On the last day of 2013, we look back at the top 10 local stories of the year, as voted on by the staff of The Daily Gazette. Here are their picks, in no particular order.
Fort Plain floods
On the morning of June 28, the Otsquago Creek rose above its banks and water rushed through the village of Fort Plain. The record-setting flash flood filled homes and businesses with water and mud and washed away village resident Ethel Healey in her modular home.
There are still many empty and condemned homes, but the historically flood-prone community is on the road to recovery with the help of volunteers and $4 million in state aid delivered by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
New York state in January became the first in the nation to pass new gun restrictions — including a ban on assault-style weapons — in response to the December 2012 school shootings in Newtown, Conn. Gov. Andrew Cuomo was a strong proponent of the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement, or SAFE Act.
The law proved unpopular with many upstate gun owners, but so far, the state Legislature has shown no interest in modifying it. By year’s end, nearly 1,300 people had been charged under the law.
Gambling a go
New York state will get legalized, Las Vegas-style gambling in the next few years. Voters statewide approved a gambling amendment to the state Constitution in November, clearing the way for up to seven casinos.
So far, the Saratoga Casino and Raceway is the area’s only confirmed candidate for a casino, but a citizen group called SAVE Saratoga has formed to fight the plan. The Cuomo administration hasn’t said what role community opposition will have in the selection process.
Early in the morning of May 2, a fire broke out at 438 Hulett St., eventually taking the lives of a 32-year-old father and three of his children. A fourth child survived, but barely.
Investigators soon concluded the fire was no accident and arrested Robert A. Butler, a former boyfriend of the children’s mother. The motive, authorities have alleged, was an argument Butler had with the father, 32-year-old David Terry, days before.
The case against Butler remains pending and, with the case in federal court, Butler could face the death penalty. Killed were Terry and his children Layah Terry, 3, Michael Terry, 2, and Donavan Duell, 11 months.
The only child to survive was 5-year-old Safyre Terry. Family members have said Safyre has made steady progress in her recovery.
Investment brokers David Smith and Timothy McGinn were convicted Feb. 7 in federal court on charges of conspiracy, wire fraud, securities fraud and filing a false tax return. On Aug. 7. Smith was ordered to serve 10 years in a federal prison, while McGinn was handed a 15-year term.
McGinn and Smith swindled hundreds of thousands of dollars from area investors, many of whom trusted the two men with their life savings.
‘Beyond the Pines’
Director Derek Cianfrance brought Schenectady to the world when his film, “The Place Beyond the Pines,” debuted at the Sunshine Cinema in New York City on March 28. Three weeks later, Cianfrance hosted a second premiere at Bow Tie Cinemas in downtown Schenectady for the movie he filmed exclusively in the Capital Region and almost entirely in the city during summer 2011.
The major motion picture starred actors Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, as well as other well-known actors, and used thousands of local residents as extras.
The drama received broad acclaim from critics during its three-month run at the box office — a stint grossing roughly $39 million.
The Schenectady-based Wandering Dago food truck aroused heated controversy last summer over its name, which is offensive to many Italian-Americans.
Operators Andrea Loguidice and Brandon Snooks were denied a food vendor license at the Empire State Plaza in May, then were asked to remove their truck from Saratoga Race Course at the beginning of the 2013 summer meet due to complaints about the name.
In August, the operators filed a lawsuit against state officials, but lost their bid for a preliminary injunction in November to bar the state from banning the truck from future contracts based on its name.
Mont Pleasant Middle School in Schenectady erupted with violent incidents and insubordination this fall. The superintendent removed 18 students from the building, sending them to other schools and programs, but still students reported fights and inappropriate touching during school. For many weeks, police had to supervise dismissal to stop riot-like behavior every afternoon. The school has now gone through six principals since fall 2012, and plans to find yet another principal for 2014-2015 school year.
Danes vs. Duke
The University at Albany men’s basketball team made its third appearance in the NCAA tournament in March. Seeded No. 15, the Great Dane’s drew No. 2 Duke. The Great Danes lost, 73-61, but the game wasn’t the huge blowout many people expected.
The Great Danes finished with a 24-11 record.
Farm Aid came to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center Sept. 21 as both a concert and a movement.
It was the first upstate New York visit for the festival and concert, which began in 1985 as a national effort to support family farms. The SPAC concert was headlined by Neil Young, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Dave Matthews and Jack Johnson, and featured dozens more, including a surprise appearance by Pete Seeger. The 25,000 tickets sold out in four days.
Other top stories
A look at the staff picks that didn't quite crack the top 10:
Schenectady City School District Superintendent Laurence Spring filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education alleging that the state aid formula unfairly gave more aid to school districts with predominantly white students, leaving districts like Schenectady without enough money to educate its children.
Fire ripped through a swath of row houses on Woodlawn Avenue in Saratoga Springs on July 28, leveling all but the brick facade on one and severely damaging three others. City fire crews were quick to arrive after the blaze was called in around 4 a.m., but little could be done to stop the fire from spreading from 108 Woodlawn Ave. to the other adjacent buildings. Though no one was injured, 32 people living in the apartment complex were left homeless.
Investigators later determined the fire was deliberately set and have found two areas where an accelerant was used. There have been no arrests so far.
All it took was three minutes for a thief to make off with an invaluable haul of history from the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs on Sept. 12. The thief hit the museum’s steeplechase gallery first, taking the 1914 Brook Cup Handicap Steeplechase Trophy won by Compliment and the 1923 Grand National Steeplechase Trophy won by Sergeant Murphy. Moments later, the post-Civil War gallery was burglarized. Taken were the 1903 Belmont Stakes Trophy won by Africander, the 1903 Brighton Cup Trophy won by Hermis and the 1905 Saratoga Special Trophy won by Mohawk II.
Four locomotives and 45 CSX freight cars came off the rails in a two-train collision west of Fonda on June 27 when an engineer ran a red light.
More than 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel gushed from a leaking locomotive tank into wetlands near the Mohawk River, but most of it was recovered before getting swept downstream.
CSX crews had the tracks cleared and trains running in two days, while the section of Route 5 affected by tumbling engines took two months to reopen after the cleanup and another three months to fully repair.
An evening traffic stop on the Thruway in Amsterdam ended in tragedy Dec. 16 when a tractor-trailer slammed into the back of a trooper car. Killed was Trooper David Cunniff, a man described as devoted to his family, his faith and his job. The driver he pulled over was also injured. The investigation into why the truck driver hit him is ongoing.
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Todd Clark’s life was cut short following a so-called insider attack in the Paktika province of Afghanistan on June 8. The 40-year-old Albany native and fellow New Yorker, Joseph Morabito, 54, were among three American trainers killed when a man in an Afghan army uniform opened fire on them following an argument at an Afghan National Army base in Paktika’s Kher Qot district.
“No amount of justice can be dispensed to address the brutality that Sha’hiim suffered at the hands of you, Ms. Nelligan,” a Schenectady County Court judge told Gloria Nelligan in November. Nelligan was convicted after trial of beating her 8-year-old grandson Sha’hiim to death in February. The beating began over a stolen pack of gum. Nelligan is now serving 25 years to life in prison.
Annie George was sentenced in July to home confinement, convicted in March of harboring an illegal immigrant in the opulent but deteriorating Llenroc mansion in Rexford. The illegal immigrant testified she worked for years for the family in the mansion for little pay. George was acquitted of harboring the woman for financial gain. Still, the harboring conviction has resulted in the feds working to seize the mansion itself.
Halfmoon Town Supervisor Melinda “Mindy” Wormuth was indicted on federal and state corruption charges in October and resigned from office a month later.
Wormuth was accused of misusing campaign funds and influence peddling. She faces charges of grand larceny in state court and a federal corruption indictment, alleging she took $7,500 to write letters of support for mixed martial arts legislation. She has pleaded not guilty.