Philly City Council bans sale of flavored tobacco in city

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia City Council Thursday banned the sale of flavored tobacco products in the city. 

The bill targets smokeless tobacco and similar products, except for cigarettes, that are aimed at teenagers with flavors like bubblegum, grape, chocolate and strawberry. It had been sitting on Council’s calendar for more than a year and when the state passed preemptive legislation in 2018, it looked like it was dead. 

So it was a surprise when it was called up for a vote and passed unanimously.

“Timing is everything,” said sponsor Curtis Jones.

Related: Philly City Council announces bill in attempt to limit e-cigarette sales to minors

Jones said the element of surprise was a strategy to keep lobbyists from working on his Council colleagues to defeat the bill.

“One lobbyist came up to me and said, ‘you’re actually going to move that today?’ and I said, ‘yes,’ and he said, ‘well, we didn’t think’ and I said, ‘there you go. We don’t need to complete that sentence,'” Jones said.

He said Councilmembers who originally opposed the bill came around as Council debated prohibiting the sale of flavored e-cigarettes in any store that allows minors. That measure also passed at this week’s meeting. 

As for the state law preempting such bans, Jones believes there is no way for the state to enforce that law.

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5 schools moved out of lowest performing category

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Five Philadelphia schools are graduating out of the district’s lowest performance tier. 

The district next summer is moving five K-8 schools out of what it calls its “Acceleration Network,” currently a group of 19 low-performing schools getting extra staff training and resources.  

Those schools are Barry Elementary School, Dunbar Elementary School, McMichael School, Mitchell Elementary School and Munoz-Marin Elementary School, where principal Ariel Lajara said over the last three years his school jumped from 16% to 51% on the district’s School Progress Report.

“The staff has definitely rallied around the work that we’re doing. But we’re definitely staying grounded and level-headed because we know we still have a lot more work to do,” Lajara said.

Related: Philly school district launches plan to react more quickly to environmental concerns in schools

Munoz-Marin students passing standardized state tests in English went from 10% to 25%. Those passing math rose from 2% to 13%.

Lajara said even though his school is losing the extra supports, he and his staff have a structure in place to maintain the momentum.

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Students planning to walk out of school for climate strike

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Students are planning to walk out of school Friday for a City Hall rally to bring attention to climate change. 

Students are expected to converge on City Hall from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to take action against climate change. A similar rally Sept. 20 drew several thousand young people to the streets of Center City.  

School District of Philadelphia students who walked out during September’s climate strike were hit with an unexcused absence. This time, though, the district is allowing students, with a note from their parent or guardian, to attend the rally. 

Related: ‘It’s our Earth’: Philly students skip school to strike for climate change

Rachie Weisberg, one of the rally organizers, says that may attract more students.

“I’m not actually sure how much of an effect it’ll have but I definitely think it’ll help with turnout,” she said.

In a letter to parents this week, Superintendent William Hite wrote that in-school events were being organized to allow students to express their views without walking out of school.

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Advocates urge public to surrender illegal guns safely

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — After the recent rash of gun deaths involving children, anti-violence advocates are joining forces with police, City Council members and faith leaders to urge Philadelphians to search their homes for illegal guns. 

“This is a moral and spiritual issue that we have to address,” said Bilal Qayyum, president of the Father’s Day Rally Committee. The group organized a multi-pronged grassroots coalition to launch a “home gun check” campaign. 

The collective, which includes Nicetown CDC, Unity in the Community and several others, calls on parents and homeowners to search their children’s rooms, the backyard, the basement, garages and anywhere else in the home for illegal guns.

“If you happen to find a gun, turn it in — no questions asked,” said Qayyum, noting that this is not a gun buy-back effort. “We are not giving out gift certificates. We’re asking parents and individuals in this city to take responsibility.”

Guns can be dropped off at four safe locations across the city over the next two weekends. 

“I assure you that the deal is exactly what they are saying it is,” assured acting Police Commissioner Christine Coulter. “There will be no questions asked. We are not looking to take people into custody.”

Coulter said the effort uses trusted third-party community partners to collect the guns, ensuring that individuals turning them in will not face repercussions or be linked to the firearm.

City Council President Darrell Clarke said the next step is for legal gun owners to do their part as well.

“If you have a gun, lock the gun up when it’s not in use,” he said during a press conference.

Clarke said gun owners should use gun locks and safes and report firearms that are missing or stolen, or else face the consequences.

The locations, dates and times for safe firearms disposal are as follows:

Saturday, Dec. 7, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Bible Way Baptist Church, 1313 N. 52nd St., West Philadelphia

Every Murder is Real (EMIR) Healing Center, 59 E. Haines St., East Germantown

Saturday, Dec. 14, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Taylor Memorial Baptists Church, 3817 Germantown Ave., Hunting Park

Mother Bethel AME Church, 419 S. Sixth St., Society Hill

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Kenney wins concession from Council on tax abatement reform

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia City Council has amended its tax abatement phase-down plan, after Mayor Jim Kenney threatened to veto it. With the change, the new abatement plan will not take effect until next Dec. 31.

Mayor Kenney sent a letter to Council President Darrell Clarke saying, “if Council were to pass this Bill as currently proposed I will not sign it, and it will not become law.” 

Kenney said the July effective date could adversely affect developments in the works and cause a rush for building permits that the city wasn’t prepared to handle.

Should he get the bill as is, he wrote, “I look forward to working with (you and the other members of) the new Council on this issue in 2020.”

Related: Philly City Council passes tax abatement reform, but Kenney administration says not so fast

Faced with starting from scratch on tax abatement reform, Clarke responded that he understood Kenney’s concerns and, in the spirit of compromise, Council would amend the bill. 

Just two days ago, Council had resisted calls for amendments, but the date change passed 16 to 1, with only Councilmember Helen Gym voting against it. The bill is expected to get final Council approval next week.

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Man accused of killing ex-girlfriend, not guilt of assault

NORRISTOWN, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — The man accused of shooting and killing a woman in her Montgomery County home last week, has just been found not guilty of assaulting her in Maryland. 

Jeanne Edwards, 57, was shot and killed in her home on Dale Road in Huntingdon Valley on Monday, Nov. 25. Her ex-boyfriend, William Torres, is charged with her murder. 

The Monday before the shooting, Torres was in court in Cecil County, Maryland, on a second-degree assault charge — similar to simple assault — involving Edwards.

Officials in Cecil County say, according to the police report, on the night of the incident, Edwards told police she was trying to end the relationship with Torres and was going to catch a flight. But she told police Torres tried to take her airline ticket and boarding pass, he tried to pull the luggage out of her car, and she tore her dress as he was physically restraining her. Shes said she kneed him in the head in an effort to get away from him.

But in court, according to transcripts, Edwards testified she was the one who started the physical confrontation and that Torres tore her dress by accident as he was trying to hold her back.

Related: Maryland man charged with fatally shooting ex-girlfriend in Huntingdon Valley

One week later, police say he bought a shotgun in Maryland and drove straight to Edwards’ home and shot her twice. The criminal complaint says Torres pointed the shotgun at her son as he left and said your mother ruined my life.

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Cohen to step down from executive Comcast position

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — There’s a change of leadership coming to Comcast, as longtime executive David Cohen has annnouced he is stepping down.

For the last 18 years, Cohen has helped steer the Philadelphia-based company, but at the end of the year, he’ll begin transitioning away from his operational roles, according to a memo released Thursday morning.

He will remain senior executive vice president next year, as his responsibilities shift to others at the company. After 2020 he says he plans to become senior counselor to the CEO.

He adds he’s excited about this next chapter of his career and is looking forward to dedicating more of his time to the civic and charitable activities he’s been involved with.

Cohen has long been a staunch and outspoken Democrat, even hosting fundraisers for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

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More bear sightings, this time in Delaware

CLAYMONT, Del. (KYW Newsradio) — Several more bear sightings, but this time they’ve been coming from Delaware. 

Delaware State Police say there were three bear sightings between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m. Wednesday near the Pennsylvania/Delaware border in the North Wilmington Area. 

The first was near the I-95/I-495 split, and then again at Manor Avenue and Philadelphia Pike, and the third was along I-95 at Concord Pike.

Could this be the same bear — or bears — reported recently in Delaware County, in Springfield, Marple Township, Villanova, and elsewhere? 

Related: Authorities searching for roaming Delco bear now think there may be 2

One official trying to figure that out, Jerry Czech with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, told CBS 3 that the animal is looking to eat.

“When it gets into a populated area, there are a lot of dumpsters, so it’s like a buffet for a bear,” he said.

So, it’s time to seal up those trash cans, or keep them inside until its time for them them to be picked up.

Officials urge people to call 911 if they see the animal.

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High school football star shot, twin brother charged

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A star football player at Mastery Charter School will be laid to rest Thursday after the 18-year-old was tragically shot and killed on Sunday. 

Suhail Gillard was popular among the seniors at Mastery Charter School’s Lenfest Campus in Old City. He was three-time all public player, he was headed to the all-star game this winter and lead the team to a championship win last year. 

He had a bright future on a college team ahead of him.

“Just a hard worker man. It’s a shame, just a really good kid, special kid,” said John Lay, a teacher at the school who taught Gillard in seventh grade. He’s also one of Gillard’s football coaches. 

“Agent 4,” as Gillard is called because of his effectiveness on the field, was a leader who inspired other players to work hard.

“He’s the type of kid that you want on your college campus, that you want on your football team,” Lay said. “It just hurts. So today (Wednesday), we came together as a family to support the family and just get through this.”

Lay joined members of the team — who wore their blue and white jerseys — plus scores of juniors and seniors from the school as well as teachers, who solemnly marched from the school near Fourth and Market streets to Penn’s Landing on Wednesday afternoon.  

They held a vigil just a few hundred feet from where Suhail would have graduated at the Seaport Museum in May. 

“We did a balloon release in memory of Suhail. It was a simple, just a gesture,” said Chris Ziemba, the school’s principal. “We need to continue the process of mourning and healing as a community.”

Police say Gillard was shot in the chest Sunday evening and was transported to Lankenau Medical Center, where he died a few hours later. Officers arrested 18-year-old Fayaadh Gillard, Suhail’s twin brother, on Monday.  

He is now charged with murder, gun possession and other crimes. No other details about the circumstances of the shooting have been released.

“When I heard, I was shocked. It was disbelief,” said John Davidson, the head coach of the Lenfest Campus football team. 

He went to the hospital Sunday night. 

“It was a dark moment. It’s definitely a tragedy,” Davidson added. 

Condolences on the loss of Gillard were all over social media.

Davidson said Suhail had at least one offer to attend college and others were recruiting him. He played receiver and running back, could play offense and defense, and was the “motor” of the team’s offense. 

His coaches say he worked in the gym and grew over the years he played. Davidson said this year, he rushed for 1,700 yards and returned an interception for a touchdown during the championship game.  

“He was a magnet,” said Davidson. “He was mentor and would make kids laugh.”

Davidson said the team is praying from Gillard’s mother and the entire family. Many from the school are planning to attend Gillard’s funeral in West Philadelphia Thursday at 11 a.m. to support the Gillard family.

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Former doctor charged with illegal drug distribution

MOUNT HOLLY, NJ (KYW Newsradio) — Burlington County authorities have charged a 60-year-old former physician with doling out opioid painkillers almost at will and committing insurance fraud. 

For three years, it’s alleged that Morris Starkman handed out some 1.4 million doses of everything from Oxycodone to Fentanyl from his Bordentown office. Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina says it was enough to provide three doses to every man, woman and child in the county.

“He just basically threw his medical judgment out the window and prescribed as the patients came back and most of their appointments for follow up were simply to get their prescriptions renewed,” Coffina told KYW Newsradio.

One of Starkman’s patients suffered a fatal overdose four years ago, but there was insufficient evidence to connect the drugs to his death.  

The doctor surrendered his medical license in April of last year. Investigators seized office records after raiding his Cinnaminson home last month. 

Starkman faces 14 criminal counts of fraud and drug distribution.

“He’s facing as much as 10 years for the second-degree charges,” Coffina added. “It could be consecutive, which could add up to 140 years of jail. He won’t be facing, realistically, that amount of time.”

Starkman is free while a grand jury looks into a possible indictment against him. Information on defense counsel was not immediately available.

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Hundreds weather the rain for a City Hall winter wonderland

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia came together Wednesday evening for the lighting of the 65-foot Christmas tree at City Hall. 

“I love seeing Christmas trees light up!” said 8-year-old Oliver, who was one of the hundreds of people who were in attendance. 

The rain came but the show went on, and sponsors provided holiday treats like hot chocolate to those who were there. 

There were special performances featuring Philadelphia native Jazmine Sullivan, but the real highlight of the night was the lights. 

“I can’t wait to see it because it’s so fun and you can see the Christmas tree light and that’s my favorite to see,” said 6-year-old Penny. 

“I like to see the ornaments because the ornaments look really good and sometimes the ornaments light up,” 7-year-old Armado told KYW Newsradio.

For many, the lighting of the tree signifies something on the horizon.

“Well, I really like when it lighted up,” Vivianne said, because “we get to have presents.” 

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Woman charged after infant dies in her unlicensed day care

NORRISTOWN, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — A Bucks County woman has been charged in the death of an 11-month-old at an unlicensed day care, which she was running out of her home. 

Investigators say the 11-month-old wasn’t properly strapped into a car seat, which was placed on the dining room table. The leg strap intended to keep her from sliding down was unbuckled, and she was ultimately asphyxiated by the chest strap.

Lauren Landgrebe, 48, is charged with involuntary manslaughter, endangering the welfare of children, and operating a day care facility without a license.

According to the criminal complaint, the 11-month-old was one of eight children in her care that day, based out of her house on Rosebud Road in Upper Southampton.

She said she strapped the infant into a car seat for a nap around 1 p.m., back in August. An hour later, she gave the child a bottle by propping it up on a rolled hand towel.

She said she spent the next two hours outside near her swimming pool, leaving the baby unattended.

The child was found unresponsive in the car seat around 4 p.m. by Landgrebe’s husband. He started CPR, but the child was pronounced dead later that afternoon.

The complaint also says Landgrebe was collecting Social Security disability benefits for 10 years, saying she was unable to work. She was not reporting any income from her day care.

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City Council’s tax abatement reform faces major hurdle

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia City Council members gave preliminary approval to slashing the 10-year tax abatement Tuesday, but the bill they approved faces a major hurdle.

With 15 co-sponsors and a unanimous vote to advance it to final passage, a bill that would phase down the tax abatement seems like a sure bet to pass at Council’s final session next week. 

But then the mayor got the bill and administration officials said he has a major problem with it.

The bill, as passed, would take effect in July, which means developers with projects in the works would rush to get the full 10-year abatement before that. 

But the Department of Licenses and Inspection is not equipped to deal with such a rush. The mayor’s chief of staff testified the administration was supportive of the bill but asked for a start date of July 2021, as did affordable housing advocates concerned about planned projects. 

Council, though, declined to consider amending the bill, so administration officials say if the bill gets to the mayor with the current start date of this July, he may veto it, and Council would have to start from scratch next term with four new members. 

Amending it now would mean either a suspension of Council rules or adding an extra session to the end of the term.  

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Bill ensuring CBA mandatory for some developments advanced

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia developers have long offered Community Benefit Agreements as a way to overcome neighborhood opposition to controversial projects. But a bill that advanced in City Council Wednesday would make them mandatory for certain developments. 

Fishtown neighbors were not thrilled when HSP Gaming wanted to open a casino on the Delaware riverfront in 2008, but they came around to the idea when the developer offered to refurbish nearby athletic fields and buy computers for neighborhood schools. 

The bill approved by a City Council committee would give developers no choice but to negotiate such local supports if their development gets any city financial assistance or would impact neighborhood health, aesthetics, economy or social fabric.

No developers spoke at the hearing, but several community activists, such as Jihad Ali, testified in support.

“As a participant in CBAs, everything that is outlined in this bill are things we requested,” Ali said. 

Related: Philly City Council gives preliminary approval to bill slashing 10-year tax abatement

Ebony Griffin of the Public Interest Law Center warned that developers should not be able to get off the hook with what she called “bats and jerseys” agreements.

“For a CBA to be meaningful, it must include meaningful benefits and accountability safeguards,” Griffin said.

The bill now goes to the full Council for a vote next week.

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Once-convicted cop returns to prison for sexual misconduct

NORRISTOWN, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — A former Pennsylvania State Police officer who served time for sexually assaulting women while on duty is headed back to prison on a parole violation, after he pleaded guilty to molesting a 15-year-old in Berks County. 

Michael Evans served about 8 ½ years of a five-to 10-year state prison sentence after he pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct in 2000. Prosecutors labelled it as a quid pro quo — police assistance in exchange for sex.

Charges against him included two teenage runaways he was supposed to transport while on duty as a state trooper in Skippack: a 16-year-old girl who was waiting for her parents after her home had been burglarized, and a woman who was seeking protection from an abusive boyfriend.

Then in the summer of 2018, during which Evans was nearing the end of his 10-year probation sentence, he fondled a 15-year-old while engaged in a sex act with a 40-year-old woman in the garage of his Berks County home. 

Evans, now 52, pleaded guilty to corruption of minors, indecent exposure and indecent assault. 

“He was a predator,” added prosecutor Roderick Fancher. “He was using a badge as a disguise to prey on women. Twenty years ago, he got a significant state sentence and is out there doing it again now that he’s out of prison. He’s engaging in the exact same behavior, the exact same thing.”

He was sentenced to 2 ½ to five years in state prison for the parole violation. 

During his appearance in Montgomery County court, Evans said his plea deal in Berks County is for five to 10 years in prison. Fancher hopes the judge tacks that onto the parole violation sentence instead of running them concurrent “so he serve as much time as possible.”

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