BURNED, early this morning: a condemned house and an adjoining vacant house at 235 and 237 Water St, Catskill. No injuries. Cause not determined. Help provided in abundance by neighboring fire companies. Upper Main Street, connecting to Jefferson Heights Boulevard, was closed for three hours.
HIT MAN HIT. A routine stop of a motorist for failing to wear a seatbelt led to the arrest last Saturday afternoon, in Palenville, of an international fugitive. When sheriff’s deputy Jay Lucas ran the standard computer checks on the driver whose license identified him as Christian Steven Ponce of Asheville NC, signals from Washington DC, and from Interpol, indicated that his detainee was “wanted and dangerous” Christian Steven Ponce Salas, who had decamped illegally from his native Ecuador in the wake of involvement with three political assassinations. Local investigation indicated that Sr Salas had come to GreeneLand just after Christmas, and was living in an apartment and working in a restaurant in Tannersville. He was arraigned before Catskill Town Justice Robert Carl, jailed without bail, and collected for eventual extradition on Sunday by--as Sheriff Richard Hussey reported--four “tight-lipped” Federal agents who arrived in two vans. If he is returned to Quito, Sr Salas told deputies here, “I expect to be killed.” Accounts of the Ecuador case, as given in wire service stories and Internet references, do not concur. Insofar as we have been able to sift the materials so as to identify the probabilities, here are key features. Sr Salas and two accomplices were convicted not of murdering, but of arranging the murder--by gunfire, on a busy Quito street--of a prominent opposition-party legislator, along with his nephew and a bodyguard. The main victim, Jaime Hurtado, was targeted on account of his “leftist” allegiances and/or his probing attacks on high-level corruption. According to the web site of Popular Unity, an avowedly “leftist” coalition, “comrade” Hurtado was a victim of “reactionary forces,” Colombian and Ecuadoran, perpetrating a “new act of state terrorism” prompted by President Jamil Mahuad. (A few months later, Mahaud was ousted from office by military and nativist pressure). The triple murder occurred in February 1999. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, based in Geneva, Switzerland, Sr Salas and his accomplices were convicted in August 2000 of criminal association in connection with the killings. They were sentenced to six-year prison terms but were released by a sympathetic government, ostensibly for good behavior, after one year. The early release prompted an inquiry from the Union, especially in light of reports that one of the convicts had engaged in prison brawls. A judicial inquiry into the circumstances of the early release was scheduled. Instead of keeping his court date, Sr Salas fled the country and found his way, eventually, to Tannersville.P.S. Portions of the foregoing account were drawn (lifted?) from local reportage by Andrea Macko and Ariel Zenga, whose stories were picked up by Associated Press and United Press International. Seeing Greene’s crew engaged in confirming and checking and exploring, but with the story those reporters were first. P.S.S. When Sr Salas was detained in Palenville, he had a passenger, whose license indicated that he was wanted by New York City police for credit card fraud. But Gotham’s authorities declined to send a man, or a team, to collect the suspect, who accordingly was released. P.P.S. Perhaps the moral of the story (as a blogger named “Red State” suggests) is, If you’re on the lam, buckle up.
GREEN SNOW BALL. Last Friday’s “Snow Ball,” held in Anthony’s Restaurant’s new banquet hall in Leeds, drew a crowd of 187 revelers and yielded a nice piece of change. Organized by the Columbia-Greene Hospital Foundation and hosted by Dr and Mrs Joseph Pilatich III, the function generated support for the Kaaterskill Care Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, in Jefferson Heights, to the tune of about $25,000.
PRISON BREAK. New York’s prison population has declined--to 63,119 inmates, as compared with 71.500 in 1999--“yet the state continues to operate the same number of facilities.” That situation, said Gov. Eliot Spitzer in his Budget speech, ought to be changed; a special Commission should be established so as to identify which facilities are most suitable, on the basis of cost-effectiveness, for closure. Oh No, responded State Senator James Seward (as reported by Chris Garifo of Johnson News Service); if closings are to be considered, let the matter be referred directly to the people’s elected representatives (translation: leave it to wheeling & dealing legislators). The senator was showing sensitivity to the fact that in his district, as in many up-State constituencies, incarceration is a vital local indu$try. He also was showing sensitivity to the fact that correctional officers, who absorb a substantial portion of the $2.74 billion annual cost of New York’s prison operations, make up a sensitive, unionized, cohesive bloc, whose numbers in key locations can be pivotal politically. (Membership of the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association Inc. is 23,000). Mr Seward also evidently was assuming that a coolly business-like, comparative analysis of operating efficiencies in the State’s 70 prisons would not bode well for the survival of GreeneLand’s two: the maximum-security Greene Correctional and (right next door) the medium-security Coxsackie Correctional. That assumption, we venture to suggest, is premature. Per capita costs of operation generally are highest in the State’s oldest prisons; and ours are not among the oldest. Moreover, rational decision-makers would not advise the closing of prisons of the type that are most in demand, namely, maximum-security facilities. Accordingly, Greene Corrrectional would be exempt. That leaves Coxsackie Correctional. And for that facility we venture to suggest a policy that would contribute to reducing the surplus of prison spaces while alleviating a local need. The scheme is simply to (i) close a section of Greene Correctional, and (ii) convert that piece into a new Greene County jail. Sheriff Hussey has run that idea past the powers that be in the State’s Department of Correctional Services. The reception, he reports, has not been cordial. It could change, perhaps, at the behest of the Greene County legislature, Assemblyman Tim Gordon, and Senator Seward.SHIVERS. “The recent cold snap,” says a local scribe, “has resulted a nice thick layer of ice, on which other ice fishermen were even willing to drive their vehicles out on.”