You are the owner of this page.
A1 A1
Edward Lea / Staff Photographer 

Kevin Smith, right Ocean City head football coach watch Jaden Rogers, 16 , middle of Ocean City hits the mechanical tackling dummy during practice Wednesday Nov 14, 2018. It is supposed to be a safer way to practice and it’s an interesting story. I just want photos and videos of the team using the dummy. Press of Atlantic City / Edward Lea Staff Photographer

Egg Harbor City teen arrested in murder of Ventnor man

VENTNOR — Sunil Edla was planning for the holidays. He was days away from traveling to India to visit family. And he was thinking about his soon-to-be retirement.

According to family, 61-year-old Edla had a lot to look forward to in the coming weeks and next year, before he was fatally shot outside his Nashville Avenue apartment Thursday night amid a torrential coastal storm.

A 16-year-old from Egg Harbor City was arrested in Edla’s death, Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner announced Friday night.

According to a statement from the Prosecutor’s Office, Ventnor police received a report of a man down about 8 p.m. Thursday. Authorities believe the teen, whose name is being withheld due to his age, shot Edla and took his car, a 2002 Subaru Forester SUV. Atlantic City police found the vehicle later in the 1600 block of Sewell Avenue.

Authorities tracked the teen using the Atlantic City Surveillance Center, Tyner said. He was found and arrested at 10:18 a.m. Friday in the 1500 block of Sewell Avenue.

The teen was charged with murder, felony murder, robbery, carjacking, unlawful possession of a handgun and possession of a handgun for unlawful purpose.

He is being held at the Harborfields Juvenile Detention Center in Egg Harbor City.

An autopsy performed Friday revealed Edla died of multiple gunshot wounds, Tyner said.

Cousin Raj Casula spoke about Edla on Friday while fighting back tears.

“He was humble. He never argued,” Casula said of his cousin. “I helped him when he came to U.S. in 1987. I was very close to him.”

Edla, a father of two and grandfather, was a 30-year resident of Atlantic County and worked in Atlantic City’s hospitality industry.

Just before 8 p.m. Thursday, family members said, Edla was leaving his home to work the overnight shift at the North Carolina Avenue Rodeway Inn in Atlantic City.

According to family, he started his car then went back in the house briefly. After walking back down the second-floor apartment stairs, he was shot on the sidewalk and left for dead.

Ventnor police Chief Doug Biagi deferred all comment to the Prosecutor’s Office but said they’ve posted an officer in the neighborhood “just to ease anybody’s fears.”

Family friend Dave Nethagani said Edla was a kind man and active in the community. Nethagani said Edla was best known for playing piano during church services at Chelsea Community Presbyterian Church in Atlantic City.

“Everyone was calling him and talking to him because he was leaving for India so soon,” said Casula. Edla had planned a two-month trip to India to visit his mother for her 95th birthday and celebrate Christmas with family.

“He had everything planned out for months. … He was leaving on the 27th and he planned everything he was going to do in India for every day,” Casula said.

Neighbors said they were stunned something like this happened.

Fred Borsani and his family have lived on Nashville Avenue for 45 years. Borsani, 69, said Friday he didn’t hear the incident just two homes down, possibly due to the storm, but was alerted when authorities knocked on his door Thursday night.

“The police were out here until 12:30 a.m.,” he said.

Home security surveillance footage from neighbors down and across the street were turned over to authorities as evidence. Borsani said he installed security cameras to protect his property and outdoor décor from theft, but this is the first time he has been asked about a violent crime on his block.

“We lock everything up, we have sensors on the driveway,” said Borsani. Pointing out street-facing windows, he said, “I’ve considered bulletproof windows for the front.”

Stockton opens student food pantry in Atlantic City

ATLANTIC CITY — For Stockton University freshman Cailey Jablonski, the stress of college doesn’t just stem from essays and exams.

The 19-year-old spent her summer in Columbus, Burlington County, paying $275 a week to live in a cramped motel after a bad family situation left her homeless.

She moved into Stockton’s Atlantic City campus in September, but like thousands of students across the country, Jablonski still couldn’t afford one basic necessity: groceries.

“A lot of people don’t realize when you’re struggling how valuable food becomes,” Jablonski said.

A month later, she signed up for Stockton’s food assistance program.

Tucked away in a small corner on the ground floor of the residential building is a makeshift food pantry. About a half-dozen tall, gray cabinets filled with rice, milk cartons and toiletries are lined up side by side.

Every day before class, Jablonski heads to the newly opened food pantry and picks up boxes of mac-and-cheese and cereal.

Nearly 150 students across the Galloway Township and Atlantic City campuses have applied for the program, which also gives access to food vouchers that can be used at any dining hall.

All together, the program has a $30,000 budget.

The idea for the pantry was born over a year ago, when Assistant Dean of Students Haley Baum was looking over architectural plans for the Atlantic City campus. She spotted a tiny enclave in the blueprints and envisioned it filled with shelves stocked with non-perishables.

“College campuses are an example of the world around us,” said Baum. “We have all different types of people from different backgrounds and with varying needs here. ... Food is just one of them.”

And the need is growing, Baum said. About 36 percent of students at four-year institutions reported having “low” or “very low” food security, according to a 2018 survey from researchers at HOPE Lab.

The Community FoodBank of New Jersey, Southern Branch, in Egg Harbor Township donates pantry supplies to Stockton on a bi-weekly basis. Faculty and staff pitch in, too.

To supplement, Baum goes shopping at wholesalers equipped with a handful of coupons. She uses part of the program’s budget and some of her own money to purchase favorites among college students, such as Ramen noodles and pasta.

“We have more and more students signing up for the program, so we have less and less (supplies),” Baum said.

Stockton’s food pantry was inspired by others sprouting up at South Jersey colleges over the past two years, including Rowan University and Rutgers University-Camden.

At Rowan, the move came after a campus-wide survey in 2017 found at least 15 percent of undergraduates there faced food insecurity, or a lack of access to affordable, healthy food.

“Not everybody has what they need,” Baum said. “We wanted to make sure we’re reaching all our students.”

Pleasantville poll worker drank beer, returned votes late

It was dark outside when poll worker Thomas Hurst got home from his shift on Election Day.

A batch of 26 provisional ballots meant to be dropped off with election officials after polls closed sat in the backseat of his Chevrolet Lumina, as he went inside his house to drink a beer.

On Friday, a judge decided a majority of those votes can be counted. Hurst, 69, returned the ballots to the proper location in Northfield two hours late after police came knocking on his door.

“In my defense, this was my first job as an election worker,” Hurst told Superior Court Judge Joseph Marczyk on Friday in Atlantic County Civil Court. “I was somewhat inexperienced in when the materials had to be returned.”

Judge to decide fate of missing ballots in Pleasantville race

MAYS LANDING — Republican Brian L. Smith appeared to have defeated Democrat Ric Brozosky by 13 votes in Northfield’s Ward 1 council race, after mail-in and provisional ballots were counted Thursday night at the Atlantic County Board of Elections.

Marczyk ordered that all 26 ballots be counted, except for two that were unsealed.

Testifying in court, Hurst said the ballots were locked in the backseat of his car unsupervised for about an hour and a half while he drank one Genesee Ice beer and relaxed inside his Pleasantville residence.

About 9:30 p.m., concern set in among elections officials when they noticed Hurst had not yet returned the ballots, a report from the Atlantic County Superintendent of Elections indicates.

Two police officers arrived at Hurst’s home 30 minutes later to tell him he had to return the voting materials.

It was 10:15 p.m. when Hurst finally brought the ballots to the warehouse and gave a statement to the Superintendent of Elections and authorities.

Murphy says state won’t be Bigfoot in Atlantic City takeover

ATLANTIC CITY — Gov. Phil Murphy spoke with optimism about Atlantic City eventually regaining local control Thursday at the New Jersey State League of Municipalities convention, even as he signed an executive order creating a new, state-led council to coordinate initiatives in the city.

“I smelled what I believed to be liquor coming from (Hurst) when he spoke,” Superintendent of Elections Maureen G. Bugdon said in the report. An officer drove Hurst back to his home because others “also smelled alcohol” on his breath.

Hurst told Marczyk he did not receive clear instructions from county elections officials about his duties as a courier. He believed he could return ballots the next morning.

“(I hoped) that I could get them there the next morning, which I understand is a mistake,” Hurst said.

In court, William Sacchinelli, clerk of the Board of Elections, defended the thoroughness of the training poll workers receive.

He said he informed Hurst about double-sealing provisional ballots and when to return them after polls close.

Attorneys for both political parties were in court Friday to present arguments.

Gilliam agrees not to attend League of Municipalities lunch

ATLANTIC CITY — Mayor Frank Gilliam, who recently was involved in a late-night fight outside a casino that left him with a black eye, did not show up for a scheduled lunch speech at the New Jersey State League of Municipalities conference Wednesday afternoon.

Colin Bell, representing the Atlantic County Democratic Committee, said the ballots should be counted to avoid disenfranchising voters.

“This is not the voters’ fault and ought not be held against the voter,” Bell said.

The Superintendent of Elections report did not mention any stray marks or erasures on the ballots, or that Hurst’s car had been broken into. Officers who went to Hurst’s house that night told election officials they did not see him exit his residence with the ballots.

Randolph Lafferty, an attorney for the Atlantic County Republican Committee, argued the ballots should not be counted because the votes had been unsupervised for two hours.

“What we’re trying to do is preserve and protect the integrity of the election. … We’re not seeking to exclude votes,” Lafferty said.

The outcome of Pleasantville’s City Council race won’t be affected by the provisional ballots.

Democrat Tony Davenport and Lockland Scott won two seats on the council, with 767 and 1,480 votes, respectively, based on unofficial results.

Lawsuit: Ex-Ocean City officer was sexually harassed by male coworkers

OCEAN CITY — A former city police officer alleges in a lawsuit she was routinely sexually harassed by male officers during her nine years on the force.

Vanessa Strunk contends that between 2009 and 2018 she was frequently bullied by male officers who spread rumors about her having an affair, stole and displayed her underwear in the police locker room, and insinuated she could not do her job because she was a woman.

City spokesman Doug Bergen said the lawsuit was filed by a “disgruntled former employee.”

“The suit in no way reflects the respect, integrity, dedication and good work of the men and women of the Ocean City Police Department,” Bergen said.

The city denied charges of sexual harassment and workplace retaliation in an answer to the complaint filed last week and contends that Strunk “welcomed and/or participated in the conduct of which he or she now complains.”

“Through the courts, we will determine what it is we agree on and what it is we disagree on,” said John Grady, an attorney representing the city.

Strunk left the department in May. She is represented by attorney Sebastian Ionno, who did not return a request for comment.

“(A) hostile work environment on the basis of gender was perpetrated with the knowledge, approval and direct involvement of upper management personnel within the OCPD,” the 21-page complaint filed in Cape May County Superior Court in September reads.

The harassment began in June 2009, the suit claims, when Officer Matthew Schaffer sent Strunk text messages “demanding that she attend a party with him” and became pushy when she declined.

Another officer told Schaffer he was being inappropriate, and Schaffer allegedly replied, “You don’t know who you’re messing with.”

In September 2013, Strunk contends she was again subjected to discrimination when Officer Eugene Sharpe did not allow her to escort a prisoner “in case something happened,” suggesting Strunk could not perform her job based on her gender, according to the suit.

The complaint alleges officers often spoke disparagingly about women on the force, including in 2014 when Schaffer allegedly made lewd comments to Strunk.

Another incident left Strunk feeling “harassed and humiliated” in June 2017, according to the lawsuit, after Lt. Charles Simonson removed Strunk’s underwear from her locker and displayed them in the police locker room.

The lawsuit also states Strunk was accused of being involved in a domestic violence incident in which she allegedly pointed a gun at her husband while intoxicated, which she denied.

Strunk initially feared workplace retaliation if she reported misconduct to management, the suit claims, but she complained to her union representative for the first time in 2015. She contends her supervisor, Simonson, gave her a formal reprimand as retaliation, and that this pattern of reprisal continued until she left the department May 10.

Strunk left following an investigation into her “possibly inappropriate recording of video” from the police surveillance system, which she used to document concerns of another officer violating firearms safety procedures, according to the complaint.

In its response, the city admitted to an incident in October 2017 in which Strunk alleges Simonson gave her a mock performance review stating “Vanessa is a pain in the ass and complains about being a woman every four or five days.” The city said Strunk was aware the evaluation was a joke.

Strunk had been disciplined in the past for using sexually explicit language in public while she was in the police academy and for inappropriate conduct while consuming alcohol, the city said in its answer to the complaint.

Also named in the suit are acting Chief of Internal Affairs John Prettyman and police Chief Chad Callahan.