Chief says Newport Police Department gravely understaffed

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copyright the Chronicle September 20, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — At its meeting Monday, the city council heard about the difficulties officers face in the city’s understaffed police department. They also voted for November balloting on a $3-million bond for a new water tower, and re-examined downtown renewal efforts.

Newport City Police Chief Seth DiSanto presented council members with a summary of his department’s activities over the past year comparing them with the year before.

Traffic stops accounted for the highest percentage of calls, about 28 percent. But Chief DiSanto said that doesn’t reflect the amount of actual time spent on a call. Larceny calls can take days to investigate, while traffic stops are done in a matter of minutes, he said.

The chief’s main business, though, was a discussion of staffing in his department, which is presently short two officers.

Although he has two recruits undergoing training as part-time officers, the chief said they will not be able to complete training as full-time officers any sooner than June. Even then, the new officers will need at least 400 more hours of on-the-job training before they can wear the Newport badge and uniform, Chief DiSanto said.

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Broken family wants case resolved

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copyright the Chronicle September 13, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

When Katrina McCullough of Newport called police last December and accused her husband of bending her fingers back, she had no idea what the consequences of her actions would turn out to be.

Today she finds herself in danger of losing her house and faces severe economic challenges despite having a good job. Ryan McCullough, her husband, lives in a homeless shelter for veterans in Norwich, and the couple’s children see their father only rarely.

Because Orleans County Superior Court has a heavy backlog of cases awaiting trial, the McCulloughs will not see a resolution until January at the earliest.

Ms. McCullough says she was in the clutches of severe mental distress when she dialed the phone in December. Knowing what she does now, she strongly regrets making that call.

Mr. McCullough is facing misdemeanor and felony charges of domestic abuse and, despite filing a speedy trial motion in June, is not scheduled for trial until January.

He had been scheduled for trial in August, but the court schedule was changed and he must now wait an additional five months for resolution.

As a result, Ms. McCullough said in a recent interview, her husband is in the shelter while she and her two daughters are facing the prospect of losing the family house for lack of money to pay the mortgage. Mr. McCullough, a veteran who has struggled with PTSD, cannot stay in the shelter past January and will be homeless in winter if the situation is not resolved by then, his wife said.

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Remembering those who died at their own hand

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copyright the Chronicle September 13, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — Matt Chaput said he doesn’t keep track of how long it’s been since his brother Shawn took his own life.

“Four or five years,” was his estimate.

His imprecision is not because he doesn’t care. His brother is never far from his thoughts, and remains close to him physically as well.

Mr. Chaput rolled up his sleeve Saturday morning and showed the startlingly life-like portrait of his brother he had tattooed onto his left forearm.

He was among the more than 200 people who walked through Newport Saturday to commemorate those who died by their own hand, and to do what they can to spare others the sorrow they feel at the loss of loved ones.

Many wore shirts showing who inspired them to participate in Newport’s sixth annual Out of the Darkness Community Walk. Mr. Chaput and many of his friends and family members sported bright blue shirts that read “Team Shawn.” Others wore yellow T-shirts indicating they were part of Team Donnelly, and another team had orange shirts printed with a drawing of a halo and a pair of angels’ wings with the words “in loving memory of Don Cota.”

The walk is sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. It raises money to pay for programs intended to educate the public about the toll suicide takes on the community, and to help people experiencing dark and dangerous episodes come out alive on the other side.

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Judge says impaired murder suspect understood rights

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copyright the Chronicle August 30, 2017

 

by Paul Lefebvre

 

NEWPORT — Can an inebriated murder suspect understand the rights he has given up when consenting to talk to police at the time of his arrest?

In a 12-page ruling following hearings and expert testimony, Orleans County Superior Court Judge Howard VanBenthuysen has ruled he can.

The judge’s ruling derails a defense motion to suppress evidence gained when accused murderer Jeffrey Ray, 53, of Brownington waived his Miranda rights and talked to police.

Mr. Ray, who remains in custody, has pled innocent to murdering his ex-wife’s husband on May 24, 2015, in Brownington.

The judge’s ruling, which is expected to clear the way for an early trial next year, came in the face of conflicting testimony from two experts and testimony from police.

According to Judge VanBenthuysen’s “Finding of Facts,” State Police Detective Sergeant Jacob Zoen interviewed the defendant at North Country Hospital roughly an hour after the shooting.

At that initial interview, according to the court’s findings, the detective did not note “any signs or symptoms of alcohol impairment.” Mr. Ray told the detective that he understood his rights and signed the Miranda form after it had been read to him.

The interview lasted 52 minutes and, at some point, the detective did note “a slight odor of intoxicants on the defendant.”

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A plan for reviving downtown Newport

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copyright the Chronicle August 30, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — The consultant hired by the city to help develop a redevelopment strategy in the wake of the collapse of Jay Peak’s Newport EB-5 efforts presented a preliminary report at the Gateway Center last week.

David White, who heads White and Burke, a company that has assisted other cities, including St. Albans, to bring their downtowns back to life, spoke along with his associate Joe Weith.

It was their second meeting with the Newport City Renaissance Corporation and a steering committee of business leaders.

Mr. White’s company was hired by the city council in March and has been working since then to gather information and develop plans.

While its recommendations are far from finalized, Mr. White said the city should work to bring a hotel to Newport, possibly by converting the Emory Hebard State Office Building.

He also suggested the creation of a tax increment finance district to help create conditions for economic development in the city.

Mr. White also encouraged the city to participate somehow in the sale of the former Spates Block in order to be sure its new owner’s plans work well with those of the city.

The Burke and White study is one of a series of investigations into how Newport can revive itself. Those include the Regional Urban Design Team (RUDAT) visits in 2009 and 2011.

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Man charged in Newport knife fight

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copyright the Chronicle August 23, 2017

 

by Paul Lefebvre

 

NEWPORT — A knife-swinging melee in downtown Newport Saturday night has led to charges here this week in Orleans County Superior Court.

As the only suspect cited for his role in the fracas, Everett Wilson, 26, of Newport pled innocent to both a felony charge of aggravated assault with a weapon and to a companion misdemeanor of possessing a narcotic.

Mr. Wilson was released on conditions, including a nighttime curfew, a ban on possessing weapons, and a restriction from going into bars or liquor stores.

The charges arose out of what police say was a large fight fueled by blame and mistrust that one of the combatants was a snitch, who had informed on drug dealers or users.

It was late Saturday night on August 19 when Newport police arrived at the downtown intersection of Central and Main. They were responding to reports that people were fighting in the streets, and that one was armed with a knife, according to the affidavit of Newport Patrolman Tanner Jacobs.

Police say they corralled two men, including Mr. Wilson, and were holding them at gunpoint when a third man aggressively approached them with blood on his right hand and arm.

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Border grants will help Newport rec path, local business

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copyright the Chronicle August 16, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

HARDWICK — The Northern Borders Regional Commission gave a major boost to the proposed extension of Newport’s recreation path when it awarded $425,000 to the Vermont Land Trust on August 10.

Senator Patrick Leahy and Governor Phil Scott were on hand at a ceremony at the yellow barn on Route 15 in Hardwick that once was home to the Greensboro Garage. They presented $2.2-million in border commission grants to ten Vermont projects.

They included $250,000 to the town of Hardwick to buy the yellow barn and convert it into an incubator space for new agricultural businesses; $250,00 to allow Neighborworks of Western Vermont to expand its HEAT squad program to the Northeast Kingdom; and $46,000 to help the Vermont Brewers Association create a mobile phone version of its Brewery Challenge Passport program.

The Northern Borders Regional Commission is a federal-state partnership that helps economic developments in northern parts of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

It was established in the federal farm bill passed in 2008 and first received money two years later. The commission helps fund Vermont projects in Orleans, Essex, Caledonia, Lamoille, Franklin, and Grand Isle counties.

The grant to the land trust will cover a bit less than half the $1-million or so it will take to extend the recreation trail about a mile, from Prouty Beach through Bluffside Farm, said Tracy Zschau, the land trust’s conservation director.

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Revision awarded multi-million dollar helmet contract

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copyright the Chronicle July 12, 201

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — Some of Vermont’s top political leaders joined Revision Military’s employees July 6 to celebrate a contract that could be worth as much as $98-million to the company. Revision CEO Jonathan Blanshay said the federal contract, under which his company will supply new, lighter helmets to the military, is the most important in Revision’s history.

U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, U.S. Representative Peter Welch, and Governor Phil Scott joined the company’s 150 Newport employees to mark the achievement and to see how the new protective gear is made.

The contract, which Senator Leahy announced in March, calls for Revision to supply as many as 293,870 to the military over the next five years. All of Revision’s helmets are made in Newport.

Eric Hounchell, Revision’s vice-president for armor and global operations, said the company has invested around $3-million in new equipment needed to manufacture the helmets. He predicted Revision would invest more in the plant and hire more workers as orders come in.

Mr. Hounchell said the major selling point for the helmet was that it weighs in at almost a quarter less than the company’s previous model. Reducing the weight of equipment soldiers must carry extends their range and effectiveness, Mr. Hounchell said.

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Welch talks health care at North Country Hospital

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copyright the Chronicle July 12, 201

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — U.S. Representative Peter Welch sandwiched a visit to congratulate Revision Military for winning a $98-million contract between meetings with Orleans County organizations, including North Country Hospital, here on July 6.

Representative Welch also looked in at the Lunchbox at Gardner Park. The food truck is a project of Green Mountain Farm-to-School and serves free lunches to children around the county.

Mr. Welch filled a few orders, but spent much of his time talking with Farm-to-School’s recently appointed executive director, James Hafferman, and with Superintendent John Castle of the North Country Supervisory Union, who serves on the Farm-to-School board of directors.

Both men shared concerns about proposed cuts to the federal budget they said could seriously hurt their organizations. Over plates of salad they discussed the potential for harm they think might come from actions being contemplated in Washington, D.C.

Mr. Castle worried that the North Country Supervisory Union could lose $500,000 in Medicaid funds it uses to support a variety of programs in schools around the area, including drug and alcohol counseling.

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Overdose awareness walk is a step toward sober living space

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copyright the Chronicle June 28, 201

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — Tara Patten called Charles Buckland Jr. “my best friend” as she talked about his overdose death. She was speaking to a crowd of around 80 people gathered around the gazebo in Gardner Park here Saturday.

In front of the stage, a cluster of 104 small purple flags indicated how many people died last year from overdoses.

Mr. Buckland died from a fentanyl overdose in December 2014. Ms. Patten said he was a loving, caring, and funny man, who had a problem that took his life.

The crowd gathered to hear her speak was there because of a result of a pledge Ms. Patten made after Mr. Buckland’s death. She pledged to do something for those struggling with opiates in the Northeast Kingdom, specifically to create a sober living center in the area, complete with the services someone in recovery might need.

Ms. Patten’s first step was organizing NEK Stand Strong. The nonprofit is just getting its legs under it and waiting to get tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service.

Saturday’s Overdose Awareness and Memorial Walk was the first step in achieving her organization’s main aim, Ms. Patten said.

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