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Year in Review: Looking back on 2020, to which we say ‘good riddance’

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Watertown Daily Times archive photos by Sydney Schaefer, Christopher Lenney, Tom Graser and the Tribune News Service

WATERTOWN — Well, thank God that’s (almost) over.

At a time when office parties and handshakes are no longer a thing, the Times looks back on a year unlike any other in recent memory.

This year was dominated by a virus on the other side of the world we first heard about in February, but that came to impact just about every facet of life in the north country and beyond.

Here’s a look back at some of the events that affected our lives in 2020:

Year of loss

Eric Albro, then 16, lays down an assortment of flowers Jan. 9, at the memorial site of two Indian River Central High School students who died following a car crash that took place Jan. 7, in Evans Mills. Emil Lippe/Watertown Daily Times


17-year-old Lexie M. Morgan and 16-year-old Gabriel M. Otero, both students at Indian River Central High School, were pronounced dead at the scene, according to state police.

Jan. 7: By the time the siren rang at the Boonville Fire Department summoning volunteers on Jan. 7, a fire that wafted smoke through downtown was already on its way to claiming two buildings. It was 9:50 p.m. Two historic buildings at the center of the village are engulfed in flames, but the fire goes largely unnoticed at first.

Despite the best efforts of firefighters from 13 departments from two counties, the fire ultimately spread, destroying five buildings.

Year of loss

A fire destroyed five Main Street buildings in downtown Boonville overnight Jan. 7. Two days after the fire, on Friday, debris from the collapsed buildings lay in a heap at the center of town. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

Jan. 24: Watertown City Manager Richard F. Finn abruptly submits his resignation, leaving Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith and council members to start the process of looking for a replacement upon their first meeting in February.

The council met in executive session for about four hours on Jan. 24, with Mayor Smith emerging to inform the media that Mr. Finn had resigned.

Mr. Finn had been the subject of a workplace harassment complaint filed by city Parks and Recreation Superintendent Erin Gardner. A report on an investigation into the complaint was completed earlier this week and then reviewed by City Council members.

Year of loss

On Feb. 13, Hailey Bodah, left, and her mother, Melissa Davey, hold an old photo of Melissa, Hailey and her four sisters. The sisters, Skylar, Erin, Alexa and Merissa, died alongside their father, Aaron Bodah, in a Watertown house fire one year ago on Feb, 14, 2019. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times


Melissa Davey, Hailey’s mother, lost four of her daughters and their father, Aaron Bodah, her best friend of 13 years.

On Feb. 14, 2019, the mother and daughter remembers Hailey’s four sisters and father who perished in a tragic fire last Valentine’s Day. Aaron, 38, sisters Merissa, then 14; Alexa, 8; Erin, 6; and Skylar, 4, died from injuries suffered in the house fire.

Year of loss

Laurie Poor adjusts the last letter she placed on the American Theater’s marquee in Canton on March 16. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered all New York movie theaters to close, and later, all nonessential businesses. Tom Graser/Watertown Daily Times


The patient is a woman in her late thirties and contracted the virus while traveling abroad in Iran.

Parents and school children in Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties learn that all public schools in the area will be closed beginning March 16, until at least the middle of April.

March 19: With approval from the state Department of Health, Samaritan Medical Center opens an appointment-only, drive-up testing site for COVID-19. The testing site is one of the first in the three-county region, as well as the north country.

March 20: Gov. Cuomo tells New Yorkers, “We are all in quarantine now,” as he announces that 100% of the nonessential workforce must stay home to halt the spread of COVID-19, dubbed New York State on PAUSE.

March 22: Nonessential businesses statewide close upon the PAUSE executive order going into effect.

March 23: The Times launches the first edition of the Times Extra.

March 26: Following Gov. Cuomo’s mandate that all visitation at nursing homes in the state must stop to curb the spread of COVID-19, Thomas M. Flavin, of Watertown, became popular after a photograph of him began circulating online.

It shows him outside the lobby of Samaritan Keep Home, pointed toward the glass window and sitting in a rollator walker wearing a rain jacket with his hood up. His wife is on the other side and they’re talking on the phone.

He wants to see his wife when he speaks with her. He wants to take her for a walk around the hospital campus like he used to, but can’t. As a result, he told staff at the nursing home of his plan to sit at the window. He wants to sit outside in rain, snow or sunshine — he will do all three — and speak with his wife on the phone through the lobby glass window. He asks the staff if they would bring her down, and they said yes.

Year of loss

Dean DeVito, center, his wife Nicole, left, and 16-year-old daughter Sophia, right, gather at a front window of their Sackets Harbor home on April 23. All three family members tested positive for COVID-19. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times


April 12: Friends remember longtime Jefferson County Legislator Carolyn D. Fitzpatrick as a beacon of light who truly cared about other people she came to know.

April 19: Michael B. Powers recalls that he was two days into a fever unlike any he’s ever experienced in his life — sweating, cutting weight rapidly, hallucinating and seeing his temperature surpass 105 degrees. He stopped to wonder if his affairs were in order as this strange and terrible virus was taking hold.

Mr. Powers, 54, is a sergeant correctional officer and former athlete who weighed around 238 pounds in the middle of March. But one morning a dry cough came on, which marked the beginning of his physical and emotionally mind-numbing battle with COVID-19 that led to his hospitalization.

Considered an essential worker, Mr. DeVito dutifully reported to work as businesses shut down statewide in March. As the deli and food manager of Price Chopper in Alexandria Bay, he worked until he started to feel unwell on the first night of the month. His symptoms worsened the next day.

Three days later he became one of the first Jefferson County residents diagnosed with the virus that is plaguing the world.

Year of loss

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo wears a face mask before taking his seat at his daily press briefing at Jefferson Community College in Watertown on May 13. The governor visited the north country to announce the region’s approved reopening following the PAUSE order. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times


Unlike riots and looting in Minneapolis, Detroit and other cities, the north country residents kept their pledge of peace as they shed light on police brutality.

May 30: The SpaceX rocket triumphs over an iffy weather forecast to launch as planned on a historic mission to the International Space Station.

Year of loss

A memorial is built by community members in honor of Treyanna Summerville, a Gouverneur senior who was reported dead June 22, during a vigil for Treyanna in the village of Gouverneur the same day. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times


June 2: Five people are pronounced dead at the scene of an early morning crash.

The victims were later identified as Eugene N. Coleman, 28, who also goes by Bobby Johnson; Julian L. White, 29; and Da’Mon J. Scott, 21; Karime Y. Carr; and Vincent G. Barrientos, both of El Paso, Texas.

June 5: Canton-Potsdam Hospital Associate Chief Medical Officer Dr. Andrew F. Williams informs the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators that St. Lawrence Health System and Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center have the capability to perform rapid COVID-19 testing.

Law enforcement and the St. Lawrence County District Attorney’s Office later took one person into custody in connection with the case. The unidentified suspect, a 13-year-old girl later identified as Treyanna’s younger sister, was arraigned in the youth part of St. Lawrence County Family Court on a second-degree murder charge.

June 24: Gov. Cuomo, D-N.Y., Gov. Phil Murphy, D-N.J., and Gov. Ned Lamont, D-Conn., implement a tri-state order mandating a two-week self-quarantine for travelers who fly or arrive in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut from states with more than a 10% positive coronavirus test rate over a seven-day average.

Year of loss

Chris Johnston, of Peterborough, Ontario, holds the championship trophy for Bassmaster Elite on the St. Lawrence River in Clayton on July 26, as he became the first Canadian to win an Elite Series. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times


The 18-day fair, which draws more than 1 million visitors to the Syracuse area each year, was scheduled for Aug. 21 through Sept. 7 at the state fairgrounds in the town of Geddes, Onondaga County.

A little more than 24 hours after she entered the jail facility in Canton, bond is posted and she is released at 4:42 p.m.

July 26: Due to COVID-19 concerns, the annual Bassmaster Elite Series tournament held in Waddington every year moves to Clayton.

The four-day competition ends July 26, with Chris Johnston making Bassmaster history. With 97 pounds, 8 ounces of total bass caught during the week, he becomes the first Canadian to win a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament at the St. Lawrence River.

Year of loss

A driveway on a Pine Street property in Potsdam owned by Frederick “Hank” Robar is lined with decorative toilets. Mr. Robar filed suit this year against the village. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times


Aug. 9: “Father Soldier Son,” which premiered July 17 on Netflix, follows Brian Eisch, a former Fort Drum platoon sergeant and his two sons, Isaac and Joey, over almost a decade, chronicling Brian’s return home after a serious combat injury in Afghanistan.

A large segment of the film was shot in the north country.

Nicole Dayes, the mother of a then-10-year-old Black child identified as Z.D. in court documents, filed suit in U.S. District Court’s Northern District of New York against the city school district, as well as former fourth-grade teacher Patricia A. Bailey for alleged civil rights violations and negligence.

Year of loss

A teachers take a student’s temperature as a COVID-19 precaution on Sept. 8, as kids dropped off by parents at Lawrence Avenue Elementary School in Potsdam for the first day of school. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times


U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., announces the YMCA project received a $9 million federal Department of Defense grant to convert the former Convergys call center into the community center.

Year of loss

An American flag suspended between two Verizon trucks moves with the wind on Oct. 23, as loved ones of Alec R. Williamson, 38, a Verizon worker who was killed on the job the week prior, gather outside of the Johnson Funeral Home for his funeral on William Street in Dexter. Kara Dry/Watertown Daily Times


The victim, later identified as Alec R. Williamson, 38, a veteran who served two tours in Afghanistan before he was hurt, then medically separated from the Army, is remembered fondly by friends and loved ones in the days after his death.

Oct. 17: The controversial “Finn Report” is released following a legal battle with WWNY-TV, also known as 7 News, who sued in order to get the report released.

A third-party investigation into multiple complaints that former City Manager Mr. Finn created a hostile work environment determined that just one instance was founded. But it further found Mr. Finn lied about the incident, leading investigators to conclude the “falsification also calls into question the credibility of Mr. Finn’s responses throughout the interview.”

Year of loss

Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, speaks on stage at the Queensbury Hotel in Glens Falls on election night after declaring victory in the election over Democratic challenger Tedra L. Cobb. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times


Nov. 3: Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, secures another term in Congress, winning the election and defeating Democratic challenger Tedra L. Cobb for a second time.

Year of loss

Sandra Lindsay, a nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens, is inoculated Dec. 14, with the COVID-19 vaccine by Dr. Michelle Chester. She became one of the first people in the state and nation to receive the Pfizer vaccine. Mark Lennihan/POOL/AFP via Getty Images/TNS


Vaccines for north country hospitals and health care workers begin arriving in the following days.

Dec. 15: Gov. Cuomo signs home rule legislation — hours before the midnight deadline — that will reduce the number of Watertown City Court judges from two full-time to one full-time and avoid a costly court project for the city.

Dec. 19: The body of Cpl. Hayden A. Harris, 20, of Fort Drum, is found in a wooded area in Byram Township, Sussex County, N.J., and a fellow soldier Pvt. Jamaal Mellish, 23, is taken into custody in connection with his death.

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(1) comment


As an introvert, I say best year ever. If I could pick a year to do the groundhog day thing with the whole year instead of a single day, this is the one.

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