Sprinklers douse fire at Roma Restaurant

A basement fire in the Roma Restaurant interrupted dinner for several dozen customers one night last week.

The sprinkler system did its job and kept the blaze from causing more extensive damage in the incident last Thursday night, according to Deputy Fire Chief Eric Tarpy. Employees and customers left the 29 Middlesex St. restaurant quickly and there were no injuries, Tarpy said.

City inspectors pl;anned to determine when the popular restaurant, a fixture in Haverhill for more than 50 years that specializes in Italian cuisine, would be able to reopen, Tarpy said.

The fire was reported at 7:33 p.m. Engine 3, from the main station on Water Street, was the first to arrive and firefighters encountered heavy smoke in the kitchen, Tarpy said. A thermal imaging camera helped firefighters get to the source of the fire in the basement, he said.

Firefighters hooked up a line to a hydrant located in front of the restaurant and doused the fire. They then went to work ventilating the building.

An alarm at the restaurant alerted the Fire Department, Tarpy said. Telephone callers also reported the fire, he said. The single-alarm blaze brought a full response from the city's firefighting force. Besides Engine 3, engines 2, 4 and 5 and Ladder 1 went to the scene. Three Trinity ambulances also responded.

Firefighters from Groveland, Lawrence and Methuen provided coverage at the 16th Avenue, High Street and Water Street stations while Haverhill firefighters were deployed to the Roma. The Salem, New Hampshire, restaurant sent its ladder truck.

Many of the diners and employees went to the parking lot across the street from the restaurant. Daniel Stanford, who has been a cook at the Roma for six years, said it appeared the compressor on an ice machine in the basement caught fire.

The sprinklers activated quickly and doused the fire, he said, but it still produced thick, black smoke.

Sharyn Linzey of Haverhill, a regular customer at the Roma, said she had just finished eating a pizza when the smoke alarms went off. Employees ordered "everybody out!" she said.

"I didn't get to finish my soda," she said. "I hope they reopen tomorrow (Friday) because they have karaoke at 9."

Terry Connolly and his wife, Peggy, were sitting at the bar sipping wine, waiting for dinner.

"Her salad had just come out. Next thing I know, the alarms go off," Terry Connolly said. He never did get to enjoy his garden salad with chicken, he added.

The Connollys, who live in Haverhill, have been regular customers at the Roma for many years. They generally eat there once a week, they said.

"Everybody was good about getting out," Terry Connolly said.

Fire engines began leaving the scene by around 9 p.m.

— Paul Tennant


Local man suspected of 35 car breaks

A 23-year-old Haverhill man is charged with breaking into dozens of cars.

Keegan MaCrae of 151 Merrill Ave. is charged with 35 counts of breaking and entering into a motor vehicle; 20 counts of larceny under $1,200; three counts of attempt to commit a crime, to wit breaking and entering into a motor vehicle; five counts of receiving stolen property under $1,200; possession of a double-edged machete; and possession of gabapentin, according to police.

Police said they identified MaCrae as a suspect after watching video surveillance. They said they arrested him after some of the stolen items were discovered in his car.

According to police, the break-ins happened on Summer Street, Heritage Drive, Kent Street, Marie Street, Pleasant Street, Dewey Street, Helvetia Street, Pillsbury Avenue and Debra Drive.

— Jessica Valeriani 


Local man hits utility pole, faces DWI charge

A Haverhill man is accused of demolishing a utility pole on Monroe Street in Amesbury and cutting off power to many well into Sunday faces a drunken driving charge, according to local police.

Jonathan Aveni, 20, of 7 Dow Drive, Haverhill, was brought to Portsmouth Hospital with minor injuries after his Toyota SUV hit the pole around 11:30 p.m. on June 15 and then flipped onto its roof. He also faces an operating to endanger charge.

"He snapped it clean," Amesbury police Lt. Craig Bailey said.

By the time Amesbury police officers Neil Moody and Shawn O'Brien arrived at the scene, Aveni's car was ablaze. While Moody grabbed a fire extinguisher from his cruiser to smother the fire, O'Brien reached through the back window of Aveni's smashed car and pulled him out.

"He's definitely lucky," Bailey said.

The pole landed on the road, bringing down live power wires. Police closed the road while firefighters and a National Grid crew cleaned up the scene. For most of the day after the crash, the road, a major access route to Salisbury off Elm Street, was closed to traffic. Power was restored late in the afternoon, according to police.

"They worked on it all day," Bailey said.

— Dave Rogers


Police: Driver fell asleep, crashed into state police cruiser

Police said a driver fell asleep and hit a state police cruiser parked at a construction site, causing a major traffic backup on Interstate 495.

The traffic backup on Interstate 495 north is over, after vehicles were backed up for more than a mile Wednesday morning of last week.

A driver who fell asleep at the wheel crashed into a parked state police cruiser on I-495 north just north of the Ward Hill Connector, resulting in a trooper being taken to Lawrence General Hospital with minor injuries, police said.

The driver of the other vehicle was uninjured, police said.

The crash happened about 9:30 a.m and caused a traffic jam, backing up vehicles all the way back to Lawrence.

Police said the cruiser was parked next to the high-speed lane where the state is building a temporary bridge as part of a project to repair a highway bridge with structural problems in Haverhill.

After the crash, state police closed part of the highway to traffic, causing the backup.

The disabled car was in the lane where concrete barriers at the edge of the highway separate the road from the bridge construction site.

Just before 10 a.m., traffic was backed up from the site of the crash to I-495 north exits in Lawrence.

As of 11 a.m., the crash scene had been cleared and traffic was returning to normal, police said.

— Mike LaBella


State weighs 2-year HOV lane access

State transportation officials are considering whether to keep the carpool lane along Interstate 93 open to general traffic for the next two years to help alleviate traffic congestion from the Tobin Bridge project.

The Tobin Bridge, a primary access point to Boston for those driving on Route 1, is seeing heavier-than-usual traffic backups as crews begin a two-year renovation of the aging landmark. Commuters have been finding alternative routes in and out of the city, which has increased traffic on I-93 and other highways.

To help relieve the congestion, the state Department of Transportation opened the high-occupancy lane between Medford and the Zakim Bridge in Boston to all motorists, regardless of how many people are riding in a vehicle.

The switch is meant to be temporary, but MassDOT officials said last week they are considering keeping it open to traffic for the duration of the bridge project.

"This is strictly a temporary measure and there is no plan or intention on our part to leave it in place long-term," Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver told a meeting of MassDOT's board of directors last week. "It could be as long as two years, because the intention is to alleviate traffic predominately associated with that Tobin Bridge/Chelsea Curves project."

But the HOV lane closure is drawing criticism from environmental groups and transportation advocates who say the move is a mistake.

Chris Dempsey, director of the advocacy group Transportation for Massachusetts, said the state needs to analyze traffic data to figure out if the lane closure is adding to commuter woes.

Dempsey said the data will help determine whether or not the I-93 lane closure "has slowed down buses and other HOVs that once had this lane reserved for them."

Gulliver said the state will conduct vehicle counts along I-93 to gauge what the impact on traffic congestion has been, and analyze if it is working.

"As it stands we don't have the data to make a definitive decision," he told the board. "It's strictly anecdotal at this point."

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said the decision to close the lane was based on MassDOT data suggesting that the move would alleviate congestion during the project.

"The modeling we did showed that there was capacity in the lane, and that we could add traffic without slowing the lane down significantly," she said last week. "But modeling is not always right, so if the real data indicates that we are slowing down HOV users we need to know that."

The 2.6-mile HOV lane north of Boston is one of two sections of the highway designed to encourage carpooling during peak hours. The other is along a five-mile stretch of the I-93/Southeast Expressway between Furnace Brook Parkway in Quincy and Morrissey Boulevard in Boston.

Travel in the HOV lane north of the city is usually restricted between 6 and 10 a.m., on weekdays. During those times, vehicles must have at least two occupants in order to use it.

On the Southeast Expressway, so-called "zipper lanes" shift for the morning and afternoon commutes, allowing HOV travel northbound from 5 to 10 a.m., and southbound between 3 and 8 p.m. on weekdays.

The Tobin Bridge's two-year rehab will involve lane closures on the north and southbound sides of Route 1.

Two of the three northbound and southbound travel lanes will be open during the day, and one of the three in each direction will be open overnight.

The MBTA is also encouraging people to use the commuter rail and offering free fares for inbound trips on the Silver Line 3, between Chelsea and South Station, as well as additional Blue Line capacity. Officials are also encouraging commuters to use the Haverhill or Newburyport/Rockport rail.

MassDOT said crews are using accelerated techniques to speed up the maintenance project, which is expected to wrap up by 2021.

Monica Tibbits-Nutt, a member of the MassDOT board and the T’s Fiscal and Management Control Board, said the HOV lane closure defeats the purpose of the state's carpooling program.

"It seems to fly in the face of what we’re trying to do — ease congestion," she said at last Monday's meeting. "This is causing significant delays for our bus services."

— Christian M. Wade


Impeachment question splits politicians

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is making the case for impeaching Republican President Donald Trump, even as she seeks the Democratic nomination to challenge his re-election next year.

Warren, the first of a crowded field of Democratic presidential candidates to call for Trump’s impeachment, doubled down on her position recently following an ABC News interview in which Trump said he would listen to an offer for information about a political opponent from a foreign government.

"The #MuellerReport made it clear: A foreign government attacked our 2016 elections to support Trump, Trump welcomed that help, and Trump obstructed the investigation. Now, he said he'd do it all over again. It's time to impeach Donald Trump," Warren tweeted.

Still, Warren's stance on impeachment puts her somewhat at odds with Massachusetts' other senator, Democrat Ed Markey, and other lawmakers in the 11-member, all-Democratic congressional delegation. Many take a more cautious approach to the question of whether Congress should begin proceedings to remove Trump from office.

Reps. Stephen Lynch, Lori Trahan, Joe Kennedy, Katherine Clark and Richard Neal, while all critical of the president's leadership, stop short of calling for impeachment.

They've aligned themselves with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is focused on congressional oversight hearings as a way to hold Trump accountable for his actions in office.

"President Trump's failure to acknowledge the oversight role of Congress is a direct threat to our system of government, and risks harming the people I ran for office to represent," Trahan, a Westford Democrat, said in a prepared statement. "My colleagues in Congress are working to uncover the truth, and they must be allowed to continue their important work."

"Impeachment is always on the table, and if the president continues to hold himself above the law, Congress will be prepared to take that step," she added.

To be sure, Warren isn't isolated in her view on impeachment: Reps. Seth Moulton and Ayanna Pressley support it.

Moulton, who is also running for president, makes the case that Congress can no longer ignore the president's efforts to obstruct investigations into potential wrongdoings.

"It is Congress’s duty to respond to the charges addressed by the Mueller report by beginning impeachment proceedings immediately, so we can have this debate transparently before the American people," the Salem Democrat said recently. "That is our Constitutional responsibility, regardless of the politics."

Pressure has increased on Democrats following comments last month by special counsel Robert Mueller in which he noted multiple efforts of the White House to obstruct investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections.

Mueller said charging Trump with a crime was "not an option" because of federal rules, but he emphasized that his report did not exonerate the president.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat whose committee would lead impeachment proceedings, has initiated several probes into obstruction of justice by Trump and members of his administration following release of Mueller's report. Nadler has said "all options are on the table."

The U.S. Constitution allows Congress to remove presidents before their terms are finished if enough lawmakers vote to say that they committed "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Removal requires a simple majority vote in the House and a trial in the Senate, where two-thirds of the upper chamber would have to vote to convict.

So far, none of the state's congressional lawmakers have said they oppose impeachment.

Political observers say Warren and Moulton's prospective bids for the White House in 2020 are likely a major factor in their hard-line positions on impeaching Trump.

"They clearly have an eye towards winning the nomination," said Erin O'Brien, chairwoman of the political science department at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. "So it's really not surprising to see them out front on the issue when they're in a highly competitive Democratic primary where party activists are very much for impeachment."

O'Brien said the divide over how to deal with Trump exposes ideological differences between members of the state's congressional delegation.

"Impeachment is one of those litmus tests where you can see who's more progressive and who's on the centrist, business side of the party," she said.

Observers say the risk for Democrats is if they open proceedings but fail to remove him, Trump could claim they overreached and that Congress had exonerated him.

Phil Johnston, a longtime political consultant and former chairman of the state's Democratic Party, said Pelosi's sway is likely another factor in the divide over impeachment.

"Speaker Pelosi has great influence over her members," he said. "As long as she feels that going down that road is risky, many Democrats will hold off supporting impeachment."

— Christian M. Wade


Amazon center coming just across city line

A recent special Town Meeting in North Andover has paved the way for Amazon to build a distribution center at 1600 Osgood St., just over the Haverhill line.

The four articles that will enable Amazon to construct the distribution center at the former site of Western Electric include zoning changes and a sewer line extension all passed with virtually no opposition.

Attorney John Smolak, who represents Hillview Development Co., the company that arranged the Amazon proposal, said, "The town has finally found the right opportunity." He noted other proposed uses for 1600 Osgood St., including a marijuana operation, have not come to fruition.

Gary Frederick, senior vice president for Hillview, said Amazon expects to hire about 1,500 workers for the distribution center.

James Kachulis, of Massachusetts Avenue, said the center will contribute millions of dollars in real estate taxes – which the schools will need. He also noted the enterprise will not pollute the environment.

Timothy Tschirhart, chairman of the Finance Committee, estimated the facility will pay $3.3 million to $4.4 million in taxes each year.

Town Meeting approved an extension of the sewer line along Route 125 that is expected to cost $7 million. Hillview, which will own the property and lease it to Amazon, has promised to pay one-third of the cost. The town will contribute up to one-third, according to Regina Kean, chairwoman of the selectmen.

The rest is expected to come from a state grant.

"What if the state does not agree to pay?" Joseph McCarthy asked.

Smolak said there is a "high probability" the state will contribute to the sewer project because it will promote economic development along the Route 125 corridor. Smolak also said the developer will be paying $5.4 million for a building permit.

That's based on the size of the distribution center, which is expected to be 3.6 million square feet.

— Paul Tennant




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