JAY — Armed with a shotgun, a former employee of Verso Paper’s Androscoggin Mill took the mill manager hostage, then surrendered after a nearly 10-hour standoff Wednesday, according to the Department of Public Safety.

Frank Smith, 49, of Norridgewock, surrendered to a state police tactical team about 6:30 p.m., after releasing the mill manager unharmed earlier in the day, Department of Public Safety spokesman Steve McCausland said.

The mill manager, Marc Connor, 43, was freed after Smith spoke for several hours with state police negotiators, who responded to the scene along with the tactical team, McCausland said.

McCausland said he did not know details of how Smith surrendered, saying he was taken into custody by state police without shots being fired. Smith was taken to Franklin County Detention Center in Farmington, McCausland said.

A mill spokeswoman, Cherilee Budrick, said all mill employees were “safe and out of harm’s way” after Connor had been freed Wednesday afternoon.

Area police agencies responded within minutes of the emergency call reporting the incident, which began around 9 a.m., Budrick said.

State police evacuated the administrative building upon arrival. Meanwhile, employees continued to work throughout the day in other parts of the mill, which are isolated from the administrative building, Budrick said.
The mill has about 1,000 employees who work in shifts to keep the operation running 24 hours a day, she said, adding it’s unclear how many were working at any given time Wednesday.

McCausland did not have details about Smith’s employment at the mill. A current mill employee, who did not want to be identified because he was not authorized to speak on the situation, said Wednesday evening that Smith was fired several months ago.

Smith faces charges of creating a police standoff and kidnapping, McCausland said.

For most of the day, dozens of logging trucks lined Riley Road leading up to the mill, which stands on the banks of the Androscoggin River. Police cruisers and vehicles remained parked outside the mill Wednesday evening, while the roadway was closed to traffic.

Among the truck drivers stopped in the moring was Kim Ludden, 48, of Unity. She works for H.O. Bouchard Inc. and was making an oil delivery to the mill around 9 a.m., just as the incident unfolded.

Mill officials stopped her and several other truck drivers making deliveries, saying there was a situation involving a disgruntled former employee, Ludden said, adding that police vehicles began arriving shortly thereafter.
Town Manager Ruth Cushman described the paper mill as vital to Jay and the entire region. She added that it is the largest employer in Franklin County.

As news of the hostage taking at the mill unfolded, community members started calling the Town Office for information about people working at the mill. Cushman, 62, spent the day passing along updates from the town police chief, Larry White Sr., who was at the scene and kept town officials informed.

Workers at the Town Office, some of whom are former mill workers, also got calls from employees inside the mill during the standoff to provide updates, she said.

“There are a lot of people in the mill who were calling out and telling their loved ones that they are OK,” Cushman said.

David Robinson — 861-9287
[email protected]

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