City man guilty of machete attack faces drug trafficking charges

A Haverhill man who was charged in 2013 with using a machete to stab two men is facing new charges of drug trafficking.

Police charged Joan Manuel Mendez-Sanchez, 26, of 47 Brook St. with trafficking in heroin, possession of a Class A drug (heroin) with intent to distribute, and possession of a Class B drug (crack cocaine) with intent to distribute.

Mendez-Sanchez was arraigned on the charges Sept. 4 in Haverhill District Court and was released after posting $1,000 cash bail.

He is scheduled to appear Nov. 24 for a pretrial hearing, court officials said.

On Sept. 3 at 1:20 a.m., state troopers on patrol in Haverhill said they noticed a Honda Accord with four people inside parked outside Haverhill Bank on Merrimack Street. The Honda pulled onto Merrimack Street, according to a police report, and the troopers followed.

After checking the car's license plate, the troopers learned the car's owner had two outstanding arrest warrants against him.

The troopers said they stopped the car on High Street and arrested the driver, the car's owner, on the outstanding warrants. Police said that when Mendez-Sanchez stepped out of the car they noticed a plastic bag containing what appeared to be drugs hanging from the waistband of his sweatpants.

Police also found bags of heroin and crack cocaine hidden in Mendez-Sanchez's underwear, the report said.

Mendez-Sanchez, who police said is on probation until March 2022, was arrested and taken to the State Police Newbury Barracks for booking.

The two men in the back seat of the car were searched and released, police said.

In February of 2013, police charged Mendez-Sanchez, who was then a 19-year-old Haverhill High senior, with stabbing two men with a machete after a dance at 528 Hadley West Drive erupted into a fight between two gangs. According to police, witnesses said Mendez-Sanchez was a member of the Trinitarios gang — a well known Dominican gang that uses machetes as their primary weapon, police said.

When questioned by police, Mendez-Sanchez said he was member of that gang in the Dominican Republic, but not here.

According to the Essex District Attorney's Office, Mendez-Sanchez pleaded guilty on Nov. 5, 2013, to assault and battery with a dangerous weapon causing serious bodily harm, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, and carrying a dangerous weapon. He was sentenced to three years plus one day in state prison. He was given 268 days of credit.

— Mike LaBella

 

City man accused of repeated sex assaults on girl freed

A man who faces 35 charges of sexual assault against a girl has been released on GPS monitoring after a superior court judge overruled a decision made in Haverhill District Court that he be held.

William Thomas Evans is free from jail while his case is pending, court officials said. Salem Superior Court Judge Salim Tabit allowed the bail request made by defense attorney Timothy Connors.

According to the judge's ruling, Evans is still considered dangerous, but conditions exist to assure the safety of the public.

While he is out of jail, Evans will be tracked using a GPS monitor and must abide by a curfew requiring him to be home from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m.c daily, according to court officials. Other conditions of his release include that he must maintain or seek employment, not possess any weapons or commit any new crimes, and must abide by the restrictions set forth in restraining and state Department of Children and Families orders related to the case.

Evans is also not allowed any unsupervised contact with children under 18 except his own children. Those visits, according to court officials, will be monitored by a DCF supervisor.

Evans, 39, who lives in Bradford, was arrested Sept. 11 following a six-month investigation involving Haverhill police and DCF, court records indicate. He faces a total of 35 charges in the case involving sexual abuse of a female relative over several years — 12 counts of rape of a child by force, five counts of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14, 17 counts of aggravated rape of a child and one count of distribution of obscene matter, court records show.

The alleged victim told investigators the abuse began when she was 7 years old, according to a police report.

Essex County District Attorney's office spokeswoman Carrie Kimball said the punishment for the crimes Evans is accused of could be as severe as life behind bars.

"Child rape is punishable by any term of years from probation to life in prison," Kimball said. "The judge decides upon conviction."

Haverhill police became aware of the alleged abuse in March, when the victim told family members about an incident of sexual abuse, the police report said. When the victim disclosed what happened to her, those she told did not believe her, the report said. The victim then decided to run away, according to the report.

Connors, the defense attorney, said in court that the teen has been "lying for much of her life" and has been evaluated for anger issues since age 10. Connors also said there have been 47 "51A reports," or accusations of child abuse or neglect, filed with DCF against Evans that were unsupported.

— Allison Corneau

 

Governor appoints new NECC trustees leader

Jennifer Borislow, founding principal of Borislow Insurance of Methuen, was recently named chairwoman of the Northern Essex Community College Board of Trustees by Gov. Charlie Baker.

A member of the trustees since 2017, Borislow replaces Jeff Linehan, who was appointed to the board in 2010 and has served as chair since 2015.

“As a trustee, Jennifer has proven to be thoughtful and a creative thinker," said NECC President Lane Glenn. "Her connections to our community and her business acumen will serve us well.”

Borislow, a lifelong resident of Methuen, is a nationally recognized expert, author and speaker on employee benefits, insurance and related business strategies.

For more than 38 years she has helped business owners, executives and professionals develop a clear, strategic vision for their organizations that leverages employee benefits, risk management and other issues. Her specialty is working with educational organizations.

As chairwoman, Borislow said her priorities will include strategic planning for the college for 2021-24; a review of the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) accreditation process; board self-assessment; and meeting with each trustee and cabinet member to learn more about their role and commitment to the college.

“My focus will be on bringing strong listening and communication skills,” she said.

Although her mother attended Northern Essex, Borislow admitted that before joining the board she was a “casual observer/supporter of the community college experience.”

“Not having attended a community college myself, I was unaware of the numerous advantages of the amazing education it offers, both in learning and value," she said. "Over the past three years, I have gained so much appreciation and knowledge for every aspect of Northern Essex life — from the tremendous leadership of President Lane Glenn and his very talented cabinet to the faculty, staff and students. NECC is a very special place.”

Borislow has been involved in a number of industry organizations and been active on several local boards including the Merrimack Valley YMCA Board of Trustees and Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire.

She has co-authored several books including “Inspire to Act” and “Inspire to Act for Kids" — collections of stories designed to help people embrace the power of kindness.

A graduate of Dickinson College, Borislow earned bachelor of science degrees in economics and political science in 1982. She lives in Methuen with her husband Michael. They have two daughters, Jessica and Lauren, and a son-in-law, Joshua Dollinger.

— Bill Kirk

 

Election officials brace for 'historic' vote

There were delays mailing ballots, and thousands of ballots arrived too late to be counted.

Despite that, elections officials called Massachusetts' first foray into large-scale voting by mail during the Sept. 1 primary a success, allowing voters to avoid the polls amid concerns about the coronavirus while fueling a record turnout.

Now local city and town clerks are bracing for mail voting on a much grander scale for the Nov. 3 election, which some predict will bring the highest voter turnout in state history.

More than 36% of Massachusetts' 4.6 million registered voters had requested mail ballots for the election as of last week, according to Secretary of State Bill Galvin's office. About 62,000 people have already voted by mail, Galvin's office said.

"There's no doubt there will be a record turnout, so it's more important than ever that everyone's vote is counted," said Alex Psilakis, policy and communications manager for MassVOTE, a non-partisan group that seeks to increase voter participation. "We had far too many ballots rejected in the primary."

In the state primary, more than 800,000 of the record 1.7 million ballots cast were mailed or dropped off at town and city halls ahead of election day. Some communities saw more than half of all ballots cast by mail, as voters took advantage of expanded absentee balloting.

But nearly 18,000 mailed ballots were rejected statewide. A majority of those — or 8,419 ballots — were returned too late to city and town halls to be counted. Others were rejected due to voter errors.

Several communities north of Boston — including Haverhill, Beverly, Lawrence, Newburyport, Danvers and Andover — each reported 100 or more rejected ballots.

Galvin has lauded the state’s first foray into widespread mail-in voting as a "great success," noting that less than 2% of the ballots cast in the primary were rejected.

But the portion of ballots rejected i the primary in some communities, including Boston and Lowell, came close to 5%, meaning 1 in 20 mailed ballots in those places was tossed.

"That's too many rejections," Psilakis said. "These are people that wanted to take part in the process and, for whatever reason, were not able to."

Voting advocacy groups are calling on election officials to learn from issues that arose in the primary, such as delays in mailing ballots and a lack of drop boxes, with a focus on communities that saw a large number of rejected ballots.

Pam Wilmot, vice president of state operations at Common Cause and the group's Massachusetts director, said adding more boxes where voters can deposit ballots is crucial to preventing delays. Some big cities had only one box during the primary, which she called "woefully inadequate."

"We all know the Postal Service isn't performing at the level it should be, for lots of reasons," Wilmot said. "Drop boxes are a safe and secure solution to that."

Unlike the primary, when ballots had to be received by 8 p.m. on election day to be counted, voters have more time to mail their ballots ahead of the general election.

Ballots postmarked by Nov. 3 can be received by election officials as late as Nov. 6 and still be counted. The last day to request a mail-in ballot is Oct. 28, but election officials recommend doing so no later than Oct. 20.

"We are very anxious that voters not only receive their ballots early, but that they also return them early," Galvin said. "If they have fully decided on whom they want to vote for and on the ballot questions, there is no reason to delay."

So far, the process is off to a rocky start. Last week, hundreds of voters in several communities, including Haverhill, received mail-in ballots for the November election telling them incorrectly that their ballots were due back to elections official by Sept. 1, the date of the primary. Galvin’s office said corrected ballots were being sent to those voters.

Local election clerks say they are prepared for an onslaught of mailed ballots. Many are enlisting large groups of behind-the-scenes volunteers to help process them.

A major part of those preparations will be checking mailed ballots for errors prior to the election and working with voters to correct any mistakes.

Clerks also urge voters to carefully read the instructions they receive with ballots, be aware of deadlines and contact them with any questions.

"We want to avoid any situations where someone who wanted to vote couldn't because they didn't follow the proper procedures," Andover Town Clerk Austin Simko said. "We want everyone to have an opportunity to participate in the election."

— Christian M. Wade

 

Eversource takes over 2 years after gas disaster

Exactly 25 months ago last Tuesday, local leaders met at an industrial building off Marston Street in Lawrence as they dealt with the aftermath of the fires and explosions ignited by the natural gas disaster in the Merrimack Valley.

And on Tuesday of last week, those same leaders were standing with Eversource executives as they announced what that company's new ownership will mean for 300,000 natural gas customers in Andover, Lawrence and North Andover.

The "new beginning" and "new positive relationship" with the utility two years after the disaster was noted by Andover Town Manager Andrew Flanagan.

"We are excited you are here and we are excited to rebuild that relationship" with a natural gas utility provider, Flanagan said.

North Andover Town Manager Melissa Murphy-Rodrigues also attended the press conference at the Eversource service center at 55 Marston St. Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera did not attend as he is on vacation, officials said.

Increased safety measures, along with additional local jobs, will come with Eversource's $1.1 billion purchase of the previous utility, Columbia Gas, said Bill Akley, Eversource's president of gas operations.

A billion dollars in damage occurred during the Sept. 13, 2018, gas disaster.

Columbia Gas accepted full responsibility and was ordered by a federal judge, in a plea deal, to pay a $53 million fine and sell the company to Eversource.

In his remarks Tuesday, Akley lauded the company's safety record and said additional gas monitors will be installed in the Merrimack Valley under Eversource ownership.

There will be more "checks and balances," he said.

It was unclear how many jobs, but Akley said the purchase will result in additional hiring in the area.

Murphy-Rodrigues also spoke during the brief event, saying she is among leaders "looking forward to positive change" with Eversource.

Triggered by overpressurization of gas lines, the Merrimack Valley gas disaster killed a Lawrence teen, injured dozens of people, and damaged more than 130 homes in Andover, North Andover and South Lawrence.

Thousands of residents and businesses in the three communities were left without natural gas for heat and hot water, for several months in some cases.

Under the federal plea deal, Columbia Gas accepted responsibility for the disaster, avoided criminal prosecution and agreed to pay the record fine while NiSource, its parent, put the company up for sale.

Eversource officials have said they bring a strong track record of corporate responsibility and commitment to safety to Columbia Gas customers and communities.

With the purchase of Columbia Gas, Eversource now serves more than 600,000 natural gas customers in 110 communities across Massachusetts.

“We have a strong track record of investing in infrastructure to deliver benefits to our customers and significantly improve the reliability and safety of our systems," Akley said. "Our commitment to operational excellence and superior customer service will create value for customers, employees, shareholders, and the communities we serve."

Customers can still visit ColumbiaGasMa.com to pay their bill or check their account. The website will feature the Eversource brand, but the website address will remain the same for now, officials said.

Customers will also notice the Eversource logo on their bill and hear the Eversource name when calling customer service at (800) 688-6160.

— Jill Harmacinski

 

Radiation monitor installed at Seabrook Beach

A new radiation monitor installed recently on a private home at Seabrook Beach is the latest device in a network that tracks radiation from the nuclear power plant in real time.

The monitor was installed Sept. 30 by C-10, an Amesbury nonprofit watchdog organization focused on protecting the communities surrounding the Seabrook Station power plant.

Natalie Hildt Treat, executive director for C-10, said the exact locations of the group’s monitors are never disclosed but there is one at Phillips Exeter Academy, another at a home in Hampton and another at a business in Brentwood. The organization also has 11 monitors in Massachusetts.

“We’re looking to round out the area geographically as best we can,” she said. “We think the folks in New Hampshire are seeing the ongoing concrete concerns and are realizing that real-time monitoring is important.”

Concrete degradation was discovered at the plant in 2010. It results from an alkali-silica reaction, or ASR — a chemical process that causes small cracks.

Treat said the monitors measure beta and gamma radiation and send information to C-10’s central database in Amesbury in real time. This way, the organization can be quickly notified if there is a nuclear emergency.

“If there’s anything abnormal, which is rare, we get alerts. And if there’s anything more than a blip, we’ll talk to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,” Treat said. “It’s just an extra set of eyes and ears to what’s going on in the region.”

Treat said C-10 has been receiving fundraising help from New Hampshire state Rep. Peter Somssich, D-Portsmouth, to pay for the monitoring system, and this fall, the organization hopes to install another monitoring device in New Hampshire.

While COVID-19 halted the most recent legislative attempt to increase nuclear monitoring in the Seacoast area, Treat said her organization has received continued support from local lawmakers. C-10 also recently applied for a grant through the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation that would provide $10,000 per year for the next three years.

In August, the NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board accepted the Seabrook plant’s concrete monitoring program, though Treat noted it did so with “several important conditions that will ensure the health and safety of the public.”

At the time, Peter Robbins, director of nuclear communications for plant owner NextEra, said the company was pleased that the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board ruled in favor of Seabrook, calling its concrete monitoring and management programs “comprehensive and effective.”

— Jack Shea

 

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