Bucks County man sentenced for poaching protected turtles

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A Bucks County man will spend six months in jail for poaching endangered diamondback terrapins from New Jersey and selling them online.

At his sentencing hearing, Thursday, David Sommers told a federal judge he was sorry for conduct that had embarrassed his coworkers and family.

Among his regrets may have been that he didn’t get to cover his own story.

Sommers is a former investigative reporter for the Bucks Country Courier Times. Prosecutors said that from 2011 until agents searched his house in 2017, his turtle-selling business brought in six figures.

Sommers pleaded guilty in February to shipping hatchlings to Canada in a box marked “books” but prosecutor Joan Burnes outlined a more extensive scheme.

She showed pictures and video of Sommers digging up protected terrapin eggs from the Great Bay Boulevard Wildlife Management area in Little Egg harbor and unloading them at his house. She said the GPS on his car showed he made frequent trips there. 

Burnes recounted an incident in 2017 when he was stopped in the park, after midnight, with a tub full of eggs. He was cited for trespassing and ordered to return the eggs. The next night, he was back in a different car. 

He advertised hatchlings and female adult terrapins on an online site called King Snake, describing them as captive bred. He would ship the hatchlings in Tupperware and adult females in socks secured with duct tape.

When his house was searched that October, the agents found 3,400 hatchlings.

“It wouldn’t be possible for a legitimate breeder to maintain the significant number of hatchlings, particularly under those conditions,” Burnes said.

Sommers presented an alternate view of his activities when he addressed the judge. He said he was a lifelong animal lover, that he would see wounded terrapins on the road to the shore and took them home to patch them up.

“So I started to breed them,” he said, maintaining he would re-release them into the wild or give them away. He would even give turtle demonstrations at local schools.

“I realized I could turn it into a small business,” he said. “I thought I could help rescue them while supplementing my income. I realize some of the conduct was illegal.”

His two children and four friends all testified that he was an active and involved father and member of the community who had done many kindnesses for others. Former congressman Brian Fitzpatrick was among those who wrote letters of support for him.

Judge Anita Broday said she believed he loves animals but his treatment of the terrapins was inhumane.

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Luxury Philly boutique throws stylish back-to-school bash

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A Philadelphia boutique known for high-end clothing is making sure hundreds of students are going back to school in style.

Inez Livers is one of more than 500 people who lined Spring Garden Street to take part in the Milano di Rouge back-to-school giveaway.

“It makes me feel good. It encourages me to help others too, to be like her,” Livers said.

Alasia Johnson is the manager of the luxury streetwear store.

She says they gave students designer book bags filled with all the back to school essentials, in addition to the free food, and gift bag giveaways. And, that wasn’t it. 

“We also have a bus that has manis and pedis for little girls. We have a game truck,” Johnson said.

Thresa brought her grandson out to get some back-to-school gear from the event that left her in awe. 

“This is awesome. I mean, I’m loving it. I’m loving it. I see people getting along being happy, having fun,” she said. 

Representatives from the streaming service Tidal were also there to giveaway tickets to the upcoming Made in America festival.
 

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South Jersey teachers start their year with free books

CHERRY HILL, N.J. (KYW Newsradio) — Some South Jersey teachers have some free books to start the school year courtesy of the nonprofit called BookSmiles.

BookSmiles is kind of like a Robin Hood of literacy: It collects books after students in affluent districts are finished with them, and gives them to teachers in needy schools.  

More than 100 teachers came to BookSmiles’ new Cherry Hill warehouse to pick up children’s books that they can take back to their classrooms.   

“They are wonderful books and the students are going to be so excited,” said Lindsey McEnroe, who teaches second graders in Penns Grove. “We have book fairs and a lot of the time, not all of the students are able to get books.  And so this way every student will walk away with a book.”

Related: Students in 8 schools get free books thanks to South Jersey teacher’s nonprofit

Kristen Weisman, a kindergarten teacher at Pennsauken’s Fine Elementary, says her kids may be too young to read, but these books will open new worlds for them.

“Even if they can’t read the words yet, as a kindergarten teacher, like, at least you’re looking at the pictures and you’re getting the idea of the letters, make sounds, and the sounds make words and the words make a story,” she said. 

BookSmiles was founded by Lindenwold High School English teacher Larry Abrams and over the last three years, has distributed more than 125,000 books.

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Boy’s death prompts federal action for SEPTA safety

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A federal agency is pushing for standardized warning signs on rail car doors, after a 7-year-old boy fell to his death on the Broad Street Line last year while selling candy.
      
The National Transportation Safety Board is recommending that the Federal Transit Administration develop uniform warning signs for doors on the end of rail cars.  

At the time, SEPTA had a small “No Passing Through” sign above the car doors.  

SEPTA officials have since added larger yellow and black warning signs to car doors. 

Related:

Aden Devlin, 7, was killed last September, when he fell between cars of a train near the Allegheny station.  

Last weekend, the boy’s father was charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection with Aden’s death.
   

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Man ordered to stand trial on allegations of forgery

NEW TOWN SQUARE, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — Prosecutors say a 26-year-old forged an email to make a Delaware County probation officer look like a racist, but his defense attorney claims he’s just a tabloid reporter who got a tip from a source. A judge is ordering him to stand trial on felony charges. 

Nikolas Hatziefstathiou is facing felony counts of tampering with public records along with forgery and other charges. He’s accused of creating a fake email from a Delaware County probation officer that includes a racial slur, then publishing it on an online news site he runs.

Related: Chester City cop allegedly gave stolen Taser to convict accused of posing as journalist

Prosecutors spent nearly two hours at a preliminary hearing, showing in detail why they believe Hatziefstathiou was behind the forgery. They say he was signed onto the computer when it was made and was answering emails from his email accounts.

But his lawyer Charles Peruto says several people had access to that laptop. He says Hatziefstathiou got the email from a source and there’s no evidence his client forged it.

“He’s a young kid, very exuberant in his field and he’s trying to make a living with sensationalism. And if you have a source that gives you a story, some news agencies will check it out better than others,” Peruto said. 

Hatziefstathiou is also accused of receiving stolen property for getting a Taser from a Chester City cop. Peruto says he was borrowing it for a video they were making and he intended to give it back.

Hatziefstathiou has previous harassment convictions for making prank phone calls and for calling prostitutes to his neighbors’ house then calling police on them. 

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Woman accused of fatal stabbing turned herself in

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The woman Philadelphia police say stabbed one sister to death and critically wounded another in Brewerytown is now in jail awaiting her next court day.

Tianna Thomas turned herself in last week to police just a day after they held a news conference naming her as their primary suspect, urging her to turn herself in. 

Related:

Authorities say on Aug. 19, women from two rival groups met up in Brewerytown and a fight broke out. A video shows a woman police believe to be Thomas repeatedly stabbing 23-year-old Shawntae Garrison. Garrison later died at Jefferson University Hospital from her injuries.

Garrison’s 28-year-old sister was critically wounded.  

The 19-year-old is set to face a judge for her preliminary hearing next month on murder and attempted murder charges.

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Man stabbed near City Hall, police say

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia police are investigating the stabbing of a 48-year-old man near City Hall Thursday morning.

Officers say around 8 a.m., the victim walked into the Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice, along Filbert and 13th streets, saying he had been stabbed in the side about a block away.

No arrests have been made, and police couldn’t find a knife at the scene. 

The man was taken to Jefferson University Hospital and is expected to be OK.

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World War II Marine division reunites in Philly

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — For the men of the Sixth Marine Division, loss has long been a part of their stories.

Even in their greatest victory — taking Okinawa in a battle that lasted from April 1 to May 18, 1945 — they lost more than half their comrades-in-arms. 

The years since have claimed most of the survivors.

So the annual reunion of the “Striking Sixth,” held in Philadelphia this year for the first time, is a testament to fortitude, resilience and survival.

“It’s just good comradeship,” said Dean McCallum, who once fired mortars into the caves where the Japanese hid on Okinawa. “We’re so honored that America loves us and honors us. It’s a great communion.”

McCallum was one of the six Okinawa veterans to make it to the reunion, though dozens of family members — called “lineals” by the organizers — have filled out the ranks of the departed.

The president of the board, Connie Houseweart, is the daughter of a Sixth Marine.

“Since my father died in 2006, I promised that I would commemorate him every year,” she said. “So I have.”

She received help this year from author Buzz Bissinger, who discovered, while writing a book about the division, that his father served with them.

“They symbolize the best of us and when they’re all gone, I don’t know what there’s going to be to replace them,” Bissinger added.

More than 16 million served in World War II, but less than 500,000 are still alive — a number that is quickly dwindling. 

The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates more than 300 veterans die every day.

Related:

At 92, McCallum is among the youngest. He was just 17 when he enlisted. He could not have know what he would face: a Japanese suicide mission to take as many Allied troops as possible with them to the grave. 

It was the longest, largest, deadliest battle of the Pacific yet. And he finds that most Americans know nothing about it.

“FDR died while we were fighting on Okinawa,” McCallum recalled. “There was VE (Victory over the Enemy) day in Europe, so that distracted from what we were engaged in, but peace in Europe didn’t mean anything to us. We had a problem to solve.” 

Like his comrades, McCallum has learned more about the battle in the years following his service than when he was in the thick of it. 

“At 8 a.m. on April Fools’ Day, Easter Sunday, 1945, there’s 8 miles of marines and soldiers landing. We were prepared,” he remembered. “There was naval gunfire ahead and when the naval guns stopped firing, then the airplanes came in and strafed. Then we went in and we were unopposed. The Imperial Army took a new tactic. They were in defensive positions. They let us land. They knew they were going to lose but they were going to kill 10 marines or soldiers for everyone one of them they lost. They were in caves and spider holes and we had to dig them out.”

McCallum was a mortar man, firing hundreds and hundreds of rounds.

Then, he took one. 

But he calls it his “million-dollar” wound because it was like hitting the jackpot: “I got to go home and see my mother.”

While serving as an intelligence observer, Les Wells searched the conquered caves and spider holes for information that could aid the Allied effort. He was not supposed to fire except in self-defense. But he learned his brother, a soldier, had died in the battle on Okinawa.

“When I got word that my brother had passed away, I got in a few licks here and there. I don’t know if I hit anything,” he chuckled. He still has the Distinguished Service Cross and the Bronze Star his brother was awarded posthumously.

Once Okinawa was taken, Wells was sent to Tsing Tao, China, to prepare to invade Japan. It never happened.

“We were working on an officers’ club and somebody came over and said, ‘The war’s over,’ ” he laughed. “The officers said, ‘Keep working. You signed up for duration plus six.’ “

Wells has attended these reunions for many years, to get together with the men from his outfit. There were 18 the first time he went. He is the last of them. 

He hasn’t gone in a few years, but as a local Langhorne resident, he’s glad he did. It’s given him some perspective.

“We didn’t think about it at the time, but as you get older, it makes you a little proud that you were able to do something,” he said, his voice breaking. He took a long pause. “I get a little choked up.”

This is only the second reunion for Leonard Turner. At 96, he’s the senior member of the group — though his 98-year-old brother was on Okinawa, too.

He was a “raider,” the forerunner of the Marines special ops fighters. Once he got home, he never spoke of his service. He still doesn’t.

“I remember the friendships we made as fighting comrades,” he said when asked about his recollections.

But his daughter, Dr. Karen Turner, discovered his role on Okinawa almost by accident through a Google search. 

“I said, ‘Daddy, you’re on the internet,’ ” she laughed.

She also learned about the reunions and made arrangements for both of them to attend. They returned this year.

“It’s really a good thing,” her father said. “Being my age, I’m happy to meet anybody that knew me.”

The men spoke during a tour of the Battleship New Jersey, one of several activities planned for their stay in the city that was the birthplace of the Marine Corps. While staying at the Loews Philadelphia Hotels, they’ll also visit historic sites and the Museum of the American Revolution. 

If you see them around town, you might want to thank them for their service. You wouldn’t want to miss your chance.

___

For more stories on veterans of World War II, watch, listen and read KYW Newsradio’s original series D-Day: 75 Years Later, featuring interviews with veterans in honor of the 75th anniversary of the historic invasion of Normandy.

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5 people in custody after shots fired at cops

NORTH PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Two weeks after six police officers were shot in North Philadelphia during a nearly eight-hour standoff, authorities say a gunman opened fire at two undercover cops, which led to a barricade situation that ended with five people in custody. 

Around midnight at Warnock and Oakdale streets — which is a “known drug corner,” according to police — two undercover cops in an unmarked car witnessed a drug deal, then heard gun shots. The officers saw someone pointing a gun at them.

Acting Police Commissioner Christine Coulter said at this point, they don’t believe the shooter knew he was firing at officers.

“That will be part of the investigation,” she said. “There is at least one witness interviewed who said (the shooter) fired at that car and police, but whether they knew they were police or not, I can’t tell.”

After the shots were fired, police say the gunman ran into a house above a barbershop. The officers called for backup.

A barricade situation was declared, and SWAT officers became involved.

Police say negotiators used a bullhorn to talk to the people inside, and after about an hour, four men and one woman walked out.

“There were no injuries to police or civilians, which is the most important thing,” Coulter said. “At the end of the day, it’s another job that highlights how dangerous it is and how important it is for us to be on our toes.”

The five who were taken into custody are being interviewed at Central Detectives. Police say one of them may be the shooter, but they still needed to execute a search warrant to go through the house for evidence.

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Hahnemann nurses argue Jefferson preventing potential sale

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Hahnemann University Hospital is set to close next week, and nurses are furious because they say another hospital is meddling in preventing a potential sale. 

Two local hospitals have reported interest in buying Hahnemann and bringing it back to what it was.

Hahnemann nurse Jenna Mechalas said Thomas Jefferson University Hospital is trying to buy Hahnemann’s residency training program, which would stop any sale of the hospital.

“You get a payout for each residency slot — each slot you gain, you get a payout,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is put a halt to it because we have two interested buyers that are interested in keeping Hahnemann’s mission and also keeping our family together.

“We want them to have these residency slots so we can continue functioning as we were prior to the closure date.”

The nurses are demanding Jefferson stand down so a buyer can step up. They’ve reached out to Gov. Tom Wolf for help.

Related:

Samir Sonti with the nurses union PASNAP noted each residency slot is worth at least $100,000 to the hospital.

“With 580 residency slots over there, that amounts to about $60 million a year,” he explained. “Jefferson has bid $55 million for it. They’ll presumably be getting $60 million a year for it into perpetuity, so they’re clearly coming out in pretty good position.”

He said the sale also violates federal regulations.

“The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is a federal agency that oversees residency programs, has objected to the sale in court,” he added.

Jefferson officials say they’re proud of their efforts to keep resident physicians in Philadelphia so they can continue to serve the underserved and provide for the future needs of the region.

Mechalas added that the city would suffer because Hahnemann’s emergency room is more accessible than Jefferson’s.

“Seconds matter, and I’m just looking around here and the streets are full of traffic.”

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Man admits he killed newborn, gets less than decade in jail

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A Philadelphia father was sentenced to 3 1/2 to seven years behind bars after pleading guilty Wednesday to killing his newborn baby.

Tyreek Lemon sat with his back against the chair, chewing gum, as the family of 2 1/2-month-old Orion Lemon, who was suffocated with a pillow three years ago, told the judge how the newborn was a “happy,” “peaceful” baby and just wanted to be held all the time. 

Both Tyreek and the baby’s mother Kingia Phillips were charged in the infant’s killing.  

The mother of another one of Tyreek’s children told the judge her daughter recounted the night her father put a pillow over the baby’s head. She said, according to the child, he “laughed” about it when officials came for the baby’s body.

Prosecutors contend Tyreek wanted to silence the baby’s cries, and gave the defendant an opportunity for an open plea for involuntary manslaughter to avoid having to call that child to testify against her dad. 

Tyreek’s defense attorney said he had many troubles through his life and was frustrated.  

When he was given the chance to speak, he went through custody issues and judges he had seen before and tried to refute allegations he had been violent in the past.

He concluded by saying “I love all my children. I love them to death,” but never apologized to the court for what he admitted doing. 

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Former PES CEO emerged from retirement to try acquire site

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Another suitor has emerged as the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery winds it’s way through bankruptcy proceedings. 

Phil Rinaldi, who originally formed PES in 2012 then retired in 2017, says a combination of local and nationally elected officials and union members convinced him to get back in the game. 

“This is a place that I kind of consider ‘my baby.’ I was pretty unhappy with the condition of ‘my baby,’ so it didn’t take a lot of urging for me. But I did have a lot of urging from the unions, from the state, local and certainly the federal politicians,” he said. 

Rinaldi says there are many generations of families who have worked there.

“They view this as ‘their place,’ ya know, this has been in the family forever, in that business and they take care of it that way. So I think I’m doing God’s work here to try and be helpful to these people.”

Related:

Rinaldi has formed Philadelphia Energy Industries and wants to buy the PES site. RNG Energy Solutions would join PEI on site and work on renewable biofuels and solar energy. 

“We would be involved with them in those developments, but they’re not involved with us in the acquisition, they are not a partner in the acquisition,” Rinaldi said. 

Rinaldi calls RNG a proven entity with more than $2 billion in projects already built. 

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Man sentenced after killing homeless man last year

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The Philadelphia man who’s admitted to stabbing a beloved homeless man in Roxborough last year has been sentenced to more than a decade behind bars. 

Bronson Keefe told the judge he is “deeply appalled and ashamed” for stabbing Enrico Stanziani to death, robbing him and then leaving his body decomposing in a parking lot in Roxborough.

Keefe, 39, will spend 15 to 40 years in prison after pleading guilty to third-degree murder for killing Stanziani. Prosecutors say Keefe robbed the victim as he was sleeping in his tent along Ridge Avenue near Harmon Road last October. 

Stanziani, who was nicknamed Eni, was well-known in the Roxborough neighborhood. 

Related: Man found dead in vacant Roxborough lot was stabbed to death, police say

Stanziani’s nieces and nephews said their uncle, who was 48-years-old at the time, chose to live outside, was a happy, free spirit who was never a harm to anyone, but sometimes suffered from mental health issues.  

Keefe’s defense team pointed to the defendant’s abusive childhood as a key factor to his violent behavior. 

When the sentencing was over, the defendant turned to the victim’s family and said “I am so sorry.” 

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Pa. lawmaker wants to increase penalties for repeat DUIs

DELAWARE COUNTY, Pa. (KYW Newsrasio) — Proposed legislation in Pennsylvania that would increase penalties for repeat drunk drivers is named after a Delaware County woman who was killed earlier this year by a man on his sixth DUI. 

State Sen. Tom Killion from Chester and Delaware counties says Deana’s Law would target repeat drunk drivers with high blood alcohol content. 

“To keep those with multiple DUIs from endangering the lives of those on the roadways,” Killion said. “And that’s the point here. We’re going for the worst of the worst.”

The legislation is named after Deana Eckman, who was killed by David Strowhauer. He was paroled about five months before the deadly crash, serving time for a fifth DUI. 

It would require certain repeat DUI offenders to wear an ankle bracelet that can tell if there’s alcohol in the system, doubles the time a breathalyzer device is required to start a car, and calls for the vehicle driven by a repeat offender to be impounded.

Deana Eckman’s mother Roseann Derosa says if that were the case, her daughter would be alive today.

“Because he was released and he shouldn’t have been released, he should have been in jail for a long, long time,” she said. 

Related:

“When you have that DUI offender who, time and time again, gets behind the wheel of a car drunk despite having served jail time, I’m going to call them the David Strowhauers of the world, this legislation mandates accountability,” said Delaware County District Attorney Kat Copeland, who helped write the law. 

Strowhauer recently pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and homicide by vehicle while DUI, and will be sentenced in November.

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Pastor vows to rebuild fire-ravaged church in West Philly

WEST PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — As fire officials continue work to find out how the three-alarm fire at a West Philly church started Tuesday afternoon, the church’s pastor promises to rebuild.

Related: 3-alarm fire ravages West Philly church; congregants are optimistic

At the Greater Bible Way Temple at 52nd and Warren streets early Wednesday morning, all that’s left is a charred roof and a partially-collapsed infrastructure, decimated by Tuesday’s flames. The front stone structure is still in tact.

But Bishop Benjamin Peterson is keeping the faith and accepting the challenge to move forward.

“Not give in or give up,” he said, “and a challenge to say what the sign says on the front of the church: Our motto has been for the last three years, ‘Things just got better.’ “

Peterson is grateful no one was hurt. He was napping in his office when the fire broke out, but he woke up just in time.

A few dozen people who were living in a homeless shelter connected to the church are also OK. The outreach center serves about 30 families on a daily basis. The church is now trying to locate them to make sure they have a place to stay for the foreseeable future. 

The Bible Way congregation began in 1957 at a mission near Ninth and Bainbridge streets. In 1971, the original building was also destroyed by a fire, so the church acquired a former movie theater near 60th and Spruce streets.

In 1984, it moved again to its present location near 52nd and Warren streets, formerly St. Gregory’s complex. It was built 115 years ago. 

So far, there has been no decision about where to hold church services this Sunday. Peterson said other churches offered to host the congregation, or they may just set up a tent on the street.

“And bring chairs and tables out,” he said, “and win some souls for Christ.”

As for how the fire started, Peterson said a worker was using a blow torch while making repairs on the roof. Fire officials, however, are still trying to nail down the exact cause.

“I’m broken but not destroyed,” he added. “I’m very devastated, but we thank God no lives were lost.”

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