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Fuel-Based Disasters In 2003 Caused Fire And Contamination



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Fuel-Based Disasters In 2003 Caused Fire And Contamination

By Andrew Gorosko

Two fuel-based disasters were among the major local emergencies of 2003.

A tractor-trailer tanker truck, which was hauling approximately 8,400 gallons of gasoline, collided head-on with a sport-utility vehicle on South Main Street early on the morning of Saturday, September 27, igniting an immense fire that burned for several hours, causing extensive property damage and major extended traffic delays in the heavily traveled area.

The crash occurred just south of South Main Street’s southernmost intersection with Elm Drive. The tanker truck driver escaped with minor injuries. The sport-utility vehicle driver, John Riguzzi, 31, of Sandy Hook, was hospitalized with multiple injuries. Earlier this month, police arrested Riguzzi on a charge of driving under the influence, after determining that he had crossed the road’s centerline and caused the crash.

Cleanup crews removed approximately 500 cubic yards of gasoline-contaminated soil from the area, where traces of the toxic gasoline additive MTBE were detected.

In early December at Canaan House at Fairfield Hills, during a weekend snowstorm, an external  heating system sprung a leak that went undetected for an extended period. The leak spewed an estimated 4,550 gallons of #2 heating fuel onto the ground, which then drained downward into the soil, reaching area groundwater.

A massive excavation and costly cleanup, supervised by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), followed. So far, there have been no indications of contamination to the Pootatuck Aquifer, a major local source of drinking water. Swift action to control fuel spill damage limited the contamination of a trout stream, which is a tributary of Deep Brook. The riverine area is one of the few places in the state where trout breed naturally.

As the cleanup continues, the town has delayed its planned $3.9-million purchase of Fairfield Hills from the state until various environmental issues, including those posed by the fuel spill, are resolved.

Bank Robbery And A Hit-And-Run

In May, in the realm of law enforcement, the town had its first bank robbery in more than three years. The FBI later charged a New York State woman with bank robbery in connection with a string of six bank robberies that she allegedly committed in Newtown, Brookfield, Danbury, and New York State on May 21 and 22. Pamela Kaichen, 44, formerly of Chappaqua, N.Y., was arrested for the robberies. Late on the morning of May 22, People’s Bank at Newtown Shopping Village at 6 Queen Street was the target of a well-planned, low-key bank robbery. It was one of six banks police say Kaichen robbed on that day and the day before.

There were no injuries in the People’s Bank robbery. Police said Kaichen fled with “several thousand dollars.” 

In November, a Danbury Superior Court judge sentenced a Sherman man to six years in state prison, plus five years of probation after prison, for a May hit-and-run accident on Route 302. In the accident, the intoxicated man ran over a woman jogger with a pickup truck, seriously injuring her, and then fled the scene without stopping.

Michael Williams, 32, a self-employed carpenter, entered pleas of “no contest” to two felonies –– evading responsibility with serious injury and second degree assault with a motor vehicle.

While driving his red 1995 Ford F-150 pickup truck during the evening rush at about 5 pm May 29, Mr Williams ran over and seriously injured Marianne Ryder, 44, of Dodgingtown on Route 302 (Sugar Street). Mr Williams then left the accident scene without stopping. Mrs Ryder, who is now recovering from multiple serious injuries, spent three weeks as a patient in Danbury Hospital after the accident. Mr Williams is incarcerated at a state prison in Enfield

Among other major motor vehicle accidents, in the early morning hours of August 27, a tractor-trailer truck hauling a full load of household garbage through Hawleyville went out of control on Mt Pleasant Road, snapped a utility pole, rolled over, and then spilled an estimated 50,000 pounds of smelly garbage onto a lawn near Taunton Lane. The truck driver received minor injuries.

Drug Investigations

During the second half of 2003, town police expanded their investigatory work into local drug crime. Police have said that recently heightened public awareness and concern about drug abuse by local youths have generated numerous useful tips for them about illicit drug activity, helping them investigate and pursue criminal charges against local drug offenders. Such intelligence gleaned from the general public has fueled several investigations that have resulted in criminal charges against offenders, according to police.

In November, a Newtown police officer, who had been charged with a felony for allegedly cashing in a stolen gambling chip at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, resigned from the police department. Probationary Police Officer Michael Riccio, 26, quit his job.

The state police’s casino unit had charged Mr Riccio, 26, on a warrant issued by Norwich Superior Court, listing one count of conspiracy to commit third degree larceny. According to state police, Mr Riccio cashed in a stolen $5,000 gambling chip at the Mohegan Sun’s Earth Casino on October 20.

Also during 2003, the state pursued its continuing investigation into the operations of the now-defunct Newtown Oil Company. Last winter, the firm failed to honor prepaid home heating fuel delivery contracts with approximately 1,400 customers, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars of customer losses. Newtown Oil failed to deliver approximately one million gallons of home heating fuel that it was committed to deliver under the terms of the prepaid delivery contracts.

The state has a civil court action pending against the erstwhile company, which formerly did business at 47-49 South Main Street. State officials believe that Newtown businessman William A. Trudeau, Jr, surreptitiously operated Newtown Oil. Last July, Trudeau was sentenced in US District Court in Hartford to a 22-month federal prison term, plus restitution and fines, following his guilty pleas to federal tax and financial fraud offenses. Those charges are separate from the home heating fuel scandal.

Early in 2003, town leaders took part in a leadership training session intended to guide them in decisionmaking during emergencies, including acts of terrorism.

“Just be prepared…Keep prepared,” is how town Emergency Management Director Bill Halstead explains the need for civil preparedness, in light of the US government’s continuing warnings about the possibility of domestic terrorist attacks.

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