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Latest stories from The Buffalo News

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    LOCKPORT – Police said they stopped a car after they saw the driver taking off at a high rate of speed and driving recklessly just after 5:30 a.m. Thursday on Cave and Walnut streets. Officers charged the two teenagers in the car after they tested positive for alcohol.

    The driver, Dana L. Rightmyer, 18, of Cave Street was charged with unreasonable speed, failure to yield for a sign, unlawful possession of alcohol, and driving with an expired license.

    Her passenger, Cera M. Tiffany, 19, of Locust Street was charged with unlawful possession of alcohol.

    The teens told police that they had been involved in a large fight in Niagara Falls and someone had damaged the driver’s side door and mirror.

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    Two Binghamton men were arrested on marijuana-related charges after police stopped their westbound car on Massachusetts Avenue after it failed to stop at a stop sign at Niagara Street about 11:55 p.m. Wednesday.

    Andre Alston, 22, and Donte Jackson, 21, were charged with criminal possession of marijuana and unlawful possession of marijuana after officers found marijuana in their vehicle and found marijuana in Alston’s pocket. Jackson was also charged with aggravated unlicensed driving and failing to stop at a stop sign.

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    LOCKPORT – A Fort Myers, Fla., woman was arraigned in Niagara County Court Thursday on charges of stealing $131,708 from her parents in Niagara Falls between April 2007 and December 2011.

    Jennifer L. Lofstrand, 39, pleaded not guilty to second-degree grand larceny and five counts of second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument. She was arrested last week in Florida.

    Assistant District Attorney Joseph A. Scalzo accused Lofstrand of absconding to Florida after she received “target letters” from the District Attorney’s Office last spring.

    Defense attorney George V.C. Muscato said Lofstrand has lived in Fort Myers since May 2011, has two jobs and a Florida driver’s license, and talked to Falls police on the phone three times early last year. “Obviously, everybody knew where she was,” Muscato said.

    He said Lofstrand had sent $20,000 to be deposited into her mother’s account. “We intend to get this matter resolved,” he said.

    County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III ordered Lofstrand held in lieu of $50,000 bail, but Muscato will try to talk him down from that at a hearing Friday.

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    A 30-year-old Olympic Avenue man was arrested by Buffalo police for allegedly having 30 hydrocodone pills in a pocket in his trousers. None of the pills was in a prescription bottle.

    Tyshawn Young was arrested near his home in the second block of the street about 7 a.m. Wednesday. He was charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance and a Public Health law criminal charge of possession of a controlled substance outside its original container.

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    A 16-year-old McKinley High School student was arrested for allegedly threatening Principal Crystal Barton and a teacher after his behavior was questioned in a school hallway shortly after 3:30 P.M. Wednesday.

    Ryan L. Banks of Redmond Avenue was charged with disorderly conduct for using what police called abusive language to the principal and threatening her and a male teacher.

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    A police officer’s suspicions about the manner of a biker riding along Orleans Street near Lisbon Avenue about 4 p.m. Wednesday led to the arrest of Jamal Johnson, 18, of Minnesota Avenue. After Johnson was stopped by a patrol officer, he was taken to the Bailey-Fillmore District Station house and found to have a stun gun in his jacket pocket. He was charged with fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon.

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    A Rochester woman, a man who lives in Holland, N.Y., and a Buffalo man were arrested on marijuana charges after a routine traffic stop in the second block of Chadduck Avenue about 5:09 p.m. Wednesday, police reported Thursday.

    Deanna Flynn 24, of Whitby Road, Rochester; Karl Ekls, 33, of Wilkins Road, Holland, and Dion Howard, 23, of Thompson St., were arrested on misdemeanor charges of criminal possession of a hypodermic instrument and violations for unlawful possession of marijuana after marijuana was allegedly found in a bag on Howard’s lap and in Ekls’ front right pocket. A hypodermic needle was found in the car, which was impounded.

    The News previously incorrectly reported the charge against them.

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    Got caught?

    Niagara County sheriff’s deputies have made the region’s first arrest in a “milk smashing” case, charging a high school senior in a prank at a Tops Markets in Newfane after he was recognized by store employees and he bragged about his actions on Facebook.

    The 18-year-old Burt resident was picked up by deputies this morning at Newfane High School and arraigned in Newfane Town Court on a misdemeanor charge of criminal mischief in the incident, which took place Monday at the Tops on Lockport-Olcott Road, said sheriff’s Capt. Greg Schuey.

    This incident, caught on a store surveillance camera, is one of at least 10 “milk smashings” that have taken place in the last week in this area, as the online prank of the moment made its way to Western New York.

    In “milk smashing” or “gallon smashing,” young people at supermarkets grab plastic gallon jugs of milk or juice and then throw them in the air or smash them to the floor while pretending to fall or slide to the floor as the liquid pools around them.

    The scene, of course, is recorded by an accomplice with a smartphone and later posted to YouTube or social media sites.

    Counting the Niagara County incident, “milk smashing” copycats have pulled off the decidedly unfunny prank at least 10 times at stores in Western New York and northwestern Pennsylvania – seven at Tops stores and three at Wegmans stores.

    Store security reported the Newfane “milk smashing” to sheriff’s deputies on Tuesday and showed investigators footage from the in-store video system that clearly showed a young man smashing the milk containers on the floor at about 6:40 p.m. Monday.

    Employees were able to identify the suspect. He also posted video of the incident on his Facebook page, and Deputy Justin Birmingham, the school resource officer at Newfane High School, heard teens discussing the prank and passed this information along to Deputy Shannan Rodgers, Schuey said.

    The News isn’t naming the teen, who is accused of causing about $8 in damages. The Sheriff’s Office does not plan to charge the person who recorded the incident on video, Schuey said.

    Also, the Lancaster Police Detective Bureau has released photos pulled from the surveillance cameras at the Tops Markets at 4777 Transit Road of people wanted for questioning in a “milk smashing” incident at that store early Sunday morning.

    Anyone who can identify one of the people in the photos is asked to contact the bureau at 683-3120, ext. 24, or by email at

    Representatives of Tops and Wegmans told The News earlier this week that store employees are warned to be on the lookout for would-be “milk smashing” pranksters and they said they would prosecute anyone they catch in the act.

    “It’s a prank. However, we don’t find it to be amusing,” said Shaun Frank, asset protection manager for Wegmans in Buffalo. “We consider it a crime.”

    This latest bizarre food-related prank has been imitated across the nation on YouTube. A number of supermarkets have seen the trend locally and store security, managers and cashiers have been alerted.



    Screenshot from a YouTube video of the online trend of Screenshot from a YouTube video of the online trend of "milk smashing."

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    Among the tangle of pipes and valves at Tonawanda Coke’s sprawling 188-acre facility, the small, narrow “bleeder” valve poking out from the coke oven gas line might seem innocuous at first glance.

    But after six days of testimony in a downtown courtroom, that seemingly inconsequential pressure relief valve is emerging as a centerpiece in the federal government’s criminal prosecution of the Town of Tonawanda manufacturer.

    The valve and what escaped from it – the allegation is that it’s coke oven gas with benzene – are at the heart of the charges of clean-air violations and obstruction of justice facing the company in one of the biggest environmental trials in decades.

    Courtroom revelations about a bleeder valve that may have released coke oven gas with benzene into the air are almost certain to fuel the ongoing debate over the health of residents living in and around Tonawanda’s industrial corridor.

    State Health Department officials recently released a health data review that found elevated levels of certain cancers and birth defects among those people but stopped well short of identifying a cause.

    The review was prompted by an air quality study by the state that found concentrations of benzene and formaldehyde much higher in the Tonawanda area than other industrial and urban areas.

    Witness after witness in the federal court trial have testified about the frequency of the valve’s openings and what they describe as Tonawanda Coke’s nervousness about inspectors learning of the emissions spewing from it.

    “We can’t have that going off when they’re here,” Mark L. Kamholz, the company’s environmental controls manager and a defendant in the case, is alleged to have told another employee in the days leading up to an April 2009 inspection.

    Patrick Cahill, the employee who said he heard Kamholz say that, also claims he overheard Kamholz tell state and federal inspectors that it was steam, not coke oven gas, coming out of the valve.

    “I was mad,” Cahill said when asked about Kamholz’s comments. “Mark should have known it was coke oven gas.”

    Cahill, who now is plant manager, said he felt put on the spot by Kamholz’s comments during the 2009 inspection but admitted he had already taken steps to prevent the valve from opening.

    He acknowledged adjusting the back pressure on the coke oven gas line each day the inspectors were on site so that the bleeder valve would not open as often.

    He never told anyone about the adjustments but later testified that he assumed that’s what Kamholz and the company wanted him to do while the six-day inspection was under way.

    “I didn’t want anyone to find out why I was making the adjustments,” Cahill told the jury and Chief U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny.

    The bleeder valve is at the heart of six of the 19 criminal charges against Tonawanda Coke and Kamholz, and yet it wasn’t until the 2009 inspection by state and federal officials – years after the valve was put in place – that it became an issue.

    An official with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency who was there the day the valve went off said Kamholz had previously denied knowing of any bleeder valves at the plant.

    “Mr. Kamholz was asked whether there were any pressure relief valves, and he said, ‘No,’ ” Martha Hamre, one of several EPA officials at the 2009 inspection, told the court.

    Under cross-examination, Hamre acknowledged that the bleeder valve had been disclosed in a 2003 report by Tonawanda Coke and that she and others missed that initial reference to the valve.

    An official with the state Department of Environmental Conservation also conceded that the valve had been overlooked on previous inspections of the River Road plant.

    “You’re supposed to look for them, aren’t you?” Rodney Personius, Kamholz’s defense attorney, asked the DEC official. “If you were doing a full-blown compliance evaluation, you should have found the PRV?”

    Personius and Gregory Linsin, a lawyer for Tonawanda Coke, have argued since the first day of the jury trial that EPA and DEC officials should have been well aware of the valve.

    They also have tried to suggest that Cahill acted alone and without Kamholz’s knowledge when he adjusted the pressure on the coke oven gas line during the inspection.

    “Did you ever tell Mr. Kamholz you were changing the pressure on the valve?” Personius asked at one point.

    “No,” Cahill said.

    “Did Mr. Kamholz know what you were doing?” Personius asked.

    “No,” Cahill said.

    Cahill and others also testified that coke oven gas, not steam, was coming out of the valve and at a rate far greater than what the defendants have claimed in the past.

    “What was the frequency that the valve would release coke oven gas into the atmosphere?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron J. Mango asked at one point.

    “Every 20 minutes,” said Anthony Brossack, a company employee.

    Like Cahill, Brossack said the valve, which was shut down in 2010, released coke oven gas as a way of relieving pressure in the coke oven gas line.

    In addition to the Clean Air Act violations, Tonawanda Coke and Kamholz are accused of violating a federal law known as the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The law covers the storage and treatment of coal tar sludge, one of the byproducts of making coke.


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    LOCKPORT – Willie R. Scott Jr., accused of shooting a 2-year-old Niagara Falls girl in the face while he was trying to shoot a man who was with her, needs a new attorney.

    Niagara County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III ruled Thursday that Angelo Musitano cannot represent Scott because Musitano once represented the girl’s mother, Sharonda Platt, in her own criminal case in Niagara Falls City Court.

    Deputy District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffmann moved for Musitano to be replaced because of a perceived conflict of interest. Musitano resisted, but Murphy sided with the prosecution.

    “It’s with great reluctance that I do that, because you bring great professionalism to every case,” Murphy told Musitano. “You did formerly and extensively represent Ms. Platt, and your duty to your former client continues.”

    Platt is expected to testify if Scott goes to trial, because although she didn’t see the shooting, she rushed the girl to the hospital. The conflict Hoffmann saw pertained to how effectively Musitano could cross-examine Platt.

    The child, now 3, still has a bullet fragment in her left cheek. She was shot Nov. 27 as she sat in a car outside the Hometown Market on Pierce Avenue in the Falls. Hoffmann has said three rounds were fired from a .357-caliber handgun.

    Musitano said he has lined up another attorney for Scott, who will meet him Sunday at the County Jail. If all goes well, the new attorney is to make his first court appearance with Scott on March 21.

    Hoffmann said the County Public Defender’s and Conflict Defender’s offices cannot participate in the case because they once represented another prosecution witness.

    Scott, 32, of LaSalle Avenue in the Falls, is being held in lieu of $200,000 bail. He has pleaded not guilty to first-degree assault, second-degree criminal possession of a weapon and first-degree criminal use of a firearm.

    In another case before Murphy on Thursday, the attorney for Tyler S. Best, the Buffalo man accused of helping a Niagara Falls man stuff a 5-year-old girl’s body into a garbage tote, said he has filed a motion to have Best tried separately from the alleged killer.

    Best, 18, of Barnard Street, went to Falls police Aug. 27, the day after Isabella S. Tennant allegedly was strangled while being watched in her great-grandparents’ home by John R. Freeman Jr., 17, of Sixth Street in the Falls. Best told police where the corpse was – in a wheeled garbage tote in an alley.

    Freeman is charged with murder, and Best with a felony count of tampering with physical evidence.

    Murphy said he won’t rule on the severance motion from James J. Faso Jr., Best’s lawyer, until he rules on whether Freeman’s statements to police, including a confession, are admissible.

    Murphy is expected to rule on that question April 4, so Best’s next court date was set for April 5.


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    Judge Eugene M. Fahey of the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court is one of seven individuals to be nominated for the State Court of Appeals following the death in November of Associate Judge Theodore T. Jones, the Commission on Judicial Nomination announced Thursday.

    Fahey, 61, also was nominated for the post last year by the commission. The seven-member Court of Appeals is the state’s highest court. Western New York is already represented on the bench by Associate Judge Eugene F. Pigott Jr. of Grand Island, who was appointed to the court in 2006.

    A 1984 graduate of the University at Buffalo Law School, Fahey worked in his private legal practice from 1985 to 1993. He was a member of Buffalo’s Common Council before and after law school – in 1978-1983 and 1988-1994 – including serving as majority leader.

    Fahey was a Buffalo City Court judge in 1995-1996 and a State Supreme Court justice in 1997-2006 before he was named to the Appellate Division in 2006.

    None of the other six nominees for the Court of Appeals vacancy is from Western New York. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo must appoint one of the seven nominees sometime between 15 and 30 days after receiving the report from the commission. The State Senate then has 30 days to confirm or reject.

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    A 31-year-old Rhode Island Street man was arrested early Thursday afternoon in a court-authoritzed raid on his home after a months-long investigation by the narcotics units of the Erie County Sheriff’s Office and Amherst police.

    Senior Detective Alan Rozansky, chief of the sheriff’s Narcotics Unit, said Joseph Sciortino, now being held in the Erie County Holding Center pending Clarence Town Court proceedings, was linked to narcotics sales in the Clarence and Amherst areas for months.

    The raid on his house under a search warrant signed by Clarence Town Justice Robert Sillers led to the seizure of about 1.5 ounces of cocaine packaged for street sale and more than $7,000 cash.

    Sciortino is being held on felony charges of criminal possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell and criminal possession of more than one ounce of cocaine.

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    The arrest of a 23-year-old Herman Street man for an allegedly vicious attack Nov. 17 on another patron of a gas station at Ontario and Skillen streets was announced by Buffalo police officials Thursday.

    Nicholas Calhoun is being held on charges of second-degree assault, criminal possession of a weapon, criminal mischief and petit larceny for allegedly assaulting another patron with a baseball bat and his fists, stealing his coat containing $102 and then trying to run him over as he drove off at about 11 p.m.

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    LOCKPORT – A woman who took part in two November 2011 burglaries was placed on five years’ probation Thursday by Niagara County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III.

    Amanda J. Swan, 26, of Drum Road, Hartland, earned the assignment after a successful year of interim probation, Murphy said. That time will count toward her sentence for her plea to attempted third-degree burglary.

    Swan must repay $1,900 to the Sher-Wash Laundromat on Telegraph Road in Middleport, which was broken into Nov. 8, 2011, and $257 to a homeowner on Upper Mountain Road in Lockport whose house was burglarized the night before.

    Co-defendant Thomas N. Sullivan, 23, of Quaker Road, Hartland, pleaded guilty last year and was admitted to the judicial diversion program of court-supervised drug treatment.

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    LOCKPORT – A Niagara Falls man explained his continued involvement in drug dealing Thursday before Niagara County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III sent him to state prison.

    “Why are you still committing crimes?” Murphy asked Eric D. Hawkins, 44, of Cudaback Avenue.

    “I have 13 kids,” Hawkins answered. Defense attorney Philip Dabney said there are multiple mothers.

    “You don’t get it. You can’t use and possess drugs. You can’t use it as a get-rich-quick scheme,” Murphy said before giving Hawkins two years behind bars for fifth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance. Hawkins already has served a little over a year on the charge.

    He was arrested Feb. 10, 2012, when a parole officer visited his home and found cocaine, marijuana and assorted painkillers.

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    Niagara Falls State Parks Police are investigating a report of a possible body in the gorge below the American Falls.

    The first reports of the possible victim came in about 4 p.m. and helicopters were called in for the search.

    Additional information was not immediately available.

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    LOCKPORT – A man wearing gloves, aviator sunglasses and a white piece of tape on his nose robbed the M&T Bank branch at Pine and Walnut streets of an undetermined amount of cash Friday morning.

    Photos from a bank security camera, released by the Lockport Police Department, showed the man, wearing a black winter cap and coat, handing a note across a counter at 10:56 a.m. and, 42 seconds later, departing with a thick stack of dollar bills in his left hand.

    The man was last seen leaving the bank on Pine Street. He did not display a weapon and no one was hurt. Lockport police are asking anyone with information to call them at 433-7700.

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    LOCKPORT – A Level 1 sex offender pleaded guilty Friday to two felonies and admitted violating the terms of his probation on a third.

    Derrick J. Houser, 26, formerly of Niagara Falls, could be sent to state prison for as long as 12 years for his pleas Friday, County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III said.

    But Assistant District Attorney Cheryl L. Nichols said Houser still faces two other charges, third-degree criminal sexual act and third-degree sexual abuse, stemming from an incident in Niagara Falls last year. Assistant Public Defender A. Joseph Catalano said Houser refused a plea offer in those matters.

    He did plead guilty to two counts of failure to register. Houser left his apartment on Cedar Avenue in the Falls last June and moved to Detroit. He also failed to tell state officials about his Facebook account.

    Those offenses constituted a violation of his probation for a 2009 conviction for attempted first-degree sexual abuse.

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    John O. Hitchock, of New Street, Randolph, is being held in the Chautauqua County Jail after being arrested in his home. His arrest came after a joint probe by the sheriff’s offices in Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties with the assistance from the Child Advocacy Centers and district attorney’s offices in both counties.

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    A 50-year-old Earl Place woman remained hospitalized at Erie County Medical Center Friday night with stab wounds suffered when a 16-year-old boy stabbed her with a pair of scissors as she tried to break up a fight between him and another man Thursday afternoon outside a barbershop in the 1300 block of Hertel Avenue.

    The youth was charged with second-degree assault and criminal possession of a weapon.

    Police officials are not releasing the names of the victim and suspect.

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