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Queens Chronicle

2009: not always so fine in southeastern Queens

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Posted: Thursday, December 31, 2009 12:00 am

The new year is almost upon us and with it comes the hope of a better 12 months than the ones that have just gone by. But before you break out the noise makers and confetti, take a look back at the stories that made 2009 such a memorable year.

JANUARY

The year began on a positive note as residents of southeast Queens, like many others around the country gathered at churches, schools, parks and movie theaters to witness the history-making inauguration of Barack Obama, the 44th president of the United States and the only African-American ever elected to the post.

But news of a violent crime and a possible hospital closure rounded out the rest of the month.

Police tried to maintain order at the South Jamaica Houses where three men were shot — two fatally — on the afternoon of Jan. 15, while Jamaica residents worried that access to quality healthcare would decline as Mary Immaculate Hospital and its sister hospital St. John’s Queens Hospital, faced financial ruin.

FEBRUARY

Jamaica residents held a rally to protest the possible closure of Mary Immaculate Hospital while Caritas Health Care system, the organization that runs the facility was in the middle of declaring bankruptcy. Local leaders feared that the elimination of Mary Immaculate would place further strain on the already delicate healthcare system in Queens — which only had approximately 1.4 hospital beds for every 1,000 residents, according to a 2006 report by Borough President Helen Marshall— flooding the emergency rooms at Queens Hospital Center and Jamaica Hospital, which would would scarcely be able to handle the patient load.

Joined by City Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton), residents and parents of children at Springfield Magnet High School continued to fight against the proposed construction of a “hot sheet” motel on Springfield Blvd., which they believed would attract drugs, violence and prostitution to the area.

MARCH

Claiming the principal was a racist and verbally abusive tyrant, staff, teachers, parents and members of the NAACP demanded the resignation of John Murphy, from Junior High School 8 in Jamaica. They asserted that his scare tactics, which allegedly included locking students in classrooms all day as well as publicly insulting them, made for an unacceptable learning environment. The dispute came to a head when on March 18, a teacher’s aide was sent to the hospital after a confrontation with Murphy. She was treated for shock symptoms and elevated blood pressure.

APRIL

After numerous protests by community members calling for his removal, Murphy, who had been principal since 2005, resigned and apologized for what he called his “own shortcomings.” Although he had raised the school’s grade from a D to a B, removing it from the state’s list of failing schools, Murphy was accused of a creating a “reign of terror,” which included screaming at teachers in front of students, berating them over the loudspeaker and referring to black students as “beasts.”

Community Board 12 overwhelmingly voted in favor of renaming a street after Sean Bell, the man slain by police officers in 2006. The site is a portion of Liverpool Street between 94th and 101st avenues. C.B, 12 Chairwoman, Adjoa Gzifa, one of only two members to vote against the renaming, said that Bell did not meet the criteria for such an honor, which includes having impacted the community through volunteerism.

Despite community objections, the Board of Standards and Appeals extended a building permit that would allow developer Sailesh Gandhi to continue construction of a “hot sheet” motel less than 100 feet away from the Springfield Gardens High School complex. The residents planned to hire a lawyer and file for an injunction to halt the construction.

MAY

Tragedy struck when Wayne Pride-Hicks and his wife Natalie, who were both deacons at Jamaica’s Community Church of Christ along with their daughter Natalya and one of their sons were killed when their van crashed in North Carolina. The congregation at the church was devastated over the loss.

JUNE

J.H.S. 8 made headlines again when Melissa Weber, a social studies teacher was charged with statutory rape after she allegedly engaged in sexual intercourse with a 14-year-old student on seven occasions between April 13 and May 14. Weber denied the charges and said the boy initiated the illegal conduct, which took place in a second-floor classroom, by grabbing her buttocks among other sexual advances. Bail was set at $100,000, and if convicted, Weber, who had no prior criminal history, faced up to seven years in prison.

Jamaica Hospital opened the Trump Pavilion for Nursing and Rehabilitation, a $44 million dollar, 224-bed unit, allowing the facility to take on more patients, which was especially vital given the increasing number of swine flu cases and the closures of Mary Immaculate and St. John’s Queens hospitals. The pavilion is the first facility of its kind built in the borough in a decade and includes a four-story atrium, a hair salon and a therapy gym.

JULY

Candidates seeking to claim the District 28 City Council seat occupied by Tom White Jr. (D-South Ozone Park) were furious that the incumbent had contested their petitions in an effort to knock them off the ballot. The contenders — Lynn Nunes, Robert Hogan, Mireille Leroy, Stephen Jones, Allan Jennings and Ruben Wills — had all been challenged by a man named Ahmed White, whom they claimed worked for the incumbent. Although the grounds for complaints remained unknown, the six viewed the tactic as an unethical waste of money.

AUGUST

The race for White’s seat turned violent when Wills allegedly attempted to punch fellow Democrat Allan Jennings at a Board of Elections hearing, where he was disputing Jennings’ petition to be on the ballot, contesting the number of signatures he had acquired. But Wills, who denies the incident ever happened, missed, instead hitting Jennings’ aide.

Rapper 50 Cent canceled a “secret concert” he had planned at the 40 Houses in Jamaica, amid fears that rap-related violence would break out at the show. The event was expected to draw 10,000 people to the housing project, where the star grew up and was later shot but survived. Fitty did stop by for a visit, however.

SEPTEMBER

City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) retained his District 27 seat, after defeating challenger Clyde Vanel by 5,393 votes to 3,242. Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton) also won the primary, triumphing over five competitors by a significant margin but still needed to defeat republican nominee Scherie Murray on Nov. 3. The race for the District 31 seat went down to the wire with White leading challenger Lynn Nunes by just four votes, 1,940 to 1,936.

OCTOBER

The Cambria Heights community came together to denounce youth violence after 13-year-old Kevin Miller was shot and killed by a stray bullet as he walked home from school. Alleged shooters Nnonso Ekwegbalu and Gregory Calas were believed to be members of the Crips gang, according to police, and were fighting with members of the Bloods, when the gunfire occurred. Miller was not involved in the dispute.

White’s primary victory was certified by the Board of Elections. Nunes initially filed suit in Queens Supreme Court contesting the outcome of the election and demanding that ballots be recounted and voting machines be recanvassed, but later dropped the case, stating that it was in the best interests of the community to bring the election to an end.

Juliana Gumbs, a 90-year-old woman who suffers from dementia and disappeared from the Grace Houses senior citizens complex where she lived, was found twelve days later at Queens Hospital Center where she had been the entire time. Everyone involved in the Gumbs case had dropped the ball. The housing complex never reported her missing. The police who found her passed out on Jamaica Avenue and brought her to the hospital claimed they didn’t know where she was. Twelve days passed before a social worker at the hospital to asked Gumbs if she had a purse, looked through it and found the phone number of a family friend, who notified the missing woman’s stepdaughter.

NOVEMBER

In the wake of the Miller shooting and the one-year anniversary of the death of Sabrina Matthews, 14, who was found with her throat slashed in her Cambria Heights home, anti-violence advocates held a “Ride Against Violence,” in the form of a mock funeral, to raise awareness about this ever-growing problem.

A coyote or close cousin reportedly lurking around the sprawling Rochdale Village co-op housing complex had residents on edge and spurred management to post warning notices throughout the area. Animal Care and Control officers set up two traps in hopes of catching the cunning and elusive critter.

All three City Council incumbents in the area— Sanders, Comrie and White retained their seats in the November general election.

The Department of Education announced that it would be phasing out Jamaica High School because of poor Progress Report grades, a less than 50 percent graduation rate and a decline in interested applicants. The DOE plans to replace JHS with three smaller schools housed in the same facility — a new high school, a middle and high school that would serve grades 6 through 12 and a speciality school.

At a townhall-style meeting on Dec. 16 at P.S./I.S. 266 in Glen Oaks, schools Chancellor Joel Klein told attendees that the decision to close any school is not an easy one. “I don’t think there is a parent in this room — and if there is, I would like to know — who would send their kid to a school that has a lower than 50 percent graduation rate,” Klein said. “Well, if your kids wouldn’t go there, whose kids should go there?”

DECEMBER

Missing mom Jamaica Smith of Laurelton, who disappeared after dropping off her 6-year-old daughter at a Springfield Gardens elementary school, was found strangled outside an abandoned home in Uniondale, L.I.

Police arrested the child’s father, Marvon Jemmott, and charged him with second-degree murder in connection with the crime. The victim’s sister Sonia Vereen stated that Jemmott, who had recently lost his job as a mechanic, was upset over having to make child support payments — and when Smith would not dissolve their contract, he allegedly killed her.

After months of navigating through the proper channels, the family of Sean Bell got their wish when the City Council voted in favor of naming a portion of a street in Jamaica after their loved one to mark where he was killed during the early morning hours of his wedding day.

Welcome to the discussion.