Welcome to the quickest way to learn the week’s most important local news.
1 – Video of the week: Santa dropped onto Ithaca Commons
Santa and his elves dropped by the Commons Saturday morning, with a little help from the Ithaca Police Department SWAT team. There to welcome them were dance troupe The Next Jennaration, the Fall Creek Brass Band, and a jolly crowd of Ithacans.
2 – Whooping cough cases increase in Tompkins County
Tompkins Health Department warns about rise in whooping cough cases – There have been 21 cases of whooping cough so far this year, and nine in November alone, according to the Tompkins County Health Department.
Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a highly contagious bacterial disease spread by coughing or sneezing. It can affect anyone, but is especially concerning for infants too young to be vaccinated. In a news release Monday, the Tompkins County Health Department is reminding the community of the symptoms of whooping cough and to make sure vaccines are up to date.
The amount of cases this year is a jump from 2016 and 2015, which only had four cases each year. But the health department said whooping cough, or pertussis, is cyclical in nature. In 2014, there were 14 cases and in 2012, there were 105 cases.
3 – Former Cornell staff member sentenced for attempted rape
Former Cornell staffer sentenced after pleading guilty to attempted rape — A Cornell University staff member was sentenced Friday for trying to rape a woman in the city of Ithaca this summer.
Debanhi Gerardo Garcia-Gonzalez, 23, was initially charged with felony first-degree attempted rape and first degree criminal sexual act. As part of a plea deal agreed upon Oct. 23, he pleaded guilty to the top charge in exchange for a recommended sentence of three and a half years in prison with 15 years of post-release supervision. The maximum sentence for the charge is 15 years in prison.
After his release, Garcia-Gonzalez will have to register as a sex offender and will likely be deported to Mexico, where he is a citizen.
4 – Maguire makes big purchase in Southwest Ithaca
Maguire makes big purchases in Southwest Ithaca — In Southwest Ithaca over the past few weeks, local businessman Phil Maguire has been rather busy as of late, purchasing multiple properties in million-dollar deals.
Maguire, the president of the Maguire Family of Dealerships automotive sales firm, purchased 340 and 344 Elmira Road for $1.375 million on November 22nd, and 100 Commercial Avenue for $4.65 million on December 1st.
5 – Celebrating 10 years of Ithaca’s ‘cruciferous choir’
‘Fling that thing!’ The Rutabaga Chorus rings in 10 years — Marked by stunning feats of athletic and agricultural prowess, the International Rutabaga Curl has been “the sport of odder Ithaca natives” since 1996.
This year the Ithaca Farmers Market will close its season with a celebration the 10th anniversary of the Vociferous Cruciferous Choir, a rousing performance of Handel’s famous “Rutabaga Chorus.”
“The audience’s reaction that year—and every year since—was magical. At first, people did not know what to think: is this a joke? Is it serious? The singers sound too good to be joking—and they are certainly singing as though they mean it,” Tad Brennan, a Cornell University philosophy professor and co-director of the choir, said.
6 – Ezra’s Tunnel to close
6-3 vote closes Ezra’s Tunnel, at least for now — In a 6-3 vote, the city of Ithaca voted Wednesday night to fence off Ezra’s Tunnel after hearing out the community’s objections to the move.
Numerous people stood in the back of Common Council chambers holding signs or snapping their fingers in support of sentiment to —keep the natural area open.
The nearly 200-year-old tunnel offers access to the area where people illegally swim, sunbathe and hike during warm weather.
In the past six years, two people have drowned there. In August, Cornell University student Winston Perez Ventura, who reportedly could not swim, drowned at the location. In 2011, Kendrick Castro died while swimming in the area the day after he graduated from Cornell.
7 – Pete Tyler is officially Ithaca’s new police chief
Ithaca Police Chief Pete Tyler officially welcomed, appointed to position — The City of Ithaca officially welcomed new Ithaca Police Chief Pete Tyler to the position, after he was appointed by Mayor Svante Myrick, a move unanimously approved by Common Council Wednesday night.
Myrick publicly announced his endorsement of Tyler on Nov. 14 saying, “I’ve had an opportunity to work with and watch Pete for years and have always been impressed, but watching his leadership after the retirement of Chief Barber through several high profile and challenging incidents, I have become convinced he is the right person for the job.”
Tyler, 49, has been with the Ithaca Police Department for 26 years, working his way through the ranks and serving as Deputy Chief since 2009.
8 – Bank robbery: Ithaca police searching for suspect
Ithaca police investigating bank robbery at Tompkins Trust — The Ithaca Police Department has released images and video of the suspect who reportedly robbed Tompkins Trust Company on Meadow Street last week. They are seeking help from the public to identify the suspect.
At about 4:39 p.m. Tuesday, police responded to a reported bank robbery at Tompkins Trust Company, located at 775 S. Meadow St. in Ithaca.
Bank employees told police that a man entered the building with a handgun held down to his side and approached a bank teller demanding they put money into a white plastic bag he was holding. The bank teller complied and the man fled on foot south behind businesses located on Elmira Road, police said.
Anyone with information that could aid the investigation is urged to contact police.
9 – House on Buffalo offers fresh start for formerly incarcerated
Ithaca’s Endeavor House: 4 bedrooms on Buffalo Street offer lifeline for formerly incarcerated men — At the Endeavor House on the west end of Buffalo Street Thursday morning, Deborah Dietrich seemed like any homeowner getting a newly renovated residence ready for an open house the following day. She set up a small Christmas tree with twinkling lights, reviewed a final punch list, and mentioned that she’d be making Baklava for the public event Friday morning.
But the Endeavor House is no ordinary house and Dietrich is not a landlord. She’s the director of the Opportunities, Alternatives, And Resources of Tompkins County, an organization that helps formerly incarcerated people integrate back into the community, among offering other services.
The Endeavor House at 626 West Buffalo Street will be home to four formerly incarcerated men committed to sober living and following a re-entry plan that will hopefully lead to a more independent living situation and employment.
10 – New playground planned for Stewart Park
Friends of Stewart Park plans ‘very special’ new playground — The Friends of Stewart Park (FSP) would like to make Stewart Park a friendlier place for children. The new inclusive playground they want to build may help.
The non-profit advocacy group dedicated to the maintenance and rehabilitation of the nearly century-old park is seeking city approval for the inclusive playground they would like to build in Stewart Park. The project is the first major project to be pursued by the organization, having completed several smaller projects in previous years.
“The new playground is designed to be an accessible and inclusive playground for children of all ages and abilities,” said Executive Director Rick Manning in the application. “This is a unique project in a very special place, and I look forward to engaging the City and the public in the review process.”
Featured image: At a Common Council meeting on Wednesday, about a dozen people who spoke about the tunnel during the public comments portion of the meeting were against the addition of two steel fences that will now keep people out of a natural area above Ithaca Falls. Ultimately, members of Common Council voted to close the 200-year-old tunnel. Jolene Almendarez/Ithaca Voice