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Howard B. Owens's blog

Monday, July 12, 2010 at 8:28 pm

O-A teacher in misconduct case given community work, probation, can no longer teach

post by Howard B. Owens in crime, Oakfield


Kerry H. Hoffman, the former Oakfield-Alabama band teacher who admitted May 10 to an inappropriate relationship with a female student, will serve 60-days working for the county jail on weekends, three years probation and is required to surrender his teaching credentials.

The sentence was close to what Hoffman agreed to in a plea bargain two months ago.

Rather than jail time, Justice Thomas Graham said he wanted Hoffman working for the jail, out in the community, where people could see him.

"I don't feel that jail is much of a punishment, where you can sit around playing cards and watching TV," Graham said.

Hoffman will be required to lecture twice a year on teacher ethics at a teacher's college. Graham said he wanted future teachers to learn from Hoffman's mistakes.

He will also be required to undergo sexual abuse counseling, even though it was not part of the plea agreement and the probation department pre-sentence investigation found he is highly unlikely to commit sexual abuse in the future.

Hoffman, in pleading guilty in May, did not admit to sexual relations with the girl.

When given a chance to speak prior to sentencing by Graham, Hoffman declined.

The victim's mother did speak and she accused Hoffman of destroying her relationship with her daughter.

"She won't even talk with me anymore," the mother said. "You filled her head full of lies. You told her I didn't care about her or understand her. How was I supposed to compete with that?"

Hoffman is accused of taking the girl shopping and sending her numerous text-messages.

Her friends are said to have alerted her mother about the relationship with Hoffman, whose wife gave birth to a little girl within the past year.

But both her mother and Assistant District Attorney Kevin Finnell describe a situation in which the girl is no longer able to attend school, that she's been robbed of her senior year, because some at the school have apparently taken Hoffman's side.

Twenty years from now when Oakfield-Alabama holds its reunion, this is going to be what she thinks about," Finnell said. "Her 20th reunion, her 30th reunion, her 50th reunion, if she even attends. It's always going to be there, what he's done to her."

If not for people coming forward and alerting her parents, Finnell said, the situation was "just a whisper away" from becoming something more serious.

Attorney Thomas D. Calandra said that in giving up his teaching credentials, Hoffman, who has no prior criminal record, will suffer punishment enough.

"He has master's degree in music that is probably of little use to him now and in the future," Calandra said.

Calandra reported that Hoffman completed three different sexual offender tests for the probation department, and in all of them he scored only one or two points (one test out of a possible 12 and another out of a possible 54).

"He's absolutely no danger to the community," Calandra said.

Graham said it was a very tough case to decide.

"You were given a position of trust," Graham said. "An educator has an extremely high level of responsibility and trust. You hurt the victim, the victim's parents, the victim's family, your wife, your daughter, your family and her family. That bond of trust was broken by you."

But, Graham noted, Hoffman has a lot going for him -- the love of his wife and support of his family, including his in-laws (his father-in-law nodded vigorously as Graham spoke). 

"I can only hope that everyone can heal," Graham said. "Something that you will understand with your Christian background, Mr. Hoffman, someday you will be judged by a higher authority other than myself."

Monday, July 12, 2010 at 7:08 pm

Wires arcing in Village of Le Roy

post by Howard B. Owens in Le Roy

Le Roy Fire is responding to a second call in its district -- this time, wires arcing in the area of 65 Lake St.

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Monday, July 12, 2010 at 6:58 pm

Car hits multiple poles in Le Roy

post by Howard B. Owens in accident, Le Roy

A car has multiple utility poles, one apparently an electric pole, in the area of 7101 East Bethany-Le Roy Road.

The driver suffered a head injury, but is conscious and is out of the car.

Minutes earlier, a Cadillac was reported on the same road swerving onto the shoulder and then re-entering the roadway.

Le Roy Fire is responding, along with EMS.

Fire Police are shutting down the road.

UPDATE 8:19 p.m.: The driver apparently suffered a medical problem while driving.

UPDATE 9:01 p.m.: At one point, the stoplight in front of Tops was out, reportedly because of the accident. A little while ago, somebody reported power restored at Le Roy Village Greens. National Grid was still reporting 620 customers without power. The accident scene was cleared by Le Roy Fire 10 or 15 minutes ago.

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Monday, July 12, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Chief Brewster tracking four mysterious deaths in Genesee County

post by Howard B. Owens in crime, Jerome Brewster, unsolved murders


As Chief Deputy Jerome Brewster and his investigation team in the Genesee County Sheriff's Office get seemingly closer to making an arrest in 2005 shooting death of Bill Fickel, that headline-grabbing, unsolved murder isn't the only mysterious death that keeps the 35-year veteran awake at night.

The other names that haunt his memory include Annie Lee, Eddie Freson and Kisha Sullivan.

“I live with every single one," Brewster said during an interview in his office last week. "My personality type is that I need to know. Good, bad or indifferent, I need to figure it out. So, when I have cases like these that you can’t figure out, they bother me."

Brewster said he constantly turns over in his head whether the right questions were asked, who said what, what the available evidence means. Is there anything that's been missed? But mostly, he wonders if he and his staff are looking at the case from the right perspective.

"A lot of times what I question is, are we looking at this thing the right way?" Brewster said.

A murder investigation begins as soon as a death is called in -- it doesn't matter if it's an apparent suicide, a drug overdose, a drowning, a hunting accident or granny finally expired in her bed. Every reported death begins with the question, "was it murder?"

Often, it's quickly obvious that there was no crime committed. But it's important that in the initial moments when law enforcement is on scene, that nothing be overlooked.

"That’s a pretty good way to operate because then hopefully you don’t miss anything," Brewster said.

Sometimes, it's obvious that there's been a homicide. The death of 66-year-old Joseph Benaquist might be a case in point.

Besides the fact that Scott F. Doll (who was convicted of the murder in May) was found with blood on his clothes wandering on a road near the victim's house, when Benaquist's body was found, it was pretty obvious the retired corrections officer had been beaten to death only hours earlier.

There was ample physical evidence at the scene (though Doll's defense attorney continues to insist, ample evidence of reasonable doubt, as well) and a suspect already in custody.

When Brewster has physical evidence, a body found at the scene of the crime and a suspect, he says making an arrest is just a matter of "getting our ducks in a row."

Even on such "smoking gun" cases, Brewster wants to make sure the charges stick.

With eight investigators at his disposal (all of whom have other duties), as well as the cooperation of the State Police and other agencies, Brewster supervises the investigation and makes sure all of the proper procedures are covered.

"Just because a guy says he killed his wife doesn’t mean you will get a conviction if you don’t do your job," Brewster said.

But what happens when the body isn't found at the scene, or there's no DNA evidence, or the body isn't found until weeks after the crime?

That's when the job gets tough.

"If you’re going to solve (the case) quickly, you usually have enough at the scene," Brewster said. "If you’re not going to solve it (at the scene), then you’re in for a long haul, a long haul. The worst calls you want to get are ‘I just found a dead body along the road.'"

In the cases of Lee, Freson, Sullivan and Fickel, Brewster has been in it for the long haul. He continues to work the cases, though not all of them every day, and continues to search for answers, and in two of the cases he may be getting close to finding the right answers.

Starting tomorrow, we'll look at each of these cases individually and tell you the latest information Chief Brewster has to share.

(Note: WBTA is running a parallel series this week based on our interview with Chief Brewster. It will air Tuesday and Wednesday.)

Monday, July 12, 2010 at 1:16 pm

Truck fire reported in Darien

post by Howard B. Owens in Darien, fire

A truck fire is being reported on Colby Road, south of Sumner, in Darien.

Darien Fire is being dispatched.

UPDATE 2:24 p.m.: A Pavilion chief on scene reports that the tractor-trailer is pretty much gone and suggested that requested tankers from East Pembroke, Corfu and Alexander won't be needed. There is a request for a grass truck to the location. The vehicle on fire is in the middle of a field without much vegetation.

UPDATE 2:56 p.m.: Fire is out.

UPDATE: The vehicle was not a tractor-trailer. It was a tractor.

Monday, July 12, 2010 at 11:41 am

Child suffers wrist injury after being hit by car

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, accident

A car reportedly backed into a child in the area of 511 E. Main St., Batavia.

The child suffered a wrist injury.

Mercy EMS is being dispatched.

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Monday, July 12, 2010 at 9:43 am

Police Beat: 75 reportedly stolen Darien Lake passes recovered

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, byron, corfu, crime, Darien

Anthony Vincent Aidrich, 33, of Kirkpatrick Street, Syracuse, is charged with criminal possession of stolen property. Aidrich is accused of possessing 75 stolen Darien Lake passes. Aidrich was allegedly found with the passes while trying to enter the theme park using an allegedly stolen pass. He was jailed on $10,000 bail or $20,000 bond.

Stephanie Ruth Cotton, 34, of 6319 Mechanic Road, Byron, is charged with a violation of probation. Cotton is accused of missing a probation appointment and failure to appear for sentencing in Genesee County Court. Cotton was arrested at 11:05 a.m., Friday, and was allegedly found hiding in her attic under insulation.

Jacob A. Staskiewicz, 24, of Batavia, is charged with DWI, driving with a BAC of .18 or greater, failure to keep right and moving from lane unsafely. Staskiewicz was stopped at 2:26 a.m., Saturday, on Railroad Avenue, where his car allegedly hit a guardrail, by Deputy Kevin McCarthy.

Anthony V. Firman, 21, of 82 Gilbert St., Le Roy, is charged with criminal contempt, 2nd. Firman is accused of violating conditions of probation. He was jailed on $2,500 bail.

Tim Christopher Fox, 41, of Drake Street, Oakfield, is charged with two counts of harassment, 2nd, and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child. Fox allegedly pushed another person during an argument. He then allegedly fell on two children while being restrained.

Lance A. Mercado, 20, of 110 Bank St., Batavia and Jeanne D. Fuller, 23, of 399 Manitou Road, Hilton, are each charged with harassment, 2nd. A friend filed charges against Mercado and Fuller, accusing Mercado of pushing him and Fuller attempting to hit him.

Sara J. Falker, 22, of 41 Maple St., Batavia, is charged with endangering the welfare of a child. Falker is accused of leaving her 2-year-old child unsupervised while at home with the child and of maintaining less than favorable living conditions.

Robert M. Freeman, 18, of 285 East Avenue, Batavia, is charged with criminal mischief, 4th. Freeman is accused of egging a car on May 28, causing damage to the paint.

Joseph P. Urtel, 32, of 19 Pringle Ave., is charged with criminal mischief, 3rd. Urtel is accused of damaging the laptop of a female friend. Urtel was jailed without bail.

Sunday, July 11, 2010 at 4:15 pm

Car hits pole and tree on South Lake Road, Corfu

post by Howard B. Owens in accident, corfu

A car has hit a utility pole and a tree in the area of 8993 South Lake Road, Corfu.

The pole and wires are down.

At least one injury reported.

Pembroke and Indian Falls Fire and Mercy EMS are responding.

UPDATE 5:19 p.m.: Mercy Flight being dispatched.

UPDATE 5:21 p.m.: Corfu Fire being dispatched to shut down traffic at Lake and Cohocton and set up a possible landing zone on Cohocton.

UPDATE 5:34 p.m.: Victim extricated.

UPDATE 5:36 p.m.: Mercy Flight has landed.

UPDATE 5:50 p.m.: Mercy Flight is airborne.

UPDATE, Monday, 10 a.m.: The driver has been identified as Edward J. Siminski, 83, of North Lake Road, Corfu. Siminski reportedly fell asleep while driving.

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Sunday, July 11, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Two-car accident reported, Randall and Buckley, Le Roy

post by Howard B. Owens in accident, Le Roy, Stafford

A two-car accident has been reported at the intersection of Randall and Buckley roads, Le Roy, with injuries.

Stafford Fire is responding.

One vehicle is blocking traffic.

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Sunday, July 11, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Two ambulances requested to accident on Ellicott Street Road

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, accident

A two-car accident with injuries has been reported at the intersection of Ellicott Street Road and Shepard Road, Batavia.

Two ambulances have been requested to the scene.

One woman reportedly has her leg trapped.

Town of Batavia Fire is also responding.

UPDATE 1:55 p.m.: Report now, woman trapped only by a door. Her body is not entrapped. City PD being dispatched to close Route 63 at Cedar Street.

UPDATE 2:16 p.m.: Southbound Route 63 is now open.


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Sunday, July 11, 2010 at 12:38 am

Photos: Alexander's annual carnival parade

post by Howard B. Owens in alexander, photos


Today was Alexander's annual parade, part of its annual carnival and tractor pull.

The Stafford Fire Color Guard, above, along with volunteer fire departments from throughout the region as well as businesses and community groups participated in the parade.

More pictures after the jump:

Sunday, July 11, 2010 at 12:01 am

Photos: Kites over Batavia

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, Eric Olson, kites, photos


While on Lewiston Road late Friday afternoon, I spotted these kites flying over the Batavia Downs' parking lot and so I swung down Park Road to investigate.

I should have known, it was Eric Olson, Batavia's Kite Man, out with his kite trailer looking to lure customers to his location.

Olson, whose day job is with the Genesee County Sheriff's Office, runs a sideline business selling kites at community events, and such.



Saturday, July 10, 2010 at 11:50 pm

Photos: Saturday in Le Roy and Stafford

post by Howard B. Owens in BARNS, Le Roy, photos, Stafford


You know, if I'm driving out in Genesee County somewhere, I'm looking for barns and other interesting photographic opportunities.

The barn above is on Randall Road in Morgansville.


This flower (Anybody know what it's called?) was in the field across from the barn.

More pictures after the jump:

Saturday, July 10, 2010 at 11:01 pm

Car hits pole, causing power outage along Indian Falls Road

post by Howard B. Owens in accident, corfu, pembroke

A truck has hit a utility pole in the area of 1550 Indian Falls Road, Corfu.

Power has been knocked out to several homes in the area.

It's in East Pembroke's district, but Indian Falls and Pembroke fire departments were initially dispatched.

No injuries are reported.

The pole was completely sheared off.

"The truck is pretty much demolished," a chief reports.

A portion of the pole is on top of the truck.

The road is not blocked.

UPDATE: The alleged driver, Jason Edward Schanley, 33, of Indian Falls Road, Corfu, was arrested and charged with DWI, driving with a BAC of .18 or greater and moving from the lane unsafely.

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Saturday, July 10, 2010 at 10:28 pm

FBI agent's affidavit reveals some details of alleged meth ring investigation

post by Howard B. Owens in Basom, batavia, crime, Le Roy, methamphetamine


Note: Reminder, innocent until proven guilty. While we use "allegedly" throughout this report, the nature of recounting the events as alleged by the FBI could leave an impression that the events occurred exactly as reported. That has not yet been proven in court.

For a little over two months, Donald G. Vanelli was a man being closely watched by the FBI.

Agents obtained a court order authorizing a wiretap on his phone on April 22. The FBI mounted a camera on a pole near his home at 8394 Lake Street Road., Le Roy, allowing them to observe who was coming and who was going, and all the trips Vanelli made to his white-washed, two-door garage, where he allegedly stored the methamphetamine he was selling.

By May 7, agents even had two confidential sources allegedly buying -- with federal dollars -- at least one, and sometimes four, "eight-balls" of meth on each visit to the house of the 47-year-old president of the Road Agents Motorcycle Club.

mug_donald_vanelli.jpgAn eight-ball is approximately 1/8 of an ounce of meth.

The details of the surveillance and investigation into the alleged drug-dealing activities of Vanelli are contained in a 99-page affidavit written by FBI agent Mark R. Schirching.

The affidavit, unsealed at the time of Vanelli's arrest, was the basis for warrants for David H. Cohen, 49, of 918 Goodman St., Rochester; Andrew W. Chapman, 40, of 5 Cedar St., Batavia; and Kerry A. Ball, 51, of 7202 Meadville Road, Basom, as well as search warrants for the homes of Vanelli and Donna L. Boon (aka Donna Mcauly), 44, of 3658 Batavia-Oakfield Townline Road, Batavia.

All five suspects were arrested early Friday morning and arraigned in the U.S. District Court in Rochester on a federal charge of conspiracy with intent to distribute narcotics.

Vanelli is reportedly being held without bail, while the other four suspects were released on their own recognizance.

While Vanelli was the central figure in the investigation, and described by one investigator Friday as the center of the ring, Vanelli was not the person dealing with the higher level suppliers.

That job allegedly fell to Boon initially, but when Boon could either no longer allegedly supply Vanelli, or when Boon and Vanelli had some sort of falling out, Vanelli reportedly turned to Cohen, who had a contact -- a man who comes across in the affidavit as unreliable and arrogant -- named Igor. Cohen tagged Igor "The King," according to the affidavit, but the nickname doesn't have the ring of a compliment.

Igor's unreliability leaves the impression that he was buying from another source, not he himself manufacturing meth. It's also unclear from the affidavit whether Vanelli's other alleged supplier, Boon, was allegedly buying from a meth lab or dealt with another middle man.

There's no indication one way or another whether Boon or Cohen were themselves subject to a separate surveillance effort.

It's important to note that the affidavit itself is not the whole of the federal case against the suspects, only that portion which has been made publicly available.

Saturday, July 10, 2010 at 7:07 pm

Reported high-speed chase ends before reaching Genesee County

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime

Law enforcement in Orleans County  notified Genesee County that they were in pursuit of a vehicle southbound on Route 98, passing through Barre.

The Silverado truck, which is registered to a Batavia resident, was exceeding 100 mph, according to the dispatcher.

Minutes after the call went out, the truck reportedly stopped, the driver got out. A dispatcher indicated a Taser was used on the suspect.

The Genesee County response was canceled with the report of the Orleans County traffic stop.

Friday, July 9, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Five suspected meth dealers busted in early morning raids

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime, Le Roy, methamphetamine


An alleged meth distribution ring with a hub in Le Roy and alleged dealers in Batavia and Rochester was broken up by a region-wide law enforcement effort early this morning.

Five individuals were arrested and now face a federal charge of conspiracy with intent to distribute narcotics.

None of the individuals are suspected of manufacturing methamphetamine.

U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. said at a press conference this afternoon that 75 grams of meth were recovered following the months long investigation that included wiretaps and the use of informants.

Sheriff Gary Maha would only say that the suspected meth was being manufactured "somewhere in the states."

"We're not concerned about there being a major lab out there in Genesee County," Maha said.

mug_donald_vanelli.jpgDonald G. Vanelli, 47, of 8394 Lake St., Le Roy, is suspected of playing a central role in acquisition and distribution of meth.

Vanelli, according to a press release put out late Friday by Hochul's office, is president of the Road Agents Motorcycle Club.

Much of the meth allegedly distributed by the ring was being sold in Batavia and throughout Genesee County, but one suspected dealer lived in Rochester. He is David H. Cohen, 49, of 918 Goodman St.

Also taken into custody were Donna L. Boon (aka Donna Mcauly), 44, of 3658 Batavia-Oakfield Townline Road; Andrew W. Chapman, 40, of 5 Cedar St., Batavia; and Kerry A. Ball, 51, of 7202 Meadville Road, Basom.

“We’ve made a number of significant drug arrests here in Genesee County, but this is pretty significant as far as the distribution of methamphetamine,” Maha said. “We think these people are major, major suppliers here in Genesee County.”

Cohen, Boon, Chapman and Ball were arraigned in U.S. District Court in Rochester this afternoon and released. Federal prosecutors were going to ask that Vanelli be held without bail.

Cohen is accused of obtaining meth in Genesee County and distributing it in Monroe County, as well as sometimes being a conduit to resupply Vanelli.

mug_donna_boone.jpgSearch warrants were executed at the homes of Boon and Vanelli. K-9 units from Orleans and Monore counties were used in the searches.

A 9mm semi-automatic gun, loaded with 10 rounds, was reportedly seized at Vanelli's home.

Authorities believe that Boon would sometimes supply meth to Vanelli for redistribution.

The federal charge carries a minimum five-year prison sentence, with a maximum available sentence of 40 years and a $2 million fine.

The street value of the 75 grams of meth, according to Hochul is about $7,000.

The stiffer federal penalties are exactly why the FBI and U.S. District Attorney's Office were brought into the investigation, according to Maha.

"We said in the beginning (a little less than a year ago when the first alleged meth lab was found in Alabama), we’re not going to tolerate methamphetamine here in Genesee County," Maha said. "So when it’s brought to our attention that people are manufacturing, or that people are distributing, methamphetamine we’re going to go after them as hard as we can."

The investigation is continuing and there may be additional arrests.

"An investigation into any crime isn’t complete until everybody who is responsible for either the trafficking, procurement of any of the substances and finally the financing are identified and prosecuted," Hochul said.

The culmination of "Operation Deep Freeze" began at 3 a.m. with members of the Batavia Police Department rapid response team (SWAT) meeting at the Sheriff's Office before heading out to serve search warrants and arrest the suspects. By 5:30 a.m., investigators from the Sheriff's Office and the FBI were heading into the field to conduct searches on the suspects' residences.

The investigation began, according to Maha, with informants. He shied away from characterizing them as "citizens" or people involved in criminal activity. He said there was no connection between this alleged distribution ring and the five previous alleged meth labs found in the county.

Also participating in the investigation were the Drug Enforcement Administration, State Police and the Le Roy Police Department as well as the Genesee County District Attorney's Office.

mug_david_cohen.jpg  mug_kerry_ball.jpg  mug_andrew_maxwell.jpg
David Cohen  Kerry Ball  Andrew Chapman

Inset photos: top, Vanelli; bottom, Boon.

Friday, July 9, 2010 at 1:39 pm

Condemnation notice placed on Latina's building

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Latina's


City officials are ramping up the enforcement action against LKLWL Properties, owners of the Latina's Foodland location on Ellicott Street.

Today, a condemnation notice appeared on the building's doors and a criminal complaint was filed in City Court.

Representatives of LKLWL Properties are being ordered to appear in court on July 23 at 10 a.m. to answer to a charge of creating unsanitary conditions, in violation of city code.

The condemnation notice prevents anybody from entering the building.

Also, based on the feces and feathers on the floor inside of the building, it seems pretty clear that gulls now have access to the interior of the building as well, not just the roof.

City Manager Jason Molino has not been available for comment this afternoon.

UPDATE 4:36 p.m.: City Manager Jason Molino said the court action and the condemnation are two seperate tracks that are part of the same effort to get the property owner to take the condition of the building seriously.

If the gull problem isn't remedied in 30 days, because of the condemnation notification, the city will be able to send crews in to deal with the gulls and clean up the property and then bill the property owner for the work.

"At this point we have to do what we can to try and remedy the situation," Molino said.

Asked about cleaning up the parking lot, which is increasingly covered with feces, Molino said it would be reasonable to consider billing the property owner for any clean up work there.

For previous coverage, click here.


Friday, July 9, 2010 at 1:25 pm

U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan to get Batavia-made T-shirts

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, charity


The crew at Top Line T-shirts made up patriotic shirts to sell at the Picnic in the Park on July 5. When there were some left over, owner Tim Walton was trying to think about what to do with them.

He struck up a conversation with longtime friend Jody Lutley of Hometown Hugs. Hometown Hugs is a local organization that has been sending care packages to soldiers in Afghanistan since the war started.

Walton and Leitey hit on the idea of sending the shirts to troops in Afghanistan, and Walton even printed up another batch to send over.

Pictured are Leitey, Walton, Rob Credi, Walton's business partner, and Andrew Maxwell.

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