Monday, September 30, 2013

Justice For Danny?

 Roadside memorial for Daniel Haley, age 24, Rt. 116 Amherst/Hadley border

Every time somebody tells me to just "wait until there's a tragedy" so town and state officials will get deadly serious and do something about the prevalence of alcohol induced mayhem in our Happy Valley, I cringe.  

In fact, I get downright angry. 

Because I know that tragedy has already occurred, snatching from friends and family a promising young life just starting to hit stride.

Daniel Haley, age 24,  was only weeks away from graduating UMass/Amherst, an endeavor he worked hard to accomplish -- covering both the study requirements of a chemical engineering major as well as working to cover the cost of higher education. 

He was killed by Brittini Benton of Sunderland, also age 24, who was driving the wrong way on Rt 116 in Hadley, while under the influence of alcohol.  A lot of it! (BAC of 0.179, more than twice the legal limit).

A second offense no less.

But Ms. Benton, unlike Daniel Haley, will continue to age.  Only now she will do it from the cramped confines of a prison cell.  For the next five to seven years.

I asked a family member, great uncle Mike Haley, if he was satisfied with the outcome of the trial and the punishment recently meted out to Ms. Benton by our justice system.

Mr. Haley said the sentencing had brought "some form of closure" but obviously it was a "very hard day for the family."  Mike Haley and  Daniel's cousin -- who was more like a sister -- read prepared statements and the assistant DA read the statement of Daniel Haley's heartbroken mother.

The sentencing had been delayed three months so Ms. Benton, who became pregnant after the accident, could have her child.

The "system" allowed her back on the road only seven month after the first DUI.  The system delayed sentencing for over three months so she could bring a child into the world.

And not all that many years from now, the system will allow Brittini Benton back into a our free society; and who knows, maybe even allow her to drive a car again.

 "I only wish Danny had that opportunity," said Mike Haley somberly.

And if Massachusetts made interlock ignition switches mandatory after the FIRST offense for DUI, that alone would have saved him.  


Time to close the loopholes

Weekend Wrap (in a "College Town")

 Small herd of students Fearing Street Saturday night 11:25 PM

So it was neither the best of times -- although the weather on Saturday was pretty perfect -- or the worst of times -- considering how bad things have gotten before around this time of year.

Friday into early morning Saturday seemed once again to be the worst of times for Amherst Fire Department, as once again an ETOH (alcohol OD) incident occurred at a time when all five ambulances were out, many of them for ETOH students, and had to be handled by "mutual aid," courtesy of Belchertown FD.

As usual the ETOH calls came during the Third Watch, starting around midnight, with an ETOH male at UMass.  Dispatch called the ambulance en route to inform them there was another patient, also possible ETOH, who had fallen and hit his head while at the UMPD lock up. 

AFD transported one to Cooley Dickinson Hospital and UMPD kept the other in "protective custody."

At 1:15 AM an ambulance responded to the s curves in Shutesbury for a downed motorcyclist, and since that is at the farthest reaches of the AFD protection zone it would tie up an ambulance for well over an hour.

At 1:19 AM another ETOH UMass student fell and hit his head at Kennedy Dorm Southwest high rise.  As all our ambulances were tied up dispatch sent a firetruck with emergency first responders who stabilized the patient until Belchertown FD arrived to transport (A fire engine cannot transport patients).

Around 1:30 AM AFD responded to Gorman Dorm for a male student who had taken "liquid THC."  That too was initially handled by Engine 3 until an AFD ambulance could arrive to transport. 

Saturday was a very busy day in town with traffic backed up in the center for most of the morning and early afternoon.  In addition to the usual Farmers Market the town common was also hosting the Fall Apple Harvest Festival, and of course McMurphy's Uptown Tavern was attracting a hoard of college aged youth dressed in green and wearing tacky plastic Irish hats for the "Half Way To Blarney Blowout" non-event.

AFD responded to a "box alarm" (meaning smoke had been detected by an actual witness) to a UMass dorm around 1:30 PM.  The fire -- quickly extinguished by UMass Environmental Health & Safety -- was caused by a candle, and AFD engines stayed on scene to ventilate the building.

 Emerson Dorm, UMass 1:45 PM Saturday

Around 6:00 PM AFD responded to two potential Q-5 (suicide) incidents in different parts of town, one where young lady had cut her wrists.

As the gorgeous day became night the calls turned to the usual drugs/alcohol related:  Around 10:00 PM AFD responded to UMass for a female student who had "smoked something and now feels funny."  I'm guessing it was not a carcinogenic cigarette.

 AFD at 51 Phillips Street for ETOH female 11:15 PM

An hour or so later an ambulance (and APD) responded to 51 Phillips Street for an ETOH young female; and 15 minutes later another ambulance was needed at Townhouse Apartments for a young female "dazed and confused."

AFD on scene 50 Meadow Street 11:30 PM

By 1:00 AM AFD would respond two more times to UMass for ETOH students. Keep in mind the Red Sox playoff games have not even started, and it's not yet Halloween.

The (down) beat goes on ...

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Fog Of War

So when the fog lifts this morning homeowners along Pelham Road will have a sorry sight to behold

 Somebody left a trail of destruction, targeting innocent mailboxes as part of their drunken hijinks 

Mailbox down!

Meanwhile, not far from the scene of the crime, it looks like the boys at 807 Main Street had a party last night.  Hmm ...

807 Main Street (turns into Pelham Road)

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Blarney Blew It

McMurphy's Uptown Tavern 1:00 PM

Even though the "Half Way To Blarney Blowout!" promotion disappeared from their Facebook page only 24 hours after it was first posted (long enough to get over 130 "people are going" responses) that did not stop college aged youth from lining up at their door starting well before noon. 

McMurphy's Facebook page September 19 (since deleted)

Before this weekend even started ETOH (alcohol OD) transports by Amherst Fire Department to Cooley Dickinson Hospital so far this month were tied with last year's September total. 

Last night into early this morning there were at least four ETOH runs.

And based on the line at McMurphy's this morning, today's gorgeous weather, and what happened last year at the Blarney Blowout, tonight could be alcoholically epic.

Bring It Home AC

 New Field House

When the unbeaten Lord Jeffs take the field later this afternoon for their home opener against Bowdoin, they will be playing second fiddle to their spectacular playing field as today marks the first time Amherst College Pratt Field will host a football game after a mega-million dollar renovation. 

What's left of mainstream media will have nifty new press box

Newly realigned banked running track 

Best seats in the house

Amherst:  Where only the h is silent (or, even the h)

Camperdown Elm almost became collateral damage but was gently moved (at $100K cost) out of the way

Friday, September 27, 2013

Things That Go Bump ...

 1st of five speed bumps Lincoln Avenue

After many years of wishing and hoping and a false start or two, the "speed calming" efforts via more permanent speed bumps on Lincoln Avenue are now in place -- all five of them. And nearby Dana Street and Blue Hills Road as well.

Curiously only the middle section of Lincoln Avenue between Amity Street and Fearing Street have the built in obstacles as apparently homeowners on the other two stretches of Lincoln Avenue were not overly enthusiastic about them.

 Amity Street Lincoln Avenue intersection

Probably because they did not look forward to having their teeth rattled every time they left their driveway.

Residents in the bumper zone hope the new project will not only slow traffic down but perhaps, if regular commuters get seasick from the obstacles, they may choose an alternate route.

Rt. 9 Lincoln intersection no bumps down to Amity.  Also not repaved

Phil Jackson, a main instigator for the project, is hoping UMass will do a traffic study later this spring to determine if those lofty goals are met.

Meanwhile, residents on neighboring Fearing Street are waiting to see if the project drives more traffic down their street.  The town had talked about installing speed bumps on Fearing Street as well, but nothing ever came of it. 

Of course it will not be long now before town officials start hearing reminders. 


 Striking union workers, Triangle Street, near the High School

So no, I don't know the particulars of the grievances the union has against Warner Brothers, Inc or Gagliarducci Construction Corp -- but I do know from first hand experience, as a proud member of the Teamsters Union thirty year ago, that strikes are kind of like nuclear weapons:  most effective when used as a threat, but destructive when actually detonated.

But strike they have done.  

Since the International Union of Operating Engineers Local Union 98 is involved with the reconstruction on Triangle Street it has now become a town concern, as that important project seems to have come to a standstill.

 North Pleasant Street, UMass

Both construction companies have a reputation for doing excellent work (one reason they won the construction bids).  But you only do good work by hiring highly skilled workers.

I hope they work it out.  Soon.

Another Amherst Flag Raising

Alan Snow gingerly places flag of Japan in holder on Town Hall turret

Flag of Japan to honor delegation from Kanegasaki Sister City

Flag of Japan side-by-side with Amherst town flag

Old Glory, state, town, and the flag of Japan

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Amherst Flag Raising

374 North Pleasant Street, Pike Frat

We did it

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Gimme Shelter

 AHSC co-Chair Nancy Gregg (front row ctr) Greg Stutsman (right) Denise LeDuc (left)

The Amherst Housing & Sheltering Committee heard plenty of news this morning, mostly bad.

Amherst Housing Authority Executive Director Denise LeDuc described the Section 8 program she oversees as a "no win situation" due to a cut in Housing and Urban Development funds as a result of "sequestration."

A double barrel hit for affordable housing in Amherst as the number of vouchers are likely to be cut 11%, from 413 down to 368 ... meaning 45 families are out of luck.

Additionally the AHA will discuss at their next meeting reducing the amount of value each voucher represents.  Currently, because of the high cost of housing in Amherst, the vouchers are valued at a "fair market rate" of 120% (compared to Springfield) but will be reduced to 105%.

Rising  rent costs at both Rolling Green Apartments and Echo Village Apartments located next door also came up for discussion, led by assistant Town Manager Dave Ziomek standing in for Town Manager John Musante.

The town commissioned the Massachusetts Housing Partnership to do an extensive inventory and structural analysis of Echo Village as due diligence for possible purchase.  Although Ziomek was quick to point out the "Town is not in business of buying housing to keep it affordable.  We are trying to act as catalyst to make it happen."

The report cost $9,000 but MHP absorbed half and the town paid the other half using Community Preservation Funds.  Town Manager Musante has also commissioned MHP to do the same type of analysis for Rolling Green Apartments, a more expensive project as Rolling Green (204 units) is far larger than Echo Village (24 units).

Rolling Green is higher on the priority list because the 204 units are all counted towards the town Subsidized Housing Inventory (currently at 10.8%) and the loss of those units will drop us well below the magic 10% threshold (8.5%), allowing a developer to run roughshod over local zoning as long as their mega-project includes 25% affordable units.

The recent "Housing Production Plan" was accepted by the state last month so it buys the town a one year reprieve from a hostile Ch40B development, but the housing market needs to see 48 units of affordable housing added per year.

Olympia Oaks on East Pleasant Street is breaking ground any day now and will provide 42 units of affordable housing but the project has been in the works for many years, way prior to the Housing Production Plan,  so the state could rule it does not count towards the 48 units.

According to Ziomek "the town is reaching out to Department of Housing and Community Development" to  clarify the Olympia Oaks situation and to ascertain when the one year clock actually started ticking toward the end goal of 48 units. 

In other bad news staff liaison Nate Malloy informed the committee that the Planning Board's "inclusionary zoning" article -- a tightening up of the currents regulations -- will not be ready for the fall town meeting.

The zoning bylaw would force developers (with projects greater than 10 units) in projects that are allowed "by right" to have a certain percentage be affordable, or a fine would be paid into an "affordable housing trust fund."

If for instance a developer builds 200 market rate units the minimum state standard requiring the town to stay above 10% threshold for affordability means that developer is creating a deficit of 20 units in the SHI index.

Inclusionary zoning would require them to cover the deficit either by including that minimum number of affordable units in the actual construction project or paying into a fund the purchase price of a three bedroom home.

At the August 21 Planning Board meeting "The Retreat," a 191 cottage style student housing  project in northeast Amherst was used as an example, with a projection of up to 40 units of affordable housing being created if the new bylaw was in effect.  

But since that will take a two-thirds vote of Amherst Town Meeting to pass, a B-I-G "if" indeed.

Assistant Town Manager Dave Ziomek (left) Select Board member Alisa Brewer (right)

Meanwhile, UMass Prof gets $3.2 million federal grant to prevent pregnant Hispanic women from, umm, getting fat.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

DUI Dishonor Roll

 In Massachusetts, driving fatalities for those under 21 rose 7.1% in 2011

Unfortunately things -- at least all thing things concerning alcohol -- returned to "normal" over the weekend with a high volume of AFD transports to the Cooley Dickinson Hospital for ETOH and three APD arrests for drunk driving.

Scary thing is in two of these cases the perps (Katelyn Pascale, age 21 and Colin Hurd, age 22) drew police attention by crashing their vehicles, and in both instances the mishap areas were active party house scenes with a decent volume of foot traffic within close proximity.



For Phaly Lach , age 49, a second offense.  Three strikes and you're out.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Awash in ETOH

AFD loading up drunk Amherst College student

This Amherst Fire Department weekend run report is beyond the pale:

In spite of having five ambulances staffed -- two of them courtesy of UMass -- and the recent certification for Engine 1 to perform emergency medical responses we still had to rely on mutual aid via Northampton FD for an emergency call at Hampshire College (2:13 AM) for, naturally, an ETOH female.

And yes, I realize ETOH is only one small step away from death and therefore are a legitimate "emergency" that requires the highly trained services of Amherst Fire Department.

But there's still a B-I-G difference between somebody who voluntarily drinks themself to a point beyond oblivion and someone else who has a car accident or attack of appendicitis through no fault of their own.

This over indulgance in alcohol is sickening -- on a number of levels!  

Party House of the Weekend

 196 Triangle Street, Amherst

Another usual suspect in the ongoing battle against rowdy behavior.  No not this particular house,  but the management company who owns and, err, manages it:  Eagle Crest Property Management, conveniently located at 55 North Pleasant Street above Stackers, a downtown bar. 

Early Sunday morning (1:13 AM) a noise complaint brought police to 196 Triangle Street one of the oldest streets in Amherst, thus making it one of the town's oldest neighborhoods (as in predating the existence of UMass/Amherst).

Notice that both apartments were engaged in rowdy behavior.  Gotta wonder how selective Eagle Crest is with their tenants. 

Maybe the $1,200 in fines will dissuade the bad boys in apartment #1 from becoming repeat offenders.  Maybe.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Weekends were made for ...

 Phillips Street (or maybe a zombie movie) just after midnight

So as weekends in a "college town" go -- especially this being the last one of summer -- things went relatively smoothly.  Of course APD, UMPD and AFD were busy as could be, but not to the breaking point.

Cooperation between the town first responders has always been outstanding, but the integration between town police-and-fire and UMass police and Environmental Health & Safety has gotten much better over the past year or so. 

This weekend UMPD was very visible at Party House responses -- even a few miles from campus.

The magic hours seem to start just after midnight through about 2:00 AM as both Friday-into-Saturday and last night into-this-morning there were times when APD was backed up on noise complaints, some of them being held for upwards of a half-hour before units could respond.

AFD, even with a shift of thirteen on (4 extra paid for by UMass) each night there were times when all five ambulances were on the road -- with many of those calls ETOH (alcohol OD) students.

The roving herds of students were not as much in evidence Friday but w-a-y more so last night into this morning.  No signs of the "Walk This Way" crew either night trying to redirect traffic off Fearing Street, which was the usual Grand Central Station last night.

Although late Friday night there were times when Sunset Avenue, contiguous with Southwest towers, was almost impassible by car due to foot traffic.  Not so much because the students were in overwhelming numbers, but simply because the groups of a dozen or so decided to walk in the middle of the road.

Considering that is also the time drunk drivers are out it's only a matter of time before a bad interaction between car and pedestrian occurs.  Early this morning for example APD  bagged a drunk driver at the still busy with foot traffic Fearing/Allen Street location around 1:30 AM.

When calling for back up the officer on scene told dispatch the vehicle had "clipped the curb pretty good." 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

About That Explosion ...

 UMPD closed off Cold Storage Drive during the incident keeping folks away from lot 12

So for those of you wondering what that loud explosion was Friday night around 10:00 PM emanating from near UMass Graduate Research Center and reverberating to surrounding towns, fear not:  nothing exotic like a terrorist attack or meth lab gone awry.

Although, it was lab related:  an old, possibly unstable, container with less than 16 ounces of tetrahydrofuran turned up during a lab clean out and the normally clear liquid had started forming crystals, which are potentially explosive.   Local authorities took no chances.

AFD Chief Tim Nelson, who is a district team leader for regional HazMat response, took command at the scene.  The container was escorted to an out-of-the-way location near parking lot 12 and then detonated by Mass State Police bomb squad experts.

All in all, a seamless team effort by AFD, UMPD, UMass Environmental Health & Safety and Mass State Police.

 AFD Central Station 4/12/13.  DPW truck (rear) was used to transport chemicals out of town center

Back on April 12 AFD had a similar experience, only the potentially dangerous materials were brought directly to them.  An Amherst resident cleaning out his dad's basement (dad was a former chemist) brought a cardboard box full of old unmarked chemicals to Central Station on a busy Friday afternoon.

The items were placed in the back of a very large DPW truck and quickly but gently escorted to the top of the Notch where they were destroyed in a controlled demolition. 

AFD has four members on the Western Mass Regional Hazardous Materials Team and they drill on a monthly basis.  Last night the training came in handy.