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Mother of Childhood Cancer Survivor to Volunteer at Closer to Free


Krista Watson’s son Virgil is a cancer survivor.

"He’s now two and a half, beautiful and healthy and out of treatment now for over a year," Watson said.

Doctors at the Smilow Cancer Hospital in New Haven diagnosed Virgil with neuroblastoma when he was only three months old.

"There were some changes with his eye that we noticed so we brought him to the pediatrician who sent us here to the emergency room," Watson said.

Virgil underwent chemotherapy and surgery to remove his tumor.

"We can’t say enough about the wonderful doctors and nurses here at Smilow," Watson said.

Watson is a Learning Manager at Bank of America, the presenting sponsor for Closer to Free for the fourth year in a row.

"I have close relatives who’ve battled the illness, some with us, some not with us," Claudio Goncalvez, one of the 30 riders on Team Bank of America, said.

Goncalvez said he will be thinking about his dad when he pedals for 62.5 miles on Saturday.

"My father right now, it’s been about a year and a half," he said. "He’s had an illness that’s related to cancer so he’s been seeking treatment for that."

With her pin for Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month, Watson is looking forward to helping out with registration and bike parking at the Yale Bowl.

“We felt it was very important to give back to the organization that supported him through his illness," she said.

Watson has a vivid memory from volunteering at the 2016 Closer to Free ride.

"One of the things that touched me the most was a father son team and the son was wearing a survivor badge," she said. "I saw that and thought of what are family might look like in a few years."

A record number of more than 1,700 people have signed up for Closer to Free. NBC Connecticut is a proud media sponsor.

First Meteorologist Bob Maxon will have live coverage of ride day starting at 5:30 a.m. on NBC Connecticut.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

Putnam Dispatcher Fails to Report Complaint About Son: Police


A Putnam dispatcher has been arrested after failing to report a complaint about her son over the summer, police said. 

Ruth Bragg was working as a dispatcher for the Putnam Special Services District on July 20 when she received a call at 9:54 p.m.

The caller requested officers to be sent to the Dunkin Donuts on Woodstock Avenue for a possible restraining order violation involved Bragg's son, Putnam police said. 

After getting no police response, the victim and witnesses came to the Putnam Police Department at 10:17 p.m. and reported the incident to a second dispatcher.

Police later arrested Bragg's 22-year-old son, Timothy Bragg, with violating a restraining order. 

An investigation was initiated into the lack of response to the original complaint and Bragg was placed on administrative leave, Putnam police said. 

Investigators believe that Ruth Bragg intentionally failed to send police to the complaint.

A warrant was issued charging Ruth Bragg with hindering prosecution and interfering with police and she was arrested on Friday.

Her bond was set at $5,000. 

Photo Credit: Putnam Police

Escaping Florida: CT Dad, Daughter Have Emotional Reunion


Norwich native Rikaasha Patel is a student at the University of Tampa.

She is one of the many people who flew into Bradley International Airport to get out of Hurricane Irma’s way.

She described her very hectic last two days.

"The school said to make secondary plans in case you couldn’t stay at school, and I took action to go with my friends to Atlanta," she said because flight prices from Tampa to Bradley were upwards of $1,000.

On Thursday, she hopped in a car with her friends and drove from the University of Tampa to Atlanta.

The trip from Tampa to Atlanta usually takes under seven hours, but with the thousands of other drivers on the highways also trying to get out of harm’s way, the drive took her 14 hours.

"I didn’t really have a ticket at that point and I was just going to stay with my friends' relatives and my friend was going to drive to New Jersey – she lives there – her family told me I could stay with her if I couldn’t go home," Patel said. 

Lucky for her, she found a plane ticket from Georgia to Connecticut and got on the flight Friday morning.

"It was really crazy. My parents were really worried.They didn’t know what I was going to do," Patel said.

After two days, the moment she’d been waiting for: an emotional reunion with her father outside the arrival gate.

Kishor Patel embraced his daughter.

Patel kissed his daughter on the head and said, "It feels good you know," which was followed by a sigh of emotion. "I got her message at 9:30 but I couldn’t get out of school, I was in school so, you know, and I came out as soon as I could. Everybody was worried.”

Now, Rikaasha is back home with her family in Norwich.

When she’ll head back to Tampa is unclear. It all depends on Irma's path and the damage she leaves behind.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

'Been Through Hell': Amputee's Stolen Wheelchair Recovered


A Maine man, who just had his leg amputated, is relieved to have gotten his stolen wheelchair back.

George Simmons of Lewiston came home from the hospital Thursday to find his motorized wheelchair, batteries and charger, were all stolen from his Blake Street apartment.

"I've been through hell," he said.

He was left bedridden after the theft, and he pleaded for the public's help to locate his missing chair. His daughter, Elizabeth Simmons, confirmed Friday night that the wheelchair had been recovered after someone was caught trying to sell it.

Lewiston Police were investigating the incident. According to Lt. David St. Pierre, the equipment was most likely stolen Wednesday night.

George Simmons' family noticed it was missing Thursday morning, when they went to pick him up from the hospital. He had been keeping it by his porch so the batteries could charge.

"I didn't even chain it up, because who would steal a wheelchair?" he said.

Simmons said due to his declining health, he cannot use a basic wheelchair, and motorized ones are too expensive for his family to afford. Without one, he would have had to recover in his surgery in bed.

"God forgive who took it," Simmons said. "I hope God have mercy on his soul."

Downed Trees Damage Little League Fenway in New London


It’s anything but a home run for the New London Little League after Wednesday’s winds and heavy rain uprooted a tree, snapped another one and caused a lot of damage to their Fenway Field.

The fence is crashed, two bleachers completely caved in and a flag pole was bent and pulled to the ground. New London Little League might be responsible for it all.

"Everything on the inside of the field is our responsibility," said Brian Egan, softball director for New London Little League. "These aren’t city-owned fields. So we maintain them 100 percent and we’re a 100 percent volunteer organization."

The league’s insurance policy doesn’t cover this kind of damage, according to Egan. The bleachers could cost thousands of dollars and he doesn’t know how to start estimating the cost of the fence. Money is also tight.

“We’re kind of on a shoestring budget as it is. Every dollar that we get in essentially goes straight back out into the league,” Egan said.

Since the land is part of the Mitchell Trust, Egan said, Mitchell College removed the trees, and is seeing if anything else can be covered under that insurance policy.

A spokesperson for Mitchell College confirmed that they’re working with the league.

Now New London Little League is asking for community donations, whether it be money or time. Egan said there’s a member of the community who might be organizing a fundraiser to help, too.

To contact New London Little League, email here.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

Connecticut Natives Living in Florida Hunkering Down


People from Connecticut now living in Florida are hunkering down ahead of Hurricane Irma.

Utility crews from Connecticut are set to head south, ready to help repair possible damage.

In what is usually bustling South Beach, Granby native Owen White said the area was deserted on Friday with winds picking up in advance of Irma.

"It’s also a little scary because being from the Northeast I’ve never experienced one of these hurricanes before, especially this magnitude and size," White said.

White found safety in a third-floor hotel room.

The sophomore at the University of Miami also works at the hotel near the water and will help the staff deal with whatever Irma throws at them.

“When my boss told me that if I wanted to come in this weekend and ride out the storm at the hotel, I said I’ll have to check with my parents. So I called them up right away. They were a little hesitant at first,” White said.

The meteorology and broadcast journalism major convinced them this was an experience he couldn’t pass up.

Further north near Orlando, this could also be the first major hurricane for Jason Berry, who is originally from Franklin.

“To be honest, I’m nervous but we are prepared as best as we can,” Berry said.

On Friday Berry and his partner secured their RV in Clermont, where they are staying while building a home close by.

Nearby, tourists are scrambling to change plans as popular theme parks including Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando announced they will close early on Saturday and will remain closed through Monday.

As for Berry and his partner, they’re headed to a friend’s home.

“We’re just going to stay in the house, wait until Monday afternoon, they said it should be pretty much out of here by then,” Berry said.

Eversource said line workers and trucks will ship out of Berlin early Saturday to help restore power in case of outages.

Utilities in Irma’s path are asking for help following predictions that millions of customers could lose power.

And that has prompted Eversource to send about 100 workers from New England.

Photo Credit: John Bazemore/AP

Milford Native Living on St. John Recalls Irma


As hurricane Irma closed in on the tiny island of St. John, Jenn Manes took to Facebook live show friends and family back home what she was facing.

Manes grew up in Milford, but fell in love with the smallest of the U.S. Virgin Islands several years ago and moved there to run a website about island happenings.

As Irma headed her way Wednesday, she left her home on the waters of Cruz Bay and went inland to try to ride it out. In a phone call to NBC Connecticut, she said she wasn’t sure she’d survive the storm.

“I called my parents so many times just to tell them I loved them while I still had service because I didn’t know if I’d see them again,” said Manes.

With the storm now past, gone are the beautiful island scenes that drew manes to St. John, replaced by views she calls “complete destruction.” No running water, no internet, limited food and no way on or off the island, manes is concerned about what she sees as the overlooking of Americans not living stateside in an increasingly dire situation.

“Nobody is talking about us from what we see. That’s why we’re doing such a desperate plea” she said.

While access to the island continues to be uncertain, Manes has one request for people living on the U.S. mainland, to consider residents living in the Caribbean who will need lots of help to move forward.

“We are United States citizens and we need help. Please don’t forget about us while you’re taking care of everybody else.”

Manes says she intends to remain on St. John as the island works to recover and rebuild.

Police Investigating Untimely Death in Hartford

New Haven Mom Worries About Daughter in St. Maarten


A New Haven mom is praying for the safe return of her daughter and friends stranded on St. Maarten. 

They went from celebrating a birthday on the idyllic island to sheltering in a closet for survival while Hurricane Irma devasted the Caribbean island. 

Sandra Pittman and her family told NBC Connecticut that it has been a tense and worrisome three days for them.

Since Shandrea Pittman, Sandra's daughter, and her friends survived the hurricane barrelling over St. Marteen, the situation there has only become more dire. 

On Facebook, Pittman's daughter Shandrea, of New Haven, shared the calm before the storm.

"Look at these cars turned over," she wrote.

She noted the destruction after Hurricane Irma devastated St. Maarten.

"It's terrible. It's the worst feeling that any mom could feel," she wrote.

When the hurricane hit the Leeward Island on Wednesday, she wrote, "The power went down at 5 and then the towers went down at 7."

Pittman went more than 18 hours without hearing from her daughter. Eventually, one of her friends called her. 

“The third time she called, that’s when she said, 'Sandra, Sandra, can you hear me? Sandra, can you hear me? and I was like, 'Yes, can you hear?' she said, 'We are stuck in a closet for 18 hours'," Pittman told NBC Connecticut.

With their vacation villa destroyed, the fire department rescued Shandrea and her friends and brought them to a hotel lobby that's become a shelter.

"Over 300 people using the same bathroom, no running water," Pittman said. "Today (my daughter) called and said, 'Ma, now it starting to get violent.'"

During the interview with NBC Connecticut, Pittman got a message from her daughter that said officials were trying to get people out before Hurricane Jose, a Category 4 storm, hits the islands.

However, NBC Connecticut was later updated that Shandrea and her friends won't be able to make it out before Hurricane Jose. 

NBC Connecticut was told the first plane with children and the elderly on board had to turn around, according to the Pittman family.

St. Maarten isn't expecting a direct hit from Jose, but Shandrea's message said they're preparing for the worst.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

2 Mass. Women Killed in Somers Crash


Two women were killed in a crash on Turnpike Road in Somers Friday.

According to Connecticut State Police, 72-year-old Ruth Chake of Springfield, Mass. and 69-year-old Bette Bradsley of East Longmeadow, Mass, were both killed when the vehicle they were traveling in crashed into a tree around 2:15 p.m. Friday. Police sake that Chake was driving and Bradsley was in the front passenger seat.

The cause of the crash remains under investigation. Anyone with information is asked to contact Troop C at 860-896-3222 ex. 8038.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

Local Eversource Crews Head to Florida Ahead of Irma


Lending a hand to our neighbors in the south, Eversource has sent some of its utility crews down to Florida to help restore power after Hurricane Irma hits.

Eversource campus is teaming up with Florida Power and Light, that state’s biggest utility company. Millions of people are expected to lose power for a significant period of time after Irma makes landfall.

Members of the mutual aid network from across the country are heading south to give an extra hand to the Florida utility companies that are expected to have their hands full in the days and weeks to come.

To help shorten the time that homes and businesses are left in the dark, Eversource is sending a crew of 100 linemen and other support staff from Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. They’ll be tasked with assisting their sister utility companies in Florida with restoring power.

While the level of damage remains to be seen, they do know they’re in for 16-hour days. The initial plan is to be there for two weeks, but that could change depending on the need.

“Most of us signed up for this a long time ago. It’s a source of pride to go down and help where needed,” explained Mike Montgomery, an Eversource Field Supervisor.

Besides the long hours, other challenges facing the crews are heat, bugs, snakes, and alligators.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

See Hurricane Irma's Effects in Florida as It Nears

When Hurricane Irma Is Forecast to Hit Florida


Millions of people across South Florida are braced for Hurricane Irma's imminent arrival, after the storm left death and destruction on islands across the Caribbean.

One major question that remains is when the hurricane, now scraping the northern coast of Cuba 160 miles southeast of Key West, is going to arrive in Florida, and where. The massive storm will bring several dangers: winds, rain and storm surge.

While forecasts on Friday predicted that Irma would drive up the Atlantic coast of Florida or shoot up the middle of the state, current forecasts have it hugging the Gulf coast instead, with Tampa directly in its sights.

But there will still be great danger on the east coast, which will have its worst storm surge Sunday at around noon.

Landfall in the Florida Keys is expected Sunday morning, with Irma's maximum wind gusts expected as fast as 167 mph in Key West at 7 a.m. Sunday. The islands are already experiencing tropical storm-force winds as of early Saturday afternoon.

The storm, now a Category 3, could re-strengthen into a Category 4 as it crosses the Straits of Florida.

Here are the current forecasts for Hurricane Irma's arrival times:

Marathon: Maximum winds at 8 a.m. Sunday, tropical-storm force winds already arrived.

Key Largo: Maximum winds at 10 a.m. Sunday, tropical storm-force winds already arrived.

Dade County: Sunday, with tropical storm-force winds arriving between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Broward County: Sunday, with tropical storm-force winds arriving between 6 and 10 p.m.

Southwest Florida: Sunday afternoon, with the worst impacts in Naples and Fort Myers

Tampa: Early Monday morning with hurricane-force winds.

Southern Georgia: Monday afternoon with tropical storm-force winds.

Photo Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Connecticut Sends National Guard Airmen to Puerto Rico


Connecticut is sending National Guard Airmen and a cargo plane to Puerto Rico to assist in Hurricane Irma relief efforts, the governor’s office announced Saturday.

Eight Airmen from the 103rd Airlift Wing and a C-130 cargo plane have been deployed. The unit includes C-130H pilots, crewmembers, loadmasters, and maintainers.

“Connecticut knows all too well the damage that can result from severe storms, and we are grateful for all the help we received from others as we worked to recover from those storms. We have an obligation to help our neighbors in need, and I thank our Connecticut Air National Guardsmen for taking on this mission to provide assistance to Puerto Rico in their time of need. The State of Connecticut stands ready to provide support across the nation in the ongoing response and recovery efforts as a result the damage caused by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Jose,” Gov. Dannel Malloy said in a statement.

Other members of the Connecticut National Guard were previously deployed to Texas to support Hurricane Harvey relief efforts ad returned home after completing their mission.

One member of the Connecticut Air National Guard remains at Joint Base San Antonio, supporting the tracking and controlling of air missions.

The Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection warned citizens against self-dispatching to areas affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. State officials encouraged those interested in helping to volunteer with the American Red Cross.

Photo Credit: State of Connecticut

CT Residents Raising Funds for Puerto Rico's Irma Relief


As Florida prepares for the wrath of Hurricane Irma, people in our state are already stepping up to help storm victims in Puerto Rico.

Irma skirted by the island, but still left a trail of destruction and more than a million people without power there.

On Saturday, New Britain’s Puerto Rican Festival was underway on High Street.

But at it this year many people’s thoughts are with family back in their homeland and they’re finding a way to help. People launched an effort to help loved ones 1,600 miles away in Puerto Rico.

“It’s very important that we reach out to the community and we stay together. This is the time,” Maggie DeJesus, Puerto Rican Society president, said.

And those with family on the island opened their hearts and donated whatever they can.

“Our people needs it. It’s not much, but it’s something,” Victor Luna of Hartford, said.

Earlier this week, Hurricane Irma dealt Puerto Rico a glancing blow. That was enough to kill at least three people, knock down poles and leave more than a million people without power.

“I got a brother who needs chemo and they got no light or anything. So we’re trying to see if we can set them up with generators,” Willy Pabon, New Britain City Alderman, said.

Realizing the island was hurting, Latino state legislators decided to band together and set up a relief drive.

“Whatever they can give it’s going to go a long way to help the people of Puerto Rico,” Rep. Robert Sanchez, D-New Britain, said.

Sanchez says the impact on the island hits those in Connecticut hard too, with a large Puerto Rican community here. He says all the money and supplies collected will go toward the hurricane relief.

“Because the infrastructure on the island is so bad and the economy is so poor on the island, it’s going to take weeks if not months to get lights throughout the whole island,” Sanchez said.

The hope is also to help other hard hit Caribbean islands.

There are several more collection stops across the state later this month.

  • September 16: New Haven, Grand Ave. & Ferry St., 10 a.m.- 8 p.m.
  • September 23: Waterbury, East Main Street, 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.
  • September 30: Hartford, Park Street, 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.
  • Bridgeport and New London yet to be announced

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

Teen, Brother Arrested in Murder of Philly Dad in Front of Daughter


Police arrested a teen boy accused of shooting and killing a father who tried to protect his 2-year-old daughter during a carjacking in the Spring Garden section of the city Thursday night.

The 16-year-old boy's older brother, identified by police as 21-year-old Maurice Roberts, was also arrested in connection to the carjacking and shooting.

Police say the 16-year-old boy shot and killed Gerard Grandzol, 38, as he got out of his car along the 1500 block of Melon Street just after 8 p.m. Thursday.

The father of two had just returned from an outing at Fairmount Park's Lemon Hill with his 2-year-old daughter and dog when the teen and Roberts, who were both dressed in black, held him up at gunpoint, police said.

Grandzol handed over his wallet, but when the men demanded his car keys, he refused. His daughter was still inside the car.

The teen boy then allegedly opened fire and shot Grandzol twice in the face.

"They wanted the car and he wouldn’t give up the car and they shot him for it," Ryan said Friday afternoon at a brief news conference outside police headquarters.

The gunmen fled the scene on foot. The killing was captured on surveillance video, police sources said.

When first responders arrived, they found Grandzol's daughter crying in the backseat, sources said.

Brendan Fernald, Grandzol's friend and neighbor, rushed over to help and try to keep him alive.

"[I] jumped down and started putting pressure on his wounds. Then, scooping the blood out of his mouth so he could breathe," Fernald said.

Grandzol was rushed to a nearby trauma center where he died about 90 minutes later, police said.

Police identified the teen boy and Roberts as suspects in the shooting. The teen was arrested Saturday and charged with murder. U.S. Marshals also tracked down Roberts in North Jersey. He will be charged after being taken back to Philadelphia, police said.

Ryan described the deadly carjacking as an apparent "crime of opportunity" saying that the men seemed to be passing through the neighborhood when they singled out Grandzol.

A St. Joseph's University alum who was highly involved in the community, Grandzol volunteered for Project HOME, served on a neighborhood organization and belonged to various civic groups.

"We called him the mayor," Fernald said. "He engaged himself with everyone he met. That was remarkable. I'll miss him so much."

Grandzol served as a leader of Special Counsel, a legal staffing recruiting service.

"Gerry was loved by everyone who had the privilege to know him, not just as a colleague, but as a force of nature who loved life. We will always remember him as a leader, philanthropist, proud father, loving husband and good friend," Special Counsel president Laurie Chamberlin said.

Grandzol leaves behind a wife and two children. The family welcomed home a newborn baby girl only five weeks ago.

"He was an amazing dude," said Scott Rudich, the co-founder of Lansdale, Pennsylvania-based Round Guys Brewing where Grandzol would occasionally tend bar.

"My heart is hurting for them, for their family."

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Family Escapes House Fire in Milford


Three people escaped an early morning fire in Milford on Sunday.

Flames broke out in a home at 250 Roses Mill Road around 4:30 a.m.

A woman woke up to the smell of smoke and alerted her mother and her mother's boyfriend, according to the family inside the house.

Fire officials are investigating the cause of the fire, but the family believes it may have started by a wood-burning pizza oven on the back deck.

No one was hurt.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

Crane Atop High-Rise Collapses as Irma Lashes Miami


At least one construction crane has collapsed onto a building in downtown Miami as Hurricane Irma brought deadly winds into South Florida on Sunday.

The crane collapsed on top of a high rise under construction at 300 Biscayne Boulevard, City of Miami officials tweeted.

City officials said they were using geo-fencing, a 9-1-1 communication system, as well as social media, to contact residents in the area. Anyone in a building in the area of Northeast 3rd Street and Biscayne Boulevard was urged to stay in the building but away from any wall or window facing the crane.

The city has contacted the contractor and OSHA, and said building officials will assist OSHA "in any way possible."

Before the storm, the city of Miami had warned of the dangers of the tower cranes dotting the Miami skyline — some 20 to 25 across the city.

The cranes are designed to withstand winds of up to 145 mph. Officials urged anyone living near one to evacuate if Irma hit as a Category 5 hurricane.

A crane’s arm is not tied down but remains loose, the deputy director of the Building Department, Maurice Pons, had said. And its heavy counterbalance could cause severe damage in the event of a collapse.

Construction sites throughout the city were being locked down ahead of Irma.

Photo Credit: Courtesy @nesumosa; Gideon J. Apé
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'Superheroes' Run for a Good Cause in Milford


Halloween came early to Milford on Sunday for a good cause.

“I’m Batman,” said Donny Withington, of Milford.

While Withington dressed up at the caped crusader, his wife and daughter were also in Batman-themed costumes.

“Any theme that just helps you to keep going and not quit, it’s a good thing,” Shannon Brock, of Brooklyn, New York, said.

Instead of running to the rescue, these superheroes raced to the finish line in the Milford Superhero 5K.

“I’m Sailor Moon, today. Champion of Justice,” said Emily Macri, a Milford native who now resides in Boston.

About 100 runners tied up their laces to raise money for the YMCA and the Milford Prevention Council, which works to curb underage drinking and drug use.

“We really wanted because both our missions, that families could come out, have fun, dress up and be your inner hero because we all have a little hero inside of us,” said Wendy Gibbons, Executive Director of the Milford Prevention Council.

“I just think it’s a wonderful event. They do it for a really good cause,” Michelle Withington said.

The runners included Andromeda Macri, who is six months pregnant.

“I feel like if I can keep running until the end of the race, like if I can keep it up I’ll feel very superhero-y,” said Macri.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

Voter Registration Deadline is Monday


Secretary of the State Denise Merrill is reminding state residents that Monday is the deadline to register to vote in Tuesday's local primary elections.

The deadline is 12 p.m. Monday to register to vote in the primaries. Unaffiliated voters also have until 12 p.m. Monday to enroll in a major political party if they want to vote in their local primaries.

Merrill says 31 communities will hold primaries on Tuesday for local offices including mayors, first selectmen and boards of education, as well as probate judges. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Voters can check their registration status and find their polling place online at http://myvote.ct.gov/lookup.

Photo Credit: Getty Images
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