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Central Jersey News from the Times of Trenton

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    The Hopewell Township home was rendered uninhabitable after suffering serious flame, heat, smoke and water damage in the Monday fire

    A homeowner repairing a generator next to his Hopewell Township home in preparation for expected snow on Wednesday accidentally touched of a fire Monday afternoon that caused major damage to the house.

    The Stony Brook Road home was rendered uninhabitable after suffering serious flame, heat, smoke and water damage in the 2:30 p.m. fire, Hopewell Township police said.

    Police officer Maria Gavdanovich arrived moments after a 911 call from a neighbor and found the owners - and husband and wife - outside the home, which was engulfed in flames, police said.

    Hopewell Valley Emergency Services Chief Matt Martin got the scene moments later and started directing the township's fire companies. Firefighters from Lawrence, Ewing and Montgomery, and a number of fire tankers who supplied the water, assisted at the scene, police said.

    Investigators found the portable generator caught fire next to the exterior of the home while the homeowner was fixing it, and windy conditions may have contributed to the fire's spread, police said.

    The resident was preparing for the snow, and had power to his home at the time and the generator was not being used to power anything at the home, police said.

    Thousands of New Jerseyans were out of electrical service during a nor'easter that started Friday. The American Red Cross is assisting the homeowners.

    Kevin Shea may be reached at kshea@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter@kevintshea. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     

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    Democratic legislators last week moved to repeal a law, on the books for 174 years, which prevents individuals convicted of a serious crime from voting - even after they've done their time and repaid their debt to society. Watch video

    Even as 94,000 of New Jersey's residents remain behind bars, on parole or on probation - more than the entire population of Trenton - a debate is swirling: Should these men and women be entitled to vote when Election Day comes around every year?

    Democratic legislators last week moved to repeal a law, on the books for 174 years, which prevents individuals convicted of a serious crime from voting - even after they've done their time and repaid their debt to society.

    Backed by a coalition of 80 organizations throughout the state, the lawmakers say their bill remedies a system that disproportionately affects blacks in the Garden State.

    The current ban "remains a moral stain on our state," says Ryan Haygood, president and CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, which recently released a report noting that more than half of those disenfranchised here - about 47,400 people - are African-Americans.

    The Legislative Black Caucus has been advocating for the change for years, and now momentum seems to be building in its favor.

    Let inmates vote from prison, N.J. lawmakers say

    In 2016, the nonprofit Sentencing Project in Washington D.C. ranked the racial disparity in our prisons the highest in the country.

    "There is no relationship between voting and committing crimes. To disenfranchise those who have made mistakes and are paying for them is wrong," says State Sen. Ron Rice (D-Essex), a prime sponsor of the bill.

    If any population has a stake in the future of the criminal-justice system - and in the elected officials who make the decisions - it's those who are caught up in that system.

    Threatening to take away the right to vote is hardly an effective means of preventing crime, Rice says.

    On the contrary: Statistics indicate that when released prisoners are permitted to vote, as they are in Maine and Vermont, they are substantially less likely to wind up back in jail.

    Much like programs such as those sponsored by the New Jersey Reentry Corporation help ex-cons find firmer footing once they're free, permitting these individuals to vote helps make them full and contributing members of society.

    Whether or not to give the vote to incarcerated prisoners is a thornier issue.

    Many people believe that a convicted murderer or a rapist forfeits the right to take part in the democratic process. Or that their lack of wisdom or judgment should make such felons ineligible to cast a ballot.

    But the rights of citizenship still pertain, even to those behind bars. Furthermore, judgment and wisdom have never been prerequisites to voting.

    It's unclear whether leading Democrats will get behind this component of the bill, and whether Gov. Phil Murphy would sign it if they did, But the issue is nuanced. The measure the lawmakers are debating deserves thorough and objective consideration.

    Bookmark NJ.com/Opinion. Follow on Twitter @NJ_Opinion and find NJ.com Opinion on Facebook.


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    Did your school beat the state average?

    Even if your high school didn't make the list of N.J.'s 50 best SAT scores, there's a chance its results were still pretty good. 

    The state's Class of 2107 posted an impressive average score of 1,103 out of 1,600. That's with an average score of 551 in reading and writing and a 552 in math.

    Scores at individual schools followed a predictable pattern as magnet schools or academies with selective enrollment achieved the state's best results. 

    Results at traditional high schools continued to correlate to demographics.  Students are more likely to score well if they have parents who attended college and a high family income, according to College Board data. 

    Use the tool below to find the SAT scores for each of N.J.'s public high schools. 

    Loading...

    Carla Astudillo may be reached at castudillo@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @carla_astudi. Find her on Facebook.

    Adam Clark may be reached at adam_clark@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on twitter at @realAdamClarkFind NJ.com on Facebook.

     
     

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    Kiwanis Club of Trenton organizes cleanup of Battle Monument Park. At the same time, Boy Scout Troop 180A, of Allentown, retires the old flag and raises a new one in its place. Watch video

    Trenton's Battle Monument and surrounding Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park got an early spring cleaning this past Saturday, thanks to a group of volunteers.

    The Kiwanis Club of Trenton is celebrating their centennial this year and this is one of the projects the club has taken on to mark the occasion.

    Kiwanian Mike McCormick arranged the event. 

    The City of Trenton provided bags, rakes, and other tools, and the new flag.

    Volunteers included Kiwanians, Boy Scout Troop 180A, representatives of the Trenton Council of Civic Associations as well as other assorted civilians.

    Century-old elevator has kept Battle Monument closed for years

    North Ward Councilwoman Marge Caldwell-Wilson was also on hand.

    Two-and-a half years ago, it was Caldwell-Wilson organized a cleanup of the park.

    The previous year, the councilwoman bought a new American flag with her own money to replace the tattered one that had been flying over the park and raised donations to restore the rusted flagpole.

    This year, during the cleanup, the scouts held a ceremony and "retired" the torn American flag and replaced it with a new one, provided by the city.

    Michael Mancuso may be reached at mmancuso@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @michaelmancuso. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


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    Horace Gordon is charged with first-degree murder and firearm possession charges

    The trial of a Trenton man accused of gunning down a city man in June 2015 began Tuesday.

    Horace Gordon, 38, of Trenton is accused of killing 29-year-old Harvey Sharp, on his birthday on Cummings Avenue in Trenton's Chambersburg neighborhood. 

    Gordon is charged with first-degree murder and weapons possession charges. 

    At approximately 12:11 a.m. on June 24, 2015, Trenton police responded to the first block of Cummings Avenue on a report of a male shot.

    When they arrived, officers found a man, later identified as Sharp, suffering from a gunshot wound to the chest. He was transported to Capital Health Regional Medical Center, in the city, where he succumbed to his injuries, the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office has said.

    Authorities linked Gordon to the crime, they did not say specifically how, and tracked him to southern Virginia in July 2015, where a U.S. Marshals task force apprehended him.

    Olivia Rizzo may be reached at orizzo@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @LivRizz. Find NJ.com on Facebook 

     

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    Mercer County school districts announced closings and delayed openings ahead of Wednesday's big coastal storm.

    Another big coastal storm is headed for New Jersey and bringing a mix of snow, rain and wind causing schools throughout the state to announce closings and delays for Wednesday.

    The following Mercer County schools are closed or have delayed openings for Wednesday, March 7:

    CLOSED:

    • East Windsor 
    • Ewing
    • Hamilton Township
    • International Academy of Trenton Charter School
    • Lawrence Township
    • Mercer County Special Services School District
    • Mercer County Technical Schools
    • Princeton Public Schools
    • Robbinsville Public Schools
    • Titusville Academy
    • Trenton Public Schools
    • West Windsor-Plainsboro 

    DELAYED OPENINGS:

    • No announcements yet

    EARLY DISMISSALS FOR WEDNESDAY:

    • No announcements yet

    If you know of any delays or closures not on this list, let us know in the comments.

    Caitlyn Stulpin may be reached at cstulpin@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @caitstulpin. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


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    It is unclear whether he was dead before the fire began

    Police are investigating the death of a man found in a burning car behind a Trenton home Monday afternoon.

    Shortly after 3 p.m. Monday, Trenton police and firefighters responded to a call for a fire on the 400 block of South Olden Avenue in the East Ward of the city.

    The Trenton Fire Department arrived and found a dark-colored Ford SUV was engulfed in flames. Firefighters found the man's body in the backseat, after extinguishing the flames, officials said.

    An autopsy performed on Tuesday determined that the man was in his early 50s, but the cause and manner of his death are not yet determined, the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office said Tuesday. 

    It is unclear whether he was dead before the fire began. The man's identity has not yet been made public.

    Trenton Fire Dept. Battalion Chief Todd Willever said the fire was ferocious for a few minutes. "It took every bit of our tank water (on the engine)," he said. 

    After the firefighters got the visible flames out, they found the body, and were unable to make any sort of rescue, Willever said.

    The Mercer County Homicide Task Force and Trenton police continue to investigate the incident. 

    Paige Gross may be reached at pgross@njadvancemedia.comFollow her on Twitter @By_paigegross. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     

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    During one incident, the suspect exposed himself to three underage girls

    A man Trenton police described as a "serial groper" has been arrested on charges he grabbed a number of girls in the East and West wards of the city.

    Carlton Francis.jpgCarlton Francis

    Carlton Francis, 31, is the man who groped girls - some on their way to school - starting in the summer of 2017, Trenton police allege.

    He's charged with 11 counts of criminal sexual contact, six counts of endangering the welfare of a child, two  counts of harassment and a count of marijuana possession. 

    Francis is accused of seven separate groping incidents occurring between July 2017 and last month.

    All of the  incidents included inappropriate grabbing of the victims. During one incident, Francis exposed himself to three female juveniles, police say.

    The East Ward incidents occurred around Gladstone Avenue, and in the West along West State Street at Gouverneur and Parkside avenues.

    Police looking for man groping girls in Trenton (VIDEO)

     "The residents and children of this city deserve the right to walk about freely without fearing for their safety and wellbeing, Police Director Ernest Parrey Jr. said in a statement. 

    "Thanks to the hard work, endless hours and dedication of all the officers involved in the investigation of these heinous acts, the citizens of this city will no longer have to fear Francis Carlton," the director said.

    During the investigation of an incident on Kent Street on Sept. 26, 2017, detectives were able to recover video of the suspect in the area during the time of the incident, but unable to identify the suspect, even after sending the footage to the media.

    Detectives stayed in the East Ward area, conducting surveillance and other operations, police said.

    On Jan. 30 of this year, investigators caught a break while investigating a groping incident from earlier in the day - they found video of the suspect's vehicle, which led police to identify a vehicle in North Trenton, which then led to Francis, police said.

    Francis was officially charged at Trenton police headquarters last week after being brought in on an arrest warrant.

    Trenton Detective Israel Bonilla was the lead investigator on all the cases, assisted by Detective Anthony Petracca of the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office    

    Olivia Rizzo may be reached at orizzo@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @LivRizz. Find NJ.com on Facebook 

     

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    Highlights from the state tournament.


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    Check out what the weather looked like this morning in different areas of the state, where some already have their shovels out while others are still waiting for the snow to start.


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    Have you seen him?

    Princeton police are looking for a man they say made terroristic threats to the manager of an eating club just off Princeton University's campus Tuesday afternoon. 

    Darnall Pygum, of Trenton, entered the Terrace Club on Washington Road near Prospect Avenue Tuesday afternoon, allegedly seeking employment. The university said in a statement that Pygum was a former employee. 

    Screen Shot 2018-03-07 at 12.14.31 PM.pngDarnall Pygum (Police photo) 

    Pygum "appeared to be intoxicated and was behaving strangely by approaching and hugging club members and staff," Princeton police said. 

    Pygum left when he was asked to by club employees, but later called with threatening messages. 

    According to police, Pygum told the club's manager on the phone that he would snipe him saying, "I'm going to get you," and "I'll be waiting for you outside this afternoon when you leave work." 

    Several Mercer County agencies are looking for Pygum, and a warrant has been issued for his arrest in connection with this incident. 

    Princeton police are urging those who might come in contact with him to call 609-921-2100 or Detective Sgt. Ben Gering at 609-921-2100 ext. 1840 to report his whereabouts. The police statement stressed that those who come in contact with him should not attempt to apprehend or approach him. 

    Paige Gross may be reached at pgross@njadvancemedia.comFollow her on Twitter @By_paigegross. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     

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    One last assessment of N.J. hockey's best teams in 2017-18.


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    Mercer County school districts announced closings and delayed openings for Thursday following Wednesday's winter storm.

    Much of New Jersey was hit hard by another nor'easter, which brought winds, rain and snow, prompting Mercer County schools to announce closings and delayed openings for Thursday.

    The following schools are closed or have delayed openings for Thursday, March 8:

    CLOSED:

    • Ewing Public Schools
    • Hamilton Township School District
    • Hopewell Valley Regional School District
    • International Academy of Trenton Charter
    • Lawrence Township Public Schools
    • Mercer County Special Services School District
    • Mercer County Technical Schools
    • Princeton Public Schools
    • Robbinsville Public Schools
    • STEMCivics
    • Trenton School district
    • Titusville Academy
    • West-Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District

    DELAYED OPENING:

    • East Windsor Regional (Hour and half delay)

    EARLY DISMISSAL:

    • No announcements yet 

    If you know of any delays or closures not on this list, let us know in the comments.

    Caitlyn Stulpin may be reached at cstulpin@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @caitstulpin. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     

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    A sometimes noisy 'thundersnow' rolled across New Jersey Wednesday

    Slippery slushy roads, blowing snow and thunder cracks.

    The storm  - a thundersnow at times - that trudged across New Jersey hit the Trenton area with a little bit of everything Wednesday.

    As of 3 p.m., heavy bands of snow continuing to pummel Somerset County, and northern Mercer and southern Middlesex counties.

    Snowfall totals ranged from 3 inches in Hightstown, to 9 inches in Pennington.

    All the NJ.com coverage of the ongoing storm can be found here: nj.com/weather.


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    Coordinated walkouts on March 14 and April 20 have New Jersey districts scrambling to respond appropriately, with consideration not only for the students' educational needs but also for their safety.

    Spurred on by their grief at losing friends, classmates and teachers at the hands of a young man with an AR-15, students from Parkland, Fla., have stirred up enough support to convince major companies to reconsider the way they do business.

    Think Avis, Budget, Hertz, United Airlines, Dicks Sporting Goods, among others.

    Now these eloquent youngsters have galvanized their peers nationwide to plan peaceful protests and walkouts this month and next, throwing the grown-ups in the room - teachers and administrators - into a tizzy.

    Coordinated walkouts on March 14 and April 20 have New Jersey districts scrambling to respond appropriately, with consideration not only for the students' educational needs but also for their safety.

    What they should not do is resort to overly harsh measures against youngsters who are getting their first taste of how democracy works. That sends exactly the wrong message.

    Undergoing three-day suspensions, losing the right to go to the prom, being denied a senior trip - these are among the modes of discipline we've heard bandied about. Schools are within their legal rights to threaten these moves, but we hope they'll reconsider.

    Rather, they could take their lead from universities in the Garden State which have declared their support for their future students' participation in these peaceful protests.

    Drew, Montclair, Rowan, Rutgers, The College of New Jersey and others have reached out to assure applicants that walking out will not jeopardize their admissions decisions - and in some instances could even help their chances.

    Typical is Montclair, whose Karen Pennington, vice president of student development and campus life, noted that "We very much believe in students expressing themselves and taking a stand. That's what an education is all about."

    State law requires all children between 6 and 16 to attend school, giving administrators full legal rights to discipline students for missing class.

    But schools are not permitted to impose harsher punishment for taking part in a political protest than for simply skipping classes, the New Jersey branch of the ACLU says, meaning they can't make up punishments willy-nilly if they don't like the activity of the day.

    The best approach is to use the mass protests as a tool to launch meaningful discussion in the classroom, giving all students the chance to be heard, whatever their views on the topic of gun safety.

    The New Jersey School Boards Association advises teachers to create an education event, such as a forum, to give students an opportunity to express their concerns. The association also encourages administrators to communicate with students and families about what consequences, if any, there will be for walking out those days.

    If there's any hope of breaking the NRA's unholy grip on our current crop of senators and Congress members, it lies with the kids. Let's encourage, rather than squash, their activism.

    Bookmark NJ.com/Opinion. Follow on Twitter @NJ_Opinion and find NJ.com Opinion on Facebook.

     

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    "Children will always be blissfully unaware of the lives their parents or grandparents lived before them."

    On a typical day in the 1970s, a guy like me might put on my Earth Shoes and drive an El Camino to school, opening the vent window on the way.

    I may have listened to a teacher discuss the Jonathan Livingston Seagull novel and then climbed a rack of thick wooden dowels in gym class. Members of the A/V club might have wheeled a projector into a classroom for a film presentation.

    After school, I might work on a term paper on an electric typewriter, keeping a bottle of Wite-Out correction fluid ready to employ.

    I might listen to music on a boom box, or decide what to watch on TV after consulting TV guide. Naturally, I would change the channel by turning the knob on the set and I would hope the picture was decent after adjusting the vertical hold.

    a65ada6bb37146db2a52eac35ef7ab22.jpgYou know what this was used for, right? 

    As much as this might sound like someone speaking a foreign language to millennials, all of this was part of daily life not terribly long ago.

    Many of the items in this gallery were technical wonders of their day ... and seem almost funny today. An article on vox.com notes that "It's easy to argue that generations of people no longer exist in neat baby-boomer time periods. Instead of years, we should label generations by the dominant technology they use. Children will always be blissfully unaware of the lives their parents or grandparents lived before them."

    MORE: Vintage photos around New Jersey

    Which is why collections like this one are both entertaining ... and educational.

    Here's a gallery of things you may have forgotten about, or put a great deal of effort into intentionally forgetting about. And here are links to some other galleries you might enjoy.

    Vintage photos of things that have changed - for better or worse

    Vintage photos of how things have changed in N.J.

    Vintage photos of New Jerseyans engaged in 'dicey' activities

    Greg Hatala may be reached at ghatala@starledger.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregHatala. Find Greg Hatala on Facebook.


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    #IWD2018: The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom has created a framework for women to bond together and then commit to resolving some of the current hateful rhetoric.

    By Heba Macksoud

    When I first heard about the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, it sounded strange to me: A few older Jewish women wanted to get together with a bunch of Muslim women in New Jersey to "get to know them."

    I joined as one of the Muslim women. It was my first exposure to the Sisterhood, an organization focused on building relationships between Jewish and Muslim women in an effort to end anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish bigotry. 

    I had two sets of twins, aged four and 10, working full-time in Manhattan and running a full-time business, as well as volunteering. I was only ambivalent because the long-term goals seemed monumental. However, I absolutely needed to be part of it.

    At Sisterhood meetings, we discuss our lives and stories in the comforts of each others' homes; I have learned that the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom is built on a premise we can all learn from: the idea that simply sharing our stories with each other -- and empathizing with those of other faiths and backgrounds -- is the first step toward building a more peaceful world. 

    There is a big misconception that all Muslims and Jews do not get along because of the Palestine-Israel state of affairs, and that is simply false.

    There are 1.7 billion Muslims in the world from over 50 majority-Muslim countries. There are almost the same number of Muslims as Jews in the U.S. (approximately 6 million) but less than 18 percent of Muslims are Arab and even less than half of that number are Palestinians.

    I do not mean to minimize the importance or reverberating effects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- only to point out that it is not the defining backdrop against which all Muslim-Jewish relations take place. The issue that actually unites me with Jewish people is the way we are sometimes vilified because of our faith.

    Fighting anti-Semitism and Islamophobia is core to our mission.

    That's why there are 26 chapters of the Sisterhood in New Jersey alone: starting on the local community level creates change that reverberates far beyond a single meeting or even a certain town. 

    For example, the Princeton chapter includes women from Lawrenceville, Princeton and East Windsor, but as more and women join, the chapters become more centralized for the town. The chapter leaders attend online meetings in order to share best practices and learn from each other. We have an annual conference where chapters from across the country -- and a few international ones -- get to meet in person.

    My new friends and I are all from North Brunswick and South Brunswick, and the relationships we've created in the Sisterhood extend beyond the bounds of our discussions in meetings.

    We have learned to participate in each other's traditions, met each other's families, and ultimately forced that boundary of other-ness to fall away. A few years ago, Sheryl, one of the founders as well as an observant Jew, hosted a Ramadan dinner (known as an iftar) for all the sisters and their families in her North Brunswick home. The experience blew me away.

    heba-friends.jpegSisterhood of Saalam Shalom members Heba Macksoud, right, Sheryl Olitzky, center, right, Amaney Jamal in South Brunswick. (Courtesy Heba Macksoud) 

    She offered the most elaborate dinner I've ever seen, complete with custom stuffed dates and decorations. Her husband, a rabbi, invited us to pray our sundown prayer in his sanctuary room where he reads the Torah. The best part was to be able to share that experience with my husband and four kids: it taught my family how we should be as Muslims. 

    I often hear from people that they are not happy with the current state of divisiveness that has plagued our country, but they are not sure what they can do about it. The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom has created a framework for women to bond together and then commit to resolving some of this hateful rhetoric. Simply being around others who, through the bond of friendship, can teach you about something you didn't know, offer advice, or provide an ear to listen is a start. 

    We have also all committed to doing at least one act of charity together every single year. Recently, my chapter made food and served people both at the men's and women's shelter at the Reformed Church in New Brunswick. The act of bonding together while doing something good and being visible to others while doing this was an incredible experience.  

    So this International Women's Day, let's look to the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom as a model that all of us, no matter our background, can follow.

    What begins as sharing sharing stories can transform into connections that transcend social divides and ultimately help chip away at bigotry and hatred. We can do nothing, or we can do something -- and I honestly believe this is a very powerful way to "wear someone's else's shoes" and see the world differently.

    Heba Macksoud has spent over 20 years working at major media companies such as MTV and The Wall Street Journal as well as over four years at Zaytuna College, America's first and only Muslim Liberal Arts College as a Digital Media professional. She is also Board of Trustees member of The Islamic Society of Central Jersey in South Brunswick and on the Board of Directors for The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom. She lives in Princeton with her husband and four children.

    Bookmark NJ.com/Opinion. Follow on Twitter @NJ_Opinion and find NJ.com Opinion on Facebook.


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    She's in stable condition, a university spokesperson said Thursday.

    A sophomore at Rider University was struck by a snow plow on campus during the winter storm Wednesday afternoon, a university spokesperson said. 

    Rithika Ramasubbu, a sophomore marketing major was on campus around 2 p.m. near Lincoln Hall when she was struck by a snow plow that was clearing snow. 

    Ramasubbu was taken to a local hospital, where she remained Wednesday evening in stable condition.

    Kristine Brown, a university spokesperson said school administrators visited Ramasubbu at the hospital Thursday morning and "she was in good spirits."

    Rider's campus was closed due to weather Wednesday, and reopened at 9:30 a.m. Thursday. Classes are being held as usual. 

    Paige Gross may be reached at pgross@njadvancemedia.comFollow her on Twitter @By_paigegross. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     

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