With 2024 fast approaching, our reporters caught up with and updated select stories from the past year.
Beacon homicides — Beacon began 2023 with two unsolved killings still under investigation. Rene Vivo, a 65-year-old veteran known as “Scout,” was fatally stabbed near the intersection of South Brett and Main streets on Christmas Day 2021. On May 14, 2022, Lionell B. Pittman Jr., 32, was shot to death in a parking lot at the Forrestal Heights apartment complex on West Center Street.
Update: Det. Sgt. Jason Johnson said this week that both cases are still being investigated but could not comment further. According to the FBI, nationally only about 64 percent of murders and 53 percent of violent crimes are “cleared” in cities the size of Beacon.
Rebuilding after arson — After a single-room occupancy boardinghouse at 925 Wolcott Ave. was destroyed by fire on the morning of Jan. 3, police charged a former tenant, Brian P. Atkinson, with arson. He was sentenced in May to 4 to 12 years in state prison.
The property owner, Yeshia Berger, has sparred with the Zoning Board of Appeals over whether the house must be rebuilt as a single-family home, as required by zoning, or if he can rebuild the structure with nine apartments. Before the fire, Berger had received a permit from the Building Department to convert its 16 rooms to nine larger units but in July the ZBA upheld the building inspector’s decision that Berger must rebuild in accordance with the zoning code. Berger then asked the board to grant him a variance to build the nine-unit building.
Update: Berger has asked the ZBA to consider either an “area” or “use” variance for his project. Based on comments from ZBA members, it appears the board in January will agree to consider Berger’s request as a use variance. If it is approved, that would allow the boardinghouse “use” in the single-family neighborhood. It is not clear if the ZBA will vote whether to approve the variance in January.
Renaming Desmond-Fish — The board of the Desmond-Fish Public Library in Garrison created a working group to investigate the alleged Nazi sympathies of the library’s co-founder, Rep. Hamilton Fish III, in response to MSNBC host Rachel Maddow’s podcast, Ultra. One of the goals of the review is to determine if the library should be renamed.
Update: Since October, members of the library’s Name Review Working Group have received more than 500 responses to a community survey, according to Anita Prentice, president of the board of trustees. If the group recommends changing the name, it would be considered by the board at its Jan. 27 meeting. The board is also reviewing a draft of what will be a library policy governing the naming and renaming of “any feature of the library’s buildings, grounds and collections,” said Prentice.
Radioactive water — Holtec, the company decommissioning the Indian Point nuclear power plant near Peekskill, announced on Feb. 2 that it planned to empty radioactive wastewater from the spent fuel tanks into the Hudson River. It said the levels of radioactivity would be far below the levels allowed by the federal government and no different than discharges by the plant while it operated.
Update: The announcement launched nearly a year of legal wrangling and protest. Two state lawmakers introduced legislation, signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul in August, that banned Holtec from discharging the water into the river. Holtec says it is undecided on what to do with the wastewater and has not ruled out suing New York State.
Dire warmings — After another warmer-than-usual winter, farmers in the Hudson Valley were on edge as to how their crops would fare. “You’re at the mercy of the weather,” said Mark Doyle of Fishkill Farms.
Update: Doyle said this week that it turned out to be a rough season. “The variation between extremes of warm winter weather and cold damaged the peach crop severely and a late frost in the beginning of May damaged the apple crop, although not nearly as badly as the extraordinary damage experienced by the vineyards,” he said. “We ended up growing a pretty respectable apple crop and were keen to see our customers roll in for the fall harvest season. Alas, the weather conspired against us again, and rain on at least one of the days of each of the eight prime weekends cut revenues quite considerably. There’s always next year, but the lack of funds is going to make it a close thing to get there.”
Rail trail litigation — A St. Louis-based law firm held a series of meetings with property owners along the dormant Beacon railroad line, which Dutchess County is studying as the potential site of a recreational rail trail. The firm, Stewart, Wald & McCulley, says it specializes in rails-to-trails litigation in which it seeks payment from the federal government for the “taking of land” in conjunction with conversion projects like the one that could happen along the Beacon line.
Update: Steve Wald, an attorney at the firm, said Wednesday (Dec. 27) that Stewart, Wald & McCulley has been retained by more than 200 landowners who are seeking “just compensation” for land their “predecessors in title” likely lost in the 1800s, when railroads and boats were the primary means of transportation. If a rail company condemned or otherwise acquired an easement (without paying for it) on land needed for tracks, the current landowners could be entitled to compensation, Wald said.
Metro-North, which owns the railroad, filed an abandonment application with the federal Surface Transportation Board on Dec. 21. The agency filed a similar application earlier in the year but was denied in July when the board said Metro-North should apply to “rail bank” — or pause usage along the line — rather than abandon it. Metro-North wrote in its latest filing that it anticipates a request for interim trail use will soon be made, which would allow it to negotiate with agencies in Dutchess or Putnam County to operate and maintain a rail trail.
Rail banking would also mean the Beacon line would remain part of the national rail network and would allow Metro-North to retain its right-of-way along the line. It’s unclear whether that move would throw a monkey wrench into Stewart, Wald & McCulley’s plans. Wald said Wednesday that he expects the Surface Transportation Board to approve Metro-North’s application. “Once that happens, we will immediately file suit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims,” he said.
Krivak sues the state — Andrew Krivak, who spent 23 years in prison before being exonerated on Feb. 27 in the killing of 12-year-old Josette Wright from Carmel, filed a claim seeking $50 million from New York under the state’s Unjust Conviction and Imprisonment Act. Krivak also sued the county in federal court for unspecified damages. Putnam earlier had settled with Krivak’s co-defendant, Anthony DiPippo, for $12 million after a judge overturned his conviction.
Update: In August, a judge approved a $5.7 million settlement between Krivak and the state. The lawsuit against Putnam County is ongoing, although the county has asked for it to be dismissed.
Beacon disappearance — Federal prosecutors charged Jamie Orsini and her spouse with killing her ex-husband, Steven Kraft. who disappeared in April 2020 after returning his daughters to her residence on West Church Street in Beacon. Police found Kraft’s car abandoned in Newburgh but have not found any remains. Jamie and Nicholas Orsini, who now live near Albany, were each charged with one count of carjacking resulting in death, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison or death, and one count of conspiracy, which carries a maximum sentence of five years.
Update: After both Orsinis began discussing possible plea bargains with prosecutors that could take the death penalty off the table, Jamie Orsini filed a motion in October to dismiss the carjacking charge. Her attorney argues that prosecutors do not allege that Kraft’s murder “had a sufficient nexus to a carjacking” and that the disposal of his car in Newburgh “does not qualify as a carjacking” under the law she is accused of violating. Judge Philip Halpern, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, had yet to rule on the motion as of Thursday (Dec. 28).
Parking lot lawsuit — St. Andrew & St. Luke Episcopal Church sued Beacon in June after the church alleged that the city had “unilaterally” fenced off a parking lot behind the church, which is on South Avenue, and used it to store construction equipment and building materials for the $14.7 million firehouse that is being constructed next door.
Update: According to a letter filed Nov. 22 in Dutchess County Court, representatives for the church and the city met twice in November. A Nov. 17 meeting ended with Beacon Mayor Lee Kyriacou agreeing to circulate “the conceptual framework which has now been identified as a potential resolution.” An attorney told the court that the parties were “optimistic about working out a resolution,” but nothing has been filed since.
River beer — To highlight Riverkeeper’s efforts to protect Peekskill Hollow Brook, the main source of Peekskill’s drinking water, the Peekskill Brewery created a beer named after the environmental organization. The brewers used water from Peekskill Hollow Brook and foraged ingredients growing alongside it.
Update: Peekskill Brewery, which had been in business for 15 years, abruptly closed in November. “We have done everything we could to keep operating, including incurring debt and restructuring operations several times to meet customers’ changing preferences and behaviors,” its owners said. “However, Peekskill Brewery’s sales have not returned to pre-pandemic levels and we can no longer afford to operate.”
Bus changes — The Garrison School began the year with a curtailed bus service that was expected to save $120,000 annually. The result, some parents said, were much longer bus rides, sometimes as long as 45 minutes. Administrators said they would do their best to minimize the disruption by attempting to ensure that if a student had a long ride in the morning, the child would have a shorter ride in the afternoon.
Update: After the challenges of the first week, the bus routes are “operating smoothly,” according to Carl Albano, the acting superintendent. “Although some longer bus routes were unavoidable due to the elimination of one large bus from our fleet, I am confident that every K-12 student in our district has safe transportation to and from school,” he said. Ned Rauch, who has two children at the school, said the 10-minute morning bus rides are “smooth and hiccup-free” but said he picks up his children after school because the ride is 45 minutes, “rendering it all but useless for us.”
Longer postal routes — Beacon carriers on Sept. 9 began driving to Newburgh to pick up mail from a regional sorting center near New York Stewart International Airport. They had previously sorted mail at the Beacon post office. The U.S. Postal Service said the creation of more than 400 regional Sorting & Delivery Centers nationwide, including at Stewart, is part of a 10-year cost-saving plan.
Update: Diana Cline, the president of the Mid-Hudson chapter of the American Postal Workers Union, said on Wednesday (Dec. 27) that the carriers are unhappy with the change and that holiday deliveries were sometimes not completed until 11 p.m. She alleged that most carriers are working 55 to 62 hours a week and that even managers are working more than 60 hours. Cline, who has been working at the Stewart sorting center during the holiday season, said that when her shift begins at 3 a.m. she has seen managers sorting mail to try to prevent carriers from being out late. Mark Lawrence, a Postal Service representative, said that during the holidays “our carriers often do work earlier in the mornings and later in the evenings to ensure we have delivered all mail for our customers in time for Dec. 25.”
Cellphone motels — Students at Haldane High School returned to a policy that required them to deposit their phones into a repurposed shoe organizer — the No-Cell Motel. “It’s been wonderful,” said Christian Hoolan, who teaches calculus and algebra. “When I’m modeling problems, the kids are engaged. I don’t have to worry about kids looking at Snapchat or Instagram.”
Update: Principal Julia Sniffen said she could “count on one hand” the problems she’s had with students resisting the policy. However, she said she planned to send out a reminder when classes resume next week because she expects many students received new phones for Christmas.
Church finances worsen — The Rev. Steve Schunk, the priest-in-charge at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Cold Spring, painted a dismal picture of the historic church’s finances, saying it faced an immediate $50,000 budget gap. At stake were the viability of the church itself, and the potential loss of the 1.5-acre great lawn, an integral part of village life, to residential or other development. Even more daunting was senior warden Vinny Tamagna’s assertion that to be sustainable the church needs a $5 million endowment fund.
Update: Schunk said on Tuesday (Dec. 26) that the church received the last $1,000 needed to balance its budget on Dec. 22 when singer/songwriter Dar Williams hosted a benefit concert. In addition, a small group of residents has begun meeting “to explore types of funding vehicles,” Schunk said. “We are excited and will likely have more news in February.” He said he had met with the Episcopal Diocese of New York, which owns the property, about getting help.
Police cameras — On Sept. 20, the Cold Spring Village Board approved new and updated police policies, including the use of body and vehicle dash cameras. The village purchased officer body cameras with a $14,000 grant from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.
Update: Mayor Kathleen Foley said on Wednesday (Dec. 27) that the cameras are being rolled out by shift as officers are trained. “The first deployments served as tests to work out kinks in use and data retention,” she said, adding that the system seems to be running smoothly. Foley noted that acquiring new dash-cams for CSPD vehicles is dependent upon available grants. She said the village recently applied for funding to upgrade location-security cameras.
Bodies to books — The pandemic forced Keith Laug to close Zoned Fitness in Beacon. To survive, he established Kejola Books, collecting people’s surplus books by making “house calls” throughout the Hudson Valley and through drop-offs. He resells books on eBay, Facebook and other sites.
Update: On Tuesday (Dec. 26) Laug said Zoned Fitness has reopened and is so busy he’s considering expanding to include a membership gym in Beacon. And Kejola Books is still going strong.“The response was great,” Laug said. “I’ve helped many in the community find new homes for their unwanted books.”
Reporting by Joey Asher, Brian PJ Cronin, Jeff Simms, Leonard Sparks and Michael Turton
Type: News News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.
Behind The Story
News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.