March 06, 2007

Causing accidents, closing schools —

Frigid weather lingers on

Tractor Trailer

Bob Ellis/staff photographer
A tractor trailer sits sandwiched between the guard rail and a tanker on Interstate 81 south near exit 10 in Polkville. The multi-vehicle pileup occurred Monday morning

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Local schools were closed this morning as frigid temperatures ushered in a storm that caused dozens of accidents on area roadways Monday.
National Weather Service officials in Binghamton said this morning that today’s high temperature is expected to reach 10 degrees, with wind-chills of 15 to 20 degrees below zero, scattered snow showers and wind gusts reaching 30 mph.
Wednesday is expected to bring slightly warmer weather with a chance of snow and a high around 20 degrees.
Today’s freezing temperatures forced every school in Cortland County to close along with Dryden and Groton schools in Tompkins County.
National Weather Service officials said this morning that Cortland County saw between 4 and 6 inches of snow Monday, with the wind-chill ranging from 20 to 25 degrees below zero.
The bad weather and high number of accidents caused county officials to issue a traffic and weather advisory at around 1:30 p.m. Monday, requesting no unnecessary travel and warning of 40 mph winds. The warning was still in effect as of this morning.
Whiteout conditions and icy roads are being blamed for numerous accidents Monday throughout Cortland County, including a 12-car pile-up that closed down part of Interstate 81 southbound.
The chain-reaction accidents were among more than 30 reported to the State Police around the county. Officials said no one was seriously injured in any of the accidents reported Monday.
Undersheriff Herb Barnhart said the county 911 center received 163 calls Monday, most of which were accident related. Barnhart noted that some of those calls were for the same accident.
State Police said this morning that at around 11:15 a.m. Monday an unknown southbound sport utility vehicle hit a guardrail causing a second car to stop and swerve to avoid the crash.
That car was then hit by a tractor-trailer, police said. As of this morning that accident was still under investigation because the SUV left the scene, police said.
No one was injured in the crash.
Behind the initial crash was a line of cars, trucks and tractor-trailers stretching from just north of Exit 10 back to Exit 11 where traffic was being re-routed.
Although most of the vehicles that were stopped in the traffic for more than two hours were undamaged, about eight vehicles just behind the first crash were involved in minor accidents.
“We were sitting still when that guy came down quite fast,” said Bill Lanthrop, of Horseheads, who was driving a tractor-trail hauling liquid carbon dioxide from Liverpool to Pennsylvania.
Lanthrop said he was parked on I-81 behind the first crash, which was blocking the roadway, for what he guessed was a minute or two, when another tractor-trailer hauling wooden snow fences hit him from behind. In an effort to avoid hitting Lanthrop, that driver, Gerald Beualieu of Ontario, Canada, wedging his truck between Lanthrop’s truck and the guardrail.
“Luckily he didn’t get the tank or the piping,” Lanthrop said, referring to the potential for an explosion, adding that he and the other driver were unhurt. “Thank God.”
Just a few cars ahead of Lanthrop were William McVicar and his father, Thomas. The two men were heading home to New Jersey after visiting a relative in Camden, McVicar said, when they came on the accident and rear-ended two other vehicles. McVicar said he first grazed a parked tractor-trailer and then rear-ended a car occupied by Dave Koshinski and Philip Jrewicki, of Binghamton.
“I kept hammering on the brakes but nothing happened,” he said.
“I hit the truck then I hit the back of this guy,” he added pointing at his smashed up black Volkswagen Jetta and Koshinski’s banged-up red Isuzu Rodeo.
Although Koshinski said the impact from McVicar rear-ending him knocked him and Jrewicki into a state plow truck, leaving both cars heavily damaged, none of the four men were injured.



Health officials detail need for new facility

Staff Reporter

Regardless of public opposition and political maneuvering that have surrounded plans for a new public health facility on south Main Street, the need for such a facility is very real, a special legislative committee was told Monday.
The committee, formed to look closely at the land deal and the county’s options moving forward, heard from Jackie Gailor, director of the Cortland County Health Department, and Mike Kilmer, administrative director of Cortland County Mental Health Services.
Both stressed their departments face significant space issues.
Cramped conditions have led to serious issues with confidentiality for clients along with a loss of productivity and accessibility problems, Gailor and Kilmer said.
“I think the need is there, and I think that’s something that originally was not conveyed as well as it should have been,” Committee Chairwoman Carol Tytler (D-3rd Ward) said after the meeting. “The issue with confidentiality especially is something that concerns me, and obviously a different space with a different layout could help with that.”
Committee members seemed to agree Monday that the need for a public health facility is significant.
“There’s no question we have a need; these are things we’ve been hearing about for a long time,” said committee member Larry Cornell (R-Marathon and Lapeer), referring to the issues brought up by Gailor and Kilmer. “My concern is that we hadn’t heard enough of this when we were voting on it — it’s unfortunate we’re only getting this info now.”
Exactly how much space each department requires is unclear.
County Maintenance Supervisor Brian Parker broke down the current square-footage at about 18,000-square-feet for the Health Department, and about 17,500-square-feet for Mental Health Department, including Horizon House on Grant Street.
Comprehensive space studies done of all county departments have suggested increases in space for both departments, Parker said, but those suggestions were contingent on other departments vacating already-owned county space.
While the 30,000-square-foot building proposed for south Main Street would have offered less space than the current square-footage of both departments combined, Schrader pointed out that the facility would have had a basement that could have been used for storage, and that the two departments would be sharing some space.
Gailor and Kilmer noted that storage is becoming a large issue, with new state mandates requiring certain records to be kept indefinitely.
“Right now we’re talking about three separate buildings, but when you combine them all, you’re only going to need one reception area, for instance,” Schrader said, noting that conference rooms could also easily be shared. “When you’re analyzing space needs, you have to factor in that redundant space.”
Gailor and Kilmer said they supported consolidating the Health and Mental Health departments into one building.
Gailor painted a picture of offices meant for one person but shared by three or four and of confidential conferences sometimes being forced into hallways.
“I would encourage anyone to come down and take a look at how people are literally sitting on top of each other,” Gailor said. “It causes a lot of problems with confidentiality and it limits our productivity.”
Because of tight quarters at the Mental Health Department, Kilmer said that white noise machines have been purchased to ensure conversations are confidential.


Awareness of school defibrillators increasing

New York State United Teachers union calls for maintenance of the devices

From staff and wire reports
School nurse Janel Martinez and physical education teacher Bryan Seybolt saw the collapsed 7-year-old on the gym floor and rushed for the red device that’s hung on the wall for years but was never used.
The automated external defibrillator helped restart the child’s heart during that gym class on Feb. 6 in the Big Cross Street Elementary School in Glens Falls.
It was the 51st save of a life with the devices in New York — and the 13th child — since they were required in schools in 2002, despite complaints about the cost.
New York State United Teachers, a statewide teachers union, announced a new campaign Monday to check if the automatic external defibrillators, which it fought to mandate for schools, are ready for use in emergencies.
Locally, no rescues using automated external defibrillators have been reported, but the devises are being maintained and staff continue to be trained to use them, officials at some schools said.
“They are a valuable tool the district has just in case,” said Homer Superintendent of School Douglas Larison. He said to his knowledge the 22 defibrillators in the district have never been used; he has been with the district 3 1/2 years.
Larison said the district provides staff development on a regular basis so staff members qualify to use the defibrillators.
Districts were able to purchase defibrillators through BOCES for about $1,500 each and the state provided a $35,000 grant to help cover the expense for Cortland County schools, with $10,000 each for Homer and Cortland and $5,000 each for Cincinnatus, Marathon and McGraw schools.
Homer spent $40,000 to purchase defibrillators, Larison said.
McGraw has four portable AEDs that are housed in the nurses’ offices with two each at the elementary and high school.
Superintendent of Schools Maria S. Fragnoli-Ryan said the defibrillators are checked regularly and batteries were replaced this fall. Coaches make sure each practice or game has a defibrillator, she said.
Fragnoli-Ryan said the district is also looking into purchasing a case so defibrillators could be mounted in the hallway where they would be more accessible for after-school activities.
Larison said at Homer the defibrillators are mounted in the hallways. For example at the high school there is one on each of three floors in addition to portable ones that are used for sports practices.
Fragnoli-Ryan said the district has to pay Red Cross for using a training defibrillator and practice dummies, but elementary school nurse Mary Shorts is qualified to offer the instruction and CPR instruction, so the district does not have to pay for this. Fragnoli-Ryan said the training is usually done three times a year and this year the cost has been written into a grant.
Brenda Myers, Groton school district superintendent, said while the four or five devises Groton has have not been used, the district budgets $5,000 to $7,000 a year to train staff and maintain the devises.
She said, this year the district would also like to purchase an additional defibrillator to have as a spare.
NYSUT, which helped a member create a nationwide movement to push for defibrillators in schools, is going back into the schools to make sure the devices are still ready for action.
“We want to make sure they are still housed in their containers and are functioning and people can find them,” said Richard Iannuzzi, NYSUT president. The state’s largest teachers union, with members in schools statewide, will also seek to make sure the batteries are charged.
“I’d have to say it’s one of the proudest things, for us at NYSUT, to have been involved in,” he said. “It’s a really good feeling.”
New York’s Legislature followed Pennsylvania in requiring schools to have the heart-starters, thanks to the efforts of Rachel Moyer, a teacher in a New York public school who lived in Pennsylvania. Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia now require at least some schools to have portable defibrillators, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.


County leads state in welfare spending increase

Staff Reporter

Cortland County saw the largest combined increase on temporary assistance, food stamps and supplemental security income expenditures of all New York counties from 2005 to 2006, according to state statistics released at the beginning of the year.
The 9.2 percent increase is the largest the county has seen in the last six years. Total spending on the three state programs went from $13.2 million in 2005 to $14.4 million in 2006.
Statewide those expenditures increased by 3.6 percent from $7.7 billion to $8 billion, according to the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.
Counties following Cortland County in highest expenditure increase from 2005 to 2006 were Rensselaer with an 8.5 percent increase, Orleans with a 7.9 percent increase and Broome with a 7.7 percent increase.
Meanwhile, a number of counties, including Columbia, Essex and Livingston, saw overall drops in spending on those services.
Brian Moore, director of services of the Cortland County Department of Social Services, said he was not sure what prompted the increase in spending on those services, especially on temporary assistance, the county’s biggest percentage increase.
Temporary assistance spending increased 14 percent in the county — the second highest percent increase of all New York counties — from $2.5 million to $2.8 million. The money went to 953 temporary assistance recipients in 2006, a 6 percent increase over the previous year’s 899 recipients, who received average monthly payments ranging from $274 to $351.