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Hockey mother in Pepsi Center incident says she won’t sue

Asks that criminal case be dropped against man who disciplined her son

By Dan Herbeck
Updated: 07/24/07 8:57 AM

 Charlene R. Van Dusen says she has had enough. The Grand Island mother said she has no plans to file a lawsuit over the confrontation between her 10-year-old son and a hockey dad at the Amherst Pepsi Center, and she also wishes that police and prosecutors would drop their criminal case against the Lockport man who tangled with her son.

Her comments prompted Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark to state that he would seriously consider dismissing the charges against Charles M. Schmidl.

“If she really feels that way, and communicates that to my office, I would seriously consider that and probably accede to the request,” Clark said.

Van Dusen, who has a history of filing lawsuits, told The Buffalo News that all the publicity surrounding the incident has made her wary and frustrated.

She says she is tired of how she and her 10-year-old son are being portrayed on talk shows and Internet sites.

“My son is not perfect, but he’s not the ‘spawn of Chuckie’ either,” Van Dusen told The News in her first public comments on the incident. “Mr. Schmidl did things that were wrong, and so did my son. . . .My son was grounded for two weeks after it happened.

“But the whole thing was just an accident that got out of hand . . . on both sides. . . . I’m not pushing this; the Amherst police are.”

Van Dusen, 42, of Grand Island, said she does not intend to sue the Town of Amherst over the incident — even though she filed a notice of claim against the town earlier this month. The notice officially informed the town that she planned to sue because of “physical injuries and emotional trauma” suffered by her son.

She told The News that she filed a notice of claim to protect her legal rights in the event that Schmidl files a lawsuit against her family.

“I’m not pursuing any lawsuit,” Van Dusen said emphatically. “My family has been through enough. My son is just a 10-year-old boy. Somebody even put his picture on the Internet, with all kinds of horrible, pornographic things attached to it.”

An examination of court records and news articles shows that Van Dusen has had previous involvement with lawsuits, police and public accusations.

• In September 1992, when she was known as Charlene O’-Brien, Amherst police charged her with grand larceny. Police said she paid $200 to two temporary employees of a furniture store to give her $1,269 worth of furniture. According to court papers, charges were later dismissed.

• In April 1993, she publicly accused Publishers Clearing House of calling her house and falsely promising that her then-husband, Wayne, had won $1 million. The sweepstakes company denied any wrongdoing, and it is unclear what else occurred in the matter.

• In 1997, she sued an Amherst doctor for malpractice. The lawsuit went to trial, and a jury ruled in the doctor’s favor.

• In a matter still pending in State Supreme Court, Van Dusen sought $4 million in damages in a suit against a City of Tonawanda insurance agency, saying she suffered a back injury when her heel caught on a broken piece of wood in the insurance company’s doorway. The incident happened in March 2001.

During a trial in January 2005, James P. Burgio, an attorney for the insurance company, accused Van Dusen of falsely claiming an injury so she could obtain prescription painkillers. The attorney accused Van Dusen of having an extensive history of abusing pain medications, an accusation she denies.

A jury verdict went against Van Dusen in the case, and she was awarded no money. But an appeals court later overturned the verdict and granted Van Dusen a new trial, which has not yet been scheduled.

When asked Monday whether she has ever had a drug problem, Van Dusen said, “Absolutely not.”

Burgio declined to comment, except to tell a reporter: “Every statement I made in that trial was based on the evidence. It’s all on the record.”

Van Dusen said she is upset that the controversy over the Pepsi Center incident is causing people to raise questions about her past and her conduct on the night of the incident.

According to Van Dusen, she had been away from the rink “for about 10 minutes maximum” when the trouble began between her son and Schmidl.

“People have been saying I went to the mall [or] I was away for 40 minutes. . . . I went out to the car to get my purse, and then I went to the ladies’ room,” Van Dusen said. “I’m a good mother. . . . I was watching the whole practice before that.”

When she returned to the rink from the restroom, Van Dusen said, several witnesses told her that her son had been in a confrontation with Schmidl.

“They told me my son shot a puck that hit [Schmidl] in the foot, and then [Schmidl] shot one back at my son,” Van Dusen said. “They said my son then shot another puck back.”

Van Dusen said witnesses told her that Schmidl and her son exchanged angry words and that Schmidl then grabbed her son and dragged him out of the rink.

“My son was wrong for talking back to an adult, and [Schmidl] was wrong for laying his hands on someone else’s child,” Van Dusen said. “But who was the adult?”

Amherst Assistant Police Chief Timothy M. Green declined to comment on Van Dusen’s assertions, saying the matter will be dealt with in the courts.

Clark said he was surprised to hear that Van Dusen wants the criminal case to be dropped.

“She has never communicated that to my office. In fact, she has been a very uncooperative witness,” Clark said. “But if she really feels that way, and tells us that, I can tell you my inclination would be to go along with that request and give Mr. Schmidl an [adjournment in contemplation of dismissal].”

Schmidl, 40, faces trial next month on charges of child endangerment and harassment. Amherst police said they arrested Schmidl because he put his hands on Michael and forcibly took him out of the hockey arena. Schmidl contends that he was only defending his 5- year-old son, after Michael repeatedly fired hockey pucks at the younger boy.

Clark said he does not like to ask judges for adjournments in contemplation of dismissal without contacting the families of people — such as Van Dusen — who are involved.

“That would be very good news,” Laura Schmidl said.

Her husband’s attorney, James D. Hartt, said he hopes the charges will dismissed.

“I will definitely be following up with Mr. Clark on this,” Hartt said. “Mr. Schmidl wants nothing more than to go on with his life. He didn’t ask for pucks to be fired at him. He didn’t want any of this to happen.”