On the third day of what was scheduled to be a five-day wrongful death trial, the case was resolved Wednesday but no one involved was willing to discuss the details.
The trial in Rutland civil court was based on the death of Lawrence Kaminski, 75, of Wallingford. Kaminski was working as a traffic flagger for Green Mountain Flagging on the side of Route 7 in Middlebury on March 11, 2016, when he was hit and killed by a Eustis Cable Enterprises work truck.
Police said at the time that the utility truck was backing up and Kaminski, who was behind the truck, was struck and killed.
In August 2017, Burlington attorney John Evers and Rutland attorney Neal Vreeland filed a complaint in Rutland civil court on behalf of Kaminski’s wife, Barbara Kaminski, who was the executrix of Kaminski’s estate.
The complaint alleged three reasons for action: negligence on the part of Eustis Cable, Barbara Kaminski’s right to a “survivor’s action” and the wrongful death of Kaminski.
The complaint said there were two Eustis employees in the area when the utility truck began to back up. Both knew that Kaminski was behind the truck and both “failed to ensure that Mr. Kaminski was out of harm’s way before backing up, knowing full well that he was somewhere behind but not visible in the rear-view mirrors.”
Evers and Vreeland accused an unnamed Eustis employee of placing electrical tape on the speaker that sounds an alarm when the truck backs up, “in order to prevent it from operating at normal volume.”
During testimony on Wednesday, John DeBruin, of Mount Tabor, said he was at the worksite on March 11, 2016, and heard the back-up alarm.
But after brief testimony from Christina Lord, human resources director at Green Mountain Flagging, Judge Samuel Hoar ordered a break for lunch. He told jurors the trial would resume around 1:15 p.m.
The attorneys involved did not return to the courtroom until around 1:45 p.m. After a conversation at the judge’s bench with Hoar, Ever, Vreeland and attorney Nick Kosiavelon, the attorneys involved began to pack up their belongings and left the courthouse.
Afterward, Ever said the case had been resolved, but said he couldn’t disclose any more than that.
Barbara Kaminski declined to comment as well.
Kosiavelon said he wasn’t authorized to speak and declined to confirm his name or say whether he was the lead counsel in the case.
A court clerk said Hoar was not expected to return to the courtroom or bring the jury back into court to tell them the case had been resolved in a public setting.
In 2016, Susan Kay, the president of Eustis, told the Rutland Herald that in the company’s 20-year history, there had never been a similar fatal accident.
According to his obituary, Kaminski was a Navy veteran. He and Barbara Kaminski moved to Wallingford in 1996.
There’s been an unusually high number of dead or dying owls reported to authorities this year, and while it’s upsetting, it’s nothing to panic over, according to experts in the field.
Louis Porter, commissioner of the Department of Fish & Wildlife, said Tuesday in a phone interview that he told the Fish & Wildlife Board at its April 3 meeting that the department has received an unusually high number of reports about owls being found dead.
Porter said two autumns ago there was a large crop of nuts in the woods, which led to an increase in small mammal populations. This led to an owl population increase, as owls prey on these creatures. This past winter, Porter said, was a hard one for owls, as the heavy, dense snow made it easier for the small mammals to hide.
He said this happens from time to time with different animal species. Last fall, he said, there was an unusually large number of squirrels reported killed on the roadways after an increase in available food led to the population rising.
Lauren Adams, development coordinator for Vermont Institute of Natural Science, agreed with Porter’s assessment, saying this isn’t the first time there’s been a spike in such incidents.
Adams was recently named development coordinator at VINS, but prior to that served as lead animal keeper. VINS runs a wild bird rehabilitation center.
She said by far the most common species of owl in Vermont, and hence the kind VINS normally sees, is the barred owl.
In 2018, VINS took in 45 barred owls. Between Jan. 1 and the end of March of this year, it’s already taken in approximately 50. The most VINS has seen for owl intakes was 71 in 2016, and Adams expects that number will be matched or beaten by the end of 2019.
She said VINS manages to rehabilitate about half of the owls it takes in, releasing them back into the wild near where they were found. The success rate sounds low, she said, but it’s on par with other animal rehabilitation centers.
In a normal year, most of the owls coming to VINS are found injured on roadsides, likely hurt by collisions with vehicles, said Adams. This year, many were found emaciated and sick from starvation in odd places such as backyards, parking lots and driveways. Most of the reports came between February and March. She said the owls were seeking open areas to hunt in.
If people come across a sick or injured owl, or other bird, they should first call VINS at 359-5000 during normal business hours, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. As of Saturday, the hours will be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Adams said it’s open every day. Those who call should use the extension 212, but if it’s after hours, use 510, which will lead to a hotline with instructions.
Adams said it’s not advisable for people to approach an owl if they don’t know what they’re doing. Some birds, she said, don’t survive being transported to VINS, at 149 Natures Way in Quechee.
During spring, people sometimes confuse a fledgling bird with a sick or injured one, Adams said, and will take it to VINS when it should have been left alone in the wild. Calling first, she said, can avoid unnecessary bird transports.
Steve Parren, of the Fish & Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Diversity Program, said in an email Tuesday that it’s often the younger owls that die in circumstances such as these.
“The first year is the hardest because the birds are not experienced and food is harder to find,” he said.
“This winter we have snow cover since November, and the winter has lasted a long time. We don’t have an estimate of the owl population or how many died, but we have received more calls than usual about dead barred owls, owls at bird feeders — the small mammals that come to the seed are the main draw — lethargic birds, and owls out during the day, including on power lines along roads,” he said.
Adams said fluctuation within wildlife populations is common, but often unseen.
“It’s tough when you see it,” she said.
BURLINGTON — A Rutland woman will remain in prison pending trial in Vermont in connection with a stolen firearm later used in the shooting of a New York City Police detective last summer, but a co-defendant was released on strict conditions Wednesday.
Jennifer R. Griffin, 44, remains a danger to the community, Federal Magistrate John M. Conroy ruled following a detention hearing in U.S. District Court in Burlington.
“She needs a high level of treatment. She is not ready to be released,” Conroy said after hearing arguments from the prosecution and defense.
In a separate hearing Conroy ruled Gregory R. Miller, 33, who had left Rutland and has been living recently in a sober house in Burlington, can be released. Defense lawyer Richard Goldsborough presented arguments and testimony that his client has been turning his life around.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office has petitioned a federal judge to issue an order to Vermont officials to allow access to a third defendant, who is held on state criminal charges.
Prosecutors want Kenneth Stone, 29, released briefly from the Marble Valley Correctional Center in Rutland into the custody of federal marshals so he can be brought to Burlington for arraignment.
If convicted, all three federal defendants face up to 20 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.
Griffin and Miller have pleaded not guilty to conspiring with Stone and “others, known and unknown to the grand jury” to use an Armscor of the Philippines .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol in connection with a drug trafficking crime.
The gun was stolen from a friend of Griffin, Henry Duval, 69, formerly of Plain Street in Rutland, and the firearm was later traded for drugs, officials said. They said Duval had bought the gun less than a year earlier.
The handgun was used by a fleeing felon to wound New York Police Detective Miguel Soto as he and a partner tried to execute a domestic violence arrest warrant in Brooklyn on July 6, 2018, officials said. Soto is an eight-year veteran and the winner of departmental awards, including the Medal for Valor in 2013, the NYPD said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Lasher said in court Wednesday that Griffin has a long history of substance abuse and was looking to trade the stolen gun for heroin or money to feed her habit.
Assistant Federal Public Defender Barclay Johnson said Griffin should be released and be allowed to continue her treatment on the outside. He said Griffin has a home and a support system. Johnson said she also was willing to live with her daughter.
Conroy said he would consider releasing Griffin, who had tested positive for cocaine when she was arrested on Monday, but he needed to see a serious residential drug treatment plan.
He also noted the case was a “very serious offense” and there appeared to be compelling evidence including pictures. He said he was concerned about her substantial abuse problems and failure to show up for appointments.
Later during Miller’s hearing, Goldsborough presented a witness from First Step Recovery House to discuss the progress the defendant has made.
Brian Cross of First Step testified that Miller has been active in the treatment programs offered at the sober home at 1056 North Ave. in Burlington since arriving in October 2018.
Cross said Miller worked his way up to be vice president of the house and he would be welcomed back if released.
“Greg is motivated,” Cross said.
Lasher tried to say that Miller was both a risk to flee and a danger and noted the intimidation or threats made to a potential witness.
Lasher introduced a series of text messages and pictures that were exchanged by Miller, Stone and others to set up a possible beating on an inmate that was thought to have talked with the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives after agents traced the gun in the New York City shooting to Rutland. Also, there was news coverage of the officer being shot and the suspect arrested.
The government did obtain from Facebook messages between Griffin and Stone discussing trading a firearm for drugs, and a photograph of Duval’s stolen gun sent by Griffin to Stone.
Conroy said he would allow Miller’s release, but also told the defendant there were serious consequences if he violated the conditions of release or committed a new crime.
The New York shooter was identified as Kelvin Stichel, 33, who was wanted for domestic robbery involving a firearm against his wife, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said.
MONTPELIER — The national commander of the American Legion visited the Capital City on Wednesday to mark the 100th anniversary of the world’s largest veterans’ association.
Brett P. Reistad, of Virginia, was elected the top official of the Legion in August and has already visited 35 states and several U.S. protectorates worldwide.
His visit to Montpelier included a stop at the Vermont American Legion Headquarters Post 100 on State Street, a visit and photo-op with Gov. Phil Scott at the State House and lunch at the American Legion Post 3 on Main Street.
The American Legion is a U.S. war veterans’ organization founded March 15, 1919, at the American Club near Place de Concorde in Paris, France, by members of the American Expeditionary Forces to help care for soldiers returning from World War I. The Legion was chartered on Sept. 16, 1919, by the U.S. Congress.
As the years have marched on, so have many of the Legion’s members, down from a peak of 3.3 million members after the end of World War II to 2.3 million in 2013. Post 3’s membership has dropped from a peak of 500 members to about 240 members today. Statewide, there are about 10,000 members.
Reistad said he was happy to return to Vermont — and meet with the governor — after a visit last year during the nomination process to be the Legion national commander.
Reistad said he received assurances from Scott about support for veterans in the state, including a Senate bill. S.111 seeks to establish a registry of veterans who suffered the toxic effects of so-called burn pits when disposing a variety of hazardous wastes that have caused medical problems. Reistad said it was a similar action like the Legion’s efforts to advocate at the national level for the victims of the defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
“He had a couple of questions about the burn pits and talked about the legislation that they just put through your general assembly and asked if it was something that we’re focused on the national level, and we certainly are,” Reistad said.
Reistad was met at Burlington International Airport by Vermont Legion state Cmdr. David Woodward and Melvin Knight of the Legion Post 10 in Barre, who acts as the Legion’s public information officer in Vermont. Post 3 Cmdr. Dick Harlow was unable to join the day’s activities because of illness.
“(Reistad’s) obviously a very dedicated Legionnaire, and this is a very important PR opportunity for us, to let people know what the American Legion does for our veterans and our communities,” Woodward said. “We discussed veterans’ affairs and how we feel about national bills being proposed.”
“These visits are important for both sides,” Knight added. “It’s important for the national commander to get a feel for the situation with the Legion out in the field — what’s they’re concerned about, whether it’s relationships with the VA or helping youth — and it’s an uplifting experience for a national commander to come to a post, so it’s a two-way thing.”
One Legion member attending the lunch at Post 3 in Montpelier was Adjunct Dell Hill from Post 33 in Morrisville.
“It’s an honor for each state that gets an official visit from the national commander,” Hill said. “That’s a lot of travel for one person in a year.
“He’s on the road quite a bit, but they do get to come out and rub shoulders with the rank-and-file,” he added. “You get to shake their hand and talk to them personally. It’s like a real shot of adrenaline to have the national commander come in and pump you up.”
In addition to focusing on the core four pillars of Legion activity — Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation; National Security; Americanism; and Children and Youth — Reistad said he is also focusing on new initiatives.
As part of the 100th anniversary, Reistad launched the Team 100 campaign, which gathers the thoughts of Legion members to use in promotional materials to increase membership. The campaign also provides incentives for Legion posts and departments worldwide to receive financial rewards for returning members to their rosters, ramping up renewal rates and hitting their targets for 2019.
Because of his law enforcement background, Reistad will also meet with Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette, who was named Law Enforcement Officer of the Year by the Legion in 2012 for his ties to the community, establishing foot patrols in high-risk residential areas, obtaining grants to fund the purchase of high-tech law enforcement tools and supporting Boy Scouts of America.
As 2019 national commander, Reistad’s theme is “Celebrating Our Legacy,” with special emphasis on the Legion’s centennial.
Reistad’s visit to Vermont on Wednesday included a visit to Hardwick Post 7 for a social evening, dinner and an overnight stay.
On Thursday, he will travel to Bennington to meet Doucette, do a radio interview and visit Chester Post 67 and Brattleboro Post 5 before heading to Massachusetts.
“We have seen what we thought was unseeable. We have seen and taken a picture of a black hole.”
Sheperd Doeleman, of Harvard University, leader of the project to actually photograph a black hole, 53 million light years away from Earth. — A6
Gypsy Reel, the Celtic-infused world-music band from Ludlow, is set to play the Old Firehouse in Tinmouth on Friday. Show starts at 7:30 p.m. B5
Record Store Day
Support the independent record store. Many special pressings available for this event. Original artists providing live music from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. The Howlin’ Mouse Record Store, 158 N. Main St., Rutland , firstname.lastname@example.org, 772-7955.