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Woman rescued from tree in Earleville after paraglider crash

EARLEVILLE— In an operation that lasted slightly more than six hours and involved approximately 100 first responders, a woman stranded upside down in a tree – an estimated 80 to 100 feet above ground – was rescued after the paraglider she had been operating crashed in Earleville on Wednesday night, according to Cecilton Volunteer Fire Company.

A Maryland State Police helicopter crew flew the 29-year-old Louisiana resident to the Bayview Burn Center near Baltimore, where she was treated for second-degree burns to her chest and arms, after she had been rescued at about 2:20 a.m. Thursday, reported CVFC Fire Chief Jason Reamy.

“For six hours, fuel from the paraglider was leaking onto her skin. She also was sore around her waist from hanging from the machine’s safety harness,” explained Reamy, who further reported that her burns and injuries are considered to be “non-life-threatening.”

As of Thursday, official information regarding the woman’s medical condition was unavailable.

The emergency dispatch for a “high angle rescue” came at 7:56 p.m. on Wednesday, sending dozens of first responders with numerous volunteer fire companies in Cecil County, Kent County and Delaware to the scene of the aircraft crash in the 700 block of Knight Island Road, along with several pieces of equipment, Reamy said.

Three “climbers” who are employed by area tree service companies also responded to the scene and, according to Reamy, they played a major role in the methodical, dangerous rescue of the woman.

“It was a tedious, time-consuming operation because she was so high up the tree, still harnessed upside down in the paraglider,” Reamy explained.

The crash occurred during the woman’s “first ever” flight in a paraglider, according to Reamy, who likened the single-person, recreational aircraft to a low-sitting “go-cart” that can fly.

Reamy said there is an airstrip off Knight Island Road, close to where the crash occurred. The Louisiana woman had been “visiting friends in the area” when she took her inaugural flight in the paraglider, he added.

The woman inexplicably lost control of the paraglider while flying above Knight Island Road and crashed into a grove of trees.

“The parachute got stuck in the top of the trees and the cart flipped over. She was secured in the cart with a four-point harness and she was trapped upside down in it,” Reamy outlined.

The trapped woman’s demeanor shifted widely several times during the six-plus-hour operation.

“There were periods where she was calm and quiet,” Reamy said, before commenting, “But she had her moments. There were times where she started freaking out, yelling, ‘Help me. Get me down’.”

Two tree service employees started climbing the tree at approximately 10:30 p.m. and, about 70 minutes later, after reaching the precarious spot where the recreational aircraft had come to rest, they secured the paraglider to an “anchor system” that was attached to the base of a nearby large tree to prevent the wrecked paraglider from falling, Reamy reported.

Meanwhile, a third tree service worker also climbed the tree, cutting branches during his ascent to clear a path for when the woman would be lowered to safety, Reamy said.

One of the two tree service workers who had climbed to the paraglider placed a harness around the trapped woman, as well, and “set up all the rigging” needed to remove her from the wreckage and lower her to safety.

“It took about an hour for him to get the harness on her because of the way she was positioned upside down,” Reamy noted.

After the paraglider and the woman had been secured – that part of the operation was completed at approximately 1:30 a.m. Thursday — emergency workers lowered her approximately 20 feet, where she was placed into the bucket of a Galena Volunteer Fire Company “tower truck” at about 2:20 a.m., some 40 minutes later, according to Reamy.

Paramedics on scene provided initial medical treatment, after the tower truck had lowered the woman to the ground, and then the MSP helicopter crew flew her to the burn hospital in Baltimore, he reported.

Reamy noted that two MSP helicopter crews had responded to the scene at different times.

Initially, there was a plan to hoist the woman up to the first responding helicopter, which had arrived at 9:05 p.m. Wednesday, while it hovered above the tree — but emergency workers later determined that such an operation would not be feasible, he explained. (That helicopter, known as Trooper 1, left the scene at 11:40 p.m. Wednesday.)

The second MSP helicopter (Trooper 6) crew “self-dispatched” to the scene at about 11:30 p.m. Wednesday, carrying a “GO Team,” which is comprised of trauma doctors and a support team that stabilizes patients at emergency scenes.

As it turned out, there was no need to stabilize the woman.

“When the bucket touched the ground, she actually got out of the bucket on her own and walked to the stretcher. That was an amazing sight to see,” Reamy marveled.

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'Last call' ceremony marks Elkton police chief's retirement

ELKTON — Chief Matthew Donnelly walked out of Elkton Police Department’s headquarters on Thursday afternoon and returned salutes to some nearby officers who, along with many others in that general area, were standing at attention as a bagpiper played in the background.

Then he walked briskly to an unmarked police car that was parked in front of the EPD station on Railroad Avenue.

After sliding into the driver’s seat and raising an emergency radio to his lips, Donnelly uttered “10-42,” which is a code that law enforcement officers give at the end of their shifts to let dispatchers know that they are no longer on patrol, no longer in service.

It marked the last 10-42 for Donnelly, who worked his final shift on Thursday and is now retired after serving nearly 31 years on the EPD force.

Donnelly, 54, joined the agency as a cadet in October 1989 and then worked his way up in rank during the next three decades. For the last seven years of his career, Donnelly served as EPD chief and, in that role, he was in charge of an agency that has 45 sworn officers, nine civilian staff members and an annual budget of approximately $6 million.

Members of other law enforcement agencies in Cecil County also turned out for the last-call ceremony. In addition, members of the Cecil County Department of Emergency Services and the Cecil County State’s Attorney’s Office, as well as Town of Elkton leaders and employees, were in attendance.

After the ceremony, Donnelly walked through the parking and shook hands and, or, hugged all of his well-wishers, before circling back to a spot near one of the front doors to EPD’s station. Once there, Donnelly hugged his wife, Karen, and their two daughters, Kristen, 25; and Kaitlyn, 21.

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Cecil County private schools welcome students back to campus

As Cecil County Public Schools move ahead with virtual learning for all but those students most in need of face-to-face instruction, many families want their children back in the classroom sooner. With smaller class sizes, larger campuses and safety guidelines in place, local private schools will welcome students back for in-person instruction as the school year gets underway.

Tri-State Christian Academy Finance Director Nicole Kellum said they are seeking a balanced approach that will let each family decide what is best.

“We view this as an opportunity. In any problem, you can see the problem, or you can see the opportunity in the problem,” she said. “Our number one priority is keeping our kids and our staff safe, and whatever we have to do to keep them safe, we’re going to do.”

Students at Tri-State will be welcomed back on campus, but can choose to stay remote for the time being and return when they feel ready. Tri-State surveyed families earlier this summer and found that 70 percent wanted to return in-person. About 15 percent of students opted for remote learning for the time being, according to Kellum.

She said that they’ve seen increased enrollment, particularly from elementary schoolers, because many parents feel that children that age struggle with virtual learning. Families, she added, have largely been supportive of their reopening strategy.

“We do have people on both sides of the fence, but very few are on the side of the fence where they’re really fearful about returning,” Kellum said. “Most of our families are ready for this to blow over.”

The school has taken a number of precautions to ensure the safety of students returning to campus. Students will be required to wear face masks indoors and pass temperature checks each morning. Classes will stay separate, with preschool and elementary students using a different entrance than middle and high school students. They have also installed contactless water fountains and upgraded the school’s air filtration system.

Small class sizes mean overcrowding won’t be an issue. Many teachers’ desks will be outfitted with plexiglass protection shields. Teachers have also been preparing to use Google Classroom to keep in-person and remote students in sync.

“The teachers are great sports about it, and they are 100 percent on board. They’re excited. They are constantly thinking of ways they can keep their students safe,” she said. “We’re all trying to pull together.”

Tome teachers miss students

Teachers at Tome School in North East held an “Ed-Camp” to share what they have learned from professional development workshops and have also been training to use Google Classroom. In an email to The Whig, Head of School Christine Szymanski wrote that teachers and staff are feeling nervous, but miss their students and look forward to seeing them again.

“Our mission at Tome is to invest in the intellectual and personal promise of each child,” Szymanski wrote. “This year, meeting that mission starts with providing a safe learning environment for each child—whether that be a physically safe building or an emotionally safe remote learning experience.”

According to Szymanski, about 80 percent of students will be returning to campus, with the others attending virtually. She added that Tome’s admissions office has also seen an uptick in applications.

West Nottingham students return to campus

Most students returned to campus at West Nottingham Academy, a boarding school in Colora, though some are starting the year remotely. Lauren Grow, West Nottingham’s director of marketing and communications, said that students and even some parents were tested as they arrived on campus. According to Grow, the results of their testing process showed no cases of the virus among staff and students.

Despite the circumstances, she added, there was still a spirit of fun during orientation.

“Students are extremely excited to be here on campus,” Grow said. “It’s going to be different than last year, but we’re going to make it work and we’re still going to make it an incredible year for students.”

Many changes to student life will be familiar. Students will wear face masks and follow social distancing guidelines. They will have their own rooms, rather than sharing with roommates. Students will have meals delivered to their dorms until it is safe to congregate in the dining hall. Cleaning supplies will be widely accessible, and sanitation will occur often and thoroughly.

As a boarding school, classes and student life can proceed with some normalcy after an initial period of getting settled. The classrooms are outfitted with cameras and microphones so that students can access lessons remotely.

Grow added that staff will be on duty to do wellness checks and support students emotionally. Keeping student health and wellness is the highest priority at any time, Grow said, and only more so as the virus continues to affect students and families.

While there’s no way to eliminate risk entirely, Grow said, teachers and staff have worked hard to let students return to campus safely.

“Education right now in the United States is completely in flux, and West Nottingham Academy is definitely here to provide a safe place for students to learn,” she said. “We’re one of the only schools in Maryland open right now, and I think that’s something to be proud of.”

Miss Cecil County Farm Bureau Brynn Lasala, center, competed for the Miss Maryland Agriculture title last night at the Maryland State Fair. Thanks to COVID-19 the fair is closed to the public but the competition will be available to watch live online. On each side of Lasala is Jr. Miss Cecil County Kaylin Stafford and Jr. Miss runner-up Reed Mason.

Brynn Lasala competed in Miss Maryland Agriculture at Maryland State Fair

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Woman gets 15 years in 'needle' assault on Cecil County deputies

ELKTON — A woman received a 15-year prison term on Wednesday for puncturing four Cecil County Sheriff’s Office deputies with a hypodermic needle during a struggle inside an agency holding cell in April 2019 — sending all of them to the hospital.

Cecil County Circuit Court Administrative Judge Keith A. Baynes imposed a 15-year sentence on the defendant, Alaina Jean Marie Robbins, 31, and three mirroring sentences, running them concurrently, for four first-degree assault convictions.

A jury convicted Robbins of those assault charges and 19 related offenses in January, after deliberating approximately 30 minutes at the conclusion of a two-day trial.

Some of Robbins’ convictions are connected to her pointing a shotgun at motorists on a busy Elkton-area road and brandishing a knife when law enforcement officers tried to arrest her. That incident put Robbins in police custody and led to her stripping naked, arming herself with a needle that she had hidden on her person and thrashing in the holding cell at CCSO’s headquarters later on April 16, 2019.

(During Wednesday’s hearing, the judge also imposed three concurrent 10-year sentences on Robbins for related second-degree assault convictions. Robbins’ remaining lesser-charge convictions merged.)

Robbins will serve her 15-year term in a Maryland Department of Corrections prison.

Undisputed trial testimony indicated that Robbins repeatedly announced that she had HIV and Hepatitis C “while swinging the syringe and stabbing (the four deputies) with it.”

Before imposing the sentences, the judge alluded to Robbins’ repeated statement during the incident in which she stabbed the deputies with the needle.

“You caused anguish, fear and concern,” Baynes said, explaining that the deputies who had been punctured by Robbins’ needle worried, along with their family members, if they would be infected.

Because first-degree assault is classified as a violent crime, Robbins, under Maryland law, must serve half of her 15-year sentence before she would be eligible for her first parole hearing. The judge gave Robbins credit for the 499 days that she had served in jail after her April 16, 2019 arrest.

Baynes did not order Robbins to serve probation after she is released from prison, noting that Robbins has a criminal record and that she did not do well during her past probations.

Cecil County State’s Attorney James Dellmyer sought 25 years of active incarceration for Robbins, citing the “egregious nature of the crime.” Dellmyer specifically recommended a 25-year sentence and a suspended, consecutive 25-year sentence.

State sentencing guidelines, which are based on a defendant’s criminal record and other factors, set a penalty range of 12 to 20 years of active incarceration for Robbins for each first-degree assault conviction, Dellmyer said in court. Counting all of her convictions, the guidelines set a penalty range of 12 to 195 years of active incarceration, he added.

Robbins’ lawyer, Ellis Rollins III, argued that Robbins would best benefit from substance abuse and mental health counseling and treatment, not incarceration, while making his sentence recommendation.

Making her allocution moments before sentencing, Robbins told the judge, “I take full responsibility for the road I have allowed myself to go down.”

Robbins then told Baynes that she spirals into a “state of panic” whenever she is restrained, after maintaining, “I’ve been traumatized, broken and abused my whole life. It is impossible for me to trust anyone.”

Trial recap

At trial, Rollins presented a “mistake of fact” defense in which they maintained that Robbins — identified as a rape victim in a 2017 incident — believed that she was fighting for her life while interacting with those deputies because she was having a flashback relating to that sexual assault.

Robbins did not believe that the deputies were law enforcement officers; but, instead, she perceived them as civilian men who were going to take her hostage and rape her, according to Rollins’ trial arguments.

Dellmyer had countered that Robbins’ actions were incongruent with someone who purportedly was concerned about an imminent rape, noting, for example, that Robbins — on her own volition — took off all her clothes in the holding cell.

“She’s worried that she was going to be raped, but . . . she strips naked in the cell?” Dellmyer reviewed during his closing argument in January.

He also emphasized that the deputies were in uniform; that they showed Robbins their badges every time she asked to see them and that the deputies drove, exited and entered marked CCSO patrol cars — a dozen of them were at the first scene at one point, with flashing emergency lights and blaring sirens.

The deputies also tried to calm down Robbins on a few occasions at CCSO’s headquarters and offered to take her to the hospital.

Dellmyer also asserted at trial that Robbins’ “prior victim” status could not be used to “justify her actions years later.”

He maintained that Robbins’ criminal actions on April 16, 2019 could be linked, instead, to her “anger” and the fact that she was “under the influence of” heroin, to which Robbins had testified.

Trial testimony showed that deputies placed Robbins into the holding cell, after her arrest, and relied on a surveillance camera to monitor Robbins remotely — while waiting for a female deputy to arrive and conduct a strip-search on her.

When Robbins’ actions inside that holding cell raised concerns about her possibly doing harm to herself, however, deputies entered the holding cell with the intention of transporting Robbins to a hospital, according to trial testimony.

The initial incident

The incident leading to Robbins’ arrest occurred at about 3 p.m. April 16, 2019 in the 2900 block of Old Elk Neck Road — the same block on which she lives, according to court records.

While walking along that road, Robbins was holding a long gun, which she waved and pointed at vehicles — halting traffic in both directions, prosecutors reported.

Robbins testified that she had found the long gun lying on a couch inside her residence. Believing that someone was trying to shoot her, Robbins grabbed the gun, cleared it of ammunition to be safe, walked out of her residence and then headed down Old Elk Neck Road while holding the weapon, according to her testimony.

Two Cecil County Public Schools buses, carrying secondary school students, were among the vehicles affected by Robbins, armed with a shotgun, in the road, prosecutors said. Robbins did not point the shotgun at the buses, prosecutors added.

Two off-duty CCSO deputies, who had been traveling together in the same patrol vehicle, happened upon the scene and found themselves in the traffic backup, according to court records, which indicate that they jumped into action, identified themselves as police officers, drew their weapons and ordered Robbins to drop her weapon — but she did not comply.

As the deputies continued walking toward Robbins, with their guns still drawn, she got on her knees and then dropped the shotgun, prosecutors said. However, prosecutors added, Robbins then grabbed a folding knife in the open position.

After the deputies gave several orders for Robbins to drop the knife, she obeyed, according to police officials, who further reported that Robbins struggled with the deputies as they arrested her.

The deputies confiscated the knife and shotgun, which was unloaded, and they determined that Robbins had pointed the gun at several motorists, court records show.

Later that afternoon, while deputies were booking Robbins at CCSO headquarters, she remained combative as they placed her in a holding cell — where she then took off her clothes and removed a hypodermic needle that she had hidden, according to court records.

A struggle followed, as deputies tried to take the needle away from Robbins for her protection, as well as for their safety, and to calm her down, court records show. That’s when Robbins punctured the four deputies with the needle.

After subduing Robbins, the deputies went to Union Hospital in Elkton — and so did Robbins, police reported.

Cecil Bank plans to close its Crossroads Elkton and Cecilton branches in Cecil County at the end of the year. The Havre de Grace branch will also close. Meanwhile, this branch at Fair Hill will be expanded, with construction expected to be finished around the same time.

Cecil Bank to close three branches

Train Burning at Magnolia Station from Leslies Illustrated Newspaper 1864.

Train Burning at Magnolia Station