TIMELINES 5/15/14

Bomb squad responds to false alarm in Congers
A suspicious package in Congers prompted a response from the county’s bomb squad, but was ultimately deemed to be harmless. The package was discovered on Route 303 at around 11:30 a.m. on Saturday. After being notified, local police inspected the item and called the bomb squad as a precaution. Upon investigation, the bomb squad determined the package posed no threat. No information has been released on the contents of the package.

Sheriff’s Mounted Unit trains out-of-state officers in horseback policing
The Rockland County Sheriff’s Department certified 31 police from across the Northeast to patrol on horseback, a declining but still prevalent practice which Rockland continues to implement. The Department, which manages its Mounted Unit Headquarters off Route 202 in Ramapo, held a graduation ceremony on Friday for officers who completed a two week training regimen. Included among the honorees was New York State Trooper Mary Elena Moran, who intends to lobby State Police to form a mounted unit dedicated to the Lower Hudson Valley. Also included were police from the County Sheriff’s Department, the NYPD’s Parks Enforcement, Wyoming County, Bridgeport Connecticut, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and Bergen County in New Jersey. Horseback patrols have become more uncommon across the country as budgets have tightened and technology has progressed. However, mounted officers are still used for crowd control, regular patrols and ceremonial events such as parades.

Man attempts to rob cab driver in Ramapo
Police are searching for a man who attempted to mug a cab driver at knifepoint early Sunday morning. Armed with a knife, the suspect demanded money from the driver while the cab was on Tioken Road off Route 45. However, the driver fought back and a struggle ensued before his attacker escaped on foot. The driver was not injured. The attacker was described as a black man in his twenties who stood at around 5-foot-6 and wore a blue or green sweater.

Bids for Nyack’s Gazebo move soar over Village budget
The bids have come in for Nyack’s planned project to move its gazebo in Memorial Park and their high price tag has left the fate of the project uncertain. Each of the bids run well over the $150,000 budgeted from state grants. One bid from Cal Mart Enterprises came in at $220,220, while another from A-Tech totaled $234,875. Consequently, the process of demolishing and rebuilding the gazebo now seems cheaper than the original plan to use a crane to lift and set the gazebo down on a new foundation. The Village is now re-evaluating plans and has not made a final decision. The relocation of the gazebo is part of a larger plan to revitalize the park. When a plan does go forward and the gazebo is moved to its desired location near Nyack Brook, it will be easier to outfit the structure for speaker systems and more room will be available for a planned skate park. The park’s baseball field has already been relocated.

Injured woman rescued from Hudson River cliffs
In a dramatic rescue effort, emergency responders came to the aid of a hiker who had been injured and trapped on a cliff just south of Rockland County in New Jersey on Sunday. NYPD helicopters worked with Piermont and Nyack Fire Departments to assist Amanda Graham, 36, who broke her ankle and almost fell 200 feet down a sheer, rocky incline. Local fire crews approached with boats at around 1:30 p.m., but were forced to call for the helicopters when they could not safely reach the woman. The woman was airlifted out and dropped off at a makeshift landing area at the Piermont Pier cleared by the Piermont Fire Department ambulance crew, Rockland Ambulance Corps and Sparkill Fire Department. She was then taken to Nyack Hospital for treatment.

State senate approves tougher hit-and-run penalties
The State Senate approved new penalties for hit-and-run drivers on Wednesday, drastically reducing the maximum time perpetrators could serve and opening the door for tougher penalties. The law would replace the previous one year maximum sentence for fleeing the scene of an accident which results in an injury with seven years in prison. If the law is passed, fines will also increase. Senate passage was one of the law’s last major hurdles. A similar bill is set for an upcoming vote in the State Assembly.

Defense Secretary open to reviewing military’s transgender ban
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made waves on Sunday when he expressed a willingness to review military policies barring transgendered people from service. Hagel argued the current prohibition should be “continually” reviewed to determine whether or not it was in the best interest of the armed forces. While acknowledging there was a medical component to the question of transgender soldiers, he declared himself open to any plan which would improve the military and boost enlistment. “Every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have an opportunity if they fit the qualifications and can do it,” Hagel said. Defense Department guidelines currently classify transgender people as sexual deviants and refer to their condition as a “paraphilia.” Discovery that a recruit is transgender is grounds for summary dismissal.

Remains of unidentified 9/11 victims returned to WTC site
In a ceremonial procession on Saturday, the remains of unidentified victims of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks were transferred to an underground repository underneath the National September 11 Museum at the former site of the Twin Towers. The transfer was undertaken with a motorcade of FDNY and NYPD vehicles carrying coffin-sized military transfer cases filled with 8,000 vacuum-sealed pouches of the victims’ remains. The transfer was meant to preserve the remains until new technology becomes available and allows medical examiners to identify more victims of the tragedy. The ceremony was punctuated with protests from victims’ families who argued the storage of the remains in a basement-level storage area rather than an above-ground memorial was disrespectful. Other families expressed approval of the plan, which they argued respected the remains while anticipating future advances which might ultimately name the currently unknown victims.

State pension funds hits all time high
The New York State Common Retirement Fund is reported to have reached a record high, reaching an estimated $176.2 billion at the end of the 2013-2014 fiscal year. The Fund, which serves public pensioners, recorded a 13.04 percent rate of return this year, up from a 10.38 percent rate last year which yielded a $160.7 billion fund. According to State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, the growth is attributable to a strengthening domestic equity market which enabled big returns from private equity and real estate investments. Broken down, the biggest returns by percentage were reported in domestic and global equities. Domestic equities showed 22.3 percent returns on investments, representing 37.7 percent of the fund’s total investments, while global equities recorded 25.1 percent returns for 3.7 percent of total investments. Losses were recorded in only core fixed income and treasury inflation-protected securities (TIPS). The Fund serves more than a million current and former state employees. It is the third largest pension fund in the country.

Secret Service agents pulled from White House to protect director’s aide
Secret Service agents tasked with guarding the president might have been improperly told to leave their posts to protect an assistant to the group’s former director. According to sources speaking to the Washington Post, two agents from the Secret Service’s Prowler unit, which monitors the perimeter of the White House, were sent to the La Plata, Md. home of Lisa Chopey on several occasions in 2011 to protect her from alleged harassment from a neighbor. Chopey served as an assistant to Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan. Though the two agents themselves allegedly suspected the operation was illegal and kept records of their orders from superiors and details of the outings, Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan argued the outings were much less frequent than reported and were standard procedure for threats to the agency’s employees. This is not Sullivan’s first brush with scandal. The former director stepped down a year after agents hired prostitutes prior to a planned presidential trip to Colombia. The Department of Homeland Security has initiated an investigation into the incident.

Thief breaks into President James Garfield’s tomb to steal spoons
An unknown burglar broke into the tomb of President James Garfield in Cleveland last week, making off with a few commemorative spoons out of a display case but nothing of any real value. The suspect or suspects broke into the tomb and swiped a set of 13 commemorative spoons given to Garfield at his inauguration as the 20th President of the United States, but ignored more valuable memorabilia. Lake View Cemetery President and CEO Katherine Goss explained the spoons held little monetary value and even if they did, they would be difficult to sell at auction. The thief or thieves left behind a mountain of evidence which includes a broken window, a t-shirt, cigarette butts and a bottle of whiskey. Investigators stated they had found fingerprints at the scene, but had not identified a suspect matching the prints. Garfield served as president for only 200 days before he was assassinated in 1881 by Charles Guiteau, a former campaign volunteer.

Arkansas and Idaho marriage definition overturned by judge
In a victory for proponents of same-sex marriage in a typically conservative state, Arkansas’ voter-approved resolution defining legal marriage exclusively as between a man and woman and a 1997 law similarly banning same sex civil unions were both struck down by a federal judge. Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza ruled on Monday that the laws were unconstitutional attempts to limit the civil liberties of a particular group. Piazza failed to issue a stay for the ruling, meaning couples began to line up for licenses almost immediately after the decision was issued. Fifteen were granted licenses before the State Attorney General announced on Saturday night that he intends to appeal the decision. The absence of a stay produced some confusion among county clerks, who were given the discretion over whether or not to issue licenses. While some seem to be willing to marry the couples, others are hesitant to issue the licenses. The decision is one among many which were handed down after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Defense of Marriage Act last year. Later in the week, equally conservative Idaho had a similar ruling.

U.S. Military sends manned aircraft in to search for kidnapped Nigerian girls
As the Nigerian government scrambles to find close to 270 school girls kidnapped last week by Islamist rebels, the U.S. is lending a hand with aerial surveillance. A senior defense official in Washington announced that a Niger-based MC-12 surveillance aircraft was being flown over Nigerian airspace as part of a massive reconnaissance effort. The use of drones is also being explored, but no official statement has been made on additional American actions against Boko Haram, the group responsible for the kidnappings. In addition to aerial reconnaissance, the U.S. is also sharing military satellite imagery of the area. Both the U.S. and U.K. have agreed to provide military advisers to Nigeria, but have not committed to direct military support for any potential ground operations. The announcement came shortly after the weekend release of video footage showing some the girls scared but apparently unharmed as they are held captive by Boko Haram. Though the Nigerian government was initially reluctant to negotiate with the group, it is now exploring all options to secure the girls’ safe return.

Car of Suffern couple who committed suicide found in Manhattan
Littered with parking citations, a stolen car taken by a Suffern couple involved in a murder-suicide in late April was found by police in Washington Heights on Tuesday. The Green Chevy Malibu was owned by William Valenti, was stolen by his niece Nickie Hunter Circelli and her boyfriend Gary Crockett after they asphyxiated its owner. Valenti was killed after threatening to report the couple to police for stealing $1,600 of his money. The two then took the car into Manhattan and jumped to their deaths from the George Washington Bridge. Circelli and Crockett, who both suffered from drug problems, had also stolen an AR-15 assault rifle from a home in Mahwah, New Jersey. Police did not find the rifle at the scene and its location remains unknown.

Chobani moves from New York to Delaware 
The top-selling yogurt company Chobani packed its bags and left its Norwich, New York headquarters last month with little fanfare, according to business records. The move to Delaware, a popular corporate hub due to business-friendly regulations and low taxes, is believed to herald a decision by the yogurt giant to go public. Though the company had previously denied claims it was preparing for an IPO, Chobani founder Hamdi Ulukaya acknowledged growth was in the cards and all signs indicate to an ambition to open the company to shareholders. The company also took out a massive $750 million loan from private equity firm TPG last month to finance large-scale expansion. Ulukaya put Chobani’s trademarks up as collateral in case plans to expand do not turn an adequate profit, a big loss if Chobani defaults. Either way, the ambitious plan could yield big gains for both companies. Significant enough growth to IPO in 2015 would contractually guarantee TPG a 20 percent equity stake. A failure to generate enough would mean they would take a bigger 30 percent stake.

Rockland man wins $2.3 million for wife’s death under care of “Dr. Oz” lipo surgeon
Nanuet resident Pablos Balzoa won a $2.3 million settlement from a plastic surgeon featured on “Dr. Oz” for the death of his wife Adriana Porras, who died of liposuction complications. Porras underwent liposuction for her thighs and knees on June 25, 2009, but died two days later when a resulting blood clot reached her lungs. According to Balzoa, his wife reported chest pain and shortness of breath, but calls he made to Dr. Sharon Giese, who performed the surgery, went unanswered. Balzoa argued Giese’s performance of the surgery in her own office rather than a hospital and her failure to answer the emergency line constituted negligence, but Giese’s counsel attempted to argue the clot would have traveled so fast treatment would have been impossible regardless. Ultimately, a settlement was reached in April. Aside from an appearance on “Dr. Oz,” Giese has also been a guest on “The Today Show” and “The Early Show.”

20 people displaced by fire in Spring Valley
A man sustained second and third degree burns and caused damage to a senior housing complex which displaced three people on Sunday after falling asleep with a lit cigarette. The 72-year old man was smoking a cigarette on a couch at Young Blood Senior Housing when he fell asleep. The resulting fire caused extensive smoke and water damage. It also forced the removal of 20 residents after Orange and Rockland turned off gas and electric service to the building for safety reasons. Aside from the man, who was taken to Westchester Medical Center for treatment, nobody was injured. All families displaced by the fire were able to find alternate accommodations until utility services can be turned back on.

Local activists to hold alternate public hearing on United Water surcharge
Rockland residents are being given another chance, albeit locally-driven, to air their concerns about proposed rate increases United Water plans to levy. Residents will be able to attend a public hearing on May 22 at Orangetown Town Hall at 7 p.m. to gather public comment on the company’s surcharge request to the State Public Service Commission. The comments will be recorded by a court reporter and submitted to the PSC for review. The hearing will also include a short overview of the surcharges and their impact. If the increases are approved by the PSC, water rates are expected to jump $4.96 per month for an annual average of $59.54.

Wreck of Columbus’ Santa Maria possibly found after 500 years
The famed Santa Maria, which accompanied Christopher Columbus during his voyage to the Americas before being lost about 500 years ago, might have just been found off the northern coast of Haiti. The wreck, discovered by a team of archaeologist led by Barry Clifford, has not been extensively explored, but is believed to be Columbus’ ship. With the approval of the Haitian government, Clifford’s team was able to conduct non-invasive surveys, photography and measurements to examine the site and is now hoping to engage in a more detailed look at the ship. The area of the sunken ship is believed to be the final resting place of the Santa Maria thanks to examination of Columbus’ own records detailing the loss. The size of the vessel is also said to closely match the size of the Santa Maria. The wreck was first found and photographed ten years ago, but its identity was not yet known. If its identity is confirmed and it is retrieved, it will likely be placed on display in a Haitian museum.