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Erickson retires LFD Dive Team

LACONIA — Fire Chief Ken Erickson said yesterday that his decision to retire the department's Dive Team reflected the changed circumstances of the unit, while emphasizing that the capacity of the department to respond to emergencies on water and ice remained undiminished.

The Dive Team was begun, inspired and led by firefighter Mark Miller, who drowned beneath the ice off Weirs Beach while training on March 11, 2004. Erickson said that he delayed his announcement until after the department marked the tenth anniversary of Miller's passing and speaking with his widow Gayle and Cynthia Makris, whose father Peter was the team's leading patron.

Last year, when Municipal Resources, Inc. undertook an analysis of the operations and staffing of the Fire Department, included among its recommendations was a suggestion that the department reconsider the Dive Team and concentrate its resources on its most essential functions and responsibilities. "I had been thinking about it before the report," Erickson said, "but that focused my attention."

Erickson said that with Miller's leadership and inspiration the team numbered nine fully certified divers, trained in underwater rescue and recovery as well as to dive underneath a frozen surface, and a full complement of tenders to assist them. However, since then the number has dwindled with retirements, injuries and aging . "We're running short of qualified divers," he said. He explained that for one diver to enter the water safely, at least a second diver and tender in support are required.

Moreover, Erickson said that experience cast doubt on the role of the Dive Team. "We had a couple of drownings," he noted, "but by the time we could get a diver in the water, we weren't going to rescue anybody." He recalled that several years ago, when a swimmer drowned off Bond Beach, Firefighter Mike Shastany raced from his home, donned his mask and flippers and recovered the lifeless body. "We still have that capability," Erickson said, adding that in any event the recovery of victims of drowning is the responsibility of the New Hampshire Fish & Game Department.
He said that the Dive Team spent more time seeking to recover evidence for the Police Department than engaged in underwater rescues.

However, Erickson stressed that the department has the personnel and equipment to respond to emergencies on the water and ice. The fleet consists of two inflatables, one of 15 feet at Central Station and another of 21 feet at The Weirs, the Fire/Rescue Boat bearing Miller's name and a 21-foot center console craft on loan from New Hampshire Marine Patrol. With one at the Water Street boat launch, another at the Laconia Water Works and a third at The Weirs, Erickson said that the department is positioned to respond quickly on all the lakes as well as the Winnipesaukee River.

"The Dive Team was a relatively small component of our water rescue capability," he said. "We are still the first responders and we have the training and the boats to do the job."

The equipment and operations of the Dive Team were financed entirely by private donations to the Life Saving Fund, which was established in 2004. Erickson said that the fund will remain in place to support the department's marine operations as well as the Laconia CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) and Veterans Count, an affiliate of the Easter Seals program.

Last Updated on Friday, 04 April 2014 11:38

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Police remain at Belmont home 9 hours after medical 911 call received

BELMONT — At 4 p.m. yesterday, police were still at the scene of an apparent investigation at 7 Northbrook Road. They arrived on the scene, some nine hours earlier in response to a medical call at 4:45 a.m.

Lt. Richard Mann said some people who were in the home called 9-1-1 and reported that there was a medical emergency. When police and fire arrived, they found someone performing CPR on a unnamed 23-year-old male.

Emergency personnel took over and the man was taken to Lakes Region General Hospital in Laconia His whereabouts now is unknown but Mann said he is still alive.

Mann said there were five people in the mobile home and all of them agreed to be interviewed by police to see if there had been any criminal activity. He said none of them appeared to be intoxicated and none of them are facing any charges.

He said the unidentified man was a Belmont native but beyond that he declined to comment. Mann said he believes the man was an occasional resident of the home but said actual resident of the property has been hospitalized recently for illness.

Belmont detectives wearing white protective gear could be seen coming in and out of the mobile home and depositing things in a police vehicle. Mann said the apparent search was the result of a search warrant obtained by police earlier in the day.

The door to the home was blocked by crime scene tape and the outside of the home was strewn with what appeared to be children's toys. Mann said there were no children in the home when police and firefighters arrived.

Samantha Hall said she lives in the same mobile home park and said the people who live at 7 Northbrook Road have lived there for a few months.

She said she has seen cars come to the home. "Sometimes they're the same cars and sometimes they're different," she said.

Hall said she has a job, often works in the evenings, and doesn't know the people who live there.

Last Updated on Friday, 04 April 2014 11:33

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Tilton police detective allowed to 'take the 5th'

LACONIA — A Tilton police corporal has invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and will not testify in a rape case he investigated for fear of criminally implicating himself in a different matter.

Belknap County Superior Court Judge James O'Neill ruled Wednesday that Det. Cpl. Matthew Dawson cannot be compelled to testify or be deposed regarding the case against Thomas Gardner that the Tilton Police Department investigated two years ago and is now scheduled for trial.

Dawson is on the payroll of the Tilton Police but hasn't worked since early November, said Selectman Pat Consentino. He earns $30.68 per hour.

At the Tuesday hearing, both Gardner's attorney Wade Harwood and Dawson's attorney Peter Peter Perroni indicated that Dawson is also the subject of an internal investigation being conducted by the Tilton Police Department.

Perroni, who is an attorney for the New England Police Benevolent Association, said Dawson is invoking his right against self-incrimination because he may be connected to an ongoing criminal investigation of an unknown nature.

O'Neill's ruling came after the hearing, where it was disclosed the Dawson was the subject of a "Laurie order" or a determination by a judge that a police officer has committed one of several actions that could call his or her credibility as a witness into question.

A "Laurie order" means that if a police department and/or a county attorney has information in an otherwise private personnel file that could call his or her ability to tell the truth into question, it must be disclosed to the defense if the defense intends to put that officer on the stand.

A review of Gardner's file shows both Harwood and Assistant Belknap County Attorney Carley Ahern have included Dawson as a potential witness against Gardner.

Perroni said in his opinion Harwood was trying to impugn the veracity of the entire Tilton Police Department by putting Dawson on the stand when the primary investigation into the rape allegedly committed by Gardner was conducted by Tilton Police Detective Nate Buffington.

Harwood argued that there may be some things he would ask Dawson in either a trial or a deposition that could present Fifth Amendment problems for him but that Dawson was part of the investigation against his client and his client has a constitutional right to confront his accuser and ask him questions.

Harwood said the questions he would ask could be reviewed by a judge in a "in camera" review or one that takes place out of the ear of the public and he would likely appeal O'Neill's ruling to allow Dawson to stay off the stand.

Jury selection for Gardner's rape trial is scheduled for June 2, 2014. As of yesterday, Harwood has not filed an appeal of O'Neill's ruling.

Last Updated on Monday, 07 April 2014 01:40

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Johnson moving from LMS to Woodland Heights, Ennis will move up to top job at middle school

LACONIA — School Superintendent Terri Forsten announced yesterday that current Middle School Principal Eric Johnson will take over as the principal at Woodland Heights Elementary School beginning next year.

Johnson, whose roots are in elementary education, was the principal at Pleasant Street School before being shifted to the Middle School two years ago. He will replace current Principal Dennis Dobe. Johnson has been with the Laconia School District for seven years.

Taking over at helm of the Lacona Middle School will be current Asst. Principal Chris Ennis, who has been in the district for 18 years. For the past 15 years, Ennis has been at the Middle School and is also one of the team that designed the school's security plan.

The school district is currently reviewing application for a principal spot at Elm Street School.

Last Updated on Friday, 04 April 2014 01:21

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