Blogs > Saratogian Newsroom

The Saratogian Newsroom blog, complete with thoughts and commentary from our newsroom staff and regular posts on happenings around town.

Thursday, June 30

Secrets in the Spa City?

According to the Saratoga Springs Police Department's blotter, two Secret Service agents were in Saratoga Springs to visit a particular person on Wednesday.

Police would not comment on their visit, but one said: "They are here regularly. They usually don't tell us why they are here or when," and added that the only reason they knew this time was because when they approached the man's door and identified themselves, he did not believe them. "We confirmed their credentials and they conducted their interview," the officer said.

What kind of nefarious activity would draw the Secret Service to Spa City?

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Tuesday, June 28

Judge tosses Katherine Seeber's guilty plea

Good morning everyone,
As promised, here's the full text of Judge Scarano's decision to toss Katherine Seeber's guilty plea.

BALLSTON SPA — Katherine Seeber's 2001 guilty plea has been tossed by Saratoga County Judge Jerry Scarano. Seeber, accused of murdering her step-great-grandmother, pleaded guilty to the crime in 2001 and has been serving a sentence of 20 years to life in prison since then.

Jeffrey Hampshire, who has a long history with Saratoga County law enforcement, including a recent conviction for his involvement in a fatal March 2010 hit-and-run, was also accused in Ruth Witter's murder but was acquitted at trial.

Seeber will likely be retried for Witter's murder, but District Attorney James A. Murphy III said he is considering appealing Scarano's decision. At this time, Murphy said there is no date set for the new trial.


Note: Yes, we are aware there was a mistake in the headline on this story both online and in print today. The online headline is now correct: Ruth Witter died of strangulation, not stabbing. A lame excuse for the error: none of the copy editors working yesterday were around in 2001 during the original trial and they got confused on the details. Like most of our reporting staff (and me) they were in high school in 2001. Everyone's getting a crash-course in this murder trial today to avoid further mistakes.

Katherine Seeber's '01 guity plea thrown out

Friday, June 24

Conclusion of Cole-Gate



The Friday-afternoon press conference apology from Saratoga Springs Police Chief Chris Cole more closely resembled Anthony Weiner's second matter-of-fact press conference than his initial tearful press conference as Cole read his apology for the sexting scandal he has been embroiled in for the latter two-thirds of June.
Cole declined to answer questions or speak beyond his prepared appology.
Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner Richard Wirth answered questions about the investigation and the actions being taken by the city, but declined to comment on the scandal itself or Lourie Masi who initially went to a news organization with a phone full of sext-messages from Cole-- initiating his press release that thrust the issue into the public spotlight ahead of her televised interview.
News reporters from every agency under the sun as well as blogger John Tighe from SaratogainDecline.blogspot.com were joined by several members of the public who came out to see Cole's statement and Wirth's decision.
Hopefully this really is the conclusion of Saratoga Springs' very own Weinergate.

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Thursday, June 23

Cole-Gate

According to Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner Richard Wirth, the internal investigation into Police Chief Christopher Cole is wrapping up.
Cole is currently on administrative leave for admitting that he sexted with a 41-year-old woman (he actually said she was 39, but according to her police records she was born in 1969).
He was placed on leave after confessing in a press release that he sent lewd photos from inside his office at City hall.
Wirth said the decision will be announced Friday or Monday.
Stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion of the Saratoga Springs Wienergate.

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Wednesday, June 22

Elton John confirmation

Who was it that called Elton John coming to SPAC weeks ahead of the official announcement by Live Nation? Oh right, I did.
The company confirmed that today.
I also called the Bruins winning the cup, but who's keeping score?

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Tuesday, June 21

Circular Street

After writing the article in response to SeeClickFix complaints about the intersection of Circular Street, Whitney Place and Park Place, I received an interesting e-mail from Pennsylvania Department of Transportation civil engineer Abram VanElswyk (I didn't think our circulation was so far reaching. Thank you internet), who suggested a different type of roundabout. Here are the contents of the e-mail which I have forwarded to Mark Benacquista, Dep. Commissioner Frank Dudla and Commissioner Richard Wirth:

Lucian –

I read with interest your article from yesterday regarding the issues at the Circular/Whitney/Park Place intersection, specifically the City Traffic Control Supervisor’s comments that a roundabout wouldn’t work there.

I checked out the site and do see how a typical roundabout could have negative right-of-way impacts. However, one option I wanted to call your and Mr. Benacquista’s attention to is a mini-roundabout. The primary difference between a regular roundabout and a mini is that the center of a mini is “traversable” (you can drive over it), which lets you make the roundabout smaller - cars go around like normal, and anything larger than an SUV or a Uhaul truck just bumps over the middle, which has a soft curb.

Here’s Federal Highway’s page on mini roundabouts: http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/intersection/roundabouts/fhwasa10007/

I’ve also attached a rough sketch showing how a pair of minis (one 70’ diameter, one 60’) might work at the Circular/Whitney/Park Place intersection.


I was not able to find email contact information for Mr. Benacquista, so if you would forward this message on to him it would be greatly appreciated.


Regards,

Abram VanElswyk | Civil Engineer Transportation
Pennsylvania Department of Transportation
Bureau of Project Delivery | Highway Quality Assurance Division
400 North Street | Harrisburg PA 17210
Phone: 717.705.8535 | Fax: 717.705.2379
www.dot.state.pa.us

He attached this picture of his suggestion:



Also here is a copy of the report prepared by Benacquista:
Circular@Park Whitney

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Tuesday, June 14

Same-sex marriage vote

With Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushing for a vote in the senate on same-sex marriage before the end of the legislative session next Monday, Sen. Roy McDonald (R-Saratoga) is on the side that may decide the debate.
Twenty-nine of thirty Democrats (barring Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., a Democratic Bronx minister)and one Republican (Sen. James Alesi of Monroe County) are expected to support allowing same-sex couples to marry in the state, but that is two votes shy of passing legislation on it in the Republican-controlled Senate.
McDonald's spokesperson, Michael Veitch, said Tuesday morning the Senator has decided on his stance on same-sex marriage and will announce it within the next few days.
Sen. Hugh T. Farley (R-Schenectady) said through a staffer on Tuesday that "He is in favor of a traditional marriage between one man and one woman," so Saratoga County residents can count him firmly on the side of being in the "Nay" category for this legislation.
We'll be sure to let you know when McDonald comes out with his stance, though it may not be until he casts his vote on the Senate floor if and when same-sex marriage comes up for another vote (it failed in 2009).

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Friday, June 10

The story that never was -- and then was

It always sort of makes me feel icky when we at the newspaper have to report on someone's personal life. At times, though, it seems to spill into the public realm in strange ways.
In the case of Police Chief Chris Cole, we at The Saratogian had actually been following this story since Tuesday night, when rumors and television news reports (however brief and vague) seemed to point to an investigation going on behind closed doors at City Hall into Cole's sexting.
I spoke to Commissioner Richard Wirth Wednesday night about it and he told me there had been rumors and he checked through the department to see if any complaints had been filed. He said there were none, official or otherwise.
We wrote that story Wednesday night. It was short, and it was going inside the paper.
It essentially said: "Despite news reports to the contrary, Wirth says there is no ongoing investigation into Cole sending lewd messages." At the time that was true, and I personally thought it sounded too much like Weinergate to be true (I joked about it being called Cole-Gate).
There was an editorial decision made, though, that if there was no investigation, there was no story, and we would give the chief the benefit of the doubt.
Turned out there was a story after all.
Cole came out with the press release in the late afternoon Thursday (see below for a full version of it).
It was clear it was a story when he admitted at least one lewd photograph was taken in his office at City Hall. That is clearly a case of a personal life spilling over into a professional one — a professional life that is funded by tax dollars.
I don't know what we would have done if it turned out he was doing this from his own home with his own cell phone on his own time.
To some, that is clearly personal.
To others, the chief of the Saratoga Springs Police Department is never off the clock and what he does always reflects on the city.
I can see both sides, but clearly this time we didn't have to have that debate. If it happens in City Hall, it is city business.
We will obviously continue to follow the story and we will see what action is taken by Wirth and his staff.
Either way, the story is still icky.

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Monday, June 6

Elton John

Rumor has it that the knighted piano player will be playing the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in early September (the fourth, I am told by an anonymous source), though Live Nation representatives declined to comment one way or another.
"We have nothing to announce yet," one spokesperson said, but Elton John will be playing Bethel Woods Center for the Arts downstate on September 3 after a tour in Europe and will then proceed Brazil and Las Vegas at the end of the month.
More details are sure to follow

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Wednesday, June 1

Court cases in holding patterns

Steven Feldman was in court on Friday to plead guilty to one of the four counts levied against him for faking his credentials as a psychologist while seeing patients for Family and Supreme Court.
Because of some crossed wires (Clinton County DA and judge working in Saratoga County) his case wasn't on the docket or publicized so all of the news agencies only found out he was in court after the fact.
I had been calling about it frequently in months past to make sure I didn't miss it and kept being told it wasn't yet scheduled only to find out about it after he pleaded guilty.

That prompted me to make a series of calls around on other cases still pending.

-Alexander Grant's toxicology report is still out. The coroner said he expects it imminently but at this point the case can't move forward without knowing what he had in his system the night he died.

-Katherine Seeber has a couple of more weeks for the defense or prosecution to submit any further paperwork (evidence, motions, etc.). Then the judge will decide whether the fact that a lab tech may have fudged some of the results in her case to indicate he had performed tests he never did is enough to toss out her guilty plea. According to her lawyers-- a NYC firm representing her pro bono-- her decision to plead guilty hinged on the forensic evidence. However, according to ADA Dick Wendling there was overwhelming evidence other than the forensic evidence in question. The evidence is a pair of gloves worn when Jeffrey Hampshire or Seeber strangled her step great-grandmother with an electrical cord. She maintains it was Hampshire, but he was acquitted of the charges despite her testimony to that.
Here is a video of Seeber being brought into court during the last hearing date May 20. Erica Miller, myself and Drew Kerr from the Post Star were all waiting to get photos and video of her as she entered court (commonly known as the "Perp Walk") and the corrections officers from Bedford Hills Correctional Facility told us we couldn't photograph her. "You aren't authorized," the female officer told us (we consulted police contacts and they told us we were within our rights). We kept filming and through the video you can hear the intrepid snap of Erica's camera.
video

-Jeffery Hampshire is also awaiting a decision by the court. He is still waiting to hear whether a judge will rule him a persistent felony offender-- a decision that will send him to prison for a significantly longer sentence than the two to four year stint he is otherwise sure to receive as a predicate felony offender. He was convicted of felony evidence tampering in January, his third felony conviction in a decade. After sentencing he will be eligible for an appeal-- something he will surely pursue if he is found to be a persistent offender.

There are a few other cases on our radar here at the paper, but those seem to be the major ones. I will be in court tomorrow to cover Charles O. Sharp in city court. He was the man who allegedly absconded with about $3,000 from Uncommon Grounds and then disappeared for a few days so that story will be online tomorrow and in print Friday.

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