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City Briefs: 3/1/02

Friday, March 01, 2002

DOWNTOWN: Fire hits transformer

An underground electrical fire yesterday morning shot flames from a burning transformer through openings in a sidewalk and temporarily shut down part of the westbound lanes of Fort Pitt Boulevard.

The fire began with an explosion shortly after 6 a.m. that blew out a manhole and cover in two sections of the sidewalk along Fort Pitt Boulevard, just west of Smithfield Street. Flames shooting through the openings in the sidewalk made the fire appear worse than it was, said Pittsburgh Deputy Fire Chief John Gourley.

Pittsburgh firefighters arrived at the scene within minutes and used a petroleum-based foam to extinguish the fire, Gourley said.

None of the businesses or offices in the immediate vicinity of the fire lost power, including the United Way of Allegheny County, which has its headquarters at Smithfield Street and Fort Pitt Boulevard, said Joe Balaban, spokesman for Duquesne Light Co.

Fort Pitt Boulevard westbound was closed for about 2 1/2 hours while firefighters and Duquesne Light employees worked. The eastbound lanes are closed for construction.

The fire was contained to a concrete vault that houses a transformer, one of 40 such electrical network connections Downtown, Balaban said. Service from the damaged transformer was immediately transferred to three other transformers in the same block so service was not interrupted, he said.

McFalls' stories filed

Lawyers for Allegheny County Common Pleas Court administrators filed a series of news articles on the recent behavior of Judge H. Patrick McFalls Jr. with the state Supreme Court this week, including descriptions of a Miami Beach arrest and an incident in a Shadyside bar.

The lawyers for President Judge Robert Kelly and Joseph James, administrative judge of the Civil Division, filed more than a dozen newspaper and television reports with the court. Among other things, they describe McFalls' Feb. 9 arrest after a dispute over a $35 cab fare in Miami Beach and reports by witnesses that the 58-year-old judge was thrown out of the Casbah nightspot Feb. 14 after being loud and dropping his pants.

The reports were added to the emergency petition Kelly and James filed Feb. 12 asking the court to suspend McFalls for failing to meet with them several times in January and February to discuss his return to the bench. He currently is on leave with pay. Three ex-staffers sued him in federal court in December, saying they were inappropriately fired after they reported McFalls was often drunk while working.

McFalls has denied their claims.

In his answer to the court, McFalls' lawyer said the judge has recently lapsed into alcoholism and "irrational" behavior due to stress from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and stalking by "media paparazzi."

The newspaper reports were filed with the court Wednesday but that part of the filing was not made public until yesterday.

Hospital fund boosted

Area residents and corporations donated $1.65 million last year to the Free Care Friends Campaign, which helps defray some of the costs of charity care provided each year at Children's Hospital.

Donors of $1,000 or more to last year's campaign were thanked last night at a campaign recognition dinner at the Duquesne Club, Downtown.

The campaign total was down slightly from the $1.7 million contributed during the previous year. The costs of free care keep going up, however, with the total rising from $15.9 million in 2000 to $17.6 million last year. Most of the money for charity care at Children's comes from patient revenue and other hospital operations.

Man pleads guilty to rape

A former Bethel Park resident was sentenced to prison for raping a 14-year-old Verona girl.

James Thomas, 40, who now lives in Crawford County, was charged in November.

A jogger spotted Thomas with the girl in his parked car along a Highland Park drive on Nov. 19. He had met her in an Internet chat room.

On Tuesday, Thomas pleaded guilty to statutory sexual assault, rape, indecent assault and corruption of the morals of a minor. Common Pleas Judge Donna Jo McDaniel sentenced him to two to four years in state prison with 10 years' probation.

Black pharmacist to speak

In commemoration of Black History Month, Edgar Duncan, the first black student to graduate from the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health, will talk about his experiences as a student and as a professional, and about the racial barriers he encountered.

Duncan, now 70, finished the graduate school in 1956 with a master's degree in hygiene. Despite obstacles, he went on to became the first black person commissioned as a pharmacist in the United States Public Health Service, the first black American chief pharmacist at that service's hospital and the first pharmacist promoted to the rank of assistant surgeon general.

A native of the Mon Valley, he will speak today from 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. in Room 109 of the Pitt Graduate School of Public Health.

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