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Held as evidence, stolen truck costing school district $75 per day


LACONIA – An attorney for the Laconia School District has filed a motion in Belknap County Superior Court for the release of a plow truck that was stolen from the high school and crashed in Belmont on Aug. 3.

The truck, a 2012 Ford F-350, is the school district's only plowing truck, and is also used for sanding, salting, and other maintenance uses around the school district.

It is being held as evidence and housed at a private tow company's lot in Tilton. The district is being charged $75 per day for storage and, as of Oct. 22, has accumulated a $5,500 bill.

According to court paperwork obtained from the 4th District Court, Laconia Division, Dennis LeFebvre, 33, of 14188 44th Court in Summerfield, Fla., faces once count of receiving stolen property. He is also charged with one count of driving while intoxicated and one count of leaving the scene of an accident.

LeFebvre case has been bound over from the Circuit Court to the Superior Court, however he has not been indicted. The Laconia Police are also investigating the actual theft of the truck from inside the high school.

The Laconia School District argues that withholding the vehicle from them is creating a hardship, "particularly after the passage of more than 10 weeks after its recovery on August 4, 2014."

In his motion, School District Attorney Paul Fitzgerald argues that the truck has little or no evidentiary value and it is highly unlikely it would be used as an exhibit at trial. He said any utility the truck has to the state's possible prosecution of LeFebvre or his defense attorney can be documented through photographs, drawings, measurements, and automobile reports.

Last Updated on Thursday, 20 November 2014 12:38

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Judge finds probable cause for negligent homicide in traffic accident


LACONIA – A Laconia Police officer who was the first responder to the scene of a fatal crash on Parade Road earlier this month testified yesterday that she had "never seen anything like" the scene she saw.

"The debris field was a mess, there was stuff everywhere," said Officer Holly Callanan during her testimony at a probable cause hearing held for Ryan Mears, 26, of Kingston in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division.

Mears, who police alleged was driving while intoxicated, is charged with one count of negligent homicide the death of Tiffany Nieves of Laconia and one count of second-degree assault for the injuries to a second passenger, Jeremy King, stemming from the Nov. 2 crash.

Judge Jim Carroll found there was probable cause for the charges and bound the case over to the Belknap County Superior Court for possible indictment.

Callanan testified yesterday that a N.H. Medical Examiner pronounced Nieves dead at the scene, saying she died instantly from a torn aorta, a lacerated heart and lung, and a fractured skull. She said she found her laying across the area between the back seat and the front seat backs.

She also said King had been partially ejected from the car and was hanging from the passenger side window. She said he was conscious, but unable to communicate.

She said an open bottle of Jack Daniels was found under Nieves' body in the back seat and a cracked bottle of Crown Royal was in the passenger front seat. She said the seal had been broken.

Callanan said she first observed Mears from the passenger side of the car and testified yesterday that he was pinned between the steering wheel and the seat of his car. She said the airbags had deployed but it didn't appear either he or King were wearing seat belts. He told her at the scene he was driving the car.

Under direct questioning, she testified the Belknap Regional Accident Investigation Team responded to the crash, but her preliminary assessment was the car was traveling at a high rate of speed.

As part of the "car autopsy" she said the airbag control module serves the same role as a "black box" does on an aircraft and that police and a car specialist in Center Harbor were able to recover it and download the information. Callanan said police don't have the results yet.

Callanan went to the hospital at 2:04 a.m. and spoke with Mears. She said he was wearing an oxygen mask and his speech was slurred but he would occasionally lift his mask to talk and she could smell alcohol on his breath. He knew he had been in a car accident.

She also said he initially told her he and King were playing pool at Shooters (a Belmont restaurant) and he initially said he had one shot of Jack Daniels and one beer. He told her he had taken cocaine before he went to the bar.

She testified that when she asked him a second time, he told her he drank three shots of Jack Daniels and two beers.

He signed a consent form to have his blood taken, she said, but the signature was barely legible although he had no apparent injuries to his arms, wrist or hand.

At 3:53 a.m. the lab technical drew Mears' blood and Callanan arrested him at 4:09 a.m. and read him his rights. She said he signed a felony administrative license form. She said she returned to the police department and secured the blood in the evidence room and obtained her application for a search warrant.

When she went back to LRGH, he had been moved to Concord Hospital. She said she contacted the judge and he amended the warrant for Concord Hospital.

She went to Concord with the warrant, arriving a 8 a.m. She said the next blood draws were taken at 8:45 a.m. which was about seven hours after the crash.

He was read his rights again at 9:04 a.m. and agreed to speak with her, saying he didn't know how much he drank, saying maybe it was three or four beers and three shots. She said when he signed the Miranda form, his signature was clear and on the line.

Callanan said since the crash she has interviewed a woman who said she was at the Baja Beach Club in Gilford with Mears, King, and Nieves and that she recalled he drank one shot and one beer.

The woman told Callanan they left Baja Beach Club in separate cars and went to the Funky Monkey where he had additional shots of Jack Daniels. She told Callanan that they left Funky Monkey at 1:30 a.m. but there was some issues with King at last call and that Mears and King had "last call in their vehicle."

Mears was represented yesterday by Atty. Mark Stevens.

He asked Callanan whether the driver's window was down and how she was able to speak to Mears. She answered that she didn't recall, but said her first contact with Mears was through the passenger window. She recalled the windshield was "spidered" but intact.

He also asked if she recalled whether or not Mears was given any pain medication while he was at the hospitals. She said he was hooked up to intravenous bags but she didn't know what was in them. She said he still had I.V. drips in Concord Hospital, but not as many.

Callahan said she didn't asked him if he was medicated, how much cocaine he had had or what time he had his last drink.

When asked what time he had his first drink, she testified it was around 7 p.m.

When asked, she also testified that Mears had blood on his face and was not wearing a seat belt.

Last Updated on Friday, 21 November 2014 01:49

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A nice surprise for Newfound School Budget Committee

By Thomas P. Caldwell

BRIDGEWATER — Instead of delving into the proposed budget for FY 2015-16 on Nov. 19, the Newfound Area School District Budget Committee found itself adding back items that the school board had cut earlier this month in order to meet the district's tax cap.

Superintendent Stacy Buckley and Business Administrator Michael Limanni explained that a new estimate from the N.H. Department of Education of the amount of equitable education aid (adequacy aid) the district will be receiving in 2015-16 was much higher than anticipated. As a result of the increase in revenues, instead of being close to the tax cap limit, the school board's budget proposal was $174,548 below the cap.

The first item the Budget Committee decided to restore was the $93,000 that the administration originally proposed for replacing the roof and drainage at Newfound Memorial Middle School. It was an item the school board had wanted to include, but cut when it appeared the proposed budget was about $600,000 above the cap.

With there having been some speculation about closing the middle school in light of a continuing drop in the student population and the resulting high per-pupil cost to attend Newfound schools, the Budget Committee discussed whether repairing the roof would be worthwhile. The unanimous decision was that it would be.

During public hearings on the possible closing of the middle school, participants had overwhelmingly supported the middle school. School board member Jeff Levesque of Groton described it as one of the better buildings in the district, despite the lack of maintenance in recent years. The Budget Committee expressed agreement, saying that it made sense to maintain the building.

In response to questions about how valid the $93,000 figure was, Limanni explained that the facilities manager brought in some local contractors to get estimates of what it would take to replace the roof and upgrade the roof drainage. "We didn't just look at the building and the square footage and pull a number from the air," he said.

There also was some discussion about adding back $10,000 that had been cut from a proposed $25,000 expenditure to repaint the halls and doorways at all of the schools (with the exception of the Bridgewater-Hebron Village School which is independently maintained by the village district). But with $15,000 remaining in the painting budget, the committee decided instead to fund the $10,960 that was in the original budget for refinishing the gymnasium floors at the middle and high schools.

The Budget Committee also voted to publicly support the negotiated contract with the Newfound Area Teachers Association by sending a letter stating as much to the media. The committee will review a draft letter at its next meeting on Thursday, Dec. 4, at 6:30 p.m. at the New Hampton Community School.

Between now and then, Budget Committee members were charged with reviewing the budget in detail so they will be able to bring their questions and proposals for changes to the Dec. 4 meeting.

During the public comment period at the end of the meeting, Bristol resident John Sellers told the committee, "You're definitely on the right track. You've got to spend money to save money. You need to spend today to save tomorrow."


Last Updated on Friday, 21 November 2014 02:00

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Dwindling fund balance could raise cost of borrowing for county

LACONIA — The fund balance, or accumulated surplus, is at risk of becoming the orphan as the Belknap County Commission and Belknap County Convention prepare the 2015 budget.

The fund balance consists of excess revenues and operational savings accrued during the fiscal year. It serves two purposes. First, the fund balance is among the factors weighed by agencies that rate the county's credit. For example, in 2103, when Moody's Investor Service reaffirmed the county's Aa2 rating, it noted that "sizeable fund balance growth" could raise that rating while "draw down of reserves" could lower it. The rating affects the county's cost of borrowing.

Second, each year a portion of the fund balance is applied as a revenue to offset the amount to be raised by property taxes. This year $1,775,000 was drawn from the fund balance, reducing the amount to be raised by property taxes from $15-4-million, which would have represented an increase of 11-percent, to $13.7-million, a decrease of 1.6-percent.

Between 2003 and 2011 the fund balance ranged from a low of $4-million to a high of $7-million, enough to sustain the credit rating and stabilize the tax commitment. Since then, however, the fund balance has shrunk, from $5.2-million in 2011 to $3.9-million in 2012 and to $3.7-million in 2013. The fund balance is projected to fall below $3-million by the end of this year.

In 2012, the beginning balance of $5,261,501 was augmented by excess revenues and operational savings of $2,394,842, but $3,750,000 was used to reduce the amount raised by property taxes, leaving a balance of $3,906,343 at year end. In 2013, the fund balance was replenished with $2,148,812 in excess revenues and operational savings, but $2,350,000 was applied against property taxes, leaving a balance of $3,705,155 at year end .

This year, the fund balance is projected to grow by $1,050,000 to $4,755,155, of which $1,775,000 will be be used to reduce property taxes. The fund balance is projected to end the year with a balance of less than $3-million. In other words, in the fund balance is expected to have shrunk by more than 40-percent between 2012 and 2014. The decline reflects the use of fund balance — $7,875,000 in the last three years — to limit increases in the amount to be raised by property taxes.

With the fund balance projected to close the year with a balance of less than $3-million, there will be less capacity to continue offsetting rising property taxes to the same extent as in recent years. This week the county commission indicated that it may recommend a budget of of approximately $27-million in 2015, which would increase the amount to be raised by property taxes by ten-percent.

At the same time, the county is eyeing the prospect of renovating, expanding or rebuilding the county jail, a project that would financed by borrowing. The cost of the borrowing could hinge on the county's credit rating, which in turn could be affected by the fund balance.

Last Updated on Thursday, 20 November 2014 01:52

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