Peter Avila, a COVID testing associate, collects a self administered COVID-19 test from a patient at the Community Health Center COVID-19 testing site on the Western Connecticut State University Westside Campus. Tuesday, June 29, 2021, in Danbury, Conn.
Dean Esposito speaks to the crowd gathered at the Amerigo Vespucci Lodge on election night, Tuesday, November 2, 2021, in Danbury, Conn.
Cars parked in a lot at EZ2Drive Auto Group on Federal Rd in Danbury are partially submerged Thursday morning, Sept. 2, 2021, after heavy rains resulting from Hurricane Ida drenched the are the day before and into the night.
People wait outside the Danbury Fair Mall in Danbury, Conn. on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021 after the non-fatal shooting of a 16-year-old girl locked the mall down.
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – DECEMBER 17: Kieran Smith of the USA competes in the Men’s 200m Freestyle during day two of the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) Abu Dhabi at Etihad Arena on December 17, 2021 in Abu Dhabi. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)
The year 2021 was marked by COVID-19 vaccinations, outbreaks, and the reinstating and lifting of mask mandates. But the Danbury area saw severe storms, new leaders take charge of schools and municipalities, and even a local Olympic medalist, among other big news.
Here are the 10 biggest stories in the Danbury area in 2021.
At the beginning of the year, COVID-19 vaccinations were rolled out to health care workers and residents living in long-term care facilities.
By spring time, all residents over 16 were eligible for the vaccine, which led to long lines and challenges finding appointments for those eager to get their shots. The state and region’s efforts eventually turned to encouraging — and then begging — community members to get vaccinated. Health departments and providers worked to bring vaccines to the areas that needed them the most. Children as young as 5 may now be vaccinated.
Businesses were thrilled to fully reopen as COVID restrictions eased, but then faced staff shortages and supply chain issues.
COVID cases declined in the late spring and early summer, but rose again when the highly contagious delta variant hit the state. That caused several towns to reinstate indoor mask mandates. Those mandates were lifted when cases fell in the fall. In late December, cases are at their highest due to the even more transmissible omicron variant, but most towns haven’t implemented mask requirements again.
Meanwhile, some community members who previously had COVID-19 still suffered symptoms months later.
Some communities hired new superintendents or elected new leaders in 2021.
Danbury did both. Superintendent Kevin Walston took over at the start of the academic year after Sal Pascarella, who had been the school chief for 15 years, retired.
Republican Dean Esposito was elected mayor of Danbury in November. He beat Democrat Roberto Alves and took over for Republican Joe Cavo, who served a year following longtime Mayor Mark Boughton’s departure.
Brookfield elected Republican Tara Carr as first selectman. She beat Democrat Steve Dunn, who had been in office since 2015.
Superintendent Rydell Harrison resigned after a single school year in Easton, Redding and Region 9. Jason McKinnon was named the new superintendent in the fall.
The Danbury area dealt not just with snowfall during the winter months, but tropical storms and flooding in the summer.
The area was hit with tropical storms Elsa and Henri, as well as the remnants of Hurricane Ida. The latter caused the worst flooding in the region, causing many roads to close and some residents to be evacuated from their homes.
Danbury, however, has developed a plan to prevent flooding on Main and West streets in the future. These areas have had longstanding problems with flooding.
The year began with the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol that shook the nation.
A Ridgefield resident was among those charged in the attacks. He was accused of crushing a Metropolitan police officer in a door frame. Authorities said the officer was trying to prevent a mob of Trump supporters from storming the building at the lower west terrace entrance.
There has not yet been resultion in the case at it plays out in federal court.
Danbury youths were involved in multiple shootings in 2021.
A Father’s Day shooting killed 18-year-old Yhameek Johnson, a recent high school graduate who loved ones remembered for his love of sports. Two 17-year-olds were arrested in connection with his death. The teen charged with murder is being tried as an adult.
In August, a 15-year-old girl was injured in a shooting at Danbury Fair Mall that left shoppers and employees terrified and in lockdown. Police identified and arrested a 14-year-old as the shooter, while an 18-year-old who police say had a hammer during the incident was also arrested.
In the final days of 2021, a man his his 20s was injured in a shooting on Rowan Street.
Sandy Hook families who sued Alex Jones had several legal victories against the conspiracy extremist.
Eight families won their defamation case against Jones in state Superior Court in November. His attorney said he plans to appeal. That came weeks after three other Sandy Hook parents won their suits against Jones.
Over the summer, two of gunmaker Remington’s four insurance carriers offered nine Sandy Hook families $3.6 million each to settle their unlawful marketing claim.
The case has been going on for seven years and will continue into 2022. The families haven’t accepted the settlement. Legal experts were confused in the fall when Remington included 18,000 apparently random cartoons and 15,000 irrelevant pictures and videos as part of its documentation to the families’ attorneys. The gunmaker also requested the school records of the children and educators killed in the tragedy.
In the first half of the 2021, school districts faced closures and hybrid learning due to COVID-19.
But over the summer and into the fall, some parents demanded students be permitted to take off their masks indoors. That increased tensions between parents, administrators and school board members.
School districts across the state, including in Brookfield, needed police officers to attend Board of Education meetings to keep the peace between officials and the public.
Efforts to improve diversity, equity and inclusion in schools caused greater tensions in some districts, such as Easton, Redding and Region 9. The backlash Superintendent Rydell Harrison received led, in part, to his resignation.
Swimmer Kieran Smith earned a spot on the worldwide stage when he raced in the Olympics in Tokyo over the summer.
In his first Olympics, the 21-year-old Ridgefield won the bronze medal for Team USA in the men’s 400-meter freestyle final. He had a time of three minutes and 43.94 seconds.
He finished sixth in the 200-freestyle final and led Team USA in the men’s 4×200-meter freestyle relay, where the team came in fourth place.
Bethel, Brookfield, Danbury and New Fairfield all worked on school construction projects this year.
In Bethel, the renovations to Rockwell and Johnson elementary schools were completed. Brookfield and New Fairfield started construction on their schools. Brookfield is building a new elementary school, while New Fairfield is constructing a new high school and building an addition to an elementary school.
Danbury began construction on an addition to one of its elementary schools and approved plans for a career academy that is scheduled to open in fall 2024.
Some of the more fun news in 2021 was Danbury being featured in documentaries on HBO Max and Netflix.
The story of Danbury’s Ian Bick, the former operator of the Tuxedo Junction nightclub who defrauded investors of nearly $500,000, was the subject of HBO Max’s “Generation Hustle” series. Bick’s “The Party’s Over” episode aired in the spring.
In August, a documentary on the infamous Danbury Trashers aired on Netflix. Community members gathered at the Danbury Ice Arena to watch the movie, which featured interviews with the James Galante, a trash magnate with ties to the mob and Genovese crime family, and his son A.J. Galante, who was 17 when was named head of the minor league hockey team.
Julia Perkins has been a reporter with The News-Times since June 2016 and covers the towns of Bethel and Brookfield. She also has covered breaking news for Hearst Connecticut on weekend mornings. Graduating from Quinnipiac University in 2016, she served as the editor-in-chief of The Quinnipiac Chronicle, the weekly, student-run newspaper. She is a huge “Harry Potter” fan.