Weather, crime and construction topped the local news in the Augusta area in 2018, even as officials and residents across central Maine looked ahead to the New Year.

WEATHER

A classic January thaw brought more than moderate temperatures in the early weeks of 2018. Following weeks of frigid temperatures, the warm up, accompanied by heavy rain, set the stage for an ice jam in the Kennebec River south of Augusta as the ice that covered the river began to break up and pile up.

While Augusta officials had closed the Front Street parking lot before flooding started, Hallowell had little warning, resulting in more than a dozen cars on Front Street being submerged, and damage to about two dozen buildings.

To assuage concerns about a continued threat of flooding, the U.S. Coast Guard, at the request of Maine emergency management officials, launched a rare mid-winter ice breaking mission at the end of January to clear a path downriver for the accumulating ice to go. The mission was called off when the ice proved to be very thick and the flow of the river was insufficient to carry the broken chunks away.

The Coast Guard returned at the beginning of March and its cutters were able to clear a channel from Richmond to Gardiner, that alleviated concerns about flooding.

Cameren Knowles of AC Towing kicks the bumper of a car frozen into the flooded Kennebec River Jan. 15, 2018 in Hallowell. Two trucks yanked several flooded vehicles to land after they were submerged.

MARIJUANA

Ever since voters made recreational marijuana legal in Maine in 2016, city and town officials have been waiting for their state counterparts to make rules to govern the emerging cannabis market. In addition to allowing people to grow and possess limited amounts of marijuana for personal consumption, the citizens’ initiative also allowed commercial marijuana enterprises.

During the year, the Maine State Legislature took on crafting rules for the adult-use recreational sales and revising rules for marijuana for medical use, ultimately overcoming the objections of Gov. Paul LePage.

While they waited, many cities and towns enacted or extended temporary bans to give them time to work out what they want to do, even as medical marijuana stores opened up across the region.

Augusta officials took that tack in May, imposing a temporary ban, even as officials neighboring Hallowell gave initial approval to a shop in their city.

The growth in caregiver stores has been fueled by the practice of cycling patients. Initially, caregivers were authorized to supply up to five card-carrying patients at a time. But a number have discharged one or more of the their five patients to take on new patients.

Gardiner enacted a temporary ban after two caregiver stores opened on Water Street, for instance, but in neighboring Richmond, a proposed moratorium was rejected at a special town meeting,

In November, Hallowell officials announced they would accept applications for two retail cannabis enterprises, making no distinction between adult-use and medical pot in downtown Hallowell. There is no limit outside downtown.

CRIME

Three years and one week ago, police discovered the bodies of Eric Williams, 35, and Bonnie Royer, 26, in Williams’ sport utility vehicle on Sanford Road in Manchester, not far from the couple’s Easy Street home in Augusta.

In July, David W. Marble Jr., 32, was found guilty of their murders. Officials said the killings stemmed from the soured drug-related relationship between Marble and Williams, who had bought drugs from Marble and helped deal them. They said Williams stole items from Marble, including drugs and a gun, while Marble was in Portland on Christmas Eve in 2015, so Marble arranged for Williams, who was with Royer, to take him to a gravel pit in Manchester, where he shot them both in the head.

The case gained additional notoriety when Gov. Paul LePage said in a widely quoted statement that drug dealers were coming to Maine with names such as D-Money, Shifty and Smoothie, and “half the time they impregnate a young white girl before they leave.”

A Brunswick man was cleared of all charges in October, stemming from a 2017 standoff in Belgrade that resulted in the death of one man.

Scott Bubar, 41, had been accused of aggravated attempted murder of a police officer and of reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon after police arrived at the home of his father Roger Bubar following a complaint by neighbors of a fight.

In an exchange of gunfire, Roger Bubar was killed and Scott Bubar was injured.

At the conclusion of his October non-jury trial, Justice Michaela Murphy said no DNA evidence tied Scott Bubar to either weapon used and Roger Bubar likely was responsible for all the shots fired from his Oakland Road home.

In April, three boys were charged in connection with the murder of Kimberly Mironovas in her Litchfield home, including Mironovas’ son.

Lukas Mironovas, 15, and William Smith, 15, of Ashland, Massachusetts, have been charged with intentional or knowing murder and conspiracy to commit murder. The third boy, Thomas Severance, 13, also of Ashland, Massachusetts, is charged with conspiracy to commit murder.

In September, a Winthrop teen pleaded guilty to the murder of both parents in the early hours of Oct. 31, 2016. Andrew T. Balcer, who now identifies as a woman called Andrea, was sentenced to serve 40 years in prison for the murders of Antonio and Alice Balcer.

In a jailhouse interview with the Kennebec Journal days before the sentencing, Balcer alleged years of sexual and mental abuse by both parents. Balcer’s older brother Christopher, refuted those allegations.

Christopher, who was in the family home at the time of the killings, had been spared.

In May, a Providence, Rhode Island man was sentenced to at least 20 years in prison for a home invasion and violent altercation in Sidney in 2017.

Dreaquan Foster, 23, changed his plea to guilty an apologized for his actions even as he continued to claim he had no memory of breaking into the Lyon Road home of Audrey Hewett, 84, or fighting with her son Eric who raced to help his mother. Eric Hewett spent 12 days in the hospital recovering from a concussion and skull fracture. After he was hit on the head with a claw hammer, Hewett wrestled with Foster and shot him in the chest before police arrived.

In August, the second part to a domestic violence murder-suicide played out in Gardiner, when police pulled over a driver on U.S. 201 following a report of erratic driving on Interstate 295. A man later identified as Gyrth Rutan, 34, of Sturbridge, Massachusetts, stepped out of his car and fatally shot himself. When they searched the vehicle, police discovered the body of Maddilynn Burgess, 28, who had been killed in Massachusetts. Rutan was a former Bangor resident.

In mid-December, a Richmond man shot and killed his longtime girlfriend before killing himself in their home on Post Road. The son of Niomi Mello, 37, found the bodies of his mother and Kirk Alexander Jr., 46, when he awoke and ran to a nearby convenience store to seek help on Dec. 15.

Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said about half the killings committed in Maine each year are the result of domestic violence.

FATALITIES

An Augusta man was killed when he was struck by a pickup truck near a crosswalk between Swan Street and the Penney Memorial United Baptist Church in the early evening of Nov. 26.

Dana M. Williams, was leaving the LINC Wellness & Recovery Center, which serves people in distress where he was a volunteer, when he was struck and killed.

Two and a half weeks later, police identified the driver as Craig Conary, 59, of Augusta.

Two crashes in two days a quarter-mile apart in Liberty took the lives of three people in November.

On Nov. 27, a box truck driven by Dusan Dokic, 20, of Spanaway, Washington, crossed the center line in snowy conditions on Route 3 by Lake St. George State Park around 9:30 a.m., and struck a pickup truck driven by William Chadwick, 55, of Oakland. Chadwick was killed.

On Nov. 28, Janice Minson, 64, of Verona Island, died when her car crossed the center line on Route 3 and struck an oncoming pickup truck driven by Evan West, 20, of Liberty, around 5:30 p.m. Nine-year-old Kolby Adams of Hope, a passenger in the pickup, was killed instantly.

On Dec. 23, Suzanne Forti, 52, of Abington, Massachusetts, was killed when her car collided with a UPS delivery truck at the intersection of routes 197 and 201 in Richmond.

The accidents are under investigation.

CONSTRUCTION

Public and private construction projects across the region also made news in 2018.

Three fire stations, in Winthrop, Hallowell and Pittston, were completed during the year.

Winthrop officials secured $450,000 in grant funding from the Windover Foundation; the balance of the cost of the $1.8 million facility was financed through a USDA rural development loan.

Hallowell officials dedicated the city’s new fire station at the end of July. An anonymous donor initially pledged $1 million, but also covered added costs totaling near $2 million for the fire station and community space in Stevens Common, the site of the former Stevens School.

Pittston officials replaced an aging and inadequate fire station in East Pittston with a larger building and equipped with state-of-the-art technology. The red-roofed station, at East Pittston and Kelley roads and named in honor of longtime firefighter Larry Ireland, cost $350,000.

Larry Ireland, left, and Chief Jason Farris outside the new East Pittston Fire Station on April 19, 2018. The building was named after Ireland, a long time volunteer with the company.

For more than half the year, detours diverted some traffic off Water Street in Hallowell, as work started on the state Department of Transportation’s plan to rebuild Water Street. The $5 million project included rebuilding the street from just north of Winthrop Street to the boat launch, encompassing the downtown retail district. To combat an expected slowdown in business, the Down with the Crown committee was formed to execute a marketing campaign to promote the downtown during construction. As part of the project, the historic Dummer House was picked up and spun 180 degrees from Dummers Lane to Central Street so the city could create a downtown parking lot.

At the V.A. Maine Healthcare Systems — Togus campus, two projects by private organizations are bringing changes to the facility that dates to the end of the Civil War.

In August, work started on a Fisher House at Togus. The Fisher House Foundation builds and donates to the U.S. government hotels where families of veterans seeking care at VA facilities can stay for free. The Fisher House at Togus, on the Augusta-Chelsea line, will house 16 suites and common areas, including kitchen, dining and laundry facilities.

In September, the long-awaited Cabin in the Woods welcomed its first residents. The $5.1 million project, developed by the Volunteers of America — Northern New England, included small homes on 11 acres leased from the Veterans Affairs Administration for longterm housing for homeless veterans.

In Monmouth, students and officials broke ground on a new $26.7 middle-elementary school, which will be located next to Monmouth Academy. The 70,000-square-foot facility is expected to be completed in January 2020. It replaces the aging elementary and middle schools. Regional School Unit 2’s only cost was nearly $72,000 to acquire the land.

In November, officials with Bread of Life Ministries broke ground on a project to expand the organization’s shelters for the homeless. With a plan to raise $510,000, the goal is to add to the veterans and family shelters in Augusta, doubling the number of beds and creating more rooms.

SCHOOL CONFLICT

Capping months of conflict — including a move by school district administrators to form a union — and just ahead of a school district no-confidence vote, Gary Rosenthal resigned in March as superintendent of the Winthrop School Department. In a letter to staff, Rosenthal said he would step down at the end of June due to irreconcilable differences with members of the administration.

The Maine Education Association sent a memo to district employees detailing complaints against Rosenthal, including inappropriate comments about employees and pregnant women.

Rosenthal declined to talk about the allegations, referring questions to his attorney, Maria Fox. Fox said confidentiality laws prevented Rosenthal from answering the allegations against him.

A year before, the Winthrop Town Council voted 5-1 in favor of a no-confidence resolution, accusing Rosenthal of repeated budget errors and “attempts to cover up the truth.”

While he and town officials had disagreed over school funding and the origin of a financial error that led to a large deficit in the school budget, the school board continued to support him.

He had been with the district since 2011.

In May, the school committee hired Cornelia “Connie” Brown as interim superintendent staring July 1. She had worked for nearly 14 years as the superintendent of the Augusta School Department.

About 20 teachers and administrators of the Winthrop School Department attended March 5, 2018, a School Board meeting, but had to wait outside as much of the session was in executive session to discuss a personnel matter. Gary Rosenthal, left, superintendent of the district was present for the meeting between the board and attorneys.

DISPUTES

Two disputes during the year caught the public’s attention.

In September, the Poulin family of Augusta learned that the route family members had taken for decades to reach their Boothby Street home would no longer be accessible because it crossed the City of Augusta’s public works site.

The only other access is up a flight of 100 stairs up a steep hill from Boothby Street.

Monique Poulin said the alternate access was needed because her husband Robert has had back surgeries and her mother Lorraine Piteau has Alzheimer’s disease and back and hip problems.

The Poulins filed suit in November to maintain access, and in December, Augusta City Councilors unanimously approved a temporary agreement so the family can continue to drive across city property.

An attorney for the Poulin family said the temporary agreement could be the basis of a longer-term solution if the arrangement works out for both his clients and the city. The lawsuit remains in place and will move ahead unless a settlement is reached.

In a dispute that’s ongoing, the partnership that created Central Maine Meats, a slaughterhouse in Gardiner, fell apart.

In April, the company filed for Chapter 12 bankruptcy protection, citing debts to creditors including the Internal Revenue Service, Central Maine Power and the city of Gardiner totaling between $100,000 and $500,000. Chapter 12 is a relatively new chapter, that allows family farmers to avoid liquidation or foreclosure by restructuring finances, but the bankruptcy was converted to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy under which company assets are sold to pay off creditors.

During its nearly three years in operation, the company staked out its territory, offering a local USDA-inspected option for farmers to send their animals to. It was able to secure more than $1 million in state and federal funding for economic development and workforce training.

The company, which was adding on services and functions such as a smoker, flash-freezing and halal butchery, was part of Gardiner’s food hub movement and added jobs to the local economy.

In the weeks before the bankruptcy filing, Joel Davis became the sole owner, leaving his former partner Bill Lovely as landlord.

In a separate action, Davis is suing Lovely in the state’s Business and Consumer Court, alleging fraudulent dealings.

Both court actions are ongoing.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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