Since 1954, the Hero Thrill Show has been raising money for college scholarships for the children of Philadelphia’s fallen police officers and firefighters. This year, the 58th show, will be held on September 22 from noon to 5 pm at the Wells Fargo Center.
A pep rally and preview of the show was held Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 12 on Market Street, between 18th and 19th Streets, and the entire block was filled with fascinated onlookers. The crowd enjoyed the Highway Patrol Motorcycle Drill Team and the Philadelphia Police Bicycle Stunt Team, who will be among the talent on display at the Hero Thrill Show.
“Most of you expect to go home at the end of your workday,” said attorney Jimmy Binns, Hero Thrill Show Inc. president and CEO to the gathered spectators. “For a police officer or a fire fighter, they don’t know if they’re coming home at the end of the day. But they can rest in the knowledge that their children’s education will be taken care of.”
Binns said that the purpose of the Thrill Show is to raise money for the college education of the children of Philadelphia’s firefighters and police officers who die in the line of duty. Binns, who took over the running of the show in 2006, said that since that time, the show continues to put 19 children who have lost a parent through school. Widows Ann Skerski, Judy Cassidy and Michelle Liczbinski were among those who attended the pep rally.
“Their husbands lost their lives, but they rested in the security that we would take care of their children,” said Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers.
The Hero Thrill Show Inc. is not affiliated with the Hero Scholarship Fund. For years the two charities both had the same goals, and the show was produced and staged by the Hero Scholarship Fund until it cancelled the show in 2005.
“After carefully comparing revenues of the past several years, including decreases as well as the expenses and difficulty in putting on the show, it has been decided to discontinue the show,” wrote Ruth A. Silwinski, former president of the organization. She clarified her reasons in a second letter.
“The reason for our discontinuance of the show is that it was originally established as a city function and operation,” Silwinski wrote. “Since 1994, we have been forced to operate the show simply because there was no city backing. We cannot continue to lay out money necessary to fund the show each year.”
Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers and former Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson backed a new entity for the purpose of raising money for the survivors of fallen first responders. Binns, who is a longtime supporter of local law enforcement charities and programs, took over operations in 2006. The Hero Scholarship Fund still remains in business,
“He resurrected the show and gave it new life,” said Fraternal Order of Police President John McNesby. “In 2005, only about three hundred people attended the show. Last year we had 40,000.”
The Hero Show was established in 1954 after 10 firefighters were killed in an explosion while battling a fire at a chemical plant in North Philadelphia. Since then, more than 800 families have benefitted from the charity’s financial aid. Some of the most recent recipients are Amber Liczbinski, daughter of slain police officer Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski, John Cassidy, whose father Police Officer Charles Cassidy was gunned down during the robbery of a Dunkin Donuts in 2007. Robert Skerski is the son of Police Officer Gary Skerski who was killed while attempting to stop the robbery of Pat’s Café in Northeast Philadelphia.
“When I grew up we knew the police officers who patrolled our neighborhood. We spoke to them and interacted with them, and we’ve gotten away from that,” said former basketball player, now WIP AM sports announcer Sonny Hill. “The next time you see a police officer or a firefighter, do me a favor, do yourself a favor and say hello to them. Thank them for all they do for us in helping to keep us safe.”
District Attorney Seth Williams charged four people this week who were involved in an elaborate house stealing scheme, and one of the suspects is the son of former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson.
According to the DA’s office, Steven Johnson, 49, was one of four suspects who allegedly stole 22 uninhabited residential properties in the city through fraudulent means. The other three defendants have been identified as Zachary Stokes, 55, of the 200 block of East Pine Street, Oscar Ketter, 42, of the 1500 block of South Dorrance Street and Elhadi Ibrahim, 48, of the 9500 block of Hoff Street. Three of the suspects have been arrested but as of Tribune press time, Johnson is not in custody. All four men have been charged with numerous counts of criminal conspiracy, theft by unlawful taking or disposition, theft by deception, forgery, tampering with records and tampering with public records.
Former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson was reached by telephone but politely refused to comment on the case.
According to the District Attorneys office, cracking the case was the result of a three-year investigation. The deeds of 22 uninhabited properties across the city were allegedly forged and recorded, transferring the properties from the true owners to the codefendants or other fictitious persons. The properties were then often sold to innocent purchasers, in some cases the purchase price was just one dollar. Investigators learned that the legal owners of the properties had no knowledge of the fraudulent deed transfers or sales and never authorized the transfers of the deeds. Several homeowners contacted the District Attorney’s Office about the illegal activity after receiving notification from the department of records that the deed had been transferred. In many instances, the signature of the Notary Public on the deed was also forged and a counterfeit stamp was used so the fraudulent deed could be recorded as a public record.
The fourth suspect wanted in connection with a scheme to steal houses and then re-sell them to unsuspecting customers turned himself in to authorities this week.
Steven Johnson, 49, of the 4700 block of Vista Street, surrendered to authorities at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office Thursday morning just after 10:00 a.m. Johnson, son of former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson, is being charged with criminal conspiracy, theft by unlawful taking or disposition, theft by deception, forgery, tampering with records or identification. Also charged in the case are Zachary Stokes, 55, of the 200 block of East Pine Street, Oscar Ketter, 42, of the 1500 block of South Dorrance Street and Elhadi Ibrahim, 48, of the 9500 block of Hoff Street. All have been charged with stealing 22 houses across the city by fraudulently transferring deeds.
Philadelphia School Teacher Attacked and Robbed
Philadelphia police are looking for witnesses who saw an attack on a local elementary school teacher. The teacher was assaulted by a group of teens, viciously beaten and then robbed. The teenagers stole a laptop computer and cell phone after knocking their victim unconscious.
According to investigators, the victim, a 28-year old teacher at Clara Barton Elementary School had left the building around 5 p.m. on Tuesday. He walked past the group of teens, who then assaulted him. Authorities don’t believe the victim was specifically targeted, and that the assault was a crime of opportunity.
Staff members called police and the victim was rushed to Temple University where he was treated for his various injuries, which included a concussion, and released. Anyone with information on the incident should call 911
Tire Slasher Arrested
Philadelphia police officials said the local media and the public were instrumental in identifying a suspect who slashed the tires of dozens of vehicles in West Philadelphia earlier this month. The multiple acts of vandalism occurred on January 7, 2013 in the 4700 -5000 Block of Hazel Street as well as the 5300 Block of Chancellor Street.
According to police, on Jan. 7, 2013, 18th District Officers responded to the 5000 block of Hazel Avenue and the 5300 block of Chancellor Avenue for reports of vandalism. In the hours between 5:30 a.m. and 6:40 a.m. 59 parked vehicles on the 4700-5000 block of Hazel Avenue and the 5300 block of Chancellor Avenue were found to have had their tires slashed.
After an intense investigation and various tips from anonymous callers, the suspect was identified as Harry Gaines, 27 years old, from the 6000 Block of Angora Terrace. Gaines was arrested on January 16, 2013, in the 5200 Block of Market Street. Gaines is charged with criminal conspiracy, criminal mischief and related offenses.