2013 was the year of the hermit.
News about the capture of Christopher T. Knight, dubbed the North Pond Hermit, who spent decades living alone in the woods not far from the camps he repeatedly robbed, gained national and international interest.
His arrest in early April brought relief to scores of property owners in the Rome/Smithfield area and particularly to employees at Pine Tree Camp, which hosts programs for disabled children and adults, and where dining hall supplies had been a favorite target of Knight.
He showed investigators his well-camouflaged campsite, where they found stolen items that occasionally had former owners’ names written on them.
Knight told police he burglarized unoccupied camps at night, carrying off propane tanks, tools, batteries, sleeping bags, food and occasionally beer.
Knight, 48, who spent more than half a year in jail in Augusta, pleaded guilty in court to a handful of burglaries and thefts. Those charges represented a small portion of the estimated 1,000 or more burglaries Knight told investigators he committed during a 27-year period in the woods in the area of North, East and Little North ponds.
Knight is out of jail and living in the community while participating in a special program that requires him to appear in front of a judge once a week.
Neither he nor his attorney have said why Knight left his Albion home some time after 1986 to go live in the woods. When he was arrested, he told police everything he had except his eyeglasses was stolen.
He also told a state trooper he wanted to make amends.
MaineGeneral Medical Center started a new chapter for healthcare in the Kennebec Valley with the opening of its new 192-bed hospital on Old Belgrade Road in north Augusta and the closing of its hospital on East Chestnut Street.
The $312 million complex consolidated beds from Augusta and from the hospital’s Thayer Center for Health in Waterville.
It was built in record time, transforming a farm-turned-golf course into a multistory, multifunction building in 24 months with mostly Maine contractors and overwhelmingly Maine workers.
In connection with that new building, the capital city doubled its ration of roundabouts when two more were erected to better connect the hospital with Interstate 95 exit 113. That’s where the flaggers came in with their ubiquitous “stop” and “slow” signs.
Lanes were closed, roads were revamped, traffic signals were installed, all part of the $11 million project that was also aimed at easing congestion at exit 112.
Flaggers also were essential as natural gas companies made big inroads in the capital area.
Maine Natural Gas and Summit Natural Gas of Maine competed for contracts to supply natural gas to governmental and private institutions, and occasionally two separate pipelines ran down opposite sides of the same roadway. With crews from both companies working to lay pipe in Augusta, motorists and residents in the city dealt with what city officials said was an unprecedented amount of construction on city streets.
Maine Natural Gas started flowing gas in its pipeline in late October.
Summit officials said they expected to start flowing gas roughly around Christmas.
Summit’s $350 million pipeline project is expected to serve customers throughout the Kennebec Valley, from Gardiner to Madison. Maine Natural Gas’ project is targeted more tightly on Augusta.
Top crime stories include former Chelsea selectwoman Carole Swan being convicted this summer of taking kickbacks from a Whitefield contractor. After a separate, three-week trial also in the same federal courtroom in Bangor, she was convicted of defrauding federal workers’ compensation and the IRS. Sentencing for her and her husband, Marshall Swan, who was convicted only of filing false tax returns over a five-year period, is expected to take place in 2014.
Two people are behind bars facing charges of murder in connection with separate slayings.
Courtney D. Shea, 30, of Vassalboro, is accused of killing Thomas A. Namer, 69, of Waterville in Vassalboro on Nov. 21. Shea told police he had called Namer for a ride and then “blacked out” and killed him after Namer sought a sexual favor from him.
Justin G. Pillsbury, 39, of Augusta is charged in the Oct. 13 stabbing death of his girlfriend, Jillian Jones, 24, in an Augusta apartment. Pillsbury also apparently stabbed himself in the head and neck.
The capital area lost a prominent citizen and generous benefactor when Elsie Pike Viles, 98, died March 9 in the historic Stone Street home she had lived in since 1955.
Donations from the Elsie & William Viles Foundation built the healing garden at the Harold Alfond Center for Cancer Care and helped fund the new MaineGeneral Medical Center, the proposed Lithgow Public Library expansion, the building of the Kennebec Valley YMCA, the stained-glass window restoration at South Parish Congregational Church and the auditorium at Cony High School among many other civic endeavors.
Sylvester “Cobby” Cobbs, a photographer, community volunteer and popular substitute teacher known for teaching students as much about life as academics, died June 10 at age 83 as a result of injuries he suffered in a car accident two weeks earlier in Winthrop.
Other top headlines
A number of tenants were left homeless after Augusta officials found serious code violations in the apartment buildings they live in. At least 11 buildings, most of them on Sand Hill, were ordered closed until their owners could make repairs. Some of those buildings lacked hot water and heat.
Riverview Psychiatric Center, the state forensic hospital, faced a number of problems. A vicious attack by a patient on a mental health worker there resulted in the placing of some corrections officers in the hospital. That response attracted the attention of regulators at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services who removed the hospital’s certification which could mean the loss of federal funds.
The owner of the Red Barn on Riverside Drive, Laura Benedict, started the year with an award from the Chamber of Commerce for community service — raising money for nonprofit groups and for the needy. The restaurant’s kitchen fed 500 people on Thanksgiving and another hundred or so the next day. However, those efforts ran afoul of the state’s Charitable Solicitations Act. Enforcement action by the attorney general’s office raised outrage among diners and others. Restaurant owner Benedict plans to form a nonprofit organization to handle the company’s charitable efforts.