State news

Seized, then stolen back: Hartford battles with dirt bikers

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Police in Hartford are having to take extra measures to keep illegal dirt bikes off the city's streets. The Hartford Courant reports police are moving a number of the vehicles from an impound lot because owners of the bikes and ATVs found where they were being stored and stole them back. Police Chief Jason Thody told the newspaper that multiple people had broken into the lot. The bikes and ATVs are prohibited in the city, and police have seized more than 100 in recent years. Police say in addition to moving the bikes to another location, they will increase security at the impound lot.

Tentative deal for more than 400 nurses in Norwich hospital

NORWICH, Conn. (AP) - More than 400 nurses who went on a two-day strike amid disputes over pay and the availability of protective gear at a Norwich hospital have a tentative contract. The nurses and officials at the William W. Backus Hospital found common ground Saturday morning following an intervention by Gov. Ned Lamont. Nurses went on strike Tuesday and Wednesday to pressure the hospital to negotiate better contract terms and then returned to work as negotiations continued. Union officials say negotiated pay raises will help stop an exodus of nurses headed to jobs with higher salaries. They also said the hospital's parent company agreed to single-use face masks.

Invasive insect reappears, posing risk for Connecticut crops

GREENWICH, Conn. (AP) - An invasive insect has reappeared in parts of Connecticut, and experts are worried it could spell danger for some of the state's crops and trees. The spotted lanternfly has been seen in Greenwich this fall. It has been seen previously in other parts the state and hasn't caused major damage so far. The brightly colored insects first arrived from Asia in 2014 and can be particularly harmful to apples and grapes. The mid-Atlantic region, and specifically Pennsylvania, is considered a hot spot, and nurseries and homeowners are being asked to carefully inspect shipments from that area.

New $50 million grant program to be announced next week to help small businesses

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Gov. Ned Lamont said Thursday that his economic development commissioner is expected to announce a new $50 million grant program next week to help small businesses. This comes after the state provided more than 2,000 one-year, no-interest loans, to small businesses, averaging $19,705 a piece earlier this year.

Earlier in the day, the state’s restaurant association and the Connecticut Business and Industry Association released a letter to Lamont and state lawmakers, asking that federal coronavirus funds be set aside for a small business grant program. They noted Rhode Island’s “Restore RI” program includes $60 million for businesses that experienced a revenue loss due to the pandemic of at least 30%

While the details were not available on Thursday, Lamont said Connecticut’s program would likely provide 10,000 grants capped at $5,000. He said half of the grants will be distributed to businesses located in economically distressed municipalities.

Connecticut prison officials on Thursday were monitoring a coronavirus outbreak at a Hartford jail where 56 inmates recently tested positive after two staff members contracted the virus.

All 56 inmates, who were not showing symptoms and are now separated from the general population, were detained in the units where the two employees worked, prison officials said.

“The facility is on lockdown status for deep cleaning,” Department of Correction spokesperson Karen Martucci said in a statement. “Social visitation previously scheduled to commence at the Hartford Correctional Center Thursday was pushed back temporarily to err on the side of caution.

The two employees reported testing positive for the virus recently, which prompted routine contact tracing that identified the 56 inmates who tested positive, Martucci said.

The entire population of the Hartford Correctional Center is being tested this week as part of continued mass testing at prisons statewide, she said. Staff in Hartford also will undergo mandatory testing.

Correction Department officials were expecting increased virus cases in state prisons because of an uptick in cases in communities across the state, Martucci said.

Connecticut’s statewide positive test rate dipped to 1.3% Thursday, down from 2% Wednesday and 2.4% Tuesday. More than 62,000 people in the state have contracted the virus and more than 4,500 have died since the pandemic began. More than 190 people were hospitalized, the highest number in several months.

In prisons across the state as of Thursday, there were 80 inmates who had the coronavirus including eight who were experiencing symptoms. Twenty-nine staff are currently recovering from the virus. More than 1,600 inmates have tested positive since the pandemic began and seven have died.

Police shooting of high school psychologist ruled justified

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - A Connecticut prosecutor says two police officers were justified when they shot a high school psychologist to death during a domestic violence call last year. Windham State's Attorney Anne Mahoney released her report Wednesday on the East Hartford officers' shooting of 43-year-old John Carras during a violent struggle with him outside his home. She concluded the officers reasonably believed using deadly force was necessary to defend themselves against Carras, who assaulted both officers before he was shot. Authorities said Carras choked his wife to unconsciousness before police arrived. She was seriously injured but survived. Carras was a psychologist at Berlin High School.

Connecticut officials urge vigilance for voter intimidation

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - A top Connecticut prosecutor, the attorney general and the secretary of the state have warned that voter intimidation will not be tolerated at the polls on Election Day. The officials stressed Thursday that there are federal and state laws on the books to ensure that voters feel safe and their ballots will be counted appropriately. Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said she and Attorney General William Tong and Deputy Chief State's Attorney Kevin Lawlor were not responding to any particular problems in Connecticut so far. She said tensions are running high and she wanted to make sure they're preparing for any possibilities on Election Day.

Officials: Virus outbreaks at 2 care centers are related

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Health officials say coronavirus outbreaks at two long-term care centers in the same Connecticut town have been linked to a resident of one of the facilities and staff who work at both locations. The state Department of Public Health is investigating and working with the two care centers in Avon to stem the outbreaks. The director of the Farmington Valley Health District, Jennifer Kertanis, said Wednesday that two dozen residents and 16 staff at Avon Health Center recently tested positive. A spokesman for the Residence at Brookside says 11 residents and three staff there tested positive recently. Two residents at Brookside have died.

Judge denies bid to block parts of police accountability law

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - A federal judge has rejected a bid by the Connecticut State Police Union to block parts of a new police accountability law that allow public disclosure of personnel files and internal affairs investigations. Judge Charles Haight Jr. in New Haven denied the union's request for an injunction Tuesday. The law strips away exemptions to state Freedom of Information laws in the state police contract. The contract says troopers' personnel files and documents in internal affairs investigations that end with no findings of wrongdoing are not subject to disclosure. The union is planning to appeal.

Man accused of supporting IS group ruled incompetent

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) - A Connecticut man accused of pledging allegiance to the Islamic State group and wanting to fight for it in Syria has been ruled incompetent to stand trial. Federal Judge Kari Dooley cited a doctor's analysis in determining Wednesday that Kevin Iman McCormick, of Hamden, cannot understand the court proceedings because of a mental disease or defect. Hearst Connecticut Media reports McCormick was returned to federal custody to receive treatment with the goal of restoring his competence. He was arrested at a private Connecticut airport last year trying to get on a flight out of the country.

Bail doubled to $500K for woman charged with abandoning baby

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — A Connecticut woman charged with abandoning an 8-month-old girl in a trash bin cried during a court hearing Tuesday, as authorities continued to investigate who was responsible for burns to the baby’s hands.

The girl was found alive in a bin outside a New Haven apartment complex on Monday and taken to Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital, where she was reported in stable condition.

Police arrested 24-year-old Andiana Velez, of Hamden, and said they believed she was the girl’s babysitter. Velez was charged with risk of injury to a child, second-degree assault and reckless endangerment. The assault charge, authorities said, was filed because Velez stabbed the baby’s 21-year-old mother, whose condition was not disclosed.

Velez was detained on $250,000 bail, which was increased to $500,000 by a state judge during Tuesday’s arraignment. Velez was in a courthouse lockup and appeared at the hearing via video. Her public defender, Trey Bruce, urged the judge to decrease bail to $50,000, saying Velez was a lifelong resident of the New Haven area and she was seeking therapy.

Court records show Velez has convictions for assault and threatening as well as several other pending cases on similar charges.

A tenant of the Presidential Gardens apartments found the baby while taking out his trash and called on maintenance workers at the complex to help get her out, one of the workers said.

Rick Chardon, a maintenance worker, recalled that the resident who found the girl was throwing out his trash and started to walk away when he heard “something crying.”

“He turned around and looked in,” Chardon said. “There was a little baby that had trash on top of it. ... She was shivering like crazy when I got her in my arms.”

The baby’s injuries and abandonment stunned and dismayed local residents including Ruth Harris.

“That’s got to be the saddest thing ever,” Harris told Hearst Connecticut Media. “How can ... any person be that cruel? It just tears your heart up inside. ... It hurts me and it’s not even my child.”

Nurses go on strike over protective gear, pay in Connecticut

More than 400 nurses at a Connecticut hospital began a two-day strike Tuesday over what union leaders called low wages and struggles to get enough personal protective equipment.

Dozens of nurses hit the picket line outside the William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich in rainy weather and held signs saying “Nurses on strike for unfair labor practice” and “PPE over profits.”

The strike comes amid a breakdown in contract talks between the nurses’ union and hospital management, as well as rising coronavirus cases in Norwich and other eastern Connecticut communities. The hospital is operated by Hartford HealthCare. Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont said he’s been in communication with both the union and hospital leaders.

“I’m doing everything I can to remind both parties how important it is we have Backus Hospital going out there ... right where the pandemic looks like it’s probably flaring up a little bit,” he said, adding that there should be no issues with nurses obtaining proper personal protective equipment, given the stockpiles that have been amassed. “I’m very hopeful that they’re getting closer to the finish line. Keep those conversations going. We don’t want to wait another day.”

Statewide, the infection rate was 2.4% as of Tuesday, the highest it has been since June. It has been around 7% in Norwich in recent days. The number of people hospitalized statewide climbed by 17 since Monday to 172, and 25 were in New London County, where Backus is located. In contrast, there were 2,000 daily hospitalizations statewide in the earlier days of the pandemic.

“It’s not unexpected, but it’s incredibly unnerving and a little exhausting,” Lamont said of the state’s slowly increasing infection rate.

But he said the state has been bringing in testing to hot spots like Norwich and New London and urging residents to remain vigilant and continue social distancing and mask-wearing. He noted how that worked to bring the rate down in Danbury, where there was a recent uptick in cases.

The Backus Federation of Nurses, AFT Local 5149, and hospital management have been in contract negotiations since June. Unionized nurses voted to authorize a strike last month.

Donna Handley, president of Backus and Windham hospitals, said in a statement that Backus will remain open and called the strike “heartbreaking.” She said nurses have been offered “significant” wage increases — 12.5% over three years — along with additional paid time off and a 2% decrease in health care premiums.

“The hospital has made every effort to avoid a strike,” said Handley, who is a nurse herself. “We are prepared to find common ground, and we want to reach agreement on a fair contract. The union, unfortunately, is prepared to strike, causing an unprecedented degree of disruption during an unprecedented health crisis.”

State Department of Public Health officials said Tuesday that they would be monitoring patient care, staffing levels and supply levels during the strike. The agency also said it was verifying the training of the replacement nurses hired by the hospital.

Backus nurses say they’re paid less than those at other area hospitals, while Backus is one of the most profitable hospitals in the state. They also have not had sufficient personal protective equipment during the pandemic and have had to repeatedly reuse gear including N95 masks, Sherri Dayton, a nurse and president of the Backus Federation of Nurses, AFT Local 5149, told The Associated Press earlier this month.

“You use it until it’s soiled or compromised and they really need to change the policy to, you really don’t need to use it longer than eight hours,” she said about N95 masks.

She said in recent months, 11 staff on one floor of Backus were infected with the coronavirus by a patient from a local nursing home, three more employees in the critical care unit were infected and another worker tested positive after caring for a patient in the emergency room.

“A lot of nurses are scared,” Dayton said, “and the reason for that is, is because when they test positive, we get blamed by the hospital.”

Southeastern Connecticut had a relatively low infection rate during the early months of the pandemic. But in recent weeks, there’s been an uptick in cases. On Monday, state and local officials including Gov. Ned Lamont urged residents of the region to get tested for COVID-19 and be careful around friends, family members and co-workers.

During a rally amid the picketing Tuesday, Democratic Congressman Joe Courtney blamed Backus and Hartford HealthCare management for the contract impasse, which he called stunning amid a pandemic, the Norwich Bulletin reported.

“That makes no sense and the leadership of this institution just totally cut the legs out from the work (Lamont) was doing here yesterday,” he told the crowd. “This is the time we should be pulling together.”

Abandoned baby found alive in New Haven trash bin

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - An abandoned baby has been found alive in a trash bin at a New Haven apartment complex, prompting a police investigation. Police Capt. Anthony Duff says officers responded to the Presidential Gardens complex in the Newhallville neighborhood at about 2 p.m. Monday and called in emergency medical responders to care for the 8-month-old girl. Officers later found the baby's mother. The girl is being treated at Yale New Haven Children's Hospital. Her condition has not been disclosed. No charges have been announced. State law allows parents to surrender babies 30 days old and younger at hospitals without facing criminal charges.

Trooper dives to safety as car hits cruiser during DUI stop

BERLIN, Conn. (AP) - Authorities say a driver suspected of being under the influence slammed into an unoccupied police cruiser parked on the side of the road. The collision sent a trooper at the scene diving for safety. Police say that crash happened after state troopers had closed part of Route 9 in the area of Berlin and Cromwell after pulling over a wrong-way driver. Police tracked down that driver after numerous 911 calls that he was driving the wrong way down Route 3 around 4 a.m. on Sunday. The wrong-way driver, 55-year-old Andrew Duffy, was charged with driving under the influence and traveling the wrong way on a highway. The other driver, 28-year-old Jamar Jones, was charged with driving under the influence, reckless endangerment and motor vehicle violations.

Police blame fatal New Britain shooting on ongoing dispute

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (AP) - Police say a 20-year-old man has been fatally shot in New Britain. Police responded to a report of shots fired at about 3 a.m. Sunday and found the victim suffering from an apparent gunshot would. He was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Police say the shooting victim was a 20-year-old man whose last known address was in Farmington. His name is being withheld pending notification of his family. The New Britain Police say the shooting stemmed from an ongoing dispute. No other details have been released.

Connecticut educators of the year from same school

WINDSOR, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut’s newly announced Teacher of the Year and Paraeducator of the Year for 2021 are from the same elementary school in Windsor, the first time in state history the two honorees have been from the same district and school.

Rochelle Brown, a kindergarten teacher at the Poquonock School, was named Teacher of the Year on Friday, while Maria Sau was named the Anne Marie Murphy Paraeducator of the Year, named after an educator killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

Gov. Ned Lamont and state Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona announced the awards during a surprise visit to the school.

“Windsor is incredibly proud of this first-ever accomplishment,” Windsor Superintendent Craig Cooke said in a statement. “Ms. Brown and Ms. Sau are two of the most talented, passionate and committed educators I have ever worked with.”

Brown, who is now in the running for the 2021 National Teacher of the Year, has been an educator in Windsor schools since 1999. Sau has also worked with Windsor students for more than 20 years.

“We help them to realize the greatness and potential in themselves,” Brown said about the children. “This is our gift. I say to my fellow educators, keep sharing that gift.”

Lamont announces advisors for potential vaccine distribution

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration has begun the process of planning for the distribution of an anticipated coronavirus vaccine, announcing Friday the members of a wide-ranging advisory group that will recommend a statewide strategy.

The group will be led by Dr. Deidre Gifford, the acting Department of Public Health commissioner, and Dr. Reginald J. Eadie, president and CEO of Trinity Health of New England. Members include state legislators, medical experts, union, business and religious leaders, state officials, academics and others.

During a briefing with reporters on Thursday, Lamont said he expects his advisory group will have multiple functions.

“One is just the science of the vaccines,” Lamont said. “When can we do it safely? How is it effective? How best to do it? How do you allocate? What would be those priorities?”

They’re expected to begin meeting in mid-October. The meetings will be open to the public.

It remains unclear when a vaccine will be ready for the state to distribute. In an Aug. 27 letter to governors, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told governors to be ready to distribute a vaccine by Nov. 1 and to expedite approval of applications for distribution locations.

Lamont noted that Dr. Deborah Birx, a member of the White House coronavirus task force who visited Connecticut on Thursday, recommended the state possibly prioritize older residents with preexisting conditions. Mathematica Policy Research, a firm the state hired to review its response to coronavirus infections in Connecticut’s nursing homes, recently recommended that residents and staff of long-term care facilities are given priority as well.

Lamont said the advisory group will also focus on communication and how to get information about any vaccine out to residents. Lamont relied on a different advisory group and private consultants when deciding how to reopen Connecticut’s economy following the pandemic shutdowns he ordered using his executive authority.

Universities in Conn. deal with coronavirus

The University of Connecticut reported Saturday that it has just eight students isolated on campus who have tested positive for the new coronavirus and are showing symptoms.

That’s the lowest figure since Aug. 19, which was just six days into the school’s widespread testing program.

The highest number of students in isolation was 71 on Sept. 5, followed by 69 on Sept. 26.

The school has had a total of 203 positive tests among students this semester.

Sacred Heart University and the University of Saint Joseph are the latest in Connecticut to use the rapid saliva-based coronavirus test developed at Yale.

The schools hope adding the testing method to tests already being conducted will help them identify cases earlier and prevent large outbreaks on campus. Both schools also are using the nasal swab form of testing.

“Over the last few weeks as we saw upticks of positive cases on other campuses we decided to increase the percentage of students tested each week and we also wanted more rapid results,” University of Saint Joseph President Rhona Free said in a statement. “SalivaDirect was able to complete the new level of testing that we needed with quick results.”

Sacred Heart spokesperson Deb Noack said the 900 saliva tests they plan to due each week will augment the 1,300 nasal swab tests that had already been conducted.

Moving company finds people relocating to CT, VT, ND

United Van Lines has ranked Connecticut near the top for people choosing to migrate.  In a departure from previous years where it was outbound migration, there's new findings that people are moving to Connecticut.  Governor Ned Lamont says the state is ranked 3rd, where COVID was a contributing factor, in choosing to migrate to the state only behind Vermont and North Dakota.  The most outbound migration because of COVID came from Washington DC, New York and Nevada. The moving company surveyed customers about moving motivations and patterns amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The findings between March and August revealed the leading contributing factors in customers’ decisions to move indicated concern for personal and family health and well-being. According to the findings, there was an overall nationwide decline in moving requests from March to May compared to the same period in 2019.  However, moving interest in September is notably higher than the previous year, 32% increase.

Connecticut's new reopening phase getting tepid reception

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut’s third reopening phase is set to begin Thursday, a milestone during the coronavirus pandemic that is getting a lukewarm reception from some business owners and arts aficionados.

A number of restaurant owners say they won’t be able to reach the new 75% capacity limit for indoor dining because they don’t have the space, primarily due to the requirement that tables be at least 6 feet apart. The indoor capacity maximum is being increased from 50%.

Indoor performing arts venues will be allowed to open beginning Thursday at 50% capacity, while outdoor event venues will be allowed to increase their capacity from 25% to 50%, with required masks and social distancing at all locations. But many theaters and concert venues have decided not to open this week, as shows already have been canceled and many say they can’t make money with half-full facilities.

“If we do 6 feet between people, we’re actually at less than 20% capacity,” Cynthia Rider, the managing director at Hartford Stage, said Wednesday. “So the rules don’t allow us to open in any way that’s financially feasible. We also can’t do 6 feet of social distancing backstage. I think for most producing and presenting theaters, the new guidelines just aren’t there yet for us. But we hope people will go to some of the venues that are able to reopen.”

The Phase 3 reopening comes as Connecticut has seen a slight uptick in coronavirus cases. Nearly 140 people were hospitalized as of Wednesday, up from 50 from a month ago and the highest number since late June. The positive test rate for the virus was less than 1% over most of the summer, but has edged up to around 1.5% recently.

More than 59,000 people in the state have tested positive and more than 4,500 have died from the virus.

Under the new reopening phase, restaurants are required to keep groups of diners 6 feet apart or separated by partitions of plexiglass or other materials. Capacity at libraries and businesses that provide personal services, such as hair salons, will also increase from 50% to 75%.

Indoor social gatherings at commercial establishments will be limited to 100 people or 50% capacity while gatherings at private residences will continue to be capped at 25. Graduations and religious gatherings will be capped at 200 people or 50% capacity, with masks and social distancing. Most stand-alone bars and nightclubs remain shuttered.

Gina Legnani-Pellrine, owner of Rodd’s Restaurant in Bristol, said she doesn’t have the room in her breakfast-and-lunch establishment to get to 75% capacity. She has put up wood partitions separating her booths, but they are often occupied by one person because she hasn’t been able to reopen her counter area due to virus-related restrictions.

“It won’t help me get more people in. It won’t help me seat more people,” she said of the higher capacity limit. “But it might help people in their minds think, ‘Well, they relaxed the restrictions. Maybe we can go.’ But there are also a lot of people who are reluctant.”

Dozens of restaurants around the state have closed because of the virus and the related state operating restrictions, said Scott Dolch, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association. He said the new capacity limits are a good step forward, but many restaurants don’t have room to boost capacity amid the 6-foot separation requirement.

The recent uptick in virus cases recently prompted Foxwoods Resort Casino to announce that it will continue operating at 25% capacity.

Gov. Ned Lamont on Wednesday said the state will give 65 libraries $2.6 million from Connecticut’s coronavirus relief funds to help them increase services, particularly to low-income communities, as they are being allowed to boost capacity to 75% beginning Thursday.

In other virus-related developments, the University of New Haven has placed a dormitory under quarantine after several people tested positive, including someone who attended a large, unauthorized gathering last weekend, school officials said.

The school notified residents of Winchester Hall on Tuesday that they must isolate in their rooms for 14 days.

“We have taken this step, out of an abundance of caution, while COVID-19 cases are still quite low, to mitigate the risk of further spread,” school officials said in a notification to students.

The West Haven school had 280 students in quarantine as of Tuesday, including all residents of Winchester Hall and some students in other dorms.

Officials said the school has comprehensive public health measures in place and any violations — including attending large unauthorized gatherings — could result in suspension, expulsion from campus housing or dismissal from the school.

Man accused of arson at storage center where he was living

WATERBURY, Conn. (AP) - A 32-year-old Connecticut man is accused of setting fire to the office of a storage center after being found living inside a storage unit he had rented. Police charged Jacen Heslop with numerous crimes, including arson, following the fire Tuesday at Self Storage in Waterbury. Police say Heslop was asked to leave last week by a manager after she discovered he had been living in his storage unit. They say Heslop returned Tuesday afternoon with a sledge hammer and a can of gas, then used the hammer to smash open the gate, before setting the office on fire. No one was injured.


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