Green New Deal agenda has traction.

“I’m proud to say that we had over 130 volunteers across the city, volunteers gathering signatures for us to get on the ballot,” Brooks said. 

Their party, the Working Families Party, usually supports Democrats. In fact, it’s endorsed two Democratic candidates.  

But this campaign is to unseat the two Republican at-large council members, they said. 

The city charter guarantees minority party representation by allowing parties to nominate no more than five people for the seven at-large seats. Republicans usually win the seats with less than 40,000 votes, which Working Families operative Vanessa Clifford thinks Brooks and O’Rourke can surpass.

“We are running a massive operation where we really unify progressives across the city,” Clifford said.

“Giving these two seats away to people who are only for a small segment of the city is a shame. These have been our streets, now these are about to be our seats,” O’Rourke said. 

Republican candidate William Heeney welcomes the challenge but thinks Republicans are in a strong position.

“With some of the things the Democrat side’s coming up with like sanctuary cities and safe injection sites, I think people are fed up with those kinds of things,” Heeney said.

Republican candidate Matt Wolfe says he takes the challenge seriously but thinks his new opponents are at a disadvantage.

“We have a ward organization of varying effectiveness but in some areas of the city it’s very effective. We’ve also generally had a head start in raising money, in putting together the campaign infrastructure that you need to do this,” Wolfe said. 

Two Libertarian candidates have also filed to run.

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Philly man admits to killing dad, aunt 2 years ago

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Leonard Finney smiled brightly at loved ones as he entered the courtroom Tuesday morning. Moments before, he admitted he was the one who shot and killed his father and aunt in May 2017.

Finney, 26, was on trial for the murders of 47-year-old Raymond Finney and 53-year-old Florence Pompey. He has now pleaded guilty to third-degree murder, admitting that he shot them both in the head. 

Prosecutors say they tied Finney to the murders through surveillance video, cellphone records, witnesses, and a sweatshirt, which had gunshot residue and his DNA on it.  

The defendant was out on parole for a 2011 robbery conviction at the time of the killings, which will be factored into sentencing guidelines.

Finney will be sentenced in October and could face a maximum of 100 years in prison. 

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Former Eagle LeSean McCoy pays $55k to cop hurt in 2016 bar fight

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Former Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy has paid $55,000 to a Philadelphia police officer who was hurt in a nightclub fight with McCoy and former University of Pittsburgh running back Tamarcus Porter more than three years ago. But the cop is still waiting for a payment from Porter.

A judge ordered McCoy and Porter to each pay $55,000 to officer Roland Butler following a two-day arbitration hearing stemming from a civil suit related to the fight. The fight happened in February of 2016 at Recess Lounge, an after-hours club in Old City . 

Butler and fellow off-duty officer Darnell Jesse, who jumped in to help him after the fight started, were both out of work for several months afterward. 

Butler suffered a long list of injuries, including a broken nose, broken ribs, a broken thumb and several cuts and bruises. Jesse suffered a broken orbital bone after being punched in the face, but he did not recieve any money in the civil suit because they could not prove who punched him. 

There were no criminal charges filed in the fight, because it wasn’t possible to determine who started it.

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Flashpoint Extra: BlackStar Film Festival draws big names to Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The eighth annual BlackStar Film Festival, which includes more than 100 films, will kick off Thursday in University City, and it’s drawing big-name filmmakers.

BlackStar is the annual celebration of the visual storytelling traditions of people of the African diaspora and global communities of color.

“It’s a boutique festival,” said Maori Holmes, a filmmaker, curator and director of BlackStar. “We curate films that are either pushing the boundaries esthetically, politically, and it’s really beautiful when they do that together.”
 
The event started with 40 films, and it has grown over the years. This year, Holmes curated 115 films ranging from documentaries to features to music videos.

She says their goal is to showcase independent filmmakers from around the world.

Some highlights include talk backs and panels with power players.

“We have a special program with Spike Lee and Tarana Burke. They’ll be talking about ‘Do the Right Thing’ 30 years later,” she said. “We also have a program, Amir ‘Questlove’ Thompson and Tariq ‘Black Thought’ Trotter have executive produced a new documentary series, and we will sneak preview the first episode.”

Other highlights include “Jezebel,” which is about internet fetish camera girls, and “When I get Home,” a film by singer Solange Knowles. 

BlackStar kicks off Aug. 1 and runs through Aug. 4. For details, go to blackstarfest.org

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Teen fashion entrepreneur from Lansdowne launches billboard in Times Square

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — There’s a saying if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. A 13-year-old from Lansdowne is hoping that will be true — the young entrepreneur’s brand is on a billboard in Times Square and now, he’s hoping to change the world. 
 
Trey Brown is one of the faces of a campaign by Investco. He’s featured in a TV and online commercial and as of this weekend, he’s on a billboard in Times Square. 

THIS WAS THE BEST EXPERIENCE OF MY LIFE‼️ MY FIRST BILLBOARD FOR SPERGO — WAS IN TIMES SQUARE NEW YORK‼️EVERY THING IS POSSIBLE — THANK YOU MR. TRACY @worldrider_janitor INVESCO @invescous MS. COLLEEN @booze_canoe MR. RICHARD @richbutterworthdocs THE ENTIRE CNN COURAGEOUS STUDIOS @courageous_studios FOR MAKING THIS HAPPEN‼️SPERGO — WILL BE GLOBAL — – CEO TREY BROWN @iamtbflamez

A post shared by SPERGO (@spergobillionaire) on

“I almost shed a tear because it’s really, really incredible,” said Brown. He is the founder of Spergo, a luxury, ready-to-wear sporty clothing line that includes T-shirts, sweats, shorts, fanny packs, shoes and more.

“Here’s our ultimate, ultimate best seller,” he said, showing off his family’s porch turned Spergo boutique. 

He said an idea came to him a after a 14-year-old was accused of shooting a 13-year-old in Philadelphia a few summers ago. Brown was just 12, but he decided to turn his love of fashion into passion with a desire to inspire.

“Spergo represents power, strength and courageousness,” he said. “It combines the words sports and hero, and not superheroes, but my personal heroes from around the world. I added the letter G-O, because I am always on go!”

Brown founded the company and used the $178 in birthday money he received. He sold his first batch of 16 T-shirts in barbershops. Eighteen months later, he has a website and says he’s sold 5,000 units.

“Everybody has a genius,” said Sherrell Peterson, Brown’s mother. “The question is what is yours.”

A former seamstress, Paterson home-schools Brown and with the help of local and national mentors and hard work, the teen is making things happen.  

And many times, the outcome is much bigger than she could imagine.

“I am teaching him the basics,” she said, “he is teaching me the impossible.”

The visibility from the Invesco campaign is helping the company grow, but it’s just one step. Brown said his master plan is to be an example to kids around the world.

“I just want to show everybody that you can do it,” he said. “You don’t need violence. We can all work together to make things happen.”

Brown said he’s eyeing Fashion Week and wants Spergo to become a household name around the world.

“I want it to be what you want to wear when you want to feel powerful,” he added. 

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Upper Darby police searching for person who abandoned newborn baby on porch

UPPER DARBY, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — Police in Upper Darby are searching for whoever left a newborn baby on a porch in extremely hot temperatures, and officials say the baby is lucky to be alive.

Upper Darby police superintendent Michael Chitwood says it was shortly after noon Tuesday when police got a call that an infant was left in front of a house on Englewood street near West Chester Pike.

“It turned out to be a little girl six hours old. The umbilical cord had been cut, apparently the baby had been cleaned up somewhat,” Chitwood said. 

He says they rushed the baby to Delaware County Memorial hospital in stable condition.

“The tragedy could have been that the baby died. It’s 93 degrees outside, it’s one o’clock in the afternoon, the baby’s wrapped in a blanket and put on a porch,” he said. 

Chitwood says this whole incident could have been avoided. Now, whoever left the baby there is facing charges of recklessly endangering the welfare of a child.

“There is an unborn protection act, which basically states that a child up to 28 days of age can be dropped off at a hospital or police station,” Chitwood explained. 

Chitwood says they’re currently looking for the baby’s mother, whom he suspects is a child. 

Police are asking that only those with information contact them. 

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Murder trial against man accused of beating wheelchair-bound woman to death begins

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — It’s the first day of trial against a Philadelphia man accused of murdering a wheelchair-bound woman he was helping and then hiding her body in the basement for weeks while living in the home. The defendant says he’s “absolutely not guilty.”

61-year-old Elba Monroig’s body was found October 2017 partly decomposed, wrapped in bedding and duct taped inside her home on E. Madison Street near Frankford and Allegheny avenues in Kensington.  

Prosecutors say Eric Mackey, who was living with the victim, bludgeoned her head with a hammer and hid her in a basement closet. 

Monroig was ill and mostly wheelchair-bound. She was introduced to Mackey, who was just out of prison, so he could help her get around. But when she went missing, her family went looking for her at her home and was greeted by Mackey.  

They called police when they couldn’t find her and they smelled a “distinct” foul odor in the home, which is when prosecutors say they found Monroig in the basement. 

Monroig’s sister tearfully told the jury about the odd way she found the victim’s home, like missing and moved furniture. She says Mackey followed her and her son around the home as they first looked for Monroig, and they felt very uncomfortable.  

The neighbor next door, who introduced the victim and the defendant, also took the stand and recalled the last time he saw the victim, which was when Mackey took her to the bank weeks earlier. He says he continued to smell something terrible, worse than a dead rat, get worse over the weeks.

Eventually, he says he and his girlfriend got in touch with the victim’s family who then called police.

During his opening statement, Mackey’s defense attorney told the jury there’s a lack of evidence in the case and they should “question everything” the prosecution brings forth, adding that in the end, they would have more questions than answers. 

Testimony continues through the week. 

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‘Same-day pay’ program to expand, saturating Philadelphia with art, jobs

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — In April, Mural Arts Philadelphia began offering 10 jobs a day to any takers with payment made at the end of that day’s shift. So many people lined up they had to use a lottery system to award the jobs.

On Tuesday, many of those employed by the program joined the city and SEPTA officials to cut the ribbon on the mural they made at Suburban Station. 

The mural of colorful flowers on a pastel blue background brightens a formerly dank hallway, but what it’s done for the artists who painted it is even more transformative.

“This program has really changed my life,” said Michael Belo, who was unemployed when he started lining up in LOVE Park every morning for a shot at one of the ten jobs awarded by lottery.

Related: Philly’s Mural Arts taps an underutilized workforce with ‘same-day pay’

The sixth time his number got picked, he happened to meet Mural Arts director Jane Golden and ended up getting hired.

“Now I’m able to work with the same people I was sleeping outside with and homeless with,” he said.

Several cities have adopted the same-day pay program, but Golden thinks Philadelphia’s is more successful.

“This program is unique in that we have modeled in on participatory public art-making,” Golden said.

The program is based on models used in many cities to curtail panhandling, but Golden believes the artistic element of the program elevates Philadelphia’s model and gives participants a sense of worth.

“It also shows us, without a doubt, the talent that resides in individuals throughout Philadelphia, the talent and the genius that has sadly gone unrecognized,” she said.  

Midway through the 28-week program, up to 70 people are vying for the jobs each day. That’s prompted the city to add a new component with 10 more same-day pay jobs, working with CLIP, the city’s beautification program.

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Your SEPTA Key card may be 1 of 40,000 set to expire after Wednesday

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — If you were among the first to get a SEPTA Key fare card three years ago, that card won’t work after Wednesday.  

SEPTA Key cards expire after three years, and that means the first batch issued in 2016 are about to become useless.

“If you look at your card and you see ‘GOOD THRU 7/19,’ then you know that you’re one of the ones out of that group that your card is going to expire,” explained SEPTA spokeswoman Carla Showell-Lee.

If you’ve procrastinated to deal with your expiring card until now, you still have a few options:

  • Use up the funds in your expiring card and get a new one.  
  • Go to one of nine SEPTA sales locations and have your remaining travel wallet balance transferred to a new card.
  • Transfer your remaining funds by phone at 855-567-3782.

Unfortunately, one thing you can’t do is transfer funds to a new card online. 

Rider Lex Antonucci from South Philly hit the lunchtime rush at SEPTA’s headquarters the day before his card expired, alongside plenty of other commuters transferring their balances.

“It’s kind of annoying,” he said. “I’d rather just have the same card. It just makes it easier. It’s something I don’t really think about. I don’t even take it out of my wallet.”

Related:

About 40,000 SEPTA Key cards were issued in that first round three years ago. Showell-Lee said only a small fraction of those 40,000 have renewed their cards.

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