Abandonment of two-dozen puppies and abuse of some 40 horses riled up the North Country in 2013.
A murder case was closed, and another is under investigation.
And the region saw an unprecedented third consecutive year as a Top Performer for state development funding, along with growth in the transportation industry.
Take a look back at the top news of 2013:
SARANAC LAKE MURDER
On Nov. 25, Angela Ball, 29, was charged with second-degree murder in the death of Ward Wilbur, an ex-boyfriend, authorities said.
Police found the Lake Placid man, 65, dead in Ball’s apartment in Saranac Lake after she called 911 to report a “possible assault.”
To keep Ball in Franklin County Jail, Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne will submit the evidence to a grand jury for an indictment decision by Jan. 8, he said.
“I typically don’t comment on grand-jury status until something is filed and part of the public record,” he said.
If she is indicted, the case will transfer from Saranac Lake Village Court to Franklin County Court.
“If there’s a trial, I will be lead prosecutor,” Champagne said.
At year’s end, he released no new information from the investigation, which is being conducted by the Saranac Lake Police Department and State Police.
Any kind of mental evaluation would be at the discretion of Ball’s attorney, Franklin County Public Defender Tom Soucia, the DA said.
“My office has no plan to raise any psychiatric histories (at trial),” Champagne said.
Police seized a knife and a baseball bat from the apartment where Wilbur died.
Ball is the only living witness to what happened that day, Champagne said.
“There are some things (about the case) that nobody will ever know.”
— By Staff Writer Felicia Krieg
Three men were found guilty in 2013 of the gang-assault death of Robert M. Rennie, who was found dead in Keeseville in August 2012.
Scott E. Denno, Michael D. Rivers and Paul J. Taylor, all of Keeseville, were convicted in separate week-long trials, fielding nearly 50 people on jury duty and hours of evidence and witness testimony.
The details of Rennie’s tragic and violent death were retold in each trial, with members his family in attendance every day in court.
Guilty verdicts were given by individual juries after several hours of deliberation.
Denno was sentenced in August for first-degree manslaughter and gang assault to spend 25 years in state prison.
Taylor was sentenced on Dec. 23 to 25 years to life in prison on a second-degree murder conviction. He was also sentenced to a determinate 25-year prison term for felony gang assault and 7-and-a-half to 15 years in prison for possession of a weapon. Taylor had a prior felony conviction and had served 14 years.
Sentencing in Rivers’s case has been adjourned three times, due to a change in his counsel. It is set for Jan. 9.
A fourth murder case in Essex County involved the 2012 shooting death in Crown Point of Russell Lang. His older brother, David R. Lang, accepted a plea agreement, admitting to first-degree manslaughter in June. The case did not go before a jury.
— By Staff Writer Kim Smith Dedam
TROOPER KILLS SUSPECT
A high-speed chase and eventual struggle between police and suspect on March 5 ended when a state trooper shot and killed Richard “Joey” Aubin of AuSable Forks.
The evening of March 5, according to police, Aubin was headed southbound on the Adirondack Northway, driving 95 mph in a 65 zone. State troopers said they tried to pull him over but he fled, got off at the Pottersville exit and turned north on Route 9.
Spike strips set by police punctured his tires at Blue Ridge Road in North Hudson, and police say his pickup truck was hit by the trooper car a mile farther north. Aubin allegedly jumped out and ran into the woods, pursued by Troopers Lester W. Sheeley and Marcia L. Pooler.
A struggle ensued, police say, and Aubin, 28, of AuSable Forks allegedly grabbed Pooler’s holstered Glock .45 handgun. He was shot three times by Sheeley and died.
State Police said they had tried other means of subduing Aubin: attempting to overpower him and using pepper spray. He was a repeat violent-felony offender, police said afterward.
The investigation has not been completed, State Police Public Information Specialist Jennifer Fleishman said recently.
Meanwhile, Aubin’s friends and fiancee, Amanda Murphy, of Wilmington have printed and are distributing decals to keep the man’s memory alive.
He worked as a bobsled driver at the Olympic Sports Complex, and the decals show an outline of a bobsled and read: “Joey Aubin 10-5-1984 - 3-5-2003.”
— By Staff Writer Felicia Krieg
STATE TEST PROTESTS
The state’s new standardized tests were administered for the first time in spring of 2013, raising concerns among parents and educators alike.
Many feel the exams, which assess knowledge of English language arts and math of third- through eighth-graders, as well as science beginning in fourth grade, are excessive and unfair to students and teachers.
Though the tests are required by the state, some parents chose to have their children opt out of taking the 2013 assessments.
In addition, parents and educators organized multiple forums in the area to address the effects the exams and other state mandates are having on schools.
State Education Commissioner John King recently announced that the Board of Regents is considering eliminating the state’s eighth-grade math test and possibly some tests in other grades.
“I was a bit encouraged by Commissioner King’s statement that they may be eliminating some state exams,” said Michelle Doorey, whose son, Brady, refused to take the 2013 tests as a third-grader at Saranac Central School.
She feels her family, including Brady, made the right decision in opting out.
“Until I know that these tests will somehow benefit my children and my children’s teachers, we will continue to refuse them,” she said.
Mrs. Doorey said she was encouraged by the turnout at a recent education forum held at SUNY Plattsburgh by the North Country Alliance for Public Education attended by more than 300 people.
“We are still meeting regularly and are planning another forum in the spring,” she said.
— By Staff Writer Ashleigh Livingston
All but seven of the 40 surviving horses seized from an Essex farm over a two-day period in September have new homes.
A herd of 41 animals — stallions, mares and several colts — was removed from the care of Shelley and Emily Wing by Essex County sheriff’s deputies. Most of the animals showed signs of severe malnutrition, hoof and tooth disease and other equine-specific ailments. Vaccines were out of date, and all the animals had to be de-wormed.
One mare died shortly after being rescued.
When the Wings failed to bond for payment of food, shelter and medicine in October, the horses were forfeited to county ownership.
Essex County supervisors hired Crane Mountain Valley Horse Rescue Inc. of Westport to oversee the adoption process.
On Tuesday, Crane Mountain founders and owners Nancy Van Wie and Eddie Mrozick said seven horses still await adoption: four geldings and three mares.
“We were able to place 33 of them in wonderful, amazing homes throughout New England and New York,” Van Wie said.
“We have seven still looking for wonderful homes. They are in training, and they’re all doing incredibly well. We’d really love to find incredible homes for them, too.”
Farms interested in adopting a horse can contact Crane Mountain Valley Horse Rescue via email, email@example.com or by phone, 962-8512, for an adoption application.
Two animal-cruelty cases carrying 41 charges each against the Wings are still pending in Essex Town Court.
— By Staff Writer Kim Smith Dedam
In June, a Clinton County grand jury found no misconduct by Clinton County sheriff’s deputies in the Dec. 30, 2012, death of Dusty M. Clark.
The Altona man, 28, was shot and killed by Deputy Jason R. Winters after Clark brandished a knife at him and Deputy Andrew J. Bertrand when they attempted to serve him with an arrest warrant for failure to appear in court.
Testimony proved to be in line with video and audio recordings during the incident; the grand jury found that Winters had drawn his Taser and told Clark multiple times to drop the knife, that the deputy fired the Taser but it failed to work and that, as Clark continued to threaten the deputies with the knife, Winters shot him four times.
Family members believed that such force had not been necessary and that Clark suffered from mental illness that prompted his actions.
— By News Editor Suzanne Moore
TOP PERFORMER AGAIN
The North Country Regional Economic Development Council became the only three-time Top Performer when the third round of the Regional Economic Development Council competition awards were announced Dec. 11.
The council was awarded $81.3 million for 70-plus projects and programs. It was awarded $90.2 million for 82 projects in 2011 and $103.2 million for 70 projects in 2012, for a total of $274.7 million.
North Country Chamber of Commerce President and council Co-Chair Garry Douglas said Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature gave the region a new way of doing economic development that actually trusted and empowered the North Country to chart its own course and show what it could do.
“Winning the first two years was incredible enough, but then becoming the one and only region to win all three times was a true testament to all of the work of our council members, volunteers and economic developers, who were clearly ready and anxious to take full advantage of the opportunity we had been given,” he said by email.
“The three rounds together, plus the many other state commitments to our identified priorities, such as broadband, tourism, the Whiteface Highway, support for Fort Drum, the exciting Trudeau Institute-Clarkson partnership and granting us one of the first five Innovation Hot Spots in the state, have us exceeding $300 million of state investment in our area in the last few years,” Douglas said. “That’s unprecedented.
“But as important as the dozens of projects are and will be for years to come, the most important accomplishment is the clear creation of a new culture of collaboration and shared support across the seven counties of the North Country that never existed before but really have us punching above our weight.”
— By Staff Writer Dan Heath
The transportation-equipment sector continued its run of success in 2013.
In May, the Chicago Transit Authority announced a $148 million contract for 300 buses to be built by Nova Bus. Then, in December, the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority announced a $194.4 million order for 414 buses.
The company also received a $7 million order for 16 buses for Puerto Rico and a $48 million order for 48 buses for Houston, Texas.
In addition, in July, a sister company, Prevost Car, received a $164.8 million order from the MTA for 300 buses. That contract spurred the go-ahead on an expansion of the Nova Bus plant on Banker Road in the Town of Plattsburgh.
Bombardier Transportation continued work on its $25 million, 80,000-square-foot expansion project in 2013. That plan moved forward after the company received large orders from the MTA and San Francisco-area’s Bay Area Rapid Transit.
North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas said 2013 saw the solid emergence of Plattsburgh as a producer of transportation equipment not only for established markets like New York City but for customers as far as San Francisco and Puerto Rico.
“This is a testament to the reputation for quality being established by our companies and their suppliers and is especially notable for Nova Bus, given that it only began U.S. production here a few years ago and had to break into the market against entrenched competitors.”
— By Staff Writer Dan Heath
Clinton County legislators took a big step toward the future when they opted in early October to pull the trigger on a $54.93 million expansion of Plattsburgh International Airport.
The project will increase the size of the airport terminal to 115,000 square feet, which is about triple the current one. The new, larger terminal will be able to handle up to 308,540 enplanements per year by 2030.
In 2013, more than 150,000 passengers came through the existing facility, which was designed to handle about 31,500 per year. At times, as many as 600 travelers are crammed into a terminal space that was built to accommodate about 300.
The significant growth seen at the airport prompted legislators to consider the expansion.
The plan received a boost in December when the county learned that it would be getting $4.5 million from the state as part of the Regional Economic Development Council funding awards for an international-arrivals facility for U.S. Customs operations at the terminal.
The expansion plans included space for a federal-inspection-services facility but not for the necessary equipment and design.
Legislator Robert Heins (R-Area 10, City of Plattsburgh), who chairs the county’s Airport Committee, said the funding for the Customs area is significant because the airport will have a better opportunity to attract international flights.
“I think this really helps solidify enplanements for the future,” he said.
“This will make it a truly full-service international airport, and I think it will continue to be an economic driver for this community even more so.”
Work on the expansion is expected to get underway in spring and should take about a year.
— By Staff Writer Joe LoTemplio
NURSING HOME TRANSFER
The sale of Horace Nye Nursing Home in Elizabethtown is expected to close sometime this month, with the Centers for Specialty Care taking over.
The Bronx-based company paid $4 million for the 100-bed nursing facility, which employs 133 people. The Board of Supervisors inked the deal to take about $2.9 million off the annual tax levy.
The new owners have been holding staff meetings to try to smooth the transfer. They had to agree to take the previous employees, allow patients to stay if they wished and give first preference to county residents.
Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava (R-Moriah) said the Centers for Specialty Care and County Personnel Officer Monica Feeley held a session at the Nursing Home to explain benefits and so on.
“A lot of employees over there had a lot of questions,” he said.
Horace Nye staff “has done an excellent job,” Supervisor David Blades (R-Lewis) said. “They worked under difficult conditions for the last two years.”
Even though the county is selling Horace Nye to a private enterprise, it will still be responsible for about $4.5 million in medical- and prescription-drug insurance costs for the next three years for retirees who worked there.
— By Staff Writer Lohr McKinstry
THEATER NEARLY DONE
The Strand Theater looks fabulous, though it’s still a work in progress.
“We’re in the home stretch of the actual restoration project,” said Leigh Mundy, board president and interim director of the North Country Cultural Center for the Arts in Plattsburgh.
“Right now, we’re finishing up the dressing rooms, the green room and the things that would be in the basement and onstage,” she said.
“If money was no object, we could spend another $1.5 million on equipment. We pared that down to a Phase 1, back to about $700,000. That would be for the lighting, sound and the rigging.”
Those items, she said, are top priorities.
The Strand received an Empire State Development Grant and a New York State Council on the Arts grant for digital equipment.
“All that is earmarked for equipment,” Mundy said. “With that, there are odds and ends, like the repair of the terrazzo floor in the lobby. It’s granite, marble, cement and glass. There’s small things like that we can do ongoing.
“We really just want to get open and present to the community on a full-time basis. We can repair the floor in the future or things that are not necessary to open but are needed.”
More than 600 people attended the recent “Coming Home for the Holidays” program.
“I’ve been so excited and proud that so many people are coming to the events we hold,” Mundy said.
“I don’t think people believed how beautiful the Strand is when they heard we were going to restore it. Now, everyone knows what a gem it is for the community.”
— By Staff Writer Robin Caudell
Pending closure of the U.S. Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic in Malone means 700 vets must find health services elsewhere.
The VA announced last May that the site would close Aug. 31, 2013, because user numbers were down and per-client costs were third-highest in the country.
Congressman Bill Owens secured a six-month extension but has been unable to convince the VA to retain the clinic beyond Feb. 28. But he isn’t giving up.
At his urging, the VA agreed to partner with Massena Memorial Hospital on certain vet services there.
“It helps the veterans, and it helps the rural hospital,” Owens said. “I’ve been trying to work with the VA to expand that to other rural hospitals for a number of years.
“I can see from the VA’s point of view that if the clinics are not getting enough volume, the VA will no longer let them operate.”
But involving local hospitals can help, he says.
“The VA basically rents space there, and if a veteran needs an X-ray, he can go to the hospital, or if he needs lab work, there’s a lab on the premises,” Owens said.
“This is something I’ve worked to promote.
“I’d like to be able to say I have been successful in getting it done at other hospitals. But it’s (the closure) a great disappointment to me.”
— By Staff Writer Denise Raymo
Chateaugay Correctional Facility is slated to close July 26, but the community is not ending the fight to keep the prison and its 111 jobs intact.
As the State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision’s only site to house short-term parole violators, the facility has a unique role, and its closure would have a devastating economic impact on the community, the Chateaugay Task Force says.
A booklet touting the facility’s importance is being given out to Senate and Assembly members involved in the decision and other state officials, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who could reverse the closure plan.
Franklin County Legislature Chairman Billy Jones, himself a correction officer, said face-to-face meetings restart this month, when the State Legislature is back in session, so Chateaugay’s plight stays at the forefront in Albany.
In the meantime, Empire State Development wants input on alternate uses for the prison site.
“Priority No. 1 is to keep Chateaugay Correctional Facility from closing,” Jones said. “Obviously, some people think it makes sense to have a Plan B, but my focus and the Task Force’s focus is to save the facility.”
— By Staff Writer Denise Raymo
SCHOOL HEALTH INSURANCE
Employee health insurance has been a hot topic in the Plattsburgh City School District over the past year.
In February, Plattsburgh resident Walter Chmura began urging the School Board to consider unilaterally changing the district’s Teachers Association and Civil Service Employees Association members’ coverage from Plan A to the less costly Plan B.
Months of public discussions on the matter ensued, with some board members and taxpayers advocating for the move and other board members, as well as representatives from the Teachers Association, stating that any change was best negotiated.
District officials estimate switching all active Teachers Association and CSEA members to the alternative coverage would save the district $580,543 annually.
The topic was most recently discussed in length at the board’s November meeting; however, no action was taken on the matter.
The Teachers Association began contract negotiations last month.
The teachers and staff at Beekmantown Central School District did switch to Plan B, after negotiating the change with school officials.
Chmura recently told the Press-Republican he’d like the City School District set savings goals and strive to meet them.
In addition, he noted, the community and the unions should be involved in the district’s budget-development process, and as a group, come up with multiple options for creating a balanced spending plan.
For example, Chmura continued, switching to Plan B is one option, cutting programs is another, and there are other possibilities, as well.
“I’d like to see the unions involved in the budget process where they know that they are part of the problem, as well as part of the solution,” he said.
— By Staff Writer Ashleigh Livingston