By Eric Jankiewicz
After several people were sexually assaulted in Forest Park in 2013, residents and officials succeeded in securing money for cameras. However, the promised safety measures were never installed and crimes have continued.
“We’ve been waiting for these cameras for a year and a half now. That’s just too long,” said Alexander Blenkinsopp, a member of the Woodhaven Residents Block Association. “It doesn’t take a genius that there was going to be another terrible crime if we were going to wait a year and half for cameras.”
On June 14 a 23-year-old man was found bludgeoned to death in Forest Park.
Police said they wanted to talk to Zoltan Forai, also known as Stephen Forai, 44, about the death of Diego Piedrahita, a Flushing resident.
Officers found Piedrahita with head trauma June 10 at about 3:26 p.m. in the vicinity of Park Lane South and Woodhaven Boulevard, according to the police. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
“When there was a string of sexual assaults people didn’t go out to the park as much,” Blenkinsopp said. “This turned out to be a life-or-death matter. We can’t know for sure, but it looks like waiting a year and a half made our park a more likely location for a horrible crime.”
The medical examiner’s office confirmed that the death was a homicide, according to Julie Bolcer, a spokeswoman for the office.
The cause of death was several blows to the head with fractures of the skull, Bolcer said.
Police described Forai as approximately 5-foot-7, about 170 pounds, with brown eyes, brown hair and a beard. They said he possibly frequents the Bandshell and Victory Field areas in Forest Park.
Forai pleaded guilty to an undisclosed violation in 2002, but this case and any other cases associated with Forai are sealed, according to a spokeswoman for the Queens District Attorney’s Office.
The death of Piedrahita spurred the community to demand the long overdue installation of security cameras in the park.
In 2013, state Assemblyman Mike Miller and state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) allocated $250,000 for more than a dozen cameras to be installed throughout the park. The cameras were meant to serve as a deterrent to would-be criminals and to also provide concrete evidence of any crimes. The NYPD and elected officials said the cameras would be installed within several months after the December 2013 announcement. But the cameras have still not been installed.
“It’s not the quickest process. But that’s the process. It’s put in place to protect public money from being used irresponsibly,” Miller said. But he said he thought the cameras would not have helped in solving Piedrahita’s death because the area where he was killed will not get a camera.
He said that after the money was allocate the application for the cameras sat in the NYPD’s lap for six months before the department finally approved it. Then, it moved to Albany where it was approved by the Assembly and state Senate. But it’s backto waiting as Gov. Andrew Cuomo must now approve it. Once that is done, Miller said, it comes back downstate through the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York, a state organization that will work with the NYPD to install the cameras in Forest Park.
“We’re grateful for Addabbo and Miller who allocated money for the cameras,” Blenkinsopp said. But he also noted that “a process that takes this long is a process that does not work well.”
Reach reporter Eric Jankiewicz by e-mail at ejank