First Baptist Church in Lebanon Consumed by Fire

I oversaw breaking-news coverage of the most significant fire in the Upper Valley in at least five years: a three-alarm fire that gutted the First Baptist Church in downtown Lebanon, which was toned out about 11:30 p.m. on Dec. 29, 2016, too late to get much more than a photo in the print edition. This included an overnight effort to coordinate with reporters and a photographer at the scene and editors working remotely; editing copy; launching breaking news posts on our website, social media and email newsletter for our readers; and editing and posting video that a reporter shot at the fire, among other tasks. In the final two days of calendar year 2016, it became our most-read story of the year.

We continued breaking-news coverage over the next days, weeks and months, including the arrest of an alleged arsonist, the dismantling of the church’s remains and the congregation’s ongoing efforts to rebuild.


Grape Catch Is Feat for the Ages

Story by Maggie Cassidy. Video shot and edited by Maggie Cassidy.

Post Mills — Setting the world record for using your mouth to catch a grape dropped from the greatest height: It was a dream years in the making, and all it took was a hot air balloon, walnut-sized fruits shipped specially from Georgia and a crew of Ph.D.-level engineers who gathered at a tiny Vermont airport before the sun rose on Monday morning.

The man with the plan was Brent Fraser, 35, who said he “just had a natural knack” for catching things in his mouth ever since his high school days in Barre, Vt., where buddies would chuck food toward him in the school parking lot. Continue reading “Grape Catch Is Feat for the Ages”

White River Junction Mourns Town ‘Mayor’

By Maggie Cassidy
Valley News Staff Writer

White River Junction — As downtown bustled on Saturday, with Glory Days in one corner, the Main Street Museum’s Bizarre Bazaar in another, and the block humming with pedestrians, the bench in front of the yarn shop often sat empty.

It was a favorite seat of Lewis Lahaye — better known as Louie — a reliable sight in White River Junction who could often be found wearing his signature beanie and sunglasses and who was known for his ability to strike up a conversation with anyone. An Upper Valley native and resident of the Vermonter Hotel downtown, his friendliness earned him the nickname the “Mayor of Hartford.”

“He was the town’s grandfather, pretty much,” said village resident Graham Robinson, 32. “Everybody loved him.” Continue reading “White River Junction Mourns Town ‘Mayor’”

Farm Crews Take a Few Hours Off for ‘Olympics’

Story by Maggie Cassidy. Video shot and edited by Maggie Cassidy.

Vershire — Spread out across a hayfield at Broad Acres Farm late Tuesday afternoon, dozens of farmers in teams of five, give or take, waited for the countdown over a megaphone — three, two, one, go! — before frantically installing sections of single-strand fence in square areas marked by small orange flags.

While the 31st Summer Olympics were ongoing in Rio de Janeiro (population 6.32 million), the second annual Farmer Olympics, put on by the Northeast Organic Farming Association, were just getting started in Vershire (population 679).


And right out of the gate, some teams were having a harder time than others.

“We do not have cows!” cried out a farmer from Springtail Farm, in Washington, Vt., as that crew struggled with the lines.

“We’re a seed farm!” hollered another teammate.  Continue reading “Farm Crews Take a Few Hours Off for ‘Olympics’”

Valley Visualized: An Interactive Comparison of Town-by-Town Data

The Valley News published the Valley Almanac in August 2016 as a handy guide to the 46 towns in the Upper Valley region of Vermont in New Hampshire. In addition to essential information about each towns such as public meeting times and names of town officials, it also included comparative statistics about the towns, which I used to build a variety of interactive charts. Click here to view.

Owners Mourn Slain Dog After He Was Shot by an Officer During a Dog Fight

By Maggie Cassidy
Valley News Staff Writer

Hartford — The owners of a dog say an off-duty Hartford police officer was out of line this weekend when he shot and killed their pet at a public park after a fight broke out between the 2-year-old pit bull and one of the officer’s two huskies.

Cheryl Gray, 44, who took the slain dog named Diesel on one of their regular visits to the Watson Upper Valley Dog Park in Hartford on Saturday, said the two dogs tussled after one husky lunged toward Diesel from atop a picnic table while the officer, Logan Scelza, was using his phone on a bench about 15 yards away.

She acknowledged Diesel “had (the red husky) by the neck.” Gray said Scelza ran over, tried to pull the dogs apart before firing three “warning” shots into the ground and then shooting Diesel four times — once in the face and three times in the chest.

There were about a dozen other people, including a 4-year-old girl, in the dog park at the time of the shooting.

“I can’t get it out of my head at all,” a distraught Gray said through tears on Monday. “It was unnecessary force.” Continue reading “Owners Mourn Slain Dog After He Was Shot by an Officer During a Dog Fight”

Windsor Police Delete Report on Bar Fight Involving Officer

By Maggie Cassidy
Valley News Staff Writer

Windsor — It was a typical Friday evening in Windsor on Dec. 5, 2014, as snow blanketed downtown. Inside the Windsor Station Restaurant & Barroom, the scene was bustling.

Among the patrons were William “Billy” Henne III, a longtime Windsor resident whose minor run-ins with the law had made him known to local police, and Windsor Police Chief William Sampson, a Massachusetts native who worked in Florida law enforcement for years before returning north four months earlier to become Windsor’s top cop.

Also present was another longtime Windsor resident, Windsor police Officer Ryan Palmer, who three weeks before had shot White River Junction resident Jose Burgos during a drug sting.

Both Palmer and Sampson were off-duty, having walked over together after a holiday party with town employees. Sampson said he had a beer or two. Henne was drinking, according to police reports. Palmer’s beverage of choice that night was ginger ale, the bartender told police.

On all those points, there seems to be no dispute. But determining what happened when Palmer and Henne had a brief scuffle around midnight would result in two investigations by Windsor police and a third one by state police.  Continue reading “Windsor Police Delete Report on Bar Fight Involving Officer”