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Community rallying behind Violi family as attorney general’s investigates accident that severed employee’s arm

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MASSENA — An ongoing investigation of an industrial accident at Violi’s Restaurant by the state Attorney General’s Office has led the family that owns the business to seek community support.

The brothers announced earlier this month the restaurant will close on Sept. 27.

According to friends and family members of Ross and Dominick Violi, the brothers who own the restaurant, find themselves “under attack” by the attorney general’s staff probe of an accident at the restaurant that seriously injured one of their employees.

Brett M. Bouchard, then 17, severed his arm while cleaning a pasta-making machine on April 24 at the 209 Center St. business.

Benjamin Hahn, a technician in the U.S. Labor Department Wage and Hour Division, had said in April the legal age for an employee to operate a pasta-making machine is 18. He said at that time, a 17 year old operating the machine would violate child labor laws, but it was unclear whether Mr. Bouchard’s cleaning the machine would be considered operating it.

The teenager underwent four surgeries and was on a ventilator in a medically induced coma for several days following surgery. Doctors reattached his arm and repaired some of the nerve damage, but he makes regular return visits to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston for follow-up care.

Casey Aguglia, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, said the investigation into what happened on the night Mr. Bouchard was injured remains ongoing.

“The attorney general’s office is aware of the incident that occurred at Violi’s on April 24 and the matter is under investigation,” she said. “Unfortunately that’s all I can tell you at this time. We can’t comment on any ongoing investigations.”

Occupational Safety and Health Administration Area Director Chris Adams said his office is also in the midst of its own investigation, which should be complete by the end of this week.

“We’ll probably be reaching our conclusions very soon,” he said.

Mr. Adams said he was unaware the attorney general’s office was conducting its own investigation.

“We have not been contacted by the attorney general’s office,” he said.

Dominick said it is his understanding that misdemeanor charges against he and his brother are pending.

“Charges against the corporation I would understand, but charges against us I just don’t understand,” he said. “I’m hoping the charges won’t be against us as individuals. That’s the whole reason you incorporate.”

Ross, who noted that no charges have been filed yet, said it’s his understanding that if charges are filed they will be in connection to Mr. Bouchard’s alleged illegal use of the pasta-making machine.

“The potential charges are connected to Mr. Bouchard’s use of the equipment while under the age of 18,” he said. “The employee was two months shy of his 18th birthday. If he was 18, none of this would even be in question.”

In a letter addressed to friends and associates of the family, Dominick’s wife, Susan Violi, said they are seeking letters of support from community members in an effort to dissuade the attorney general’s office from filing charges against the two brothers.

“At the end of a family’s culinary journey, Violi’s Restaurant and the Violi family are under attack,” she wrote. “After 70 years of being a respected steward to the north country, the Violi family is experiencing a legal battle with the partial aim of criminalizing the men who have contributed a great deal to the region.

“Dominick and Ross Violi have not only been passionate business folks, they have been there for those who have been in need of assistance. Whether it is raising funds for the local Hospice, the Louisville Fire Department, Trinity Catholic School, Massena Memorial Hospital or the Remington Museum, these men have never wavered in their commitment to assist others,” she said. “Now Ross and Dominick and their families need you.”

Also contributing to the effort is Paul Jeser, a long-time friend of the Violis who now resides in Los Angeles. Mr. Jeser has taken out an advertisement that appears in today’s Daily Courier-Observer appealing to others to offer their support for the family.

“We’ve already received more than 50 letters and right now are trying to figure out the best way to hand deliver them to the attorney general,” Mr. Jeser in a telephone interview Wednesday.

In his letter of support, Mr. Jeser wote, “Dominick and Ross are two VERY special people. Yes, what happened to Brett Bouchard was tragic - but it was a tragic accident, not something punishable by prosecution. I, like you, see a lot of ‘bad’ in this world. I urge you to fix that ‘bad,’ but this is not one of those cases. I urge you to rethink the decision to prosecute these two good men.”

Mrs. Violi and Mr. Jeser are asking for people to send their letters of support to the restaurant at P.O. Box 446, Massena, NY 13662, or via email at violismassena@aol.com.

“All letters and emails received will be hand delivered to the AG,” Mr. Jeser said.

Among those writing letters of support for the Violis was Frederic Remington Art Museum Executive Director Laura Foster.

“I read the articles in the paper about the accident and the arm reattachment, but I didn’t know anything about the potential criminal charges,” Ms. Foster said, adding she became aware of the situation after speaking with Mrs. Violi and receiving a copy of the family’s plea,” which she then forwarded to museum trustees and staff.

Ms. Foster wrote in that email dated Aug. 20 that she will send a letter to the attorney general’s office focusing on the Violis’s generosity to the museum, especially their “wonderful pizza parties as part of the Art of Dining series.”

Both Ross and Dominick said the support they have received so far from the community has been greatly appreciated.

“These letters are just unbelievable,” Dominick said, adding regardless of how the situation plays out the family will be serving its last meals at the restaurant on Sept. 27.

Dominick said the decision to close the restaurant this year was actually made prior to the accident.

“Ross and I have been talking about this for a long time,” Dominick said. “Ross had actually decided this was going to be his last year before the accident. The only thing the accident did was kill our business.”

Dominick said he’s getting ready to bring a group of people to Italy, so the timing of the restaurant’s closure actually coincides with that trip.

“It’s a sad way to close our a career that we’ve had for almost 70 years,” Ross said, adding that he and his brother are both glad to hear that Mr. Bouchard’s rehabilitation is going well.

“It’s kind of sad, but now that it’s all legal he doesn’t even come around any more,” Ross said.

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