Weekly Feature

2011-12-29 / Front Page

2011: A look back at what made the news


There was plenty to celebrate in 2011, as well as much to mourn.

Depew and Lancaster schools had many successes. Residents elected new officials. And projects years in the making are starting to see the light.

The community also experienced pain with the unexpected loss of three residents.

These are some of the top newsmakers and stories of the year:

Heroes among us

Derek Garner took the opportunity in January to thank the three men who saved his life. The Orchard Park man suffered a heart attack so massive in November 2010 that he had to be defibrillated five times by the Lancaster Volunteer Ambulance Corps. Garner thanked paramedics Eric Burt and Jason Kaese and emergency medical technician Jerren Myers at a special event at LVAC headquarters in January.

Congressional changes

In February, Rep. Chris Lee abruptly resigned after allegations of a scandal involving him surfaced on a tabloid website. A special election was held in May to fill the 26th District seat, which had been held by a Republican for decades. Erie County Clerk Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, beat Republican Assemblywoman Jane Corwin.

Contracts go through

The Lancaster Town Board unanimously approved a one-year contract with the Lancaster Volunteer Ambulance Corps in February after weeks of speculation that the town could ink a deal with Rural/Metro Medical Services. LVAC has been the town’s ambulance provider since the agency was founded in 1953. The town considered going with another ambulance provider to save money. The LVAC contract is for one year with an agreeable two-year extension, meaning both parties must agree before any extension. Under the deal, LVAC doesn’t receive funding from the town.

After two years of negotiations, the Lancaster Central Teachers Association voted in June to ratify its contract and agree to a wage concession for the next school year.

Village elections bring change

In March, Depew voters overwhelmingly chose new representation, voting in a new mayor and three new trustees. Mayor Steven Hoffman toppled incumbent Barbara Alberti, the village’s first female leader, by a 2-to-1 margin. Hoffman’s running mates on the Village Preservation Party of Depew line, Jesse Nikonowicz, Michael Nolder and Juliano Pecora, were also elected to serve on the Village Board.

Representation remained the same in the Village of Lancaster. Trustees Paul Maute and Trustee Kenneth O’Brien ran unopposed for re-election.

Town sees growth

Lancaster was just one of two Erie County towns, the other being Clarence, to see population growth, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, which was released in March. The population of the Town of Lancaster increased by 6.62 percent during the past 10 years — one of the fastest rates in the region. Figures show the town gained 2,585 residents between 2000 and 2010.

Police station, court building move forward

In April, the Lancaster Town Board voted to build a new police station and courthouse on Pavement Road. The vote capped off several years of study and discussion on whether to build new or renovate the existing structure, also on Pavement Road. The board bonded between $8 million and $10 million for the project, which is being designed by Foit-Albert Associates. A pistol range, already on the property, will be renovated and should be ready by spring. The rest of the project should break ground early next year and take between 16 and 18 months to complete.

Audit faults village

A state audit revealed in April that the Village Board of Lancaster did not properly audit claims and village officials did not consistently comply with competitive bidding and purchasing requirements. The audit was conducted by the Office of State Comptroller Thomas P. Di- Napoli.

Job losses felt

After months of speculation, Quad/Graphics company officials announced in April that they will close their Depew plant, laying off approximately 400 workers, over the course of the year. The facility had already laid off about 95 workers in December 2010.

Fire devastates business

Emergency responders from several fire departments spent hours battling a huge fire at Twin Village Recycling on Broadway in Depew in June. The fire began when a worker was welding a doorway and a spark flew off, igniting some insulation around the frame before spreading to the ceiling.

On a scale of 1 to 10, Depew Fire Chief Gary Cummings ranked the fire a 9.

“This one we thought we were going to be here [for three days], and actually the guys did a fantastic job and we were cleared out by 12:40 a.m. and we didn’t get any callbacks [because of rekindled fires],” he said. “Everybody did a fantastic job. I can’t say enough about the crews.”

Plan for village’s downtown revealed

In July, the Lancaster Community Development Corp. announced plans to demolish the building that houses Save-A-Lot in the Village of Lancaster. The CDC is planning a three-story building with residential units on the top floor, residential and/or commercial space on the second and retail or government or civic facilities on the first. Plans for the five-acre site also include restoring West Main Street to Aurora Street. When the building was put up it closed off the roadway. The announcement was met with anger by some residents, who enjoy shopping at Save-A-Lot, but the CDC maintains its plans will eradicate a dilapidated building and be a boon for the village.

Carjacking ends safely

An Elma man was accused of stealing a car with two young children, ages 8 months and 4 years, inside while the vehicle was parked at a home on Ransom Road in August. After fleeing, Kenneth J. Kamholz, 19, allegedly attempted another carjacking before being caught by Lancaster police. The children were found unharmed in the Traceway area, where Kamholz allegedly abandoned the car.

Prime minister plays golf here

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in town in July to visit relatives in Buffalo, took some time to play at the Broadway Driving Range and Miniature Golf. Owner Tom Straus was told that a very important person was going to stop by his business, but he didn’t find out who his guest was until a cavalcade of Secret Service agents turned up with Harper.

Trade show brings together businesses

In September, the Lancaster Area Chamber of Commerce held a Spotlight on Business event. The trade show, held at the Lancaster Opera House, brought together more than 50 vendors. Organizers intend to make it an annual event.

Deaths rock community

Family and friends searched for missing Depew teenager Ryan Hyon in October for three days before discovering his body in a field near Cayuga Creek in the Clinton Street-Harlem Road area. Hyon, 18, suffered a 65-foot fall from a tree, according to Cheektowaga police. He was a graduate of the Depew Union Free School District.

In August, Nicholas Koscielniak, 28, died after an incident involving Lancaster police. Koscielniak, who police say was attempting to harm another man, was subdued by an electronic control device. While being treated by ambulance personnel, he became unresponsive and was pronounced dead at the hospital. An internal investigation by Lancaster police revealed no wrongdoing. Meanwhile, the District Attorney’s Office has been investigating the matter.

In June, the body of a missing Depew man was found in Cayuga Creek near Rowley Road. Steven Davis, 53, had been reported missing the end of May.

Upheaval in Depew Police department

Former Capt. Stanley Carwile served two stints as interim chief in the Depew Police Department. The first was from July 2010 through January after Chief Thomas Domino left. He went back to being captain when the Village Board appointed Al Liberatore, from the Buffalo Police Department, as chief in January. But Liberatore quit after two weeks following protests by Depew officers, who were unhappy with the choice of an outsider. Carwile went back to being interim chief before being named chief in August.

Music earns kudos

In October, the Lancaster Central School District was recognized as one of the best communities for music education in America by the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation. In November, the Lancaster Redskins Marching Band won first place in its class to earn its first state championship.

O’Neill calls last game for Wildcats

Longtime Depew High School teacher Robert O’Neill ended his 46-year career as the Wildcats announcer in October. Controversy surrounded O’Neill’s decision to step away from the mic since it was reported in September that he intended to retire from his position as Depew’s public address announcer. O’Neill said he had no intention of retiring and was actually being replaced by Depew’s athletic department. A compromise allowed O’Neill back in the booth for the remainder of the 2011 announcer season.

Depew honors sports legacy

During halftime of the annual Redskins-Wildcats game in October, a stone memorial was dedicated at the south end of Depew’s athletic complex that pays tribute to supporters of Depew High School football. Two memorial stones were also unveiled, one honoring school community members who have dedicated their time and effort and a second honoring those who have dedicated their lives to the military, the police or fire service.

Fudoli, Poloncarz win at polls

Lancaster town residents also sought change this fall — to some extent. In November, Dino Fudoli beat longtime Supervisor Robert Giza at the polls. Giza’s 16-year tenure capped off a total of 30 years on the board. Fudoli’s running mates, Karen Healy-Case and Michael Hyde, challenged incumbents Mark Aquino and Donna Stempniak, but lost. Erie County Comptroller Mark Poloncarz bested incumbent Chris Collins in the race for county executive.

One dies in Towers fire

A fire at Lancaster Towers in early December led to the evacuation of hundreds of residents. The body of Richard Clabeaux, 76, was discovered in his apartment. Fire investigators later determined that Clabeaux experienced a medical problem while lighting a cigarette or holding a lit cigarette, which caused the fire. email: cfarrell@beenews.com

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