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Kearny’s ‘Policeman of the Year’

courtesy KPD LEFT: Det. Michael Gonzalez; RIGHT: Det. Gonzalez with Chief John Dowie and fellow officers at 2009 presentation at American Legion hall.

Photo courtesy KPD
LEFT: Det. Michael Gonzalez; RIGHT: Det. Gonzalez with Chief John Dowie and fellow officers at 2009 presentation at American Legion hall.


By Karen Zautyk

Observer Correspondent


Detective Michael Gonzalez has been named the Kearny Police Department’s “Policeman of the Year” for 2013, representing the second time the officer has been chosen for the KPD’s top honor.

The commendation will be presented Friday at the annual PBA Ball and Valor Awards Dinner.

Gonzalez, a member of the force since 2001, was selected for the same award in 2009 and is the third KPD serving officer to be a repeat recipient. The others are Lt. Anthony Gouveia, 1989 and 2003, and Officer Robert Turkowsky, 2001 and 2008.

The “Policeman of the Year”is chosen by the department’s Valor Committee, headed by Sgt. Rick Poplaski and composed of superior officers and representatives from the Patrol Division, COP Unit and Detective Bureau. And there’s no influence from the top: “I stay out of it,” Chief John Dowie noted.

Dowie explained that the commendation reflects the honoree’s overall performance during the year in question. “It’s a review of job after job. It’s not just any one job,” he said.] Even so, there are certain cases that stand out. The chief cited the actions of Gonzalez, along with Officer Steve Hroncich, “in the rooftop rescue of a suicidal individual, at great peril to himself.”

“The family was very appreciative,” Dowie said. Dowie also noted that, in 2013, Gonzalez solved a series of armed robberies “here and in surrounding jurisdictions” and played a critical role in the investigation and subsequent arrest of a suspect in the Dec. 24 robbery of a Chase Bank in Kearny.

Gonzalez is also a member of the KPD’s Honor Guard, is a firearms instructor and a member of the tactical team. In addition, he serves as a physical training instructor at the Passaic County Police Academy in Wayne, from which he graduated in 2001. Gonzalez, who grew up in Newark and Kearny, joined the KPD in August 2001 after serving a year as a Hudson County corrections officer and a year as an officer with the N.J. Department of Corrections. He is also a graduate of the N.J. Department of Corrections Academy in Sea Girt. At both academies, he received the physical fitness award in his graduating class.

He served with the KPD patrol units until 2009, when he was assigned to the Detective Bureau.

Ambulance fees targeted for hike


It looks like out-of-towners, with certain exceptions, will be paying more for a ride to a hospital in a Lyndhurst ambulance.

A township ordinance introduced Feb. 11 and slated for public hearing on March 11, calls for an $800 transport fee plus $15 per mile to be charged to non-residents conveyed to a hospital by the Lyndhurst Police Emergency Squad (LPES).

“Any portion of the transport fee herein established (or the entire fee) may be waived for residents of Lyndhurst,” the ordinance states.

The current charges are $600 for a transport fee plus $12.50 per mile.

Since the ambulance service began, those fees have been waived for township residents, although, based on a search of municipal records by the Township Clerk’s office, it appears that Lyndhurst has never put into writing the rules governing fees assessed by the LPES.

Now the plan is to “codify” that protocol, officials said.

Asked why the township was planning to raise the fees, Mayor/Public Safety Commissioner Robert Giangeruso referred a reporter to the township’s Emergency Management Services (EMS).

Salvatore De Carlo, deputy director of Lyndhurst EMS, said the proposed rate hike is not being sought by the LPES. “The recommendation to raise the fees came from the township, presumably to help with the [municipal] budget,” he said.

“The billing is revenue generating,” De Carlo said. “The money collected goes to the township general fund. It doesn’t come to the squad.”

And, based on a review of records for last year, it doesn’t appear that the township lost money by providing the service, according to De Carlo.

For 2013, De Carlo said, Lyndhurst paid about $250,000 for maintenance costs associated with running the ambulance and for payments to 13 emergency medical technicians who operate on a rotating basis and one supervisor and collected $326,388 in revenues.

“So it looks like the township makes a little money off us,” he said.

How that works, De Carlo said, is that, “If a township resident uses the [ambulance] service, we take what the person’s insurance company pays and, if there is a balance owed, the resident is not responsible for that balance. If a nonresident uses the service, that person is responsible for the balance.”

However, if somebody from Rutherford or another community that partners with Lyndhurst in a mutual aid pact gets hurt in Lyndhurst, there is no charge to transport that person, De Carlo said.

Or, if a person from a mutual aid partner community gets hurt in one of those communities and Lyndhurst’s ambulance responds, that person “would be treated the same as a Lyndhurst resident,” De Carlo said.

An exception to the rule: a non-resident visiting Medieval Times who has an allergic reaction to the animals and who is taken by Lyndhurst ambulance to the hospital is responsible for the transport fees, said De Carlo.

A draft of the proposed ordinance is “still in flux,” he added.

– Ron Leir

KPD: Suspect nabbed on 50G warrant

A Virginia woman, wanted on a $50,000 Kearny robbery warrant, was arrested Feb. 11 when she graciously returned to the scene of the crime, the Kmart on Passaic Ave., Kearny police reported.

Just a month before, on Jan. 10, Kmart security had attempted to detain Nora Jdira, 27, of Springfield, Va., on suspicion of shoplifting, but she reportedly became combative, “violently resisted” the guards and assaulted one with her handbag before escaping in a car with Washington, D.C., plates, Kearny Police Chief John Dowie reported.

Officer Leroy Bibbs did a plate/driver’s license check and found a Virginia license for the owner.

Thanks to that license photo, Kmart personnel reportedly identified the suspect as Jdira.

On the afternoon of Feb. 11, there she was again and, lo and behold, was recognized by store personnel, police said. Officer Pat Becker, after confirming the outstanding warrant, placed Jdira under arrest. One might say that, in this instance, the store had a “no returns” policy.

Other recent reports on the KPD blotter included the following:

Feb. 12

At 2:30 p.m., Jason Taylor, 29, of Lyndhurst, came to KPD headquarters to inquire about the status of a taxi-driver license application he had submitted. The visit proved to be unwise, since Officer Pat Sawyer had determined that the would-be cabby had two outstanding warrants, one from Kearny and one from Newark, police said. Taylor was arrested and booked. His application has not been approved.

Feb. 15

Officer Tom Bannon, travelling on Schuyler Ave. near Midland Ave. at 8 a.m., came upon a blue Jeep stopped in the northbound traffic lane, its driver asleep behind the wheel and two cans of beer sitting in the center console, police said. After Bannon roused the motorist and conducted field sobriety tests, Jose Castillo, 24, of Irvington, was arrested, brought to HQ for an Alco test and issued a summons for DWI.

Officer Brian Wisely responded to Kmart at 5 p.m. after a shopper reported she had briefly left her cart unattended and then found her wallet had been removed from her backpack in the cart. Wisely reviewed security videos, observed the theft and was able to get a partial plate from the vehicle in which the culprit had fled. At HQ, the officer ran possible plate combos and eventually matched one to a similar vehicle, police reported. Det. Ray Lopez assisted in the follow-up investigation, and a suspect was developed. That individual, Khary Jackson, 37, of Irvington, accepted an invitation to visit HQ , where he was questioned by Wisely and subsequently charged with theft.

Feb. 17

At 8 a.m., officers responded to a report of a domestic dispute involving an assault at a residence near Belgrove Drive and Garfield School. During an investigatory interview, 22-year-old Joseph Ferguson of Kearny allegedly fled on foot from Sgt. Paul Bershefki.

He was apprehended by Officer Cesar Negron. Ferguson was charged with simple assault and resisting arrest.

Feb. 18

At 3:30 p.m., on the 300 block of Davis Ave., Officer Jay Ward investigated a collision between a car and a snow plow. The operator of the auto, Carl Astorga, 38, of Kearny, was charged with driving while suspended and failure to surrender a suspended license.

At 8 p.m., Officer Sean Kelly responded to Kearny and Pavonia Aves., where two men — a 26-year-old Kearny resident and a 52-year-old from Short Hills — reported that someone in a passing car had been firing paintballs at pedestrians. Near Town Hall, Capt. John Gouveia was flagged down by another pedestrian reporting the same thing, and Sgt. Anthony Limite took yet another report at Brighton Ave. and Halstead St.

Police said people had been struck, but no one was injured. Police have a description of the car and a partial plate, and the investigation is continuing.

Feb. 19

Officers Rich Carbone and Giovanni Rodriguez, on patrol in South Kearny, responded to a 7:45 p.m. report of a trespasser at a local business and encountered 30-year-old Elizabeth resident Hector Rodriguez. Police said he refused the officers’ requests to move on and was arrested for defiant trespass.

During a search pursuant to arrest, he allegedly was found to be in possession of several Tramadol tablets along with a glassine bag of suspected heroin, stamped “Great Ape.” He was also charged with unlawful possession of a prescription drug and possession of heroin and drug paraphernalia and reportedly was also found to have warrants from Linden and Caldwell.

– Karen Zautyk

Around Town


Belleville UNICO sponsors a bus ride fundraiser to the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City on Sunday, March 9. A pre-paid donation of $30 is requested ($35 at the door). A continental breakfast will be served before the trip at 8 a.m. at the Disabled American Veterans Post, 612 Mill St. The bus will leave at 8:50 a.m. Call 973-759- 9259 to reserve seats (no last minute cancellations). Send checks, payable to IAOVC, to Gene Antonio, 436 Joralemon St., Belleville, N.J. 07109.

Belleville Boy Scout John Greco will conduct a blood drive for his Eagle Scout project on Saturday, March 8, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Fewsmith Presbyterian Church, 444 Union Ave. The blood drive is being held inside the auditorium of the church. (Use the side entrance on Little Str.) Greco is a Life Scout from Troop 350, sponsored by the church.

Snacks will be provided for all donors, courtesy of Walgreens. Door prizes will be drawn at random for those who have successfully donated blood.

Donors must be at least age 17; 16-year-olds must get consent from a parent or legal guardian to donate blood.


Bloomfield Public Library, 90 Broad St., hosts:

• Financial Book Club & Workshops on Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m.

• Neighbors Helping Neighbors (Job Search Support Group) on Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. • Knitting Club on Fridays at 11 a.m.

• Regular Storytime series/ Preschool Storytime and Craft, for ages 3 and up, on Wednesdays at 11 a.m.

• Baby and Me Lapsit Time, for ages up to 18 months, on Thursdays at 11 a.m.

• Toddler Time Story and Craft, for ages 18 months to 3, on Fridays at 11 a.m.

There is no registration required for Storytime.

In case of inclement weather, call 973-566-6200 to check on possible cancellations.

East Newark

West Hudson Brave Women Fighting Breast Cancer meets on the last Friday of every month from 7 to 9 p.m. at the East Newark Senior Center, 37 President St. The group will provide an atmosphere of warmth and comfort for patients and family. For more information, call Emma at 201-998-6828, Rosa 201-246- 7750, Fatima 973-485-4236 or email emidura2@yahoo.com. Together we will fight this disease.


Kearny Public Library, 318 Kearny Ave., will screen these Academy Award-nominated films: “Captain Phillips” (PG- 13) (Tom Hanks), Thursday, Feb. 27, at 2 p.m.; “Gravity” (PG-13) (Sandra Bullock) Friday, Feb. 28, at 2 p.m.; and “Despicable Me 2” (PG) (Steve Carell) Saturday, March 1, at 11 a.m. All films will be shown downstairs. Popcorn and light refreshments will be served. For more information on library programs, call 201-998-2666 or visit www.kearnylibrary.org.

Kearny Community Garden invites town residents to register to join the garden on Saturday, March 1, at the Kearny Public Library, 318 Kearny Ave., from noon to 2 p.m. Family membership for the entire growing season is $20.

Gardeners can also sign up Sunday, March 2, or Friday or Saturday, March 7 and 8 at the Kearny Community Garden, located on River Road, just south of Midland Ave. from, noon to 2 p.m.

Gardeners are urged to reserve garden space and bales as early as possible.

The Community Garden is also conducting a sweatshirt fundraiser through March 4. Fertilizer is the garden’s biggest and most important expense. With a little help from the community, the garden can purchase enough to get through the season. All funds raised will be paid directly to The Town of Kearny, Recreation Department for The Kearny Community Garden. To order a sweatshirt, visit https://www.booster.com/kearnycommunitygarden.

The Roosevelt School PTA will hold a fundraiser dance/ mini tricky tray on Saturday, March 1, featuring an acoustic performance by Marliana Depasquale and the Screaming Nudes duo at the Copestone Masonic Lodge, 225 Kearny Ave. Tickets are $30. B.Y.O.B. For ticket information, contact Lynn Michaels at 201-997- 8794.


A winter auction Tricky Tray, sponsored by Adoniram Court #22 Order of the Amaranth is set for Sunday, March 2, at noon at the Masonic Temple, 321 Second Ave., Lyndhurst. Requested donation is $5. For information, call 201-997-4402.

Sacred Heart Home School hosts a spring auction Tricky Tray fundraiser to benefit the school’s Margaret Engel Endowment Trust on Friday, March 14. The event will be held at the school, 620 Valley Brook Ave., Lyndhurst. Tickets are $10 per person and non-refundable. Ticket includes one sheet for first level prizes, coffee, tea and dessert. For tickets, call Patty at 201-803-9580 or the school at 201-939-4277. Ticket deadline is March 9.

Explore the history of the universe with John Sloan, director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission’s William D. McDowell Observatory, at the NJMC Science Center, 3 DeKorte Park Plaza, on Wednesday, March 5, from 3 to 4 p.m. This program is for all ages. Admission is free.

Registration is recommended and appreciated. To register, go to www.njmeadowlands.gov/ec.

For more information, call 201-460-8300.

The Lyndhurst Public Library Children’s Room, 355 Valley Brook Ave., hosts the following events:

• Children in pre-k to grade 3 are invited to create their own Mardi Gras masquerade mask on Tuesday, March 4, from 3:30 to 4:15 p.m. Registration is required.

• Children in pre-k to grade 4 are invited to a screening of the movie “The Cat in the Hat Up and Away” on Wednesday, March 5, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m., as part of Dr. Seuss’ birthday week observance. Registration is required.

• St. Patrick’s Day Craft for children in grades 1 to 4 is offered on Monday, March 17, from 3:30 to 4:15 p.m. Advance registration is required.

To register for these programs, call the library at 201- 804-2478.

North Arlington

North Arlington Public Library, 210 Ridge Rd., hosts these events:

• Clarence Ferrari, a local musician and music teacher with the Boys Club of New York, presents “A History of Irish Music,” for all ages, on Saturday, March 1, at 11 a.m.

• Celebrate the birthday of Dr. Seuss and Read Across America with a story time and activities for children in pre-k to grade 5 on Monday, March 3, at 4 p.m. To register, call 201- 955-5640 and leave a message.

• Amateur historian/photographer Bill Coughlin offers a New Jersey history program for all ages on Tuesday, March 18, at 6:30 p.m. This program is sponsored by the Woman’s Club of North Arlington.

American Legion Alexander Stover Post 37 meets on Tuesday, March 4, at 8 p.m. at the NAFD Engine Co. 2, 550 Schuyler Ave. All veterans are invited. For more information, call 201-214-8253.

North Arlington Elks, 129 Ridge Rd., hosts a fish fry on Wednesday, March 5, from 5 to 8 p.m. Price is $12 per dinner and includes fried or broiled fish or fried shrimp, French fries, clam chowder, baked clam and cole slaw. Shrimp cocktails and clams on the half shell are also available for $5 for half and $8 for a dozen.


Nutley Public Library, 93 Booth Dr., announces the following programs:

• Play Bridge on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. No registration is required.

• Conversational ESL classes are held every Wednesday at 10 a.m. No registration is required.

• Wednesday Afternoon Knitters meets weekly at 1 p.m. Bring your own supplies.

• Story Time with Therapy Dog Rodney, open to ages 18 and under, is a one-hour program that includes a discussion with Rodney’s guardian Carol Schinski on Rodney’s role and experience as a therapy dog, plus a craft, set for Saturday, March 15, at 11 a.m. Registration is required. Only children need to be registered. Adults do not need a ticket.

Register online at the Children’s Room website at http:// nutleypubliclibrary.org/youthservices/, or call the library at 973-667-0405, ext. 2623.

The Nutley Recreation Department’s Art Workshop for grades 1 to 6 resumes March 15 for an eight-week spring session. Classes will be held on Saturdays at the department, 44 Park Ave. The fee is $30. Class size is limited and applications will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. Register online at nutleynj.my.gov-i. com/recreation. For more information, call 973-284- 4966 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

Registration is now open for the Nutley Department of Parks and Recreation spring fitness classes, including Core Cardio, Zumba, Pilates, Yoga and Positive Fitness. For dates and times and online registration, visit nutleynj.org. Applications also are available at the Recreation Department, 44 Park Ave. For further information, call 973-284-4966 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

De Grace Plumbing: 20 years & thriving

By Anthony J. Machcinski

Observer Correspondent


Drivers traveling through the area for the past two decades have grown accustomed to the sight of a white van or truck with blue and orange lettering and associating it with John DeGrace Plumbing & Heating.

DeGrace, now entering his 20th year in the plumbing and heating business, has become a trusted face around town – a trust that wasn’t built overnight.

“I opened my business with one truck, and didn’t know anyone or any town, but we started slow and built ourselves up,” DeGrace said.

DeGrace believes that his continued success comes from being confident and providing quality service to his customers.

“I think our whole thing from day one was just being confident in our ability and doing it differently than other people,” DeGrace said.

DeGrace distinguished himself by creating a reputation for cleanliness and professional decorum. DeGrace, despite advice given to him from others in the industry, chose to outfit his employees with uniforms and emphasized keeping his trucks clean and organized.

“People care about having a uniform and nice trucks,” DeGrace explained. “We took pride in not just doing better work, but being neat and organized. We believe it wasn’t just a saying. We actually do it and we believe in being cleaner than everyone else.”

The purposeful attention to detail paid off for De- Grace, as his company has created a brand and reputation in the area for great service paired with professionalism.

“We’re still here and we have a great customer base,” DeGrace said. “They call and say how polite (our workers) are, that they’re not rude, and they explain things to the customer.”

Over the past 20 years, DeGrace said that the company’s success has come through evolving with the times.

“We’re constantly updating our knowledge,” DeGrace said.

One of the company’s newer facets, he noted, is in the sewer business. Using new technology, DeGrace and his crew can show a customer a problem, rather than just telling them what it might be.

“Camera work has been the biggest thing in the last five years,” DeGrace said. “If you can’t see the problem, you can’t fix the problem. A picture is worth a thousand words.”

John DeGrace Plumbing & Heating is located at 267 River Rd. in North Arlington. The company also features 24-hour emergency repair service.

Anyone searching for more information can visit www.degraceplumbing.com. To schedule an appointment, or to speak with a representative, dial 201-997-8565.

UPDATE: Missing Nutley teen found safely


A teenage girl from Nutley who was reported missing since Feb. 11 is back home, Nutley Police said today.

Detective Sgt. Anthony Montanari said  the parents of Christina Simeonidis called the department on the afternoon of Thursday, Feb. 20, to report that their daughter had returned home safely.

Montanari said he hadn’t yet talked to the parents to get a full accounting of where the girl had been and what she’d been doing.

“This is the seventh time she went missing in the last three months,” Montanari said.

— Ron Leir

‘A true Harrisonian’


By Ron Leir
Observer Correspondent


Harrison lost its longtime chief executive when Mayor Raymond McDonough collapsed at his Town Hall office and subsequently died of an apparent heart attack on Wednesday afternoon, officials said.

Paramedics tried to revive him as he was rushed by ambulance to St. Michael’s Hospital, Newark, but McDonough, 65, was pronounced dead at the hospital, officials said.

A funeral Mass was held Monday at Holy Cross Church, Harrison, where the mayor was a longtime parishioner. Mulligan Funeral Home, Harrison, handled the arrangements.

Tributes to the late mayor came from public officials on all levels of government: Read more »

Close call for basement fire victim


By Karen Zautyk
Observer Correspondent


Restricted space in a basement apartment challenged firefighters who were attempting to rescue its sole occupant from a smoky blaze last week, officials reported.

The victim, a man believed to be in his 60s, suffered severe burns after being trapped in his bedroom, authorities said. He was being treated at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, where he was listed in critical condition with third degree burns. His identity wasn’t readily available.

The fire was reported at 3:28 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 12, at 131 Schuyler Ave., between Hoyt and Tappan Sts. Kearny Fire Chief Steve Dyl said there were two homes on the site, one behind the other, and the fire was in the one at the rear of the property.

Dyl said the resident of the first-floor apartment called in the alarm when he smelled and saw smoke. That individual was able to escape and told first responders there was a man in the basement unit. Read more »

Fierce competition among towns for salt


By Ron Leir
Observer Correspondent

With forecasters predicting a snow and ice blizzard in the making last week, municipal administrators and DPW chiefs were all burning up the phone lines, hoping against hope that an essential commodity would be arriving soon.

That commodity, of course, was rock salt.

Problem was that shipments were tied up on barges at the terminals at Port Newark and Port Elizabeth and lots of counties and communities were competing to grab as much as they could get, local officials said.

In a report issued by New Jersey 101.5, State Transportation Commissioner Jim Simpson was quoted as saying that it takes three weeks for suppliers in Chile – a primary provider of rock salt – to get the material to the U.S. by boat. He said the state has located other sources in the Northeast U.S. but transportation logistical issues were complicating deliveries. He said the industry didn’t anticipate how much salt would be needed this winter. Read more »

Heavy snow causes Devon St. roof collapse


By Karen Zautyk
Observer Correspondent


It was only a matter of time. And of snow, and ice, and weight.

Last week, it seemed like every local news broadcast included yet another story about a roof collapsing somewhere in New Jersey. Sure enough, on Thursday night, it was Kearny’s turn.

The official calculation of snow depth in Kearny from the storm that began late Wednesday and continued into Thursday was 15 inches.

That near-record amount was, literally, on top of all the accumulated snow and glacial ice still remaining from this exceptionally brutal winter’s previous storms. Read more »