Top 10 stories of the first half of 2020

To say the first six months of 2020 have been trying would be a gross understatement. Just a few weeks into the year, all that promise of a new beginning came to a screeching halt when much of the world shut down because of COVID-19.

You know that already, though.

Because of the pandemic, however, one thing changed in The Observer’s world — and that is that Web traffic grew exponentially. There could be a myriad of reasons as to why this happened, but we’re sure people being stuck inside certainly was a principal factor.

Here, therefore, is a look at the Top 10 stories on from Jan. 1 through June 30.

10) Mayor Fife addresses town; Harrison has several COVID cases

In the beginning, it wasn’t clear whether towns in our area would be forthcoming about the number of cases of COVID-19 reported. However, just weeks after the pandemic broke out, Mayor James A. Fife quickly took to the media to send out a message of concern to all Harrison residents.

At first, Harrison appeared to be spared from the pandemic, with only “several” cases reported. That was March. The number of cases grew as time went on.

9) Two men nabbed with nearly half ton of pot and because of bail reform, they walked

This was one of the strangest crime cases so far in 2020. Two men were arrested by the Hudson County Sheriff’s Office with nearly a half-ton of marijuana in a truck in South Kearny. The HCSO even posed for a photo with the massive stash laid out on a long table. It was a great collar, to say the very least.

But as many of our readers know, bail reform in New Jersey has been a hotbed issue. And, because their “bail scores” were low, two two men who were arrested in this case for possessing the pot were both released on their own recognizance. Neither of the two are from Jersey either — one is from New York and the other is from Ontario, Canada.

According to records, the case is still active, likely because many court dates have been canceled on account of the pandemic.

8) Priest with ties to Kearny, Lyndhurst placed on leave

The Rev. Salvatore DiStefano, who served parishes in Lyndhurst and Kearny, and who was the chaplain at Oratory Preparatory School, Summit, was removed from active ministry following allegations levied against him through the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, according to reports.

It was not immediately clear what the allegations were specifically.

Said Maria Margiotta, the spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Newark: “The archdiocese also stresses that Fr. DiStefano’s leave should not be interpreted as punishment and he continues to have the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise. At the conclusion of a review and external investigation by civil authorities, a determination will be made regarding Fr. DiStefano’s status.”

Despite the presumption of innocence, the Oratory Prep website removed all references to DiStefano only a few days after his being placed on leave.

7) Idiot claims to have Coronavirus, coughs at Kearny cops

File this one under the valley of the ridiculous. A man who police were attempting to take into custody reportedly told Kearny police officers he “had Coronavirus” and then went on to cough directly at the arresting officers, according to reports.

Fortunately for the officers involved, they were already well protected with PPE. However, at the time, it wasn’t immediately clear whether the guy really had COVID-19. But, as it were, the man was remanded to the Hudson County Jail, South Kearny, and would no longer be able to tell anyone in the free world whether he truly had the deadly virus.

6) KPD: Lethal threat on Hickory Street

On March 1 at 10:50 p.m., Kearny Police Officer Jean-Paul Duran and several back-up officers were dispatched to a home on Hickory Street on a report that a male trespasser in the backyard was threatening to kill a family who lived in the house.

Police said they found Hector Reynoso, 32, of the Bronx, seated in a patio chair in the dark and learned he was estranged from the residents (different last name than his). They reportedly had arrived home the day before to find Reynoso inside their residence without permission. Police said he didn’t have a key, “and they’re not sure how he got inside.”

That day, police said, he returned, the homeowners refused to let him back inside and in response, Reynoso allegedly threatened to kill the family.

The Kearny PD took him into custody, and a search incident to his arrest reportedly revealed he had a steak knife in his back pants pocket — and in other pockets, six New York State IDs in the names of four other people.

Reynoso was charged with criminal trespass, defiant trespass, terroristic threats, unlawful possession of a weapon and four counts of theft of property lost or mislaid. He was remanded to the Hudson County Jail.

Unfortunately, there’s no update to Reynoso’s status.

5) Passaic County man, wanted for alleged attempted homicide, taken into custody by Lyndhurst PD: Auteri

A Passaic County man wanted by authorities in Smyth County, Virginia, for an alleged attempted homicide was taken into custody Sunday, June 7, at the Winslow Motel by the Lyndhurst Police Department, Det. Lt. Vincent Auteri, the LPD’s public-information officer told The Observer.

The suspect, Andrew Wyble, 25, of Bloomingdale, New Jersey, surrendered peacefully to the Lyndhurst PD’s Hostage Negotiation Team and Emergency Response Team after initially refusing to exit his motel room at the request of the officers who first responded, Auteri said.

Auteri said authorities in Smyth County in Virginia had called them with intelligence that Wyble was likely at the Winslow Motel at 204 Rutherford Ave., Lyndhurst.

While not much was immediately known about the incident that led to Wyble being a fugitive from justice, Auteri said he believed the charge stemmed from a drug deal gone bad in Virginia.

Smyth County, Virginia, is located in the southwestern portion of the state and at the 2010 Census, had a little more than 32,000 residents. Its borders near North Carolina and Tennessee. It is also just a few counties away from Kentucky.

4) Joseph E. Blood, husband of Kearny Superintendent of Schools Patricia Blood, dies aged 68

As the pandemic just started to spread around the nation, the superintendent of Kearny Schools Patricia Blood experienced a tragedy of her own as her husband, Joseph, died at 68. As the superintendent was burying her husband, she was also in discussions with various other town officials as to whether to shut schools down (eventually, Mrs. Blood first closed schools for two weeks, before it was clear schools would have to close for the rest of the school year.)

Mr. Blood was born in Newark and lived in Kearny for many years before moving to Howell in 1987.

A graduate of Kearny High School, he served in the U.S. Air National Guard and worked on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange for 32 years, becoming a specialist broker in 1982. He was a member of the NYSE from 1982 through 2002 for GBTC, Weiskopf Silver, Al Fried & Co., Buttonwood Specialists and Performance Specialists.

3) Video shows 3 white girls using racially insensitive language; Nutley PD says its in poor taste, but not criminal in nature

The year kicked off with a stunning story that made statewide headlines. It involved three Nutley students who reportedly used Snapchat to air a video that used incendiary language, more specifically, the “N-word.”

The Nutley Police Department announced earlier during the first week of January that it was advised that several girls posted a video with unacceptable language using racial epithets throughout social media, which immediately went viral.

Nutley police, along with the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, reviewed the video and the nature of its recording and deemed it “completely inappropriate and in poor judgment;” however, no crime was committed.

The Observer reviewed the video, which is believed to have originally been on Snapchat and then recorded for use on other social media platforms — and it’s as bad as police described. It features three high-school aged girls, all of whom are white. A source with knowledge of the case told The Observer all three girls were 14 and freshmen at Nutley High School.

“I hate ni***rs,” one girl says to start the video off. “We hate ni***rs,” a second girl then says. “I love them, I love them,” the second girl then says with some inaudible talking ongoing in the background. “I’m not kidding,” the first girl then says. A third girl then says, “No, no kidding, because ni***rs fu****g s**k d**k.”

The girls in the video all appear to be holding beverages, though it’s impossible to tell whether they’re alcoholic beverages. Reports indicated the incident took place at a party for the new year.

2) Resident of Alaris at Belgrove, Kearny, tests positive for COVID-19; child from Kearny daycare also tests positive

The Town of Kearny experienced its first two known positive COVID-19 cases in March, we learned on St. Patrick’s Day. One was a resident of Alaris at Belgrove on Belgrove Drive.

The town’s Health Department said it received results March 16 that the nursing home resident tested positive for COVID-19. The resident began exhibiting mild symptoms of the virus on March 13, the town said, and was taken to Clara Maass Medical Center, Belleville, on March 15.

All those in contact with the resident during those two days were notified and are being monitored.

The nursing, at that time, began restricting visitors to the facility and followed NJ Department of Health requirements.

The daughter of the woman who is infected — whose name we are not releasing at this time — said her mother either contracted the virus between Feb. 25 and March 3, when she was admitted to Clara Maass Medical Center or thereafter, somehow, when she returned to the nursing home. The woman’s daughter said her mother was being kept, in isolation, at Clara Maass.

Additionally, a student who resides in Paterson, but who attends a daycare on Highland Avenue, also tested positive for COVID-19, according to the town. That student was taken out of school on March 9, before the student exhibited any symptoms of the disease. The student’s classmates are at low risk for contracting the disease and will be monitored for signs and symptoms of COVID-19, the Kearny Health Department says.

Around the same time, the township of Belleville announced Clara Maass was treating four patients for the Coronavirus. Two were residents of Belleville.

1) 288 cases, 8 total COVID-19 deaths, in Kearny

The most-read story on The Observer’s website in the first six months of the year was a simple one-paragraph announcement from the Kearny Health Department on April 8.

It read: The Town of Kearny now has a total of 288 reported cases of COVID-19, with a total of 8 fatalities, according to the town’s Health Department. There were 13 new cases reported on Tuesday, April 7.

As of Monday, July 13, the day this story went to press, Kearny’s COVID-19 statistics include 1,259 known cases, 92 deaths and 813 known recoveries. The last known death in town was reported June 24. Since July began, there have only been nine new cases reported. There were seven reported deaths in June.







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Editor & Broadcaster at 

Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.