Thursday, October 20, 2005

Editorial: Opening their eyes

Published in the Current

CAPE ELIZABETH (Oct 20, 2005): The Cape Elizabeth Land Trust is to be commended for developing ways to get young students outdoors and exploring the environment all around them. And the fourth-grade teachers at Pond Cove School should be applauded for taking advantage of such an interesting and fun program.

We all remember what it was like to learn about biology by looking at pictures in books and having speakers come into the classroom. And we all remember, too, how that world came alive when we first ventured outdoors with a knowledgeable person and began to really look at all that is there.

A group of Cape students – many of whom, no doubt, had already begun to explore the outdoors – are getting a very special treat, exploring land trust property in their hometown through the seasons, as we learn on Page 1.

In a time when schools and teachers are constantly pressured by governments and parents to cram more information into students’ minds, in preparation for regurgitation on multiple-choice exams taken in uncomfortable chairs in rooms blanketed in fluorescent light, an outdoor excursion to look, touch, smell, hear – and maybe even taste – Mother Nature is an increasingly rare opportunity.

As a society – not just during school hours – we need to do more to get students out of houses and classrooms and engaged in the world around all of us, whether in the context of nature, civic action or other endeavors.

We hear constantly – and we report on here in the pages of the Current from time to time – that Americans in general and children in particular are less fit and more overweight than ever before.

Getting kids outdoors, moving around, is one way many experts see to combat this dangerous and unhealthy trend. It’s not just the distance from the television, which benefits the body, but also the involvement with other people in experiences beyond the self, which expand the mind.

The land trust lesson, that if kids spend time outside, physically exploring nature, they can learn amazing things and have a lot of fun, will pay off for years – far beyond the last game of kickball or floor hockey.

Keep yours open, too

No doubt you’ve seen the posters and heard the pleas on TV and in print, but keep your eyes open for any sign of Lynn Moran, the 24-year-old Windham native who disappeared 10 days ago now after spending the day and evening in Portland.

One person said Moran was on Anthoine Street in South Portland at around 11 p.m. Oct. 10 – near the police station, of all places. Police and Moran’s family need the help of all of us.

South Portland police have said they turned up no leads in a city-wide search Tuesday, but residents should still be on the lookout.

Many of us remember the all-too-similar disappearance of Amy St. Laurent in 2001, and the tragic end to the search for her. But we also remember that the man who killed St. Laurent was brought to justice and is now behind bars.

We hope and pray Moran is safe and well, and we hope that her family will not have to wait weeks, as St. Laurent’s did, worrying, hoping and, worst of all, not knowing.

Information from anyone who was out and about in Portland and South Portland late on Oct. 10 will be useful in the search for Moran.

If you even think you might have seen her, please call Portland police at 874-8575.

Jeff Inglis, editor

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Town's oldest resident turns 104

Published in the Current

SCARBOROUGH (Oct 13, 2005): When Blanche Cook’s 98-year-old brother needed someone to look out for him at his Brunswick home, she was the one the family sent.

Cook, who turns 104 Oct. 13, just got back from spending a few weeks up there with him.

During the visit, she and a friend who helps out her brother around the house went shopping, and watched a lot of baseball – including staying up to watch all 18 innings of the Astros-Braves marathon game Sunday night.

She also watched the Red Sox-White Sox series, in which she got to watch her favorite Red Sox player, Johnny Damon, strike out with the bases loaded in what ended up as the final game in the series.

“I felt so bad for him,” she said.

Cook is Scarborough’s oldest resident, and was honored just over a year ago with the presentation of the town’s Boston Post Cane. She is 11 years older than the next-oldest qualifying resident, Joe Lothrop, now 93, according to Town Clerk Yolande Justice.

Born in 1901 in Nashua, N.H., Cook said she is “really a Mainer” because she has lived in the state since she was 1 – longer than almost every other person now living in Maine.

She grew up in North Pownal and Pownal, where she still goes to a bean supper every Saturday night when visiting her brother. She would go in Scarborough, but at home she doesn't have anybody to go with.

“When we were young, we used to go fishing every single day in the summer on the Royal River,” catching pickerel.

The world has changed since then, because “things kept being invented” – like airplanes and radios. “My father had a Stanley Steamer,” an early steam-powered automobile.

“Now they got the computer,” she said. “A kid 5 years old would know more about that than I do.”

She was a teenager when the Red Sox won the World Series in 1918. Last year she watched all the games. In 1918, “I didn’t have anything to watch it on or hear it on.”

In the winter, she walks one lap around the Maine Mall most mornings, and this summer even walked to a nearby store and back, “until I got lazy,” she said.

Even sitting down, she is in constant motion, tapping her fingers and rocking back and forth in her chair. Some of her movements appear related to her hearing problem, as she leans in to hear conversation.

Age has also caught up with her eyes. “I write, but I can’t read it,” Cook said. She can see the baseball game if she gets really close to the television.

So, she listens to the radio a lot (Howie Carr and Rush Limbaugh are favorites).

“She’d be living by herself if she could,” said her daughter, Lorraine Libby, now in her 70s. “I think she’s sharp as a tack.”

Though Cook didn’t go very far in school – only a couple years of high school in New Gloucester – she was a hard worker, packing sardines and dipping chocolates.

“I learned at Haven’s,” Cook said, and later worked at Len Libby’s and then Libby’s Candies, both in Scarborough. It was at Libby’s Candies that Cook’s daughter Lorraine met her husband, Leonard K. Libby.

“She was quick at what she did,” said Lorraine Libby.

The family lived in South Portland – after Cook met her husband, John, at Redmond’s dance hall in Ferry Village – and left Meetinghouse Hill only after Lorraine graduated from high school.

The couple moved to Scarborough, where they bought three acres on Westwood Avenue, where they built a house and farmed the land, selling strawberries, raspberries, vegetables and flowers.

It is where she still lives, now also with Lorraine and Leonard.

Cook also used to work at the cafeterias at Scarborough High School and Scarborough Middle School. “When I stop to think, it’s further back than I realize,” she said. “You forget things. It’s so long ago.”

“She’s quite active,” Lorraine Libby said. Cook is often at local activities for senior citizens, as often as she can get a ride.

“I’m always on the go,” Cook said. She even went strawberry picking this summer.

“When she was in her early 90s, that was her bowling average” at the Big 20 lanes, Libby said. In candlepin bowling, that is a very good score.

Cook said she does not know why she has lived so long.

“There’s no secret. You’re just lucky – or unlucky,” she said, noting that nearly all of her family is gone, including her husband, who died 27 years ago, and three of her four siblings.

“When you get to my age, all your old friends are gone,” she said.

She does try to “stay away from doctors” but goes once a year because her daughter insists. “I don’t worry about much,” she said. “I don’t plan nothing.”

She expects her birthday celebration “won’t be very exciting” – just a small gathering with some cake for her and a younger friend who also has a birthday coming up.

She will approach it the same way she does most things: “Take it as it comes and be thankful for what you get.”

Husband, lawmakers upset at trucker's lowered bail

Published in the Current

SCARBOROUGH (Oct 13, 2005): A Scarborough widower is upset a judge has reduced bail for the driver whose 18-wheeler crushed his wife's car, killing her.

The driver, Scott Hewitt, was originally being held on $100,000 cash bail, but had his bail changed last month to allow him to post either that amount or $500,000 in liens on property.

Last week, Kennebec County Superior Court Justice Kirk Studstrup lowered Hewitt's bail, to $75,000 cash or $300,000 in property bonds, at the request of Hewitt's attorney, Joel Vincent. Vincent did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Hewitt is charged with nine misdemeanor charges stemming from the crash, including operating after suspension and operating a commercial vehicle that had been placed out of service.

Though his "inattention" was ruled at fault in the crash, Hewitt is not charged with anything that holds him responsible for causing the death of Tina Turcotte of Scarborough, whose car was crushed by Hewitt's 18-wheeler when he failed to slow down as other cars in front of him, including Turcotte's, were slowing for a traffic backup on I-95 in Hallowell July 29.

“While no amount of bail is going to bring Tina back,” Scott Turcotte feels lowering the bail is “a reflection of some sympathy for Scott Hewitt’s plight,” said Turcotte’s attorney, Michael Vaillancourt.

“There should be no sympathy shown” for a man with an extensive record of driving violations, Vaillancourt said, adding that his client believes Hewitt “should not be released from jail” until after the criminal charges are dealt with in court. Hewitt's trial is slated for Dec. 23.

Hewitt’s record includes more than 60 convictions, more than 20 license suspensions and involvement in two fatal crashes, including the July one in which Tina Turcotte died.

The changes to Hewitt's bail have also drawn criticism from legislators, who note that Hewitt was arrested on a charge of operating after suspension just days after the fatal crash in July, and worry that he might drive again if released from jail.

Rep. Darlene Curley, R-Scarborough, attended Hewitt’s bail hearing Friday. She said she was "disappointed they lowered the amount" of Hewitt's bail, and found it "unbelievable" that the judge said Hewitt could be released with no financial bond if a group or organization agreed to supervise him in advance of his December trial date.

Hewitt's record, which includes more than 60 traffic convictions, more than 20 suspensions, and involvement in two fatal crashes, including the July one in which Turcotte died, shows his disregard for the law, Curley said.

"I'm concerned that he would be behind the wheel as soon as he gets out of jail," she said.

Immediately after the bail hearing, she and Sen. William Diamond, D-Windham, went back to the Statehouse and added a provision in a bill they plan to present to the Legislature in January, she said.

The bill will increase penalties for people who drive on suspended licenses. Curley said they added the ability to hold such a person in jail before trial "for prevention." She said a similar provision is in federal law, but said she did not know if there was such an allowance elsewhere in Maine law.

Curley, who spoke Tuesday afternoon via telephone while driving on the highway from Augusta to Scarborough, said she was on the road with a number of large trucks. "You can't help but look left and right and wonder" if any of them are being driven by repeat violators of the state’s traffic laws, she said.

As of Wednesday, Hewitt had not posted bail from Kennebec County Jail.

Editorial: More loopholes

Published in the Current

(Oct 13, 2005): Trucker Scott Hewitt has found another of Maine’s legal loopholes through which he may yet slip.

He has already effectively gotten away with killing Tina Turcotte of Scarborough, whose car Hewitt’s truck demolished on I-95 in Hallowell July 29. Kennebec County District Attorney Evert Fowle has determined Hewitt cannot be charged with manslaughter, even though Hewitt’s inattention was ruled the cause of the crash.

Fowle told the Current last month that the law allows a charge of manslaughter only when a person’s actions meet the legal definition of “recklessness” or “criminal negligence.” Fowle said he cannot consider the circumstances under which Hewitt was driving, including while his license was under suspension and after his commercial truck had allegedly been placed out of service for safety violations.

Now Hewitt, who has been held in jail pending his December trial, has found a judge willing to lower his bail to the point that many – including Turcotte’s widower – worry that Hewitt might get out of jail and drive again, as he did just days after the crash in which Turcotte died.

Setting bail is an art more than a science, and while the rules and regulations of administering bail are laid out in Maine law, no mention of any amount is made in Maine’s bail code. That leaves lawyers, judges, suspects and the public little to go on.

The right to not be subject to “excessive bail” is enshrined in the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – the same part of the Bill of Rights that bars “cruel and unusual punishment” – and also in Article 1 of the Maine Constitution. That’s about it.

Kennebec County Superior Court Justice Kirk Studstrup has twice made easier the prospect of Hewitt bailing out of jail. Last month he allowed Hewitt to post $500,000 in property bonds, as an alternative to the $100,000 cash that was Hewitt’s original bail.

And last week, Studstrup lowered both of those amounts, to $75,000 cash or $300,000 in property bonds.

The law requires a judge to consider the nature and circumstances of the charges, as well as the defendant’s criminal history and other past conduct, when setting bail.

However, there is a lot of leeway in the law. Hewitt is charged with nine crimes, but they are all misdemeanors carrying relatively light maximum sentences of six months in jail and $1,000 fines. That would tend to favor lowering his bail: People charged with minor crimes are typically considered less serious and are allowed to post smaller bail amounts.

On the other hand, and we believe far outweighing the lack of severity of charges, is Hewitt’s almost unbelievable record.

Beyond his appalling driving file, including more than 60 convictions and more than 20 license suspensions, Hewitt drove just a few days after the crash. He claimed at the time of the fatal crash that he did not know his license was suspended, but has no such excuse for driving afterwards.

Former Maine Secretary of State Bill Diamond, now the Senate majority leader in Augusta, and Scarborough Republican Rep. Darlene Curley are concerned that Hewitt’s bail may be set low enough that he could get out of jail and be back on the road. The judge has already said if Hewitt does bail out, he would not be allowed to drive, but nobody seriously believes he will suddenly begin to obey that restriction.

Curley and Diamond have made a move that might close that loophole in the future, but it still exists right now, and may be big enough for Hewitt to fit through.

If he is able to bail out of jail, it will be a shame – and a hazard to all Mainers. Though Hewitt will likely be required to give assurances he will not drive – and will have to certify he understands and agrees, before being allowed out – we have no reason to trust his judgment.

Jeff Inglis, editor

Crash kills Scarborough man

Published in the Current

CAPE ELIZABETH (Oct 13, 2005): Heavy rains are believed to be a factor in two separate crashes on Sunday and Monday that killed three people, including a Scarborough man, and injured five others, including a man from Cape Elizabeth.

On Sunday, a single-car crash on Interstate 95 in York killed 21-year-old Scarborough resident Thyrak Ann. He was driving north on the highway when his car slid off the road shortly after 2 a.m.

Ann was pronounced dead at the scene. His passenger, Richard Waltz, 23, of Arundel was transported to Portsmouth Regional Hospital and died the next day, according to Maine State Trooper Anthony Keim.

According to Ann’s uncle Sokhann Duong, Ann was traveling back from Connecticut to get to his job at the Marriott Sable Oaks in South Portland Sunday morning.

Duong said the young man had immigrated to the United States from Khio I Dang, a Khmer refugee camp in Thailand, when he was 8 years old.

He said that his nephew attended South Portland schools throughout his childhood and made a lot of friends. He graduated from South Portland High School in 2002.

On Tuesday afternoon a group of Cambodian monks visited the home to bless the family. The monks will return Friday night and will bless Ann’s body Saturday morning.

Ann leaves behind his mother, Lon Ho Ann of Scarborough, a brother, Ron Ann of South Portland, and a sister, Nancy Ann of Scarborough.

On Monday a five-car crash on I-295 in Falmouth killed a 9-year-old boy and injured five others, including a Cape Elizabeth man who was driving a pickup truck that crossed the centerline into oncoming traffic and started the pileup.

Just before 5:30 p.m. Monday, Andrew Bernstein, 49, of Cape Elizabeth was driving southbound across the Presumpscot River Bridge when his Volkswagen crossed over the median and struck a northbound Lexus head-on, according to Maine State Police Trooper John Kyle.

Ryan Guthrie, 9, of Winslow was a passenger in the Lexus, which was driven by his grandmother, June Quirion of Benton. Guthrie died Wednesday morning at a Portland hospital, Kyle said. Quirion was taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

Guthrie suffered "severe internal injuries and severe head injuries" in the crash. He was not in a child seat, but was wearing a seat belt, Kyle said.

Three other cars piled up behind the VW and the Lexus. A Ford Focus rear-ended the Lexus and bounced off to the side. A pickup truck rear-ended the Focus, and was itself rear-ended by a Mustang.

The sole occupant of the Focus, Lorraine Gressey of Phippsburg, and the driver and passenger of the pickup truck, Nicholas Parent of Kennebunkport and Kenneth Hunnewell of Arundel, were also taken to the hospital for treatment. The Mustang's driver, Brooke Babb of Bowdoinham, was uninjured and her car was considered drivable, so she drove away from the scene, Kyle said.

"It was raining heavy" at the time of the crash, Kyle said, but the weather was "not the primary cause" of the collision.

After Bernstein lost control and his car crossed the median "some things happened" that indicate "hydroplane was not the reason he drove head-on into that car," Kyle said. Bernstein did not return messages left at his home seeking comment.

Kyle said none of the drivers was exceeding the speed limit, and said most of them were going about 60 mph, in an area where the speed limit is 65.

He said no charges have been filed, but said there might be charges, depending on the results of tests of blood samples drawn from all four drivers who received medical treatment. He said those could take "a few weeks to process."