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Clerks tied up, shots fired at Belleville Radio Shack armed robbery Sunday morning

BELLEVILLE — The following report was issued by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office on Sunday (Dec. 21): At 11:22 this morning, officers from the Belleville Police Department were summoned by a 911 caller to a possible armed robbery at the […]


Have you seen this alleged Nutley burglar?

NUTLEY — Police say they are investigating a diversion burglary that allegedly occurred on Fischer Ave. on Dec. 9. An elderly resident told police that a man banged on her front door at 3 p.m., Dec. 9, claiming there was […]


Help sought in cold case

By Karen Zautyk Observer Correspondent  KEARNY –  Somebody knows something. Six years ago, an 87-year-old man was deliberately run down by a car in a South Kearny parking lot and robbed while he lay helpless on the ground. He died of his injuries the next day. Authorities ruled the death […]

100G for Arena tax case

By Ron Leir  Observer Correspondent  HARRISON –  Now that the state Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether the New York Red Bulls professional soccer team should pay taxes on the stadium and the land it occupies in Harrison, the town has hired an outside law firm to […]


Staffing Skyway fire-watch

By Ron Leir  Observer Correspondent  KEARNY – For the first time, members of the Kearny Fire Department will have a shot at off-duty pay, much like their counterparts at the Police Department have enjoyed for many years, although there is a sunset provision for the privilege. This opportunity […]


State champs again!


The Harrison High School boys’ soccer team shows off the NJSIAA Group 1 state championship trophy it won after defeating Haddon Township, 4-0, Sunday at Kean University in Union. It marked the 25th NJSIAA state championship in the school’s rich and storied history, adding to their state and national records. It was the first time since 2008 that the Blue Tide earned a state title. Senior Ali Lahrif increased his single season school scoring record to 37 goals in the process, as the Blue Tide avenged defeats in the overall state title game in 2012 and the state semifinals last year. For more about the Blue Tide’s latest state title, read Jim Hague’s reports from the state title game in The Observer sports section.

Heck of a way to get home


By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


The mercury had dropped to near-freezing last Friday night, Nov. 14, as Christopher Russell was walking through Hudson County’s West Hudson Park in the Harrison portion of the park.

According to police, he was inebriated and he was cold, but, most of all, he wanted to get to his home in Newark’s Ironbound section.

So, police said, the 30-yearold Russell made his way through some temporary orange plastic mesh fencing surrounding a construction site in West Hudson Park off Davis Ave. and climbed into the cab of an idle excavator.

Finding no key in the ignition but making use of prior experience as a mechanic, Russell grabbed one of his own keys, jammed it into the ignition and managed to get the motor started, said Harrison Police Capt. Michael Green.

As the heavy-duty vehicle lurched forward, trampling the fencing, county spokesman Jim Kennelly said, “The driver of the vehicle circulated through the park to the east of the Davis Ave. bridge project and caused damage to various park furniture, including a drinking fountain, a protective bollard and three concrete and wood slat park benches.

“A small tree was uprooted during this time, and a park picnic bench was dragged for a short distance but appeared to be undamaged. Tracks left by the vehicle were evident but not damaging to the overall landscape. No park sidewalks or paved areas outside of the construction limits were observed to have been damaged.

“Damage caused within the construction area included temporary fencing, a second piece of construction equipment, the roadway subgrade, part of the parapet wall and other small materials stored on the site.”

Kennelly couldn’t say how much the wreckage would cost to fix.

Police said Russell also drove the vehicle over several temporary fences and a ball field next to the bridge construction site.

Meanwhile, the next phase of Russell’s abbreviated trip found the driver maneuvering outside the park – where witnesses spotted him on Cross St. and on Hamilton St., just west of Davis, where police ultimately stopped him, shortly after 9 p.m., according to Green.

As an officer approached, police said Russell blurted out, “It was me; yup, it was me.” As he spoke, police said, the officer detected a strong odor of alcohol coming from the cab and, inside, he observed an open container of Southern Comfort whiskey.

Police said Russell told the officer he only stopped because he thought he hit a parked car, which, according to police, he did. It was a Jeep Grand Cherokee, parked on Davis Ave., whose owner was notified.

Police impounded the excavator temporarily before releasing it to its owner, listed as A-Tech Concrete Co. of Edison. Police said the vehicle was valued at $25,000.

Russell was charged with DWI, DWI within 1,000 feet of a school, theft of movable property, criminal mischief and leaving the scene of an accident involving property.

He was transported to the Hudson County Jail on $20,000 bail, with a 10% cash option, set by Municipal court Judge Kenneth Lindenfelser, pending court action.

90 displaced by 3-alarm blaze


By Karen Zautyk

Observer Correspondent 


A three-alarm fire in an apartment building on Beech St. at the Belleville Pike on Sunday afternoon displaced 90 residents, but everyone was evacuated safely, authorities reported.

Fire Chief Steve Dyl said the blaze broke out in a third-floor apartment at 425 Beech at 3:58 p.m. and was under control by 4:57 p.m. Along with the KFD, firefighters from North Arlington, Harrison, Jersey City and North Hudson Regional Fire & Rescue were at the scene.

One woman was rescued from a fire escape by KFD Capt. Gary Dye and FF Bill Crockett. Other occupants of the 41-unit, five-story brick building were evacuated, many with the help of the Kearny Police Officers Frank West and Chris Levchak, Dyl noted.

No injuries were reported, and firefighters noted that “multiple cats” were also rescued.

One of the factors aiding the evacuation was the existence of fire doors in the building’s hallways, Dyl said. “These helped control the smoke,” allowing residents to escape safely.

The Red Cross found temporary shelter for five of the displaced tenants, but the rest reportedly were staying with friends or relatives. As of Monday morning, no one had yet been allowed to return, pending a safety inspection.

The unit where the fire started was severely damaged, Dyl said, with some minor damage to the apartment above.

The cause is under investigation.

OCI will reopen, owners say


By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


Akitchen fire sent about 30 customers scurrying out of a popular Nutley pub last Saturday evening, Nov. 15.

Cause of the blaze at the Old Canal Inn, 2 E. Passaic Ave., which went to two alarms, is listed as “accidental,” triggered by an issue related to “ventilation of cooking equipment,” according to Nutley Deputy Fire Chief Paul Cafone.

No injuries to firefighters or civilians were reported, he said.

The bar and rear dining area remain shuttered for now but Mark Conca, who owns and runs the place with brothers Phil, Ralph and Danny, has pledged to restore it and reopen as soon as they can.

“We hope to get the front bar open in seven to 10 days,” Conca said last week. “But the kitchen and restaurant, we’re talking maybe three to six months. The Nutley and Bloomfield firefighters confined the fire to the back of the building and that’s what saved us.”

Cafone said the fire started in the kitchen area, above the ceiling between the “void” (concealed) space and the roof and then spread into the rear dining room between the ceiling and the roof.

Fire damage was pretty much confined to the kitchen area and the rear dining room.

Tenants who live above the bar in the four-family, three-story wood frame structure were compelled to evacuate their apartments after the building was deemed uninhabitable by the township’s code enforcement unit but, eventually, they were allowed to return after fire inspections of apartments were made during the week, according to Cafone.

Cafone said that the initial alarm of fire came in at 5:49 p.m. through central station and the Nutley career firefighters responded aboard an engine and a ladder truck while the Nutley fire volunteers arrived in two engines.

Nutley Fire Lt. Chris Loman, who was among the first responders, quickly called in a second alarm and, Bloomfield Fire Department – summoned under the township’s mutual aid agreement – came with an engine and ladder truck, Cafone said.

Fire units from Montclair and Lyndhurst provided stand-by service, he added.

Cafone estimated that, all told, 41 firefighters from Nutley and Bloomfield fought the blaze which was declared under control by 7:30 p.m.

PSE&G sent a crew to shut off the utilities in the building , he said.

Despite the hardship that’s befallen the tavern, Mark Conca took some solace in the fact that the fire started when it did. “We had a full house of dinner reservations scheduled for a 7:30 [p.m.] serving,” he said, noting that the situation could’ve been a lot worse if the fire had broken out then.

The pub building is believed to be over 100 years old and has been operating as a tavern, at least since 1934 when members of the Skorupski family of Bloomfield took it over until selling it to the Conca brothers in 2011.

Part of the property straddles the Bloomfield border and it is said that the bar’s shuffleboard court, technically, sits on the Bloomfield property line.

Nutley Mayor Alphonse Petracco, himself a business owner, said he empathized for the owners who, he said, were “childhood friends.”

Conca insisted that he and his brothers were committed to “restore OCI.”

More apartments eyed for Bergen Ave.


By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


Carlstadt builder Ed Russo is looking to expand a residential development project already in progress in a Kearny redevelopment area at Bergen and Schuyler Aves.

Russo told The Observer last month he has a contract to purchase an additional 2.25 acres of property on the northeast side of Bergen Ave. – opposite where his current project Vermella Crossing (formerly known as Schuyler Crossing) is rapidly rising.

He’s looking to acquire – and take down – commercial warehousing at 307-337 Bergen Ave. – 175 feet from the Schuyler intersection – currently owned by Wal-Park Associates of Verona and put up two new multi-family residential structures with a total of 70 apartments.

Each three-story building would contain 35 apartments, with 18 one-bedroom apartments and 17 two-bedroom units.

Russo said that the design of those buildings would mirror the frame and masonry look of Vermella Crossing: six three-story buildings that will contain a total of 150 apartments, consisting of one- and two-bedroom units, plus a clubhouse/fitness center.

Although Russo included retail tenants — a CVS pharmacy and Investors Bank – as part of his Vermella Crossing mixed-use development site, he said that – at this point – he is not planning any retail space for the proposed expansion project.

What he is seeking, however, is approval from the town governing body for a PILOT (Payment in lieu of Tax) agreement similar to the tax abatement deal previously negotiated with the town for the residential portion of Vermella Crossing.

That arrangement was for a 30-year PILOT agreement which called for Russo to pay the town an annual “service charge” of $375,000 (representing 10% of the gross annual rents), with yearly adjustments keyed to inflation and a state budget cap, plus an annual $2,500 “administrative fee.” Russo also agreed to make a one-time-only $150,000 contribution to the town’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund and to repave part of Bergen Ave. to the trestle bridge.

As of last week, Mayor Alberto Santos said that the terms for a PILOT for the proposed expansion were still being discussed.

Meanwhile, Russo has filed an application, under the name Schuyler Crossing Urban Renewal LLC, with the Kearny Planning Board for approval to undertake the new project which, according to the application, will include “all necessary drainage, sanitary sewer, water, landscaping and lighting improvements.”

Russo is seeking variances from the Schuyler Redevelopment Plan for impervious coverage and ground signs, he’s asking for a design waiver to provide 9-foot by 18-foot parking stalls and he wants an exception to allow parking for 106 as opposed to 133 spaces.

Plans call for 64 “garage/ driveway” spaces and 42 “open parking” spaces.

In neighboring Harrison, meanwhile, Russo is building a single five-story structure that will hold 400 apartments (a combination of studios, one- and two-bedrooms) plus 15,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space and various amenities.

In other development news, the Kearny Zoning Board of Adjustment voted Nov. 6 to clear the way for Helo Holdings Inc. to expand its South Kearny heliport by building a new helicopter hangar/maintenance facility, offices and lounge for a total of 40,465 square feet at Central Ave. and Webster Road.

With the capacity to handle more aircraft, Helo CEO Jeff Hyman has projected that the number of flights, primarily by corporate clients, would likely increase by an additional 45 per day, from the current 20 to 27 daily flights.

Local taxes up again in borough

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By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


Borough residents should be getting their property tax bills by the first week of December, CFO Steve Sanzari said last Thursday, after the Borough Council finally adopted the 2014 municipal budget.

Passage of the budget, introduced back in July, has been delayed since then because members of the governing body – faced with local elections earlier this month – couldn’t agree on the final numbers.

But the process was pushed along by the looming threat of the state Local Finance Board dictating an outcome that, officials said, could have been far more distasteful.

Had they not acted when they did, the borough faced having no revenues coming in since they’d have been unable to mail out bills without a county-certified tax rate, starting the new year with an operational deficit and $25-aday fines to individual council members for each day after Dec. 31 that the budget was late.

As it is, the adopted 2014 budget, after amendments, calls for expenditures of $21.55 million (up from last year’s $20.18 million), of which $15,875,961 must be raised in local taxation (up from $14,657,457 last year).

According to the CFO’s calculations, that translates to a nearly 8% increase on the local tax rate for municipal purposes only or a hike of about $254 on the “average” house assessed at $319,000. The county share of the budget is expected to have “zero” impact while the local school portion figures to add on about $14 for a total impact of $268 on a total tax bill of $9,220 (up from last year’s $8,951.).

For the local spending document to be complete, however, the borough was relying on the Passaic Valley Water Commission to approve at its meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 18, a legal settlement that would pay North Arlington $325,000. Both sides have been in negotiations for many months over alleged overcharges the borough claims it’s owed.

Only Council President Al Granell voted against the amended budget. In a prepared statement, Granell said he was “dismayed that the council did not join me in working to lower the tax levy for our residents as promised at the budget introduction in July.”

Granell said that several alternatives to lower the levy “have been presented for the council to consider for many months but did not garner the support of a council majority. I firmly believe that the Borough Council next year and in coming years will have to seriously consider and implement some of those options, including shared services and merging of services and basic municipal functions.”

And Mayor Peter Massa, a Democrat, who will cede his post to Republican Councilman Joseph Bianchi on Jan. 1 after having lost a re-election bid Nov. 4, said the council should follow the lead of Kearny and other municipalities in pressing the state to “help compensate us” for providing municipal services to “tax-exempt properties” owned by non-profits and the like because “it’s becoming more of a financial burden … on our seniors and homeowners who account for 85% of our tax base.”

Borough spokesman Thom Ammirato said this year’s tax increase was driven by $1.35 million in unexpected costs, outside the state-mandated 2% budget cap, including $307,000 for snow removal, $422,000 “to bolster the reserve in uncollected taxes” and $276,000 “to increase debt payments.”

Additionally, he said, the borough was directed by the state to reserve $125,600 in FEMA revenue for 2013 to pay down special emergency debt and to “reduce revenues by another $123,000 for the current year’s anticipated FEMA aid.

Vets’ photos wanted for ‘Wall of Honor’


By Karen Zautyk 

Observer Correspondent 


This township, which has been in the forefront when it comes to offering support and assistance and recognition to veterans, has launched yet another project to pay tribute to the men and women who have served our nation. This time, going all the way back to the American Revolution.

The Nutley Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, in partnership with the Nutley AMVETS, is creating a “Wall of American Honor,” which will feature images — photos, sketches, portraits — of all township veterans from 1776 on.

Also eligible are veterans who may not have personally lived in Nutley, but whose descendants or other relatives are current residents.

So, Nutleyites, if your father, grandfather, great-grandfather, brother, sister, aunt, husband, wife, uncle, cousin, whatever, wore this country’s uniform, you are invited to submit that person’s picture for inclusion on the wall.

In the words of Commissioner Steven Rogers, “It will be an enduring legacy that will enable future generations to see for themselves, through these photos, what their friends and relatives did to preserve the nation.”

The veterans need not have served in combat; those who swore their oath of allegiance in times of peace are also to be honored, for they, too, did their part to “preserve the nation.”

When completed, the display will be on a mobile wall, which can be incorporated into the ceremonies marking Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

There will also be virtual “walls” for viewing on the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs’ Facebook page and its website.

Rogers noted that the idea came from the department, which also decided to enlist Nutley youngsters in the project. “This wall is going to be an educational tool, constructed by students,” he said, explaining that they will be framing the photos and organizing the makeup of the wall.

Area Scout troops, the school district and the Nutley High School Patriot Club have been recuited, the commissioner said, but any local child or teen is welcome to volunteer. Just contact him at the Department of Public Affairs: 973-284-4976.

As for the photos (or drawings or portraits) of the vets, these should be mailed to Rogers at the Department of Public Affairs at 149 Chestnut St., Nutley 07110. “We do not need original photos, copies will do,” said Courtney Johnson, executive director of the department. In fact, you can even email the images to him at: cjohnson@ nutleynj.org.

Please note that, along with the photos, the department needs the names of the individuals pictured and the contact information for those submitting the images. If you know the veteran’s branch of service (and that can include the oft-overlooked U.S. Merchant Marine) and the years they served, that information can be added.

Rogers emphasized that the veteran does not have to be a current or former township resident. “There just has to be some Nutley connection.”

“As time goes on,” Rogers said, “I have noticed that the legacy of our veterans is getting lost.” He hopes that this project will be “an inspiration to those veterans and their families, to know that their legacy will live on forever.”

Also in recognition of that legacy, Rogers noted that all Nutley veterans are entitled to a medal. For information on that program, or on benefits for veterans, call Public Affairs at 973-284- 4976.

Plans are to unveil the “Wall of American Honor” on Veterans Day 2015.

Thoughts & Views: ‘Phishing’ season is year-round

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In my spam folder, there are currently 15 emails: two ostensibly from EZPass telling me I owe toll money; four alerting me to a FedEx delivery/ shipping notice; one, to a U.S. Postal Service delivery; one, for a UPS delivery; two notices to appear in court, and five messages from a company of which I have never heard but which wants me to confirm my address and my credit card payment.

I have opened none of them, and as soon as I finish writing this, they will all be deleted. I kept them on file for tally purposes only.

They are all bait used by scamsters who are “phishing” — attempting to lure the email recipient into providing personal information (name, address, account info, etc.). Info they can then use to steal your identity.

Sometimes, you don’t even have to reply. Merely by clicking on a link in the email, you could download a computer virus that will allow the crooks access to all sorts of data.

Even worse, is something called a “Trojan” (as in the horse, okay?). As described by Scambusters.org, when you click on an icon or link, “It installs a downloading program that then fetches and installs at least two more files on your system. These may disable your firewall, look for and steal credit card and bank account details, make screen snapshots and allow hackers continued access to your machine.”

I am so wary now that I won’t open a suspicious email, much less click on anything.

I wrote about the “notice to appear” scam earlier this year. Back then, I did open the missive, out of curiosity, but luckily there were no repercussions. It gave me a date and time when I was scheduled to appear for my “hearing” in “the court of St. LouisTampa” and if I did not show up “the case may be heard by the judge in your absence.”

It also told me to download and read the “copy of the court notice . . . attached” to the letter.

If the non-existence of a place called St. LouisTampa wasn’t enough of a clue, the instructions to download something screamed, “DANGER! FAKE!”

I hoped that the column would alert some gullible, trusting readers to dangers lurking on the web. Which is the same reason I’m writing this one.

FedEx, USPS and UPS scams — and the ones allegedly from individual retailers — are still spreading, and I fear that as we enter the holiday shopping/ delivery season, recipients might fall for them.

Just delete the damn things. If you are truly concerned about a supposed missed delivery or whatever, contact the company directly — but NOT via any phone number provided in the email, no matter how legit the letterhead/logo appears. Look up the number for yourself.

The EZPass notice of unpaid tolls or overdue account payment is fake, too, and spreading.

Don’t open it. If its mere arrival has you worried, call Port Authority EZPass customer service directly to find out if there really is a problem with your account. (Odds are, there isn’t.) Again: Obtain the phone number for yourself.

Below is more advice, as posted by the Council of Better Business Bureaus, on how to spot scams. Some may be repetitive, but better repetition than being ripped off:

• Don’t believe what you see. Scammers make emails appear to come from a reputable source. Just because it looks like a “usps.com” address does not mean it’s safe.

• Be wary of unexpected emails that contain links or attachments. As always, do not click on links or open the files in unfamiliar emails.

• Beware of pop-ups. Some pop-ups are designed to look like they’ve originated from your computer. If you see a pop-up that looks like an anti-virus software, but warns of a problem that needs to be fixed with an extreme level of urgency, it may be a scam.

• Watch for poor grammar and spelling. Scam emails often are riddled with typos.

• (Be wary of a warning that) immediate action is necessary. Scam emails try to get you to act before you think by creating a sense of urgency. Don’t fall for it.

Personally, I also no longer open any emails from senders I do not recognize. If you’re that eager to get in touch with me, contact The Observer. And identify yourself.

– Karen Zautyk 

Carved in stone




Photo by Karen Zautyk

On Veterans Day, the Township of Kearny added this new memorial to Monument Park on Kearny Ave. It will commemorate local members of the armed forces who make the supreme sacrifice in the War on Terrorism. The first name inscribed is that of Staff Sgt. Edward Karolasz, who was killed in Iraq. The monument was designed by Thomas J. Goffredo of the North Arlington firm of Thomas Meloro & Son, which crafted the stone. Now in its 97th year, the company created most of the memorials that now grace the park. When you can, pay a visit and ponder the names on all the stones. They deserve to be remembered year-round, not just in November and May.

3 rescued in Beech St. house fire


By Karen Zautyk 

Observer Correspondent 


The Kearny Fire Department, responding to a Beech St. house fire last Thursday evening, had the blaze knocked down in 20 minutes, but not before rescuing three residents who were trapped on the front-porch roof.

Fire Chief Steve Dyl credited KFD dispatcher Brian McCurrie with keeping the three from panicking while they awaited help. “The 911 call came in directly to the department, and he [McCurrie] stayed on the phone with the caller, who was on the roof, and was able to keep them calm until firefighters rescued them,” Dyl said.

The two women and a man, who had fled to their precarious perch from the second-floor residence, were safely brought down by Firefighters Victor Girdwood and Ron Protokowicz, Dyl said.

Two men in the first-floor apartment had managed to escape on their own.

The fire in the two-story, wood-frame home at 47 Beech, between Oakwood and Quincy Aves., was reported at 7:09 p.m. and was out by 7:25, Dyl said, but, due to flame, smoke and water damage, the residents all had to find other shelter.

Two of the victims were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation and minor lacerations.

The blaze is believed to have started in the front room on the first floor, but the exact cause is under investigation by KFD Chief Inspector John Donovan.

The roof rescue was not the only one credited to Girdwood and Protokowicz. While they were searching the interior of the house, they saw a small dog run into a first-floor room and found him hiding behind a TV. They coaxed him out and carried the frightened pup, who was shaking as they held him, to safety.