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Cheshire Fire Blamed on Heating System; Structure a Total Loss

By Jack Guerino
iBerkshires Staff

The building burned to the ground. 
CHESHIRE, Mass. — The fire that destroyed a local business is believed to have started in an attached garage.
 
Fire Chief Thomas Francesconi said the blaze that razed the former Kubota dealership last week likely started from the heating system. 
 
"The Mass State Fire Marshal's office did investigate the scene the following day. The cause of the fire is officially listed as undetermined, however, both myself and the investigating marshal believe the fire started with the heating system in the garage area," Francesconi said. "This was the area of origin for the fire."
 
The fire burned the building to the ground the night of Jan 4 during a blizzard that blew through the county with extremely cold temperatures and forceful winds. The property had been purchased some months before by J. Richardson Contracting. One of the company's vans was parked in the garage.
 
The Fire Department received the call a little before 7:30 p.m. but because of the snowy condition of the sparsely traveled road the first arriving engine went off the road and the second engine lost all electric once arriving on scene and could not flow water.
 
Francesconi said the structure is a total loss.
 
"The fire already had a very firm hold on the building prior to the fire being observed then called in," he said. "Due to the weather and the remoteness of the location, the area is not heavily traveled so the fire had an opportunity to build and progress at a very high rate."
 
Even getting water to the site was a challenge and five tanker trucks were shuttling water from Hoosac Valley High School. This trip took at least 20 minutes.
 
Mutual aid was needed from surrounding communities.  Adams sent an engine while the Adams Forest Wardens, Savoy and Lanesborough departments sent tankers. Dalton Fire Department also responded.
 
The Cheshire Highway Department was able to return the engine that went off road to the road.
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Superior Court Briefs: Jan. 8 - Jan. 10

Staff Reports
Cases heard before Judge John Agostini on Monday, January 8.
 
Earl Howard, 24, of Springfield pleaded guilty to a single count of possession of heroin with intent to distribute.
 
He was ordered to serve two years at the Berkshire County House of Correction. The charge stems from a motor vehicle stop in Cheshire on January 29, 2017.
 
Joseph Walker, 44, of Pittsfield pleaded guilty to single counts of possession of heroin with intent to distribute and conspiracy to violate drug laws to wit: distribution of heroin.
 
He was given a one-year suspended sentence at the Berkshire County House of Correction and placed on one-year probation. The charge stems from a motor vehicle stop in Pittsfield on January 21, 2016.
 
Cases heard before Judge John Agostini on Tuesday, January 9.
 
Varian Lefebvre, 24, of Holyoke pleaded guilty to single counts of illegal possession of a large capacity weapon, and possession of ammunition without a firearm identification car in connection with the execution of a search warrant at 144 Brayton Hill Terrace in North Adams on December 6, 2016. He also pleaded guilty to a single count of possession of heroin with intent to distribute in connection with the execution of a search warrant in Williamstown on January 18, 2017.
 
Lefebvre was ordered to serve concurrent two and a half to four years at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Cedar Junction on the possession of heroin and illegal possession of a large capacity weapon charges. He was given concurrent time at the Berkshire County House of Correction on the other charge.
 
Single counts of conspiracy to violate drugs laws, illegal possession of a large capacity feeding device, and improper storage of a large capacity firearm were dismissed by the state.
 
Cases heard before Judge John Agostini on Wednesday, January 10.
 
Brandon Green, 25, of Pittsfield pleaded guilty to single counts of armed career felon, possession of ammunition without a firearm identification card, and failure to stop for a police officer.
 
He was ordered to serve three to three and a half years at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Cedar Junction on the armed career felon charge. He was given concurrent time at the Berkshire County House of Correction on possession of ammunition charge. The other charge was placed on file.
 
The charges stem from a motor vehicle stop in Pittsfield on January 10, 2017. A single count of operating a motor vehicle with a suspended registration was dismissed by the state.
 
Thomas Nelson, 32, of Williamstown pleaded guilty to a single count of disseminating harmful matter to a minor.
 
He was placed on probation for two years. The incident occurred in Williamstown between April 1, 2016 and August 11, 2016 and involved a girl who is now 14 years old.
 
Two counts of enticing a child under the age of 16 were dismissed by the state.
 
Dante Spratlin, 32, of Pittsfield pleaded guilty to single counts of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and possession of a class C substance.
 
He was ordered to serve two and a half years at the Berkshire County House of Correction on the cocaine charge and given six months, to be served on and after the first sentence, on the other charge. 
 
The charges stem from the execution of a search warrant on Daniels Avenue on August 9, 2016.
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North Adams Man Pleads Not Guilty in Murder of Wife

Staff Reports
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A North Adams man pleaded not guilty on Monday morning in Northern Berkshire District Court of murdering his 42-year-old wife, Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien
 
Mark S. Steele-Knudslien, 47, is accused of beating and stabbing his wife to death on Friday evening in their 107 Veazie St. home. 
 
Judge Paul Vrabel ordered that he be held at the Berkshire County House of Correction without the right to bail. Steele-Knudslien will be back in court for a pre-trial hearing on Feb. 7, 2018.
 
According to police reports, Mark Steele-Knudslien admitted to police that he had hit Christa numerous times  in the head with a hammer and stabbed her in the back with a large, stainless-steel kitchen knife.
 
Steele-Knudslien walked into the Adams Police Station at about 8:40 p.m. on Friday asking to speak privately with an officer. According to the report submitted by Trooper Ryan H. Dickinson of Berkshire Detective Unit, Steele-Knudslien told Officer Michael Wandrei that "he had done something very bad and that he should be put in handcuffs."
 
Steele-Knudslien was not cuffed at that point but was read his Miranda Rights, which he acknowledged, and then told the officers he had killed his wife. North Adams Police were alerted and entered the Veazie Street home, finding Christa's body wrapped in tarp and bedding and tied up in the basement.
 
The medical examiner's report found blunt force trauma and injuries consistent with defensive wounds; the knife stabbed into her back punctured her heart. Cause of death was blood loss. 
 
During a recorded 29-minute interview, Steele-Knudslien told police that he and his wife had gotten into an argument the day before and that she often belittled him and called him names. On Friday, he "snapped," according to the report, and attacked her at about 5 p.m. on Friday in their living room. 
 
After killing her, according to the report, he tried to clean up, took a shower and went out to buy alcohol. It's not clear why he approached the Adams Police but neither of the Steele-Knudsliens appear to be local to the area and they had lived more recently in Adams.
 
Christa Steele-Knudslien, nee Steele, is originally from Rochester, Minn., according to her Facebook page. She apparently lived in Western Massachusetts for some time, particularly the Springfield area, before moving to the Berkshires. One of her two Facebook pages shows images and posts about fixing up the Veazie Street house that she purchased in March 2017 under the name Christa L. Torres.
 
She also was a founder and chief executive officer of the Miss Trans New England Pageant, apparently as Christa Hilfers, and a founder of New England Trans Pride.
 
The Steele-Knudsliens were married April 15, 2017. In a Facebook post a few months before that, Christa had written that "My husband and I are going to try to work things out." 
 
This is the first murder in the city since 2013.
 
Friends of Christa have started a GoFundMe to help defray funeral costs.
 

Steele-Knudslien Murder Case by iBerkshires.com on Scribd

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North Adams Man Charged With Murdering Wife


Mark S. Steele-Knudslien and Christa Steele-Knudslien
Update Jan. 7, 2018: The North Adams woman killed on Friday was stabbed and bludgeoned to death, according to an autopsy conducted on Sunday afternoon. 
 
The preliminary results, according to Dr. Robert Welton, an associate medical examiner for the Office of the Chief Medical, indicate Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien died of loss of blood because of a stab wound to the torso; a contributing factor was multiple blunt-force trauma to the head.
 
Welton ruled the death a homicide.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A North Adams man has been charged with murder in connection with the death of his wife.

 
Mark S. Steele-Knudslien, 47, has been arrested and charged with one count of Murder. It is alleged that he killed his wife, 42-year-old Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien, whose body was found inside their Veazie Street North Adams home Friday evening.
 
An autopsy, to determine her cause of death, will be conducted at the Office of the Chief
Medical Examiner in Holyoke on Sunday.
 
Steele-Knudslien will be arraigned on the murder charge Monday morning in Northern Berkshire District Court. He is being held without the right to bail pending his arraignment.
 
The investigation is being conducted by State Police Detectives assigned to the District Attorney’s Office, members of the North Adams and Adams Police Departments and State Police Crime Scene Services Section.
 
Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien is originally from Rochester, Minn., according to information on one of her two Facebook pages. She was active in the trans community and had produced the Miss Trans New England pageant. The Steele-Knudsliens were apparently married last April.
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'Highly Decorated' Pittsfield Police Lieutenant Dies While On Vacation

Staff Reports

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Police Lt. Michael Winston died while on vacation Friday morning, according to police.

Police Chief Michael Wynn said the department does not know much information regarding Winston's death but is devastated by the news.

"Lt. Michael Winston was a highly decorated and well respected member of our department. At this time, the department has very little information about his passing and no information regarding arrangements," Wynn wrote in a statement. "Our of respect to his family, we are attempting to be supportive and patient, and we request that the public is as well. As we receive more information, we will disseminate it as appropriate."

Winston is a longtime member of the force and a member of the Special Response Team, internal affairs, field training, recreational vehicle enforcement, and special events planning.

 

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