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Compactor death remains a mystery

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published February 07. 2014 4:00AM   Updated February 07. 2014 7:17AM

Borodell Place, a charming little 19th century, block-long, dead-end street off Hempstead Street in New London, was an especially sad place during this week's snows.

If Floyd G. Smeeton had still been alive he probably would have been out with a shovel, helping his neighbors dig out, they said.

Smeeton, who was killed after being crushed by a trash compactor at the city transfer station last week, is missed by neighbors.

Friends recall him as a kind person who was always ready to help those in need.

One neighbor, while shoveling on Borodell Place Wednesday, recalled once hearing a passing pedestrian tell Smeeton that she would have the $20 to pay him back soon.

Lending $20 to someone who might struggle to pay it back, someone you may know because they pass by regularly on your street, can be the kind of thing, it seems to me, that practically gives you a free pass into heaven.

Not only was Smeeton's death unusual and unexpected but so was the arrest, hours later, of a young woman accused of breaking into his Borodell Place house and carrying things out.

Danielle Sullivan, 24, of Nathan Hale Road in Groton, was charged with burglary and possession of burglary tools and attempted assault of a police officer. She has a pretty extensive criminal record and also had the drug PCP on her when arrested, police said.

Smeeton's neighbor told me Sullivan did not live with Smeeton, but she visited him. Smeeton, 59, referred to her as his niece and told people he had become her legal guardian when she needed help, the neighbor said.

I did find a case in the Colchester Probate Court in which someone named Danielle Sullivan had been appointed a guardian when she was a minor. But the guardian was not Smeeton.

While I was on Borodell Place this week, the police were also there, interviewing a neighbor who reported seeing someone enter Smeeton's house after his death.

After making the Sullivan arrest, police said Sullivan knew Smeeton had died, but they didn't say how she knew.

I didn't have any luck getting answers from New London police about their investigation.

The state Labor Department, with its occupational safety division, is also investigating the compactor incident, according to a department spokesperson. That investigation could take at least a month, the spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, the transfer station remains closed and will probably not reopen next week, workers there told me.

Evidently there was a witness to the incident, another customer who saw what happened, the transfer station worker said.

The compactor, which is operating continuously while it is turned on, is located right below an operator control room with windows looking into the trash receptacle and the nearby parking area.

There is a gated metal fence in front of the compactor hold, and in order to put things in you either have to lift them over the top or open the fence.

The state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has ruled the Smeeton death accidental.

Smeeton did not drink, his friends say, and it seems unlikely he was intoxicated when he was killed. After all, he was doing chores and had driven his truck to the transfer station to unload trash.

Smeeton's wife of many years, a nurse, died of cancer in 2012, and friends say his life has been adrift since then because he was so devoted to her. He took some of her ashes across the country to scatter them in the Pacific, honoring her wishes. He also left some at the arboretum at Connecticut College, where they were married, in 1976.

Smeeton worked most recently at Mohegan Sun, according to a brief obituary that appeared Wednesday. But he stopped working after his wife died, friends said.

I couldn't reach any other relatives. Smeeton's neighbors on Borodell Place said police had to come and collect his pets. No service was announced in the obituary.

I did find, deep in The Day's archives, an account of a strange 1971 case in which Smeeton was sentenced to jail for a year.

It seems his mother, her husband and his brother were all charged in connection with a sexual assault on a minor female.

Floyd Smeeton, who was 17 at the time, was sentenced to a year in jail for carnal knowledge of a minor and risk of injury. His brother, two years older, was sentenced to a year of jail for risk of injury and given a suspended sentence for carnal knowledge of a minor.

Smeeton's mother was convicted of causing delinquency of children, but the verdict was set aside by a judge. Her husband was convicted of six morals charges, including incest, and was sentenced to three to seven years in prison.

That article did not describe any of the details of the case, and I couldn't find any others in the archives.

It does, though, seem to explain why neighbors thought Smeeton was not close to his family, why no one came to feed his cats when he was gone.

Knowing the story also made it seem a little sadder this week on Borodell Place.

This is the opinion of David Collins

David Collins

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