October 19, 2007


Phantoms fading —

Haunted house shut down due to possible code issues

Haunted House

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Haunted house creator Rich Holl stands Thursday in the Twister fun room with the theme of this year’s attraction being a haunted toy factory. This is the fourth year that Holl has operated a haunted house but work has been stopped by New York state code inspectors due to code violations.

Staff Reporter

MARATHON — A haunted house that has become an annual event in the community has been shut down by the state for potential code violations.
Richard Holl of Marathon said the state Department of Labor told him the haunted house, which was supposed to take place in the Civic Building on the corner of Peck Avenue and Brink Street on Oct. 26 and 27, would have violated part of the state’s industrial code and had to be shut down.
The section in question applies to amusement parks, state fairs and carnivals. It apparently covers haunted houses as well, Holl said.
“I’m disappointed in the stuff they’re requiring,” he said. “That’s better if you’re running a permanent facility, not just a small community fundraiser.”
The potential violations include no sprinklers, no fire alarms and the use of nonfire-resistant material for walls.
Marie Murray, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Labor, said an Oct. 8 inspection determined a haunted house in a portion of the building would violate code.
She said the state gave Holl the opportunity to fix the violations or shut down the haunted house, and Holl opted to shut down the haunted house.
Hundreds of people showed up at the civic center Thursday evening to show their support for the haunted house, Holl said. Many asked what they can do to help and signed petitions, many of which were started by children.
Holl and his family began offering public haunted houses three years ago after holding them at their home for many years.
The haunted house first took place in Peck Memorial Library’s opera house, then the Marathon train station and last year it was in the civic building.
Each year the haunted house, which is principally organized by the Cortland County Young Marines Program, has had a theme and involved more than 100 volunteers.
Volunteers include haunted house characters, Boy Scouts who sell cotton candy and high school band members who sell tickets.
This year’s haunted house, which has a toy factory theme, was three-fourths complete when the state called at the beginning of the week, Holl said.
Construction of the haunted house started on Sept. 9, and since then volunteers have worked evenings and weekends on the project.
Black plastic sheeting donated by Wal-Mart had been put up to serve as room dividers. Part of the state’s problem with the haunted house is the room dividers are not fire resistant enough, Holl said.
“There’s not a lot of materials people can use that are fire resistant,” he said. “The only thing I can think of is cinderblocks, and that would be for a permanent structure situation. This is just a two-day event.”
Holl said he was really looking forward to this year’s haunted house. The haunted house was going to be 12 rooms with 43 doorways.
He said this year people would have been able to donate canned goods for admission as an alternative to a $2 fee. All of the canned goods would have been donated to area food pantries, while money raised would have gone to local causes, such as the Peck Memorial Library and the American Red Cross of Cortland County.
Holl said over the last three years the haunted house has raised more than $10,000 for local organizations.
In September 2006 FamilyFun magazine awarded the Holls a grand prize in the magazine’s second annual volunteer contest for its haunted house.
The contest recognizes families who give back to their communities, inspire others to take action and make volunteering fun.
Hall said he would not spend the more than $1,000 required to bring the building up to code. Work would include adding sprinklers and adding exit signage.
Holl said that is the responsibility of the village, which owns the building.
Mayor John Pitman and Village Trustee Patricia McConnell said the issue was brought up at Wednesday’s Village Board meeting, but nothing was decided. They said they need to look into what exactly the code violations are to formulate an opinion on how to proceed.
“If we could help, we would, but we don’t know what needs to be done,” McConnell said.
Pitman said he would find out what the violations are sometime this week, and try to make some phone calls to get the violations fixed.
He said the village has a couple of thousands dollars available for the work.
Holl said a number of people have called Assemblyman Gary Finch and state Sen. Jim Seward to see if they can help with the situation.
Neither of the politicians could be reached on Thursday.
Holl said it hurts him to think of how young children will be disappointed by the news.
“My wife teaches at Appleby (Elementary School), and when she was taking down display cases (advertising the haunted house) a little boy or girl said, ‘My mom won’t let us go trick or treating but we can always come to your haunted house,’” Holl said.



Nurse under review after Ritalin switch

Staff Reporter

DeRUYTER — The school nurse who accidentally gave a class of kindergarten children Ritalin instead of fluoride pills Thursday morning is under review by district officials.
“She has been an excellent nurse and has a squeaky clean record, but we are obviously concerned,” said Bruce Sharpe, superintendent of DeRuyter schools.
Sharpe would not release the name of the nurse but said she has been working at the school for about five years.
Approximately 15 students received the wrong prescription at 9 a.m. Thursday, and began chewing the Ritalin tablets before they were told to spit them out. It is unknown how much of the 5-milligram tablets the children consumed.
The nurse gave the bottle to the class teacher to distribute to the students.
“The nurse told me she had two bottles of purple pills on her desk and never read the label,” said Michael Race, a father of a 5-year-old boy in the class. “She flat out told me, ‘I never read the label.’”
Sharpe could not confirm that the nurse did not read the label and said he is investigating the incident.
He added that the two pills look very similar.
Race said Thursday afternoon that he asked his son how much of the pill he spit out and his son replied, “None dad, I chewed it up and swallowed it.”
“I don’t know how this could happen in a state-regulated facility,” he said.
Race said he was notified about the incident at 11:30 a.m., more than two hours after it occurred.
“I thought it was a joke at first,” he said. “They never read a label, never called poison control. They didn’t even tell me any of the side effects. The least they could have done was went on the Internet and printed out a pamphlet of symptoms to give us.”
Sharpe said since the incident occurred, there have been no reports that any of the children have had any problems or shown symptoms of the drug.”
Race added he is not taking the situation lightly. He pulled his son out of DeRuyter Elementary School and will find a tutor for now, he said Thursday.
“Everything is about accountability,” Race said. “This time it was Ritalin, next time it could by penicillin and they could have a bunch of dead kids.”
Sharpe said he met with faculty this morning and set a new policy to ensure this type of situation does not occur again.
The policy is now that no medications are to be dispensed without a nurse present.
“We want to make sure that the nurse is always present for the safety of the kids and the protection of the faculty,” Sharpe said. “I think (parents are) upset and that’s understandable. Some parents are more upset than others, but they are all concerned.”
Sharpe said under state Education Law, it is legal for teachers to dispense self-directed medications such as fluoride pills.
Sharpe added that the school does document every medication dispensed, to whom and at what time. Medications are also locked up, he said.


Groton family sues beef patty maker

E. Coli infection that prompted recall sickens woman and her 8-year-old son

Staff Reporter

GROTON — A local family is suing a New Jersey beef company for not promptly recalling ground beef patties that passed on E. coli bacteria to a mother and her son.
The attorneys for Keith and Kristin Goodwin, of Barrows Street in Groton, filed the lawsuit Wednesday in Tompkins County Court.
They contend the Topps Meat Co. knew about the E. coli contamination of its products and verified reports of customers contracting the bacterial infection at least a week before Kristin Goodwin and her 8-year-old son, Lucas, ate the hamburgers.
“We were always careful to make sure that the burgers were well done, and that day was no different,” Keith Goodwin said Thursday evening.
Kristin Goodwin and her son ate the burgers on or about Sept. 15, having purchased the product locally.
Three days later, Lucas fell ill with severe gastrointestinal syndromes and spent the next eight days in the hospital.
While hospitalized, he developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a life threatening complication that has resulted in permanent physical injury and will require medical monitoring for the rest of his life.
Kristin Goodwin developed gastrointestinal symptoms and was in the hospital for three days beginning Sept. 24.
Both mother and son tested positive for E. coli O157:H7, the strain of the bacteria that was responsible for the recall that Topps later instituted.
The second-largest ground beef recall in history was the end for the Topps Meat Co., after the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the recall on Sept. 25.
Topps closed its Elizabeth, N.J., plant on Oct. 5, according to a press release on the company’s Web site. Toll-free telephone numbers for consumers and retailers did not lead to a human operator when called Thursday afternoon.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, most strains of Escherichia coli bacteria are harmless, but not the strain that infected the Goodwins.
People generally become ill from E. coli O157:H7 two to eight days after being exposed to the bacteria. The infection often causes severe bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps but sometimes causes nonbloody diarrhea or no symptoms.
Usually little or no fever is present, and the illness resolves in five to 10 days. In some persons, particularly children under 5 years of age and the elderly, the infection can also cause hemolytic uremic syndrome, in which the red blood cells are destroyed and the kidneys fail.



Homer zoning changes questioned

Staff Reporter

HOMER — Some  residents are concerned that proposed new town zoning would keep them from having farm animals but still allow adult entertainment businesses.
These were among the concerns and questions raised by eight people who attended a public hearing Thursday evening on the proposed zoning ordinance.
The hearing follows three years of work on the proposed plan by a committee of 10.
The committee said Thursday that it would consider comments made at the hearing, and possibly make changes to the zoning at its next meeting on Nov. 1 at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall.
Sometime within the next several months, the Town Board is expected to also hold a public hearing on the plan, possibly make changes to the document and vote on the document, which would become a local law if approved.
Dan Gustafson, chairman of the committee to update zoning, said the zoning changes affect about 50 percent of the town. One of the biggest changes is the removal of strips of residential zoning along the town’s main routes.
Another is the switch from agricultural to residential zoning of various parts of the town, including parcels around Limerick Lane and Spencer Road.
The new residential zoning is meant to encourage cluster housing developments, he said. “We want to encourage people to build in those areas and discourage agricultural,” he said this morning.
Mark Travis of 5404 Spencer Road requested the board reconsider its proposal to change zoning of his land from agricultural to residential. He said he would like to be able to keep animals on his land, which would not be allowed for residential land under the proposed zoning.
Gustafson said the board would consider Travis’ request at its next meeting. Travis’ parcel of land is at the western edge of a proposed zoning change.
Currently adult entertainment establishments are allowed anywhere in the town, Gustafson said, because the town’s zoning doesn’t address them.
Under the proposed zoning, adult entertainment would be restricted to south of Route 13 on both sides of East River Crossing Road and at the southeast corner of the town, just east of the county landfill.
Mary Alice Bellardini, of 30 N. Main St., was concerned that any town zoning allows for adult entertainment establishments. She said the village already has a section of land where adult entertainment venues are permitted, and asked why more sections were needed.
Dan Dineen, a member of the committee to update zoning and director of the Cortland County Planning Department, said courts have upheld that every zoning district has to have some land allowing adult entertainment venues.




Judge orders cat clinic to pay fine

Purr Fect World filed motion that would have halted fine while it appeals conviction.

Staff Reporter

City Court Judge Thomas Meldrim on Thursday denied a stay of the sentence he handed down to a local spay and neuter clinic in connection with a September 2006 raid that removed about 280 cats from the Wheeler Avenue property.
Purr Fect World Inc. had filed the motion because it is appealing Meldrim’s nonjury trial decision, according to a notice of appeal filed with the City Court Clerk on Sept. 20.
On May 10, Meldrim delivered a split decision, finding Purr Fect World guilty of 28 counts of failure to provide proper food and drink to a harbored animal, an unclassified misdemeanor under the state Agriculture and Markets Law.
Meldrim found Purr Fect World not guilty of 21 counts of the same charge.
Purr Fect World was ordered on Sept. 20 to pay the city $30,000 and the SPCA $10,000 for the care of the cats. As part of the sentencing, the corporation was ordered to pay the restitution within 45 days.
The nonprofit company was also prohibited from operating any business in the city for one year.
The $40,000 was placed in the escrow account of the company’s attorneys, the Syracuse-based Sugarman Law Firm.
Purr Fect World attorney Rebecca Crance said that the corporation’s officers, Eugenia Cute of Cortland and Lisa Alderman of Liverpool, were concerned about being able to recover the money if they were successful upon appeal.
Neither Cute nor Alderman were in court Thursday.
City attorney Larry Knickerbocker told the court that if the company’s appeal was successful, the city would have no choice but to pay the money back.
The city had requested about $68,000 in restitution, and the SPCA had requested almost $14,000.
City officials have repeatedly said they would resort to civil litigation to recover the remainder of its costs.
Alderman also was arrested Oct. 5, in Liverpool when Central New York SPCA officials raided two homes she owns in Liverpool, taking 180 cats from one of them.