Spectrum News is marking its 15 years on the air with a look back at the 15 biggest news stories that helped to shape the Capital Region and its communities.
(Editor's note: Stories do not appear in any specific order)
Tropical Storm Irene
It's been six years since Tropical Storm Irene hit parts of the Capital Region. Hundreds of people in Schoharie County lost their homes, their businesses. Some lost everything they own. Some residents started to rebuild, others left.
Spectrum News was there when then the storm wiped homes off the map, as people began their road to recovery, with some still working to rebuild.
Dannemora Prison Break
On June 6, 2015, two men did the unthinkable after successfully breaking out of Clinton Correctional Facility in a plot straight out of a Hollywood film.
David Sweat and Richard Matt, both serving time at the maximum security facility for gruesome murders, seduced prison employee Joyce Mitchell while working with her in the prison’s tailor shop.
Mitchell smuggled tools into the prison for the pair, allowing them to cut through the back of their cells, make their way through steam pipes and eventually escape through a manhole just outside the facility.
The elaborate plan took months and the two even practiced before the escape.
Mitchell was supposed to pick them up and the trio planned head to Mexico, but she had a change of heart and the pair had to improvise.
For 22 days, Dannemora residents were on high alert as law enforcement officers from local, state and federal agencies combed the thick Adirondack terrain for the inmates. It’s estimated the state spent $1 million per day during the search.
On June 26, Richard Matt was shot and killed by a United States Border Patrol agent from Vermont.
Two days later, David Sweat was shot and captured by a New York State Police officer. Sweat told investigators the pair had split up because Matt was slowing him down. Sweat was transferred to Five Points Correctional Facility, where he will serve the remainder of his life sentence in solitary confinement.
Additionally, he was charged and convicted on two counts of escape, and one count of promoting contraband, which was added to his life sentence.
Joyce Mitchell was charged and convicted for her role in the escape. She’s currently serving 2 1/3 to 7 years in prison.
Local Fallen Soldiers
On Easter Sunday 2004, just 6 weeks after being deployed, Private First Class Nathan Brown became the first infantry soldier in the New York National Guard to be killed in combat since World War II. Brown was just 21 years old.
United States Marine Reserve Captain John McKenna lost his life in Iraq in 2006 on his third tour overseas. The 30-year-old New York state trooper was hit by a sniper, as he tried to save the life of a fellow comrade.
These are just two of the dozens of Capital Region natives who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country in overseas military conflicts.
Here is a list of the local brave men and women lost since 2012. We thank them for their service.
Anthony Denier: Mechanicville (12/2/12)
Michael DeMarsico: North Adams (8/17/12)
Todd Clark: Guilderland (6/9/13)
Joseph Morabito: Green County (6/9/13) (same attack)
Mitchell Daehling: Dalton, Mass (5/2013)
Harold Greene: RPI Grad (8/5/2014)
Caine Goyette: Watervliet (7/10/17)
In 2014, Hoosick Falls resident Michael Hickey took it upon himself to test his drinking water after losing his father to cancer. When results showed high levels of the chemical Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in the water, he reached out to Dr. Marcus Martinez. Martinez ran a family medical practice in town and had seen a high number of aggressive cancer and thyroid disease cases in his practice. The two began researching PFOA soon after.
In late December of 2015, the village hosted a meeting to talk about PFOA. Within a month, the entire village was demanding answers as to what PFOA was and how it was affecting their health. The EPA started holding workshops and the DEC launched an investigation into a potential cause. The case even caught the attention of Erin Brockovich, who brought in the law firm Weitz and Luxenberg.
By February of 2016, the DEC had named Saint Gobain Plastics and Honeywell International responsible for the PFOA. Honeywell clarified that AlliedSignal Laminate Systems Inc. is the predecessor of Honeywell, and operated from 1986-1996. Honeywell bought them out in 1996 and Honeywell merged with Allied in 1999.
The DEC worked with the village to bring in a water filtration system. Residents had been using only bottled water for months. The state assured residents the water was safe to drink by March, but most residents were far too wary to trust that water again.
Research continued and testing was conducted in nearby towns, including Petersburgh and even across the border in Vermont. That research showed the DEC was first alerted about the chemicals in the groundwater by a Petersburgh plastics company in 2005. The EPA claimed the state didn’t report that, which started the state versus federal fight that the issue became.
Residents worked tirelessly to get answers from officials and demand hearings. Hearings were eventually held in both the Senate and the Assembly on drinking water, and residents of Michigan even showed their support following their issues in Flint.
The DEC set up blood testing for residents and held subsequent meetings to discuss the results. By summer, Governor Andrew Cuomo had signed a bill in favor of New Yorkers exposed to contaminants to file personal injury claims. While the village settled with Saint Gobain on an amount to remedy the groundwater infiltration, there are countless class action cases in progress.
Ethan Allen Incident
On October 2, 2005, a group of 47 senior citizens from out-of-state boarded the Ethan Allen cruise ship for a tour of Lake George, and the surrounding foliage on a picture perfect day. The boat capsized a short time later, killing 20 people.
The investigation found there was far too many people onboard the ship. The vessel had been certified for 47 passengers, plus a pilot and crew, but only had the stability for roughly 14. The Shoreline Company was charged and eventually Governor George Pataki changed the certification laws for all public vessels.
Law enforcement officials still say it was one of the worst calls of their careers, but everyone involved was taken aback by the generosity of the locals. Nearby residents sprung to action to help those in need by donating their homes, facilities and food to the survivors and emergency responders.
A memorial stands in Sheppard’s Park to honor those lost in the tragedy.
Hulett Street Fire
Just after 4 a.m. on May 2, 2013, a massive fire broke out at 438 Hulett Street in Schenectady. Tragically, David Terry and his three children, Layah, Michael and Donovan were killed in the fire. David’s 5-year-old daughter, Sa’fyre, miraculously survived despite being burned over 75 percent of her body.
The fire was deemed suspicious and the next day Robert Butler was charged with arson. The next month he was indicted on federal arson charges. That federal complaint was dismissed in February of 2014. That same month, the ATF announced a reward of up to $10,000 for information on the fatal fire.
Sa’fye, a “super survivor,” was discharged from the hospital a year after the fire that killed her family. She gained the support of the entire Capital Region and thousands stepped up to provide financial aid to her family through multiple fundraisers.
But Sa’fyre’s fight to survive and her ever-positive attitude gained national attention in December of 2015 -- when she posted a video stating that she wanted to get enough Christmas cards to fill her card tree.
The post went viral and she ended up receiving over 1 million cards from across the county, even the First Family and Katy Perry sent her well wishes.
No one has ever been charged with setting the deadly fire. Four people have been arrested and convicted on perjury charges, including Sa’fyre’s mother Jennica Duell, who is serving 11 1/4 years for providing false testimony to a grand jury.
Edward Leon was also convicted of providing false information to a grand jury, and is serving 10 years.
Richard Ramsey was sentenced to 87 months in prison for perjury, and Bryan Fish has also been convicted of perjury charges and is scheduled to be sentenced in November.
Despite her and her family’s heartbreak over the lack of justice, Sa’fyre continues to inspire and spread good through her Angel Network.
It was May 29, 2008, when Albany police dispatch received an alarming 911 call. A child had been shot. They discovered, 10-year-old Kathina Thomas, was playing outside her home when she was hit by a bullet.
The gunman, 15-year-old Jermayne Timmons, admitted to firing a “community gun” at a group of kids. He told investigators the gun was kept in a trashcan. The gun was never found, forcing investigators to wonder how many more of them were out there.
Thomas was killed not far from Pastor Charlie Muller’s Feeding Center, the setting for what would soon become a crusade to clean up the streets.
Pastor Charlie immediately created a gun buyback program in which someone could come to him and trade a gun for a gift certificate to the mall -- no questions asked.
The program became a huge success, and with the help of the district attorney’s office, has taken hundreds of guns off the street.
Just before Christmas of 2003, a 13-year police veteran and father of two was shot three times in a gun battle with a career felon. Lieutenant John Finn held on for 51 days, but ultimately succumbed to his injuries.
Finn was remembered as a devoted friend, family man and member of Albany Police Department, but it was his affinity for crime analysis that his colleagues say inspired true change. He wanted to know why crime was happening and wasn’t just focused on locking people up.
As head of the juvenile unit, he secured a federal grant to study how problem oriented policing could help with bullying in schools. That kind of forward thinking was the inspiration behind the creation of the John Finn Institute for Public Safety in 2007.
The institute draws on social science evidence to help law enforcement assess situations and develop more strategic initiatives.
Aside from his legacy within the department, the public has greatly benefited from an extremely successful annual blood drive in his memory.
The quiet community of Bethlehem, was forever changed in the early morning hours of November 15, 2004, after Peter Porco was found dead in his home on Brockley Drive. His wife Joan was found in their bed suffering from severe head trauma, and an axe was found in the bedroom.
Joan survived the attack, but police soon turned their investigation to her own son, Christopher. The brutal crime shook the community, but Chris’ arrest turned the case into a local obsession. The public attention was so intense that the case was moved to Orange County.
Chris Porco was convicted of murdering his father and in his mother’s attempted murder. He was sentenced to 50 years-to-life in prison.
The case was featured on numerous national programs including “Dateline,” and “48 Hours” and even inspired the Lifetime Movie, “Romeo Killer.”
On December 1, 2012, four teens were returning home from a Siena/UAlbany basketball game when they were rear-ended, causing their vehicle to flip over and leave the roadway.
Shenendehowa seniors Chris Stewart and Deanna Rivers were killed in the crash. Shen’s Matt Hardy and Shaker High School senior Bailey Wind were seriously injured in the crash. Both teens lost their significant other.
Dennis Drue, the driver of the car that rear-ended the teens, was not immediately arrested, but was questioned at the scene. A little over a month after the crash, Drue pleaded not guilty to a 58-count indictment. That indictment detailed that Drue had consumed four shots, several gin and tonics and beers the night of the crash. There were also traces of marijuana in his blood. He was traveling over 80 miles an hour and phone records proved he was texting at the time of the crash.
Drue subsequently pleaded guilty and was sentenced about a year after the crash to 5 to 15 years in prison.
The Shen and Shaker communities immediately came together to support each other after the crash. Once rivals, athletic teams from both schools sported blue and green ribbons on uniforms and held rallies for each other.
Memorials for Chris and Deanna were held in both communities and the case even got national attention when Matt Hardy’s hero, Tim Tebow, called him to wish him well in his recovery.
Scholarships have been set up in memory of both Chris and Deanna. There is also an annual softball tournament held in Deanna’s memory and Shenendehowa has announced it will construct the “Christopher F. Stewart Media Box.”
Bailey Wind went on to speak at local high schools about the dangers of drunk driving and even wrote a book, “Save Me a Spot in Heaven,” to honor her late boyfriend Chris.
From ousted and disgraced governors, to powerful legislative leaders convicted of using their power for personal gain, corruption has been a perennial issue that has plagued Albany.
After pushes from good government groups and voters, true ethics reform for New York State seems elusive.
Same Sex Marriage
It was a down-to-the-wire vote that changed the course of history for gay couples in New York state.
On July 24, 2011, lawmakers in Albany passed the Marriage Equality Act. The law, which was a key issue for Governor Andrew Cuomo, legalized same sex marriage in New York, and prompted a wave of weddings in the Capital Region and beyond.
While critics questioned the role of state government in defining marriage, supporters hoped the new law would bring the issue of gay rights into the national spotlight.
In 2015, that push made its way to Washington. On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court, in a narrow 5-4 vote, ruled that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage.
Microchips make everything run -- and they're made right in the Capital Region.
In July 2009, California-based company GlobalFoundries, began construction of its "Fab 8" plant in the Luther Forest Technology Campus in Malta. The construction created a tech sector boom for Saratoga County, with thousands moving to the area to make Malta their home.
Mass production began at the plant in 2012, with a crew of 3,000 people making 60,000 micro devices a month.
"Fab 8" continues to grow with investments from GlobalFoundries. In 2016, it announced it would make a multi-billion dollar investment to refit "Fab 8" to more advanced micro devices in the second half of 2018.
August 29, 2015, marked a historic day at Saratoga Race Course as racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years competed in the famed Travers Stakes.
But it wasn’t American Pharoah’s first time in Saratoga. Bred by the Zayat family, he was sent to Fasig Tipton in 2013, where the family hoped he would sell for no less than $1 million. It didn’t go as planned, so the family put in a $300,000 bid and bought him back, proving to be the best money they’d ever spend.
After clinching the Triple Crown, trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Victor Espinoza went on to win the Haskell Invitational, adding to the hype of a potential appearance in the Spa City.
A record crowd of 20,000 people showed up to get a glimpse of Pharoah during his public workout the day before the race. Not surprisingly, the Travers attendance was capped at 50,000 and a sellout crowd witnessed Pharoah’s stunning loss to Keen Ice. It marked the only loss of his historic 3-year-old season, which ended with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in October of 2015.
In 2003, a horse named Funny Cide made history in horse racing becoming the first ever New York-bred horse to win the Kentucky Derby.
However, it was the story behind the horse that captured the hearts of upstate New York. Six friends, originally from Sackets Harbor, bought the horse on the cheap. That investment proved to be worth it as the thoroughbred went on to win 11 races from 38 starts with 6 second-place finishes and 8 third place runs.
Funny Cide earned more than $3.5 million in his career, making him the highest earning winner of any New York-bred horse.
Funny Cide went on to win the Preakness after the thrilling Kentucky Derby win, but fell short of the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes.
The horse which raced until he was 7 years old, never won at Saratoga and is now enjoying retirement at a stable in Kentucky.