The top 10 stories of 2016

The following articles were the ten most popular news stories of 2016 published in the Shelton Herald.

1) Conklin family to receive diploma at graduation

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Eddy Conklin was just one English credit and a capstone course credit short of earning a high school diploma when he was killed in a February car crash on Bridgeport Avenue in Shelton.

After a meeting among Superintendent of Shelton Schools Dr. Chris Clouet, Conklin’s family, and Mayor Mark Lauretti, a decision was made to award the family an honorary diploma for their late son at the annual Shelton High graduation ceremony.

On June 10 the Conklin family heard Eddy’s name called during the list of graduates and they received an honorary diploma once the rest of his classmates crossed the stage.

The debate on how to properly honor him ended with the Board of Ed deciding to handle posthumous diplomas on a case-by-case basis

More than 8,000 people had shown support for the Conklin family by signing an online petition pushing for the Board of Ed to overrule its decision to deny the Conklin family an honorary diploma at the graduation ceremony.

2) Feds charge man in connection with overdoses

A Derby man faced federal charges for selling heroin that led to the death of another Derby man and the overdose of two Shelton residents that survived.

A thorough review of phone records, text messages, and witnesses led to Bradley Commerford of Derby being charged with intent to distribute and distribution of heroin.

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Bradley Commerford

The investigation, which included victim and witness interviews, as well as analysis of numerous text messages of the victim from Derby’s phone, identified Commerford as the heroin source for three reported overdose cases.

The charge of possession with intent to distribute and distribution of heroin carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years.

The 20-year-old was sentenced to 71 months in federal prison in August, which was to be followed by six years of supervised release for distributing the illegal substance. The court also ordered Commerford to complete 150 hours of community service during his time of supervised release.

3) Towne Center at Shelter Ridge

The Shelton Planning and Zoning Commission will make its decision on the much-discussed and debated application for a potential development on Bridgeport Avenue called Towne Center at Shelter Ridge on Jan. 30.

At a Nov. 9 special meeting, the P&Z focused on land use, both retail and residential, as well as the site layout regarding parking. Planning and Zoning Chairman Ruth Parkins said that although the developer returned with a proposal reducing the number of units from 450 to 411, she still preferred to see fewer units.

Land use consultant Anthony Panico said if the commission continued to reduce the number of units, it would affect the economic value of the site for the developer.

Parkins said she still was not comfortable with 411 units.

The 123.23-acre property in the application is located on the northern corner of Bridgeport Avenue and Mill Street, in the southern section of Shelton. The application calls for 24 acres of deed-restricted open space.

On multiple occasions, several hundred residents appeared at P&Z meetings to show their opposition to the application for the development.

The preliminary plan includes updates by the developer. Some changes include the removal of the assisted living site and reducing the medical building from 147,000 square feet to 64,000 square feet.

The Towne Center with the Plaza would be three stories high above Bridgeport Avenue.

Parkins wanted to know if the apartment building would be visible from Mill Street. Panico said it would not project over the treetops. Parkins commented on the visibility of the building.

“I do have a major concern with that, though,” Parkins said. “The style of the building certainly isn’t my style and I certainly wouldn’t want to see it from Mill Street, which is a scenic road. My preference is not to see that building from Mill Street. When you say it’s not exceeding the treetops, with the elevation, I’m not sure that’s going to happen.”

Panico said it is 400 feet from the pavement and elevated to 315 feet. Parkins reiterated that she still was not comfortable with the number of units in the building, preferring 325 units.

“You have to keep in mind that if you destroy the economics then you don’t have anything there. You’re going to have 120 acres of green land,” Panico said.

For a full timeline of the development of the Shelter Ridge story visit SheltonHerald.com and search Shelter Ridge.

4) Bus driver arrested snoozing while cruising

Superintendent Dr. Chris Clouet said a bus driver who was transporting Intermediate School students from school earlier this month will never drive in Shelton again after he was arrested mid-route for “erratic” driving.

On Dec. 16 at approximately 3:40 p.m., police received a call that a bus driver was falling asleep while driving and swerving all over the road. According to police, all the children on board were escorted off the bus before they made the traffic stop.

Police were able to pull the vehicle over on Nichols Avenue by Earl Street.

Paul Pixley, 55, of Derby was arrested on a warrant and was charged with 30 counts of risk of injury to a minor, second-degree breach of peace, second-degree reckless endangerment, and reckless driving. Pixley is currently being held on a $75,000 bond and appeared in Derby Superior court on Dec. 28.

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Paul Pixley

Officers spoke with Pixley and an assistant manager of Landmark Transportation, the company that employs the bus drivers for Shelton public schools, who later arrived on the scene and drove the bus away.

“We felt he was putting our students in danger, and so, in consultation with police, we had him stopped and removed from the bus,” said Clouet.

Clouet said students on the bus contacted their parents, who then contacted Shelton Intermediate School and Clouet, who ultimately contacted the police and bus company to have the driver removed.

Clouet published this message on the city’s school website.

“An incident regarding a school bus driver putting students in a dangerous situation occurred on Friday afternoon. Police and school district officials are investigating. While this is both a legal and personnel issue, parents and students can be assured that the driver in question will NEVER drive a school bus in Shelton again!”

5) Man wins legal battle to place winter solstice sign in park

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One Shelton man won a legal battle against the city for the right to place a winter solstice sign in the middle of Huntington Green for the holiday season.

Jerry Bloom sued the city of Shelton after being told he couldn’t put up his winter solstice sign in Constitution Park next to Post 16’s annual display of trumpet-playing angels.

Post 16’s annual display of angels has been taken down this year and reindeer have taken its place. Mike Kellett of Post 16 explained that most of the lightbulbs in the older decorations were burnt out so they decided make the replacement.

Some people commented on the sign on Facebook claiming it was offensive, excessive and going against what the holiday season stands for.

Bloom couldn’t have disagreed more.

“They had created in a public park, a public forum, in which the American Legion was able to express its view of Christmas, the Christian depiction of angels, and the town had denied me a similar venue,” said Bloom. “That was censorship and a violation of the First Amendment.”

“We ended up suing them until they settled, when they granted me the right to place the banner. However, they stated that they do not allow signs in Constitution Park, so they assigned me to the Huntington Green,” said Bloom. “My issue was that there is an overtly religious display in Constitution Park in front of the flagpole which is unconstitutional.”

Bloom said the settlement was “satisfactory.”

He said he’s looking to make the display of a winter solstice sign an annual occurrence.

6) American Idol winner crashes Shelton pool party

American Idol winner Nick Fradiani performed some of the songs from his new album at a pool party in Shelton this past summer.

Michael Tartaglia of Shelton said he never thought his family would win when he entered the Star 99.9 star pool party competition on Twitter. He explained that it all began when he heard the radio station advertising a competition looking for a family to host a pool party, and the rest was history.

“I tweeted a video of our back yard and our pool, hashtagged ‘star pool party,’ and later on we won the contest,” said Tartaglia. “Star 99.9 came with Nick Fradiani and they threw a big party and concert at our house.”

More than 50 people packed the Tartaglias’ back yard to hear Fradiani perform some of his new music as well as a cover of rap star Nelly’s classic hit “Ride With Me.”

The Tartaglia family had been watching Fradiani and were fans of his work since he won American Idol in 2015.

Before leaving, Fradiani took pictures and introduced himself to all in attendance.

“This is not only a great end to a phenomenal school year, but the beginning of a great summer,” said Anthony Tartaglia.

7) Optimum lays off 600 employees

The company Altice USA, which owns Optimum, announced in August of this year that it would be shutting its Shelton and Stratford call centers, resulting in nearly 600 employee layoffs.

Altice acquired Cablevision for $17.7 billion earlier this year and said the reason for the office closings/layoffs was that advancements in technology had resulted in a decrease in call volume from customers. It was reported that those calls will now be handled by facilities in the Bronx, Long Island and New Jersey.

According to its website, “Altice USA is a leading national telecommunications, media and entertainment company. Altice USA provides residential and business services to more than 4.6 million customers across 20 states and we offer digital cable television, high-speed Internet, voice, WiFi and data products and services to keep customers connected anywhere across any device.”

The employees were to be able to keep their jobs through November and were offered severance and outplacement support.

The company released this statement after breaking the news of the layoffs:

“Altice USA is committed to Connecticut and to serving the local communities with best-in-class products and service. As a company driven by technology, investment and innovation, we are introducing some exciting changes to our offerings, including speed increases and new products, which are focused on delivering a superior experience to all of our customers.

Over the last few years, there have been investments and enhancements to our Optimum products and services, making them more reliable and providing more customer service touch points than ever before. As a result, we have seen a significant improvement in customer call volume and patterns. As we look to strengthen our operations in the nation’s most competitive market, we are aligning our contact center organization to meet the current needs of our customers.”

No representative from the Shelton office was able to be reached for an update on this story.

8) Shelton woman charged in fatal River Road crash

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On Aug. 11, Samantha Monaco, 23, of Shelton surrendered herself to police and was charged with second-degree manslaughter with a motor vehicle, operating a motor vehicle while under the influence, using a cell phone while driving, and failure to drive right.

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Samantha Monaco

The arrest stemmed from the May 6 fatal head-on collision that took the life of Rosemarie Dwyer, 69, of Shelton on River Road in Shelton.

Police said they determined Monaco was under the influence and was on her cell phone at the time of the crash.

According to a statement released by Shelton police Lt. Robert Kozlowski, “it was also determined that Monaco crossed over into southbound lane of traffic causing the head-on collision with Dwyer.”

Monaco was released on a $25,000 bond and appeared in state Superior Court in Derby Aug. 25.

Monaco had a history of vehicle violations prior to this arrest.

She was charged in this case with second-degree manslaughter with a motor vehicle, operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, driving while using a cell phone and failure to drive right.

On Aug. 25 of this year, Superior Court Judge Peter Brown ordered that Monaco wear an electronic monitoring anklet that only permits her to leave her home for medical appointments and religious services.

9) SHS sophomore drops out to attend Bard College

Maria Bryant of Shelton knew her daughter Carly was a gifted student when she was just 6 years old in the first grade and had written her first book.

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Carly was 16 and in her sophomore year of high school when her mother just signed the papers granting her permission to drop out of SHS in order to continue her education at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Massachusetts. She found out she had been accepted into the school back in April of this year.

While most 16-year-olds are thinking of getting their driver’s license, Carly is doing that while preparing for her freshman year of college.

In October of 2015, Carly found out through a friend she could begin her college career without finishing her final two years of high school.

Carly said she was attracted to Bard not only because it accepted her early application but also because of the intimate classroom size and the small overall freshman class size of just 400 students. The college’s average class size is 11 students, which is what Carly is accustomed to because of her participation in the Educational Center for the Arts (ECA) in New Haven.

“I know that if I attend Bard I will be able to become the scholar that I wanted to be, not just in the area of creative writing, which I want to pursue, but also with math and things like that, which I’m not as good at but would like to be.”

10) Pokémon Go takeover

Since its release in July, Pokémon Go is arguably the most popular game to have been released this year, after collecting more than 500 million downloads and maintaining a daily user rate of an estimated 20 million people.

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Groups of residents and visitors were seen flocking by car, bike and foot to Shelton landmarks and parks in search of Pokémon in the popular app Pokémon Go.

The app transforms a phone’s GPS into a map of the game. From there, a player can walk to locations around town to find Pokémon, “PokeGyms” and Pokémon Centers, which are used to increase a player’s skills in the game and grab more supplies.

State police said players should not drive while playing the game or “be lured into unfamiliar places.”

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