December 28 2018,  Saugus

A year of traffic tragedy and trouble

Events leading up to the rise of “Citizens for a Safer Saugus” was the biggest story of 2018

By Mark E. Vogler

PUTTING ROAD SAFETY IN PUBLIC VIEW: A group of citizens are using this bumper sticker to lobby town officials to take action to make Saugus streets safer, including lowering the speed limit to 25 mph town-wide. (Saugus Advocate Photo by Mark E.Vogler)

Citizen apprehension about traffic safety began in early January after an elderly Main Street couple suffered serious injuries when they were struck by a car while crossing Central Street. Police later cited the driver for a crosswalk violation.

Robert D. Hoffman, 74, and his wife, Judith, 81, struggled to recover from the horrific crash. Hoffman received a concussion, a broken left leg and injuries to his right knee. Mrs. Hoffman never got to go out on leisure walks again after the impact of the crash punctured her bladder, left two breaks in her pelvis and shattered her leg in six different places.

Hoffman later addressed traffic safety at several selectmen’s meetings, calling on officials to do more to protect its citizen walkers. In an emotional moment in early November, Hoffman told the audience at a public meeting about the Northern Strand Community Trail that his wife had passed away in late October because of complications due to the injuries. Overwhelmed by grief, Hoffman chided officials for not doing enough to provide pedestrian safety along the trail.

That was just one hometown tragedy that put the focus on traffic safety in Saugus.

Another one happened on Mother’s Day when Kathleen M. “Kathy” Callahan, 47, of Saugus, bounced her silver Ford SUV off a parked car before colliding head-on with an MBTA bus on Essex Street near Felton Street. She left behind seven children and a grandchild.

A series of other accidents and close calls in various neighborhoods have prompted citizens to call on the Board of Selectmen to lower the speed limit to 25 mph on several roads.

Earlier this month, selectmen did respond to citizens’ concerns when they voted unanimously to reduce the speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph on six town streets: Bisbee Road, Hanson Road, Iron Works Way, Cider Mill Road, Vinegar Hill Drive and Hitching Hill Road. In addition, the selectmen scheduled a public hearing at the board’s Jan 9, 2019 meeting to consider lowering the speed limit to 25 mph on Essex, Main and Central Streets and Lincoln Avenue – the town’s four major roads.

Meanwhile, bumper stickers are showing up on cars and trucks declaring: “CITIZENS FOR A SAFER SAUGUS,” while also advocating “25 MPH TOWN-WIDE.”

Town Manager Scott C. Crabtree and selectmen have stressed that the Town of Saugus will be considering the reduction of speed on streets across town once it receives the results from a special traffic study that the Town has initiated.

Crabtree advocates the creation of a traffic enforcement unit in the Police Department, which would entail the hiring of additional police officers to make sure posted speed limits are enforced. A major problem facing the town is that there is a scarcity of speed limit signs, particularly on the most dangerous roads.

Precinct 6 member William S. Brown said he is already planning to introduce several articles that he hopes will make Saugus streets safer for pedestrians and drivers. It appears that traffic safety could emerge into a major issue at next May’s Annual Town Meeting.

Rounding out The Saugus Advocate’s list of top 10 stories for 2018:

 

2) BUILDING THE NEW SAUGUS MIDDLE-HIGH SCHOOL: Work began this past summer on the construction of the new Saugus Middle-High School. The new school – considered by local officials as a cornerstone to improving the town’s public education system – is scheduled for opening in the fall of 2020.

 

3) WHEELABRATOR ISSUES: The story about the expansion of Wheelabrator Technologies Inc.’s ash landfill may be up in the air. But the future of Wheelabrator in Saugus remains one of the top stories. At year’s end, Wheelabrator Technologies Inc.’s plans to expand its ash landfill remains on hold despite approval by the state Department of Environmental Protection. The future of the project is pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed by the Conservation Law Foundation.

 

4) CONTROVERSY SURROUNDING THE SUSPENSION AND SUBSEQUENT FIRING OF SAUGUS HIGH SCHOOL HEAD FOOTBALL COACH ANTHONY NALEN. When The Saugus Advocate first broke this story, it went national after getting picked up USA Today Sports. This was a contentious story that polarized the School Committee. Members of the Saugus High School football team picketed at Saugus Center to show support for Nalen, who was suspended as school officials investigated allegations that he forced a player to practice in his underwear.

An investigation by Saugus police cleared Nalen of criminal misconduct and determined there was no evidence that he ordered one of his players to practice in his underwear in an alleged hazing incident. But Saugus Public Schools Superintendent David DeRuosi, Jr. later fired Nalen instead of reinstating him. Nalen dropped his legal battle to win his job back, but still has pending litigation against the School District in an effort to restore his damaged reputation in hopes of coaching football again.

 

5) OPEN MEETING LAW VIOLATIONS BY THE SAUGUS SCHOOL COMMITTEE: The Saugus School Committee was the focus of scrutiny by the state Attorney General’s Division of Open Government during much of the year. In January, the division validated a complaint by then-School Committee Member Peter Manoogian that his colleagues had violated the law by keeping inadequate minutes. In July, the division confirmed the allegations of several complaints filed by The Saugus Advocate that the committee held an improper Executive Session, “posted insufficiently-detailed meeting notices” and improperly convened a meeting in the superintendent’s conference room instead of the School Committee Meeting Room. Initially, the School Committee branded the complaints by The Saugus Advocate as “a personal vendetta” against the committee, and members stopped talking to the newspaper. But two members – School Committee Chair Jeannie Meredith and Linda Gaieski – later acknowledged that they were wrong in their assessment. They also said they attended an Open Meeting Law workshop held in a neighboring town by the Division of Open Government. They acknowledged learning “the hard way” from an adversarial relationship with the newspaper and said they have a better understanding of the law.

 

6) REELECTION OF STATE REP. DONALD WONG: He achieved a fifth two-year-term representing voters of the Ninth Essex District. The Saugus Republican beat his two challengers decisively, winning every precinct in the three communities he represents.

 

7) TOWN HALL TURNOVER: Town Planner Krista Leahy resigned in June, less than two years after she began working for the Town of Saugus and seven months after Planning Director Stephen T. Cole resigned. The two-person Planning and Development Department has been without a full-time staff person since she left. Leahy was one of several town officials leaving key jobs during the year, a situation that Town Manager Scott C. Crabtree acknowledges has been on an ongoing problem because Saugus can’t compete with the pay of many communities.

Longtime town consultant Paul Rupp has been involved in ongoing projects while town clerical staff will be used as necessary to handle the day-to-day operations – telephone calls and correspondence – of the Planning Department. Crabtree noted that Rupp has advised the town on planning and economic development matters for more than 15 years.

 

8) A GREAT EXAMPLE OF COLLABORATION ON A HUMANE ISSUE: A project called “Healthy Students – Healthy Saugus” got off the ground this year. Joseph “Dennis” Gould of the Saugus United Parish Food Pantry came up with a great idea to feed hungry schoolchildren in Saugus. He presented his proposal to Saugus Public Schools Superintendent Dr. David DeRuosi, Jr., who liked it and offered his support. Rev. Martha Leahy of the First Congregational United Church of Saugus and leader of the Saugus Faith Community also contributed in pulling the project together by involving the town’s faith community. The initial project targeted 75 needy elementary schoolchildren in town who officials believed were going without adequate and balanced meals.

 

9) EXTREME WEATHER: In January the Saugus Fire Department, using an inflatable boat, rescued a Milton Street woman in her early 80’s from her house as the water level reached four feet. In March a Nor’easter devastated the Houston Avenue neighborhood. But sandwiched in between those rough winter events was a springtime stretch in February – Saugus native Stephen Boudreau got to enjoy unseasonably warm temperatures in the mid-70’s on the day he did his exercise run on the trails at Breakheart Reservation. Others enjoyed a pizza picnic on a blanket spread across the ground.

 

10) RESTORING TOWN HALL: The historic building which has been the center of Saugus life since 1875 underwent extensive renovations this year for the first time in about two decades. Over the last two years, Town Meeting members have approved about $600,000 for the renovations. The building also receive a new boiler system along with other upgrades inside, including energy efficient lighting.

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