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Death threats began in Vermont

The arrest of a former West Pawlet man in Alaska by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for reportedly making long-distance death threats to a group of Vermonters was sparked by an initial investigation by Vermont State Police, authorities said.

Ben C. Tarbell, 34, now of Kasilof, Alaska, is charged with making death threats to at least four people believed to be in Vermont — most, if not all, are his relatives, court records show.

Tarbell has gone downhill in the wake of his divorce case, federal court records show.

Vermont State Police Detective Lt. Christopher Barber said Friday the early death threats were reported to the Rutland barracks. After some internal discussion a decision was made to hand the case off to the FBI, according to Barber, who oversees criminal cases in southwestern Vermont.

It remains unclear why the FBI in Vermont did not tackle the case or why it was punted to Alaska authorities. A spokesman for the FBI in Alaska was unable to provide a response on Friday.

Tarbell, who moved from Vermont to Alaska in April, made threats to several family members, including threats to kill his parents, brother and others. He also made two phone calls to the Massachusetts State Police during the early morning hours of Sept. 1 and promised he would blow up the barracks and kill everybody in the building, the indictment said.

Authorities intercepted Tarbell as he tried to check in at the Kenai Municipal Airport with a rifle, two handguns, ammunition, two knives and a tactical vest on Sept. 10.

While Tarbell said the Green Mountain Boys of the Air National Guard would drop the bombs on the state police, there is no evidence he ever belonged to the Guard. Tarbell never served in either the Air or Army National Guard in Vermont, according to Maj. J. Scott Detweiler, Acting State Public Affairs Officer.

Tarbell was arrested on a criminal complaint and the grand jury this week leveled five counts of making interstate threats and one count of cyberstalking.

The FBI and court records fail to provide names of the victims or their initials. The indictment numbers the victims 1 through 5. The indictment outlines the following:

Victim one was threatened Aug. 4 in a text message: “You will die.”

Victim two was threatened Aug. 31 in an Instagram message: “I am going to kill you.”

Victim three was threatened also on Aug. 31 in a text message” “I’m going to kill you … kiss your (expletive) good by.”

Victim four was threatened Sept. 1 in a cell phone call that the defendant would “bomb the State Police and kill every one of you mother (expletive.)”

Victim five was threatened Sept. 3 in a text message: “say your goodbyes to your sister … sometimes I wonder if I should kill you also.”

The sixth count maintains that Tarbell, between Aug. 4 and Sept. 10, primarily targeted victim one by harassing or intimidating her by using the mail, any interactive computer service, or electronic communication service. It notes that Tarbell repeatedly sent text messages to victim one, while using texts, Instagram and phone calls for victims one through five and others.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Matthew M. Scoble ordered Tarbell held both as a risk of flight and a danger to himself and the community. Scoble ruled the weight of the evidence is strong and Tarbell has a history of violence or the use of weapons.

“Defendant arrested while traveling to Vermont in possession of weapons,” Scoble wrote in ordering him held at the Anchorage jail.

Tarbell was initially told he would have a probable cause hearing next Wednesday afternoon in Anchorage, but he lost that opportunity when the grand jury returned the indictment.

No date is set for the arraignment.

“The threats escalated in the violent tone as weeks went on,” according to Special Agent Wendy Terry, who is assigned to the bureau’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in Alaska. The task force investigates both international terrorist organizations and home-grown violent extremists, Terry said.

Tarbell made a range of threats and comments, including one referencing the operator of the Slate Ridge shooting range in Pawlet, Daniel Banyai.

Tarbell warned one person in a message to “steer clear of bonyai he is telling me he’s going to run a train on you and (expletive) you. He’s a dangerous coward and needs to die,” a screen shot of one text notes.

Spelling, punctuation and capitalization are off in some of the notes that are incorporated into the criminal complaint filed with the court.

Banyai said Friday he was unaware of the case until Thursday night when friends said a couple of Vermont newspapers had posted stories on their websites about the arrest of Tarbell.

He said he has no relationship with Tarbell and had never talked to him. He said he had seen him at meetings at town hall.

Banyai said federal and state law enforcement authorities have not been forthcoming with him. He said he has tried to file complaints of trespass on his property or harassment, but with no luck. He singled out the Vermont State Police as unresponsive.

The state police issued a statement defending its efforts.

“The Vermont State Police takes all reports from members of the public seriously and allocates the appropriate resources to investigate matters when they arise,” the department said.

Tarbell had been struggling with recent divorce proceedings, court records show.

Tarbell makes reference to trying to reclaim “6891.” Public records show he once lived at 6891 Vermont Route 30 in West Pawlet.

“I will reside at 6891. It’s my home,” he said in another message.

The FBI said Tarbell called the state police in Massachusetts on Sept. 1 at 1:06 a.m. and demanded the arrest of a person, and he was told to call the local police department where the person lived. The person nor the town were identified.

It was during a second phone call at 1:28 a.m. that Tarbell claimed he would bomb the barracks and “kill everyone of you mother (expletive).”

Zinnias and other flowers bloom Friday in a flower garden at Dog River Farm in Berlin. The farm sells cut flowers in addition to their vegetable offerings and is now offering pick-your-own pumpkins.


Barre Schools
Superintendent sees testing as solution to school COVID conundrum

BARRE — Regular testing could provide a “game-changing” answer to a local school district that has been forced to send large numbers of students home for extended periods of time since classes resumed nearly month ago.

While other area school districts already have started voluntary surveillance testing for staff and students, interim Superintendent Chris Hennessey told members of the Barre Unified School Board on Thursday “capacity” problems have thus far slowed the roll out of a similar program in the two-town, three-school district anchored by Spaulding High School.

Hennessey said a recent hire should address that issue, and the district appears to be on track to offer the voluntary testing for all students and staff the week after next.

“We’re truly hoping this is a game-changing situation,” Hennessey said, acknowledging the concerns voiced by three parents who told the board they were troubled by how many students have been sidelined as a pandemic-related precaution less than four weeks into the school year.

Marcy Kreitz was one of them.

The mother of a first- and third-grader at Barre Town Middle and Elementary School, Kreitz urged the board to reconsider its policies surrounding contact tracing, which she argued has created an unnecessary hardship for many.

“I believe we are sending too many healthy children home,” she said. “Their education and mental health is suffering, not to mention financial stress on families who are unable to work during absences.”

Kreitz, who told board members she is seriously considering home-schooling her children, said something has to give.

“If children test positive, or have blatant symptoms of COVID, they should stay home,” she said. “But sending hundreds of kids home for 10 to 14 days who are perfectly healthy is not only unsustainable, but harmful to our children families and communities.”

Hennessey said the concerns expressed by Kreitz and fellow Barre Town parents, Marissa Green and Josh Howard, during Thursday’s virtual board meeting, weren’t lost on district administrators who have been forced to make what he characterized as “gut-wrenching” decisions with respect to student attendance in the wake of confirmed COVID cases.

“We fully empathize with what (impact) … the current situation has had on family life and working life,” Hennessey said, agreeing with pushing for a change in protocol.

According to Hennessey, continuing to rely solely on contact tracing was, in his view, “completely unsustainable” and “not effective.”

“We’re doing our best with what we’ve been handed, but it doesn’t feel good at all,” he said.

Hennessey told board members he’s hoping weekly surveillance testing will help – if only because it should shrink the time those considered “close contacts” of someone with confirmed case of COVID will be required to quarantine.

School surveillance tests are sent to an out-of-state lab that expedites the results – curing a problem school officials around the state have complained about.

“Once we get a negative result, we can have kids back right away,” Hennessey said, noting the inability to get “timely results” has exacerbated the problem Kreitz and others were right to be concerned about.

There is reason for hope surveillance testing will limit the time unvaccinated, symptom-free students are required to stay home.

Hundreds of students and staff in the Washington Central Unified Union School District already have been tested twice and those who volunteer will be again on Monday. Surveillance testing was launched in the Montpelier Roxbury Public School District on Monday and Barre School Director Chris Parker, who works in that district, said the results were back on Wednesday.

The logistics of starting a similar program in Barre’s three schools are being finalized and Hennessey said participation – particularly among the district’s young students who aren’t eligible to be vaccinated – will be strongly encouraged when the first round of what will be weekly tests are available early next month.

He also suggested the state Agency of Education may soon allow for the use of rapid antigen tests, which produce far faster, but less accurate results, to be used as a metric for determining whether students need to quarantine until a negative result from the more accurate PCR test is obtained.

“This is being really seriously considered and not like three or four months from now, like very, very soon,” he said, citing a conversation he had with agency officials early in the day.

Hennessey said he volunteered to pilot the program to Barre, but was told the plan is to make the program available to all districts.

“I let the powers that be know we are all in,” he said. “We want to be part of this.”

Meanwhile, Hennessey said it appears increasingly clear that vaccine mandate will extend to school district employees and already is the subject of negotiations with the union that represents teachers and support staff in the district.

Asked how many staff members already are vaccinated, Hennessey said he couldn’t say for certain, but barring a medical or religious exemption, all will have to be, unless they submit to weekly testing.

School Director Renee Badeau, who said she is experiencing lingering effects from a bad reaction to the vaccine, said the weekly surveillance testing would provide a convenient way to satisfy that requirement.

Hennessey said the district’s overriding objective is to keep students safe and in school. That has occasionally been a struggle in the school year that just started due to cases that have cropped up at all three schools.

So far, Hennessey said, there have been 24 confirmed COVID cases – many if not most of them at Barre Town Middle and Elementary School. However, while there is no evidence of in-school transmission contact tracing has, in some instances, required large numbers of students to be quarantined pending a negative test.

Like Kreitz, Green questioned that practice – one she said hits families least able to afford it the hardest.

“I am in human resources, and I’m telling you it does disrupt most of our lower income families when we’re doing this,” she said, suggesting they can’t fall back on paid time off, work from home, or afford child care.

Green isn’t one of them. However, she said she chose to home-school last year to avoid the “in-and-out disruption” her symptom-free son – now an eighth-grader – has experienced this year.

“We have to stop focusing on the one thing (COVID) and start focusing on the whole child,” she said, suggesting she was as worried about a spike in “substance abuse and suicide ideations” as she was about the novel coronavirus, or its delta variant.

Howard has three children at Barre Town’s pre-K-8 school. Two of them were deemed “close contacts” and while his seventh grade child was vaccinated his fifth-grader could be out of school for up to two weeks.

“Kids are missing school,” he said. “We’ve got to come up with a better plan.”

Hennessey assured the parents and the board that is his top priority.

david.delcore @timesargus.com

Paul Demers, of South Burlington, left, and John Kim, of Montpelier, prepare donated bicycles for shipping during a used sewing machine and bicycle collection event at National Life in Montpelier on Friday. The Green Mountain Return Peace Corps volunteers have been collecting items yearly for the past 22 years for the group Pedals For Progress, which distributes the items to countries worldwide. An additional collection will take place Saturday at Burton Snowboards in Burlington from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.


Monarch feeding on New York ironweed.

In Vt., COVID treatment coverage continues

While the insurance companies in some states are no longer paying for COVID treatment without a co-pay for customers, Vermont still requires the companies pay for treatment and testing at no charge.

An article published in The Washington Post on Sept. 18 stated many insurers were restoring co-pays and deductibles that had been waived in 2020.

“If you’re fortunate enough to live in Vermont or New Mexico, for instance, state mandates require insurance companies to cover 100% of treatment. But most Americans with COVID are now exposed to the uncertainty, confusion and expense of business-as-usual medical billing and insurance practices — joining those with cancer, diabetes and other serious, costly illnesses,” the article states.

Michael Pieciak, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation, said that in any matter where the state has the ability to regulate, Vermont is still requiring that COVID-19 treatment be delivered without any out-of-pocket costs.

“If we didn’t do that and somebody hadn’t reached their deductible or hadn’t had any health care-related expenses that year, then they might be on the hook for whatever is the amount of their deductible,” he said.

Pieciak pointed out it is increasingly common for health care plans to have a high deductible.

“What we wanted to do was eliminate any financial burden or financial disincentive for Vermonters to go get treatment if they suspected, or if they did have a positive test of COVID-19. If you get it, get treated earlier,” he said. “Our theory, and I think it’s borne out in other situations, is that your course of care, it’s a better progression, your health is better and because they’re able to intervene earlier, it’s also less costly. It makes sense from a health policy perspective and we think it makes sense from a financial perspective as well.”

The coverage for tests in Vermont also includes other respiratory tests such as the flu.

Pieciak said that in March 2020, after Gov. Phil Scott declared a state of emergency due to the pandemic, the administration was able to set up free testing that was seen as a way to contain the spread of the virus. People who knew they had COVID could quarantine and share their contacts to track the virus.

But Pieciak said the Legislature was a “great partner” in establishing the requirement as of April 2020 that insurers cover the cost of treatment. The coverage policy for treatment without co-pay or deductibles extends to March but Pieciak said it would be possible to extend that deadline, if necessary.

The Washington Post article notes that insurers still are commonly covering the costs of testing and vaccinations.

Nissa James, health care director for the Department of Vermont Health Access, said Vermont Medicaid was able to quickly eliminate two of its few services that required co-payments, hospital outpatient services and pharmacy medicines, which eliminated the co-pay on medications that could be used to treat COVID.

“Together, these changes ensured that no co-payments would apply to COVID-19 testing, diagnosis or treatment services for Vermont Medicaid members,” she said.

James said one reason this was important was that state and federal health care officials recognized the importance of COVID testing in mitigating the spread of the virus. For some who rely on Vermont Medicaid, a co-payment for testing could be a barrier, James said.

“It was important to reassure Vermont Medicaid members that Vermont Medicaid is required to cover testing for the detection of SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus that causes COVID-19, and testing for the diagnosis of COVID-19 and this was inclusive of all in vitro diagnostic tests that had received emergency use authorization,” she said.

Devon Green, vice president of government relations for Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, said she considered it “really admirable” for Vermont to maintain a policy that COVID treatment be covered “especially when it’s not happening in other states.”

Green said the policy provides support to Vermont hospitals because when a patient is unable to pay, the financial burden typically falls on the hospital.

“This provides both the extra coverage that is helpful to hospitals especially at a time when resources are uncertain and also provides that incentive for people to get care, treat this sooner rather than put if off over anything like money concerns or affordability,” she said.

Pieciak said state officials believed the requirement was fair because insurance companies had saved money during the pandemic when hospitals couldn’t do non-essential procedures and, therefore, they had fewer expenses for covering patients who were putting off health care to comply with the hospital restrictions or because they were reluctant to leave home.

“We were one of the first states out of the gate on all of these issues. We thought it was really critical to support Vermonters financially so they weren’t burdened financially,” he said.

patrick.mcardle @rutlandherald.com