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Pennsylvania's Year In Review


Happy Valley was not a happy place in 2012. And yet it was hard to stay away.

The child molestation scandal that engulfed Penn State dominated state news this year, from the stunning death of longtime football coach Joe Paterno to the gut-wrenching court testimony that sent his former assistant, Jerry Sandusky, to prison for sexually abusing boys.

Other big stories included Superstorm Sandy, which cut power to more than 1.5 million customers in eastern Pennsylvania in late October. It took nine days to restore service in some places.

The storm's timing was particularly delicate because of its proximity to Election Day. The state was already dealing with confusion over a tough new voter ID requirement that ended up not being enforced — for now.

After the polls closed, Pennsylvania proved to be true blue: Democrats swept statewide offices, making Kathleen Kane both the first Democrat and first woman to be elected attorney general. The state's electoral votes went to President Barack Obama, who won a second term.


Vigils and memorials were held across the state in mid-December after a gunman massacred 20 children and several adults at a Connecticut elementary school.

Earlier in the year, a mass shooting in Pittsburgh left one medical worker dead and several others wounded. Authorities said a mentally ill man, 30-year-old John Shick, opened fire shortly after entering the lobby of the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic. Shick was then killed by police.

Another unspeakable tragedy took place at the Pittsburgh Zoo in November: A pack of African painted dogs mauled to death toddler Maddox Derkosh after he fell into the exhibit. His mother had lifted him onto a railing to get a better view of the animals.

And a botched kidnapping left an infant and her grandmother dead in suburban Philadelphia. Authorities said a family acquaintance with recent gambling losses wanted to ransom baby Saanvi Venna for $50,000, but ended up killing the girl and the relative who tried to protect her.


In February, Gov. Tom Corbett signed the most significant update of Pennsylvania's oil and gas law in a quarter-century. Act 13 included the first-ever so-called impact fee on gas companies drilling in the Marcellus Shale, stronger environmental protections and public disclosure of chemicals used in fracking, the technique that stimulates gas production in deep deposits.

A high-profile battle over drilling-related water contamination in Dimock began winding down as residents settled their lawsuit against Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. State regulators allowed the energy company to resume limited operations in the tiny Susquehanna County village.

And two oil refineries in suburban Philadelphia that had threatened to shut down — taking hundreds of jobs with them — were given new lives.

Delta Air Lines bought one facility for $150 million, marking the first time an airline has bought a refinery and taken over its own fuel production. Delta hopes the former ConocoPhillips facility in Trainer will yield $300 million in fuel savings.

The other refinery, owned by Sunoco, was purchased by The Carlyle Group.


A Roman Catholic church official in Philadelphia was convicted of child endangerment in a landmark clergy-abuse trial. Monsignor William Lynn was the first U.S. church official branded a felon for covering up molestation claims against priests. He's serving three to six years in prison.

Several state lawmakers, including former legislative leaders Bill DeWeese and John Perzel, were sent to prison as a result of a corruption investigation into the misuse of public money and government staff for campaign purposes.

Repeated bomb threats disrupted campus life at the University of Pittsburgh early this year. In August, a founding member of a Scottish terrorist group was charged with emailing 17 threats to the school. Authorities said suspect Adam Stuart Busby has no other connection to Pitt.

Also in Pittsburgh, a 22-year-old armored car guard allegedly killed his partner and fled with more than $2 million. Kenneth Konias Jr. spent two months on the lam before being arrested in Florida. More than half of the missing cash was recovered; he's set to stand trial next month.

And two death-row inmates got last-minute reprieves.

In October, the state's high court at least temporarily spared the life of Terrance "Terry" Williams, who says the two men he killed had molested him. The ruling came after a lower-court judge found prosecutors had withheld evidence in Williams' trial.

A few weeks later, Hubert Michael came within hours of a lethal injection for the murder of a teenage girl, but the U.S. Supreme Court halted it. His lawyers have argued that Michael lost out on the appeals process because of debilitating mental health issues.

Pennsylvania has not executed anyone since 1999.


A love triangle led to a midair terrorism scare, an aborted flight and a man being marched off a plane at gunpoint by police at Philadelphia Airport in September. Authorities later said Christopher Shell was the victim of a hoax call that falsely claimed he was carrying explosives.

The "tip" allegedly came from a man dating Shell's ex-girlfriend. Kenneth Smith was upset by a compromising photo of the woman that Shell posted on Facebook, authorities said.

A couple of weeks later, a mentally ill man armed with a hammer and knife held a businessman hostage in a Pittsburgh office building.

During the standoff, suspect Klein Michael Thaxton posted comments about his depressed state on Facebook using victim Charles Breitsman's computer and smartphone. Breitsman, a random target, was released unharmed after about five hours.


A priceless art collection moved to downtown Philadelphia in May. Dozens of Matisses, Renoirs and Cezannes from the once-secluded Barnes Foundation are now displayed in a new $150 million building that supporters say makes the paintings more accessible to the public.

Critics had fought the move for years, citing collector Albert Barnes' instructions that the artwork never be moved from his gallery in suburban Lower Merion. Barnes died in 1951.

The family-owned Zippo Manufacturing Co. in northwestern Pennsylvania produced its 500 millionth lighter, which was placed in the company's museum for safekeeping. It was made on June 5, which also happened to be the birthday of late Zippo founder George Blaisdell, who died in 1978.

And funeral homes in the state can now serve food, thanks to a ruling by a federal judge that struck down key provisions of the 60-year-old law governing the industry. The judge said the law, which also restricts ownership and even funeral home names, is outdated and unconstitutional.


Retired Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who led Philadelphia-area Roman Catholics for more than 15 years, was also an uncharged central figure in the alleged shuffling of predator priests. The 88-year-old prelate died in his sleep in January after battling dementia and cancer.

Even though Dick Clark had long moved from the City of Brotherly Love to the City of Angels, Philadelphians still claimed him as a near-native son. The host of "American Bandstand," which broadcast from WFIL-TV for seven years before moving to Los Angeles, died in April at age 82.

Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania's longest-serving U.S. senator, lost a yearslong battle with cancer in October. The 82-year-old moderate lawmaker was no longer in office, having lost his post amid a polarized political climate that he repeatedly railed against.

Penn State football coach Joe Paterno died in January at age 85. Doctors said the cause was lung cancer, but colleagues suspected something more. Paterno had just been fired by the school he loved in the fallout over the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

"You can die of heartbreak," said former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden. "I'm sure Joe had some heartbreak, too."

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.