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Classmates in court

By Karen Zautyk  Observer Correspondent  KEARNY–  The three young men, pictured above in their Kearny High School yearbook photos, had their whole lives ahead of them. Who knew where the future would take them? No one would have guessed that, a bit more than a decade later, it […]

Serial robber guilty

TRENTON – An accused serial robber has admitted to playing a role in 11 robberies, primarily of drug stores, in Harrison, Newark and Jersey City over a period of eight months, it was announced by U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman. On July 21, Christopher Mojica, 23, pleaded guilty to […]


Blue ranks get reinforcements

By Ron Leir Observer Correspondent LYNDHURST – Talk about parallel life paths: Joseph White and Matthew Giunta went to pre-school (St. Michael’s) together, then to Franklin Elementary School, then Lyndhurst High. And, last Friday, they entered the Bergen County Law & Public Safety Institute in Mahwah to begin […]


Slow-paced developments

By Ron Leir  Observer Correspondent  BELLEVILLE –  It’s been a year and two months since Gov. Chris Christie presided at a ballyhooed groundbreaking for Franklin Manor, an age-restricted 137-unit apartment complex for those 55 and over – the first such senior development for Belleville in more than three decades. […]


Still waiting for wall’s restoration

By Ron Leir  Observer Correspondent  HARRISON –  A property dispute between a longtime Harrison business and some neighbors that has been simmering for a few years now appears to be coming to a boil. Smack in the middle of the controversy are Bergen St. homeowners Victor and Eleanor Villalta […]


Nab 1, hunt 2 in store holdup

By Karen Zautyk

One suspect was apprehended and two were being hunted by police following an armed robbery at the Quick Chek on Kearny Ave. last week.
“An intense follow-up investigation is underway, and we have substantial leads to
the identity of the cohorts,“ Kearny Police Chief John Dowie told The Observer.
At 12:45 a.m. Thursday, Officers Rich Pawlowski and Pat Walsh were on patrol when they noticed a couple arguing outside the convenience store. When the cops stopped their squad car, the woman ran over and told them there was a suspicious group inside. (Dowie said the argument apparently was about whether or not to report this, with the woman wanting to call police and her male companion preferring to just leave.)
Through the window, the officers could see a man atop the store counter. After advising headquarters that there was a probable robbery in progress and requesting back-up, they drew their weapons and took cover positions to watch the door, Dowie said.
Before the additional units could arrive, three males exited the store. The cops ordered them to the ground, but the suspects took flight, running east on Bergen Ave. Two broke off and turned north on Chestnut St., while the third headed to Devon and ran south.
While Pawlowski and Walsh were engaged in the foot pursuit, other KPD units set up a containment perimeter. Officers Tom Sumowski and Tom Floyd spotted the pair who were on Chestnut and began a chase, but the suspects “went to ground” in the backyards and managed to elude the officers. Later, the Hudson County K-9 unit joined the search, but the two culprits had escaped.
Meanwhile, Walsh encountered a pedestrian, not one of the suspects, who told the officer that a running man had stopped him and asked to use his cell phone, “and the guy let him,” said Dowie.
Det. Sgt. John View and Det. Ray Lopez had joined the search, and at Chestnut and Boyd Sts., Lopez stopped a man who fit the physical description of the phone-borrower. He could not give a legitimate answer as to what he was doing there, but neither was he wearing the black hat, black hoodie and black sneakers that all three suspects had worn, the chief noted.
But at the same time, Dowie said, Officers Glenn Reed and Jay Balogh, who were also searching the area, found the clothing in question discarded on the ground. And, in a garbage can nearby, Lopez found a handgun.
The quick-change artist, an 18-year-old from Newark, was arrested on robbery, conspiracy and weapons charges and eluding police.
The search for his companions is continuing.
Dowie commended all the responding officers for securing the area and finding the evidence. “That was key,” he noted.
Dowie added: “This was a very good job on the part of all the officers involved, especially the first two responding officers, who came upon a crime in progress, who didn’t overreact, but took a good position and displayed a lot of restraint.”
This, the chief noted, “was a three-on-two confrontation.” He also commended Pawlowski and Walsh “for having the courage to engage in the foot pursuit of the suspects, all of whom were possibly armed.”
Dowie said no one in the store was hurt during the holdup. An undetermined amount of cash was removed from the registers.

Storm aftermath

Photos by Karen Zautyk & Anthony J. Machcinski
Pictures from the area after the snow storm hit October 29.


Driver arrested for shooting at Nutley cop

NUTLEY – As police officers know, even a routine traffic stop can turn lethal. And
lethal is what nearly happened Friday night on Route 21 in Nutley.
Authorities said that, at about 10 p.m., Nutley P.O. William Paro attempted to pull over a southbound car on the highway after a computer check indicated the driver, Jerry Shanks, 37, of Elizabeth, had outstanding motor vehicle violations.
Instead of stopping, authorities said, Shanks spun his car around, facing it into the
oncoming traffic, and then fired at least two shots at Paro from a .40-caliber handgun. The officer was not hit.
Shanks fled the scene but was tracked to an address in Passaic and arrested several hours later.
He has been charged with attempted murder and was being held on $1 million bail.
– Karen Zautyk

Alert cop thwarts alleged burglars

By Karen Zautyk

Three Newark men arrested last week in this township for allegedly burglarizing an auto have been linked to similar crimes in at least three other communities, police reported.
The suspects – Bryan Ervin and Aljir Davis, both 20, and Hakim Jones, 21 – were remanded to the Essex County Jail on $100,000 bail each.
Nutley Det. Anthony Montanari said Officer Ted Reilly was on patrol shortly after 1
a.m. last Wednesday when he observed a car with its interior lights on parked in the lot of a defunct gas station at Union Ave. and Centre St. Walking away from the vehicle was a man, later identified as Davis, carrying a silver case.
The driver, Ervin, when questioned by Reilly, reportedly claimed he had pulled over
to check his GPS to find his way home. Asked why his passenger was out of the vehicle, the explanation was that Davis was trying to find an open gas station, Montanari said,
noting that the two men “were inconsistent with answering questions.”
The third suspect, Jones, was found about a block away on Weston St., a small, residential side street not likely to have a gas station, police noted.
Back-up officers who had arrived at the Union Ave. scene observed a 2008 Dodge
parked nearby with damage to the side door and lock. The interior had been ransacked
and on the front seat there was a large screwdriver that was determined to be the burglary tool, Montanari said.
Inside Davis’ silver case were PlayStation games and other items identified by the Dodge’s owner as having been stolen from the car, police reported.
In addition, the suspects’ vehicle was allegedly found to contain proceeds from other burglaries, including a checkbook stolen in Belleville, ID and a backpack from Rutherford, and a cell phone and camera from Montclair.
On Thursday, Montanari said other items, including cell phones and an iPod Touch,
were still being inventoried and police were attempting to identify where these had
been obtained and what other municipalities may have been targeted.
All three men were charged with burglary, theft and conspiracy. Davis, who reportedly
gave a phony name when initially questioned, has also been charged with hindering
Police Chief John Holland commended Officer Reilly as “an exemplary officer who
took the initiative to stop and investigate, which led to the apprehension of three felons . . . and disrupted their operation.”

Time change is not for me



By Lisa Pezzolla

This weekend, at 2 a.m. on Nov. 6, we move our clocks back one hour, bringing an end to Daylight Savings for this year.
Daylight Savings time was instituted in the U.S during World War 1 in order to save energy for war production between April and October.
This past weekend, although we had sunlight longer in the day, electricity was out for many as a result of the unusual snowstorm which hit hard and suddenly. I hope this isn’t an indication of what’s in store for us this winter. Get generators, candles, flashlights and camping lanterns ready in case a power outage hits you. Don’t leave candles unattended!
I personally hate the long drawn-out winter months. Yes, it is sunny in the morning but we spend most of the day working indoors, and kids – who, studies show, are getting increasingly obese – stay cooped up in school.
After-school activities could help lower obesity by giving kids time after school to enjoy the outdoors.
During these cold winter months, we find ourselves sluggish and begin hibernating. With so many of us lacking in vitamin D, I will begin taking a supplement and try to beat it. Symptoms of this deficiency are depression, chronic fatigue, diabetes, heart disease. After all, vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin. We need sunshine and it doesn’t cost us a penny. We just need the sunlight and the capacity to enjoy the outdoors.
Wouldn’t it make sense for all of us to  increase our outdoor activities and enjoy sunlight during the winter months and get our intake of vitamin D?
We’d get energized and our depression would drop.

At least it won’t need a tombstone

A couple of weeks ago, in an addendum to a column about animals, I asked readers to be careful when driving on Passaic Ave. in Kearny because the groundhogs in the riverside park were grazing dangerously close to the roadway as they fattened up for winter. I had already seen one flattened in the street.
Last Monday morning, sure enough, I spotted a particularly plump one sitting practically atop the curb near South Midland Ave. It was oblivious to the passing cars as it fed.
The next time I passed by, there it was again, in precisely the same place.
It was there on Wednesday and Thursday, too.
There must be some especially tasty grass in that spot, I thought.
There’s nowhere to pull over and stop on that stretch of Passaic, so when I saw it again Friday, I just slowed down to try to get a closer look.
It was not moving and seemed tilted over a bit. And then I realized: It must be dead.
Do groundhogs die sitting upright, perhaps of heart attacks or strokes? Did some motorist hit it and put the corpse on the curb? (People do strange things.)
When I got to The Observer office, I called the town DPW to report the deceased creature and warn them that if it were not soon removed, passing drivers would get a graphic lesson in decomposition.
It was a township furlough day and there was no one to take my call. (Luckily.)
Heading home on Friday, I decided to take South Midland to Passaic to again check out the situation. It was the first time I had viewed the scene from the northbound direction, and something did not look quite right. Had the groundhog’s head fallen off? Or . . . ?
When I was driving into town on Sunday, I tried to get another look, but snow covered the site.
Later that day, I stopped into the Irish Quality Shop to chat with proprietor Maggie Millar, and I mentioned the groundhog. And the suspicions I had developed. Which she confirmed.
She knew exactly what I was talking about and exactly where the “animal” was, for she had seen it many times.
It was not a dead groundhog at all.
It was a pair of rocks.
For a week, I had been worrying about the well-being of rocks.
And I wasn’t even stoned.
— Karen Zautyk


To the Publisher:

The North Arlington Recreation Commission would like to thank all those that helped make the second annual Trunk or Treat a huge success.  It was slightly non-traditional as a result of the weather, but the spirit of Halloween was not deterred in North Arlington.  The kids all had a great time going around to all the different groups represented at the event.
We would like to thank all the people who donated candy for the Trunk or Treat as well as all the groups that took part in providing candy and giving it out during the event.  We would also like to single out North Arlington High School and the Board of Education for helping us put the event together in a very short amount of time and change it to the gym.  Without their cooperation, we would not have had this great event.

Jimmy Herrmann
NA Recreation Director

Bond not such a capital idea, lawmaker says

Photo by Ron Leir/ Councilman Steven Rovell, flanked by Jeanne Lombardi, of Bellewood Civic Association (l.), and Cary Sookram, supporter, are petitioning for a public vote on a capital bond.


By Ron Leir

A new firehouse, a restored public recreation center, a fixed-up senior center and other improvements are in the works for Belleville with the passage of a $3.45 million capital bond ordinance last month.
But, then again, maybe not.
One of two Belleville Council members who voted against the bond Oct. 11 is spearheading a petition drive to put the matter up for a public referendum on the grounds that it’s too much to spend now for work that can wait.
By law, that man – Second Ward Councilman Steven Rovell, who is also deputy mayor – has until Nov. 8 – Election Day – to gather the approximately 1,000 signatures he says are needed to trigger the balloting.
Township Manager Victor Canning says the councilman’s efforts are wrongheaded and that all the improvements covered by the bond are essential to Belleville’s progress.
Rovell says that if he can muster the required number of residents’ signatures, he would prefer to have the Council majority reconsider their vote instead of having the township incur the cost of a special election.
Time will tell how things turn out.
Canning said the bond would account for an annual increase of about $46 in real estate taxes for the owner of a home with an “average” assessment of $249,400. “On a house assessed at $500,000, it would mean a $100 a year tax increase,” Canning said, “but there are very few $500,000 homes in Belleville.”
Canning said the township is well below its borrowing limit and is taking aggressive steps to pay down its total accumulated debt of $29 million and be “fiscally responsible.”
But Rovell and his ally, Councilman-at-large Michael Nicosia, gripe that Canning has not factored in the cost of two other recent bonds, one for paying tax appeals and another for acquiring water meters, that — together with the capital bond — will add up to about $10 million in debt and more tax dollars.
“My taxes this year went up $1,000,” Rovell said. “Fortunately, I can afford that, but a lot of people here are struggling with this economy.”
Nicosia echoes that, saying, “We’ve got the worst economy since the Great Depression and here we are putting a huge bond together with multiple construction projects that are not necessary.”
If the bond stands up, it would authorize spending $600,000 toward construction of a one-story firehouse on Franklin St. in the Silver Lake section to replace an existing 8-decade-old facility that, according to Canning, “needs extensive work” just to maintain. Repairs, he said, would cost “between $400,000 and $500,000.” However, Canning added that NJ Transit has offered to lease the township an acre of property and provide $634,000 toward the building of a new firehouse large enough to accommodate two rigs and parking.

Photo by Ron Leir/ The capital bond would fund a replacement for this firehouse in the Silver Lake section.


Rovell says this project would be counter-productive because the township is short of firefighter personnel and equipment and, therefore, would have trouble staffing a new firehouse designed for two companies.
Never mind what may happen in the future, Nicosia says. That firehouse “has been closed down more than 30 times this year alone for lack of manpower.” In the past two years, attrition has cut the firefighter ranks to 58 from around 70, he says.
The proposed bond would also provide $610,000 to supplement $476,000 in county Community Development Block Grant funds to rebuild the Friendly Home recreation facility on Frederick St. The old structure was torn down four years ago after having fallen into disrepair.
But Nicosia says the targeted site “couldn’t be located in a worse spot . . . . The property is on a small lot with limited parking and security issues, and the building would probably accommodate only one function at a time.”
The bond would also provide $330,000 for an Astro Turf soccer field on Elementary School 9 property on Ralph St. Since soccer is a growing sport in Belleville, that’s a “good idea,” Nicosia says, but “just not at this time.”
The bond would provide $300,000 to build a one-story storage facility to house township records which, by state law, it is obliged to keep for a designated period of time. “We pay to store records and files in two different places now,” Canning says. Neither Rovell nor Nicosia has an argument against this project.
Nor do they quarrel about the $150,000 earmarked for a backup generator and repairs to the township senior center or the repaving of the quarter-mile-long Garden Ave. or the acquisition of new public works equipment – all of which, they concede, are needed.
Problem on the bond is, notes Nicosia, that  “this was an all-or-nothing vote,” so certain items could not be pulled out of the ordinance for a separate vote by the Council.
Rovell hopes to make up for that by pushing his petition drive, particularly on behalf of the Second Ward which, he says, “historically has contributed more in residential taxes” than any other section of Belleville.
The last time Rovell took on the political establishment – in 2004 when he wasn’t yet on the Council – he and other residents crusaded against a development plan calling for 400-plus apartments at Essex Park. “We wanted to reduce the density of the project, and it was scaled down to 200-plus units. We fought and we won,” he said.
Now he’s waging a new battle. “I never chose this path,” he says, “but this is where I am.”

Farewell to longtime public servant


Photo by Ron Leir/ Karen Comer is retiring Dec. 1.


By Ron Leir

Another familiar face will soon be vanishing from this township’s roster of key leadership posts.
On Dec. 1, Karen Comer will retire as the Harrison health officer after 25 years and five months in the job.
Her departure follows the retirements earlier this year of Municipal Court Judge John Johnson and Fire Chief Tom Dolaghan, with their replacements earning quite a bit less as the town aims for a leaner payroll.
And the Harrison Housing Authority continues to search for a new executive director to replace Michael Rodgers, who was abruptly fired more than a year ago. An interim director is now at the helm.
After Comer leaves, the Harrison Board of Health will look to negotiate an interlocal services agreement with North Bergen to contract for that community’s health officer, Rich Censullo, to oversee Harrison operations.
Censullo, who has already met once with the board, said that once the agreement is struck, he anticipates conferring with its members to determine to what extent the long list of services it provides, funded by a $572,000 budget, including $130,507 for health officer’s salary, can be preserved.
Comer, meanwhile, plans to continue teaching career education one night a week at the Hudson County Schools of Technology’s KAS (Knowledge & Advanced Skills) Prep in Harrison.
Comer had originally considered a career in teaching and, after getting her college degree, served as a health educator with the Inter-County Council on Drug and Alcohol Abuse at Kearny High School and Queen of Peace High in North Arlington.
But a Belleville colleague convinced her to go for a master’s in public health – which she completed at Hunter College in New York in 1981.
In 1983, the then-Kearny Health Officer Ed Grosvenor hired Comer as assistant. She took the State Health Officers Exam in November of that year and on June 30, 1986, she was selected to replace Arnold Saporito, who was retiring as the Harrison Health Officer.
Under her watch, Harrison residents – young and old – have benefited from a myriad of preventive health programs including: flu and pneumonia vaccinations; immunization against tetanus, diphtheria, HPV and meningitis; prostate, mammography, blood pressure, cardio-vascular and child lead poisoning screenings; rabies clinics; restaurant inspections; WIC (Women, Infants & Children) nutritional counseling; and health education.
In 2003, Comer launched a local Medical Reserve Corps, financed through a federal grant program, which recruited health professionals and nonmedical volunteers and trained them to respond to medical emergencies and assist with local health programs.
In the past two years, in particular, Comer said the volunteers helped administer H1N1 vaccinations for more than 2,000 residents in 2009, and assisted at local fires by helping relocate victims and providing water and refreshments to firefighters. They also participated in a recent trial pandemic flu exercise at the senior center. And, with departmental layoffs in 2010, they supplement health personnel at clinics and screenings.
“Next year, we’ll combine our MRC unit with the county,” Comer said.
During her tenure, public health priorities have shifted, Comer said. “At first, the concern was about people putting garbage out on the wrong day and about people not picking up after their dogs,” she said, “but today, it’s about communicable disease transmission, including sexually transmitted disease.”
“And bedbugs,” Comer added. “It’s become so rampant – now somebody calls us about that every day.”
Harrison has seen an upswing in Hepatitis A and B, Comer said. Among the town’s population of about 14,000, there were 27 cases reported in 2005 but that jumped to 42 in 2006 and, last year, there were 41, she said. Hep A, which is food-borne, is seen increasingly among the South American population while Hep B, blood-borne, has been on the rise among Asians, Comer said.
Local eateries and delis that prepare and serve more than three types of hot foods have been complying with state regulations on certified food handler training. “We have a 90% compliance rate among them,” Comer said.
Comer advises nonprofessionals to educate themselves about health issues as much as they can since there are likely to be fewer public health care resources available in the near future.
Today in New Jersey, for example, there are only between 100 and 200 certified health officers to cover more than 500 municipalities, according to North Bergen’s Censullo.
And, Comer says, “we have fewer people meeting the qualifications for health workers in general – and that’s throughout the nation, not just New Jersey – because fewer people are going into the field. And there are going to be fewer public health programs – we’ve already seen a decline in public health government grants – so the population is going to be more vulnerable.”
Looking ahead to retirement, Comer anticipates spending time with her family and teaching with the hope of “keeping more young people in school.”
“I will miss my colleagues after I leave this office and anticipate I will do something to connect me with the wonderful people I have met in Harrison,” Comer said. “I’ve been impressed by the number of people who’ve stopped by the office to wish me well.”
And, she added, “It has been a pleasure to work with such a supportive Board of Health. I’m grateful to the board for believing in me and providing guidance and support throughout my career.”

Visions of progressive rock

Photo by Chris Onjian



By Anthony J. Machcinski

In the middle of what was the pop revolution of the late 1990s, Russell Murray created a band that went against that trend. While no bands at the time were playing progressive rock, Murray had his vision of one that would be able to cover progressive rock groups such as Rush. It was then that Visions was born.
“We’ve stayed true to it,” said Murray, who plays drums for Visions.
Since the band’s formation in 1999, Visions has played all across the area, making stops at B.B. King’s in New York, Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, and Hartley’s in North Arlington. At all these venues, the band’s message has remained the same.
“I know I’m not going to get rich off of it,” explained Murray. “But I do it for the love of it.”
The band, which  also includes lead singer John Pine, guitarist Bruce Sokolovick, bass player Chris Onjian and keyboard player Damon Fibraio, has crowd satisfaction, not making money, as its main goal.
“Most people don’t believe bands when they say this, but it’s true, you do feed off the vibe and energy of the crowd,” Murray said. “It’s so true. You make them happy and they give it back to you and it gives you shivers right up your spine.”
One of the obvious differences between a normal band and a cover band is the use of original material. This difference is one that Murray knows all too well, as he is in both the cover band Visions as well as an original band called Lipstick Magazine.
“It’s impossible to take your original stuff to a place like Hartley’s because they don’t know your material,” Murray explained, when asked about the difference in performing with the two bands.
To Murray, it’s not a matter of which band he’s playing with as much as the playing in general that counts.
“When you play your own material, it’s music from the heart,” Murray said. “Playing live and covering bands and being able to copy those gives a great bit of satisfaction. People realize how difficult the material is. Both have their own ways of satisfaction. I don’t know if I could decide between either.”
This idea carries into the other members of Visions, who also play for other bands.
“Decent musicians are in demand and it’s hard to find good ones who are in only one band,” Murray explained. “This band has had multiple lineup changes between moving and being involved in too many projects. Damon and I are the only original members left, and even he left at a point.”
When talking about the challenges these turnovers pose, Murray acknowledges how much that the band has had to overcome.
“It’s hard to keep your continuity going,” Murray said. “There’s been lapses of time when we haven’t played a show so new members could learn the material.”
Coming back to Hartley’s on Oct. 29 was a homecoming for Murray, who works for the Kearny Water Department and lives in the area.
“All the people that I know in the area, most can walk (to Hartley’s) and we always draw well there,” Murray explained. “When I play Hartley’s, I know 90% of the people in the audience. The intimacy level is much better at places like that.”
Next, Visions will play Crossroads in Garwood and The Rock Bar in Clifton. The band will return to Hartley’s on New Year’s Eve.