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Grand Jury returns indictments against Amy LaFond

LACONIA — A Belknap County Grand Jury yesterday indicted Amy LaFond on five felony charges — manslaughter, two counts of negligent homicide, second degree assault and possession of a narcotic drug. She was the driver of the car that struck two girls at the Messer Street Bridge in April, taking the life of Lilyanna Johnson, 14, and severely injuring Allyssa Miner, 14.

 In addition, LaFond is charged with a misdemeanor drug offense and three traffic violations, all of which are now before the Belknap County Superior Court.

LaFond, 52, of 10 River Street, Laconia, entered pleas of not guilty to the felony charges and earlier pled not guilty to the misdemeanor and violations when she was arraigned in 4th Circuit Court — Laconia last week. She is being held in Belknap County Jail in lieu of bail of $50,000 cash or $100,000 corporate surety.
Johnson and Miner were struck while on the sidewalk at the crosswalk at the south end of the Messer Street Bridge at approximately 2:30 p.m. on April 19. Lafond was traveling northbound on Messer Street toward its intersection with Opechee 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. Lafond is alleged to have skirted the stopped car, crossed into the southbound lane of Messer Street and mounted the raised sidewalk, hitting the two girls.
In charging manslaughter, a class A felony, the state alleges that LaFond recklessly caused the death of Lilyanna Johnson by driving while distracted at an excessive speed after consuming drugs. Alternatively, she was indicted on two alternative theories of negligent homicide, both class B felonies, one for "failing to maintain a proper lookout" and the other for "failing to pay due attention while operating a motor vehicle after having consumed drugs."

County Attorney Melissa Countway Guldbrandsen has said that toxicology tests found elevated levels of oxycodone and the presence of gabapentin, both prescription drugs, in LaFond's bloodstream. Prior to LaFond's arraignment, Guldbrandsen noted that LaFond has not been charged with driving while impaired, but "we are alleging that the accident occurred after she consumed drugs."
The two charges — manslaughter and negligent homicide — represent different degrees of culpability. Manslaugher presumes recklessness, or consciously disregarding "a substantial and unjustifiable risk" of causing injury or death despite being aware of that risk. The risk must be of a kind that, in the circumstances, to disregard it would be inconsistent with the conduct of a law-abiding person. On the other hand, a person acts negligently by failing to become aware of "a substantial or unjustifiable risk" of a nature and degree that a reasonable person would observe.
La Fond is charged with second degree assault, a class A felony, for recklessly injuring Allyssa Miner, who suffered a fractured pelvis, lacerated spleen and bruised lung, by driving at excessive speed while distracted and after taking drugs.
LaFond is also charged with possession of narcotic drugs, specifically oxycodone, a class B felony, and unlawful dealing in prescription drugs, gabapentin or Neurontin, a class A misdemeanor. The state alleges that both were found in her possession, though she had no lawful prescription for either. Finally, LaFond faces three traffic violations — speeding, failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk and crossing the double yellow line when it was not safe to do so.

Last Updated on Friday, 04 October 2013 02:30

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Gilford Selectboard presents 2014 budget that calls for 2.5% increase

GILFORD — The Budget Committee got its first look at a proposed 2014 budget that is $250,000 greater than this year's and represents about projected 13-cent increase in the 2014 municipal tax rate.

At $13,099,643, the 2014 budget proposed by the Selectboard includes a 3 percent average merit pay increase for all employees, including department heads, who, according to board Chair Kevin Hayes who presented it, haven't gotten raises in the past three years.

"After level funding the municipal budget for the past five years, we feel a 2.5 percent increase (in the tax rate) is fiscally responsible," Hayes said. This 2013 municipal property tax rate is projected to be $4.88.

The municipal tax rate reflects but one part of the overall tax rate that factors in the county budget, the school budget and the statewide education property tax.

Hayes said the selectman's budget reflects about $1 million in cuts from the initial department requests and warned the committee members that some of the department heads would likely express their concerns regarding the selectman's cuts during their budget presentations.

He said the town estimated property evaluations will increase by .75 percent in 2014, which is the year for a complete revaluation, as is required by state law. He said projected revenue is up from last year and Finance Director Geoff Ruggles said that he expects the town to have a small surplus at the end of this year.

All 2014 capital outlays, totaling $556,500, will come from the surplus if approved at Annual Town Meeting. Hayes also told Budget Committee members that every $100,000 of spending roughly equals seven cents in the tax rate.

One of the biggest budget items is the re-establishment of the position of operations manager in the Department of Public Works budget. Hayes told the Budget Committee that the goal is to hire someone for the position who can be trained to take over when longtime Director Sheldon Morgan retires.

Morgan hasn't not set a date for his retirement but said he is meeting with selectmen sometime in the near future.

Hayes said selectmen support the Public Works Department request for an increase of $175,000 for road construction because the town is behind on its 10-year road construction plan.

"We consider our roads as an investment," Hayes said noting that the Cumberland Road Culvert collapsed during the spring rains cost the town $147,000 in emergency repairs and the $175,000 is expected to get the town caught up to the plan next year.

The DPW is also asking for an additional $22,000 for road sealing and $4,000 for some traffic signs. A heavy-duty truck with a plow and a light-duty truck with a plow are in the capital budget.

Selectmen support adding $9,000 for new water meters for the sewer department for contractual commitments to meter upgrades that the town has previously not funded. Hayes said Morgan asked for more.

The Fire Department is asking for a new ambulance and will close out the ambulance fund of $59,000 and add to it some money in the ambulance revolving fund, which doesn't need a town appropriation.

The town is also experimenting for the first time with buying back unused sick and vacation time. He said the proposed buyback rate is between 25 cents to 50 cents on the dollars and the maximum number of buy-back days is two. The Department of Public Works contract includes the buyback provision however the police contact does not. The police contract expires in 2014.

When asked, Hayes said that selectmen are using the proposed buyback as an incentive to employees to not call in sick just to use up their sick time.

Along with the $1.2 million police department renovation project, the selectmen also recommended one additional patrol officer, bringing the number of sworn officers from 17 to 18.

When member Dave Horvath asked when the department went from 16 to 17, Hayes reminded him that the department has been at 17 for a while but a few years ago selectmen had recommended cutting to 16 and the Budget Committee restored the position.

Selectmen approved an increase in hours for the library custodian from 20 to 25 hours per week but said the bottom line for the Gilford Public Library is down by $1,700.

When Horvath questioned the selectman's decision not to combine two part-time positions at the library into one, Hayes said selectmen chose not to add any positions that come with benefit packages to the library budget.

Hayes also said selectmen recommend reducing the cemetery caretakers hours from 37 hours to 26 hours so they could eliminate the benefits that go with that position.
Dunn said the town will wait until the 2015 budget is under consideration before they make any more similar recommendations, saying they first want to evaluate the impact of the federal Affordable Healthcare Act.

This year's selectman's budget includes $78,162 for Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid. Hayes said the town should see at least the equivalent reduced from the Belknap County budget, adding selectmen plan on sending a letter regarding this reduction to the county commissioners.

The Budget Committee begins meeting with department heads on November 17.

The Gilford School District budget will be presented to the Budget Committee in early January.

Last Updated on Friday, 04 October 2013 02:21

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Gammon feels vindicated by Ward 5 vote recount

LACONIA — When the ballots cast in the Sept. 10 primary election for the City Council seat in Ward 5 were recounted yesterday, the results confirmed, as Dave Gammon believed, that former mayor Tom Tardif received three write-in votes, qualifying him for a place on the general election ballot in November — if he wants it.

City Clerk Mary Reynolds has written to Tardif, who has yet to indicate his intentions, advising him that he has 10 days to decide whether or not to be a candidate for City Council in the general election on November 5. Tardif could not be reached after the recount, but Gammon said that he told him he intended call at City Hall and inform Reynolds of his decision some time today.

The City Charter stipulates that the two candidates receiving the most votes for each office in the primary election shall advance to the general election in November. In Ward 5, incumbent City Councilor Bob Hamel, who ran unopposed in the primary, was declared the winner with 39 of 47 ballots cast. Although election officials reported no write-in votes for city councilor, a computer print-out indicated that three write-in ballots were cast in the race.

Gammon claimed that he, his wife and another woman cast write-in ballots for Tardif. Election officials reported that Tardif received three of four write-in votes cast for ward clerk, but none for city councilor.

When Reynolds and Kaileif Mitchell, the moderator in Ward 5, counted the ballots by hand yesterday Tardif received all three of the write-in votes for city councilor. On three ballots the space for write-in votes for ward clerk was circled, but no name was written on the ballot.

Although Gammon questioned the results days after the election, the deadline for requesting a recount had passed. Instead, Gammon petitioned the Belknap County Superior Coiurt to order City Clerk Mary Reynolds, who otherwise has no authority to open the ballots, to conduct a recount. After a brief hearing on Wednesday before Justice James D. O'Neill, III, Reynolds and Gammon entered an agreement, which was ratified by Justice Larry Smukler of Merrimack County Superior Court, to hold the recount yesterday.

Gammon had also asked the court to order the city to reimburse him for his $278 in court costs. A hearing on the issue is scheduled in Merrimack County Superior Court on November 19, but in the meantime city attorney Laura Spector-Morgan offered to approach City Manager Scott Myers about footing the bill to spare the city further legal costs.

"I've been vindicated," said Gammon. "Now I want my money back."

Reynolds said that the dispute has already delayed her preparations for the general election on November 5 by more than week. She said that if Tardif has not notified her of his decision by the end of this week, she will order the ballots to be printed and the machines programmed for Wards 1, 2, 3 ,4 and 6 on Monday. "I was trained to avoid paying the set-up fee twice," she said, explaining that to print and program for Ward 5 separately could add $500 or more to the cost of preparing election materials.

Reynolds said that she aims to print the general election ballots and distribute absentee ballots at least 30 calendar days before the general election. She expects to distribute absentee ballots next week.

Last Updated on Friday, 04 October 2013 02:13

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Sanbornton man charged with firing plastic pellets at school bus carrying Winnisquam High School students

SANBORNTON — Police have charged a local man with two counts each of reckless conduct and criminal threatening after he allegedly fired plastic pellets from an Airsoft pistol at two school buses Wednesday afternoon.

Chief Stephen Hankard said Tarance Piper, 24 of 753 Sanborn Road claimed the incident started when some of the high school students on one of the buses made obscene gestures while he was in a car that was traveling behind the bus.

Hankard said Piper is known to police.

Hankard said the incident unfolded just before 3 p.m. Wednesday when a Winnisquam Regional School District bus carrying high school students was headed into Sanbornton on Route 132 and the car in which Piper was a passenger passed the bus after it pulled over near Lanchaster Hill Road.

He said the bus driver saw the car in her rear view mirror and said it appeared the driver of the car wanted to pass so she pulled to the right. As the driver was passing the bus, Hankard said students heard the pinging of the little green pellets and saw that it was Airsoft gun.

After the car passed the first bus, Hankard said it got behind a second bus and Piper allegedly fired pellets at that bus as well. He said the first bus driver had contacted the second bus driver who had called 9-1-1.

Police intercepted the car just north of the intersection of Route 132 and Route 127 and found Piper sitting in the back seat with the air-powered pellet gun.

Hankard said they took Piper into custody and he allegedly told them he was firing in the air, but both of the bus drivers and the students told police they could hear the pellets pinging off the side of the bus.

Piper was officially charged yesterday morning and and released on $6,000 personal recognizance bail. He is scheduled to appear in the 6th Circuit Court, Franklin Division on November 7.

Superintendent Tammy Davis said the school bus drivers both did what they were supposed to do and called the police. She said they didn't drop off any of the students until police had apprehended Piper and made sure the buses were safe.

She said an e-mail blast was sent to all of the parents of the children who were on the bus. Davis said she notified the School Board about the incident and said she was very grateful that no one was injured.
Hankard said the students recognized that Piper was allegedly firing an Airsoft gun and not a real pistol, and that was the report that was sent to police. He said the Airsoft guns look very much like real pistols except for an orange tip on the barrel.

Last Updated on Friday, 04 October 2013 01:52

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