Milford: The year 2013 in review

By the end of December, it’s easy to have forgotten all the important events that have transpired over the past year, from the good to the bad, the happy to the sad. The year 2013 was indeed packed with momentous happenings in Milford, and following are some of them.


SROs: The year started out with talk about hiring school resource officers — another word for armed police officers — to work in the city schools. Police Chief Keith Mello and school Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Feser made the recommendation following the tragic shooting deaths in Newtown just a month before. This wasn’t the first time, however, that school and police officials had talked about school resource officers, or SROs. The officers, city officials said, are a real resource to city schools in many aspects, not just as a safety component.

The aldermen voted early in the year to add four new police positions to the budget, at $58,728 each plus benefits.

An SRO will be assigned to each high school under Mello’s plan. The other two officers will be assigned to the three middle schools and will have responsibilities at the elementary schools. Those SROs are expected to start working in the schools in early 2014.

Sentencing: Former police Officer Jason Anderson was sentenced to spend five years in jail for the deaths of two Orange teenagers in a June 2009 car crash.

The sentence imposed Wednesday, Jan. 16, at Milford Superior Court was actually five years for the death of David Servin and another five years for the death of Ashlie Krakowski, served consecutively for a total of 10 years. Both sentences will be suspended after five years, meaning Anderson must serve five years.

Anderson is not in jail yet, however, because his attorney is appealing the decision. Attorney Hugh Keefe said at the beginning of the year that an appeal could take a year and a half.

Prison time will be followed by three years of probation, during which time court officials want him to spend some volunteer hours talking to young police recruits about the hazards of driving fast.

The charges and sentencing stem from an accident in the early morning hours of June 13, 2009, when Anderson’s cruiser struck the vehicle driven by Servin at the intersection of the Boston Post Road and Dogwood Road. The police car was going 94 mph just before the crash, according to footage from a dashboard camera.

Anderson was returning from a mutual aid call in West Haven when his cruiser struck the other car and killed the two teenagers.

The case drew attention not only because of the tragic nature of the accident but also because of some confusion on the part of the jury during the trial.

In a first attempt at a verdict, the jury answered yes to a special question posed by the defense as to whether Servin’s conduct constituted an “intervening cause.”

The jury initially said yes to the intervening cause, then went on to find Anderson guilty of misconduct with a motor vehicle and negligent homicide with a motor vehicle.

The judge said she could not accept the verdict, and that the jury’s findings were inconsistent. If it found Servin’s actions to have contributed to the accident, it could not convict Anderson of a crime.

The judge tasked the jury with clarifying its intentions.

Later, the jury said no to the question of intervening cause and found Anderson guilty of misconduct.

Attorney Keefe said the confusion over the special interrogatory will be the basis for his court appeal.


Nemo: Blizzard Nemo hit in February, leaving 38 inches of snow on the city.

Roads were virtually impassible: Side roads topped with feet of snow made it impractical for people to dig out their driveways because there wasn’t anyplace to move their cars.

Hundreds of plows worked to clear city roads around the clock. That included the public works fleet, plus 12 private contractors and 16 payloaders to help move the snow.

Schools were closed for several days, and trash was not picked up for two days.

Tragedy: The storm also led to tragedy in Milford. Brenda Tanski, 51, and Kevin Tanski, 53, were walking on Bridgeport Avenue after the storm when they were hit by a vehicle driven by James Dorso, 31, of Milford.

Kevin died a day after the accident, and Brenda died in Bridgeport Hospital several days later. The family was walking to Dunkin’ Donuts and were in the road because they had to walk around the snow.

The case against Dorso is still working its way through the court system in Milford.

A hero: The end of February gave Milford a hero who had a really cool nickname: Spider.

Eric Speiser, aka Spider, was living at the Brismont Lodge boarding house at 79 North Street when fire broke out one evening. The man who lived in the room where the fire started had only one leg, and Spider, instead of running from the fire, ran through smoke to pull the man to safety.

Other tenants chuckled when they related their story: Spider tried to put out the fire with a fire extinguisher after a smoke alarm alerted them to the blaze. But the fire grew too quickly. Failing at extinguishing the blaze, Spider half-carried the occupant of the room outside while he was yelling at the others, “Get my leg, get my leg.”

But the fire was too intense, and they weren’t going back for the prosthetic leg, the men said.

Spider and the other men have since moved to other locations and the boarding house is under repair.

Another Milford man became a reluctant hero in July after saving a man from a burning car.

Joseph DellaMonica Jr., retired Milford police officer, was going to a surprise 30th birthday in New Jersey with his family. He had just gotten off the Tappan Zee Bridge when a blue SUV passed him at a “ridiculous speed, driving in and out of traffic.”

The car went airborne, crashed, and was smoking when DellaMonica pulled over and ran to it, meeting up with an off-duty New York Police Department officer and an off-duty fireman. Shortly after, an EMT showed up. Heroics included DellaMonica smashing a windshield with his hands to get the man out.

“It was a very strange day,” DellaMonica said later.


Off strike: In March, West River Health Care nursing assistants, kitchen workers and others headed back to work after a long time on the picket line, fighting over contract specifications.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal joined the workers as they gathered before the start of the second shift. He praised them for standing their ground and setting an example for the rest of the country.

“You sent a message to all of the working class that you can fight and win,” Blumenthal told them. “You had the law and patience on your side.”

HealthBridge, the company that managed the West River Health Care facility and four others in the state, was ordered by a judge to return the workers to their jobs under their previous contract.

The company fought the order but lost, then announced workers would be going back to their jobs March 3.

Of course, that wasn’t the end. A day after caregivers at West River Health Care Center headed back to work, the game changed again. The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of New Jersey granted a motion that allowed HealthBridge to implement temporary modifications to the workers’ contracts.

At nearly the end of the year, a judge ruled HealthBridge in contempt of court and ordered the company to reinstate earlier wages and give the workers back-pay.


Recycling: Some residents may have missed the big recycling news. In April, City Hall announced that Milford would start getting paid for its recyclables, which could mean more than $80,000 a year in additional revenue. The new contract, in addition to bringing in new money, also means more items can be recycled.


Helping Boston: In May, individuals and businesses were collecting donations to help victims of the Boston Marathon bombing of April 15. The cap on the counter at Lids, a hat store at the Connecticut Post mall, was embroidered with the words “Pray for Boston” and the caps were sold to help raise money for Boston.


Historic house: In June Milford’s city historian, Richard Platt, said he understood that renovating a historic house on North Street might be overwhelming for the new owner, Bill Farrell, but Platt said that was Farrell’s problem.

And that began a very long story.

Farrell went before the Historic District Commission to ask permission to demolish the house at 111-113 North Street and build a new one using some of the materials from the historic 1790 house. The commission said OK. Several groups, including the Milford Preservation Trust, took the Farrells to court. There, the two sides agreed that the Farrells would sell the house if a buyer came forward and a deal was finalized by Jan. 12.

As of year end, big news: Sources said the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation will buy the house and then sell it to a private owner to restore. Details to come.

Murder conviction: In June, a long-unsolved murder case headed toward closure when Milford police completed the extradition process of accused murderer Luis A. Rodriguez, accused of murdering Milford resident Kelsey Monahon in 2001.

Monahon, who was 28 when she was found dead in her Shorefront Road home on May 25, 2001, was strangled, according to an autopsy report.

In September Rodriguez was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 20 years in jail. According to the prosecutor in the case, Rodriguez had been friends with a woman who once dated Kelsey’s husband, and who claimed that the husband owed her money. Rodriquez went to the couple’s Milford home to get the money, but instead of the husband found Kelsey Monahon at home. He told the court that he did not mean to kill her, but he tied her up in such a way as to cause strangulation.

The judge in the case said, noting that Rodriguez was already in jail serving time on another crime, “There is little doubt that you will not be released into society again until you are well into your 70s, if at all, and I think that’s extremely appropriate.”

Harrison’s replaced: Harrison’s Hardware was a downtown staple for many years. In June, the long-empty building officially became the new Colony Grill restaurant.

Colony Grill, a pizza restaurant and bar, opened May 20 to customers, but held its official ribbon-cutting ceremony in June.


New fire chief: Assistant Fire Chief Doug Edo, a 33-year veteran of the Fire Department, was named fire chief in July at a special meeting of the Board of Fire Commissioners, replacing Louis LaVecchia, who retired.

“Wow,” Edo said as he sat among family and friends in a packed commission meeting.

Edo started as a volunteer firefighter in 1975 and tested and got into the department in 1979.

Two of his sons, Justin and Brandon, are Milford firefighters.

In August Edo and new Assistant Chief Gary Baker were sworn in before a huge crowd at Milford City Hall.

Wanda dies: Wanda Hornack, the owner of Wanda’s Sugar Shack, died July 14 at the age of 91, after closing her famous city store at the end of 2012.

Wanda owned and operated Wanda’s Sugar Shack, Milford’s “penny candy” store, for 41 years, and in that capacity, was a hero to any number of children and adults in the community.

The older generation can remember stopping in and buying bags of Swedish fish and Bazooka gum 30 or 40 years ago; the newest generation clung to her homemade chocolates.

Her obituary notice carried the following note: “On June 22, 1972, she embarked on her childhood dream and opened Wanda’s Sugar Shack, which allowed her to leave her legacy of bringing sweet smiles to Milford for the last 41 years.”

Women’s shelter: A safe house for battered women, planned in Woodmont, created dissent in the shorefront neighborhood. BHcare, which provides domestic violence and other services, planned to turn a five-bedroom house into a home for battered women and their children, allowing up to 15 people to live in the house at one time.

Neighbors opposed it, and when the address was disclosed, BHCare dropped plans to build the shelter because they didn’t want people to know where it was.


Diner closes: Rena Tsopanides hugged a customer and said, “Bye, my love,” in typical Rena fashion as the Kimberly Diner prepared to close its doors in August after 43 years in business.

The diner closed because the property was sold to the car dealership across the street. A Colonial Toyota spokesperson said the site will become a parking lot for Colonial employees.

Tim Tsopanides said the family always intended to buy the property and thought that eventually they would. But the former owner of the land died before such a transaction could take place, the family said.

Tim plans to reopen a version of the Kimberly Diner at the former Paul’s Hamburgers.

Naked intruder: The saga of the Point Lookout naked intruder wrapped up this summer when Benjamin Prue, 26, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, suspended after three.

The unusual story of a standout athlete and privileged young man from Trumbull who excelled in college before falling to drugs came to a head publicly July 21, 2012, when he was shot by a Milford resident trying to protect his home and himself from Prue.

Gerald Mirto, 68, was at his home, a waterfront home in one of Milford’s most affluent neighborhoods, “a home that he had worked a large part of his life to acquire,” according to a court transcript.

He heard a disturbance outside, and he came across Prue, stripped naked of his clothing, and on his property.

Mirto had never fired the gun, but after trying to get Prue to leave and then struggling with Prue, he fired.

“My sense of security, I don’t know if I’ll ever get that back,” Mirto told a Superior Court judge. “I hate air conditioning, and now I have to close all the windows and doors. And you know, that nice cool breeze off the ocean, you know, I rarely get to experience. When I let my dog out at night in the back yard, is there someone there? It has traumatically affected me.”


Dog story: September gave Milford a dog story that moved the heart. Betty Barriga left Delilah, her 5-year-old white poodle, a therapy dog, in her car while she shopped at the Westfield mall, and when she returned to the car, Delilah was gone.

Barriga was heartbroken, but all was well a week later when a New Haven woman returned the dog to her. Few questions were asked, as Barriga was just happy to have Delilah back.


Shooting death: Friends mourned the death of a Milford man shot while he allegedly was robbing a local gas station. Matthew S. Lofaro, 28, of 15 Berkeley Terrace was shot by Trooper First Class James Scott, a 15-year veteran of the Connecticut State Police, early one morning at the Patriot Fuels gas station on the Boston Post Road. Sources say that Lofaro was armed with a sword. Scott was making a routine patrol in Milford when he stopped at the Patriot Fuels gas station and came upon the scene.

Helping a family: The Lagasse family captured the city’s attention in October. Michelle Lagasse, the mother of three young children and one on the way, had died in August, not even a month after giving birth to baby Savannah. She had learned that she had breast cancer while she was pregnant.

The city pulled together to raise funds for Dan Lagasse, who wanted to stay out of work at least until after the holidays to help his four children settle and deal with their loss.


Election: November brought an election, and election this year meant good news for local Democrats. Mayor Ben Blake won a second term, and Republican Linda Stock was re-elected as city clerk. Board majorities went to the Democrats, who hadn’t seen such citywide control of boards and commissions since the 1980s.


Anchorman visits: Actor Will Ferrell, in character as Ron Burgundy from his new movie Anchorman 2, drew a lot of attention when he stopped downtown to make an appearance on The Dan Patrick Show. Burgundy posed for a picture in front of the old Milford Diner, and spent time co-hosting the sports show as a crowd of people gathered outside.


There were many other names in the news during 2013 beside that of Will Ferrell. Here’s a partial list.

Longtime Economic Development Director Bob Gregory retired, as did Public Works Director Bruce Kolwicz, Library Director Jean Tsang and Animal Control Officer Rick George, among others, like Mary Steinmetz, longtime program director at the Milford Senior Center.

Eric Muth was named the city’s Living Treasure.

Gina Raucci was named this year’s Miss Emerald Isle, and Bill Healey was the grand marshal of the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade.

James Maroney took over as state representative of the 119th District from long, long-time representative Richard Roy. Roy did not seek re-election.

Max Berkowitz became the new principal at Foran High School, replacing John Barile, who left to work in another district.