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'Round the Towns
Grave robbers strike Groveland

Deputy rescued from fiery death

South towns devastated by flash flooding

Supervisors appoint new public defender

Route 63 closed for mine construction

Department-less Ossian sees epidemic of fires

Murder-suicide in Conesus

County celebrates millennium


 

Grave robbers strike Groveland

Sometime between May 10 and June 11, grave robbers struck the historic Williamsburg Cemetery in the Town of Groveland. The graves of Capt. Samuel Adams Lee, a U.S. Navy officer who died in 1882, and of Major Fitzhugh Birney, a U.S. Army officer who died in 1864, were dug out to a depth of four-or-more feet.

It was speculated that the robbers were seeking military artifacts from the graves. In the process of digging up Capt. Lee's grave, his headstone was toppled.

Both officers had been prominent personages of their day. Birney was Assistant Adjutant General of the Second Division of the Army of the Potomac. His father James Birney had been a Liberal (abolitionist) Party candidate for U.S. president in 1838 and 1842. Capt. Lee was related to the Confederate General Lee and had endured a painful amputation during the Civil War, which had left him a morphine addict.

Historians condemned modern media forms—the Internet and TV programs—with providing the robbers with information and encouragement. A detailed description of Williamsburg Cemetery is on the Internet and recent TV programs touted the value of Civil War artifacts.

Curiously, the robbing of the grave of Civil War General Elisha Marshall in Rochester's Mt. Hope Cemetery took place within days of the Williamsburg robberies. Rochester police attributed the Marshall robbery to Satanic cult activity, but Livingston County Sheriff's investigators discounted Satanism as a motive for the Williamsburg robberies.

The robbers have never been caught and bought to justice.

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Deputy rescued from fiery death

On the evening of June 11, Livingston County Sheriff's Deputy Bradley Schneider was headed westbound on Routes 5 & 20 towards I-390, where the report of an erratic driver had been received. Near Oak Openings Road, the squad car went out of control, leaving the highway and striking a tree. As Deputy Schneider was struggling to crawl out the broken back window of the twisted car, the engine caught fire.

Perry resident James Otis was eastbound on 5 & 20, on his way work in Canandaigua. He ran over some debris from the wrecked squad car and decided to turn back and see what he had hit. Otis drove back and parked at the roadside—and only then did he see the squad car and flames—and hear Deputy Schneider call for assistance. “I gave him some help getting out and walking back to the tailgate of my pickup, where we waited for the ambulance,” Otis related.

Meanwhile, the fire in the engine spread rapidly, engulfing the entire vehicle, turning it into an unrecognizable melted skeleton of metal.

Otis' heroic rescue was subsequently recognized by Livingston County Sheriff John York—in an immediate press release and in a later ceremony.

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South towns devastated by flash flooding

The Livingston County towns of Ossian and Portage were struck by an intense but very localized rainstorm on August 9, causing flash flooding and major erosion damage. Over just a three hour period small brooks became raging torrents, while the Keshequa swelled in volume beyond anyone's living memory.

The stage for the flooding was apparently set four days earlier, on August 5, when an earlier intense rainstorm hit, saturating the soil so that runoff from the even more intense storm of August 9 could not be soaked up.

Numerous culverts were washed out. Sections of highway were washed away. Keshequa Creek widened its channel. Logs in the Jay Lumber Company yard in Hunt's Hollow were washed downstream. Bear Lake was washed out above Mudville. Portage Supervisor Ivan Davis suffered severe basement flooding at Grizzly Meat Processing.

Federal emergency management inspectors toured the damage site several days after the flooding. Both Ossian and Portage have qualified for federal assistance to cover costs of ameliorating the worst damage to public property. Private property owners who suffered damage can qualify for special low interest federal loans.

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Supervisors appoint new public defender

The most politically controversial item at the county level in 2000 was the Board of Supervisors' rejection of incumbent Public Defender John Putney in favor of an inexperienced newcomer, Marcea Clark. Impetus for the change was an upgrading of the defender's position from half-time to full-time status.

Putney, who is a Republican state committeeman, who advised creation of the public defender position ten years ago, who has been a practicing attorney for 18 years and who had served as the county public defender for the past six years, was incensed by Clark's appointment to the job.

Clark was willing to accept a salary of $60,000. Putney had been serving as half-time P.D. at $45,000 and asked for $75,000 to do the job full time. Supervisors' Public Safety Committee Chairman Joe Daley indicated that salary was not the chief factor in the committee's recommendation. More significant, Daley said, was Putney's unwillingness to give up his private practice in lieu of the full time appointment, while Clark, in contrast, was willing to surrender all her outside duties. Daley also commended Clark's administrative abilities.

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Route 63 closed for mine construction

In June American Rock Salt and C.P. Ward contractors made a radical proposal to fully close down Route 63 at Hampton Corners for several weeks while work was underway to widen the highway to accommodate the mine entries and exits.

The proposed detour would put Route 63's heavy semi-truck traffic through the villages of Mt. Morris and Leicester, but the contractor claimed the job would be accomplished much more safely and swiftly if the highway could be fully closed.

While regional DOT officials were very skeptical of the proposal, support for the mine was forthcoming at both the local village-town-county level and at the Albany level.

But another negative for the proposal was that a county highway which might have been used for alternate eastern detouring was also scheduled for reconstruction during the summer.

DOT permission was finally given to close Route 63 in front of the mine on July 24. The contractor, for his part, promised to maintain provisions for passage of emergency vehicles at any time during the closure, and to have the highway opened by early September, so school bus traffic would not be affected. The mine provided funding for extra shift Mt. Morris police officers, who were made available to enforce truck safety standards and direct traffic during the next six weeks, as Route 36 endured the predictable onslaught of trucks and cars. In Leicester, Sheriff John York prominently displayed his ‘speed reading robot.'

C.P. Ward made good with its promise. Route 63 was fully reopened to traffic on September 2.

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Department-less Ossian sees epidemic of fires

Ossian, whose town board eliminated the volunteer Ossian Fire Department in 1996 in the aftermath of an embezzlement scandle, experienced some major fire property losses in 2000.

In each of the fires, the contracted Dansville and Canaseraga fire departments, with assisting mutual aid, made conscientious efforts to swiftly respond, but there was always the unanswered question as to whether the structures could have been saved by Ossian firefighters, if the department still existed.

In January nine dogs perished when a four bay truck garage located one mile from the former Ossian fire station burned to the ground. On June 13 a barn at the Bonner farm was destroyed by fire caused by youngsters playing with a lighter. The Bonner loss, including the structure, equipment and hay, was tallied at $260,000.

On June 24 a 50 by 175 foot barn on Philip Saunders' Sugar Creek farm burned down. Estimated losses were $200,000.

Ossian's final fire of 2000 took place on December 11 when a two story wood frame house, in use as a hunting lodge, burned to the ground.

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Murder-suicide in Conesus

On the morning of May 12, the Conesus community was shocked to learn Walter Frear and Nancy Green, residents of 6993 Kellerman Road, were dead. Police discovered the bodies of both on the front lawn.

Police subsequently learned that Frear had called his brother in a distraught state of mind and informed him that he had just shot and killed Green—and that he planned to turn the gun upon himself.

Frear had resided at the address since the 1960s; Green for a shorter time. Both were about 60 years of age.

It was the second murder-suicide in Conesus in a decade. On July 21, 1993, Rickey Green Park was the scene of the murder of Kathy Barber, age 37, by her husband Theodore Barber, age 41. Theodore then turned the gun on himself. Two of the three Barber children were witness to the incident.

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County celebrates millennium

In recognition of the once-every-thousand-year event, Livingston County government organized a grand millennium celebration party. The September 16 event drew a large crowd to the Livingston County Campus in Mt. Morris.

The event featured musical performances all day long on two stages, lots of games and activities for kids, tours of the WPA murals and paintings in the campus buildings, an economic development tent where many local businesses provided information about themselves, an antique car display, a skate boarding exhibition, free bags of rock salt courtesy of the new American mine, free pretzels and drinking water, numerous other information booths for local agencies and groups—and a grand finale parade.

Also in conjunction with the millennium, the county sponsored a lecture series and the publication of Bill Cook's ‘History of Livingston County.'

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