In 2012, central Maine saw violent deaths, numerous pharmacy robberies, a natural gas war, progress on construction of a new $312 million regional hospital and $55 million courthouse, and the flight from Maine of a former prosecutor free on bail while his child pornography convictions were appealed.

Other top stories?

The federal indictment of a former Chelsea official on numerous charges including extortion, and mental health patients deemed not criminally responsible for committing violent crimes being moved into group homes in the community.

Here’s a roundup of some of the top stories in the Augusta area for the year:

Violent deaths

In 2012, several people were linked to or convicted of homicides that occurred even decades earlier.

Peter George Bathgate, 32, of Augusta, was sentenced in January to 45 years in prison after pleading guilty to the December 2010 murder of 47-year-old Paul Allen in Augusta. Police said Bathgate, who believed Allen had flirted with his girlfriend and mother of his child, beat Allen with a cane and stabbed him before running Allen over with his own truck. Allen’s body was found alongside Winthrop Street in Hallowell.

Michael Thomas Young, 41, of Augusta, pleaded guilty in December to manslaughter and was sentenced to 12 years in prison, with all but six years suspended, in connection with the June 2011 stabbing death of 46-year-old David Cox inside the Green Street apartment the men shared. Young continues to claim the death was an accident, but the state medical examiner determined Cox died of a stab wound to the heart.

Not all the death cases connected to Central Maine occurred here. A Lake County, Calif., jury in December convicted former Augusta resident Robby Alan Beasley, 32, of two counts of murder and other charges, in connection with the 2010 slaying of former Augusta residents Frank and Yvette Maddox in California. Beasley, who continues to claim he is innocent and plans an appeal, is scheduled to be sentenced in early January.

Beasley’s conviction is not the only investigation to extend from Maine to the West Coast. Gary Sanford Raub, 64, was arrested in Seattle in October in connection with the 1976 death of 70-year-old Blanche M. Kimball inside her home on State Street in Augusta. Raub, who continues to await extradition to Maine, is expected to be charged with murder when he arrives in Kennebec County, which is likely to occur in January. The Kimball slaying is the oldest cold case investigation to result in charges in state history.

There was one homicide in Kennebec County in 2012 that did not result in charges. James Dodge, 38, died July 13 after he was stabbed in the chest inside a home at 324 Hanson Road in China which he shared with his girlfriend, Rebecca Bragg, for the past several years. While the state medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, meaning it was not self-inflicted, the attorney general’s office announced in November that it would not to bring charges because investigators were unable to disprove that Dodge was stabbed in self defense.

School deconsolidation

Five years after passage of a law requiring school districts to consolidate or face financial penalties, dissatisfaction and resentment linger.

That’s evident from the wave of municipalities that began to seek a way out of their regional school units as soon as they were legally allowed.

Residents of dozens of municipalities petitioned for withdrawal in 2012 after the end of a 30-month statutory waiting period. Many of the state’s RSUs began operating on July 1, 2009, so petitioners could start collecting signatures on Jan. 1, 2012.

In central Maine, Monmouth is negotiating a withdrawal from RSU 2, and Palermo, Westport Island and Wiscasset are all trying to leave eight-town RSU 12. China voters, on the other hand, rejected the chance to start the process of withdrawing from RSU 18.

The process can be a long one, but four municipalities reached the final step of voting on a withdrawal agreement in November. Voters in three of them — Glenburn and Veazie in RSU 26 and Frankfort in RSU 20 — approved the agreements, while Arundel voters chose not to leave RSU 21.

Former prosecutor captured

Former state drug prosecutor James Cameron’s 2010 conviction on child pornography charges was one of the most memorable criminal cases Maine has seen in recent years.

But Cameron’s case took a bizarre twist Nov. 15, when he cut his monitoring bracelet and fled his Rome residence hours after finding most of his appeals of the charges failed. This touched off a nationwide manhunt led by U.S. marshals.

It took more than two weeks for marshals to find him — the marshals service said he was apprehended Dec. 3 while walking out of a bathroom at an entertainment store in Albuquerque, N.M.

He has a court date Jan. 10, 2013 in Portland, where his bail will almost certainly be revoked.

Pharmacy robbery capital

Maine’s capital city was ground zero for what was perhaps the state’s most visible and pressing public safety problem in 2012: Pharmacy robberies police say are mostly fueled by prescription drug abuse.

The state saw 54 pharmacy robberies in 2012. That was 30 more than the year before. Of the 2012 total, nine were in Augusta — more than any other municipality in Maine.

After the ninth robbery, city police said they apprehended suspects in seven of the nine cases and were following up on leads in the other two. Nobody was hurt in any of the robberies, three of which took place at the CVS pharmacy on Capitol Street.

Off-road enthusiasts die

Three local residents died in May while off-roading in a highly modified Jeep Wrangler in Windsor.

Reginald “Skip” Gay, 41; his wife, Samantha Davis-Gay, 33, both of Windsor; and Luke Thompson, 22, of China, died of accidental acute carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the state Medical Examiner’s Office.

Investigators believe the three died after Gay’s Jeep became stuck in a bog. Gay, an experienced off-road driver who owned Hard Core 4 x 4 in Windsor, continued to rev the engine, which created excessive exhaust fumes that entered the cab of the vehicle.

Swan saga

Former Chelsea selectman Carole Swan, 54, was indicted Feb. 29 on federal charges, including extorting money from a town contractor, making false statements on federal income tax returns and on federal worker’s compensation benefit programs, as well as federal program fraud connected to the Windsor Road Culvert Project.

Her husband, contractor Marshall Swan, 55, was indicted on similar charges of income tax and federal program fraud.

Both pleaded not guilty to all charges, and at a pretrial hearing Dec. 5, Carole Swan, who served 19 years as a town selectman, testified that she could neither read nor write although she could understand numbers. Her attorney indicated that factor would be significant to her defense.

The cases are being readied for trial in 2013.

Natural gas competition

Two major companies battled throughout the year to bring natural gas, and its relative low cost compared to oil, to the Kennebec Valley.

The battle continues as one of the firms, Maine Natural Gas, has begun laying pipe in the area while the other, Summit Natural Gas of Maine, awaits state Public Utilities Commission unconditional approval to begin serving customers in Maine. Company officials have said they anticipate getting that approval soon.

Officials of Summit have said they will build a $150 million pipeline system to distribute gas throughout the Kennebec Valley, while Maine Natural Gas officials have said they will also build a $150 million system serving roughly the same area, if there is enough demand to make it economically feasible.

Authorities have said an average central Maine homeowner burning oil could save about $1,500 a year by converting to natural gas.

The same two companies are also battling in court over the right to bring gas to state facilities.

Regional hospital rises

This was the year of steel and concrete and glass as MaineGeneral Medical Center’s new 192-bed regional hospital took shape next to Interstate 95 in northwest Augusta. By December, the entire building was framed and almost all of it closed in.

With workers numbering 650 or more at peak times, the facility will replace in-patient facilities at the East Chestnut Street hospital in Augusta and at the Thayer campus in Waterville. Thayer will remain open as an outpatient center with a 24-hour emergency department.

The opening date for the new hospital is Dec. 7, 2013, six months ahead of original projections.

Court building begins

The former Crisis & Counseling Centers Inc. building and the Augusta Spiritualist Church on Perham Street were razed this summer to make way for a new, four-story building that will consolidate a number of court functions spread throughout central Augusta and improve security.

The counseling agency moved to Caldwell Street and a new church is under construction on Townsend Road.

The consolidated courthouse, expected to open in spring 2015, will link to the 1830 granite block Kennebec County Courthouse, at the corner of Winthrop and State streets.

Crash kills two, driver charged

While several people died in automobile accidents throughout Kennebec County in 2012, only one of those accidents resulted in charges being brought against the driver.

Travis Lawler, 23, a Marine home on leave at the time, is facing numerous charges in connection to a June 16 crash on Horse Point Road in Belgrade that killed two of his passengers, including his sister, Kristin Lawler, 20, of Oakland, and her 25-year-old boyfriend, Jackson Bolduc, of Belgrade. A third passenger, Dylan Desroches, 20, of Waterville, was flown to the hospital with serious injuries and later released.

Kidnapper nabbed

Last year’s Christmas season was marked by one of the more unnerving incidents in recent memory, when a man approached a woman in the Augusta Walmart parking lot and forced her into her own car at knife point before driving her around the city and stealing her money.

Shawn Allen Doray, 34, a transient who had been living in an Augusta basement, was arrested two weeks after the Dec. 20, 2011 kidnapping. Doray pleaded guilty in June to robbing and kidnapping the woman as well as charges of criminal threatening and criminal mischief.

Doray admitted he was high on crack cocaine at the time when he approached the 52-year-old woman in the parking lot.

Police dog stabbed

Not all crime victims in 2012 were humans.

In October, Dustin Smith, 20, of Augusta, stabbed Draco, a dog working with Kennebec County sheriff’s deputies, during a standoff in Randolph.

Smith was sentenced in December to two years in prison after he was convicted on three counts of terrorizing and one count each of interference with law enforcement dogs, refusing to submit to arrest or detention/refusing to stop, and assault. Smith also was ordered to pay $400 restitution for veterinary expenses for Draco.

Draco has since made a full recovery and has returned to duty, according to the German shepherd’s handler, Corp. G.J. Neagle of the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office.

Group homes worry capital

Augusta residents worried after two killers in psychiatric custody were moved off state grounds and into city neighborhoods.

Mark A. Bechard was found not criminally responsible and was committed to state custody in 1996 after he entered the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament convent in Waterville and attacked four nuns, killing Mother Superior Edna Mary Cardozo and Sister Marie Julien Fortin.

Enoch Petrucelly, of Palmyra, was committed to state custody after being found not criminally responsible for stabbing his brother in 2008.

Both were living in group homes on the grounds of the former Augusta Mental Health Institute, adjacent to Riverview Psychiatric Center, but those homes were closed this year, primarily for financial reasons.

The patients living in those homes have since been moved to two Motivational Services group homes in Augusta, off state grounds, at 14 Glenridge Drive and 22-24 Green Street.

The home at 14 Glenridge Drive is near a nursing home, large apartment complex, a daycare, and one of the city’s largest residential neighborhoods.

Neighbors and city officials objected to the move, with officials saying the city was not notified and that the city bears an unfair burden as host to such group homes. Residents said they felt their families were being put at risk.

State officials said patients at the group homes are closely monitored and must follow their treatment plans.

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