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4 Local Schools Honored at Ceremony in D.C.


Four local schools were honored Tuesday at the nation’s capital for high achievement or progress in closing the achievement gap.

Amity Regional High School in Woodbridge, the Jefferson Science Magnet School in Norwalk, Portland Middle School and Wamogo Regional High School in Litchfield were among the nation’s 340 Blue Ribbon Schools.

“My staff has an amazing passion for what they do with the kids, with the families, and I think, you know, change takes time,” said Jefferson Science Magnet School Principal John Reynolds. “And so this is a real validation of a lot of time, a lot of sacrifice andjjj a lot of positive work with kids.”

The Secretary of Education recognized 290 public and 50 private schools at a luncheon at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C. this afternoon.

Eight school principals were also recognized.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

State Offers Help to Veterans Who Own Businesses


Members of Connecticut's congressional delegation joined Secretary of the State Denise Merrill and officials from the Department of Commerce to announce plans to help veterans who own businesses in Connecticut.

"We need to find these veterans and help them," said Anne Evans with the Department of Commerce.

The state has counted at least 250 veteran owned-and-operated businesses in Connecticut, well short of the number state officials estimate is actually out there.

"We think the number could be well into the thousands," Evans explained.

Part of the plan is to connect veterans with the kinds of loans and small business assistance for which they're eligible.

Officials with the Small Business Administration said they doled out $11 million in loan help to companies owned and run by veterans last year alone. They're looking to increase that figure.

"It’s the least we can do with our office to help veterans, trying to succeed in business with special services just for them so these services will be tailor-made to veteran owned businesses,” Secretary of the State Denise Merrill told the crowd.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said just the knowledge of whether a business is owned by someone who served is a big deal for consumers, not just loans.

"We no longer live in a world where if you build it they will come," Blumenthal said. "People have to be informed and brought into participation."

Search for Missing Mom Intensifies


The search intensified Tuesday for the missing 25-year-old Massachusetts mother whose family says the last person she was with before she vanished was a convicted sex offender.

Jaimee Mendez was last heard from Thursday, when her family says she called two friends to say that she was with a registered level 3 sex offender — the type considered most likely to offend again — and felt uncomfortable. That was the last anyone heard from her, her family says.

"We're desperate for anything," her sister Alyssa Mendez said while on foot in and around the woods along Technology Way in Salem Tuesday.

On Tuesday, police towed a minivan with a mattress in the back away from a home in Lynn Tuesday where neighbors say the man they describe as a sex offender was staying. A nearby dumpster and a neighbor's garage were also searched.

"Its just been crazy, just trying to figure it all out. They were searching the dumpster up there," neighbor Sarah Bullock said.

Family members say Jaimee Mendez was with a registered Level 3 sex offender Thursday when she called two friends to say that she was uncomfortable and wanted to leave.

"She was worried. She was freaked out. She was with this guy; he was acting weird. She wanted to get out of there," said sister Alyssa Mendez. "The guy that she called went to pick her up, and she never showed. And that's it. That's the last time anyone heard from her."

The man Jaimee Mendez' family describes as a sex offender convicted in the 1990s has not been charged with anything in connection with her Mendez's disappearance.

Family members say Jaimee Mendez's sneakers were found in a dumpster behind a CVS on Eastern Avenue in Lynn, along with a piece of rug they say came from the man's van. Police have not confirmed that, however.

Jaimee Mendez is diabetic and has an autistic 5-year-old son, her family said.

"She still can't go four days without her insulin," Jaimee's father Stephen Mendez said Sunday. "Her son is severely autistic. She would be home to see him every single day. She would never — I don't think she's ever spent a day away from her son."

"Thank God we have a big family, and we can all hold each other up — that's all I can say. As you know, it's hard. It's just, you can't describe it. It's unbearable," Alyssa Mendez said Monday.

Massachusetts State Police is working with departments in Swampscott, Lynn and Salem to investigate the case.

Meanwhile, another local woman who had been missing since Oct. 30 has been found, her sister announced Tuesday on Facebook.

Stephanie Vaczy had gone missing Oct. 30, NECN had learned Monday, and her sister Karissa Vaczy said she was often with Jaimee Mendez and the man described as a convicted sex offender. Karissa Vaczy said Tuesday that her sister had been found, and Karissa later helped search for Mendez.

Although she said her sister does not remember any of the past 13 days, Karissa Vaczy said she's relieved Stephanie has been located and knows exactly how this feels for the Mendez family.

"They still have high hopes that they're going to find more evidence or more things that are going to lead them to find Jaimee, so we're hoping," Karissa said.

Police would not comment on whether the women had any connection to each other or to the man they had been with.

"We're just hoping to get a better understanding of where he might have hung out, people who he might have hung out with," said Alyssa Mendez.

The Essex County District Attorney's office said Tuesday that the investigation into Mendez's disappearance was fluid and ongoing.

"I don't have enough information to be satisfied," said Alyssa Mendez. "I'll be satisfied when my sister's home."

Anyone with any information about Mendez is asked to call Swampscott Police at (781) 595-1111.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to raise money to help provide for Mendez' son while officials search for her.

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Ceremony at Iwo Jima Memorial Honors Veterans


Today is a day to honor veterans around the nation today, thank those who served and honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

A ceremony is underway at the Iwo Jima Memorial on the New Britain-Newington line through this afternoon. Among those attending are survivors of the Battle of Iwo Jima and World War II.

The event is an opportunity to thank you to these war heroes and also remember those whose lives are lost, including the 100 service members from Connecticut whose names are listed on the Iwo Jima memorial.

Students from Central Connecticut State University have been researching the lives of those who served and making posters, which will ultimately be a permanent part of this memorial. Today, some of their research will be shared.

After that presentation, “Taps” will play, there will be a rifle solute and a bell will ring for each soldier who was killed an action.

Organizers say this is a reminder to cherish the time you have, not just on Veterans Day, but every day.

“Anytime we have left with our World War II veterans, we have to treasure. We have to go thank them. We have to talk to them. We have to get some information from them. Let them tell their stories. It’s all part of the history we need to preserve,” Gary Roy, of the Iwo Jima Memorial Historical Foundation, said.

This ceremony ends early this afternoon, but members of the foundation will be at the memorial until 3 p.m. to answer questions.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

Purple Heart Recipient Chides VA


Purple Heart recipient Micah Welintukonis, who has served the country in major combat theaters like Kosovo and Iraq, is disappointed and angry about recent scandals at the Veterans Administration and said not nearly enough has been done.

“I think it needs to be completely revamped and overhauled," Welintukonis said ahead of a talk at Clover Road Elementary School in Windsor. "The bonuses need to go away. What you’re giving bonuses to people to what shred veterans records? That person should be in prison.”

A native of Windsor, Welintukonis enlisted in the Army before he even graduated from high school.

He said having served the country in multiple countries in multiple capacities, he has a good handle on what returning veterans really need in the modern age and it's not just medical care.

“One of the most successful things that I’ve found is talking to other vets. They can relate, you know? And you don’t have to worry about it. You can just vent, cry, whatever you need to do,” Welintukonis explained.

He said it's crucial that students have a complete understanding of the role the armed forces and veterans play in their lives. Veterans Day plays a key part in that.

"It's important to keep the tradition and the morals and the sacrifice in our young generations. Some day we're going to be old and they're going to be passing the laws for us, so to speak," he said.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

2 Hurt in Rollover Crash in Willimantic


Two women have been taken to the hospital after their cars collided and one rolled over Tuesday afternoon on Main Street in Willimantic.

Police said a 27-year-old woman was driving on Main Street just past Dunham Street when her car collided with another sedan and flipped over in front of the Windham Textile and History Museum.

She and the second driver, an 89-year-old woman, were both driving alone. They were taken to Windham Hospital for treatment. Police have not released any information on their injuries.

Main Street was closed between Dunham and Clark streets while an accident reconstruction team responded to the scene.

Anyone with information or who witnessed the crash is urged to call Willimantic police at 860-465-3135.

Photo Credit: Willimantic Police Department

UNH Considers Cutting Graduate Education Program


The University of New Haven is considering cutting its graduate education program, a decision that has outraged students.

Now, the university's president is apologizing.

While graduate students were notified about the potential cuts and told they would be allowed to finish their degrees, undergraduate students planning to enroll in the program say they were told nothing about their status at the university if the cuts go through.

"[For] most of us, this is the only reason we came here," said Asia Gillespie, a senior who serves as the president of the university's Future Teachers Club. "We're all kind of just in limbo and all this here-say and we just really want a definite answer as what this means for us."

Students say it's especially upsetting since many came here for the 4+1 program, which allows them to complete an undergraduate education degree in four years and then earn a tuition-free masters degree in one year.

"It's really unfair that they didn't tell the undergraduates because they didn't want a protest," said Amber Crow, a senior music education major.

The controversy has prompted university president Dr. Steven Kaplan to issue an apology to undergraduate education students.

"I'm terribly sorry and I take full responsibility. We did a terrible job of informing them of what we were doing," said Kaplan. "We reached out to the graduate students because they were the most obvious students to be affected and we neglected to inform and discuss this matter with the undergraduates."

Kaplan said declining enrollment is responsible for the possible cuts.

"Our focus has been on science and engineering and business, historically, and we're going to be putting more resources there," said Kaplan. "And when you have a limited pool of resources, then you have to make tough decisions and realign and reallocate."

Meanwhile, students are holding out hope that the program might stick around.

"I think that that's really sad because our school stands for fulfilling your dreams and it stands for creating a life that you want, and if we're telling people that your choices are invalid, how is that fair?" said Crow.

A final decision is expected within weeks.

"The seniors will not be affected. The program will still be fully in place and just as strong as ever," said Kaplan.

However, undergraduate education students in their first, second and third years will likely have to transfer elsewhere to earn their masters degrees, according to Kaplan.

"We're committed to making sure that they complete their degrees here and that they have an opportunity at a partner institution in the region to do their graduate program," he said.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

Minor Struck by Car in Bristol


A minor was rushed to the hospital after being struck by a car while walking in Bristol on Tuesday evening.

Police said the victim was hit by a passing car while crossing Pine Street/Route 72 around 5 p.m. The road was closed in both directions between Middle Street/Route 229 and Emmett Street while police responded to the scene.

The pedestrian was taken to Connecticut Children's Medical Center for treatment of non-life threatening injuries, according to police.

Police have not released the victim's name.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

Bristol Boys and Girls Club Opens New Facility


Without a look at their "grand opening" cake, the cotton candy or the fresh popcorn, hundreds of members of the Bristol Boys and Girls Club rushed into the field house of their brand new building Tuesday.

"It's really cool," said Brianna Parker, who led the parade from the old building around the corner on Laurel Street.

The Bristol Boys and Girls Club raised $11 million to build the new building over the last five years.

"I think it took a lot of courage, a lot of love, a lot of hard work," said executive director Michael Suchopar, "and a belief that we have to do something for the kids in our community."

An open house will be held Nov. 28, the day after Thanksgiving, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

Corvette Sunk After Threats: Wife


Police are hunting for a man accused of pushing his estranged wife's red Corvette into the Delaware River on Monday in the midst of a messy divorce.

An arrest warrant has been issued for John Kramer, 50, whose wife said he was "disgruntled" over a protective order she has against him and rolled the car into the river after texting their daughter threats.

Kramer is charged with contempt, violation of protection from abuse order, harassment and recklessly endangering another person. According to police, the reckless endangerment charge is for endangering the divers who searched for the car.

Kramer's wife, a Northeast Philadelphia resident, told NBC10 her husband sent threatening texts to her and their teenage daughter moments before he pushed their car into the river.

"He had threatened that he would put the car in the river," the estranged wife said. "He then texted my daughter and said, 'You have two minutes,' and then he texted back and said, 'It’s done LOL.'"

The woman asked not to be identified, saying she has a protection from abuse (PFA) order against her husband.

"I have a PFA, and he was disgruntled about that,” she said.

The woman said she called 911 Monday night after seeing breaking news reports about a 1990 red Corvette in the water near Magee Lane and New State Road, just below Interstate 95, in Northeast Philly.

"I called 911 and asked them if that was my car, and they confirmed that it was, but we didn’t know at the time if he was in the car or not,” she said.

Witnesses told police a man matching Kramer's description fled the scene shortly after the car fell into the water.

The woman said she recently tried to work out a car exchange with her husband, but it didn't go well.

“He had wanted to switch the Corvette for the van and indicated that he wanted to come get it,” she said. "I told him he had to leave the ‘vette in order to get the van.

“He wasn’t allowed to come here, so he would have to wait for somebody to meet with him.”

The woman claims Kramer violated the PFA and repeatedly tried to get in touch with her throughout the day Monday.

"Because I have the PFA ... I ignored him all day, and he was texting me and also calling my work phone, and I just saved the messages and showed them to the detectives,” she said.

The couple is going through a divorce. Their issues escalated after her adult son died in June, the wife told NBC10's Rosemary Connors.

The woman said she is worried for her husband's safety but also for her own safety and the safety of their two daughters, who are 15 and 17.

While charges for Kramer have been approved, he remained on the loose.

Photo Credit: Denise Nakano

Chicago Bakery Blast, Blaze Hurt 4


An explosion and three-alarm fire tore through a Turano Baking Company building in suburban Oak Park on Tuesday, leaving four people injured and engulfing bread delivery trucks in flames.

Three people suffered minor injuries in the blaze in the 6500 block of Roosevelt Road, according to reports, and video of the scene showed the building and some delivery trucks engulfed in flames.

A fourth person injured in the fire was taken to Loyola Medical Center in serious condition.

The fire started at 2:20 p.m. in Turano Bakery's fleet maintenance garage, which sits in Oak Park, police spokesman David Powers said.

Residents in the neighborhood were evacuated as a precaution, officials told NBC 5. About 900 people were without power in Oak Park and 1,000 in Berwyn.

"It was very intense, very loud," witness Jesse Gálvez said of the explosion. "Right away you knew something was wrong. ... I saw black smoke just everywhere."

A series of explosions ripped through the garage, spewing thick black smoke into the air above it, crumbling the brick wall around it and making the alley behind it impassable. The fire was still going as of 3:30 p.m. and electricity to the building was cut off.

"I felt like a truck came through our house," said witness Tommy White. "After the initial explosion I started to hear more explosions, probably between 12 to 15 more."

Fire investigators believe the cause of the flames involved a propane tank in the garage.

"They were changing one of the propane tanks on one of the vehicles and they thought it was empty but it was full so the propane tank shot up in the air and touched one of the heating units on the ceiling," said Oak Park Battalion Fire Chief Kevin Wiley.

The bakery, located on the south side of Roosevelt in suburban Berwyn, resumed operations shortly after the fire.

Photo Credit: NBCChicago.com

Md. School Calendar Scrubs Xmas


Students in Montgomery County will still have off from school on Christmas and Yom Kippur -- but the school calendar will no longer call those holidays "Christmas" or "Yom Kippur."

The county's Board of Education voted Tuesday afternoon to remove any mentions of any religious holidays on the calendar next school year.

The issue stemmed from the schools being closed for Jewish holidays but not for Muslim ones.

The Muslim holiday of Eid Al Adha coincides with Yom Kippur on Sept. 23, 2015.

Since schools do not close for Muslim holidays, Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Joshua Starr recommended the Board of Education eliminate the references to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur on the 2015-2016 calendar.

The board voted to approve the recommendation Tuesday.

County executive Ike Leggett said Monday he would have taken a different tactic if the decision were up to him.

"I would simply add Eid to the existing holidays they already have without substituting any other holidays," Leggett said.

Parent Samira Hussein, who is also a school employee, has campaigned for the past 20 years to have the Muslim holiday added to the school calendar.

"The Eid is just the same exact as Christmas day or Easter day or Yom Kippur," she said. "The children want to home with their families. This is a family holiday that God designated and gave us the time to celebrate and be joyous."

Montgomery County Public Schools have closed for the Jewish high holidays since the 1970s because of the county's large Jewish population in the county would create a high absenteeism rate in the county.

County officials say the size of the county's Muslim population doesn't warrant closing schools.

"High absenteeism is the main reason" for schools being closed on the Jewish high holidays, said Dana Tofig with Montgomery County Public Schools. "The absentee rate on the Eid holidays, when they've fallen on a school day, haven't been considerably higher or lower than it is on any other given day."

Muslim groups who want equality for Eid said that they didn't think the Jewish holidays should be removed from the calendar.

"What we're asking for is... to also have both the Jewish holiday and the Muslim holiday Eid Al Adha both be recognized on the school calendar," said Zainab Chaudry of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Muslim students said they can fall behind when they celebrate Eid.

Monroe Teacher on Leave Over "Inappropriate Behavior"


A teacher at Masuk High School in Monroe has been placed on administrative leave after a student reported "inappropriate behavior" to the school resource officer, according to the superintendent.

Supt. Jim Agostine said a student alerted the officer, who then reported it to the administration and police department.

School officials have not released any details of the allegations but said the Department of Children and Families was contacted.

The teacher has been placed on administrative leave, according to Agostine.

"This is an unfortunate situation and I want you to be reassured that we addressed it immediately and we will continue to work closely with the proper authorities to resolve this issue," he wrote.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

Police Never Got Student's Call for Help: Cops


When a student at Eastern Connecticut State University was assaulted and robbed over the weekend, he called 911. But police say the call for help never reached them.

According to Willimantic police, a group of half a dozen people attacked the student around 1 a.m. Sunday and took his wallet while he was walking back to campus.

"One came from the side and immediately hit me in the side of the eye until I dropped to the ground," explained the victim, who asked not to be identified by name. "And they just started beating me and one kid kept yelling, 'All right, it's over, just take his wallet.'"

The student said he ran into the woods and called 911. According to police, however, that call never made it from the Willimantic Switchboard Association, which handles emergency dispatch, to the police department.

Willimantic police emphasized that the two are separate entities.

"Somewhere in between that 911 call, there was a disconnect," explained Willimantic police spokesman Cpl. Stan Parizo. "We're going to look at all facets of this: the 911 call itself to the dispatch center, the conversation between the victim and the dispatcher and the reason why the police department wasn't dispatched."

Willimantic police are investigating both the assault and the communication breakdown. Police said the Willimantic Switchboard Association is also investigating.

"He asked me to go out to where I was exactly on Ash Street. He told me if he didn't know exactly where I was then he could not assist me," the student said, of the dispatcher who answered the phone. "So I just told him, 'That's fine, I'll just take care of it on my own.'"

The student has not filed a formal complaint over the incident and refused medical attention at the scene, according to police.

Parizo said the victim refused to allow police to photograph his injuries and "did not wish to give a statement" at the time of the incident.

Nonetheless, the student said he feels "let down by the [authorities] completely because they were of no help" and wants his attackers to face the consequences.

"This is a serious crime," Parizo said. "We are doing everything we can to find the assailant or assailants that assaulted this young men and bring them to justice."

The Willimantic Switchboard Association could not immediately be reached for comment.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

Ridgefield Dad Heads to Court in Toddler's Hot Car Death


The father of a Ridgefield toddler who died after he was left in a hot car for hours over the summer has been charged with negligent homicide and is appearing before a judge today.

Police said Kyle Seitz, 36, turned himself in at 4 p.m. on Tuesday after learning that police had obtained a warrant for his arrest.

His 15-month-old son Benjamin died of hyperthermia after Seitz allegedly left him in the car while going to work at Owl Computing Technologies in Ridgefield on July 7.

Police said Seitz had forgotten to drop Benjamin off at daycare and left him alone "for an extended period of time" on a day when temperatures climbed to 88 degrees.

Benjamin's mother, Lindsay Rogers-Seitz, said Kyle Seitz went to pick up their son from daycare at the end of the day, then realized the little boy was still in the car and rushed his son to Danbury Hospital, where Benjamin was pronounced dead.

His death was ruled a homicide in August.

Seitz has been charged with criminally negligent homicide and was released on a written promise to appear. 

He arrived at Danbury Superior Court this morning.

"He certainly continues to have the support of his family and close friends," Seitz's attorney John Gulash said in a statement Tuesday. "It is a difficult time for everyone."

In the weeks after Benjamin's death, Rogers-Seitz started a blog called The Gift of Ben to raise awareness about heatstroke in children.

"I actually told him that night, I said, 'I love you' over and over until he looked at me finally," Rogers-Seitz said in a previous interview. "We can deal with it together and we're finding peace in that."

She could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening. She and her children have moved out of the state of Connecticut, according to comments made in court on Wednesday.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com/Lindsay Rogers-Seitz

Crash Causes I-91 Lane Closures in Windsor


Some Interstate 91 southbound lanes are closed near exit 40 in Windsor due to a crash.

Two cars crashed and there were minor injuries.

One lane was getting by as of 6:59 a.m.

More information will be provided when it becomes available.

Photo Credit: DOT

2-Year-Old Hamden Girl Reported Missing


A 2-year-old Hamden girl was reported missing early this morning.

Police issued a Silver Alert and said 2-year-old Hailie Sierra has been missing since Tuesday.

When she was last seen, her hair was in a ponytail and she was wearing a red jacket, blue jeans and brown boots.

Hailie has black hair and brown eyes. She is 2-feet-tall and weighs 27 pounds.

No additional information has been released.

If you have any information on Hailie, call Hamden police at 203-230-4000.

Photo Credit: Silver Alert

Rt. 138 Closed Due to Truck Stuck Under Bridge


Route 138 (Newent Road) in Lisbon is closed after a tractor-trailer got stuck under a bridge.

The road is closed indefinitely from Route 169 to Route 12, Lisbon police said. The truck is caught under a railroad bridge overpass.

Drivers can take Interstate 395 as a detour.

Photo Credit: NBC10.com

Mother, Son Escape from Milford Fire


Firefighters battled a fire at a mixed-use building in Milford this morning and a mother and son were among the people who managed to escape the blaze.

Fire broke out at 67 Cherry Street, a four-unit apartment building with a dentist office on Wednesday morning and the fire department received a 911 call at 6:44 a.m.

Officials said the fire started in a closet in a second-floor unit and a mother and son who were home at the time escaped. Occupants of other units were also able to get out of the building without suffering injuries.

The unit where the fire started is uninhabitable for the time being, officials said.

There is some water damage to the dentist's office on the first floor, Brete D. Moran D.M.D., L.L.C Dental Office, but it has not been determined if the officer will open today or not.

The fire marshal's office is investigating the cause of the blaze.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com
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Car Gets Wedged Under SUV on I-95 in Stamford


A car got wedged under the back of an SUV on Interstate 95 South in Stamford this morning and there are traffic delays.

The crash happened in the center lane near exit 8.

Photo Credit: Connecticut Department of Transportation
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