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House and garage burn down in Hancock

HANCOCK — Seven fire departments responded to a structure fire at a property on Horsing Around Way in Hancock on the morning of Jan. 16. On Tuesday, Jan. 17, the fire reignited from burning embers, and firefighters responded to the property a second time.

The Hancock Volunteer Fire Department received the first call at 6:57 a.m. on Jan. 16, and the Ellsworth Fire Department was the first to arrive on the scene at 7:06 a.m. providing mutual aid to Hancock, which arrived one minute later.

The next evening, around 8:20 p.m., the Hancock Volunteer Fire Department received another call, and responded to what was left of the buildings after the previous fire.

On the first call a Northern Light ambulance arrived at the scene, but none of the home’s inhabitants were injured as a result of the fire. The fire departments of Lamoine, Sullivan, Franklin, Sorrento and Dedham also provided mutual aid at the scene, and the Orland Fire Department provided coverage at the Ellsworth fire station. The effort of dozens of firefighters was needed to extinguish the blaze.

“I would say probably 40 [firefighters] all together,” said Hancock Fire Chief Chris Holmes.

On the second call, the fire departments of Ellsworth, Lamoine, Franklin and Sullivan responded to Hancock for mutual aid.

The original fire was a large one, and burned down the garage and most of the house at the Hancock property owned by Justin Tracy. Holmes said high winds played a part in escalating the fire.

“Garage was on fire and was catching the house on fire,” Holmes said. “The wind was blowing and it blew the fire into the house.”

Because the wind was feeding the flames, the fire took hours to get under control.

“It was really difficult and the wind kept fighting us the whole time,” Holmes said. “We had it under control around 10 a.m. and Hancock units were cleared around 11:30 a.m.”

When firefighters finally were able to clear the scene, the garage was burned to the ground and the house was no longer inhabitable. The buildings on the property are being considered a total loss, displacing the inhabitants of the house. Firefighters do not yet know for sure what started the fire, but think that a stove might be the culprit.

“Undetermined at the moment; we suspect a stove in the garage,” Holmes said.

The second fire completely destroyed what was left of the buildings on the property. While the house was considered uninhabitable after the first fire, it was still standing. After the second fire there was nothing left of it.

“It’s totally gone now,” said Holmes. “When we left on Monday there was still three good walls and most of the roof, but now it’s totally on the ground.”

Firefighters noticed that a propane tank was venting in the burning rubble, which could have escalated the reignition, but is not thought to be the sole cause of the second fire, which appeared to be caused by burning embers. Firefighters did have to wait for the tank to finish venting before they were able to extinguish the flames.

“Once the propane tank was finished venting then it was pretty quick putting the fire out,” Holmes said.

The scene of the second fire was cleared around 11 p.m., just under three hours after the call was received.

Holmes expressed his gratitude toward the other local fire departments that provided mutual aid to Hancock. He said that daytime response from volunteer departments is often hard to get, but is grateful that so many firefighters were able to help. Due to the severity of this particular fire, a large response was necessary.

“Thank you to all the mutual aid departments for helping us out,” Holmes said. “It was a difficult fire; daytime response can be sparse.”

EHS grad appears in 'Yellowstone' prequel

ELLSWORTH — Tyler Beardsley, a Class of 2012 Ellsworth High School graduate and former actor at The Grand, is making his mark in the city of angels.

Beardsley, who moved to Los Angeles after graduating from Tufts University with degrees in drama and computer science in 2016, appears in a small speaking role in the Paramount+ “Yellowstone” prequel series “1923,” which premiered in December of 2022.

“Any time you ever get a role, you’ve won the lottery in some way,” Beardsley said, laughing. “As actors out here, you have to take advantage of every opportunity that’s given [to] you. It’s not that it’s all luck or it’s all talent, it’s a combination of both. You have to be ready to put on your best show when the opportunity presents itself and take advantage of those moments.”

Beardsley plays the role of Bartender, and appears in the third episode of the series, titled “The War Has Come Home.” According to him, none of the bartending he did was pretend. The production team provided him with a full bar, including alcohol, garnishes, and everything else a classic speakeasy might need.

The show stars high-profile actors Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren. According to Beardsley, being on set is an exhilarating experience.

“[Being on set] is really really fun,” he said. “You try to be really professional. The mantra that my friends and I use all the time is that you’ve gotta act like you’ve been there … My one little star-struck moment of Harrison Ford flying in on a helicopter to set one day, that was pretty crazy.”

Beardsley is also slated to appear in two more period pieces this year: the Apple TV+ series “Lessons in Chemistry” and Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer.”

“Lessons in Chemistry” stars and is executive produced by Academy Award winner Brie Larson. The drama series, based on the book of the same title written by Bonnie Garmus, follows Elizabeth Zott (played by Larson), a 1950s scientist who struggles with the societal belief that women don’t belong in science.

“Oppenheimer,” the latest of director Christopher Nolan’s work, tells the story of physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer (played by Cillian Murphy) and his time with the team of Manhattan Project scientists as they work on the creation of the atomic bomb.

“These are [projects] that people at home can see,” Beardsley said. “‘1923’ is the first one where I’ve had people from Ellsworth reach out to me and say, ‘I just saw you on this thing, that’s crazy!’ I’m hoping to kind of take advantage of that and use that momentum to get more auditions and get my foot in the door in a few more places.”

Beardsley’s career started in Ellsworth, when, after being cast in The Grand’s production of “Beauty and the Beast” with his brother and father, he realized he wanted to do it “a lot more.” However, a career in acting isn’t what many people consider the most reliable path to follow. Not knowing if he wanted to pursue acting forever, he got both a drama degree and a computer science degree while studying at Tufts, and has been able to use both during his time in California. In between filming taped auditions, he can be found tutoring and teaching computer science in schools around Los Angeles.

Yet even after working with such high-caliber actors and directors as Christopher Nolan and Brie Larson, Beardsley still attributes his most rewarding time to the friends he’s made along the way. He stars in the short film “Jim and Joe,” written and directed by Dorian Keys and released in 2019. According to Beardsley, it was completely produced and funded by him and his friends.

“That’s definitely the most rewarding experience, being around creative people and being constantly inspired by those people,” he said.

Coming from a “small town” like Ellsworth, Beardsley described the feelings of uncertainty going into the performing world. However, his success in Hollywood and his overall experience in the industry has led him to know that his experience has been worth it.

“You can do it, that’s the first thing,” he advised other young actors. “You have to take a leap at some point, and say, if this is something that I really love, and I can see myself doing this in the future, why not give it a try? Surround yourself with people who are like-minded, that are interested in the same things that you are creatively. That support system is what made it possible for me.”

Crazy Sumo on final stretch to grand opening

ELLSWORTH — After almost a year of anticipation, Crazy Sumo is almost ready to open its doors.

Crazy Sumo, a Japanese hibachi steakhouse, is set to announce its official opening within the next week. The restaurant took over a building that previously housed the Denny’s on High Street, and has been under construction for almost a year. Now, as Ellsworth area residents are patiently awaiting the official opening, the restaurant is nearing the beginning of its new era.

Crazy Sumo is a family business. Dan Mayer, one of the partners involved in its creation, said the restaurant is the creation of him and his brother-in-law. The inside of the restaurant is decked out with Japanese-inspired flair — behind the host stand is a beautiful wooden backdrop, and all of the counters surrounding the hibachi grills were painstakingly handmade.

“All of the woodwork was all built from scratch,” Mayer said. “Minus the grills themselves … [everything wooden] is all from scratch.”

The space is divided into two sections: on one side, there is traditional family booth-style seating, while on the other, community seating surrounds the hibachi grills. Chefs on the community side will cook meals right in front of guests, who will eat while also enjoying traditional hibachi showmanship.

While the family scoped out a number of Bangor area locations for the restaurant, they ultimately chose the High Street location based on its proximity to the main road to Bar Harbor.

“It was a match made in heaven,” Mayer said. “This location just really stood out to us, and it seemed like a really ideal place for success.”

Part of the reason for the delay in opening, Mayer said, was the lack of available labor for the project. For a while, the crew doing the work was extremely small, and it only recently expanded to finish the final stages of remodeling.

“Had that been our original crew, we would have opened up several months ago,” he said. “But it’s hard to find labor right now. Everything in every industry seems to be struggling in some way or another.”

Crazy Sumo’s Facebook page lit up with over a hundred comments and replies after their last update; though he was nervous, Mayer noted how upbeat all of the replies were, even given their delayed timeline.

“I know that the community is very excited for us, and we’re very very excited to be finally open and able to serve them,” Mayer said. “The response was all positive … we had more than a one hundred percent increase in followers, just from one post!”

The restaurant is slated for a “soft open” on Thursday, when city employees, including those in City Hall, first responders and other essential personnel, will get to see all of the work in action. For the rest of the public, the grand opening will be announced sometime within the next week.

“Everyone that I’ve spoken to and interacted with in this area has been so nice,” Mayer said. “This is just such a nice community, and they really embrace new business. Being able to serve people who seem to really want to embrace you into their community, that’s just exciting.”

Challenged books to be kept in guidance office

SULLIVAN — Two Sumner library books about the LGBTQ experience will now be kept in the school’s guidance office, accessible only with parental


The Regional School Unit 24 (RSU 24) Material Review Committee met on Wednesday, Jan. 11, to review the two books whose presence in the library was challenged by a parent who believes the subject matter to be inappropriate for students.

The books in question are “Queer — The Ultimate LGBTQ Guide for Teens” by Kathy Belge and Mark Bieschke and “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe. Both books contain content about LGBTQ relationships and have sexual themes. “Gender Queer: A Memoir” is a graphic novel and contains illustrations of a sexual nature as well.

The committee ultimately decided to recommend to the School Board that the two books would remain within the Charles M. Sumner Learning Campus, but would be kept in the guidance office rather than in the library. Parental permission will be needed for students to access them.

“The question here is not about the fact that we would like to take away books about LGBTQ teens,” RSU 24 Director of Curriculum Nicole Chan said. “It seems like we’re talking about the maturity level and age.”

The committee is composed of Chan, Charles M. Sumner Learning Campus principal JT Green, Sumner physical education and health teacher Amy Wheaton, Sumner resident clinical social worker Christopher Parsons, Mountain View School librarian Robin Barron and RSU 24 Board member Janet Wilpan. RSU 24 Superintendent Michael Eastman was also present for the discussion, but did not participate in the decision-making process.

Committee members discussed the benefits of the two books to students who might relate to the subject matter and who might be looking for guidance on gender and sexuality. They also discussed what complainants had described as inappropriate aspects of the books.

Committee members thought that much of the content in “Queer — The Ultimate LGBTQ Guide for Teens” was appropriate and could be useful.

“I think there are some things in this chapter that would be found in something like a health curriculum from STIs [sexually transmitted infections] to safer sex and healthy relationships,” said Wheaton of “Queer.”

Members also discussed some of the information in the book that they said could be inappropriate, especially for children who were not yet in high school. The Charles M. Sumner Learning Campus has both high school and middle school students.

Green discussed excerpts from “Queer” that had instructions on how to use sexual aids, which he felt should not be available to younger students. Despite this, he did think it was a relevant book for older readers.

“I feel like if that book is going to remain that there should probably be some way to designate that it is for the more mature reader,” Green said. “Certainly we have an obligation to ensure that we do provide books for all of our students, including our LGBTQ students, right, who should have equal access to the books that are in our library.”

The discussion of “Gender Queer” caused more of a stir, mostly due to sexual illustrations that the graphic novel contained. Some committee members felt that the images in the graphic novel could be considered pornographic in nature, and that this might be cause to remove the book. Green compared the images to pornography.

“Whereas Playboy would be a photo, or Hustler, or whatever that magazine might be, you’re looking at an actual photograph, whereas this is a cartoon drawing, but by the same token if a student was to look up anime porn during school we would say that’s unacceptable,” Green said. “If a student is reading that in school, right, they’re opening up in those particular pages something that does contain anime porn.”

He also said that as a father, he could relate to the parents who were displeased with the content of this book.

“Both as an educator and a parent I would take exception if the school checked that out to one of my daughters,” Green said. “Due to the graphic nature of that, it doesn’t seem like something that we should have in our library.”

On the other hand, some committee members said that “Gender Queer” did contain relatable messages for teens. The graphic novel is a memoir about a teen who is questioning who they are, and Wilpan said that it would be a valuable resource for a student who might be going through a similar experience.

“I actually think it’s for anyone who is having those kinds of conflicts, that kind of story. Again, there’s a couple items that I personally wouldn’t have put in it,” Wilpan said. “The overall story I thought was a good one.”

The main points of discussion were how to handle a library that is now accessible to middle school students as well as high school students, and how much control parents should have over what reading materials are available to their children as well as others.

Before the new Charles M. Sumner Learning Campus was constructed, the district’s middle school students attended their local elementary schools, which had their own libraries. Now RSU 24 high-schoolers and middle-schoolers share a library in the new building.

“These [books] both have been checked out to sixth-grade students who were reading them aloud during a class one day,” Green said, explaining how these two particular books ended up in front of the Material Review Committee. “We did have the parent challenge, and so those two things sort of came together, and that’s what’s gotten us here.”

“Queer” was added to the Sumner Memorial High School library in 2020, and “Gender Queer” was added in 2019. The new combined school opened this past fall. No mention of issues regarding these books before middle school students had access to them was made by the review committee.

Most members of the committee did not wish to see the books banned outright, but said that parents should have some discretion over what their children can read.

“I absolutely believe that any parent has the bottom line right to withhold a book from their student, conversely, a parent doesn’t have the right to withhold that book from other students,” Barron said.

At the end of the discussion, a compromise was reached. The books will remain in the library catalog and available for students but will be physically located in the guidance office. Students will need some form of parental permission to check them out.

“I can totally support it if the parents are involved,” Green said. “If an individual parent feels that is in the interests of their child then that is not for us to say that it’s not.”

The committee felt that the decision would prevent younger students from checking the books out for the wrong reasons while still allowing older students to access them. The committee also felt that having counselors available where the books are kept would be a valuable resource for students who wish to read the books.

“The guidance department should be meeting to think about a process or protocol that would provide support for students checking out either one of these books,” Chan recommended at the end of the review.

Pumped up
City gets $1.77 million in funding to overhaul wastewater pump

ELLSWORTH — A total of $1.77 million in congressionally directed spending has been allocated to the city of Ellsworth for much needed repairs and replacements to be made on the High Street wastewater pump.

The pump, which is located behind Pizza Hut on High Street, is the oldest in the city at almost 50 years old, dating back to 1975. It collects sewage from all of High Street, as well as down Route 1 and Route 3, where it redirects waste to the main pump on Water Street.

“With the continued [population] growth, that pump station is getting towards the end of its useful life, getting maxed out,” Public Works Director Lisa Sekulich said, “So we’re going to upgrade it, upsize it, and replace most of the crucial elements of the pump station so we have the capacity to continue developing.”

While yearly and as-needed repairs are made to the existing pump station, much of the mechanics need a full overhaul due to their age. Replacements need to be made to the wet wells (where the sewage comes in), multiple pumps and grinders, among other things. Because the pump is also located on Card Brook, the project meets multifaceted needs that will prove to have long-term benefits to the city and the environment.

“You add in that economically, we need it to continue growing — and this region has grown exponentially in the last five years,” Sekulich said. “It’s natural resources — it’s right along an urban impaired stream, which goes right into tidal waters … You can make the case for why it’s such a great project, and why it’s really needed at this point in time.”

To be granted funding, the city underwent a lengthy and complicated application process. It was only through the combined efforts of the departments of wastewater, public works and economic development, the manager’s office and the planning office that the application was successful, according to Economic Development Director Janna Richards. Applications are due in April, and recipients often don’t find out if they’ve been approved for nearly a year after that.

“We knew this was coming out, and we got ready,” Sekulich said. “We had some information put together from our engineers, and we were able to take that along with all of these ‘check marks’ and package them together in an application that made sense.”

Because congressionally directed spending is federal, Maine is not the only state to apply for money each year. With the needs of the nation changing regularly, applicants don’t know exactly how much money will be available, or what types of projects lawmakers are looking to fund. This makes it extremely difficult to gauge which applications will be successful.

“We requested from [Sen. Angus] King, [Sen. Susan] Collins and [Rep.] Jared Golden the exact same application across the board, because it’s that important to the city,” Richards said. Ultimately, Senator King and Representative Golden pushed the application through to acceptance.

The $1.77 million will cover the cost of a near total replacement of most of the pump station, which city officials hope to be near completion within a year. The repairs and replacements will not put any burden on the active functionality of the system, and users won’t experience any negative implications of the construction.

“This is a huge win for the city,” Sekulich said. “The biggest thing is no one wants their taxes to go up, nobody wants to pay more for their sewer, and so every time we can do something this big that costs not a penny out of taxpayer or rate-payer pockets, is huge. It’s a solid win.”

Icy mix leads to harsh road conditions; Canadian family saved from Route 9

ELLSWORTH — A storm involving icy mix topped with snow accompanied by strong winds saturated Maine Sunday through Monday night, leaving residents with a heavy load of precipitation to scrape off windshields and shovel out of driveways.

One Canadian family traveling through the area during the storm on Monday was saved by Hancock County and Penobscot County sheriff’s deputies.

Hancock County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Kamren Jennings, while patrolling Route 9 in Aurora, happened upon the family’s vehicle, which had gotten stuck in the middle of the roadway. Due to the severity of the weather, Jennings and a Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office deputy got the family to safety in Bangor to stay until the storm passed.

The storm overall had “very low consequences, with the exception of a residential fire in Hancock that occurred,” said Andrew Sankey, director of the Hancock County Emergency Management Agency.

The fire was not caused by the storm but the weather conditions made the fire worse.

Hancock Fire Chief Chris Holmes said the wind escalated the fire and pushed it from the garage to the residence.

“There were less than 600 utility outages that were fairly quickly restored,” Sankey said. “The potential of the storm versus the outcomes were welcomed by the entirety of public safety.”

All in all, most people heeded public safety officials’ warnings to stay off roadways. Monday being a federal holiday, with all schools closed to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., helped.

“I believe the lack of traffic due to the holiday and schools being closed, coupled with the public heeding the request to avoid unnecessary travel, helped considerably,” Sankey said. “We’re focused upon the storm forecasted for overnight Thursday into Friday now, prepping to see what that might bring us.”

There were minimal motor vehicle crashes in the area.

Hancock County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Corey Bagley said his office responded to two crashes over a three-day period.

The Ellsworth Police Department handled four accidents but no serious injuries were involved, according to Ellsworth Deputy Police Chief Troy Bires.

The storm may have contributed to the sinking of a lobster boat owned by Andrew Moshier in Prospect Harbor sometime during or after the snow and ice storm on Sunday and Monday. The boat, a 36-foot Wayne Beal, was discovered to have sunk on Monday, with approximately 80 to 100 gallons of fuel on board. As of early this week, the boat was still in the water, waiting on an insurance adjuster.

The boat was moored at the time it sank, and nobody was on board.