Historic Oswego Church Collapses In July

OSWEGO, NY – The following are just a few of the stories that made news in and around the Port City the past 12 months.

Families and friends packed both sides of West Bridge Street for Oswego’s 47th Annual 4th of July Parade. Many people have been attending the annual parade for years.

Among the marching bands were the pride of Oswego the Marching Buccaneers, the CNY Fire and Police Marching Band, and the Island Band.

At the end of July, several thousand more people descended on the Port City for Harborfest.

The temperature flirted with the 90-degree plateau all day on July 5.

It finally settled at 90 degrees shortly after noon and stayed there for most of the day, according to Bill Gregway, local observer for the National Weather Service.

The 90, combined with the humidity, made it feel a lot worse than it was outside, Gregway said, adding it was no record.

A Fulton woman was charged with manslaughter in connection with the July death of her daughter in an overheated trailer.

Discussions were ongoing regarding a possible plea deal for Sara Landers, 22, of Fulton.

Landers left her nine-month-old daughter, Reba J. Barton, in a closed camper-trailer (without working air-conditioning) for more than two hours on a day with temperatures of more than 90 degrees outside.

The child died as a result of environmental hyperthermia; her body overheated to the point that she couldn’t cool herself by sweating.

On Dec. 17, Landers admitted to a lesser crime. She was charged with manslaughter in the child’s death, but pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide, a charge that will likely bring some prison time when she is sentenced.

The Oswego VA Outpatient Clinic celebrated the official opening of its new location on July 8.

A large crowd, the majority veterans, was on hand for the ceremony and ribbon cutting at the 437 State Route 104E, Oswego, facility.

It is about 4,000 square feet.

United States Congressman Bill Owens (23rd District) was the guest speaker.

Charles Robbins Sr., president and CEO of CR Associates, served as the master of ceremonies. He is a veteran of the Korean War.

“We operate approximately 30 contracts around the country with the VA. We’re the largest provider of services to the veterans,” said his son, Charles Robbins Jr., senior executive vice president.

They take care of about 50,000 veterans, he added.

The Oswego facility will take care of the needs of approximately 2,200 veterans, he said. It will provide basic primary care services such as X-rays and lab work.

On July 9, the Oswego County Health Department reported that the Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus was found in a pool of mosquitoes collected on Toad Harbor Road in West Monroe.

The virus had only been found in the type of mosquitoes that bite birds, not in mosquitoes that feed on humans.

The mosquitoes were collected on June 30 near Toad Harbor Swamp on the north shore of Oneida Lake and sent to the state health department’s Wadsworth Center Laboratories near Albany for testing.

Dave White returned to the president’s seat as the Oswego School Board held its annual reorganizational meeting.

Jim Tschudy nominated Sam Tripp for re-election; Tripp declined the nomination.

John Dunsmoor nominated White and Fran Hoefer seconded the nomination.

Tripp nominated Dunsmoor for vice president and Hoefer seconded the nomination.

Both were approved unanimously.

A board attorney wasn’t named. At the end of the regular meeting, it was noted that the district would send out requests for proposals for legal counsel. A new legal firm was named later in the year.

Mayor Randy Bateman announced on July 12 that the Port City would be receiving $4 million in grant funds.

Municipalities across New York State will receive $67 million in grants from the New York Clean Water State Revolving Fund for clean water infrastructure projects.

The New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation administers the CWSRF and provides loans to communities throughout the state for the construction, replacement, and improvement of water infrastructure.

Oswego will receive the maximum allowed, the mayor said at the Common Council meeting.

The $4 million will be used toward the West Side Sewer project that is under way as part of the Consent Decree with the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Environmental Conservation, he explained.

Relentless rain storms that began early on July 23 lasted well into the afternoon and postponed what many call the real start of Harborfest – the annual Children’s Parade.

Each year, hundreds of children, decked out in attire highlighting the festival’s cultural component, march from East Park to the Children’s Stage at the Novelis Family Park at historic Fort Ontario.

The parade was held Saturday – the same day as the fireworks. Despite heavy downpours throughout the day, the rain abated shortly before 9 p.m. and the fireworks went off as scheduled.

On July 23, at about 10:46 a.m., city police responded to Oswego Hospital regarding a stolen ambulance complaint.

According to witnesses, a patient at the emergency department allegedly physically assaulted a security guard employed then left the building. Once outside, the suspect stole an Oswego Ambulance that was parked near the emergency entrance that had been transporting an unrelated patient to the hospital.

At about 10:55 a.m. police located the ambulance parked a few blocks away from the hospital. The suspect was subsequently located inside a residence in the area that he had unlawfully entered.

Matthew K. Belskis, 40, of 7 Karista Spring Drive, Saratoga Springs, was later arraigned in Oswego City Court on a charge of Robbery in the 2nd Degree (Class C-Felony). Upon arraignment, Belskis was remanded to the Oswego County Correctional Facility in lieu of $5,000 bail / $10,000 bond.

The security guard suffered minor injuries, but there were no other injuries as a result of the incident.

Oswego County Public Health Director Dr. Dennis Norfleet announced July 30 that a total of eight pools of mosquitoes collected near the village of Central Square and the Toad Harbor Swamp area have tested positive for EEE.

“The virus activity is developing into a situation very similar to what we had in 2009 when we had a case of human EEE in Oswego County,” said Dr. Norfleet. “The health department is preparing to conduct aerial spraying of the Toad Harbor and Big Bay swamps by the middle or late next week.”

It wasn’t the ending Harborfest had in mind.

East Bridge Street, near the vacant St. Louis Church was closed to traffic for hours following the collapse of the building’s north wall late on July 25 – just across from Harborfest’s venue in East Park.

At about 4:56 p.m. a partial building collapse, at East Fourth and Bridge streets was reported. No injuries were reported.

The Harborfest venue at East Park was closed and evacuated due to its close proximity to the church and traffic was detoured to Utica Street.

“I heard a muffled sound. But with the band going I didn’t think anything of it until I heard sirens,” said Judy McCabe who lives around the corner on East Fifth Street.

One of her students thought she might be working at the Renaissance Fair in Sterling and called her.

“He said don’t come home (on 104), you won’t be able to get to your house. And, he sent me the picture and I went, ‘oh my God!’” she said. “From what I’m hearing, no one was hurt and that’s a good thing. The sad part is different churches in the area wanted to save the stained glass windows out of St. Louis and they couldn’t.”

Morgan Thompson was in East Park when the building collapsed.

“Chocolate Thunder had just gotten off the stage and all of a sudden you heard this noise that sounded like cars just piling up or something,” she told Oswego County Today.com “I turned just in time to watch all the bricks and stuff falling into the road and this huge plume of smoke came up.”

“There were four people on the sidewalk over here that ran across the street just as it was falling. They were all covered in dirt and soot,” she added. “There was an older gentleman that was sitting in his truck in the parking lot (next to the church); he got taken away in an ambulance. I don’t think anything hit him. But he was probably in shock.”

It’s amazing that nobody was driving by at that time and the four people got out of the way OK, she said.

“These aren’t the kind of things that happen to you in Oswego. These are the kind of things you read about happening somewhere else,” Thompson said. “They cleared everybody out of the park because they’re afraid the steeple’s going to cave right in, too.”

Some people were running right up to the rubble to see if anyone was injured while others were screaming at them to get away, she added.

Heavy machinery was called in raze the remaining parts of the church. Crews worked through the night to clear East Bridge Street for Monday morning’s commute.

Currently, the site is a vacant lot.

Veteran OPD Captain Laid To Rest In August

On Aug. 2, Oswego Mayor Randy Bateman presented his 2011 city operating budget message following the council committee meeting.

The mayor proposed a huge spike in the sewer rates in an attempt to make the sewer fund self-sufficient by 2012.

At its meeting the following Monday, the Common Council voted 4-2-1 to approve the new sewer user fee schedule.

Councilors Connie Cosemento (First Ward), Cathy Santos (Third Ward), Dan Donovan (Fifth Ward) and Ron Kaplewicz (Seventh Ward) voted in favor of the motion.

Opposing the hike were Shawn Walker (Fourth Ward) and Bill Sharkey (Seventh Ward).

Second Ward Councilor Mike Myers was absent.

The collapse of St. Louis Church prompted Oswego city officials to seriously look at the conditions of other buildings in disrepair in the city.

One, at West Fifth and Bridge streets was set to be torn down in the near future, according to code enforcement director Neal Smith in early August.

Another building being considered for demolition was the former dry cleaner site on East First Street.

On Aug. 2 it was announced that Oswego City Police Department Capt. James Comerford had died.

He died Saturday evening July 31, at the Samaritan Medical Center in Watertown after becoming ill while camping with friends and family at Southwick Beach State Park.

Comerford, 52, was a 30-year veteran with the department.

He was a graduate of Onondaga Community College Police Academy and had begun his career with OPD in December 1980.

He was promoted to captain in November 2005, serving as second-in-command to Chief Mike Dehm Jr.

Hundreds of law enforcement officers, active and retired were joined Aug. 5 in paying their respects for Comerford.

Members of OPD, University Police from SUNY Oswego, Fulton City Police, State Police, Oswego County Sheriff’s Department, Environmental Conservation Police, Oswego City Fire Department were all in full dress uniform as they solemnly marched to St. Paul’s Church. Mayor Bateman also took part in the march. Many of the marchers had tears in their eyes.

The procession made its way from Dain-Cullinan Funeral Home down East Oneida Street past the captain’s house and then made its way up East Fifth Street in front of Trinity Catholic School before ending at the church.

Many city residents along the way stood on their porches and lawns to watch. One gentleman aptly summed up the emotions of the day in one sentence. “I’m glad this isn’t something we see every day,” he said.

On Aug. 13, after less than a year on the job, Patty Oughterson announced she was stepping down as principal of Oswego High School.

Oughterson said she resigned “due to personal reasons.”

Oswego residents would see no tax rate increase for 2011, if the proposed city budget was approved.

According to Mayor Bateman, Oswego was able to keep its tax rate stable at $8.98 per $1,000 of assessed value for three years.

This means a house assessed for $80,000 will pay about $718 in city taxes in 2011.

Earlier in the month, the council approved sewer rate increases of about 50 percent. This won’t cover the entire sewer fund deficit, but another sewer rate increase (in 2011) should make the sewer fund self-sufficient, the mayor said, adding that the sewer rate increase was the fairest way to handle the sewer fund deficits.

A public hearing on the spending plan was set for the end of the month.

There were no speakers on the budget during the public hearing that proceeded the regular council session at which the councilors approved the budget.

Nine Oswego Maritime Foundation students and their two adult instructors were rescued Aug. 26 after their sailboats capsized. All 11 were wearing their life jackets.

The bottom line is that everyone did what they were supposed to do in such a situation and everyone is safe, Richard Bush, president of the OMF, told Oswego County Today.com

The six 14-foot sailboats capsized after winds forced them into the breakwater near Fort Ontario, he explained.

The students, ranging in age from 9 to 13 years old, had all received training in how to handle emergency situations, Bush pointed out, adding that one has logged 60 hours of training.

The students were taking part in a routine sailing class in Oswego Harbor.

“The students have done capsize drills. They stayed with their boats (this morning) and got rafted together. They were all in their lifejackets. They were never in danger. They handled the situation properly,” Bush said.