December 31, 2013

2013: The year of the North Pond Hermit, the hospital, the flagger

A look back at the year’s top Kennebec Journal local news stories.

By Betty Adams
Staff Writer

2013 was the year of the hermit.

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Out: Tenants who lived on Jefferson Street were told to vacate the building in October following a determination by the city code enforcement office that the building was not meeting code.

Staff file photo by Andy Molloy

Elsie Viles

Staff file photo

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Related headlines

News about the capture of Christopher T. Knight, dubbed the North Pond Hermit, who spent decades living alone in the woods not far from the camps he repeatedly robbed, gained national and international interest.

His arrest in early April brought relief to scores of property owners in the Rome/Smithfield area and particularly to employees at Pine Tree Camp, which hosts programs for disabled children and adults, and where dining hall supplies had been a favorite target of Knight.

He showed investigators his well-camouflaged campsite, where they found stolen items that occasionally had former owners’ names written on them.

Knight told police he burglarized unoccupied camps at night, carrying off propane tanks, tools, batteries, sleeping bags, food and occasionally beer.

Knight, 48, who spent more than half a year in jail in Augusta, pleaded guilty in court to a handful of burglaries and thefts. Those charges represented a small portion of the estimated 1,000 or more burglaries Knight told investigators he committed during a 27-year period in the woods in the area of North, East and Little North ponds.

Knight is out of jail and living in the community while participating in a special program that requires him to appear in front of a judge once a week.

Neither he nor his attorney have said why Knight left his Albion home some time after 1986 to go live in the woods. When he was arrested, he told police everything he had except his eyeglasses was stolen.

He also told a state trooper he wanted to make amends.

New hospital

MaineGeneral Medical Center started a new chapter for healthcare in the Kennebec Valley with the opening of its new 192-bed hospital on Old Belgrade Road in north Augusta and the closing of its hospital on East Chestnut Street.

The $312 million complex consolidated beds from Augusta and from the hospital’s Thayer Center for Health in Waterville.

It was built in record time, transforming a farm-turned-golf course into a multistory, multifunction building in 24 months with mostly Maine contractors and overwhelmingly Maine workers.

In connection with that new building, the capital city doubled its ration of roundabouts when two more were erected to better connect the hospital with Interstate 95 exit 113. That’s where the flaggers came in with their ubiquitous “stop” and “slow” signs.

Lanes were closed, roads were revamped, traffic signals were installed, all part of the $11 million project that was also aimed at easing congestion at exit 112.

Natural gas

Flaggers also were essential as natural gas companies made big inroads in the capital area.

Maine Natural Gas and Summit Natural Gas of Maine competed for contracts to supply natural gas to governmental and private institutions, and occasionally two separate pipelines ran down opposite sides of the same roadway. With crews from both companies working to lay pipe in Augusta, motorists and residents in the city dealt with what city officials said was an unprecedented amount of construction on city streets.

Maine Natural Gas started flowing gas in its pipeline in late October.

Summit officials said they expected to start flowing gas roughly around Christmas.

Summit’s $350 million pipeline project is expected to serve customers throughout the Kennebec Valley, from Gardiner to Madison. Maine Natural Gas’ project is targeted more tightly on Augusta.

Crime news

Top crime stories include former Chelsea selectwoman Carole Swan being convicted this summer of taking kickbacks from a Whitefield contractor. After a separate, three-week trial also in the same federal courtroom in Bangor, she was convicted of defrauding federal workers’ compensation and the IRS. Sentencing for her and her husband, Marshall Swan, who was convicted only of filing false tax returns over a five-year period, is expected to take place in 2014.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Hearing: Courtney Shea appeared in Kennebec County Superior Court in Augusta in December for a hearing on the murder charge he faces for allegedly killing Thomas Namer.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

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Carole Swan

Staff file photo

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ADMISSION: Christopher Knight sits in the Kennebec County Superior Court in Augusta in November while entering pleas for multiple burglaries and thefts while living in the woods of Rome for 27 years.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

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APPEARANCE: Justin Pillsbury makes his initial appearance in November at Kennebec County Superior Court in Augusta on murder charges in the death of Jillian Jones.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

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Nearly done: Left, a September 2007 file photo shows MaineGeneral Medical Center’s Harold Alfond Center for Cancer Care in Augusta. Right, the new regional hospital is shown, in the background, nearing completion.

Staff photos by Andy Molloy and Joe Phelan

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HEADWAY: Workers from McGee Construction, of West Gardiner, patch a gas pipeline trench in Hallowell in November. The subcontractors are working for Summit Natural Gas of Maine laying the energy line across central Maine.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

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