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Maroon Raiders look to improve on gridiron

8-27 Nutley_web

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer 

The Nutley High School football team posted a 5-5 record in 2013. With any luck, that record could have been dramatically better.

“We lost three games where we had leads going into the fourth quarter,” said Nutley head coach Tom Basile, who enters his third season as the head coach of the Maroon Raiders. “We have to do a better job of finishing football games. That’s our goal this year. We have to finish better.”

Basile said that the Maroon Raiders’ season ending victory over Wayne Valley, a game where Nutley came from behind to win, has been a giant stepping stone into the 2014 season.

“We’re using that game as a springboard,” Basile said. “We have a lot of kids coming back from that team. It’s a different year, with a different schedule, but with a lot of the same kids, we feel good about our chances. The kids have really been receptive. I couldn’t be any happier.”

The Maroon Raiders will face different foes such as Caldwell, Weequahic and Irvington in 2014, shifting divisions in the Super Essex Conference.

“We have good senior leadership,” Basile said. “We have good impact players.”

One of the impact contributors will be senior quarterback Rob Melillo (6-2, 190). Melillo was the junior varsity quarterback for the last two seasons and gets his chance to finally start this fall.

“He did bide his time,” Basile said of Melillo. “He runs smart. He runs more like a fullback than a quarterback. He is smart with the ball and has a gun for an arm. His accuracy is good and manages the offense well.”

Senior Frank Malanga (5-9, 180) is the returning starter at fullback.

“He’s a hard-nosed runner who is also a good lead blocker,” Basile said. “He runs our Veer option and misdirection well.”

The key to the Raiders’ offense is junior running back Craig Merkle (6-0, 195).

“A year ago, we tried to bring him along slowly and he ended up being our leading rusher and tackler,” Basile said. “He did everything for us, running, catching passes, scoring touchdowns (11). We realized midway through last year that he was our best player. He’s everything and more.”

The other running back is junior Devin Merritt (5-9, 170), whose father, Dave, is the defensive backs coach for the New York Giants.

Senior Pete Russo (5-11, 175) is a sure-handed wide receiver who also serves as the backup quarterback. Junior receiver Anthony Condito (5-10, 170) is also a quarterback.

“All three are going to be on the field at the same time,” Basile said. “We feel pretty fortunate to have all three play quarterback.”

Senior Jason Hoffman (6-1, 230) is the starting tight end.

Senior Kevin Davis (6-3, 230) is a returning starter at offensive tackle, joined by junior August Mustardo (6-0, 195). Senior Jesse DeFuria (5-9, 215) returns to his starting slot at guard, joined by junior Devin White (5-10, 195).

The center is senior Joe Iorio (5-10, 190), who is a converted fullback.

“Joe started the season last year as our starting fullback,” Basile said. “We moved him back to center this year. He played center as a little kid, so he knows what he’s doing.”

The Maroon Raiders will utilize a 3-4 defensive set this season to better use their personnel.

“We felt that we had a lot of talent at linebacker, so we made the transition to 3-4 to get them all on the field,” Basile said.

Senior Austin Brendel (6-2, 190) joins Hoffman at defensive end, flanking DeFuria at nose guard.

Merkle is a standout at outside linebacker. He made 81 tackles to lead the team last fall. Merritt is the team’s other outside linebacker.

Malanga and Iorio return to their starting slots at inside linebacker, so the Maroon Raiders have three returning players at linebacker. Not many teams have that kind of experience at that position.

Seniors Kevin Goudie (5-9, 165) and Chris Ammiano (6-1, 170) are the cornerbacks.

Russo returns to the safety slot, where he earned All-SEC and All-Essex County honors a year ago, tying for the state lead in interceptions with eight. Incredibly, Russo made six of those interceptions in two late-season games.

Andrew Aiello (5-9, 170) is a senior who starts at the other safety slot.

The Maroon Raiders open the 2014 season against neighboring rival Belleville at Belleville on Sept. 12.

Basile really likes the makeup of his team.

“They have formed a little bit of a bond,” Basile said. “They really worked hard together in the offseason. We have a great group of leaders, a group of kids who do everything together. They hang out together off the field. They really are buddies. We profess that we’re not a team, that we’re the Nutley football family.

But that’s for real with these kids. They really are a family.” And if they can figure out a way to close out games this season, maybe they will return to the state playoffs.

“That’s what we’re hoping for,” Basile said. “We wanted to establish a tradition of contending for a state title every year.”

This could be the year that the Maroon Raiders make a return to glory.

Harrison boys’ soccer team looks to continue winning ways

8-27 View_web

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

The newest member of the First Family of West Hudson soccer arrived last Monday.

Christian Michael Rusek was born on Monday, Aug. 18, 2014, weighing in at eight pounds, six ounces. He’s the first child for Harrison High School head coach Mike Rusek, who had a reason to miss the Blue Tide practice session the next day, leaving the duties for the newborn’s grandfather and uncle to carry on.

Mike Rusek begins his 15th season as the head coach at Harrison, where he now coaches with not only his brother, John, but with his father, Mickey.

This year, things will be a little different for the head coach in the family, because of his new family obligations.

“I find myself running home after practice now,” Rusek said. “I tell everyone, ‘It’s time to go. I have to go home and be with my son.”

But in most aspects, things won’t change one iota with the Blue Tide’s immensely successful boys’ soccer program. The Blue Tide should once again contend for top honors in the Hudson County Tournament, which they won last year, and in the NJSIAA Group I ranks, where they lost in the overall state title to Newton last November.

In fact, the 2-1 loss in the state championship was the lone blemish in what had been a perfect 22-0-1 record up until that cold, dreary day at the College of New Jersey in Ewing. The Blue Tide won 19 of their 22 games via shutout last year. They featured the state player of the year in senior defender/ do-everything Modou Sowe. It was definitely a year to remember, culminating in county and state sectional titles.

But the Blue Tide graduated a lot of key members to last year’s 22-1-1 team, including the immensely talented Sowe, now at Ramapo College after amassing an astounding 19 goals as a defender last season.

“I was looking at our stats from last year and we lost a total of 75 goals to graduation,” Rusek said. “That’s a lot. You always believe and hope that the seniors who are left can carry on and hope that others now get the opportunity to play where they might have been held back.”

Rusek likes the makeup of his team.

“We do have a good number of seniors this year,” Rusek said. “We do have about half of last year’s team back. I just hope this is a group that can carry us a very long way.”

Leading the returning players is senior goalkeeper Nick Araujo, who was the one to record those 19 shutouts a year ago.

“I feel very good about that position,” Rusek said. “Nick is a solid keeper.”

The Blue Tide utilizes what Rusek dubbed “a flat back four,” instead of the traditional sweeper/stopper formation on defense.

The center defenders are seniors Rodrigo Esquivel and Ali Lathgar, both of whom are capable and experienced. The other two backs are senior Marcelo Esquivel (Rodrigo’s identical twin brother and good luck trying to determine which one is which) and senior Alexis Burga.

So the Blue Tide have some experience and strength along their back line.

One midfielder slot belongs to senior Jorge Castro, who compiled seven goals and had 10 assists last year.

“He’s a good distributor,” Rusek said. “He’s also a good defensive midfielder.”

The other midfielder is junior Cristian Marquez, who had six goals in limited action last year, but five of those scores came in the NJSIAA state tournament.

“He really came on at the end of the season,” Rusek said of Marquez.

The center midfielder is returning senior starter Leandro Gonzales, who is a three-year starter in the Harrison midfield. Gonzales had 10 goals and 10 assists last season.

“We’re hoping that Leandro can lead us if we’re going to get things done this year,” Rusek said. “If we’re scoring goals, he’s the one who will be behind a lot of it.”

Junior David Inahuazo is another key contributor in the midfield.

Up front, the Blue Tide welcomes back senior Ali Lakhrif, who had 12 goals last year, including the big lone goal in Harrison’s 1-0 victory over Kearny in the Hudson County Tournament semifinals.

“He’s definitely going to get his chance to score,” Rusek said of Lakhrif, whose family is originally from Morocco. “He has a good, strong leg.”

The other forward is senior Christian Restrepo, who gets a chance to crack the lineup this fall.

“He’s finally going to get a chance to play,” Rusek said of Restrepo.

The Blue Tide begins their season Monday, Sept. 8 against New Milford.

There is something else to be excited about. The Blue Tide will, indeed, face Kearny in the regular season at Red Bull Arena in Harrison on Saturday, Sept. 27 as part of a girls’-boys’ doubleheader on that day. No need for waiting and hoping for a county tourney showdown. The two will meet in a regular contest in late September in the state’s premier soccer palace.

“It should be a great day of soccer,” Rusek said. “I know our kids are very excited about it. As long as it’s a good day weather-wise, it should be a great crowd.”

Needless to say, the Blue Tide should be in the thick of county and state playoff runs as well – like they always are.

“I like to hope so,” Rusek said.

However, this time around, Rusek does it as a father. And there can’t be any more rewarding feeling than that.

Buccaneers look to gain respectability under Fischer

8-27Bellefootball_web

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer 

Joe Fischer knows exactly what the new head football coach at Belleville High School has to do – because he’s done it.

In 2004, Fischer inherited a Belleville football program that was in the midst of the state’s longest losing streak. At first, it didn’t get better for the Buccaneers, as they lost all 10 games during Fischer’s first season.

But in 2005, the 33-game losing streak ended with a dramatic win over Paterson Eastside. Two years later, the Buccaneers did the unthinkable and qualified for the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV state playoffs for the first time since 1984.

Fischer then stepped aside to take care of his young family.

The Buccaneers were 1-9 last season and struggled to make it to the end of the year, so Fischer can relate to what the new coach has to tackle as he takes over.

The new coach? None other than Joe Fischer.

The former coach of the Buccaneers is now the current head coach of the Buccaneers, returning after a seven-year respite.

And Fischer inherits a lot of the same headaches he incurred when he came to Belleville from Immaculate Conception of Montclair a decade ago.

“I knew it was going to be a challenge,” Fischer said after a spirited practice last week. “But when I came the first time, we didn’t even have a field.”

The Buccaneers were forced to play all their games on the road that season due to troubles at Doc Ellis Field, which has since been totally restored and renovated to make it a beautiful facility.

“We have 64 kids now in the program, including 22 freshmen,” Fischer said. “We have kids who want to play football. Things are definitely looking up. We’re definitely moving up.”

Fischer said that the first obstacle was instilling a sense of decorum and pride.

“The attitude was the first challenge,” said Fischer, who posted a 10-30 record during his first tenure as head coach. “We’re working on changing the attitude every day. It starts with the kids having to show up every day, ready to work. They have to be accountable. I think at least 95% of the kids bought into that idea and the others are no longer here.”

Fischer has faith in restoring the Belleville program and giving it a sense of pride.

“I can see the potential,” Fischer said. “We’ve put in a system on offense and a system on defense. We’re not asking kids to do things that they cannot do. So we can improve right away. We will do what we do well and keep on moving forward.”

Fischer said that he wants to get all of his players involved.

“Our goal is to go two-platoon (meaning different players on offense and defense, like what’s done in college and the NFL),” Fischer said. “Right now, we maybe have three kids who go both ways and that’s out of necessity. We want to have our players play.”

Fischer will run a multiple set on offense, with its basis being the Delaware Wing-T.

Leading the returnees is junior quarterback Joey Rivera (5-10, 170).

“He’s very athletic,” Fischer said of Rivera. “He’s very fast and runs the offense well. He’s probably going to be our leading rusher this year. He’s our best runner and has a great first step.”

Sophomore Brian Rivera (5- 11, 150 and no relation to Joey) is the team’s starting running back.

“He started last year as a freshman,” Fischer said. “He’s a good athlete.”

The fullback is another sophomore in Terrence Best (5-10, 180).

“He’s blocking well,” Fischer said. “He’s an intelligent kid who knows the offense and knows how to block.”

Senior Manny Lascarro (5- 9, 170) is the team’s resident wingback/wide receiver.

“He’s the fastest kid on the team,” Fischer said. “He’s very athletic.”

Lascarro is also a champion in tae kwon do, so Fischer likes his hands.

Senior Michael Ramirez (6- 0, 190) is a four-year varsity player at wide receiver.

“He goes up and gets the ball,” Fischer said. “He has good hands.”

Junior Jared Collazo (5-11, 170) is another wide receiver. Collazo has just joined the program for the first time.

The tackles are senior Victor Samaniego (6-0, 270) and junior Jeremy Jones (6-3, 280), so the Bucs have good size at the bookends.

Senior Nick Nardachone (6-2, 230) is at guard. He’s another four-year player and a returning starter from last year. Nardachone, who is also a standout wrestler, is a player to watch on both sides of the ball.

Senior Michael Baylock (5- 10, 250) is another returning player at guard.

Sophomore Craig Jackowski (6-0, 180) is the starting center.

Nardachone has been moved outside to defensive end to key the Buccaneers’ 4-4 defensive formation. Senior Ibn Whitfield (6-0, 200) is the other defensive end.

Sophomore Andre Vasquez (5-10, 175) will get time also at defensive end. “He’s lightning quick,” Fischer said of Vasquez.

Samaniego and Baylock are the defensive tackles.

Lascarro and Ramirez are players to watch at linebacker.

Senior Anthony Jett (5-11, 150) is a fixture at cornerback, along with Brian Rivera. Joey Rivera is the team’s free safety.

The Buccaneers open their season early, facing Snyder on Friday, Sept. 5 at Doc Ellis Field. They then face Nutley Sept. 12, also at home.

In fact, Belleville will play seven of their nine scheduled games this season at home, so that gives the Buccaneers an advantage over their opponents.

“Seven home games, seven Friday night games,” Fischer said.

Fischer likes the makeup of his team.

“I like the attitude,” Fischer said. “We weeded out the kids who were negative.”

Fischer also likes his coaching staff.

“They all played college football, so they know what it takes,” Fischer said. “That’s important to me. They’re all positive people. We put together a nice coaching staff.”

Fischer also thinks that the Buccaneers will be better this year.

“We should improve,” Fischer said. “We should be competitive.”

It’s definitely a new era for Belleville football.

“That’s right,” Fischer said.

He should know.

Seeking buyer

Stewarts_web

Stewart’s Drive-in, a longstanding Kearny business at 938 Passaic Ave., is on the market. The property is just south of the Cpl. Osbrany Montes de Oca Memorial (Belleville Turnpike) Bridge.

Obituaries

Irene Chickene 

Irene Chickene, 93, passed away Aug. 22 at Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville.

Visiting will be on Tuesday, Aug. 26, from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Armitage Wiggins Funeral Home, 596 Belgrove Dr., Kearny. A funeral Mass will be on Wednesday, Aug. 27, at 10:30 a.m. in St. Stephen’s Church, Kearny, and burial will follow at Holy Cross Cemetery. To leave online condolences, please visit www.armitagewiggins.com

Irene was raised in Missouri where she received her degree in nursing. Shortly after that, she served overseas during World War II and was an Army nurse, eventually moving to New Jersey.

After staying home raising her family, Irene returned to nursing at the former West Hudson Hospital in Kearny. She later worked both at the Kearny Board of Health and as a school nurse.

Irene is survived by her loving and devoted family. She leaves behind three daughters Mary and Nancy both of Kearny and Terri Watson with her husband Danny of West Caldwell. She is also survived by her grandchildren Carly and Jack Watson, her sister Beulah Foster of Missouri as well as nieces and nephews. She was predeceased by her two daughters Frances and Susan.

In lieu of flowers, kindly consider a donation to the Wounded Warrior Project.

Barbara Choinski 

Barbara Choinski (nee Milewski) of North Arlington peacefully entered into eternal rest surrounded by her family after a short illness on Monday, Aug.18. She was 64.

Funeral services were under the direction of the Mulligan Funeral Home, Harrison. A funeral Mass was held at Our Lady of Czestochowa Church, Harrison. Her interment was in Holy Cross Cemetery, North Arlington. For information, please visit www.mulliganfuneralhome.org.

Born in Police, Poland, she lived in Harrison for two years before moving to North Arlington and living most of her life there. She worked as a secretary for Accurate Tool and Die in North Arlington for many years. She was a parishioner of Our Lady of Czestochowa Church.

Barbara is survived by her mother Henrika Grygielko, sisters Irene Bishop and Teresa Kociecka, her lifelong companion John Adler, aunts Helen and Hedwig Grygielko, nieces and nephews, Heather Bishop, Antoni and Przemek Milewski, and Pawel and Jacek Kociecki She is also survived by her cousin Ambassador Kosowicz of Los Angeles.

The family would appreciate donations to Our Lady of Czestochowa Church, 115 S. Third St., Harrison, N.J. 07029 in loving memory of Barbara.

Jesus Garcia 

Jesus Garcia, of Kearny, died Aug. 23. He was 63.

Arrangements were by the Armitage Wiggins Funeral Home, 596 Belgrove Dr., Kearny. The funeral service will be held Tuesday, Aug. 26, at 11 a.m. from the funeral home and burial will follow in Holy Cross Cemetery.

He is survived by his wife Miguelina, son Oscar and stepchildren Ivan, Rocio and Jose Fermin, a brother and sister and five grandchildren.

Maria Fatima Meyer 

Maria Fatima Meyer peacefully entered into eternal rest on Tuesday, Aug. 19, surrounded by her family and friends.

Born in Lombacdamaia, Azores, Portugal, Maria lived in Newark most of her life before moving to Harrison in 2010. She was a parishioner of St. James Church, Newark.

She is survived by her loving children Barbara, Shana, Jennifer, Frederico and Stephanie; dear siblings Grace Ambrosio, Leonel, Emanuel and Joe Rocha, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild. She is also survived by many nieces, nephews and cousins. She was predeceased by her mother Maria Rocha and sister Maria Doceu.

Funeral services were under the direction of the Mulligan Funeral Home, Harrison. A funeral Mass was held at St. Stephen’s Church, Kearny. Her interment took place in Holy Cross Cemetery, North Arlington.

For information, please visit www.mulliganfuneralhome.org.

John Muscarella IV 

John Muscarella IV, 27, of Kearny died Aug. 22 after his long battle with Cystic Fibrosis.

Visiting will be at Armitage and Wiggins Funeral Home, 596 Belgrove Dr., Kearny, Friday, Aug. 29, 4 to 8 p.m. A funeral service will be held Saturday, Aug. 30, at 10 a.m. at the funeral home, with interment in Holy Cross Cemetery. Condolences can be sent to www.armitagewiggins.com.

He was the beloved son of Debbie Farrell Muscarella and the late John Muscarella III; brother of Tina Santiago (Arsenio), Jessica Muscarella and the late Amanda Muscarella; uncle of Anthony, Joshua, Atianna, Alexsis and Arsenio. He was the nephew of John Beasley and is survived by several other uncles, aunts and cousins.

John was a strong person and fought a great fight. He was a diehard Jets fan. As per John’s wishes, please do not attend his wake in a suit, but put on your favorite T-shirt and jeans and come to the funeral home to celebrate his life.

In lieu of flowers, the family will be accepting donations at the funeral home or make a donation in John’s memory to The Cystic Foundation, 2 University Plaza, Suite 312, Hackensack, N.J. 07601-6210. (www.cff.org).

Linda List Currie Rogers 

Rogers_web

Linda List Currie Rogers, born to Peggy and Edwin List in Newark, on May 21, 1947, passed away Aug. 18 in Kingwood, Texas.

Linda grew up in Kearny, where she raised her family with her husband, George, before moving to Kingwood in 1991. She worked as a Weight Watchers leader for 10 years; office manager for Kingwood Funeral Home for five years; and administrative assistant for the Lifelong Learning Dept. at Lone Star College in New Caney, Texas, for the past six years.

Linda was preceded in death by her parents; and first husband, George Currie. She is survived by husband, Everett Benson “Buddy” Rogers Jr.; sons, Scott Currie (Patty), Sean Currie (Theresa), and John Currie (Gretchen); sister, Diane Michaliszyn (Joseph); brother, Edwin List Jr.; grandchildren, Aiden and Kylie Currie; Christopher and Bryan Currie; Ian, Anna, Peter, Luke and Joseph Currie; niece, Meaghan List; nephews, Jason List, Andrew and Matthew Michaliszyn; stepchildren, Jeane Rogers, Kathy Rogers Mayeux (Gordon), Everett Benson Rogers III (Terry), and Timothy Rogers.

A Mass of Christian burial was celebrated at St. Martha Catholic Church on Aug. 25 and interment followed in Houston National Cemetery. For those desiring to make a memorial contribution, please honor Linda’s love for children by sending donations to either Ronald MacDonald House or to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Post 99 is 95!

SONY DSC

By Karen Zautyk 

Observer Correspondent 

KEARNY – 

Ninety-five years ago this week — Aug. 19, 1919 — 13 veterans of the Great War, as World War I was then known, gathered in the Kearny home of Fred E. Portz to organize a local chapter of the American Legion.

Along with Portz, those founding members were Alfred Feickert, Willis E. Wood, Dr. John F. Hanold, John Hanly, Asher I. Roberts, Charles Whitehead, Al Downing, Robert Downing, Dr. Edward H. Willan, George Winne, Roland M. Ellis and Alexander Brockway.

We list them all here because it was from this small group that emerged one of the strongest Legion chapters in the country, J.E. Frobisher Jr. Post 99.

With the approval of the hero’s family, it was named for the late Joseph Edwin Frobisher Jr. of Kearny, a U.S. Army Signal Corps pilot who had been shot down over France in 1918.

The Post received a temporary charter in October 1919 and a permanent charter in May 1921.

The meetings were first held at the Arlington Players Club (at the time located off Midland Ave.) and later at Town Hall, then the Exempt Firemen’s Headquarters and then the Elks Lodge.

In 1923, Post 99 could stop bouncing around, its having acquired the Burroughs mansion on Midland Ave., where the Kearny Post Office is now located. The real estate investment proved wise: The Legionnaires bought the property for $15,000 and sold it in 1930 when they received an offer for more than twice that price.

For several years, they met in the Patterson Building on Kearny Ave., and then they moved to the headquarters they still occupy, at 314 Belgrove Dr., across from what is now called Veterans Field.

That structure, by the way, had been the carriage house and stable for the Old Soldiers Home, which moved to Menlo Park after many decades in Kearny. Post members did the renovations — as, thanks to the current efforts of former Commander Anthony Capitti, they are now repairing and renovating the building that has been in continual use as a meeting hall/gathering place since 1936.

Post 99’s primary mission has always been to assist veterans. Even back in 1919, its programs involved vets’ insurance, cooperation with the Red Cross on veterans’ matters, and outreach to the community. But at the height of its activities, between the wars and with an influx of veterans after World War II, it also sponsored student essay and oratorical contests, a competitive drum and bugle corps and basketball, baseball, softball and bowling teams.

Photo by Karen Zautyk Walter Tomasheski, Post 99 fi nance offi cer (l.) and Commander Keith McMillan

Photo by Karen Zautyk
Walter Tomasheski, Post 99 finance officer (l.) and Commander Keith McMillan

 

In the 1940s, it organized the Kearny Civilian Police Reserve force, which supplemented the KPD through 1946. And following World War II, it was instrumental in the development of veterans’ housing, including 25 homes built on Passaic Ave. The program was so successful, and garnered so much attention, Post 99 received requests for advice from more than 200 localities nationwide.

You can also thank Post 99 for the existence of the veterans’ memorial park between Kearny Ave. and Beech St., north of Quincy Ave. The Legionnaires bought the land, donated it to the town and raised funds for the first monument, the towering World War I memorial, which was personally dedicated by Gen. John J. Pershing on May 27, 1922.

Now, lest you think your correspondent did massive research to collect all this knowledge, she did not. It comes courtesy of Fred E. Portz, the same gentleman who hosted that 1919 organizational meeting.

When he died in 1964, Portz was in the process of compiling and writing the Post 99 history. It was published posthumously by his widow, Jessie E. Portz, who noted she had it “printed unedited.” (You’d never guess. It looks pretty neat to our copyeditor’s eyes.) It was from this booklet that we harvested the information presented above.

Today, like many other veterans’ groups, American Legion Post 99 is dealing with diminishing membership. Over the last decade or so, it has dropped from 325 to 187, primarily due to the loss of the WWII generation. But this is not discouraging current Post Commander Keith McMillan. A lifelong Kearny resident, McMillan is an Air Force veteran who served three tours of duty in Kyrgyzstan, Iraq and Afghanistan. His father and grandfather were both Post members. He joined in 2004, and he is anxious to recruit new blood.

“I understand that most of the guys coming back want to start a new chapter in their life — getting a job, starting a family,” McMillan said, but he has hopes the younger vets will join.

Walter Tomasheski, the finance officer and a Vietnam-era Navy veteran, noted, “The No. 1 thing for the Post right now is getting newer members, younger members. They join, but they do not get active.”

“We’re trying to communicate with the new generation of veterans,” McMillan said, adding, “We are fortunate enough to be next door to the VFW and close to the Marine Corps League, and we’re starting to work more together.”

“Each is unique,” the commander continued, “but we have a common understanding: We all served. And we have a common commitment — keeping the heritage and history alive and helping other veterans.”

In 2012, Post 99 Auxiliary President Mary Alyn Fisher spearheaded the launch of a new project, Kearny VOICE (Veterans Outreach Information Community & Education), which is partnered with the VFW and Marine Corps League. VOICE provides Kearny veterans and their families with information and assistance regarding benefits, claims, counseling, education and job training.

After 95 years, American Legion Post 99 has lost none of its commitment to its founders’ goals.

(Editor’s note: Next month, on the anniversary of his death, we will write more about the man for whom Post 99 is named, Joseph E. Frobisher Jr.)

Pressing for bridge funding

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By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 

LYNDHURST – 

Lawmakers from all levels of government, led by State Sen. President Stephen Sweeney, assembled for a press conference on the banks of the Passaic River Aug. 12 to declare their support for a replacement for the 109-year-old DeJessa Memorial Bridge that links Lyndhurst and Nutley.

To that end, the counties of Bergen and Essex will be applying jointly to the N.J. Transportation Planning Authority for an endorsement to undertake the project together with the Federal Highway Administration.

Applications for the “concept development phase” of the authority’s transportationrelated Local Capital Projects Delivery Program are due to the NJTPA by Sept. 12 for the next funding cycle’s consideration, according to authority spokesman David Behrund.

That program provides federal funding for projects led by counties in the region, Behrund said. After technical review of proposals, NJTPA’s Board of Trustees will vote to allocate a total of $2.5 million in funding for successful applicants in January 2015.

President Obama has signed a bill that provides nearly $11 billion to fund bridge and highway repairs over the next 10 months.

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Photos by Ron Leir

 

Cost for a new bridge – bigger, wider, stronger – is tentatively pegged at $15 million but Bergen County Public Works Director Joe Crifasi, who is helping draft the application, said: “There are estimates it could go as high as $30 million to $40 million.”

While the experts may differ on how much would be spent – if the application is successful – the legislators all agree that the existing two-lane bridge, at Kingsland and Riverside Aves., has got to go because it can’t adequately handle the current volume of traffic: some 40,000 vehicles cross it daily and about half that number travel Riverside, making for slow-going at peak hours at that poorly signalized intersection.

Adding to the snarls is a traffic signal at the Rt. 21 North ramp on the Nutley side of the bridge which is out of sync with the light at the intersection. Construction along Rt. 3 causing diversion of traffic to the bridge has also contributed to tie-ups.

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The bridge, a swing span, lifts and spins to the center of the river to let boats pass through, but its ancient mechanical system “precludes us from opening it efficiently,” Crifasi said. Bergen and Essex have shared an annual maintenance cost on the bridge at between $100,000 and $200,000, he said.

In a letter to the NJTPA, Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., a Democrat representing the 9th Congressional District, characterized the DeJessa bridge as “functionally obsolete and structurally deficient. … Furthermore, the traffic at the intersections surrounding the bridge is unbearable and is creating economic consequences for daily commuters as well as a number of local business establishments.”

One of those business owners is Nutley Mayor Alphonse Petracco, who, with his brother, in April, opened the Riva Blue restaurant-lounge just off the bridge in Lyndhurst. Bridge traffic delay “is the biggest complaint we get in Nutley,” the mayor said at last Tuesday’s event. “It’s time to act before there’s a serious accident.”

Those conditions make it clear, Pascrell wrote, that “a two-lane bridge built in 1905 cannot possibly meet the needs of the modern day.”

In the meantime, Lyndhurst Mayor Robert Giangeruso said he’s “taken the lead” to get Bergen County to redesign and widen the Kingsland/ Riverside intersection that will take out the traffic island, provide new turning lanes and improved signalization, along with a new Rt. 21 ramp. JC Improvement & Construction Corp. of Bloomfield has been contracted to do the job for $856,000 and Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan said the contract calls for a 180-day completion. It took Lyndhurst several years to acquire privately-owned easements needed to do the work. Also, PSE&G will be relocating several utility poles.

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But the DeJessa bridge is only one example of what Sweeney – an ironworker by trade — labeled as “the crisis in the state with crumbling infrastructure” at a time when the Transportation Trust Fund “is broke.” So he said he’s campaigning “to refund the Trust.” Otherwise, he wondered: “What business is going to move to New Jersey when there’s no Transportation Trust Fund?”

Facing a new gun charge

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By Karen Zautyk 

Observer Correspondent 

KEARNY –

A Kearny man, who two years ago accidentally shot himself in the jaw with a Smith & Wesson .38 revolver, was arrested last week in Newark on weapons charges. This time, authorities said, he was in possession of an AR-15 assault rifle. There was no indication he had ever accidentally shot himself with that.

James J. Hamilton, 23, of Kearny was arrested Aug. 13 along with Jonathan Garcia, 30, of Newark, after a raid on a home at 33 Taylor St. in that city by the Essex County Narcotics Task Force.

Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn A. Murray and Newark Police Director Eugene Venable said both men were charged with possession of an assault weapon (a Bushmaster Carbon AR-15), possession of a high-capacity magazine and possession of a weapon by a convicted felon (both being convicted felons).

The Task Force, which was executing a search warrant at the address, reportedly also seized 28 live .223-caliber rounds and a semi-automatic .40-caliber Hi-point JCP pistol.

Kearny Police Chief John Dowie said Hamilton (a/k/a “White Boy”) has a township arrest record dating to 2010 that includes shoplifting, drug and weapons charges.

Back in July 2012, the KPD responded to a shooting at a rooming house at 344 Kearny Ave., Hamilton’s place of residence at the time, and found him lying outside on the sidewalk, bleeding profusely from a bullet wound to the jaw.

Officers followed a trail of blood to his second-floor apartment, where copious amounts splattered the floor and walls.

Hamilton had shot himself accidentally, and a friend who was visiting at the time hid the gun, police said. During a search for the weapon, Kearny Det. Ray Lopez climbed a tree near the rooming house and spotted it on the roof of an adjacent garage.

While Hamilton was hospitalized, the investigation continued, and police learned he apparently had no permit for the .38. He was arrested Aug. 15, 2012, by Dowie, who spotted him near Beech St. and Seeley Ave. and knew that warrants had been issued against him.

Hamilton was remanded to the Hudson County Jail on charges of unlawful possession of a handgun, unlawful disposition of a handgun and discharge of a firearm within town limits.

Disposition of that case is not known.

But last week, he was back behind bars, this time in the Essex County Jail, where he and Garcia were being held on $100,000 bail each.

New spin on house party

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By Karen Zautyk 

Observer Correspondent 

KEARNY–

A house-party host got a bit more than he bargained for when he hired a disc jockey for the festivities and an “associate” robbed him at knifepoint, Kearny police reported. Thanks to some determined detective work, the alleged assailant was tracked (pun intended) down and arrested last week.

Kearny Police Chief John Dowie said the incident occurred in late July at a party in a home on the 500 block of Devon St. During the bash, the 20-year-old host reportedly was confronted by a man who said he had supplied the speakers for the music and demanded money above and beyond the agreed-to DJ’s fee.

When the self-proclaimed “associate” was advised that no such separate payment had been arranged, he pulled a knife, police said. After the host still refused to pay, the man allegedly began slashing the air, nearly cutting a female partygoer across the face.

“To appease the assailant, the victim gave him his cell phone, and the assailant fled,” Dowie said. The party broke up shortly afterwards.

The crime was not immediately reported, police said, but when it was a couple of days later, Det. Ray Lopez interviewed the victim, got the suspect’s description and gathered basic information about the DJ who had been hired.

Lopez then conducted a foot canvas of the area, noting the location of private security cameras. He requested and received permission to view the videotapes and saw images of the alleged robber walking down the street, Dowie reported.

Presuming that the party might have engendered some noise complaints, Lopez checked the records (no pun intended) at headquarters and discovered there had indeed been such calls to the KPD that night. The detective contacted the responding officer, P.O. Ben Wuelfing, who, as luck and good police work would have it, had noted the descriptions of vehicles in the area. Lopez then identified the one the robber might have used.

The detective developed a suspect, drew up complaints and on Aug. 12 took into custody 20-year-old Springfield resident Tarik Gourdine.

Gourdine has been charged with conspiracy, robbery, unlawful possession of a weapon and possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes.

He was released on $30,000 bail, which had a 10% option.

Cops nab suspects in stabbing, theft

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LYNDHURST –

The Lyndhurst Police Department last week announced the capture of suspects wanted in connection with a stabbing at a local entertainment spot and with a residential theft.

On Monday, Aug. 11, at about 2 a.m., police were called to the Riva Blue night club, 525 Riverside Ave., on a report of a fight with injuries. Inside, on the second level, officers found Eric Burrell, 21, of South Orange, on the floor covered with blood.

Police said Burrell appeared to have sustained laceration type wounds to his chest and side. Lyndhurst EMS stabilized Burrell and transported him to UMDNJ Hospital, Newark, where he was treated for three stab wounds and a collapsed lung.

Burrell is expected to recover, police said. Police said Det. Sgt. John Mazure, Det. Sgt. John Kerner and Det. Vincent Auteri, all assigned to investigate the incident, learned the identification of the suspected attacker – listed as Malik Taylor, 21, of East Orange – after interviewing several witnesses and reviewing the club’s surveillance video.

No weapon was found at the scene but police believe a box cutter was used in the assault.

According to Det. Capt. John Valente, the victim and alleged attacker had known each other and “there was bad blood” between them.

Once the suspect’s ID was known, detectives went to Taylor’s place of employment in Union and to his home in East Orange but the suspect wasn’t at either location, but was alerted to the fact that police were looking for him.

Taylor subsequently turned himself in to Lyndhurst PD detectives on Aug. 12, police said.

Taylor was booked on charges of criminal attempted homicide, aggravated assault with significant bodily injury, aggravated assault, possession of a weapon for unlawful purpose and possession of a weapon and taken to Bergen County Jail after failing to post $250,000 bail set by Bergen County Superior Court Judge Lisa Perez-Fricia.

In the other incident, shortly after 1 p.m. on Aug. 12, police responded to the 600 block of Third Ave. on a report that someone had just taken a package from the front steps of a residence and fled on foot, east on Third towards Orient Way.

Police said a witness who spotted the would-be thief provided officers with a description and the suspect, identified as Flavio Arandi, 56, of Paterson, was stopped by Sgt. Richard Jarvis in the 700 block of Third Ave. and Officer Chris Cuneo, just arriving at that location, placed Arandi under arrest.

Police said the package, which was delivered by the U.S. Postal Service, was found in a recycling bin next to a home in the 600 block of Third Ave. It had been opened but the contents – a pair of shoes – were still inside, police said.

Police surmise that the suspect ditched the package after realizing he’d been seen in the act of allegedly stealing it. Arandi was charged with theft and destruction of evidence.

A follow-up investigation disclosed that Arandi had an outstanding warrant for $1,256 from Clifton and he was later turned over to Clifton PD on that warrant, police said.

– Ron Leir