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Local businessman and wife brace for hurricane in Virgin Islands


Rich Morin, owner of the Glens Falls scuba dive center that bears his name, bought a home in the U.S. Virgin Islands about two years ago with hopes of retiring to the Caribbean.

Late last week, with one of the strongest hurricanes in decades approaching, Morin headed to the tropical island east of Puerto Rico to prepare his home for winds from Hurricane Irma that could hit 200 mph.

Airports were closing Tuesday afternoon, and Morin said there was no getting off the island in time to beat the storm. So he and his wife were preparing to ride it out in a windowless room in the middle of the concrete abode, a sledgehammer among their provisions in case they have to bash their way out afterward.

He admitted during a phone interview that they were “nervous” as winds began to pick up, but they believed they had done all they could do to be ready.

Morin said his wife, Jeanne, stayed behind in St. Croix following a visit last fall because their dogs had struggled with the flight down. They were concerned about the dogs’ ability to endure another flight, so she stayed there with them, he said.

He decided Saturday, after talking to his wife, that he would head south to help them ride it out.

“She called and said, ‘I’m scared,’ and I told her, ‘I’ll be down,’ “ Morin explained. “We have spent the past few days getting ready all day, all night, getting the house all set and stocked.”

Accordion hurricane shutters protect the windows, but the home has a wooden roof and does not have a basement, he said. He had hoped to get a generator, but wasn’t able to before Tuesday.

There seemed to be little chance the Virgin Islands would escape a severe hit from the storm as of late Tuesday afternoon, but Morin said some forecasts had the storm heading slightly north, which would mean St. Croix could avoid the worst of it. Other tracks, though, put the island in the hurricane’s direct path, beginning Tuesday night with the worst coming Wednesday.

“I hope it turns north and out to sea,” Morin said. “Depending on which forecast you look at, it is either going to go just a little north of us or we have a target painted on us and it is going to hit us head-on.”

He said he has talked to neighbors about the devastation that Hurricane Hugo wrought in 1989, knocking out power for nearly 6 months in places.

“It just destroyed this island,” he said. “We are nervous, no doubt about it.”

Local nurse tells of struggles in Texas

Lisa Clark has seen the reality of what Hurricane Harvey did to southern Texas.

Clark, the assistant director of nursing at Washington Center in Argyle, and her husband, Charlie, left Albany on Saturday to volunteer for the American Red Cross, and Clark is working at the Lively Pointe Youth Center in Irving, Texas.

“A small new friend of mine, Jenette, 13, has a vivid memory of hanging onto the roof and watching a frog trying to swim against the current. She keeps talking about that frog. They were all rescued by the Cajun Navy and brought to a shelter,” Clark said in a Facebook post, referring to the flotilla of small boats that came to Texas from Louisiana to help rescue people.

All 114 residents of the shelter are from Dickinson, Texas, and each spoke to her about being in chest-deep water overnight, waiting to be rescued and taken to a shelter. She heard more about that from an evacuee named Dan.

“That shelter flooded. They were bused out and dropped onto a highway. Dan said, ‘It was like a war zone.’ He said he was passed up by rescuers multiple times because he had his dog with him, but in no way was he going to abandon Hobo, the spaniel.

“Finally, these 114 people were brought to an airport where they boarded a C-130 cargo plane. They were brought to Dallas, bused to Irving and processed into this shelter,” she wrote, then went on to describe just how bad the situation was.

“These folks have nothing to go home to. They don’t have a home anymore. They had only the clothes on their backs,” she continued. “Many had no shoes. Most had no meds, have lost their glasses, and had to leave behind wheelchairs. Health Services is working our tails off to fill these needs.”

But, she wrote, the residents of the shelter have pulled together.

“These families have bonded. Lively Pointe is a community. The kids are laughing today,” she wrote. “But they want to tell their stories. And I want to listen. The adults are trying to mask their pain but it’s getting harder. Hugs are free and all Red Cross workers seem to have a never-ending supply.”

Though the couple traveled to Texas together, they have been separated, and Charlie Clark is working at a large shelter near Dallas.

“I have to say, the city of Irving, Texas, has been amazing. I mean, just totally selfless, giving, responsive. Labor Day barbecue, grilling done by the water department, the mayor, his wife, and all city staff were there,” wrote Lisa Clark, who sent a thank-you message to city officials. “These people are lucky to be here. Sounds weird. ... It was unlucky that they had to come here, but you have enabled them to make Irving home, if even temporarily.”

More training

The Albany area Red Cross expected to train 60 more volunteers Tuesday, on top of 150 last week, and there are three more training sessions coming, including one in Saratoga Springs.

Few of the 80 volunteers trained in Glens Falls last week have been sent south yet, but Red Cross officials indicated they felt the cleanup effort would take months.

Meanwhile, they have their eyes on Hurricane Irma, which has hit Category 5, the most severe status, and could hit Florida hard.

“This hurricane has the potential to be a major event for the East Coast. It also has the potential to significantly strain FEMA and other governmental resources occurring so quickly on the heels of (Hurricane) Harvey,” Evan Myers, chief operating officer of AccuWeather, told the Associated Press.

It took an extra day for the Clarks to get their luggage, but Lisa Clark admitted it wasn’t really that bad.

“We finally received our luggage around midnight last night. However, after having spent my first day in the shelter, I felt like my complaining about lack of clean socks for one day was somewhat ... no, a lot ... ridiculous, compared to what these folks are dealing with.”

County, jail guards union have new contract

QUEENSBURY — All of Warren County’s jail guards will receive a $1,000 bonus as part of a new four-year contract the county and the officers union agreed to in recent days as county leaders hope to slow turnover at the jail.

The stipend will come in addition to annual raises for members of the Warren County Sheriff’s Employees’ Alliance that will range from 2.6 percent to 2.9 percent over the course of the pact. Both the county Board of Supervisors and the 116-member union have agreed to the contract.

The union includes county corrections officers and members of the Sheriff’s Office Communications Division, but only the corrections officers will receive the $1,000 bonus this year.

The jail’s corrections staff has been beset by resignations and transfers to other agencies, including to the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, in recent years, which has helped drive up overtime costs significantly.

Warren County Sheriff Bud York said he is optimistic the raises and bonus will help keep staff in place. The Sheriff’s Office’s overtime budget for the jail had been surpassed as of the summer, in part due to vacancies.

“I think the stipend will help,” he said. “I know they (union members) were very happy about that.”

The county’s acting administrator, Kevin Geraghty, praised the contract.

“It’s a good contract,” he said. “We know they have a tough job. We felt really good about the contract, and I think they felt really good about it, too.”

Members of the union will get a 2.9 percent raise this year, 2.75 percent in 2018, 2.60 percent in 2019 and in 2.90 percent in 2020.

Members, though, will also pay a higher percentage of their health insurance costs, with the percentage their premiums will cover rising 1 percent each year. What they pay will depend on their date of hire, with employees hired after March 2013 paying 25 percent as of 2020.

The health insurance contributions are in line with those of the county’s other workers unions.

The president of the alliance, county corrections officer Dan Kelly, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

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Defrocked former priest from Easton jailed in sex case

BALLSTON SPA — A defrocked former Catholic priest who lives at a “retreat” in Washington County was ordered held for lack of bail Tuesday on charges that accuse him of sexually abusing a teenage boy in Saratoga County earlier this year.

Michael R. Hands, 51, a Level 3 registered sex offender from Easton, was sent to Saratoga County Jail for lack of $75,000 cash bail or $150,000 bail bond. He was arraigned before Saratoga County Judge James Murphy on a nine-count indictment for alleged sex crimes with a child in Charlton earlier this year.

Hands is a registered sex offender because of a 2003 sodomy conviction in Suffolk County, which occurred when he was a Catholic priest on Long Island in the early 2000s. He was removed from the priesthood after state records show he pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 14-year-old boy.

His case attracted national media attention at the time, with The New York Times reporting that Hands claimed he was sexually abused when he was studying to be a priest, and that he cooperated with an investigation into the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Center.

Hands has been living at 391 Herrington Hill Road in Easton for at least four years, registering that address with the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.

That is the address for Easton Mountain Retreat, a business that bills itself as a nonprofit “community, retreat center, and sanctuary created by gay men as a gift to the world.”

His profile on the organization’s website showed he served as its “membership director” in recent years, after starting as a “volunteer coordinator.”

He also bills himself online as a “life coach.”

Hands’ status with Easton Mountain Retreat was unclear Tuesday. A call to the organization was not returned.

Hands was arrested by State Police investigators from the Malta station in July, but the case was not publicized until a brief press release was issued by the Saratoga County District Attorney’s Office last week about Hands’ indictment.

He faces felony counts of criminal sexual act, use of a child in a sexual performance, disseminating indecent material, sexual abuse, promoting a sexual performance by a child and a misdemeanor of endangering the welfare of a child, records show. In addition to sexual abuse of an underage person, he is accused of possessing and distributing child pornography, although it was unclear whether it was related to the child he is accused of molesting.

Authorities said he met the boy online before arranging meetings.

His lawyer, James Tyner, did not respond to a phone call for comment.

Hands faces up to 47 years in state prison on the charges.