News of Otsego County

Serving Otsego County, NY, through the combined reporting of Cooperstown's Freeman's Journal and the Hometown Oneonta newspapers.


Police & Fire

Brother Refutes Grand Jury, Police Testimony


Brother Disavows

Testimony He Gave

Grand Jury, Police

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

The accused, Gabriel Truitt, center, listens as his brother Terrence testifies this afternoon. With him are legal assistant Lisa Harvey and Attorney David Taylor. (Libby Cudmore/

COOPERSTOWN – Gabriel Truitt’s defense lawyers this afternoon declared they hadn’t been provided a videotape of his brother Terrence speaking with OPD officers in February 2018 brought the fatal-arson trial to a temporary standstill this afternoon.

Terrence also told the court the testimony he would give would be at odds with the statements he gave to grand jury and police, further muddying the waters.  “He had a sworn affidavit saying he lied,” said District Attorney John Muehl.

County Judge Brian Burns advised the brother he may have already committed perjury and that he did have the right to remain silent, as well as a chance to get a lawyer.

DAY ONE: Accelerant Was Isopropyl Alcohol, Witness Testifies

Gabriel Truitt Trial

Accelerant Isopropyl Alcohol,

Expert Arson Witness Testifies


COOPERSTOWN – Video evidence, District Attorney John Muehl said, placed accused arsonist Gabriel Truitt inside his Tru Cuts Barber Shop at 4:30 a.m. the night of the fire that killed John Heller.

“He walks in the back door, turns to the right and squats in front of a cabinet,” Muehl said in his opening remarks. “He lights a lighter, takes out two bottles, puts them in his pocket and walks out.”

Those bottles, Muehl told the jury, were isopropyl alcohol.

Investigator Testimony: Accelerant Found Under Door

Gabriel Truitt Trial

Investigator Testimony:

Accelerant Under Door


District Attorney John Muehl questions Oneonta firefighter Matt Hitchcock in the opening day of Gabriel Truitt’s trial. (Ian Austin/

COOPERSTOWN – Just before the noon break, District Attorney John Muehl brought Bill Haynes, an origin and cause investigator with Sotera Investigative Group, to the witness stand in the case against Gabriel Truitt, the Oneonta man accused of setting the fire that killed John Heller at his 5 Walling Avenue apartment in December 2018.

“The way the burn and char pattern on the inside of the door,” – of Apartment C on the second floor of the building – “indicated a liquid was splashed there,” he said.

“What kind of liquid?” Muehl asked.

“An accelerant,” Haynes replied.

Proceedings Underway In Truitt Court Case

Proceedings Underway

In Truitt Court Case

District Attorney John Muehl, above, makes his opening remarks to the jury during the opening day of the People Vs. Gabriel Truitt, now underway at the Otsego County Courthouse in Cooperstown.  Truitt, seen at right, is charged with arson in the first degree and murder in the first and second degree for his alleged involvement in the fire that claimed the life of John Heller at 5 Walling Ave. in Oneonta on Dec 29, 2018. Check back throughout the day for developments in this case. (Ian Austin/

Jury Selection Starts In Fatal Oneonta Fire

Jury Selection Starts

In Fatal Oneonta Fire

Truitt Brother, Girlfriend May Testify

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

Gabriel Truitt

ONEONTA – The brother and the ex-girlfriend of Gabriel Truitt, 33, may be called to testify in the trial now underway in Otsego County Court.

They are Terrence Truitt and Heather Engler, and Gabriel is the Oneonta man charged with arson and first-degree murder in the death of former Oneonta firefighter John Heller on Dec. 30, 2018.

Jury selection began Tuesday, Jan 21, with County Judge Brian Burns presiding. District Attorney John Muehl is prosecuting; Truitt is represented by Public Defender Michael Trossett.

Walton Man Charged With DWI, Walmart Vandalism

Walton Man Charged With

DWI, Walmart Vandalism

ONEONTA – One of the three men wanted for allegedly vandalizing the Walmart fabric aisle with craft paint was arrested and charged with DWI over the weekend, according to Trooper Aga Dembinska, public relations officer, Troop C.

Devin K. Castillo, 19, Walton was arrested in Sidney Center after troopers received a complaint of a car rolled over on Main Street in Sidney Center at 3:36 a.m. on Saturday, Jan 11. When troopers arrived, they saw that four cars had been damaged, as well as a utility pole.

State Police Seek Three For Vandalizing WalMart Craft Aisle

State Police Seek 3 For

Vandalizing Walmart

ONEONTA – State Police are seeking three males who allegedly vandalized the craft and fabric aisle of the Oneonta Walmart, according to Trooper Aga Dembinska, Troop C Public Information Officer.

At 8:33 p.m., a trooper was dispatched to Walmart after employees reported that three suspicious males damaged the craft and fabric aisle with craft paint around 7:14 p.m. The three then reportedly left the store through the grocery entrance then tried to enter Office Max, but were unable to enter and did not cause any damage.

Lettis Highway Accident Victim Identified

Lettis Highway Accident

Victim Identified, In ICU

ONEONTA – Oneonta Police have identified the woman struck by a car last night on the Lettis Highway as April Johnson, 32, Oneonta.

Johnson allegedly crossed the highway in an area not marked for pedestrians and was struck by a car driven by David Shafer, 41, Otsego. She was taken by ambulance to Fox Hospital and transferred to Albany Medical Center, where she was admitted to the intensive care unit.

Oneonta Woman In Critical Condition After Being Struck By Car

Oneonta Woman

In Critical Condition

After Lettis Accident

Oneonta Police and Fire responded to the scene at Lettis Highway, where an Oneonta woman was critically injured after being struck by a car. (James Cummings/

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

ONEONTA – An Oneonta woman is in critical condition at Fox Hospital after she was struck by a car on the Lettis Highway earlier this evening.

According to Police Chief Doug Brenner, an Oneonta woman was walking with a friend when she allegedly crossed the James F. Lettis Highway approximately 100 yards from the intersection of Main Street.

“The area is not marked for pedestrians and it is dimly lit,” said Brenner.


Exit 15 Ramp Closed After Accident



By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

ONEONTA – Police are on the scene of a motor vehicle accident on the James F. Lettis Highway after a pedestrian was allegedly hit by a car this evening.

According to Rob O’Brien, Otsego Count 911 director, a pedestrian was struck by a vehicle near the I-88 Exit 15 westbound off-ramp at 7:42 p.m. The pedestrian was transported to Fox Hospital with serious injuries.

The ramp and Lettis Highway have been closed, and police are asking that the public avoid the area. The accident is under investigation.

Second Morris Home Burns; Dog Rescued

Second Morris

Home Burns;

Dog Rescued

Pit Bull ‘Stressed Out,’ But Safe

The interior of the home at 78 Broad St., Morris, was gutted in last evening’s fire.  (James Cummings/

By JAMES CUMMINGS • Special to

MORRIS – Three days before the new decade begins, a second home in Morris was destroyed by fire in less than a week.

A possible electrical fire at 78 Broad St. in the village at 8:20 p.m. last night wreaked havoc on the home of Kelly Worman.

The first recent Morris fire was Dec. 23 at 287 West Hill Road. The downstairs was gutted and the house was pretty well destroyed, Mayor Michael Newell said a few minutes ago.

Raging Blaze Lights Up Sky, Guts Garage;

Raging Blaze

Lights Up Sky,

Guts Garage;

Fire, Smoke Damages

Notable Home, Annex

Atop a ladder, firefighters (center of photo) seek to douse flames that entered the roof of the addition from the gutted garage at right. (Jim Kevlin/

By JIM KEVLIN  • Special to

Firefighters pour water on the garage’s embers and what appears to be the charred remains of an SUV.

PHOENIX MILLS – A raging fire broke out at 6 p.m. today in the garage attached to the late Dr. Rodman Carter’s home at 1428 Route 33.

It gutted the structure and extended into an addition that connected the garage with the house, but at this hour the main house appeared damaged but secure.

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