2020 in review: Triumphs, tragedies and COVID-19

Staff reports
The Chronicle-Express

First of two parts

As in virtually every other community throughout the nation -- indeed, the globe -- the ravages of the novel coronavirus and the shutdowns instituted in attempts to stay its spread dominated the news in and around Yates County this year, as reflected in The Chronicle-Express.

The news in these parts was not limited to the pandemic, however: There were triumphs, as when Penn Yan girls basketball team took the Section V Championship title for the first time in two and a half decades. There were tragedies, as when a Liberty Street house fire in Penn Yan left the resident with nothing but “his car, his wallet and the clothes on his back.” And there were controversies, such as the court case involving a Penn Yan woman's alleged illegal practice of midwifery, or the case of a severely autistic boy who was banned from school because of his medical exemption from vaccinations.

This week and next, we present excerpts from Chronicle-Express articles from throughout 2020. They are excerpted from reports by John Christensen, Rob Maeske and Gwen Chamberlain of The Chroncile-Express; Julie Sherwood of The Daily Messenger; Matthew Leonared, Victoria E. Freile and Will Cleveland of Rochester Democrat and Chronicle; Jeff Smith of The Leader; Anita Wadhwani of The Tennessean; Berkeley Brean of News 10NBC; David Robinson and Joseph Spector of the USA TODAY Network's New York State Team; and Sophie Grosserode of Rockland/Westchester Journal News.

JANUARY 2020

Chase ends in drug, weapon charges

Following a late-night car chase, an off-road wreck, and a confrontation with police, three people have been arrested for weapons and drug charges.

Penn Yan Police, assisted by Yates County sheriff’s deputies, have arrested Bradley Zadul, 40, of Niagara Falls; Charles Buchanan, 38, of Penn Yan; and Jessica Owen, 31, of Umatilla, Florida, following the vehicle pursuit that occurred at 2:34 a.m. Jan. 2.

According to police, they observed Zadul leaving a suspected drug location in Penn Yan driving an uninspected vehicle. They stopped him for the violation at East Elm and Main streets, but as officers approached the vehicle, Zadul fled the stop, police said.

Police pursued Zadul through the village north on Route 14A into Benton, turning east on Buckle Road and to North Flat Street, where they say Zadul left the roadway and attempted to drive through a farmer’s field in a small Mazda wagon. Zadul broke through an electric fence and struck a barn before driving into a ditch, police said. Zadul then allegedly attempted to flee on foot and was tasered by Yates County deputies who were assisting in the pursuit. Zadul and his passengers, Buchanan and Owen, were all taken into custody.

While searching Zadul, Penn Yan police officers say they located a loaded .25 caliber handgun in his waistband, and a sheath knife on his belt. Officers also reportedly located a sawed-off 20 gauge shotgun in the vehicle that had the serial number defaced, along with several bags of suspected methamphetamine and marijuana. Zadul’s vehicle was impounded, and a further search revealed a .22 caliber revolver along with numerous bags of marijuana seeds, over $1,100 in cash, a baton, knives, and drug paraphernalia, according to police.

Police said they also located a full Kingsmen Motorcycle Club vest along with numerous Kingsmen patches, and say Zadul appears to be a member of the Kingsmen, which has been involved in criminal activity in Western New York and has chapters in other states.

A January fire claimed a home at 402 Liberty St., Penn Yan, leaving the resident with nothing but “his car, his wallet and the clothes on his back,” in his son’s words.

Fire leaves Penn Yan man in need

A fire claimed the oldest house in Penn Yan and left the resident with nothing but “his car, his wallet and the clothes on his back,” in his son’s words.

Ronald E. McDougal, 75, standing nearby as firefighters tried to save his home, said he was not home when the fire began at his 402 Liberty St. home and was not injured.

Penn Yan Police Inv. Wayne Marsh, acting as fire investigator, determined the structure was unsafe for entry, and the house was declared uninhabitable by code enforcement.

The Red Cross has been contacted to assist McDougal. While they hope insurance will help rebuild his home, in the meantime he needs medications, clothes and accommodation. In that effort, Andrew has set up a gofundme.com page with the goal of $5,000 to help with his immediate needs.

Rack from Hall deer is one of the largest taken in New York state

A panel of scoring/measuring judges determined Jan. 18 that the antler rack of a whitetail buck taken last season by Chris Olsen of Penn Yan is one of the largest taken in all of New York State ever.

Harvested near Hall in Ontario County last November, the rack was judged in the typical category to be the fourth largest in New York since official measuring began in the late 1800s.

The official measuring was done by Northeast Big Buck Club N.Y. Director Andy Hall, N.Y.S. Big Buck Club Official Measurer Rob Ayers, and Boone & Crockett Club Official Measurer Tim Spacek at the shop of Spacek’s late father, renowned local sportsman and outdoor sports writer, Charlie Spacek, here in Penn Yan.

“What makes this deer’s score so special is that it is not a ‘Non-Typical Deer’ (with an abnormally shaped rack),” says Tim Spacek, “it is a ‘Typical Deer’ (normally shaped rack) which makes it very hard to reach such high scoring numbers as it did.”

Spacek believes this may be the largest taken in all the state in 2019, and confirms it is the largest typical buck ever taken in Ontario County

Midwife pleads not guilty to 95 counts in Yates County Court

PENN YAN — As a crowd of about 100 including a documentary film crew watched, Elizabeth Catlin, 54, of Penn Yan, Tuesday entered a plea of not guilty to all 95 felony counts leveled against her in relation to assisting women with in home births when she appeared in Yates County Court.

But before she entered her plea, and before Judge Jason L. Cook entered the courtroom, the crowd sang a verse of “Amazing Grace.”

Catlin was indicted Dec. 16, 2019 on:

• one count of criminally negligent homicide (a class E felony);

• one count of unauthorized practice of a profession (class E felony);

• 31 counts of second-degree possession of a forged instrument (class D felony);

• 31 counts of second-degree identity theft (class E felony); and

• 31 counts of first degree falsifying business records (class E felony).

In December 2019 Yates County District Attorney Todd Casella said the indictment stems from a coordinated investigation by the New York State Police, New York Education Department, and the District Attorney’s Office into the unlawful practice of the profession of midwifery.

The criminally negligent homicide charge stems from the October 2018 death of a baby after she transported a laboring woman to F.F. Thompson Hospital in Canandaigua. The baby was born there, but died on the way to Strong Memorial Hospital. Catlin has been under a court order since late 2018 to cease assisting women with home birthing.

FEBRUARY 2020

Woodtex files for bankruptcy

A company that began and grew here in Yates County nearly 40 years ago has now declared full bankruptcy in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Tennessee. Woodtex, the manufacturer of sheds, outbuildings, barns, and cabins that was begun in the early 1980s by Sanford & Barbara Lapp, was inherited and greatly expanded by their sons, Kent and Benjamin Lapp. Kent Lapp is the Chief Manager of Woodtex and is the signer of the bankruptcy papers.

Riverwood Cabins, part of the Lapps' expansion in Tennessee, had been rumored to be in trouble for some months, but local employees and retail partners were assured that Woodtex, as the parent company, was in no danger. That appears to have been false. A source inside Woodtex reported the company had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy Friday, and the voluntary petition was filed Monday, March 2 in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Tennessee. Those papers list all the assets of Woodtex in multiple states and here in New York for liquidation.

Woodtex’s assets are valued at $1,107,053.98, while the liabilities owed exceed that at $1,186,655.59. Of that debt, $612,673.38 is owed to Franklin Synergy Bank in secured loans made in Franklin, Tenn. With established collateral, the bank is likely to be first in line to reclaim Lapp’s debt to them. The remaining $573,982.21 is owed to 105 unsecured creditors, many of them customers who paid deposits on buildings never delivered, or supply companies for materials never paid for.

The list of creditors includes local private, business, and non-profit customers.

A source within Woodtex confirmed that operations in Himrod ceased last week and the employees were terminated. One local Woodtex retailer who would not be named reported that a tractor trailer showed up at his location long after dark last week and loaded up the models he had on display for sale. The driver had no paperwork and told him he was sent by the bank to get all the buildings they could for the liquidation.

“They pulled the rug out from under all of us,” the retailer said. He, too, was told that only Riverwood was to close, and had recently accepted deposits from customers for Woodtex buildings. “That makes me look like the bad guy. They stuck it to everybody. They owe me money, too,” he says.

Flu has peaked in Yates County

Yates County Public Health advises the public to take steps to prevent sickness during flu season. Yates County has peaked for lab confirmed reported influenza cases. Reports have nearly doubled in the last two weeks. Influenza B has been the dominant strain of influenza reported this season, but the community is beginning to see more cases of Influenza A. Yates County has had a total of 233 confirmed cases of flu reported this flu season as of Feb. 24.

“We expect the number of flu cases reported to continue to decline after the peak, but influenza is still circulating in the community, and we encourage you to take steps to prevent illness as we move into the spring season,” writes Kathy Swarthout, public health spokesperson.

During winter and spring, illnesses such as the common cold, flu, and GI illness (nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea) are everywhere.

Rally of support for Thorn Schwartz

Thorn Schwartz, the severely autistic boy who was banned from school because of his medical exemption from vaccinations, has been allowed to return to his special education school in Rochester, and a rally of support is called for the hearing date of his case in Yates County Court.

New York State Supreme Court Judge Dan Doyle signed an order in late January ordering Thorn back to school at Monroe One BOCES in Fairport. Thorn was banned from his school Sept. 18, 2019 when the school doctor overruled Thorn’s doctor and denied his medical exemption from vaccines under the emergency regulations set by the New York State Department of Health in August 2019. But that is just a temporary restraining order until the Article 78 case filed by his parents is decided.

The case will next be heard Feb. 21 in Yates County Court before Judge Doyle, and supporters of Thorn and students like him are organizing a rally of support at 1:30 p.m. in front of the courthouse on Liberty Street in Penn Yan.

Thorn had been attending the school for three years with a medical exemption, and his parents were amazed by his progress there. But the amount he regressed in the 78 days he missed was very disheartening for them. Non-verbal and with obsessive behaviors and considerable physical strength, Thorn returned to the self harm and physical violence he showed before he was enrolled at Monroe One. Thorn beats himself and has smashed appliances, cabinets, and possessions in his frustration after being removed from his school routine, according to his father, Carl Schwartz, a Penn Yan attorney.

Amo Houghton was joined by his wife Priscilla at the Radisson Hotel Corning in 2000 when he announced his plans to run for re-election that year.  The former U.S. congressman died March 4, 2020 at the age of 93.

MARCH 2020

‘Amo’ Houghton dies at 93

Amory Houghton Jr., a longtime fixture who led Corning Glass Works for nearly 20 years and later served nine terms as a member of Congress, died Wednesday, March 4, 2020 at the age of 93.

“The company, the community, and the country have lost a giant,” said Wendell P. Weeks, chairman, chief executive officer, and president of Corning Inc. “I can’t think of anyone who embodied leadership more than Amo. Although he officially retired as CEO the year I joined Corning Inc., his influence was everywhere.”

Weeks said Amo inspired him with his belief in the power of technology to improve lives, his relentless pursuit of excellence, and his commitment to serve others.

“He truly believed that what you did for people was the most important thing, and that has shaped Corning’s mission – not just to be an industry leader, but also to make a real difference in the world,” Weeks said. “I was fortunate to have him as one of my advisors and friends, and we are privileged to build on his foundation.”

Committed to research and development, Houghton helped facilitate many of Corning’s inventions such as CorningWare® and optical fiber. He also helped create the emissions-control business that launched the company’s Environmental Technologies segment.

Houghton is the only former Chief Executive of a Fortune 500 Company ever elected to the US House of Representatives.

Among his numerous accomplishments, Amo led the recovery efforts after Hurricane Agnes flooded the Corning area in 1972; he initiated Corning’s first LPGA event in 1976; he supported the expansion of the Corning Museum of Glass in 1980. As a member of Corning’s board of directors, Houghton helped established Corning Enterprises, an organization designed to drive economic development, strengthen human services, and improve local quality of life.

Second woman charged in Yates County midwife cases

Another woman has been arrested in connection to the case of Elizabeth J. Catlin, the Penn Yan woman who has been indicted on 95 charges including criminally negligent homicide, unauthorized practice of the profession of midwifery, identity theft, criminal possession of a forged instrument, and falsifying business records.

New York State Police arrested Melissa L. Carman, 51, of Belfast March 5, charging her with unauthorized practice of a profession (Dept. of Education felony), and hindering prosecution (class A misdemeanor).

A statement released by Sr. Inv. Mark Eifert of Canandaigua says Carman is “accused of unlawfully aiding Catlin with her illegal midwifery practice, in and around Penn Yan.” The statement says Carman discussed private medical issues of maternity patients, giving advice, and offering to assist in birth and prenatal appointments.

Eifert says Carman also agreed to unlawfully provide Catlin with prescription maternity drugs, without a prescription.

During a press call Monday afternoon, Carman declined to discuss the specific charges but called the situation a witch hunt. “What has happened with Liz, me and other birth workers in New York State is a travesty, she said.” Carman, like Catlin, is a Certified Professional Midwife. She says she has been “in the birth world” for 10 years and says she has been working for licensure in New York State for those who have certification as a professional midwife.

Yates and Schuyler counties declare States of Emergency

Yates County has declared a State of Emergency in response to COVID-19 effective at 12 a.m. on Sunday, March 15, 2020.

Neighboring Schuyler County declared a state of emergency effective immediately earlier Saturday.

In addition, Dundee and Penn Yan Schools will be closed for students Monday, March 16, and the schools will be open Tuesday, March 17. Then, schools will remain closed from March 18 through April 13, according to information provided by the Yates County Sheriff’s Department Saturday afternoon. Dundee Central School Superintendent Kelly Houck explains, “Staff report on Monday to complete preparations and then all staff and kids on Tuesday. After that, only essential staff will report until April 13, when we are planning on reopening.”

Steuben County had also declared a state of emergency with Prattsburgh among the schools announcing closures.

According to Yates County Public Health Director Deborah Minor, “While we have no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at this time, this action comes out of an abundance of caution in positioning ourselves to protect the health and welfare of our citizenry.”

First responders prepare for people to arrive at the drive-through coronavirus testing facility on Glen Island Park in New Rochelle to be tested for COVID-19 on March 13, 2020.

Cuomo plans to turn dorms, former nursing homes into medical facilities

College dormitories, former nursing homes and other buildings could be converted into medical facilities to help treat the wave of novel coronavirus infections expected to hit New York’s hospital system in coming weeks and months.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday called on local governments to identify existing buildings that could most easily be renovated to handle the thousands of additional beds needed to treat New Yorkers infected by COVID-19, as well as other unrelated medical conditions.

The plan includes deploying the National Guard, as well as partnering with private developers and construction unions to complete the emergency project.

Without adding new beds at temporary facilities, New York state’s existing hospital capacity cannot handle the projected surge in COVID-19 patients, he said.

“The wave is going to break, and the wave is going to break on the hospital system,” Cuomo said.

Other aspects of the emergency plan include potentially canceling elective surgeries statewide, which Cuomo said would free up 25% to 30% of the state’s 53,000 hospital beds.

APRIL 2020

Penn Yan’s basketball legacy

In the 2019–2020 season, the Penn Yan girls’ varsity basketball team had one of its best seasons in years; 25 years to be exact. This year, the girls from Penn Yan grabbed the Section V Championship title for the first time in two and a half decades. Their success came from skill, perseverance, tight teamwork, and perhaps, genetics.

Two of the Mustangs’ fiercest competitors this year are the daughters of two of Penn Yan’s most decorated players of all time. Jenna Curbeau is the daughter of Deb (Eaves) Curbeau, and Sierra Harrison is the daughter of Kirstjan “Kiki” Seago, who are both members of the Penn Yan Athletic Hall of Fame.

Deb Curbeau was a member of the Lady Mustangs from 1983–1986 and a starter throughout her varsity career. While running with the Mustangs, Curbeau recorded a monumental 1,781 points and 1,166 rebounds, and was a four-time All-Star in the Finger Lakes East. In her senior year, Deb racked up an impressive list of achievements, including being named MVP of the Section V, Far Western Regional and New York State Championship tournaments. She was also named the N.Y.S. Small School Player of the Year, MVP for that year’s McDonald’s High School All-Star game, and was a Converse High School All-American. The 1986 Mustangs, composed of Curbeau, Linda Turner, Tammy Fingar, Kristin Snyder, and Mary Jo Allison and coached by Bob Church (himself a Hall of Famer), went an undefeated 26-0 that year and won the State Championship.

Deb Curbeau has been inducted into the Penn Yan Athletic Hall of Fame, the Section V Hall of Fame, and the University of Delaware Athletic Hall of Fame. Curbeau currently coaches Penn Yan’s 8th grade Modified girls team, though she has coached at various levels in Penn Yan since joining the Penn Yan Central School District in 1991. The Modified team she helmed in ’91 went undefeated that year, and would go on in their varsity years to win the Section V title in 1995, the last time the Lady Mustangs held the title since this year.

Deb’s daughter, Jenna, is a senior at Penn Yan Academy, and was named to the Finger Lakes East All-Star Sportsmanship team this year. Jenna’s season included 151 points, 150 rebounds, and she led her team in both steals and blocks. Like her mom, Jenna is headed to the University of Delaware in the fall, where she hopes to be part of the basketball program and continue the legacy started by her mother.

Jenna started her varsity career playing for her mom. At that time, Deb was coaching the varsity team and brought Jenna up as an 8th grader, giving her a shot during a game against Newark. “I subbed her in at the end of the first quarter and on her first touch she drove the left side and scored,” said Deb. “I’m pretty sure I shed a tear.”

Another vital player for the Mustangs this year was sophomore Sierra Harrison. Harrison led her team in points, finishing the season with a total of 250 points in the books and an average 10.4 points per game. Sierra was named to the 1st All-Star team for the Finger Lakes East and was the 2020 FLE MVP, an honor she shares with her mother, Kiki Seago. With 31 years separating the titles, they are one of the only mother-daughter team of recipients of the Sectional MVP title in the history of the league.

Kiki Seago played two seasons for the Lady Mustangs from 1987-1989. During her time with the Penn Yan basketball program, Kiki recorded 598 points and 369 rebounds, and played on a team that won two sectional titles and made two trips to the State Tournament. Seago was a captain on the ’88-’89 team that went 16-0 in the Finger Lakes East, 23-2 for the season, and won the Section V Class B title. In her senior year, Seago suffered a broken arm at the beginning of the season that caused her to sit for the first four weeks of the season. However, Kiki came back and was named to the FLE 1st All-Star team, the All Greater Rochester team, and was invited to the McDonald’s High School All-Star game. Seago was a multifaceted athlete while at Penn Yan Academy, also playing on the soccer team and the track team where she was one of the school’s all-time best in the Triple Jump.

Kiki was inducted into the SUNY Cortland Athletic Hall of Fame in 2014 and, like Deb Curbeau, is also a member of the Penn Yan Athletic Hall of Fame. Currently, she is in her 18th year in the Penn Yan Academy Physical Education program, and has coached on and off during that time.

Both Curbeau and Seago expressed how important this season has been for them. Said Seago, “To watch our daughters win a sectional title was the best!”

Local volunteers attack mask shortage

Small, rural Yates County was one of the last two counties in New York to be reached by the Coronavirus, but that doesn’t mean our residents have been idle in preparation. Responding to a nationwide shortage of manufactured surgical masks, numerous women of our community have joined the effort of home seamstresses in making cloth face masks for hospitals, nursing homes, police and EMS workers, and individuals at risk.

While not suitable for the sterile environment of an operating room, the approved design for multi-layer cloth masks does provide considerably more protection than no mask at all, and further discourages the wearer from touching their face. As of Tuesday morning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is considering recommending that all people wear exactly this sort of mask.

One of the first to organize the effort to meet the exploding demand was Anne Meyer-Wilber, who turned the existing members of the sewing ministry of Bluff Point Methodist Church, who were making dresses and shorts for the children of Haiti, to begin making face masks.

Her friend Ann Shepardson of Dundee, a retired teacher from Odessa-Montour who has costumed many shows for Dundee High School and the Penn Yan Theatre Co., has sewn 48 masks on her 80-year-old Singer, hindered only by a shortage of 1/8 inch elastic for the ear bands. She has sent masks to Soldiers & Sailors Memorial, Arnot-Ogden, and Monroe Community hospitals, the Montour Rescue Squad, and to former students for elderly relatives.

Hannah Gaston, the Coordinator of School Programs at Liberty Hall Museum in New Jersey, is working from her parents' home in Jerusalem. She and her mother, Anita, the Registered Nurse at Keuka College’s Health Center, also working from home, decided to set a goal of 100 masks, using boxes of Anita’s collected material. Together they have sewn 39 toward that goal, sending off a package Monday to Hannah’s sister Rachel, who is a Registered Nurse at Mary Imogen Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown. “With our time at home, we wanted to do something to help people in the wider world,” says Hannah.

The effort really took off when Mary Sotir also joined the cause along with five of her Mennonite neighbors. With characteristic industriousness and commitment, these six women have sewn over 1,700 masks to date, sending them to Sunset House in Dundee, Waterloo Nursing Home, the Canandaigua VA, Lakeview Health, Mosaic Health in Rushville, LifeTime Care in Dundee, and Geneva General Hospital. But perhaps their most appreciative recipients were the Penn Yan Police Department and the Yates County Sheriff’s Office, where Mary’s husband, Todd, had been a deputy for many years.

Perhaps no one knows better the importance of masks than nurses. Barbara Jo Anderson, a Registered Nurse for 43 years in critical care, emergency, ICU, and cancer treatment and research centers, has delved into the different designs, their advantages, and options for the over 100 masks she has sewn herself. In just over a week of sewing, experimentation, and research, she has refined her design for better coverage, breathing, and comfort.

Coronavirus: June Regents exams will be canceled 

The June Regents exams will be canceled, Chancellor Betty Rosa said during the April Board of Regents meeting.

This announcement came at the end of a laundry list of emergency amendments being proposed to address the coronavirus crisis, none of which directly addressed the Regents exams.

“I know that most of you have noticed that during our COVID-19 regulations, we did not address the issue of the June Regents examinations,” Rosa said. “It is obvious from this statement that we will be canceling Regent exams.”

Rosa did not provide any further clarification on what the guidance will entail, only that they will “focus on what is in the best interest of our students for the rest of this year.”

Tractor trailer accident in Penn Yan

A tractor-trailer accident occurred in Penn Yan at 6:15 p.m. April 9 on Liberty Street and Route 14A just north of Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hospital.

Penn Yan Police report the driver, Rene Banke, 59, of Rochester, was driving north when he lost control of the semi, going off the road, striking a utility pole and several trees, and losing its cargo. Penn Yan Fire Dept., Municipal Utility crews, and Featherly’s Garage responded to clear the scene, replace the shattered pole, and remove the tractor trailer.

The highway remained closed until 3 a.m. No injuries were reported.

Banke was charged with failure to maintain lane.

New York shutters golf courses, boat launches as coronavirus deaths grow

New York quietly put golf courses on the non-essential business list Thursday, a move that will force them to shutter at least until April 29.

New York has banned all non-essential businesses from operating until the end of the month as coronavirus cases and deaths grow in the state, with fatalities reaching 7,067 people on Thursday.

Empire State Development, the state’s economic development arm, keeps a running list of industries that are deemed essential during the pandemic.

Golf courses were not listed either way until Thursday, leaving it up to local leaders to decide what to do.

The state’s guidance said that parks and other open public spaces can remain open, “except playgrounds and other areas of congregation where social distancing cannot be abided.” But it notes, “However, golf courses are not essential” and also “use of boat launches and marinas for recreational vessels is not considered essential.”

Cruisin’ night 2020 cancelled

It is normally that time of year when the Cruisin’ Night Committee would be in full swing in preparation for the 24th Annual event. The event has been held the Friday evening of Father’s Day weekend for the last 23 years — a night of true community spirit along Main Street in Penn Yan for car enthusiasts. With the current events that are occurring throughout the world due to COVID-19, the Yates County Chamber of Commerce board of directors has voted to cancel the event that was scheduled for Friday, June 19.

“It was a hard decision that our entire team, committee and board of directors thoroughly discussed and evaluated the health risks that could be involved with large gatherings.” said Jessica Bacher, President & CEO Yates County Chamber of Commerce.

Details for a way to celebrate Cruisin’ Night virtually are in the works and will be released nearer the end of May on the Yates County Chamber of Commerce social media pages and website. The committee will be taking this extra time of planning to create a more exciting and vibrant event for 2021.

Fire claimed the home of Frank Hoover and his family in April.

MAY 2020

All systems go – Finger Lakes to start reopening Friday

Friday marks the end of the statewide closure due to COVID-19, and local leaders in Ontario and Wayne counties say they are ready to begin the process of reopening.

The Rochester-Finger Lakes region had met state goals and was prepared to begin a gradual move toward normalcy, as were the Southern Tier and Mohawk Valley regions. Cuomo reviewed each region in the state against seven key criteria outlined for areas to qualify for reopening.

Level of testing is one of the key elements of the reopening plan. As part of the Finger Lakes Region, Yates County has a testing target of 750 per month or around 25 tests per day according to Public Health Director Deb Minor. That is the county’s part of the region-wide target of 1,500 tests per day. Cuomo also issued an order mandating that nursing home staff be tested at least two times weekly.

Quest Diagnostics, in collaboration with regional officials and local health care providers, has committed to dramatically boost testing capacity and kits in the region. Details include providing an initial quantity of 3,000 tests per day, which, added to existing capacity, will exceed the reopening standards covering 3 million people in New York, according to the announcement. Supplies will be shipped multiple times per week to meet demand in the Southern Tier, Finger Lakes, and Western New York regions — available for rapid deployment to specific locations or communities across the area that need quick access as new COVID-19 hotspots.

Memorial Day parades cancelled

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the traditional Memorial Day parades in Dresden, Dundee, and Penn Yan will not take place. The Memorial Services in Dresden and Dundee are also cancelled, but the Penn Yan community Memorial Day ceremony will be held virtually, according to a joint announcement from the Johnson-Costello American Legion Post #355 and the Penn Yan VFW Post #745.

The service will be aired on the radio by WFLR at 10 a.m. Monday, May 25, the Memorial Day holiday. WFLR can be found at 1570 AM and at 96.1, 96.9, and 101.9 FM. The ceremony will also be streamed on fingerlakesdailynews.com. Also at 10 a.m., church bells throughout Penn Yan will ring. The ceremony can also be accessed at the website for later replay.

Master of ceremonies will be Carrie Ahearn, 1st Vice Commander of the Johnson-Costello Post. Rev. John Busch, Johnson-Costello Post Chaplain, will offer the Invocation. The featured address will be given by Ellen Hey, Legion Post Commander. Some other traditional elements of the annual ceremony will also be included. Johnson-Costello Auxiliary President Lyn Johnson will recite the poem “Flanders Field,” and VFW Auxiliary President Ron Dailey will provide the “Response to Flanders Field.”

Each year’s ceremony includes the reading of the Honor Roll of Yates County Veterans who have died and been transferred to “Post Everlasting” since Memorial Day of the previous year. Phil Rouin, Director to the Yates County Veterans’ Service Agency and Chaplain of the Yates County American Legion, will recite the names of the 44 veterans lost in the past year. The ceremony will conclude with a gun salute rendered by the VFW/American Legion Color Guard under the direction of Captain Andy Swarthout. Then the ceremony will conclude with “Taps” played by Phil Rouin.

Phase 2 reopening announced for Rochester and Finger Lakes

Rochester and the Finger Lakes region has been given the green light to head into Phase Two of reopening from restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced during his daily briefing Friday in Westchester.

The move will enable retail businesses to open their doors for the first time since mid-March.

The second phase of reopening of economic activity includes the categories of professional services; finance and insurance; in-person retail; administrative support; and real estate, rental and leasing.

Salons and barber shops will be able to reopen in phase two, according to Cuomo, but they will have to have strict social distancing and density-reduction measures in place and the governor is recommending that hairdressers and barbers get tested before opening, and then get tested again every two weeks.

Barbers and hairdressers must wear a mask and can cut, color but nail salons and facial clinics remain shut.

Missing man’s body recovered from Seneca Lake

The body of Daniel Manganaro,  27, of Horseheads, who drowned almost one month ago, has been recovered from one of the deepest parts of Seneca Lake.

Yates County Sheriff Ron Spike issued a press release saying the New York State Police Underwater Recovery Team (URT), using underwater sonar along with Sheriff's Marine Patrols have been searching the lake with boats and drones since the official search ended April 25. Manganaro was reported missing the evening of April 19. The URT returned to the area searching with sonar this week at the deeper depths of the lake in an area near the middle of the lake off Plum Point.

“Using newly purchased additional cable length for their sonar purchased by the Manganaro family, the URT reported they had sonar confirmation of the likelihood of a body at the 571 foot depth earlier this week, and were getting the location marked, which is challenging in itself,” says Spike.

Saturday morning, the URT vessel and Sheriffs Marine Patrol returned to the marked location. The URT deployed their underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV) unit and located the body at 10:17 a.m. Using the arm on the ROV, they were able to bring Manganaro’s body to the surface where State Police divers entered the water and brought him into their vessel, says Spike. It was brought to the command post (CP) at Severne Point for processing by Sheriff’s Investigators, and Yates Coroner Ron Daily ordered the body taken to the Soldier’s & Sailors Memorial Hospital morgue in Penn Yan for an autopsy to determine the cause of death.

Sunday, April 19 at approx. 6:20 p.m., Daniel and Keith Seymore, 27, of Millport, left the Manganaro summer cottage on North Plum Point Road, Himrod, to paddle a canoe across the lake. They were not wearing life vests and were fully clothed. The canoe mishap with the two men occurred before sunset. A search was started following the 911 call. It was just before midnight when Seymore, suffering from hyperthermia, was spotted by an Onondaga County Sheriff’s helicopter with spotlight, and was rescued by Yates County Sheriff’s Marine Patrol Officers from the flooded canoe on its side. The water at that location near the center of the lake is 583 feet deep.

2020 Keuka Arts Festival cancelled by COVID-19

After much thought, organizers of the annual Keuka Arts Festival have decided to cancel rather than postpone this year’s event. The annual festival has been held for the past decade along the Village of Penn Yan’s portion of the historic Outlet Trail. The Arts Center of Yates County assumed management of the event two years ago.

“Initially we thought it might be possible to move the Festival to August,” said Festival Committee co-chair Cindy Kowalski. “But with the uncertainties of the current situation, the Committee ultimately decided it was safest for our artists, vendors, volunteers, visitors, and the community as a whole to cancel the event altogether.”

Work was well underway for the 2020 event, which usually involves 100 artists, performers and vendors and attracts up to 10,000 visitors during the two-day event. More than a dozen free musical performances had been scheduled and a great line-up of new and returning artists had reserved spots for the Festival. For many potters, painters, photographers, woodworkers, jewelry designers and other local and regional artists, summer festival sales represent the majority of their annual income. The cascade of festival and event cancellations will leave many of these artists and performers in dire financial straits.

“We’re exploring ways we can help celebrate the work done by these talented artists,” says Festival Committee co-chair Karen Morris. “We’re hoping to spread the word by highlighting many of them on the Keuka Arts Festival website throughout the remainder of the year and we’re looking forward to seeing them at our 2021 event.”

Truck driver dead after shootout with deputies

Livingston County Sheriff Thomas Dougherty has identified the man, a Virginia resident, who led police on a reckless chase through three counties before he was shot and killed Wednesday night.

The driver, Joshua Blessed, 58, of Harrisonburg, Virginia, also went by the name Sergei Jourev, Dougherty said. He had traveled to New York on behalf of a Yurman Express LLC., a freight-transport company based in Virginia, to retrieve dairy products from Batavia, Dougherty said.

Dougherty said it was not yet clear why the driver fled police and repeatedly fired at officers attempting to stop the tractor-trailer. He said police do not yet know what led to such an extreme encounter with police.

Blessed’s body was taken to the Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office on Thursday morning. Dougherty said Blessed suffered multiple gun shot wounds, and it’s not yet clear if any shots where self-inflicted.

“It’s simply unbelievable that nobody was injured, aside from the suspect,” given the massive number of shots fired, the dangerous pursuit and the size and weight of the tractor-trailer, Dougherty said.

The incident started just after 8:35 p.m. in LeRoy, Genesee County, when a police officer stopped the driver for speeding on West Main Street. LeRoy Village Police Chief Chris Hayward said that the driver refused to follow the officer’s directions and drove away while an officer was still on the truck, forcing the officer to jump off the moving vehicle.

According to Dougherty, the driver made multiple U-turns during the pursuit, tried to run down numerous police cars and repeatedly fired shots at police.

Dougherty said the driver first traveled to Batavia, made a U-turn and returned to LeRoy and passed through Pavilion before entering Livingston County, driving over two sets of police spike strips and driving into Geneseo. At one point he drove onto Interstate 390, but turned again and returned to Geneseo.

The pursuit ended shortly before 10 p.m. near the Applebee’s restaurant on Route 20A in Geneseo, when officers fired multiple shots at the driver, Dougherty said. Blessed was pronounced dead at the scene, he said.

“He had no regard for human life, weaving this semi all over both lanes, specifically at our patrol cars,” Dougherty said.

The driver rammed at least four police cars, including two cars from the LeRoy Police Department. Four police cars were also struck with gunfire, including one Livingston County Sheriff’s Office investigator’s car that was hit with 10 bullets. One bullet went through the front windshield of a Genesee County Sheriff’s Office patrol car and missed a deputy’s head by inches, Dougherty said.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation reported that 4,100 "Muskie" fingerlings were stocked in Waneta Lake in 2019, it was reported in May 2020.

JUNE 2020

Public hearing to expand county legislator terms to four years

A public hearing on a proposed county law to expand the legislators’ terms of office from two to four years will be held Monday, June 8 by remote access.  

Local Law 4-2020 would amend the length of term of the legislators so that at the general election in November 2021, seven legislators would be elected by the voters for a term of four years, and the other seven legislators would be elected for a term of two years. Thereafter, all legislators would be elected for four year terms.

Proposed by Legislator Daniel Banach, the intent is to provide a cyclical election schedule, rather than the possibility of all 14 legislators being voted out at once. Several legislators have been vocal in their opposition to the law, citing federal and state elected terms of office. Chairman Doug Paddock pointed out the challenge it poses for newly elected legislators to learn all the responsibilities of the office and restrictions placed on counties of what can and cannot be done.

Live music “Hotspots” to start Saturday in Penn Yan

Why not celebrate the first day of summer this Saturday, June 20 by coming into Penn Yan, patronizing our many fine establishments, and catching the sounds of some of our best area musicians wafting in the summer air?  What a great way to usher in a new season in a year that has given us so many unpleasant surprises!

The Yates Concert Series proudly presents our 2020 pop-up concert series starting this Saturday June 20.  Musicians from all over the Finger Lakes will be performing Wednesday and Saturday mini-concerts throughout Yates County through July.

This weeks’ artists will be kicking off the series in multiple downtown Penn Yan locations between 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Drop into Penn Yan on Saturday and keep your eyes and ears peeled for our live music HotSpots!  You might enjoy them by the grocery store, farmers market, post office, or down on the Outlet!  While enjoying a tune, please adhere to social distancing and mask guidelines.

Penn Yan: Black Lives Matter demonstration planned June 20

Yates County citizens have organized an ongoing series of peaceful demonstrations to decry our nation’s history of racial injustice and violence against unarmed Black men, women and children.

Now, local organizers and a number of justice-oriented groups invite supporters of progress and equity to come together at Indian Pines Park in Penn Yan on Saturday, June 20 at 5 pm for a rally featuring speakers, music, and reflection. An optional silent car procession will precede the event at 4:30, beginning at Lake Street Plaza and ending at the park, during which participants are invited to display messages on their vehicles.

Plans for this grassroots and responsive event are still evolving, but organizers will welcome several speakers centering the experiences of Black Americans.

Black Lives Matter-themed artwork by a local artist will be available for sale, with proceeds going to the Geneva chapter of the NAACP, organizers said. 

UPDATE: New COVID-19 cases in Benton

After three weeks with no new COVID-19 cases reported, Yates County Public Health learned of three new cases in the Town of Benton, though neither case is associated with The Homestead nursing home.

YCPH Deputy Director Sara Christensen says the case reported Friday, June 19 was a person in their 40s who was symptomatic. The case reported Monday morning, June 22 was a person in their 60s who also showed Coronavirus symptoms. Christensen says both people are in isolation in their homes, their contacts have been traced, and those people who were in contact will remain in 14-day quarantine.

A third case was reported Tuesday, June 23 after press time. This person in their 50s,  is also a resident of Benton and not connected in any way with The Homestead. Christensen says there is a connection between the second and third new cases. 

New cases reported in Yates County

Two new cases of COVID-19 have been reported to Yates County Public Health. The first, reported Friday, June 26, is a Town of Potter resident in their 50s. The second, reported Monday, June 29, is a Jerusalem resident in their 20s. Neither is connected to health care or nursing homes.

Public Health Director Deb Minor says both cases were related to out-of-state travel by that person visiting a hotspot state or being in contact with relative or visitor who had done so. They are observing self-isolation, and their close contacts are in 14-day quarantine.

Excerpts from articles published in July through December 2020 will appear in next week's Chronicle-Express.