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City Briefs: 4/23/03

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

NORTH SIDE: Doggies on the window

(Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette)

Darren Siebe of the North Side has a doggone good cup of coffee yesterday at the Starbucks on Carson Street in the South Side. The "watchdogs" are two of three 10-foot Dog Heads, relics from the Doggie Diner, a San Francisco-area restaurant chain that operated from the late 1940s until 1986. The dogs, which once sat atop 30-foot poles, are headed to Manhattan where they will sit in front CBGB's, a club/gallery. Their trip is being sponsored by Laughing Squid, a San Francisco art and culture Web site.

HOMEWOOD: Jury to return today

A deliberated all day yesterday but did not reach a verdict in the case against Cecil Brookins, the Homewood man charged with wounding a city police commander and shooting another officer during a standoff last year in that neighborhood.

The jury of eight women and four men deliberated for about an hour on Monday and resumed its work yesterday morning.

Just before noon, the panel asked Common Pleas Judge Donna Jo McDaniel to repeat her instructions and definitions of reasonable doubt. The jury also was re-instructed on one of the multiple weapons violations with which Brookins is charged.

Brookins, 47, is charged with six counts each of attempted homicide and aggravated assault, and four counts of reckless endangerment in connection with the Feb. 20, 2002, standoff on Hermitage Street.

He is accused of holding police at bay for more than four hours until Cmdr. Dom Costa talked him into surrendering and leaving the rooftop where he had stationed himself during the standoff.

After he got inside, more than a dozen shots rang out. Police said that Brookins fired the first rounds, with one bullet striking Costa in the shoulder and lodging in his head.

Officer Thomas Huerbin, a member of the Police Bureau's Special Weapons and Tactics team, was shot twice in the chest, but the slugs were stopped by the bulletproof vest he wore. Brookins and his attorneys have said that they believe the officers overreacted to the situation and that Costa and Huerbin were hit by friendly fire.

McDaniel ordered the jury to return today to continue deliberations.

TOWING POLICY: City sued over agreement

The owner of a Hazelwood tow truck and auto body business has filed a lawsuit against the city of Pittsburgh and an assistant police chief he claims has prohibited towing competition at accident scenes.

John F. Halbleib, owner of Halbleib's Auto, will have a hearing on May 12 before Allegheny County Common Pleas Court Judge Louis Farino on his request for an emergency order to set aside the police towing policy.

The policy, which the lawsuit says was issued on Jan. 20 and amended later, has resulted in a 66 percent loss in revenue for Halbleib because his 17 tow truck drivers are not permitted to solicit business from drivers involved in accidents in the city, Halbleib said. If the policy is allowed to remain in place, Halbleib said he will be forced to lay off 30 of his 45 employees and cut their medical benefits.

Halbleib said he has tried unsuccessfully to resolve the problem with Assistant Chief Nate Harper, who reportedly issued the tow policy, and representatives of Mayor Tom Murphy. After months of promises, Halbleib said, he filed the lawsuit Monday and the request for a temporary injunction yesterday.

Murphy spokesman Craig Kwiecinski said he could not comment on pending lawsuits.

Halbleib charges in his lawsuit that Harper decided in January to permit only McGann and Chester Towing Inc. to tow cars from accidents, an exclusive arrangement that violates the city home rule charter and the state Constitution.

DOWNTOWN: Fort Pitt traffic flowing well

Three weeks into the Fort Pitt Bridge and Tunnel project, vehicles are flowing so well through the detours that state officials have cut back the number of city police officers directing traffic by nearly half.

As of Monday, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation reduced the number of police officers operating traffic lights from 58 to 31.

"Our observations show that things are working fine," said Daniel Quarcoo, the construction project's work zone manager.

So far, there do not seem to be any ill effects on motorists, PennDOT spokesman Dick Skrinjar said.

Also aiding matters is the fact that commuters experienced similar detours last year and are now old hands at navigating Pittsburgh without access to the outbound Fort Pitt Bridge and Tunnel.


The Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force will host the ninth annual Pittsburgh AIDS Walk and Community Day June 7 in Schenley Park.

For more information, call 412-242-2500, Ext. 122, or visit www.patf.org.

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