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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, November 23, 2006

Police charge drunk driver Man loses life in car crash

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — Preliminary reports cite speed and alcohol as possible factors in Friday’s fatal two-car crash on Western Avenue, but the investigation is still ongoing according to police.

The scene of the crash was dismal, with both vehicles spun in opposite directions and glass, twisted metal, debris, and gasoline and oil strewn in various directions. Yellow tape and bright emergency lights sectioned off the accident. Suda’s car ripped down several road signs, which were sticking out from under the car, as it rested on Crossgates’ property. The car looked as through it went through a demolition derby.

Joseph K. Albert of Albany, a passenger in Saslano S. Suda’s crushed car, was removed using the Jaws of Life and later died shortly after arriving at Albany Medical Center Hospital.

Guilderland Police say that about 8:37 a.m. on Nov. 17, Suda, 40, was driving west in his 1998 Saturn through the center turning lane of Western Avenue and crashed head-on into the passenger side of Michelle E. Burton’s 2005 Toyota 4-Runner while she was turning into Crossgates Mall.

Burton, 40, from East Berne and Suda, of 14 Myrtle Ave. in Albany, were both taken to Albany Medical Center for minor injuries, according to the Western Turnpike Rescue Squad.

"The white Saturn was traveling westbound in the center lane. Witnesses say he [Suda] was traveling at a ‘high rate of speed,’" said Investigator Thomas Funk of the Guilderland Police. "The SUV was making a left from the eastbound lane into the mall."

Funk told The Enterprise Suda’s sedan struck Burton’s SUV from the side in a "T-bone" fashion. And, he said, judging from the extensive damage to both vehicles, eye-witness accounts of Suda driving excessively fast are probably accurate. He added that things are still "preliminary" at this stage.

"His [Suda] car continued spinning after the impact and then came to rest on Crossgates’ property," Funk said.

Western Avenue was temporarily closed off following the accident, but the westbound lane was soon re-opened using the turning lane for traffic.

According to Funk, five or six witnesses are helping police reconstruct the events of that morning.

"It’s not as many as one would like," Funk said of the witnesses. Police were collecting evidence and cleaning up the scene until after 3 o’clock that afternoon.

The Westmere Fire Department removed Suda and Albert using the Jaws of Life.

"The driver was out pretty quick"It took about 10 minutes to get to the passenger," said Westmere Fire Chief William Swartz, calling the damage to the vehicles "extensive."

Emergency medical services workers were on the scene to immediately treat Suda, Burton, and Albert, said Swartz. Workers from Guilderland Emergency Medical Service, Albany County Advanced Life Support Unit, Western Turnpike Rescue Squad, and the Five Quad Ambulance from the University at Albany, all responded to the accident.

Albert was unconscious but still alive after he was extracted from the vehicle, said the Western Turnpike Rescue Squad’s chief of operations, Howard Huth.

"He was in pretty bad shape," Huth added.

Police say Albert was pronounced dead shortly after he arrived at the hospital.

Suda was picked up by Guilderland Police from Albany Medical Center and transported back to the Guilderland Police Station later that evening. He was arraigned by Town Judge Denise Randall on six charges after James Millstien was appointed as his representative. He has been remanded to Albany County’s jail, with a preliminary hearing being set for Wednesday.

Suda is facing the following charges:

— Criminally negligent homicide, a felony;

— Second-degree vehicular homicide, a felony;

— Reckless endangerment, a felony;

— Driving while intoxicated, a misdemeanor;

— Third-degree assault, a misdemeanor; and

— Various vehicle and traffic charges.

Funk said the blood test for Suda’s blood-alcohol level has not yet been returned and that other charges may be pending.

Funk referred to Suda and Albert as friends. The Enterprise submitted a Freedom of Information Law request to the Guilderland Police to see if Suda has a history of driving while intoxicated or had previous arrests — Guilderland Police found no records at their department.

Lieutenant Curtis Cox of the Guilderland Police was asked about the number of fatalities on Western Avenue or if the Crossgates area was problematic when it came to traffic accidents. He did not have the proper statistical information available to him at the time.

"Off of the top of my head, without statistical numbers in front of me, I personally don’t believe that area of Western Avenue is any more problematic than any other part," Cox said.

Clough arrested for attack with a tire iron

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — A Schenectady man now sits behind bars after police say he violently attacked clinic employees Wednesday night at Executive Park in McKownville.

Mathew A. Clough, 31, of 822 Rankin Ave., Schenectady, is facing second-degree felony assault and third-degree misdemeanor assault charges.

Guilderland Police say they received a call Wednesday evening about a man striking a women in the face with his fist and hitting another man with a tire iron.

"We received a 911 call that an assault was occurring. He [Clough] had left by the time we arrived, but he later turned himself in to the Schenectady Police Department," said Lieutenant Curtis Cox of the Guilderland Police Department.

Cox told The Enterprise that Clough walked into the acupuncture and massage therapy clinic at 4 Executive Park Drive with a tire iron and was met in the lobby by the acupuncturist.

Clough knew both of the victims, police say.

The arrest report says Clough is six feet tall, weighs 185 pounds, and works as a clerk. It also says he was impaired by alcohol.

"When he walked in, he was met by the acupuncturist and he punched her in the face and knocked her down," Cox said. "Then he was holding up the tire iron as if he was going to strike her with it."

Police say that’s when the massage therapist came running out.

"She yelled out for help," Cox said, and then the massage therapist ran up and put his arm out and was struck as Clough swung the tire iron. Another employee then came running out and helped the massage therapist wrestle the tire iron away from Clough.

Clough then ran out of the office and drove away, said Cox.

According to the arrest report, the acupuncturist had injuries resulting in a laceration on her face and swelling in her jaw, and the massage therapist injured his left forearm from blocking Clough’s tire iron.

Both were treated by Guilderland Emergency Medical Services workers at the scene and later drove themselves to a local hospital for further examination.

Police say the incident was over an e-mail message.

"His intent was to go in there with this tire iron with the intent to get an e-mail one way or another," Cox said.

Schenectady Police turned Clough over to Guilderland Police’s custody and he was arraigned in town court where he was remanded to Albany County’s jail.

Halted house project now allowed to proceed

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — The town that stopped construction on the Cox family’s torn-up house will now let them proceed.

Since Oct. 19, Dave and Loretta Cox’s home was exposed to the elements as they fended off rodents looking for warm winter refuge. Last Wednesday, the zoning board re-instituted their building permit in a 5-to-1 vote.

The Coxes’ building permit to expand their two-family home at 6332 Frenchs Hollow Rd. was "red-flagged" after they began construction and the town’s building inspector, Donald Cropsey, discovered the expansion was a non-conforming use. The Coxes had already torn down a portion of their home for the expansion when the stop-work order has handed down.

Cropsey later told The Enterprise that he originally issued the building permit "in error."

The reaction

"Thank God," Loretta Cox said after the board’s decision. "As soon as we get a hold of the builder, I hope he can start again tomorrow."

Earlier in the week, David Cox expressed his dismay at the debacle that held up his home’s construction when he invited The Enterprise to photograph the project underway.

"All these guys do is issue permits; they should know this code inside and out. Maybe they should start testing them on this stuff, and, if they fail, maybe they should be fired," Cox said. "I believe there may be political motives behind this."

Cox said that one of his neighbors studied the code and brought the conformity issues to the town. He said that he believed some neighbors who feared his home could become a rental property were the driving force behind getting his building permit red-flagged.

Cox also added that he spent $10,000 in lawyer’s fees, had to turn away three trucks full of cement, and had burned well over a cord of firewood while the stop-work order was in effect.

All that protected his home from the elements was a $125 tarp, Cox said, adding that he hopes he never has to use it again.

"I can’t believe I ripped my house open and now we can’t re-build," he said at the time. "My water tank and pipes are exposed to the elements."

Cox said his three dogs and his cats were doing their part by keeping mice and other rodents out of the house. Several dead mice were seen near the vicinity of the tarp — obviously succumbing to feline patrols.

"You’ve been a good boy," Cox said while leaning down to pet his cat. "You’ve been earning your keep."

Cox said his family has been "very stressed out," and he was worried about winter construction affecting the quality of the work done on his home as the winter months approach. The construction was stopped for nearly a month between Oct. 19 and Nov. 15.

The Coxes were extremely happy with the board’s decision and say they just want to be able to care for their in-laws when they are in the area.

When asked before the vote, what he thought about the board’s decision, Cox responded by saying, "If we don’t get this approval, we’re f---ked!"

"Easy case"

The Coxes’ home is a duplex with an added in-law apartment in an agriculturally-zoned area. Their home was built in the late 1970’s before the zoning law changed in 1987 to ban duplexes in such zones. The zoning board, after considerable debate, had previously granted a special-use permit, allowing the construction of the in-law apartment.

Mrs. Cox said earlier she wants to care for her elderly father who will live in the apartment.

The Coxes’ attorney, Edward Sossner, addressed the zoning board on Wednesday night before the vote-only hearing.

"I believe the code gives you an avenue to vote in favor of my clients," Sossner told the board. "To me, this is an easy case. This isn’t a Wal-mart big box application. This is someone who came in and is financially invested"They can’t turn back."

Sossner also added, "Think about how this case got to this point."

Board member Susan Cupoli questioned the kitchens in the building plans and Chairman Peter Barber asked Cropsey if the fact that the structure has a second kitchen makes it a dual-family use.

"The dwelling is defined by the kitchen," Cropsey responded. "Certainly they could remove the kitchen, but I don’t think that’s their intention."

Cupoli was concerned that, with a kitchen in the apartment, it could later be used as an additional rental property.

Sossner protested, saying that the use of the house has not changed and that the structure was legally built within the code at the time of its construction. Furthermore, Sossner contended, the Coxes had paid for the duplex at a higher price than a single-family home.

"I can tell you for sure there are many residents around the country with more than one kitchen. We paid good money for a two-family structure," Sossner told the board. "We’re only asking for this twenty-by-twenty-one addition."

The vote

Cupoli was the only dissenter, with fellow members James Sumner and Patricia Aikens recusing themselves from the vote and alternate member Thomas Remmert voting in Aikens’s stead.

Cupoli stated that she would not comment on why she dissented, but later commented on worries of the apartment’s being "rentable." At the previous meeting, board members Sumner, Aikens, and Susan Marci were all absent. Marci said that she reviewed the tape of the previous meeting and felt competent in her vote in favor of the expansion. Sumner said the he was not comfortable voting because he was not at the previous meeting, although he did review the tape.

Aikens sat in the crowd and allowed Remmert to remain and vote since he sat in for her as an alternate in the previous meeting.

Board member Charles Klaer said that the history of the structure should be on record before the board voted.

"I understand the original house was a duplex built in 1978 with a two-car garage"Some time after that, the two-car garage became living space associated with the downstairs apartment," Klaer said. "Can a portion of the duplex have its own in-law apartment" We had a lengthy discussion on that, and said, yes, it could have an in-law apartment"The garage then became a part of the duplex."

Crospey indicated the structure was in conformance and that the problem began because of the change in the actual footprint of the structure. However, the expansion was not more than a 25-percent increase, therefore making the structure conforming under its pre-exiting conditions.

Barber agreed.

"Don [Cropsey] has indicated that it is a conforming structure. It’s still a two-family structure, be it that an in-law apartment is attached," said Barber. "I still see it as an expansion of the structure, and not of the use."

Board attorney, Janet Thayer, also agreed with Barber’s and Cropsey’s logic.

"The simple expansion of the structure does not increase its use," Thayer said. "Keep in mind, the apartment was issued a special-use permit that said, once a blood relative isn’t living there, the kitchen has to be removed in order to be conforming."

The Coxes’ in-laws live in Florida for part of the year and in the in-law apartment during the rest of the year. When not in use, David Cox told The Enterprise, other family members and their children use it as a guest apartment when they visit.

While talking to Rodger Stone, the town’s code enforcer, after the vote, Sossner thanked him for arranging the paperwork allowing construction to resume.

He also asked Stone to extend their thanks to the zoning board.

"Tell Mr. Cropsey and the rest of the board, ‘Thank you,’" Sossner said to Stone.

Catholic Charities turns 20

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — Catholic Charities Caregivers Support Services has a simple mission: Help families help themselves.

It recognizes caretakers of the ill and elderly, and the young and vulnerable, elevating them to the level of everyday heroes.

The charity group, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary starting in January, supports families — both financially and through support groups —who choose to take care of ailing members and keep them out of nursing homes.

The organization offers support services such as Elder Care and Kinship Care with respite services, information and assistance, social-work services, support groups, and social recreational activities.

Mary Moller, a social worker for Catholic Charities Caregivers Support Services, said that her organization helps assist some of the 1.9 million informal caregivers in New York State who each year collectively provide over 2 billion hours of caregiving for relatives.

A recent study cited by Catholic Charities Caregivers showed that, if respite delays the institutionalization of people with Alzheimer’s disease by just one month, $1.12 billion is saved annually.

"They are caring for their elderly loved ones. It’s mostly spouses taking care of each other, but we also have a lot of children taking care of their parents," Moller told The Enterprise. "Essentially, they’re trying to keep their loved ones out of nursing homes."

The Elder Care program focuses on families taking care of elderly members, while Kinship Care targets relatives taking care of younger children and grandchildren.

Both programs offer respite services in the form of annual grants that fund home care and adult care for the elderly as well as vacation activities and weekend family camping for youths. The services are designed to help caregivers cope with the physical, emotional, and financial strains of their responsibility.

"It’s vital, it’s very, very important for the community," Moller said of the organization. "It keeps the elderly person in their home."

20 years of caring

"Caregiving is an act of love and is often invisible to society," says the organization’s literature.

The Catholic Charity Caregivers are trying to bring the issue to the forefront as an aging population continues to grow.

Caregivers in the organization have family members with an assortment of ailments from Alzheimer’s and various forms of dementia to kidney failure and other physical disabilities.

According to Moller, many of the individuals who take on the monumental task of personally caring for family members look to the Catholic Charities Caregivers Support Services as their only avenue of help.

"We provide grants to families for respite," said Moller. "However they want to use it, they can"This is what makes us unique."

Moller invited The Enterprise to the Catholic Charities appreciation luncheon last Thursday at Dorato’s in Guilderland. The lunch was designed to reward the organization’s members who sacrifice so much for their loved ones in need, she said.

The luncheon was well attended by several dozen caregivers.

"We’ve had separate dinners for caregivers in the past," said Moller. "This year we decided to bring everyone together."

Moller said this is the first year everyone was brought together, but, she added, they plan on making it an annual event.

After the lunch, dozens of prizes, like Starbucks coffee and music CDs, were given away.

"We’ve added a new rule," Moller told people as they went to pick up their prizes. "You cannot pick a prize for someone else. You have to pick for yourself."

Enduring love

Pointing to one woman in the crowd, Moller said, "She’s been caring for her mother for 14 years. It was a little easier at first, but now she has to help her do just about everything."

The woman’s story is a typical testimonial of the type of care required for many of their family members. The last names have been omitted at the request of the individuals, but here are some of the stories told by the caregivers:

— Jane has been married to her husband for more than 40 years and he has Alzheimer’s disease. As the disease has gotten progressively worse, Jane has had to constantly care for her husband.

"I didn’t know ‘for better or for worse’ would include Alzheimer’s disease," Jane said, referring to her wedding vows. Her husband no longer recognizes her and often wanders away. "It’s exhausting and I’m getting old," she said.

Jane’s husband can no longer be left alone.

— Susan lives near Colonie but travels one hour to a rural community west of Albany in order to care for her parents.

"I worry about them every day. My dad has dementia and my mom now has kidney failure and is refusing to go to dialysis," said Susan. "They refuse any help at all. I don’t know what to do."

— Marie takes care of her 94-year-old mother who moved into her home after she fractured her hip from a fall three years ago. Her husband’s parents, who are also in their 90’s, live in Rochester alone.

"My husband is retired and travels every other weekend to help care for his parents. My mom lives with us," Marie said. "We have to take care of our parents, it’s the right thing to do."

Marie has learned to change her mother’s colostomy bag as well as help her to bathe, dress, and eat everyday.

— John, 78, is a cancer survivor who cares for his wife. She is confined to a wheelchair. He said he only leaves the house to run errands and grocery shop and that a home health aide comes to their house for two hours a week to help him bathe his wife.

John said he is very concerned that, even with the assistance he receives from the Catholic Charities Caregivers Support Services, he will not be able to afford in-home help any longer.

However, John pledges that he will continue to care for his wife as long as he is physically able to.

Moller said there are hundreds of others stories, just like these, told by the members in the organization.

Caregivers who are looking for a little assistance are always welcome, assured Moller.

"We are here to try to support them through the caregiver portion of their lives. They are such great people," Moller said of the recipients. "They are really remarkable people"A through Z, whatever they’ve got to do, they do it."


The organization is funded by Catholic Charities; the New York State Legislature; United Way of Northeastern New York; the state’s Department of Health; the state’s Office for the Aging; the state’s Office of Children and Family Services; The Community Foundation; Albany County Department for Aging; Rensselaer County Unified Family Services for Aging; Albany County Youth Bureau; Brookdale Foundation; and from private donors.

There are a number of ways to donate to the organization, either financially or through volunteering. The Catholic Charities Caregivers Support Services can be reached at 449-2001 or through its website, cccaregivers.org.

All donations are tax-deductible.

High school parking lot: Guilderland speedway"

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — While a veteran bus driver here is concerned about student drivers crashing into buses, Guilderland administrators say they are pro-active in heading off problems.

Sue Spiak, a school-bus driver at Guilderland for 13 years, says arrival and dismissal times at the high school in Guilderland Center are akin to a Sunday afternoon NASCAR race.

High School Principal Michael Piccirillo says the situation is under control. He stands with other administrators and monitors in the parking lot at the beginning and end of every school day, said Piccirillo.

"It’s proactive, not reactive," said the principal. "Anything we see, we deal with."

So far this school year, he said, he was aware of only one collision between "an empty school bus and a couple of students."

School bus driver Cynthia Barnick says, in an accident report filed by the Guilderland Police, that, on Nov. 9 at 7:18 a.m. she was heading west on Route 146 when a car approached the intersection from Route 158. The Ford sedan "slowed down then turned left in front of her, and she had no time to stop," the report says.

Two vehicles were towed from the scene and three people were transported for immediate medical treatment, the report says.

The 17-year-old driver, Reece Berberick, was ticketed for a right-of-way violation.

Guilderland Police filed another report for an accident that took place on Route 146 a week later, on Nov. 15, at 2:59 p.m., just after high school dismissal, involving two young drivers.

The report says that 17-year-old Joseph Villa was northbound on Route 146 "and wasn’t paying attention and didn’t see" that Emily Kidd, 16, driving a 2006 Toyota, "had stopped in front of him." Villa’s Toyota then struck Kidd’s car, "which was stopped in traffic," the report says. Kidd’s car continued forward, striking a third car, driven by Meredith Best, 47, of Troy.

No tickets were issued, the report says, noting "minor damage" to Best’s car.

Spiak says that such accidents, involving student drivers, are frequent near the high school at the times the school opens and lets out.

Asked if Guilderland Police had noticed clusters of accidents near the high school at these times, Lieutenant Curtis Cox told The Enterprise, "We seem to get a number of accidents there from 2:40 to 3:30, but we haven’t done an analysis on student involvement." Cox said an increase in accidents at arrival and dismissal times could be due to "just more congestion" as staff members, buses, and students are all traveling the roads.

Accidents, he said, might be caused by a variety of factors, including road conditions, or following too close.

"Often times, there are students involved," Cox said, but he stressed that he was answering questions spontaneously and there was "no hard data."

"Very scary"

For Spiak, who wrote a letter to the Enterprise editor this week about her concerns, one instance is too many. She herself was hit by a student driver last spring, she said.

"A student slammed into the side of my bus," said Spiak, "Do we have to wait for someone to die to do something about this""

Although she had no number, Spiak said there have been "a lot" of student accidents in the years she has been driving. In addition to the accidents on Nov. 9 and 15, she cited a "pretty bad" accident at the intersection of routes 146 and 20 where a student was turning right to go to school and took the turn too fast, hitting both a pickup truck and a school bus.

"It’s very scary when you have students in a car and they plant themselves under your bus," she said.

Last spring, Spiak said, "I was on my way to the high school when a car pulled out in front of me. She said she didn’t see me," Spiak said of the driver. "How can you not see a great big school bus" She was a brand-new driver. She said, ‘My mother’s going to kill me.’"

Spiak was distressed that the driver was not issued a ticket. "The Guilderland Police say, if they don’t witness an accident, they won’t give a ticket," said Spiak.

Guilderland Police Investigator Thomas Funk explained why an arrest report sometimes isn’t filed after an accident. "Usually, with something like that, we just make an accident report unless there is some other outstanding factor, like being drunk," he said.

Funk said of issuing a ticket, "It’s at the officer’s discretion. We usually don’t write tickets unless we witness an accident. The court system doesn’t like it," he said.

Lt. Cox, too, stressed that tickets are issued at an officer’s discretion. The decision, he said, "is based on the totality of circumstances, including physical evidence and the statements people make."

He pointed out that a ticket was issued in the Nov. 9 accident although it was not witnessed by a police officer.

"Every situation is different," concluded Funk.

"We pay thousands of dollars in taxes for school buses," said Spiak, indicating more high-school students ought to ride them. Her biggest concern, she said is safety. "Something needs to be done before someone dies."

Spiak graduated from Guilderland High School in 1976 and says that, in her era, driving to school was a privilege that was earned.

In her letter to the editor, Spiak asks, "When did the school administration lose control and the students take over" Isn’t it the school’s job to protect their students""

"People depend on their cars"

Piccirillo told The Enterprise this week that 320 Guilderland High School students have permits to drive to school and park in a school lot. In order to get a permit, he said, a student must have a valid driver’s license, must fill out an application, and must pay an annual fee of $25.

He described the application as "pretty much a matter of form."

Piccirillo went on, "People lose their privileges if they violate school rules on parking or driving."

He estimated "a very small percentage" — perhaps 10 or 20 — had lost their privileges for a period of time. He said the disciplinary action was similar to students’ losing their bus-riding privileges if they misbehaved on the bus — the consequences become more severe for repeat infractions.

Piccirillo said that the school administration takes safety "very seriously." He hopes that his being outside everyday, watching the parking lot, "lends a sense that we care about a safe environment," said Piccirillo.

"If we feel someone is not driving safely, we talk with them," he said.

He also said that, at the high school, policies are reviewed every year, and sooner if needed. "We ask, is there something we can do differently," said Piccirillo.

Asked if there has been a change since the 1970’s to which Spiak refers, Piccirillo said, "I think students feel when they turn 16 and get a permit, they’ll have their own car right away. We understand the world has changed...We take steps every day to deal with it."

"Driving to school is a privilege, not a right," said Superintendent Gregory Aidala. "We stress that with students when they fill out the application....I would dispute the fact that they are driving recklessly. I don’t believe the administration has lost control at all."

He went on to point out that the school now offers driver-education classes in the fall and spring semesters as well as over the summer.

Aidala concluded, "The world today is different...We have activities after school. Students are involved in sports and have jobs after school. Many of them leave directly from school for work and we don’t have public transportation...We’re not a city; we’re a suburban area. People depend on their cars."

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