Saturday, March 12, 2011

Keeping On

Bill and Jan Smolinski Continue To Fight For Legislation That Would Alter The Way Law Enforcement Officers Respond To The Report Of A Missing Adult. Slowly, and Against Strong Police Resistence, It Appears Progress Is Being Made

 State Rep. Vickie Nardello, left, talks with Jan and Bill Smolinski

   Jan and Bill Smolinski refuse to stop searching for the body of their son, Billy, who was murdered - and buried - in the lower Naugatuck Valley area six and half years ago. During their quest for truth the Smolinskis have clashed with local, state and federal police who have mishandled critical evidence and lost seven DNA samples in the case.

   Almost anything that could go wrong in an investigation, has gone wrong. The Smolinski’s experience with police has been a gauntlet of apathy, incompetence and rudeness. There have been a few caring officers who have tried to do the right thing, but the investigation is now too compromised to be easily solved. The main suspects are liars and drug addicts who view prison as a revoling door - they’re in, they’re out, they’re back in.

   The Smolinskis have been so outspoken, and credible, that the case has drawn intense media coverage which has included an hour long special on the Discovery ID channel that has been aired around the world. There has been so much attention on the case that Jan and Bill Smolinski have used the botched investigation to trigger local, state and federal reform in the way police officers investigate and handle reports of missing adults. 

   The Waterbury Police Department has changed the way it handles reports of missing adults, but the Police Chiefs Association in Connecticut has continued to oppose efforts by the Smolinskis to bring their training into the 21st Century.

   The impact of Billy Smolinskis murder has rippled through the halls of Congress, and triggered Billy’s Law, which unanimously passed the House of Represntaives last year before stalling in the Senate. Efforts to re-introduce the bill are underway this year.

   The following comments were made by Janice Smolinski during a public hearing at the state capital in mid-February. She was testifying before the Public Safety Committee.

                                                                                 Joan Hartley, co-chair of the Public Safety Committee

     Good Afternoon. My name is Janice Smolinski and I’m here to testify in full support of Bill #6113, an act concerning the investigations into missing persons.

   Our family’s private Hell began six and half years ago when my 31-year-old son, Billy, vanished from his life.

   A sluggish response from the Waterbury Police Department – typical in the case of adult missing persons – started a domino affect that reverberates to this day. Impossibly strong leads were not followed, evidence was destroyed, seven DNA samples were lost, and basic information from Billy’s case was not entered into national data banks for three years.

   At the time of his disappearance Billy was involved in an explosive love triangle. This case involves a gravedigger, a long distance trucking company, a school bus driver, a politician, and a violent group of drug addicts.

   My son walked into a hornet’s nest.

                                                                                 Billy Smolinski and his best pal, Harley

   Law enforcement officers in the FBI, the Seymour Police Department, the Shelton Police Department and the Connecticut State Police have all told us Billy was murdered in August 2004, and buried somewhere in the lower Naugatuck Valley.

   Efforts to recover his body continue to this day.

   Despite overwhelming evidence of foul play, the Waterbury Police Department told a reporter that Billy was probably having a beer in Europe and would come home when he was ready. That comment was cruel and insensitive, and was uttered 18 months after Billy was murdered.

   Unable to get the Waterbury police to seriously investigate Billy’s disappearance, we hired private investigators, brought in private search dogs and began to piece the puzzle together ourselves. Our search for Billy brought us into the hornet’s nest in Woodbridge, where I was arrested for hanging a missing person poster of my son, and sued by Billy’s ex-girlfriend, Madeline Gleason.

   But our search revealed more than political and police corruption, we stumbled blindly into the world of the missing and unidentified dead. We learned that 160,000 other Americans are missing, and that coroners and medical examiners hold the remains of 40,000 unidentified dead. This is a national disaster.

   The president of the International Homicide Association, Bill Hagmaier, has publicly stated that a majority of the missing have been murdered, and are now the unidentified dead. The way to cross-reference these two groups is with DNA sampling. We live in a time when the most popular show in America is CSI, yet most of our local and state police lack basic working knowledge of DNA. They don’t know how to properly collect DNA or enter it into the proper databases, like NamUs.

     This can only change through training.

     There are hundreds of unsolved homicides in Connecticut and 700 missing persons, yet the police in Connecticut continue to oppose this legislation. Why?

   Four years ago West Hartford Police Chief James Strillacci, the head of the Police Chief’s Association, testified that legislation was unnecessary because there was no problem. Yet weeks later a missing 15-year-old girl was discovered hidden beneath the stairs of a home in a West Hartford, Chief Strillacci’s town.

   Two years ago Chief Strillaci again opposed efforts to reform the way law enforcement officers respond to the report of a missing adult. Shockingly, Chief Strillacci told Channel 3 news that he “wasn’t going to risk live people to find a body.”

   Chief Strillacci’s statements are insensitive and outrageous, and provide further proof why the Connecticut State Legislature needs to take a bold stand to protect the safety of our citizens.

   One hundred and fifty years ago the great black abolitionist Frederick Douglas said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”

   The police in Connecticut have the power now, and despite irrefutable evidence; they refuse to acknowledge they have substandard training in DNA collection, the usage of national data banks, and how they respond to a report of a missing adult.

    Bill #6113 will change that.

   We can no longer allow the police to obstruct efforts to improve their training. It is time for law enforcement to catch up to the remarkable advancements of science. Passing Bill #6113 will make Connecticut a safer place to live. Although this legislation will not help my son Billy, it will help the thousands of families that will experience the nightmare of a missing loved one in the decades to come.

   And for them, and for the safety of all our citizens, the legislators of Connecticut must demand this change.                  

The River


 It was the best day the Naugtauck River has experienced in 100 years. The river received so much attention on February 24th that one could imagine her embarrassed, and blushing red for old time sake. This blush, however, was triggered by admirers gushing at her beauty, not from the red dyes that were pumped into her as industrial waste into a glorified toilet.

     Times have changed, and two events on February 24th showcased the shift.

   First, a Naugatuck River Forum was staged inside the Mattatuck Museum that brought together developers, businessmen, political leaders, community activists, environmentalists and state and federal officials to discuss the future of the 39 mile long river.

   It was an historic gathering, and the enthusiasm in the room bodes well for a river that has been abused, neglected and poisoned. If the river were human, the communities up and down the Naugatuck River would be in prison for murder.

   This generation has a chance at redemption, and the gathering in the Mattatuck Museum signaled a collective will to seize that opportunity.

   Hours after the river forum concluded, a small gathering took place inside the newly renovated Aldermanic chambers in downtown Waterbury that re enforced just how far the river has come. It was the monthly meeting of the Waterbury Greenway Committee and it was announced that a New York based company had been selected to design and oversee construction of the first phase of a 7.1 mile greenway project in the South End of Waterbury.

   The company, RBA, has successfully completed the Brooklyn Greenway, the Manhattan Waterfront project, and the Hudson River Greenway. They have a world class track record of designing greenways, and the news electrified members of the Waterbury committee. After years of planning and routing studies, the greenway in Waterbury is one step closer to reality.

   Ann Burton started the day off by addressing the 150 attendees of the Naugatuck River Forum with a short and eloquent talk.

   “The Naugatuck River has made the valley what it is,” Burton said. “It has given life to settlements, farms and factories. The river has created great prosperity for us and for the whole country.”

   Burton is a member of the steering committee that planned the forum, and is heavily involved in an environmental committee of the Connecticut Community Foundation, which co-hosted the event with Rivers Alliance of CT.

   “The Naugatuck River has given us life,” Burton said, “and we’ve drained the life from it.”

   Burton went on to describe the efforts of environmentalists to restore vitality to the river and said there is now, “life and animals back in the river. We are in the early stages of recovery, and we are gathered here today to find ways to work together to restore the Naugatuck River.”

  Congressman Chris Murphy called the gathering a “who’s who of the past, present and future of the Naugatuck River.” Murphy went on to describe the damage inflicted on the river “a testament to what man can do to a river with dyes and toxins”, and the forum was “a testament to what man can do to undo that damage.”

   Before the forum considered development and environmental issues, Laura Wildman, of Princeton Hydro, gave a concise and devastating history of the river. She described the Naugatuck River as an industrial sewer that changed colors every day, and was so toxic at one point that “the river caught on fire.”

   From that horror Wildman now sees a river that will support wildlife, fish, inner tubing and kayaking. ‘We turned our backs to the Naugatuck River for 200 years,” she said. “Now we are turning and facing towards it.”

   The recreational opportunities are exploding. An annual canoe and kayak race draws hundreds of thrill seekers to the river every Spring. Sport fisherman are catching brood stock salmon, and when a fish by-pass is completed this summer at the Tingue Dam in Seymour, ocean going fish like Striped Bass will return.

   Bird watching is getting richer and more rewarding by the month. Three Bald Eagles spent a portion of the winter fishing along the Naugatuck-Waterbury town line, and Wood Ducks, Great Blue Heron and Egrets are now commonly spotted.

   One of the most listened to speakers at the forum was Dan Esty, an environmental professor at Yale University, and Governor Dannel Malloy’s pick to head the newly formed Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Esty is also the co-author of Green to Gold, a book that explores the success modern companies can have by incorporating environmental thinking into their core business strategies.

   Esty, who has not been confirmed yet for his state post, provided keen insight into the thinking of the new Malloy Administration. “Our mission is to help generate jobs,” Esty said. “We need innovation to do things different and better.”

   Esty grew up in Watertown and said the success of the Naugatuck River “is personal” to him. Esty applauded the cooperative spirit at the forum and said collaboration is key to any project receiving funding. “It’s important to look at the issues with a holistic lens,” he said, “and partnerships are critically important.”

     The past thinking in Connecticut was that anything environmental was anti-business, and anything business was anti-environmental.

   “We need to change that thinking because business and the environment do not have to be mutually exclusive,” Esty said. “It is our job to change the spirit, and it begins with answering questions.”

   Sustainable development along the river was explored during a panel discussion that included Alex Conroy, the mastermind behind the successful river development project in downtown Providence. The panel was led by Gary O’Connor, the chairman of the Waterbury Chamber of Commerce.

   “Our ancestors failed to understand the need for economic balance with the environment,” O’Connor said. “Their efforts were not sustainable.”

  The goal of sustainable development now is to find a balance with the enhanced environment to generate economic growth. “Our political leaders need to think about the total watershed,” O’Connor said. “We can no longer think about borders and boundaries. Nature doesn’t work this way.”

    O’Connor’s comment touched on the most provactive theme of the Naugatuck River Forum - how do the diverse stakeholders along the river cobble together to view the river in a holistic way? How do we make regional decisons about the health and vitality of our most precious resource?

   Ideas are being explored to create a Naugatuck River website, and to consider the formation of a regional council, or association, that might govern the river. There are obstacles and special interests to overcome, but the river itself may provide the answer. The greatest asset of the Naugatuck River is it’s power to erode the barriers that have fragmented the communities along its 39 mile stretch. Water can carve through rock, and if the Naugatuck River is to fulfill the astonishing promise that lays ahead, it’s clear, strong currents must erode the human barriers that divide us.