February 13, 2007

City officer named lawman of the year

Sgt. Bill Carpenter given award for his work on high-profile child abuse case


Bob Ellis/staff photographer   
Cortland Police Department Sgt. Bill Carpenter holds his newborn baby girl, Sophia, and the 2007 Lawman of The Year Award as he sits with his wife, Renee, at Cortland Regional Medical Center this morning. The baby was born Monday afternoon and Carpenter was named winner of the award that evening.  

Staff Reporter

Sgt. Bill Carpenter received two honors Monday night.
The first was the birth of his third child, a 7-pound baby girl named Sophia, and the second came a few hours later when he was voted the 37th Annual Lawman of the Year.
The award is sponsored by the Cortland Elks Club.
Carpenter, a 20-year veteran of the city police department, received the award for his work on a high-profile child abuse case and arrests he made in a relation to a counterfeit money scam that police say stretched up and down the East Coast.
“It’s a very prestigious award,” Carpenter, 41, said on the phone from a room at Cortland Regional Medical Center with his wife, Renee, and the couple’s new daughter.
In addition to the timing of Sophia’s birth, the award comes just two weeks after Carpenter’s father, Gary Carpenter, died of cancer. Gary Carpenter was the award’s first recipient in 1971 and a retired lieutenant of the city police.
“It’s very emotional,” Carpenter said. “I’m sure he is looking down on me right now and is very proud.”
Because Carpenter could not be present for the ceremony, Chief James Nichols accepted the award on his behalf.
Nichols told the dinner crowd gathered at the Elks Lodge at 9 Groton Ave. that he has known Carpenter since he was a child, and that he believes Gary Carpenter would be proud of his son.
“It’s my honor to be here,” Nichols said.
Carpenter said on the phone that he wanted to thank his wife for her support of his career, and noted that his father and his mother, Angele Carpenter, have always been strong role models for him.
“It’s sacrifice on the part of the families,” he said of police work. “I’m glad I can give back to my community. It’s very rewarding. There is never a day I wake up in the morning and I don’t want to come to work.”
He said he also wished to thank the “family” that he works with at the police department, especially Nichols, Deputy Chief Frank Catalano, Lt. Paul Sandy, Lt. John Gesin and Sgt. Richard Troyer. 
Also nominated for the award were Trooper Steve Bilodeau, of the State Police, and Capt. Roy Lewis, of the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department.
Each candidate received a plaque for his nomination, while Carpenter received a certificate signed by state Sen. James Seward (R-Milford) and a .357 magnum handgun donated by the Cortland County Restaurant & Tavern Owners Association.



Area braces for storm

Staff Reporter

Starting this afternoon, heavy snows will blanket Central New York and continue through the night and into Wednesday evening, leaving up to 2 feet of accumulation.
A heavy snow warning will be in effect from 3 p.m. today until _7 p.m. Wednesday, said National Weather Service meteorologist Brian Lovejoy out of Binghamton.
“It looks like Cortland is in quite a bull’s-eye for this,” Lovejoy said this morning. “It looks like you’re going to get probably 20-24 inches, or just shy of two feet.”
The highs today will be between 15 and 20 degrees, and Lovejoy said they would drop to about 10 degrees overnight before rising to today’s levels again on Wednesday.
Winds between 10 and 15 mph will continue on until tomorrow, picking up to between 15 and __25 mph tomorrow afternoon. Lovejoy said that the wind chill would be below zero all day Wednesday.
“You’re going to have blowing snow, you’re going to have drifting snow, the whole nine yards,” Lovejoy said. “It’s going to be a significant snowstorm, so people need to be prepared.”
The Cortland County Chapter of the American Red Cross will be monitoring the weather closely, said executive director Bonnie Heath, and its response will vary depending on when the storm begins in earnest.
“If it comes tonight so people are home, etc., then people are going to be able to stay in their homes and be safe,” Heath said. “But if it hits tomorrow morning, and people are at work and unable to get home, then we’ll be looking into shelters.”
Heath recommended that people make sure they have sufficient food and perhaps bottled water in their homes, and that their cars contain extra warm clothing and footwear and have antifreeze and appropriate tires for winter weather.
“Let’s hope that people have been listening to the TV or the radio and that they are aware that there is a storm coming,” Heath said.
“We’re preparing basically every piece of equipment that we have for the snow-removal process, and making sure that everything we have is serviced and ready to go,” county Highway Superintendent Don Chambers said this morning.
Dump trucks and road graders are being fitted with plows in case the entire fleet needed to be mobilized, Chambers said.
Cortlandville Superintendent of Highways Carl Bush said the regular snow removal crews would be working this evening.
“We’re just going through our trucks, and making sure everything’s up and ready to go, maintenance,” Bush said this morning.
The southerly origin of the storm might mean the snow will be fairly heavy and wet, Bush said.


Work on river trail to begin next spring

Staff Reporter

If all goes as planned, construction on the long-delayed Tioughnioga River Trail between Homer and Cortland will begin next spring, with at least one public information session preceding its start.
Engineers from C&S Engineers in Syracuse gave Cortland County Industrial Development Agency board members a project update Monday.
Plans call for a 2.7-mile walking trail along the Tioughnioga River from Yaman Park in Cortland to Albany Street in Homer. The county has received about $1.3 million in state and federal aid for the project.
C&S Engineer Todd Humphrey said this morning he does not yet have a cost estimate for the project, which includes the project’s design, construction and property acquisitions, though he said ideally it will cost less than $1.3 million.
Humphrey and his co-worker, Chuck Stanton, presented 30 sheets to the Industrial Development Agency, each one a blueprint of a certain part of the trail. The Industrial Development Agency is the project’s lead agency, while grant money for the project will go through the Cortland County Highway Department.
Linda Hartsock, executive director of the Industrial Development Agency, said this morning that once the project is complete the city will own the part within its boundaries — or about 80 percent — while the county will own the parts in other municipalities.
She said the city will be responsible for maintaining the part it owns, while Homer and Cortlandville will be responsible for the part in their municipalities.
She said she hopes that volunteers from places such as SUNY Cortland and Lime Hollow can pitch in and help maintain the trail.
Humphrey said the trail will be 10 feet wide and paved. It will accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists going in two different directions.
For each sheet, the engineers described properties that would need to be purchased, easements the city has already purchased and efforts made to avoid the floodplain.
Other notable details included the planned parking areas beside the trail, the need for screening between the trail and houses, and the removal of utility poles.
C&S Engineers was hired by the Cortland County Highway Department for $245,000 to survey land, prepare bid documents for construction contractors, prepare land acquisitions and interact with state and federal agencies for the project.
The contract followed three years of environmental review work, Hartsock said this morning.
That is the biggest reason why the project has taken so long since it was revived in 2001, Hartsock said. Marty Mack first conceived the project about 15 years ago when he was mayor of Cortland.
Humphrey said his firm is still working with the Department of Transportation, FEMA, Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on approval of the project’s blueprint.
It is often easier to negotiate with governmental agencies when a community can prove it backs a project, Humphrey said.


Clock tower traffic concern

Staff Reporter

Preliminary review of plans for a new clock tower building have raised concern over the impact a proposed bank in the building will have on downtown traffic.
The new building would include a first-floor bank with two drive-thru teller windows and a drive-up ATM, with the entrance from Tompkins Street and an exit onto Main Street.
“It’s really going to create congestion along Tompkins Street not only for the vehicles in the drive-thru lane, but the vehicles waiting to access the ATM machine in the drive-thru,” said Dan Dineen, director of the Cortland County Planning Department.
The county Planning Board will review the project Wednesday night. Property owner John Scanlon said he would be presenting proposals for a three-story and four-story building because he is unsure which design would be possible, contingent upon rent levels and the financing he received.
The tentative cost estimate is $4.8 million, he said, $2 million of which will come from a state Restore-NY Communities Initiative grant the city received for the project in October.
Syracuse-based Holmes, King, and Kallquist Associates, Architects have drawn up plans for a four-story, 7,000-square-foot building on the roughly 0.4 acre lot. The original clock tower building that was destroyed by fire in April was 6,500 square feet.
The building would have space for retail, office, and residential uses, and would have a parking lot adjacent to the site. The new building would also have a brick façade and a clock tower, as did the Squires Building.
Although he has been in communication with a bank, Scanlon said that he was unable to release its name.
The Coordinated Review Committee — a combined effort of the County Planning Board, Highway Department, Health Department, and Soil and Water Conservation District — recommended that the proposed drive-thru ATM machine be changed to a walk-up ATM based on concerns about traffic congestion.
The two-lanes leading to the drive-thru tellers would have space for only three cars, and the committee recommended changing the location of one of the windows in order to allow an additional car to wait its turn.
Likewise, the ATM wouldn’t have direct access from Tompkins Street and users would have to wait in the same lanes as those waiting for the drive-thru tellers.
Scanlon said although no formal plans incorporating any changes had been drawn up yet, he would be discussing several options that might clear up the problem without eliminating the drive-thru ATM. Because Tompkins Street/Route 13 is a state highway, Scanlon would have to receive approval of the project from the state Department of Transportation for the curb cuts.
“When the traffic issue’s resolved, I think we’ll be able to have a definite timeline,” Scanlon said. “The DOT will probably be the agency that requires the most time to resolve any concerns, if there are concerns.”


Psychologist pleads guilty to harassment

Staff Reporter

A school psychologist who worked at two area schools pleaded guilty to harassment Monday after being accused of dragging a third-grade special education student out of a classroom by his neck.
Marcia Rutledge, 50, of 112 Hillcrest Road, Syracuse, was sentenced to a conditional discharge, community service and fined for her actions at McGraw Central School on Oct. 4.
She pleaded guilty to second-degree harassment, a misdemeanor, in Cortlandville Town Court.
Rutledge was working part time at McGraw and part time at Cincinnatus Central School at the time of the incident.
Town Justice Francis Casullo said he would go along with the one-year conditional discharge provided that Rutledge complete 125 hours of community service in Cortland County, pay a $250 fine, stay away from children under the age of 18 for one year and undergo an evaluation for anger management by April 16.
He said that if the counselor conducting the evaluation felt that Rutledge needs treatment, counseling would also become part of the sentence.
A one-year order of protection was also issued on behalf of the victim.
The Cortland County Sheriff’s Department arrested Rutledge on Oct. 16 and charged her with endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor, after she physically dragged a 9-year-old student out of a special education classroom when he was not being violent or dangerous toward himself or others, police said.
When the boy’s mother found out about the incident after school she filed the charges. She said she was happy with the plea deal reached because her son would not have to testify.
She also said she was grateful to her son’s teacher Candy Farris, school nurse Mary Shorts and Superintendent of Schools Maria Fragnoli-Ryan for their support after the incident.
Rutledge’s attorney, Joe Heath of Syracuse, said his client would do things differently if she could, saying he believes everyone involved is a victim.
“It’s ruined her career. She is now going to resign and she can’t see that retirement for several more years,” he said, standing next to Rutledge who was in tears and declined to speak with the Cortland Standard.
Heath said he felt the situation was a result of a “build up” in an understaffed special education classroom. Health admitted that at the time his client grabbed the student, the boy was not being violent.