At Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in Paris, a Sun Journal reporter spent 10 minutes outside, tugging on every side and back door to see if they were locked. After going in through the main entrance, she walked the halls for 40 minutes, passing some classrooms three times.

Published in the Sun Journal on Nov. 5, 2006.

Just weeks after a spate of school shootings rocked the nation, no one — not even a police officer who fell in step behind her — challenged the reporter’s presence.

In a 2006 Sun Journal investigation, 14 reporters fanned out to check the security at 37 schools across Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties. A quarter of the schools did well — with locked doors, monitored entries and vigilant staff — but others showed gaping holes in security. Many failed to follow their own fundamental safety rules.

The investigation drew the ire of some parents and school administrators who argued reporters should report the news — not make it.

But the results were immediate. Schools tightened their security in response to the Sun Journal’s report.


Following the article’s publication, then-Maine Education Commissioner Susan Gendron urged all superintendents to establish a single entry point at their schools, to issue visitor passes and to train staff to address strangers who didn’t have passes.

Many local schools agreed to follow those recommendations, locking exterior doors, polishing crisis plans and holding meetings to discuss school security among students and staff.

In the initial investigation, Sun Journal reporters were able to roam school halls and grounds for 10 minutes or more in two-thirds of schools visited. In a follow-up test of the same schools in May of 2007, that number had been reduced by half.

Read the article here and the May 2004 follow-up here.

CAGED IN VAN NO. 1304 — March 26, 2017

Meghan Quinn spent five days locked in a cage in the back of a van, her hands cuffed to her belly, her ankles shackled together.


Published in the Sun Journal on March 26, 2017.

Despite her pleas, the drivers refused to stop when Quinn begged to use the bathroom. When her period started, Quinn was forced to sit in her blood-soaked pants for hours before one of the drivers finally tossed her a pad. She was told to pee in a plastic bag and, at one point, had to use the wrapper from her $2 burger as a toilet in full view of strange men, who, like Quinn, were bound and locked in the back of the van, but not caged.

The stench from her bodily fluids and solids that soiled and matted her clothes made her gag. She vomited repeatedly until her stomach was empty. And she was forced to sit in that, too.

In a letter describing her horrific experience to the Sun Journal, Quinn she felt sexually, physically and psychologically humiliated during the trip.

The newspaper listened and launched an investigation led by staff writer Christopher Williams. He identified a second person transported in the same van who corroborated Quinn’s description of events.

In the days following the article and accompanying editorial, the Sun Journal heard from dozens of other people who had been transported by Prisoner Transport Services and who had endured similar experiences to Quinn.

After learning of Quinn’s appalling experience, nearly all of Maine’s district attorneys who had contracts with that prisoner transport company said they would no longer do business with them.


Read the article here and the editorial here.


More than a dozen years after a 1999 Maine Department of Transportation study found Route 4 to have crashes more severe than similar rural highways, little about the roadway had changed.

Published in the Sun Journal on Sept. 16, 2012.

The intersection of Route 4 and Lake Shore Drive in Auburn was particularly known to be dangerous.

In 2011, a car struck 84-year-old Harry Walker from behind as he waited to turn onto Lake Shore Drive, pushing his car into oncoming traffic. Doctors didn’t think he would survive.

And then there was 5-year-old Danika DeMayo, who was thrown from her car seat just a year later at the same intersection after a pickup truck slammed into the family car. A month after the accident, Danika was still having trouble with memory, swallowing and strength on her right side. Her long-term prognosis was unclear.


At the time, there was no turning lane on Route 4 in outer-Auburn. It was just a high-speed, high-trafficked, four-lane road.

Former Sun Journal staff writer Lindsay Tice investigated the rate of accidents on Route 4 following DeMayo’s accident in 2012 with a focus on the intersection at Lake Shore Drive. Tice spoke with local residents and transportation officials, all of whom expressed significant concerns about the intersection where Walker and DeMayo were critically injured.

Just three days after the Sun Journal published its analysis detailing the hazardous intersection, the Maine Department of Transportation installed a flashing yellow sign warning drivers of turning vehicles.

In 2013, the Androscoggin Transportation Resource Center voted to spend half-a-million dollars to add a turning lane to a stretch of Route 4 including the Lake Shore Drive intersection.

As of February 2014, more than a year after the article was published, the newspaper reported there hadn’t been a single serious accident at the intersection since.

Read the article here.



In the summer of 2019, 95-year-old Barbara Hinckley received an unexpected phone call: She had won second place in the Publishers Clearing House annual contest.

Published in the Sun Journal on Nov. 3, 2019.

Promised $2.5 million and a Mercedes-Benz, Hinckley handed over her entire life savings — more than $16,000 — to a conman who, right until the end, never dropped the pretense that she was a lucky winner.

“I gave it all away,” she said sadly. “I felt so stupid.”

Her cautionary tale garnered wide attention after the Sun Journal published a story about her plight. Hundreds showed up to a spaghetti dinner fundraiser at Auburn Middle School hosted by former Maine Gov. John Baldacci more than a month later.

Baldacci said he learned of Hinckley’s situation through a friend who read the article in the Sun Journal.


Even Gov. Janet Mills served spaghetti at the fundraiser in support.

The dinner raised $18,000 for Hinckley, more than she had before the scam, according to a Washington Post article.

“One person made my life miserable, but the rest of them have been wonderful,” Hinckley said at the event.

Read Steve Collins’ story about the scam here and his follow-up on the fundraiser here.


The Maine State Motor Vehicle Inspection Unit told the Sun Journal in 2003 that their inspection system is designed so that no matter which mechanic conducts the assessment, the results will be the same.


Published in the Sun Journal on Aug. 24, 2003.

The newspaper’s investigation proved otherwise.

Over a one-week period, two undercover Sun Journal reporters took the same car — a 1992 Honda Accord with 135,000 miles — to 20 local mechanics licensed by the Maine State Police to do motor vehicle inspections.

Of the 20 mechanics who inspected the car, four placed new stickers on the windshield. The remaining 16 failed the car. Their reasons for refusing a sticker ranged from replacing one bald tire to $500 worth of safety hazards.

The investigation exposed a number of flaws within the state inspection system, including glaring and widespread inconsistencies in the way cars are inspected.

One state-licensed mechanic spent just three minutes looking over the vehicle before slapping a sticker on the windshield. Another took 45 minutes, failing the car for several violations.

After talking with mechanics, the Sun Journal also learned that people often “shop” an unsafe car around until it passes, raising questions about the effectiveness of the state inspection system.


Read the article here.


At a meeting in March 2013, Gov. Paul LePage pressured hearing officers at the Department of Labor to decide unemployment-benefit cases in favor of business owners over workers, sources told the Sun Journal.

Published in the Sun Journal on April 11, 2013.

LePage had summoned more than a dozen employees of the state agency to a luncheon where he scolded about eight administrative hearing officers and their supervisors, complaining that too many cases on appeal from the Bureau of Unemployment were being decided in favor of employees. He said the officers were doing their jobs poorly, sources said.

If true, the meeting would constitute “an unprecedented type of political interference in the hearing process,” an expert on labor law told the Sun Journal.

After learning about the luncheon, the Sun Journal contacted nearly a dozen people who attended the meeting seeking information. Some said they felt abused, harassed and bullied by the governor.


In April 2013, Gov. Paul LePage said he’d received “hundreds and hundreds” of complaints about Maine’s unemployment claims process. An analysis by the Sun Journal found that only 30 of the nearly 400 complaints stacked on LePage’s desk since he took office in January 2011 came from business owners who took issue with the administrative appeals hearing process.

The Sun Journal’s reporting led to a federal investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor, which found that the LePage administration interfered in the hearing process.

A 2014 letter addressed to the Maine labor commissioner summarizing the U.S. Labor Department investigation concluded that the administration acted with “what could be perceived as a bias toward employers” and hearing officers could have interpreted expectations that they had to be more sympathetic toward employers.

Read the initial article here and the results of the federal investigation here.

911 WHERE ARE YOU? — Aug. 30, 2009

It was 10:30 p.m. when a passerby called 911 to report a house fire in July 2009, unsure of their location.


Published in the Sun Journal on Aug. 30, 2009.

Using GPS tracking technology to find the individual, operators dispatched fire crews to Weld.

But the GPS was wrong. The fire was in Dixfield, about 9 miles away from Weld.

It took 20 minutes from the initial call before firefighters in Dixfield were sent out to find the blaze.

“Definitely the delay in proper notification had a significant impact,” said then-Dixfield Fire Chief Scott Dennett. By the time firefighters arrived, the home was fully engulfed in flames.

The disastrous mix-up highlighted some of the problems emergency responders can face when they get a call for help from a mobile phone. In this instance, the first 911 cell call connected and transferred to emergency operators at three different communications centers based on incorrect GPS data, delaying emergency response by at least 20 minutes.

Following the Dixfield fire, the Sun Journal launched an investigation into unreliable cellphone transmissions to emergency dispatch centers. Reporters requested access to the 911 call transcript from the Dixfield fire, piecing together the events of the night.


Based on the Sun Journal’s report, Maine public safety officials launched their own investigation into the efficiency and accuracy of cellphone 911 routing and found that only about 50% of cell calls were being routed to the correct dispatch center. As a consequence, in Oxford County — where the 2009 fire occurred — officials at that time recommended callers use land lines instead of cellphones as much as possible to report emergencies.

Read the investigation here and the initial article about the fire here.


Richard Pierce wanted you to believe three things.

Published in the Sun Journal on March 5, 2000.

He wanted you to believe he built a $470 million student loan operation, using tax-free public bonds for the sole purpose of helping Maine students go to college.

He wanted you to believe he built his operation with full legislative authority.


And he wanted you to believe that it was OK for him to use millions of dollars generated by the public bonds to finance two for-profit companies.

But an overwhelming body of evidence suggested otherwise.

In 2000, the Sun Journal published a massive investigation into Maine Education Services, a private, nonprofit agency with access to tax-free bonds. Created by the state in 1983, Pierce, a four-term state representative, was named to head of the agency.

The benefit to the student: a low-interest loan. The benefit to the bank or credit union: It would receive a fee from the student, typically $100, to process the loan, it would be able to build a relationship with a new generation of borrowers, and it would get its money back almost immediately from the agency to loan out again.

Documents and interviews with policy makers indicate the state never intended for the new agency to use its access to tax-free bonds to compete with private banks and credit unions, but merely to buy student loans from those institutions. Nor did the state intend for the agency to use any revenue from its operations for anything other than buying more student loans.

When the public, and lenders, learned what Pierce was doing through his complex operation, there were loud calls for a full review of his student loan-related activities.

In response to the Sun Journal’s investigation, and an investigation by the state, Maine Education Services was dismantled.

Read the article here.

— Summaries of Sun Journal stories were compiled by Staff Writer Vanessa Paolella.

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