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Rainy weather inches out Route 219 for top story of 2018

December 27, 2018

Each year, members of the Daily American staff vote on the stories they believe had the biggest impact on Somerset County and its residents. Here is the top 10 for 2018.

“I’ve been gardening a long time, and I’ve never seen anything like it. The only good thing is the streams. The trout were pretty full year-round.” — weather observer A.J. Jarosz

1. The weather

The year’s record-breaking rain delayed construction projects, most notably the opening of Route 219 from Somerset to Meyersdale, wreaked havoc on crops and caused some festivals to close early.

Earlier this month National Weather Service observer A.J. Jarosz said that in Glencoe he had measured 60.73 inches of rain. The average is around 40 inches with 46 inches in the Glencoe area. Many farmers reported their worst year for crops, and Somerset County communities had record flooding.

In addition to the rain, two EF1 tornadoes were reported, in Gray and just north of Kantner, in May.

“For 50 years this has been talked about. When I first got elected and I came down to Somerset County, it was very clear to me 219 is a priority.” — U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster

2. Grand opening of Route 219 on Nov. 21

Finally is right. After decades of starts and stops, officials finally cut the ribbon in November to open four-lane Route 219 from Somerset to Meyersdale. The project cost $330 million for design and construction, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

The earthwork was completed by the Joseph B. Fay Co., of Tarentum, for $124 million. Fay also completed the bridges for $74 million. New Enterprise Stone & Lime Co. won the $58 million paving contract.

Work began in August 2013 after legislation was changed allowing toll credits to be used as matching funds for the project.

”Catch them. Somebody do something.” — resident Mary Rugg

3. Arson at Cherry Lane Estates

As 2018 draws to a close, it still unclear who is responsible for a rash of arsons at Cherry Lane Estates in Somerset Borough. The housing community has been the site of 13 arsons and two attempted arsons since early May. Authorities believe the same person may have set fires in 2016 and 2017.

All of the arsons have been to vacant trailers. The park’s owner, Divinity Investments, is under a court order to clean up the property.

Somerset Borough has sued the owner to recoup more than $300,000 in past-due water and sewer bills. The company also owes more than $60,000 in back taxes.

“It’s a moment of relief and excitement. In this environment, you need to do something. This is the best option.” — Somerset Hospital board member Mark Yaros

4. Somerset Hospital to merge with UPMC

In November Somerset Hospital and UPMC signed a binding integration and affiliation agreement, to be finalized in early 2019. During Somerset Hospital’s annual meeting, officials with the hospital and UPMC said that the changes will be difficult, but both entities will benefit.

The affiliation would integrate Somerset Hospital into the UPMC system, which already boasts 40 hospitals, 600 doctors’ offices and outpatient sites, and 85,000 employees, plus a 3.4 million-member insurance division. The hospital said the agreement will not adversely affect patient care or insurance coverage.

”Your tears are not shed alone, for they are shared grief with an entire nation.” — President Donald Trump

5. Tower of Voices dedicated; President Trump speaks here on 9/11

2018 marked the dedication of the final piece of the Flight 93 National Memorial — the Tower of Voices. President Donald Trump also made his first visit to the memorial in Stonycreek Township, speaking at the annual remembrance ceremony on Sept. 11.

The tower took $6 million to compete and is a visual and audible memorial of the 40 passengers and crew.

“We brought new life to the building.” — Goodwill CEO Bradley Berger

{p class=”p2”}6. Old buildings get new life

{p class=”p3”}Several buildings along North Center Avenue received new life in 2018 after new businesses opened or moved to vacant storefronts. The former Eckerd building is now home to Goodwill, Dunkin’ Donuts and Great Clips hair salon.

{p class=”p4”}CBRE, a national real estate agency based in Los Angeles, brokered the deal for the building at 915 N. Center Ave. It was purchased by SomersetPA Properties LLC, of Ewing, New Jersey, for $1.3 million in March, according to Somerset County real estate records.

{p class=”p5”}The former Save-A-Lot building in the Tractor Supply plaza also received new life as Merchant Village. The vendor and crafter store, featuring locally grown and produced goods, opened this fall.

{p class=”p5”}”The overwhelming pain and grief the defendant caused the Bittner family, the Ferguson family and Britteny’s friends and co-workers … demonstrates the defendant’s callousness” — President Judge D. Gregory Geary

{p class=”p1”}7. McVicker found guilty

{p class=”p1”}Thirty-two-year-old Britteny Kyle finally received justice when her ex-boyfriend, Jamie McVicker, 43, of Boswell, was sentenced in July to 28 to 56 years in state prison for killing Kyle and wounding her boyfriend Tyrell Ferguson in 2017.

{p class=”p3”}Kyle and Ferguson were at a residence in Jenner Township that night to pick up Kyle’s cats, believing McVicker was not home at the time. McVicker shot Kyle in the throat and Ferguson in the abdomen as they attempted to flee. In May he was found guilty of third-degree murder, attempted third-degree murder, aggravated assault, simple assault and recklessly endangering another person.

{p class=”p3”}“Voters wanted a new, fresh voice who would listen to their concerns. That has been, and will continue to be, my pledge to everyone across the new 13th Congressional District.” — Dr. John Joyce

8. Shuster retires; John Joyce replaces him

Last year U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster announced that 2018 would be his last year in office, ending a 46-year dynasty involving him and his father, Bud. Altoona dermatologist Dr. John Joyce beat a crowded Republican field and Democrat Brent Ottaway, receiving 76 percent of the vote in the November election.

Shuster’s final Somerset County appearance as a congressman was for the opening of Route 219 from Somerset to Meyersdale. When he announced his retirement, he said he wanted to focus on his work as chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee rather than on re-election.

{p class=”p1”}“The tragic events that unfolded on Feb. 15 are deeply ingrained in our hearts and our memories. Those of us in the law enforcement community know too well the unpredictability of violent human behavior. That Sgt. Baserman was not able to recover from his injuries breaks all of our hearts.” — The Rev. Ulrich Klemm

{p class=”p2”}9. Violence and drug problems at state prisons

{p class=”p2”}The state prison system saw many changes in 2018 stemming from incidents in Somerset. The year started with the mourning of Sgt. Mark Baserman, who died on Feb. 26, 11 days after being assaulted by 22-year-old inmate Paul Kendrick, of Pittsburgh, at SCI-Somerset. He is facing the death penalty in this case. Surveillance video showed Kendrick kicking the officer in the head while wearing Timberland work boots. Baserman died of a traumatic brain injury. As a result, the boots were banned. More assaults were reported at the prison. Later in 2018 the Department of Corrections implemented a new mail policy after an unprecedented number of inmates and staff were exposed to toxic substances that had been sent to prisoners at SCI-Somerset and other institutions.

”In Ligonier Valley’s football history we’ve had a lot of great captains, and they all had different qualities that made them great captains. Joey was a kid who took all of those qualities.” Ligonier Valley football coach Roger Beitel

10. 18-year-old Ligonier man falls in Quemahoning Reservoir and drowns

The Somerset County community gathered around a Westmoreland County family during a weeklong search for 18-year-old Joey Dubics in mid-July. The Ligonier Valley High School football star was paddleboating with friends on the Quemahoning Reservoir when he went underwater and never resurfaced. The reservoir holds 12.8 billion gallons of water and is about 92 feet, or 8 1/2 stories, at its deepest point. Dubics was discovered five days after entering the water. Crews from several counties assisted in the search. Dubics was planning to attend Indiana University of Pennsylvania in the fall to become a state police officer.

”My goal has always been to have postsecondary education for the people in Somerset. I can’t thank Clarion enough for coming and filling that void. They have been amazing to work with.” — Somerset County Foundation for Higher Education co-chairwoman Linda Fetterolf

Honorable mention: Somerset County signs lease with Clarion University for nursing program

Two years after the nursing program was discontinued, the Somerset County commissioners announced in September that they had signed a five-year lease agreement with Clarion University to bring its nursing program to Somerset County. The associate of science in nursing degree program will be offered in partnership with Pennsylvania Highlands Community College, which will offer general studies, and Somerset Hospital, which will offer clinical work. The goal is to have the first class of nursing students begin this fall.

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