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POLICE & COURTS

Damage put at $250,000 in Clarence house fire

A fire believed to be electrical in origin Wednesday caused more than $250,000 damage to two Clarence homes and a garage, Amherst Fire Control said.

The fire at 10660 Boyd Drive broke out at about 1 p.m., and firefighters arriving at the scene discovered the two-story garage ablaze, with flames spreading to the nearby house, officials said.

The garage was declared a total loss at $75,000. Damage to the home was estimated at $170,000. Exposure damage to house next door was estimated at $10,000.

Erie County sheriff's fire investigators were investigating the cause.

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Two charged with fraud at border crossings

Two men who attempted to enter the United States using fraudulent methods were arrested by federal authorities in separate incidents, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol reported Wednesday.

Authorities said Sebastian M. Palacio, 20, a Colombian national who had previously been denied a visa to enter the U.S., was caught Monday at the Rainbow Bridge attempting to enter the country with another man's passport.

Less than 24 hours later, Mirza Ballee, 34, a Guyanese citizen who had been previously deported from the U.S., was arrested at the Peace Bridge after he also allegedly presented a passport that was not his.

Palacio and Ballee were both charged with false statements and misuse of a passport. They were detained pending prosecution by the U.S. Attorney's Office.

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Safe with cash, coins stolen from apartment

A safe containing more than $7,000 in cash, as well as some Canadian and U.S. coins and New York Lottery tickets, was stolen from an elderly woman's Riverside apartment Wednesday, according to Buffalo police reports.

The 78-year-old Albemarle Street woman told police the burglar got into her apartment while she was away. The victim said she had locked her door but told police there were no signs of forced entry.

Northwest District police are investigating.

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Worker at auto impound attacked in office

An employee of Buffalo's auto impound on Dart Street was assaulted Tuesday afternoon by a man in his office, Buffalo police said.

The attacker kicked in the office door, grabbed the employee around the neck and choked him, police said. The victim sought medical treatment at a local hospital.

Northwest District police are investigating.

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Man in crash accused of texting and DUI

BATAVIA -- An Alden man was charged with texting and driving under the influence of drugs after he crashed his vehicle into a ditch at about 7:45 a.m. Wednesday on Route 33 in the Town of Batavia, Genesee County sheriff's officials said.

Luke M. Tarnacki, 19, of Sandridge Road, was westbound on Route 33 near Read Road when he crossed both lanes of traffic and crashed into the ditch.

Tarnacki was charged with driving while ability impaired by drugs, aggravated unlicensed operation of a vehicle, failure to keep right and unlawful use of an electronic device while driving.

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Teen tied to abductions pleads guilty to robbery

The second of two Buffalo teens who terrorized two Kenmore women during an abduction in November pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges that could keep him in prison for the next 50 years.

Errol Fowler-Graham, 18, of Bailey Avenue, pleaded guilty before State Supreme Court Justice Christopher J. Burns to two first-degree robbery charges in the abduction of Christine Gasper, 22, and the knifepoint robbery of her and her roommate, Melinda Haarmeyer, also 22.

Fowler-Graham was returned to jail pending his Aug. 3 sentencing.

Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III and prosecutor Paul C. Parisi said Fowler-Graham's accomplice, Robert Hillman, 17, of Woltz Avenue, pleaded guilty to felony robbery charges and faces up to 30 years in prison. He likely will be sentenced Aug. 3.

Fowler-Graham has been in custody since his arrest two days after the overnight crime spree.

Hillman, who was arrested Dec. 1, is free pending sentencing, court officials said.

Gasper had just left a friend's house in Buffalo when she was forced into the back seat of her car on Crescent Avenue at about 11 p.m. Nov. 14 by the two defendants, then was forced to withdraw money from ATMs until her bank account was emptied.

She then was was forced to return to her Kenmore apartment, where her roommate, Haarmeyer, was awakened and forced at knifepoint to accompany the three to withdraw money from nearby ATM machines until her bank account was also emptied.

Sedita and Parisi said authorities obtained a videotape from one of the ATM machines showing Fowler-Graham driving the car that the two subsequently stole from Gasper.

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