Slam Brakes on Commuter Vans

Cops Seize Two In ‘COMET-Land’ Crackdown

Two commuter vans found to be illegally operating in Maspeth and Woodside were seized in a recent enforcement operation conducted by police and the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC), the commander of the 108th Precinct reported to residents at the Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together (COMET) civic association meeting on Monday night, June 3.

Capt. Brian Hennessy (at right), commanding officer of the 108th Precinct, and COMET President Rosemarie Daraio updated residents at Monday’s COMET Civic Association meeting in Elmhurst on a recent commuter van bust conducted by the 104th and 108th precincts and the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commisssion.

Capt. Brian Hennessy told the crowd at Bethzatha Church of God in Elmhurst that the effort conducted by officers from the 104th and 108th precincts and TLC agents also resulted in seven summonses issued to the operators of the seized vans for traveling off their designated routes.

As previously reported, the privately operated commuter vans are permitted to pick up and drop off passengers on Elmhurst streets which are not part of-or close to-bus routes. COMET President Rosemarie Daraio defined the area where commuter vans are permitted as generally bounded by Grand and 57th avenues between Queens Boulevard and 84th Street.

In recent months and years, COMET has advocated for enforcement action against commuter vans which have been found operating in areas of Maspeth and Woodside outside of their permitted area and in conflict with bus routes such as the Q47 line.

Hennessy deemed the recent enforcement operation as being “somewhat successful,” noting that there are many other commuter vans operating illegally which have yet to be cited by police and the TLC. However, the experience provided 104th and 108th precinct officers with training from TLC agents on what to look for to stop commuter vans in the future, the captain added.

Daraio and Hennessy also encouraged residents to contact police and COMET if they observe the commuter vans making illegal stops in their neighborhood.

“Elmhurst has a severe problem with the vans,” Daraio said. “This was just a drop in the bucket. … There’s so many of them, it’s going to take up a lot of time” to stop them.

In addition to cracking down on commuter vans, Hennessy noted, the precinct is making an effort to stop the illegal parking of school buses by a company based on 51st Avenue in Woodside. The commander told COMET members he recently met with company officials about the situation and was informed the problem would be rectified.

“I told them to address the problem, or we’ll address it for them,” Hennessy added, implying that police would issue summonses and/or tow the buses, if necessary.

Truck woes continue

Despite the implementation of the Maspeth truck bypass more than a year ago designed to direct tractortrailers away from Grand Avenue, the big rigs are still using the shopping strip on a regular basis, local residents informed Capt. John Travaglia, executive officer of the 104th Precinct.

Though Travaglia noted that the command regularly conducts truck enforcement operations in Maspeth to catch rigs traveling off route, COMET member Lucille Winsko claimed truckers continue to use Grand Avenue as a through truck route. She claimed to have recently learned that many truckers have had violations issued to them dismissed by administrative law judges.

Daraio stated the dismissal of the tickets only serves to encourage bad behavior, as more truckers are using Grand Avenue knowing that even if they are summonsed, it is likely they will not face any legal repercussions.

Kate Mooney, representing City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, called the dismissal of truck violations “very surprising” and that the situation would be investigated by the lawmaker’s office.

Other Maspeth residents claimed that truck drivers are illegally parking tractor-trailers during overnight hours on 57th Avenue near Elmhurst Park and on the Queens Midtown Expressway westbound near Mazeau Street.

Travaglia stated the command would continue to enforce traffic laws and issue summonses to truck drivers who park their rigs illegally or operate them off designated truck routes. He mentioned, however, that many truck companies will continue to break the law, as they look at the violations they receive as part of “the cost of doing business.”

City Council Member Peter Vallone Jr.-chair of the Council’s Public Safety Committee and a Queens borough president candidate-also mentioned the problem of truck traffic may also be the result of truck companies’ ability to negotiate with the city to pay less fines on the violations they receive.

Crime in ‘COMET-land’

Hennessy, Travaglia and Capt. Ralph Forgione, executive officer of the 110th Precinct, also provided reports on crime trends in the areas of Maspeth, Woodside and Elmhurst within the civic group’s jurisdiction dubbed “COMET-land.”

With the entire 108th Precinct down over six percent in crime through early May, Hennessy stated, the command recorded eight major index crimes in its section of Maspeth and Woodside. They included three grand larcenies and two auto thefts.

Hennessy also mentioned that the investigation continues in the murder of a Flushing woman whose body was found in the trunk of a car parked on a Woodside street on Memorial Day, May 27. As reported in last week’s Times Newsweekly, the victim- Young Joo Byun, 42-had been reported missing two days earlier after failing to return home from her early-morning shift at a Maspeth bakery.

Nine crimes took place since early May in the area of Maspeth patrolled by the 104th Precinct, according to Travaglia. The incident included a rape (in which the victim and assailant were known to each other), a robbery, two felony assaults, two burglaries, two grand larcenies and an auto theft.

Questioned by Daraio about efforts to crack down on bicyclists who ride recklessly on local streets, Travaglia mentioned the 104th Precinct conducted an enforcement operation between May 30 and June 2 in which 61 summonses were issued to bike riders for various violations of traffic laws.

Forgione reported that crime in the 110th Precinct is down in COMET-land and throughout the command for the year. Since early May, three burglaries, three grand larcenies and two auto thefts were tallied by the command in the area of Elmhurst which it patrols.

JoAnn Berger asked Forgione if there were any recent fights among youths at Elmhurst Park after learning from public school parents that children were spreading word about a scheduled fracas at the park via text message. The captain stated the command was not aware of any incidents, but urged parents to notify police if they learn of such activity from their children.

Vallone stumps for votes

In making his pitch to become Queens’ next borough president, Council Member Vallone stressed his efforts to bring attention to the overall rise in crime citywide and the need for additional police officers in the NYPD.

“We don’t have the same number of cops that we used to,” said Vallone, noting that the NYPD roster is down to about 35,000. Meanwhile, he noted, major crimes across the city have “leveled off” in the past year and grand larcenies, in particular, have increased.

The Council member also offered a number of crime prevention tips to residents, including urging residents not to respond to emails which seek their personal information. He also advised homeowners to refuse any door-to-door solicitations from energy supply companies (ESCOs) which claim to offer lower rates than Con Edison and later spring higher charges shortly after signing customers.

Vallone also blasted legislation in the City Council that would provide non-citizens living in New York City for at least six months with the ability to participate in municipal elections. He also condemned the “Community Safety Act” (Intro. No. 800)-which he labeled the “Criminal Safety Act”-which aims to institute an inspector general to oversee the NYPD and gives individuals subjected to police actions greater ability to file legal claims against the department.

Should the Community Safety Act become law, Vallone claimed, the city would be hit with a large number of new civil suits from individuals questioned and/or arrested by the NYPD and would impose an undue burden on the ability of police officers to enforce the law.

“This will set the city back” decades, he added.

COMET is not scheduled to meet in July and August. Their next session will take place on Monday, Sept. 9, at 7 p.m. at Bethzatha Church of God, located at 85-20 57th Ave. in Elmhurst. For more information, visit www.cometcivic.com.

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