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Ellen T. Murphy Cicchino

Ellen T. Murphy Cicchino, 71, of Toms River, passed away Monday, April 2, at Monmouth Medical Center, Long Branch.

She was born in Newark and lived in Kearny before moving to Toms River 14 years ago.

Ellen worked in the accounts payable department for the Archdiocese of Newark and spent 31 years as an accounting department executive for Continental Insurance in Newark, Piscataway and New York City before retiring. She was a parishioner of St. Joseph’s Church, Toms River.

She was predeceased by her parents John and Anne Murphy and her sister Roseanne Barton. She is survived by her loving husband John Cicchino (Buddy) of Toms River and his children John Cicchino III of Neptune Beach, Fla., Catherine Fowlie of Concord, N.C., Suzanne Cicchino of Toms River; her brother John (Jackie) Murphy of Harrison; her niece Kimberly Barton of North Arlington; her nephew John Barton of Harrison; seven grandchildren Kristen, Erik, Maxwell, Angela, Neil, Andrew and Charlie. Viewing was held on Tuesday April 3, and Wednesday April 4, at DeGraff Lakehurst Funeral Home, 119 Union Ave., Lakehurst, with a funeral mass at St. Johns Church, Lakehurst followed by a committal service at Ocean County Memorial Park, Toms River.

 Silvana DeOliveira

Silvana (Corsi) DeOliveira, 47 died on Wednesday April 4, in the St. Barnabas Hospice and Palliative Care Center, Newark.

Arrangements were by the Thiele-Reid Family Funeral Home, 585 Belgrove Drive, Kearny. The funeral service was held on April 7 in the First Presbyterian Church of Arlington, 663 Kearny Ave., Kearny, followed by interment in Holy Cross Cemetery, North Arlington. Condolences and memories may be shared at www.thiele-reid.com.

Silvana was born in Brazil, immigrating to this country at age 4.  She lived in Newark before moving to Kearny in 1988.

She was employed as an accounts payable clerk for Care Station in Linden for four years.

Silvana is survived by her beloved children Stephanie and Richard DeOliveira; parents Antonio and Maria (Ottoboni) Corsi; sister Sonia Hill and her husband James and niece Sarah Marie Hill. She was predeceased by her sister Sylvia Corsi.


John Gallagher 

John “Jack” Gallagher, 76 died on Friday April 6, in the St. Michael’s Medical Center, Newark.

Arrangements were by the Thiele-Reid Family Funeral Home, 585 Belgrove Drive, Kearny. A funeral liturgy was offered in St. Cecilia’s Church, Kearny, followed by private cremation. Condolences and memories may be shared at www.thiele-reid.com

Jack was born in Dundonald, Scotland, and immigrated to this country in 1963 settling in Kearny. He served for the British Army in the Republic of Malta from 1952 until 1954.

He was a union painter employed by IUPAT Local 1004 in Bloomfield for 40 years retiring 14 years ago.

Mr. Gallagher was a proud member of the Scotts American Athletic Club and the Irish American Club both of Kearny.

He is survived by his wife Margaret “Rita” (Murray); his children Angela Sylvester (Anthony), Jacqueline Boyle and John C. Gallagher; his siblings Kathleen Gallagher, Sheila McGinn (Ian) and his grandchildren Alyssa, Amanda and Andrea Sylvester and William J. Boyle.

He was predeceased by his brothers Anthony and David and his sister Eileen Mullen.


Euphemia ‘Fay’ Hill

Euphemia “Fay” Hill (nee Hunter), died on April 3 in St. Mary’s Hospital in Passaic. She was 83. Born in Brooklyn, she lived in Colonia before moving to Lyndhurst 53 years ago.

Arrangements were by the Armitage and Wiggins Funeral Home, 596 Belgrove Dr., Kearny.  A funeral service was held on Monday, April 9, in the funeral home. The service will begin at 11 a.m. and burial will follow at Hillside Cemetery in Lyndhurst. To leave an online condolence, please visit www.armitagewiggins.com

Fay was an executive secretary for Arbitron in New York City and was very involved with the Rutherford Bible Chapel.

Wife of the late Benjamin, she is survived by her children Kathie Di Lascio, Jane Gabriele and Douglas, David and Evelyn Hill. She was the sister of Marjorie Mitchell, Robert Hunter and the late Roberta Zine. She is also survived by 11 grandchildren. Fay was predeceased by her son Benjamin and his children Benjamin and Mary Hill.

In lieu of flowers, kindly consider a donation to the Gideons.


George Henry Horn

George Henry Horn, 68, of Rancho Mirage, Calif., formerly of Kearny, passed away from pancreatic cancer on March 26.

Born in Newark, George resided in Kearny, and after graduating from Kearny High School, he served in the U.S. Marine Corps. George was part owner in Towne Clothiers and was married to the former Doreen Ostrom. He later lived in New York City and Laguna Niguel, Calif., before settling in Rancho Mirage. George was a sales representative for Vintners International, a Bronco Wines Corp.

George is survived by his life partner of 28 years, Jonathan Brown; a sister, Barbara Lindsay of West Orange.; five nephews Hugh Lindsay of West Orange, Andrew Lindsay of West Orange, Charles Horn of Denville, David Horn of Forked River, Robert Horn of Brick; and a niece Catherine Bochantin of Jefferson and their families.

George was predeceased by his parents, Charles and Helen Horn, and a brother, Charles Horn Jr.

Services will be held April 10 in Laguna Beach, Calif.

Elsye E. Lamego

Elsye E. Lamego, Ti, 85, passed away on March 27.

Born in Danbury, Conn., she resided in Kearny for 60 years.

She worked in accounting at the Star Ledger for 40 years. She was a volunteer at West Hudson Hospital, a parishioner of St. Cecilia’s Church, Kearny, and a member of Henrietta Benstead senior Citizen’s Monday and Thursday clubs and also a league bowler in North Arlington.

She was the beloved sister of Danny Lamego (Betty), and the late Theresa L. Nunes (Mario), loving aunt of Kathy Baker (Barry), Marion Narucki (Leon), Janet Basile (Joe), Sandy Nunes (Lu), Danny Lamego Jr. (Carmelita) and many great-nieces and nephews. All who knew her loved and respected her. She was known at work and by family as an angel on earth and a saint by many. She was a very charitable person and will be missed greatly by all.

 Sophie Lombarski

Sophie Lombarski, (nee Gulan), 88, formerly of Harrison passed away on Saturday, April 7.

The funeral will be conducted from the Mulligan Funeral Home, 331 Cleveland Ave, Harrison, on Thursday, April 12, with a funeral Mass at 10 a.m. on Thursday at Our Lady of Czestochowa Church.  Interment to follow at Holy Cross Cemetery, North Arlington.  Friends may call on Wednesday, April 11, from 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. and Thursday from 9 a.m. For directions, information to send condolences to the family please visit: www.mulliganfuneralhome.org

Sophie was born in Carteret, the daughter of the late Florian and Maryann and beloved wife of the late Rudolph.

She was a member of the Polish American Women’s Club of Harrison, St. Theresa Society, Polish American Center Women’s Auxillary of Harrison and a life member of the Harrison / East Newark Elks Lodge.


Teresa Porfido

Teresa Porfido (nee Kish) died on April 4 in Cedar Grove. She was 92. Born in Brownsville, Pa., she lived in Florida and Woodland Park.

Arrangements were by the Armitage and Wiggins Funeral Home, 596 Belgrove Dr., Kearny. A funeral service was held on Thursday, April 5, in the funeral home, followed by a private cremation. To leave an online condolence, please visit www.armitagewiggins.com.

Wife of the late Michael, she is survived by her sons and their spouses John and Judy Porfido and Richard and Kathy Porfido; also surviving are her grandchildren Richard, David, Christopher and Jonathan Porfido and her great-grandchildren Rebecca, Emily and Julia.

 Robert Edmund Torrance III

Robert Edmund Torrance III, died on Sept. 24, 2011 in Florida Memorial Hospital. He was 81. Born in East Orange, he lived many years in Kearny. He retired to Encampment, Wy., and Datona Beach, Fla.

A memorial service will be held Saturday, April  21, in the First Presbyterian Church of Arlington. Bob’s ashes will be interred in the family plot at Arlington Cemetery in Kearny. To leave an online condolence, please visit www.armitagewiggins.com

A 1948 Kearny High School Graduate he earned an associates degree at Farleigh Dickenson University and a bachelor degree at Maryville College. He married Carol Louise Schade on June 28, 1958 and they raised their family together in Kearny while Bob worked in the engineering Department of Acme Supermarkets, purchasing store equipment. He also worked in real estate and ran his bookkeeping business from his home before his retirement.

Bob was an elder, choir member and treasurer at the First Presbyterian Church in Kearny as well as being active with the West Hudson South Bergen Optimist Club. After moving to Wyoming, he became very involved with the Presbyterian Church serving as an elder and finance committee chairman. He enjoyed singing in the Encampment Community Choir and volunteering at the Encampment Museum where he served on its board of directors. His interests included keeping up with current events over morning coffee with his friends at the Sagebrush Senior Center in Encampment. He had an undying love for all things related to airplanes. A recent highlight of his life was a ride on a World War II B17 Bomber.

He is survived by his wife of 53 years, Carol, his three children, Robin Wintersen-Stock of New Mexico, Robert E. IV of New Jersey, and son John with Gina, of Colorado. His grandchildren are Mike Machado, Mamina Cordova, Sidhu Wintersen-Stock and Emmet and Teague Torrance. He has four great-grandchildren. His surviving sister Carol Lundquist is of Glen Rock,

In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Grand Encampment Museum, P.O Box 43, Encampment, Wyoming 82325. Arrangements were handled by the Armitage and Wiggins Funeral Home, Kearny.


Happy Easter

Photo by Paul Velicky/ Youngsters line up for the start of the hunt.


West Hudson Christian Center (WHCC), located at 557 Kearny Ave., hosted its first annual community Easter Egg Hunt celebration at Riverbank Park in Kearny on Saturday March 31.

Despite the rainy cold weather, kids ages 2 to 11 from all over came out to hunt for eggs filled with candy and prizes. The church also gave away free 5×7 family spring portraits, face-paintings, and a take home gift for each child.

This Easter Sunday, April 8, the church will be having an Easter Play for the community at 10:30 am including a Children’s Church celebration with crafts and fun refreshments for kids ages 5 to 12 with child care provided for children ages 5 and under.

–Paul Velicky

All aboard for new Harrison PATH

Renderings courtesy the Port Authority/ Perspectives of how the new Harrison PATH station will look when construction is finished.

By Ron Leir


All systems are go for the long awaited upgrade of the Harrison PATH station now that the Port Authority of New Jersey and New York Board of Commissioners voted March 29 to appropriate $256.2 million for the project.

Bill Baroni, the P.A.’s deputy director, told The Observer that the replacement of the existing station, which was built in 1932, should start by January 2013 with completion anticipated by late 2016 or early 2017.

When the project’s done, Baroni said, commuters can expect a “modern, state-of-theart” station with new mechanical and electrical systems that will be outfitted with new stairwell approaches to extended canopied platforms long enough to accommodate 10-car trains for the Newark/World Trade Center run, instead of the current eight – a reflection of the station’s growing popularity with commuters. The new construction will extend to both sides of Frank Rodgers Blvd. South.

Between 2010 and 2011, P.A. PATH logged an increase in average weekday ridership, from 6,409 to 6,965 – an 8.7% spurt. “That’s the highest growth of all 13 stations in the PATH system,” Baroni said.

That increased ridership figures to continue upwards over the next decade with the presence of Red Bull Arena and the start of new residential and commercial construction within Harrison’s waterfront redevelopment district.

P.A. designers have also planned for the installation of an elevator to transport impaired riders. “Right now,” Baroni acknowledged, “people who are disabled can’t take the PATH to Harrison.” But the new station is being designed to comply with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, he noted.

And there will be commuter pickup and dropoff points for taxis and buses bound for outlying regions, Baroni said.

There will also be retail space as part of the new station, Baroni said. How much space and what types of operations have yet to be scoped out, he said.

Baroni said the project will generate more than 1,000 “jobyears” that will account for an estimated $72 million in wages over the life of the project.

Commuter service through Harrison won’t be disrupted as the upgrade proceeds in stages, Baroni said.

Breaking down the project cost, the P.A. has allocated $153.8 million for actual construction costs, about $27 million for three acres of land acquisition, subsurface environmental remediation and demolition of existing structures and $5.9 million for professional and advisory services.

Critical to the success of the mission, according to Harrison Mayor Ray McDonough, was the willingness of various Harrison developers to work with the P.A. in conveying pieces of their land or granting easements to the bi-state agency to facilitate the project.

In particular, McDonough credited developer Jeff Melanick of the Heller Group in agreeing to yield some of his land at the likely cost of losing the chance to build 100 units of new housing on the site of the old Hartz Mountain property.

Without that consent, McDonough said, the Harrison PATH funding commitment would likely have faded away indefinitely.

“But Jeff stepped up to the plate,” the mayor said.

And that’s good news for current and future commuters using the station, especially with the Harrison Planning Board actions on March 28 permitting the Advance Co. to build 600 rental apartments in the redevelopment zone on Blocks E and F (bordered by Cape May St., Rodgers Blvd., Pete Higgins Blvd. and Riverbend Drive) and on March 29 allowing the developer of River Park homes on First St. to build 140 new units – the balance owed on the first phase of that project’s development which was originally approved for 313 units.

Historical Morris Canal showcases Bloomfield’s rich history

Photo courtesy Historical Society of Bloomfield/ The Morris Canal circa early 1900s


By Jeff Bahr

If I heard it once I heard it a thousand times: “Many years ago the Morris Canal ran through here,” my mother would say to me with a genuine look of astonishment on her face. “In fact, it was only a stone’s throw from where our house stands today!”

“Big deal,” I thought. For some bizarre reason this factual tidbit seemed to tickle my mother’s imagination at a level that fully escaped my 10-year-old brain. To my way of thinking, the only thing more boring than an abandoned canal was a canal that had vanished completely. Actually, that’s a bit misleading. While watered and unwatered remnants of the old ditch existed in spots across the state, then as now, none were very big and only the smallest overgrown leftovers remained in my hometown of Bloomfield.

But facts are facts. In addition to becoming a veritable superhighway during its heyday in the mid-1800’s, moving much-needed commodities like coal and lumber from the Eastern Pennsylvania/Western New Jersey region, the Morris Canal (1836-1924) was a true engineering marvel. It was an even greater achievement than the famous Erie Canal that flowed a few hundred miles to its north, even if the Morris Canal never eclipsed the Erie in fame. The reason was gravity, or more precisely the human triumph over gravity. Water doesn’t flow uphill. So floating a canal boat over northern New Jersey’s rippled topography – an undulating stretch of hills and mountains that make the Erie Canal’s course look tabletop flat by comparison – should have been an impossible feat. Yet somehow it was done.

Local historian Richard Rockwell knows something about canals in general and much about the Morris Canal in particular. At a March 27 slideshow presentation at the 1840 Parish House in Bloomfield, Rockwell captured the audience’s imagination as surely as a mule tows a canal boat.

Visitors unfamiliar with the Morris Canal and the liquid swath that it cut through Bloomfield learned not only of its rambling path, but also of its sizable role in turning the former backwater town into a thriving town.

Playing to a standingroom- only crowd, Rockwell kicked things off by displaying canal facts.

Devised by George P. Macculloch as a way to inexpensively move anthracite coal and other commodities across the hills of northern N.J., the Morris Canal was started in 1825 and completed in 1831. In its original state it spanned 106 miles from Newark Bay at its eastern terminus, to Phillipsburg, where it emptied into the Delaware River. Along its path 23 locks and 23 inclined planes performed the heavy lifting of canal boats. With some of these vessels transporting as much as 30 tons of coal at a time, the task was formidable.

The Morris Canal’s length might seem insignificant when compared to the Erie Canal’s 363 miles, but the engineering behind the Jersey ditch was decidedly state of the art. The canal needed to climb 914 feet from Newark Bay to its summit at Lake Hopatcong, and then drop 760 feet on its way to the Delaware River at Phillipsburg. This gave the waterway an average vertical rise of 18 feet per mile compared to the Erie Canal’s far gentler climb of one foot per mile.

The technology necessary in overcoming these natural obstacles was so impressive that Scientific American, the magazine of note for the scientific community, would publish an article that focused on the canal’s inclined planes (short water-powered railways that plucked boats from the water and towed them up over steep rises), with particular attention paid to Plane 11 East, the 54-foottall marvel that once sat smack, dab in the middle of Bloomfield.


Photo courtesy Google Maps/ Canal pictured on previous page has been filled in and converted to John F. Kennedy Drive


According to Rockwell, Another notable feature along the canal’s Bloomfield run from the Belleville border (near Mill St.) to its northern end at Rt. 3 in Clifton was Lock 15 East, a 10-foot boatraiser located just south of it. In addition to these features, a canal traveler’s eyes could be treated to bucolic stretches pretty enough to capture the imagination of artists. But looks can be deceiving. According to Rockwell, a great deal of toil was taking place here, no matter how peaceful or serene the scenery appeared. He explained that, in most cases, “running a boat was a family affair,” and that a crew would put in long, arduous hours while making the five-day crossing. But he also explained that fun could be had on the canal, especially during the summer, when boat hands would simply dive into the canal to cool off.

Rockwell told a particularly entertaining tale about people who lived beside the canal. Enterprising sorts would stand bottles around their houses in an effort to entice young boatmen into taking aim at them with chunks of coal, said Rockwell. Naturally, it would take many volleys to topple even one bottle, and the boys were said to be a persistent group, so the coal would keep on flying. The end result? Bored youngsters itching for some fun during their tedious day got a welcome reprieve from the drudgery, while cagey homeowners netted free coal to help heat their homes in the winter.

Perhaps the most memorable part of the presentation came when Rockwell projected an assortment of then and now images on the screen. It’s one thing to see static photos and paintings of canal landmarks; it’s another to see those very same images placed side-by-side with photos of what each area looks like today.

For instance, Plane 11 East was located where the hilly section of John F. Kennedy Drive now exists, just north of Foley Field. When Rockwell flashed a modern photo of the roadway beside an image of the canal taken over a century ago, the resemblance was uncanny. Unique curves, rises and contours of the landscape could easily be detected between the two photos.

But there was something more in these illustrations that really brought it home for me. Just to the west of Plane 11 East stands a residence known as the Collins House. It’s plainly visible in the old photo. Rockwell explained that two generations of carpenters plied their trade here, helping to build the planes, boats, bridges and aqueducts that comprised the historic Morris Canal. The house still stands today. It’s located just behind the McDonald’s on Broad St. It is now abandoned and in horrendous disrepair, to be frank, but it wasn’t always so.

When I was a teenager I remember seeing children playing in front of that very house. I had no idea that the canal had once run beside it, or that previous owners had done so much to make the canal a reality. But I know now. With that said I’ve been forced to adjust my outlook. It looks like dear old mom was right after all. The Morris Canal was indeed a big deal. And I’m guessing if Richard Rockwell has anything to say or do about it, it shall always remain so.

Bloomfield trailers solve overcrowding; Lady Liberty staying in Harrison

Photos by Ron Leir/ ‘Learning cottages’ stand at the ready awaiting students.


By Ron Leir


From all appearances, Rhiann Van Kersen’s sixth-grade math session at Franklin School seems to be your typical elementary school class.

Sitting at their desks, children are paying attention to Van Kersen as she writes out a problem with fractions on the wall-mounted smart board and then raising their hands to answer the questions she poses.

It’s the same thing at Gregory Murray’s sixth-grade language arts class, next door, where youngsters look to be involved in the lesson of the day.

However, there’s one factor that separates – figuratively and literally – these kids from the rest of their Franklin School mates.

They’re in trailers – or as Franklin School Principal Marianne Abbasso prefers to put it – “learning cottages.”

While the portable classrooms are on school property – they stand on the Irving Street side of the school’s sprawling fenced-in asphalt parking lot/play area – they are physically disconnected from the school building.

A third trailer unit, part of the portables cluster, is reserved for instrumental music classes that rotate in and out, by grade level, during the school day.

When children leave the trailers for the main building, a teacher aide provides escort service.

The trailers, outfitted with air-conditioning, were purchased for $1,000 apiece from the Phillipsburg school district. Each is designed to hold as many as 35 students.

So why the cottages?

“Our population has steadily increased over the past three years,” Abbasso said.

Last year, as the district was preparing for the portables, Schools Supt. Jason Bing said that Bloomfield has been impacted by the migration of “a lot of families” from Newark and the Oranges.

Enrollment at Franklin School, housing grades K to 6, is now at 394, Abbasso said. No grade in particular experienced growth pains; rather, numbers of students “spiked generally across the board,” she said.

“Being one of the smaller elementary schools in the district and, with no room to expand within the existing school building, we needed the cottages,” she said.

And they arrived late last summer. It took time to link up electrical connections for utilities, phones, computers and alarms and to assemble wooden ramps and steps.

On Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, they were pronounced ready for occupancy and 49 sixthgraders were moved into two cottages earmarked for them while other classes rotated through the third. The day before, parents were invited to visit the facilities to satisfy their curiosity.

Their relocation opened up space that allowed Abbasso to split her second-graders into three sections, thereby balancing class size among that grade level.

Abbasso said the sixthgraders were chosen for the experiment, not only because they were the oldest students in the school but also because “it would be a great learning experience for when they move to the Middle School and have to become more independent.”

And what happened?


Photos by Ron Leir/ Rhiann Van Kersen teaches math to 6th grade class in trailer

“The kids adjusted beautifully,” Abbasso said. “It was a seamless adjustment. They actually wanted to get in there. It was something new and exciting. And their teachers are enjoying it, too.”

Although the sixth-graders spent 60% of their school day in the cottages, they’re not totally isolated from their peers in the main building, Abbasso said. The kids mingle with them for school assemblies, lunch, library/media sessions, art, music and gym classes.

For their safety, they also periodically practice fire drills.

And so it goes.

Meanwhile, Lady Liberty Academy Charter School – part of the Newark public school district – is looking to extend its stay at the former Holy Cross School in Harrison.

Mayor Ray McDonough and the Rev. Joseph Girone, pastor of Holy Cross parish, said the charter school is hoping to stay a second straight year in Harrison because the Newark site it wants to occupy isn’t yet ready to accommodate the school.

Girone said the extended stay is subject to approval by the state Department of Education.

Lady Liberty Academy first came to Harrison after its initial Newark location was found to have environmental problems and the school opted to move to a suitable nearby location. Its students are bused to and from the old Holy Cross School.

To get the former parochial school in shape to comply with state school codes, the parish – which has a lease agreement with Lady Liberty Academy – spent $40,000 to a portion of the roof and $7,000 on boiler repairs, according to Girone.

“We also put in new exit lights, we had to dig out and realign a 100-year-old bricklined sewer and we had to put encasements around radiators dating from 1916 in all the classrooms and hallways to make sure students didn’t burn themselves,” Girone said. “Those were all major expenses.”

Efforts to reach Hykesia Taylor, Lady Liberty’s business administrator, were unavailing.

A WORD WITH THE PUBLISHER: Memories of Easter past



This Sunday, we will gather with our family and friends to celebrate the holiday of Easter.

When I was growing up Easter wasn’t just about chocolate rabbits and colored eggs. First and foremost, it was about family.

We would go to St. Michael’s Church in Passaic with “Grams” and “Gramps” to have our basket of food blessed. Sunday morning breakfast was actually a real event! 0ur house featured the heady aroma of baked breads and other goodies. In our Easter baskets were coloring books, crayons, and jellybeans. Over the years, my family has become smaller but I am forever thankful for those wonderful memories of Easters past. They were some of the best experiences of my life.

We at The Observer wish you and yours a very happy Easter!

Let justice rule the day for Trayvon Martin

The cause of the Trayvon Martin shooting appears fairly obvious. That is if one and ignores the propaganda coming out of such ignorance- inducing machines as Fox News and MSNBC. Before these cable “news” networks shanghaied the story and chimed in with their endless “concern” (i.e. an opportunity to bend facts to meet party lines) we had a rather cut-and-dry situation that didn’t require an Einstein to figure out.

The facts are clear. Self-appointed vigilante George Zimmerman took it upon himself to become Trayvon Martin’s judge, jury, and in the end, executioner, because he believed that the young man looked “suspicious.” Of course, Zimmerman believes that a great many people look suspicious – a fact ominously evidenced by his nearly 50 phone calls to the police in 2012.

Trayvon was talking on the phone to his girlfriend when he caught the inaccurate eye of this great protector of mankind. This is a valuable bit of evidence since it clearly shows that Trayvon was being stalked, not vice versa, as he was making his way back to his dad’s apartment after a junk food run. It’s also interesting to note that Zimmerman was talking to a police dispatcher during the incident, a person who emphatically told Zimmerman, “We don’t need you to do that,” after he confirmed that he was indeed following the “suspicious-looking” man.

At some point, Zimmerman caught up with Trayvon and some sort of altercation ensued. Now please lean in close. I want the following to jolt your brain waves into full function because certain players in the media are corrupting this into a point of contention. If I were being pursued by an unknown man at night, a hulking form that outweighed me by a full 100 pounds, and he finally cornered me, there’s no telling what I might do to extricate myself from the potentially deadly situation. Whether it be kicking, eye-gouging, testicle mangling, etc., I would do anything and everything in my power to get the bastard off me. I imagine you would do the same. In a “stand your ground” state like Florida, I would not only have this implicit right to defend myself, it would almost be incumbent upon me to take such pre-emptive action to save myself.

Nevertheless, certain factions have now twisted this easy-to-understand response into something that it clearly is not – an indictment of Trayvon and a justification for Zimmerman’s itchy trigger-finger. Bottom line: If Zimmerman hadn’t pursued Trayvon that evening, I wouldn’t be writing this now. It’s an inescapable fact that the punditry can’t dismiss.

Just as bad as Zimmerman’s actions that evening was the abominable misapplication of justice that came after the slaughter. To say that the Sanford, Fla.Police didn’t have probable cause to arrest Zimmerman is asinine in the purest sense of that word.

What more did they need? They knew via fresh police phone records that Zimmerman had stalked the man prior to pulling the trigger. They also knew that Zimmerman was packing “heat” when all that Trayvon was packing was a pack of Skittles. And they were mindful of Zimmerman’s long history of phone calls to them; — reports that made the selfappointed block-watcher look like a wannabe cop at best and seriously paranoid at worst.

So, with all of this evidence at their disposal, did these Keystone Cops arrest Zimmerman? No. Did they drug test him? No. But for some unfathomable reason, they felt it imperative to drug test Trayvon; the young man now lying dead on a slab courtesy of Zimmerman’s pistol. At least not all were blind that night. One Sanford cop went on record saying that he believed Zimmerman should have been held on a manslaughter charge. But his was the lone voice in the wilderness.

Bottom line? Justice will only be served after Zimmerman is arrested and the due process of law is allowed to take effect. The case is no longer in the hands of the Sanford Police Department, so there’s a fair chance that an inherent wrong will be rectified. Only time will tell. For Trayvon’s family, I pray that it comes to pass.

-Jeff Bahr

Police and Fire to get better radios

Photo by Ron Leir/ Capt. Victor Mesce displays Motorola test radio.


By Ron Leir 


Dead zones.

For public safety employees, these are pitfalls to be avoided because it’s essential to keep the lines of communication open at all times.

Unfortunately, that’s not always possible when there are barriers to transmission signals, as township police and firefighters have discovered when attempting to talk via radio from the basement of Clara Maass Medical Center or the Middle School subbasement.

But the Belleville Police Department is taking steps to ensure constant and clear communication with help from the New Jersey Dept. of Homeland Security and Essex County.

Police Capt. Victor Mesce, the department’s training officer, said the time has come to replace the hand-held Motorola HT1000 radio units that Belleville police officers have used since 1994.

“We can’t get parts for these radios anymore because of their age,” Mesce said. “Our radios are obsolete.”

Plus, in addition to the dead zones, there’s another issue that’s driving the replacement of the existing units, Mesce said. The current communications system relies on phone lines to carry signals through several antenna relays or, in communications jargon, “repeaters,” so “if the phone lines go down, we’re done,” he said.

Because other municipal Police and Fire Departments around the state are struggling with similar predicaments – and because of the communication snafus that plagued New York’s police, fire and emergency workers during the 9/11 catastrophe – Mesce said that N.J. Homeland Security is pushing municipal public safety units to upgrade their systems.

At the same time, the Federal Communications Commission is implementing a nationwide mandate to reserve certain radio frequencies in the 700 megahertz band for government first responders to prevent interference from commercial users, effective Jan. 1, 2013.

“The future is going to be digital signals, transmitted via microwave relays,” Mesce said. “Under the PSIC (Public Safety Interoperable Communications) system that Homeland Security wants us – along with every other police and fire department in the state – to use, the state will maintain the infrastructure. There will be no phone lines but there will be minimal (telecommunications) maintenance fee.”

Belleville, which, according to Mesce, “is going to be one of the first to tie in” to the PSIC, is getting a $100,000 grant from Essex County to purchase, under state contract, as many of the new hand-held Motorola 6000 radios as possible.

“We want to assign each of our 100 officers their own individual (battery-operated) radios,” Mesce said. “We feel, this way, our officers will want to take better care of them.”

Motorola loaned the department some test radios and Mesce said they’ve worked well. “We did tests throughout the town, including from the basement of Clara Maass and the Middle School sub-basement, and everything came through crystal clear,” he said. Officers were also able to talk on the units to other law enforcement agents as far away as Berlin in Camden County.

Mesce said the department’s intent is to share the new equipment with the Fire Department.

Another advantage of the PSIC, as advertised by Homeland Security, is that it allows for “talk groups” between various first responder and law enforcement agencies, both locally and in the New York/Pennsylvania region, Mesce said. “We’ll be able to interface just by switching channels.”

Mesce said the new radios will also be equipped with a GPS application so that if an officer is injured or trapped at a fire scene or some other not easily accessible location, the officer can be traced through that feature.

The new radios will only be the first step in the process of modernizing the township’s public safety communications system, Mesce said. Next will come new patrol car radio units, new hardware for the police and fire communications centers and new units for the police mobile precinct; all contingent on funding availability, he added.

Developing the state-wide communications infrastructure won’t come cheap: The cost is expected to exceed $30 million, with most of that money coming from federal sources and some from the state Department of Transportation.

The Newark Police and Fire Departments have already begun to phase in the new system, as have the Essex County Sheriff’s Office, Elizabeth Fire Department, Montclair, Passaic and Fairfield, and the counties of Union, Monmouth, Somerset and Hunterdon, according to Mesce.

Meanwhile, there were these developments in other local police business:

Belleville is applying for a federal Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant to help pay salaries and benefits for up to five new officers who must be veterans. If it gets the grant, the feds would contribute $625,000 covering three years but Belleville would have to match that with about the same amount in local funds. Police Chief Joseph Rotonda said that applicants should be notified by July whether to expect any money. Last year, only three New Jersey communities were successful, he said. Right now, Rotonda said, the department’s rank-and- file strength is “15 below” the number of officers he’s permitted to hire under township ordinance. “With the 2% (budget) cap, it’s very difficult to get back to where we’d like to be,” the chief said.

Under an ordinance introduced by the mayor and Township Council on March 13, and up for public hearing April 10, any police officers and firefighters hired after April 1 would have to be a Belleville resident and would be required to continue living in the township for at least two years after his or her appointment. Also, non-residents appointed to “classified positions” would be required to become Belleville residents within one year of their appointment, except for CFO and tax collector. Rotonda said: “We like to keep our police officers in town. It works out well. They care about (the township) more.” Currently, he said, 25% of the department’s personnel live in Belleville.

Scorcher in the swamp

Photo by Anthony J. Machcinski/ Kearny Brush Fire


By Anthony J. Machcinski


In what has been an unusually busy month for the Kearny Fire Department, firefighters responded to the Kearny meadows near the 15W exit of the New Jersey Turnpike after about four acres of meadows went up in flames, sending large, black plumes of smoke into the afternoon sky.

The fire started around 4:40 p.m. on March 27, shutting down the northbound and southbound exit ramps of the 15W for over an hour.

“With everything being dry, that was definitely a contributing factor,” said Kearny Fire Chief Steven Dyl, who noted that a windy day and warm conditions favor brushfires. Dyl said that there was no official cause for the fire.

The blaze was under control in about an hour, with fire officials leaving the scene around 7:15 p.m.

Image courtesy of Google Maps/ A satelite photograph of the area where the brush fire took place. The fire destroyed nearly four acres of land near the 15W exit of the Turnpike.


“Usually, there is an increase (of meadow fires) during this time of the year,” Dyl explained, saying that the brush is still dry and getting access to some of these areas is hard given the marsh conditions.

Kearny firefighters had another fire to deal with a day later when at 10:55 a.m. on March 28, an office trailer located near the Hudson County Jail caught fire.

The blaze, which was a 1-alarm fire, was deemed under control by 11:28 a.m. As of the Observer’s press time, no reason had been listed as to the cause of the fire, and the trailer was awaiting inspection from the Hudson County Fire Marshall.

No injuries occurred in either fire.

Book shows swamp’s transformation

Illustrations Courtesy of Thomas Yezerski



Illustrations from Yezerski’s children’s book, “Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story”


By Anthony J. Machcinski 

For many adults, the transition of the Meadowlands from a landfill-laden mess to a beautiful stretch of land has been a lengthy process, one not many can fully understand to begin with.

With the help of Thomas Yezerski, children may soon be able to see this transition with their own two eyes.

“There have been some good books written for adults on this subject,” Yezerski, author and illustrator of “Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story” said. “I thought there was a great story in it for kids and it’s a great way to teach kids about ecology and how people fit in.”

Yezerski, who has illustrated 14 books and authored four of those, fell in love with the Meadowlands while he was living in Rutherford.

“One of the first things I did was take a pontoon tour the week after the 9/11 tragedy,” Yezerski explained. “It was amazing because it was so quiet on the Hackensack River and the water was so still. You could still see smoke rising from the World Trade Center. I just kind of fell in love with this peaceful place.”

The story itself follows along with the history of the Meadows, from when the Lenni Lenape lived on the land, to Dutch farmers and eventually the creation and elimination of landfills. “Little by little, the meadows became a dumping ground,” Yezerski explained. “In the late ‘60s, New Jersey decided they wanted to clean it up because it was giving the state a bad rap.”

However, like any good story, the meadowlands has started to flourish again.

“When they started cleaning it up, the river was able to clean itself, allowing plants and insects to thrive again,” Yezerski said. “Eventually, fish and birds began to come back to the area and every year, more species begin to show back up there that haven’t been in that area in nearly 50 years.”

The story of the Meadowlands comes down to an even simpler story idea.

“It’s a story about rejuvenation, about a place that was kicked around and ignored,” Yezerski explained.

“Now, people from all over the world can look to our urban wetland and see that good stuff can happen.”

However, the story is not as simple as going from bad to good, as evidenced by the amount of time it took Yezerski to complete the book.

“It took me about 10 years to complete because there was so much to learn about it,” Yezerski said.

His largest challenge, however, came when he had to compress that information.

“When you’re making a picture book, its about 800 words at the most,” Yezerski said. “It’s hard to distill all that information down.”

Yezerski, a fabulous illustrator in his own right, will have his illustrations on display at the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission in the Meadowlands Environment Center.

In 2011, “Meadowlands” was named one of the best 11 children’s non-fiction books. The New York Times, in its original review of the book, said, “Yezerski not only can write a book on how to teach children about their environmental impact – he has. ‘Meadowlands’ is tremendously informative, fun to read, and gorgeous to look at.”

Copies of “Meadowlands” are available at the Meadowlands Environment Center’s Tideland Treasures Gift Shop, which is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The Flyway Gallery hours are from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Directions are available on the NJMC website at www.njmeadowlands.gov or by calling (201)- 460-8300.