2014: A year of tragedies, triumphs and tribulations

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At first glance, 2014 looks like a year of staying the course — of familiar faces and the unchanging Maine way of life. We elected a new governor who wasn’t new to us at all. We voted against a referendum that would have changed the way sportsmen hunt bears in the Maine woods. A popular ski resort seemed to be circling the drain, but then Mainers stepped up to save it. Change was averted and the familiar upheld.

But of course, nothing ever stays the same, and there was plenty that was new on our horizon. One popular film festival went down in flames; another rose from the ashes. Businesses closed, civic leaders retired, new buildings went up while old ones came down. The local landscape seemed to change by the day while daily news continued to grind on with its tragedies, triumphs and tribulations.

Now, with 2014 giving way to a brand-new year, we take a look back at its many parts — some comfortingly familiar, others new and strange.

The rest of the stories will run in Friday’s Sun Journal.

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Motor vehicle deaths

As always, death and mayhem on the highways left us sad and with many questions ringing in our heads. Unfortunately, these tragedies aren’t always confined to the turnpikes, avenues and back roads, as we discovered on one grim evening, shortly before Halloween.

• On the evening of Oct. 11, news began to spread across the region of a catastrophic accident at a popular hayride in Mechanic Falls. The rest of that evening was filled with grim rumor and speculation as several were said to be dead and scores injured. Details began to emerge the following morning, and the facts were almost too much to bear: A 17-year-old girl died and nearly two dozen were badly hurt in a haunted hayride rollover at the Gauntlet at Harvest Hill Farms on Route 26. What followed was mostly grief, but there was also blame and finger-pointing. Investigators said it appeared a mechanical failure led to the rollover, in which Cassidy Charette, of Messalonskee High School, died of her injuries. Also hurt was Charette’s boyfriend, 16-year-old Connor Garland. Teams of investigators from various state agencies have been probing the cause of the wreck. The district attorney has said the findings will be presented to a grand jury in February.

• On Sept. 23, Laudrinha Kubeloso, 32 and pregnant, was struck and killed in a hit-and-run on Howe Street in Lewiston. Almost immediately, police began looking for Kubeloso’s boyfriend, Evaristo Deus, 33, to question him about the killing. But Deus proved to be difficult to find. Lewiston police Lt. Michael McGonagle said his detectives eventually discovered that Deus was booked on a flight out of JFK Airport in New York City. He was captured just as he was about to fly to freedom in Haiti. He was captured, charged with murder and returned to Maine, where he remains jailed and awaiting trial. Meanwhile, a series of vigils and other public events were organized to memorialize Kubeloso, who had been in the area 18 months and had recently been granted asylum.

• On March 15, the body of 16-year-old Xavier Fuentes of Turner was found by a passing motorist on an unlit stretch of Route 117 in Paris sometime before 8:30 p.m. Police determined that Fuentes had been killed in a hit-and-run and left to die on the roadway. Weeks later, police announced they had two suspects in the killing, one from Lewiston and one from Auburn. By midsummer, police had seized potential evidence from various locations and were said to be interviewing witnesses and possible suspects. But by the end of the year, no charges had been filed in the death of the Leavitt Area High School student.

Also in 2014:

• Dennis Hanson, 37, killed in a single-vehicle rollover on Route 156 near Wilton on Dec. 18.

• Rhonda Robblee, 47, killed in a single-vehicle accident in Fryeburg on Dec. 9; driver Paul Cundiff, 64, died several days later from his injuries.

• Marcus Bennett, 19, killed in a two-vehicle accident on Center Minot Hill Road in Minot on Dec. 7.

• Andrew Stanley, 18, and Isaac Moore, 19, were killed and two other teens were injured in a Hiram crash Nov. 1.

• Gary Chadburn, 46, and Thomas Ryan, 79, were killed, and Matthew Bussiere, 27, was injured in an SUV-minivan crash on Route 4 in Livermore on Sept. 27.

• Arlene Shepler, 60, was killed in a multi-car accident in Bethel on Sept. 21.

• Legislative candidate Stuart “Toby” Pennels, 55, died Aug. 3 from injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident in early August in Sandy River Plantation.

• Arland Burgess Jr., 58, was killed when his car crashed into a logging truck on Route 2 in Hanover on March 13.

• Richard Horton, 50, was killed when his snowmobile struck a tree in Franklin County on Feb. 22.

• Leonardo Rodrigues was killed when his snowmobile crashed into a parked car in Byron on Feb. 1.

• Daniel Lavorgna, 47, of Mexico died when his snowmobile crashed into a snowbank on Route 2 in Dixfield on Feb. 1.

• And, on Dec. 30, father and son Ghislain and Casey Cloutier of Winthrop died in a head-on crash on Route 202 in Leeds.

In the courts

• In May, a jury found 21-year-old Kristina Lowe of Oxford guilty of two counts of manslaughter and leaving the scene of a fatal accident in the 2012 deaths of 16-year-old Rebecca Mason and 19-year-old Logan Dam. The trial had centered on the fatal crash on Route 219 in West Paris on Jan. 7, 2012. Lowe, Mason, Dam and Jacob Skaff had attended a party on Yeaton Lane, and Lowe was behind the wheel when the accident occurred. She is to serve 18 months in prison, but the sentence has been stayed pending an appeal to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

• Michael McNaughton and William True were convicted in the murder of Romeo Parent, a 20-year-old Lewiston man who had been lured into the woods of Monmouth where he was stabbed and strangled to death in April 2013. McNaughton, 25, and True, 21, were found guilty in separate trials. A third man, 25-year-old Nathan Morton of Greene, entered a plea deal, admitting to the charge of conspiracy to commit murder in exchange for a 10-year prison sentence.

• In March, the local film community was sent into a period of shock and disarray after Joshua Shea, a former Auburn city councilor, editor of Lewiston Auburn Magazine and co-founder of the Lewiston Auburn Film Festival, was charged with multiple counts of possession of child porn. Shea left the area soon after to seek treatment at an out-of-state facility. Several actors, producers and others dropped out of the film festival as a result of the arrest. It appeared there would be no gathering of film enthusiasts in 2014, but the community rallied, local businesses stepped forward to help and the Emerge Film Festival was born. After the June festival was declared a success, Emerge organizers announced that they would return bigger and better in 2015. Shea, meanwhile, pleaded not guilty to more than a dozen child pornography charges in November and awaits trial.

Politics and public officials

• It was a good night for the Grand Old Party. In a heated three-way race, Gov. Paul LePage was re-elected on a night that saw Republicans gain a majority in the Senate. LePage spent less on his campaign than rivals Michael Michaud and Eliot Cutler, but it was still enough to convince Maine voters to put him back in office. On Election Night, LePage maintained a lead in the polls throughout the evening. By the time all was said and done, he had bested second-place Michaud by about 30,000 votes.

• In September, a federal judge allowed a second state employee to join a federal whistle-blower lawsuit claiming that state workers retaliated against another worker who refused to shred public documents while working at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The public documents in question showed grant criteria were changed and those changes benefited a certain applicant competing for health program funds. The ruling was the latest development in a controversy that began after the Sun Journal published a story in April 2013. The Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee voted to submit legislation to address ethics violations by state employees after its investigation into the controversy at the CDC.

For more year-in-review stories, see Friday’s Sun Journal.

For more year-in-review stories, see Friday’s Sun Journal.

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