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Robbery attempt backfires


By Karen Zautyk 

Observer Correspondent


Two feisty service station attendants not only refused to be cowed by an armed robber, they battered him into submission and recovered the money he had taken, Kearny police reported.

The panicked perp high-tailed it down the road, but he was arrested the following day.

Police said the saga began at 11:22 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 3, when a ski-masked man approached an attendant at the pumps at Steve’s Exxon at Passaic Ave. and Belgrove Drive, pulled a large knife and demanded all the employee’s money.

Still holding the attendant at knife-point, the thug forced him into the station’s mini-mart, threatened to stab the clerk who was working there and demanded the cash from the store, police said.

That’s when the tables turned.

According to police: There was a struggle over the knife. The clerk grabbed a baseball bat and began swatting the robber. The two employees managed to disarm him. The ski mask came off. The employees recognized him as a “somewhat regular” customer. They tried to restrain him and keep him on the premises, but he managed to escape, running east on Belgrove.

Officer John Travellino, Sgt. John Becker and Dets. Scott Traynor and Ray Lopez responded to the employees’ 911 call and were able to identify the suspect, police said. They also recovered DNA evidence — blood from the baseball-batted culprit.

The next day, Traynor, Lopez, Det. John Telle and Sgt. Pete Gleason arrested 25-year-old Charles Lambiase at his Kearny home. He was charged with robbery and weapons possession and was remanded to the Hudson County Jail.

Police said Lambiase had fled empty-handed. The two employees “took back everything he took. There were no proceeds from that robbery.”

Man charged in New Year burglary


Harrison PD believes it has located – with help from the Newark PD – the suspect who broke into a local liquor store during the early hours of the New Year.

At 4 p.m. on Jan. 1, police responded to Fulger’s Golden Liquor Store, Harrison and Davis Aves., where someone had shattered the glass front door with a brickto get inside and removed two cash registers and cartons of cigarettes before fleeing.

Fortunately, the image of the suspect, described as a black man with a hoodie, was captured by the store’s surveillance camera and, according to Harrison PD’s Det. Sgt. Dave Doyle, police quickly sent out a still shot and an account of the break-in as an APB.net, a digital flier, to all police jurisdictions throughout the state.

And, Doyle said, that same day, Harrison PD got a response from Wharton PD in Morris County advising that a man who appeared to be a match of the suspect’s photo was wanted by Roxbury PD, also in Morris.

The man being sought by Roxbury was listed as Keith A. Herbert, 46, of Newark, Doyle said.

“We were also called by the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office, Bergen County Prosecutor and Newark PD,” Doyle said. “They all believed he was a suspect of theirs, as well.”

Police began searching for Herbert at all of his known addresses, but it wasn’t until Jan. 6 that a break came in the case, Doyle said.

“At 6 p.m., we got a call from Newark PD saying that they’d arrested our suspect on a strong-arm robbery somewhere in Newark’s East District,” he said. Newark PD could not be reached for further details on the crime there.

Dets. Joseph Nigro and Corey Karas, accompanied by Doyle, went to Newark “and got a video-tape confession of the liquor store job” from Herbert, Doyle said.

None of the stolen cash or merchandise has been recovered, Doyle said.

Asked whether he’s been linked to the other commercial break-ins that occurred on Harrison Ave. during holiday week, Doyle said: “Based on his account, we don’t believe he’s connected to the other jobs.”

Meanwhile, Herbert is being held at the Essex County Jail, awaiting court appearances related to Newark and other alleged crimes. “We’re waiting in line,” Doyle said.

Cops hunt Belgrove burglar


Police are hunting a brazen burglar who smashed the front window of a Belgrove Drive home, ransacked an apartment and fled with electronic equipment and a safe.

Police said the thief entered through the window of a ground-floor flat in a four-family home near the busy intersection of Belgrove and Bergen Ave. at about 7:45 p.m. Jan. 2. Although the target apartment was unoccupied at the time of the break-in, there were other residents at home, but they apparently heard nothing.

Along with the safe, a laptop computer, an iPad and a camera were stolen.

The suspect was last seen walking south on Belgrove, carrying some bags.

Police said he had apparently cut himself climbing through the shattered window, and detectives recovered DNA evidence, which has been sent to the N.J. State Police lab.

The initial responding officers, Jack Corbett and Tom Floyd, also followed a blood trail along Belgrove and found more evidence, a roll of bloody tissues the burglar had apparently used on his wounds.

Capt. Steve Durkin reported that police were able to track one of the electronic devices to an address in Newark, “but the signal has since been turned off.”

Dets. Ray Lopez and Scott Traynor are conducting the investigation, which includes reviewing footage from security cameras in the area.

– Karen Zautyk 

Keeping rail talks on track


By Ron Leir

Observer Correspondent 


A renewed push for a rail link. More tax abatements.I nfrastructure improvements. These were some of the priorities for 2015 and beyond highlighted by Kearny Mayor Alberto Santos as the town held its municipal reorganization meeting last Tuesday night.

Town Council members Albino Cardoso (First Ward), Jonathan Giordano (Second Ward), Eileen Eckel (Third Ward) and Susan McCurrie (Fourth Ward) – all elected in November – were sworn into office. For Giordano, it marked his first time sitting on the governing body.

The council has a vacancy in the First Ward, created by the resignation of Councilman Alexa Arce, who gave birth to her first child – a girl named Alessandra Klein – at 11:22 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. Arce has two years’ remaining in her term.

Santos said the Kearny Democratic County Committee will meet soon to vote on three nominees to present to the council for a final selection that “should be made by the end of the month.”

And, by the end of February, the mayor said he hopes to have in place a committee to begin planning for Kearny’s 150th anniversary which the town will observe in 2017.

Cardoso – who celebrated his 60th birthday last Tuesday – pointed to the town’s creation of a new municipal parking lot in the First Ward at 101 Kearny Ave., repaving of sections of Highland Ave. and other streets in the ward the start of commercial reconstruction on Passaic Ave. as improvements achieved during 2014.

Eckel cited the development of the Library Reading Garden and the leadership of Library Director Josh Humphrey as having “exceeded our expectations.” He and his staff, she said, “have put us up against any library in Bergen County.” Eckel also credited the Fire Department with “working hard to keep us safe,” despite fiscal restraints.

Santos urged his council colleagues to “look beyond the next election cycle and lean times” to “commit to a shared vision of building our future that will benefit our residents in the years to come.”

To that end, the mayor said he intended to focus his energies on the following priorities:

• Completing the design of a “long overdue” storm water pump station to stop flooding along Devon Terrace, Hoyt, Tappan and Dukes Sts.

• Resurfacing potholestrewn streets, many of which “are deteriorating faster than we can pave them,” he said.

• Undertaking an extensive makeover of the Gunnell Oval complex off Schuyler Ave. If the town can find the estimated $14 million-plus to elevate the site to mitigate flooding and install a new turf field, “the Oval will be enjoyed by thousands of residents in the years to come,” Santos said. Also on the drawing board are upgrades for playgrounds in back of Washington School and on Hickory St. and the development of a dog run in Riverbank Park.

• Completing negotiations with the N.J. Meadowlands Commission (or its successor organization) on the further raising of the former Keegan landfill and eventual conversion to town recreation fields.

• Reversing the “depletion” of the town’s public safety ranks. “We need to make sizeable progress in closing the gap for both our Police and Fire Departments,” Santos said, particularly given the pace of retirements in both departments.

• Ensuring that Kearny “remains affordable.” Since 2008, by restraining municipal spending with a 2% cap, Santos said the town has seen signs of progress in comparison with neighboring communities. For 2014, he said, Kearny’s average property tax of $9,282 was lower than Harrison and Bloomfield, about the same as North Arlington and “we’ve narrowed the gap with Lyndhurst.”

In 2014, the mayor noted, the town granted its first PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) to a corporate property owner, Kearny Point Industrial Park, which will be “a key part of raising revenues for the coming year and [an action] we will have to increasingly rely on for the coming years.”

• Reviving the idea for  a commuter rail station in Kearny. Had Gov. Christie not killed the proposal for an ARC (Access to the Region’s  Core) tunnel, Kearny would have seen a rail station surface at Bergen Ave., Santos said. Now with the Port Authority talking about scrapping overnight PATH service, coupled with P.A. surveys pointing up the need for repairs to existing rail tunnels and frequent overcapacity on PATH, Santos said the time is ripe for reminding state and federal officials that Kearny should be on track for a rail connection.

“I’m confident we will make progress on achieving these priorities for the generations that will come after us,” he said.

No commitment yet on school occupant


By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


Holy Cross parish, which has been seeking a new tenant for its former parochial school building on Frank E. Rodgers Boulevard South since the Lady Liberty Academy charter school left last summer, has been attracting a lot of interest lately from neighboring school districts and others.

But, so far, the parish is keeping an open mind, according to the Rev. Joseph Girone, pastor of Holy Cross Church. Two possibilities for renting the facility came to light recently, he said.

One, he said, was a proposal by the Northern New Jersey Hua Zia Chinese School, a nonprofit organization founded in 1995 which currently offers Chinese language classes for children and adults, along with karate, Chinese painting, calligraphy and dancing, chess, violin, fitness and singing, at Verona High School.

Harrison may offer the school an attractive alternative location because of its increasing Asian demographics. The 2010 U.S. Census reported that 16.3% of Harrison’s population was Asian and, according to Wikipedia, the 2000 Census had 7.2% of the town’s residents being of Chinese ancestry. “This was the fifth-highest percentage of people with Chinese ancestry in any place in New Jersey with 1,000 or more residents identifying their ancestry,” Wikipedia noted

“They were looking for a space to use on Saturday afternoons, from 1 to 4 p.m.,” Girone said.

However, that may not offer the optimal use of the space, in terms of potential rental revenues, he suggested.

The other, somewhat more enticing opportunity, Girone said, came from a visit a few weeks ago by East Newark Public School Superintendent/ Principal Patrick Martin, an attorney and architect.

“They have no gym and no cafeteria and they had an interest in renting space here,” Girone said. “We toured the school building and we showed them our gym and classrooms.”

But, Girone said, “This is not the first time East Newark has approached us” about the notion of acquiring additional educational space. A few years ago, similar overtures were made, he recalled.

When asked about the visit, Martin told The Observer that, without any coaxing from his school board or municipal officials, he had reached out to the priest and asked to check out the school in the company of attorney Vito Gagliardi, who advises the school board on special projects, and an architect who came as a personal favor.

“This [East Newark Public School] is a wonderful building we’re in,” Martin said, “but it is 118 years old and we make the most of it. We have no gym, no auditorium, no science lab, no media center. So, over the years, the school administration has been looking for additional space and now we’re looking once again.”

Another issue that the school has to deal with, he said, happens at lunchtime, “when we bring children to the borough Rec Center where they can walk around and play a bit but that’s four blocks away and in the cold weather we’ve been having recently, that’s a hardship for our kids.”

Still, Martin said, “We’re nowhere near making a commitment [to rent the Harrison space]. It’s still very much in the exploratory phase. We could end up staying where we are for the next 50 years – we’re just exploring all possibilities.”

Next step for East Newark, Martin said, “is to see if it’s possible if we could fit into the school.” The architect will advise how much it would cost to retrofit the building as a school facility to the most current state standards and codes, as, for example, compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), he explained.

Given the age of the building, that could be an expensive proposition, Martin said.

Some months ago, representatives of the Harrison Board of Education came to the parish to discuss the possibility of the BOE buying the school building and using it as a school for early grades and special needs kids who are currently bused out of district but Girone said, so far, nothing has come of it. In any event, Girone said, “I’m not crazy about the idea of selling the (school) building because we have our own religious education classes there Friday nights and some parish events on other days.”

Harrison and East Newark schools are also competing on another, more significant level, with the borough looking to send its high school age population to Kearny High, instead of Harrison High – where they’ve been going for over a century. A state decision is awaited.

Fire wrecks plastics factory on 2nd St.


A Harrison factory that makes plastic and plaster moldings for ceramics dealers was consumed by a three-alarm fire this past Sunday.

An estimated 65 firefighters from Harrison, Kearny, East Newark, North Hudson Regional Fire & Rescue, Lyndhurst and Secaucus responded to the fire at Plaque Art Creations on S. Second St. between Sussex St. and Bergen Ave.

No one was working in the one-story building with a 2-story garage attached when the alarm of fire came in at about 3 p.m. but, according to Harrison Fire Director Harold Stahl, “they have ovens in there [heating the products] that run 24/7, whether they’re open or not.”

As of Monday, Stahl said that Fire Official George Kondek was in the process of completing an inspection of the building to determine how the fire started.

It took about four and a half hours to bring the fire under control, Stahl said, but fire units were kept at the scene overnight as a precaution, he added.

Residents of two 2-family homes at 102 and 104 Bergen were evacuated and power in the area was shut off during the fire as a precaution and the fire did not extend to those properties but as of Monday, the occupants were still waiting for clearance to return, Stahl said.

“We appreciate their patience,” he said.

No injuries to firefighters or civilians were reported, although Stahl said that fire personnel had a close call. “Fire Prevention alerted us that there were some 30 propane tanks in the building and, at one point, three let loose, releasing gas,” he said. “But we attacked it – ‘surround it and ground it’ as we say – and, fortunately, nothing bad happened.”

Due to the intensity of the fire, which released a lot of smoke, firefighters maintained continuous application of water from aerial ladder trucks to keep the blaze in check, Stahl said.

“At the peak of the fire, we were probably spraying 4,000 to 5,000 gallons a minute onto the building,” he said.

Stahl credited Harrison Fire Capt. John Dwyer, the incident commander at the scene, for handling the situation well.

Town tax records list the property owners as Harrison Eagle LLP of New York. The factory has been at that site for many years.

– Ron Leir 

Surprise ‘visit’


Fatima Cruz of Kearny was maneuvering her car through the parking lot at Jack’s IGA shopping center, at Schuyler Ave. and the Belleville Turnpike, North Arlington, at about 7:30 a.m. last Thursday when she accidentally stepped on the gas pedal instead of the brake, mounted the curb and crashed through the plate glass window of Garden Nails, police said. Cruz and two pedestrians, both of Newark, were treated at the scene by the borough EMS. No charges were filed against the driver, police said.

Facing morals charges



A 37-year-old man who thought he was sending nude photos of himself via cell phone to a 14-year-old Kearny girl has been arrested on obscenity and child-endangerment charges, police reported.

We say “thought he was” because the actual recipient of the photos was the girl’s mother.

In late September, Kearny police said, they were contacted by the mother, who was concerned about certain activity on her daughter’s phone — specifically conversations via a social media website between the girl and someone identifying himself as “Pete G.”

Police said the mother, pretending to be the teen, began conversing with “Pete G.” and the conversation “turned to talk of where they could meet.”

KPD Capt. Steve Durkin said the man was aware that the girl was underage but wanted to engage in drug activity and sex. The suspect then allegedly sent pictures of himself naked to her phone.

The case was investigated by Det. John Plaugic, who subsequently identified the suspect as Peter Griffo of Carlstadt, police reported.

Griffo was arrested at his home at 6 a.m., Dec. 31, by Plaugic and Det. Mike Gonzalez. He was charged with endangering the welfare of a child, sending obscene material to a minor and soliciting a person under the age of 18.

–Karen Zautyk 

It only takes a cartoon


In the aftermath of the massacre at the satiric French publication Charlie Hebdo and, subsequently, the attack at a kosher market, journalists from around the globe and Western government leaders have joined to condemn the actions by Islamic extremists.

But the ugly events have also sparked a debate about whether the French editorial staff’s work reflected freedom of expression or, as suggested by Michigan cartoonist Jacob Canfield, spreaders of “a certain, virulently racist brand of French xenophobia.” By meaning to offend/shock, without regard for nuance or religious sensitivity, did Charlie overstep?

However you may interpret the publication’s intent, there can be no question that there is no justification for murder. The wonder is that a simple image reproduced for mass dissemination can stir so much hatred.

But it’s happened before – and not just in France.

Among the more noted cases is the assassination of Naji Salim al-Ali, a Palestinianborn cartoonist, who was shot in the head in London on July 22, 1987, and died some three weeks later. Critical of both Arab and Israeli leaders, Naji al-Ali spent some of his early years in refugee camps in Lebanon and created some 40,000 political cartoons.

Perhaps his most iconic was “Handala,” an image of a 10-year-old boy with his back to the viewer and his hands clapsed behind him, symbolizing the exile banished from his homeland. Later images depict a thin miserable man representing “the Palestinian as the defiant victim of Israeli oppression” and a fat man representing “the Arab regimes and Palestinian political leaders who led an easy life and engaged in political compromises,” as explained by Wikipedia.

It is suspected that Israel’s spy agency, Mossad, had advance knowledge of a plot, allegedly by Egypt, to kill the cartoonist but did nothing to prevent it.

New York Observer cartoonist R.J. Matson reminds us in a recent posting that, “In the 1970s, during Argentina’s ‘Dirty War,’ [cartoonist] Hector Oesterheld enraged leaders of the military junta that ruled his country by depicting them as space aliens. He and his four daughters disappeared in 1976.”

New Zealander David Low, drawing cartoons for Britain’s Evening Standard during the 1930s, incurred Hitler’s wrath for his mocking images of Der Fuhrer leapfrogging over European ministers of “appeasement” and later criticized Churchill as well.

And, Matson notes, J. Edgar Hoover was so upset by a 1957 Mad magazine spoof of him that he sent two FBI agents to the magazine to warn the staff to cut it out. By the late ‘60s, however, Hoover had pitched the idea of creating cartoons to disrupt the left wing radicals.

But in the U.S. today, by and large, editorial cartoonists have gone the way of dinosaurs, points out L.A. Times cartoonist Ted Rall. They are regarded as a budget extravagance.

The reality, Rall says, is that, “Most … states have zero fulltime staff cartoonists. Many big states – California, New York, Texas, Illinois – have one. No American political magazine, on the left, center or right, has one. No American political website (Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo, Daily Kos, Slate, Salon, etc.) employs a political cartoonist.”

And in those cases where such a creature does exist, they generally have to tread carefully, Rall and others say.

In the meantime, the craziness in the world continues unabated – as does the often senseless killing.

Sunday’s New York Times carried a story about an individual who had concealed an explosive while walking through a market in Maiduguri in northern Nigeria in a region known to be a Boko Haram hotbed.

The bomb detonated, killing its carrier – a 10-year-old girl – and 20 others, while injuring many more.

And so it goes.

– Ron Leir 

Kitchen fire quickly contained



A fire at D’ Carbon, a Peruvian barbecue restaurant at 506 Frank E. Rodgers Blvd. North, last Monday emptied the eatery, along with apartments above.

No injuries were reported and the five tenants temporarily displaced from two apartments known to be occupied were allowed back in after the fire was doused and the building inspected by construction code officials.

Harrison Fire Capt. Joseph Lang, the incident commander, said the alarm of fire came in at 4:46 p.m. and the first unit to arrive, Ladder Co. 1, got to the scene two minutes later. Engine Co. 3 quickly followed, he added.

Lang said that kitchen staff had been cooking and, when firefighters arrived, they found evidence of a “grease fire — fire was coming off the charbroil pit under the hood. It got into the duct work and run up through the exterior wall up to the roof.”

Inside the kitchen, some firefighters dumped the fire suppression system under the hood, while others popped rooftop vents, allowing the flames and smoke to come up and flow out, thereby preventing pressure from the heat from building up below, explained Lang and Fire Director Harold Stahl.

Kearny Fire Department sent an engine and deputy chief’s vehicle to provide stand-by coverage.

By 5:05 p.m., the fire was declared under control, Lang said.

There was no structural damage to the building, he said.

The HFD had responded to two previous fires at this location, both also with the fire originating in the cooking stack, likely from a heavy grease build-up, Stahl said.

However, Stahl said HFD records showed that the restaurant owners had complied with a state regulation calling for semi-annual cleanings of their cooking apparatus.

“Everything was in order as far as their paperwork was concerned,” he said, and no violations were issued.

Harrison Fire Official George Kondek did a followup inspection of the restaurant last week but, as of press time, he could not be reached to learn his assessment of the situation.

– Ron Leir