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Senate Democrats Propose Bigger Tax Break for Vets


Veterans who retire after at least 20 years of active duty must declare 50 percent of their military retirement pay on their state income tax returns, but under a bill introduced today by top State Senate Democrat Martin Looney, they would no longer have to declare any of it.

"Thirteen states with a state income tax now offer a 100 percent exemption for military retirement pay, including our neighbors in Massachusetts and New York," State Sen. Looney told the legislature's Veterans Affairs Committee.

Members of veterans service organizations such as VFW state commander Greg Smith attended a news conference alongside State Sen. Looney and other Senate Democrats on Tuesday.

"This bill really shows those folks that have served our country and the communities throughout Connecticut how important the citizens of Connecticut think they are," Smith said.

Veterans' activists and the Democrats painted the bill as an effort to keep veterans from leaving Connecticut in favor of states that have no income tax.

A Republican member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, State Rep. Pam Staneski, declined to comment on the bill but said she hoped it would be something she could support.

Man and Woman Attacked, Robbed Elderly Man: Police


Police arrested a man and woman who are accused of assaulting an elderly man and robbing him.

Police said the robbery happened just before 3:30 p.m. on Friday at Tilley Street near Starr Street and bystanders who followed the man and woman were able to provide police with descriptions and direction the assailants traveled in, police said.

Police caught Patrick Barton, 23, of New London, in the area of 13 Broad Street after a brief foot chase and Danielle Bentancourt, 27, of New London was apprehended on Franklin Street.

Bentancourt was charged with robbery in the third degree and larceny in the sixth degree. She is being held in lieu of $100,000 bond.

Barton was charged with robbery in third degree, assault of an elderly, blind, disabled, pregnant or intellectually disabled person in the third degree. He is being held in lieu of $200,000 bond.

The victim was treated and released from Lawrence and Memorial Hospital after suffering facial injuries.

Photo Credit: New London Police

Woman on Robbery Spree Suspected in Cromwell Holdup


The woman who held up a Cromwell bank Tuesday morning is suspected of committing similar robberies in East Hartford, Vernon, Wallingford and Wethersfield, according to Cromwell police.

Police said the robber entered the Webster Bank at 5 Coles Road in Cromwell around 1 p.m. Tuesday and told employees she had a gun. The suspect handed a teller a note demanding money and demanded cash.

The teller handed over an undisclosed amount of money, which the robber stuffed into a black plastic bag. She left on foot, and a witness told police the robber threw the bag down when a dye pack exploded.

It's the fifth bank robbery this woman is suspected of committing in the past 11 days, according to Cromwell police.

The suspect is described as a woman in her 20s who stands about 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighs 140 pounds. She was wearing a black knit hat, sunglasses, a colorful scarf, gray zip-up jacket, gray pants and tan work boots at the time of the Cromwell robbery.

Anyone with information on the incident is urged to call Cromwell police Det. Frank DiMaio at 860-635-2256 ext. 24.

Photo Credit: Cromwell Police Department

Torrington Homes, Businesses Evacuated Over Gas Leak


Homes and businesses along East Main Street/Route 202 in Torrington were evacuated Tuesday afternoon while emergency crews responded to a "large-scale gas leak," according to police.

Torrington Fire Department public information officer Dave Tripp said residents smelled gas and called for help around 2:45 p.m. Homes and businesses were subsequently evacuated, and many residents weren't let back into their houses until around 10:30 p.m.

Eversource Energy, formerly known as Connecticut Light & Power, was called to the scene to find the source of the odor. Tripp said that underground pipes apparently sprung a leak due to extreme cold.

According to Tripp, most neighbors left the area on their own, but a warming bus was brought in to keep others out of the cold.

East Main Street was closed from Route 8 to the area of Maud Street while crews responded to the scene. The road has since reopened, according to the Department of Transportation.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

Former West Haven Councilor Sentenced for Embezzlement


A former member of the West Haven City Council has been sentenced to one day in prison, six months in a halfway house and three years of supervised release after stealing more than $100,000 from a New Canaan bank where he worked, according to the U.S. attorney's office.

Federal prosecutors said Stephen DeCrescenzo, 37, of West Haven, embezzled $106,028 from customer accounts at JPMorgan Chase Bank in New Canaan between September 2008 and November 2011.

DeCrescenzo disguised the money transfers as authorized cash withdrawals made by the customers to whom the accounts belonged, according to the U.S. attorney's office.

He was arrested in New Canaan and charged with first-degree larceny in 2013.

DeCrescenzo pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of wire fraud in November 2014.

Information on an attorney for DeCrescenzo was not immediately available.

Photo Credit: New Canaan Police Department

Smoke Reported in Cockpit of Plane at Bradley Airport


Smoke filled the cockpit of a Delta flight at Bradley International Airport on Tuesday evening after the plane's auxiliary power supply malfunctioned, according to a spokesperson for the airport.

Bradley Airport spokesman Sharon Traficante said no one was hurt and no passengers were on board when the smoke was reported.

Investigators determined the smoky conditions are the result of a malfunction in the auxiliary power unit that provides electricity to the aircraft, Traficante said.

The issue has been resolved but the plane will be delayed for a few hours as a result.

Check back for updates on this developing story.

Photo Credit: NBCSanDiego

Nashville Man Indicted in Sandy Hook Fraud Scheme


A Tennessee man accused of soliciting donations for the victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre and using the money for personal gain has been indicted on six counts of wire fraud, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Robert Terry Bruce, 34, of Nashville, could face a sentence of up to 120 years in prison if convicted.

He was indicted Tuesday on charges that he defrauded donors from around the country, including in Connecticut, who thought they were helping to raise money for Sandy Hook but in reality were paying to support Bruce’s personal training business, the U.S. attorney’s office said.

According to federal prosecutors, Bruce set up the 26.4.26 Foundation in the wake of the December 2012 shootings and hosted two athletic charity events in early 2013.

He solicited contributions through a PayPal account and told supporters the “Schools 4 Schools run” and “CrossFit Cares” event were designed “to help raise funds for increased school safety, families of victims, memorials to teacher heroes, awareness and prevention in schools across America.” the U.S. attorney's office said.

Bruce told donors all proceeds would benefit the 26.4.26 Foundation, but in reality, he used most of the money to cover personal expenses and bolster his personal training business, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. Several donors who fell victim to the scam are from Connecticut.

The allegations came to light over the summer when 26.4.26 co-founder Ryan Graney told the Associated Press that only $30,000 of the $103,000 raised had been used for the true purpose of the organization.

Bruce was arrested Feb. 13 and indicted Tuesday. He’ll be arraigned in Hartford on Monday, Feb. 23 and could be sentenced to 20 years in prison on each count if convicted, according to federal prosecutors.

Municipalities Desperate to Avoid Cuts in State Aid


Towns and cities around the state are waiting anxiously to hear what the governor will say about funding for municipalities during his annual budget address Wednesday.

Town managers, mayors and first selectmen expressed doubts that Connecticut municipalities could survive a round of spending reductions in the form of aid to cities and towns.

“Let’s face it, when you cut, I've got to still provide those services or I've got to eliminate those services," said South Windsor Town Manager Matthew Galligan. "We’re very lean as it is now and that means taxes are going to go up and the property taxes."

Galligan, along with leaders from the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, has consistently said the only way to make up revenue in the event of cuts is to raise property taxes in their respective communities.

"That's our only option," Galligan said.

Gov. Dannel Malloy said during an interview Tuesday that the state should expect cuts worth "hundreds of millions" but wouldn't provide specifics about the proposal.

“I think that what I am attempting to do is to have the state live within its means and honor its long-term commitments, whether it’s paying for our pension obligations or working with local governments so that they don’t suffer," Malloy said.

The harsh winter has also played a part in municipal budget issues, according to Galligan.

"We're buying the same salt and supplies the state is, and we're hurting," he said.

Galligan added that resources are stretched as thin as possible.

“Right now, I have this year in Public Works the same number of people that I had in 1989, but I have a hundred more miles of road," he said. "I have more parks to take care of, more streets to clean and we’ve used all of the technology, so any cut in our staff or to our services would devastate our local government.”

Simply put, Galligan said he hopes he won't have to turn to leaders of other towns cities for advice on how to manage cuts in state aid.

“Right now we’re at a point where we can’t take any cuts. It’s just not going to happen,” he said.

Suit: Tricked Into False Confession


A man who spent 15 years in prison for a crime he says he didn't commit is suing Northwestern University, saying a former professor there tricked him into confessing to a double murder.

“I am angry at the people who did what they did to me,” said Alstory Simon. He was freed from prison nearly five months ago and now hopes to get restitution for the emotional distress he endured spending a decade and a half of his life behind bars.

Simon’s Lisle-based attorneys Terry Ekl and Jim Sotos fought to get Simon released and on Tuesday filed a $40 million federal lawsuit against former Northwestern professor David Protess, among others, claiming Simon was tricked into confessing to a 1982 double murder.

Simon's confession in the high-profile case helped free another death row inmate, Anthony Porter, who served 17 years before evidence surfaced he was innocent, thanks to the investigative work of the Northwestern University professor and his students.

At one point in 1998, Porter was just 48 hours shy of execution when attorneys won a stay by raising concerns about his mental competence at trial.

Now Simon’s legal team says Protess, who overturned wrongful convictions through his university journalism class, used illegal tactics to get Simon’s confession, which freed Anthony Porter from prison.

“Northwestern knew about these activities as early as 1996," Ekl said, "and did not put a stop to anything."

Northwestern said in response to the lawsuit saying it “denies all wrongdoing in this matter and looks forward to being vindicated in a court of law.”

Private investigator Paul Ciolino, who got Simon to confess to the murder on video tape and is among those named in the lawsuit, said in a statement that Simon’s attorneys’ “media spin of the horrific injustice suffered by Mr. Simon is a legalized version of a hold up for a big payday.”

“I don’t have to read this lawsuit to know it is frivolous,” Ciolino added.

Attorney Jim Sotos maintained they have “no problem” with class projects on cases of innocence and understands they are valuable.

“The problem is when you have rogue individuals operating investigative classes that are functioning as investigative agencies outside the boundaries of the law,” Sotos said. “That kind of thing needs to stop.”

Protess could not immediately be reached for a comment.

Photo Credit: Illinois Department of Corrections

2-Alarm Fire Breaks Out in Colchester


Crews were called to a home on Bulkeley Hill Road in Colchester after a two-alarm fire broke out in the garage Tuesday evening.

Fire officials at the scene said they received the report of the fire at 311 Bulkeley Hill Road around 8:45 p.m. Tuesday and had knocked down the flames by 9:10 p.m.

Two people made it out safely and no one was hurt, according to the fire department.

Crews from Salem, Gardner Lake, East Hampton, Hebron and Yantic provided mutual aid, and a tanker strike team was called in to bring water to the scene.

The Colchester fire marshal is investigating, but officials said the fire does not appear to be suspicious.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

Carnegie Mellon Mistakenly Admits 800


Ben Leibowitz called up relatives to tell them he got into Carnegie Mellon University's prestigious graduate computer science program. He even went out to dinner with his parents to celebrate.

Then he got a second email saying he hadn't been accepted after all.

About 800 other Carnegie Mellon applicants experienced similar swings of ecstasy and agony Monday - first rejoicing that the Pittsburgh institution had selected them for its master of science in computer science, then being told the acceptances were sent in error and that they had been rejected.

"It was brutal. I didn't get much sleep last night," Leibowitz, of Stamford, Connecticut, said Tuesday. "Now I have to clean up the mess. I'm calling all my relatives, I'm going, 'I'm sorry it's not happening.'"

Carnegie Mellon spokesman Kenneth Walters said the "Welcome to Carnegie Mellon!" messages were the result of "serious mistakes" in the university's process for generating acceptance letters and that it would conduct a review to prevent another error.

"We understand the disappointment created by this mistake, and deeply apologize to the applicants for this miscommunication," Walters said.

The university sent a follow-up email to the rejected students Tuesday afternoon, saying its system had "incorrectly flagged" applicants as being admitted.

Dozens of applicants shared snippets of their rejection emails along with hints of their own disappointment on a message board for people applying to graduate programs.

Carnegie Mellon's computer science graduate school tied for No. 1 with Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley in U.S. News & World Report's most recent rankings.

The university said in the erroneous messages that it accepts less than 9 percent of more 1,200 applicants - or about 100 people - into the master's program each year.

But all the technological know-how and selectivity in the world couldn't prevent the university from joining the list of high-profile institutions that accepted applicants when they didn't mean to.

In December, Johns Hopkins University mistakenly sent nearly 300 undergraduate applicants welcome messages when they were actually rejected or deferred.

In February 2014, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sent thousands of students a mistaken email about financial aid saying they were receiving the information because they had been admitted.

In 2009, the University of California at San Diego sent acceptance emails to all 46,000 students who applied, including 28,000 who were rejected.

Elisa Davis, a consultant who helped Leibowitz prepare for the graduate admissions tests, said she'd never heard of erroneous acceptance letters at the graduate school level, in part because the process is much more personal than for undergraduates.

"People need to put care into things that affect other people," Davis said. "I'm very disappointed in them."

Photo Credit: Getty Images

CTFastrak Holds Final Open House


Postponed not once but twice because of bad weather, the final CTFastrak Open House went ahead Tuesday in New Britain, at one end of the busway.

Residents who expect to ride the bus say they're looking forward to it.

"I don't drive. I take the bus," said Marcie Cummings, who expects to take the express bus from Hartford to New York. "I always take the bus."

Gov. Dannel Malloy rode a bus from Hartford to New Britain in December, signaling the completion of construction. Officials said under their original timetable, service would have started Feb. 16, but bowing to winter weather, they decided to start on March 28.

Of 150 employees to be hired, 75 percent are already on the job learning, said spokesman Michael Sanders.

"So as DOT goes out and clears the guideway for us of the snow, we are training classes that follow the plows, in order to let everybody get experience riding on the roadway before they're actually in service carrying passengers," he said.

Commuters now riding buses on Interstate 84 will be riding those buses on the CTFastrak busway and, with 60 percent of them using passes, they'll be getting those passes the same way they do now.

But single fares will be available at ticket vending machines in each station, and those tickets must be shown to fare inspectors.

"You don't walk past the fare box on your way onto the bus," said Sanders. "The bus comes into the station, all doors open, everybody gets on or off, so you use the ticket vending machine to buy those single trip tickets – either two-hours pass or all-day pass."

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

Cold Causing Record Number of Water Main Breaks


The extreme and prolonged cold snap this month has led to a record number of water main breaks around the state.

The Metropolitan District Commision serves almost half a million people in 12 cities and towns, including East Hartford, Hartford, Windsor and Newington, and has been extraordinarily busy over the past few days.

MDC CEO Scott Jellison said January is usually the busiest month for repairs and then there's a significant drop off – but not this year. MDC, he said, has serviced 50 water main breaks already this month which is more than they usually repair in all of February.

The good news, according to Jellison, is that MDC has budgeted for all possibilities so, despite a winter that has crews working around the clock, customers will not see an increase in their bills.

Milford Snow Budget Depleted


Milford Mayor Ben Blake said the city's snow budget is tapped out, and officials will soon dip into the reserve fund to cover the cost of future snow removal.

He cited timing as a major issue, explaining that many of the storms have fallen on weekends and holidays and have lasted hours, if not days.

“The storms have been ongoing. We use a lot of manpower, a lot of product, just to keep going. It hasn't been a normal year, where you get 3 or 4 inches during the day and you can clean up," said Milford's highway foreman Richard Tomasco. "It's a three-day, four-day process, so it's really hurt our budget on overtime.”

The cost of materials has also put a major dent in the budget.

“The fact that we've had to use so much ice melt, so much salt, and ice control, that adds to the budget, too, because you have to put down more when the temperatures are so cold," said Blake. "The sunlight doesn't melt the snow on its own."

The snow also doesn't clear itself from city streets, so no matter how many more storms we see, crews with the Milford Department of Public Works will have to be out cleaning it up.

“They budgeted so much money, and it's always the flip of the coin. You don't know if you get a lot of snow, or if you don't get any, then they're OK,” said Milford resident Glenn Ewaskie.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

Yale Offers Vaccines After Meningitis Diagnosis


Yale University began offering vaccines to members of the campus community after an undergraduate student was diagnosed with the B strain of bacterial meningitis last week.

It wasn't until October that the CDC released a vaccine designed to protect against this particular strain. The vaccine comprises two inoculations to be received a month apart.

Yale Health notified students of the vaccine availability in a message posted online after tests confirmed the student's diagnosis late last week.

“With a single case on campus, federal, state, and local health officials do not recommend mass vaccinations, but we are prepared to offer the new vaccine to anyone in the Yale community who wishes to be vaccinated,” Yale Health said in the advisory posted Friday.

Among the students who flocked to the health center to be immunized Tuesday was sophomore Katherine Kirk.

"We're a very pro-vaccination family. I had my meningitis vaccine already, but the strand that the student had here wasn't covered by the general meningitis vaccine that is recommended by pediatricians," Kirk explained. "I had the time, and I tend to go for the 'better safe than sorry' philosophy."

Kirk said she appreciates the way the university handled the student's diagnosis, explaining that Yale provided students with information form the CDC and allowed them to make their own decisions.

"I wasn't too concerned only because I know that Yale took all the right precautions. They notified the people who had been in contact with the student," she said.

But those who have prior experience dealing with meningitis said a diagnosis on campus is enough to raise hackles.

"I'm a grad student, and in my undergrad, someone died from meningitis," explained Yale graduate student Cornelius Davidson. " I was a RA, and we had to quarantine off, so it's very scary."

2 Dead After Truck Hits School Bus in Waterbury


The driver and passenger of a pickup were killed on Tuesday afternoon when their vehicle struck a school bus in Waterbury, according to police.

The Waterbury superintendent said the school bus had completed its run and no children were on board at the time of the crash. According to Waterbury police, the bus driver suffered minor injuries.

Police said the Dodge Dakota pickup crossed over the double yellow line in the area of 351 Watertown Avenue around 4 p.m. Tuesday and struck a school bus traveling northbound. The truck driver and passenger of the pickup were pronounced dead at the scene.

The victims have not been publicly identified.

Watertown Avenue was closed for hours between Bunker Hill Avenue and Robbins Street while an accident reconstruction team investigated the crash.

Officials with Durham School Services, the company that operates the school bus involved in the collision, said they're working alongside law enforcement to investigate the crash.

"We are sad to confirm there was an incident this afternoon involving a Durham school bus and a passenger vehicle that resulted in two fatalities. We extend our sympathies to the families and friends of the deceased," a spokesperson for Durham School Services said in a statement Tuesday evening.

Check back for updates on this developing story.

Photo Credit: Ed Del Moral Jr.
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Former Derby Principal Stole From Union Bank Account: Police


The former principal of Derby High School was arrested Tuesday on larceny charges after stealing more than $13,000 from the bank account of the principals' union, according to the police department.

Gregory Gaillard resigned in December, citing "personal reasons." Police said later that week, the Derby Administrators Association contacted them to report $13,200 was missing from the union bank account.

Prior to his resignation, Gaillard served as association president and financial manager, police said.

Although the timing of Gaillard's resignation coincides with the discovery of the missing money, Derby police said they believe the larceny allegations are not related to his decision to resign.

Gaillard has been charged with second-degree larceny.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

2-Car Crash on I-91 in East Windsor


A two-car crash is blocking two lanes on Interstate 91 south in East Windsor.

The two left lanes are blocked near exit 45.

More information will be provided when it becomes available.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

4 Evaluated After Crash Involving School Bus in New Haven


Four people were taken to area hospitals to be evaluated after a crash involving a small school bus and two other vehicles in New Haven on Wednesday morning.

Three teenagers were on the bus, which was traveling from New Haven to Foran High School in Milford, when the crash happened at Fitch and Blake streets at 6:54 a.m., police said. 

A 14-year-old girl who was on the bus was taken to the hospital to be evaluated, but was not injured and has been released. 

Two men, ages 25 and 30, were in a Mercedes Benz that was involved in the crash and have been taken to the hospital to be evaluated. Police said there was no indication at the scene that either was injured. 

A 44-year-old woman who was in a Mazda involved in the crash was taken to the hospital to be treated for a shoulder injury.

Police said it appears the bus had the right of way and the driver of the Mazda failed to stop for the red flashing signal.

State officials will be inspecting the bus and investigators are hoping a video recording of the crash will confirm the light cycle pattern and ultimately determine who is at fault beyond the initial findings, police said.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

Merritt Parkway Reopens in Greenwich


The northbound side of the Merritt Parkway in Greenwich has reopened after a serious multiple-vehicle crash.

There is no word on injuries, but the highway was shut down in that direction at exit 31 for several hours. The highway has since reopened. The Greenwich Fire Department responded.

On the southbound side, a vehicle crashed and rolled over near exits 28 and 27. The highway is open in that direction and the crash has been cleared.

More information will be provided when it becomes available.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com
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