Share this article

print logo

Lehner's death, Paladino removal from School Board among 2017's top stories

Look back at the newsy past 12 months, and many of the biggest local news stories of 2017 dealt with departures.

The stories include the death of Buffalo Police Office Craig Lehner, the removal of Carl Paladino from the Buffalo school board, Ross Cellino's split from the legal duo of Cellino and Barnes, management shakeups at professional football and hockey teams, and the abrupt resignation of local Empire State Development leader Sam Hoyt.

This region also celebrated a few arrivals – the move of Children's Hospital to its new building on the Buffalo Medical Campus, the opening of the new University at Buffalo medical school, and the arrival of ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft, an honorable mention in the newsroom survey of local stories of the year.

The black sewage discharge into Niagara Falls, the improper classification of suicide attempts in county jail, controversies with Congressman Chris Collins, and the ongoing opioid drug crisis edged out a few other important stories that would have otherwise made the list.

Those honorable mentions include the deaths of Wardell Davis and Jose Hernandez-Rossy during arrests by Buffalo police, embezzlement charges against University at Buffalo Vice President Dennis Black, and the flooding of the Lake Ontario shoreline. The December death of M&T Bank Chairman Robert G. Wilmers also shook the community.

With that in mind, here are The Buffalo News' Top 10 local stories for 2017.

1. 'K-9 43, rest in peace'

The region plunged into mourning after Buffalo Police Officer Craig Lehner died in a dive training accident in October. Divers from police and fire departments from across the region and state searched for him. His body was recovered from the Niagara River five days after he disappeared.

Law enforcement officers from around the United States and Canada mourned Lehner, a K-9 officer, at his funeral at KeyBank Center.

"May God bless you. K-9 43, rest in peace," Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said at the funeral service, believed to be the largest ever for a law enforcement officer in Western New York.

Residents lined the streets during the procession to his gravesite at Forest Lawn. Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered all flags flown at half staff.

Lehner left behind his faithful German shepherd, Shield, who remains on active duty with the Buffalo Police Department.

2. School board to Carl: You're done here

Carl Paladino, the polarizing and controversial public figure who joined the Buffalo school board in 2013, was kicked off the board by state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia in August. Elia ruled that Paladino broke education and municipal law by publicly sharing confidential information about contract negotiations with the teachers union.

Her ruling came after Paladino gave inflammatory statements to ArtVoice about former President Obama and his wife, which were widely condemned as racist. Paladino routinely accused school district leadership of waste and incompetence and was heavily criticized by board members, who actively sought to have him removed. He is appealing Elia's decision.

3. New arrivals at Buffalo Medical Campus

This year marked two big moves for two major medical facilities.

Women and Children's Hospital moved to the Buffalo Medical Campus in November and was renamed the John R. Oishei Children's Hospital, ending the hospital's 125-year history at its former site on Bryant Street in Buffalo. The painstakingly choreographed move of 125 patients from Bryant Street to a $270 million building on Ellicott Street went off without a hitch. On Nov. 9, a handful of staff and volunteers offered a toast to the old building before making a final exit.

One month later, leaders at the University at Buffalo cut the ribbon on a new $375 million medical school, joining hospitals, labs, medical offices and the new Oishei Children's Hospital on the Medical Campus. Work is ongoing to move the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences from its former building on the UB South Campus to the new 628,000-square foot building on Main Street. Community leaders hope the move will be another positive step toward turning the Medical Campus into a national health sciences hub.

4. The stain seen around the world

Thousands of gallons of black, smelly sewer sludge spilled into the Niagara River near the Maid of the Mist dock in July, grossing out tourists and sparking international outrage.

The sewer discharge, improperly released on a beautiful summer Saturday, resulted in a $50,000 fine by the Department of Environmental Conservation against the Niagara Falls Water Board. It also prompted the governor to call for millions of dollars in investment to permanently upgrade Niagara Falls' outdated sewage treatment plant.

5. Bills and Sabres start over – again

Bye, Rex Ryan. Bye, Dan Bylsma. Terry and Kim Pegula wiped the slate clean after miserable seasons last year with the Bills and Sabres, canning coaches and general managers for both teams and taking a chance on first-time head coaches and general managers with hopes of changing losing ways.

But the addition of new Sabres coach Phil Housley, a former star Sabres defenseman; and General Manager Jason Botterill have done little to improve the NHL franchise, which continues to circle the basement with one of the worst records in the league.

The Bills have done surprisingly better, staying in playoff contention through late December under the leadership of new coach Sean McDermott and General Manager Brandon Beane, both formerly of the Carolina Panthers.

6. Deadly grip of opioid crisis tightens

This year is expected to mark a new high point for drug-related deaths due to the opioid overdoses. Erie County has logged more than 317 suspected or confirmed deaths so far, the highest figure since the the public health crisis began taking off in 2014. Many victims are young, white, male and just as likely to live in suburban communities as they are to live in the city.

Erie County agreed to earmark $1 million to improve access to drug treatment access and intervention this year, and local Medicaid data shows that popular opioid drugs no longer rank among the top three most-prescribed drugs. But despite a slight leveling off in the death rate, it will likely take years before this drug epidemic stops making headlines.

7. Breaking up is hard to do

The breakup drama of Ross Cellino and Steve Barnes, two of the most recognized names in the region's personal injury firm landscape, has played out like a messy and bitter divorce. Cellino filed to dissolve the Cellino and Barnes firm in May, which until now has been a money-making, powerhouse company with a well-known phone number and TV ad jingle.

Both sides have been to court, with Barnes arguing the firm should stay together for the sake of its employees and clients, and Cellino saying he's had enough. Stay tuned for more in the New Year.

8. Quite a year in Washington for Chris Collins 

As President Trump prepares to finish out his first year in office, Rep. Chris Collins has been a key and controversial player on the national stage. An ardent Trump defender and the first House member to support Trump's candidacy, Collins has helped further the president's agenda.

But in the same year that Collins' star rose in Washington, the Office of Congressional Ethics issued a report saying Collins may have engaged in insider trading in touting the stock of Australian biotech firm Innate Immunotherapeutic, in which Collins is the largest investor. Collins talked up the company with his political colleagues and prominent figures in Buffalo, disclosing information that was not public, the ethics office said. The House Ethics Committee is continuing the investigation.

 9. When inmate disturbances are actually suicide attempts

The Buffalo News revealed in April that the Jail Management Division of the Erie County's Sheriff's Office under-reported inmate suicide attempts by sometimes labeling them "individual inmate disturbances," a category that does not trigger automatic notification to the state's Commission of Correction.

The News found five examples over a three-year period in which inmates met the state's definition for attempted suicide, yet the jail team called them inmate disturbances. The Commission of Correction, citing these and other examples of wrongly reported incidents, ordered Sheriff Timothy B. Howard to follow its rules or face a lawsuit.

10. Resignation of Sam Hoyt

Sam Hoyt, a Buffalo political figure for decades who went on to head New York State's regional economic development agency, abruptly resigned from his role with the Empire State Development Corp. in October when it became known he paid $50,000 to silence a former state employee pursuing official complaints that he tried to continue a budding romantic relationship she wished to end.

The former employee, Lisa Marie Cater, filed a federal lawsuit in November accusing Hoyt of sexual harassment. The Cuomo administration said that the Governor's Office for Employee Relations previously investigated the matter and that probes by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics and the state Inspector General's Office are continuing.

There are no comments - be the first to comment