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    Brittany Smith, of Athol, is accused in the 2016 homicides of Thomas Harty, 95, and Joanna Fisher, 77, during an invasion of their home.

    GREENFIELD -- Jurors are now being seated in the murder trial of Brittany Smith, the second of two suspects in an Oct. 5, 2016 home invasion that left a 95-year-old Orange man dead and his 77-year-old wife fatally wounded, according to the office of Northwestern District Attorney District Attorney David Sullivan.

    Smith, 29, of Athol, has pleaded not guilty to charges in the deaths of Thomas Harty and Joanna Fisher, who prosecutors say were relaxing at home when Smith and Joshua Hart, 25, also of Athol, entered the house and attacked them.

    Hart and Smith were apprehended days later in Virginia.

    Earlier this month, Hart was convicted on two counts of first degree murder, and faces a mandatory minimum sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

    Hart and Smith, indicted in December, are being tried separately in Franklin Superior Court.

    Smith's lawyer, Mary Ann Stamm, last week requested a change in venue and limits on courtroom use of photos of victims' bodies, according to the Greenfield Recorder. Judge John Agostini has yet to rule on those motions.

    At the time of her arrest, Smith was also wanted in Alaska on theft charges.

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    Daniel Atkins, 33, was sentenced in Hampden Superior Court to state prison for drugs and guns.

    SPRINGFIELD -- City police were watching a Central Street porch in May 2017 when a woman walked up to a man there and made what looked like a drug purchase.

    The woman was stopped afterward and had five bags of heroin in her sock.

    Police, who had been watching the Central Street address, saw Daniel Atkins get into the back seat of a van and, as police followed, lunge toward the other side, Hampden Assistant District Attorney Katharine A. Johnston said Monday.

    When the van was stopped, police found a loaded 9 mm gun with seven rounds under the rear passenger seat, she said.

    Atkins, a 33-year-old father of three, pleaded guilty Monday in Hampden Superior Court to distribution of heroin, subsequent offense, and possession of a firearm with a prior violent or drug conviction.

    Judge Michael Callan adopted the recommendation agreed upon by prosecution and defense and sentenced Atkins, of Chicopee, to six to eight years in state prison.

    Charges of illegal possession of ammunition and possession of a firearm with a defaced serial number were dropped as part of the plea agreement for Atkins, who was represented by Daniel R. Bergin. 

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    The four people inside the car threw beer bottles and other items at the cruiser, police said, then sped off.

    As Littleton police tried to pull over a car in front of the police station after getting a report of erratic driving, the four people inside the car started throwing beer bottles at the cruiser, driving onto the highway and starting a chase that spanned multiple towns, officials said.

    It was around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday when Littleton police got the report of an erratic driver on Route 119, according to a statement from Police Chief Matthew King. An officer saw the car, a 2017 silver Subaru Crosstrek with Connecticut plates, in front of the police station.

    The four people inside the car threw beer bottles and other items at the cruiser, police said, then sped off.

    The officer followed the Subaru which was driving at speeds of about 75 and 80 miles per hour, onto Interstate 495 and then onto Route 2 westbound, police said. 

    Next, the Subaru exited the highway at Route 111 in Harvard, when the driver drove onto Route 2 eastbound and exited at Taylor Street.

    Then, the Subaru drove into Boxborough from Route 111 and then into Acton.

    The chase ended there, as the Subaru crashed into another vehicle. No one was injured.

    During the pursuit, officers learned that the four suspects inside the car were accused of shoplifting at the Shaw's Supermarket in Groton, police said.

    Police were familiar with the four people inside the Subaru.

    John Hickey, 31, of Everett, was in the driver's seat, police said. Also inside the car were Dylan Brunetto, 27, of Billerica, Felicia Drew, 31, of Pepperell, and Gregory Tammaro, 28, of Groton.

    Hickey is facing charges including conspiracy, negligent operation of a motor vehicle, speeding, operating a motor vehicle with a revoked license and failing to stop for police.

    Brunetto was charged with conspiracy and arrested on a warrant for a different shoplifting incident. 

    Drew and Tammaro were both charged with conspiracy and shoplifting more than $100 by concealing merchandise.

    The four were expected to be arraigned in Ayer District Court on Tuesday.

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    MEMA and other resource agencies will meet Thursday with victims of the Powdermill fire in Westfield

    WESTFIELD -- Massachusetts Emergency Management Association representatives and other relief resource agencies will meet Thursday with victims of the Powdermill Village apartments fire.

    Westfield Community Outreach Coordinator Amber Danahey said MEMA will provide information on all aspects of assistance available through the state, including the Department of Mental Health/Crisis Counseling, Department of Elder Affairs, Department of Transitional Assistance, Office of Refugee and Immigration, Public Health and Department of Children and Families.

    City departments and aid agencies that will be in attendance include the housing authority, health, fire and police departments, the Red Cross and Salvation Army.

    The meeting is 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Powdermill Village on Union Street. Russian and Spanish translators will be on site to assist.

    A three-alarm fire was caused by cigarette butts put out in a plastic plant pot on a balcony. The fire quickly spread throughout Building 5, and the four center apartments were destroyed. Adjacent apartments suffered heavy damage from fire, heat, smoke and water, and residents of all 22 units in the building were evacuated.

    Property owner Peabody Properties convened a meeting Monday at the complex to help residents begin transitioning to new homes. Peabody issued checks to all displaced families.

    Donations are being accepted at the Powdermill Village Community center, but there are no further clothing needs. Other donation inquiries may be made to Phyllis Ortona of the tenant board at 413-977-2886.

    Mayor Brian P. Sullivan said he is grateful for all assistance offered to victims. "Understand that these families are shocked and scared because of the change in their lives happened in a split second," he said. "Take a moment to be thankful for what we have. It can change in a heartbeat."

    Sullivan said city employees are participating in dress-down days to raise funds to help the victims. Sullivan and Danahey said numerous city businesses have reached out to offer assistance as well.

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    Holyoke City Councilor Jossie M. Valentin said the election of President Donald Trump in 2016 has energized Democrats.

    HOLYOKE -- City Councilor Jossie M. Valentin has been chosen Democrat of the year by the Holyoke Democratic City Committee.

    "The work of the Holyoke Democratic City Committee is focused on principles and values - the values of the Democratic Party, the values of our community, the ability to turn toward each other rather than away," said Ray Drewnowski, chairman of the Holyoke Democratic City Committee.

    "Our work is about building up one another and lending others a hand. Jossie puts those principles and values into practice and goes above and beyond to ensure that everyone's voice is heard. 

    "Her strong advocacy for the Latino and LGBTQ communities have made her a recognizable voice throughout our area and commonwealth. She is not afraid to speak truth to power, she is not afraid to disagree - respectfully - with others to speak to what she believes is right," he said in an email Saturday.

    The award was presented to Valentin, the Council's Ward 4 representative, April 18 at Jay's Bed and Breakfast, 1109 Dwight St. The committee's executive board voted after receiving nominations from members, he said.

    Valentin said she was honored.

    "Dems have had some rough patches, especially since the 2016 presidential primary, but at the end of the day we stand together as a community to fight the disaster we have witnessed every day in the White House since January of last year. This change in administration has woken a lot of people up and I'm optimistic about what we can accomplish at all levels of government," Valentin said.

    State Rep. Aaron M. Vega, D-Holyoke, said the committee chose an other deserving recipient.

    "Jossie's commitment to her community extends from her work as a ward councilor to her role at HCC (Holyoke Community College) and her volunteer work both locally and all she did in Puerto Rico after the hurricane," Vega said.

    "She is a great role model for other women, particularly to women of color, who are looking to run for office and take on leadership roles in their community," he said.

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    Nathanial Ramos, 18, of Springfield, admitted to his guilt for involuntary manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Demarcus Johnson at Overlook Drive and Island Pond Road in September 2014. Watch video

    SPRINGFIELD -- Nathanial Ramos, 18, on Tuesday admitted he was responsible in the fatal shooting of Demarcus Johnson in Springfield in 2014.

    Ramos was 15 when he hit Johnson in the head with his gun during an attempted robbery. The gun went off at the time and the bullet went into Johnson's skull and brain, Assistant District Attorney Max Bennett said.

    Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney, sitting in Juvenile Court, accepted Ramos' admission of guilt as a youthful offender. The language used in court was that Ramos was "adjudicated" as a youthful offender for involuntary manslaughter.

    The law requires a pretrial sentencing report for youthful offenders be prepared by the state probation department before sentencing. Bennett and defense lawyer Jeffrey Brown are recommending the same sentence of 20 to 22 years.

    The first part will be served as a commitment to the state Department of Youth Services, and at age 21 custody will be transferred to the state Department of Corrections.

    Sentencing will be July 9 at 2 p.m. Ramos, of Springfield, also admitted to the crimes of carrying a weapon illegally and armed assault with intent to rob.

    Johnson, 38, of East Hartford, Connecticut, was found with a gunshot wound to his head shortly before 5 a.m. on Sept. 7, 2014, near the corner of Overlook Drive and Island Pond Road in East Forest Park. He died two days later in Baystate Medical Center.

    Four people had been charged with murder in Johnson's death. Murder charges were dropped against Radames Llanos, 16 at the time of the shooting; Doris Pessolano, 35; and Shacolby Merriman, 27. The three still face charges in relation to the attempted robbery of Johnson.

    Bennett said in the early morning hours the day of the crime, Ramos was in a car driven by Merriman, with Llanos as another passenger. They went to a gas station to meet Pessolano, a drug dealer who lived next store to Ramos.

    Pessolano offered to talk to a man who had just pulled into the gas station to find out what he had to steal. Pessolano and Johnson decided to go somewhere more secluded to "do drugs and party," Bennett said.

    Ramos, Llanos and Merriman planned to follow Johnson and Pessolano and rob Johnson. Ramos and Llanos ran to Johnson's car.

    "The defendant then pointed the gun at Demarcus Johnson and demanded that he empty his pockets. ... After change was emptied out of the victim's pockets and a watch was taken from his body, the defendant struck Mr. Johnson in the head with his gun. Immediately following that contact the gun discharged directly into the top of Mr. Johnson's head," Bennett said.

    A group of Ramos' family members, including his mother, were in the courtroom.

    On the other side were family members of Johnson, including his wife and mother.

    Bennett read a victim impact statement from Donya Johnson, Demarcus Johnson's wife and the mother of their twin boys.

    She wrote, "Ethan and Julian were just 3 years old when he passed. They loved him impossibly -- playing, talking and laughing with him. ... My heart bleeds for these sweet children.

    "Understand that this tragedy is a life-changing event for us. It has rocked us to the core and will greatly affect me and my children for many many years," she wrote. "It is my hope and wish that the ones responsible for Demarcus' death will have adequate time to reflect on their deeds and eventually recognize the everlasting pain it has caused my family."

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    The ceremony known as National Arbor Day began in Nebraska in 1872.

    HOLYOKE -- Two fruit trees will be planted at Donahue School at 210 Whiting Farms Road as part of the city's Arbor Day ceremony Friday at 2 p.m.

    City Forester John Twohig will help students plant the trees at the event that will include music, poetry and remarks by state Rep. Aaron M. Vega, D-Holyoke, and Mayor Alex B. Morse, a press release said.

    Arbor Day began April 10, 1872  in Nebraska at the behest of state agricultural official J. Sterling Morton, according to Time magazine.

    National Arbor Day in which individuals and groups are encouraged to plant trees is celebrated each year on the last Friday in April.

    The city ceremony will take place rain or shine, the press release said.

    For more information call the Parks and Recreation Department at 1-322-5620.

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    Four 'Gateway Cities,' the state's former regional economic hubs, were among the 20 communities with the highest unemployment rates in Massachusetts.

    Four of the state's former regional economic hubs known as "Gateway Cities"  were among the 20 Massachusetts communities with the highest unemployment rates in March, according to data released Tuesday. 

    Fall River's unemployment rate of 7.8 percent was over twice the statewide rate of 3.8 percent. Lawrence and New Bedford both had rates of 7.3 percent, while Springfield posted a rate of 6.5 percent.

    Worcester's rate of 4 percent was higher than the statewide average, but lower than the city's rate of 4.1 percent in February and 4.3 percent in March 2017. 

    Those data points are included in the latest round of figures on local labor markets -- including numbers for March 2018, February 2018 and March 2017 -- released by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development and the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    The national average was 4.1 percent in March 2018.

    At 2.1 percent unemployment, Cambridge and Brookline had the state's lowest rates outside the tiny island town of Gosnold.

    Somerville, Longmeadow, Northampton, Everett and Medford were among the communities with rates under 3 percent.

    At 6.7 percent, Ludlow had one of the highest rates in the state outside of Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard. The town's rate was down from the 7.2 percent recorded in February 2018 and 7.3 percent in March 2017. 

    The Gateway Cities of Holyoke and Fitchburg, meanwhile, had rates of 5.6 percent and 5.5 percent respectively. 

    Boston's rate was 3.1 percent in March, slightly lower than the 3.3 percent recorded in March 2017. 

    Springfield's March rate was slightly lower than February's, and lower than the 6.9 percent recorded in March 2017. 

    Local jobless numbers are not adjusted for seasonal changes in the labor market, so year-to-year comparisons are often an illustration of what's going on in an economy. 

    Without seasonal adjustments, communities where tourism is a major economic driver often rank at the top of the list. The state's two highest unemployment rates in March were in Provincetown, at 22.4 percent, and Truro, at 14.8 percent. 

    The rate in both towns was slightly lower, though, than a year ago.

    The number of people with jobs increased year-over-year in most of the state's cities and towns, falling only in 11 communities -- all of which are in Berkshire County. The number of employed people in Pittsfield, for example, fell just slightly, from 20280 in March 2017 to 20,261 in March 2018.  

    Springfield saw its number of employed people rise from 59,165 people in March 2017 to 60,487 in March 2018. The city's labor force also grew to 60,487 in March 2018, from 59,165 in March 2017.

    The number of employed people in Boston rose from 361,657 in March 2017 to 369,322 in March 2018. 

    In Worcester, the number of people with jobs rose from 88,142 in March 2017 to 90,280 in March 2018. 

    Jobless numbers come from a survey of households. Jobs numbers come from a survey of employers. The numbers have nothing to do with a person's eligibility for unemployment insurance.

    An interactive map prepared by the state is here:

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    Read obituaries from The Republican newspaper in Springfield, Massachusetts.

    Click below to read Tuesday's obituaries from The Republican:

    Obituaries from The Republican, April 24, 2018


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    Helen Brady, of Concord, the sales and business director for the Boston Pops, is challenging Democratic auditor Suzanne Bump.

    Republican Helen Brady announced Tuesday that she will run against Massachusetts auditor Suzanne Bump, a Democrat, in the 2018 election.

    Brady, who lives in Concord, is the sales and business director for the Boston Pops. She has worked for the Boston Symphony Orchestra for 30 years.

    Brady said she is running on a platform of "transparency, neutrality and full accountability." 

    Brady, in a press release, criticized Bump for accepting a pay raise passed by the Legislature last year and for not doing enough on waste, fraud and abuse.

    "I am stunned at the State Auditor's inability to play an active and aggressive role in rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse," Brady said in a statement. "The Auditor's refusal to stand up and fight for taxpayers is made all the more shameful by her willingness to accept a massive increase to her taxpayer-funded salary.

    "As a political outsider, I'll be accountable to my constituents, not the Beacon Hill bureaucracy," Brady said.

    Her slogan is "Give 'Em Helen."

    Brady has previously made small donations to the Republican State Committee, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, State Rep. and U.S. Senate candidate Geoff Diehl, R-Whitman, and State Rep. David Nangle, D-Lowell.

    Brady formed a campaign committee in 2016 to run for state representative in the 14th Middlesex District. She won the Republican primary unopposed, but lost to Democrat Cory Atkins, 60 percent to 36 percent, in the general election.

    She grew up in South Weymouth and attended the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

    Bump was elected auditor in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. She is running for a third term.

    Autumn McLaughlin, a spokeswoman for Bump's campaign, said Bump is a national leader among state auditors and her work in auditing and information technology innovation has won national awards. She has identified millions of dollars in public assistance fraud.

    "Her office has identified more than $1.3 billion worth of savings, inefficiencies, misspending and fraud and has changed state agency operations in fundamental ways," McLaughlin said. "Throughout her time in office, she's grown a grassroots network of supporters, ready to spread her message of increasing accountability and improving government performance."

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    Two people suffered non-life threatening injuries when the pikcup truck they were in crashed into a tree on Route 5 in Holyoke near the intersection with Lincoln Street at about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.

    HOLYOKE -- Two people had to be extricated from the wreckage of a pickup truck after it crashed into a tree Tuesday afternoon on Northampton Street near its intersection with Lincoln Street.

    Holyoke Fire Department spokesman Kevin Cavagnac said the 3:30 p.m. crash pinned the two occupants of a Nissan pickup in the wreckage until firefighters were able to use hydraulic cutters, spreaders and rams to peel the top of the truck away and lift the dashboard off the lap of one of the occupants. 

    Cavagnac said the two occupants were transported to an area hospital with what he called "non-life threatening" injuries. 

    The cause of the crash remains under investigation. 

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    Fire Chief Mike Spanknebel, a member of the study committee, said the committee will discuss its reasons for the recommendation at the Select Board meeting Wednesday night.

    HADLEY -- There could be a change in emergency medical services in town in the upcoming fiscal year: The Ambulance Study Committee is recommending that the three-year contract for service be awarded to Action EMS and not to Amherst.

    Fire Chief Mike Spanknebel, a member of the study committee, said the committee will discuss its reasons for the recommendation at the Select Board meeting Wednesday night. The board will then have to decide.

    "It's no reflection on the service in Amherst," he said. 

    Action EMS is offering service for $267,500 the first year and increasing to $282,250 the second year and $297,737 the following year. 

    Molly Keegan, a committee member, said Amherst offered to provide service for $200,000 the first year and $245,000 the second year of a two-year contract.

    Amherst Town Manager Paul Bockelman said as far as he knew talks were ongoing between Amherst and Hadley. He wasn't prepared to comment on what a loss of the contract would mean for the town. 

    Amherst provides service to Hadley for about $140,000 a year, according to the Hadley budget. 

    The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in Town Hall. Action EMS has a facility at Cross Path and Route 9. The Wilmington-based company signed a contract with Holyoke last year.

    With Town Meeting set for next week, Town Administrator David Nixon said the town wanted to award a contract before that meeting. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

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    With 7,500 expected to attend the Cardi B concert Wednesday night at the Mullins Center, the Amherst Fire Department is putting on additional emergency personnel.

    AMHERST -- With 7,500 expected to attend the Cardi B concert Wednesday night at the Mullins Center, the Amherst Fire Department is putting on additional emergency personnel.

    And Fire Chief Tim Nelson has a message for students attending the show that they might hear Cardi B perform in song: "Be Careful."

    Staffing will be the same as for Friday and Saturday nights during the school semester, Deputy Chief Lindsay Stromgren said in an email.

    All five ambulances will be staffed.

    At the Mullins Center, the department will have three paramedics to run triage plus three outside ambulances on standby.

    Nelson said it will be the largest concert crowd in some time, and his department has a formula to predict how much it will be needed.

    Based on the numbers of tickets given to University of Massachusetts students, he's expecting the department to treat about 37 students and need to transport a dozen to 18.

    "It's been a while since it's been this large," he said. The department met with the Mullins Center management as well as UMass police and EMS on Monday. 

     "I don't expect it to be crazy," he said, but he wants to be prepared. 

    He said he has notified area hospitals to be prepared. "It's (Wednesday) not a night to expect activity," he said.

    He had advice for attendees: "Just be smart. Go in and enjoy the show. Don't make bad choices."

    Nelson said students use the concert as an excuse "to drink and do drugs." But, he said, "That's the way of the world."

    UMass won the free concert because more students here swiped right on Tinder than another institution. Tickets were gone a day after they became available last week.

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    A 15-year-old mother who fled a Newburyport facility Monday morning has been located and is in DCF custody. Her 4-month-old-son was turned over to DCF earlier in the day.

    A 15-year-old mother and her 4-month-old baby son are both in the custody of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families after the girl was found in Springfield sometime Tuesday, Newburyport police said.

    Authorities said Shantel Van Voorhis and her baby, Jacob Van Voorhis, disappeared from the DARE Family Services facility in Newburyport at about 2:30 a.m. Monday.

    The baby was turned over to his biological family in Worcester earlier Tuesday and is in DCF custody as well.

    Alerts were posted by Newburyport police and Massachusetts State Police seeking public help in locating the pair. Police believed Van Voorhis may have left the facility with a friend of hers.

    A vehicle description was posted and that car was found in Springfield earlier today.

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    Fire forced a Ludlow couple from their home Tuesday night as fire damaged a exterior porch. Ludlow firefighters were able to extinguish the fire saving the house.

    LUDLOW - A Ludlow couple was forced from their home after fire damaged an enclosed porch roof.

    Ludlow Fire Department spokesman Captain Richard Machado said the porch roof area of a home at 141 Whitney St., was fully involved in flames when firefighters first arrived at the scene following an 8:30 p.m. call.

    He said the two people living in the two-story, wood-framed home were able to escape with their dog. The homeowner called 911 to report the fire and the first police officer on scene was able to confirm. 

    An "all-call" was put out for all Ludlow Fire Department personnel, including off-duty firefighters, to respond and mutual aid from Wilbraham and Springfield was requested. 

    Machado said the fire was contained to the enclosed area over the porch, with minimal invasion into the interior space of the house. 

    Firefighters continued to overhaul, or search for possible hidden fire within the structure, for over an hour after the visible flames were out. 

    The exact cause of the fire remains under investigation.

    Machado said the American Red Cross was called in to assist the homeowners until the house is habitable.