WESA Daily Briefing: September 16, 2020

Sep 16, 2020

News on the coronavirus pandemic, protests, 2020 election and more from around Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and southwestern Pennsylvania. 

Find all of the WESA Daily Briefing posts here

Editor's note: This post will be frequently updated with the latest news.

 

2:25 p.m. - PennDOT begins reissuing REAL IDs

The department stopped giving out the IDs in March, when the state first shutdown for the coronavirus pandemic. REAL ID is an optional identification cards, but is required to enter federal buildings and to pass through airport security if an individual does not also have a passport or military ID in addition to a state-issued ID. A REAL ID can be obtained at select PennDOT driver’s license centers or online.

After the March shutdown, the federal Department of Homeland Security pushed back the deadline for the state to start using REAL IDs until Oct. 1, 2021.

2:20 p.m. - Council moves ahead with facial-recognition bill

Pittsburgh City Council gave early approval to a bill that requires council approval before city police can buy software that matches surveillance photos against databases. Council would also oversee the purchase of technology that predicts future crime.

Councilor Ricky Burgess says council should limit or prohibit the technology outright.

“I’m in favor of banning predictive policing, this bill does not ban predictive policing,” Burgess said. “I’m in favor of regulating facial recognition, this bill does not regulate facial recognition.”

Critics say the technology raises concerns about privacy and racial profiling

1:21 p.m. - URA invests in redevelopment of Beltzhoover Elementary School

The Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh will invest $72,000 to help redevelop the former Beltzhoover Elementary School. The Beltzhoover Consensus Group plans to turn the long-vacant property into affordable housing and a community center.

Pittsburgh Public Schools sold the building to the group in 2017 for $7,500 a fraction of the $85,000 asking price. Additional partners on the project include Neighborhood Allies, the Heinz Endowments and the Birmingham Foundation.

12:08 p.m. - Third man surrenders in Pittsburgh shootout that killed infant

The third man sought in the death of an infant who was struck by a stray bullet that went into his family’s apartment during a shootout on a Pittsburgh street has turned himself in to authorities.

Devon Thompson, 37, of McKees Rocks, surrendered Tuesday to city police. He faces charges of criminal homicide, criminal attempted homicide, aggravated assault and a weapons count, and it wasn't known Wednesday if he's retained an attorney.

Authorities have said Thompson and two other men — Andre Crawford, 29, of McKeesport, and Marvin Hill Jr., 41, of Spring Hill — were at the Three Rivers Manor apartment complex when they opened fire on Aug. 24. Authorities have not said was sparked the shootout, but said numerous rounds were fired.

Zykier Young was sleeping in his family’s apartment when he was struck in the head by a bullet that traveled through two walls before it hit him, authorities said. The year-old boy was taken to a hospital but was pronounced dead there several hours later.

No other injuries were reported in the shootout. Authorities say it's not clear who fired the shot that struck the infant.

Crawford and Hill have been in police custody since early this month.

11:36 a.m. - Allegheny County reports 73 new COVID-19 cases

The Health Department says the median age of positive cases was 28 years old. No new deaths were reported. 

In Pennsylvania, health officials reported 776 additional COVID-19 cases. There were 28 new deaths. Statewide, there have been 146,990 cases.

11:10 a.m. - Man paralyzed in 2016 Wilkinsburg cookout shooting dies

A man paralyzed in a 2016 shooting at cookout in western Pennsylvania that killed five people and an unborn baby has died, officials said.

John Ellis, 51, died Tuesday at UPMC Mercy Hospital, where he was taken Friday for complications, according to the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office.

Ellis lived next door to the Wilkinsburg home where the cookout was taking place on March 9, 2016, and was sitting at a backyard table when gunfire rang out.

Three siblings — including one who was eight months pregnant — and two cousins were killed. Ellis and two others were wounded.

Authorities charged two men in the shooting.

Charges were dismissed against one suspect and a jury in February reached a not guilty verdict against the other.

 

The backyard of the Wilkinsburg home where five adults, including a pregnant woman, were killed in 2016.
Credit Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

10:29 a.m. - Pa. farmers seek relief from potential lawsuits

Fall is just around the corner which brings corn mazes, hay rides, and pumpkin picking.

But these activities also bring some risks --  like someone getting hurt after tripping over a vine or stung by a bee while out in an orchard.

The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau is calling on state lawmakers to pass protections before the end of this year’s session for farms that host public activities.

They would cover farmers that warn visitors of the risks involved if they participate – through the signing of a waiver or posting a disclaimer.

Farm Bureau President Rick Ebert says while the proposal would not give farms a free pass, it would address the threat of lawsuits that are often a significant barrier for farmers who operate agritourism businesses.

“Farmers will do all they can to mitigate the risks, but some risks are beyond their control,” Ebert said.

Ebert cites a recent Penn State survey showing nearly three quarters of farmers who are considering such activities say civil liability is among their top concerns.

The bill has passed the House Agriculture committee but is awaiting a vote in the full chamber. 

9:03 a.m. - Planning Commission rejects proposed Strip District office tower

The Pittsburgh Planning Commission has rejected the latest design proposal for a 21-story office tower on the site of the former New Federal Cold Storage warehouse in the Strip District.  City officials have said the size of the proposed building doesn't fit the character of the Strip.  The project includes a seven-story parking garage, street-level retail, and two levels of green roofing intended to absorb rainwater.

7:20 a.m. - PPS tech support starts today

Pittsburgh Public Schools is providing in-person tech support starting today for students and families having trouble with their e-learning devices.  Help is available from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Pittsburgh Carrick, King, Langley, Obama, and CAPA through October 2nd.  The district is encouraging families to make appointments but will provide walk-in assistance.  More information is available here.

7:02 a.m. - New study finds link between exposure to air pollution and the risk of stroke in people with a common heart condition

Using suitcase-sized air pollution monitors mounted to telephone poles at 37 sites around Allegheny County, researchers were able to measure the exact levels of fine particulate pollution – or soot – that study participants were breathing on a daily basis.

More than 31,000 people were part of the study. All have atrial fibrillation - or AFib, a common heart rhythm disorder. The research team includes UPMC cardiologist Jared Magnani.

“I think that we really put things together and made a very important connection between AFib and stroke and how pollution can raise that risk,” Magnani said.

Fine particulate pollution is tiny - about 3 percent the diameter of a human hair. When it’s inhaled, it enters the bloodstream where it can trigger strokes or heart attacks.

“This is new information for us, because it means that when we think about somebody's stroke risk, we should also consider environmental exposures,” he said.

Magnani says doctors can use this study to advocate for public health policies that address industrial pollution.