The year that was: 2018

Editor’s note: As 2018 came to a close and we reflected upon the past year, The Palladium-Times news team quickly realized that we could fill an entire paper chronicling our jam-packed 2018. The following is a small selection and summary of some of the people, places and events we were privileged to bring our readers in these pages.

Thank you for your support, feedback and vigilance. We couldn’t be more excited for 2019 and hope you’ll join us again along the way.

Seth Wallace

Editor  

Gary Thibodeau dead at 64

DANNEMORA — The man convicted of kidnapping teenager Heidi Allen maintained his innocent until the day he died in prison – Aug. 12, 2018.

Gary Thibodeau spent more than 20 years behind bars in connection to the disappearance of Allen, then 18, who vanished from her job at the D&W Convenience on Easter Sunday, 1994.

A jury in 1995 convicted Thibodeau — whose brother Richard was acquitted of the same crime — and sentenced him to 20 years to life at a state prison. Much of his incarceration was spent at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora.

County law enforcement officials were adamant that Gary Thibodeau was the perpetrator behind Allen’s disappearance but Thibodeau and a cadre of committed family and friends say he was jailed for a crime he did not commit.

Thibodeau and federal public defender Lisa Peebles took their case all the way to New York’s Court of Appeals in an ultimately fruitless quest for a new trial.

Katko defends seat

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Representative John Katko, R-Camillus, earned another term in Congress, defeating a spirited challenge from Syracuse Democrat Dana Balter.

Katko took 53 percent of the vote to emerge victorious on November’s Election Day when nationwide, 40 of his GOP colleagues failed to do so, flipping control of the House of Representatives.

“I’m going to do exactly what I’ve always done, which is work on consensus,” Katko said on election night. “I’m sure (Utica Congressman-elect Anthony) Brindisi will be a willing partner for Fort Ontario and for nuclear energy. We will work together for the good of Oswego County.”

The moderate Katko, who campaigned on his effective record of legislation and national security bondafides, will return to Washington as a member of the minority party for the first time in his tenture.

Katko dominated Oswego County in the election, winning 13,396 to Balter’s 8,556.

Fulton Tops closes

FULTON — The Tops location at 909 W. First St. in Fulton closed Oct. 27 along with nine others in central and western New York deemed to be “underperforming locations.”

Tops CEO Frank Curci voluntarily filed for bankruptcy last February and decided to close 10 “underperforming locations,” drawing in less than 4 percent of overall sales and employing less than 600 of the 14,262 associates.

Kathy Sautter of Tops public relations said all 38 employees at Tops in Fulton were offered positions at neighboring Tops locations.

Tops’ closing comes as part of its financial restructuring process aimed reducing debt, achieving long-term financial flexibility and investing in other stores to create “an even more exceptional shopping experience for customers, and compete more effectively in Saturday’s highly competitive and evolving market.”

Downtown Dunkin’ approved

OSWEGO — A seven-month long saga centered on a proposed Dunkin’ Donuts with a drive-thru in downtown Oswego ended in August with the City of Oswego Planning Board approving the site plan.  

Members of the community held protests at the proposed site and filled the planning board chambers to speak out in opposition to the proposal, specifically to the inclusion of a drive-thru on what many called a busy corner already apt to have heavy traffic and accidents.

Residents also lamented the installation of a national chain near the city’s historic downtown, while Dunkin’ Donuts representatives said the building could be crafted to fit into the aesthetic of downtown and noted the project would not be feasible without a drive-thru.

The Dunkin’ developers made several compromises suggested by the city Planning Board and the public, including promising to attempt to match the nearby Armory’s historic brick tower look and install a stone façade on the store. Developers also promised landscaping and a patio for outdoor seating.

In an effort to appease those concerned about traffic, Dunkin developers also promise to pay 25 percent of the cost of placing pedestrian crossings with electric signage at the intersection of West First Street and Utica Street.

As the public’s concerns were ultimately somewhat assuaged, some unrest about the administration’s choices and processes remained.

OCSD passes capital project

OSWEGO — Second time was the charm for the Oswego City School Distrct as voters passed a $63 million, 20-year capital project.

A similar project, but with more impact on taxpayers, was rejected by voters in March. District officials put on a full-court press ahead of a Dec. 18 vote with an aggressive marketing campaign to push the project.

At a cost to taxpayers of roughly $1.15 per year of $100,000 assessed value, the district will now be able to address what Superintendent Dr. Dean Goewey called needed and pressing building upgrades.

The initiative passed with 65 percent of the vote, 1,800 to 933. High turnout was reported at all polling locations — the 2,733 total votes cast Tuesday dwarfed the 1,477 votes cast in the March vote.

Local, regional Catholics make big decisions

OSWEGO — Depending who you ask, it was an annus horribilis or mirabillis for Oswego Catholic Churches with announcements of consolidation, a new parish name and multiple clergy members implicated in credible allegations of sexual abuse.

After news broke in June of all local Catholic parishes consolidating into one congregation, the city of Oswego’s Catholic community decided on a single patron name near the end of summer. Parishioners will rally under the banner of “Christ the Good Shepherd” as efforts move forward to consolidate the Port City’s five Catholic congregations into one.

“It’s a beautiful image of Jesus and scripture often speaks of Christ as the good shepherd and how he wishes his flock to be one people,” said Father John Hogan of St. Mary’s of the Assumption. “I thought it was very appropriate since we’re all trying to come together as one Catholic community.”

Apprehension among the faithful remained, especially after the names of 57 Diocesan clergy linked to child sex abuse were released in the fall by Bishop Robert Cunningham. Dozens of alleged pedophile priests emerged as affiliated with Oswego County parishes.

Oswego priests implicated in credible allegations of child sexual abuse by the Diocese of Syracuse include, but are not limited to: Paul A. Brigandi; Daniel W. Casey, Jr.; Francis J. Furfaro; John F. Harrold; James C. Hayes; William A. Lorenz; Chester Misercola; Thomas E. Neary, Jr.; Albert J. Proud; Edward G. Quaid and John M. Zeder.

2 dead in West Monroe attack

WEST MONROE — A brutal attack in West Monroe left two men dead and another facing murder charges.

Police say on Sept. 10, 33-year-old Mathew LeBoeuf bludgeoned two of his friends to death inside a home on Breckheimer Road. Robert W. Diffin, 42, and Michael P. Shane, 59, were LeBoeuf’s alleged victims.

Diffin died hours after the attack, in which sources say LeBoeuf brandished a table leg. Shane died several days later at Upstate Hospital in Syracuse.

Reporters from The Palladium-Times were on the scene in West Monroe minutes after the attack was called in to 911. Blood spatter could be plainly seen on the door and walls of the home and witnesses said LeBoeuf was seen wandering around the area “covered in blood.”

LeBoeuf faces two counts of second-degree murder and one count of first-degree assault, all felony charges. A judge in October ordered LeBoeuf to undergo a psychological evaluation. He has not entered a plea yet and is currently incarcerated.

NYAP Awards

ALBANY — Two reporters for The Palladium-Times were honored by the New York Associated Press for their dogged reporting to expose an Oswego landlord with a history of sexual harassment.

Benjamin Kail and Matthew Reitz were honored for their investigative reporting by the NYAP in a July ceremony in Albany.

More than ten women spoke with The Palladium-Times over the course of a year accusing property owner and businessman Doug Waterbury of a wide variety of harassment, including offering discounted rent in exchange for sexual favors and what some victims described as housing blackmail if they would not consent to Waterbury’s requests.

In December, the Oswego Common Council passed a series of ordaninances to protect tenents against landlord harassment, informally known as the Kail Act.

Fort Ontario Study Act signed into law

OSWEGO — An act of Congress to study adding Fort Ontario and the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Museum to the National Park system was signed into law by President Donald Trump.

Long pushed by U.S. Rep. John Katko, R-Camillus, and New York’s Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer, the Fort Ontario Study Act authorizes funding to determine if the fort and Safe Haven should become a National Park. Officials say the process is expected to take several years before a decision is reached.

Alan Jones released

SHAWANGUNK, N.Y. — The Palermo man convicted in 2009 of killing his 11-year-old stepsister was released from prison in October after a decade behind bars.

Alan L. Jones, now 37, served a five- to 15-year sentence for killing Erin Maxwell, after prosecutors claimed Jones placed a rope around Maxwell’s neck and tightened it to cause the young girl’s death. Jones was denied parole three times prior to his conditional release.

Jones spent more than nine years in prison, according to state records, which indicate he first entered state prison November 19, 2009. He was first arrested in connection with Maxwell’s death in October 2008.

In 2015, the parole board said Jones “demonstrated a complete disregard for the law and welfare of this minor female victim,” and argued at that time that he may still pose a threat to society.

Oswego County District Attorney Greg Oakes, who has been a vocal advocate for Maxwell and an opponent of Jones’ release from prison, said he was “heartbroken, frustrated and angry” upon hearing of Jones’ conditional release, saying in many ways the legal system failed Erin Maxwell.

State officials say Jones is scheduled to complete his community supervision in Oswego County in October 2023. Under the conditions of his parole, Jones is to seek, obtain and maintain employment or enter an academic/vocational program, and submit to substance abuse testing, abide by established curfews and participate in anti-aggression/anti-violence counseling as directed by a parole officer.

In addition to Jones’ conviction, Maxwell’s father and stepmother were convicted of multiple counts of endangering the welfare of a child after her death. Authorities at the scene found floors throughout the house covered in animal feces, urine and debris, along with several variations of live animals, including more than 100 cats. Prosecutors said nearly a dozen dead cats were found in the freezer and had been there for months.

Fulton looks ahead to a “pedestrian friendly” future

FULTON — Thanks to a series of state grants, Fulton’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan Committee is working to make the city “pedestrian-friendly” over the next five years.

Committee members say the plan will start with a multi-use trail project that will connect the city’s downtown area with the soon-to-be waterfront district.  

Most recently, the New York State Regional Economic Development Council (REDC) awarded the city of Fulton $900,000 on Tuesday to increase public accessibility to the Oswego River and Canal via two multi-use trails along the Oswego Canal, the Pathfinder Canal Towpath Trail and the Canalview Bridge Walk.

Taco Bell begins work in Fulton

FULTON — Fulton residents can expect to celebrate the New Year with a cheesy gordita crunch from Taco Bell with a new location of the Mexican-themed restaurant expected to open in January, weather permitting.

Construction for the restaurant, located at 501-505 S. 2nd St. in a former strip mall, originally planned to open its doors to the public by Christmas but delays in construction pushed back the opening until January, according to restaurant officials.

The Mexican-themed franchise has generated excitement among locals, with a second location at 147-153 George St., approved by the Oswego City Planning Board in November. Expected to open in the fall of 2019 according to Mason, this will be the city of Oswego’s first Taco Bell in over a decade.

Children’s Museum to reopen in March

OSWEGO — The Children’s Museum of Oswego at 7 W. Bridge St. in Oswego closed its doors in June of this past year for renovations that will be concluded in March 2019.

The museum launched its “Build, Play, Grow” campaign in 2016 to fund renovation projects and hire a full time Director of Education. Thanks to donations from the Richard S. Shineman Foundation, the city’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative and several local residents, the museum has amassed $1.4 million.

Renovations will include new heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, whereas museum officials said they previously had to use space heaters when the temperature dropped below 25 degrees. Executive Director Jill Shaver said interior renovations will be done by the new year, with new paint and exhibits to follow.   

The renovated space will include 10,000 square feet for hands-on, interactive exhibits, like Isaac’s Treehouse. Located at the center of a miniature city, Isaac’s Treehouse will let children climb up the treehouse, use buckets and pulleys to harvest apples from the trees and help honeybees pollinate by launching them onto flowers.

Work continues at Nestle site

FULTON — Thanks to $200,000 in state funding secured by state Sen. Patty Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, the last remaining building at the former Nestle site, located on Route 481, was cleared of asbestos in mid-December and will be demolished in the coming months.

Mayor Ron Woodward Sr. expressed his gratitude to Sen. Ritchie since the city’s project to clear asbestos last year ran out of funds before the job was done, and it simply wasn’t economically feasible to take out another loan.

Local and state officials say the city’s cleanup of the site’s remaining acreage will breathe new life into the local economy by allowing future businesses to take the spot of a former industrial powerhouse and serve as a “gateway to the community.”

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