Suspecting mistreatment of more than 100 cats —

Officials raid city house


Veterinarian Bill Cadwallader, left, dressed in a protective suit, speaks with Cortland Police Department Lt. Jon Gesin this morning at a Wheeler Avenue house from which more than 100 cats were removed.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Police and other officials this morning raided a Wheeler Avenue house that has been the source of persistent complaints of cat mistreatment and hoarding.
City Police Chief James Nichols said his department, the Cortland County SPCA and the city Fire Department acted on a search warrant at 7 a.m. after residents complained of odors coming from the property. Officials also searched a building behind the house.
“We have been investigating during the past several weeks into complaints of cat hoarding.” Nichols said this morning around 9:30. “Currently we are evaluating the cats in both buildings. We don’t have an exact number. We believe that there are at least 100.”
With cats perched in nearly every window of the green home on the property and the white building behind it, Nichols explained that the Fire Department was called to evaluate the premise for hazardous materials, primarily feces.
“There is a strong odor of feces,” he said. “The fire department has been called to see if there are any hazardous materials. We believe it is safe.”
As of this morning no arrests had been made and the conditions of the animals were unknown. Removal of the cats began at around 10:45 a.m.
Nichols said the evaluation of the property is expected to go on all day.
“We are taking it slow,” he said. “We are trying to determine what types of medical procedures may have been performed and if there was any mistreatment or cruelty on the part of the individual that owns the house.”
Eugina Cute, who lives at the property, was allegedly operating a clinic funded by A Purrfect World, a not-for-profit organization that assists shelters.
Dr Leslie Appel of Animal Aid/Shelter Outreach Services filed an affidavit with the city code enforcement office in December 2003 in relation to problems with the property.
In her affidavit, Appel called Cute a “collector” or hoarder and said that at the time of her investigation, Cute was housing more than 100 cats in unsanitary conditions.
“In my professional opinion as a veterinarian, Eugina Cute is a collector. Collectors are people with a mental illness who literally collect many things — animals, newspapers, garbage, etc.,” she wrote in her statement. “As veterinarians we have to learn and be aware of this illness as it relates to animals. My hope is that these animals will be removed from this hazardous environment and Eugina Cute will get the help that she needs.”
Nichols said this morning a local veterinarian was going through the two buildings on the property to evaluate the condition of the animals.
The cost of the investigation and removal of the animals will cost the city $20,000 to $30,000, Nichols said.
The cats will be taken to the former Cortlandville Fire Department on Route 13.




County may get up to 2 inches of Ernesto’s rain

Flood watch in effect through Saturday

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — With Tropical Storm Ernesto churning its way up the East Coast, Cortland County could see some rain and possible flooding Saturday.
Should the storm maintain its course, the National Weather Service is predicting 1.5 to 2 inches of rain Saturday and has issued a flash flood watch for the county and areas to the west from late tonight through Saturday evening.
“With our current track, we’re predicting 3 or more inches over west Central New York, and Cortland is right on the eastern edge of those heavy rains, so you may wind up with some problems,” said NWS Meteorologist Jim Brewster, who noted that a slight deviation in the storm’s course could significantly alter predictions. “Hopefully it will just be minor problems with small streams, but at this point there are still a lot of variables we’re looking at.”
County Emergency Manager Brenda DeRusso said the worst-case scenario offered to her by the weather service could include up to 4 inches of rain over a 12-hour period Saturday.
County officials are taking the storm seriously, she said.
“With the soil moisture we have right now, we could be looking at some problems, especially with small streams,” DeRusso said. “Even with just 2 inches, we could get to a flood stage by Saturday night.”
DeRusso said she would be having continued conference calls with the weather service, and she was staying in close touch with municipalities, especially Marathon, McGraw and Solon, which have experienced the brunt of the flooding problems lately, making sure they have enough sandbags and are aware of the updated storm course.
“We’re not too worried about it yet,” Cincinnatus firefighter Tom Terry said. “We still have all the pumps and sandbags from the last one, and all we’ve got to do is throw it on the trucks if we get anything serious.”
Ernesto is expected to head north today and turn west slightly, reaching Pennsylvania by this evening. Rains should reach Cortland by early morning Saturday and continue throughout the day, Brewster said.
“We’re fortunate there’s some dry air over Cortland right now, and hopefully that will knock down the punch a little bit,” Brewster said. “You may see some lingering showers on Sunday, but you might be able to salvage the weekend on Monday.”




Man pleads guilty to assaulting officer

Staff Reporter

The man who attacked a city police officer in January pleaded guilty Thursday to felony assault.
Lucas A. McCormick, 21, whose address was listed as P.O. Box 604, Cranberry Lake, St. Lawrence County, admitted in Cortland County Court to assaulting Police Officer Eric J. Nilsson outside the Cortland Youth Bureau on Jan 21.
“I was drinking that night. I remember thinking about my grandma and how she died when I was in jail,” McCormick said of the day he attacked Nilsson. “So I got in a fight with him and wrestled him to the ground. I punched and kneed him and I did stick my finger in his eyeball. It was gross.”
After being arrested on numerous accounts, McCormick waved his right to a grand jury hearing and a trail, pleading guilty to one count of second-degree assault. Based on a recommended sentence from Cortland County District Attorney David Hartnett, McCormick is expected to serve two years in state prison followed by three years probation.
A conviction of second-agree assault carries a two- to seven-year fixed sentence.
Edmund Hoffmann, McCormick’s lawyer, said although his client has a history of mental illness, he is intelligent and understands the ramifications of his plea.
McCormick struggled to list a series of medications he is taking, telling the court he understands the proceedings but has mental health problems.
“I went to Mohawk Community College but I dropped out because of mental heath issues,” he said. “I have severe mental health problems.”
The attack occurred when Nilsson, who was working a special detail at the Youth Bureau on Port Watson Street, asked McCormick to leave because he was harassing people. McCormick refused and began swearing at Nilsson.
The officer tried to arrest McCormick and a fight ensued.
McCormick gauged Nilsson’s right eye until it bled. A second officer, Sean P. Byrnes, came to Nilsson’s assistance. Police said McCormick bit Byrnes on the left thumb.
Witnesses said four teens also assisted Nilsson during the fight. The Cortland Police Benevolence Associations recognized their efforts with a ceremony in February.




Pit bull attacks woman on Summit Street

Staff Reporter

Lorraine Brown was walking down Madison Street near Summit Street with a friend Monday when she noticed two children walking a pit bull.
“As we turned the corner the dog starts barking and I asked the kids if the dog bit,” she said. “The next thing I know, the dog is out of control.”
The dog bit Brown, 46, police said. The two girls, ages 9 and 12, could not restrain the dog, which was on a leash, police said.
Brown said she ran home after the attack and called the police.
“There was blood gushing out and my clothes were ruined,” she said.
Brown declined treatment by a TLC Emergency Medical Services ambulance crew but took herself to Cayuga Medical Center.
Brown said the doctors could not stitch the 2-inch-long wound because it was too deep and that her biggest concern is the possibility of an infection from bacteria in the dog’s mouth.
“I won’t look at it,” she said. “It’s pretty bad. I have a big bandage.”
Police said they did not issue any tickets in the attack because the dog was on a leash, licensed and its rabies shots were up to date.
SPCA Cruelty Investigator Bill Carr said on Wednesday that he was in the process of filing a compliant on behalf of Brown with City Court.



McGraw taps Tully educator to be principal

Staff Reporter

McGRAW — A former principal and longtime educator from the Tully school district has been selected to serve as McGraw’s new high school principal.
The Board of Education appointed Curt Czarniak, who most recently served as principal at Tully Junior/Senior High School, to the position vacated by the July 12 resignation of Patricia Plata.
Czarniak, a Tully resident, has been in the Tully district the past seven years, five as a teacher and the last two as a principal, but now that his two daughters have graduated from the district, he felt it was time for a change.
Having worked in McGraw as a teacher and as dean of students for two years in the mid-1990s, the district was a natural fit, Czarniak said.
“Before I even interviewed I visited McGraw and just walked the village, stopped at the senior center,” he said. “For me it’s a great opportunity to go back to a place where I had a really good experience.”
Pointing to diverse experience working with young people as an administrator, a teacher and a director of a youth center, Czarniak said he hoped to establish a good working relationship with students in the district.
“I’m a real high energy, very enthusiastic sort, always out and about in the halls,” Czarniak said. “I’ve worked with students in so many different capacities, and so many diverse populations, I think I have a pretty good knowledge of what makes teenagers tick.”
This knowledge and the way it relates to discipline were things that stood out about Czarniak, said McGraw Superintendent of Schools Maria Fragnoli-Ryan.
“He’s more focused on the individual and seeking to understand the situation than simply handing down punishment, and I think that’s important,” Fragnoli-Ryan said.