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State News Stories

Town repairs Columbus statue after referendum on location

WATERBURY, Conn. (AP) - The town of Waterbury, Connecticut, repaired damage to a Columbus statue following a referendum in which voters overwhelmingly chose to leave the statue in front of city hall, instead of moving it. The Republican-American reports a sculptor used epoxy on Tuesday to replace the statue's head. A New York man is accused of knocking the statue's head off on July 4. A Waterbury Italian-American organization raised funds for the restoration, but it was voters who decided in a referendum on Nov. 3 to keep the statue where it is in front of city hall. Over the summer, multiple towns in Connecticut chose to remove Columbus statues following protests in response to the killing of George Floyd.


Drug bust yields 1,700 pounds of marijuana worth $15M

WEST HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut police arrested two men and seized an estimated $15 million in marijuana after discovering a storage facility was being used illegally as a hub for pot distribution in the Northeast. West Haven police say local officers and agents with the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration found 1,700 pounds (770 kilograms) of marijuana on Wednesday when they stopped a U-Haul truck while investigating what they called an international marijuana trafficking operation. Two men from Reston, Virginia, were charged with possession with intent to sell over 1 kilogram of marijuana and possession of a controlled substance.
 


US Rep. DeLauro of Connecticut elected Appropriations chair

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut has been elected chair of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee by fellow Democrats. The 77-year-old DeLauro's election by her congressional colleagues Thursday over Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida makes her one of the most powerful Connecticut politicians in Washington in generations. DeLauro has been a member of the House for 30 years and will succeed retiring Rep. Nita Lowey of New York in January. DeLauro represents the 3rd Congressional District in a southern Connecticut region that includes New Haven and part of Waterbury. The powerful Appropriations Committee controls around $1.4 trillion in spending.


Connecticut overhauls rules for electricity rate increases

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut regulators imposed what they called sweeping changes Wednesday to how electricity rate increases are proposed and approved, responding to an uproar by customers over substantially higher bills during the summer.

The state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority unanimously approved new rules for electricity distributors Eversource and United Illuminating. The changes will help prevent dramatic increases in bills, ensure rates more accurately reflect costs and decrease the likelihood that the companies overcharge consumers, the agency said.

“PURA concluded that the current approach to administrative rate adjustments is not in the public interest, is inconsistent with the intent of the authorizing statutes and renders PURA’s role in the review and approval process objectively inconsequential,” the agency said in a statement.

Officials at Eversource, which serves nearly 1.3 million homes and businesses in the state, and United Illuminating, which serves nearly 340,000, said Wednesday that they were reviewing the new regulations and did not offer detailed comments about them. They said they looked forward to working with PURA to make required changes.

The agency also approved redesigning customer bills to make them easier to understand and provide more transparency. The changes to the bills are expected to be in place by next summer.

Eversource rates that were approved by PURA and took effect July 1 took many customers by surprise because their monthly bills increased by hundreds of dollars in some cases. In response to a flood of complaints, the agency suspended the new rates July 31 and investigated.

Eversource said the higher bills were due to several factors, including increased use of air conditioners and other appliances because of hot weather during the summer, more customers staying home during the coronavirus pandemic, and higher prices charged by electricity suppliers.

On Wednesday, PURA chair Marissa Gillett said the electricity distribution rates in effect before the July 1 will remain in place until May 1. The rulings will not affect the other component of bills — electricity supply charges related to power plants.

“During our investigation ... the authority uncovered a number of concerning aspects with respect to the implementation of the rate adjustments,” Gillett said.

One of the findings was that the utilities were being compensated for certain expenses at an “unjustifiably” high rate. They were charging 7% to 9% interest on some costs the companies had to pay up front before being reimbursed by rate revenues.

PURA on Wednesday lowered the allowed interest rate to the prime rate, which is around 2% to 3%, saying customers should see “meaningful” savings.

Agency officials also said the cost projections the utilities use to request rate increases historically have been incorrect, leading to “wild” swings in customer bills and overcharging for services in some cases. So PURA is now requiring them to base the requests on actual data from the previous year. If costs increase for the companies compared with the previous year, they can request rate increases based on the actual costs.

PURA also changed the two dates per year that new delivery rates take effect from Jan. 1 and July 1 to May 1 and Sept. 1, allowing the agency more time to review rate increase proposals. Gillett said the utilities had been submitting their rate increase requests as late as a week before they had been scheduled to take effect under the old January and July dates, leaving little time for review.

“In this decision, PURA has begun demystifying and unwinding decades of ratemaking policies that have evolved into a less customer-friendly, less transparent framework,” Gillett said.


Narrowed digital divide touted as pandemic silver lining

MANCHESTER, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut officials say laptop computers have been provided for every student in need as they tout progress in closing the digital divide as a silver lining of the pandemic. Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont said Wednesday at Manchester High School that the devices and internet connections are invaluable for households to keep up with education through the pandemic and offer other opportunities such as virtual medical appointments. They were provided with help from nonprofits, federal aid and donors. The digital divide held back students across the state and country well before the pandemic. Children in households without home internet struggled to keep up with assignments.


NTSB: Safety processes failed in crash that killed 7 bikers

Federal investigators say systems meant to keep motorists safe failed to prevent a pickup driver on drugs from causing a 2019 crash in New Hampshire that killed seven motorcyclists. The National Transportation Safety Board unanimously approved a report Tuesday that determined that Volodymyr Zhukovskyy's drug impairment was the "probable cause" for him crossing the center line on a rural highway. But it also blamed Massachusetts for allowing him to continue driving despite infractions that included several for drunken driving. It also said a federal motor vehicle safety agency didn't do enough to address problems at the company he worked for.


Rep. Joe Courtney cleared to end COVID-19 quarantine

VERNON, Conn. (AP) - U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney says a doctor has cleared him to end his quarantine, a week after he tested positive for the coronavirus. The Democrat, who represents eastern Connecticut, has been recovering at his Vernon home from what he called a mild case of COVID-19. He said in a statement Tuesday that he anticipates returning to Washington this week for votes and other duties, including finalizing a defense spending bill for 2021. Courtney was the second member of Congress from Connecticut to contract COVID-19 after Democratic Rep. Jahana Hayes, who tested positive in September and recovered.


State settles suit by inmate who gave birth in prison cell

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - A Connecticut prison inmate who gave birth on a toilet in her cell in 2018 and claimed she was denied medical care has agreed to settle her lawsuit against state prison officials. Lawyers for Tianna Laboy told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the settlement reached with the state attorney general's office Monday evening involves an undisclosed amount of money but not medical care reforms she sought at the state women's prison in Niantic. State officials say they can't comment on the settlement because it's not finalized. The 23-year-old Laboy is serving a seven-year sentence for assault. Her mother has custody of her daughter.


Court overturns conviction in 2010 murder, orders new trial

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - A divided Connecticut Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned the 2017 murder conviction of a man accused of fatally shooting another man in Bridgeport in 2010, and ordered a new trial. The court said in a 4-3 ruling Tuesday that the judge who oversaw the trial of Billy Ray Jones failed to instruct the jury that a key witness against Jones was a "jailhouse informant" who had an incentive to falsely implicate Jones to receive leniency. Justices ordered a new trial for Jones, who is serving a 50-year prison sentence for the killing of 29-year-old Michael Williams.


Lamont: No plans for more restrictions despite doctors' plea

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut has no plans at the moment to impose more restrictions on businesses amid rising coronavirus infections and deaths, despite a group of doctors calling for the closure of gyms and a pause on indoor dining to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed, Gov. Ned Lamont said Monday.

The Democratic governor’s comments came as virus-related deaths in the state topped 5,000 since the pandemic began.

Last week, nearly three dozen doctors and a nurse sent a letter to Lamont and Dr. Deidre Gifford, the state’s public health commissioner, urging them to shut down gyms, ban indoor dining and prohibit unnecessary public gatherings to save lives and help hospitals avoid being overwhelmed by the second wave of the virus now hitting the state.

“Even though it is still early in the second wave, we are already spilling outside our ICUs, calling for extra volunteers, and we are exhausting the supply of advance-practice nurses and medical residents who help us provide the best possible care,” they said.

“At the current pace, we will soon fill up all our hospital floor beds within 7-14 days and be forced to move into our postanesthesia care units and operating rooms, which will require our surgical colleagues to stop elective operations,” said the letter, signed by staff at the Yale School of Medicine, the VA Connecticut Healthcare System and Yale New Haven Health, which operates several hospitals in southern Connecticut.

During a news conference on Monday, Lamont said he is listening to doctors around the state as well as others who advocate for keeping gyms and indoor dining open to prevent economic hardship on business owners. He said he has a scheduled call with doctors on Tuesday.

“Obviously people are stressed. There’s a lot of pressure,” Lamont said. “We’ve got to listen to that, see if we can address that, ways that we can address that without necessarily shutting down big pieces of the economy.”

Lamont said on Friday that he would consider further restrictions based on hospital data including capacity and staffing data. Yale New Haven Health reported recently that only about 20% of its intensive care unit capacity was available.

But the governor on Monday said current hospital capacity in Connecticut is better than in other states and did not necessitate new restrictions. He also said field hospitals could be set up quickly.

Of the 8,000 hospital beds in the state, 71% are occupied, said Josh Geballe, Lamont’s chief operating officer. Of the 1,000 intensive care unit beds, 33% were occupied by coronavirus patients and 26% were occupied by other patients, he said.

New data released Monday showed about 4,700 more people in Connecticut tested positive for the virus since Friday and 59 more people died. Since the pandemic began, more than 117,000 people have tested positive and 5,020 have died.

Another 81 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 since Friday, bringing current hospitalizations to 1,098, the highest number since mid-May.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in the state has risen over the past two weeks from about 1,503 cases per day to 1,587 cases per day. The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths has increased over the past two weeks from about nine per day to 19 per day.

The state has seen a slight drop-off in the positive test rate. The seven-day rolling average of the positive rate has decreased to about 4.9% from 5.3% last Thursday. The rate was below 1% most of the summer.


Man ruled insane in college killing sues state hospital

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - A Massachusetts man acquitted by reason of insanity of killing a Wesleyan University student in 2009 has filed a lawsuit against Connecticut's state psychiatric hospital complex. Stephen Morgan, from Marblehead, Massachusetts, says a hospital employee improperly told a TV station in 2017 that he and other patients were allowed to play violent video games. Morgan was acquitted of murder by reason of insanity in the shooting death of 21-year-old Wesleyan student Johanna Justin-Jinich at a campus bookstore and cafe. He was committed to the state's maximum-security psychiatric hospital for 60 years. State officials said they can't comment on pending litigation.
 


Smoke inhalation complications cause of death for Tony Hsieh

NEW LONDON, Conn. (AP) - Tony Hsieh, the retired CEO of online shoe retailer Zappos, died from complications of smoke inhalation sustained during a house fire earlier this month in Connecticut. The state medical examiner's office says the death on Friday of Hsieh, 46, was an accident. He had been hospitalized following the Nov. 18 fire in New London, Connecticut. The cause of the blaze is still under investigation. The New London police department says emergency workers arrived at the scene to find dark smoke coming out, and that Hsieh was in a storage area and couldn't get out. Hsieh had led the Las Vegas-based Zappos for 20 years.


Puppy of man killed in hit-and-run accident is found safe

VERNON, Conn. (AP) - A missing puppy whose owner was killed by a hit-and-run driver while they were out walking last week has been returned. Police in Vernon posted on their Facebook page that the dog, named Ollie, was found and returned on Saturday morning. Ollie and his owner, Andrew Aggarwala, were walking last Tuesday when a car struck Aggarwala and fled. The 44-year-old, who was well-known in the local soccer community, was pronounced dead at the scene. Ollie was found not far from the site of the accident. Police tell WFSB-TV they have a vehicle of interest in their possession but hadn't announced any arrests in the case.


Tony Hsieh, retired Zappos CEO, dies at 46 after house fire

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Tony Hsieh, the retired CEO of Las Vegas-based online shoe retailer Zappos.com, has died at age 46 of injuries suffered in a house fire. He founded DTP Companies, which says he was with family when he died Friday after the Nov. 18 fire in New London, Connecticut. Hsieh retired from Zappos this year after 20 years leading the company. He also worked to revitalize the Las Vegas area. Zappos called Hsieh "a tremendous visionary and an incredible human being." Hsieh was a Harvard graduate who joined what was then ShoeSite.com in 1999. Amazon bought Zappos for $1.2 billion in 2009.


Dad in killings at family home near Disney: 'I wasn't there'

KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) - A Connecticut physical therapist charged with killing his wife and three children at their Florida home told his sister in a phone call from jail that he couldn't stop his family from being slain because he wasn't there. Authorities say Anthony Todt killed his wife and children and the family dog. But Todt told his sister that his wife, Megan, had killed the children and herself. The decomposing bodies were discovered on a Monday in January in the family home in Celebration, near Walt Disney World. Todt worked in Connecticut but spent weekends with his family in Florida. Todt's lawyer says he has no comment.


Lamont: $10,000 fines on businesses that break virus rules

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A few flagrant violations of Connecticut’s coronavirus rules and concerns about the holiday shopping season have prompted Gov. Ned Lamont to impose a steep new $10,000 fine on businesses that don’t follow the mandates at a time of surging COVID-19 cases.

The new fine will replace the current $500 maximum penalty beginning at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, the Democratic governor first announced Tuesday evening.

“We’re doing that not to just to keep your patrons safe, those around you, to make sure we can do everything we can to keep your stores open during this amazing shopping holiday season and do it safely,” Lamont said at a news conference Wednesday.

The governor also announced Wednesday that 1,872 more people tested positive for the virus in the state compared with Tuesday’s data, and another 45 people died.

The number of people hospitalized increased by 77, which Lamont called the largest single-day increase since the first virus surge in the spring. A total of 968 people were in the hospital with COVID-19, about half as many as there were during the peak in late April.

A small number of restaurants have been cited for essentially operating as bars, which have been ordered closed during the pandemic. Restaurants are limited to 50% capacity, a maximum of eight people per table, must stop taking food orders for indoor dining at 9:30 p.m. and close by 10 p.m. Mask wearing and social distancing also are required.

Lamont said there were also concerns about shoppers flooding stores and employee safety on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and the traditional start of the holiday shopping season. He said any shopping lines will be subject to social distancing rules that stores must enforce, and store capacity is limited to 50%.

The governor urged shoppers instead to consider ordering online from local merchants, or doing curbside pickup at major retailers after ordering by phone or online.

“When it comes to, quote, Black Friday ... no need to crash the line at 6 a.m. in the morning,” Lamont said.

Local health directors or other municipal officials can issue the fines with the support of police.

The Connecticut Restaurant Association, an industry group, said in a statement that while it supported the governor in punishing violators, the state also should offer grants to help the vast majority of restaurants that are following the rules but facing large revenue declines that have forced many to close during the pandemic. The group said other states are offering more aid to businesses.

Lamont said tens of millions of dollars in federal aid already has gone to Connecticut businesses, and any pandemic-related expenses taken from the state’s $3 billion rainy day fund would go toward vaccinations, testing and other public health costs.

The state, however, is finalizing a $50 million grant program for small businesses that will award up to $5,000 to eligible businesses, said David Lehman, commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development.

Lehman also said the state has been getting 300 to 500 complaints a week about coronavirus protocols not being followed at businesses, with the most common grievance being a lack of enforcement of mask wearing and social distancing.


Lawyer accused of stealing nearly $1M from veterans charity

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (AP) — A former Connecticut lawyer was charged by state authorities Wednesday with embezzling nearly $1 million from a charity for military veterans and their families, just two weeks after he was sentenced to more than three years in prison on a federal charge for the same crimes.

The chief state’s attorney’s office said Kevin Creed, 69, of Litchfield, was charged with felony larceny and was released on a $250,000 bond following a court appearance Wednesday.

Creed could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Phone listings for him were disconnected. His lawyer in the federal case said he was not representing Creed in the state case.

On Nov. 9, Creed was sentenced on a federal fraud charge to the prison time and ordered to pay $1.4 million restitution to Fisher House Foundation in Connecticut, a chapter of a national charity that builds homes near veterans medical centers where families can stay for free while their loved ones undergo treatment.

State prosecutors said Creed stole $985,000 from the charity and used the money for his own purposes. He has not yet reported to federal prison.

Creed, an Army veteran and former state trooper, gave up his right to practice law in Connecticut last year.


A record number of Connecticut voters turned out on Nov. 3

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - A record 1.86 million Connecticut residents voted in the Nov. 3 election, a turnout of nearly 80% of registered voters despite concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. That's according to results that were officially certified Wednesday by Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, state Treasurer Shawn Wooden and state Comptroller Kevin Lembo. The election produced wins for Joe Biden in the presidential race and five fellow Democrats in all the state's congressional races. This was the first year that all state residents were given the option of voting by absentee ballot, due to the pandemic. Just over 659,000 absentee ballots were counted.


2 killed in wrong-way highway crash in Connecticut

CLINTON, Conn. (AP) - Two people were killed early Wednesday when their wrong-way SUV slammed into a tractor-trailer on Interstate 95 in Connecticut. State police said 35-year-old Olger Armijos and 41-year-old Heraldo Solano were pronounced dead at the scene of the crash, which happened around 2 a.m. in Clinton. The crash closed southbound lanes of the highway for several hours between exits 63 and 64. The road was reopened around 8 a.m.


Money promised to combat US overdose crisis sits unused

A $200 million account set aside as part of Stamford-based Purdue Pharma's bankruptcy case is going unused because attorneys involved in lawsuits against the OxyContin maker can't agree how to spend it. Advocates for addiction treatment want it spent to help those struggling with opioid addiction. One attorney says leaving the money sitting in a bank account is a "travesty of epic proportions." The spending is being held up because of disagreements among state attorneys general and others who are suing the company. The U.S. had a record 71,000 overdose deaths last year, most from opioids. The crisis has only grown worse during the coronavirus pandemic.


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