Hiram G. Andrews building

The Hiram G. Andrews building in Upper Yoder Township is shown in this Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016, submitted photo

A student at the Hiram G. Andrews Center was charged Wednesday with defiant trespass after he was found wandering inside a nearby nursing home, authorities said on Friday.

Upper Yoder Township police charged Christopher John Nimitz, 20, of Lebanon, with the summary offense after they allegedly found him trespassing inside the Lutheran Home at Johnstown on Goucher Street.

Nimitz is the latest student from the Hiram G. Andrews Center to face criminal charges. Seven other students from the Goucher Street facility are alleged to have committed various crimes in recent months, ranging from vandalism of a nearby vacant school building to assault on a staff member and an Upper Yoder Township police sergeant.

In addition, a former security guard at the center was charged last August with stealing $19,000 worth of portable radios, chargers, batteries, microphones and other accessories from a storage room. Court records indicate that that case was dismissed because the defendant is now deceased.

“There have been increased incidents there,” Edward Barzeski, an Upper Yoder Township supervisor, said Friday, adding that calls to the center take up a lot of police time.

Upper Yoder police Chief Donald Hess said Friday that his department currently has two open investigations involving the Hiram G. Andrews Center, which could result in more criminal charges against students.

A spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, which operates the Hiram G. Andrews Center, said Wednesday in an email to The Tribune-Democrat that the recent arrests are not representative of the center’s student population as a whole.

“The safety of our students, staff and our neighbors in the community is always a top priority,” Lindsay Bracale, deputy communication director for the department, said in the email.

“Recently, some students violated school rules and engaged in behavior that resulted in criminal charges. These unfortunate incidents are rare and do not represent the HGAC student body at large. 

“In each of these instances, the school staff followed protocols and immediately notified law enforcement. We are grateful for the quick response of the Upper Yoder Township Police Department as well as HGAC staff. These incidents are now part of active investigations and we will continue to work with law enforcement.”

Hess said that, because his department operates without a criminal investigator, it’s up to him and the department’s five full-time and six part-time officers to respond when police are called to the center. Criminal investigations take up much of the department’s time, he added.

“We’re still having incidents, unfortunately,” Hess said. “I don’t have 50 officers and a team of criminal investigators. ... They’re starting to take up a lot of my resources.”

For Nimitz, it’s not the first time that he has been found on Lutheran Home property, Hess alleged.

“He was warned two times before and actually went into the business, which resulted in a 911 call and charges being filed,” Hess said.

Hess said he met several weeks ago with Jill Moriconi, director of the Hiram G. Andrews Center, and Jim Marker, the center’s deputy director. The police chief, who described the meeting as largely positive, said that he asked to be part of the school’s risk assessment team and was told that such a move would need the approval of the Department of Labor and Industry in Harrisburg.

Patrick Buchnowski is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5061. Follow him on Twitter @PatBuchnowskiTD.

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