Cooperstown Central School superintendent C.J. Hebert died Sunday after his ATV flipped back on top of him while riding near his Richmondville home, police said Monday.
Officials said Hebert was reported missing late Sunday by his wife, Tammy Hebert, who serves as the assistant superintendent of the Windham-Ashland-Jewett Central School.
Hebert was 51 years old.
Schoharie County's director of emergency services, Michael Hartzel, said a members of the Schoharie County Search and Rescue team and volunteers from numerous local fire departments located Hebert's body at 4 a.m. Monday near Patrick Road, not far from the Warnerville cutoff that connects state Route 10 and state Route 7 in Schoharie County.
He said there were at least 11 people riding all-terrain vehicles in the search.
"It's pretty steep up in there," said Hartzel in describing what he called "very rugged terrain" where the mishap took place.
The accident investigation is being headed by the State Police at Troop G, he noted.
Officials said that at the time of the mishap Hebert was apparently operating his ATV near former railroad beds that had been used by the Cherry Valley junction of the D&H railroad, near West Creek. It appeared that the vehicle had flipped back on top of him when he attempted to drive up an embankment, officials involved in the search said. The scene of the accident was only about a half mile from Hebert's home.
State Police Senior Investigator Drew McDonald said Hebert's family members searched for him for several hours before enlisting the help of police late Sunday.
"He was located next to his ATV, and it appeared he had an ATV accident which took his life," McDonald said Monday afternoon.
He confirmed Hebert had been wearing a helmet. "He succumbed to injuries from the ATV accident," he added.
McDonald also confirmed that Hebert had been riding alone, and at one point Sunday afternoon he telephoned a family member and reported he was heading out to ride the vehicle.
The investigator also described the accident scene as being in "a heavily wooded area with a pretty steep embankment."
Classes at Cooperstown Central School are canceled today, with crisis counseling available at the school district today for staff members and students. There will be an informal vigil for Hebert at the high school bus circle at 5 p.m. today.
Regular school activities will resume Tuesday, and counseling will also be available for students during the school day, according to a notice posted on the school's website.
“This was a great loss to Cooperstown Central School District. C.J. brought significant, positive change to Cooperstown over the last six years,” Board President Theresa Russo said in the school's statement. “We have lost a strong leader and a good friend. Our thoughts are with C.J.’s family at this time.”
The Cooperstown Central School District Board of Education met Monday morning and will convene regularly throughout this week to move forward on a short-term plan for district supervision. Day-to-day activities will proceed on schedule for students Tuesday and regular operations of the district will continue, the statement said. The district has about 1,100 students.
Hebert took the reins of the Cooperstown district on July 1, 2010, replacing former Supt. Mary Jo McPhail when she retired.
Then serving as the Hudson Falls High School principal, he was selected from among 41 applicants for the post.
At the time of his appointment to the Cooperstown position, the then superintendent of the Hudson Falls district, Mark Doody, said he was pleased with academic gains made under Hebert's leadership at the high school.
"I think he will be an outstanding superintendent," Doody told the Glens Falls Post Star at the time. "He has a great demeanor as a high school principal in dealing with the issues that they face on a daily basis."
Hebert had previously worked at the Corinth High School, starting there as an English teacher before becoming its principal.
Cooperstown Mayor Jeff Katz said Monday that he had met with Hebert last week to discuss ongoing planning on a solar power project involving both the village and the school district.
"This is a devastating and tremendous loss for the whole community," Katz told The Daily Star.
Katz said Hebert was "a pleasure to work with because he was such an easy-going person. He had a very serious vooice that didn't reflect his personality. He was fun to be around. He was really responsible and a great superintendent of schools, and he is going to be greatly missed. He was such a terrific guy."
Gary M. Kuch, the director of the scholarship program for the Clark Foundation and the head of the Cooperstown Rotary Club, said he was still serving as the superintendent of the Worcester school district when Hebert was hired as the Cooperstown superintendent.
"C.J. was the consummate educator," Kuch, who also serves as the Otsego town court justice. "He loved the outdors and was a member of the Cooperstown Sportsmen Association. He was very involved in hunting."
Kuch described Hebert as "very diligent" when it came to putting together school budgets that would impact both district taxpayers and the families of the children enrolled in the Cooperstown school district.
"He did some great things with budgets in fiscally tough times," Kuch said. "He would do a yearly presentation to the Rotary Club on the school budget. It was always very articulate and very balanced. It helped a lot of people see what little control districts have over the budget and how things are dictated by the state of New York. He was really good at weighing things and presenting them in a fashion that showed he was concerned about the taxpayers but also balanced with the concerns of the kids in the school."
Otsego County Rep. Andrew Marietta, D-Cooperstown, a member of the Cooperstown school board for nearly four years, said all those who worked with Hebert were grief-stricken by the news of the superintendent's death.
"The whole thing is too shocking and very sad," Marietta said. "CJ was a very impressive guy. He understood his role as superintendent and understood the partnership that needed to exist between himself and the school board."
He said Hebert showed strong leadership during several controversies, including the decision to change the school district's official mascot from the Redskins to the Hawkeyes in the fall of 2013, and last year's push by opponents of standardized tests to have students opt out in protest.
"Finding someone who can pick up where he left off will be a challenge," he said. "CJ had a great sense of humor. He didn't take himself too seriously. He was someone who could definitely step back and see the humor in a situation. I enjoyed working with him, no question."
Reacting to the death, Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, said he was "shocked and saddened."
"In my time working with C.J. it was abundantly clear that the students who populate the hallways of Cooperstown Central School were his chief concern," Seward said in a statement. "He was a strong and caring advocate for their well-being and took it upon himself to do everything possible to make certain they were receiving an enriching education. My sympathies to his family, friends, and the Cooperstown community, he will be greatly missed.”
The investigation into Hebert's death is being handled by the state police.