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Balloon flights grounded Friday, as winds can make for an unpredictable ride

QUEENSBURY — The Adirondack Balloon Festival had to ground all flights Friday as winds pushed 11 to 13 mph with gusts reaching 20 mph.

The optimal wind speed is around 3 mph, according to the festival website.

Despite the lack of in-air action, visitors got to enjoy a cool, dry afternoon with food and merchandise vendors and the Zonta Fall Craft Show.

But still, some were asking: Are the balloons going up? Well, if they did, Balloon Festival Director Mark Donahue believes they wouldn’t have landed anywhere near Queensbury.

“Taking Dorothy to Kansas,” he joked about how far they’d go. “The wind is heading north. We can be in Montreal in 20 minutes.”

Andrew Avon, a longtime Glens Falls resident and current homeowner in South Glens Falls, has been a balloonist or hot-air balloon pilot for 12 years.

He once had a trip that crossed the border.

“I’ve flown close to Montreal going close to 18 miles an hour,” Avon said. “So, the winds right now are about 20. It wasn’t that fun; it was nerve-wracking.”

They did land and all the passengers were fine.

“Everybody laughed after,” he added. “It was a good time. It was another story to put in the ballooning repertoire.”

One technique the pilots use to land the balloon in high speeds is called a rip out. To deflate the envelope (the balloon portion), the balloonists remove the very top by pulling the rip line. The surface determines a smooth slide or bouncy crash.

Festival notebook: The secret is out

Adam Colver 

The Duffy, Davidson and Liebreth children pose for a photo Friday morning at Crandall Park in Glens Falls. The families get up early every year and head over to the park to watch the balloons before heading to school at St. Mary's-St. Alphonsus School.

Mark Pluta was another pilot at the Balloon Festival on Thursday. He said one of his trips that left Wellsville, New York did not go as planned.

“I got in the air and it was a nice, calm morning,” he began. “About halfway through the flight, the wind picked up and it was probably doing, (well) I stopped looking when it was doing 14 (mph). … I had my passengers get to the bottom of the basket and I said, ‘Hang on, it’s going to be a rough landing.’ ”

It wasn’t as bad as he predicted, he recalled, because they landed in a flat field. However, that field had rose bushes, and the thorns were not easy to remove from the envelope.

His tracker vehicle could not follow the balloon. His wife, who separated from the tracker vehicle, did find Pluta to get them home safely.

WNYT meteorologist Bob Kovachick said he is mostly optimistic about the rest of the weekend’s weather, with the exception of early Saturday.

“I wouldn’t be too optimistic in the morning,” he said about Saturday. He predicts winds will be, at minimum, around 10 to 15 mph and up to 20.

But Kovachick said that Saturday night and all of Sunday look to be great. Both days are expected to be dry and winds Saturday night and Sunday are expected to be less than 10 mph.

“There’s a glimmer of hope (Saturday) morning, but by midday (Saturday), it’s going to be gorgeous,” Donahue said.

Photos: 46th annual Adirondack Balloon Festival
Reader photos: Adirondack Balloon Festival

Adam Colver, 

Walt Rudy and Keith Sproul attempt to inflate a balloon Friday morning to show off to the crowd at Crandall Park in Glens Falls. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate and the balloon went back in the bag to fly another day. The winds were too strong for balloons to get off the ground Friday evening at Floyd Bennett Memorial Airport in Queensbury as well. 

Festival notebook: The secret is out
Adam Colver 

The Duffy, Davidson and Liebreth children pose for a photo Friday morning at Crandall Park in Glens Falls. The families get up early every year and head over to the park to watch the balloons before heading to school at St. Mary's-St. Alphonsus School.

Not everyone knows about the Friday morning balloon launch at Crandall Park, but if you live close by, it is an opportunity to take in the balloons without the crowd and deal with the traffic at the airport.

The Duffy, Davidson and Liebreth families have been coming to Crandall Park for years dressed in their St. Mary-St. Alphonsus school uniforms to take in the morning launch with doughnuts and coffee in hand.

One balloon did fully inflate before the rains started to intensify, creating a backdrop for a group family photo.

The families did not witness a launch Friday but attended Thursday night’s kickoff at the park and said they would be back on Sunday when the balloons return.

— Adam Colver

Adam Colver 

Peter Griswold gives the grim weather report Friday morning at Crandall Park to pilots and crew members before a scheduled launch.

Coffee, doughnuts and the weather

Everyone gathered around the Adirondack Balloon Festival sponsored pickup truck before the sun rose on Friday.

Crews filled cups of coffee and grabbed a doughnut to munch on while awaiting the word on whether the balloons would get airborne.

As the winds picked up, many turned to their phones for a peek at the radar as a strong storm system was to the north.

Festival director Mark Donahue thanked all of the crews Friday morning from atop the pickup for a successful launch Thursday night, exclaiming it was the best Thursday night ever.

Many marveled at the block party that followed downtown, which drew a large crowd with live music, food and of course balloons.

The weather did not cooperate, but at least the coffee and doughnuts were good.

— Adam Colver

Moon glow to have memorial balloons

Tom Stodolski was a dedicated pilot who advocated for and promoted the Adirondack Balloon Festival on his own time. Stodolski, who attended all but one Balloon Festival since 1976, passed away on Feb. 18.

There will be a special commemoration where two balloons, one of his included, will be participating in the Warren County airport’s moon glow at 8 p.m. Saturday.

His nephew Mark Stodolski, who is also a balloonist, will be lighting one of the two hot-air balloons during the event. He was very close to his uncle, as Tom helped Mark get his hot-air balloon license.

Mark piloted his first flight when Tom stopped in a field halfway through a trip and told Mark he could fly the second half.

“How ironic — last time I flew with (Tom) was at this festival on Sunday morning (last year),” Mark said, pausing mid-sentence as he became choked up. “... Tom landed in this field and I landed about 100 yards away. As we were driving out after we packed up, I said, ‘Oh my God, this is the same field that I had my first flight.’ That’s the last time I saw my uncle fly.”

Tom was honored by the festival on Friday evening at The Great Escape.

— Andrew David Kuczkowski

Rod Rosenstein proposed secretly recording President Trump, reportedly discussed invoking 25th Amendment

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the steward of the special counsel investigation into Russian election interference, proposed wearing a wire to secretly record President Trump last year in order to capture the chaos of his administration and ineptitude of his presidency, a person with direct knowledge of the matter said Friday.

However, the person — whose identity is known to the Daily News but spoke on condition of anonymity — said Rosenstein made the proposal facetiously in a meeting with law enforcement officials shortly after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in May 2017.

“I remember this meeting and remember the wire comment,” the source said. “The statement was sarcastic and was never discussed with any intention of recording a conversation with the president.”

But several people who read memos about the meeting written by former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe disputed that assessment.

The sources told The New York Times that Rosenstein raised the possibility of wearing a wire in the context of recruiting Cabinet officials to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office on the grounds that he’s mentally unfit to serve. Rosenstein was serious enough about the idea to propose that FBI officials who were interviewing to succeed Comey should wear wires while meeting with Trump, according to the sources.

At the time, Trump had made a number of questionable moves that raised eyebrows in the law enforcement community, including disclosing classified U.S. intelligence to Russian government officials during a meeting in the Oval Office.

Rosenstein, who was just two weeks into his new job in overseeing the Russia investigation, was concerned by Trump’s behavior and revelations that he had asked Comey, before firing him, to pledge fealty and end an investigation into his national security adviser Michael Flynn, the sources said.

Rosenstein’s drastic discussions evidently didn’t materialize, but the sources said he told associates at the time that he may be able to get Attorney General Jeff Sessions and then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly on board with invoking the 25th Amendment.

Rosenstein, 53, vehemently denied The Times report, blasting it as “factually incorrect.”

“I will not further comment on a story based on anonymous sources who are obviously biased against the department and are advancing their own personal agenda,” Rosenstein said in a statement. “But let me be clear about this: Based on my personal dealings with the president, there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment.”

A White House spokeswoman did not return a request for comment.

McCabe, who was fired earlier this year over allegedly misleading internal Justice Department investigators, didn’t dispute the notion that his memos contain information about Rosenstein’s alleged 25th Amendment musings.

“Andrew McCabe drafted memos to memorialize significant discussions he had with high level officials and preserved them so he would have an accurate, contemporaneous record of those discussions,” said Michael Bromwich, an attorney for McCabe.

Bromwich said McCabe handed over all those memos to special counsel Robert Mueller when he sat down with his investigators last year.

“A set of those memos remained at the FBI at the time of his departure in late January 2018,” Bromwich said. “He has no knowledge of how any member of the media obtained those memos.”

Jeffrey Cramer, a former federal prosecutor in Illinois, wasn’t fazed by the suggestion that senior Justice Department officials were discussing drastic measures in the wake of Comey’s axing.

“It was a unique moment,” Cramer said. ““It was a very tense time. It could have been in the vein of (Rosenstein) and others venting, for lack of a better term.”

Patrick Cotter, another former federal prosecutor, said it’s not unusual for Justice Department brass to kick around extreme ideas in informal settings.

“People are not measuring their words,” Cotter said. “These are the guys you have lunch with and a lot of stuff gets thrown around.”

Since Sessions recused himself in March 2017, Rosenstein has overseen all federal investigations into Russian election interference, including Mueller’s probe into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and the Kremlin.

Friday’s explosive revelations come amid widespread speculation that Trump’s mental state is deteriorating. Bob Woodward’s “Fear” paints the President as a reckless madman with the mental cognition of a “fifth- or sixth-grader” and a senior administration official penned an anonymous essay earlier this month that alleged Cabinet members have weighed invoking the 25th Amendment.

Members of Trump’s right-wing base called for Rosenstein’s head after the latest development.

“Rod Rosenstein must be fired today,” Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham tweeted at Trump.

Democrats warned the President against taking any action against Rosenstein, saying they would view it as yet another attempt to obstruct Mueller’s ongoing investigation.

“This story must not be used as a pretext for the corrupt purpose of firing Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein in order install an official who will allow the president to interfere with the Special Counsel’s investigation,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. “Generals Kelly, Mattis and numerous other White House and cabinet officials have been reported to say critical things of the president without being fired.”

Grassroots activist organization Public Citizen pledged that more than 400,000 Americans will take to the streets across the country if Trump boots Rosenstein.

“The Mueller investigation is doing essential work,” said Lisa Gilbert, the group’s vice president of legislative affairs. “Any attack on the investigation is an attack on the integrity of our democracy and will be reacted to with extreme outrage by the American people. Nobody is above the law, and that includes the president.”


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Shame, fear: Survivors explain not reporting sexual assaults

NEW YORK — Shame. Guilt. Embarrassment. Denial. Disgust.

And fear — of losing a job, friends, colleagues, privacy, safety, even one’s life.

There are myriad reasons why survivors of sexual assault wait years to come forward — if at all. Indeed, about 7 out of 10 people who experience sexual assault never report it, according to Justice Department statistics.

So survivors responded with fury Friday to President Donald Trump’s remarks challenging the veracity of Christine Blasey Ford, the accuser of Judge Brett Kavanaugh. The president said she would surely have reported the assault to police “immediately” if the attack was “as bad as she says.”

On Twitter, the hashtag “WhyIDidn’tReport” was trending, with survivors coming forward with their own reasons.

“Because he was a member of our family,” one user wrote. “Because he threatened to kill me,” wrote another. “He was supposed to be my friend, but he beat me when I said no,” wrote yet another.

On Facebook, Kathy Gosnell, a retired newspaper copy editor in DeKalb, Illinois, was inspired by Ford’s revelation to finally share with a group of Facebook colleagues — a day before Trump’s tweet — that she had been drugged and raped, she said, by a colleague more than three decades earlier.

“It’s time to say something,” Gosnell, now 73, wrote on Facebook. “In the early 1980s, I was drugged, beaten and raped by one of our colleagues at the L.A. Times. ... Never again did I say his name or speak to him.”

In an interview, Gosnell said the man is now deceased and she still has no desire to say his name. He had invited her to dinner, she says, then gave her a drink, and that was the last she remembered until she woke up hours later in his bed, naked and bruised around her arms, chest and neck. She went home, “took seven or eight showers” and told no one until 15 months ago, when she told her daughter.

“I wanted to keep my job,” Gosnell said. “And I was afraid I would be ridiculed by colleagues, who might have said, ‘But he’s a great guy!’” (The newspaper did not immediately respond to an email asking for comment.)

Gosnell said she’s furious at the treatment of Ford, especially Trump’s tweet. “Of course I understand why she didn’t report. She must have known what would happen to her. And look what’s happening to her now.”

Scott Berkowitz, president of the anti-sexual violence organization RAINN, said reasons for not reporting assaults include fear of retaliation, fear of the perpetrator attacking again, social pressure from peer groups and simple shame.

“The president is misguided about standard behavior following a sexual assault,” Berkowitz said of Trump’s tweet.

There’s also, Berkowitz added, a guilt factor: “People are often blaming themselves, even though they are clearly not at fault.”

The same reasons are only exacerbated when victims are in their teens, he said, adding that 54 percent of those under 18 who call the National Sexual Assault Hotline say they have not told a single other person.

Ford and Kavanaugh were high school students — she 15, he 17 — when she alleges the assault occurred. And that, Berkowitz pointed out, was decades ago, when the environment was even less welcoming than it is today for someone reporting an assault.

Katie Cogan, a trauma psychotherapist in the Washington, D.C. area, said teenagers especially “almost never tell anyone (about an assault), and if they do it’s usually years later. They think it’s their fault or try to convince themselves it was no big deal.”

Cogan said she received a number of calls on Friday morning, following Trump’s tweet, from patients expressing distress over the comments and feeling anew that “they will never be believed.”

Lea Grover was 14 and a freshman in high school when, she said, she was raped at a basement party that she had agreed to attend to accompany a friend, who never showed up. She said her assailant fed her alcohol for several hours until she was extremely drunk, then led her into a utility closet where he assaulted her.

She had been saying “no” all evening, but finally agreed to go into another room with him, she said, thinking she could grab someone on the way and escape. But she didn’t have that chance.

She was “paralyzed with fear,” she recalled. “I didn’t think I had anywhere to go or any other option” than but to submit.

She didn’t report it — “I was utterly convinced it was my fault because I had gone to a party where I didn’t know anyone,” she said. Soon after, she attempted to take her own life, she said.

Years later, as an adult, she suffered another assault, and she did report that one, though she did not ultimately press charges. Last year she wrote an article about the fear involved in coming forward, titled “Don’t Tell Me Not to Speak Up When I Can’t Even Say His Name.”

Asked her response to Trump’s remarks, Grover, now 34 and a writer who works with survivors of gender-based violence, noted that her assault in high school was so bad that she was still unable to discuss it with her parents until 15 years later — when she began speaking publicly about it.

Coming forward was — and still is — painful for both them and for her, she said. “Only someone incapable of human empathy wouldn’t understand that.”

Former local man slain in Las Vegas, family seeks answers


A former Saratoga County resident who worked as an accountant in Queensbury for years has been found dead in Arizona, and police out west are trying to locate the couple they believe was responsible for his death.

David Rathbun worked as a CPA and tax manager at the local accounting firm Whittemore, Dowen & Ricciardelli LLP for about a decade after a career that included a stint with Price Chopper’s corporate office. His sister, Linda Rathbun, said her family grew up in Burnt Hills, and a number of relatives still live in Saratoga County.

David Rathbun retired at 59 and moved in the summer of 2015 to Las Vegas, where he was enjoying his new hobbies of hiking and biking.

“My brother worked very hard all of his life and this was a dream of his,” Linda Rathbun said.

But things changed last September, when family members didn’t hear from him. Text messages received short responses, and voice mail messages were not returned.

Relatives suspected something was up. But they found that his cellphone was still being used, and the user responded to text messages and even answered the phone, pretending to be Rathbun, when police called. Rathbun’s credit cards were still being used and his bank account was being accessed, according to his family.

Convincing police in Las Vegas that something was awry and that Rathbun would not have left Las Vegas of his own volition was difficult, though. Police there were still dealing with the aftereffects of the Mandolay Bay mass shooting, and missing persons cases are very common there.

“It’s Las Vegas, and the police told us people go there to disappear,” Linda Rathbun said. “They have so many missing people out there and so few missing people detectives.”

When police called David Rathbun’s cellphone, the man who answered told officers he was moving and did not want to have contact with his family.

As the weeks progressed, Rathbun’s family discovered that, as of mid-October, his home, car and prized BMW motorcycle had been sold for cash. Those revelations confirmed their fears he had met with foul play. When family members flew to Las Vegas in October, they found his home empty.

In December, police concluded Rathbun likely was dead, and his death was likely a homicide. By this spring, when no further clues had developed as to what became of Rathbun, Las Vegas Police publicly identified two transients — Charles Ausiello, 55, and Jolene Hibbs, 45 — as “persons of interest” in connection with his disappearance, based on bank surveillance videos that showed a man making a withdrawal from Rathbun’s bank account in Las Vegas. Warrants have been issued for their arrest.

David Rathbun is believed to have helped Hibbs at some point before his disappearance, as she claimed she was seriously ill and homeless, relatives of Rathbun’s said.

Police had few clues about what had happened to Rathbun until they got a tip earlier this summer that led to the recovery of remains in a desert in northern Arizona. Those remains were identified through dental records as Rathbun’s.

Linda Rathbun said police have not released the remains to the family, and the family is awaiting an official ruling on manner and cause of death.

The disappearance of David Rathbun and discovery of his remains have attracted significant media attention in the Las Vegas area. But police have not been able to locate Ausiello and Hibbs, both of whom have a history of fraud-related arrests and convictions. A third, unidentified man was being sought in connection with the case as well.

David Rathbun’s daughter, former Saratoga County resident Natasha Rathbun, said Friday that police have not reported any recent developments in the search. Rathbun’s family is concerned that Ausiello and Hibbs may harm others before they are caught.

“We know these people are evil and we don’t want them to hurt anyone else,” she said.

“My brother was a good man,” Linda Rathbun. “He was a hard worker, a CPA and a perfectionist. He didn’t deserve this.”

Anyone with information in the case is being asked to call Las Vegas Crime Stoppers at 702-385-5555.