Blaze consumes barn

barn fire

Photo by Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Firefighters from DeRuyter pour water on the remains of a barn next to a saw mill on McClellan Road. Firefighters managed to save the mill but the barn was a total loss.

Staff Reporter

DeRUYTER — A fire on McClellan Road consumed an old wooden-frame dairy barn this morning.
DeRuyter Assistant Fire Chief Ed Coon said the department received the initial call at about 8:30 a.m. and was on the scene within eight minutes. By that time, Coon said, the fire had spread throughout the barn.
“We have no idea what started it, until we get the fire knocked down and then we will investigate,” Coon said at about 9:45 a.m. “We had to attack it from the outside.”
The owner of the barn, Karl Hallen, said he had been storing hay and keeping about 15 heifers in the barn.
“I saw the smoke coming out of the cupola, called the firefighters and kicked the heifers out,” Hallen said as ashes rained down and the fire steadily burned in the depths of the barn, which had been reduced to charred timbers jutting up from the ground at the top of a steep, forested hill.
“I’d never seen anything go up so fast in my life,” Hallen said. “The wind was blowing the wrong direction. I thought I was going to lose my sawmill, too.”
Firefighters were hosing down the boards and sawdust in the sawmill, just several yards from where the fire was raging.
A tractor Hallen referred to as his “everything” or all-purpose tractor had been pulled onto a turnoff that hung just above the barn. Its tires and steering wheel had melted away, and the frame was charred.
After getting the heifers out of the barn, Hallen said he had tried to get on the tractor but flames were licking out of the door and it was just too hot.
In addition to raising heifers and running the sawmill, Hallen said he had invested quite a bit of money in the barn’s milking parlor and had planned to start milking cows again.
Although insurance will pick up some of his losses, which include shop tools Hallen kept on the barn’s second floor, he said the building itself was irreplaceable.
“Old post and beam,” Hallen said of the barn’s construction. “I love that kind of building. I just loved the barn. It’s from the 1900s and solid as a rock — more square than that (newer) Agway pole barn.”
Coon said at least five other departments responded, including Truxton, New Woodstock, Fabius, South Otselic and Cazenovia.
A hose still blasted water into the blackened skeleton of the barn as one firefighter sheds his turnout gear and slumped against the back of a sport utility vehicle, gasping for air and sweating while his compatriots rushed to get him bottled water.
DeRuyter firefighter Dan Tucker stood away at a distance as emergency medical technicians looked after the other firefighter, who was not immediately identified, and said that earlier during the blaze, some tires and oil cans had caught fire with loud bangs and pops.
“Right now, all we’re doing is letting it burn and protecting the sawmill,” Tucker said as the other firefighter got back on his feet. “No sense killing ourselves.”



Report faults DSS in Union St. child’s case

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Numerous serious oversights were made by Cortland County Social Services in the handling of the case of a 5-year-old boy found badly malnourished March 21 at a Union Street home.
The Department of Social Services has released an overview of a report from the state Office of Children and Family Services regarding the handling of the case. The report points to a number of instances where the local DSS failed to follow up on concerns while investigating the case, which was first brought to the attention of the department in June 2002.
Child Protective Services attempted to enter the home on numerous occasions, but were denied entrance by the mother, Judy A. Gratton, who has been charged with first-degree assault, first-degree reckless endangerment, both felonies, three counts of misdemearnor endangering the welfare of a child, and a misdemeanor drug charge.
When police entered the home in March on a drug arrest warrant, the 5-year-old, who had been diagnosed with Down syndrome, was found to be severely malnourished. Two other children also found in the home, a 12-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl, showed signs of malnourishment as well.
The OCFS report found that Child Protective Services caseworkers allowed “significant gaps in casework activity” while dealing with the case, and that, despite observing serious health concerns during home and school visits, the DSS failed to discuss the concerns with Gratton, seek contact with the children’s pediatrician and initiate action in Family Court.
“The outcome of this case has caused all of us great sorrow,” Monroe said in a written statement. “Those involved deeply regret not being able to recognize the severity of the situation earlier on.”




Buckbee owner must remove chemicals

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The current owners of the former Buckbee-Mears facility on Kellogg Road have 10 days to properly remove dangerous chemicals being stored in the building before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency steps in and performs the removal.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation mailed a letter Wednesday to International Electron Devices Ltd., which is based in New Delhi, India, and to its attorneys in Syracuse, requesting they remove the chemicals, according to DEC spokeswoman Diane Carlton.
If there is no response to the request, the EPA will handle the cleanup, and will likely have to seek reimbursement from IED once the materials have been removed.
City police discovered the chemicals when responding to a burglary complaint on the morning of July 23, according to Lt. Paul Sandy.
A July 27 inspection by police, the city fire and code enforcement office, the EPA and the DEC revealed large amounts of the following chemicals stored in drums and tanks: Chromium trioxide; methanol; wastewater plant sludge; sulfuric acid; nitric acid; sodium hydroxide; serric chloride; sodium bisulfate; and hydrochloric acid.
Most of the chemicals found represent significant health and safety risks, Carlton said.
“They’re all serious chemicals that have the potential to pollute the environment, so we don’t want them getting into groundwater and soil,” Carlton said. “There’s also a safety concern, because we don’t want people breaking into the plant, doing whatever with them.”
The building had been re-secured since the break-in, Sandy said, and police are performing routine patrols.
“There’s not really cause for public concern at this point,” Sandy said.
The break-in was discovered and reported by a former Buckbee-Mears employee who had been checking on the plant, Sandy said.



SUNY still investigating hazing claim

Staff Reporter

SUNY Cortland officials said Thursday they are still investigating hazing allegations involving the school’s athletic department that were made at the end of June.
Athletic Director Joan Sitterly said the college formed a committee that is investigating allegations made by William Schut, but the probe can’t go any further until students return to the college at the end of August.
Schut posted links on his Web site, at the end of June that contained pictures allegedly showing members of the SUNY Cortland women’s lacrosse team participating in an initiation ceremony, which may be defined as hazing.
Sitterly would not comment on which or how many teams the school is investigating, but she did say that the investigation includes both varsity and club sports.
Sitterly said the committee investigating the allegation is made up of herself; Steve Dangler, chief of SUNY Cortland University Police; Nanette Pasquarello, director of Judicial Affairs; Julian Wright, director of Recreational Sports; and a representative from President Eric J. Bitterbaum’s office.
Sitterly said the school takes the issue very seriously and plans to finish the investigation at the end of August.
Schut’s Web site was not running this morning.




Jury out in rape trial

Staff Reporter

ITHACA — After about 10 hours of deliberations, the trial jury considering the rape charge against Karl Richard Westerling had not reached a decision as of noon today.
After seven hours and 15 minutes of deliberation Thursday, Tompkins County Judge M. John Sherman sent  the jury home for the night.
The jury of eight women and four men heard closing statements from Westerling’s attorney, Robert J. Clune, and Assistant District Attorney Linda Gafford throughout the morning and earlier afternoon Thursday, but were unable to reach a verdict on 11 counts Westerling faces. Among the counts are first-degree rape and second-degree kidnapping.
Westerling, 23, of Freeville was arrested on Dec. 5, 2005, after he allegedly kidnapped his 22-year-old ex-girlfriend, drove her to the Tompkins County Airport and raped her. He is also being charged with resisting arrest for fleeing the scene when a Sheriff’s Department investigator found him with the woman.
Sherman released the jury to deliberate at around 2:15 p.m. Jurors came back into the courtroom at 5 p.m. to hear parts of testimony read by the court reporter.
Most of what the jury asked to hear pertained to what Westerling and the arresting officer said about where Westerling’s shotgun was when he was found in his mother’s van.