1968: Vietnam casualities mount, floods and fires hit county
Editor's Note: This is one of a series of articles about the history of the Sun Advocate and the county it covers as a newspaper. These articles are being prepared in commemoration of the 120th anniversary of the newspaper's birth in 1891.
Military men from the local area in Vietnam were a big piece of the local news during 1968. In February the parents of Marine Mark Clair were informed that their son had been wounded during an artillery attack on his unit. In a couple of months, after the young Clair was back on the battlefield he was wounded once again only 10 days after he returned from his recuperation.
Later in February reports came in about Army Specialist David Tryon who had been wounded by mortar fire.
But the worst came later in the year when in mid-May the Defense Department notified loved ones that two Helper Marines had died in combat in Vietnam. First came word concerning the death of Sgt. Louis P. Spensco who died as the result of a land mine that exploded while he was leading a patrol. He was 22 at the time. Then came word of Lance Cpl. James L. Overson who died on May 10 as a result of another land mine. He was 18 at the time.
Then in July word came that Rudy T. Krissman, an ECN2 in the Navy was killed in a truck accident in Vietnam. It was the young man's fourth tour of duty to the country. Finally in November it was announced that Marine Lance Corporal Johnny Salas Martinez had died in combat from a land mine explosion.
In early March a local landmark came down as crews began to demolish the Rio Grande roundhouse in the Helper rail yards. The building had been built around the turn of the century at Soldier Summit, but was moved between 1928-30 to serve at the new terminal in Helper. The building served the days of the steam locomotives which had been completely phased out by the early 1960s and by the time it was torn down many considered it an eyesore.
In April Sylvan Oritsky, who had been accused and convicted of embezzling thousands of dollars from the Carbon County Nursing Home while he was administrator in the early 1960's was sentenced to prison for his crime, then given probation in lieu of those sentences for 10 years. Oritsky had been the object of a nation wide search when the shortages were about to come to light and eventually turned himself into the police in Pennsylvania after some relatives convinced him it was the right thing to do. He was ordered to pay $11,000 in restitution to the county over a 10 year period of time.
Early May brought an unusual car accident on Highway 6-50 in the Carbonville area. A returned service man driving a car sheared off a utility pole, rolled through 100 feet of wire fencing, glanced off a tree and hurtled through the air striking a highway motel sign that was 25 feet high. But even with all that the strangest part of the accident was that the man was found on top of a service station/grocery store 85 feet from where the car came to rest. According to authorities at the time the body of the man struck a tree after being thrown from the car and dropped onto the roof. It was discovered by a rescue worker who was boosted up on the roof to remove an electrified transformer that was hanging down. Police estimated the car must have been going about 100 mph to get where it did.
A flash flood in Spring Glen at the end of July caused considerable damage to homes and structures. The flood began in the Kenilworth area when a makeshift dam broke during a heavy thunderstorm and sent a wall of water three feed deep down a wash which in turn broke through the banks near the bridge east of Spring Glen on Kenilworth Road. As the water headed down the road it ran into various obstacles which caused more blockage and then when it emptied out onto the main highway and into the river. Many homes had basements flooded at at least three vehicles floated into structures or trees damaging them as well as filling them up with water. Many who lived in the area said they had never seen a storm like it or the amount of water in the road like that before.
On Aug. 26, school bells rang automatically at Carbon School District campus' around the county, but there were only a few employees and some administrators to hear them. The reason? Negotiations between the school board and the teachers negotiating team were still going on about a new contract for instructors. Students had been advised by the school district to not return to classrooms until schools could be fully staffed. Two weeks later the problems had been worked out and the negotiations completed. The kids returned to school on Sept. 9.
In October a fire at the Oil City gas station in west Price literally destroyed the building and burned one of the attendants badly. Fire officials estimated that the fire, which started by unknown origin at the time, had caused about $40,000 worth of damage and that the structure was 75 percent compromised. The young attendant suffered second and third degree burns over the lower section of his body.
It was in 1968 when the idea of the state running Highway 6 outside of Price emerged. The so-called by-pass road immediately was disliked by businesses, the Price Chamber of Commerce and local governmental entities. The cat about the project had come out of the bag at a chamber meeting on Oct. 15 when a highway engineer for the state spoke about the construction of such a road planned for around 1970.
Another fire brought some real destruction to a business that modern readers of the Sun Advocate will recognize more readily than Oil City. The Greenwell Motel had a huge fire in late October. The fire apparently started in the electrical system in the north units. But by the time it was out, while fire had done damage to only a handful of units, damage from smoke and water had caused problems in many others. The fire started at 10 a.m. and was discovered by a tenant of a room in the north end of the building. No cost estimates of the damage were made.