June 30, 2007

Suspect caught in Dryden after ramming police cars


Bob Ellis/staff photographer      
Two state troopers and Dryden Police Department Officer Mackenzie Covert (center) drag Donna McClory-Lyon to a waiting ambulance after officers pulled the woman from her car on West Main Street in Dryden Friday afternoon.
McClory-Lyon led police on a chase from Cortland that ended in Dryden when her car was boxed in by cars from the Cortland Police and Cortland County Sheriff’s departments, as seen in the photo above right.  Shown from left are Cortland Officer Joseph Peters, who pursued the car from Cortland, Dryden Officer Mackenzie Covert, Cortland Sgt. Fred Whitsett Jr. and Dryden Chief Margaret Ryan.

Staff Reporter

A Cortland woman was taken into custody Friday afternoon after leading police on a chase through two counties and ramming her car into two police cars while on West Main Street in the village of Dryden.
Cortland County Undersheriff Herb Barnhart and Cortland City Police Officer Joseph Peters pulled Donna McClory-Lyon, 48, of 61 River St., out of her car just before 3 p.m. Friday, ending a chase that began in Cortland at the woman’s home when County Police Officer Amber Morsch tried to serve her with an order of protection and the woman refused to take the paperwork.
In Dryden, Barnhart and Peters blocked McClory-Lyon in with their cars as she rammed into both vehicles several times. The officers smashed both the passenger and driver’s side windows out of the car in order to remove her, witnesses said.
“I looked out the window and saw the white car smashing into the Cortland (city police) car and then into the car behind it,” said Kim Thompson who was working at Todi’s Italian Pizzeria. “She went back and forth and the cops started punching the windows.”
Thompson said the officers smashed the windows of the McClory-Lyon Chevrolet Monte Carlo with their nightsticks and pulled McClory-Lyon from the car.
“She had blood all over her,” she said.
Tracy Pelletier was working in the Body Care Center on West Main Street during the incident. She said she saw Peters draw his gun and tell McClory-Lyon to get out of her car.
“She was screaming a lot,” Pelletier said. “She was pissed off.”
Barnhart said he picked up on the chase in Virgil.
City police Lt. John Gesin said two of his department’s officer — Peters and Patrolman Jarred Aiken — went to McClory-Lyon’s home on River Street after the county police officer called for assistance. City police charged McClory-Lyon with second-degree reckless endangerment because she almost hit Peters as she backed out of her driveway, unlawfully fleeing police (a new law created after State Trooper Craig Todeschini was killed April 23, 2006, when his patrol vehicle crashed into a tree as he pursued a speeding motorcyclist) and reckless driving, all misdemeanors, and failure to stop at a red light, a violation. Gesin said she was also speeding in the city, traveling about 50 mph, but it was not captured on radar.
Dryden police charged McClory-Lyon with first-degree reckless endangerment, a felony, for ramming the police cars with officers in them, and second-degree criminal mischief, also a felony, for the damage to the police cars, according to Gesin. He said the Sheriff’s Department is expected to charge her with driving while ability impaired because of drugs.
Gesin said McClory-Lyon went from her house south on River Street, west on Port Watson Street, south on Pendleton Street, west on Saunders Hill Road, south on Page Green Road, west on Route 392 into Dryden. Police said she never exceeded 60 mph.
City police, Cortland County Sheriff’s and State Police were involved in the chase and Dryden police and Tompkins County Sheriff’s officers assisted at the scene of the arrest.
Construction workers from Contour Construction said they saw police officers chase McClory-Lyon through their work zone on Page Green Road in Cortlandville.
“It wasn’t really that high speed,” said Derrek Fuller, who estimated the cars were traveling around 35 mph.
Lisa Hallstein said she was flagging in the construction zone She said the workers were able to move out to the way because they heard police sirens coming.
“She never hit a cone,” Hallstein said, explaining that McClory-Lyon was not driving erratically and appeared to be in control of her vehicle.
McClory-Lyon and Peters were transported to Cortland Regional Medical Center where Gesin said Peters was treated for a sore lower back and released Friday night; McClory-Lyon remained in the hospital this morning for evaluation.
McClory-Lyon has also been indicted recently on felony charges after being charged with pointing a gun at a city police officer in October during a standoff. Details on those charges were not available Friday evening.



College to set up center for economics 

SUNY Cortland plans to use a $122,000 federal grant to improve the economic education and work force skills of residents in Cortland County.
The grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission will create the Cortland Center for Economic Education to improve job skills of local employees and provide professional economic training to local teachers.
The center will open in September at Main Street SUNY Cortland, in the Beard Building at 9 Main St.
“Our goal is to enhance the economic and financial literacy of local students and the local work force so we can improve the skill base of the current and future labor force,” said Tim Phillips, an associate professor and chair of the college’s Economics Department who is co-directing the project.
A major focus of the grant will be funding programs and workshops to strengthen the skills of Cortland County workers.
An analysis of the county’s non-profit agencies and for-profit companies conducted in 2006 showed their greatest needs were workers with skills in communications, management, technology, business planning and grant writing.
The grant will pay for trainers, including members of the college faculty and representatives from the local business community, to conduct at least eight workshops during the next 18 months at Main Street SUNY Cortland. Topics for the workshops will range from analyzing the efficiency of business practices to the use of software applications.
As part of the grant awarded to SUNY Cortland, the Cortland Center for Economic Education will hold resource nights to help local teachers develop curricula for teaching economics.
Working with faculty at SUNY Cortland on the project are the Cortland County Chamber of Commerce; the Cortland Downtown Partnership; the Cortland County Business Development Corp. and Thoma Development Consultants.
The BDC would identify workshops for small businesses and non-profits.


Veterans secretary forced to retire

21-year career ends after failing mark on civil service exam

Staff Reporter

In the 21 years Juanita Cook has been secretary in the county’s Veteran’s Services Office, the needs of generations of World War II and Vietnam War veterans have changed, the services the office offers have evolved and three different office directors have come and gone.
The lone constant has been Cook, who, although she officially retired Friday, says she is not at all prepared to give up her work.
“The one thing I’m proudest of is that the veterans always knew I was there for them, and I always gave them my heart and soul,” said Cook, who noted that the job was especially important to her because many of her family had been veterans, including her father, who was a medic in World War II and her son Brian, who served in Desert Storm.
Cook has been forced to retire after failing a civil service test.
A recent statewide study of county employees changed the requirements of her job, requiring her to take a Secretary I civil service test to maintain her position.
The study conducted by the state Municipal Services Division revamped the required qualifications for a number of county positions in October 2005.
“I guess I feel that it’s really unfair — for all my devotion, all my years of service to come down to taking a test,” Cook said. “I know people who came in here 20 years ago — I know who, what, why, when — I’ve kept track of it all, but that’s not going to show up on a test.”
County Personnel Director Annette Barber said she could not comment on specific personnel, but that the county had a total of 19 employees who had to be tested differently due to the study.
Cook previously held a senior keyboard position, but that position was abolished by the study, Barber said.
Some senior keyboard positions were downgraded as a result of the study, she said, and some were upgraded to Secretary I.
Barber could not comment on how many of those 19 employees did not pass their particular exams, but County Administrator Scott Schrader said earlier this week that there was one other employee who lost his or her job in the way that Cook did, with others still awaiting testing.
“Basically 19 people have had to be tested differently because the knowledge, skills and abilities related to their positions had changed,” Barber said. “The personnel staff and I tried to minimize impact of taking exams, but unfortunately, if people were not successful they could no longer hold that position.”
Cook said the test she took was difficult, and did not contain much of the material she had covered in review books she had ordered from the state office of the Civil Service Employees Association.
“There was nothing on that test that relates to the job I do day to day,” Cook said.
Barber said the Secretary I test and other upper-level civil service exams like it test knowledge, skills and abilities based on the job description, and “are not made to be easy.”
“They can be very difficult and very stressful, there’s no question about that,” she said.
The tests are, however, a requirement of the civil service unions, she said.
County CSEA President Diana Breed could not be reached this week for comment.
“I think it’s very sad that this had to happen,” said county Legislator Sandy Price (D-Harford and Virgil), who chairs the Human Services Committee, which oversees the Veterans Services Offices. “Juanita has been a wonderful employee who’s always worked hard for the county, and I know she’s been a favorite among the veterans.”
Cook was not alone in feeling the situation is unfair.
“The veterans all like her, and I’ll tell you, they’re teed off about it,” said veteran Meryl Homer. “When you’ve got a secretary that’s got that many years and experience in, there isn’t anyone I know who would fire her if she’s still doing a good job.”
Veteran John Lansdowne said that Cook had been a mainstay at the Veteran’s Services Office for as long as he could remember.
“If a veteran comes in down and out, she always knows how to point him in the right direction and get him the services he needs,” he said.
“She’s a great lady, she’s helped a lot of veterans with all kinds of problems, and I’m going to hate to see her go.”