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Rich Minor in the Morning

State News Stories

STUDY: Connecticut nursing homes overwhelmed by coronavirus

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut nursing homes were overwhelmed by the coronavirus because of a lack of testing of residents with no symptoms of COVID-19, a shortage of personal protective equipment and other factors, according to a professor at the Yale School of Public Health.

Sunil Parikh, an associate professor at the school, was the lead author of a study of nursing homes in the state that was published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The federal Centers for Disease Prevention and Control and the state Public Health Department also contributed.

The study found that 601 nursing home residents out of 2,117 tested at 33 nursing homes were infected with the virus, representing a 28% positive test rate. Of the 601 residents, 90% did not show any symptoms at the time of the testing. Only a small percentage of the residents later developed symptoms.

The deaths of nearly 2,850 nursing home residents in the state have been deemed as related to COVID-19, representing more than 60% of the total coronavirus-related deaths in Connecticut.

The first nursing home resident tested positive on March 15, and at the time federal guidelines did not recommend testing people without symptoms because there weren’t enough tests available.

Health Department recommends moving football to spring

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut’s Public Health commissioner recommended Thursday that high school officials move their football and volleyball seasons from the fall to the spring to help contain the spread of the coronavirus.

The advice came a day after the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, which governs high school athletics, voted to go ahead with a fall season for those and other sports that are scheduled to begin in September.

“Full-contact football is unique among the fall interscholastic sports in our state in its level of risk to student-athletes for the person-to-person spread of infectious respiratory droplets,” Acting Commissioner Deirdre Gifford wrote in a letter to the CIAC.

Gifford also recommended that in-person academic activities begin before students take part in athletics. Football practice is set to start next week.

CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini, who requested Gifford’s opinion, said Wednesday that the decision to go forward with a fall season was “fluid.” The organization said Thursday that it would be reviewing the Health Department’s recommendations in detail.

Two legislative leaders issued statements Thursday backing the decision to go forward with fall sports.

Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz, a Democrat who is also Berlin High’s head football coach, said he believes with strict safety protocols, “Connecticut is a place where this can work safely if we all follow the guidelines.”

Vincent Candelora, the Republican’s deputy House minority leader, who owns a multi-sports complex in North Branford, said fall sports is “a door we should not close on these students.”

Man who set up 'sex dungeon' for girls gets 29-year sentence

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) — A Connecticut man who federal and state authorities say sexually abused a girl under 12 years old and sought another underage victim for “slave training” in his “sex dungeon” was sentenced Thursday to nearly 29 years in prison.

Simon Hessler, 48, formerly of Ellington, agreed to a plea deal that resolved state and federal charges and was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Stefan Underhill in Bridgeport. He pleaded guilty in December to sexual assault, child pornography and several other crimes.

Investigators said Hessler, who owned a Manchester hotel, created the “sex dungeon” in his Vernon office, where they found a USB drive that contained thousands of child pornography images. They said they also discovered that he had sexually abused a girl under 12 and used a cell phone to produce images of the abuse.

Prosecutors said Hessler also agreed to pay another man, whom he didn’t know was an undercover state police detective, $500 to produce a 12-year-old girl for two days of “slave training” and “limitless sex” — a plot that wasn’t carried out and resulted in his arrest in November 2018.

In a letter to the judge, Hessler blamed his crimes on his abuse of prescription drugs. He also said he was raped when he was 13 and grew up with psychiatric and physical ailments, the Journal Inquirer reported.

“As I began to read my presentence report, I became disgusted,” he wrote. “I hated the person described therein — that person is a monster. That person was me. It is hard to write, hard to admit.”

Hessler is expected to be sentenced in state court next week to a 30-year prison sentence, which will run concurrently with the federal sentence.

Inmate found strangled with COVID-19 mask

MONTVILLE, Conn. (AP) — A 32-year-old prison inmate in Connecticut has been found strangled with a mask issued to help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

Daniel Ocasio, of Windsor, died Wednesday morning after being discovered sitting on a bunk in his cell at the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center with a ligature fashioned from the mask tied around his neck, the Department of Correction said.

Ocasio had entered the prison on Aug. 5 and was being held in lieu of $10,000 bond on a charge of third-degree burglary.

Ocasio was found by a staff member who was conducting a routine tour of the facility at 5:07 a.m., the department said. The ligature was made from the cloth mask issued to inmates, the department said.

Correctional and medical staff began emergency and life-saving measures and called 911, the department said. Ocasio was taken by ambulance to an area hospital where he was pronounced dead just before 6 a.m.

The body was taken to the medical examiner’s office for an autopsy to determine whether the death was a suicide, homicide or accidental.

State police have joined prison officials in conducting the investigation.

Senators lay out plan for college athletes bill of rights

A group of senators led by Cory Booker of New Jersey and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut on Thursday released a plan for reforming college sports with an athletes bill or rights.

The legislative plan calls for college athletes to have the ability to earn money for their names, images and likenesses with “minimal restrictions,” and much more.

The senators also want to ensure for the athletes long-term medical coverage and treatment, enforceable medical standards, academic freedom and revenue sharing agreements.

Last month, NCAA President Mark Emmert appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee for a hearing about name, image and likeness. Booker and Blumenthal questioned Emmert about athlete welfare and said then their plan for a bill of rights was in the works.

Booker and Blumenthal were joined in a statement by seven other senators, including Democrats Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a frequent NCAA critic, and vice presidential selection Kamala Harris of California.

“As a former college athlete, this issue is personal to me,” said Booker, who played football at Stanford. “The NCAA has failed generations of young men and women even when it comes to their most basic responsibility — keeping the athletes under their charge healthy and safe. The time has come for change.”

The NCAA is in the process of changing its rules to permit athletes to earn money off their names, images and likenesses for things like endorsements and appearances.

The association has asked for help from Congress to relieve pressure from state lawmakers. California, Florida and Colorado have already passed bills. Florida’s would take effect in 2021.

Federal lawmakers have said they intend to get involved but are wary of granting antitrust protections to the NCAA, which wants to provide athletes with rights regarding name, image and likeness but with some regulation.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida already introduced an NCAA-friendly bill that would shield the association from legal challenges to its name, image and likeness rules.

Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, an Ohio Republican and former Ohio State football player, has also said he is working on a bill related to college sports.

Mark Ojakian to retire in January as CSCU system president

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Mark Ojakian, the president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system for the past five years and a veteran of Connecticut state government, plans to retire on Jan. 1. In a written statement released Wednesday, he said it's "time for me to move on" after serving more than 40 years in public service. Besides leading the system of 17 state colleges and universities that serves more than 100,000 students, Ojakian has served as chief of staff to former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy; as deputy secretary at the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management; and as deputy state comptroller.

Police union asks judge to toss parts of police reform law

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - The Connecticut State Police Union is asking a federal judge to declare parts of the state's new police accountability law unconstitutional. The union says sections pertaining to the public disclosure of troopers' personnel files and internal affairs investigations violates records law exemptions in the troopers' contract. The union announced the move Wednesday, saying it filed for an injunction that would force state officials to comply with the contract. Attorney General William Tong's office says it is reviewing the filing and will respond in court. Also Wednesday, troopers began voting on whether to express no confidence in Gov. Ned Lamont and state police leaders.

Board votes to allow high school football games in the fall

CHESHIRE, Conn. (AP) - The organization that governs interscholastic sports in Connecticut has rejected a committee's recommendation that would have moved high school football to the spring of 2021. The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference's Board of Control instead voted Wednesday to reaffirm its fall sports plan, which was approved on July 30. That includes keeping football in the fall, with practice beginning on August 17 and a regional schedule for all fall sports starting Sept. 24. CIAC Executive Director Glenn Lungarini said the board made its decision based on input from medical advisors and after reviewing how the COVID-19 numbers are trending in Connecticut.

One week after storm, thousands still without power

A full week after Tropical Storm Isaias hit the Northeast, tens of thousand of people were still waiting in Connecticut and New York Tuesday for their lights to come back as public officials stepped up criticism of the region’s electric utilities.

In Connecticut, the main electric utility, Eversource, said more than 2,500 crews were working to restore just under 27,000 customers who remained without power Tuesday afternoon, mostly in the southwestern part of the state. United Illuminating reported it had restored power to all but a few dozen customers.

In New York, Public Service Enterprise Group Long Island still had some 26,000 customers out at midday and Con Edison reported about 11,000 customers out, mostly in New York City’s northern suburbs.

The Aug. 4 storm and its high winds brought down trees across the region. At its peak, more than 2 million homes and businesses in the region lost power, including more than 800,000 Eversource customers and 300,000 Con Edison customers.

Despite the lengthy restoration times, Eversource insists it was properly prepared.

“We had people and equipment ready to go based on the best information at the time,” said spokesman Mitch Gross. “Storms change track, change strength and that was exactly what happened with Isaias.”

Gross said despite spending tens of millions of dollars on tree trimming in recent years, the company could not prevent “hazard trees,” weakened by several years of drought and insect infestations, from coming down on power lines in the high winds.

Plans were put in place following two major storms in 2011 that were supposed to mitigate power-outage events. Those included pre-positioning line crews and having utility companies work with town liaisons to best direct restoration efforts.

But municipal leaders said they could not get hold of Eversource immediately after the storm and some did not see a utility truck for days.

Jody Angell, of West Hartford, said despite living in a large, densly-populated suburb, her power was not restored until Monday. The 48-year-old said that meant losing food in the refrigerator, and losing productivity. She and her husband are both working at home during the pandemic. They couldn’t do their jobs and her daughter couldn’t attend online classes for summer school, she said.

“They knew for a week that the storm was coming,” she said. “So with a week, do you not have line workers on call?”

The leaders of the Connecticut Legislature’s Energy and Technology Committee said Tuesday they want answers to similar questions. They are planning hearings to cover the “storm management response, delivery charges, initiatives to improve the grid, and investments made in linemen.”

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong called on the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, which oversees the utilities, to hold a trial-like “contested case” hearing at which the state could question Eversource and UI executives.

Tong and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who met with Eversource CEO James Judge on Monday, also called for the company to give refunds or rebates to customers.

“He declined to commit to such action,” Blumenthal said. “In addition to money back to consumers and businesses for their losses, I also told him that there must be leadership changes, including his resignation.”

In New York, the large number of outages and complaints of poor communication with customers led New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo to directed the state Department of Public Service to investigate several utilities including PSEG.

Cuomo said Monday that Con Edison and PSEG have done a “lousy job,” and said the utilities weren’t prepared for the storm and failed to anticipate what it would take to get the power back on quickly.

“I have told them to be aggressive as the law will allow,” Cuomo said. “Because New Yorkers are fed up. They’re fed up and they’re right, and I’m with them.”

He warned the two utilities that they could face fines, penalties, restitution and the revocation of their franchise.

“And I want the utilities to know that we do not abide by the concept in New York that anything is too big to fail,” Cuomo said. “Your franchise can be revoked. I am not bluffing. I don’t bluff.”

“I am as serious as a heart attack,” Cuomo said. “PSEG, you know your franchise can be revoked. And that is a real possibility.”

Gross said his utility was on track to restore 99% of customers by 11:59 p.m., but said those with property damage that would make it unsafe for crews to work could be waiting days or even weeks.

Rhode Island dropped from Connecticut's quarantine list

Residents of neighboring Rhode Island no longer have to comply with a two-week quarantine rule when they enter Connecticut. The state was removed on Tuesday from the list of states affected by a travel advisory that’s supposed to help stop the spread of the new coronavirus.

Rhode Island, Alaska, New Mexico and Ohio were all removed from the list of states with relatively high rates of COVID-19 infections on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Hawaii, South Dakota and the Virgin Islands were added, for a total of 32 states and two territories. The travel advisory also applies to those entering New York and New Jersey.

States that appear on the travel advisory list have either a new daily positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents or a 10% or higher positivity rate over a 7-day rolling average. In Connecticut, travelers from those states must also fill out a health form to provide state officials with information on where they are staying in case contract tracing becomes necessary.

The advisory applies to Connecticut residents returning home from the affected states. On Monday, Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont announced the Connecticut Department of Public Health had issued its first $1,000 fines against two individuals from Connecticut who had flown back from Florida and Louisiana and failed to fill out the health form. One was fined twice because the person also didn’t quarantine.

Also Tuesday, there were no new COVID-associated deaths reported. To date, 4,444 people have died from COVID-19 in Connecticut. State data show there were 117 new cases since Monday out of 8,338 new tests. The number of hospitalizations increased by six patients, to 70 individuals in total.

The acting public health commissioner was asked Tuesday to consider significantly expand visitation rules at nursing homes and chronic disease hospitals.

In a letter sent to Dr. Deirdre Gifford, a coalition of 12 advocacy groups said guidance from the Department of Public Health issued on June 22 that allowed only outdoor visits “unduly excludes people with disabilities” and those with mobility issues. Also, they said the order has been implemented “restrictively,” allowing only 20-minute maximum visits.

Indoor visits to nursing homes continue to be banned under an executive order from the governor that’s been in place since March.

“Life in a nursing home is isolating. When residents are further isolated by losing contact with those they love and depend on for their social and emotional needs, the results can be fatal,” the organizations warned.

A message was left seeking comment with the Department of Public Health.

The advocates have recommended a series of recommendations, including allowing indoor visits for “support persons” at every nursing homes so long as there have been no new COVID-19 positive tests in the last 14 days and transmission of COVID-19 is low in the local community. They also suggested requiring visitors to comply with a facility’s safety precautions, including wearing PPE, providing contact information for possible contact tracing, and adhering to social distancing, temperature checks and health screenings.

They also agreed that nursing homes could impose “a reasonable COVID-19 testing requirement on visitors” wanting to see loved ones.

Connecticut voters choose Trump, Biden in final 2020 primary

As expected, voters on Tuesday rubber-stamped Republican President Donald Trump and former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden in primary elections in Connecticut, where officials were working late into the night counting large numbers of absentee ballots because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Connecticut’s contest, which had been twice delayed because of COVID-19, marked the final presidential primary of the 2020 election season.

In addition to the presidential races, voters cast ballots in two GOP congressional primaries to determine who will face long-serving Democratic incumbents in November. 

More than two dozen general election candidates for state legislature and registrar of voters were also being decided. By late Tuesday night, however, many races still remained undecided.

Former health commissioner claims discrimination in firing

Connecticut’s former public health commissioner is alleging that Gov. Ned Lamont fired her for “discriminatory reasons” and administration officials prohibited her from implementing nursing home protocols that would have saved lives amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Renée Coleman Mitchell lodged the claims in a five-page statement released Monday night by her lawyer, Eric Brown.

“Over the last two months I have been able to acknowledge the insidious characteristics of discriminatory bias,” she said. “They are unwarranted cruelty of oppression perpetuated by intentional efforts to humiliate, erase, discredit, and defame. This historical practice of discrediting and erasing the noble contributions of Black leaders like myself is not acceptable and must end now.”

Max Reiss, a spokesman for the Democratic governor, said Tuesday that the administration had no comment on Coleman Mitchell’s statement.

Lamont announced on May 12 that he had replaced Coleman Mitchell with Deidre Gifford, the state Social Services commissioner who would also be serving as acting public health commissioner.

Lamont did not provide reasons for replacing Coleman Mitchell. A state official told The Associated Press in May that Lamont removed her for several reasons, including being slow to act on a plan to protect nursing homes from the virus and refusing last year to publicly release school-by-school vaccination rates. The official was not authorized to disclose the information and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Coleman Mitchell denied the official’s claims about being slow to act on nursing home protocols.

“When COVID-19 entered Connecticut, I was immediately aware of the vulnerabilities faced by our nursing home residents and their caregivers,” she said in the statement. “I sounded the alarm from the beginning to the governor’s office. It soon became apparent, however, that I was delivering an uncomfortable message to the governor’s office they did not want to hear, or address, and I was met with stiff opposition.”

She said the governor’s office cut her out of all COVID-19 planning efforts and delayed and prohibited her from implementing nursing home protocols that she said would have saved lives.

“The state’s response was disastrous until they accepted my strong insistence in which those same protocols are producing life-saving outcomes to this day!” she said.

The deaths of nearly 2,850 nursing home residents in the state have been deemed as related to COVID-19, representing 64% of the total coronavirus-related deaths in Connecticut.

State officials have hired a policy research firm, Mathematica, to investigate the response to COVID-19 in Connecticut nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Coleman Mitchell said she has not been contacted by Mathematica and she believes she will be scapegoated for what she called the state’s failure to protect nursing homes.

Coleman Mitchell said the bias against her began in February when Lamont made her subordinate to his chief operating officer, Josh Geballe, who is white, on public health matters.

“My leadership responsibilities were taken away in favor of a young white male with no public health practice or experience; during the worst public health crisis in state history he was put in charge of leading the state’s response,” she said.

Coleman-Mitchell had worked for the Public Health Department for 18 years, including the past year as commissioner, when she was replaced. She previously was a section chief for the agency, managing chronic disease programs.

Weeks before her firing, Coleman Mitchell said Lamont and his chief of staff praised her initiation of mobile coronavirus testing vans in underserved communities and for her implementation of extended monitoring and restrictions at nursing homes.

Brown, her lawyer, said Tuesday that Lamont also has reneged on a severance and benefits agreement with Coleman Mitchell and they are considering filing a lawsuit.

Eastern Equine Encephalitis detected in Connecticut

STONINGTON, Conn. (AP) — Eastern Equine Encephalitis has been detected in a mosquito for the first time this year in Connecticut, according to the state’s Agricultural Experiment Station.

The virus, which killed three people in the state last year, was found in a mosquito trapped on Aug. 3 in Stonington in the southeastern corner of the state, according to test results released Monday.

“The detection of EEE virus in mosquitoes in early August and the continued spread of West Nile virus is cause for concern,” said Dr. Philip Armstrong, medical entomologist at the Agricultural Experiment Station. “Virus activity can quickly escalate so we’ll continue to closely monitor mosquitoes for further virus amplification and spread.”

Eastern Equine Encephalitis is a rare but severe mosquito-borne virus that can cause brain swelling. No human cases have been reported this year. Last year, the virus was found in 28 towns in Connecticut and also killed six horses, state health officials said.

The state’s mosquito-trapping program this year also has found the West Nile virus in seven towns including Bridgeport, Darien, Greenwich, Guilford, Newington, Norwalk and Stamford. No human cases have been reported. Last year, there was one human case in Fairfield County.

Connecticut congressional candidate quits race on day of primary following arrest in assault case

UNDATED (AP) - A Republican candidate for Congress in Connecticut has dropped out of the race following his arrest in an assault case. Thomas Gilmer, the party-endorsed candidate, is on the ballot for Tuesday's primary election. He was arrested Monday night on charges of first-degree unlawful restraint and second-degree strangulation. He posted a $5,000 bond. Wethersfield police say the charges stem from a 2017 incident and a July interview with the victim. If Gilmer wins after formally withdrawing, the Republican Party will be able to nominate someone to take his place in the general election race against Democratic incumbent, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney.

Connecticut issues first $1,000 fines to travel violators

The Connecticut Department of Public Health issued its first $1,000 fines on Monday to two individuals who Gov. Ned Lamont said failed to comply with the travel advisory for residents who return home from states with high COVID-19 infection rates.

The Democrat said the two unnamed people had flown back to Connecticut from Louisiana and Florida and neither filled out a health form that’s required from anyone entering from any state with a 10% or higher positive rate over a seven-day rolling average or a new daily positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents.

Besides not filling out a form, one of the people also refused to quarantine for the required 14 days and was fined an additional $1,000. Lamont said a coworker had notified state officials that the person was not complying with Lamont’s executive order. Officials received a tip about the other person as well.

“Look, I hate to do it, but we’re going to be serious and show people we’re serious about this,” Lamont told reporters during his coronavirus briefing. “Overwhelmingly, people are doing the right thing. For those few of you who aren’t, please be on notice.”

Since Aug. 4, Puerto Rico and 34 states have been on the list, which applies to people entering New York and New Jersey as well.

Josh Geballe, Lamont’s chief operating officer, said the incidents happened a couple weeks ago. One person is from Windham County and the other is from Hartford County. Meanwhile, he said there are additional investigations currently underway concerning other possible violators.

“This is for real. We need people to follow these rules. We need people to comply. This is one of the riskiest areas for the state of Connecticut right now as people travel into this state, bringing the virus with them,” he said.

“We need you to fill out the form. You need to quarantine. And we expect you to do that,” Geballe said. “If not, there will be consequences.”

Geballe said the information on the forms is key in case someone tests positive and officials need to trace who that person may have come in contact with. He said more than 20,000 of the health forms have been submitted so far, with about 1,000 filed daily. Geballe said they provide “a significant amount of data that we can call on if we need it.”

Lamont also said there will be stepped-up enforcement concerning large private parties and suggested people who claim they can’t wear face masks because of medical reasons to carry a doctor’s note with them, noting some people have been abusing the exemption from state’s mask requirements.

Lamont praised the city of Bridgeport for recently closing down bars that were essentially masquerading as restaurants to get around the state’s ban on stand-alone bars reopening during the continuing pandemic. He said hundreds of people were at those locations. Last week, Bridgeport had the most COVID-19 cases in the state.

“That’s just how you get a flare-up again,” Lamont said.

Lamont said Connecticut continues to have a low rate of infection. Figures released Monday show it’s about .6%, which the governor called “amazing.” Since Friday, there have been 247 new confirmed cases out of more than 38,000 more tests.

Three more people died of COVID-associated causes, for a total of 4,444 individuals. Meanwhile, the number of hospitalizations dropped by one patient, to 64.

Restored Mayflower replica nearing its berth in Plymouth

PLYMOUTH, Mass. (AP) — A restored replica of the original Mayflower ship that brought the Pilgrims to America 400 years ago this year is nearing its home in Plymouth following extensive renovations.

The Mayflower II set off from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Bourne on Monday where it docked over the weekend, on its way to its berth at Pilgrim Memorial State Park in Plymouth.

The 64-year-old historic reproduction has spent the last three years in Mystic, Connecticut, getting $11.2 million in renovations.

The vessel, which was a gift from England in 1957, began the slow journey home last month making stops at other Connecticut and Massachusetts ports.

It stopped in New London, Connecticut as well as New Bedford, Massachusetts, but had to cancel a planned visit to Newport, Rhode Island because of new coronavirus-related travel restrictions imposed on that state.

A cruise into Boston Harbor alongside the USS Constitution was previously cancelled because of the pandemic.

The original return voyage had called for a celebratory departure in late April with several stops in New England ports before a May arrival in Plymouth.

Teen killed, driver charged in Block Island crash

NEW SHOREHAM, R.I. (AP) — A Connecticut teen was killed in a single-car car crash on Block Island Sunday and the young driver involved is facing DUI charges, state police in Rhode Island said.

The agency said Jackson Panus, 16, of Southport, was a passenger in the vehicle that crashed at around 12:30 p.m. and died from his injuries. A second male teenager was flown to Rhode Island Hospital in Providence with serious injuries.

The driver, who police didn’t name because she’s a minor, was charged with driving under the influence and driving to endanger, both resulting in death and serious bodily injury.

The agency says she’s in custody at the Rhode Island Training School pending a Tuesday hearing in Family Court.

Panus was a junior at Fairfield Ludelowe High School in Fairfield who was on the football and lacrosse teams, according to Greg Hatzis, the school’s headmaster. He also attended Bridgeport Regional Vocational Aquaculture School for part of his school day.

Hatzis, in a statement, said Panus was a “good student, a good friend to many, and a good teammate.” He also said five Ludlowe students were in the car at the time of the crash.

More crews arrive in Connecticut, state probing utilities

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Hundreds of more crews from out of state were arriving in Connecticut on Thursday to help restore power to nearly 580,000 homes and businesses that remained in the dark after Tropical Storm Isaias, as state officials announced an investigation into electricity utilities amid mounting criticism of their response.

Gov. Ned Lamont also announced Thursday that he deployed the Connecticut National Guard to help with power restoration.

A spokesman for the state’s largest electricity provider, Eversource, meanwhile, said there likely would have been many more outages if the company had not made hundreds of millions of dollars worth of upgrades under an agreement with the state following storms in 2011 and 2012 that cut power to hundreds of thousands of customers.

Eversource and United Illuminating said it could be several more days until power is fully restored. Nearly 580,000 outages remained in the state late Thursday afternoon, down from about 611,000 during the late morning and down from more than 700,000 outages on Wednesday morning, the day after the storm.

The state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, or PURA, announced Thursday that it will investigate the utilities’ response to determine if they were adequately prepared, adhered to laws and regulations and whether civil penalties should be imposed. PURA also will look into failures of the utilities’ outage response systems.

Gov. Ned Lamont had requested an investigation Wednesday, calling the restoration efforts “wholly inadequate.” He also expressed confidence Thursday that all polling places will have power for Tuesday’s primary election.

“I think we’re going to be in good position by Tuesday, or else there will be hell to pay,” Lamont said.

During an afternoon briefing, Lamont said officials were monitoring outages at nursing homes in the state, about a third of which were without power but operating on backup generators. He also said the Department of Labor is running on an old generator, and if it fails it could affect the distribution of unemployment benefits to 300,000 people. Many wastewater treatment plants also are operating on generators, and some cell phone towers were running on batteries.

The governor announced a second storm-related death in the state, a person fatally wounded in a chainsaw accident in Newtown. The person’s name hasn’t been released. A 66-year-old Naugatuck man, Raymond Schultz, died when a tree fell on him as he was clearing branches from a road. Five other people were seriously injured, Lamont said.

Eversource expected several hundred crews from other states and Canada to arrive in Connecticut on Thursday, after several hundred came to the state Wednesday. Eversource said it expected most of its outages to be restored by the end of the upcoming weekend. United Illuminating said it expected to have the majority of outages restored Saturday and restoration substantially completed by Monday.

Eversource underestimated the severity of Isaias, but United Illuminating did not, said Marissa Paslick Gillett, chairwoman of PURA.

“There are disturbing reports emerging about the coordination, or lack thereof, between our electric utilities and the communities which they serve,” Gillett said. “This is simply unacceptable. There will be a full, transparent investigation.”

Criticism mounted against the utility companies on Thursday, in Twitter posts by government officials.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, called their response “unacceptable.”

State Treasurer Shawn Wooden said, “The utility companies reaping huge profits from consumers must be held accountable for being unprepared for a natural disaster and looking out for the best interest of the people they serve.”

And Mayor Mark Boughton in Danbury, where more than 15,000 customers remained without power Thursday, posted a picture of people looking through binoculars with a caption saying, “Waiting on @eversourceenergy.”

Two storms that caused massive power outages in 2011 led to a new state law aimed at increasing the accountability of utility companies. An October snowstorm caused more than 830,000 outages which took nearly two weeks in some places to restore. That followed Tropical Storm Irene in August, which knocked out power to nearly 800,000 customers.

In October 2012, superstorm Sandy caused nearly 690,000 outages.

State Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, of North Haven, and state Republican Sen. Paul Formica, of East Lyme, called on state lawmakers to be part of the PURA investigation.

“After Irene, the October storm and Sandy, how could Eversource not be prepared for a tropical storm with weeks of notice?” they asked, in a statement.

In January 2013, state regulators approved a $300 million plan for Eversource’s predecessor, Connecticut Light & Power, to strengthen its electricity system to help avoid extended storm-related outages. Under the plan, the company trimmed scores of trees, strengthened utility poles and equipment and installed coated, thicker-gauge wire.

Eversource spokesman Frank Poirot said Thursday that those upgrades likely prevented scores of additional outages this week.

“The damage would have been much worse,” he said. “Despite the number of outages we experienced with this storm on Tuesday, I think there was still a benefit — a resilient and hardened electric system.”

Despite Eversource’s tree-trimming efforts, insects, disease and drought left trees across the state vulnerable to high winds, Poirot said.

A United Illuminating spokesman, Edward Crowder, said the company will fully cooperate with the PURA investigation. He said UI’s preparation and response to the storm were consistent with its emergency plan that is filed with the state.

Connecticut dedicates $160 million more to school reopening

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The state of Connecticut is providing local school districts with an additional $160 million to help them reopen safely during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Ned Lamont announced Thursday.

Those funds are in addition to two earlier grants provided to schools, prekindergarten through grade 12, for a total of $266 million. Most of the money comes from federal funding. The Democratic governor said it reflects one of the largest per-student funding plans in the U.S.

“I think this gives you an idea about the priorities that we’ve got, the fact that the teachers in the school, we’ve got your back, we’re putting our money where our mouth is and we’re prioritizing all the ways you can get back to school safely,” Lamont said.

The funds will be spent on things like computers and internet hot zones for low-income students who may need distance learning; personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies for schools; bus monitors to help students socially distance; additional bus routes in high-density areas to spread out the number of students on buses; additional staff to provide both remote schooling and in-school teaching; and support staff for students with special needs.

State officials required local districts to come up with three school reopening plans: a full in-school program, a hybrid program that includes both in-school and distance learning, and a full distance learning plan. They were also asked to provide cost estimates, which were used to help determine the grant amounts.

Department of Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona said Thursday that so far more than 55% of the state’s school districts are planning to offer full, in-person learning in the fall semester, while 44% are planning some form of hybrid learning, which could include some buildings offering full, in-person learning for younger students.

“Throughout the state of Connecticut I think most agree that we need to get our students in the classroom, learning in a safe environment,” Cardona said.

Connecticut on Thursday reported a third consecutive day without a COVID-19-related death. It was the seventh day in the past month that no new deaths were reported.

As of Thursday, a total of 4,437 people have died in the state of causes related to the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the state saw just 20 new COVID-19 cases reported out of 8,984 tests performed.

“That’s a .2% positivity rate. That is by far the best we’ve been since the start of COVID,” Lamont said. “And we’re not trending in the right direction, but holding the line and this is a very good number.”

Officials in Fairfield are monitoring dozens of people for possible COVID-19 infections after seven young adults and parents who attended several gatherings around town last weekend and have tested positive.

First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick announced about 40 people had come in contact with the seven who became infected and they’re currently being monitored.

“While indoor gatherings of 25 people or 100 people outdoors are allowed by the governor’s executive order,” Kupchick said, “this is a reminder that organizers of such events need to be diligent in continuing to ensure social distancing, wearing of masks, washing of hands and advising people to stay home if they do not feel well.”

Fairfield Health Department Director Sands Cleary said no one specific gathering is suspected as a source of the outbreak. He said the infected individuals attended at least four parties and gatherings, including a barbecue.

Ex-death row inmate's rape, murder conviction overturned

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A former death-row inmate’s conviction in the rape and killing of a woman in Connecticut was overturned by the state Supreme Court, which ruled his rights were violated when he made admissions to a fellow prisoner.

In a decision released Thursday afternoon, the Connecticut Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Lazale Ashby, now 35, for the Dec. 2, 2002 rape, kidnapping and killing of Elizabeth Garcia in Hartford, the Hartford Courant reported. 

Prosecutors plan to retry Ashby.

The court found that Ashby was entitled to representation by a lawyer when speaking with the other inmate, Kenneth Pladsen, because Pladsen had previously communicated with authorities about getting Ashby to incriminate himself.

The finding overruled Judge Carmen Espinosa, who had concluded during the trial that Pladsen acted on his own and not at the direction of now-retired Hartford police Det. Andrew Weaver, with whom he had previously conversed, when he coaxed Ashby into incriminating himself.

Ashby was previously sentenced to death after being convicted of multiple crimes. His sentence was later changed to life without the possibility of release, plus 125 years, after the Supreme Court abolished the state’s death penalty in 2015.

Ashby is also serving a 25-year sentence in another case — for murder in the fatal shooting of Nahshon Cohen, 22, on Sept. 1, 2003.

Prosecutor John Fahey told the Courant on Thursday that the state will try Ashby again for the rape, kidnapping and killing of Garcia.

“The state has every intention of retrying Mr. Ashby in accordance with the Supreme Court’s decision,” he said.






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