2021 Year In Review

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JAMESTOWN – Although a global pandemic remained headline news in 2021, several local stories stick out when reflecting on the year. From a local police officer who rescued a family trapped by fire, to the return of area traditions, here is a look back at the year that was. 

We started the year with an effort by local, state and federal law enforcement to bring an end to a drug ring in Jamestown. Just a week into January, the FBI joined several local police agencies in raiding homes in the Jamestown and Falconer area.  

Known as Operation Crazy Ivan, police recovered pounds of marijuana, cocaine, dozens of firearms, hundreds of rounds of ammo and thousands of dollars in cash.

In the same month, the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were rolled out. While the initial shots were administered at local hospitals, in the coming months the county began to roll out several mass vaccination clinics immunizing 1,000s of adults. 

“We ask them as they are entering the hall to take their coat off, get their arm exposed and get ready,” explained Natalie Whiteman, Chautauqua County Health Department’s Emergency Preparedness Coordinator. “They are going to sit down in the chair, the nurse goes over some brief medical information with them just to make sure it is safe for them to get the vaccine, once we determine that the nurse is going to give them the shot and the data processor will put the information into the computer, it is that simple.”

Later in the year, kids would have their chance too.

“It was a little painful, it kinda (stung) a little bit but not that painful if you look away,” explained nine-year-old Gabriel.

One of the more controversial executive orders during the COVID-19 pandemic involved the moratorium on evictions. We spoke with a local landlord, who dealt with a former tenant who she says manipulated the system.

“Everybody else has paid their rent,” explained landlord Patty Culliton.

Even though her tenant hadn’t paid rent for several months,Culliton knew she couldn’t evict him because of the state order. The man at times also claimed to be sick with COVID-19, preventing a check of the property.

After months of back-and-forth with her tenant, Culliton thought she would find some relief when he announced he was moving out, however, she found the complete opposite, an abandoned apartment left in total ruin.

“When I pushed the door open, I was bombarded with these flies,” said Culliton. “The smell was horrific, the flies everywhere. I mean the filth speaks for itself. I just got angry. I wanted to cry. I wanted to throw up. I didn’t know what to do.”

She says the filth stretched from every end of the apartment. In the end, Culliton hopes that landlords take notice and prevent the occurrence from happening to them.

Getting people back to work was on the minds of many, including then Governor Andrew Cuomo. However, he was not able to see the state through the pandemic amid several scandals from his handling of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes to the sexual harassment of women.

In August, Cuomo resigned, an act that came as a surprise to many including Jamestown resident Morgan Cornell who was happy to hear the news.

“Especially when he was big on the no tolerance of sexual harassment and then come to find out he was actually committing the acts himself so it was kind of surprising,” Cornell said.

The sudden resignation gave way to the state first female Governor: Kathy Hochul.

“I want people to believe in our government again, it is important to me for people to have faith,” said Hochul.

Hochul then worked to separate herself from the embattled Governor whose legacy will still be felt for years to come. His tenure was challenged by many, including local police officers who blamed the “revolving door” of the justice system on New York State’s bail reform laws.

However, one legacy won’t be challenged in 2021: Jamestown City Councilwoman Victoria James who passed away suddenly in late March.

“I think this whole city, just not her district, owes her a lot,” said Qiana James, the late Councilwoman’s daughter. “She was a foot soldier; she definitely paved the way for a lot of us, she definitely set us up for success.”

A new exhibit focusing on the LGBTQ+ history in Chautauqua County debuted telling several stories, including that of a longtime City of Jamestown lawmaker. The City also held its first ever pride festival.

“Pride is our defense. The first thing the people that wanna put us back in the closet do is try to shame us. Every criticism of the LGBTQ community has the phrase, “shame on you” attached to it,” explained long-time  advocate Helen Walter.

Statues were stolen and vandalized, causing many to take a stand. 

“What we saw there was swastikas, specific white supremacists’ numbers and code words on these statues of people that worked on the Underground Railroad, that’s white supremacy, that’s what we’re fighting against, that’s what we are standing against,” said Jamestown Justice Coalition coordinator Justin Hubbard.

Voices also rang loud over New York’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers. An act that forced many off the job like CNA Celia Sumner.

“The government shouldn’t tell me what I should do with my own body for one, and two, I’ve seen so many people get hurt from it,” said Sumner. “Such as my uncle who got grand mal seizures not long after getting the first  dose.”

From wind turbine protests to wind storms, the year brought wild weather too. For one woman, things were too close for comfort after lightning struck her home.

“Kind of humbling when mother nature puts you in your place,” explained Michelle Vullo. “We’re handling it and I expect most of the odyssey to be over by the end of tomorrow.”

Water problems were top priority in Dunkirk with the largest water main break in the municipality’s history in August. 

“It happened at about midnight a 120-year-old water line below our feet, and it is made of a cast iron. Sometimes they wear out and this one just chose to wear out last night, and it was very difficult geometry of the pipe, so it was difficult to shut off,” explained DPW Director Randy Woodbury. “Usually we can isolate these things, it just happened to be the largest pipe we have in the city. These things happen from place to place but this is our worst nightmare”.

A ton of water was used to extinguish a massive blaze at the former Jamestown Royal Upholstery Company, a fire allegedly set by teen girls. 

“We had large pieces of debris, and also small pieces like paper, some burned pages that had letters on them still, like writing,” explained Jaycee Moore. “There were other pieces, like part of the roof or something.”

Answers were sought in several criminal cases, with new and old discoveries making headlines.

“You never who knows something you never know, what information is valuable to the case, even the smallest details could be the most important, could be the silver bullet,” explained Allison Bindics, daughter of Jamestown area mother Yolanda Bindics who was murdered decades ago. Her story gathered national attention when it was featured on the syndicated crime show “Still A Mystery.”

Today, another mystery is among top priorities for local law enforcement after not one, but who sets of human remains were found along a trail in northern Chautauqua County in September. 

One body was found to be that of missing Buffalo woman Marquita Mull while the other remains unidentified. 

“That body was estimated to be decades that it had been in the ground, which could potentially match with the 1976 disappearance of Patricia Limerhardt, but it could also be further,” explained Sheriff Jim Quattrone. “Dr. Derkment and his team are continuing to analyze and assess that to hopefully give us a better determination on that.”  

Families continued to seek answers in not just those deaths, but the death of a 22-year-old Jamestown man who fatally overdosed. In the end the sisters of Randy Mesler Jr. hope their brother’s story inspires other addicts who are struggling to get help.

“Get help if you need help, don’t worry about judgement, and if you’re family, fight, fight until the system helps you,” said Chyann Howard. “Do not let them just throw your loved one on the street, because this should not have happened.” 

Billions were allocated as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, including to Chautauqua County who received $24.6 million, the City of Jamestown which received $28 million and Dunkirk grabbing $11 million. Yet not everyone was in agreement as to what the funds should be spent on.

Voters made their voices heard in 2021, with many seeing Republican leadership as the way to go. The Republicans swept the night winning several seats in many levels of government including Jamestown City Council. One race is still up in the air about who will replace Ward V Councilman Grant Olson, who technically won re-election but resigned before election day.

“He was elected two years ago as a Republican, so we will be able to replace him with another Republican,” stated GOP Chairman Brent Sheldon. “We will start talking to some of the Ward V Republicans and see if we could find a good candidate.”

On sunny days, we hit the lake when a historic ferry returned to service and went out to the ball game for the first time in what seemed like forever when the Tarp Skunks hit the field. 

“We are looking for some not-so smelly excitement,” said Ryan Piper, “We are looking forward to winning.” 

It wasn’t just baseball that was back, but football too with the Jamestown Red Raiders football team returning home as section champions.

We also returned to commencement, got new garbage cans and even a new mascot. We even hailed a new hero.

Jamestown Police Officer Mark Conklin’s body camera video went viral after he rescued a family from a house fire this year. 

“Initially, I didn’t even feel the heat, because adrenaline is so high,” explained Conklin, while discussing the rescue of a child jumping from the porch roof of the single-family home. “I knew they couldn’t stay up there long, they had to get off somehow.”

The officer was among those honored during this year’s Holiday Parade, an event that was back in full swing this year. 

While Conklin is grateful for the recognition, he says, “I say thank you, but this is honestly what first responders do all over the world everyday,” said Conklin. “I was at the right place, at the right time, and I am glad I could help.”


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