Former Sgt. at sheriff's office charged with raping female prisoner during transport

LACONIA — E. Justin Blanchette, 36, a former sergeant with the Belknap County Sheriff's Department, has been indicted by a Hillsborough County grand jury on a charge of aggravated felonious sexual assault.
Blanchette is accused of sexually assaulting a female inmate while transporting her from the Belknap County House of Correction to the N.H. State Prison for Women in Goffstown on July 2 of this year.
The indictment says that Blanchette drove the 31-year-old woman to an abandoned home in Bedford where he is alleged to have penetrated her sexually. "At that time he was in a position of authority over 'B.H.' and used that authority to coerce 'B.H.' to submit," the indictment reads.
Blanchette resigned from his position with the Sheriff's Department in August after having been placed on paid administrative leave on July 20. At the time of his resignation Sheriff Craig Wiggin said that there was an investigation, but it was a personnel matter and he wasn't going to comment further.
Blanchette joined the Sheriff's Department in October of 2011 and was a police officer in Laconia prior to joining the county force. Blanchette had received a meritorious service award in 2008 while an officer in Laconia and had served as treasurer of the Belknap County Sheriff's Relief Association until his resignation.
A Raymond High School graduate Blanchette served in the U.S. Marine Corps before joining the Laconia police force.
The complaint from the Bedford Police Department says that Blanchette's last known address was 210 Woodridge Road, Franklin.
If convicted, he faces 10-20 years in prison.

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McCoole challenging Luther for Ward 2 seat on Laconia School Board

LACONIA — The contest for the seat on the School Board in Ward 2 presents voters with a clear choice between the incumbent Barbara Luther and challenger James McCoole.

Luther was appointed to the School Board in 2014 to complete the term of Beth Arsenault, who has represented Ward 2 for many years. A native of Massachusetts, Luther began her professional career as an administrator in a local law firm then prior to her retirement a year ago spent 30 years at Belknap County Registry of Deeds, the last seven as Registrar.

"I think I see the school district in a different light," Luther said, "as a mother and grandmother." All three of her children attended Laconia schools and she has grandchildren currently enrolled in the system, one at Pleasant Street Elementary School and another at Laconia High School.

Luther said she has always been concerned to ensure that children receive the best education the community can provide them. "An education that gets them ready for life as well as for college," she said.

After just a year on the board, Luther acknowledged she has more to learn, but said that she is looking forward to selecting a new superintendent and preparing the 2017 school budget. The superintendent, she suggested, should be someone with vision, who "looks forward." As for the budget, she said "I think that the school district does the best job possible with the budget the City Council gives it." In particular, she said that she is eager to provide all high school students with laptop computers.

Luther said that she has put up some signs, but not knock on door or made phone calls. "My name has been around town for a while," she remarked.

McCoole is a relative newcomer, who came to the Taylor Community from Florida after working first at IBM and Blue Cross/Blue then becoming self-employed as a truck driver. He is the father of two public school teachers, who describes himself as "conservative in thought, in ideology and in politics."

McCoole said that he is "concerned about the culture," particularly about what is being taught in the public schools about what he called "morality issues. There have got to be some issues," he continued "that are taking the culture in the wrong direction." For example, he said he was troubled by the way the Gilford school board treated a parent who objected to a book "with pornographic language" being assigned to his daughter. As a member of the school board, McCoole said he would be "only one of a group of concerned citizens, but I am willing and able to speak when I see things that should not be done."

McCoole also said he was interested in budgetary issues. Noting that the cost of public education is rising, he asked "why is it costing more to educate an elementary school pupil than a student at a technical college?"

If elected, McCoole said "I will be as active as the things that are going on demand of me. I will not be intimidated."

The election will be held on Tuesday, November 2 when the polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Festival seen as largest ever downtown event

LACONIA — The New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival, held on Saturday in Laconia for the first time, drew thousands of people into downtown, producing what Carla Peterson of Hector's Fine Food and Spirits said was ''a truly amazing event, the biggest event downtown has ever seen.''
Peterson said that Hector's, which had outdoor seating and a bar set up under a tent, had its best day ever and was busy from 10 a.m. until 10 at night with a line which extended outside with a waiting time for diners of between and hour and 90 minutes.
''People were courteous and understanding and our staff did an outstanding job. I certainly look forward to next year's festival.''
Karmen Gifford, executive director of the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, described the festival as "an economic boost for local businesses as well as vendors." She said that vendors sold out of product and many asked to place a deposit to reserve a spot at next year's festival. Non-profit groups also said they intended to return. And many offered to volunteer for future festivals.
She said that waits at all downtown restaurants stretched to an hour-and-half. Downtown retailers, some of whom offered specials, also enjoyed strong sales.
"The parade was a great success, especially for the children," Gifford said. "The costumes were elaborate." She said that buskers playing for tips, including some who had performed in Keene in the past, drew steady crowds at spots around town.
Gifford said that Ruth Sterling, who managed the event for Let IT Shine, Inc., expects to announce the date of 2016 festival by the end of this week.
"You couldn't help but be impressed with the obvious pride Laconia residents took in their festival," said Mayor Ed Engler. "That was the most important thing to me. You could see it in their faces and many expressed their pride directly to me."
He said "this was a genuine family oriented event. I wish we had a count of the number of baby strollers."
The mayor said that "obviously there are a lot of people who contributed to the success of this event." He highlighted the role of Charlie St. Clair, who when city officials in Keene questioned continuing to host the festival, seized an opportunity to bring the event to Laconia. "It wouldn't have happened without Charlie," he said.
He also said that Gifford was "the nerve center of the whole thing."
"I can't imagine there is anyone who wouldn't want the city to continue hosting this event," he said.
Downtown restaurant owners are enthused about the prospect of the festival becoming a yearly event.
Kevin Halligan, owner of the Local Eatery in Veterans Square, said that Saturday was the biggest day in the history of the restaurant .
''We were super busy all day and all night. We sold over 600 pounds of meat and while we had all hands on deck there were times I wished that we had two or thee more people working. There are some things I look forward to tweaking next year.''
The line at the Holy Grail of the Lakes across the street also extended out into Veterans Square and waiting times there were also in the 90 minute range.
Isaac Tyler at Burrito Me said that the restaurant doubled its previous record for one-day sales with over 400 burritos sold, as well as salads and side dishes. ''It was just an incredible day for local business. We were busy from 12:30 p.m. until 8:30 at night,'' said Tyler.
It was the same story at Wayfarer Coffee Roasters, which sold 250 hot chocolates and a week and a half worth of its milk supply was used Saturday according to Karen Bassett,. ''It was awesome. We were busy from 10 a.m. right up until 8:30 p.m.''
The Finer Diner in the Laconia Antique Center also enjoyed its best day ever according to Charlie St. Clair, owner of the center, who said that it was also he busiest day ever for the center.
''We had between 3,000 and 4,000 customers and were filled all 12 hours that we were open. One of the best things is the exposure we got and the repeat customers that will bring,'' said St. Clair, who said that customers from Dover were back in the store on Monday and that a mother and daughter from Gorham, who had never before been to Laconia, plan on coming back and staying over next weekend. He said that it was impressive to see people from as far away as Ohio, Pennsylvania and western New York show up specifically for the pumpkin festival.
He praised the organizational work done by Gifford and Ruth Sterling and the support for bringing the festival to Laconia from Mayor Engler.
Amanda Bullerwell, who was in charge of the pumpkin count, which tallied 9,567 lit jack-o-lanterns, said that response to the festival was overwhelmingly positive from everyone she has spoken to.
''People are telling me they never saw as many people downtown with lines out the door at all of the restaurants and people, especially families, really enjoying themselves,'' she said.
Bullerwell said it was amazing to see all of the volunteers who stepped up to help out and noted that within an hour after the festival closed all of the jack-o-lanterns had been picked up. ''Everybody pulled together and made it a wonderful day for the city of Laconia.''
Captain Matt Canfield of the Police Department, who designed the operational plan for the festival, said that everything — the traffic flow and the parking arrangements — "went very smoothly. We towed only one vehicle and made only one arrest." He said 25 officers were deployed, including four on bicycles and a number on foot, directing traffic and monitoring parking. He said that shuttle bus service worked well with officers managing the drop-off points. "There was minimal congestion and even after the event the traffic moved steadily," he said. Canfield said that no significant problems arose and no major changes in planning would be required next year.
"I've never seen an event of this size that was so positive," Canfield remarked.
Ann Saltmarsh of the Department of Public Works said that crews worked from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m. keeping the city streets clean and trash can emptied during the festival. "The guys worked hard and did a terrific job throughout the day," she said. At the same time, Casella Waste Systems, managed 22 30 cubic yard bins, 16 filled with pumpkins and six with trash and them all out of downtown by 11:15 p.m. "They worked with military precision," Saltmarsh remarked.
Casella delivered pumpkins to Petal Pushers on Monday where Patty Giannunzio said they would provide a feast for the 20 pigs she keeps as well as the wild animals in the woods around the property.
Saltmarsh singled out Lucas Lamos and Steve St. Pierre of DPW who carved and decorated the jeweled pumpkin — six feet across and five feet high — that crowned the tower.