Editor’s Note: This week our editors look back at the biggest and most-notable stories of 2023. This is the second in a series of three articles. It covers what happened in May, June, July and August of 2023.
On May 9, angry Chalfont residents assail borough council for clearing trees with no notice for a walking trail many of them opposed. This wasn’t a handful of trees. The borough left behind a 50-foot-wide swath of tree stumps and wood chips near Patriot Drive for the Northern Neshaminy Greenway Trail walking path. An email to residents the following day belatedly lets them know what happened.
In a sign of things to come in November, the May 16 primary election takes down two notable incumbents. Bucks County Coroner Meredith Buck, a Democrat, fails to earn the party’s nomination, falling to Patti Campi, who goes on to win the seat in the fall. And voters send Pennridge School Board President David Reiss packing.
For three weeks beginning in mid-May, the plight of a bald eagle with lead poisoning holds the attention of a Solebury neighborhood. Residents get the dying bird to Aark Wildlife Rehabilitation & Education Center in Chalfont. After a rapid recovery, he makes it home just in time for Father’s Day, flying straight to the nest upon his release to rejoin his mate and their baby eaglet.
Seventy-five years is quite a run. Hundreds turn out at R&S Diner in Hilltown on May 18 to say goodbye to an old friend, shed a few tears, soak up some good vibes and memories and order a salad or sandwich with R&S dressing one last time.
Lower Southampton’s Karen and Mike Babcock take the unimaginable grief at the sudden, tragic loss of their 2-year-old son Dax and start a movement. On May 25, barely a month after Dax died, the Babcocks announce The Dax Pact Foundation to establish scholarships to send children with limited means to Just Children Child Care Center and Breezy Point Day School & Camp, fund local park improvements, and challenge others to “live big” and “love hard.” Just like Dax.
In the best season in Central Bucks West baseball history, the team captures the school’s first PIAA District One Class 6A baseball championship and finishes with a 20-7 record. And the players do it with a heavy heart. They dedicate the season to their friend, West grad Dominic Testani, who, months earlier, drowned in Lake Henry near Scranton.
Perkasie gym owner Mark Gibson boards his mountain bike on June 9 in the parking lot of a YMCA in Alberta, Canada, points it south and starts pedaling. Forty days later he arrives at the U.S.-Mexico border, overcoming mechanical problems, navigation troubles, fatigue, extreme temperatures, washed out roads, enormous boulders and terrain that’d make even a Jeep take a detour. The 62-year-old said “quitting is never an option.”
The Bucks County Music Project, headed by local entrepreneurs, is an ambitious new proposal for a large, nonprofit music venue situated in Bucks County. At its heart would be a 5,000 to 7,000 capacity arena that’d host popular artists. The project launches at a June 12 coming-out party at the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center of Bucks County, but its work is just beginning.
Former Central Bucks West High School choir director Joseph Ohrt, on June 12, gets to 2½ years to five years in a state prison for indecently assaulting two former students and filming another former student as he undressed. Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey L. Finley sentences Ohrt in the aggravated range, saying his conduct will impact his victims for decades but adds “you don’t care about anybody but yourself.”
Doylestown Hospital and Presbyterian Senior Living agree to a deal that’d transfer of ownership of Pine Run Life Plan Community, a 532-unit/bed, five-star-rated Life Plan Community in Doylestown Township to PSL on June 13. PSL formally takes the reins on Aug. 24.
On June 22, Urban Outfitters’ Terrain opens on the Delaware Valley University campus. The business model combines retail, greenhouse, garden nursery, cafe and private event space all in one place. It also offers internships to DelVal students and popup farm stands that sell produce from the university’s farms.
The Bucks County District Attorney’s Office upends a multi-million-dollar catalytic converter theft ring operating across the Delaware Valley, arresting 11 adults and a juvenile. The thieves, authorities report, were stealing an average of 175 catalytic converters per week, taking them to TDI Towing in Philadelphia, and selling them to business operator Michael Williams, 52, of Philadelphia, where they’d fetch up to $1,000 apiece.
Two men with connections to Bucks County school districts are charged with sex crimes in June. Michael London, of Warrington, taught math at Central Bucks South and CB West. He is accused of engaging in inappropriate communication with a minor, having reportedly sent numerous electronic messages to a child that were of a sexual nature. Meanwhile, Pennridge School District dismisses volunteer football coach Michael Feifel following his arrest in a human trafficking investigation. Police say he tried to arrange a meeting with a teenage girl after soliciting sex acts for money.
A $200,000-donation from local philanthropists Gene and Marlene Epstein is enabling the Bucks County Community College Foundation to award scholarships to 100 students. The two-year awards are designed to cover unmet needs after all other forms of financial aid are applied. “Figuring out how to pay for college should not be a barrier for a person who wants to make a better life for themselves,” Epstein said in a statement. “We want every student in Bucks County to know that there is a path forward for them at Bucks County Community College,” Gene Epstein said in a statement.
Two historic New Hope properties are on the market for the first time in 40 years. Jointly listed for $4.95 million, the two contiguous properties include the Wedgwood Inn, which first opened its doors as a “guest house” in 1929, and Umpleby House, first built in 1833, which in combination offer 18 guest room accommodations. Six months later, they’re still on the market.
A developer looking to build a 245-unit, multistory apartment building in Newtown Township tries to get Supervisor John Mack disqualified from voting on a zoning ordinance validity challenge, citing statements attributed to Mack on his blog that were critical of the project. The move comes from attorneys for Kushner Real Estate Group (KRE). KRE is run by Jonathan Kushner, first cousin of Jared Kushner, former President Trump’s son-in-law. The push to “Muzzle Mack,” as the supervisor put it, failed.
A Bucks County jury convicts Kahlill Saleem Brown, 34, of first-degree murder in the 2020 shooting death of Christopher M. Wilson in the parking lot of the Middletown Township recycling facility where the victim worked. The father of nine children, Wilson had been romantically involved with Brown’s mother but had ended the relationship. The mother — Joyce Brown-Rodriguez — who was at the scene when Brown killed Wilson, was also charged and pleaded guilty to third-degree murder. Brown was eventually sentenced to life in prison.
Claire Risoldi, the political rainmaker from Buckingham who, in 2019, was convicted of defrauding insurance giant AIG to the tune of $20 million, dies July 14 before serving her 11½ to 23-month jail sentence, as the numerous appeals she filed delayed her incarceration. Three fires of undetermined cause damaged her lavish “Clairemont” estate in four years and, in one case, she accused volunteer firefighters who responded to the scene of stealing $10 million in jewelry. She was 76.
Torrential rain — 6 inches in two hours — on July 15 causes a sudden and violent flash flood in Upper Makefield. The Houghs Creek overflows, swamping Route 532, rendering vehicles inoperable and carrying away motorists who left their cars in an effort to reach higher ground. Seven people, including three members of the same family, die in the flood and rescue crews spent an exhausting and demoralizing week trying to find two missing children. Killed were mother Katie Seley, her 2-year-old daughter Matilda Sheils and her 9-month-old son Conrad Sheils, whose body was never recovered. The family was visiting from South Carolina. Also killed were Enzo Depiero, 78, and Linda Depiero, 74, of Newtown Township; Yuko Love, 64, of Newtown Township; and Susan Barnhart, 53, of Titusville N.J. Downstream from Upper Makefield, flooding from the same storm also devastated Lower Makefield’s Maplevale and Meadow Drive neighborhood.
The eighth month of the year sees two notable deaths that saddened two of Bucks’ River Towns communities. Bill Tinsman, scion of a Bucks County lumber dynasty and a pioneer environmentalist, dies Aug. 6, a year after being diagnosed with brain cancer. He was 75 and he and his family are immeasurably entwined with the tiny village of Lumberville, where he spent his life. Then, on Aug. 21, Laurie McHugh, the vice president of New Hope Borough Council, dies in a two-vehicle crash on Durham Road in Buckingham. The 2016 Audi she is driving collides with a tractor-trailer. McHugh, who was first elected to borough council in 2016, is recalled as “a thoughtful, fair and professional representative of New Hope’s diverse residents and businesses,” by Borough Manager Peter Gray. Earlier this year, McHugh opened Lambertville’s first authorized craft cannabis dispensary, the Union Chill Cannabis Company.
McHugh’s final New Hope Borough Council meeting, on Aug. 15, includes a 4-3 vote to terminate arrangements for a proposed parking garage project that started in 2020 and has cost $600,000. The vote to end the borough’s contract with THA Consultants follows a blistering public comment session as residents criticize the garage plan and state Sen. Steve Santarsiero for attending the meeting and giving a presentation during the public comment period. His presentation was “to correct the record” regarding some statements by an ad hoc committee that cited a $28 million cost estimate for a parking garage that his analysis determined was “closer to seven million.” Santarsiero had been the sponsor of a $1.75 million state grant to help with the construction.
In the greatest season in Quakertown Blue Jays history, the team wins the 2023 Pennsylvania state championship crown — its first ever — and, in August, reaches the fourth game of the Mid-Atlantic Regional American Legion tournament at Dale Miller Field in Morgantown, W.Va.
Pennridge School Board, on Aug. 28, names Angelo Berrios as the district’s next superintendent. Berrios, who’d been principal of Abington Senior High School in Montgomery County, replaces Dr. David Bolton, who had gone out on medical leave in early June and retired Oct. 31. Bolton’s departure coincided with the publication of a string of emails that showed him as being at odds with the school board majority over its decision to hire Vermilion Education to consult on curriculum. Bolton cited the last-minute nature of the contract, its open-ended cost, the vague scope of work and what he suggested was a secretive process the board followed to negotiate the contract as reasons to hold off on considering the contract. Berrios, who lives in Bedminster, promises to “work collaboratively with our dedicated educators, staff, parents, and community members to ensure that every student receives an exceptional education...”
At that same Aug. 28 meeting, the Pennridge School Board, in a bitter 5-4 vote, adopts a new curriculum that leans heavily on Hillsdale College’s 1776 Curriculum as a framework in social studies and reading/language arts. Pennridge’s new curriculum was influenced by Jordan Adams, of Vermilion Education, a controversial hire by the majority of the board. While then board vice president Megan Banis Clemens says the new curriculum “raises the rigor and removes the predetermined conclusions and opinions,” opponents deride what they characterize as overemphasis on “American Exceptionalism” at the expense of accurate representation of hot-button topics such as race and gender. The curriculum is expected to be revamped this year, with the election of a Democratic slate to the board. New board president Ron Wurz puts introduction of a “revised and unbiased” Social Studies and Reading/Language Arts curriculum at the top of the new board’s list of priorities.