Bill Cosby’s stately mansion in Cheltenham Township is set back from the street by fields of green, a gated entrance with a “Private Property — No Trespassing” sign and several security cameras on the road leading up to his door.
But it’s also the location of an alleged sex crime back in 2004 — and for that reason, when Cosby was arraigned on criminal charges on Dec. 30,it was in the tiny single-floorcourthouse a few blocks awayon a residential street.
On the other side of the Cosby headlines and non-stop cable news coveragewere the residents of Montgomery Avenue in Elkins Park whose lives were briefly upended by the media whirlwind that descended on their town — with trucks from major news networks ranging from CNN to Telemundo parked on the street and multiple news choppers above.
“I was drivinghome, a mile away, and when I saw the helicopters above, I was like ‘Oh my God, what is happening in my hometown?'” recalledDan Kalinowksi, who lives down the street from the courthouse.
“I texted my wife. She was like ‘Yeah, it’s Cosby,” he said.
Owen Lee, the owner of nearby eatery Park Plates, had a similar disorienting moment when he arrived at his restaurantbefore they officially opened for business.
“I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know the arraignment was here,” he said. “I went inside my restaurant and it was empty — the kitchen staff was gone — and I said, ‘What is going on?'”
One iratecommenteron social media raged about the incident, accusing Montco DA Kevin Steele of a “publicity stunt” and writing “You got moms coming off the train terrified seeing helicopters overhead, thinking there was a shooter on the loose!”
Most locals had no idea that the Cosby arraignment was coming to town, although charges and the arraignment were announced at 10 a.m. that morning by Steele. Steele’s office and the office of Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro did not respond to requests for comment.
Cosby’s Jan. 14 preliminary hearing was originally scheduled for the same tiny courthouse—but a court system spokesmanconfirmed Wednesday that the hearing will be delayed to an undetermined future date, and that it will take place in Montgomery County Court in Norristown, Pa., not Elkins Park.
For some Elkins Park residents, the Cosby arraignment did provide a boost to business. One woman who declined to give her name for job reasons said a magisterial district court employee sold cellphone video of Cosbyto celebrity news website TMZ for $200.
Dan Weintraub, owner of Frank’s Pizza down the street, said the media invasion brought some extra business, but overall itwas a headache.
“Itwas a circus,” he said. “All the parking was filled. There were TV vans from end to end down the street. It was a pain for mydrivers.”
Some national TV news network trucks stayed on Montgomery Avenue and some were there all night—so that, on CNN for example, their morning anchor could stand outside the courthouse while giving a morning update on the Cosby case.
“We went through a lot of slices that day,” Weintraub said.
Other locals are more philosophical about the case, with some glad Cosby is facing charges, and others troubled that he lives so near to their town.
Local Paul Herr lives near the courthouse and after seeing police block up the street wentoutsideto watch the hullabaloo.
“I was proud that our small town of Elkins Park had finally brought the schoolyard bully to account. He’s a predator,” Herr said.
Ellen Sheppard said she saw Cosby’s stately mansion for the first time Wednesday while on her way to the dentist.
“I’ve been following this and I’ve just been horrified,” she said. “I thought he was a wonderful person. Is it multiple personalities? Why would you do that?”