State's evidence against alleged Laconia home arsonist detailed in court

LACONIA — Deputy Fire Chief Charles Roffo testified yesterday in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division that there were two ignition points in a fire that heavily damaged a home at 44 Taylor St. on September 5.

Roffo was testifying at the probable cause hearing of John Woodbury, the husband of the owner of the home who has been charged with two counts of arson and is being held on $50,000 cash-only bail in the Belknap County Jail.

After about 45 minutes of testimony from Det. Jeffrey Wholley and Roffo, Judge Jim Carroll found probable cause to support the allegations and ordered his bail to be continued.

Roffo said he spent a total of seven hours with the N.H. State Fire Marshal at the Taylor Street house and between the two of them, they were able to eliminate all electrical causes, mechanical causes, and all natural event causes — like lightening.

He said that the two ignition points on on the back porch in the left rear of the the house plus one in a bedroom on the right side of the house were telling, in that in the kitchen and bathroom between the two ignition points there was much less damage.

Roffo said it was like the fire was burning toward those two rooms from two different directions.

He also noted there was no fire in the basement and the fire patterns in both the porch and the bedroom extended to the floor.

On cross examination, he admitted that a search for accelerants conducted by a fire marshal and a search dog was inconclusive.

Wholley testified that he learned through a multiple interviews with witnesses and friends that Woodbury and his wife Tina had argued that day around 4:30 p.m.

He testified that Woodbury had told his next door neighbor that they were going to have a fire that night. The neighbor told police this was unusual because the Woodburys have a fire pit in their back yard and often have fires, but have never told her about it before.

The next door neighbor told police that she saw Tina Woodbury when she returned to the house after learning about the fire. She said Tina walked up to Woodbury and said, "What the "(explicative)? You burned my house down."

Wholley said a second neighbor said he was taking a walk near his house on the street next door (Fairview St.) and saw Woodbury sitting in some grass about 150 feet away from the 44 Taylor Street home holding his dog by its collar.

The second neighbor said Woodbury approached him and, when asked, told him his wife was visiting friends. He told the man he was walking the dog.

Wholley testified that the man told police it was unusual because "in 20 years, he'd never seen John Woodbury walk his dog."

The neighbor said Woodbury walked back to where he was sitting and then he noticed flames about 10 to 15 feet high coming from the Woodbury home. He told police that when he called to Woodbury, his neighbor "nonchalantly strolled" back toward him.

Wholley said a third woman, the one who reported the fire, told police she didn't know Woodbury but when she asked him if it was his house, he didn't say anything.

She told police he didn't have any emotion and didn't offer to help when her and other people who were helping firefighters drag a four-inch hose down Taylor Street from Highland Street.

Wholley also read aloud the voice messages left by Woodbury on his wife's cell phone.

He said one came at 5:45 p.m. from a number that was John Woodbury's house number that said, "I am lighting the match right now..." Wholley said the call lasted 12 seconds.

A second call came to Tina's voice mail at 5:48 p.m. that said, "Tina, you should see the flames are starting to collect. Right. Right. Don't worry about fire wood."

Woodbury's attorney said the evidence present was largely circumstantial and didn't match the complaints that specifically allege Woodbury lit the house on fire to recklessly endanger the firefighters who fought it and the neighbor's house next door.

The case will be bound over to Superior Court for possible indictment.

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Bristol downtown merchants not head over heels in love with head-out parking

by Thomas P. Caldwell

BRISTOL — A year after the town reconfigured Central Square, drivers remain confused about the new "back-in" ("head-out") parking spaces and downtown merchants are complaining that confusion is causing them to lose business as well as posing safety issues for drivers and pedestrians.
The town is expecting a report from the Lakes Region Planning Commission and the N.H. Department of Transportation that will guide its response to the concerns. Michael Izard of LRPC said they are reviewing the information collected and design engineers from the DOT are analyzing the data to make an engineering judgment on whether the parking should be changed. He said he contacted the DOT on Sept. 15 and expects to be able to schedule a meeting with the Bristol selectmen as soon as he hears back from the state.
When planning the downtown improvements, officials outlined the reasons for head-out parking and Town Administrator Michael Capone said there was a lot of discussion at the time about the perceived benefits of implementing the change. State officials who supported head-out parking said it might cause some initial confusion but that people would get used to it.
"After nine months of construction, which hurt our business, now we're having people say they won't stop in because the parking is such a problem," said Shawn Economides, the branch manager of North Country Mortgage which is downtown on the corner of Pleasant and South Main streets. "People haven't gotten used to it. They're denting their cars and bending the signs they hit when trying to back into the parking spaces, and when people are backing in, the children on the sidewalk have to walk in the mulch" around a tree planted directly in front of his sign.
A few doors down, Aletha Lewis of Tin Shoppe Antiques said, "People sit in the road and look around and finally drive off. If they can park elsewhere, they will, but they won't park or are very nervous about trying to park in front of the store. Someone is always hitting the handicapped sign."
The downtown business owners say they have seen people pull forward into the slanted parking spaces, rather than backing in, and then, when they go to leave, they are facing the wrong way and some of them drive away in the wrong lane.
Because the new parking configurations are just around the corner from Pleasant Street, the merchants say they have seen drivers turn the corner and encounter someone trying to back into a parking space, and they sound their horns or shout obscenities at the driver who is parking. There have been several near-collisions, they say.
Economides said he tried twice to park the right way one day and, both times, he had another car right behind him, making it impossible. He had to circle the block three times and he finally pulled straight in — and subsequently had a visit from a Bristol police officer.
Capone would not address specific complaints, pending the study presentation, but he said the arguments for head-out parking included concerns that drivers backing into traffic would pose a hazard. With head-out parking, they would be able to see vehicles approaching from the rear. Additionally, the new parking configurations would make it safer to load purchases into the back of a hatchback or SUV because the loading would be from the sidewalk, rather than from the street. As for passengers, they would be exiting toward the sidewalk, rather than having to go around the open car door.
Studies have indicated that head-out parking is safer for bicyclists and pedestrians, based on the cities and towns that have used such parking configurations for 30 years in some cases.
Nevertheless, officials said they listened when they received complaints. "It's a good example of the DOT showing concern," said Izard. "It's an opportunity that doesn't come up very often, when job construction issues are raised by the DOT after a project is completed. They reached out to the planning commission to assess how well the new traffic pattern was working."
Izard said that, on the heels of a meeting between the town, the LRPC, and the DOT last fall, the planning commission began data collection last November, placing auto traffic counters downtown. They followed up with another traffic count in the spring, and also looked at the summer traffic volume, speed, whether pedestrians were safe, how much the traffic was queuing, etc. Included in the study was a traffic signal warrant study — Bristol residents have argued for years that there should be a traffic signal in the square, but the state has always said a signal there was unnecessary. (State routes 104 and 3-A pass through the center of town, so the state controls the intersection.)
Capone noted that North Main Street and the southern end of the square, which also have head-out parking, are town streets, so decisions there fall to the town. Another factor in making a change, he said, is that federal money contributed to the downtown project, and that changes might affect that funding.
Izard said he was reluctant to discuss the findings of the study in detail until the report is finalized but he did say that, from their observations, traffic is flowing through the downtown area effectively.
The study included the review of a 24-hour video provided by the town from a camera set up overlooking the reconfigured square. Izard said they decided mid-week would be the best time to record the traffic, based on the auto traffic counters and peak traffic studies.
Highway Engineer William Rose, who is with the DOT's Community Assistance Bureau, told selectmen that, until someone can demonstrate that the parking is less safe, he would not want to change it.
"I'm afraid someone from out of town who isn't familiar with the parking will be coming around that corner and will hit someone," said Lewis. "Is that what it's going to take?"

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Al Lessard retiring after 17+ years on Laconia Police force; 2 officers promoted to master rank

LACONIA — Police commissioners accepted the retirement of Lt. Alfred Lessard yesterday after 17 1/2 years of service to the Police Department.

Since becoming a lieutenant, Lessard has been responsible for coordinating hiring and training for the department as well as other administrative functions. He is also one of the public faces of the department for clubs and associations that work to eliminate alcohol and drug abuse among teens and young adults.

When he was a sergeant, Lessard is perhaps best remembered for his July 2010 daring rescue of a teenager who had jumped off the Fair Street railroad trestle and failed to resurface.

Lessard, stripped down to a T-shirt and pants, dove repeatedly to the bottom of the Winnipesaukee River until he found the girl lying face down on the bottom and was able to bring her to the surface.

Two other police officers administered CPR until EMTs arrived moments later.

The girl, a Manchester resident, made a full recovery after being airlifted to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and spending weeks in the intensive care unit.

Lessard's last day will be October 31.

In other business, Commissioners promoted officers Kevin Shortt and Kendra Neri to the rank of Master Patrol Officer. Chief Chris Adams said both had to have a minimum of seven years of service and have passed the sergeants test.

Commissions also approved Officer Eric Adams for the new position of Prevention, Enforcement and Treatment for drug abuse in Laconia.

Chief Chris Adams, (no relation) said Eric Adams was the perfect choice because of his experience as a corrections officer, as a former member of the N.H. Drug Task Force, and his work as a patrol office in Laconia.

Eric Adams is tasked with developing and bringing to fruition a specific program designed to better coordinate the efforts of police with those of the rest of the Laconia community like the jail, the social services agencies and the school district to better combat drug abuse in the city.

The money for the pilot program, $50,000, was made available to the Police Department by the City Council for use in combating the recent spate of drug overdoses — especially heroin.

CUTLINE: Police Chief Chris Adams pins newly promoted Master Patrol Officer Kevin Shortt at yesterday's Laconia Police Commission meeting. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Gail Ober)

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Meredith eliminates tunnel & 1 other 3/25 traffic congestion antidote

MEREDITH — An advisory committee working with the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (DOT) to improve the flow of traffic through the U.S. Route 3/N.H. Route 25 corridor yesterday rejected two options under consideration but couldn't reach a consensus on what option it will recommend.
Pressed by Selectman Lou Kahn, who chairs the committee, to reach a decision in time for public hearings to be held on whatever plan emerges before selectmen finalize the proposed town budget, only two members of the committee indicated that they were prepared to action one of the three options Kahn says the group faces.
He said that those options included a single-lane roundabout at the Rte. 3-25 intersection, a new intermediate traffic signal at the intersection, or taking no action at all.
In the hope of speeding up the process, Kahn has called for the next meeting of the committee to be held on Thursday, October 9 at 3 p.m.
The committee, which last month had rejected a proposal for a two-lane roundabout which planners from McFarland Johnson, Inc., project manager for DOT, had recommended, deep sixed two other options yesterday.
One was for a bypass which would consist of a new two-lane, one-way road carrying westbound traffic on Rte. 25 from its intersection with Pleasant Street across Hawkins Brook to Rte. 3, north of the US3/NH25 intersection, where a roundabout would be constructed south of the sewer pump station. The other was for a pedestrian tunnel across Rte. 3 from the Mills Falls Marketplace Dover Street parking lot to Hesky Park.
Gene McCarthy of McFarland Johnson, Inc., had recently told the committee the bypass plan had serious traffic flow flaws and would reduce the number of spaces in parking lots owned by the town and Meredith Village Savings Bank by half, as well as requiring significant environmental mitigation.
He told the committee yesterday that the proposed pedestrian tunnel would have to be 13 feet below Rte. 3 and would require relocation of both water and sewer lines. It would also have been eight feet below the level of Lake Winnipesaukee and require sump pumps to keep it dry.
The tunnel would also have been much longer than the distance across Rte. 3 as it would have had to meet federal standards which require a landing for every 18 inches of steps in a series of switchback ramps and would have had to be maintained by the town, including snow removal.
The adverse report prompted Rusty McLear of Hampshire Hospitality Holdings, who had suggested the idea of a tunnel be studied, to say ''that was really dumb idea,'' drawing a laugh from other committee members.
The options which remain under consideration include a single-lane roundabout, which the committee had asked to be designed so that it didn't encroach on the Bootleggers property at the intersection, and an intermediate traffic signal.
McCarthy said that the one option for the roundabout would require taking some of the Zachy's Pizzeria property and that the roundabout would be difficult to align with Main Street. It is also likely that, even if a slip lane to the north is built, it will not improve the current situation.
He said that traffic models through 2035 show that the roundabout will be overwhelmed by the growth in traffic over that time while a signalized intersection will handle traffic better. The traffic signal approach would require construction of a slip lane and a fifth eastbound lane which might encroach on the Inn at Bay point property as well as Scenic Park along Rte. 25.
Other options still under consideration include pedestrian traffic lights on Rte. 3 near Dover Street as well as a possible roundabout or traffic light at Pleasant Street which would prevent left hand turns onto Rte. 25 from the Hannaford parking lot and improve traffic flow.

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