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Macabre maze: Booker T. Washington Center in Auburn conjures creepy Halloween house

AUBURN — Madison Graves didn't know what to do with all the severed heads.

Graves, a student volunteer with the Booker T. Washington Community Center in Auburn, was handling a refrigerator smeared all over with fake blood Thursday. She had a fake head, which had chains on it and a contorted facial expression that suggested it would shriek in agony at any moment, placed on the refrigerator, along with other props.  

She wasn't sure where she wanted to place the various other fake body parts at her disposal, like other heads, a foot and a brain, however. The set-up was just one scenario concocted by students and staff for the center's haunted house, a part of the center's annual Halloween Safe House. The Halloween night consists of the haunted house and a room with free concessions. Children will receive candy as they leave. 

The haunted house is a black maze in the center's gym, set to be filled with various frightening scenarios worked on by students and staff alike. Brandon Wakeham, the center's program director, said the areas planned for the big night include a clown-themed area, a crime scene, sets inspired by the horror classic "The Exorcist" and the film series "The Purge" and a jail cell complete with a deranged prisoner.

He said Auburn Party Rental gave the center more black drapes and piping than usual for the same price, allowing for more sections. The center uses the macabre trove of props it has accumulated over the years for the event.

While the students do have fun setting up the event, it requires a great deal of dedication from everyone, said Gabe Solomon, the center's site coordinator. Despite the jokes being tossed around and the students' imaginations running wild, Solomon said, the hours students put in to the event helps them learn skills such as carpentry, painting and acting — as they will portray the lunatics, creatures and other assorted frights that populate the maze.

Solomon has been floored by the creativity displayed by students and the ways they have created things for the event, like the detailed tombstones they made from form board installation. Wakeham was impressed by how they simulated groupings of coal for a cauldron, as a mass of spray installation used for houses was painted and laced with LED lights.

"You think of it from the outside, you're thinking, 'It's just a fun time (for) a night' or whatever, but there's a lot more to it," Solomon said.

More work continued that afternoon, as Kiara Heiler and Demetria Strachan were prepping the crime scene section, which included a blood-covered fake knife, various red spots scattered throughout, a chalk outline and a long-haired mangled head.  Heiler said she figured adding liberal amounts of fake blood to the head would distract from the head's lack of detail.

Wakeham, his eyes wide, gave his approval.

"That looks disgusting," Wakeham said. He dubbed that "the ultimate compliment" for the situation.

Back at the refrigerator area, Graves was still pondering how to arrange her menagerie of corpse pieces. She wished she could move the table to a different side of the scene and hang up some of the body parts. She surmised that if a deranged butcher with a pig head will be by the fridge, it would make sense for the butcher character to hang things. Wakeham praised the work she had already done regardless.

Graves said she enjoys seeing the end result of the haunted house compared to the beginning stages. She recalled a point last year when a performer "scared the life out of" a little kid. Graves said she felt sad for the child but also thought it was fun.

"When we're all done I like seeing the before-and-after (of the haunted house). And I like seeing little kids cry," Graves joked.

Town of Genoa supervisor candidates both bring experience to race

Two people who have already served as the supervisor for the town of Genoa are facing off to fill the seat's next term.

Lorie Sellen-Gross, the current supervisor, and Hans Pecher, who had been in the role for 18 years in the past, will be on the ballot Nov. 7.

Sellen-Gross, running on the Republican line, started as the supervisor in 2010 and began as a town board member in 1998. She wants to continue in the supervisor role because there is more work to be done, she said.


Lorie Sellen-Gross

One difference between how the job is done currently versus how it was when she started, she said, is she's now finding herself having to do more with decreased funds. She said it requires the town to be accountable and to "stretch your budget to make end's meet." She said the state has asked towns to share more resources with other municipalities.

On her to-do list if re-elected: Keeping property taxes at or under the state's cap while still providing services to community members. She said also wants to make sure residents' water remains safe and clean.

It isn't all about policy for Sellen-Gross, though. She said she has greatly enjoyed working in the community and that she likes the people she works with, saying there's "a good rapport" with those around her.

Pecher, a retired farmer running on the Conservative Party line, was also a county legislator from 2011 to 2015. Prior to that, held the Genoa supervisor position from 1981 to 1999. He believes his experience qualifies him to take the spot again, noting he thinks the projects the town has coming up will require someone with his background to see them through.

Hans Pecher

He said one of the primary reasons he wanted to run is because he believes Sellen-Gross has not always followed proper legal procedures in running the town.

Pecher pointed to an instance where two board members voted to approve a cell phone tower lease agreement with APC Tower despite being absent from the meeting. Board meeting minutes from Aug. 12, 2015, show board members Al Armstrong and Cheryl Shields were absent for the meeting but voted for the lease agreement in absentia. The resolution passed, with four approving votes, including the two in absentia votes. 

"That isn't something that's acceptable," Pecher said.

The minutes show Sellen-Gross abstained from voting on the lease.

Sellen-Gross said the board later voted for the lease agreement again, in October 2016. Minutes from the Oct. 12, 2016, meeting show the lease passed, though Sellen-Gross was absent.

Pecher also had concerns about how funds from the lease agreement were allocated. According to the Oct. 12, 2016, minutes, Pecher was at the meeting and said funds should have gone to the water department due to it sharing land with the water tower.

The Dec. 14, 2016, meeting minutes said Sellen-Gross asked the town attorney about the funds received from the tower lease and was told the tower is part of Genoa. The water district would have to take on all tower expenses if the district wanted the rental funds, according to the minutes.

Sellen-Gross said no funds from the tower lease went to the water district fund.

Pecher said issues like that "triggered" him into running again. He said those issues didn't occur when he was originally supervisor.

"I'm not saying we never made any mistakes, but we didn't make big ones like that," Pecher said.

State Police: Auburn man had child porn

A 25-year-old Auburn man is facing two felony charges for allegedly possessing and distributing child pornography.

New York State Police Investigator Anthony Gower said that after obtaining a search warrant of 57 Walnut St., officers arrested Chris Harrington on Oct. 24. Gower said Harrington was using his cell phone to download child pornography and had shared it, too, through a group chat. Police found a combination of images and videos of children under the age of 17, which Gower called "God-awful." 

While Gower didn't have the exact number of images and videos in Harrington's possession he said, "I think one video and one picture is a lot."

Harrington was reported to state police through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The private nonprofit organization, Gower added, partners with federal agencies, local and state law enforcement as well as the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Gower said the NCMEC receives info from the public and private sector about people using the internet for child exploitation and contacts the appropriate agencies for investigation.

The investigation into Harrington was reported in March. Gower said it takes time to get subpoenas together and for computer crime lab technicians to search every piece of electronic equipment in the residence.

Following the investigation, Harrington was charged with promoting an obscene sex performance by a child under the age of 17, a class D felony, and possession of an obscene sex performance by a child, a class E felony. 

Harrington was arraigned in the Town Of Aurelius Court and remanded to the Cayuga County Jail on $2,000 cash bail or $4,000 bond. The Cayuga County Jail reported that Harrington had been bailed out and released on Oct. 25. He is expected to return to court for a pre-trial conference at 9:15 a.m. on Dec. 13.

Rep. John Katko delivers food, pledges to oppose cuts to Meals on Wheels, SNAP

NORTH SYRACUSE — After a busy week in Washington, U.S. Rep. John Katko returned to central New York Friday and volunteered at a local Meals on Wheels location. 

Katko, R-Camillus, visited North Area Meals on Wheels in North Syracuse. The organization has 10 paid employees and 300 volunteers. It delivers about 115,000 meals annually to seniors in Onondaga County. 

"If you didn't do this, think of the cost to society if we didn't try to help people stay in their homes," he said. "The cost of putting them into nursing homes or assisted living facilities would be astronomical."

North Area Meals on Wheels, like other Meals on Wheels organizations across the country, receives private and public funding. There were concerns earlier this year when President Donald Trump's budget plan proposed eliminating or reducing funding for some of the programs that support Meals on Wheels. 

Ultimately, the program wasn't affected. Congress passed spending measures that funded the various initiatives. 

Katko, whose mother volunteered for Meals on Wheels in Camillus, opposed attempts to slash funding for the program. On Friday, he reiterated his opposition to cutting aid to Meals on Wheels and other federal programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. 

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program has long been a target of budget cuts. Katko said he opposed a budget measure earlier this year that endorsed cutting funding to SNAP. 

"We gotta make sure that when you see places like (North Area Meals on Wheels) working so well that they are allowed to continue to work well," he said. "I know we have a budget crunch, but there are some programs you gotta really work hard to try and protect." 

Support for Meals on Wheels extends beyond federal funding sources. Jennifer Covert, program director for North Area Meals on Wheels, said they're always in need of volunteers.

While the location has 300 volunteers, some may take vacations or they live out of state during the winter. When they lose volunteers, they need more people to deliver meals to area residents. 

"We could use anybody at any time," she said. 

Katko's visit came before a telephone town hall with central New York seniors Friday afternoon. The focus of the telephone town hall was Medicaid and Medicare, two federal health insurance programs. 

Before heading out with a delivery driver to drop off meals, he lauded Covert and the work of North Area Meals on Wheels. 

The organization covers a large swath of the county. Volunteers deliver meals in Baldwinsville, Brewerton, Bridgeport, Cicero, Clay, Liverpool, Mattydale and North Syracuse. 

"This is the best of what America has to offer in my mind," Katko said.