Thursday, December 2, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Auto Vandalism on the Rise: Multiple Tire Slashing in Lindenwood

These four vehicles were vandalized while parked at the Lindenwood Gardens Co-op’s parking lot.
By Patricia Adams

Problems with auto vandalism continue to plague Lindenwood residents, with three more incidents of slashed tires on Tuesday morning.

One resident from the Lindenwood Gardens Cooperative at 155-31 79th Street called 911 on Tuesday morning to report that their front right tire had been slashed. When police from the 106th Precinct arrived to take the complaint, they found that three other cars parked in the small lot also had their tires slashed.
According to police, the resident who reported the original incident stated that they had no idea of who might have slashed the tires.

An upcoming meeting of the newly formed Lindenwood Alliance will address such issues according to the group’s co-founder, Christina Gold. “This is exactly the type of situation we hope to deter by forming the alliance,” Gold says. “We hope not only to get increased police presence in Lindenwood but we are also investigating the possibility of beefing up a neighborhood watch program.”

The first meeting of the Lindenwood Alliance will be held on December 13, at 7:30 p.m. at the Rockwood Park Jewish Center. Anyone interested in membership is urged to attend the meeting.

Women in Coma After Freak Accident

Police investigate the scene after a women is struck by a couch (circled in photo) that fell off the back of a truck that was hit by another vehicle.
Tragedy struck in Lindenwood last week as Howard Beach resident Donna Como and her sister Nancy were on their way to Waldbaum’s around 2:15 on Wednesday afternoon to finish food shopping for Thanksgiving.

According to police an SUV struck an open delivery truck that was loaded with furniture at the intersection on 81st Street between 151st and 153rd avenues. Witnesses at the scene say a black love seat became dislodged during the collision and went sailing through the air with a section of the truck’s tailgate and hit 44-year-old Como in the head.

She was rushed to Jamaica Hospital and according to hospital spokesperson Dr. Andrew Rubin is in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU) and remains in critical condition.

Como has been a teacher’s assistant at the HeartShare School in Lindenwood for the last eight years. Carol Verdi, Vice-President of Educational Services says the staff is devastated by the freak accident.

“This is very tragic. We are all part of the HeartShare family and so upset by this accident,” said Verdi. “Our prayers are with Donna and her family and we are hoping to hear good news about her recovery.”

Speed Blamed in Fatal Crash

By Eric Yun

A week after civic leaders and politicians warned against the dangers of drag racing at a press conference Western Queens, two fatal crashes where racing is suspected illustrated how deadly reckless driving and racing can be.

On Monday morning, a car speeding on North Conduit Avenue in Ozone Park crashed just before Sutter Avenue killing the driver. Later that night, a suspected drunken drag racer struck and killed a man after swerving into oncoming traffic in Brooklyn.

The first incident occurred when Geraud Gray, 24, of Brooklyn lost control of his Nissan Maxima and crashed into a utility pole, police said. Gray was pronounced dead at the scene, while his passenger, an 18-year-old male, survived the crash and is in stable condition. The pole shattered into multiple pieces, leaving wires dangling on the street, and the car was flipped and split in two.

Residents have complained that North Conduit Avenue has long been a hot spot for drag races and excessive speeding, especially the stretch from Cohancy Street to Sutter Avenue.

“People want to drive like maniacs. They speed race here every day. And every year, someone gets killed,” said Latoya Medford to the New York Post.

For years, civic leaders have been working with police to reduce speeding on North Conduit Avenue. “You can build up so much speed from Cohancy and there are people getting off the Belt Parkway at high speeds and merging onto North Conduit,” said Frank Dardani, President of the 106th Precinct Community Council.

Dardani explained that for several years there was a radar gun display showing driver’s speeds, which helped prevent some of the excessive speeds, however, when the batteries ran out, the city Department of Transportation never replaced it. He also said he has worked with the police to see if traffic lights could be installed along the stretch.

Witnesses at the scene said that Gray was racing with at least two other cars, which sped away as the crash occurred. The cars were travelling in excess of 75 miles per hour, one eyewitness said.

“The cars were flying down the street. It’s terrible what happened,” one witness at the scene told the Forum.

According to police sources, the accident is still being investigated, and although speed was definitely a contributing factor, there is no official determination yet as to whether drag racing was a contributing cause.

Police also reported another accident at the intersection of 79th Street and North Conduit Avenue on Wednesday morning.

Gray worked for FedEx and was the father of a two-year-old.

In a separate incident in Brooklyn, a car that was possibly drag racing fatally struck yeshiva teacher Moishe Berkowitz, 25. Berkowitz was driving home Monday night when a Volkswagen that crossed the double yellow lines struck him. An eyewitness told the New York Daily News that prior to the accident, the driver and his friends talked about drag racing, and the driver who hit Berkowitz reeked of alcohol.

These accidents are what politicians and civic leaders from Western Queens have been working to prevent. Last week, Council Members Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) and Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) joined concerned residents to call for an end to drag racing in Maurice Avenue in Maspeth.

Maurice Avenue, like North Conduit Avenue and other similar streets, is a popular hot spot for drag racers because of its straight stretch of road from Tyler Avenue to 54th Avenue. Residents want the city Department of Transportation to install speed bumps on the street to end the races.

“Drag racing is a public safety issue that can potentially be dangerous,” Crowley said. “It’s not welcome here in Maspeth or anywhere in the city of New York.”

Pols Push Senate to Pass 9/11 Health Bill

When the dust settled after 9/11, and the grieving process began, New York City started to notice that there were serious health risks for first responders, volunteers and area residents because of the airborne particles released when the towers fell.

In light of these health risks, the U.S. government has been trying to provide money for the rescue workers suffering from health complications. The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which remains stalled in Washington, would provide money to help evaluate and treat the rescue workers.

The bill passed the House in September 29, and now is awaiting a vote from the Senate. If the bill does not pass the Senate by the end of this year, the entire process would have to be restarted with the newly elected Congress.

This deadline has caused supporters of the bill to rally and urge the Senate to at least bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

On November 17, the City Council passed a resolution calling on the Senate to vote for and pass the bill. The Council resolution was heavily supported and sponsored by 22 Council Members including Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) and Karen Koslowitz (D-Kew Gardens).

“First responders didn’t hesitate to answer the call during and after the September 11th attacks. It is now time for the federal government to put politics aside and do the right thing for the people who are still suffering as a result of the toxic environment at Ground Zero,” said Ulrich after the Council Resolution passed. “Congress needs to pass this bill, and they need to do it now.”

Now, New York’s federal legislators are making a final push for the passage of the bill. On Monday, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly unveiled a special exhibit of 29 police badges at the Russell Senate Office Buildings next to the U.S. Capitol. These badges belonged to the brave police officers who died responding to the 9/11 attacks.

“These badges are much more than a symbol of the men and women we’ve lost. These shields should serve as a call to action—a call for us to do what’s right and pass the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act now,” Gillibrand said. “The men and women who lived through 9/11 and came to our rescue on that day were not Democrats or Re- publicans or Independents—they were Americans. Now we have a duty to provide them the health care and compensation they and their family need.”

Gillibrand was joined by fellow lawmakers including Senator Charles Schumer and Representatives Anthony Weiner (D-Kew Gardens) and Peter King (R-Long Island) and police labor groups.

“I fear this is the last chance to pass this bill,” Weiner said. “The heroes who rushed to help their neighbors on 9/11 have waited far too long.How many more badges do we need to see before we give these men and women the care they deserve?”

According to the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC), there were 4,798 enrolled patients at the World Trade Center Environmental Health Center, which through various grants provides free health coverage for rescue workers and residents of the area suffering from 9/11 related problems. By 2011, the HHC projects the number of enrolled patients to rise to 5,902.

It is this rising number of illnesses related to 9/11 that are being reported that has many worried and pushing to pass the bill.

“In the past two weeks I’ve attended funeral services for two New York City police officers who died from toxic exposure while responding to the nation’s call on 9/11,” said Patrick Lynch, President of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. “More NYC police officers have now died since the attack than were killed in the collapse of the World Trade Center.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D- Nevada) invoked Senate Rule 14 to bypass the committee process and bring the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act straight to the floor for consideration.

Additional Seats Unveiled in DOE's Five Year Capital Plan

Mary Leas discusses the SCA’s plans for District 24. CEC 24 President Nick Comaianni looks on.
By Eric Yun

In a district burdened with overcrowded schools, parents were eager to review the city Department of Education’s (DOE) five-year capital plan for the local area. Parents of District 24 were assured by Mary Leas from the School Construction Authority (SCA) that the DOE is doing what it can to expand seats at last Tuesday’s Community Education Council (CEC) 24 meeting.

“This district has the honor of being the most overcrowded district,” Leas said. In addition to overcrowding, there are many old buildings that must be maintained, issues that are addressed in the capital plan.

In the SCA’s Capacity Programs, which aims to build extensions or new schools, District 24 is slated to gain 7,000 seats over the next five years. Looking at rising enrollment data, the SCA is recommending an amendment to add an additional 2,794 seats to the plan.

There are two projects in District 24 that are planned but have no site or location secured yet: project four would add 939 seats in Elmhurst, and project five would add an additional 233 seats in Maspeth.

There are also several new building projects and extensions that have sites, and the SCA is moving forward with those plans. This includes P.S. 290 at the former Rite Aid site at 55-20 Metropolitan Avenue, the new high school in Maspeth at the former Restaurant Depot site and the highly publicized extension for Middle Village’s P.S. 87.

Besides new buildings and extensions, many schools in the district will receive beautification through the Capital Investment Program. These projects look to maintain schools to prevent water leaks or other structural damages.

Some parents, including CEC 24 board member Brian Rafferty, questioned if the large sum of money—approximately $20 million—that is being spent on these beautification programs could be directed elsewhere. However, Leas responded that these projects are a necessity to keep the building operational.

“These are not beautification projects,” Lease said, “but the schools are beautiful when the project is finished.”

The final portion of money included in the capital plan is Resolution A money. This is discretionary funding given to City Council Members that is distributed to their schools of choice. The funds are generally used to upgrade the school’s technology offerings.

Crime and Rail Issues Continue

Arturo Gejon recives a “Good Neighbor Award” for the help he provides to the community and the civic group.
Local residents discussed crime and ongoing rail issues at this month’s Citizens for a Better Ridgewood meeting on Monday.

Detective Kevin Weber of the 104th Precinct’s Community Affair’s unit relayed the crime statistics. The 104th Precinct has been fighting a seven to eight percent increase in crime through the year, but Weber was happy to report that the police have worked hard and reduced those numbers over the past month.

Responding to last month’s concerns from Ridgewood residents about traffic, particularly along Troutman Street, Weber said the department beefed up traffic and highway patrols and issued 123 summonses. He noted, however, that because of Troutman Street’s location and the stop and start nature of the traffic, it is difficult to enforce speeding, which was a concern among residents.

Another issue that has been a constant battle for Ridgewood residents is prostitution. Weber reported that police continue to address the issue, and twelve “johns” were recently arrested.

Weber warned residents to be careful during the holiday season. Leaving bags of gifts from holiday shopping in an unattended car is never a good idea. “It’s a very easy crime to just break a window and grab the bags,” Weber said. He also warned residents about the danger of identity theft and the importance of keeping wallets and other personal items safely secured.

Michael Hetzer, Vice-President of Citizens for a Better Ridgewood, said that residents should also be wary of men posing as utility companies or other cons. One scam the Forum reported last week involved a man who asked for money to buy prescription drugs for his mother. Weber reported that officers from the 108th Precinct apprehended this man.

Rail and truck traffic has plagued Queens for years, and Mary Parisen and Laura Zimmer, co-chairs of Civics United for Railroad Environmental Solutions (CURES), gave a presentation outlining how Ridgewood is impacted.

CURES is a coalition of 14 different civic groups including Citizens for a Better Ridgewood. All trains travelling into or out of Brooklyn and Long Island must pass through the Fresh Pond Rail Terminal, which severely impacts the surrounding community. The trains emit dangerous pollutants into the air, and when transporting waste, the stench of the trains is unbearable.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is currently conducting studies on the Cross Harbor Freight Program. Parisen and Zimmer gave Port Authority officials a tour of the Fresh Pond facility to illustrate the problems the community has.
“We’re not opposed to increased rail traffic,” Zimmer said. “But take a look at the environmental impacts, and take a look at the marine network.” Without closely examining these issues, CURES believes increasing rail traffic is inadvisable.

Two Wanted in Robberies

The NYPD is seeking the public's assistance in locating two suspects wanted in connection with four robberies that occurred throughout Queens.

On Thursday, November 18, at 9:30 p.m., the two men entered a McDonald's restaurant located at 221-28 Horace Harding Expressway and demanded money from a store employee while armed with a firearm. The employee then removed an unknown amount of money from a safe inside of the location and gave it to the suspects before they fled. There were no injuries sustained.

The following day at 8:19 a.m., the suspects demanded money from a store employee at a Burger King restaurant at 92-02 Atlantic Avenue. The suspects then walked behind the front counter and removed an unknown amount of money from a cash register before fleeing.

On Sunday, November 21, at 6:03 a.m., the two men robbed another McDonald's at 166-05 Rockaway Boulevard with two other black males.

Finally, on Monday at 6:05 a.m., the suspects entered a Shell gas station at 185-25 North Conduit Avenue and demanded money from a store employee. The suspects then walked behind the front counter and punched the employee in the face before removing an unknown amount of money from a cash register. The suspect sustained minor injuries but did not require medical attention.

The first suspect is described as a black male, between 25 to 30 years old, 5'9" to 6" and between 185 to 200 pounds. He is armed with a silver firearm in all of the above incidents.

The second suspect is described as a black male, between 25 to 30 years old, 5'7" to 5'9" and 160 to 170 pounds.

Anyone with information in regards to these incidents is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477). The public can also submit their tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website at or by texting their tips to 274637 (CRIMES) then enter TIP577.

All calls are strictly confidential.

Left Hanging

Community activists have been fighting to get dangerous hanging limbs removed from streets for months. Three months after a tornado and microburst knocked over numerous trees in Middle Village and surrounding areas, there are still potentially dangerous hanging limbs from trees.

Bob Holden, Chairman of Public Safety for Community Board 5 and President of the Juniper Park Civic Association, asked Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski in an e-mail how the situation could be handled.

Since the storm, Holden has been asking local politicians and the Parks Department to address hanging limbs. He said he has witnessed limbs big enough to crush a car fall on Cooper Avenue.

Over the weekend, Holden documented several trees along Cooper Avenue between Woodhaven Boulevard and 80th Street. “I’ve been fighting since the storm to get the limbs removed,” Holden said. “Many areas like Cooper Avenue were left with nothing done.”

Lewandowski said the department identified 11 trees on Cooper Avenue along St. John’s Cemetery and will take care of the problem. She reiterated that the best way for the community to alert the Parks Department of concerns over trees is through 311.

Residents should provide as much detailed information as possible, Lewandowski said.
In Holden’s opinion, however, finding dangerous trees is not residents’ jobs. Besides hanging limbs, many trees were left unbalanced and visibly leaning.

“I’m not an arborist,” Holden said, “I don’t really know if the trees are stable. Plus, most people don’t walk around looking up at trees. We need someone to go and comprehensively evaluate the state of the trees.”

Many of the limbs hang over popular parking spots and busy pedestrian sidewalk. “They have been there since the microburst,” resident Michael O'Kane told the Daily News. “I park between the trees. People walk their dogs over there all time and I don't think they are aware of the risk. It might be a remote risk, but it's still a risk.”

While there have not been any reported injuries from falling limbs in the area since the September storm, branches can pose serious risks. Earlier this summer, a six-month-old child was killed by a falling limb at the Central Park Zoo. Last year, a 100-pound limb hit Google engineer Sasha Blair-Goldensohn at Central Park, leaving him in a coma. Locally, in the summer of 2008, a New York City Corrections Officer was critically injured when a limb fell on her at the Myrtle Avenue Street Fair.