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1 – 22 overdose deaths in 2017

Tompkins County: 2017 was the most deadly year for drug overdoses in a decade — The Tompkins County Health Department is reporting that 2017 was the most deadly year for overdoses locally in a decade.

Last year, 22 people died from a drug overdose. Ten years ago, two people died from an overdose in the county. Due to the nature of how toxicology tests are conducted and what substances are tested for, it’s not clear which specific drugs caused the overdoses. But the county is in the midst of a heroin epidemic which officials say has contributed to the dramatic increase of overdoses and overdose deaths in the county.

2 – Fatal Newfield robbery: Woman sentenced to 5 years for connection to crime

Woman connected to fatal Newfield robbery sentenced to 5 years in prison — A woman connected with a fatal Newfield robbery in 2016 was sentenced to prison time Monday morning at the Tompkins County Courthouse.

Jamie Gerhart was convicted of felony first-degree robbery during a plea deal in December. She’ll serve five years in prison and two and a half years of post-release supervision. Gerhart was initially charged with second-degree murder and first-degree robbery for her role in an crime that turned fatal in December 2016, leaving 30-year-old Camden Rundell dead.

Police and prosecutors say Rundell was killed during a botched robbery where five people conspired to steal marijuana plants from his basement. Gerhart was Rundell’s ex-girlfriend and allegedly led the charge to steal the plants along with Dennis Lampila, Melissa Minnick, Colleen McColgin and Roy Clements.

3 – Dalai Lama’s legacy will be preserved uniquely in Ithaca

Expansion at Namgyal Monastery: Library and museum will be treasury of Dalai Lama works in Ithaca — Someday soon, Ithaca will be home to a truly unique and culturally significant site — His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama’s Library and Museum. No other place in the world will house such documents and relics that will share and preserve Tibetan cultural and religious history.

Why will this cultural treasury be in Ithaca? We spoke to Ven. Tenzin Choesang of Namgyal Monastery.

4 – Probation for fraternity that held ‘pig roast’ contest

Cornell fraternity disciplined after placing cruel sexual bets on unsuspecting women — A Cornell fraternity was placed on probation after an investigation determined that some of the members placed cruel sexual bets on unsuspecting women last spring.

The investigation wrapped up in January and found that some Zeta Beta Tau brothers enacted a “contest” where new members got points for having sex with women.

“The contest was referred to as a “pig roast.” In the event of a tie, additional points were awarded to the new member who had had sex with a woman who had weighed the most. The new members were told not to inform the women of the contest,” the university said in a statement. 

5 – Driver of crash that killed Ithaca teen in 2016 sentenced

Man sentenced to prison for crash that killed Ithaca teen — An Ithaca man has been sentenced to prison for operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs and alcohol and speeding, which resulted in a fatal crash.

Johnathan Byrd, of Ithaca. Provided Photo

Johnathan T. Byrd, 29, was sentenced Monday in Chemung County Court for second-degree vehicular manslaughter. He was sentenced to serve three to nine years in prison. No restitution is required, according to the court.

On Oct. 13, 2016, Byrd was speeding and lost control of the vehicle, flipping several times. During the crash, 19-year-old Luciano Servetto, of Ithaca, was ejected from the vehicle, the sheriff’s office said. Servetto died at the scene and another passenger suffered a severe neck injury.

6 – Community responds with anger and action after ICE arrests

Ithaca rally calls for direct action in face of ICE arrests, community injustices  U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement took three people into custody last month, prompting a rally in the Ithaca Commons on Tuesday.

“Who are the ICE agents? Well, they’re the storm troopers of our day. They are the shock troops of the new fascism. They’re the servants of a kind of state terror, and they’re also cowards,” said Russell Rickford, activist and Cornell University associate professor. “Cowards — we have to be very clear about that…you have to be a coward to invade a community, target…the most vulnerable members among us, the most exploited people — to spy on them and hurt them and kidnap them. Well, that’s the work of cowards.”

According to the Tompkins County Immigrant Rights Coalition, ICE agents disguised as local police officers went into the Taste of Thai restaurant on the Commons and took two people into custody for immigration violations on Jan. 9.

Rally in Ithaca on Feb. 7. Jolene Almendarez/Ithaca Voice

7 – Case denied but not closed for Afghan interpreter trying to escape Pakistan

Case denied but not closed: Fight continues for Afghan interpreter trying to escape Pakistan — The case for the former Afghan interpreter, who has been trying to escape Pakistan with the help of a Cornell University student, has been denied. But, he and those helping him are still hopeful he will make it to safety.

Over the summer, The Ithaca Voice reported the story of Muhammad Kamran*, his wife and four young daughters. Muhammad, from Afghanistan, worked as an interpreter for U.S. forces for nearly 10 years. When the Taliban began sending him threats and being an interpreter became too dangerous, he fled to Pakistan with his family, where they remain in hiding.

For nearly a year, Cornell University Ph.D. student Kristy Perano has been advocating to get Muhammad into the U.S. Her family in California has agreed to co-sponsor Muhammad and his family if they are approved to come to the United States. He also has a brother and sister living in the U.S.

Muhammad with U.S. soldiers during his time as an interpreter. Provided Photo

8 – Sweet Melissa’s will open up new shop in Press Bay Alley

Here’s the scoop: Sweet Melissa’s expands to Press Bay Alley — After the success of their winter pop-up shop, Sweet Melissa’s is opening up a permanent store in Press Bay Alley.

The new location will offer year-round hard ice cream and milkshakes, and baked goods from How Sweet It Is in Trumansburg. Soft serve fans and loyalists to the original Seneca St. location need not fret, however, the location attached to Shortsop will be staying.

9 – IHS students harassed after news of play controversy makes national headlines

Ithaca teens receive death threats, harassment after ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame’ play cancellation — What started as a local issue became toxic for students when the cancellation of their spring play “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” went viral this week.

The play was canceled in January after Ithaca High School students raised concerns about diversity and inclusion. This week, students involved have received significant backlash after national news coverage prompted a flood of derogatory comments and even death threats, that have led to an increased police presence at the school.

In response, the Ithaca City School District condemned the “cruel and threatening attacks on our students, staff, families, and community.”

Ithaca High School. Jolene Almendarez/Ithaca Voice

10 – Graduation rates decline in Tompkins high schools

Graduation rates decline in Tompkins high schools — In contrast to state trends, high school graduation rates fell across Tompkins County last year.

That news comes courtesy of the New York State Department of Education, which released its 2017 analysis of graduation rates earlier this week. For its 2013-2017 cohort, Tompkins County school district graduation rates dropped from 85% to 81%, with a slight uptick in the dropout rate from 6%, to 7%. Note that charter schools such as New Roots are nor reported in these statistics; public schools only.

On the balance, Tompkins County graduation rates are still higher than the state average, which inched higher from 79.7% in 2016, to 80.2% in 2017. Rates climb slightly higher, to 82.1%, once August graduates are counted.

Featured image: Namgyal Monastery Institute of Buddhist Studies. February 2018. Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice


Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.