Snow Daze

Today’s wintry commute reminded me of a series of stories I wrote years ago involving a guy, his car and a “snowy” situation. As a general-assignment reporter in a smaller city, you often end up on the police beat — whether you want to or not. It can be excruciating at times typing in the mundane details of petty crimes, but it can also have its surprisingly entertaining moments. This was one of them:

(This is a series of articles written over several days as the story developed. Read from the top down.)


POLICE BLOTTER: Nanticoke Police reported that a city resident, Josh Hallas, reported a theft from his vehicle. When asked to describe the stolen items, Hallas said it was “snowing” in the vehicle. Pressed to clarify that, Hallas eventually explained he was missing a brick of cocaine he had purchased the previous day. The investigation is ongoing.


Nanticoke police say Joshua Hallas reported cocaine stolen from car. Hallas denies that.
Joshua Hallas is waiting for a retraction from the Nanticoke Police Department, but police say he shouldn’t hold his breath.
The best he can hope for is that the department never finds property they say he reported stolen.
Police reported Sunday that Hallas, 24, of West Ridge Street, came to police headquarters Saturday to report that his 1987 Mercury Grand Marquis had been moved overnight and that some items were taken. Pressed for further information, Hallas said it was “snowing” in his car, in reference to an item stolen from the car.
Finally, according to the police report, he said a $6,500 brick of cocaine, which he had purchased during a trip to Philadelphia the previous day, was missing.
The incident was printed in the Times Leader on Monday.
Upon learning of the printed report late that afternoon, Hallas said he went to police headquarters again, but this time to complain about the article.
He says the incident “didn’t happen.”
Told that the Times Leader’s policy is to print retractions on police incident reports only after receiving an official retraction from the police department, Hallas said, “You’ll have one (Tuesday).”
According to Nanticoke police Capt. William Shultz: “It’s not gonna happen.
“The article stands as is. What he says is what he says, and there’s no way we’re going to do a retraction.”
Shultz told Hallas the most he would do was discuss the situation with Chief James Cheshinski.
Shultz said that when Hallas came to the station Monday, Hallas claimed he wanted to report a stolen stereo the first time he came, on Saturday. There was no mention of a stolen stereo in the police report.
Regarding the stolen cocaine brick, Shultz said Hallas wanted that to be confidential.
“He claims he wanted to report a stereo stolen … and in the process gave up that information about the drugs,” Shultz said.
He said Hallas is well known to the department and has been involved with them before on drug issues, but “nothing that he’s been arrested for.”
He said the confusion might have come because Hallas is often on the record one moment with his statements and then off the record the next.
He said it would be difficult to charge Hallas with drug possession without evidence and said the vehicle had “apparently not” been checked for residues. He didn’t know if it would be checked.
However, Schultz said that if, through an interview, Hallas’ story about the drugs turns out to be untrue, he could be charged with making a false report.
Joshua Hallas’ theft report might land him in trouble.
The 24-year-old, of 49 W. Ridge St., reported on Saturday that overnight someone moved his 1987 Mercury Grand Marquis, which was left unlocked.
After checking the car, he realized something was missing. He told police, in reference to the stolen item, it had been “snowing,” in his car. He then added that a $6,500 brick of cocaine was missing, which he had purchased during a trip to Philadelphia the previous day, police said.
The investigation continues and possible charges are pending, police said.

Police say man’s coke story no joke

Ever hear Josh Hallas’ joke about the brick of cocaine stolen from his car?
Neither had the city’s police department – which is why they weren’t laughing when the 24-year-old told them Tuesday that he was being sarcastic when he mentioned a missing $6,500 brick of cocaine in his theft report on Saturday.
“They embellished that totally; they took it out of proportion,” Hallas said, adding he had consumed “a couple” of beers before making his report. “I was just being a wisea--. … We were joking about it.”
So can the police take a joke?
“You mean a lie?” asked Capt. William Shultz.
Shultz said if the cocaine had been found, Hallas could have faced drug charges.
Shultz will give Hallas a second chance to report the thefts from his vehicle this morning.
This time, Hallas says he plans to leave out the part about the cocaine. But that might not get him off the hook.
If Hallas changes his story, Shultz said “he will be charged” with making false reports to law enforcement officers.
Hallas disputes what police have already reported.
For starters, police said he lives on West Ridge Street, but he said he resides at a house in Dallas most of the time.|
In a police report issued Sunday, Hallas told police that he had driven to Philadelphia and purchased cocaine on Friday. On Tuesday, Hallas maintained he never went to Philadelphia or bought cocaine, nor did he tell police he went to Philadelphia to buy cocaine. And he said he didn’t mention it was “snowing” in the car in reference to the stolen drugs, as reported by police.
What was really stolen from his car, Hallas said Tuesday, were his auto inspection stickers, a stereo from the back seat, and Xanax, a tranquilizer, for which he said he has a prescription.
He said his 1987 Mercury Grand Marquis, which can’t be locked, was moved slightly from where he parked it Friday night, which led him to believe someone took the vehicle and later returned it.
Hallas, who works as a carpenter for a local construction company, said the ordeal has left him “burnt out.” He said his employer hasn’t allowed him to work since police released the reports.
“I’d rather have (making false reports) charges than have this out there,” he said. “My a-- is on the line.”
Shultz chuckled at the jam Hallas got himself into.
“He’s said so many things,” Shultz said, laughing. “One way or another, maybe he’s going to be arrested.”

Man to be charged with making false reports to Nanticoke police
Cocaine story leads to charges


Remember the joke where the carpenter walks into a police station and says he lied about a brick of cocaine being stolen from his unlocked car?
You know, the one with the punch line: And then he was charged with making false reports to law enforcement officers.
Josh Hallas’ initial report Saturday that $6,500 worth of cocaine was stolen, plus his alleged remark about it “snowing” in his car, turned out to be a snow job, according to police Capt. William Shultz.
Shultz re-interviewed Hallas on Wednesday to get to the “meat and potatoes” of the matter.
Hallas, 24, changed his statement, saying only auto inspection stickers, a portable stereo and prescription Xanax, a tranquilizer, worth an estimated total of $400, were stolen from his 1987 Mercury Grand Marquis overnight Friday.
“He gave me a statement that he lied to the police,” Shultz said.
That admission could potentially cost Hallas $2,500 in fines and up to a year in jail.
Shultz said Hallas was allowed to leave after the interview, but will be charged.
If convicted, Hallas would probably not face jail time, but he could face fines and would “definitely” be on probation, Shultz said.
Hallas couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.
Hallas said Tuesday that he’d “rather have the charges than have (the stolen cocaine story) out there” because his “a-- is on the line” with his employer, who wouldn’t allow him to return to work.
He characterized the situation as an offhand, “sarcastic remark” that police “embellished” in their report.
“I was just being a wisea--. … We were joking about it,” he said Tuesday.
Shultz didn’t get the humor.
“He refers to it as joking around,” Shultz said. “Either you lied or you told the truth.”
The drama has captured the attention of producers at CourtTV, who Shultz said called his office interested in doing a story.
Shultz said he inspected Hallas’ car and found no drug residue. He said he was trying to verify that the car had, in fact, been inspected by a garage and that Hallas has a valid prescription for Xanax.

Man: I’m scapegoat for cops
Josh Hallas says Nanticoke police are using him as an example to show they are doing something in their fight against drugs in the city.


Though he has admitted to lying to police about cocaine stolen from his car, Josh Hallas said he believes he’s been unjustly targeted by a police department looking to score a public victory in its fight against drugs.
“Basically that’s how it goes,” Hallas said Thursday. “You think police officers are there to help you; sometimes they seem to be there to screw you.
“I think they might be using me as a scapegoat because there’s pressure on them … to reduce the amount of drug activity. They’re using me as an example to make it look public that they are doing something.”
According to police, Hallas reported on Saturday that a $6,500 brick of cocaine was stolen from his unlocked car.
Hallas maintains the report was “embellished” and his comment was a “sarcastic remark” while he and the reporting officer “were joking about it.”
Hallas said he really came in to report items stolen from his unlocked 1987 Mercury Grand Marquis: a portable stereo, an auto inspection sticker and Xanax, a tranquilizer for which police confirmed he has a prescription.
On Wednesday, Hallas admitted to lying about the cocaine during a second interview with police and will be charged with making false reports.
“The police officer who took the (original) report did not blow it out of proportion,” police Capt. William Shultz said. “Evidently, all he was in there to complain about was the cocaine.”
Hallas said he’s “financially screwed right now” and needs “something in the newspaper stating that I’m a decent person” before he is allowed to return to his carpentry job.
Shultz wasn’t ready to make that endorsement. “How am I to say he’s a decent person or not a decent person? He’s been arrested before. I’ve personally never had any issues with him, and he did cooperate during this investigation,” he said.
Hallas said several times to a reporter that he is not a drug user and has never been arrested before, but Luzerne County records and police reports show otherwise.
Shultz said Hallas has been arrested in Nanticoke twice before, both in 2003, on charges including assault and receiving stolen property. Shultz said Hallas pleaded guilty to the stolen property charge, but he couldn’t recall how the assault case was resolved.
He has been charged in at least seven other incidents, most recently on Jan. 16 in Wilkes-Barre in which police said he admitted to being a heroin user after an officer found a spoon with heroin residue and a syringe in his truck. Police charged him with possession of drug paraphernalia.
Shultz said the previous charges could affect Hallas’ penalty if he is convicted of the false reports charge, which carries a maximum of one year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
“We’re here to do our job. We didn’t go looking for him, he came to us,” Shultz said. “We’re certainly not going to use him as a scapegoat. He’s going to say anything he wants to at this point.”

Holiday Horses

One thing I miss about working at a newspaper is the opportunity to potentially make a big difference for a person or a group by showcasing their story for a much larger audience than they could reach on their own.

Seasonal holiday stories about good causes to give to can be tedious unless you really appreciate the work they’re doing. Such as the case here. Because they require so much upkeep, life can get grim for unwanted horses, and improving their situations takes a lot of sustained effort.

I was happy to do what I could for this horse rescue. I never heard from th again, but I’d like to think I helped them out a little bit.

(BTW, The group’s website doesn’t seem to be active anymore, but you can still find them here:

Also, an update on the photo featured in the photo: Lady Netty N died in 2018, and the horse-racing community offered a tribute to her apparently illustrious and globetrotting career:

 (FRED ADAMS FOR THE TIMES LEADER Lisa Smith brushes Lady Netty N In her Center Moreland stable, where she runs the Retired Equine Adoption Society Of The Northeast In the background are volunteers Sally Miller and Tom Linski, along with Buddy the dog.

 (FRED ADAMS FOR THE TIMES LEADER Lisa Smith brushes Lady Netty N In her Center Moreland stable, where she runs the Retired Equine Adoption Society Of The Northeast In the background are volunteers Sally Miller and Tom Linski, along with Buddy the dog.

Unwanted horses find friends

An area woman and her group are filling a need, but could use some help.


CENTER MORELAND - A Christmas tree stands prominently in Lisa Smith's house, but the magic of the season happens in the stable outside. There, amid garlands, colorful ornamental balls and festive lights, scruffy but contented horses shuffle in and out of stalls to quickly gulp down helpings of grain and perhaps an apple or two.

Waiting anxiously, Breezy nibbles at the rest of the holiday decorations - greetings cards from around the country addressed to the horses. Perhaps if the thoroughbred knew the cards are part of the reason she has grain to eat and a stable to stand in, she wouldn't deface them. Her lack of appreciation won't stop Smith and volunteers at the Retired Equine Adoption Society of the Northeast from hanging the cards or donors from sending them and slipping in a few dollars to make spirits bright at the horse rescue. The group holds a holiday fund drive asking for $1 donations along with the cards. The problem is that in this recessionary economy, the cards don't cover as much of the stable as usual. "It doesn't seem like the cards are coming in as fast as last year," Smith said. And while the weak economy is keeping a clamp on R.E.A.S.O.N.'s income, it’s opened the floodgates on expenses. "With the economy so bad, it’s a scary time for horses. ... It’s an abundance of them, and people can't afford them," said Cheryl Willis, a volunteer who's on the charity's board of directors. "In addition, all our prices went up. ... It’s like twofold." Competition is increasing for corn as it becomes more useful for energy, she said, and sawdust is hard to find with lumber mills closing. Plus, the rescue is receiving horses from property foreclosures. There are currently 18 mouths to feed in paddocks alone, and that doesn't account for the random other homeless animals that find their way to the home.

When the organization formed about a decade ago, finding money was a primary concern. "We got a group of people, and we got a lawyer and an accountant and we started raising money," said Smith, who had always wanted a horse as a child. The seeds were sown when she and her ex-husband helped find a new home for an abused horse and then became involved with an adoption organization. Eventually, the family's rural property transitioned into a horse stable and volunteers started stopping by to help. Some, such as Sally Miller and Tom Linski, come quite a distance. Miller lives in Wilkes-Barre and Linski in Hanover Township, so they carpool. "It's good therapy with these horses," said Miller, who's recovering from a double hip replacement. "I never thought any place like this existed."

"That," Smith says, "is our biggest problem. People don't know we're here." The rescue raises about $25,000 annually these days, Smith said, and adoption fees range from $650, "for a horse that will take you out for a ride and usually pulls a cart as well," to $1,000 for ones that are young and well-trained. But that leaves little for maintenance - the tractor needs repairs, the stable and fencing could use some rehab and the fields need to be scraped. "If anybody has a used skid-steer they want to drop off, that’d be great," Willis said.

"Over 300 horses have gone through this property, so things are getting old and dying," said Smith, who takes no pay for running the rescue and pays the bills by cleaning properties because it gives her a flexible schedule. "What's really hard is this is my house, too. ... It’s like a never-ending job." But because the rescue follows up on all its adoptions and requires that all adoptees must be returned if unwanted, Smith likely will be involved as long as she owns the property. "The program will never end until the last horse dies," she said.

TO SEND CARDS Greetings cards and donations should be mailed to: R.E.A.S.O.N., Retired Equine Adoption-Society Of The Northeast, RR2, BOX 379, Harveys Lake, PA 18618. The rescue has open houses every Sunday afternoon. Go to its Web site for more information:

It's Hard to Top Uranus

The biggest picture of Uranus I’ve ever seen…  By NASA/JPL-Caltech - (image link) (image link), Public Domain,

The biggest picture of Uranus I’ve ever seen…

By NASA/JPL-Caltech - (image link) (image link), Public Domain,

A coworker brought up today a particularly fun lede I wrote for some conference coverage (Three economists, two lawyers and an electrical engineer walk into a bar… ). It reminded me of my all-time favorite lede I’ve ever written about the upcoming public-access schedule at a local planetarium.

Rote reporting on somewhat routine fare can be soul-crushing for journalists who see themselves as worthy of weightier assignments, but I often find it’s a chance to have fun with the format while not short-shrifting the subject. With far less editorial oversight and time needed to organize the article, the opportunities to amuse oneself are endless (bonus points for those who notice the Hamlet reference)…

Observatory offers view of Uranus

First Posted: 8/31/2007

Having trouble seeing Uranus? Get thee to the observatory.
Even on a clear night with decent equipment, it’s pretty hard to see Uranus, according to Thomas Winter, a professor at Penn State Wilkes-Barre in Lehman Township. The blue-green planet seventh in line from the sun is actually larger than Earth, but its distance and the fact that it usually hangs low on the horizon make it sometimes hard to distinguish from other points of light.
Every year, though, the sun, Earth and Uranus line up. It’s called “opposition,” and it’s much like the arrangement during a lunar eclipse, only Uranus is the moon and much farther away. The celestial gas giant at opposition hangs higher in the sky and is as close as it gets to Earth, Winter said.
With an off-the-shelf telescope, “you’ll be able to look at it as a little round thing as opposed to another point of light,” he said.
To get an even better view of Uranus, the university’s Friedman Observatory is inviting the public to take a look through its 16-inch telescope, the largest one in the region. The observatory is open from 9 to about 11 on Monday nights.
”The interesting thing about Uranus is that you’re getting to something that really would require a fairly sophisticated instrument to do it justice,” Winter said. “It’s still going to be pretty dim, but we have enough magnification that we can blow it up so it will look like a circle. It won’t look like a star.”
Stars are too far away to ever look like a circle, no matter how magnified they are, Winter said. The observatory’s telescope magnifies images about 100 times, which is enough to bring Uranus into focus and might be enough to pick out “the now demoted planet of Pluto,” he said.
”We think we can find it. We just haven’t gotten around to looking for it,” he said.
But that’s an assignment for when Uranus goes away. Over the next few weeks while Uranus reaches and leaves opposition, John Rovnak, an amateur astronomer and the observatory’s acting director, will be featuring it during the Monday-evening sessions.
On overcast nights, however, the observatory might not be open. Winter suggested calling his office at 675-9278 before 5 p.m. to check.

Rory Sweeney, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 970-7418.

Archived June 17, 2015:

Christmas Kielbasa

A winter holiday tradition that is fairly ubiqitous in Northeastern Pennsylvania but lesser so outside that region is securing a coil of locally made kielbasa. Several shops are famous year-round for their cured cylindrically-cased and sometimes smoked meat rings, but never more than in December. Neglectful devotees are often left bereft of the finest options and condemned to stressfully scouring the valley at the final hour for whatever scraps remain.

A native NEPAian shared with me today that his family is already stocked up on Schiff's ( for the season, and it reminded me of the first (EVER) article I wrote as part of the interview process for my first (EVER) full-time newspaper job.

Had to dig to find it anywhere because sadly the paper's online archives have largely been lost to antiquity, but the Internet always provides. Enjoy...

Just Google it for a larger image

Just Google it for a larger image


By RORY SWEENEY Special to the Times Leader

Friday, December 23, 2005 Page: 1A

For harried holiday cooks rushing to secure a last-minute Christmas kielbasa, the answering machine conveyed the bad news: "Swantko's is closed. Thank you for your patronage."

And not just closed for the day.

The popular Nanticoke pork purveyor is closed forever.

The loss last month of Swantko's probably won't register 10 miles away in Wilkes-Barre's Parsons section, where kielbasa lovers have Leonard's Kielbasi Market.

Crowds flock to the modest, garlic-scented shop which opened in 1923. The original white tinwork still graces the ceiling, and the hand-cranked cash register remains. Leonard's at 64 Kado St. hasn't changed much, just aged - like its patrons.

For many local residents of Polish descent, kielbasa is a must-have Christmas and Easter tradition. Often, holiday lines spill out the door and down the street, especially at opening time, when the daily allotment of smoked kielbasa is up for grabs.

Only eight customers waited in line early Wednesday afternoon, most long-time devotees who've stood in line at Leonard's since childhood. They said the short line was an aberration.

The day's supply of the coveted smoked meat rings had run out, and customers without confirmed orders were promptly rejected.

People in the growing line muttered something about similarities to the Soup Nazi character from the TV comedy "Seinfeld."

"No kielbasa for you," they laughed.

"I have waited for hours there," said Joan Sott of Forty Fort in a phone interview, adding that Leonard's workers are often brusque.

"You can't even ask them a question."

She complained that counterworkers refuse to speculate how much unspoken-for-kielbasa might be available for people in line without orders.

"Last year we forgot to order," said Sott, who picks up the sausage for her family. "I was back and forth to that store six times, only to be told they were out of kielbasa."

As workers disappeared for lunch breaks, the already unbearable wait for what remained - fresh, uncooked kielbasa and white or red horseradish sauce - became downright painful.

Dorothy Dysleski, granddaughter of the store's founder, worked methodically, checking orders in a large logbook, slowly collecting the products and carefully calculating the price.

The folks at Leonard's are sticklers about their logbook, Sott warned.

She recounted the ordeal of one man who waited a long line, only to be told that someone had already picked up his order. He insisted no one else had, and questioned whether a worker had perhaps handed his kielbasa over to the wrong patron. The workers intimated that he had sent in a proxy for the first order, and was trying to score some extra sausage by coming in for a second.

In the end, the man left with sausage after a second look at the log revealed someone with a similar last name had picked up an order.

Why tolerate the long waits, sluggish service and spotty product availability?

"I don't even like kielbasa," Sott confessed.

But her 90-year-old mother does. So could mom be fooled by grocery store kielbasa, ending Sott's waits in line once and for all?

"Oh God no," Sott said. "Hillshire wouldn't be equal to it."

Customers said they like Leonard's kielbasa because it is coarse-ground rather than fine-ground, and they favored its cherry wood-smoked flavor.

Others enjoyed the moderately snappy casing and a lower fat content.

In the end, it was all about flavor and texture.

"That's all there is," said Tom Wilcox, a self-described "dedicated Plains Meat Market guy" who was on his maiden visit to Leonard's. "They go hand in hand."

When Wilcox's friend, Mykee Cerase, reached the counter, she was disappointed to hear the smoked rings were still sold out.

In an act of Christmas generosity, the customer ahead of her offered one, which Cerase gratefully accepted.

But even after a 20-minute wait in line, Cerase wasn't done kielbasa shopping. Her granddaughter is a fanatic of the meat, she said, so she and Wilcox were off to another market.

"One ring's not going to do it," she said.

At Fetch's Food Store in Plymouth, the smoker is running around the clock to keep up with demand, said third-generation store owner David Fetch.

"We'll be making kielbasa on the 23rd and probably selling it into the wee hours of the 24th," said Fetch, winner of the inaugural Plymouth Kielbasa Festival competition in 2004.

He added that the store will close at 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve, but that store workers are scheduled until 7 p.m., just in case.

Tell us where you like to get your Christmas kielbasa at .

Philly's First Charter School Rugby Club Makes Impressive Debut

PHILADELPHIA, Pa., June 14, 2018 — Six weeks into its existence, Philadelphia's first charter high school rugby program made its debut last weekend at the National High School Rugby Championships, posting an impressive 3-3 record.

The Bulldogs Rugby Club is composed of 34 students from Simon Gratz Mastery Charter High School in the Nicetown neighborhood of North Philadelphia. Mastery Charter Schools are a system of 23 independently managed primary, middle and secondary schools in Philadelphia and Camden, N.J. Mastery schools use innovative and customized techniques to improve struggling and challenged public schools in the Philadelphia area.

Gratz students organized the club in April under the guidance of Nick Hunter, the school's strength and conditioning coach and an avid rugby player. They practiced twice weekly in preparation for the three-day tournament, which began at the Greater Chester Valley Soccer Association Complex in Malvern, Pa., on Friday and moved to Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Pa., for Saturday and Sunday. Teams spent months training and traveled from across the country to compete in the tournament. Gratz was able to attend because of its proximity to the event.

The Bulldogs defeated the Blackthorn club from Horsham, Pa., in its first match, followed by the Unionville (Pa.) Indians, and accepted a forfeit from the West Carroll (Md.) Marauders. They played well in losses to last year's finalists Rock Rugby Academy from Texas, the 2x New Jersey State Champions St. Augustine Hermits and 2016 Pennsylvania State Champions Media Wolfpack.

Club members spent down time between matches at the tournament helping run an introductory rugby program for youth called Rookie Rugby. Volunteerism, community uplift and being strong role models for younger students are at the heart of the Bulldogs’ ethos, who have chosen as their club’s mission "to promote positivity among youth in our community through rugby."

The club remains student-driven behind leadership from senior captain Zach Barnett. It receives uncommon support from school principal Mr. Peter Langer as well as the blessing and cooperation of its athletic department and athletic director, Mr. Erik Zipay. Follow the Bulldogs through Instagram as we develop and expand into other rugby competitions in 2019: @gratz_rugby_club.

Download the PDF here. Snag the slick logo here.


Energy Fun and Games

Seems like energy companies are jumping on the bandwagon of teaching through fun and interactive games. I'm compiling a list. Here's what I've found so far:


1.) Duke Energy's 2050 Energy Challenge

Sort of an extremely basic city-building game that focuses just on the energy demands. Aesthetically like SimCity, but much less control. Still, it has lots of options, which makes it fun.


2.) NARUC's MegaModel game

A capacity-planning game for utilities brought to you by the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. They only roll it out for events, but here's a video that gives you the gist. Pretty entertaining if you're into utility modeling, but bare bones visually.


3.) Statnett's Balance and Ohm

They're free apps you have to download in the Google Play store, but totally worth the effort. The tone and visuals are pretty chill and funky, and I dig the music. Balance is an actual game, and the levels can get pretty challenging. Ohm, more of a science lab but equally rewarding.


4.) Bloomberg's American Mall

Nothing to do with energy per se, but a very interesting examination of declining infrastructure. Plus, I just like playing it, and the soundtrack is absolute fire.