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2016 in review: Fatal fire, black bear

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

A black bear goes higher in a tree on Crandall Street in Cortland after being shot with a tranquilizer dart by state big game biologist Courtney LaMere in April.

Fatal accidents and structure fires, homicides and a curious black bear found in a tree were among some of the most significant public safety events in 2016.

Man charged after fire

Brian H. Bermudez, 39, was charged in September with second-degree manslaughter, third-degree unlawful manufacturing of methamphetamine and second-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, all felonies.

He is accused of making meth which is believed to have started a fire on Sept. 2 in the historic building in downtown Homer where he lived. As a result of the fire another occupant of the building, Dewayne Block, 81, died, police said. The fire also destroyed the building that dated back to the 1800s and was owned by David Ames and contained Ames’ law office and Homer Coiffeur hair salon on the first floor and apartments on the second floor. The third floor was vacant.

On Dec. 14, Bermudez was indicted on charges of second-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, second-degree manslaughter, third-degree unlawful manufacturing of methamphetamine and unlawful disposal of methamphetamine, all felonies. He pleaded not guilty to those charges that day and his case is still pending.

Homicide cases resolved Two homicide cases from 2015 were resolved after one man went to trial and the other accepted a plea deal this year.

Randy Wilkinson, 44, of 10 Northcliffe Road, was found guilty May 4 of stabbing Terry Walker, 36, of Syracuse, to death on Dec. 20, 2014, at Wilkinson’s mother’s apartment after the two men got into an argument. The guilty verdict came after 11 days of jury trial, including about a day and a half of jury deliberations, in County Court.

Wilkinson was sentenced to the maximum of 25 years to life in prison for the charges of second-degree murder and two counts of fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon, one for hitting Walker with a cutting board and the other for stabbing him with a knife.

Daniel A. Haynes III, 31, of 921 W. State Road, Virgil, was sentenced to 10 1/2 to 21 years in prison for driving drunk and crashing his car into a telephone pole, killing his 6-year-old daughter, Alexia.

Haynes was charged in November 2015 with 31 felony and misdemeanor counts, including second-degree murder, for driving the car that crashed along West State Road on April 24, 2015.

On Aug. 5 Haynes pleaded guilty to aggravated vehicular homicide, accepting a deal offered by the District Attorney’s Office.

Man charged with robbery

Cortland County Sheriff’s officers, with assistance from the state police, responded Nov. 26 to the First National Bank of Dryden on Route 13 near Lime Hollow Road in South Cortland for a report of a robbery.

At the time it was reported that a man entered the bank, demanded money and left with an undisclosed amount of cash, police said.

The suspect was described as a white man between 5 feet 10 inches to 6 feet 2 inches tall with blond hair. He was last seen wearing tan pants and boots, a black sweatshirt and baseball hat, a dark colored bandanna and carrying a black backpack.
Witnesses at the time told police the man left in a late-model, dark-colored Chevrolet Impala with tinted windows.

On Dec. 1, Zacharie T. Boutoille, 25, of Elm Street, was taken into custody after the Cortland County Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant at his residence on Elm Street.

Boutoille was charged with second-degree robbery, third-degree grand larceny and second-degree criminal use of a firearm, felonies.

Girl hit by car, dies

State police responded on Dec. 4 to a fatal accident in the area of 514 Sheldon Road in Dryden.

A 2012 Dodge Ram 1500 pickup truck being driven by Andrew R. Porter, 26, of Dryden, was southbound on Sheldon Road when it struck two girls who were walking southbound on the unlit, paved road, police said.

Kaylee Wacht, 11, of Freeville, was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident by Tompkins County Medical Examiner Dr. Howard Silcoff.

Throughout the following days, counseling was offered at Dryden Middle School to help children cope with the death.
No charges against the driver of the truck were filed.

Bear found in tree dies

Residents of Cortland woke up the morning of April 25 to find a 2-year-old, 200 pound black bear in a tree at Crandall and Elm streets in the city.

Members of the city police and fire departments, as well as state Department of Environmental Conservation wildlife conservation professionals, responded. After about three hours in the tree, a DEC big game biologist tranquilized the bear and it fell from the tree into a net and was taken to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine for evaluation.

The bear was pronounced dead when it arrived at the university and staff members at the Animal Health Diagnostic Center at the University College of Veterinary Medicine conducted a full necropsy. The necropsy determined the tranquilizer dart hit a vein or artery instead of muscle, causing respiratory failure and killing the bear.

For more of 2016’s top stories, check out our year-in-review roundups.