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2012 Year In Review: Weather, police, schools, are overshadowed by Newtown tragedy

Members of the National Guard helped clear trees on Briar Oak Drive and throughout Weston following Superstorm Sandy.

Members of the National Guard helped clear trees on Briar Oak Drive and throughout Weston following Superstorm Sandy.

The biggest story of the year came at the very end of 2012 with the tragic shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in neighboring Newtown on Dec. 14. The devastating loss of 20 young schoolchildren and six school administrators is what 2012 will be remembered for, not just in Weston, but around the world.

There were other things on the minds of Westonites throughout the year. In The Weston Forum’s look back, here are the top stories for Weston in 2012.

Superstorm Sandy

As Yogi Berra might say, “It was deja vu all over again.”

In 2011, Hurricane Irene slammed Weston followed by the nor’easter Alfred, causing prolonged and extensive power outages. Forecasters called Irene a “100-year storm,” but it wasn’t.

During Sandy, a tree crashed through the roof of a home on Stillwater Lane just moments after three boys left the room.

During Sandy, a tree crashed through the roof of a home on Stillwater Lane just moments after three boys left the room.

Fast forward to Oct. 28, 2012, when Superstorm Sandy whipped into town, a hybrid hurricane earning the nickname “Frankenstorm” because it, like Alfred before it, arrived just before Halloween.

Sandy’s gale force winds ripped trees from the ground and at the storm’s peak more than 100 roads in Weston were impassable due to downed trees and wires. Power went out for the entire town.

Connecticut Light and Power Company (CL&P), which was highly criticized for its slow response during Irene, appeared more prepared during Sandy, but power restoration times lagged again, and criticism was again rampant.

Police, fire and EMS crews slept on cots in town buildings to be at the ready when Sandy struck. No injuries or deaths were reported in Weston from the storm, but numerous homes were damaged from fallen trees. Members of the National Guard stopped by to help clear trees from the roadways, and power crews from as far away as Canada helped turn the lights back on.

Volunteers operated a comfort station at the schools, providing residents with shower facilities, water and packaged meals.

Police/Humvees

The Weston Police Department was in the news quite a bit in 2012.

Weston Police Department's new Humvees.

Weston Police Department’s new Humvees.

The year got off to a bumpy start in January after Police Chief John Troxell traveled to upstate New York and acquired two military surplus Humvees for the department, at no cost to the town.

Although members of the Police Commission had given their approval for the Humvees, the chief was criticized in a series of emails from Police Commission Chairman Rick Phillips and First Selectman Gayle Weinstein for “violating the chain of command” because he had not notified the first selectman of his intentions. The chief maintained that it was his duty to report to the commission and not the first selectman, causing conflict among the parties.

On Jan. 24, Chief Troxell announced he was retiring in July for “personal reasons,” saying his enthusiasm for the job had been “chipped away.”

Shortly after that announcement, a petition of support for the chief circulated around the community and garnered 200 signatures. In light of the outpouring of public support, and an endorsement by the Police Commission, Chief Troxell rescinded his pending retirement and said he would honor his contract, which runs through 2014.

The Humvees have been used by the town for bad weather conditions, including Superstorm Sandy.

Tasers

In July, Jaime Gonzalez, 39, of Bridgeport, led police on a foot chase through the woods following a violent spree where he seemed to purposely crash into several motor vehicles, including a Redding police cruiser.

Weston Police were able to purchase Tasers through private contributions.

Weston Police were able to purchase Tasers through private contributions.

The suspect was finally subdued on Newtown Turnpike after he was Tasered by Redding police, who had responded to Weston’s call for mutual aid.

The Weston Police Department was not outfitted with Tasers, and following that incident, Chief Troxell and the Police Commission asked the Board of Selectmen for an $11,000 supplemental appropriation for the immediate purchase of Tasers.

The commission had approved a Taser policy the year before, but had not budgeted for Tasers due to a request to keep its budget request down.

In September, the selectmen declined to take action on the request for a supplemental appropriation and said the commission should put the Taser request in next year’s budget or ask for public donations.

Within a couple of weeks, several Weston families made donations to the police department to cover the full costs of the Tasers.

Officers help Newtown families

Responding to a call from Newtown police for mutual aid in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings on Dec. 14, several Weston officers responded.

weston-newtown-daubert

Sgt. Pat Daubert

Sgt. Pat Daubert helped parents reunite with their children at the Sandy Hook firehouse, and also acted as a liaison for the Previdi family, who lost their six-year-old daughter Caroline. In addition, he was one of the first officers on the scene of a bomb scare at the Rose of Lima Church in Newtown and helped conduct a primary search of the building.

Sgt. Matt Brodacki helped the state’s medical examiner identify the victims through photographs, while Officers Daniel Cascone, Dann McInnis, Joe  Miceli and Rob Curcio also assisted Newtown police.

Other police matters

Four Weston teens were arrested in September for shooting mailboxes throughout town. When police stopped the vehicle the teens were in, they found two loaded shotguns, boxes of 12-gauge shotgun shells, and an “airsoft” BB gun described as a “look-alike assault rifle.”

Scott DeiCas

Scott DeiCas

In December, former Weston school bus driver Scott DeiCas was sentenced to 12 years in prison, suspended after five, and given 20 years’ probation for possession of child pornography and threatening public officials, including Weston school and town employees. He was arrested in 2010, following a 12-hour standoff with police at his home in New Canaan.

Following a recommendation by the Police Commission — the town’s traffic authority —  the selectmen approved a $22,650 supplemental appropriation for the removal of 32 trees along Old Mill Road in order to improve sightlines and make the narrow road safer for residents. For one week in October, the road was closed for several hours each day for the removal project. Residents had complained about speeding on the road and a large number of accidents and near misses.

Weston Police Sergeant Mike Ferullo has just returned from military deployment.

Sgt. Mike Ferullo

Courtesy of a grant from the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, the police department received approximately $50,000 of computer equipment, cell phones, and training, as part of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC).

To house the new equipment, the department created a forensics lab at the Town Hall Annex, where Sgt. Matt Brodacki and Officer Joe Mogollon now handle computer forensics investigations.

Police Sgt. Mike Ferullo returned to duty with the Weston department in September, following a six-month stint as a deputy unit commander in Kuwait for the Coast Guard Reserves.

Fire destroys home on Woods End Lane

A fire destroyed much of an unoccupied house at 6 Woods End Lane in March. The homeowners, John and Jane Horner, were out of town at the time.

School changes

Joanna Genovese

Joanna Genovese

At the start of the school year in September, Joanna Genovese, the principal of Hurlbutt Elementary School since 2005, resigned, due to a lapse in her admnistrator’s certification.

Michael Cicchetti, former superintendent of the Redding, Easton and Region 9 public schools, was named interim principal for the 2012-13 school year.

Other changes in school personnel involved the resignation of Assistant Superintendent Tom Scarice, who left the district to take a job as superintendent of the Madison school district. He was replaced by Kenneth Craw, principal of the Weston Middle School.

Amy Watkins, principal of the Somers Middle School in Somers, N.Y., was named the new principal of Weston Middle School in July.

Kenneth Craw

Kenneth Craw

Jason Bluestein, assistant principal of the Weston Intermediate School, left to take a position as the principal of Burr Elementary School in Fairfield. He was replaced by Doreen O’Leary, assistant principal at Hurlbutt Elementary School.

Kimberly Kus, a teacher at Hurlbutt, filled Ms. O’Leary’s vacancy on an interim basis for the 2012-13 school year.

North House tabled

North House

North House

It seemed like a done deal. Due to declining enrollment projections, Weston Public Schools intended to share space in the North House portion of Hurlbutt Elementary School with the town. There was talk of moving the senior center from South House to North House, and possibly relocating some town offices there as well.

At the school board’s meeting on Dec. 17, three days after the Newtown shooting incident, Superintendent Colleen Palmer recommended the board “table indefinitely” the North House issue. “We must reflect on this with our new lens,” she said.

The school board agreed and unanimously tabled the issue. Parents in the audience applauded.

Building projects

In addition to staff changes and discussions of theoretical changes at the schools, there were some physical ones as well — especially at Weston Middle School.

Window and door project at the Weston Middle School.

Window and door project at the Weston Middle School.

A windows and doors replacement and PCB remediation project was started and completed at the middle school over the summer months. Workers were on site around the clock in the final days before school opened at the end of August, but they made it, having only some cosmetic things to finish in the following weeks.

The $2-million project included replacing nearly all the exterior windows and doors in the school, as well as remediation of PCBs found in the caulking, which necessitated time-consuming testing by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) throughout construction. The exterior sills and walls were also repainted as part of the project.

Simultaneously, the school district did some interior classroom and furniture painting, as well as a major renovation of the middle school library.

This year, the town also undertook a federally mandated $330,000 wetlands mitigation project behind the middle school.

Stage I of the project — removing invasive vegetation and grading the area to improve natural drainage — began in July and was completed by the end of September.

Stage II — planting about 4,000 plants (several  hundred larger trees and shrubs and thousands of smaller grasses and plants) — took place in October.

Revson

It was constructed nearly 10 years ago, but the Revson Baseball Fields, with their seemingly never-ending drainage problems, have been in the news ever since. If all stays well, 2012 will continue to be known as the year Revson was finally fixed.

Revson Field

Revson Field

Revson, constructed as part of the $80-million school building project and officially “opened” in 2005, is where the high school varsity and junior varsity baseball teams play.

Despite major problems from the get-go, entirely replacing the field was thought to be too expensive. After numerous failed attempts to fix the field, the town thought it finally had an affordable solution last year when it hired Aqua-Turf of Orange for about $145,000 to excavate, grade and replace the clay, sod, and loam in the infield, and install new drains and repair the irrigation system in the outfield.

But Aqua-Turf, which was supposed to finish the job in six weeks, still hadn’t done the work to the town’s satisfaction after almost nine months — well into 2012. In June of this year, the town declared Aqua-Turf had abandoned Revson.

It hired, instead, Sports Turf Specialists to replace infield clay, National Irrigation to replace damaged and incorrectly sized irrigation heads, and Peloso and Sons to fix the sod. In addition, school maintenance crews helped get the field in shape.

In July, the schools inspected and then officially accepted Revson Field from the town, essentially acknowledging it will never be perfect, but it is, at long last, safe and playable.

Lachat

Another project that seems to have languished undone for years is the building of an education center — or anything — on the Lachat property off Godfrey Road West, which is jointly owned by the town and the Nature Conservancy. But 2012 was the year when things really started to move.

Lachat farmhouse

Lachat farmhouse

In January, voters approved joint lease agreements that allow the town to use one portion of the property — including the historic farmhouse and other buildings — and the conservancy to use the other as each sees fit. This freed the town to make decisions about what to do with the farmhouse, which had fallen into severe disrepair.

A Friends of Lachat group that formed last year gathered steam in 2012, collecting donations and garnering support to renovate rather than demolish the farmhouse. The group, with the town’s help, secured a planning grant to help fund some initial design work.

Over the spring, the Board of Selectmen interviewed candidates, and this summer, it  appointed a Select Committee for the Oversight of the Lachat Property, tasked with vetting ideas for the property, ensuring they are consistent with existing deeds, and providing recommendations for use of the property to the selectmen.

Plans for shoring up the farmhouse foundation were sent out to bid — twice — and work began in November to make the house more stable.

The oversight committee and the Friends of Lachat are continuing to gather input from the public about how the Lachat property might eventually be put to community use.

Election

With both a primary and a general election — a presidential one to boot — much of the chatter in 2012 was about politics.

Election 2012

Election 2012

A field of nearly a dozen Republicans — including just Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and Mitt Romney by the time the April Republican primary took place in Connecticut — was narrowed to Mr. Romney. He ultimately lost when Democrat Barack Obama  won a second term.

Primaries were also held in August for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Independent Joseph Lieberman, who decided not to run for re-election.

Linda McMahon barely acknowledged her Republican rival Christopher Shays. After beating him handily in the primary (although Weston voters preferred Mr. Shays), she proceeded to spend a record-breaking $40 million or so to try unsuccessfully to defeat Democrat Chris Murphy (who beat former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz in the Democratic primary) in one of the nastiest campaigns in memory.

On the other hand, in the race for the 4th District congressional seat, Democratic incumbent Jim Himes and his Republican challenger Steve Obsitnik, were generally praised for their issues-centered campaigns and several civil debates and public forums. Mr. Himes ultimately won re-election.

Locally, Weston’s state senators, Republicans Toni Boucher and John McKinney, won re-election to their slightly re-drawn districts. State Rep. John Shaban, a Republican, beat his Democratic challenger Leon Karvelis. And both registrars of voters, Republican Susan Moran and Democrat Laura Smits, were re-elected as the town’s registrars of voters.

Charter revision

Also on the ballot in November was the culmination of more than a year’s worth of efforts on the part of the Weston Charter Revision Commission. Voters approved by a three-to-one margin an entirely rewritten charter.

There were countless changes to language and organization of the charter, but also several substantive changes.

Voters at the polls

Voters at the polls

The biggest change is a new requirement that the budget go first to an Annual Town Budget Meeting (ATBM) for a voice vote approval of a bottom line, and then to an automatic machine vote referendum for final approval. A quorum (minimum number of voters) is now required at the ATBM in order for the budget to be changed.

One of the items most discussed at the public hearings the Charter Commission held throughout the year was the idea of changing the tax collector and the town clerk to appointed positions rather than elected ones. In the end, only the tax collector became an appointed post.

Terms changed for finance board members to four years from six, and the school board will no longer have years with “safe seats.”

A Board of Ethics and Code of Ethics are now codified in the charter.

Sports highlights

Many accomplishments, both at the individual as well as team levels, highlighted Weston sports in 2012.

The Weston High girls indoor track team was a threat to continue its run of South-West Conference championships but would end its streak of six straight titles by finishing third at the league finals. The Trojan boys also surrendered their crown, taking second.

Weston also produced another runner-up finish, this one coming from the boys swim team at the state Class S finals, their second in as many years.

Kimmy Guerin

Kimmy Guerin

The Trojans went a step higher on several occasions during the spring season. The boys tennis team won its second straight SWC championship, its ninth in 10 seasons.

One championship dynasty came to an end as the girls tennis team ended its streak of SWC and Class S titles at five apiece. Individually, however, Kimmy Guerin won her third straight State Open singles title. Later in the year she signed a letter of intent to play for Wake Forest University.

Another dynasty continued as the girls track team won its seventh straight league title, beating runner-up New Milford by half a point.

Two high school championships came in lacrosse as the Weston boys upset Joel Barlow for the title and the girls defeated Bethel for the league’s Division II crown.

p1-lacava2

Nick LaCava, third from left, and his Olympics team

Nick LaCava of Weston represented not only his town but the United States as well at the Olympics in London. LaCava, a rower, qualified for and competed on the men’s lightweight four boat that placed second in the B finals and eighth overall.

Weston women’s softball crowned a new champion as 20-30-40-Something defeated No Mercy!. It was the former’s second league title and first in more than 20 years.

Seve Esposito, head coach of Weston’s eight- and nine-year-old All-Star baseball team, was named the winner of the Hilton Honors Outstanding Coach Contest. He was chosen from a field of 700 candidates nationwide.

Sibyl Ledwick was named Weston’s Sports Person of the Year by the Weston Sports Commission. Ledwick helped create the Weston Lacrosse Club’s youth girls program and served on its board of directors, as well as that of the Weston Boosters Club.

The Weston Trojans Youth Football and Cheer, an independent football and cheerleading program, began its inaugural season. In the past, the town was part of the Aspetuck Wildcats, which also included Redding and Easton.

The Weston High girls volleyball team reached its first-ever South-West Conference championship, losing to undefeated Joel Barlow.

The boys cross country team won the state Class M championship, marking its first state title since 2009 when it won in Class S.

Completing its best season in years, the Weston High football team qualified for the state Class M tournament. The Trojans won their first game before losing in the semifinals to Berlin.

Coyote ugly

danger coyotesIn September, the Aspetuck Land Trust closed two nature preserves in Weston — the Taylor Woods/Thorp Preserve and the Tall Pines Preserve on Fanton Hill Road — following reports that aggressive coyotes had followed visitors and their dogs to their homes on Twin Walls Lane. The parks were re-opened weeks later after reports had subsided.

Untimely deaths

Celebrated actor and playwright Jerome Kilty, 90, of Hillside Road North, died following a two-car crash on Georgetown Road in September.

Christopher Plummer

Christopher Plummer

Cindy Rivera, 20, of Norwalk, was charged with negligent homicide following the death of Emily Smith, 85, in a head-on crash on Newtown Turnpike in May.

Plummer wins Oscar

Christopher Plummer brought pride to the Weston community when the longtime resident won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the film Beginners. At 82, he is the oldest actor to ever win an Oscar.

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