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Bascue gives region someone to root for in Olympics


Whitehall can thank Alan Bascue for starting an Olympic journey 15 years in the making. When Codie Bascue took his first slide down an icy track in a bobsled, it was merely the first push in a journey that’s taken him halfway around the world.

When Bascue takes his place in the driver’s seat of the USA-1 bobsled on Feb. 18 in PyeongChang, South Korea, residents of Whitehall will be along for the ride, watching one of their own in the Olympics.

Bascue — who grew up in Dresden, just outside of Whitehall — will be living his dream, the culmination of years of hard work and sacrifice.

“I’m ecstatic, I’m super excited,” the 23-year-old said from Calgary in a phone conversation in late January. “Being named to my first Olympic team is just an unbelievable thing. It’s really cool to see it all come to fruition.”

Whitehall has mobilized in support of his Olympic bid, with banners on banks, businesses, restaurants, Stewart’s and the Elks Club, to decorations at the elementary school and yard signs popping up on snowbanks everywhere.

Francis and Cheryl Putorti of Putorti’s Broadway Market ordered 75 vinyl banners and 155 yard signs, and they all sold.

“They’re all over town,” Francis Putorti said. “We’ve mailed yard signs to Whitehall people in Texas and Florida, so they’re all over. People have gotten creative with them, put lights around them.”

Another group created T-shirts and sweatshirts commemorating Bascue’s Olympic bid. A couple of fundraisers have been held to help Bascue’s parents, Craig and Pam, with travel expenses as they are in South Korea for the entire Olympics.

Whitehall High School will host a live-stream viewing of Bascue’s Olympic events — Feb. 18 and 19 from 6 to 9 a.m. for the two-man competition, and Feb. 23 and 24 from 7 to 10 p.m. for four-man. The events are free, but commemorative cowbells and fan towels are available for purchase, with proceeds to be donated to Bascue’s 2022 Olympic quest.

Bascue expressed his thanks and appreciation for the support from his hometown on Twitter before leaving for the Olympics, saying he was “happily overwhelmed.”

“The support and praise I’ve been getting from people in Whitehall is amazing,” Bascue said. “It’s really opened my eyes to how big this is. Coming from small-town Whitehall, it’s not something that people usually get to experience.”

Pete Tobey, 

The electronic sign at Whitehall High School displays support for Codie Bascue.

Early start

Bascue’s Olympic dream rose from the humble beginnings of Whitehall’s youth bobsled club, started by his grandfather, Alan Bascue.

“I wouldn’t be where I am if he hadn’t put me in a sled and pushed me down a hill,” Codie Bascue said of his grandfather.

The elder Bascue, a recreational slider in the 1980s and early ‘90s, started the bobsled program at Whitehall Central School, where he worked as transportation director. The club brought 10 to 15 kids up to Lake Placid, nearly two hours away, on winter weekends to learn about sliding at the Olympic training center.

“During my sliding career, I noticed we didn’t start kids as young as other countries did, and that’s probably where we lacked a bit,” Al Bascue said last week. “With me working at the school, I thought it would be a good idea to start a bobsled program. Everybody thought I was a bit crazy ...”

At the time the Whitehall bobsled program started, Codie Bascue was not quite old enough to slide — 8 was the youngest age for the pee-wee program.

“He was too young to slide, but he still wanted to watch the kids slide, so he would tag along with me,” Al Bascue said. “When he was 8, I popped him in a pee-wee sled, and the rest is history.”

Codie Bascue progressed through the program and was soon winning gold medals in Empire State Winter Games competition in Lake Placid.

“The right people saw him and moved him up through the system,” Al Bascue said.

A 2012 graduate of Whitehall High School, Bascue was a solid athlete in football, baseball and track. But every winter, he was becoming a better bobsled pilot and winning medals.

“He was only 16 — they almost had to change criteria to let him slide,” Al Bascue said. “That’s when they realized they had something special in him. He always did show talent coming up, as far as his driving.”

Bascue moved up through the ranks, from juniors to the North American Cup and World Cup tours, earning a full-time seat in 2016.

“When I started at 8 years old, it was something that was fun for me, but once I started getting competitive and getting better, I knew that this is what I wanted to do,” Codie Bascue said. “So I set my goals to make the World Cup, then to win medals in World Cup, then to make the Olympic team. I decided to put everything into bobsledding and see how far I could take it.”

Last month, he was the first driver named to the U.S. Olympic bobsled team.

Besides his parents, one of the first people he told was his grandfather.

“He’s so proud — I called him the other day after the team was named and thanked him for everything,” Codie Bascue said. “He had tears in his eyes. He’s my biggest fan.”

The young guy

At 23, Codie Bascue is the young guy on the U.S. bobsled team, but since he pretty much always has been the youngest, he said he’s used to it.

Unlike most bobsled athletes, Bascue started off as a driver and continued working his way up through the ranks.

“To be a driver at 23 is unusual,” he said. “Most people come out of college and become push athletes, and then become drivers in their late 20s, early 30s.”

“He’s the only pilot in the U.S. that’s never been in the back seat,” Al Bascue said.

At 5-foot-8 and 195 pounds, Bascue has grown from a decent high school athlete to one who can hang with elite push athletes.

“That makes Codie unique — he was an average high school athlete, not from a big-time athletic program,” Al Bascue said. “But he just plugged along and held his own.”

While those elite athletes are the ones providing the push, it’s Bascue’s job to steer them down the track. He is currently ranked eighth in the IBSF four-man standings and 13th in two-man — the top-ranked American driver in the world.

“Codie has always shown his ability as a talented pilot, but this year we have seen him match those abilities at the start as well, which now makes him competitive with the best of the world,” said Ashley Walden, the director of Internal Operations for USABS. “He’s really stepped up this season and we expected great things from him.”

Al Bascue said driving a bobsled is less about steering and more about “feel,” and that’s how Codie drives. Bobsleds — which speed down the track at upwards of 80 to 90 miles per hour — are steered using a pair of handles attached to ropes in a sort of pulley system. The runners move only slightly, no more than 3 to 4 inches.

“As far as driving them, everybody has his own technique,” Al Bascue said. “Codie doesn’t like to see — he doesn’t want to get too much visual input because you’re moving too fast. He tends to drive by feel. You have to steer for the corner coming up, because you’re into it so fast.

“It’s a born instinct between hand-eye coordination,” he added. “Codie just seemed to have it, even as a little kid.”

Devastating loss

Bascue and his USA Bobsled teammates suffered a devastating loss last May.

Steve Holcomb — the most decorated bobsled driver in U.S. history and a friend and mentor to many, including Bascue — was found dead in his room at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid. Autopsy results reportedly found alcohol and prescription drugs in his system.

“It was absolutely heartbreaking for everybody on the team,” Codie Bascue said. “He’s not an easy guy to replace and I don’t think we ever will. I’ve never seen a guy on his level as far as ability and professionalism.

“Steve Holcomb was a huge influence on bobsledding as a whole, not just the team,” he added. “In my eyes, he was the best bobsled driver in the world.”

Bascue said he got to know Holcomb pretty well over the last three or four years, while he was on the World Cup team.

“When something wasn’t going right, I could go to him. He knew every track in the world,” Bascue said. “Even with some of the hardest things, he was so lighthearted and he really had a way of explaining things that made sense.”

Bascue misses Holcomb’s presence as a sounding board and mentor.

“It’s been difficult not having him as another brain to pick — even the coaches went to him to ask questions when they couldn’t explain it to us,” he said. “It’s just a huge loss to the entire sport of bobsledding.”

Associated Press file photo 

Dresden native Codie Bascue and Samuel McGuffie speed down the track during the first run of the men's two-man bobsled World Cup race in Innsbruck on Dec. 16. Bascue will team up with McGuffie in both the two- and four-man bobsled events at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Ready to go

Bascue got a chance to test out the new Olympic track at the Alpensia Sliding Center in PyeongChang during an official test session for teams last March.

“I drove the track pretty well,” he said. “In two-man, our start was 21st best, but I drove us up to ninth. If I can go back and drive like I did then, and have this push we’ve had for the last few weeks — we have a top-three or top-five push — we can do really well.”

The fact that this is a new track will work in Bascue’s favor because everyone else will be learning the twists and turns as well.

“Not many people have had many runs on that track, so it kind of levels the field for everyone,” Bascue said. “Then it’s a matter of who can learn the track the quickest and it comes down to pushes after that.”

Providing the push for Bascue at the Olympics will be brakeman Sam McGuffie, who will team up with him in both two- and four-man, and push athletes Evan Weinstock and Steve Langton. All are exceptional athletes who came from other sports, including football and track.

Bascue said Germany and Canada will be the main competition, but he has high hopes, especially in four-man.

“It’s hard to go into any competition and not want to do your best and get on the podium,” he said. “I think we have a great group of guys who will surprise people. These three guys are the best push athletes we have.”

Bascue said they won’t have much down time once the Olympics start, as they will begin practice runs.

Beyond the thrill of competing at his sport’s very top level, Bascue is hoping to see some other events and take in more of the culture.

“I’m going there to try to not take the experience for granted,” he said. “I want to take a step back each day and reflect on it, try to enjoy the experience.”

While he hasn’t been back to Whitehall since August — other than a few days for Christmas — Bascue is thrilled to be representing the U.S. and his hometown as he competes at the pinnacle of his sport.

“I’m proud to be where I’m from, where everybody has been so supportive for so many years,” he said. “To be where I am now is more than I could ever ask for.”

'I haven't been able to make any sense of it'

QUEENSBURY — Bryan Redden wants to say he is sorry to the family of the mother and daughter he killed last summer, but knows that the time he will be given in court next month when he is sentenced won’t suffice.

He wants to write a letter to the loved ones of Crystal Riley and her daughter, Lilly Frasier, but doesn’t know to whom to write or how to get it to them.

“I just want the family to know how sorry I am,” he said. “I would give my life 10 times over to give them both back.”

Speaking to a reporter from a Warren County Jail visiting room Friday afternoon, Redden said he still can’t make sense of why he killed his friend and her 4-year-old daughter in their Glens Falls home the morning of last Aug. 11.

Though he admitted in Warren County Court that he murdered them by slicing their throats with a knife, he says he does not remember doing it. He said he has no doubt he did it, that the evidence shows he did it, but he doesn’t remember it happening or remember why it happened.

He said he had an argument with his girlfriend and went on a multi-day drug and alcohol bender before the murders, smoking crack cocaine and using heroin. He had not seen Riley, 33, for several months, and never had any strife with her.

“I really don’t know why I was there,” he said. “I was angry at that time about all kinds of stuff, but nothing to do with Crystal. I’ve never been the kind of guy to put my hands on people. I haven’t been able to make any sense of it.”

The last thing Redden says he remembers about that day was drinking from a 1.75-liter bottle of Black Velvet whiskey with a friend, around 3 a.m.

The friend later dropped him off near another friend’s home in Queensbury. He knows he rode a bicycle to Riley’s South Street home.

Then he said he remembers being in Riley’s Toyota Highlander sport-utility vehicle heading south on the Northway. He knew he had done something “really horrible” to be in her car with some of her belongings without her, but didn’t recall exactly what happened.

He turned around and drove back to Glens Falls, planning to turn himself in. He stopped the car at the Wash & Fold laundry on Bay Street, got out and said he flagged down the first police officer he saw.

“I told him, ‘I’m the guy you are looking for.’ I wasn’t going to run from it. I had to face up to what I had done,” he said.

Redden agreed to a jailhouse interview Friday with a Post-Star reporter at the reporter’s request, after the paper learned he had sent letters to the court seeking a change to his plea deal. He is scheduled to be sentenced March 8 for his guilty pleas to first-degree murder, second-degree murder and lesser charges.

The interview lasted about 45 minutes, the lanky Redden speaking with a hint of a southern drawl from his West Virginia roots, his speech quick and his syntax succinct. He comes across as an intelligent and sincerely remorseful young man.

He was in the Glens Falls region for about a year before committing two of the most heinous crimes the city has seen in decades.

Redden wound up here with a carnival rides company that brought him to the Washington County Fair in August 2016.

He had a falling out with a boss during the fair, lost his job and was taken to a bus station in Saratoga Springs to leave the area, but instead made his way north to Glens Falls. He said he has always been resourceful and able to find ways to support himself.

He bounced around odd jobs at local restaurants and with a drywall company, staying at a homeless shelter until he could save enough money to rent rooms in apartment buildings on Lawrence Street and Warren Street in Glens Falls. Days before the murders, he visited a local U.S. Army recruiter and had scheduled an appointment to take a military aptitude test.

Glens Falls double murder case, trial and sentencing

He had abused drugs in the past, but says he had been clean for two years before he wound up in Glens Falls. He also has a mental health history, his lawyer having filed a notice for a possible insanity defense before his guilty pleas.

Redden says he has lost 30 pounds in jail, having been confined to the special housing unit for much of his time after two fights with other inmates. One was with Vittorio “Vito” Campano, the man accused of shooting a Hague store clerk during a robbery.

He said Campano made a comment about Riley that angered him and prompted fisticuffs.

Redden said he has been in the jail’s general population for only about three weeks of his 6 months there, the rest of it spent alone in special housing.

Other inmates target him and try to antagonize him because “I am the most hated man in upstate New York,” he said. Only once has family visited him.

“I’ve been doing hard time, but I’m OK with it. It’s better than I deserve,” he said. “I don’t sleep much these days. My conscience doesn’t let me.”

He said he met Crystal in December 2016 at 58 Bar & Grill on South Street in Glens Falls, where he worked part-time. He said they became “good friends” but would not elaborate about their relationship. (Police said he told them they had been involved romantically for a period of time, though Riley’s family didn’t know him.)

Redden has nothing but good things to say about her, and says the person she was makes what he did even more inexplicable.

“She was a really good woman. She was really nice to me,” he said. “There were never any problems between us.”

The fact he killed them, and took the life of a child he hadn’t met when he says he has always loved children from his days as a “carnie,” makes it all the more “surreal” to him.

He says he doesn’t think of drug use as an excuse or explanation for what he did, as it was his “bad decision” to use drugs.

With the prospect of at least four decades — if not the rest of his life — in prison, Redden said he is trying to find out what God’s “purpose” is for him, and whether he can redeem himself in some way.

While he has sent letters to Warren County Judge John Hall questioning his plea deal, he said he has no intention of reversing his plea or putting Riley’s family through any more than they have been through.

He hopes he will someday get out of prison, and said he thinks 30-years-to-life is an appropriate sentence, instead of the 44-to-life that is likely in his plea deal.

Redden knows that going into state prison as someone who killed a mother and child will make his stay there very difficult, as those who commit crimes against children are often targeted by other inmates and don’t get much sympathy from staff.

But he said he understands that is part of the penalty he must pay for what he did.

“I’ll have some trouble when I get up there, but I deserve it,” he said. “Whatever is coming my way, I deserve it.”