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Prosecutor says she's pursuing other 'investigative avenues' in quest for resolution to accident that killed teen

LACONIA — Confirming that she did not present a case to the Belknap County Grand Jury when it convened last week, County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen said she is still investigating the circumstances that caused the driver of the Jeep Cherokee, Amy LaFond, 52, of Laconia, to strike two middle school students on the Messer Street Bridge in April, claiming the life of Lily Johnson and severely injuring Alyssa Miner.

Gulbrandsen said that she is reviewing the reports of investigations conducted by the Police Department and by the Belknap County Accident Reconstruction Team as well as "pursuing other investigative avenues," which she declined to specify.

"It remains an ongoing investigation," Gulbrandsen said, declining further comment.

Johnson and Miner were hit while on the sidewalk on the Messer Street Bridge, near the intersection of Opechee Street and Messer Street at approximately 2:30 p.m. on April 19. According to police, Lafond was traveling northbound on Messer Street toward its intersection with Opechee Street at the foot of the Messer Street Bridge, where a pedestrian crosswalk crosses Messer Street. A car going in the same direction had stopped at the crosswalk, apparently to enable a number of middle school students standing at the corner to cross the street.

About the same time, the two girls had walked down Opechee Street to the intersection, turned the corner, to their left, on to the sidewalk and were walking along the sidewalk on the west side of the Messer Street Bridge. For reasons that remain to be determined, Lafond skirted the stopped car, crossed into the southbound lane of Messer Street and mounted the raised sidewalk via a ramp, then hit the two girls from behind.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 27 August 2013 02:34

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Winnisquam middle students will start school, one way or another on Sept. 5; mold abatement to cost up to $120k

TILTON – Officials told a standing-room only crowd of Winnisquam Regional Middle School parents last night that one way or another, students will return to school on September 5 — more than a week after school was scheduled to begin. Students in the district's other four other schools begin classes today.

With the sixth grade wing closed for mold re-mediation, Superintendent Tammy Davis said the best-case scenario is that two of the three wings in the school should pass air quality tests by then and some children will be relocated to available classrooms in those wings.

Should only the eighth grade wing be available, Davis said some students will be taught in the common areas that passed the air quality tests as well as Southwick Elementary School in Northfield.

Davis estimated the re-mediation could cost the district up to $120,000. She said there is $80,000 in an emergency fund and the business administrator Cheryl Somma is culling the operating budget for additional money. Somma said the mold is not covered by insurance and to date, the board has approved $100,100.

On August 17, Dennis Francoeur of RPF Associates, Inc. — a mold remediation and air-quality testing company hired by the district — said testers found mold in the sixth- and seventh-grade wings while performing routine tests. He said the mold in the sixth-grade wing was visible.

He also said that "not all mold is created equal" and the type of mold as well as elevated spore counts were what triggered Davis to delay the opening of the building.

Last week, officials delayed the opening of the middle school until RPF determined the extent of the mold.

Francoeur said the seventh-grade wing should be cleaned and ready by September 5, however the sixth-grade wing has considerably more mold and will need more work. Davis said the area will be closed off while work is ongoing.

She said only one company has submitted a bid for the re-mediation and she expect additional bids to come to Tuesday.

In what seemed like science class for parents, Francoeur explained the types of mold discovered in the school, the frequency of occurrence for each type of mold discovered, and how mold grows. He attributed the problems in the most affected part of the Middle School to a very rainy and humid summer compounded by the fact that the two wings were built atop a what one parent described as "a swamp."

A routine test done at the school in December of 2011 revealed low spore counts, which is how a building is measured for air quality.

He said mold is naturally occurring and is fed by water and organic material, including the drywall used to construct the classrooms. He recommended the area along the walls that border the cement floor be reconstructed using a vinyl non-organic wall material, especially in the sixth-grade wing where the floor and carpet appear to be the wettest. He also said shutting down the air circulating system during the summer months could have contributed to mold growth.

Francoeur also said mold is ubiquitous and there are over 30 types of mold that grow in New Hampshire.

He said mold spores die in cold, dry air or when the relative humidity drops.

Remediation is done by using high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, cleaning, and negative ion generators.

Parents expressed a multitude of concerns last night, including a few who asked about alternative accommodations for their special education children and for children more prone to allergies than others to which Davis told them their cases will be handled individually and privately.

Others were concerned about the shortened school year.

Davis said she has been working with the State Department of Education about waiving a few of the 180 mandated school day but told parents that the middle school schedule is being reworked to compensate for at least three of them.

Moving forward, officials said the School Board is reviewing the district's long-range capital improvement plan.

According to Davis, the sixth- and seventh-grade wings of the middle school were built in the early 1980s. The eighth-grade wing was built as an addition in 2000.

Winnisquam Middle School is adjacent to the district's regional high school, located just off Rte. 3 in west Tilton. The high school was the site of last night's meeting.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 27 August 2013 02:25

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Laconia firefighters mark 100th anniversary of death of first member of their department to fall in the line of duty

LACONIA — Members of the Laconia Fire Department gathered at old Meredith Bridge Cemetery Monday morning to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of Firefighter John Laurence Sanborn, the first line of duty death of a Laconia firefighter.
Sanborn, who was only 20 years old, died on August 26, 1913, while responding to a tenement fire on Jackson Street when he was thrown from Ladder 1. He was run over by the rear wheels, which were made of wood with a steel belt on the outer section.
Laconia Fire Chief Ken Erickson said that the box fire was reported at 9 a.m. and that the horses which pulled Ladder 1 had to be harnessed and hitched up before firefighters could respond and that once they left the station and turned onto Water Street, the rear wheels went over an obstacle which resulted in Sanborn and another firefighter being thrown into the street.
Sanborn was carried by firefighters from the street to the second floor of the Water Street Station, where he succumbed to his injuries.
Erickson noted that Sanborn had grown up in a city which had experienced several devastating fires, including the Great Lakeport fire of 1903, which destroyed 108 homes, two churches, two factories, two blacksmith shops, a vacant mill, a fire station and electrical light department.
In 1903 the city completed construction of a new Water Street fire station which five bay doors, a hay loft and storage room for oats on the second floor and stables for five horses at the back of the building.
In 1916, Laconia Fire Chief Arthur Spring recommended motorizing the fleet owing to the high cost of horses (the department had eight at that time and it cost $6,000 to feed them) and in 1917 the city got its first motorized fire truck, an American LaFrance which cost $8,100.
Erickson said that other Laconia firefighters who lost their lives while on duty were:
— Milo Judkins, a captain at the Lakeport station who died on Nov. 12, 1949 at the station after returning from a call,
— Maurice Benwell, who died on May 5, 1987, while working a pump at the Laconia Water Works;
— Lt. Mark Miller, who died in a training accident with the underwater rescue team at Weirs Beach on March 11, 2004.

 

CAPTION for Firesalute:

A ceremony was held at the Meredith Bridge Cemetery in Laconia on Monday morning to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of Firefighter John Laurence Sanborn, the first line of duty death of a Laconia firefighter. Firefighters salute as a wreath is placed at his grave site. (Roger Amsden/ for The Laconia Daily Sun)

Last Updated on Tuesday, 27 August 2013 02:20

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Local man encounters small alligator on sidewalk while walking his dog in Lakeport

LACONIA — A local man and his pet pooch had a close encounter of a different kind one recent Friday night when they went for a walk and saw an alligator resting on an Elm Street sidewalk.

The man, who asked not to be identified, said his dog started acting a little skittish so he knew the dog heard or smelled something. He saw the alligator seconds later.

"It was lying on the sidewalk," he said, describing it as a two-foot "crocodile" that ran into a neighboring property when it noticed he and the dog.

The man said he called the Laconia Police.

Lt. Rich Simmons said yesterday that on August 16 at 9:25 p.m. police were notified about a 2-to-3 foot alligator near the corner of Jefferson and Elm Streets.

Two officers responded and the supervisor called Lt. Mike Eastman of the N.H. Department of Fish and Game and learned the alligator belongs to one of the few licensed alligators owners in the state.

Simmons said Eastman told his officers where the alligator's owner lived and the man's two teenaged daughters came and picked up the gator and carried it home.

A lieutenant with the N.H. Fish and Game Department said owning alligators has been illegal in New Hampshire since 2007, however the people who owned one before the law went into effect can keep them under the grandfather clause.

She also said it is rare but not unheard of for alligators to escape captivity and she personally recalled one incident where someone had released an alligator into the wild and Fish and Game officers brought it to Plaistow for shelter.

Kevin McCurley of New England Reptile Distributors in Plaistow said alligators cannot survive in New Hampshire unless they are kept in a controlled environment.

McCurley said there are about a dozen alligators owned legally in the state and all of them are bred in captivity and quite docile. Kept in a controlled environment, he said alligators can be kept small by regulating their habitat and diet.

He said the biggest alligator he owns is close to 200 pounds and he has had her for years. He recalled a man in Indiana who does exhibits with his alligator named "Bubba."

"You can't equate these to the 12-foot alligators in Florida you see on television," McCurley said, adding alligators sold by legitimate sellers are never taken out of the wild.

"Once the temperature gets to about 40 degrees they'll die," McCurley said. "That alligator was probably terrified."

He said he does rescue work for the state Department of Fish and Game and through his network is typically able to find safe and secure homes for the occasional alligator whose former owner decided it was too much work and released it to fend for itself.

He said the irresponsible people are the ones who get an alligator unlawfully, get sick of it, and let it go into the wild. He likened it to someone getting a large-breed dog and then dumping it when it becomes too big for the apartment.

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 27 August 2013 02:12

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