Year in Review: Top 10 Cortland stories of 2015

CORTLAND, N.Y. – 2015 was an eventful year for Cortland County. A new sheriff was elected, a longtime employer closed its Cortland plant, and a controversial deal to swap ash for trash with Onondaga County was taken off the table.

And while Cortland had its fair share of tragedies in 2015, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about 2016. We hope many of these stories capture the enduring community spirit that is clearly alive and well in Cortland.

Please note: We launched this site in June, so some notable events that happened in the first half of 2015 may not be included in this list.

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1 - Ash for trash gets thrown out for good

Two years of discussions and thousands of dollars later, the Cortland County Legislature decided not to move forward with a controversial proposal to import 90,000 tons of ash each year from Onondaga County. In exchange, about 35,000 tons of trash from Cortland County would have been transported to an incinerator at the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency (OCRRA), which manages Onondaga County’s waste and incinerator.

While the proposal enjoyed vocal support from some legislators, a group of concerned citizens raised enough doubts about the project to convince nine lawmakers to shut the project down.

“It was the hope of the million dollars, without all the cost accounting to see what happened. I believe it was a sincere hope, too.”– Victor Siegle, Homer businessman and lead organizer against ash for trash, on why the proposal stayed on the table for so long.

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A large crowd made up mostly of opponents of ash for trash filled the chambers of the Cortland County Legislature during a scheduled vote on the project last month.


2 - A Cortland man goes on a rampage after an appearance in family court

It's a story that caught the attention of Nancy Grace, Newsday and The Daily Mail. Shortly after leaving a family court hearing at the Cortland County Courthouse, David Southwick, of Cortlandville, got into his truck and attempted to strike his ex-wife, according to police. In the process, Southwick damaged over 14 vehicles, causing tens of thousands of dollars in property damage and injuring one person.

"I thought it was construction." – Sommer Black, a county employee who heard the commotion from her office in the courthouse building.

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Southwick's vehicle in the courthouse parking lot shortly after he was taken into custody (Peter Blanchard/Cortland Voice)


3 - Family combs Cortland County town in search for missing grandfather

The disappearance of 81-year-old Alfred Turshman of Cincinnatus in August prompted an extensive search effort by friends and family members. Miraculously, Turshman was found alive one week after he was reported missing, though he was later pronounced dead at a Binghamton area hospital. Turshman's grandson, Nick, would later thank emergency responders and the community for their efforts, raising more than $6,000 for Cincinnatus fire and emergency response teams.

"We have our own family and friends doing a couple of assignments a day. We're just doing whatever we have to do." – Nick Turshman on the search for his grandfather.

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4 - An offensive sign draws anger from city residents

Students arriving on campus last August were greeted by a banner at an off-campus house that read, "Freshman Daughter Drop-Off." The house on Groton Avenue in Cortland next to an auto service shop, a couple of blocks from the SUNY Cortland campus, had several young men sitting in front of it, along with the banner.

"This sign was brought to SUNY Cortland’s attention this afternoon. University Police immediately notified Cortland Police, who addressed the issue with the residents. The residents then removed the sign." – Fred Pierce, SUNY Cortland spokesperson.

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A sign at an off-campus house near the SUNY Cortland campus in August. Photo courtesy of Jamie VanHoesen.


5 - Apex Tools closes Cortland plant; 90 workers lose their jobs

Apex Tool Group, an American supplier of hand tools and power tools, announced in May that it would close its plant in Cortland by the end of the year (It actually ended up closing in October). Now, the property is being tested for possible environmental contamination.

“One thing we have learned…is that there exists the possibility that that land will come back to city ownership or local control. It may be prudent for the city to have independent assistance during this process, so that if we take ownership of that property, we know what we’re taking.” – Mack Cook, director of administration and finance for the city of Cortland, on the future of the Apex site.

The Apex Tools facility on Cleveland Street on Tuesday afternoon (Peter Blanchard/Cortland Voice)

The Apex Tools facility on Cleveland Street (Peter Blanchard/Cortland Voice)


6 - A Truxton man wins the lottery, and the town reclaims its iconic building

It was a good year for the town of Truxton. A group of residents looking to transform the recently shuttered Hartnett Elementary School into a charter school and community center raised enough money to purchase the building in an online auction in October.

Earlier this month, 74-year-old Donald McCall, who is the town historian for Truxton, claimed the first of four $1 million top prizes in a New York lottery scratch-off game. McCall purchased the winning ticket at Kinney Drugs on Route 11 in Tully.

"I have no idea what I'm gonna do with it. Lord knows I got enough family." – Donald McCall, of Truxton, on winning the lottery.

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7 - Mark Helms wins sheriff's race, two Common Council members are unseated in Nov. election

After all the absentee ballots were counted, Mark Helms could safely declare victory in the race for Cortland County Sheriff. Helms, who is the chief of police for the village of Homer, will replace Sheriff Lee Price, who is retiring after 15 years of serving in the position.

Two members of Common Council in the city of Cortland lost their bid for re-election in November. In the fifth ward, alderperson Clifton Dutcher, a Republican, was handily defeated by his Democratic challenger, Bill Carpenter, a former sergeant in the City of Cortland Police Department.

In a three-way race in the seventh ward, alderperson Linda Ferguson, a Democrat, was defeated by her Republican challenger, Adam Megivern, who is also the executive director of the Cortland Downtown Partnership.

"I'm very happy. I want to thank everybody that helped me and the people that voted for me. It's one of those [situations] where it's just nice to have it totally done." – Mark Helms on winning the sheriff's race.

Village of Homer Police Chief Mark Helms at the Cortland County Dairy Parade in June

Village of Homer Police Chief Mark Helms at the Cortland County Dairy Parade in June (Peter Blanchard/Cortland Voice)


8 - A fatal stabbing at a Cortland bar shocks the community

On Nov. 28, Terry W. Wormuth II and some friends arrived at the Palm Gardens bar on 52 Elm Street sometime before midnight. Wormuth, 40, spent most of the night outside, sitting at a table in the back parking lot and smoking and chatting with friends.

A few hours later, Wormuth would be stabbed in the torso and taken to Cortland Regional Medical Center, where he died of his injuries.

Mark G. Dill, 58, of Cranston, Rhode Island, has been charged with first-degree manslaughter and third-degree criminal possession of a weapon in connection with the stabbing. A second man, James Seybold, who was seen with Dill, was also arrested for failing to cooperate with the police investigation.

“I heard Terry tell the person he was arguing with to ‘shut the f*** up and go home, you had too much to drink." – A witness' statement to police.

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The Palm Gardens bar on Elm Street (Peter Blanchard/Cortland Voice)


9 - Cortland, CNY win big in Upstate NY Hunger Games competition

Central New York was one of three regions in New York State to be awarded $500 million as part of the Upstate Revitalization Initiative.

The real victory for Cortland County comes in the form of more than $3.3 million in state funding that will go towards several capital projects in the city of Cortland and surrounding municipalities.

"It's great news not just for our county, but the other four [counties] that comprise the Central New York region." – Garry VanGorder, executive director of the Cortland County Industrial Development Agency.

The site of the former Buckbee-Mears plant on Kellogg Road. After the company closed the facility, the property was purchased by local realtor David Yaman (photo courtesy of Anderson Auctioneers).

The site of the former Buckbee-Mears plant on Kellogg Road. After the company closed the facility, the property was purchased by local realtor David Yaman (photo courtesy of Anderson Auctioneers).


10 - Cortland Comeback: Current and former residents look to restore city's reputation

Erin Yager was hiking in Tempe, Arizona, back in May when she learned that a 16-year-old girl had been murdered in Cortland.

"It just kind of floored me," Yager said. "I said, 'That's my hometown. I know things have gotten bad, but why do I keep reading this stuff?'"

That's when Yager and a few of her childhood friends decided to organize a positive community event to take the focus away from the recent tragedies that have afflicted her hometown.

"I've traveled all over the country, but this is still home. My heart's still here." – Erin Yager, a former Cortland resident who organized Cortland Comeback.

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Photo submitted by Tim Davis.

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