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Central Jersey News from the Times of Trenton

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    Friends on social media described him as deeply religious and committed to his family and friends.

    The man found shot to death Saturday on the bank of a Hamilton creek with his hands bound behind his back and tape wrapped around his face has been identified as a 20-year-old Trenton resident, authorities said Monday.

    Danny Diaz-Delgado was shot in the head, torso and leg, the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office said.

    Authorities have not said if they have any suspects or possible motive for the killing.

    On social media, Diaz-Delgado's friends expressed shock and sorrow about the death of the young man they described as a devoted, "good person" who was committed to his family and friends.

    Diaz-Delgado's Facebook posts include psalms, photos of him at his high school graduation and prom in 2015 and of him and his younger brother after a martial arts competition. 

    The Mercer County Homicide Task Force is investigating the killing. Four divers from the Trenton Fire Department were in the water for approximately two hours helping with evidence recovery Saturday, according to department. 

    Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call Sgt. Gary Wasko or Detective Michael Castaldo at (609) 989-6406.

    Rebecca Everett may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @rebeccajeverett. Find on Facebook.

    Have a tip?Tell us.

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    The state Assembly is set to vote on a package of bills that aim to make New Jersey's gun laws even stricter. Watch video

    Two days after thousands rallied across the globe for more gun control, hundreds of gun-rights activists held a demonstration of their own in New Jersey's capital on Monday. 

    They gathered on the steps of the War Memorial across from the Statehouse in Trenton to protest as the state Assembly prepares to vote on a package of bills that aim to make the state's gun laws even stricter. 

    Scott Bach, director of the Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs -- which co-hosted the rally with the National Rifle Association -- told the crowd that "we are facing a perfect anti-gun storm."

    "Lawmakers are in a feeding frenzy right now to push the most extreme laws," Bach said. 

    Big gun bills up for votes in N.J.

    Monday's voting session comes amid increased calls for more gun laws in the wake of last month's school shooting in Parkland, Florida. 

    On Saturday, people around the world took part in the March for Our Lives, a rally organized by students who survived that shooting.

    Among the Democratic-sponsored bills up Monday are one to reduce magazine capacity, another to ban armor-piercing bullets, another to make it tougher to obtain a permit to carry a handgun, and two that are designed to keep firearms out of the hands of people with mental health issues. 

    Both the Assembly and then the state Senate -- each controlled by Democrats -- must pass the measures before they head to Gov. Phil Murphy's desk. 

    Murphy, a Democrat who has repeatedly called for tightened gun laws, has vowed to sign them.

    But those at the rally in Trenton argued the measures punish only law-abiding gun-owners and would do nothing to make New Jersey, which already has  some of the nation's toughest firearm laws, any safer. They also said lawmakers are violating their right to bear arms under the Second Amendment. 

    Steve Michel, an Ocean City resident who took off from work to attend the rally, said he's afraid New Jerseyans are "losing our constitutional rights."

    "I go anywhere else, and I can carry (a gun)," Michel said. "I can protect myself and my family. I can't do that in New Jersey. The only place I can is in my home."

    Gun rally.pngHundreds attend a gun-rights rally on the steps of the War Memorial in Trenton on Monday morning. 

    Some of the signs at the event read: "Defend Freedom," "Follow the Constitution," and "N.J. & Tyranny: Perfect Together." 

    Donna Simon, a former member of the state Assembly, told the crowd that "what happened in Parkland was heart-wrenching."

    "We all felt sick to our stomachs," said Simon, a Republican who had an A-plus rating from the NRA when she was a lawmaker. 

    But, she added, that it's wrong for gun-control activists to say the NRA "wants to kill our children."

    "How do you expect people to hear you?" Simon asked. "Now is the time to come together."

    Another gun-rights group, the New Jersey Second Amendment Society, held a news conference around the corner to speak out against the bills.

    "The children of New Jersey deserve better," said Alex Roubian, the group's president. "Enough is enough. We know what stops a bad guy with a weapon."

    A trio of Republican state lawmakers from rural Sussex County -- state Sen. Steven Oroho and Assemblymen Parker Space and Harold Wirths -- pushed a bill they've introduced to put bullet-proof doors on all New Jersey classrooms. 

    "What's the real problem?" Oroho asked. "School safety, as well as mental health issues."

    Congressional candidate Steve Lonegan, a Republican who is running to unseat U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-5th, in November, noted that schools are running lockdown drills in which teachers are told to gather students in a corner, put themselves between them and the gunman, and then throw things at the shooter.

    "What are you going to do? Throw stuffed animals at the gunman?" asked Lonegan, whose wife is a teacher. 

    Wirths said he is introducing another bill to require retired law enforcement officers assigned to help protect schools be allowed to have guns on campus. He said some districts require them to keep their firearms locked in their cars.

    In addition, Roubian noted that one of the bills up Monday, A2759, which would ban armor-piercing bullets, also has language that says "any person who knowingly has in his possession any stun gun is guilty of a crime of the fourth degree."

    But last year, New Jersey's then-attorney general Christopher Porrino agreed to lift the state's ban on stun guns as part of a legal settlement with a group of gun-rights advocates. Roubian said this bill violates that. 

    He said his group is prepared to take the state to court over that measure and others if they are passed.

    Brent Johnson may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @johnsb01. Find Politics on Facebook.

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    A look at N.J.'s top attackers heading into the 2018 girls lacrosse season.

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    Congress has made it hard to approve spending a nickel to study the ramification of guns in our society. Watch video

    The raging debate over gun violence and what to do about it often descends into a tug of war based more on emotions than facts.

    The trouble is there is a paucity of research on the topic to guide the debate over whether we are safer with more guns or fewer guns.

    You would think that the federal government would be a leader in promoting research into gun violence, much the way it backs research into other areas of public safety and health.

    But you would be wrong.

    Congress has made it hard to approve spending a nickel to study the ramification of guns in our society. That was made very clear with the Dickey amendment of 1996.

    Named after the late Rep. Jay Dickey, a Republican from Arkansas, the budget amendment barred the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from doing research to "advocate or promote gun control." It went so far as to strip the CDC of $2.6 million in funding it has set aside that year for gun-violence research.

    Some of the boldest signs from the March for Our Lives

    The fear here was that any research into gun violence would be biased and would result in more controls on gun ownership and that was something the powerful National Rifle Association wanted to stop dead in its tracks.

    Here it is 22 years later, and we have had too many episodes of mass shootings - The Parkland, Florida, massacre being just the latest assault to grip the country.

    Nationwide demonstrations have pushed some lawmakers in Washington to rethink the need for gun-violence research and there is a move afoot to undo the Dickey Amendment's stranglehold on such research.

    But the long reluctance of the federal government to find ways to protect us from being killed or maimed by guns has created a vacuum that some states have tried to fill.

    In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy as joined his counterparts in New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Puerto Rico to find ways to counter gun violence. That includes funding and sharing information on gun research. Murphy is asking state lawmakers to approve $2 million to set up a Center on Gun Violence Research.

    In a similar vein, a group of New Jersey Democratic lawmakers has introduced a bill allocating $400,000 to "conduct a comprehensive firearms violence study" at Rutgers.

    Despite all the rhetoric of the current gun-control debate, there are a lot of facts we don't know about guns.

    According to David Hemenway, who studies gun violence and injury prevention at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University, there are no national studies of who owns guns, how gun owners acquired their weapons, the theft of guns, the number of households with guns, the effects of gun-training programs, or the risk factors associated with gun violence.

    We need the cold facts if we are going to have an intelligent debate on gun violence. And we need the facts to create effective policy to stem the carnage caused by people using guns.

    Bookmark Follow on Twitter @NJ_Opinion and find Opinion on Facebook.


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    Which teams are set for big seasons?

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    A Lambertville firefighter and another person died Monday afternoon in a horrific head-on crash in Hopewell that turned their car into a fireball.

    A Lambertville firefighter and another person died Monday afternoon in a gruesome head-on crash in Hopewell that turned their car into a fireball.

    Lambertville firefighter Mark Leary Sr., 58, was one of the two people killed in the crash with a dump truck on Route 29. The other occupant of the car has not been identified.

    It wasn't clear Monday night whether Leary was the driver or passenger in the car.

    The accident happened shortly before 1 p.m. in the area of Fiddler's Creek Road when police found that a Mack dump truck had collided with Leary's Ford Crown Victoria in the southbound lane, Hopewell Police Chief Lance Maloney said in a news release.

    News helicopter video shows the charred metal that remained of the Ford after impact.

    "Rescue 17 responded to this call unknowing that it involved one of our own until hours later," the Lambertville Fire Department wrote on its Facebook page. "His spirit lives on thru his sons Mark Leary Jr. and Colline Leary who are also members of the District."

    The driver of the truck, James Bilton, 59, of Edgewater Park, was not seriously injured.

    A large portion of Route 29 was closed to traffic, according to Maloney. JCP&L was repairing the damaged poles and sections of Titusville were without power.

    Chris Sheldon may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @chrisrsheldon Find on Facebook.


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    Kathryn A. Foster is the 16th president of The College of New Jersey and starts her new job July 1.

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    Former state Assemblywoman Elizabeth Muoio has been serving as acting treasurer since January.

    The state Senate Judiciary Committee has approved Gov. Phil Murphy's nomination of former state Assemblywoman Liz Muoio as state treasurer.

    Muoio has been on the job in an acting capacity for about two months, during which she rolled out a $37.4 billion state budget for the fiscal year beginning in July and reversed the prior administration on a key pension determination.

    Murphy's budget proves you elected a liberal guv

    The treasurer's most visible role is in crafting the state budget, but the treasurer oversees state investments, pensions and benefits, state debts and the lottery.

    At the confirmation hearing Monday, state Sen. Kristin Corrado, R-Passaic, questioned Muoio's qualifications, asking for her experience and expertise in investments, taxation, purchasing, revenue forecasting and economic analysis.

    Muoio, who sat on the Assembly's Budget, Economic Development and Judiciary committees, cited her experience as a Mercer County freeholder overseeing and approving county spending plans and trumpeted the team of veteran budget experts she'd assembled.

    But Corrado questioned her record there, as well.

    Corrado raised some financial irregularities uncovered in the county during an audit 15 years ago during Muoio's tenure as freeholder. The senator issued a news release last week saying she was "concerned that during Acting Treasurer Muoio's time managing Mercer County's money, tens of millions in grants couldn't be accounted for, nearly half-a-million dollars went missing, and county property tax bills skyrocketed."

    Muoio explained Monday that it is the duty of freeholders to approve the budget but not to implement it or to oversee financial operations. She said she, too, was disturbed by the audit's findings but that responsibility sat with the Republican county executive.

    Muoio also told lawmakers the Treasury Department has launched a performance evaluation of the state lottery contract with Northstar New Jersey, which runs the lottery's marketing and sales operations.

    A review showed lottery expenses are growing at a faster pace than revenues, prompting the "evaluation," she said. A spokeswoman for the Treasury Department said the review should be wrapped up in the coming weeks.

    She also defended the administration's decision to roll back a change former Gov. Chris Christie made to the public pension system shortly before leaving office.

    He'd cut the fund's assumed rate of return -- which is used to calculate how much money state and local governments will need to pay out benefits -- from 7.65 percent to 7 percent. The change increased the state's and local government's pension bills for next year by more than $800 million.

    Muoio instead elected to implement the rate change gradually over five years.

    "To do so in a drastic way would jeopardize the likelihood of local governments being able to meet their obligations," she said Monday.

    A Pennington resident, Muoio had served in the Assembly, the lower house of the state Legislature, since 2015, when she was appointed to replace Bonnie Watson Coleman, who was elected to Congress. Muoio won a full term that November and was re-elected last fall. She resigned after accepting Murphy's nomination.

    Muoio -- who has a law degree from Georgetown University -- was also Mercer County's director of Economic Development and Sustainability and served on the Mercer County freeholder board and Pennington borough council.

    Samantha Marcus may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @samanthamarcus. Find Politics on Facebook.

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    Softball preview - here are the toughest pitchers to face heading into the new season

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    Who are the top catchers in N.J.?

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    Judy Lynn Etherton alleges she fractured her wrist after exiting a replica classic car

    A New Jersey woman filed a $400,000 lawsuit against Dollywood, claiming she broke her wrist while getting off a ride at the Tennessee amusement park last year. 

    The federal lawsuit filed by Judy Lynn Etherton alleges she tripped and fell while stepping off the Rockin' Roadway car ride on March 19, 2017. Rockin' Roadway riders drive a replica of a classic Corvette, Thunderbird or Cadillac. 

    Etherton's suit says Dollywood was negligent because the ride was designed without a door that opens and riders have to step over the side of it to exit. She says her foot got stuck as she attempted to climb out of the car and that she fell to the ground and fractured her right wrist. 

    Filed March 9 in the U.S. District Court in Knoxville, the suit says Dollywood was negligent in operating the ride and that it failed to instruct customers how to safely leave the attraction.

    N.J. woman sues HersheyPark over photo op fall that led to broken ankle

    Etherton is a 56-year-old Princeton resident, according to public records. 

    Dollywood is a 150-acre Dolly Parton themed amusement park in the Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee. It is owned and operated by Herschend Family Entertainment, which is named as a defendant along with Dolly Parton Productions. 

    Etherton's attorney's, Thomas Scott and Christopher Cain of Scott & Cain in Knoxville, declined to comment on the case. 

    A spokesman for Dollywood didn't immediately respond to a request from NJ Advance Media for comment.

    Jeff Goldman may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JeffSGoldman. Find on Facebook.



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    Last week, a federal judge denied a motion from the Trenton City Police Department seeking to dismiss Ed Forchion's civil suit.

    Marijuana activist Ed "NJ Weedman" Forchion is one for one in his latest string of court battles.

    A federal judge denied a motion last week from the Trenton City Police Department seeking to dismiss Forchion's civil suit, which accuses the department and the Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri of violating his civil rights when officers from both agencies raided his eatery and "weed temple," in April 2016.

    Forchion said in the suit that he was unlawfully arrested and he accused the police of not properly training their officers.

    The suit was originally filed in Mercer County Superior Court before being moved up to a District Court in Nov. 2016. Forchion now has until April 9 to submit an amended complaint.

    The activist also received the news last week that his latest attempt to be released from jail was denied. Forchion has been jailed since March 7, 2017.

    Forchion had filed an emergent motion with the New Jersey Supreme Court after he was denied by an appeals court.

    In the original motion, Forchion argued he is being jailed in retaliation for filing three lawsuits against the City of Trenton and because he spoke out against the administration.

    A judge order Forchion to be jailed in March 2017 to ensure the safety of witnesses or informants in a case of alleged witness tampering, which was connected to his 2016 marijuana dealing arrest.

    He's since been found not guilty on one count of witness tampering, but faced a hung jury on the second count in November 2017, and an eventual retrial.

    The new attempt to get out of jail added 57 more days to the maximum amount of days that the state can keep Forchion in jail, according to his appeals attorney John Vincent Saykanic.

    Those additional 57 days are expected to push back the start of his re-trial, which was expected to begin in late April, by several weeks.

    Forchion also faces 13 counts of marijuana possession and distribution, two counts of drug paraphernalia and maintaining a narcotics nuisance.

    Olivia Rizzo may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @LivRizz. Find on Facebook 

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    The officer has been pulled off the streets due to other incidents of alleged excessive force Watch video

    Surveillance video from inside Trenton's police headquarters shows an officer -- now under a federal excessive force investigation -- in an altercation with an inmate who had just been arrested.

    When the November 2017 incident occurred, officer Anthony Villanueva was on detention duty, having been pulled off the streets after other incidents where he allegedly assaulted men he was attempting to arrest.

    Surveillance video obtained through an open records request and shows that Quaree Singletary, 24, who was arrested in relation to an outstanding warrant on November 28, 2017, was making his phone call inside Trenton's police headquarters when the fight began.

    Villanueva attempted to end Singletary's call, which was running over his allotted five minutes, video timestamps show, when Singletary pushed his hand away.

    Words were exchanged, but because the surveillance video does not contain audio, the words between the two wasn't recorded.

    The video shows that Singletary and Villanueva began a struggle over the phone, and a second detention officer stepped in. The workers lead Singletary to the cell blocks, where the struggle picks up again.

    A moment later, Villanueva grabs mace from the detention unit desk.

    Singletary enters an empty cell, and shortly after, Villanueva returns and maces him through the closed bars. Singletary holds up a mattress against the mace, and when the cell door reopens, he follows after Villanueva.

    The two struggle out in the hallway near the phone room, where Singletary enters and tries to shut the door. Villanueva and another worker pull him back out into the hallway and attempt to handcuff him there.

    They appear to be shouting at each other.

    Two other detention officers spill out into the hallway, and the struggle continues and intensifies for a few minutes until Singletary is forced onto the ground, face down.

    During the struggle, the men strike the walls and chairs nearby, and eventually get Singletary in handcuffs on the ground.

    After the scuffle, Singletary was charged with assault on a law enforcement officer. 

    But months later, when federal investigators took over the cases against Villanueva from the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office, they told Singletary to obtain a lawyer, the Trentonian reported earlier this month. 

    "If the police new (sic) they were facing real consequences when they used excessive force then maybe it will stop," Robin Lord, Singletary's attorney said in an email. "Until that time comes, the people of Trenton are not real human beings to most that wear the uniform."

    This incident is the third in 2017 in which Villanueva's been publically scrutinized for use of excessive force on a suspect.

    Body cam footage shows Villanueva punching Salaam Felton and throwing him to the ground in March 2017, and for punching Chanzie Washington - who appears to be surrendering - during an arrest a month later.

    The Felton and Washington arrests are central to a federal excessive force investigation into Villanueva by the FBI, Mercer County authorities confirmed earlier this month.

    Villanueva was suspended without pay in February.

    Request for comment from Villanueva's attorney, George Dougherty, were not returned.

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


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    Police are searching for the assailant, who caused the clerk life-threatening injuries, from which he has since recovered Watch video

    A store clerk stabbed in the neck and shoulder during a stickup managed to chase the masked robber out of his store, according to surveillance footage police released Wednesday.

    The clerk of the Super Speedy Mart on Route 130 was seriously injured in the March 19 crime, but has since been released from the hospital, Burlington City Police Capt. John Fine said Wednesday.

    The robber, who police are trying to identify, got away with an unknown amount of cash.

    Fine said police are also trying to identify a person who can be seen on the video entering the store, but then leaving after seeing the clerk and robber scuffling behind the counter.

    "I really want to know who that person was, because they're a witness," he said.

    Police said a man wearing dark clothes and a mask came behind the counter of the store around 2:30 p.m. and tried to kick the man. The video shows them talking and then the man takes the store clerk to the ground.

    Eventually he takes what appears to be money and runs out, with the clerk not far behind him. Fine said the 911 call that alerted them to the assault and robbery came from a neighboring business.

    Police believe the suspect is a male, approximately 5 feet 8 inches, with a medium build. 

    "We had a couple preliminary leads but nothing of substance that we're now following," Fine said.

    They're hoping someone might be able to identify the man from the video, but no tips had come in by Wednesday evening. He said investigators are also looking into surveillance footage from other area businesses.

    Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call Detective Anna Czajka at 609-386-0262, ext. 221 or leave a confidential "etip" at Tipsters can also message the department on Facebook. All messages will remain confidential.

    Rebecca Everett may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @rebeccajeverett. Find on Facebook.

    Have a tip?Tell us.

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    A new report assessing the state of art education in New Jersey has some encouraging words for teachers, administrators and parents who believe taking a chunk out of the school day to talk about the arts creates a more well-rounded and more intelligent student.

    When school budgets are tight - and when aren't they tight? - what's the first curriculum item to go out the window?

    For way too long, it's been art education.

    But a new report assessing the state of art education in New Jersey has some encouraging words for teachers, administrators and parents who believe taking a chunk out of the school day to talk about the arts creates a more well-rounded and more intelligent student.

    Arts Ed NJ conducted a census of school districts throughout the state that found the Garden State is performing well in this area.

    Ninety-nine percent of our schools were offering comprehensive arts instruction, as mandated by state law, during the 2015-2016 academic year, the non-profit advocacy group noted.

    The picture has not always been so rosy.

    In 1987, a task force convened by the Legislature to assess the state of arts education found that 43 percent of school districts did not include an arts objective in their local planning process.

    5 of N.J.'s toughest teaching jobs, a look inside the classroom

    Eight years later, state officials included visual and performing arts as one of nine curriculum standards all school must meet. And the state Supreme Court also had a say in the matter, ruling in the Abbott v. Burke cases that the arts are a crucial aspect in every child's education.

    As recently as 2006, however, Arts Ed NJ, previously the New Jersey Arts Education Project, found that only two-thirds of our students had any interaction with arts education at all.

    Although gains have been impressive over the past decade, advocates warn that the statistics can be deceiving.

    For one thing, they say, although participation in arts instruction has soared over the years, cultural offerings such as field trips, assemblies and artist-in-residence programs have been on the decline.

    They're also concerned that the quality of arts education varies widely from district to district, and that - to no one's great surprise - the differences reflect socio-economic realities.

    But Bob Morrison, director of Arts Ed NJ, said even schools with limited resources can find imaginative ways to fund robust arts programs - if they have the will to do so.

    Why bother teaching about music, dance, theater and the visual arts?

    For one thing, these studies help youngsters develop their sense of creativity and their critical thinking, abilities that will serve them well later in life. They foster a sense of collaboration among students, while sharpening motor skills and enhancing confidence.

    They also give youngsters the space and time to exhale - a necessary outlet during an increasingly pressure-filled day.

    March is Arts Education Month in New Jersey. There's no better way to celebrate than aiming for 100 percent access to the arts in schools throughout the state.

    Bookmark Follow on Twitter @NJ_Opinion and find Opinion on Facebook.


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    Arthur Reed, 42, and Lambertville firefighter Mark Leary, 58, both of Lambertville, died in the fiery crash, Hopewell Police Chief Lance D. Maloney announced in a news release.

    The two men killed when their car collided head-on with a dump truck Monday on Route 29 in Hopewell were brothers-in-law.

    Arthur Reed, 42, and Lambertville firefighter Mark Leary, 58, both of Lambertville, died in the fiery crash, Hopewell Police Chief Lance D. Maloney announced in a news release.

    BrothersKilled.jpgPhoto courtesy: Collin Leary 

    Leary's son Collin said his father, a bridge monitor at the New Hope-Lambertville Bridge, was a generous man who would "give the shirt off his back to someone." 

    A Go Fund Me page has been set up by Reed's daughter to help cover funeral expenses. Another was also set up for Leary by the Delaware River Towns Charities.

    The driver of the truck, James Bilton, 59, of Edgewater Park in Burlington County, has been issued motor vehicle summonses for failure to maintain his lane and careless driving, according to Maloney.

    The crash remains under investigation.

    Chris Sheldon may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @chrisrsheldon Find on Facebook.

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    Most of the "statements" we made with clothing and hair styles in the 1980s are best left unrepeated.

    "They seek him here, they seek him there; his clothes are loud, but never square." -- Ray Davies, the Kinks, "Dedicated Follower of Fashion" 1966

    Then came the 1970s. Ruth La Ferla, writing in the New York Times on March 18, 2015, quoted designer Betsey Johnson as saying about the decade: "Stylistically, it was a free-for-all."

    Image38.jpgClearly, even the scarecrow had better fashion sense than me. 

    If the '70s was considered a fashion free-for-all, the 1980s was nothing short of chaos. Think fanny packs, parachute pants, rat-tails, mullets, acid-washed jeans, neon ... and the list goes on and on.

    According to, "Clothes were used to define personalities and make big statements in the 1980s. Shoulders were padded right up to your ears, courtesy of Lady Diana and the cast of Dynasty. Meanwhile Boy George and the Blitz club crew were giving peacock punk a whirl. No doubt about it, it was a crazy era for all things a la mode - the later 1990s fashion was significantly calmer by comparison."

    Personally, I think most of the "statements" we made with clothing and hair styles in the 1980s are best left unrepeated.

    Here's a gallery of what people in New Jersey have worn through the years ... the '80s, the '70s, the '60s ... back more than a century. And scroll down for links to more galleries of folks and fashion.

    Vintage photos of what people wore in N.J.

    Vintage photos of fashions and styles in N.J.

    (hit a reload on this page ^ to view the gallery)

    Vintage photos of styles and fashions in N.J.

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

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    Prosecutors say he admitted working as muscle for a New Brunswick man accused of running the prostitution ring

    The network of brothels stretched from the outskirts of Newark to the tributaries of the Delaware Bay, staffed by undocumented sex workers and guarded by gang members. When rivals infringed on its operators' territory, they dispatched gun-toting enforcers to send a message -- and left at least two bodies in their wake.

    Wilmer Chavez-RomeroWilmer Chavez-Romero. (Cumberland County Jail) 

    This description of a statewide criminal enterprise emerges from the alleged statements of a New Brunswick man now facing federal murder and racketeering charges for what he said -- according to federal prosecutors -- were acts of violence in Trenton meant to intimidate competitors.

    In a brief filed in U.S. District Court earlier this month, the U.S. Attorney's Office said Wilmer Chavez-Romero freely detailed his involvement in the prostitution ring to county and federal investigators during interviews that directly implicated him in two fatal shootings less than six months apart.

    Prosecutors now say those murders were committed as part of Chavez-Romero's work as an enforcer for Juan Fredy Hernandez-Zozaya, a New Brunswick man indicted in 2015 on charges he ran at least eight brothels throughout the state -- including the one on Elmer Street in Bridgeton where authorities say Chavez-Romero worked as the "house manager."

    Other brothels were in Orange, Lakewood, Asbury Park and New Brunswick, authorities allege.

    Hernandez-Zozaya has pleaded not guilty to the charges and his case remains pending in U.S. District Court.

    The alleged prostitution ring has been publicly linked to at least two other killings in Bridgeton.

    Chavez-Romero, who was indicted in October 2016 on charges that included two counts of murder in aid of racketeering, has himself been in federal custody since September 2014, when he was arrested on a complaint accusing him of importing undocumented workers for "immoral purposes."

    His first arrest came in November 2012 when the Cumberland County Prosecutor's Office and Homeland Security Investigations -- the investigative arm of Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- raided the Bridgeton brothel, where investigators discovered two female prostitutes and a male customer, as well as a .38-caliber handgun.

    Enforcer for N.J. brothels killed 2 in Trenton, feds say

    Prosecutors say Chavez-Romero was arrested as he tried to flee the scene. In an interview with a county detective, he allegedly described himself as a "muscle man" and enforcer for Hernandez-Zozaya who had helped drive competing brothels out of town.

    Almost two years later, prosecutors say, Chavez-Romero -- now facing state weapons and prostitution charges -- agreed to meet in the presence of his attorney with federal agents and an assistant U.S. attorney investigating Hernandez-Zozaya.

    This time, prosecutors say, he went into detail of his crimes, admitting to robbing a Trenton brothel with a club in the summer of 2012, before returning that September with a gun. Chavez-Romero reportedly admitted that one man was fatally shot and another wounded during that robbery.

    Court documents refer to the deceased victim only as "N.R.G.," but the Times of Trenton at the time identified him as Neemias Reyes-Gonzales, 36.

    The government's brief states Chavez-Romero put himself at the scene of the killing of a man referred to as "B.E.," the operator of a rival brothel, during a confrontation in Trenton in January 2013 -- just two months after he first met with investigators.

    During the confrontation, Chavez-Romero reportedly told investigators, the rival brothel operator -- identified as Benito Escalante, 26 -- pulled out a handgun, put it to an enforcer's head and pulled the trigger.

    But the gun's safety was on, and Chavez-Romero's associates opened fire and killed the man, prosecutors say.

    In a Feb. 15 motion to suppress Chavez-Romero's statements as evidence, his federal public defender argued a county detective's questioning about his immigration status -- Chavez-Romero said he was out of compliance -- amounted to psychological coercion, and that his prior attorney's decision to allow Chavez-Romero to meet with federal investigators amounted to ineffective counsel.

    Prosecutors have argued Chavez-Romero had waived his Miranda rights prior to both interviews with investigators, and that he was not legally entitled to an attorney or an immunity agreement during his second interview.

    U.S. District Judge William H. Walls, who is presiding over the case in Newark, has yet to rule on the defense motion.

    Court records indicate Chavez-Romero's state gun charge was dismissed and his prostitution charge downgraded to a disorderly persons offense in September 2014. His trial on the federal charges is scheduled to begin June 5.

    Matt Gray contributed to this report.

    Thomas Moriarty may be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @ThomasDMoriarty.

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    Pablo Santiago and Angel Turner receive recognition from McDonald's Watch video

    Two local police officers were honored Wednesday for their strong community connections during an event in Trenton.

    Angel Turner of the Trenton Police Department and Pablo Santiago of the Mercer County Sheriff's Office received McDonald's "Coffee With A Cop" Community Awards in front of a packed house at the restaurant chain's Chambers Street location.

    The awards, sponsored and presented by Rosa and Freddie Rosado, who own the McDonald's, recognize each officer's impact in supporting the local community, neighborhood businesses and area youth.

    In her remarks, Rosa Rosado encouraged the officers to, "Continue doing what you are doing, continue policing, continue communicating and reaching out to young people."

    Michael Mancuso may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @michaelmancuso. Find on Facebook.

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