Two men charged in pistol-whipping

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
May 31, 2008

GUILFORD — Two New Haven men pistol-whipped a Guilford resident and ran into the woods in an effort to escape officers Thursday night before being caught, police said Friday.

Police arrested both men Thursday after an hours-long search for one of them, Deputy Police Chief Jeffrey Hutchinson said.

The incident started at about 9:30 p.m. Hutchinson said that Kevin Parker, 22, of New Haven, and Vaswani Grant, 18, of New Haven, went to Guilford to confront a man they said owed them money.

Parker and Grant spoke to the man, who police are not identifying, at his home on Boston Post Road, Hutchinson said. They demanded money from him, and Grant hit him with a BB gun in the shape of a 9mm pistol. The man’s wife, who was home with their 2-year-old child, and a neighbor called police to report the fight.

When officers arrived, the two men fled to their car, which was parked nearby in the lot of a business at 2548 Boston Post Road, Hutchinson said.

While trying to escape, they crashed into a rock in the parking lot.

Hutchinson said that an officer ordered them to the ground, but they ran into a nearby wooded area.

With the help of a canine unit from the East Haven Police Department, as well as Branford and state police, officers apprehended Parker “pretty quickly,” Hutchinson said.

They were unable to locate Grant, but around midnight police began receiving reports from Boston Post Road businesses that a man was asking people for a ride to New Haven.

A Guilford officer arrested Grant at a gas station, Hutchinson said.

Grant, of 78 Dell Drive, was charged with first-degree robbery, second-degree assault with a firearm, second-degree larceny, threatening, risk of injury to minor, possession of a facsimile firearm, conspiracy, evading responsibility and breach of peace.

He was held Thursday night in lieu of $100,000 bail and arraigned Friday morning.

Parker, of 24 Pardee Place, faces charges of first-degree robbery, second-degree larceny, threatening, risk of injury to minor, breach of peace and conspiracy.

He was also held in lieu of $100,000 bail and arraigned Friday.

The alleged victim in the incident was bleeding from a wound on his head, but declined medical treatment, Hutchinson said.

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Man dies in fire at Branford condo

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
May 27, 2008

BRANFORD — A fire in a condominium complex on Stonegate Drive left one man dead Monday evening, fire officials said.

A man returning home at 19 Stonegate Drive, Unit H, discovered a fire in his roommate’s bedroom, Deputy Chief Ron Mullen said. When firefighters arrived on scene, they found a 46-year-old man in a second-floor bedroom and took him to Yale-New Haven Hospital.

The man was not breathing when firefighters found him, and he died at the hospital, Mullen said.

Officials have not yet positively identified the man, he added.

No firefighters and no other residents of the complex were injured, according to the Fire Department. The fire was contained to the bedroom, and no other condominiums received damage. The unit where the fire occurred is in a building with nine other units, Mullen said, but fire officials did not evacuate the building.

“The fire was confined to the room and quickly extinguished,” he said.

The Branford fire marshal’s office and the Police Department are continuing to investigate the fire.

Increased use of rail lines leaves no place to park

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
May 24, 2008

Taking an Amtrak or Shoreline East train out of Old Saybrook used to be a cinch: Drive to the station, grab a parking spot and hop on the train.

Now, it’s getting tricky. With more gas-strapped commuters using mass transit, police officials say the parking lot is overflowing and cars are lining up along North Main Street.

“It has certainly increased with the increase of gas prices,” Lt. Michael Spera said. “People are doing the right thing by using mass transit. Unfortunately, the parking designed for that transportation center is not adequate anymore.”

Spera said the crush has been worsening in recent months. The Police Department has not issued more tickets because it is legal to park all day on the streets in the area, but officials put up some “no parking” signs to keep the entrance to a cemetery clear.

“Last year, if you drove down North Main Street you would see no cars whatsoever parked on either side of the road,” Spera said. “Now, it’s an everyday occurrence.”

As gas prices coast past $4 a gallon, transportation officials throughout the region said that they are seeing increased demand at local Shoreline East, Metro-North and Amtrak train stations.

Ridership on Metro-North’s New Haven line increased more than 4 percent, or 128,500 riders, for the month of April, versus one year ago. Year-to-date totals for the first four months of 2008 are up 5 percent over 2007, to nearly 12 million riders.

Figures for the Shoreline East service were not available, but Judd Everhart, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said that ridership for the New Haven-New London service is also “trending upward.”

Guilford First Selectman Carl Balestracci said the parking lot at the town’s train station — which opened in 2005 — is packed every day, and has been for at least the past six months. Dozens of drivers park on an area of crushed asphalt beyond the paved lot, which has 175 spots.

The area is owned by Amtrak, so Guilford police do not issue tickets there. The state Department of Transportation plans to add about 90 parking spots on the north side of the train tracks, but work is not scheduled to begin until late 2009.

Balestracci said he thinks more Guilford residents are riding the train for economic and lifestyle reasons. He added that some people who live in downtown Guilford walk or bike to the station, eliminating the need for parking.

“My wife and I just used the train three weeks ago to New York City: We hopped on in Guilford, went to New Haven, crossed the platform and went to New York,” he said. “It’s so much more convenient.”

Branford First Selectman Anthony “Unk” DaRos said that parking at Branford’s station is also at maximum capacity. The station has about 200 parking spots as well as a drop-off area that DaRos said he hopes more people will use.

“Our train station parking is full every day and I anticipate that it’s probably going to get more of a demand on it as the price of gas keeps going up,” he said. “It certainly looks like it’s being used more now than it ever has and parking at our location is a problem.”

But DaRos added that he does not think that rising gas prices alone are fueling the mass transit surge.

“It’s becoming a popular service,” he said. “We were going to the max before the gas crisis, so I think it’s just a good service that’s improving.”

With the increasing popularity — and overcrowding — of several train stations, some communities are hoping to build their own.

The Department of Transportation has announced plans to start work on a train station in West Haven, with 1,000 parking spots, in fall 2009. The station could cost as much as $100 million.

East Haven officials are also interested in bringing a station to the town, although discussion is just starting, Mayor April Capone Almon said.

“We do have a lot of commuters in this area,” she said. “If we had the station at a central location, people may even take it into New Haven. With gas prices being what they are, you don’t necessarily think of mass transit just for longer trips.”

Capone Almon said that the station is a “long-range plan,” but she has spoken about the idea with U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s office and others in the railroad industry.

In Old Saybrook, town officials hope to begin talks with the DOT about additional parking at the station. Other than that, Spera said, there is not much the town can do to alleviate parking in the short term. Train riders are already using the lot in a nearby shopping center, which creates more problems for customers and business owners.

“The town needs to support those who use mass transit,” he said. “We’re hoping that the DOT comes down to the site (and) takes a look at the parking issue and tries to come up with a solution — a solution that works for the town of Old Saybrook, works for the commuters and works for the Department of Transportation. But something needs to happen.”

Robbery suspects’ photos released

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
May 24, 2008

NORTH BRANFORD — Police have released surveillance photos of the two suspects in Thursday’s armed robbery at the Northford Wachovia bank.

Two men entered the bank at about 1:20 p.m., took out guns and demanded money, police said. As they were leaving, a North Branford officer responding to the bank’s alarm spotted the suspects’ car and pursued them in a high-speed chase into North Haven.

The officer lost the car near the intersection of Route 22 and Mill Road, police said, and a subsequent search hit a dead end. The men were driving a blue, late 1980s General Motors car with the letters “CS” in the license plate, according to police.

Chief Matthew Canelli said the department is working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the State Police Major Crimes Squad in the investigation.

Several customers were in the bank at the time of the robbery. The suspects ordered them to lie on the ground before they jumped over the tellers’ counter to access the money, Canelli said. Someone inside the bank set off the alarm.

Police described the two men as between 6’ and 6’4” and of medium build. One wore a hooded rain poncho, while the other had on a hooded sweatshirt.

The bank has still not determined exactly how much money is missing, Canelli said.

Police are asking anyone who might have seen the car during the chase, or who has any other information about the robbery, to call a confidential tip line at 484-2201.

State honors Guilford vets, confers public service awards

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
May 23, 2008

GUILFORD — Long-held memories spilled forth as dozens of local World War II veterans gathered at Nathanael B. Greene Community Center.

Some recounted humorous stories from boot camp, while others remembered the horrors of life in a prisoner-of-war camp.

Frank Proto, who was captured by the German army during the war, said that he was moved to speak after hearing some of the other stories.

“I really had no intention of speaking here today. Out of 16 million who served in the service, I was an insignificant guy, but I did my duty,” Proto said. “Almost every day I think of my experiences as a POW.”

On Wednesday morning, Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz honored Guilford’s veterans, including Proto, as part of the Connecticut Public Service Awards program. Her office has been giving out the awards since 2001, but this is the first year they have gone specifically to World War II veterans. Guilford was the latest stop as she travels to different towns for similar ceremonies.

More than 200 people packed the room at the community center, with about 80 veterans. They included men and women from the Army, Navy, Army Air Forces, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Merchant Marine.

Bysiewicz said the goal of the event was to thank the veterans for their service. She noted that about 40 veterans of World War II die in Connecticut every day.

“Many people of the ‘greatest generation’ don’t think they did anything special because so many of your generation were involved in the war effort, yet it is very appropriate that we honor you for your courage and the strength you brought to our country,” she said. “While you’ve never asked to be thanked, we think it is very appropriate today to say, ‘Thank you.’”

During the ceremony, speakers frequently referred to the veterans as members of the “greatest generation.”

“You men and women that we honor here today worked us out of a depression, defended democracy in its gravest hour and forged a new world that we would inherit,” said First Selectman Carl Balestracci.

State Sen. Edward Meyer, of Guilford, D-12, called the event “one of the most meaningful things I’ve ever done in my private or public life.”

After the official speakers, Bysiewicz offered the microphone to anyone in the audience who wanted to share their memories.

Wally Kline said that he served three years in the Marine Corps during and after the war.

“I also spent three years as a civilian during the war and I think that we should applaud the civilians that are here that lived during the war,” he said. “Everything was rationed. You guys and you gals, you remember the blackouts, especially along the shore.”

Charles Ives, who was in the Navy, noted the bond that formed with other personnel on the ships.

“Remember what we used to do when we got off of liberty?” he asked. “We didn’t say we were going back to the ship. We said we were going home, because it became our home.”

After the speakers, Bysiewicz handed citations to each veteran.

Saybrook police panel explains revamp vote

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
May 22, 2008

OLD SAYBROOK — The Police Commission is moving forward with a full-scale restructuring of the Police Department’s hierarchy.

Commissioners, who have been discussing the move for months, voted at their regular meeting this week to return to a system that includes a deputy police chief.

The top-ranking department officers are Chief Edmund Mosca and lieutenants Timothy McDonald, Adam Stuart and Michael Spera. There has been no second-in-command since former Deputy Chief Thomas O’Brien retired about four years ago.

The changes — which include adding three patrol sergeants, for a total of five — will help the department ensure that all shifts have a supervisor and all officers know who they report to, Commission Chairwoman Christina Burnham said.

“There was not a clear chain of command, and if the chief needed somebody to step in or fill in while he was away, he needed to specially appoint someone,” Burnham said. “We need some consistency in supervision so the lines of command are clear.”

The motions to rework the positions passed by a vote of 5-2, with Commissioners Richard Metsack and Raymond Dobratz voting against the move.

Metsack said he would prefer to stay with the four-lieutenant system for now. The department’s structure calls for four lieutenants, but only three of the positions are filled.

Metsack and Dobratz, along with Commissioner David Gallicchio, also challenged the majority vote, which does not require the new deputy chief to hold a bachelor’s degree. Several commissioners said experience is as or more important than a college education for effective policing.

The commission voted to set a timeline for filling the new position. Applicants must send a letter of interest by May 30, with commissioners conducting interviews and choosing the deputy chief in June. Because the department is not planning to hire additional personnel, commissioners noted that the new deputy chief will likely be promoted from within the ranks.

Burnham noted that the move will not have a budgetary impact, since the department pays patrol officers extra when they cover unsupervised shifts. The deputy chief’s annual salary will be about $88,000, including overtime.

The meeting drew about 50 people. Several of those who spoke during the public comments portion supported the commission and Mosca, but also saw the value of the department’s higher-ups having a college degree.

“I’m very proud of our Police Department and feel very well protected and I thank you for your service,” Mary Meotti said. “I firmly believe that higher education would only benefit our Police Department.”

Some speakers suggested the commission require the new deputy chief to complete a college degree within a certain period of time.

The Police Commission has seen full meetings in recent months as questions have arisen about Mosca’s use of the McMurray-Kirtland Memorial Fund, which the chief has used for police expenses since the 1970s. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is investigating the use of the fund and its tax status.

The commission did not discuss the fund at Monday’s meeting. Burnham has said in the past she believes they should take a wait-and-see approach until Blumenthal completes his investigation.

But she noted at the beginning of Monday’s meeting that the commission has added an additional time for public input at the end of its agenda in response to previous requests from speakers.

Burnham said the commission decided to move on the organizational changes now because it has been discussing the move for two years and has set up a test in June for officers interested in being promoted to sergeant. She said the prospective test-takers deserve to have all relevant information.

But Mary Hansen, a resident who frequents commission meetings, said she thinks the action is unnecessary. “Why we’re even considering doing anything internally with the Police Department when there’s an investigation going on, I think it’s a little premature,” she said.

Police seek 2 armed men in North Branford bank heist

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
May 22, 2008

NORTH BRANFORD — Armed robbers held up the Wachovia bank branch in the Northford section and escaped with an undetermined amount of cash following a high-speed car chase Thursday afternoon, according to North Branford police.

At about 1:20 p.m. Thursday, two men entered the bank at 1401 Middletown Avenue, brandished revolvers and demanded cash, police said. There were several customers and employees in the building at the time, but the men fled with the cash and no one was injured.

A North Branford police officer responding to a report of the robbery saw the suspects’ vehicle leaving the area, according to police. The officer pursued the car — which police described as a late 1980s blue GM model with rust on the trunk and the letters CS in the license plate — along Route 22 into North Haven, but lost it in the Mill Road area.

Police conducted a search but did not locate the suspects.

Lt. David D’Ancicco said the bank and police were still determining how much money was taken.

“They’re still counting the drawers as we speak,” he said Thursday afternoon.

D’Ancicco said that one of the men put up his hood while in the bank’s ATM vestibule, and his image was captured by the bank’s security cameras. The two suspects are described as being between 6 feet and 6 foot 4 inches tall and of medium build.

Anyone with information about the robbery is asked to contact the North Branford Police Department at 484-2703.