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Queens Chronicle

Helping the needy, honoring fallen

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Posted: Thursday, December 30, 2010 12:00 am

The year began with an earthquake and ended with a blizzard. And like many of the events that occurred during the 12 months between those events, it gave residents an opportunity to band together for the greater good. 2010 was also a time to honor the legacy of those who passed away like City Councilman Tom White Jr., religious leader the Rev. Carlene Thorbs and police shooting victim Sean Bell.

January

The new year started out on a grim note as Mary Herron, 19, of Jamaica, allegedly stabbed her former friend Starsheema Lynn, 17, of Briarwood, following a dispute. The homicide, which took place on Jan. 1, was the borough’s first murder of 2010.

Teachers, students, parents, elected officials and civic leaders continued to debate the Department of Education’s decision to close Jamaica High School in fall 2010. The agency said the school was singled out for low graduation rates and poor overall progress report grades. Three smaller schools — a high school, middle school and specialized facility were to take its place. Lawsuits have kept it from closing for another year.

On Jan. 12, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake destroyed most of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, affecting approximately 3 million people or one-third of Haiti’s population, according to an estimate by the Red Cross. Area groups throughout Queens, including Hatian Americans United for Progress in Cambria Heights, rallied to send food and supplies to the victims of the natural disaster.

February

The New Direction Local Development Corp., a charity started through the initiatives of state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) and Congressman Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica), came under scrutiny by the National Legal and Policy Center, an ethics watchdog group, after a review of public documents revealed that large amounts of taxpayer money have gone unaccounted for. Meeks denied any wrong-doing, but Smith did not comment.

The Department of Justice decided that it would not file a civil rights case against the officers involved in the killing of Sean Bell due to a lack of evidence. Bell was gunned down outside a Jamaica strip club on the eve of his wedding day in 2006.

February also marked what would be the most gruesome crime of the year in eastern Queens. School bus driver Mark Bailey shot his wife, Dionne Coy-Bailey, 42, and their two daughters, Yanique, 19, and Yolanne, 14, with a 9mm Hi-Point rifle in their Laurelton home before killing himself.

March

Gov. David Paterson paid a visit to the Guy R. Brewer United Democratic Club in St. Albans to tout his accomplishments and speak of plans for the future. Ironically, the meeting was supposed to be an opportunity for the lawmaker to rack up votes for the upcoming election, but he dropped out of the race the very next day.

The Farmers Boulevard Community Development Corp., a nonprofit organization dedicated to the revitalization of the underutilized business corridor, unveiled its comprehensive plan for the area including community artwork, a farmers’ market, uniform storefront facades and a mixture of mom-and-pop businesses alongside big box retailers.

Just when Rochdale Village residents thought the coyote they spotted near one of the complex’s parking lots in November 2009 had moved on, more wild coyotes turned up in the vicinity of Long Island Rail Road’s Locust Manor station.

April

A foreclosed home at 88-18 Burdette Place in downtown Jamaica fell into disrepair, and became a haven for prostitutes, drug users and homeless squatters, outraging area residents.

The city’s Department of Buildings issued multiple violations to Wells Fargo Bank, the owner of the property, but a spokeswoman for the bank said that while it is the trustee of the building, it is the mortgage servicer — Select Portfolio Servicing — that is responsible for maintaining the site.

A week after the Chronicle’s initial story on April 8, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development hired a private contractor to cement every opening of the house from doorways to windows and sent the bill to Wells Fargo.

The property then apparently fell into the hands of Utopia Reality, who attempted to sell it to a new owner. On April 16, the business sent workers to the site to remove the cement and cinder blocks that the city had installed to secure the property, which some feared might cause unsavory characters to return.

On an unrelated note, Meeks was subpoenaed for documents related to a “slush fund” charity he co-founded and an alleged “sweetheart deal” he received on his custom-built million-dollar home, according to published reports.

May

Humanities and the Arts High School, one of four themed schools in the Cambria Heights magnet building, honored slain student Kevin Miller by planting a tree in his memory on the school’s front lawn. Miller, 13, was killed by a stray bullet from a gang fight, as he walked home from school on the previous October.

The section of Liverpool Street between between 94th Avenue and 101st Street was renamed Sean Bell Way in honor of the police shooting victim.

June

Police Officer Michael Carey, one of the cops involved in the shooting that killed Bell and wounded passengers Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman asked that his name be dropped from a multi-million dollar civil suit claiming that he had acted in self-defense.

Irate members of Community Board 12 slammed a proposal by Housing Bridge, a Brooklyn-based group, which was seeking to open a new homeless shelter for families with children and add services to an existing facility in Jamaica. Of the 17 homeless shelters in Queens, nine are located in CB 12’s district — that’s more than any other community in the borough.

The Department of Veterans Affairs selected St. Albans Village, LLC to carry out the redevelopment of the St. Albans Community Living Center. Plans included replacing existing facilities there with a new nursing home, construction of a psychosocial rehabilitation domiciliary and expanding outpatient facilities. The project had been a source of controversy because many in the veterans community believe a hospital, rather than housing, should be built at the site. St. Albans Village would get a long-term lease to 25 acres on the site in exchange for building the new government facilities.

July

Richard Signorelli, the lawyer representing Police Officer Michael Carey, one of the cops involved in the Sean Bell shooting, filed a counterclaim seeking damages for a knee injury his client allegedly sustained as a result of Bell’s “reckless” behavior. When asked about the lawsuit, the victim’s father William Bell said, “I don’t feel sorry for him. He won’t get any pity from me. He’s got pain in his knee, but I have pain in my heart and that will never go away.”

Jamaica native 50 Cent and his organization the G-Unity Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to improving quality of life in low-income communities, held an event called Forever Young in Baisely Pond Park, attracting hundreds of fans. The aim was to combat childhood obesity by teaching youngsters about healthy living.

August

The house at 88-18 Burdette Place in Jamaica which had been overrun with homeless squatters, drug addicts and prostitutes, just few a months earlier was cleaned up and sold to a new owner.

Residents of downtown Jamaica complained that the homeless population had reached epidemic proportions leading to public drunkeness, sex on the street and threats of violence.

State Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica) received what she considered a death threat when she discovered a bouquet of flowers at her doorstep wrapped in a ribbon that read “rest in peace.” The lawmaker claimed she had been harassed since June, but was vague about the details.

A weekend of intense rain turned Springfield Gardens into Springflood Gardens as many residents on 139th Avenue struggled to clean up their water damaged property. The city’s Department of Environmental Protection attributed the flooding to excessive rainfall straining an already overtaxed sewer and drain system, but said they were working to address the problem.

September

Lynn Nunes, a real estate broker from Richmond Hill who came within four votes of defeating Tom White Jr. in a 2009 City Council race, suffered a crushing defeat in his Senate bid against Huntley receiving only 3,500 votes to her 9,535.

City Councilman Tom White Jr., 71, who had represented southeast Queens for more than a decade, died after losing a long battle with cancer. Soon after the funeral, eight candidates threw their hats in the race to replace White — Nunes and his sister Elaine Nunes, Nicole Paultre-Bell, Ruben Wills, Albert Baldeo, Charles Bilal, Martha Butler, Vishnu Mahadeo, Hettie Powell and Harpreet Toor.

Ron Barfield, an African-American who had served as School District 29’s family advocate since 2007, was fired at the end of the month after he was recorded using the n-word during a PTA meeting, according to the Department of Education.

October

Juan Torres, 54, the owner of the Lucky Grocery & Deli in Laurelton was shot to death while trying to defend his brother during a botched robbery at the establishment. Fourteen years earlier, Torres’ older brother, Jesus, was killed during a deli robbery in Brooklyn.

The city approved a proposal by Housing Bridge to open a new homeless shelter in Jamaica despite vehement opposition from CB 12. It marked the 10th such facility in the area.

The Rev. Carlene Thorbs, religious leader, mentor, and loving mom died on Oct 22 at age 70. Many in the community praised her quiet grace and devotion to her faith.

November

Police arrested Shawn Forde, 29, of Springfield Gardens, for the killing of Laurelton bodega owner Torres. He was charged with second-degree murder, first-degree robbery and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon.

Dozens of people marched through the streets of Cambria Heights demanding that the killer of Sabrina Matthews be apprehended. It had been two years since the teen was found murdered in her family’s home.

Ruben Wills triumphed over six other contenders to claim the District 28 City Council seat long held by the late White Jr.

December

Queens Hospital Center in Jamaica unveiled 40 new beds, increasing residents’ access to quality healthcare in the wake of the hospital closures that have plagued the borough. QHC was the only city hospital recommended for expansion by the Berger Commission.

The ceremonial swearing in of Ruben Wills to the City Council was like a who’s who of Queens politics, with heavyweights such as Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Queens and Brooklyn) participating in the festivities held at York College on Dec. 13. Wills cited job creation, improvements to education and tougher rules for banks maintaining foreclosed properties as his top priorities.

The day after Christmas, a blizzard dumped 20 inches of snow on the Big Apple. The city’s slow clean up efforts outraged residents and elected officials alike. They criticized Mayor Bloomberg for poor management of resources and unfairly minimizing the impact of the storm.

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