Altoona Mirror (Newspaper) - August 17, 2001, Altoona, Pennsylvania
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FRIDAY, AUGUST 17, 2001
Diocese sues over Luddy legal bills
By Phil Ray
The local Roman Catholic Diocese has accumulated more than $1.3 million in legal bills during its 14-year court battle with a former Altoona man who says he was sexually abused by a priest during a six-year period beginning in 1978.
Now the insurance companies that provide coverage for the Altoona-Johnstown
Catholic Diocese are refusing to pay the mounting bills, including a jury award to the victim.
The diocese struck back Thursday, filing its own lawsuit in the Blair County Court of Common Pleas, asking a judge or jury to decide which, if any insurance companies, legally are bound to pay the bills and how much each insurance company owes.
“We do feel these insurance companies
have abandoned us. Several insurance companies have denied coverage,” diocese spokeswoman Sister Mary Parks said.
A jury in 1994 returned verdict against the diocese and Luddy amounting to $1.8 million. which included interest on the award.
Since 1994, the case has been up and down the judicial ladder. As it stands, the Superior Court has approved the compen satory award (rf $519,000 against the diocese
but rejected claims for $1 million in punitive damages the jury returned against the diocese.
Richard Serbin, the attorney for the boy, said Thursday that the state Supreme Court has been asked by both sides to review the Superior Court decision.
Sister Mary said there is a difference of opinion among the insurance companies about who owes what. The lawsuit was filed
as a way to begin resolving the conflict She indicated that a quick settlement of the issues could come about now that a lawsuit has been filed.
The diocese listed 13 insurance compa nies in its complaint, noting that for various reasons they have denied coverage. The primary coverage in the case was supposed to come from Penn-American insurance Co. of Hatboro.
Please see Legal/Page A6
BLAIR COUNTY PRISON
By Phil Ray and Ray Stephens Staff Writers
HOLLIDAYSBURG — In searching for a new warden at Blair County Prison, county commissioners said candidates didn't need a background in corrections but did need strong administrative experience.
John O’Connor of Duncansville remembers reading that pronouncement from Commissioner John H. Eichelberger Jr. earlier this year and decided he had what commissioners wanted.
O’Connor spent 25 years in the insurance business and managed two claims operations, which included hundreds of people. He also oversaw the expenditure of minions of dollars annually.
He applied, and he has been named Blair County Prison warden, fulfilling a longtime dream to become involved in the justice system.
O’Connor attended his first prison board meeting Thursday, although commissioners have taken no public action to hire him. When asked about the hiring, Eichelberger said he thought commissioners made the hire at a July commissioners’ meeting. But a review of action during those meetings showed they didn’t.
On Monday, when the Blair County Salary Board meets, a board that includes the county’s three commissioners is expected to set O’Connor’s pay at $39,310. The board re-created the position when it became vacant last year.
O’Connor graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 1976 with a major in criminal justice administration and a psychology minor.
He said he wanted to go into law enforcement, but there were no jobs available the and he began working in the insurance industry.
O’Connor said he worked as a manager for Penn National Insurance Co.
Although he lives in Blair County, where his wife teaches, O’Connor said he has commuted to Pittsburgh for several years to work in the regional office of Penn National.
Please see Warden/Page A5
Roads less traveled are deadly
TIM Associated Press
Above: Rescue workers help a victim of a two-car accident at a rural intersection north of Union Grove, Wis., in this file photo. More people are killed on rural roads than crowded urban expressways. Below: A trail of debris from a vacation trailer lines the roadside after it was hit by a bus near Valle, Ariz.
Local government roads claim lives
From Mirror staff and wire reports
While urban expressways carry most of the traffic and get most of the federal highway money, more people are killed on the less-traveled, less-funded rural roads.
“Roads owned by local governments don’t seem to be getting their share of federal highway dollars, even though statistics point out that those roads tend to have a higher rate of fatalities,” said Bob Fogel, associate legislative director of the National Association of Counties, which is pushing for more federal funds for rural roads.
But transportation officials say money needs to go where the people travel.
“They’re going to invest more of their resources in the urban area,”
said John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and a former official of Kitsap County, Wash. “That’s where the traffic is.”
A recent General Accounting Office report found that urban expressways received $80,900 in federal funds per lane mile in 1999, compared with $100 per mile for rural local roads.
At the same time, those rural roads owned by local governments recorded 4,758 deaths — a rate of 3.79 per IOO million miles traveled — compared with 1,354 deaths along urban freeways, a rate of 0.79 per IOO million miles. Congress’ investigative arm, the GAO, shows the same trend overall.
Please see Roads/Page A6
■ Thousands of lives could be saved by cutting greenhouse gases, researchers say / Page Cl
Rural roads get less federal money for repairs than urban freeways, but account for a greater number of fatalities.
Class. Federal funds Fatalities Urban freeways $80,900
Urban interstates Total urban roads Rural local roads
Rural interstates Total rural roads
Source: General Accounting Office
Suspect in series of burglaries questioned
From Mirror staff reports
Logan Township and Altoona police investigators interviewed an Altoona man Thursday who they consider a likely suspect in a series of recent area burglaries, in which an individual entered homes while the owners were asleep.
Matthew Espenlaub was arrested Thursday on behalf of Adams Township police for breaking into a Cambria County residence.
Espenlaub has a criminal history in the Altoona area for similar offenses in 1998. At 20, he was ordered to serve prison time in April 1999 in connection with a series of late-night burglaries in which homes were entered while the owners slept.
After hearing of the arrest, Logan, Altoona and state police investigators were sent to Cambria County to interview Espenlaub.
“I can’t tell you the results of that conver
sation, but he’s definitely a suspect,” Logan police Chief Steve Jackson said Thursday night. “The reason he is a suspect is because one of the vehicles that was stolen in one of the burglaries in the Bellemead Estates area was found in the Adams Township area where he was picked up.”
Two burglaries occurred Tuesday in the Bellemead section of Greenwood and one that involved a balcony plunge on Pleasant Valley Boulevard.
GOVERNOR RIDGE ENDORSEMENT
Leaders’ opinions vary
By Robert Igoe Staff Writer HARRISBURG — Though few are surprised that Gov. Tom Ridge has endorsed state Attorney General Mike Fisher as his successor, many have an opinion nonetheless.
Ridge announced his decision Thursday in the Memorial Hall of the Pennsylvania State Museum and said if elected, Fisher will be an effective leader.
“Next year, the voters will elect a new leader, someone to take their Please see Opinions/Page AG
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