Among the year's biggest stories was the continued battle against heroin, a string of shootings, vehicle crashes and battles in court, along with a fight for a safer community.
The news stories that swept across Ontario County and its surrounding communities during 2016 oftentimes mirrored what was happening on a larger scale across the nation.
Those situations that unfolded were also similar to the experiences in past years, with the biggest news stories housed in courtrooms or confronted on the streets and in the field by law enforcement and emergency personnel.
Through the months were episodes that involved violence and heartbreak, and the fight against it — the fight with the grip of heroin addiction, the realization of a string of shootings and horrific crimes stories — this was all countered with a push to make the community safer.
A tragedy that held those indelible elements occurred at an intersection in the town of Farmington during the month of March.
Tragedy on the road
The notorious intersection in Farmington has found its way into the local news scene for many years due to a series of brutal vehicle crashes that have occurred there, and it was again the focus of attention during 2016.
The most serious wreck at the notorious intersection of Shortsville Road and County Road 28 took place in March. Jeffery VanderMaillie, 60, of Macedon, and his friend Allan D. Hallings, 55, of Fairport, were on their way back from a fishing trip on Seneca Lake when they were killed in a three-vehicle wreck.
An investigation by police revealed that Jason Jensen, 39, of Farmington, drove his SUV through the Shortsville Road stop sign and struck VanderMaillie’s truck, causing it to burst into flames.
Jensen, who admitted to being distracted when the incident occurred, was cleared of reckless driving by a Farmington jury several months later, but convicted of running a stop sign. He was handed a 15-day jail sentence by Judge Morris Lew — the maximum sentence Jensen faced following his conviction.
“I’m asking the court to remove Jason Jensen from his family for 15 days, so he can experience what it’s like to be without his loved ones,” Assistant District Attorney Nathan Thomas told the judge prior to the sentence being handed down. “I’m asking you to show the defendant for 15 days what Jeff and Al’s family will experience every day for the rest of their lives.”
As the tragic case developed in the judicial system through the months, the families of the men who passed away at the intersection, along with members of the community, fought for a structural change at the intersection.
In October it was revealed that the Genesee Transportation Council approved a $2.5 million safety improvement application submitted by the Ontario County Department of Public Works that calls for the construction of a roundabout at the site. The federal money for the potential project is set to begin in 2018.
“There’s different alternatives you can look at, but the issue with all of them is, will they solve or will they help mitigate the real problem out there, which is high-speed, right-angle accidents that occur at that intersection,” said Commissioner of Public Works Bill Wright. “There’s not a lot of alternatives that do that except for a roundabout.”
Another case involving a tragedy on an Ontario County roadway wrapped up in 2016, with the sentencing of Ali Russ.
The 37-year-old Geneva man pleaded guilty in June to aggravated vehicular homicide for the crash that killed 11-year-old Rickara Patterson a year prior.
The tragedy struck when Russ was driving Rickara, along with the 11-year-old’s mother Aimee Allard and Allard's two other daughters to their home in Geneva following an all-night trip in Wyoming County. Russ, who had a couple alcoholic beverages before driving home that morning, crashed the vehicle after he fell asleep at the wheel on Routes 5 and 20, only a few miles from the group’s home.
Patterson, who would have been a sixth-grader at the Geneva Middle School, was pronounced dead at the scene. Meanwhile, Russ was sentenced to serve three and a half to 10 years behind prison walls.
“I looked in the door … I yelled her name … and (Rickara) wasn’t moving,” a distraught Russ told Judge Frederick Reed the day of his sentencing in Ontario County Court. “I saw blood. That’s when everything started to come into play.”
Accounts of the victimization of children gripped the area in 2016. Clement Hill, 30, was sentenced in Ontario County Court to serve seven years behind prison walls for sexually abusing a 10-year-old girl.
Hill had been charged with predatory sexual assault, which carried with it a potential life sentence, but the Hopewell man was cleared of the severe charge by a jury following a trial in Ontario County Court.
However, a jury decided differently when it came to another Hopewell resident charged with the same crime.
Brian Bagley, 49, was arrested following an investigation that uncovered a decade of abuse against a child that began when the victim was 5 years old.
During the November trial, the victim, now a teenager, took the stand and detailed the sexual abuse she endured at the hands of Bagley regularly throughout those years.
When testimony was wrapped up, Bagley was found guilty of eight charges he faced. The victim, surrounded by loved ones, sat in the courtroom gallery as the jury foreperson revealed the decision, while Bagley sat motionless at the defendant’s table and stared straight ahead.
“This is a journey for her, and she still has a lot of work,” said Assistant District Attorney Jim Ritts about the victim shortly after the verdict was reached. “But she’s one of those kids that I have faith will thrive. She’s really bright and really strong. As long as we keep supporting her, she’ll do great things.”
Bagley, who faces a sentence of 40 years to life behind bars, is slated to be sentenced during an appearance in Ontario County Court on Jan. 6.
Creating a great deal of angst in the community was the arrest of Geneva High School students Jemar McCall, Alexis Ventura, Ramaj Durant, Diamond Wineglass and a 16-year-old, who will not be identified because of his age.
The group was charged in connection with their alleged participation in a riot that broke out in the city of Geneva during June. The event, described as a free-for-all by Geneva police officers, involved several youths from within the community, including the five arrested.
The arrest of the teens, all black youth, created a movement in Geneva organized by the local group Tools for Social Change.
The group attended the five teenagers’ appearances in Geneva City Court and held a “Black Lives Matter” rally at Bicentennial Park in Geneva during July. During the meeting of around 100 people, social issues such as racial profiling and inequality were discussed.
The rally attendees called on the Geneva police and the Ontario County District Attorney’s Office to drop the charges against the teens.
“In the entire history of this country, black people have been used as a scapegoat for all social ills and now these five kids are being used as a symbol for what is wrong with Geneva,” said Tools for Social Change member Natalie Knott during the rally. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Geneva — well, I do — but I don’t think it’s the people. … It’s our structure and institutions that are failing us.”
This situation developed as negative stories involving law enforcement were cropping up in sections of the U.S., leading to increased scrutiny of police forces nationwide. Similar Black Lives Matter rallies were breaking out throughout the year.
Seeing a need for a boost in morale among local law enforcement and for police across the rest of the nation, members of the Ontario County Police Benevolent Association, distributed 50 lawn signs stating "Back the Blue." The signs were aimed at professing support for local law enforcement to anyone in the community who wanted them.
Donna Schaertl, the event coordinator for OCPBA, and Bill Wellman, president of the group and an investigator with the Ontario County Sheriff’s Office, would quickly realize that 50 lawn signs was not enough due to their popularity among the public.
In the end, there were more than 150 lawn signs distributed, along with Back the Blue bumper stickers and T-shirts being created. The program, which initially included the distribution of the free signs, ended up raising several thousand dollars aimed at supporting a Ontario County law enforcement officer or his or her family members in times of tragedy or great need.
“Considering the news lately, I just really hope that people start to really see what the police are out there doing for us; people are safe and they protect our little guys, because that’s what’s important,” said Geneva resident Jamie Haag, who purchased some of the fundraising merchandise back in September.
String of shootings
Approximately a month after the Black Lives Matter gathering in the city of Geneva, an alleged armed robbery of a Hobart and William Smith Colleges student took place. At around 1 a.m. Aug. 26, on the Hobart and William Smith Colleges campus, the alleged victim said that he was approached by two individuals, both displaying handguns. The pair took off with the student's cellphone.
On Sept. 13, Geneva police officers ended up arresting McCall and the 16-year-old involved in the alleged riot, who had been free from the Ontario County Jail on $5,000 bail for the riot charges they were facing.
Their cases remain pending in Ontario County Court.
It wasn’t the only incident involving the presence of handguns in the city of Geneva during 2016. In total there were four incidents that involved shootings in the city this year, including two deaths and one man who remains in guarded condition at Strong Memorial Hospital.
The first incident unfolded in February, in a murder-suicide that occurred on Exchange Street in the middle of the day in front of several witnesses.
After physically attacking 38-year-old Emily Carson, Pedro Pacheco, 35, shot his former girlfriend twice in the abdomen, before turning the gun on himself.
“She was not moving at all,” said Geneva resident Jeff Wilkie who was at a nearby restaurant when the shots broke out. “But he was already done. You could tell by the amount of blood. He was lifeless. You see this stuff on the news all the time, but not here in Geneva. It’s sad.”
Carson was pronounced dead at Geneva General Hospital after suffering a pair of gunshot wounds to her abdomen. She was an employee of the same hospital.
At around 1 a.m. April 29, Geneva police officers responded to a report of several shots fired on Linden Street near Seneca Street. It was later revealed that then 26-year-old Aleem “Hammer” Whitfield, a local boxer, was shot in the leg.
He was transferred to Strong Memorial Hospital and was released from the facility in the afternoon.
Another Geneva resident, 31-year-old Maurice O. Maxon, was shot in the abdomen and in the shoulder during June. He has also since been released from the hospital.
The final incident involving a shooting occurred earlier this month when two men were injured during a burglary on Wadsworth Street.
One of the victims, 43-year-old Adrian Porter, remains in guarded condition after being placed in an induced coma at Strong following a single gunshot wound to his abdomen. Reynaldo Dejesus suffered injuries from a knife attack during the same burglary, but has since been released from the hospital.
The following week, Geneva police officers charged 19-year-old city resident Khaishia S. Parker for her involvement in the alleged burglary. Police have not said that Parker was the one who pulled the trigger, but have accused the teen of being at the Wadsworth Street residence and directly participated in the alleged organized crime that involved the theft of a large sum of cash.
Days later, members of the Geneva Police Department announced the arrest of 21-year-old Nelson F. Mateo Jr., for allegedly shooting Whitfield in the incident several months earlier.
The violence wasn’t confined to the city of Geneva.
Canandaigua resident Luis G. Vargas, 52, was arrested for allegedly stabbing a 29-year-old man in the neck and abdomen while just outside the Farmer’s Inn, located in Canandaigua, during May.
The victim lived, but it was more unwanted attention drawn to the bar located on Coach Street.
The bar was in the news several times before this incident stemming from arrest reports released by the Canandaigua Police Department. The reports often involved the sale of drugs outside the establishment.
"Based upon our cases, our reports that come in, our observations — drugs are rampant inside the Farmer's Inn," said Sgt. Scott Kadien, of the Canandaigua Police Department, in June.
The attention caused the expression of great frustration from George Hetelekides, owner of the decades-old establishment.
“Everyday in the headlines it’s ‘drug bust at the Farmer’s Inn,’” he said while inside his bar the same week. “Am I the drug capital? It’s frustrating.”
Law enforcement tools
Drugs, particularly opioid-based substances, have continued to spike in the area.
As in 2015, several forums have been held across Ontario County focusing on the heroin scourge gripping the community. The forums include members of law enforcement, those who have lost loved ones to heroin and those who have battled addiction.
“I look back at it now and the very first time I took an opiate … I was hooked instantly,” said Nicholas Constable, of Geneva, who spoke at one forum held at Bloomfield High School. “It still boggles my mind how that happened.”
According to Sheriff Phil Povero, in 2015, eight deaths were associated with drug overdoses. As of early December 2016, that total had more than tripled, with 27 deaths being reported.
The sheriff added there have been three lives a week that are being saved on average through the use of naloxone in Ontario County. Naloxone, also sold under the brand name Narcan, is an opioid antagonist that reverses opioid overdose.
With the number of deaths across the nation as a result of heroin and other opioid abuse, Congress passed legislation that includes $1 billion in prevention and treatment for what has been deemed a national epidemic. The funding has helped provide many emergency response agencies nationwide with the lifesaving drug, including local agencies.
Emergency personnel across the county carry the medication and are regularly deploying naloxone. However, the cost of the medicine is starting to spike, causing concern about its presence in the future.
“As long as I’m chief of police, I will always push for it even if there was no funding available to pay for this drug,” Canandaigua Police Chief Stephen Hedworth said earlier this month. “The money is never going to be an issue. The value of a human life is of the utmost importance.”
With the presence of guns and drugs in the area, the goal of enhancing public safety and deterring crime in Canandaigua, officials in the city pushed for the placement of high-definition surveillance cameras along Main Street.
The surveillance system can store footage and can be accessed live on monitors at the Canandaigua Police Department, at the E-911 Center and inside police vehicles.
All 14 of the cameras, part of a $61,555.50 project, are set to be up and running in early 2017.
“It’s one small part of our plan of attack to keep Canandaigua safe and secure for everybody,” Hedworth said.