May 8, 2013

Local & State Dispatches

From staff and news services

AUGUSTA

Senate-approved bill would allow higher speed limits

The Maine Senate has given final approval and sent on to Gov. Paul LePage a bill allowing – but not ordering – higher speeds on Maine’s interstate highways.

L.D. 654 would authorize the transportation commissioner to raise the speed limit to 75 mph on the interstates, where the limit in most areas is 65 mph. But it doesn’t mean an automatic speed limit increase.

Before any change, the transportation commissioner and the Department of Transportation’s engineering staff would have to determine whether it’s safe to raise the speed limit on a given stretch of highway.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Justin Chenette, D-Saco, said at a hearing in March that a number of factors would be taken into account before raising the speed, such as how congested an area is.

House upholds LePage’s veto of registration increase

The Maine House voted Tuesday to uphold Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill that could have meant $2 increases in vehicle registration and driver license fees if towns and cities had opted to charge more.

After a brief debate, representatives voted 88-55 to override the veto issued by the governor on Friday. The tally was shy of the two-thirds majority needed to override.

The vetoed bill, L.D. 405, would have given municipalities the option of increasing the motor vehicle licensing and registration service fees they collect and keep. Fees for the renewal of a license or registration could have increased from $3 to $5, and the fee for a new license or registration could have risen from $4 to $6.

“Here we are again, voting on another tax increase,” House Republican Leader Ken Fredette of Newport said before the vote. “I think the governor was right” in vetoing the bill.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Alan Casavant, D-Biddeford, said it would have helped cities and towns cover the cost of that basic duty at a time they are feeling increased financial pressure.

Biddeford is among the 54 Maine towns and cities that have sent resolutions to the Legislature opposing the governor’s proposed budget, saying it imposes more pressure on local property taxpayers.

In his veto message, LePage said the problems municipalities face are not the result of government taking money from residents, but rather a poor environment for business to create jobs and the state’s “significant tax burden.”

Educators can learn about laptops in online briefings

The Maine Learning Technology Initiative is holding online briefings for educators about the state’s preferred option for laptops next year.

Hewlett-Packard beat Apple for the bidding in Maine to provide tens of thousands of laptops next year. The so-called webinars featuring Director of Learning Technology Jeff Mao on Tuesday and Wednesday will explain how the specs were chosen. Topics also include a discussion of the transition from Apple machines to laptops running Windows.

Maine, the only state to provide laptops to public school students statewide, worked with Hawaii and Vermont to negotiate the contract focusing on five types of laptops and tablets.

Schools can choose one of the other products, including Apple iPads and the MacBook Air, but would have to pay the cost difference.

WINDHAM

High-speed chase leads to capture, several charges

Police say a Windham man led them on a high-speed chase that reached speeds of 110 mph before he was captured early Tuesday.

An officer tried to pull over a 1998 Dodge Avenger at 10:30 p.m. on River Road for a vehicle defect, said Lt. David DeGruchy. The car, which police say was driven by Matthew Higgins, 33, of Main Street, sped off and when officers tried to cut it off near Route 302, the car crossed a vacant lot and continued on Route 302. 

The car turned off the road onto a dead end near Collins Pond, and Higgins got out and ran into the woods, police said. A police dog and handler searched through the woods and eventually Higgins came out where some Cumberland County Sheriff’s deputies were waiting for him, DeGruchy said.

Higgins was arrested at 12:30 a.m.  and charged with criminal speeding, eluding an officer, driving to endanger and driving while a habitual offender.

KENNEBUNK

Town will remove exposed and jagged tree roots

The town of Kennebunk will remove jagged pieces of tree roots and stumps that were exposed on Gooch’s Beach after winter storms washed away sand.

Town officials are concerned that swimmers or surfers could become snagged on the wood pieces, which are covered at high tide.

The town consulted the Maine Department of Environmental Protection before the decision was made to remove wood that looks “like a group of prongs coming out of the ground,” said Town Manager Barry Tibbetts.

The town will not dig up stumps, some of which have become smooth from exposure to the tides, Tibbetts said.

The work will be done during the next two weeks, depending on the tides.

KENNEBUNKPORT

‘Happiest Seaside Towns’ list includes Kennebunkport

Kennebunkport came in seventh in Coastal Living magazine’s second-annual list of “America’s Happiest Seaside Towns.”

The list of the 10 best places to live by the sea, as ranked by consumers, is featured in the June 2013 issue of the magazine, which hits newsstands May 17.

Coming in first was Beaufort, S.C., followed by Harwich Port, Mass.; Sanibel Island, Fla.; Sag Harbor, N.Y.; Newport, R.I.; Rowayton, Conn.; Kennebunkport; P’ia Town, Maui, Hawaii; La Jolla, Calif; and Pescadero, Calif.

The list was based on criteria that included ranking on the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, percentage of sunny days, healthiness of beaches, commute times, walkability, standard of living and financial well-being of residents, geographic diversity, and what the magazine called “coastal vibe.”

Coastal locations that made the 2012 list were not eligible for this year’s list.

The full list of towns is at coastalliving.com/happytowns2013.

PORTLAND

Boaters are found safe after all-night search in thick fog

The Coast Guard ended its search for a missing boater off the coast after finding a group of canoeists who were safe on an island in Blue Hill Bay.

Coast Guard officials in Portland received a distress call at 7:43 p.m. Monday from a man who gave his position as west of Mount Desert Island, but did not provide the nature of his distress or the name of the vessel.

The Coast Guard launched a boat and searched in thick fog throughout the night before finding a group of 25 school members with 10 canoes around 10:30 a.m. Tuesday on Long Island.

Officials say the group got disoriented in the fog and put out the distress call before coming upon the island, where they camped for the night.

Court rules music teacher’s sentence was excessive

Maine’s highest court has vacated a former music teacher’s 27-year sentence, saying the term is excessive for his convictions on sex charges involving his students.

Theodore Stanislaw of Blue Hill was originally sentenced to 28 years in prison after pleading guilty to unlawful sexual contact for molesting five girls ages 10 to 14 from 2004 to 2008.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court vacated that sentence in 2011, ruling that sentencing guidelines were misapplied. Stanislaw was then resentenced to 27 years.

In a 4-3 decision, justices ruled Tuesday that the 27-year sentence was out of line for unlawful sexual contact.

The court ordered that Stanislaw be resentenced, suggesting that an appropriate term would be one-third to one-half of his previous sentence.

Coast Guard names Gilda regional commander

The Coast Guard has a new commander overseeing operations in northern New England.

Capt. Brian Gilda assumed command of the region in a change-of-command ceremony Tuesday in Portland.

Gilda has served as deputy commander for the past two years and replaces Capt. Christopher Roberge, who is retiring after 28 years of service.

The northern New England sector includes Maine, New Hampshire and all of Lake Champlain, which is within Vermont and New York. The area has more than 5,000 miles of coastline and more than 1,100 Coast Guard personnel.

BANGOR

Bangor suspect says tussle led to breathing problems

A Bangor man accused of killing his 49-year-old girlfriend told police they were involved in an altercation before she died.

A police affidavit indicates that David Coon, 50, said the two were on the floor in a tussle when he covered her mouth to keep her from screaming. He says she was having breathing difficulties when he got up, so he dialed 911. Police described it as a domestic violence homicide.

The affidavit was made public as Coon appeared in court for a preliminary hearing Tuesday.

WZON-AM says autopsy results indicate Sherry Clifford died from asphyxiation and a neck injury.

SACO

Wind-fanned barn fire is under investigation

A four-stall horse barn burned in Saco on Tuesday, and while there were no horses inside, a dozen chickens died.

The fire at 46 Boom Road was reported by two neighbors at 12:34 p.m.

Saco Fire Department Deputy Chief Robert Martin said he was the first firefighter there and saw the building in flames. The barn is in an open, rural area and wind fanned the flames.

Firefighters saved a nearby storage building, but the barn was a total loss, Martin said.

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