Early voters confused about inability to re-vote

As voters headed to the polls in Haverhill on Tuesday morning of last week, controversy erupted on social media when a man posted a message saying that if early voters initially chose a candidate who dropped out of the race, they could re-vote for one still in the running.

Shawn Regan, spokesman for Mayor James Fiorentini, said he received a phone call from a woman telling him about the Facebook post. She said she wanted to respond, but first wanted to be certain about the voting laws in Massachusetts.

"I told the woman that if a person already cast their ballot for someone who has dropped out of the race, they cannot cast a second ballot," said Regan, noting he had checked with the City Clerk's office to make certain.

Debra O'Malley, spokeswoman for Secretary of State William Galvin, confirmed that is the law in Massachusetts.

"If our office had been notified of the posting, we would have notified Facebook about voter misinformation," she said.

Early voters cannot recast their ballot, but those who cast absentee ballots can as long as their vote has not been counted. They must show up early on election day, ask for their ballot back and exchange it, again, if it hasn't been counted, O'Malley said.

She added, however, "Most absentee ballots have already been counted, as poll workers usually count them early on during lulls in voting."

According to the Secretary of State website, except for ballots which are rejected as defective, all absentee ballots are cast and counted by the poll workers on election day and included in the final tallies.

Regan noted that the city's 311 constituent services line was busy last week on election day with calls from voters asking questions such as where their polling is, if they are still registered to vote and if they need a driver's license to vote.

"There are certain situations where you may need to show your license, such as if you are not on the voter rolls," he said.

— Mike LaBella


Haverhill sex offender charged with trying to meet teen girl

A Level 2 sex offender from Haverhill was arrested recently at the Northshore Mall in Peabody, where he'd gone to meet someone he thought was a 14-year-old girl, police said.

Marc Reeves, 48, of 165 Webster St., Haverhill, is facing charges that include child enticement and 10 counts of disseminating obscene material to a minor. He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment at Newburyport District Court.

Bail was set at $20,000 and he was ordered to have no contact with children under 16.

In his report, Ipswich police Detective Peter Dziadose said he received information through the Massachusetts Internet Crimes Against Children Center about an undercover investigator who was posing as a 14-year-old girl on a site called "Chat Avenue" on Feb. 9. The investigator received a message from someone asking, "Hi, wanna chat with a horny older guy?"

Over the next nine days, police were able to use information that the user was providing, including photos of his face on social media applications Snapchat and Kik, to identify him as Reeves, investigators said.

Police said Reeves has a conviction for possession of child pornography and was registered as a Level 2 offender, a category of sex offenders deemed by a hearing officer to pose a moderate risk of re-offending.

Police also said Reeves had a Snapchat account with a username that referred to the Hell's Angels. In unsolicited photos he allegedly sent to the "girl," he was wearing sweatshirts referring to local chapters. He also allegedly sent a photo of his motorcycle, which had a Hell's Angels sticker as well as white supremacist images and slogans, including the "SS" lightning bolts.

The messages and images allegedly sent by Reeves were explicit and discussed various sexual acts he intended to perform when they met, according to a police report. They also instructed "her" to delete messages.

After initially asking that they meet late at night, Reeves made a plan to meet at the Northshore Mall Feb. 29, where he would pick her up in his Mercedes and take her to his Haverhill home for sex, police said.

Police said he sent updates as he drove and gave instructions "to be outside where I can see you."

Police arrested Reeves in the mall parking lot and said they seized his phone, as well as two "nip" bottles of Jagermeister liquor.

Taking part in the investigation, besides Dziadose and the Ipswich police, were detectives from the Peabody, Newbury and Boxford police departments.

A pre-trial hearing is scheduled for March 27.

— Julie Manganis and Dave Rogers


War-renactor accused of showing up drunk at court for sobriety check

A Revolutionary War re-enactor, who was arrested for operating under the influence this week after he arrived for a presentation at a Boxford elementary school, failed his first court-ordered alcohol screening just hours after a judge released him from custody.

Denis Cormier, 60, of Dracut appeared in Haverhill District Court on Wednesday of last week in plain clothes, not his Revolutionary War garb, after registering .1% on his court-ordered alcohol test. The legal limit is .08%.

Judge Allen Swan ordered Cormier to submit to daily screenings after he was arrested just after 9 a.m. on Tuesday of last week in the parking lot of Spofford Elementary School in Boxford.

After failing last Wednesday's alcohol test, Cormier again appeared before Swan, and was taken into custody and sent to a court-ordered 28-day detox program at the request of Assistant District Attorney John DePaulo.

Court officials said it appeared Cormier took an Uber to Haverhill District Court for his screening, which was conducted midday last Wednesday.

According to a police report by Boxford Detective Brian Neeley, last Tuesday Cormier showed up 30 minutes late for his presentation on war history for sixth-graders and was asked to leave by the school Principal Kathryn Castonguay

Neeley and police Chief James Riter responded to the school and interviewed Cormier, who said he only had coffee to drink, according to the report.

Cormier consented to a breathalyzer test, which registered a reading of .205%, police said.

Riter said that because Cormier told school faculty members he was “stuck in traffic” and that other people saw him driving, police had probable cause to make an arrest and charge him with operating under the influence of alcohol.

Cormier was arraigned in Haverhill District Court later that afternoon, still wearing part of his re-enactment costume. He was ordered to wear a monitoring device as a condition of his release, and, until one was available, Swan ordered him to submit to daily testing.

His next court date is in early April.

— Allison Corneau and Mike LaBella


DA: Haverhill love-triangle shooting 'gang-related'

The two men at the center of a shooting police say was both gang-related and retaliatory in nature were declared a danger to the community and ordered held without bail by a Haverhill District Court judge last week.

David Trongeau and Casey Drouin appeared before Judge Allen Swan one week after being charged with assault to murder connected to a Dec. 8 shooting on Center Street.

During last Tuesday's hearing, Swan heard additional details of the case from Assistant District Attorney John DePaulo before denying Trongeau's attorney's request to release him into the custody of his mother. He has been behind bars since his arrest Feb. 24.

Drouin went into the hearing agreeing to be held without bail, according to his defense attorney, Timothy Connors.

According to police, Trongeau, 19, of Manchester, New Hampshire, was the gunman who fired a single shot into the home of Zachary Monaco.

Drouin, 19, of Haverhill, was also in the car when the shots were fired, police said.

In court Tuesday, DePaulo called the shooting “gang-related” and said it was done in retaliation for an incident that took place a week earlier, when Monaco is said to have threatened to kill Drouin and stab his 17-year-old girlfriend in the parking lot of the Bradford Wendy's restaurant.

Monaco, who was arrested and charged with making threats and assault with a dangerous weapon, previously dated the girl, according to investigators.

The confrontation occurred when Monaco saw her with her new boyfriend, Drouin, according to the girl, whose testimony was disputed in court last Tuesday by Joseph Gannon, Trongeau's attorney.

Gannon previously said the account given by the teen witness — who told police she was at first unaware of the Dec. 8 shooting but later admitted to being in the car with Monaco and Drouin — was “hearsay based on hearsay.”

No charges have been brought against her, Haverhill police said this week.

DePaulo advocated for the safety of the Haverhill community when asking the judge to keep Trongeau locked up.

“There's been a major problem in Haverhill where people just want to get up, go to work and go on with their lives and you've got this nonsense going on,” DePaulo said. “Parties are all having a beef with one another, they're angry and this is how they handle it. There's nothing other than incarceration that would ensure the safety of the people on the other end of this.”

According a Haverhill police report filed in connection to the shooting, the 17-year-old witness referred to Trongeau as a “gang member with a Nike tattoo below his eye.” The police report also stated officials used records of “validated Gangster Disciple” gang members' tattoos as part of the investigation to connect Trongeau to the crime.

According to Trongeau's defense attorney, his client considers his multiple facial tattoos as a “youthful indiscretion he regrets” and is looking to get them removed.

The next court appearance for Trongeau and Drouin is scheduled for April.

— Allison Corneau


Police: Man stabs girlfriend's father with steak knife

A 27-year-old Lawrence man was charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon after stabbing his girlfriend's father who had banned him from setting foot in her new apartment in Haverhill, police said.

Norman Joncas III has been ordered to remain on constant GPS monitoring after police say he assaulted North Andover's James Dion, 53, during a dispute just after 9 a.m. Monday of last week at a home on Downing Avenue.

Police said officers responded to the home to find Dion outside with a wound to his leg wrapped in a self-made tourniquet. According to a police report, officers followed a trail of a “large amount of blood” inside the apartment, where they encountered a “chaotic” scene and several people shouting.

The melee began, police said, when Joncas intended to move his belongings into his girlfriend Cassandra Dion's new apartment — despite objections from her father, James Dion.

According to the report, Joncas received a phone call from his girlfriend's father demanding that he get his things out of the apartment or he'd be thrown out. Joncas told police he believed his girlfriend's parents have “always hated him.”

The incident began, Joncas told police, when he arrived at the apartment with his father, Norman Joncas Jr. His girlfriend was not present and the apartment was empty, the police report stated. James Dion “came barging in” with his daughter's landlord and another man and allegedly “sucker punched” Norman Joncas Jr., the younger Joncas told police.

According to the report, the younger Joncas told police he grabbed a steak knife from the kitchen to “defend his father and himself.” He described making a “blind sweeping motion with the knife” that resulted in a stab wound to James Dion's leg, the report stated.

During the course of the investigation by lead Detective Rick Welch, police found that Norman Joncas III had what was described as a “strained” relationship with his girlfriend's family and that her father was “adamant” he not be allowed in her new apartment.

According to the report, tensions were also rising between James Dion and the elder Joncas, who attempted to broker a peace agreement between the two. During a phone call that morning, “Joncas Jr. asked Dion if he could be civil, to which he said Dion replied, 'Yeah, I am going to civilly punch you in the face,'” the report stated.

Concerned Dion would throw out all of the younger Joncas' belongings, the father and son headed to the apartment, where the melee began, according to the report.

Arrested and charged in connection to the stabbing, the younger Joncas III was arraigned by Judge Allen Swan in Haverhill District Court on Wednesday of last week. He was released on a GPS monitoring device that runs constantly and is due in court for his next hearing late this month.

— Allison Corneau


Gas disaster lawyers contest reduced fees

Attorneys involved in the $143 million Merrimack Valley gas disaster settlement want another opportunity to address the presiding judge, in part concerning their proposed payment of $28 million in legal fees and expenses.

Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera, a vocal opponent of that payment, has asked Judge James Lang to cut the $28 million by at least 75%.

By his estimate, Rivera said attorneys involved in the settlement are making $44,000 daily for their work since the gas disaster on Sept. 13, 2018.

"No one wants to deny them the money they are owed. But there is no way this should be a windfall for these attorneys," Rivera said last week.

He noted gas disaster victims went without heat, lived in temporarily trailers, and celebrated Thanksgiving Day in a public park — among other losses.

The four attorneys involved in the class action lawsuit, including lead attorney John Roddy of Bailey and Glasser LLP in Boston, filed a motion last Tuesday in Salem Superior Court asking if they could file a "7-page supplemental memorandum."

In the supplemental memorandum, the attorneys say they will "concisely address" issues brought up at the final settlement hearing, which happened the week before, including two very recent cases directly related to Rivera's request for a reduction to the legal fees.

It was unclear last week if the judge would accept the memorandum.

Rivera said if they are allowed to file, his attorneys will be filing a response.

"If they can do it, I will do it," Rivera said.

Neither Roddy nor a spokesperson for the class-action attorneys could be reached for comment for this story.

Two weeks ago, after some 4-1/2 hours of testimony, the jusdge took the matter under advisement and is expected to formally rule on the settlement, potentially paving the way for thousands of dollars of lump sum and itemized payments for gas disaster victims in Andover, North Andover and Lawrence.

The average payment to a family of four is estimated to be $8,750, Lang said.

A total of 11,077 claims have been filed to date from residents and businesses in the three affected communities. That figure includes 10,432 residential claims and 645 claims from area businesses that suffered losses or went out of business altogether.

The claims, which encompass 35,000 people, ran the gamut — spoiled food, payments for lodging, property damage, and other losses and  costs — according to final hearing testimony.

During the Sept. 13, 2018, gas disaster, caused by overpressurization of gas lines, Leonel Rondon, 18, of Lawrence was killed, three firefighters and 19 civilians were hurt, and damages estimated at $1 billion happened.

About 50,000 people were forced to evacuate and the severity of the damage depended on the age of appliances people had. Five homes were destroyed and 131 properties damaged, according to findings by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The deadline to file claims in the class action suit was stretched from Jan. 9 to Jan. 31 of this year. Extending that deadline resulted in about 5,000 additional claims being filed, said class action attorney Leo Boyle during the hearing.

The final hearing on the $143 million settlement came a day after Columbia Gas pleaded guilty to federal charges and agreed to pay a $53 million fine.

Competing utility Eversource Energy announced its $1.1 billion plan to buy the Massachusetts portion of the company that same day.

Rivera spoke as a resident, father and husband during the final hearing. A part of the "affected class," Rivera, his wife and their two young children had to evacuate their South Lawrence home during the disaster.

Immediately following the disaster, Rivera said he saw a “vulture culture” involving attorneys and felt it was important to warn residents and businesses about predatory practices.

"People hadn't even figured out what they lost and they were trying to get them to file. You can't reward that kind of behavior," Rivera said last week.

Columbia Gas officials say they have spent a billion dollars already on gas disaster recovery in the communities.

Their attorneys are in favor of the settlement and have encouraged the judge to approve it, according to previous statements.

— Jill Harmacinski


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