No sheriffs in town for Tomato Festival

June 27th, 2015 1:16 am

First Posted: 8/15/2013

The Luzerne County Sheriff’s Department chose not to have a presence at the Pittston Tomato Festival.

In past years, eight to 10 deputy sheriffs were assigned to help block intersections for the 5K Race and Tomato Festival Parade and the department’s volunteer motorcycle unit participated in the parade, said Pittston Police Chief Robert Powers.

Last year, instead of riding in the parade, the volunteer unit assisted with traffic control.

This year “the county called us back and said ‘no,’ ” Power said.

Luzerne County Interim Sheriff Jack Robeshaw has said liability concerns prompted the county to disband the department’s motorcycle unit earlier this year.

Traffic and security duties at the Tomato Festival continued to be performed by police departments from Jenkins Township, Pittston Township, Laflin, Hughestown, West Pittston, Avoca, West Wyoming, Wyoming, Duryea and 16 constables, Powers said.

“We’re grateful for all the support we get from our surrounding communities,” Powers said.

Michael Lombardo, co-chairman of the festival, said he feels county officials let down the citizens of Greater Pittston.

“We’re disappointed,” he said. “In but for the fact we’ve got great participation from our surrounding municipalities, it would make the parade and race a potentially dangerous situation without having the right security there. We’re talking about keeping runners and parade goers and children safe.”

County Manager Bob Lawton said that in past years, the county has relied heavily on the volunteer deputy program, but it has been disbanded.

“Those people are no longer available through us this year,” Lawton said. “We don’t provide these services to other jurisdictions. It’s just a blanket policy.”

He said if Pittston wanted to assume responsibility and liability, the county would share the names of the volunteers.

“That might be a constructive solution to any concerns the city has,” he said.

The motorcycle division was created in 1976 by then-Sheriff Frank Jagodinski to provide traffic control and community presence at local events.

But recently, at least one motorcycle unit member outfitted his private vehicle with warning lights and a county sheriff’s department emblem, which could mistakenly leave the impression the volunteer is a county employee or official, Robshaw has said.

Robeshaw has said municipal police and fire departments can coordinate traffic control with organizers of parades and other events in their jurisdictions.

About 20 volunteers participated in the motorcycle unit.

The Tomato Festival Parade and the 5K Run were held Saturday morning.