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Marital troubles of suspect recalled

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The Pennsylvania elementary school principal slashed while fighting off a machete-wielding attacker may never fully heal from the wounds to her hands, a hospital spokeswoman said yesterday.

Norina Bentzel, 41, whose actions during the Friday attack at North Hopewell-Winterstown Elementary School in York County, Pa., were described by police as "heroic," was in stable condition after seven hours in surgery to reattach a nearly severed little finger and repair cut nerves and tendons, said Amy Strong, a spokeswoman for Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore.

The former Baltimore schoolteacher accused of attacking Bentzel, two teachers and six pupils at the rural school south of York was described by former supervisors in Baltimore yesterday as a competent classroom instructor who had become overwrought by his marital problems.

William Michael Stankewicz, 55, remained in the York County jail on $2 million bond yesterday. He has been charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault and taking a weapon into a school. He faces a preliminary trial on Feb. 12.

Stankewicz, 55, of Johnson City, Tenn., sneaked into the elementary school Friday before noon, armed with a machete, police said. Bentzel and two teachers grappled with him and eventually subdued him before police arrived. Besides Bentzel, two teachers and six children were injured during the struggle.

Surgeons at Union Memorial Hospital's Curtis National Hand Center operated on Bentzel after she was flown to Baltimore by helicopter late Friday afternoon, Strong said.

She quoted Dr. Thomas Graham as saying he hoped the surgery to restore feeling to Bentzel's fingers would be 90 to 95 percent successful.

A kindergarten teacher, Linda Collier, 52, underwent hand surgery in York on Friday.The six injured children and a third-grade teacher Stacey Bailey, 33, were released after receiving medical treatment.

Stankewicz told reporters at his arraignment in York on Friday that he went to the school in a vain attempt to locate his ex-wife, Larisa, the York Daily Record reported. He said that her two daughters had gone to the school during their brief marriage. He denied bringing a weapon into the school.

Stankewicz taught in Baltimore schools for 21 years, most recently at Northern High School, according to the Daily Record. City school officials said they would not be able to verify that information until tomorrow, but a former principal and assistant principal at Northern confirmed that he taught there and said his marital troubles upset him.

Alice Morgan-Brown, a retired principal of Northern, said Stankewicz was a good teacher but that he became entangled in a messy relationship with at least one woman from overseas.

Stankewicz stopped teaching at Northern in January 1996, according to the Daily Record, after he was arrested for making threats during the break-up of his mail-order marriage to the former Larisa Prokuda of Kazakstan.

He was sentenced to nine months in prison after pleading guilty in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg, Pa., to threatening his wife, her two children and her lawyer, attorney Stephen Converse.

Stankewicz was rearrested in 1997 for violating the terms of his probation and sentenced to 18 months, with a recommendation from the judge that he receive counseling and medical help. Converse said Stankewicz also threatened an official of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and Rep. Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania.

A former assistant principal at Baltimore's Northern High, who did not want to be named, remembered that Stankewicz became overwrought when his marriage began to fall apart.

"He wasn't a bad teacher," the former assistant principal said. "I know he was very excited about the wife coming from Russia. He was extremely excited about having a family.

"After she got here, things just didn't go right and he was very disturbed about that. He was very disturbed over not being able to spend time with his family."

Sun researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.

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