News of Otsego County

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


state Sen. Jim Seward R-Milford

Seward Invites DOT Chief To Lettis Crash Scene

Seward Invites DOT Chief

To Lettis Highway Crash Site

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to



In the wake of pedestrian April Johnson’s death, state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, has invited state DOT Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez to Lettis Highway, where the 32 year old woman was struck by a car.

“I want her to tour the area with me and see it first hand,” Seward said. “It wasn’t built with pedestrians in mind, but we need to accommodate them.”

Allied with City Mayor Gary Herzig, the senator hopes to convince the state DOT to award the city and town of Oneonta an $8.7 million grant to implement long-sought safety improvements to the accident-riddled stretch.

Since 2015, there have been 114 accidents with property damage, 20 with injury to pedestrians or passengers, and five hit-and-runs, including a two-car collision on Saturday, Feb. 1, Police Chief Doug Brenner reports.

“It’s a difficult intersection at Main Street,” he said. “And people don’t always slow down coming off the highway, even though it’s marked as 30 miles per hour.”

But following the Dec. 30 accident, where a car driven by David Shafer of Otego struck April Johnson as she crossed the road 100 yards up from the crosswalk, Mayor Gary Herzig renewed his call for DOT funding to add sidewalks and better lighting along the highway.

“It’s sad that this tragic accident took place,” he said. “But it is our responsibility to correct that now, and it remains a top priority that we make the Lettis Highway safe for vehicles and pedestrians.”

Johnson died Jan. 11 at Albany Medical Center, where she had been hospitalized since the accident. She never regained consciousness.

Hers’ is not the first death on the highway. In October 2007, retired Hartwick College economics professor Jack Stuligross, husband of former Otsego County Rep. Kay Stuligross, was struck by a car and killed while riding his bike near the intersection of Southside and Lettis, in front of McDonald’s.

In August 2018, the city, in partnership with the Town of Oneonta, applied for an $8.7 million state DOT grant, with $3.2 million earmarked for the town to build sidewalks on Southside and the remaining balance to build a sidewalk on Lettis Highway, with pedestrian access at Neahwa Park and Pine Street, as well as a green median.

“This has been part of our strategic plan,” said Herzig. “Every day, we see people walking to work or to go shopping, and at night, there is no visibility. It’s not right, and there’s no reason it has to be this way.”

The state denied their application.

According to Herzig, funding is made available every other year, and he believes it will open again in the spring.

“Our intent is to apply again,” he said. “We are planning to meet with the folks from the state to talk about why we weren’t funded and to reiterate the importance of making this highway safe not just for vehicles, but also pedestrians.”

Herzig has also pledged more than $1 million in matching funds to assist the project. “We remain focused and optimistic that we have a strong case for the funding,” he said.

If awarded, it will not be the first time that a pedestrian death has lead to increased safety upgrades in the city. In 2016, the state DOT upgraded the lights and signage at the corner of Main and Chestnut, in the city, at Herzig’s request, after Daniel Heath, 75, was struck by a car that made a left-hand turn, and hit his head when he fell.

For Now, Justice For Gillian Realized

For Now, Justice

For Gillian Realized

by LIBBY CUDMORE • Special To

Gillian Gibbons

ONEONTA – Jennifer Kirkpatrick was “relieved” when she heard the news that David Dart, the man who murdered her 18 year old sister, Gillian Gibbons 30 years ago, was denied parole.

“I’m thankful that we have more time,” she said. “The longer we can keep him in prison, the better off they are.”

In 1991, Dart, then 29, was sentenced to 25 years to live for second-degree murder after he was found guilty of stabbing Gillian to death on Sept. 12, 1989.

At a “Justice for Gillian” rally in September, Kirkpatrick rallied friends, community members and state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, to write letters to the parole board urging them to deny him parole.

In a press release, Seward said he and Jill’s family “prayed for this outcome.  A cold-blooded killer, who has shown no remorse, needs to stay in prison, and I am pleased that the parole board agreed.”

In addition to letters sent, the Otsego County Board of Representatives added a resolution asking the parole board to deny his release as part of their resolution to support S4354, introduced several times by state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, to increase the time between parole hearing for “violent crimes” from two to five years.

“Without the community support, he’d be out,” she said. “Those letters are what’s keeping him in prison. The community is saying ‘we don’t want him here, he is dangerous.’”

However, she said, he will be up for parole again in May 2012, just 18 months from now.

“It stinks that it’s only 18 months,” she lamented. “But we’ll start writing letters again in March 2021.”

FINALLY, Her Story Told At Gillian’s Rally

FINALLY, Her Story Told At Gillian’s Rally

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

Former OPD Chief Joseph Redmond reads a letter from the first officer at the scene of Gillian’s slaying. At right is Jennifer Kirkpatrick, Gillian’s sister. (Ian Austin/

ONEONTA – Gillian Gibbons’ voice was silenced when David Dart stabbed her 42 times in the Oneonta Municipal Parking Garage on Sept. 12, 1984.

But Jennifer Miller Dutcher intends to use hers to keep Dart in prison. “I am a survivor of David Dart,” she said. “I am a victim who has a voice, and I have to share my story.”

She told her story at the “Justice for Gillian” rally Saturday, Sept. 28 in Muller Plaza, standing at the podium besides Gillian’s sister, Jennifer Kirkpatrick, to encourage everyone to write to the state Parole Board and ask them to deny Dart’s parole this November.

“If he gets out, he will rape, he will kill again,” said Kirkpatrick, who organized the rally with state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford.

“Help us keep him behind bars,” said Miller Dutcher. “Please help us be that voice for Gillian.”

One evening in 1984, Dart came to Miller Dutcher’s parents’ house in Portlandville and asked if he could talk to her. “He was kind of a loner,” she said. “His grandparents asked us to include him.”

She went outside with him, but he dragged her into the alley between two houses and began to assault her. “He had a knife to my throat,” she said. “He threatened to kill me, and I begged for my life.”

She managed to escape and get back home, where her parents called the police. Dart was sentenced to juvenile detention. “I was able to get away with my life, but he took emotional, physical and spiritual things away from me.”

Though her parents asked that he get counseling as part of his sentence, they later learned that he denied all of it. And because his record was sealed, during his trial for Gillian’s murder, the jury was not able to see his prior violent conviction.

“He’s been terrorizing people since he was an adolescent,” said Kirkpatrick.

“I wasn’t his only victim,” she said. “He attacked other girls, but their parents wouldn’t let them speak out. And he didn’t get the counseling that could have turned the tide. Maybe if he had, if we had known, Gillian would still be with us today.”

Retired Oneonta Police Chief Joseph Redmond, a sergeant at the time, read a letter from former Deputy Sheriff Sean Ralph, who was the first on the scene of Gillian’s murder.

“To this day I remember opening that car door and seeing one of the most horrific crime scenes in my law enforcement career,” the letter read. “I would ask that you trust my assessment that David Dart is a savage and brutal killer that perpetrated such violence and rage that he should never be trusted to prey on an innocent victim again.”

“It was people like you who were instrumental in solving Gillian’s murder,” said Redmond. “Now, I urge all of you to get your family, your friends involved in making sure he never walks among free society again.”

Seward handed out flyers with the information on how to write to the parole board, as well as how to support his bill to extend the time between parole hearings from two years to five.

“David Dart is right where he belongs,” said Seward. “Locked up behind bars. Why should he and other violent criminals have a right to a parole hearing every two years?”

Kirkpatrick and her family will tell Gillian’s story before a member of the parole board on Friday, Oct. 4. Letters to the board are due by the end of October in order to be read ahead of Dart’s November hearing.

“If he gets out, he will do this again,” said Kirkpatrick. “It could be your daughter, your sister, anybody.”

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