Community’s efforts to combat opioid epidemic is top local story from 2017
It was a year of tragedy, change and some triumph in Orleans County
• Orleans Hub ranks the top stories affecting the community from 2017, with efforts the fight the opioid epidemic the top story.
Orleans County lost several residents to drug overdoses in 2017. It was another year of tragic deaths endured by many families in the community. Agencies, residents and government organizations have stepped up efforts to fight what District Attorney Joe Cardone called an “epidemic” in Orleans County.
“We’re done burying our kids,” said Tami Ashton, whose daughter died of a drug overdose in 2016. “We need to come together as a community and do something and the time is now.”
Ashton spoke during a forum in Medina attended by about 100 people on Nov. 30. She is part of a new group, Orleans Hope, that includes many community organizations and agencies that provide services to people battling addictions and their families. Ashton has trained to be an addiction recovery coach for the Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse.
She encourages people to be honest about the drug crisis in their own lives, their families and communities – and to then seek help in fighting the addictions.
“It’s killing our children and destroying our families,” Ashton said during the forum on Nov. 30.
The new Orleans Hope is part of a multi-pronged effort by the community to fight the opioid crisis. Churches have stepped up their efforts, welcoming addicts instead of shunning them. Several churches have Celebrate Recovery programs.
Don Snyder, a retired chaplain in the state prison system, is now a volunteer chaplain with the Sheriff’s Office. He said the opioid addiction is claiming many lives in the county.
“This is not a problem we can continue to ignore,” Snyder told county legislators in September. “This is taking our people from us. It’s taking parents from children.”
A group of churches are part of the group PACT which brought Ride4Life motorcyclists to the community in early October for a series of stunt shows at three school districts as well as community events. The lead rider, Scott Caraboolad is a recovering addict. He shared how he overcame drug addictions.
“If something is boiling over in your life, don’t try to take it on by yourself,” Caraboolad told the students in Lyndonville. “Reach out to people in the community.”
The Ride4Life events where supported by a group of churches and pastors in Orleans County, as well as the Sheriff’s Office, Orleans United Drug Free Communities Coalition, Suicide Prevention Coalition of Orleans County, the Genesee-Orleans Opioid Task Force and other agencies.
Sheriff Randy Bower embraced Caraboolad’s presentations, wanting to connect with people battling addictions and urge them to seek help. Bower also wanted students to hear a Caraboolad’s message, to not seek comfort from drugs and alcohol, and how drug use can escalate and take over – and end – lives.
Bower has welcomed addiction services for inmates in the county jail, connecting them to treatment programs, health insurance and Vivitrol, a shot that helps stave off drug urges. The county pushes to have a transition from the jail to GCASA or another treatment program.
Narcan has also proven a lifesaver in the county. The nasal spray can reverse an overdose. Sheriff Randy Bower said on Nov. 30 that 26 people were saved from a fatal overdose this year in Orleans County because of Narcan. Those are just the calls to the 9-1-1 center. Bower said more Narcan doses may have been administered without a 9-1-1 call.
GCASA has offered Narcan training throughout the county. Even county legislators took a training in April.
District Attorney Joe Cardone traces the opioid epidemic to widespread overprescribing of painkillers. When people’s painkiller prescriptions expired, many then turned to drugs.
“I’m angry about what’s happening in our society,” Cardone said during the Nov. 30 forum.
(Orleans County in September joined a growing number of municipalities in a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies for allegedly fueling an opioid crisis.)
Cardone has been the county’s top prosecutor for 26 years. The drug crimes when he started tended to be misdemeanors with marijuana and recreational drugs. Now, the county is facing an “epidemic” with heroin laced with fentanyl which is proving deadly, Cardone said.
“We are bleeding and we are dying,” the DA told the crowd. “We have to stop these drugs from coming into our community.”
He said the best way to fight the drug problem in the county is keep people from using it. He urged residents to let law enforcement know if people are selling drugs in the community. Cardone said he is frustrated with residents who blame others for “snitching” to law enforcement. Cardone said those tips to law enforcement can save lives and prevent misery in the community.
He praised the effort by GCASA and the Sheriff’s Office to have more treatment and services for residents battling drug addiction.
“Thank God for GCASA. Thank God for the sheriff and what he is doing,” Cardone said. “But it’s only a Band Aid.”
Judge James Punch retired from the bench after 27 years in 2017. During an interview with the Orleans Hub on July 27, Punch said the drug epidemic was the biggest change in his career.
“The opioid crisis is different because it seems to cross over all social, economic and other lines,” the judge said. “We’re seeing people from nice families … who are in serious trouble because of these drugs.”
Punch led judicial diversion programs as judge, where felony charges for some addicts would be reduced to misdemeanors if people completed treatment programs and stayed off drugs. Punch said the pull of drugs was often too strong for some people to resist.
“Quite honestly I don’t think we have as a court system a good way of dealing with it. I’m not sure there is one,” Punch said. “We have to keep things together at the seams with a certain amount of punishment for the sellers and at times possessors. I still believe in drug court but I think it’s much harder to get someone through drug court with a heroin or opioid habit than it was before when it was typically a cocaine or alcohol problem.
“They just seem to go back to it. It’s a much more powerful addiction. It has to be a combination of the courts and public health in order for it to work and I’m not sure how that can actually in practice be implemented. But I think they have to start looking at it differently and I think they are.”
Many tragic deaths left community reeling
It was a very difficult year in 2017 with the tragic loss of many people, including several young adults in car accidents, a kayaker to a drowning and a young mother who was shot and killed. Two of the fatal accidents in the county took the lives of two married couples in separate car accidents.
• Rebekah Hoak, 20, died in a car accident in Kendall on Jan. 22 Hoak was making a food delivery to a friend on Sunday afternoon. She was a beloved member of the Hamlin New Testament Church.
“Her passion, her witness, Rebekah was the whole package,” said her pastor, John Ebel.
• A Medina man died from his injuries in a car accident March 23 in the Town of Alabama. Purcel E. Buzard, 81, was a passenger in a three-vehicle collision at the intersection of the Route 77 and 63.
• A Waterport man died in a one-car rollover accident on April 11 on Eagle Harbor Road in Gaines. Brian Arnett, 39, was travelling southbound and struck a deer. His vehicle went off the west side of the road and into a ditch, and then struck a guy wire and overturned several times.
• Joseph Manley, 19, of Albion was killed in a one-vehicle accident on April 25 in the Town of Alabama.
• A Holley couple, Barbara and Elbin Lewis, were killed in an accident on Aug. 23 at the intersection of Route 31A and Eagle Harbor Road in Barre. Barbara Lewis, 72, and her husband Elbin Lewis, 79, were married for 51 years with four sons, 11 grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.
• Megan Dix, 33, of Lyndonville was taking her lunch break on Aug. 25 at a small South Avenue parking lot in Brockport, not far from where she worked at Lowe’s. She was fatally shot in a random act of violence.
“Mrs. Dix did absolutely nothing to put herself in a compromising situation. In fact, she did everything a good citizen, a good wife and a good mother should do,” said Brockport Police Chief Daniel Varrenti. “Unfortunately because of being at the wrong place, and wrong time, and unfortunately because of the sole act of one person became the victim of the murder.”
Dix was married with an 8-year-old son.
• William M. Carpenter III of Lyndonville, 60, died on Aug. 27 after striking a deer while driving a motorcycle in Carlton on Gaines-Waterport Road (Route 279). He was on his way to work as a corrections officer in Albion.
• Jacob McCormick, 21, Duncansville, Pa., drowned in Lake Ontario on Sept. 5. McCormick was one of three kayakers who went missing the previous day. He was found by the Coast Guard about 2 miles east of Point Breeze. He had separated from his twin brother and a friend to get help.
• A Medina man died on Sept. 6 from injuries sustained in a car accident on Maple Ridge Road, between Sanderson and Culvert roads. Raymond Farewell, 58, was a passenger in a vehicle that was rear-ended.
• A husband and wife from Carlton died from a car accident on Sept. 17 on Route 31 by the fairgrounds. Rebecca A. Harrier, 38, was pronounced deceased at the scene. Her husband, Randy L. Harrier Jr., 39, was flown by Mercy Flight to Strong Memorial Hospital and died the following day. Mr. Harrier was an active Carlton firefighter and his wife supported the Fire Company as well. The couple married in 2003 and has three children.
“Becky was as much a part of our fire company as Randy,” Ed Cooper, a Carlton firefighter and department chaplain, told about 300 people during a funeral service. “Together they contributed so much to this community.”
• A Medina man was killed in a motorcycle accident on Oct. 14 in Shelby. Brian J. McKee II, 28, lost control of the motorcycle, striking a concrete block off the roadway on Main Street, which caused him to be ejected.
• Benjamin Kirby, 21, of Albion died in a car accident on Nov. 6 on Route 531 in the Town of Gates. Kirby was a student at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He was active in sports and the music program while a student at Albion. He also was an Eagle Scout.
Lake Ontario floods and damages shoreline – for months
Lake Ontario pounded the shoreline for months in 2017. Many residents saw big chucks of their backyards get chewed away by the lake.
Orleans County and the three lakeshore towns – Yates, Carlton and Kendall – were in a state of emergency for more than 200 days, until FEMA approved disaster aid on Nov. 14.
Carlton, Kendall and Yates, as well as Orleans County could receive about $2.75 million in FEMA aid. The three towns and the county collectively spent about $250,000 for overtime, diesel fuel, and other expenses with filling and moving sandbags, said Dale Banker, the county’s emergency management director.
The flooding and erosion from the high lake waters also caused $2.5 million to 14 sites that are publicly owned in the county, Banker said. That includes infrastructure and municipal property.
There are about 2,000 parcels of land in Orleans County along the shoreline. About 500 were approved for state funding for new breakwalls and repairs.
The high waters also meant high tributaries. The Oak Orchard River was much higher than normal and flooded Captain’s Cove. The owner relocated the store up on a hill to be away from the flood waters. Many marinas struggled to raise docks and keep their businesses going.
Property owners from several southshore counties formed United Shoreline and held rallies and information meetings. The organization and many elected officials, including Congressman Chris Collins, faulted the International Joint Commission for the flooding. The IJC helps regulate the water level at Lake Ontario. The IJC implemented a new plan last year. The organization said record rainfall was the prime cause of the high waters that persisted throughout the year.
The National Guard and many community volunteers were a presence at the lake in May, filling and stacking sandbags to provide some temporary protection from the smashing waves. More than 220,000 sandbags were placed in the three towns.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the turnout from the community as a whole,” Warren Kruger, Kendall highway superintendent, said on May 7 when volunteers showed up to fill and stack sandbags.
Judge Punch retires, other changes among local elected officials
Orleans County has stability in local government. Many of the elected officials, especially at the county level, are in the positions for a decade or more.
But 2017 brought changes, especially at the county level. James Punch retired after nearly 27 years as county court judge. Sandy Church was elected to a 10-year term in November.
Susan Heard, the county treasurer the past 24 years, also announced her retirement. She has been succeeded by Kim DeFrank, the deputy treasurer.
David Callard, a county legislator for nearly 24 years, resigned on August 2. He had been the County Legislature chairman for nearly eight years.
There are 10 towns in Orleans County and five have new town supervisors to start 2018.
Carol Culhane was defeated in Gaines by Joe Grube.
Matt Passarell didn’t seek re-election in Albion as town supervisor. He instead was elected to a less demanding position as town councilman. Richard Remley is the new town supervisor.
Mark Chamberlain retired as town supervisor in Barre. Sean Pogue won a three-way race to succeed Chamberlain.
In Murray, John Morriss didn’t seek re-election and Bob Miller won a close race over Joe Sidonio to lead the Murray town government.
Skip Draper also didn’t seek re-election as Shelby town supervisor, instead running for the county legislator position vacated by Callard. Ed Houseknecht was elected Shelby’s new town supervisor.
Medina’s downtown revitalization takes more big steps
Medina has been the envy of many small towns with a vibrant downtown business district. Medina’s downtown got even better in 2017 with the several façade restorations and the opening of the Fitzgibbons Public House in January, following eight years of renovations at the former Silver Dollar.
Zambistro, a popular Main Street restaurant, completed a renovation and façade improvement. Down the street, renovations also started on the former Bent’s Opera House.
Roger Hungerford, CEO and founder of Talis Equity, has launched “Impact Restoration,” an initiative to build on the downtown and community revitalization. One of Hungerford’s projects includes the restoration of the Bent’s Opera House. Work started in 2017 at Bent’s.
The third floor of Bent’s will be restored into one of the most unique wedding and event venues in New York State, with the first and second floors experiencing a dramatic redesign into a restaurant and modern boutique hotel space. The building next door, also included in the redesign, will be home to a market serving healthy options.
Hungerford also wants to turn the old high school in Medina into apartments and a loft community known as Mustang Pride.
Medina also for a $10 million grant from the state in its Downtown Revitalization Initiative in 2017. The state picked Batavia for that grant, but another $10 million is expected to be available in 2018. Mayor Mike Sidari said Medina expects to try again for the funding which would advance several community projects.
A new hotel also is expected to open in 2018 on Maple Ridge Road. Although it’s not in the downtown, the hotel is expected to keep visitors in the community longer, which should provide more activity for Main Street businesses.
Powerful windstorm left much of Orleans County without power for days
A powerful wind storm punished Orleans County on March 8, taking down big trees and power lines. The storm knocked out power for 11,250 National Grid customers in Orleans County, about 60 percent of the company’s customer base in Orleans. Half the county went without power for at least two days and electricity wasn’t fully restored for five days.
As the community tried to recover from the windstorm, about two feet of snow fell on March 14-15.
In April, the rain soaked Orleans County, on many occasions. There was record-setting rain in the spring, making it difficult for high schoolers and Little Leaguers to play their games. It also kept golfers off the local courses and delayed the spring plantings for farmers.
Contractors were busy at Albion, Holley and Medina school districts, tackling capital projects
Three local schools – Albion, Holley and Medina – all were busy with construction projects last year.
Holley wrapped up a $30 million capital project. Among the finishing projects last year was a new bus loop by the elementary school. The elementary school playground was redone and a new Pre-K playground added to the elementary school campus.
New tennis courts were installed at the Middle School/High School while the existing courts were repurposed as tennis, pickleball and basketball courts.
Structural changes were made to both schools, too. Heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) units were replaced in both buildings. The elementary school had windows and doors replaced. The new windows allow more light into classrooms. These upgrades allow the district to use their energy more efficiently and save money on utility costs.
Medina in December 2016 approved a $34 million capital project. The first part started last summer with new turf and upgrades to Vets Park. A slew of improvements at all three school buildings, the bus garage, and more work at Vets Park await. There will also be a new access road between Oak Orchard Elementary School and Clifford Wise Middle School.
In Albion, the district accepted $10 million in construction bids as part of a $14 million capital project. The $10 million included projects touching all three school buildings, the bus garage and athletic facilities.
Canal tree-clearing alarms many in community
In September, the Canal Corp. announced a “vegetation management plan” from Medina to Fairport that would involve taking down many trees on canal-owned land.
In October, contractors started the work in Medina and canal neighbors and residents were alarmed to see the takedown of a buffer of trees along the towpath.
Canal Corp. leaders say the tree removal is long overdue. Cutting down the trees will make the banks easier to maintain and check for leaks. The Canal Corp. also said tree roots have burrowed into the canal walls, making the waterway vulnerable to leaks. The Canal Corp. said it wants to establish a grassy slope by the towpath.
As the contractor headed east, opposition grew for the project, especially in Brighton, Perinton and Fairport, where work was temporarily suspended.
Dollar General opens a store in Kendall while Albion loses long-time grocer
The Kendall community watched a new store take shape in the fall, with the Dollar General opening on Dec. 18. The 9,100-square-foot structure is on Route 18, just west of the Kendall Road (Route 237) intersection. It’s big news in a town where residents have been doing most of the shopping outside the community.
This is the fifth Dollar General in Orleans County. Other stores are located on West Avenue in Albion, Route 31 in Holley, Maple Ridge Road in Medina and Ridge Road in Medina (just south of Lyndonville).
In Kendall, residents have to drive out of the community for many of their grocery and merchandise purchases. The Dollar General will allow them to shop closer to home.
Kendall also saw improvement at its marina along Lake Ontario. The Bald Eagle Marina is planning some dramatic improvements with a restaurant planned for the second story of the clubhouse. The marina’s new owner, John Tsyupa of Webster, is committed to making the site a destination, including dredging the harbor to bring in larger boats.
Albion lost two long-time businesses last year. The Pawlak family closed its store after 49 years in Albion. Ken Printup, owner of Uncle Sal’s Pizzeria in downtown Albion, also retired after about 20 years of owning the business.
“Competitive realities, a slow economy, and cost deflation in the food industry has forced us to make the decision to close Pawlak’s Food Center after 49 years of serving the Albion community,” The Pawlaks said in a statement on Oct. 12. “We have been unable to compete with these trends and continue to rent our current space. We recognize closing is the necessary course of action to take. The closing also includes The Video Station and Save-On Beverage Center.”
Some Orleans County residents and organizations were in the state and national spotlight in 2017.
Rod Farrow of Waterport was named the “Apple Grower of the Year” by American Fruit Grower, a national agricultural magazine run by Growing Produce. Farrow is the co-owner of Lamont Fruit Farm, which has changed its name to Fish Creek Orchards.
He has been an industry leader in growing high-value fruit through high-density orchards. Farrow, a native of England, was praised in the apple industry for management of the farm and its long-term future, and for his leadership in the industry with different co-ops including The Next Big Thing, which grows the SweeTango apple variety.
Matt Kludt of Kludt Brothers Farm won the corn yield contest for New York for the third straight year with a yield of 322.4 bushels per acre in the no-till/strip-till non-irrigated class. The contest is run by the National Corn Growers Association.
The Village of Lyndonville also won the state’s best-tasting tap water contest. Lyndonville was crowned the champion at the State Fair on Aug. 31.
Lyndonville won the Orleans County contest during the Strawberry Festival in June and on Aug. 12 won the western regional competition at the Rochester Public Market. Lyndonville then advanced to the state competition.
Albion Central School for the 10th consecutive year was recognized nationally for an outstanding music program. The North American Music Merchants named Albion and 526 other school districts in the country as a “Best Communities for Music Education.”
On Jan. 30, Medina sophomore Maddie Williams went in the state record book by hitting 16 three-pointers in a girls basketball game against Holley. Williams scored 54 points in the game for a new Medina record. Her 16 threes bettered the old state record of 15 set by Courtney Galuski of Cohoes in 2008.
A Clarendon native, Steven Klatt, also was on the winning team in the Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race. Klatt, 31, and his teammates on Braised in the South took home the top prize, $50,000. Klatt grew up in Clarendon and graduated from Holley. He is the son of Ryan Klatt and Susan Colby, the Clarendon town clerk. Braised in the South is based in Charlotte, South Carolina. The competition features Southern-style food. The Great Food Truck Race started with seven teams, but each week one is eliminated, the team with lowest sales. The episode crowning the champion aired on Sept. 24.