City teen indicted in stabbing death

A young Haverhjill man accused of stabbing his ex-high school classmate to death in April has been indicted for the crime, elevating the case to superior court where penalties are more severe, court officials said.

Oscar Quinones, 18, was arrested in April for the stabbing death of 19-year-old Efrain Maisonet, his 2019 Haverhill High School classmate. According to a prosecutor in the case, Quinones admitted to police he brought a knife to a planned fight over a girl both men dated.

Quinones wore a COVID-19 protective mask and orange jumpsuit for a video conference session on Friday of last week from Middleton jail with Haverhill District Judge Jean Curran. She told Quinones his case would be dismissed from the district court and moved to superior court. The judge said Quinones is expected to be arraigned on the murder charge in late July.

During the district court arraignment in April, prosecuting attorney Erin Bellavia said the police investigation shows Quinones, talked openly after his arrest about his disdain for Maisonet. Bellavia said a feud between Quinones and Maisonet went back several years and often got physical.

Bellavia said tensions between the two young men reached a boiling point April 7 at a parking lot behind Haverhill stadium, according to statements from witnesses. Bellavia said according to police interviews, the men planned to meet and fight over a teenage girl — Haverhill High junior Azure Doucette, Maisonet's current girlfriend. Doucette told police she dated Quinones before she dated Maisonet, according to Bellavia.

Interviewed by police after the stabbing, Doucette said she had been with Maisonet the night of the stabbing and that Maisonet and Quinones agreed to meet at a parking lot behind the stadium to "engage in a fight over (her)," according to Bellavia. Other witnesses said they were at the parking lot to watch the fight, Bellavia said.

Doucette and another witness told police they "observed the defendant get out of the vehicle, approach Mr. Maisonet and start hitting him in the chest," Bellavia said. She said the investigation shows that when Quinones stepped back from Maisonet, the witnesses could see Quinones held what appeared to be a large "fishing knife." They then heard Maisonet yell that he had been stabbed, Bellavia said.

In an interview with police, Quinones told a different story — one of self-defense, the prosecutor said.

As recounted by Bellavia in court in April, Quinones said that after he and Maisonet had an initial physical confrontation, a group of girls at the scene of the fight tried to block the car he was in from leaving the parking lot, and began banging on the vehicle. Quinones stated that as he was in the car and Maisonet was just outside it, they struggled with the car door and Maisonet was able to open the door, Bellavia said. She said Quinones told police he started to get out of the car and Maisonet began "punching him in the face."

Quinones told police that once he was out of the car, he pulled out the knife and stabbed Maisonet once, the prosecutor said.

Quinones said Maisonet continued to punch him, so Quinones "stabbed him again" before Maisonet ran away, according to Bellavia. She said Quinones explained he then got back into the car and drove away. No visible marks were found on Quinones and no weapon has been recovered, Bellavia said.

According to Bellavia, Quinones admitted to bringing a knife to the planned fight.

In the time since Maisonet's death, friends of the man known as "Nene" have vowed to keep his memory alive. When the coronavirus crisis left Maisonet's family and friends unable to properly grieve his loss, several close to him set up a Change.org petition to rename the stadium in Maisonet's memory. To date, nearly 3,400 people have signed the petition.

— Allison Corneau

 

Local state rep. to chair Soldiers' Home committee

State Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, D-Methuen, who also represents Haverhill, has been appointed co-chair of a committee that will investigate what happened this spring at Holyoke Soldiers' Home when nearly 80 veterans died from COVID-19.

The outbreak and deaths, as well as illnesses of staff and other patients, was among the worst in the country as the coronavirus pandemic struck Massachusetts, New York and other northeast states.

A consultant hired by Gov. Charlie Baker authored a report that found serious flaws in staffing, administration and communication. The report and ensuing outcry led to the resignation of the state secretary of Veterans' Services, Francisco Urena, formerly of Lawrence.

Baker filed legislation that would have changed the way the Soldiers' Home was managed and overseen, but that bill seems to have been put on hold pending the legislative investigation, headed up by Campbell and which should be complete by March of next year.

Campbell, chairwoman of the Joint Veterans and Federal Affairs Committee, found out earlier this month she had been chosen as chair of the committee, which will have subpoena powers as it investigates what happened at the Holyoke facility.

The other chairman of the committee is Sen. Walter Timilty, who is also co-chair of the joint committee on Veterans and Government Affairs.

Campbell, who held a hearing on Baker's bill last week, said she has heard from a lot of veterans' groups from around the state that any changes made at the Holyoke home need to be well thought-out rather than rushed through at the end of the legislative session.

Last week Campbell held a hearing on Baker's bill in her role as chair of the Veterans and Government Affairs Committee, noting that many veterans urged her and other legislators to put the brakes on Baker's bill.

"It was because they haven't been consulted or asked," Campbell said, referring to veterans who spoke at the Statehouse hearing. "The folks who worked in the Holyoke home before, the staff that worked there, family members who went through this. Everyone has an opinion on who should be in charge within either Health and Human Services or Veterans Services."

She added that the testimony at the hearing had a tone of "Hold on. Stop.''

"This was a tragedy in the making for many years. We aren't going to solve it at the end of the session when we are so cramped for time."

The legislative committee she is in charge of will work through the summer and fall, Campbell said, gathering information and reading details of the multiple investigations, both state and federal, that are ongoing.

She said she would be creating subcommittees focusing on 10 key topics that need to be addressed regarding the home's management, staffing, communications, physical layout and other matters such electronic record-keeping.

The home is currently stabilized, Campbell said, with a $6 million cleaning and refurbishment plan already underway. She said that once all the other investigations have been completed she will likely hold hearings in Western Massachusetts to get input and testimony from the people most directly affected by the deaths and sicknesses at the home.

Locally, veterans' agents applaud the way Campbell and the Legislature are going about fixing the problems with the home.

In Methuen, Veterans Services Director Thomas Hargreaves agreed with the "go-slow approach on this."

"Let's get it right," he said.

Ralph Basiliere, active in Haverhill veterans issues, said the problem was wide-ranging and needs a wide-ranging solution.

"Executive failures resulted in Massachusetts veterans being led to their deaths," he said. "This failure screams for probative, comprehensive legislative oversight."

In addition to Campbell, other members of the legislative committee include: Assistant Majority Leader Joe Wagner, D-Chicopee; Ruth Balser, D-Newton; Jerry Parisella, D-Beverly; Christopher Markey, D-Dartmouth; Jim Arciero, D-Westford, a member of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs; Aaron Vega, D-Holyoke; Michael Finn, D-West Springfield; and Mindy Domb, D-Amherst.

House Minority Leader Brad Jones will appoint two additional members, and the Senate will appoint five members.

— Bill Kirk

 

Lawyer waives fee for more gas disaster victims

An attorney who represented victims from the Merrimack Valley Gas Disaster said he is again waiving his fees for representing clients in the $143 million class action settlement.

Complaints were filed with Attorney General Maura Healey and local officials earlier this summer after attorney David Raimondo told clients he would be assessing an 11% fee out of their settlement checks from the class action suit.

Faced with the concerns, Raimondo previously agreed to waive the fee for those receiving lump-sum payments from the settlement.

On Monday of last week, Raimondo said he would also waive his fee for clients awaiting itemized payments. Those checks are expected to be dispersed in September.

Raimondo said clients "felt the retainer they signed was not sufficiently explained to them" when the matter became a consolidated, class action suit.

He assisted about6 175 clients from Andover, North Andover and Lawrence after the Sept. 13, 2018, gas disaster. However, he said he is not considered "class counsel" and therefore is not entitled to the $26.1 million set aside in the settlement for legal fees and administrative costs.

"I got burned. Unfortunately, I'm not permitted to take fees," Raimondo said in a phone interview last week, stressing he provided his clients with "personal representation," which included handling claims with insurance companies, public adjusters and contractors, and having their gas service restored and appliances repaired.

"Ethically this is the best thing I can do for my clients. ... Waive my fees," Raimondo said.

Clients that want Raimondo to challenge or appeal their payments can still work with him moving forward, but they will be subject to fees, he said.

"They can continue with me or handle on their own," he said. "I wish everyone the best with their claims. ... And I hope they do well based on what I've done and the information they provided to me."

The average gas settlement payment is $8,000. Eleven percent of that payment is $880.

In a June 24 Sunday Eagle-Tribune article, some victims awaiting payment said they were being asked to pay the 11% fee to get their checks, which are compensation for everything from spoiled food and property damage to lodging costs, mental anguish and other issues.

State Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, who victims reached out to for assistance, was pleased to hear of Raimondo's decision.

"Nothing can make these claimants truly whole, but relinquishing the 11% fee is a significant step in the right direction,'' DiZoglio said. "I am pleased that full payments of these itemized claims can now be made to those whom they are rightfully due." 

The gas disaster, caused by over-pressurized lines operated by Columbia Gas company, resulted in the death of Leonel Rondon, 18, of Lawrence. Three firefighters and 19 civilians were hurt. Damages in Andover, Lawrence and North Andover are estimated at $1 billion.

About 50,000 people were forced to evacuate. Five homes were destroyed and 131 properties damaged, according to findings by the National Transportation Safety Board.

— Jill Harmacinski

 

Store sells $1M scratch ticket

It's not every day a customer walks into the Methuen Market at 49 Jackson St. and scratches a winning, $1 million lottery ticket.

In fact, it's never happened since the store was opened about eight years ago, according to MD S. Uddin, whose family owns several small markets across the Merrimack Valley.

"That's the first one sold here," said Uddin, who is originally from Bangladesh. He said it was actually his brother, Alam Nurul, who sold the ticket to a customer they know only as "Johnny" around 7 p.m. on Sunday of last week.

"He was very excited and jumping," said Nurul, who snapped a picture of the winning, $30 Diamond Million scratch ticket.

Uddin said the customer who bought the ticket comes in once or twice a week and buys several $30 tickets.

"He usually buys a few," Uddin said, adding that the customer said he planned to go to the lottery's Braintree headquarters to cash in his ticket.

Nurul said the store will make $10,000 from the winning ticket.

He said when the man discovered he had a winning ticket, at first he didn't say how much he won.

"I told him I could cash up to a $500 ticket," Nurul said. "He said it was much bigger than that."

There have been several $1 million tickets sold by the Mass. Lottery this year, according to the lottery's website, including three from the Diamond Millions tickets and one by the The Fastest Road to $1 Million instant ticket.

People who take a lump sum on a $1 million ticket, get $650,000 after taxes.

— Bill Kirk

 

Pandemic closes landmark business

Harris’ Pelham Inn is permanently closed after impacts of COVID-19 became too much for the landmark family business to overcome.

With gratitude for a century of community support, the Harris family recently announced the closure with a Facebook post. Nearly 1,000 people shared and commented, many with memories of weddings, parties and proms.

The Harris family expressed, as did many past guests, “It was always a pleasure.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the venue. Beginning with the ‘state issued’ mandate to close for several months, followed by the magnitude of ‘social-distancing’ restrictions put in place,” the Facebook post reads. “We are unable to operate our business in adherence with these guidelines.”

The property will remain as is, and continue to be family-owned, the post said.

More than four generations of the Harris family have been at the helm, hosting wedding ceremonies and receptions, community events and other functions in waterfront banquet halls.

According to the family’s website and records from the Pelham Historical Society, brothers Harry and George Harris — great-grandfather and great-great-uncle of the generation now in charge — bought 37 acres of farm land with intentions to build a summer resort in 1900.

It was completed in 1906 and called the Grand View House.

The Harris' website reminisces about the 38-bedroom resort having the conveniences of chambermaids, bell hops and horse and surrey transportation to and from the electric car line a mile away.

Telephones were connected in 1909 and weekly room rates were $7 to $10 per person, which included three meals a day. In 1918 the resort name changed to Harris’ Pelham Inn.

Though guest rooms were no longer offered and the switch to functions was underway, the Harris family continued to value home cooking and quality service, they said.

According to the Historical Society, the Inn stopped operating as a summer resort in 1961. With the arrival of motels and camping, the business for resort stays had diminished. The inn was converted to function rooms with more space added upstairs the following year.

The late George W. Harris Jr. — who was born in Pelham in 1928 and died in 2012 — often acknowledged, “There is always a great temptation to sell.”

But “There is a certain amount of pride in holding on to a family business. It is not always about the money,” according to Historical Society archives.

George W. Harris Jr. was the fourth generation to run the century-old inn.

Praise for the family legacy flooded social media with the news of the facility's bitter end.

A 2021 bride planning her wedding at Harris' Pelham Inn thanked the family for their honesty and compassion during the pandemic and subsequent cancellation.

She was consoled, virtually, by a stranger, who was married at the place 36 years ago.

The announcement came the same day of another bride's 31-year anniversary. She commented, "I am so sorry to hear this."

Hundreds of others were reminded of their own celebrations, including academic and athletic fundraisers, retirement dinners, Pop Warner football ceremonies, as well as police and fire events.

Their Facebook announcement concludes by saying, "We will miss you all."

— Breanna Edelstein

 

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