March 17, 2007

‘She was a parent’s dream’

Friends recall Homer teen Alissa Churchill, who died with her grandmother in a car accident Thursday.

Alissa Churchill

Alissa Churchill

Staff Reporter

HOMER — The snow fell lightly on the arrangements, the bouquets of flowers and the two white wooden crosses two young men had just driven into the ground.
Cars passed by the spot where Alissa Churchill and her grandmother, Sally Churchill, had lost their lives in a two-vehicle accident Thursday at the intersection of Bond and Kinney Gulf roads in the town of Homer.
Alissa’s boyfriend, Eric Bonawitz, of Marathon, and her best friend, Ricky Martini, of Cortland, set up the crosses Friday afternoon.
Bonawitz held a hammer in his hand as a spray of pink roses leaned against the crosses.
“She was a parent’s dream,” Bonawitz said.
They had met Alissa while working at Tops supermarket over the summer, and Bonawitz said that as long as he had known her, “All she talked about was how she was going to be a doctor some day.
“Her big thing was she wanted to get into the New Visions program,” at the Cortland Regional Medical Center, Bonawitz said. “She wasn’t sure what kind of doctor she wanted to be, but all she wanted to do was help people.”
The 17-year-old loved cheerleading and dancing, Bonawitz said, and also riding her horse.
Alissa and her grandmother, 69, likely were on their way to Sally Churchill’s nearby Kinney Gulf Road home in a Toyota Camry when Alissa, who was driving, took a left turn from Bond Road onto Kinney Gulf Road and was struck in the side by a northbound Dodge Ram pickup driven by John Hammond, of Summerhill. Hammond was uninjured.
Bond Road plunges down the steep side of a hill and into a shallow knoll before its raised intersection with Kinney Gulf Road, which winds through the valley and comes up over a gentle rise before its intersection with Bond and Hatfield Roads.
Although the accident is still under investigation and no tickets have been issued, Sgt. Rob Derkson, of the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department, said road conditions were normal at the time of the accident, about 4:30 p.m. Thursday.
That intersection is not obstructed visually, Derkson said, but does have limited visibility.
“I believe her grandmother had just picked her up at her father’s house. Her grandmother lives only a half mile up the road,” Bonawitz said. “She was very close with her grandparents; her grandmother was one of her best friends who she could talk to about anything.”
Earlier Friday, Bonawitz had stopped by and left a note at Alissa’s house — her father was able to get back to him later in the day.
At a midday press conference Friday at Homer Senior High School, where Alissa was a junior, Principal Fred Farah described her as “an excellent student, highly motivated, bright, and with a promising future.”
“Alissa will be remembered and missed by the many students and staff who she befriended and whose lives she influenced in a sincere, kind and uplifting manner,” Farah read from a prepared statement. “Her acquaintances and her friendships knew none of the traditional boundaries … Alissa felt no need to belong to any clique.”
Her two friends concurred.
“If you asked her about it, everybody she knew was her best friend,” Bonawitz said. “She had hundreds of best friends.”
Friends have set up a Web site
to collect thoughts, memories and pictures of Alissa Jean Churchill:



Election commissioners’ salaries argued in court

Staff Reporter

NORWICH — Does an equal base salary, with incremental raises based on longevity, fall in line with a state requirement that county election commissioners be paid equally?
That was the central question Friday, as attorneys argued the lawsuit filed by election commissioners Bill Wood and Bob Howe against the county in State Supreme Court in Norwich.
Buffalo attorney Ralph Mohr, representing Wood and Howe, and Binghamton attorney Greg Gates, representing the county, argued the case in front of Judge Kevin Dowd at the Chenango County Courthouse.
A decision from Dowd is expected in approximately 60 days.
The main point of contention for both attorneys was how the New York State Election Law, which requires that both commissioners’ salaries be equal, interacts with state county law, which gives the county Legislature the right to set salaries for its employees and to base salaries on years of service.
Mohr argued that state election law trumps county law, and that the commissioners’ salaries should always be equal.
“(Election law) says each election commissioner should receive an equal salary, not an equal base salary,” Mohr said.
Mohr did say that the county’s management compensation plan — which paid Howe $29,967 in 2006 based on 10 years longevity, versus $25,616 for Wood, in his first year on the job — could coexist with the election law.
“You can read the two sections consistently, the new commissioner coming in just has to receive the same pay as the incumbent,” Mohr said.
Gates, meanwhile, conceded that the county’s decision in December to even Wood and Howe’s salaries at $26,384 wasn’t legal, as it lowered Howe’s salary in the middle of his term.
However, he argued, the county was simply trying to put the two commissioners “on an even keel” in response to their request that their salaries be equaled.
Ultimately, while the county cannot lower Howe’s salary, it is not obligated to raise Wood’s, Gates said.
Although the commissioners’ salaries differ because of different longevity with the county, the county was in line with state law because it had set an equal base salary that only went up based on tenure, he said.
“County law permits the Legislature to differentiate salary based on years of service, and for years Cortland County has done that,” Gates said after Friday’s court appearance. “The Legislature may be of a mind to change that in light of this situation, but they had the authority to do what they did.”
Gates also noted that setting the commissioners’ salaries at a fixed equal rate, absent of longevity pay, was complicated by the fact that the terms of each position are staggered.
County Administrator Scott Schrader said that, theoretically, if the county wishes to establish a set salary of $26,384 as it attempted to do in December, it would have to wait until January of 2009, when both commissioners’ terms are up.


Moose Lodge files lawsuit against county

Staff Reporter

A threatened lawsuit regarding the Legislature’s decision to back out of purchasing a number of properties along south Main Street became a reality Thursday, as an attorney for the Moose Lodge, the central property in the deal, filed suit in State Supreme Court.
Attorney Russ Ruthig said Friday that he and his clients would not wait indefinitely for the county to respond to his request that the county go through with the purchase of the Moose Lodge property at 157 Main St.
“We were asked to defer because this was going to be taken care of at the March 22 meeting, but now I’m reading in the paper that they’re going to talk about it April 5, so the big question is, when are they going to respond?” Ruthig said. “I had to do it, now we’ll see what the reaction is.”
A special legislative committee has been looking for the past month at the aborted deal and how the county should respond to the complaints of Ruthig, who also represents the owners of 11 Williams St., and attorneys for two other property owners involved in the deal.
The committee came up with six potential options, four of which involved purchasing all or some of the properties to avoid a lawsuit, and a special meeting was scheduled for April 5 to discuss those options.
County Attorney Ric Van Donsel and Legislature Chairman Marilyn Brown (D-8th Ward) could not be reached for comment Friday.
Ruthig’s lawsuit charges that the county’s initial decision to purchase the properties on Dec. 21 represented a binding agreement.
The motion to reconsider that the Legislature passed Jan. 25, effectively killing the deal, was inappropriate, the suit says, for two reasons.
First of all, the clause in the contract making any deal contingent on government approval expired Dec. 22, with no notice from the county otherwise.
Secondly, the suit claims, the motion to reconsider was inappropriate, and should have been considered a “motion to rescind,” requiring a two-thirds-majority vote that the motion did not have.
The lawsuit requests that the court compel the county to go through with the purchase of the Moose Lodge at the agreed price of $247,500, or that the county be forced to simply pay $247,500 in damages, along with attorney fees.
Because the other potential complainants in the case — the owners of 11 Williams St., 8 Randall St. and the owners of Robbins Tobacco — will likely produce a similar lawsuit, Ruthig said they could be filed at any time, and the county would likely deal with all of them at once.


Grand jury indicts New York City man on charge of having fake $100 bill

Staff Reporter

A Cortland County grand jury on Friday indicted a New York City man who police believe is part of a counterfeit scandal that reaches up and down the East Coast.
Camillen Feurucin, whose age is unknown, was indicted on one count of first-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, a felony, for allegedly using a fake $100 bill at the Eckerd Pharmacy on Port Watson Street in September.
City police took Feurucin into custody on Sept. 16 when they arrested Franzey Rodney, 25, of 1132 Ocean Ave., Brooklyn, who police said also used a fake $100 at the Hess Mart on Port Watson Street to buy cigarettes and water and at the Coffee Mania shop on Port Watson Street.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services detained Feurucin because he could not provide proper identification. Cortland city police arrested Feurucin Sept. 23 while he was still in the custody of federal officials.
Police said Friday that they now believe Feurucin was born in France but then moved to Haiti and was living in New York City when he was taken into custody in Cortland.
Police said that although he was indicted as Camillen Feurucin, the name he originally gave police when he was detained, they now believe his real name is Allen Leveille.
Two other men who were with Feurucin when police arrested him were released from custody because officers could not tie them to the crimes. Warrants have now been issued for their arrests, police said Thursday.
In addition to the fake bills the two men used on Port Watson Street, police believe the men also used fake $100 bills in Binghamton; Allen Township, Pa.; and South Carolina.
After the arrest police also discovered that Feurucin was wanted in New York City on a 2003 warrant after he failed to show up for sentencing in a case in which he was convicted of third-degree bribing a government official, a felony. For that crime he was arrested and convicted under the name of Allen Leveille.
He is being held in the Cortland County Jail without bail. Rodney is out of jail on $5,000 cash bail. His case is pending in City Court.