Wrongful death claim dismissed

Similar allegations still pending against Genesis Behavioral Health

By BEA LEWIS, for THE LACONIA DAILY SUN

CONCORD — A judge has dismissed claims for negligence against the New Hampshire State Hospital lodged by the mother of a murder victim who died at the hands of a man who had been released after being involuntarily committed just three days earlier.

Zachary March, 27, who lived at an unsupervised support home for those coping with mental illness at 24 McGrath St. in Laconia, was strangled by his roommate, Kasey Riley, 21, on June 11, 2013.

The wrongful death suit filed by March's mother, Linda, charged that an improper medical decision resulted in Riley being released from the State Hospital they day after he assaulted a security officer at Lakes Region General Hospital and threatened to kill him.

The plaintiff's attorney, Cristina Rousseau, intends to ask Judge Richard B. McNamara to rethink his ruling and has been given until Jan. 17 to file a motion to reconsider in Merrimack County Superior Court.

While the court's Dec. 21 ruling has scuttled the claims against the New Hampshire Hospital, similar allegations remain pending against Lakes Region Mental Health Center Inc., doing business as Genesis Behavioral Health. In response to the suit, attorney Brett Corson, who represents Genesis, denies the claims of negligence asserting that his clients acted reasonably and with due care at all times.

During a November hearing, Rousseau maintained that it was foreseeable that Riley posed a danger to the public and that the State Hospital had a duty to keep him under lock and key. The crux of her argument was that the state defendants had control over whether Riley was released from the New Hampshire Hospital, and as a result created the situation that put March in danger of Riley's criminal acts by discharging him.

Judge McNamara held that the state defendants owed no duty of care to March. The plaintiff did not claim that Riley threatened anyone, reported any current homicidal or suicidal thoughts or that he acted aggressively while he was held at the State Hospital on June 6 and 7, 2013.

Court records show that Riley has an extensive history of treatment for mental illness and over the course of his life has been admitted to the state-run psychiatric hospital in Concord at least eight times.
In the wake of the killing, he was charged with alternate theories of second-degree murder, but has since been declared both incompetent to stand trial and dangerous, and remains involuntarily committed.

On June 5, 2013, Riley reported to Genesis that he felt like he was going to hurt other people and wanted to make the entire city feel unsafe. He self-reported to the emergency room at Lakes Region General Hospital, where he told staff of his agitation and then assaulted and threatened to kill a security officer.

On June 6, he was sent to the New Hampshire State Hospital as an involuntary emergency commitment because of the assault and threat to kill.

During his admission to the state hospital, Riley told staff that his aggressive behavior and homicidal thoughts were the result of abusing drugs and alcohol, that he knew such abuse increased his hallucinations and delusions, but said he was unwilling to stop using.

When he was discharged the following day, Riley was diagnosed with "Pervasive Developmental Disorder (Not Otherwise Specified), polysubstance abuse of cannabis, salvia, alcohol and a history of conduct disorder."

In throwing out the claims against the State Hospital, the judge ruled that state law does not impose a duty on a mental health professional to involuntarily commit someone, but rather, instead, sets out the only circumstances under which involuntary commitment is permitted.

The judge found that law was intended to protect potential patients and if the statute created a duty of care to someone, that person would be the patient, not unlimited third parties or the public.

If a patient believed they had been wrongfully discharged, it is possible they could bring a medical malpractice claim against the hospital and staff, McNamara wrote in his ruling.

While the law does mandate that a doctor can be liable for failing to notify police or a potential victim of a threat to harm made by a patient, the patient who caused harm must have vocalized an intent to harm a particular victim. The suit does not make any claims that Riley ever specifically threatened to hurt March.

Riley told police that he used multiple wrestling holds on March as the pair grappled on the floor and admitted that he eventually ended up squeezing March's head between his legs until he became unresponsive.

According to Riley's statements to investigators, March became upset because Riley was watching hunting videos on his cellphone which March thought were both gory and cruel. The physical altercation began when
the pair allegedly struggled over possession of the phone.

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Kasey Riley, who was charged with second-degree murder for strangling his roommate at a McGrath Street, Laconia, home run by Genesis Behavioral Health was declared incompetent to stand trial and has since been civilly committed. His victim's family has filed a wrongful death suit against the New Hampshire State Hospital and Genesis. (Bea Lewis file/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

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Meredith Library move up to voters

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A depiction of $4.145 million in projected costs to renovate and expand the existing Meredith Public Library faces an audience while Nathan Torr, chairman of the Meredith Selectmen, listens to a presentation about options for library facilities Monday. (David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun)

Meredith selectmen defer to voters on library move

By DAVID CARKHUFF/THE LACONIA DAILY SUN

MEREDITH — Plans for the Meredith Public Library to leave Main Street likely will rise or fall on a warrant article to voters feeling out the public mood about moving the library to a new building along Route 3.
That was the sentiment of several Meredith Selectmen Monday at a workshop where public opinion was split over a library trustee proposal to build a new library at a cost of $3.15 million.
Selectman Bev Lapham said, "I personally have not made up my mind on the issue of should we stay or should we go? But I think that's a viable question. But there seems to be a body of people who don't want it to go, and if we could accomplish not moving but developing a library that everybody could be proud of and satisfied with, square footage and so forth, within that footprint, then it seems to me it satisfies both terms. As you well know, depending on the fundraising, we're going to have to go to the taxpayers and say, 'Here's a bond we want you to agree on,' and if we're still indecisive on a community basis as to should we leave or should we stay, that would certainly complicate the issue of the bonding."
Nobody at Monday's workshop could point to a consensus about whether the historic library building, the Benjamin M. Smith Memorial Library, should remain home to the services and collections currently housed there.
Selectman Jonathan James said, "The charm of the old building is half of why people want to keep the old building in use as much as possible."
Over two years ago, the library trustees formed a Library Master Plan Committee and hired a library consultant to analyze space needs. On March 1, 2016, a library planning committee, regarding a public forum at the time, reported, "There is a clear and identified lack of space. This is true of collection space, meeting space, quiet space, and parking space. A number of codes with regard to access and safety have drastically changed over the more than a century since the library was built. It is currently in violation of a number of the current codes, including lack of an elevator, lack of a sprinkler system, and lack of appropriate, sufficient egresses from the higher levels. The library being on seven levels presents a number of problems both for safety and efficient operation."
The Meredith Public Library Planning Committee reported, "In its current form the library has outlived its ability to meet the community's needs. There are also a number of costs associated with maintaining the status quo that in no way help to move towards a library that meets the community's needs, but must be implemented simply to keep the building functioning, for instance the recent masonry and gutter project."
Library officials reported 53,498 visits last year, and more than 6,000 attendees to programs last year.
Trustees have considered several properties, including the nearby First Baptist Church and Humiston Building, but no firm plans materialized during two years of exploration.
But the picture of available options became clearer this week. On Monday, consultant Ron Lamarre said a study found a 14,000-square-foot facility would meet the expressed needs for the library. The library board, he said, wrestled with a "mission goal" centering on the question: "Do we stay or do we go?"
"If we stay at the existing site, how do we do that? We know why we have to do something, now how are we going to do that? If we go, what does that look like?" Lamarre told selectmen, describing the debate.
The community was polled and they wanted more services and more hours, Lamarre said. The second rationale for exploring an expansion stemmed from the library being a "cultural center of the community," and a perceived inability to fulfill that role due to space constraints, he said.
An energy audit found the existing building used twice the amount of energy that would be consumed in a modern building, and the seven-level building posed challenges for running programs and providing access, Lamarre said.
A site search resulted in discovery of a property at Parade Road and Route 3, the Robertson property, and an assessment found the town could build a 14,000-square-foot library for $3.15 million, including $300,000 for land acquisition, Lamarre said.
Cost to stay at the existing library, including renovations to the 3,300-square-foot historic building and a 12,000-square-foot addition, would reach $4.145 million, he said.
"You're looking, at least, at a million dollars more for the project, another year of construction, and that does not include dealing with any restoration work," Lamarre said.
The addition would cost $2.7 million; two elevators and three staircases would cost $350,000; an extra year of construction would cost $600,000; and limited work on the existing building would cost $495,000, he estimated.
But the extra cost of staying on Main Street didn't tilt public opinion in favor of a move, Lamarre conceded.
Lamarre said, "When we've gone out and done our surveys, it's basically 50-50, right? Half the people say, 'We want to stay.' The other half say, 'We want to go.'"
Lamarre suggested a warrant article that proposes that selectmen negotiate an option to buy the Robertson property. "If you're willing to do that, then really doesn't that vote tell you whether or not the folks in the community support moving?"
That suggestion prompted an objection from Selectmen's Chairman Nathan Torr, who said, "I think you've got the horse behind the cart there. I think we would take something to the town to see what the initial feeling is as far as money is concerned, and that would be an article presented by the library trustees, and then come back to the board of selectmen."
Town Manager Phillip Warren Jr. took a different tack. He said he'd suggested to the town's capital improvement program advisory committee that the voters be asked to support placing $50,000 in an expendable trust fund, with $30,000 to support a feasibility study on use of the Robertson property. This would be a de facto "yes or no" question about moving, he said.
Selectman Ray Moritz recalled that proposal and said, "It was strictly up for an engineering study on the new property. So what the CIP had requested was that the warrant article make it crystal clear that you're not just asking for $30,000 or $50,000, but you're essentially saying, 'Yes, we're agreeing to move,' since it's money being spent on another property."
Moritz concluded, "This will wind up one way or another as a warrant article for bonding."
Selectman Michael Pelczar said, "I'm not comfortable, as a board of selectmen, with picking a site. I'm just not comfortable." He agreed the voters should decide on which location to select.
Pelczar also agreed a warrant article regarding trust fund spending should be "as clear as daylight" that the library would move off Main Street, giving voters a black-and-white decision.
"We have to find out in real votes or real numbers what this town wants to have happen with that library," he said.
Resident Andy Lane, an engineer on the Laconia library and various other library buildings, said the Meredith Public Library trustees "were a bit premature" in deciding to move.
"They turned those subsequent meetings into reasons to move," he said, calling the decision hasty and poorly researched.

Beverly Heyduk, library trustee, said the preference for moving was not taken lightly. "We know that that building no longer serves the library adequately."
Main Street business owner Bob Manley said the library's relocation would devastate Main Street businesses, which are "struggling as evidenced by vacant buildings, boarded-up buildings."
But Jane Ramsay, a library trustee, said she uses a walker and faces great difficulty navigating floors of the existing library. "It's nice to say it's a wonderful, old library, but it isn't accessible," she said.
Selectmen ended the workshop without making any decisions, but board members said the issue could be revisited prior to Town Meeting. Another meeting of the Meredith Selectmen could take place in early February, tentatively Feb. 7, prior to Town Meeting on March 15. Conceptual plans from the library board can be viewed at http://www.meredithlibrary.org/blog/concept-plans-for-building-project.

 

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Ron Lamarre, a consultant for the library board, gives a presentation about options for library facilities Monday at a Meredith Selectmen's workshop. (David Carkhuff/Laconia Daily Sun)

With tight budget expected, Laconia city manager forgoes raise

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — Anticipating that the next city budget will be as tight or tighter than the last, City Manager Scott Myers has told the City Council that he will forgo another increase in his annual compensation of $125,000.

In November, Myers advised the council of the challenges of tailoring the 2017-2018 city budget to the limits of the tax cap. The tax cap limits the annual increase in total expenditures funded by property taxes to the rate of inflation, measured by the Consumer Price Index — Urban (CPI), for the prior calendar year, plus an additional amount representing the value of new construction, which is calculated by multiplying the value of building permits less the value of demolition permits issued between April 1 and March 31 by the prior year's property tax rate.

Myers recalled that last year the rate of inflation was a mere 0.1 percent while the value of new construction was $27.2 million. This year, the values of the two multipliers are reversed, as the CPI has risen to 1.2 percent, but after nine months the value of new construction has fallen to $15.7 million and Myers projects it will end the tax year at $20 million. From these numbers, Myers has calculated that city expenditures can increase by approximately $367,000 without breaching the tax cap. Moreover, Myers said he does not anticipate significant increases in municipal revenues from sources other than property taxes to supplement the budget.
But, contributions to the New Hampshire Retirement System alone, Myers said, will increase by some $200,000. At the same time, he estimates that the city's contribution to the cost of health insurance premiums for its employees to increase by about $170,000. And Myers expects the Belknap County budget, which for some years has risen in pace with what the city's tax cap allows, will increase at a higher rate in 2017.

Meanwhile, the collective bargaining agreements with the four unions representing city employee— the Laconia Professional Firefighters, Laconia Police Association, State Employees Association and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — expire in June. Myers said that negotiations for new contracts present an opportunity to address some costs.

While Myers's salary remained flat, the council increased the city's contribution to his retirement account from 12 percent to 13 percent. Mayor Ed Engler pointed out that the city manager contributes twice the percentage share as other city employees to the cost of his health insurance premiums.

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