Witness in vehicular death calls for independent investigation
A Jersey City resident who said he was an ear witness to the April 19 vehicular death of pedestrian Stephen Clifford is calling for an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident.
Clifford, 24, was struck and killed by a car last Friday night at around 10 p.m. as he was crossing Fairmount Avenue near Kennedy Boulevard. Officials have said the car was driven by an off-duty JCPD officer.
Joe Harkins – who said he heard the event late Friday night at around 10 p.m. – was one of the first people to call 911 after the incident. However, Harkins finds it suspicious that he and others who were in the area at the time have not been contacted or interviewed by the Jersey City police.
“Although I saw multiple people present, the public statement from the [Jersey City Police Chief Tom Comey] says that the sole eyewitness they interviewed did not give a name or address,” Harkins told members of the City Council Wednesday night. But, he added, “I have been given the name and address of a man who says he saw the entire incident and claims he gave his eyewitness report and contact information to the police on the scene…Somehow, there is a disconnect between what the police are saying and what I and others are reporting we saw.”
The JCPD has identified Michael Spolizino as the alleged driver of the car. Chief Comey told NJ.com that Spolizino was not driving under the influence, although no field sobriety test was conducted. Published articles said that the light had turned to green and Clifford suddenly attempted to cross against the light, so Spolizino may not have had time to react.
So that the investigation into the death is handled fairly, Harkins is calling on the JCPD to step aside and let an independent investigator from either the state Attorney General's Office or the New Jersey State Police look into the matter. Last Wednesday, he called on the City Council to support this request.
However, Peter Nalbach, deputy chief of the JCPD, said, Thursday, “We are perfectly capable of investigating this case. If the [Office of the Hudson County Prosecutor] wants to step over us and take over the case, they have the authority to do that. But at this point, no one is doing that.”
In response to Harkins’ claim that he and other witnesses have not been contacted, Nalbach said, “We don’t know Joe Harkins from a hole in the wall. I’m sorry that Mr. Harkins feels the way that he does. There are a lot of rumors out there, but they don’t jibe with what we know. We don’t have any other witnesses, other than a man [interviewed at the scene] who did not want to give his name or address.”
Nalbach said that if anyone has any information regarding this case, they are welcome to call Chief Comey’s office at (201) 547- 5301.
JCPD clarifies info re man who allegedly took bomb-making materials on train
NJ Transit and local law enforcement officials have clarified details regarding the arrest of a local man whom they allege had materials that could be combined to make an explosive in the home.
Mykyta Panasenko of Jersey City appeared in court recently after he was charged with possession of destructive devices and creating a risk of widespread damage. A search of his residence led to the recovery of explosive components, according to JCPD spokesman Stan Eason. There were no completed explosive devices recovered during the search of his residence or any train, according to the Police Department.
The Jersey City Police Department’s Special Investigations Unit, the lead agency on the case, is working in conjunction with New Jersey Transit and the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office in the ongoing investigation. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and other federal and state agencies have been notified about the case.
Arrested on April 15, Panasenko, 27, is charged with two counts, in the third and fourth degrees, of possession of a destructive device and creating a risk of widespread damage, respectively. These charges were filed by the JCPD. NJ Transit Police have filed separate charges against Panasenko. Due to the degree of the alleged crimes, Panasenko was charged on a summons complaint and released on his own recognizance.
There is no indication at this point of the investigation that he intended to detonate a device in his building or on the transit system, according to the JCPD. Police recovered components of an explosive device at his home, not a completed device. However, the investigation revealed that he did transport completed devices from his home at some point, officials said.
More honors for McNair Academic High School
Jersey City’s McNair Academic High School has been included on U.S. News and World Report’s 2013 list of best high schools. McNair ranked 50th nationally, according to the magazine, and 4th in the state of New Jersey. For the list, officially known as the Best High Schools Rankings, U.S. News and World Report with the American Institutes for Research to evaluate schools on overall student performance on state-mandated assessments, as well as how effectively schools educated their black, Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students. Performance on Advanced Placement and International baccalaureate exams was then used to determine the degree to which schools prepare students for college-level work.
Two weeks ago, The Washington Post ranked McNair 73rd nationally on its America’s Most Challenging High Schools list.
Jersey City Public School District gives update on water lead remediation
The Jersey City Public School District announced last week that it has completed Phase I of an ongoing lead remediation plan, following a study that found that dozens of water fountains and sinks throughout the district had lead levels that exceed federal standards.
According to a release issued by the school district on April 22, “All 233 pre-kindergarten water outlets have been identified and were tested by March 29, 2013. Of those tested, 10 had elevated levels. Those sites have been taken out of service and water coolers have been dispatched to those locations.”
The 10 water locations that have been taken out of service, according to the district, include: two sinks in Room 104 in PS 16; a sink in Room 105 at PS 16; a sink in Room 118 at PS 22; a water fountain in Room 118 at PS 22; a sink in Room 122 at PS 22; Trailer No. 7 at PS 23; Trailer 501 at PS 28; the trailer kitchen sink at PS 30; and a sink in Room 101 at PS 39.
An analysis of 978 school sinks and fountains that was conducted by Aqua Pro-Tech Labs on behalf of the district concluded that, between October 2012 and January 2013, 140 had lead contamination that exceeded Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards.
Elevated lead levels in school sinks and water fountains has been a problem throughout the district ever since 2006, according to education activist Ellen Simon, co-founder of Parents for Progress. In the March, Parents for Progress newsletter Simon noted that district schools have been dealing with the problem of elevated lead levels since 2006. The last time any schools were tested for lead, Simon added, was in 2010 when the district tested 159 fountains and sinks. At that time, 108 exceeded EPA standards for lead.
In the most recent study, 140 water outlets had elevated lead levels that exceeded EPA standards.
According to district spokeswoman Paula Christen, the district is remediating affected water fountains and sinks by having new pipes, fixtures, and filtration systems installed, where necessary. To assist with this remediation, the school district has hired a tectonic environmental engineer.
Eight High Tech students qualify for 2014 National Merit Scholarship Program
Director of High Tech High School Dr. Joseph Giammarella announced that eight High Tech juniors have met the qualifications to enter the 2014 National Merit Scholarship Program this year.
High Tech is a countywide public high school.
The designation is based on PSAT scores and other factors. With a Selection Index score of 203 or above, each of these students – Jersey City resident Jenny Doyle; Harrison residents Mark Ma and Toshi Piazza; Sam Jacobs of Hoboken; Maximilian Ashkenazi, Dina-Simran Chotrani, and Eileen Gao of Secaucus; and Weehawken resident Kyra Baker – ranked among the 50,000 highest-scoring participants of some 1.5 million program entrants.
Semifinalists, representing the top scorers in each state, will be the only students who will have the opportunity to continue in the competition for about 8,300 National Merit Scholarships offered in 2014.
Folk legend, Woodstock performer, and Jersey City resident Richie Havens dies at 72
Legendary folk singer Richie Havens died Monday of a heart attack in his Jersey City home. According to news reports, he was 72.
A native of Brooklyn, Havens became a staple live performer at various New York clubs in the early 1960s, releasing his debut album, Mixed Bag, in 1967.
But it was his memorable two-hour opening set at the original 1969 Woodstock Festival for which Havens is best remembered. According to several news accounts, Havens had been slated to take the stage as the festival’s fifth act, but was bumped up in the performance lineup after scheduled opening act Sweetwater got stuck in traffic. When other bands were similarly delayed, Havens just continued playing.
The 11-song set included “Handsome Johnny,” “Minstrel from Gault,” and “Hey Jude,” among other tunes. But it was Havens’ Woodstock encore – a blending of his original protest song “Freedom” and the black spiritual “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” – that would become one of the most enduring signature moments of the three-day music festival. A recorded version of the song was used most recently in the Quentin Tarantino film “Django Unchained.”
The eldest of nine children, Havens sang gospel and doo-wop as a teenager in Bed-Stuy before finding his voice as a folk performer, according to the New York Times.
After Woodstock, Havens went on to record dozens of albums, and became known for his rearranged renditions of covers of the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun,” Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman,” and Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train,” in addition to his own original work. His last album, Nobody Left to Crown, was released in 2008.
Several news outlets reported that Havens had kidney surgery in 2010 and retired due to health problems last year.
A resident of the Jersey City Heights, Havens was often seen walking about in the community, though he shunned media attention in his later years.
Silverman Cinco de Mayo celebration on… May 3!
Silverman development, Hamilton Park, and the Merchant will team up on Friday, May 3 to celebrate Cinco de Mayo – two days early! The eight-hour celebration will begin at 4 p.m. with a parade from Grand Street to Montgomery Street, via Grove Street. The parade will be followed by a party that will include hot tacos from The Taco Truck and El Chilango, ice cold margaritas, state-brewed beer, music, and dancing.
This event is free and open to the public. The fun gets underway at 279 Grove St.
All Points Borscht returns for its fourth funnyfest
On Saturday, May 4, All Points Borscht will return with a fresh line up of comedy acts that will tickle even the grimmest funny bone. This year’s featured performer is Todd Barry, who has appeared on Comedy Central Presents, Louie, Dr. Katz, and Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Phil Rivo will serve as host for the evening.
All Points Borscht will be held at Temple Beth-El Jersey City, 2419 Kennedy Blvd. The laughter begins at 8 p.m. The event is a benefit for the temple, so God will love you more if you go!
Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. To purchase tickets, visit www.betheljc.org/borscht.
FOLSP Annual Fundraising Luncheon
On Sunday, May 5, from 1 to 4 p.m., the Friends of Liberty State Park will host its annual fundraising luncheon to celebrate its 25 birthday – and its ongoing post-Sandy recovery. The luncheon will take place at Liberty House Restaurant, 76 Audrey Zapp Drive, inside the park. Tickets are $65 in advance and $75 at the door. Cash bar. For more information, call Sam Pesin at (201) 792-1993 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For specific information regarding the fundraiser, visit http://www.folsp.org/events/luncheon.htm.