Mental health treatment sought for man who climbed furnace

Regional News

BETHLEHEM, Pa. (AP) — A man who climbed atop a rusting, disused blast furnace, prompting the evacuation of an arts and entertainment venue at the site, will remain in prison amid negotiations over providing him with mental health treatment, authorities said Wednesday.

Defense attorney Rory Driscole said at a hearing Wednesday that he doesn’t believe that Jonathan Wallace, 25, had any criminal intent during the more-than-21-hour ordeal in July at the old Bethlehem Steel Corp. site in eastern Pennsylvania.

“Right now I’m focusing more on getting him treatment and getting him help,” he said.

Wallace faces a felony charge of risking a catastrophe as well as lesser charges of reckless endangerment and defiant trespass.

An outdoor concert scheduled for July 12 at the SteelStacks campus was canceled, and about 1,500 people were evacuated after Wallace climbed atop the blast furnace, balancing precariously on a single steel beam hundreds of feet above the venue. Events scheduled later were postponed or canceled. Officers climbed to a platform below and talked to him for hours, and he was taken into custody the following day.

A Northampton County prosecutor said the defendant’s behavior endangered scores of first responders who worked for hours to get him to come down.

“This is obviously a very old and dilapidated structure in which there are actually bolts and screws falling down,” Assistant District Attorney Edward Penetar said. “So this created a substantial risk to their lives, and that’s why we filed charges here.”

He said authorities are working on a resolution that would provide mental health treatment.

Wallace had been living with his mother in Berks County, and therefore is apparently ineligible for a Northampton County mental health court that can lead to expungement of criminal charges once treatment requirements are met, Driscole said. He described Wallace as “intelligent and articulate” and said he had no concerns about his client’s ability to understand the criminal charges he faces.

“It’s sad that his mental health led to this,” Driscole said.

This story has been corrected to show the dateline is Bethlehem, not Allentown.

Information from: The Morning Call,

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