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SEMPRONIUS
Man drowns after falling through ice on Skaneateles Lake in Sempronius

SEMPRONIUS — Rescue teams from multiple fire departments pulled a man from the frigid waters of southern Skaneateles Lake on Monday afternoon after responding to reports of a fisherman going through the ice.

The call for an ice rescue came in around 3:15 p.m. After roughly an hour, a man was removed from the water and taken into a Three Town ambulance. Around 6 p.m. state police announced in a press release that Alfred Coon, 82, of Homer, died when he fell through the ice and was not able to climb out. Life saving measures were attempted on scene but were not successful. 

Crews were dispatched to an area of the lake off the western shoreline in the town of Sempronius. Responders, which included a dive team, were operating from a property on North Glen Haven Road.

Although there is still ice on the surface of that area of Skaneateles Lake, temperatures have been well above freezing for the past two days.

Rescue boats were out in the lake searching for Coon for about 30 minutes before locating him, Three Town Fire District Chief Pat Merical said on the scene. He said Coon was found about one hour after he fell through the ice. 

At about 4:15 p.m., rescue personnel on two rafts in the icy water located Coon and retrieved his body from the lake. Rescue personnel could be seen performing chest compressions on Coon as a handful of people standing in the water near the shoreline pulled the raft to shore with ropes.   

Coon's friend Tony Rusyniak said at the scene that Coon grew up on the lake. 

"This lake was his life," Rusyniak said, adding that Coon was "one of the most skilled outdoorsman" he'd ever known.

Rusyniak had seen Coon's truck at the end of the lake, and said he got a bad feeling when he saw an ambulance come down the hill around 3:40 p.m.

"I see him everyday," Rusyniak said of Coon. "They're on the water, on the ice so often — they don't fear it."

Although Rusyniak saw Coon's body pulled to shore just after 4:15 p.m., at about 4:30 p.m. he was hopeful that Coon would survive. He said Coon was in better shape than most teenagers and had just caught a handful of fish over the weekend. 

"He is healthy enough that he could survive," Rusyniak said. "He has a lot more life in him."

State police, which is handling the ongoing investigation, arrived on scene about 3:55 p.m. 

"All the crews worked well together," Merical said, saying they "did everything they can do, everything worked right."

More than a dozen vehicles were on site in the area of 7006 North Glen Haven Road, including fire departments from New Hope, Owasco, Spafford, Skaneateles, Sempronius and Moravia. Cayuga County Emergency Services, Cayuga County Sheriff's Office, Three Town Ambulance and state police and fire were all on the scene.


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INFRASTRUCTURE
Grid, tunnel or viaduct? CNY residents discuss I-81 at Katko's town hall in Auburn

AUBURN — U.S. Rep. John Katko on Monday launched a series of town hall meetings to collect feedback from residents and stakeholders on the Interstate 81 project in Syracuse. 

The crowd of more than 100 people at Cayuga Community College included Auburn Mayor Michael Quill, Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh, trucking company operators and residents from across the region. Katko, R-Camillus, opted to hold the town hall meetings as the state Department of Transportation is on the verge of releasing a draft environmental impact state examining options for replacing the I-81 viaduct. 

There are three options for the future of the highway: Tear down the viaduct and install a community grid; rebuild the elevated highway; or construct a tunnel with street-level improvements. According to the last estimates provided by the state, building a grid would cost $1.3 billion, constructing a new viaduct would cost $1.7 billion and the price tag for a tunnel-hybrid option would be at least $3.6 billion. 

Advocates for each of the options were present at Katko's town hall meeting. Representatives from central New York trucking companies spoke in opposition to the community grid. If a community grid is advanced, through traffic would be diverted to Interstate 481. Colleen Rejman, owner of Venice Trucking in Venice Center, said that change would add 18 miles to their trips. 

"For economical reasons, I just think it's going to be a huge hardship on the trucking industry," Rejman said. 

Bill Edwards, a Skaneateles resident, also criticized the community grid. He believes the grid would cause traffic delays, especially in and around University Hill in Syracuse. 

"I can't see how anyone who has seen the corner of Almond and Adams (streets) on a game day could possibly consider the community grid as anything viable because it would be like that all the time," Edwards said. 

While there were opponents of the community grid, the proposal also had its share of supporters. 

Diana Ryan of Aqua Action CNY is a proponent of the community grid. Ryan dismissed the tunnel because of the potential adverse impact on surrounding businesses and historical properties. There are also structural concerns with a tunnel, she said. 

Replacing the viaduct with the community grid, she added, could be an "economical boon" for Syracuse and the region. Building a tunnel, in her view, would have an opposite effect.

"I hear a lot of trucking companies. I know it's going to impact their businesses," Ryan said. "But it isn't going to take and tear their business down ... This really diminishes the tax base there." 

There are other issues beyond which is the best option for replacing the viaduct. Whether there's a community grid, tunnel or new viaduct, truck traffic remains a challenge for rural towns outside Syracuse and in Cayuga County.

Venice Highway Superintendent Stephen Fedrizzi worries that shifting through traffic to I-481 will cause trucks to use alternate routes, such as Route 90 through Cayuga and Tompkins counties. The existing roadways, at least in Cayuga County, aren't built to handle a potential spike in traffic. 

"Our infrastructure in Cayuga County is probably the worst in central New York," Fedrizzi said, adding that he's seen more flat tires in the southern end of the county due to potholes and other poor conditions. 

Despite opposition from some in attendance, the community grid received a boost from a notable attendee: Walsh, who waited until the end of the question-and-answer session to address the crowd. 

Walsh supports the community grid and believes it would be beneficial to Syracuse and the region. He acknowledged concerns about truck traffic in surrounding communities, but noted that it's already a problem. 

"It's going to be a problem regardless of what we do about 81," he said. 

He outlined the flaws with the other proposals. A tunnel would require a deep dig and a long ramp would be installed to access and exit the passage. There are environmental concerns with the tunnel, too. 

Rebuilding the viaduct would have its challenges. A new viaduct would be taller and wider than the existing elevated highway. To rebuild the viaduct, more buildings would need to be demolished and businesses or residents could be displaced. 

Walsh cautioned the audience against protecting the status quo. 

"I'm here to say that I believe the community grid, understanding it's not going to be perfect, provides us as the city an opportunity to grow which, in doing so, provides opportunities for the region to grow," he said. 

The draft environmental impact statement will be released by the state Department of Transportation early this year. After the document is released, a public hearing and comment period are planned. Once the feedback is collected, the state will finalize the environmental impact statement and choose an alternative to replace the viaduct. 

The Federal Highway Administration must give its approval of the project before it proceeds. 

Katko, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, emphasized the need to get the project right, "no matter the cost." He highlighted his efforts to bring attention to the project, whether it was advocating for a thorough review of the alternatives or designating I-81 as a high priority corridor. 

He could play an important role in the project's advancement. Because it involves an interstate, a vast majority of the funds will come from the federal government. 

"It is the biggest project in upstate New York's history," he said. "It rightfully deserves the scrutiny we're giving it." 


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AUBURN
Auburn city council to vote on police department pay raises

AUBURN — Struggling with a tight staff, the Auburn Police Department is asking city council to consider officer pay raises in an effort to attract more applicants. 

The council will vote Thursday on a resolution that would reduce the police department's 10-step pay scale to an eight-step and increase starting pay rates.

Nineteen current employees would see raises, resulting in a total increase of $123,479. Employees who already receive top-tier salaries would not be given pay increases. 

The Auburn Police Department is also requesting a language adjustment to its city contract to ease restrictions on lateral transfers. Currently, APD does not offer transfer candidates salaries higher than the pay scale's step four increment: $51,104. With the removal of this restriction, APD hopes to offer more attractive salaries to transfer candidates who may have years of experience.

At a Jan. 30 meeting, the union representing the New York Finger Lakes Region Police Officers Local #195 voted in favor of the new agreement. If passed by city council, the new agreement would last until June 30, 2020, when the current agreement expires.

The recommendations come in light of an APD manpower shortage caused by retirements, transfers, injuries and military deployments. Although it's currently budgeted as if it had 67 sworn officers, APD is getting by with 54. 

In September, about 130 APD candidates passed the police officer civil service exam, but the department said the list has been nearly exhausted. Only three recruits are expected to finish their training by the end of April.  

Auburn Deputy Chief of Police Roger Anthony said Monday that among all the requirements new recruits have to pass, the physical fitness test has been one of the most challenging for newcomers. 


Local
CRIME
Police: Fleming man charged with repeated sexual abuse of child

A Fleming man was arrested Sunday for repeatedly sexually abusing a child over about a two-year period, Auburn police announced Monday morning. 

A lengthy investigation resulted in the arrest of Patrick E. Jackson Sunday morning. The investigation began after the child victim accused Jackson of repeated sexual abuse, the Auburn Police Department said in a release. He was located by APD members in conjunction with the U.S. Marshals felony warrant detail.

Jackson was also found in possession of child pornography. Several phones and computers were seized as evidence when the search warrant was executed at Jackson's 6050 South St. Road apartment. After forensic analysis by the state police's Computer Crimes Unit, at least one image of a child engaged in sexual conduct was found on one of his computers.

The 33-year-old man is facing two felonies and a misdemeanor charge. He was charged with first-degree course of sexual conduct against a child, a class B felony; possessing a sexual performance of a child, a class E felony; and endangering the welfare of a child, a class A misdemeanor.

According to Jackson's charge, the child he abused was under 11 years old. Police said the abuse took place from 2012 to 2014. The incident was reported by the child's family and the investigation began in December 2017.

Jackson was arraigned in Auburn City Court this morning and remanded to Cayuga County Jail in lieu of $10,000 cash or $20,000 bond bail. He is due back in court Feb. 7.