Phillip Donald Walters, 33, the man found guilty by jury in October of murdering his girlfriend, Haley Lorenzen, in his Mill City home nearly two years ago and then dumping her body in the Susquehanna River at Falls will be spending life in prison without parole.
That was the decision of senior judge Dudley Anderson Thursday morning, after listening to family members of both the victim and defendant, who gave statements virtually by Zoom in a live hearing in the Wyoming County Courthouse in Tunkhannock.
“You’re not an animal,” Lorenzen’s mother Deanna Hills, said by Zoom to Walters before the judge’s decision. “Animals don’t kill. You’re a self-absorbed manipulative monster who enjoys taking advantage of women you can control.”
She traced the three trips she had taken from Oregon, where Lorenzen grew up, to Pennsylvania to find her daughter and said, “Each time I was out there a piece of me died. For seven months we wanted to know where she was, while you were banking on the fact that she would never be found.”
She added, “Well, Haley came back with a vengeance even with rocks tied to her hands.”
Hills said that after Lorenzen was discovered 22 miles downstream from where she was deposited in the river, “We saw our beautiful daughter pulled from a refrigerator. She was so beautiful and now she’s gone. You disrespected her.”
Lorenzen’s dad, Ralph Lorenzen, simply read a letter written by his daughter on Dec. 25, 2018, less than a week before she met her death.
She had articulated how torn she felt about being away from her dad, and her last words were “Thank you for letting me go.”
Walters, the man she had spent time with in his Mill City apartment, was allowed to make a statement before the victim’s family aired their concerns.
Although Walters did not testify at his trial, he proclaimed his innocence Thursday.
He said he was married three times and was never violent with any of his wives.
He also talked a little about his service time in the Air Force. “I gave my life and body for this country. I pray someday that the truth will come out.”
Walters’ mother, Venus Walters, gave a statement, saying that Phillip was her first-born child and was never a problem. She noted he graduated third in his class and upon graduation went into the Air Force, and he loved serving his country. She also noted he had a 13-year-old son who loved him very much.
His mom also noted, “I have never seen anything in his demeanor that would lend a hand to some of these accusations.”
Additional comments came from Lorenzen’s sister Sarah Hills, who accused Walters of ruining their family’s lives.
Haley’s aunt Tracy Dominguez questioned Walters’ statements given earlier in the sentencing hearing.
“Not once did you say, I loved her,” Dominguez said. “You are truly a sick man who murdered her while your son slept nearby. Who the heck would do that?
Another aunt, Celia Shaffer, said she felt sorry for Walters’ parents. “You could have sent Hailey home, but no, you chose to kill her.”
Detective David Ide read a statement from Haley’s brother Evan Lorenzen, who had recalled some good times, but was torn by this moment.
“If you had a little sister, maybe you would care,” Evan said. “I would do anything to get her back, but you threw her away, like garbage. You’re a monster. You don’t care about anyone but yourself.”
Judge Anderson’s sentence was on four counts.
Life without parole was for first degree murder.
For the second count, murder in the third degree, the judge said the time was merged within the first count.
For the third count of strangulation, the judge sentenced Walters to 1-5 years in prison concurrent with Count 1.
For the fourth count abuse of a corpse, Judge Anderson sentenced Walters to 1-23 months, consecutive to Count 1.
District attorney Jeff Mitchell said, “Our quest for justice has finally reached its end, but it’s not what Haley deserved.”
Calling what Walters did as senseless and pathetic, Mitchell said, “The crime left her family devastated.”
He thanked Gabel Bell for coming forward as she had helped the prosecution in building its case, by her eyewitness accounts. He noted she had composure and was strong in expressing her feelings.
Mitchell said said he also admired the family’s strength and resilience, and also thanked all of those from Falls, Wyoming County, and throughout this part of Pennsylvania “who came together to work for her justice.”
Nimble Hill Winery and Brewery, east of Tunkhannock, had been offering curbside or takeout only service for weeks now, thanks to the pandemic.
But an SUV driver heading east on Route 6 crashed into the store last Wednesday (Dec. 9) around 8 a.m. in the snow to put an end to that as well.
Owner Gary Toczko said he couldn’t believe a phone call about the accident, but after reviewing surveillance tapes realized they visually confirmed the bad news.
Eric Kreglewicz, 49, of Tunkhannock, admitted falling asleep at the wheel, according to Tunkhannock Township Police Cpl. John B. Zdaniewicz.
He has been charged with careless driving, roads laned for traffic and driving at safe speed, all summary offenses that will be filed in Magistrate David Plummer’s office.
Toczko noted it was a miracle the accident didn’t happen a couple of hours later because that would have been awful. Despite the substantial damage to a wall and taking out the store’s Christmas tree, the irony Toczko said, was not a drop of the store’s wines was spilled.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health’s temporary drive-thru COVID-19 testing center closed on Monday. The center, which was headquartered at the Wyoming County Emergency Operations Center, provided free COVID-19 tests to anyone who felt like they needed one.
Wyoming County EMA Director Gene Dziak said that there were no problems over the course of the five days the center was open, and that everyone who wanted a test was able to get one.
“Everyone that I talked to that came through was satisfied with how it was running,” Dziak said. “People called the Commissioners and I and said that it was a good thing we were able to bring one of these testing sites to Wyoming County.
A total of 1,003 COVID-19 tests were performed over the course of the five days: 160 on Thursday; 285 on Friday; 178 on Saturday; 256 on Sunday; and 124 on Monday.
Dziak said that although most of the tests were performed on residents of the area, he also saw some out-of-state license plates from New York, New Jersey, and even Virginia who showed up to get tested.
One of the people who showed up to get tested was Wyoming County Commissioner Tom Henry, who was the 140th test of the day on Thursday at around 2 p.m. He said that even though he was feeling fine and showing no symptoms, he wanted the public to have confidence in the testing system.
“We all want this pandemic to end,” Henry said. “These tests are 100 percent safe, and the people from the DOH do a great job of running these testing sites.”
One of the first people to show up to get tested on Thursday was Mary Gabriel. She is a nurses aide who tested positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 6. She was getting tested again to see if she was still positive for the virus.
Gabriel said that the test was done in a “fast, painless and professional manner.” She received her negative test result by email three days after the test was completed.
Dziak and Henry both also said that the same style of the drive-thru testing site could be used when a COVID-19 vaccine is readily available for distribution to the local public.
“The vaccine is going to be here soon enough,” Henry said. “We think that this drive-thru style way of distribution could be the easiest way to make sure that everyone is vaccinated when the time comes.”
This is possibly not the last time that a COVID-19 mass testing site will be coming to Wyoming County. Dziak said there will be a testing site again in the future, but the timetable for when is currently unknown.
“The DOH is currently traveling all around Northeast Pennsylvania setting up these testing centers in other counties as well,” Dziak said. “They will be stopping here again, but it won’t be for many weeks yet.”
If anyone feels they are in need of a COVID-19 test, they can get tested at CVS Pharmacy. You must register online at www.cvs.com. Tyler Memorial Hospital is also giving tests, but the patient must have a doctor’s order to receive a test.
A 25-year-old Montrose man is headed to state prison to serve a 14-60 month sentence for a theft occurring in the summer of 2018.
According to court records, on the morning of July 20, John Robert Walsh had been sleeping at a cell tower site in Windham Township in a Chevrolet Cavalier that wasn’t his. After a little investigation, state police determined that a vehicle identification number had been altered on the vehicle he was occupying.
Although the VIN number below the windshield had been destroyed, the police were able to retrieve the number inside the door and traced the vehicle’s ownership to a Susquehanna County resident.
Walsh appeared virtually on Wednesday before Judge Russell Shurtleff, who said the theft had been committed while Walsh was on probation for another crime, and he had an extensive prior criminal record.
Other sentences handed down Wednesday in the Wyoming County Court of Common Pleas:
Connie Wiser, owner of T&C Grille/Bakery 420 in Tunkhannock had a feeling that more restrictions were coming, so she came up with a plan ahead of time, but it still doesn’t ease the pain of having to essentially close down your business.
That’s what Wiser and all restaurant owners across the state are going through when Governor Tom Wolf announced on Thursday that indoor dining would be suspended across the state through Jan. 4.
Wiser said that T&C Grille will be operating in a takeout only capacity for breakfast, lunch and dinner from Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m-7 p.m., but takeout isn’t enough to keep the business fully operational, so she had to lay off her servers and dishwashers.
“It breaks my heart to have to do this right before the holidays.” Wiser said. “Tips are a big part of how servers pay their bills, and that’s a source of income that has been lost for them. A lot of people are sick having to do this close to Christmas.”
Although T&C Grille had pivoted to takeout only during the spring shutdown, some restaurants like the Yearbook Diner are trying it out for the first time after losing three months of revenue during the spring shutdown. Even doing takeout, the popular breakfast spot is still projected to lose over 60 percent of its revenue the next three weeks, according to Yearbook Diner manager Mellissa Frantz.
“The diner is going to lose the revenue from Christmas parties that we normally have, as well as just the morning breakfast rush,” Frantz said. “A lot of our customers are also elderly, and with the recent rise in cases, they’re not coming out as much.”
Frantz said on Monday that they are going to do takeout during their normal hours from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. to see if it attracts business, and to have a plan in case the current shutdown on indoor dining is extended past Jan. 4.
On Tuesday morning, a waitress noted, however, that the Yearbook Diner would be closed until Jan. 5.
The Fireplace Restaurant on Route 6 is another eatery that is doing its best to supply takeout only meals to its customers. Owner Daniel Yale thinks this latest round of restrictions “is unfair to the restaurant industry, and that restaurants have been following the safety guidelines to a tee.”
“If you look at all the big-box stores like Walmart, they’re all full right now,” Yale added. “The restaurant has been following all of the sanitation guidelines that were provided to us. In my opinion it is just unfair that we’re the ones getting singled out the most.”
Yale said that although COVID-19 is a deadly disease that everyone should take seriously, he believes that the restaurant industry has become the state’s scapegoat for spreading COVID-19, giving people the wrong impressions.
“You have a choice of going into a restaurant, there is no one forcing you to go to one,” Yale said. “I think the people should at least be able to make that decision for themselves. The guidelines also should be different for different places, as the spread is not as rampant in Wyoming County as it is in a place like Philadelphia. The state doesn’t consider these things before just sending out orders that affect people’s lives like this.”
Wiser echoed the statement about the guidelines going after some industries like restaurants harder than others.
“It’s upsetting, I don’t want to see anything get shut down, but it’s almost like restaurants were singled out in these restrictions,” Wiser said. “I don’t understand why certain businesses were shut down, and others were allowed to stay open.”
One thing all the restaurants agreed upon is that the support from the community has so far been overwhelming and a saving grace in these tough times.
“We live in a great area where people look out for each other,” Wiser said. “Even before COVID when someone needed something or was having a tough time, the community was always there to help, and I see nothing changing this time.”
To help out local restaurants, the Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce is encouraging residents to buy gift cards to all area restaurants for family and friends as Christmas presents.
The Chamber is also sponsoring a #takeout2020 contest where residents can order take out, post a picture of their meal, and tag the Chamber on Facebook to show support for restaurants. Winners of the contest can win up to $100 in gift cards to any restaurant of their choice.
Wyoming County Commissioners, at a virtual meeting on Thursday morning, unveiled the 2021 county budget which is now available for review on the county’s website, www.wycopa.org.
The preliminary budget shows no tax increase. No cuts have been made to any services, and the county did not have to borrow any money to balance the budget.
Commissioner Rick Wilbur said that the budget was able to be finalized after a meeting with the tax collector’s association, which found nothing wrong with the budget and agreed to no increase in commission.
“The commissioners are very proud of the work that was put into this,” Wilbur said. “And we think that the residents of the county are going to be very happy, too.”
On Thursday, Commissioner Tom Henry also reviewed the state of the county’s mental health during these challenging times with a recent rise in COVID-19 cases, and a drive-thru testing center opening for the next five days
Henry said that between July 1 and Nov. 30, there were 42 suicide attempts in Wyoming County with two fatalities. The ages of the attempts ranged from 11 to 84. He also said that there were 27 drug overdoses in the county during the same time period, with heroin and fentanyl accounting for almost all of the overdoses.
“Everyone needs to look out for other people,” Henry said. “COVID-19 is a horrible thing, but it’s not the only thing right now. These numbers break your heart, and we need to make sure that every one of our family members and friends is getting the love and support they deserve.”
The commissioners approved and signed a letter of support for the expansion of Endless Mountains Extended Care in Clinton Township, the facility helps people who have recovered from drug problems and alcoholism get back on their feet with a combination of behavioral therapy, team building and life skills, and also helps the recoveries find employment. Henry said that they are looking to hire more doctors and therapists, and that the county is 100 percent supportive of the expansion.
Commissioners approved the request to hire Catherine Lobuono as a part-time correctional officer at the Wyoming County Jail. They also approved the retirement of Laurie Pedley from the Wyoming County Planning Commission office.
Commissioner Ernie King announced that Jenna Morningstar, a student at Wyalusing Valley Elementary School, was the winner of the anti-drug poster campaign. She will receive a prize of $100, and have her artwork displayed at the Wyoming County Courthouse.
Before the meeting, Tunkhannock Mayor Stacy Huber presented a proclamation to Linda Stacknick for her continued work and support of the Tunkhannock Flag Association. Huber and County Detective David Ide, who serves as chairman of the Tunkhannock Flag Association, presented her a flag case for her years of service to the organization and generosity of spirit.
The commissioners next meeting will be Tuesday, Dec. 22, at 9 a.m.