Looking back on past year
CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. >> Looking back on the year’s most newsworthy events in southern Saratoga County can be a comforting experience when compared to what happened in the wider world.
While the House of Representatives was impeaching President Trump and Great Britain was following Prime Minister Boris Johnson further to the right, the war in Afghanistan dragged on for another year, wild fires raged out of control in California, North Korea tested more of its ballistic missiles, and professional hackers prepared themselves for the upcoming U.S. presidential election.
In southern Saratoga County the biggest news stories from the past year were mainly being generated within the hushed quiet of courtrooms and the rough and tumble world of land development.
Local elected officials making news in courtrooms this past year included Troy City Council President Carmella
Mantello and former Halfmoon Planning Board member Thomas Ruchlicki.
Mantello generated news in January when she accepted a negotiated plea agreement from the Saratoga County District Attorney’s office and pleaded guilty to one count of Driving With Ability Impaired and one count of disobeying a traffic device for a bizarre drive that took her on a circuitous route from Schenectady to Clifton Park.
In August Ruchlicki pleaded guilty to a federal charge of lying to the FBI after making false statements to investigators who were looking into payments made to him by a property construction and development company.
Ruchlicki received a year’s probation and a $3,000 fine. Mantello had her driver’s license suspended for 90 days, was told to enroll in an impaired driver’s program, attend a victims’ impact panel, take a defensive driving course, and pay a $753 fine.
The stories from the courtrooms that generated the most media coverage in 2019 however focused on two middle aged men who drank alcohol to excess and got behind the wheel of their vehicles.
Dickie Winn of Cohoes crashed his pickup truck into a car stopped at a traffic light in Clifton Park over the Memorial Day weekend.
The crash killed a married couple seated in the front seat and injured three passengers seated in the rear. After accepting a plea agreement in September where he agreed to plead guilty to aggravated vehicular homicide Winn was sentenced to 6 1/3 years to 19 years in state prison in November.
Victims’ impact statements given personally by two relatives of the deceased couple at his sentencing in November riveted the courtroom as each described the personalities of the individuals who had been killed and the effects their deaths have had on their respective families.
Less than a week later area businessman John Cole of Clifton Park appeared in Saratoga County Court to surrender to the court after an appeal of a lower court verdict had been denied.
Cole was convicted at a jury trial in 2018 of assault in the second degree, driving while ability impaired, and reckless driving after a single car accident in Halfmoon in which he was the driver. The crash paralyzed a passenger in the rear seat.
The sentence of seven years’ incarceration in state prison on the assault charge had been handed down by Saratoga County Court Judged James Murphy III in May 2018. With his appeals run out, Cole surrendered to the court the day before Thanksgiving, was cuffed with retainers, and lead out of the courtroom to start servicing his sentence.
An unusual judicial filing that has yet to fully reach the courtroom but has intrigued many with its details emerged in September when private payroll company MyPayrollHR of Clifton Park suddenly shut its doors.
The company was a seemingly nondescript payroll firm doing business out of an office park until it ceased operations on Sept. 5. Owner Michael Mann of Northville has met with U.S. attorneys and the FBI, had a U.S. Justice Department criminal complaint lodged against him, appeared before a magistrate judge in U.S. District Court in Albany, and had a lawsuit lodged against him by the financial company with which he was doing business.
Much more courtroom activity is expected in this case, which has garnered national interest, in 2020.
In the area of land development the Town of Clifton Park received revised requests in 2019 to transform the Edison Club, approved site plans for apartments on the vacant K-Mart site, approved four community solar projects for parcels on Ashdown, Grooms, and Sugar Hill roads, saw the large Park West condo project on Route 146A get underway, watched patiently as the state Department of Transportation went to work on a planned roundabout on Route 146, accepted the Master Plan for the 37-acre Town Center Park and began work on a new garage/office building for the town Buildings and Grounds Department.
Residents of the Town of Halfmoon also lost farm fields this past year to community solar when the ribbon was cut two weeks ago on the area’s latest solar project on Pruyn Hill Road.
Also making news this past year in Halfmoon was a second request from the commissioners of the Halfmoon-Waterford Fire District for voter approval to build a new fire station. After a first vote on the project was rejected by voters in November 2018, the revised plans were accepted in May.
Individuals whose stories filled these pages in 2019 included Tony Orologio of Ballston Spa who worked at Ushers Machine and Tool Company on Ushers Road for 70 years and decided to retire at age 93 in January.
There were stories about dedicated volunteers like Corinne Acker who directs the hospitality committee for the Friends of the Clifton Park Library, Irish dance expert Payton Sawyer, a Shen grad whose dance expertise won her an invitation to the World Irish Dancing Championship in April, and longtime Shen Board of Education member Gary DiLallo whose work as the board’s representative to the New York State School Board Association has had statewide and national impact.
Other stories centered on local figures like musician and singer Chuck Oakes who helps fledging musicians gain performance experience while providing entertainment to seniors, and Misty Jones, a woman who recovered from a health emergency while on a 5k run and returned this year to finish the 5k run that nearly killed her.
Though there were elections for local government bodies this year in both Halfmoon and Clifton Park, the only newcomers elected in November to governmental bodies were Eric Catricala and Teresa Brobston. Both ran unopposed.
Catricala was appointed to the Halfmoon Town Board in February and was making his first run for office. Brobston was doing the same in her race to fill the Clifton Park Town Clerk seat that will be vacated Dec. 31 by Pat O’Donnell who is retiring.
Dickie Winn, of Cohoes, sits as his attorney, public defender Oscar Schreiber speaks in Clifton Park Court in May.
Milling machine operator Tony Orologio Sr. in his element at Ushers Machine and Tool Company in Round Lake where he has worked for 70 years.
Area businessman John Cole, center, surrendered to the Saratoga County Court last week after his appeal of a 2018 conviction was denied. With him is his attorney Paul Shechtman, right.