Thursday, August 28, 2008

This Week's Forum South and West

Baldeo Walks Away from Senate Race, Clearing the Way for Addabbo

Residents Fighting 20-Story Apartment and Hotel Proposal

Feds Agree to Study Newtown Creek Spill

Willets Point Critic Agrees to Maspeth Relocation

Fulfilling Her Vision, Teacher Opens Drama School in Maspeth

Woman Robbed and Raped at Gunpoint in Richmond Hill

State Releases Annual List of "Persistently Dangerous" Schools

Forest Hills: A Causalty of the Falling Economy

Baldeo Walks Away from Senate Race, Clearing the Path for Addabbo

By Patricia Adams

Unity was the order of the day last Friday when State Senate candidate Joe Addabbo received the unexpected endorsement of Albert Baldeo, his would-be opponent in the September 9th Democratic Primary. According to Baldeo, he arrived at his unique decision in the name of party unity.

Standing in front of Baldeo’s law office on Liberty Avenue to receive the official endorsement, Addabbo was joined by Queens County Democratic Party Leader, Congressman Joe Crowley, NY State Senate Minority Leader Senator Malcolm Smith and Congressman Gregory Meeks.

Baldeo said, “I’m proud to be supporting Joe Addabbo for State Senate and plan to work with him here in the district, and hopefully in Albany, for the good of my community. Joe Addabbo has been an outstanding Councilman and I have full confidence that he will bring that same spirit of openness and leadership with him to Albany. Joe Addabbo is the best candidate to beat Maltese in November, I encourage all my supporters to vote for Joe.”

Addabbo graciously accepted Baldeo’s ringing endorsement saying, “I applaud his [Albert’s] wholehearted embrace of the democratic process. The Democratic Party is the party of inclusion, it’s a big tent with room for everyone, and we are stronger for his efforts. I look forward to working together as we head into November to bring real reform to Albany and accomplish our shared goals of increased funding for education, better jobs and benefits, increased access to government services, and improving the lives of middle class and hard working people. The voters of the 15th Senate District deserve nothing less.”

“The best way for us to achieve our goals is by working together," said Queens County Democratic Party Chairman Joseph Crowley. “I look forward to a united Queens County Democratic party working to elect Councilman Joe Addabbo to the New York State Senate.”

Addabbo’s graciousness may have come as a surprise to many, given that in recent months Baldeo and some of his supporters have been blatant in their attempts to blacken Addabbo’s political and personal reputation. According to Democratic Party activist Betty Braton, “It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Joe is able to find a way to work together with an adversary. Addabbo’s a consensus builder who knows that people don’t always agree, so common ground must be found to move forward. That is one of his biggest strengths.”

Although the endorsement by Baldeo was seen by some to be a surprise twist in this hotly contested race, many say that recent track of campaign activity was a key indicator that Baldeo was getting ready to step aside. Voters throughout the sprawling district have received no phone calls or mailers from Baldeo while Addabbo has been placed at events in all parts of the district. While Baldeo did make some appearances, they were confined to one small section of the area.

In recent weeks the Addabbo for Senate campaign “has been in high gear with phone banks running, two campaign offices operational, and Joe knocking on doors discussing issues with voters all throughout the district,” said Democratic District Leader Frank Gulluscio. “We welcome Baldeo’s participation in our effort to insure better representation for the district by defeating the incumbent in November.”

Both Gulluscio and Braton have been strong supporters of Addabbo since his first run for public office in 1997. Like Addabbo, both have been on the receiving end of vicious attack and trash talk by Baldeo or his supporters since 2006. When asked why they could join

Addabbo in accepting Baldeo’s support, both indicated that although some people think insults are an acceptable part of politics, their view is that, as Addabbo said, “the Democratic Party is the party of inclusion” and there is common ground in the desire of Democrats of differing views in both camps to win the 15th State Senate seat in November.

“People all across this country are tired of division and polarization,” Gulluscio said, and “are calling for an end to the bitterness between the parties, less focus on ideology, and more focus on working together where there is common ground to get the people’s business done.”

“Our party has been listening to that call,” Braton said. “Within our own party, by unifying with Baldeo and helping Joe Addabbo take this seat, we’re taking a step toward putting acrimony and division behind us. It would be insulting to our country’s democratic process to not work collectively to accomplish what both sides agree on – winning in November.”

Clearly the message sent by local Democrats at the press conference incorporated not only their desire to send Addabbo to Albany, but addressed the grander scheme – to recapture the Democratic State Senate majority which has eluded them for more than 40 years.

Although Baldeo’s name will remain on the ballot for next month’s primary, he indicates he will be working with Addabbo in the effort to oust Senator Maltese and is urging all 70,000 registered Democrats to vote for Addabbo, not him, on September 9th.

Photo: A crowd of pleased onlookers, including Democratic District Leader Frank Gulluscio (left) and State Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith, applaud a handshake exchanged by Albert Baldeo and the man they hope to send to the New York State Senate, Councilman Joe Addabbo.

Residents Fighting 20-Story Apartment and Hotel Proposal

By Conor Greene

KEW GARDENS – Residents are fighting a proposal to build a 20-story hotel and apartment building near Queens Boulevard, but face an uphill battle since the so-called “monstrosity” is allowed under the current zoning.

Area residents and Councilman Tony Avella held a protest last Thursday at the construction site on 82nd Avenue to call attention to the negative impact they say the project will have on the area. The site is being developed by the owners of the Pasta Lovers Trattoria, and the building is slated to sit on land behind the business previously used for restaurant parking.

The residents, many of who live in the adjacent 134-unit Hampton House apartment building on 82nd Street, first learned of the project when a construction crew began digging a huge hole on the property on June 30, according to resident Natalie Dauphin. After they filed complaints with the city Department of Buildings, a stop work order and several violations were issued in July.

According to the DOB, the stop work order was issued on July 18 because the developer did not have a copy of the approved plans on site and due to inadequate guardrails next to the excavation. A permit was issued on June 27 for a mixed use residential and commercial building containing 20 stories and a cellar, according to the department.

The project will include 27 parking spaces and an office in the cellar, 17 parking spaces, retail and offices space on the ground level, a community facility and ambulatory care center on the second floor and hotel rooms and apartments in the remaining space, according to the residents.

Dauphin, who has helped organize the fight against the proposal, accused the developer of having a “lack of concern for our safety” and said residents “are afraid of having cranes in this neighborhood looming over these apartment buildings.” She is also “absolutely terrified” that the construction is damaging the foundation of the six-story Hampton House, which is 50 years old.

Avella (D-Bayside) said the area needs to be rezoned to prevent this type of out of character development. He the “neighborhood cannot handle the impact” of the project, including increased traffic and pollution. “We’re not going to give up until we get satisfaction with this project,” he said.

Janice Dillman, an 18-year resident of Hampton House, said that after the project’s plans were rejected three times, “all of a sudden it was approved” and digging began on the property, which was still being used as a parking lot for the restaurant. “They didn’t have fences up and still had people parking,” she said. “I just don’t think there is any concern for us.”

Several other community leaders were at last week’s rally, including a representative from Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn’s office and Mel Gagarin, a candidate to succeed Melinda Katz as the 29th District’s representative on City Council. Katz was in Denver this week and did not respond to a message left with her spokeswoman seeking comment on the proposal.

“We stand united today to draw a line in the sand, to let the owner of Pasta Lovers know, and to let developers across this city know, that our communities will not stand idly by while our neighborhoods are lost block by block,” said Gagarin.

“This will destroy what is supposed to be a great place to live,” said Dauphin.

Top: Councilman Tony Avella and residents Natalie Dauphin and Mel Gagarin speak at last week’s rally.
Right: Residents are concerned that the 20-story building will tower over their six-story building behind the construction site.

Feds Agree to Study Newtown Creek Spill

Could Lead to Superfund Designation

By Conor Greene

Two local lawmakers are one step closer to having the Newtown Creek included in the national cleanup program. The federal Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to conduct testing at several sites along the creek, which could lead to its inclusion in the Superfund program.

Representatives Anthony Weiner and Nydia Velazquez, both Democrats who represent parts of the area surrounding Newtown Creek, had called on the EPA to test the area to see if it warranted inclusion in the federal Superfund program. Doing so could lead to millions of dollars in funding for the cleanup and allow the federal government to hold the companies causing the contamination responsible.

The creek is a 3.5-mile waterway running between Greenpoint, Brooklyn and Maspeth, Queens. It is known as the city’s most heavily polluted waterway and was the site of a huge oil spill in 1950.

This week, Weiner and Velazquez’s offices released a letter from Alan Steinberg, regional administrator at the EPA, informing them that agency will work with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which is conducting its own cleanup of the creek, to determine what chemicals are present there.

“To address your concerns regarding testing of the abovementioned properties (Phelps Dodge, BCF Oil, Quanta Resources and National Grid), and to define the nature and extent further of the hazardous substances that may be present… EPA will review existing information from ongoing and past environmental investigations,” he wrote.

Following the review of the investigations, the EPA will “develop a sampling plan” to fill in any gaps in data that may be needed to determine whether the Newtown Creek is accepted into the Superfund program. “We anticipate that this effort will take approximately six months to complete. Once the data are collected, EPA will evaluate what additional actions, if any, may be warranted in accordance with CERCLA,” wrote Steinberg. CERLA stands for the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, which was the 1980 law creating the Superfund program.

Steinberg notes in the letter, dated August 15, that the state DEC “has investigated a number of sites in this area… that are potentially contributing to the contamination in Newtown Creek… As you know, a major impact on Newtown Creek is associated with oil releases that are being addressed through state enforcement and oversight of cleanup efforts conducted by private parties.”

The state cleanup effort involves an agreement reached with ExxonMobil forcing the company to clean up about 17 million gallons of oil that leaked into the ground and water when a tank exploded in 1950. The spill was discovered by the Coast Guard in 1978, and to date about half of the spill has been cleaned up.

Basil Seggos, chief investigator for Riverkeeper, said the announcement means “a restored Newtown Creek is within reach.” The EPA’s resources “will prove indispensable in protecting the creek and its surrounding communities from a legacy of toxic dumping,” he said.

Weiner called the EPA’s commitment to test the sites “a big win” for residents living near the creek. “These tests will help us find answers to basic questions about the spill’s health and environmental risks, giving this environmental disaster the national attention it deserves.”

In other news related to Newtown Creek, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office announced recently that an Appellate Court judge has ruled that a case against a cement company accused of illegal dumping can move forward.

In 2005, Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes charged Constantine Quadrozzi and his company, Quality Concrete of Metropolitan Avenue with violating multiple provisions of the state Environmental Conservation Law and with dumping hazardous materials into the creek.

A Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice later dismissed the entire indictment after ruling that Hynes lacked the authority to prosecute cases under the Environmental Conservation Law without the involvement of the state DEC and that there was insufficient evidence to support the charges.

Following an appeal filed by Hynes’ office, the Appellate Division rejected those conclusions and reinstated all of the charges contained within the appeal, the district attorney announced on August 21.

Willets Point Critic Agrees to Maspeth Relocation

Crown Container Inks Deal with City EDC

By Conor Greene

One of the most vocal opponents to the city’s plan to redevelop Willets Point has reportedly agreed to make way for the project and relocate to a Maspeth site.

Jerry Antonacci, owner of Crown Container, has agreed to sell his 23,000-square-foot property to the city, according to several published reports. Under the agreement, the waste transfer company started by his father in 1959 would move from 34th Avenue to a location in Maspeth.

The city’s Economic Development Corp, which is overseeing the city’s ambitious plan to redevelop the industrial area near Shea Stadium into housing, retail and office space, has yet to formally announce the agreement with Crown Container, which was first reported last week.

Antonacci was on vacation this week and unavailable to comment on the reported deal. However, he told Crain’s New York Business, “All I can say is it’s a very good deal… The last couple of weeks we put a lot of time in, and we got it done.”

The deal with Crown Container would mark the fifth agreement the EDC has signed with the approximately 250 businesses based in Willets Point. Many owners have publicly expressed concern that the city will use eminent domain to seize their land if they don’t enter into an agreement.

While the exact location in Maspeth hasn’t been announced, it will likely be in an industrial area near Grand Avenue and 48th Street near the Newtown Creek, currently home to a number of businesses.

Sources are speculating that the city will wait until after Labor Day to announce several deals at once, according to a recent report in Crain’s.

Up to this point, Antonacci had been one of the most outspoken members of the Willets Point Industry and Realty Association, which is a group of landowners opposed to the city’s redevelopment plan. He has withdrawn from that group now that he has reached a deal with the city, but said he is still concerned about the threat of eminent domain.

“I don’t want to see eminent domain used on anybody,” he said. “I hope the city treats everyone else as good as they treated me. If they do, maybe you won’t see so much fight,” he told Crain’s.

Fulfilling Her Vision, Teacher Opens Children's Drama School in Maspeth

By Nicole Turso

Sitting at a table at the Sly Fox Inn in Fresh Meadows years ago, Rose Terranova was read her fortune—the teller spread cards out on the table, studied, paused and exclaimed, “You were supposed to be famous, what happened?” Terranova took those words to heart, and later put them into practice.

Terranova, of Maspeth, is no stranger to brushes with fame, having been a self-proclaimed “starving artist” as a singer, even making demo records for large companies including Columbia Records and working as a television personality for the Prayer Channel.

Her latest venture, perhaps closest to her heart and reminiscent of her two greatest passions—performance art and teaching—is an after school drama program for children opening next month. Over coffee at the Georgia Diner in Elmhurst, the fiery redhead recently chronicled her journey to the present and her non-profit business, including her many various, and sometimes eccentric, careers.

“I did a lot of praying because I didn’t have a clue as to what it was that I wanted to do with my life,” said Terranova, “I like to say I was a late bloomer.”

She worked as a bank teller, a bookstore clerk, even tried her hand at writing a musical comedy, but it was a dream one sleepy night that lead Terranova to a career which would span 25 years.

In the dream, Terranova remembered, a former employer who had passed away appeared across a large plaza filled with people. He led her into a building, which she recognized as her old elementary school and said, “This is where you’re supposed to be.”

“I woke up as if someone had hit me over the head with something,” she explained, “I could not shake this idea of teaching out of my brain.”

Terranova minored in secondary education in college eventually landing a position as a teacher at St. Adalbert’s School in Elmhurst. She spent 17 years educating middle school children and flexing her performing arts muscles as the director of the school’s theater group, Black Friars.

“It was the first job I ever had where I looked forward to waking up in the morning—to see those kids,” Terranova said, a gleam in her eye. “I was fortunate.”

Her love for teaching eventually lead Terranova to a position teaching sixth grade religion on television at The Prayer Channel in 1999. Throughout her eight years at the station, she co-produced four interactive series for children, never straying too far from the classroom—taking her shows to various schools to interview and teach children. “I always say teaching is like being on a stage,” she said, laughing.

Terranova left The Prayer Channel hoping to return to the classroom, but found that she would need to re-apply for certification. Crushed that she couldn’t resume her career immediately, Terranova began entertaining the idea of starting her own business. “I can do all of this, but why should I continue doing it for other people,” she said. “Let me start doing it for myself.”

It was May and Terranova had come to a crossroads. Facing unemployment, she was forced to decide whether to move out of New York City for a more favorable economic situation, or to take a chance.

She decided to stay in the city, and soon found that the risk would be worth the reward. With the support of the surrounding community, Terranova acquired space in one of vacant buildings on the Holy Cross Catholic School campus on 61st Street - which closed in 2005 along with a number of other Queens parochial schools - and applied to become a non-profit organization.

“Ms. Rose’s 2B Named Drama School” as it is being called in the interim, was certified as a non-profit 501 (c) (3) organization with the goal of involving children in all aspects of performance art, including behind the scenes work and on-stage, to develop leadership, cooperation and teamwork skills.

The after school program for students ages 7 to 17 consists of 10-week trimesters, with weekly classes and courses including character development, the importance of costume and make-up, set design, lighting and sound, and the role of stage manager. Students will also have the chance to show off what they’ve learned to family and friends at two performances - one holiday show and one at the end of the year.

For Terranova it is a dream realized. “My mother always used to say I would be a success in life if I left the world a little bit better for having passed this way, “ Terranova said, “Hopefully in this way, I will.” As for fame, Terranova has to disagree with her psychic connection. “Fame is an illusion—just a state of mind,” she concluded.

Ms. Rose’s 2B Named Drama School is at 56-01 61st Street in Maspeth. For details, call (718) 326-2467 or log on to Registration for fall courses ends the first week of September.

Woman Robbed and Raped at Gunpoint

Attacked Early Monday in Richmond Hill

By Conor Greene

An 18-year-old woman was raped and robbed at gunpoint while walking home from a local convenience store in Richmond Hill early Monday morning, heightening fears in an area already on high alert due to a string of sexual assaults.

The woman was walking back to her house at about 1:45 a.m. Monday after using the ATM at a nearby corner store when the attacker pulled out a silver gun and dragged her from 103rd Avenue to a driveway of a private home near 123rd Street, according to police.

The man raped the woman and stole $20 and her ATM card before fleeing the area. A resident told Channel 7 that he tried to chase the man down, but the attacker was able to get away.

The Daily News quoted the victim’s boyfriend as saying that his girlfriend ran home after the attack and pointed out the assailant to him and his friends. They chased the man, who jumped into the passenger side of a waiting car and was driven away, according to the newspaper.

Police said this attack doesn’t fit the description of motives used by either of the two men already wanted for a string of sexual assaults in the area. In those attacks, the suspects either threatened the women verbally or flashed a knife.

However, Channel 7 reported that Monday's attack matches a recent unsolved gunpoint robbery in the area. Nevertheless, the incident has left many area residents shaken, especially since there could be as many as three attackers preying on women walking along at night.

“If I find out who did it before the police find out, it’s not going to be a happy case,” the victim’s boyfriend told the DailyNews.

The victim was treated at Queens Hospital Center. Police are continuing their investigation of the recent attacks.

State Releases Annual List of "Persistently Dangerous" Schools

PS9 in Maspeth Included, Jamaica High Removed

By Conor Greene

Sixteen city schools, including one in Maspeth, have been named “persistently dangerous” in an annual reported released by the state.

A total of 19 schools around the state - down from 27 last year - have been identified in the report, which is required under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Within the city, 15 schools reported a large enough decrease in violent incidents to warrant being removed from the list, including Jamaica High School.

The state uses a formula involving the number of violent incidents and a school’s enrollment to determine which should be considered “persistently dangerous.” Schools that have approximately six violent incidents per 100 students are included. Violent incidents include homicide, sexual offenses, robbery, assault, arson, and possession of a weapon. Students are given the option of transferring out of dangerous schools provided there is room at an alternate venue.

The state’s list is based on reports provided by the schools, leading to some concern that administrators underreport the number of incidents to avoid being placed labeled as dangerous. In contract, the city designates what it calls “impact schools” using date gathered from police reports.

There were no Queens schools added to the list this year, while Jamaica High School was removed after reporting a decrease in crime. In Maspeth, PS 9 Walter Reed School is on the list for the second consecutive year.

“School leaders have responded and as their schools become safer for children they come off the list,” said state education commissioner Richard Mills. He said the department will conduct audits of safety reports submitted by schools and vowed, “If we find underreporting, the list will get longer. Children must have safe schools.”

All schools designated as “persistently dangerous” are required to provide school choice to students if transfer options are available. Each school also receives financial support and technical assistance from the state to improve safety.

According to information provided by the state education department, there were three reported sexual offenses at PS 9 during the 2006-07 school year, the latest for which statistics are available. In addition, there was one assault resulting in serious injury, one assault with a weapon, 20 assaults without weapons and 14 minor altercations involving weapons. The school’s enrollment that year was 430 students.

Like the majority of city schools included in the list, PS 9 is part of the city’s District 75, which serves 23,000 students with moderate to severe special needs challenges in 350 schools citywide.

For details about the report, check

Forest Hills: A Casualty of the Falling Economy

By Steve Tiszenkel

There’s a store across the street from my apartment building on Queens Boulevard—or, more accurately, there used to be a store across the street. It was a RadioShack, certainly not my favorite chain electronics store—I prefer not to be pressured into signing up for a pricey cell-phone plan when I buy a pack of AA batteries—but a respectable business nonetheless. I’ve long since lost track of how long RadioShack has been gone, but it’s definitely been more than a year, possibly approaching two. The empty storefront casts a foreboding metaphorical shadow over my building, somehow even uglier than most empty store-fronts, for-rent signs posted haphazardly in the windows and hanging limply over the door, mocking the idea espoused by some that the economy is doing better than advertised.

The former RadioShack used to be the only empty storefront in my neighborhood, if you define “neighborhood” as “area I can see out my window.” But in the past couple of months, a real-estate agency went under, too. Just a little farther down the road, there's a guitar store that's been closed even longer than RadioShack. And on the other side of the street, a coffee shop that served the area for decades sits vacant, a desperate-looking plea for renters in the window, its awning roughly ripped off, not looking like it's likely to be replaced anytime soon. And then there's the old Ethan Allen, its last piece of luxurious oak furniture sold months ago, its distinctive architecture making it clear that this building is unlikely ever to be anything but another Ethan Allen.

This is Forest Hills in 2008. Of course, it's not a local problem. In case you didn't get the memo, the economy has seen better days. We're mired in what most economists consider a recession. Times are tough for individuals, and they're tough for small businesses. But even so, Forest Hills seems particularly badly plagued by empty storefronts. And worse yet, our empty store- fronts—especially the ones a little off the beaten path—never seem to fill up again.

Why is the problem so acute here? Maybe, say, Queens Boulevard and 77th Road just isn't a terribly sexy place to open a new business. Maybe the few entrepreneurs left would rather try something less risky. And maybe our local officials just aren't doing so good of a job as they could in spurring local investment. But I think the plague of for-rent signs boils down to one of the primary causes of a recession: a lack of confidence.

I have faith in Queens, and I don't doubt that a little boutique or a nice coffee shop would do great on the barren north side of the Queens Boulevard. But then, it's easy for me to say that when I'm not pouring my heart, soul and life savings into a business. No, in this economy, maybe I wouldn't take a gamble on occupying one of those storefronts, either. But aren't economic downturns supposed to be the times that make millionaires? Moving into the RadioShack space might not buy any enterprising businessman— or even an executive vice president at some soulless chain—a condo in Miami Beach. It might, however, be a surprising success. And seeing success like that would foster a little confidence that all of us could use right about now.

The writer, Steve Tiszenkel is the host of the website Queens Central. Log on to to read more about Forest Hills and surrounding neighborhoods.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

This Week's Forum West and South

Woman Fighting for Life After Struck by Falling Tree

Eight Torahs Stolen from Temple

Customs Officer Indicted in Fatal June Shooting

Residents Hope Funding Will Help Reclaim Charles Park's Beauty

Senator Clinton Pushes for Federal Cleanup of Newtown Creek

Man Strangled During Rent Money Dispute

Queens Woman Infected with West Nile Virus

Myrtle Ave Resurfacing Underway; Maurice Ave Work Planned

Slowing Down the Pace: A Leisurely Look at Central Queens

Woman Still Fighting for Life after Struck by Falling Tree


by Conor Greene

RIDGEWOOD – In a split second, a stroll down Myrtle Avenue in Ridgewood turned into a fight against death for a city corrections officer who was struck in the head by a large tree which fell from an elevated freight yard last weekend.

Donna Rypkema, a 10-year veteran of the Corrections Department, was transferred last Monday night from Wyckoff Heights Medical Center to New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan for surgery to relieve life-threatening brain swelling.

There was no further information on her condition as of press time on Wednesday.

She was struck on the head Sunday afternoon as she walked along Myrtle Avenue near the intersection of Fresh Pond Road. The tree, which appeared to be dead, fell from a yard adjacent to Long Island Railroad tracks that is leased by New York and Atlantic Railway.

Witnesses said it is common for smaller branches to fall from the yard onto the sidewalk below, where Rypkema, 38, was struck. “There are always branches falling from there,” one resident told NY1. “Never that size, but always branches falling down. It’s sad that this is probably what it takes to have somebody come up there and cut all that down.”

Rypkema, who is assigned to Rikers Island, was walking through the street fair on her way to meet her sister for manicures when the 20-foot tree uprooted and fell down the hillside onto her. She went into cardiac arrest as shocked witnesses looked on and was rushed to the hospital in critical condition.

Witnesses said they heard a crack and then screaming as the tree struck the woman, who immediately began bleeding profusely as her sister screamed for help. “It was like something out of a movie,” said Eli Kairey, who owns a store near the scene. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Francisco Rodriguez said that the tree came down right after a train passed by. Residents believe it was the vibrations from by the train together with the weakening of the roots beneath the dead tree that caused it [the tree] to topple to the ground below . “So when the train went by, it collapsed,” he said. “It broke into pieces when it fell.”

Other parents said that they purposely avoid walking under the freight yard because the tree was leaning precariously over the sidewalk. “I’m a paranoid father, so I don’t want anything to happen to my son,” said Scott Lopez. “So I stay away from this area.”

In the days following the accident, family and about 100 co-workers remained by Rypkeman’s hospital bed in Wyckoff Heights and in the chapel until she was transferred to Manhattan.

“She is by all accounts a revered, beloved, and very popular corrections officer,” Correction Department spokesman Stephen Morello told reporters outside Wyckoff Hospital.

Her husband and 15-year-old son were initially too distraught to speak with reporters, according to the Corrections Department. Her husband, Louis Abreu, later told the Daily News, “What can I say? It’s a tragedy... She’s well loved by a lot of people. She’s a very good woman.”

Her brother, Michael Rypkema, told the newspaper that CAT scans revealed that her head injury was causing brain swelling, a potentially life-threatening situation that led to her transfer to New York-Presbyterian Hospital. “They’re going to try and reduce the swelling,” he said. “Right now, we’re really just concerned about my sister.”

Paul Victor, president of New York and Atlantic Railway, didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment on the accident. He told WCBS-TV, “I’ve been in this business my whole life... Never have I seen anything like this worldwide.”

He said that recent rains might have caused the tree to fall and disputed witness accounts that a freight train had passed through at the time of the accident. He said that the company’s GPS system shows that it had been more than two hours since a train had been in the area. “If we are responsible, I’m sure we will live up to our responsibilities,” he said.

Above: Paramedics rush Donna Rypkeman into Wyckoff Heights Medical Center after the she was struck in the head by a falling tree.
Left: An officer stands at the scene at Myrtle Avenue.
The Forum Newsgroup/photos by ROBERT STRIDIRON

Eight Torahs Stolen from Temple

Inside Job Suspected in $500,000 Heist

By Conor Greene

Eight torahs worth nearly a half million dollars were stolen from the Jewish Center of Kew Gardens Hills, leaving the congregation reeling after the making the shocking discovery during a recent service.

About 60 members were in the midst of services last Saturday morning when the theft was discovered, according to congregant Herman Saltzman, who chairs the temple’s Pews and Memorials Committee. Since the torahs are always locked up, the congregation’s leaders and police suspect an inside job.

The discovery came during a part of the service when “somebody gets the honor of pulling back the curtain” to reveal the torahs, said Saltzman on Monday inside the temple at 71-35 Main Street. He was sitting in the temple’s last row on Saturday when the curtain was pulled back, revealing the theft. “I saw everybody standing, bewildered,” he said. “We couldn’t continue the service – it was something we had never seen before.”

Following the realization that the books were missing, the worshipers were left “standing in complete shock,” said Saltzman. “After a few moments of dazed shock one of the past presidents called the cops, who came in droves.”

Because the ark containing the torahs is connected to an alarm and includes steel gates, police are reportedly looking into whether somebody associated with the temple is involved in the theft. “It had to be an inside job – nothing was broken or compromised,” said Saltzman. “They are registered, but unfortunately like most things, there is a black market for it.”

He estimates each torah is worth between $30,000 and $60,000, adding that each is valuable due to the individual significance and meaning they carry. They were donated to the temple over the past 67 years “by people to commemorate special occasions in their lives,” said Saltzman.

A torah is a scroll of parchment containing the first five books Moses. They are handwritten and can take more than a year to complete, according to Saltzman.

He said that the congregation has been hit hard by the theft, and by the thought that it was an inside job. “We have a number of holocaust survivors in the congregation, and one called me and said it brings back all the bad memories,” he said, fighting back tears. “It’s a violation.”

Police have yet to announce any suspects or arrests in the incident, but are reportedly reviewing surveillance videos from nearby buildings and interviewing people who had access to the temple and to the three sets of keys that unlock the ark. They reportedly gathered fingerprints and other forensic materials at the scene.

Now, the temple’s members are left wondering who would do this, and how they will move forward. “How could this happen?” asked Saltzman. “All we want is them back. We’re not looking to sue or incarcerate – just bring them back.”

Above: Herman Saltzman stands in front of the ark from where eight torahs were stolen.

The Forum Newsgroup/photos by CONOR GREENE

Customs Officer Indicted for Fatal June Shooting

Victim Shot in Chest at Forest Hills House

by Conor Greene

A U.S Customs agent has been indicted on manslaughter and homicide charges in connection with the shooting death of a man at the officer’s Forest Hills house two months ago.

Eric Alke, who works for the U.S Customs and Border Protection agency and is assigned to Kennedy Airport, was arraigned last Friday on a two-count indictment charging him with second-degree manslaughter and criminal negligent homicide in the shooting death of Adrian Moldovan, a 50-year-old real estate agent.

Alke was being held on $75,000 bail as of Wednesday morning. His attorney, Gerard Marrone, said he expected his client would be able to post bond later that afternoon.

Details of the incident have been sketchy since Moldovan was shot dead in June while helping Alke’s landlord build a patio at 72-07 Kessel Street, where the customs agent lives. Published reports initially stated that Alke told police that Moldovan grabbed the service weapon from the kitchen table and shot himself.

However, when police arrived at the scene following the 3:30 p.m. shooting on June 25, they found Moldovan’s body lying on the driveway. While both the district attorney and Marrone agree that Moldovan was shot with Alke’s .38-caliber Smith & Wesson service weapon, the two sides’ accounts of what happen differ greatly.

Marrone said that Alke arrived home from lunch and offered Moldovan, whom he was “friendly” with, a beer. The customs officer placed his gun, wallet and keys on a shelf inside the apartment and went to get the drink. At that point, he heard the gun go off and ran up the stairs to find Moldovan lying outside the front door.

"My client is adamant that he didn't shoot the gun and that he isn't guilty of anything," said Marrone. "That's a big distinction from what the district attorney's side of the story is, so it looks like there is going to wind up being a trial."

Marrone stressed that he isn’t saying that Moldovan committed suicide, and said that earlier reports that the two men were drinking together in the hours before the incident are incorrect.

There were no witnesses to the shooting, as the landlord was in the backyard at the time, according to Marrone. “My client, it’s my understanding, even called 911,” he said. “As soon as he saw him, he tried to do CPR. When I met him at the precinct, he had blood all over him, even on his face.”

However, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown’s office apparently didn’t believe that version of events, instead charging that Alke “recklessly caused the death of Moldovan by discharging a shot from his .38 caliber revolver, striking Moldovan in the chest and causing his death.”

“As a federal officer trained in the safety and handling of weapons, the defendant should have known better than to draw a gun absent an imminent threat to the safety of himself or others,” said DA Brown. “Sadly, this case is a grim lesson why guns and drinking are a lethal mixture.”

Alke is due back in court on September 3. Marrone said he expects the district attorney’s office to release evidence including the autopsy report at that time. “Once I’m able to look at the reports and really ascertain what the people’s contention is, I can comment more,” he said.

Residents Hope Funding Will Help Reclaim Charles Park's Beauty

By Nicole Turso

Overgrown baseball diamonds, caved in fencing, and crumbling tennis courts are just a few of the dilapidated conditions at Frank Charles Park in Howard Beach desperately in need of renovation and repair, and the reason for which residents and community leaders are championing for change.

Frank Charles Park, 21 acres of land off of Jamaica Bay under the jurisdiction of the National Parks Service (NPS) and Gateway National Recreation, is the premiere park in the Howard Beach area—used by residents of surrounding neighborhoods stretching through Ozone Park for tennis matches, baseball games or a jog.

The park however, is showing its wear and tear.

Upon a quick survey of the park, it is clear that residents have a case. What used to be pristine baseball diamonds in years past now lack definition—weeds and grass cover the base paths. The tennis courts are littered with debris of seashells dropped by area birds, dangerous to the many children who take summer lessons. Dead trees and dying shrubs line the outskirts of the park.

“This park has really deteriorated over the last three years,” local resident and frequenter of Charles Park, Anthony Lasaracina explained. “We aren’t just talking about new ballfields or putting new tennis courts in. Besides that, a lot of these things are maintenance issues.”

And the park has not been without funds. According to Public Affairs Officer Brian Feeney of the NPS, which oversees 26,000 acres of the Gateway National Recreation area, of the $25 million annual budget, $7.5 million is appropriated to the Jamaica Bay Unit, which includes the upkeep of Frank Charles Park.

Additional funding over the past few years also included a $1 million congressional earmark in 2000, petitioned for by The Friends of Charles Park Committee and Congressman Anthony Weiner in which various restoration projects and improvements were made.

Federal funding however, is not the only money being used to update Frank Charles Park; the not-for-profit Friends of Charles Park Committee has also sunk money into the park on a number of occasions. “In the last 13 years we’ve dumped $2.5 million into the park, that’s a lot of money,” said Director of the Friends of Charles Park Committee Dorothy McCloskey. “Two-and- a-half million dollars for a not-for-profit group made up of general citizens made a big difference in the park.”

Five thousand dollars of the money was allocated to digging out and relaying the baseball fields, which have now been included in a capital project along with the tattered tennis courts in yet another congressional earmark of $1 million, this time, facilitated by Congressman Gregory Meeks.

Congressman Meeks met with Gateway General Superintendent Barry Sullivan last week to discuss the park. According to NPS, both the congressman and superintendent agreed the park would proceed with planning a $600,000 turf management program, along with upgrades and repairs to fencing and park benches as part of the $1 million earmark. Maintenance issues were also discussed.

Public Relations Officer Feeney addressed residents concerns over the perceived neglect of duties by the park workers. In an e-mail he writes: “The maintenance workers assigned to Frank Charles Park are dedicated to doing the very best job possible. However, given the 25% reduction in overall staffing that is a result of Gateway’s eroding budget situation, there is only so much that can be done.”

The NPS also explained that additional summer seasonal staff was hired this past year through the National Park Service Centennial Initiative, which have helped with the maintenance situation at Frank Charles Park. They expect additional maintenance help for several more summers.

But the signs of neglect continue, as fencing falls in on the baseball fields, McCloskey explains that the repair will cost at least seven thousand dollars and has been in such a condition for several months. Water fountains and irrigation systems have been turned off because they are in need of repair, and gates taken off of the fields, leaving them vulnerable to after-hours vandalism.

“Nobody is facilitating a comprehensive maintenance plan for all of Gateway National Recreation,” says McCloskey, “At Charles Park, because this is where we live, it’s our worry. In Rockaway, they have the same worries, and they are doing the same kind of fight over at Riis Park and Fort Tilden. We are well aware of the fiscal crisis, but we have to maintain this park.”

McCloskey explained that as the situation rolls on, more residents are getting involved and trying to form additional not-for-profit groups and clubs to maintain the park on a volunteer basis.

“Who’s watching the National Parks Service? The Friends of Charles Park Committee, the community of Howard Beach and its surrounding communities,” McCloskey said, “We are doing the best we can and we are getting the job done.”

Senator Clinton Pushes for Federal Cleanup of Newtown Creek

Superfund Designation Would Provide Federal Funding

by Conor Greene

The federal government should conduct testing at four hotspots along the Newtown Creek to determine whether a federal cleanup effort should move forward, according to U.S Senator Hillary Clinton.

In an August 13 letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson, Senator Clinton requests that the agency “use its Superfund authority to conduct preliminary tests at four known hotspots along the Newtown Creek.”

The letter comes just weeks after two local members of congress, Anthony Weiner and Nydia Velazquez, held a press conference calling for the 3.5-mile creek to be named a federal Superfund site. The waterway, which runs east from the East River between Brooklyn and Queens, was polluted by as much as 30 million gallons of oil over 150 years of industrial activity.

“New Yorkers living in communities near Newtown Creek have suffered long enough,” said Senator Clinton. “We know that there are dangerous chemicals in the soil, water and air at sites around the Newtown Creek. It’s time to put the resources of the Superfund program to work to conduct additional tests at known contamination hotspots to see whether a federal cleanup should go forward.”

Clinton notes in the letter that the creek “is well known as one of the most polluted industrial waterways in North America, where chemicals from factories along the bed of the creek have seeped into the soil, sediment and water.” She adds that the issue is “of particular interest” to her as chair of the Superfund and Environmental Health Subcommittee and a member of the Senate’s Environmental and Public Works Committee.

Much of the waterway’s pollution is believed to have occurred as a result of a huge oil spill, which was discovered by the Coast Guard in 1978 and is thought to cover properties on as much as 70 acres in Brooklyn. The oil spill encompasses an area that is one-and-a-half times larger than the site of the Exxon Valdez spill. However, it has never been tested by the EPA for consideration for inclusion in the federal Superfund site.

Under a state remediation plan being carried out by ExxonMobil due to a court order, about 9.4 million gallons of oil have been removed from the area so far. Officials estimate that it will take until 2026 to finish the current remediation effort. While the creek is already a state Superfund site, the federal designation would mean millions of dollars of funding for testing and remediation.

“For years, the residents in the vicinity of Newtown Creek have been forced to live, work and play with toxic fume in the air and contaminated water, soil and sediment on the ground,” wrote Clinton. “This exposure has led to community concern about potential pockets of serious illness... The people of Newtown Creek have suffered long enough.”

Man Strangled During Rent Money Dispute

Richmond Hill Man Charged in Death

by Conor Greene

A man has been charged with strangling his roommate over rent money during an altercation in South Ozone Park, authorities announced this week.

The incident occurred around noon Saturday when the victim, Rae Chisolm, 38, returned to the first-floor apartment at 117-15 124th Street. He had allegedly stolen his roommates’ rent money several weeks ago before fleeing the apartment, and had returned to collect his personal belongings.

He was let back inside the apartment by his two roommates, who were inside the flat with a friend, Rami Hawana, of 104-56 93rd Avenue in Richmond Hill. The men became involved in a fight over the money, which the roommates accused Chisolm of taking weeks prior. During the altercation, Hawana, 22, strangled Chisolm to death, according to authorities.

Hawana, who reportedly studies literature at SUNY Purchase, was arraigned last Sunday in Queens Criminal Court on second-degree murder charges and ordered held on $750,000 bail, according to District Attorney Richard Brown. He was due back in court this Thursday, August 21.

“The defendant, a friend of one of the roommates, allegedly placed the victim in a chokehold to separate him from one of the roommates,” causing Chisolm’s death, according to a spokesman for DA Brown.

A neighbor told the Daily News that Chisolm had returned to the apartment only to find the locks had been changed. He was let inside by one of the roommates before the fatal struggle ensued. The neighbor described Chisolm as a “decent” and “friendly” man who previously worked as a car salesman.

Hawana’s father was quoted in the newspaper as saying, “I feel terrible” at the family’s Richmond Hill house. On Tuesday, Hawana’s attorney, Robert Lucks, declined to comment on the charges, other to say that his client remains in jail pending his next court hearing.

Photo: Rami Hawana is led from a precinct stationhouse by detectives after being arrested on second-degree murder charges.
The Forum Newsgroup/ photo by ROBERT STRIDIRON

Queens Woman Infected with West Nile Virus


by Conor Greene

Two New York residents, including a Queens woman, have tested positive for West Nile virus, marking the first two human cases reported this year, announced city health officials.

A 73-year-old Queens woman was hospitalized last Friday after she was infected by the virus while in the city, according to the city Department of Health. A 60-year-old Bronx man was released from a hospital last week after also becoming infected.

Both individuals became ill in July and were hospitalized in August, according to the DOH. The Queens woman developed encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, and is now recovering in a local hospital, according to the department. The Bronx man developed an inflammation of the brain and spinal tissue (meningitis) as a result of the virus, but has since fully recovered.

DOH officials said the man had recently traveled outside the city, making it difficult to determine where he was infected, but it is believed that the woman was infected while in the city. Citing privacy issues, a DOH spokeswoman this week refused to say where in Queens the woman lives or is believed to have contracted the virus.

“A case of West Nile virus provides an urgent reminder to protect ourselves,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the city’s health commissioner. “Wearing mosquito repellent whenever you are outdoors, and long sleeves and pants in the morning and evening will reduce your risk of contracting the virus. Older New Yorkers need to be especially careful; they are more likely to become seriously ill and die if they are infected.”

Last year, 18 city residents contracted the virus and three died. The DOH warns that each year, the first infections usually don’t occur until August, meaning residents should continue to protect themselves against the threat of infection over the coming weeks.

According to the DOH, a greater number of mosquitoes have tested positive for West Nile virus this year compared with 2007. The majority of positive tests were in Queens, where 62 mosquito pools have tested positive for the virus so far this year, compared with 53 all of last year.

In many cases, a West Nile virus infection causes mild or moderate flu-like symptoms, according to the DOH. However, in some cases, particularly in people 50 and older, it can cause serious infection in the brain and spinal cord that can be fatal. The most common symptoms are headache, fever and extreme fatigue.

Residents are reminded to eliminate any standing water from their property and make sure that roof gutters are clean and draining properly. Allowing standing water to accumulate is a violation of the city’s health code.

Myrtle Avenue Resurfacing Underway

Maurice Avenue Upgrades Slated for Fall

by Conor Greene

Several road improvement projects in the area are underway or planned, including the repaving of Myrtle Avenue and a major construction of Maurice and 54th Avenues.

Night work crews began this week resurfacing Myrtle Avenue, which is being improved from Fresh Pond Road to Woodhaven Boulevard. As of Wednesday morning, a new surface had been laid from Fresh Pond Road to 69th Street. The project is being performed between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Work on Myrtle Avenue was expected to continue overnight through the week, according to Gary Giordano, district manager of Community Board 5. If they are not finished by the end of the week, they will complete the job Sunday night into Monday morning, he said.

Giordano said the community board has been “really advocating this year” to have the road repaired. “The last time Myrtle was resurfaced was at least eight years ago, and it has taken a beating,” he said. “Eight years ago it was only Wyckoff to Cooper, so resurfacing from Cooper to Woodhaven has been a real long time.”

He said problems along the stretch of busy road included pot holes and deterioration, as well as “utility cuts that were never resorted perfectly.” In addition, “a long stretch on the eastbound side from 72nd to close to 80th was fairly bumpy,” he added.

“There is a certain amount of resurfacing money available, and I think I just got fortunate based on the timing of the request,” said Giordano of Myrtle Avenue’s inclusion in the city’s projects. “Two things I really believe add to the neighborhood, at least visually, are tree plantings and roadway resurfacing. Those are things people see right away.”

The city Department of Design and Construction recently issued a community advisory notice regarding reconstruction of Maurice Avenue and 54th Avenue in Maspeth. According to Giordano, that work will include the length of 54th Avenue from Maurice Avenue to 58th Street, which is located within the confines of Community Board 2.

“That road is in really poor condition, so it’s a full capital project,” he said. “They’re going to rip up the road, put in new sewer lines, water mains and sidewalks. It is a long time coming.”

The project will also include Maurice Avenue between 54th and 56th avenue. “Maurice was added to that project in order to alleviate some of the flooding conditions in that area of Maspeth,” said Giordano. “I think they saw an opportunity to do something there and are putting in a ten foot by six foot box sewer.”

Giordano said that he hasn’t received a specific date for when the work will begin. Work on Maurice Avenue will take place at night, and 54th Avenue will be reconstructed during the day. “Both we and board two pushed for night for the same reason as on Myrtle – minimal traffic disruptions and loses for businesses,” he said.

“I’m very, very hopeful that the installation of that box sewer will help the flooding over there – there’s a lot of flooding where Maurice meets the LIE,” said Giordano.

Slowing Down the Pace: A Leisurely Look at Queens

A couple of summers ago, I was on the phone with one of my more caustic, jaded and cynical friends, and I mentioned that I had just come back from a very long walk. “A walk?” he said, incredulous. “How old are you, [age deleted so as not to offend readers who may be over that age]?”

I immediately found myself getting incredulous right back. Who doesn't like a good walk? Sure, walking might not be as awesome as jogging—or “running,” as joggers are now required by international law to call it—but there's no better way to gain a sense of place and experience than meandering around at your own pace, slowing down to look at whatever catches your fancy in greater detail. I walk all the time, and though I may not be burning off too many big cookies, at least I won't be suffering from chronic knee problems for the next 20 years or so.

With Labor Day firmly in sight, the days of great walks are growing short—this is that depressing time of year when it's 90 degrees out but you just know you'll be holed up inside before you know it, making frantic calls to the office to see if telecommuting is an option this winter. Only you know what your perfect walk is, but in the absence of clairvoyant powers, I thought I'd share some of mine. They're rather long and so not for the faint of heart, but you can cut yourself off at any time.

Yellowstone Boulevard, Queens Boulevard to 62nd Avenue

Yellowstone is very possibly Forest Hills' prettiest public street, lined with the locally famous and much-desired Presidential buildings that people are talking about when they call the neighborhood “prestigious.” Not only is the classic architecture of Yellowstone lovely, but most of the buildings have beautifully landscaped lawns that make you feel happy you've chosen this borough as your home. Midway through this walk, the neighborhood gets a little less, er, prestigious, but it's still worth continuing, as it quickly turns into a fascinating patchwork of immigrant cultures—and if you stop before you get to the Long Island Expressway and the Corona border, you might miss construction on NOVO 64, the much-talked-about luxury housing development wedged between 64th Road and 64th Avenue.

Metropolitan Avenue, Union Turnpike to 69th Street

I'm not going to lie to you—this one is a big challenge, two long miles that run largely through a sidewalk-free stretch of Saint John's Cemetery. But the cemetery is pretty in that eerie cemetery way, and even if that's a little morbid for you, it's still worth it for the great neighborhoods on either side: the southern edge of Forest Hills to the east and Middle Village to the west. This is the part of Queens that will make you forget you're in New York City: all quaint, privately owned storefront businesses, side streets full of cute narrow houses and the occasional island-in-a-parking-lot drugstore or fast-food outlet. Bonus: When you cross Cooper Avenue, right as you hit the cemetery, you're less than a block away from Archie Bunker's house. Turns out ol' Arch had a great view of the sea of tombstones from his living room. No wonder he was always in such a bad mood.

Park Lane, Union Turnpike to Myrtle Avenue

Not technically in the coverage area of this newspaper, this walk is nonetheless right next door, so what's stopping you? Kew Gardens flies under a lot of radars, but it can be a stunning neighborhood, with grand mansions on hills and a charming Old World feel. Think Forest Hills Gardens wealth, only more spread out. There's no better street to experience it than Park Lane, which, as the name suggests, runs along the edge of lush, green Forest Park. There's very little commerce in the immediate vicinity of this strip, but there are plenty of park benches, so bring some reading material and expect to find yourself darting in and out of the park whenever its call becomes too strong.

If you make it to the end, you'll be rewarded with a glimpse of a remarkable piece of public art: the Richmond Hill—yes, you're now in Richmond Hill—Doughboy, nearly unique among World War I memorials in that it shows a soldier at rest, in mourning over the loss of his comrade. It's a fitting reminder that a good walk can be moving in a lot of ways.

The writer, Steve Tiszenkel, is the host of the Website Queens Central. Log on to to read more about Forest Hills and surrounding neighborhoods.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

This Week's Forum West and South

Officials Tour Reservoir and Push to Preserve

Unlicensed Teen Driver Admits to "Popping Pills" Before Wreck

New York Mets Recognize Local Residents for Outstanding Charity

Homeless Man Found Beaten to Death Outside Sikh Temple

Cell Tower Proposed for Maspeth House Scaled Back

Police Use DNA to Link Man to 1997 Rapes

Chicago: My Kind of Town?

Making the Walk to School Safer

Officials Tour Reservoir and Push to Preserve Wilderness

City Considers Converting 20 Acres into Ballfields

By Nicole Turso

A forgotten reservoir reclaimed by the wilderness has become a natural wildlife and flora preserve where residents, community groups and elected officials gathered on Tuesday for a tour and to petition for its integrity.

The Ridgewood Reservoir, on the Queens and Brooklyn border, was decommissioned in 1990 after serving as a back-up water supply from 1858 through 1959. Once the three basins were drained, decades of neglect allowed for natural forests, fields and wetlands to form—now home to at least 127 species of birds as well as mammals, reptiles and a variety of native plants.

In 2004, Mayor Michael Bloomberg transferred the 50 acres of wilderness to the city Parks Department and a $50 million “renovation” project was put into place, which would convert more than 20 acres of land into athletic fields and recreational facilities for the neighboring communities.

However, many community activists and government officials believe the reservoir would serve better as a nature preserve for environmental study in an urban area that does not have such natural luxuries. Some argue the money would be better spent renovating existing ballfields at adjacent Highland Park.

“We have a gem here in the reservoir that many people in the community, as evidence here, want to preserve,” said community activist David Quintana.

Highland Park, located directly across from the reservoir, is equipped to provide the same recreation planned in the renovation project—with two baseball fields, several basketball and volleyball courts and picnic areas.

According to the Highland Park/Ridgewood Reservoir Alliance, the park is in desperate need of renovation and repair—an issue the alliance and activists have brought to the attention of city officials.

Congressman Edolphus Towns (D-Brooklyn), Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez (D-Brooklyn/Queens), Queens Borough Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski and representatives of Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-Queens), Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum and State Senator Serf Maltese (R-Glendale) attended the reservoir tour on Tuesday to survey the basins in their current condition.

“This park here contains an ecosystem that we must protect, we must enhance and we must preserve,“said Rep. Velazquez, “We must come together to work to make sure that we do what is right on behalf of the community and behalf of the park.”

“There are a lot of parks here that can be upgraded [that] have been for too long neglected,” she explained. “I can tell you that if the city, the state and the federal government come together, we can assure you that we will fight to get the resources that we need to have the parks that we can all be proud of.”

The group set out to tour the reservoir and was informed that in order to reach basin three, one of three basins at the reservoir, the congressional representatives would have to rappel down the side of the basin on a long, rather thin rope.

“I hope that rope is strong,” Rep. Towns joked.

A flash of apprehension crossed Rep. Velazquez’s face before her descent, but she, along with nine other members of the party made it down safely and arrived back at the top of the basin, triumphant looks on their faces.

As the group toured the rest of the basins, which were drained in the 1960’s through the 1980’s, it was given an idea as to what renovations must be completed to make the reservoir into a useable facility. Both basins one and three have become natural forests, while basin two, though drained, fills with water as a natural marsh.

Broken lampposts—shattered—with shards of what used to be lighting fixtures, poison ivy coiling around trees and original wrought iron fences, and uninviting entry ways make the reservoir unappealing to onlookers—but a secret garden of sorts for those inside.

“You just cannot buy this—the experience,” said Rep. Velazquez. Renovation ideas tossed around between the elected officials and Parks Department personnel along the walk included taller lampposts less prone to damage and vandals and the use of solar energy as a more eco-conscious way of lighting paths at night.

Three design consultants created conceptual plans for the renovation and redesign of the reservoir based on preliminary analysis for the city. A contract with Mark K. Morrison Associates Ltd. (MMA) was submitted by the Parks Department as a project to help combat raising rates of childhood obesity and focused on developing athletic fields.

However, the contract was rejected by city Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr. and returned to the Parks Department with concerns about the environmental impact, increased truck traffic and the vendor selection process. Parks is now reportedly working on a contract with a different firm, EDAW, which prides itself on balancing “aesthetic, environmental and social goals.”

Also supporting the preservation of the reservoir as a natural area are local community boards in both Brooklyn and Queens, the Queens Civic Congress and a number of community organizations.

Even with the overwhelming support to preserve the reservoir’s wilderness, Rep. Towns is still calling on the surrounding communities and their residents to continue their efforts, despite obstacles.

“It’s going to require working together, and it’s going to require a lot of talking and a lot of meetings, and of course it’s going to require some negotiating,” Towns explained, “I’m committed to working with you to make certain that we have the resources to do this, there’s no question about it.”

Towns summed up the feelings of many residents fighting for the preservation of the reservoir when he addressed the crowd. To a chorus of applause and laughter, representative Towns shared an anecdote: “I received a phone call asking me ‘Where are you? I’ll call you from the park.’ I said, ‘I live in Highland Park, I’m already there.’”

Photo: Congressman Edolphus Towns and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez discuss the future of the Ridgewood Reservoir during a recent tour.

The Forum Newsgroup/photos by NICOLE TURSO

Unlicensed Teen Driver Admits to "Popping Pills" Before Fatal Wreck


By Conor Greene

The teenager arrested after a fatal car accident last week was “drugged out of his gourd” when he made incriminating statements to investigators in the hours after the wreck, said his lawyer after visiting him in the hospital.

Seventeen-year-old Jacob Chubalashvili is currently in the Rikers Island infirmary while awaiting his next appearance in Queens Criminal Court, scheduled for August 21. He is facing second-degree manslaughter charges after allegedly running a red light and slamming into a vehicle driven by a Kew Gardens husband and wife, who were killed instantly.

After the accident last Tuesday on the Grand Central Parkway service road, Chubalashvili told prosecutors that he smoked marijuana and was “speeding and popping pills” before running the red light and slamming into an Acura driven by Ki and Hyekung Kim, who were on their way to work.

“I just took the car, I didn’t have permission to take it,” the unlicensed teen told investigators, according to District Attorney Richard Brown. “I smoked some marijuana before I took the car... I remember taking the car, it’s a Mercedes and jetting down the road and the next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital.”

Later that evening, after being informed of the criminal charges, he allegedly said, “I was speeding and popping pills. I had about 12 pain pills. I was really f---ed up.”After being told that two people were dead, Chubalashvili said, “How is the Mercedes? That was supposed to be my car,” according to Brown.

On Tuesday, Chubalashvili attorney, Leonard Ressler questioned whether his client had actually made those statements. “I’m sure he made some of them, but he couldn’t have made the ‘how’s my car’ statements because it [didn’t belong to] a family member,” he said.

Ressler said his client was “drugged out of his gourd” and “severely injured” with a broken arm and head injuries. He is still awaiting reports regarding Chubalashvili, including the results of the toxicology tests taken after the accident and information regarding Chubalashvili medical history.

“Given his age, hopefully we’re going to be able to negotiate something,” said Ressler, adding that he doesn’t expect any movement on the case by the next court hearing. “We have to get the reports; apparently he has some issues.”

At the time of the accident, Chubalashvili had been sent to stay with a friend of his father’s because he was refusing to take his medication. He is accused of taking the family friend’s Mercedes without permission before driving around an SUV stopped at a red light and speeding through the intersection at 69th Road at more than 60 miles per hour.

Contrary to statements issued by the district attorney’s office, Ressler said Chubalashvili “acted shocked” when he told him two people were dead. “We’re talking about someone who had a head injury and was on drugs,” said Ressler. “I had trouble communicating with him, so I don’t know where they’re getting the whole issue of [lack of] remorse from. As far as I’m concerned, he has been medicated since the accident.”

Chubalashvili told his attorney he blacked out and “has no recollection of anything” before “waking up in the hospital,” said Ressler. He said the next step is to review the medical reports so that “the proper assessment [can be made] between someone who is a psycho driver and someone with other conditions.”

Ressler said the stretch of road where the accident occurred is especially dangerous. “Accord- ing to the neighbor, there is an accident a day there. They said they constantly hear the squealing of breaks. The foliage is overgrown, and in this case he went around an SUV so it was double blind.”

According to court papers, Chubalashvili was arrested twice in the three months before the accident. He was charged on March 18 along with Rabiyev Merikhay and Michael Sarikov with robbing two pre-teens of a cell phone at a Rego Park playground. The three friends then forced the youngsters to take them to their apartment and get $200 for them.

Following the robbery, Merikhay warned the victims, “If you do call the police, you are going to get a worse beating than you already got,” according to the criminal complaint. “Russians don’t cry, Russians get even,” added Sarkiov.

“The repercussions won’t end.” On July 16, Chubalashvili was arrested at the Roosevelt Avenue subway station after “doubling up through a turnstile with another person” instead of paying the fare.

While Ressler will likely seek a plea agreement with prosecutors in the manslaughter case, District Attorney Brown vowed in the days after the fatal accident that the case will be “vigorously prosecuted and should serve as a warning to those who would flout our traffic regulations and put others in danger.”

The district attorney’s office declined to comment on the chances the case will not go to trial.

NY Mets Recognize Local Residents for Outstanding Charity


By Patricia Adams

On Monday August 11th The New York Mets held their Spirit Awards presentations and this year honored two men for their outstanding efforts and selfless dedication.

Retired FDNY FF Bobby McGuire of Howard Beach and Gene McCauley of Woodhaven were both recognized for their continuous charitable work on behalf of The New York Firefighters Burn Center Foundation. Kenny Schmidt, formerly of Ozone Park, was awarded for his work on behalf of St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital.

A little more than 15 years ago, Gene McCauley, of Woodhaven Galleries, suggested that a charitable golf tournament be started in order to raise money for the Firefighters Burn Center. Bobby McGuire, boxing manager and coach of the FDNY boxing team took the ball and ran with it to start up the tournament.

“We started out 15 years ago and it’s been amazing ever since,” McGuire said. “About 12 years ago we decided to change the name of the tournament to the John Ciorciari Golf Tournament.” McGuire explained that the tournament was renamed and dedicated to the memory of Firefighter John Ciorciari who was shot and killed while off-duty at a Howard Beach eatery in 1996 over the Fourth of July weekend.

“This year was the 12th annual one for John,” said McGuire who was a close friend and brother firefighter to Ciorciari. “What’s unbelievable is that this event is held on the first Monday after Father’s Day each year and has been sold out every year since it started.”

The event is always held at Forest Park and is comprised of 36 foursomes each year. “Out of 144 golfers every year, we have a return rate of about 120 of the same golfers every year. That’s pretty unbelievable.” Among the golfers who have come back to play in the event every year is John Ciorciari Sr, also a retired firefighter.

Since the tournament began, it has raised more than $200,000 in donations which have been presented yearly to the Burn Center at New York Cornell. “Their care is outstanding and probably the best burn care in the world,” said Bobby McGuire. “They treat civilians and firefighters alike, and we are really glad to have the opportunity to help them out.”

The NY Firefighters Burn Center Foundation is a non-profit organization of firefighters founded in 1975 and is dedicated to the advancement of burn care, research, prevention and education. The goal of The New York Firefighters Burn Center Foundation is to make quality burn care available to all who are seriously burned regardless of age, race, creed or economic status.

It proudly supports The Burn Center at NY Presbyterian Hospital. The Center admits more than 1,000 patients annually and is the busiest in the nation. It is headed up by Dr. Roger Yurt who was responsible for the care of 9/11 survivors at the unit and who describes the work at the hospital in this way, “If you can learn to take care of a patient who has been badly burned," he notes, "you'll be able to treat any kind of severe acute illness.”

When asked how much longer he expects the event to go on, Bobby McGuire looked up and laughed. “When we first started, it was for one year. Then we decided to go for $50,000. After that the new benchmark became $100,000. Now that we’re at a milestone of $200,000, I guess we’ll just keep going until we get to half-a-million.”

The Forum Newsgroup/photo courtesy of TOM CROCCKER

Homeless Man Found Beaten to Death Outside Sikh Temple

By Conor Greene

Police have yet to announce any arrests in connection with the murder of a homeless man found dead last week outside a Sikh temple in Richmond Hill.

Worshippers at the Sikh Cultural Society on 118th Street were shocked last Thursday when they discovered the body of a homeless man who was beaten to death. A broomstick, presumed to be the murder weapon was found near the man’s body and police removed a slab of concrete that contained a bloody footprint (below).

Witnesses described the man’s face as being so badly beaten that his features were distorted. He was repeatedly hit on the face, neck, back and shoulders, according to sources. Several members of the temple reported seeing a group of neighborhood teenagers harassing the man in the days before his death, but police have not said whether they have any suspects.

The man was a non-practicing Sikh who had reportedly fallen onto hard times after he began drinking heavily. He often slept near the temple because its members sometimes feed local homeless people. “I feel very, very bad because he comes from our community, Bhupinder Singh, the lead president of the Cultural Society, told the Daily News. “Anybody who dies, anybody in the world, we feel badly.”

The Forum Newsgroup/photos by ROBERT STRIDIRON

Cell Tower Proposed for Maspeth House Scaled Back

Panels Now Planned Instead of Tower

By Conor Greene

A proposal to place a 25-foot cellular tower on top of a 72nd Place house has been replaced by a plan calling for several smaller panels, according to the building owner.

A hearing before the city Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) scheduled for Tuesday has been canceled as Omnipoint Communications and Joseph Wroblewski work out a revised contract for the smaller project. “It’s not happening – there is no cell tower,” said Wroblewski, who owns the house at 53-20 72nd Place, next door to Frank’s Deli.

The plan originally called for a 25-foot tower placed on top of a one-story high platform on top of the roof. The 36-inch wide pole would be disguised as a flagpole with an American flag at the top, capped by a gold ball. The entire structure would have risen 56-feet above street level, which many residents felt would not fit into the neighborhood.

Immediately after Wroblewski entered into the contract last year, which would have paid him an undisclosed rental fee each month, residents and local officials began fighting the proposal. The first BSA hearing in January was attended by local elected officials including Assemblywoman Marge Markey (D-Maspeth), along with members of the Juniper Park Civic Association and other groups.

The proposal was voted down by Community Board 5 and has been opposed by Borough President Helen Marshall. Several Maspeth residents also submitted a petition with more than 1,300 signatures from neighborhoods against allowing a cell tower in a residential area.

“We’re really devastated over this,” said resident Hope Stancati told the Forum West in November as the fight was heating up. “We never thought we would have something like that on a two-story house.”

Since the initial hearing in January, several scheduled BSA hearings have been postponed at the request of Omnipoint. This week, it was announced that this month’s hearing was also delayed and that a new plan was in the works. However, unlike the first plan calling for a tower, the new proposal likely won’t need approval from the BSA since a variance isn’t required.

On Tuesday, Wroblewski said that Omnipoint has agreed to replace the 25-foot tower with three panels after realizing how much opposition there is to the plan. Two of the panels would be two feet by one foot, and the third would be six feet by one foot, according to Wroblewski. “I understand that the neighbors very much want nothing, but I don’t think that’s happening,” he said. “I’m not allowed to back out [or] they [Omnipoint]would go ahead with the cell tower... What they propose now is very simple, very easy.

To me, this was huge [to go] from a massive structure down to basically nothing.” One of the big concerns for neighbors was potential for longterm health effects due to the tower. According to Wroblewski, Omnipoint told him there would be “zero health issues” and has offered to meet with neighbors to “prove that your average household items are doing more harm” than the panels would.

Councilman Anthony Como (R-Middle Village) met last week with several Maspeth residents who are fighting the proposal and remains committed to assisting them, according to his spokesman, James McClelland.

“We’re behind the residents,” said McClelland on Tuesday. “Just because they would be smaller antennas doesn’t mean it changes the resident’s concerns. We’re going to work with the DOB [city Department of Buildings] to find out all the information and assist the residents in their fight.”

As of press time, McClelland was trying to find out from the DOB what type of approvals or variances, if any, the new proposal would need.

On Tuesday, Markey suggested that they company is delaying the project due to the community backlash. She noted that it is the fourth time the hearing has been delayed and said that Omnipoint stated that this is the final three-month adjournment they will seek.

“I think this new postponement means that Omnipoint is getting the message about our vigorous opposition to their proposal,” she said in a statement. “I will continue to stand with property owners, community leaders and residents... to speak out in the strongest terms against a plan that is totally inappropriate for a residential area. Markey added that Omnipoint “is seeking to redesign alternatives that might be more acceptable to the community and we are waiting to hear the details.”

Police Use DNA to Link Man to 1997 Rapes

By Conor Greene

A Queens man was charged with two rapes that occurred in 1997 after his DNA was recently matched to evidence collected at the time, authorities announced.

Peter Grebinger, 41, of 87th Street in Richmond Hill, has been charged with two counts of first-degree rape and one count of first-degree sodomy, according to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. He was arraigned last Thursday in Queens Criminal Court and is being held without bail until his next court appearance on September 2.

Grebinger was linked to the two rapes after police searched his house at 85-87 87th Street in April on an unrelated investigation. The search turned up two loaded semi-automatic guns – a 9mm and a .25 caliber pistol – along with cocaine and marijuana. The guns were tested for DNA, and investigators were able to recover a profile from one, according to Brown.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner linked the DNA found on the gun to two cold rape cases from 1997. A DNA sample was then taken from Grebinger and matched to the profile found on the gun, leading to the charges, said Brown. “This case underscores yet again the crucial importance of DNA evidence which is irrefutable proof of guilt or innocence,” the district attorney said in a statement. “After nearly ten years of avoiding arrest in the two cases, the defendant ultimately was done in by his own genes.”

According to the charges, a 33-year-old woman was walking to the subway on her way to work at 7:30 a.m. on January 3, 1997 when Grebinger approached her near 87-18 101st Avenue and told her that he had a gun and not to scream. He allegedly demanded money from her and then forced her into a nearby building where he raped and sodomized her before again demanding money. After she handed over the cash, he told her to count to one hundred and fled.

In the second case, a 22-year-old woman was on her way to work at 6:20 a.m. on December 28, 1997 when she flagged down Grebinger, who was driving a dollar cab, near 179th Street and Jamaica Avenue. Grebinger allegedly told her that the back rear seat was full and that she should sit up front. Once the woman was inside the car, he allegedly locked the doors and told the woman to keep quiet and do what he said.

According to Brown, a struggle then ensued, during which Grebinger slammed her head into the dashboard and told her to get on the floor. After driving a short distance, he parked the car and took the woman’s jewelry before ordering her into the backseat, where he raped her. He then drove from the scene before ordering the woman out of the car.

In each case, the victim was taken to a localhospital where a sexual assault kit was prepared. However, the cases went cold for more than a decade until Grebinger was arrested on the unrelated weapons and drug charges, said Brown.

After police searched the house, Grebinger and his father, also named Peter Grebinger, were charged with third-and-fourth degree criminal possession of a controlled substance and second-and-third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, according to Brown. Bail was set at $15,000 in that case for Grebinger and $5,000 for his 62-year-old father. Both are due back in court on September 8 to face those charges.

According to Brown, this case highlights the need to collect a DNA sample from “everyone convicted of a felony or misdemeanor” to help solve other cold cases. “The cost of omitting many crimes from the DNA databank - as is the case under the existing law – is that those who commit brutal acts of violence may escape identification and remain free to leave more victims in their wake,” he said.