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Traffic Safety Champions Honored

OSWEGO, NY – A baker’s dozen Traffic Safety Champions were honored Friday for making the roads and streets all across Oswego County safer for motorists and pedestrians alike.

“Yes, 13 winners this year. Police officers, educators, bus drivers, motorcyclists, wheelchair bus educator – we really have a wide variety of awesome winners this year! I am over the moon excited to be able to honor them,” exclaimed Billie Crandall Brady, coordinator of Oswego County Traffic Safety Education. “These individuals are absolutely extraordinary. They are the kind of people you can count on to do things in their community and make their community better.”

Among those honored was John FitzGibbons.

“John FitzGibbons is a well-known figure in Oswego County and was nominated by Greg Mills. But, he might have been nominated for this award by a number of people that know about the great idea he had a few months back for the walking public in the city of Oswego,” Crandall Brady pointed out. “He thought it’d be super to be able to get across the street in downtown Oswego without being pasted to the roadway. And I thought, ‘Wow, what a great idea that is!’ So he set out to see what could be done to fix some issues. He did this by approaching the ONE group – Oswego Network of Entrepreneurs – to start a grassroots campaign to make downtown Oswego more pedestrian friendly.”

He did the study, wrote it up and sent it to DOT; the DOT responded really quickly and arranged a meeting with downtown business owners and opened it to the public, she said, adding, “DOT showed up in greater numbers than I’ve ever seen altogether, and so did Mayor (Tom) Gillen and our own Chief of Police, Chief (Tory) DeCaire. Not only did the DOT take it seriously that we have some issues that they needed to address, they did it quickly, too.”

“Everyone has a stake in making this city more walkable, and lo and behold, DOT arranged for work to be done right away. Within weeks, crossing lights were fixed, timing was amended so you didn’t have to be a marathon runner to get across the street in time, trees were cut back for better visibility, and new signage went up for no turn on red to further protect walkers,” she said. “It’s great to see that when you want to get something done, you can do more than just complain about it to each other.”

“In Oswego, the most notable intersection was West First and Bridge,” FitzGibbons explained. “They eliminated right on red, which made a big difference. Pedestrian issues aren’t always primary and they really require a voice.”

Working with ONE, they looked at the intersections as they related to the advance green arrow, the right on reds, the traffic devices and equipment that was used. Then, they submitted to the DOT, in an informative fashion, where the deficits were where the voices of the pedestrians in the community might not have been heard.

“(The DOT) is traffic experts; once the problems were identified, they were great at responding, leveraged a great number of resources, a lot of equipment and addressed a lot of issues. The infrastructure that people move through now is significantly better than it was six months ago,” he said.

The Other Recipients Include:

Jim Middleton was nominated by Mary Gracey of the Phoenix School District.

“Not so long ago, Jim was a student there, and one of his bus drivers is even here today to testify to his behavior. Jim was asked to participate in last year’s Safety Expo held at the Phoenix School District Transportation Center to take part in demonstrations for bus and
wheelchair safety (as well as boating safety). He’s done it a thousand times, he said,” Crandall Brady said.

Copies of an article that he wrote for the Coast Guard Auxiliary were on the tables for participants to read.

“Jim shows his dedication to safety at every opportunity and the people in Phoenix surely recognize that – and now so do we!” Crandall Brady added.

Mike Goessl is the head bus driver at Sandy Creek Central Schools.

“He was nominated by Robin Cashel who has the privilege of seeing his dedication to safety on a daily basis. He must be good, too, because someone put him in charge of training all of the new and even the seasoned, drivers,” Crandall Brady said. “Robin says he is the most patient and thorough trainer she knows and that he has never had a student of his fail their CDL license – I’m thinking we can find him some teenagers to teach and really find out how good he is.”

After 10 or more years, Robin France knows everything that BuckleBear is going to say and all the words to the Puppets For Safety songs, Crandall Brady said.

Robin was nominated by Diane Oldenburg for her dedication to teaching traffic safety to the children at Discovery Day Care in Phoenix.

“Every year, with every new class of pre-schoolers, Robin makes sure that they know how to hear the click of their car seat and how important it is that mom and dad buckle up, too,” Crandall Brady said. “You have a wonderful opportunity to learn lots of new skills when you’re 3 and 4 years old, and we want you to know how important you are in the future safety of your community by making these life lessons in traffic safety top priority.”

Law Enforcement in our communities also participate in traffic safety education although people might not think of them as ‘educators,’ Crandall Brady quipped.

“Not a one of them has ever asked to borrow Safety Sue, Dr. S, or BuckleBear or Samson the Seatbelt Dog puppets. Somehow, they get their point across without any props. New York State Police are out on our highways every day ‘teaching’ traffic safety and today we would like to acknowledge a few of their best performers,” Crandall Brady said. “Their way of educating is a little different. It’s not always our favorite thing; but, because they are out there every day doing their job, they are the ones that are keeping the rest of us safe.”

Trooper Charlotte Yerdon was nominated by Sgt. Robert Simpson from the Pulaski Barracks who said: “Trooper Yerdon is an outstanding trooper who aggressively enforces the vehicle and traffic laws in Oswego County. To date she has issued 291 tickets for vehicle and traffic law violations. She is one of the leaders in Driving While Intoxicated arrests. She has made several drug arrests that have come from traffic stops, which shows her eagerness to look beyond the ticket. Trooper Yerdon has actively participated in the seatbelt enforcement efforts, and she continues to make a significant impact on dangerous drivers in Oswego County.”

Troopers Ivan Chinikailo and Peter Lazarek (who could not attend the event) were also recognized for their outstanding effort as well.

Trooper Chinikailo was nominated by Sgt. Brian Woodard from the Hastings Barracks.

Sgt. Woodard said: “From January to August of 2012, Trooper Chinikailo has issued 243 traffic tickets, 11 seatbelt tickets, 73 speeding violations and 7 DWIs. Trooper Chinikailo works mainly in southern Oswego County and has a strong interest in curtailing the drug activity in that area. He continues to use his knowledge from being a CSERT member, as well as his many contacts with the citizens of Oswego County through vehicle and traffic stops to gain information regarding drug activity in Oswego County. He works closely with the CNET-Central enforcement team, sharing his information of drug activity.”

Trooper Lazarek was nominated by Sgt. Ed Croucher who had this to say about his outstanding candidate from the Fulton State Police Barracks: “Year in and year out, Trooper Lazarek has consistently been among the leaders in the station, and in the Zone for DWI, Speed and Seatbelt violation arrests. He does this while maintaining a very high Calls for Service.”

For the entire year of 2011, Trooper Lazarek made 10 DWI arrests, 197 arrests for Speed violations, 116 arrests for Seatbelt violations and issued a total of 434 traffic tickets, Sgt. Croucher continued.

“During the current year, Trooper Lazarek has made 9 DWI arrests, 130 arrests for Speed violations, 46 arrests for Seatbelt violations and issued a total of 272 traffic tickets. Since January 1, 2010, Trooper Lazarek has made 34 DWI arrests, 500 arrests for Speed violations and 324 arrests for Seatbelt violations. Those totals place him fourth for DWI arrests, first for Speed violation arrests and first for Seatbelt violation arrests. Trooper Lazarek truly has traffic safety in mind when he is on patrol,” he said.

Officer Michael Baker was nominated by Lt. Charles Searor for his outstanding efforts for the Oswego City Police Department.

“He is consistently busy in ‘educating’ motorists on safety,” Crandall Brady said. “The city of Oswego is safer because of his efforts.

Lt. Searor reported that, this year, Officer Baker wrote 183 UTTs (Uniform Traffic Tickets), 10 DWIs, 71 Speeding, 8 aggravated unlicensed operators, 6 Suspended registrations, 11 unlicensed operators, 34 moving violations (stop sign, red light) and 43 others equipment violations.

Fulton Police Department has received numerous region and state-wide awards for the excellent work they do. And Officer Lucas Hollenbeck is one of the reasons, Crandall Brady said.

He is a repeat Traffic Safety Champion, due to the fact that his statistics on the road are so impressive year after year.

Sgt. Jason Delano had this to say: “Officer Hollenbeck has been an officer with the city of Fulton Police Department since 2005 and has always made traffic enforcement and safety a priority. During this grant year (October 1, 2012 until September 30, 2012), he has written the second most tickets in the department (234 tickets), is in second place in our aggressive driving enforcement program, second in the department in speed tickets (52) and leads the department in DWI arrests (11). He has made 25% of the department’s DWI arrests despite not working the midnight shift, the shift which traditionally most DWI arrests are made.”

Officer Hollenbeck is the only officer in the department with Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement Training which is helped to identify drivers who are under the influence of drugs.

He was chosen to receive that training because of his interest and his successful DWI enforcement activities.

“He is hard-working and his performance is very consistent year after year,” Sgt. Delano added.

Officer Kelly Thompson was nominated by Lt. Kevin Velzy of the Oswego State University Police Department.

He had this to say about her: “Officer Thompson has consistently demonstrated her commitment to traffic safety, by being a leader among University Police Officers with regards to education, and enforcement of traffic safety laws. In the past year, she leads the University Police Department with total traffic citations issued, and in particular occupant restraint tickets (seatbelt violations). Officer Thompson has written nearly half of the 120 seatbelt tickets issued by University Police this year. She has voluntarily worked extra patrols such as the Buckle up New York details, and has even made an impaired driver arrest during one of these patrols on the day shift.”

Officer Thompson has also assisted with distracted driving programs and posted dozens of distracted driving and buckle up posters received from the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee in all of the buildings on the SUNY Oswego campus, as well as sending out notices on the college digital sign system, and the department’s Facebook page.

Bruce LePorte, in addition to being a teacher, “is an avid motorcyclist and member of ABATE in Oswego County; the group is dedicated to safety and we are so happy that they have joined our ranks at the Traffic Safety Board,” Crandall Brady said.

“He is here today because another member of ABATE, Sandy Mensch, thinks he’s pretty terrific, and so do we at the Traffic Safety Board,” Crandall Brady said.

Mensch had an idea that teenagers could use a more in-depth safety training for young motorcyclists and future motorcyclists. She told LePorte about her vision of making young people safer through a school based program and he set out to make it happen.

He developed a safety program on Powerpoint that he and Mensch go to high schools to present – and not just to driver ed classes, but to any high school classes that will have them.

“The program continues to grow and this year they are in every high school in Oswego County. I think Bruce might have to consider retiring and doing his safety presentation full-time he is that popular!” Crandall Brady said.

“Brad Beers is what I would call a reluctant Traffic Safety Champion – in that he is much to humble to realize the importance of what he contributes to the Child Passenger Program of Oswego County; he does something special for traffic safety just about every day of his life. He has been the go-to guy for all the 10 years I have been here and has supported the program in a variety of ways,” Crandall Brady said.

He is a former child passenger tech, married to a child passenger instructor, and one of the people Crandall Brady knows that you can call on a moment’s notice when the CPS trailer has a flat, the locks are stuck, they need a truck to haul it, “or his wife comes down with the flu an hour before a safety check event and here comes Brad with extra seats, checklists, tools, or whatever else is needed,” Crandall Brady said.

“He has been a child safety advocate all his life and I expect that will never change. He’s not just reliable, he’s the kind of guy you can bump heads with in the back of a car while installing a car seat, leave a mark on his scalp from your metal headband, and he doesn’t even get mad at you,” she added recalling an incident from a few years ago.

Every once in a while, there is a person who is so special to the traffic safety program in Oswego County that you have to trick them by making the award a surprise so they show up, Crandall Brady said.

“This year, Chris Sharkey is that person,” she said.

The Oswego School District Transportation Office has nominated her (for the Coordinator’s Award) because they, too, know her value as a safety educator.

For 25 years, she has been teaching kids to stay safe on the school bus, teaching drivers to drive safe on a school bus, and she will dress up in character if she has to, to make her point.

“Anyone who has gone through kindergarten in the Oswego City School District knows about ‘Henrietta Know It All.’ This is classic Chris Sharkey – she makes the kindergarteners laugh and by the time she’s done they have taught Henrietta all the right rules to be safe on the school bus. I don’t think you can ever retire from that job,” Crandall Brady told her.

She also has another alter ego, Betsy Ross, that she brings to schools to show children what is was like to grow up in early America.

As a mentor to other school bus drivers, she participates in corrective measures in safety issues by reviewing on board camera tapes and working with parents and drivers to solve issues.

“When it comes to the safety of students, no one would ever have any doubts about what Chris is saying to them – she is one of the most direct and consistent communicators you’ll ever meet, and it’s our children’s safety that pushes her to strive above and beyond minimum safety standards,” Crandall Brady said.