Partner challenges suicide finding

Stockport man fears foul play

STOTTVILLE—Arturo Duran Salgado, 31, of County Route 20, died at home early the morning of July 13. Everyone agrees about that.

How Mr. Duran Salgado died and why, are subjects of contention. His death certificate says suicide by hanging, but his life partner, his friends, people in the local Mexican community and people he worked for don’t believe that.

Stephen McKay, proprietor of Micosta Enterprises, a home-based business on County Route 20, said Tuesday that at first he was persuaded that his life partner had committed suicide, but he no longer accepts that. He has posted a sign at their home: “Lynching Murder occurred here,” offering a reward for information leading to the arrest of the guilty, along with the Sheriff’s Office tip line, 518 822-8477.

“The trail is getting cold,” he said, “and I feel like the authorities are leaving me to do the work.”

County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Wayne Lopez said this week that the Sheriff’s Office had investigated the case and it was ruled a suicide.

But the trail to a different conclusion, as Mr. McKay sees it, started on Sunday, July 12. Mr. McKay left that morning for New York City on his way to North Dakota to give a talk on black currants. Mr. McKay worked for the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Columbia County from 1996 to 2013 as a fruit specialist and is still invited to speak on his area of expertise.

The two talked by phone Sunday night; Mr. Duran Salgado had lunch with his younger brother, who lived in Albany, and visited Guatemalan friends on County Route 20. “He was in a good mood, good spirits,” said Mr. McKay.

The morning of July 13, awaiting his flight in LaGuardia Airport at about 7:15 a.m. Mr. McKay got a call from two of their Guatemalan friends who had discovered Mr. Duran Salgado’s body hanging, tied with a T-shirt to the rear-view mirror of a large, unused box truck at the front of the property.

Frightened, the neighbors ran home and called Mr. McKay, who speaks Spanish fluently. He told them to call the police, and he started back home. He arrived about two hours later to find his yard crowded with police vehicles and officials. Coroner Angelo Nero asked him to identify the body. “I saw these black-and-blue marks on Arturo’s forehead, as if his face had been smashed into the gravel,” said Mr. McKay.

The house was undisturbed, without a sign of a fight or forced entry. Mr. Duran Salgado’s wallet was there, though his house keys went missing that day.

Nearby neighbors had heard sounds of an altercation at about 5:45 a.m., after which there was silence, then the sound of a car. They reported this to the Sheriff’s Office that day, but Mr. McKay says he didn’t learn of it until mid August.

Mr. Duran Salgado was in this country as part of the H-2A program, which allows U.S. employers who meet specific regulatory requirements to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary agricultural jobs. He worked mostly for Mr. McKay, but also for Kay and Charles Abraham in Germantown. Mrs. Abraham said that Mr. Duran Salgado spent six to nine months in the United States, then returned to Mexico for the rest of the year.

Both the Abrahams said Tuesday that they could not believe Mr. Duran Salgado committed suicide. He had been scheduled to work for them on July 13. He visited the Abraham farm on July 12 so they could plan the project and left at about 4 p.m. “in good spirits,” said Mr. Abraham, who recalls that Mr. Duran Salgado said, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Upon hearing about it, I couldn’t imagine him committing suicide,” said Mr. Abraham. “But the world changes. Things happen.”

Mr. Abraham said that Coroner Nero told him initially he didn’t think the cause of death was strangulation. Attempts to reach Mr. for comment were unsuccessful.

While the Abrahams and Mr. McKay recall Mr. Duran Salgado as being in his normal good spirits, in fact there had been changes. “He asked me for $5,000,” said Mr. McKay, “saying he wanted to plant a potato field in back of his father’s house” in Octlan, Mexico. “I was surprised.” The two had known each other for 13 years. “He had never asked for anything like that before,” Mr. McKay said.

Mr. McKay put off the request until they saw how the summer’s income went, and after Mr. Duran Salgado’s death, his father told Mr. McKay he knew nothing of the plan.

Mr. Duran Salgado also appeared at times to be fearful, said Mr. McKay. He told Mr. McKay that if anyone asked where he lived, to say in Germantown, with the Abrahams, not in Stottville. He wanted to sleep in the front part of the Stottville house, not the back, the better to watch the front gate. “I just thought of it as a crazy worry,” said Mr. McKay.

And Mr. Duran Salgado had long, private conversations on his cell phone. “I heard no arguing,” said Mr. McKay, “and we had always respected each other’s privacy, but he would talk on the phone an hour at a time.”

Mr. McKay said police have Mr. Duran Salgado’s cell phone, and Mr. McKay has been unable to check the calls on it.

Because Mr. Duran Salgado was an H-2A worker, the state Department of Labor is interested in the case, said Mr. McKay. John Dormin, executive director of the Labor Department Office of Special Investigations, “is going to try to help with the phone,” said Mr. McKay. Mr. Dormin did not return a call seeking comment.

Mr. McKay said maybe Mr. Duran Salgado heard someone at the front gate and went out to investigate. He also said that he suspects his partner was being extorted for money.

“I agree with the sheriff that I don’t know what happened,” he said Tuesday. “But that leaves everything open to discussion. I don’t want to be a troublemaker, but I’m trying to get justice for Arturo. We had to send his brother home; we feared he was in danger.”

Mr. Duran Salgado’s H-2A visa was due to expire in May 2016, and Mr. McKay said the two men planned to marry then. Mr. McKay, and his mother, had met the Duran Salgados in Mexico—parents, grandparents, four siblings and “tons of cousins.” While the two men had not discussed their wedding plans with the family, “some of them used to say that everybody already knew” about the couple, “and Arturo was the last to know that they knew,” said Mr. McKay.

Thursday Mr. McKay was scheduled to appear before the Stockport Planning Board for what he said would be the final hearing for his proposed restaurant on his property. “I’ve been working on this for three years,” he said, “and I think I may get the approvals I need. This was another thing that Arturo was happy and excited about. We both were.”

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