Queens Courier Year in Review: The top stories from April 2019

Karina Vetrano

Brother of missing Ridgewood man describes nightmare search of area hospitals

(James “Jayme” Ralph)

A Ridgewood man who went missing for four days was reunited with his brother following a long tireless search of area hospitals. 

The search for James Ralph ended when he was found at a nearby hospital in critical condition after taking a fall outside P.S. 88. Two teachers on lunch break found Ralph and called 911, but without identification of any kind, proper family identification was not easily made. 

Ralph had apparently stepped out to move his car and never returned, according to his brother, Andy. He had left his phone and wallet in his apartment. Andy had visited multiple hospitals to find James. He was listed as an “Unknown Anchor” after a matching anchor tattoo he and his brother share. 

Andy had reached out to the public for help with any information on his brother’s whereabouts with fliers. It was this support that helped locate his brother when a teacher from P.S. 88 reached out to him. The teacher who called in about Ralph recognized the description by Andy of Birkenstocks sandals, sweats and a jacket. He was also recognized by the beard and long hair.


Ridgewood stands in for 1960s New Jersey in ‘Sopranos’ prequel ‘The Many Saints of Newark’

(Photo via Facebook/Ridgewood Property Owners and Civic Association)

Filming for the Sopranos prequel, “The Many Saints of Newark” detailing the early life of Fictional crime boss Tony Soprano took place in Ridgewood. 

Directed by Alan Taylor and written by David Chase and Lawrence Konner, the film delves into the life of Soprano, originally played by the late James Gandolfini.

The southwest Queens neighborhood was used as a stand-in for Newark. The project was referred to as “Central Ward,” a reference to part of Newark, produced by Rose City Pictures, the company behind the “Sopranos” prequel project. 

Filming took place at three locations in Ridgewood including 60-70 Putnam Ave., and 60-67 Palmetto St., which would act as exterior shots for Junior’s neighborhood. Junior was played by Tony Soprano’s uncle in the HBO series that debuted over 20 years ago. 

The cast includes Alessandro Nivola, Jon Bernthal, Vera Farmiga, Corey Stoll, Ray Liotta and Leslie Odom Jr. Nivola plays Dickie Moltisanti, the father of Christopher Moltisanti, who was portrayed in “The Sopranos” by Michael Imperioli. The role of young Tony Soprano is being played by Gandolfini’s 19-year-old son, Michael.

“The Many Saints of Newark” has a release date of Sept. 25, 2020.


Bayside residents stunned to learn eight sex offenders were moved into hotel

It was very unnerving for Bayside residents after they received notifications of eight male sex offenders allegedly residing in the Anchor Inn Motel, located at 215-34 Northern Blvd.  

The registered sex offenders, according to the Parents for Meagan’s Law alert, are also listed on the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services sex offender registry. The men ranged in age from 33 to 66. Four of the individuals were said to be level 3, sexually violent offenders. 

Upon hearing the news, concerned parents alerted local politicians and the NYPD 111th Precinct Community Affairs Office seeking information about the matter to find out more details about the motel with a troubling past and five individuals residing there. 

Though the motel said they weren’t housing any registered sex offenders, the New York State Department of Justice had confirmed that the sex offenders were indeed placed at the Anchor Inn. However, the men were eventually vacated from the site, according to a Housing Preservation Spokesman, who said they were placed there temporarily due to unsafe conditions at a previous location.

The relocation of the sex offenders came after state Senator John Liu joined by Assembly members Nily Rozic and Ed Braunstein and Councilmember Paul Vallone on April 4 called for immediate removal of the individuals by the DOCCS at the Anchor Inn Motel. 


Community board chair says big-box retailer plans to leave Elmhurst for Middle Village

It was unclear whether or not Target’s Elmhurst store at Queens Place would relocate elsewhere in Queens. 

Louis Walker, Community Board 4’s chair, had announced that the big-box retailer would be closing at the end of December, but a spokesperson for Target said the company had no plans to close the Queens Place location.

Walker’s account had also left it unclear what would happen to the space if they chose to vacate, after indicating that the store may be relocating to Rentar Plaza at 66-26 Metropolitan Ave. in Middle Village. Meanwhile, the shopping center couldn’t confirm if that was the case. 

Local Councilman Robert Holden had welcomed the idea of Target relocating to Middle Village adding value to Rentar Plaza, and local residents had created a Change.org petition calling on Target to take Rentar Plaza into consideration. 

However, activists from Queens Neighborhoods United had opposed the effort to develop the space claiming it would gentrify the area by putting mom-and-pop shops out of business. The fight against the Target location had even gone to the state Supreme Court on the grounds that zoning does not allow for anything other than small vendors. 


Brooklyn man convicted of murdering Howard Beach’s Karina Vetrano

Following a mistrial in the first case just before Thanksgiving 2018 due to a deadlocked jury, 22-year-old Chanel Lewis from Brooklyn was found guilty in the second trial for the murder and sexual assault of Howard Beach’s Karina Vetrano. 

On Aug. 2, 2016, Vetrano was brutally beaten and choked after going out for a run blocks from her 84th Street home. Lewis was arrested for the crime six months after it occurred, tied to the homicide through DNA evidence recovered at the scene. 

Vetrano’s body was found among the tall reeds of Spring Creek Park hours after her father reported her missing on Aug. 2, 2016. According to trial testimony, Lewis, who was angered by a neighbor playing loud music, encountered Vetrano while she ran through the park and, without saying a word, went on the attack, repeatedly punching her in the face and tearing her clothes off. After sexually assaulting Vetrano, he choked her to death.

Lewis was sentenced to life in prison without parole on April 17.  


Congestion pricing just one of the many ways Queens residents will be impacted by new state budget

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the massive $175.6 billion state budget describing it as the “broadest, most sweeping state plan,” there were parts of it that would change aspects of the life of Queens residents. 

Congestion Pricing was at the forefront in which drivers would pay to enter Manhattan south of 60th Street by the end of 2020 with proceeds going to improve mass transit. Mayor Bill de Blasio, a supporter of congestion pricing, said with a guaranteed lockbox for New York City riders, fairness for the outer boroughs, and exemptions for people experiencing hardships, he was confident that the dedicated revenue stream would go a long way towards fixing the MTA’s broken subway system. 

The state budget also enacted a ban on single-use plastic bags to protect the environment, where shoppers will have to bring their own bag for groceries, or opt to pay a 5-cent fee for a paper bag. 

The budget also addressed several criminal justice reforms including the elimination of cash bail for most misdemeanors and low-level charges, and increases in school aid by more than $1 billion bringing the total school aid to $27.9 billion and promoting education equity by prioritizing funding for poorer schools. 

It also included key election reforms requiring three hours of paid time off so New Yorkers will be better able to vote on Election Day, the allocation of $10 million in funding for early voting and a public financing commission with binding power to implement public campaign financing for legislative and statewide offices.