Thursday, December 11, 2008

This Week's Forum South and West

Civic: More Pedestrian Upgrades Needed Six Years After Tragic Accident

By Conor Greene

Six years ago this past week, a 17-year-old girl was struck and killed by an out-of-control driver who lost control of his vehicle at the dangerous intersection where 69th Street meets the Long Island Expressway service road at Grand Avenue in Maspeth.

The tragic death of Middle Village resident Daniela D’Angelo – who was killed while walking home from Christ the King High School – spurred a traffic study at the intersection, but local leaders say more still needs to be done to make the area safer.

“Unfortunately, little was done except adding bollards to the intersection,” said Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association. He noted that the civic association, through a $30,000 grant from Transportation Alternatives, completed a study and produced a plan to make intersections in the area safer. “They city did nothing. The area, with heavier truck traffic, is actually more dangerous today,” said Holden.

The December 6, 2002 accident occurred when Dennis Fiechter, 30, lost control of his Mazda while driving north on 69th Street, causing it to crash into several vehicles before hitting D’Angelo and a 50-year-old man who was also standing on the sidewalk at the time. Fiechter told investigators that he suffered a seizure before losing control, but police later determined that the seizure occurred after the accident.

Fiechter eventually pleaded guilty to aggravated unlicensed operation of a car in exchange for a 1 1/3-to-4-year prison sentence. Prior to the accident, Fiechter’s license had been suspended 28 times. In addition, he was subsequently sentenced to prison time for an attempted robbery in Queens and a burglary in New Jersey.

In Holden’s opinion, the safety improvements are vital, but an even bigger issue is why Fiechter was still free to get behind the wheel of a car. “This guy should have been in jail years ago if the government did its job and protected the public from career criminals like Fiechter,” he said.

The traffic study completed by the JPCA and Transportation Alternatives produced a number of recommendations to improve safety at that and other intersections. Among the suggestions were: installing bollards at the traffic island at 69th Street and Grand Avenue; posting a “No Left Turn” sign at northbound 69th Street and Grand Avenue; upgrading pedestrian crosswalks to make them more visible; and repositioning several traffic signals to make them easier to see and reduce confusion for drivers.

According to a DOT spokeswoman, “all of the proposed improvements were implemented in October 2003.”

However, Holden and other community leaders including Community Board 5 District Manager Gary Giordano say the intersection warrants additional attention from the city. Giordano noted that the board still has a capital budget request filed with the city “for them to accomplish the physical portions of these safety improvements.”

He said the intersection is especially dangerous because two busy streets – both truck routes - and the expressway meet there. In addition, many drivers rely on 69th Street because there are not many parallel routes in the area, he noted. “That area could always use attention,” said Giordano. “There is much going on there between pedestrians and motorists.”

Photos: A memorial was placed at the intersection of Grand Avenue and 69th Street in Maspeth six years ago after Christ the King High School student Daniela D'Angelo was killed by an out-of-control driver. While some safety improvements were made to the intersection, local community leaders say the area is still unsafe for pedestrians.

MTA Might Eliminate Cross Bay Bridge Toll Rebate

By Patricia Adams

The MTA’s decision to eliminate the Rebate Program for residents of Broad Channel and the Rockaway’s from the toll on the Cross Bay Veterans' Memorial Bridge has revived a fight originally begun in the late 1990’s.

Elected officials and residents maintain that a toll on the bridge which connects a single zip code, one Queens' neighborhood to another Queens neighborhood, is outrageously unfair and could possibly be unconstitutional. It is the only intra-borough toll in New York City.

Now the MTA plans to remove the rebate which allows Broad Channel and Rockaway residents to travel across the bridge at no charge because the agency says they have to fill in a budget gap.

Queens Borough President Helen Marshall organized a rally for protestors and elected officials at the toll plaza of the bridge on Tuesday morning. “This toll will hamper the ongoing economic development of the entire Rockaway Peninsula and put an unfair burden on the residents of Broad Channel,” stated Marshall.

Pointing out that many Broad Channel residents send their children to school across the bridge, shop at local stores and patronize Rockaway restaurants, the borough president stressed the choking effect the toll will place on families already burdened financially. “The MTA should know that they have made this a bridge over troubled water.”

Joining Marshall at the rally were Councilmember Joe Addabbo, Assemblymember Audrey Pheffer, , Community Board 14 Chairperson Delores Orr and District Manager Jonathan Gaska, Community Board 10 Chairperson Betty Braton, Democratic District Leader Frank Gulluscio and a host of residents and civic/community activists.

“I am confident that we will be able to impress upon them [MTA] that it is not only unfair and unjust but possibly illegal to charge anyone living in Queens with this toll,” said Audrey Pheffer.

The assemblywoman went on to say that it is absurd to think that residents of Broad Channel would have to pay a toll in order to go to their police precinct to file a report, or to their community board. “This part of Queens is no different than any other. What would people do if they had to pay a toll on Queens Boulevard?”

A key point introduced at the rally by Pheffer was the fact that after requesting reports of figures from the MTA on the costs and profits from the operation of the bridge, it appears that the bridge is a wash for the financially troubled agency. “They’re not making any money off this bridge. It’s a wash, so what’s the point.”

Addressing the crowd, Councilmember Joe Addabbo supported the opposition to the toll and to the removal of the rebate. “Just like the toll on this bridge behind us, we shouldn’t be here. The MTA can’t handle the money they already have and we shouldn’t be giving them another penny.”

Addabbo explained there are many problems with the Ravitch report released on the MTA, because it fails to address what he considers to be a key factor. “The report does not talk about restructuring or a plan of how the MTA would better handle money.”

Addabbo’s comments served to charge the angry and frustrated protestors. “The MTA needs to look in the mirror and point a finger at themselves for their own failure. They cannot be allowed to ride the backs of the people to get out of their own mess.” The senator-elect went on to encourage the residents to stand as a united community, and speak loud enough for all to hear. “You can stop this.”

The community of Broad Channel has collected more than 1400 signatures on its website, to stop the reinstatement of the toll. Community concerns in Broad Channel stem from frustration among residents who know that the added expense of the toll could drastically effect an influx of new families moving into the community.

“Look at the common sense behind the numbers here,” said Democratic District leader Frank Gulluscio, “a parent could conceivably have to pay $5.00 just for tolls to pick up a sick child from school. That is simply absurd. These people fought as one big community to get this rebate program implemented and there is no way it should be taken from them now.”

As of press time the MTA was scheduled to hold public hearings at their headquarters Wednesday December 10th at 10:30 a.m. in downtown Brooklyn, regarding the reinstitution of the toll for residents of Broad Channel and the Rockaways.

The Check is Not in the Mail


By Patricia Adams

For more than thirty years, Tony Granchelli has been the mail carrier for South Ozone Park residents Martin and Irene Weiss. “In the beginning,” says Irene, “he was like the merry mailman.” Now, according to Irene Weiss, Granchelli is the nightmare of 117th street. “He’s not the same man.”

Martin and his wife have lived on 117th Street for 23 years after moving from another house nearby. Granchelli was the mail carrier for both houses. Weiss was a tow truck driver for almost 30 years until his company was forced to lay off much of the staff. “I wasn’t ready to retire,” said the 64-year-old Weiss, “so I took a job with Home Depot.” But while working at the store he was assigned a 74-year-old helper who dropped a cast iron sink on Weiss. “I tried to pick it up and threw my back out.” Now he collects permanent disability.

The trouble between the Weiss family and Granchelli began several years ago according to Martin Weiss when he stopped Granchelli near the corner of his house and asked if the postman could give him his mail. He was on his way to the bank and didn’t want to have to make two trips. “He told me he wasn’t giving me my mail and that I should wait for it at my house,” said Weiss. “So I went about my business, but from that day on my troubles started.”

Weiss’ “troubles” as he calls them, lie in the fact that his disability checks, scheduled to arrive twice a month on Mondays hardly ever get to him. And important bills from credit card companies and utilities have been disappearing. “Ever since I had the altercation with Tony, my checks come late, don’t come at all or are delivered to the wrong address.”

And Weiss adds, further complications arose after the mailman refused to give Weiss his mail away from his house. “It was right before Christmas a couple of years ago. Tony came to me and handed me an empty envelope that said Merry Christmas. He was looking for a Christmas gift, but I just took the envelope and tore it up.”

Weiss said that in prior years he had never given the postal carrier less than twenty dollars for the holidays, but after what happened he decided to stop tipping him. Since then the Weiss’ say they have been living in “mail hell.”

As his wife describes, Martin Weiss is arguably one of the most organized people you could ever find. “My husband knows the dates that every bill and check arrives. If anything is late he calls immediately.”

And a look at the Weiss kitchen calendar is all the proof anyone needs to verify Irene’s testimony about her husband’s capacity for organization. Listed clearly on the calendar is the date that each bill arrives regularly and a schedule of dates that checks are expected. A look through the Weiss check register details payments that are issued on the day they are received.

Upstairs in another room are boxes of impeccably organized files of records that Martin Weiss has kept for decades. Weiss has a good case in defending what some may call obsessive behavior with the mail and the bills—his over 800 credit score has not been marred by lateness in an over forty year credit history. But the issue goes much further than Weiss’ credit and his personal drive to keep things organized.

“I have reported these problems to the United States Post Office Inspectors and been assigned a case number,” said Weiss. “I have worked with the supervisors at the branch, three of them so far, and still no action has been taken. I don’t know what to do.” Weiss says he is so frustrated that he didn’t know what else to do and so at the suggestion of a friend he decided to try and get the local newspaper to help him.

A call to Sedgwick Claims Management, the company that issues Weiss’ disability checks, verified his reports about his checks. Claims Supervisor Diane Triolo told The Forum she was happy that someone was finally stepping in to help her client. “Our company policy is that we do not direct deposit, nor do we certify or register mail. So he seemed to be at the mercy of the Post Office.”

Triolo said that out of the last 26 checks sent out to Weiss for the last year, there were problems with more than half of them being received. “Our checks are automatically generated in the computer so there is no problem with the address and we have confirmed that the checks have been mailed out by several that have been returned with the correct address and date on the checks.”

Although it is not policy, Triolo said she has made several exceptions and sent Martin Weiss’ check by overnight mail. “People have to understand that people receiving disability checks, especially the elderly, need that money to come in on time.” In Weiss’ case what he receives in those checks helps to cover thousands of dollars in yearly prescription costs for him and his wife each year.

Two return phone calls from the United States Postal Services (USPS)- one from Corporate Communications and another from the regional Postmaster, Jim Burns -suggest there may be some light at the end of the Weiss’ tunnel. According to Bob Trombley of USPS Corporate Communications, all reports by postal clients that are reported through proper channels are taken very seriously and investigated to the fullest. Trombley also said that any impropriety with regard to delivering checks would be tampering with the mail, a federal felony offense.

Several names and numbers for Weiss to contact were supplied. In a call to The Forum, Postmaster Jim Burns said he knew of the ongoing situation between Mr. Weiss and mail carrier Tony Granchelli. Mr. Burns said it was his intention to “meet with Mr. Granchelli and call Mr. Weiss. We will work this situation out. It’s very simple, he [Granchelli] has to do his job properly.”

According to the president of the South Ozone Park Civic Association West (SOPCAW), Anthony Gellineau, there have been many problems with the Post Office located off Rockaway Blvd. at 126-15 Foch Blvd., out of which Granchelli is based. “In the past we have had problems with understaffing at the branch. Lines have been out the door and the facility was really dirty,” said Gellineau, who also acknowledged there have also been situations with discourteous mail carriers.

“The members of the civic have not reported problems to me as of late and the situation is definitely better after we had several meetings with the Post Office including the Postmaster, Jim Burns. Mr. Burns is a very frank person and helped us to deal with our problems. He has seen to it that we got more staff in the location and things have cleaned up a bit under the new branch supervisor, Ms. Coleman. I am confident that with problems that arise we will get help from the Post Office officials when we need it”.

For now, Martin Weiss will wait and see if he gets a Christmas gift from the USPS -his mail.

Girl Struck and Killed by School Bus

Hit in Elmhurst on Way to Francis Lewis HS

By Conor Greene

A 14-year-old girl was killed last week while on her way to school when a school bus struck her at a busy Elmhurst intersection.

Jasmine Paragas, an honors student at Francis Lewis High School who excelled in foreign languages, was hit at 8:10 a.m. last Thursday as she crossed 57th Avenue near the Queens Center Mall. She was pronounced dead less than an hour later at Elmhurst Hospital Center.

George Severino, 62, was driving the yellow minibus north on 90th Street when he turned left onto 57th Avenue, striking the girl in the crosswalk. The driver, who works for JEA Bus Company, stayed at the scene and was issued summonses for failure to yield to a pedestrian and for equipment violations.

There were four adult passengers in the minibus at the time of the accident, which occurred while Severino was transporting them to an education center for adults with special needs. He told the Daily News that he was too distraught to comment as he stood at the scene, weeping. “I’m sorry. I can’t talk right now,” he said. According to that report, Severino told police that he heard a thump, looked in the rearview mirror and say the girl lying in the intersection.

The driver has been involved in at least two prior accidents, according to state motor vehicle records. He was found guilty of an unsafe lane change in June 2007, and in 2006 was involved in a Brooklyn accident in which another person was injured.

Margie Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the city Department of Education, told the New York Times that Jasmine was a freshman who excelled in foreign languages and English. “She applied for and was accepted into the school’s University Scholars Program, which is an accelerated program for high school students at Francis Lewis,” said Feinberg.

The accident occurred just minutes after Jasmine’s mother had walked with her across Queens Boulevard, which is known as one of the city’s most dangerous roads for pedestrians to cross. Her mother had entered a subway station before the accident happened.

“She made it safe, but still this happened,” the girl’s cousin, Mac Tecson, told the Daily News. “It’s horrible. It happened so quickly. Nobody can believe it.” A picture of Jasmine was placed in a front window of the family’s house, which is just blocks from the tragic scene. A crisis team was brought into Francis Lewis to counsel students and staff as they mourned the loss.

According to reports, the family moved to Queens from the Philippines about six years ago and live on the top floor of a three-story house in Elmhurst.

Neighbor Showkat Kazi told reporters that the girl’s mother walked Jasmine across Queens Boulevard to the Q88 bus stop every morning. “It’s very hard for me… to take it,” he told CBS-TV. “She’s just like my daughter. She was playing at my house all the time.”

Traffic Nightmare Continues on Grand Avenue

By Conor Greene

Frustrated that their calls for safety upgrades at the intersection of Grand Avenue and 64th Street in Maspeth have fallen on deaf ears, members of the Juniper Park Civic Association recently met with reporters at the site to draw attention to the problem.

The issue, according to the civic, is that the city Department of Transportation has prematurely moved forward with a project that will combine two small traffic triangles at the intersection into one large one.

While the civic association supports that project, its members say that the city should have first implemented the Maspeth Truck Bypass Plan, which would have rerouted truck traffic off the neighborhood’s commercial area.

However, the DOT is still performing studies on the Truck Bypass Plan, according to a spokeswoman. As a result, large trucks and buses are unable to navigate a tight “S” curve at the construction site to continue on Grand Avenue. Since there is not enough room for large vehicles to turn, they are forced to drive over the sidewalk, posing a danger to pedestrians, along with causing thousands of dollars of property damage.

“We feel that we’re now seeing the effects of them… not listening to the people in the community who know how the traffic flows and how dangerous the intersection is,” said Christina Wilkinson, JPCA secretary.

“This new plan… is a total disaster, and DOT is asleep at the wheel once again,” added JPCA President Robert Holden.

According to the DOT, the construction project should be completed by the end of the week. However, the civic association is now threatening to block traffic at the intersection if truck traffic isn’t rerouted in the near future.

Drunken Driver Injures Traffic Agents

By Conor Greene

Two NYPD traffic agents were rushed to a local hospital last weekend after a drunken driver crashed his car into their marked vehicle on Myrtle Avenue in Glendale.

Aaron Webb, 27, of the East Village, was charged with drunken and reckless driving following the two-car accident near 74th Street after 4 a.m. Saturday, according to a criminal complaint. He was arraigned later that day before Judge Suzanne Melendez, who released him on his own recognizance until his next court date.

Webb was allegedly driving his 2008 Honda westbound when he crossed into oncoming traffic and hit a marked Chevy patrol car carrying traffic agents Shirly Smallwood, who was driving, and Dallhia Hyltion, who was in the passenger seat, according to a complaint filed by Officer Mark Bublin of the 104th Precinct.

The two agents were taken to Jamaica Hospital, where they were listed in stable condition. Smallwood was treated for a concussion, while Hyltion sustained a dislocated hip in the accident.

According to the complaint, Webb had watery, bloodshed eyes, and the officer smelled an odor of an alcoholic beverage on his breath. Webb told the officers, “I had two beers, a while ago.”

However, he was taken to the 112th Precinct stationhouse in Forest Hills, where he was determined to have a blood-alcohol level of .106, well above the state’s legal limit of .08.

Man Charged with Lying About HIV Status

Allegedly Faked Document to Trick Girlfriend

By Conor Greene

A Queens man who is HIV positive has been charged with using a fake document he claimed was issued by a local health care facility to convince a woman to have unprotected sex with him.

Duane Lang, 47, of Richmond Hill was arrested last week and charged with first-degree reckless endangerment and criminal possession of a forged document, according to the city Department of Investigation. If convicted, he faces up to seven years on the felony charge and a year in prison on the misdemeanor count.

According to the charges, his unnamed girlfriend refused to have unprotected sex with Lang unless he could provide medical proof that he had recently tested negative for HIV/AIDS. Lang, who has been HIV-positive since 2002, allegedly provided her with a fake document from the AIDS Center of Queens County showing that he had been tested in December 2007 and was not infected.

As a result, the woman engaged in unprotected sex with Lang between eight and ten times from December 2007 to March 2008, according to authorities. In March, the woman became suspicious and questioned him about the authenticity of the document. At that point, Lang admitted that it was forged and that he is HIV positive. The medical director at ACQC reviewed the document and confirmed that he had not signed it and that his name was misspelled on it.

“With deceit and depravity, the defendant repeatedly endangered the life of a person he supposedly cared for,” said Rose Gill Hearn, commissioner of the Department of Investigation. “Rarely have we seen a forged document used in way that is so directly and personally destructive to another human being. The consequences for that kind of conduct include arrest, criminal prosecution and possibly a prison sentence.”

The case is now being prosecuted by the office of Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.

“This is a tragic situation and serves as a reminder that things may not always be as they seem,” said City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Frieden. “Even if you have talked to your partner about HIV status, the best way to protect yourself from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections is to use a condom every time you have sex."

Mayor Releases Results of Customer Survey

Residents Typically Approve of City Services

By Conor Greene

The results of the first ever New York customer survey show that the majority of residents think the city is doing a decent job in providing basic services.

The New York City Feedback Citywide Customer Survey marks the largest municipal survey in a U.S city. It breaks down responses by borough, and then by local community board, providing a glimpse of how residents feel about services in their specific neighborhoods. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum unveiled the survey results last week at the Forest Hills Library.

“In the private sector, I learned you can never acquire too much pertinent data to help improve your business,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “With the economy causing tax revenues to fall, it’s more important than ever for city agencies to be effective, efficient and responsive.”

The survey was sent in June to about 135,000 randomly-selected residents, with 24,339 people responding. It included 34 questions about city services and quality of life issues, with residents responding excellent, good, fair or poor to each.

In Queens, 13 percent of residents rated their neighborhood as excellent, with 50 percent ranking it as good, 28 as fair, and 8 percent as poor. Citywide, 15 percent of respondents rated their neighborhood as excellent, 44 percent as good, 29 percent as fair and 12 percent as poor.

Overall, the survey found that 44 percent of residents rated city services as fair, 28 percent as good and 4 percent rated them as excellent. In addition, 75 percent rated the city public school system as fair, good or excellent. Senior services and community centers, which might be overhauled as part of a program the mayor is pushing, received the highest score, with 64 percent rating them as good or excellent.

The five most important issues for New Yorkers are housing, education, mass transit, crime and cost of living, in that order. The top ranked neighborhood was Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and the area with the lowest ranking was Morrisania in the Bronx.

Locally, the majority of residents in Forest Hills and Rego Park (Community Board 6) rated their neighborhood as excellent(26 percent) or good (57 percent), with just 1 percent describing it as poor. The 326 respondents rated mass transit, housing and education as the most important issues facing the city, and fire protection, emergency medical services and crime control ranked among the highest rated services. Among the lowest rated services were availability of cultural activities, control of street noise, sewer maintenance, pedestrian safety and street maintenance.

In the areas served by Community Board 5, including Ridgewood, Maspeth, Glendale and Middle Village, 338 residents ranked education, taxes and housing as the three most important issues facing the city. Fire protection, recycling, garbage pickup, emergency medical services and crime control were among the highest rated services, while street maintenance, cultural activities, sewer maintenance, street noise and graffiti control ranked among the lowest rated services.

The Mayor’s Office of Operations will further analyze the results and work with city agencies to improve the delivery of services. “We will be using these results, along with our other performance measurements, to hold city agencies accountable for the quality of the service they are responsible for delivering,” said Jeff Kay, director of the Mayor’s Office of Operations.

To view detailed results listed by community board, check

Man Shot Following Ridgewood Street Robbery

Chased Perps Who Robbed Sister

By Conor Greene

A 25-year-old man was shot several times after chasing down four men who robbed his sister minutes earlier in Ridgewood.

Anthony Alvarez, of 71st Avenue, suffered gunshot wounds to his left foot and leg at the corner of Grove Street and Seneca Avenue just after midnight last Sunday. According to police, the victim had left the McDonalds restaurant on Myrtle Avenue with his sister and uncle when they were approached by four Hispanic men.

The men got into a verbal dispute, at which time one of the suspects grabbed 25-year-old Emily Alvarez’s handbag. As the perp turned to flee, Emily Alvarez ripped a gold chain off his neck. As the men ran from the scene, the Alvarez siblings and their 50-year-old uncle, Claudio Alvarez chased them.

The victims caught up with the four men near 589 Seneca Avenue, at which point one of the suspects pulled out a 9mm handgun and fired several rounds, hitting Anthony Alvarez. He then chased Emily Alvarez into the building to retrieve his gold chain, said police, before fleeing on foot.

Officers from the 104th Precinct and the NYPD Emergency Services Unit responded to set up a crime scene and search the area. Despite recovering several spent 9mm shells and a black jacket possibly belonging to the suspect, no arrests have been made.

Anthony Alvarez, who was found lying in the street by responding officers, was taken to a local hospital and treated for his injuries, which were considered non life-threatening.

Maspeth Girl Admits to LI Craigslist Scam

Unsuspecting Buyers Were Lured, Robbed

By Conor Greene

An 18-year-old Maspeth woman who advertised luxury cars online and then robbed the potential buyers is facing up to five years in prison after pleading guilty to masterminding the scam.

Agnes Banach pleaded guilty last week to a host of charges including five counts of robbery, two counts of grand larceny and conspiracy in connection with robberies in Freeport and Baldwin in November and December 2007. She is expected to be sentenced to five years in prison when she returns to court on January 22.

“Ms. Banach’s violent actions have left her no other option but to serve time in prison,” said Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice. “We were prepared to take this case to trial before she took responsibility for her actions.”

Banach began scamming potential car buyers when she placed an ad on Craigslist on November 26, 2007 offering a Porsche for sale at a bargain-basement price. A person responding to the ad was told to bring a $4,800 down payment when he and his wife went to Freeport to look at the vehicle.

Banach, known to the victims as “Linda,” met them at the Long Island address and then dropped her keys, which was the signal for her co-conspirators to attack the buyers. At that point, four men jumped out and attacked the couple, stealing their down payment and Blackberry.

The scam targeted an unsuspecting buyer again on December 6, when a father and son answered an ad for a 2002 Porsche that Banach placed on Craigslist under the name “Lucy.” The men were told to bring a $22,000 down payment with them to an address in Baldwin.

As the son knocked on the door, a man, identified as 18-year-old Chad Greaves, punched him multiple times. The attacker pulled out what appeared to be a gun and robbed the father of $100, according to authorities. Banach and seven co-conspirators were arrested less than two weeks after the second heist.

Also charged in the scam were Khaliek Owens, 17, of Brooklyn, who pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery; and Christopher Blanco, 19, of the Bronx, who pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree robbery.

In addition, Lavainna Seaton, 17, Chad Greaves, 18, Ronique Simpson, 19, all of Brooklyn; Wally Arias, 19, of the Bronx, and George Obanyoun, 20, of Inwood, pleaded guilty to robbery, attempted robbery, grand larceny and conspiracy. They will be sentenced on December 18.

This marks at least the second recent local scam involving Craigslist to result in robberies. Earlier this year, videographer Tom Morgan was robbed at gunpoint of his wallet and $4,000 worth of equipment after responding to a posting seeking somebody to tape a two-hour bachelorette party in Brooklyn.

To avoid such scams, Craigslist urges people to “deal locally with people you can meet in person… Follow this one simple rule and you will avoid 99% of scam attempts on Craigslist,” the website warns.

A Restaurant Row Rebound in Forest Hills?

Oh, what four lowercase letters and a period can do. On Forest Hills' newly rejuvenated Restaurant Row—aka 70th Road—the vacant, boarded-up former location of Rouge sprouted an enticing promotional sign recently. It advertises a new bar and grill that will be opening up in that prime location. It will be known as aged. No, my shift key is not broken, and that full stop acts as both the end of the sentence and the final character in the four-character name of the restaurant. There are no capital letters in the name of this restaurant. There is, on the other hand, punctuation. The name is one syllable, as if to indicate that the owners are too busy and important to add another. And it is — oh, could this possibly be happening? — an adjective.

You can imagine my excitement. Forest Hills, after all, is filled with the kind of Italian restaurants that proudly read “Ristorante Italiano” on their awnings, and one imagines the owners pronounce those words with short, nasal vowels, as Bugs Bunny might—”Riss-ta-RANN-tay Ih-TAIL-i-ANN-o.” You will note that Italian superchef Mario Batali does not open Ristorante Italianos—or is it Ristorantes Italiano? Ristorantes Italianos? Forest Hills alumna Lidia Bastianich would never dream of it, either. Just “Ristorante,” maybe, for a touch of the old country, but the Italiano seems a bit desperate, perhaps indicating that the restaurateur lacks confidence in his or her Italianness.

But I digress. The point is that aged. is a great name for a restaurant. Why? Just because it's the kind of thing that people who know what they're doing name their restaurants, that's why.

I have no evidence whatsoever that aged., which, it must be noted, does not yet exist, will not be terrible. For all I know, Sizzler will grill up a better steak—I presume from the name that steak will be a significant part of the menu. Judging by its location, it will almost assuredly be overpriced, as is its neighbor, fancy new MoCA, a place that offers nearly identical cuisine to a number of local restaurants approaching double digits, its main innovations being a more sparkly exterior and significantly higher prices. But I do know one solitary thing about aged., and that's its name. So far, it's batting 1.000.

Somehow, in this astoundingly nightmarish economy, Forest Hills is classing up a bit. Exhibit B: öko, a new yogurt-coffee-and-dessert place on Austin Street, whose name, while nonsense, is one letter shorter than aged. and also contains an umlaut. Listen to how awesome öko is: It peddles sour yogurt and fair-trade coffee, bakes homemade cookies and pies throughout the day, and its two other locations are in the East Village and Park Slope. Its website boasts that it “is a proud member of Businesses donating 1% of Sales to the Natural Environment,” whatever that means.

I paid a visit to öko last weekend, on exactly the kind of unseasonably frigid day that calls for a cup of fair-trade coffee, and business was booming. The people working behind the counter were chatty and concerned, and my chocolate-walnut blondie was delicious. Is this really the same one-square-block area where Twin Donut (motto: “When Dunkin Donuts has too much dignity to move in”) is set to open?

The business that öko was doing validates what I've been saying about Forest Hills for years. Businesspeople are finally starting to notice the obvious reality: When a worthwhile, well-thought-out, reasonably with-it business opens around here, it succeeds, every single time. I don't know how aged. will do, but if it looks nice, the service could be worse, and the food is halfway decent, people will show up — I promise.

Twin Donut is still coming, dollar stores and chintzy discounters abound, and the high-end retailers the luxury Windsor condo clearly was holding out for never quite made it—developers Cord Meyer eventually gave up and submitted to a veterinary clinic and the inevitable tanning salon. But the next time you see a disappointing new business open up here in town—and there will be a next time, and it will be soon—just remember: It's not because we can't support better. It's just for lack of trying.

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

Three Stabbed in Pool Hall Brawl

By Conor Greene

Three men ended up in local hospitals with stab wounds following a “large fight” outside a Ridgewood pool hall, according to police.

Officers from the 104th Precinct responded to the report of a fight in front of Arena Billiards and Café at 341 St. Nicholas Avenue at 2:19 a.m. on December 7. A security guard advised the officers that the individuals involved in the fight had fled the scene.

About 45 minutes later, the precinct received a report from Wyckoff Hospital of two men being treated for stab wounds. An officer responded to the hospital and found that Samuel Garcia, 21, and Hector Santiago, 22, both of Madison Avenue, were being treated. Garcia was admitted to the hospital with an abdomen wound, while Santiago was treated for a laceration on his right arm and released.

Meanwhile, the precinct was also notified that a third victim was in Kings County Hospital with a stab wound. An officer from the 71st Precinct in Brooklyn responded and met Victor Agosto, 45, of Grove Street. He was admitted to the hospital for treatment of several stab wounds to his lower back, said police.

A crime scene was established at the billiards hall while detectives interviewed the victims. Police say the three men were uncooperative and the cause of the fight is not known. All were expected to survive. As of press time, there was no information available on any arrests.

Arrest Made in Sidekick Theft

A 17-year-old girl was arrested and charged with stealing a Sidekick cell phone from another girl as she was walking on St. Felix Avenue in Ridgewood, said police.

Police from the 104th Precinct took Deonte Haynes, of Eldert Street in Brooklyn, into custody after responding to a report of a robbery near St. Felix Avenue and 60th Street at 1:55 p.m. on Tuesday.

According to police, the victim, a 17-year-old girl from Cooper Avenue was talking on her Sidekick when Haynes approached her and pushed her to the ground. Two witnesses chased Haynes along Felix Avenue to Seneca Avenue before catching her in front of 1717 Norman Street. They held here there until Officer Anthony Burzotta arrived and arrested her.

A Hispanic male wearing a black jacket and blue jeans fled from the scene and remains at large, according to police.