2014 In Review: In July – Attorney Seeks To Free Heidi’s Kidnapper

OSWEGO, NY – Here’s a glimpse of the some of the news from the past 12 months.

In late July, the Heidi Allen case was making news again.

Defense Lawyer Says Evidence Exists Proving Innocence of Man Convicted of Abducting Heidi Allen

A defense lawyer said she has evidence that will exonerate Gary Thibodeau. He was convicted nearly 20 years ago for kidnapping and killing Heidi Allen.

According to the attorney, a witness came forward and claims three other men abducted the 18-year-old from a New Haven convenience store.

Oswego County District Attorney Greg Oakes released a statement regarding the case, saying, “No evidence was presented or discovered to make us believe Gary Thibodeau was wrongfully convicted. If I had evidence showing Gary Thibodeau is innocent, I personally would move to vacate his conviction. No such evidence exists though.”

DA: No Evidence Of Human Remains At Rice Road Site

The Oswego County Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney’s Office concluded their investigation at the property on Rice Road in the town of Mexico.

While there was no reliable evidence indicating the property was related to the abduction of Heidi Allen, we conducted a thorough and exhaustive search of the property, the DA said. The Sheriff’s Department devoted considerable resources to this search and made every effort to discover and recover any remains that may have been there. There is no evidence that any human remains are or ever were at that site, he added.

On July 31 the County Highway Department brought equipment to the site to help dig. Ultimately, the search area was approximately 20 feet by 30 feet and they dug to a depth of approximately 4.5 feet. Across the site, the ground was intact and undisturbed below the surface; there was no indication that anyone had ever buried anything in the area.

In news reports, it had been mentioned that it appeared that the site had recently been searched. Through its investigation, the Sheriff’s Department identified a local couple who admitted that they were looking through the site after reading recent news reports. There is no reason to believe the couple is in any way associated with Heidi Allen’s abduction.

If anyone has any information related to Heidi Allen’s case, authorities ask that you please contact the Oswego County Sheriff’s Department so that all leads may be properly investigated.

Documents Filed For Reverse Conviction; DA Criticizes Defense Lawyer For Leaking Information

The same day that a federal defense lawyer filed papers seeking to exonerate Thibodeau, the Oswego County District Attorney sharply criticized her for leaking information to the media.

Defense lawyer Lisa Peebles filed a nearly 200-page document that she believes presents evidence that should lead to Thibodeau’s release. DA Greg Oakes says the motion is essentially an effort to give Thibodeau a new trial.

Peebles claims the prosecution withheld evidence during Thibodeau’s trial, including information about the victim.

“I was disappointed that portions of the motion were leaked to a reporter this morning before it was even made available to the DA’s office. I’m not sure why the defense is trying to try this case in the media, rather than in the courtroom. For the DA’s office, this isn’t about gamesmanship, or who can catch the biggest headline, it’s about trying to get to the truth, which I thought the goal of this was,” Oakes said.

Ritchie Secure Funds For High School Bands

In July, State Senator Patty Ritchie announced she secured $51,000 in special funding to help support local high school marching bands throughout Jefferson, Oswego and St. Lawrence counties. Included in the funding is $5,000 for Pulaski High School; aid which helped to make a trip to represent New York State in the National Fourth of July Parade in Washington D.C. possible.

Pulaski students departed July 3 morning for the event.

Other marching bands receiving funding included Oswego City School District: $5,000.

Six decades after crash, plane found at bottom of lake

The last thing Lt. Col. Charles Callahan did before leaping from his plunging U.S. Air Force C-45 the evening of Sept. 11, 1952, was to set an autopilot course he hoped would guide the empty airplane to a crash landing in a remote spot where no one would be hurt. As plane crashes go, it was a wild success.

The C-45 traveled 65 miles with no one aboard and crashed in Lake Ontario near Oswego, where it was discovered underwater after lying undisturbed and undetected for 62 years.

The discovery was made by the shipwreck exploration team of Jim Kennard of Perinton and Roger Pawlowski of Gates, who have used sophisticated sonar equipment to find a variety of sunken vessels in the Great Lakes. They were looking for historic sunken ships when they found the airplane, much farther from shore than had been originally reported when it first crashed, according to a news release announcing the discovery.

The plane and its five-person crew was on a routine flight from Bedford, Mass., to Griffis Air Force Base near Rome when it faltered and crashed. All five people parachuted to safety; the pilotless plane buzzed over Oswego before crashing into the lake.

The 34-foot-long airplane was still mostly intact on the bottom of the lake, according to sonar images. Wrecks like that one are the property of New York State.

High Winds Cause Damage In Oswego, Scriba

Emergency crews were still working late into the night July 8 to clear roadways throughout the city of Oswego following a damaging wind storm.

Fallen trees and downed power lines were still present in various locations throughout the city.

Police were advising citizens that there may be live wires down that emergency crews are not aware of, at this point and to not go near any downed wires.

“We got hit with a straight line wind,” explained Bill Gregway, local observer for the National Weather Service. “It was probably a couple hundred yards wide.”

He estimated the wind speeds at around 35 mph, with some higher gusts.

It was a very strong trough of air, that seemed to come up out of the river, and rip through part of Oswego, he said. Areas from Hamilton Homes up through Brittany Hills were some of the hardest hit sport in the city, he added.

“I’ve seen a lot of limbs, big limbs, down, but not too many trees,” he said. Between 6 and 6:15 p.m., we received 0.56-inch of rain. It was tough to see across the road.”

Garages at some homes were blown off their foundations and the screen at the Midway Drive-In was destroyed.

Mayor Gillen Appoints Zoning and Planning Director

Oswego Mayor Tom Gillen announced the appointment of Amy L. Birdsall, Assoc. AIA, as the Zoning and Planning Director for the city of Oswego.

Birdsall will lead the Zoning and Planning Department.

Her responsibilities include overseeing city land use policies, zoning administration, and planning and development efforts.

Birdsall was raised in Oswego and graduated from the State University of New York at Buffalo with a Bachelor’s of Professional Studies in Architecture.

Her career in architecture took her to the resort communities of Vail and Aspen, Colorado, where she worked for 14 years for award-winning architecture firms and as president of her own design firm. In 2013, she moved back home to Oswego to be close to her family.

Upon her return to Oswego in 2013, she was appointed by Mayor Gillen to the city of Oswego Planning Board and the Tree Advisory Board.

She has also been active with the Oswego Renaissance Association, whose mission is to promote the development, restoration, and preservation of healthy, vibrant neighborhoods and communities in Oswego.

Long-Time District Clerk Announces Retirement

After more than 20 years on the job, William Foley said he’d step down in August from his position as clerk for the Oswego City School District.

Foley, who was also the district’s public information officer, said he applied for the position because the ad said they were looking for someone to help promote the school district – something the OHS grad felt he could do well.

The school board unanimously approved his retirement.

At the end of August, he will be unemployed for the first time since he was a teen-ager, he said.

“I was an annual appointment, served at the pleasure of the board, when they hired me as a district clerk. They wanted a PR person at the same time. But they didn’t want to commit to a long-term deal. For 20 years I’ve been an annual appointment, which I consider a success story,” Foley said.

“I want to thank Mr. Foley for his years of service to the Oswego City School District. Since I’ve become an officer, he’s been very helpful to our executive board for the past eight or 12 years. Whenever we had any district fundraisers, Bill would show up with a camera and get us in the media,” CSEA president Jim Jackson said during the public session. “I just want to thank him for that. On top of all that, it doesn’t matter who you call in this district, what office you call, he’ll answer the phone and take a message.”

Superintendent Ben Halsey also praised Foley for assisting him get accustomed to the district.

“I haven’t known him long, but I’ve certainly enjoyed working with him. He’s been an incredible resource for me,” he said. “I wish (him) and his wife well.”

Foley has six grandchildren; three of them don’t live in the area.

“I’d like to see them a little more. I’d like to see my daughter, who lives in New Jersey, some more. My wife and I would love to do some traveling – not a lot but some,” he said. “I just think it’s time.”

He said he will miss the people he has worked with and come in contact with during his tenure with the district; especially the students.

“The kids have just been great,” he said.

Oswego Council OKs Amending Charter

At its late July meeting, the Common Council voted to go down what the mayor said could be “a slippery slope” in the future.

By a 5-0-2 vote, councilors approved Local Law No. 2 of the Year 2014 – a local law amending Section 4.07 of the Charter of the City of Oswego with respect to the annual budget.

The Local Law amends a section of the code of the city of Oswego to read: Should the budget have a tax rate increase of 5 percent or more than the previous year’s tax rate, then the budget shall go to a public referendum in that year’s November election, by operation of law. In the event the budget cannot be presented at the general election, then there shall be held a special election at the earliest date.

Passage of the local law means the city will have to go back to creating a budget by the end of August.

The proposed budget shall be presented to the council no later than August 1. The council then shall have until August 31 (or the next business day) to approve a budget.

“We’re going to have to forecast how we’re going to close out our year next year. We have no idea, we can trend, but we’ll have to wait and see,” the mayor said.