KENNETT SQUARE >> From the first drowning at Anson B. Nixon Park in Kennett Square to community outrage at the possibility of the closing of an organization that helps special needs children, here are the top stories that made news in the Kennett and Unionville areas in 2014:
Drowning at Anson B. Nixon Park
Raziel Mireles, 17, was just trying to retrieve a soccer ball at a pond at the 108-acre Anson B. Nixon Park in Kennett Square, but he apparently lost his footing and drowned. It happened around 8 o’clock on a warm summer night in August. Mireles had just started his senior year at Avon Grove High School. People who knew him said he was a kind and loving person.
“The bank is steep and you can see the stones in there,” said Ed Zunino, Kennett Square police chief. “The water gets deep quick and I would say it was about eight feet of water. The bottom is slippery and there is no footing.”
The pond is posted for no swimming.
Rescue workers were on the scene promptly, but could not revive Mireles.
The Barn at Spring Brook FarmThe year 2014 nearly saw the closing of the Barn at Spring Brook Farm in Pocopson Township. The Barn provides animal therapy to special needs children.
It all started because of a complaint by The Barn’s neighbor, who lives off Locust Grove Road. The neighbor complained of excessive noise, among other things.
Following an inspection by the township’s codes officer township supervisors gave the facility a May 30 deadline to meet 33 conditions to continue operations. The supervisors said all operations must cease at the barn by Sept. 1 if conditions set forth by township officials are not made.
By July, Pocopson supervisors granted an educational use permit to The Barn, but with all of the conditions, some of which Barn officials said are cost prohibitive to permit continued operation. As a result, the Barn’s board of directors recently voted to close Sept. 1.
But as a result of all the publicity generated, thousands of dollars poured in from residents. In the end, it was enough for Barn officials to meet the conditions they imposed, permitting its continued operation.
Drobish said the agreement was possible because of the outpouring of support from the community. She said contractors offered to do some of the work free of charge.
The Barn at Spring Broom Farm is the beneficiary of many community initiatives, including the Kennett Run and the Mushroom Festival. The board of directors did not apply for funds this year because of the possibility of closure.
Kennett Area Food Cupboard to expand
The Kennett Area Food Cupboard on Cedar Street will more than double in size after the purchase of an adjoining house is finalized. The owner of the house is selling far below market value to enable the Food Cupboard to get its much-needed expansion.
“As our inventory grown and our client base grows, we just outgrew the space,” said Melanie Weiler, executive director for Kennett Area Food Cupboard. “The expansion is a natural progression for us.”
The Food Cupboard is a vital resource for those living near the poverty line. More than half of the families served by the cupboard are two-parent households. Their average monthly income is about $1,490 per month and average family size is 3.5.
Last year, the Food Cupboard served 3,461 individuals, 43 percent of whom were children. Families who use the cupboard go home with about 150 pounds of food that feeds a family of four and must last a month.
The expansion, to be finalized in 2015, will end the necessity for excess food to be stored off-site.
Water main break in Kennett Square
Thousands of Kennett Square residents were without water in September after a water main located along East South Street near the front of the Kennett High School ruptured. Borough officials issued a boil water notice as a safety precaution, and it lasted for several days.
The borough’s public works department, along with outside contractors, worked all day o located the source of the leak and replace a 13-foot section of main that was located near three others, a sewer main and a gas line.
“Our public works department has been working around-the-clock with an engineering firm, outside contractors, as well as public safety to get service restored as quickly as possible,” said Mayor Matt Fetick. “This is our first major disruption in water service that I am aware of and I have full confidence in our Public Works Department.”
Some residents later complained to council how a break in one line could disrupt water service to the entire borough.
New group aims to end homelessness
A new nonprofit organization aimed at ending homelessness in southern Chester County has already garnered more than 100 volunteers, and it should be up and running sometime in 2015.
Called Family Promise of Southern Chester County, it was conceived during 2014 by an advocacy group initiated by United Way of Southern Chester County in partnership with Kennett Area Community Service. It operates by cultivating a local network of 13 local host churches.
Family Promise will help only families, and it is not a handout. It is designed to provide temporary relief to families experiencing extreme financial hardships, which often begin following a medical crisis or a divorce.
Anson Nixon Park getting dog park
A two-acre dog park at Anson B. Nixon Park in Kennett Square is just one of many improvements that is scheduled in 2015. Kennett Square was among several municipalities and land conservation organizations in Chester County to be awarded state grants from state Community Conservation Partnerships Program.
A $206,000 grant went to the Kennett Area Park Authority for substantial improvements to the park.
“It’s a substantial grant, and we’re thrilled to have gotten it,” said John Gaadt, vice chairman of Kennett Area Parks Authority.
The dog park will include a fenced area and perhaps provide access to water for dogs.
Bayard Taylor Memorial Library to relocate
In May, the board of directors of the Bayard Taylor Memorial Library in Kennett Square voted unanimously to move out of Kennett Square and construct a new library in Kennett Township, just on the edge of town.
The new building will be built on land the library already owns, a 5.3-acre site on Way’s Lane, near Waywood Beverage. The land had been on the marked for $990,000 but there were no buyers.
“Financially, Kennett Square is very healthy now and doesn’t need the library to be the center of town,” said Susan Mackie-Kalin, board director and chair of the marketing development committee at the library.
Drug BustA top-ranking member of a dangerous Mexican Drug Cartel was living in East Marlborough Township, and few people knew. But local law enforcement had him on the radar for quite some time, and in June, he was among 44 people arrested in what authorities dubbed “Operation Telarafia,” a year-long multi-agency probe targeting a major cocaine trafficking network.
Salvador Lemus, 65, was arrested after a lengthy investigation identified him as the leader of a major cocaine trafficking network. Authorities said his 23-year-old son, Francisco Lemus, acted as Lemus’ lieutenant.
Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan said Salvadore Lemus spent several months in Mexico each year and has ties to the “La Familia” cartel, one of Mexico’s most violent drug-trafficking organizations.
Chester County was used as a shipment point to other areas in the region and was also distributing large quantities of drugs locally.
Kennett High book ban controversy
What started as one parent’s attempt to have the book “Nineteen Minutes” by Jodi Picoult removed from the library at Kennett High School ended in a community outrage that officials would ban the book. Word spread quickly, especially through social media, that the school board would be voting on the issue in November.
“The parent felt the book content was not suitable for high school students,” Superintendent Barry Tomasetti said.
In the end, the board voted 7-1 in favor of keeping the book in the library. Only board member Doug Stirling dissented, saying the book could have been written differently without changing the message behind it.
“Everybody has their own opinion,” Stirling said. “That’s how I felt and that’s the way I voted. The language was gratuitous.”
Walker withdraws from raceIn September, East Marlborough Supervisor Cuyler Walker suddenly withdrew as the Republican candidate for the 158th State Representative District, saying personal issues were getting in the way of campaigning. His withdraw came just six weeks prior to the general election.
But in early October, state Rep. Chris Ross was selected at the Republican candidate to replace Walker. Ross was picked by party committee members over Roger Howard, who lost the Republican primary in the spring to Walker for the party nomination.
Ross had intended to retire, but after Walker’s resignation, Ross said he had “unfinished business.” In November, voters elected Ross back to his two-year seat.
Route 52 roundaboutIn January, the state Department of Transportation began work on a $2.1 million roundabout on Route 52 in Pocopson Township that would improve safety at the intersection of Route 52, Wawaset Road and Lenape-Unionville Road.
Motorists had to find alternate routes, and one neighboring development saw increased traffic all year long. Not everyone was pleased with the project.
“This will make a big difference to our little township,” said Ricki Stumpo, Pocopson supervisors’ chairman. “After it’s constructed, we won’t be rural Pocopson anymore. There will be green signs, neon lights and blinking lights. It will be lit up all night long.”
The project was supposed to have concluded in early September, but there were a series of delays. It finally opened in mid-December, and there has since been few complaints and traffic appears to be flowing smoothly.
Roof of Stone Barn collapsesThe roof of the banquet hall at the Stone Barn in Unionville collapsed under the weight of heavy snow in 2014. There was no one in the building, and no one was injured.
The building has been used for decades by wedding parties for fancy receptions. It sits near a pond in a rustic setting located in Unionville’s scenic horse country. The building is closed for business from Christmas through Easter.
“The big thing is no one was hurt and there were no injuries,” said Alan Thomforde, who with his wife Kelly own and run the facility. “It’s been a tough winter all along.”
It was just one of many snowstorms that hit the area in 2014.
Bicyclist killed on Route 926In August, a 24-year-old bicyclist was killed by a car while riding his bicycle on Route 926 near Schoolhouse Road. The accident occurred at 2:20 a.m.
Arthur Joseff Teitsort-Bilrog of Kennett was an employee at Northbrook Marketplace. He used his bicycle to travel wherever he needed to go, and didn’t have a driver’s license.
“We’re all just terribly distraught about his,” said Karen Porter, Teitsort-Birog’s co-worker. “It’s just a terrible loss and a total shock. It’s tragic beyond words.”
His blue Mongoose bicycle was struck by a 2004 Jeep Liberty driven by 21-year-old Alan Michael Medina Barajas of Pocopson. A touching memorial service in tribute of Teitsort-Birog was held at Northbrook Marketplace.
Ex-supervisor pleads to child porn charge
In March, Warren Reynolds, a former New Garden supervisor, was sentenced to four years in a state prison for possessing multiple images of child pornography.
Reynolds, 52, appeared before Judge Anthony Sarcione to plead guilty to five counts of sexual abuse of children. Reynolds did not make any statements to the court, beyond answering the questions Sarcione posed to him.
Rivera family burned out of home
Israel Rivera and his family are alive today because of a smoke detector. A Jan. 15 fire destroyed his bi-level home located near the intersection of Creek and Hillendale roads.
The 43-year-old native of Puerto Rico and his four children and wife were in bed, sound asleep when the smoke detector went off. They scurried safely out of the house. The house burned to the ground.
Rivera tried desperately to use a home fire extinguisher to put the fire out. He got a ladder and climbed up the bedroom window but his effort was futile.
Community rallies behind needy family
Christmas came early for the Morales family in Kennett Square. After the family’s van broke down, a member of the Longwood Rotary Club offered the family a car free of charge. Ed Bassett and the Longwood Rotary Club pitched in $1,000 to make the needed repairs to the car. And The Simpers Insurance Agency waived title transfer fees.
It was a feel-good holiday story made for Kennett Square, where migrant workers struggle to make a living. Morales and his daughter struggle with health issues and the vehicle was their only means of weekly hospital visits.