Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

July 14, 2013

HOPKINS: Hitting high tide on two issues

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Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — I’ve tried writing this column three times, but every time I attempt it the story changes, so instead I’ll offer a few thoughts on a couple of recent events.

First, I was caught off-guard late Friday when I heard that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had decided to include Niagara County — and specifically, Lockport — as part of the federal disaster area in New York state following last month’s heavy rain.

This story seems to change by the minute; just a few hours earlier I was writing that I wasn’t surprised that Lockport wasn’t going to be included in FEMA’s plans. Now, there’s been a bit of a reversal.

I’m still a little surprised that FEMA aid might be available for the city. Considering what happened in other parts of the state, the five inches of rain we received here pales in comparison. Although to some people around Lockport — particularly those whose basements flooded — the storm was a major disaster, it really wasn’t.

From my perspective, Lockport’s flooding was a drop of water; the flooding in the Mohawk Valley was a glass of water in comparison. They’re not the same. Here’s another size comparison: Had Lockport been hit by a tornado, it would have tossed a few cars and pulled off a handful of roofs. Compare that to the major tornado that devastated Joplin, Mo. two years ago which caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. Likewise, the tornados earlier this year outside Oklahoma City.

The flooding in Lockport hasn’t really changed lives. That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t an inconvenience, or created a few hardships. Hey, if I had a “man cave” that got destroyed, I’d be more than just a little perturbed. But I also don’t feel like I’d have to wait for someone to walk up to me and say, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help,” either.

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Another surprising moment for me happened on Thursday, when David Alfonso asked for more time before deciding whether to accept a plea deal for an incident that occurred on New Year’s Eve.

Alfonso is accused of attempted murder, assault and strangulation when he allegedly attacked his girlfriend’s 7-year-old daughter. An offer from the Niagara County District Attorney’s office would allow Alfonso to plead guilty to attempted assault, which would land him in jail for up to 15 years.

Here’s where I’m surprised: Alfonso would like to see the sentence capped at 10 years. Fortunately, Assistant District Attorney Holly Sloma isn’t going for it.

The crime for which Alfonso is accused is so heinous, he shouldn’t be shown leniency. According to police reports, Alfonso tried to rip the girl’s jaw from her face, and even tried to yank the child’s tongue and teeth from her mouth.

The girl’s mother stabbed Alfonso in an attempt to stop him. Fortunately, the girl was able to get away, and ran to her grandmother’s house. Despite the stab wound, Alfonso had to be subdued by Lockport Police with a Taser electronic stun gun.

And now he wants leniency.

In the court system, many inmates get out of jail early for good behavior. The rule of thumb is one month is reduced from the sentence for every two months the inmate behaves. If Alfonso is sentenced to 15 years, he’d be eligible for parole after 10 years, assuming he stays out of trouble while in the clink.

Considering what he stands accused of, that’s a pretty good deal: he’d be out of jail before he was 40 years old. But apparently that’s not good enough for Alfonso. He’s seeking a 10-year cap, which means he could be a free man after just 6 years and eight months, and still be in his mid-30s.

By the way, Alfonso, it seems, didn’t want to spend any time in jail. Back in May, he had his phone privileges taken away at the Niagara County Jail because he was phoning the girl and her mother, trying to persuade them not to testify against him in court.

Alfonso is back in Niagara County Court Monday morning, where he is expected to announce if he’s accepting the plea of if he’ll take his chances with a trial. His own attorney doesn’t know what Alfonso’s decision will be.

I don’t think he deserves a break. I’m hoping Judge Sara S. Farkas feels the same way.