Written by Eric Wise
Classic films have not drawn large enough crowds to the Elks Theatre to allow it to stay open, so the 103-year-old movie house was closed this weekend by the group that leases and operates it.
In a statement posted on its Facebook site, Save The Elks, the Greater Middletown Economic Development Corp. announced the closing on Thursday, Oct. 23, saying the theater couldn't cover operating costs without a digital projection system that would allow it to show new movies.
"After a couple of bad weeks in a row, we decided it was not sustainable," said Gordon Einhorn, chairman of the GMEDC's Elks Theatre Committee. Only about 25 people attended one recent showing of a movie, which was the only one of the week.
To show current films, the theater needs a $50,000 digital conversion that will replace the 35-mm film-based technology no longer used by movie distributors. For about 10 weeks, the theater has shown no new movies. At first, films from earlier in the year still available with the old technology headlined the marquee; the theater then adopted a strategy of showing classic films with limited showtimes.
Classic films "Gone With the Wind" and "The Wizard of Oz" slated for showings through December have been canceled because this stopgap strategy failed to generate enough money to continue.
GMEDC bought the Elks Building, which includes the Elks Theater, in 2005 with the intention to continue showing movies at the theater, a role it played for the community since 1911.
The corporation sold the Elks Building and theater to the Middletown Industrial and Commercial Development Authority on Sept. 18 with "the understanding that the MICDA would proceed with the purchase of a digital projection system for the theater, so that we could continue to show new films,'' according to the statement on the Facebook page.
Without the digital system, "we are unable to cover the costs of theater operations,'' the statement says, and the GMEDC "reluctantly determined that we have no choice but to suspend theater operations'' as of this weekend.
The GMEDC hopes a digital system will be in place in the near future, perhaps by the end of the year. The authority "has previously stated that they intend o proceeding with the digital conversion before the end of the year,'' the statement says. "If that occurs, we hope to be able to resume theatre operations at that time.''
The authority has authorized a $145,000 project to repair and update the building's roof. Work on the roof continued as the theater went dark and the marquee was stripped.
Einhorn said members of the authority discussed other immediate needs for the theater during the yearlong negotiations that led to the building's transfer from GMEDC, including the digital conversion and addressing damage to the theater's ceiling that caused chunks of plaster to fall.
Matt Tunnell, chairman of the authority, and Chris Courogen, Middletown Borough's director of communications, did not respond to calls regarding the Elks on Friday, Oct. 24.
The GMEDC is committed to operate the theater after a digital conversion is completed, Einhorn said. "We wanted to kick off a fundraising campaign for a new marquee," he said.
Last Updated on Friday, 24 October 2014 17:18
Written by Dan Miller
The former treasurer of the Middletown Youth Club was charged on Thursday, Oct. 23 with stealing more than $10,400 from the club, according to authorities.
Elizabeth Hicks, 31, took the money from the club to conceal funds she was allegedly embezzling from her job as a manager of a convenience store in Highspire, Middletown police said in a criminal complaint filed with District Judge David Judy's office.
Following an investigation that has been going on since early August, Middletown police charged Hicks, of Aspen Drive in Middletown, with theft by unlawful taking, theft by failure to make required disposition of funds and unauthorized use of an access device.
Hicks was released on her own recognizance after she was arraigned Thursday before District Judge Kenneth Lenker of Steelton. A preliminary hearing is set for Wednesday, Nov. 5 before Judy.
The investigation into Hicks was launched after police were contacted in August by Christopher Hughes, who had become president of the Middletown Youth Club in May, according to the criminal complaint.
Hughes told police that Hicks had been writing checks from the Youth Club account to her place of employment, the Smith's Gas Mart convenience store in Highspire, according to the criminal complaint.
Police said that Hughes was alerted to the situation by Sumil Dixit, owner of the Gas Mart, who wanted to know why "so much money" from checks drawn on the Youth Club account was going to his business.
Hughes and Dixit then put together that Hicks was both treasurer of the Youth Club, and manager of the gas station, police said.
Middletown police said Dixit told them that he believed that Hicks was stealing from his business, according to the criminal complaint. Dixit told police he was experiencing "a large deficit in his profits" from the gas station, so much that Dixit told police he was having to put "large sums of funds" into his business to keep it afloat.
Police said Dixit believed that Hicks was using money from the Youth Club to cover the deficit at the station and conceal that Hicks was embezzling money from Dixit.
The criminal complaint alleges that $12,000 was taken from the Youth Club, but lists seven different transactions – "not an all inclusive list,'' the complaint says – documenting alleged theft totaling a combined $10,428.08. The transactions include four ATM withdrawals from Members 1st Federal Credit Union in July, and three checks written to the gas station in Highspire – two in July, and the most recent from Aug. 10.
Hicks had served as treasurer of the Youth Club since 2013, according to the criminal complaint.
Police said Hicks turned over to them three boxes of items, a computer, numerous bank cards and several deposit books.
Middletown Police Sgt. Richard Hiester told the Press And Journal that police are continuing to investigate bank statements regarding Hicks that go back to April. Hiester has been working on the case on his own for months.
"It got to the point where I nailed down a number of things that I knew were theft-related" in order to be able to bring the charges against Hicks, Hiester said.
Hiester said he expects the investigation into Hicks to continue for several more months. Hiester added that Middletown police plan to enlist the assistance of outside agencies, such as the Dauphin County District Attorney's Office and the state Attorney General, to assist in continuing the investigation.
Hicks did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment. A lawyer listed in court documents as Hicks' defense attorney told the Press And Journal on Thursday that he has not yet been retained by Hicks. He declined comment.
Hughes, reached Thursday after Hicks was charged, said that Hicks was removed by the club as treasurer in September. The job of club treasurer is currently held on an acting basis by Jess Welsh, according to the Middletown Youth Club website.
Hughes said the club is preparing a statement regarding Hicks that will be made public on Friday, Oct. 24. He told the Press And Journal that the club has already begun taking steps to better protect club funds.
"We put some things in place that were not in place prior to" (the investigation), Hughes said.
Last Updated on Thursday, 23 October 2014 21:47
Written by Jim Lewis
Richard Stotz's Pine Street house is an homage to Halloween scares that has grown every trick-or-treat for the past 15 years.
A gigantic fake spider crawls on the faces of his two-story home, and mannequins of Freddy Kruger and Michael Myers spring to life when you clap loudly. Eerie music spills from speakers that sit in an open window, and manufactured fog drifts from a machine on the lawn.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 October 2014 20:53
Written by Dan Miller
Former Middletown Area High School football coach Rob Deibler has repaid in court-ordered restitution the more than $7,300 he spent from the football team’s booster club for his personal use, according to court records.
Deibler, 49, was accepted into the Dauphin County Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program on Aug. 18, according to Dauphin County Assistant District Attorney Joel Hogentogler.
In August, Deibler paid $8,500, enough to completely cover the $7,341.28 in court-ordered restitution to the booster club. The balance was applied to Deibler’s admittance fee into the ARD program. Deibler still owes $627 in outstanding court costs and fees, Hogentogler said.
Lower Swatara Twp. police arrested Deibler on May 14 and charged him with one felony count of theft by failure to make required disposition of funds.
According to court records, Deibler used money that was raised for Middletown’s Raider Club to pay his own bills, including an insurance premium, a Netflix bill, a Sirius radio bill and other personal expenses.
Besides paying the restitution, Deibler was sentenced to 12 months of probation and 40 hours of community service.
Hogentogler said that the charge against Deibler will be dismissed if he successfully completes the ARD program. However, he said that Deibler will have to petition the court to get his record expunged.
Deibler came to Middletown in 2011 after a highly successful 12-year run as a football coach at Steelton-Highspire High School. He coached the Rollers to two state titles, seven district titles and 114 wins.
He coached the Blue Raiders for just two seasons, resigning unexpectedly in the summer of 2013 for “personal reasons.”
Deibler was serving as the athletic director for the Susquehanna Twp. School District at the time of his arrest. The district placed him on leave. The district has since replaced Deibler with Andrae Martin, Steelton-Highspire’s former athletic director.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 October 2014 20:37
Written by Dan Miller
A group of Highspire residents have overcome the first big hurdle in their quest to secede from Steelton-Highspire School District and to send their children to Middletown Area School District.
Dauphin County Judge Bruce Bratton issued an order on Wednesday, Oct. 15 that clears the way for the petition submitted by the Highspire Education Coalition to now be considered by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 October 2014 20:23