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Central Jersey News from the Times of Trenton

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    See the May 22nd edition of the girls lacrosse Top 20.

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    Police have identified the 18-year-old woman who died after her car hit a tree and split in half Sunday in West Windsor.

    The 18-year-old woman killed Sunday when her car was split in half after a high-speed crash into a tree in West Windsor has been identified.

    Irma Lopez, of East Windsor, was traveling west on Route 571 near McGetrick Lane and Glenngarry Way at 8 a.m. on Sunday at an "unsafe speed" on a wet road when her 2006 Scion spun out of control as it approached a curve and struck a tree, according to a release from the West Windsor Police.

    Police say the force of the impact split Lopez's car into two pieces.

    Lopez, who was traveling alone, was pronounced dead at the scene, the release states.

    GoFundMe page was created for Lopez and the organizer called her a "beautiful soul."

    "Irma was a beloved daughter, sister, and friend," the organizer said. "Her life was cut short. We will never be the same without her but we will go on to remember the joy you gave this world on your short stay."

    The page has reached just over $3,000 of its $10,000 goal to help Lopez's family cover funeral expenses.

    The crash is still being investigated by the West Windsor Police and the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office Serious Collision Response Team. Anyone with information about the crash can contact West Windsor Police Ptl. Brown at (609) 799-1222 or

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


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    Pope Francis has said that Catholics who are homosexual, confused about their sexuality or convinced they were born in the wrong body deserve the same attentive pastoral care as anyone else. That is advise officials at Camden Catholic should take to heart.

    All is not well on the campus of Camden Catholic High School in Cherry Hill. Several reports of racism and bias have come to light that have given the parochial school a black eye.

    In one instance, the N-word was etched into a bench in the boys' locker room, according to the parent of a student who was standout player on Camden Catholic's 2013 football team. That parent, who referees high school basketball games, said the racial climate at the school is so bad that she refuses to referee games there.

    In another case, two parents of black girls on the school's 2016-17 basketball team said a white player made a racially insensitive comment to their daughters, igniting a protest outside the school.

    Earlier this year, a former Camden Catholic student was expelled from the University of Alabama after videos of her spouting racist language on Martin Luther King Jr. Day went viral.

    More recently, a big flap occurred when the school fired football coach Nick Strom and put him on administrative leave from his history teaching position late last month. Strom claims he was fired because he had too many black players on the team.

    Camden Catholic officials strongly denied allegations of racism. School President Mary Whipkey said Strom's "priorities for football became bigger than his priorities for teaching."

    Camden Catholic football coach retains lawyer, explores options

    School officials point with pride to the diversity of the school, which has about 780 students, 40 percent of whom are minority students.

    "We are a diverse school, so a diverse school is going to lead to things that other schools don't deal with," Whipkey said.

    A review by the Diocese of Camden's Office of Schools determined administrators at the school properly handled the issue involving the basketball players and took appropriate disciplinary action.

    But the fact that two sides can see the situation in starkly different ways indicates that something is wrong.

    Even if there is merely a perception of racism at Camden Catholic, the school should be taking forceful action to reinforce the Christian values it champions and denounce racism in all its forms. What we are seeing now is a defensive posture from school officials.

    Camden Catholic also faced a barrage of criticism over the firing of softball coach Jillian Mulderig, who was told to leave in July 2016 when school officials learned she intended to marry another woman.

    Mulderig, who did not teach at the school, said officials knew she was gay when she was hired to coach. But when a recording of her proposing to her girlfriend was posted to YouTube, she was fired.

    "I remember feeling so nauseous," Mulderig said.

    Shortly after Mulderig's firing, Camden Catholic made headlines again in September 2016 when it rescinded admission to a transgender student who was accepted to the school as a female and later transitioned to male.

    But as a religious institution that opposes same-sex marriage and gender reassignment on moral grounds, Catholic schools have the right to require that teachers and coaches practice what it preaches.

    Yet, in an age when gays and transgender people have won hard-fought battles for recognition and acceptance and the same rights accorded to other individuals, one has to feel compassion for Mulderig and others who are told they are not welcome.

    These are issues the church and society are grappling with. Pope Francis has said that Catholics who are homosexual, confused about their sexuality or convinced they were born in the wrong body deserve the same attentive pastoral care as anyone else.

    That is advise officials at Camden Catholic should take to heart.

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

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    Move beyond hamburgers and hot dogs with another Memorial Day weekend tradition: dual pork roll festivals in Trenton on Saturday.

    Once again Memorial Day Weekend in Trenton means hamburgers, hot dogs and lots and lots of pork roll with dueling pork roll festivals scheduled for Saturday.

    The Trenton Pork Roll Festival opens at 10 a.m. at Trenton Social bar and restaurant, 449 S. Broad Street.

    Vendors offering pork roll-inspired foods include DeLorenzo's Pizza, The Pork Roll Store, Bacon Broads, Sumo Sushi, Killarney's Public House, Revere Ristorante Italiano, Windy Brow and chef Post Leake. Their offerings range from traditional pork roll sandwiches to pork roll sushi, chocolate-covered pork roll and pork roll-maple ice cream.

    For more on the festival see

    Meanwhile, the 5th Annual Pork Roll Festival is from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. and features Smoke House BBQ, The Tot Cart, Johnny's Pork Roll and Coffee, DeLorenzo's Pizza on the Go, Bacon Me Crazy, Little Sicily Rice Balls, House of Cupcakes, Bros. Ice Cream and Kona Ice.

    The festival also has a pork roll recipe contest and a Pork Roll Queen and is held at 100 S. Broad St. (Mill Hill Park) For more information see

    Both events feature live music and general admission for each event is $5.

    Strawberries and farm markets

    If you are itching to pick your own strawberries at local farms, you may have to wait a bit longer. The recent cool, wet weather has slowed things down. Some early berries are showing up in local markets, but the time for pick-your-own will come when the season is in full swing.

    Terhune Orchards in Lawrence is asking customers to call the farm store at 609-924-2310 and have their names included on a PYO strawberry list. The farm will call when the picking season begins.

    The New Jersey Department of Agriculture predicts the bulk of the state's strawberry crop will be available in late May and early June. That means that some farms should have berries for sale this weekend, but get to the market early if you want some. Supplies may be limited.

    Meanwhile, the Capital City Farmers Market in downtown Trenton is again open for business on Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

    The market is held in Mill Hill Park at 165 E. Front St. through Oct. 25, featuring local produce, artisanal foods, gourmet salads, local honey, wines, beignets, baked goods, cold-pressed juice, fresh breads, handmade crafts, jewelry and body and face care products. For more information see the website

    Produce available at local markets for the holiday weekend include asparagus, which is available for pick-your-own at Terhune. Also in the markets are lettuces, spinach, rhubarb, Swiss chard, arugula, kale, beets and leeks. Stored produce includes potatoes, sweet potatoes and apples. Herbs include dill, parsley, mint and cilantro. Gardeners will find plenty of vegetable and flowering plants.

    The next crops to be harvested are cabbage, collards and turnips.

    Brewfest tickets available

    Looking ahead, tickets are now on sale for the Washington Crossing Fall Brewfest on Saturday, Oct.27, in Washington Crossing Historic Park on the Pennsylvania side of the river.

    The festival features beers, ciders, sours and food trucks. Tickets often sell out early and are available now at for $45.

    The Brewfest will be held in the upper part of the park at1638 River Road, New Hope, Pa., behind the Thompson-Neely House and across the street from Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve.

    Spaghetti and wine

    Hopewell Valley Vineyards will host a Spaghetti & Meatball Dinner tomorrow from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the winery at 46 Yard Road, Pennington. They will serve salad, spaghetti and meatballs, garlic bread and dessert during the regular Thursday Music & Merlot event. Tickets for the dinner are $14.95.

    The vineyard also has Jazzy Sundays. See the website or call 609-737-4465 for more information.

    Strawberry Milkshake Pie

    If you are lucky enough to find some local strawberries this weekend, or you pick some up at the supermarket, this easy no-bake recipe from is an alternative to strawberry shortcake.

    1 1/3 cups water, divided
    1 packet strawberry Jell-O mix
    container Cool Whip or other whipped topping
    1/2 cup strawberries, hulled and sliced
    1 pre-made graham cracker crust
    whipped cream

    1. Boil 2/3 cup water; once bubbling, pour in Jell-o mix, stirring until dissolved. Remove from heat, stir in remaining 2/3 cup water (the water should be cool), and stir for about two minutes.

    2. Mix in Cool Whip, stirring just until combined, then fold in strawberries and pour into graham cracker crust. Refrigerate until firm, 4 hours, or up to overnight.

    3. Top with whipped cream just before serving

    Black Forest Ham Roll-Ups

    If you are looking for something to bring to a holiday picnic, this appetizer recipe from is easy, tasty and makes enough for a crowd.

    1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
    2 teaspoons minced fresh parsley
    2 teaspoons dried celery flakes
    2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
    1 teaspoon lemon juice
    1/8 teaspoon salt
    1/8 teaspoon pepper
    1/2 cup dried cranberries, chopped
    2 green onions, chopped
    5 flour tortillas (10 inches), room temperature
    1/2 pound thinly sliced Black Forest deli ham
    1/2 pound thinly sliced Swiss cheese

    1. In a small bowl, mix the first seven ingredients until blended. Stir in cranberries and green onions; spread over tortillas. Layer with ham and cheese. Roll up tightly; wrap in plastic. Refrigerate at least 1 hour.

    2. Just before serving, unwrap and cut each tortilla crosswise into 16 slices. Yield: about 6 1/2 dozen.

    Follow on Twitter @njdotcom. Find on Facebook.

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    Licensing is required to operate, but hair braiders say braiding is not taught in beauty schools

    Melek Ustunluk is a hair braider based out of Clifton who makes a living off of creating unique designs on her clients' heads. So when officers came into her Passaic shop four years ago and Ustunluk was arrested by an officer whose hair she had recently braided, she was stunned. 

    "It was crazy, they treated it as if it was a drug bust or something," said Ustunluk. "They had a list that said I did bleaching, coloring and curls, but I'm just a braider." 

    That day in 2014, braiding was her only crime.

    Currently, the New Jersey State Board of Cosmetology and Hairstyling requires all hairstylists and barbers to be licensed to operate, which means enrolling in beauty school. However, hair braiders say the $17,000 price tag of beauty school does not benefit them. 

    "All we use is a comb," said Tiana Francis, of Paterson. Francis is a sophomore at Lincoln University who also braids hair.

    "What sense does it make for us to go to beauty school if everything we learn is irrelevant to what we do? You learn nothing about braiding and you typically only learn how to do one person's type of hair and it's not ours," she said referring to black hair.

    The law requiring a license for cosmetologists or barbers, which many argue unfairly affects hair braiders, has been in effect since 1984.

    However, it does not take into consideration the act or styling of braids, a centuries old technique created in West Africa. The style is emblematic of a culture and a protective style for naturally curly black hair, but it is also worn by women and men of various races and ethnicities. 

    Dealing with fines, licensing, beauty school costs or even getting arrested for braiding could be a thing of the past for braiders if a current bill passes through the Assembly and Senate and becomes law.

    An amendment to Bill A-3754 would exempt hair braiders from having to get licensed, but would still require braiders to register their establishment.

    "The is the entrepreneur life for them. It's how they provide for their families," said Assemblywoman Angela McKnight, D-Hudson, who created the bill.

    "Judges, lawyers, business women and plain janes get their hair braided. It's no reason for them to have to go through this especially if they aren't using any chemicals or dyes." 

    McKnight said she has been getting her hair braided for years, but was not aware of the issue hair braiders faced until her stylist brought it up to her a few years ago. She said she also considered that natural hair stylists and braiders typically are against using any chemicals in natural hair styles, which is the opposite of the curriculum at most beauty schools.

    IMG_9977.JPGTiana Francis, of Paterson, styles a client's hair in cornrows.  

    Currently the bill has bi-partisan sponsorship in the Assembly from Knight, Assemblywoman Shanique Speight, D-Essex, and assemblymen Arthur Barclay, D-Camden, and Anthony Bucco, R-Morris.

    In the Senate, it's sponsored by Sen. Fred Madden, D-Gloucester. It's expected to be addressed in the Senate at the end of the month. 

    If the bill does pass, New Jersey would be the 26th state in the country to relax the licensing guideline, according Brooke Fallon, the assistant director of activism for the Institute for Justice. The organization has worked with the New Jersey Hair Braiding Freedom Coalition, an advocacy group leading the push for the bill.

    "Braiding is a safe and natural practice, but New Jersey requires 1,200 hours of cosmetology, which is more than EMT workers. There are so many people held back by these barriers," said Fallon. "Right now, there are tons of hair braiders operating in fear of being shutting down for providing for their families."

    Hortense Fassu is one of those people. She immigrated to the United States 17 years ago from Cameroon, and opened a braiding shop in Hamilton.

    Before she opened the shop, she asked officials in Trenton and Hamilton if she would need a license to braid hair, and said she was told she did not need one. 

    However, in 2015, she was hit with a $1,150 fine for braiding hair without a license. 

    "I do everything with this," she said of her braiding business. "I pay for my house, car and my daughter's schooling," said. "I pray that bill gets passed almost everyday."

    Taylor Tiamoyo Harris may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ladytiamoyo.

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    Christopher Durang's acerbic world-premiere "Turning Off the Morning News" shines at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton.

    Wouldn't it be great if the Absurd were actually absurd? Wouldn't it be wonderful if the challenging, often bewildering style of drama pioneered by Beckett and Ionesco, and ushered into the contemporary era by Churchill, gave us unsettling worlds that remained distant in their frequent dystopia?

    Of course, that would mean that the world beyond the Theatre of the Absurd is, what? "Normal"? "Structured"? "Understandable"?

    Watch the news lately? Do any of those terms hold up?

    The best absurdist art has always been that which hews closer to the real than might seem comfortable, a standard by which Christopher Durang's acerbic world-premiere "Turning Off the Morning News" shines at the McCarter. The play is funny. Its characters are outsized. Its dialogue is stilted and delivered exaggeratedly. But the darkness that underlies the play refuses to dissipate, and the laughs well earned by playwright and performers always carry a distinct air of trepidation. Like Churchill, Durang has harnessed the absurd to offer a biting critique of the society that would be so quick to chuckle at his characters and their drives.

    The play opens as Jimmy (John Pankow) blithely tells the audience that he is feeling depressed and thinks he'll head down to the local mall to kill some people and then kill himself. Set against the backdrop of Beowulf Boritt's meticulously benign suburban sprawl with its bright, cartoonish color palate, Jimmy's upbeat matter-of-factness about something so frightening seems otherworldly, purely over-the-top fiction. But then he suggests maybe he'll choose a theater as his place of slaughter instead, and jokes that audience members are lucky he is in the play.

    This is the tension that Durang establishes and sustains throughout the play. Horror remains a distinct possibility, but the ridiculousness of this world seems always to mitigate the extremity of that threat without undercutting it entirely. Under the measured direction of Emily Mann, the production invites its audience to laugh heartily while also urging them to question why they are doing so. What's funny about a man repeatedly threatening to murder his wife and child? Everything and nothing at the same time, suggests Durang.

    Much of the responsibility for capturing that impossible contradiction falls to the wonderful Kristine Nielson as Polly, Jimmy's infinitely anxiety-ridden wife. The constant victim of Jimmy's abuse, Polly tries to maintain a cheerful attitude for herself and her son Timmy (Nicholas Podany), but the stress emerges in a constant stream of words regardless of who is or isn't around to listen. A Durang veteran, Nielson is completely at home in the exasperation of Polly, who is both hilarious and pitiable, contingent conditions for "Turning Off the Morning News."

    Oddly, the play becomes most incongruent in its warm, realist conclusion, seemingly out of place in such a denormalized world. Of course, the sort of unorthodox domesticity with which the play ends runs as an undercurrent throughout the show, but it is peculiar that the establishment of structure wins out over the constant threat of destabilization.

    Still, "Turning Off the Morning News" is a play that thrives on the margins of reality and absurdity, challenging its audience at all times to consider just how realistic this strange world really is.


    McCarter Theatre

    91 University Place, Princeton

    Tickets online at or by phone at 609-258-2787. Running through June 3.

    Patrick Maley may be reached at Find him on Twitter and Instagram @PatrickJMaley. Find on Facebook.

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    Each year, 3.6 million Americans cite transportation woes as a reason for blowing off crucial doctor's appointments, or for arriving late, throwing the system into disarray, the Washington, D.C.-based trade group Community Transportation Association reported.

    Each year, 3.6 million Americans cite transportation woes as a reason for blowing off crucial doctor's appointments, or for arriving late, throwing the system into disarray, the Washington, D.C.-based trade group Community Transportation Association reported.

    Two of the state's largest health-care providers are betting that if you make it convenient and affordable for people to get to their appointments on time, fewer patients will be tardy - or miss the appointment altogether.

    Hopping on the ride-sharing bandwagon, officials at Hackensack Meridian Health are joining with the folks at Lyft to launch what they call the nation's first "fully digital, centralized ride-share command center."

    Designed to bring non-emergency patients who have had trouble getting to their appointments to JFK Medical Center in Edison, the service is expected to expand to all 16 hospitals within the Hackensack Meridian fold in the next few months.

    Meanwhile, RWJBarnabas is partnering with Uber Health, which already has a federally approved medical transportation system, to drive ambulatory patients to and from medical appointments.

    5 big things you need to know about N.J.'s new Uber and Lyft law

    The service, slated to start this week at Jersey City Medical Center, will soon encompass the network's other 10 hospitals and related sites. Hunterdon Medical Center also announced a partnership with Lyft earlier this year.

    Healthcare officials are wise to recognize that patients often face insurmountable barriers in getting the care they need. Transportation shouldn't be one of them.

    No matter how committed you are to staying on top of health problems, especially chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease or cancer, the lack of wheels can keep you miles away from the help you need.

    This public-health matter affects not only on patients and their families, but also the economy.

    The journal Health Management Technology reports that the total cost of missed healthcare appointments in this country every year runs $150 billion (yes, with a "B"). Every time a time slot goes unused, it costs a physician $200 on average, the report says.

    The Community Transportation Association estimates that healthcare organizations can save more than $11 in reduced costs for every $1 they invest in transportation for non-emergency patients.

    The local hospitals participating in the ride-sharing programs stress that patients will bear no extra cost for the service, which is tailored to patients seeking preventative care as well as those being treated for chronic illnesses.

    It's a simple and elegant solution to a seemingly intractable problem, but ridesharing also demands vigilance on the part of hospital officials to ensure patient safety and privacy.

    We are encouraged that participating hospitals can print out details about the car and driver for patients, or call them with the information. Hackensack Meridian also can track their patients en route to appointments.

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


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    A day to honor our fallen heroes dates back 150 years.

    It began as Decoration Day and is now known as Memorial Day. By either name, it is dedicated to honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military.

    memorial-day-2014026-haddonfield.JPGAn early-1900s photo of two Civil War veterans laying flowers on soldiers' graves in Haddonfield. 

    The Civil War, which ended in 1865, claimed more lives than any conflict in U.S. history and required the establishment of the country's first national cemeteries. notes that "by the late 1860s, Americans in various towns and cities had begun holding springtime tributes to these countless fallen soldiers, decorating their graves with flowers and reciting prayers."

    On May 5, 1868, Gen. John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance later that month. The date of Decoration Day, as he called it, was chosen because it wasn't the anniversary of any particular battle.

    MORE: Vintage photos around New Jersey

    Memorial Day, as Decoration Day gradually came to be known, originally honored only those lost while fighting in the Civil War. But during World War I the holiday evolved to commemorate American military personnel who died in all wars.

    "For decades, Memorial Day continued to be observed on May 30, the date Logan had selected for the first Decoration Day," notes the website. "But in 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend for federal employees; the change went into effect in 1971. The same law also declared Memorial Day a federal holiday."

    While not commonly known, each year on Memorial Day a national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 p.m. local time. Take a moment this year - that moment, perhaps - to pay your personal tribute to those who gave their lives for our freedom.

    Here is a gallery of past Memorial Day parades and tributes from New Jersey, and links to other galleries.

    Vintage photos of Medal of Honor recipients from N.J.

    Vintage N.J. photos of Memorial Day

    Vintage photos of American pride in N.J.

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

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    Concerts, festivals and other events from all over the Garden State to help you celebrate the unofficial kickoff to summer.

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    The marijuana activist stated throughout the trial that he was "just exercising his right to free speech" when he sent mail to an informant's family

    A jury found Ed "NJ Weedman" Forchion not guilty of witness tampering Thursday afternoon.

    The marijuana activist raised his arms in victory after the jury read the verdict in Mercer County Superior Court in Trenton.

    His supporters cheered, and with a smile on his face, he invited the prosecutor, John Boyle, to his victory party.

    Before that, he asked the judge about the 400-plus days he's spent in jail awaiting, and during his two trials. The Weedman, though, had to go back to the Mercer County jail to be officially released.

    "I guess it goes to show that you can be provocative or rub people the wrong way, but that's not a crime," his standby public defender Chris Campbell said after the verdict.

    At his first trial in November, a jury acquitted him of one count of witness tampering, and was hung on a second, forcing this trial. He acted as his own attorney both times.

    He said then, and repeated it at this trial, that he was just exercising his First Amendment rights when he sent packages containing letters and photos to the family of a confidential informant in the marijuana dealing case against him.

    'Weedman' takes a knee in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick at start of trial

    During his hour-long closing statements Tuesday, Forchion repeated to jurors sentiments of his opening statements. He claimed he always wanted the confidential informant to testify in his drug trial and that he didn't go against a protective order concealing the identity of the informant.

    "At no time did I deliberately break this order, because there was no order," Forchion said.

    He also said everything he posted on social media and mailed to the family of the informant was him "just exercising his right to free speech."

    Forchion also asked the jury in closing statements that no matter what they decide, "please make it unanimous, so I'm not stuck in this place anymore."

    Boyle, an assistant Mercer County prosecutor, told the jury in his closing statements that sending multiple packages to the family members of a confidential informant couldn't be construed as anything other than threatening. 

    The first package, addressed to the father of the confidential informant, contained a letter stating "You've been served," and, "Give him s---, then give him this [package]."

    Other packages were sent to members of the confidential informant's family, stating Forchion knew what kind of car they drove, where children in the family lived and multiple handwritten notes calling the confidential informant a "rat-fink b---h."

    "In its totality, mailing after mailing, after mailing," Boyle said to the jury, "After reaching out to his mother, father, his wife, his neighbors, his sister. Who would ever come in (to testify) after this?"

    Forchion still awaits trial on marijuana dealing charges, the case from which the witness tampering accusations stemmed.

    In that case, Mercer County authorities raided his restaurant in Trenton in the summer of 2016 and arrested him and others on accusations he was dealing marijuana from the business - NJ Weedman's Joint, and an adjacent cannabis church, both on East State Street across from Trenton City Hall.

    He had posted bail on that case when he was arrested and jailed in this, tampering case.

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

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    State Health Department data says 3,628 minors got married in New Jersey from 1995 and 2015.

    A last-minute religious objection derailed the final passage of a bill Thursday that would have outlawed teenagers under 18 from getting married in New Jersey.

    State Assemblyman Gary Schaer, D-Passaic, told NJ Advance Media he had been approached by members of the orthodox Jewish community requesting the legislation allow for religious exceptions.

    Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, agreed to pull the bill from the voting session's agenda at Schaer's request, scuttling the bipartisan measure's almost-certain passage. 

    The bill passed both houses of the Legislature in 2017, only to be conditionally vetoed by then-Gov. Chris Christie, citing the same concerns Schaer raised Thursday. Christie said he would sign the bill if it were rewritten to give a judge discretion to approve a marriage license for a 16 or 17 years old.

    No child brides allowed in N.J., Senate panel says

    Schaer said he would seek the same change Christie recommended, out of deference to religious communities' "history and rituals."

    "There are no special exceptions, no court involvement, no recognition of religious or ethnic tradition. It seems to me the bill could be made better and more representative of the communities throughout the state," Schaer said. "I think the bill will almost certainly face lawsuits, and the bill can easily be improved without losing the importance of its message."

    State law now permits 16- and 17-year-olds to obtain marriage licenses with parental consent. Those under 16 need both parental consent and approval from a judge. 

    The legislation would have required all couples to wait until both people turned 18 to get a marriage license.

    The delay stunned and disappointed the bill's sponsors and the members of Unchained At Last, a non-profit organization that helps young women and girls leave forced marriages, and lobbied for the bill. They said they only found out about the delay minutes before the Assembly's 1 p.m. voting session.

    Fraidy Reiss, founder of Unchained at Last, said she was "outraged" by Schaer's "16th-century thinking."

    She's counting on the bill's sponsors to "stay strong" and fight to keep the language as-is. "Otherwise it's a waste of a bill," Reiss said.

    State Health Department data says 3,628 minors got married in New Jersey from 1995 and 2015, and 95 percent of them were in the 16-to-17-year-old age bracket.

    "When you are ending a human right abuse, why would you carve out an exemption for the people most affected by this human rights abuse?" Reiss said. "These are exactly the people who need protection."

    Reiss said her work with other young women who were married against their will has shown her that going before a judge does not provide the child any protection.

    "We have worked with many survivors, and every single one we have worked said they have with lied to the judge," pressured by their families. "They feel complicit in their own marriage."

    Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, R-Union, one of the prime sponsors of the bill said she is not interested in a compromise.

    "The reasons we are passing this bill is because there have been exceptions in the past," Munoz said.

    "We don't allow minors to do a lot of things - to vote, to drive. You can't smoke a cigarette until you are 21," Munoz said. "This is intended to protect minors, yet we somehow have lost track of the focus of the bill." 

    Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Mercer, also a sponsor, said he told the speaker he would listen to religious leaders' concerns. He said he's also been asked to consider an exception to minors who want to marry someone in the military.

    Gusciora said he's made no promises that he would amend the bill. 

    "This is something in which the culture and the religion are dragging the child along to a marriage they may or may not want," Gusciora said.

    The bill has the backing of National Organization for Women of New Jersey and Human Rights Watch.

    Only Delaware has enacted a law setting the minimal age of 18 to get married.

    Susan K. Livio may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @SusanKLivio. Find Politics on Facebook.


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    This winter's nor-easters had a relatively mild impact on beach erosion, a good thing for tourism and safety, experts said during a State of the Shore event Thursday

    Jamie Manser had just emerged from her first dip in the ocean this year and, even with Thursday's bracing 60-degree water temperature, it was a pleasure.

    "It just feels fantastic," said Manser, 28, of Scotch Plains, standing by the ocean at Asbury Park's 5th Avenue beach.

    And as for the overall condition of the beach heading into Memorial Day Weekend, and the unofficial start of summer? 

    "Being that its the first time I'm here this year, it looks particularly nice," Manser said.

    Asbury beach couple frolic.jpgJoao Romualeos and Favioa Alvarado, both 19-year-old students at Mercer County Community College, frolick in the Asbury Park surf under Thursday's sunny skies. 

    Experts agree, adding that healthy beaches are good not only for the state's $44 billion tourism industry, but also for the safety of swimmers, who are endangered by rip currents.

    A few minutes before Manser's lunchtime plunge, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's acting commissioner, Catherine R. McCabe, joined a Stevens Institute of Technology coastal engineering professor, Jon Miller, for a "State of the Shore" event at the Robinson Ale House on Asbury Park's famous boardwalk. The annual event is held in the run up to Memorial Day to kick off the summer water quality monitoring season and to provide an assessment of how Jersey shore beaches weathered the winter.

    "We had a relatively mild winter in terms of storms, so mild beach erosion," Miller said. "Any beach erosion that occurred, the sand is real close by in a sandbar offshore, so it's going to come back. So, overall, the beaches are very healthy."

    Miller is also a coastal processes specialist for the New Jersey Sea Grant Commission, whose mission includes raising awareness of dangerous rip currents, which occur when beach erosion results in channels that swiftly carry water from breaking waves back out to sea.

    Last summer, rip tides contributed to a record eight drownings on the Jersey Shore, said Claire Antonucci, the grant commission's executive director. In response, the commission has launched a campaign titled, "Ocean Hazards: Sharks V. Rip Currents." 

    "Only six deaths occur worldwide due to shark attacks while more than 100 people per year die as a result of rip currents in the United States," the commission states on the campaign web page.    

    Hurricane season 2018 predictions

    McCabe assured the public that the state would be ever-vigilant in monitoring water quality along the shore, and would close beaches on the rare occasions when the Enterococci bacteria level exceeded 104 colonies per 100 milliliters of sea water in sample testing on two consecutive days. Samples exceeded the bacteria standard in 3-percent of all cases in 2017, according to the DEP.   

    Funding for ocean monitoring comes from the federal Environmental Protection agency, as well as the sale of New Jersey's "Shore to Please" license plates with its red and white lighthouse. This year, Jersey beachgoers accustomed to banners towed just offshore by small planes will notice a new one: a custom Shore to Please plate reading PLZ BUY ME.

    Asbury beach Dr. Jon Miller of Stevens.jpgJon Miller, a coastal processes specialist who teaches at Stevens Institute, said during a 'State of the Shore' event in Asbury Park that this winter's nor'easters were fairly gentle on Jersey beaches.  

    McCabe also said the administration of Gov. Phil Murphy would continue to fight the Trump Administration's plan to permit offshore drilling beyond the state's 3-mile jurisdiction. 

    Back on the beach, Mercer County Community College sweethearts Joao Romualeos and Faviola Alvarado, both 19, were frolicking in the surf, as the sound of Asbury Park's current building boom echoed from the city's waterfront boulevard, Ocean Avenue.  

    "I would say it looks good, it looks clean," said Romualeos, who is from Brazil. "The construction bothers me a little bit. But besides that, everything is great. (The beach) is very thick. There's plenty of space for people to lay on." 

    Steve Strunsky may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @SteveStrunsky. Find on Facebook

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    For decades the New Jersey State Board of Cosmetology and Hairstyling has mandated that all hairstylists and barbers in the state be licensed to operate - and that includes braiders.

    Of all the crimes that will get you arrested in the Garden State, braiding hair has to be one of the silliest.

    But that's exactly what happened four years ago to Melek Ustunluk, who worked out of a shop in Passaic and found herself facing charges of operating illegally under strict rules that require that braiders undergo more hours of training than emergency medical technicians.

    You can't get much lower-tech than braiding, which essentially involves a comb and the talents of the individual doing the braiding.

    But for more than three decades, the New Jersey State Board of Cosmetology and Hairstyling has mandated that all hairstylists and barbers in the state be licensed to operate - and that includes braiders.

    And that means attending beauty school, with its $17,000 price tag.

    Now a bi-partisan group of lawmakers is hoping to relax that standard a bit, amending an existing law to exempt hair braiders from the licensing rule while still requiring them to register their braiding establishments.

    Yes, you can get arrested for braiding hair in N.J.

    The legislators are responding to the pleas of the New Jersey Hair Braiding Freedom Coalition, an advocacy group that notes that hair braiding is classified as "natural hair care," because no cutting, dyeing, application of heat or use of caustic chemicals is involved.

    The braids in question, worn by men and women of various ethnic backgrounds and races, have their roots in West African culture.

    Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (D-Hudson), who has been wearing her own hair braided for many years, sponsored the amendment, noting that "Judges, lawyers, businesswomen and plain Janes get their hair braided."

    The measure moving through the Legislature - it won approval from the Assembly Women and Children Committee recently - defines hair braiding as "twisting, wrapping, weaving, extending, locking or braiding of hair by hand or with mechanical devices."

    Practitioners style Afro-textured hair naturally, the coalition says, in a manner that is safe for the braiders to perform and safe for the people whose hair is being worked on.

    "It is deeply rooted in African cultural heritage, and carries with it significant historical importance," the group's organizers stress.

    Braiders are right that requiring them to go through beauty school is not only costly but also irrelevant to their daily jobs.

    "You learn nothing about braiding and you typically only learn how to do one person's type of hair, and it's not ours," says braider Tiana Francis of Paterson, referring to the black-owned tresses she and her colleagues frequently work on.

    McKnight's amendment calls for the creation of advisory committee to oversee braiding establishments, issuing and renewing registrations and establishing minimum criteria for safety and record-keeping.

    The change will go a long way toward protecting customers while also reducing the burden on small-business owners and entrepreneurs who offer a valued service to their followers.

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    The program, at Trenton-Mercer Airport, allows children with autism to experience airport procedures, sights and sounds

    About two dozen families recently introduced their children on the autism spectrum to the sights and sounds of an airport at Trenton-Mercer Airport.

    The inaugural program, called Let's Investigate Flying Together (LIFT), took place early in the morning on a recent weekend at the Ewing airport.

    For 90 minutes, kids got to go through the experiences of entering the airport, getting boarding passes, going through security, sitting in the passenger hold area, and collecting their luggage through baggage claim.

    The aim was to allow children with autism to become familiar with all airport procedures, including the federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) process, before taking an actual airplane trip.

    "Our goal was to help families prepare for a positive flying experience from Trenton-Mercer or any other airport," said Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes said in a statement.

    "This first exercise went very smoothly, and we hope to offer additional LIFT events for people with special needs who could benefit from an airport exposure program," the county executive said.

    LIFT was organized by Mercer County, which owns and operates the airport, and the Mercer County Special Services School District.

    For the first LIFT event, airport officials and Special Services School District staff members were on hand to answer questions and help participants understand the airport procedures.  

    The participating families' feedback will help shape future LIFT programs. Overall, participants said they enjoyed the airport experience and would consider traveling from the airport.

    Mercer County officials supplied some of the feedback:

    "Thank you for organizing this event! Frankly, I have some anxiety regarding flying with my son...exposing him to the process and environment before we actually fly will lessen that," states one parent.

    The parent offered a special thank you to the TSA staff for their desire to learn about the autistic population and how to best assist such travelers, making sure they are safe but compliant.

    "Everything went well," wrote another parent. "My 4-year-old enjoyed his first experience in an airport." 

    Some participants said they were disappointed that they were not able to board an aircraft, but organizers expressed hope that an aircraft could be made available for future LIFT exercises.

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    Latasha White, a non-traditional student and mother of three sons, will be this year's MCCC commencement student speaker.

    Latasha White, a mother of three sons and a non-traditional student at Mercer County Community College (MCCC), says success can happen at any age.

    After being the primary caregiver for mother, who passed away from cancer in 2010, she traded in her desk job in accounting for studies in a profession where she could help people - especially the elderly.

    Her quest started in her 30s. She recently earned an associate degree in public health, and will add a nursing degree this December.

    For her efforts, she was chosen as MCCC's student speaker at commencement last weekend. She was one of more than 1,000 graduates.

    "I wasn't going to let my age stop me," White said.

    As a self-described math and science geek, math professor of White's nominated her as commencement student speaker, describing her as a "remarkable student."

    "My professors were able to see something in me. I began to see myself through their eyes," White says. She started out as a night student, and eventually enrolled in full day classes.

    She's  served as vice president of Mercer's chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa National Honor Society; as treasurer of the Student Nurse Association; as member of the Student Government Association; a peer tutor; a member of the Math Club; and she currently works in the Transfer Office, where she often offers peer-to-peer advice.

    White believes possibilities in life are endless.

    "Life is about steps, not giant leaps. Mercer is a great stepping stone. It's a beginning - or a new beginning for non-traditional students like me," she said.

    White hopes her three sons will follow in her footsteps.

    Her oldest, 19-year-old Tahj-Malik Woods, is also enrolled at MCCC as a music major.

    "He has already made his own identity here," she said. Her two younger boys are ages 8 and 9.

    "I want to be a role model for my kids. They know they are going to college," White said.

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    We took years of satellite data from summers across New Jersey and filtered it to only show green vegetation. When we say green, we mean it.

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