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Jim Kenyon: Several resolutions for Upper Valley residents before the New Year

  • Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • “To them, everything is junk,” said Ed Tobin about environmental regulators from the State of Vermont, who are calling for him to pay fines for operating an unlicensed scrap yard at his home in Hartland, Vt. Due to health problems that cause him to have numbness in his legs, Tobin takes frequent breaks to sit while walking his property on May 22, 2019. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Columnist
Published: 12/28/2019 10:51:43 PM
Modified: 12/28/2019 11:30:06 PM

With a new year fast approaching, it’s time to catch up with some of the people — and often their troubles — I wrote about it in 2019.

Let’s get started:

Mark Laughlin, a gas technician, suffered a traumatic brain injury in a workplace propane explosion two years ago that left him with debilitating headaches and sensitivity to loud noises.

When his next-door neighbor in rural Springfield, N.H., started a firewood-cutting business earlier this year, Laughlin said the noise from chainsaws and a log splitter was more than he could bear.

Laughlin, 60, pointed out to town officials that Nick Cote’s new business violated the town’s zoning ordinance, which prohibits outdoor commercial businesses in rural residential areas. Cote, with his father’s help, applied for a special exception to cut logs in his parents’ yard on Bog Road.

In October, I wrote about the tough decision confronting the Springfield Zoning Board.

No one wanted to stand in the way of the 20-year-old Cote from making a living. At the same time, Laughlin, who continues to be treated for post-concussive syndrome, struggled with the noise.

After I wrote about the case, the five-member zoning board voted unanimously to grant the special exception with a few conditions.

In minutes of a Nov. 6 board meeting, Zoning Chairwoman Susan Chiarella noted that setting limits on the hours of operation would be the “neighborly thing to do.”

Cote is limited to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays. He can’t operate on Sundays.

Several readers suggested that Cote try using electric chainsaws, which make less noise. I emailed Cote about the idea, but didn’t hear back.

***

Ed Tobin has operated a salvage yard on his 14-acre property in Hartland for 35 years.

Three years ago, a neighbor, Marlene Murray, filed a complaint against Tobin with the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, according to state records.

Following a 2019 state environmental court hearing, in which Tobin represented himself, he was ordered to pay $12,249 in penalties for violating state salvage yard rules and hazardous waste management regulations.

This summer, Tobin, who suffers from a heart ailment, told me that he didn’t have that kind of money at his disposal. In July, the Agency of Natural Resources, or ANR for short, slapped a lien on his property, but Tobin told me that he hasn’t heard anything from the state in months.

In her complaint, Murray alleged that Tobin had spread gallons of used motor oil on Independent Drive, the private, dead-end road off Quechee Road that they share with a half-dozen neighbors.

State investigators determined the substance was vegetable oil, a nonhazardous material, which Tobin said he used to help keep down the dust on the road.

When I wrote about Tobin in August, he had been recently charged with harassing Murray, who has lived next door for more than 25 years.

“Ed can be the most wonderful person on earth, unless he thinks you’ve wronged him,” Murray told me last week. “I’m not responsible for his environmental problems with the state, he is.”

Tobin was charged with stalking — “due to his actions causing Murray emotional distress” — and aggravated disorderly conduct for engaging in “threatening behavior” with the intent to disturb her peace. He’s alleged to have also keyed Murray’s truck last spring, which led to an unlawful mischief charge.

He’s pleaded not guilty to the three misdemeanors. He told me that he’s rejected a plea deal even though it doesn’t call for jail time.

“I want a jury trial,” he said. “I didn’t do anything wrong. It all needs to come out.”

***

I wrote about Scott Pixley for the first time in late 2018, after he was arrested by Hartford police on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs.

Pixley was driving to the Walmart pharmacy in West Lebanon to pick up medications for his aging parents before heading to his dishwasher’s job.

He was handcuffed and kept in custody for five hours — forcing him to miss his shift at Kendal, a Hanover retirement community. Blood tests showed the only drug in Pixley’s system, other than caffeine, was an antidepressant that a doctor had prescribed him for years. Pixley, 43, has battled depression since he was a teenager.

Pixley’s criminal case became statewide news. Lebanon attorney Charlie Buttrey offered to represent him pro bono.

In an agreement worked out between Buttrey and Windsor County State’s Attorney David Cahill, Pixley agreed to plead guilty to negligent driving, a misdemeanor, in exchange for a deferred sentence. The deal allowed Pixley to maintain his driving privileges, which he needed to keep his job and care for his parents.

I’m happy to report that Pixley lived up to his part of the agreement. Along with completing a six-hour “safe driver” class in early 2019, he’s maintained a clean driving record.

The legal system worked in Pixley’s case. The state didn’t want him to walk free. (Partly, I’d argue, so Hartford cops and Vermont State Police, who were also involved in the case, could save face).

By completing the deferred sentence’s conditions, Pixley hasn’t been saddled with a criminal record. Still, he can’t shake everything that’s happened to him.

“When I see a police cruiser in my mirror, I have to take a deep breath,” he said. “I wonder, ‘Are they coming after me?’ ”

Overall, it’s been a tough year. Pixley’s father, Marvin, who suffered from a heart ailment, died Oct. 13.

Pixley continues to care for his mother, Kandy, who uses a wheelchair after losing her left leg below the knee to diabetes a while back. When I called their mobile home in Strafford last week, she said her son was out buying pellets for the stove that is their primary heat source.

“We’re getting by,” Scott Pixley told me when we talked later. “Right now, I’m more worried about my mother than myself.”

***

On Dec. 20, Alonda Peterson, of Canaan, returned to the New Hampshire Statehouse to cap what began two years ago as her one-woman campaign to close a loophole in the state’s child protection laws.

Peterson met with Gov. Chris Sununu to commemorate the Legislature passing House Bill 427 earlier this year.

The bill, known as Jade’s Law, was named after Peterson’s 12-year-old autistic daughter. In March, I wrote about Peterson telling her family’s story to legislators in the House Children and Family Law Committee.

In May 2017, Canaan police, after being contacted by Peterson, arrested her father, John Knott Jr., on charges that he sexually assaulted Peterson’s daughter — his granddaughter — a month earlier.

With her father about to be released on bail, Peterson tried to get a restraining order to protect her daughter.

Peterson learned, however, that under New Hampshire law, restraining orders were mostly for adults who were dealing with threats of domestic violence or stalking by a current or former partner.

Peterson approached state Rep. Tim Josephson, a Canaan Democrat, who agreed to propose legislation that would allow parents to seek a restraining order on behalf of their minor children. (Vermont already had a similar law.)

New Hampshire lawmakers shelved the bill in 2018 over concern that the measure could potentially be used by one parent against another in child custody battles.

After some tweaking — and more lobbying by Peterson — the bill passed this spring. (In October, a jury found Knott, 63, guilty of aggravated sexual assault. He received a 15- to 30-year prison sentence.)

Josephson told me that Peterson’s testimony left an impression on lawmakers.

“Her kids are everything to her,” he said. “She fights so hard for them. It’s very inspiring.”

Peterson’s 13-year-old son, Abe, attended the ceremony in Concord, but Jade, a seventh-grader, opted to stay at school.

“She didn’t want to miss her school’s (holiday) party,” Peterson said. “She just wanted to be with her classmates.”

***

On Oct. 4, Tyler Webster was killed after his logging truck overturned in Bethel. Vermont State Police reported that Webster’s 2000 Mack truck had a “brake malfunction” while he was headed down Royalton Hill Road with a load of logs.

At the scene, witnesses told emergency personnel that Webster, 32, had veered away from a line of cars and utility workers. “He swerved to avoid everybody,” said Mike Manning, of Barnard Fire and Rescue, who responded to the crash. “He spared them.”

With Vermont’s rifle season approaching in November, Barnard Fire and Rescue held a “buck pool” fundraiser to help Webster’s family. Webster was a member of the volunteer department and an avid hunter.

Mike Johnson, of Barnard, won the pool, bagging a 10-pointer that weighed 175 pounds.

More importantly, Barnard Fire and Rescue, through its buck pool and other contributions, raised $5,000 for Webster’s partner and their 2-year-old daughter.

“I imagine this will help them a lot,” said Justin Ward, Webster’s cousin. “It’s a great little community we live in. When people are down, others find a way to help them out.”

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.




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