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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Fairfield Families Developing Cabin Fever

Fairfield Families
Developing Cabin Fever:

Parents and kids endure
another snow day
(Posted to 2/1)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – An early morning weather system deposited another couple of inches of snow and threatened icing conditions later in the day Tuesday, forcing the closure of town schools. The cancellation surprised many Fairfield parents and disappointed children who have developed a case of cabin fever with all their days off.

“I think some of the snow days have been reasonable, but today we could have had school,” said Harry Murphy, 15, a Fairfield Ludlowe High School sophomore. “I was surprised school was canceled, but I was ok with it as I got to sleep late. I’m just hanging out for the afternoon as my mom has work. My sisters have been playing a lot in the snow. My brother and I will probably need to do some shoveling at some point. Snow is nice to have on the ground, but not the ice and sleet. It can be dangerous, especially for drivers.”

For Pam Murphy, the day created some challenges and unrest at home. “Cole (Murphy’s 14-year-old son) is doing some drawing and Sam (16) just got up, showered and plopped down in front of the TV. He started complaining when I asked him to shovel the back deck. I’d seen a report that it can separate from the house and collapse under all the snow and ice and I thought it would be an effective use of his free time. After all, he does live here. He didn’t agree. We’re scheduled to get Cole’s braces off today, and then hair appointments up in Ridgefield. I’m debating doing the latter given the icy roads.”

Up on Woods End Road, Ann Kubel was just trying to keep it together with a house full of rugrats. “I’m sick of the snow and I’d rather the kids were in school. The house is filled with not only my own kids but also the neighbor kids. This is the house to be at apparently. They go out, get soaking wet, the clothes go in the dryer, they go back out again, they’re on the Wii screaming. It’s a madhouse. Now I’m feeding everybody lunch and they’ve asked for cookies. I’ll do that then I’m done!”

Kubel added, “The way Fairfield has been calling things, I knew it would be no school or nothing versus a delay, as it was going to be an early dismissal day anyhow due to professional development. Personally, as I have to be home with them, I’m catching up on some house chores that I needed to do. That’s the only good thing about this situation. And it looks like I’ll be doing it tomorrow, too.”

In the Beach Area, Maryann Dolzani was multi-tasking, juggling mom and work tasks. “I’m home but working from home. Elliot (her 9-year-old son) is at a neighbor’s house and Spencer (6) has a buddy over playing. Seeing that the snow stopped and there’s not much going on, I was surprised school was called. The forecast had predicted more of an event though, so I understand why they called it. I feel bad for the kids. It’s fun to be off but I think they miss some of the school activities.”

Benny Ortiz, 7, was happy to be off but running out of things to do. “I have another day off. I’m getting kind of tired of it. I want to get school over with. I just went over to my grandpa’s house, now I’m playing with my little toy.”

Benny’s mom, Pam, who was home from work to watch Benny, was more concerned about how her son’s vacation days were being whittled down. “What’s unnerving to me is the school’s plan to start taking spring vacation days away. I really think they should take the days from the February vacation. I think we should be able to vote on it. I’d rather have the time off when the weather is good. The kids are really getting behind on instructional time this winter. It’s a lot to try and make up for.”

Town Services Tackle Unique Challenges of Sleet/Snow Mix

Town Services Tackle Unique Challenges of Sleet/Snow Mix:
Patch checks in with the 
(Posted to 2/1)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – Fairfielders have again been hit with a winter weather event this season, with an accumulation of an inch or two of snow as of 9 a.m. Tuesday morning that forced closure of local public and parochial schools. Unlike previous events though, the latest system calls for unique conditions to develop Tuesday night that include freezing drizzle and sleet and an ice accumulation of up to 0.3 of an inch into Wednesday.

The potential for hazards like slick roads and downed wires and tree limbs exists, which will present challenges to town services like the postal service, United Illuminating and the Department of Public Works. Patch connected with these services to get insight into how they are preparing for these eventualities and a current status on conditions.

Superintendent of Public Works Scott Bartlett, a veteran with regard to winter storm events, had mapped out his plan but said unpredictable factors may alter his strategy.

“We deal first with snow and ice and put a coat of salt down,” he said, “with the priority to make the roads passable. But we don’t know what the ice is going to do. We’re not going to plow off right now, but instead will leave the roads slushy as it’s easier to plow off a slushy road coated with ice than to try and remove ice off a bare road. Once ice forms on the road, it’s trickier to treat. You want to prevent the bonding of ice to pavement.”

With regard to the potential of tree limbs coming down, Bartlett said, “The town owns two aerial bucket trucks that are ready to go, plus we’ve already reached out to our contractors to see how many crews they can provide, but here’s where it gets tricky. We’re assuming the roads will be passable from where the contractors are coming from. If they are, we’ll deploy them. If they are not and we have a coating of up to an inch of ice on the roads, we’ll need to reprioritize where our personnel are in terms of people we need for road salting and for tree maintenance.”

Bartlett says they are not responsible for electric wire issues – that would be United Illuminating. However, he said, “If wires start coming down, that creates additional issues for us. It requires us to block off roadways and notify the town and the power company. It really complicates things. Dead-ends are a bigger concern than a main road in terms of a tree or wire down because there is less access. With a main road, you have two sides of attack. Of course, with a main, you have an interruption of traffic flow. The mains will always be a priority so that we can enable the passage of emergency responders.”

Reached in Syracuse, NY, United States Postal Service Public Affairs Specialist Maureen Marion, whose responsibility is New England and upstate New York, said the USPS has its own challenges with icy conditions and plan of attack.

“We have a couple of tools at our disposal to deal with ice,” she said. “On the carrier side, that includes footwear with ice grippers to stabilize themselves on treacherous walkways, plus headwear, parkas and snowpants. There’s an initial uniform allowance for career employees and garments are added as seasons approach. Often, letter carriers share garments as their needs change. They look out for each other.”

Marion said the biggest concern this winter has been the USPS’ relationship with its communities and customers. “We need a clear road to go down and clean mailbox to access. We have found by and large people have been as cooperative as they can be but, that said, there are pockets of difficulty all around the region. For the carriers driving our vehicles, we need to snuggle right up to a box as it is too dangerous for our carriers to get out, walk around, dangle and potentially fall out of their seats. We can’t do anything that would cause the carrier to lose control of that vehicle. If we don’t have the clear access, we can’t deliver the mail and will hold it. For carriers that walk, we need to be able to get up front walks and driveways in a safe manner.”

On the electricity distribution front, United Illuminating, as of 10:40 a.m. Tuesday, was reporting only one Fairfield household power outage among 22,194 town customers served. Its site,, offered tips with regard to being prepared for a potential outage that included turning refrigerator/freezer dials to their coldest settings, unplugging sensitive electronic equipment and unplugging major appliances that are not in use. It also advised having working flashlights, a battery-operated radio, containers of bottled water, a first-aid kit and manual can opener.

First Death Row Inmate Freed by DNA Relates Story

First Death Row Inmate Freed by DNA Relates Story:
Kirk Bloodsworth tells hell-and-back tale to parish group
(Posted to 1/31)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – He was wrongly accused of a horrific crime, placed in a hellish penitentiary and sat on death row. If not for an interest in reading, he may never have become aware of DNA testing, which proved to be his ticket to freedom.

Maryland resident Kirk Bloodsworth, the first death row inmate in the world to be freed by DNA evidence, was on hand Monday night at Our Lady of the Assumption Parish at 545 Stratfield Road to tell his riveting tale to a small group of parishioners, speak about wrongful convictions and urge the abolishment of the death penalty.

An honorably discharged former Marine, Bloodsworth was convicted in 1985 of the sexual assault, rape and first-degree premeditated murder of nine-year-old Dawn Hamilton and sentenced to death. Even though five eyewitnesses placed him with the victim, he continued to maintain his innocence.

“It was an awful thing,” said Bloodsworth, reflecting on his arrest and conviction. “You can’t imagine being taken from your home, being accused of something you didn’t do and then facing 12 people and a judge and being convicted. It was just a horrible situation. The gavel came down and the sentence was death.”

Bloodsworth was transported to Maryland Penitentiary. As he described, “It was one of the most notorious prisons ever. It looked like Dracula’s castle. You could smell the pain and feel the tension in the air. It was a god-awful place. I was thrust into this environment and it was so foreign to me. I was only 22 years old. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”

It was unimaginable to him to be associated with such a heinous act. “It was the most vicious crime in Maryland’s history and this is what I was accused of. I was a Marine and was no angel, but I knew what I wasn’t. I wrote everybody I could that I was an innocent man and signed my letters with my name and the initials A.I.M. – An Innocent Man.”

From the moment he entered the prison system, fellow inmates wanted to do him harm. “I was hit in the back of the head with a sock containing D-cell batteries that split my skull, struck in the chest with a Master lock and stabbed in the leg.”

To pass the time in his narrow, cockroach-and-rat-infested rundown cell, Bloodsworth began reading. One book, “The Blooding”, by Joseph Wambaugh, which told about how DNA testing was successfully used in a criminal case in England, had a life-changing impact.

“I requested testing through the prosecutor’s office,” he said. “The prosecutor agreed, but said the results would need to be made public. I said ‘fine’ as I knew I was innocent. It took a year, as there were only two DNA labs in the country in 1992. The tests proved my innocence and were confirmed by separate FBI tests. I was released five months later on June 28, 1993, after nine years in prison.”

Bloodsworth became a Catholic while incarcerated, in a ceremony conducted underneath the gas chamber. Now he tries to change laws and has a DNA law named after him – the Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Program, which was achieved through The Justice Project and Congress. It provides funding for post-conviction DNA testing for indigents or states that aren’t able to fund it.

“It has already benefited a fellow in Arizona, two inmates in Washington state and people in Virginia,” he said of the effort. “You shouldn’t be in a prison for something you didn’t do and, if you can take a DNA test, it’s the best way to go.”

Bloodsworth added, “I work with people to try and abolish the death penalty because of one fact: we could execute an innocent person. We have a death row population of 3,500 and a prison population of 2.5 million. The risk is too great for error. One hundred and forty inmates have been exonerated from death row – 14 of whom have been proven innocent by DNA testing.”

The ex-Marine admits it’s a controversial topic. “No one can deny the emotional weight on society to punish wrongdoing but we must rise above letting someone else fall for a crime they didn’t commit. I can’t condone the death penalty. I used to think people got what they deserved but when this happened to me, I realized it could be real bad.”

Even among attendees, there was division on the topic. Fairfielder Irene Gifford said, “I feel very strongly against the death penalty, as many people are likely incarcerated who are not guilty, often inner city people. I think they should just be kept in jail.”

Sharing an opposing view, Fairfielder Diane Quaranta said, “Though I’m pro-life, I believe that people who have committed terrible, heinous crimes should be put to death if they are guilty. But I feel a good advocate needs to be assigned to each individual person to explore all evidence and to make sure nothing’s been overlooked.”

Bloodsworth’s story is told in the book “Bloodsworth: The True Story of the First Death Row Inmate Exonerated by DNA” by Tim Junkin.