Borough releases details of Obbish settlement

PUNXSUTAWNEY — The family of Stephen Obbish will receive $250,000 through the settlement of a lawsuit filed against the Borough of Punxsutawney, the mayor and two employees, according to the mediation settlement with Obbish’s family.

The mediation agreement between the borough and the family members of Obbish, who died Aug. 15, 2009, in the back seat of a borough police cruiser, was released this week by Punxsutawney Borough Council and the family’s counsel, Chad A. Wissinger, Esq.

A major part of the agreement was for the borough to appeal the rehiring of Det. Brian Andrekovich — the officer who took Obbish into custody Aug. 15, 2009 — as determined by the Civil Service Commission.

In its July 2010 report, the commission ordered that Andrekovich be reinstated with the department after council fired him stemming from Obbish’s death, and council’s belief that he didn’t follow proper procedure that day.

Also named in the suit were Mayor James Wehrle, Dispatcher Janice Scott and Andrekovich.

Both the borough and the family settled fully and finally concerning any and all of the Obbish family’s claims and potential claims related to the facts alleged by the family in the complaint.

According to the settlement release, the borough and family settled its claim for $250,000, which will be distributed by the borough’s insurance company, Inservco Insurance Services.

In the settlement, the borough said it regrets the death of Obbish, which occurred while he was in the borough’s custody, and expresses sympathy to his family for their loss.

The borough also agreed to continue to pursue in good faith to appeal the Civil Service Commission’s ruling to rehire Andrekovich before the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.

Aug. 9, 2010, council voted 5-1 to first appeal the commission’s order to Jefferson County President Judge John H. Foradora.

Foradora said he agreed with the commission, that the evidence was insufficient to sustain the charges identified by council in its statement of charges, and as further defined in his termination letter, and that Andrekovich should get his job back.

At its March 14 meeting, council opted to continue its appeal of the Civic Service Commission’s ruling.

Council President Susan Glessner said the reason to continue appealing to a higher court is because it was part of the settlement in the Obbish family suit.

According to the settlement, the borough also agreed, as part of its ongoing review of existing policies, that it will formulate and adopt a policy regarding the arrest and detention of arrestees to include those who are intoxicated and/or requiring medical attention.

The agreement also said the borough will adopt such a policy within 12 months of the execution of the release.

The borough also agreed to provide a draft of the proposed policy to Wissinger for his review and comment prior to adoption.

The agreement also said, the borough’s police officers will receive training on any such policy after its adoption.

Following the release of the settlement with the Obbish family, Wehrle said in an interview that he welcomed the opportunity to explain what happened on Aug. 15, 2009.

Wehrle said he came into his office to check his mail, he stopped at the police station and spoke with Scott, the dispatcher who was on duty.

“Brian (Andrekovich) asked me to come back to the enclosed portal area that has a surveilance camera in it, to see if I recognized Obbish, and I did not,” Wehrle said, adding that he asked Andrekovich if he needed help getting him out of the police car and into a cell.

Wehrle said Andrekovich thought Obbish was better off where he was in the back seat of the police car.

“I did not ask for details. At the time, I thought that it was a valid explanation, and I did not believe there was problem,” he said.

Wehrle said it was a terrible thing that Obbish died in the police car, and he feels bad for the Obbish family.

“If I knew then what I know now, I would’ve interceded,” he said. “I’m not trying to excuse myself, with all of my many faults, it bothered me that there are members of the public who think that I wouldn’t try to help a citizen in need. I’ve always prided myself in the past on being proactive in this type of situation.”

There’s no word on how soon Commonwealth Court might rule on the borough’s appeal of the civil service commission’s ruling.