NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

October 13, 2012

Former firefighter charged with indecent assault

Police say he called actions against disabled woman `consensual'

By Alex Lippa Staff Writer
Newburyport Daily News

---- — GEORGETOWN — Police say a former Topsfield on-call firefighter pressured a disabled woman to take off her clothes and sexually assaulted her last year while they were parked in a car at the edge of Interstate 95 in Georgetown.

William Wood, 57, of 14 Ross Road, Topsfield, was an on-call firefighter in the “spring or early summer” of 2011, when he met the 29-year-old woman who uses a wheelchair, according to a state police report.

The report said that after Wood and the woman met at the fire station, they went out for a drive and he pulled off the highway, pressured her to take off her shirt and bra, touched her inappropriately and took photos of her with a cell phone camera.

After the woman reported that and another incident involving Wood to the Topsfield fire chief, he and a town lawyer talked to Wood, police said. Wood told them anything that happened between him and the woman was consensual, according to police.

Police arrested Wood on Thursday on a warrant and charged him with assault and battery on a person with a disability, indecent assault and battery, and annoying and accosting a person of the opposite sex. Wood was arraigned in Haverhill District Court yesterday. Judge Stephen Abany ordered that Wood be held on $4,000 bail and be ordered to strictly stay away from the woman. A relative of Wood was seen posting Wood’s bail shortly after his arraignment.

Phone messages left for Wood and his lawyer, Alisa Rosenthal, were not returned.

A call or on-call firefighter is typically a volunteer member of a department who receives pay when he is called in to work.

The woman often parked her car at the Topsfield fire station because she trains nearby for wheelchair road races, the police report said. She became friendly with several of the firefighters and was interested in firefighting, it said.

The report said that one evening in the spring or early summer of 2011, the woman was talking with Wood when he offered her a ride in his convertible. The woman accepted the ride and the two traveled around Topsfield, eventually making their way onto I-95, where they drove back and forth between Topsfield and Newburyport, according to the report.

During the ride, Wood repeatedly pressured the woman to take her shirt off, the report said. The woman resisted Wood and eventually became nervous that he would hurt her if she did not obey him, according to the report.

Wood eventually pulled into the highway’s breakdown lane in Georgetown and the woman took her shirt and bra off, the report said. Wood used the woman’s cell phone and took several photos of her, and then touched her breast, the report said. He then repeatedly pressured the woman to show her underwear. After initially refusing, she eventually unbuttoned her pants and showed him the top of her underwear out of fear for what Wood might do, according to the report.

Wood eventually returned the woman to the fire station, but no one else was there when they arrived, police said. The woman said she deleted the photos from her cell phone a short time later, according to police.

The woman encountered Wood again at the fire station in May of this year, the police report said. It said no one was at the station except for the woman and Wood, and Wood began talking about the convertible. The woman told him she was not interested in the convertible, and then Wood asked if she wanted to sit in one of Topsfield’s new fire trucks. The woman hesitated, but then agreed because she was interested in the new truck, according to the police report. She climbed into the engine and Wood began taking pictures of her with her cell phone, saying, “How about one of your sexy pictures? Take off your shirt,” according to the report.

Wood continued to pressure her, but she was pleasant to him because she feared him, the report said. Wood then asked if he could follow her home, but the woman refused and drove away, according to the report. The woman told police she believed she saw Wood’s vehicle following her on Boston Street as she left the station.

The woman told police that following the second incident, she decided to report them to Topsfield Fire Chief Ron Giovannacci. Police said Giovannacci and Topsfield’s town attorney David Jenkins met with Wood after hearing the woman’s allegations and Wood told them that he had driven in the convertible with the woman. He said anything that happened during the ride was consensual, police said.

Wood told Giovannacci and Jenkins that the woman’s shirt was lifted up at one point and that he did touch her breasts, according to police. Wood also said he helped the woman into the fire truck during the second incident, asked if she wanted “a special picture taken” and if she wanted to take off her shirt, police said.

Wood’s next court date is Nov. 8.