Category Archives: Bennington County

Bennington County news and events.

Early-morning fire traps two on roof; rescued by firefighters

BENNINGTON — A fire trapped two people on the roof of a South Street home on Monday morning until they could be rescued by firefighters.
In a press release, Bennington Fire Department Chief Steve Crawford said the fire at 420 South Street was reported around 3:15 a.m. Firefighters learned soon after that two people who lived in the home were trapped on the roof by the fire.
The first firefighters who reached the building removed the two people with a ladder, Crawford said. The Bennington Rescue Squad took them to Southwestern Vermont Medical Center for evaluation.
According to Crawford, the fire was found to be in the back of the house. Firefighters advanced to extinguish the fire there and a burning vehicle which was adjacent to the house.
Crawford said the main body of the fire was quickly extinguished but firefighters continued working to put out any fire still in the walls and the attic space of the house.
No firefighters were injured during the incident.
To determine the cause of the fire, Crawford asked the Vermont State Police Fire Investigation Unit for assistance.
The Bennington Rural Fire Department assisted the Bennington Fire Department. Officers with the Bennington Police Department and employees with Green Mountain Power were also at the fire scene.

– Patrick McArdle

Man crashes car into Bennington house, home declared uninhabitable

Provided Photo

Provided Photo

BENNINGTON – Police said a Pownal teenager crashed through the front porch of a Union Street home on Tuesday morning.

In a press release, Lt. Lloyd Dean of the Bennington Police Department said the crash was reported around 1:15 a.m.

According to police, Marcien L. Roy, 18 of Pownal, had been driving a 2004 GMC Yukon south on Union Street from Main Street. Roy failed to stop for the stop sign on Union Street at the sharp curve.

Roy attempted to negotiate the curve, but due to his speed, he drove off the left side of the road, struck the concrete curb and struck a rock which caused the vehicle to vault into the front porch the home of David Wholsen at 259 Union St.

The vehicle continued, airborne through the porch and into the front corner of the home the home of Paula Mitchinson also at 259 Union Street.

The car came to rest suspended above the ground with the front end of the car embedded in the Mitchinson home and the rear inside the destroyed front porch of Wholsen.

Roy was removed from the vehicle. His injuries were very minor, Dean said, despite several spears of wood protruding through the windshield into the driver’s seat area.

Roy admitted smoking marijuana and eating mushrooms prior to the crash, police said. Sgt. Jesse Robson of the Vermont State Police was on duty at the time and he examined Roy as a drug recognition expert to confirm.

Roy was processed at the Bennington Police Department for impaired driving.

The Bennington Fire Department was on scene as a fire prevention measure as well as ensuring building safety, erecting metal support posts at the home.

A code enforcement officer for the town of Bennington responded as well and declared the home unfit for occupancy.

The Red Cross responded and is helping provide housing for the family in the short term.

Roy was released with a citation to appear in the Bennington criminal court for for driving while impaired and negligent operation. He was released to a family member.

-Patrick McArdle | Staff Writer

Bennington man faces felony DUI

BENNINGTON — A local man is being held without bail and faces a felony charge of driving under the influence of alcohol after police said he crashed his car into a tree on Tuesday.
John A. Richi, 61, of Bennington, was arraigned in Bennington criminal court on Wednesday on a felony charge of driving under the influence of alcohol and a felony charge of refusing to provide a breath sample. Richi was also charged with a misdemeanor count of driving after his license had been suspended for a drunken driving conviction.
The charge of driving while under the influence of alcohol was a felony because Richi has already been convicted three times of the same charge, in July of this year and in November 1990 and September 2011. The charge of refusing to submit to a sobriety test was also a felony based on the previous convictions.
Police said the crash of a car into a tree was reported on Tuesday around 3:45 p.m. When Officer Robert Murawski of the Bennington Police Department arrived at the scene, he said in an affidavit, he noted signs that Richi might be impaired.
According to Murawski, Richi, who admitted to drinking prior to the crash, declined to give a breath sample and perform certain roadside sobriety tests.
Richi is being held in the Rutland jail because his probation, from the drinking and driving charge from earlier this year, was revoked based on the new charges.

Bennington man critically injured in tractor crash

BENNINGTON – A local 84-year-old man was critically injured in a crash on Carpenter Hill Road around 5:40 p.m. on Tuesday, according to Lt. Lloyd Dean of the Bennington Police Department.

Felix R. Lecours, 84, of Bennington, was driving a Ford F250 pickup truck that crashed into a tractor, police said.

Lecours was not wearing a seat belt and needed to be extricated from the truck with the jaws-of-life extrication tools. He was taken to the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington and then flown to the Albany, N.Y., Medical Center with critical, life threatening injuries, Dean said.

After a preliminary investigation, police believe Lecours was driving north on Carpenter Hill Road from Pownal into Bennington.

As he approached the first 90 degree curve in the road he continued to drive straight with the left front of his truck impacting a Kobota farm tractor. Lewis Garnett, 51 of Bennington, was driving the tractor south on Carpenter Hill, pulling a trailer of dirt. Andrew Martin, 57, was a passenger in the tractor.

On impact, the pick-up truck was flipped onto the passenger side and slid to a stop. The left rear tire was torn away from the tractor,

Dean said Garnett and Martin both suffered injuries but the injuries were not considered life-threatening. Both were taken to SVMC for treatment.

Garnett, who was wearing his seat belt, was taken to the hospital by the Bennington Rescue Squad while Martin, who was thrown from the dirt trailer, was taken to the hospital by his employer.

Response at the scene was hampered by an excessive amount of oil leaked onto the pavement from both vehicles, Dean said.

The crash is being investigated by Officer Roscoe Harrington, of the Bennington Police Department. Members of the Bennington Rural Fire Department also responded to the scene.

No charges pending in poor treatment of autistic boy, caught on tape

BENNINGTON — School employees in Bennington, will not be charged with any crime after police investigated comments captured on an audio recorder secretly placed in the backpack of an autistic boy.
Two employees were assigned to work with the 8-year-old boy earlier this year when the boy’s aunt attached the recorder to his backpack.
According to the Bennington Banner (http://bit.ly/12f1Lbo), the recording picked up comments insulting the boy and revealed he was secluded for long periods of time.
The aunt had said the recorder was used as a last resort to understand why the boy was acting out at Bennington Elementary School.
The recording resulted in multiple Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union staff members being placed on administrative leave, one termination, and the unplanned retirement of the supervisory union’s special education director.

Police looking for armed robbery suspect

BENNINGTON, Vt. (AP) — Police in Bennington, Vt., are looking for a suspect following an armed robbery at a CVS pharmacy.
Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette said officers responded to a 911 call around 9 p.m. Tuesday. The caller said someone had entered the store, jumped over the pharmacy counter and demanded Percocet while showing a handgun. The male suspect left with some medication.
Police arrived within minutes and locked down the store. A police dog helped track the suspect for a while, but the trail was lost at a nearby gas station. Police tell the Bennington Banner (http://bit.ly/10p8yOU) they believe a getaway car was waiting at the gas station.
Surveillance video shows a man wearing a hooded sweatshirt with a black face mask and gloves. He is holding a black and silver handgun.

Bennington set to start new hydro power project

BENNINGTON — A developer has received state and federal permits to generate electricity at a 200-year-old dam site on Vermont’s Walloomsac River.
Bill Scully and his company, Carbon Zero, bought the old Vermont Tissue Mill in North Bennington in 2008. Vermont Public Radio reports (http://bit.ly/1a5HRDd) Scully started his quest to revive the dam that once powered the mill soon after that.
Scully hopes to produce electricity for about 220 homes and for his own businesses, which include a couple of restaurants and a store.
Hey says his project will improve water quality by increasing the flow of water in a channel that’s now dry for part of the year. He says it also will create new, year-round habitat for migrating fish and other aquatic life.

Bennington school budget defeated – again

BENNINGTON — The Bennington School District budget was defeated again Tuesday by a vote of 524-473.
The budget of $12,940,745 had been cut by more than $575,000 from the budget which was defeated in March.
That budget, $13,518,802, lost by a vote of 1,095-915.
In March, George Sleeman, vice-chairman of the Bennington School Board, said he thought the budget may have been defeated because it was an increase of about 19 percent from the previous year’s budget of $11,360,113.
Sleeman said Tuesday that the latest budget, which was an increase of about 14 percent from the budget passed in 2012, might have still been too high.
“What we’ll have to do is we’ll have to call an immediate meeting of the (school board.) We’ll try and meet, hopefully this week or the first of next week, and we’ll review it and come up with a decision as to what we’re going to do,” he said.

- Patrick McArdle

By PETER HIRSCHFELD
Vermont Press Bureau
MONTPELIER – As his July 15 eviction date nears, Jeremy Dodge’s seller’s remorse has begun to intensify.

Back on Nov. 7 of last year, when Dodge finalized the sale of his 16-acre homestead in bucolic East Montpelier, he believed the deal he cut with its buyer, Peter Shumlin, was the only way to avoid imminent ouster from the residence his now-deceased parents built 31 years ago.

He’d accumulated more than $17,000 in back taxes since inheriting the property in 2009, and the looming tax sale, Dodge says he believed at the time, would result in his eviction from the property.

So without a lawyer to represent him, Dodge signed his name to a purchase-and-sale agreement in which Shumlin, the second-term Democratic governor of Vermont, acquired the property for $58,000 – less than a quarter of the $233,700 for which the homestead was then appraised.

“I could not afford a lawyer,” Dodge says. “And (Shumlin) said we’d just use his lawyers.”

The sale price included $9,000 in rent for November through July, and a $9,000 “seller repair credit” – money Dodge won’t get if he hasn’t upgraded the condition of the property by the middle of next month.

“I don’t have nothing bad to say him, but yeah, I got ripped off, plain and simple,” Dodge said Tuesday. “I wish it had turned out differently. I wish that I had let it gone to tax auction.”

An East Montpelier town lister has since lowered the appraised value to $140,000, owing to the decrepit condition of the house in which Dodge has resided since before his parents died.

In an e-mailed statement late Tuesday, Shumlin said the sale price was fair.

“I believe $58,000 was a fair price, and we both agreed to it,” Shumlin said. “The house is in terrible shape; it will have to be knocked down or totally gutted.”

As for Dodge’s lack of counsel, Shumlin said he urged him last year to remedy that problem.

“He didn’t have a lawyer on this sale,” Shumlin said. “But I did recommend it.”

But the 53-year-old Dodge, a parolee with an criminal rap sheet that includes convictions for drugs and domestic assault, says if he knew last year what he knows now, he would have been able to avoid losing the house, or at least sold it more profitably.

Dodge, who speaks haltingly through a severe stutter, says he’d always been confident the property would fetch at auction more than what Shumlin offered in advance of the tax sale. But he says he believed he’d be forced out of the residence once it sold.

“From how I understood it that once it went to tax auction, I would have to move out and wouldn’t have no money to move with,” Dodge says. “I found out later that that’s not true, that if it went to tax auction, I would been able to stay there for a year to pay off the taxes.”

Shumlin said Dodge’s regret over the deal is sudden and disappointing, and if Dodge was mistaken about the scope of options before him, then it wasn’t evident at the time.

“What I can tell you is that, regardless of what he may say now about his ability to review this agreement, we talked about the terms of this agreement together, and I was under the impression the entire time that he knew exactly what he was getting from the purchase – cash in hand, a place to continue to live for many months, and cash when he would get a new place,” Shumlin said. 

Shumlin and Dodge first crossed paths in the summer of 2012, after Shumlin purchased a 32-acre parcel adjacent to Dodge’s land. That land deal became the subject of intense media scrutiny when municipal records revealed he had purchased for $35,000 a parcel that was later valued by town listers at $147,000. The governor has since constructed a 2,200-square-foot home on that lot, a property in which he now resides.

Dodge said it was him who approached Shumlin about a possible deal to avoid the tax sale.

“And he said he really didn’t want to get involved in buying more property, but that he would help me out,” Dodge says. “So he wrote out a contract type of thing … and he paid my back taxes off, paid my child support, and gave me two grand on top of that, and then when I move out in July of this year, I’ll be getting $15,000 more”

Shumlin said he viewed the transaction as a win-win for him and Dodge.

“He had been behind on taxes and other bills for some time at this property; he didn’t have a way to stay in his place, which lacked heat, power, and water when I agreed to buy it, and couldn’t continue to serve as his home,” Shumlin said. “I believed this purchase agreement would give him the resources and time to find another place to live.”

The terms of the deal changed over the course of the six-week period between the scheduled tax sale, and the date on which the men closed on the deal.

Shumlin’s hand-written first offer, scrawled on the front of a manila envelope, stipulates a sale price of $32,000 “total being paid.” The offer includes $17,494 in back taxes, $3,735 for delinquent child support payments, $1,766 in cash to Dodge, and another $9,000 upon his departure from the home “no later than July 15, 2013.”

Shumlin also agreed to pay the property taxes for the remainder of Dodge’s time in the property, and not to charge him rent during the intervening months.

The final purchase-and-sale agreement, a copy of which the Vermont Press Bureau was unable to obtain a copy by deadline Tuesday, stipulates a $58,000 sale price. The price includes $9,000 for “prepaid occupancy” for Dodge’s stay through July 15, and the $9,000 “holdback “that Dodge won’t receive unless he’s completed unspecified repairs on the 964 square-foot single-level stick frame home.

Shumlin ran the a transaction through the same limited liability company – Foster Road LLC – that he used to buy the 32-acre parcel earlier that year. Shumlin, who, in addition to co-owning Putney Student Travel, is an accomplished real estate developer with ownership stakes in at least five LLCs. Income from rental properties accounted for two-thirds of the $950,000 Shumlin reported in personal income on his tax returns in 2009.

Bernie Corliss, a longtime friend of Dodge’s, spent summers working in the fields on Dodge’s father’s old dairy farm. Corliss said he initially “thought the governor was doing a good thing” when he agreed to purchase the land from Dodge last year.

As he learned more about the particulars, Corliss said in the living room of his home at the Weston Mobile Home Park Berlin Monday, he began to doubt the soundness of the deal.

“My main concern is that (Dodge) didn’t have anyone representing his interests,” Corliss said.

Corliss said he doubts Dodge has the cognitive skills to advocate for himself effectively, or even understand the basic elements of the deal.

“Jeremy’s not all there,” Corliss said Monday. “If you walk up to him, shake his hand, he seems alright. But if you spend anytime with him…”

Dodge says he dropped out of U-32 High School after 9th grade.

“They told me I could either walk out or they would remove me,” Dodge says.

Dodge says financial limitations prevented him from securing counsel. He says he negotiated the land deal independently with Shumlin, and didn’t have in-person contact with any attorneys until he sat down with Shumlin’s lawyer, Gloria Rice, at the Nov. 7 closing.

Dodge says the first suggestion he secure counsel came from Rice, on the day he sat down with her to finalize closing, a closing that proceeded, Dodge says, after he explained he was unable to afford one. Dodge works 32 hours a week at the Salvation Army.

Rice is out of the country until next week, according to a receptionist at her law office.

Dodge says Shumlin came knocking late last week to ask about whether he’d been speaking recently with reporters. Shumlin said he had to visit his soon-departing neighbor anyway to see if the Roto-Rooter he sent over “succeed(ed) in clearing out the pipes.”

“Second, I had heard rumors that he or his friends or family members were suddenly not happy with the sale, and so I asked him if it was true, since he had never expressed anything like that to me,” Shumlin said. “He told me that reporters had shown up at his house and wanted to interview him about the real estate purchase. He told me that, while he expressed appreciation for everything that I had done for him, he was no longer happy with the arrangement, and he had told the reporters that.”

Shumlin said he found the exchange “upsetting.”

“Jerry’s a neighbor who has had his share of difficulty, as you know,” Shumlin said.

Dodge says he’s having a difficult time securing new housing, a challenge he attributes to an 8-year-old pitbull/rottweiller mix named Coda. He also has a 9-year-old lab mix named Sasha.

“They’re my family,” Dodge says. “They’re all I’ve had the past two years.”

Dodge says he hopes to find a spot near downtown Barre, closer to his job and the twice-weekly Intensive Domestic Abuse Program classes that are part of the conditions of his release from 2011 conviction for domestic assault.

He said however that he’ll miss summers, especially, in his home, where he can see from his backyard the old farmhouse in which he grew up.

Says Dodge, “it is beautiful here.”
Stefan Hard, staff photographer for The Times Argus, contributed to this report
Peter.hirschfeld@timesargus.com
Peter.hirschfeld@rutlandherald.com

Fire destroys home in Bennington

BENNINGTON, Vt. (AP) — Firefighters are trying to determine the cause of a fire at a home in Bennington.
No one was injured in the fire, which started at the back of the house Saturday afternoon.
John Scutt, Bennington Rural Fire Department assistant chief, tells the Bennington Banner (http://bit.ly/13FwcLi) the fire on Silk Road just south of the Route 279 overpass was contained within an hour.
He said the building was a total loss.

Bennington company moving jobs from Vt. to Ohio

BENNINGTON — Bennington officials say Mace Security International that produces personal security products is moving at least some of its Vermont jobs to Ohio, eliminating nearly 40 jobs.
Mace founder and former executive Jon Goodrich says company officials have told him the company plans to vacate its Bennington location space inside the Holden-Leonard Mill in July. Goodrich still owns the building.
Goodrich founded the company in 1987, but he says he no longer plays a role in company decision.
Bennington County Industrial Corp. Executive Director Peter Odierna tells the Bennington Banner (http://bit.ly/142l5uV ) his priority will be the jobs that will be lost.