Tag Archives: Howard Beach

Barbara Sheehan seeks clemency, sticking to self-defense argument


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of NYSPAC

Six months ago Barbara Sheehan began her five-year sentence after shooting and killing her husband. Today, she is seeking an exception to her prison stay, and wants to serve her time for weapons possession at home.

The 52-year-old Howard Beach resident fatally shot her husband, retired NYPD Sergeant Raymond Sheehan, 11 times with two different guns in February 2008. She said she suffered nearly two decades of abuse at her husband’s hands and he would have killed her had she not pulled the trigger.

“When you’re in a domestic violence situation, it’s not as black and white as it appears to be,” Sheehan told The Courier. “Just looking at his face, his eyes told me this was it. He was getting up and he was going to kill me.”

A prison support group created an online petition to call on Governor Andrew Cuomo to grant Sheehan clemency. So far, about 2,000 people have signed and pledged their support.

Sheehan was acquitted of murder but charged with weapons possession for the second gun she used that day. She is currently serving her sentence at the Albion Correctional Facility in upstate New York.

The former school secretary was charged because when she shot with the second firearm, her husband no longer posed a threat. However, she said he didn’t die after shots from the first gun.

“He was still trying to come after me,” she said.

After starting her time last summer, she reached out to the New York State Prisoner Assistance Center (PAC) to address an “administrative issue” in the prison, said PAC Executive Director Mario Vredenburg. He then started to look into Sheehan’s case and is helping her apply for executive clemency.

If the order is granted, Sheehan will be able to serve the remainder of her sentence from home. The toughest part about prison, she said, is being far from her family and two children.

Vredenburg said prisoners can apply for clemency in exceptional circumstances, namely if something was legally wrong with the conviction. He said there was no criminal intent when Sheehan used the two guns, they were not her guns to begin with and Sheehan’s life was “in imminent danger.”

Additionally, Sheehan said the jury was “forbidden” to hear her psychiatrist’s testimony, who would have detailed her “state of mind” at the time of the shooting.

“I was not able to defend myself properly,” she said.

The PAC will file on Sheehan’s behalf with the governor’s office in March.

“We’re not asking for the governor to say it was legal for her to use that gun. We’re asking him to forgive her conviction,” Vredenburg said.

To see the petition and read more, click here.

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Star of Queens: Vita Leone, P.S./M.S. 207 PTA vice president


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Vita Leone

COMMUNITY SERVICE: As vice president of P.S./M.S. 207’s PTA in Howard Beach, Leone is always working on a project. She has helped put together various events such as the school’s kindergarten graduation, blood drive, health fair, fundraisers and more. This holiday season, she helped with a new project, “Cookies with Santa.” She also puts together the fall carnival, complete with rides and games for the students and neighborhood.

BACKGROUND: Leone, a Queens native, was born in Astoria but moved to Howard Beach when she was in the third grade. She went to St. Helen’s, then graduated to St. John’s Prep in Astoria. Leone is also very proud of her Italian heritage and travels to the homeland every summer. She met her now-husband in Italy, and the pair will celebrate 23 years together this May. Together, they have a 20-year-old son who went to P.S. 207 but now is at the John Jay School of Criminal Justice studying criminal law, and an 11-year-old daughter who is in the sixth grade at the Howard Beach school.

FAVORITE MEMORY: During her time on the PTA, Leone said her favorite memory was the first year they did the fall carnival, two days before Sandy hit.

“It was one of the best feelings,” she said. “I was so happy the kids had Halloween and could go home with goody bags.”

The students each had a free 45-minute period to go out and enjoy the fall carnival, where they could play carnival games, go on rides and play in inflatable play structures.

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: For the PTA Vice President, her biggest challenge has yet to come. Once her sixth grader graduates, Leone doesn’t want to have to leave the school of which she has “made part of her life.” When her daughter leaves, Leone said she still wants to be involved with the school, whether it’s as a volunteer or as a full-time employee.

INSPIRATION: Leone’s biggest inspiration in doing all of the work she does for the school lies within a love to help people and give back.

“It makes me happy when I accomplish something and when I see those kids’ smiles,” she said. “That’s my high of the day.”

 

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Howard Beach’s P.S. 207 receives nearly $2M in storm recovery funds


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

Twelve feet of water rushed into the basement of P.S. 207 during Sandy, leaving the Howard Beach school with over $2 million worth of damages.

Senators Charles Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand and Assemblymember Phillip Goldfeder announced Monday roughly $1.82 million is on the way for repairs.

“It’s been over a year since Sandy tore apart our schools in southern Queens and while we have all made significant progress there is still work to be done,” Goldfeder said. “This new funding will enormously help P.S. 207 rebuild and ensure our children receive the quality education they deserve.”

The FEMA federal funds will go to the New York City School Construction Authority (SCA) and will reimburse 90 percent of the cost of repairs throughout the building.

The bulk of the damage was in the flooded basement, where a fuel oil tank rolled and spilled about 3,000 gallons of oil. Two boilers, electrical panels, lights, ductwork and the fire alarm system were also damaged.

The damage left the school without electricity, heat and water, and closed in the months following the superstorm. Nearly 90,000 gallons of water and oil was removed from the building before it could reopen.

“This infusion of federal money is helping P.S. 207 put the damaging effects of Hurricane Sandy in the rear-view mirror and enabling the school to get back to educating New York City’s children without crushing back-bills,” Schumer said.

 

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Army sergeant comes home to Howard Beach


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

PHOTO BY JOANN ARIOLA

After nine long months deployed to Afghanistan, Sgt. Kristianpeter DiStefano is home in Howard Beach.

His arrival back stateside Dec. 6 was delayed two hours after his airplane seat was given away, said Ellen Buonpastore, DiStefano’s mother.

“He was dressed in full uniform, and they gave his seat away,” Buonpastore said.

But the sergeant was eventually given an escort to LaGuardia Airport, and DiStefano, 29, went to Lenny’s Clam Bar where he was greeted by family, friends and local elected officials. His mother said it feels “wonderful” to have her only son home.

“Now I’m going to fatten him up, make him happy,” Buonpastore said. “I’m very proud of him.”

This was DiStefano’s fifth deployment, but first to Afghanistan. The career-Army man was previously stationed in Iraq and Kuwait. DiStefano is scheduled to deploy again, this time for Africa at the end of January.

“He tells me, ‘Mom, I go back because now somebody else gets to go home and see their mom and their family,’” Buonpastore said. “It’s a brotherhood.”

The Army man didn’t always know he wanted to join the ranks, but after he did, his mother said he has come to love the job.

“He loves taking care of the younger soldiers,” she said. “A lot of kids are coming out of foster care and they have nowhere to go, so they wind up in the Army. My son takes them under his wing.”

“He’s a rough guy with a big heart,” she continued.

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Students at Howard Beach’s P.S./M.S. 207 celebrate ‘kindness’ with Toys for Tots


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

Howard Beach’s P.S./M.S. 207 is getting into the spirit of giving this holiday season.

Marine Corps Sergeants Mike Roy and Miguel Villalobos brought the Toys for Tots donation program to the 88th Street school on Friday.

“A lot of [kids] don’t even know about the program,” Villalobos said. “Doing a little outreach opens their minds.”

In conjunction with the Marine Corps and the Howard Beach Kiwanis Club, P.S. 207 will be collecting toys under its Christmas tree until Wednesday, December 18.

“This community was so devastated after Sandy. They [the students] know what it’s like to lose everything,” said Melissa Martin, P.S. 207 guidance counselor. “Yes, we have come back and rebuilt, but so many people haven’t.”

The sergeants not only brought the toy-giving program to the school, but also addressed the monthly virtue of kindness.

“If you have a lot to give, don’t be afraid to give to someone who doesn’t have anything,” Villalobos said. “They’re going to go from having nothing to just having that coat, that Barbie.”

Each month, a select group of eight middle school students are recognized for enacting the month’s virtue. At the Marine Corps assembly, 6th through 8th graders were selected for showing November’s virtue, perseverance.

Jonathan Durso, a 7th grader, said he “studied hard” and did his best, and was recognized for his achievements.

“I tried my best with grades and homework, and I made sure I got everything in on time,” said Alessia Basone, also a 7th grade winner.

Martin said the virtues “teach kids character development,” and the newly-introduced theme of kindness, paired with Toys for Tots, is intended to promote giving to those less fortunate.

“It starts them off early with the idea that it’s good to give,” Roy said.

 

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New Park Pizza in Howard Beach vandalized


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo via mrsquinn1118/Instagram

The iconic Howard Beach pizzeria, New Park Pizza, was reportedly vandalized early Friday morning.

An angry customer tagged “worst service ever” on the pizza spot’s front windows for all of Cross Bay Boulevard to see, according to an Instagram picture posted Friday morning.

An employee said the graffiti was washed away by the time he came into work.

New Park Pizza was the site of a 1986 hate crime in which a black man, Michael Griffith, was killed.

 

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Wife, band remember musician killed in Howard Beach car crash


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo Facebook

Jim Sinisi’s wife said the world is “a dimmer place” now that her husband is not in it.

“He was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of person,” said Susan Sinisi of her husband, a musician in the band Wordy Bums.

Only two weeks shy of his 38th birthday, Jim was driving in Howard Beach on Saturday, November 30, just before 1 a.m., when James Celauro, 23, of Ozone Park, crashed into him on 159th Avenue and 98th Street.

Celauro, who cops say had been drinking, is charged with vehicular manslaughter and DWAI, or driving while ability impaired, police said.

Susan had gone to sleep for the night in their Glendale home and was awakened at 3:05 a.m. by a phone call from a nurse at Jamaica Hospital.

“They told me Jimmy had been in a fairly significant car crash,” she said. “It was like my temperature dropped, my insides turned toxic and I couldn’t stop shaking.”

Susan and her mother-in-law went to the hospital, holding hands all the way.

“And I’m praying. I don’t go to church too much, but I’m praying to God that Jimmy is just physically broken,” she said. “I would wait on him hand and foot and take care of him until he was mended. I felt like so much of who is he is, is his intellect and his soul and how he writes.”

Photo courtesy of Susan Sinisi

Jim was with friends in Lindenwood before the crash, his wife said.

“He was the essence of Queens,” said Rjae Izm, Wordy Bums drummer.

Susan said her husband, a native of Woodhaven, was a “crazy, poetic, fiery, beautiful artist.”

“He was just never, ever dull,” she said. “Always fun to be with, super creative and super into creating. He was brilliant.”

Now, Wordy Bums, for which Susan sings back-up, wants to take on the projects that their fallen bandmate left unfinished.

“Jim was the nucleus, the catalyst, the engine. The Wordy Bums can never be the same without such an integral part of this machine,” the band said in a Facebook post. “We are truly blessed to have shared the stage with him and witness true talent.”

 

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Green cabs could be coming to south Queens


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of TLC

Green cabs could now be driving down south in the borough.

A representative from the Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) will be making a stop at the next Community Board (CB) 10 meeting on Thursday, December 5 to explain the new Boro Taxi procedures, rules, and the program’s presence in the region moving forward.

Betty Braton, CB 10 chair, said the outer-borough cabs coming to the community could either be a benefit or a disadvantage depending on “how it rolls out.”

“I would believe on the positive side, it provides a safer way in the outer boroughs for people to do street hails,” she said. “On the downside, we already have an existing problem with livery cabs parking. I would think it would become problematic if the green cabs decide to take up parking spaces or just cruise constantly in the transit hubs.”

Boro Taxis, similar to livery cabs, are affiliated with a base and may take dispatch, flat-fare calls. However, similar to city yellow cabs, they can also make metered, hailed pick-ups.

Currently licensed livery bases apply for an opportunity to affiliate the street-hail liveries, which is then processed and approved by the TLC. Two sites in South Ozone Park already got the green light for green cabs, according to the TLC.

Resident Jesus Garay made a request on the Boro Taxis’ website for a base at the cross section of Woodhaven Boulevard and Rockaway Boulevard, so cabs could serve Howard Beach, Ozone Park, Woodhaven, Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park.

 

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$50 million to protect Howard Beach from storms


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of the Office of Governor Andrew Cuomo

Howard Beach homes will now be protected, starting at the coast.

Spring Creek and Jamaica Bay will undergo a multi-million dollar resiliency project that Governor Andrew Cuomo said will better protect homes and businesses from destructive storms.

“Like several other communities located by the water, Howard Beach suffered incredible damage from storm surges during Sandy,” Cuomo said. “To strengthen Howard Beach against future flooding and storms, we are moving forward on a major project that improves the natural infrastructure along Spring Creek and the Jamaica Bay coast, with the approval of federal funding.”

About 3,000 homes were damaged during Sandy in the low-lying community.

Roughly $50 million will go towards engineering, designing and executing this project, which will cover 150 acres. Excavation, re-contouring and re-vegetation will be implemented by the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to create a self-sustaining system of wave-dampening barriers intended to reduce storm damage.

“Addressing the flooding problem in Howard Beach is long overdue,” said State Senator Joseph Addabbo. “A project like this cannot happen fast enough.”

Low and high level vegetated salt marshes, as well as dunes and elevated grasslands will be used to protect the community against future storm surges, similar to the floodwaters experienced during Sandy, and a rise in sea level.

About 765,000 cubic yards of material will be dug up across the site and reshaped into an elevated area, and 40,000 cubic yards of sand will be imported and spread across the site.

“I am most interested in the timeframe of this major project, since flood mitigation is a serious concern for my constituents, and the scope of this project is to ensure all parts of Howard Beach, inclusive of New and Old Howard, as well as Hamilton Beach,” Addabbo said.

Mitigation will be done along the eastern shore of Spring Creek on the north shore of Jamaica Bay. The site is bound by the Belt Parkway to the north and a series of roadways to the southeast, including 78th Street, 161st Avenue, 83rd Street, 165th Avenue and Cross Bay Boulevard. It comprises the western and southern perimeter of Howard Beach.

 

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Driver arrested in Howard Beach car crash that left one dead


| editorial@queenscourier.com

Facebook

Updated 5:24 p.m.

Police have arrested a motorist who they say is responsible for a car accident that killed 38-year-old Jimmy Sinisi early Saturday morning.

James Celauro, 23, of Ozone Park, is charged with vehicular manslaughter and DWAI, or driving while impaired by alcohol, authorities said.

Celauro crashed his 2006 Ford sedan into Sinisi’s 2001 Saturn around 1 a.m. in Howard Beach on November 30, according to police. He entered an intersection at 159th Avenue and 98th Street and struck Sinisi, police said.

Sinisi, of Ridgewood, was pronounced dead on arrival.

Also known as Marvin Gardens, Sinisi was a musician and a member of the band Wordy Bums, according to the group’s Facebook page.

Celauro is in stable condition, authorities said.

 

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Howard Beach storm survivors lend hand to Typhoon Haiyan victims


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

A local toy drive is going international.

Several medical practices from an area devastated by Sandy are collecting toys for children stateside and sending aid to those affected by the latest disaster in the Philippines.

Cross Bay Physical Therapy, Cross Bay Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation PC and Cross Bay Foot Center have partnered with Toys for Tots to revive the toy drive they have had in the past. This year, they are additionally collecting toiletries, canned foods, blankets and more for typhoon victims.

“We got hit with Sandy last year. We’ve been through a struggle,” said Dana Parker, manager of the three practices. “It’s another tragedy, and we have to help. We have to do something.”

Two of Parker’s employees have family in the Philippines, outside of th areas affected by Typhoon Haiyan, who “know where to send the donations,” Parker said.

Parker said when the idea to pass donations along to the Philippines came about, the employees instantly jumped on board.

“They had a little bit of tears in their eyes,” she said. “Knowing what we went through last year, they were honored we even asked them to be the coordinators of collecting from the whole community.”

Donations started coming in on November 14 and will be collected through December 12. For the toy drive, donations should be new, unwrapped and in their original packing. The group said toys for children ages 2 and under and 12 to 13 are most in demand.

Visit the office at 157-02 Cross Bay Boulevard, Suite 202, Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., or Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Participants can additionally enter a raffle to win an iPod when they donate.

“We’re going to come together,” Parker said.

 

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Pol asks AG to investigate Sandy contractor fraud


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Sandy brought a wave of fraudulent fixes to south Queens, and one elected official wants them wiped out.

Following the superstorm, many affected residents fell victim to fraudulent contractors who “promised to rebuild their homes, but have either left before completing the job or disappeared with [their] deposit without performing the necessary repairs,” said Assemblymember Phillip Goldfeder.

Goldfeder wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, requesting he “immediately investigate” and hold all out-of-state and local fraudulent contractors accountable.

“Residents who have spent their hard-earned money and savings to rebuild deserve to have the work done as promoted by their contractor,” Goldfeder said in his letter.

He said this is a “community-wide concern” in Howard Beach, Hamilton Beach, Broad Channel and Rockaway and many are “still struggling to finish repairs left from the storm damage.”

This October, Schneiderman prosecuted a Long Island based organization which “used deceptive practices in an attempt to obtain business from victims” of Sandy.

G.C. Environmental, Inc. of Bay Shore was fined $40,000 after mailing more than 2,000 letters resembling State Department of Environmental Conservation notices of violation to property owners who had suffered petroleum spills as a result of the storm, warning victims of an impending fine if they did not seek repairs.

Additionally, in July, Schneiderman filed lawsuits against four service stations in Kings, Nassau and Suffolk County Supreme Courts for gas price gouging following the storm. The attorney general’s office reached settlements with 25 stations, and additional investigations are pending.
Schneiderman’s office did not return a request for comment regarding Goldfeder’s letter.

“It is of paramount importance that we continue to help homeowners and revive our communities,” Goldfeder said.

 

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Former soldier celebrates turning 100 in Howard Beach


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of Catholic Charities

Max Stern, former soldier and teacher, celebrated a century of life at the new Catholic Charities senior center in Howard Beach.

Stern, a 45-year resident of Howard Beach, was born on November 20, 1913. He graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in East New York and is one of six children. His only living sibling is his 92-year-old sister.

The centenarian worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard before being drafted in 1942 to the 100th Division. While serving abroad in France, his 40-man unit was attacked by 63 German soldiers, and half his division was killed. Stern and the surviving half were captured by the Germans.

After the war, Stern returned to Brooklyn and received citations for his bravery. He then went to college and became a teacher and taught industrial arts for nearly two decades.

In 1968, he and his late wife moved to Howard Beach. Ten years ago, Stern became an active member at Catholic Charities, where he is still active today. He enjoys dancing, exercising and health management. He also participates in the center’s talent show and occasionally helps serve lunch.

Nearly 100 people celebrated Stern’s 100th birthday, including family, other senior center members, various clergy members and local elected officials.

Stern addressed the crowd and said that three naps a day has kept him healthy all these years.

 

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Church destroyed by Sandy is rededicated to Howard Beach


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

After Sandy destroyed their church, St. Barnabas wasn’t sure they would ever get back on their feet.

“Whenever there was a disaster, we’re the ones people come to,” said Debra Pignatelli, St. Barnabas official. “We couldn’t help anyone, we were totally devastated ourselves.”

The church sustained roughly five feet of water and the majority of its infrastructure was damaged, as well as tables, chairs and other items used for the many meetings held at the site.

The Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, civic groups, Sunday school-goers and Alcoholics Anonymous were some of the groups that had to find alternative meeting places, as the church was holding a limited number of events.

But, after $150,000 in repairs, $75,000 of that in electrical work, Pignatelli said the church is back to operating at about 80 percent, barring a kitchen makeover. All of the money came from private donors.

After the tireless community effort, the church was rededicated earlier this month to the parish and to Howard Beach.

“If you had asked me two months after the storm if we would be here now, in this place, with what we have and what people have gifted us, I would have never believed it, honestly,” Pignatelli said. “It has been pretty miraculous how people have stepped up.”

 

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106th Precinct gets backup


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of the Office Of Councilmember Eric Ulrich

Backup is here, as the 106th Precinct added 16 new cops recently.

“They are a most welcomed addition to the community and we are very happy to have them,” said Deputy Inspector Jeffrey Schiff, the precinct’s Commanding Officer.

The precinct, which encompasses Ozone Park, Lindenwood and Howard Beach, has experienced an increase in car thefts and break-ins, which are up more than 65 percent from last year, according to the most recent NYPD crime statistics. Crime overall is up 20 percent.

However, the experienced new officers are ready to hit the ground running. Schiff said during their precinct orientation. They will be addressed by various community members and hear firsthand what concerns they have.

“We expect that they will quickly absorb the local flavor and perform admirably, making all of us proud,” he said.

The community and local elected officials have voiced both a need and a desire for more resources for the precinct. The NYPD team has struggled with limited resources and increasing concerns from residents, said Assemblymember Phillip Goldfeder, who assisted in the push.

“More officers and a stronger police presence are necessary to combat rising crime statistics,” Goldfeder said. “More visibility on our streets will keep the community safe and strong.”

Additionally, Councilmember Eric Ulrich paid a visit to the new crew and is “so pleased that we are finally getting additional officers that we have been fighting for for so long,” he said.

“They will to a long way in keeping our community safe,” he added.

 

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