Thursday, September 23, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Editorial: Forget The Text—Get This Message

On Sunday night around 11:30 19-year-old Nechama Rothberger was in her car, using her cell phone to send a text message while she was driving.

On Sunday night around 11:30 53-year-old Tian Sheng Lin, father of 3, sat on his scooter stopped at a red light. He was making a delivery for his family’s Chinese restaurant.

In the seconds before their paths crossed, neither of them had any reason to think anything could go wrong.

And then the woman behind the wheel struck the man on the scooter, sending him flying off the bike and through the air.

Her text message was still unsent and he suffered severe trauma to the head. She was arrested and charged with misdemeanor reckless driving and using a mobile phone while driving.

He was taken to the hospital and declared brain dead.

Her lawyer said his client "didn't hit him intentionally. It was merely an accident."

His daughter said, "My dad did everything for his family. He always took care of us."

A major nationwide effort has been launched to stop distracted driving, with April having been designated as Na- tional Distracted Drivers Awareness month. This accident is but one of a long list of crashes that was caused by text messaging behind the wheel. A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute has identified texting drivers as being 23 times more likely to crash or have near-misses as non-texters.

Yet another study, conducted by Car and Driver Magazine, provides a set of results describable as nothing less than frightening. Editors at the magazine had a car rigged with a red-light device that would alert drivers when to brake. Then they a driver, on a deserted air strip to see how long it would take them to brake under varying circumstances. The study determined that an unimpaired driver took approximately one-half of a second to brake, a legally drunk driver stopped the car four feet later than the unimpaired driver, while a driver who was reading a text stopped 36 feet later and another who was texting while driving came to a stop 70 feet further than an unimpaired, non-distracted

If you are one of those people who think this type of thing would never happen to you because you are a “careful” texter, I urge you to consider this.

About two weeks ago, driving down Crossbay Boulevard in Howard Beach, my Blackberry text alert went off and I immediately reached for the phone. Staring down at the message and totally distracted by the text, I suddenly remembered I was behind the wheel of the car. Looking back up at the road, I saw, less than 10 feet away, an elderly couple crossing the street at 158th Avenue. The overhead light was red and there was just about enough time to stop the car before plowing into them.

The elderly couple never even knew they were in danger of being mowed down by some reckless idiot on the phone.

I think how lucky we all were that day and will never pick up a cell phone while driving again. I urge you to make the same commitment. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t text and drive. Don’t e-mail and drive. Don’t talk and drive. Just drive.

Ulrich Backs Turner in Challenge to Weiner

By Eric Yun

With the primaries over, political candidates are getting prepared for their November battles. Bob Turner, the Republican challenger to incumbent Democrat Anthony Weiner for the U.S. House of Representatives 9th Dis- trict, which includes parts of Brooklyn and Queens, visited Howard Beach and was en- dorsed by Council Member Eric Ulrich (R- Ozone Park).

Standing outside of Tuscany Deli at Lindenwood Shopping Center on 153rd Avenue, Ulrich gave his full support towards Turner’s campaign. “Washington has really gone astray,” Ulrich said, “And the only way to change that is to send people like Bob Turner to Congress.”

“With the help and support of the people who put me in the 32nd Council District, we can send Bob to Congress,” Ulrich continued.

Turner thanked Ulrich for his support, and he stressed that he’s a businessman—not a politician. “There are so many things wrong with the direction this country is taking,” Turner said. He promised to use his business sense to eliminate waste and spending, and to “get us back on track.”

Graffiti Removal Program Comes to Liberty Ave

By Eric Yun

The owner of Empire Kitchen on 109th Street and Liberty Avenue watched in amazement as graffiti marking the side of her building was expertly painted. “It’s so good,” she said.

Thanks to the efforts of Council Member Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), other storeowners along Liberty Avenue from 75th Street to Lefferts Boulevard can experience the same joy in the coming months.

Last year, Ulrich provided $25,000 of discretionary funds to the Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation specifically to clean graffiti along 101st Avenue, Woodhaven Boulevard and Rockaway Boulevard. The program also allows residents to report graffiti at any location within the district, to be cleaned within two weeks.

The program was an amazing success, resulting in the cleaning of more than 150 locations. Maria Thomson of the Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation applauded Ulrich’s initiative, and has been extremely pleased with how the program worked last year.

Margaret Finnerty from the Richmond Hill South Civic Association joked that when she first heard about the program she pestered Ulrich to include Liberty Avenue. Ulrich heard her call, and he acquired $35,000 this year to expand the program to Liberty Avenue between 75th Street and Lefferts Boulevard. Also new this year, graffiti on the second floor of buildings will be removed.

“[Graffiti is] a constant battle, and we have to work together to win it,” Finnerty said. “The merchants and residents along Liberty Avenue truly appreciate what the Council Member is doing for the area.”

Ulrich was tired of seeing his district covered with eyesores. “We are well on our way towards eliminating graffiti vandalism in our community,” he said. Seeing clean streets help residents and business owners feel safer, Ulrich said.

That sentiment was echoed by Thomson. “It’s such a psychological lift,” she said. “The program is worth every penny, and more.”

The graffiti removal is handled by CitySolve, which has similar municipal contracts throughout New York City. After an initial cleanup of the designated streets, CitySolve then returns each month to remove any new graffiti along those routes, and to respond to individual complaints at other properties.

Bruce Pienkny, president of CitySolve, believes constant maintenance is key. “It’s the monthly maintenance that ultimately keeps the problem under control. We clean it up, and then maintain, maintain, maintain,” he said.

CitySolve proactively cleans commercial areas along 101st Avenue, Woodhaven Boulevard, Rockaway Boulevard and now Liberty Avenue. There is no need for storeowners to file a complaint. Residents can report other incidents of graffiti to Ulrich’s office at 718-738-1429. These are forwarded to CitySolve, and Pienkny promises the graffiti will be erased within a week.

This rapid response is the difference between Ulrich’s program and calling 311, where complaints can take up to six months to process, Ulrich said.

Storms Rock Brooklyn and Queens

By Eric Yun

Parts of Queens and Brooklyn were rocked by two tornados and a macroburst Thursday evening. The swift storm tore down trees and power lines, leaving thousands without power. Locally, Middle Village and Forest Hills were among the hardest hit areas.

The National Weather Service reported a tornado with estimated wind speeds of 80 miles per hour hit Park Slope, Brooklyn at 5:33 PM. The storm travelled northeast for two miles before lifting. Another tornado with estimated wind speeds of 100 miles per hour occurred two and a half miles south of Flushing and lifted one mile northeast of Bayside at 5:42 PM.

Furthermore, a macroburst with winds up to 125 miles per hour was reported from Middle Village to Forest Hills. A macroburst is a convective downdraft of at least two and a half miles wide and peak winds lasting between 5 and 20 minutes. It can produce strong straight-line winds— differentiating it from a tornado and hurricane’s rotational pattern.

The devastating storms claimed the life of Iline Levaskis of Pennsylvania. She and her husband Bill had pulled over on the Grand Central Parkway when a tree fell and crushed the car. Bill Levaskis escaped with minor injuries.

As residents attempted to deal with the mess and devastation the storm created, NYPD, FDNY and other city agencies did whatever they could to clear the roads and help the injured.

In Forest Hills, the Forest Hills Volun- teer Ambulance Corp was activated to provide mutual aid to FDNY. They helped rescue a man pinned under a tree and a 40-year-old woman in labor was transported to Flushing Hospital.

“The Forest Hills Volunteer Ambulance Corps is proud to have been able to provide our resources and service to the FDNY and our community during that time of need,” said Ron Cohen, safety officer and official spokesman of the FHVAC.

A week after the storm, the majority of streets and utilities has been restored, but there are still pockets of areas where trouble persists.

Howard Beach Woman Lucky to Survive Storm

By Patricia Adams

For most Howard Beach residents, Thursday’s storm was something to talk about. They watched the news in amazement as a tornado touched down in several neighboring communities and were thankful it didn’t stop in their neck of the woods.

But for one Howard Beach woman, there was no need for talking, TV news reports, Facebook, Twitter or You Tube storm videos--she was in the eye of the storm and lived to talk about it.

“I thought to myself, this is how I am going to die, I’m never going to see my family again,” said Christine Modafferi, recalling what ran through her mind when she was forced to pull over on the Grand Central Parkway late Thursday afternoon.

After starting her daily commute from work at TD Bank on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, she became frustrated by a traffic buildup and changed her normal route home. “I always take the 59th Street Bridge but I decided to try the Grand Central Parkway instead.”

Modafferi said the rain was fairly light but grew much heavier as she got closer to the Queens Boulevard exit. Before the split at the Van Wyck Expressway and the Jackie Robinson Parkway, the sky grew totally black and there was no visibility. “I could barely see the lights of the car ahead of me, but he pulled over and I pulled in behind him.”

Describing fierce wind and deafening noise she remembered debris flying around and bouncing off the car. “There was hail--I couldn’t see it but I knew what it was—it sounded like it was the size of a watermelon,” recalled Modafferi. “I just waited for the car to blow away.”
There was so much noise she said she still doesn’t know how she heard the crack of the massive tree standing on the side of the parkway. “I heard this sound and from the corner of my eye, I saw it coming. I ducked and crouched down into the wheel.”

When the tree crashed through the double moon roof of her brand new Cadillac, Christine Modafferi chipped three teeth as she bit down in a panic trying to avoid being crushed.
“The next thing I knew, there was a man screaming outside my car. I realized I didn’t die.” But the relief of being alive was cut short with the realization she was trapped in the car. Unable to open her doors she screamed back to the man outside the car. “You can’t leave me. You’ve got to get me out of here.” Her hands and head were bleeding and she was covered in glass.

A few minutes later, Modafferi was helped out through the back of the vehicle. “I stepped away from the car and got a sick sense of what could have happened.” Some feet away another car had pulled over behind her.

“I was sick to know there was a young woman trapped in the car behind me.” Modafferi explained that police at the scene kept coming over to her to remind her how lucky she was to be alive. “They [police] kept telling me that the woman in the car was turning blue—they couldn’t get to her.”

She climbed into a car that had pulled over to help. “This couple pulled over and they helped me call my husband. My hands were shaking so badly I couldn’t even use the phone.” Meanwhile, Christine’s husband Bob, a retired firefighter, was making his way from Howard Beach to the accident scene.

One of the most horrible parts of her ordeal was watching the husband of the woman who was still trapped as he paced along the parkway, crying and unable to help his wife. “I couldn’t even see her car. The car was completely covered in trees. Civilians kept trying to get her out.”

And so, while nearby Middle Village and Forest Hills residents continue to try and get back to normal, Christine Modafferi is spending a lot of time offering thanks. “I feel more than lucky. I am thankful to God for saving my life.”

Beyond that she says one thing is for sure—“I will never, ever, ever sweat the little things. I am just so grateful to be alive.”

104th Staffing Levels Questioned in Aftermath of Storm

By Eric Yun

A storm with winds reaching 125 miles per hour blasted through Middle Village, leaving the area with a sea of downed trees and debris strewn around the streets. As residents attempted to deal with the aftermath of the storm, there were complaints that the 104th Precinct did not have enough officers necessary to handle the prob- lems in the neighborhood.

According to a report from the Juniper Park Civic Association (JPCA), 18 police officers were sent home at 6:15 PM after the storm. Robert Holden, president of the JPCA, noted that on a normal day the 104th Precinct is busy and understaffed. On Thursday night, sending home the 18 officers left Middle Village and the 104th Precinct without the necessary manpower to handle the hundreds of calls from frantic residents.

With streets blocked by downed trees, a traffic nightmare ensued on Queens and Woodhaven boulevards as drivers attempted to go home. With little to no help from police to direct traffic, drivers were forced to fend for themselves as they navigated through the neigh- borhood, encountering downed trees and wires at many turns.

Reinforcements arrived six hours later at midnight, but according to one source, “the officers [from Brooklyn] sat in the precinct for about an hour then were left to make their way through confusing and unfamiliar local streets that challenge even veteran officers of the precinct.” The officers were later reassigned to the 112th Precinct, which once again, left Middle Village without sufficient police presence.

Holden criticized the NYPD response after the storm. “We understand that other areas were hit by the storm, but there should be someone in the NYPD that could evaluate the situation and imme- diately deploy the necessary officers to the hardest hit areas,” he said.

A spokesperson for the NYPD said there was no wrongdoing in how the 104th Precinct handled the night. Personnel were held from dayshifts, and most officers worked double and sometimes even triple shifts. Traffic units were deployed, and the precinct worked with other city agencies to inform them of the various complaints. The precinct had to make some tough choices on which jobs were prioritized. This left only one car to handle what the precinct felt was minor incidents.
As of press time, the NYPD did not confirm or give a reason for 18 officers leaving the 104th Precinct Thursday night.

Storm Cleanup Addressed at Town Hall in Forest Hills

By Eric Yun

Residents with damaged houses and cars from Thursday night’s storm ex- pecting federal or state aid may be disappointed.

“There’s no substitute for insurance,” Lynn Canton, Regional Director of FEMA Region 2, told residents on Tuesday night.

However, if Queens is designated as a disaster area, there may be some funds provided to residents. While most of the funds would be used to rehabilitate public areas such as MacDonald Park in Forest Hills—where the majority of trees were destroyed in the storm—FEMA funds could help cover some costs to uninsured homeowners or costs insurance companies will not cover.

These concerns, and more, were addressed at a town hall meeting held by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Brooklyn and Queens) in Forest Hills.

There are a number of complicated requirements to gain federal assistance. Most importantly, approximately $25 million in damages needs to be documented.

This is why Weiner urged residents to continue calling 311 and taking pictures to document all the damage. Teams from the Office of Emergency Management were due to survey the area this past Wednesday to see if Queens will qualify.

The biggest concern in the community, however, was the ongoing cleanup efforts. Bob Holden from the Juniper Park Civic Association asked when hanging limbs were going to be removed. With the streets cleared, the limbs still present a clear danger of falling.

Adrian Benepe, New York City Park’s Commissioner, said the department is going to begin clearing dangerous limbs. The first priority was to clear major roadways so the trucks had the space to move closer.

There were also many complaints about utilities being restored. While Time Warner Cable, Verizon and Con Edison have made significant progress restoring services, there are still many homes left without telephones or cable service.

Weiner stressed that the city was doing a good job, but he sympathized with residents who felt the city was not moving fast enough.

Crowley, Addabbo Answer Critics over Storm Response

By Eric Yun

After Thursday night’s storm in Middle Village, some residents feel abandoned by their politicians. The home- owners of 84th Street in Middle Village signed a petition giving Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and State Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) a vote of “No Confidence.”

The petition states, “We were there for you on Election Day. Where were you when we got hit?”

Dave Shapiro, who lives on 84th Street, believes his area was left in the dark by the politicians the neighborhood elected. “The night of the storm Councilwoman Crowley never bothered to show up. Senator Addabbo never bothered to show up,” Shapiro said.

Meanwhile, Shapiro said photographers flocked to the street to take photos of what he called “the hardest hit area in Queens.” The devastation was so great that 84th Street made the cover of the New York Daily News on September 17. Meanwhile, “Our elected officials never knocked on our doors to see if we were ok,” Shapiro said.

The biggest complaint from the homeowners of 84th Street was a lack of communication. “I don’t know what we’re supposed to be doing,” Shapiro said. “We don’t know what recourse to take.” He wondered why a circular was never distributed to assist residents with insurance claims and other issues.

In response, Crowley sent a letter to the 84th Street petitioners detailing the work she has done for the com- munity. “Shortly after the storm passed on Thursday evening, I walked from the 69th Street area of Middle Village east to Woodhaven Boulevard, assisting with the coordination of the City’s emergency response,” she wrote.

The accusation that Crowley did not visit 84th Street is not true, according to Crowley. “I was on 84th Street on September 16th, the night of the storm, and revisited the block on the 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st,” Crowley wrote.

Crowley applauded the help of residents, private cotractors and city agencies to clear most of the major roads by Friday evening. “Moving forward, I am focusing on the efforts by the Parks Department to quickly and thoroughly address trees with limbs caught in braches, trees that were severely damaged by the storm and destroyed sidewalks,” Crowley continued.

Addabbo said that he was doing everything in his power to help the residents of Middle Village. “I don’t run away from a situation,” he said. The Middle Village office was open late so people could charge cell phones, make an important call or use the bathroom. He also drove around Middle Village the night of the storm to help residents.

“Just because they don’t see me doesn’t mean I’m not working for them,” Addabbo said. He reiterated this point in a letter sent to the homeowners on 84th Street. In the letter, Addabbo sympathizes with residents who were disappointed they did not see the senator in person, but outlined the numerous ways he attempted to help the community.

According to the letter, Addabbo was in communication with NYC Parks Department, Con Edison, and other agencies to direct them to areas of need. “I am not about the photo op,” Addabbo wrote, “but working to get results for my residents.” He urged concerned constituents to call his office at any time if there were issues that needed to be resolved.