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Top Stories

2000: A year of scandal and betrayal
State Assembleyman and Town Supervisor disappoint

Mt. Morris divided by fire station issues

Icy Tragedy on I-390

2000: A year of scandal and betrayal
State 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 was 54.

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 items.

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 as Assemblyman.

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.


Mt. Morris divided 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 board—Joe Christiano, Kit Ceronie and Jerry Gehrig—voted 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 insisted—and was supported by Town Supervisor Olverd—that 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 rides—not the election—was 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 the room.

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 September—and 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 resigning—and 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 to cooperate.

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.


Icy 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 know—efforts which she paid for with her life—in a March 22 ceremony. Walker's family was in attendance.



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