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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.
Ex-doctors file whistleblower lawsuits against Auburn Community Hospital
Two separate lawsuits against Auburn Community Hospital from former doctors allege hospital administration retaliated against them for their attempts to blow the whistle on another doctor's dangerous conduct.
The lawsuits, one filed in federal court in December and another filed Wednesday in state Supreme Court in Cayuga County, claim similar patterns of targeted discrimination or retaliation in response to the plaintiffs' warnings regarding the conduct of another doctor. Those warnings included allegations that one patient died after being improperly treated, and in other cases, doctors had to intervene in what was described as "near misses."
Dr. Gregory Serfer, the plaintiff in the federal lawsuit and former director of the hospitalist program at ACH, confirmed to The Citizen that the problematic doctor, identified as Dr. Jeremy Barnett, is the same physician referred to in a state and federal report that said the hospital improperly responded to complaints regarding a physician referred to as Staff A. The hospital has refused to answer questions about that 2018 report, which was a statement of deficiencies from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The findings could have put federal funding the hospital receives in jeopardy, but the hospital’s correction plan was accepted in November.
The lawsuits from both Serfer and Dr. Karen Odrzywolski, the former director of ACH's stroke program and the plaintiff the state lawsuit, were the culmination of their efforts to sound the alarm about not just Barnett but what they described as a problematic culture at the hospital in general, Serfer said.
"The general culture that I think anyone would share with you is one of fear," Serfer said in an interview Wednesday. "Keep quiet or else."
Through a spokesperson, the hospital declined to comment Wednesday beyond a brief statement, citing the legal nature of topic.
"We are aware of the legal actions that have been recently filed. Unfortunately, we cannot comment on these matters because of the ongoing legal nature of these activities. Auburn Community Hospital leadership takes these matters very seriously and has always complied with all state and federal regulations," the statement said.
Serfer said that after numerous internal complaints went ignored or unaddressed and regulatory agencies did not act expediently, a “coalition” of staff including himself and Odrzywolski decided to file lawsuits to try to force a change before more patients are put at risk, he said.
"This is about not only the protection of the community, the protection of employees at the hospital and the common good," Serfer said. "There have been just a parade of almost increasingly less competent and more problematic physicians being brought through there and Dr. Barnett was just the culmination of it."
The goal behind the lawsuits, Serfer said, is “excising the tumors that keep Auburn Community Hospital from being what it should be.” Serfer declined to specifically say what he was referring to, but said most working at the hospital are trying to do the right thing.
According to Serfer's lawsuit, Serfer was wrongly replaced by Barnett in the intensive care unit after Serfer returned from Puerto Rico in 2017 to serve with the National Disaster Medical System. Barnett had been hired as a temporary replacement but was hired into a permanent post shortly after he arrived in Auburn.
The lawsuit says Barnett "demonstrated a negligent, if not intentionally reckless, practice of medicine that endangered the lives of patients on a regular basis" by ignoring protocol and experts and electing for unnecessary, dangerous and unethical medical procedures.
In one incident, the lawsuit claims, Barnett failed to follow the surgery team's recommendations to transfer a patient to a different hospital, which "ultimately removed any chance the patient had of recovering, and the patient later died after his care.”
The lawsuit alleges that, despite Serfer bringing such behavior to the attention of ACH CEO Scott Berlucchi and Chief Medical Officer John Riccio, Barnett's behavior went unaddressed.
The lawsuit alleges that administrative leaders praised Barnett for increasing ICU admissions, but the lawsuit claims the increase was due to patients who did not require ICU admission being sent there anyway.
The Barnett case was not the first instance of Serfer encountering resisting for raising concerns about patient care. Prior to Barnett's arrival, the lawsuit says, Serfer was forced in 2015 to agree to a change in his employment agreement that said he would be fined $500 every time he voiced concerns or criticisms about the hospitalist program to anyone but the head and administrative director of the program.
After being effectively ignored in his efforts to get management to take action in the Barnett case, according to the lawsuit, Berlucchi confronted Serfer with a termination later and stated Riccio wanted Serfer fired. “Facing the threat of termination and knowing that he was being targeted," Serfer resigned, the lawsuit says.
Odrzywolski's lawsuit contains many similar complaints, and also alleges she faced gender-based discrimination.
For example, the lawsuit claims that Odrzywolski, a neurologist, was only paid for the hours she physically worked while male neurologists who only worked at times two to three hours a day were paid for full eight-hour shifts. Similarly, male neurologists were allowed to take call from Manlius or Syracuse, outside the radius allowed in the Hospital's bylaws, while she was not afforded the same option, limiting her income.
Odrzywolski, the only female medical director at the hospital at the time, was only invited to attend two weekly director meetings, and was unfairly criticized and defamed when she did, the lawsuit says.
During a Feb. 7, 2018, meeting, Odrzywolski voiced concerns about a proposal from Barnett and Emergency Department Director Dr. Patsy Iannolo regarding a procedure for stroke patients. After leaving the meeting early to meet with patients, Odrzywolski was later told Iannolo and Barnett made "false and defamatory" comments about her behavior and competency.
In a series of emails between Odrzywolski and Berlucchi attached with the lawsuit, Berlucchi stood up for Odrzywolski against the comments, but then focused on finding out who told her of the comments rather than addressing them.
"Now tell me only one thing, was it serfer [sic] who painted this picture? Otherwise I am not interested in the source," an email from Berlucchi reads.
Odrzywolski’s lawsuit claims that Berlucchi and Iannolo then engaged in a defamation campaign to try to have her removed as the hospital’s stroke director and replaced by Barnett. She said she eventually decided to resign because of the stress of the situation, giving the hospital a 60-day notice. Berlucchi then asked her to stay beyond 60 days until a replacement doctor could start, but when Odrzywolski informed Berlucchi of new complaints medical staffers had made about Barnett, she was then told not to stay beyond the 60 days.
Odrzywolski could not be reached Wednesday for comment. Barnett also could not be reached for comment. According to Serfer, Barnett has not been employed at ACH since some time in December.
New look, same mission: Gavras Center in Auburn generating buzz thanks to $1.5M project
AUBURN — Until late last year, it was easy to drive past the E. John Gavras Center on North Street and not notice the facility.
That shouldn't be a problem anymore.
One part of the center's $1.5 million capital project that is nearing completion was improving its curb appeal. Before the improvements, foliage blocked the view of passing motorists and the building lacked color or signage that would help it stand out.
Now, "Gavras Center" is spelled out in large white letters on the front of the building and the facility's logo, a large tree with a swing, has been added to the corner of the structure.
The improved facade has captured the attention of some families in the community. Danielle Wright, the CEO and executive director of the Gavras Center, said once people notice the sign, they want to know more about facility.
"It's really generated a buzz," Wright said. "People are now interested in what we're doing."
What's happening inside is the most important component of the center's operation. Gavras has a preschool that serves 80 students ages 3 to 5. The school has children with special needs and those without. There's also a daycare center that operates from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays.
The capital project allowed Gavras to expand its capacity to host up to 128 preschool students. With additional space acquired from the Arc of Seneca Cayuga, the center increased the number of classrooms from three to seven.
The changes provided Gavras with much-needed conference room space and a training area for employees. It also enabled the center to consolidate its therapists into one location. There are four occupational therapists, three speech therapists and two physical therapists at the facility. They each have work space in the same area of the building.
For students at the school, there is a new motor therapy space with special flooring — blue tiles designating a "river" and green tiles for "land" — and improved lighting. The school's previous motor room was cramped when it was occupied with children. Now, students have a larger area with educational toys, indoor play equipment and a climbing wall.
With the improvements, Gavras hopes to alter its reputation. The center's leadership still finds that many in the Auburn area incorrectly believe that they only serve children with special needs. While they continue to have the necessary programs for special-needs students, they also welcome students who don't have developmental or physical disabilities.
Kenneth Ward, principal of educational services at Gavras, highlighted the benefits of having a diverse student population. The children with special needs, he said, view their peers as motivation. And the children without special needs are "champions" for their classmates.
Ward explained that it not only helps with their future citizenship, but it encourages children to build relationships.
"We're hoping that the things we do here will be adopted into the home school districts," he said.
Most of the capital project has been completed. There are still a few cosmetic improvements that must be made. Landscaping work is planned for the front of the facility. In the rear of the center, where the new playground is located, there are plans to improve a bike trail for students. Dickman Farms in Owasco will place kid-friendly plants along the bike path near the playground.
As Gavras developed additional ideas for its expansion, more money was needed. In January 2018, the center launched its $1.5 million capital campaign and sought donations from the community. A fundraiser was held last year. Buffalo Bills Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly headlined the event.
After reaching its fundraising goal, Gavras proceeded with the improvements. With nearly all of the work finished, the center is eager to welcome more students into the preschool.
"We want to reinforce the idea that this is a safe place, a loved place. It's not just a school," Ward said. "Every child is our child. We really do encompass that here. Whoever comes in is ours."
Auburn woman pleads guilty to Walmart burglary
AUBURN — An Auburn woman with a past felony conviction could spend up to four years in prison for stealing a watch from Walmart.
Jamie Smith, 38, of 5 Orchard St., pleaded guilty to third-degree burglary, a class D felony, in Cayuga County Criminal Court Tuesday morning.
"I intentionally walked into Walmart, knowing I was not supposed to be on their premises," Smith said. She admitted to Judge Mark Fandrich that she was previously banned from entering Walmart but went in, knowing she was not allowed to, with the intent to steal. She said she stole a watch.
Mario Gutierrez, Smith's defense attorney, said that her plea would fully satisfy her indictment, which previously included an unauthorized use of vehicle charge.
The Auburn Police Department reported in December that Smith allegedly took a car she did not own from the Walmart parking lot. The driver of the car left it in the lot after being arrested for petit larceny, and APD was notified of the missing car Dec. 10. The car was spotted in an Auburn driveway days later and it was determined Smith had operated the vehicle.
An Auburn woman was arrested Wednesday night for allegedly taking a car she didn't own from …
At the time, Smith was charged with one count of second-degree unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, a class E felony. Police said unauthorized use of a motor vehicle is typically a misdemeanor charge, but it was a felony because Smith was previously convicted of the same crime in 2014.
While her maximum sentence, as a second-felony offender previously convicted of fourth-degree grand larceny in 2015, could be 3.5 to seven years in state prison, Fandrich said in exchange for Smith's guilty plea to third-degree burglary. he will likely sentence her to two to four years in prison. She will also likely be ordered to pay about $966 in restitution — $950 related to the vehicle and about $16 for the watch.
"She's really looking forward to taking drug classes while in prison," Gutierrez said, noting Smith is tired of the cycle of her life and wants to be there for her kids.
Gutierrez asked Fandrich to release Smith, who is being held in Cayuga County Jail in lieu of $2,000 cash or $4,000 bond bail, on her own recognizance for about two weeks sometime before her sentencing. He said she'd like to spend time with her daughter before her incarceration and see her son compete in a bowling competition. Alternatively, if bail were lowered to $500 she could post that amount, he added.
Cayuga County District Attorney Jon Budelmann said he didn't think it was a good idea due to Smith's previous felony, more than a dozen misdemeanor charges and at least five times she failed to appear in court.
Fandrich chose to continue bail as set and remanded Smith back to the jail, but said he'd be happy to reconsider if an application is made in writing. Smith is due back in court for sentencing April 9.
Also in court
• An Auburn man was sentenced to 10 years of probation for possessing child pornography.
Gary Dellostritto, 37, of 275 Seymour St., Apt. 2, was arrested in September following a cyber tip made last May. When he pleaded guilty Dec. 4 to one count of possessing a sexual performance by a child, a class E felony, Judge Fandrich said Dellostritto had a photo of a 14-year-old's vagina on his phone.
AUBURN — An Auburn man pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography in Cayuga County Court…
Budelmann said Dellostritto's pre-sentence report indicates an "unusual set of circumstances" for how he came to possess the image. He said the incident involved a family member, and noted Dellostritto had no prior criminal history.
David Elkovitch, Dellostritto's defense attorney, said he went through the pre-sentence report as well as his client's mental health records and asked the judge to impose the agreed-upon sentence of shock probation with six months in Cayuga County Jail and 10 years of probation.
"I'm sorry for what I did, I feel very ashamed and I'll never do it again — I promise," Dellostritto said.
Fandrich went along with the agreed-upon sentence and said Dellostritto will have to register as a sex offender and an order of protection will be put in place for the victim.
Becasue Dellostrito has already served time in jail, he could be released as soon as this week. His aunt spoke in court, asking for him to be released as soon as possible because his grandmother died last week. Dellostrito's mother also spoke, thanking Fandrich "for letting him have a chance."
• An Auburn man will spend time in prison for pawning a stolen tool kit.
Kristopher Tracy, 33, of 63 Van Anden St., pleaded guilty Tuesday to first-degree falsifying business records, a class E felony. He said he went to Pawn King in Auburn and sold a tool kit he didn't own. He alleged he was the sole owner of the DeWalt tool kit, but it was actually stolen from a Lowe's home improvement store.
As a second-felony offender, previously convicted of fourth-degree grand larceny in September 2017 and sentenced to two to four years in prison, Tracy could face two to four years in prison. In exchange for his guilty plea, however, Fandrich said he'll likely sentence him to 1.5 to three years in prison and have him pay $529 in restitution. His sentence will run consecutive with any other prison time he may owe the state.
Budelmann said if Tracy stays out of trouble for the next six months, the DA's office would dismiss his pending petit larceny charge in Sennett.
Tracy was remanded back to Cayuga County Jail, in lieu of $1,500 cash or $3,000 bond bail, until his April 9 sentencing.
• A 29-year-old woman admitted to stealing about $350 from her grandmother.
Erinn Lepak, who had no address recorded, pleaded guilty Tuesday to second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, a class D felony.
"I took checks that were my grandmother's and I filled them out and did a picture deposit into my bank account," Lepak said during her plea. She admitted to attempting to defraud both the bank and her grandmother. Fandrich said the incident took place in Fleming in December and the checks amounted to about $350.
Budelmann said Lepak has pending charges in Aurelius that will merge with her indictment and be absorbed by her plea.
While she could face 2 1/3 to seven years in prison, Fandrich said he would likely sentence Lepak to one to three years in prison with a shock camp order. She will also have to pay $350 in restitution. She is due back in court April 9 for sentencing.
Cuomo, DiNapoli reveal 'serious revenue shock,' $2.3B drop in NY income tax receipts
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York's top fiscal officers revealed a steep revenue decline over the last several weeks that could lead to changes in the state budget.
Cuomo, along with state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and Budget Director Robert Mujica, announced Monday that state personal income tax receipts are $2.3 billion below projections. The revenue decline was first noticed in late December and continued through January.
During that period, the state usually receives 39 to 46 percent of its personal income tax receipts. However, the state only received about 30 percent of the revenue over the past month or so.
"This is worse than we had anticipated," Cuomo said.
Cuomo blamed the revenue decline on several factors. However, he emphasized the impact of the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions that was included in the federal tax law signed in 2017. The law took effect last year, which means the state is seeing the impact of the cap for the first time.
The cap on state and local tax deductions has long been criticized by Cuomo. New York joined other states in challenging the constitutionality of the provision, and the governor warned last year that it could impact the state's finances.
At the press conference in Albany Monday, he reiterated his opposition to the cap. He called it a "diabolical political maneuver" that targeted high tax states, which tend to be more Democratic. He claimed other states that are more reliant on state and local tax deductions have lost revenue.
DiNapoli echoed Cuomo's critique of the cap, but added that the financial figures could improve over time.
"This is the most serious revenue shock that the state has faced in many years," DiNapoli said.
The potential solutions are less clear. Cuomo urged Congress to act and repeal the cap on state and local tax deductions, but that's unlikely to pass in a divided Legislature. And it would be a significant change to President Donald Trump's signature legislative achievement, which reduces the prospects even more that such a change would happen.
The revenue drop was announced a few weeks after Cuomo outlined his $178 billion 2019-20 state budget proposal. He has many priorities he wants to fund, including education, health care and infrastructure.
One possible change he ruled out is additional tax relief. Reducing tax rates, he said, would make the problem worse. He boasted about the state's progressive tax structure, but acknowledged that the wealthiest New Yorkers produce nearly half of the state's personal income tax revenues.
With the cap on state and local tax deductions in place, Cuomo claimed tax rates for a high-income earner in New York City increases by nearly 12 percent.
"SALT encourages high-income New Yorkers to move to other states," he said. "Even if a small number of high income taxpayers leave the state, it would harm state revenues."
While more revenue is needed, Cuomo doesn't believe it should come from the richest New Yorkers.
"I think that would be the exact worse thing to do right now," he said. "I think it would exacerbate the problem."
Cuomo's announcement comes as state lawmakers are holding budget hearings. The state Legislature, which is controlled by Democrats, will pass one-house budget bills next month.
The governor and state legislative leaders hope to have a budget agreement in place by March 31.