Nov. 20 began just like many other nights for Natasha Caston, her husband, Will, and their three sons.
The family was winding down in the living room of their home in the 800 block of Pheasant Drive in North Middleton Township around 9 p.m. when they heard a strange noise.
“We heard some kind of squeak sound,” Natasha Caston said. “We turned down our devices and the TV trying to listen for the sounds ... I peeked up (to look at our pet rat in the kitchen). When I did, I saw smoke in the kitchen.”
Caston and her husband walked out to the kitchen and opened the door to the garage. That is when everything changed.
“We just saw in the back corner of the garage, flames, and it was starting to travel down the wall,” she said. “We just turned around and said ‘fire, everybody out.’
“My kids just dropped their tablets and everybody ran towards the door,” she said. “I tried to grab my dog, but she tried to get away from me. My son said ‘I got her,’ and we all just bolted for the door.”
The family made it out safely with their dog, but the pet rat did not survive.
The home and a vehicle parked in the driveway were destroyed in the two-alarm blaze.
“I honestly haven’t cried any tears over the house, because everything I needed made it out,” Caston said. “All I needed is my family. All I needed made it out. I haven’t cried any tears over stuff, but I can’t tell you the times I’ve cried over the generosity of everyone.”
Since the fire, the Castons have been assisted by the American Red Cross and, as of Wednesday, were living out of a hotel room while deciding more long-term arraignments.
She said the family intends to rebuild the home.
Caston said the community has rallied around them.
At the time of the fire, the vehicle that was destroyed was the only working vehicle the family had. Another vehicle that was in need of repairs was at an auto-body shop where Will works. The company has since worked to get the vehicle operational.
A woman who was trading in her vehicle at a local dealership donated it instead to the Castons.
A GoFundMe page, gofundme.com/help-the-caston-family-recover, has been set up by a family friend to collect monetary donations, and numerous organizations, like the North Middleton Fire Company, have offered to collect donations for the family.
A list of needed items is available at www.nmfire39.com
“I can’t even begin to express the love and support we’ve received from everyone,” Caston said. “It has been completely overwhelming. We feel very, very, very blessed.”
Nov. 25 this year was widely recognized as Small Business Saturday, a time when local commerce groups nationwide and in the Midstate encouraged customers to seek out locally owned small businesses to support.
The push coincides with the holiday shopping season, given that a large portion of small businesses are retail-oriented. But Pennsylvania’s small business landscape is much wider than just the Christmas retail push.
U.S. Census data shows that in 2015, Pennsylvania featured 230,057 discreet firms employing over 5.3 million people — or about 23 people per registered employer.
That number is misleading, however, given the vast spread of firm sizes. The majority of Pennsylvania’s businesses — 130,122 firms — employ less than five people. At the same time, a relatively small number of large firms employ the majority of the population, with 4,210 firms at 500 or more employees.
There is no hard definition of “small” business, but the federal Small Business Administration often cites numbers based on companies with less than 500 employees. The Census Bureau also provides totals of businesses with less than 20 employees.
Within Census classifications of small business, three categories are dominant: retail, construction and professional services. While retail is typically the most visible, the latter two account for building tradespeople, lawyers, architects and other specialized workers who are often self-employed.
The other significant statistical issue facing small businesses is their rate of survival. In March 1994, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded 18,930 businesses having opened in Pennsylvania over the previous year. By March 1999, five years later, 10,503 — or about 55.5 percent — were still open. Of the survivors, average employment was 14.8 workers.
Some of those numbers are much different today. In the 2012 survey year, the BLS found 23,751 businesses opened in Pennsylvania — a significant increase in start-ups.
But as of 2017, only 10,994 are still running, a 46.3 percent five-year survival rate, indicating that, even with the startup economy running hot, the amount of room for success hasn’t increased that much. Further, the average size of survivors had decreased to eight employees.
HARRISBURG — The salaries of Pennsylvania’s 253 state lawmakers, more than 1,000 judges and several dozen top executive branch officials will rise in 2018.
The increase amounts to 0.8 percent, a figure tied by state law to the year-over-year change in the consumer price index published by the U.S. Department of Labor for urban consumers in the mid-Atlantic region.
The bump takes effect Friday for lawmakers and Jan. 1 for judicial and executive branch officials. It is slightly smaller than last year’s increase of 1.3 percent.
Highest-paid is state Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Saylor, a Republican. His salary will rise by about $1,600 to $213,750, while the other six members of the high court will see a similar-sized increase to $207,700.
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s salary will rise about $1,500 to $194,850, although his office says he donates the money to charity since the law requires him to accept it.
Most lawmakers, already the nation’s second-highest paid, will see an increase of about $700 to almost $87,200 in base pay. They also receive per diems, while lawmakers in leadership posts will top out at $136,000 for House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson.
The four party floor leaders will each make $126,300 while caucus whips and Appropriations Committee chairmen will receive almost $117,000.
County court judges will see increases to above $180,000, while judges in larger districts, such as Philadelphia and Allegheny County, will get slightly more.
Lt. Gov. Mike Stack will make almost $163,700, while the three statewide elected row officers — Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Treasurer Joe Torsella and Auditor General Eugene DePasquale — each will make $162,115.
The salaries for the heads of Wolf’s 18 cabinet agencies will rise by law. Salaries will rise to almost $156,000 for the heads of the seven largest agencies, and to just above $140,000 for the heads of the five smallest cabinet agencies.
A Shippensburg woman is in Cumberland County Prison after police say she rammed her vehicle into a patrol vehicle during a pursuit on Interstate 81.
Around 1:45 a.m. Saturday, Pennsylvania State Police attempted to stop a vehicle driven by Briana Monai Thaggard, 24, along I-81 north near exit 52A in Middlesex Township, police said.
Thaggard failed to stop, according to police.
During the pursuit, Thaggard stopped her vehicle and then rammed it into the side of the patrol vehicle, police said.
Thaggard physically resisted police efforts to take her into custody, according to police.
She is charged with two counts each of felony aggravated assault and misdemeanor reckless endangerment, as well as misdemeanor resisting arrest, fleeing or attempting to elude police, criminal mischief, summary harassment and multiple traffic violations.
Thaggard was arraigned and taken to Cumberland County Prison in lieu of $15,000 bail, according to court records.
A preliminary hearing is scheduled in this case for 9:15 a.m. Dec. 4 in front of Magisterial District Judge Paul Fegley.