February 15, 2007

Ex-cop indicted on manslaughter charges


Bob Ellis/staff photographer    
A TV camera focuses on former Cortland police officer Chip Stockton as he leaves County Court following his appearance this morning. Stockton pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from a Nov. 17 accident that injured two women, one of whom later died.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — A former city police officer pleaded not guilty this morning to five criminal charges and one traffic violation in County Court, including driving while intoxicated and manslaughter.
With several of his family members and friends present, Jeffery “Chip” Stockton, 38, of 16 Frank St., Cortland, was arraigned on a sealed indictment in front of Judge Julie Campbell. He is accused of killing one woman and badly injuring another in a drunken driving accident in November.
Stockton is charged with second-degree manslaughter, second-degree vehicular manslaughter, second-degree vehicular assault, felonies; driving while intoxicated, DWI with a blood-alcohol content greater than 0.08 percent, misdemeanors; and failure to exercise due care, a violation.
If convicted on the manslaughter charges, he could be sentenced to as many as 15 years in prison.
“I’m not going to discuss the indictment that is going to be the subject of the pre-trial conference,” Stockton’s attorney, Mark Suben, said after the arraignment.
Stockton was arrested Nov. 17 after he struck two pedestrians — Melody Benn, 55, of 65 Central Ave., Apt. 11, and Lynn Briggs, 55, of 65 Central Ave., Apt. 10 — at the intersection of Central Avenue and Church Street.
Briggs died two weeks later from her injuries.
After the accident, Stockton was charged with assault, DWI and a traffic violation, of which he still is accused. He was not charged with manslaughter until this morning.
In addition to Stockton’s legal charges, Briggs’ daughter, Lisa Breed, filed a notice of claim against the city on Feb. 9 seeking unnamed monetary damages.
The claim states that Breed is seeking damages for mortal injuries, pain and suffering, medical care, lost income and funeral expenses for her mother.
The Breed family declined to comment on the lawsuit Wednesday.
According to court documents, Stockton told city police officers that he “had a few beers” before the accident and he was text messaging “a girl” at the time of the crash.
Police said Stockton failed three of four field sobriety tests, including saying the alphabet.
Police Chief James Nichols denied a Freedom of Information request seeking Stockton’s blood-alcohol content at the time of the accident in December, citing the department’s policy of not releasing a BAC while charges are pending in a case.
Stockton was employed at the Police Department for seven years. He resigned from the job on Dec. 6, four days after Briggs died.
After Stockton was arrested, he was released without bail. Campbell said this morning she would allow him to remain out of jail without bail, stating that he has made all his court appearance.
He is scheduled to reappear March 16 in County Court.



Snow ends, but drifting a hazard

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The heavy snow finally tapered off Wednesday evening after a full day and night of accumulation, leaving between 15 and 18 inches of snow for residents and highway departments to deal with.
But the wind and cold isn’t going to let up anytime soon, said Bob Mundschenk, a Binghamton-based meteorologist for the National Weather Service.
“It’s going to be cold — temperatures today, you’ll be lucky if you hit 10 degrees (Fahrenheit),” Mundschenk said this morning.
It also will be “breezy,” Mundschenk said, with west winds blowing between 15 and 25 mph and wind chills between 5 degrees below zero and 15 degrees below.
The skies should be mostly cloudy, with only a 40 percent chance of snow showers into Friday.
The Cortland County Sheriff’s Department has lifted a ban on unnecessary travel, according to release issued this morning by Undersheriff Herb Barnhart, but drivers are urged to use caution. There is also the chance of drifting and whiteout conditions on secondary roads.
Now that the snow has let up, county Highway Department Superintendent Don Chambers said the road crews would be contending with the effects of the wind.
The roads are slippery but passable, Chambers said, and salt is not that effective because of the cold temperatures.
“We’ve been going around the clock, trying to keep things clean,” Chambers said this morning, “utilizing additional equipment to try to double up on the routes, to prevent drifting and push the banks back as far as we can. We have additional work force on, we’ve had to call guys in who are normally off at this point, and they are supplementing the crew that is on the current shift.”
The workers are “shelfing” the snow banks in an effort to reduce drift onto the roads; Chambers said this means the blades of the plows are being used to chop off the tops of the banks lining the roads.
“It sounds like the winds are going to continue, so until they subside and we feel we have everything under control, then we’ll go back to normal operations,” Chambers said, adding that the employees of the city, town, village, county and state highway departments have done a “fantastic job.”
Although not necessarily weather related, a malfunction at a National Grid substation left 360 customers without electricity for almost 10 hours Wednesday afternoon and evening, and shut down Greek Peak Ski Resort on a day with ideal conditions.
A fuse in a lightning arrestor — which protects the substation equipment from the effects of a lightning strike — failed at about 2:30 p.m. for an unknown reason, National Grid spokesman Alberto Bianchetti said. Power remained out until shortly after midnight.
Meanwhile, Virgil Town Supervisor Jim Murphy said the Virgil Volunteer Fire Department was on standby in case residents affected by the power failure needed assistance, as was the county Sheriff’s Department.
Al Kryger, president of Greek Peak, said this morning that four chairlifts were in use at the time, and all but one was evacuated with auxiliary power. However, one chair had to be evacuated with ropes after a malfunction during the installation of an auxiliary motor.
“It was devastating. We had half a parking lot full, it was a great day for temperatures, and the power goes off,” Kryger said. “Two years out of the last three we’ve had a full house and the power has gone out.”


Fed cuts would cost hospital $2.6 million

Staff Reporter

Proposed Medicare and Medicaid cuts in the federal budget could cost Cortland Regional Medical Center approximately $2.6 million over the next five years, according to a report released Monday by a leading health care advocate.
Proposed cuts in both President Bush’s 2008 federal budget and Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s 2007-08 Executive Budget could account for a loss of up to $10 billion for hospitals statewide, according to the Healthcare Association of New York State, a nonprofit that advocates for hospitals in the state.
Because of changes in the way funding is distributed within the state, CRMC would be one of the few hospitals to actually gain funding — about $294,000 — in spite of about $2.4 billion in Medicaid cuts proposed in Spitzer’s budget, HANYS spokesperson William Van Slyke said.
However, $2.8 billion in proposed cuts to Medicare funding and $4.7 billion in Medicaid payments cuts under the president’s proposed budget would decrease funding to CRMC by about $2.6 million, Van Slyke said, meaning that ultimately CRMC will see a total loss of about $2.3 million in funding over the next five years.
“While the question of what’s this mean to the hospitals is critical, what’s more critical is what’s it going to mean to the communities they serve,” Van Slyke said. “When a hospital is all of the sudden staring in the face of a significant shortfall, there’s only a handful of places you can look — do you eliminate or cut back on services? Does it have an impact on patient care? — administrators are going to have some agonizing choices to make.”
Tom Quinn, director of marketing at CRMC, said he had seen HANYS’ figures, and that they were essentially accurate.
Quinn agreed that it could affect the hospital’s ability to offer services.
“We’re very concerned that the magnitude of the cuts proposed by President Bush will potentially result in weakened access for patients — and not just in Cortland, but across the state,” Quinn said. “I think a lot of it is going to be keeping up with rising costs — pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, labor, supplies — everything is getting more expensive and any loss in revenue certainly doesn’t help.”
Quinn said he agrees that reform in the health care industry is necessary, but that cutting hospitals’ budgets is not the way to achieve it.
“Hospitals need to grow and modernize, and cutting their budgets just sets them behind,” Quinn said. “I think the best way to reduce costs is preventive medicine and effective treatment of chronic illness, but that’s something that’s going to take a serious, long-term commitment.”
Both Van Slyke and Quinn said they were hopeful that the state Legislature and Congress would fight to reduce the proposed cuts in both the state and federal budgets.