The Citizen's top 10 most-read stories of the week.
Body found in Owasco River
A man's body was found in the Owasco River in Auburn Friday morning.
Initial dispatch reports stated that a caller spotted a body floating in the river around 11 a.m.
Auburn Police Department Capt. James Moore said the caller initially said the body was by the police department on North Street, but the current carried the body to the North Division Street bridge.
Firefighters pulled the body of an adult male from the water around 11:20 a.m. and began providing medical assistance, police said. The Citizen's reporter at the scene said it appeared that EMTs performed CPR before placing him on a stretcher. The man was then transported by ambulance to Auburn Community Hospital where he was later pronounced dead.
According to a press release Friday afternoon, the man's death does not appear to be suspicious in nature, but an autopsy will be conducted by the Onondaga County Medical Examiner's Office. Police had not released the man's name pending notification of his next of kin.
The North Division Street bridge was temporarily closed and a helicopter was originally called to the scene to perform a sweep of the river. Moore said the caller's initial description of the body did not match what firefighters found; that led officers to suspect there may have been another victim. However, police later confirmed that the original description was not accurate.
"We are fairly confident at this time that there is just one victim," Moore said.
Anyone with information about the incident or anyone who may have witnessed a person entering the river in the downtown area should contact the Auburn Police Department at (315) 253-3231 or Detective Meagan Kalet at (315) 255-4702. Callers may remain anonymous.
Police: Man arrested for firing weapon in downtown Auburn is NYPD officer
The Rockland County man arrested and charged with a felony after he fired a handgun in the direction of an occupied vehicle in downtown Auburn is a New York City police officer, Auburn police confirmed Monday morning.
Michael Cerrato, 29, of Pomona, was charged with first-degree reckless endangerment, a class D felony, and second-degree menacing, a class A misdemeanor, police said.
According to an APD press release, Cerrato fired two rounds from a 9 mm Glock handgun, which he legally possessed, late Saturday night in the vicinity of Domino's Pizza on Dill Street. Police said Cerrato is currently employed as an officer with the New York Police Department; however, the NYPD reported Monday that Cerrato has been suspended without pay.
Cerrato was training with the National Guard in the area, the APD said. Police did not state why Cerrato fired the handgun near an occupied vehicle and said Cerrato seemed "incoherent" at the time of his arrest. The shots did not strike the vehicle and no one was injured.
According to court documents, witnesses stated that Cerrato appeared highly intoxicated leading up to the incident. An employee at Domino's said Cerrato appeared "very sloppy and staggering" and had rested against the pizzeria's window before walking into the middle of Dill Street. Then, as a Domino's delivery man drove by, Cerrato allegedly opened fire.
Officers converged on the downtown Dill Street block after a caller reported at about 11:25 p.m. that someone was shooting a gun into the air in front of Domino's Pizza at 19 Dill St.
Police in several vehicles quickly swarmed the area. Police said that Cerrato was standing in the street when officers arrived on the scene and informed them that he did have a handgun.
Officers could be seen taking photographs and shining flashlights on the ground in the roadway and behind the restaurant. A patrol car blocked traffic from entering Dill Street at the intersection of North Street as officers investigated the scene down the road.
Just before midnight, yellow crime-scene tape was placed across Dill Street near Domino's as officers continued working at the scene.
Following his arrest, Cerrato was arraigned and remanded to the Cayuga County Jail.
Auburn police ask that anyone with information about the incident contact Detective Chris Coopper at (315) 255-4706 or (315) 253-3231. Callers can remain anonymous.
Multiple fire departments extinguish Sempronius mobile home fire
SEMPRONIUS — A mobile home with at least two people inside caught fire late Monday night, but the occupants escaped with no injuries, said Three Town District Chief Pat Merical.
With scattered rain showers and dropping temperatures, firefighters responded to the blaze at 6061 Reynolds Road at around 8:15 p.m. The fire was knocked out by about 9:14 p.m., according to Cayuga County 911 dispatch. Firefighters were still putting out hot spots around 9:30 p.m.
Sempronius, New Hope, Moravia, West Niles, Owasco, Fleming and Locke fire departments responded to the scene. Merical said there were five tanker trucks on site to bring water, as the home was in a remote area with no fire hydrants nearby. Also responding were Cayuga County coordinators, Four Town Ambulance and Three Town Fire District.
A Cayuga County fire investigator was en route to the scene at around 10 p.m. The cause of the fire was unknown, but it appeared to have started around the back of the home. The residents declined The Citizen's request for comment.
Gallery: Multiple departments battle structure fire in Sempronius
Multiple fire departments responded to the blaze at 6061 Reynolds Road at in Sempronius around 8:15 p.m.
Crews putting out Sempronius structure fire https://t.co/RbKBUkdV2A— Gwendolyn Craig (@gwendolynnn1) October 31, 2017
What you should know about the NY constitutional convention vote
It's a question New Yorkers are asked every 20 years, and it could reshape state government.
On Nov. 7, voters will consider whether the state should hold a constitutional convention. It has been a half-century since the last convention was held.
The last time voters were asked the constitutional convention question was in 1997. By a nearly 650,000-vote margin, New Yorkers opted not to allow a convention to proceed.
What is it?
A constitutional convention would allow New Yorkers to propose amendments to the constitution. The constitution mandates that voters are asked every 20 years whether there should be a new convention held to consider amendments. The last convention was held in 1967.
If a majority votes yes, the constitutional convention will be held in 2019. If a majority votes no, a convention won't be held and the question won't be asked again until 2037.
How would it work?
If voters approve a constitutional convention, there would be a second vote in 2018 to select delegates. Each of New York's 63 state Senate districts would elect three delegates. Statewide voters would choose an additional 15 at-large delegates.
The delegates would receive compensation for their service. They would earn $79,500 — the same salaries paid to members of the state Legislature. They would also have the authority to hire officers and staff for the convention.
The convention would be held in April 2019 at the Capitol in Albany. Any amendments adopted by a majority of delegates at the convention must receive final approval from voters. The statewide vote would be held at least six weeks after the conclusion of the convention.
Any amendments approved by voters would go into effect Jan. 1, 2020.
A question on the election ballot in New York will determine whether public officials can keep their pensions after being convicted of corruption.
Who supports it?
One of the leading advocates for a constitutional convention is Bill Samuels, a longtime progressive activist and supporter of Democratic causes.
Samuels and other constitutional convention backers view the Nov. 7 vote as an opportunity to reform state government.
Voting no, Samuels said, "means giving up."
Several New York interest groups support holding a constitutional convention. The list includes Citizens Union, a leading good government group, the League of Women Voters and the New York State Bar Association.
Some elected officials are on board, too. Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick was featured in a video released last week by NY People's Convention, a group created by Samuels to build support for the convention.
Myrick, a Democrat, called a constitutional convention "the best avenue for reform."
There are Republicans who support a constitutional convention, too. Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb has been one of the most outspoken lawmakers about the need to hold a convention.
"The beauty and necessity of a constitutional convention lies in its ability to reform the system and empower the people of New York to facilitate needed change," Kolb, R-Canandaigua, wrote in February. "Voter empowerment is a part of the very fabric of who we are as a nation. There is no more effective way to engage the public than a constitutional convention, and there is no place that needs it more than Albany."
NY People's Convention outlines at least a dozen issues that could be addressed a constitutional convention. The list includes strengthening public worker protections by preventing changes to employee pension contributions, an amendment giving equal rights to women and the establishment of an environmental bill of rights.
The group proposes other changes which have been discussed for years. Electoral reform has been debated, but the state Legislature hasn't updated the state's voting procedures. NY People's Convention proposes allowing early voting, same-day voter registration and automatic voter registration.
Ethics reform would be a high priority. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state legislative leaders have been reluctant to adopt major reforms. There have been small changes, but nothing that would dramatically reshape how state government operates.
NY People's Convention supports amending the constitution to establish a full-time state Legislature with strict rules on outside income, lower campaign contribution limits and ban donations from any individual or entity doing business with the state.
"If you want reform, you have to vote for the constitutional convention," Samuels said. "A yes vote is a vote to empower the people of New York to take the power from Cuomo and Heastie and Flanagan and really fix our state, make it a proud model for the rest of the nation."
Supporters call it a win-win, but it first needs approval from New York voters.
Who's against it?
"Politics makes strange bedfellows." That famous saying best describes the large coalition of interest groups, labor unions and political parties that are urging New Yorkers to vote no on Nov. 7.
The state Conservative Party and Working Families Party are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, but both oppose holding a constitutional convention. Groups on opposing sides of the abortion debate also support a no vote.
Mike Long, chairman of the state Conservative Party, said he opposes holding a constitutional convention because of the cost. State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has estimated that it will cost $50 million to hold a convention. Critics of the convention believe the cost could exceed $100 million.
"I just think it's a waste of taxpayers' money," Long said. "I think it will become a boondoggle."
For others, the delegate selection process is cause for concern. If a majority of New Yorkers support calling a constitutional convention, delegates will be elected in 2018. There will be three delegates from each of the state's 63 Senate districts and 15 at-large delegates from throughout the state.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the delegate election is "rigged."
"Our state Senate districts have been drawn based on extreme partisan political gerrymandering and racial gerrymandering which makes the process not one that is likely to have delegates that reflect the will of the people," she said.
Some organizations oppose the constitutional convention because it would open up the document to extensive changes. Lieberman said there are issues the New York Civil Liberties Union would like to address, but she doesn't believe renegotiating the entire constitution is the right approach.
Tom King, president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, agrees.
"A wholesale rewriting leaves the process open to just amazing abuses," he said.
King, like Lieberman, also worries about how delegates would be selected and what that would mean for gun rights in New York. He believes the delegates would reflect the makeup of the state Legislature.
"It's going to be controlled by downstate liberals and they do not represent the people of upstate New York," he said.
In a New York Times story last week about the state constitutional convention question on th…
Labor groups oppose the constitutional convention for a variety of reasons. At the top of the list: They fear a constitutional convention could put public employee pensions at risk.
Samuels dismissed this claim as a "joke." He said pension protections in the state constitution were added at the 1938 convention.
Andrew Pallotta, president of New York State United Teachers, said in September that while collective bargaining rights are a concern, labor unions also believe it would be costly to hold a convention.
"It's very expensive. It could be hundreds of millions of dollars," he said. "The state could spend that much more wisely."
How to vote
The constitutional convention question — "Shall there be a convention to revise the Constitution and amend the same?" — will appear on the back of paper ballots.
There are two bubbles: one for yes and another for no. There have been social media posts claiming that if you don't choose either option that it counts as a yes vote. That's false. If you don't take a position on either option, you won't have a vote registered for that question.
Buffalo Wild Wings in Aurelius to close
The Aurelius location of Buffalo Wild Wings will close Dec. 17, its management said in a statement to The Citizen Tuesday.
"As we open new locations around the country and others come up on lease expiration, we sometimes need to make the decision to close locations that no longer reflect an up-to-date Buffalo Wild Wings experience," Western New York District Manager James Farrance said in the statement.
The sports bar and casual restaurant opened in 2007 in the Fingerlakes Crossing plaza on Routes 5 and 20. The plaza is owned by Northeast Capital Group, of Ramapo, which purchased it from the Cameron Group, of Syracuse, in September 2016.
Based in Minneapolis, Buffalo Wild Wings has more than 1,200 locations nationwide, including ones in the Township 5 shopping development in Camillus and on Elmira Road in Ithaca. It closed its Cicero location in March. The company's stock surged more than 20 percent Oct. 26 after it reported significant profits from boneless wings in its third-quarter earnings. The stock had previously been struggling in part due to record-high wholesale chicken wing prices.
Farrance directed further questions to Buffalo Wild Wings' public relations department, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Cayuga County Jail ordered to pay former inmate $300k for withholding meds
A judge has found the Cayuga County Jail responsible for a man's injuries that he incurred while incarcerated.
On Wednesday, Acting Supreme Court Justice Mark Fandrich ordered the county to pay Richard T. Andrews approximately $300,000 in damages.
According to the lawsuit filed with the county, Andrews was arrested and admitted to the Cayuga County Jail on May 2, 2009; he ultimately spent four days in custody before being officially released May 7.
During that time, Andrews had been prescribed Xanax, a benzodiazepine, which he had been taking three times a day since the late 1990s. However, upon his arrest, Andrews claimed that the jail chose to replace his prescription with two other medications.
As a result of the "abrupt discontinuation" of benzodiazepines, Andrews allegedly suffered severe withdrawal symptoms, including multiple seizures, on May 6. He then needed several surgeries after sustaining bilateral shoulder fractures and dislocation from his seizures.
"Defendant breached its duty to provide adequate medical care to plaintiff during his incarceration/detainment at the Cayuga County Jail," Fandrich said in his ruling. "Defendant's negligence contributed to and was the proximate cause of plaintiff's injuries."
Fandrich ruled that the jail should pay roughly $60,000 for the medical expenses Andrews incurred. He also ordered the jail to pay nearly $250,000 for Andrews' past and future pain and suffering.
Cayuga County Sheriff David Gould declined comment.
Man denies attempting to meet 12-year-old girl for sex at Fingerlakes Mall
AUBURN — After posting an ad on Craigslist looking for a "young playmate," Jason Holcomb went to the Fingerlakes Mall to meet who he thought was a 12-year-old girl; however, the Cayuga County district attorney said it turned out to be a trooper with the New York State Police.
Holcomb, of 216 Blackberry Road, Liverpool, was arrested in May and initially charged with two felonies in the town of Aurelius: one count of first-degree attempted rape and one count of first-degree attempted disseminating indecent material to minors. But now, the 36-year-old is facing additional felonies after a grand jury handed down a six-count indictment in Cayuga County.
On Tuesday, Holcomb pleaded not guilty to one count of first-degree attempted rape, a class C felony, and five counts of first-degree attempted disseminating indecent material to minors, a class E felony.
After Holcomb's arraignment, his defense attorney, Eric Smith, asked Judge Mark Fandrich to continue the defendant out on his own recognizance. Smith argued that Holcomb — an employee with the New York State Thruway Authority — was not a risk to the community as he has no criminal history. He also noted that there was "no victim" in the case.
In response, Cayuga County District Attorney Jon Budelmann said he hoped to see some bail placed on Holcomb due to the seriousness of the charges.
Judge Fandrich ultimately set bail at $1,000 cash, $2,000 bond. He said Holcomb would have 72 hours to post bail; otherwise, a warrant would be issued for his arrest and he would be remanded to Cayuga County Jail.
Holcomb was scheduled to return to court Jan. 9.
Also in court:
• An Auburn man was ordered to provide a new DNA swab Tuesday after police allegedly matched an old sample to DNA evidence in a rape case.
Paul Oattes, 42, of 300 Seymour St., was charged March 21 with first-degree rape, third-degree rape and two counts of third-degree criminal sex act, all felonies. He was also charged with one count of endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor.
On Tuesday, Judge Fandrich granted Budelmann's "buccal swab application," which would allow state police to collect a new DNA sample from Oattes.
Oattes' defense attorney, Norman Chirco, said he was "troubled" that the district attorney wanted another DNA swab because he was told the police had an exact match from a previous sample that Oattes provided.
"Does that mean things aren't as clear cut as I've been lead to believe?" Chirco asked.
Budelmann said it is protocol to collect another sample to confirm that the new DNA matches the DNA tested from the "bank." He claimed it was in Oattes' best interest to provide a new sample.
Fandrich agreed, stating he felt it was "better to be safe than sorry."
Oattes — who is charged with first-degree burglary, first-degree robbery and fourth-degree conspiracy in a separate matter — has been held without bail at Cayuga County Jail since January. He is scheduled to go to trial for the rape Nov. 27.
• Two Syracuse residents were sentenced Tuesday for selling drugs in Cayuga County.
First, Juwanda Tyler, 32, was sentenced to three years in prison followed by two years post-release supervision. She also received a shock camp order to receive substance abuse treatment while incarcerated.
A second felony drug offender, Tyler pleaded guilty to one count of third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance in August. At the time, she told Judge Fandrich she sold cocaine to someone in Auburn in April 2016.
Meanwhile, in a separate case, 27-year-old Julious Anderson was sentenced to two years in prison and two years post-release supervision. He was also given a shock camp order for treatment.
Anderson also admitted to one count of third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance in August. The second felony offender said he sold cocaine in Cayuga County in December 2015.
"Hopefully when I get out this time I'll change my life for the better," Anderson said in court. "I'm sorry for what I did."
• An Auburn woman was sentenced to prison Tuesday for her second violation of probation.
Tracy Bertollini, 30, of 20 Cross St., was originally sentenced to five years probation for welfare fraud in November 2013. However, in 2014, Bertollini violated her probation when she was arrested for driving while intoxicated. Then, earlier this year, she was arrested again in Madison County for seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance and second-degree false personation.
"I think for her sake and the community's sake, (prison) is the best option," Budelmann said, noting that a shock camp order for substance abuse treatment would be appropriate.
"She has addiction issues and she recognizes that," Bertollini's attorney Norman Chirco said. "It's really up to her to turn her life around."
Judge Fandrich said he was torn between a local jail sentence and prison because Bertollini has three small children at home. However, he ultimately sentenced her to one to three years in prison with a shock camp order to help her get "proper treatment."
Auburn Fire Department douses garage fire
AUBURN — A garage fire on Chapman Avenue in Auburn forced the road to be closed Tuesday afternoon while the Auburn Fire Department worked to put out the flames.
Mimi Gacek, homeowner of the garage and house at 132 Chapman Ave., said she was sitting in her front room when someone from The Commons on St. Anthony ran over to tell her her garage was on fire. The Commons can be seen from her backyard, and Gacek said she never would have known about the smoke if someone hadn't told her.
Crews responded to the scene around 3 p.m., dousing the structure with water and using a large fan to ventilate it. Gacek was evacuated from her home, but the flames never reached her house. She said she would go back inside soon.
The Auburn Police Department said no one was injured. Auburn Fire Chief Joe Morabito said a fire investigator was working to determine the cause, but the fire did not appear suspicious.
Gacek said the garage was full of her neighbor's lawn equipment including a snowblower and a lawnmower. She was relieved that she had parked her car outside in the driveway.
"If my car was in there, it probably would have been worse," she said. "Glad it (the fire) wasn't closer to my house."
Police: Auburn man tried to pawn stolen tools
An Auburn man is facing a felony charge after police said he tried to pawn about 22 different tools that he had stolen.
Matthew J. Duby, of 151 Perrine St., was arrested on Nov. 1 after the Auburn Police Department utilized Leads Online, a database that stores photos and information of items purchased by secondhand dealers. Duby allegedly sold about 22 tools that did not belong to him to Pawn King, the store at 39 Genesee St.
Police said some of those items were returned to the owner and some were kept as evidence.
The 32-year-old was charged with first-degree falsifying business records, a class E felony, and petit larceny, a misdemeanor. He was released on his own recognizance and is expected to appear in Auburn City Court for arraignment on Monday.
Police: Auburn man charged with felony after kicking car
An Auburn man was arrested Saturday and charged with a felony after he repeatedly kicked a former friend's car, Auburn police said.
On Aug. 9, 25-year-old Allen J. Sheppard, of 12 School St., Auburn, intentionally damaged a 2012 Hyundai Elantra by kicking the vehicle 12 times, causing over $2,200 worth of damage, Deputy Chief Roger Anthony said.
The owner of the vehicle, a former friend of Sheppard's, called the police when she heard the banging and saw Sheppard kicking the car from her window. The two had not been in a fight or altercation prior to the incident, Anthony said.
Sheppard was picked up on an arrest warrant Saturday and charged with second-degree criminal mischief, a felony. He is scheduled to be arraigned at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in Auburn City Court.