Residents return home as smokestack demolition continues
Residents of the Hamel Mill Lofts waited nearly 48 hours to return home after a fast-moving storm recently sent a bolt of lightning through the neighboring smokestack.
The property owner started contacting the roughly 100 displaced residents at 8 p.m. Tuesday of last week, after the city's fire chief, structural engineer and inspector decided the building could be occupied again, according to a spokesperson for Mayor James Fiorentini.
After the historic brick smokestack bearing the words "L.H. Hamel Leather Co." was struck by lightning, brick fragments crashed to the ground.
Officials immediately evacuated the building next door, fearful that the towering structure would collapse on the roof of the loft apartments.
An emergency shelter was set up at the Citizens Center on Welcome Street for those displaced, but no one showed up, according to maintenance worker Robert Dunford.
Construction crews were seen the next day — brick by brick — starting the slow process of taking the smokestack down completely.
Fiorentini said the removal is not a city project, so the owners of the lofts are footing the bill.
The project is ongoing, the spokesperson said Tuesday night, but officials deemed it completed enough for residents to go home.
Fiorentini said it's sad to see the tower destroyed, especially because of its historic significance to the city. It is part of the Hamel Leather Co. Historic District.
"This was such a great symbol of our city," Fiorentini said, "(but) safety has to come first.
Dorothy Forrestall, 69, of Bradford explained that her maternal grandfather, Louis H. Hamel, who owned the tannery in the current spot of the lofts, began his business career selling popcorn balls in the sixth grade to help pay bills and provide food and clothing for his mother and siblings after their father left the family.
According to Forrestall, Hamel then found scraps of discarded leather and would sell the re-purposed scraps back to nearby companies. At that time, he rented the basement of what's now The Tap Brewing Company and started his tannery there before moving to the smokestack's current location. Forrestall's father, John J. Heffernan, was a tanner at the location for 40 years.
Forrestall said she is a little sad to see the smokestack go, because "another great tribute to my grandfather will be missing from Haverhill."
— Breanna Edelstein
Second local nurse charged with stealing morphine
A Haverhill nurse charged in federal court in Boston with tampering with patients’ morphine is the second woman accused of the same crime while working at Maplewood Care and Rehabilitation Center in Amesbury.
Brianna Duffy, 32, was indicted on one count of tampering with a consumer product and one count of acquiring a controlled substance by fraud or deception.
According to the indictment, on March 17 and 18 Duffy was working as registered nurse at Hunt Nursing and Rehab in Danvers. There, investigators say she tampered with morphine prescribed to an 89-year-old hospice patient.
Duffy replaced the extracted medication with another liquid, diluting it to 26% of the prescribed concentration, according to investigators.
"The hospice patient received the diluted morphine and suffered unnecessary pain," a statement from the office of Andrew Lelling, U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, reads.
The indictment also alleges that from December 2016 until July 2017, Duffy also stole morphine from a patient at Maplewood Care and Rehabilitation Center in Amesbury, where she was an employee.
Duffy is accused of diverting morphine from two bottles that were prescribed to a 68-year old Amesbury patient. The U.S. attorney says she diluted the remaining morphine with another liquid, leaving only 1.2% to 2.5% of the declared concentration of morphine.
Investigators say that on July 18, she tested positive for morphine in her system.
The charges provide for a sentence of no greater than 10 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000.
Earlier this year, another woman who worked at the Amesbury facility was accused of tampering with morphine.
Lauren Perrin, 47, of Haverhill, was charged March 12 and later barred by a federal judge from "seeking employment in the medical field," although her nursing license was still active with the state.
She initially pleaded not guilty through Andover attorney Mark McNally, but has been awaiting a new court date to change the plea since May 6.
A spokesperson for Lelling's office was not immediately available to say whether the two cases are at all linked.
Perrin is accused of diluting an 88-year-old hospice patient's morphine down to between 19 percent and 29 percent of the prescribed dosage, according to federal court documents. Perrin tampered with three bottles of morphine sulfate prescribed to the hospice patient, according to the federal allegations.
She worked at Maplewood from March 18, 2015, until Jan. 4, 2018, according to records.
The patient Perrin cared for "was diagnosed with dementia, frequent seizures, a leg fracture and shingles, a painful viral infection,” according to court papers.
The woman was prescribed 5 mg of morphine sulfate to be administered three times daily, according to the records.
From Nov. 5, 2017, until Nov. 26, 2017, Perrin is accused of “tampered with three vials” of the woman’s morphine doses.
— Breanna Edelstein
Lawmakers seek more oversight of driver license suspensions
Massachusetts lawmakers have called for stepped up oversight of the state Registry of Motor Vehicles, after revelations the agency failed to suspend the licenses of hundreds of drivers with out-of-state violations, including the truck driver involved in the fiery New Hampshire crash that killed seven motorcyclists — one of them an ex-Haverhill man.
Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack told reporters last week that a preliminary investigation found the registry didn't act on information provided by the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles about a drunken driving arrest of Volodymyr Zhukovskyy, a 23-year-old West Springfield man who has pleaded not guilty to seven counts of negligent homicide.
Connecticut officials twice alerted the Massachusetts RMV about a drunken driving arrest against Zhukovskyy, but the agency failed to suspend his commercial driver's license as required.
Gov. Charlie Baker called the agency's failure to act on Zhukovskyy's driving violations weeks after being notified "deeply troubling and completely unacceptable."
The fallout from the crash led to the resignation of RMV chief Erin Deveney and sparked a probe that uncovered hundreds of other drivers whose licenses should have been suspended.
Lawmakers say the preliminary findings point to systemic problems with the registry, and some are calling for legislative oversight hearings and tougher regulations for the agency.
"Unfortunately, it took a tragedy for this to come to light," said state Rep. Lenny Mirra, R-West Newbury. "We had no idea this was happening, but we need to get to the bottom of it."
Rep. Linda Campbell, D-Methuen, said she wants the Legislature to hold oversight hearings on the RMV once the dust settles from the Baker administration's investigation.
"There are no excuses for this oversight -- it never should have happened," Campbell said. "We need to hear from the secretary about how this is going to be addressed."
Rep. Frank Moran, D-Lawrence, said lawmakers "need more information to get to the root of the problem, so we can prevent something like this from happening again."
Lawmakers have stopped short of calling for Pollack to step down over the growing scandal, saying they want to see the final results of the investigation.
"We need to give the governor the opportunity to conduct his review," said Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover. "I want to see what findings and recommendations they come up with."
House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, told reporters last week that lawmakers are waiting for more details to determine if there's need for legislative review.
Pollack told reporters at a briefing on Monday of last week that it appears nobody at the RMV was assigned the task of reviewing state-to-state notices over the past year. She said the probe uncovered hundreds of drivers who should have had their Massachusetts licenses suspended for driving under the influence elsewhere but were allowed to stay on the road.
Based on the findings, the state has processed 655 driver license suspensions involving 546 individuals’ licenses, all involving alcohol-related offenses, she said.
Investigators are still trying to determine why the registry's Merit Rating Board, which follows the driving records of Massachusetts license-holders including out-of-state infractions, stored the records instead of processing them.
Investigators found more than 50 bins at the agency's Quincy headquarters containing thousands of notices from other states, Pollack said.
"We're still trying to determine why in March 2018 people stopped processing the notifications," she said. "These papers seemed to have been put aside without being looked at."
Pollack, who has brushed off suggestions that she should resign, said the state has taken a number of steps to fix the problems and will have an independent auditor review the findings.
Out-of-state notifications about driving offenses are now being processed within one business day, Pollack said.
RMV officials are taking the additional step of cross-referencing all of the state's 5.2 million license holders with a federal database of motor vehicle infractions.
"This failure is completely unacceptable to me, to the residents of the commonwealth who expect the RMV to do its job and track drivers' records," Baker said at last Monday's briefing. "The registry must live up to its responsibility to track all violations, no matter where they take place and take proper action on drivers who do not deserve to be on our roads."
— Christian M. Wade
State again begins year without budget
The state started a new fiscal year without a formal budget, for the second year in a row, as lawmakers continued to wrangle behind closed doors over a host of thorny issues.
The fiscal year began July 1, but lawmakers haven't reached agreement on controversial policy issues and other sticking points in the nearly $43 billion spending package.
Massachusetts is one of only two states — Ohio is the other — without an approved fiscal 2020 budget, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Instead of facing a potential shutdown, the state government is running on a $5 billion stop-gap budget signed by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. It is good for one month.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, and Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, told reporters last week that the six-member conference committee negotiating a final budget plan worked throughout the previous weekend, but is still wrestling with a host of contentious issues. They declined to discuss what was behind the delay.
"They're working in good faith to come up with solution," DeLeo said. "The issues are more involved than in previous years, and I think that's probably been some of the holdup."
Gov. Charlie Baker tried to put a positive spin on the delay, saying his experience with late budgets means it "usually produces a better product than simply getting there by June 30."
"I don't have a problem with the budget being week or two late," Baker told reporters last week. "I care a lot more about the quality of the work product."
House Minority Leader Brad Jones, a North Reading Republican, said budget delays are too common.
"It's disappointing that these budget delays seem to becoming to rule, not the exception," Jones said last week. "It happens more than it should."
Lawmakers hope to avoid the embarrassment of the last budget cycle, when Massachusetts was the final state in the nation to approve a spending plan for the 2019 fiscal year.
Like most states, Massachusetts is required to have a budget — even if temporary — to keep the government running, but there are no penalties for approving it late.
Exactly what's holding up the budget isn't clear, as the six-member committee of lawmakers that is negotiating a final spending package has closed its proceedings to the press and public.
One contentious issue is Baker's proposal to rein in the growth of prescription drug spending by MassHealth, which serves 1.9 million low- and moderate-income people.
Baker wants to allow the state to publicly post the "value" of a drug if it is found to be unreasonably priced and if there is no agreement on supplemental rebates with the manufacturer. His plan would require drug companies to participate in public hearings and report pricing information to state agencies. Those that don't cooperate could be sued by the attorney general's office.
Both the House and Senate added parts of Baker's MassHealth plan to their budgets, but the House left out some of the tougher provisions, including referrals to the attorney general.
Another controversial idea is Baker’s plan to tax opioid manufacturers to help pay for substance abuse treatment. He wants a 15% tax on the overall sales of opioid makers, such as Purdue Pharma. The tax, expected to raise $14 million a year, would help pay for more beds in treatment centers, recovery and prevention programs.
The Senate voted to include Baker's proposal in its version of the budget, but the House didn't. Supporters of the idea say it will punish an industry that many blame for a wave of addiction, while raising money for treatment and prevention.
There are also differences on school funding, nursing home aid and a tuition freeze at the University of Massachusetts, that lawmakers must reach consensus on.
Once lawmakers agree on a final spending plan, the House and Senate will hold up or down votes, with no amendments allowed. The bill then goes to Baker, who has 10 days to review it.
Democrats have large enough majorities in both chambers to override any of Baker's vetoes on policy or spending items, as they have in several previous budget cycles.
— Christian M. Wade
Canobie Lake Park opens Castaway Island
Laughter and screams carry through the amusement park as people enjoy the rollercoasters and other rides.
Though it’s a more relaxed and beachy vibe at Canobie Lake's new Castaway Island, the attraction is still thrilling.
The new addition is an expanded water park located toward the back of the property where the Canobie Express used to travel around an empty field.
Fenced off from the rest of the park, Castaway Island features three watersides, a tidal river, a kiddie splash pad, a tiki bar, a cafe and private cabanas to rent.
Park spokesman Josef Allen said his favorite feature is Castaway’s Tidal River.
"It’s great to just sit in there for hours," he said. "It starts off cold, but you can quickly acclimate.”
Tidal River’s waves are powered by a mechanism that uses gravity, he explained, pushing out waves about every 15 seconds. They circulate the water keeping people floating with or without tubes or life-jackets moving.
Park-goers are able to use single or double water tubes to enjoy the Tidal River or any of the slides solo or with a friend.
The new water additions build upon the park’s Rain Fortress — the original water jungle-gym. Constructed in 2005, it boasts more than 180 ways to get wet, Allen said.
Allen said 2005 was about the time people started requesting water rides. Now, 14 years later, Canobie Lake Park has delivered.
“People asked for water rides on the surveys,” Allen said.
New lockers were installed where people can secure their belongings during the day. Also, more security guards were hired to help keep watch on items park-goers may leave on chairs or in cabanas while they play, Allen said.
The cabanas are rented daily for groups of up to eight people, and they have their own concierge service.
Open seven-days a week until the end of August, Castaway Island is included with admission.
For more information and specials visit canobie.com.
— Madeline Hughes