Woman enters plea in eagle case

HOLLIDAYSBURG – A Tyrone woman who has operated a wildlife rehabilitation center for the last 30 years was placed in the Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition program after a short hearing Monday before Blair County Judge Daniel J. Milliron.

Deborah O’Shell, 53, of 393 Igou Road was scheduled for a jury trial on charges that she violated state laws by taking possession of an injured Bald Eagle on Aug. 26, 2012, after it was brought to her facility by two men who found it under a power line.

O’Shell, according to the charges against her, did not immediately notify the Pennsylvania Game Commission, and she was charged with four offenses, including taking possession of game or wildlife, possession of a endangered species, unlawful taking of a protected bird and possession of a protected bird.

Two of the four charges remain, illegal possession of game or wildlife and possession of a protected bird, while the other two charges were dropped.

The plea agreement between Blair County District Attorney Richard A. Consiglio and defense attorney Robert Donaldson means that O’Shell will take part in the county’s ARD program for the next year.

If she completes her probation, which includes 25 hours of community service, the charges against her will be dismissed and her record purged.

O’Shell denies she did anything wrong and said she didn’t know about the injured bird being brought to her facility.

Pennsylvania game officials never did find the bird at her wildlife rehab center.

It is believed the bird flew away.

In a tearful statement to Judge Milliron, O’Shell said throughout her life she has helped battered children, homeless veterans and injured wildlife.

“I just want to give back,” she said.

But O’Shell said she has now “lost all faith in the system.”

She said in Pennsylvania there used to be 134 rehabilitators who worked to help injured game and wildlife. Now, she said, there are only 20 rehabilitators remaining.

Donaldson said the ARD program has been on the table for many months but O’Shell wanted her day in court.

However, she decided Friday she would accept ARD, but the decision was difficult, her attorney said.

According to the charges, two area men found the bald eagle, a protected species, under a power line in the Pinecroft area. It appeared to have injuries to a wing, its beak and its head.

They took the bird to the rehab center and contended O’Shell placed the bird in a cage.

Consiglio explained Monday that O’Shell doesn’t have a permit to tend to an endangered bird. That bird, he said, from the prosecution’s standpoint, should have been turned over to the Game Commission.

Game Commission personnel investigated the situation in September 2012, but O’Shell denied doing anything wrong.

According to the charges she eventually admitted taking in the bird but indicated that an intern released it.

In an opinion issued last October, Blair County Judge Timothy M. Sullivan refused to dismiss charges against O’Shell, noting the decision as to her culpability should be left to a jury.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.