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Bill Forbes trims a tree at Emerson Trees and Wreaths in Conquest. 

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Cato man sentenced to 57 years to life in prison for sexually abusing three children

AUBURN — A 30-year-old Cato man will likely spend the rest of his life in prison for sexually assaulting three preteen girls in Cayuga County. 

On Oct. 31, a jury found William Lewis guilty of three felonies: one count of first-degree sexual abuse and two counts of predatory sexual assault against a child. He was also convicted of three counts of endangering the welfare of a child, a class A misdemeanor. 

During the trial, Cayuga County Assistant District Attorney Heather DeStefano said that Lewis sexually assaulted three girls between November 2014 and March 2017. The abuse occurred in the towns of Cato, Victory and Sterling. 

A former mechanic's helper and substitute cleaner for the Cato-Meridian Central School District, Lewis was arrested in March following an investigation by the Cayuga County Sheriff's Office. DeStefano said Lewis' victims were between the ages of 6 and 10 when the abuse began; they were not connected to his work with the school district. 

On Thursday, Lewis appeared before Judge Thomas Leone for sentencing. DeStefano asked the court to impose the maximum sentence on each count — a total of 57 years to life in prison followed by 10 years post-release supervision. 

"He deserves every second of the maximum sentence," she said, noting that Lewis has continued to deny responsibility in the case. 

DeStefano said Lewis has accused the children of "making this up," despite overwhelming evidence against him. She also said he complained he was bored at trial, and was often seen doodling in a notebook or playing with a pen cap during people's testimony. 

Meanwhile, Lewis' defense attorney, Donald Kelly, said his client maintains his innocence in the matter. He asked Leone to sentence Lewis to a total of 25 years to life in prison. 

Lewis could be seen leaning back in his chair and seemed disinterested in the proceedings Thursday morning. When asked if he had anything to say to the court, he simply said, "No." 

"This was perhaps the most difficult case I've presided over," Leone said. "I have no respect or compassion for you." 

Leone sentenced Lewis to the maximum: 25 years to life in prison on each count of predatory sexual assault and 7 years in prison and 10 years post-release supervision for sexual abuse. Those sentences will run consecutive to one another for a maximum of 57 years to life in prison.

"(Lewis') conviction should send a loud and clear message that those who sexually abuse children will be held accountable for their actions," Cayuga County District Attorney Jon Budelmann said in a press release. "We were pleased that the court agree with our assessment that stealing the childhood from three innocents deserved the maximum sentence." 

Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen 

Judges, from left, Cynthia Aikman, Kevin Miles, Dan Soules and Demetrius Murphy, listen to John Bisgrove, right, pitch his business idea at an event in Auburn Thursday.

Kelly Rocheleau / Kelly Rocheleau, The Citizen 

Nancy Ansteth speaks with second-place winner Stephanie McCall at the Rural Pitch Competition in Auburn.

Child protective services software divides Cayuga County Legislature in budget talks

AUBURN — A software service that would help Cayuga County Child Protective Services workers with paperwork and home visits did not make it into the county's 2018 preliminary budget passed Thursday night after two different attempts to do so.

The approximately $146 million budget remains under the state tax cap, but still includes a 2 percent increase in the tax levy. The draw on the fund balance grew slightly since the body's first look at the budget in October, but it remains around $550,000.

The largest proposed change to the budget came from Legislator Joe Bennett, requesting about $161,000 to be drawn from the fund balance for the CPS software. Most county legislators said they supported the idea of Northwoods Consulting Partners's program and how it could help CPS workers conduct more efficient visits, but the fund balance draw caused some concern.

Legislature Chairman Keith Batman said he, too, was still waiting to learn what additional support the program might require of the county's Information Technology Department. Legislators Aileen McNabb-Coleman, Joe DeForest and Ben Vitale agreed. McNabb-Coleman said the IT department was already handling some large projects in real property and the health department.

Vitale made an amendment for the funding to be put into a contingency account.

"We hear all year about these new positions and new programs, and we always say, 'Wait for the budget. Put it in the budget,'" said Legislator Patrick Mahunik. "Here's an opportunity to put it in the budget, give it a line item. Again, we can't, no contract can be executed without our vote and our support. So to put an extra layer or hurdle in front of this, is just ridiculous."

The amendment failed 8-6 with Legislator Terry Baxter absent and Legislators Mahunik, Tucker Whitman, Andy Dennison, Paul Pinckney, Bennett, Tim Lattimore, Mike Didio and Ryan Foley against it. 

The original proposal to put the funds in the budget was defeated, too, at 7-7. Legislators Dennison, Vitale, Grant Kyle, McNabb-Coleman, DeForest, Frank Reginelli and Batman were against. 

Legislators did vote and pass $2,000 to be put into advertising for the office of the aging, so more people will be aware of the Medicare help it provides.

Legislators passed the preliminary budget 11-3 with Whitman, Dennison and Bennett opposed. 

The budget will go to a public hearing during the full Legislature meeting 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 28.

In other news:

• A special committee of the whole meeting to discuss the future of the county office building and other county buildings lasted about four minutes. Upon getting an outline of questions to discuss about whether to consider a new county office building or whether to renovate the existing one, Bennett suggested holding the meeting until next year when newly elected legislators and the newly hired county administrator could participate.

The body agreed, and the meeting's chair, Vitale, adjourned.

William H. Lewis

Driver who sped away from police in Skaneateles killed by tractor trailer on I-690

A driver who sped away from police after a traffic stop in the village of Skaneateles was struck and killed by a tractor trailer on Interstate 690 in the town of Geddes, the Onondaga County Sheriff's Office said Thursday. 

Deputies said the series of events began at 12:21 a.m. Thursday when a Skaneateles police officer pulled over a dark-colored Honda sedan that was traveling on East Genesee Street in the village with several equipment violations. 

The vehicle, which had two male occupants, initially stopped for police. But as soon as the officer began approaching the vehicle, the car sped away.

The officer followed the vehicle northbound on Route 321 toward the town of Camillus. When the car reached the intersection of Route 321 and Route 5, the passenger fled on foot into a wooded area. The car headed northbound on Bennetts Corners Road. 

A search began for the passenger. Onondaga County sheriff's deputies, along with a K-9 unit and an Air1 helicopter were involved in the search. The passenger was found hiding behind Motel Thomas in Camillus, police said. 

The name of the passenger wasn't released. He was identified as a 16-year-old from Elbridge. Authorities say he was cooperating with the Skaneateles Police Department's investigation. 

After the teen suspect was apprehended, the sheriff's office said, a deputy traveling westbound on Route 5 near Newport Road observed the Honda traveling eastbound at a high rate of speed. The deputy pursued the vehicle and found it disabled and unoccupied near the on ramp to Interstate 690 east from Route 695 north. 

As deputies searched for the driver, they encountered a tractor trailer stopped along the shoulder of I-690 east west of the Route 695 interchange. They soon found that the driver of the Honda had been struck by the tractor trailer. 

The driver of the Honda, whose name wasn't released, was a 22-year-old man from East Syracuse. He was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics. 

The name of the tractor trailer driver wasn't released. Authorities said he is from Cuddebackville and wasn't injured. 

The eastbound lanes of I-690 were closed for several hours as the sheriff's office conducted its accident investigation. 

The entire incident remained under investigation Thursday, deputies said.