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Thousands Ring in the New Year in Hartford


Thousands gathered at Bushnell Park on Wednesday night to ring in the new year as part of Hartford's annual First Night celebration.

The fireworks went off with their familiar bang as they lit up the sky in style. Families also took part in the dozens of other activities and events.

"We already did the face painting and the photo booth," explained 6-year-old Avary Wirzulis.

Some put their feet up and decided to take the train while others listened to music and tried their best to stay warm.

One attraction that's a big hit every year is the ice skating, and many snapped on skates for the first time.

"This is my first time ice skating," said Windsor resident Anthony Edwards. "I wanted to take my daughter to see the fireworks. Her mother is afraid to ice skate, so you know, just the first time experience for us."

The afternoon kicked off with a skating celebration alongside members of the UConn hockey team, and the skating continued through the evening.

"New year, new things," said South Windsor resident Kaity Silverman. "What better night to go ice skating than New Years Eve?"

As 2014 came to an end, those at First Night said they couldn't imagine a better place to celebrate the new year.

"This is great for the city. Kids can come out and have a good time and spend time with the family. That's what the holidays are about," said Edwards.

Chick-fil-A Investigates Possible Data Breach


Chick-Fil-A officials said they're investigating a potential data breach of their systems after reports of suspicious activity.

The company received several reports of unusual activity on payment cards used at some of their restaurants beginning Dec. 19, according to a statement issued by Chick-fil-A.

Officials with Chick-fil-A said they notified authorities of the possible breach and are looking into possible fraudulent charges on customer accounts.

"Any fraudulent charges will be the responsibility of either Chick-fil-A or the bank that issued the card," the statement released by Chick-fil-A read. "If our customers are impacted, we will arrange for free identity protection services, including credit monitoring."

For additional concern or support, customers can call 855-398-6439 when the company's call center reopens Friday.

5.1-M Quake Hits NorCal Coast


An earthquake with a magnitude of 5.1 struck the coast of Northern California early on New Year's Day, about 70 miles from the nearest city of Ferndale.

An officer with the Ferndale City Police Department told The Associated Press slight shaking was felt in the area, but there were no reports of damage or injuries.

The epicenter was in the Pacific Ocean. The quake struck at 4:16 a.m.

According to the U.S. Geological Service, the cities closest to the quake include Eureka, Arcata and Sacramento - the latter city is about 250 miles from the epicenter.

The earthquake was about 250 miles northwest of the epicenter of a magnitude-6.0 temblor that caused extensive damage in Napa and the surrounding area on Aug. 24

Photo Credit: USGS

Drunk Driver Hits Police Sergeant in Stamford: Cops


A Stamford man is facing charges after allegedly driving drunk and hitting a police sergeant shortly early New Year's Day, according to police.

Police said Edward Salazar-Martinez, 28, of Hope Street in Stamford, was driving northbound on Hope Street around 2 a.m. Thursday when he plowed through a line of traffic cones and hit K-9 Sgt. Richard Phelan, who was responding to an earlier accident.

According to police, Phelan was standing outside his cruiser blocking traffic after a 14-year-old took his parents' car without permission and struck a phone pole at Hope Street and Plymouth Road shortly after midnight, bringing down power lines.

Police said Phelan's car had its emergency lights on and was surrounded by orange traffic cones.

Salazar-Martinez refused a breath teast and failed field sobriety tests at the scene, according to police. He was arrested and charged with driving under the influence, driving with a suspended license and hitting an officer with a motor vehicle.

He was released on $5,000 bond and is due in court Jan. 14.

Police said Phelan suffered a minor leg injury and was taken to the hospital for treatment.

Photo Credit: News 12 Connecticut

Minimum Wage Up to $9.15 in 2015


With the flip of the calendar some people in Connecticut got a raise of 45 cents an hour, as the minimum wage rose to $9.15.

Natasha Santana works for minimum wage at Walgreen's while she attends UConn West Hartford, and for her the raise is welcome.

"I'm a college student," she said, "so it's going to go towards paying for my car and my insurance and gas and stuff. So it's pretty useful."

Another woman loading her car with groceries for a New Year's Day brunch said the higher minimum wage might lift her take home pay too.

"I'm hoping that my boss will be extra generous to me this year," said Zethelyn Monts. "I work two jobs so one of them better pay off. All my life since I was 16 I did two jobs and went to school. So I have to do what I have to do as a single parent."

Lindsay Elias held onto her three-year-old son as they waited for a bus on Albany Avenue in Hartford. She's trying to be positive about what the higher minimum wage might mean as she looks for a job.

"I'd accept anything at this moment because I'm on cash assistance," she said, explaining that's $448 a month. "Any penny is worth anything, especially when you got a kid and you're single."

The minimum wage goes to $9.60 in 2016 in Connecticut, then $10.10 in 2017.

Man Lying in Road Killed by Cop Car


A police cruiser hit and killed a college senior who was lying in the road early in the morning on New Year's Day in Chatham, Massachusetts, police say.

Garrett Gagne, 22, of Longmeadow, a senior at St. Lawrence College and a four-year lacrosse team member there, is believed to have been celebrating New Year's Eve with friends in Chatham.

It was unclear why he was lying in the road or what his condition was before the cruiser hit him, police said. They could not immediately reach the friends with whom he had been celebrating.

Gagne was hit on Crowell Road near Tipcart Drive just after 4 a.m. by a marked Chatham police cruiser responding to an emergency call, police said.

The officer who hit him stopped, called for assistance and gave him medical aid, but he was pronounced dead soon after at Cape Cod Hospital.

The crash is under investigation, and police say they will release the name of the officer involved in the next 24 hours.

St. Lawrence College's president William Fox expressed "heart-breaking sadness" in a statement the school put out notifying the school community of his death.

"Wisdom and meaning seem impossible right now in the midst of our immediate, heart-breaking sadness," Fox said. "We must, of course, give our best and most loving thoughts to Garrett's family and friends in a day of such sudden deep grief. When our campus community returns from break, we will plan a gathering to honor Garrett's memory."

Gagne's lacrose coach Mike Mahoney mourned his long-time player as well.

"His smile and enthusiasm were contagious. He could light up the field and sidelines with his personality," Mahoney said in the statement. "This sudden and shocking loss touches every one of us who knew him as one of our best."

NECN will have more as this story develops.

Photo Credit: St. Lawrence University
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First Connecticut Baby of New Year Born at Yale-New Haven


Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital welcomed its first baby of 2015 early this morning.

Declan Richard Smith was born to Patrick Smith and Ann Werner of Hamden at 12:17 a.m. He weighed in at 6 pounds, 3.5 ounces and is the family’s first child.

Mother and baby are both doing well.

Photo Credit: Yale-New Haven Hospital

Man Decapitated Mom Over Chores: PD


A Florida man is accused of decapitating his mother with an ax because she had been "nagging" him about chores.

Christian Jose Gomez, 23, was arrested Wednesday night near his family's house in Oldsmar, near Tampa, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

Gomez faces a first-degree murder charge and is being held without bond, and it was unknown if he has an attorney.

Deputies responding to a 911 call found the body of the victim, 48-year-old Maria Suarez Cassagne, outside the residence, officials said. Gomez was found and arrested a few blocks away.

Gomez hit his mother over the head with an axe then decapitated her in the garage, sheriff's office officials said. He put her head in a garbage can and tried to put the body inside, but it was too heavy, they said.

Gomez's older brother found their mother's body.

Gomez said he was angry over his mother "nagging" him to put some boxes in the attic and had been planning the murder for two days, officials said.

Photo Credit: Pinellas County Sheriff

Waterbury Hospital Welcomes Its First Baby of 2015


Waterbury Hospital welcomed its first baby of the year shortly after 1 a.m. on New Year's Day.

Isabella Victoria Bueno, born at 1:05 a.m. Thursday, weighs 7 pounds, 6 ounces. She was the first baby delivered at Waterbury Hospital in 2015 and the second born in the state.

"This is a very special day for her, she is very blessed," said her mother, Cynara Bueno. "First time having the first baby of the year but it feels great."

Although she knew Isabella would be born sometime around the holidays, Bueno said she never expected her to arrive on New Year’s Day.

"I was actually supposed to be induced at 7 a.m., and it didn’t work out,” she said. “The hospital was pretty busy, so I stayed home and I was walking, doing everything and I started feeling contractions so I came in. I didn’t think I was going to have the New Year’s baby because I got in the hospital at 6 p.m., and I thought it was going to be much faster.”

Bueno said now she has a great story for Isabella about how she came into the world, and then landed right into the spotlight.

"Not many people can say they we're this lucky she is the lucky one," Bueno said.

Nurses at Waterbury say it’s been a busy New Year. So far, three other babies were born Jan. 1, 2015.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

Gawkers Gridlock Snowy SoCal Town


A New Year's Day venture for thousands into Julian to see its heavy snow turned the quaint town into a traffic nightmare New Year's Day, backing up every roadway into town for miles and leaving it out of lodging for several days.

The picturesque town of 1,500, which saw 6 inches of snow on New Year’s Eve, is "overflowing with outsiders" as visitors flock there, said California Highway Patrol spokesman Robert Catano.

"Be aware that Julian is bursting at the seams," the town's Chamber of Commerce warned would-be visitors on its website. "Be prepared to wait in a traffic jam for a long time just to get into town. Please do not block anyone's driveway or enter private property looking for places to play in the snow."

Thursday afternoon, every major highway was backed up for miles, according to the California Highway Patrol.

To compound the problem, the town is completely out of lodging until Jan. 3, Chamber of Commerce officials said.

While state troopers told NBC 7 that the town had run out of gasoline, a clerk at Julian's only gas station said it did have gasoline and would have enough to last the night.

State troopers were dispatched to the area on Thursday after reports of gridlock traffic.

Traffic continued to worsen as the day wore on. State Route 67 had traffic backed up Thursday afternoon all the way to I-8 and the 8 was congested all the way to Willows Road near Viejas.

While Julian is known for being one of the rare places in Southern California to see snow in the winter, the amount that fell over New Year's Eve was unusual. The amount of snow that fell there Wednesday was more than twice the town's average snowfall for the entire month of December.

The average snowfall for an entire year is 22 inches and 2.5 inches is typical for the month of December, according to the Western Regional Climate Center.

Early Thursday morning, locals were in good spirits about the influx in visitors. Mom's Pie House expected to sell out of 500 pies by the end of the day.

Locals said the boom is good for their town's economy.

"People are having a great time," Julian resident Johathon Mitteman said. "They kind of lose their concept of driving rules, but that is fine."

Drivers planning to head up there on Thursday should expect major delays on State Route 79 and State 78 into Julian, Catano said.

Chains are required from the 79 to Old Highway 80 and those driving on Sunrise Highway are obligated to carry chains.

Cop Held in Transit Worker Attack


An NYPD officer is in police custody in connection with an attack last week on an MTA employee on a Bronx subway platform, authorities said Thursday.

Officer Mirjan Lolja turned himself in at his precinct, authorities said. No charges have been filed. He has been suspended from the force, according to the NYPD.

The 28-year-old MTA officer told investigators that she was attacked at about 2:30 a.m. Dec. 23 by a man on the D train platform at the East Tremont Station. The man grabbed her from behind and pushed her to the floor, where he choked her and then fled.

The victim, who was wearing her MTA uniform and on duty at the time, was treated at an area hospital for minor injuries to her head, neck and back. 

Woman Rescued From Burning Condo in Meriden


Fire crews rescued a woman from her burning condo in Meriden early New Year's Day.

Officials at the scene said flames broke out in a car parked in a condo driveway on Woodland Ridge around 5 a.m. Thursday and spread to the right side of the two-unit complex.

"Upon arrival of the first engine company, we did confirm that we had a vehicle fire and that it had extended into the building," explained Meriden fire Chief Kenneth Morgan. "We called for full structure dispatch and shortly thereafter, a second alarm based on the fact that the fire got into the building and had apparently made its way up to the attic."

Crews were able to rescue a woman from inside the burning unit. No one was hurt, and most of the damage was contained to the outside of the building, according to the fire department.

Firefighters also struggled with cold temperaturese causing water to freeze.

The fire marshal is investigating to determine the cause of the blaze.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

Chickens Die in Hartland Barn Fire


Several chickens died when a barn on Balance Rock Road in East Hartland went up in flames Thursday evening, according to fire officials at the scene.

Firefighters from Granby, Tolland, East Hartland, West Hartland and Barkhamsted were called to 38 Balance Rock Road shortly before 7 p.m., emergency dispatchers said.

Flames destroyed the detached barn that housed chickens, but did not spread to the house, according to firefighters at the scene. Although the chickens were killed, no humans were hurt.

The fire marshal will investigate to determine the cause of the fire, which officials speculate may have started when a light or heating lamp tipped over.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

New Haven Mayor Reflects on 2014, Looks Ahead of 2015


One year ago, New Haven Mayor Toni Harp took the oath of office for the Elm City’s top spot.

It wasn’t long before she found out that New Haven had its share of problems, which she saw firsthand by attending a number of funerals during her first few months in office.

“I really didn’t realize that being mayor would mean I would have to attend so many services, where we really lost our young people to the streets, and so it was really my thought that we have to do everything we can to make sure we raise our children as a successful community, raise our children to adults,” said Harp.

That became one of Harp's major efforts during her first year in office. She helped to implement programs and citywide canvasses targeting young people most at risk for violence.

“Youth Stat is another thing we’ve worked on around disengaged youth, and going out into the community and trying to really engage our young people, really making sure that young people have positive and productive things to do with their time,” she explained.

The effort started paying off in 2014. The programs, paired with community policing efforts by the New Haven Police Department, led to a decrease in homicides and overall shots fired in the city.

“I’m proud of the fact that in every level of crime, crime has gone down in New Haven, that we’re a much safer city,” said Harp.

She knows there is still work to be done.

“I think the biggest challenge for the city of New Haven is to keep our taxes low, but yet, have the programs that we need for our population, many of whom are on the edge and need support from government,” Harp explained.

Another key area where she’ll be focusing efforts is improving New Haven’s schools.

“I really think we’re going to take a hard look at education this year and our persistently under-performing schools and really look at what we can do to improve performance,” said Harp.

She also wants to see how to improve employment opportunities. She said that creating jobs and reducing unemployment has been a challenge that’s taken longer than she anticipated.

“We’re going to continue to look at employment, work with our regional workforce development board to see if we can get more of our people gainfully employed, reduce our unemployment numbers,” said Harp.

Harp added that she wants to make sure people in New Haven have a way to get to and from work.

“We really want to take a look at transportation in our town from the railroad point of view, from Tweed-New Haven point of view, and really from the average person who needs to find jobs. Most of the people who have to work in New Haven, live in New Haven, actually need transportation,” said Harp.

The mayor said she will be pushing for state and federal transportation funding to improve transportation for New Haven.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

Police Investigate Possible Homicide in Waterbury


Waterbury police are investigating after a body was found in a driveway on Thursday morning.

According to police, the body of a man was discovered at 34 Mitchell Avenue in Waterbury around 7:45 a.m.

The medical examiner will investigate to determine the man's cause of death, but police said they're investigating it as a possible homicide.

Traffic has been blocked off in the area of the crime scene.

Check back for updates.

"A Giant": Pols Mourn Mario Cuomo


New York politicians are remembering former three-term Gov. Mario Cuomo as a leader, public servant and friend who loved, and was loved by, New Yorkers.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Chuck Schumer and others expressed their condolences on social media Thursday, just after the elder Cuomo died at the age of 82.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy hailed the former governor as an inspiration, while former mayor Mike Bloomberg called him simply "a friend."

President Barack Obama also lauded the "Italian Catholic kid from Queens" for his life of public service in "the state he loved." And President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement that Cuomo's life was "the embodiment of the American dream."

Cuomo died Thursday evening following weeks of reports that he was ailing, and just hours after his son, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, was inaugurated for his second term.

Here are some of the responses on Twitter to the former governor's death.

Photo Credit: AP
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Va. Yoga Teacher Missing in Mexico


A Northern Virginia yoga teacher and world traveler has been missing since Dec. 30, when he left for a hike in the Tepozteco Mountains in Mexico.

Hari Simran and his wife Emily Smith had been attending a four-day yoga retreat called "Sat Nam Fest" near Tepoztlan, about 30 miles south of Mexico City. The couple lives in Leesburg, Virginia.

Simran sent a friend a photo of himself hiking around 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, about three hours into what was supposed to be a short hike. He hasn't been seen or heard from since.

"The next day, they sent three search teams. They chartered a helicopter ... we chartered a helicopter, the federal police came," Smith explained, adding searchers haven't consistently had a helicopter with infrared radar available to them.

Smith said her husband is an experienced hiker, and had only gone out with water, trail mix, a phone and a knife on Tuesday. She's worried he may be injured, and is posting any developments on a website, #FindHariSimran

"He has friends all over the world. We put this out on Facebook, Twitter ... the support all over the world is pouring in," Smith said. 

Photo Credit: Courtesy Facebook

Toddler Abducted by Teen Mom: PD


Police are looking for a 15-month-old Moreno Valley girl they believe was abducted by her biological parents and may have been taken to Las Vegas.

Investigators are also looking for her 19-year-old mother.

Around 9 a.m. Wednesday, the toddler's abduction was reported to the Moreno Valley Police Department. She was allegedly taken by Sadie Leomiti and Nathan Reed from the 24000 block of Horton Court.

Reed and Leomiti may have taken their daughter, Teulia Leomiti-Reed, to Las Vegas, police said. Investigators are asking for the public’s help in locating Leomiti and the baby.

Sadie Leomiti, 19, is 5 feet 8 inches tall, weighs 240 pounds and has black hair and brown eyes. Teulia Leomit-Reed has brown hair and brown eyes.

Police do not think the little girl is in any immediate danger, according to a statement from the department.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department at 951-776-1099.

Photo Credit: Moreno Valley Police Department

Morton's Steakhouse Closes in Hartford


Bad news for steak lovers: Morton's the Steakhouse has shuttered its Hartford location, the only one in Connecticut.

The popular restaurant at State House Square served its last meal on New Year's Eve. Company executives cite changing times as the cause of the closure, but said they're exploring their options and would consider opening another location in the state.

“Morton's The Steakhouse in Hartford closed its doors on Wednesday, December 31. Due to a shift in market demographics over the last 15 years, we decided it made sense to close the present location and review new potential sites within the area,” Tim Whitlock, senior vice president of operations for Mortons, said in a statement Friday. “We are grateful for the support we received from the community and encourage our guests to visit us at any of our other nationwide locations.”

Representatives from the company said Hartford employees were notified in advance.

Morton’s locations remain open in several areas of the country, including Boston and New York.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

Neighbors Fearful as Arsonist Strikes Again


Police and firefighters are working to track down a serial arsonist who they believe is responsible for a string of eight or nine suspicious fires in the Hazardville section of Enfield, three of which were discovered on New Year's Eve.

Now, neighbors are on edge.

"I was bringing my trash barrels out and I looked over there and the flames were higher than the house, so I called 911," explained Enfield resident Nancy Bailey, who said she was getting ready to leave for work around 5 a.m. when she spotted the orange glow on Elm Street.

It's the second fire at this vacant home, and authorities believe an arsonist is behind it.

According to Enfield police, crews were at the scene investigating the house fire around 11:30 a.m. Thursday when they received the report of a suspicious car fire around the corner on Avon Street.

Just hours later, around 9:15 p.m., a woman living two houses down from the site of the first car fire noticed her own vehicle had also been burned.

Police said they believe the person responsible for these fires is one and the same. They've been chasing an arsonist in connection with fires at vacant buildings set over the past few months, including one at a former photo studio on Elm Street in August and three others over three days in November.

Although all the buildings burned have been vacant, Bailey said the fires have raised hackles around the neighborhood.

"It's terrible. I sleep in the living room sometimes, looking out the window, like I did last night," she said. "We're always looking out the window, always looking out the window wondering who's doing what."

Bailey added that she's surprised the arsonist has kept it up, with the police station right down the road. She said she wonders how far the culrpit will go.

"What's going to stop him from breaking into a garage if they want to go that far?" she asked.

Police said they have identified a person of interest but have not yet released any information about the individual.

"It's terrible. I'm hoping they get caught pretty soon," Bailey said. "We've never had anything like this before. Never."

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com
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