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Businesses Warned of Utility Scam

Staff Reports

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Area businesses are being warned not for fall for a scam targeting their electricity accounts.

At least one business owner fell for the con in which someone calls up claiming to be from National Grid and threatens to turn off the electricity unless the victim pays through GreenDot MoneyPak payment cards.

Williamstown Police Chief Kyle Johnson said four business owners have already contacted him about the scam, which has been floating around at least since this past April.

National Grid, in a press release, said it has "received numerous calls from electric customers saying they have been contacted by phone by individuals claiming to be from National Grid and advising the customers they have a past due balance on their utility bill."

The utility notes that is does contact customers with overdue accounts to offer payment options, "but never demands direct payment over the telephone."

Colleen Taylor of the Freight Yard Pub was contacted by the scammers on Tuesday morning and immediately brought it to the attention of Johnson and iBerkshires and gave us the scammer's number at 801-850-6225 in Provo, Utah. The number appears to be routed through Ymax Communications Corp., purveyors of the magicJack phone service.

We called and spoke first with a man named Mike Wallace who sent us to his "supervisor" Jason Roberts.

Roberts informed us that we needed to purchase those GreenDot cards to pay our bill because the technicians "have a van with every single customer's information, credit card, Social Security, checking routing number, so on and so forth" and if it got stolen, the thief would have all our information.

That's why if there's an hour cancelation they won't accept a check or cash payment.

No, that doesn't make any sense, but the scammers do talk a good line trying to make it sound reasonable. Really, if your utility asks you to go buy some money card at Cumberland Farms — hang up.

National Grid says to call its Customer Contact Center at 1-800-322-3223 if you receive any suspicious calls demanding account information or immediate payment. Western Massachusetts Electric Co. is also aware of the scam, which hit the Springfield area in July. WMECo customers can call 1-877-OK- WMECo.

After getting off the phone with Mr. Roberts, Charles Anderson of the "National Grid Disconnect Department" called us back, saying a technician would arrive at 2 p.m. to disconnect us. We can't wait.

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Mount Greylock High Searched After Threat Rumor

Staff Reports

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Police and school officials searched Mount Greylock Regional High School on Thursday night after a rumored threat.

In two messages to the Mount Greylock community, Principal Mary A. MacDonald said the search for unidentified "contraband" on the school grounds came after a consultation with Department of Children and Families "that an at-risk student might pose a threat."

Police Chief Kyle Johnson, reached Friday night, said an officer assisted school officials in the search along with a state police K-9 unit. Johnson said nothing was found and no one was charged "as the rumor was unfounded."

He said the search had nothing to do with the pursuit of a suspected drug dealer that also occurred on Thursday night.

MacDonald's message late Friday afternoon provided few details, such as when the search occurred. The search did include the fact that the school's crisis management team was assembled.

"We are not at liberty to provide further details, however, we remain vigilant and will communicate with you as the need arises," the principal wrote in Friday's message.

In a message Sunday night, MacDonald clarified that the search had been Thursday night and that there were no students in the building.

"If there was any validity to the allegation, students would not have been allowed to re-enter on Friday, September 6th," she wrote.

The district had done "extensive groundwork" over the summer refining emergency planning, she said, incluidng an all-school evacuation drill with the Fire Department there to observe on Thursday.

"As part of our crisis management planning efforts, we will be sharing aspects of our plan with parents and guardians in the next few weeks."

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State K-9 Unit Aids in Capture of Suspected Drug Dealer

Staff Reports
Good dog: K-9 Hieko with the gun, heroin and U.S. currency found in the subject's possession.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — A state police K-9 unit aided in the capture Thursday night of a suspected drug dealer who fled into the woods after crashing his vehicle.

The suspect, who was not named in the press statement, was reportedly fleeing Berkshire County narcotics detectives. The police were trying to stop the subject's vehicle at about 10 p.m. for illegal narcotics violations when the individual fled on foot.

Sgt. Gene Baker and K-9 Hieko assisted with a search, with Hieko tracking the suspect by using the car's floor mat as a scent article.

Hieko tracked for approximately one mile through back yards, fields and woods, finally locating the suspect hiding behind a tree. Troopers from the Cheshire barracks and narcotics detectives took the person into custody.

Troopers located 280 bags of heroin along the path of the subject's escape route. They also located a loaded 9 mm Glock handgun in the vehicle.

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Williamstown Police Say Murder Rumors Are Untrue

Staff Reports

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Police say if someone was recently raped, murdered and then left on the side of the road, nobody told them.

iBerkshires has fielded inquiries from multiple people over the last two days about a heinous crime. We were asked if about a 12-year-old girl being raped and murdered or if there were two people murdered — both stories ended with the body(s) being left on the side of a Williamstown road. We contacted Williamstown Police and they said that nothing was reported to them.

"If it happened in Williamstown, Mass., then it has not yet been reported to us," Police Chief Kyle Johnson said.

The stories we heard involved Vermont State Police and New York as though the culprits had taken off north after dumping the body(s). We were told traffic had to be rerouted for an investigation.

iBerkshires is betting that with something like this, the Police would hear about it.  

We googled Williamstown, murder, bodies, rape, etc. in various combination in hopes to find where the rumor originated.

In Williamstown, N.J., there was a murder last month. But, other than it being a murder, the rest of the details didn't fit. A body found in Williamstown, N.J. in 2005 made news recently because a new reward was offered. But that didn't really match the stories we heard here either.

We also know locally state Police are searching for the body of James "Jamie" Lusher in a pond in Becket. Lusher was killed 21 years ago when he was 16 at the time. Lewis Lent confessed to that murder and he had previously confessed to killing a 12-year-old girl. So... maybe people are conflating those?

But that is about as far iBerkshires went with investigating the rumor because, frankly, we've seen these things before and if there was a murder, we would have heard of a lot more about it. So would the Police. At this point, we're thinking that it unlikely that it happened in Williamstown.

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Overland Tour Participant Dies from Crash Injuries

By Stephen Dravis
Williamstown Correspondent

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — An eastern Massachusetts woman has died as the result of injuries sustained in Arkansas during bicycle tour organized by Williamstown's Overland Summers.

On Friday, a message on Overland's website confirmed that Merritt Levitan of Milton had died. The company had previously announced it was suspending the tour in which Levitan was participating and making arrangements for the return of the participants.

"Yesterday morning we received confirmation that Merritt Levitan of Milton, Massachusetts, died as a result of injuries sustained in a terrible incident that occurred outside of McCrory, Arkansas, while participating in an Overland bicycle touring program," a note credited to Overland founder and director Tom Costley reads. "Liz and I, and the entire Overland community, are heartsick by this tragic loss. We extend our deepest condolences to Merritt’s family, friends and loved ones."

According to a report on the Associated Press, Levitan was 18.

On Thursday, the company announced its decision to call off the remainder of the American Challenge Two, which was to take a group of 13 bicyclists (including two leaders) from Charletson, S.C., to Los Angeles in six weeks.

On Tuesday, a vehicle hit some of the riders in Woodruff County, Ark., sending seven riders to the hospital.

When the decision was announced Thursday to cancel the remainder of the trip, four were still hospitalized, including one in critical condition.

"Tom and Liz [Costley] spent the evening with the remaining eight group members in Arkansas," read a separate blog entry on the Overland site on Thursday. "Counselors were also present. At this point, we continue to express our deepest concern for the injured individuals and their families and our gratitude for the incredible outpouring of support among the professionals, emergency personnel, law enforcement officers and communities of Arkansas and Tennessee."

Overland is accredited by the American Camp Association and licensed by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. It overs hiking, biking, language and travel experiences worldwide.

From the Associated Press report:

"Prosecutors are considering filing charges against the 21-year-old driver who struck the cyclists, but prosecutor John Bell said no charges had been filed as of Thursday.

"Bell has said there wasn't any evidence of alcohol in the driver's bloodstream, but he said authorities were looking into whether anything else, such as a cellphone, was involved in the crash."

Levitan was a recent graduate of Milton Academy and planned to attend Colgate University in the fall.

"The best way to describe her is that she is the person everyone went to with any kind of problem," Abby Lebovitz, 17, a teammate of Levitans on the Milton girls tennis team, told the Boston Globe. "She was always there for anyone. It didn’t matter if she wasn’t your best friend; she was just there."

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