Consentino School getting new principal

Students and staff at Consentino School can expect to see a new principal this fall, although their current principal says he hopes to continue working there in a different role.

John Mele, who has been in charge of the Consentino for seven years and also served as assistant principal there for three years before that, said he decided to step down to his former position to spend more time with his family.

"I think this change is good for me personally and good for the staff," Mele said of his return to an assistant principal position. "Every once in a while it's good to change things up a bit and I think this change in my role will benefit the whole school community.

"Moving forward, I will still have the benefit of working with so many loving and caring people at Consentino School," he said.

School principals are hired by the superintendent and are not protected by a union, although assistant principals are part of a union, school officials said.

In a letter to parents, Mele said Superintendent Margaret Marotta understands that he wishes to continue to serve the Consentino community as an associate or assistant principal for the remainder of his career.

"This is a request that she has told me and the School Committee that she would honor to the best of her ability," Mele said. "While we do not know exactly what the transition will look like, we know that we will be exploring options with the superintendent in the coming days and weeks to ensure that the growth and successes the school has experienced over the past few years continues without interruption."

Mele said it was not an easy decision to make, but that it's the right move for him and his family.

At the end of the 2013 school year, Mele was an assistant principal at Consentino under Principal Stephen Sierpina, who later left Haverhill to become principal of a school in Methuen. Then-Superintendent James Scully named Mele to run the Consentino.

Marotta said she is looking at several options for replacing Mele and expects to post the job in the next few days, potentially as an interim position for the upcoming school year.

"Mr. Mele has developed many strong relationships with students and staff and families over the years and I believe his continued involvement at the Consentino will be positive in this time of so many unknowns," she said.

Mele received his bachelor degree in English from Merrimack College and a master’s degree in ESL (English as a Second Language) curriculum and instruction from the University of Massachusetts.

He taught in Lawrence public schools for 16 years then became an assistant principal at an elementary school in Fitchburg.

Mele was hired as an assistant principal at Haverhill's Tilton Elementary School in 2008 before being transferred to Consentino two years later as an assistant principal.

— Mike LaBella


Body found in river in Haverhill is missing teen

A body found recently in the Merrimack River in Haverhill has been identified as that of a 13-year-old Lawrence boy missing since March 13.

Sophonnut Dy, a student at UP Academy Leonard, was last seen near the Duck Bridge in Lawrence at 2:46 a.m. March 13 when his image was captured by a surveillance camera, police said. His body was found in the river in Haverhill May 3.

Foul play is not suspected in the death, according to the Essex County District Attorney's office, which released the identity last week afternoon.

In the days since boy's disappearance, an extensive search was conducted across Lawrence, including near the Duck Bridge, which spans the Merrimack River and connects Union and South Union streets.

Lawrence police spokesman Detective Thomas Cuddy said the search of the Merrimack River and its banks began after Sophunnut's parents reported he had been missing for 17 hours.

The camera surveillance system showed the boy at the Duck Bridge, Cuddy said. Lawrence police and firefighters, along with the Essex County Sheriff's Department, the Massachusetts State Police Air Wing and the Haverhill harbormaster, searched both sides of the river over several days, Cuddy said.

Haverhill police and firefighters responded May 3 to a 911 call reporting a body floating in the Merrimack River in the vicinity of Groveland and Water streets, according to Essex County District Attorney's office spokeswoman Carrie Kimball.

Haverhill police were assisted in the investigation by detectives assigned to the Essex County District Attorney's office, Kimball said.

— Allison Corneau


Police: Ex-Haverhill man broke into home of popular rapper 

A former Haverhill man has been arrested and charged with breaking into the Detroit-area home of rapper Eminem, police said.

Matthew David Hughes, 27, was taken into custody recently after he gained access to the popular performer's gated community, got past his private security detail, and threw a paving stone through a window to enter Eminem's house, according to Clinton Township police.

Capt. Richard Maierle, spokesman for the Clinton Township Police Department in the community six miles north of Detroit, said Hughes was cooperative during the April 5 arrest. None of the rapper's personal property was taken during the 4 a.m. home invasion, according to police.

"There was no physical confrontation at all," Maierle said. "Eminem called his security team and they called us. Nobody got hurt and our guys didn't have any trouble with him (Hughes)."

According to Dennis Dennehy, a spokesman for Eminem, the rapper detained Hughes after the break until Eminem's security detail arrived from another part of the property.

As a precaution against COVID-19, Hughes was given a mask to wear while officers transported him to the Macomb County Jail, Maierle said.

"We're not putting prisoners in our cars without masks," Maierle said.

Hughes faces one count of first-degree home invasion, a felony charge that can bring a 20-year prison sentence, and one count of malicious destruction of property worth between $1,000 and $20,000, a felony charge that can bring a five-year jail sentence.

Bond was set at $50,000 and Hughes is set to undergo a competency evaluation at the request of his defense attorney. He next appears in court on June 29.

Hughes — who told police he was homeless at the time of his arrest — has a minor criminal history in Michigan, police said. Before moving to that state, he had been arrested in both Worcester and Haverhill on several occasions between 2016 and 2017, records show.

— Allison Corneau 


Fatal crashes on the rise during pandemic

With fewer cars on the road during a state of emergency, you might assume traffic crashes and fatalities would fall dramatically.

Not so, according to the state Department of Transportation, which says fatal auto crashes spiked last month despite substantially less traffic.

At least 28 people died in crashes in April, according to MassDOT's preliminary data. That's only one more fatality than was reported in April 2019, but transportation officials say the data is "disturbing" considering that traffic is reduced by more than half amid the pandemic.

Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver said the data suggests people are speeding and taking unnecessary risks.

"It's a disturbing trend," he said. "We want people to slow down, pay attention to their surroundings, and drive more cautiously."

Gulliver said the preliminary data shows the fatalities occurred on both state highways and local roads, and they appear to be evenly spread across the state.

At least three pedestrians and one bicyclist were among those killed.

Gulliver said reasons for the spike aren't clear — the state has yet to release data on factors such as speeding or driving under the influence — but one possible explanation is that drivers feel freer to put the pedal to the metal with less congestion. Another is that they might not be worried about getting pulled over.

"This is one of those situations where it's difficult to nail down the exact issues that are contributing to these crashes, but we do know that speed and distraction are among the main ones," Gulliver said.

Mary Maguire, a spokeswoman for the American Automobile Association of New England, said the data should be a "wake up call" to motorists to slow down.

"The fact that the roads are open emboldens those who have a tendency to break the law and exceed the speed limit," she said. "We have enough tragedy to cope with right now, and with first-responders taxed to the limit, we don't need to add to the numbers by driving recklessly and endangering yourself and others."

Many states have reported a drop in crashes as businesses have shutdown and social distancing has forced commuters to work from home.

Some auto insurers, who have been reaping huge profits with fewer claims, are giving refunds and reducing premiums.

Gulliver said Massachusetts has had one the lowest fatality rates in the nation -— 5.2 deaths per 100,000 residents annually —which makes the latest data hard to accept.

"This is a trend that we didn't expect, and don't want to see," he said. "We need to do everything we can to dial this back and get back to No. 1 in the nation."

— Christian M. Wade


Valley man charged with fraudulently applying for $500K in COVID-19 loans

A Merrimack Valley resident is one of two businessmen charged with filing fraudulent applications seeking more than $500,0000 in forgivable loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Justice announced Tuesday.

David A. Staveley, who also uses the alias Kurt D. Sanborn, 52, of Andover, and David Butziger, 51, of Warwick, Rhode Island, are the "first in the nation" to be charged with such federal crimes, according to Aaron Weisman, U.S. attorney for the state of Rhode Island.

Stanley and Putziger are charged with "conspiring to seek forgivable loans guaranteed by the SBA, claiming to have dozens of employees earning wages at four different business entities when, in fact, there were no employees working for any of the businesses," according to Weisman's statement.

They are both specifically charged with conspiracy to make false statement to influence the SBA and conspiracy to commit bank fraud.

Staveley is also charged with aggravated identity theft. Butziger is also charged with bank fraud, authorities said.

“Tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs and have had their lives thrown into chaos because of the coronavirus pandemic. It is unconscionable that anyone would attempt to steal from a program intended to help hard working Americans continue to be paid so they can feed their families and pay some of their bills,” Weisman said.

Attorney General William Barr directed all U.S. attorneys "to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of crimes related to coronavirus and COVID-19, and we are doing just that," Weisman said.

Steveley and Butziger tried to capitalize on the COVID-19 crisis by "conspiring to fraudulently obtain" more than $500,000 in forgivable loans "that were intended to help small businesses teetering on the edge of financial ruin,” stated Special Agent in Charge Joseph Bonavolonta of the FBI’s Boston Field Office.

“Thankfully we were able to stop them before taxpayers were defrauded, but (the) arrests should serve as a warning to others that the FBI and our law enforcement partners will aggressively go after bad actors like them who are utilizing the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to commit fraud," Bonavolonta said.

— Jill Harmacinski



Central Catholic staff honors graduating seniors

Brianna Korecki, a graduating senior at Central Catholic High School, stood on the lawn of her family’s Methuen home with the school’s president last week.

That’s because Central Catholic President Chris Sullivan came to hand-deliver Korecki a lawn sign that said, “Congratulations Graduate, Class of 2020.”

Korecki is one of 326 seniors from 38 communities to receive lawn signs Sunday from faculty and staff of Central Catholic. This was how they decided to recognize graduating seniors who will not be able to have a traditional graduation because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I feel like it is really special, especially for Mr. Sullivan coming to bring the sign to me,'' said Korecki, who plans to study nursing at Regis College in the fall. “It just shows that the teachers and faculty truly care about their students.”

Faculty and staff members picked up lawn signs late the morning of May 3 in the parking lot behind the school. Some wore face masks with the school’s logo.

They then headed off to deliver the signs to students throughout the area.

“This is a chance for the faculty to kind of get out and see them, they miss them,” Sullivan said. “They are teaching them in Zoom classrooms, but this is a chance for them to see them in person. It’s a chance to celebrate uniquely given what we are dealing with, but it’s also a chance for us to have some contact with the kids we miss and love.”

Sullivan said the faculty pooled together a little more than $3,000 to raise the money for the signs, which cost about $10 each.

And although the graduating students will be heading off to college or into the job market during these trying times, he actually thinks they’ll be better for it.

“At some point, people are going to look back on the Class of 2020. They are going to be legendary in the history of their school for their resiliency,” Sullivan said. “I am actually pretty impressed with the way they have dealt with these things considering. Friday night was supposed to be their prom. They all dressed up in their prom gear anyway and took pictures and connected with each other.”

He added, “That’s just one of a million different things. This is the time they should be having those last goodbyes and they are having all these different moments and now they are doing it differently.”

— Genevieve DiNatale


Sign-ups surge on Mass. health exchange

The state's health insurance exchange is seeing a surge of new members amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Enrollment in the Health Connector, which allows people without insurance to sign up for coverage, is up 45,000 over the past two months.

The activity comes as hundreds of thousands of people are jobless and without employer-sponsored health insurance as a result of shutdowns aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Officials at the Health Connector say they've signed up at least 20,000 new people enrolled through the online exchange, while another 11,600 people with existing plans who've seen their income drop have shifted to MassHealth, the state's Medicaid program.

At least 12,000 people have moved into another health exchange plan.

"We've seen a lot of new enrollments and also a lot of activity among existing enrollees, updating their income information," said Audrey Morse Gasteier, chief of policy and strategy at the Health Connector. "We expect there could be a lot more people in coming months."

The Health Connector has extended a special enrollment period until May 25 for anyone who has lost their job and insurance as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Normally, the exchange only enrolls new members from November through January.

Gasteier said people who have lost their job or seen their income change, and need health insurance, can go to the online exchange and get coverage.

"Any uninsured person can come in the door, shop for coverage, put their information in, and find out what they qualify for," she said.

The Health Connector sells private insurance to individuals who don't get coverage through an employer or make too much money to qualify for MassHealth.

Most people who purchase insurance through the state exchange qualify for government subsidies to offset the cost of premiums.

Nearly 300,000 people have enrolled in health coverage through the Connector, the highest number since the exchange was set up 13 years ago, Gasteier said.

Gov. Charlie Baker has taken steps to ensure that people who've lost their jobs and health coverage don't fall through the cracks.

His administration pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into MassHealth and also directed the state Division of Insurance to require private and government-backed plans to cover the costs of testing and treatment for people affected by the virus. This includes waiving co-pays and deductibles.

Health care advocates say they've heard from people who haven't had health coverage in years but are now seeking it.

"It's an interesting trend. These are the uninsured that we've been trying to reach for years," said Hannah Frigand, director of education and enrollment services at the nonprofit Health Care for All. "It shows that unfortunately it sometimes takes a major health care scare for people to seek coverage."

Anyone who needs health insurance can call 877-623-6765 for information or go to to fill out an application.

— Christian M. Wade


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