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Outgoing Greece police chief reflects

Greece, N.Y. -- Chief Todd Baxter said when he took over as police chief in Greece four years ago, the department was in much worse shape than he realized.

He credited the 78 officers who were there for keeping the department running despite corruption and a lack of leadership at the top.

"They ruined a lot of lives, a lot of good police officers," Baxter said. "It was worse than I thought."

Baxter said he is happy with the town's decision to promote Captain Patrick Phelan to police chief.

Baxter said Phelan is a dedicated officer who survived the good and bad years in the department and will be a good leader. Baxter said Phelan also has the experience of watching his father, Gerald, serve as chief.

Baxter's last day as chief officially is Sunday. He'll spend Saturday on the road, patrolling in a marked police car in Greece with his son Zachary.

Baxter said he has no regrets about how he ran the department and is proud to leave it in a good place.

He said he's sad to be leaving law enforcement, but said it's the right time. He starts his new job as executive director of the Veterans Outreach Center on Wednesday.

Baxter said when it comes to unfinished business, he does wish he could have provided answers to the families of the 10 people killed in the 1978 Holiday Inn fire in Greece.

He hoped to meet them in person and give them answers about how the fire started and who started it, but he said the investigation will continue after he leaves the department. The two lead detectives on the case, Casey Voelkl and Pat Welch, will keep working and going through evidence.

The detectives have re-interviewed many people, but have not yet questioned Bud Phillips, the Greece-Ridge Fire Chief who was first on the scene of that fire back in 1978 and called 911 to report it.

Baxter said in any arson investigation, it is routine to focus on people who are first on the scene of a fire.

Phillips was questioned in 1978 and Baxter said he will be interviewed again, but not until investigators go through evidence seized during a search of Phillips office at the fire hall back in the fall.

Phillips was a Lieutenant with the Greece-Ridge Fire Department in 1978. He told investigators he was driving down West Ridge Road to his job as a security guard when he saw the smoke. Phillips said he called in the fire and then told 13WHAM he helped people escape from the burning hotel.

Phillips told 13WHAM News during previous interviews he had nothing to do with starting the fire and maintains to this day that the fire was not arson.

Phillips declined to be interviewed Thursday.

"I am not alone in my feeling that this fire was not intentionally set, but rather a very unfortunate accidental fire that occurred 35 years ago," Phillips said in a statement.

Chief Baxter said testing by the ATF and other members of law enforcement proved the fire was arson.

Chief Baxter called the case a homicide and said he still hopes there will be an arrest so families know who caused the fire.

"An arrest? Oh yes, that's our grand slam," he said. "An arrest for the murder of 10 people, I believe the largest murder ever in Monroe County. Absolutely. You want justice, that's what we're here for."

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Washington Times