A gas explosion in Farmington that left a fire captain dead and seven people injured, the alleged murder of a mother by her boyfriend in the South End of Waterville and the sentencing of John Williams to life in prison for the killing of Somerset County Sheriff’s Cpl. Eugene Cole were among the Morning Sentinel’s top stories of 2019.

Capt. Michael Bell died Sept. 16 after an explosion following a reported gas leak at the LEAP building in Farmington. Photo courtesy town of Farmington

Killed in the propane gas explosion Sept. 16 at the Life Enrichment Advancing People building was Farmington fire Captain Michael Bell, 68, whose brother, Fire Rescue Chief Terry Bell, 62, and the building’s maintenance manager, Larry Lord, 60, were seriously injured. Lord remains at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston where he has been since the explosion and where his condition two days before Christmas was listed as serious. Others injured in the explosion were Captain Tim Hardy, 40, Capt. Scott Baxter, 37, his father, Firefighter Theodore Baxter, 64, Firefighter Joseph Hastings, 24, and Fire Rescue deputy Chief Clyde Ross.

Melissa Sousa Photo courtesy of Maine State Police

In Waterville on Oct. 23, the body of Melissa Sousa, 29, was found wrapped in a tarp in the basement of the apartment building at 32 Gold St. in the city’s South End, where she lived with her longtime boyfriend, Nicholas Lovejoy, 28, and their 8-year-old twin daughters.

Sousa had been shot twice in the stomach. Lovejoy was later charged with her murder and remains in jail.

The murder sent Sousa’s family and the friends with whom she worked at Dunkin Donuts on Main Street in Waterville into mourning. Her funeral Oct. 31 was overflowing with more than 100 people.

In a long-awaited resolution to the killing of Cole, the Somerset sheriff’s corporal, in April 2018, Williams was found guilty Sept. 12 and sentenced to life in prison for Cole’s murder. The sentence was handed down in Cumberland County Superior Court.

Waterville Police Officer Timothy Hinton was wounded in an altercation with a shoplifting suspect on Dec. 22. Courtesy of Waterville Police

It was a tragic year for shootings nationwide. The danger law enforcement officials face hit close to home four days before Christmas when Waterville police Officer Timothy Hinton was shot in both arms after he made a traffic stop while responding to a report of a shoplifter at Walmart.

Hinton continued to pursue the suspect, Richard Murray-Burns, 29, of Harmony, through Fairfield and into Canaan, where several other law enforcement officials had joined the pursuit and Murray-Burns was shot multiple times. He remains in the hospital. Hinton was treated at a hospital Dec. 22, the day of the shooting, and released later that day.

 

NOTABLE DEATHS

This year saw the death of longtime Morning Sentinel reporter Doug Harlow, who regularly wrote the newspaper’s annual story reflecting on the top stories of the year. Harlow, 70, died Sept. 12, of cancer.

Doug Harlow, longtime reporter for the Morning Sentinel, emerges from the newspaper’s Skowhegan office on May 3, 2018. Harlow died Sept. 12. Morning Sentinel file photo by Michael G. Seamans

Other 2019 deaths included that of Winslow firefighter Scott Higgins, affectionately known as “Scoot” to his family, co-workers and friends. The state Medical Examiner’s Office has not yet determined a cause of death. Higgins died unexpectedly Nov. 11.

Former Fairfield fire Captain Jim Lane, of Parkman, died Aug. 9 from complications related to heart surgery. He was 66. Former Waterville fire Captain Phil Simonds died the day before Christmas from complications related to a lung transplant, according to Waterville fire officials. Gary Morrison, an on-call firefighter for Winslow Fire Department, died Dec. 18, of cancer. He was 70.

Art collector and longtime Colby College benefactor Paul J. Schupf, whose name will grace a future art and film center on Main Street in Waterville, died Dec. 4 of cancer. He was 82.

Paul J. Schupf, in a doorway of one of his 1830s houses in Hamilton, New York, surrounded by pieces from his art collection, made what Colby College President David A. Greene called a “remarkable gift” to help redevelop the Center into a hub for visual arts, performing arts, arts education and film. Schupf died Dec. 4. He was 82. Photo by Sandy Colhoun

Schupf, of Hamilton, New York, a business leader and generous supporter of Colby who was also an emeritus trustee of the college, altered the landscape at Colby with gifts that supported the arts, the sciences and residential life, Colby officials said after his death. Schupf donated not only to the Colby College Museum of Art. Earlier this year, he made a significant leadership gift to support the future downtown building for art and film to be named the “Paul J. Schupf Art Center.”

 

OTHER MAJOR STORIES

In Skowhegan, the School Administrative District 54 Board of Directors voted March 7 to retire the longtime Skowhegan Area High School and Skowhegan Area Middle School Indian sports mascot after a long and controversial debate. The board also designed a process for selecting a new mascot.

At left, people against the use of the “Indians” nickname in School Administrative District 54 schools hold signs March 7 urging school board members to vote to stop the practice during a meeting in Skowhegan. At right, supporters of keeping the Skowhegan Area High School “Indians” nickname rally March 22 at a school board meeting at Skowhegan Area Middle School.

The student body in grades six through 12 will be asked for input in choosing a new mascot, but the school board will make the final decision. The board plans to resume discussions Jan. 7. SAD 54 includes schools in Skowhegan, Norridgewock, Canaan, Cornville, Mercer and Smithfield.

In School Administrative District 49, which includes schools in Fairfield, Benton, Albion and Clinton, Roberta Hersom was named superintendent after Reza Namin resigned effective Aug. 2. Namin served as superintendent for just one year.

Namin’s time at SAD 49 was marked with controversy starting with his divisive restructuring plans that cost the district $417,665 in administrative buyouts. Former Lawrence High School Principal Mark Campbell was the recipient of $199,825 of that buyout after his position was eliminated. He resigned in April.

The SAD 49 Board of Directors chose Hersom, who worked 21 years in the district, the last two as assistant superintendent and interim superintendent, for the superintendent’s position and Dan Bowers as the new principal at Lawrence High School. Dan Bowers was assistant principal at Messalonskee for 11 years.

An estimated 300 students from Lawrence High School assemble outside the School Administrative District 49 superintendent’s office Wednesday in a silent protest of restructuring that led to the resignation of popular Principal Mark Campbell. Many carried signs, including Bryn Mayo, lower left. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

Also this year, downtown Waterville revitalization efforts continued with millions of dollars being invested in the heart of the city by Colby College and others. Colby started constructing a $26 million, 53-room Lockwood Hotel on Main Street on the sites of the former Levine’s clothing store and Camden National Bank, the latter of which moved late last year into Colby’s $25 million Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons father north on Main. The four-story hotel, expected to open in 2020, will include a restaurant and bar.

Also as part of revitalization efforts, a redesign for Castonguay Square was chosen after a series of workshops and a lot of input from residents and downtown leaders and businesses. The architectural firm, Beyer Blinder Belle, of New York, as well as Mitchell & Associates, landscape architects from Portland, presented the redesign concept.

Castonguay Square is located next to City Hall in the heart of downtown and is used as a park, concert space and venue for small gatherings.

The redesign process was funded by a $75,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts’ Our Town program, with support from the city, Waterville Creates! and Colby College, which hosted the workshops.

Ayla Reynolds in the photograph that was distributed after she disappeared in December 2011.

In May this year, former Waterville resident Justin DiPetro emerged from behind the scenes to face a civil suit over the death of his daughter, Ayla Reynolds, with his lawyer saying DiPietro had nothing to do with the toddler’s disappearance from his Waterville home in 2011 and does not know what happened to her.

The wrongful-death suit filed on behalf of Ayla’s mother, Trista Reynolds, contends DiPietro, now a California resident, should be held responsible for their daughter’s death. No one ever was charged criminally in the case, but police have said all along that the people staying in the Violette Avenue house the night Ayla disappeared — including DiPietro — know more about her disappearance than they have said.

In other Waterville-related stories, a plastic bag ban went into effect Sept. 1, prohibiting stores that are 10,000-square-feet or larger from dispensing single-use plastic bags to customers at checkout. The ban affects stores including Shaw’s, Hannaford, JC Penney and Walmart.

Earlier in the year, the state Legislature passed a law banning the practice at all Maine businesses, and in June, Gov. Janet Mills signed the bill into law. The statewide ban will go into effect on Earth Day, April 22, 2020.

Tom Streznewski of Belgrade walks Oct. 2 on Route 225 in Rome, where the pavement was ground to remove a sealant that he believes created a slick surface that caused his truck to slide off the road. Streznewski’s vehicle crashed Sept. 14 into the ditch at right and was destroyed. Morning Sentinel file photo by Rich Abrahamson

Waterville’s bag ban ordinance was to have gone into effect this year on Earth Day, April 22, but Mayor Nick Isgro led an effort to collect signatures from residents to force the votes to be recounted. The bag issue eventually went to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court after a recount reversed the election results, defeating the controversial measure by seven votes. The court dismissed the case and the bag ban ultimately was upheld. The city council in the spring voted 6-0 to extend the plastic bag ban launch to Sept. 1 to allow time for a city board to hear the appeal.

Also this year, a proposal by Central Maine Power Co. and its parent company, Avangrid, to build a powerline 53 miles through a corridor from Canada to The Forks, in Somerset County, continues to face scrutiny. The $950 million New England Clean Energy Connect project is being sought by Massachusetts as a way to bring more renewable energy into that state.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission in April approved the corridor but it still faces review by the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Land Use Planning Commission. Meanwhile, a group is garnering petition signatures to try to get the question about whether the transmission should be built on the November 2020 ballot.

In another story involving state agencies, the state Department of Transportation decided to stop using a type of road sealant on the state’s travel lanes following the investigation of a near-deadly crash in Rome where the slick surface was found to have been a factor.

In October, the DOT temporarily halted the use of the product, called surface fog sealant, after a story in the Morning Sentinel spotlighted dangers associated with its use. Fog sealant is a diluted asphalt that is sprayed onto roads to cost-effectively repair cracks and extend the life of pavement, according to DOT officials.


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