Jim Kenyon: Playing catch-up

By JIM KENYON

Valley News Columnist

Published: 07-02-2023 6:40 PM

With the first half of 2023 in the books, it’s time to catch up on what’s happening with some Upper Valley residents whose stories I’ve shared in the past.

After two surgeries and a monthlong hospital stay, Daniel Diaz is back making pizzas and riding his bicycle to and from work.

After finishing work at Ramunto’s Brick and Brew in Hanover on a January night, Diaz apparently hit an icy patch during the 4½-mile ride along Route 10 South to his West Lebanon apartment.

Diaz, 30, doesn’t remember much about the crash, which left him unconscious with severe head trauma. A surveillance camera at the nearby Sunset Motor Inn showed no vehicles in the vicinity, leading Lebanon police to rule out that Diaz was a victim of a hit-and-run.

Diaz suffered a fractured skull and possible brain bleed, which required emergency surgery at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center.

Diaz took to bicycling out of necessity when his driver’s license was suspended, following a second DUI conviction in 2022. With retired Hanover police officer Al Patterson offering encouragement, Diaz started attending services at Riverbank Church in White River Junction. The e-bike was a gift from the church.

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The accident kept Diaz from working for almost six months. Friends and his church pitched in, but Diaz still fell behind on his rent and other bills.

Lebanon’s human services office arranged for a one-time payment of $1,500. He also qualified for three months of rental assistance from Tri-County Action Program, a federally-funded nonprofit that aids northern New Hampshire residents in need. After I wrote about Diaz, an anonymous donor sent $500 that he used to pay overdue utility bills.

When I met up with Diaz again a few days ago, he was finishing a double shift at Ramunto’s. He’s working as many hours as he can to get back on track financially and help provide for his daughter, Lucille. Diaz and his former partner are co-parenting their daughter who turns 2 years old in August.

“Since the day I woke up in that hospital bed, I knew I needed to pull it together for her,” Diaz said.

On the night of the accident, Diaz had left his helmet at home. Does he wear it now? I asked.

“Always,” he said.

Keith Gokey remains in a Boston hospital, where he was airlifted following a Dec. 14 fire that left him with third-degree burns on 40% of his body.

Gokey, 56, was among Vermont’s chronically homeless when, with winter approaching, he moved into a nonprofit’s one-room mobile shelter in Hartford.

The 6-by-12-foot structure, provided by Doorways Into Good Shelter, or DIGS, for short, featured a wall heating system that ran on propane. State investigators found the heating system had not been installed by a Vermont-certified gas technician but couldn’t determine whether “some type of leak” had caused the fire.

Gokey told me in April that all he remembers is hearing a “poof” when he went to light a cigarette. “The next thing I knew, I was on fire,” he said.

Gokey has undergone multiple skin grafts in the burn center at Brighham and Women’s Hospital. “It’s tough, but I’m doing all right,” he said in a phone interview from his hospital room last week.

Gokey’s longtime girlfriend, Tiffany Kangas, reached out to Lebanon attorney Charlie Buttrey, who said in April that Gokey will need medical care “for the rest of his life.” Last week, Buttrey said he’s hired a fire reconstruction expert to help with an independent investigation into the cause of the accident.

The Hartland Selectboard and Town Manager Dave Ormiston agreed to part ways in late April.

Ormiston didn’t leave empty-handed. He received five months of salary — more than $36,000 — in exchange for his “voluntary resignation,” according to a separation agreement.

Ormiston had already pocketed a month’s pay after he was placed on paid administrative leave while the board looked into complaints about his management style. (One bone of contention: Ormiston objected to Town Clerk Brian Stroffolino bringing his dog to work at Damon Hall, the town office building.)

The Selectboard’s search for Ormiston’s permanent replacement is just getting started. Meanwhile, Ormiston has joined the management team at Twin Pines Housing Trust, the nonprofit behind much of the affordable housing in the Upper Valley. As Twin Pines’ project manager, Ormiston will play an important role in getting proposed developments off the ground.

“I’m really excited to be part of a solid organization that does good things,” Ormiston said.

Doren Hall has a new job, too.

After more than six years of running the Hanover Consumer Cooperative Society’s grocery store in Lebanon, Hall moved on this spring.

The Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany, N.Y., hired Hall to oversee daily operations of its grocery store and offsite deli, which combined have more than 185 employees. Hall continues to live in Cornish, splitting his time between Albany and working remotely.

I wrote about Hall after the Hanover Co-op’s governing board bypassed him for its general manager vacancy in 2022. It was the “last straw,” he said.

As manager of the Lebanon Co-op during the COVID-19 pandemic, Hall told me that he’d been called the N-word by a customer who refused to wear a mask, but upper management failed to support him.

Last May, Hall, who has more than 30 years of experience in the grocery store business, filed a racial discrimination complaint against the Hanover Co-op with the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights, which is still investigating the matter.

“We remain supportive of our employees’ rights to question if our practices effectively prioritize equity,” Co-op spokesman Allan Reetz responded via email.

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