Homer teens indicted on felony charges

pellet gun

Bob Ellis/staff photographer
A Crosman Semi-Automatic Pulse P50 airsoft pistol is shown with two plastic BBs. The gun, supplied by Gary Walter of Homer, is the same type as the one his 17-year-old son, Zachary, is accused of firing at several other Homer students in May.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — A grand jury indicted two Homer High students on 25 counts, including six felonies, for allegedly shooting classmates with an airsoft BB gun in May.
Terry Elwood, 16, and Zachary Walter, 17, each face three counts of second-degree assault, felonies, and nine counts of third-degree assault, misdemeanors, according to the indictment filed Wednesday in Cortland County Court. Walter is also charged with one count of endangering the welfare of a child, a_misdemeanor.
The two boys are accused of shooting five other students at Homer High School on May 25 with a Crosman Semi-Automatic Pulse P50 airsoft pistol that shoots plastic BBs.
The boys were arrested May 26, after a 15-year-old student filed a complaint with State Police because Walter shot him in the cheek.
Gary Walter, Zachary’s father, said Thursday he is outraged by the severity of the charges. He said the gun the boys used was a toy and he believes it is misleading to call it a pellet gun, which is how it is described in police reports and in the indictments.
“A pellet gun is a high-powered weapon with a CO2 cartridge,” he said. “This thing is a toy. It’s not a pellet gun. The DA (Assistant District Attorney Wendy Franklin) knows what a pellet gun is.”
Walter added his son and Elwood shot the other students as a prank because they were all friends.
“It was a friend,” he said of one of the students. “They’ve gone fishing together. My son told me, ‘I would never do it to a stranger.’”
Mark Suben, Elwood’s attorney, said he believes the gun used is not a dangerous weapon.
“I maintain that the toy gun was not a dangerous instrument and that there was no physical injury under the law,” he said Thursday evening after hearing about the indictment.
In addition to the legal charges, both boys have been suspended from Homer High School for 14 weeks, four of which already have been served.
Elwood, of 4047 Elwood Road, Taylor, and Walter, of 17 N. West Road, Homer, appealed those suspensions to the Board of Education on Tuesday, but the suspensions were upheld.
The board would not discuss the appeal in the open meeting because the issue deals with students.
In a school hallway outside of that board meeting, Gary Walter shot himself several times in the left arm and hand with a gun he said was the same as the one used in May. The demonstration left minor red marks from the blue plastic BBs it fired.
Investigator Richard Haas of the State Police confirmed the gun Walter used was the same model used in May 26 incident. Although Haas would not give a statement about the case, he did provide a copy of the owner’s manual of the gun.
The manual contains a warning at beginning stating, “This is not a toy. Adult supervision required. Misuse or careless use may cause serious injury, particularly to the eye. May be dangerous up to 100 yards.”
Of the combined 25 counts the boys face, they were indicted separately on 17 and together on the other eight.
Walter faces two counts of second-degree assault for shooting two different male students and six counts of third-degree assault, three for each of the same two boys. He was also charged with endangerment because at the time of the incident one of the two boys he allegedly shot was 15 years old.
Elwood was indicted on two counts of second-degree assault for shooting two different female students and a total of six counts of third-degree assault, three for each of the same two girls.
The two boys were also indicted together on one count of second-degree assault and three more counts of third degree assault for allegedly shooting a third female student.
Second-degree assault, a Class D violent felony, can carry a fixed sentence of two to seven years in state prison. Third-degree assault and endangering the welfare of a child, Class A misdemeanors, carry sentences of no more than one year.
Cortland County District Attorney David Hartnett explained that when sentencing someone for a Class D felony conviction, a judge can choose not to send the person to state prison.
Parents of four of the students involved declined to comment. Parents of the fifth student could not be reached by phone.
It is the policy of the county District Attorney’s Office not to comment on ongoing cases.
According to County Court, Elwood and Walter’s next court appearance has not been scheduled.





County rejects  sports complex funding request

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — A request from the J.M. McDonald Sports Complex for $25,000 from the county to fund an expanded marketing campaign was rejected by the Legislature Thursday on a weighted vote.
Some legislators said awarding the money would be unfair to other organizations.
The center had requested the money from the county’s occupancy tax fund to help increase its marketing budget in the coming year to $40,000, up from the current $5,000.
The resolution passed the Legislature’s Budget and Finance Committee a week ago, but Thursday night many legislators expressed concern that the center should have gone to the Cortland County Convention and Visitors Bureau, which every year doles out the majority of the county’s occupancy tax revenue dollars.
“We set up a procedure for applying for this money a couple of years ago, and I just feel we need to be consistent with that,” said Legislator Kay Breed (R-Cortlandville). “I’m definitely supportive of the McDonald Sports Complex, I just don’t want to show favoritism.”
The legislators actually voted 9-8 in favor of awarding the funding, but due to the way each legislator’s vote is weighted in relation to the population of his or her district, those voting in favor failed to constitute a majority.
Tammy Sciera from the McDonald Sports Complex was unavailable for comment this morning, but has said that the complex would maintain its proposed marketing budget and would seek funding elsewhere if the county rejected its_request.
This year, the county gave the Convention and Visitors Bureau $308,000 from its occupancy tax fund to be spent on encouraging tourism in the area, said County Administrator Scott Schrader. The occupancy tax fund comes from an extra 5 percent tax on visitors staying at hotels in the county.
While the majority of the occupancy tax fund is dispersed through the Convention and Visitors Bureau, Schrader said, organizations also can apply for funding directly from the Legislature.
The Legislature awarded $10,000 through this avenue to the new Brockway Museum this year and gave $15,000 to the Cortland Repertory Theatre and $10,000 to the Lime Hollow Center for Environment and Culture in 2005, Schrader said.
The county has about $33,000 available in its occupancy fund, he said.





County releases sales tax comparison

Staff Reporter

A breakdown of the proposed sales tax revenue distribution shows significant gains for smaller towns and villages compared to the current distribution, but also demonstrates how those towns will be affected by additional revenues for the Town of Cortlandville.
The numbers, made available by County Administrator Scott Schrader at Thursday’s legislative session, show that, under the proposal left on the table at negotiating sessions Tuesday, towns and villages stand to gain $876,782 per year in revenue by 2009 over what they receive in the current contract.
However, $219,195 of that revenue will go toward an additional 1 percent in the contract that would be allocated to Cortlandville.
The proposed six-year agreement calls for the county to reduce its current share from 56 percent of the total revenue to 52 percent by 2009.
This reduction in the county share was agreed to because the county required an equal boost to deal with financial difficulties when the current contract was negotiated in 2003, and the Legislature has expressed a desire to return the distribution to pre-2004 levels.
Disagreement between the lead negotiators for the county and for the municipalities has stemmed from the one difference between the proposed contract and the contract prior to 2004. The request that Cortlandville be written into the contract to receive an additional 1 percent of the total revenue, on top of its usual share.
The Legislature’s lead negotiator, Ron VanDee (D- 5th Ward), re-emphasized Thursday that he believed the proposed numbers should be compared to the pre-2004 distribution, and that because of that, small towns were being shortchanged.
“When we took the money originally, we said we would give it back exactly the way it was, and my opinion hasn’t changed,” VanDee said.
On the other hand, negotiators for the municipalities point out that towns and villages will receive significantly more revenue in the coming years than they do currently.
“When we talked to the towns and villages, we assured them that they would get more money when we were finished negotiating, and they are,” said Cortlandville Town Supervisor Dick Tupper. “Nobody ever said we were gonna go back to the system we had before 2004.”
Virgil Town Supervisor Jim Murphy attended the legislative session and was surprised that Virgil would receive $19,626.54 less than it had prior to 2004.
“The numbers definitely surprised me,” Murphy said. “That’s a significant amount of money for Virgil, and I have to wonder what my board’s gonna think.”
Murphy said he would be supportive of additional revenue for the city because it acts as the face of the county, but was concerned about awarding more revenue to Cortlandville.
“I hear them. Cortlandville certainly is an economic engine but everybody is spending money there and I just worry it may set a precedent that’s not favorable,” Murphy said. “I think it makes sense to have the playing field for the towns even, based on just the assessed values.”