WILKES-BARRE (WBRE/WYOU) — New Year’s Eve is almost here and the year 2019 is coming to an end. As a new decade begins, we take a look at the stories that took over the last.
We start in 2011 with the sentencing of two Luzerne County judges: Michael Conahan and Mark Ciaverella, part of the infamous ‘Kids for Cash’ scandal that rocked Luzerne County and the nation. They were accused of accepting money in return for sending thousands of juveniles to private detention centers for minor crimes. A federal investigation revealed they were paid more than 2 million dollars in bribes. Conahan was sentenced to 17 and a half years in prison and Civarella to 28 years.
In September of 2011 a disastrous flood hit the Wyoming Valley. More than 65 thousand people were told to evacuate their homes. The Susquehanna river rose to a historic 42.6 feet. Water levels may have returned to normal, but it took several years to revive the areas struck.
In 2011, another scandal struck the area. Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was accused of abusing 10 boys. He was convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse and sentenced to 30 – 60 years in prison the next year. This year he was re-sentenced and given the same penalty, which was previously overturned in February by the Pennsylvania Superior Court.
We jump ahead to 2015, when a jury found Hugo Selenski guilty of first degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison. He was accused of torturing and killing Michael Kerkowski and Tammy Fassett in 2002. Their bodies were found buried on Selenski’s Kingston Township property. He was acquitted of the murders of Adeiye Keiler and Frank James, whose bodies were also found on his property. Shortly after being charged with murder, Selenski escaped from a fifth floor window in the Luzerne County Prison with his roomate Scott Bolton , using bed sheets to climb down. He later turned himself in.
That same year, three teenagers pled guilty to third degree murder and robbery. Isaiah Edwards, Nasiir Jones, and Tanner Curtis were arrested for robbing a man in Scranton and stealing a vehicle. While chasing the suspects, Patrolman John Wilding, fell down a 15 foot wall, and suffered a fatal head injury.. The three teenagers were sentenced 9 – 18 years in prison. The ruling judge also said when the three are released, they will have to serve an additional 7 years of probation.
In 2016, Luzerne County made state history. For decades, the county voted Democratic. In a surprising turn, the county flipped and helped Donald Trump win Pennsylvania in the 2016 presidential election. Trump won Pennsylvania by around 55,00 votes – almost have of those votes, about 25,000, came from Luzerne County.
Last year Northeastern Pennsylvania faced another calamity. An EF-2 tornado hit. Most of the destruction could be seen at the Arena Hub Plaza and Wilkes-Barre Township Commons. Local businesses sustained millions of dollars in damages. Luckily no lives were lost, but six people were injured. Many of the stores that were damaged have since re-opened.
The beginning of 2019 saw the beginning of change. In January, the Independent Survivors Compensation Program launched. The program was open those who were sexually abused by priests or other religious workers. Diocese across the state have paid out 84 million dollars to 564 clergy abuse victims.
In April Pennsyvlania’s highest court upheld a death penalty. Eric Frein murdered Pennsylvania State Police Corporal Bryon K. Dickson, and shot Trooper Alex Douglass in Pike County in an ambush shooting outside the Blooming Grove Barracks. He led authorities on a 48 day manhunt in the Pocono Mountains. he was finally caught in an abandoned airplane hangar. He was convicted in 2017, and is currently on death row.
Finally, this month Shawn Christy was sentenced to one to two years in prison for assaulting the Mayor of McAdoo in 2017. He was the subject of many news stories, starting in 2011 when he harassed former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska. A manhunt was underway for 3 months in 2018 that spanned 6 states and Canada after he made death threats to Donald Trump and other elected officials on social media. He was finally captured in Ohio. Last month he was convicted of 12 counts, including the threats he made against President Trump, weapons charges, and many break ins. He will be sentenced in February for his federal conviction, facing 20 to 60 years in prison.