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Three people killed in two Cecil County crashes on same day

CECIL COUNTY — Three people were killed, including a Cecil County resident, and seven others were injured in two traffic accidents — one close to Charlestown, the other near Perryville — during a five-and-a-half-hour span on Monday, according to the Maryland State Police.

In the more recent traffic accident, two Delaware women died and a Pennsylvania man suffered serious injuries when a tractor-trailer crashed into the car they occupied at approximately noon Monday on West Pulaski Highway (Route 40) near Charlestown, police reported.

The driver of that car, Ranae Maurise Grinnell, 21, of Newark, Del., and her backseat passenger, Myasia Destiny Killian, also 21, of Bear, Del., were pronounced dead at the scene, police said.

An MSP helicopter crew flew Grinnell’s front-seat passenger, Tasean Shamar Emmens-Grant, 20, of Marcus Hook, Pa., from the crash scene to University of Maryland’s Shock Trauma Unit in Baltimore, where he was treated for injuries that investigators described as serious, police added. As of late Tuesday, updated information regarding his medical condition was unavailable.

In the first traffic accident, which occurred approximately five and a half hours earlier that day, Amy B. Spencer, 56, of Colora, was killed on northbound Interstate 95 near Perryville in a chain-reaction crash involving four vehicles, police reported.

Based on information gathered during the preliminary investigation, police reported that the fatal, domino-effect collision occurred in the northbound lane of I-95 near mile-marker 93 at approximately 6:30 a.m., when a tractor-trailer driver purportedly failed to stop while several other northbound vehicles ahead of him were at a standstill on that highway because of an earlier, unrelated traffic accident, police said.

The tractor-trailer crashed into the back of one of those stopped vehicles, setting off chain-reaction collisions that injured six people and killed Spencer, who was the driver of one of those stopped vehicles, police reported.

An occupant of one those stopped vehicles was transported to Christiana Hospital in Delaware, while the driver and passenger of the tractor-trailer were taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, according to police.

In addition, the driver and passenger of another vehicle were transported to Union Hospital in Elkton, and the driver of a fourth vehicle involved in the crash was taken to Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace, police reported.

The four-vehicle crash forced emergency workers to close a portion of northbound I-95, between the Perryville and North East exits, for more than five hours, according to MSP officials, who noted that the State Highway Administration assisted with the closure. It caused heavy detour traffic on southbound Route 222 and eastbound Route 40.

An MSP Accident Reconstruction Team conducted an on-scene investigation, police said. As of Tuesday, police added, no charges had been filed and the overall investigation into the fatal I-95 crash was continuing.

As for the double-fatal crash that occurred later on Monday, Grinnell, who was driving a Ford Focus occupied by two passengers, was attempting to cross westbound Route 40 from Principio Parkway and pulled into the path of a westbound tractor-trailer, police said.

The tractor-trailer crashed into the Focus, sending both vehicles into the eastbound lanes of Route 40, where they came to rest, police added.

The double-fatal crash forced emergency workers to close a stretch of eastbound Route 40 for nearly three hours. Approximately one mile west of the crash scene, eastbound traffic on Route 40 was detoured to eastbound Route 7 (Old Philadelphia Road) to Wells Camp Road and Red Toad Road, west of North East, where motorists were able to return to eastbound 40.

The Maryland Department of Transportation, the State Highway Administration and CHART personnel assisted with the road closure, police said. An MSP Accident Reconstruction Team conducted an on-scene investigation, police added.

As of Tuesday, the double-fatal crash also remained under investigation, police reported.


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Volunteers doing their part for a better Cecil County

CECIL COUNTY — While the COVID-19 pandemic has stopped a number of activities from taking place this year, it hasn’t quelled the giving spirit of those in Cecil County, who came out to participate in the fifth year of the Cecil Cares community volunteer event Saturday.

According to event organizer and Cecil County Volunteer/Community Resource Coordinator Krista Gilmore, it is estimated that 80-85 volunteers participated this weekend at one of approximately dozen project sites or donation drive locations. Gilmore said volunteers also helped deliver lunches to those at the various sites and took photos.

Early Saturday morning, Sheilagh Weinert with Sheilagh’s Pantry was working to to collect a variety of non-perishable and hygiene items to stuff a school bus provided by Justin Davis of L.C. Davis & Son, Inc.

Weinert said the goal of the event was to restock the pantry as much as possible to continue to help those in need throughout Cecil County.

With Weinert Saturday morning was county employee Joyce Van Zile, who said that the county actively encouraged staff to participate in the volunteer activities and noted that she really enjoyed being part of the event.

“Volunteering is important,” Van Zile said. “I just love being around people. I think during this time it is important to be a positive influence and do what you can to help others.”

Davis said it was important to do what he can to help especially when it comes to the students his company serves.

Also on hand with Weinert was Lynda Woodside with the Maryland Rural Development Corporation and Alex Sievers with the Governor’s Office on Service and Volunteerism.

Woodside said Sheilagh’s Pantry has come under the umbrella of MRDC and that the MRDC was on hand to show its support for the pantry and the community at large.

During a similar “stuff the van” donation drive for Meeting Ground/Mary Randall Center, volunteers and contributors throughout the community provided items for use at the shelter according to Program Director Danielle Blankenship.

Blankenship noted that with winter approaching, one of the items sought by the shelter are coats. The shelter utilized its van as the device to collect items provided by community members as part of the donation drive.

At Calvert Regional Park volunteers helped to work on the garden at the park barn facility.

According to event organizer, Bryan Lightner, volunteers spent the morning working to improve the garden by relocating plants and placing fresh mulch in the garden.

Dawn Rodenbaugh, program administrator with the Neighborhood Youth Panel had a couple of young students helping with the garden revitalization project as part of their required community service hours. She said she has been working with Lightner for a period of time and that the garden project was a good way to keep kids accountable while also learning important community service values.

At Fair Hill Nature Center, volunteers helped with a variety of grounds maintenance projects including cleaning up the premises and helping with the pollinator and herb gardens on site.

Director of Development Guylaine Thomas said the volunteers were also clearing a spot around the pond so that visitors could do their own scientific sampling of pond water. Volunteers were busy Saturday morning picking the perfect spot and then clearing grass and shrubbery around the pond to create an access point.

Thomas said the Nature Center, prior to COVID-19 regularly had students who would collect samples from the pond and noted that she hoped soon things would return to normal, noting that in the meantime volunteers would help prepare the center with a variety of projects.


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Community organizations support students grappling with remote learning

CECIL COUNTY — With the COVID-19 pandemic raging as the summer waned, Cecil County Public Schools (CCPS) students found themselves starting the new school year the same way the last year ended — remote, unable to safely enter schools to be with teachers and friends.

Five percent of students most in need of in-person instruction returned to the classroom in September, and schools will bring back 25 percent of students on a hybrid schedule starting next week. Superintendent Jeff Lawson will consider plans to bring more students back on a monthly basis as the school year progresses.

Christie Stephens, a CCPS board member who represents Rising Sun, has been happy with the district’s reopening strategy. However, she acknowledged the frustrations of virtual learning, and commended local organizations who have stepped up to help students continue learning.

“Organizations opening up their facilities were really seeing a need in the community and saying, ‘Yes, we can check that box and reach those kids,’” Stephens said. “I’m proud of the people that show up on their own time and care about the kids.”

Students, particularly younger learners, rely on parents for support as they navigate virtual schooling, but parents have their own work to worry about. Many essential workers can’t afford to miss hours, and even those who work from home often struggle to balance the needs of their co-workers with those of their kids.

Lawson has acknowledged in a number of public forums that CCPS enrollment is down, and several local private schools have reported upticks in admissions interest. But for those parents who can’t accommodate a homeschool schedule or a private school tuition, the district has worked to connect parents with organizations offering child care and virtual learning support.

‘In the realm of safety’

One of those organizations is Elkton’s Circle of Care Early Learning, which offers full-day child care for kids ages two through 12. Most Circle of Care parents are essential workers who need a safe place to send their children during the day.

“Parents on the front lines are so thankful, because they can bring their children to this facility knowing that the child is in the realm of safety,” Executive Director Chikil’ra Boone said. “I’m grateful that I’m able to give care to my students.”

For the first weeks of the new school year, Circle of Care operated at reduced capacity, restricted by state guidelines to about 10 students. Last week, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced that child care facilities could reopen at full capacity, which will enable Circle of Care to reopen at its full capacity of 20 to 25 students.

With school in session, students are mostly logging in for lessons and completing homework assignments.

“Parents are recommended to give us the student’s schedule for the day,” Boone said. “Students are on their computers from the hours between 9:00 (a.m.) and 2:45 (p.m.). There is support given one-on-one with the students in their virtual learning group, so they aren’t by themselves.”

Desks are spaced out, students wear masks and the facility is thoroughly disinfected to make sure everyone stays safe.

Boone said that her students often share anxiety and fear about the state of the virus. Parents are also facing limited options. They aren’t allowed into the facility because of safety concerns, meaning that it’s hard to strike up a rapport and trust with new and returning parents.

She shares their concerns about staying safe, and worries about exposing her own family.

“We do our best at offering care, but yes, we are taking a risk every day, putting our lives and our families on the line,” she said. “I’ll be glad when we can go back to some type of normalcy.”

With schools expanding the scope of who can return for in-person instruction, Boone said they would continue to prioritize students, particularly early learners, who are enrolled full-time.

Reduced capacity, increased demand and safety concerns have prevented them from taking drop-in students who come and go. Parents pay bi-weekly, though many take advantage of the state’s Child Care Scholarship program, which helps eligible families secure access to child care services.

Circle of Care provides breakfast and two snacks, but encourages students to bring their own lunch. CCPS is offering free meal pickup for any student, regardless of typical eligibility, and has worked with some child care facilities to distribute meals. Boone, however, said she has had little contact with the school.

‘Showing the heart of Jesus’

Other organizations, like Conowingo Baptist Church, have partnered with CCPS to help ensure students in the area have access to meals from the district in addition to child care and virtual learning support.

Senior Pastor Joshua McCord places a daily lunch order for students attending the church’s learning center. Once a week, he opens the doors for students to come collect as many meals as they need. CCPS provides the meals, and has helped McCord outfit the church with some spare devices and even desks to support a healthy learning environment.

“For me, it’s about showing the heart of Jesus,” he said. “When things get difficult, that’s not an excuse to step back and let others do the work.”

Families can come and go for free, taking advantage of the space, food and technology that the church has on hand. After McCord set his sights on offering child care and learning support, the church received a grant through the Southern Baptist Convention to purchase some extra devices and upgrade its broadband service.

Conowingo Baptist could house as many as 50 students safely throughout the day. They can check in with temperature screenings and sanitation outside, and practice social distancing and wear masks indoors.

Since the space is free to families, the church doesn’t offer one-on-one virtual learning support and child care like Circle of Care and similar programs. Instead, parents can bring a group of students to use the facilities while they stay to supervise.

McCord hopes that the atmosphere can be social as well as productive.

“There is an option for parents that don’t have internet, or are struggling to have a place where their kids aren’t distracted by the TV,” he said. “We’ve got an area where they can come in, it’s a classroom-type setting, and the cool thing is they can bring their friends.”

As schools begin to welcome more students back, McCord hopes to secure a bus stop at the church, so that students can use the space for after care. Whether they studied or hung out would be up to them, McCord said — his priority is just offering a safe place to go after school.

A number of local principals have visited students at the church, which has received support from Lawson and other school administrators. After taking the summer to prepare, the church will do what it can to support students through whatever comes next.

“We were ready from day one to be here for any kids that needed it,” McCord said. “We’re going to do whatever it takes to ensure that they’re going to be successful, and that they have opportunities to continue to build and to grow this year, even when things are hard.”

‘Something really tremendous’

With three levels, Conowingo Baptist planned to have the Boys and Girls Clubs of Harford and Cecil Counties operate a paid child care program out of the church basement. However, they put the plan on hold after delays in bringing the church’s licensing up to code with the requirements for a licensed child care center.

With its own facilities in Harford, including in Bel Air and Havre de Grace, Boys and Girls Club has pursued an expansion into Cecil County. With a potential foothold pending at Conowingo Baptist, they plan to bring a ‘Club on the Go’ mobile program over in the meantime.

The key to the mobile program is a small fleet of minibuses, according to Executive Director Derek DeWitt.

“We’re just driving into neighborhoods, into areas where we know kids will congregate, and pulling up and offering meals — of course, getting permission forms filled out and returned to us by parents,” he said. “And we’re offering Boys and Girls Club programs in the after school hours right there on site.”

The meals are provided by the Maryland Food Bank and CCPS, and the entire Club on the Go program is supported through donations, so that there’s no cost to any local students who want to participate.

DeWitt said they’ve also discussed partnering with other groups to expand the program, potentially turning into a mobile health clinic.

“There’s just a ton of opportunity with it, and we can customize it for the needs of the community that we’re focusing on,” DeWitt said. “With the right partnerships, and the right support from our community, we can make something really tremendous.”

Boys and Girls Club is running traditional virtual learning support centers from its Harford County facilities. They hope to begin operating a paid child care center in Cecil County as early as the start of next year.

DeWitt said they are following safety guidelines, and that the hardest part is enforcing distancing. Kids are used to being able to play in close proximity or hug the Boys and Girls Club staff. Still, he said, they are committed to giving students a safe place to come together.

“We have always been the safe place for kids out of school,” he said. “In this turbulent environment we currently find ourselves in, to not only have survived, but to have enhanced what we do is a very significant point of pride for the organization.”

‘It’s overwhelming’

Boys and Girls Club isn’t the only organization to scale up operations amid the pandemic. Cecil County’s Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), an organization which pairs children in foster care with specially-trained volunteers, opened up a child care facility run out of Elkton’s Immaculate Conception Church.

Executive Director Giulia Hodge explained that a child care program fits in with CASA’s mission to support youth development in the county. She said it was great to see community organizations partnering together with that goal in mind.

“It’s new for everyone,” Hodge said. “We’re all doing this together throughout this pandemic, hoping to help these children learn because they’ve missed out on so much.”

The space has been outfitted with large, cafeteria-style tables and sneeze guards, and has a playground where students can take brain breaks. CASA ran a summer program from Immaculate Conception, which gave kids a place to gather and play during the day while parents worked. Hodge said it proceeded smoothly and safely.

CASA brought on two full-time staff to run the child care program this fall, including Jen Martin, a mom with experience providing virtual learning support. She said that creating a safe, social space for students to be together is a key part of supplementing schooling.

“They’re not seeing their classmates at all, and it can be pretty lonely to just sit there and listen to your teacher,” Martin said. “It’s hard to make those connections if you’re not even seeing the people in your class.”

With a capacity of anywhere from 20 to 40 students, the program is open to enrollment not just from CASA kids but any students who need a place for learning support. A rotating staff of CASA volunteers will provide additional on site support during the day.

In addition to creating a safe, social space for kids to be together and relieving parents of the stress of balancing work and virtual learning support, Hodge explained that CASA advocates value the chance to have regular check-ins with children who may face distress in their home and families.

“Schools are closed, and that’s where most of the referrals come in to social services,” she said. “We haven’t had eyes on the children for a while.”

Even with schools beginning to bring back more students, many kids require regular and dedicated one-on-one support. Being able to offer that in a safe, secure space is a priority for CASA.

“They’re just regressing back,” Hodge said. “Administrators, teachers, parents and children at all levels are struggling.”

While she applauded the district’s reopening strategy, CCPS Board Member Christie Stephens, who is herself a CASA advocate, is grateful for organizations like CASA which have helped those students who need additional support.

Stephens has volunteered to deliver meals throughout the county, and said she often drives away either crying or smiling from the impact of how important a volunteer’s care can be to kids who need it.

As a mom, the importance of these organizations which offer child care and virtual learning support is consistency, which helps their development as well as their parents’ peace of mind.

“Knowing what to expect, if they know what’s going to happen tomorrow and Tuesday and Wednesday — as an adult, that helps me feel more settled. As a kid, I can imagine it’s even more so,” she said. “Knowing that they have a place to go, that they’re going to have help if they need it — it’s overwhelming.”


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Elkton man indicted in methamphetamine, 'pot' case

ELKTON — A Cecil County grand jury has handed up an 11-count indictment against an Elkton-area man caught with nearly one pound a suspected methamphetamine and almost a half-pound of suspected marijuana during court-approved searches of his residence, vehicles and storage unit, according to Cecil County Circuit Court records.

Investigators identified the suspect as 31-year-old Alonzo M. Dennison, who, according to charging documents, already has two felony drug convictions on his criminal record. Those convictions stem from criminal cases in Pennsylvania, court records show.

Dennison was served a copy of the indictment on Thursday, a day after the grand jury indicted him, according to court records.

One of the indictment counts — proceeds from a drug offense — alleges that Dennison concealed the “source of proceeds of an offense involving (illegal drugs)” and that he engaged in “financial transactions involving proceeds, knowing that the proceeds were derived from (illegal drugs),” court records show.

“Through the course of the investigation leading to Dennison’s arrest, investigators learned that Dennison has provided materially false/fictitious information to multiple entities, including wage records reflecting gainful employment. Investigators are aware that Dennison also has provided numerous addresses in Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania to various banks and has significant ties outside of Maryland,” according to charging documents.

Maryland State Police detectives raided Dennison’s residence in the unit block of Thatch Court on Sept. 11, after developing him as a suspect during an investigation, and they arrested him on the same day, police reported. (Members of MSP’s Special Investigations Section had conducted the investigation that led to the court-approved searches and Dennison’s arrest, court records show.)

In addition to Dennison’s residence, investigators searched his 2015 Chevrolet Malibu, his 1994 Chevrolet Caprice, a storage unit and him, according to police.

Investigators confiscated slightly more than 409 grams of suspected methamphetamine, which had been parceled into two heat-sealed bags, after finding it inside the Caprice, police said. They also seized slightly more than 185 grams of suspected marijuana, also parceled into two heat-sealed bags, and after finding it inside Dennison’s home, police added.

(There are about 453 grams in one pound, approximately 226 grams in a half-pound and slightly more than 28 grams in one ounce. The 409 grams of suspected methamphetamine translate to about two ounces less than one pound, while the 185 grams of suspected marijuana equate to approximately two ounces less than a half-pound.)

“Investigators know that amount of methamphetamine/marijuana and the manner in which it was packaged is a clear intention to distribute (those illegal drugs),” court records allege.

In addition, investigators confiscated $2,303 in cash that they found inside the Malibu, police reported.

Charging documents also indicate the investigators seized “miscellaneous paperwork and electronic equipment,” too, after finding those items inside Dennison’s home and vehicles.

Five of the 11 charges in the indictment against Dennison are felonies, including possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and importing a controlled and dangerous substance (illegal drug) into the state, court records show.

Dennison remains in the Cecil County Detention Center without bond, which has been his status since investigators arrested him on district court charges on Sept. 11, roughly three weeks before the grand jury handed up the 11-count indictment against him in circuit court, according to court records.


Assorted bowls sit on a table at the Art Space on Main in Elkton in preparation for a past Empty Bowls event to raise money for Wayfarer’s House. This year’s event has been changed to a raffle of six pottery pieces.


A demonstrator bumped by a car trying to pass by as Cecil Solidarity members block the crosswalk.

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A piece of heavy equipment travels slowly along Telegraph Road near Rising Sun Tuesday morning with several commuters in the rear. Maryland agriculture officials say it’s harvest time and drivers need to be safe and patient.

Drivers urged to have patience, share roads with farm equipment