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Downtown evacuated for gas leak

A gas leak was discovered near the intersection of South Union and Brown streets, resulting in the evacuation of nearby buildings in Middletown’s downtown business district for about 90 minutes on Tuesday, Aug. 12. gasleak8 13 14

Workers from UGI Utilities arrived on scene around 12:20 p.m. and discovered a general corrosion leak on a steel pipeline, according to Steve Cook, business development director for the utility.

The leak was first noticed when a passerby smelled an odor of gas in the block. The Middletown Volunteer Fire Department was dispatched around 11:56 a.m., according to Middletown Fire Chief Ken Whitebread.

Crews on the scene reported a “general pitting with a pinhole leak,’’ in the pipeline, Cook said. “It doesn’t take much natural gas to really stink up an area,’’ he said.


At no point did natural gas from the leak reach any buildings, Cook said.


Firefighters assessed the area and began evacuating occupants in buildings on South Union Street between Emaus and Brown streets, as well as Citizens Bank and Karns Quality Foods.

By 1:20 p.m., people were permitted to re-enter the evacuated buildings.

Cook said UGI is not certain what caused the pinhole leak.

“General work and vibrations can initiate a leak, but we’re not sure what created it,” Cook said. The borough is replacing aging sewer and water lines on South Union Street.


As of 2:45 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 12, workers were preparing to put a mechanical leak stop fitting on the gas main, which is a permanent repair, Cook said.


“Once they have a leak clamp on, they’ll put the final back fill in,” Cook said. “Crews didn’t report any physical damage to the pipe.”


The evacuation of the block appeared to be orderly. There were “quite a few’’ shoppers in Karns Quality Foods when firefighters came in and told manager Greg Martin to evacuate the grocery store.


“They said, ‘Clear the building,’ ‘’ Martin said. A warning to evacuate was broadcast over the store’s loudspeakers, and shoppers left in orderly fashion, he said.

For Alan Heilig, a store employee, the leak happened just as his shift was about to end. He left for home, around the corner on Ann Street, to make sure his children were OK. They accompanied him as he sought someone to give him more information on what was happening.

“Nothing like this has ever happened before,’’ Heilig said.

UGI Utilities arrived shortly after the fire department evacuated the buildings.


“They came in a fleet. I’ve never seen that in the 41 years I’m working,” Whitebread said.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 August 2014 21:35

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One out, two in for chief’s job in Middletown


Travis Thickstun, a corporal with the Indiana State Excise Police Force, has withdrawn as a candidate to be Middletown’s next chief of police – most likely clearing the way for Middletown Borough Council to hire Pennsylvania State Police Capt. John Bey for the job when council meets on Monday, Aug. 18.

In a letter e-mailed to council’s public safety committee Wednesday evening, Aug. 6 – with copies sent to Mayor James H. Curry III and the Press And Journal – Thickstun did not directly refer to the controversy that has erupted following the committee’s 2-0 vote on Wednesday, Aug. 6 to recommend Bey, a 25-year veteran of the state police. 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 August 2014 21:33

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Candidate for police chief withdraws; Mayor slams selection process





 Cpl. Travis Thickstun has withdrawn as a candidate to be Middletown's next chief of police – most likely clearing the way for Middletown Borough Council to hire Pennsylvania State Police Capt. John Bey for the job when council meets on Monday, Aug. 18.

In a letter e-mailed to council's public safety committee Wednesday evening, Aug. 6 – with copies sent to Mayor James H. Curry III and the Press And Journal – Thickstun, a veteran of the Indiana State Excise Police Force, did not directly refer to the controversy that has erupted following the committee's 2-0 recommendation of Bey, a 25-year veteran of the state police, to be the next chief Wednesday afternoon.

Public Safety Committee chairman and Councilor Scott Sites and Curry said they both supported Thickstun for the position. However, neither Sites nor the mayor were able to attend Wednesday's meeting. Instead, the committee's two other members  – Council Vice President Robert Louer and Councilor John Brubaker – proceeded with the meeting, and voted 2-0 for Bey as the favored candidate among three finalists.

The committee meeting had been reportedly legally advertised in advance. The committee action was also a legal vote, in that two of three members were present and made up a quorum.

Besides Bey and Thickstun, the third of the three finalists was Stephen Mazzeo, a former police chief of Sunbury. 

Curry was quoted in this morning as saying the committee's action in going ahead with voting on Bey in Sites and Curry's absence was "corrupt." Curry said the committee has known for weeks that he would be unable to attend the meeting because he is on vacation.

When Sites sent Louer a text message Tuesday saying he would not be able to attend, Curry said the committee should either have canceled Wednesday's meeting or taken up other business unrelated to the police chief position. The mayor said the committee could have advertised a special meeting before the Aug. 18 council meeting to vote on the nomination for the new chief with Sites and the mayor present.

Curry is not a voting member of the committee, but the committee had allowed Curry to participate in the process of interviewing the candidates for chief, including the mayor in closed-door interviews that were held with the three finalists. As mayor, Curry oversees the police department. Moreover, if council were to deadlock Monday on choosing a new chief, it could be up to the mayor to break the tie.

Thickstun confirmed on Thursday, Aug. 7 in an e-mail to the Press And Journal that he has withdrawn as a candidate.

"The Borough of Middletown must move forward. Captain Bey must have the community's steadfast support if he is to be effective as Middletown's new Chief of Police. I wish him the very best as he steps into his new role in the near future," Thickstun said. He said he could not be reached by phone, but said he had nothing further to add beyond his statement e-mailed to the committee.

 Sites said he is disappointed by Thickstun's decision, but that he will now give his support to Bey.

"I believe he (Thickstun) was the best candidate for the position, but I believe I would give my support to Bey as they are 1A and 1B," Sites said.

Sites has not been as openly critical as Curry regarding the committee's decision to proceed with making a recommendation on the new chief while neither Sites nor Curry were present.

"That is how he operates," Sites said of Louer. "I expected it. That's how he does business."

Neither Louer nor Curry could immediately be reached for comment.


Here is the full text of Thickstun's statement to the committee:

Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Borough of Middletown
Borough Council Public Safety Committee
60 West Emaus Street
Middletown, Pennsylvania 17057
Dear Public Safety Committee Members:
Thank you for considering my application for Chief of Police for the Borough of Middletown. It was a pleasure to meet all of you, Mayor Curry, and a number of Middletown residents during the interview process last month.
Please convey my congratulations to Pennsylvania State Police Captain John Bey, who I have no doubt will be an excellent Chief of Police for the Borough of Middletown.
It is my hope that the community and the officers of the Middletown Borough Police Department will support Chief Bey wholeheartedly in his new role as Chief of Police. Middletown’s residents, business owners, and Borough leaders – along with the students, faculty, and staff of Penn State Harrisburg – must work collaboratively with Chief Bey in order for the police department to serve the community in the most effective and efficient ways possible. With your support, it is my hope that Chief Bey will lead the police department to become one of the very best in promoting public safety in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Thank you again for considering my application.  
Travis Thickstun
CC: Mayor James H. Curry III


Last Updated on Thursday, 07 August 2014 17:01

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Divided committee favors Bey as new Middletown police chief


The Middletown Borough Council committee in charge of recommending the borough's next chief of police is divided over who is the best candidate among three finalists.

During a publicly-advertised meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 6, two of the three committee members, councilors John Brubaker and Robert Louer, voted 2-0 to nominate Pennsylvania State Police Capt. John Bey to be the next chief of police.

goodjohnbeyJohn Bey However, Councilor Scott Sites, the committee's chairman – who afterward told the Press And Journal that "personal issues" prevented him from attending today's meeting – said he does not support Bey as the next chief. Sites instead is backing Travis Thickstun of Bloomington, Ind., the 12-year veteran of the Indiana State Excise Police Force. 

Mayor James H. Curry III also supports Thickstun, the mayor told The Press and Journal afterward. Curry said he could not attend today's meeting because he was on vacation.

goodthuxtonTravis Thickstun

The third finalist is Stephen Mazzeo, the former Sunbury police chief. A 37-year veteran of law enforcement, Mazzeo was demoted from chief to patrolman in the Sunbury police department in May by Sunbury Mayor David Persing, for reasons that have never been fully explained in public. 

Louer said the committee's recommendation of Bey now goes to the full council for its consideration on Monday, Aug. 18. Sites agreed that he expects council to take up the matter at that time.

Because the committee's recommendation is nonbinding, any of council's nine members would be free to nominate Mazzeo as well.

Bey is a 25-year state police veteran who is about to retire from the force. Bey is currently director of training for the state police Bureau of Training and Education. He is also a senior master sergeant in the Air Force Reserve.

Brubaker said Bey is "the best man for the job."

Louer said Bey is "more than qualified" for the position, and already lives in the area.

He said that Bey was "very well spoken" and answered all of the questions that were put to him by borough residents when Bey was publicly introduced by the committee in July. 

The committee started with about 25 applications and eventually worked the list down to the three finalists, each of whom the committee introduced to residents. Bey and Thickstun spent time speaking to residents and to the Press And Journal after being introduced; Mazzeo did not. 

"It was a very very challenging task," Louer said of reviewing all the applications. "But I thought John Bey was that much better."

Thickstun is currently the officer in charge of public information for the Indiana force.

Sites, reached by phone afterward, acknowledged that Thickstun has fewer years in law enforcement than Bey or Mazzeo, but would bring to the job "a wealth of experience on the street and in the office, which is what we need."

"I have never met anybody who in such a short period was more professional than Travis," Sites said. "He came with a plan, he researched the town, he had a wealth of knowledge of the challenges that the town faces and ways to overcome those challenges."

Several weeks ago, while being introduced to the public for the first time, Bey said he had just built a house in Susquehanna Twp. At that time Bey told the committee that he was not sure if he could comply with a Middletown ordinance requiring that the chief of police move into the town within 15 months of being hired.

Louer said that under terms of the ordinance, council could grant Bey two extensions of six months each, beyond the initial 15 months, meaning that Bey could have more than two years to comply with the requirement.

"We don't view that as a stumbling block" to hiring Bey, Louer said.

Louer during the meeting said he could not understand why neither Sites nor Curry could not be at today's committee meeting. Louer said he had received a text message from Sites on Tuesday, Aug. 5, informing Louer that neither he nor the mayor would be able to attend.

"For something this important they couldn't make the time to be here," Louer said. "All of the members should have been present for this selection."

"I had some other obligations that came up," Sites said. "I wanted to be there, but due to the timing on personal issues I could not."

Curry, reached by phone after the meeting, said that the committee has known for weeks that he would be on vacation this week. In light of that, Curry called it "disgusting" that Louer chose to  publicly chastise the mayor for not being at the meeting.

Curry said that once the committee learned - on Tuesday - that Sites could not attend, the committee should have canceled the meeting or conducted other business. The committee could have advertised a special meeting when both Sites and the mayor could attend, Curry said, that could have been held before the Aug. 18 council meeting.

Curry said he also supports Thickstun over Bey.


Curry is not a member of the public safety committee. However, the mayor is in charge of the police department under the borough's form of government. The committee has allowed the mayor to participate in the selection process, including the mayor attending the closed-door interviews that the committee has held with each of the three finalists.

In additon, if the full council deadlocks on hiring a new chief, the mayor could be asked to break the tie.

The mayor noted that Thickstun has had extensive experience dealing with college communities; which Curry said will be imperative going forward as Penn State Harrisburg continues to grow. 


The mayor also noted Thickstun's experience in dealing with the media and in handling interviews, and also in having authored numerous publications. Thickstun graduated from the police academy and was tops in his class as a sharpshooter, Curry said.

The mayor also noted that Thickstun having spent several days in Middletown looking for a house, before he had been publicly introduced to the community, showed a high level of commitment to the town.

"I saw that as him wanting to take the job by the reins," Curry said. "You are going to do your darndest because you are going to be living here. You want it to be safe for you and your family."

Curry emphasized that despite his preference for Thickstun, he believes Bey will do "an excellent job" if the full council hires him.

The mayor referred to Bey as a "top two candidate," adding that if Bey is chosen he will enjoy the mayor's full support.






Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 August 2014 13:52

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Steelton could hire chief on Aug. 18


A new police chief in Steelton is expected to take over by the end of the month.


All interviews have been completed, and Steelton Borough Council is expected to hire a new chief at its Aug. 18 meeting, according to Borough Manager Sara Gellatly.


Two finalists from five or six applicants were interviewed on Wednesday, July 30. Those finalists were the only two who met the borough’s requirements, according to Mayor Tom Acri.


The search began after former chief Scott Spangler retired after serving more than 30 years with the borough. Sgt. John King has served as acting chief.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 05 August 2014 19:52

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