The year opened with the polar vortex sending temperatures down well below zero in central Maine and ended with a hard rain at Christmas and near record high temperatures. In between municipal leadership changed, tragedy struck and murder seemed all too common.

Waterville elected a new mayor in Nick Isgro in 2014; Skowhegan and Oakland got new town managers, Christine Almand and Gary Bowman; and Madison Town Manager Dana Berry retired. Natural gas finally flowed to paper mills in Skowhegan and Madison, but the mills’ value for taxation dropped dramatically, sending municipal officials scrambling to appeal the towns’ state valuation for 2015. The supplier, Summit Natural Gas of Maine, told officials at the University of Maine at Farmington it could not guarantee a gas pipeline to Farmington could be built by 2016.

Recycling and purple trash bags caused a stir in Waterville. In June the town of Oakland corralled a gaggle of geese at the boat launch on Messalonskee Lake with the help of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which later killed them because of a misunderstanding.

A man with a gun tattoo at his waistband awoke to police knocking on his door and gained national attention when his story went viral. A Bingham man allegedly wielding a hammer was arrested and charged with robbing the Camden National Bank and Skowhegan Savings Bank branches in his home town. There were pharmacy robberies and drug thefts all over central Maine in 2014. Agricultural programs were established at Kennebec Valley Community College and at the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences on the campus of Good Will-Hinckley, all in Fairfield.


• Nicholas Isgro, a 33-year-old bank controller, was elected Waterville mayor in November. He will be the city’s 53rd mayor after winning the seat in a three-way election. A Republican, Isgro was elected with 2,470 votes to Democrat Stephen Aucoin’s 2,047 and City Councilor Karen Rancourt-Thomas’ 955 votes.

Rancourt-Thomas, a Democrat who represents Ward 7, ran with no party affiliation. Isgro will replace Mayor Karen Heck, who chose not to seek re-election after a single three-year term. Heck, who is not enrolled in a political party, had endorsed Isgro for mayor after earlier saying she planned not to endorse a candidate. Isgro was a vocal opponent at council meetings of the city’s controversial pay-as-you-throw trash collection system, which requires residents to buy purple trash bags for $2 each. While residents who did not use the purple bags didn’t have their rubbish picked up, Waterville’s solid waste ordinance was not changed to reflect the pay-as-you-throw provision. Isgro has said city officials and residents should discuss alternatives to the pay-per-bag system before a referendum in June, when voters will have a chance to repeal or keep the program in place.

• Somerset County Chief Deputy Dale Lancaster was elected sheriff in November with more than 60 percent of the vote, but he said the campaign that turned ugly with ethics complaints against him and spam emails from a mysterious sender has left him wincing. Lancaster, 58, of Cornville, beat Kris McKenna, 38, of Skowhegan, a police officer in Waterville. Running on his 40 years of law enforcement and administrative experience, Lancaster said he was disappointed by the negative aspects of the campaign.

“What has transpired has been the voice of the people, but anyone takes pause when their character is in question,” Lancaster said of a federal complaint alleging he campaigned while in uniform and used county assets to run for sheriff. The wife of a Kennebec County sheriff’s captain who was also a McKenna supporter filed a federal election complaint against Lancaster, then was caught using a fake name to alert media about it. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel rejected the complaint from Sharon Picard that alleged Lancaster violated the federal Hatch Act by using his office to campaign.

Sharon Picard is the wife of Kennebec County Capt. Dennis Picard, who is a friend and an active supporter of McKenna. Dennis Picard was fired following an internal investigation that was prompted by the election complaint made by his wife. Picard said he intends to remain in law enforcement, and his lawyer said he hopes the county board will absolve Picard of wrongdoing and return him to his job.

Lancaster, meanwhile, appointed former game warden and domestic violence investigator James Ross, also of Cornville, to serve as his chief deputy.


• Androscoggin County prosecutors said in December they will consult with outside experts before deciding whether to file charges in connection with the October crash during a haunted hayride that killed Oakland teenager Cassidy Charette and injured 22 other riders, including six Messalonskee High School students. Andrew Matulis, an assistant district attorney, said his office received a final investigation report on the crash around Thanksgiving from the Office of State Fire Marshal, but that he needs more information before deciding whether charges will be filed against the owners of Harvest Hill Farms in Mechanic Falls. Matulis said all files connected to the case have been sealed, and a copy of the report cannot be released.

Charette, 17, was killed in the Oct. 11 accident at the popular hayride attraction. A 1979 Jeep CJ-5 that was pulling a trailer has been the focus of the investigation. Police have said the Jeep went out of control while going down a long, steep hill and crashed into trees. Matulis anticipates that the district attorney’s office will make a decision about whether to pursue charges in the case by February.

• About 30 firefighters from Franklin County were honored in July for their role assisting Canadian crews a year earlier in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, including Rangeley Fire Chief Tim Pellerin, after more than 60 unatteneded rail cars carrying crude oil derailed in the center of the town. Several of the cars exploded, destroying dozens of businesses, offices and homes and killing 47 people. Eight towns from Maine responded to the disaster in 2013: Farmington, Rangeley, Chesterville, Eustis, New Vineyard, Strong, Phillips and East Dixfield. The Franklin County Emergency Management Agency was notified of the disaster by the U.S. Border Patrol after crews in Lac-Megantic realized the scope of the disaster was beyond what they could handle.

“It was like driving into hell. It really was,” said Pellerin. “It looked like a war zone — the trees, telephone poles, everything was burnt.”

• A 12-year-old girl admitted in court in May to unspecified juvenile charges in connection with the killing of a baby nearly two years earlier and was sentenced to undergo court supervision and treatment, bringing to a close a high-profile case that involved the state’s youngest-ever manslaughter defendant. Kelli Murphy, who was 10 at the time of the killing, was charged in the death of Brooklyn Foss-Greenaway, a 3-month-old who died while at the home of Murphy and her mother, Amanda Huard. At Skowhegan District Court, Judge Charles LaVerdiere called the case a “tragedy” in accepting a plea deal agreed upon by prosecutors and Murphy’s defense attorney. The agreement dropped the manslaughter charge against Murphy in exchange for an admission of guilt to multiple unspecified misdemeanor charges. When Murphy turns 18, the court will oversee an evaluation to determine whether the supervision period should be extended until Murphy is 21 years old. Nicole Greenaway has filed suit against Huard in connection with the death of her three-month-old daughter.


• A Wilton man is accused of murder in the bludgeoning death of his grandmother just five days before Christmas. Dana “Mikey” Craney, 22, had lived with his 67-year-old grandmother, Joanne Goudreau, in a mobile home at 1130 Weld Road. He was charged with murder by Maine State Police after his grandmother’s body was found under plywood behind the trailer. Detectives said Craney told them that he repeatedly hit the woman in the head with a hammer while she slept. Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Mark Flomenbaum ruled the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head and the manner of death to be a homicide. If convicted of murder, Craney faces 25 years to life in prison. The Department of Corrections confirmed that Craney is the son of a former Lewiston man, Dana A. Craney, who was convicted of murder in 1993 and is currently serving a sentence in Maine State Prison.

• Justin G. Pillsbury pleaded not guilty in February to murdering his girlfriend and roommate Jillian Jones in their Augusta apartment in November 2013. Jones, who grew up in Bingham, was attending beauty school in Waterville at the time of her death. Friends and family gathered for a candelight vigil shortly after her death, recalling a sweet and loving person who liked to dance and laugh.

Pillsbury, 39, was indicted by a grand jury in Kennebec County on Jan. 22 on intentional or knowing or depraved indifference murder. In September, an attorney for Pillsbury argued that his client was not advised of his rights properly and that he was too sedated after surgery to answer questions from police.

• Roland Cummings, 44, pleaded not guilty in July to the murder of Aurele Fecteau, a Waterville man who was found stabbed to death in his bed at his Brooklyn Avenue home. Police matched DNA from the turned-out pockets of Fecteau’s pants to Cummings, who told police his DNA was found on the man’s pants because he had robbed him weeks earlier, not because he was involved in the slaying. Cummings grew up in the Bingham and Waterville areas and did household chores for Fecteau, 92. Fecteau’s body was found at his 33 Brooklyn Ave. home on May 23 by members of his family. Fecteau, who lived alone, was a longtime resident of Waterville and had retired from Scott Paper Co. in Winslow.

• In September, the murder trial of a Palmyra man accused in the bludgeoning death of another man in Detroit in 2013 was delayed until next spring. It was the second postponement in the Somerset County case against Jason Cote, 23, who is charged with killing Ricky Cole in July 2013 in Cole’s mobile home on Main Street. Cote is charged with the intentional, knowing or depraved indifference murder in Cole’s bludgeoning death. Cote is alleged to have beaten Cole, 47, with a pipe in a mobile home Cole rented on Main Street in Detroit.

Detectives with the Maine State Police Major Crimes Unit found Cole dead in the blood-spattered mobile home. Cole had a fractured skull, extensive blood loss and deep internal injuries, according to the autopsy report. The state medical examiner’s office concluded that Cole died from blunt force trauma to the head and neck. Cote entered a plea of not guilty at his arraignment Sept. 13, 2013. Lawyers in April failed to reach agreement on a plea deal.

• Michele Corson of Skowhegan pleaded guilty in May to charges of conspiracy to commit murder and conspiracy to hinder prosecution in the death of her brother’s ex-wife in New Hampsire in 2013. The pair conspired to kill Aaron Desjardins’ ex-wife whose body was set on fire in a vacant concrete plant after her throat was slit. Corson is expected to receive nine to 30 years in prison when she is sentenced in February.

Desjardins, 37, of Epping, pleaded guilty in Rockingham County Superior Court to first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and conspiracy to hinder apprehension in the March 2013 killing of Amanda “Amy” Warf. He faces life in prison and will be sentenced in February.

Corson, 44, formerly of Water Street, is charged with taking a gun from Skowhegan to New Hampshire to help her brother kill Warf.


• The family of missing Appalachian Trail hiker Geraldine Largay in 2014 increased the reward offered for information about her disappearance from $15,000 to $25,000, the Maine Warden Service said.

Largay, 66, of Brentwood, Tenn., who goes by the trail name Inchworm, was last seen early in the morning of July 22, 2013, at Poplar Ridge lean-to in northern Franklin County after she failed to make a scheduled meeting with her husband in Wyman Township. In the days immediately after Largay’s disappearance, searchers concentrated their efforts on a 24-mile stretch of the trail from the Poplar lean-to toward Route 27 in Wyman Township. The search continued in 2014. No clues have been found related to Largay’s whereabouts, the warden service said.

Anyone who has information that could help find Largay or has information about other hikers or other people in the area of the Poplar lean-to or the Oberton Stream area on the Appalachian Trail in July 2013 is asked to call the Maine Warden Service at 624-7076.


• The former Skowhegan fire chief, who was fired in August, pleaded not guilty in November to felony theft charges in New Hampshire. Richard E. Fowler Jr., 47, entered the plea in Strafford County Superior Court in Dover, N.H. Fowler, who was hired in Skowhegan in May, was indicted in October by a New Hampshire grand jury. He faces 7 1/2 to 15 years in prison if he is convicted of the class A felony.

The theft was reported to authorities by a member of the Farmington, N.H., Fire Department, where Fowler was chief before coming to Skowhegan. County Attorney Thomas Velardi said the indictment alleges that more than $1,500 was stolen, but the investigation by the county attorney’s office revealed that it was “substantially more” than that. The money should have been on the books for the town of Farmington, but was misdirected, Velardi said. According to a copy of the indictment, the theft of town money is alleged to have occurred between Nov. 1, 2009, and June 30, 2014. Fowler took over in Skowhegan in May for longtime firefighter and fire chief Tom Keene, who was fired Dec. 30 by John Doucette Jr., town manager at the time. Keene had lost his legs months earlier from complications of diabetes. Fowler was fired Aug. 8 by Town Manager Christine Almand after about three months on the job when news of the criminal investigation came to light, though no reason was given for his firing.


• A Norridgewock man whose life-like gun tattoo on his waist brought police to his home in March and sparked nationwide attention was arrested in June with a real gun tucked into his waistband. Michael Smith, 41, is accused of stealing Suboxone strips from his former girlfriend and was arrested after showing up at the home of a Somerset County Sheriff’s Department deputy with the drugs on him, police said. Police said he was crying and had been drinking.

On March 18, Smith awoke to a SWAT team outside his door after his tattoo of a gun tucked into his waistband was mistaken by a tree removal crew for a real gun. The crew from Lucas Tree Experts called police to respond to Smith’s Norridgewock home, saying he had threatened them with a gun. Smith, who works nights, said the crew had woken him up at around 10 a.m. and he had gone outside — without a shirt and displaying the gun tattoo — and yelled at them to leave. He went back to sleep and was awoken by several armed officers asking him to come outside. There were no charges in the incident, which police said was a misunderstanding.

Asked at the time if he was in possession of any weapons, Smith said, indicating the tattoo, “Yeah, I have this gun on me all the time.”

Smith’s story, first reported and photographed by the Morning Sentinel, went viral the next day after it was picked up by several national media outlets, igniting a flood of Facebook sharing and online comments weighing in on everything from gun rights and civil liberties, to the police response and actions of CMP contract workers. Smith said later he has gotten phone calls from news agencies in Boston, around the country and in Europe.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

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Twitter: @Doug_Harlow