Gilford drops underage drinking party charges against local woman because it can't produce the drinkers at trial

LACONIA — A case against a Gilford veterinarian charged with facilitating an under-aged drinking party at her home was dismissed in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division yesterday.

After attorney Matt Lahey made a motion to dismiss the charge against Dr. Brenda Stowe for lack of prosecution, Gilford Sgt. Prosecutor Eric Bredbury told the court that the state was unable to produce five witnesses who would testify they were at the party and under the age of 21 at the time.

"The witnesses are all over the world, including Vietnam," Bredbury said.

Stowe was charged with a misdemeanor after police were called to her home on May 26 after someone made a noise complaint. In a media release, Lt. Kris Kelley announced 18 people under the age of 21 were found in the home that were alleged to have consumed alcohol.

In this case, the attendees at the party were from an area private school and few of them were from New Hampshire.

While the law says five or more people who are under 21 must be at the party, Bredbury said, and two other local prosecutors agreed, that RSA 644:18 is very difficult to prosecute because the state, in Judge Jim Carroll's court, is required to produce at least five people who are not related to the defendant who will testify under oath that they were under 21 at the time of the party.

Belmont Prosecutor Dave Estes and Alton Prosecute Anthony Estee, Esq. said they had lost similar cases in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division and that Lahey had been the defense attorney in all three cases.

All three prosecutors said that police testimony regarding the ages of those who are at the party is considered hearsay — or not first party testimony — and serving subpoenas on five people not related to the homeowner who don't live in the immediate area is economically not a good use of limited state resources for prosecuting a misdemeanor.

Bredbury also explained that prosecutors have an obligation not to "waste the court's time" by trying cases when eye witnesses aren't available so he and his chief made the decision not to prosecute Dr. Stowe.

According to a training PowerPoint presentation for underage alcohol enforcement prepared by former Portsmouth Police Chief Michael Magnant in 2007, legislative work on RSA 644:18 began in 2002 when a group of students in Dover wanted to make it more difficult for people to host under-aged drinking and/or drug parties.

He said the state Legislature was slow to embrace a law that had the potential to make parents criminally liable for the actions of their children and in 2003 a legislative subcommittee determined the original bill was inexpedient to legislate, effectively killing it.

In 2004, said Magnant, a new bill was introduced and it was amended to require that the facilitator of the party had to know about it and act overtly to make the party happen. The new bill also added the clause about needing five or more people not related to the homeowner or occupant to be present.

Magnant said the law was designed specifically to make it difficult to prosecute because the Legislature was still fearful of criminalizing parents for actions of their children.

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With help, Plan N.H. team 're-imagines' Laconia

LACONIA — After hosting three design charettes last Friday, Plan N.H., a volunteer team of architects, engineers and planners, capped its contribution to the effort to the Planning Department's enterprise to "Reimagine Laconia" by presenting its suggestions to some 15 interested residents at the Grace Capital Church on Saturday afternoon.

Drawing on information gathered during the charettes, the team addressed each of three busineses "villages" composing the city — downtown, Lakeport and The Weirs — confining its vision to central elements of each. The team is in the process of preparing maps, including overlays of existing conditions, to illustrate its findings.

Dowtown, the team stressed calming the traffic and catering to pedestrians on both Beacon Street East and Beacon Street West. Beacon Street East, they suggested could be narrowed to a single lane of vehicles and a narrower lane for bicycles. At the same time, so-called bump-outs could be installed at pedestrian crossings, which by increasing the visibility of both the crossing and pedestrians would enhance safety. The street lights, which are currently more appropriate to a highway, could be lowered to match those on Main Street, creating a more urban ambence.

The team suggested breaking Becacon Street West near the intersection with Water Street where it would take a right angle turn toward Main Street then turn south to the Main Street Bridge. The reconfigured streetscape, they said, would create space for small shops facing Beacon Street West, which now looks on to the backs of stores on Main Street. Likewise, the team foresaw developing a portion of the City Hall parking lot by lining Beacon Street East, north of Hanover Street, with retail space.

At Weirs Beach, the team envisioned a destination hotel on the lot fat the corner of Endicott Street North and Lakeside Avenue overlooking the sign, formerly occupied by a waterslide. They encouraged completion of the WOW Trail from downtown through The Weirs to Meredith. The parking lot at Endicott Rock, they suggested, could be replaced with grassed park and a picnic pavilion and the connection between the beach and the Weirs Community Park over the Weirs Channel Bridge could be improved. The plan emphasized moving parking to the perimeter and enhancing the walkability of the center of Weirs Beach.

In Lakeport, the team concentrated on Lakeport Square, especially with proposals to improve the safety of pedestrians navigating the junction from all directions. Noting that the dearth of parking is a major concern of business owners, they suggested businesses operating at different hours be encouraged to share parking spaces. But they also decried the overall amount of asphalt in the area and recommended the dedication of a portion of the large Lake Opechee Inn & Spa parking lot to additional retail (canoe rentals, etc.) and a more direct connection to the lake itself.

Assistant Planner Brandee Loughlin said the results of the design charettes will be be incorporated into the land use chapter of the Master Plan.

Meanwhile, the Community Opportunities Group of Boston, which is contributing to the economic development section of the Master Plan, also met with residents on Saturday to discuss four major themes — identity and branding, entrepreneurship, workforce training and recruitment and strengthening existing businesses. Much of the emphasis fell on defining the unique identity of the community and fashioning a persuasive that would enable the city to market its assets and opportunities to potential entrepreneurs and investors.

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Laconia Fire Department offices temporarily relocated to Opechee Park

LACONIA — The administrative offices of the Fire Department have begun operating from the Opechee Park House at 915 North Main Street, where Fire Chief Ken Erickson expects they will remain for approximately six weeks.

The offices are open to the public on weekdays, Monday through Friday, between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. excluding holidays. Except for emergencies, all business with the department, other than emergencies, such as seeking permits, scheduling inspections and other questions, will be conducted at the administrative offices, which can be reached at 524-6881.

Those needing to speak with a member of the Fire Department outside of normal business hours can call 524-6881 or visit the Central Fire Station and as long as there is someone at the station, they will provide assistance.

As always, in the event of an emergency In an emergency, dial 911.

The offices were relocated to facilitate renovation of the nearby Central Fire Station and Chief Ken Erickson said the department appreciates the understanding and patience of the public during this period. He also expressed gratitude to Coach Craig Kozens and member of the Laconia High School football team for assisting the department in moving the offices.

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