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Following wave of hit-and-run deaths in Western Queens, Van Bramer aims to get tough on those who flee

Luis Bravo killed crossing Broadway (Sept. 2013)

Luis Bravo killed crossing Broadway (Sept. 2013)

Sept. 4, By Christian Murray

In the past year, three pedestrians were run down and killed while crossing the streets of Western Queens. On all three occasions, the driver fled. And on all three occasions, no one has been caught.

This was the story behind the death of Luis Bravo, 19, who was killed last September crossing Broadway in Woodside; as well as Karen Pheras, 20, who was killed around the same time crossing Queens Plaza North; as well as Kumar Ragunath, 64, who was struck and killed in March, crossing Northern Boulevard in Long Island City.

All three dead, with their grieving relatives not knowing what happened.

In the wake of these incidents, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer introduced legislation earlier this year calling for tougher penalties on drivers who flee the scene. The bill was discussed at a Transportation Committee hearing in city hall yesterday and the families of some of the victims spoke.

“It’s something you never get over,” Maribel Egipciaco, a relative of Luis Bravo, told CBS News yesterday.”The pain is unbearable, the pain stays,” she said, adding that she hopes stiffer penalties could prevent future tragedies.

The bill would impose a maximum “civil” penalty of $5,000 for any driver who hits someone and takes off.

“We need to establish penalties that deter people from the leaving the scene,” Van Bramer said. “People should stop and call the police and see if they can help…leaving them to die is brutal and cruel and people need to be punished.”

Currently this is no “civil” penalty in New York if someone leaves the scene of a hit-and-run.

Criminal penalties are determined by the state lawmakers.

“When Luis Bravo was struck, we don’t know if he was alive afterward,” Van Bramer said. “Maybe he could have been saved if he got medical attention in time.”

For further coverage:

Speed zones coming to Sunnyside/Woodside, with speed bumps and signage

Sunnyside Gardens/Woodside Slow Zone

Sunnyside Gardens/Woodside Slow Zone

slowzone-250August 3, By Christian Murray

The Department of Transportation has put forward detailed plans that are expected to bring two slow zones to the residential streets of Sunnyside and Woodside by the end of the year.

The plans call for a slow zone that would cover the northern section of Sunnyside/Woodside and a separate zone than would cover the southern section of Sunnyside/Woodside.

Slow zones, upon entry, are marked by large blue signs that state the 20 mph speed limit. Within a zone, speed bumps and 20 mph markings are on some of the streets.

The two zones were selected by the Department of Transportation after the agency reviewed Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer’s request for them, which provided details such as the number of crashes, schools and daycare centers in the area.

The zone that covers the northern section of Sunnyside/Woodside has been named the “Sunnyside Garden-Woodside Slow Zone” by the Department of Transportation.

That zone is bound by 43rd Street to the West; Queens Blvd and Roosevelt Avenue to the south; 38th Avenue and Barnett Ave to the north; and 58th Street to the east.

Since 2007, there has been one death in that zone, with many people severely injured. Furthermore, there are six schools/daycare centers in the area.

The Department of Transportation proposal calls for the addition of 19 speed bumps to the “Sunnyside Garden-Woodside Slow Zone,” on top of the 13 that are already there. In addition, there would be 19 entrances to the slow zone that would be marked by the blue 20 mph gateway sign.

Meanwhile, on the south side of Queens Blvd, the slow zone—called the “Sunnyside Slow Zone” is bound by 36th Street to the west; 51st to the east; Queens Blvd to the north; and Laurel Hill Blvd to the south.

The Department of Transportation plans on adding 20 speed bumps to the existing eight speed bumps. There will be 32 entry points that will be marked by blue 20 mph gateway signs.

There have been four deaths in this zone since 2007, with many serious injuries. There are also four schools in the zone.

The DOT of transportation said that the speed zones help reduce injuries and deaths. It said that a pedestrian hit at 40 mph only has a 30% chance of surviving, while one hit at 20 mph has a 95% chance of surviving.

Community Board 2 is planning on holding a public meeting on the plans that is likely to take place within the next two weeks.

Sunnyside Slow Zone

Sunnyside Slow Zone

Full Presentation:

2014 09 02 Slow Zone Sunnyside and Sundside Gardens Woodside(1) by sunnysidepost

New Sunnyside elementary school opens Thursday, as pols aim to reduce school overcrowding

PS 343

Sept.2, By Christian Murray

The new elementary school on 42nd Street in Sunnyside opens for the first time Thursday, which public officials and parents say was desperately needed to help combat school overcrowding.

The new school, PS 343, is a 5-story building with 430 seats for students from pre-K through 5th grade. It is located at 45-46 42nd Street (btwn Queens Blvd and 47th Avenue), which was once the home of the Sunnyside Jewish Center.

Construction started on the school in January 2013 after the School Construction Authority decided to purchase the lot at the end of 2010. Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who pointed out the site to the SCA, said at the time that while the lot is small the city has to take advantage of buying viable sites.

PS 343, which was initially called PS 313 until the name changed over summer, will cater to Pre-K, kindergarten and first grade students. The school will not be completely full with PS 343 students until the first grade students reach 5th grade.

However, for this year, many students from PS 199 will be utilizing the space, as they wait for St. Teresa’s classrooms to be revamped. Therefore, between students from PS 199 and PS 343, about 300 seats will be used.

Van Bramer said that the new seats will help alleviate school overcrowding. “I think we have more to do to end overcrowding but it is a terrific step forward,” he said. “We will have 430 students in a great school, with the resources they need.”

The school is 75,000 sqf. and features a clock tower, a play area on the roof and 20 classrooms.  It also includes a full library, art room and science facilities. Furthermore, there is a gymnatorium, which combines the auditorium space with the gym.

The principal of the new school is Sunnyside resident Brooke Barr, who is a career educator, Van Bramer said.

The school has a red-brick exterior and blends in with the existing seven-story apartment building on one side and a row of low-rise brick homes on the other.

“Building a school is one of the most significant things we can do,” Van Bramer said.”We will not only be educating our children this year but for the next 100 years.”

The school cost the city $57 million. Furthermore, it cost the life of man who died during construction when he fell down an elevator shaft.

Students who would have ordinarily gone to PS 199 are likely to be the biggest beneficiaries of PS 343.

“We have 1,048 students in a building designed for 650 children,” said Anthony Inzerillo, the principal of PS199, last year at the groundbreaking. “We even use locker rooms as classrooms.”

Location of new school at 45-46 42nd St. (file art)

Empty site prior to new school

Van Bramer said that he has done a great deal to help address the issue of school overcrowding in the 4 1/2 years he has been office. He said PS 343 is one of six school buildings that have been erected or are schedule to go up in the 26th council district since taking office. This, he said, equates to about 3,000 seats.

The School Construction Authority is in the midst of constructing an elementary school, PS 339, in Woodside (at 39th Avenue and 57th Street) that will cater to 470 students. It is scheduled to open in September 2015.

Meanwhile, an additional 350 seats will be added at PS 11 (54-25 Skillman Avenue) upon the completion of an annex, which is expected to be ready by Sept 2016.

Furthermore, a new building is being erected at IS 125 that will seat 600 students. That is expected to be completed by fall of 2016.

However, Van Bramer said he is looking for other school sites—particularly for a middle school in the Sunnyside/Woodside area.

He said that the School Construction Authority is currrently evaluating whether the proposed FDNY site at 39-34 43rd Street would be a viable location.

‘Bar Rescue’ draws hundreds to Sunnyside, as many look to check out the new Jack’s Ale House


JacksBarAugust 30, By Christian Murray

Hundreds of fans lined Skillman Avenue Friday night waiting to get inside the revamped Jack’s Ale House and become part of the Spike TV reality show Bar Rescue.

The fans waited until 11 pm to be get inside, where they were greeted to several TV cameras and cheers from the three McGowan brothers–John, Jimmy and Brian– who own the establishment.

Bar Rescue, a show starring the hard-charging nightlife expert Jon Taffer, helps troubled bars come back from the brink.

Taffer and his crew revamped the 39-46 Skillman Avenue bar in recognition of the firefighting background of the McGowan brothers—all three of whom are current or former firefighters.

The establishment is now called Jack’s Fire Dept and the exterior resembles a firehouse—complete with the name: “Lad Co. 39-46 NY.” Inside, the front of a fire engine juts out from the wall accentuating the theme. Furthermore, there is firefighting equipment and various motifs placed throughout the bar.

The name “Jack” remains, since the name is in honor of the McGowan brothers’ late father.

Taffer unveiled the do-over to the McGowan brothers—and family—at about 7:30 pm after he gave them a pep talk in preparation of the night (see photo below). The family screamed with excitement when they opened the doors to the bar and noticed the transformation.

Many people showed up to support the McGowans. For instance,  firefighters from FDNY’s Ladder Company 161 parked outside the the bar for 30 minutes to celebrate the occasion. Many who lined up outside were family friends.

More than 500 people waited in line to get in last night. The line went from the corner of Skillman and 40th Street all the way to 39th Place, before wrapping around the corner.

Once inside, the production company was strict about letting anyone take photos—particularly of Taffer.

Bar Rescue 001

‘Bar Rescue’ to unveil the revamped Jack’s Ale House tonight, public invited

39-46 Skillman Avenue

39-46 Skillman Avenue

August 29, By Christian Murray

The unveiling of the new Jack’s Ale House—or, perhaps, a renamed version of the bar—takes place at 9pm tonight and the public is invited to come.

Workers have been feverishly redoing the interior and exterior of the 39-46 Skillman Avenue establishment since Wednesday and the bar already has undergone a great deal of change.

The Spike TV show “Bar Rescue,” a reality-TV show that helps bar owners bring back their bar from the brink, has been shooting at the establishment all week and the revamp will be complete tonight.

Brian McGowan, one of three brothers who own the establishment, said the whole experience has been an emotional roller coaster.

“It’s been amazing,” he said. “It’s brought our family back together again. Many family issues have been resolved as a result of the show—from how we run the bar to past money issues.”

Brian and his brothers Jimmy and John are all New York City firefighters—although John has now retired. Brian received an award last year for saving 3 children from a burning building in the Bronx.

The show stars bar-expert Jon Taffer, who is known to be mercilessly tough—tackling everything from the perfect pour to the height of the bar stools.

Brian said that the Taffer is no different in person as to what you see on the show. On Monday, “He ripped us all a new A-hole and then walked out of the bar,” he said. However, he added, Taffer has a “heart of gold.”

Jack’s Ale House was selected to go on the show after Jimmy’s wife Christine sent an e-mail to the producers last year. From there, the McGowans’ bar was selected from about 500 establishments after a series of interviews that started in January.

Brian, who has no idea how the bar will look tonight, said this morning that he was “nervous and excited.”

He said that people interested in coming to the bar tonight should come early. He said the bar has a capacity for about 200 people and that when it opened on Wednesday while filming the “stress test” 400 people showed up, with many people not getting in.

The show featuring Jack’s Ale House is likely to air in November.

Big drop off in crime, although many outstanding cases remain unsolved

Police precinct 108

Police precinct 108

August 28, By Christian Murray

While the crime rate has plummeted this summer across the 108 police precinct, there still remains many unsolved local cases.

The number of reported crimes for the 28 day period ending Sunday, August 24, dropped 28% — from 118 reported incidents to 85 – compared to the same period a year ago, according to Captain Brian Hennessy, the commanding officer of the 108 precinct, which covers Sunnyside, Woodside and Long Island City.

With the quiet summer, crime in the precinct is down 2.4% year-to-date.

However, a number of local crimes have yet to be solved. The perpetrator who took $2,000 at gunpoint from Sunnyside Gardens Market (46-01 Skillman Avenue) on August 1 has yet to be apprehended and there are a number of old murder cases that have yet to be closed.

The Lou Rispoli murder, which took place outside 41-00 43rd Avenue on Oct. 12, 2012, remains unsolved and the internal investigation dealing with the police’s response has yet to be made public.

Meanwhile cases such as the homeless man beaten to death in Sabba Park on Sept 7, 2013, has yet to be closed—and no one has been arrested for the murder of Young Joo Byun, who was found in a garbage back in the trunk of her car that was parked near 61st Street and Queens Blvd on May 23, 2013.

However, crime is down significantly across most of the major crime categories in the past 28 days—from felony assaults, grand larcenies, burglaries, robberies and stolen vehicles.

There were seven felony assaults in the precinct for the 28-day period ended August 24, compared to 18 for the same period last year.

“Last year we had a number of assaults near bars and clubs,” Hennessy said. This summer, a greater number of officers focused on bars on the late-night tours, he added.

There were 32 grand larcenies in the 28-day period—many from auto break-ins—down from 49 for the same period last year.

Last summer there were several incidents where criminals broke into cars and stole handbags and laptops—particularly in certain sections of Long Island City and Woodside.

“We have locked up quite a few individuals [for these crimes],” Hennessy said, many of whom have been incarcerated since. He said the precinct has made 30 arrests so far this year for people breaking into cars—double the number from last year.

The number of burglaries dropped in the past 28 days. The precinct reported 18 residential burglaries for the 28-day period, down from 20 for the same period a year ago.

There were five burglaries in the greater Sunnyside area—from 39th Street to 50th Street (Barnett Ave. to 48th Avenue)—during the period. There were four in a small section of Woodside—between 69th and 71st Streets (Roosevelt and 41st Ave). Most were scattered throughout the precinct.

There were 13 stolen vehicles—down from 15– during the 28-day-period.

Thieves continue to target motorcycles. There have been 25 motorbikes stolen in the precinct this year, representing well over a quarter of the 92 vehicles taken this year. Furthermore, many of the cars stolen have been Ford Econoline vans—which the thieves use to cart away the motorbikes.

There were no murders in the 28 day period. Through August 24, there have been 2 murders so far this year—compared to 3 for same period a year ago.

There were 2 rapes reported during the 28-day period, up from one a year ago. In both incidents, the victim knew the alleged perpetrator prior to the incident.

The police have targeted bicyclists this summer. In the past 28 days, 105 tickets were issued—representing more tickets than for the entire 2013 year.

“The majority of the tickets were for disobeying stop signs and going through red lights,” Hennessy said.

The clamp down is part of the city’s focus on Vision Zero, which aims to reduce the number of traffic fatalities to zero.

“This time last year there were 12 fatals in car accidents,” Hennessy said, referring to the 108 precinct. “We have had zero so far this year.”

Captain Brian Hennessy

Captain Brian Hennessy


‘Bar Rescue’ comes to Jack’s Ale House in Sunnyside

Bar Rescue 003

August 26, By Christian Murray

The Spike TV show “Bar Rescue” is currently shooting at a Sunnyside establishment.

Jon Taffer, the tough-talking nightlife expert who is the star of the show, is at Jack’s Ale House at 39-46 Skillman Avenue this week providing the owners with advice as to how they should maximize its potential.

Bar Rescue is a show that helps bar owners bring back their establishment from the brink. Taffer and his crew tend to be mercilessly tough—tackling everything from the perfect pour to the height of the bar stools.

Jack’s Ale House is owned by Sunnyside resident Brian McGowan and his two brothers, Jimmy and John. The three are all firefighters (although John has retired) and have deep roots in Sunnyside.

Jack’s Ale House was formerly known as the Firewater Inn, which the McGowan’s late father Jack opened in 1986.

The McGowan’s changed the name of the bar in honor of their late father Jack when they revamped the bar in 2013.

The following is a clip from a previous show:

Van Bramer recounts the time his family was in a shelter, in aim to humanize the plight of the homeless

Jimmy Van Bramer (R) with his father and sister.

Jimmy Van Bramer (R) with his father and sister.

August 25, By Christian Murray

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer wrote an op-ed that was published in the Daily News Sunday that detailed how he and his family were homeless when he was a young boy.

Van Bramer said his decision to write the op-ed was inspired by a series of meetings that he had recently held with city officials concerning the number of homeless families in New York City—and some of the rancor concerning the opening of some Queens shelters.

The meetings came in the wake of the outcry from many Queens residents about the opening of an emergency shelter at the former Pan Am Hotel on Queens Blvd in Elmhurst, as well as the opening of the Westway Motel in East Elmhurst.

“Some of the ugly things that people said in front of these [homeless] children have been horrible,” Van Bramer said, referring to the Pan Am protests [see video below]. “These are innocent children who are in shelters through no fault of their own.”

Van Bramer also said that he wrote the article to expose some of the myths and stereotypes that are out there concerning homeless people.

“The myth is that these people don’t want to work,” he said. However, “that’s false…since so many homeless people do work and just don’t have enough money to get by.”

Furthermore, these people don’t want to be in homeless shelters long term—much like his parents didn’t want to be either.

Van Bramer said his family’s situation was emblematic of many homeless people’s story today. His family stayed with financially-strapped uncles and aunts– before they had no choice but to go to a shelter.

“My family’s journey into and out of homelessness began like so many others then and now,” Van Bramer wrote in the Daily News. “Dad was drinking heavily, money got tight, some poor decisions were made, and a family teetered on the brink of despair as a result.”

Van Bramer’s father, who worked as a journeyman pressman, eventually found accommodation in a small tenement after being in a shelter for six weeks.

“These are not horrible people out to destroy neighborhoods…these are folks who are down on their luck whose children are in need,” Van Bramer said.

Van Bramer said he was hopeful that people might be more empathetic to the plight of the homeless after learning how a middle class councilman was once homeless.

For the Van Bramer op-ed click here:

Jimmy Van Bramer

Jimmy Van Bramer

By Jimmy Van Bramer

A young father enters a colorless room holding his infant son while his wife sits nearby trying to believe this isn’t happening. Their older kids, not much older than the infant, stay close. They are all tired and they are all homeless. The father tells the intake worker that they had been staying with friends but had to leave and now have nowhere else to turn. He asks for help because they have no money and his baby son just needs a bottle of milk.

The father is 25, it is 1970 in New York City, and I am that baby boy.

For the rest, click here.

Bicyclists come to Sunnyside to support bike-friendly businesses, call for bike lane on QBlvd.


bikesunnyside1August 24, By Christian Murray

A group of about 60 bicyclists took a tour around Sunnyside Saturday, visiting six “bike-friendly” bars/restaurants in the neighborhood.

The event was put on by Transportation Alternatives, a group that advocates for safer streets, which marked Sunnyside as the first “Bike Friendly Business District” in Queens.

Julie Roberts Dubovsky, co-chair of the Queens division of Transportation Alternatives, said yesterday that there are 70 businesses in Sunnyside that are “bike friendly”—a number that led it to give the neighborhood its own designation.

She said that bike friendly business districts tend to be more vibrant and boost retail activity by more than 10%– which is good for both store owners and cyclists alike.

The 70 businesses were deemed “bike friendly” for supporting Transportation Alternatives’ campaign for a safer Queens Boulevard.

Transportation Alternatives is calling on the Department of Transportation to study—and ultimately—redesign Queens Boulevard, and has been soliciting the help of local businesses and the community board. In 2013, six people were killed on Queens Boulevard and more than 150 pedestrians and cyclists were injured.

The advocacy group is also calling for a dedicated bike lane on Queens Boulevard, which it believes is a realistic goal.

The event kicked off at Bliss Street Plaza (46th and Queens Blvd) and the cyclists—and some pedestrians—then went on to Aubergine Café, Bar 43, Café Columbia, Go Natural, Arriba Arriba and Jack’s Ale House in support of these bike friendly businesses.

The event took place at the right time—since the Department of Transportation has been installing bike racks throughout the neighborhood in the past two weeks—from Queens Blvd to Skillman Avenue.

Outside each venue, there were mountains of bikes everywhere as the riders went inside to purchase food/drinks to show their support for bike friendly business.

Elected officials Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and State Sen. Mike Gianaris were there to promote the initiative, with both politicians lauding the city’s vision zero campaign and voicing their support for more bike lanes.

Van Bramer, who was on his blue bicycle, completed the tour—bouncing from venue to venue.

A spokeswoman for Transportation Alternatives is hopeful that a dedicated bike lane will come to Queens Blvd and that traffic engineers will figure out a way like they did with many streets in Manhattan.

“No one would have thought that bike lanes would have gone there [years ago],” she said.

Gianaris, who also said that installing bike lanes on Queen’s Blvd is a realistic goal, said it is about changing people’s mindset. “Streets are not just for cars but they are for cyclists too,” he said.


Veteran dentist to leave Sunnyside–unable to renew lease


bank siteAugust 21, By Christian Murray

Long-time Sunnyside dentist Dr. Arthur Kubikian will be closing his practice later this year—following his inability to renew his lease.

Kubikian, who has maintained an office at 43-34 43rd Street for nearly 15 years, is a tenant in the former Dime Bank building that was sold at the end of 2012 for $6.675 million. The building, which used to contain a Dime branch, is currently occupied by Center Cinemas, Kubikian and PJ Horgan’s.

Kubikian, who runs the practice with his wife Dr. Louiza Puskulian-Kubikian, is required to vacate the space by November 1.

“I thought we had the right to renew the lease for another five years but when their lawyers looked through the documents they showed us that we couldn’t,” Kubikian said. “We were surprised.”

Kubikian was not offered a new lease.

Kubikian, who has had a practice in Sunnyside since 1977 (with his first office on Queens Boulevard), said that he will be relocating to New Hyde Park and is hoping that many of his patients will stick with him. He said that he will be closing his Sunnyside office in the middle of October and is getting the word out now about his departure.

Meanwhile, Center Cinemas’ lease comes to an end December 31 and Rudy Prichard, the owner of the movie theater, has yet to hear whether his lease will be renewed. He is not hopeful.

As for PJ Horgan’s, its lease ends June 2018. The owner of the bar could not be reached for comment.

The former bank building, on paper, is owned by 45-25 Queens Boulevard Realty Corp.

However, according to several sources, Gina Argento, the president of Broadway Stages, the Brooklyn-based TV and movie production company, is the owner.

Argento could not be reached for comment.