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MCLA Towers Evacuated for Strong Odor; Students Taken to BMC

By Tammy Daniels
iBerkshires Staff
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A hazmat team prepares to enter the MCLA towers on Saturday night after a strong smell forced the dormitory to be evacuated.

Updated at 9 p.m. on Sept. 21:  Tower B was reopened as of 6 p.m. on Monday night.

Tower A remains closed, although testing has not found any contaminant or source of the odor that caused the dormitory's evacuation on Saturday.

"On Sunday, September 20, Clean Harbors, an environmental contractor who specializes in emergency response air testing, was hired by the College to conduct a detailed evaluation of the building. Varieties of technology were used throughout the entire area of Berkshire Towers. These tests showed no traces of contaminants," according to a statement from the college.

Further testing was done on Monday with results expected by Tuesday. Representatives from North Adams Fire Department, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Indoor Air Quality Program, and MCLA Facilities Management Department also did a walk-through on Monday.

Updated, write-thru, new photos; 11:08 p.m.; latest update at 9:22 a.m., Sept. 20, includes possible cause of odor.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Nearly 30 MCLA students were taken to the hospital on Saturday night after being exposed to an unknown substance that caused the evacuation of the Berkshire Towers dormitory.

According to a statement from Massachusetts College of LIberal Arts on Sunday morning, "indications of ammonia were found but no source was identified. The college has arranged for further air quality testing to ensure the safety of Berkshire Towers residents."

The Berkshire Towers will remain closed for the short term until then and students residing in the dorms will be offered alternative housing. Classes will resume Monday as scheduled.

The students who were taken to the hospital for evaluation have returned to campus.

James Stakenas, vice president of administration and finance of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, said on Saturday night the the Regional Center for Poison Control had recommended taking the students to the hospital as a "hyper precaution."

"The students are being transported by MCLA vans with EMT folks," Stakenas said. "Again, it's a hyper precaution and the parents of these students are being contacted."

Students on the fifth floor of Tower A had complained of an unidentifiable smell and throat irritation at about 5:30. The Fire Department was called, which in turn contacted the Department of Fire Services Hazardous Materials Response for the tier 2 response.

"They are going to monitor and check for different types of chemicals," said Fire Chief Stephen Meranti. "There's not much for chemicals — there is no refrigeration, no air conditioning, no aerosol."

Meranti said the focus is on Tower A, the northern of the two high-rise dorms on Church Street.

"We don't have any reports of anything in Tower B," he said.

The chief said the evaluation is very labor intensive, with suited hazmat personnel rotating through the building.

"They're still metering, they're still monitoring, it's a methodical process. They have to go floor by floor to check the area," he said. "You can only be in there for a certain amount of time. They do what they can. they come out and they send another team .... it's a continual rotation.

"It's a long drawn-out process."

Two teams in two vehicles arrived at 8:25 and at 8:55 p.m., with the first team entering the building shortly before 9 p.m.

Meranti did not know what they were measuring for but anticipated they would be able to do an evaluation onsite with their specialized equipment.  

Twenty-seven students who were on or near the fifth floor, or who complained of similar symptoms, were taken to Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield and to its North Adams campus. They were required to shed their clothing and to be transported in Tyvek suits as part of the hospital's decontamination procedure. Meranti said that was "standard procedure."

Earlier in the evening, several students had said they were told to the gather in the towers' lobby, then left the building when the alarms went off.

"Students detected a smell at about 5:30 and notified the Fire Department," Stakenas said. "The students were evacuated to Venable Hall."

Both towers were expected to be closed for hours, if not the entire night. The city was providing its emergency shelter trailer and was able to help provide food and other comforts. Pizza from Pizza Works was also ordered for the displaced students stuck in Venable's gymnasium because the cafeteria had closed.

Stakenas estimated about 80 students had been evacuated; the towers hold about 250 but many may have left for the weekend or were elsewhere.

North Adams Ambulance Service stationed an ambulance near the gym. Also on scene is the mobile incident command vehicle, North Adams firefighters and police, campus police, and the North Adams Ambulance rehab trailer.

Church Street was closed between Blackinton Street and Hoosac Hall.

There were a few students frustrated with the inability to reach their dorms. "I just want to get some pants," said one girl. Another was annoyed that she was unable to find out when they would be able to get back in or where they would be sleeping.

Stakenas said students should be checking their phones for updates through the college's alert system.

Two students said they were unable to get prescription medicine that was in their dorm rooms. Catherine Holbrook, vice president of student services, said students in those cases should contact college staff to assess how critical the need is; North Adams Ambulance General Manager John Meaney Jr. noted that in an emergency, they can call 911.

Holbrook also encouraged students to contact their parents as soon as possible.  

"Students should be talking to their parents and letting them know they're OK," she said. "There are a lot of worried parents contacting our police and the town, it's tying up the emergency numbers."

 

Strong odor forces the evacuation of MCLA Berkshire towers dormitory on Saturday night. The hazmat team was on the scene along with local fire and police. Some 30 students were affected.

Posted by iBerkshires.com on Saturday, September 19, 2015

 

     

North Adams Motorcycle Accidents Injures Two

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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A Clarksburg man and a Pittsfield woman were transported to the hospital after sideswiping a parked car with a motorcycle early Thursday morning.

William Valotta, 25, of Clarksburg was traveling east on East Main Street with passenger Nikki Shaw of Pittsfield when they collided with the parked car at about 12:45 a.m., according to North Adams Police.

Police reported that Valotta was found pinned under the motorcycle and Shaw was located a few feet away.

Both were transported by North Adams Ambulance Service to the hospital.

     

Tractor-Trailers Stuck Under North Adams Trestle Twice in One Month

Staff Reports
iBerkshires
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A stuck truck closed off traffic on Church Street on Monday.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A section of Church Street was blocked off for nearly three hours on Monday afternoon after yet another tractor-trailer got stuck under the railroad trestle.

A trailer hauling 25,000 pounds of machined metal, reportedly for a Disney ride, became wedged under the trestle at about 4:15 p.m. after leaving Morrison Berkshire on Church Street. The delivery was on its way to Minneapolis.

Traffic was blocked between Davenport Street and Ashland Street. The truck was pulled out from under the trestle shortly before 7 but it was going to take some time to stabilize it before Joseph Dean of Dean's Quality Auto & Truck Repair could remove it from the scene.

The top of the trailer was peeled back nearly halfway and Dean said it had broken in half. Air was let out of the tires and the cargo removed by Morrison Berkshire before an attempt was made to pull it out.

Pan Am Railways also had a representative at the scene and all train traffic was halted until the trestle could be inspected.

The trestle dates back at least a century and its clearance is posted at 12-foot-6 on the south end and 12-foot on the north. Signs warn drivers of the approach but several trucks seem to get stuck under it every year, and occasionally under the Ashland Street trestle. One of the most recent incidents occurred on July 30.

A neighbor said he frequently sees trucks trying to back up on the south side. Drivers don't seem to realize they are not going to fit under until too late — or that the slope on the north side of the bridge may be a factor.

The semi left the scene shortly after 7 p.m. and was slowly escorted to Dean's on Curran Highway.

     

Motorist Crashes Fence at North Adams Ambulance

By Jack Guerino
iBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A Williamstown woman is being charged with negligent driving after crashing into the fence outside the North Adams Ambulance Service on River Street.

According to the police log, Gail Massari, 50, was eastbound in a 2001 Pontiac Grand Am when it crossed the middle line and slammed into the decorative fence and flagpole at the edge of the service's parking lot at the corner of River and Harris streets shortly after noon on Saturday.

The pole was bent over and at least two sections of the fence are crumpled. Police and fire responded to the incident but no one was injured. Another vehicle, a 2009 Toyota Camry, was also damaged.

Amalio Jusino, assistant manager of the ambulance service, said the woman was driving down Massachusetts Avenue when she crossed lanes and crashed into the fencing, causing damage.

"She stated she was petting her dog and was not able to navigate the corner and struck our flag pole and fence and damaged one vehicle," Jusino said.

The Pontiac was towed by Cariddi Auto. Massari was summonsed with charges of negligent operation of a motor vehicle and a marked lanes violation.

     

North Adams Woman Found Guilty Of Social Security Fraud

Staff Reports
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A North Adams woman was ordered to pay $72,635 back to the federal Social Security Agency after being convicted of fraudulently obtaining Social Security disability benefits.
 
Nancy Killackey, 57, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Mark Mastroianni on Monday to 18 months of probation and to pay the more than $70,000 in restitution. 
 
Killackey received the money from the agency by intentionally concealing the wages her husband earned. She collected the money from Jan. 1, 2002 through Oct. 1, 2013.  
 
On July 21, 2011, she told federal agents that the man was not her husband. When asked why he had claimed they were married, she described him as "a big, fat liar" and "an idiot off his medication," federal authorities said. She then claimed that the date her husband listed as their wedding date was actually a date he had a heart attack.
 
Killackey was found to have received the benefits that she was ineligible for when prosecuted in U.S. Federal Court in Springfield.
 
Edited at 12:37p.m., Aug. 13, to clarify the benefits were for disability.
     
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