Ex-Haverhill highway worker sentenced to jail

Haverhill resident Erik Frasca will spend less than a year in Rockingham County Jail after pleading guilty to a July burglary and assault in Salem, New Hampshire.

According to court documents, a negotiated deal required Frasca to plead guilty to burglary, domestic violence simple assault and witness tampering in exchange for a year in jail — minus 52 days already served — with a heavier sentence held over his head for five years after.

If not on good behavior after his release, Frasca will have to serve four years in state prison, according to terms of the plea deal.

Other terms include two years of probation, no contact with either of the victims in the case, and completion of a batterers intervention program.

Court documents explain that the witness tampering indictment came after Frasca, while held without bail, contacted family members to try to influence the victims’ testimony.

Salem police arrested Frasca, a former Haverhill Highway Department worker, after a 911 call July 19 for an intruder at 8 Blake St., Salem.

The homeowner was identified by police as Justin Metzner. His girlfriend Danielle Carnew, formerly in a relationship with Frasca, was also at the home during the intrusion, police said.

Carnew told police she and Frasca have been separated since 2017, after she was the victim of a domestic violence incident involving him.

Court records show that Carnew took out a restraining order against Frasca two days after he barged into her boyfriend’s home.

Police attributed Frasca’s quick arrest to Metzner’s in-home security camera, which showed the incident.

According to a report written by Officer Sean Marino, the video footage shows Frasca enter without permission and assault the couple as they drank coffee in the living room.

“Metzner then allowed me to view the footage, which clearly showed Frasca barge into the residence and punch him multiple times in the face,” reads the report from Marino.

Investigators said the victims were able to tell police who the intruder was, as well as what car he was driving when he fled the scene.

Frasca was stopped about a mile from Blake Street and arrested.

After police reviewed the footage again several days later, a charge of domestic violence simple assault was added against Frasca for assaulting Carnew during the incident, investigators said.

— Breanna Edelstein

 

Trial in murder of Haverhill girl delayed

A criminal trial for a Lawrence man accused of drugging, raping and murdering his 11-year-old grandniece from Haverhill was scheduled to start this month, but COVID-19, which forced court delays and closures, has pushed back trials for months.

As a result, Miguel Rivera is not expected to go on trial until sometime in early 2021, according to court records.

Rivera, 59, is held without bail on five charges: murder, rape of a child by force, aggravated rape of a child, indecent assault and battery on a child under age 14 and distribution of a class E substance to a minor.

Police say the crimes date back to Dec. 15, 2018, when Rivera's grandniece Precious Wallaces, 11, fell ill at Rivera's 233 Jackson St., Lawrence, apartment, slipped into a coma and later died in a Boston hospital.

A court hearing was scheduled recently to discuss a possible trial date. Attorneys asked for a continuance until Nov. 18 for a "trial assignment conference."

Per a Supreme Judicial Court order, criminal trials in superior court are not expected to begin until early 2021.

A sixth-grader at the Consentino School in Haverhill, Precious died at a Boston hospital after she awoke ill in the middle of the night at Rivera's apartment, according to police.

Rivera regularly babysat the girl and her younger brother, according to authorities. Her brother told an investigator that Rivera gave them red pills at bedtime and paid them to swallow the pills, according to court documents.

In addition to finding sperm cells, autopsy testing of the girl's body also revealed the presence of fentanyl, a manmade opioid, and amitriptyline, a medication that causes sleepiness, according to court documents.

DNA extracted from sperm cells found in Precious' body matched those of Rivera, according to authorities.

Police say Rivera admitted to flushing prescription pills down the toilet as Precious was in medical distress early on the morning of Dec.15. Detectives said some 13 minutes passed between Rivera disposing of the sleeping pills and when he dialed 911 at 3:26 a.m.

The penalty for first-degree murder is life in prison without the possibility of parole.

— Jill Harmacinski

 

Haverhill man indicted in ID fraud scheme

Six people, including a Haverhill man, were indicted by a federal grand jury for using stolen identities from Puerto Rican residents to buy vehicles and merchandise, apply for credit cards and open bank accounts.

Alvin Rivera, 37, of Haverhill and Wanda Sanchez, 36, of Lawrence were among those charged in a 42-count indictment handed down last week for conspiracy to commit wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and false representation of a Social Security number, according to a statement released by the Department of Justice.

Between October 2017 and January 2019, the defendants purchased late-model cars from Massachusetts dealerships and applied for 100% financing, according to documents detailing the investigation.

To support their loan applications, the six defendants provided stolen Puerto Rican identities, investigators said.

"The group allegedly used the stolen identities to illegally open bank accounts and credit cards and purchase vehicles, many of which were exported out of the United States," according to the DOJ statement.

Rivera is accused of supplying his co-defendants with stolen personal identification and detailed instructions on how to scheme and defraud, according to the DOJ. Sanchez is charged with using a stolen identity to purchase one car worth $50,962.

Nieda Lopez, 43, of Methuen was indicted on Sept. 29 in connection with the scheme after she used a stolen identity to obtain a credit card and accrued $21,931 in charges, officials said.

Arialka Moya, 31, of Lowell is also accused of using a stolen identity to buy a car worth $60,982, according to the statement.

In addition to Massachusetts and New Hampshire, individuals involved in the scheme or related schemes were charged in New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania, authorities said,

The investigation, ongoing since January 2019, was conducted by Homeland Security's Investigation's Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force.

— Jill Harmacinski

 

As boating grows, fire makes Haverhill prepare for future

It happened once and it's bound to happen again, Haverhill fire officials say.

They say they are looking into ways of better responding to fires on boats, as investigators probe a fire that destroyed a large boat docked along the Merrimack River on Sept. 6.

Firefighters had trouble battling the blaze because the boat was on the river and drifted away from the dock.

Haverhill's success in developing a boating community on the river in recent years has the Fire Department concerned it will eventually face other boat fires. It has the department wanting to be better prepared the next time.

City officials have made developing boating on the river a priority, and they have been successful. In the last several years, the city has gained many docks and boats on the Merrimack.

The fire that is causing officials to have concerns for the future happened the afternoon of Sept. 6. A 52-foot recreational boat caught fire while the occupants were doing maintenance work on the vessel, according to Fire Chief William Laliberty. The boat was docked on the river behind 1 Jamaica Lane, off East Broadway. There were no reports of injuries.

According to a police report, just after 3:30 p.m. Sept. 6 officers were dispatched to 639 East Broadway for a report of a boat on fire. The harbormaster also responded, police said.

Police said they were directed to a dock behind 1 Jamaica Lane, where there were two fires raging: a wooden dock was burning, and the boat was in flames and drifting away from the dock.

Police said firefighters who responded were able to extinguish the dock fire, but were unable to reach the boat because it had drifted to an area that was not accessible.

The harbormaster kept onlookers away from the burning boat, police said. Police said the boat eventually sank where it had run aground and that it was almost completely submerged.

The Massachusetts Environmental Police, the U.S. Coast Guard and the state Department of Environmental Protection were all notified of the fire. Laliberty said state environmental officials were notified because there was a gas leak from the boat, which its operator said was carrying about 120 gallons of fuel.

The state environmental police as well as the Haverhill police and fire departments are overseeing the investigation.

Leonard "Buddy" Thomas said he purchased the property at 1 Jamaica Lane several years ago and that his docks are used by his son, who has a small boat and a few wave-runners. Thomas said the docks are also used by a friend who owns the 52-foot-long 2014 "Outerlimits" brand powerboat that was destroyed in the fire.

"We were working on the boat and had just turned on the ignition when something happened that caused a fire," Thomas said. "We immediately got out of the boat."

He said there were several people on the dock and that one of them may have called 911.

Thomas, who owns Merrimack Valley Corp. and Climate Design Inc. in Methuen, said the owner of the powerboat often enters it in charitable events.

Laliberty said boat fires are rare, with the last one in Haverhill happening about 20 years ago, but that he wants his department to be better prepared for them in the future.

"It would be nice to have a fire boat with a pump on it,'' he said. "Right now we have a 1976, 16-foot Boston Whaler that doesn't have a fire pump. We're looking into obtaining a portable pump to have some form of firefighting capability, and I'm in discussions with the mayor in hopes of buying a new boat capable of multiple tasks."

Laliberty said he realizes Haverhill has priorities other than a new boat, and that he's grateful the city is replacing two fire engines and buying a rescue truck — purchases that are planned in the Fire Department budget.

"I applaud the mayor for finding the funds to purchase this apparatus," he said.

Laliberty said firefighters had a difficult time reaching the area the powerboat had drifted while burning.

"There was a was a long driveway down an unpaved path and it took a while for us to get down there," he said. "Our ladder can stretch 100 feet and we can shoot water even farther, but in this area it would have been impossible. The boat drifted away in a remote, swampy area we could not get to it by land. As we go along East Broadway, there are not many direct roads."

Laliberty said the standard method of fighting a boat fire is to pour water onto it, and even if firefighters did so, the outcome would likely have been the same — a fast-moving, intense fire.

"The fire allowed it to burn off the gas and prevented fuel from escaping into the water," he said. "There's a lot to putting out a boat fire as you have to consider the environmental impact."

Harbormaster Michael Vets said the powerboat was made of lightweight, carbon fiber that burns hot and furiously and can be difficult to extinguish.

"I tried to get close to pull it away from his dock, which was also on fire, but it was burning too hot and it turned into one, big charcoal blob," said Vets, who indicated he was less than a quarter-mile from the burning boat when he saw smoke. "I flew down there and it was fully engulfed in flames."

Vets said that even if he had a water pump on his boat, he would not have been able to save the powerboat.

"As I got closer it was making popping sounds,'' he said, "so I put my boat in reverse so I would not get blown up.''

— Mike LaBella

 

Fire causes $300K damage to garage, homes, vehicles

Fire officials say a blaze in two-car garage in Groveland resulted in $300,000 in damage, including to a house on the property, to a camper and several motor vehicles, and to a neighbor's home.

No injuries were reported.

At 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday of last week, firefighters responded to an alarm for a fire at 10 Clark Road, Fire Chief Robert Valentine said. There they found a two-car garage engulfed in flames that were shooting through the roof, he said.

The fire was quickly knocked down and brought under control within 30 minutes, Valentine said. He said firefighters focused first on protecting the house, which was saved.

Groveland Police were first on the scene and made sure all of the home's residents got out safely before firefighters arrived.

Valentine said extreme heat from the fire damaged the house and a house next door at 12 Clark Road.

Fire officials said a camper and several motor vehicles on the property were also extensively damaged and appeared to be destroyed. The vehicles included an older model Porsche that the homeowner’s grandson was refurbishing inside the garage.

Firefighters from Georgetown, West Newbury and Haverhill assisted at the fire scene. Trinity Ambulance stood by in case any medical issues arose. Boxford and Newburyport firefighters provided Groveland fire station coverage.

The fire is being investigated by the Groveland police and fire officials and State Police assigned to the office of the State Fire Marshal.

"This was an incredible team effort, and I would like to thank Groveland firefighters as well as each of the other departments who provided mutual aid," Valentine said. "Because of their quick and effective response, the main house on the property was saved and no one was injured."

— Mike LaBella

 

Tests find 137 inmates with COVID-19 at Middleton Jail

Just over 15% of the people in custody at the Middleton Jail were found to be positive for COVID-19, testing conducted on all inmates and staff recently revealed.

Of the facility's 889 inmates, 137 tested positive, according to figures released last week by the Essex County Sheriff. Among staff and vendors, 31 have tested positive in this latest outbreak.

Officials stressed that nearly three-quarters of the inmates, 72%, were not showing symptoms as of the time of testing. Those with symptoms, officials said, were being treated by the jail's medical provider, Wellspring. No one has been hospitalized.

“These are not surprising numbers," Sheriff Kevin Coppinger said in a press release. "We knew that testing everyone in our facilities would result in a higher count."

Coppinger said knowing the actual number of cases and being able to identify those without symptoms who could unknowingly spread the virus is "critical" to controlling the outbreak.

Late last month, the jail saw a sudden spike in cases. That led to the suspension of visitation at the Middleton Jail on Sept. 26 and a decision to stop bringing defendants awaiting trial to court appearances in person.

The jail's spokeswoman also said last week that everyone in the facility was being given N95 or KN95 masks.

Officials said they are also isolating inmates who test positive and conducting continuous cleanings.

— Julie Manganis

 

Sandbags being placed to fight storm erosion

Newburyport was set to install hundreds of sand-filled "Super Sacks" along Reservation Terrace last week in the latest effort to protect the neighborhood from storm surge.

Five hundred of the heavy-duty bags were sitting in the Plum Island Beach parking lot where they were being filled with sand by the city's contractor. Mayor Donna Holaday said between 300 and 350 of them will be installed along the shoreline using two excavators.

"We're hoping to do two rows along Reservation Terrace and span out as close to 77th Street as we can get," Holaday said, noting the neighborhood's increasing vulnerability in recent years as storms continue to wipe away the nearby dune system.

"We're hoping that we'll see sand building up behind them over the course of the winter, and that these will get us through the season," Holaday said.

She said the city was waiting for the tide cycle to change, providing a better window for putting the bags in place, which could take five days or longer.

In 2019, neighbors raised about $21,000 to buy 1,200 cubic yards of dredged sand to build a sacrificial berm between their houses and the ocean. But within a few weeks, autumn storms had washed most of the sand away, leaving the neighborhood unprotected again.

Holaday said she believes the sacks — which weigh about 700 pounds each when filled with sand — will serve as a much more effective form of protection than the city's previous dune replenishment efforts have.

But the Super Sacks are only meant to serve as a short-term solution. Down the line, Holaday and other local officials are hoping to implement a long-awaited onshore placement of Merrimack River sand along Reservation Terrace, which will serve as a long-term fix.

"We're hoping that this will be a successful project for protecting the Reservation Terrace neighborhood and the sewer system," Holaday said.

— Jack Shea

 

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