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Lewis County discloses victims of car-buggy fatal crash

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County has released the identities of Amish victims of a Nov. 20 fatal car/buggy accident in response to a Freedom of Information Law appeal from Johnson Newspaper Corp.

A correspondence from the county attorney’s office, provided before Tuesday’s legislators meeting, indicates that a prior denial for the information was withdrawn after further review and consideration of certain opinions issued by the state Committee on Open Government.

An attached Lewis County Sheriff’s Department incident report indicates that Lydia H. Hertzler, 30, of 4047 Nefsey Road, Lowville, was injured and her nearly 6-month-old daughter, Rebecca S., died of injuries suffered in the crash. Prior reports had listed the infant, who died at Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, as 9 months old.

The buggy the family was riding in was struck by a vehicle driven by Lacey E. Northrup, 27, Lowville, just before 8 a.m. Nov. 20 on Route 12 near Vary Road in the town of Harrisburg. Lewis County Sheriff’s Department officials cited driver inattention as the primary cause, and Ms. Northrup was charged with following too closely and failing to exercise due caution when approaching a horse.

Undersheriff James M. Monnat initially said the identities of the baby and her mother, who suffered a minor leg injury, would not be disclosed “because of the private lives of the Amish.”

Johnson Newspapers on Nov. 27 lodged a FOIL request in response to the department’s stance. However, County Attorney Richard J. Graham, the county’s records access officer, denied that request, indicating that “disclosure of the identity of accident victims constitutes an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy and therefore is exempt from disclosure under Public Officers Law.”

That led to Dec. 18 appeal to former Legislature Chairman Jack T. Bush, R-Brantingham, as the county’s appeals officer, citing an opinion from Robert J. Freeman, executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government, that the information should be available.

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