Fighting fires - Rescuers kept busy over weekend with blazes, search for missing man


Building and brush fires, a search for a missing man and a guy who jumped out of a car on the bypass kept area firefighters busy for most of the past weekend.

The weekend began with a house fire accompanied by a brush fire on Reservoir Road in Northfield that was reported around 4 p.m. Friday. Tilton-Northfield Fire Chief Mike Sitar said the house fire was caused by an electrical problem, but since no one was home, it burned for quite a while before it was noticed and reported.

He said the house fire spread to the dry grass and fields around the house and it was police officers from Tilton and Northfield who kept the grass fire at bay.

"It was a trying situation," said Sitar, who said they could only get one truck up the long driveway to the home and many firefighters had to walk up the hill with their gear.

Sitar said his department also responded to several mutual aid calls that included sending a three-person crew and a brush truck to Stoddard on Friday to assist them in a four-day battle with a forest fire.

On Saturday, firefighting began early with a brush fire near Hickory Stick Lane, where Belmont, Laconia and Gilford crews extinguished the flames before they could reach a nearby home. Laconia Fire Chief Ken Erickson said it appears the fire was started by a discarded cigarette.

At 2 p.m., Laconia, Belmont and Gilmanton crews responded to a garage fire on Allens Mill Road in Gilmanton and just after clearing from there, firefighters from Laconia, Meredith and Gilford went to a fire at Petal Pushers on Parade Road, where two greenhouses and a pile of mulch burned for several hours.

Erickson said they had just finished with Petal Pushers when they were called to Center Street in downtown Laconia for a small brush fire burning between two three-story wood-frame houses.

Erickson said it appears a small child set the fire, knew what he had done was wrong and immediately told his mother, who called 911.
At 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Laconia and Belmont crews responded to a Sargent Lake Road for a brush fire that went to a second alarm and brought crews from Tilton-Northfield to the scene.

At midnight, crews from Laconia, Gilford and Meredith responded to a burning garbage barrel on the front porch of a building on Messer Street. Erickson said the fire was quickly extinguished and did minimal damage to the house.

While Gilford was providing mutual aid to the surrounding area, Deputy Chief Brad Ober said they spent eight hours on Sunday seeking a man who was later found deceased by members of the state Department of Fish and Game.

On Saturday, Ober said they responded to a report of a man who jumped from a moving car on the Laconia Bypass after having an argument with his girlfriend.

Ober said firefighter spent about 30 minutes looking for him. The man eventually came out of the woods and declined treatment. Ober said fire crews left him in the company of the Gilford Police.

All chiefs said they wanted to thank all of the regular and call firefighters for all of the work they did on what all agreed was an extraordinarily busy weekend.

"Throughout the weekend the Lakes Region area fire departments were tasted several time and did great work each time," said Erickson. "The mutual aid system proved it's value time and time again."

04-26 Northfield house fire

This home in Northfield burned for several hours before the fire that destroyed much of the building was noticed. (Photo courtesy Northfield-Tilton Fire Rescue)

04-26 Northfield house fire

Summer vote? Petition reopens community center controversy (445)


MOULTONBOROUGH — After voters convincingly rejected a proposal to construct a community center at the cost $6.5 million last month, a petition has begun making the rounds to convene a special Town Meeting to consider rehabilitating the Lions Club to serve as a community center and converting the Adele Taylor property in the village to a town common.

Joe Cormier, who became a figure of controversy by silencing debate on the proposed community center before it began at Town Meeting, confirmed Monday that he initiated the petition. He said that after discussing the prospects of building what he called a "scaled down" community center with several others, "I grabbed the money and ran with it."

Cormier said that the town owns both properties and suggested both could be put to use for significantly less than what was proposed to build the 20,000-square-foot facility, which included an 11,000-square-foot gymnasium, scuttled at the annual Town Meeting. He noted that the town acquired the Lions Club site for $495,000, which includes a 5,700-square-foot building, in 2007, then leased it to the club for 10 years. The lease, he said, expires in June 2017. The town acquired the Adele Taylor property, a 5.09-acre lot with a single-family home in the center of the village, in 2014 for $275,000.

Cormier's petition consists of the two articles. The first asks if the town will vote to "repair and rehabilitate" the Lions Club, which could include expanding the footprint of the building. He proposes convening a committee of not less than five or more eleven members, none of whom serve as elected or appointed members of any other committee in the town or school district, chaired by the town administrator. The size of the committee would be set by voters at the special town meeting and the members appointed by the town moderator at the same meeting. The committee's recommendation would be presented to the Town Meeting in March 2017.

The second article simply asks if the town will vote to create a common or park at what is known as the Adele Taylor property.

The petition requires the signatures of 50 registered voters. If enough signatures are gathered, the meeting would be held between the second week in July and second week in August.

"I thought I would just put it up for grabs," Cormier said, adding that he has only just begun soliciting signatures. He suggested that voters in March rejected the proposed community because they found the cost excessive and questioned the need for a gymnasium. Although he allowed that the Lions Club might be expanded to include a "small gymnasium," Cormier said that the entire complex could be completed for much less than $6.5 million.

Evidence of previous alleged crime will be heard by jury in deputy rape case


MANCHESTER — A jury will hear that a former Belknap County deputy sergeant allegedly coerced his female victim with cigarettes and cell phone use at least two times prior to raping her in a house in Bedford on the way to the prison in Goffstown, a Superior Court judge ruled yesterday.

After hearing arguments yesterday morning, Hillsborough County North Judge Gillian Abramson ruled the state could present evidence that Ernest Justin Blanchette, 36, of Epping had similarly coerced a prisoner, "B.H.," in two incidents leading up to the alleged events of July 2, 2015.

With jury selection complete, the trial is scheduled to begin Wednesday at 10 a.m.

Blanchette is charged with one count of aggravated felonious sexual assault in Hillsborough County. He is also charged with two separate counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault in Belknap County for events that allegedly took place before July 2 but with the same victim. Trial for those cases have been set for later this year.

"In this state, evidence does does not have to be infallible to be admissible," wrote Abramson, quoting from a ruling from 1967 and rebutting Blanchette's attorney who said the information falls directly within one of the rules that prohibits evidence that would prejudice or unduly affect a jury.

Abramson added that Blanchette's claim that telling the jury about what allegedly happened months before and in Belknap County is a "trial within a trial" because it would require him to provide rebuttal testimony. She said Blanchette's attorney can cross-examine the witness and call rebuttal witnesses if he wants and any delay this causes would be minimal but would not outweigh the value of the jury's need to hear it.

She said she will instruct the jury that if it should find there was prior sexual contact between Blanchette and B.H. in the past, it may not consider it in the present case when determining whether there was sex in this case.

New Hampshire law RSA 632-A:2(n) states that a crime is aggravated felonious sexual assault when the actor is in a position of authority over the victim and uses this authority to coerce the victim to submit under any of the following circumstances:
(1) When the actor has direct supervisory or disciplinary authority over the victim by virtue of the victim being incarcerated in a correctional institution, the secure psychiatric unit, or juvenile detention facility where the actor is employed. Consent of the victim under any of the circumstances set forth in subparagraph (n) shall not be considered a defense.