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Year in Review: Lots of news in 2023’s first four months

January, February, March & April

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Editor’s Note: This week our editors look back at the biggest and most-notable stories of 2023. This is the first in a series of three articles. It covers what happened in January, February, March and April of 2023.

January

Forty of 76 cats removed from a hoarding situation in Perkasie in December receive new homes.

The Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission marks the 100th anniversary of the Riegelsville Bridge sale. Toll collection was halted for good on the bridge — the eighth formerly privately owned toll bridge along the Delaware to go public — on Jan. 1, 1923.

In a 6-3 vote, the Central Bucks School Board majority passes Policy 321, which bans teachers from displaying LGBTQ Pride flags in their classroom and from partaking in actions the school deems “too partisan” for the classroom.

Governor-elect Josh Shapiro announces plans to nominate former Bucks County District Attorney Michelle Henry as Attorney General. She is confirmed by the Pennsylvania Senate to serve as Attorney General in March.

New Hope Borough Council grants a demolition permit for Cintra Mansion as part of developer’s plans to raze the 200-year-old building and replace it with a replica. The building came down in the fall.

More than 50 Springfield residents pack a supervisors meeting in protest of a proposed entertainment venue in a neighborhood that is zoned agricultural. Applicant Brian Pieri, owner of the Pieri Hospitality Group, requests a special exception to allow up to 24 private and public events per year on his 26-acre farm on the 2100 block of Route 212. The request is eventually denied by the township’s zoning hearing board.

Israel Alavez Tapia, 38, and Gualberto Nabor Aguilar Garcia, 42 — two men found dead in their New Hope apartment back on Nov. 6, 2022 — died of fentanyl toxicity, Bucks County Coroner Meredith Buck announces.

Marc A. Cheeseman, 50, of Silverdale, is sentenced to 5 to 12 years in state prison after pretending to be a U.S. Marine in a plot to deceive an elderly Middletown Township couple out of almost $320,000. He pleaded guilty in September to theft by deception, a felony of the second degree; identity theft, a felony of the third degree; and misrepresentation of a member or veteran of the military, a misdemeanor of the third degree.

February

It’s a tearjerker ending for The Regal Barn Cinema in Doylestown, which closes its doors after having been a haven for moviegoers since 1967.

A federal jury acquits Kintnersville anti-abortion activist Mark Houck of charges that he violated the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act on Oct. 13, 2021 at a Planned Parenthood location in Philadelphia. Houck is now running for Congress, hoping to unseat Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick in the 2024 Republican primary.

Bucks County Detectives partner with Othram Inc., a private forensic DNA laboratory based in Texas, to identify a skull found in 1986 on the banks of the Delaware River in Morrisville as belonging to Richard Thomas Alt, District Attorney Matt Weintraub announces. The identity is made using Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing and forensic genetic genealogy.

The entire bench of 18 Bucks County judges recuses itself from hearing a case considering the redistricting of voting maps for the Central Bucks School District. The eventual result of the case is that Central Bucks must redraw its voting regions into three districts rather than its current nine.

After residents lobbied for repairs for nearly a year, PennDOT begins work on Sheard’s Mill Covered Bridge, a 150-year-old structure spanning the Tohickon Creek on the border of East Rockhill and Haycock townships.

Heritage Conservancy, based in Doylestown, defends the decision to cut down hundreds of trees at its Fuller-Pursell Preserve in Springfield Township, citing danger posed to staff and visitors by the 3,000-plus dead ash trees.

A pilot episode of a new Apple Studios series, directed by Ridley Scott, begins filming in Ottsville with an old vacant farmhouse on Bedminster Road at the center of the action.

In an open letter, dozens of school board members from more than 20 Pennsylvania districts called for the repeal of Central Bucks School District Policy 321, which bans teachers from “advocacy activities” in their classrooms. The policy was suspended in December.

Ian Pisarchuk, a 27-year-old Bensalem man who sexually extorted and harassed 15 victims over several years, including one young woman who later died by suicide, is sentenced in Bucks County Court to serve 20 to 51 years in state prison.

Miles Pfeffer, 18, of Buckingham is charged with the murder of 31-year-old Temple University Police Officer Christopher Fitzgerald. Pfeffer was taken into custody at his home on the 2300 block of Quarry Road about 12 hours after Fitzgerald, according to officials, was shot in the face and upper body during a foot pursuit of three people in an area near the campus where there had been multiple carjackings and robberies.

March

After mounting community concern over tax issues, the Tinicum Township Board of Supervisors removes Mike Clement from the position of tax collector following a special meeting. Springfield Township tax collector Deborah Ann Yerger is tapped to serve out the remainder of Clement’s term, which expires Dec. 31, 2025.

Middletown Township swears in Mark Antozzeski, who has more than 40 years of experience in emergency services, as its first paid professional fire chief. His starting annual salary will be $110,000.

Wrightstown resident Stephen Nowmos is appointed to the Council Rock School Board during a special meeting, despite a controversy about some Facebook posts he allegedly made that critics say disparaged transgender people and some others — posts he denied making. Nowmos formerly served as a board member in Bensalem from 2008 to 2010.

Michael Allen Stark, 49, of Montgomery County is charged with kidnapping and killing his co-worker, Matthew James Branning, who went missing in October 2021, Bucks County officials announce.

Quakertown Community School Board disinvites Dr. Mykee Fowlin — an actor, psychologist and son of African immigrants who uses anecdotes and dark humor to address intolerance and champion self-acceptance — from performing in an optional assembly for students after school board members raise concerns about the material. Only four of eight voting members had researched and listened to the speaker.

Fatima Daryabi, a Solebury School student-athlete who fled Afghanistan in 2021, continues to be a leader on and off the field. “I know what I want to do in the future: stand for who I am and stand for everyone that needs someone to take their hand. That is the biggest part of my heart leading me the way I am going,” the high school senior says.

Bucks County joins a class action lawsuit alleging several of the world’s largest social media companies have knowingly worked to addict youth to a variety of platforms that are inciting a mental health crisis across the county and the country. The civil case, filed in a California federal court, asserts TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat have designed platforms that “encourage youth addiction,” according to a county statement.

Bucks County Community College taps Niels Christensen, an executive with a CPA and an MBA, to serve as interim chief financial officer after an independent audit of financial management uncovers “material weakness.” The “material weakness” finding centered on what executives from Baker Tilly, the advisory firm that conducted the audit, called a “fairly significant” number of adjustments needed to correct misstatements, and the relatively large dollar amounts involved in those adjustments. The audit triggered the need for the community college to file a corrective action plan with the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Quakertown Community School Board votes to hire Matthew Friedman as the district’s next superintendent, effective in July. Friedman takes over for Dr. William Harner, as he retires after nearly a decade as the district’s top administrator.

Riegelsville’s longtime mayor Gregory P. Stokes resigns unexpectedly in a letter to members of Borough Council. While he operates his storefront business at 101 Delaware Road, Stokes confirms to the Herald he no longer resides in Riegelsville. Viana Boenzli is appointed his replacement at a specially called Borough Council meeting later in the month.

The Bucks County Employees Retirement System sues Norfolk Southern Railway for securities fraud, alleging the company misrepresented itself to investors, including Bucks’ retirement board, the county announces. According to local officials, the federal complaint is filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, the same district where a Norfolk Southern train derailment caused a “disastrous chemical spill” in East Palestine.

April

Bucks County detectives and state police solve the decades-old murder of 34-year-old Richard Wesley Wheeler, whose body was found in a wooded property off Center Hill Road in Nockamixon Township in 1980. The cold case investigation, pieced together by Bucks County Detective David Hanks and Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Christopher Cleveland, determined Peter Eric Marschner, who changed his named after fleeing from authorities, killed Wheeler under orders from another man, Leslie Schmidt.

The future of Quakertown Elementary remains uncertain after school board members opt to continue the school’s current K-5 configuration through the 2023-2024 academic year.

In an emotional letter, Central Bucks School District Superintendent Abram Lucabaugh calls on the community to correct the “chaos” that’s embroiled the district for the past two years. “The change we need as a district must come in the form of adults encouraging students to connect with and see one another as fellow human beings who can respectfully coexist regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation and political affiliation,” Lucabaugh writes.

Following a two and a half-year battle by nearby residents and their allies to stop the project, Springfield supervisors unanimously approve — with more than two dozen conditions — a controversial quarry off Route 309. Operator H&K is required to enter a well-water agreement with the township, comply with regulations of Pennsylvania Mining Act and modify the sequence of operations, among other stipulations.

Stephen Capaldi, of Sellersville, is sentenced to 22 to 44 years in state prison after pleading guilty to killing his wife, Elizabeth “Beth” Capaldi, 55, dismembering her body, and hiding her remains.

Jean Kwok, a New York Times and international bestselling author, addresses the Central Bucks School Board, fearing that her book, “Girl in Translation,” would be removed from school libraries for its “explicit sexual content.” Under a school district policy that has since been halted, such books are evaluated by a committee for possible removal from school libraries. Ultimately, “Girl in Translation” was kept.

Bucks County Community College’s Gene & Marlene Epstein Lower Bucks campus in Bristol Township celebrates the opening of its 28,000-square-foot $9.9 million Center for Advanced Technologies, which the college says, “will offer manufacturing and industrial skills courses with a focus on professional development for incumbent workers and workforce training programs for job seekers.”

Three Central Bucks School Board members announce they won’t seek reelection. Tabitha Dell’Angelo, a Democrat, who represented Region 8, and Republicans Sharon Collopy, Region 6, and Leigh Vlasblom, Region 3, left office when their terms expired at the end of the year.

Warrington revokes a local tow truck operator’s status as one of the township’s four duty-tow companies — those police call when vehicles need to be removed from accident scenes — after a February accident led to fraud complaints against Glenn’s Towing LLC, of Warminster, with both Bucks County Detectives and the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office. By the end of the year, company owner Vlad Andrei Ungvari, 31, of Hatboro, is charged in the case.

Central Bucks middle school teacher Andrew Burgess, who taught social studies at Lenape Middle School for 14 years, files a federal lawsuit alleging his civil rights were violated when the district suspended him last year then abruptly moved him to a different school and a different grade. He alleges the district and its superintendent retaliated against him after he supported an LGBTQ+ student. The case is listed for trial on May 23, 2024.

In a 4-3 vote, New Hope Borough Council decides not to oppose zoning relief that Landmark Hospitality needs to renovate The Landing Restaurant & Bar, which is currently closed. The proposed renovation plans for The Landing will create a structure with 44 hotel rooms that is approximately 270 feet long on North Main Street.

After a months-long investigation, a law firm hired by the Central Bucks School District finds no evidence of systemic mistreatment of LGBTQ+ students and a responsive staff should bullying occur. Accusations of a “hostile” environment for LGBTQ students in Central Bucks schools are unwarranted, according to the 147-page report. Claims of bullying were lodged with the ACLU of Pennsylvania and are being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The ACLU slams the district-funded probe on Twitter, calling its conclusions “worthless.”

In an effort to reduce the number of rejected mail-in and absentee ballots, the Bucks County Board of Elections approves changes to the exterior envelope that allow staff members to see if the secrecy envelope is missing. The voter can then be notified and given time to fix the issue, county officials say.

May, June, July and August of 2023 >>

September, October, November & December >>


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