By BEA LEWIS, for THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
MEREDITH — A local man told a judge on Monday that his efforts to run a motorcycle museum has been scuttled because of what he claims are noxious emissions from the chimney of a crematorium located at a
neighboring funeral home.
"It's changed our lives," Doug Frederick said, of what he claims are foul odors and ash-like particles allegedly emanating from the crematorium in the Mayhew Funeral Home which abuts the American Police Motorcycle Museum property.
Peter and Kelley Mayhew and their business Mayhew Funeral Home Inc. initially filed a slander suit against Frederick and his wife, Leslyee. In it they claim the couples' continued public assertions that their crematorium is the source of alleged emissions, has defamed them in a business where reputation is paramount.
The Fredericks countersued, claiming the crematorium is a public and private nuisance.
During an afternoon hearing held in Carroll County Superior Court because of a conflict with a judge in Belknap County, retired police officers testified that the nose knows.
"I've had experience with burned bodies, and the smell of burned human flesh remains in your mind file for life," testified Gerry Lavigne of Campton, who said he served 26 years as a Manchester police officer.
Retired Bay State police officer John Nash, who now lives in Moultonborough, said when he visited the museum he was struck by a "God awful smell" that coated the back of his throat and was unable to abate it. He recounted having to witness autopsies during his career and told the judge the smell he experienced while at the Meredith museum was worse.
"There is nothing like it," he said.
Nick Leary, who works as a state trooper in Connecticut and handles a dog trained to sniff out cadavers, testified that he is a motorcycle enthusiast and visits the museum about five times a year.
"I could smell it in the air. It's a distinct smell and once you smell it you never forget it," he said of his recollections of a noontime visit to the museum on June 2.
The hearing Monday was scheduled to begin at 1 p.m., but was postponed for 45 minutes to allow the plaintiffs to arrive.
When Judge Amy L. Ignatius took the bench, she said the court had not been notified that that either an illness had occurred or that the plaintiffs were stalled in traffic. The court file contained a copy of the notice that was sent to all parties notifying them of the date and time of the hearing, she said.
Attorney William Woodbury of Laconia, who represents the Fredericks, told the judge he had 15 witnesses in the courtroom waiting to testify one of which had traveled from Philadelphia. He said he'd called opposing counsel's office and been told that attorney Marc Van Zanten wasn't in, and that co-counsel was believed to be at lunch.
"It's frustrating. There are a lot of people here," the judge said.
Woodbury said he was unsure when he would be able to schedule all of the witnesses to appear en masse again, and urged the judge to allow the hearing to go forward.
"I'm mindful that people have traveled from near and far and I guess in light of that I will begin," the judge said.
Woodbury represented that he had disclosed the names of all of his witnesses to the plaintiffs.
He argued that the Fredericks are under threat of irreparable personal, professional and financial harm if the crematorium is allowed to continue to operate and asked that the judge either issue an injunction halting its use outright, or limit its operation to nighttime hours, until such time as the case is adjudicated.
While conceding that the museum closed its doors to the general public on July 18, Woodbury said, the Fredericks are still on the property daily packing up three floors of police memorabilia and to allow the owners of motorcycles and other exhibit pieces that were on loan to pick them up. On weekends they have been holding a moving sale. The proceeds from items being sold will be used to help them relocate the museum and to offset legal fees, he said.
In response to questions from the judge about whether a new home for the museum had been found, Doug Frederick said that he'd just learned that the Lakeport Fire Station was for sale and was looking into that.
Among those testifying was Mark Diette of Moultonborough, who disclosed he still holds the mortgage on the property. He recounted that after reading that the museum was closing, he visited the property to talk to the Fredericks. When he toured the building that he formerly operated as a group antique shop, he said the interior has been totally renovated to serve as a museum. While walking the property with the Fredericks, Diette said, he could see heat waves coming from the crematorium chimney.
Bill Firth of Gilford testified that in late May when he and his wife were stuck in traffic on Route 3 near the Mayhew Funeral Home, an acrid smell caused him to suffer an asthma attack.
"The fumes just took my breath away. It was like breathing oven cleaner." He twice used his rescue inhaler to help abate the attack.
Michael Lingley of Rollingsford, who is an enthusiast of Indian motorcycles told the judge that when he came to Meredith to he stopped at the McDonald's restaurant across Route 3 from the funeral home to get something to eat.
"I smelled an odor and asked them what they were cooking that smelled so bad. They said it's not us, but the crematorium across the street," Lingley testified.
After leaving the restaurant, he went to the museum and said he spoke with Doug Frederick and joked about the exchange he'd just had with the restaurant worker.
"He didn't think it was funny," Lingley said.
In his own testimony, Doug Frederick recounted that during his career as a police officer he'd been to the scene of some 200 homicides.
"It is a smell a policeman never forgets," he said of the odor that he claims wafts onto the museum property from the crematorium.
"I could not longer in good conscience bring people into the museum. The smell was punishing," he said.
About 45 minutes after the hearing began, the court clerk informed the judge that the plaintiff's lawyer had called and said he was unaware that the hearing was scheduled for that day.
After hearing the testimony, Judge Ignatius said she would review the evidence and issue a written ruling at a later date. She said she would also be considering whether or not to allow the plaintiff's counsel to listen to a recording of the proceedings and if he should be allowed to file a written response.
The case is tentatively on track to go to trial next April.
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