Highway dept. worker suspended; three trucks destroyed in accidental fire
By Jay Braman Jr.
Last Wednesday was a most unusual day at the Town of Shandaken Highway Department.
First, according to Town Supervisor Rob Stanley, in the early morning hours, an administrative employee of the highway department was suspended without pay following concerns raised by Stanley and Highway Department Superintendent Eric Hofmeister.
Then, in the evening, fire destroyed three highway department trucks that were parked behind the very same highway garage where state police earlier were investigating the department’s office.
Asked if the employee suspension and the fire were related, Stanley said he was not sure, but on Monday Deputy Supervisor Vince Bernstein said it has been concluded that the fire was caused by a short circuit and was not related to the employee suspension.
Stanley was tight lipped about both matters Thursday morning, saying that he needed to consult an attorney before giving out the name of the person suspended or reaching any conclusions about the fire until arson investigators have done their job.
On Thursday there was no answer when calls were made to the highway department’s office. Instead only the voice of the department’s longtime secretary/bookeeper Flo Sullivan came through the phone lines stating that it was the highway department, what the office hours were, and that the caller can leave a message.
State police at the Hurley barracks would neither confirm nor deny that they were conducting any criminal investigation into Sullivan’s activities.
At the February town board meeting Monday night, the town voted to appoint an interim highway department secretary to take over Sullivan’s duties. The town board also hired an interim bookkeeper for the Phoenicia Water District. Sullivan held that position until last week as well.
Deputy Supervisor Vince Bernstein, reading from a prepared statement at the meeting, said that the suspension of “an employee” occurred after alleged financial discrepancies were discovered.
As for the burned trucks, Stanley said that all three were parked close to one another behind the highway garage and it appears that one caught fire and the blaze then engulfed the trucks parked on either side.
He said an investigation is continuing, but he did say the truck that caught fire first had been plugging into a device that keeps the engine warm.
Insurance claims on all three trucks have been filed. An estimate on the financial loss was not immediately available.