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Howard B. Owens's blog

Wednesday, May 19, 2010 at 8:04 pm

Batavia Police veteran signs off after 30-year career

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia


Tonight, John Zola is relaxing for the first time in 30 years as a civilian.

The Alden/Buffalo-area native came to Genesee County more than three decades ago as a GCC student and never left.

“It was the place for me to be," Zola said. "It really was. It’s my adopted city, but it was the place for me to be. I blended in well. I worked here well. I think I helped the community."

Community is a key word to Zola's style of police work. I've only known him for a year or so, but I noticed he was a guy who never stood behind his badge, letting it become a barrier to talking with people and relating to them on a personal basis.

The newfangled term for that kind of police work is "community policing." To Zola, it was "old-time policing."

"I think you talk to people, you learn things about people," Zola said. "Everybody is different. Everybody’s situation is different. Getting to know the community and certain needs of different neighborhoods and different families, getting to know your community, that’s what it’s about. That’s what small-town policing is all about."

Eventually, Zola will be replaced by a rookie and I asked him if he had any advice for that rookie, and Zola said:

"Take it for it’s worth. Like I said, it’s small-town policing. It’s getting to know your community. Help the people you can and arrest the ones you have to and move on. Never, NEVER, take yourself too seriously. I mean you’re a human being first. You’re a parent, you’re a husband or a wife second. You’re a cop somewhere down the road there. Don’t walk around with that badge on your chest all the time. Don’t get a heavy badge. Treat people the way you would want to be treated."

He said it's important not to get bogged down by what he called "the 5-percenters," the minority of people who cause problems. It's important  to remember that "95 percent of the people you come into contact with in this job are fantastic people."

Wednesday, May 19, 2010 at 6:14 pm

No verdict yet in Doll trial as jurors allowed to go home for the night

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, corfu, crime, pembroke, scott doll

BATAVIA, NY -- Shortly after 5 p.m., Judge Robert C. Noonan gave the jurors in the Scott Doll murder trial what he called a "little history lesson."

Noonan said for his 20 years as a lawyer and the first five years as a judge, jurors who hadn't reached a verdict at the end of the day would be sent to a hotel, each with a room with no TV and their mobile phones would be taken away.

"We don't do that anymore," Noonan said.

He then proceeded to instruct the jurors to avoid all contact with any information or discussion about the case.

He said they are at a critical stage of the trial and there should be no outside influences on their thinking.

Before dismissing the jurors for the evening, there was no indication given as to how far along the jurors might be in their diliberations.

They were instructed to return at 9 a.m.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Both attorneys in Scott Doll murder trial say common sense is on their side

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, corfu, crime, pembroke, scott doll

BATAVIA, NY -- Apply your common sense, jurors in the Scott Doll murder trial were told this morning.

That was the plea from Doll's attorney Paul Cambria and the message from District Attorney Lawrence Friedman.

But of course, the two experienced attorneys disagreed on where common sense would lead the jury.

For Cambria, it was toward acquittal and for Friedman it was toward conviction.

Around 2 this afternoon, after 45 minutes of instructions from Judge Robert C. Noonan, the 12 primary jurors were led to a private room where they are expected to deliberate in secret until they determine which trail of common sense leads to a verdict of guilt or innocence.

"I'm going to go through the evidence with you step-by-step," said Cambria to start his final presentation to the jury. "I'm going to show you that the evidence demonstrates, or fails to demonstrate, guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. I'm guided by common sense and I think common sense always rules the day ... I'm asking you to look at the case as reasonable people would look at it."

Friedman opened his closing argument by characterizing the defense case as "speculation."

"I will ask you to return a verdict based on facts," Friedman said.

As he wound up his remarks, Friedman referenced "Occam's razor," a rule of logic that postulates that the simplest explanation is often the right explanation.

"Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is not an invitation to abandon common sense," Friedman said. "Common sense will lead you to the correct answer. Common sense will answer the question, 'who did this?'"

NOTE: Assuming the jury doesn't come back with a verdict some time soon, I will write a more in depth story about the closing arguments tonight.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Batavia teen not abducted, but there's more to the story not yet released

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime

A 14-year-old Batavia girl who reported a possible abduction on Monday wasn't just fabricating a story to get out of doing her homework, or some other trivial reason.

The police are investigating what happened on Monday morning.

A release from the Batavia Police last night led to a report on The Batavian that said the girl involved was being investigated and the case might be turned over to the county attorney.

A police spokesman says the report was more artfully worded than that.

The key sentence in the report: "At this time, the cause of the report is being investigated, and once completed, will be referred to the Genesee County Attorney for any further appropriate action."

Det. Rich Schauf said this afternoon that the girl wasn't abducted, and "it wasn't a stranger."

He said she's a 14-year-old girl dealing with something she didn't know how to deal with. He said the police could not release right now any further details.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010 at 11:26 am

Elba man charged in alleged knife attack

post by Howard B. Owens in crime, elba

An alleged knife attack that left a victim in need of more than 80 stitches on his face and hand has led to the arrest of an Elba man on an assault and weapons possession charge.

Gerardo Pineda-Sanchez, 42, of Oak Orchard Road was taken into custody by the Sheriff's Office for the alleged April 28 attack.

The victim, described as a Mexican male, was interviewed by investigators after he showed up at the UMMC emergency room. The victim was eventually transferred to ECMC where he received 65 stitches on his face and 20 on this thumb.

With the aid of ICE, the Sheriff's Office was able to identify Pineda-Sanchez as the suspect and apprehended him at his workplace without incident.

Pineda-Sanchez is being held in a federal detention facility on $10,000 bail.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010 at 11:55 pm

Scott Doll says he didn't kill his friend, Joseph Benaquist

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, corfu, crime, pembroke, scott doll

(Note: This version, with more information and details, replaces a story published earler today.)

BATAVIA, NY -- "Joe Benaquist was my friend," Scott F. Doll said today during testimony in his own murder trial.

The statement came after Defense Attorney Paul Cambria asked if Doll -- who claims to have been with Benaquist when he took his last breath -- had ever seen anybody die before. Doll said, yes, a family member. He then began to tear up.

As Doll fought back the tears, Cambria asked, "Did you kill Joseph Benaquist?"

Struggling not to cry, Doll said, "No. I did not."

Cambria took a step from the podium and quietly said to District Attorney Lawrence Friedman, "your witness."

The 48-year-old Doll is charged with murder, 2nd. He's accused of beating Joseph Benaquist to death in the driveway of Benaquist's Pembroke home the evening of Feb. 16, 2009.

At 9:25, Tuesday morning, Doll took the stand in his own defense, and by the time he stepped down at 12:12 p.m. he had been asked a range of questions from Cambria and Friedman that covered his background, finances, car deals with Benaquist and his version of events from the night of the murder.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010 at 10:36 pm

Incumbents win school board election, budget passes

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, election

Whatever anti-incumbent mood might be sweeping the nation didn't carry over into today's Batavia City Schools School Board election.

Both incumbents -- Steve Mountain and Pat Burk -- won re-election while challenger Denine Scott fell short.

Mountain received 486 votes, Burk 381 and Scott received 336, based on preliminary results.

The 2010-11 school budget of $39.945,756 passed with 413 votes to 223.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010 at 6:13 pm

Batavia food company moving to Rochester

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Brothers All Natural, business

Brother's International Food Corp., founded in 2001 in Batavia, is relocating its operations to Rochester, the D&C reports.

The 24-employee company has been approved for a sales tax rebate by the County of Monroe Industrial Development Agency to relocate to an empire zone structure at 1175 Lexington Ave.

Travis D. Betters told the D&C that his company, which he co-owns,  outgrew its current location.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Batavia girl who reported abduction under investigation

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime

The 14-year-old girl who reported yesterday that she was abducted and now admits she fabricated the story may face legal consequences.

Batavia Police investigators are continuing their investigation, trying to determine where she was and what she was doing during the hours she first reported she had been taken by a black man driving a black minivan.

In a statement from the Batavia Police Department late this afternoon, officials say, "at this time, the cause of the report is being investigated, and once complete, will be referred to the Genesee County Attorney for any further appropriate actions."

Because she is a juvenile, it would be up to County Attorney Charles Zambito to handle the case, rather than the District Attorney's Office, according to police spokesman Eric Hill.

For previous coverage of this case, click here.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010 at 5:22 pm

Dishwasher fire reported in Alexander trailer park

post by Howard B. Owens in alexander, fire

A dishwasher reportedly caught fire in a trailer at the West Bank Mobile Home Park in Alexander.

The address is 3189 Route 20, lot 11.

Town of Alexander Fire and the ladder truck from Town of Batavia is responding.

A caller states she believes the fire is out, but the trailer is full of smoke. The trailer has been evacuated.

UPDATE: Town of Batavia and an Alexander unit are being held in their fire halls while the location is checked with a thermal camera.

View Larger Map

Tuesday, May 18, 2010 at 9:34 am

Police Beat: Man accused of possessing marijuana and mushrooms

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime, Stafford

Paul Nelson Henn, 19, of North Tonawanda, is charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance, unlawful possession of marijuana, unlawful possession of alcohol under 21. Deputy Brian Thompson responded to a call of a suspicious vehicle parked on a property on Prole Road, Stafford. Upon arrival, Deputy Thompson allegedly found Henn in possession of marijuana, hallucinogenic mushrooms and alcohol.

Richard E. Albee, 45, of Batavia, is charged with petit larceny. Albee was arrested at 4:08 p.m., Sunday, by State Police at the Batavia Motel on Route 5. No further details were released.

Monday, May 17, 2010 at 10:21 pm

Mobile phone surcharge not funding emergency dispatch as intended, Sheriff says

post by Howard B. Owens in Emergency Dispatch, Gary Maha, Sheriff's Office

If you have a mobile phone in New York, each month you pay a $1.20 surcharge for "New York State Public Safety" that you might think goes to pay for emergency dispatch.

If you think that, you're mistaken, according to Sheriff Gary Maha.

Last year, the surcharge generated $210 million in revenue, of which about $9 million was allocated to dispatch centers.

The balance of the fund, Maha said, goes straight into the state's General Fund for any number of non-law-enforcement related purposes.

Last year, Genesee County -- which spends $2 million each year to operate its dispatch center -- received just $38,000 from this fund.

“We need to keep the pressure on the state that this money should be used for what it’s intended for and not used to pay for general fund expenses," Maha told the County's Public Safety Committee today.

The committee passed a draft resolution to send to the State Legislature asking them to use the money according to its intended purposes.

The fund used to be called the 9-1-1 Surcharge, but even with the "public safety" label, the revenue is rarely being used to pay for public safety expenses, Maha said.

There is also a county-collected 35-cent surcharge on landlines for the dispatch center. But increasingly, people are abandoning landlines in favor of mobile phones, cutting down significantly on the amount of revenue this fund generates, Maha said.

Governor Paterson has proposed that $50 million from the surcharge monies, or about 21 percent, be made available to county 9-1-1 centers, Maha said.

The proposal has met with stiff opposition in the State Legislature.

The State Assembly proposes that only $8 million above last year's $9.3 million funding be provided to county 9-1-1 centers. Many think that the Legislature will take all of these monies to help fill the approximately $9 billion budget deficit facing the state, Maha said.

Monday, May 17, 2010 at 8:20 pm

Police: Abduction story fabricated

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime, schools

A 14-year-old girl who earlier today reportedly told Batavia School Superintendent Margaret Puzio that she had been abducted as she walked to school, made the whole thing up.

Batavia Police just announced that based on an extensive investigation, including assistance from the Child Advocacy Center and the Batavia City School District, they have concluded the girl fabricated the abduction story in order to alter facts regarding her whereabouts.

The investigation continues regarding the girl's actual whereabouts and her activities during that time.


Monday, May 17, 2010 at 6:04 pm

Whether girl was actually abducted remains in question

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime


(Updated 7:09 p.m.)

The investigation is still in its preliminary stages, but a Batavia Police spokesman today acknowledged that police have yet to verify the story of a 14-year-old girl who says she was abducted as she walked to school on Washington Avenue this morning.

"We're trying to ascertain if this actually did occur, if there was something along the lines that she made this up for some reason," said Officer Eric Hill. "We don’t know for certain, which is why we have detectives out there (conducting interviews)."

The girl first reported the abduction to Batavia Schools' Superintendent Margaret Puzio.

Puzio said she believes the girl.

marge_puzio.jpgThe girl wandered into Puzio's office about 10:45 a.m. saying that she had been abducted by a black man, 20 to 30 years old, wearing a black, long-sleeve shirt and blue jeans. She said the abduction occurred about 7:45 a.m. or 8 a.m. in the area of State Street and Washington Avenue.

Puzio contacted Batavia Police at 10:56 a.m.

The story the girl told Puzio, she said, is consistent with the story the girl told to police.

Why the girl wandered into the Washington Avenue location of the board of education, Puzio said she didn't know. She said she assumed the girl had walked by the building many times and knew what office it was.

“I assume she decided that was a safe place,” Puzio said.

Even though the location of the alleged intersection is a busy place that time of the morning -- it's part of the route many people might take to Batavia High School -- there are apparently no witnesses to the alleged abduction.

Investigators have been canvassing the area looking for more information, Hill said.

Hill said investigators have yet to determine how the alleged abductor got the girl into his minivan.

"That's not known at this point," Hill said. "That's a question for us at this point. We don't know what happened."

It's also unclear how the girl got away from her abductor. Hill said the detectives may have information he is not aware of, but said, "she reported to us that she got away. That's all we know, or, that's all I know."

Parents were notified of the alleged abduction some time before 2 p.m. through an automated call of a recorded message from Puzio.

Parents contacting The Batavian say the message did not contain information on the status of the girl or if her parents had been notified, causing them to panic about the safety of their own children.

Puzio said the message was well thought out and she consulted with the Batavia Police Department before deciding to send out a message through the automated call system.

"We always try to err on the side of giving as much information as we possibly can," Puzio said "We certainly deliberated over whether to say anything or not. What we decided to say is what we felt comfortable with."

Asked if she was concerned that fear from this incident would wind up encouraging parents to keep the children home from school tomorrow, Puzio said, "I hope not, but it’s always good to be reminded that students, your kids, are precious and sometimes we take for granted that they know not to go near cars with strangers in them, but sometimes it’s good to have something like this to reinforce that message."

Officer Hill said that if he had kids, he would consider driving them to school tomorrow, at least until this matter is resolved.

Hill said in his five years on the force, there have been no similar incidents in Batavia. He called this alleged abduction an "isolated incident."

Monday, May 17, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Allegedly abducted girl safe, but police looking for suspect

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime

A 14-year-old girl allegedly abducted as she walked to school on Washington Avenue in Batavia this morning  was found by police today, but investigators are looking for a suspect.

The abductor is described as a black male, 20 to 30 years old, wearing a black, long-sleeve shirt, blue jeans and sneakers. He was reportedly driving a black minivan.

The girl was picked up and placed in the van, according to police, about 7:45 a.m. or 8 a.m.

The girl was evaluated at UMMC.

The investigation is in its preliminary stages and no further information is available, police said.

(Initial Report)

Monday, May 17, 2010 at 3:55 pm

Scott Doll defense brings in own bloodstain-pattern expert

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, corfu, crime, pembroke, scott doll

BATAVIA, NY -- Blood spatter on the coveralls worn by Scott F. Doll the night Joseph Benaquist was killed suggest that Doll was not the one who bludgeoned Benaquist to death, said an expert witness brought in by the defense.

It's nearly impossible, said Herbert MacDonell, of Corning, that the spatter on the coveralls and the spatter on a Ford Windstar, which Doll seems to have been driving that night came, from the same impact event in a source of blood.

In fact, MacDonell said, the spatter on the coveralls is more consistent with expirated blood (such as if Benaquist coughed it up while talking with Doll).

MacDonell postulated that if the person who killed Benaquist was holding him down with his left hand, kneeling over him, beating him using a blunt object in his right hand, then the left sleeve of the coveralls should be covered with a lot more blood than it is.

Further, MacDonell said, the back swings of the assislant would cause spatter on the back shoulder and the back leg of the coveralls, and there is only one spatter spot on the back leg of the coveralls.

The inconsistancy with MacDonell's testimony -- which was not clearly drawn out by either the prosecution or the defense -- is that there has been no evidence introduced thus far (and the prosecution has rested its case) that the murderer was kneeling and holding Benaquist down at the time of the attack.

In fact, Cambria has pursued a line of questions with other witnesses that suggests Benaquist fought for his life, causing blood transfer on two nearby vehicles, including the underside of a Nissan Altima.

It's unclear, based on today's testimony, where MacDonell came up with the assumption that Benaquist's killer was kneeling and holding him down with his left hand.

Based on his examination this morning of the blood spatter on the coveralls, MacDonell concluded that the spatter was from a blood source that had already started to clot.

Fresh blood, he said, would immediately soak into the fabric, but in this case, MacDonell said, the blood drops landed on the coveralls and didn't penetrate the cloth, sitting there, he said, "like a fried egg."

This would suggest, he said, that the person wearing the coveralls came in contact with a source of blood spatter some time after the initial attack. 

He also said the spatter on the Windstar was consistent with a stronger-force impact into a source of blood than that of the spatter on the coveralls.

Assistant District Attorney Will Zickl asked a series of questions related to possibly faulty assumptions and how a different assumption might change MacDonell's conclusions. But he never asked just why MacDonell thought the killer was holding Benaquist with his left arm.

Autopsy photos show that Benaquist received blows to the sides, front and back of his head, not just one side.

Zickl did try to impeach MacDonell's testimony by drawing out of him that he did not produce a written report for the trial.

MacDonell at first said he didn't need to produce a written report because the conclusions were obvious. He then said that in the months leading up to the trial, he only had photographic evidence to review. He said that if he had received the coveralls to examine, he would have produced a written report. Yet, MacDonell never asked to examine the coveralls and did not do so until about an hour before this morning's testimony.

Zickl also wanted to pursue a line of questioning about peer review, noting that the prosecution's bloodstain-pattern expert wrote a report and put it through technical "peer" review with a colleague of MacDonell's. But after a discussion with the jury out of the room, Judge Robert Noonan ruled that a discussion of the peer review would mean the use of hearsay.

Monday, May 17, 2010 at 3:18 pm

South Main house struck by truck being demolished today

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, South Main Street


A house on South Main that was knocked off its foundation when it was hit by an allegedly speeding pickup truck in early March is just about gone.

Workers started demolishing the house this morning and say by tomorrow there will be a level, gravel-covered vacant lot where the duplex once stood.

Monday, May 17, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Reports coming in of child abduction in Batavia School District

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime, schools

More than a dozen parents have contacted The Batavian in the past 15 minutes saying they've received calls from Margaret Puzio, superintendent of the Batavia School District, informing them that a student in the district was abducted this morning.

Det. Rich Schauf is currently investigating the case and is not available for an interview at this time and all media calls about the case are being referred to Schauf.

At this time, no further information is available about this case.

UPDATE 2:22 p.m.: WBTA's Geoff Redick reached Puzio by phone and Puzio told Redick that "the child is with police." She refused further comment. The child, according to the pre-recorded message automatically phoned to parents this afternoon from Puzio, said the child was abducted this morning while headed to school.

UPDATE 2:40 p.m.: WBTA spoke with Det. Todd Crossett who said a girl was picked up and placed in a car on Washington Avenue this morning. Police found the girl this afternoon and she is now with police, according to Crossett.

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