PublicSource

PublicSource is an independent, nonprofit news group that focuses on original investigative reporting about critical issues facing Pittsburgh and the Western Pennsylvania region. It was launched to undertake in-depth reporting in the public interest.

​PublicSource is a content partner of 90.5 WESA.

More about PublicSource here.

Uncommon Compassion: Dying Offenders Seldom Released in Federal Prison System

Feb 17, 2015
Jeffrey Benzing / PublicSource

Linda Share fought for years to get her father home before he died.

Benjamin Share had been away for eight years. His kidneys were failing. He had congestive heart failure. His foot, an unnatural burgundy color, was swollen, and he had weeping sores that wouldn’t heal.

“The sores got worse and worse,” Linda said, describing her father’s deterioration in a nursing facility chosen by the prison. “I would drive to Manor Care and take home urine-stained and blood-stained clothing, his undergarments, and wash them for my daddy.”

Marcellus Life: A Native American Protest to Stop a PA Pipeline

Feb 9, 2015
Natasha Khan / PublicSource

Chief Carlos Whitewolf beat a small hand drum and sang a Native American prayer for Mother Earth in the cold January air in Hershey, Pa.

Many of the 50 or so other protesters outside the Hershey Lodge, where national Republican leaders attended a retreat, demonstrated against issues like the Keystone XL pipeline and climate change.

But Whitewolf, chief of the Northern Arawak Tribal Nation of Pennsylvania, was objecting to something more local. In nearby Lancaster County, it’s the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline project.

A Flood of Overtime for Nurses at County Nursing Homes

Feb 2, 2015
Connor Mulvaney / PublicSource

A veteran nursing assistant, whose job would include bathing, feeding and dressing nursing-home residents, worked an average of 80 hours a week for nearly the entire year at the Allegheny County-owned Kane Regional Centers.

For a licensed practical nurse, giving medications and tending to the wounds of 30 or more residents would be common. Does that get trickier near the end of a 12- to 16-hour shift, a norm for many of the LPNs employed by Kane?

Punchy Judy / Flickr

In 2014, heroin addiction and overdose deaths became an epidemic across the country, across the state of Pennsylvania and especially in Allegheny County.

Dr. Neil Capretto, Medical Director of Gateway Rehabilitation Center says the high rate of overdoses in southwest PA can be tied to use of prescription medicines, along with a blue collar and aging demographic.

"There was a need for pain medicines and doctor's started prescribing it and pharmaceutical companies started marketing to doctors heavily. And they were giving the message, 'This is safe, not addicting. Less than one percent of people who ever use Oxicodon ever have a problem.' That was the message from the companies. So there was a lot of prescription medicines, very heavy in our community. Then thousands of people in every town from Kittanning, to Downtown Pittsburgh, to Clarion, to Washington PA got hooked onto prescription medicines, and that led to the heroine problem."

Capretto explains that as an addiction to legal prescription opiates develops, heroin emerges as a cheaper alternative, once refills run out. But addiction is not simply about the relief of physical pain.

Capretto says he considers addiction to be a biological, psychological, social, and even spiritual disease. 

"Opioids are very good at stopping and blocking pain; physical pain, emotional pain, psychic pain... I've talked with thousands of people with addiction over the years and I never met one who started using any drug because they wanted to intentionally add more problems to their life on purpose. They're trying to solve some problem, block some pain." 

A Coordinated Effort to Cover the Complexities of Heroin Addiction

As news of the increasing number of heroin overdoses has made headlines throughout Pennsylvania, newsrooms are making a coordinated effort to cover the most important angles of this public health crisis.

Sharon Walsh, editor of the investigative journalism organization PublicSource, has been compiling the work of PA media outlets that have been reporting on the heroin problem.

Agency Battling Drug Crisis Has a Big Job, But Little State Money

Jan 12, 2015

If officials are tuned in to the statewide heroin crisis that has killed thousands of Pennsylvanians, they apparently think it’s a cheap fix.

After six years of inaction, in 2010 the Pennsylvania General Assembly created the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, formerly a modest bureau tucked into the Department of Health.

Then they piled on a huge workload and gave it little money.

Natasha Khan / PublicSource

About a dozen St. Marys officials, outfitted with baggy blue jumpsuits, earplugs and white plastic hard hats, recently visited a Seneca Resources well pad on a wooded hilltop to see what fracking is all about.

This part of Pennsylvania, about 120 miles northeast of Pittsburgh in Elk County, has been relatively untouched by shale drilling. But people see it coming in two test wells Seneca has there now, with more wells in the future.

Holly: One Face of the National Heroin Crisis

Nov 24, 2014
Connor Mulvaney / PublicSource

For Holly Wright, heroin was bliss.

It was cheap, and it was everywhere. She craved the rush of energy that came with the high, but soon she needed the drug just to get out of bed and feed her children without feeling dopesick.

But last year, she was confronted with a choice. She could keep her addiction and lose Dani, then 2, and her older brother Brayden, then 6. Or she could get treatment and start clean with her family.

By then, heroin had already taken her job and her money. And she didn’t realize the damage it had done to her children.

Life Means Death For Thousands Of PA Prisoners

Oct 21, 2014
Illustration by Anita Dufalla / PublicSource

Death in prison is not rare.

In Pennsylvania, one in 10 inmates is sentenced to life in prison. Because state law gives them no possibility of parole, nearly all of more than 5,300 inmates serving life terms will eventually die inside prison walls.

“They have no choice but to age and die in place,” said Julia Hall, a criminal justice professor and gerontologist at Drexel University.

Molly Duerig / PublicSource

Emergency response officials are currently assessing the risks that trains carrying millions of gallons of highly combustible crude oil pose to residents in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Raymond DeMichiei, deputy director of Pittsburgh’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, is overseeing that appraisal.

“We don't want people to have a false sense of security,” he said. “Yes, there is a risk. [But] we're managing the risk.”

Jailhouse Poets Find Voice in Writing Course

Aug 24, 2014
Molly Duerig / PublicSource

Brother Umar wears ketchup-colored jail garb. He’s been locked up for 14 months, but his words earn him snaps as if he’s at a hipster coffee shop.

“For good Abel can’t help but to sacrifice his life to this ‘caine that’s so fatal,” he recites, part preacher, part emcee. Then, conversationally: “That’s Cain and Abel.”

Umar, whose real name is Chris Westbrooks Jr., is in the Allegheny County Jail awaiting trial on charges of attempted murder and aggravated assault in connection with a 2013 shooting in Duquesne.

Crude Oil Train Derailment Concerns in Pittsburgh

Aug 19, 2014
Elias Schewel / Flickr

More than 40 percent of Pittsburgh's residents live in areas that would be at risk if a train carrying crude oil through the city derails and catches fire.

WESA content partner PublicSource created a map tracking the route of the rail lines known to carry crude oil in the city.

Reporter Natasha Khan says trains are more common in the city and its neighborhoods than people may realize. She also says that city officials are not prepared to handle a large scale accident, such as the one in Quebec last year.

Thousands of Disabled Workers Legally Paid Sub-Minimum Wage

Jul 31, 2014
Martha Rial / PublicSource

About 13,000 disabled Pennsylvania workers are being paid far below minimum wage, earning an average of $2.40 an hour in legal sub-minimum wages, according to a recent PublicSource article by Halle Stockton.

Does this practice provide opportunities for people who wouldn't otherwise have a job? Or does it exploit those who could work for minimum wage?

Stockton says these workers are legally paid sub-minimum wages and are supervised by mostly non-disabled workers. Stockton says the working conditions can range from work programs on beautiful campuses, to those of industrial settings.

No matter the conditions, however, Stockton says the pay is based on “pieces.”

“This is all piecework. You get paid for every box of paper you shred; you get paid twenty cents. Or every jewelry box, eleven cents. So, these supervisors are watching and recording that. This person completed three this hour, or completed four, and that’s what translates into your paycheck.”

Curtis Decker is the Executive Director of the National Disability Rights Network. He says people don’t apply for jobs they don’t have the skill set for. Decker does not approve of these sub-minimum wage programs but still believes people need the training so they can realize their greater potential.

Thousands of Disabled Workers in PA Paid Far Below Minimum Wage

Jul 27, 2014
Martha Rial / PublicSource

About 13,000 disabled Pennsylvanians are earning an average of $2.40 an hour in a legal use of subminimum wages.

The majority work almost solely with other disabled people, in a world tucked away from the mainstream labor market.

They’re given menial tasks, like folding boxes, shredding paper or packing mail inserts.

Since 1986, there has been no limit to how little they can be paid. And even the federal government, which issues the certificates that allow employers to pay subminimum wages, doesn’t track the hourly earnings of the workers.

Corbett Has Spent $1.7 Million on TV Ads Since the Primary

Jul 24, 2014
Pennsylvania National Guard, Tom Wolf via Flickr

Gov. Tom Corbett, trailing opponent Tom Wolf by 20 to 25 points in the polls, has poured $1.66 million into television ads blanketing the state in July, according to FCC reports.

That’s more than one-third of the $4.8 million in campaign funds Corbett had left over from the primary.

A Franklin & Marshall College poll of registered voters in late June showed Corbett, a Republican, trailing Democrat Wolf 47 percent to 25 percent.

Wolf has spent no money on ads this month.

What You Should Know About Crude Oil On Trains Coming Through PA

Jul 13, 2014
Association of American Railroads; graphic: Natasha Khan and Alexandra Kanik / PublicSource

More trains carrying crude oil to East Coast refineries mean a greater risk of accidents. Derailments in Pennsylvania and throughout the country are a signal to some that an accident could be disastrous.

Why is more crude oil moving through Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania Police Fail To Fingerprint Thousands Of Suspected Criminals

Jul 6, 2014
Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter / Via PublicSource

In 2013, 30,000 suspected criminals whose charges included sex crimes, assaults and murder were not fingerprinted by Pennsylvania police, according to state records.

State law requires that suspected offenders be fingerprinted within 48 hours of arrest.

So, if thousands of people aren’t getting fingerprinted, whose fault is it?

“It’s up to the police to do it. It’s a mandatory function. It’s not anybody else’s job but the arresting department,” said Eric Radnovich, director of the Bureau of Justice Services at the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office.

Could Drones Make The Energy Business Safer?

Jun 11, 2014
Photo courtesy of Identified Technologies

Small, high-tech drones are being used to make movies, shoot photos for the media and find sick or diseased crops in farm fields across the country — even though the government restricts commercial use.

Now, some are saying that drones could make operations safer in an industry Pennsylvania knows well: Energy.

Unmanned aerial vehicles, better known as drones, could be used in oil and gas operations for anything that is “dangerous or dirty to do by people,” said Michael Blades, who analyzes the drone industry for the global research firm Frost & Sullivan.

For This Pittsburgh Football Coach, There's A Passion For The Game

May 25, 2014
Martha Rial / PublicSource

Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson doesn’t yell or bark like a football coach.

Bulky defenders suited out in black and gold crouch on three points while he sputters a snap count, trying to get them to jump offside.

“Hut. Hut. Go, Joei. Hut.”

With his hefty frame bent low, he’ll mimic a snap, and the defenders power out of their stances.

This is his defensive line.

“Do not tackle the coach,” says Hutch, 60, standing up from his crouch and smirking. “You do not tackle the coach.”

Inspection Records For PA Amusement Parks Now Online

May 23, 2014
Fen Labalme / flickr

Before someone gets strapped into the Storm Runner at Hershey Park or feels their stomach drop on Kennywood’s Phantom's Revenge this Memorial Day weekend, they’ll be able to go online to check when the rides were last inspected.

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has launched a website that allows any amusement park goer to see whether a ride has recently been inspected.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Pastor Lee Dreyer helps organize the Water for Woodlands water bank at White Oak Springs Presbyterian Church in Renfrew, Pa.

The church distributes water to 34 families whose wells went bad around the time fracking started in the region. The coincidence can't be proven but residents said they can tell by taste, smell, color and skin reaction that their water hasn't been right.

Read more of this story at the website of our partner PublicSource.

With No Health Registry, PA Doesn’t Know The Impact Of Fracking On Health

Apr 30, 2014

After more than five years and about 6,000 wells drilled in the Marcellus Shale boom, public-health experts say the need to collect information near fracking operations in Pennsylvania is urgent.

A health registry could show trends of illnesses, collect data and potentially answer the question of whether fracking is safe — a debate currently characterized by emotional arguments with little reliable information.

How will anyone in the state know the possible health impacts of hydraulic fracturing unless information is collected?

Bluegrass Pipeline Project Comes To A Halt

Apr 29, 2014
Natasha Khan / PublicSource

Developers of a multi-state pipeline project, which has stirred controversy over the past year in Kentucky, announced Monday they have suspended all investment in the project indefinitely.

Williams Co., a Tulsa, Okla.-based company, said it has stopped investing in the Bluegrass Pipeline “primarily in response to an insufficient level of firm customer commitments.”

Dispute Over Disabled Man's Care Magnifies Guardianship’s Complexities

Apr 6, 2014
Alexandra Kanik / PublicSource

Rarely is there so much tension — or so much at stake — around giving someone hope for a family reunion as in the case of Dominic Pantoni.

Every month, Dominic intently waits at the door of his group home for his mother to arrive, and he immediately asks her, “When’s the next hearing?”

A court hearing, in Dominic's eyes, means going home, or at least leaving a place that he calls prison, said his mother, Nancy Pantoni. She has been trying since 2010 to change legal guardianship of her 27-year-old son, who has intense special needs because of a genetic disorder.

ucy Schaly / Beaver County Times via PublicSource

Walking with his daughter from a Friday night football game in New Brighton, Pa., Fire Chief Jeffrey Bolland heard what sounded like a jet overhead and saw an orange glow in the distance.

Twenty-three rail tank cars of ethanol derailed on a bridge above the Beaver River on that night in 2006, setting off an explosion that burned for 48 hours. Some of the black, torpedo-shaped cars tumbled into the river.

No one was injured, but 150 people were evacuated and a nearly multi-million dollar cleanup ensued in the city about 30 miles Northwest of Pittsburgh.

Under the Keystone: A Veteran's Progress

Mar 12, 2014
Jake Danna Stevens / Scranton Times-Tribune, via PublicSource

Earl Granville, of Scranton, Pa., is the second person featured in Under the Keystone, a new collaborative series from our content partner PublicSource. A veteran who lost his leg in Afghanistan and lost a brother to PTSD, Granville is now studying mental health counseling so he can help veterans and others who have come through difficult situations.

More Than 81,000 Children Have a Parent in Prison in PA

Mar 2, 2014
Emily DeMarco / PublicSource

When she was a baby, Kayla Bowyer of Pittsburgh was adopted by her grandparents because her mother was in and out of Allegheny County Jail.

Her grandfather died when she was 10 and her ‘Grams' had to go to work to support Bowyer, her younger brother and three cousins.
 

Though the presence of adults in her home changed, she was not alone.

In 2004, she and her brother were matched with Yolanda and Ron Bennett through Amachi Pittsburgh, a nonprofit organization that pairs mentors with children of an incarcerated parent.

Photos: Meet Joe Bonadio, Steep Street Music Man

Feb 10, 2014
Michael Novara

Welcome to a new PublicSource feature, Under the Keystone, that will feature profiles of interesting people throughout the state.

We have an idea that a series of photos and videos of Pennsylvania people might actually help bring the state together and help readers understand what a variety of enthralling and disparate personalities live here.

Millvale Couple Lives with Love and Disability

Jan 26, 2014
Martha Rial / PublicSource

MILLVALE — Bob Norris zips down the bus’s metal ramp in his motorized Steelers wheelchair as his wife, Tina, emerges with a jolting gait.

Time for grocery shopping.

Her slender frame askew but confident, Tina marches through the Giant Eagle with a list of foods and prices on her mind.

Bob lingers in the aisles, hoping to chat up the friendly store manager. His slurred speech doesn’t prevent him from making new friends.

Tina traps a loaf of bread with the side of one hand and a curled wrist while Bob holds open a reusable grocery bag.

Natasha Khan / PublicSource

The land agent first came knocking on Vivian and Dean House’s door in July. They sat on the patio of the retired couple’s 85-acre farm in this Central Kentucky town and chatted.

The guy was friendly, the kind of guy Dean could talk to about fishing.

He put the couple at ease and told them his company was interested in running a pipeline through their land. They were later offered more than $165,000 to sign easements.

As Armed Forces Scale Back, PA Young People Often Disappointed

Dec 8, 2013
Alexandra Kanik / PublicSource

An all-honors student and varsity soccer player, Luc LaChance could have had his pick of colleges when he left Slippery Rock High School in Butler County.

Instead, he chose to enlist with the U.S. Marines, where he will be trained as an infantryman — what the 17-year-old describes as “the common soldier.”

Eric Enslow, a 25-year-old Shaler Township resident with a master’s degree, joined the Navy after an exhaustive search for teaching jobs in Southwest Pennsylvania. His choice in the military was an intelligence job, which he was denied because of student-loan debt.

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