Sunday, December 4, 2011

Victim in McKean County fatal accident was en route to cancer charity event

With tin can in hand, Maria DiCamillo nervously joined other Penn State students at a street-corner post at 8 a.m. EST on Saturday in Bethlehem Township. She hoped the autumn sun would keep her warm and that motorists would see past Jerry Sandusky's long shadow to fill students' cans with money that would be used to battle childhood cancer.
"I was a little nervous," said DiCamillo, 18, on Linden Street, near the Walmart and Kmart shopping centers. "I didn't know what to expect, especially with the whole scandal."
The Penn State freshman from Connecticut and her fellow students discovered they should not be afraid or ashamed to show their Nittany Lion pride in the Lehigh Valley.
Motorists opened their wallets and hearts to the Penn Staters who participated in the first Thon drive since Sandusky was charged Nov. 5 with sexually assaulting eight boys, some from the Second Mile charity he founded for at-risk youth, during a 15-year period.
Founded in 1973 at Penn State, Thon serves as the umbrella organization for multiple student groups that fan out across Pennsylvania and elsewhere in the Northeast for "canning" drives four times a year. Students' efforts have raised more than $78 million in the last 33 years for cancer patients at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital, according to Thon's website, including $9.3 million last year.
Students who solicited donations at various Valley locations said they were warned in emails by their individual student groups or Thon representatives to be ready for possible verbal attacks in the wake of the sex scandal.
The scandal also led to criminal charges against two Penn State administrators accused of lying to a state grand jury and failing to report a 2002 incident in which Sandusky allegedly raped a boy in the Penn State locker room showers. In the aftermath, the university's board of trustees fired legendary football coach Joe Paterno and accepted the resignation of university President Graham Spanier, neither of whom was charged in the case.
"We were told if someone brings that up and gave us crap about it, we were just to walk away," Dean Tursi, 22, a senior from Delaware County, said at Northampton Crossings shopping center on Route 248. "But no one's been rude. It's been really nice."
After handing students a donation while waiting at a red light, Bethlehem resident Gerry Banas said the sex scandal should not interfere with the Thon drive.
"It's a great school," he said.
But the sex scandal was on some motorists' minds.
Brian Harrell, 19, of Harrisburg said drivers passing him on Linden Street, near Liberty High School, asked how students were coping with the situation and media swarm that invaded Happy Valley last month.
"They want to get a student's perspective from someone who lives there," Harrell said. "I just think Penn State needs to move forward with everything."
Senior Joe Nagy, 21, of Bethlehem said the actions of a few should not tarnish the reputation of an entire university.
"We are a student organization," he said. "We had nothing to do with that."
More than 15,000 Penn State students took part in canning events this weekend, including one that ended tragically. Students learned Saturday that an 18-year-old freshman from Huntington, N.Y., was killed and four others were injured, none seriously, in a car crash in McKean County while heading to a canning drive in Buffalo, N.Y., according to state police and a news release issued by Penn State's public affairs office.
Courtney O'Bryan, a passenger, died when the car skidded on ice and flipped over Friday night, according to the news release and published reports.The driver and injured students were taken to various hospitals.
"We are all tremendously saddened to learn of the death of a student and deeply concerned for those who knew Courtney," Joe Puzycki, assistant vice president for student affairs, said in the news release. "We're urging students to take the utmost caution in their travels for any purpose."
Anthony Demchak learned his safety lesson early Saturday when a Whitehall Township police officer ordered him out of the middle of MacArthur Road. Once safely on the sidewalk, Demchak had room to dance for donations.
"It's been a normal canning day for us," said Demchak, a 21-year-old senior from Reno, Nev. "If you're just standing around, people won't give. I just try to be energetic, and it also makes the time go by."
Then a driver honked at another motorist for not moving swiftly enough on green, and Demchak took that sound as an invitation to show his Nittany pride.
"Yeah," he yelled with a fist in the air. "Fight cancer."

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