Easton Residents Say Park's Name Is Tainted
By Stacy Davis
November 8, 2012
|Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org of Waltham, MA, hold a photo of abuse victim Michael Powel whose family recently settled a civil suit against the Bridgeport Catholic diocese, during a protest at Bridgeport Catholic diocesan headquarters at 238 Jewett Ave. in Bridgeport on Monday, March 28, 2011. Photo: Brian A. Pounds, Brian A. Pounds/file Photo / Connecticut Post|
EASTON -- Ted Alexander Jr. always was the last one dropped off after Boy Scout meetings.
The driver, his Boy Scout leader, would take the 8-year-old to a parking lot on Black Rock Turnpike and they would wrestle in the car. Sometimes, the man would shove his head into Alexander's crotch.
The man was Stephen Toth.
Shortly after his death in 1985, the town named a park after him. Many knew Toth for helping children, serving on the Parks and Recreation Commission and volunteering his time to the Boy Scouts and Little League.
Others say his reputation is tainted and want the name of Toth Park changed.
The Parks and Recreation Commission is scheduled to vote on the change Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the Helen Keller Library. The park is at the intersection of Black Rock Turnpike and Redding Road.
The commission received numerous emails and petitions from residents in favor of changing the park's name, said Commissioner Steven Lichtman.
Elizabeth Wenzel, a resident, said she collected about 700 signatures on a petition she started in September. "It just doesn't seem logical to have a park named after someone who may have treated children badly," she said Wednesday afternoon.
Although Toth never was sued or convicted on charges of child abuse, the speculation is enough of a reason to rename the park, she said. "It's not my mission to say that he's guilty," she said. "My mission stops when the name comes down."
Residents have suggested changing the park's name back to Easton Town Park or Aspetuck Park, Wenzel said.
Alexander and at least one other man who said Toth molested them began asking commissioners to change the name of the park in 2004, he said.
Alexander met Toth when he was 8. Toth was his bus driver and owner of the school bus company, he said. Alexander accepted Toth's invitation to join the Boy Scout troop he led.
"I thought of this guy like a grandfather," said Alexander, now 64 and living in Vermont.
But commissioners told Alexander in 2004 that his story was too vague. "They didn't believe me," he said.
Alexander never said anything about the incidents to his parents. Alexander's father, Theodore G. Alexander Sr., 82, had no idea Toth was abusing his son in the 1950s and 1960s, he said Wednesday. "It's a good thing I didn't know about it. He would have died sooner," he said. "He was a big guy, but that wouldn't have mattered."
Michael Powel, who said Toth also assaulted him, traveled to Connecticut from his home in St. Petersburg, Fla., in 2004 to urge the commission to take Toth's name off the park. Powel, who died in 2008 from brain cancer, said Toth tied him up, blindfolded him, performed sexual acts on him and photographed him in compromising positions. The abuse started after he joined his Boy Scout troop in 1968 and continued for three years, sometimes at the park named after him, Powel said in 2004.
Powel also alleged that Carlo Fabbozzi, a former Trumbull town councilman and janitor/landscaper for St. Theresa's Church, and a priest, Rev. Joseph Gorecki, abused him in the late 1960s and early 1970s. As a result, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport agreed to pay $200,000 to Powel's family last year. Powel also won a $10 million verdict in 2006 against Fabbozzi but was unable to collect it.
Fabbozzi could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Powel was the driving force behind getting the name of Toth Park changed, Alexander said.
Les Eckert, a retired police lieutenant for the Easton Police Department, also came forward in 2004 and said Toth tried to tie him up when he was a boy. After hearing their testimony, John A. Cunningham, the commission chairman at the time, said the case was open and the commission needed more evidence.
Gary Simone, who has been the town's parks and recreation director for 17 years, said Wednesday that he remembered the allegations from 2004. "We had our doubts," he said.
There are people who still speak highly of Toth, a World War II veteran who served in the D-Day invasion at Normandy and received accolades from author and activist Helen Keller, he said.
Simone said he's not taking the allegations lightly, but he wants the process to be fair and wants to do the right thing.
"Thomas Jefferson was (having sex with) all of the slaves," he said. "Should we take him out of the history books?"