Saturday, August 1, 2015

Back to Bellefonte

Driving to Bellefonte for Jerry Sandusky's preliminary hearing brought back memories of another drive to the borough near Penn State.

Back to Bellefonte

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Driving into Bellefonte in pre-dawn darkness Tuesday reminded me of another drive to that borough back in 1999.

This time, I was headed into the media maw surrounded by blockaded streets, security and tight local rules about who could go where when and who could sit in Courtroom 1 to witness Jerry Sandusky face his accusers. That event, of course, ended before it began after Sandusky waived his hearing on the child-sex charges against him.

Last time I drove in darkness to Bellefonte was July 6, 1999 as a media witness to the late-night execution of Gary Heidnik who was to die by lethal injection at Rockview State Prison for the kidnap, torture and rape of six women in his Philadelphia home.

That event was not cancelled.

In both instances, I was struck by the professionalism and courtesy extended by those charged with managing these events.

Back then, prison officials ably ran security and access issues and treated the execution and its witnesses with respect and quiet competence. I witnessed humane behaviour at an event brought on by inhuman acts.

This time, local authorities, handled a much larger crush of media in a manner reflecting the same high level of professionalism, with the added element of very smart planning.

It is perhaps partly the small-town ethos that I saw.

Workers at the Dairy Queen across from the courthouse opened at 5:15 a.m. instead of the usual 10:30 and were selling coffee with smiles and free refills for just $1.05 a-cup.

County, borough and state cops were friendly and helpful in finding parking and offering directions to the closest rest rooms.

Centre County Sheriff Denny Nau, standing by a metal-detector, overseeing entry at the courthouse door, took time to say hello and say he's a Daily News reader.

Upstairs in the courtroom, I was introduced to Centre County Judge Thomas King Kistler. He, like many, was on hand to help in any way needed. He was cordial, easy to talk with. And after the hearing was waived we chatted out on the front steps.

How much, I asked, do you think all this security, prepartion and police presence cost the taxpayers for an event that was over in less than a minute?

"Oh, we won't know that for some time," says the judge. He smiles and notes that, in addition, lunch (sandwich wraps) had been ordered in for the 15 or so court personnel and he expected "that was still coming."

Again, an event scheduled because of allegations of secret, secluded atrocities is run by open, accessible, friendly folks.

I'm not suggesting any parellel between Heidnik and Sandusky. I'm suggesting that even as we witness the results of horrible crimes or the process involved in those charged with horrible crimes, we sometimesalso  witness those who help us better navigate the often-senseless seas of life.

Those folks deserve our attention and thanks. At least that's one of the things I was thinking while driving back from Bellefonte.

 

Daily News Political Columnist
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About this blog
John Baer has been covering politics and government for the Daily News since 1987. The National Journal in 2002 called Baer one of the country's top 10 political journalists outside Washington, saying Baer has, "the ability to take the skin off a politician without making it hurt too much." E-mail John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John is the author of the book "On The Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics: Twenty-Five Years of Keystone Reporting" (The History Press, 2012). Reach John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
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