Task force nabs 26 in heroin sweep

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copyright the Chronicle February 15, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — The Emerson courthouse was hopping Tuesday afternoon as teams of State Police Troopers, Orleans County Sheriff’s Deputies, Newport City Police Patrolmen, and Border Patrol Agents brought in a steady parade of suspects in what officials called the largest heroin bust in Orleans County’s history.

At a press conference held at the State Police barracks in Derby, state, federal, and local officials talked about the sweep which took 26 people into custody. According to State Police Major Glenn Hall, the head of that agency’s criminal division, four people were arrested earlier and eight more remain at large.

Almost all face charges related to the sale of heroin.

At the press conference, Acting U.S. Attorney Eugenia Cowles said police seized a “substantial amount” of heroin as well as a number of firearms in the sweep, which officers called Operation Border Line. Ms. Cowles was unable to provide an estimate of the weight or value of the contraband, but said she believed more than a thousand bags of heroin were taken.

Ms. Cowles said all levels of law enforcement recognize that heroin is a substantial problem in the Newport area and in Vermont as a whole.

Major Hall praised the joint investigation in which the Vermont Drug Task Force, elements of the federal Department of Homeland Security, and the Drug Enforcement Agency worked together with officials representing the U.S. Attorney for Vermont, the state Attorney General, and Orleans County State’s Attorney Jennifer Barrett.

The arrests, he said, were the culmination of a seven-month investigation.

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Lake House forced to defend itself

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copyright the Chronicle February 15, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

MONTPELIER — The state Liquor Control Board (LCB) heard complaints about Barton’s only bar, the Lake House Saloon, at an enforcement hearing on Wednesday, February 8. Anne Marie MacEachern, owner of the establishment, defended herself against five charges each of serving intoxicated customers and allowing them to stay in the bar, one charge of having a bar brawl and not calling for police assistance, and one charge of not complying with break-open ticket regulations.

Three of the five board members were present for the two-hour session. They heard witnesses, but adjourned without reaching a decision.

The charges were precipitated by an incident at which local DJ Donald Sackett said brawlers knocked over and damaged some of his equipment. Under questioning by Assistant Attorney General Jacob Humbert, Mr. Sackett said he was performing at the Lake House around 1:30 a.m. on August 6 when a disturbance that started outside the bar moved inside.

Mr. Sackett said 75 to 100 people were in the Lake House at the time and estimated that between 15 and 20 were involved in the brawl.

“It happened quickly on the dance floor. They moved toward me and I got overrun like a rock concert,” Mr. Sackett said.

He said a stand that held the controls for the lights, his computers, and other sensitive equipment was knocked over and its contents were “slammed on the hardwood floor.”

Mr. Sackett said he grabbed a computer and retreated into a corner and watched as people “tromped on my equipment.”

He said he saw Clayton Butler, who works security at the Lake House, in the middle of the fray.

“He couldn’t contain it. He did his best,” Mr. Sackett said. “There were not enough people to control it.”

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Coventry Selectmen will air town’s problems

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copyright the Chronicle February 15, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

COVENTRY — The selectmen here are planning a series of public meetings over the next three weeks to talk with town voters about their problems with Town Clerk and Treasurer Cynthia Diaz, and their concern about missing town funds.

The idea is to let people ask questions and talk to the select board informally before the March 7 Town Meeting. The first meeting is planned for Saturday at 8 a.m.

An audit by Graham and Graham is the most recent in a series over the past 12 years that have identified missing money in Coventry. It’s the first to demonstrate that a significant number of cash tax payments were collected but never deposited.

The amount so far comes to about $64,000 over the two years covered by the audit. Previous auditors also believed that there were significant amounts of money missing.

“People have questions,” Selectman Scott Morley said at Monday night’s meeting. “And they want more of an open dialogue, more back and forth than they can have in a select board meeting. I think that’s legitimate.”

The Coventry voters in the back of the room on Monday night seemed to support the idea.

“What with fake news and all that, we don’t know what to believe,” said town resident Martha Sylvester.

Ms. Sylvester wasn’t the only one to urge the select board to go ahead with the public meetings.

“I think it’s going to put the board in better standing at the Town Meeting,” Skip Gosselin said.

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“Mesh” may provide low-cost Internet connection

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copyright the Chronicle February 15, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — Diane Peel said she has met many parents whose children are expected to do their homework online, but who can’t afford to pay for an Internet connection. For these and those in similar circumstances she and a group of collaborators are starting a low-cost alternative to Comcast and FairPoint they are calling Newport Wireless Mesh.

The group started to test the idea around two years ago after a member came back from a trip to Washington, D.C., and told friends about a project put together by the Open Technology Institute.

That organization set up the Commotion Project to write programs that allowed computer routers to communicate with each other and not just with an Internet provider.

The Commotion Project equipment allowed the creation of a network, or a mesh, through which users can get access to the Internet by connecting to fellow members of the network.

For Ms. Peel and fellow members of NEK 99%, a group of activists who collaborate on projects, including the 99 Gallery on School Street, the technology offered a chance to build a communications system and a stronger community.

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State’s Attorney to launch drug diversion program

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copyright the Chronicle February 8, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — Orleans County State’s Attorney Jennifer Barrett says her office is ready to start a new diversion type program for people with substance abuse problems who have committed minor offenses.

The only thing keeping it from getting off the ground is the lack of the right case, Ms. Barrett said in an interview Monday. She said she needs to find someone who has been charged with a misdemeanor case and is willing to admit to having a substance abuse problem.

When such a case comes across her desk, Ms. Barrett said, she will offer the defendant a chance to expunge the charge through a process that she hopes will lead him or her to combat the addiction.

Her office, like those of other state’s attorneys around Vermont, has received money for efforts to deal with problems connected to the state’s opioid epidemic. Ms. Barrett said state’s attorneys have been given wide latitude to design programs that will respond to the needs of their counties.

She said she designed her program based on a model established by state Attorney General T.J. Donovan when he was Chittenden County State’s Attorney.

To help her in the effort, she has hired Robert Booth to supervise program participants and help guide them toward recovery.

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Newark woman camped out at Standing Rock

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copyright the Chronicle February 8, 2017

 

 

by Tena Starr

 

The commercial wind projects on the Northeast Kingdom’s ridgelines provided the inspiration for 19-year-old Sophia Burnham’s long stint with the pipeline protestors near Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota.

Ms. Burnham and her sister Hannah, who are both from Newark, joined the Standing Rock protestors over Thanksgiving break last year.

The Sioux and others are opposed to construction of the controversial 1,170-mile Dakota Access Pipeline. The young women initially went on a 350.org Vermont bus trip, planning to stay for about a week. 350.org is an environmental group concerned about climate change and the use of fossil fuels.

At the end of that trip, Hannah went back to college, but Sophia did some serious packing and returned to North Dakota after a few days. She’s pretty much been there ever since.

She said, by cell phone on Sunday, that President Donald Trump’s order to expedite construction of the pipeline has emboldened local police and private security. Numerous people have since been arrested, she said.

The protests, near the town of Cannon Ball, North Dakota, have gone on for months, with thousands of protestors, including a big contingent of military veterans, arguing that the last section of pipeline should not be built at the proposed site for safety reasons.

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Major changes for cancer treatment in Newport area

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copyright the Chronicle February 8, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — A decision by Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center administrators could mean major changes for cancer treatment in the Newport area. While the decision that came out of Hanover, New Hampshire, precipitated the changes, some may have been in the offing in any event, according to Claudio Fort, the CEO of North Country Hospital

He said in an interview on February 4 that he was surprised to get the call from Dartmouth Hitchcock informing him that two doctors who had been traveling north to treat cancer patients at his hospital would no longer do so as of April 13. But Mr. Fort said that increasing costs for the drugs used in chemotherapy and a stricter set of rules from the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) were already causing the hospital to rethink how it treats cancer patients.

The two physicians, Dr. Sergey Devitskiy and Dr. Ronal Kubica, will continue to practice at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center’s outpost in St. Johnsbury, Mr. Fort said. But they will no longer see patients in Newport.

Dr. Les Lockridge, who set up a private practice in Newport in 2012 after the hospital let him go when it closed its department of oncology and hematology, said Tuesday that he is willing to see what he can do to make up for the loss of the two Dartmouth-affiliated doctors.

Ironically, it was the willingness of Dr. Devitskiy and Dr. Kubica to travel to Newport that enabled the hospital to close its own oncology department.

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Pool of maple syrup spreads across the country

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copyright the Chronicle February 8, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

NEWPORT — “It wasn’t that big, honestly,” Newport City Fire Chief Jamie LeClair said over the phone before any question was asked.

Ever since late Monday afternoon when a single 42-gallon barrel of maple syrup fell out of a pickup truck on the I91 exit 27 ramp outside of Newport, Mr. LeClair’s phone has been ringing off the hook with calls from the media asking about the big spill.

He’s heard from CNBC, CNN, NBC, Fox News, USA Today, just for starters.

Boston Magazine wanted to know how the spill might affect global syrup prices.

Bostonians learn about the Great Molasses Flood of 1919, when a storage tank in the city’s north end burst, and a 35 mile-an-hour wave of molasses swept through the streets, killing 21 people.

Chief LeClair even got a text in the middle of the night from his son, who is deployed overseas, wanting to know if he was still on the scene.

“I can’t believe maple syrup is that big news,” he said. “If the puddle was six feet across, that would be an exaggeration.”

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Governor’s freeze gets a cold shoulder

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copyright the Chronicle February 1, 2017

 

by Tena Starr

 

Governor Phil Scott’s plan for education, delivered last week as part of his budget address, hasn’t met with enthusiasm in Orleans County.

The plan calls for a freeze on school budgets, and in order to give districts time to rewrite their budgets, every district would vote on them on May 23. Also, teachers would pay 20 percent of their health insurance premiums. Most pay 15 percent now.

Local school districts are basically ignoring the proposal, which lacks legislation behind it at this point.

Orleans Central Supervisory Union (OCSU) Superintendent Donald Van Nostrand said Lake Region Union High School will go ahead and hold its annual meeting and budget vote on February 15 as planned. The elementary schools are also moving forward as they would any other year. Glover, Albany, Brownington, and Irasburg hold their school meetings and budget votes on Town Meeting Day, or in the case if Irasburg, in the evening. Orleans and Barton vote later in March, and Westmore votes in May.

There have been no school board meetings since the Governor’s budget address, Mr. Van Nostrand said. “And we have not called any special meetings to talk about it at this point.”

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Diaz pleads the Fifth, then testifies

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copyright the Chronicle February 1, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

NEWPORT — Immediately after she took the witness stand in Orleans County Superior Court on Monday, Cynthia Diaz invoked the Fifth Amendment.

“Hadn’t you better hear the questions first?” Judge Howard VanBenthuysen asked Ms. Diaz, who appeared in court without an attorney. “Some of them might be to your benefit to answer.”

The Coventry town clerk, treasurer, and delinquent tax collector was back in court to answer a motion for contempt. It was filed on behalf of the town by attorney Paul Gillies after she allegedly failed to meet a December 30 deadline to turn over all original town documents in her possession.

Ms. Diaz brought a thumb drive and a foot-thick stack of papers to court on Monday but that didn’t even come close to being what the town of Coventry believes is missing.

After a lengthy recess to allow Mr. Gillies, forensic accountant Jeff Graham, and 
Coventry Selectman Scott Morley time to look over the documents, Mr. Gillies pronounced them “insufficient.”

“The missing records we asked for would fill a six-foot by six-foot square about six feet tall,” Mr. Graham told Judge VanBenthuysen, “not the small pile she brought to court today.”

“Are these all the town documents you have?” the judge asked Ms. Diaz.

“All the original town documents, yes,” Ms. Diaz replied, stressing the word “original.”

Judge VanBenthuysen ordered Ms. Diaz to hand over all town records in her possession, whether she considered them original or not.

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