The year provided a variety of headlines in Bedford County with crime, schools, politics, the weather and medical marijuana among the top news stories as voted by the Gazette staff.
The fall of the county’s former district attorney, Bill Higgins, took the top slot followed by the heartbreaking fire that leveled Gardner Memorial Theater at Old Bedford Village.
Mother Nature is rarely left out of a top 10 in recent years. The county received more than six feet of precipitation, according to one weather-watcher, over the year. It third-highest in the ranking.
The girls soccer team won the first team state championship in Bedford High School’s history November. The No. 5 story was the topic of school safety. County school administrators, staff and students dealt with a number of class cancellations over threats or proposed threats.
Green Leaf Medical received state approval to grow marijuana for medical purposes this year. The owner hopes to hire 100 people in 2019 with possibly more positions in the future.
Bill Shuster retired from Congress this year, meaning the area will be without a Shuster in Congress for the first time since the 1970s. Fellow Republican John Joyce won the seat after receiving Shuster’s endorsement.
The No. 8 ranked story was the tale of the man who died in the woods near Route 30 in 2013. His remains were found in October and later were identified.
The No. 9 story was the closing of and the failed attempt to keep open St. Thomas School in Bedford. And rounding out the list is the agreement by AT&T to build a new tower as part of the First Responder Network Authority.
No. 1: Higgins resigns, pleads guilty to criminal charges
Former Bedford County District Attorney Bill Higgins resigned from his position April 4 after being charged with 31 misdemeanor counts relating to the obstruction of the administration of law.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced the charges at the Bedford County courthouse, saying Higgins used his office to protect known drug dealers, reveal the identities of confidential informants and offered favorable treatment to sexual partners. He also attempted to convince witnesses to lie to investigators.
The charges against Higgins dated back to 2014 and were the result of an extensive grand jury investigation.
Higgins on May 30 accepted a plea deal during his formal arraignment that guaranteed he would not serve any time in jail. He signed the deal on the same day he was charged, which required him to resign from his office within 24 hours. The deal also guaranteed the state would not move forward on potential felony charges against him. Higgins in the agreement acknowledged the state could have charged him with felony counts of bribery in official and political matters, solicitation to commit perjury and conspiracy to commit drug delivery.
Higgins lost his ability to practice law when he was disbarred in July.
Shapiro called the plea deal a success because it removed Higgins from office. A number of residents spoke out against the deal, saying it was too lenient. Some spoke at Higgins’ sentencing hearing on Aug. 17, when Bedford County President Judge Thomas S. Ling sentenced Higgins to serve 8 years of probation, 120 days of house arrest, more than a thousand hours of community service and pay about $10,000 in fines.
Ling during the sentencing said Higgins did more to damage the county’s law enforcement community than
any other person in the county’s history.
Lesley Childers-Potts, who previously served as the first assistant district attorney, was sworn in to replace Higgins the day he was charged. She fired three staffers from the office a week later and brought in former District Attorney Dwight Diehl to serve as an assistant district attorney.
No. 2: Fire destroys the Gardner Memorial Theater
The Gardner Memorial Theater, long-time home of the Bedford County Players at Old Bedford Village, was destroyed by a fire the afternoon of July 16.
Ten fire departments from across the region responded to the recently-remodeled theater on reports of smoke coming through the theater’s roof. Much of the single story structure was engulfed when crews arrived.
No one was in the building at the time of the fire.
The theater was built in 1976 and had served as the home for the Bedford County Players for most of the group’s 35-year history. The group rented the space from the Village, which later decided it would not rebuild the structure.
The Bedford County Players performed their remaining shows during the year at different locations, including the visitor’s center of the Village and a high school. The group is still looking for a permanent home.
Before the fire, the group had recently invested tens of thousands of dollars into the building. Recent improvements to the structure included roof replacements, new lighting, air conditioning and a new curtain for the stage.
No. 3: Precipitation puts a damper on 2018
Rain, rain go, go away, the children’s song starts.
Precipitation, whether snow or rain, hampered Bedford Countians through the year, whether in flash flooding or washing out many spring, summer and fall events.
Remnants of Hurricane Gordon flooded parts of the county in September, closing schools and leaving some residents stranded in their homes.
Residents of the Sunshine Beach Colony along Sunshine Road in Bedford Township were asked to evacuate on Sept. 9 as water levels from Dunning Creek flooded the community. Two families were assisted by the American Red Cross.
Schools across the county closed Sept. 10 as flood waters disrupted bus routes.
The heavy storms served as a good test for levees in Everett and Hyndman. In Everett, the Raystown Branch of the Juniata River rose to about three feet under the bridge carrying West 5th Avenue and Route 26 over the river.
Emergency crews had to assist a number of vehicles that attempted to drive through flooded roadways during the two days.
While the storm caused the most havoc, the county was frequently drenched with showers throughout the summer, postponing or cancelling a number of events in different communities.
The National Weather Service in State College said the summer was one of the wettest on record.
According to Ken Eicher of Homewood at Spring House Estates, who has been logging weather statistics for 40 years, the 73.21 inches of precipitation he recorded through late December was almost 23 inches more than in 2017 and the most since he’s been keeping track of precipitation in the county.
Tonya Grimes, Downtown Bedford Inc.’s Main Street manager, had to cancel the planned New Year’s Eve celebration that was to be held Monday in conjunction with Bedford Speedway because of the forecast.
“The (Bedford) Speedway and I battled it the whole year ... why not one more dig?” Grimes said in a text.
No. 4: Bedford girls varsity soccer wins state title
The Bedford Lady Bisons soccer team won the PIAA Class AA state championship over Lewisburg in a 1-0 victory on Nov. 17.
The win was the first team state championship for Bedford in any sport and the first PIAA state team title for a Bedford County school.
The win wasn’t an easy one. The Lady Bisons needed 80 minutes and 52 seconds to come through with the first and only goal of the game, scored by senior Amber Thomas, who sent a penalty kick into the left side of the net.
The team celebrated with an assembly on Dec. 21, where the Bedford County commissioners presented a proclamation declaring the day Bedford Lady Bisons Soccer Day in the county.
The school district announced plans for a plaque that will go in the entrance to the soccer field and a banner that will hang in the gym.
The Lady Bisons were ranked seventh in the country by MaxPreps, a high school sports website. The site ranks more than 16,000 girls varsity soccer teams each fall.
Coach Jeff Thomas received the honor of the Pennsylvania Soccer Coaches Association Coach of the Year. Amber Thomas was named to the all-state team.
The team finished 22-0. Coach Thomas over his four years has racked up a record of 81-6.
No. 5: Threats made at schools, districts focus on safety
Public schools on edge — that was one of the themes for 2018.
The year started with the Feb. 15 massacre in Parkland, Florida, where authorities said a former student walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and killed 14 students and three staff members. Nikolas Cruz was later taken into custody and charged with the murders.
A number of threats were made in Bedford County schools through the year, prompting districts to discuss ongoing safety measures.
The Bedford High School homecoming dance ended early on Sept. 22 after a teenage girl lied about hearing potential threat being made to “shoot up” the event.
A Tussey Mountain High School senior was charged in February after he made comments about “wishing he had a gun” after four other students tied him to a chair in shop class. The threat was made just days after the Florida shooting. The other students also were charged during the incident.
State police responded to the HOPE for Hyndman Charter School on April 20 after a threat was made on social media about a potential explosion at the school. Police determined the threat was not credible.
Staff and administration across the districts went through various safety training procedures before the start of the recent school year. Personnel in Everett went through active shooter training days before classes began in the fall.
The Clayburg-Kimmel School District hired a school safety officer, while Bedford’s school board discussed the possibility of hiring one of its own.
No. 6: Medical cannabis facility approved in Saxton
A Maryland-based medical marijuana cultivator in July was approved to operate a growing and processing facility in Saxton.
Green Leaf Medical of Frederick, Maryland, was awarded one of 13 permits awarded by the state Department of Health on July 31.
The medical cannabis company had purchased the 274,000 square-foot former Seton Facility on Horton Drive for $650,000 in March 2017 with the hope of launching the operation. The former Seton plant has been vacant since 2008.
Green Leaf narrowly missed out on a permit during the first phase of the awards in 2017.
The new facility is expected to create about 100 jobs to start.
The medical marijuana facility has been praised and supported by Saxton officials and the Bedford County Development Association.
Two other medical marijuana cultivators applied for permits for facilities in Bedford Township, but neither was selected during the permitting process. In total, 16 companies submitted applications in the south-central region.
The medical cannabis product produced in facilities in Pennsylvania helps patients who suffer from any of the 21 serious conditions for which the state will allow doctors to prescribe the drug.
No. 7: Shuster retires, Joyce elected as replacement
U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster on Jan. 2 announced he would be retiring at the end of the year, prompting a number of Republican candidates to vie for his congressional seat.
Shuster served as chairman of the powerful U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for the past five years. He had represented the state’s Ninth Congressional District for the past 17 years after he replaced his father, Bud Shuster, who retired in 2001.
Dr. John Joyce, a Blair County dermatologist, was elected to fill the seat during the Nov. 6 election, easily defeating Democratic candidate Brent Ottaway, a professor at St. Francis University.
Joyce emerged from a field of eight Republican candidates who contended in the Republican primaries, narrowly defeating state Sen. John Eichelberger.
Joyce will represent the newly formed 13th Congressional District, which is part of the former Ninth District.
Joyce listed health care as his top priority during his campaign, saying he supported dismantling the Affordable Care Act. He also said he hopes to help make tax cuts permanent for individuals and wants to better enforce current immigration laws.
No. 8: Human remains found in Snake Spring Township
A hunter discovered human remains in a wooded area behind Mile Level in Snake Spring Township on Oct. 20.
Authorities in November identified the remains as an upstate New York man following an anonymous tip by a local emergency services worker.
Bedford County Coroner Rusty Styer during a news conference on Nov. 1 said it could take months to identify the remains discovered scattered along the hillside. But the tip from the ambulance worker who remembered transporting a man matching the description of the person found helped authorities figure out the man’s identity within a month.
Styer said authorities used records at UPMC Bedford Memorial to track down a potential identity of a man the ambulance worker remembered taking to the hospital five years ago for treatment of dehydration. The man, later identified as 47-year-old Robert Cochran of Canajoharie, New York, was walking through the area in 2013.
Authorities in Bedford County contacted Cochran’s family in New York, who agreed to a DNA test. That test confirmed the identity of the remains.
Styer said he was unable to determine a cause of death. Only about 10 percent of the man’s skeletal remains were discovered. Styer said there was no evidence of foul play.
No. 9: St. Thomas School closes
Parents in Bedford were forced to look for other education options for their children for the 2018-2019 school year when leaders of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Bedford announced the closure of St. Thomas School in January 2018.
Church and diocese leaders cited the school’s lack of enrollment for one of the reasons for closing the school.
A group lobbying to keep the school open argued that while those closing the school said there were under 30 students in the school, there were actually just under 60 students in the school including pre-school students.
Officials argued those students were not counted because they do not count for reimbursements. Despite efforts of the parents and community members in the Save St. Thomas group, the school closed at the beginning of June leaving parents parents to send their children to public school or to the nearest Catholic schools which are in Altoona and Newry.
The Save St. Thomas group is continuing to fight for the school and took its battle of what they considered to be Canon Law violations regarding the school’s closure up to the Vatican.
No. 10: Hyndman gets cell phone service
Nearly a year after a train derailment caused the evacuation of residents in Hyndman and Londonderry Township, officials in July announced plans for a cellphone tower to help first responders in the area.
Representatives from AT&T and government leaders at the local, state and federal levels announced plans on July 20 to build a new tower as part of the First Responder Network Authority.
The tower is intended to provide service to emergency responders during emergencies, but AT&T’s full spectrum will be available to any of the company’s customers.
The tower is expected to provide coverage in about a two-mile radius in and around the borough.
Local officials said the tower is a step forward to providing cellphone service to areas of the county currently without it.
The Bedford County commissioners and planning commission listed cellphone and broadband service as one of the top priorities in the county’s updated comprehensive plan.
Other stories that received votes but did not make the top 10 were:
—Lampire Biological’s expansion;
—An Indiana-state woman’s theft of a police vehicle, flight along the Pennsylvania Turnpike and subsequent arrest;
—Route 220 crash that killed a livestock trailer truck driver and some beef cattle;
—A homicide in Everett;
—Funding for the Heritage Trail in Bedford;
—A teen killer’s resentencing;
—A fiery Pennsylvania Turnpike crash that killed a truck driver;
—The creation of a large mural in Bedford to highlight farming;
—The visit from President Donald Trump to Flight 93 for Sept. 11 observances.