January 20, 2007

Snow-swept weather leads to pileup


Photos by Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Five tractor-trailers and two cars were involved in a pileup on I-81 northbound, about a mile north of Exit 13 in Preble this morning.

Staff Reporter

PREBLE — A seven-vehicle pileup, involving five tractor-trailers closed down Interstate 81 approximately one mile north of Exit 13.
At 7:30 this morning, a tractor-trailer traveling north bound on Interstate 81 jackknifed on the snow-covered roadway.
According to officials the road was closed at 7:46 a.m.. State Trooper Daniel Huff said there were no injuries.
According to Huff, a pickup truck came to a complete stop upon seeing the jackknifed trailer, but a car behind the pickup didn’t stop and rear-ended it. According to Huff, the car ended up in the ditch on the right side of the road. Huff said the second tractor-trailer, which was the fourth vehicle involved in the accident, stopped without causing further damage, however another tractor-trailer wasn’t so lucky. The driver  was unable to stop and hit the fourth tractor-trailer causing it to jackknife.  Huff said the fifth tractor-trailer, a tandem FedEx trailer, braked and slid off the road and into the ditch on the right. The seventh vehicle involved jackknifed and hit the tractor-trailer in front of it.
“Bad roads do not cause vehicle accidents,” said Huff. “Improper driving by a particular person causes the accident.” 
“Slow down,” Huff cautioned.
Cortland County Fire Control said they dispatched all available units to he scene.
Huff said the initial driver who caused the accident was ticketed for moving from a lane unsafely.
As of press time, the two passenger vehicles were towed away, but the five tractor-trailers remained_on the scene and interstate 81 was still closed. Huff said it would be two and half-hours before it was_reopened.


CRMC proposal is denied

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — A state board Friday opted not to award Cortland Regional Medical Center a license to become a certified home health agency, pleasantly surprising county officials who had traveled to Albany to speak against CRMC’s application.
The state Department of Health’s Public Health Council voted unanimously against CRMC’s application — after various sub-councils had voted for it — on the grounds that another CHHA in the county would over-saturate the market, according to Claire Pospisil, a spokesperson for the state Health Department.
“The board didn’t feel that three programs were needed in the county,” she said. “They were also concerned that approval of another program would threaten the program being operated by Cortland County.”
This had essentially been the argument of County Administrator Scott Schrader Schrader and the county Health Department, who have said another CHHA in the community could potentially put the county’s CHHA, which has been in operation for 40 years, out of business.
Schrader attended Friday’s meeting in Albany with Jackie Gailor, director of the county Health Department and Cathy Feuerherm, director of patient services, and he said the three were surprised and happy with the decision.
“It’s certainly a surprising win for our county program,” Schrader said. “They seemed to agree that there’s just not enough clients in this community to spread between three different agencies, and approving their application would cause the demise of our public CHAA.”
St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center, located in Syracuse, also applied recently for CHHA certification in Cortland County, and received it because it was simply expanding it’s boundaries to this area and didn’t need final approval from the Public Health Council.
The larger impact on the county’s CHHA, however, would have come from CRMC’s certification, as it provides 80 percent of referrals to the county’s programs.
CRMC CEO Brian Mitteer said Friday that he had not yet heard of the Public Health Council’s decision.
He said he would look into the decision next week, and added that the state had contacted CRMC and requested that it apply for CHHA certification to meet what the state said was a community need.
Schrader said such an effort was unnecessary.
“To a large degree these licenses are granted on a need basis, and we argued that there wasn’t a need here, the county is not saturated with referrals,” he said.
For brief intervals in 2003 and at the beginning of 2006, the county was short-staffed and had to ask CRMC to assist with its referrals, but since a new county nursing contract was approved in May, the county has had no trouble meeting the demand for services.
Schrader has also argued that the county’s home health nurses — there are about nine active currently — play an important role in the county’s emergency response plans.
They would be relied upon to help with efforts such as medical shelters and inoculation clinics in the event of emergency, he said.
Had CRMC been awarded a license, and the county’s CHHA eventually forced to disband, those emergency response efforts would have been jeopardized, and roughly 30 county positions, including nurses and support staff, may have been lost, he said.
Neither Gailor nor Feuerherm was available for comment Friday — both were en route from Albany — but M.J. Uttech, deputy director of the county Health Department agreed that the council’s decision was good news for the department.
“I think it would have been difficult having two community organizations each offering the same services,” Uttech said. “It makes me happy personally because we’ve always worked as a partner to the hospital, and it would have been unfortunate and difficult to have to look at them as a competitor.”


Waiting to make a house a home

Woman bought house at auction but former owner would not leave

Staff Reporter
SOLON — Lisa Souza just wants to move into her house. Unfortunately it’s not that easy, she says, because the previous owner just won’t leave.
Souza, 35, a single mother of an 8-month-old baby girl, bought a seized property at 3428 Route 41, Solon, from the county at auction in July, putting down a little more than $17,000. She paid the remaining $74,000 in September but still hasn’t been able to move into her new home.
According to court documents, the previous owner of the 40-acre lot, house and barn, James Murphy, had the property taken from him because he didn’t pay his taxes. Murphy — an attorney for legal aide at 111 Port Watson St., Cortland — is still living there and Souza said he has not explained why he won’t leave.
“I tried to contact him and sent him letters asking for access to_the house,” she said. “I’m trying to do this in the most humane way possible.”
Murphy did not return phone messages the Cortland Standard left at his office and home. His attorney, Lawrence Knickerbocker, said Thursday that he did not have time to discuss the matter and he would speak with Murphy to see if he wanted to explain his side. Knickerbocker added that he didn’t believe Murphy would want to make a statement.
The only evidence of Murphy’s argument can be seen in court papers he filed in response to Souza’s petition, in which he says the county had no right over his property when it was sold to Souza.
“The County of Cortland was not the title holder nor did it have any ownership interest in the property which is the subject of this proceeding on July 21, 2006, and therefore any deed which purports to transfer the County of Cortland’s interest to the petitioner on said date is invalid and void,” he wrote.
County Attorney Ric Van Donsel said the county took the property legally and that when Murphy appealed the decision in July, Supreme Court Judge Phillip R. Rumsey ruled in favor of the county.
“He (Murphy) properly brought a challenge and the judge agreed with the county,” Van Donsel said.
Souza, a Long Island native who works a few days a month as a flight attendant out of Baltimore, Md., said she didn’t want things to be this way. She said she doesn’t want to throw Murphy on the street and she would have even considered renting the place to him for a short time if he had been amicable about the dispute.
While fighting to get into her house, Souza has been renting a home her parents own just down the road from the one she bought. She said her parents, Paul and Irene Halstead, have owned the house at 3673 Route 41 for 20 years and soon plan to retire there from Long Island. She thought the new house would be a nice place to raise her daughter.
Souza said in addition to lawyer fees and rent money, she paid thousands of dollars in taxes on the house that she has yet to see the inside of.
She said she knew when she bought the property it was going to need some work, but Murphy’s refusal to move also cost her several months of good weather where she could have gotten some of it done.
“I don’t know if I’m going to or not,” she said, when asked if she planned to file a lawsuit against Murphy. “Probably at least for the attorney fees and maybe for rent. If I’m paying rent, I think he should have to, also.”
Souza appeared Wednesday evening with her attorney, Russell Ruthig, in Solon Town Court on a petition to have Murphy evicted. She said she has had two notices of eviction served to Murphy in the past.
Murphy was not present for the proceeding but Knickerbocker was there on his behalf. Knickerbocker asked Town Justice Royal Stevens for an adjournment to set up a hearing date, which the judge denied.
The exchanges between all parties involved became heated with everyone except Souza yelling.
“He is just sitting in this lady’s house,” Ruthig told the court. “He’s just jerking us around.”
Outraged by what he called Murphy’s “stall tactics,” Stevens said Murphy “doesn’t have a leg to stand on.”
As of Friday morning Souza says she has not talked to Murphy directly, but by working through their attorneys she has agreed to allow him to stay in the house until Feb. 12. She said she made the agreement under the condition that everything is moved out of the house and off the property when she moves in.
“I’m going to give him a little more time,” she said. “If he doesn’t remove everything, he will have to pay to have it removed.”



Honest act benefits ill children

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — By all accounts Jesse and Christopher Bowers are hard working, responsible 12-year-old boys.
On Oct.6 they showed just how responsible they were when they found a $5 bill outside Wal-Mart in Cortlandville. Instead of pocketing the money, they turned it in to the store.
What began as a gesture of honesty grew into a community fundraiser that collected $300 for ill children in the region.
Brandy Bowers, Jesse’s mother and Christopher’s aunt, said the boys made her very proud. Both boys are sixth-graders at Parker Elementary School in the city.
“They have totally amazed me,” Bowers said. “I was surprised they gave the $5 up because, let me tell you, these kids they both have a paper route and they hold on to their money like you wouldn’t believe. They were using their manners that day.”
The $5 wasn’t claimed and the boys donated it to the Children’s Miracle Network and the Golisano Children’s Hospital at University Hospital in Syracuse.
In the Parker Press — the school’s newsletter — the boys asked that matching $5 donations be made.
Donations from the Parker staff and community members throughout Cortland County totaled $300.
Christopher said the money was donated to help the hospital care for children and buy needed supplies. The donation hit a strong personal note with the children because they have a sick young family member.
“The money helps the hospitals, which helps the children, which helps the parents,” Christopher said. “So, technically it helps everybody.”
When they found the $5, Jesse and Christopher were shopping for Jesse’s ill brother Bradyn “Beeda” Schmidt’s fourth birthday with Parker Elementary School Principal Kevin Yard.
“It makes me feel good that they are doing something for their brother and cousin,” said Mark Schmidt, Bradyn’s father. “They did something that a lot of kids would have never done.”
Bradyn was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a malignant disease of the bone marrow, in April of 2006.
Jesse and Christopher said all they wanted to do was put a smile on Bradyn’s face. In doing so, Yard said, they became leaders. As of now, Bradyn’s leukemia is in remission.
“Parker school is a place where we care about people,” Yard said. “We are a place that cares and those values I believe are instilled in children who spend time here. So it doesn’t surprise me that these kids were thinking about others.”
“I don’t like to see (sick ) kids like Beeda because it’s kinda sad,” his Jesse said.
Bradyn’s illness made the entire family come together. Brandy said she had to move herself and her four children in with her brother and his two children. She had to leave her job at Consumer Direct Care at Cortland County Community Action Program to take care of Bradyn in August. With no income, the family was forced to go on welfare.
Bowers said the Cortland City School District and members of the community have embraced them in their time of need.
She said that she is waiting for Bradyn to get better so she could resume employment, but for now she said they still need help.
“We are proud of who we are and how we live,” Bowers said. “But we are not too proud to take the help.”
“I hope the boys learned that there is a lot of care and support in this community,” Yard said.



Zoning changes prompt concerns

Staff Reporter

VIRGIL — Six residents voiced concerns about the proposed town zoning law at Thursday night’s public hearing, complaining about such issues as minimum lot sizes and recreational vehicle rules.
Two people were concerned about increasing minimum lot sizes from 1 to 3 acres and road frontage from 150 to 350 feet, two people called the town’s handling of the zoning process elitist and two others voiced concerns about enforcement of the rules and the RVs clause, respectively.
The public hearing was the second one held on the proposed zoning law. The other hearing, which took place Sept. 28, drew about 85 people and prompted the board to revise or clarify various parts of the proposed law, such as specifying that only people parking RVs on properties with nonpermanent structures are required to have a permit to store the vehicles.
The zoning plan is the result of a 12-year effort to update the town’s 1979 zoning law and plan for anticipated town growth. It stemmed from a comprehensive plan, subdivision regulations and a transportation management use report.
At Thursday’s public hearing, Ellen Stiering said she’s concerned that a person looking to buy one of her two lots of subdivided land will not be able to build on it, because of the new minimum lot size and road frontage requirements.
The lot for sale is too small, she said, under the proposed guidelines.
Town Supervisor Jim Murphy said new owners would be able to build on the lot, as it was subdivided prior to approval of the zoning document.
The new zoning law doesn’t include a clause about grandfathering, he said, but one applies.
Jo Ann Lamey said she doesn’t understand why the town feels a zoning document is necessary. “Why is it you feel you have to regulate everyone to your choices?” she asked.
She said she and her husband returned to Virgil to raise their son, but now she regrets it. Virgil has gone from being a free place to live to one where people are “pigeonholed,” she said.
Lamey said she got several pages of signatures from residents who would like a public referendum on the zoning document, though she was disappointed most people didn’t turn up at the meeting.
Mary Beth Wright, a board member, reminded Lamey that the Town Board and town Planning Board listened to the public in its creation and revision of the document. The Planning Board had meetings with the public, and based the document on the town’s comprehensive plan, which was formulated after a survey of the town’s residents, she said.
Murphy said the town doesn’t want to take away residents’ rights, as Lamey suggests, but instead wants to prepare for growth.
“We’re trying to protect your rights and look to the future — 30, 40, 50 years from now,” he said.
Tim and Texannah Slack, who moved to Virgil within the last year, said they support the zoning document and appreciated seeing so many residents voicing their concerns.
The hearing lasted a half hour. The board will vote on the proposal at its meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday.