In 2019, central Maine saw Belgrade postal workers help a man escape a burning tanker truck, Kennebec County enact criminal justice system reforms, a cyberattack that shut down Augusta’s city government and a local resident who sought a kidney donor by advertising on her lawn later work to find organ donors for others in need.

A firefighter moves to pour water on a giant ball of fire erupting from an overturned tanker truck that burned along Route 27 in Belgrade on Jan. 2. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

The morning of Jan. 2, Belgrade mail carriers Nick Claudel and Joe Arsenault were working at the Route 27 post office. That’s when they and their co-workers were forced to evacuate after a fuel-filled tanker truck struck a vehicle that had pulled in front of it and overturned, bursting into a wall of flames.

The driver of the truck, Mark Tuttle, of Albion, remained inside the cab trying to grab a fire extinguisher. The two mail carriers went into the cab of the truck through its broken windshield and pulled Tuttle to safety, less than a minute before the fuel erupted into a wall of flames reaching some 50 feet into the sky. Their actions earned the duo the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association’s Hero of the Year Award.

In May, Kennebec County officials announced new initiatives seeking to reduce the amount of time poor or mentally ill people spend in custody in the criminal justice system without being convicted of a crime. They also said they would begin using medication-assisted treatment to help inmates at the county jail addicted to drugs escape their addictions.

Two of the initiatives — switching to a risk-assessment based bail system in which only high-risk suspects are required to post cash bail and using medication to help inmates fight drug addiction in jail — were the first of their kind in Maine. A third created a “mental health docket” in the courts that meets once a month in an effort to reduce the amount of time people with mental illness who are accused of crimes and are arrested spend stuck in the system waiting for an assessment of whether they are mentally competent and speed the process of them connecting with services that could help them.

Augusta Public Works Director Lesley Jones surveys cross walks for the new travel pattern Aug. 19 on Water Street. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

Downtown Augusta’s Water Street, which for the previous 75 years was one-way only, was converted to two-way traffic in August, in large part to try to help downtown businesses by increasing the traffic count. So far reviews of the change have been mixed, with police saying there have been no accidents reported there since the change, but some shop owners saying their customers are having a hard time getting to their stores because they can’t find parking.

Hallowell’s downtown Water Street underwent some changes in 2019, too, with work wrapping up on a major reconstruction of the street, which saw the removal of a large crown that had built up toward the center of the street. The work included the addition of a controversial section of sidewalk running from Lucky Garden Chinese restaurant to the state boat landing.

Krystal Reardon is shown in this Sept. 20, 2018 photo next to a sign she put up seeking a kidney donation. Now she’s using the same effort to advocate for kidney donations for two other Mainers. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

Augusta resident Krystal Reardon, who was able to get a donated kidney from an anonymous donor to replace her damaged kidney in February, responded by looking to help other Mainers in need of a transplant. She used colorful signs placed on her lawn to help find a living donor. She then continued to post signs on her lawn, helping to raise awareness for others in need of help.

Augusta City Center was forced to close for two days in April by a cyberattack that shut down the city’s computer network. The unknown source of the cyberattack sought a ransom payment of more than $100,000 to unlock the frozen system. Instead of paying that ransom, city officials — who as soon as they knew an attack was underway disconnected the network — decided they had the necessary data backed up so they erased the city’s servers and restored them.

Andrew Sherman, 48, was found deceased at his Richmond home Oct. 11, with authorities classifying his death as a homicide, a crime that so far remains unsolved. His body was found by a friend who was concerned he had not heard from him and police have interviewed family members, friends and area residents.

Also left unresolved in Richmond is the disappearance of resident Anneliese Heinig, a 37-year-old mother of two reported missing Nov. 28. She was last spotted walking along Interstate 295 two days earlier, having left her vehicle on the side of the road.

In neighboring Litchfield, a local couple, Derek, 48, and Stephanie Trudeau, 40, were killed in November after another Litchfield resident, 60-year-old Shawn W. Metayer allegedly crossed over the center line with his sport utility vehicle and struck the truck Derek Trudeau was driving. Metayer was later arrested and charged with two felony counts of manslaughter and one count of aggravated operating under the influence.

In December, Boys & Girls Club of Kennebec Valley officials launched a community fundraising effort to build a new, larger, $10 million facility that would be built next to the current building on the club’s 7.5 acres adjacent to Gardiner Area High School in Gardiner.

Joan McGinnes, left, Sen. Susan Collins and John Bridge chat before a Kennebec Valley YMCA donor appreciation event on Friday, June 15, 2017, at The Senator Inn in Augusta. Staff file photo by Joe Phelan

Prominent central Mainers who died in 2019 included former Augusta mayor, city councilor, businessman and philanthropist John Bridge, Hallowell businessman known for his work with local immigrant communities Joel Davis, and former Winthrop resident, police officer and decorated U.S. Army veteran Gilbert R. Turcotte.

In October, new court proceedings for a Sidney man, who in 2014 pleaded guilty and was convicted and sentenced to 50 years in prison for allegedly raping a 4-year-old girl got underway, after the Maine Supreme Court ruled in favor of Bard’s appeal in 2018 and granted him a new trial. The high court ruled Bard was deprived of due process because Maeghan Maloney, district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties, met during the trial with Superior Court Justice Donald Marden, at his request, without a lawyer for the defendant present.

Maloney was admonished for meeting with Marden by a Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar panel in May. Whether Marden is also facing disciplinary action is unclear. Unlike complaints against attorneys, complaints against judges in Maine are handled confidentially, unless disciplinary action is taken by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Several area residents were sentenced this year after being convicted of crimes. They included three teenagers accused of killing Kimberly Mironovas, of the mother of one of the three teens. Her son Lukas Mironovas, 16, pleaded guilty to murder and conspiracy to commit murder and was sentenced to 33 years in prison, William Smith, 17, pleaded guilty to those same charges and was sentenced to 28 years in prison and Thomas “TJ” Severance, 14, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and was sentenced to Long Creek Youth Development Center until he is 21 years old.

Also sentenced to prison this year were:

Ryan Beaudette, the former Litchfield Fair treasurer who admitted to stealing more than $150,000 from the Litchfield Farmers’ Club, who was sentenced to 18 months and ordered to pay back the roughly $129,000 he owed the fair;

• Augusta convicted sex offender Robert L. Robinson III, who before his arrest drew complaints from area parents about him photographing young girls in public, who was sentenced to two years in prison after pleading guilty to possessing child pornography; and

Derrick Dupont, of  Whitefield, who shot James Haskell eight times, killing him, in a 2017 early morning altercation in West Gardiner, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison on a manslaughter charge.

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