Thursday, September 25, 2008

Dangers of Drunken Driving Discussed at Precinct Meeting

Crime Stats Reported, Scam Alert Announced

By Conor Greene

The monthly meeting of the 112th Precinct Community Council was headlined by a discussion reinforcing the dangers of drinking and driving, which is one of the most prevalent crimes in the area.

The meeting included a report by the precinct’s commanding officer on crime in the area, which continues to fall dramatically compared with last year. Residents were also warned about several current scams and crime patterns.

The session inside the Austin Street stationhouse last Wednesday featured Officer Stuart Moskowitz, who was honored by the community council for years of dedication to the community. “When he knocks on your [car] door – if you’ve been out drinking and driving, you are getting arrested,” said Captain Christopher Tamola.

Officer Moskowitz reminded residents that the community recently had a stark reminder of the dangers of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, when a teenage driver allegedly smoked marijuana before causing a fatal wreck on the Grand Central Parkway service road that killed a married couple.

During his nearly nine years at the precinct, Officer Moskowitz has made about 200 arrests for drunken driving, he said. “A lot of people get killed each year – it’s a very serious crime,” he said. “People have three or four drinks and think they’re okay, but they’re not.”

On August 5, 17-year-old Jacob Chubalashvili drove a Mercedes-Benz through a red light and into an Acura carrying Ki Kim, 55, and his wife, Hyekyung Kim, 53, who were headed to work from their Kew Gardens home. “I couldn’t even tell what kind of car it was – it was split in half,” said Officer Moskowitz of the couple’s destroyed vehicle. “It was one of the worst pictures I’ve seen in my entire career.”

The officer explained that somebody suspected of driving drunk will be asked to blow into a breathalyzer during the motor vehicle stop. It is considered a field test that is not admissible in court, he said. If the driver refuses, they are handcuffed and brought to the precinct, where highway officers take an official measurement of the blood-alcohol content. Between .06 and .08 percents is considered impaired, while anything above is classified as intoxicated.

“I don’t want to see anybody’s family members killed by a person who is drinking and driving,” said Officer Moskowitz. He noted that even if you are rear-ended while sitting at a red light, you will be arrested if you have been drinking. “You can be driving like an ace, and then get rear-ended – if I smell alcohol, you’re going to jail.”

Captain Tamola noted that the precinct is “tops for DWI arrests” citywide, despite being on the smaller side in terms of manpower, with about 110 officers. “Officer Moskowitz saves lives every day,” he said. “When he makes one arrest, we don’t know how many lives that saves.”

Local Crime Report

The precinct, which covers Forest Hills and Rego Park, “continues a banner year in crime reduction,” announced Captain Tamola. The 15% reduction from last year is the second best improvement citywide, he said, adding that statistically, the 112th is the safest precinct.

He noted that there were two recent fatal accidents involving vehicles, with an arrest made in one. The first involved the teenage driver along the Grand Central Parkway service road. In the second, an elderly woman was killed while crossing Queens Boulevard, the first pedestrian fatality along the Forest Hills stretch of the road in more than a year. The victim was apparently trying to cross the boulevard between two intersections, and the driver was not charged in the accident.

“It’s like trying to cross a highway when you go against the light,” said Captain Tamola. “Basically, she walked out in the middle of traffic.” He said that after years of multiple pedestrian deaths along the “Boulevard of Death,” there were zero fatalities last year and one in 2006.

Overall, traffic accidents and injuries throughout the precinct are down, said Tamola. “This is significant,” he said, explaining that the 112th Precinct is known within the NYPD as being the worst for motor vehicle incidents. “I’m sure it doesn’t seem that way, but overall accidents are down.”

He said the precinct will continue to crack down on offenses including drivers not wearing seatbelts and talking on cell phones, especially along corridors such as Queens Boulevard, Woodhaven Boulevard, Austin Street, Yellowstone Boulevard and Union Turnpike.

Vehicle Broken Into

The area suffered through a “spike” in reports of vehicles broken into over the summer.

Captain Tamola urged residents to make sure valuables including wallets, sunglasses, GPS systems and laptops are not left in parked cars. He also warned against leaving shopping bags in plain sight, even if they don’t contain valuables.

“They look for the easiest mark they can find,” he said. “They’re going to move on to the next one [if no valuables are visible].”

Verizon Fraud Alert

Residents were advised that the detective’s bureau has issued a grand larceny alert. A scam involving a person calling residents and claiming to be from Verizon has snared at least two victims in the Forest Hills area, he reported. The person asked for the resident’s social security number and credit card information, including the three-digit security code.

“I don’t remember the phone company ever calling for my social security number,” said the captain. “Do not give out your [information], especially not your security code. Protect your identity.” He said a huge percentage of crime in the area includes grand larceny, much of which comes through identity theft.

Suitcase Drive for Foster Children

A representative from the Lions Club’s Hollis chapter informed residents of the group’s suitcase drive. The club collects used suitcases, which are donated to foster children so they don’t have to carry their belongings from house to house in a garbage bag.

“Their life is already in turmoil, being re- moved from a home where they should be loved,” she said. “This puts dignity back in their lives, so they are not traveling with a garbage bag. It gives them a real start to bringing back their quality of life.”

The club also gathers donated toiletries and places them in the suitcase for the children to help with the transition to foster care. For details, contact Adina Callender at (718) 481-9518 or

Missing Torahs Returned

Heidi Chain Harrison, president of the 112th Precinct Community Council, reported that an annual meeting at One Police Plaza last week included the return of eight stolen
Torahs to a local temple in time for the holidays.

The Torahs were stolen from the Kew Gardens Hills Jewish Center in August, and recovered several weeks later after a live-in custodian was charged. At the time, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown promised to try to return the Torahs, which are needed as evidence, as soon as possible.

“It just was something the likes of which I’ve never seen before,” said Harrison. “It was an unbelievable demonstration of how the police department in New York protects and works with everybody.”

Post Office Fraud

Lydon Sleeper of Rep. Anthony Weiner’s office reported on legislation the congressman has introduced to reduce identity theft.

There have been several incidents of residents whose personal information was stolen after, unbeknownst to them, somebody filed a change of address form in their name with the Postal Service. As a result, their mail was rerouted to a new address, giving the criminal access to their personal information.

Legislation introduced by Weiner would force the post office to ask for photo identification whenever somebody submits a change of request form.

Photos: Captain Christopher Tamola discusses recent crime trends at last week's 112th Precinct Community Council meeting.

Heidi Chain Harrison thanks Officer Stuart Moskowitz for his dedication to the community.

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