Three people have died violent deaths in the last four weeks in Union City and West New York – not to mention two residents who were dismembered in their Union City apartment in a mysterious incident in April.
So far the Union City Police Department, West New York Police Department, and Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office have been able to rein in the suspects, many of whom turned themselves in after massive searches were launched and their photos were plastered throughout media outlets.
According to police officials, crime tends to escalate in the summer.
In the most recent incident, prosecutors revealed last week that a man who was found dead in his bed on June 11had been in a fight which may have led to the injuries that killed him.
On June 6, John Denaro, 43, of Union City was treated and released at Hoboken University Medical Center for head injuries. Later that day, DeFazio said that Denaro went back to the hospital and was admitted to undergo surgery to his spleen.
He was released on June 10. However, the next morning, he was found “unresponsive” in his Union City home by his girlfriend. He was pronounced dead at his home at 8:35 a.m.
According to DeFazio, Denaro had previously told family members that he was involved in a fight and was not feeling well.
DeFazio said that preliminary autopsy reports showed that Denaro died of blunt force trauma to the abdomen (at least some of which he had incurred prior to the surgery), but investigators are still trying to determine how exactly he suffered the injuries.
Although the death has not been ruled a homicide, investigators have labeled his death “suspicious” and are looking for anyone who may have seen or spoken with Denaro between June 5 and his death on June 11.
Beaten to death by a teen
On June 10, a 16-year-old West New York boy was charged with the fatal beating of 29-year old Abraham Rivera, of West New York.
Rivera was found bloody and unconscious in the early hours of June 6, without identification and his pockets turned inside out, outside of an internet café located at on 61st Street in West New York.
He died within hours of being brought to the hospital. Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio ruled the death a homicide.
Four days later, after a massive search, a suspect turned himself in. The boy (whose name has not been released because of his age) was charged with felony murder and robbery.
“[The victim] sustained blunt force trauma to the head, neck, and face,” said DeFazio two weeks ago.
Rivera worked as a busboy at Mi Bandera on 32nd Street in Union City and it is believed that he was walking home from his Saturday night shift when he was attacked.
DeFazio said last week that investigators are looking for two other juveniles or young people who may have been present or involved in the attack.
WNY police respond to criticism
Although West New York police have racked up record numbers of prostitution and drug-related arrests since the beginning of the year, the department has received criticism from some residents who feel there’s not enough attention being paid to other crimes, including the aforementioned murder of Rivera. The murder occurred down the block from the police station.
“That was devastating,” said Police Director Albert Bringa. “You don’t want those things to happen on your watch.”
But he added that crime can happen anywhere.
Bringa said that the massive efforts against prostitution and drugs do not affect routine patrols because they are coordinated by special units. Those arrests also may, in the end, prevent larger crimes.
Bringa said that it’s just as important to clean up the area of small crimes.
“It’s all quality of life,” he said. “These are the things that affect communities.”
After-hours fight leads to fatal stabbing
Another Union City murder occurred on May 30, Memorial Day.
Two West New York cousins, Juan Ventura Balbuena, 19, and Daniel Balbuena, 18, were charged with allegedly stabbing a man at Studio 45, an after-hours night club. Prosecutors said the death was the result of a fight outside the Bergenline Avenue establishment.
The incident left Union City resident Ivan Restrepo, 23, dead, and his brother, Alejandro Restrepo, 19, also of Union City, in critical condition.
According to law enforcement officials, Juan Ventura Balbuena was caught at the scene. His cousin Daniel allegedly fled but eventually turned himself in to authorities.
DeFazio said that both Balbuena cousins are allegedly undocumented Mexican immigrants and both are now in Hudson County Correctional Center facing charges of murder, aggravated assault, and weapons offenses.
Studio 45 was shut down by Union City officials the day after the deadly stabbing amid allegations that the club allegedly had been serving alcohol years after its permit was revoked.
The police have begun more closely monitoring other businesses that may be in violation.
Dismembered in UC, left in Linden
Meanwhile, on April 5, the dismembered bodies of two Union City residents were found in bags on the side of a road in Linden.
This month, Ruben Acosta, 36, of Union City was arrested and accused of having transported the dismembered bodies of Maria Torres, 48, and Lazaro Calero, 49, in the bags.
DeFazio said that investigators believe that the two were killed around April 1 inside their home in Union City and that a bleach and mop were used to clean the bloody scene.
After the murders, the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office released security camera images of a car outside the crime scene. DeFazio said last week that the images of the man seen in the video fit the general description of Acosta; however, more investigative work is being done.
DeFazio also said that when Acosta was stopped and arrested, he was driving what appeared to be the same car.
As of press time, Acosta had not been charged with the murders.
Union County officials have said that Acosta was also recently charged with a kidnapping and robbery that occurred in Linden during a home invasion where he posed as a cop to gain entry to the home.
Responding to and preparing for crime
West New York Police Director Albert Bringa said that during his 25 years with the police force, he has certainly seen crime rates spike in the summer.
“More people are out on the street,” he said, adding that it’s not just one type of crime that escalates, but rather all.
In preparation for the potential escalation of crime, Bringa said last week that his department has “beefed up” the patrol division and added officers to do special detail to areas that are prone to be problematic.
“It’s not only to deter crime,” said Bringa. “It brings the community closer to the police.”
Bringa continues to urge residents to utilize the town’s hotline, (201) 295-5047, where residents can report suspected crimes without leaving a name, address, or any personal information.
Bringa said that it’s important that residents be aware of what’s going on around them and report anything suspicious.
Anyone with information about any of the recent incidents currently being investigated by the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office should call the Homicide Squad at (201) 915-1345.