The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

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December 31, 2013

Fatal crash tops year’s headlines

Freeway tragedy, businessman’s murder rank 1-2

MERCER COUNTY AREA — In any given year, murders, fatal fires and car crashes grab headlines. That held true in a poll of Herald news staffers on the top stories of 2013 – based strictly on headline value.

The top story for 2013 was the Nov. 8 two-vehicle crash on the Shenango Valley Freeway in Sharon that claimed the lives of three people. Two were Sharon High School senior football players Corey Swartz and Evan Gill, and the third was 50-year-old John Zdelar Jr. of Brookfield.

Two other Sharon football players, twins Craig and Greg Osmon, were injured in the crash, as were Zedlar’s stepson Evan Wallace, 10, and a neighbor friend, Blake Yendrek, 12.

The story amassed 90 points as all nine Herald staffers voted it the top headline story of the year based on a 10-point scale.

The tragedy caused ripple effects of grief across western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio. Valley residents and schools pulled together in various ways in support of the families and the playoff-bound Sharon team. Many expressed their concern through unsolicited gifts of money, leading to the Sharon School Board’s approval of “the football players fund” to benefit the families.

The second-ranked story of 2013 for its headline value – garnering 70 points – was the July slaying of Greenville businessman Frank Crash. Police said someone broke into Crash’s Hempfield Township home, stabbed him more than 70 times, and made off with some of his belongings.

Details of progress in the investigation have been kept under wraps. Mercer County District Attorney Robert G. Kochems says investigators continue interviewing people and gathering evidence, and that there is no new information to report.

No. 3 on the list was a shooting in February when a Youngstown man broke into a Pymatuning Township woman’s home and shot her in the back. Jessi Hudson, 22, is serving a 10- to 20-year sentence in jail as part of a plea agreement offered by Kochems. The deal, which Kochems later apologized for making, allowed a slew of charges to be dropped, including attempted homicide, and drew the criticism of the victim’s family. The story received 57 points.

Another tragedy involving a Sharon school student was the shooting death of sophomore basketball player Le’Angelo “Lee Lee” Crumby Ford, 17, in January. He was shot in the chest by Jontae Barnes, 19, at a gathering of young people in a Strawbridge Avenue home. Barnes is currently serving 2 years in jail. The story was fourth with 56 points.

The fifth-place story for its headline value, with 41 points, was the murder trials convicting Joshua Stewart and Devine Campbell in the 2011 shooting death of Farrell bar owner William “Bill” Basilone. Both were sentenced to life in prison.

Other stories packing headline punch included the physical attack on Sharon football Coach Jim Wildman in his home (40 points); the announced sale of Sharon Regional Health System (32 points); and the stabbing of a Sharon Regional emergency room employee (31).

Coming Wednesday: The top stories of 2013 based on their long-term significance.

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