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Wednesday, October 1, 2014 at 6:49 pm

Brockport man testifies he feared for his life, but didn't call police after looking down barrel of shotgun

post by Howard B. Owens in bergen, crime

A Brockport man who claims he had a shotgun pointed at his head by a local resident testified today that he couldn't get State Police to even consider his side of the story before he was arrested on a charge of criminal mischief.

After the charge against Micheal Crooks was dismissed (under what's called an ACD -- adjudication in contemplation of dismissal), he did what a trooper and attorney labeled "cop shopping." 

Crooks went to the Sheriff's Office and found that Sgt. Ron Meides was willing to listen to his side of the story. As a result, John Robinson, of North Lake Road, Bergen, was arrested by Deputy Matthew Butler and charged with menacing, 2nd.

The attorney for Robinson, Kevin DeCarolis, has requested Justice Donald Kunego dismiss the charge against his client "in the interest of justice."

Kunego held the hearing today as part of the motion process. He will issue a written ruling at a later date.

He's already received written arguments from both DeCarolis and Assistant District Attorney Kevin Finnell on the motion.

The case stems from a confrontation Jan. 13, 2013. Crooks contacted both the State Police and the Sheriff's Office about pursuing charges against Robinson in November 2013. Robinson was arrested in April of this year.

Trooper Eric Daigler, who arrested Crooks based on a complaint by Robinson that Crooks damaged his screen door while trying to get into his house, testified today that he was confused and angry when he learned Butler was about to arrest Robinson.

He said typically, law enforcement officers don't involve themselves in cases that have been handled by other agencies.

He felt the case had been closed in January 2013 with the arrest of Crooks.

"I was dumbfounded," Daigler said. "First and foremost, it's common practice not to take on other agencies cases. We refer to it as 'cop shopping.' It happens. Usually, we are pretty good at stopping people who are just trying to get the right answer. They are looking for the answer they want. That's usually the Sheriff's Office policy."

Daigler said it was his position at the time of the incident that Robinson was doing exactly what he's allowed to do under the law -- protect his property and himself. 

"He didn't conduct himself in a manner that should be arrested," Daigler said. "He was in his home. He armed himself and he called 9-1-1 and informed dispatchers he had armed himself. He was well within his rights in his own home when a man he never met came to his door and was yelling and screaming."

Daigler consulted with his supervisor, Sgt. Ron Lobur, and other troopers, who all concurred, arrest Crooks, but not Robinson.

Since the arrest of Robinson, Daigler said, everybody he's spoken to in the local law enforcement community, with the exception of Meides, are bothered that Robinson was arrested.

"I've had 10 members of the Sheriff's Office come to me independently and voice their displeasure with the case," Daigler said.

Crooks testified that Daigler never even asked for his version of events before telling him he would be arrested.

Contrary to prior reports, Crooks said he didn't try to hide from troopers before being contact. He said he didn't even know that in his "assertive" knocking he damaged the door, and to this day, he isn't convinced that he did.

After the confrontation, he said he went to a job site in Brighton -- he's a construction manager -- and then went home and discovered he had a message from Daigler that evening. He immediately returned the call, and when he didn't get a call back after an hour, he called again.

When he spoke to Daigler, Daigler told him to meet him at the Batavia barracks. When he asked why, he said Daigler told him he was going to be arrested on a criminal mischief charge.

At that point, Crooks said, he decided he wouldn't make a statement without an attorney present.

On the advice of his attorney, he didn't pursue charges against Robinson until after the term of his ACD expired (six months).

Crooks was upset, he said, because he believed Robinson was involved in some sort of relationship with is wife.

He said he first became aware of the relationship some time around October of 2012.

He thought it had ended, but on Jan. 12, he said, his wife went to a party with their two daughters, ages 11 and 14.

His wife became drunk at the party, he testified this afternoon, and placed numerous calls to Robinson.

The girls became aware of what was going on and tried to get her to stop. That led to a physical confrontation between mother and daughters, he said.

That was what really upset him, he said, and convinced him he should talk with Robinson about not having further contact with Mrs. Crooks because of the stress it was causing for his daughters.

He testified that he didn't make any verbal threats to Robinson. That the only thing he yelled once he figured out Robinson was in fact at home Jan. 13, 2013, was "come out you coward."

He said after about two minutes, when it was clear Robinson wasn't going to come out, he decided to leave. 

He testified that as he walked down a sidewalk close to the house he caught some movement through a window and turned to look.

"There was Mr. Robinson," Crooks said. "He was holding a shotgun and he rushed right towards the window and screamed absolutely bloody murder that he was going to blow my fucking head off."

He said the barrel was only inches from the window.

"My heart stopped," Crooks said. "I've never looked down the barral of a gun that wasn't removed from a gun that closely in my life. I've been around guns my whole life. I own guns. I've owned guns since I was 19. I'm not afraid to be around guns."

Under questioning by DeCarolis, Crooks admitted that despite this mortal threat, he didn't call police.

When Finnell asked him about why he didn't call police, Crooks said he dialed 9-1-1 and had his finger on the button, but then changed his mind.

"I was exhausted," Crooks said. "I was emotionally drained. I wanted this to be over. I just wanted to go to work and do what I had to do."

In closing arguments, Finnell urged Kunego to take into the account of events provided by Crooks. He didn't fault Daigler for arresting Crooks. Since he didn't have a statement from Crooks, he could only go on the information available to him at the time of the arrest. But now, he said, Kunego has just as Medies had, Crooks' version of events. He said the case should proceed based on Crooks' account.

DeCarolis dismissed the testimony of Crooks as vindictive and self-serving.

Daigler, he said, did something very unusual -- he testified for the defense rather than the prosecution. That never happens and that should carry a lot of weight with court, he said. Daigler's testimony should weigh heavily in favor of Robinson because he has nothing to gain from his testimony.

The testimony of Crooks is another matter, however.

"His action, his tone, his disposition all show he has a very significant animus against Mr. Robinson," DeCarolis said. "It's very clear he was cop shopping. I would ask, your honor, that you evaluate his testimony in that light."

Kunego set a follow-up appearance for Nov. 19, but said he will likely issue a written decision on the motion to dismiss "in the interest of justice" before that date.

The Batavian's exclusive previous coverage:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014 at 10:30 pm

Photo: Railroad crossing repair work ongoing in Bergen

post by Howard B. Owens in bergen, railroads

Crews are repairing the rail beds at Dublin Road, Jerico Road, Beaver Meadow Road in Bergen. The crossing have been closed this week. A supervisor on Dublin Road said today that he was trying to finish up that crossing ASAP and he expected to have all of the crossings opened by Friday.

Friday, September 19, 2014 at 5:18 pm

Woman found unconscious inside car on South Lake Road, Bergen

post by Billie Owens in bergen

A woman is reportedly unconscious inside a vehicle at 83 S. Lake Road, near Appletree Avenue. Bergen fire is responding along with Mercy medics.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014 at 11:28 am

Gift from Liberty Pumps puts new technology in the hands of every Byron-Bergen student

post by Howard B. Owens in bergen, business, byron, byron-bergen, liberty pumps

There's a selfish reason Charle Cook got behind the idea of his company donating money to help the Byron-Bergen School District buy 1,100 tablet computers for all of the district's children: He wants potential future employees to have the technical skills to work for the Liberty Pumps of tomorrow.

But the donation is also a good deed that will benefit his and his son's alma mater and perhaps encourage other rural companies to be as generous with their local school districts.

"We felt it's important as kids progress through school that they become knowledgable and comfortable with technology," said Charlie Cook, CEO of Liberty. "It's going to be part of their future employment. To have that as a kind of leg up to students who might not have access is an advantage.

"Somewhat from a selfish standpoint," he added, "we're going to need a certain segment of those graduates, and we're interested in keeping as many kids as we can in the community."

Superintendent Casey Kosiorek said the gift was timely. The district had recently cut a staff position from its library and New York's formula for aid to district continues to disportionately favor affluent suburban districts over rural districts.

"This allows us to do something that most of the school districts in the more affluent areas of the state are able to do," Kosiorek said. "We're very thankful for that."

That was part of what motivated Liberty to seek out a way to assist the district, said Jeff Cook, who initiated the talks with the district that led to the donation.

"The reason Liberty Pumps thought the Learn Pads were a good idea was that we hear a lot about how wealthier, suburban districts seem to have advantages over poorer, more rural districts in terms of course offerings and opportunities for their students," Jeff Cook said. "We were looking for a way to help give our students an edge while minimizing the overhead burden of the district and therefore the taxpayer."

Charlie Cook didn't want to reveal the total monetary amount of the donation, but it's roughly 30 percent of the cost of the 1,100 tablets, which cost a few hundred dollars each. That donation made Byron-Bergen eligible for a technology grant from the state education department that covered the remaining 70 percent of the cost.

There will be no new local spending as a result of the program.

The tablets are known as LearnPads. They are Droid-based tablets with modifications to suit the needs of an educational institution.  

First, there are limits on how students can use them. There's access to YouTube, for example, but they can only watch teacher-approved videos. They can only visit approved Web pages. They can only download and install teacher-approved apps.

Teachers control the entire LearnPad environment according to the education needs of the class.

From a desktop computer program, teachers can customize how the LearnPads can be used, develop each day's lesson plan, then provide a QR code that can be posted to a wall. As students enter the class that day or that hour, the student scans the QR code to receive the lesson plan. As class progresses, teachers can monitor student activity to ensure they're staying on task.

However, Kosiorek stressed, LearnPads don't replace lectures and class discussions.

"This is a great tool for students and for teachers, but it doesn't replace quality education," Kosiorek said. "It's a tool, it's a supplement, an addition to a teacher's toolbox."

There are educational books available on the LearnPad and Kosiorek said the district hopes to someday replace all of its text books with tablets. That would save the district money as well as end the days of one-ton backpacks and multiple trips to lockers for students.

And yes, there are games available to students. Math games and vocabulary games, for example.

"Many students have access to video games and those games are very engaging," Kosiorek said. "There are goals that are set and you work toward those goals, so whatever we can do to provide relevance and engagement for students (we will do)."

Every student, starting this week, gets a LearnPad, from kindergarten through 12th grade. The younger students don't get a keyboard and will just use the touch screen, but starting in about third grade, keyboards will be introduced.

At younger grades, the LearnPads stay in school -- at least until the summer, when they can go with the summer reading program already installed -- while older children can bring the LearnPads home for homework once permissions slips and guideline acknowledgments are signed.

"We're very excited to be doing it," Charlie Cook said. "I've got four grandkids in the system right now and when I come to an event, which I do as often as I can, it's amazing to me to watch these kids work with the technology, even what they have currently. I think even in preschool years, they were up operating the touch screen, so this is a natural progression for them."

Jeff Cook said he hopes other business owners will look at this initiative and contact their own school administrators and ask "How can we help?".

Education, after all, is everybody's business.

"My hope is that what Liberty Pumps is doing will gain traction in the business community and others will join in on supporting our schools," Jeff Cook said. "If you are a business that is passionate about something you would be willing to help fund or support, I would suggest talking to the school administration about your idea and see if it is feasible. 

"In the case of Byron-Bergen, they did all the leg work and presented us with their vision based on our ideas. This could be anything from supporting sport programs and class offerings, to equipment for the district. Anything that could enhance a student's learning opportunity."

Photo: Casey Kosiorek, left, and Charlie Cook.

Thursday, September 4, 2014 at 3:08 pm

Local school districts benefit from 'Pencils 4 Schools' program

Over the past two weeks, 80,000 pencils have been delivered to school districts, including Batavia City Schools, Oakfield-Alabama Central, Byron-Bergen Central, Pavilion Central, Alexander Central, and Attica Central as part of the attorney William Mattar Pencils 4 Schools campaign.

It was established in response to ever-tightening school district budgets. Understanding the difficulty school districts and families face in trying to provide supplies for students, Mattar is pleased to donate these pencils to help get the school year off to a great start for the young leaders of tomorrow. This year, the firm received a record number of requests from schools.

School districts can still register for Pencils 4 Schools by calling 444-4444 or by e-mailing [email protected].

Representing clients across New York State with offices in the Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Binghamton, and Albany regions, William Mattar, P.C., focuses on auto injury cases for those seriously injured in motor vehicle and truck accidents. For more information about the firm’s community involvement, visit www.WilliamMattar.com

Saturday, August 30, 2014 at 10:03 pm

Tire fire reported in Bergen

post by Howard B. Owens in bergen, fire

There is tire fire, reported as a "large tire fire," at 7508 Swamp Road, Bergen.

Byron Fire dispatched.

UPDATE Sunday: The resident at 7508 Swamp Road e-mailed to say the tire fire was not at this address.  

Saturday, August 30, 2014 at 12:37 pm

Grand Jury indictments: Man accused of second-degree assault for allegedly injuring victim with scalding water

post by Billie Owens in batavia, bergen, byron, crime

These are the latest indictments issued by the Genesee County Grand Jury.

James T. Saddler III is indicted on a charge of second-degree assault, a Class D violent felony. It is alleged that on Nov. 21 in the City of Batavia, with intent to cause physical injury to another person, he caused such injury by means of a dangerous instrument -- scalding water.

Ronnie R. Simpson is indicted on a charge of aggravated driving while ability impaired by drugs, a Class E felony. It is alleged that on March 29 in the Town of Byron Simpson drove a 2001 Chevrolet on Route 262 while his ability to do so was impaired by drugs and while a child age 15 or less was a passenger.

Kassandra R. Funk is indicted on a change of drving while intoxicated, a Class E felony. It is alleged that on May 6 in the Town of Bergen Funk drove a 2006 Pontiac on North Bergen Road while in an intoxicated condition. In count two, she is accused of aggravated drving while intoxicated, per se, as a Class E felony, for allegedly having a BAC of .18 or more at the time.

Friday, August 22, 2014 at 3:47 pm

Former nurse from Bergen given probation following second conviction on grand larceny

post by Howard B. Owens in bergen, crime

None of it is her fault, former Bergen resident Michele Ann Case told Judge Robert C. Noonan in County Court today during a sentencing on her second grand larceny conviction.

In fact, managers at HomeCare & Hospice, the former employer Case was convicted of stealing from while working as a nurse, concocted the whole scheme against her in order to steal insurance money, she said.

"How could hospice make such a colossal mistake (claiming she broke reimbursement rules)?" Case read from a three-and-a-half page written statement. "Simple, it was no mistake. These rules were new, and used retroactively to make my legitimate paid time into unpaid time in an attempt by hospice to claim I stole from them and in effect steal themselves. They then fraudulently submitted their so called losses to insurance and filed a false report to the police."

Noonan didn't buy any of it.

"I do have a feeling that you see everything through your own little prism of view and that's how you look at it," Noonan said. "You took a nursing job that didn't pan out because other nurses are paid more elsewhere. The detective didn't look at this or look at that ... at some point, you should sit back and look at this the way 24 separate jurors have now looked at it and concluded that you didn't just make mistakes. You stole money."

According to evidence presented at both trials, Case stole more than $14,000 by filing doctored time cards and incorrect mileage logs.

Case's first conviction, in 2012, was overturned on appeal, with the higher court finding that summary sheets tallying the amount of money Case stole was not properly supported by documentation.

In July, Case was convicted a second time by a new jury of grand larceny in the third degree.

District Attorney Lawrence Friedman argued today that rather than re-imposing the five-year probation sentence Case got the first time around, she should be sent to prison.

"She still views herself as a victim in this case and absolutely continues to deny any responsibility," said Friedman in a statement prior to Case getting up to speak. "Your honor, it is our position that she is not an appropriate candidate for probation and that she should receive a sentence of incarceration."

And by incarceration, Friedman meant state prison, stating that local jail time would mean no period of parole after serving her time, making it harder for the county to collect restitution from her. Also, only a state prison term would expose her to programs that might benefit her rehabilitation.

To a degree, Noonan said he agreed with Friedman's position, however, he never discussed a state prison option. He spent more time weighing the differences between a sentence of probation and time in the county jail.

A harsher sentence than the first one, Noonan said, could be perceived as retribution for appealing her prior conviction and winning a new trial; however, Case's violation of probation, failure to make any restitution payments after her first conviction, suggests she's not a good candidate for probation.

Also, having sat through two trials and hearing the evidence twice, Noonan said the mere fact that Case continues to deny any wrongdoing could be a foundation for a harsher sentence.

Noonan, however, doesn't consider Case a threat to return to a life of crime.

He imposed five years probation, and with credit for time served, she is not likely to serve any more jail time if she complies with the terms of probation.

Case now lives in Erie County. Her oldest child is a freshman at a local university and her youngest is a freshman in high school. Her attorney said she has returned to factory work (what she did prior to becoming a nurse) at minimum wage (she said she earned $60,000 annually as a nurse).

Noonan noted that early on in this case, she was offered a disposition that would have allowed her to keep her nursing license, but she rejected it.

Friday, August 8, 2014 at 1:06 pm

Collins announces funding for volunteer fire departments, including Bergen

post by Howard B. Owens in bergen, chris collins, NY-27

Press release:

Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) today announced $118,137 in federal funding for three local fire companies. The local fire companies are the Depew Fire Department, the Bergen Fire Department, and the Upper Mountain Fire Company. The grants were allocated through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program (AFG), which is designed to help first responders improve their capability to respond to fires and emergencies of all types.

“Providing the necessary funding for our first responders is an excellent use of federal resources,” Congressman Chris Collins said. “Our local heroes need the proper resources to do their jobs and protect our communities. Many small fire companies are unable to purchase necessary equipment upgrades due to financial limitations. This funding will provide new breathing apparatus, nozzles and hoses, equipment to prepare for chemical fires and hydraulic rescue tools creating more efficient and effective first responders. I am proud I was able to help secure this money.”

Specifically, the funding will be used to purchase a new Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) filling station for Bergen Fire Department. Depew Fire Company will use the funds to replace aging hoses and nozzles, some of which have not been upgraded since the 1960s, and purchase foam educators to better prepare for chemical fires. Upper Mountain Fire Company will purchase hydraulic rescue tools.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014 at 2:38 pm

Seneca zoo and Bergen Swamp preservationists to hold public social at Gillam Grant

post by Billie Owens in announcements, bergen, swamp

Press release:

Residents in Genesee County and surrounding areas know the Bergen Swamp is a special place. But how many have actually seen some of the swamp’s most famous denizens? Now’s your chance!

At 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 22, the Seneca Park Zoo and Bergen Swamp Preservation Society will hold an Endangered Species "Meet and Greet" at the Gillam Grant Community Center. Refreshments will also be served.

Meet some of these fascinating animals in person with Zoo herpetologists. Learn about the natural history of the Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake, among other reptile species found in the swamp, as well as what to do if you encounter one!

Bergen Swamp Preservation Society trustees will also be on hand to answer any questions about the swamp’s special flora, fauna and geology.

The Gillam Grant Community Center is located at 6966 W. Bergen Road in Bergen.

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