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Easing the way over

By Ron Leir  Observer Correspondent LYNDHURST – State officials are still pondering what to do about the century-old DeJessa Bridge which links Lyndhurst and Nutley across the Passaic River but, in the meantime, Bergen County has done its part to try and relieve congestion there. At the urging […]

Last chance to sound off on dog park

By Ron Leir  Observer Correspondent KEARNY –  The town is preparing to let the dogs out but first it wants the owners in. For a public meeting, that is, on Wednesday, Feb. 4, at 7:30 p.m., in the second floor Town Council chambers at Town Hall […]

Ice storm took its toll on local roads

By Karen Zautyk  Observer Correspondent  KEARNY –  By the time you read this, we all may be trapped inside by a blizzard — if the current weather forecasts are correct. But it doesn’t necessarily take heavy snow to create havoc. Sometimes, a coating of ice is sufficient. […]

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Bracing for funding shift

By Ron Leir  Observer Correspondent  KEARNY –  For the past 37 years, the Kearny nonprofit Pathways to Independence Inc. has helped those with intellectual and developmental disabilities to live independently in their communities. Currently, from its 3-level, 18,000 square foot headquarters at Kingsland and Bergen Aves., it offers on-site […]

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A new ‘acquisition’

Tim Bixler, of The Bixler Group Real Estate and Insurance and his wife, Charissa Bixler, welcomed their daughter, Addison Paige Bixler, on Tuesday, Jan. 20, at 1:20 p.m. Big brother Brayden is beyond excited. Only a few more years until […]

 
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$$ to flow into Passaic

settlements

Acting N.J. Attorney General John J. Hoffman and state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin last week announced the approval of a $190 million settlement with Occidental Chemical Corp. to resolve the company’s liability for contamination of the Passaic River.

Approved by Superior Court Judge Sebastian P. Lombardi on Dec. 16, the settlement is the third and final one in the Passaic River litigation, a series of agreements in which the state obtained costs and damages from multiple parties responsible for polluting the river.

Altogether, the state has recovered $355.4 million from the litigation, over and above the cost of remediation.

“The Occidental settlement . . . along with the two Passaic River litigation settlements that preceded it represents a tremendous victory for the citizens of New Jersey,” Hoffman said.

“As a result of these three settlements,” he added, “not only will the Passaic River be cleaned up at no cost to New Jersey taxpayers, but the state also has recovered more than $150 million that it expended over many years of exhaustive legal and environmental effort to clean up the river.”

Among other terms, the Occidental settlement calls for $50 million of the payment to fund natural resource restoration projects in and around the Newark Bay Complex. A total of $67.4 million from all Passaic River settlements will be dedicated to such projects.

Occidental Chemical is a legal successor to the Diamond Shamrock Chemicals Co., which was found to have intentionally dumped hazardous pollutants, including dioxin, into the Passaic from its plant on Lister Ave. in Newark in the 1950s and ‘60s. The factory, in the Ironbound section of the city, was located on the river, directly across from the Harrison meadows area.

“Cleaning up the lower Passaic River is a top environmental priority for New Jersey, one that is vital to the health and safety of people who live and work along the river and who have long had to bear the burden of this pollution,’’ Martin said.

The commissioner said the state will continue to work with the federal Environmental Protection Agency “to get this cleanup project started as soon as possible.”

The EPA has proposed a $1.7 billion plan for cleanup of the lower eight miles of the river — the portion that flows past Nutley, Belleville, Lyndhurst, North Arlington, Kearny, East Newark and Harrison.

Under a federal law known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), it is possible the agency could call on New Jersey to bear a 10% share of the cleanup cost, Hoffman’s office noted.

However, as part of the Occidental settlement, the corporation reportedly agreed to cover the state’s share, if assessed.

“In short, the Occidental and other settlement payments are above and beyond the funds used to clean up the Passaic River,” Hoffman said. “That is, the responsible parties will clean up the river at their own expense, while the state will receive a total of $355 million, plus a guarantee to cover any costs to the state in the unlikely event those cleanup costs are assessed under CERCLA.”

The amount of Occidental’s guarantee is between $210 million and $400 million and is dependant upon on the outcome of the company’s indemnification claims against other original defendants in the Passaic River litigation.

Occidental also has assumed responsibility for any future state cleanup costs at the Newark Lister Ave. site and future costs within the Newark Bay Complex — provided these are related to the discharges from the Newark plant, Hoffman’s office reported.

– Karen Zautyk 

Robbers flee, shots fired

BELLEVILLE – 

On Sunday morning, one of the busiest shopping days of the year, armed robbers invaded the Radio Shack on Main St., one of the busiest shopping areas in town.

As they fled, the thugs rammed a Belleville patrol car, and an officer reportedly fired several shots at the getaway vehicle. It is not known if either of the suspects was hit.

According to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, Belleville police had been notified at 11:22 a.m. by a 911 caller that an armed robbery was in progress at the store, located in the mini-mall on the 400 block of Main St., across from Kmart.

When police arrived at the rear of the building, they saw the two suspects leaving. The men then drove into the police car, and the officer fired at their vehicle, a light blue Jeep, apparently hitting it at least once. It fled south on Route 21.

Authorities said there were three employees in the Radio Shack at the time of the holdup. All were tied up, and one was pistol-whipped. It is yet not known what was taken.

The police officer, identified only as a 10-year veteran of the Belleville PD, was evaluated at a local hospital.

As of press time, no further details were available, and the suspects were apparently still at large.

The investigation is being conducted by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Homicide Task Force, its Professional Standards Bureau, and the Belleville PD.

Anyone with information on the suspects or the crime is asked to contact the prosecutor’s tip line, 877-TIPS- 4-EC (877-847-7432) or the Belleville police, 973-450-3333. Anonymous tips can also be emailed to HomicideTips@ njecpo.org

– Karen Zautyk 

Belleville board borrows more

By Ron Leir

Observer Correspondent 

BELLEVILLE – 

The already fiscally strapped Belleville Board of Education has committed to borrowing more than $3 million for technology upgrades.

By a 3-2 vote, with one abstention, on Dec. 15, the board agreed to enter into a lease purchase transaction that will “finance the acquisition of infrastructure technology, servers and a phone system,” according to the resolution it adopted.

Voting for the measure were Board Vice President Jeanne Lombardi, Peter Zangari Jr. and Raymond Kuebler; Lillian Torres abstained; and Board President John Rivera and William Freda opposed it.

“I just didn’t have enough information to vote ‘yes,’ ’’ Rivera told The Observer last week. He said state monitor Thomas Egan brought the lease-purchase proposal to the board without any advance notice, so the board had no opportunity to review it.

The resolution says that on the advice of bond counsel McManimon, Scotland & Baumann LLC, the board is accepting a bid by U.S. Bancorp Government Leasing and Finance as the “purchaser/ lessor” at an annual interest rate of 2.189% for a principal amount not to exceed $3,323,512 which is repayable over five years.

Proceeds from the sale of the lease “shall be applied to pay costs to acquire and to install the equipment and pay the costs of entering into the lease.”

Egan told The Observer that the financial arrangement is being done “under state contract” and will allow the district “to replace and improve its internet and technological infrastructure in order to make it ready for the [state-mandated] PARCC [Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College & Careers] testing scheduled for March.

“Without this equipment replacement, the district would not be ready for the PARCC,” Egan said. The new equipment’s acquisition and installation will be overseen by Pro Media Technology Services of Little Falls and “is being purchased on state contract.”

Egan said the old equipment “could not support the wireless technology” needed to facilitate the administering of the testing.

Egan said there is a “phone component” to the new technology that will “enable telephone data transmissions, servers and streaming to run more efficiently.”

Pro Media was initially brought into the district over the Labor Day weekend after the district’s internal phone system and computers crashed and, ultimately, the communications services being supplied through Clarity Technologies Group of Mine Hill were discontinued.

Previously retained to install an elaborate school security system for $1.9 million, Clarity in 2013 also received two other contracts: one for $10,000 per month for phone service and another for $20,000 per month to provide IT support. The board has retained certain payments from Clarity and both parties are in arbitration over how much Clarity is owed. At the monitor’s urging, the board has discontinued its IT contract with the vendor.

Meanwhile, the board continues to await the findings of an audit to determine exactly how much it overspent during the 2013-2014 school year. A preliminary assessment by Egan is that the district ended the school year on June 30 more than $4 million in the red. It was the discovery of the spending lapse that led to the monitor’s arrival in May.

In other business at the Dec. 15 meeting, the proposed appointments of Dave Joisil and Saul Escobar as teachers of health and physical education at Belleville Middle School were pulled at the direction of Acting Superintendent Ricardo Acosta after questions were raised about the selection process, Rivera said. “We’re going to do it over again.”

Also, of the 44 people who responded to the district advertisement seeking applicants for the superintendent’s job, the board’s search consultant has narrowed down that list to six, Rivera said. On Jan. 10, the board – which will reorganize on Jan 6 – is due to interview those six candidates and will likely make an appointment by late March, he said.

Lyndhurst assault suspect nabbed

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A suspect wanted in connection with an assault on a 21-year-old woman at a Lyndhurst hotel nearly three months ago is now behind bars awaiting court action.

Andrea Rivers, 20, of Orange, was arrested Dec. 16 in Fairfield on charges of robbery, criminal restraint and terroristic threats and was taken to Bergen County Jail on $70,000 bail with no 10% cash option.

Police said that at 8:18 p.m. on Sept. 24, they responded to the Quality Inn Hotel on Polito Ave. on a report of a female who had been attacked. When they arrived, officers were told by the victim from Brooklyn that she’d been assaulted with pepper spray and robbed while in her hotel room.

The woman told cops that someone knocked on her door and, after opening it, she was confronted by a masked individual who pepper sprayed her in the face, tied her hands with zip-ties and told her not to scream or she would be killed.

The suspect then applied duct tape to her mouth and took $200, an Apple I-phone and a backpack with clothes and makeup before leaving her room, police said.

Although the victim didn’t see the intruder’s face, police said she recognized her voice. Police said the two had a “business relationship.”

Police said the victim eventually freed herself by using scissors to cut the zip-ties, then called the front desk which, in turn, notified police. She was treated at the hotel by Lyndhurst EMS for cuts to her face, right elbow, right knee and forearms. She declined further medical attention, police said.

An arrest warrant was then issued for the suspect who was located by Fairfield PD, charged and removed to Bergen County Jail.

Lyndhurst PD logged these other incidents during the past week:

Dec. 18 

At 11:17 a.m., police responded to the 200 block of Stuyvesant Ave. where a 46-year-old resident reported the apparent theft of packages reportedly delivered to their residence in October. Police said the resident placed an online order for a $375 GPS and Xbox which the vendor was to ship via USPS but the resident never received the merchandise. Police said the resident didn’t report the incident until now because they’d been trying to resolve the matter with the vendor.

•••

At 3:14 p.m., police conducted a motor vehicle stop on Polito Ave. near the Wall St. industrial area after seeing no front license plate on the vehicle. The driver, Shamir Chowdhury, 21, of Rutherford, was given a summons for no front plate. He was also charged with possession of marijuana and possession of CDS in a motor vehicle. Police towed the vehicle.

Dec. 19

At 12:51 a.m., police pulled over a vehicle westbound on Rutherford Ave. after the driver allegedly crossed over the central yellow line several times while going 47 mph in a 25 mph zone. Esteban Chong, 46, of Bloomfield, was issued summonses charging him with speeding, careless driving, DWI and having an open container of beer in the vehicle. Police towed his vehicle and released Chong to a responsible party pending court action on the violations.

•••

At 4:21 a.m., police stopped a vehicle traveling north on Park Ave. near Court Ave. after it was seen reportedly swerving from lane to lane. The driver, Santiago Rivera, 41, of Newark, was charged with DWI and careless driving. His car was towed and he was released to a responsible party.

– Ron Leir 

All was calm, all was bright

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In December 1914, the troops of the Allies and the Central Powers have been in combat for several months and had begun to be bogged down (sometimes literally — living in mud) in the trench warfare that was to characterize World War I’s Western Front.

Trench warfare was basically a stalemate. Wave after wave of soldiers would be sent “over the top” — climbing out of the trench and advancing toward the enemy line, only to be mowed down by machine gun and artillery fire. The casualty numbers were appalling. But this did not stop the commanding officers from ordering another charge. And another. And . . .

The stretch of ground between the opposing trenches was called No Man’s Land, and it was marked by barbed wire, shell holes and corpses. The dead might be left there indefinitely, since — depending on the fierceness of the combat — retrieving and burying the bodies was in itself a lethal task.

Sometimes, the trenches were so close — in one area, a mere 30 yards apart — the combatants could talk, or at least shout, to each other.

That first December of the war in the British sector, it had been raining for much of the month, but on Christmas Eve, there came a frost that for awhile coated with white the shell-pocked terrain and the forest of stumps that had once been trees. It was a white Christmas.

And a peaceful one. At least temporarily.

There are multitudinous, and varying, accounts of exactly what happened on Christmas Eve 1914. But all agree that there was a spontaneous truce along some parts of the British and German lines.

How it began is uncertain, too. But my favorite story is of British troops hearing the Germans singing Christmas carols, and then joining in. There is also a report of the Germans placing candles and small Christmas trees on the parapets of their trenches.

The foes began shouting greetings to each other.

Eventually, men from both sides ventured into No Man’s Land — this time, not in an attack, but hesitantly walking toward the enemy. Germans and British met in that desolation, and shook hands. More and more troops left the trenches to meet in the middle.

Amazingly, the truce lasted through Christmas Day. The soldiers exchanged gifts — chocolate, cigarettes, cake, souvenirs. They took photos together, sometimes posing in the caps or helmets of the enemy. Some kicked soccer balls around No Man’s Land.*

But many of the soldiers, from both sides, used the unofficial ceasefire for more solemn purposes, retrieving those aforementioned corpses, so they could be given proper burials.

The Christmas Truce was not universal. In other parts of the Western Front, even along British lines, fighting continued. And the High Command was not pleased with the ceasefire when they learned of it. Strict orders prohibiting future fraternization were promulgated.

Suffice it to say, despite all the friendliness and goodwill, the truce was a mere anomaly. It had to end. How it ended, in one part of the sector, was described by Capt. J.C. Dunn of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, who wrote:

“At 8:30, I fired three shots in the air and put up a flag with ‘Merry Christmas’ on it, and I climbed on the parapet. He [the Germans] put up a sheet with ‘Thank you’ on it, and the German captain appeared on the parapet. We both bowed and saluted and got down into our respective trenches, and he fired two shots in the air, and the war was on again.”

That quote is from www.firstworldwar.com, which has an extensive account of the Christmas Truce — and a wealth of other Great War information, if you are interested in learning more. Which I hope at least some of you are.

– Karen Zautyk 

* Last week, in a soccer match in Aldershot, England, a British Army team defeated the Bundeswehr (German military) team, 1-0. The event was organized to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Christmas Truce. 

CORRECTION

A story published last week in The Observer misstated the school district where former Lyndhurst school administrator Nicholas Coffaro now serves as superintendent. It is North Haledon. The Observer regrets the error.

Recycling funds for local towns

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TRENTON – 

State recycling grants totaling approximately $226,000 are being awarded to the eight communities in The Observer coverage area to implement and enhance local recycling efforts, the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection announced last week.

In all, 588 N.J. municipalities will share $15 million in grants awarded through the state’s Recycling Enhancement Act.

The funds are being allocated based on the recycling successes local governments demonstrated in 2012. Disbursement was to begin last week.

The local grants are: Belleville, $15,615; Bloomfield, $31,538; East Newark, $3,890; Harrison, $23,367; Kearny, $54,617; Lyndhurst, $27,948; North Arlington, $27,669; Nutley, $40,369.

“The grants can help municipalities in many ways,” said Jane Herndon, DEP Assistant Commissioner for Environmental Management. “They can purchase the best and biggest recycling containers with these funds, educate residents and businesses about the benefits of recycling and help local governments support recycling staff.”

The recycling grant program is funded by a $3-per-ton surcharge on trash disposed of at solid waste facilities across the state. The DEP reported that, in 2012, New Jersey generated more than 10.2 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) — i.e., garbage — from homes, schools, hospitals, businesses, etc. That same year, the agency documented the recycling of more than 4.4 million tons of recyclable municipal waste, such as glass, aluminum and other metals, and paper.

This resulted in a MSW recycling rate of 44%, an increase of 4% over 2011. By comparison, the national MSW recycling rate in 2012 was 34.5% percent, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Overall, nearly 20.2 million tons of solid waste (including construction debris and other types of non-MSW waste) were generated in New Jersey in 2012, of which 11 million tons were recycled. The overall waste and amount of materials recycled were impacted significantly by debris generated by Superstorm Sandy, the DEP noted.

“We still have the goal of achieving 50% municipal recycling in New Jersey and we would like to see our overall recycling rate grow beyond 60% and stay there,” Herndon said.

For a complete list of recycling grants by municipality, visit: http://www.nj.gov/dep/dshw/recycling/ stat_links/2012payout.pdf.

For more information on recycling in New Jersey, visit: http://www.nj.gov/dep/ dshw/recycling.

– Karen Zautyk 

School board settles vendor suit

KEARNY – 

The Kearny Board of Education settled litigation over replacement of its copy machine vendor at its meeting on Dec. 15.

In other developments:

The board received notification from the executive Hudson County superintendent that the five-year contract the board had awarded Patricia Blood as superintendent of schools has been sanctioned by the state Department of Education.

On Nov. 13, the board voted to appoint Blood to the post, after she’d been serving for some time as acting chief school administrator, granting her a 5-year contract at $167,500 a year through June 30, 2019.

Also, board members convened their first meeting in their new conference space in the annex to their new Midland Ave. headquarters.

The building’s elevator, part of the unfinished business at the new HQ, was due for a state inspection last Friday and its fire suppression system was also scheduled for inspection by the municipal Construction Code unit. If the building gets a passing grade, then a permanent certificate of occupancy will be issued. Results of those inspections weren’t readily available at press time.

The building’s basement, which has been reportedly reserved for two Gifted and Talented classrooms, remains a work in progress.

As for the legal issue, Ken Lindenfelser, the board’s general counsel, said that when the district switched its copy machine service contract, from Xerox to Atlantic, earlier this year, there was a dispute with the old vendor over billings.

Lindenfelser said that Xerox sued the district for about $230,000 but ended up settling for a payment of $109,000 and the return of all of its copy machines from the various school facilities.

Of that amount, Lindenfelser said, Atlantic has agreed to pay $103,500. He said that when Atlantic submitted its bid for the copy machine contract, the vendor pledged to be responsible for that obligation.

“The new machines from Atlantic are all in place,” he said.

– Ron Leir 

4.5M contract for pump work

KEARNY – 

The Kearny Municipal Utilities Authority last Wednesday awarded a contract for $4,597,890 to Coppola Services of Ringwood for the renovation of its Kearny Point and Harrison Ave. pump stations.

Of four bids submitted, ranging up to a high of $4,744,000, Coppola’s was the lowest, according to KMUA Executive Director Kevin O’Sullivan. One bid was tossed out as deficient, he added.

O’Sullivan said the work involves fixing pumps, bar screens and generators at both locations that were damaged by Superstorm Sandy in October 2012. “It’s an overhaul of all mechanical parts,” he said.

O’Sullivan said the contract specifications call for completion of the job within two years. The contractor may choose to work on both sites at the same time or in staggered phases, he added.

While the repairs are proceeding, both pump stations “will remain fully operational through a bypass system,” he said.

The Kearny Point station is located in the rear of the KMUA offices at 39 Central Ave. while the Harrison Ave. facility is at 1802 Harrison, just east of the N.J.Turnpike and near the U.S. postal facility.

Financing for the project is earmarked from two primary sources: the federal Environmental Infrastructure Trust fund and the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), with the balance coming from the KMUA, according to O’Sullivan.

Meanwhile, O’Sullivan said that work on the KMUA’s new offices is virtually completed but he said that the general contractor, Daskal LLC of Wallington, is awaiting a final inspection by the roof sub-contractor before a 20-year warranty agreement can be issued.

The job was awarded to Daskal for $680,900 in April 2013 and the KMUA staff has been operating from a temporary trailer since Labor Day 2013. A few months ago, O’Sullivan said the job was “behind schedule” and had been progressing “slower than anticipated.”

– Ron Leir 

KPD: Burglary suspect arrested

A Tappan St. resident was in her apartment at 6 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 15, when she heard a noise, investigated and came face-to-face with a burglar.

Luckily, he promptly fled, without taking anything. And she promptly called the cops.

The victim told Officer Jay Ward that she recognized the intruder and believed that he lived in the area, police said. Dets. Scott Traynor and Ray Lopez developed as a suspect 18-year-old Jalen Diaz of Kearny, who was arrested the following day and was charged with burglary.

Police said Diaz had apparently gained entry to the apartment by removing a window screen.

• • •

Other recent reports from the Kearny police blotter included the following:

Dec. 13 

At noon, Officer Daniel Esteves and Sgt. Paul Bershefski responded to the report of a heated male-female dispute in a Chestnut St. residence and found that the male, Victor Fernandez, 31, of Kearny, apparently had four outstanding warrants: three from Kearny and one from Newark. They also found that he had a knife, police said.

Fernandez was charged with harassment, unlawful possession of a weapon, possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes, and hindering apprehension (for allegedly giving a phony name when initially questioned). He was remanded to the Hudson County Jail in lieu of $5,000 bail.

• • •

Officer Jordenson Jean, patrolling on Kearny Ave. at Hoyt St. at 3 p.m., found a Honda double-parked and blocking traffic. Jean located the driver, Deena Hussein, 26, of Kearny, who was found to have a suspended license. She was arrested for that offense and on an East Newark warrant — also for driving while suspended.

Dec. 15 

Officer Jose Resua, investigating a 4 p.m. accident on Hackensack Ave. in South Kearny, found that one of the drivers, Braulio Gomez, 50, of Newark, had a suspended license. And a warrant out of West New York. He was arrested and brought to headquarters.

• • •

At 6 p.m., Officer Rich Carbone noticed that a Hyundai traveling near Kearny and Bergen Aves. had an expired temporary registration. During the MV stop, the driver, Juan Vasquez, 26, of Kearny, allegedly discarded a plastic tube containing a marijuana cigarette. He was charged with possession of pot and drug paraphernalia, operating a motor vehicle while in possession of a CDS, and driving without a license. The car was impounded.

• • •

At 6:45 p.m., a resident on the 200 block of Ivy St. reported that he had returned home to find his second floor apartment burglarized and a “substantial amount” of cash missing. Det. Traynor processed the scene and canvassed the neighborhood. The investigation is ongoing.

• • •

Vice officers were at Wilson Ave. and Forest St. at 8 p.m. when they saw Albert Keys, 39, of Kearny, whom they knew to have a warrant out of Camden.

In a search incident to arrest on that warrant, he was allegedly found to be in possession of six vials of suspected cocaine and was charged with that offense.

Dec. 16 

At 5 p.m., a concerned citizen reported seeing a suspicious individual enter a parked pickup truck on the 100 block of Forest St., apparently take something and then flee toward Bergen Ave. The witness provided a “very good description” to Officer Ward, who relayed it to all units. Vice detectives then reported that, just prior to the theft, they had seen Alexander Harkes, 30, of Kearny, wearing the same clothing the witness described.

Det. Traynor compiled a photo array, and the witness identified Harkes, police said. Within the hour, Vice spotted him on Passaic Ave. and arrested him on a burglary charge and two outstanding Newark warrants. He was remanded to the county jail.

Dec. 17 

At 8 p.m., Vice officers reportedly observed Christopher Coello, 20, of Newark, wandering in a parking lot at Bergen and Passaic Aves. and peering into vehicles. Approaching him for questioning, they detected a strong odor of marijuana and found him to have a plastic bag containing the drug, police said. He was charged with possession of pot and paraphernalia.

– Karen Zautyk 

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