A year of scandal and betrayal
Assembleyman and Town Supervisor disappoint
Morris divided by fire station issues
Tragedy on I-390
A year of scandal and betrayal
Assembleyman and Town Supervisor disappoint
by Howard Appel
Clarion News Staff
Citizens of Livingston County were shocked this past year by the
dizzying fall from grace of two of their best-known public servants.
Both Assemblyman Jerry Johnson of Nunda and Town of North Dansville
Supervisor Gerald Derrenbacher were forced to resign their positions
in the face of serious criminal charges. In the closing week of
1999, the Livingston County community was stunned to learn that
Derrenbacher was suspected of stealing money from the Dansville
Cemetery Association, in which he served as treasurer. A private
audit contracted by the Cemetery Directors had revealed the missing
funds. Under the advice of Livingston County District Attorney
Tom Moran, Derrenbacher resigned from the supervisor's post on
December 29. Shortly thereafter, Derrenbacher also left his position
as head bus driver at Dansville Central School.
Following a district attorney's audit, Derrenbacher and his wife
Diane were charged in March with taking more than $57,000 from
the Cemetery Association. Upon the completion of further audits,
the theft figure climbed to almost $200,000.
The Derrenbachers were alleged to have taken funds from seven
nonprofit organizations in which they held positions of trust.
In addition to the Cemetery Association, the victim organizations
included the Dansville fire department, Balloon Rally, Little
League, Sports Boosters and the Livingston County Republican Committee.
The audit revealed that between 1994 and 1998 Derrenbacher had
been writing frequent checks out of the accounts of the above
organizations, sometimes transferring money between the organizations,
but just as often transferring money to himself or to one of his
cleaning/laundromat businesses. Of the approximately $200,000
taken, there was an overall shortage of about $116,000. In early
summer, the Derrenbachers sold their Dansville home and moved
to Canandaigua. They commenced making restitution for the missing
money. By November the full $116,000 would be turned over to the
court. In a plea bargaining arrangement with the district attorney's
office, the Derrenbachers plead guilty to seven counts of grand
larceny on October 26. Sentencing before Judge Gerard Alonzo had
been scheduled for November 22, but that morning Gerald Derrenbacher's
tribulations ended when his pickup truck seemingly spun out of
control on Routes 5 & 20, crashing head-on into a refrigerated
pizza truck. Derrenbacher was pronounced dead at the scene. He
Diane Derrenbacher's sentencing took place on December 1. She
is serving 1 1/2 to 3 years in a state prison. The Livingston
County Republican community had barely recovered from the shock
of the Gerald Derrenbacher embezzlement revelations when it was
hit with an even bigger scandal. Gerald Johnson, the county's
136th district state assemblyman and resident of Nunda, was arrested
after a law enforcement investigation revealed that between October
and January, Johnson had been breaking into the Geneseo home of
his office aid, Bonnie Turner, using Turner's telephone and stealing
Johnson was apprehended by Sheriff John York and allowed to check
himself into a Buffalo mental hospital. Johnson was subsequently
charged with two counts of second degree burglary. These were
felony crimes, conviction on which would force his resignation
Appearing before Judge Charles Maloy in Livingston County Court
with his defense attorney John Parrinello on April 13, Johnson
admitted to entering the home of Bonnie and Milo Turner on or
about January 12 and using the telephone without permission.
The judge handed Johnson a six month sentence, which he was to
serve in the Steuben County Jail. Johnson would also serve five
years probation, during which he was to have no contact with the
victims and would undergo mandatory mental health counseling.
Johnson would also pay restitution of $804.78 to the Turners.
Parrinello told the court it was his client's decision to pay
a penalty for his actions, that Johnson had no wish to challenge
the allegations. In the presence of the victims, Johnson himself
expressed deep regret for his actions. Johnson's mandatory resignation
as assemblyman was submitted on the day of the conviction.
Johnson appeared in court a second time in April, answering the
second count of attempted burglary. He received a second consecutive
six month sentence. Having been given time off for good behavior,
Johnson was released from jail in early December. He had served
approximately eight months. Johnson's assembly seat has remained
vacant since the resignation. Joe Errigo, the Republican winner
of the November election contest, will be sworn in as the 136th
district Assemblyman on Jan. 1, 2001.
by fire station issues
by Howard Appell
Clarion News Staff
Mt. Morris firefighters have been proposing construction of a
new fire station for several years. Although it would have been
a major expenditure for local government, the new station appeared
to be on the verge of approval in 1996, when a sudden shift in
the political landscape brought new membership to the town and
village boards, delaying, then derailing the station proposal.
In 2000 the issue has exploded into a major controversy.
The first hint is dissension came in 1997 when new village board
members Darla Lonsberry and Dana Passamonte disapproved of a fire
station siting study which the veteran majority of the boardJoe
Christiano, Kit Ceronie and Jerry Gehrigvoted to authorized with
MRB engineering. In 1998 the recently elected Town of Mt. Morris
administration under new Supervisor Jim Olverd refused to share
the cost of the village's study. Lonsberry, Passamonte and all
of the town board thought the detailed examination of optional
fire station sites was excessively expensive, unnecessary, and
of little value.
The fire skeptics on town and village boards likewise thought
the estimated $1 million pricetag for the new station was excessive.
There was also skepticism over the Chapel Street parcel favored
by the firefighters, because the lot had recently been purchased
by a relative of one of the firefighters.
Station skeptics gained a majority on the village board in 1999,
when Jeff Rolison replaced retiring Jerry Gehrig. (New trustee
Bob Ossont, who replaced Kit Ceronie, fully the station proposal.)
When a formal $800,000 fire station proposal was put forward at
the end of 1999, Rolison insistedand was supported by Town Supervisor
Olverdthat the proposition be put up for public vote. The proposal
included $150,000 of exclusive town funding for the ambulance
component of the station. In April voters rejected the proposition
333 to 236.
Firefighters' resentment was evident in a flare up at the very
next meeting of the village board. Fire Chief Danny Brewer scolded
Lonsberry for going behind our backs because she contacted a
county agency to confirm firefighters' claims of the non availability
of the Hampton training center.
In May firefighters announced the cancellation of their traditional
summer carnival, but stressed that difficulty in arranging for
the ridesnot the electionwas the reason for the cancellation.
Subsequently, the firefighters planned two alternate August and
September events at Bellamy Park. The September jamboree would
feature a southern rock band and would include the traditional
beer tent. The August event would be a field day for kids and
would feature a 'Trilogy' concert paid for by the village.
In July Rolison faced public opposition when he proposed supplementing
the Italian Festival with a rock concert by 'Ballbreaker' in Bellamy
Park. When the board decided to let the concert take place, but
disallow beer sales at the concert, Rolison asserted that, with
no beer sales at the concert, there would be no beer sales at
the firemen's event. This provoked a heated discussion with Assistant
Fire Chief Dan Tabor, who ended up cursing Rolison and leaving
Rolison reacted by insisting that Police Chief Charles
DiPasquale arrest Tabor for disorderly conduct. Livingston County
District Attorney Tom Moran subsequently declined to prosecute
Rolison's charge. Firefighters hired attorney Bill Kelly on Tabor's
behalf. Rolison and the Village of Mt. Morris were put on notice
that Tabor was contemplating a lawsuit for violation of his constitutional
right of free speech.
The kids' field days did take place in
August, but was very poorly attended. The firefighters' request
for a beer sales permit for their southern rock jamboree was denied
by the village board in Septemberand the event was promptly canceled.
At the September 14 meeting of the village board, Chief Brewer
read a letter demanding Rolison's resignation, while Kim Wolcik,
daughter of Mayor Christiano, described Rolison's beer consumption
at the 'Ballbreaker' concert. Rolison stated that he had no intention
of resigningand promptly declared his 2001 candidacy for the
office of mayor.
Firefighters played a trump card in October,
announcing that they would be seeking the creation of a fire district
independent from the governing jurisdiction of the village and
town boards. The dristict would be governed by an elected Board
of Fire Commissioners, which would be empowered to levy a fireprotection
tax. Spokesman Dan Farberman asserted that the cooperation of
the village and town boards was being sought, but added that the
firefighters intended to seek alternate means [public petition
and referendum] of creating the district if the boards refused
For the balance of the year, firefighters have
been pushing their districting proposal while the village and
town boards appear to be engaging in delaying tactics.
Tragedy on I-390
A sad and tragic accident took place on icy Interstate
Route 390 the morning of January 17 in the Town of Avon. Charlene
Treitler, 43 of Baltimore, Maryland skidded on the stretch of
northbound highway on the Conesus Outlet bridge. Her vehicle became
stranded partly in the shoulder and partly in the passing lane.
A second vehicle driven by Sheri Walker, 39 of Elmira Heights,
stopped to assist Treitler in pushing the stranded vehicle further
off the highway. The woman were very shortly later joined by Livingston
County Sheriff's Deputies William Cartwright and Bryan Mann, who
arrived in a squad car and themselves attempted to push the vehicle,
while the two women stood back in the area between the Sheriff's
car and Treitler vehicle.
Suddenly another northbound out-of-control vehicle approached
the scene, bouncing off the guardrail and then striking the Treitler
vehicle, crushing the two women. In the split second Deputy Cartwright
had seen the oncoming car, he pushed Deputy Mann to safety, but
both deputies were injured in the accident.
Treitler was pronounced dead at the scene. Walker was pronounced
dead after being Mercy Flighted to Strong Hospital. The deputies
had minor injuries.
The driver of the out of control car was a SUNY Geneseo student,
Danielle Ormsby, 19 of Bath. She was uninjured, but her passenger,
Jessica Alger, 19 of Bath, was transported to Strong by Ambulance.
Ormsby later related to deputies that she had seen the flashing
warning of the squad car from a distance on the bridge, but had
been unable to stop. She subsequently faced charges of traveling
at speed unreasonable for conditions.
Another driver, whose van had been stranded in the highway median
prior to Tweitler's arrival, also faced the unsafe speed charge.
Shortly after the fatal accident took place, a northbound truck
driven by Clifford Briggs struck the rear of another vehicle which
was slowing down for the accident scene. Briggs was charged with
following too closely.
Livingston County Sheriff John York recognized the heroic efforts
of Sheri Walker in assisting a person she did not even knowefforts
which she paid for with her lifein a March 22 ceremony. Walker's
family was in attendance.