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State News Stories

Prison consultant pleads guilty in drug program scam

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - A consultant who coached people convicted of federal crimes on how to minimize their prison time has pleaded guilty to fraud and conspiracy charges.

Prosecutors say 48-year-old Samuel Copenhaver, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, had clients feign or exaggerate drug or alcohol problems to gain admission into a federal drug abuse treatment program.

Prison officials have long suspected abuse of the program , because inmates who successfully complete it can have the time they end up serving cut by up to a year.

Officials say the scam undermined the authority of the judicial system to administer fair and impactful sentences and diverted treatment from inmates who really needed it.

Copenhaver pleaded guilty on Thursday and faces up to 25 years in prison at a sentencing hearing scheduled for Jan. 16, 2020.


Possible compromise on restaurant workers gets mixed reviews

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - A possible legislative compromise that attempts to address concerns raised by restaurant owners over state wage and hour rules is getting mixed reviews.

While members of the Connecticut Restaurant Association said Thursday they support the draft legislation, union leaders and some restaurant workers say it still puts wait staff and other tip workers at a disadvantage.

After vetoing a bill that would have required the state Department of Labor to clarify its rules for when workers earn the $6.38 an hour tip wage and when they don't, Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont and his administration have been working to craft a compromise.

Some restaurants are facing class action lawsuits over their interpretation of the current rules.

Dozens of restaurants owners and workers are expected to weigh in Thursday on the proposal.

73-year-old man found stabbed to death in his kitchen

EAST WINDSOR, Conn. (AP) - Police now say the death of a 73-year-old Connecticut man found in the kitchen of his mobile home is considered a homicide.

East Windsor police said Thursday that Halsey Hesse Jr. was stabbed multiple times.

A relative found the body Wednesday morning when they went to his home because they had not been able to reach the victim by phone in several days.

Police said on Facebook that they are "zeroing in on a person of interest" in the case and think the victim and suspect knew each other.

There were no signs of forced entry and robbery does not appear to be the motive.

Police said there is no danger to the public.


High school students vote to drop Native American mascot

KILLINGLY, Conn. (AP) - Students at a Connecticut high school have chosen a replacement for their Native American-themed athletic mascot.

Superintendent Steve Rioux tells The Norwich Bulletin that about 80 percent of Killingly High School students who voted selected Red Hawks to replace Redmen. The other finalist was Razorbacks.

The new nickname is subject to approval by the town's Board of Education, which meets Wednesday.

The change is the culmination of a yearslong process that began with citizen complaints to the board about the offensive nature of the former mascot.

The board decided to make a change during the summer when the Nipmuc Tribe, based in the area, stated their opposition to it.

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation also condemned the mascot as "racist and stereotypical."


UConn: No plans to seek more state money for free tuition

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - University of Connecticut President Thomas Katsouleas (Kat-soo-LAY'-us) says UConn has no plans to seek additional state funds to pay for a new free tuition program.

Responding to concerns raised Wednesday by Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, Katsouleas says UConn plans to reallocate money within the university's existing budget to the school's financial aid budget. He says UConn will also "aggressively work to raise philanthropic dollars" to cover the cost moving forward.

Fasano sent a letter asking numerous questions about the initiative that Katsouleas announced last week during his inauguration, including whether it will lead to higher tuition.

Katsouleas said the plan to offer free tuition to in-state students from families with annual household incomes of $50,000 or less will have no impact on tuition rates or financial aid packages.

Shipyard workers' union at Electric Boat approves contract

GROTON, Conn. (AP) - A shipyard workers' union has overwhelmingly approved a new contract with raises and pension increases for eligible employees at General Dynamics Electric Boat.

The Day reports the Metal Trades Council passed the four-year contract Tuesday despite opposition from some members who said they wanted a better deal.

The union represents about 2,700 shipyard workers, including boilermakers, office and professional employees.

More than 2,100 members voted and more than 85% approved the contract.

Electric Boat has facilities in Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Some union members wanted more than a 3% raise. About 100 union members picketed outside the shipyard Saturday during a submarine christening ceremony.

Electric Boat told employees that the contract offer is one of the most competitive in the region and for all shipbuilders. The terms are effective immediately.

3 patients injured in B-17 crash remain in fair condition

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) - A spokesman for Bridgeport Hospital says three people injured in last week's crash of a B-17 bomber remain in fair condition.

Spokesman John Cappiello said Tuesday the three patients are receiving treatment at a burn center.

The World War II-era plane was carrying 13 people when it crashed Oct. 2 at Bradley International Airport. Seven people died, including the pilot and co-pilot. The cause of the crash remains under investigation.

The three patients were treated initially at hospitals in Hartford before being taken by ambulance to Bridgeport Hospital.


Elderly Connecticut woman bitten by raccoon while gardening

HAMDEN, Conn. (AP) - An 84-year-old Connecticut woman has received medical treatment after being bitten by a raccoon.

Hamden Police said Tuesday the unnamed woman's daughter contacted them on Monday afternoon, reporting her elderly mother had been "attacked" by a raccoon and bitten on the hand while gardening. Police say the daughter intervened and protected her mother from further injury.

The victim was taken to Yale-New Haven Hospital for medical treatment.

Both Hamden police officers and the Hamden Animal Control Division searched the area for the raccoon but were unable to locate it.

Police are urging residents not to feed raccoons; to keep garbage out of reach of the animals; not to leave pet food outside; and to keep compost secure.


Teen sentenced for illegally making and selling guns

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - A Connecticut man is facing 18 months behind bars after pleading guilty to one count of dealing firearms without a license.

In addition to prison time, 19-year-old Mohammadreza Kamali of Willimantic will be supervised for three years after his release for illegally manufacturing and selling firearms. Court documents show he built and sold four AR-15-style weapons, ordering the parts on the internet and selling the completed weapons to an undercover Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent.

The investigation was handled by ATF and the Willimantic Police Department, which learned he was offering to sell firearms to individuals in Connecticut.

Kamali was arrested in November of 2018 and pleaded guilty in April. He's currently free on a $50,000 bond and is expected to report to prison Oct. 30.

Man sentenced for lying about Superstorm Sandy damage

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - A Connecticut man must pay a $5,000 fine and serve two years' probation after making false statements to obtain a Small Business Administration loan to repair his marina.

Thirty-nine-year-old Scott Sundholm, of Old Saybrook, was sentenced for claiming his marina suffered extensive damage from Superstorm Sandy in 2012. According to federal court documents, he claimed parts of his marina - including a bath house, boat ramp and floating boat docks - suffered extensive damage.

An investigation revealed he had actually demolished a bath house a month before Sandy hit and that no floating boat docks or ramps ever existed at the marina prior to the hurricane.

Sundholm's lawyer said his client has expressed remorse for his mistakes and has acted responsibly to correct them.


Woman charged with using hammer to attack juvenile

NEWINGTON, Conn. (AP) - A Connecticut woman is heading to court to face assault charges in connection with a hammer attack on a juvenile.

Police say 24-year-old Cristina Moreno, of Portland, is scheduled to be arraigned Monday on first-degree assault and breach of peace charges.

The alleged attack occurred in Newington in August. Moreno fled but was identified as the assailant through witness accounts and arrested Friday. She was held on $250,000 bond over the weekend.

Police say Moreno and the girl were in a fight on Aug. 13 when Moreno hit the girl in the face with the hammer, causing serious injuries. Police did not say what sparked the altercation.

The case was not listed in online court records and it was not clear if Moreno had an attorney.

Officials cleaning up waterways after deadly B-17 crash

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Environmental officials in Connecticut are cleaning up firefighting foam that's ended up in local waterways following last week's deadly crash of a B-17 bomber.

NBC Connecticut reports on Monday that the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has set up containment booms and is using vacuum trips to remove foam from Rainbow Brook, Watts Pond and Farmington River.

The station says officials are also testing the water for PFAS and other chemicals used in firefighting foam. The chemicals are linked to cancer, infant developmental issues and other health risks.

Seven people were killed when the vintage plane crashed last Wednesday after taking off from Bradley International Airport. The pilot reported a problem with an engine, turned back and touched down before losing control and crashing into a de-icing facility.

Couple asks state for quick decision about vaccination data

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - A Connecticut couple seeking to stop the public release of additional information about schools' immunization rates is asking the Department of Public Health to expedite its decision.

Brian and Kristen Festa, of Bristol, said Saturday they asked the department for a declaratory ruling on their petition because officials plan to release additional data this month.

A Superior Court judge dismissed their lawsuit in September. The couple had sought to stop the release of additional immunization information and have school-by-school immunization data from 2017-18 removed online.

The judge said they hadn't exhausted their "administrative remedies" with public health officials.

Parents of an unvaccinated son, Brian and Kristen Festa say they've suffered mental and emotional distress due to hateful statements from the public since the release of immunization rate data in May.

Clergy sex abuse victims call for changes to Connecticut law

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Advocates and victims of clergy sex abuse are calling for changes to Connecticut's statute of limitations law.

The Hartford Courant reports that victims hope the recent release of a report critical of Bridgeport church leaders' response to clergy abuse will aid their fight to change the law. The report found 281 people were abused by 71 priests since the diocese's inception.

Under current Connecticut law, child victims of sexual abuse must sue before they turn 51 years old.

Gail Howard, of the Connecticut chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, says victims over the age of 51 deserve a chance to come forward.

A task force studying the civil statute of limitations recently held its first meeting. It's required to issue recommendations to lawmakers by early February.

Bodies of 2 victims of 1944 circus fire to be exhumed

WINDSOR, Conn. (AP) - Forensic experts are set to exhume the bodies of two unidentified victims of the 1944 Hartford circus fire in an effort to determine if one of them was a Vermont woman.

The exhumations are scheduled for Monday morning at the Northwood Cemetery in Windsor. Chief Medical Examiner James Gill says it may be a daylong process.

The fire in the big top of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus on July 6, 1944, killed 168 people and injured 682 others.

Gill's office will compare DNA samples from the remains of the two women to a sample from the granddaughter of Grace Fifield, of Newport, Vermont, who attended the circus and was never seen again.

A state judge approved the exhumations last month.

Connecticut reports 1st death from vaping-related illness

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut health officials are reporting the state's first death associated with lung injuries related to vaping.

The state Department of Public Health said Thursday that the patient in their 30s died last week while hospitalized for multiple medical conditions.

Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell said she is asking Connecticut residents not to use e-cigarettes or vaping products.

Nationwide there have been 1,080 confirmed and probable cases of injuries related to electronic cigarettes and other vaping devices, including more than a dozen deaths. Many of the reports involve severe, life-threatening illnesses in previously healthy people. In Connecticut, a total of 25 cases have been reported.

Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont says the state is developing a "comprehensive, effective response" with state agencies. His administration plans to discuss the issue Friday with neighboring state officials.

Pilot in B-17 crash logged 7,300 hours in bomber

WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. (AP) - An official from the National Transportation Safety Board says the pilot in a deadly Connecticut plane crash had more than 7,000 hours' experience flying B-17s.

The pilot, Ernest McCauley, was among the seven people killed in the crash Wednesday at Bradley International Airport.

Board member Jennifer Homendy said at a news conference Thursday that McCauley had flown with the foundation that owned the plane for over 20 years and had flown the bombers for 7,300 hours.

She said investigators have begun securing evidence including the engine in which the pilot had reported a problem.

As part of the investigation she said they also will look into witness reports that work was being done on one or two of the engines prior to takeoff.

Lawmaker arrested on DUI charges, leadership post suspended

WEST HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - A Connecticut lawmaker who co-chairs the General Assembly's Public Safety Committee has been suspended from his leadership post after being arrested on a drunken driving charge.

Democratic Rep. Joe Verrengia of West Hartford, a retired sergeant from his city's police department, was charged Wednesday with driving under the influence. The arrest was released on Thursday.

Democratic House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz of Berlin issued a statement Thursday saying he had suspended Verrengia from his chairmanship of the committee, which oversees police matters.

West Hartford Police say they received three 911 calls Wednesday about a vehicle stopped in the travel lane with its driver apparently asleep at the wheel. The car resumed traveling to Verrengia's home, where he was arrested.

Verrengia has declined commenting on the advice of his lawyer.


Former police officer, insurance analyst among B-17 victims

WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. (AP) A former police officer and an insurance analyst were among the seven people killed in the crash of a B-17 bomber at a Connecticut airport.

State officials said Thursday that Gary Mazzone died in the crash the day before of the World War II-era plane at Bradley International Airport.

The 60-year-old Mazzone, of East Windsor, retired in January as a prosecutor's office inspector and previously was a Vernon police officer for 22 years.

The wife of Robert Riddell, an insurance company analyst from East Granby, said in a Facebook post that her husband was among those killed.

Robert Riddell had posted a photo from inside the plane just before takeoff.

The victims' names have not been officially released, but officials and relatives are beginning to confirm some of them.

World War II-era bomber crashes; at least 7 reported dead

WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. (AP) — A World War II-era plane with 13 people aboard crashed and burned at the Hartford airport after encountering mechanical trouble on takeoff Wednesday, killing seven of them.

The four-engine, propeller-driven B-17 bomber struggled to get into the air and slammed into a maintenance building at Bradley International Airport as the pilots circled back for a landing, officials and witnesses said.

It had 10 passengers and three crew members, authorities said.

Connecticut Public Safety Commissioner James Rovella said hours after the crash that some of those on board were burned, and “the victims are very difficult to identify.”

Some of the survivors of the crash were critically injured, authorities said. One person on the ground was also hurt in the crash and a firefighter involved in the response suffered a minor injury. No children were on the plane.

The death toll of seven could rise, Rovella said. He said some lives were likely saved by the efforts of people including a person who raced to help the victims and people on the plane who helped others to escape the fire by opening a hatch, Rovella said.

“You’re going to hear about some heroic efforts from some of the individuals that were in and around that plane,” he said.

The retired, civilian-registered plane was associated with the Collings Foundation, an educational group that brought its Wings of Freedom vintage aircraft display to the airport this week, officials said.

The vintage bomber _ also known as a Flying Fortress, one of the most celebrated Allied planes of World War II _ was used to take history buffs and aircraft enthusiasts on short flights, during which they could get up and walk around the loud and windy interior.

“Right now my heart really goes out to the families who are waiting,” Gov. Ned Lamont said. “And we are going to give them the best information we can as soon as we can in an honest way.”

The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team of 10 to investigate the cause of the crash.

The plane was a few minutes into the flight when the pilots reported a problem and said it was not gaining altitude, officials said. It lost control upon touching down and struck a shed at a de-icing facility just before 10 a.m.

The airport _ New England’s second-busiest _ was closed afterward but reopened a single runway about 3½ hours later.

Flight records from FlightAware shows the plane had traveled about 8 miles (13 kilometers) and reached an altitude of 800 feet (244 meters).

In recordings of audio transmissions, the pilot told an air traffic controller that he needed to return to the airport and land immediately. Asked why, he said: “Number four engine, we’d like to return and blow it out.”

Brian Hamer, of Norton, Massachusetts, said he was less than a mile away when he saw a B-17, “which you don’t normally see,” fly directly overhead, apparently trying without success to gain altitude.

One of the engines began to sputter, and smoke came out the back, Hamer said. The plane made a wide turn and headed back toward the airport, he said.

“Then we heard all the rumbling and the thunder, and all the smoke comes up, and we kind of figured it wasn’t good,” Hamer said.

Antonio Arreguin, who had parked at a construction site near the airport, said he did not see the plane but heard the explosion and could feel the heat from “this big ball of orange fire” about 250 yards (229 meters) away.

The same plane also crashed in 1987 at an air show near Pittsburgh, injuring several people, the Collings Foundation said. Hit by a severe crosswind as it touched down, the bomber overshot a runway and plunged down a hill. It was later repaired.

The crash reduces to nine the number of B-17s actively flying, said Rob Bardua, spokesman for the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, near Dayton, Ohio.

Boeing-built B-17 Flying Fortresses _ 74 feet (23 meters) long, with a wingspan of 104 feet (32 meters) _ were used in daylight bombing raids against Germany during the war. The missions were extremely risky, with high casualty rates, but helped break the Nazis’ industrial war machine.

The B-17 that went down was built in 1945, too late to see combat in the war, according to the Collings Foundation.

It served in a rescue squadron and a military air transport service before being subjected to the effects of three nuclear explosions during testing, the foundation said. It was later sold as scrap and eventually was restored. The foundation bought it in 1986.

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