Prisoner escape, I-95 collapse, dime heist: 6abc's top Philadelphia news stories of 2023

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Thursday, December 28, 2023
6abc's top Philadelphia news stories of 2023
As 2023 comes to an end, 6abc is taking a look back at some of the Philadelphia area's top news stories from the year.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- As 2023 comes to an end, 6abc is taking a look back at some of the Philadelphia area's top news stories from the year.

I-95 collapse

An elevated section of Interstate 95 collapsed early Sunday in Philadelphia after a tanker truck carrying flammable cargo caught fire.

On June 11, a portion of Interstate 95 in Philadelphia collapsed after a tanker truck fire underneath the highway near the Cottman Avenue exit in the Tacony section of the city.

The truck, which was carrying 8,500 gallons of 87-octane fuel, caught fire after the driver, Nathaniel Moody, lost control and crashed. Moody died in the wreck.

Nathaniel Moody
Nathaniel Moody

The incident not only impacted drivers locally but put a major kink in the supply chain along the heavily traveled stretch of the East Coast's main north-south highway that carries about 160,000 vehicles a day.

Crews worked day and night to repair and reopen temporary lanes in less than two weeks, which was live-streamed online by PennDOT.

On November 7, PennDOT opened permanent northbound lanes of the interstate, marking a major milestone nearly five months after the collapse.

The project, including the permanent southbound lanes, is expected to be completed sometime in 2024.

Escaped prisoner Danelo Cavalcante

Timeline: The manhunt and capture of escaped Pa. prisoner

Convicted killer Danelo Cavalcante had the greater Philadelphia on its heels after the 34-year-old from Brazil escaped from Chester County Prison, on August 31.

Cavalcante was caught on video climbing out of the facility using a similar technique as another detainee who escaped months earlier.

Stunning video shows how convicted murderer Danelo Cavalcante escaped Chester County Prison

He escaped not long after being given a life sentence for the brutal 2021 murder of his ex-girlfriend, Deborah Brandao.

The tense two-week manhunt came to an end on September 14. During his time on the run, Cavalcante was able to evade capture - even break out of the search perimeter -- despite being spotted several times. He was also able to steal several items, including a dairy truck and a rifle, and at one point even changed his appearance.

ALSO SEE: Timeline and Interactive Map: The hunt for escaped murderer Danelo Cavalcante

In the end, authorities were able to capture the escaped prisoner by using thermal technology to pinpoint his location.

"They had the element of surprise. Cavalcante did not realize he was surrounded," Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Biven said.

A Customs and Border Control K-9 named "Yoda" was also critical in the capture.

Photos of Cavalcante's capture showed him bloodied while wearing a gray Philadelphia Eagles hoodie as his was taken into custody.

Cavalcante has since been charged with 20 counts in connection to crimes he is accused of committing while on the run. He is now being held in a maximum security prison.

Kingsessing mass shooting

In his first court hearing on Wednesday morning, 40-year-old Kimbrady Carriker was charged with 11 total offenses and several counts of each.

Four people were killed in a mass shooting on July 3 in Philadelphia's Kingsessing section. The alleged gunman also killed a fifth person the night before his rampage, according to police.

Kimbrady Carriker, 40, is charged in the shooting deaths of 31-year-old Jospeh Wamah, Jr.; 29-year-old Dymir Stanton; 59-year-old Ralph Moralis; 15-year-old Dejaun Brown; and 22-year-old Lashyd Merritt.

They came in grief to Salt and Light Church, in support of each other, celebrating the lives of five people killed in the mass shooting in Kingsessing.

On July 3, Carriker allegedly opened fire through the front door of 1625 South 56th Street, killing Wamah. Despite calls to 911, police responded to the wrong location and did not find the scene. Police later acknowledged the error after many were left wondering if the mass shooting could have been avoided.

Then, the next day - nearly 44 hours later - Carriker went on a shooting rampage in the southwestern part of the city, killing the four other victims.

A 33-year-old woman, both of her 2-year-old twins, a 13-year-old and a 10-year-old boy were also wounded in the shooting.

Carriker is also facing charges of attempted murder, reckless endangerment, aggravated assault and carrying a firearm without a valid permit.

Philadelphia police officer killed at PHL parking garage

Officers shot in Philadelphia International Airport parking garage identified; 1 killed

Philadelphia Police Officer Richard Mendez, 50, was killed and another officer was injured in the line of duty on October 12 after they were shot while responding to several people breaking into a vehicle in a parking garage at the Philadelphia International Airport.

The other officer was identified as 60-year-old Raul Ortiz. He has since been released from the hospital and is recovering.

Philadelphia officer injured in fatal police shooting released from hospital

Mendez was married and had a daughter. He had been on the force for nearly 22 years.

The shooting happened just after 11 p.m. as the two officers, who were assigned to the airport unit, were coming into work at parking garage D.

As the officers approached, "the suspects opened fire," hitting Mendez several times in the upper body and Ortiz in the arm, according to officials.

Police say the suspects fled in a stolen black Dodge Durango. That same vehicle was seen on video dropped off an 18-year-old man with gunshot wounds at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia nearly a half hour later.

This raw surveillance video shows suspects being sought in killing of a Philadelphia police officer.

That person, who was later identified as Jesus Herman Madera-Duran of Camden, New Jersey, died at the hospital.

Police say the Durango was later found torched in South Brunswick in northern New Jersey the next morning.

Three people have since been arrested and are facing charges in Officer Mendez's murder. Alexander Batista-Polanco, 21, of Camden, New Jersey, and Hendrick Pena-Fernandez, 21, of Pennsauken, New Jersey, and 18-year-old Yobranny Martinez Fernandez of Camden County, New Jersey. Duran is believed to be the fourth person involved.

Police credit cell phone data with helping them track down the suspects.

Their next court date is set for January 10.

Temple police officer killed

New details were released Tuesday in the killing of a Temple University police officer on Saturday night in North Philadelphia.

Temple University Police Officer Christopher Fitzgerald was shot and killed in the line of duty on February 18 in North Philadelphia.

Ofc. Christopher Fitzgerald
Temple University

Fitzgerald was shot four times by 18-year-old Miles Pfeffer after the officer tried to make contact with three males he noticed were wearing masks and dressed in all black in an area where there had recently been a series of carjackings and robberies.

While trying to make contact, the three people took off running and Fitzgerald followed. The two others, who are now known to be a 16-year-old male and a 17-year-old male, hid.

Fitzgerald continued to chase after Pfeffer into the 1700 block of Montgomery when a struggle ensued. Pfeffer then pulled out a handgun and shot Fitzgerald, shooting the officer three more times while he was on the ground, according to police.

After shooting Fitzgerald, Pfeffer allegedly tried to remove the officer's gun but was unsuccessful. He then ran to the 1800 block of Montgomery, where he carjacked a driver.

Pfeffer's mother then allegedly picked him up not far from where the carjacked vehicle was abandoned.

The two other teens, one of which is Pfeffer's brother, were taken into custody by a responding officer shortly after the shooting and were able to identify Pfeffer after watching a video footage of the incident.

Less than 12 hours after the deadly shooting, Pfeffer was taken into custody and charged in Fitzgerald's murder, as well as other related offenses.

We are learning more about Miles Pfeffer, the 18-year-old from Bucks County who is charged with killing Temple University police officer Christopher Fitzgerald on Saturday night.

Fitzgerald's family has since filed a civil lawsuit against Pfeffer's father, mother and mother's boyfriend for negligence and wrongful death. It also names Pfeffer for wrongful death, assault and battery.

The 31-year-old fallen sergeant is survived by his wife, four children, and his parents.

Deptford police officer killed

Sources say Officer Bobby Shisler was shot in the leg and a fellow officer applied a tourniquet before he was taken to the hospital.

Deptford Police Officer Robert "Bobby" Shisler was shot in the line of duty on March 10 and after a pedestrian stop turned into a chase and a struggle -- ending in shots fired and the suspect dead.

The encounter began in New Jersey on Delsea Drive near Central Avenue when Shisler attempted to stop a man who has since been identified as 24-year-old Mitchell Negron Jr.

Negron allegedly fled from Shisler, prompting a foot pursuit.

During the pursuit, there was a struggle between Shisler and Negron. They were both shot in the area of Doman Avenue. Negron was pronounced dead at the scene.

Officials have not said who was shot by who.

Shisler was shot in the leg and a fellow officer applied a tourniquet before he was taken to the hospital, where he underwent what was considered at the time to be a successful surgery.

Weeks later, Action News learned that Shisler has passed away at the hospital on May 7.

Officials said Shisler was a four-year veteran assigned to Platoon B of the Patrol Division, and is survived by his parents, brother and sister.

Bucks County flash flooding

Communities in Bucks County, Pennsylvania are reeling on Sunday after a powerful storm rolled through the area the night before.

Seven people, including a mother and her two small children, died after flash flooding swept through Bucks County, Pennsylvania, on July 15.

A powerful storm had rolled through the area, leaving significant damage in its wake and claiming lives.

RELATED: What to do if you're caught in a flash flood while driving

Husband and wife, 78-year-old Enzo De Piero and 74-year-old Linda De Piero, of Newtown, were among those killed. The couple was on their way home from one of their favorite restaurants when they were caught in the flood and lost their lives. They were married for 41 years.

Linda De Piero, 74, and Enzo De Piero, 78

Susan Barnhart, 53, of Titusville, New Jersey, was also killed in the flood.

Barnhart, who was an employee at Washington Crossing Post Office, was remembered as quiet with a quick sense of humor.

Susan Barnhar

Dave Love lost his wife of more than 30 years, 64-year-old Yuko Love, after they were caught in the raging waters. He told Action News that they were on Route 532 when their vehicle go stuck. Then, when they got out of the vehicle, the water suddenly overcame them.

He was able to eventually grab onto a tree and was later rescued, but Yuko did not survive.

Three members of the Sheils family -- 2-year-old Matilda, 9-month-old Conrad and their mother Katie -- also died in the flash flood.

Photos of the children were provided by the Upper Makefield Twp. Police Department by permission of the family.

The Sheils family were visiting from Charleston, South Carolina, when they were hit by a "wall of water."

Photo of Sheils family

The children's father, Jim Sheils, was able to grabbed his 4-year-old son and make it to safety. However, Katie and the children's grandmother each grabbed Matilda and Conrad but were swept away.

The grandmother, Dahlia Galindez, survived but the three others did not. Matilda's body was recovered almost a week later near the Delaware River. Her body was located approximately 32 miles away from where she was first reported missing.

Conrad was never found.

West Reading chocolate factory explosion

Survivor pulled from rubble of chocolate factory explosion in West Reading

Seven people were killed after an explosion at the R.M. Palmer Company chocolate factory in West Reading, Pennsylvania, on March 25.

The victims were identified as

-Xiorky D. Nunez, 30, of Reading, PA

-Susan H. Halvonik, 63, of Upper Providence Township, PA

-Michael D. Breedy, 62, of Marion Township, PA

-Diana M. Cedeno, 44, of Reading, PA

-Judith Lopez-Moran, 55, of Reading, PA

-Amy S. Sandoe, 49, of Ephrata, PA

-Domingo Cruz, 60, of Reading, PA

One woman was found alive after spending roughly eight hours in the rubble. Officials said she worked on the second floor of the factory but was found in the basement.

Federal investigators have said natural gas was involved in the explosion.

2 million dimes stolen

Police are investigating after someone broke into a trailer containing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of dimes in Northeast Philadelphia.

An estimated two million dimes were stolen in April after thieves broke into a trailer parked in a Walmart parking lot in Northeast Philadelphia.

Police said the loot was worth more than $200,000.

The truck driver told police that he picked up the dimes from the Philadelphia Mint but then went home to get some sleep before a long drive to Florida.

When he came back the next morning, he found the trailer door open and dimes scattered in the parking lot.

Police released surveillance footage of a possible suspect and vehicle that was believed to have been used in the heist. The suspect was also seen on video stealing a trash can, which police said was used to transport the coins.

Another surveillance video also showed six men, dressed in gray hoodies and armed with bolt cutters, approaching the truck in the middle of the night and breaking into it before loading the coins into smaller bagsbefore taking off in a white Chrysler 300 with tinted windows and a dark-colored pickup truck.

Then, in October, four men from Philadelphia -- 25-year-old Rakiem Savage, 31-year-old Ronald Byrd, 30-year-old Haneef Palmer and 32-year-old Malik Palmer - were charged in connection to the crime.

An unsealed indictment alleges that after the theft, thousands of dimes were converted into cash at coin machines in Maryland or through deposits to at least four different suburban Philadelphia banks.

All four men each face conspiracy, robbery, theft of government money, among other charges.

Cargo thefts have been an ongoing issue, both in the Northeast and in South Philadelphia, with all kinds of goods stolen, including crab legs, meat and even cases of Talcum powder.

Canadian wildfire smoke

Smoke lingers in Philly region due to Canadian wildfires. Maggie Kent reports for Action News on July 18, 2023.

Cities across the U.S., including Philadelphia, were smothered in smoke from Canadian wildfires over the summer. For several days over a period of weeks, the Northeast region was subjected to air quality warnings due to the toxic smoke and ash from the fires.

During the peak, the Philadelphia skyline was covered by the dense haze, prompting air quality alerts ranging all the way to the highest level on the AQI scale. At one point, New York City was even said to have the worst air quality in the world.

6abc Air Quality Tracker

Additionally, fires in Michigan and New Jersey compounded the problem.

Just as quickly as people took off their face masks following the COVID-19 pandemic, many opted to put them back on to protect themselves from fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5, which is a form of air pollution commonly found in wildfire smoke.

Because these particles are too small to be seen with the naked eye, they can easily enter the nose and throat and can travel to the lungs, with some of the smallest particles even circulating in the bloodstream, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

PM2.5 can cause both short-term health effects, even for healthy people, including irritation of the eyes, nose and throat; coughing, sneezing; and shortness of breath and long-term effects such as worsening of conditions such as asthma and heart disease. This was especially concerning for vulnerable groups including children, pregnant people, older adults and those who are immunocompromised or had pre-existing conditions.

Fountain of Life Center church fire

The flames broke out around 6 p.m. Monday at the Fountain of Life Center located on the 2000 block of Columbus Road.

A massive eight-alarm fire destroyed a church in Florence Township, New Jersey, on March 20.

The blaze broke out at the Fountain of Life Center located on the 2000 block of Columbus Road.

Officials told Action News that kids were playing basketball in the rear of the church when they reported seeing smoke. It didn't take long before the building was completely engulfed in flames.

More than 150 firefighters from across South Jersey and Pennsylvania responded to help fight the flames and supply water, but it took hours before they were able to get it under control.

Luckily, no injuries were reported.

Delaware mall shooting

A shooting at the Christiana Mall in Delaware caused panic on Easter Sunday after gunfire erupted at the mall's food court.

When the gunfire began, families were seen running from the mall, fearing for their lives.

Chopper 6 was overhead after the incident, which showed the extensive police presence surrounding the scene.

Action News also spoke with shoppers who said they were told to run and hide.

Three people, including an 18-year-old and a 16-year-old, were wounded by the gunfire. Luckily, all three suffered non-life-threatening injuries.

Five other people were injured during the incident, but their injuries are not gunshot-related, officials said.

According to investigators, three suspects confronted and assaulted the 18-year-old victim while exiting the food court. That's when the victim's friends then engaged in an altercation with the group.

Delaware state police released an image of three suspects wanted in connection with a shooting at Christiana Mall on April 7, 2023.

During the fight, one of the three suspects pulled out a handgun from his waistband and began firing multiple round, according to police.

A 17-year-old eventually turned himself in to police, where he was charged with two felonies, including facilitating a riot and second-degree conspiracy. There has been no update from police on whether the two others involved were ever identified or arrested.

Girls' High grad denied diploma for dancing on stage

A recent graduate from The Philadelphia High School for Girls is calling for change after she didn't receive her high school diploma on stage.

A 2023 graduate from The Philadelphia High School for Girls was denied her high school diploma during her graduation ceremony after dancing across the stage. Three other girls were also denied their diplomas on stage.

Hafsah Abdur-Rahman, 17, said she cried tears of humiliation instead of joy during what was supposed to be a moment of celebration on June 9.

In the video, Abdur-Rahman can be seen dancing across the stage, and then the crowd laughed.

The teen from Philadelphia's Olney section said the school's principal, Lisa Mesi, had warned students their families could not cheer or clap when they walked on stage, but when Abdur-Rahman busted a move, the crowd caved.

The punishment was especially heartbreaking for Abdur-Rahman, who said the moment wasn't just for her, but was in honor of her sister who was killed at 14 years old.

After the ceremony, all four girls did receive their diplomas.

The School District of Philadelphia said in a statement quote: "The District does not condone the withholding of earned diplomas based on family members cheering for their graduates. We apologize to all the families and graduates who were impacted and are further looking into this matter to avoid it happening in the future."

Mesi did not speak with Action News about the incident.