Friday, November 26, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Search Continues for Missing Howard Beach Man

By Patricia Adams

Rescuers continuing the extensive three-week search for Joseph Russo found a body in Howard Beach on Sunday night—but it wasn’t that of the missing 72-year-old Alzheimer’s patient.

According to sources from the NYPD and the Medical Examiners Office, the skeleton found in the weeded area off 165th Avenue was completely decomposed and, according to the time frame, could not be that of Russo.

A forensic anthropologist will examine the skeleton to make a positive determination that the remains are human and then go on to estimate age at death, racial affiliation, sex, and stature of the deceased. The bones were found in a search of the deep brush that began on Saturday morning and continued throughout the evening on Sunday.

The weekend search was a cooperative effort between the NYPD and the Eagle Valley Dogs, a New York-based search and rescue team. The K-9 team searches for lost and missing persons and is based in the Catskills and Upper Delaware River Valley.

According to Vice President Kate Danzig, the team “develops resources and trains its members to complement--not duplicate--the ca- pabilities of law enforcement and fire-rescue agencies in an area.”

Danzig who split her 20 years in the NYPD between patrol and narcotics, says the team is also available to assist during disasters or other emergencies.

Russo’s daughter Maria Ingrassia says that a friend working on the search effort to find her father came across the team while doing re- search on the Internet. “We are so grateful to Eagle Valley for coming down here and giving us some peace, knowing my father is not lying dead in these weeds,” she told The Forum.

The search went on through the weekend using a team of volunteers from Eagle Valley and foot searchers, aviation and the K-9 Unit of the NYPD. “We are so appreciative of everything that everyone is doing,” said Ingrassia, who also stressed how important it is to let people know that the remains found were not her father.

“While the weather is still with us we have to keep looking,” pleaded Ingrassia, who says that the cocentric search must expand way out beyond the Howard Beach area— quickly. According to the family, they are beefing up efforts in re-establishing contact with hospitals, shelters and bus terminals.

Detective Frank Rodriguez of the Missing Persons Bureau has been assigned the Russo’s case. “As of right now we have done three hospital canvasses and are submitting the fourth.” According to Det. Rodriguez, there is still a good chance that Russo is alive. “Cases with Alzheimer’s patients can be very tricky. We’ve had people turn up all over the United States.” Rodriguez told The Forum one of the patients he was involved in finding turned up in Europe. “You just never know. These people go all the way back in their minds and go where they have something fa- miliar.” At some point he says they are usually encountered by law enforcement officers who perform a background check and start to put the pieces together.

In addition to the search of hospital records, homeless shelters and a complete computer sweep, Rodriguez says he will begin an exhaustive investigation of all the bus routes running through Howard Beach and sur- rounding communities. “We will be handing out more description flyers and talking directly with drivers and people along these routes. We’re going to keep looking,” said Rodriguez. “I just have a good feeling about this one.”

Quality of Life Concerns in Lindenwood

A rise in auto theft and vandalism are just two of many quality of life issues prompting the formation of the new Lindenwood Alliance.

Residents to Form Alliance with NYPD, Local Elected Officials

By Patricia Adams

Concern over the recent spike in thefts and vandalism throughout Lindenwood has prompted some residents to take steps to safeguard their community.

In an effort to organize a coordinated effort among NYPD, community residents and local elected officials to address quality of life and crime issues, organizers will hold their first meeting on December 13.

“Over the last year, things have gotten out of hand in Lindenwood,” explains Christina Gold, a Lindenwood resident who has serious concerns about the rash of crime within the community. Gold says there are large numbers of groups of preteens and teens from outside the area who have repeatedly travelled through Lindenwood causing havoc and leaving damage in their wake.

Gold says she has personally witnessed the destructive actions and the repeated vandalism attempts. “I have seen them go after the people who return their bottles to the supermarket on more than one occasion and I have witnessed them trying to set off house alarms by disrupting sprinkler systems.”

But she says what really set her off is the bottle that came crashing over her backyard fence at a birthday party. “It was a little after 9 p.m. We were having a family party. The shattered glass hit several guests at the party and the bottle landed just inches from where a sleeping child lay in her carriage. “It’s just ridiculous that we have to live in fear in our own backyard,” says Gold. “It’s time we all get together and do what we have to in order to stay safe.”

And the mother of three contends she and her husband are not alone in their concerns for their family, as is evidenced by the number of supporters lining up to join what is to be known as the Lindenwood Alliance.

Lindenwood residents and activists will join Gold in the formation of the Alliance, including lifelong Howard Beach resident Joann Ariola. “I believe the concept of forming an alliance within the community is something that will serve Lindenwood residents very well,” said Ariola. “It’s a novel approach to include the three key groups that will interact to address quality of life issues as opposed to forming a routine civic organization.” Ariola says she and many other residents are prepared to help in setting up the Alliance.

Gold says she has already been developing two key relationships, one with Councilmember Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) and with the new Commanding Officer at the 106th Precinct, Capt. Thomas Pascale. “I feel that both the councilman and the precinct are going to cooperate with our group and really try to help us get things done.”

Anyone interested in finding out more about the Alliance is urged to attend the first meeting which will be held at the Rockwood Park Jewish Center on December 13th at 7:30 P.M.

Middle VIllage Residents Ask Con Ed for Underground Power Lines

By Eric Yun

On the night of September 16, a tornado and microburst swept through the area leaving a trail of trees and power lines scattered across Middle Village streets. The destruction created hazardous and unsafe condition and left thousands without power. Now, Middle Village residents, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and Representative Anthony Weiner (D-Kew Gardens) are calling on Consolidated Edison to remove the dangerous overhead cables and place them underground.

On the night of the tornado, downed power lines sparked fires throughout Middle Village, and created a mess Con Ed and other utility companies had to untangle for weeks.

“The tornado and microburst highlighted the vulnerability in our power grid,” Crowley said. “It’s time to bring Middle Village into the 21st Century and remove the outdated overhead power lines.”

Crowley and concerned residents argue that they pay the same price for power from overhead lines as underground lines, but suffer from more outages and safety hazards. And while Crowley’s biggest concern was safety, she said removing the unsightly wires would help beautify the neighborhood and help local businesses.

Fallen wires possess serious risks, but thankfully, no one was injured or electrocuted following Sep- tember’s storms.

“We were very fortunate the day of those storms,” said Weiner. Now, he added, it’s time for Con Ed to modernize the community and ensure residents never again have to worry about live wires on the ground.

“When I see trees down I’m saddened,” said Middle Village resident John Debiase, “When I see lines down, I’m frightened.”

Crowley and Weiner both noted that unsafe, ugly power lines are not something residents of Manhattan’s Park Avenue have to deal with, and the same should be said of Middle Village.

Underground cabling is common in New York City and Queens. According to Con Ed, there are 24,795 miles of underground cables in the borough compared to 6,995 miles of overhead cables.
Weiner questioned why Con Ed has not already begun modernizing the area with un- derground power lines. “The simple answer is Con Ed is trying to do things on the cheap,” he said.

Con Ed does not intend to place Middle Village’s power lines underground, and money does play a factor.

According to Con Ed spokesman Chris Olert, the cost to move overhead lines underground is $6 million per mile, which would be passed onto all of their customers. Furthermore, residential customers would likely have to pay $7,500 more per year, and commercial customers would have to pay $20,000 more per year to pay for the upgrades. Olert also said underground lines are not without problems, as it takes three to four times longer to identify and fix problems with underground lines.

Illega Races a Drag for Maspeth Residents

By Eric Yun

“Stop your engines and get off our streets,” was the rallying cry from Maspeth residents who are fed up with drag races along Maurice Avenue. They are now calling on the city Department of Transportation (DOT) to step in and install speed bumps in the area.

“I can’t sleep,” said resident Armand Gapkowski, who has started a petition that has amassed more than 60 signatures asking the DOT to install a speed bump.

Residents explained that the racers go through painstaking measures to avoid capture from police and interference from other drivers. They frequently block side roads and intersections with their cars, which often leads to more noise as other drivers honk their horns attempting to get through.

And it’s not like the residents can politely go to the street and ask the drivers to stop. They fear the crowd is too big and too dan- gerous. Calls to 911, residents have found, are not answered quickly enough to disperse the large crowds on their street.

In addition to the serious safety hazards of drag races, residents of Maspeth are constantly bombarded with sound pollution from passing and idling trucks at night.    Nobody wants to add revving engines or squealing tires to the list of night-time annoyances.

“Never again. We cannot tolerate illegal drag racing on Maurice Avenue or anywhere in Maspeth,” said Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside).

Van Bramer, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), Assemblywoman Marge Markey (D-Maspeth) and concerned citizens joined together on the corner of Maurice and Tyler avenues on Monday and demanded action to stop the illegal races.

Drag racing in the area has been a problem for at least 20 years. However, with the recent repaving of Maurice Avenue, the problem has intensified.

“Maurice Avenue was not repaved for idiots to drive 100 miles per hour,” Van Bramer

Roe Daraio, president of Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together (COMET), said the DOT must do something before someone is seriously injured. “The DOT has to take the bull by the horn and come up with a solution,” she said.

The simplest solution is to have a speed bump or rumble strips on the street to stop the races. A DOT spokesperson said the department is reviewing a request to install two speed bumps on Maurice Avenue along Tyler Avenue that do not interfere with the MTA bus route.

Maurice Avenue serves as a boundary line for the 104th and 108th police precincts, which make it difficult to ascertain who is responsible for patrolling the area and who should respond when    someone calls police about drag racing. Van Bramer and Crowley said that both precincts have been made aware of the problem and have promised to be more responsive to complaints to catch those racing illegally.

Deputy Inspector Keith Green of the 104th Precinct also spoke about increased cooperation with the 108th Precinct at last week’s COP 104 meeting.

The politicians promised they would work together to make drag racing a relic of the past.

“Drag racing is not welcome here in Maspeth, or anywhere in the city of New York,” said Crowley. “It must stop.”

To illustrate the dangers of drag racing, Van Bramer’s office has reposted a YouTube video showing a drag race on Maurice Avenue. The two cars line up side by side, and after a count, both cars take off in discordant sound. But moments later, one of the cars spins out of control and slams into some parked cars. After taking a moment to recover, the driver flees the scene.

“What if the car had spun out of control into the people foolish enough to watch the race?” Van Bramer asked.

It’s time to put an end to the races, Van Bramer said, before someone ends up in adjacent Mt. Zion Cemetery.