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Hilltowns Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 30, 2005

Landauer charged with manslaughter

By Matt Cook

KNOX—A Knox man has been charged with manslaughter and drunk driving after a crash resulted in the death of a Binghamton professor.

"He didn’t have a chance," Albany County Sheriff James Campbell told The Enterprise.

Justin Landauer, 27, of 417 Beebe Road, is charged with driving while intoxicated, a misdemeanor; and second-degree vehicular manslaughter, a felony.

Gary Lehman, 47, of Binghamton, was killed.

Landauer was arraigned in Albany County Supreme Court Friday. He pleaded not guilty.

According to the Albany County Sheriff’s Department, Landauer was driving west on Route 443 in Knox at 8 p.m. on Thursday when his truck crossed the yellow lines and struck Lehman’s car coming the other direction.

Landauer was driving a 1999 Ford pickup truck and Lehman was driving a 1997 Saturn. The vehicles hit head-on.

Within minutes, police and rescuers were on the scene, Campbell said.

Lehman was flown to Albany Medical Center where he was pronounced dead at 9:50 p.m.

Landauer and his passenger, his cousin Matthew Landauer, were transported by the Helderberg Rescue Squad to Albany Medical Center where they were treated for minor injuries and released.

According to the sheriff’s department, accident re-constructionists estimate Landauer’s truck was traveling at over 50 miles per hour, well over the 35 miles-per-hour speed limit.

Campbell said police use skid marks and other clues at the scene of an accident to determine speed.

At Albany Med, Landauer refused to give a blood sample for an alcohol test, the sheriff’s department says, but one was taken after a court order was obtained from Supreme Court Justice Joseph Teresi.

The sheriff’s department has not yet received the results of the test, Campbell said. However, Campbell said, Landauer failed field sobriety tests.

Campbell would not comment on whether or not Landauer told police he had been drinking that night.

Lehman was in the area visiting relatives, the sheriff’s department says. He was a father of three and a professor of mechanical engineering at the State University of New York at Binghamton for over two decades.

Lehman’s colleague, James Pitarresi, chairperson of Binghamton’s mechanical engineering department, told The Enterprise Lehman was a respected educator who cared deeply for his students. For example, Pitarresi said, whenever a new technology came along, Lehman would immediately push for it to be used in teaching.

"Students would look forward to taking his classes," Pitarresi said.

The mood in the department this week is very somber, Pitarresi said, as students and faculty react in shock to Lehman’s death.

"My e-mail box is full," Pitarresi said. "The sudden loss just caught us by surprise."

Landauer’s family declined comment.

At the Albany County Courthouse on Friday afternoon, Landauer, wearing a black T-shirt and baggy, wrinkled jeans, looked pale and shaken as he approached the bench. He had a bruise over his left eye.

"You recklessly caused a collision between your vehicle and another, causing death," Teresi told Landauer.

Landauer was sent to Albany County jail without bail. He was scheduled to appear in Knox Town Court on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.

—Nicole Fay Barr contributed courtroom reporting to this story.

Stewart’s gives up on Berne

By Matt Cook

BERNE—After months of bitter protests from citizens who objected both to new zoning and to a Stewart’s in the hamlet, the Stewart’s company has withdrawn its proposal to build a convenience store and gas station in Berne.

Also, the town supervisor is filing a complaint against a town judge for accusing him of colluding with Stewart’s.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Town Supervisor Kevin Crosier and the town board, Stewart’s cited the strictness of the town’s zoning as a reason for its withdrawal.

"The ordinance that was passed requires restrictions that we believe limits our ability to successfully operate our business," wrote Tom Lewis, who headed up the project for the company.

Crosier told The Enterprise the withdrawal was a victory for the zoning ordinance, a massive revision of which was passed earlier this year.

"These design standards worked exactly the way they were supposed to work," Crosier said.

The zoning ordinance requires any new construction in the hamlet to meet standards intended for it to blend in with the historic character of the hamlet.

"It is the strictest zoning in the county," Crosier said.

At a meeting last Thursday, Lewis and the company’s lawyer met with the Berne Planning Board to discuss the proposal, which was to cover two parcels of land on Helderberg Trail. The town’s planner, Nan Stolzenberg, had prepared a memo, listing the ways the Stewart’s proposal violated the ordinance.

Stolzenberg’s list included the sign height, the flat-roofed canopy over the gas pumps, and the fact that the front façade was not parallel to the street. She also requested that Stewart’s submit additional information, including a traffic study, the width of the lot at the building line, and a description of how the building is in the historic context of the neighboring buildings.

At the time, Lewis said Stewart’s would be able to comply with Stolzenberg’s list and would return to the planning board next month.

This week, however, Lewis said Stewart’s had given up on the Berne plan and is not currently considering any other sites in the area.

"Any town has a right to make any rules they want," Lewis said. "I’m not opposed to that." However, he said, if Stewart’s were to meet the standards, it would not be able to run the store profitably.

For example, Lewis said, restrictions on hours of operation would be bad for business. Also, the company prefers having parking lots in front of its stores rather than to the side or behind, as the zoning dictates.

"Our customers need to have access right up front," Lewis said.

Lewis said Stewart’s made its decision to withdraw based on the zoning regulations and not the vocal opposition of some hamlet residents.

Bunzey ethical"

There has been strong opposition to Stewart’s in the hamlet since the proposal was made public. Last Thursday’s planning board meeting was packed with concerned residents wearing green T-shirts that read, "Why here" Why now" Why Stewart’s""

The same group of people opposed changing the zoning ordinance and has placed much of the blame for Stewart’s on Crosier and the other two town board members who voted for the changes, Joseph Golden and Mark Huth. The terms for all three are ending.

At last month’s town board meeting, Kenneth Bunzey, a town judge and Berne-Knox-Westerlo teacher, who lives next door to the proposed Stewart’s site, said Lewis told him Crosier and his father, planning board Chairman John Crosier, solicited Stewart’s to move into the hamlet.

"He has accused me of colluding with Stewart’s. He has no actual proof of that," Crosier said.

Crosier told The Enterprise Wednesday morning he was sending a complaint about Bunzey to the state’s Judicial Ethics Committee that afternoon. Crosier said he feels it is unethical for a town judge to tell lies publicly.

At last month’s town board meeting, before he addressed the board, Bunzey identified himself as a teacher and a judge.

Bunzey stands by his story. He was not lying, he said.

"I only repeated what Tom Lewis told me," Bunzey told The Enterprise. "He can certainly [file a complaint] if he feels he has a case."

Bunzey said he does not feel he has abused his office in any way and that he waited to make public comments about Stewart’s and the rezoning until it directly affected his property.

Lewis told The Enterprise he never told Bunzey that Stewart’s was solicited by the Crosiers.

"I did not say that. It is not true," Lewis said.

Lewis said he had never even met John Crosier until a few weeks ago, when Stewart’s made its application to the planning board.

Stopping sprawl

Crosier said he doesn’t think the residents who oppose the zoning ordinance have read it.

"If you read the zoning ordinance, you’d see it was anything but written for Stewart’s," Crosier said.

Instead, he said, it was written to protect small business, strengthen the town’s rural economy, and to protect open spaces by placing businesses in a central location.

As the Tech Valley movement threatens to bring a population explosion to the Capital Region, Crosier wants Berne to be prepared, he said.

"Tech Valley means one thing to Berne," Crosier said. "It means sprawl. Where do these people think these families are going to live" Once you start to get sprawl in this community, it won’t stop."

With businesses centered in the hamlet, people may come into Berne to spend money, but, Crosier said, "at the end of the day, they’ll go home."

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