Homeowners break out holiday cheer


Bob Ellis/staff photographer    
An inflatable Frosty and Santa stand in the front yard of 127 Clinton Ave. in Cortland despite the fact that neither snow nor Thanksgiving has yet to arrive.

Staff Reporter

Some hardcore Christmas enthusiasts have shrugged off the traditional Thanksgiving start date of celebrating the winter holidays this year, opting to string up the lights, inflate Santa and Frosty and spread the Yuletide cheer a little early.
It is technically still fall, after all, but Amanda Cuthbert and her husband, Gregg Cuthbert, have already put up some garnitures of the holiday season.
“My husband’s a total Christmas freak, there’s still more in the basement,” Amanda Cuthbert said from inside her home at 80 Central Ave., which had been decked out in dangling strings of light and had white-wire frame reindeer bobbing their heads in the front lawn. “We have totes and totes of stuff downstairs.”
The rest of the decorations should be up by the end of this week, Gregg Cuthbert said. He estimates he’s spent “a couple of thousand” dollars on the decorations.
It’s well worth it, though, he said, because Greggory Cuthbert Jr., 9, has also gotten into the spirit.
“You should have seen them up on the roof last week,” attaching lights to the eaves, Amanda Cuthbert said.
The  Christmas decorations had been put up the weekend after Halloween, and Gregg Cuthbert said they hadn’t done much for either that ghoulish holiday, or the tamer — but no less brown and orange festooned — Thanksgiving.
“It was nice weather, we figured what the hell,” he said.
“It’s a good thing we didn’t put the blow-ups out, with the wind,” Amanda Cuthbert said.
Others, like Bob and Joyce Walker, of 1200 Church St. in Virgil, also took advantage of the relatively temperate weather to put up their decorations.
“He has this week off, and it’s easier with him here to help,” Joyce Walker said, happy her husband was on vacation from BorgWarner Morse TEC. “If it’s nice tomorrow, hopefully we’ll get some more up.”
On Monday, strings of lights, a large, white star and snowmen figurines were set around the porch, the result of Sunday’s toil.
“We’re not turning them on now. I’m just getting them set up. We won’t turn them on until after Thanksgiving,” Joyce said. “Just hurry up and get to Christmas!”
In the “Greenwood Christmas Village (est. 1983),” as a sign in the yard reads, Warren and Suzanne Greenwood would have visitors believe that it’s already arrived.
“We like to see people happy; we like to make people happy,” Suzanne Greenwood said Thursday from inside her richly decorated home — both inside and out — on Park Street.
“During the Christmas season, we get so many strange cars in our driveway just stopping by to bring their kids. And sometimes we just like standing outside and looking at it,” Warren Greenwood said.
The Greenwoods have been decorating their home for the holidays since they moved in 22 years ago, but they did get a bit of a head start the day after Halloween this season because Warren Greenwood went in for foot surgery on Friday.
“We had a mail lady, and she used to tell people, when they asked where we were, to turn right on Owego Street and look for the glow in the sky,” Warren said.
The glow in the sky won’t be too intense for right now, at least, because Suzanne Greenwood said all of the lights won’t get turned on until Christmas gets closer to try to save a little on the electric bill.
“So much rain has come lately, it actually affects the electricity,” Warren Greenwood said. “This year there’s so much moisture in the air, it’s tripping things all over the place.”
Greenwood doesn’t know how much he’s spent, but “it’s in the thousands.” His favorites include both a traditional Nativity scene, as well as some small evergreen trees outside that Suzanne Greenwood has decorated with ribbons commemorating cancer survivors and flags to commemorate the military.
“About five or six years ago, we decided we weren’t going to decorate any more, so we donated it all to the Country Music Park,” Warren Greenwood said. “The next year came around, and we said, ‘We want to decorate,’ and we started buying it all up again.”


Woman remains in coma after Church St. accident

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The walk light had turned from red to the bright white figure of a person walking, indicating it was safe to cross. Melody Benn and Lyn Briggs stepped off the curb and into the street.
“Lyn cried out my name, and before I could turn and see what the danger was, we were flying,” Benn said Monday night at University Hospital in Syracuse. “I was on the ground screaming because I was in so much pain, but I noticed Lyn wasn’t. And I got over myself pretty quick.
“And then I started yelling for someone to, ‘Help her, help her,’ and I wanted to get over there and help her and touch her.”
At about 6:40 p.m. Friday, the two 55-year-old women were hit by a car driven by Jeffrey Stockton, an off-duty city police officer, as they were crossing Church Street westward at Central Avenue.
Police have said Stockton had a green light when he made the left turn from Central Avenue, headed south on Church Street and struck the two women, who had the right of way as pedestrians.
“We were going to the Blue Frog café to have decaf coffee and listen to the music — we’re two older women who don’t need caffeine at night,” said Benn, who lives in the same apartment building as Briggs at 65 Central Ave. “We’re very careful at the light — we push the button and wait.”
Stockton, 38, of 16 Frank St., was charged with felony second-degree vehicular assault, misdemeanor driving while intoxicated and a traffic violation for failure to exercise due care.
Briggs is listed in critical condition in the Intensive Care Unit of University Hospital. Her husband, Floyd Briggs, said Monday night that doctors have given her less than a 50 percent chance of survival.
“She’s not doing well,” Briggs’ daughter, Lisa Breed, of Cortland, said Monday evening in a waiting room.
Nevertheless, family and friends remain hopeful.
“She’s been in a coma since she was hit, it’s very touch and go. She has major brain damage — skull fractures, facial fractures,” Breed said.
Lyn Briggs is hard to recognize under her injuries, her daughter said, and nurses have asked that pictures be brought in to help the staff see her more clearly as the person she was.
The hospital released Benn Monday evening. She had been listed in fair condition since the accident.
She said she is suffering from a bruised lung and ribs and has bruising over much of her torso and upper legs. She said she had received a concussion and has some pain in her neck. Benn said she will be walking with a cane and staying with a friend whose home doesn’t have as many stairs leading to it.
Benn said she is concerned that the Cortland Police Department is involved in the investigation, and she wondered why Stockton had been released on his own recognizance.
A State Police accident reconstruction team is investigating the incident, said Lt. Jon Gesin of the city police, which is routine in accidents involving serious injuries.
“The State Police are working hand-in-hand with us. Every step we take, the State Police are with us on it,” Gesin said this morning. “We bring the State Police in to guard against any appearance of impropriety — that’s one of the reasons we do it, but they also have the expertise.”
“I have a lot of compassion for him (Stockton), but I feel a lot more compassion for Lyn,” Benn said. “She’s a wonderful woman. She’s full of life … I believe, being realistic, I believe in mercy, I believe in a second chance. But police officers, I believe, have to live up to a higher standard.”
Breed said the fact that Stockton is a police officer was the most disturbing thing about the incident. “He should have known better.”
She added that she was worried the case might be pleaded to a lower charge, as are many DWI accidents, and that Stockton would be allowed to be a police officer in the future.
“I feel sorry for him because he made a really bad choice,” Breed said. “Ultimately, he can walk and talk and carry on with his life. Unfortunately, if my mother does survive, she will never be the same person.”
Floyd Briggs said the family had been “the last to know” who the driver of the vehicle was. Breed’s husband, Jeffrey, said that even after spending time in the city police station on Court Street Friday, they hadn’t explicitly been told the driver had been an off-duty officer until they learned about it through news media reports on Saturday.
“It just made it seem like they had something to hide,” Lisa Breed said. “They wouldn’t give it (the name) to us.”
Gesin acknowledged that the family had been given Stockton’s name and profession Saturday morning.
“Once things quieted down a little bit, family members came in and met with Lt. (Paul) Sandy and he explained everything to them,” Gesin said. “We’re doing the best we can, and we’re trying to keep them up to date.”
Briggs had lived in her apartment since September. Benn, the evening supervisor of Memorial Library at SUNY Cortland, had lived in the neighboring apartment since August.
Breed said her mother had just completed her fourth week as a nurse at Asthma & Allergy Associates on Route 281 in Cortlandville.
“We have had tremendous support from friends in the community. A lot of people who we know have called and shared their prayers and concerns,” Breed said. “We’re getting calls from all over, really.”
“I’m awfully glad I met her, and I hope we can walk together again,” Benn said.



Police officer was ‘texting’ before crash

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — A city police officer who struck two women with his GMC Jimmy Friday evening, leaving one in critical condition, admitted he had been drinking and said he was “texting a girl on his cell phone” at the time of the accident.
According to statements from Lt. Paul Sandy and Sgt. Daniel Edwards of the city police, Jeffrey “Chip” Stockton said he had “a few beers” prior to hitting two 55-year-old women at the intersection of Central Avenue and Church Street.
Stockton, 38 of 16 Franklin St., said he was text messaging “a girl” on his cell phone when he made the left turn from Central Avenue onto Church Street and stuck the two women, Edwards said in court documents.
Police reports show Stockton failed three of five field sobriety tests after Edwards smelled alcohol on Stockton’s breath.
Stockton, who is a seven-year veteran of the police force, also failed an Alco-sensor at 7:15 p.m., 30 minutes after the crash. The sensor registers whether there is alcohol on a person’s breath but does not record a blood-alcohol percentage.
City police Lt. Jon Gesin said this morning that after an accident in which someone is killed or seriously injured, it is standard procedure for the department to have draw the suspect’s blood in order to gauge the person’s blood-alcohol content, rather than a breath test.
Stockton submitted to the blood test after the accident at Cortland Regional Medical Center. Those results haven’t come back yet, Gesin said.
He has been suspended with pay from the police department while the investigation continues. State Police are assisting with the investigation.
Stockton hit Lyn Briggs, of 65 Central Ave., Apt. 10, and Melody A. Benn, of 65 Central Ave., Apt. 11, when the two were crossing Church Street on their way to the Blue Frog Coffeehouse on Main Street.
Briggs was listed in critical condition this morning at University Hospital in Syracuse after suffering multiple fractures to her skull, brain bleeding and swelling. Briggs underwent emergency surgery the night of the accident.
Benn suffered bruises and was released from the same hospital Monday night.
Stockton, who police said immediately called 911 after the accident, was charged with second-degree vehicular assault, a felony, driving while intoxicated, a misdemeanor, and failure to exercise due care, a violation.
Stockton was released on his own recognizance and is scheduled to appear at 9 a.m. Wednesday in City Court.




State to test more C’ville homes for TCE

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — The state Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health are expanding testing and pollution mitigation efforts in the area surrounding the former Smith Corona plant on Route 13.
A card sent to the Cortland Standard and postmarked Nov. 17 states the DEC and the DOH “have begun a second round of structure sampling in the neighborhood ... The purpose of the testing is to determine if unacceptable levels of TCE are entering homes.”
The potentially toxic chemical trichloroethene, or TCE, was used as a degreaser at the former typewriter factory.
The card goes on to say the DEC and DOH “will hold a public meeting once the results of this second round of testing have been completed and validated.”
The DEC began testing in the Lamont Circle neighborhood in February, and in early August announced that approximately 20 homes had high enough levels of TCE to warrant remediation. Another 50 homes required further monitoring, and the rest of the neighborhood required no further action, the DEC said.
All but three of the original 20 homes  chosen to receive the mitigation systems have received the systems, and the remaining three, DEC spokeswoman Diane Carlton said, will be put into service by the end of November or early December.
Carlton said that based on groundwater testing over the summer, four more homes along the eastern margin of the contamination area will be tested, and three more homes will be outfitted with the mitigation systems, which are essentially radon treatment systems that suck soil vapors out of the ground and distribute them into the open air.
TCE is a colorless, nonflammable liquid used primarily as a solvent for removing grease from metal parts and as an ingredient in other chemicals, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Long-term inhalation may cause nerve, kidney and liver damage.
DEC and DOH officials have assured residents they do not face a significant health risk, even though some locally-monitored TCE indoor air levels — as high as 16 micrograms per cubic meter — exceeded the state’s maximum of 5 micrograms per cubic meter.
The DOH has adopted a new matrix for determining what kind of levels warrant further testing, Carlton said, and some homes that might not have met the criteria previously have been added.
Carlton said that in the interests of confidentiality, she was unable to identify any locations and properties being tested.
The testing began on Nov. 13, and will continue through the winter.