State news

Connecticut man charged with bilking vodka company investors

MADISON, Conn. (AP) - A Connecticut man has been charged with defrauding investors in an alcoholic beverage company and diverting hundreds of thousands of dollars for his personal use. Federal authorities say 56-year-old Brian Hughes, of Madison, was arrested Thursday. Hughes is charged with wire fraud, illegal monetary transactions, money laundering, and tax evasion. Hughes pleaded not guilty by video conference. Prosecutors say Hughes founded Handcrafted Brands LLC in 2015 for the purpose of raising money to buy Salute American Vodka. They say he diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars for his personal use.


Police: Gunshot victim crashes into New Haven building, dies

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - Police say a shooting victim crashed a car into a building in New Haven after he had been mortally wounded. The New Haven Police Department says officers responding to gunshots at around 8:30 p.m. Saturday found a car crashed into a commercial building on Grand Avenue. The driver of the car was suffering from gunshot wounds and was taken by ambulance to Yale New Haven Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. His name was not immediately released. Police believe the victim drove across an intersection and struck the building after he had been shot. No arrests have been made.


A quiet day at Connecticut's Capitol despite protest fears

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Hundreds of National Guard members and police officers guarded the state Capitol and a handful of counter protesters waited behind steel barriers for a rally that never materialized on Sunday. Brian Foley, executive assistant of the Department of Emergency Services, told reporters that high visibility security features may have helped discourage violent protests that had been feared. Connecticut State Police sent out messages last week saying they were ready for any planned protests after the FBI warned there could be demonstrations at each of the country's state capitols.


Vaccine appointments for 75 years and older, winter sports return

Roughly 277,000 Connecticut residents who are 75 years and older were allowed Thursday to begin making appointments online or via telephone for their COVID-19 vaccinations, with plans in the works to eventually phase in people 65 and older and anyone 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions that put them of greater risk of contracting the disease.

  • Healthcare Provider: Many residents have already been or will be contacted to schedule an appointment by their healthcare provider if their provider is participating in the state’s vaccine program. Not all providers are administering the vaccine.  A list of participating providers is available at ct.gov/covidvaccineResidents are urged not to contact their physician or healthcare provider directly for COVID vaccine appointments.

 

  • Online: A form can be accessed online at ct.gov/covidvaccine that allows individuals to schedule an appointment through the web-based Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS).

 

  • Telephone: Those without internet access can call Connecticut’s COVID Vaccine Appointment Assistance Line at 877-918-2224. The phone system was created in partnership with the Department of Public Health and United Way of Connecticut and is specifically targeted to provide support for eligible vaccine recipients who have limited technology access, or who have language, disability, or other barriers that could prevent them from using existing self-scheduling options successfully. The line will take calls on Mondays through Fridays from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and will offer a call-back option when all contact specialists are busy serving other callers. The team will aim to return calls as soon as possible, with the goal of same-day response.

With reports of high call volume and busy website traffic on the first day of appointments on the state’s platform, officials repeatedly urged people to remain patient, especially in the coming weeks and months as the newly expanded Phase 1B — the second phase of Connecticut’s vaccination program — rolls out in different stages. The entire group is estimated to include more than 1.3 million people and it’s unclear when people aside from those in the 75 years and older group can begin making appointments.

“This allocation strategy is limited by the number of doses that we have available,” said Dr. Deidre Gifford, acting director of the Connecticut Department of Public Health, noting the administration is hoping to get more shipments of Pfizer and Moderna vaccine as they ramp up production, as well as vaccine from other companies as they become approved.

“But we can only give out as many vaccines as we have doses,” she said.

If the state continues to receive vaccine shipments at the pace of roughly 50,000 doses a week, it would take until May to finish vaccinating Phase 1B. The rest of the public might not be vaccinated until the fall. The state is expecting a larger shipment next week, however officials said they’re uncertain if they should expect such amounts to continue.

Vaccinations of the first people in Phase 1B are scheduled to officially begin on Monday. The vaccine will be prioritized for those 75 and older. As the state’s supply grows and a significant number of those 75 and older are vaccinated, Gov. Ned Lamont said other people in Phase 1B will be allowed to begin making appointments. That includes certain frontline essential workers, people who work and live in congregate settings and those with certain medical conditions.

While state officials still need to prioritize others in Phase 1B, there are plans to focus especially on communities hit hard by the pandemic, including racial minorities.

In preparation for larger vaccine shipments, the state on Monday is also opening its first appointment-only mass vaccination site at Rentchler Field in East Hartford. COVID-19 testing and food donations will also be available.

So far, more than 160,000 people in Connecticut have received the vaccine during phase 1A, which began Dec. 14 and includes mostly healthcare personnel, residents and staff of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and medical first responders.

Winter sports that have been on hold for Connecticut high schools because of the coronavirus pandemic can soon began their seasons, with practices allowed next week and competitions on or after Feb. 8, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference said Thursday.

The plan approved by the Board of Control for the conference that oversees high schools sports in the state had been proposed weeks earlier when the winter season was postponed.

The sports that are sanctioned for the winter are boys and girls basketball, ice hockey, gymnastics and boys swimming.

The winter sports of wrestling, competitive dance and competitive cheer will be limited to small group conditioning and non-contact activities because they are considered by the Connecticut Department of Public Health as high-risk activities. Boys and girls indoor track teams will be limited to practice, with meets ruled out until March.

Like the fall sports season, the winter season will be shortened, with no state tournaments. A “tournament experience” will be allowed at local levels in late March. Practices had been scheduled to begin in November, with games starting on Dec. 7.


McDonald reconfirmed as justice in rescheduled House session

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut lawmakers reconfirmed State Supreme Court Justice Andrew McDonald Thursday to another eight-year term. The vote came two years after he lost a politically charged battle to become the high court's chief justice. Republicans had accused the former Democratic state senator of being an "activist jurist," a charge he denied. The House of Representatives approved McDonald's latest nomination on a bipartisan vote of 104 to 37. Ten members were absent. Three Democrats joined 34 Republicans in opposing the former Democratic state senator's nomination. Lawmakers had originally planned to vote on Inauguration Day but rescheduled amid concerns about protests.


Woman charged with shooting her 2 children pleads not guilty

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (AP) - A Connecticut woman accused of killing her 15-year-old daughter and critically wounding her 7-year-old son in a shooting in their home in November has pleaded not guilty to murder and attempted murder charges. Naomi Bell entered the pleas during a brief videoconference hearing Thursday at New Britain Superior Court. Her public defender declined to comment after the hearing. Police allege Bell shot her two children at her Plymouth home on Nov. 13. Bell's husband told police that she was hospitalized twice for depression and psychotic episodes since the coronavirus pandemic started, and he was worried she wasn't taking her medicine.


Connecticut governor recuperating after hip surgery

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont was recuperating at home Wednesday following hip replacement surgery, according to his communications director. Max Reiss said in a statement that the 67-year-old Democrat had undergone the medical procedure at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Stamford. Reiss said the surgery was "previously scheduled." Reiss said the governor was "feeling well" and will undergo physical therapy to aid in his recuperation. Lamont is expected to make a speedy recovery.


Unexpected win has UConn fans downing hot sauce for charity

STORRS, Conn. (AP) - A viral video on Twitter has UConn fans downing hot sauces to celebrate their team's wins. The hot sauce challenge began last week when Bryan Jackson, a fan from Boston, vowed to eat a spoonful of hot sauce if the Huskies could overcome an 18-point deficit to Marquette. They did. He did. And other fans joined in. The Husky Ticket Project, a charity that raises money to send underprivileged kids to UConn basketball and football games, got involved and asked fans to donate money as part of the challenge. More than $10,000 had been donated by Wednesday afternoon.


Connecticut GOP chair resigns abruptly, reason unclear

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut Republican Party Chair J.R. Romano has resigned abruptly for reasons he hasn't made clear. Romano announced his departure in an email to fellow GOP members Tuesday, saying it was the best decision for the party to move forward. Romano left six months before the end of his third, two-year term. He said Wednesday it was time for someone new to lead the state GOP. Romano faced calls to resign from some Republicans last summer for not saying anything publicly for months about domestic violence allegations against a Republican congressional candidate before the August primary.


Lamont sends Guard to D.C. as state prepares for any rallies

As Connecticut law enforcement prepares to protect the state Capitol complex during possible armed protests in the coming days, Gov. Ned Lamont announced Tuesday he is authorizing the deployment of more than 100 members of the Connecticut National Guard to help protect the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

Lamont, who made the authorization at the request of U.S. National Guard officials, said Connecticut’s contingent will include members of the military police and two patrol explosive-detection dog teams. Additionally, the state’s Air Guard placed its C-130H aircraft on alert in case personnel need to be moved throughout the country.

“The state of Connecticut stands ready to help ensure the peaceful transition of power and protect our democracy,” Lamont said in a written statement.

Lamont’s statement made no mention of using Connecticut National Guard members to protect the state Capitol in Hartford, given the warning from the FBI that armed protests could take place at all 50 state capitols ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration.

While local authorities are aware of possible protests occurring Jan. 17 and 20, State Capitol Police Officer Scott Driscoll, the department’s spokesperson, said Tuesday there are plans to “maintain a high level of security throughout.”

Driscoll noted the department has not learned of any specific threats yet regarding Connecticut’s state Capitol, which has been closed to the public since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. The FBI has warned of protests at all 50 statehouses.

’We’ve heard those two dates ... but we we are staying at a heightened awareness at all times,” he said. “So we’ve increased a lot of our safety aspects.”

The state Capitol police, whose motto is “Protecting Democracy,” have stepped up security sweeps of the complex, which includes the historic Capitol building and grounds, the Legislative Office Building and the adjacent parking garage. They have also increased their overall presence to be highly visible both inside and outside the campus.

Steel “bike rails,” initially installed ahead of last week’s opening day of the General Assembly to help promote social distancing as state legislators took their oath office outside, have been reconfigured around the Capitol building. Parking has been closed to the public in the state Capitol parking lot and in the LOB garage.

About 500 people turned out Wednesday for opening day of the 2021 legislative session to protest matters including Biden’s election victory and proposed state legislation that would end a religious exemption from vaccines for schoolchildren. One arrest was made.

Driscoll said state Capitol Police, who number roughly 30 members, are coordinating their stepped-up security efforts with the FBI, the Hartford Police Department, the Connecticut State Police, Lamont’s security detail of state troopers and other law enforcement.

Paul Mounds, Lamont’s chief of staff, said Monday that Connecticut officials were conducting security assessments of various state buildings, including the state Capitol complex, given the FBI’s warnings.

He said the state’s public safety commissioner, the state police and the Connecticut Intelligence Center, a unit created after the 2001 terrorist attacks, and the state Capitol police have been receiving regular updates from the federal government about the situation.

“The state of Connecticut, from a security standpoint, will be ready and prepared based upon any particular escalation that we see of these various actions at state-related buildings or state-related facilities,” Mounds said.

When asked if he was aware of any specific threats or events of concern in Connecticut, Mounds said there’s “nothing that we can speak of at this time.”


Judge dismisses former lottery chair's defamation lawsuit

STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) - A Connecticut judge has dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed by the former chairman of the state lottery against fellow lottery officials over what he called lies they told others about his conduct. Judge Kenneth Povodator threw out the case Monday, saying Frank Farricker didn't prove his case. Farricker sued former Connecticut Lottery Corp. President Anne Noble, former Vice President Chelsea Turner and former Human Resources Director Jane Rooney in late 2019, saying they made false statements that damaged his reputation including a lie that he took bribes. Noble, Turner and Rooney denied the defamation allegations.


Educators call for uniform school quarantine policies

A coalition of public education union members has called on the governor to provide a clear and uniform policy for how school districts across Connecticut should handle quarantines and paid leave requests. The group contends too many school districts are not following procedures established by health experts and are disregarding the state Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona’s recommendation that educators’ requests to work remotely are accommodated.

“A statewide mandate is necessary because recent actions show that districts cannot be trusted to “do the right thing,” the group wrote.

The group is also calling for the public health provisions of Lamont’s previous COVID-19 executive orders to continue through the end of the current school year.


Vaccine sign-ups for 75 years and older to begin next week

Connecticut residents age 75 and older will be able to begin signing up for COVID-19 vaccination appointments next week. Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont promised on Monday the process should be more orderly than in states where senior citizens have waited outdoors in long lines to get a shot. Lamont said vaccines will be administered by appointment only and people will be able to sign up online or by telephone, beginning Jan. 18. Information about the appointment system is expected to be released later this week. Since Friday, there have been more than 7,300 new confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19.


Prosecutors fight sentence reduction for murder convict

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Federal prosecutors in Connecticut are fighting a proposed prison sentence reduction for former Bridgeport drug dealer Adrian Peeler that would allow him to walk free next year. Peeler is serving a 25-year state prison sentence for the 1999 killings of an 8-year-old murder trial witness, B.J. Brown, and the boy's mother, Karen Clarke. That sentence ends next year and is supposed to be followed by a 35-year federal prison sentence for drug dealing. But Peeler is asking a judge to reduce the federal sentence to time served in state prison, under a federal criminal justice reform law. Prosecutors say the law wasn't intended for violent offenders.


Connecticut AG investigating prison guard's Facebook posts

Connecticut's Correction Department and Attorney General's Office have launched investigations into the anti-Muslim social media posts of a state prison guard. The move came Monday after the Connecticut Chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations called for the firing of Corrections Officer Anthony Marlak, citing posts on Facebook that included a meme depicting five apparently Muslim men hanging from nooses with the caption "Islamic wind chimes." Marlak did not return phone calls and text messages seeking comment. He told Correction officials that the meme was posted in 2018 and targeted members of ISIS, not Muslims in general.


Connecticut finishes 1st round of nursing home vaccinations

The first round of COVID-19 vaccination clinics held at Connecticut's 210 nursing homes was completed on Friday. It marks a milestone that comes as skilled nursing facilities continue to battle a second wave of infections. LiveWell, a long-term care facility in Plantsville, was the last facility to hold its first clinic. The state hopes to have the second round of vaccinations at all nursing homes completed by the end of January. Gov. Ned Lamont said the vaccinations at nursing homes are especially important considering the state's overall infection rate is spiking. Also Friday, the 15th inmate died from COVID-related complications.
 


Volunteers answer call to transcribe 1844 whaler's journal

NEW LONDON, N.Y. (AP) - At least 35 volunteers are helping to decipher a 19th-century whaler's journal that New London's Custom House Maritime Museum acquired last year. The Day of New London reports that the volunteers are responding to a Jan. 3 email from the New London Maritime Society seeking help transcribing the 155-page journal that the museum acquired last year. The volunteers will transcribe the handwriting of he anonymous crewman or crewmen who chronicled voyages of the Merrimac. The vessel sailed from New London on July 17, 1844. The maritime society is building an online display of the journal.


2 teens die after car hits tree in Hartford

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Two teenagers were killed when their car hit a tree in Hartford and a back-seat passenger was hospitalized with potentially life-threatening injuries. Police say 17-year-old Omar Lawrence and 19-year-old Shamar Williams were found dead scene at about 12:30 a.m. Saturday. Both of the teenagers were from Hartford. An unidentified 22-year-old man who was in the back seat had to be extricated from the 2005 Acura TL and was taken to the hospital. Police were investigating the cause of the crash.


Conn. vaccine subcommittees make recommendations

Dr. Deidre Gifford, the state’s acting Department of Public Health Commissioner said the governor’s vaccine allocation subcommittee is expected next week to finish its recommendations to Gov. Lamont as to who should be vaccinated in the next two phases of the state’s distribution plan. The group has already agreed with federal recommendations to vaccinate people 75 years and older and certain essential workers, as well as include residents of certain congregate settings.

There’s been discussion about whether to include others in Phase 1B, such as people 65 years and older and younger people with certain preexisting conditions. But Gifford noted that including more people in the next phase could have consequences.

“I think the sentiment expressed was that they didn’t want to expand so large that it would make it difficult for those very high risk individuals to get access early on in the 1B process,” she said.

There are also plans next week to rollout a platforms for people to make reservations for shots.

As of Thursday, 99,929 first doses of the vaccine have been administered in Connecticut and 1,805 second doses. While Lamont said he’s pleased with the distribution so far, noting Connecticut ranks sixth in the nation in terms of the percentage of the population vaccinated, he said the state could accommodate more doses, given the platform it has created and the fact vaccines are being rolled out to retail outlets now.

Josh Geballe, Lamont’s chief operating officer, said the state was unable to fulfill all the requests it received this week from health care providers because “we’re just not getting enough into the state right now.”

“We have people asking for more than we’re able to provide because of the supply coming in,” Geballe said. “So we could get more, we could go faster.”

As of Thursday, the number of COVID-associated deaths in the state increased by 57 since Wednesday, to a total of 6,287.

The ability to install cameras in rooms, a statewide visitation policy and full-time infection control specialists are among recommendations by members of a committee considering pandemic-inspired changes at Connecticut nursing homes.

Members are also suggesting that Lamont sign an executive order allowing residents of long-term care facilities to designate an “essential caregiver” for in-person visits.

“There were a lot of people that wasted away because of their lack of being able to see family,” said state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, who co-chairs a subcommittee of the Nursing Home and Assisted Living Oversight Working Group that is focusing on improvements to socialization, visitation and caregiver engagement. “I think that we need to start recognizing there is a component that we need to pay attention to in people’s social and emotional well-being.”

Four subcommittees are presenting their recommendations this week and next to the full panel, which will then forward them to the appropriate committees in the General Assembly addressing issues raised during the pandemic.

As of Tuesday, more than 3,600 nursing home residents in Connecticut had died of COVID 19-related causes, about 57% of the state’s total such deaths.

The subcommittee focusing on the response by nursing homes to the outbreak and the continued surveillance of the coronavirus is recommending the qualifications for the infection control specialists be expanded. Also, the group said, these should be full-time positions with rotating hours, so different shifts can be monitored.

They also want information about residents’ rights and infection control procedures to be posted in both English and Spanish.

“We want people who come into the building to know what they should be seeing and we want the residents to know what they should be seeing and what to expect when it comes to infection prevention in the facility,” said Sen. Mary Abrams, D-Meriden, a subcommittee co-chair who also is co-leader of the legislature’s Public Health Committee.

The subcommittee is also recommending that all staff at assisted living facilities be trained in infection prevention procedures; that nursing homes have at least one staff member certified to start an IV; that nursing homes have a three-supply of personal protective equipment in various sizes for staff; quarterly fittings of N-95 masks for staff instead of annual; and a clearly defined rule that protective equipment can be reused only in a crisis.


More contagious variant of COVID-19 found in Connecticut

Connecticut's governor says the first two known cases of a new, more contagious variant of the coronavirus have been detected in the state. The two people, described as between the ages of 15 and 25, live in New Haven County and each had traveled recently outside the state, one to Ireland and one to New York state. Genetic sequencing showed the cases are unrelated, the governor's office said. The more contagious variant of the virus was first identified in the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, the governor's vaccine allocation subcommittee is expected next week to finish its vaccine distribution recommendations.


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