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Arsonist faces 7 additional charges

LACONIA – A former Gilmanton man who pleaded guilty to three counts of arson earlier this year has been charged with seven more counts of arson, including one count for one of the two fires that occurred at Pitman's Freight Room.

Jason Clairmont, 34, of Mallard's Landing is facing seven separate counts of arson for three different fires – one on Sept. 28, 2013, at Pitman's Freight Room, a dumpster fire on Oct. 3, 2013, at 53 Beacon Street West , and a shed and lattice on Sept. 28, 2013, at 65 Beacon Street West, behind Hector's restaurant.

He appeared in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division yesterday afternoon via video conference from the State Prison where he is serving a 1- to 5-year sentence for his arson convictions from February 2014.

Of the seven total new charges, Judge Jim Carroll didn't find probable cause for three of them – one version of an account of the Pitman's Freight Room fire and two other fires behind Hector's building that damaged a shed and some lattice work.

Carroll ordered Clairmont held on $2,000 cash bail for two felony counts of arson and on $5,000 personal recognizance bail for two misdemeanor counts of arson.

In court yesterday, Clairmont's attorney, John Bresaw, said that all of the new charges should be dismissed because there is no new evidence. He said the seven new charges stem from the same five-hour interview police conducted with Clairmont in the days after a Jan. 25 car fire at Academy and Bowman streets. That same night there was a lattice fire on Highland Street. Clairmont pleaded guilty to both of those fires.

Bresaw said the affidavits supporting the newest seven charges were statements made by Clairmont that were cherry-picked by police from the interview and taken out of context.

He said the police "minced words" and that there is only one sentence to support charges for each new arson count. He said the two charges for fires behind Hector's restaurant weren't even referenced in the affidavits and asked that Carroll dismiss them. Carroll agreed in part, and though he didn't dismiss them, he ruled there was no probable cause. Carroll also agreed that one of the counts against Clairmont for the damage caused to "Dick Mitchell" (the owner of Pitman's Freight Room) fire lacked probable cause.

Carroll also agreed with Bresaw when he said that Clairmont's guilty pleas in February for the two car fires and the lattice fire are not evidence that he set the fires cited in yesterday's charges.

Bresaw also said that since he has seen no new evidence, the state should have charged his client with those fires when they charged him the first time.

Laconia Police Prosecutor Jim Sawyer said that the police initially charged Clairmont with two car fires and a fire on Highland Street because they needed to get him in custody.

"Because of what was happening, police were eager to stop this," Sawyer said, referring to a string of suspicious fires that took place from September 2013 until the end of January 2014.

Sawyer said the newest charges are distinct from the ones to which Clairmont previously pleaded guilty, and they are separated by time and month, even if the information from the newest affidavit came from the same police interview. He asked that Clairmont be held on $10,000 cash bail.

Clairmont is scheduled to appear this morning before the N.H. Parole Board. The minimum portion of his sentence ends in February. Yesterday, his attorney said Clairmont has had no infractions while incarcerated and was beginning the process of being paroled.

Facing new charges, Clairmont's ability to get parole could be hindered because he would need to post $2,000 cash bail on the newest charges and that he is not allowed to go onto New Salem Street, where he planned to tell the parole board he would live with his parents.

Pitman's Freight Room is next door to Clairmont's parent's house, and Sawyer objected strongly to Clairmont's desire to stay there should he be paroled in February.

Pitman's owner Dick Mitchell said yesterday that he has "mixed emotions" about his neighbor being charged with one of the fires that was set at his business.

"I feel bad for everyone concerned," he said. "I know him. He's my neighbor."

Mitchell said he doesn't know if Clairmont set the two fires at his business, but said if he did, he hopes he gets the help that he needs and that he is taken out of society so he can't hurt anyone.

"He could have killed me. He could have killed my business," Mitchell said, noting that it took him a while to get back on his feet after two successive fires.

"I just hope justice is served and the people of Laconia are served," Mitchell said.


Last Updated on Thursday, 20 November 2014 01:02

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Gilford students reaching out to Veterans Home residents

GILFORD — Students in all four grades at Gilford Middle School spent more than an hour Wednesday morning working on a community project designed to brighten the holiday season for residents of the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton.

''We're looking to establish authentic connections with veterans,'' says Beth Zimmer, the fifth- and sixth-grade guidance teacher at the school, who said that the goal for the school is to reach out to the veterans in the months ahead.
Yesterday students created table decorations for 30 tables at the Veterans Home for Thanksgiving, and for 30 tables for the Christmas season. Among the decorations created yesterday were pumpkins, placemats, Christmas trees and origami gift boxes which will be placed under the trees.

In another form of outreach, 20 to 25 students each month will visit with veterans over the next four months.

Zimmer said that the focus on veterans began with a Veterans Day assembly organized by the school's social studies teachers, who presented a video slide show about the veterans and how they are cared for.

''Many students have grandparents and relatives who may need long-term care and this planted the seeds for a closer look at what that means. It will be a good experience for the students to interact with veterans,'' said Zimmer.

Jo-Ann Belanger, an eighth-grade French and Spanish teacher, spent the morning working with students from all four grades in the middle school cafeteria, where the students were making Christmas trees from construction paper and decorating them.

She dressed for the Christmas holiday and even brought along some of her Christmas album songs to highlight the joyful holiday mood the project was creating.

''Some 37 eighth-grade students, more than half of the class, have volunteered to go the Veterans Home. That shows how much interest there is on the part of the students in this project,'' said Belanger.

Steven MacDonald, 14, who is the eighth grade, said that he is hoping to be one of those selected to visit the veterans.
''This is really fun, and it's for a good cause,'' said MacDonald as he worked on making the Christmas trees.
He said that his dad, Eric, is a veteran and is still in the military after having served for 18 months in Iraq.

Another student working on the Christmas trees, Teka-Marie Phillips, a 12-year-old sixth-grader, said that her dad, Paul, is a also a veteran and is a big supporter of veterans and of the school's project.

''We're a bunch of kids working together to create something special for veterans, and I think it's a great community project,'' said Phillips.

Last Updated on Thursday, 20 November 2014 12:23

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Correction: Josh Rowson was LHS graduate who spoke at school board

In a story about the performing arts department at the Laconia High School that ran in the Nov. 19 edition, the incorrect spelling was used for the name of a 2013 LHS graduate who spoke in favor of the program. His name is Josh Rowson.

Last Updated on Thursday, 20 November 2014 01:11

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50 years ago, a math teacher bought a Mustang

LACONIA — Walter Ayre Jr. says that when he first purchased a Ford Mustang 50 years ago he thought of it as something of a ''chick magnet'' and spent a lot of time cruising around with it so that girls could see him at the wheel.

Now 75, Ayre drove his yellow 1964½ 289 V-8 Mustang from his home in Eliot, Maine, on Tuesday to Irwin Motors in Laconia, where he purchased it Aug. 30, 1964, and met up with Dave Clark, who was Irwin's sales manager at that time.
''I remember him calling down the hall when we were talking about the price and saying that the difference between us on the price only amounted to 62 cents a month," says Ayre, who was 25 years old at the time and was working as a math teacher and ski coach at Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro.

A 1956 graduate of Laconia High School, Ayre had graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 1960 and joined the Navy, hoping to become a pilot, but turned to teaching after receiving a medical discharge.

He owned a 1961 MGA sports car convertible before buying the Mustang as his first-ever new car and recalls that he followed his dad's advice about negotiating and then walking away from the salesman. "I followed dad's advice, and, after walking out the dealership's door, the exasperated salesman followed saying: ''If I give you $10 from may wallet, will you buy the car?''

Ayre said that sealed the deal and he purchased the car for $3,329.35, which was reduced by $800 for his down payment and $1,400 for the trade-in, and left him with monthly payments of $67.05 for 24 months.

Clark said that the Mustang, which was first introduced at the New York World's Fair on April 17, 1964, and was the pace car at the Indy 500 in May, become an overnight sensation and within the first three months recorded 100,000 in sales.

''It was unbelievable. There was so much demand it was just about impossible to locate a car for our customers. We found two in Maine and sent two guys up to Fort Kent to bring them back here,'' recalls Clark.

Another 318,000 -- a record -- were sold in the model year, and within 18 months Mustang sales had topped 1 million, helped along in no small part by the car's appearance in the James Bond ''Goldfinger'' movie which was released in September 1964.

Ayre said that he took the car with him when he moved to Southington, Conn., in 1965 to help launch a new ski area and that it was there that he met and married his wife, Pat, that same year.

He then started in a new career in the textbook business on northern New England and used the Mustang as a family car for many years before relocating to Half Moon Bay on the California coast where he worked out of the company's headquarters in Menlo Park. He moved back to New England three years later, driving the family home in a station wagon while the Mustang was brought back in a moving van.

In 1981 he moved again to the Atlanta area, and stored the by now-well-rusted Mustang at a barn in Madbury, finally restoring it in 2005 and taking part in Mustang shows featuring cars from all over New England which were held for many years at Funspot in Laconia.

Ayre says he has turned down offers for his car and wants to keep it in his family by passing it along to his son, Steve, who is the owner of a 1996 black-on-black Mustang fastback.

Irwin Motors vice president, Chris Irwin, the third generation to head the local auto dealership, said he was pleased with the large turnout for Tuesday's event, which also featured the all-new 2015 Mustang. ''It was a lot of fun to see so many people here who are Mustang lovers,'' said Irwin.

Last Updated on Thursday, 20 November 2014 12:10

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