August 07 , 2007

Police investigate drowning of 4-year-old girl

Grace Murray

Grace Murray

Staff Reporter
LAPEER — The Cortland County Sheriff’s Department is awaiting an autopsy report as it investigates the drowning of a 4-year-old Syracuse girl found Saturday in a pond at a local campground.
The Cortland County Sheriff’s Department released news of the death of Grace Murray early Monday afternoon. Grace was with a group of children swimming in the pond at County Hills Campground at about 8 p.m. Saturday when she disappeared.
Undersheriff Herb Barnhart said the girl’s 10-year-old brother, Jerry, reported her missing and campers started a chain search in the pond before police arrived at the campgrounds.
Grace was found in the pond, under approximately 4 feet of water, Barnhart said.
“It was her first camping trip, away from me,” said Bessie Ragan, 36, of 110 Trinity Place, Syracuse, Grace’s mother.
Grace loved butterflies, lip gloss, shoes and dressing up like a fairy, her mother said.
“If anyone is going to the (funeral) service, we want them to wear pink,” she added. “That was her favorite color.”
A service will be held for Grace at 10 a.m. Thursday at DeWitt Community Church, 3600 Erie Blvd. E., DeWitt.
“She was a powerful presence and she lit up the room,” Ragan said. “A lot of friends and family loved her so much.”
Grace and her brother Jerry went camping with a friend’s family at the Country Hill Campgrounds. Ragan said she could not disclose the name of the family.
“Everything is still under investigation, so I can’t talk about any of that right now,” she said. “I just want people to focus on watching their children. Don’t ever leave your children alone.”
Capt. Glen Mauzy said police were notified that Grace was missing at 7:46 p.m. and when officers arrived, emergency medical service workers were trying to revive the girl. Mauzy said Marathon medical services were dispatched at the time of the call and the Broome County dive team was notified for standby.
Mauzy said Grace was located in the pond at 7:53 p.m. and pulled out in a lifeless state. He added that it is too soon to say exactly what happened to Grace, and whether her death will be deemed an accident is still unknown.
“It’s too soon to judge one way or the other,” Mauzy said. “We are still investigating. We will look at reports, examine all documents, reinterview people if we have to.”
Police waited until they had contacted the family to release information about the death.
Mauzy said investigators already have interviewed the campground owners and those who were staying on the property at the time of the incident. This morning he declined to release the name of the person supervising Grace and the other children.
Mauzy also said that the autopsy report, which was conducted yesterday at the Onondaga County Medical Examiner’s Office in Syracuse, will tell the investigators how Grace died.
If Grace’s death is deemed an accident, police may still look into issues of liability of misconduct of the caregivers.
“We want to make sure that they (the caregivers) did everything reasonable to protect her,” he said. 
Grace was taken to Cortland Regional Medical Center and then later transported to Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, where she was pronounced dead.
“It was a tragic incident,” Barnhart said. “They started CPR and did CPR until she got to the hospital.”
Ron and Marjory Friedman, owners of the campground, declined to comment on the incident Monday, saying that the Sheriff’s Department told them not to comment until the investigation was complete. The Friedmans would not allow the Cortland Standard to speak with other campers about the incident, either.
Country Hills Campground is 80 acres with 40 RV sites, tent camping and a pond accessible for swimming and fishing, according to its Web site.





Panel leaves code definition of ‘family’ to council

Staff Reporter

The city Planning Commission will not touch a portion of the city code of ordinances that defines what “family” is because of the contention and debate sparked by the subject when the codes were last revised in 2003.
The definition of family was intended to aid in enforcing occupancy limits of single- and two-family homes, but city code and zoning officials have said that the definition is virtually unenforceable without the ability to inspect rental properties.
Both commission Chair Nancy Hansen and Commissioner Jo Schaffer said after a special meeting Monday afternoon that since the Common Council approved that section in 2003, it was that legislative body’s decision and won’t be overturned by the commission. The section of the law was based on the city of Poughkeepsie’s code.
The city is hoping to enact a rental property-permitting program, Hansen said, which would hopefully allow the definition of family to be enforced.
“I think a lot of it comes to being able to get in and do inspections, to see how many people are occupying those buildings,” Hansen said this morning.
She pointed out that the ability to enforce the existing definition should be enhanced by the revisions.
“That’s our attempt, is tightening up some of the provisions of the code and actually giving it some teeth to make the enforcement a little bit easier,” Hansen said.
During the meeting, the commission also clarified what it meant by “density” in some parts of the code, emphasizing that the general term does not apply to buildings, nor does it apply to the number of residents, but rather to the number of living units in a structure.
Instead of using restrictions on density based on the square footage or acreage of properties, city Zoning Officer Amy Bertini said setback and parking requirements effectively limit the density in the city, in which there are not significant tracts of land open for large-scale residential development.
“There is a restriction; you’ve just got to look for it,” Bertini said.
However, Bertini pointed out that much of the “bugaboo” about multi-family apartment density in residential neighborhoods is tied up in the definition of family that is used to limit the number of individuals inhabiting single- and two-family homes and multi-unit dwellings.
More than three unrelated people can only live together if they meet criteria to be proved as a family. These criteria state that the people must be permanent and stable residents, and they must have a common ownership of appliances and furniture. The group should also share living expenses and resemble the size, appearance and structure of a traditional family.
The high incidences of student housing in the city and the perception that student housing is encroaching on single-family residential neighborhoods, as well as issues surrounding multi-family housing in general, have spawned a public outcry against the conversion of single-family homes to student apartments.




SUNY child care center gets grant

Staff Reporter

SUNY Cortland has received $133,600 in state funding for a new playground and furnishings for three new child care rooms.
The state Office of Children and Family Services awarded the college’s Child Care Center the money in June. Almost $100,000 will equip a playground to be built next to the college’s planned School of Education building and Van Hoesen Hall along Neubig Road.
The $10 million School of Education building is scheduled to be completed in 2009, with construction beginning in late September.
Equipment on the playground will include a bike track, toddler and preschooler climbers, swings, small play houses, benches and a storage area.
Holt Architects, of Ithaca, has designed the new playground, which will include fences and shrubs as visual and noise barriers.
About $34,000 will furnish one room each for infants, toddlers and pre-school age children in the School of Education building.
Furnishings will include chairs, tables, bookshelves, easels, cribs, changing tables, play stoves and other play furniture.
The new Child Care Center will care for about 103 children, 36 more than the current center on the ground floor of the Casey and Smith Towers Residence Hall off Broadway accommodates.
Wilson said the current center will no longer be used for child care once the new one opens up; its new use has been decided. Playgrounds outside the towers of the current day-care center will also probably be removed, Wilson said.
Wilson said she is not sure how many of the current 67 children are infants, toddlers or pre-schoolers or what the breakdown of the additional children will be.
She said 85 percent of the slots are for children of campus community members, while 15 percent are for the wider community. That will also be the case in the new facility, she said.
About 150 children are on a waiting list to be placed in the new rooms, said Johanna Hartnett, child care center director, who applied for the grant last fall. Forty percent of applicants on the waiting list are students at the college, 40 percent are faculty members and 20 percent are community residents.
The relocation of the Child Care Center will allow students to complete mandatory class observation at the Child Care Center prior to their senior semester of student teaching, Hartnett said.
SUNY Cortland’s Child Care Center was one of 38 organizations that were awarded more than $1 million in grants from the state Office of Children and Family Services to support innovative approaches to improving child care across the state.