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Local
State drops stalking case against trooper

BARRE — The state has dismissed a stalking charge that a sergeant and patrol commander with the Vermont State Police had been facing, saying the victim in the case has refused to be deposed or testify at trial.

Raymond LeBlanc, 49, had been charged in Washington County criminal court in Barre to a misdemeanor count of stalking. He is currently on voluntary unpaid leave.

Detective Lt. Eric Albright, of the State Police, said in his affidavit he received a report in December from LeBlanc’s wife, who told police she was being stalked and harassed by LeBlanc.

Albright said the victim filled out a statement in which she said LeBlanc had been tracking her through some unknown means. She reported he has shown up at places she has been, such as a coffee shop in Massachusetts and a store in Colchester. She reported having to close her Facebook profile because LeBlanc had hacked into her account in the past and sent people messages from her account.

Albright said the victim reported LeBlanc was contacting her hourly and calling her a deadbeat, lazy and calling her derogatory names.

The victim said in her statement LeBlanc has been following her and taking pictures of her without her knowing. She reported he would print the photos and then ask her who she was with.

Assistant Attorney General John Waszak filed a motion Monday asking for the charge to be dismissed. Waszak said in the motion the victim currently lives out of state. He said he had been in touch with her attorney in an attempt to set up a deposition for the case.

On July 17, Waszak said the victim’s attorney contacted him and told him the victim did not want to be deposed or to take part in the trial which was slated for this fall. He said he and another member of his office spoke with the victim by phone Sept. 4.

“(The victim) directly and unequivocally confirmed that she was not willing to give a deposition. (The victim) directly and unequivocally confirmed that she was not willing to testify at trial. (The victim) directly and unequivocally confirmed that she understood that as a consequence of her unwillingness to testify in a deposition and a trial, the criminal case would be dismissed,” Waszak wrote.

Waszak said the victim was needed to proceed with the case because she would have to establish her relationship with LeBlanc and the conduct he allegedly engaged in made her fear for her life or caused her emotional distress.

On Tuesday, Judge Mary Morrissey granted the motion to dismiss. The case was dismissed without prejudice, meaning it could be refiled in the future.

The victim’s deposition came at the behest of LeBlanc’s attorney Oreste Valsangiacomo who filed a motion in June asking for such a deposition. In the motion, Valsangiacomo said the victim had been harassing his client throughout the court proceedings. He said the victim has filed multiple false reports against LeBlanc and has “tried to destroy him.”

Valsangiacomo said he had uncovered information showing the victim had been tracking LeBlanc, not the other way around.

In April, he said the victim claimed she was driving and LeBlanc accessed the vehicle’s OnStar computer and shut off the vehicle. She claimed the doors were locked so she had to exit through the window. Valsangiacomo said the victim did not reportedly call police after leaving her vehicle in Berlin, but police did find it and its windows were up.

Valsangiacomo said Berlin police investigated the allegation of LeBlanc accessing the vehicle’s OnStar computer and discovered the vehicle’s OnStar had been deactivated for a while due to either a lack of payment or a missing email address for the account.

eric.blaisdell @timesargus.com


Gareth Henderson / Staff Photo  

Into the mountain distance

The distant mountains are covered in sunlight and shadow, as seen from Mission Farm Road in Killington on Wednesday morning.


News
Stomping Out Stigma: Turning Point Center host first Walk for Recovery event

On Saturday, the Turning Point Center will celebrate growth and participation with a walk in the right direction at their “Stomping out Stigma” event at Main Street Park, set to start at 1 p.m.

And for Administrative Assistant Tonya Wright, the event is personal: She, like other staff members and volunteers at Turning Point, is in recovery, and the idea to confront the stigma surrounding substance abuse disorder occurred to her years ago.

“I’ve been wanting to do something like this since I started working here,” Wright said. “We want to take the opportunity to bring the community together. We want to celebrate positive change.”

Since Turning Point’s inception, the center has grown to support 550 people in recovery every month and now has five full-time members, outreach programs with Marble Valley Correctional Facility, adult drug court, the Homeless Prevention Center, sanctuary houses, Serenity House, the Dismas house and the Vermont telephone recovery hotline, among other organizations.

Executive Director Tracie Hauck said soon they’ll launch a recovery coach initiative in emergency rooms.

This weekend, Turning Point expects to see several hundred people in Main Street Park to enjoy a stroll, free food, live music by local musician Ben Fuller, and special appearances from Miss Vermont and Mayor David Allaire at their no cost, family-friendly event celebrating those in recovery and destroying the stigma surrounding it.

“When I started here, I was required to do 20 hours of (volunteer) service a week,” Wright said. “I was supported in my recovery. I came here every day, and I eventually got hired.”

Turning Point, as an alternative recovery center, is staffed and volunteered by peers on their recovery journey.

“Having a peer impacts people because if I tell someone about my life 10 years ago, it gives them hope that they can do something similar,” Wright said. “Hope that it can be done. It doesn’t matter if you mess up or take off for awhile ... it’s a learning experience.”

“That lived experience means you can have that freedom to have that open discussion,” Hauck said.

Hauck said one of the major problems in Rutland and Vermont is the introduction of fentanyl to a lot of other substances, resulting in higher mortality rates.

But the other plague for those in recovery remains the stigma: The notion that because someone has substance abuse disorder, they are a dishonest person undeserving of another chance.

“We don’t judge them by their worst moment in their lives,” Hauck said. “We’re still people. (Those afflicted) don’t know how to trust. They’re on survival mode. But if you feed them as a human being, and you see them as just a person, what better to motivate someone to do something better? It’s progress, not perfection.”

The program can be a life-long one, where those in recovery can always find the assistance, support and care they need from people who can empathize from their own experiences.

The program provides educational and extracurricular activities like team events and pottery classes, and some like Wright and Hauck end up helping to build the workforce in paid positions through their recovery.

“I came down here to go to an NA meeting in 2013,” Hauck said. “I felt such a feeling of acceptance. They just wanted to get to know me and accept me for who I was.”

But the continued stigma that people in recovery aren’t capable of being responsible renters and contributing members of the community prevents many from taking advantage of opportunities such as making a livable wage and having stable housing, which are necessary to continue on a road to better days.

“It’s a label that gets put on them,” Hauck said. “It’s important to look at what their story is — what brought them to that point? Many of them are hurting. Nobody is going to get better if they get labeled. ... If you feel like you’re going to be judged, you’re going to lie. You’re going to hide.”

With the growing success of the program, Hauck said now the center could use a bigger building, more state funding and more support from others with good recovery as their initiatives continue to grow.

“We don’t ever shut the door on them,” Hauck said. “We’re open arms. It’s mainly about the connection. We’re kind of a connected family.”

katelyn.barcellos @rutlandherald.com


News
An active weekend set for Center Street

For the first time in its three-year history, timekeepers will track participants in the Vermont Great 2.4.6.8K Run-Walk.

The event is set for Saturday and is happening in tandem with two other events, one that will see Center Street transformed, temporarily, into a park, while the other involves a bicycle course teaching kids about safety.

Traci Moore, director of Rutland Health Foundation, said Wednesday she’s coordinating the Vermont Great 2.4.6.8K. Funds raised will go to the palliative care program at the Foley Cancer Center, at Rutland Regional Medical Center. The goal is to raise $10,000.

Registration will begin at 8:30 a.m. on Center Street with the race starting at 10:30 a.m. There’ll be a gathering at 12:30 p.m. People can register in advance at the hospital’s website, www.rrmc.org/, by clicking on the tab for the Vermont Great 2.4.6.8K Run Walk.

Moore said having the runners and walkers timed is part of an effort to make the event fun for as many people as possible. While there’s no award for the winners beyond bragging rights, many runners, Moore said, like to know their times.

She said between 250 and 350 people have participated each year. The event is aimed at all ages, skills and fitness levels, hence the choice in distances. The routes overlap. All of them begin and end on Center Street.

Andy Paluch, executive director of Come Alive Outside, said his group will hold the The Green Street Challenge, covering part of Center Street with 6,000 square feet of sod, turning it into a temporary park.

“There will be a lot of toys for kids to play with,” he said. Yoga and zumba instructors will also be there. Paluch said the goal is to show people the importance of being active and outside.

He said the Rutland Regional Planning Commission is also behind a bicycle safety event for kids, held near Wonderfeet Kid’s Museum on Center Street. They’ll be setting up a course for kids to ride on and practice safe riding skills. The commission has partnered with Local Motion, a Burlington-based company specializing in bicycle safety education.

keith.whitcomb @rutlandherald.com


Local
Norwich University
Driver identified in cadet's death

NORTHFIELD — Norwich University paid tribute to one of its own this week.

Keanan Thompson, 22, a senior cadet at the military college, died after a hit-and-run crash Sunday on Interstate 91 near Weathersfield.

On Wednesday, police identified the driver of the other vehicle involved as Patricia Whitcomb, 65, of Charlestown, New Hampshire, after she went to the Westminster Barracks on Monday and reported that she believed she may have been the motorist who had struck Thompson in the southbound roadway.

Further investigation by police confirmed Whitcomb’s car, a gray 2004 Honda Civic with New Hampshire registration, was the vehicle involved in the incident, police said in a printed statement.

The accident remains under investigation, and troopers are consulting with the Windsor County State’s Attorney’s Office regarding any possible charges that may arise from the incident.

Police said Thompson, of Stockbridge, was traveling south at about 12:50 a.m. Sunday, when he lost control of his Jeep Wrangler and was ejected from the vehicle into the roadway.

Before witnesses could begin to render aid, police say an unknown gray, four-door sedan, drove through the accident scene, striking Thompson. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

At Norwich University this week, fellow cadets, university faculty and staff members mourned their loss. Mourners included Thompson’s fiancée of three years, Madison Eline, who was in the same class with him.

“This is a heartbreaking tragedy, and the Norwich family’s thoughts and prayers are with Keanan’s family, friends and community,” said a Tuesday statement from the university.

Also on Tuesday, there was a late-evening echo Taps ceremony and a silent vigil by 1,500 cadets to honor Thompson — a tradition to honor all fallen Norwich cadets.

“The echo Taps ceremony was by far the most amazing one I’ve ever attended,” Eline said. “Usually when it’s over, everyone goes back to their rooms, but tonight, everyone just kind of stood there after for a very long time, no one wanted to leave.

“The support was incredible, which really proved how influential Keanan was,” she added.

Eline and Thompson were both criminal justice majors at Norwich, due to graduate in the spring. Both were also members of the Vermont National Guard, and both planned to apply to be troopers with the Vermont State Police.

“Keanan was on the dean’s list, he had a really great GPA, we always had the same classes and would help each other,” Eline said this week. “Everyone at school knew that he was a great leader, and I knew everyone went to him (for help and advice).

“When he was at a cadet training this summer, I know that people in both of the platoons he was in looked to him for guidance — that’s just kind of who he was — and in ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps), he was a platoon sergeant ... and everyone there looked up to him,” she added.

Eline said she believed Thompson was headed for his parents’ home in Perkinsville, near the scene of the crash, when the accident happened Sunday.

Eline said Thompson’s death was a second loss for the family in a just a few months. Thompson’s older brother, Christian, 26, died of a drug overdose in July. That loss was why Keanan Thompson wanted to be a police officer, so that he could fight the drug epidemic in Vermont.

“That’s kind of why he wanted to go into law enforcement,” Eline said. “He saw the path that his brother was taking.”

Eline said she would continue to follow their plan to apply to be a state trooper, and said she submitted her paperwork Tuesday, and would also commission in the U.S. Army as a lieutenant later this year.

“I’m still going to do the same exact plan we had,” Eline said.

Eline said she heard the news about Whitcomb contacting the police about the accident on Tuesday night and was troubled as to why she did not stop and left the scene of the accident.

“I have no idea what she was thinking at the time; if she knew what she had done or not,” Eline said. “Whether or not she knew exactly what was happening or what she did was irrelevant, she should have stopped.

“I am thankful that she turned herself in, and to Ms. Whitcomb, you made the right decision by going to the police and know that I am grateful for that,” Eline added.

A GoFundMe site to raise $7,000 for funeral expenses for the family had reached more than $30,000 on Wednesday afternoon.

A memorial service for Thompson will be held in Norwich Chapel at Norwich University at 2 p.m. Monday.

Anyone with information about the crash is asked to call State Police at 802 722-4600.

stephen.mills @timesargus.com


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The Space Between the Shadows Tour. 8 p.m. The Paramount Theatre, 30 Center St., Rutland.