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    A person was hit by an Amtrak train Friday near the Jersey Avenue stop, forcing officials to halt some service on the Northeast Corridor during the busy evening commute.

    UPDATE: Northeast Corridor service was partially restored as of 6 p.m. Friday, according to Amtrak. Major delays were reported in the area.

    A person was hit by an Amtrak train Friday near the Jersey Avenue stop, forcing officials to halt some service on the Northeast Corridor during the busy evening commute.

    Amtrak Northeast Regional train No. 184 was traveling from Washington, D.C. to New York Penn Station carrying 443 passengers when it struck the person around 4:15 p.m, according to a statement from the railroad.

    Northeast Corridor train service was initially suspended between New Brunswick and Trenton as of around 5 p.m., according to an alert on the NJ Transit website. The agency's buses and private carriers were cross-honoring rail tickets.

    Amtrak said some service resumed and was traveling at a restricted speed in the area as of around 6 p.m. 

    Officials did not provide the condition of the person who was struck, but the NJ Transit alert called the incident fatal.

    Amtrak trains 651, 173, 2165, 129 and 2170 were also experiencing delays as the investigation continued.

    Noah Cohen may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @noahycFind on Facebook.



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    A man admitted Friday to killing his stepfather by striking him repeatedly in the head with an axe at their Monroe home and using the man's credit cards at Wawa.

    A man admitted Friday to killing his stepfather by striking him repeatedly in the head with an axe at their Monroe home before he wrapped up the body with duct tape and used the man's credit cards at a convenience store.

    Joao C. Torres will face 30 years in prison on a murder charge in the slaying of 46-year-old Christopher Ernst Sr. under a plea agreement with Middlesex County prosecutors, officials announced.

    The 27-year-old admitted he attacked Ernst after Ernst went to bed, striking him three times with the axe in a home they shared on Garvey Drive.

    "He then wrapped him in a blanket and garbage bag with duct tape and moved the body into another room," Prosecutor Andrew Carey said in a statement.

    Authorities discovered Ernst dead in a garage room at the house Jan. 4, 2017 after police were called by someone concerned that Torres did not show up for work, according to officials. The killing apparently occurred that day or the day before.

    Torres also admitted he stole Ernst's wallet and used the victim's credit cards at Wawa stores in Old Bridge and Sayreville, the prosecutor added.

    Authorities said they caught Torres hiding in the back of a pickup truck after he fled into a wooded area several miles from the crime scene.

    He is scheduled to be sentenced July 6 in Middlesex County Superior Court and will also face concurrent prison terms for disturbing human remains and fraudulent use of credit cards. A motive for the killing was not immediately clear.

    Noah Cohen may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @noahycFind on Facebook.


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    The former Franklin firefighter was found guilty of four sexual assaults, three of which involved children

    A former Franklin firefighter, who had previously been cleared of similar charges, has been sentenced to 17 and a half years in prison for four incidents of sexual assault, three of which involved children. 

    Thomas Canales, 40, of Franklin, was convicted by a jury in Jan. of three counts of third-degree sexual assault, three counts of third-degree endangering the welfare of a child, and one count of fourth-degree sexual contact, Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey said in a release. 

    Canales.jpgThomas Canales (Somerset County Prosecutor's Office)

    Canales is also required to register as a Megan's Law sex offender and will be on parole supervision for life upon his release. He must serve at least 85 percent of his prison term before being eligible for parole.

    During a five-week trial that began late last year, Middlesex County Assistant Prosecutor Thomas Carver argued that between April 19, 2016, and August 28, 2016, Canales committed four sexual assaults on four different victims, in multiple towns. 

    A jury found that Canales exposed himself to a 7-year-old and 11-year-old girl, and "improperly touched" a 32-year-old woman and an 11-year-old girl in four separate incidents, according to the release. 

    Canales, who was also a Franklin Township fire commissioner from 2011 to 2012, was found not guilty two years ago of charges accusing him of sexually assaulting two girls multiple times over a five-year span. 

    He was arrested nine months after being cleared of the Somerset charges. 

    Canales also faces charges in a case where authorities say he installed a surveillance system in a customer's home while running the Franklin company "Scope It Out" and watched the client in his home through a computer and cell phone. 

    Olivia Rizzo may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @LivRizz. Find on Facebook

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    A new ferry route proposed between Carteret and New York will serve a three-county region and could bring people to a new downtown arts district. Watch video

    Local officials unveiled details Friday about a long-awaited new ferry route set to debut between Carteret and New York -- including when the boat could hit the water.

    The Federal Transit Administration awarded a grant earlier this week to NJ Transit to purchase a 299-seat ferry for the proposed Carteret to Manhattan route. Officials came to Waterfront Park on the Arthur Kill to talk about the $6 million grant to buy a boat.

    Menendez and mayor Reiman 5 18.jpegU.S. Senator Robert Menendez and Carteret Mayor Daniel Reiman answer questions Friday about the borough's proposed ferry service to New York as U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone listens. (Larry Higgs | NJ Advance Media for

    U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, D-N.J., worked with borough officials for 22 years to get funding to build a ferry terminal, parking and a dock next to Waterfront Park.

    Carteret Mayor Daniel J. Reiman is already looking ahead to adding additional  ferries for the route.

    "There is additional state and federal funding for other boats, if the city owns the boats," Reiman said.

    Here are five things to know about the new ferry route:

    1) Who will use the new ferry?

    It's not just for Carteret, local officials said.

    From the beginning, Carteret's ferry was planned as a regional service that would serve nearby Union and Somerset counties in addition to Middlesex County, Reiman said.

    A terminal to be built on 10 acres next to Waterfront Park is designed to accommodate three NJ Transit commuter bus routes and parking for 1,000 vehicles.

    "This is designed for growth, in Carteret and in central Jersey, up to 1,000 people a day will use the boat," Reiman said. "Our plan calls for a large-scale operation."

    Ultimately, Carteret's ferry terminal could be transportation hub that would also bring passengers from New York to New Jersey, Reiman said.

    "It's a 50-minute trip. For us, long term, we're looking for two to three boats," he said.

    2) When will the ferry begin running?

    Ferry service could begin in as little as 18 months, officials said.

    The $6 million Federal Transit Administration grant was made to NJ Transit. The agency will purchase a 299-seat ferry and lease it to Carteret for $1, Reiman said.

    Meanwhile, environmental cleanup of the 10-acre ferry terminal and parking site is expected to be completed by the end of the year, when construction of ferry facilities could begin, Reiman said.

    Big tanker at waterfront park 5. 18.jpegA large oil tanker on the Arthur Kill passes Waterfront Park in Carteret, site of a new ferry route.(Larry Higgs | NJ Advance Media for

    It could take about three to four years to release the FTA funds and build a new vessel.

    But, officials can hire a ferry operator to run service with their vessels until the borough's ferry is ready.

    "Nothing stops us from drawing down the existing federal money we have, to provide ferry service as soon as 18 months," Reiman said. 

    The ferry fare could be comparable to NJ Transit fares, he said.

    3) Is this ferry needed?

    Ferry service will take commuters off crowded road, buses and trains, Menendez said.

    A recent Port Authority study of Trans-Hudson River transportation showed that ferries have the capacity to grow and move more people.

    "More ferry service from different parts of the state is critical to overall transportation mobility, it's critical to economic opportunities and critical to get to jobs," Menendez said. "I'm a strong proponent of the national ferry program because we know ferries work."

    4) Will the ferry terminal create more traffic?

    The borough has agreements with developers of condos and townhouses that have been built or are proposed to fund a jitney bus to and from the ferry terminal, so borough residents won't have to drive there. 

    Waterfront Park and the terminal are located about one mile from New Jersey Turnpike Exit 12, connected by a wide industrial road, that can move traffic and keep it off local streets, Reiman said 

    5) What's next?

    The ferry terminal is part of a bigger plan to make the borough a destination. New residential development has already been built across the street from Waterfront Park and more is coming.

    A $12 million Marriott Hotel on Roosevelt Avenue will begin construction by the end of 2018. Construction of the Carteret Performing Arts Center will begin in the coming weeks and is intended to be the centerpiece of a new arts district.

    The new development could generate ridership to the borough by ferry, Reiman said.

    Larry Higgs may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @commutinglarry. Find on Facebook.

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    South Brunswick High School students is the state winner in Google's doodle contest.

    mx0513schoolsouthbrunswick.jpgSouth Brunswick High school senior Ivy Wang with her winning New Jersey Doodle 4 Google design, "Bike of Friendship."  

    SOUTH BRUNSWICK -- For those who think a doodle is nothing more than a mindless scribble, check with South Brunswick High School senior Ivy Wang, whose "doodle" won first place in the New Jersey Doodle 4 Google Competition.

    Doodle 4 Google competition asks students in grades K through 12 to create a doodle about what inspires them; entries were judged in five age groups and a winner was named in each state.

    According to Wang, her inspiration comes from her friends. "I am lucky to have been surrounded by friends who inspire me to be the best version of myself everyday," said Wang in her Doodle statement.

    "Ivy's work specifically stood out, and her emphasis on friendship and inclusion was extremely moving," said Carley Graham Garcia, head of external affairs for Google in New York City.

    Wang was honored at a school assembly and will receive Google hardware.

    She is now eligible for the national award, which includes a $30,000 scholarship and the chance to display her work on Google.

    To submit school new send an email to

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    Winners were honored at a breakfast reception held at Middlesex County College.

    mx0513schoolcaringaward.jpgThe 2018 Middlesex County Guidance Council Caring Award recipients.

    MIDDLESEX COUNTY -- Last month, the Middlesex County Guidance Council honored the winners of the annual Caring Awards at a breakfast reception held at Middlesex County College.

    Each year, the council presents one student from every high school in the county with the Caring Award to honor them for their outstanding volunteer community service.

    Honored this year were: Joo Eun, Bishop George Ahr High School, Edison; Ryan Constantino, Carteret High School; Aneri Parekh, Colonia High School; Julia Duggan, Dunellen High School; Paran Patti, East Brunswick High School; Dashvinder Singh, MCVTHS East Brunswick; Heeral Vakil, Edison High School; Alyssa Pilch, Highland Park High School; Chris Diana Gomez, John F. Kennedy Memorial High School, Iselin; Christina Rusk, J.P. Stevens High School, Edison; Will Hoover, Metuchen High School; Se-ra Mann, Middlesex High School; Jessica Carrieri, Monroe Township High School; William Ivey, New Brunswick High School; Ramy Berberena, North Brunswick Township High School; Ana Camila Gutierrez, Perth Amboy High School; Ana Huertas, MCVTHS Perth Amboy; Gabriella Posada, Piscataway High School; Gursewek Singh, MCVTHS Piscataway; Hira Hashmi, Sayreville War Memorial High School; Julia Ibarra, South Amboy High School; Srinandini Marpaka, South Brunswick High School; Akachukwu Uba, South Plainfield High School; Solomiya Mykolyk, South River High School; Sarah Marotta, Spotswood High School; Jake Guensch, St. Joseph High School, Metuchen; Kexin Bi, Wardlaw+Hartridge School, Edison; Gabriella Rosano, Woodbridge High School; Natalia Sokolnicki, Middlesex County Academy for Allied Health and Biomedical Sciences, Woodbridge; and Julie Pirro, Middlesex County Academy for Science, Mathematics & Engineering in Edison.

    To submit school news send an email to

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    See the favorites, contenders and more from each section of the girls lacrosse state tournament.

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    Dogs and cats throughout New Jersey await adoption in shelters and rescues.

    Pet facts:

    * Dalmatians are born without spots. They are born with plain white coats with their first spots appearing after they are 1 week old.

    * Cats spend approximately 30% of their waking hours grooming themselves.

    * Greyhounds are the world's fastest dogs with the ability to reach up to 45 mph.

    * Cat whiskers are so sensitive they can detect the slightest change in air current.

    * Nine percent of dog owners will have a birthday party for their pet.

    * "American Shorthair" is the designation reserved for pedigreed cats, while similar-looking cats of mixed or unknown origin are called "domestic shorthairs."

    Greg Hatala may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GregHatala. Find Greg Hatala on Facebook.

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    A Bridgewater Township man set cars ablaze over an "expensive gift" that wasn't returned, prosecutors allege

    A Bridgewater Township man was charged with arson last week, over two years after he lit three cars on fire at the home of a former friend, prosecutors said. 

    Mason A. Pagnotta, 21, was arrested last Thursday on two counts of second-degree aggravated arson from an incident in January 2016.

    Investigators learned that Pagnotta had given a resident of a Garrettson Road home "an expensive gift" that he wanted returned to him after their friendship ended.

    The gift was never returned, the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office said.

    Nearby surveillance video captured footage of Pagnotta's car, a 2004 Mitsubishi vehicle, outside the friends's home in the early morning hours of January 18, 2016.

    Around 3:45 a.m., three vehicles parked in the home's driveway were engulfed in flames, and an individual was observed running away to the Mitsubishi vehicle.

    Prosecutors said the vehicle had a "distinctive rear spoiler," like the car Pagnotta drove at the time, prosecutors said. 

    The office did not say why the charges took over two years to bring, nor did they elaborate on the relationship between Pagnotta and the ex friend. Prosecutors did not respond to a question for more information.

    Pagnotta is currently being held at Somerset County Jail, awaiting a detention hearing. 

    Paige Gross may be reached at pgross@njadvancemedia.comFollow her on Twitter @By_paigegross. Find on Facebook.


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    Plainfield native Richard Marcos Taylor, an actor and stuntman who played a notoriously imposing rap mogul, pleaded guilty to making terroristic threats in Middlesex County Superior Court and was sentenced on Monday to a year of probation. Watch video

    Actor Richard Marcos Taylor, who played a notoriously domineering figure in an Oscar-nominated film, is facing a year of probation after pleading guilty to threatening staff at a Middlesex County bank last year.

    The actor is also alleged to have confronted police officers who responded to the bank. 

    In the 2015 movie "Straight Outta Compton," which depicts the rise of the pioneering West Coast rap group N.W.A, Taylor, a Plainfield native who goes by R. Marcos Taylor plays Marion "Suge" Knight, the imposing bodyguard-turned label boss who founded Death Row Records with Dr. Dre. 

    Taylor appeared in Middlesex County Superior Court in New Brunswick on Monday in front of Judge Colleen Flynn. As part of a plea agreement, Flynn sentenced him to one year of probation for making terroristic threats at a TD Bank in South Plainfield on Aug. 8.

    The actor, 41, also a stuntman -- and, like Suge Knight, a former bodyguard -- is accused of making threats against staff and squaring off with police at the bank.

    "I'd like to put this behind me as soon as possible," the 6-foot-3-inch Taylor said, his voice small in the court.

    r-marcos-taylor-straight-outta-compton-actor-terroristic-threats-probation.jpgActor Richard Marcos Taylor appeared in state Superior Court in New Brunswick on Monday, where he was sentenced to one year of probation after pleading guilty to making terroristic threats at a bank in South Plainfield in 2017. (Patti Sapone | NJ Advance Media for

    Police charged Taylor, an alumnus of Rahway High School, with making terroristic threats, obstruction of justice and disorderly conduct after he allegedly threatened to assault and kill employees at the bank on Aug. 8, according to a summons.  Police said Taylor threatened violence against staff if they called the police, which allegedly prompted customers to flee the bank. 

    When officers arrived, Taylor allegedly "squared off in a fighting stance" and one officer tried to use pepper spray on Taylor but missed him. 

    Taylor later pleaded guilty to making terroristic threats. On Monday, Flynn dismissed the other two charges against Taylor.

    "There's some concern that he has a little bit of anger management issues going on," said Flynn, mentioning Taylor's bank arrest in connection with other incidents he has been linked to in the past year. 

    The judge told Taylor to stay away from the TD Bank in South Plainfield. She said she did not order Taylor to undergo a psychiatric evaluation or to seek counseling because he had already been seeing a therapist and psychiatrist.  

    Kristie Howard, Taylor's lawyer, told the judge the conflict was more between Taylor and police than Taylor and bank employees. She claimed that Taylor had come to a resolution with the manager of the bank, but police had already been called. She said staff had tried to call police to tell them not to come to the bank.

    The bank arrest wasn't Taylor's only scrape with the law. The actor was charged with assaulting staff at a restaurant in Somerset County the very next day. 

    According to a police report, Taylor is alleged to have punched multiple employees at Carrabba's Italian Grill in Green Brook on Aug. 9 after staff members said he became aggressive because he was unhappy with the service.

    r-marcos-taylor-probation.JPGTaylor, at left, with his lawyer, Kristie Howard, played imposing rap mogul Suge Knight on two occasions. The day after he was arrested at the South Plainfield bank, he was accused of assaulting staff at a Green Brook restaurant. (Patti Sapone | NJ Advance Media for

    The manager told police he attempted to placate Taylor by offering him two free pieces of cheesecake but that Taylor replied with an insult, according to the report. The manager said he asked Taylor to leave the restaurant and that he was escorted off the premises. The man said that Taylor got into his car but then got out again and allegedly started a physical altercation with restaurant staff.

    The same manager said one employee fell and suffered an elbow injury after Taylor allegedly punched her, and that Taylor allegedly punched another employee in the face who was trying to defend the first employee. He also said Taylor allegedly punched a third employee in the head. He said when another employee tried to tackle Taylor, the actor allegedly hit that man in the face and eye gouged him.

    Police said a witness who had been in the parking lot provided video.

    The actor was charged with four counts of assault, one count of criminal mischief and one count of disorderly conduct.

    A few weeks after the incident was reported last year, Taylor told TMZ that he got jumped in the restaurant parking lot. 

    "Don't believe everything you read #thatismyjudgement," Taylor posted on Instagram on Aug. 23.

    Howard, Taylor's lawyer, referred to the Green Brook case as "resolved" in court on Monday, and said Taylor would be paying restitution to the alleged victims.

    Taylor is due in Green Brook Municipal Court on May 23. 

    In May of 2017, less than three months before the New Jersey incidents, the Miami Herald reported that Taylor was arrested and charged with misdemeanor battery after he allegedly assaulted a security guard at a resort in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida.

    Taylor has worked as an actor and stuntman since 2011. In addition to his role in the 2015 film "Straight Outta Compton," he appeared in the 2017 movie "Baby Driver" and the Netflix series "Luke Cage" in 2016. Taylor is also trained in various martial arts, has competed in tournaments and has worked as a martial arts teacher.

    Suge Knight, the character which Taylor is most closely associated with -- he also played him in the 2016 Lifetime movie "Surviving Compton: Dre, Suge & Michel'le" -- has had a string of legal troubles and is currently in jail. The Los Angeles Times reports that the 53-year-old rap mogul will go on trial to face  murder charges in September, having allegedly rammed his truck into two men in a parking lot during the filming of "Straight Outta Compton," which proved fatal for one of the men (Knight claims he was being ambushed).

    Last year, Knight was also indicted on charges of threatening the film's director, F. Gary Gray.


    Amy Kuperinsky may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @AmyKup or on Facebook.


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    New Eagle Scouts are recognized at an Eagle Court of Honor.

    EDISON -- Troop 12 Boy Scouts Billy Beatty, Michael desRanleau, and Nick Fisher were honored last month at an Eagle Court of Honor for earning their Eagle Award, the Boy Scouts' highest honor.

    To earn the Eagle Award, a Scout must be active with a troop, earn a minimum of 21 merit badges, assume a position of leadership within a troop, and complete a service project that benefits the community.

    Beatty built four raised garden beds at Spectrum for Living, a nonprofit group home in Edison for individuals with developmental disabilities. Beatty leveled the ground and used landscaping timbers to build four, 3' x 8' boxes, 24" tall, and filled them with soil. Beatty is a senior at Edison High School and has enlisted in the U.S. Navy Delayed Entry Program as a machinist mate.

    For his project, desRanleau built a walled garden base around the flagpole at Edison VFW Memorial Post 3117, laid a base of river stones under the post's Battle of Iwo Jima memorial and installed a solar-powered spotlight to shine on the memorial's flag. He is a senior at Edison High School and will attend Rutgers University in the fall.

    Fisher gave the gardens in front Lincoln Elementary School in Edison a facelift by planting four types of bushes, black-eyed Susans and a weeping Japanese maple tree, sanding and restaining existing decorative railroad ties and spreading new mulch. Fisher is a senior at Middlesex County Vocational and Technical High School in Piscataway and will be applying for an apprenticeship with the N.J. Carpenters Union after graduation.

    Beatty, desRanleau and Fisher were honored at an Eagle Court of Honor held April 29 at Edison VFW Memorial Post 3117.

    To submit Scout news send an email to

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    See the favorites, contenders and more from each section.

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    The train was traveling from Washington, D.C. to New York Penn Station

    The woman struck and killed by a train Friday afternoon in South Brunswick has been identified as a 24-year-old Pennsylvania woman. 

    Cherylyn Alderfer, of New Hope, was hit by Amtrak Northeast Regional train No. 184 at about 4:15 p.m., a spokesman for the agency said. The train, which had 443 people aboard, was en route from Washington D.C. to New York Penn Station when it hit Alderfer near the border with Plainsboro.

    NJ Transit train hits, kills 2 people on tracks in Hackensack

    Service was suspended and then delayed on both Amtrak and New Jersey Transit's Northeast Corridor line through much of the evening rush.

    An Amtrak spokesman said Tuesday morning the incident was still under investigation. 

    Jeff Goldman may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JeffSGoldman. Find on Facebook.



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    The 52-year-old is charged with vehicular manslaughter and reckless manslaughter in addition to drunk driving

    A 52-year-old woman now faces manslaughter charges in an alleged drunken driving crash that killed a recycling company employee while he was working in South River earlier this month, authorities said Tuesday.

    Phyllis Kocheran, of South River, is charged with second-degree vehicular manslaughter and reckless manslaughter, the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office said.

    Driver charged in double fatal crash was drunk, authorities says

    Kocheran was arrested and initially charged with driving while intoxicated after hitting William Oross, of North Brunswick, on Pulawski Avenue at 11:17 a.m. on May 3.

    Oross, 49, was taken to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, where he was pronounced dead. He was working for a private recycling company at the time.

    Kocheran remains held at the Middlesex County jail in North Brunswick. Authorities are still investigating.

    Jeff Goldman may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JeffSGoldman. Find on Facebook.



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    These 50 players could be X-factors in the boys lacrosse state tournament.

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    Anthony Jones, 23, rejected a plea deal Tuesday that would have barred him from seeking a job as an officer in the future after resigning from New Brunswick police.

    A New Brunswick police officer turned down a deal over charges stemming from a bar brawl earlier this year because he doesn't believe he should be barred from being a cop. 

    Anthony Jones, 23, who was off-duty during the incident at the Golden Rail Tavern on Jan. 21, rejected the plea deal through his attorney Tuesday in Middlesex Superior Court, sending the case to a grand jury. 

    The deal from the prosecutor's office would have downgraded the aggravated assault and riot charges to a disorderly persons offense of simple assault, but Jones would be prohibited from holding any public law enforcement positions in the future. 

    Middlesex County Assistant Prosecutor Christine D'Elia said the 26-year-old victim is suffering from spinal injuries since the "beating" and those medical records would be presented to the grand jury. 

    Jones' attorney, Jeff Farmer, however, said describing the incident as a "beating" was disingenuous, arguing that the incident last only a few minutes and his client only held back an intoxicated combative, drunk man. 

    "If you look at the video it's clear," Farmer said.

    Jones, who has been suspended without pay since early February when the charges were announced, was willing to resign from the city police but wants to be able to reapply elsewhere, according to his attorney. 

    With Jones rejecting the deal, the case will be present to a grand jury in early June for a potential indictment along with four others  -- James Sanders III, 22, of Piscataway, Ryan Marsi, 23, of New Brunswick, Steve Karasoulis, 24, of Edison, and Bryan Williams, 22, of North Brunswick -- who were also charged in the brawl. 

    The four others wanted to accept the deal, their attorneys told Superior Court Judge Joseph Rea. But the prosecutor said all or none could get the deal. 

    "This was a beating in concert," D'Elia said. 

    Craig McCarthy may be reached at 732-372-2078 or at Follow him on Twitter @createcraig and on Facebook here. Find on Facebook.

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    Todd Ritter, 54, of Millstone (Monmouth County), who was facing charges of tampering with public records, falsifying and tampering with records and assault, will get non-custodial probation. Watch video

    A Piscataway cop who punched a handcuffed man in the back of his police cruiser earlier this year has cut a deal in to avoid prison and potentially still get his pension. 

    Todd Ritter, 54, of Millstone (Monmouth County), who was facing charges of tampering with public records, falsifying and tampering with records and assault, will get non-custodial probation, eliminating any possibility of jail time, after accepting a plea deal from the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office.

    IMG_1722.JPGPiscataway officer Todd Ritter, 54, of Millstone (Monmouth County) 

    Ritter pleaded guilty Tuesday to falsifying records and a reduced charge of simple assault before Superior Court Judge Joseph Rea and a courtroom filled with other of police officers, family and friends.

    The deal will also force Ritter to forfeit his position in the department after nearly 22 years on the job and bar him from holding any public positions in the future.

    In exchange for the deal, though, the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office will not take a position when his pension review goes before the state board. 

    "(The state) will not petition the board to not give him his pension, but we will work with them to provide evidence," Middlesex County Assistant Prosecutor Christine D'Elia said.

    As the room emptied in the afternoon following a brief hearing, one of the women called the event "a travesty of justice" but would not say who she was or how she knew Ritter. The group of people declined to comment. 

    The February encounter between Ritter and Isiah Benbow occurred after the 19-year-old was arrested on obstruction and resisting charges. Benbow was thrashing in the backseat of the cruiser kicking the glass between the front and back seats, yelling at and eventually threatening Ritter, according to the police video from the car. 

    "You think it's funny?" Benbow asks in the recording after telling the story of his arrest. "He got mad because I said something, and he gone and slammed me. ... I said I can't breathe, then he threatened and said he was going to f--- me up and everything."

    "I'm gonna break it," Benbow yells. "... Why you gotta lie? ... I'm gonna kill all you all (expletive), watch!"

    Ritter then gets out of the car, opens the back door and punches Benbow in the face.

    The officer, who had been suspended without pay after the incident, admitted Tuesday that he lied on his police report in which he said the man had kicked him in the groin. 

    In the video of the encounter, Ritter says to one of the other officers afterward "This a--hole just kicked me in the nuts."

    "He's lying! I swear to God, he's lying! He punched me in my face!" Benbow yells.

    "Shut up," Ritter responds as he wrestles the man out of the cruiser.

    Benbow was yelling that he'd been roughed up when he was arrested. A cell phone video obtained by NJ Advance Media corroborated some of his narrative in which he said that Ritter's partner, officer Christopher Mahaley, slammed him to the ground and threatened him. 

    The cell phone video also showing Ritter trying to pick the 19-year-old up by his hair, but dropped him when he's about halfway up. 

    Ritter, who had applied for pre-trial intervention, withdrew his application as part of the plea deal.

    His sentencing is set for July 6.

    Craig McCarthy may be reached at 732-372-2078 or at Follow him on Twitter @createcraig and on Facebook here. Find on Facebook.

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    Police say Jose Humberto Burgos, age 58, of Plainfield was hit around 1 a.m. near 50-54 Watching Ave.

    Authorities are asking for the public's help in finding the motorist who struck and killed a man crossing a North Plainfield street early Monday.

    Jose Humberto Burgos, 58, of Plainfield was hit in the area of 50-54 Watchung Avenue at about 1 a.m., the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office said.

    Police responded to the area on a report of a pedestrian hit and a vehicle fleeing the scene. Officers found Burgos in the street.

    Burgos was taken to a local hospital and pronounced dead.

    Screen Shot 2018-05-15 at 3.27.33 PM.pngThe area of 50-54 Watching Avenue in North Plainfield where Jose Humberto Burgos, age 58, of Plainfield was killed. (Google Maps) 

    Authorities ask if anyone was in the area at the time, or saw a vehicle speeding toward Plainfield at a high rate of speed to contact authorities.

    The Somerset County Prosecutor's Office can be reached at 908-231-7100 and the North Plainfield Police Department at 908-769-2937.

    Information may also be sent by text message via the STOPit app by downloading STOPit to your smartphone at Google Play or the Apple Store and enter the access code SOMERSETNJ.

    Tipsters may also contact the Somerset County Crime Stoppers' Tip Line at 1-888-577-TIPS (8477) or online at or and click on either "Crime Stoppers" or "TIPS HOTLINE." All anonymous Crime Stopper tips will be kept confidential.

    Taylor Tiamoyo Harris may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ladytiamoyo.


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    A former fire inspector who leveraged his father's murder conviction and alleged mob ties to shake down a developer, admitted to extortion on Tuesday.

    A former municipal fire inspector who leveraged his father's murder conviction and alleged mob ties to shake down a developer, admitted to extortion on Tuesday after his victim recorded several threatening conversations and boasts about his own mob involvement.

    Billy Donnerstag, 49, of Hackettstown, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit extortion before federal judge Madeline Cox Arleo in Newark on Tuesday, federal prosecutors announced.

    Donnerstag, a former fire inspector for Middlesex borough, schemed with Kenvil resident Joseph Martinelli to extort money from the owner of a real estate development and construction company after Martinelli had regrets over a property sold to the developer.

    Martinelli pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit extortion in March.

    Around May 2007, Martinelli requested early payment on a property that he was planning to sell to the developer for $2 million. The developer agreed to pay early, but at a discount, and the two agreed to a sale of the property for about $1.6 million, court documents show.

    In December 2016, Donnerstag began showing up to the property claiming he was there to conduct a fire inspection. He also began making calls to the developer, making threats and saying the developer didn't pay enough for the property.

    I'm "not somebody who's in the Yellow Pages," Donnerstag told the victim, according to his federal indictment. He also described himself to the victim as "the guy that you don't want to see" and "a problem for you right now."

    In one recorded phone call with Donnerstag, when the victim explained that the property had been sold legally and that Martinelli had agreed to the terms,

    Donnerstag replied: "if you were in front of me right now, you'd be on the floor. OK? Cause I don't talk -- I don't get talked to like that. You don't know who I am."

    Donnerstag later told the victim his father is Gerald Donnerstag, a mob associate who was convicted of a murder in the 1970s in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Martinelli claimed that Billy Donnerstag would not leave the developer alone until he paid $60,000.

    "The guys in New York I know, when they need something taken care of, they don't get involved," Martinelli told the developer, speaking about Donnerstag. "They call him." 

    The developer, cooperating with the FBI, met several times with each man, and ultimately handed over $15,000 in cash that the men had extorted. The transactions and other threatening conversations were recorded.

    The maximum penalty for conspiracy to commit extortion is 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. 

    Donnerstag is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 25, and Martinelli's is scheduled for June 12.

    Joe Brandt can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JBrandt_NJ. Find on Facebook.

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