It has been a busy year for Wilton. Looking back, The Wilton Bulletin has assembled its list of news highlights that most deeply impacted our community.
Many of the 2012 news highlights in Wilton came as shocks, a few as historic milestones, and some as renewals at the helm of state and local government. They follow, in no particular order.
A town grieves
The tragic killing of 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on Dec. 14 deeply shook the Wilton community. Friends, relatives and families in mourning gathered at Wilton’s downtown gazebo on Sunday, Dec. 23, for an interfaith vigil to mourn the great loss.
Speakers of various religious institutions honored the victims, their families, and others deeply affected by praying, singing, lighting candles, and offering a moment of silence.
In the days that followed the tragedy, Wiltonian Diane Kuczo organized “Hugs for Sandy Hook,” a collection of new teddy bears for children. Dr. Margaret Reed of Canine Training Behavior Services LLC provided stuffed animals for the children and offered the services of therapy dogs as well.
Wilton Youth Services offered counseling for those who felt they needed emotional support.
As a response to the incident, Wilton police were stationed at each Wilton school that day and for the following week as schools maintained a heightened state of alert.
Largely a celebration for Republicans, Election Day in Wilton showed our town to be one of the most politically engaged municipalities in the state, based on the percentage of eligible voters who cast ballots.
According to Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, Wilton had the ninth highest voter turnout in 2012, figured as a percentage of registered voters. Wilton’s turnout was 85.57%.
State Sen. Toni Boucher (R-26th District) won a third term over her Democratic challenger, Carolanne Curry, defeating her in each of the towns in her district except Westport. Also gaining re-election was Gail Lavielle, who represents Wilton as part of the 143rd District. This year also saw the retirement of longtime state Rep. John Hetherington (R-125th District), who will be succeeded by Republican Tom O’Dea of New Canaan.
The turnout for the general election contrasted sharply with the sparse turnout for the town budget vote on May 2.
Only 12% of Wilton voters went to the polls to pass a budget of $104,398,539 at the annual Town Meeting on May 2. The budget combines $30,347,323 for the town and $74,051,216 for the schools. It was approved by a vote of 800 to 525 (515 voted no, too high; 10 voted no, too low). The budget vote also approved the mill rate of 21.055, up 0.986% from last year’s rate of 20.85.
It took effect July 1 for fiscal year 2013.
A father killed
Aaron Ramsey, the Wilton man accused of bludgeoning his father to death on May 3 at their Signal Hill Road home, was found not guilty by mental disease or disorder on Dec. 12 at Stamford Superior court.
Mr. Ramsey had entered a plea in front of a three-judge panel on Nov. 20.
Mr. Ramsey had been living at Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown since Sept. 20, since the issuance of a “physician’s emergency certificate” from Bridgeport Hospital.
Dr. Justin Schechter, a psychiatrist who examined Mr. Ramsey, subsequently attested that Mr. Ramsey was likely experiencing a psychological episode during the May 3 attack.
For the third time in 14 months, Wilton was hit with a major storm that caused a week or more of power outages. The devastation from Storm Sandy, which moved up the eastern seaboard and hit Connecticut on Monday, Oct. 29, was widespread: Trees were strewn throughout town, on major roads, and throughout the properties of local residents.
After the storm, 117 roads were totally blocked, and town outages peaked at about 6,100, or 83%. There were more than 1,000 issues with power lines and trees.
A massive evergreen that loomed over a power cable and two entire lanes on Route 7 was emblematic of the drastic loss of power and disturbance to commuters and emergency responders.
Town government and emergency personnel were quick to respond, assembling emergency shelters and a collaborative response network.
A teacher lost
Svetlana Bell, 47, a Cider Mill music teacher, was tragically killed at her New Fairfield home on Saturday night, Dec. 8, after an argument with her husband, Robert Bell, 63, allegedly escalated to a fatal shooting.
Ms. Bell was found unresponsive on the kitchen floor of her Hilltop Drive home with four gunshot wounds to her chest after Robert Bell called for an ambulance at 7:13 p.m. Ms. Bell was taken to Danbury Hospital and pronounced dead at 8:14 p.m., police said.
Mr. Bell was taken into custody by New Fairfield police officers and was charged with first-degree manslaughter and disorderly conduct.
He was arraigned at Danbury Superior Court on Dec. 10, and bond was set at $750,000. His next court appearance is set for 10 a.m. on Jan. 7 at Danbury Superior Court.
Arrest in the Parisot case
A four-year police investigation into the death of Nick Parisot culminated with the Aug. 23 arrest of a teenager in Placentia, Calif. The 17-year-old youth was charged with second-degree manslaughter in the 2008 death of Nick, 13. He was killed while riding his off-road motorcycle on trails near his grandparents’ house on Hillbrook Lane when he struck a rope tied across the path. Nick, son of Kate Throckmorton and Rick Parisot of Nod Hill Road, subsequently died of neck trauma sustained from that impact.
The California youth was extradited to Connecticut on Sept. 20.
In June 2009, the Parisot family filed a civil lawsuit against the family of Glenn and Barbara Knight, alleging their son, who was 12 at the time, was responsible for the accident that caused Nick’s death. The Knights sold their home in Wilton and moved to Placentia in 2010, according to the Orange County Register.
At the press conference announcing the arrest of the youth, police Chief Michael Lombardo said “new information” in the case had led police to Placentia.
The arrest was made by Wilton Detective Christopher Isidro. He was assisted by California detectives, Chief Lombardo said.
The Parisot family has extended their appreciation to police detectives on their investigation that led to an arrest in the homicide case, and gave thanks to those in the community who lent support since the death of their son by forming the group “Stand Up for Nick.”
The death of Dave Brubeck
The town of Wilton mourned the death of longtime resident and international jazz legend Dave Brubeck on Dec. 5, a day before his 92nd birthday. Mr. Brubeck achieved widespread acclaim for such hits as Take Five and Blue Rondo a la Turk. He is survived by his wife, Iola, and four sons, Chris, Darius, Dan, and Matthew, and a daughter, Catherine Brubeck Yaghsizian. Another son, Michael, died in 2009. He is also survived by several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
One of the many highlights of Mr. Brubeck’s highly celebrated career was the release of the album Time Out in 1959, which was the first jazz album to sell more than one million copies. It is in the Grammy Hall of Fame and remains one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time.
On Dec. 6, 2009, his 89th birthday, Mr. Brubeck received the Kennedy Center Honor, which celebrated “six decades of dazzling musical genius, which helped to define an American art form,” according to the Kennedy Center.
Mr. Brubeck was also known for his contributions to the community, and donated the Brubeck Room to the Wilton Library, which serves as a hub and centerpiece of library programs. Residents signed memorials and tributes celebrating the life of the jazz icon in the library’s main lobby.
Wilton Crest fire
A fire swept through the Wilton Crest condominium complex on Sunday, April 29, destroying or heavily damaging 15 condo units and drawing more than 60 Wilton and area firefighters to the scene. Two New Canaan firefighters were injured. Firefighter Paul Devan was treated at Norwalk Hospital and released. Firefighter David DiPanni was treated at the scene by Wilton EMS. No one else was reported injured.
The fire may have begun as a result of an air conditioning malfunction, according to a news report.
“We are very lucky this didn’t occur at 11:45 at night,” fire Chief Paul Milositz said. “We are lucky it occurred in the daytime. We would have had a significantly different outcome at night. People were awake. They were able to evacuate quickly. At night, we would have had all those people sleeping. It would have been a greater catastrophe.”
In January, an arbitration panel issued a decision to force the Wilton teachers’ union to accept salary and pay hike freezes, as well as a new, leaner health plan. The Board of Education and the Wilton Education Association could not agree on 19 salary and health benefit issues, which led to the arbitration hearing.
The major driver was teachers’ salaries, which move up in two ways: step by step and year by year, through the grid of the salary schedule, where teachers max out after 15 to 20 years.
For year one of the new contract, the union asked for a 1% increase for the teachers who were at maximum.
The district asked for the grid to stay the same, no increase in the schedule at all, and won the battle, causing all salaries to become frozen.
But the board also asked for no step movement through the grid for year one. The union asked that a step be delayed until mid-point in the year, and won this point. Halfway through the year, anybody on the steps will move up to the next one.
Wilton School District Financial Officer Ken Post explained, “The people at the top step are frozen all year long, and roughly half of our teachers are at top step.”
The total of salaries for teachers is about $31 million, and the instructional leader stipends total about $750,000,” according to Mr. Post. This represents an increase of 6.13% for teachers over three years.
The teachers had asked for a 7.38% hike.
As for the health care issue, the board proposed that teachers enroll in a new high-deductible health savings account plan. The union wanted it to be optional, but the board won that battle as well.
“The HSAs,” Mr. Post said, “are where things are going.”
He said the new plan would save around $600,000.
“The Wilton Board of Education and the district administration believe that the award fairly resolves the issues,” the district said in a prepared statement, adding that it “looks forward to continuing to work closely with the association and Wilton teachers on behalf of the students in Wilton.”
After more than a decade of planning and fund raising, Wilton Commons finally became a reality when Mr. Malloy drove a golden shovel into the ground during a ceremonial groundbreaking on April 11. Today, the building, which will house 51 affordable one-bedroom apartments for senior citizens, is nearing completion. The resident application process is well under way and residents are expected to move in the spring.
Phase 2, which is in the planning process, would add 23 units.
The $10-million project has been spearheaded by Wilton Commons Inc., organized by George Ciaccio and a 16-member committee that put together funding from public and private sources, including $2.6 million from the National Equity Fund, $2.1 million from the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority (CHFA), $3.2 million secured by the state of Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), and more than $2 million raised from more than 200 contributors by Wilton Commons Inc. under the leadership of E. Bulkeley Griswold.
Wilton Commons is being built on a 4.8-acre lot, leased from the town for $1 per year.
A variety of town landmarks and valuable community services celebrated milestone anniversaries this year.
Wilton Playshop celebrated its 75th; Woodcock Nature Center and the Wilton YMCA their 40th; Hoffman Landscapers, its 25th; Visiting Nurse & Hospice of Fairfield County its 100th; and The Wilton Bulletin, its 75th year of distributing news around Wilton.