Year in Review: 2018 marked by changes in leadership, flooding and court battles
FAIRFIELD — It was a transformative year for the town.
From the stepping down of a longtime police chief to the untimely passing away of a popular probate judge, Fairfield saw some new faces in familiar places this year. The town also saw itself involved in the national spotlight among a contested Supreme Court nominee’s hearing and student walkouts.
Here is a collection of the some of the year’s biggest stories:
Local day care owner sentenced for killing 4-month-old
Town probate judge found dead; Maxham wins election
Daniel Caruso, a Republican who had been the town’s probate judge since 1995, was found dead Feb. 25 at his Fairfield Woods Road residence.
Town officials and representatives lamented the untimely death of Caruso, who had previously been a state representative of the 134th District and a member of the town’s Board of Finance and Representative Town Meeting.
Kate Maxham, a Democrat and longtime probate court staff attorney to Caruso, was elected to fill the vacant position in the November elections.
State Supreme Court reinstates Bateson as selectman
Republican Edward Bateson was originally appointed to the Board of Selectment in December 2016 when another Republican, Laurie McArdle, resigned a year into the four-year term. However, a group of Democrats, citing state statutes, sought a special election for the spot.
Bateson and fellow Republican Selectman Chris Tymniak refused to set a date for the special election, and the group pushing for the election opted to go to court. A Superior Court Judge sided with the plaintiffs, and Bateson was bested by Democrat Kevin Kiley in the June 6, 2017, special election.
Following an appeal that made its way to the state Supreme Court, however, the Superior Court’s decision was reversed, and Bateson was reinstated to the Board of Selectmen on June 6 of this year.
Police Chief Gary MacNamara retires after 30 years on the job
Police chief for eight years, Gary MacNamara left police headquarters for an another type of office across town at Sacred Heart University in October.
MacNamara started out as a patrol officer in Fairfield back in 1988 and climbed through the ranks. While working in the Detective Bureau, MacNamara helped uncover a prostitution and money laundering ring that was connected to the murder of a local man.
MacNamara’s last day was Oct. 26. He is now the executive director of public safety and government relations, a newly-created position, at SHU.
Fairfield Prep accused of anti-Semitism cheers at lacrosse game
Fairfield Prep made headlines this summer when a Staples High School lacrosse coach accused the school of anti-Semitic behavior at a close playoff game.
At a May 30 lacrosse game, Staples coach Paul McNulty said when a Jewish player scored, he could hear the visiting Fairfield Prep fans chanting what he believed was “Happy Hanukkah.” Other Staples representatives said they heard students singing “The Dreidel Song” and chants of “We have Christmas” when Jewish players were in possession of the ball.
Fairfield Prep Principal Robert Perrotta, in a letter to parents that same week, denounced the actions of the fans. The following week, local rabbis and a representative of the Anti-Defamation League met with Fairfield Prep administrators to discuss strategies regarding cultural changes at the institution.
Fairfield high schoolers walk out against gun violence
In what has been arguably one of the the worst years for American school shootings, Fairfield students at both Ludlowe and Warde high schools walked out of their classes March 14 in remembrance of the 17 victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas School massacre that took place exactly a month before in Parkland, Fla.
Well over 500 students walked out at each high school at 10 a.m. to convene in a moment of silence, in what was part of a nationwide movement to alert state and national legislators about what they deemed to be faulty gun regulation.
Voter registration tables were also available to help students sign up and write letter to politicians at the state and national level.
Local cop buys clothes for alleged shoplifter
When Sgt. Hector Irizarry received a call from a department store to take a shoplifter into custody on July 11, he saw a chance to help a mother and her two daughters.
He decided to pay for the stolen items that Dannella Scarlett, 27, was allegedly trying to take without paying. Though Scarlett was charged with larceny, she was released on a promise to appear.
For Irizarry, this was a “small token” of empathy to show the community that Fairfield officers care about the citizens in their community.
Kavanaugh hearings touch Fairfield
In what became an echo of the Anita Hill hearings of 1991, a number of women accused Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s pick to the Supreme Court, of sexual assault and misconduct while in high school and at Yale University.
Kerry Berchem, an attorney and Representative Town Meeting member, was a Yale classmate of both Kavanaugh and Deborah Ramirez, one of the women who accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault at a college party in the early 1980s.
Berchem had been attempting to contact the FBI to provide text messages that suggested Kavanaugh knew about allegations against him prior to their publication in The New Yorker on Sept. 23., contrary to his testimony before the U.S. Senate’s Judiciary Committee.
Berchem, with help from U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s office, submitted a summary to the FBI. Kavanaugh was confirmed as the newest Supreme Court justice in early October in a 50-48 senate vote.
Fairfield, Bridgeport join forces against flooding
The flooding of the Rooster River after a Sept. 25 rainstorm was the worst of its kind for many longtime residents in the area.
Now, town officials in both Fairfield and neighboring Bridgeport are investing in efforts to ensure such flooding never happens again. Public Works crews began to clear debris in the river Dec. 20, and Fairfield has hired an engineering firm, Milone & MacBroom, to assess engineering solutions and also below-ground water storage options.
Pipe bursts, forcing library shutdown
In what was an unwelcome Thanksgiving Day surprise, a water valve on the second floor of the Fairfield Main Library caused “extensive damage” to the basement, first and second floors of the building.
Assessed damages amounted to $500,000 and forced the shutdown of the main library building for what will be a period of 10 weeks. Repairs are currently underway, and town officials have emphasized safety is the main priority. The library’s anticipated reopening date is Jan. 31.
Dog remains found in rescue group president’s home
The stench inside a Prince Street residence was very bad, Fairfield police said, because of the dog feces and decomposed bodies that lay inside.
In mid-November, Fairfield Animal Control found the remains of five canines who were under the protection of Heidi Lueders, the president of Bully Breed Rescue, a nonprofit organization meant to help rehabilitate dogs.
Police confirmed an arrest warrant was signed by a judge for Lueders by the end of November, though terms of her surrender are still ongoing.
Town, Julian Enterprise withdraw lawsuits
What has been on ongoing legal saga since May of last year may be nearing its close in an arbitration agreement between the town and Julian Enterprises, a company once contracted to reduce a pile of road construction debris.
The decision to go into arbitration was filed in court documents Nov. 15, a move that surprised Board of Finance members and other town hall representatives.
The town filed a civil lawsuit against Julian in May 2017 for $3 million in damages while Julian retaliated by claiming defamation. The fill pile has perpetually been under scrutiny; contaminated materials were discovered in late 2016 by a licensed environmental professional and a cleanup concluded earlier this year.
State senator misuses copyright artwork during campaign season
State Sen. Tony Hwang, R-28, won re-election this year, but not without an artistic snafu where he included the copyrighted artwork of the nonprofit group, Hate Has No Home Here, and Ben’s Bell, in his campaign advertising.
Hwang said the use was not intentional. Representatives from Hate Has No Home Here and Ben’s Bell later spoke with the senator, telling him their respective campaigns could not be used by any political party or effort. Hwang was re-elected to the state Senate in the November elections.
Fairfield cops to use car, body cams next year
The town’s entire police force will be getting a technological update next year.
The Representative Town Meeting approved a $700,000 grant request in late September. The amount will go toward covering the cost of 80 body cameras and 60 units for cars, and will be fully reimbursed by the state.
According to then-Chief of Police Gary MacNamara, body cameras would be used by patrol officers, the accident division, the school safety unit and also detectives executing search warrants.
Camera footage will be stored on servers and will be deleted after 90 days unless specific videos are saved.