A look back at New Canaan's top '14 news stories
Published 7:16 am, Wednesday, December 31, 2014
2014 was an eventful year in New Canaan. Although weather did not cause major disruptions as in previous years, and the state election brought no surprises, police cases -- some involving well-known names -- made headlines, and officers staged a protest against town government at the train station.
Meanwhile, several high-profile crime cases were resolved, with many of the defendants involved avoiding jail time. Police also saw a spike in domestic violence incidents, as well as more thefts by out-of-state career criminals.
The Planning and Zoning Commission also was busy reviewing the 2014 Plan of Conservation and Development, as well as applications for large-scale projects, including major renovation plans at the New Canaan YMCA, New Canaan Field Club and, most recently, a three-story, mixed-use development on Cross Street.
On the business side, several local shops shut their doors and made room for new ones. The Silk Purse consignment shop closed in September after 40 years in town; Littlejohn's children's clothing store closed in August after 24 years in business, and the pet store Village Critter Outfitter closed in October after almost 20 years. Some of the new names in town are Mrs. Green's Natural Market, which took over the post office's old location, Green & Tonic, Gingerbitz and Le Boudoir Blow Dry & Beauty Bar.
The town also made progress in green initiatives when it joined in July the Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy, or C-PACE, and then launched in December the Solarize New Canaan program to facilitate solar energy installations at local homes. Use of natural gas, however, did not make as much progress as a townwide plan to install pipelines has yet to launch.
Following is a list of the top 2014 stories as ranked by the New Canaan News:
Ex-White House counsel
gets 15 years in jail
Former White House attorney John Michael Farren was sentenced in September to 15 years in prison for the attempted murder of his wife in their New Canaan home.
In a case considered by analysts one of the town's worst domestic violence incidents, Farren picked up his wife by the throat, threw her across the room and struck her head and face as many as 10 times with a heavy metal flashlight two days after she served him with divorce papers on Jan. 6, 2010, according to testimony during his trial. He also choked her more than once during the attack, causing her to lose consciousness.
Farren, who was an attorney in both Bush White Houses and a general counsel for Xerox Corp., was convicted in July by a six-person jury of attempted murder, first-degree assault and risk of injury to a minor. He's appealing the verdict.
arrested after dispute
Simon, 73, and Brickell, 48, were charged with disorderly conduct after police said she slapped her husband in the face before he shoved her. Simon, who called 911, suffered "a superficial cut to his ear," while his wife had "a small bruise on her right wrist," according to the report.
Brickell told officers that the argument started when she confronted Simon in their home's music studio for doing something that "broke her heart," police said. The charges were dropped in June after the prosecutor requested the case be nolled.
struck by cars
Among the more than 500 motor vehicle accidents in New Canaan during 2014, at least six involved a person struck by a vehicle, whith three blamed on pedestrian negligence.
The latest such accident was during the annual Holiday Stroll on Dec. 5 when a man was hit by a car on Park Street. He was not using a crosswalk at the time, and police issued him a verbal warning for improper use of a highway by a pedestrian. Not far from that location, a woman was seriously injured after she was struck by a car at the corner of Park and Elm streets after getting off a train in March. She was issued a verbal warning for crossing the street against a crossing signal.
In June, an employee of the Department of Public Works died after he was struck by a pickup truck at the corner of New Norwalk Road and East Avenue where he was working. And in October, a 61-year-old bicyclist was hit by car on Smith Ridge Road, one day before a New Canaan High School student was struck by a car as he headed to classes. The 14-year-old boy was not using a crosswalk, police said.
Additionally, a toddler died June 6 after he was hit by a car in his family's driveway on Mill Road.
DPW employee killed
in `tragic accident'
The death of a 37-year veteran of the Department of Public Works, described as a "problem-solver" and likened to "an encyclopedia" of information about New Canaan, left his family and co-workers in mourning over the summer.
Benjamin Olmstead, a 71-year-old Norwalk resident, was struck by a Dodge Ram while working at New Norwalk Road and East Avenue July 23. The investigation showed he was either bending over or kneeling to paint the marker for a sewer location at the request of a contractor when the pickup truck hit him.
The victim, who was working alone, was wearing a reflective vest, but his work vehicle, which held traffic cones and stop paddles, was parked in a private driveway on Silvermine Road, up the street from the scene of the accident.
"It was a tragic accident," Police Chief Leon Krolikowski said in November. Olmstead was doing "something he did tens of thousands of times over the course of his career."
No enforcement action was taken against the driver, another Norwalk resident, who immediately stopped and remained at the scene. Speed, alcohol and distracted driving were all ruled out as contributing factors.
hires new leaders
The New Canaan public schools' superintendent and two principals left the district in 2014.
Following the unexpected announcement that Superintendent of Schools Mary Kolek would retire in the summer, the Board of Education chose New Canaan High School Principal Bryan Luizzi to fill the job, which was made permanent in October. Kolek, who spent only two years on the job, moved to North Carolina with her family.
Since Luizzi left his job at the high school, Assistant Principal Veronica LeDuc has served as interim principal. At East Elementary School, Kristine Woleck is the new principal following the retirement of Alexandra "Bunny" Potts, who worked in the district for 25 years. Woleck previously worked as assistant principal at East and West elementary schools. In addition, Jan Murphy is the new principal at West, following the retirement of interim Principal Joanne LaVista.
Post office struggles
to find new home
After it left its location of more than 50 years in January, the New Canaan post office has been operating from a temporary space at 90 Main St., a much smaller site that does not have a parking lot.
Since then, postal officials have considered and rejected at least eight potential sites locally. Most recently, the U.S. Postal Service dismissed offers to move to 16 Cross St. and 21 Forest St. -- where three-story, mixed-use buildings are being planned or under construction -- because they said they do not meet the criteria required for a post office location.
First Selectman Robert Mallozzi, who had expressed disappointment at the lack of a permanent postal location, said in November he believes postal officials are committed to finding a permanent site in New Canaan.
After nine years on the market, the legendary 52-acre estate of heiress Huguette Clark in New Canaan sold.
De Lom Partners LLC purchased the 104 Dans Highway property for $14.3 million April 14. Although De Lom representatives still refuse to name the new owners, NBC News investigative reporter Bill Dedman, author of a book on Clark, said the buyers are fashion designer Reed Krakoff, a former Coach executive, and his wife.
Clark was the reclusive heiress to a copper fortune who purchased the mansion in 1951, but never spent a night there. She died in 2011 at the age of 104.
Popular car show
moved from downtown
A victim of its own success. That's how Mallozzi described the situation in which organizers of a vintage car show were caught after their event starting attracting crowds too large for downtown.
Caffeine & Carburetors, which used to be a small car gathering outside Zumbach's Gourmet Coffee, 77 Pine St., has grown so popular -- drawing hundreds of cars and thousands of people -- that the town was no longer able to provide each of the annual six shows with adequate police coverage.
In an attempt to scale back, the automotive showcase was staged at Waveny Park for the first time in its six-year history in October. Starting in 2015 year, organizers hope to have two gatherings downtown and two at Waveny Park.
gas project delayed
After taking a major step toward bringing natural gas to New Canaan, Yankee Gas was unable to install any gas links to town in 2014.
In December 2013, town and utility officials signed a memorandum of understanding outlining the goals for a townwide project, starting with several municipal facilities as "anchors" for the townwide project and then expanding "tentacles" to secondary roads, where there was the most interest. The hope was to install the first five miles of gas mains by last fall, but the plan fell apart and Yankee Gas blamed a new state regulation requiring that 60 percent of potential customers commit to service before construction starts.
Town officials initially rejected that explanation, noting that Yankee Gas knew the regulation was coming but continued to negotiate. In December, however, town officials said a plan to connect several buildings on and near Waveny Park to natural gas supplies may be launched this summer.
at train station
In an unprecedented showdown with the New Canaan town government, about a dozen officers from the local police union protested the stalled contract negotiations with the town at the New Canaan train station on the morning of Sept. 4.
Sgts. Carol Ogrinc, Peter Condos and John Milligan were among the officers handing out fliers to commuters starting at 5:15 that morning. The town's 44 union officers have been working under provisions of their most recent contract, which covered July 2010 to June 2013, as attempts to settle a new agreement have been unsuccessful.
A new contract is currently under arbitration through the Connecticut State Board of Mediation and Arbitration. Union officials said the town has refused to offer a raise for the first year of the new contract and is proposing a 1 percent increase for the second year. As the arbitration process takes place, the two parties continue to file grievances with the state Department of Labor.
Man arrested for using vulgar language to students
After two months on the job, an Outback Teen Center youth program director was terminated and later arrested after he was accused of using vulgar language to students at Saxe Middle School.
Andrew Barer, 52, of Easton, was arrested in February on a charge of second-degree breach of peace. While speaking to a group of about 10 boys at the school cafeteria Jan. 15, Barer told them that if they didn't start attending the Outback, he would "kick their a----" and "cut off their d----," among other inappropriate comments, according to court documents.
The arrest warrant states that he also lifted a boy off the ground and took the contact information for several of them during the incident. Police believe Barer attempted to contact at least two of the boys on their cellphones one day after the incident.
After pleading guilty in October, he avoided jail time and was granted an 18-month accelerated rehabilitation program. Barer will not be allowed to enter any schools in New Canaan or have any contact with minors.
Youth leader avoids prison, listed as sex offender
The Fairfield woman accused of having sex with a 15-year-old boy while working at the Congregational Church of New Canaan was placed in a 10-year probationary program and registered as a sex offender after pleading guilty to risk of injury to a minor in August.
Morgan Frawley was 25 in October 2013 when police concluded that she had exchanged numerous sexually explicit photos and text messages with the teenage boy. In February 2014, the prosecution added a sexual assault charge, which was eventually dropped as part of the plea deal.
Frawley was also an eighth-grade substitute teacher at Tomlinson Middle School in Fairfield.
Driver in crash that killed father granted probation
The driver in a 2011 fatal accident in New Canaan that claimed the life of his father avoided prison time and is serving a two-year probation sentence after he pleaded guilty last April to negligent homicide with a motor vehicle.
Michael M. Savage, of Clearview Lane, was arrested Dec. 15, 2013, on a charge of misconduct with a motor vehicle, but the Class D felony charge was reduced to a misdemeanor as part of a deal with the prosecution.
Savage crashed his 2009 Maserati Quattroporte at Ponus Ridge and Lakewind Road at about 10:30 p.m. Dec. 22, 2011, but was not found until the next morning at Stamford Hospital. Police said witnesses saw Savage leaving the crash scene on foot. His 74-year-old father, James Jackson Savage, of Seattle, was pronounced dead at the scene, while Michael Savage suffered a laceration to one of his hands.
Suspects said to be part of multistate robbery crew
Five of at least seven men believed to have pulled off a smash-and-grab robbery at Henry C. Reid & Son Jewelers, 72 Elm St., in November 2013 have been indicted on federal charges, while another committed suicide in 2014.
In March, four suspects who police said were directly involved in the New Canaan incident were arrested on multiple charges. According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, the men were part of a multistate robbery crew that "used violence, including firearms, to steal more than $1 million in luxury watches."
The crime in New Canaan took place at around 4 p.m. Nov. 6, 2013, when one of them shattered a front display window with a tool resembling a sledge hammer, reached in through the broken glass and took three Rolex watches with an approximate value of $55,000, police said.
One of three men believed to have helped those four plan the robbery shot himself in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Halloween night after a FedEx delivery person knocked on his front door and he "erroneously thought it was the police coming to get him," according to a news release. Another alleged accomplice is in federal custody on other charges, while the third is still at large.