A Keene, New Hampshire college professor recently pled guilty in Cheshire County Superior Court to two counts of reckless conduct, a misdemeanor offense, in the illegal disposal of asbestos debris taken from her home during a remodeling project. Violating asbestos control and management laws is a class B felony in New Hampshire.
Lourdes Ramirez-Crusellas, 63, entered a guilty plea to the charges, which stem from her taking asbestos debris removed from her home on School Street in Keene during renovation and illegally disposing of it in dumpsters around Keene State College, where she has been a professor of Spanish since 1975.
During her sentencing, and presumably to mitigate the charges, Ramirez-Crusellas, a Cuban emigrant, noted her extensive work for charities, both in Keene and elsewhere, most notably the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, located in Keene, where she acted on behalf of Hispanic immigrants.
Ramirez-Crusellas’ plea – that she had arrived in America with nothing, lived off government support for several decades, and has since lived at the house on School Street for more than two decades as a single mother while working to support her two sons – led Superior Court Judge John P. Arnold to ask if her sentence, nine days in Cheshire County Jail and $8,500 in fines, might be a bit excessive.
The fines, $4,000 to the state and $4,500 to the college, are in addition to the nine days in jail, to be served on three consecutive weekends of Friday through Sunday. The original jail sentence was for a year.
According to Ramirez-Crusellas, deciding to throw the asbestos debris in college trash bins was a split-second decision arising from the fact that she had just recently received a large medical bill for one of her sons and been refused help paying for it by her ex-husband.
According to Ramirez-Crusellas’ attorney, Michael J. Connolly, accepting the jail time allowed charges to be reduced from felony status to a misdemeanor, which Ramirez-Crusellas felt would help ameliorate any effects on her status at the college or her charity work.
Prosecutors, on the other hand, charged that Ramirez-Crusellas knew that throwing the asbestos in a dumpster was illegal, since co-defendant Paul Davis, who accomplished the illegal asbestos removal during renovation, had told her so. Davis also advised her costs for renovation work would be higher as a result, which led Ramirez-Crusellas to agree to disposal at her own expense.
Davis, 57, was charged on January 20 of 2009 by a Cheshire County Grand Jury of six counts of violating New Hampshire’s Asbestos Control and Management laws. The indictments surrounded allegations that Davis illegally performed asbestos abatement at 127 School Street in Keene, allegations later shown to be fact.
Ramirez-Crusellas had also been advised about a decade earlier by another home remodeling contractor that asbestos removal required a licensed remediation firm, and that the disposal itself mandated special facilities, at greater cost.
Davis, who pleaded guilty in May of 2009 to three counts of felony asbestos disposal, was sentenced to a year in Cheshire County jail and fined $3,000. His sentence was commuted to six days in jail.
Ramirez-Crusellas has since resigned as chairwoman of the modern language department at Keene State College. She remains employed as a faculty member, according to Keene State College spokeswoman Robin Dutcher, who added that the situation was resolved as far as the college was concerned.
For those who may have come in contact with the bags of asbestos debris in college dumpsters, the situation may eventually resolve as mesothelioma, a slow-acting but highly lethal form of cancer of mesothelial tissues caused by asbestos fibers, which are so small they have to be viewed under a microscope, and so toxic they lead to cancers whose ultimate prognosis is commonly a year or less to live.
Sources: Nashua Telegraph, New Hampshire Dept of Environmental Services