Timelines 6.5.14

Spring Valley woman accused of setting fire to home while husband slept
A Spring Valley woman was arrested two weeks ago on charges that she set an illegal garage on fire at her Madison Aveue home. Sandra Sanichar, 56, was arrested on May 21 for allegedly starting the fire after an argument with her husband. According to police, she is believed to have used gasoline to ignite the fire while her husband was asleep in the same room. Though extensive damage was done to the garage, firefighters were able to contain damage to the home. By closing a door into the house, they were able to block the flames from the adjoining building. The husband escaped after waking up to the smell smoke. No other injuries were reported. Sanichar stands accused of second-degree arson and first-degree reckless endangerment, both felonies. The couple was also issued a summons for illegally converting the garage into a living space.

Utility Consumer Advocate bill passes State Assembly
A new bill creating an independent advocacy agency for New York utility ratepayers succeeded in passing the Assembly on March 20, paving the way for stronger consumer input and clout in the debate over New York’s climbing utility rates. The bill would create the New York State Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate, who would be appointed to a six-year term by the governor. The advocate would be tasked with representing local consumer interests in state and federal arenas regarding electric, gas, internet, cable television, telephone and wireless communication services. The advocate will also be required to submit an annual report detailing all utility proceedings in which it participated, outcomes, estimated savings resulting from intervention and policy recommendations.

New Clarkstown School Board members promise to fix fractured district
After a contentious school board election, two new members of the Clarkstown School Board have been elected and must now grapple with dwindling enrollment numbers and lingering rancor over the potential closure of Congers Elementary School. Trustee-elects Darin Diamond and David Gosman, both New City residents, won out against six other candidates in a crowded contest for two seats on the seven-member board formerly held by Kevin Grogan and Joseph Malgieri. Both of the new trustees stressed a need to enhance the appeal of the school district and boost enrollment in a town where house sales and birth rates have been in a steady decline for 10 years. Consequently, the elections largely revolved around debate over whether Congers Elementary should be closed due to a lack of enrollment, a contention largely opposed by parents. Voters voiced their desire by approving a approving a $6.5 bond anticipation note to rebuild the school. The school board maintains that though no bonds have been finalized, the plan is to renovate rather than close the school.

NYC cyclist arrested for theft of $1,000 worth of items in Piermont
A Manhattan man was arrested on May 25 on suspicion of multiple incidents of thefts from the same store in Piermont, where he is alleged to have swiped more than $1,000 worth of merchandise. Employees at the store, the Bicycle Connection Shop, spotted John Carafeno, 48, at the shop that Sunday. A man matching his description had been reported by employees earlier in connection to two separate thefts from the store in January. After he left the store on Sunday, Carafeno ate at nearby Lizzie’s Cafe, where he reportedly walked out on his check. Police stopped Carafeno soon thereafter and arrested him on charges of fourth-degree grand larceny and theft of services. He was sent to Rockland County Jail on $7,500 bail and is expected in court pending a hearing.

White police lieutenant wins racial discrimination lawsuit
A white police lieutenant in Long Island successfully sued the village in which he serves, netting a $1.35 million award for losing a job due to the color of his skin. Lt. Christopher Barrella argued that under the tenure of the former Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick, the village’s first black mayor, Hispanic officers were routinely promoted to positions for which they were not qualified. In effect, qualified white applicants were ignored for promotions, demoted and terminated. Barrella specifically alleged the awarding of the police chief position to Miguel Bermudez was inappropriate because Bermudez had fewer qualifications and a lower test score. The Village of Freeport continues to support Bermudez and Hardwick, the second of which was named as a defendant in the case. According to current mayor Robert Kennedy, the jury made the wrong decision and he still has “the utmost confidence” in Bermudez.

Two separate resignations mark one day in the Executive Branch
President Barack Obama had to accommodate the resignation of two high-level officials last week, one under the pressure of a withering scandal. On March 30, it was announced that Obama had accepted the resignation of both Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. Shinseki has, by far, had a more tumultuous road to his resignation. Calls for him to step down have grown as VA bureaucracies and backlogs for veterans’ medical services have grown unwieldy, making it difficult for vets to access needed medical services. The calls hit their high point last week when it was revealed a number of VAs used secret “wait lists” to hide inefficiencies. Though Obama previously announced he had full faith that Shinseki could rectify the situation, he accepted Shinseki’s decision as a way to divert a distracting scandal from the task of fixing Veterans Affairs. Though it was announced at the same podium only a few hours later, Carney’s departure was far more amicable. As the White House’s public face toward news media, but Carney had privately announced his plans to move on as early as April, unburdened by any immediate scandal. Carney plans to step down in mid-June, after which he will replaced by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest.

Ultra-nationalist party wins French elections
In an upset which is sure to send shock waves through Europe, the far-right Front National Party won out in France’s parliamentary elections on May 25, securing a strong hold on the country’s government and signaling a growing anti-European Union trend in public opinion. Front National won 25 percent of the vote in the French elections, beating out the 14 percent gathered by socialist party of current president Francois Hollande. The victory is seen as a blow against the European Union and more moderate parties which have been the target of public anger after recessions, struggles with the Euro and widely unpopular austerity measures. France is not the only country where relatively non-mainstream political elements made big political gains. Similar resurgences of previously unpopular far-left and far-right parties have been observed throughout Europe.

Assembly Speaker blames dead man with his name for past scandal
Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver made an attempt to deflect himself from a past scandal by blaming a Brooklyn man-now deceased-who had a nearly identical name. According to Silver, his work with the United Jewish Council of the East Side to block a low-income housing project on the Lower East Side in the 1970s was undertaken not by him, but by another Sheldon Silver who also worked with the Council. However, the New York Times rebuked Silver with a re-check of documents submitted to New York City officials arguing for the site’s purposing as a shopping mall rather than a housing development. Furthermore, the other Silver’s widow, Shoshana, argued her late husband was only with the Council while they were establishing a foothold and worked there for no more than a few months. Shoshana Silver went on to state that her husband was likely not a part of anything as major as the housing scandal. Silver’s office continues to argue it never worked for the Council, but has withdrawn its request for a correction.

Fifth anniversary of Garnerville hit-and-run death prompts remembrance, renewed attention
The fifth anniversary of the death of a Garnerville man at the hands of a hit-and-run driver has produced no arrests related to the case, but has drawn attention to charitable efforts made to keep his memory alive. Jimmy McNicholas, 36, was struck and killed by an unidentified driver as he crossed North Middletown Road in Pearl River on May 31, 2009. In an effort to find the one responsible, his family requested donations for a reward fund. However, the case is still open and the reward remains unclaimed. Though nobody was charged in connection to the incident, McNicholas’ family sought to preserve his legacy by putting the funds to another use. In the years after the incident, they used the money to create the Jimmy McNicholas Foundation, which awards scholarships to Albertus Magnus High School students each year. Fundraisers continue each year to support the fund. This year’s fundraiser was canceled due to the death of McNicholas’ father, but donations can still be made through the fund’s website.

Proposed oil pipeline to cut through Ramapo
A proposed pipeline may soon cut through Rockland County, making its path through several parks, passing close to water sources and narrowly skirting Sloatsburg. The 178 mile, 16” and 18” pipeline, which will move bakken oil from Albany to a refinery in Linden, NJ, was proposed by Pilgrim Pipe Co. Before joining other lines in a New Jersey utility corridor, the pipeline will likely cut through both Harriman State Park and Dater Mountain County Park and cross the northeastern edge of Sloatsburg. Before reaching New Jersey, it will likely cross the Ramapo River and travel in close proximity to United Water wells in the Town of Ramapo. Currently, Pilgrim is attempting to gain permissions from relevant county and federal authorities to conduct environmental, archaeological, and geological surveys of the area. Not surprisingly, the pipeline has raised environmental concerns and survey permits might be used by activists as an obstacle to the construction of the pipeline. If constructed, the pipeline is set to go online in 2017.

SWAT unit severely injures infant during botched Georgia drug raid
In what police call an unfortunate accident but some outraged residents are calling gross negligence, a Georgia drug task force accidentally inflicted life-threatening injuries on a child sleeping in his crib when they were executing a raid on a house they argued contained drugs. After receiving a tip from an informant, the SWAT team, which is composed largely of the Habersham County Police Department and nearby Cornelia Police Department, raided the Cornelia home of Wanis Thonetheva on May 30. Though Thonetava was not home, another family was living at the residence with several children. During the execution of a “no-knock” warrant on the residence, one of the team members accidentally tossed a flash bang grenade into the 19-month old child’s portable play pen. Medical personnel rushed the child to the hospital, where he is currently in a medically-induced coma with burns to his face and a severe chest wound. Though Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell explained the unit was seriously shaken up by the incident, he insisted the raid had been done by-the-book and that if children were known to have been at the home, the raid would have been executed differently. No officers have been disciplined in connection to the incident, but an investigation is ongoing.

DJ Dave Herman dies in prison before facing underage sex charges
DJ Dave Herman, a well-known radio personality in the Tri-State area, died in police custody on May 28 while awaiting charges for attempting to coax a 6-year old girl into sex online. Herman, 78 was in custody at the Essex County Jail awaiting trial on federal charges of attempting to transport a minor across state lines to engage in sexual activity. According to his attorney Marc Agnifilo, Herman suffered an anyeurism. Herman was arrested in a sting operation undertaken by Bergen County prosecutors after he allegedly attempted to cut a deal with the 36-year old mother of the girl, arranging to have sex with the girl at his summer home in the U.S. Virgin Islands. In actuality, he was communicating online with undercover investigators and would have faced up to 10 years in prison if convicted. The DJ is known locally for being one of the city’s best-known radio voices from 1972 to 1998, interviewing several noted rock artists including Bruce Springsteen, the Eagles, John Lennon and Bob Dylan.

325 suspects rounded up in Bergen County heroin crackdown
A massive operation in Bergen County on June 3 netted 325 arrests in connection to possession and sale of heroin in Paterson. The raids mostly swept up suspects from Bergen, Passaic and Morris Counties, but also involved the arrest of suspects from other areas of New Jersey and New York. Most charges were for possession of heroin or possession with intent to sell. The task force, which involved four dozen law enforcement agencies, seized 32 guns, 12,000 baggies of cut heroin, 1,200 grams of raw powdered heroin and $25,000 in cash for a combined value of $500,000 worth of evidence. Police were also able to shut down two heroin mills. Heroin has become a resurgent problem in the U.S. New Jersey has been close to the epicenter of the trade, with Paterson becoming a well-known hub for distribution at “open air” drug markets.

Commissioners met with Cuomo advisors during New York Hydrofracking review
Governor Andrew Cuomo is facing renewed scrutiny of his hydrofracking decision-making process after it was revealed that closed-door meetings were held between high-level Cuomo aides and State Commissioners at critical times during the fracking debate. According to a Freedom of Information Law request by Gannett’s Jon Campbell, two meetings were held between Cuomo campaign advisors Phil Singer, Peter Kauffmann, Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens, then-Health Commissioner Nirav Shah, in January 2013. Both meetings were held at critical points during the debate and the minutes of the meetings are currently sealed and their topics have been redacted. Though Cuomo has denied politics have been involved in his consideration of hydrofracking in Upstate New York, the delay-wrought decision-making process has spurred both supporters and opponents of fracking to accuse Cuomo of stalling the debate for political purposes. In response to the controversey, New York GOP Chair Ed Cox is publically requesting the un-redacted records of the meetings to be released. Cuomo has denied the allegations of politically-motivated meetings. A Cuomo spokesperson argued the meetings covered environmental, health and energy issues in the budget and state of the state addresses.

Tappan Zee bike route connection under review
Nyack is reviewing proposals for locations where the new Tappan Zee Bridge’s bike and pedestrian path can connect and provide parking spaces, a difficult prospect given the lack of satisfactory options. One plan which remains popular is the re-purposing of vacant land near Exit 10 on the New York State Thruway. A plan was also floated to demolish Nyack’s old Village Hall for parking space, but citizen outcry put an end to the plan’s consideration. According to Connie Coker, a member of a Nyack Tappan Zee Bridge task force, no location was perfect and it might come down to choosing the place with the least possible impact. The path, which will stretch across the bridge from Tarrytown to Nyack, requires parking spaces on both sides of the river to prevent additional traffic from congesting the town. State consultants have estimated the path will require about 135 parking spaces.