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A mother speaks of her pain

   In many ways, Lori Silveri has been the forgotten person in the long, painful saga involving her late son, Jonathon M. Cote.

   Cote, a former Army paratrooper working as a private security guard, was abducted in Iraq in November 2006. His body was identified and returned to the United States last week.

   Cote is formerly from Amherst, and many of his relatives … including his father, Francis L. Cote … still live in Amherst. Silveri, who was divorced from Francis Cote in 2001, now lives in Florida.

   Francis Cote has been the family's eloquent chief spokesman for the past 18 months. Until Tuesday, when she spoke to The Buffalo News in a two-hour interview, not much had been heard from Silveri.

   A former Circulation Department employee of The News, Silveri said her son's death has given her a whole new perspective on the Iraq War and the role that private security contractors play in the war.

   What does she think of the Iraq War? She has mixed feelings.

   "I think the men and women who go over there to serve in the military are heroic. My son was a hero, for what he did. These people deserve all our respect," Silveri said. "I would like some more answers from our leaders, though, on exactly why we're over there. I don't feel like we've been told the whole story."

   The News will have extensive coverage of Jonathon Cote's funeral on Friday.

   -- Dan Herbeck

   

Has the dust settled at Wilson High School?

    Two Wilson High School baseball coaches have been charged with endangering the welfare of a child following an incident of alleged sexual abuse on a school bus.

   Varsity coach Thomas J. Baia and junior varsity coach William M. Atlas were released on their own recognizance and issued appearance tickets to return to Town Court on the misdemeanor charge May 8.

   Baia, 40, has coached the varsity team for seven years and is a Wilson Middle School math teacher.

   Atlas, 35, is a physical education teacher at Thomas Mark Elementary School.

   Both could face up to a year in jail if convicted.

   "It was more of what they didn't do than what they did do," said State Police Lt. Richard S. Allen.

   Their arrests came in the wake of three members of the varsity baseball team being charged last Friday with sexually abusing at least two members of the junior varsity team April 17, as the teams were headed back to Wilson from a pair of games in Niagara Falls.

   The three varsity players who were arrested each were charged with one count of endangering the welfare of a child under the age of 17, a misdemeanor, and felony third-degree aggravated sexual abuse. The felony charge accused them of forcing a foreign object into a private body opening.

   Baia and Atlas, who were suspended from their coaching duties on Monday, were among at least three adults on the bus.

   The investigation is continuing, and more charges could be coming, police said.

   The district learned about the arrests from police at the end of the school day on Tuesday, police said.

   "Once we received information from the police department, we moved immediately to suspend these teachers from the classroom," said Superintendent Michael S. Wendt.

   It is required by law to suspend the teachers with pay, Wendt said.

   What do you think about the way these events have unfolded?

   Did the school take appropriate action regarding the coaches?

   What should happen to them?

  --- Aaron Besecker

Wilson incident is much more than "hazing"

   The term "hazing" usually brings to mind some silly stunt, like a guy having to wear a skirt to school or a bunch of athletes chugging liter bottles of Coke.

   It doesn't conjure images of a serious sexual abuse, the kind of attack that authorities say occurred on the Wilson High School baseball team's bus.

   If true, this is a serious allegation that could lead to a felony trial, lawsuits, permanent criminal records and plenty of emotional scars.

   Maybe the word "hazing" is a misnomer, failing to convey the seriousness of that incident. So maybe we shouldn't use that word here. Or maybe this case shows how serious hazing can
be.

   Whatever we call it, it's a story we should have our teenage kids read, to show them the horrible implications of one stupid moment, one horribly stupid moment.

   -- Gene Warner

An immigrant determined to make a difference

   Delores Powell got much more than she bargained for when she purchased her Massachusetts Avenue home … and not all of was good.

   When the family moved in September 2004, there was a big hole in one of the floors of the two-story home. There was no heat because the boiler was busted and the pipes were lined with asbestos. The sewer system backed up -- the last time was in January.

   The gas company informed her there were no gas lines to the house. So she had some installed.

   And all that work was just part of the repairs that had to be done on her home to make it habitable for herself, a single mother with four of her children living with her and attending Buffalo Public Schools.

   In addition, many of the properties around her were vacant and struggling, too. Some had to be demolished. Others are on the list to be demolished. Many are neglected and contribute to neighborhood blight.

   Still, Powell, a Jamaican immigrant who came to the United States 20 years ago, is determined to make a home here for her family. And while progress has made, much more remains to be done. Through it all, she keeps her determination and optimism.

   "Leaving Jamaica and coming to America was really wonderful. It is a privilege," she said. "Everyone wants to come here for a whole lot more opportunities. It's a land of opportunity."

   Are there any Delores Powells in your neighborhood?

   
  -- Deidre Williams

Kmiec brings change and a whole new style

   In the world of Catholic prelates, where most men come from the same mold, Bishop Edward U. Kmiec and his predecessor in Buffalo, Archbishop Henry J. Mansell of Hartford, Conn., are almost nothing alike.

   Imposing and intellectual, Mansell was a prodigious reader. He was shy around the Buffalo media and revealed few clues about his personal life. He was known within the Buffalo diocese to have kept a tight rein, and his own schedule was a series of precisely timed meetings in which he had everyone's full attention.

   He operated on only a few hours of sleep each night and almost never took a day off - Type A traits that began to wear on some priests who expressed relief when Mansell was promoted to Hartford.

   By the time of Mansell's departure, many people in the diocese were looking forward to a fresh face, and they got him in Kmiec, a chummy and chatty Polish-American priest who likes cigars and an occasional scotch on the rocks, and knows how to delegate.

   Kmiec may be overseeing the most tumultuous changes in the history of the diocese but he hasn't let it consume him.

   Unlike Mansell, he'll engage in conversation on less weighty matters, such as his love of college basketball or unwinding from a long day in front of a television with the Discovery Channel.

   He talks regularly about his own boyhood interest in becoming a priest, and he enjoys sharing tales about his vacation travels back home to Trenton, N.J., where he still owns a home, or to Florida during the winter months.

   He even met with young adult Catholics over beers and pizza at Pearl Street Grill & Brewing Co., where he answered various questions and admitted a penchant for talking too much.

   For all of Kmiec's personableness, though, some critics of the current bishop say they wish Mansell were back in town to steer the diocese again.

  -- Jay Tokasz

Peering into the haze of a vicious act

   There is hazing and then there is sexual abuse, and it appears that what happened to at least two boys on the Wilson High School baseball team crossed that line in the most awful way.

   There are many questions about what exactly happened on the bus. But there are many more about what the adults who were supposed to be watching over these children were doing or not doing:

   Did the coaches know what was being done to these children?

   Has it been going on for some time?

   Why did it take the parents of one of the victims to alert the police about the abuse?

   There are rumors that this sort of vicious hazing has been going on for years at Wilson.

   We're asking any readers with firsthand knowledge to share what they saw or experienced. You do not have to give your name.

  -- Maki Becker

Over-the-top language on family-time TV

  I do not watch that much network TV, which is why I was surprised this week to turn on a sitcom at 9 p.m. and hear a character repeat a slang term for testicles throughout the show.

Previous airings of "Two and a Half Men" included explicit jokes and use of a slang term for intercourse (not the "F' word). The FCC in recent years has cracked down somewhat on obscene language on the public airwaves earlier than 10 o'clock at night, when preteens are more likely to be watching. But there obviously are some large holes in the net.

   I understand that pretty much anything goes on cable TV. I expected tighter limits on network television (and radio) in the early evening. Am I being an overprotective parent, or do other people see the casual use of street slang during prime time as a problem?

   -- Donn Esmonde

Neighborhood Watch goes high-tech in Parkside

   Parkside is a close-knit, diverse neighborhood whose residents keep an eye out for each other and remain politically active.

   Those close ties strengthened over the past eight months after residents turned to e-mail lists to warn their neighbors of a spike in home break-ins, burglaries and other thefts.

   Quality-of-life crimes are a nagging concern in this section of Buffalo that wraps around Delaware Park, and last August and December saw two periods when such incidents increased sharply.

   In the past, the Parkside Community Association and block club leaders in the area would issue warnings by phone tree, flier or newsletter in response to a crime wave.

   But starting last August, the association and the block clubs began to forward to all of their members the e-mails they received from crime victims and neighborhood witnesses.

   Some of the e-mails, which often include detailed descriptions or even photos of suspects, led to arrests.

   Buffalo police, community leaders, city officials and others say the e-mail lists are a good example of how a neighborhood can proactively fight back against crime.

   But Parkside certainly isn't the only neighborhood where engaged residents keep in touch with their neighbors.

   We'd like to hear from people in other city or suburban neighborhoods that are home to their own community-based initiatives.

   And is anyone aware of a similar e-mail warning system that led to a break in a criminal case?

   -- Stephen T. Watson

Thruway adds to the high cost of living here

  Thruway Authority officials pressed a hot button with statewide motorists Friday by approving a 5 percent toll hike set to take effect for cash customers on Jan. 1.

   That follows a 10 percent toll increase last year, and precedes another 5 percent hike in 2010.

   What especially irks motorists this time is a toll jump in conjunction with soaring gasoline prices. It all makes what used to be a happy-go-lucky jaunt down the Thruway into a major financial undertaking.

   Just ask Susan Arena. The Williamsville resident recently started what she called a dream job as business administrator for the Silver Creek School District. Now she figures she will pay $44 per month in Thruway tolls on top of all she shells out at the pump.

   "It's becoming a huge financial burden especially with the cost of gasoline," she said Friday.

   Arena is not alone. Costs are going up for everything -- gasoline, tolls, food -- you name it. And in economically depressed Western New York, it all starts to add up.

   The latest toll hike has prompted lots of outrage. Rep. Brian Higgins and Assemblyman Mark Schroeder, both Buffalo Democrats, expressed their frustration on Friday. Schroeder even called for the Thruway Authority to be abolished.

   But of the six members of the Thruway Authority, only Niagara County's Jeff Williams cast a negative vote on Friday. It just seems there is no stopping the rise in prices -- especially when it comes to driving your car.

   -- Robert J. McCarthy

Getting munis up to par

   Before Brighton Golf Course in the Town of Tonawanda started taking tee times, it was not uncommon to see cars in the parking lot before dawn and people asleep inside them as they waited to greet the starter and begin their round at the dawn's first light.

   No one ever accused golfers of being normal.

   But they do know what they like: low rates and well-maintained courses, which is what municipal courses in Western New York have delivered for years.

   The future of the "munis" is the subject of some concern, as fewer people take up the game and more higher-end courses enter the marketplace.

   That has led to suggestions that courses privatize - the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy has had success with the three former city courses, while Niagara Falls tried privatizing with a part of Hyde Park and it didn't work - or make investments to keep up with the competition.

   The question we asked golfers and golf course officials for our article today is the same one we ask you: Should local governments be in the golf course business?

   --- Stephen T. Watson and Bruce Andriatch

   

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