Thursday, July 31, 2008

This Week's Forum West and South

Christ the King Coach Accused of Sexual Abuse

Push for Bike Lanes on Queens Boulevard

City Forces Rogue Developer to Reduce Building Size

Local Contractor Charged with Grand Larceny

Driver Walks Away From Horrific Accident

Not Guilty Verdict in Witness Tampering Trial

State Warns of Significant Threat at Maspeth Site

Unlicensed Physician Charged with Fraud

Life in the Bike Lane: Make Queens Blvd Safer

West Nile Virus Detected in Queens

Christ the King Coach Accused of Sex Abuse

Bob Oliva Accused by Former Family Friend

by Conor Greene

The head basketball coach at city powerhouse Christ the King high school has been accused of sexually abusing a family friend who he took under his wing decades ago.

Bob Oliva, a longtime coach of the parochial school’s varsity boys basketball team and a member of its Hall of Fame, was accused of repeatedly molesting Jimmy Carlino starting when the boy was 13-years-old.

The allegations were first made in a letter sent to Oliva in April from a law firm in Florida, where Carlino lives. At that point, Oliva informed the Middle Village school’s board of trustees and administration of the allegations. On May 1, attorney David Ristoff sent Oliva a letter notifying him that Carlino will drop the matter in exchange for a payment of $750,000 and Oliva’s resignation from the school by the end of the 2008 school year.

“I have been retained by James Carlino regarding a matter of personal nature involving your prior contact to him,” wrote Ristoff in the letter, which was obtained by The Forum. “While it is best left to discretion not to elaborate on those personal issues at this juncture, it is the wishes of Mr. Carlino to resolve any and all matters with you on a personal and confidential basis.”

The letter instructs Oliva to forward “this demand” to his attorney. “If you our your counsel wish to accept this demand then you may forward a certified check in the amount of $750,000... and proof of your resignation,” wrote Ristoff. In exchange for the payment, Carlino would “execute a release and confidentiality agreement as to both the underlying factual basis of the dispute as well as an agreement to maintain the confidentially of the settlement amount.”

The letter notes that, “As you can imagine, Mr. Carlino has suffered significant psychological damage that has effected [sic] every aspect of his life and career.”

Thomas Ognibene, a member of the school’s board of trustees, said he doubts the claims given Oliva’s track record overseeing thousands of children over several decades coaching. “It’s a lot of nonsense, but unfortunately he has to be subjected to this,” said Ognibene. “He used to be like a godfather to the kid, he met him when he was eight and basically took care of this kid for a number of years. The kid had gambling and drug problems, and Bob stood with him.”

Late last year, Oliva decided to drop Carlino from his will, which Ognibene speculates led to the accusations. “He [Oliva] said, ‘I can’t help you anymore and I’m taking you out of my will,’ which I understand was a pretty substantial amount,” said Ognibene. “As soon as that happened, the kid had an epiphany and said Bob Oliva molested me when I was a kid.”

After Oliva received the letter, his response to Carlino was, “You are out of your mind, I never touched you, it’s a disgrace, do what you have to do,” said Ognibene. “This is simply a matter of extortion. I told him, this is a bridge you have to cross.”

Oliva met Carlino, who attended Archbishop Molloy High School, when the coach owned a bar in Ozone Park called the Short Porch. Carlino’s father was a bartender there, and Oliva sometimes paid the boy to clean the bar, according to the Daily News. He also coached Carlino in the Catholic Youth Organization athletic league.

Ognibene said that Oliva’s track record leads him to believe the accusations are false and Carlino is trying to shake down the coach. “For 29 years, I’ve known Bob Oliva, who has had access in locker rooms, on trips, in hotels, to thousands of kids over the years, and I never once hard a hit or rumor of this,” said Ognibene. “A person who had opportunity to deal with children on a close personal basis never had one complaint, and that tells me more than anything that comes out of a person’s mouth.”

Push For Bike Lanes on Queens Boulevard

Rally at the Site of Fatal Accident to Highlight Need

By Conor Greene

Relatives of Asif Rahman, who was killed while biking along Queen Boulevard in February, gathered with officials and residents on Sunday at the scene of the fatal accident to highlight the need for bike lanes on the seven mile stretch of road.

The family gathered near 55th Avenue, where a white ghost bike commemorates the 22-year-old Jamaica Estate man’s death, with Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) and members of Transportation Alternatives to demand that bike lanes and more crosswalks for pedestrians be installed along the notorious “Boulevard of Death.”

“Asif loved to ride his bike since he was a little boy,” said his mother Lizi Rahman. “I always worried about his safety. We all know that Queens Boulevard is a dangerous road. If it had a bike lane, Asif might still be with us today.”

Roughly 100 pedestrians and bicyclists are struck by vehicles on Queens Boulevard each year, according to Transportation Alternatives, a group that advocates for bicycling, walking and public transit as better options than driving. “There has never been a better time for the city, elected officials and the community to come together and fix this dangerous street once and for all,” said Paul Steely White, the group’s executive director.

Gennaro distributed a letter sent to Mayor Michael Bloomberg pushing for installation of a bike lane “that is practical and safe for bicyclists, motorists and pedestrians alike.” The letter, also signed by Councilmembers John Liu and Eric Gioia, notes that Asif “died instantly upon being struck by a truck as he biked... on his way home from work.” His life was cut short by a “reckless driver” in a type of that has become “all too common [since] bike ridership increased 77 percent” since 2000.

“We as a City owe cyclists like Asif, who contribute to a healthier environment by not driving automobiles, a better infrastructure of protection as they try to traverse the length of the borough,” wrote the councilmembers. “Cyclists who attempt to ride down Queens Boulevard continue to do so at a great risk for themselves and those around them. The lack of dedicated bike lanes on Queens Boulevard leaves cyclists without a safe path to travel, and leaves motorists and pedestrians without the adequate separation they need to avoid collisions.”

While accidents involving pedestrians and bikers are a common occurrence along the boulevard, fatalities have decreased since the city Department of Transportation removed two lanes of traffic in both directions along the service roads. Those lanes were turned into metered parking spaces, and the speed limit was lowered to 30 miles per hour. The department has also changed the timing of some traffic signals to give pedestrians more time to cross and installed fences to prevent jaywalking.

There have been five pedestrians killed on Queens Boulevard in the past three years, and Rahman was the first biker killed there since 1996. In December, a woman was killed after she was hit by a cement truck while crossing near Woodhaven Boulevard.

The DOT has announced a plan to install 200 miles of bike lane around the city, but Queens Boulevard was not included something Lizi Rahman hopes to change. For details on the effort to have bike lanes installed along Queens Boulevard, contact Transportation Alternatives at (646) 873-6021 or

City Forces Rogue Developer to Reduce Building Size

By Conor Greene

Maspeth residents and a local civic group are claming victory against a notorious developer who has been ordered by the city to remove the top floor of a house under construction on Mazeau Street.

The city Department of Building in May partially lifted a stop-work order issued last year to developer Tommy Huang so that the fourth floor of a house he’s building at 57-39 Mazeau Street could be removed. In addition, rear and side extensions have also been removed because the plans filed with the city didn’t conform to what was actually built.

The DOB’s decision comes after the Juniper Park Civic Association and Councilman Tony Avella held several rallies on Mazeau Street since DOB revoked the developer’s permit in December 2006. The group sought to have the building either knocked down, or brought into compliance with zoning laws.

“This is a big victory for Maspeth because it shows unscrupulous developers that the community is watching and they won’t be able to get away with this type of action,” said Robert Holden, president of the JPCA.

Said Avella: “It’s about time that DOB listened to the community and forced notorious developers like Tommy Huang to conform to the building and zoning codes. It still is a shame that the community has to be the ones to force the DOB to enforce its own regulations.”

The stop work order was issued in November after the DOB received a complaint that the project being built was beyond what the permits allowed. An audit by the city on July 6 revealed 14 violations, including that it didn’t comply with R4-1 zoning standards and that Huang misused the Community Facilities Provision of the zoning code, which can allow for educational, health care, religious and other institutions to be built in residential zones.

One of the first people to take notice of the building violations at the property was Manny Caruana, a JPCA and Community Board 5 member who lives nearby. “It took a long time to get results, and we only got this far because neither we nor Tony Avella nor DOT caved in or stopped watching what was going on there,” he said. “The fact that Huang has been forced to comply and not just pay a fine restores a little bit of my faith in DOB.”

The property currently has a partial stop work order, which only allows Huang to bring the house into compliance with zoning regulations. “The partial will remain in effect,” said Charlie Ratzer, a DOB spokesman. “It’s a partial allowing them to remove the fourth floor, but he is not supposed to be working on anything additional.”

Because the plans originally filed with the city were for a four-story structure, Huang must now submit new plans “to bring it into compliance,” said Ratzer. “He is bringing it back to three [floors] and then starts over again with new paperwork.” The DOB was unable to explain how Huang was able to receive a permit for a project that is not allowed in that zone.

The DOB said in a statement that Huang has been fined repeatedly for projects around the city. “More than a dozen stop work orders have been issued to this developer’s projects in the past year, and he has been repeatedly fined for cutting corners,” the department said in a statement. “If the developer wants to move forward with any project, it must be in compliance with all regulations.”

This isn’t the first time that a Huang development has come under fire. The Flushing-based developer was sentenced in 1999 to five years probation and fined $5,000 for environmental crimes at the landmarked RKO Keith Theater. In that case, he allowed hundreds of gallons of oil to spill into the basement of the 1928 theater, and then lied to a city investigator.

Corey Bearak, president of the Queens Civic Congress, credited the JPCA with “fighting for the community and never letting up” and DOB Acting Commissioner Robert LiMandri for taking action on this matter. “This simple message should resonate throughout the industry,” he said. “No excuses. Either comply with the law and the code or any illegal structure you build will need to be cut down to its rightful and legal size.”

Local community leaders and residents are now vowing to keep a close watch on the project as Huang attempts to have the stop work order lifted. “This is like a cancer in the community,” said Tony Nunziato, chairman of the Maspeth-Middle Village Task Force. “I am glad that the Department of Buildings has kept on top of this situation and has forced the developer’s hand.”

Avella, who represents neighborhoods in northeast Queens, has become one of City Council’s most vocal critics of out of character development. He said that the city’s action against Huang is “obviously a good step forward,” but questioned why the permit was issued in the first place, calling the DOB the city’s “most incompetent agency.”

“Through the efforts of the Juniper Park Civic Association and the community, the DOB finally realized their mistake,” he said. “This is a perfect example of Huang creating another problem in another neighborhood. No matter how many sites he has become a problem on, and how many neighboring sites he has damaged, the city will give him another permit.”

J.B Contracting Hit with Grand Larceny


By Patricia Adams

The owner of J.B. Contracting, located at 104-11 101st in Ozone Park, Alfredo Joseph Battaglia, was arrested last week and charged with three felony counts, involving the theft of a roll-away disposable waste container belonging to a rival construction company.

Battaglia is known throughout the neighborhood by a large fleet of flashy trucks, his equipment branded with the tag-line “Da Dropout”, a self-proclaimed badge of honor Battaglia has painted on his trucks to demonstrate business success despite his failure to complete formal education.

The builder, whose general contracting signs are a popular sight throughout Howard Beach, surrendered to police one full day after other members of his staff were removed from his business office nearly 24-hours before.

On Wednesday afternoon, police from the 106 descended upon the offices on 101st street, where Battaglia himself was not present. Two other men, Daniel Rinaldo and Alejandro Cabrerra were arrested there and held at the precinct for many hours before being transferred to Central Booking the next morning when Battaglia himself was arrested.

Charges against the three men are all felony counts, the top charge of which is a D Felony, arrest charge, Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the 3rd degree, along with D felony Grand Larceny in the 3rd degree and Criminal Mischief in the 2nd degree. Following the execution of a warrant obtained by police, a search was conducted at the 101st street business location where police say evidence was obtained that directly linked the suspects to the stolen property.

According to police sources, evidence recovered should be more than enough to see that the case against Battaglia and his workers could find its way to a grand jury for examination.

But it seems that Battaglia’s alleged illicit business practices have not only fallen under scrutiny by the police. One man, dubbing himself as a potential customer of J.B. Contracting says he was seriously considering using the company to begin major renovations. He spoke to The Forum under conditions of anonymity. “This is a pretty small town type place, if you know what I mean,” the man stated “and word spreads fast.”

Among the many potential customers who are caught up in the renovation boom in Howard Beach, he went on to say, “You see this guy’s signs all over the place so you figure he’s good. Now you have to figure it might be tough [for him] to finish a job from behind bars. I for one just can’t take that chance.”

Battaglia’s divergent problems stemming from this incident could lead in yet another direction; that of the Business Integrity Commission (BIC). The BIC is both a law enforcement and regulatory agency charged with the oversight of the private carting industry. Eric Dorsch, General Counsel for the BIC, told The Forum that Battaglia does in fact hold a Class 2 exemption registration which would allow him to use roll away waste containers to remove only construction debris from job sites, whether they be his jobs or others for which he was hired just to remove construction debris.

Where that registration stops short according to BIC regulations, is that it does not give the carter the right to remove putrescible waste, garbage subject to rotting, or recyclable materials within their containers. Dorsch went on to say, “Our standard at the BIC is to maintain relationships with registrants of good character that operate with honest and integrity.”

When asked if an arrest or conviction for stealing a waste container from a rival company would have any affect on the status of present or future registration for waste removal, Dorsch said that any arrest and conviction would certainly play a role in the status of the Class 2 exemption registration.

Police officials are now awaiting a response from the DA’s office as to how the case will proceed. There are allegations that other aspects of the business will be targeted for further investigation.

Driver Walks Away from Horrific Accident

Van Smashes into Utility Pole on Borden Avenue

By Conor Greene

The driver of a van transporting refrigeration equipment walked away from a serious accident on Borden Avenue in Maspeth last week with just bumps and bruises and a cut on his lower lip, according to witnesses.

A van owned by Blake Refrigeration of the Bronx was being driven east on Borden Avenue by Jonathan Delvalle when it collided with a 1997 Toyota driven by Matthew Tumminello, 30, of East Meadow last Wednesday afternoon, according to police.

Delvalle, 26, of Ridgewood, was turning right onto Maurice Avenue when the van was sideswiped by the Toyota, which was changing lanes, said police. The refrigeration van slammed into a utility pole, crushing the front passenger side of the vehicle, according to witnesses. Neither driver was issued a summons, and the Toyota was driven from the scene, said police.

Since the van was carrying refrigeration materials and equipment including bottles of nitrogen, the FDNY responded to the scene and removed the items from the vehicle. The Department of Transportation has since replaced the broken light pole.

Roland Delgado, a service manager at Blake Refrigeration, said this week that Delvalle suffered some bumps and bruises in the accident, but is doing good. “Miraculously, he got out in one piece with just some bruises,” said Delgado. “It was a horrible accident, but he’s back on his feet, doing good.”

Delgado said that the materials being transported was not hazardous and didn’t pose a threat. “It was Freon, nitrogen tanks, normal stuff used in air conditioning,” he said. “There was no threat whatsoever.” He said Delvalle was on his way home at the time of the accident.

Caption: Firefighters respond to the intersection of Borden and Maurice avenues after a van carrying refrigeration materials and equipment (inset) slammed into a utility pole. The van sustained heavy front-end damage, but the driver escaped with minor injuries. Photos by Robert Holden

Not Guilty Verdict in Witness Tampering Trial

Woman Charged With Threatening Slain Dentist’s Brother

By Conor Greene

The woman accused of threatening the brother of murdered dentist Daniel Malakov has been cleared of witness tampering.

Following nearly two full days of deliberations, a jury on Friday found Natella Natanova not guilty on charges of third degree witness intimidation and tampering. The jurors reached their decision just after 5 p.m. Friday, about two hours after they had warned the judge that they were having difficulty reaching a verdict.

Natanova was charged in March after Gavril Malakov told police that she had approached him at the intersection of 108th Street and 65th Avenue in Forest Hills and said to him, “You should know if you talk, you will be the next to go.” She was facing up to four years in prison if convicted on the charges.

Natanova’s sister, Mazoltuv Borukhova, is accused of hiring a distant relative to gun down her ex-husband, Daniel Malakov, at a local playground last October. That trial is expected to begin this fall.

“We’re pleased with the verdict and think it was the right thing for the jury,” said attorney Melvyn Roth, who represented Natanova. “Obviously they thought that he wasn’t credible, and didn’t believe him.”

Roth noted that Gavril Malakov was granted custody of five-year-old Michelle after the girl’s father was murdered and her mother was charged in the crime. During the deliberations, jurors revisited Malakov’s testimony stating that he had informed investigators from the city’s Administration for Children’s Services about Natanova’s arrest.

“The whole thing was fabricated,” said Roth. “He had a motive not to tell the truth because there was an investigation by ACS to determine who would get custody of the young child. Ultimately, Mr. Malakov, the supposed victim here, got custody, and we told the jury that his motive to make up the fabrication was so that my client didn’t get custody.

The office of Queens District Attorney Richard Brown did not respond to a message seeking comment on the verdict. Roth speculated that the charges were only brought against Natanova in the first place because of the high profile murder charges pending against her sister. “I think it was the reason the DA brought the charges in the first place, but I think [the jury] judged this case independently.”

According to Roth, Natanova claimed throughout that the incident had never occurred and that she was just walking to her building. “My client says that she never saw him on the street,” the attorney said.

In the murder case expected to begin this fall, prosecutors are charging that Borukhova paid a relative $19,500 to have her ex-husband Daniel Malakov shot in the chest. The popular orthodontist had just arrived at Annadale Playground on that Sunday morning to drop Michelle off for a custody visit with her mother when he was murdered.

State Warns of Significant Threat at Maspeth Superfund Site

Contamination Poses Risk to People and Environment

By Conor Greene

An industrial property at 57th Avenue and Grand Avenue in West Maspeth is contaminated by chemicals and could pose a “significant threat to the public and environment,” the state Department of Environmental Conservation warned nearby property owners in a letter.

The two-acre property, now home to Corrugated Box, Inc. and Feldman Lumber, was subjected to “hazardous waste disposal” during the years it was used by the W.L.K Corporation. It was enrolled in the state Superfund program last year, and an initial study conducted this March “detected a significant concentration of chlorinated volatile organic compounds in soil samples” collected on the site, according to the DEC.

According to DEC spokesman Arturo Garcia-Costas, the concentrations of chemicals found, which included Tetrachloroethylene, “suggest a potential continuing source of contamination in this area.” In addition, groundwater samples containing “high levels” of chlorinated volatile organic compounds were collected from wells monitoring groundwater and from samples “down-gradient from this part of the site,” said Garcia-Costas.

As a result of the findings, the DEC sent a letter earlier this month to nearby property owners alerting them of the potential danger. “Based on the presence of contamination onsite... this site poses a significant threat,” the July 14 letter warned. It notes that the site has been classified a Code 2, due to the threat level.

The code classification “means that the contamination uncovered represents a significant threat to the public health or environment, which requires action to address or mitigate this threat be taken by DEC at some point,” explained Garcia-Costas. “A Code 1 designation, on the other hand, means that a site represents an imminent threat to public health or the environment and requires immediate action.”

The next step in the process is for the DEC to conduct “a further investigation and feasibility study... to fully define the nature and extent of the contamination and identify the most appropriate remedial action,” according to Garcia-Costas. Part of the effort is a community outreach plan “to insure that the public is aware and engaged in the cleanup,” said Garcia-Costas. “At each stage in the process, the community is made aware [of what is occurring] and fact sheets are sent out.”

He noted that community-based organizations such as community boards are eligible for a “technical assistance grant,” which provides money to help the public “understand the process and be able to participate in the remedial process in the most informed manner possible,” he said.

The DEC was unable to say how long the lengthy cleanup process will take. The letter urges individuals to share the information with other tenants renting or leasing property near the site. However, the DEC said that human contact with “subsurface contamination is unlikely” since the majority of the property is paved over or built on. The DEC also noted that the groundwater contamination does not pose a danger to the public’s drinking water supply.

While 57th Avenue is now a gravel-filled dead-end road leading from Grand Avenue to the lumber yard, local residents recall that is was formerly a main road through the area, and home to a ballpark in the nineteenth century that stood on the site that is currently houses the box company.

An old house across the street from the businesses belonged to James Maurice, founder of St. Saviour’s church, which until recently was located several blocks away, according to Christina Wilkinson. She noted that the lumberyard’s presence is the only thing preventing as-of-right housing from being built at the St. Saviour’s property on Rust Street.

Unlicensed Physician Charged with Fraud

Wrote Fraud Prescriptions for 12,000 Pills

by Conor Greene

A Ridgewood physician whose license to practice medicine was revoked nearly six years ago has been accused of selling prescriptions for highly addictive medications.

Chaggrit Sawangkao, 69, of 1819 Putnam Avenue was held ordered on $15,000 bail during his first appearance in Queens Criminal Court last week. He is being charged with a 23-count complaint that includes charges of criminal possession of a prescription and unauthorized practice of medicine. He is due back in court on August 14 and faces up to seven years in prison if convicted.

According to the charges, Sawangkao used an old prescription pad twice in May and June to write a total of ten prescriptions for the generic form of the medication Vicodin-ES, which he then sold for $250 to undercover investigators working with the state Department of Health’s Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement and the Queens District Attorney’s Office.

An investigation into Sawangkao’s alleged activities later revealed that the disgraced doctor had written about 80 prescriptions which were filled at least ten pharmacies in New York State and Pennsylvania, according to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. The fraudulent prescriptions allowed individuals to receive an estimated 12,000 narcotic pills, said Brown.

“Despite having had his medical license revoked in January 2003 for defrauding patients, insurance companies and the government, the defendant has been charged with flagrantly disregarding the law by continuing to practice medicine and allowing individuals to obtain powerful drugs for cash – without consideration for the health of the buyer or the medical
necessity of the drugs,” said Brown.

Sawangkao has been charged with ten counts of second-degree criminal possession of a prescription, one count of second-degree criminal diversion of prescription medicine, one count of unauthorized practice of a profession, ten counts of first-degree falsifying business records and one count of first-degree scheme to defraud.

The criminal charges are just the latest problem for Sawangkao, whose license to practice medicine was revoked by the state Department of Health because he cheated a 93-year-old patient out of several thousands dollars and made false statements to the Office of Medical Conduct.

According to the state’s 2003 decision, Sawangkao had an elderly patient give him a blank check, which he used to visit restaurants and go on vacations, and later a state investigator that was a board certified surgeon affiliated with Wyckoff Medical Center. The committee determined that Sawangkao is “a predator and a liar” who “saw a chance to trick an elderly ailing widow into giving him lots of money.”

“In his appearance before the committee, the respondent continue to lie about the facts even though contradictory evidence was well-documented by bank checks and original medical records,” the state’s decision notes. “Dr. Sawangkao never admitted error or claimed repentance. There was no evidence of contrition or insight that his behavior might be wrong.

“Fraud and cheating should never be tolerated or protected. We have no way of knowing if [Sawangkao] has cheated other patients in the past or whether he’ll do it again in the future. Revocation is the only possible way to sufficiently protect the public interest.” As a result of the finding, Sawangkao was forced to surrender his license to practice medicine and pay a civil penalty of $30,000.

Life in the Bike Lane

By Steve Tiszenkel

The best shape I've ever been in was back when I had a gym membership and three sessions every week with an ass-kicking personal trainer. I wouldn't have thought the sessions were worth $80 a pop, but my mother disagreed.

The second-best shape I've ever been in was that heady summer in the salad days of the early '90s, when I was too old for camp but too young for work. There only being so many Diff'rent Strokes reruns to watch, I actually headed out the front door, got a bicycle and pedaled. And pedaled. And pedaled some more.

I was a cyclin' fool that year. We'd just moved to the little waterfront town of Atlantic Beach—wedged between Long Beach, the infamous Five Towns and the Rockaways— and that three-block-wide island ate buckets of my dust. I rode all the way down the Long Beach boardwalk and back again, over the bridge to Oceanside, over the other bridge to Lawrence, through the bad part of town without stopping and under the low-hanging trees stopping every other square of pavement.

One day, leaning against the railing at the boardwalk looking out at the surf, I touched my right calf and was surprised to notice it didn't go anywhere. There was no squish, no pillowy softness, no give whatsoever. Seemingly out of nowhere, I could crush walnuts with my calves.

But I went back to school and there was no time for cycling, and then I got a summer internship in an office where the biggest challenge was making people think I owned more than two suits, and there was even less time. I'd get out on the bike occasionally, but it happened less and less, and lo and behold, it's 2008 and I haven't been on an uncomfortable banana seat for maybe 10 years.

The weather's great out there, and I've thought about picking up a bargain bike courtesy of Craigslist and trying to work those calves up to full strength again. But I can't. You see, I'm terrified. Because I don't live in the suburbs anymore. There's no riding on the sidewalk here in Forest Hills.

Here, it's go Queens Boulevard or go home. Asif Rahman decided to go Queens Boulevard. But while riding his bike back from work in February, a truck hit him, killing him instantly. The 22-year-old Rahman wasn't an inexperienced cyclist. Truth is, he rode his bike everywhere, sometimes traveling as far as from Jamaica to Lower Manhattan. His mother worried about him, as mothers do, but he reassured her that there were bike lanes everywhere. Unfortunately, the Boulevard of Death isn't everywhere.

Was Rahman reckless? Foolish? Naïve? Actually, he was doing exactly what activist groups everywhere tell us we should be doing. In an age when environmentalism increasingly is king, the message is that people-powered bikes will cure all that ails us, and that we have a responsibility to get out there and ride.

Asif Rahman was out there doing his duty. Whether he was motivated at least partially by altruism or whether he just liked the feel of the wind against his head, he was doing the right thing. And like many people who do the right thing, he paid a steep price for it.

Last weekend, inspired by Rahman and joined by his family, concerned residents and Councilman James Gennaro rallied for a bike lane on Queens Boulevard at the site of the fatal accident in Elmhurst. With a number of local political bigwigs signed onto the initiative, the movement earned coverage in several local newspapers. Suddenly people are thinking seriously about making our neighborhoods more bike-friendly.

Bicycling is environmentally friendly, healthy and fun. Our streets should be teeming with cyclists. If you've got a few miles to travel, there shouldn't be any reason you wouldn't use a bike. I'm ready and willing to pick up a used hunk of metal online and do my part to make Queens greener and myself healthier. But until I can be sure it's safe, my hand will be firmly on the brake.

I suspect I'm not alone.

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

West Nile Virus Detected in Queens

The city Department of Health is urging residents, especially senior citizens, to take precautions after West Nile virus was detected in neighborhoods across Queens, including Middle Village, Kew Gardens and Woodhaven.

The recent finding marks the first time the virus has been detected in mosquitoes within the city this year. No human cases of the virus have been reported yet, but two people died out of 12 human cases reported last year. Since 2004, just 34 cases of West Nile virus have been reported around the city, but 14 of those were in Queens.

Along with those three neighborhoods, West Nile has also been detected in South Flushing, Cambria Heights, Whitestone, Brookville, Laureton, Rosedale and Far Rockaway, according to the city DOH.

The health department advises residents to eliminate any standing water that collects on their property since mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing or slow moving water. Also, weeds, tall grass and bushes provide an outdoor resting place for mosquitoes, so residents are urged to keep their lawns maintained.

To prevent standing water from accumulating, the city asks that residents remove all discarded tires from their property, dispose of old tin cans and ceramic pots, keep unused swimming pools covered when not in use and making sure roof gutters drain property and are unclogged.

For details about West Nile virus, check