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Tragedy Stalks a Trailer Park

December 19, 1991

CLINTON, Conn. (AP) _ The Evergreen Trailer Park is a quiet, wooded community with neatly landscaped homes along a river where children skate and feed the mallards. But death stalks the park.

On Tuesday, Michael Raffuse, 5, and his 3-year-old sister, Nicole, were pulled from the Indian River after falling through the ice.

Doctors resuscitated both children, but Michael died Wednesday and Nicole died Thursday.

During the past 10 years, there have now been four drownings, three deaths by fire and a kidnapping-murder. Five victims have been young children.

″There are a lot of ghosts walking around out here,″ said resident Sue Seabrook.

Authorities don’t know how long Michael and Nicole were submerged, and are investigating why the children were left outside unsupervised. Their mother, Diana Raffuse, was at work but her live-in boyfriend, Scott Onofrio, and a 16- year-old baby sitter were home at the time, authorities said.

″Apparently nobody checked on them for a period,″ said Police Chief Joseph Faughnan.

Police said Onofrio, 22, was charged Oct. 24 with risk of injury to a minor after three other young children he was baby sitting were found playing by themselves in a condominium parking lot. The oldest child was 6.

Raffuse, 30, also has a 1 1/2 -year-old son who was in the trailer when his siblings fell in the river about 75 feet away, police said.

The 100-trailer park, filled with hemlocks, firs and blue spruce, is home to many working-class couples and retirees. In this middle-class, mostly bedroom community of 13,000 on the coast 20 miles east of New Haven, Evergreen and two other trailer parks are the only places where the less well-off can afford to own a home.

Last December, three siblings, ages 4, 2, and 1, died when a fire swept through their trailer. Residents still recall in horror how the children never had a chance because the trailer burned so quickly.

Elderly men drowned in the river in 1982 and 1986. In 1983, an Evergreen resident kidnapped his neighbor, a 19-year-old woman, and murdered her. He is serving a 50-year sentence.

The latest accident had residents wondering how the trailer park could be so unlucky.

″In a way, it scares me because you don’t know what else is going to happen,″ said Marjorie Morin, 66. Her trailer was where the Raffuse children were taken after they were pulled from the river.

The river is not fenced, and parents’ warnings are the only thing keeping their children away. Dawn Dupre said her 5-year-old son knows he must stay away from the water.

″We’ve always stressed that. He would never think of going near it,″ she said.

Seabrook, a school bus driver, said she worries that her three young children might not be so obedient.

″We have water right in our back yard and it scares the heck out of me,″ she said. ″I’ve caught my 5-year-old going near it a few times.″

Some parts of the river freeze solid during the winter, allowing children to play on it safely. But the ice behind the Raffuse home was only about an inch thick, and did not cover all of the 5-feet-deep water.

Emergency workers who tried to save the children are well aware of the trailer park’s history.

″We’ve been up there on many occasions,″ said Peter Neff, a Clinton firefighter and former chief. ″It hasn’t been a good run of luck up there.″

Jim Wills, an ambulance driver who lives in the trailer park, helped resuscitate the Raffuse children and was the first person on the scene of last year’s trailer fire.

″This is a bad area,″ he said.

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