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Digital Exclusive: Top 50 most-read stories of 2021

At least 11 fire departments responded to a fire at the Hunter Truck Center garage on Friday afternoon, April 16. No injuries were reported in the blaze. SEB FOLTZ/BUTLER EAGLE 04/16/21

While the COVID-19 pandemic kept its stronghold in top news for yet another year, a number of other stories also captured our reader's attention.

In reviewing the top stories viewed by readers on butlereagle.com, the numbers show stories of crimes, crashes, fires and other catastrophes were ones that were most-read.

On our social media pages, readers also showed an interest in videos and stories that related to the above topics, but also reacted, commented and shared stories about businesses, events and (strangely enough) animal encounters.

Below are the most-read stories from the website and Facebook.

In November, a teenage student and the driver of a school bus died in a crash involving a tractor-trailor on Interstate 79 in Muddy Creek township.The bus was transporting students from Lincoln Park Performing Arts School of Midland, Beaver County, according to state police.

Val, a faithful 14-year-old haflinger horse that was reported missing in late July from a farm above Renfrew in Penn Township was found dead by its owner in August.Val was found at the bottom of a 20-foot ravine about an eighth-mile away from the pasture where she was last seen with eight other horses. The owner said he believed the horse was chased by coyotes.

A Butler police officer was stabbed in August while responding to a report of a male who was “jumping in and out of oncoming traffic.”The man was fatally shot in a struggle that ensued.The Butler city officer was later released from the hospital.

A 9-year-old girl died in a crash on Route 422 in Clearfield Township in May.

A Prospect man died Friday night while swimming in the Atlantic Ocean with his son, who was rescued by his mother.Jessica White of Prospect said she and her nephews were playing with water guns on the beach while on vacation in Ocean City, Md., just after 8 p.m. July 16 when her son Joshua, 7, who had entered the water with his father, Joshua, 33, began shouting to her for help.She immediately jumped into the water and swam to her son, grabbed him and began trying to push him toward the shore.

A woman died Oct. 29 in a head-on collision with a garbage truck along Route 308. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

A four-alarm fire on Butler's Main Street in January drew departments from across the county.

At the time of this headline, Damien M. Large was arraigned in March on charges of homicide of an unborn child and aggravated assault to an unborn child, among other charges in the alleged beating of the mother.

In one of the first headlines of 2021, police shared the name of the toddler who died in a fast-moving house fire.

A firefighter was struck by a semitruck on Interstate 80 in Venango County in April.The firefighter was working on the scene of a multi-vehicle crash that halted all lanes of traffic along a section of I-80 just across the border from Butler County.

Isabella “Bella” Kaechele, 14, a missing teen from Cranberry Township, was found the night of June 11 by the Cranberry Township Police Department.

State police identified Lindsay Thompkins, 31, of Aliquippa as the bus driver in an I-79 fatal bus crash Nov. 2 in Muddy Creek Township that killed her and a 14-year-old student from Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School in Beaver County.

The Butler Days Inn at 139 Pittsburgh Road was closed and sold as of Oct. 28.

Karen L. Hemby, 46, of Ellwood City, a nurse working at Fair Winds Manor Nursing Home at 126 Iron Bridge Road in Sarver, was accused of 72 charges including stealing prescription medications from her patients.

Ben Roth, a senior associate at CBRE in Pittsburgh, which leases the spaces at the Greater Butler Mart, said in early-November a new retail store would open at the site of the former Trader Horn, after construction was completed in about two weeks.

Two county teenagers, Trinity Desmond, 13, of Oakland Township, and Charles J. Brookband, 14, of Butler, were found July 7 after being reported missing July 1.

An Evans City resident, being held at gunpoint, retrieved his own gun and shot an intruder late on Oct. 30, according to police.The alleged intruder, a man from Pittsburgh, forced his way into the basement of a home at 308 W. Main St., around 6:45 p.m., and held the resident and a woman at gunpoint, which is when the resident grabbed his own gun and shot the alleged intruder.

A 14-year-old resident of Cranberry Township went missing June 7, according to her family.The girl's mother, Amy Lesseski, made a plea on Facebook for information about her daughter, Isabella Kaechele, who she said left in the middle of the night, and she was discovered missing June 7.“We love you, please come home,” said Lesseski of her daughter, who also goes by “Bella.”

Hakeem Moran, 31, of Pittsburgh, died Dec. 5 after being stabbed multiple times and shot during an assault in at 109 College St. in Butler.Moran was taken to a Pittsburgh hospital after he was found stabbed and shot at the scene. He died later that night from his injuries, according to police.

In September, State police charged Gary F. Sweesy, 47, of Harrisville, with attempted homicide, related to a shooting and stabbing of two people in a West Liberty home, as well as three other felonies, including two counts of aggravated assault and one count of burglary.Police also charged Sweesy with five misdemeanors, including two counts of simple assault, two counts of reckless endangerment and one count of terroristic threats.

The Butler Tobacco and Grocery Store opened at 9 a.m. Oct. 24, despite being the locale of an armed robbery, involving a shot fired, a little more than 12 hours earlier.Lisa Albert, the store's manager, was one of two employees working during the robbery. She said the man at one point shot one round over her left shoulder, just past her head. The bullet hole in the wall remained visible behind the cashier's area while customers checked out the next day.

Troy K. Andres, 44, was pronounced dead at the scene of a five-vehicle crash June 24 on Evans City Road, likely because of blunt force trauma, according to the Butler County coroner.

Police, paramedics and fire districts responded to a six-vehicle accident involving a Noga EMS vehicle and five other cars close to the Evans City on-ramp to southbound Interstate 79 at 10:08 a.m. Oct. 19.Cranberry Township Volunteer Fire Company Chief Scott Garing said the accident was a “chain reaction, rear-end-style” pile up and that traffic had been backed up due to construction further along on I-79.

A bus driver with the Butler Transit Authority died Sept. 24 following the authority's cancellation of bus routes due to most of its drivers being ill.Transit Authority executive director John Paul said the transit authority was “very, very saddened about his passing.”“He was a 38-year-old young man, he was a great employee, and very dedicated to his job,” he said. “It's a shame.”

About 30 employees, customers and former employees gathered in the Point Plaza Shopping Center April 6 to watch the demise of the Eat'n Park restaurant on New Castle Road.Before opening as Eat'n Park 50 years ago, the building was an auto service center and Gatsby's Lounge.

According to a news release, police believe Charles Smith, 46, shot and killed Terry Bolan, 39, before killing himself on July 17.Butler County Coroner William F. Young III said autopsies were performed on both men and found gunshot wounds to both had caused their deaths.

A 68-year-old man stabbed a 40-year-old man Sept. 20 a block south of the Butler County Courthouse.A male citizen, who was exiting a business in the area, saw the incident and held the 68-year-old man at gunpoint until officers arrived.

A 22-year-old man died in a car crash in Venango Township on July 23.Crews responded to a one vehicle crash around 7:43 p.m. near 111 Eau Claire Road and Butler County Coroner William F. Young III was called to the scene, where he pronounced the death of Shane Michael Fitzpatrick, 22, of Harrisville.

A 53-year-old Cranberry Township man named Mark Jenks died of smoke inhalation and burns in May when a car he was in exploded in a parking lot, according to the Butler County Coroner.Jenks was pronounced dead in his car in the Red Robin parking lot after a fire and explosion were reported.

Every few months, pictures and reports of nefarious human traffickers using slick methods to target Walmart shoppers crop up on social media.Chief John Hays of Butler Township Police dispelled rumours regarding potential for human trafficking in the Walmart parking lot in October.Hays said while they do respond to suspicious activity at Walmart when a call comes in, he deemed it a safe place to shop.

In April, Lamont A. “Butt Butt” Franklin Jr., 20, was put behind bars in Butler County Prison.Franklin allegedly ran from New Kensington Police before his arrest. Police had been trying to arrest Franklin for home invasion and burglary since February 2020.

Slippery Rock University issued an email bulletin on September 11 that Pennsylvania State Police were investigating a shooting in West Liberty Township in the vicinity of Smith Road. The alleged gunman was considered armed and dangerous.

Three people were flown to a Pittsburgh hospital following a Route 68 crash in September.At least two vehicles were involved in the crash which happened three miles northeast of Evans City, according to emergency dispatchers.

In January, state police arrested 24 year-old Ryan C. McConnell of Center Township, after he allegedly posted a photo of himself on social media holding a semi-automatic rifle and ammunition with an ominous message.The caption at the bottom of the photo read “Ready for school!” which McConnell said to the police was a joke.The FBI notified police of the photo, which had been posted on Snapchat.

Two motorcyclists died in separate crashes a little more than an hour apart in August in Butler County.Brian D. Keller, 50, of Greensburg, crashed his 2006 Harley-Davidson across from Karns City High School. Then, a 42-year-old Butler man died from injuries suffered when his motorcycle slammed into the back of an SUV in Butler Township.

In October, Diane Elizabeth Read, 38, was sentenced to serve two concurrent sentences of 36 to 72 months after driving drunk, crashing and killing two of her friends. She was charged with homicide by vehicle.After a social gathering and consuming alcohol, Read drove her vehicle into the former CoGo's store on Route 8 in Middlesex Township.

Crews responded to a crash on Unionville Road in June which resulted in a woman being flown into the hospital.Crews found an SUV teetering on its driver's side along a hillside off the road's southern berm. Garing said as the driver was being loaded into an ambulance, a helicopter arrived at a landing zone staged nearby and the woman was taken by air to a Pittsburgh hospital.

In May, Authorities investigated the death of a person found inside a car in the Red Robin parking lot in Cranberry Township.The car burned and exploded, and first responders remained on scene for nearly five hours investigating.

Stephanie and Scott Roskovski were both sentenced to federal prison for defrauding Butler Health System of up to $1.3 million in June of 2021, two years after being charged.As part of their plea deal, the couple was allowed to keep their home and business Switchback MX.Scott was sentenced to 30 months total, while Stephanie was sentenced to 51.

In the beginning of May, state police in Clarion investigated a vehicle reportedly abandoned on Interstate 80's bridge near Emlenton.The banks of the Allegheny River were searched, but the water was too high at the time to undergo investigation.

In August, the officer who was stabbed during an incident on Main Street was identified as Michael Sulerud.Sulerud had responded to an early morning disturbance where John Ebberts of Butler was jumping in and out of traffic on the 300 block of West Jefferson Street.Sulerud addressed Ebberts, who stabbed hiim and subsequently Sulerud shot Ebberts, killing him.

Rachel M. Powell of Sandy Lake, Mercer County, who is facing federal charges for her alleged participation in the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6, was placed in the Butler County Prison in February.Powell was reportedly from West Sunbury, and worked with other rioters in an attempt to smash a window at the Capitol building and used a bullhorn to give others instructions on how to breach the building.

The April fire at Hunter Truck Center at 174 Oneida Valley Road resulted in possibly $1 million, officials said.One garage was destroyed and another sustained damage.No one was injured in the fire, which engulfed the body shop garage and adjacent paint shop garage.

In May, Christopher D. Wright, 25, of Saxonburg was driving south on Route 68 without a seat belt. He failed to negotiate a curve and his car hit an embankment, two utility poles, a wooden fence, and a brick-and-mortar pillar at 816 Chicora Road.Wright was partially ejected from the car through the rear driver side window and was pronounced dead at the scene.

James Howard-Georges, 28, was on parole for his role in the 2017 murder of a Butler woman when he was charged with having sex with an underage girl.He was placed in Butler County Prison in lieu of $100,000 bail.Howard-Georges was on parole since the beginning of the year when he was sentenced for his guilty plea regarding his involvement in the murder of Melissa Barto, 26, of Butler.

The body of a 20-year-old man missing since late April was found in the Allegheny River in May.The car of Colt Evan Snyder of Dayton, Armstrong County, was seen running on the Interstate 80 bridge, seven hours after he was last seen by his family. No foul play was suspected.

A 20-year-old Slippery Rock man died in a one-vehicle crash Jan. 6 in Slippery Rock Township.Police did not immediately release the name of the man, who was pronounced dead at the scene of the wreck about 12:25 a.m. in the area of Harmony Road and East Campus Drive at the entrance to Slippery Rock University.

The Portersville Muddy Creek Township Volunteer Fire Department, EMTs and the state police were called at 12:11 p.m. May 15 to the scene of a truck fire on the side of Route 422 near the South Shore exit.According to the fire department, two passengers in pickup truck were uninjured; only the pickup truck and the camper were involved.

Butler Memorial Hospital said it has openings for appointments for COVID-19 vaccinations March 11 and 12.The hospital said it has received enough doses to accept appointments for people eligible to receive vaccinations.

Pennsylvania State Police apprehended a suspect near West Liberty Borough in Brady Township shortly before 2 p.m. Sept. 11 following a search.The search began after an incident in which two people were shot and stabbed. The victims were flown to Pittsburgh hospitals.

Just earlier this month, a demolition on Butler's West Wayne Street came to a pause when a cat was noticed on the roof.A video was posted to Butler Eagle's Facebook page showing the cat's rescue. The demolition then continued.

The McConnells Mill Covered Bridge in Lawrence County closed in early December for filming as crews set up scenes for “The Pale Blue Eye,” a Netflix film starring Christian Bale.

Gov. Tom Wolf announced plans to let Pennsylvania schools set their own masking rules in January.A decision from the state supreme court in December moved up this timeline.

In October, a goat was spotted running through the city of Butler.It was captured on video and shared with Butler Eagle readers.

A series of fall crashes led to a story about deer-related crashes.

Just recently, the county commissioners approved using up to $331,750 in American Rescue Plan funds to buy a large Humvee-like tactical vehicle that will be outfitted and armored to provide optimum safety for the law enforcement officers who use it.

The online auction company M@C Discount, also known as Merchandise at Cost Discount, is expanding to a new location at the Greater Butler Mart.

In this live video, state police offered an early update on the crash during which a teenage student and the driver of a school bus died on Interstate 79 in Muddy Creek township.

In October, police, paramedics and fire districts responded to a six-vehicle accident involving a Noga EMS vehicle and five other cars close to the Evans City on-ramp to southbound Interstate 79.

Family Bowlaway is to lower its parking requirements from May to November and host activity for its normal hours closer to its property line.