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Avon Leaders Worry for State Budget


Avon, the affluent Hartford suburb, took a $2.9 million cut to municipal aid that mainly hits the town’s education budget. 

Such a cut strikes directly at the heart of why people move to town off Route 44.

“They have a great reputation,” said Aja Shabada, who recently moved to Avon because of the school system. “The schools in Connecticut in general do, but the Avon area really has a great reputation for their schools.”

Rep. Derek Slap, a Democrat who represents parts of West Hartford, Farmington, and Avon, said taxpayers have every right to be concerned with the governor’s start to the budget conversation.

Slap said, “People are concerned about their property taxes. People are concerned about their public schools. I don’t blame them.”

The budget process is still in its infancy, though budget writers in the Connecticut House and Senate are working on spending plans behind closed doors. The General Assembly adjourns June 6.

Multiple sources in the Connecticut General Assembly described the governor’s budget as “dead on arrival,” moments after it was presented to them last month. They said the steep cuts to dozens of cities and towns were unacceptable.

Slap agreed by saying, “The proposed cuts are troubling and they kind of pit one town against another town or cities against a town and I think that all children in their public schools need to have adequate funding for education so when you look at the cuts, they’re a non-starter.” 

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

Bridgeport Police Seek 'Person of Interest' in Homicide Case


Bridgeport police have arrested one suspect and are seeking a person of interest in connection with a homicide investigation.

On Feb. 24, Michael Watkins was struck by gunfire in the area of 438 Berkshire Ave. He died of his injuries.

Police have arrested one suspect, identified as Jovanne Brown, on felony murder charges. A second person of interest, identified as Willard Hargrove, 27, is being sought by police.

Anyone with information on Hargrove’s whereabouts should contact Bridgeport police.

Photo Credit: Bridgeport Police Department

One Killed When Tree Falls on Vehicle in Columbia


One person was killed when a tree fell on a vehicle on Route 6 in Columbia Thursday afternoon, according to Tolland County Dispatch.

The Columbia Fire Department is at the scene of the accident on Route 6 near Oakwood Lane

The call  came into Connecticut State Police at 2:32 p.m.

Route 6 is shut down between Hop River and Edgarton Road.

No other information was immediately available.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut
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Aaron Hernandez Defense Questions Evidence From Crime Scene


Newly released surveillance photos may be key evidence in Aaron Hernandez's double murder trial.

The photos show a silver SUV with Rhode Island plates at a parking garage near the scene of the killings in Boston's South End in July of 2012.

The former Patriots star tight end, serving a life sentence for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd, is accused of gunning down Safiro Furtado and Daniel de Abreu from that SUV. Prosecutors say the killing stemmed from a spilled drink at a nightclub.

"I observed a young man standing off on the bridge with some blood coming from, I believe, his arm," said Boston police officer Erick James.

"When I looked into the vehicle, I observed two individuals that were slumped over," recalled Sgt. Clifton McHale.

The responding officers took the stand Thursday to describe a chaotic, bloody scene. But the defense turned the focus onto what it calls a botched investigation – including allegedly allowing a street sweeper into the crime scene perimeter.

"There was potential evidence that may have been collected by that street sweeper because we couldn't find any ballistics evidence at the crime scene," McHale said.

And defense attorney Jose Baez also called into question the white sheets EMS placed over the bodies before they had been photographed and before the victim's car was towed to a Boston police garage with the bodies inside.

"You're aware that sheets being placed on the body could destroy trace evidence?" Baez asked.

"It could," Boston police Sgt. Sean McCarthy acknowledged.

Baez, who won an acquittal for Casey Anthony in the death of her daughter, claimed Wednesday that government witness Alexander Bradley was the real killer.

Photo Credit: AP

Catholic High School Cashes In With Snap Investment


A Bay Area high school that counts itself among Snap Inc.'s first investors wun big on Thursday after a booming initial public offering and first-day trading.

The company behind the popular messaging app Snapchat made its trading debut Thursday after a better-than-expected stock offering. Snap had priced its initial public offering of 200 million shares at $17 each on Wednesday. 

Soon after Thursday's opening bell rang at the New York Stock Exchange, the stock began trading at more than $24 a share – nearly 50 percent higher than its IPO price, CNBC reported. It closed at $24.48, valuing the Los Angeles company at $34 billion.

Saint Francis High School, a private Roman Catholic school in Mountain View, disclosed Thursday that it invested $15,000 of the institution’s endowment fund in Snap’s seed round of financing in 2012. 

"We knew teenagers were using it and this would be something big for social media," said former principal Kevin Makley.

That money translated into more than two million shares for Saint Francis. Of that, the school has sold 1.4 million at $17 a piece, earning nearly $24 million, officials said. 

Saint Francis is holding on to roughly 600,000 shares, knowing that they may end up being even more lucrative. 

"I am absolutely celebrating. This is a tremendous day!" Makley said.

Five years ago, Natalie Eggers, then a student at Saint Francis, alerted her father, a venture capitalist, about the burgeoning social messaging app. She said all her friends were obsessed with it. 

Popular with the young people, Snapchat is best known for disappearing messages and quirky face-filters for jazzing up selfies.

Barry Eggers, a partner of Lightspeed Venture, listened to his daughter and his firm became one of Snap’s first investors with $485,000 in early 2012, the New York Times reported. Lightspeed invested a total of $8.1 million in Snapchat over the years. 

Eggers also persuaded SF Growth Fund, Saint Francis' student-run endowment fund that helps pay for scholarships and subsidized tuition, to get in on Snap, he wrote in a post published on the company's website. 

Makley recalled Eggers' non-traditional investment idea.

"When we started this fund so many years ago, this is what we dreamed about. Now the dream is true!" Makley exclaimed.

Meanwhile, Saint Francis released a statement, part of which read: "Snap’s IPO represents an incredible opportunity to help the school, its students and their greater community for years to come."

The school is still working out exactly how the money will be spent, but officials say the financial aid program is their top priority.

"It’s good news for the school," said parent John Dugan, a "tremendous opportunity."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Photo Credit: Getty Images
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Groton School Employee W-2 Forms Released in Computer Hoax


A phishing scam sent via email to the Groton School District prompted sensitive information to be given out, the superintendent said.

On Wednesday, someone pretending to be the superintendent sent an email to the business office requesting information on personnel W-2 forms.

Thinking the email was from the superintendent, the sensitive information was sent by mistake, Michael Graner, the superintendent, said.

The employee who saw the email said they knew the superintendent was working on the budget and assumed the information requested was for that purpose. The superintendent told NBC Connecticut that he has never made a request like that via email.

More than 1,300 employees were affected, including teachers, administrators, substitute teachers, or anyone who received compensation from the Groton Board of Education.

The incident was reported Thursday morning to police, the FBI, and the IRS.

The school said they contacted the insurance company and purchased credit monitoring services for everyone.

Graner said there were meetings held on Thursday afternoon about the data breach and what staff can do.

On Friday, the IRS will send an agent to the school district to give advice on any other safeguards.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Closer to Free Kicks Off


On a Saturday morning in Sepember, Julia Berv and Katie Winkle will proudly wear their Team Tommy Fund jerseys as they cycle to make the world closer to cancer free.

“I was given a second chance and that’s how I feel,” Berv said.

It has been almost six months since doctors declared 23-year-old Berv cancer free.

“I went into remission officially on September 20, 2016 and since then I have been spending my days recovering and building up strength to start back up school in May” she said.

Throughout her battle with a type of bone cancer, Berv had her best friend Winkle by her side.

“Being by Julia’s side and watching her fight, it’s just remarkable to see how well she is doing and she’s a true definition of a warrior,” Winkle said.

Winkle recently reached her own milestone.

“On February 1, I celebrated ten years cancer free,” she said.

At the 2016 Closer to Free Ride, a record number of riders raised more than $2.5 million for patient care and critical research at the Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven.

“It was an adrenaline rush,” said Berv, who was honored at the opening ceremony. “I just felt on top of the world, here I am fighting back this horrible disease that can really ruin lives for people.”

On their wrists, these best friends wear bands that say “Survivor,” “Joy for Julia” and “Courage for Chloe” in honor of Winkle’s baby cousin.

“Chloe is doing really well,” Winkle said, “this past December she got the news that she’s cancer free, so her scans showed no evidence of disease.”

Berv and Winkle attended the 2017 Closer to Free Kick-off Party at the Stony Creek Brewery in Branford Thursday night. Both have started training for this year’s ride.

“You definitely will see me,” said Berv, who was unable to ride last year. “I’m planning on riding and I plan on riding 25 miles this year.”

There is still plenty of time to sign up for the 2017 Closer to Free Ride through New Haven and along the shoreline. It is scheduled for September 9.

Once again, NBC Connecticut is a proud media sponsor.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

Second Arrest Made in Glastonbury Spa Prostitution Investigation


A second arrest as been made in a multi-agency investigation into three Glastonbury spas where prostitution is suspected, police said. 

On Thursday, Funu Lian was extradited from the Queens County Courthouse in New York. 

It was believed that Lian had fled to New York after police executed three search warrants on various spas in Glastonbury in January.

Lian was charged with promoting prostitution. She was picked up in New York for a parking violation in New York on Thursday. 

Various agencies served search warrants on Jan. 26 at the Relaxation Spa at 799 Hebron Ave., New Sunshine Reflexology at 2840 B Main St. and Pine Reflexology, at 18 School St.

Police said task force members received information that prostitution was occurring inside the local businesses and 43-year-old Guixing Jiang, 43, was charged with promoting prostitution.

Police places stop work orders on all three spas.

State officials said the stop work order at Relaxation Spawas for violation of state wage laws. They said there was no worker's compensation insurance to protect the employees in the event of injury and employees were paid in cash and there were no payroll records.

Lian's bond was set at $50,000.  

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

Groton Woman Warns of Importance of Having Working Smoke Alarms


A Groton woman said she’s lucky that she was awake when her garage caught on fire since her smoke alarms didn’t work.

That’s why NBC Connecticut is proud to be connecting you to the American Red Cross Install-a- thon. The week of March 6, the Connecticut and Rhode Island Region of the American Red Cross will be canvassing communities and installing them 1,200 free smoke alarms.

On the night of April 3, 2016, Laurie Kim Briggs’ life changed.

“(I) yelled up to my daughter and her husband, did you light a candle? And they said ‘no.’ And I said, ‘OK, because the smell is awful,’” she said. “I wonder if my grandsons snuck downstairs to cook something...”

That’s when she saw the black smoke curling up the stairs. She started shouting, “get out, get out.”

Her daughter, her son-in-law and four of her grandchildren – one who was taking a shower – all ran outside and across the street.

The batteries in her smoke alarms were dead. Her garage was destroyed, bicycles burned, and almost 40 years worth of memories in flames. Most of her wiring and plumbing was melted. Briggs said the source was likely a light plugged into an extension cord.

If she had gone to bed as planned, the situation could have been even worse.

Briggs volunteered on-and-off with the Red Cross for 25 years. She saw the emails about their free smoke alarm installations. But said she was too proud to ask for help.

It took eight months for Briggs and her family. Her mission now is to tell people to invite the Red Cross in.

“Don’t be embarrassed to allow help to come your way. If I had allowed the Red Cross to come in and put my fire alarms, I wouldn’t be guaranteed I didn’t have a fire. But I would have definitely had my family out safer and sooner.”

The Red Cross will be visiting:

• March 6: Torrington, CT

• March 7: Norwalk, CT

• March 8: New Britain, CT

• March 9: Tiverton, RI

• March 10: New London, CT

People can schedule a visit the websites for Connecticut and Rhode Island or by calling (877) 287-3327 and selecting option “1” on the phone.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

Transmissions From East Hartford Plane Crash Released


Audio from inside a twin-engine plane before it crash in East Hartford last October has been released for the first time. 

The instructor survived with bad burns, but the student pilot was killed back in the fall.

The Federal Aviation Administration provided the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters an audio clip of communication between the people inside the plane and air traffic control at Hartford-Brainard Airport.

An aviation expert helped explain what is going on, saying nothing was out of the ordinary at all on the tape until the final leg.

It’s also important to note there are four planes in all, included on the 4:40 minute clip.

Seneca 15294 (student): “Ah, Brainard Tower. Seneca 15294-ah-ten miles inbound from ah Southeast-ah with papa.”

Brainard Tower: “Seneca 15294, BrainardTower. Ident please.”

“The student called to tell the control he was about 10 miles away from the airport and he describes his position and the controller asked him to push a button on the airplane that makes him flash on the radar screen,” Terry Keller, Jr., the chief instructor at Premier Flight Center told NBC Connecticut.

The first transmission from the deadly flight appears, experts said, to come from the  student pilot, Feras Freitekh.

Freitekh did not survive the plane crash.

Over the next three minutes of the audio, the aircraft was radioing normally until final approach, with the instructor pilot communicating, they understood instructions for an amended landing.

“All the other aircraft have essentially gotten out of the way," Keller, Jr. said.

Brainard Tower Controller: “Seneca 15294, thank you. Report approaching the left downwind to land runway two-zero.”

Seneca 15294 (instructor): “And we’ll report left downwind for two-zero, Seneca 15294.”

Brainard Tower Controller: “And Seneca 294, if you’d like to amend that and bring it in on the base, that’s approved.

Seneca 15294 (instructor): “That’s fine, we’ll take the left base for ah practice here, [unintelligible] ah Seneca 294.”

On the final leg,  Keller Jr. said it appears that is when the plane disappeared from radar.

Keller Jr. used to work for Arian Prevalla, until they went their separate ways about a decade earlier.

Seneca 15294 (instructor) “And tower, Seneca 294 on final for ahum two-zero.

Brainard Tower Controller: “Seneca 294, Roger. you’re cleared to land runway two-zero.”

Seneca 15294 (instructor): “And cleared to land two-zero, seneca 294

Brainard Tower Controller: "Seneca 294, Brainard?"

Brainard Tower Controller to Bradley Approach/Radar Room by Intercom: "and Bradley, Brainard. The airport’s closed reference one Delta, Mike, we think we might’ve lost one."

“And tower controller then must realizes he couldn't find the Seneca visually and made a call on radio quarried him are you there and he didn't get a response," Keller Jr. said.

“Instructor sounded completely calm,” according to Keller Jr. about Prevella.

Keller Jr. said events like this in the flying world are rare, noting how many planes fly without incident.

He also said investigators will pare the audio recording from the radar system to help trace the path of the plane.

The National Transportation Safety Administration did not determine probably cause and doesn’t plan to issue a report or open a public document.

It’s unclear whether the FBI is still investigating.

3 Charged for Vandalizing Holy Land Cross in Waterbury


Three people were charged for allegedly vandalizing the Holy Land cross in Waterbury, which stands high upon Pine Hill, visible to people driving by on Interstate 84.  

David Riddick, 18, and a 17-year-old were charged with trespassing and criminal mischief. Riddick's bond was set at $15,000 and the underaged teen was issued a juvenile summons. 

Erick Siclari, 24, was charged with trespassing, criminal mischief and two counts of risk of injury to a minor. Siclari has not been located at the time of post. 

The vandals struck on Feb. 21, tagging the cross with expletives, as well as other markings. 

“To think that someone would deface the cross like this is just sad,” said Mayor Neil M. O’Leary, a part-owner of Holy Land. 

O'Leary said it will cost thousands to dollars to make repairs, which could drain funds that would have gone to spring renovations. 

It took 30 years to complete Holy Land and the 52-foot high cross, according to the city website.  

Holy Land has been in many tourism guides and on several websites, including Roadside America.

Photo Credit: Waterbury Police

New Britain Police Arrest 2 Men Operating Credit Card Skimming Operation


New Britain police said they caught two men running an extensive bogus credit card operation.

The pair are accused of pulling off the scheme using skimmers across the state and withdrawing tens of thousands of dollars from the accounts of unsuspecting victims.

Sergey Grigoryan and Sasun Yengibaryan were arrested in the parking lot of a Webster Bank on Tuesday after officers were tipped off something suspicious might be going down.

Detectives found the two men there, including one who apparently had fake cards falling from his pocket.

Officers said Grigoryan and Yengibaryan installed a so-called skimming device at gas stations across the state.

That allowed them to steal card numbers.

After the skimming devices were activated, police say the pair from New York City was able to produce phony cards.

They drove to Webster Banks, withdrawing $60,000 from ATMs.

Grigoryan and Yengibaryan face long lists of charges and are being held on $750,000 bonds.

They have pleaded not guilty.

Webster Bank had no comment, citing the ongoing investigation.

It’s a growing and frustrating problem with more people dealing with their credit cards numbers being swiped by crooks who then rack up charges or drain accounts.

A common trap is at gas stations.

“I realized there were all these charges to my card that I didn’t charge and went to the bank and told them about it and they said it was probably when I paid at the pump,” Carolyn Wells, of New Britain, said.

Many consumers say these days you can never let your guard down especially at the pump.

“It’s a common thing. You have to be careful with your money,” Joe Reyes, of New Britain, said.

Photo Credit: New Britain Police Department

Pregnant Giraffe ‘Growing' and 'Contact' Made With Baby: Zoo


Worldwide animal sensation April the pregnant giraffe is “growing” even more and her keepers were able to feel the baby moving in her belly, the upstate New York zoo that’s been monitoring her health and updating her millions of fans said in a daily update.

“April is – without question – growing!” the Animal Adventure Park posted to Facebook Thursday night. The Harpursville zoo said keepers were able to “get hands on the belly” and “make contact” with April’s baby giraffe. The observation comes a day after the zoo reported “significant movement” and “strong kicks from within!”

In Thursday night’s update, the zoo also said April appears “a little more on edge” and is “not being as lovely as usual.” This echoes the zoo’s report Wednesday night that the giraffe’s behavior is changing as the birth nears. Her keeper and vet documented “increased tail raising and holding,” as well as "periods of increased movement/pace” Wednesday night.

April’s condition was pretty much unchanged Thursday morning, the zoo said, adding that there was "a lot of behavior that had us on our toes but no acknowledgeable active labor at this time." The zoo predicted that a cold front moving in Thursday and into the weekend might “shake things up” for the pregnant giraffe.

Over the last week, April has captivated tens of millions of people across the world who have been checking in on her via the live stream in anticipation of the birth of her fourth calf.

Some 60,000 people were tuned in to the stream at the crack of dawn Thursday. The graceful giraffe appeared calm and collected as she picked at stray pieces of hay and stretched around to scratch a back itch. Watch it above.

The zoo, which unveiled April-inspired emojis and t-shirts as the fan base for the 15-year-old long-necked beauty continues to swell, said twin Barbados lambs and a Patagonian Cavy were born early Wednesday.

"Babies babies everywhere!" the Animal Adventure Park posted Wednesday morning. "Just not yet in the giraffe barn."

April's pregnancy was catapulted into global headlines last week after YouTube briefly yanked the zoo's live stream following complaints by animal activists that it violated the site's policies concerning "nudity and sexual content." Thousands upon thousands of commenters voiced their frustration on Facebook and YouTube, and the stream was restored within an hour or so. 

Giraffe pregnancies last for 15 months. Labor lasts anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Once April goes into active labor, zookeepers will go in to help her the rest of the way. The calf will be about 150 pounds and 6 feet tall at birth and up and walking in about an hour.

The zoo said it will hold an online competition to name the baby giraffe once it's born.

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East Windsor Man Charged with DUI in September Crash


An East Windsor man has been charged with driving under the influence following a serious accident in September.

Julio Rodriguez, 48, was charged with second-degree assault with a motor vehicle, drinking while operating a motor vehicle, DUI, improper use of registration plate, operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license, insufficient insurance, and failure to have motor vehicle lights lit.

According to police, Rodriguez was involved in a crash on Route 5 on Tuesday, Sept. 20, that sent four people to the hospital. The crash was one of several accidents in the area that prompted police to increase traffic patrols in the area.

He was held on a $50,000 bond and is scheduled to appear in Enfield Superior Court Friday.

Photo Credit: East Windsor Police Department

Newtown Man Seriously Injured in Crash on Route 15


A Newtown man was seriously injured in a crash on Route 15 south in North Haven Thursday.

According to state police, Paul Kus, 46, was driving in the left lane shortly before 8 p.m. when he veered off the road and struck the metal guardrail in the center median. The car continued along the guardrail then crossed back onto the highway and came to a stop on the right shoulder and caught fire.

Kus was rescued by North Haven firefighters and taken to Bridgeport Hospital with serious injuries,

The crash is under investigation. Anyone with information or who witnessed the accident is asked to call State Police Troop I at 203-393-4200.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

Man Convicted of Seymour Woman's 1984 Murder Released


A Seymour man convicted the 1984 murder of a 19-year-old woman has been released from prison after filing a motion for sentence modification.

David Weinberg, 58, was supposed to serve 60 years in prison for the murder of Joyce Stochmal in 1984.

He walked out of Waterbury Superior Court a free man after serving 26 years in prison.

This comes after Weinberg went before a judge after filing a motion to have his sentence reduced.

Many of Stochmal’s family members spoke to the courtroom pleading the judge not to free Weinberg.

Stochmal of Seymour went missing Aug. 3, 1984 and was found dead in Lake Zoar four days later. Prosecutors said she was stabbed 17 times.

About a year later, Weinberg was arrested for her murder. He was convicted in 1989.

Prosecutor Maureen Platts said in the court that since 2010, numerous items of evidence have been re-tested. Several pieces of evidence are now coming into question due to new technology throughout the years. In one instance, three hairs in the Weinberg's trunk found in 1984 we're determined then to belong to the victim. A retest of that DNA in most recent years shows only two of the hairs belong to the victim.

In another instance, blood on the knife used in the murder was believed to be either human or animal blood in 1984. Recent testing showed the blood belonged to an animal.

The defense argued Weinberg has had good behavior while in prison, accumulating 12 years of “good time credits.”

Stochmal's family was upset after learning about Weinberg’s release.

"David Weinberg walks. Everybody gets what they want except us. What we want is justice for Joyce. You have to ask the question how can this happen. Is this how the state of Connecticut protects and supports it's innocent residents?" said Maryanne Heffernan, sister of Joyce Stochmal, outside the courthouse Thursday.

Weinberg still claims his innocence in this case.

Now that he has been released, he will not be able to contest his murder conviction.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

Birth Defects Rise 20 Times in Zika-Affected Pregnancies: CDC


Babies in Zika-affected pregnancies in the United States are about 20 times more likely to have birth defects compared with the proportion of pregnancies seen in 2013-2014, before Zika was introduced into the Americas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The types of birth defects associated with Zika include brain abnormalities and/or microcephaly, neural tube defects and other early brain malformations, eye defects and other central nervous system problems.

Those defects were seen in about three of every 1,000 births in 2013-2014 in the U.S., but in 2016, the proportion of infants with these same types of birth defects born to women with Zika virus infection during pregnancy rose to about 6 percent, or nearly 60 of every 1,000 completed pregnancies with Zika infections, according to a CDC report. 

These findings demonstrate the importance of having monitoring systems that collect data on birth defects, as well as why pregnant women and their partners should be educated about them, doctors say.

"There's been such a massive improvement in taking care of these birth defects, that, however terrifying it is, it's important for mothers to get their follow-up appointments and their doctors, and make sure they're delivering in a center where people know how to take care of the defects," says Dr. Tala Nasr, a neonatologist the Pediatrix Group at Medical City Children's Hospital in Dallas.

The CDC researchers analyzed 2013-2014 data from three birth defect surveillance programs in the United States (in Massachusetts, North Carolina and Georgia) to provide the baseline frequency for Zika-related birth defects. To assess the effect of Zika virus infection during pregnancy, the scientists compared that 2013-2014 baseline number with previously published numbers among pregnancies with Zika virus infection from the U.S. Zika Pregnancy Registry (USZPR) from 2016.

They identified 747 infants and fetuses with one or more of these defects from programs in Massachusetts, North Carolina and Georgia from 2013-2014. Brain abnormalities and/or microcephaly were the most frequent conditions reported.

Data from the USZPR identified 26 infants and fetuses with these same birth defects among the 442 completed pregnancies of women with possible Zika infection from January through September 2016.

Studies have shown that Zika's arrival to Brazil at least doubled the birth defect rate there, even though the mosquito-borne virus only seriously affected small areas, NBC News reported.

Photo Credit: NBC 5 News

Route 197 in Woodstock Reopens After Serious Crash


Route 197 in Woodstock has reopened to a serious crash, according to emergency dispatchers.

The accident occurred in the area of 634 Route 197, according to Quinebaug Valley Emergency Communications. Potentially serious injuries have been reported and LifeStar was requested.

More information was not immediately available. Check back for updates.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
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Residents Fume After Mexico Sewage Spill Closes San Diego Beaches


Dozens of angry South Bay residents packed a International Boundaries Water Commission meeting Thursday evening, concerned about the massive sewage spill in Tijuana, Mexico, that contaminated water in the San Diego area.

“When our kids can’t go and swim at the beach that’s right across form us, a state beach, it’s very upsetting,” said meeting attendee Leslie Bell of Coronado Cays. “We just want to make sure that somebody is held accountable for it.”

The commission agreed to carry out a binational investigation into the more than 143 million gallons of raw sewage spilled in Tijuana. Additionally, officials explained the situation to residents and answered their questions.

Countless residents in the area have felt, and smelled, the aftermath of the spill. In addition to the health concerns and general inconveniences the incident has produced, people nearby are concerned that they're just now hearing about it.

"If it hadn't gotten worse and worse, they would have just gotten away with it if they could have," Bell said as her daughter stood nearby with a sign that read 'Mexico must Pay!'. "So how often is this happening? I feel like I have to go test the water every time my kids go swimming now."

The spill has been described as the worst sewage spill in more than a decade by Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina.

The leak began Feb. 6, according to a report by the commission. The sewage slowly seeped into the Tijuana River and made its way up the coast, causing an unusual odor for those people living in Imperial Beach.

The odor has lingered in the community for weeks.

Dedina says the city filed an official complaint on Feb. 15. He wants the U.S. government to investigate what caused the spill and why his city's residents weren't notified of the contamination.

"We expect to get results," Dedina said. "We're here to do that, but more importantly, to get the public to turn outrage into action so that our federal elected officials take action to invest in our border infrastructure."

The commission said the leak was likely caused by sewer construction gone wrong. The State Public Services Commission of Tijuana repaired a sewer line last month and, during the repairs, diverted sewage into the Tijuana River.

Roberto Espinoza, an engineer and representative for Mexico's arm of the International Boundaries Water Commission, spoke at the meeting through an interpreter. He said a pipe in the main line near the Tijuana and Alamar Rivers' intersection failed under pressure from recent storms. He added that the leak was not intentional and happened during an emergency repair.

Espinoza went on to say that there was a breakdown in communication between the commission and operators in Mexico, and that while he can't explain how it happened, he does regret it.

"You should have received that information on time," Espinoza said.

Local leaders believe the spill was preventable.

Weeks later, signs remain on the beach warning people to stay out of the ocean from Imperial Beach to Coronado.

In addition to community leaders, many residents are also furious, saying the sewage should've been recaptured and put back into the treatment system instead of being allowed to travel all the way into the Pacific Ocean.

Plus, they say they were never warned of the activity.

A preliminary U.S. investigation determined the spill released upwards of 143 million gallons of raw sewage, but Mexico disputes that.

Dave Gibson, Executive Officer San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, said that given advances, this should not have happened.

“Two-hundred years ago this might have been the state of the science but there's absolutely no question, whatsoever, that the state of the science is you capture the sewage and you keep it in the system," Gibson told NBC 7 on Thursday.

The spill prompted Gibson to write a letter to both U.S. and Mexican commissioners, requesting the need for “improved sewer system reliability and interagency communication.”

The letter included a list of measures that Gibson said the commission should consider including the detailed investigation into “the breakdown in communications” that led to the spill, “without any apparent attempt at diversion or public notification.”

Gibson also suggested developing a “binational public notification protocol for all sewage releases into storm water systems, the Tijuana River, or its tributaries.” This would include notifying public health agencies, landowners and the media in both countries, in the event that a spill like this happens again.

Gibson also wants the commission to consider utilizing a back-up pump station in San Ysidro that, in his words, would “complement the existing station in Tijuana."

Gibson argued it could, under special circumstances, divert emergency flows to the City of San Diego’s Point Loma or South Bay wastewater treatment plants, or the commission's wastewater treatment plant.

Other suggestions include:

• “Construction of a weir across the main channel of the Tijuana River to allow capture, retention, infiltration, or diversion of unexpected flows during the dry season to prevent or minimize impacts to the lower Tijuana River and Estuary and beaches in Tijuana, Imperial Beach, and Coronado.”

• “An enhanced and binationally coordinated watershed and coastal waters monitoring program to develop information that would inform our efforts through Minute 320 to improve environmental quality in both countries.”

To read the full letter, click here.

According to a document released by the commission Thursday, both U.S. and Mexican commissioners have agreed to investigate the transboundary sewage spill.

“The investigation will determine when the spill occurred, quantify how much sewage spilled, specify the characteristics of the sewage, and identify problems in procedures to notify the Commission and the public,” the document states.

The investigation on the spill and a report must be submitted within 30 days, per an agreement between U.S. Commissioner Edward Drusina and Mexican Commissioner Roberto Salmon. The commission’s binational Water Quality Work Group will handle the investigation.

Photo Credit: AP

Car Downs Tree on Route 4 in Farmington

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