Sur­vivor ben­e­fits ex­pected for diver’s fam­ily

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Pa­tri­cia Doxsey pdoxsey@free­manon­ pat­ti­at­free­man on Twit­ter

Sgt. Kerry Win­ters, a cor­rec­tions of­fi­cer at the Ulster County Jail, spent 15 years of his three-decade ca­reer work­ing and train­ing along­side deputies on the county sher­iff’s dive team.

But when he died last month dur­ing an in-wa­ter train­ing ex­er­cise, Win­ters’ fam­ily was not af­forded the same sur­vivor in­surance ben­e­fits as would have been the other mem­bers of the team be­cause he was a cor­rec­tions of­fi­cer, not a deputy sher­iff.

A res­o­lu­tion to go be­fore the county Leg­is­la­ture in Novem­ber would change that, ex­tend­ing to Win­ters’ wife and two sons the 18 months of con­tin­ued health in­surance that the fam­i­lies of all sher­iff’s deputies who die in the line of duty are en­ti­tled to un­der their con­tract with the county.

The deputy sher­iffs are rep­re­sented by the Po­lice Benev­o­lent As­so­ci­a­tion, and the health care pro­vi­sion was ne­go­ti­ated in 2015. Cor­rec­tions of­fi­cers are rep­re­sented by the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Work­ers of Amer­ica and do not have such a pro­vi­sion in their con­tract.

County Ex­ec­u­tive Michael Hein, who along with county Sher­iff Paul VanBlar­cum pro­posed ex­tend­ing the health ben­e­fits to Win­ters’ fam­ily, called the mat­ter one of “fun­da­men­tal fair­ness.”

“To me, this is just an is­sue of fun­da­men­tally do­ing what’s right,” Hein said, adding that Win­ters lost his life train­ing side by side with oth­ers whose fam­i­lies would be en­ti­tled to ex­tended health care cov­er­age.

County Leg­is­la­ture Chair­man Ken Ronk, who will spon­sor, the res­o­lu­tion, agreed.

“In my opin­ion, when Sgt. Win­ters was op­er­at­ing as a mem­ber of the dive team, he was op­er­at­ing as a sher­iff’s deputy and should be en­ti­tled to the same ben­e­fit,” said Ronk, R-Wal­lkill.

Win­ters, 51, was a 30-year vet­eran of the Sher­iff’s Of­fice when he died Sept. 22 af­ter be­ing found un­con­scious dur­ing an train­ing ex­er­cise in the Ashokan Reser­voir in town of Olive.

The sergeant, an ex­pe­ri­enced and ac­com­plished diver who had been on the sher­iff’s dive team for 15 years, was wear­ing full dive gear and a back-up air sup­ply at the time.

The sher­iff said Win­ters was miss­ing for less than five min­utes when the searc­hand-res­cue ef­fort be­gan. His death was ruled an ac­ci­den­tal drown­ing.

Both Ronk and Hein said they were un­con­cerned about the mea­sure set­ting a prece­dent in the fu­ture, and Hein said he ex­pects to pro­pose the in­clu­sion of a sim­i­lar ben­e­fit in fu­ture ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Work­ers of Amer­ica for the cor­rec­tions of­fi­cers’ con­tract.

Hein said pro­vid­ing the Win­ters’ fam­ily with med­i­cal cov­er­age for the next 18 months would cost the county $60,908.


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