2010's top 10 stories
Published 3:35 pm, Thursday, January 6, 2011
1) "In these tough economic times"
An expression well worn these days in its use by politicians, business leaders and everyday folks still carries clout as the significant downturn of the American and international economy continues to wreak havoc on state and area lives.
During 2010, there were positive signs locally such as the completion of Kimberly-Clark's energy independence project.
The arrival on the scene of a bevy of promising businesses such as the Bank Street Tavern and Spruce Home & Garden Center, as well as numerous other enterprises in downtown New Milford, inspired optimism among town officials and business leaders now buying into a new approach called the "Main Street Model."
Other positives included progress in plans for the Litchfield Crossings shopping plaza on Route 7 South, the impending arrival of an Aldi market, and the birth of such businesses as the 1st & 10 Bar & Grill and a pair of indoor sports and exercise facilities on Still River Drive called the Connecticut Sports Arena and Phys-Ed.
Still, jobs were hard to find for the many in the area out of work or employed in lower-paying positions than in previous years.
It was hard to ignore, too, that storefronts sit empty here and there in downtown New Milford and elsewhere, prominent among them the expansive former CVS site on Main Street. As the year ended, the more than 50-year run of the New Milford Music Center as a downtown storefront ended as owners decided to consolidate activities upstairs in their Bank Street location.
Elsewhere, the last of the town's new auto dealers, Mark Ford, closed its doors on Route 7 South, although its site was soon leased by Agriventure Agway.
Still sitting quietly on its huge site off Housatonic Avenue, awaiting possible suitors for its purchase, is the town-owned former Century Brass factory building.
2) It's finished!
Perhaps a half-century on the town's wish list and more than a decade in a holding pattern, the Grove Street/Route 67 realignment project became history in November.
The plan to connect Route 67 with East, Grove and Bridge streets in a four-way intersection became reality through the latter part of 2009 and much of 2010, staying pretty much on schedule thanks to the efforts of Dayton Contracting, the state DOT and New Milford Public Works, as well as the patience of the thousands of motorists who regularly travel through that zone.
Early returns since the work's completion are that greater safety has been achieved with the elimination of the old Grove Street intersection with Route 67 and the softening of the sharp curve in Route 67, just east of that juncture.
The final look to the intersection and such amenities as park benches, new sidewalks and retaining walls have drawn plaudits, but the jury is still out whether the intersection and its four-way traffic lights will improve traffic flow through that section of town in coming years.
3) A new look for the New Milford police
Nearly the entire hierarchy of the town's police leadership bid its goodbyes in late spring and early summer, necessitating the hiring of a new chief and likely prompting residents to scramble for their scorecards to see who was in which position. Longtime chief Colin McCormack had announced his retirement in late spring and, after several months serving interim duty until a new boss was found this fall, joined Deputy Chief Norbert Lillis, Captain Mike Mrazik and high school resource officer Don Woods as ex-New Milford policemen. Hired in October as chief and quick to establish his turf as a strong leader of his force was former state policeman Shawn Boyle. Among his early decisions was to promote veteran cops Mark Buckley to captain, William Scribner to lieutenant, joining Lt. James Duda at that rank, and Brian Glasser to sergeant.
4) A year of crime and punishment
A plethora of major crimes and their resultant court cases were in the news throughout 2010, and many drag on into 2011.
The death in June of New Milford resident Donald Hassiak, a Danbury policeman, in a hit-and-run case on Route 7 South shocked the Greater New Milford and Danbury area. Likely to remain in the headlines in the near future is the court case of James O'Neill of Bethel, who was charged with misconduct with a motor vehicle, evading responsibility, driving without insurance, and tampering with evidence in the case. Mr. O'Neill pleaded not guilty and is currently incarcerated. The case is pending in state Superior Court in Litchfield.
The past year also witnessed the sentencing to 50 years in prison of teen Elias Garcia of New Milford, found guilty in September of the 2009 assault and rape of a fellow Willow Springs condominiums resident. The 16-year-old will serve 50 years, to be suspended after 30 years and followed by 35 years' probation, on charges of home invasion, first-degree sexual assault and first-degree assault, as well as a separate charge of first-degree larceny relating to a different incident.
Former Gunnery School dean Robert Reinhardt, 45, awaits jury selection in April after a year in which his court case grabbed headlines. He is accused of sexual assault against four former students at the Washington prep school.
As 2010 drew to a close, New Milford resident Keith Fergus reportedly was to change his plea from "not guilty'' to "not guilty by reason of insanity'' on charges he attempted to kill his estranged wife, Catherine Fergus, in the presence of their two children, and assaulted his mother-in-law in late 2009. He is in custody and the case is still in the pre-trial stage.
Alfred Dinuzzo, 25, of New Milford will serve five years in jail, to be followed by five years of parole, for the March 11 stabbing of his wife. Mr. Dinuzzo was charged with first-degree assault and first-degree unlawful restraint for stabbing his wife during an argument in their Poplar Street home. His wife, 43, was treated at New Milford Hospital for a "minor puncture wound" and released.
Brant Cadovius, 39, a nine-year New Milford Police Department veteran, was placed on administrative leave after he pleaded not guilty to charges of fourth-degree attempted larceny and second-degree harassment. The NMPD officer was accused of trying to extort money and threatening a teenager who he said took his wallet at the Danbury Fair mall in August 2009.
A superior court judge in Massachusetts sentenced former gymnastics coach Steven Infante, a New Milford resident, to 8-10 years in prison in May after a jury found him guilty of raping and sexually assaulting underage gymnasts during the 1990s. The 54-year-old Mr. Infante also received five years' probation with a condition he have no contact with anyone under 18. He also must register as a sex offender.
Dwayne Dunn, 24, known as the "Tattoo Man," of New Milford was arrested by state police responding to a fight and he was discovered to be wanted in Arkansas for attacking a victim who lost an eye. Police later learned he was wanted in Springdale, Ark., for attempted murder.
Joseph DaSilva Jr. of New Milford has pleaded not guilty to a manslaughter charge and three counts of assault in a case pending in state Superior Court in Danbury. Mr. DaSilva, the largest property owner in downtown Danbury, also faces a civil lawsuit filed by the estate of 42-year-old Luis Encalada, an Ecuadoran national, whom he allegedly caught trespassing in one of his apartments buildings on Town Hill Avenue. Danbury police said Mr. DaSilva threw or kicked the highly intoxicated Mr. Encalada down a second-floor staircase, resulting in multiple internal injuries that led to his death, and then lied to detectives about being at the apartment.
5) Joining forces
A new era dawned in late September as New Milford Hospital signed on to an affiliation with longtime competitor Danbury Hospital, under the umbrella of Western Connecticut Healthcare Inc. The new plan should permit patients at both hospitals to access services at the other facility, thus upgrading regional care and improving efficiency at both facilities.
6) Teachers, administrators do their part
Ongoing economic woes and the state's shortage of cash have led to several years of bare bones budgets in New Milford. Last spring's severe cuts to the education budget forced the layoff of several teachers and para-educators.
Several other veteran teachers opted for early retirement, stripping the school district of some of its top quality teachers.
This fall, perhaps as a pre-emptive move to avoid another such scenario, school district teachers agreed to a pay freeze for the next year and the district's 17 administrators agreed to increases in insurances costs and a freeze on salary step advancements. What impact their gestures will make on the upcoming budget season remains to be seen.
7) A busy year for Region 12 schools
A landmark agreement signed in October by the Region 12 Board of Education and each of its three towns -- Washington, Bridgewater and Roxbury -- put in place a 10-year lease, renewable for an additional 10 years, on Washington Primary School, Burnham School in Bridgewater and Booth Free School in Roxbury. The signing puts on the backburner hopes of some region residents to construct a consolidated elementary school.
Among the repairs and renovations facing the school district are its playgrounds. Those at Burnham and Booth Free were condemned in 2010 and fundraising projects were soon initiated by residents to build new "playscapes."
As the year ended, Region 12 education officials and residents pondered the question of all-day kindergarten sessions.
8) Farming's back in business
The growth of Community Support Agriculture farms brightened the picture in 2010 for area farmers, an increasing numbers of residents who want freshly grown products, and for open-space proponents.
The Sullivan Farm, dating to the 1800s along Route 202 in the Northville district of New Milford, appears assured of a bright future. A non-profit group called the Friends of Sullivan Farm proposed in December to assume the reins of the 106-acre site from the New Milford Youth Agency, whose volunteers would still be active at the facility.
As the year closed, the state determined it would invest nearly $9 million to buy development rights of the 92-acre Davenport Farm on Ridge Road and nine other working farms in the state.
9) A contentious year for Bridgewater
The past year saw the little town of Bridgewater often in the news as its longtime first selectman, Bill Stuart, endured a charge of mishandling of the town's Burnham Fund, which he ultimately promised to manage in a more open fashion.
Mr. Stuart also was threatened with a suit of slander in August by former longtime town treasurer Amy Allingham, who claimed through a letter from her attorney she had been defamed in comments by the first selectman regarding her handling of town funds.
New Milford attorney Paul Garlasco was active in 2010 with attempts to discredit Mr. Stuart, efforts which ultimately resulted in the state Judicial Grievance Counsel's Office finding the New Milford lawyer was fostering "a personal crusade against the Town Selectman William Stuart," and his "motivation against the Town of Bridgewater is personal, due to land use denials on his personal property in the town."
Residents also learned this fall that Board of Finance member Greg Buchholz had pled guilty to a charge of wire fraud in the theft of more than $1.35 million from clients he represented in his job as a securities broker. Mr. Buchholz resigned his finance position but remained in late 2010 on the town's Board of Trustees.
10) A building shall rise
The town of New Milford and its dedicated emergency volunteers celebrated the completion of a state-of-the-art ambulance facility, just off Housatonic Avenue and Aspetuck Ridge Road, replacing a cramped, outdated building on Young's Field Road.
A few miles to the north, the town of Warren moved in style into the 21st century with a spacious, full-service town hall on Cemetery Road. The town plans to use its former town office building on Sackett Hill Road for community use.
In New Milford, plans are in place for a major expansion to the town's sewer facility on West Street.
In Sherman, renovation projects at the firehouse and library were at various respective stages of construction and planning.