Coronavirus and heavy winds: A tumultuous year in Greenwich - and everywhere

GREENWICH — The biggest story of 2020 in Greenwich was the same story that made headlines across the world: the outbreak of the global coronavirus pandemic and its enormous impact on people’s daily lives.

And the pandemic is expected to dominate the news well into 2021, as the number of COVID-19 cases pour in at a record rate even as the first wave of vaccinations begin.

COVID-19 influenced practically every facet of life, shutting down businesses and schools, and forcing people to live in lockdown conditions in an effort to combat the spread of the deadly virus.

In Greenwich, the coronavirus had a devastating effect.

The changes happened quickly — news of a pandemic in China erupted at the start of the year and warnings spread across Europe in February. By mid-March, Greenwich was closed down, with eerily empty streets and darkened office windows. Students emptied their lockers and headed for remote learning that would last for the rest of the school year. Traffic jams on I-95 disappeared, and Metro-North ridership declined nearly 90 percent.

First Selectman Fred Camillo drew the ire of many when he shut down Greenwich Point and other parks after crowds of residents, who headed out to combat cabin fever, failed to heed warnings to practice social distancing.

But as spring arrived, parks reopened along with businesses, stores, gyms, hair salons and restaurants. Camillo closed parts of Greenwich Avenue to cars so outdoor dining could be expanded, an option that proved popular during the warmer months as residents headed back out into the world.

The town’s private and public schools honored their graduates with outdoor drive-through graduations in late spring, as classrooms did not reopen until the fall.

During that same time, Greenwich Hospital closed its doors to visitors as its beds filled up with patients diagnosed with the coronavirus. At its peak in April, Greenwich Hospital was treating 120 coronavirus patients at one time. By the end of the year, more than 700 patients with COVID-19 had been hospitalized there, with over 70 deaths.

By the fall, Greenwich Hospital had created a state-of-the-art coronavirus unit, thanks to an anonymous donation, and had begun a unique oxygen treatment, using its hyperbaric chambers to ease the breathing of COVID-19 patients.

And as the year came to end, the hospital was administering the new coronavirus vaccine to front-line staffers, and the Nathaniel Witherell and other nursing homes were vaccinating staff and residents.

As of Dec. 29, a total of 2,245 Greenwich residents had tested positive since the pandemic began, including 189 cases in the previous week, according to Camillo. Four additional residents had succumbed to COVID-19, bringing the total to 67.

But the year wasn’t all about the pandemic. Here are a few other stories that made the news in 2020 in Greenwich.

Guilty plea in shocking murder

The body of a slain 24-year-old woman was found stuffed in a suitcase and dumped on the side of a road in Glenville on Feb. 5, 2019. And exactly one year later, the man responsible, Javier Da Silva, 25, pleaded guilty to a federal charge of kidnapping resulting in the death of Valerie Reyes of New Rochelle, N.Y.

His sentencing in U.S. District Court in White Plains, N.Y., has been delayed twice due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But Da Silva is looking at a prison term of 30 years to life for robbing, kidnapping and killing Reyes, whom he had briefly dated a year earlier.

Federal prosecutors said Da Silva entered Reyes’ apartment early on Jan. 29, 2019. After covering her mouth with tape and putting her in a suitcase, Da Silva turned toward stealing her money and belongings. He used her debit card to make $5,350 in withdrawals and also sold her iPad after her death by suffocation.

Da Silva transported her body to a wooded area off Glenville Road, where it was found by a town highway worker.

Protest rallies

In what was the first of several marches held in Greenwich this summer, protesters of all ages turned out June 1 at an angry but peaceful rally at the town’s Public Safety Complex, denouncing police brutality against minorities.

The local rally, which was organized over social media, was one of hundreds across the country spurred by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of police.

In Greenwich, protesters carried homemade signs and chanted, “I can’t breathe,” “Black Lives Matter” and “we want justice.”

“I have been stopped on Greenwich Avenue just because I was Black,” said a protester who identified herself only as Christina. “They would not tell me why they were stopping me and my friends from walking. I have had cops called on me at my building where I live. I’ve been here since I was a student at Greenwich High School and the racial profiling has not stopped.”

At its peak, more than 100 people were outside the GPD headquarters. Chief of Police James Heavey and Capt. Kraig Gray, head of the GPD’s patrol division, met with the protesters outside and took a knee when in a show of solidarity.

“We’re here for the same reasons,” Gray told the crowd. “We want justice for all, and when you do wrong you suffer the consequences. Wrong is wrong and that officer was charged. We’re here to keep the peace. We respect everyone’s rights.”

Heavey said the Greenwich Police Department was ready to listen and that any complaint filed against an officer has and will continue to be investigated.

Death of Regis Philbin

The world knew Regis Philbin as a talk show host who earned honors from the Guinness Book of World Records for the most broadcast hours logged by a TV personality — with more than 15,000 hours on the air.

But in Greenwich, residents knew him as a friend and fellow resident. And they mourned his death on July 24 at the age of 88.

Regis and his wife, Joy, were often spotted around town — they dined every Saturday night at Valbella in Riverside. Viewers of “Live With Regis and Kathie Lee” and later “Live With Regis and Kelly” heard tales of those legendary meals on the Monday morning shows as the hosts chatted with news of their weekends.

Regis found time to play in charity softball games and walk the red carpet at local fundraisers.

Former Selectman Drew Marzullo knew Philbin well. “He was kind. He was funny. He was generous,” Marzullo said. “He talked to everyone. Greenwich was lucky to have him as a resident. I was lucky to know him. A true, true loss.”

Philbin had been a longtime Greenwich resident until he and Joy sold their backcountry home in June 2020 for $4.015 million. They had purchased the English-inspired manor on 2.59 acres on North Stanwich Road in Greenwich for $7.2 million in 2008.

Tropical Storm Isaias slams Greenwich

Greenwich was battered by heavy rain and strong winds on Aug. 4 as Tropical Storm Isaias sprinted up the East Coast, knocking down trees and knocking out power to thousands of residents.

Crews from Eversource and the town worked for days to clear roads and restore power. But patience wore thin among many town residents who were working from home due to the pandemic and struggled without electricity and wi-fi as temperatures soared.

“It’s dangerous out there in certain spots,” Camillo said after the storm, which left nearly 25 percent of the town in the dark — along with much of the state.

Damage was widespread in Greenwich, Camillo said. In December, a town task force released a report calling for improvements in communication and preparation before future storms.

Campaign signs for Trump

As part of the 2020 presidential campaign, a political action committee called Greenwich Voices for Democracy put up signs around town that attempted to link President Donald Trump to local Republican candidates for office.

But many of the signs vanished soon after they were put up by the PAC, which was co-founded by former Selectman Sandy Litvack, a Democrat. He called it a “flagrant violation” of his group’s free speech rights when the signs, some of which featured the slogan “Derail the Trump train” and pictures of elephants, went missing.

The PAC filed a police complaint, alleging that employees of the Department of Public Works improperly took down the signs.

Joe Rossetti, a town resident, said he saw the signs being removed from the traffic island on Milbank Avenue near East Putnam Avenue when he was walking to the YMCA.

“There were two workers from the Department of Public Works in a labeled DPW pickup truck,” Rossetti said in October. “I said, ‘Gentlemen do you mind if I ask why you’re removing these particular signs’ and they said, ‘We’re removing these because they’re offensive.’

“I asked them if they are any more offensive than the other (political signs) and who decided that these were particularly offensive. They said, ‘Call our boss,’” Rossetti said.

But Stamford State’s Attorney Paul Ferencek said no criminal charges would be sought.

“The findings of the Greenwich Police revealed no criminal intent on (the part of) town employees who removed signs that were allegedly damaged or had been blown over,” Ferencek said.

Devon Dalio dies in fiery crash

Police are continuing to investigate the death of Devon Dalio, the 42-year-old son of billionaire philanthropists Ray and Barbara Dalio of Greenwich.

A 2016 Audi driven by Dalio, a New York City resident, slammed through the glass entrance of a Verizon store in the Riverside Commons shopping center and caught fire on Dec. 17, according to police and fire investigators. The blaze destroyed the store and two other nearby businesses.

A Greenwich native, Devon Dalio was the CEO of his own private equity firm, P-Square Management Enterprises. He had previously worked at Bridgewater Associates, the hedge fund founded by his father, and served as a board member of the family’s foundation, Dalio Philanthropies.

“Devon had a gentle nature, an empathetic soul, and a huge heart,” the Dalio family said in a statement. “He was humble. He was a family man and approached life and all its possibilities with integrity and a sense of enthusiasm. He looked forward to family gatherings and meals together, spending time outdoors with his father and sharing his passion for healthy living with his mother. He loved his wife, Janie, and he adored his daughter, Daisy. He enjoyed time with his brothers. His heartfelt passions, his authenticity and his care for others were an inspiration to many around him.”

“This investigation has many components, and the Greenwich Police Department wants to ensure all avenues are appropriately assessed, and its findings are properly documented,” police spokesman Mark Zuccerella said.

This story contains reporting and writing from Greenwich Time reporters Ken Borsuk, David Fierro, Tatiana Flowers, Jo Kroeker, Robert Marchant, and Justin Papp and photographer Tyler Sizemore.