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LaFond charged with manslaughter & negligent homicide

LACONIA — Six months after the car she was driving struck two girls at the Messer Street Bridge, taking the life of Lilyanna Johnson, 14, and severely injuring Allyssa Miner, 14, Amy LaFond, 52, was arrested at her home at 10 River Street shortly after 7 a.m. yesterday on charges of manslaughter, negligent homicide and assault — as well as on two drug offenses and three traffic violations.

About 15 relatives and friends of the girls and LaFond's husband sat quietly as LaFond was arraigned in 4th Circuit Court-Laconia later in the day. LaFond entered no plea on four felony charges and pled not guilty to a misdemeanor and three violations. Judge Jim Carroll ordered her held in lieu of $30,000 cash bail on the four felony charges and set $5,000 personal recognizance bail for one misdemeanor drug offense and the three traffic violations. Should she post bail, Carroll ordered her not to operate a motor vehicle, confined her to the state and required her to report to the police daily at noon.

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 is charged with negligent homicide, a class B felony, for "failing to maintain a proper lookout" while driving.

The two charges 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.

Speaking to the press prior to the arraignment, County Attorney Melissa Countway Guldbrandsen noted that LaFond has not been charged with driving while impaired, but "we are alleging that the accident occurred after she consumed 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.

At the press conference Police Chief Chris Adams acknowledged that the lengthy investigation was "a very difficult time for the families" and thanked them for their patience. He was echoed by Guldbrandsen who said "this was a very thorough and careful investigation by the Laconia Police Department, in which nearly every officer participated." She said that the Belknap County Accident Reconstruction Team, led by Sergeant Al Graton of the Laconia Police, conducted an extensive investigation that only concluded last month and laboratory analysis was performed not only by the New Hampshire State Police but also by a laboratory in Pennsylvania. "Many different factors contributed to this accident," said Guldbrandsen, who said she still considers the case "an ongoing investigation."

At the arraignment Guldbrandsen, stressing the seriousness of the offenses and the danger LaFond posed to the community asked to court to set cash bail at $50,000. Describing what happened on April 19, she told the court that "the accident alone represents her dangerousness to the community."

Guldbrandsen then turned to the evidence, noting that blood tests found "numerous prescription drugs in her (LaFond's) system," including highly elevated levels of oxycodone.

Attorney John Bresaw, representing LaFond firmly objected to introducing evidence, which he had no opportunity to assess. But, Carroll let Guldbrandsen proceed to explain that although LaFond had been prescribed oxycodone, she was found in possession of a 30 milligram tablet, for which she had no prescription. When she went on to claim that LaFond had illicitly purchased oxycodone on the day of the collision, Bresaw again objected.

Noting that LaFond also possessed gabapentin without a prescription, Guldbrandsen said that it reflected "a course of conduct of abusing non-prescription and prescription drugs," prompting another objection from Bresaw.

Guldbrandsen further disclosed that both records and witnesses indicate that LaFond was using her cell phone either to speak or text when the collision occurred. Likewise, she said that evidence collected by the Belknap County Accident Reconstruction Team suggested that LaFond was driving at 40 miles per hour, 10 miles above the posted the speed limit, when there were many pedestrians, most of them schoolchildren, in the area.

Guldbrandsen reminded the court of LaFond's criminal history, which began with convictions for disorderly conduct in 1985 and criminal trespass in 1994, both in Manchester, and included two cases of willful concealment, one in Franklin in 2011 and another in Laconia in 2013, and theft by unauthorized taking in Laconia in 2012.

Bresaw countered that "Amy is not a threat to anyone." Reminding the court that six months have passed since the accident, he said "if the state had a concern they would not leave her in the community for six months. There was no concern in that interim," he said, describing LaFond's criminal record as "minimal" and including "no track record of violence or doing harm to others." He remarked that Guldbrandsen repeatedly referred to "an accident" and said "that's exactly what this was, an accident."

Furthermore Bresaw said that LaFond was suffering from "several serious medical conditions," including a degenerative bone disease, lesion on her spine and problems with her esophagus.
LaFond, Bresaw insisted, posed no risk to flee. He told the court she has lived with her husband and 13-yearold son at 10 River Street for six years and has "every available tie to the community." He remarked that she has been "cooperative" throughout the investigation and was arrested at her home.

Bresaw called Guldbrandsen's request for $50,000 cash bail "egregious" and "very high," which was "sanctioning her for the charges."

Guldbrandsen told the court that the state is "well aware" of the time that passed between the accident and the arrest, but repeated that "the accident was an egregious offense."

Last Updated on Thursday, 26 September 2013 02:31

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Rep. Tilton files bill that would make clear Belknap Convention's right to control budget transfers from line to line

CONCORD — State Rep. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) has become the second member of the Belknap County Convention to file legislation intended to clearly delineate the respective authorities of the convention and the Belknap County Commission over the county budget. Earlier this month Representative Colette Worsman (R-Meredith) submitted a similar proposal for drafting.

Tilton said yesterday that his bill closely follows a statute prescribing the budget process to be followed in Hillsborough County. He emphasized that he believes the existing law vests the convention with the authority to specify line-item appropriations within the department budgets as well as to approve any transfer of funds from particular line items either within or between departments.

However, Tilton said that his bill "spells it out even more clearly than the existing statutory language." He explained that where the law applying to Hillsborough County requires that appropriations "shall be itemized in detail," he added the phrase "including specific line items within each department." His bill would enable the convention to permit the commission to transfer funds of specified amounts without the approval of the Executive Committee of the convention. "Hillsborough County makes no exceptions, but Rockingham County sets a limit of $300," he said. "This year we made no exceptions."

Although Tilton expected the legislation would be enacted, he said "this isn't a bill that's going to rush through." As long as the bill is adopted and made effective in 2014, he believes that it would apply to next year's county budget. But, he stopped short of saying that that legislation would forestall the convention and commission seeking to settle their differences in court. "We haven't resolved what we're doing now," he said, noting that the commissioners have shuffled funds within the 2013 budget adopted by the convention without the approval of its Executive Committee.

Last month, the convention, against Worsman's recommendation, voted not to file suit in Belknap County Superior Court against the commission in an effort to resolve the dispute. Tilton, who was among those voting against litigating, said that "it would be a long, slow, expensive proposition" while acknowledging "litigation is not off the table and is certainly a possibility."

Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 September 2013 03:16

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Lower Liberty Hill cleanup plan to be detailed tonight

GILFORD — Officials of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES) and GEI Consultants, Inc., representing Liberty Utilities, will present plans for removing the toxic coal tar burried on Lower Liberty Hill Road at an informational meeting at Town Hall this evening, beginning at 6 p.m.

Michael McCluskey of DES said yesterday that earlier this year the agency approved the approach proposed by GEI on behalf of Liberty Utilities, the last of several corporate successors to the firm responsible for dumping the coal tar in 1952 following the explosion of gas plant in Laconia. He said that GEI will outline the scope of the project and schedule of work, which has been estimated to require trucking approximately 45,000 cubic yards of tainted soil from the site and returning a commensurate volume off clean fill to it over the course of two construction seasons.

McCluskey said that GEI recently submitted its plan to DES for its final approval in anticipation of putting the work out to bid in the coming weeks and starting work in the spring of 2014.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 September 2013 03:06

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LRPA televisison urged to look at streaming on-demand programming online

LACONIA — Members of the board of directors of Lakes Region Public Access television held a free-ranging discussion of the organization's future at last night's meeting as they grapple with changes which will be coming next year when a new 10-year contract, still being negotiated with MetroCast Cablevision, takes effect.
No clear picture emerged of that future, as only three of the eight board members were present, but there were indications that LRPA may be headed in the direction of a web-based, on-demand delivery for all three of its channels, 24 (education), 25 (public) and 26 (government) and sees the first six months of 2014 as a time of transition and opportunity.
One of the major changes, already taking place, will see local communities handling broadcasts specific to their community only, which will be aired on Channel 26.
Board member Kent Hemingway, superintendent of schools in Gilford, wasn't at the meeting but sent an e-mail in which he said that the current model of public access cable television produced, scheduled and delivered to homes is rapidly becoming extinct.
''On demand media will rule the airwaves and will be delivered to every mobile device wherever and whenever the user wants,'' he wrote, noting that the shift does not yet reach all households or consumers.
Board member Joe Jesseman of Tilton said he agreed in part with Hemingway's analysis but noted that LRPA-TV still has an obligation to elderly viewers who are not Internet savvy and rely on cable. He said that there will need to be a mix of approaches in order to satisfy traditional viewers.
LRPA Chairman Ken Curley of Northwood said that one thing which will be lost as the local government channel is devoted solely to one community is the opportunity for viewers to compare what is happening in other communities with approaches being taken to similar problems in their own town.
Curley and LRPA station manager Denise Beauchaine said that lack of regional programming on Channel 26 could be addressed by LRPA on Channel 25, which will be the regional channel for all of the towns.
''The towns will find it difficult to run their own programming and will find out that you can't do it with a laptop computer,'' said Beauchaine.
Curley said that the towns will find there are high overhead costs and that it is labor intensive to provide programming that local viewers will want to watch and that an opportunity exists for LRPA to dominate the local government news niche, even if it means sending volunteers of their own to tape the meetings.
Curley said the board will have to make a decision on additional personnel and equipment if it wants to move in that direction and said the board will call a special meeting sometime in the next month in order to reach a decision on what its future business plan will be.
Prior discussions have centered around a fee for service model which takes into account the changes in recent years which have seen towns retain a large portion of the franchise fees they receive from MetroCast rather than turn it over to LRPA-TV, which they are not obliged to do.
Beauchaine said that prior to the recent recession 13 municipalities, including the 11 in Belknap County, contracted with LRPA-TV and paid their agreed upon share the station's overhead. However, the number of contracting municipalities has shrunk to a half-dozen — Alton, Belmont, Gilford, Meredith, Laconia and Northwood — which Beauchaine said share less than a third of the franchise fees they collect from MetroCast with LRPA-TV.
Also deferred by the board due to the lack of quorum at last night's meeting was a proposal to purchase new switching equipment at a cost of $15,000 to $18,000 for broadcasting the annual WLNH Children's Auction.
At last month's meeting, technical consultant Shane Selling told board members that the aging equipment used for last year's auction is no longer serviceable and that a new switcher, which could also be used in the studio year-round, would be a good investment.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 02:22

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