Ernie Chambers 'outraged' That Execution Sought On His Birthday

Editor's Note: This is the second in a two-part series about the top ten stories of 2006.

6. English mastiff kills young Lunenburg boy

An English mastiff attacked and killed 7-year-old Connor Lourens as he went to visit a friend near his house in Lunenburg in early February.

The 7-year-old went across the street to play with his best friend after taking a walk with his family Saturday morning.

His mother, Nancy Lourens, called him in for lunch a short time later.

But her son never came home.

"He told us, 'I'm going to go play with Benny,' and ran over. He was only there for about an hour," Nancy Lourens said during an interview with the Sentinel & Enterprise shortly after her son's death.

The neighbors' 140-pound English mastiff, Buddy, attacked and killed the 7-year-old while he was entering their house, Lunenburg Police Lt. Jim Marino said.

The killing shocked North Central Massachusetts residents and Lourens' family and friends.

The Lourens said they did not blame Roger and Kimberly Lucier, the dog's owners, for their son's death, Nancy Lourens said.

"They have kids of their own, they spent a lot of time with the dog," she said. "I can't imagine they would bring any animal into their home if they thought it wasn't safe."

The tragedy devastated the Luciers, the boy's father, Ron Lourens, said.

"Their son, Benny, witnessed the entire episode. I don't want to call it an attack, because I don't think that's what it was," Ron Lourens said.

"We lost a son. Their son lost his best friend, and he witnessed what happened."

The dog was destroyed shortly after the attack.

Despite the terrible ordeal, the Lourens family and the 7-year-old's many friends joined together to offer a fitting tribute for the boy.

Family and friends helped build the new Connor Lourens Memorial Playground on the site of the former Kids Kingdom.

Ron Lourens stood by a slide during the day volunteers helped rebuild the playground that was divided into sections colored red, orange, blue and yellow.

"Connor was a real happy kid. We wanted to have something that was bright and cheery in honor of him," Ron Lourens said.

The playground's benches are blue because the 7-year-old's favorite color was blue, he added.

Money for the playground came from a basketball tournament, a golf tournament and a music festival, as well as from private donations, Ron Lourens said.

"It's been a great distraction for us," Ron Lourens said as volunteers worked to finish the playground in December. "It's still tough, every day is difficult."

7. The end of an era at Whalom Park

Susan Campbell remembers watching the sun set behind the roller coaster at Whalom Park in Lunenburg from her uncle's lake house.

"You'd see the sun come right through the rails on the roller coaster, and it was like the roller coaster was coming from heaven," the Fitchburg resident, 49, said on Oct. 18, as she watched the roller coaster being demolished to make way for high-end condominiums. "It was an amazing, amazing thing."

Campbell watched with sadness as a demolition crew from Roberts Corp., of Hudson, N.H., broke apart the tracks and railings from the iconic coaster, the Flyer Comet.

"It's heartbreaking," she said, shaking her head. "Your whole life as a child here was Whalom Park. If you didn't grow up around here, you can't understand. They're pulverizing generations of memories."

A worker used a bulldozer to smash up and separate the wood and steel from the roller coaster, which stood partially demolished around 3 p.m. Wednesday.

Workers started tearing down buildings and rides at the park since a week before then, to make way for a 240-unit condominium project that Bridgewater-based Global Property Developers Corp. is planning to build there.

Charlton resident Alice Leeds, 68, who grew up a few blocks away from Whalom Park, snatched up a piece of the Flyer Comet's rails, as well as a floorboard from the now-demolished roller skating rink.

"We spent all of our time here. This was our very own playground," she said, holding up a plank of wood. "This right here is our childhood."

Leeds said she is unhappy with the decision to raze the park for condos, saying an influx of residents will cause traffic headaches in the neighborhood, where several of her family members still live.

And Leominster resident Sheila Roy, 48, whose daughter worked at Whalom Park, also said she is sad to see it go.

"I'm not a big fan of the condo idea at all," she said.

Lunenburg resident Rita Ragusa, 80, came to watch the demolition after seeing coverage of it on television news broadcasts Wednesday, she said.

"We used to come here every Friday night, and you could always get one thing, like fried clams, after dinner," she said. "We came with our friends and tried everything. I miss that. When I come by here, I think of that."

But a last-ditch effort for the town to buy the former amusement park was overwhelmingly defeated at Town Meeting.

8. Library cost overruns

The Leominster City Council on Oct. 10 finalized the appropriation of an extra $1.3 million needed to pay for cost overruns at the new library, ending what had been one of the most bitter fights about municipal spending in recent memory.

The council voted 7-1 in favor of approving a loan order for the $1.3 million. It was their second vote in favor of the spending. Two votes were needed to make the approval official.

At large councilor Dennis Rosa voted against the spending.

Rosa said he wouldn't vote in favor of the spending because the tax increase will be "the straw that broke the taxpayers' back."

Many councilors said they were outraged because they learned of the cost overruns so late in the process, and they were forced to field angry calls from constituents about what they considered to be extravagant spending on the project.

At large councilor John Dombrowski said he believes many aspects of the building are "excessive," such as the fact it will have 12 bathrooms.

He said people involved with the project could have scaled down certain aspects of the building to save money.

"I think many of the amenities could have been cut," Dombrowski said. "I think people who pay taxes have a right to be ticked off that they weren't done."

But Dombrowski said he agrees with Mayor Dean J. Mazzarella, who has said he will take money from the city's free cash account and put it toward the $1.3 million in an attempt to ease the burden on taxpayers.

Ward 1 Councilor David Rowlands said the mayor's request that the council approve the spending just as the library is nearing completion is an example of "broken government."

"I think something is tremendously broken when you come down and the project is 80 percent done and say, 'If you don't approve this, the project stops,'" Rowlands said.

Library officials say once the public gets to use the library, they will see it was worth the money spent.

9. Birthday party shooting

A Fitchburg teenager has been charged with murder in connection with a shooting outside a 15-year-old's birthday party late on Oct. 6.

District Court Judge Edward J. Reynolds ordered Xavier A. Santiago, 115 Chester St., held without bail after police charged him with murder and three counts of assault with intent to murder.

Santiago shouted, "I'm innocent" as court officers led him out of the courtroom after the hearing.

Police say Santiago shot and killed Julio Colon, 24, of Fitchburg, during a birthday party in Saima Park, and shot three other people.

More than 100 people attended the Quinceanera, which is a Latino Sweet 15 party.

The other three victims are recovering from their injuries, according to family members.

The killing outside the birthday party, which occurred while several children still played inside, stunned many city residents, as did the scene after the murder suspect's arraignment.

Tensions ran high after the arraignment, with Santiago supporters and Colon supporters yelling at each other outside the courthouse.

The opposing groups stood on opposite sides of the street, and people on both sides started shouting and walking toward each other.

Several police officers separated the two groups and placed a police cruiser in the middle of the road.

Shortly after the slaying, Pam DeSouza, Department of Youth Services' district manager for Northern Worcester County, said the incident proves that some of the city's teenagers are getting more violent and more heavily involved in gangs.

"The whole culture around here's changed dramatically in the last 10 years," DeSouza said. "Groups of kids with seemingly not lots to do, you're driving around and you see them all over the place."

In addition, a Fitchburg High School student collected more than 100 signatures in support of Santiago.

Estephany Rodriguez, 16, said she collected the names while at school Friday and Monday.

"Everyone assumes he's guilty," Rodriguez told the Sentinel & Enterprise. "Everyone's just saying his name all the time, and he's not here to defend."

Rodriguez said in a letter attached to her petition that Colon never could have committed such crimes.

"Those that know him are certain he did not commit such a terrible crime," Rodriguez wrote. "... Xavier is not the kind of person to hurt anyone, certainly not to that extreme level, especially not innocent people."

The petition bears 111 different signatures, with each page titled, "For those in favor of Xavier Santiago's innocence."

10. Battling over the budget

Budget-related conflict became a familiar theme in Fitchburg City Hall during 2006, as city councilors stalled Mayor Dan H. Mylott's spending requests on several high-profile occasions.

The disagreements forced Mylott to revise his spending plans and led to a series of criticisms lobbed between the corner office and the council chambers. But they never created a permanent impasse in the city's government.

Central to all the conflicts were councilors' arguments that Mylott's requests compromised the city's long-term financial health. They repeatedly said Mylott left the city's "free cash" account especially depleted for any pressing spending needs -- a criticism that became sharpest in the year's final month.

Councilors' opposition first appeared in May, when they unexpectedly and overwhelmingly rejected Mylott's budget proposal for fiscal 2007 in the midst of hearings.

But councilors reversed their decision about one week later. They eventually approved a $94.8 million budget after Mylott distributed more money to the school district, the free cash account and the city's stabilization fund.

"Taking this course is better than having a war between us," Mylott said at the time.

Budget issues returned in November, however, when Mylott submitted nearly $400,000 worth of budget cuts to councilors to compensate for a free cash shortfall. The cuts did not rival in scope the $1.1 million slashed the year before, but still drew councilors' ire.

They rejected Mylott's first proposal because it would have nixed a plan to buy several new police cruisers. After Mylott reinserted two new cruisers into the budget, councilors approved the cuts.

The final financial logjam developed in mid-December, when Mylott announced he had reached a one-year contract agreement with the police union.

Mylott sought $195,000 from the city's free cash account to partially pay for the contract, but councilors did not want to go along.

In a tense meeting, councilors repeatedly wondered if the city could meet all its financial obligations this year, and faulted Mylott for wanting to spend more money from the free cash account.

"I personally feel this is another thing that points Fitchburg to fiscal ruin," Council President Jody M. Joseph said during the meeting.

But just last week, councilors and Mylott reached a compromise. They agreed to reduce the amount of free cash paying for the contract to $115,000 and found the rest of the money from other city departments.

Outside the financial realm, Ward 4 Councilor Ted E. DeSalvatore fashioned an occasionally combative style in his first year of office. Emphasizing his grassroots strength, DeSalvatore took a block-by-block approach to removing blight and stopping crime -- a course that Police Chief Edward F. Cronin deemed "dangerous" in its execution.

DeSalvatore and Cronin had public disagreements over the course of the year, with DeSalvatore at one point suggesting Cronin should be replaced.

Also in 2006, the City Council passed a much-watched new law banning the most dangerous sex offenders from living near schools and other places where children congregate.

The law, proposed by Councilor at-large Dean A. Tran, prohibits Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders from living with 1,000 feet of all schools, parks, day-care centers and the public library.

Source :

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