Exclusive: VisionQuest workers laid off after zoning battle

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The company that was planning to open a North Philadelphia residential facility for unaccompanied migrant children from the U.S. border laid off all of its employees Thursday as they could no longer afford to pay them.

VisionQuest issued a statement Thursday night, saying 65 employees were laid off after nearly a yearlong zoning battle with the City of Philadelphia that kept the center empty for more than eight months. 

“We’ve continued to pay our staff over the eight months while this was being contested, but we can no longer afford to do so,” said CEO Mark Contento.

Last fall, the company secured a three-year, $3.6 million federal contract to house up to 60 migrant boys age 11 to 17 at its Grace Dix Center on Old York Road. 

Back in January, the company took reporters on a tour of the facility to show off more than $200,000 in upgrades that would help make the dormitory-style space comfortable for youth. 

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VisionQuest had prior zoning approval to use the location as a youth shelter. But the city objected, saying to house migrants required special zoning, and the city’s zoning board agreed. 

“It means some of our resistance has been working since VisionQuest cannot move forward,” said Erika Almiron, who runs Juntos, an immigrants’ rights organization.

The mayor, several members of City Council and immigration rights advocates all opposed the facility. Despite an appeal and a lawsuit, the center never opened. 

With no children to house, VisionQuest operators said “they had no choice but to layoff staff.”

Contento says VisionQuest will continue its fight to open the center at a later date.  

The city has not commented yet.  

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Arrest made in connection to man found dead in trunk

NORRISTOWN, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — The death of a popular Bridgeport barber has remained a mystery since he was found dead in the trunk of his own car a year-and-a-half ago. But now, the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office has made an arrest in connection with his death.

Daniel Torres, who owned Danny’s Barbershop in Bridgeport, was found in a trash bag in the trunk of his car on May 9, 2018, a week after his mother reported him missing. The car was abandoned for more than a week in the parking lot of the Twin Pines Apartments on North Valley Forge Road in Lansdale.

There were no signs of trauma, and up until now, his death and how he ended up in the trunk remained a mystery.

Now, investigators believe 34-year-old Shamsuzzaman Mollah wrapped the body in an oversized trash bag, hid it inside the trunk of Torres’ Nissan Altima, and parked it at the apartment complex. He is charged with the abuse of a corpse, as well as the unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and theft by unlawful taking. 

According to charging documents, Mollah and Torres went a strip club on April 28, 2018, then went back to Mollah’s home. The medical examiner thinks Torres died from a combination of alcohol and opioid poisoning.

Investigators believe Mollah hid the body because he was on probation and he feared being connected to Torres’ death would be a violation of his probation.

Mollah is in the Montgomery County Correctional Facility on $20,000 cash bail. A preliminary hearing on the charges is scheduled for Nov. 8.

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Another mistrial for man accused of shooting Philly cop

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Once again, another mistrial has been declared in the case against a man accused of shooting a Philly cop six years ago, this time because jurors were talking about the case. 

One juror reportedly heard another juror talking about how this trial against Eric Torres was in fact a retrial. Another said there was discussion about the case on social media.

The defense motioned for a mistrial, which was granted.

Torres, 37, is accused of shooting Philadelphia Police Officer Ed Davies six years ago. He was convicted in 2015 but it was dropped in 2017 by the Pennsylvania Superior Court, because the judge said police officers did not have probable cause to search Torres’ home.

During the second trial in September, the judge declared a mistrial at the defense’s request because prosecutors showed the jury inadmissible evidence. 

The third trial began Wednesday with opening statements.

Torres maintains he is innocent.

The fourth trial is now slated for March 23, 2020. 

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Police identify man accused of raping 2 girls exiting SEPTA

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Authorities are searching for a 20-year-old Philadelphia man they say raped two teens in separate incidents earlier this month, as they got off a SEPTA bus in the Oxford Circle neighborhood.

Detectives say it was Drean Tabb who sexually assaulted the victims as they walked home near Bustleton Avenue and Levick Street.

The first attack happened Oct. 15; the second, Oct. 20.

Anyone with information on where he may be is urged to call police.

Related: 2 teens sexually assaulted in separate incidents as they got off same bus, police say

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Former volunteer firefighter to plead guilty to sex assault

NORRISTOWN, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — A 20-year-old former volunteer with the Trevose Fire Company has agreed to plead guilty to sexually assaulting a woman at the firehouse back in August. 

Paul Delp III agreed, while waiving his preliminary hearing, to plead guilty to sexual assault and possession of child pornography when his case gets to the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas.

As part of the agreement, Delp will serve four to eight years in state prison, and prosecutors will withdraw a first-degree felony charge and will not file a more serious rape charge against him.

Prosecutor Edward Louka said the victim met Delp on Aug. 28, during which he invited her back to the Trevose Fire Company substation on Bristol Road.

“She actually believed there’d be other people there too, but there turned out to be no one else there,” said Louka. “They agreed to meet up — she believed just to get to know him — but obviously he had other intentions.”

The victim reported the assault immediately. Louka said Delp gave police permission to search his phone.

“When they did the download of the phone, 20 images came up of child pornography,” he added.

Those photos of young children were not related to the woman he is accused of raping.

Delp has a formal arraignment scheduled for Nov. 25, but it’s not clear when he’ll officially enter the plea.

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Kenney signs 3 bills to protect transgender, nonbinary youth

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia is taking a major step toward protecting the rights, and promoting the fair treatment, of transgender and gender-nonbinary youth.

This step comes in the form of three bills signed by Mayor Jim Kenney on Thursday that expand the definition of gender identity and sexual orientation, and how they’re to be used by city employees.

They also require all city-controlled buildings to have at least one gender-neutral bathroom.

According to Kenney, the bills will help protect younger members of the LGBTQ community.

“Public-facing youth organizations will need to adopt guidelines ensuring non discriminatory treatment of transgender, and gender non-conforming youth,” he said.

Itzela says she is one of those young people who will benefit from the guidelines affecting schools, recreation centers and clubs.

“It makes me feel really good to know there will be more support out there for people like me,” they said.

The non-binary 10-year-old helped champion those bills in city council, and was on hand for their signing.

They’re hoping the new laws can make life better for other young Philadelphians.

“Some people don’t have their families who really understand it, and it’s nice to have a place, even if it’s not at your house,” they said.

The measures are expected to take effect next year.

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Police: Man confesses to killing family in West Philly home

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia Police have identified the man who they say shot and killed his parents and siblings in their West Philadelphia home on Wednesday, and acting Police Commissioner Christine Coulter says he has confessed.

Coulter says 29-year-old Maurice Louis admitted to killing his mother, stepfather and two stepbrothers, 17 and 6 years old. Coulter says when officers got to the house, Louis wasn’t hiding anything. 

“He told the officers at the scene. He revealed that he had killed them. Then they went through the house and, one by one, discovered the family members who were deceased in the house. He didn’t resist them at the time, and he was taken into custody,” Coulter said.

Police went to the house on Walton Avenue for a wellness check because they say Louis’s mom and stepdad hadn’t shown up for work. They were co-workers.

Coulter says Louis used a shotgun, which sources say he bought legally, and had it with him in a bag on the El on Tuesday.

Related: 4 people, including 6-year-old, 17-year-old found dead in West Philadelphia

Police say Louis has no criminal history. Some of the neighbors say he has been dealing with mental health issues, but Coulter did not confirm any of those details.

“I don’t know if there was a trigger or anything that made him snap at that point. He was living in the home with the family, so I couldn’t begin to delve into what would make somebody do something so horrific,” Coulter said.

Coulter says grief counselors are at the schools the two young people attended.

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Cops look for woman they say assaulted elderly woman on bus

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Police are searching for a woman they say physically assaulted an elderly woman on a SEPTA bus in Northeast Philadelphia. 

Investigators say it happened on a Route 70 bus at Bustleton and Cottman avenues around 7 p.m. on Tuesday night.

“No weapon was used but the assault was very graphic and we believe that there were witnesses to that incident. She got right off after the incident,” said SEPTA Transit Police’s Lt. Michael Wright.

Anyone with information is asked to call the police. 

She’s described as a woman in her 30s and was last seen in a black jacket, yellow shirt, black pants and black shoes.

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Young cancer patient’s wish granted with Gritty visit

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The birthday wish of a cancer patient at Children’s Hospital has been fulfilled with a visit from his favorite sports mascot Wednesday as Gritty stopped by the hospital to greet his biggest fan.

His fourth birthday was the best day of Jack Callahan’s young life. He got just what he wanted: A visit from Gritty. 

Jack of Charlottesville, Virginia captured hearts throughout Philadelphia last month when he dictated a letter to the googly-eyed mascot from his hospital bed, telling Gritty he loved him.

The love was returned when Gritty arrived at the Ronald McDonald House to celebrate Jack’s birthday.

“Gritty came in and Jack was just beside himself. So happy, and he even had a little tear roll down his cheek!” said Mike Callahan, Jack’s dad.

He says this has been the happiest day since February, when Jack was diagnosed with cancer in his pelvis that spread to his lungs. Jack has another round of chemo and a stem-cell transplant next week.

“He’s so happy right now and that really helps with healing and with handling these treatments,” Mike said. 

And dad says Jack will be talking about his day with Gritty for weeks and weeks and weeks.

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4-year-old in critical condition after falling out of window

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A 4-year-old girl is in critical condition after falling out of a second floor window and landing on chairs below. 

Police say the incident happened around 4:30 p.m. near Folsom and Francis streets in the Francisville section of the city. 

The girl has multiple face injuries from the fall. 

She was taken to Jefferson University Hospital and will be transported to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. 

Police are still investigating how the child fell out of the window.

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2 rare relics from Christ Church reinstated atop steeple

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Two rare remnants from the historic Christ Church in Old City have been restored and put back into place high atop its 200-foot-tall steeple.  

Scaffolding still surrounds the church’s 1754-era steeple, as a $2.5 million restoration project continues.  

As part of the effort, a 1787 gold-gilded bishop’s miter and a weather vane were taken down, restored and returned to their perch.

Rev. Timothy Safford looked on as crews re-installed the objects.

“Once the scaffolding comes down, it will glitter in the sun,” he said. “It will really be a spectacular site and it’s important to return it, because what was there before the miter was the English crown. They took down the crown of the king of England and they put on a symbol that the church is no longer under the king. The crown, of course, came down in 1777.”

The miter, Safford said, was installed about four years after the Revolutionary War.

The renovations to the entire steeple are expected to be completed in December.

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Day of the Dead celebrations come to Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — For the first time ever, the City of Philadelphia will officially celebrate the traditional Mexican holiday know as Day of the Dead, and festivities will take place in Love Park this Friday and Saturday.

A giant Dia De Muertos altar was unveiled in Love Park and Rocia Vazquez, acting consul of Mexico in Philadelphia, explains it’s in honor of the traditional Mexican holiday that’s celebrated on Nov. 1-2.

“Day of the Dead is celebrating and remembering loved ones,” Vazquez explained. 

“So normally, either at the altars or the cemeteries or both, you offer the dead food and drinks and things that they loved when they were here,” she added. 

The altar was created by artist Cesar Vivaros.

“This touched me personally because last year my wife passed away. Actually, she’s the one who taught me how to do paper-mache, how to do Day of the Dead altars,” he explained. 

Vazquez says this year, Philadelphia will be celebrating Day of the Dead with music, art, movies and food all weekend in Love Park.

“We love the opportunity to be able to show everyone, all the residents here in Philadelphia and visitors, how rich, diverse, vibrant our cultures and traditions are,” Vazquez said. 

And that means a lot to Vivaros. 

“It’s symbolic of the fact that we have been accepted, we are welcomed, we are loved (here in Philadelphia),” he said. 

The altar will be on display until Nov. 10. 

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White woman sues Philly Starbucks for alleged discrimination

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The former regional manager of the Center City Starbucks, where two black men were arrested last year for sitting inside the store, is suing the company for allegedly discriminating against white people.

In her suit, Shannon Phillips from Woolwich Township, Gloucester County, who is white, claims she was discriminated against by Starbucks after being terminated from her regional manager position less than one month after the two men were arrested inside the store, located at 18th and Spruce streets.  

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Phillips alleges the company discriminated against white people after the high-profile incident.

She contends the company ordered her, as regional manager, to put a white employee from that store on administrative leave for “discriminatory conduct.” She claims the employee was falsely accused and did not have any involvement in the viral arrests.   

Phillips said she proved the claim wasn’t correct, and the company did nothing about it.

Phillips also alleges there was no disciplinary action taken against the district manager of that Starbucks store, who is black.

Phillips’ lawyer, who refused to comment, is asking for a jury trial.

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Reinvestment Fund helping expand Jumpstart Germantown

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The Reinvestment Fund announced new loan funding to expand a program that provides loans and support for aspiring real estate developers. 

“We are expanding the successful Jumpstart Germantown loan program citywide,” said Ken Weinstein, founder of Jumpstart Germantown, a four-week program that trains, mentors, networks and loans money to aspiring real estate developers. 

He started the organization 4 1/2 years ago. Using some of his own cash, the program has lent $15 million to 150 program graduates for a variety of projects. 

Weinstein said 80 percent of those who come out of the program are women or people of color.

“We’re trying to level the playing field to make sure that everyone has the training and funding they need,” he said. 

The Reinvestment Fund is now pumping $3 million in funding to expand the availability of loans to include the six other Jumpstart programs in neighborhoods like Hunting Park, Tioga, Kensington, Southwest Philly and more.

“We had a financial partner that was not moving at the speed that Ken was in Germantown, and the marketing was heating up and it was impossible for our graduates to even start,” said Tya Winn, who works at Jumpstart West Philly. 

She says availability of lower interest loans means low cash graduates of the program can now compete in the growing market. 

“The need is just overwhelming,” she said, noting they have had 77 people graduate from their program and recently received 12 applications, “so we are incredibly excited that TRF has stepped up to the challenge.”

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“The loan program fundamentally changed my life and set me on a trajectory not only for financial freedom but being able to establish generational wealth,” said Josh Jones, who graduated from Jumpstart Germantown four years ago. 

He’s received loans for five projects, and counting. 

“Right now I have multiple projects going on at the same time right now,” he said, noting that he is now a full time real estate investor.

According to Jumpstart, the average loan has been roughly $111,000, and 99 percent of recipients are from the Philadelphia region and 79 percent are from the city.  

So far, the seven programs have graduated an estimated 900 people. Each program has different requirements, some may require residency. 

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19-year-old ordered to stand trial for alleged gunpoint rape

NORRISTOWN, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — A 19-year-old West Norriton man is ordered to stand trial on charges he raped a woman at gunpoint in Norristown Farm Park in the summer of 2017, but his lawyer argues the case should be handled in juvenile court.

Related: 19-year-old charged with gunpoint rape in Norristown Farm Park more than 2 years ago

Attorney Matt Quigg pointed out the defendant, Mason Hall, would have been 17 years old when the assault happened.

And, Quigg said prosecutors haven’t shown that there was a gun involved, other than a detective who interviewed the victim and said she told him she saw a gun.

“Obviously for the complaining witness, we completely understand the fear that would cause, whether or not it was a weapon, but the commonwealth would still have to prove that weapon was involved,” he added.

The victim did not testify at Hall’s preliminary hearing, but one of the detectives who interviewed her read her statement in court.

In her statement to police, the victim said she got to the park around 10:30 a.m., parked near the silos and set out for a routine walk. She passed other people on the trails, who were biking or jogging. She even stopped to take a picture of the creek on Snapchat.

So when she heard footsteps coming up behind her and felt an arm around her neck, she thought it was a friend.

But then she felt a gun pressed to her temple, and a man behind her said he would shoot her if she didn’t listen to him. Next, she said, the man walked her into a field and sexually assaulted her.

DNA didn’t result in a match on criminal databases, but over the course of more than two years, investigators were able to pinpoint Hall by searching public and private databases. 

Once they identified Hall as a suspect, they learned he was previously arrested for smashing a headlight with a hammer, during which he cut his hand. That hammer with his blood on it was still in evidence, and prosecutors say the DNA was a match.

Hall’s attorney argued for lower bail, saying $1 million is punitive, but the judge sided with prosecutors, who argued Hall is a flight risk because the evidence against him is so strong.

“Mason is very much looking forward to his day in court,” added Quigg, “looking forward to contesting the evidence, contest the charges in a court of law rather than the court of public opinion.”

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