Friends mourn city man, 20, hit by car and killed

Dozens of Travis Yell’s friends took turns standing at his bedside at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston to tell him how much they loved him, and more painfully, how much they would miss him.

Yell, 20, of Haverhill was hit by a car late Saturday night while walking with his girlfriend to his car parked near Bentley University in Waltham. He died of his injuries on Monday.

Yell’s mother, Heidi Damiano, told her son’s many friends that it was important for them to be with him and to talk to him right up until the time they had to say goodbye.

“We probably had 50 kids visit between Sunday and Monday,” Damiano said. “You could see how much love there was here for Travis. It was important for these kids to have some closure, which you don’t always get at a funeral home where you wait in line, then move on.

“These kids are like family to me,” she said. “They were always at my house. They were always with Travis. This was a chance for them to say their goodbyes.”

Friends of Travis held a vigil Monday night at his family’s home on Greenville Street in the Riverside section of the city. His mother said she wanted them to be together to remember their friend and grieve his loss.

Damiano said she planned to stay at Beth Israel, where late Monday afternoon surgeons would harvest his organs in hopes of saving the lives of people waiting for a transplant.

“I talked to Travis about this once and how somebody else’s sacrifice could save another person’s life,” she said about her son’s decision several years ago to become an organ donor. “Whatever can’t be used to save someone will be donated to science.”

Yell attended Crowell and Golden Hill schools, Nettle Middle School and Whittier Regional High, where he studied in the electrical department and graduated in 2012.

His mother said he was a three-year varsity wrestler and a captain in his senior year. His father, Melvin Yell, was a well known wrestling coach at Georgetown High.

According to Damiano, her son was visiting his girlfriend Ryisha Grant at her Bentley University dormitory when, on Friday night, he began feeling ill. She said Grant had recently been diagnosed with pneumonia and that Travis was experiencing flu-like symptoms, including a fever.

“I spoke to Travis on Saturday morning and he said he was feeling better,” Damiano said. “I told him to take ibuprofen every six hours to keep the fever down.

“On Saturday at about 11:30 p.m., she (Ryisha Grant) sent me a text that Travis was burning up again and had a terrible fever,” Damiano said. “I got both of them on the phone and I told him I wanted him to come home. He said he just wanted to sleep ... he was tired and run down. I told him to use his inhaler and take another ibuprofen and go get some sleep. We hung up, then I got a call at about 11:45 p.m. His girlfriend was screaming frantically that he’d been hit by a car.”

Damiano said a Bentley University police officer got on the phone and told her that an ambulance was on its way and that her son would be rushed to the hospital. She said there was some confusion as to which hospital, which was sorted out by the time Yell’s father arrived to pick her up so they could go to the hospital together.

Damiano said her son planned to go to Lowell General Hospital with his girlfriend and were on the way to his car when he was hit. She said he was walking slightly ahead of his girlfriend. Both were about to cross a main road to get to the parking lot where he left his car earlier.

“She was at the curb and I don’t know if Travis was disoriented or not, but she told him to watch out, then the car hit him,” Damiano said. “She told me that the road they had to cross was a busy one and others had been hit and killed in that area as well.”

As of Monday, the accident was still under investigation by the Waltham Police Reconstruction Team, State Police Reconstruction Team and the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office. The driver had not been charged. Police said the driver was not impaired and speed did not appear to be a factor.

Danny Belanger of Haverhill, one of Travis’ closest friends, was in a state of disbelief yesterday after his friend was pronounced dead.

“He was a very funny kid and a ball of energy,” Belanger said. “Travis had a heart of gold and always put others before him. He was an overall great kid and I still can’t believe this has happened.”

----Mike LaBella

Suspected Ebola case was malaria

A suspected case of Ebola in Haverhill involving a sick woman who returned from visiting a West African country being ravaged by the deadly virus turned out to be malaria.

Details of the case came to light Monday at an Ebola preparedness meeting in Mayor James Fiorentini’s office. The meeting included health officials from area hospitals and ambulance companies, as well as officials from the city’s fire, police and school departments.

Alan DeNaro, Haverhill’s public safety commissioner, said police were contacted several weeks ago by neighbors of a “very sick” woman living near them who recently returned to Haverhill from a trip to Sierra Leone, one of three West African countries where the Ebola outbreak has been centered. The other hot zones for the disease are Liberia and Guinea, where the first case in the current outbreak was reported in December 2013.

The Haverhill woman had been sick for several weeks and had lost more than 100 pounds, said DeNaro, who is also the city’s police chief.

He said the city reported the suspected Ebola case to the national Center for Disease Control, which ultimately ruled out Ebola.

The chief said city officials were told the woman could not have Ebola because she had been sick for more than six weeks and would have either recovered or died in the span if she had the fast-acting virus.

Death from Ebola, if it happens, is usually in six to 16 days after symptoms appear, according to the Center for Disease Control.

DeNaro said he did not know the woman’s current condition, but that he was later told by her relatives that they believed she contracted malaria while in Africa.

The mayor’s Ebola preparedness meeting was attended by representatives from Merrimack Valley and Holy Family hospitals in Haverhill and Methuen, Pentucket Medical Associates, Trinity Ambulance company and the city’s public safety and health departments.

The health care professional said their organizations have put in place new protocols and were ready in the “extremely unlikely” event that a patient with Ebola were to be discovered locally.

Arlene Champey, regional director for environmental health and safety with Steward Health Care, which owns Merrimack Valley, Holy Family and eight other hospitals, said those hospitals have begun a new protocol of asking patients who show up at their emergency rooms if they recently traveled to Sierra Leone, Liberia or Guinea before they are admitted.

Champey said the protocol began last Thursday at Holy Family and last Friday at Merrimack Valley Hospital.

Health officials said checking a patient’s travel history and their temperature are the primary measures for screening for Ebola. A patient with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher who has traveled to either of the three West African countries where the disease is prevalent would then be subjected to more detailed questioning and screening, the officials said.

Dr. John Alexander, Holy Family’s vice president of medical affairs, said the state has given local hospitals an emergency phone number where an infectious disease expert will help them make “an Ebola risk assessment” for any suspected case.

Alexander said Holy Family is prepared to initially treat an Ebola patient in the hospital’s emergency department, and would then contact the Center for Disease Control for direction about whether the hospital should transfer such a patient to another hospital.

A representative from Trinity Ambulance said the company has been conducting infectious disease drills six times a day for the past two weeks to prepare for the remote possibility of a local Ebola case.

----Shawn Regan

Whittier raises criticized

Raises received by top administrators at Whittier Regional High are too high, said Shaun Toohey, one of Haverhill’s representatives to the Whittier board.

Toohey said he opposed the raises because they mean some Whittier administrators are paid much more than administrators in the larger Haverhill school district, which has about 6,800 more students than Whittier.

But Whittier Superintendent William DeRosa said the raises for him and other Whittier administrators are fair because their salaries are comparable to those at other vocational schools. DeRosa also said his school deals with 11 communities in the regional district, meaning the Whittier staff has a larger workload than administrators in the Haverhill district.

The Whittier raises were approved by the 14-member regional board and went into effect July 1.

DeRosa’s total compensation jumped by $8,212 to $209,400 per year, including perks. He makes $11,400 more than Haverhill Superintendent James Scully.

DeRosa, whose contract expires next summer and who is in the process of negotiating a new deal with the Whittier School Committee, receives $185,000 in base salary, a $19,000 annual retirement payment, $3,500 for life insurance and a $2,000 annual longevity payment — for a total compensation of $209,400 per year.

Scully recently saw his annual salary increased to $198,000. He receives no perks on top of his salary.

The Whittier committee increased Whittier Business Manager Kara Kosmes’ pay from $128,000 to $131,200. Kosmes is in her second year at Whittier and previously held a similar position for many years in Haverhill public schools. Her salary in her final year as the Haverhill district’s assistant superintendent for business was $94,000.

Kosmes makes $51,000 more than her replacement in Haverhill, Leighton O’Connor, who gets $80,000 per year.

Whittier Principal Maureen Lynch also got a pay bump from $129,312 to $133,192. Lynch also receives a $5,000 retirement payment and a $750 longevity payment on top of her salary, boosting her total annual compensation to $138,942.

Haverhill High Principal Beth Kitsos is paid $106,750 per year — $32,000 less than Lynch.

Toohey is one of two Haverhill representatives to the Whittier board. He is also president of the Haverhill School Committee and is running for state senate in the 1st Essex District. He said he could not support the Whittier raises because the administrators scheduled to receive the pay hikes were already making much more than their counterparts in the much larger Haverhill district.

“Superintendent DeRosa and the staff at Whittier are doing an outstanding job,” Toohey said. “However, I could not support the increases because I try to stay consistent on how I vote due to the fact that I serve on the Haverhill School Committee as well. The increases for one building versus an entire district seemed a little too robust.”

The Haverhill district has 8,155 students and 502 teachers spread over 16 school buildings. It has a budget of about $90 million. The Whittier district has 1,309 students and 125 teachers on a single campus, and a $20.8 million budget.

Haverhill pays $7.4 million of Whittier’s budget. The next highest contributor among the 11 member communities is Amesbury at $940,000. State aid accounts for about $8.6 million of the regional school’s budget.

In the series of raises approved by the Whittier committee, Whittier Technology Director Kevin Williams’ pay was hiked by $5,000 to $100,000. Haverhill’s technology director makes $82,000 per year.

DeRosa’s executive assistant, Lisa Rand, saw her pay increased from $69,105 to $71,178. Rand also received a $3,000 bump in her annual stipend as the district’s recording secretary, according to official Whittier School Committee notes. Scully’s administrative assistant is paid $62,000 annually.

A review of the area’s other vocational school, Greater Lawrence Technical School in Andover, shows that school’s principal and technology director receive pay comparable to Whittier employees in those positions. Whittier’s superintendent and business manager, however, are paid nearly $27,000 and $16,000 more per year than those positions at Greater Lawrence Tech.

Most administrator pay packages at Essex Agricultural and Technical High School in Danvers were similar to or higher than those at the region’s other vocational schools. The one exception to that is the superintendent’s pay, with Whittier’s DeRosa being the only administrator among all the schools topping $200,000 in total compensation.

----Shawn Regan

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