Man on trial for rape dies in crash

10-29 fatal maybe Price

Gilford police investigate the scene at the end of the Gilford Bypass, where Stephen Price of Belmont was found in a Ford Focus. He was pronounced dead at Lakes Region General Hospital. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)


Stephen Price, 66, of Belmont went missing on final day of trial, found in Gilford swamp


LACONIA — The rape trial of a Belmont man took a tragic twist when the defendant failed to return to the courthouse after lunch and was later found dead.

Reliable sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Stephen Price, 66, has been identified as the victim of a fatal motor vehicle accident at the Route 3 end of the Gilford Bypass, that was reported at 1:06 p.m. The circumstances surrounding the crash remain under investigation.

Price's death came at the end of testimony on charges he had sexually assaulted a now 34-year-old woman when she was between 13 and 17 years old. Her allegations came to light after she was charged with stealing jewelry valued at $13,700 from a safe in Price's bedroom. On the day she was to plead guilty to the felony theft, the woman disclosed the alleged abuse to her attorney, sparking the investigation. She was given immunity for the criminal charges so she could testify against Price. The crux of the defense's case was that the woman made up the allegations to avoid jail.

Price had attended all seven days of testimony at Belknap County Superior Court, including Thursday morning, but never came back after the proceedings recessed at 11:15 a.m. and were to resume at 1 p.m.

Three minutes after Price was due back in court, Belmont Police advised their counterparts in Gilford that an officer had been trying to stop a green 2005 Ford Focus SUV that was being driven recklessly through a construction zone on Route 3/11 Bypass. Traveling northbound, the driver left the bypass at the Gilford Avenue then immediately re-entered it by way of the northbound on-ramp. As he approached the hairpin curve at the end of the bypass at high speed, he drove through the reflective barriers and a chain link fence, then over an embankment, before coming to a stop. The Belmont officer abandoned his pursuit, switching off his emergency lights and siren, about a half-mile from where the Ford Focus crashed.

Finding Price in critical condition, emergency personnel from the Gilford Fire Department requested the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Advanced Response Team. The helicopter arrived at approximately 1:58 p.m., but was forestalled from assisting further by adverse weather conditions. Price was taken by ambulance to Lakes Region General Hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.

Back at the Belknap County Superior Court, the jury was kept waiting for about 45 minutes Thursday before the prosecutor and the defense attorney met with the judge behind closed doors to discuss Price's absence. The  judge then decided to allow closing arguments and said the jury would begin its deliberations despite the missing man.

Defense attorney Jim Moir said he has never had a client go missing during a trial. Moir had earlier rested his case, after calling just two witnesses.

At the close of his case, Moir argued outside the earshot of the jury that one of the indictments should be dismissed maintaining the alleged victim failed to testify in sufficient detail that sexual penetration had occurred.

Moir also argued for all four of the charges to be dismissed, as the prosecutor did not ask the alleged victim whether she was ever married to the defendant.

After asking whether the alleged victim was available to be recalled to the witness stand, the judge told the jury they could take a leisurely lunch and return in an hour and 45 minutes. Price never returned, and his cell phone had been left in his wife's car. Once notified of Price's death, the jury was dismissed.

Gilford police and the Belknap Regional Accident Investigation Team are investigating the incident and additional details are being withheld until their investigation is complete.

– Michael Kitch also contributed to this story.

10-29 fatal maybe Price 2

The vehicle crashed through this gate and left few marks. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

Whose idea was it? - City manager disputes claim that city proposed sale of former Lakeport Fire Station property


LACONIA — When the City Council discussed the prospect of selling the Lakeport Fire Station this week City Manager Scott Myers took strong exception to the statement by Erica Blizzard, the owner of Lakeport Landing Marina, to the effect that her offer to buy that property was made in response to an overture from the city.

Speaking to the council Monday, Blizzard said "The city approached me about buying the fire station. I didn't come to you guys. I was approached to buy the fire station to square everything away and try to move on." Her remarks were printed in The Laconia Daily Sun on Wednesday. The phrase "to square everything away" refers to a lawsuit Blizzard brought against the city after the council agreed to sell property Lakeport Landing had leased from the city for 30 years to Irwin Marine. In September a tentative settlement of the litigation was reached through court-ordered mediation. Although the terms of the settlement have not been disclosed, the opportunity to purchase the fire station is among them.

On Wednesday, Myers issued a statement in response to Blizzard's remarks, insisting that, as the city manager, "I did not initiate any contact with Erica Blizzard of Blizzard, Inc. or any representative of Lakeport Landing Marina about the possibility of purchasing the Lakeport Fire Station and abutting properties." Neither, he continued, was he authorized by the City Council to initiate such contact, nor did he engage any third party to initiate such contacts. "If indeed there was someone from the City who initiated contact with Erica Blizzard regarding the possibility of purchasing the Lakeport Fire Station and abutting properties," he said, "that person is not known to me nor were they authorized by me to do so." In closing, he declared "any position contrary to the above statements would not be accurate."

Myers said that he issued what he called "a statement of clarification" after hearing from several residents who suggested that "things are happening out of the public's view." He emphasized that since the litigation was filed all communication between the city and Ms. Blizzard has been conducted through their respective legal counsels."

Blizzard responded with a formal statement, which reads in its entirety as follows: "There were a number of options explored between Blizzard, Inc. and the City concerning the resolution of the lawsuit with the City. The sale of the fire station and related parcels was the option most appealing to the City and Blizzard, Inc. Both of us worked diligently to develop a mutually beneficial proposal that would result in the City selling us the land and permitting Blizzard, Inc. to develop it in a manner consistent with our needs. Hopefully, this will dispel any misimpression that this idea was solely conceived by the City."

Smoke seekers

Civil Air Patrol Scott Davis

J. Scott Davis, a major with the Civil Air Patrol’s New Hampshire Wing, is shown here with one of the planes CAP members use to scout the state for brush fires. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

NH’s Civil Air Patrol provides fire reconnaissance for the state


GILFORD — The Civil Air Patrol, as the civilian auxiliary wing of the U.S. Air Force, has aerospace education, cadet programs and disaster response as its three main missions. But, in New Hampshire, the state wing has another responsibility: patrolling the state for fires. And, according to J. Scott Davis, a major with the Civil Air Patrol, 2016 has been a busy year for fire patrols.
The New Hampshire Wing of the Civil Air Patrol began fire flights about eight years ago. Prior, the state’s Department of Resources and Economic Development contracted with fixed-base operators, who charged more for the services. The Civil Air Patrol is able to provide the service for much less, because they use planes owned by the Air Force and the pilots fly for no other reward than time in the air. The Civil Air Patrol only bills DRED for the operational costs associated with the flight. Davis said many of the pilots consider the fire flights, as they do the Civil Air Patrol in general, as a form of service.
“You do it for the satisfaction of doing it. It’s rewarding, it’s fun, it’s disciplined,” said Davis. “You’re not out there on a joy ride, you’re accomplishing a specific task or a mission.” Many in the Civil Air Patrol have a background that includes military or commercial flying, he said. “It’s a way to stay involved in aviation and to give back.”
And the fire surveillance flights are useful, Davis said, because the unique vantage point of a small-plane pilot makes brush fires easy to spot, even compared to someone in a fire tower. The pilot’s advantage has to do with altitude, obviously, but it also has to do with visual interference. When looking laterally along the ground, an observer is looking through air that is thick with humidity and particulates, such as pollen, pollution and dust. The air is clearer once off the ground.
And, when smoke is spotted from above, it contrasts clearly against the dark ground.
“The smoke is really very identifiable from a plane. We can fly a route and see a lot that the towers can’t,” Davis said. In addition to the location and size of the fire, the pilots can also provide information on nearby water sources, the nearest road access or any obstacles that may get in the way of firefighters.
“I have found several along the Kancamagus Highway, they were just smoldering on the ground,” Davis said.
On high fire danger days, typically in early spring, after the snow has melted but before the leaves have returned to the trees, DRED issues an order for the Civil Air Patrol to scout the state for smoke. There are two routes, one for the southern half of the state and one for the north, both of which take a few hours and can be flown out of Laconia.
“This year we flew 14 or 15 consecutive days,” he said. Though the fire reconnaissance flights are generally a springtime activity, though the dry conditions this year might lead to fire flights this fall, when the trees drop their leaves.



J. Scott Davis, a major in the New Hampshire Wing of the Civil Air Patrol, scouts the state for smoke. (Courtesy photo)