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Police were suspicious of Twiss relatives at murder scene

D. Twiss

Gordon Twiss

FORT EDWARD — The two relatives of the elderly Fort Ann woman who were charged last week in connection with her death attracted police suspicion at her home the night she died, one of them flashing a corrections officer badge to a police officer at the woman’s home, court records show.

Gordon W. Twiss, 73, and David M. Twiss, 52, both of Hadlock Pond Road, Fort Ann, pleaded not guilty in Washington County Court to felony second-degree conspiracy.

The charge alleges they “conspired” to have 95-year-old Leona Twiss killed last summer. Gordon Twiss is the son of Leona Twiss and David Twiss is her grandson.

Another of Leona Twiss’ grandsons, Kevin L. Gonyea, 50, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder last month for the July 9 strangulation death of his grandmother.

Gordon Twiss and David Twiss were charged for allegedly plotting with Gonyea to kill Mrs. Twiss, for reasons that have not been specified.

Court records filed after last week’s indictment shed light on behavior that police found strange and which prompted officers to focus on the family members.

David Twiss flashed a retired state corrections officers badge to the first Washington County sheriff’s deputy on the scene. He “appeared very nervous,” wrote Parker Wilson, then a county sheriff’s deputy who now works for Saratoga Springs Police.

“In my experience, they only show me credentials or a badge when they are trying to gain some sort of favor from me,” Wilson wrote.

As police officers talked to relatives in Mrs. Twiss’ home, David Twiss “was acting strangely and nervous ... he was overly befriending me,” Wilson wrote.

“He kept asking what was going on and appeared very nervous,” Wilson wrote.

Sheriff’s Senior Investigator Kristen Hardy wrote that David Twiss referenced a retired sheriff’s deputy to whom he is related and asked Hardy if she had his phone number so he could call him.

At one point, David Twiss pulled Wilson aside and referenced Gonyea when saying, “I know what’s going on here, and just so you know, he’s not going to go willingly.”

On July 11, sheriff’s officers asked David Twiss to wear a recording device to talk to Kevin Gonyea, and he replied, “I am not a rat,” then later asked for legal counsel as investigators questioned him, court records show.

Gordon Twiss also made a comment at his home when police went there to discuss the case with them. He told his girlfriend, “See you in 15 years” when he left with investigators, court records allege.

Both men gave videotaped interviews to investigators from the Sheriff’s Office and State Police, but the videos have not been publicly released.

Both Twisses pleaded not guilty to felony conspiracy counts on Friday and were released, pending further court action. David Twiss’ lawyer, Washington County Public Defender Michael Mercure, said his client was “offended” at the charges.

The Gonyeas lived with Mrs. Twiss and told police they found her dead in her bedroom after hearing what they thought was her falling out of bed. An autopsy, though, found that she had been choked to death, which Mr. Gonyea later admitted doing when pleading guilty to second-degree murder.

Gonyea and his wife, Melissa Gonyea, who pleaded guilty to lesser charges for assisting her husband dispose of evidence, said they agreed to cooperate with others who they claim were involved in a plot to kill Mrs. Twiss. She had dementia, and family members were scheduled to meet with staff at an unspecified nursing home, court records show.

Parents urge upgrades to Whitehall school security

WHITEHALL — School officials are pursuing a formal agreement that would allow village police to respond to the campus in the event of an emergency.

The agreement is one of a series of actions the district has taken in the wake of the shooting in Parkland, Florida, which include fortifying doors and windows, launching a tips line and exploring the hiring of an armed school resource officer.

Superintendent Patrick Dee said the district’s first priority is to keep students safe, and that means being proactive.

“When you’re reactive in a safety and security situation, it means that somebody has been hurt badly or killed,” he said Monday during a meeting of the school board.

School safety front and center

Concerns over school security in the wake of the recent school shooting in Florida have caused some parents, school officials and law enforcement officers to call for armed guards in school buildings, more heavily fortified entrances and even panic rooms.

Village officers have been responding to the school campus, even though it is technically not in the village, Dee said.

“We want to formalize that relationship,” he said.

The issue has come up in the past. Village officials did not want officers to respond unless it was an emergency, because they were concerned about liability. Their insurance policy would not protect officers outside the village.

Matt Dickinson, retired Whitehall police chief, told the board the school property can be added to the village police’s jurisdiction.

Village officers would be able to respond more quickly than the Washington County Sheriff’s Office or State Police.

“The village (officers) can be up here in 2 minutes to 7 minutes, depending on where they’re at in the village. The shooting down in Florida took 6 minutes,” he said.

Even better would be to have a school resource officer, Dickinson added.

“They can engage anybody in 15 seconds,” he said.

If a resource officer on site is not able to stop an attack, he or she can at least slow it down, he said.

Dee said he wants to have a school resource officer at the school who has the appropriate training and wears a uniform.

Dickinson said he believes people would not mind paying more in school taxes to hire an on-site officer.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office and State Police are going to be visiting the school more frequently, Dee said.

The district has put new film on windows that is smash-proof.

Technology teacher Ben Reynolds has made some plywood coverings, complete with handles, to cover the openings on doors that allow people to see in the classroom. They would be used in a lockdown.

The district has created a single point of entry used during the school day. The high school main office’s observation window has been moved forward, so it has a direct sight line to the main doors. Individuals have to be buzzed in and then sign in at the main office.

The district has also created a conference room near the main office, so guests do not have to go far into the interior of the school for meetings.

The district also has changed arrival procedures. Junior high students are being kept in the lobby until school is ready to begin, according to Dee. Elementary students are being kept in the cafeteria before the start of the day.

The district has added a greeter position at the elementary school to make the arrival and dismissal process smoother.

A clinical social worker is already coming in to the school two days a week to work with students who have mental health issues.

The district practices a minimum of two lockdown drills per year, Dee said. Teachers hold up a green card to indicate all their students are present during an evacuation and a red card if they are missing anyone.

The district has put in multiple interior and exterior cameras that can be viewed on mobile devices as well as a desktop or laptop computer.

The public address system has been upgraded to allow for strobe lights and air horns in some of the school’s louder locations such as the cafeteria, gymnasium or wood shop.

Whitehall is installing panic alarms as well, according to Dee.

“With the single push of a single button, the alarms go off for lockdown, all the doors lock,” he said.

More long-term fixes include secure entrance vestibules for the elementary and high schools. Dee said that would be included as part of the capital project the district is planning.

Dee also explained the new “See something, hear something, say something” policy that the district is rolling out to students, staff and parents. People can make a phone call or send a text message to 518-499-6038 or email

Dee said if students see something strange or suspicious, someone getting bullied or inappropriate or scary comments on social media, they are encouraged to report that.

Dee is hosting a meeting of all superintendents of Washington County schools on March 8 at 10 a.m.

“We need to get our act together before something bad happens, and it got awful close a week and a half ago in Fair Haven,” he said, referring to the arrest in Fair Haven, Vermont, of a student who made threats to shoot up the school.

Another resident suggested that the school district take a look at access to the campus as a whole.

Dee said it is a public school and people need to be able to come to the building.

“We’re not Comstock (prison). We’re not going to put up walls,” he said.

Another parent suggested metal detectors.

Dee said students enter through multiple doors during arrival, so the district would have to change its procedures. Also, he said having metal detectors changes the tone and culture of a district.

Parent Kim Lacroix wanted to know how soon the school resource officer position would be created.

Dee said, realistically, he would be aiming to have a resource officer in place by the start of the new school year in September. He feels confident with the interim measures that are in place.

“This is a process. It’s not going to happen overnight,” Dee said.

Also on Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, announced she is sponsoring two bills to protect students in schools. The STOP School Violence Act of 2018 would make grants to states to train students, school staff and law enforcement to identify signs of violence and prevent people from harming themselves or others, according to a news release.

The Securing Our Schools Act would make grants available to install devices to allow for immediate notification of emergency personnel and law enforcement in the event of a shooter or other type of emergency.

Stefanik also supports bills to strengthen the federal background check system and ban “bump stocks,” which make it easier for assault-style weapons to fire multiple rounds automatically.

D. Twiss

Gordon Twiss

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Gun show at Glens Falls arena gets postponed

GLENS FALLS — The gun show scheduled for Saturday and Sunday at Cool Insuring Arena has been postponed because of concerns over high school basketball games taking place in the same building on one of those days.

The Section II boys basketball tournament is continuing Saturday with three games. The gun show from Long Island-based promoter Martin Tretola of T&T Gunnery was scheduled for the same day in Heritage Hall.

The arena’s general manager, Jeff Mead, said the two events were separate and secure and there was little chance that people attending either event would interact. Mead said that T&T provides the utmost safety with its gun sales.

But he did not feel comfortable having high school students in the same building as a gun show in light of the shooting in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14, Mead said.

“It just didn’t seem the right picture we wanted to paint with the current atmosphere going on in the world,” he said.

Mead said he made the decision following internal discussions and talking with local high school administrators on Monday.

“Their recommendation is it would be a good idea not to have both of those (events) going on in the same day in the same arena,” he said.

Mead is working with Tretola to reschedule the event for sometime in May.

“We are not against a gun show. We want to make that clear. We want to make sure it’s done in the right atmosphere,” he said.

Tretola said he was not happy about the rescheduling, especially since he was originally going to be in the arena, but the space was already booked with the basketball tournament.

“I had to cancel 50 tables so I could fit into Heritage Hall,” he said.

Tretola said arena officials subsequently called to tell him he had to close at 2 p.m. on a Saturday. Then they told him on Tuesday he had to cancel altogether.

Tretola was organizer of a show at the arena on November that was a success — attracting 1,700 people.

“We run many gun shows and we never had an incident,” he said. “These are all law-abiding people. Every gun leaves tied up,” he said.

Tretola said he is frustrated with having to re-advertise the event in newspapers and radio.

“I put signs up all over town. What about the people that are going to show up for the show and it’s not there?” he said.

The only bright spot is he will now be on the main floor. He said he is trying to negotiate to make the rescheduled show a three-day event, starting late afternoon on a Friday.

Railroad has new freight contract, eye on more Tahawus business

Saratoga & North Creek Railway has secured its first long-term contract to move freight on its line and has eyes on more business from the former mines in Tahawus, now that the property has changed hands.

The railroad has worked out an agreement with Barton Mines to move products south from North River to Saratoga Springs, where they will be picked up by Canadian Pacific Rail and moved to Virginia Beach. The company mines garnet for multiple uses.

Railroad General Manager Justin Gonyo said this is the first long-term freight contract the company has negotiated, with runs beginning in the coming weeks and the contract ending in August 2019.

It was unclear how many freight trains will run for Barton Mines, but he said they will be “regular.”

Gonyo said railway executives are also optimistic a recent sale of the former NL Industries mines in Tahawus to Paul Mitchell Logging of Tupper Lake could result in stone shipments going south from the mines again. The logging company also runs a subsidiary, Mitchell Stone Products LLC. A call to its office was not immediately returned Tuesday.

The mines, once a major source of titanium, closed in the late 1980s, but tons of stone tailings remain on the property. Gonyo said the tailings have use in construction projects.

He said Paul Mitchell Logging has been taking stone out of the property by truck through a prior agreement with the property owners, but hopes to market it more and increase shipments now that it has taken ownership.

“He is looking at inbound and outbound loads,” Gonyo said. “It is a very encouraging development.”

The remote rail line to Tahawus, north of North Creek, is owned by Saratoga & North Creek Railway, which has used it recently for a controversial program to store out-of-service rail tanker cars. The railway leases the line between Saratoga Springs and North Creek from Warren County and the town of Corinth.

Gonyo said flooding and ice issues that occurred in the Thurman area earlier this winter had alleviated and the line has been re-opened.

Gonyo’s good news was tempered when he was questioned about late revenue payments from the railway to the county, which led to a discussion about where the payments stood and the status of the contract between the county and railroad.

Some supervisors have been concerned about a history of late payments and the controversial tanker storage program, with acting county Administrator Kevin Geraghty saying the payment issue was “a big concern of mine.”

Gonyo said he could not respond, as those issues are handled by the parent company.

Warren County Attorney Mary Kissane said she sent a letter to the railway’s parent company, Iowa Pacific Holdings LLC, informing the railroad last month about “breaches” in the contract with the county, and the railroad has until this week to respond.

She outlined the county’s legal options if it did not.

“At that point, the contract is breached and you can determine what you want to do. You can terminate,” Kissane said.

A half-hour closed door executive session ensued, with the board taking no action afterward.

Bolton Supervisor Ronald Conover, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, said the company’s communication with the county has to improve.

“I think a successful partnership operates that way,” Conover said.