Twin Tiers Year in Review: 2021’s biggest stories

Local News
February 04 2022 08:00 am

(WETM) – 2021 proved to be yet another completely packed year. From our second year of COVID-19 to an upended state government and some chilling local headlines, to the return of some wildly popular events, news just kept rolling in.

Take a walk down memory lane with this year’s most significant headlines in the Twin Tiers and around the country. Click any of the dates to read the original reports:

FILE – In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo, supporters of then-President Donald Trump climb the west wall of the U.S. Capitol in Washington. The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol has “deferred” its requests for several dozen pages of Trump administration records at the White House’s urging. But President Joe Biden has again rejected the former president’s invocation of executive privilege on hundreds of additional pages. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

JANUARY 6: This year hit the ground running as protestors stormed the U.S. Capitol, pushing through police and entering the House. The insurrection of the pro-Trump rioters caused Congress members to take shelter inside the Capitol and spurred a committee investigation, a second presidential impeachment against Trump, subpoenas and sentencings that still haven’t finished almost a year later.

JANUARY 8: The Twin Tiers entered the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, but with it came a new weapon and the hope that things would return to some sense of normal. Chemung County opened its first “vaccination pod” early in the year, starting with small numbers of doses that only grew—and still continue—as the year went on. And after months of restrictions with little explanation, Governor Cuomo lifted Chemung County out of the designated orange and yellow zones at the end of the month. The pandemic is far from over, but 2021 saw the return of many events that had been put on hold the year before.

JANUARY 20: Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States after a tumultuous election cycle that has left a lingering mark on the country as many still falsely claim the process was rigged.

FEBRUARY 16: Bath Police Chief Chad Mullen unexpectedly announced he would be resigning after seven years in the position. Mullen didn’t provide any reason other than “personal reasons” for why he resigned.

FEBRUARY 19: Plans for a potential Amazon distribution center were presented to the Town of Bath Planning Board. Later in the year, construction at the site was found to be behind schedule, pushing any potential arrival date into 2022 instead of the fall of 2021 as originally planned.

MARCH 10: A man’s body was found in a culvert in downtown Elmira, shocking the city as 2021 got off to a violent start. However, Elmira Police said there was no danger to the community.

MARCH 19: Congressman Tom Reed of NY’s 23rd District was accused of sexual misconduct in a Washington Post story. The account from a former lobbyist said that Reed unhooked her bra and moved his hand up her leg while at a bar with other lobbyists in 2017. The story led to calls for Reed’s resignation and an investigation from the House Ethics Committee. Reed was the first of many public officials to find themselves surround by controversy this year.

APRIL 8: One Mansfield Borough Police Officer resigned after social media video surfaced of him making racists, sexual, and inflammatory comments in a TikTok rant. Brian Gossert was on duty in his patrol vehicle in the video, during which he defended the confederate flag, verbally attacked liberals and democrats, and made comments about slavery. At one point during the video, he can be seen putting a man in the back of the car. He was suspended after the video surfaced, and the borough council also unanimously voted to terminate him.

APRIL 12: Elmira native Tommy Hilfiger announced that he would be creating the Tommy Hilfiger Fashion Business School in conjunction with Elmira college. Set to start in the Fall 2021 semester, the program offered a concentration and minor in fashion marketing and fashion merchandising.

APRIL 23: Guthrie suffered a shock after one of its doctors died in a Pennsylvania helicopter crash. Sanjay Kansara, MD, was the pilot of the helicopter when it crashed in Wyoming, Pa., 20 miles short of its destination.

The Lowman Crossover bridge remains closed to the supply issues of steel girders.

APRIL 26: Construction began on the Lowman Crossover bridge in Ashland. The project was part of several ongoing construction efforts in and around Elmira, some of which lasted months while others lasted years. Lowman Crossover, the Main Street Bridge in Elmira, and the Water Street construction were all delayed multiple times due to supply chain issues. However, the Lake Street bridge in downtown Elmira opened in early December after years of planning and construction. And though Water Street opened in October, the Main Street bridge was delayed yet again into 2022.

MAY 25: Steuben County Legislator Steve Maio was part of a 54-count indictment with three other men which alleged that from 2015 through 2020, he had “knowledge of the existence of a criminal prostitution enterprise and being associated with such enterprise intentionally conducted or participated in the affairs of said enterprise by engaging in a pattern of criminal activity.” No charges were filed against a fifth man who had been previously charged in connection with the enterprise.

Elmira Police Chief Anthony Alvernaz

JUNE 24: Anthony Alvernaz was appointed Chief of the Elmira Police Department after serving as interim chief since late May. The appointment came after the retirement of former chief Joseph Kane. Alvernaz joined the department in February 1996 and served on all three platoons in various ranks. 

JULY 1: Elmira woke up to find the City’s welcome signed vandalized. Overnight, someone put up an image of Judge Jeanine Pirro’s face over MSNBC’s Brian Williams. Mayor Mandell said the sign would be fixed, but remnants of Pirro’s image still remain even now.

Jeanine Pirro’s face pasted over Brian Wiliams

JULY 9: Former Bradford County District Attorney Chad Salsman was sentenced to 1.5 to 5 years in prison following multiple sexual assault allegations. Salsman pled guilty to obstruction of justice, intimidation, and promoting prostitution. The Pennsylvania Attorney General first announced the allegations in February, and months later, Salsman was eventually disbarred in August.

JULY 21: The 2020 Tokyo Olympics kicked off after being cancelled the previous year due to COVID-19. The Olympics brought countless highlights as always; a hopeful Watkins Glen rower made local headlines and competitive athletes’ mental health shot to the forefront of discussion after Simone Biles stepped down from multiple competitions.

Olivia Coffey of Watkins Glen

JULY 28: More news out of Bradford County as the former County Coroner, Tom Carman, was arrested for theft. The criminal complaint alleged that Carman stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from an ambulance company while he was the CEO. The arrest followed less than a month after an investigation was launched into Carman when video and messages surfaced of him allegedly arranging to meet a teen boy for sex.

Tom Carman

AUGUST 4: Hornell Police and the Steuben County Sheriff’s Office arrested 19 people in one of the largest drug busts in the Southern Tier. Operation Climate Change resulted in charges of drug possession, manslaughter, rape and tampering with evidence against the individuals.

AUGUST 6: NASCAR once again returned to a sold-out Watkins Glen International after Go Bowling at the Glen was cancelled in 2020. Though Chase Elliott aimed to join the elusive club of ‘threepeaters’, the win ultimately went to Kyle Larson, while the Xfinity Series title went to 18-year-old Ty Gibbs.

WATKINS GLEN, NEW YORK – AUGUST 08: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, and crew celebrate in the Ruoff Mortgage victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Go Bowling at The Glen at Watkins Glen International on August 08, 2021 in Watkins Glen, New York. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

AUGUST 23: In a moment built from months of controversy, scandal, and investigation, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo resigned at midnight, making Kathy Hochul the first woman governor of New York State. Cuomo’s resignation followed on the heels of intense pressure from Attorney General Letitia James’ bombshell report of nearly a dozen women who accused Cuomo of sexual misconduct. Cuomo was also under fire for his misreporting of nursing home deaths related to COVID-19 and for his controversial book deal. The ongoing scandal led to an impeachment inquiry and a federal probe. And the fallout continues even now as his brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, was recently fired for giving legal help to the governor.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul campaign together at the Hotel Trade Council during a reelection event in New York City on Sept. 8, 2014. (Credit: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

AUGUST 19: The Twin Tiers saw some of the worst flooding in recent history as a result of Tropical Storm Fred slamming the Gulf of Mexico. Steuben County and Tioga County, Pa. were especially hard hit. Jasper-Troupsburg Middle School was left unusable as water rushed through the halls, leaving nothing but destruction in its wake. Even now, the recovery efforts continue.

Tioga Flooding
Tioga County Flooding

AUGUST 27: An intense foot chase across several blocks of Elmira started just before noon, leading seven law enforcement agencies from Eldrige Park into Woodlawn Cemetery. During the chase, David Wandell, a New York parol absconder, fired gun at police but was ultimately shot and killed by law enforcement. A State Trooper went to the hospital after her leg was impaled by the wrought iron fence around Woodlawn. Law enforcement denied 18 News’ requests for body cam footage weeks later, saying the investigation was still ongoing.

SUMMER OF SHOOTINGS: By October, there were upward of 80 reports of shots fired in the City of Elmira, almost as many as all of 2020. EPD Chief Alvernaz called on the City to stop with the “gunplay” as the numbers climbed nearly every week. By mid-November, Elmira saw several weeks without gun violence, to which Alvernaz said the community was doing its part.

August 13 fatal accident on Clemens Center Parkway near Wegmans

SUMMER OF MOTORCYCLE ACCIDENTS: The summer of 2021 also saw a streak of motorcycle accidents, several of them fatal, across the Twin Tiers. In just three months, there were at least seven fatal motorcycle accidents and at least one other that sent a woman to the hospital. One of the accidents killed a Team USA Olympic fencing coach in Potter County and another killed the Millport Fire Department Captain.

SEPTEMBER 14: An extremely disturbing story that finally started to provide answers to two other reports earlier this year came to light when a 21-year-old Horseheads man was indicted by the Chemung County Grand Jury for kidnapping, torturing, disfiguring, and leaving a New York City man to die. Two other indictments soon followed who had previously been arrested for multiple other kidnapping and torture cases, and the pieces started coming together. A body was found in Potter County in April, and a Patridge Street home was raided in Elmira in May. The Chemung County District Attorney confirmed those incidents were connected to the indictments. A 17-year-old connected to the case was later found in Georgia.

L to R: Eddie Marte, Thomas Bovaird, Malik Weems

OCTOBER 15: After appearing before a parole board for the 11th consecutive time, Eric Smith was granted release in mid-October. The surprise announcement came after 20 years of denials. Smith was convicted of killing and sodomizing 4-year-old Derrick Robie in 1993 when he himself was only 13. He was due for release on November 17, but as of the writing of this article, he still does not have an approved residence, meaning he will remain in prison. The transcript of Smith’s parole interview revealed many details, including his reasonings for the murder, his future plans with his fiancee, and what he’s learned during his 27 years in prison.

Left: 13-year-old Eric Smith in court/Right: 4-year-old Derrick Robie

OCTOBER 27: One new store had lines around the block on its opening day. Ollie’s Bargain Outlet opened in the Grand Central Plaza in late October, just in time for the start of the holiday shopping season. The store had months of anticipation leading up to the grand opening, with a summer job fair well-exceeding expectations.

NOVEMBER 2: For the first time in 16 years, Schuyler County got a new Sheriff. Kevin Rumsey defeated Undersheriff Breck Spaulding on election night, following the announcement that Bill Yessman would be retiring from the department after 36 years, 16 of those as sheriff.

NOVEMBER 23: After months of back-and-forth and talks of potential demolition, the Chemung County Industrial Development Agency made the surprise announcement that First Arena now had new tenants. The new operators, led by Tampa Bay Lightnings co-founder Steve Donner and Hollywood executive Michael Tadross Jr, created a brand new company for this venture. The lease agreement was later released and stated that any former operators or team owners were barred from working in the arena. This includes Elmira Enforcers Robbie Nichols.

DECEMBER 3: The former Watkins Glen Police Seargent in Charge, Brandon Matthews, and his wife Danielle were arrested by New York State Police. The couple was charged and later indicted for perjury in connection to marijuana that was found on their property in 2020. The couple had also filed a lawsuit against Watkins Glen mayor Luke Leszyk for alleged sexual advances toward Danielle Matthews. The lawsuit was ultimately dismissed.

DECEMBER 4: The holiday season saw the return of some community-favorite events, including Corning’s annual ‘Sparkle’.  Horse-drawn carriages rode down Market Street, attendees had food and drinks from local businesses, there were sing-alongs, and Santa even made a visit.

DECEMBER 20: An Elmira mansion that went viral on social media over the summer was recently purchased, and the community finally got a peek inside. The Brooklyn-based owner let 18 News inside to see the immaculate details of the mansard-style home and also laid out his plans to revert the castle to its original glory and hopefully turn it into a museum for the community.

Betty White speaks onstage during the Informal Session: Betty White’s Off Their Rockers” panel during the NBCUniversal portion of the 2012 Winter TCA Tour (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

DECEMBER 31: TV comedy legend Betty White died on New Year’s Eve, according to TMZ. The actress, known for hit shows like Golden Girls, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Hot in Cleveland died just 17 days before her 100th birthday. White’s death came the same year as the deaths of three of her Mary Tyler Moore co-stars: Cloris Leachman, Gavin MacLeod, and Ed Asner.

This year was no doubt challenging, but it saw a promise of hope and relief as the Twin Tiers came together more than ever before. 18 News wishes you a happy new year as the community looks ahead to the promises of 2022.

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