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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 31, 2009

2009 in review: Knox
Town hall renovations underway,
GOP’s Stevens wins board seat, flood and fire, fatal crash rock Knox

By Zach Simeone

KNOX — The town board took big steps this year towards a renovated town hall, for which construction recently began.

The community was shaken, however, when two Berne-Knox-Westerlo students, both from Knox, were killed in unrelated crashes, and a case of arson left one family homeless.

And in an upset, a Republican edged out an incumbent Democratic town board member on Election Day.

Knox Supervisor Michael Hammond, who ran unopposed this year, won his 18th consecutive two-year term, making him the longest serving supervisor in the county.

In the three-way race for two town board seats, Democratic incumbent Nicholas Viscio was the top vote-getter with 542, or 35 percent of the vote. He was followed closely by Republican Travis Stevens with 525 votes — 34 percent. Incumbent Dennis Decker came in third with 475 votes — 30 percent.

Also on Nov. 3, Gary Salisbury was re-elected highway superintendent. His was the largest margin of victory in Knox on Election Day this year and he received more votes than any other candidate. Salisbury got over 70 percent of the vote, with 677, while his Democratic challenger, Dennis Barber, garnered 283 votes, just under 30 percent.

Clerk Kimberly Swain is a Republican who also had the Democratic, Independence, and Conservative lines. She has been clerk for four years and was elected to another two-year term with 668 votes. Deborah Liddle, a Democrat who had previously been the Knox town clerk, launched a write-in campaign and received 161 votes, or 19 percent.

Republican Bonnie Donati lost her bid for town judge to Democratic incumbent Jean Gagnon. Gagnon garnered 485 votes, or 54 percent, compared to Donati’s 418 votes, or 46 percent.

Democrat Delia Palombo, was unopposed for tax collector and received 632 votes.

A better town hall

In August, the town board accepted bids from eight companies that will renovate Knox Town Hall, a project that will cost $1,388,447. Construction for the project began on Aug. 28, and is expected to reach completion by April 2010.

The town hall was built near the center of the hamlet, on the edge of the town park, in 1977. The town board began considering an expansion and renovation of the building more than a decade ago.

The town received 28 bids for the project and, at its Aug. 11 meeting, the town board accepted these eight bids unanimously:

— Site work to be performed by Rotterdam General Contracting Corp. for $185,000;

— Foundation work by M.A. Schafer Construction, Inc. for $121,500;

— Rough framing work by M.A. Schafer Construction, Inc. for $129,880;

— Roof construction by M.A. Schafer Construction, Inc. for $79,880;

— General building construction by Wainschaf Associates, Inc. for $499,900;

— Plumbing work by Tri-Valley Plumbing & Heating, Inc. for $57,900;

— Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning work by Eckert Mechanical Service Corp. for $165,940; and

— Electrical work by Phoenix Electricians Company, Inc. for $148,447.

The project will include an entirely new roof, new siding, offices for building and zoning administrators, and a new meeting room, where each of the town’s governmental bodies will meet, with higher ceilings, and a built-in, semi-circular dais.

There will also be a record vault on the ground floor, and a hydraulically powered elevator that goes between the first and second floors, to ensure the building complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The copy room will be moved, and the whole building will be air-conditioned. The supervisor’s office will remain as is.

The windows along the south wall will be enlarged to about double their current size, and there will be an emergency generator to power the building in the case of an outage.

Shattered dreams

Edmund Moore was sentenced this year to six months in Albany County’s jail for criminally negligent homicide.

Last fall, Berne-Knox-Westerlo sophomore Ryan Slingerland was killed in a car accident on Street Road. His friend, Ashlee Overbaugh, then 18, was injured as well.

At about 5 p.m. on Oct. 1, 2008, Moore was driving south on Street Road in Knox in a Hyundai sedan with Overbaugh, whom police described as Moore’s girlfriend, in the passenger seat, and Slingerland in the back.

Moore, then 19, was arrested on April 8 for criminally negligent homicide, a felony, and third-degree assault, a misdemeanor. He was arraigned on that same day at the Albany County Court, in front of Judge Thomas Breslin.

According to Assistant District Attorney for Albany County Mary Tanner-Richter, it is not believed that Moore was intoxicated at the time of the accident.

On the day after the accident, friends of Ryan Slingerland gathered near the gazebo in the center of Altamont. It had been almost 24 hours since Ryan died in a car crash.

The village park was his favorite hangout spot, his mother said. There, they blew up balloons to honor the 16-year-old Berne-Knox-Westerlo sophomore.

Just a few minutes before 4 p.m., they simultaneously released their balloons, allowing them to float up towards the sky — towards Ryan, one friend said.

Before releasing the balloons into the field of crystal-clear blue above, his friends wrote messages on them. Most thanked him for always being there for them, no matter what.

Robert and Matthew Prusinski, twin brothers, said that day that they were two of Ryan’s best friends in the world.

“He’s been our best friend since second grade — like a brother,” Robert said, his brother next to him, both boys fighting back tears with bloodshot eyes. “He was there with us every day.”

“We used to go to the playground over there and do back flips all the time,” Matthew said, his finger trembling as he pointed down the street towards Altamont Elementary School.

“He was such a wonderful kid, so full of life,” said Nicole Prusinski, mother of Robert and Matthew. “He’ll be missed tremendously.”

“He was Ry-Guy,” said his sister, Shannon Slingerland. “He was just a normal 16 year old. He was my big-little brother…He grew up so fast.” He loved to be at the center of attention, always cracking jokes, she said. “He always would try and put a smile on somebody else’s face before his — to make them happy if they were sad.”

Drawing was one of his favorite things. He drew on his homework, in his notebooks, when he was talking on the phone, when he was sitting at the computer.

“All around my house, we have little odds and ends that he drew on — little pieces of paper lying around,” said his mother, Lindy Slingerland. “I saw a matchbook that he drew his name on. He doodled all types of things: crosses, graffiti-type stuff. It all looked really good,” she said.

He had a sketchbook full of drawings, too. “I think he got the drawing from his older brother Shawn,” his mother said. “Shawn loved to draw.”

On the Monday following the accident, friends and family gathered at Fredendall’s Funeral Home, a stone’s throw from the park in Altamont, to say goodbye to Slingerland. There, they heard from Pastor Will Balta of the South Westerlo Congregational Christian Church, who read excerpts from the Bible and offered comforting words.

“We know that he is one who has made many people here laugh,” he said of Ryan. “And we ask, dear God, that your hand be upon each one here that has been touched by Ryan…Ry-Guy.” The mention of his nickname spurred a bit of laughter, and for a moment, the crowd was smiling.

A Rhino’s regret

On May 28, James Wyatt Spencer, 13, took his brand new Yamaha Rhino out for a ride around his home on Bozenkill Road with his 14-year-old friend. They had skipped school to try out the new vehicle, which Spencer’s parents gave to him that day. At about 4 p.m., the Rhino flipped over on top of Spencer. He was taken to Albany Medical Center, where he died as a result of massive head trauma. His friend was not injured.

Neither boy was wearing a seat belt or a helmet, and both were under Yamaha’s 16-year age recommendation for operating the vehicle.

“It’s our opinion that excessive speed and inexperience were the cause,” Chief Deputy Craig Apple of the sheriff’s department said in June. “I know it upsets the family, but the kid was 13 years old, on a thousand-pound piece of machinery.”

The evidence, Apple said, lay in the vehicle’s track marks at the site of the accident, and a testimonial from Spencer’s friend, who was riding the vehicle with Spencer on the day of the accident.

“He was traveling downhill,” Apple said of Spencer. “It was high, wet grass, and what he did was he came down and turned hard to the right. The front wheel dug into the ground and flipped the vehicle over.”

The boy’s father blamed the vehicle.

“If I was made aware at the store when I was purchasing this that there were rollovers, I would have never even considered buying this thing,” James Spencer told The Enterprise in June. “I want to know who’s up there in the captain’s seat and says, ‘Oh, well, if it kills 50 or 60 people, and we can still make a billion dollars, let’s just go ahead with it.’”

After the boy’s death, Spencer shared memories of his son.

“He was the greatest 13-year-old you could know,” his father said, “and 500-plus showing up to the memorial sure proved to me that he looked out for a lot of people. He always looked out for the little guy, stopped kids from picking on each other at school. Just a great, honest kid.”

Wyatt was very family oriented, too, his father went on, and he liked helping out with farm work, especially helping his mother care for their alpacas. He was also witty, and very smart.

“He always had good marks in school — that was the deal, or else he couldn’t play baseball,” Mr. Spencer said. “And he was one hell of a pitcher. He was the one they brought in when they needed the game to end.” He threw a good 60-mile-an-hour fastball, his father said.

Wyatt also played basketball and golf. He loved camping, four-wheeling, and motorcycling. “He was a very experienced rider, too,” his father said. “A real active kid.”

“He was a leader,” his father said then. “Everybody looked up to him for how to act, the baseball team looked to him on how to play. It’s incredible; all the kids that are coming down here with their parents, they just miss him so much.”

The passion ran both ways.

Some years ago, Wyatt and his father took a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

“We took him out to Cooperstown one time, and we were in one of the baseball card shops, he must have been 9 years old,” Mr. Spencer said. “There was this old man in the back, reading the magazine, and Wyatt looked at this old man and said, ‘Hey, what are you doing here?’

“The guy said, ‘Well, I’m here signing autographs.’

“And Wyatt said, ‘Who are you?’

“And he said, ‘Well, my name’s Clete Boyer.’”

Boyer, who played for the Yankees with Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and Roger Maris, was a legend in Wyatt’s eyes.

“Wyatt couldn’t believe it,” his father said. “He started listing off names and numbers and records to this guy.”

Boyer was so impressed that he pulled out an 8-by-11 action shot of himself and signed it, “To Wyatt, my number-one fan.”

“They talked smack for about 10 minutes,” his father laughed.

“It makes me want to cry, but it also makes me feel so good, and so proud,” he concluded. “I think that, if Wyatt had to make a statement to the world, he would say, ‘Take care of the world, and take care of each other.’ He always used to say that.”

Inferno leaves family homeless

On June 10, just one year after he was talked down from a cliff’s edge at Thacher Park, Christopher David burned down his family’s home on Suto Road in Knox.

Fire departments from Knox, Berne, Guilderland, and Altamont were on the scene, along with the Albany County fire coordinator, and the Albany County Sheriff’s Department.

By the time they had quelled the inferno, the old blue farmhouse was completely destroyed. Nearly the entire backside of the house had burned away, and the roof had caved in. The smoke was visible from Route 157.

“At approximately 2:30 p.m. we received a 911 call from the family, indicating that the son, Christopher David, 24 years old, was going to light the house on fire,” Chief Deputy Craig Apple of the sheriff’s department told The Enterprise at the scene. “He was explaining a makeshift incendiary device, that he was describing more as a bomb.”

Apple said later that David had assembled a Molotov cocktail — a simple explosive involving a bottle containing gasoline, with a piece of string acting as a wick. In its most common use, the wick is lit, and the bottle is thrown, causing the glass to break, and the flame to make contact with the fuel contained inside. “That’s what moved the fire along so quickly,” said Apple.

David was charged with first-degree arson.

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