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Gouverneur marine funeral arrangements stir controversy

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GOUVERNEUR — Funeral arrangements for Marine Private Skyler D. Way, killed in a car accident Jan. 6 in North Carolina, continue to divide the community.

At Tuesday’s village Board of Trustees meeting, more than two dozen firemen complained about Trustee Charles W. Newvine, whom they said had been bad-mouthing the department for its refusal to host calling hours and the funeral for Pfc. Way.

“We made a vote we wanted to file a complaint with them. It just needed to be brought to the attention of the trustees,” said First Assistant Chief Thomas J. Conklin. “Our organization wasn’t being treated fairly. I feel terrible for the family, but we cannot be thrown under the bus for not being able to have the funeral there.”

Mr. Newvine said he was under the microscope for a telephone conversation he had with Mr. Conklin on having fire department members help escort Pfc. Way’s body into town after it had already determined the station could not accommodate the calling hours and funeral.

“Their main purpose was to single me out, why I defamed them,” Mr. Newvine said. “It wasn’t my intention to do that. As soon as you question something they’re doing, they think you’re against them. They were there to show their dislike for me and what they think I said.”

The department rejected the request for calling hours and the funeral because it did not want its trucks — with water in them — sitting outside in sub-zero weather for two days, did not think the garage was appropriate for what was expected to be a large service and feared an emergency might occur during the event.

Department volunteers helped provide an escort for Pfc. Way’s body. The funeral was held Monday at the Gouverneur Elks Lodge.

“We did talk to the family,” Mr. Conklin said. “Mrs. Way had no problem with the fire department.”

During the phone conversation between Mr. Newvine and Mr. Conklin, Mr. Newvine said he told Mr. Conklin, “‘I bet you guys feel like a bunch of scumbags,’” because of the bad publicity the department had received for refusing to accommodate the family.

Mr. Conklin said he then told Mr. Newvine that department members did not feel like scumbags. Both men agree the conversation became more heated, although Mr. Newvine says he apologized and Mr. Conklin said he did not.

“I think this is a personal problem Tom and I had because of that phone call,” Mr. Newvine said. “I didn’t think before I spoke. I was talking about the bad publicity and that’s it. It was a phone conversation that got misconstrued.”

Mr. Newvine said he respects the decision of the fire department, but thought fire officials could have made a greater effort by talking to the village and town about putting their trucks in municipal garages and offering to host the funeral in full uniform. He thought their donations might suffer because of the decision they made to not be more involved.

“I don’t think anybody in that department is a scumbag,” he said. “The publicity they’ve been getting is negative, and that’s going to backfire on the department.”

After the village board meeting, Mr. Newvine said he started making the rounds of every department volunteer who had criticized him at the meeting to clear the air — with the exception of Mr. Conklin.

Mr. Conklin said he is ready to put the issue behind him.

“I delivered the speech for the fire department. I’m done with it,” he said. “I’ve moved on.”

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