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Do you want your news in a nutshell? If so, Elm City Express is the source for you. We are a service of the New Haven Register, but we will provide a slightly different daily dose of New Haven happenings, all wrapped up in the same place. We love to hear from the community and will post your news for you, often in your words! Remember: Local news is our story. Contact us at: hbennettharvey@nhregister.com. We would love to hear from you.

Friday, February 29, 2008

These legal eagles are....hawks


Red-tailed hawks find comfort in statue’s arms

By Ed Stannard
Register Metro Editor
NEW HAVEN
— With all the talk of a housing slump, it’s nice to know a pair of red-tailed hawks are fixing up the old place on the Elm Street courthouse, looking ready to start a family.
They’re moving in even though there’s a renovation job scheduled for the Suprior Court building. Whether the work will interfere with the birds’ plans will play out this spring under the watchful gaze of downtown visitors and workers.
Susan Lucibelli first saw hawks in the nest last spring from her office on the 18th floor of the Connecticut Financial Center on Church Street. It didn’t appear that they had any offspring, though.
Then she saw a pair, possibly the same ones, last week. “I was thrilled that they came back,” Lucibelli said. “I thought they had abandoned the nest.”
“I think it’s really great we have the New Haven version of Central Park’s Pale Male,” said Dori Sosensky of East Haven, a member of the New Haven Bird Club, speaking about the famous New York City hawk. “It would be really great for people to get over to see them and to watch them.”
New Haven’s hawks have their own unique charm. Their roost is nestled in the arm of a figure on the 1909 courthouse’s frieze, which appears to be watching them with a nurturing gaze.
“I grew up in the suburbs,” said Will Sanchez of New Haven, who was handing out hot soup on the Green Thursday with fellow members of Teen Challenge. “I grew up in Storrs myself. … It’s nice to really see a bird like that take residence in the city.”
“I have seen them in the tree and they watch the pigeons,” said David Adams of New Haven, who was pouring soup and coffee. “It’s nice to see. It brings a beauty to the area.”
Adams also has seen what hunters the hawks are as they put fear into the Green’s resident pigeons. “They grab them right out of midair,” he said.
Jim Zipp, owner of the Fat Robin Wild Bird Nature Shop in Hamden, photographs hawks and other raptors, and said the female hawk — which is larger than the male — should lay her eggs in about a month.
“But they start to hang around the nest now,” he said. “The pair are bonding, starting to get used to each other again.”
The scaffolding on the courthouse, which has been up for a few years, concerns Lucibelli, however. She’s worried “that they’re going to abandon the eggs or something if they get scared because of all the pounding or whatever they’re going to do there.”
Rhonda Stearley-Hebert, a spokeswoman for the state Judicial Branch, said money for the renovations was approved by the state Bond Commission in January and work should begin this spring.
“If there’s birds there when we get ready to start, then we’re going to talk to the DEP about what to do,” she said.
She said it’s hard to know now what the birds will do.
“Nobody wants to hurt the birds … but it’s hard to say what you’re specifically going to do when you don’t know what you’re facing.”
Julie Victoria of the state Department of Environmental Protection, said if the hawks stay, it could be four months before their young leave the nest.
“They probably aren’t going to lay eggs until March or April, then they’re going to need 30 days for them to hatch,” she said. Fledging probably will go on for another two months, she added.
She said the best thing for the Judicial Branch to do would be to start work immediately, so the hawks can find a new place to build a nest. If workers wait until eggs are in the nest, they will need a permit to disturb them.
“It’s illegal to take the eggs or chicks of a migratory bird,” she said. Beginning work nearby once the eggs are laid would be problematic, because the hawks would want to protect their young, she said.
Red-tailed hawks, the most common hawks in North America, have a wing span of more than 4 feet and feed on squirrels and other rodents, as well as pigeons, making the Green a perfect neighborhood.
Victoria said red-tails are common in the state.
“You can’t go down a highway in Connecticut without seeing a red-tailed hawk,” she said.
Ed Stannard can be reached at estannard@nhregister.com or 789-5743.

There are many heroes among us

By Maria Garriga
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— Heroes seldom get the thanks they deserve, but local good Samaritans received recognition Wednesday at the annual Heroes of New Haven County breakfast.
The South Central Connecticut Chapter of the American Red Cross presented the awards under the glittering chandeliers in the ballroom at the Omni New Haven Hotel at Yale.
Eunice Lasala of Branford won the Humanitarian Award for tackling the feral cat population explosion. Lasala founded and runs the Branford Compassion Club, which has rescued and neutered 2,500 cats and feeds 14 feral cat colonies. Many of the cats go to new homes, others are returned to their colonies. Lasala also is president of Branford Community Foundation and Branford Garden Club.
She encouraged the packed audience to be heroes in their own ways.
“All of us have the power within to serve and to lead. Discover your passion, launch a vision. ... Each of us is able to lead a life of significance,” Lasala said.
Jesse Wylie of Hamden received the Adult Good Samaritan Award for staunching the heavy bleeding of boy, 15, hit by a car on June 25, 2007. Wylie, who was passing by at the time of the incident, used his shirt to control the bleeding and kept applying pressure even when the boy had seizures, said Brian Andrus, who won the award in 2007 and made Tuesday’s presentation to Wylie.
Wayne Barneschi of Wallingford won the Philanthropic Award for raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Red Cross with his annual Trail of Terror event. The event has people pay to walk through a maze filled with scary monsters (played by volunteers) and macabre scenes. Barneschi gets numerous youth involved yearlong in the project, teaching them skills as they build sets and design costumes, as well as offering them a safe place to go after school.
“The highlight of our year is presenting that check to the Red Cross,” Barneschi said.
Mark Osinski, a volunteer firefighter from Orange, won the Firefighter Award for helping to save an 82-year-old woman from a fire. After arriving first on the scene, Osinski spotted the woman in a window, calling for help.
Firefighters put up a ladder, but the woman could not climb down on her own, so Osinski carried her.
Jason Prates, 9, received the Youth Good Samaritan Award, for starting his volunteer work and fundraising for charity when he was 3. After losing a close friend and a grandmother to cancer, Jason began making homemade Christmas cards for cancer patients. He started by making 20 cards a year. Last year, he gave out 200.
“My friend taught me it’s not about giving, it’s about receiving, and my grandma taught me that when somebody dies, they are always in your heart,” Jason told the crowd. They gave him the event’s first standing ovation. The second standing ovation went to the winner of the Law Enforcement Award, the late police Officer Robert V. Fumiatti.
Fumiatti was shot in the face while breaking up a drug deal in New Haven’s Hill neighborhood on June 13, 2002, and then died several years later after an apparent heart attack. Chief Francisco Ortiz Jr. nominated Fumiatti for his character, kindness and community involvement.
“The most amazing thing — he forgave his attackers,” Ortiz said in a video prepared by the Red Cross to honor the nominees.
The Medical Award went to a group of Wallingford postal workers who saved a colleague who collapsed when he experienced a severe heart arrhythmia July 21, 2007. Such heart problems can kill victims in minutes. The team included Ron Willoughby, Paulette Pierce, John Velardi, Isabelle Lacy, Francis “Frank” Vincent, Gregory Doran, Michael Bradshaw and Roy Rotnofsky.
FAll belong to the office’s Medical Emergency Response Team and administered CPR, electric shocks with a cardiac defibrillator, and oxygen until the town’s emergency medical service arrived.rank Meyer of West Haven won the 911 Dispatcher Award for walking a West Haven parent through the process to restore breathing of his 3-year-old child on Dec. 12, 2006.
Last, but not least, Lexie the poodle, and her owner, Deborah Baser of Hamden, won the Animal Humanitarian Award. Baser, a certified physical therapist, had Lexie certified in the pet partner program at Paws N Effect in Hamden. When she took Lexie to visit students at a regional high school for disabled children, the dog’s companionship inspired one speech-impaired boy to start talking in full sentences, presenters said.

Diners and old friends

This is a column by Randall Beach


It’s lucky for us that these city fixtures just keep on keeping on

We turn today to old friends and old diners. Against all odds, they persevere.
Last Thursday, I continued my tradition of stopping in to visit my buddy, Manson Whitlock, on his birthday. This was his 91st.
But I didn’t go to his home to see him. I knew that if I went to 272 York St. and walked up the long flight of stairs to the second floor, I would come upon him there in his shop, tinkering with typewriters.
Sure enough, there he sat at his desk by the window, working on a Royal. Whitlock’s Typewriter Shop was open for business.
He greeted me warmly as he always does, although he knows a visit from me invariably leads to some lines of ink in the newspaper. As a modest man, he finds this embarrassing.
So what if he’s probably the oldest typewriter repairman in the world? In his view, he’s just doing what he has always done.
“It gives me something to do,” he said. “It keeps me off the streets. There’s no business at all.”
But shortly afterward there arrived a young woman, carrying an Underwood. Whitlock looked at it with keen interest.
“They were the Model T Ford of their time,” he said. “It looks like it needs a little tender loving care. We’ll have to rejuvenate this fellow. I think it can be done.”
“How long will it take?” she asked.
“I’m slow,” he told her. “It may take more than a couple of days. I have to look inside it first.”
After the woman departed, I thought about how unusual it is for a young person to want a typewriter repaired. Whitlock told me one reason he keeps coming to work is because “It’s nice to see old friends. And I can help them out. Nobody else will bother to do it anymore.”
When I asked him how the drive in from Bethany is going, he answered, “Oh, fine. Driving has always been a hobby of mine. I used to race sports cars.”
“When the Department of Motor Vehicles calls me in for a test, they can set up an obstacle course,” he said. “I’ll show them how to do it!”
Whitlock has been plying the typewriter trade since 1930. His only concession to changing times or age is to close up for the day after working through the morning.
Every time I visit him, I am amazed and heartened.
‰‰‰
I also stopped in to see Helmi Elsayed “Mo” Ali, owner of the New Star Diner on Lombard Street. What I really came to see was the remnants of his Forbes Diner, now sitting on blocks in two big sections on his property behind the New Star.
The New Haven Register reported three weeks ago that the Forbes, a fixture at the corner of Forbes Avenue and Stiles Street, had closed and was slated for demolition. But as the story noted, Ali decided he could not bear to have the stainless steel classic destroyed, so he arranged to have it towed to his lot.
Ali left Forbes Avenue because Dunkin’ Donuts made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. He sold the property to them.
But as we sat at the counter of the New Star, Ali told me, “The diner is a foundation for America. Junk food, fast food, rush, rush — they eat junk.”
Ali is still looking for a new home for the Forbes so he can re-open it. “It’s in very good shape,” he said. “That’s why I won’t let it go.”
Nonetheless, it’s sad to drive by that old corner and not see the Forbes, and it’s also sad and weird to see it up on blocks in Fair Haven.
‰‰‰
In another down-but-not-out diner story, we have the ongoing saga of the Yankee Doodle Coffee Shop, which closed suddenly Jan. 29 amid a rent dispute. Supporters of “Doodle” owner Rick Beckwith continue to work on a business plan for an undisclosed new location under consideration.
“We’re taking the re-opening very seriously, to make sure we have all the ducks in a row,” said Phillip McKee III, a Yale alumnus.
It’d be fabulous to have a new Yankee Doodle up and running in time for the Yale reunion weekends in June but McKee said he can’t make any predictions.
Randall Beach can be reached at rbeach@nhregister.com or 789-5766.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Truly for the birds


The following is part of a news news release issued by the Connecticut Audubon Society. It is posted here as a service to our avian friends and for bird lovers everywhere. It is edited lightly only for style points, not at all for content. Photo is by Paul J. Fusco.


Connecticut Audubon Society’s 3rd annual Connecticut State of the Birds report describes possible conservation strategies for six bird species that are in serious trouble -- and for which their Connecticut habitat is critical to their global survival -- to illustrate how complex the problems and solutions are related to habitat protection and bird conservation. These include the Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow (a state-listed “species of Special Concern”), the Blue-winged Warbler (a state-listed “Endangered” species) and Golden-winged Warbler, the American Oystercatcher (a state-listed “species of Special Concern”), the Cerulean Warbler and the Bobolink (a state-listed “species of Special Concern”).

Connecticut Audubon Society President Robert Martinez and Senior Director of Science and Conservation Milan Bull presented the report’s major findings, including CAS’s recommendations for urgent conservation actions (“Connecticut Bird and Habitat Conservation Priorities”), at a joint press conference with state Rep. Richard Roy and Sen. Edward Meyer, co-chairmen of the Environment Committee, and Edward Parker, Bureau Chief of the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Natural Resources Division.


“A common misconception among the general public as well as many environmentalists is that restoring species diversity and conserving wildlife habitat is as simple as buying a piece of land, assuming suitable land is available, and reserving it as a conservation easement or using some other mechanism to permanently prevent development,” said Milan Bull, Editor-in-Chief of Connecticut State of the Birds. “However, it is rarely this simple. Most of Connecticut’s threatened bird species require specialized habitats, such as grasslands and shrublands. If these areas are not regularly maintained by mowing, cutting and other practices, they quickly revert to forested land. Even old-growth forests, which provide habitat for different bird species, require ongoing efforts by skilled forest managers to keep them healthy and productive as wildlife habitat. Effective land management practices require substantial investments of both time and money. These commitments need to be carefully considered as part of any habitat protection plan.”

Connecticut’s grasslands, which support bird species like the Bobolink, have shrunk to less than 5 percent of what they were in 1909. In 2004, the CT DEP listed the Bobolink as a species of Special Concern. (Many other grassland species that require larger tracts of land to nest are faring far worse.) Many smaller hayfields around Connecticut could likely support healthy Bobolink populations. However, farmers would need to delay mowing until the Bobolinks have finished nesting. But hay has the highest value when it is cut earlier in the season. A possible compromise: subsidize farmers to “grow” grassland birds (like Bobolinks) instead of hay and corn, especially in marginal agricultural areas on their farms. This will require payments to farmers to delay haying and possibly converting cornfields on marginal lands to hayfields to create Bobolink habitat. These solutions can be costly to implement and monitor. The largest tract of privately owned grasslands in the state is Connecticut Audubon Society’s 670-acre Bafflin Sanctuary in Pomfret, and CAS is actively managing this Sanctuary as grassland habitat with the help of a DEP Landowner Incentive Program grant.

“In the case of the Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow,” said Bull, "the solution, if any, is far more complex and may indeed be out of our hands on even a regional level, as global warming increases the tidal range.” Entirely restricted to saltmarshes, up to one half of the world’s population resides at least part of the year in southern New England. The native saltmarsh grasses of
Connecticut provide a particularly suitable nesting environment for this sparrow, and specific saltmarshes between Guilford and Stonington are home to the vast majority of these birds in Connecticut. Surprisingly, their nests are built just above the average high-tide water level and are at risk of destruction from even typical spring tides. Both declining acreage of native saltmarshes and future rising sea levels pose significant threats to the Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow. The Connecticut State of the Birds 2008 report recommends improved monitoring of the sparrow population and preserving Connecticut’s remaining saltmarshes (80 percent of which have already been lost), especially the higher elevation areas where nesting occurs.

Cerulean Warblers are among the fastest declining of all Connecticut’s songbirds: the mature forests they need to breed here are disappearing, and their wintering grounds on the slopes and mountains of northern South America are also in danger. Once a fixture on the eastern shoreline in the summer months, the American Oystercatcher is highly sensitive to human disturbance, and a shrinking population is competing with humans for the use of our beaches during the birds’ breeding season. They are also vulnerable to oil spills, hurricanes and other catastrophic events. “Connecticut’s shoreline is a very slender and dynamic habitat, highly developed and not easily recreated,” notes the report.

“As you will read in our 2008 Connecticut State of the Birds report, there are no ‘one-size-fits-all’ programs or simplistic solutions,” said CAS President Robert Martinez. “The next, difficult steps are to design, fund and implement action plans that address the problems we’ve identified, including changing human behavior, which is probably the most difficult challenge of all. But conservation is a ‘global’ issue that concerns all of us. Right here, right now, in Connecticut , we can and must do something to protect at-risk bird species and disappearing wildlife habitat and the countless plants, insects and other animals that share these same habitats.”

“Nothing contributes more to our state’s ecology than birds and I compliment the Connecticut Audubon Society on its initiative,” said Meyer.

“The Connecticut Audubon Society is continuing to provide enlightenment to the public, informing them how best to coexist with surrounding wildlife as well as emphasizing the value of Connecticut’s natural resources. I am pleased to support them in their continued efforts,” said state Sen. John McKinney.

Based on findings of its 2006 and 2007 Connecticut State of the Birds reports, which described the effects of habitat loss and human threats on the state’s bird populations and habitats, Connecticut Audubon Society also issued a set of five prioritized recommendations.

Read the report at: http://ctaudubon.org/

Are lobsters at risk again?



By Gregory B. Hladky
Capitol Bureau Chief
HARTFORD
— Connecticut lobstermen and marine scientists are fearful that Long Island Sound may be suffering from another “die-out” of the kind that wiped out 80 percent of the Sound’s lobsters in 1999.
Nicholas Crismale, president of the Connecticut Commercial Lobstermen’s Association, said Monday he’s had reports of pockets of dead lobsters off the Thames River and as far south as the Darien shore.
“I don’t think there was a lobster fisherman in the Sound that was able to sustain his expenses last year,” said Crismale, a Guilford resident. “This resource has been decimated to the point where recovery in the long term may be very difficult.”
“We do have a crisis up and down the coast,” said Peter Consiglio, a Branford lobsterman. “There’s something going on and we don’t know what it is.”
Eric M. Smith, director of marine fisheries for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said state officials began to receive reports last fall of lobsters showing stress and disease problems similar to 1999.
Smith said scientists believe warmer water in the Sound was a key trigger in the 1999 lobster die-off, causing stress that turned other factors such as pesticides and pollution lethal. The Sound’s lobster population still hasn’t recovered from the 1999 event, Smith said, making the current die-off more critical.
According to Smith, summer 2007 was “a pretty bad temperature year” in the Sound. He said global warming could well be playing a role, since Sound lobsters are at the extreme southern end of their natural range.
Smith said fishermen complain pesticides must be the root cause of the latest die-off, but scientists haven’t been able to document pesticides as the killer.
“We’re a little perplexed,” Smith said of pesticides claims. “We don’t know what’s killing them.”
Smith warned members of Connecticut’s Long Island Sound Task Force that the current trend for lobsters in the Sound is grim.
“If the mortality rate continues in Long Island Sound for the next 10-15 years, we won’t have a lobster fishery,” Smith said.
Former state Sen. George L. “Doc” Gunther, R-Stratford, a long-time supporter of efforts to protect the Sound, said he’s had complaints from a lot of Connecticut lobstermen and Long Island fishermen, as well. “We’re getting people in New York saying they’ve stopped fishing” because there are so few lobsters, said Gunther.
Gunther said many Sound lobstermen believe renewed spraying on Long Island of pesticides designed to kill mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus may be responsible for the new lobster die-off.
Gunther said there are some researchers who now believe even minute amounts of some pesticides can affect lobsters’ immune systems, leaving them vulnerable to many diseases.
In 2004, the conclusion of a conference of marine scientists was that a “perfect storm” of high water temperatures, low oxygen levels in the water and toxic ammonias and sulfides contributed to the ’99 die-off. Weakened lobsters were left vulnerable to tiny parasites and “shell disease” that killed hundreds of thousands of lobsters in the Sound in a very short period of time.
“The warm water theory just doesn’t sit well with the fishermen,” said Crismale. “I believe it’s pesticide impact.”Crismale said that, if it were simply high water temperatures, lobsters could have escaped by migrating to deeper, colder sections of the Sound. “But we’re not catching them in deeper waters, either,” he said.
Consiglio said he’s afraid some in the public will unfairly blame lobstermen for the latest decline. “It’s not the fishermen,” he insisted. “We’re doing everything in our power to cooperate with the state.”
Lobstermen and state officials alike say the one great hope for restoring the lobster population in the Sound is a $1 million program authorized in 2006 to mark female and male lobsters over a certain size and return them to the water to boost breeding stock.
SSmith said the target of the “V-Notch” program was to mark and return 60,000 breeding lobsters to the Sound.mith said the “one bright side” of the Sound lobster situation was an abundance of lobster larvae recorded in 2007. But he added it could take five to six years before it will be known if those lobsters will reach maturity.
Gregory B. Hladky can be contacted at ghladky@nhregister.com or at (860) 524-0719.

Petition started to save Stetson

By Elizabeth Benton
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— Stetson Branch Library is the smallest of the city’s libraries, nestled in the center of a Dixwell Avenue strip mall.
It’s an unlikely home for a library.
But for supporters now petitioning to keep the place afloat amid the possibility of budget cuts, Stetson is “far more than a library,” the petition says.
With a projected $469.28 million city budget for fiscal year 2008-09, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. estimated last week he must find $17 million to balance the package. He’ll either have to raise taxes, seek concessions from city unions, secure more state aid or reduce city services.
Stetson is one city service among several that DeStefano suggested may not make it into the budget this year.
Closure of Stetson remained on the table Tuesday, according to city spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga.
“We still have not gone to print on the budget. We’re still looking at a number of choices. If we have sufficient state aid ... then we wouldn’t be in the position where we would have to explore these types of choices,” she said.
Even suggesting that Stetson close was “a real slap in the face” to Mae Gibson-Brown, a retired teacher and foster mother who has organized Concerned Citizens for the Stetson Branch.
The group is circulating a petition “opposed to the closing down of the Stetson Branch Library.” As of Tuesday afternoon, about 124 people had signed the petition at the library. A total count from all circulating petitions was unavailable.
Stetson supporters plan to present the petition to DeStefano at a hearing on the budget 6 p.m. Thursday at the New Haven Free Public Library on Elm Street.
“When the Q House closed, it just left such a void,” said Gibson-Brown, whose home is just feet from Stetson.
“I have 16 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. I don’t need them hanging on the street. They will not be hood rats. They will use their minds because they are able to do so,” she said. “If you shut that library down, what are you doing to all our children?
“I can’t imagine why it would seem like even a remote idea to close a branch that is servicing the heart of the Dixwell community.”
Stetson was picked from among the Fair Haven, Mitchell and Wilson branches because it has the lowest circulation and is closest to the downtown library, DeStefano said last week.
But Stetson Branch Manager Diane Brown-Petteway said, “The days of libraries just determining their worth by circulation statistics is gone.
“It’s about accessing information on the computers, financial aid forms, reference materials,” she said.
“We have GED classes here, a Saturday youth academy, homework assistance after school. Adults come in the morning for help with resumes,” she said. “People talk about the digital divide. Most people in Dixwell and Newhallville don’t have a computer in their home. If they do, they don’t have Internet access.”
Concerned Citizen for Stetson member Chip Croft found his way to Stetson while filming a documentary on the shooting deaths of Jajuana Cole and Justus Suggs, both 13. He was filming at the shuttered Dixwell Community House across the street from Stetson when his equipment drew kids’ attention. He started a film program at Stetson. “It would be a tragedy if they closed it. They come in here to get out of peer pressure, gang activity, guns and drugs. If anything, this needs to be expanded.”
Elizabeth Benton can be reached at 789-5714 or ebenton@nhregister.com.

Monday, February 25, 2008

St. Patrick’s parade ball to honor hard work



NEW HAVEN — The Associated Irish Societies will honor four New Haven area residents at St. Patrick’s Day Parade Ball March 7 at Yale Commons.
The James Dinnan Service Award will go to North Branford resident Robert J. Lane, show at far left in photo, supreme secretary emeritus of the Knights of Columbus, who retired in November after 53 years of service at the Knights’ international headquarters.
Lane was named a Knight of St. Gregory in 2000 by Pope John Paul II and received the St. Joseph’s Medal for his commitment to his parish community in 2004.
The Appreciation Award goes to West Haven resident Carol Hackett, middle left in photo, a long-serving member of the parade committee, who is being honored for her involvement with the parade organization. She has served at treasurer of the Parade Committee since 1999.
The Cornelius Driscoll Award is going to former 1976 Grand Marshal John O’Donovan of Hamden, not shown in photo. O’Donovan, a humanitarian and community volunteer, also is a deacon ministering at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Hamden.
The Executive Committee Award will go to committee member Edward P. Donadio, of North Branford, at far right in photo, who has served on the Parade Committee in numerous capacities.
Over the years, he has been a member of many subcommittees for the parade committee and for the last two years has served as chairman of the printed publicity committee.
The title of the 2008 grand marshal will be conferred on Guilford resident Bernadette Smyth LaFrance, middle right in photo. She has been a member of the Parade Committee since 1994, when she went from serving as 1994 parade queen to Parade Committee member.
She served as chairwoman of the 2007 parade and was one of the founding organizers of the parade’s corporate sponsor program.
Ball tickets are $80 per person and include wine/beer and station buffet. Tickets are available by calling Walter J. Nester Jr., ball chairman, at 239-9956; or Anne Hines, ticket chairwoman, at 488-4902.
The Gabriel Donahue Band will provide music for dancing.
Tickets also are available from any member of the Associated Irish Societies, which includes: the Knights of St. Patrick; the New Haven Irish Community Center-New Haven Gaelic Football and Hurling Club; the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Father McKeon Division No. 7; and the West Haven Irish American Club.
For more information, visit www.stpatricksdayparade.org.

Snow days in the Elm City



Photos by Peter Casolino

City team prepares for robot war

By Eliza Hallabeck
Special to the Register
There were no screws loose as the Hill Regional Career Magnet High School’s Robotics Team tested their creation.
Within 24 hours of testing, the more than 3-foot-tall robot was to be packaged and sent away for the regional tournament, which starts March 13 in Hartford.
“This robot can cradle a 10-pound ball and can launch it over a rail that’s about 6½ feet high,” said Luis Quiles, 17, a junior at Career and one of the three team captains of Team 558, otherwise known as the Elm City Robo Squad. “And it drives pretty fast.”
The FIRST Robotics Competition began in 1992 in a high school gymnasium in New Hampshire, and now holds its championship tournament at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. This year, the students have been challenged to build a robot that can lift a 10-pound ball over 6 feet in the air and move around a track.
The Robotics Team at Career has 25 students this year that do everything from programming on the computer to helping to build the robot. Quiles said he has been putting in about 20 to 30 hours a week on the project.
Sending the robot off to the convention, where it will not be allowed to be touched or altered, marked the end of six weeks of work for the students, faculty, mentors and local volunteers who have worked on the project.
The Elm City Robo Squad’s robot picks up a ball by using two claws, then moving the ball over the top and releasing it in the back. According to Andy Wight, a math teacher at Career, the robot’s action works like a reverse basketball dunk.
Maya McReynolds, 17, a team captain and junior at Career, said she learned a lot because of her experience with the robotics team.
“I personally am taking physics this year,” she said. “And it is hard, but I can apply it to what we are doing here.”
McReynolds said the team had a few problems during the creation process.
“Some of the challenges we’ve had were with pneumatics,” said McReynolds.
Pneumatics, according to Quiles, is the way they wanted the robot to move. It uses pressurized air instead of a motor.
“We operate on a shoe-string budget, but most of the engineers here say that’s the way engineering is,” said Ernie Smoker, a physics teacher at Guilford High School and the engineering mentor for Team 558.
Wight said Yale University and the United Illuminating Co. have been the largest contributors to the team’s cause. Danbury Hospital donated two laptops, because mentor Norm Plude, who commutes from Southbury with his son Pat to be on the team, works there.
Smoker said students put in great effort to be at school off hours. Students walk, take the bus or car pool with other students to Career.
Smoker’s wife, Denise Smoker, a lawyer for the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office and a mentor who got involved because of her husband, said the FIRST Robotics competition acknowledges the effort teams put in by giving multiple awards.
“Seeing our kids hold their own is great,” she said.
Ernie Smoker said he makes sure the students take an active role in the entire process, because it is the best way to get the most out of the experience.
“It’s so much more fun if they’re doing it, and then they own it,” Smoker said.
Russell Rivera, 17, a captain of the team and a junior at Career, said this year has been harder than last year because there are no seniors on the group. He was able to do more specific things last year, he said, now he was involved in the entire process. The bumpers “had to be the hardest part. There had to be put on, and they had to be specific dimensions,” Rivera said.
With or without seniors this year, Rivera said the team is closer than before. “That’s what makes our team better,” he said.
Ernie Smoker said one of the goals of the program is to get everyone involved. Students and mentors are encouraged to get their family involved, and to bring younger children if necessary.
“They always say in this program that it’s really not about the robot, and it really isn’t,” Wight said.
Eliza Hallabeck is a Register Intern.

Yale moving forward with plans for 2 new colleges

By Mary E. O’Leary
Register Topics Editor
NEW HAVEN
— It’s all unfolding as planned.
The Yale Corporation Saturday, after receiving a study on the ramifications of adding two residential colleges for undergraduates, asked that administrators prepare capital and operating budgets showing the costs, while also detailing a fundraising plan.
The development of these documents had been recommended by Yale President Richard C. Levin for consideration by the corporation before it takes a vote on the additions at its meeting in June.
Levin enthusiastically supported the study and has offered the rationale for building two colleges off Prospect Street, which would bring the total to 14 on the Yale campus and increase the number of undergraduates by some 12 percent.
The additional colleges, which would house around 400 students each, would have all the amenities of the existing colleges, including dining halls, common rooms, courtyards, masters’ houses and student suites.
In a letter to the Yale community last week, Levin said the project, which would add several other ancillary facilities, as well as additional staff and faculty, would boost the undergraduate student body to an estimated 6,000, up from 5,200.
Early estimates put the capital cost at $600 million with groundbreaking in 2011 and completion by 2013.
Levin has been concerned for some time with the explosion in the number of applications for Yale, with several hundred students denied admission each year who would have been accepted a decade ago.
Applications fluctuated between 9,000 and 13,000 until 2001 when it kept climbing to the current 22,500 number, with less than 10 percent expected to be accepted.
The president said Yale has the financial resources and the ability to raise more money to make the colleges a reality.
“Today, we have a long queue of highly qualified applicants who would collectively allow Yale to make an even greater contribution to society, if more could be educated here,” Levin wrote last week.
Roland Betts, senior fellow of the corporation, issued a statement after Saturday’s meeting, saying there had been a “stimulating discussion ... to ensure that the culture of Yale College would not be compromised” by an expansion. Specifically, he said they they want the quality of extracurricular life and classroom education to remain the same.
The study group has recommended construction of arts performance spaces, an exercise facility, a cafe, more classroom space and a possible convenience store, while also enhancing basic services such as library study space and health services, in addition to the colleges.
Construction of the colleges off Prospect between Sachem and Canal streets will greatly enhance the presense of Yale in that part of the campus, commonly referred to as Science Hill, which students now view as isolated from the central campus.
Mary E. O’Leary can be reached at 789-5731 or moleary@nhregister.com.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Photographer raising money to help people of Iraq




NEW HAVEN — Photographer Daniel Smith is going back to Iraq this month and he is raising money to bring to aid organizations and to help to bring medical supplies to a medical clinic in Baghdad. A fundraising reception/photography event that had been scheduled for Feb. 22 has been postponed to Feb. 29 from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at United Church on the Green, 270 Temple St.
Suggested donation is $5-$35. The event will include food and live music, a silent auction of photography and souvenirs from Iraq. Two of Smith's photographs are shown at right. Guest speaker is Ebong Udoma, WSHU reporter/WPKN news director and Q&A with Smith begins at 8 p.m.
All of the money will go to the people of Iraq. For more information, visit danielwsmith.com. For directions and examples of Smith’s photography/writing, visit http://danielwsmith.com/news.html

Ted Turner comes to town


The following is a column by Randall Beach

Billionaire, activist Ted Turner pitches plan for nuclear disarmament
Ted Turner thinks it’s time for us to smarten up and get to work abolishing nuclear weapons.
Turner, 69, but feisty as ever, was in New Haven Thursday as the main speaker for a two-day event by the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization called “Nuclear Weapons — The Greatest Peril to Civilization: A Conference to Imagine Our World Without Them.”
Although it’s a deadly serious topic, Turner, shown at right in the photo by Peter Hvizdak, put on a show, sprinkling his message with jokes and salty language.
There were about 75 people gathered in an upstairs room of Woolsey Hall, including Yale students, faculty and some earnest anti-nuke activists and scholars from around the world. But he got them laughing too.
Everybody knows something about Turner, including that he used to be married to Jane Fonda, but some people don’t realize what an activist he is. After launching CNN in 1980, then buying baseball’s Atlanta Braves and basketball’s Atlanta Hawks, he moved on to more idealistic pursuits, such as organizing the Nuclear Threat Initiative.
When Turner stepped up to the podium, he showed off his loud, multi-colored tie emblazoned with the flags of many countries. He said he was wearing it to show he’s an “internationalist” who believes the U.N. can help get us out of the mess the world is in.
Turner refused to use notes as he talked because, “I wanted to speak from the heart.”
He didn’t waste any time on platitudes. “For us to sit there with 10,000 nuclear weapons and tell others they can’t have any, especially when we let Israel have them — That’s bull----!”
“They’re no good for anything,” he said of nuclear arms, “except to threaten your neighbors. They don’t do what we say anyway.”
He added, “They don’t make us any safer. We’re getting beat in Iraq, with all the weapons we have. What are we going to do? Drop a (nuclear) bomb on Baghdad?”
Turner said things aren’t going any better for us in Afghanistan. “We’re spending $500 billion (for the two wars) and we’re being defeated, or tied, by a group of Taliban.”
He noted humanity faces two other major challenges: global warming and population growth. He said if Al Gore had been elected president, “global warming would be a receding problem. We’ve got to start making the right choice.”
Turner said he never endorses political candidates during campaigns. But he praised Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama because “he has said he’s for zero nuclear weapons.”
Although he’s thankful there haven’t been any nuclear exchanges yet, Turner said the only solution to this proliferation is “complete abolition of all nuclear weapons: an agreement by all countries not to make or deploy any weapons of mass destruction.”
Turner said if a few rogue states refuse to go along with this, “There’s a way to handle them, peacefully. You boycott them. ‘Nothing comes into or out of your country. We won’t trade with you.’”
When questioned about specifics of his idea, Turner stressed he doesn’t favor unilateral disarmament by the U.S. He advocates a 5- to10-year plan, brokered by the U.N., in which all countries with nuclear weapons would agree to gradually reduce their stockpiles.
If we don’t start to move on this, Turner warned, “We’re gonna be toast. And our planet is gonna be toast, too. If we don’t get rid of these weapons, they’ll get rid of us.”
He asked: “What kind of sense does it make to destroy millions of people, our children? How many of you like your museums? We’re gonna blow up all our museums! It’d be a real shame to lose Yale and its museums.”
Turner kept saying nuclear disarmament won’t be easy. But if we can pull it off, he said, life would be fun.
“Never before in history have human beings done the right thing on a consistent basis. I’ll be 70 this fall; I want to live long enough to see this done. I want to see my grandchildren have this.”
Turner called for a show of hands. “How many people here have grandchildren? How many love ’em? How many don’t care if they get blown to kingdom come? Come on!”
He said it’s very simple: “If we’re smart, we’re fine. If we’re stupid, we lose.”
Randall Beach can be reached at rbeach@nhregister.com or 789-5766.

Labels:

Parking ban imposed

The following notice was released by the city just before noon Friday:

EFFECTIVE: AT MIDNIGHT ON FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 22, 2008,
AN ON-STREET PARKING BAN IS IMPOSED IN NEW HAVEN AS FOLLOWS:

1. NO PARKING ON STREETS POSTED AS SNOW EMERGENCY ROUTES

2. NO PARKING ON STREETS DOWNTOWN

Mayor John DeStefano, Jr. has declared a snow emergency for snow
removal purposes and has announced the following on-street parking
bans:

(1.) Effective at Midnight on Friday Feb. 22, 2008 PARKING BAN
IMPOSED on all major arterial streets that are posted as emergency snow
routes.

(2.) Effective at Midnight on Friday Feb. 22, 1008, PARKING BAN
IMPOSED on streets in the Downtown Area (all streets within the area
bounded by Howe Street, Tower Parkway, Grove Street, State Street and
North Frontage Road).

Cars parking in violation of the parking ban may be ticketed and/or
towed.

Please note: Parking garages and off-street parking lots downtown are
still open during snow emergencies. Residents are encouraged to use
these facilities as an alternative to parking on the street.

In residential areas, residents are encouraged NOT to park on the odd
numbered side of the street (numbers ending in 1,3,5,7,9) so that snow
plows can clear the street to the curb. It is also helpful if cars
don't park within 25 feet of any intersection so the plows can push
snow to the curb and not out into the intersection.

The Parking Ban expires at 7:00 A.M. on Saturday Feb. 23,
2008.

DeStefano urges the public's cooperation in complying
with the parking ban in order to assist the city's plowing operations.

Yale University student facing voyeurism charge due back in court

Read more about this story in Friday's New Haven Register and at www.nhregister.com


NEW HAVEN — State police have finished analyzing the computer of a Yale University student charged with voyeurism and the case is expected to be back in court next month.
Casper Desfeux, 20, was charged with voyeurism and distribution of voyeuristic material in September, after admitting he filmed himself and another university student having sex, and then showed the video to four of his roommates, according to authorities.
Desfeux said he had activated the camera without his partner’s knowledge, according to the arrest warrant.
He claimed to have deleted the material from his computer and told police he had not sent the video to anyone, nor did he make any still photos from the video.
Lt. J. Paul Vance, spokesman for the state police, said the computer crime lab finished its report on Desfeux in January and sent it to Yale police.
He said the computer crime unit dealt with 120 cases in 2007 and prioritizes cases based on the seriousness of the charges.

New uses eyed for Winchester site

By Mary E. O’Leary
Register Topics Editor
NEW HAVEN — Winchester Repeating Arms, the shuttered gun manufacturer that was a long time economic engine for the city, is being imagined as a residential-retail model that will bring together Yale University, downtown and the Dixwell-Newhillville neighborhoods.
Excited professionals from Forest City Enterprises in Cleveland Thursday declared most of the 17 structures on the site bound by Winchester, Munson and Mansfield streets to have “good bones” for conversion to a new use that will complement the university’s expansion and commerical growth at Science Park.
The Science Park Development Corp. picked Forest City as the preferred developer with the necessary “deep pockets,” staying power and expertise to deal with the environmental concerns to bring the 750,000-square-foot site back to life.
Abe Naparstek, director of development for Forest City, whose headquarters is in Cleveland, told residents at the Dixwell Enterprise/Community Management Team meeting, that “these kinds of project are not for the faint of heart,” but his company has successfully converted others in worse condition.
They came to ask for input from the residents and will attend the Newhallville Management Team meeting Feb. 26 to continue the dialogue.
Naparstek said they expect to invest close to $100 million if their market, environmental and community studies show it is a viable project. He said their business model is to stay and manage their projects after they are built.
Lisa Hopkins of the management team told the developers that there is a lot of subsidized housing for the poor in New Haven.
“It’s the middle class that is being priced out and left out in the cold,” Hopkins said, asking that they consider a price range to include this demographic group.
Bryan Oos, development manager, estimated a conversion was possible within 2½ to 3 years if everything falls into place. Literally built to withstand an explosion, the facade, masonry, load bearing floors and mortar were declared by Oos to be “in beautiful shape.”
The site, which is expected to contain PCBs and a laundry list of other contaminents, was not a detriment to the developers, particularly as the previous owners, Olin and U.S. Repeating Arms, are on the hook to clean up the site to a commercial standard. Forest City would invest funds to bring the site to residential use standards.
A member of the development team, Douglas Arsham, said Forest City can handle anything “short of nuclear waste. We like projects with hair on them, and this project has a lot of hair on it.”
They plan to apply for federal historic tax credits, as well as work to incorporate sustainable elements, although this sometimes conflicts with the historic requirements.
Forest City will bring back its project within six months to the Science Park Development Corp., at which point they hope to have a deal for the development.
The conversion to residential use comes at the same time that Carter Winstanley has bought a biotech incubator building across the street at Science Park, where Yale will also locate some administrative offices.
Next up, is a plan for a parking garage by Winstanley on a nearby site, according to Lisa Grossman of Capstan, a consultant to Science Park.
Mary E. O’Leary can be reached at 789-5731 or moleary@nhregister.com.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

City must pay cop facing jail time



Read more about this story in Friday's edition of the New Haven Register and at www.nhregister.com

By William Kaempffer
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— The city must pay a former police lieutenant tens of thousands of dollars in retirement benefits improperly denied to him after his arrest on federal corruption charges and subsequent termination, according to an arbitration ruling.
In a decision dated Feb. 15 and received by the city Thursday, the arbitrator ruled that former Lt. William White, shown at right, was, in fact, already retired when the Board of Police Commissioners fired him on April 4, 2007, and, as such, is entitled to lump sum payout for accumulated sick time, unused vacation days and holiday pay, which the city had refused to pay, a police union lawyer said.
That means White, 64, who is scheduled to be sentenced to federal prison in April, is entitled to roughly $44,700 from the city as well as a nearly $3,000 bump in his annual pension.
As a result of the decision, the city canceled a planned termination hearing for another police officer who has run afoul with the law. Detective Clarence Willoughby, who was arrested Feb. 6 for allegedly stealing from the department’s confidential informants fund and put in retirement papers the same day, was scheduled to appear before the Board of Police Commissioners tonight. This afternoon, as a result of the arbitration award to White, the city canceled the meeting and planned to drop all departmental charges against the 24-year veteran. The criminal case will continue.
The police union had filed a grievance on White’s behalf last year, arguing the 39-year veteran was retired as of March 15, 2007, the day he filed his pension application and two days after his arrest by the FBI.
The police board fired him on April 4 and the city argued it had the authority to do so because the Police and Fire Pension Board had not yet voted on his pension. The pension, which was an entitlement under the union contract, was approved on April 12 retroactive to the day he put in his papers.
The city argued that the pension board’s function is only to administer provisions of the pension plan and that it is the police board that determines whether a person is retired or terminated.
Further, whichever board had authority to retire an employee, the city maintained, neither board had accepted White’s pension application and as such the police board had the authority to fire him.
The arbitrator agreed with the union, concluding that jurisdiction over pension applications is with the Police and Fire Pension Fund and not with the police board. The union also had argued that White was fired without just cause, but the decision rendered that point moot.

Telethon to benefit Yale-New Haven Children's Hospital


The following is a press release from Yale-New Haven Hospital

The Friends of Yale-New Haven Children's Hospital 6th annual telethon to air March 15
NEW HAVEN - On March 15, the Friends of Yale-Haven Children's Hospital 2008telethon will be broadcast live, from 7-8 p.m. on WTNH News Channel 8 and simulcast on MyTV9. WTNH newscasters Jocelyn Mimenta, who is also a Friends board member, and Keith Kountz will act as hosts for the telethon.

The Friends is an organization of volunteers committed to furthering the mission of the Yale-New Haven Children's Hospital. The goal of this year's telethon is to raise $75,000 to help support the Children's Hospital mission of improving the health and well-being of children and their families at Yale-New Haven Children's Hospital through clinical care, education and outreach.

"For the past five years, the Friends telethon has gained significant momentum through the tremendous support of our sponsors, and the people in this community," said Dr. Michael Apkon, shown above, executive director of the Yale-New Haven Children's Hospital. "The growth and success of this annual project is a direct result of the dedication of our organizing committee and their willingness to share their passion with so many generous donors, either though financial sponsorship, contributions or resources. These volunteers, and those who call in to pledge support, allow us to grow and enhance the dreams we have for the children and families we serve."

Veteran city police detective pleads not guilty to larceny, forgery charges

By Randall Beach
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— Police Detective Clarence Willoughby was silent in the courtroom Wednesday as defense attorney Norman Pattis pleaded not guilty on his behalf to larceny and forgery charges, but Pattis said his client looks forward to clearing his name in a jury trial.
Willoughby, a 24-year veteran of the New Haven Police Department, is accused of stealing from a fund used to pay confidential informants. He faces four felony counts of second-degree larceny, four felony counts of second-degree forgery and two misdemeanor counts of second-degree making a false statement.
Dressed in a suit and tie, Willoughby stood and waited alongside Pattis in a crowded courtroom at the Elm Street courthouse. This was an unaccustomed role for Willoughby, who has often testified against defendants in Superior Court trials.
But Willoughby’s name was the first to be called by Judge Richard Damiani.
After Pattis entered the not guilty pleas, he said Willoughby wanted a jury trial. Damiani then transferred the case to the Superior Court on Church Street, which handles more serious charges. Willoughby’s next pre-trial court date is March 19.
Damiani granted a request by Assistant State’s Attorney Helen McLellan to keep the warrant sealed for another two weeks. She said this was necessary “to avoid compromising an ongoing investigation.”
McLellan declined to elaborate or to comment after court adjourned. But during the proceeding, Damiani referred to problems with the first-degree manslaughter case against Errie McClendon, accused of slaying Robert “Scotty” Bennett in November 2006.
Sources have said Willoughby used a CI number assigned to the wrong informant when he obtained a $1,500 payment. According to the sources, authorities are trying to determine if it was intentional and if the informant was shortchanged.
Willoughby’s previous attorney, Michael Dolan, has said Willoughby used the right CI number and the informant received the full $1,500.
During a January court appearance, McClendon, 17, who had pleaded not guilty, was released on a written promise to appear but was taken into juvenile custody. At that session, Damiani and Assistant State’s Attorney Stacey Haupt asked anyone who was present when Bennett was shot to come forward. If they don’t do so, Damiani noted, the charge against McClendon might be dropped.
Willoughby filed for retirement Feb. 6, just before he turned himself in at police headquarters. He was placed on paid leave. He also faces departmental charges; Police Chief Francisco Ortiz Jr. has said Willoughby should be fired.
Pattis did not object to the warrant remaining sealed. After adjournment Wednesday, he said, “We don’t want to try this in the paper. We’ll take it one witness at a time. We look forward to taking it to a jury.”
Willoughby declined to comment before and after the court session. But Pattis said, “It’s a mystery to me why the New Haven Police Department is feeding on itself regarding questionable charges when there are real cases of violence unsolved in the streets.”
Pattis called Willoughby “an outstanding homicide detective with a great record of success. The jury will sort it out.”
Pattis was also upset by the presence of a TV camera in the courtroom. Under a two-year pilot program, cameras are now being allowed in certain courts.
Randall Beach can be reached at rbeach@nhregister.com or 789-5766.

Parks department changes procedures after boy left behind on city outing

By Maria Garriga
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— A day after a 7-year-old boy was left behind during a city-sponsored outing to the Woodbury Ski Area, the city Department of Parks, Recreation and Trees tightened policies to ensure it does not happen again.
New policy for city-sponsored trips for children will require eyeball confirmation by chaperones that each child is on the bus home, both while the children get on the bus and again once the bus doors close, Parks Director Robert Levine said Wednesday.
“This is unacceptable on so many levels,” Levine said of the Tuesday incident.
Levine said staffers had conducted a head count, but missed the boy because the head count changed when another child left early, which created confusion.
Top city officials said they were stunned at the gaffe.
“Something went wrong. I expect discipline will follow,” said Robert Smuts, the city’s chief administrative officer.
The boy, Antonio Canuelas, had been on a snow-tubing trip Tuesday as part of weeklong day camp offered by the city to keep children occupied during February school vacation.
The group left for the ski area at 8:30 a.m. and headed back at noon without Antonio. His mother, Amanda Canuelas of New Haven, discovered that her son was missing after the bus arrived. The frightened boy was reunited with his anguished mother five hours later.
Canuelas said Antonio told her he rode a snow tube downhill and saw no one at the bottom of the hill. He returned to the top of the hill and didn’t see anyone there.
“He told me he didn’t know where the office was so he just sat on the snow tube crying.”
An unknown adult brought the boy to the office, she said, where Antonio was given a hot dog, curly fries and a Pepsi.
“He hadn’t eaten. The counselors brought back his lunch box but not him,” Canuelas said.
“I would not send my kid back there. They lost my trust,” she said. “He’s still very emotional about it.”
The incident sparked uproar in the Parks department.
Levine held meetings from 10 p.m. Tuesday, at 7 a.m. Wednesday and throughout the afternoon to get to the bottom of the incident. Levine could recall no other child having been left behind during any department outing.
On Tuesday’s trip to Woodbury, seven Parks employees, including a supervisor, accompanied 38 children, Levine said. According to Levine, the adults divided the children in six groups for easier supervision. They traveled to Woodbury by school bus but took along a van in case any child needed to go back early.
One child fell ill and two employees left in the van to bring the child back. When remaining employees conducted a head count on the bus before departure, they became confused about the number of children on the bus. They assumed the missing child had been the one that fell ill.
The department will now require a roll call instead of a head count. In addition, employees must make eye contact with each child during the roll call to ensure they are present. Employees will conduct the roll as children board the bus and again after the bus doors close.
Levine said children had not been paired into buddies during the trip. He said the “buddy system” will now be standard procedure on all trips as an additional safeguard.
Maria Garriga can be reached at mgarriga@nhregister.com or 789-5726.

Knight vision at night


By Mary E. O’Leary
Register Topics Editor
NEW HAVEN
— The 1950s photo of Church Street showed varied styles of buildings packed jowl to jowl with multiple levels of commerce, from a hotel to Enson’s Men’s Store to the Bijou Theater.
The density, variety and commercial value were seen as a good model to emulate as the city goes forward to fill out spaces in the Ninth Square and especially the Chapel Street block ripped open by a devastating fire Dec. 12.
Architect George Knight of Knight Architecture, shown above, whose office is located a half-block from the fire site, Wednesday took several dozen design professionals and others through his vision of how the city can best move forward.
“New Haven was once and could be again an extraordinarily vibrant place. The world ... is going to be heading towards a more dense pattern of settlement and in that context New Haven is ... well positioned to become the new type of thriving environment,” Knight said.
It was the second in a series of talks sponsored by the Town Green Special Services District through its Wine Dine Design program, that features one architect, design ideas and later a trip to a city restaurant, in this case Zinc.
The block where the fire destroyed six businesses is bound by Chapel, Church, Center and Orange streets, a portion of the city’s main commercial district. Subsequent demolition cleared a path through the block, which matches up with a parking lot through the center of the next block bound by Crown, Orange, George and Church streets.
Knight, whose firm redeveloped the Simon-Johnson buildings on the corner of Church and Chapel streets into upscale apartments, suggested creating a new street through both blocks that would open up development opportunities.
He proposed a total of 8 buildings with residential and commercial uses on the first block, with a semi-private courtyard for parking and a two-story public market hall that would bisect it, followed by six more building sites on the second block.
Knight envisioned a range of prices for the housing units, while he would put parking underground across the entire footprint. The buildings would vary in height and design to avoid the cookie cutter recreations of early 20th century buildings, such as those at Blue Back Square in West Hartford, Knight said. He suggested building in incremental steps as less costly.
The architect also touted building “green,” where attention is paid to sustainable and energy efficient materials, but he said the structures have to incorporate the kind of architectural character and density present in an earlier era in the city.
“No development or building or space will be sustainable if it is not loved and it is our responsibility ... to make a world that we love,” Knight said.
He said the easiest thing to do at the fire site would be to cover it with a multi-level garage, ground level retail, and a tall recessed residential tower in the center. Knight rejected that as “analagous to fast food,” as it gets the job done, but it is not satisfying in the long run.
“I think that would be a mistake, a missed opportunity on a heroic scale,” Knight said.
Mary E. O’Leary can be reached at 789-5731 or moleary@nhregister.com.

Where was the suspect beef? Sent to some area schools

By Elizabeth Benton
Register Staff

Fourteen school districts statewide received beef that has been recalled following allegations of animal abuse at California slaughterhouse Westland Meat Co.
The recall hit the state’s largest urban school districts: New Haven, Bridgeport and Hartford. Meat also was pulled from Cheshire, West Haven, Chester, Essex, Glastonbury, Groton, New London, Norwich, Region 14, Simsbury and Waterbury.
There have been no reports of illness resulting from the meat.
Westland had been one of the top beef suppliers to the National School Lunch Program, and officials estimate that 37 million of the 143 million pounds of recalled beef went to school lunches.
Madeleine Diker, director of food and nutrition services for Cheshire, said six cases of the recalled beef have been destroyed.Another eight cases of beef were marked for Cheshire, but never arrived from the school’s New Haven-based distributor before the recall.
But a case and a half of beef was consumed by students and staff at the Cheshire High School since an Oct. 30 shipment, Diker said.
West Haven Superintendent of Schools JoAnn Hurd Andrees said the recalled meat has been isolated. With most school staff on vacation, she did not know how much has already been eaten or how much had been shipped to the school. “It was fully cooked meat fortunately. None of the meat was raw,” she said.
New Haven school spokeswoman Catherine Sullivan-DeCarlo said city schools received a “small amount of pressed beef product that had already been cooked and processed.” The meat already had been tested for bacteria at the processing plant, she said, and there have been no reports of illness. The beef was pulled in early February.
The USDA ordered the recall Sunday based on Humane Society footage revealing Westland employees kicking, shocking and abusing “downer” cows too sick or injured to walk into the slaughterhouse. Meat from such cows presents a higher risk of E. coli and salmonella, and it is banned from distribution under federal law.
Federal officials have suspended operations at Westland, and two former employees were arrested Friday on animal cruelty charges.
Federal lawmakers, including U.S. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn, are currently pushing for a national investigation into meat safety in public schools. DeLauro Tuesday called for the USDA to be stripped of its responsibility for food safety.
“Food safety ought to be of a high enough priority in this nation that we have a single agency that deals with it and not an agency that is responsible for promoting a product, selling a product and then as an afterthought dealing with how our food supply is safe,” DeLauro said.
Elizabeth Benton can be reached at 789-5714 or ebenton@nhregister.com.

‘New Haven 20’ prepared to take reverse discrimination case to Supreme Court

By William Kaempffer
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— Twenty firefighters whose reverse discrimination lawsuit against the city was thrown out in federal court and again on appeal have vowed to pursue the case to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.
According to a statement released Wednesday by their attorney, the New Haven 20, as they have dubbed themselves, voted as a group “and was unanimous in their resolve.”
“They’ve been victimized over and over again and to their credit, they won’t lay down,” said attorney Karen Torre.
Last week in a summary order, a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of the case by a district court judge in New Haven. Torre said she hadn’t ruled out asking the entire Second Circuit to reconsider the decision, but the consensus of her clients was to see if the high court would agree to hear it.
A petition the U.S. Supreme Court is a heady process that, if successful, would thrust the issues of race, civil service and disparate impact in the national spotlight. At the same time, scarce few are granted. In an average year, 10,000 petitions are filed to the court seeking attention and only 80 to 90 are accepted. Four of nine justices must agree to accept the case.Rob Smuts, the city’s chief administrative officer, said his understanding from city attorneys is the case is “pretty cut and dry” after both a district court and then appellate court ruled in the city’s favor.
“I don’t think the chances are very high that the Supreme Court will take it up, but that’s what the process is there for,” he said.
But ongoing litigation, if it drags on, could impact the timetable for new promotional exams in the Fire Department. It was two civil service exams in 2003 for fire lieutenant and captain that prompted the protracted legal conflagration. The city recommended the exams be scuttled, citing potential disparate impact against minorities because too few scored high enough to be promoted. The city Civil Service Commission, which certifies promotional exams, ended up deadlocked and the exams died on the vine.
Soon after, 20 firefighters, 19 white and one Latino, filed a reverse discrimination suit, claiming race politics was behind the move.
Smuts said new captain and lieutenant exams — none have been administered since 2003 — are tentatively in the budget for the next fiscal year, leaving time for the lawsuit issue to be sorted out. But before moving forward, he noted, “we would want to have a sense as to whether the Supreme Court will take this up.”
It’s hard to predict whether that will happen. In her clients’ favor, Torre said, is that individual federal courts around the country have handed down contradictory decisions and because of the prevalence of disparate impact lawsuits around the country.
Torre said that the case presents the high court with an opportunity to settle the issue. “At the very least, win or lose, my clients want the Supreme Court justices to read about what happened to them.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story. “If there’s one thing that I discovered in my research, it is that for decades now cities and taxpayers have been plagued with the disparate impact lawsuits,” she said. “Every major city. It never ends.”

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Come to the Cabaret


NEW HAVEN — AIDS Project New Haven will holds its 16th Wine tasting, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the agency, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. March 13. This year’s event, “Cabernet and Cabaret” and will be held at the Yale Cabaret, 217 Park St.
Tickets are $65.00 each. Organizers said “mouth-watering hors d’oeuvres” will be provided by Rich & Delicious Catering of Cheshire, along with a selection of exceptional wines provided by Grand Vin Fine Wines of New Haven. The event also will feature the best of cabaret songs, a silent auction, all with a Broadway theme.
Honorees for the event are Dr. Gerald Valentine, for his outstanding support of APNH; Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, for their unwavering commitment to fighting the AIDS pandemic; and Thom Peterson, for his years of dedication to APNH. All proceeds from the event will benefit client services of AIDS Project New Haven. Tickets must be ordered in advance by calling Jim Travers at APNH (203) 624-0947, ex. 229. For more information on the event and AIDS Project New Haven, visit www.apnh.org.

Happy New Year!



The New Haven Free Public Library on Elm Street recently helped to celebrate Chinese New Year with a program by performers from the Aiping Tai Chi Wu Dang Kung Fu Academy. Library officials said the event was fast-moving and fun, with some younger patrons quite taken with the size of the “lion” that participated in the dance.

Homeless shelters full, school opened to meet demand

By Elizabeth Benton
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— With homeless shelters over capacity and struggling to meet rising demand for beds, the city opened the Truman School this week as a temporary overflow shelter, the first time the city has opened a school as an overflow shelter.
Thirty-one men slept on cots in the Truman School gymnasium Monday night. Space at the Columbus House shelter on Ella T. Grasso Boulevard and the overflow shelter on Cedar Street was filled, as well as space at the Immanuel Baptist Shelter on Grand Avenue, according to Columbus House Executive Director Alison Cunningham.
“Numbers have been beyond capacity for some time now,” she said. “It’s never been like this.”
On average, about 280 men seek shelter each night at Columbus House and Immanuel’s shelters, Cunningham said. Capacity for the three shelters is 231, but the shelters have a “no freeze” policy that does not turn people away in the winter.
While school is out this week, Truman offers a quick-fix solution, but once students return, there’s no long-term plan to house the city’s burgeoning homeless population. The cots will remain at Truman through Saturday night.
“We don’t want to turn people away. It is school vacation this week, so it’s a temporary solution,” city spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said.
“We will try our best to accommodate them in current shelters, but there isn’t a specific plan to open a new shelter. We’re handling it to the best of our ability,” she said.
It’s unclear exactly why demand has been so high this winter. Cunningham said she thinks some people who may have stayed outside previous winters have found their way to shelters this year.
She has also seen an increase in the number of veterans, including young men who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. At last count, 50 veterans were seeking shelter at Columbus House’s two facilities.
Cunningham said she has also seen former renters seeking shelter after being evicted from homes foreclosed on due to the subprime mortgage crisis.
“The economy overall, it’s very difficult times for people,” she said.
Some of the shelter residents also recently have been released from prison, an issue the city has recently begun to address, calling for increased pre-release services for inmates.
With few other shelters in the region, Mayorga said “we’re the only ones that have made a significant commitment toward serving (the homeless).”
“There are a couple small shelters in the region, but most surrounding towns — North Haven, Hamden — they have nothing,” she said. “When it gets cold, people come here.”
Elizabeth Benton can be reached at 789-5714 or ebenton@nhregister.com.

Recalled beef pulled from city schools

By Elizabeth Benton
Register Staff

Beef served in New Haven public schools has been pulled, part of a nationwide recall of 143 million pounds of frozen beef from California slaughterhouse Westland Meat Co.
According to schools spokeswoman Catherine Sullivan-DeCarlo, New Haven received a “small amount of pressed beef product that had already been cooked and processed.”
Aramark Corp., which manages food services for city schools, pulled the beef in early February, Sullivan-DeCarlo said. While some of the meat was eaten, there have been no reports of illness. The meat had been tested for bacteria at the processing plant, she said.
The state Department of Education had asked school districts to confirm the safety of beef served in school lunches following the recall.
Further information on other Connecticut districts that may have been affected by the recall is expected today. Westland is one of the top beef suppliers to the National School Lunch Program. Officials estimate about 37 million pounds of the now recalled beef went to school programs.
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3, has joined federal legislators pushing for a national investigation into meat safety in public schools. The USDA ordered the recall Sunday based on Humane Society footage revealing Westland employees kicking, shocking and abusing “downer” cows too sick or injured to walk into the slaughterhouse. Meat from non-ambulatory or “downer” cows presents a higher risk of E. coli and salmonella, and it is banned under federal law.
Federal officials have suspended operations at Westland, and two former employees were arrested Friday on animal cruelty charges.
In a joint letter to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, DeLauro, and U.S. Reps. George Miller, D-Calif,, Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill, called for an independent government investigation into safety of meat in the National School Lunch Program.
Dominick Golia, director of food services in Ansonia, said he checked his beef Tuesday morning after returning from the holiday weekend. “I saw it on television and got all sorts of e-mail this morning and yesterday,” he said. Beef will remain on the menu for Ansonia students. “The beef is not affected, so there is nothing for us to do,” he said.
East Haven Food Service Manager Debora Spaziani said she pulled beef from the menu a few weeks ago after hearing initial reports of the problems at Westland, but has determined the schools’ supply is not affected by the recall.
Wallingford, Seymour, North Branford, Milford and Madison school administrators also reported they had checked their beef supplies and cleared them for use.
In Milford, Philip Russell, deputy superintendent of operations for the schools, said beef was pulled from school menus after news of cattle abuse first broke.
“As soon as we heard that, we suspended it,” he said. Russell said Tuesday he was still waiting on a report from the district’s food service director about Milford’s supply, but thought it might be best to err on the side of caution. “The best thing is to get rid of all the stuff to eliminate any concerns,” he said.
State Department of Education spokesman Tom Murphy said the state is “asking (districts) to make sure they check” for the recalled beef.
Elizabeth Benton can be reached at 789-5714 or ebenton@nhregister.com.

Bag checks among tougher Amtrak security measures

By Eliza Hallabeck
Special to the Register

Travelers may notice extra security at Union Station as they board their trains starting this week.
Amtrak officials announced Tuesday that new security procedures will be put into action across the country.
The newly organized Amtrak Mobile Security Team will add to the existing patrols and security checks. The team will be covering more than 500 destinations in 46 states on the 21,000-mile system. The stations and checks will be random.
“It’s not specific to anywhere in particular,” said Cliff Cole, Amtrak spokesman for New York City.
According to Amtrak, the new procedures will not make for a slower commute, and are designed to minimize any potential threat to travelers. The effort is in coordination with the Department of Homeland Security.
Random bag checks are part of the plan, and the Mobile Security Team will include armed specialized Amtrak police, explosives-detecting canine units and armed counter-terrorism agents.
Cole said the unit would not be an overpowering force at any station, because it simply will be extra security for a matter of time. Normal security numbers will not be affected when the team is not at the station.
“This is an effort on Amtrak’s part to continually enhance our safety procedures,” said Cole.
Tim Napier, 59 of Chester, said he travels from New Haven’s Union Station three times a week and would not mind submitting his bag for a random check. “I have no problem with it,” he said. “I think everybody understands the climate. ... I think anything we can do to help security procedures, without infringing on personal rights, is a good thing.”
Passengers will have the right to refuse to submit to the bag checks. Unwilling passengers will not be allowed to board the train, and their tickets will be refunded.
Kevin Regan, Amtrak manager at Union Station, was unable to comment on the changes.
Maryann O’Reilly, 50, of Washington, D.C., said she travels to New Haven every six weeks, because she is originally from this area.
The presence of extra security will help to discourage people from attempting harmful threats against travelers, O’Reilly said, but she said she believes it won’t solve all the possible threats.According to Cole the extra security measures are not in connection or reaction to recent events, but are the outcome of discussions and information observed by Amtrak officials. The initiative reflects safety procedures in place in Madrid now, according to Amtrak.
“Keeping our customers and employees safe remains our priority,” said Alex Kummant, Amtrak president and chief executive office in the prepared statement on the initiative. “These new procedures will strengthen Amtrak’s overall security, and they are vital in our efforts to deter, detect, and prevent a terrorist incident on the rail system.”

DSS has no basis for suit against lawyers, Blumenthal says

By Mary E. O’Leary
Register Topics Editor
HARTFORD
— Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has found no basis “in statute, case law or elsewhere” to support a request by the state Department of Social Services to sue legal aid attorneys over their correspondence with potential insurance bidders.
In his six-page letter to DSS Commissioner Michael Starkowski, Blumenthal Tuesday said such a suit “could well violate profoundly significant, well-established First Amendment rights and principles,” and have a chilling effect on public discourse, while also encouraging a costly countersuit.
David Dearborn, spokesman for Starkowski, said the commissioner would have his in-house counsel review Blumenthal’s letter.
“Regardless of whether legal action is possible, the agency needs some assurance that outside involvement with the state’s bidding process will not become a tolerated practice,” Dearborn said.
Patricia Kaplan, executive director of New Haven Legal Assistance Association, had no comment beyond her agency’s desire to work with DSS to “make the (insurance) transition as smooth as possible” for the state’s Medicaid clients.
Three legal aid attorneys sent letters to the six potential bidders on the Husky/Charter Oak insurance plans advising them of their long litigious history with the current Medicaid managed care organizations, which they attributed to a lack of understanding over what the contracts require.
Starkowski accused the trio of “tortious interference” with the state’s attempt to enter into contracts for Husky, the state’s Medicaid insurance that serves 322,000 residents, mainly poor children, and Charter Oak, a new attempt to reach some 10 percent of the uninsured in Connecticut, mainly single adults.
The lawyers also said they were considering suing the state for combining the two plans in one bid package, since a good portion of the clients will have to pick a new insurer by the end of March and possibly again in June.
Starkowski had requested approval to go outside the attorney general’s office to get a lawyer since Blumenthal had worked with one of the attorneys on several lawsuits.
Blumenthal agreed with the attorneys that the insurers running Husky were subject to the Freedom of Information Act, a stand originally not supported by DSS, but which was upheld in court and is now endorsed by the department.
Blumenthal said no potential bidder has withdrawn from the process, while the insurers are sophisticated enough not to be deterred from participating simply because of the letters.
The attorney general said the attorneys did not stand to benefit economically by their actions and on their face, the letters “appear to advance their efforts to ensure that the state’s Medicaid program operates in the best interest of their clients — Connecticut’s needy Medicaid recipients. As your letter notes, their clients are your department’s clients too.”
“None of these facts inhibits me, let alone disqualifies me, from making a judgment as the state’s chief legal officer on whether your suggested action has legal and factual support or would serve the state’s best interest, or whether outside counsel is appropriate,” Blumenthal wrote.
The attorney general said if Starkowski feels the attorneys misstated facts, this can be corrected with a clarification sent to all bidders and he quoted from Justice Brandeis that the solution is “more speech, not enforced silence.”
The six bidders are: AmericHealth Mercy Health Plan, Philadelphia; Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield; Community Health Network of Connecticut, Schaller Anderson Health Plans, Phoeniz, Ariz. and UnitedHealth Group, Vienna, Va. Delta Dental of N.J. bid, but dental coverage is not part of Charter Oak and has been carved out as a separate program to go into effect July 1 for Husky clients.
Since Jan. 1, DSS has taken over the major decisions on Husky because of continuing problems with the current insurers.
Clients enrolled in HealthNet and WellCare will have to pick new insurers by the end of March, while DSS will have sent out more than 130,000 letters to clients on the transition by that point. One major change is the recent decision by Anthem to agree to compliance with the FOIA.
Dearborn said he was glad Blumenthal shares Starkowski’s “commitment to the integrity and independence of the state procurement process,” quoting from the attorney general’s letter. “We need to work together to make sure these words are supported by everyone,” Dearborn said.
Mary E. O’Leary can be reached at 789-5731 or moleary@nhregister.com.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Teacher's efforts help bring science to life


NEW HAVEN — A Sheridan Magnet School science teacher’s efforts have netted the school two grants that total $3,000, school officials said.
Teacher Susan Brown applied for the grants from Target and Best Buy, officials said in a statement.
The first grant of $1,000 grant came from the Target Field Trip Grant program. Through it, 50y students from Sheridan Magnet School will have the opportunity this month to visit the Sony Wonder Laboratory in New York City. Brown’s application was selected from more than 16,000 applicants from around the country, the statement said. The grant is “designed to help bring learning to life for students” and the Sony Lab includes hands-on interactive science programs for students, in a state of the art science laboratory museum, the statement said.
Brown’s application to the Best Buy Teach Awards program won her a $2,000 gift card with which the school can purchase more technology for students. Since 2004, the Best Buy Teach Award program has awarded in excess of $17 million to more than 6,000 schools nationwide.
Principal Eleanor Turner lauded Brown for taking time to seek the extra funds and said she is a “passionate teacher who also invites guest speakers and parents into the classroom,” the statement said. “Sue wants the kids to see the real world as it relates to what they are learning in the classroom and she wants them to have access to technology. She really is a very passionate about what she’s doing. She does an excellent job,” Turner said.
“Teachers are finding creative ways to engage students by using technology hands-on; we want to support their efforts by helping them enhance or expand these programs,” said Paula Prahl, vice president of public affairs for Best Buy Co. Inc., in the statement “We know that schools are the cornerstones of these communities where our employees, customers and their families live and work.

City schools support governor's call for new school safety summit




By Gregory B. Hladky
Capitol Bureau Chief
HARTFORD
— A second statewide conference on school safety in Connecticut that Gov. M. Jodi Rell has proposed will, for the first time, include a special focus on elementary and secondary school security.
The state’s first education safety conference followed last year’s shootings at Virginia Tech. Rell’s call for another education security summit comes in the wake of the killing spree at Northern Illinois University that left five students and the shooter dead.
“You can never do enough,” Rell spokesman Rich Harris said Monday of the need for another safety conference. “This is not an issue where you can dust off your hands and say that our schools are as safe as we can make them.”
The initial security conference was “primarily geared toward colleges and universities,” according to Harris. He added that officials from institutions of higher education also are expected to take part in the second conference, which is tentatively set for next month.
Harris said the first Connecticut summit provided some expertise to “a number of schools that implemented or updated emergency plans.” He said many colleges and universities in the state worked with local police and fire departments to establish “coordination that hadn’t existed before.”
The Virginia Tech shootings in April 2007 resulted in the deaths of 32 students and professors at the university before the shooter, Seung-hui Cho, killed himself.
Last week’s tragedy at Northern Illinois University saw Steve Kazmierczak, 27, kill five people before committing suicide.
Rell issued her call for a second Connecticut summit on school security over the weekend.
“Safer classrooms are the goal of every parent, educator and law enforcement officer, and meetings like this offer a chance to share ideas and learn what others are doing to prevent future tragedies,” Rell said.
The governor is asking the state departments of Public Safety, Education and Emergency Management and Homeland Security to coordinate the conference.
According to Rell, the conference will include experts in mental health and related fields.
“I believe we can help prevent future attacks if students and teachers are taught how to recognize when someone is becoming increasingly troubled and how to intervene effectively,” said Rell.
Catherine Sullivan DeCarlo, spokeswoman for New Haven schools, said city educators “welcome the chance to learn more about how to spot trouble signs and reach out to young people in need before a crisis happens.”
Sullivan DeCarlo said New Haven received a $494,000 grant in 2004 to update the city’s crisis preparedness planning that covered public, private and parochial school security. Since then, the city has staged three mock crisis drills at different schools. New Haven has also adopted a parent phone link notification system that allows school officials to notify parents within minutes of a crisis.
In January, Rell announced $4.9 million in grants to 203 local schools to help improve security. The funding will cover at least a portion of the cost of security cameras, entry buzzers, panic alarms, scan card systems, training and other security-related equipment and programs.
According to Rell’s staff, more than 360 Connecticut schools applied for the grants. The funding was allocated based on a security checklist filled out by each school and an evaluation by local police and fire officials. An evaluation panel composed of state experts then decided which schools would be awarded grants and how much each would get.
The largest grant was $1.3 million to help cover security improvements at 14 schools in New Britain.
In 2006, there were two major security incidents at New Britain High School. One involved a student who brought a stolen firearm to school; and the second resulted in a student being stabbed outside the high school cafeteria.
Grants to area schools included $138,991 to West Haven; $53,157 to North Branford; $12,299 to Guilford; and $5,436 to Orange.
State officials say another $5 million will be available in the coming fiscal year for another round of security grants to local schools, and Rell urged local school officials to apply for the funding.
Gregory B. Hladky can be contacted at ghladky@nhregister.com or (860) 524-0719.

Crackdown targets distracted drivers


By Elizabeth Benton
Register Staff

Frank Leonard was driving on Route 22 in North Branford Sunday when he says he was nearly hit by an SUV.
The driver had been chatting on a cell phone while passing Leonard at 65 miles an hour, he said.
“Most of the time, people are just talking to talk. People are just chatting for no reason. Families’ lives are ruined because people just have to chat,” he said.
Leonard’s concern is shared by Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who has launched a weeklong crackdown on distracted driving, claiming 25 percent of crashes are caused by driver distraction.
“Distracted driving is dangerous to everyone. Some distractions, no matter how minor, interfere with a driver’s ability to properly maintain control of his or her vehicle,” Rell said in a prepared statement.
“Operation Safe Drive” will continue through Friday.
“I am directing the state police to focus on the strict enforcement of distracted driving offenses, especially cell phone use while driving,” Rell said.
Connecticut law bans driving while using a hand-held cell phone. Drivers under age 18 are not allowed to use any cell phone, including hands-free devices.
While police cannot fine a driver based on other distractions like eating, reading a map or applying make-up, if it were determined a moving violation was caused by a distraction, drivers are subject to an additional $100 fine.
State police Sgt. Donna Tadiello said police will be on the roads this week, targeting cell phone use and “operation-type statutes,” including unsafe lane changes and tailgating.
“We’re looking to increase our efforts and patrols this week, specifically because most schools are on vacation,” Tadiello said.
New Haven truck driver Charles Suggs said Monday that he has seen a lot of distracted driving during his career, and admits to taking a few chances of his own. “Sometimes you’re gonna do it. There’s no way in the world you’re going to pull over to have a coffee,” he said.
Suggs said he’s hopeful the state effort will help. “None of us as drivers wants to see a crackdown. But it does help us to be aware of what we’re doing, because we know they’re watching,” he said.
Cheryl Onofrio of East Haven, however, was doubtful the crackdown would do much good. “It needs to be on a regular basis, because people will just be on the lookout this week,” she said.
Leonard, too. was skeptical: “If they really increase the price of the fine and really increase enforcement, people would stop,” he said.
New Haven Deputy Patrol Coordinator Lt. Joe Witkowski said city police hand out cell phone violations “constantly.”
“When you look at what driving is, it’s something that requires physical and mental awareness,” he said. Even hands-free cell phones can distract people from the road, he said.
In 2006, state police issued 2,500 tickets and 1,200 warnings for distracted driving (including cell phone use). In 2007, enforcement doubled to 6,300 tickets and 1,400 warnings.