Blackstone Valley, Crime, Local News, News, Top Video

DCYF cuts ties with embattled Pawtucket group home agency

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PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — The state’s child welfare agency has cut ties with a Pawtucket group home agency that was the subject of a scathing report detailing drug use, lack of supervision and even sex trafficking at the agency’s three locations.

The Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) said Tuesday it was canceling its contract with Blackstone Valley Youth & Family Collaborative. The decision came days after a State House hearing where lawmakers grilled DCYF’s director about why the group home agency had not been shut down.

In a press release, DCYF said they had given Blackstone’s executive director, Daniel Brito, time to remedy the problems detailed in a report by the Office of the Child Advocate, a watchdog over DCYF. On March 1, a DCYF team went to review the corrective actions, and determined the concerns were not fully addressed.

”The safety and well-being of our youth is of the utmost importance,” said DCYF director Trista Piccola. “When we learn of incidents or concerns involving institutional care providers, or anyone who is charged with the care of children and youth in our state, we investigate and take action.”

DCYF will have 30 days to find alternative placements for the 5 young people currently living in the two group homes. A third location was also part of the Child Advocate report, but that house burned down last year and has not re-opened.

While DCYF had stopped sending new referrals to the group home agency, which houses youth ages 16-21, lawmakers at the House Oversight committee last week were shocked that the agency’s contract hadn’t immediately been terminated after the report came out in late January.

”It is my hope that when you leave here, that place will be shut down. Because it needs to be shut down. Even burnt down,” said Rep. Anastasia Williams, D-Providence, who stood up and left the meeting after making the remark.

Jennifer Griffith, the Child Advocate, told the committee she didn’t believe the agency could be rehabilitated. The report included revelations about widespread drug abuse, human trafficking and even weapons in the homes run by Blackstone.

A former Blackstone employee is also facing human trafficking charges, accused of housing underage trafficking victims at one of the group homes.

Blackstone Valley, Local News, News, Top Video

Pawtucket group home still open after Child Advocate report of drugs, sex trafficking

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PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — Two group homes run by an embattled Pawtucket business are still in operation despite a report released in late January recommending the agency be shut down due to drug use, human trafficking and a general lack of oversight.

The Office of the Child Advocate, which serves as a watchdog over the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), wrote in a scathing report in January that DCYF should cut ties with the Blackstone Valley Youth and Family Collaborative, which runs two group homes licensed by DCYF.

A third home, on North Bend Street, burned down last year and is also described in the report. The other two are still operating, despite the findings of the Child Advocate’s six month investigation. Blackstone houses young men ages 16 to 21 who are placed in the homes by DCYF.

“That home was being run like a criminal enterprise,” said Rep. Patricia Serpa, the chairwoman of the House Oversight committee. “I mean sex, drugs, you name it. And these are children that are supposed to under the oversight of DCYF? It was appalling.”

The Child Advocate, Jennifer Griffith, detailed the findings of the report at an House Oversight committee hearing Thursday night.

“I can’t see why they should continue to be allowed to have children there,” Griffith said. “They’re not supervising these youth.”

The report found that drugs, weapons, alcohol and stolen merchandise were found among the youth in the home, and staff members were not properly supervising the residents or reporting incidents to the police.

In 2017, staff member Raysean Williams was charged with human trafficking, accused of using the Amey Street house to house human trafficking victims, including underage girls under the care of DCYF.

The hearing became emotional at times, with Rep. Anastasia Williams, D-Providence, abruptly leaving the room after making an impassioned speech aimed at DCYF Director Trista Piccola.

“It is my hope that when you leave here, that place will be shut down,” she said before leaving. “Because it needs to be shut down. Even burnt down.”

“I can’t deal with this,” Williams said as she stood up and left the room.

Griffith agreed with lawmakers, adding that she had initiated steps with Family Court to get the residents at the group homes placed elsewhere.

“I do not think this place can be rehabilitated,” Griffith said. “I don’t know what we’re waiting for.”

Piccola said DCYF has formally suspended future referrals to Blackstone, but was giving executive director Daniel Brito 30 days to fix the problems.

“I’m not afraid to cut ties if we don’t believe that our kids are getting the care,” Piccola said in an interview with Eyewitness news.  “But we want to be fair, we want to give people an opportunity to remediate the concerns. They either will or they won’t. But we’re prepared to cut ties if they don’t do it.”

Piccola added that only one of the eight residents currently living at the two homes is underage. She also said the department was actively working to place youth with foster families instead of group homes.

Efforts to reach Brito for comment about his agency were unsuccessful.

The North Bend Street home has been rebuilt since the fire, but DCYF has not re-issued a license to Blackstone for that house to become a group home.

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Blackstone Valley, Local News, News, Top Video

Woonsocket to conduct school safety audits, build secure high school entrance

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WOONSOCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — Woonsocket’s school committee will form a special security subcommittee and conduct school building audits in the wake of the deadly shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

Superintendent Patrick McGee made the recommendations at Wednesday night’s school committee meeting, where he also briefed committee members on an incident at Hamlet Middle School on Feb. 16 involving bullets found in a bathroom.

Three students have now been arrested in the wake of that incident, which turned out not to be connected to any threat. Police said a janitor found the bullets in a boy’s bathroom, and a 13-year-old girl simultaneously yelled something about how there was going to be a school shooting.

The girl was arrested for disorderly conduct, and two 13-year-old boys were arrested for possession of ammunition. One of the boys is also facing a disorderly conduct charge.

The incident happened two days after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida where 17 people died. McGee said he was in a meeting with police about school safety when he got the call about the bullets found.

”You think the worst, but you hope for the best,” he said of his initial reaction as he rushed to the school.

Police locked down the school and searched it, and found no weapons.

At Wednesday night’s meeting, McGee suggested forming a subcommittee to specifically address security matters, and said audits would be conducted at all school buildings to determine what improvements can be made.

”I want people out in the community to know that the schools in Woonsocket are safe,” he said. “However, we are always looking at upgrading what we have.”

The school district is already planning an upgrade to the main entrance at Woonsocket High School, where a new “secure vestibule” will be constructed inside the entrance. Visitors will need to speak to a security officer through a reinforced glass window before being buzzed in.

The project costs $450,000, with the state reimbursing Woonsocket 88% of the cost.

”I would love to do things like this in all of our schools,” McGee said. “My goal is to make every school as safe and secure as possible.”

Blackstone Valley, Local News, News, Providence, Top Video

Senate Finance Chairman: No PawSox deal without team financials

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The chairman of the committee vetting an $83-million deal for a new Pawtucket Red Sox stadium says the process won’t move forward unless the team’s owners hand over profit and revenue information.

“Discussions are ongoing,” Democratic Senate Finance Chairman William Conley, who represents Pawtucket and East Providence, said in a statement Thursday. “However, the committee will not move forward without this necessary information.”

The pronouncement comes after the team refused to disclose profit and loss information in a written response to questions from the Senate Finance Committee earlier this week.

“The Team has endeavored to provide the Committee with as much financial information [as] possible without disclosing sensitive proprietary information,” team officials wrote.

A spokesperson for the PawSox declined to comment Thursday.

“I think it’s very reasonable for the legislature to ask for that,” Gov. Gina Raimondo told Eyewitness News Thursday night, adding: “I do think it can be confidential.”

Raimondo said she continues to support the stadium deal, which proposes using $71 million worth of government bonds to be paid back with money from the team, the state and the city of Pawtucket. The deal hinges on an expectation that tax revenue generated by the stadium and ancillary development will more than cover taxpayers’ contributions.

“They’re asking for taxpayer money, and I think it’s only fair that we would be able to see the revenue and profit of the PawSox,” Raimondo said.

She added she would be disappointed if the deal fell through.

In his statement, Conley also said the R.I. Commerce Corporation, an arm of the Raimondo administration, failed to follow “protocol” when making the deal with the PawSox.

“Normally, the Commerce Corporation conducts a financial review and assessment of a company’s viability prior to moving forward with an agreement,” Conley said.

Raimondo said the Commerce Corporation did an “excellent job” in negotiating the deal and said she wants the full vetting process to continue in the legislature.

“I think the PawSox belong in Pawtucket,” she said.

Blackstone Valley, Local News, News, Top Video

Pawtucket mayor aims to keep some health services at Memorial Hospital

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PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) – Mayor Donald Grebien is hoping to keep some health care services operating at Memorial Hospital, one day after its owner Care New England announced it would close.

“It’s going to change,” Grebien said in an interview with Eyewitness News on Wednesday. “I don’t know what that change is.”

Grebien said he planned to meet with Care New England officials later in the week, and was also in discussions with Attorney General Peter Kilmartin about how to proceed.

“I need to make sure I’m protecting the residents of Pawtucket,” Grebien said. “We’re trying to come up with a strategy that protects the jobs, the hospital and the services, naturally, that we have over there.”

It’s so far unclear how that plan will take shape after Care New England officials said they intend to close the hospital following the collapse of a plan to sell the facility to Prime Healthcare. While Memorial’s financial problems go back years, even before Care New England took over in 2013, Grebien argues the owners did not invest enough in the hospital to keep it running.

“The assets have been sucked so much out of that facility,” Grebien said.

Care New England officials dispute that, saying the company invested millions in the hospital when they took over. Incoming CEO James Fanale said Tuesday there didn’t appear to be any other interested buyers when the hospital was put on the market earlier this year.

“It seems to me there is no other solution,” Fanale said, adding that there were currently only 15 to 20 inpatients at the hospital each day. He did say part of the facility’s nearly 600,000-square-foot Pawtucket campus could potentially turn into a primary care or specialty medical facility.

Boston-based Partners health care is currently in talks to take over the rest of the Care New England hospital system, which also includes Women & Infants and Kent, but the Massachusetts company does not want to take on Memorial. Fanale said resolving Memorial’s situation is a requirement before Partners takes over.

Grebien suggested he would consider taking legal action to keep some of Memorial’s assets in Pawtucket, including trying to get a so-called special master to look into the hospital’s finances. A special master was also used roughly a decade ago in the case of Woonsocket’s Landmark Medical Center, which was placed into receivership and later bought by Prime.

“Somebody needs to go in there and take an honest look at these books,” Grebien said. He said he didn’t know if another owner would be interested in taking over the facility.

Care New England has yet to formally submit paperwork to request the closure, according to Department of Health spokesman Joseph Wendelken. The department needs to approve the closure.

“Our focus now is on the people there, the residents there and making sure that everyone has access to care going forward,” Wendelken said, adding that news of the closure was “discouraging.”

He said Care New England would need to submit a plan laying out how community members will continue to have access to health care, including emergency services, and how patients and employees will be transitioned.

The Department of Health could decline to sign off on the plan if it doesn’t meet the health and safety needs of the local community, Wendelken said.

“We could go round and round to make sure that, as I said, the health and safety of people in the community is not compromised,” he said.

A Care New England spokesman said Wednesday the paperwork for Memorial’s closure would be filed with the Department of Health “as soon as possible.”

Outside the hospital Wednesday, Dr. Anais Ovalle sat holding a sign: “Keep jobs and healthcare in Pawtucket.”

She said she works as an internal medicine resident at the hospital, and is worried about Pawtucket losing its community hospital. She said she’s concerned her patients won’t know where to go for care. Her own future is also uncertain, as Care New England has said they hope to transition some of the hospital’s nearly 700 employees to other hospitals but has not said how many might be laid off.

“I love this hospital,” she said. “I love this community and I’ll do anything for them.”

Ted Nesi contributed to this report.

Blackstone Valley, Crime, Local News, News, Top Video

Arson victim: Pride flag went missing at same time as fire

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CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. (WPRI) — Police have released video of a person of interest in an unsolved month-old arson case, while the victim of the fire is sharing his story of the night his home burned.

Kevin Kazarian woke up in the early hours of June 19 to the crackling sounds of the fire and an orange glow, quickly realizing his house was on fire. He escaped with his life and his pet bird Kelly, watching firefighters douse the flames of his Central Street five-bedroom house.

Kazarian soon realized something was missing; just hours earlier his rainbow pride flag was hanging from a flagpole to the left of his front door. The flag was gone.

“I noticed that the flag I had displayed on the house was missing, and right then it hit me,” Kazarian said in an interview with Eyewitness News on Tuesday. “I had this lump in my throat, and the bottom of my heart.”

Kevin Kazarian said a pride flag was hanging next to his front door hours before his house was set on fire.

The flames never reached the place where the flag hung, so it wasn’t burned in the fire. Kazarian had hung it up a few weeks earlier in honor of Pride Month, a celebration of the LGBT community. He had also participated in a flag-raising at City Hall, and a photo of the event was posted online.

He said he last saw his flag hanging at his front door around 10 p.m. on the 18th, less than four hours before the fire broke out.

“I just don’t know how someone could have that much hatred in them to do something like that,” Kazarian said.

He said police found his flagpole at the church across the street, but never recovered the pride flag itself.

The State Fire Marshal ruled the fire arson a few days after Kazarian’s house burned, and police have been searching for the suspect ever since. The video released Tuesday by Central Falls Police shows a person walking near the home at 1:36 a.m., about 14 minutes before the house erupted in flames.

While the individual’s head is not shown in the video, police said they are hoping someone may recognize the person’s clothes or gait.

Police said they are hoping someone may recognize the person of interest’s clothes or gait.

Police said they have not yet determined a motive for the arson.

Those with information are encouraged to contact Central Falls police at (401) 727-7411 or the State Fire Marshals TIPS line at (401) 383-7723. Individuals who want to remain anonymous can call the TIPS line at (401) 727-7420.

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Blackstone Valley, Economy, Local News, News, PawSox, Politics, sports, Top Video

PawSox stadium legislation introduced, will be vetted this fall

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island leaders signaled Tuesday they plan to take up the proposal for a new, $83-million Pawtucket Red Sox stadium later this year, after Gov. Gina Raimondo announced her support for a revised version of the plan.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman William Conley introduced the revamped bill on Tuesday, and said his committee will consider it this fall. The Senate is not yet committed to holding a special session to vote on the legislation, spokesman Greg Pare said.

“I think keeping the PawSox in Pawtucket and in the state of Rhode Island is really important to our future,” Conley told reporters at a briefing about the bill Tuesday afternoon. He emphasized that the legislation will “absolutely, positively not” be voted on in the few days left before lawmakers adjourn their regular session.

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said a companion bill will be introduced in his chamber by members of the Pawtucket delegation, and he said it “will be fully reviewed by the House Finance Committee this fall.” But he also stopped short of committing to a special session this fall to vote on the plan.

Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor, who helped negotiate the PawSox deal on behalf of the Raimondo administration, sent a letter Tuesday outlining his reasons for supporting Conley’s legislation. “This plan offers a responsible way to keep the ‘Paw’ in the PawSox,” he wrote.

“As we conduct our work in Commerce, we aim to achieve two objectives: to promote economic prosperity and to protect taxpayers,” Pryor wrote. “The proposal for a Ballpark at Slater Mill would accomplish both objectives.”

The new bill maintains the same financing split as the original plan.

State taxpayers would contribute $23 million to a new publicly-owned ballpark in downtown Pawtucket, to be paid back with tax revenue from the stadium and a surcharge on ticket sales. The city of Pawtucket would contribute $15 million, and the PawSox would pay $45 million, with $33 million of the team’s portion paid through a 30-year lease agreement.

Crucially, the new legislation spells out that Pawtucket is backstopping its own bonds by pledging its state aid – language that Raimondo said gave her the confidence to support the bill. The team has committed to covering any cost overruns.

The plan to build a new stadium at the Apex site in downtown Pawtucket was on life support earlier this month after the General Assembly gave it a lukewarm reception and Raimondo said she could not support it because it left state taxpayers on the hook for Pawtucket’s debt.

The new bill explicitly says Pawtucket will guarantee the bonds that the city floats to pay for its portion of the stadium. The Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency (PRA), a quasi-public body, will float the 30-year bonds for both the city and state portion of the stadium debt.

A second bill submitted Tuesday authorizes the PRA to issue the bonds by expanding the power of all the state’s municipal redevelopment agencies “to finance the construction of projects for residential, recreational, commercial, industrial, institutional, public, or other purposes contemplated by a redevelopment plan,” according to a summary.

Under the plan, both the city and state expect to pay back the bonds using sales and property tax revenue generated from the PawSox, visitors to the ballpark and other development expected to crop up around the new downtown site.

The bill also says the state would receive funds from a special ticket surcharge, but Conley said the price of the surcharge has not yet been determined.

The PawSox issued a statement Tuesday evening thanking the governor and her team for supporting the proposal and referencing a “final resolution” in the fall. “While there are no guarantees of successful adoption of the legislation, we are well aware of the importance of this milestone,” the statement said.

Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien previously said team executives were only committing to negotiate with Rhode Island until July 1, and after that would consider moving the club elsewhere. A spokesman for the team said they would not be taking questions beyond the statement.

“All I can say to the PawSox is there’s not a better place in the universe than Pawtucket, Rhode Island, for them,” Conley said. “And for them to go anywhere else would be foolish.”

Raimondo threw her weight behind the legislation Monday – something Mattiello demanded in order for the House to even consider the proposal. “At the end of the day, I don’t think this is going to cost the taxpayers of Rhode Island anything,” she said.

Pryor agreed, saying he is confident the revenue from the ballpark would cover the state’s $23 million share of the project. “We expect it to exceed it, but we’re confident that it will cover it,” Pryor said.

“That’s a dream,” said Rep. Patricia Morgan, the Republican House Minority Leader. “We don’t have this money. I’ll tell you who does: the owners of the PawSox.”

Morgan sits on the House Finance Committee that will consider the bill in the fall. She said she doesn’t want taxpayer dollars funding the stadium, even if that means the team decides to leave the state for a sweeter deal.

“That would be unfortunate, because they do have a loyal base here,” she said. “But it is a private company. They have to look out for themselves and we have to look out for ourselves.”

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Blackstone Valley, Local News, News, PawSox, Top Video

PawSox to request $23M from state for new stadium at Apex site

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PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) – The Pawtucket Red Sox are planning to ask state taxpayers for $23 million to help pay for a proposed ballpark in downtown Pawtucket that would keep the team in the city until at least 2050, the team announced Tuesday afternoon.

According to a summary released by the PawSox, the team’s owners would pay $45 million towards the $83 million cost of the new publicly owned stadium at the site of the Apex building downtown. The state would kick in $23 million, and the city of Pawtucket would contribute the remaining $15 million. The stadium would be called the “Ballpark at Slater Mill.”

The total cost of the stadium would be $73 million, with the land costing an additional $10 million, according to the PawSox. The new plan comes two years after the team abandoned a widely criticized request for $120 million from taxpayers to build a new stadium in downtown Providence.

The proposal would need to be approved by the General Assembly and Gov. Gina Raimondo in order for state funding to be secured. The team says the state’s $23 million investment would be repaid over approximately 30 years using revenue generated from the ballpark, including sales, property and hotel tax receipts. The Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency would float bonds to cover the taxpayer share, and the state would pay back the bonds for its portion over 30 years.

“The tax revenues that will be generated by the ballpark, by the people who use the ballpark, by the visitors who come to the ballpark, will be more than sufficient to cover any debt service,” PawSox chairman Larry Lucchino said.

The PawSox would also pay for any construction overrun costs.

In a unique twist, the PawSox also said that team owners “who live or who own separate businesses in Rhode Island will voluntarily donate annual PawSox distributions or dividends, if any, over the next five years to three Rhode Island charities: the Pawtucket Foundation, the Rhode Island Foundation, and/or the PawSox Foundation.” Paul Salem, a Providence Equity Partners executive who recently purchased a stake in the team, was credited with the idea.

Raimondo expressed optimism about the proposal Tuesday, after previously indicating she wanted the plan to be “revenue-neutral” for the state. She said the plan put forward by the team “appears to pay for itself.”

“I believe it merits a full public vetting as part of the legislative process,” Raimondo said. She also called the proposal “much better” than the Providence proposal she had rejected.

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio described himself as “hopeful” after the announcement. “Their new proposal will be thoroughly analyzed and reviewed, and the public will have the opportunity to make their voices heard, as part of the legislative hearing process in the Senate in the upcoming weeks,” he said.

A spokesperson for House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello – who was a strong supporter of the abandoned Providence stadium proposal – said the speaker is waiting on a recommendation from the governor before taking a position.

Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien said there is no backup plan if the General Assembly doesn’t pass the plan this legislative session.

“We’re confident this is going to pass,” Grebien said. “There’s no reason it shouldn’t pass.”

Rhode Island Republican Party Chairman Brandon Bell quickly slammed the plan, saying in a statement, “This proposal is simply a bad idea. Rhode Island taxpayers cannot afford to subsidize a new ballpark.”

Noting the state’s budget picture has weakened in recent months, Bell said: “Does Mattiello and Raimondo really want to explain to the voters how they postponed car tax relief and pushed for cuts to social services while giving millionaires $38 million to build a new ballpark?!”

Also quickly coming out in opposition to the proposal was Stop the Stadium Deal, a grass-roots group. “Revenue-neutral is basically a lie,” Ethan Gyles, one of the group’s board members, said. “For years stadium consultants have sold terrible deals by pretending that magic revenue would pay for them. Time and time again, cities have gotten burned.”

Official said plans for the stadium could also include a hotel, apartments and retail space as part of a larger redevelopment of downtown Pawtucket.

“It will be more than a ballpark,” PawSox Chairman Larry Lucchino said. “It will be a city park, open year-round. It could have football in the autumn, hockey in the winter, concerts in the summer, and joggers every day when the team is out of town.”

Lucchino said private developers are working on plans for the hotel and apartments, but the goal is to get the ball rolling on the stadium construction as soon as possible.

After the Providence stadium plan fell through, the team debated whether to build a new stadium or remain at Pawtucket-owned McCoy Stadium, which is in need of significant renovations. An economic impact study released last week indicated the Apex site would be a better investment compared to another site, dubbed “Tidewater,” on the river.

The five parcels of Apex land are currently owned by Andrew Gates.

Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist at Smith College who advised Mattiello on the stadium deal in 2015, argued the key for any transaction is making sure it’s truly revenue-neutral for taxpayers, by ensuring that the underlying forecasts for how much tax revenue the ballpark will generate are on target.

“On the surface, this looks like a good deal,” Zimbalist said. “If you can just get revenue neutrality, and you get the PawSox on top of that and you get the additional activity that’s generated around the stadium, it’s a plus for the community in social and cultural terms,” he said.

Asked how this stadium proposal looks compared with others he’s reviewed, Zimbalist said, “The appropriate comparison is to AAA ballparks elsewhere, and this level of [financial] contribution from the team is above what’s typical.”

Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien, who has pushed hard to keep the team in Pawtucket, celebrated the announcement and called it a “new chapter in our city’s history.”

“Virtually everything about this proposal is the opposite of where we were two years ago,” Grebien said in a statement. “Now, we are on the verge of completing one of the greatest comebacks in baseball history.”

The team says it hopes to be playing baseball in the new stadium in 2020. As part of the deal, the team would commit to remaining at the ballpark until at least 2050, with a 30-year lease extension possible.

“Just as Ben Mondor saved the day 40 years ago, this plan saves the day for the next 30 years,” said PawSox Vice-Chairman Mike Tamburro, a longtime team executive, referring to the late Pawtucket industrial who saved the team in the 1970s.

Blackstone Valley, Crime, Local News, News, Top Video

Document: Driver admitted to smoking marijuana, drinking before crash that killed three

PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — The man accused of causing a crash that killed three young women in Pawtucket last month admitted to police that he smoked two marijuana joints before driving and drank beer earlier in the day, according to a document obtained by Eyewitness News.

The detective’s affidavit filed in Providence District Court includes a summary of an interview with James Belanger, 21, who is facing a list of charges in connection with the April 6 crash on Walcott Street.

Fatima Rosa, Emily Howell, Theresa Leary, all of West Warwick, died in the crash. The three women were in the backseat of the sedan that split in half on impact. A front seat passenger, identified in the affidavit as Anthony Denny, survived.

According to the affidavit, a friend told Belanger, “you are too drunk to talk right now” earlier in the evening before he got behind the wheel.

In an emergency room interview with police, Belanger told a detective he had “a couple of beers earlier in the day” and smoked two marijuana joints before driving. He claimed that a car either hit him or cut him off, causing him to swerve into the pole.

Belanger also told police he left the scene of the crash because he was trying to get help, according to the document.

Police initially charged Belanger with driving to endanger – death resulting, duty to stop – death resulting along with drug possession charges. On April 27, police received the results of a blood test that confirmed Belanger’s blood alcohol content was .139, above the legal limit of .08. Belanger was subsequently charged with DUI – death resulting.

He is due back in court on July 21.

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Blackstone Valley, East Bay, Local News, News, Northwest, Providence, South County, Top Video, West Bay

State says software issue to blame for E-911 disruption

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — For 45 minutes on Monday night, call-takers at Rhode Island’s E-911 center were unable to speak to people calling with emergencies, according to Lt. Col. Kevin Barry, the commanding officer for the Department of Public Safety.

The system is back up and running, but technicians are still working to determine what caused the software glitch. Barry said dispatchers could see calls coming in and could hear the person on the line, but the callers could not hear them. Dispatchers used landline phones not connected to the E-911 system to call back the phone numbers and were able to assist them with their emergencies.

Ninety-eight people called 125 times between 7:41 p.m. and 8:26 p.m. Monday, while the system was malfunctioning, Lt. Col. Barry said. Some people were calling more than once, presumably because they heard no one on the other line. All but six callers were reached by dispatchers and their emergencies were handled.

“We’re not aware of any serious complications resulting in a delay in receiving emergencies services,” Barry said. “However, we believe any delay in a call for help is unacceptable.” Barry said the six callers who could not be reached either did not receive incoming calls or attempts to call them went to voicemail.

“We think they were all serviced, but we don’t know,” said William Gasbarro, the co-director of Rhode Island E-911. “I haven’t heard any feedback.”

The E-911 system, built by the company Solacom and maintained by AK Associates, has a backup system, but the system was not automatically triggered by this particular glitch. Dispatchers realized that callers could not hear them, and contacted supervisors.

“Because calls were getting through, the computer did not recognize a failure in the system and did not automatically trigger the backup system,” Barry said. “Once the problem was identified, E-911 officials manually turned on the backup server to restore full functionality to the system.”

Technicians at Solacom were contacted and they manually triggered the backup system at 8:26 p.m. The 45-minute delay to trigger the manual system occurred because technicians were diagnosing the problem, testing the backup system to make sure it didn’t have the same problem and then activating it.

“We’ve never had a malfunction of this magnitude,” said Barry. “We will do everything in our power to make sure we have a reliable backup that activates at the first sign of a problem.”

Arthur Kraus, the vice president of AK Associates, said his company had technicians on site in Rhode Island at the time of the glitch. The technicians had not detected any issues in their routine maintenance, and found no signs of malware or a cyber attack. The company has a $36,400 contract with the state for 2017, according to records obtained by Eyewitness News.

“It was one of those strange anomalies,” Kraus said. He said technicians pulled the computer logs and Solacom, which built and owns the software, is now combing through the data to find the root cause of the problem.

A spokesperson at Canada-based Solacom did not immediately answer questions about the issue. But William Gasbarro, the E-911 co-director, said he was told by Solacom that this particular glitch had not happened before in other states.

“There are no problems like this that we’re aware of that have happened with the system,” Gasbarro said.

During the malfunction, Rhode Island State Police put out notifications on social media and urged people to call their local police and fire departments directly with emergencies. A spokesperson for the Providence police and fire departments said those dispatch centers did not receive an increase in calls during that time period.

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