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Wednesday, August 22, 2012 at 12:52 am

Batavia man accused of DWI after fiery crash in Orleans County

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime

A Batavia man who escaped a fiery crash unscathed Sunday night in Orleans County is facing DWI charges.

Keith Stevens, 57, reportedly crashed his vehicle on South Holley Road after failing to negotiate a curve.

His Pontiac Grand Prix caught fire after the car hit a sign, a utility pole and a tree.

Stevens was uninjured, but will appear in Clarendon Town Court on Sept. 10 to answer to the charges.

(via WBTA)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Defense attorney says he's ready to tell Jacquetta Simmons' side of the story to jury

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime, Jacquetta Simmons

So far, according to attorney Earl Key, Jacquetta Simmons, the 26-year-old Batavia woman accused of hitting a 70-year-old Walmart employee on Christmas Eve, hasn't had a chance to tell her side of the story.

"There's only been one side of the story up to this point reported in the media," said Key following the completion of jury selection in the Simmons case. "Our side will come out in the courtroom, not the media."

Simmons is facing one felony count of assault in the second degree with an accusation that Simmons struck a person 65 years or older while being at least 10 years younger than the alleged victim.

Simmons is accused of striking Grace Suozzi, who was working as a cashier the afternoon of Christmas Eve when she reportedly asked Simmons and her brother to produce a receipt for items in a bag her brother was carrying.

During jury selection, District Attorney Lawrence Friedman asked each prospective juror about their attitudes toward employees who ask customers to show receipts before leaving a store.

Today, one juror, who said he came into the court yesterday with no prior knowledge of the case, told Friedman that what he gathered from prior questioning of prospective jurors was that the defendant had been profiled on Christmas Eve based on her race. He said he disagreed with the practice and, after admitting he couldn't be an impartial juror, was dismissed.

Eight jurors were picked yesterday, and the final four plus three alternates were chosen today.

Yesterday during jury selection, prospective jurors were closely questioned about racial attitudes.

Today, there were few questions about race and none from defense attorney Ann Nichols, who today handled jury questioning for the Simmons team.

After court, Key reiterated that he doesn't believe the case is about race and he isn't concerned with presenting the case to an all-white jury.

"I've tried cases with an all-white jury before," Key said. "I've had black jurors convict black defendants and white jurors acquit black defendants. I don't care what color you are, so long as you're fair and impartial."

Key said all the talk about race being a factor has been in the media; it's not part of his case. Nichols added that most of the race talk around the case has been from readers leaving comments on stories on various news sites.

To the degree that race plays a factor in the case will hinge on a seemingly racially charged statement Simmons allegedly made during the confrontation.

Assistant District Attorney Melissa Cianfrini revealed the alleged statement during a hearing July 30 when arguing whether Simmons had intended to cause serious physical injury to Souzzi.

Proving intent of serious physical injury was a key part of count one of the grand jury indictment, the Class D felony of assault in the second degree, but last week Judge Robert C. Noonan ruled there was insufficient evidence to sustain the charge.

"... the evidence before the grand jury of serious physical injury was not overwhelming and established only that the victim approached the defendant and the defendant withdrew from the confrontation after throwing the punch," Noonan wrote in his decision. "The grand jury could not have reasonably inferred from such evidence that the defendant acted with the culpable mental state of intent to cause serious physical injury."

With that second-degree assault charge no longer being presented to the jury, and no requirement to prove intent to cause serious physical injury, it's unknown if the jury will even hear the alleged statement by Simmons.

Under count two of the indictment, which Noonan upheld, the prosecution need only prove intent to cause physical injury.

After count one was reduced to a Class B misdemeanor, assault 3rd, Friedman moved to have the charge dismissed and try only count two.

The trial begins at 10 a.m. Wednesday. The 12-person jury is comprised of 10 women and two men and the three alternates are women.

Key said with all the media attention the case has gotten, the past several months have been stressful for his client. She dropped out of college, Key said. She's seen ugly comments left about her online, especially on Facebook, he said, and Nichols added that she's received hate mail at home.

"She's taken it all in stride," Key said. "She's looking forward to us putting her side of the story in front of a jury."

Photo: Simmons leaves the Genesee County Courthouse during the lunch break with Nichols while a WHAM 13 cameraman photographs her, and a member of the defense team finishing hold the courthouse door.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012 at 1:09 pm

Trespass charge dropped against mother who protested bath salt sales

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, bath salts, crime, synthetic drugs, The 420 Emporium

Accused of a trespass violation, Nicole Lang entered Batavia City Court today with hands trembling, nervous about her pending case but adamant she did nothing wrong July 11 when she was accused of trespassing at The 420 Emporium.

Lang went into the store and accused an employee of selling bath salts to her son, Jason Lang.

Because police believed Lang had been ordered from the store and chose to reenter, she was given a citation for alleged trespassing.

Today, Judge Michael Del Plato, on the recommendation of the District Attorney's Office, dismissed the charge with the stipulation that Lang not be re-arrested within the next six months.

Lang has no prior criminal history.

Outside court, Lang said she was very happy about the turn of events.

Del Plato also issued an order of protection, requiring Lang not to have contact with the employee who filed the trespass complaint, Joseph Wesley.

The 420 Emporium was raided by the DEA on July 25 and has not opened its doors since. The location at 400 Ellicott St., Batavia, is apparently owned or co-owned by Joshua Denise. Denise was arrested during the DEA raid.

Jason Lang, the onetime owner of the Laughing Buddha on Ellicott Street, is scheduled to appear in Town of Batavia Court today on charges related to his alleged attempt to call the 420's landlord and suggest he was with the State Police and warn the property owner that the 420 allegedly sold synthetic marijuana.

We'll have an update on Jason Lang later today.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012 at 11:35 am

Twelve jurors selected for Simmons trial, but no alternates named yet

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime, Jacquetta Simmons

Twelve Genesee County residents have been selected to serve on the jury of the Jacquetta Simmons case.

A pool of potential jurors are being drawn for consideration as alternate jurors. The potential alternates will be interviewed after the lunch break.

Simmons is being tried on a single count of assault in the second degree with an accusation of being more than 10 years younger than the alleged victim who is over age 65.

The 27-year-old Batavia woman is accused of hitting a 70-year-old Walmart cashier on Christmas Eve.

UPDATE 3 p.m.: Three alternate jurors have been selected. The jury is comprised of 10 women and two men. The three alternates are women. Judge Robert C. Noonan is delivering instructions and the trial will start tomorrow.

Monday, August 20, 2012 at 6:48 pm

First eight jurors selected in case of Walmart customer who allegedly punched employee

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime

The first eight members of the jury in the Jacquetta Simmons trial were selected today in an day-long session aimed at weeding out those who may not be able to fairly weigh evidence in the case.

Local and regional media coverage of the 27-year-old Simmons, who allegedly punched a 70-year-old employee of Walmart on Christmas Eve, has been intense and each prospective juror was asked how he or she found out about the case.

Jurors who read about the story in print and online and admitted to drawing a conclusion about the guilt or innocence of Simmons didn't make the cut.

The eight selected, along with most of the remaining prospective jurors -- 12 must be selected, plus alternates -- either hadn't heard about the case prior to today or had minimal media exposure, such as hearing or seeing a broadcast report in December.

While District Attorney Lawrence Friedman and defense attorney Earl Key quizzed prospective jurors about media coverage, they also focused on issues ranging from how views on race might impact their ability to weigh the evidence and whether they had any other conflicts of interest.

The jury selection process began at 10 a.m. with 73 prospective jurors from throughout Genesee County. The first 18 were seated in the jury box in a random drawing. Judge Robert C. Noonan then quizzed jurors about their prior knowledge of the case.

While some jurors disclosed prior knowledge and made-up minds, they weren't asked immediately to leave the jury box during the morning session. All were eventually dismissed however. In the afternoon, after the first eight jurors were sworn in, Judge Noonan began dimissing prospective jurors as quickly as they expressed any sort of fixed bias in the case.

After the first eight were chosen, the other 10 remaining in the jury box were dismissed and a second group of 18 were seated. By 5 o'clock, there were 18 men and women in the box who expressed no obvious bias or conflict of interest and that was how the day ended.

In the morning session, with the initial group of prospective jurors, Friedman and Key questioned the group and individual jurors.

Friedman started off by asking questions about the ability of jurors to weigh evidence based on what was presented in court, without any outside influence, and whether they could fairly judge circumstantial evidence. He asked whether jurors could recognize truth from falsehood, and more specifically, how they might judge intent, and if they've had experiences, pro or con, with store employees asking to review a receipt for purchases.

In order to win a conviction, the prosecution must is prove Simmons intended to seriously injure the alleged victim.

Simmons is also the first person in Genesee County charged under a two-year-old New York law which makes it a more serious violent felony for a person more than 10 years younger to hit a victim 65 years of age or older.

Friedmen asked prospective jurors if they had any objection to such a law and none present did.

Then the DA wanted to know if each prospective juror could make his or her decision based on the facts and evidence in the case, with no bias based on race -- the defendant is black and the alleged victim is white.

All prospective jurors, which at this time included one African-American man, said race would not be a factor.

Key also asked questions about weighing evidence fairly, and just before asking his first race-related question, he wanted to find out if any of the jurors might succomb to peer pressure.

He asked a female juror, "If (the African-American prospective juror) absolutely believes my client is absolutely guilty and you don't, will you cave in?"

The woman said she wouldn't.

Key, then said, "I don't don't expect this case to be about race whatsoever, because it will be decided on the facts of the case, but would you tend to one side or the other because of race?"

Key, whose courtroom demeanor is affable and even jocular at times, wanted to know if any jurors harbored racial bias.

"I've had people tell me they don't like black people and it's absolutely fine," Key said with a broad smile. "Just don't come over to my house."

Nearly all of the prospective jurors laughed. None revealed any sort of racial bias.

Race could be a factor in the case because Simmons allegedly made racially charged comments during the encounter with alleged victim Grace Souzzi.

By the afternoon, the lone black in the prospective jury pool had been sent home with no explanation given for his dismissal.

After the hearing, Key said he didn't want to comment on the jury selection while the process was ongoing. He also said "I don't want to try the case in the media," and that everything would be clear after opening statements.

In all, more than two dozen prospective jurors were dismissed after revealing they had read about the events either in print or online media and formed an opinion based on those reports.

Fewer than a half dozen of the 60 or so prospective jurors hadn't heard of the case at all prior to today.

The Batavian first broke the story of a person hitting a Walmart employee on Dec. 24 and first reported the arrest of Simmons on Dec. 25.

Other regional media outlets started reporting the story on Dec. 26. Many of the prospective jurors who hadn't followed the case closely said they first heard about the case on television, radio or read it in a newspaper around that time.

As the proceedings concluded today, there are 18 prospective jurors in the jury box and 14 in the gallery whose number hasn't been called yet.

Jury selection resumes at 10 a.m., Tuesday. Once the panel is selected, Noonan will spend about an hour on jury instructions and then the defense and prosecution will offer opening statements.

CLARIFICATIONS: While no explanation was given for the dismissal of the prospective African-American juror, that procecure applies to numerous other prospective jurors who were dimissed for cause or as part of either defense or prosecution challenges. The point we meant to make is that while it was clear why several of the prospective jurors were dismissed, we don't know the reason this (as with several others) juror was dismissed. Also, the prosecution needs only to prove intent to cause physical injury. Simmons is being tried on a single charge of assualt, 2nd, being a person 10 years younger against a person over age 65. The original charge of assault, 2nd, was reduced to assault, 3rd, (a misdemeanor) by Judge Noonan. Following the ruling, the prosecution moved to dismiss the assault, 3rd, charge.

Monday, August 20, 2012 at 12:37 pm

Got gas? Someone siphoned it from lawnmower in Bergen

post by Billie Owens in bergen, crime

A Sheriff's deputy is responding to a larceny complaint at the Barbery Coast Mobile Home Park, located at 7862 Clinton St. Road, Bergen. The resident at Lot 16 says someone stole every drop of gas from his lawnmower.

Monday, August 20, 2012 at 9:43 am

Law and Order: Man arrested after short foot chase with police

post by Howard B. Owens in Basom, batavia, Alabama, bergen, byron, crime, Darien, Le Roy, Oakfield

Brett R. Doward, 26, 411 W. Hickory St., East Rochester, is charged with obstructing governmental administration, 2nd, criminal possession of a controlled substance, 7th, and possession of a controlled substance not in it original container. Following a report at 12:06 a.m., Sunday, of a disturbance on Hall Street, Batavia, Batavia PD received the description of a person allegedly involved and the vehicle he allegedly used to leave the scene. Officer Jason Ivison spotted a vehicle matching the description on Ellicott Street. The vehicle fled and pulled into a driveway on Liberty Street. Doward allegedly jumped from the vehicle and ran. After a short foot pursuit, Doward was taken into custody. Doward was released on an appearance ticket. BPD was assisted by the Sheriff's Office and State Police.

A 17-year-old resident of North Main Street, Perry, is charged with petit larceny. The youth is accused of shoplifting from Kmart.

Jeremy Dean Lyons, 27, of Judge Road, Oakfield, is charged with criminal mischief, 3rd, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, 3rd, aggravated unlicensed operation, 3rd and unlicensed operation. During a domestic dispute with his girlfriend, Lyons alleged damaged property and then allegedly took a vehicle without permission and drove the vehicle on a suspended license.

Jeremy Dean Lyons, 27, of Judge Road, Oakfield, is charged with criminal contempt, 2nd. While housed in the Genesee County Jail, Lyons allegedly violated an order of protection by contacting the protected party.

Terri Marisa Doctor, 33, of Council House Road, Basom, is charged with DWI. Doctor was taken into custody on a Town of Pembroke warrant issued in November 2012 for allegedly failing to pay a fine on a DWI convictions. Doctor was jailed on $1,500 bail.

Spencer Todd Grimes, 18, of Goodrich Street, Albion, is charged with trespass. Grimes is reportedly a former employee of Darien Lake who was accused of stealing and barred from the property. Grimes was allegedly on the property Saturday morning.

Nicholas Lamont Santos, 19, of Gillette Road, Albion, is charged with trespass. Santos is reportedly a former employee of Darien Lake who was accused of stealing and barred from the property. Santos was allegedly on the property Saturday morning.

Randy Lee Ridd, 55, of Swamp Road, Byron, is charged with grand larceny, 4th, and trespass. Ridd is accused of trespassing on the property of a business in Bergen and stealing metal plates. Also charged was Corretta Melissa Pitts, 44, of Swamp Road, Byron.

Brandon Monteleon, 20, of 57 Church St., Le Roy, is charged with criminal obstruction of breathing or blood circulation and harassment. Monteleone was arrested following an alleged disturbance on Church Street between the defendant and another individual.

Daniel S. Platt, 31, of 53 Lake St., Le Roy, is charged with criminal obstruction of breaking or blood circulation and one count of unlawful dealing with a child and harassment, 2nd. Platt is accused of placing his hands around the neck of a victim, causing difficulty breathing. He's also accused of serving alcohol to a person under age 21.

Andrea M. Gray, 34, of 14 Lake St., Apt. #2, Le Roy, is charged with harassment, 2nd, and reckless endangerment, 2nd. Gray reportedly had an argument with an acquaintance on Lake Street. Gray allegedly pushed the victim, causing the victim to fall backward. The victim's head struck a driveway. Gray is also accused of sitting on the victim and pulling the victim's hair. Gray was jailed on $1,000 bail.

Saturday, August 18, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Building vandalized on Attica Road

post by Billie Owens in Attica, alexander, crime

A building at 1991 Attica Road, on the site of a quarry, has had its windows smashed and a door busted open. Sheriff's deputies are responding.

Saturday, August 18, 2012 at 10:00 am

Four arrested at Def Leppard/Poison concert at Darien Lake

post by Howard B. Owens in crime, Darien, darien lake

The following arrests were made by the Sheriff's Office in connection with Def Leppard/Poison concert at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center:

Sarah B. Blevins, 22, of E. Bayard Street Extension, Seneca Falls, is charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after allegedly causing a disturbance at the Sumner Road employee entrance to Darien Lake and then refusing to be taken into custody. Blevins was arraigned in Darien Town Court and remanded to jail in lieu of $500 bail.

Blanca Compton, 49, and Brian L. Compton, 46, both of Route 414, Lodi, are charged with obstruction of governmental administration, 2nd, and disorderly conduct after allegedly interfering with deputies making another arrest and engaging in violent tumultuous behavior. Both suspects were arraigned in Darien Town Court and both were remanded to jail in lieu of $500 bail each.

Lorraine A. Goodell, 38, of Railroad Avenue, Waterloo, is charged with trespass after allegedly refusing to leave the concert venue. Goodell was arraigned in Darien Town Court and remanded to jail in lieu of $250 bail.

Benjamin Rosputin, 31, of Kaymar Drive, Amherst, is charged with harassment, 2nd, after allegedly shoving a CSC security guard inside the venue.

Friday, August 17, 2012 at 5:16 pm

Thief who bilked elderly victims of hundreds of thousands of dollars gets the max

post by Billie Owens in batavia, crime

Before being handed the maximum sentence possible in county court today, caregiver Heidi L. Schollard was described as ruthless, narcissistic, thoughtless, manipulative, dangerous, relentless, remorseless, predatory, cruel, selfish, without mercy and completely clueless as to the gravity of her crimes.

The 40-year-old Batavia woman and mother of two who bilked two elderly patients out of hundreds of thousands of dollars was given up to seven years in prison. In May, she pled guilty to four felonies -- three counts of grand larceny, 3rd, which are Class D felonies, and a single count of grand larceny, 4th, a Class E felony.

On the latter conviction, she got one-and-a-third to four years in prison, and for the other crimes she was given two-and-a-third to seven years. These will be served concurrently under the terms of a plea agreement with the District Attorney's Office.

The caregiver was initially arrested in December 2010 for allegedly stealing about $250,000 from a Batavia resident. She was out of jail during the proceedings in that case and was arrested again in March and accused of defrauding another elderly person. The victim in that case is a resident of the Town of Alabama.

When asked about what some may consider a good deal for the defendant, District Attorney Lawrence Friedman said afterward that "there were no assurances with this case" if it had gone to trial. That's because the simple fact that the victims needed a caretaker could call into question their capacity to testify and communicate about the case.

"It is already a hole in the balloon," said a relative of a victim outside the courtroom.

"If Heidi says she was given gifts of money, how do you prove they weren't?" Friedman said, "It's not a slam-dunk and unless you know all the facts of the case, it's easy to -- like the judge said -- be critical."

Schollard, who lives at 161 Bank St., was also ordered to pay restitution to the first victim of $265,131 and $42,026.57 to the second one. In addition, she has to repay the state Department of Taxation and Finance $23,414 and another $2,485 to the NYS Department of Labor. When you tack on another 5-percent surcharge requirement, the order comes to nearly $350,000.

But no one in the courtroom seemed to believe full monetary restitution will ever be made -- certainly not in the victims' lifetime, nor likely in the defendant's lifetime.

In the meanwhile, the victims are having to liquidate many of their assets. And their families are left to pick up the pieces of all the broken lives, according to their testimonies and in letters filed with the court.

The first speaker this afternoon identified himself as a victim's son and told Judge Noonan:

"We were an average American family -- we spent the holidays at my parent's house, Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays. We had bumps, but we all got along. Then Heidi came into the house and started to change everything. She moved around the furniture. She did things her way. It became Heidi's house. I didn't even like to enter the house. It felt foreign."

Add this to the mix -- Heidi's in a romantic relationship with his nephew and now the lines of communication in the family are strained.

"We're no longer a family, we have no base anymore, it's gone," he said, choking back his tears.

The next speaker said his aunt was a victim and that Schollard first came into the picture in 2006 when she was highly recommended as a caregiver. In time, the employee's actions resulted in his aunt not being able to live out her years in the lovely home she had had all her life.

"She ruthlessly and thoughtlessly manipulated my aunt to further her criminal plans," the man said.

His aunt experienced a "profound loss of trust, deep depression, self recrimination and has lost her will to live and this has impacted her health."

The nephew went on to say that besides stealing huge amounts of money via hundreds of fraudulent checks and ATM transactions, she continuously violated basic personal boundaries.

As an example of Schollard's manipulative behavior, the nephew said she frequently introduced herself to people as the woman's daughter or granddaughter. She even insisted on being allowed to sit in on his aunt's sessions with her psychiatrist. But the doctor refused and deemed Schollard to be "dangerous."

When his aunt was placed in an assisted-living facility, he said Schollard would go there, after being told to have no contact with her, and not sign in at the front desk. She'd leave with his aunt and then bring her back just in time for her meds so she wouldn't be missed. She gave his aunt a cell phone and only Schollard knew the number to it. Ultimately, he says Schollard tried to move his aunt out of the facility. And not long ago, she tried to contact his aunt in violation of a court order, the nephew said.

A CPA, who had been one of the victim's tax advisor for 25 years and is now a financial co-guardian of the estate, said that in his entire 35-year career, he has never encountered such an egregious example of elder abuse. The accountant said that in the week leading up to a family meeting about the forensic examination of the victim's financial records and the dispensation of 249 checks, Schollard misappropriated $50,000 and covered her tracks by cooking up a second set of books.

Throughout the whole ordeal, the tax man said Schollard showed no remorse whatsoever.

After the testimonies, Friedman said the picture that emerged reflects exactly what "someone like her would say and do," and he told Noonan she deserved no consideration of leniency.

"No one wants her to be at liberty to pay back some part of the restitution," Friedman said. "We seek the strongest maximum sentence."

Noonan said over the past several days he spent hours poring over a voluminous case file. Oddly, the last letter he read was written last week by Schollard herself, and it's chock full of attempted manipulation in order to get leniency. Noonan said it had the complete opposite effect on him.

The other letters he read amounted to more than just the rantings of angry victims. It was practically a case study in how someone can methodically victimize the frail and elderly.

He knows because during the last two years he said he's attended seminars about an emerging trend in the courts -- elder abuse -- which will likely continue as more Baby Boomers age.

Then Noonan put this case in context of his time spent on the bench. In the last 16 years, having meted out prison times for more than 100 cases a year on a wide range of crimes, Heidi L. Schollard's case is a rarity.

"This is a case that's different from any I've ever had before," Noonan said, not only for the huge theft -- none has ever totalled up to this much money, but also because it's rare that he sentences nonviolent, first offenders to a lengthy prison term.

"You are so narcissistic, so self-centered, so unaware of how your conduct fits into the world," Noonan told Schollard. "Society needs to be rid of you for as long as possible. ... You just don't get it...You are a thief who apparently has enough charm to make the elderly feel you are their friend but you are not."

Even her attorney said "We won't waste the court's time asking for mercy."

The perp was sullen, dressed in a gray hoodie and matching pants, wearing white sneakers, tortoise shell-rimmed glasses, with her hair pulled back in a stubby ponytail. Gone was her mug shot's pert semblance of a smile and look of wide-eyed wonder. She sat with slumped shoulders, eyes cast downward, and had nothing to say when the judge asked her if she wanted to speak.

After sentencing, a deputy ushered her off to jail.

Outside the courtroom, her brother-in-law stood, seeming somewhat dazed about what had just taken place. He said this has been a long time in coming and he wanted to witness the proceedings firsthand, so later on Heidi can't lie about what was said. He said she is a pathological liar.

"She's been a peach to deal with for 10 or 15 years," he said, noting that she always blames her troubles on others, or the past.

He said she is the second youngest of 12 children who were split up during childhood and put in foster homes "where some bad things happened." But she denies responsiblity for her actions.

Now he and her sister are the guardians of the former caregiver's children and will be for years to come.

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