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Derailed train blamed for truck accident, injury

JOHNSBURG — Town Highway Superintendent Dan Hitchcock was driving south on Route 28 on Friday morning, approaching The Glen, when he saw a train with engine running at the edge of the road.

Thinking the train crossing lights had malfunctioned and the train was headed across the road, he slammed on the brakes. The town’s Ford pickup truck skidded, its plow catching the track and causing the truck to careen out of control.

It came to rest in a snowbank, and Hitchcock was knocked unconscious, later diagnosed with a concussion and whiplash.

Train engine derails, is left running for a week

JOHNSBURG — A Saratoga & North Creek Railway locomotive derailed near Route 28 last week and has remained off the tracks with its engine running for nearly a week as the company tries to right it, angering residents who have been inhaling diesel engine fumes for days.

“The sheriff said I was lucky I had my seat belt on, or I would have gone through the windshield,” he said.

The train was a Saratoga & North Creek Railway engine that derailed east of the Route 28 crossing on Feb. 6 and had been idling there until Monday amid efforts to get it back on the tracks. The railway has been unable to “re-rail” it, to the chagrin of neighbors and town officials. It was left running so the engine wouldn’t freeze, and residents have complained about the noise and smell of diesel fumes.

Sometime late Monday or early Tuesday though, someone climbed into the machine and turned it off, prompting the railway to call the Warren County Sheriff’s Office. It was unclear whether the locomotive was damaged by the shutdown.

Despite his injuries, Hitchcock was back to work on Saturday, but he said the two-year-old Ford F250 he drove and the plow it carried were probably totaled, at a cost of about $36,000.

Hitchcock said he was particularly angered by the lack of warning about the train and a piece of metal train track that was protruding from the road that apparently caught his truck’s plow. It was unclear how the track had been damaged, but it should have been repaired, he said.

He said it was “instinct” upon seeing the train to brake quickly, at about 45 mph. At least one other driver reported slamming on their brakes at the crossing in recent days, thinking that the train was crossing.

“There should have been signage there to warn people,” he said. “I saw the train there, there was no snow on it and I could tell it was running so my instinct was to slam on the brakes.”

Railway general manager Justin Gonyo said, “I have no comment on vehicular accidents that are outside of my control.”

SNCR staff has been trying to get the locomotive back on the tracks, but Gonyo said ice and snow have hindered the effort. The railroad has hired a contractor to assist, but the company won’t arrive until Thursday.

Horicon Supervisor Matt Simpson, chairman of the Warren County Board of Supervisors Public Works Committee, said the contractors were due to arrive Thursday to right the locomotive, and he believed it would be done that day. But it was unclear whether the locomotive could run in light of the engine having been shut off, so another engine might need to be brought in to move it.

He said Gonyo believed the contractor would have the train back on the rails by the end of the week.

“They are going to have to bring in another locomotive in there to move it,” Simpson said.

That could be a problem, as ice continues to block the tracks south of Thurman, Simpson said.

Who is Cupid? Big Cross second-graders weigh in for Valentine's Day

To Sapphire Bullard, 7, Cupid is an angel that flies up in the air and shoots arrows at people. When they are struck by the arrow, they fall in love.

When asked if she was ever struck by Cupid’s arrow, she said “no.”

“Because!” she exclaimed on Monday. “It’s not Valentine’s Day yet!”

Sapphire and her fellow second-graders at Big Cross Street School in Glens Falls mostly agree that Valentine’s Day is more about parties, candy, friendship and love and less about the winged cherub wielding a bow and arrow.

“You get to spend time with your family,” said Carter Riley, 8. “You get to eat some chocolates. You get to give chocolates to somebody. You can do something with somebody that’s very fun.”

Antonio Womak, 7, wasn’t sure about the role of Cupid, but he did know that Valentine’s Day should be about spending the day with someone you like. He wants to spend the day with his friend, Eli.

“He’s my bestest friend I ever had,” Antonio said.

Ella Carner, 7, was especially looking forward to waking up to special blueberry pancakes on Valentine’s Day.

And Scarlett Porcaro, 8, was hoping to get to sample the special gift her father bought for her mother.

“My dad is planning on getting my mom a surprise. I’m excited about that,” she said. “The surprise is chocolate-covered strawberries. I know she likes both of those, so I know she will gobble them all up.”

Rhiannon Kaye, who celebrated her 8th birthday on Monday, is particularly fond of Valentine’s Day, since she was born so close to the day of love. She is going to be thinking of her friend Max.

“He’s my crush,” she blushed.

O'Keefe family says inmate being unfairly imprisoned

Relatives of Joel O’Keefe believe the notorious escapee is getting the “runaround” from state parole officials who have turned down five homes in Washington County where he could live after his release from prison.

Travis Jameson, an Argyle resident who is an in-law of O’Keefe’s, said the family has gone so far as proposing to put a cabin in Argyle in O’Keefe’s name, where he would live alone.

The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision has denied the applications for a variety of reasons, disallowing a relative’s home in Hebron because a woman lived in one of the homes and others because the state claims relatives helped O’Keefe remain on the lam during his 1994 escape from State Police.

O’Keefe, 57, could have been released last Nov. 25 after serving more than 23 years, but amid backlash from police in the region who were concerned about him being on the street, the Corrections Department has declined to approve any of the places his family has found for him to live after his release. He will be on parole after his release.

The Corrections Department has not said publicly why the proposed homes were considered unsuitable and would not specifically discuss O’Keefe’s situation. The agency sent out a statement Tuesday saying it works with inmates and their families to find appropriate housing and works to find “alternatives” in the event of denials.

“Based on a variety of criteria, DOCCS carefully considers any residence proposed by an inmate and does not unnecessarily disapprove an address unless it is otherwise prohibited by law, is not in the best interest of safety for the public or the parolee or the residents of the proposed address do not want to have the inmate reside there,” the statement read.

A spokeswoman for the agency said last week that O’Keefe could be kept in prison until the end of his sentence in 2023, if he cannot find approved housing.

After a Post-Star article last week about the case, members of O’Keefe’s family contacted the paper with concerns that his continuing imprisonment is based on dubious justifications.

Jameson said O’Keefe’s past is wrongly having an impact on his release. O’Keefe was on the run for 13 days after bolting from State Police investigators in Ballston Spa and later pleaded guilty to felony counts of burglary, criminal possession of a weapon and escape. While in prison, he was charged in connection with three disciplinary problems that included three purported escape attempts and contraband cases, adding more time to his sentence.

Police have long considered him a “person of interest” in an unsolved 1988 homicide of two men in the town of Hartford, but he has not been charged. Police have renewed investigation of that case in light of O’Keefe’s possible release, but Jameson said O’Keefe maintains he had nothing to do with the deaths.

Jameson said the homes being offered for O’Keefe do not include any felons, firearms or dangerous dogs, which would make them unsuitable for parolee residence. The family suggested adding a woodstove to a vacant cabin and getting a certificate of occupancy, but that was denied as well.

Jameson, a contractor, said he was willing to deed a vacant cabin in Argyle to O’Keefe, but corrections officials told him that would not be suitable because of the ties to family members.

The family provided a series of tape-recorded phone calls between Jameson and state corrections officials, in which they discuss the rationale behind the decision to keep O’Keefe locked up at Five Points Correctional Facility in central New York.

In one conversation, a parole official who was not identified said corrections officials believe “everybody kind of helped out with” O’Keefe remaining on the run, an accusation Jameson denied.

“Based on that, we don’t see it being conducive to our doing our job. For that reason, the address is being denied and you can propose a new one,” the parole official said on the recording. “The decision to deny that address was made above me.”

State Police tapped the phone lines of relatives at the time, and at one point, when some were talking about pizza being delivered, officers swarmed the home, believing that pizza was a code word for O’Keefe. So afterward, the family members again discussed “pizza” in a phone call to see what would happen, and it prompted another police intervention, Jameson said.

“No one in the family helped Joel,” he said.

Police visited O’Keefe in prison in recent months, asking him to take a polygraph test over unsolved crimes. O’Keefe refused, because he believed he wouldn’t be treated fairly, Jameson said.

Jameson said O’Keefe has a lawyer in the Syracuse area who is assisting him, but he is frustrated.

He said O’Keefe has completed all the necessary prison programs for release and is a changed man who wants to live a peaceful, quiet life.

“I told him, ‘Joel, maybe they are doing this to try to see if you will snap,’” Jameson said. “He’s disappointed, but he said, ‘Travis, I’ve been in here 25 years, I’m over all of this and just want to get out.”

Washington County Sheriff Jeff Murphy said his agency has played no part in O’Keefe’s possible parole and has only been told by the Corrections Department that police will be notified of when and where he will get out.

“We don’t say when or whether he gets released. It’s out of our hands, we don’t have any say in it,” he said.