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Central Jersey News from the Times of Trenton

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    The Babies Count report found that the New Jersey's babies and toddlers are poorer and grapple with greater challenges than older children do.

    Being born in the Garden State should not be an automatic death sentence, but that is reality for too many babies, especially those born into low-income and/or minority families.

    That's one of the sobering take-aways of a report released recently by the non-profit Advocates for Children of New Jersey.

    Suffocation caused by bed-sharing, absence of prenatal care and the risks of lead poisoning were among the dangerous factors researchers cited in their study.

    The organization's first Babies Count report found that the state's babies and toddlers are poorer and grapple with greater challenges than older children do - and their poverty leaves them more susceptible to health and safety problems.

    "Our babies are just starting out in life and already have the odds stacked against them," said Cecilia Zalkind, president and CEO of the advocacy group.

    The goal of the report was not to single out a particular group, but to provide insight into the wellbeing of the state's 310,000 infants and toddlers, and to offer policy-makers and health-care professionals a handle on how to keep this vulnerable population thriving.

    Infant bed-sharing deaths in N.J. reached a record high

    About 110,000 of these youngsters - some 35 percent - come from low-income families as defined by U.S. Census Bureau standards.

    The good news is that New Jersey has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the nation. The tragic news is that the mortality rate is three times higher among black infants, who comprise 14 percent of all infants and toddlers living here.

    The study found that the number of pregnant women receiving prenatal care declined from 78 percent in 2012 to 72 percent in 2016.

    Just over half of black women and 65 percent of Latinas received prenatal care from the beginning of their pregnancies, as compared to white women (80 percent) and Asian women (79 percent).

    Zalkind pointed to the lack of steady access to an obstetrician as a major contributor.

    "In order to thrive, children need access to high-quality health care that begins before birth," the report said. "A lack of prenatal care or late prenatal care can lead to poor pregnancy outcomes, including low birth weights, preterm births and infant deaths.

    The figures coming out of the report were not uniformly grim.

    The study found that only 3 percent of children under 3 were without health insurance, and that fewer teens were giving birth - 4.4 births per teen, as compared with the national rate of 8.8.

    Moreover, measures moving through the state Legislature would expand the state's paid family leave program, doubling the amount of time workers could take off after a birth and expand eligibility.

    Overall, the Babies Count report card serves as a wake-up call, reminding us that the earliest years of a child's life are vitally important. We can't afford to ignore the needs of our youngest and most vulnerable residents.

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

     

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    He wrote New Jersey's pay-to-play laws, and had a lifetime passion for hockey

    William "Bill" Schluter, a longtime New Jersey legislator and public servant who ran for governor in 2001, died at his Pennington home Monday morning at the age of 90.

    He'd battled pancreatic cancer the past two years, his family said.

    Schulter, a Republican, served two separate stints in the New Jersey legislature, the first from 1968 to 1974, and then again from 1987 to 2002, each time serving first in the Assembly before being elected to the Senate.

    He started his elected career in the 1960s as a councilman in Pennington Borough.

    Schluter championed ethics, campaign finance laws, government reform, and honesty, and is credited with writing New Jersey's state's pay-to-play laws.

    2 TRSCHL19 KINNEY CONLONSchluter at his campaign headquarters in Flemington in this 2001 file photo 

    His campaign for governor in 2001 was a long shot - he ran as an Independent - but newspaper editorial writers loved him, and wrote that he was a great choice despite not having the numbers, or money, to threaten the frontrunners.

    His family said in his obituary he was long proud of the praise he received then, like: "A beacon of integrity in a capital often befogged by special interests and politics as usual," one wrote.

    And another: "He's a rare phenomenon: A veteran lawmaker and a straight arrow. For decades, he's fought the good fight for honesty in government--often standing alone."

    Schluter served on many commissions and boards after leaving elective office, and last served New Jersey as a member of the State Ethics Commission, from 2006 to 2013. 

    He remained a keen observer of state politics, writing opinion pieces in news outlets, and in 2017 he published a book, "Soft Corruption: How Unethical Conduct Undermines Good Government and What To Do About It."

    And until just few months ago, he was often quoted in news stories, often as an expert in political ethics or campaign finance issues.

    Born in Bronxville, New York and raised in Princeton, Schluter graduated from Princeton University in 1950, where he played varsity hockey all four years.

    He would lace up his skates for much of his adult life, too. He was a founding member of the Princeton Hockey Club, and played for over 40 years as an adult player, and for over 20 years coached the youth "Black Hawks" in Pee Wee Hockey, a league that is now part of the Princeton Youth Hockey Association.    

    He is survived by his wife of 68 years, Nancy Hurd Schluter, and six children, 19 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren.

    His service will be held Aug. 11 at the First Presbyterian Church of Pennington, where he was a longtime member and former deacon and trustee.

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


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    Opponents hit just .220, and his WHIP of 0.95 would have lead the Eastern League.

    Coming back to Trenton off a successful road trip, which saw them go 4-2, the Thunder have all but made the Eastern League playoffs for the third season running.

    Mandy Alvarez crushed his second home run of the game Sunday in the top of the 11th inning, to give the Thunder a 4-2 win, and the series victory, over Hartford. 

    Trenton (63-49) opens its three-game home stand Tuesday night with Altoona 10.5 games ahead of Binghamton (53-60) and Hartford (52-59), with just 27 games left to play.

    The Thunder front office put playoff tickets on sale August 3, due to the overwhelming lead over the teams trailing Trenton. But the Thunder are still two games behind New Hampshire at the top of the Eastern Division standings heading into Tuesday.

    If that holds, and the Fisher Cats win the division, the Eastern Division Series would begin in Trenton on Wednesday, September 5, two days after the end of the regular season. The second game would be at Arm & Hammer Park Thursday, with game three at the Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in Manchester Friday night. Games four and five, if necessary, would be Saturday and Sunday.

    If the Thunder can catch New Hampshire, and win the division for the second year in a row, the sites would switch for the first two games and the final three.

    The Eastern League Championship Series will start with two games at the home of the Western Division Series winner, then head to the home of the Eastern Division Series winner for games three through five.

    Trenton will be looking to make the EL Championship Series for the third straight season, and win its first title since 2013.

    Domingo Acevedo update; Brandon Wagner settling in with Thunder

    * Pitcher Ryan Bollinger was recalled to Yankees on July 31 for a day, then was returned to the Thunder. He is now one of two Trenton players on the 40-man roster, with Domingo Acevedo. 

    It was the second time Bollinger made a day trip to the major leagues, but did not feature in a game.

    * Starting pitcher Michael King, who was dominant for Trenton in his time with the team this season, was promoted to Triple A Scranton Wilkes-Barre on August 4.

    King was 6-2 in 11 starts (12 games overall), with a 2.09 ERA in 82 innings with the Thunder. Opponents hit just .220, and his WHIP of 0.95 would have lead the Eastern League.

    He was just as good in his first start with the Rail Riders on Sunday. King went seven innings against Buffalo, and allowed just three hits and a lone run, before the bullpen allowed four runs in the ninth.

    * With King gone, pitcher Alexander Vargas was transferred from Class A Charleston to Trenton. 

    Vargas made his second start for the Thunder this season on Sunday against Hartford. He went 3.2 innings in the 4-2 Trenton win. His other start with the Thunder came back on April 22 against Portland.

    * Bruce Caldwell was transferred back from Scranton Wilkes-Barre Saturday, and played both weekend games for Trenton. In 51 games with the Thunder this year, he is hitting .251.

    * Reliever James Reeves followed Caldwell back to Trenton on Sunday, after two recent stints in Triple A.

    Reeves was transferred to Scranton on July 30, nut did not pitch for the Rail Riders before his return to the Thunder. He continued his dominant 2018 campaign with Trenton Sunday, with 2.1 innings of hitless relief of Vargas in the 4-2 win.

    Reeves is 2-1 with Trenton in 27 games, with a 2.23 ERA in 48.1 innings of work. Opponents are hitting .147 against him.

    * The Eastern League released the 2019 schedule Sunday.

    Trenton will begin the season in Erie on Friday, April 5, and then visit Akron. The Thunder home opener is Friday, April 12 at 7 p.m. against Portland.

    * There will be a blood drive, run by the Central Jersey Blood Center, on Saturday, August 18 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. before the double header with New Hampshire starts at 5 p.m.

    All donors will receive two tickets to a future Thunder game.

    Contact Sean Miller at seanmillertrentontimes@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheProdigalSean


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    The Ewing man allegedly killed his girlfriend, hid her body and took her personal belongings with him when he fled

    A Ewing man accused of killing his girlfriend with a phone cord testified at his trial that he indeed strangled her, but was only defending himself in a fight she started.

    Carlos Ortiz, 53, said his girlfriend, Rufina Castro, threw a beer bottle at him during a domestic dispute in August 2016, initiating the struggle that resulted in him wrapping a cell phone charging cord around her neck.

    The revelations surfaced in Ortiz's murder trial in Mercer County, which started last week and continued Tuesday morning with Ortiz on the stand. The jury started deliberating in the afternoon.

    carlos-ortiz-938ec496ef052ae6.jpegCarlos Ortiz, 53 (police photo)

    "There's no dispute over how she died, but there is dispute leading up to it," said public defender Amber Forrester, who represented Ortiz.

    Ortiz, who had entered a not guilty plea in September 2017, testified Castro was the aggressor.

    However, authorities say it was Ortiz who had the beer bottle and hit Castro in the head with it, then killed her.

    Ewing police discovered Castro's dead body hidden under laundry and blankets while conducting a welfare check at her Ewingville Road home around 3:30 a.m. the next day. Ortiz lived with her.

    "Is this how you treat someone you love and respect?" Assistant Prosecutor Katie Magee, asked the jury during her closing statement.

    In addition to hiding Castro's body and locking her in her bedroom, Ortiz lied to her son Eduardo, telling him Castro was still at work when he returned to their house that afternoon. Magee said.

    Ortiz also went to the Shop Rite in Ewing, found Castro's supervisor, and told him she wouldn't be there for her 5 p.m. shift because she was sick in the hospital.

    And Magee said Ortiz made several attempts to cover up the crime.

    "He created a story to explain away his actions, but his story doesn't make sense," she said.

    Ortiz took Route 1 to a motel in Belleville, just outside of Newark, where he was arrested. Police found $750 worth of crack cocaine, as well as multiple beer bottles, according to testimony.

    He only used cash to make purchases that night, and parked his Ford Explorer three miles away from the motel. He also had Castro's jewelry, and her credit and debit cards with him at the motel, prosecutors say.

    Before police arrested him at the motel, Ortiz said he thought about taking off to Florida.

    "I killed her man, what can I do?" he said during a police interview that night, prosecutors say.

    Several of Castro's family members attended the trial, facing the man who admitted strangling the woman they loved.

    Castro was 51 and was survived by her three children, Eduardo Castro, Betty Webb, and Roxana Galindoand. She worked at Providence Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Trenton during the day, and the Shop Rite in Ewing at night, with her son.

    Ortiz was indicted on charges of murder, aggravated assault, theft and weapons offenses and is being held in the Mercer County jail.

    Gianluca D'Elia may be reached at gdelia@njadvancemedia.comFollow him on Twitter @gianluca_delia. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


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    Some districts are warning of devastating budget cuts. Is the state to blame?

    In Haddon Township, students won't get new science equipment. In Toms River, officials are tapping reserves to stave off budget cuts. In Jersey City, the school board is eliminating 25 jobs. 

    Across New Jersey, more than 150 districts have spent the past month scrambling to offset reductions in state funding announced in July, after they had already passed their budgets for the coming school year. The worst part, they say? Their state aid is set to get slashed again and again under a new state law. 

    "This is a disaster," Jersey City School Board President Sudhan Thomas said at a special meeting last week to discuss the more than $3 million in lost state aid. "War has been declared on this district."

    The combined $32 million in aid reductions are part of a complex school funding deal that increases New Jersey's education spending by more than $300 million for the upcoming school year and changes how some aid is distributed. 

    That plan pumps millions more into both urban and suburban districts long underfunded by the state. But it comes with a catch: Some of the dollars headed to those underfunded districts is money taken away from others.  

    Find out if your district is losing aid

    State officials say those districts should lose money now because they were winners for far too long, collecting more than their fair share of state funding over the past decade. Local school leaders, however, argue the state is effectively robbing Pemberton to pay Paulsboro and setting up districts for devastating cuts in the years to come. 

    The fallout underscores a practical and political reality of the latest school funding deal: Even if some districts were getting extra funding for all those years, the state was never going to be able to reduce it without affecting kids and angering school officials. 

    "You spend what the state gives you," said Brigid Harrison, a professor of political science at Montclair State University. "No one ever says, 'Well, we don't really need that money.'" 

    Less money, more problems 

    Can the school districts that are losing aid still get by without those state dollars?

    State officials say they should be fine. Local school chiefs disagree. And the answer isn't so simple, said David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center. 

    New Jersey's school funding formula tells the state exactly how much each district should spend, how much of a district's funding should come from the state and how much the district should generate in local property tax revenue. 

    There are 172 districts losing state aid, and all of them have been receiving more than the formula says they need, with some collecting millions and millions in aid for roughly a decade. 

    Of those districts, 153 have been spending at or more than the state says they should in order to provide a quality education, according an Education Law Center analysis. 

    Those districts are better positioned to survive the state's seven-year phase-out of extra aid, but that doesn't make budget cuts any less painful, and any reductions could quickly drop them below their target spending level, Sciarra said. 

    The districts in a more perilous position are the 19 that are seeing their state aid reduced even though they weren't spending what the state says is needed, he said. 

    That group of districts hasn't generated enough local tax revenue to cover their responsibility for funding their schools, and state Senate President Stephen Sweeney has characterized them as using the state as a piggybank. 

    "They can undertax locally because they get our money," Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said during budget negotiations. "Our money is leaving."

    Sciarra argues those districts have been miscast by politicians. 

    Some of the districts haven't been able to raise enough tax revenue because of the state's 2 percent cap on property tax hikes, Sciarra said. When chunks of their state aid disappear, they'll be left with little ability to make it up, he said. 

    "This is the point we have been trying to make all along," said Sciarra, who opposed the state aid cuts.  

    An uncertain future 

    School officials in Toms River are already warning of "dramatic budget cuts" after this school year. 

    The district received about $18 million in extra state aid last school year toward its $228 million budget, but still spent about $25 million less than the state says it needs to, according to an Education Law Center analysis. 

    Now, the state is phasing out that $18 million, beginning with a nearly $1 million reduction this year, followed by incrementally larger reductions through 2025. 

    District officials said property tax hikes won't be enough to avoid budget cuts. 

    "Make no mistake," Superintendent David Healy wrote in a letter to parents. "Our district will be nothing short of gutted and fully decimated if something does not change with regards to the allocation of school aid." 

    Neighboring Brick Township Public Schools is also spending below its goal and facing annual state aid cuts moving forward. Officials say the state funding formula doesn't accurately capture ratables lost in Hurricane Sandy and expects Shore towns to generate an unrealistic amount of property tax revenue.

    The district will get by this year by using $1.3 million from its reserves and leaving six teaching jobs and two administrative positions vacant, Superintendent Gerard Dalton said.  

    After that, he said, he's not sure what will happen. 

    "We are worried about the future," he said. 

    In Cumberland County, Commercial Township spent about $500,000 less than the state recommends last year. Now, it's losing about $1 million in state aid right away with more money disappearing down the road. 

    The district just eliminated seven positions, including five layoffs, interim Superintendent Jean Smith said.  

    "Devastating is the word I would use," Smith said. 

    Murphy's proposed budget didn't reduce funding to any district, but he agreed to the changes as part of a compromise with Sweeney, who had pushed for a redistribution of school aid. 

    Dan Bryan, the governor's spokesman, pointed to the fact that the state has attempted to soften the blow on some districts.

    For instance, the state will allow some urban districts to raise taxes beyond the 2 percent cap to offset state aid reductions. And Murphy agreed to allow Jersey City to create a special 1 percent payroll tax paid by employers to generate extra revenue for its public schools. 

    "Gov. Murphy signed landmark school funding legislation that sets the state on the path to a fairer and more equitable educational system," Bryan said. 

    The state will also offer emergency aid for districts that are able to demonstrate fiscal distress, Department of Education spokesman Mike Yaple said. 

    Even though the state aid reductions weren't Murphy's idea, he can expect to take the blame for them, Harrison said, even in districts that are spending more than the state expectation. 

    "The reality is that if you try to level the funding, the schools that are receiving a disproportionate amount of money and see their aid reduced are going to have to belt tighten," Harrison said. "And that is not going to be politically popular." 

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

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

     

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    For the Thunder, extra innings have meant wins; Trenton is 8-3 in games that have gone past nine frames.

    Extra innings games can go either way, especially at the major league level, where games can and have gone on well into the night 

    But in the minor leagues this year, the new extra inning rule has limited most contests to one or two extra frames.

    For the Thunder, extra innings have meant wins; Trenton is 8-3 in games that have gone past nine frames.

    The latest example came on Sunday night, when Mandy Alvarez's two-run blast gave the Thunder a 4-2 win in Hartford.

    The minor league extra innings rule was implemented this season to shorten games, and also to protect pitching staffs. It follows the International Tie Breaker rule; to start each extra inning, a runner (either the batter in the order before the leadoff hitter of the new inning, or a substitute) is placed on second base. 

    With a runner in scoring position, it would follow that runs would be scored, and there would be the possibility that games would end sooner.

    That is what has happened all throughout the minor leagues. The data shows that the new rule has done exactly what it was intended: shorten games.

    In data compiled by Minor League Baseball, the length and time of all minor league extra inning games (whether it be in games scheduled for seven or nine innings) were figured.  

    In games through July 31, of the 744 extra inning games in the minor leagues, 71 percent (530) have ended after one extra inning. Last season, only 49 percent of games (588 of 1,192) ended after one extra inning, and in 2016 it was just 46 percent (546 of 1,195).

    When the data is stretched out to include two frames, 93 percent of games this season (691 of 744) have finished. The numbers fall to 74 percent (878 of 1,192) in 2017 and 71 percent (850 of 1,195) in 2016.

    Thunder manager Jay Bell spoke about the rule recently, after an extra inning home game.

    "I was not sure how I was going to like it," Bell said. "I'm not wavering at all from a player-development standpoint, because we get games over quicker and we save pitching."

    But while the percentages tell a story, the real difference can be seen in the other data. So far this season, on 14 games have gone more than three extra innings. In 2017, that number was 162, and it was 183 in 2016.

    This year, the longest game went six extra innings. In 2017, it was 12, and in 2016, it was 14.

    In 2018, extra inning games are ending on average 28 minutes after the bottom of the ninth. It was 43 minutes last season, and 45 minutes in 2016.

    So, is the rule working?

    Yes it is, and the data is there to prove it.

    Thunder notebook: Playoff tickets go on sale, with 10.5 game lead

    NOTES:

    * Trenton has played eight 10 inning games this season, and three eleven inning games. The Thunder are 4-1 on the road in extra inning games, and 4-2 at home.

    * The Thunder hitters have continued to struggle at the plate during the 2018 season.

    Of the current active roster, no player is hitting over .264 coming into Wednesday's day game with Altoona.

    Kyle Holder, who is on the 7-Day DL, has posted a .267 average in his 25 games with Trenton. Mandy Alvarez is the active leader, with a .264 average, with Trey Amburgey second at .255.

    The team average of .249 is the eighth best in the Eastern League, tied with Hartford. Akron (.247), Harrisburg (.246), and Richmond (.244) are the teams behind the Thunder.

    * While the team hitting stats are not great, the Thunder pitchers have led the way in the Eastern League.

    Trenton leads the EL in ERA (3.21: Akron is second, 3.39), hits allowed (819: Altoona is second, 846), runs allowed (407: Akron is second, 458), earned runs allowed (350; Akron is second, 380), home runs allowed (68: Akron is second, 73), strikeouts (1,007: Erie is second, 972), and WHIP (1.21: Akron is second, 1.23).

    What do Trenton, Akron, and Altoona, the three best pitching teams in the EL, have in common?

    As of Wednesday, all three will be in the playoffs come September 5. Akron sits at 66-48, four games ahead of Altoona (60-50), and seven ahead of Harrisburg (58-54), in the Western Division standings.

    Trenton is 9.5 games up in the race for the second playoff spot in the Eastern Division coming into Wednesday.

    New Hampshire is the outlier; the Fisher Cats will be in the playoffs based on their strong offense. But take away Vladimir Guerrero Jr's .402 average and stats, which skew the offensive numbers somewhat, and New Hampshire's current roster is not nearly as strong.

    The Fisher Cats still have Harold Ramirez (EL-leading .313 average, 52 RBI), Bo Bichette (.281, 10 HR, 63 RBI, 79 R), and Cavan Biggio (.256, 23 HR, 83 RBI, 65 R), and any one of those three players might be the league MVP by the end of the month.


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    Are students really slumming it at this Jersey campus?

    The good news for Rider University is it ranks among the nation's 384 best colleges, according to a new rating. 

    The bad news? The pricey private college in Lawrenceville has the worst dorms of any college in that group, its students said. 

    Rider is ranked No. 1 in the Princeton Review's "Is that a Dorm?" category, topping the list of colleges where students aren't happy with on-campus housing. 

    The poor reviews apparently aren't news to the university, though. 

    "We are in the midst of a $15 million bond investment for residence hall improvements," spokeswoman Kristine Brown said Tuesday. 

    The university already completed significant renovations to three residence halls and will be starting on another three this winter, Brown said. Upgrades include better bathrooms and common areas, as well as new ceilings, flooring, lighting and furniture, she said. 

    The average Rider undergraduate student paid about $41,000 in tuition and fees last year, according to an NJ Advance Media survey on the cost of college. Room and board typically adds thousands more to a student's total bill.

    The Princeton Review lists published this week are based entirely on student feedback. Data comes from surveys of 138,000 students at the 384 schools in the publication. 

    The annual publication lists the 384 best colleges in alphabetical order (without a top-to-bottom ranking). It also rates colleges in 62 categories, such as top party school, best campus food and best-run college. Colleges often tout positive rankings in marketing materials while dismissing negative ratings as meaningless. 

    Rider ranked 18th in three other categories: Students Study the Least, Administrators Get Low Marks and Is That a Library? 

    Several other New Jersey colleges appear on lists, but only Rider ranked No. 1 in any category. 

     

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


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    The Ewing man admitted to killing his girlfriend in a domestic dispute two summers ago

    carlos-ortiz-938ec496ef052ae6.jpegCarlos Ortiz, 51 (police photo)

    A man who strangled his girlfriend with a cell phone charging cord was found guilty of all seven charges Wednesday morning, the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office said.

    Carlos Ortiz, 53, killed his girlfriend Rufina Castro after they got into an argument at their Ewing home in August 2016.

    He smashed a beer bottle over her head, strangled her with a phone cord, and then hid her body under laundry and blankets, prosecutors said.

    Assistant Prosecutor Katie Magee, who represented the state alongside Sean McCultry, said hearing the news of the verdict was "overwhelming for me."

    "I'm so happy to see that justice was done for this family after two years," Magee said.

    The jury deliberated for less than an hour Wednesday morning.

    Castro's family members showed up to the trial every day.

    Ewing police discovered Castro's body at her home on the 300 block of Ewingville Road around 3:30 a.m. while conducting a welfare check.

    Ortiz stopped by the Ewing Shop Rite where Castro worked, told Castro's supervisor she wouldn't be coming in because she was sick, and then fled to Belleville, where he checked into a motel.

    When police arrested him at the motel, they discovered he also had Castro's credit and debit cards, as well as jewelry that was later identified as hers. Ortiz also had $750 worth of cocaine, according to testimony.

    Man testifies he strangled his girlfriend with a phone cord in self defense

    Ortiz, who took the witness stand during the trial, claimed that Castro started the fight by throwing a bottle at him and trying to strangle him first.

    "There's no dispute over how she died, but there is a dispute leading up to it," said public defender Amber Forrester, who represented Ortiz, in her closing statement.

    Ortiz, who now awaits sentencing, was found guilty of murder, aggravated assault, theft and weapons offenses. 

    Gianluca D'Elia may be reached at gdelia@njadvancemedia.comFollow him on Twitter @gianluca_delia. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


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    You must be taller than this to view this gallery.

    There are certain emotions that are wonderful and almost impossible to put into words. Falling in love for the first time ... holding your newborn child ... your lifelong favorite team winning the Super Bowl for the first time ever.

    Now, close your eyes and try to recapture the feeling from childhood just before you walked through the gates of a carnival, circus or amusement park. It certainly ranks right up there.

    gregferris.jpgAnd try not to trip getting off the ferris wheel. 

    There was a magical feeling of anticipation mixed with a happy mystery. You remembered your favorite rides and games and couldn't decide which was the first you were going to do. And you didn't know what new ones might have been invented, what new things a circus might bring to town.

    The sensory stimulation was almost too much to handle - the sounds, sights, aromas, even the air had a unique quality to it. It was one of the few times in life that having things coming at you from all sides couldn't have been happier.

    MORE: Vintage photos around New Jersey

    I'm one of those people who grows a little melancholy when something happy draws to a close, but at those places, the only thing you felt at the end of the day was a magnificent exhaustion. Kind of like celebrating a Super Bowl victory.

    Here's a gallery of vintage photos from amusement parks, fairs and circuses in New Jersey. Don't see one of your favorite places to visit? Check these links to previous galleries.

    Vintage photos of amusement parks, circuses, fairs and rides in N.J.

    Vintage photos of amusement parks, circuses and fairs in N.J.

    Vintage photos of amusement parks, fairs and circuses in N.J.

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


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    No hard liquor? Bad dorms? Poor profs? How N.J. colleges fare in new Princeton Review rankings.


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    Local public officials had called for an investigation into the shelter in June.

    Open containers of dog food, cat vomit in the old reception room, and improper euthanasia practices are just a few violations state health inspectors found after an inspection of the Hamilton Township Animal Shelter, according to a state report released Tuesday. 

    State inspectors paid a visit to the shelter July 16 after local public officials had called for an investigation into the shelter in June. According to Donna Leusner, a spokesperson for the New Jersey Department of Health, the department's inspection was prompted by complaints the agency had received from citizens about inappropriate holding of animals.

    "Many animals were being euthanized before being held the required seven days after intake or impoundment," according to the inspection report.

    It also found that two shelter employees who had not been certified by a licensed veterinarian were administering animal euthanasia, as was another that was not "sufficiently trained in the acceptable techniques."

    The DOH report also found that a euthanasia drug that is meant for dogs only was also being used on cats. 

    Other violations cited in the report include:

    • There were several areas of cat vomit in the older section of the facility where the resident cats are allowed to roam free.
    • Written instructions were not posted in the euthanasia area and there were no instructions available that included the dosages by weight in pounds of all euthanasia, immobilizing, and tranquilizing agents used at the facility.
    • Animal cages were not being cleaned and disinfected properly.
    • Food and water bowls were not being cleaned daily as required, and opened bags of food were not stored in sealed containers to prevent contamination.

    In the day after the report was published, about 80 percent of the violations the shelter has been citied for had been corrected, according to Jeffery Plunkett, director of the Hamilton Department of Health, Recreation, Senior and Veterans Services, which oversees the animal shelter. 

    Plunkett said after reviewing the report with the mayor, business administrator and shelter veterinarian, he found that many of the items listed on the state report were "redundant."

    But not everyone who has read the report feels the same way. 

    "It's time for Mayor (Kelly) Yaede to stop pretending to be 'outraged and appalled' about council investigating how our animal shelter is managed," said Steve Clegg, a Hamilton resident and local animal activist. "It's time for her to stop trying to twist this into a political stunt and it's time for her to stop hiding from these problems."

    The Hamilton Council members who first raised the issue of the conditions in the shelter -- Jeff Martin, Anthony Carabelli, Jr., and Rick Tighe -- also said they were troubled by the findings in the report. 

    "We will continue with our investigation to fully explore these and other long-standing issues at the shelter in order to find solutions," Martin, Carabelli Jr., and Tighe said in a statement Tuesday night.

    "Our goal remains the same: To have a shelter that ensures the humane treatment of animals and results in higher adoption rates."

    Yaede responded to the council member's statement saying that the state inspection did "not list one finding of animal abuse or animal cruelty; and the majority of the report cited clerical errors and other items that have already been corrected." She said that as the state recommends a different euthanasia method than the shelter has been using, and the township will transition to the state recommended method.

    "The very fact that the state allowed our facility to continue routine operations following the inspection illustrates that the health and daily care of our shelter animals was never in question," Yaede said. 

    The township's investigation into the conditions and operations of the shelter are ongoing, though a new meeting date to discuss the investigation has not yet been set. 

    The DOH will give the shelter time to correct the deficiencies listed in it's report before it will be subject to an unannounced re-inspection by the state. If the shelter remains noncompliant, it may be fined or be given a recommendation to close until the facility can fully comply with state statutes and regulations, according to Leusner.

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

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    Princeton police are working on a patrol truck - and some are nervous the feds are in town

    Princeton police are getting work done on their patrol pickup truck, and while that work is in progress, an unfinished decal on the side spells "ICE," as in the end of the word POLICE.

    And that has some people in town a little nervous, causing the department to clarify a few things to the public.

    It's not ICE, the acronym for the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the department said in a Facebook post Wednesday.

    "There have apparently been some people who have mistaken our recently repaired patrol vehicle as an Immigration Customs Enforcement Vehicle," the department said in the post.

    To clear things up, Princeton Police posted photos of their completed vehicles, as well as real ICE agency vehicles.

    "The repaired truck in the photo will be receiving the rest of its decal this Friday," the post said. 

    Princeton is often referred to as a "sanctuary" community in the ongoing immigration debate.

    Officially, though Princeton is a member of the "Welcoming America" movement.

    ICE, the federal law enforcement agency, has made several immigration arrests in the town in the past several years, like they often do in other New Jersey communities with known immigration communities.

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


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    The man was submerged up to his neck, the Trenton Fire Department said Watch video

    Firefighters pulled an elderly man from the Delaware River off Trenton on Thursday morning.

    The man was submerged up to his neck when firefighters loaded him into a boat around 11 a.m. and brought him to land across from the Morrisville (Pa.) Water Works, according to the Trenton Fire Department.

    "He was in a dire situation," Capt. Jonathan Little said.  

    When firefighters turned the man over to EMS worker, he was conscious and alert, Little said.

    The rescue was a joint effort involving the Trenton and Hamilton fire departments in addition to firefighters from Bucks County, Pennsylvania and the Lower Makefield (Pa.) police. 

    Jeff Goldman may be reached at jeff_goldman@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @JeffSGoldman. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


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    The man was submerged up to his neck, the Trenton Fire Department said. Watch video

    Firefighters pulled an elderly man from the Delaware River off Trenton on Thursday morning.

    The man was submerged up to his neck when firefighters loaded him into a boat around 11 a.m. and brought him to land across from the Morrisville (Pa.) Water Works, according to the Trenton Fire Department.

    "He was in a dire situation," Capt. Jonathan Little said.  

    When firefighters turned the man over to EMS worker, he was conscious and alert, Little said.

    The rescue was a joint effort involving the Trenton and Hamilton fire departments in addition to firefighters from Bucks County, Pennsylvania and the Lower Makefield (Pa.) police. 

    Jeff Goldman may be reached at jeff_goldman@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @JeffSGoldman. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


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    A day of free hairstyling, free lunch and free clothing for the homeless and disadvantaged. Watch video

    "Often times, our situations dictate the way we feel about ourselves."

    That was Diane Bellamy, who owns In His Image Hair Studio with her husband, Antonio, speaking Saturday at their 2nd annual Beauty to the Block event, which is a day of hairstyling, lunch and clothing for the homeless and disadvantaged.

    And it's all free.

    Speaking of what she referred to as, "the beauty of the heart," she added: "We would love to really help them (clients) expose that on the outside by making them feel good despite their situation."

    And that's not limited to women.

    Bellamy's husband, who is Minister Tone Bellamy, of Transformation Church, in Trenton said, "We're reaching out, not just to women, but to men as well."

    He added, "It's beautiful opportunity to just rub shoulders with other men who have been through some things and have stories and have struggles."

    Against a soundtrack of devotional and inspirational music, a group of volunteer stylists chatted cheerfully with clients while giving them stylish new hairdos and haircuts.

    In an adjoining room, Ikecia Mapp, an author who writes under the name Ikecia Lenese, was helping people find the right article of clothing to complete their own look, or in some cases to fit a family member.

    Expo preview

    Also inside the salon, the City of Trenton provided free blood pressure screening by registered nurse Rosalyn Miller and medical assistant Thalia Herrera.

    Food was available inside and under a canopy set out in front of the Brunswick Avenue shop, where group prayer was available including members of Restoring Hearts Ministries.

    When the Bellamys first opened their studio, it was with the vision of giving back to the city. "Me and my husband, we live here with our children. We have hearts for the city," Diane said.

    Minister Bellamy summed it up: "We believe that being a part of a church is not just about being in a building. It's about being on the block, hence the name Beauty to the Block."

    Michael Mancuso may be reached at mmancuso@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @michaelmancuso, Instagram @michaelmancuso and Facebook @michaelmancuso


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    Farmstead Adventure Campers get assigned a calf and learn to 'walk it, wash it and love it' Watch video

    Come summer the work gets kinda hard, especially on a farm.

    That's why it was a welcome relief from the heat when fifth generation dairy farmer Mikayla Fulper brought kids and their calves out for some good old fashioned calf washing.

    It was part of the Farmstead Adventure Camp held at the Fulper Family Farmstead in West Amwell, outside Lambertville.

    "The purpose of our camp is to bring kids out to the farm, away from technology," Fulper said.

    "It teaches them about agriculture, where their food comes from. And it gives them a little bit of fun to have during the week," she added.

    Expo preview

    In addition to other farm activities like hayrides, nature walks and butter and ice cream making, the children get practice caring for a calf.

    The day campers are partnered with a calf for the week, two kids to a calf.

    They also practice showmanship, leading their calf around, in preparation for a show they put on for family and friends on the last day of camp.

    It's a great bonding experience.

    As Fulper tells it, speaking about their designated calf, the kids "learn to walk it, wash it, love it."

    Michael Mancuso may be reached at mmancuso@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @michaelmancuso, Instagram @michaelmancuso and Facebook @michaelmancuso


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    Ross Kasun was most recently the superintendent in Freehold Township

    Lawrence's board of education announced Thursday they've hired Dr. Ross Kasun as superintendent of schools.

    He's scheduled to start Sept. 1. His salary will be $196,584 per year.

    Ross Kasun.jpegRoss Kasun, provided photo 

    Kasun, who's been the superintendent in Freehold Township the past seven school years, replaces Dr. Crystal Edwards, who left earlier this year for a superintendent job in Virginia.

    Kasun also almost left New Jersey for a superintendent job this year.

    He was publicly named the superintendent of the Billings, Montana school district - the largest in Montana - this past spring, but never signed a contract and withdrew from the job weeks later.

    The Billings Gazette reported in May that Kasun withdrew from that post due to family reasons, that he has school-aged children and didn't plan on relocating there.

    However, in interviews with Billings school trustees, Kasun said he wanted to work in Montana because one of his children is considering attending college in the region, the Gazette reported.

    Earlier this year, Kasun was also a named finalist for the superintendent post in Montclair.

    In Lawrence's search, the board said they interviewed six finalists from 41 applicants.

    The board said in an announcement that Kasun has racked up an impressive record and resume in his 23 years as an educator.

    He was chosen as the 2017 Superintendent of the Year by the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, was selected by the White House to attend the Future Ready Summit in 2014, for his efforts to infuse technology into daily practice, and won a Lexington Education Leadership Award fellowship.

    "We believe that Dr. Kasun will be a visionary leader and a great match for our students, staff, and community," Lawrence board President Kevin Van Hise said in an announcement.

    In the statement, Kasun said he is eager and excited to join the Lawrence district. "Creating learning experiences focused on the growth of every student is my passion. I was attracted to the diversity of this community, and I look forward to working collaboratively with all stakeholders to provide every student with an exceptional educational experience."

    Before Freehold Township, Kasun was an administrator in the South Orange-Maplewood district, a principal in Millburn, an assistant superintendent in Summit and superintendent in Colts Neck. He started his career as an elementary school teacher.

    Lawrence plans a public meet-and-greet on August 29 at 6 p.m. in the Lawrence High School Commons.

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


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    Many of the other coaches, and parents were in attendance as well, and got a chance to watch their local team play. Watch video

    Mackenzie Gondek has done something no other child has ever done at a Thunder game. 

    Two seasons ago, she competed against Boomer, the Trenton mascot, in his birthday race. Usually, the race is the lone opportunity for the jovial mascot to win all season. But Gondek got the better of Boomer, and the rest of the mascots from around the league who attend the birthday party each year.

    Thursday night, as the Thunder took on Altoona in the rubber game of a quick three-game home stand, seven-year old Gondek once again got a chance to race Boomer.

    She is now 4-0 lifetime, as Gondek took home another victory.

    "It was fun," Gondek said. "I beat him four times so far, and he has never beaten me. I was the first kid to race Boomer on his birthday, ever. I beat all of them. It was two years ago.

    "He didn't let me win. I just beat him."

    Mackenzie attends about 35 games a season with her mother, Thunder super-fan Janeen Gondek. She is an avid reader about the sport, and has numerous books. But she collects the programs to read in her spare time as well.

    "I like the programs," Gondek said. "I try to get a different one every time I come to the game.

    Thunder super fan Janeen Gondek rides motorized wheelchair to game

    The Thunder honored the Sunnybrae Little League 10-year-old District 12 champion team Thursday before the contest, won by the Curve 9-7.

    Sunnybrae won just its fifth District title at any level in 60 years of play, knocking off 10 other teams to win the title, and averaging 13 runs per game on the way to a 4-0 record.

    The team then moved on to the Section 3 tournament, and fell in the title game to Lincroft.

    With many of the players on the team Yankees' fans, Thursday night was a special event.

    Bryce Bolognini and Josh Klena, two of the aces on the team, were excited to see what the Thunder players did before the game with Altoona.

    "It is a really cool experience, to see what the players do on the field," Bolognini said. "We got to meet them, and get autographs.

    "We got to see what they did in the dugout," Klena said. "I think it is a once in a lifetime experience."

    Many of the other coaches, and parents were in attendance as well, and got a chance to watch their local team play.

    "It was fun to win the title," Anthony O'Rourke said. "And it is fun to come here, because I am a Yankees' fan."

    "I went to Thunder camp a month ago, so I have been here before," A.J. Zuccarello said.

    "I like trying to get the foul balls," Nick Conti added.

    Manager Stan Klek has been with the league for a while even after his kid moved on to higher level baseball. He took charge of the high-flying offensive team that is now known by a nickname that should be familiar to those attending Thunder games.

    "We are now known as the Sunnybrae Bombers," Klek said. "We hit the ball. It is pretty cool to have a nickname.

    "The thing I like is that the boys never gave up on each other. Everybody contributed, and it was just a pleasure to be with these guys, and to go as far as we did."

    Bob Lipsett Jr.'s son Bobby was one of the youngest on the squad (nine), and watched all summer as the Bombers made their run deep into the summer.

    "It is one heck of a group of kids that we have," Lipsett Jr. said. "The kids played fantastic. We only have five district champions in the 60 years at Sunnybrae, and this team was one of them. It was a heck of a job by the coaching staff, and it was really fun watching them."

    IMG_6824.jpgSunnybrae Little League's 10-year-old District 12 champion team was honored Thursday by the Trenton Thunder 

    Contact Sean Miller at seanmillertrentontimes@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheProdigalSean


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    Despite the partial win for Gerald Hill-White, he'll be staying in prison

    A state appeals court on Friday dismissed all but one of the numerous arson convictions a jury handed to Gerald Hill-White in 2015 for setting fire to a Trenton apartment where his ex girlfriend lived.

    Hill-White, now 42, broke into the South Village senior housing building on Stokely Avenue in 2011, poured gas outside his ex's third-floor apartment and set it on fire. He was trying to trap her inside, where she would die.

    hill-white.jpgHill-White 

    Several other residents were trapped by the fire, which consumed the hallway, before the building's sprinkler system extinguished most of it. Nobody was seriously injured

    Hill-White was convicted at trial of 13 crimes, including 10 counts of aggravated arson, for endangering the people who were affected by the fire. A judge later sentenced him to total of 35 years in prison.

    An appeals court, though, in a published decision, found the multiple counts of arson violated the state's rule against multiplicity - in which a defendant is incorrectly charged with several crimes for an act that only supports one.

    Hill-White set one fire, and one count of arson will do, the court said.

    Multiplicity was created to protect against hitting suspects with an "absurd" number of charges for one crime.

    If prosecutors want to address the harm to victims, they could have charged Hill-White with other crimes for the fire, like attempted murder or assault.

    With all but one arson conviction wiped out, Hill-White's sentence will likely be reduced as well, although it has to be sent back to Mercer County Superior Court for an updated judgement of conviction. He'd received another 10 years for the extra arson counts.

    But he's not going to be free anytime soon.

    The same appeals court said the judge was correct in sentencing him to an extended, 20-year term for the one arson count, due to his prior criminal past, as well as a consecutive, five-year term for the terroristic threats conviction - a charge he did not appeal.

    The court left undisturbed Hill-White's burglary conviction.

    Overall, the court found the evidence against Hill-White overwhelming and just, noting how investigators found he texted threatening message to his ex for days leading up the fire - and the day of the fire - telling her she was "dead."

    His break-in to the building was captured on a security video, which showed him wearing plastic bags on his feet and carrying a red gas can.

    After setting the fire, he left the red can, a hat, and some other items in the bed of a nearby truck, which police found. His DNA was on them.

    Before the decision, Hill-White had a parole eligibility date in 2035.

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

     

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    State and local police are working on the investigation.

    An inmate who was being transported from the Mercer County Jail to Cumberland County Superior Court escaped Friday morning, Cumberland Deputy Administrator Kim Wood said.

    State and local police are working on the investigation, New Jersey State Police spokesman Lt. Ted Schafer said.

    No further information was immediately available. 

    Sophie Nieto-Munoz may be reached at snietomunoz@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her at @snietomunoz. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

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