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State eyes raising part of Pike

By Ron Leir  Observer Correspondent  KEARNY – The Rt. 7/Belleville Turnpike corridor which runs through Kearny’s meadows area and beyond is getting a lot of attention these days from state and federal transit agencies. For the past couple of years, contractors hired by the state Department of Transportation have […]


Taxes up on average by $244

By Ron Leir  Observer Correspondent  KEARNY –  Now that Trenton – even without a gubernatorial endorsement by the town’s Democratic mayor – has gifted Kearny $2.5 million in transitional aid and reduced its pension obligations by nearly $435,000, Kearny property owners can know what to expect. They’re still getting […]


Wild pursuit ends with 3 arrests

LYNDHURST – It started as an alleged speeding incident and led to a frantic chase that ended in three arrests. Here’s the account given by Lyndhurst Police: Shortly after 2 p.m. on July 14, Patrol Officer James Goral pulled over a 2008 BMW traveling east on Page […]


Builder targets eyesore

  By Ron Leir  Observer Correspondent  NUTLEY –  A 36-unit residential development being pitched to the Nutley Zoning Board of Adjustment has township and school officials on the edge of their seats wondering how many schoolage kids the project may generate if approved. Mayor Alphonse Petracco is blunt about […]

Jr Police_web

Learning to protect & serve

By Karen Zautyk  Observer Correspondent  KEARNY –  Last Friday, in a ceremony at Lincoln School, 36 youngsters graduated from the Kearny Police Department’s Junior Police Academy following two weeks of intensive, but fun, training. This marks the academy’s sixth graduating class. We have been privileged to attend various sessions […]


BREAKING NEWS: Lyndhurst School District gives tours of facilities.

As the Lyndhurst School District and Community prepares for the December 13, 2011 Referendum, we would like to give the members of our community the opportunity to tour the school facilities. During these tours, you will be able to see each school building, as well as the proposed facility plans and upgrades. The tour dates are as follows:

October 13, 2011 6:00pm-7:00pm or 7:00pm-8:00pm Roosevelt School
October 18, 2011 6:00pm-7:00pm or 7:00pm-8:00pm Lyndhurst High School
October 19, 2011 6:00pm-7:00pm or 7:00pm-8:00pm Washington School
October 20, 2011 6:00pm-7:00pm or 7:00pm-8:00pm Jefferson School

Marsh madness over taxes

Photos by Ernie Fragetta


By Ron Leir

The EnCap bankruptcy and subsequent demise of plans to turn part of the Meadowlands into a recreation/entertainment mecca have spawned a Swamp War over tax dollars between Lyndhurst and the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission (NJMC).
Lyndhurst took its case public at an Oct. 3 press conference to zap the NJMC for failing to pay taxes on 13 township parcels that sit in the Meadowlands district and that are now part of the NJMC’s Kingsland Redevelopment Plan.
In a letter sent Aug. 22 to Gov. Chris Christie, Lyndhurst Mayor Richard DiLascio said that EnCap, which the NJMC designated to develop those parcels, ran up “a sizable delinquency” on property taxes owed for that land.
That tax obligation, DiLascio said, “was assumed by the NJMC” which, he added, “has not paid the delinquent taxes . . . .”
In April 2011, the NJMC filed an appeal with the New Jersey State Tax Board, claiming it was exempt from any tax obligations.
In May, Lyndhurst proposed a settlement of the matter but has gotten no counter offer from the NJMC, DiLascio said. “As part of our settlement proposal,” the mayor noted, “we have offered to forgo interest on the (tax) lien and tax balances.”
In the absence of any formal response, DiLascio said Lyndhurst is appealing to the governor for help.
“We are prepared to meet in Trenton, or any other place, at any date and time so as to finally resolve this issue,” he concluded.
At stake, according to Lyndhurst fiscal experts, is a 6-year tax bill for an estimated $9 million and climbing.
In response, Lori Grifa, state Community Affairs commissioner and NJMC chairwoman issued a statement reading: “The assessed value of the taxes associated with these 13 properties (and the obligations related to them) has been in dispute for quite some time.
“The New Jersey Meadowlands Commission was awarded title by court order to these properties in March 2011. A tax appeal was promptly filed. There is now also litigation pending.
“We regret that the Township of Lyndhurst has chosen to mediate this dispute in public. The Commission and Department of Community Affairs has consistently said it is willing to negotiate, but it must be under a system that is fair to all parties.”
DiLascio declined to provide specifics about the township’s settlement proposal but did say that Lyndhurst “has talked about PILOTs (payments in lieu of taxes) – we don’t have any objections to it.”
And, in his letter to the governor, DiLascio says that the NJMC “has sufficient resources to pay the settlement proposed by the Township and structure a fair and final resolution.” He says an auditor found that NJMC “has $7,429,051 in unreserved surplus . . . out of a total surplus of $20,978,635. This surplus has been created out of the wallets of the Lyndhurst taxpayers and should be paid to the Lyndhurst treasury.”
Until last week, Lyndhurst was refusing to pay the second installment of its NJMC tax-sharing pool contribution to six “receiving” districts, including Kearny and North Arlington, which was due Aug. 15.
Kearny filed a claim against Lyndhurst in Hudson County Superior Court to collect the $175,000 it is owed from the tax-sharing pool account.
“We feel that Lyndhurst’s issue with the NJMC is unrelated to the tax-sharing issue,” Kearny Mayor Alberto Santos said.
Santos said that Lyndhurst came across with its payment last Thursday.
Robert Benecke, Lyndhurst’s financial consultant, placed the assessed value of the disputed 13 meadows parcels at $122,347,500 which, he said, would have translated to $2,261,881 in real estate taxes for 2010.
In its appeal, the NJMC simply claimed that, as a state agency, it was tax exempt, and listed no assessed values for the disputed properties. It listed eight, including several landfills that are being remediated, as vacant land and the rest as industrial sites.
In a deal transacted in September 2004, Lyndhurst was “promised over $500 million in new revenues over 35 years (from the EnCap venture),” DiLascio said.
Now, the mayor said, “the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission owes us millions as we battle for survival . . . . What was dubbed ‘the Miracle of the Meadowlands’ has become the ‘Disaster in the Dumps’. ’’
When asked why Lyndhurst doesn’t take the NJMC to court, Benecke replied: “We can do things at a higher level (but) we don’t want to do that. We could end up in litigation for years. We just want them to come to the table.”

Tragic end to river search

Georgie Pena


By Karen Zautyk

A four-day search for a Kearny man who disappeared in the Passaic River ended early last Tuesday, Oct. 4, when the body of 21-year-old Georgie Pena was found in the water behind the Pathmark on Passaic Ave.
The tragic discovery was made at 7:15 a.m. by Kearny Police Sgt. Rick Poplaski and Officer Jack Corbett, who had just launched a police boat to continue the hunt.
Kearny Police Chief John Dowie said the body was on the east side of the river about three to four feet from the shore.
Pena’s body was taken to the Medical Examiner’s office, where it was identified. The case has been handed over to the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office.
Pena had gone into the water shortly after 12:30 a.m. Friday, Sept. 30, as he was reportedly fleeing police who had seen him running across Passaic Ave. at the foot of Magnolia Ave. When officers reached the riverbank, Pena was already near midstream “being carried south by the river’s current,” police said.
Authorities said officers had been on the lookout for him after he was nearly hit by a car while walking in the middle of Passaic near North Midland Ave. a short time before. Dowie stated that Pena was not wanted by police and was not being chased, but that he ran from the cops.
Kearny police and firefighters and rescue boats from Lyndhurst and Wallington launched an immediate search, which ended after several hours with negative results, authorities said. It was resumed at daybreak and continued from dawn to dusk that Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
The Tuesday search was just starting when the body was found.
State Police helicopters and boats, K-9 units and first responders, including several scuba teams, from more than a half-dozen jurisdictions took part in the exhaustive hunt, which extended from Kearny’s northern border all the way to Newark Bay.
The day after Pena disappeared, The Observer spoke briefly with his stricken mother, Daisy Pena of Kearny, who had gone to the KPD search command center at Passaic Ave. and the Belleville Pike with several family members.
At that time, she was still clinging to hope that her son might be found alive.
“I’m supposed to die before he does,” she said through her tears. “Parents are supposed to die before their kids do.”

Burglary suspects nabbed

Police were able to solve four daytime break-ins and attempted break-ins when they apprehended the alleged burglar and his female lookout after a botched entry on Brighton Ave. last Thursday, authorities reported.
At 12:45 p.m., a man living on Brighton near Afton St. was working in his basement when he saw a pair of feet coming through the window. Realizing the home was occupied, the burglar fled, and the resident called the cops.
Police said the responding officer, P.O. Tom Bannon, spotted a man and a woman walking on Patterson St. and detained the male. The woman, who had continued on towards Kearny Ave., was stopped by other officers and was returned to the scene, where the homeowner reportedly identified both.
According to police, the pair, a 34-year-old Kearny man and his 32-year-old lookout from Florham Park, were also linked to another attempted burglary on Brighton, a break-in on the same street and a burglary and theft on Maple St., all that morning.
Police reportedly recovered a stolen laptop in a backpack (also stolen) that the man was carrying. They said the computer, along with jewelry found in the suspect’s pockets, came from the Maple St. residence.
The couple were arrested on multiple charges including burglary, conspiracy and theft.
The man was remanded to the Hudson County Jail on $50,000 bail; his companion, on $10,000.
— Karen Zautyk

Cops thwart cycle theft; grab 1, hunt 2

Photo courtesy Nutley Police Department/ Crane lifts suspects’ van out of resident’s driveway.


By Karen Zautyk

Two sharp-eyed officers patrolling River Road in the wee hours last Thursday spotted something that did not look quite right.
Turned out, it wasn’t. And it led to a  chase, the  arrest of one man and a hunt for his two accomplices.
Police said  Officers John Mecka and Ted Durand were on patrol at 3:12 a.m. Oct. 6 when, while passing a driveway near E. Centre St., something caught their eye: a white van surrounded by three men who appeared to be intent on stealing a motorcycle.
“What happened next,” said Det. Anthony Montanari, “was textbook police work.”
The cops made a u-turn, one of the guys in the driveway yelled, “Police!” and the trio piled into the van, heading west on Centre.
Mecka and Durand pursued the white Ford Econoline – reported stolen out of Paterson – up Centre and then north on Washington Ave.  At the corner of Washington and Satterthwaite Aves., as it was attempting to make a turn at a high rate of speed, the van went out of control and slammed into a house, demolishing one corner of the structure.
It also managed to land on top of the homeowner’s 2008 Chevy Impala parked in the driveway
The Econoline’s three occupants jumped from the vehicle and fled on foot through the backyards.  Several houses away, police found one of the alleged culprits, 18-year-old Anthony Olivo of Paterson, hiding in  a shed.
The hunt for the other suspects continued with the aid of the Essex County Sheriff’s Department K-9 Unit, but the dogs lost the scent near the intersection of Park and Washington Aves.  Authorities believe the men had been picked up by a vehicle at the location.
The suspects were described as Hispanics: a lighter-skinned man, approximately 26 years old,  having a goatee and standing approximately 5’-5”, and a darker-skinned male, about 19 years old, with a round face, approximately 5’-7” and wearing a Chicago Bulls cap.
Detectives took possession of the van – after it was lifted off the homeowner’s car via crane –  and were processing blood and other evidence that was left behind.
Olivo was charged with receiving stolen property, attempted theft of the motorcycle, eluding police and hindering apprehension. He was remanded to the Essex County Jail in lieu of $75,000 bail.
Police said the trio had visited the area earlier, observed two motorcycles at the River Road address and returned in an effort to steal them.
Olivo reportedly told detectives he and his friends had been there no more than a few minutes when the Nutley officers spotted them.
“The people in Nutley should feel safe knowing that their patrol division is so vigilant,” Montanari said.
The hunt for the escapees continues, and Chief John Holland said, “It’s only a matter of time before the two that temporarily got away are apprehended.”
Police Director Alphonse Petracco also commended the two officers for an outstanding job.

Red Cross volunteer earns kudos

Photo courtesy PSEG/ At awards ceremony: (l. to r.) Vaughn McKoy, president of the PSEG Foundation; Cheryl Olcheski; Stacey Spooner, area response manager-Essex County for American Red Cross Northern New Jersey; Ronald Dorrell, emergency response director for ARCNNJ, and Joseph Forline, PSE&G vice president-customer operations


By Ron Leir

Fires, floods, storms – they’re all things we would run from.
But Kearny’s Cheryl Olcheski makes a point of running to them.
That’s because Olcheski is a volunteer with American Red Cross of Northern New Jersey  whose job involves helping the victims of all types of natural disasters.
For her outstanding work, Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG) presented Olcheski, a 37-year PSEG employee, with the Betty Flood Award of Excellence at its annual Recognizing Excellence in Volunteerism luncheon, held Oct. 4 at the company’s Newark headquarters.
The award, which was established in 1992 in memory of Elizabeth “Betty” Flood, who, while working as a PSE&G telecommunications assistant, ran an after-school program for more than 300 youngsters. Her efforts earned her a President’s Volunteer Action Award from then-President George Bush.
With the top PSEG award comes $10,000, which will be used by the recipient’s Red Cross chapter for volunteer training, disaster relief and the purchase of emergency supplies such as blankets, clean-up and comfort kits, wireless cards, portable radios and ARC safety vests.
Olcheski said she began volunteering in 2005 after watching news reports about the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the victims, the elderly in particular, and wanting to do something to reach out to them. “This is what made me pick up the phone, join and start my training that Labor Day weekend,” she recalled.
In October, the Red Cross assigned her to a call center in Bakersfield, Calif., where she spent three weeks taking care of the volunteers and working the phones on overnight shifts.
Then it was back to New Jersey, and that Thanksgiving weekend, she got her first taste of disaster response when she was dispatched to help the victims of a fire in Clifton.
Since then, Olcheski says, she’s made herself available for duty “just about every weekend,” depending on her availability and a volunteer rotation schedule.
In the winter, often she’ll get a call to help “during a snowstorm when nobody else is on the road” but she ventures out without hesitation.
What motivates her?  “Because I can and because I’m able to,” she says. “If I needed help, I hope somebody would be there for me. And there’s a lot of good people I work with. We help each other out.”
Olcheski has worked primarily in Jersey City, Newark, Paterson, Passaic and East Orange, but she has made occasional forays into Bergen County.
The Northern N.J. chapter also serves Sussex and Warren counties, and in the last year, the chapter responded to 237 disasters and provided nearly $311,000 in emergency disaster assistance to more than 1,700 people.
In the past 12 months, Olcheski – who was born and raised in Harrison – was part of a team that pitched in to help residents of the Hoffman Grove section of Wayne when they were hit by flooding.
“My team arrived less than two hours after those affected were allowed back in (their water-ravaged homes),” Olcheski said. The team provided food and clean-up kits. It was “heart-wrenching” to see the results, she said.
“Walking in these areas right after a flood, you are confronted by the dried dirt, the smell of oil, mud and standing water,” she said. “To see all their possessions on the lawn, either to be dried out or thrown out, is incredibly hard for the homeowners to deal with – that is why I am there.”
Among the many fires Olcheski responded to, one in Jersey City that struck a family of 12 the week before Christmas stands out.
“Their apartment was destroyed,” she said. “When we first arrived at the scene, their relatives were waiting for the firemen to bring out the toys the family had already bought for the children for Christmas morning. I was able to get cleaning material from nearby stores, and, with the relatives, we cleaned the new toys for the children to open on Christmas Day.”
Meanwhile, Olcheski and the rest of the volunteers visited the entire family at an area hospital where they had been taken for treatment of smoke inhalation and arranged for the police to send a van to take the family to a hotel for temporary lodgings.
“After all the family went through that day, they didn’t hesitate to wish me a Merry Christmas as they left (for the hotel),” Olcheski said.
“While these families that I encounter are not left with much, the shoulder I give them to cry on and the ear I lend for them to talk to helps to give them the hope that they need to recover from the disasters they endure,” she said.

You’ll shoot your eye out, kid

By Karen Zautyk

At 3:40 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 2, police responded to Forest St. and Bergen Ave., where they found two Kearny men, aged 44 and 51, who reported having been hit by BB pellets. Someone, the victims suspected, had been firing from a window in a Forest St. residence.
Police Officers Luis Moran, Dave Rakowski and Tom Sumowski, along with Lt. Anthony Sylvester, began making inquiries in the building and encountered a 47-year-old man who reportedly became “agitated” to the point of having to be restrained.
Inside the residence, Police Chief John Dowie said, they found a 14-year-old East Newark boy who admitted to having fired the shots. Also taken into custody were two Kearny 12-year-olds and a 13-year-old from East Newark — all boys –who were found sneaking through nearby yards, the chief said.
All four were charged with unlawful possession of a firearm. Additionally, the shooter was charged with aggravated assault and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose.
In other Kearny police news, Officer Neil Nelson, on patrol on Midland Ave. at 4:20 p.m. Sept. 30, spotted a motorist who he knew to have a suspended license. He stopped the driver on Columbia Ave., and the 34-year-old Kearny man was also found to be wanted on a no-bail warrant from the Essex County Sheriff’s Office and a $1,000 warrant out of Belleville, Dowie said. He was turned over to Essex County.
At 3 a.m. last Wednesday, Officers Sumowski and Wayne Shivers came upon an unconscious man slumped over the wheel of a car at Quincy and Schuyler Aves. The car was in gear and the man’s foot was on the brake, Dowie said.
When Sgt. John Becker, who also responded to the scene, attempted to wake the driver by knocking on the windows, the man allegedly “sprang from the car, screaming and cursing,” the chief reported.
After the officers cuffed him on a disorderly conduct charge, the 35-year-old Kearny resident attempted to pull the handcuffs from back to front, ended up “in a contorted position” and refused their attempts to help him de-contort.
After matters, and the man, were eventually straightened out, he was also charged with DWI, obstructing the passage of other vehicles, careless driving and failure to wear a seatbelt.
Another alleged pot-chomper (reference to last week’s blotter) was arrested at 8:45 p.m. Wednesday on the upper deck of the former West Hudson Hospital garage, where Officer Brian Wisely saw a car parked in a secluded area.
As the officer approached, a passenger, a 22-year-old Kearny man, began to ingest a small cigar, Dowie said. Reportedly found inside the car were an empty cigar wrapper and a small bag containing remnants of marijuana.
The suspect was charged with possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia and hindering apprehension, for allegedly eating evidence.
Finally, down in South Kearny, an attendant at Tullo’s Truck Stop, 61 Lincoln Highway, was the victim of a strong-arm robbery at 3:30 p.m. Thursday.
The man was followed into a restroom and grabbed from behind by a mugger who took $200 in cash from him.
Police said the robber, described only as a black male, was not armed and the victim was not hurt. The culprit fled in a maroon Chevy Impala with a temporary registration tag.

Kitchen fire at local eatery

Photos by Diane Tilley



A fire Oct. 2 in the kitchen at Hodnett’s Steakhouse & Lounge, 188 Midland Ave., led to the temporary relocation of upstairs tenants, authorities reported, but the eatery is back in business, albeit with a limited menu.
Kearny Fire Chief Steve Dyl said the one-alarm blaze broke out at about 9 p.m. and was limited to the kitchen area and adjacent ductwork. The second-floor apartments  were, however, temporarily vacated.
Dyl said the blaze was brought under control in about 20 minutes. One firefighter reportedly suffered minor injuries, was treated and released.
The chief said the blaze  was not suspicious and appears to have been accidental, but an investigation would be conducted.
Hodnett’s occupies the building that formerly housed Torremolino’s.
Contacted Friday, a Hodnett’s employee told us the lounge was open and items such as hamburgers, sandwiches and baby back ribs were available, part of a “limited menu” until repairs to the kitchen are complete.

— Karen Zautyk


Photos by Diane Tilley/ Firefighters at the scene of the fire at Hodnett’s in Kearny.

Hello, Fall



By Lisa Pezzolla

You could have fooled me that summer was over.
This past weekend we hit record breaking temperatures.
Everywhere you turned people were walking around enjoying the outdoor cafes, hitting the open road in motorcycles and cars with sun roofs down as they enjoyed a drive.
But the truth is, it is October!
Yes, leaves are slowly falling and the temperature will soon change right before our
And Oct. 31 is Halloween. As a kid, my friends and I couldn’t wait to go out trick
or treating; we would walk for hours and keep filling our bags, go home to empty them
and start again. That was the ironic part. I didn’t eat chocolate and couldn’t care
less about candy. It was just fun walking with my friends in our costumes and thinking we scared everyone.
In our Oct. 26 edition, we will be hiding pumpkins in our advertisers’ ads so look
for further details in our Oct. 19 edition for the prize. It’s a great time to advertise!
Also, if you or a neighbor have decorated your house and want to show it off, send
a photo to entertainment@theobserver.com and we will post it on our website.
Remember, be safe and don’t let the goblins get you.

Let’s get tougher on animal cruelty

Federal wildlife officials are hunting the sicko who shot a pilot whale that beached itself and died on the sands north of Asbury Park last month.
The whale had suffered a slow, agonizing death from starvation after the bullet wound
left it with an infected jaw and it was unable to eat. Experts said it likely took about a month for the creature to succumb.
Under federal law, the culprit could face a $100,000 fine and a year in prison. Now
that’s a suitable penalty.
Unfortunately, and invariably, when some pseudo-human is found guilty in a lower court of a crime against an animal, they get off with a minor penalty, such as a “sentence” of community service. Usually, something like having to work in an animal
shelter. Which is the last place I would put such a person.
The most recent egregious example of this wrist-slap judicial mentality comes from
the Bronx, where 30-year-old Cherika Alvarez, was convicted in August of animal
cruelty for leaving her pet dog to starve to death in her apartment when she was evicted from same.
The animal’s corpse was found six weeks later. Authorities said the dog had tried to
survive on a diet of ketchup packets and garbage, and then wood chips and splintered
plastic. And razor blades.
According to the Daily News, “The pup’s body had no body fat and was so emaciated
that his remains had to be scraped off the floorboards.”
Alvarez appeared for sentencing last month. Her penalty? Twenty days of community
service. And she’s not allowed to own another pet for three years.
Standing before Judge Robert Sackett, she sobbed: “I’m really sorry for what happened. I didn’t mean for it to happen. . . . I learned my lesson. I would never even hurt a cockroach.” (My suspicion is that’s because she’s one herself.)
Until the courts get serious about crimes like this and start handing down jail terms, such wanton cruelty will continue.
Jail is not going to stop it entirely, since some humans can never be deterred from
barbarism. But decent members of society will at least have the satisfaction of knowing
that the punishment will fit the crimes.
— Karen Zautyk
P.S. I have often been accused of liking animals more than I like people. To which, I
plead guilty. Because of people like Cherika Alvarez.