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Stories that made news locally in 2012

By Ron Leir and Karen Zautyk
Observer Correspondents

JANUARY

In the wake of a series of alleged ABC violations, East Newark suspends the liquor license of the Ambatenita Bar & Restaurant on N. Third St., one of two remaining taverns in the borough, for six months.

Kearny’s Board of Education and the mayor and council agree to shift the annual Board of Education election from April to November, the same day as the general election. A $30,000 savings is projected.

Temporary classroom trailers arrive at Kearny High School as the $37 million reconstruction project at the school continues but they are not ready to receive students. (That happens later in the year.)

Four Kearny municipal employees, including the head of the Civil Service union, Local 11, are off the payroll, as casualties of what the town calls economic layoffs. Of 11 originally targeted for termination, two are spared and five retire. The union appeals.

A state tax court judge rules that the New York Red Bulls professional soccer team must pay real estate taxes on both its Harrison stadium (Red Bull Arena) and the land on which the stadium sits. The team has paid more than $3 million in taxes for 2010 and 2011 but continues to contest the matter in court.

A retired Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) operative is arrested at his Nutley home on charges of sexually abusing a “developmentally delayed” teenage girl during a five-year period. The case against Thomas Sheehan hasn’t yet come to trial.

Two men, one showing a handgun, carjack and rob a man on New Year’s night, in Harrison, just outside West Hudson Park, getting away with the victim’s 2006 Pontiac GTO along with $200 in cash and four New Jersey Lottery tickets, according to a police account.

Kearny braces for a hit to its retail economy as A&P announces it will close its Pathmark store on Passaic Ave. in March. A&P says the Kearny store shutdown is part of a bankruptcy reorganization resulting in the closure of 14 stores in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. The jobs of more than 100 employees, many from Kearny, are affected.

A 2-year drug dealing investigation culminates in the arrests of Nutley resident Thomas Giardina, 55, and Nutley businessman John Pino, 38. Police allege that Giardina dealt prescription narcotics and cocaine from his Essex St. home and that Pino was an alleged accomplice in the enterprise. Police say they found cocaine and a series of prescription medications at Pino’s Franklin Ave. business and “several thousand dollars worth” of drugs at Giardina’s Essex St. home. Both await trial.

The Chase Bank in Kearny is robbed by a lone male who hands a teller a note claiming to have a weapon and gets away with $2,000.

Retired Kearny Firefighter Michael Tortorello passes away at age 40. Tortorello had served 15 years with the Fire Department and retired last year due to illness.

Nutley Parks & Recreation Commissioner Mario Tucci takes over as Interim Mayor as the temporary replacement for outgoing Mayor Joanne Cocchiola, who is stepping down to become Nutley’s municipal court judge. Tucci was chosen earlier in the month to fill the vacancy by a 3-1 vote of the commission. (Later, Public Safety Commissioner Alphonse Petracco becomes mayor.)

Kearny resident Nelson Coelho, 23, is killed while attempting to cross the Staten Island Expressway. The 2006 Kearny High School graduate had been studying psychology at West Virginia University.

A Hudson County grand jury indicts Carlos P. Campos on three counts of homicide in the stabbing deaths of his parents, Carlos A. Campos- Trinidad, 57, and Ruth Pereira, 58, and his 3-year-old niece, Gabriella Morales, on Aug. 16, 2011, at the family’s Hamilton St. home in Harrison. Campos is awaiting trial.

In the wake of the retirement of its health officer Karen Comer, Harrison signs an interlocal agreement with North Bergen to continue delivery of public health services to Harrison residents. Since then, the operator has applied for designation as a Federally Qualified Health Center to qualify for Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement for providing primary health care services at no cost to residents.

FEBRUARY

The Nutley Fire Department is getting a new fire pumper, courtesy of a $265,950 federal grant, to be supplemented by $29,550 in local funds.

Harrison hires its first new police officer in 11 years. Officer Frank Narvaez, 24, comes to the Harrison Police Department under state legislation known as the “Rice bill” that allows municipalities to hire New Jersey cops who have been laid off for economy reasons without going through Civil Service. Narvaez was among 125 officers let go by Paterson in April 2011.

North Arlington resident Leonard Jeffrey, 57, is killed after being hit by a pickup truck while trying to cross the Belleville Turnpike (Rt. 7) near Fish House Road to get to his workplace in South Kearny, police report. Police say Jeffrey was using a bike to travel but it’s unclear whether he was on the bike at the time of the accident.

After six years as Belleville Township Manager, Victor Canning resigns to take a new job as Montville township administrator next month. Canning is a former Belleville councilman, mayor and police officer whose municipal service dates from 1994.

St. Stephen’s Parish in Kearny announces plans to raise $97,000 to design and erect a monument to the Rev. John P. Washington, the former parish curate better known as one of the “Four Chaplains” who gave their life jackets to others during the sinking of the USAT Dorchester in the North Atlantic on Feb. 3, 1943, by a German submarine.

Belleville resident Angelo Corino, 61, is charged with the attempted murder of his estranged wife’s lover at her apartment in Lake Hiawatha. Corino is alleged to have stabbed the victim repeatedly, according to the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office.

Clara Maass Medical Center, Belleville, opens a new 12,500 square foot, 22-bed Geriatric and Adult In-patient Behavioral Health Unit.

MARCH

The township government clashes with the owners of the former Dutch Reformed Church and cemetery containing the remains of American Revolutionary War veterans over maintenance of the grounds. La Senda Antigua Church, the current owner, promises in future, to ask for the township’s help before attempting any cleanup work that could damage historic headstones.

A fallen candle leads to a four-alarm fire at a three-story building at 50 Kearny Ave. in Kearny that displaces 11 adults and three children. No one is hurt. The cause is ruled accidental by the Fire Department.

A quarrel between neighbors turns deadly in Lyndhurst as Stephen Baldino, 49, is charged in the stabbing death of Lydja Mitchell, 59, in Mitchell’s Page Ave. apartment. He is awaiting trial.

Kearny scores an historic milestone when, for the first time, it hosts the Hudson County Bar Association’s annual New Jersey State Bar Night at the Irish American Association.

Gov. Chris Christie brings his “Town Meeting” road show to Kearny. Some 200 guests show up to greet the governor at the former Boystown gym, now known as the Archdiocesan Youth Retreat Center. Christie touts his efforts to promote the state’s economy by cutting the budget and boosting business opportunities.

Nutley Public Library gets a new director in Maria LaBadia, a former Montclair Public Library employee.

Lyndhurst bars kids from playing on its Little League and T-ball fields after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports findings of toxins in the soil. The fields are on the banks of the Passaic River which have been found to contain pollutants from industrial sources further up the river. (That suspension is later lifted after the EPA gives an all-clear and discloses plans to dredge mudflats along river.) The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey votes to appropriate $256 million for a major upgrade of its Harrison PATH train station. Work is expected to start by January 2013.

Lyndhurst P.D. shuts two local massage parlors. Five female employees are arrested after undercover cops say they were offered sex for cash at Tranquility Spa on Valley Brook Ave. and First Massage Therapy on Ridge Road.

Kearny Chief Fire Inspector Chuck Kerr receives the Fireman of the Year award. He has worked for the department since 1984 and will retire July 1. Kerr is commended for the rescue of an injured firefighter at a 1993 chemical plant fire, for helping save a heart attack victim in 2000 and for selfless actions in fighting a fire on Forest Junction.

APRIL

Kearny Police Det. Ramon Lopez, a 14-year veteran of the department, is named Kearny Cop of the Year. He’s credited with foiling a Quick Chek robbery, for being part of a team that captured a man charged with exposing himself to high school track team girls, and for working off-duty in helping catch four would-be thieves during searches of the flooded box factory on Hoyt St.

Nutley High School gets a new principal as Denis Williams is appointed to replace interim principal Edward Barry.

North Arlington resident Karen Augustine, 59, is killed following a four-vehicle crash on the Belleville Turnpike in Kearny. Augustine was a Jersey City school teacher.

Patricia Krentcil is labeled the “tanning mom” after she is charged with child endangerment for allegedly taking her 5-year-old daughter into a Nutley tanning salon where police say the girl suffered burns to one of her legs. She has denied the charges.

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Photo courtesy Nutley P.D.
Patricia Krentcil

 

MAY

North Arlington Police Officer Paul Casale, 24, is arrested on charges of theft and criminal trespass and is suspended without pay pending the outcome of his case. Casale is accused of taking jewelry from a Biltmore St. residence in April.

Lyndhurst undergoes a change at the top as Commissioner Robert Giangeruso replaces Commissioner Richard DiLascio as mayor. DiLascio remains on the commission but now oversees Revenue & Finance.

The Kearny Landfill Solar Farm is dedicated by PSE&G, Sundurance Energy and the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission. It’s expected to generate enough energy to power 450 to 675 homes.

After heated opposition from residents, the Lyndhurst Zoning Board of Adjustment votes to reject a proposal by the Domus Corp., an arm of Catholic Charities, to build a 50-unit low-income senior residence on the site of the old Sacred Heart social hall on Valley Brook Ave.

Former cop Steven Rogers captures a seat on the Nutley Township Board of Commissioners in the municipal elections.

Kearny promotes six in the Police Department. Getting extra stripes are: Capt. John Gouveia; Lt. David Feldhan, Lt. Timothy Wagner, Sgt. Peter Gleason, Sgt. Paul Bershefski and Sgt. Patrick Sweeney.

Emergency first responders deal with two chemical spills that happen the same day in neighboring towns. A plume of adipic acid is released from Polyurethane Specialties on Schuyler Ave. in Lyndhurst and anhydrous ammonia leaks from the Temperature Processing Plant in North Arlington, causing nearby residents to be evacuated.

Kearny consumers are offered the Kearny Farmer’s Market Cookbook containing 81 pages of resident’s recipes for healthy dishes.

An accident at the Hummel Machine and Tool Co. on Davis Ave. results in the death of worker David Kornas, 55, of Kearny.

The Harrison Planning Board approves plans for a one-story, 30-foot tall office technology center building that will be occupied by Panasonic.

JUNE

That man again – Gov, Chris Christie – shows up at the Lyndhurst Senior Center for another of his town meetings. Christie tells the crowd he won’t sign legislation to increase the minimum wage in the state because it will only encourage small business owners to lay off employees.

A fire at 304 Beech St. in Kearny leaves nine residents homeless. The fire erupts after fumes from a car’s gas tank – which had been brought into the building’s basement – were ignited by a hot water heater or furnace, the Fire Department says.

The Kearny Planning Board votes to declare the Jeryl Industrial Park and adjacent fenced-in tract owned by Tierra Solutions as an area in need of redevelopment. Now it remains for the Town Council to come up with a redevelopment plan for the site.

Former employees of the Pactiv food service/food packaging plant on O’Brien Ave. off Belleville Pike picket their former workplace, protesting certain labor rules.

Kearny Public Library, in cooperation with the North Hudson Community Action Corp., holds a job fair designed to give participants job-seeking skills and possibly leads on actual jobs.

Josh Humphrey is appointed director of the Kearny Public Library.

A Delaware resident found dead in a Belleville motel room was wanted for the apparent slaying of a Pennsylvania woman whose body was discovered in a Dewey Beach, Del., motel earlier this month.

JULY

At a time when municipalities are struggling to hang onto every job and every company on the tax rolls, Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche, a commercial fixture in Nutley for more than 80 years, announces its intention to close its local offices, resulting in the loss of 1,000 jobs.

Just before its contract was set to expire, the Town of Kearny wins significant givebacks from the Kearny Superior Fire Officers Association, FMBA Local 218, without having to go to arbitration.

Richard Corbett, East Newark school superintendent, announces plans to retire.

Former Kearny High School Principal Cynthia Baumgartner and Franklin School Vice Principal Martin Hoff, whose contracts were not renewed, again seek reappointment and are rejected by the Board of Education.

Thirteen Harrison residents are forced from their Washington St. homes by a threealarm blaze.

The state Department of Transportation announces plans to improve drainage and relieve the flooding that repeatedly plagues Rt. 7 (the Belleville Turnpike) – but the work won’t start for six years.

A bomb scare forces evacuation of the U.S. Postal Service complex on Harrison Ave. in Kearny. No bomb is found, but federal authorities are investigating.

The City of Newark announces that repairs to the Clay St. Bridge spanning the Passaic from East Newark is being closed to vehicular traffic for two months. (Note: It is STILL closed.)

After years of skirmishing over Harrison’s right to tax the team’s property, the New York Red Bulls fork over to the town $5,615,287.73 in back taxes and interest fees. (The Red Bulls are STILL contesting the issue through the courts.)

AUGUST

An incident in North Arlington involving a reported street fight and subsequent kidnapping of a man leads to the arrest of seven individuals believed to be members or associates of the Bloods street gang.

A Lyndhurst woman, accused of attempting to hire a hit man to kill a former lover’s new girlfriend, pleads guilty to the charges in federal court. The “hit man” had actually been an undercover federal agent.

The annual National Night Out Against Crime program is held in towns throughout the area, including Kearny where throngs attended the police-sponsored event on Belgrove Drive.

Lyndhurst police arrest a Kearny woman on child-endangerment charges after she allegedly left her 17-month-old baby alone in a steaming-hot car while she shopped at the mall on Valley Brook Ave. A passer-by had alerted the cops.

“For the first time in recent memory,” Lyndhurst begins posting traffic cops at the “dreaded intersection” of Kingsland and Riverside Aves., which has become a traffic nightmare since the state DOT “improved” the DeJessa Bridge stop lights.

Kearny mulls a suggestion to push for renaming the Wittpenn Bridge on Rt. 7 in honor of a local Civil War veteran and Medal of Honor winner James, McIntosh.

William Shlala is named school superintendent for East Newark.

 

Photo by Anthony J. MachcinskiMaybe someday traffic will again roll over the Clay St. Bridge.

Photo by Anthony J. Machcinski
Maybe someday traffic will again roll over the Clay St. Bridge.

 

SEPTEMBER

Kearny-based Pathways to Independence, which assists those with developmental and physical disabilities, celebrates its 35th anniversary.

The federal government finally approves revisions to the Zadroga Act, named for 9/11 first responder James Zadroga, a North Arlington native whose death was linked to toxic air at the World Trade Center disaster site. The revisions will offer health benefits to many more individuals sickened or dying from cancer after breathing that air.

It’s back to the drawing board after Kearny’s Request for Proposals to redevelop the Passaic Ave. riverfront from East Newark to Bergen Ave. draws no responses.

The Port Authority unveils its new $66 million Jersey City command center designed to improve service on the PATH trains.

East Newark seeks to place an age restriction on use of its only soccer field, in Veterans Park, to enable younger children to have access.

Nutley police initiate an online option for the public to file certain types of reports and complaints.

The Observer launches its annual Kentucky Care collection to aid poverty-stricken residents of Appalachia.

Photo by Photo by Natalie Rodriguez-UlloaMassive tree on Oakwood Ave. in Kearny was one of Hurricane Sandy’s casualties.

Photo by Photo by Natalie Rodriguez-Ulloa
Massive tree on Oakwood Ave. in Kearny was one of Hurricane Sandy’s casualties.

 

OCTOBER

The Belleville Board Education names Helene Feldman as interim schools superintendent.

Despite a technical setback, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it remains confident it can proceed as scheduled with removal in 2013 of contaminants from the Passaic River mudflats in Lyndhurst.

Eighteen firefighters from Kearny and Harrison battle a blaze at a Dukes St. home where damage forced the temporary relocation of five adults and five children.

Marine Corps veteran and Councilman Victor Villalta of Harrison serves as grand marshal of the 37th annual Hispanic State Parade of New Jersey.

The Kearny Urban Enterprise Zone hosts its 3rd annual town-wide yard sale, this year expanded to a full weekend.

Panasonic breaks ground in Harrison for a new technology center, to be built next to the Red Bull Arena.

Kearny police, dispatched to find out what was causing a massive rush-hour traffic backup at the Belleville Pike bridge off Passaic Ave. arrive to find a 36-year-old Rutherford driver sound asleep at the wheel of his car. After eventually being awakened from his stupor, the man was booked on a DUI charge.

Roche Co., which already is abandoning Nutley, announces it also will be disposing of a now-vacant site in Belleville.

Fiscally-strapped Kearny looks to tap some of its moribund meadows parcels into revenue-gushers by installing billboards on the sites.

And the month ends in devastation and destruction as Hurricane Sandy makes landfall at the Jersey Shore. Our towns are not spared, as river tides flood homes throught the area and the superstorm’s 75 mph winds down trees, damage buildings and fell power lines, leaving residents without electricity, some for more than a week.

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NOVEMBER

Sandy continues to be the headline story of the year, eclipsing even President Barack Obama’s reelection. Observer readers learn of the storm’s effects locally:

Coinciding with a full moon and a high tide, Sandy triggers a seven to 10-foot surge where the Passaic and Hackensack rivers converge.

Flooding is reported in many neighborhoods, and rowboats, fire boats and police boats are called out to rescue stranded residents.

The demand for gasoline is so great, and the supply so limited, that the state imposes rationing. While drivers wait in line for hours, hundreds of folks on foot line also up at gas stations to fill containers with fuel for cars and generators.

Police, firefighters and HazMat teams rush to South Kearny to combat a potentially dangerous toxic plume originating from a Newark factory when floodwaters mixed with chlorine.

Also in South Kearny, the flooded police/fire station is deemed uninhabitable.

Gov. Christie calls for mandatory water restrictions because of storm damage to the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission’s treatment plant.

Volunteers come out in force to help clear masses of storm debris from New Jersey Meadowlands Commission wildlife refuges.

Piles of ruined furniture, appliances, remnants of floors and walls become part of the streetscape as local residents clean out their flooded homes.

 

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DECEMBER

As the holidays near, our local towns spread some much-needed post-Sandy joy with tree lightings and festivals.

The Belleville school district suffers a deep loss with the death of beloved music teacher Dr. Thomas Finetti, 66, who had served the schools for 38 years.

State and federal law enforcement officials report on the success of the Passaic River Corridor Initiative, a Newark-to-Paterson anti-gun trafficking project involving all our towns’ police departments.

With its annual tax sale, the Town of Kearny clears its books of 2011 tax delinquencies in the wake of a propertylien sale marked by spirited bidding.

The heist of the year occurs in Kearny when thieves make off with three tractor-trailer loads of liquor from a meadows warehouse. The booze, “several hundred thousand dollars” worth, is apparently delivered to multiple sites in the Bronx.

Multiple donation-drives, of food, clothing, toys, etc., are being sponsored by businesses, charities and local organizations and individuals to benefit the victims of Sandy, both locally and down the Shore, and there is an outpouring of generosity from our communities.

Members of Kearny FMBA firefighters union continue their mission to the storm-ravaged Shore, where they have been helping homeowners clean up and clear out debris since the end of October.

And, finally: If you are reading this, the Mayan Apocalypse, scheduled for Dec. 21, didn’t happen.

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