Looking back on past year

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Glenn Grif­fith ggrif­[email protected]­gian.com @cn­weekly on Twit­ter

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.

GLENN GRIF­FITH - ME­DI­ANEWS GROUP FILE

Dickie Winn, of Co­hoes, sits as his at­tor­ney, public de­fender Os­car Schreiber speaks in Clifton Park Court in May.

GLENN GRIF­FITH - DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA FILE

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.

GLENN GRIF­FITH - ME­DI­ANEWS GROUP FILE

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.

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