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Delaware County Holds Ribbon Cutting to Mark Reopening of Tribbett Avenue Bridge

(From a press release)

Delaware County Council Member Christine Reuther and Delaware County Council Vice Chair Richard Womack joined Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon and representatives from Darby Township and PennDOT on July 1 to hold a ribbon cutting to officially reopen the Tribbett Avenue Bridge.

The newly built bridge, also known as County Bridge #237, runs across Hermesprota Creek and services a heavily trafficked road through Sharon Hill and Folcroft within Darby Township, and has a number of important safety and water management improvements.

The reconstruction of the Tribbett Avenue Bridge began in June 2022, replacing the original reinforced concrete slab bridge that was constructed in 1932. The scope of work for the bridge included:

  • Replacement of a concrete slag with a composite prestress concrete adjacent plank beam, which carries all legal loads, including school buses and emergency vehicles.
  • Installation of sidewalk to provide a safe and continuous pedestrian walkway.
  • Upgrades to the existing drainage facility by installing additional inlets and updating the drainage pipes.
  • An increased hydraulic opening which will decrease the water surface elevation of the 100-year flood
  • Relocation the PECO Gas main which was attached to the face of the structure has been relocated under the stream.
  • Upgrades to safety features, including the installation of a guide rail to current standards.

“Safe and reliable infrastructure is critical,” said Council Member Reuther. “Delaware County Council remains committed to investing in our bridge infrastructure. As noted in the transportation section of our County Comprehensive Plan, improving the safety and capacity of our transportation network is a key goal.”

The $1.75 million project was funded using federal and state funds.

“The County of Delaware is grateful to our funding partners and we will continue to demonstrate our commitment to investing in infrastructure that benefits county residents,” said Danielle Floyd, Delaware County’s director of public works. “Today’s bridge opening represents the progress the county is making to prioritize replacement of structurally deficient bridges”.

Pennsylvania has the ninth largest bridge inventory in the nation. Despite a 4.5 percent decrease in the number of poor condition bridges, Pennsylvania contains the second highest number of poor condition bridges among the 50 states. While the state has significantly reduced the number of poor condition bridges through traditional and non-traditional means such as Public-Private Partnerships, inadequate funding over the years has failed to address the ever-increasing repair deficit.

“This is why passage of the 2021 bipartisan Infrastructure Law was so important,” said Reuther. “Over the next four years, Pennsylvania can make advancements to offset the growing deferred maintenance backlog.”

Of the 43 Bridges owned by the county, four bridges remain in poor condition.

The county has three additional bridges under construction, two of which are scheduled to open by the end of the year, representing an investment of over $11 million in 2024.

Through the County’s bridge program, Delaware County continues to demonstrate good use of federal and state dollars to improve the safety of the county’s transportation network. The county remains committed to working with DVRPC, PennDOT, and our state and federal delegations to advocate for increased funding to invest in our roads, bridges, and highways on behalf of county residents and taxpayers. PennDOT in particular has been an invaluable partner in these efforts.

“Working with Delaware County, Darby Township, and Folcroft Borough officials has been a great experience, and we are excited and pleased to be able to restore this crucial connection for these communities,” said PennDOT Assistant Construction Engineer Robert Magee. “We’re especially appreciative of the work of McCormick Taylor, the Design Consultant; TPD, Inc., the Construction Inspection Consultant, and R.E. Pierson Construction Co., Inc., the Prime Contractor for their exceptional work on this project, which has been two years in the making.”

Officials thanked PennDOT, under the direction of Secretary Mike Carroll and District 6 Executive Din Abazi,; McCormick Taylor, the Design Consultant; TPD, Inc.; the Construction Inspection Consultant, and R.E. Pierson Construction Co., Inc., the Prime Contractor, for their work on this project that has reconnected Tribbett Avenue for the residents of Darby Township.


Philadelphia Man Accused of ‘An Act of Pure Evil’ Charged With Murder in Fatal Darby Fire

A 30-year-old Philadelphia man who allegedly set a fire at a Darby Township house that killed his ex-girlfriend’s disabled sister is being held without bail on murder charges.

“The horrific fire that occurred in Darby Township on Sunday morning was an act of pure evil. A young woman afflicted by cerebral palsy, who we understand had been lovingly cared for by her mother and her sister, lost her life in one of the most agonizing manners imaginable. A life has been lost, and a family home has been destroyed. We grieve for her and her family, and we pledge to use every tool available to us to ensure that the suspect, in this case, is brought to justice,” said District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer.

Aaron C. Clark faces first, second, and third-degree murder charges; arson; aggravated assault; reckless endangerment, and other counts in the fire that occurred around midnight on Dec. 4 and destroyed a house on the 600 block of Sharon Avenue. Police charged him in a separate complaint with harassment, terroristic threats, and resisting arrest.

Delaware County Medical Examiner Dr. Bennett Preston said Olivia Drasher, 20, died of smoke inhalation and burns. While other family members and Drasher’s nurse, who suffered burns, were able to escape the inferno Drasher, who needed a wheelchair, died in her first-floor bedroom. The fire was set on the front porch just outside her window.

Olivia Drasher

Drasher’s older sister, Amira Rogers, went to the police on Dec. 3 to report Clark was sending her threatening text messages and saying that he would post indecent pictures of her on social media sites. Because both Rogers and Clark worked for the Postal Service, she also filed a complaint with postal inspectors.

Later that day, while in custody, Rogers and her family told police that Clark was still sending them threatening messages, according to the affidavit of probable cause.

Police tried to search Rogers, who struggled and spat on them. After he was subdued, they found an Apple watch hidden in his rectum.

The Drasher family created a GoFundMe account to help with expenses that Rogers set up.

Rogers wrote that the fire was set by “an evil psychopath and my little sister, Olivia Drasher, who is disabled and has cerebral palsy, was killed. She was only 20 years old. Her nurse, Ms. Sharon, was burned and inhaled smoke while trying to save Oliva. My mother was able to save Raquelle Drasher, Olivia’s twin sister. But my baby sister, Olivia, could not make it out. My family has lost everything. This man was harassing me where I work at the post office because I did not want to be with him anymore.”

“…he set our house on fire while my family was in their beds. We are working with the police to get justice, but we are now homeless. Due to Olivia’s medical condition, we were not able to obtain life insurance for her yet. But we never thought we would need it anytime soon because she was only 20 years old. My mother, Drena Drasher, is a veteran of the U.S. Army and a Philadelphia Police Officer in the 1st District. She worked so hard to provide for her family and build her dream house, all for it to be burned away by a demonic human.

“My family and I are devastated by the loss of our Olivia, and we need all your thoughts and prayers. The money for this GoFundMe will be used to pay for Olivia’s funeral services and burial and also to help us find a new home. We don’t have anything but the clothes on our backs.”

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Darby Township Fire Takes Life of 20-year-old Disabled Woman

A house fire that took the life of a disabled woman is being investigated as arson.

Olivia Drasher, 20, died in the fire  One of her caregivers was injured.

The fire at 613 Sharon Avenue in Darby Township started at about 12:13 a.m. on Dec. 4. Arriving officers saw flames coming from the front porch area, and the fire quickly spread to the home’s second floor.

A person who managed to escape the fire told police that a woman with disabilities was trapped on the first floor. Officers made “numerous attempts to enter the property and rescue the woman but were unable to enter due to the intensity of the fire and smoke,” said Darby Police Chief Mike Sousa in a statement.

Firefighters searched the house and found the young woman’s body in the first-floor bedroom. The firefighters made “every heroic effort” to remove her but were unable to due to the heat from the inferno and the threat of the building collapsing, Sousa said.

After the blaze was extinguished, fire investigators began searching for its cause. During their investigation, they determined there was a “high probability” that the fire was arson.

After speaking with witnesses, police identified a suspect and took him into custody.

“He is currently being investigated for this evil act,” said Sousa. “At this time, the suspect is being housed at the county prison on unrelated charges.”

Sousa said they are not releasing any names “out of respect for the victim” at this time, but the investigation is continuing.

“Please keep the victim and her family in your prayers,” Sousa said.

The Drasher family has a GoFundMe account to help with expenses set up by Amira Rogers, an older sister.

Rogers wrote that the fire was set by “an evil psychopath and my little sister, Olivia Drasher, who is disabled and has cerebral palsy, was killed. She was only 20 years old. Her nurse, Ms. Sharon, was burned and inhaled smoke while trying to save Oliva. My mother was able to save Raquelle Drasher, Olivia’s twin sister. But my baby sister, Olivia, could not make it out. My family has lost everything. This man was harassing me where I work at the post office because I did not want to be with him anymore.”

Along with Sousa, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer, Chief County Detective, and First Assistant District Attorney Tanner Rouse will hold a press conference on Dec. 7 to discuss the charges filed in the fire.

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Racist Remarks, Financial Disputes Result in Briarcliffe Fire Company’s Demise

A Delaware County volunteer fire company that put out blazes for more than five decades could not survive a raging public firestorm that engulfed members allegedly caught on tape using racial slurs.

The Briarcliffe Fire Company in Darby Township announced last week it was disbanding following public outcry over a recording that captured members making racist remarks about Black firefighters. They were also caught mocking 8-year-old Fanta Bility, who was fatally shot by three Sharon Hill Police officers last August following a football game. Those officers have since been fired from the police force and criminally charged.

The fire company was initially suspended for 30 days after the recording emerged. The Delaware County District Attorney’s office investigation found the members did not commit crimes as they were heard making incendiary comments following a Jan. 27 virtual meeting to discuss the possible consolidation of volunteer companies Briarcliffe, Goodwill, and Darby.

Firefighters from the other companies began recording after hearing Briarcliffe members make derogatory remarks. The Goodwill Fire Company in February sent township commissioners the recording and a summary of what Briarcliffe members said.

A local activist group publicly released the 94-minute clip as pressure mounted for Briarcliffe members to be barred from serving in other fire companies.

In a letter sent to commissioners hours before a scheduled decertification vote, the company’s attorney, Robert Ewing, said the company would cease operations over “frenzied public perception not based in fact.”

In an interview with the Delaware Valley Journal, Ewing claimed public outcry cost the company precious revenue streams, including a joint ambulance agreement, needed to maintain operations.

He said the matter could have been “handled differently” as an internal personnel matter. He accused Goodwill Fire Company, which has had poor relations with Briarcliffe (the former joined the neighboring company after being expelled from Briarcliffe) of fanning flames of division.

Township officials laid out five conditions the fire company would have had to meet in order to be recognized, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. They included electing new leadership, permanently barring some members from the company, and having all members issue public apologies for their conduct on the tape, Ewing said.

“They wanted everybody named, and then you have the state senator saying, ‘Oh, we’re going to go after people. It was all over the top,’” Ewing said. “Once there’s a public perception that the fire company is somehow racially discriminatory, and it becomes such a mantra that everybody believes it, then they have to shut down because nobody is going to support them. They’re not going to be able to raise money. They’re not gonna be able to do their job.”

The move leaves neighboring fire companies to handle calls that Briarcliffe members had responded to. Ewing said the company handled more than 3,000 ambulance calls just last year.

“It’s a big hole to fill,” he said.

Darby commissioners did not respond to requests for comment. The volunteer fire company’s chief, Dave Byrd, declined an interview request through his attorney.

In a lengthy statement, Briarcliffe members admitted making racially charged statements out of frustration that they claimed were “completely out of character.” According to reports, members joked that it was “time to leave” the area because more Blacks were moving in.

Members denied discriminating against “anyone based on their race,” using the N-word on the tape, or mocking Bility’s name by comparing her first name to the Fanta soda brand. They claimed many of their statements were taken out of context.

Bility’s family previously said it was appalled by the remarks and called for members to be further disciplined. The family’s attorney, Bruce L. Castor Jr., said, “The Bility Family believes that the township acted quickly and decisively. It is a start. The callousness and overt racist behavior are very upsetting to them. They lost a little girl. A little girl, not Black or White, but sweet.”

The company attacked a former member who told WHYY he was responsible for recording the conversation. That firefighter, now a high-ranking officer at Goodwill, was convicted of misdemeanor indecent assault and corruption of minors, according to court records provided to DVJ.

“The members of Briarcliffe Fire Company did not want this member to be a member of the consolidated fire company,” members said in a statement. “The fire companies admit minors as members, and (they) felt these charges should disqualify him from membership.”

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Officials Shocked By Firefighters’ Racist Comments, Bility Family Appalled

Delaware County and Darby Township officials were joined by Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon at a press conference Thursday to denounce racist remarks said by firefighters from the Briarcliffe Fire Company.

After learning about the disparaging comments from members of the Goodwill Fire Company Wednesday afternoon, the township commissioners voted to suspend Briarcliffe for 30 days, pending an investigation.

Delaware County DA Jack Stollsteimer promised at the press conference that a criminal investigation would be done.

“Whether or not a crime occurred, hate speech is morally wrong,” said Stollsteimer. “And it doesn’t reflect the people who live here in Darby Township.  And it really doesn’t reflect the people who live here in Delaware County. And it really is a small number of people who hate so much they would spew this hatred out there.”

Tim Boyce, director of Delaware County Emergency Services, assured residents that other fire companies will fill in and there will be no gaps in services while Briarcliffe is suspended.

Perhaps most egregious among the racist comments were disparaging slurs about the name of Fanta Bility, the 8-year-old Sharon Hill girl who was caught in the crossfire as police discharged their weapons toward a crowd dispersing from an Academy Park football game on Aug. 27, 2001. Those officers were fired and now face manslaughter charges.

Bruce L. Castor Jr., a lawyer for the Bility family, released a statement from the family Thursday evening, saying the family is “appalled by the audio recordings.”

“Fanta was a bright, bubbly, innocent child who looked forward to a life filled with helping others who were hurting or injured — before being killed by careless actions of three Sharon Hill Police officers. A kind and loving girl, Fanta brightened the lives of everyone she met. To speak of her with such disrespect shines the light of shame on those people at the firehouse making the remarks and reflects negatively on those good and true first responders who pledge their lives to the service of all members of the community.

“Americans from every walk of life and of all ideological persuasions should join her family in mourning Fanta’s death and in echoing their calls for justice. By brazenly mocking Fanta and her death, some associated with Briarcliffe Fire Department did a disservice to the community they are sworn to protect, thereby reopening wounds from that fateful night when Fanta lay mortally wounded, though conscious, knowing her life drained away. To trivialize what this young girl endured that night gives new meaning to the descriptive ‘despicable,'” Castor said.

The family and Castor called for disciplinary action against those who made the remarks.

Delaware County Councilman Richard Womack, who lives in Darby, said the incident made it clear that racism has not disappeared, he said.

“Racism raised its ugly head,” said Womack. “We’re going to do whatever we can do to chop it off.”

Scanlon praised the state’s firefighters who “are renowned for their civic commitment” and the “endless hours of training.”

“That’s what makes this all the more horrifying,” said Scanlon. “It’s just a betrayal of the public trust. How can our neighbors trust these first responders will actually come to their aid in an emergency?”

And state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams (D-Delaware/Philadelphia) called the racist remarks “beyond troubling,” saying that he was offended and as a Black person, he was affected. He agreed with Womack that racism is still present these days.

“How mean-spirited it was to comment on the death of an 8-year-old child,” he said. “That some individuals chose to mock that is…beyond the pale.”

He praised and thanked the members of the Goodwill Fire Company for blowing the whistle on the racist words of their fellow firefighters. And, he said, other first responders “should not be condemned” because of the words of a few.

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