AUGUSTA — Marijuana, marches and motorcycle deaths were among the biggest stories in 2017 for the Augusta region.

Here’s a look back at some of the important moments that made headlines this past year, signaling even more developments to come as these stories play out in 2018.

People hold up signs at the start of the Women’s March on Maine on Jan. 21 at the Maine State House in Augusta. Staff file photo by Joe Phelan


In January, thousands of people converged on Augusta to take part in the Women’s March on Maine. The event was designed to give people who could not travel to Washington, D.C., for the Women’s March on Washington an opportunity to protest. While their concerns varied, many said their worry stemmed from the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

It was the first in a series of rallies across the political spectrum organized in Augusta in the months that followed, including rallies in support of Trump, condemning political violence, supporting the Affordable Care Act, and opposing hate following violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, at a rally backed by white supremacists.


In January, recreational marijuana became legal across Maine, thanks to Question 1 on the 2016 general election ballot.

The vote tally showed only a narrow margin of support statewide. In cities and towns across Kennebec County, the vote margins were also narrow, but supporters edged out opponents in only two communities — Waterville and Hallowell.

That narrow victory was enough to set off a year-long examination of how the provisions of the ballot would be enacted.

Gov. Paul LePage signed a proclamation verifying the results of the ballot question, allowing state residents over 21 to grow and possess a limited amount of marijuana for personal use starting Jan. 30.

But the ballot question also required a state licensing structure to be set up, and it allowed for commercial pot-related enterprises like social clubs, cultivation and production facilities and shops.

While state officials continue to debate that matter, many cities and towns imposed then extended temporary bans on allowing the commercial enterprises while they wait for the state to take action. Several communities, like Pittston and Fayette, banned those businesses outright.


In March, a violent home invasion in Sidney resulted in the arrest of Dreaquan Foster, of Providence, Rhode Island, who was indicted by a Kennebec County grand jury in July on charges of elevated aggravated assault for allegedly hitting the homeowner’s son, Eric Hewett, on the head with a hammer; aggravated criminal mischief; burglary; theft by unauthorized use of property, for taking a vehicle without consent; and three counts of criminal mischief. He pleaded not guilty in August.

Police say Foster abandoned a vehicle on Interstate 95 and walked to the Lyons Road home of Audrey Hewett.

Hewett, then 84, told police she told him to leave, but he refused and beat on her door. She called her son’s home for help and retreated to her bedroom for safety. She heard the front window being smashed and saw curtains blowing in the wind.

Police say Foster got into a fight with Eric Hewett, who came to his mother’s defense, and during the fight Eric Hewett shot Foster.

“He was coming at me again with (the hammer), and that’s when I managed to get the gun pointed up at him and I fired at him,” Hewett said in an interview with the Kennebec Journal. “I didn’t know if I hit him or not, but evidently I did, because his interest became immediately the firearm at that point. He dropped the hammer, or I assume he dropped it. All of a sudden there was a fight for the gun.”

Hewett suffered a concussion, a skull fracture and other injuries. Foster was under 24-hour guard at MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta; he was arrested when he was released.

Foster, 22, remains in the Kennebec County jail; his next court appearance is early next month.

Ralph St. Pierre, Augusta’s finance director and assistant city manager, picks up bed bugs that were reportedly spilled by a disgruntled man at Augusta City Hall. Photo courtesy of William Bridgeo


Apparently frustrated by his housing situation, Charles Manning dumped a cup containing about 100 bedbugs inside Augusta’s city hall on a Friday afternoon in early June, shutting down the building for the rest of the day and prompting city officials to call in a pest-control company to kill any bedbugs that evaded capture and disposal.

Manning, 74, was later charged with assault and obstruction of government administration. Both are Class D crimes punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

Manning said he took the extreme measure because officials weren’t adequately addressing his complaints about substandard housing in Augusta.

Bedbugs, which feed on human blood but are not believed to carry any disease, have been a persistent problem in some Augusta residential buildings; they have also been detected in public spaces like the Lithgow Public Library and the city’s General Assistance Office.

The Augusta City Council passed an ordinance in 2016 that allows city officials to require landlords to bring in pest management professionals to exterminate bedbugs when an infestation occurs. It also requires tenants to notify their landlords if they know or suspect an infestation and prohibits them from treating the problem themselves.

Manning said his Court Street apartment was so infested that he avoided sleeping at night when the pests were most active. He said he was reluctant to notify his landlord for fear the complaint would lead to his eviction.

Manning’s next court date is in early January.


In July, Laura Benedict, owner of the Red Barn on Riverside Drive and renowned for her help in fundraising for a range of causes, posted and promoted an emotional video on Facebook after she mistakenly believed she was being fined for not having a mass gathering permit for a event for veterans at her restaurant a year earlier.

Benedict spoke passionately in the video about how unfair it was that she was fined for a fundraiser for Honor Flight Maine, and she invited viewers to contact the members of the Augusta City Council to voice their complaints. She also waved a check made out for $2,000 to the city of Augusta.

The video was viewed more than 1.4 million times and generated more than 2,400 comments, most criticizing city officials and supporting Benedict. It also prompted more than 130 calls to the city, including one forwarded to the Augusta Police Department.

The event that violated city code was a performance by the Veayo Twins Trio — with the Honor Flight event being held five days later on July 11, 2016. Honor Flight Maine is a nonprofit that flies veterans to Washington, D.C., to see their memorials.

In fact, the document she was given was not a consent decree but a proposed consent agreement with a $200 fine.

Benedict posted a second video several hours after the first one that corrected some inaccuracies, but it received only a fraction of the attention of the first one.

City officials said they supported Benedict’s charitable work, but they acknowledged neighbors have complained about the noise that some of her events generate.

Less than a week after the initial video, Benedict paid the $200 fine and signed the consent agreement.

Augusta’s noise ordinance, adopted in 2012, limits noise from commercial activities from exceeding 60 decibels at the nearest property line. It also contains a provision for exemptions for events that have other permits from the city.

The scene of a motorcycle and truck accident Sunday near Exit 112 on I-95 in Augusta. Staff photo by Keith Edwards


A double fatal motorcycle chain reaction crash in September as part of the annual United Bikes of Maine Toy Run added to the tally of motorcycle deaths in the region this year.

On Sept. 10, a crash on Interstate 95 in Augusta killed Jamie Gross, 58, of Belmont. A second motorcyclist, Aaron White-Sevigny, 25, of Windsor, died later at the hospital.

Two other motorcyclists were injured, as were the driver and passenger of a pickup truck involved in the crash.

The northbound lanes of the interstate were closed for about two hours and a southbound lane was temporarily blocked.

The accident occurred between Exit 112 and Exit 113 just as the Toy Run with several thousand motorcyclists, left the Augusta Civic Center.

In the days after the crash, the Maine State Police initially said the crash was caused by Gross, who had veered into the passing lane in front of a pickup driven by William Nusom, 67, of Hollis, with his mother Anna Nusom, 99 as passenger. Both Nusoms were injured when Nusom tried to avoid striking the motorcycle that veered into his lane and steered into the median guardrail. He lost control of the truck, traveled back across three northbound lanes and struck other motorcycles participating in the Toy Run. Nusom’s truck overturned on its side.

But the following week, the State Police issued an update based on new information, saying White-Sevigny started the chain reaction collision.

A woman walks near down utility lines on Summer Street in Hallowell on Oct. 30 as a storm with gale-force wind passed through Maine knocking out power across the state. Staff file photo by Andy Molloy


At the end of October, a strong storm pushed into Maine with hurricane-force wind and knocked out power to more than 500,000 Maine residents served by Central Maine Power and Emera Maine.

The intensity of the storm and the scope of its impact caught many by surprise. It resulted in the largest power outage in Maine’s history.

Some customers were without power for more than a week as line crews from Canada, other New England state and beyond converged on Maine to set power poles and restore power. The storm damaged homes and vehicles, closed schools and businesses, and fallen trees blocked some roads for days.

In Gardiner, the roof of the Gardiner Area High School gym was torn open by the storm, allowing rain to get into the building.

In the wake of the outage, state regulators opened an inquiry into the storm response, asking both Central Maine Power and Emera Maine to file reports describing their responses and lessons learned. That inquiry is in addition to reviews that are expected by the Office of Public Advocate and the Maine Legislature.

In addition to knocking out power, the storm also took down CMP’s $200 million smart-meter network that was intended to improve outage communications and storm recovery.

Pending at the state Public Utilities Commission is an estimate of what Maine’s two largest power companies spent on restoration.

The PUC will scrutinize the requests, and could dispute some costs. But by law, customers will pick up most of the tab, which is expected to run into the tens of millions of dollars.


In November, Otto’s on the River opened on Water Street in Augusta after several delays. The restaurant, which moved into the space once occupied by Gagliano’s Italian Bistro.

It was just one of the new businesses to debut in downtown Augusta during the year.

In July, Circa 1885, a wine bar, opened at in the space left vacant when Charlemagne’s closed earlier in the year. Owner Katie Smith said she wanted to run a comfortable place where a book club could meet or anyone could stop in for a drink.

Both businesses were able to take advantage of the Tipping Point Small Business Development Program that launched on Jan. 1. The loan program, a joint effort by Augusta city officials and Kennebec Savings Bank, is designed to promote development along the downtown waterfront.

At the end of October, Cushnoc Brewing Co. opened its doors on 243 Water St. in the space left vacant after Stacy’s Hallmark closed. The wood-fired pizza restaurant and microbrewery is the result of the partnership of Tobias Parkhurst, who wrapped up his term as board chairman of the Augusta Alliance, Casey Hynes, formerly of Liberal Cup in Hallowell; brewer Chris Geerlings, who is relocating to Augusta from Savannah, Georgia, where he worked at Southbound Brewing; and local attorney James Bass.

At the beginning of December, Cosmic Charlie’s owner Steve Goedecke announced he planned to close his 251 Water St. smoke and gift shop by the end of the year. After 26 years in business, he said he needed to take care of himself. At that time, he said he would consider selling the store to the right person, one who shared his vision for the business he built. In addition to that property, Goedecke owns two others in downtown Augusta.


Several significant construction projects were completed in Augusta during the year.

The Maine National Guard Joint Forces Headquarters, just off Civic Center Drive west of Interstate 95, was scheduled to be completed during the year. The building is housing both the Army and Air National Guard headquarters staff. The two-story 100,000 square-foot building was budgeted to cost $32 million.

In May, Augusta’s new $4.3 million fire station, off Leighton Road, opened. Planned to reduce response times to homes and businesses in north Augusta, the station is the first new one to open in the city in more than 50 years. In 1965, the department had 700 fire calls; in 2016, the department handled 6,500 calls, including emergency medical service, hazard response, river rescues and technical rescues.

As Hallowell officials grappled with what do about fire protection, an anonymous donor stepped forward in March with a $1 million pledge to pay for building a fire station on the Stevens Commons property on Winthrop Street. The building, now under construction, will replace the building used for the fire department for nearly two centuries.

Before this offer surfaced, the city has considered partnering with Farmingdale, which has identified a site to build its own new fire hall.

At about the same time, an anonymous donor in Winthrop pledged $450,000 for its fire station. In March, the Winthrop Town Council voted to accept a $1.8 million bid to build a new fire station on U.S. Route 202 to replace the Main Street fire station.

Farmingdale residents in June approved spending up to $1 million for a fire station.

In Pittston, town officials approved spending $350,000 to replace the East Pittston fire station on Whitefield Road.

Construction is underway in Winthrop to replace the town’s post office, which was destroyed by fire in February. When the fire was extinguished, the brick outer walls remained, but the remainder of the building was gutted and the mail that was being processed there was lost. Following the fire, what was left of the building was demolished and mail was rerouted to the Manchester post office, and the U.S. Postal Service announced in August that the post office would be rebuilt, with an expected completion date in 2018.

In Augusta, the planned expansion of the Performance Foodservice on Dalton Road was slated for completion in November. The project, budgeted at $15 million, was designed to add 50,000 square feet of freezer space to a facility’s existing dry goods, cooler and freezer spaces. Company officials said the project would meet the needs of its expanding food distribution business in Northern New England.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ