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    Police are still attempting to identify a second man killed in the blaze

    One of the two homeless men killed Saturday in a fire in a boarded up house in New Brunswick has been identified as 30-year-old Alexander Merino-Martinez, police said Wednesday.

    The second man killed in the fire on Seaman Street just before 10 p.m. has not been identified, police said. 

    Officials said that the house, which had been boarded up with plywood prior to the fire, was fully involved when they arrived to the scene. Both men were found unresponsive on the second floor and pronounced dead at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.

    The second man is believed to be around 35-years-old, police said. The investigation is ongoing. 

    Caitlyn Stulpin may be reached at cstulpin@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @caitstulpin. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


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    "This is evidence that New Jersey's entire assessment system has spun out of control," the state's largest teachers union said.

    When East Brunswick High School gave standardized tests this spring, hundreds of sophomores skipped their English exam with confidence.  

    The teens had previously passed the PARCC English test for ninth-graders and were told that meant they fulfilled a key graduation requirement, Superintendent Victor Valeski said. 

    But in New Jersey's complicated and controversial world of standardized testing, checking off a graduation requirement isn't as simple as it may seem.  

    After an apparent miscommunication over the state's graduation rules, East Brunswick and districts across the state are scrambling to get sophomores to take the PARCC test they skipped, even if means voluntarily coming in after school or over the summer, educators told NJ Advance Media.

    School officials and education groups said it's not that they didn't understand the state's graduation rules but that the state never clearly explained them. 

    "It was frustrating," Valeski said. "I would disagree that we misinterpreted it." 

    Added Dana Karas, past president of the New Jersey School Counselor Association: "Obviously we don't think it was clear. ... How can so many intelligent individuals be reading a document and no one has seen something?' 

    The Department of Education acknowledged "some confusion and misinterpretation" over the Class of 2020 graduation requirements and said in a statement it will work with districts to make sure all students have a chance to take necessary exams. 

    In a memo to districts, the department said its guidance "could have been improperly interpreted if not read in its entirety." 

    The flap is the latest in the long line of drama surrounding PARCC and new graduation requirements tied to the exams, both of which new Gov. Phil Murphy promised he would eliminate but has yet to officially do so. 

    Even though students can resolve the issue by taking the 10th-grade exam, the confusion among students and school officials exposes a deeper problem, said Steve Baker, spokesman for the state's largest teachers union. 

    "This is evidence that New Jersey's entire assessment system has spun out of control," Baker said. 

    A class of its own  

    It didn't used to be like this. 

    In the past, New Jersey had a single exam high school students took during their junior year to fulfill a decades-old state requirement that teens pass standardized tests in English and math before graduation.   

    If students passed the exam and fulfilled all other academic requirements, they graduated. If they failed, they could do a retake or try an alternative test. 

    Then, four years ago, graduation requirements became complicated after the debut of PARCC. 

    "The rules are so convoluted," said Stan Karp, a director for the Education Law Center. "There has just been lot of confusion from the beginning." 

    New Jersey said all students who graduated by 2019 could meet the graduation requirement by passing PARCC's English exam for either ninth, 10th or 11th grades and PARCC's math exam for either Algebra I, Algebra II or geometry. 

    The state also agreed to allow students to use scores from alternative exams, including the SAT or ACT, if they didn't take or couldn't pass PARCC. 

    With an eye toward the future, the state Board of Education voted to require all students who graduated in 2021 or later to pass the PARCC test in 10th-grade English and Algebra I with no alternatives except a portfolio appeal process.  

    "The policy was originally designed to kind of pave the way for the institutionalization of PARCC as the state exam," Karp said. "They were phasing it in." 

    Left in the middle was the Class of 2020, incoming freshmen at the time, who would get a unique set of rules. 

    The requirements approved by the state board said the Class of 2020 would be able to graduate using the same pathways as the classes of 2017 through 2019, as long as they participated in all possible PARCC exams before turning to the alternative tests. 

    A graphic published by the state Education Department described the Class of 2020's "first pathway" as "take and pass a PARCC test" and listed the ninth-, 10th- or 11th-grade tests as options for English and the Algebra 1 or Algebra II or Geometry tests for math. 

    Class of 2020 original.pngNew Jersey's original guidance to schools on the graduation requirements for the Class of 2020.
     

    Based on the chart, districts widely understood that students in the Class of 2020 could meet the graduation requirement by passing any PARCC English exam and any PARCC math exam.

    Students wouldn't have to worry about taking every single PARCC exam, administrators thought, because as long as they passed one in English and math they wouldn't need to use scores from the alternative tests like the SAT, listed under the "second pathway." 

    "Many districts were basing their understanding of graduation requirements on the chart," said Michael LaSusa, superintendent of the School District of the Chathams. 

    By the time districts realized the graphic was misleading, it was already too late. 

    'How dare they?'

    In East Brunswick, more than 350 students passed PARCC's ninth-grade English exam last year and then skipped the 10th-grade test this year, according to the district. 

    In Chatham, about 250 sophomores did the same, LaSusa said. 

    Statewide, it's likely that thousands of students skipped the 10th-grade English exam for the same reason, thinking they met the graduation requirement because that's what the Department of Education chart indicated, Karas said. 

    "Students could either take and pass the ninth-grade (English) PARCC or the 10th grade or the 11th grade, and the words are very clearly in their documentation," Valeski said in defense of his district. "We didn't make this chart up." 

    Yet, in mid-May, new guidance on the state website stunned school officials. A new graphic showed the Class of 2020's "first pathway" to graduation as passing the 10th-grade English test and the Algebra 1 exam. 

    Revised 2020 grad requirments.pngThe revised guidance from the state on the Class of 2020 graduation requirements.
     

    All other PARCC tests, including ninth-grade English, were now listed among the alternative exams, meaning students wouldn't be able to use their scores to meet the graduation requirement unless they at least tried to pass the 10th-grade English and Algebra 1 exams. 

    The Department of Education called it a clarification. Parents and schools considered it a major change in guidance. 

    "How dare they change it now?" said Lenore Elfand, the parent of an East Brunswick sophomore. "It's very upsetting." 

    East Brunswick reached out to parents who thought their teens already met their graduation requirements to tell them they would need to take the 10th-grade English test. 

    The district scheduled both in-school and after-school hours this week, including allowing students to test in the afternoon on a scheduled half-day. 

    Other districts also rushed to schedule more testing before the end of the year or will test students over the summer or next fall, during a busy junior year packed with SAT exams and Advanced Placement tests. 

    The extra testing won't necessarily cost more money, school officials said, but requires more time planning the logistics and communicating with parents. 

    School officials said they're glad the graduation rules were clarified before the Class of 2020 got even closer to its senior year. 

    "If it was a mistake on our part, I will take responsibility for it," Valeski said, "but based on what I am seeing right now, it does not look like this was." 

    Adam Clark may be reached at adam_clark@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on twitter at @realAdamClarkFind NJ.com on Facebook.

     

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    The Knickerbockers, who had a #20 hit in 1966 with "Lies" (they sounded a lot like the Beatles), took their name from their hometown's main street, Knickerbocker Road in Bergenfield.

    When I was growing up, my father was the photographer in the family.

    07_1970_Trip_To_Niagara_Falls_Rhinebeck_Thousand_Islands_043.jpg 

    He started shooting home movies in the '60s. And, when we set off on a trip somewhere, the home movie would start with scenes taken through the front window of the car, complete with his knuckles on the steering wheel.

    He said he was "establishing the route" or something and we, of course, made fun of him for it.

    Now when we look at them again, he has the last laugh because those scenes of the streets and roads we were traveling are the ones people perk up for. "Look! There's so-and-so's store!" or "I forgot the such-and-such used to be there!"

    The photos in this gallery and galleries like it we've done in the past serve the same purpose. It's fascinating to see what streets we might drive down every day looked like 40 years ago ... 60 years ... 80 years. In one instance in the gallery, there's a photo of a street in my hometown from more than 150 years ago.

    Enjoy these scenes of streets and roads in New Jersey, as well as these links to other galleries. And if you have photos like the films my Dad used to take, by all means send them in, knuckles and all.

    Vintage photos of N.J. street scenes

    Vintage photos of streets and roads in N.J.

    Vintage photos of New Jersey street scenes

    Vintage photos of street scenes in N.J.

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


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    An in-depth comparison for each of the 20 NJSIAA sectional meets


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    Everything you need to know heading into Friday's action.


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    Group championships are Friday and Saturday. Prepare yourself with our preview of all 12 meets at Franklin Township and Central Regional.


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    He crossed into oncoming traffic and struck a 1999 Ford Ranger, killing a 59-year-old man from Wayne

    A high school basketball coach pleaded guilty Thursday to driving drunk and killing a man in a wrong-way crash last year.

    Darius Griffin Jr. pleaded guilty to second-degree vehicular homicide, fourth-degree assault by auto and driving while intoxicated, Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey said in a news release. 

    darius.jpgDarius Griffin Jr. (2013 photo) 

    Griffin, driving a 2016 Nissan Altima, crossed into incoming traffic on River Road in Piscataway around 4:25 a.m. on Oct. 14, 2017. 

    He hit a 1999 Ford Ranger, killing its driver, Steven Kemmlein, 59, of Wayne. Griffin and his passenger were both injured and taken to Robert Wood Johnson University Medical Center in New Brunswick.

    At the time of the crash, Griffin was head coach of the boys basketball team at Bishop George Ahr High School, according to a GoFundMe page set up to cover his medical expenses.

    Bob Turco now coaches the team, according to mycentraljersey.com. Griffin's father Darius Griffin Sr. coaches the boys' basketball program at Piscataway High School.

    Kemmlein drove a tractor trailer for Coca-Cola, owned a firearms exchange in Vernon, and formerly served as captain of the Pompton Falls Volunteer Fire Department Co. 3, according to his obituary.

    Under the plea deal, prosecutors will ask Judge Michael Toto to sentence Griffin to eight years in prison. His sentence would be subject to the No Early Release Act, meaning he would have to serve 85 percent of it before parole eligibility.

    Joe Brandt can be reached at jbrandt@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @JBrandt_NJ. Find NJ.com on Facebook. Have a tip? Tell us. nj.com/tips 

     

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  • 06/01/18--05:00: Cat is unhappy at shelter
  • Kiwi has had difficulty adapting to shelter life.

    mx0603pet.jpgKiwi 

    PERTH AMBOY -- Kiwi is an adult female cat at the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter.

    Surrendered when her owner was no longer able to care for her, she has had difficulty adapting to shelter life.

    Kiwi is good with children and gets along with dogs and other cats; she should make a good pet in most any home. She has been spayed, is housetrained and up-to-date on shots.

    To meet Kiwi and other adoptable pets, visit the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter at 597 Fayette St. Shelter hours are Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, call 732-324-3877

    Shelters interested in placing a pet in the Paw Print adoption column or submitting news should call 973-836-4922 or email middlesex@starledger.com.

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


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    SAYREVILLE -- An approach to the Raritan River Bridge on the Garden State Parkway is shown in this 1950s photo. The bridge, which was renamed the Alfred E. Driscoll Bridge in 1974, spans the Raritan River between Woodbridge and Sayreville. MORE: Vintage photos around New Jersey A commenter on the Old New Jersey Facebook page suggests the image shows the...

    SAYREVILLE -- An approach to the Raritan River Bridge on the Garden State Parkway is shown in this 1950s photo. The bridge, which was renamed the Alfred E. Driscoll Bridge in 1974, spans the Raritan River between Woodbridge and Sayreville.

    MORE: Vintage photos around New Jersey

    A commenter on the Old New Jersey Facebook page suggests the image shows the "original two southbound lanes approaching the north side of the bridge."

    If you would like to share a photo that provides a glimpse of history in your community, please call 973-836-4922 or send an email to middlesex@starledger.com. And, check out more glimpses of history in our online galleries on nj.com.

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


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    Even as Hess stations are no longer a fixture in New Jersey, Hess Toy Truck, based in Woodbridge, remains, selling holiday trucks each year. The mini collection is a tribute to the company's classic toys.

    Woodbridge-based Hess Toy Truck has announced its 2018 Mini Collection, and some big kids -- '60s, '70s and '80s babies -- might recognize some of their holiday favorites in the mix. 

    The minis, on sale Friday, are tiny versions -- lights and all -- of the 1970 Hess Toy Fire Truck, 1977 Hess Fuel Oil Tanker and 1988 Hess Toy Truck and Racer, which comes with a pull-back motor.

    While Hess toy trucks first became a holiday staple in the 1960s, the collection marks the 20th anniversary of the Hess minis, introduced in 1998 as a way to commemorate vintage Hess toy trucks. Miniature collections debuted in 2017.

    The collection costs $26.99 (shipping and batteries are included), and as with the holiday trucks, previously sold at Hess gas stations, are now only sold at hesstoytruck.com.

    Hess stations became Speedway stations in recent years after Hess sold its gas stations to Marathon Petroleum in 2014.

    Hess Toy Truck is marking the 85th anniversary of Hess, a gas chain that has New Jersey roots. In the 1960s, Leon Hess revamped his father's Asbury Park oil delivery service, which opened in 1933, to set the stage for what would become an oil and gas giant. The gas station chain began selling Hess toy trucks in 1964. 

    The 2017 holiday Hess truck was a dump truck and loader. The 2018 holiday truck will go on sale on Nov. 1. 

    2018-hess-mini-collection-tanker-truck-racer-fire-truck.jpg(Bret Wills Studio) 

     

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

     


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    Five Edison cops made more than $840,000 collectively over the last two years for side-job police work, but authorities now say they never showed up for their shifts.

    Five Edison cops made more than $840,000 collectively over the last two years for side-job police work, but authorities now say they never showed up for their shifts. 

    The group --  Sgt. Ioannis "John" Mpletsakis, 38, Officer Paul Pappas, 43, Officer James Panagoulakos, 32, all of Edison Township, Officer Gregory Makras, 33, of Cranford, and Sgt. Brian Rossmeyer, 41, of Bedminster -- all face charges of theft and two counts of official misconduct, Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew C. Carey said Friday. 

    The officers clocked into these no-show shifts from Nov. 14, 2016, through this May, when the officers received tens of thousands of dollars in addition to their base salary and overtime pay, according to authorities. 

    "Any police officer who knowingly got paid for an off-duty job they did not do, is guilty of malfeasance," Carey said in a statement, which noted that more arrests are possible. 

    For two weeks, NJ Advance Media had been looking into the department's doling out of side jobs. The off-duty shifts, which are separate from overtime pay, are volunteer jobs where officers have full police responsibilities.

    The officers, who were suspended without pay after the charges were made public, were on pace to double their base salaries with the extra overtime and side-jobs. Mpletsakis could have made more than $350,000 in 2018 if he held a similar schedule through the rest of the year. 

    Andres Rosa, a retired Edison officer, handles the books for the police force's off-duty work, in which officers are paid by a third-party through the township for private security and shifts monitoring road construction and utility work with hourly rates ranging from $40 to $90. 

    Despite Rosa's position, Carey's office said there is no real centralized system to assign these jobs and the cops tasked with assigning the shifts have a "wide discretion" in who gets what job. 

    The details of the jobs were not known. NJ Advance Media had requested records on all contracts with the township for these off-duty jobs, but the clerk's office said they had no records.

    The new accusations are believed to have come out of authorities' probe into Pappas's alleged tire slashing incident that also led to seven officers being placed on desk duty over accusations of illegal steroid use. Those officers' names have not been released. 

    "Edison township officials, however, are responsible for allowing a system of fiscal irresponsibility to exist," Carey said. "The assignment of extra-duty jobs being handled by multiple individuals with very little oversight, paired with an inadequate system of accounting, has directly resulted in nepotism and corruption."

    Chief Thomas Bryan said he could not comment on the arrests, referring questions to the prosecutor's office, but issued a statement.

    "Once again, this demonstrates that the Edison Police Department took appropriate action," he said in the statment. "We identified an internal concern. We alerted the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office about those concerns and detectives from our Professional Standards Bureau worked closely with the county to investigate these matters. We continue to cooperate with the prosecutor's office as this investigation proceeds."

    Rossmeyer, who came on the force in 2007, and Mpletsakis, who was hired in 2002,  were just recently promoted in the department.

    Mpletsakis --who pulled in more than $300,000 in 2016 with his base salary, overtime and side-job pay -- was originally fired from the police force a decade ago after he ran from the scene of a car crash while off-duty. Mpletsakis had no clothes on at the time.

    A judge reinstated him in 2007.

    One of the top side-job earners, Pappas, is also facing numerous charges after cops arrested the 15-year veteran of the force over an alleged tire slashing incident. The cop allegedly took an unmarked police car to New Brunswick while on duty and slashed his former girlfriend's tires. 

    Pappas, 43, has since been suspended without pay. 

    Makras was hired in 2011 and Panagoulakos in 2013. 

    Rosa, 76, retired from the department in 1995 and collects an annual pension of $64,375, according to state records. He was hired by the township two years later as a scheduling clerk and currently makes $51,868.

    Rosa did not return calls for comment. Someone who identified himself as Rosa's son told NJ Advance Media his father was on vacation. 

    The officers are scheduled to appear in Middlesex County Superior Court in New Brunswick on June 21.

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

    Have a tip? Tell us. nj.com/tips

     

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    An ordinance would significantly restrict gun sales in Piscataway.

    The battle over gun control is coming to Piscataway amid a contentious Democratic primary, as local officials weigh an ordinance that would make it very difficult for weapons retailers to set up shop in the township.

    A public hearing is set for June 14, nine days after the primary, on a proposed municipal ordinance that is apparently without precedent in New Jersey.

    It would prohibit gun shops from opening within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, houses of worship, university campuses -- the Rutgers University football field is in Piscataway -- medical facilities, bars and other locations.

    There are currently no gun shops in Piscataway, a Democratic-leaning municipality where Hillary Clinton received nearly three times as many votes as President Donald Trump in 2016.

    The ordinance was introduced in a 7-0 vote on May 8 by the Piscataway Township Council.

    All seven council members are Democrats and four are facing primary challengers next Tuesday.

    Piscataway Councilman Steven D. Cahn, an attorney who helped draft the ordinance, said Wednesday it is modeled after a similar restriction in Alameda County, Calif., upheld in October by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. 

    Cahn, who is being challenged by Staci Berger in the primary, said he was motivated by the inaction in the Republican-led Congress to address the proliferation of gun violence.

    He said it is up to municipalities to do what is possible.

    "We are the only country in the world that has this kind of craziness. My ordinance doesn't solve the craziness, but we can force a national discussion," Cahn said. 

    Berger is president & CEO of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey. She is running against Cahn for the Ward 3 council seat.

    Contacted for her reaction, Berger said she supports the gun safety aim of the ordinance but questions the motivation behind it.

    "If it prevents one bad incident, or one gun involvement, that would be wonderful, but it does seem questionable in terms of timing," Berger said of the ordinance.

    "It's not bad, but it's not clear that it's anything beyond grandstanding," Berger added of the proposal.

    Cahn, in response, said the ordinance "is a public safety issue, not a political issue."

    "We've been working on this a long time. It just so happens it was May when we were able to get our act together on it," Cahn said.

    The proposal seems likely to draw objections from gun control opponents.

    Scott Bach, director of the Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs, said that he believes the Piscataway proposal is unconstitutional because restrictions on locations are the "province of the state," not municipalities.

    "The state has created a careful grid of regulations statewide with regard to firearms sales," Bach, a National Rifle Association board member, said of New Jersey.

    Bach said the Piscataway proposal "doesn't make us any safer."

    "The exercise of a fundamental constitutional right, to protect yourself and your family, poses no danger to the community," Bach said.

    Cahn countered that state law affords municipalities considerable leeway in zoning laws and that the proposal took care to avoid any constitutional conflicts. It does not, for example, seek to completely ban gun shops, add restrictions to gun ownership or prevent private gun sales.

    "We attempted to create an ordinance that properly protected the community but didn't run afoul of the constitution," said Cahn, a member of the council since 2001.

    The zoning restriction would apply to businesses "engaged in the commercial sale and dealing of selling of handguns, longarms, rifles, other legal guns, munitions, and related firearms accessories as provided by state law," according to the ordinance.

    A resolution accompanying the ordinance states that the mayor and council "have identified a major public health concern related to the prevalence of mass gun violence and deaths in certain places that are traditionally focused upon activities in which participants maintain the expectation of being generally free from the fear of such violence."

    Mayor Brian C. Wahler, a Democrat, is up for re-election in 2020.

    Piscataway is home to 56,000 and covers 19 square miles.

    Rob Jennings may be reached at rjennings@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @RobJenningsNJ. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     

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    A former recreation director and ex-college basketball coach was sentenced Friday to a 52-year prison term after he was found guilty of sexually assaulting a teenage basketball player.

    former Dunellen recreation director and ex-Middlesex County College men's basketball coach was sentenced Friday to 52 years in state prison after being found guilty of sexually assaulting a teenage basketball player for nearly two years.

    Christopher Tarver, 47, of Jackson Township, was found guilty on Nov. 15, 2017, by a Middlesex County jury of 20 counts that included second-degree sexual assault, fourth-degree criminal sexual contact, official misconduct and endangering the welfare of a child, according to a news release from the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office.

    ExCoachGuilty.jpgChristopher Tarver (Photo provided) 

    An investigation revealed that between between June 1, 2010, and Dec. 31, 2011, during Tarver's time as a coach and recreation director, he engaged in multiple sexual acts with a child in Edison, Dunellen and Atlantic City, the release stated.

    The investigation began when the victim, who was a member of the Monmouth Power Sports Club, a traveling basketball team affiliated with the Amateur Athletic Union, contacted authorities. Tarver had been the coach and executive director of the team since 1995.

    The prosecutor's office said Tarver had "supervisory power and the legal duty or responsibility for the care of the victim who was under 18 years of age" when the crimes were committed.

    He was also found in possession of child pornography in Jackson Township during the execution of a search warrant, the release stated.

    Tarver also plead guilty on Feb. 22, 2018, under an open plea agreement to four remaining counts in the indictment. Those counts included endangering the welfare of a child by engaging in sexual conduct, two counts of official misconduct, and one count of engaging in a pattern of official misconduct.

    The 28-year sentence Tarver received for those charges in the plea agreement will run concurrently to the 52-year sentence he received for his 2017 trial conviction, the release states.

    Tarver must serve 25 years before he is eligible for parole and must register as a Megan's Law sex offender, authorities said. He was also ordered to be placed on parole supervision for life once he is released from prison.

    A judge ordered a restraining order prohibiting Tarver, or anyone else on his behalf, to contact the victims or their families in any manner. He is also barred from holding any future public employment.

    Tarver began as director of Dunellen Recreation in 2004, but was suspended soon after his arrest in 2014.

    He was also employed as a men's basketball coach at Middlesex County College from 2006 to March 2014. He became the college's head basketball coach in June 2010.

    Chris Sheldon may be reached at csheldon@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrisrsheldon Find NJ.com on Facebook.


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    Carteret High School's students celebrated their prom at The Estate at Farrington Lake in East Brunswick on Friday night.

    It was a night to remember for the students of Carteret High School as they celebrated their prom at The Estate at Farrington Lake in East Brunswick on Friday night. 

    Dress to impress the prom-goers enjoyed the evening as they socialized, posed for photos and danced the night away.

    Check back at nj.com/middlesex for other local high school prom coverage. Also be sure to check out our complete prom coverage at nj.com/prom.

    BUY THESE PHOTOS

    Are you one of the people pictured at this prom? Want to buy the photo and keep it forever? Look for the blue link "buy photo" below the photographer's credit to purchase the picture. You'll have the ability to order prints in a variety of sizes, or products like magnets, keychains, coffee mugs and more.


    Patti Sapone may be reached at psapone@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Instagram @psapo, Twitter @psapone. Follow NJ.com on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

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    Edison High School's students celebrated their prom at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick.

    It was a night to remember for the students of Edison High School as they celebrated their prom at Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick on Friday night. 

    Dress to impress the prom-goers enjoyed the evening as they socialized, posed for photos and danced the night away.

    Check back at nj.com/middlesex for other local high school prom coverage. Also be sure to check out our complete prom coverage at nj.com/prom.

    BUY THESE PHOTOS

    Are you one of the people pictured at this prom? Want to buy the photo and keep it forever? Look for the blue link "buy photo" below the photographer's credit to purchase the picture. You'll have the ability to order prints in a variety of sizes, or products like magnets, keychains, coffee mugs and more.


    Patti Sapone may be reached at psapone@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Instagram @psapo, Twitter @psapone. Follow NJ.com on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.


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    When news came out Friday of five more charges of official misconduct over alleged no-show side job, one of the first commenters chimed in with a familiar retort: "ah yes... Edison again!" Here's a look at the last two years.


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    Finnish filmmaker Marko Vuorinen found rapper Vianey Otero, also known as So Icey Trap, on Instagram. But he wasn't just interested in her music. Something about her drew him to Paterson to spend time learning the story of her life and all of its trauma and heartache.

    Vianey Otero is only 25, but she can tell story upon story about her life.  

    The Paterson rapper, known as So Icey Trap, was kicked her out of her mother's house as a teen after it got raided because her boyfriend was selling drugs. When she was 18, she began working as an escort to make money to help her boyfriend, who had been arrested and jailed.

    She herself was jailed for four months at Rikers Island after being charged with assault following a fight over a boyfriend.

    "I only stabbed somebody like one time," she says in the opening of "Vianey," a documentary screening at the New Jersey International Film Festival on Saturday. "I try not to be so violent." 

    Otero spent a year and a half in Passaic County Jail, beginning when she was 19, after an altercation with a man who claimed that she robbed him. 

    "Well, I almost got killed twice," she says flatly in the film, a meditative, no-frills trip through Otero's journey so far, as told by the Paterson native, accompanied by street sounds and a steady stream of ambient music. "I had got stabbed before." (When Otero finally sought treatment after two days, she developed a staph infection and was hospitalized for more than a month.)

    Otero may be a rapper -- she takes the "So Icey" part of her name from trap pioneer Gucci Mane's former label So Icey Entertainment -- but "Vianey" doesn't focus on her music. It's not so much a film about a rapper as it is about the making of Otero herself. (She will be at the film festival with director Marko Vuorinen for a Q&A session about the film.)

    vianey-documentary-so-icey-trap-vianey-otero-marko-vuorinen.jpgVianey Otero first caught director Marko Vuorinen's eye on Instagram. (Marko Vuorinen)
     

    Apart from Otero's voice, there's only quiet or background sound in the documentary. But even when she's speaking in a hushed or relaxed tone, the story screams. 

    Within three years, which included the period she was interviewed for the film, Otero had to mourn the loss of two people who were close to her -- an ex-boyfriend who was shot and killed and another who died after committing suicide. She had already lost her brother who had been fatally shot during a fight.

    Growing up, she spent time in New Jersey with her mother, who had split from her father (he died when Vianey was 14), and the Bronx, where she attended high school. Otero lives in Paterson, where much of the film takes place. 

    As an underground talent with a devoted Instagram following -- which is how many burgeoning artists now get their start, including the wildly popular Cardi B -- she has performed in New York and beyond. She's best known for swaggering songs including "Walk That Walk" and "Tengo Dinero" (with Miami's La Goony Chonga), in which Otero, whose mother is of Costa Rican and Chinese heritage and whose father was Colombian, raps in Spanish. 

    Yet for much of the documentary, filmed in black and white by director Marko Vuorinen, Otero is not rapping, but staring straight ahead or just "being," either perched on her stoop eating an ice cream bar or sitting in her bedroom as a recording of her voice plays over the footage. 

    "I feel like I don't have to say a lot because my aura says a lot for me," Otero says. "I feel like Marko captured a lot of that from me when I'm silent."

    Vuorinen, 43, is based in Helsinki, Finland. He first encountered Otero on Instagram, and had been following her for a few months when he asked to meet her in New York. Presenting the idea of making a film about her, Vuorinen was immediately compelled by what he calls Otero's "hard-edged strength and sensitivity."

    "I didn't know people from that part of the world could even see my Instagram," she says. "I was just happy he gave me the opportunity to work with him to even give me the chance to be heard."

    Otero, who attended Passaic County Community College before dropping out, says she stopped working as an escort around the time she met Vuorinen.  

    vianey-film.jpgOtero began writing lyrics as as response to a diss song. She wrote in jail as a way to pass the time and express herself but found a purpose when others connected with her music. (Marko Vuorinen)
     

    "For a long time, I hid it," Otero says of her past. She wouldn't openly talk about being a sex worker, though she did eventually tell her mother.

    "I felt better once I spoke about it," she says of the film. "When I did, it was just like a huge weight off my shoulders. I felt happier and I'm glad I did because I felt like it's going to help a lot of people." 

    Otero will be at the New Jersey Film Festival at Rutgers University in New Brunswick with Vuorinen on Saturday for a Q&A session about the film. 

    In "Vianey," Otero recounts the time when she says a man tried to force her and a friend to work for him. They fought back by stealing his car, driving it away and holding it for ransom. The story actually counts as levity in the film, with Otero being able to smile about the tale now that she's no longer in danger. But she still regularly carries a Taser and knife.

    "I look at it back and I'm just like, 'I'm so grateful to be alive,'" she says. "I could have really died. At the time I was so young and ignorant. Now as an adult, I'm just like, 'sheesh.'"

    marko-vuorinen-vianey.jpgDirector Marko Vuorinen.
     

    As a rapper, Otero has also gone by Trap Sade -- on YouTube, both that name and So Icey Trap yield a series of music videos featuring the rapper gesturing and demonstrating her swagger in front of the New York skyline, in sunny California and at a nail salon off Route 4. She's a big fan of both Sade and Amy Winehouse. 

    "I feel like they use their pain -- they embrace what they went through," Otero says. "They use their emotions and embrace it instead of dwelling on it. They use it to be heard."

    The movie was shot over two months in the summer of 2016 in Paterson and New York. Every day, Vuorinen, who completed the film with the help of the Finnish Cultural Institute in New York, would take a jitney bus from the Port Authority to Passaic County.

    "Visually, I loved the corner of Main Street and Broadway," he says. "... In my mind, the location crystallized Paterson." 

    Vuorinen, who has a day job working with in public relations with nonprofit organizations, likes to focus on the perspective of women and cover issues like gender equality. His other films include "Eight," in which women in St. Petersburg, Russia talk about dating and relationships, and "Tamara W.," a film about Tamara Williams, a transgender escort in the Bronx. 

    "My aim wasn't to do a portrait of a rapper," he says of his project with Otero. "It was to do the portrait of a person."

    As an escort, Otero had a job pretending, she explains. Now, all she wants to be is herself. 

    "I wanted to make music for the girls that never felt they were never good enough for anybody, or good enough for society, or didn't feel comfortable in society," she says in the film. 

    Otero initially dove into writing lyrics while she was in jail. But her first foray into recording music came after she got jumped following her stint in Rikers.

    "The girls made a diss song," she says. So she wrote a comeback diss, and a friend asked her to record.

    In the past, Otero had been homeless and held at gunpoint. Now she pays the bills by working as a personal shopper for a store and selling her visual art, which embraces a pop art style and is influenced by her history with graffiti. 

    In May, the Harlem International Film Festival brought "Vianey" to the AMC Magic Johnson.

    For Otero, who grew up going to the theater with her mother, it was an emotional milestone. 

    Did seeing the film give her a different perspective on herself? 

    "Yeah, that I could sound very intellectual," she says. "There's many sides to me that I didn't know." 

    "Vianey" has its New Jersey premiere on Saturday, June 2 at the New Jersey International Film Festival at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. There will be a Q&A with Vianey Otero and director Marko Vuorinen. The lineup starts at 7 p.m. at 71 Hamilton St., Voorhees Hall No. 105; njfilmfest.com.

    The film will also be screened at the FightClubNY Music + Film Festival at Superchief Gallery in New York on June 23; superchiefgallery.com.

     

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

     


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    Woodbridge High School's students celebrated their prom at Grand Marquis in Old Bridge

    It was a night to remember for the students of Woodbridge High School as they celebrated their prom at Grand Marquis in Old Bridge on Friday night. 

    Dress to impress the prom-goers enjoyed the evening as they socialized, posed for photos and danced the night away.

    Check back at nj.com/middlesex for other local high school prom coverage. Also be sure to check out our complete prom coverage at nj.com/prom.

    BUY THESE PHOTOS

    Are you one of the people pictured at this prom? Want to buy the photo and keep it forever? Look for the blue link "buy photo" below the photographer's credit to purchase the picture. You'll have the ability to order prints in a variety of sizes, or products like magnets, keychains, coffee mugs and more.


    Patti Sapone may be reached at psapone@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Instagram @psapo, Twitter @psapone. Follow NJ.com on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.


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    South Brunswick High School's students celebrated their prom at the Grand Marquis inOld Bridge.

    It was a night to remember for the students of South Brunswick High School as they celebrated their prom at Grand Marquis in Old Bridge on Saturday night. 

    Dress to impress the prom-goers enjoyed the evening as they socialized, posed for photos and danced the night away.

    Check back at nj.com/middlesex for other local high school prom coverage. Also be sure to check out our complete prom coverage at nj.com/prom.

    BUY THESE PHOTOS

    Are you one of the people pictured at this prom? Want to buy the photo and keep it forever? Look for the blue link "buy photo" below the photographer's credit to purchase the picture. You'll have the ability to order prints in a variety of sizes, or products like magnets, keychains, coffee mugs and more.

    Patti Sapone may be reached at psapone@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Instagram @psapo, Twitter @psapone. Follow NJ.com on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.


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    Westfield High School enjoyed their prom on Saturday at the Pines Manor in Edison.

    Westfield High School's students celebrated their prom on Saturday at the Pines Manor in Edison. 

    Dressed to impress the prom-goers enjoyed the evening as they socialized, posed for photos and danced the night away.

    Check back at nj.com/union for other local high school prom coverage. And be sure to check out our complete prom coverage at nj.com/prom. 

    BUY THESE PHOTOS

    Are you one of the people pictured at this prom? Want to buy the photo and keep it forever? Look for the blue link "buy photo" below the photographer's credit to purchase the picture. You'll have the ability to order prints in a variety of sizes, or products like magnets, keychains, coffee mugs and more.

    Patti Sapone may be reached at psapone@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Instagram @psapo, Twitter @psapone. Follow NJ.com on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.


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