It may have been the most vivid reminder of COVID’s effect on Westport: our nearly deserted train stations.
Now, more than 16 months into the pandemic, both Saugatuck and Greens Farms parking lots remain almost entirely vacant, every day of the week.
Many Westporters still work from home. Others have forsaken the train for increasingly clogged I-95 and Merritt Parkway.
June 30 marked the deadline for train station parking permit renewals. Yet despite the precipitous drop in ridership, most folks have paid to hold on to their precious passes.
The new normal (Photo/Dinkin Fotografix)
Railroad parking is under the purview of the Westport Police Department. (I don’t know why. But they do it well.)
According to Police Chief Foti Koskinas and director of railroad operations Sam Arciola, there are 2,500 total available spaces, at Saugatuck and Greens Farms.
Even in pre-coronavirus times, not everyone utilized their spots every day. By monitoring usage closely, the Police Department knows how many permits to issue each year.
In July 2020, there were 3,900 permits. About 70% went to Westport residents. Another 900 people were on the wait list.
This year, only 3,100 people requested permits. That cut the wait list nearly in half, to 490.
Why did the WPD not issue permits to everyone on the wait list?
With commuting patterns in flux — and a number of New York offices reopening this fall — Koskinas and Arciola were watching what happens. Now, they’re ready to offer permits to everyone on the wait list. That will happen around August 1.
Meanwhile, they see renewed interest from former parking permit holders who did not renew by June 30, but now wish to.
“We welcome them to reapply,” Koskinas says. Former permit holders — and anyone else with questions — should call 203-341-6052.
(Hat tip: David Loffredo)
In the absence of commuters, utility crews used the Greens Farms railroad station as a staging area after last year’s Hurricane Isaias. (Photo/Robert Cornfield)
There were snickers in 2019, when the town announced it was buying a Tesla Model 3 for the Police Department.
You can stop laughing.
The vehicle — put in service in February 2020 — is being celebrated for “exceeding performance, cost savings and environmental benefits estimates.”
That’s not just hopeful hype. It’s the verdict of a study by the EV Club of CT.
The Westport Police Department’s Tesla 3.
The report says the Model 3 police cruiser recoups the purchase price premium, and saves money — even in the first year.
• After 4 years the Tesla will have saved enough money to buy another one.
• Each EV avoids emission of over 23 tons of CO2 per year, and saves $8763 in
environmental and health costs.
• There is a $12,582 savings in fuel alone after 4 years, from using electricity to
power the vehicle.
• Reduced maintenance comes from regenerative braking (the engine slows the
car and recaptures some of the kinetic energy, replenishing the battery and
reducing wear on the friction brakes), as well as no spark plugs, transmission,
alternator, water pump, or catalytic converter. The Tesla does not require oil changes.
• Even during the winter months, the Tesla ran 2 patrol shifts without needing to be recharged. There were no issues related to charging and battery use.
The EV Club reports that there was a $15,300 differential in the purchase price of the Tesla versus a Ford Explorer, previously the the “workhorse of the fleet.” That was recouped in the first year due to reduced customization and lower operating costs.
Though Police Department would not receive the discounts applied to the initial vehicle, a second Tesla is still projected to recoup the price premium in one year due to lower customization, maintenance, and fuel costs.
According to the EV Club’s report, there are non-financial benefits too.
“The car’s catlike alacrity enables an officer to quickly overtake a moving suspect’s vehicle, which reduces the risk to the driver (and) officer, as well as other vehicles and pedestrians.”
Police Chief Foti Koskinas says:
What initially attracted us to the Tesla was how it compared to our traditional fleet vehicles in terms of performance, 5-star crash ratings, and collision avoidance technology.
While the Police Department has been using plug-in hybrids for parking enforcement for several years, this was the first fully electric car to be used in active duty. We needed to confirm our estimates on things like mileage per charge and how the vehicle would stand up overall in the challenging environment of police work.
And of course, we were tracking expenses. The purchase price of the Tesla was higher than the Ford Explorer, but we hypothesized that we’d recoup that expense in lower fueling and maintenance costs for the Tesla.”
Charles Sampson of the WPD managed this project. He adds, “Feedback from the public has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve have been contacted by at least 50 other police departments – from all over the world – with questions about our experience. I know many of them have gone on to purchase Teslas for their fleets.”
Uh oh. “06880” missed National Public Safety Telecommunications Week.
The town of Westport did not, though. As posted on their Instagram, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and 2nd Selectwoman Jennifer Tooker visited the police and fire departments last week — and brought gifts.
(Photo courtesy of Town of Westport)
As the town noted: “Dispatchers are the first line of the Police, EMS and Fire departments. They are voices behind every call for help that we never see but only hear. They work tirelessly to protect department members and residents of Westport. This week we celebrate our heroes with the headsets!”
“06880” adds our thanks to these men and women who work 24/7/365. It’s a stressful job, which they do with incredible poise, professionalism and compassion.
So to last week’s pizzas, we add this week’s Unsung Heroes honors. Thank you all!
To honor Autism Awareness Month, Westport Police officers bought special commemorative badges. They’ll wear them on their uniforms throughout April.
The blue badge prominently features the puzzle piece logo — the symbol of autism awareness. A portion of the badge’s purchase price will be donated to Autism Speaks.
Westport Police officers show off their autism badges.
In addition, Fleet Auto Supply donated autism logos for the doors of all police cars.
During Autism Awareness Month, the Police Department reminds Westporters about the town’s Disability Registry. A combined effort of the Westport Disability Commission, Human Services and the Police, the confidential registry provides essential information to assist police and other emergency workers to address the needs of residents of all abilities. Click here for signup information.
Concerned how much longer the bull market will run? Worried what’s next?
Y’s Women’s Investment Group has a few slots for new members. The club has analyzed the market for more than 20 years — and achieved better results than some famous prognosticators. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Y’s Women membership is $45 a year. To learn more, click here. For the latest newsletter, click here.
Betty Stolpen Weiner writes: “I recently moved back to the area (Weston), and wanted to share a nice Westport experience.
“I needed a large and very heavy table moved to my basement. I saw on Facebook that the Staples High School wrestling team moves furniture in exchange for a donation for the team.
“Sal Augeri sent his son Nick over with some friends to help. I was so impressed with how polite, responsible and helpful the boys were! It was a nice reminder of why I chose to move back to the area.”
If you’ve got moving (or other physical labor) needs, email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Among the wrestlers’ jobs: moving a chicken coop. (This was before the pandemic, which is why they’re not wearing masks.)
Samantha Lavy and Jennifer Strom — aka the JSRC Group of therapists — has opened a Westport office, at 26 Imperial Avenue. They’ll continue their Stamford practice too.
“We support couples, families, teens, and individuals as we all move through these challenging times and beyond,” they say. “We also continue our work advising families navigating the particular complexities and family dynamics which often occur in the context of family business and wealth.”
For more information call 203-212-8383, or email email@example.com
“I was on my way to the transfer station, when a lady behind me took a picture of my minivan. I thought, oh boy, I bet with the wind, a trash bag fell out of the can on my cargo hitch.
“I got the station. Sure enough, one bag was missing.
“I drove the same route back, and found it. I picked it up and drove home.
“I am writing just in case a picture of my super-cool white minivan with an awesome cargo hitch gets carrying a couple of trash cans gets to you.
“I thought the lady who took a picture of my minivan would post it on social media and send it to you. I thought I would have to sell the super-cool minivan to avoid being identified and embarrass my children forever.
“I swear I pick up after my dog and park my car using one spot. Nevertheless, the fact that someone had a picture of my car was a very strong incentive to trace down the fly-away-trash bag.”
Long Lots Elementary School students love to read. And they love sharing books with others.
The other day, as part of a “Reading Across America” project, students and staff brought in 1,200 new and gently used K-5 children’s books. Bridgeport’s Lighthouse Program will donate them throughout the city. Westport and Bridgeport Police officers, and Connecticut State Police, helped with collection and distribution.
“This is what happens when the neighbor on one side has a deer fence on their property, and the other side neighbor’s backyard is swampy. We have drainage pipes in the backyard, so the ground is nice and dry.”
And finally … On this day in 1794, Connecticut’s own Eli Whitney received a patent for the cotton gin.
He grew up “everywhere,” he says — in and out of shelters. He and his brother were shuttled from place to place.
When Bergamo was 17, his parents died. He wanted to join the military, but for his brother to keep Section 8 housing, Bergamo had to live there as his dependent.
During tough times, police officers had always been nice to Bergamo. He looked up to them. To give back, he studied criminology in college.
In 2006 — just 22 years old — he was hired by the Westport Police Department. His duties include overseeing the car seat program, motorcycle instructor and field training.
Bergamo won the Medal of Valor, for his actions in the Westport force’s first shooting in 30 years.
He also earned a Community Service Award for his fundraising with LivFree, a pediatric cancer support group.
Giving back is a key part of who Bergamo is. He coached in Norwalk’s Pop Warner football program for 6 years.
Early in his Westport police career, PAL athletic director Carmen Roda suggested he get involved with the local program. He became head football coach for 3rd, 4th and 5th graders, then volunteered as secretary and vice president.
Now he’s in charge of the entire Westport PAL.
Earlier this month, Bergamo succeeded Ned Batlin as president.
It’s a big job. PAL serves thousands of youngsters through football, lacrosse, basketball, wrestling, rugby, track and cheerleading programs.
PAL also runs a robust scholarship program, the ice skating rink at Longshore — and Westport’s annual Independence Day fireworks.
Plenty of (pre-COVID) action at the PAL Rink at Longshore.
“This is an amazing organization,” Bergamo says. “The motto is ‘All about the kids and community.’ It’s safe and friendly. There are not many Police Athletic Leagues still out there. But ours is going strong.”
Bergamo is already planning new fundraising efforts — like a car show, digital events, perhaps a gala “when things are normal.”
Wrestling is one of Westport PAL’s many programs.
For someone who grew up in shelters, and lost his parents as a teenager, offering hope and activities to youngsters is crucial. In addition to his PAL efforts, he coaches his daughters in softball.
“When I see 3rd graders I coached move up to high school, and then graduate. I get chills,” Bergamo says. “I’ve had great interactions with them, and their parents. That’s what PAL is all about.”
(To learn more about Westport PAL — and participate in the See’s Candy Shop fundraiser — click here.)
Two crimes in less than 14 hours have jarred Westporters.
At approximately 8:05 a.m. yesterday (Monday), Westport Police received a report of a vehicle stolen from the Post Road East Exxon gas station, near Maple Avenue South. The operator of the 2019 Honda Pilot was paying for gas inside the when his car was stolen from the pump.
Post Road Exxon: Scene of the car theft.
A short time later, Westport Police located the stolen vehicle near Turkey Hill Road and Post Road East. The officer attempted to stop the vehicle but disengaged due to the suspect’s reckless driving and high speeds.
Minutes later, at approximately 8:12 a.m., a Fairfield Police detective came upon a motor vehicle crash involving the stolen vehicle at the intersection of Post Road and Jelliff Lane in that town.
The gray Honda Pilot rolled over and came to a stop. The driver, later identified as a juvenile male from Bridgeport, was ejected from the vehicle and suffered serious injuries. Fairfield Police and fire personnel provided emergency medical care at the scene. He was taken to St. Vincent’s Medical Center, where he died.
The Fairfield Police Crash Investigation Unit is conducting an investigation and reconstruction of the crash, while the Westport Police Department continues to investigate the stolen vehicle incident. Initial data indicates the suspect vehicle was traveling 99 miles per hour 5 seconds before the crash occurred.
Anyone who witnessed the incident or has additional information should call Westport Police: 203-341-6000.
The day before — approximately 6:30 p.m. Sunday — Westport officers responded to Walgreens, on a report of an attempted robbery.
Walgreens: Scene of an attempted robbery.
The victim had finished purchasing some items. As she was about to enter her vehicle a Toyota Rav 4, which had been reported stolen from the city of Norwalk earlier that day, backed into the parking space next to her car.
Two males exited the Toyota, approached the victim, and threatened to harm her if she did not turn over her keys and other personal property.
When the victim did not comply, the men rifled through her pockets. A third man came out of Walgreens, and got in the car.
Unable to locate her keys or any other items of value, the suspects fled toward I-95. The victim was uninjured.
Westporters have been stunned by the death yesterday of Vincent Penna, apparently of a heart attack. He was 51 years old.
A police officer for 26 years, he retired as deputy chief in 2017. He began as a patrol officer, became a detective in 2001 and sergeant in 2006, then returned to the detective bureau in a leadership role before being named deputy chief.
Along the way he served on the Westport Police tactical team, and was a field training officer, certified firearms instructor and professional standards commander. As captain he oversaw all operations of the detective bureau, including DARE, the Regional Task Force and Domestic Violence Victims Unit.
As deputy chief he was responsible for the Westport Emergency Medical Services, Internal Affairs Division, Public Information Office, Animal Control Division, Training Division and Information Management Team.
Vincent Penna Jr.
Penna received many awards and commendations for bravery, and was tenacious in his investigations. A high profile murder case was solved with his dedication, management skills and ability to work with, federal and international agencies.
He also served as president of the Westport Police Union Local 2080, and the Westport Police Benevolent Association.
When he retired, Penna said his legacy at the department would be his work to get Westport included in Norwalk’s juvenile review board, and his role in helping the department become one of 40 around the state to achieve Tier 1 accreditation.
“Vinny” was the son of Vincent Penna Sr., longtime owner of Penna Construction. The family has deep roots in Saugatuck.
Police Chief Foti Koskinas calls Penna’s death “a devastating loss. In the most stressful situations, he kept people together with his presence and his humor.”
Koskinas recalls many instances when Penna saw someone suffering. “He wrote a check, or got them food or clothes. He always did the right thing, even — especially — when no one was looking.”
Early in his career, as a brand new officer, there was a double drowning in a local pool. “The steps Vinny took, the condolences he offered — I saw a side of humanity that sticks with me today,” the chief says. “He was devastated, but he did whatever he could to help out.”
Koskinas notes Penna’s special ties to Westport.
“Public service is always special. But to serve the community you were brought up in is even more special. When the time came for him to leave his ‘family’ at the Police Department, and take over his family business with his father, it was just another way of giving back to the village he and his family had been raised in.”
Koskinas notes that Penna was also “an incredible father. As much as he gave to his community, his first priority was his wife Denise and his sons, Vincent and Nicholas. He did not miss a game or an event, or even a doctor’s appointment. They were his life.”
Deputy Police Chief Sam Arciola grew up with Penna. “We lived together, worked together and fished together,” he says. “He was a great family man — father, husband son. That was most important to him.”
Penna purchased a boat this summer, Arciola says, and spent many hours on the water with his wife and boys.
“But he was a great police officer too. And he was just such a good person. He would do anything for you.”
RTM member Andrew Colabella adds, “Vinny and his family were 2 pillars of this town. Through law enforcement and construction, they served the public and the community with the highest respect and integrity.
“No job was too big or hard to complete. No crime went unanswered or unsolved.
“He was the ultimate Westport role model. He was born and raised here. He worked for the town, and in town. He loved the town, with the goal to continue raising his family here just like the Pennas have done for generations. This is such a loss to everyone.”
Two important organizations (Homes with Hope and the Norwalk NAACP) will benefit from a drive sponsored by 2 important department (Westport Police and Human Services), and an important business (Mental Grit Fitness).
This Friday (December 18, 12 noon to 4:30 p.m., Imperial Avenue parking lot), you can drop off non-perishable foods, toiletries and cleaning supplies.
You can help another way too: by volunteering at the drive. Click here to sign up.
Congratulations, Autumn Smith! The Staples High School senior soccer player has been named to United Soccer Coaches’ All-America team.
She scored 38 goals, and added 49 assists, in her stellar career (shortened this year by COVID). Due to the coronavirus too, there will not be an actual awards ceremony as in previous years.
That hardly diminishes Autumn’s accomplishment though. Well done!
Dan Hoffman writes about a pet peeve:
“When I make a local phone call with a 203 area code, I try to guess whether I need to use a prefix of ‘1’ or not.
“When I’m wrong, a program tells me either I need to use a 1 or I don’t need to use a 1.
“If the phone system knows the answer, why does it make me redial instead of just putting the call through? Always drives me nuts.”
They don’t call it JoyRide for nothing.
A new app — JoyRideGO — brings the popular Westport-based fitness community’s joy and energy to cyberspace.
It features on-demand and live fitness class to enJoy (ho ho) anywhere, any time. They include the signature JoyRide cycle classes; popular JoyX Strength, Pilates, barre and yoga classes, and hybrids like Cycle + Strength, Cycle + Pilates, Abs + Arms, and Abs + Glutes. All are taught by JoyRide instructors.
Classes range from 15 to 50 minutes. A 14-day free trial is available on the App Store and Google Play. Questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
No one likes waiting in traffic.
Unless you’re by Playhouse Square, in front of Winslow Park Animal Hospital.
They always manage to amuse drives. Here’s their latest holiday tableau.
PS: Enjoy it now. Tomorrow it may be covered by snow.
Speaking of traffic: How’s this for a great photo of Westport’s worst intersection?
Taken this way by Rowene Weems, it looks almost magical.
As COVID cases rise, the Pequot in Southport — Westporters’ 2nd favorite library — has temporarily suspended browsing hours. Curbside pickup is still available.
Click here to help support “06880” via credit card or PayPal. Any amount is welcome — and appreciated! Reader contributions keep this blog going. (Alternate methods: Please send a check to: Dan Woog, 301 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880. Or use Venmo: @DanWoog06880. Or Zelle: email@example.com. Thanks!)