Rescuers carry a boy from the Androscoggin River in Auburn to a waiting ambulance Tuesday evening. Firefighters and others were searching for a reported second victim in the water behind 230 Riverside Drive in Auburn. (Sun Journal file photo)

‘This I’ll Defend:’ Boys fall into Androscoggin River

Horror and heroics occurred on the Androscoggin River in April as two boys fell into the water and got swept away by the rampaging current.

It happened in the early evening of April 24 near Bonney Park in Auburn where 5-year-old Valerio McFarland was playing with his 10-year-old brother at the river’s edge. When Valerio fell into the river, his brother Maxim was the first to jump in to try to save him, according to the family.

Rescuers were able to pull Maxim from the water, but Valerio was not seen again until May 15, when his body was recovered about 5 miles downriver.

The horror of the drowning was followed by a massive outpouring of grief and support by the people of Lewiston-Auburn and from others around the country. Vigils were held in Bonney Park and along the walking bridge that spans the river. Hundreds of people showed up to support the McFarland family, who had moved to the area just days before the drowning. On and around the walking trestle, waves of mourning strangers left teddy bears, balloons, candles, flowers, toy dinosaurs — Valerio’s favorite — and personal messages in honor of the drowned boy.

The family motto, “This I’ll Defend,” caught on quickly and began to appear on T-shirts, balloons and other items.

Maxim McFarland survived the trauma and would later join his parents in Bonney Park as the family addressed the kindness of those who had supported them. Jason and Helena Gagliano McFarland have become advocates of making Bonney Park safer for those who play near the river that snatched their sons.

Maxim also met with the rescuers who had saved him, including an off-duty firefighter who rushed into the river immediately upon hearing that a pair of children had fallen in. Those rescuers, as humble heroes often do, have consistently declined to be interviewed about their quick actions that saved a boy’s life.

Nine of Rayan Issa’s friends form a tight circle during a vigil at Lewiston Middle School. Issa drowned during a school outing at Range Pond in Poland. (Sun Journal file photo)

‘A life lost too soon:’ Lewiston Middle School student drowns during field trip

On a bright, warm June day meant to offer middle-schoolers some fun and bonding away from school, 13-year-old Rayan Issa disappear in the calm waters of Range Pond in Poland.

When a student reported Issa missing, a search began that would ultimately end with the discovery of the boy’s drowning. The seventh-grader was on a field trip with other Lewiston Middle School students to Range Pond State Park.

The drowning stunned the community, with many struggling to understand how a student could perish in the pond while surrounded by more than 100 classmates, a dozen school chaperones and a lifeguard.

Issa would remain underwater for half an hour before his rescuers found his body still within the buoyed swimming area. An investigation would reveal that Issa, who had ventured into deep water in pursuit of a football, did not know how to swim. Yet the community remained saddened and mystified by the drowning, and school officials ordered a full investigation into the cause of the June 12 tragedy.

Vigils were held for Issa, whom friends described as funny and comforting and always kind. Meanwhile, at the end of June, an investigative report was released to the public, detailing the circumstances around the drowning.

The report’s preliminary conclusion was that the Lewiston public school system should change its policies and establish specific standards for field trips that involve water activities. Superintendent Bill Webster has said field trips, including the upcoming summer program outings that begin July 2, will not allow swimming because it is unclear which students know how to swim.

Jim Thompson, the uncle of Donald Giusti, who was killed last month in a melee near Kennedy Park, speaks to kids at the Root Cellar in Lewiston recently about his decision to work alongside the immigrant community. (Sun Journal file photo)

Awaiting justice: Man dies after downtown Lewiston brawl

In the wee hours of June 12, two groups of people clashed near Lewiston’s Kennedy Park. By the time the skirmish was over, 38-year-old Donald Giusti lay on the ground, unconscious and badly hurt.

Giusti died at a hospital three days later, and tensions in downtown Lewiston went from bad to worse.

Although details of the fight would remain murky, one fact appeared to be beyond dispute: The brawl was the result of ongoing tensions between groups of mostly young men, many of whom frequented Kennedy Park.

In the days that followed, Giusti was mourned, but there were also loud demands for justice in the attack that claimed his life. As vigils formed and the war of words escalated, no arrests were made and the wait for justice would prove long. By the end of the year, Maine State Police had still not charged anyone in the assault some witnesses insist was racially motivated.

While the community buzzed with anger and grief, police released sporadic updates on the case and urged patience.

In mid-August, Lt. Mark Holmquist of the Maine State Police Major Crimes Unit told the City Council that the pace of the investigation had slowed as investigators analyzed evidence that had been gathered and evidence that had been sent out for testing.

Investigators were analyzing video footage of the brawl from city cameras and from witnesses who had recorded the fight. Police said the complexity of the case, with a number of juveniles and teenagers involved, made a quick resolution unlikely.

While Giusti’s death was investigated, some feared a wave of violence would engulf Kennedy Park and surrounding areas. That didn’t happen, in large part because the bulk of Giusti’s family made repeated calls for patience and calm while the police sorted out the case. Community efforts by concerned citizens to increase communication and understanding among all groups also helped.

“Donny wouldn’t want any more of his friends getting hurt,” said Nick Vinciguerra, a friend of Giusti’s. “We need to stop the violence. We need to end this cycle today.”

The family’s appeals helped inspire patience in some, although as weeks and months passed without resolution, some of that patience began to wear thin.

“We have listened to the same song and dance for months,” Giusti’s brother, Brian Veres, said in November. “Justice needs to be served.”

Kathy Cormier, far right, gets a hug at the end of the vigil held for her friend Kim Dobbie who was stabbed to death in Lewiston. (Sun Journal file photo)

Woman stabbed to death on Lewiston sidewalk

Shortly before noon on Sunday, July 15, a 48-year-old mother of two was stabbed to death on a sidewalk in front of a Lewiston laundromat.

As more details emerged in the killing of Kimberly Dobbie on Sabattus Street, the horror of the crime grew.

Dobbie, who lived in a Lewiston homeless shelter, was knifed to death in front of her 11-year-old twins by a 76-year-old convicted murderer who had become obsessed with her.

Police said Dobbie had just stepped out of Rancourt’s Laundromat with her two boys when she was attacked and stabbed by Albert Flick, who had been convicted in 1979 of stabbing his wife to death.

Flick was tackled by bystanders at the scene and held until police arrived. But the injuries Dobbie had suffered proved to be fatal, and she died a short time later a block away at Central Maine Medical Center.

The killing baffled and saddened Dobbie’s friends as well as dozens of strangers who turned out to a candlelight vigil to honor her. According to those who knew her, Dobbie, a former school teacher, had been just days from moving out of Hope Haven Gospel Mission and into an apartment in Jay.

It was also revealed that Dobbie had been growing increasingly wary of Flick, a casual friend who had begun to harass and stalk her.

Flick, who in addition to the murder conviction has a more recent history of assaults and domestic violence, remains jailed and awaiting trial.

Despite having his home and business in Greene ransacked and looted, George Stanley retained his sense of humor while surveying the damage on Oct. 11, 2018, as he picked up a hubcap and stick and pretended to be a gladiator protecting his possessions from barbarians. (Sun Journal file photo)

Bogus Craigslist ad leads to wholesale looting in Greene

In October, 71-year-old George Stanley was away in Florida when he learned that an ad had been placed announcing that all of the items on his Greene property were up for grabs.

“Free!” the Craigslist ad read. “Come one, come all, everything on the lot is free!”

The ad was bogus, but it looked real enough that people began to show up at all hours to fill their cars, trucks and box vans full of Stanley’s property.

Before Stanley could scramble back from Florida, a multitude of items were taken in round-the-clock looting frenzies on his Route 202 property.

Dozens of people showed up for free goods, breaking down doors, busting locks and hauling away anything that seemed to be of value.

A pallet of roofing shingles, power tools, hand tools, generators, hand-made items and a variety of other things Stanley had collected in his years of living at the site.

Someone even climbed to the roof of the building and removed the iconic green alien, constructed of wood, that had hung there for a decade. The head of the alien was ripped off. Scavengers made off with a 4- by 8-foot, wood-constructed Paul Bunyan, although they left behind Babe, a wooden blue ox.

The looters took stuff of value and left behind trash, Stanley said, including dirty diapers, feminine products and cigarette butts stamped out on Stanley’s dishware.

Stanley ultimately made his way back from Florida and assessed his losses at more than $10,000. The public reaction to the wholesale scavenging of his property, meanwhile, was mixed: Some scoffed that since Stanley’s sprawling heaps of clutter presented an eyesore, the looting was almost karmic justice. Others insisted that theft is theft and they demanded an investigation.

Maine State Police are investigating the matter, although by the end of the year, no one had been charged and it remained unclear who had created the bogus ad.

Stanley has since put out appeals for people to simply bring back the items they had hauled away from his lot. Only a trickle of items has been returned and Stanley said he had no faith that the people who rummaged his property would be inspired to do the right thing.

“Nope,” Stanley said. “I have no faith in human nature.”

Law enforcement officers pile marijuana plants outside a warehouse on Lisbon Street in Lewiston. (Sun Journal file photo)

More than a dozen charged in massive pot raids

A massive police operation in February targeted nearly two dozen homes and business in Lewiston-Auburn as investigators cracked down on what they say was an illegal marijuana growing ring.

By the time the dust settled, the numbers associated with the case were staggering. More than a dozen people were charged in a 41-count federal indictment, accused of participating in a drug ring that netted them six figures.

The aim of the raids, investigators said, was to bust a medical marijuana-growing operation that illegally sold surplus pot and derivatives, according to police and federal drug agents.

Prosecutors alleged the drug-trafficking organization grew and distributed large amounts of marijuana under the cover of Maine’s medical marijuana program, but it sold marijuana to buyers who were not participants in the program and included out-of-state customers.

The owners of five businesses in the Twin Cities were indicted for having places where marijuana distributing and manufacturing took place, some dating back to 2015.

As the case against the suspects moves through the federal court system, prosecutors are seeking forfeiture of more than $300,000 in seized cash, eight men’s watches, a $37,000 diamond ring, about $750,000 held in escrow or in bank accounts and five pieces of real estate, including three in Lewiston and one in Auburn.

Jared Golden riles up the crowd at the Maine Democratic convention in Lewiston. (Sun Journal file photo)

Democrats take control

Election Day 2018 turned out to be a good time for Democrats as the party gained control of the Maine Legislature, increased their majority in the House of Representatives and recaptured a decisive majority in the Senate.

Democrat Janet Mills was elected governor, scoring a victory over Republican Shawn Moody to secure the Blaine House.

Maine’s first use of ranked-choice balloting predictably proved controversial after Democrat Jared Golden eked out a tight victory over Republican Bruce Poliquin for Congress.

It wasn’t until nine days after Election Day, though, that Golden was declared the winner of Maine’s 2nd Congressional District race. Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap announced Golden had won by a little less than 3,000 votes out of more than 283,000 cast — a margin large enough to make a recount questionable. He grabbed the top spot because 69 percent of the second-choice ballots that ranked the candidates picked him over the two-term lawmaker.

It wasn’t until a month later that Poliquin accepted the results of the election. With two courts ruling against him, he announced on Christmas Eve that he would no longer dispute Golden’s victory, although Poliquin continued to assert that Maine’s ranked-choice system — adopted by Maine voters in a referendum in 2016 and affirmed in another referendum vote in June — is unconstitutional and illegal. It was a contention with which he couldn’t get a court to agree.

The Democrats’ victories mark the first time in eight years that one party has gained control of the entire Legislature and the governorship with the historic win by Mills, the state’s only female governor.

Party leaders said they would use their majority to take action on several key issues, including funding Medicaid expansion, keeping $160 million in school funding in place and addressing the opioid crisis, as well as workforce development, student debt relief and promotion of renewable energy.

Online comments derail Sabattus candidate

David Hogg’s tweet about Leslie Gibson

In March, feisty Republican Leslie Gibson had been coasting toward an unopposed election in the 57th district when online comments he made about a Florida school shooting proved his undoing.

The candidate for the Maine House of Representatives from Sabattus called one student from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., “a skinhead lesbian” and another “a bald-faced liar.”

The comments were made in reference to a pair of students who became activists in the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland.

Reaction to Gibson’s comments was immediate. Local politicians, both Democrat and Republican, denounced Gibson’s comments. Two local Democrats, Thomas Martin and Eryn Gilchrist, were stirred to action, with each filing paperwork in Augusta to oppose Gibson in the race. But they wouldn’t be facing off against Gibson after all: Just days after his online comments came to light, Gibson announced that he was abandoning his efforts to win a State House seat.

“I am not walking away with my head hung low,” he said while making the March 17 announcement. “I am walking away with my head held high.”

Martin would end up winning the District 57 seat.

Seth Carey paces in the Portland Superior Courtroom before his disbarment hearing. (Sun Journal file photo)

Beleaguered Auburn lawyer makes bid for District Attorney’s Office

What a year it was for Auburn lawyer Seth Carey.

In June, the 43-year-old won a GOP primary in the race for district attorney for Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties with one intriguing twist — as he made his bid for the prosecutor’s office, Carey was actively barred from practicing law.

Throughout the year, Carey managed to rally support, in spite of the fact that his license to practice law had been suspended since spring. He faced the possibility of getting tossed out of the legal profession because of findings of sexual assault and witness tampering.

As he made his run for the DA’s office, Carey had protection-from-abuse orders issued against him, including one in which a judge found Carey engaged in three unwanted sexual advances on a woman he invited to live in a spare room at his Rumford home.

Carey remained embattled throughout the year, but it never seemed to slow his bid for the right to prosecute cases in Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties.

In September, Superior Court Justice Thomas Warren ruled in an 18-page order that Carey had violated several bar rules, including unlawful conduct stemming from his unwanted sexual advances involving a woman who lived at his Rumford home and his effort to pay for her silence on the matter. Carey also had engaged in law practice and wrote checks on his professional account despite his April suspension, which prohibited those actions.

Still, the run for the District Attorney’s Office went on. As Election Day drew nearer, ardent supporters took to making handmade campaign signs and posting them across the tri-county area.

On Election Day, Carey garnered enough votes to make it interesting and even won some municipalities, including Lisbon and Mechanic Falls. In the end, though, incumbent Andrew Robinson won by a wide margin and retained the office.

On Dec. 20, Justice Warren ordered that instead of disbarment, as sought by the Maine Board of Bar Overseers, Carey’s right to practice law would be suspended for three years. Carey’s attorney, James Howaniec, said in a statement this past Wednesday that he and Carey are assessing whether to file an appeal with the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Roland Nadeau, 70, opened Rolandeau’s fine-dining restaurant on Washington Street in Auburn when he was 23. He retired this year and the restaurant is being turned into a church. (Sun Journal file photo)

What’s for dinner? The changing face of local dining

Diners reacted with stomach-rumbling grief throughout the year as a series of popular restaurants closed their doors for good.

In July, managers of the popular downtown lunch and dinner spot Marche Kitchen & Wine Bar in Lewiston announced they were closing. Just over a month later, the grim news that Fuel, known for its exquisite food and occasional celebrity diners, would follow suit. Both restaurants were at one time owned by Eric Agren, who helped stir a revitalization of lower Lisbon Street when he opened Fuel 11 years ago.

Around the same time the Fuel and Marche era came to an end, it was revealed that Rails restaurant on Lincoln Street would serve its last meal. Owner Ileshea Stowe explained that staffing had become an issue at the restaurant, a problem that had been vexing bars and restaurants around the state.

Times were tough for locals who like to eat out and eat well. In Auburn, Rolandeau’s had closed in May after nearly five decades of feeding customers prime rib, escargot and beef Wellington.

It wasn’t just Lewiston-Auburn. In Rumford, employees of the River Valley Grill restaurant on Route 2 were greeted on a May morning with a sign on the door that read: “This restaurant is now closed! Had enough of the bull—!! (sorry).”

Restaurants seemed to be shutting down all over the place, but as is often the case, for every business that closed its doors, something new fell in to take its place. Across the region, a whole bunch of new restaurants are in the works.

One of the owners of the popular Cowbell Burger Bar in Biddeford said he will open Cowbell Grill & Tap in the former Fuel restaurant. It features 25 burgers, 25 mostly Maine craft brew taps and, Alex Markakis said, a few menu items he hopes reminds people of the Fuel days.

In June, business partners Ben Low and Matt Johannes announced that Side By Each Brewing Co. and The Poutine Factory would open at 1110 Minot Ave. in Auburn this coming winter. Low is the former director of brewing operations at Baxter Brewing and Johannes is the former head brewer there.

Pizza fans rejoiced in the spring when it was announced that Lewiston would be getting a Portland Pie Co. The pizza shop and pub has plans to move into the shuttered Lincoln Street firehouse that a pair of local developers saved from demolition last year.

Buffet? Lewiston’s getting that, too, and possibly as soon as January. In early December, Dave Paine of Lewiston announced he is opening a 275-seat restaurant, Dave’s American Buffet, in the Lewiston Mall. His buffet will be an ever-changing mix of American comfort food: think mac and cheese, baked haddock, grilled chicken, country mashed potatoes.

Just up the road, at 265 Lisbon St., the Heritage Restaurant has already opened and is serving a mix of American, Somali and other African dishes that include smoothies, teas, goat and camel meats.

In Auburn, Mike and Heather Greenlaw opened Mike’s Runway Diner on Aug. 1 at the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport, revamping the menu from barbecue-centric to diner comfort food.

In Lisbon Falls, a pair of brothers opened Flux Restaurant on Main Street, featuring a lunch and dinner menu with starters such as poutine and tempura cauliflower, and main dishes such as buttermilk fried chicken, gnocchi and the Flux burger with beef, sauerkraut, caramelized onion and remoulade, a French-inspired condiment.

Back in Lewiston, the city’s newest bar, Sonder & Dram, opened in June at 12 Ash St. The bar offers craft beer, cocktails and a few menu items, including an Elvis-inspired sandwich.

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