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Man killed by livery cab run down

A twenty-six-year-old Bronx man identified as Rony Mejia, died after being hit by two livery cabs on Pelham Parkway early Sunday morning.

Bronx 12 News reports:


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Bronx gang member convicted once, now tried again for the same murder

The second day in the retrial of a Bronx gang member charged with killing a 10-year-old girl and paralyzing another Bronx man began with pointed cross examination of the defendant’s St. James Boys associate, the prosecution’s key witness.

Enrique Sanchez, stony and monosyllabic, recalled very little about the shootings or their aftermath in his nearly three-hour testimony in Bronx Supreme Court yesterday. On trial is Edgar Morales, who is being charged with murder, attempted murder, conspiracy and possession of a deadly weapon for the 12-year-old incident.

Morales’s original trial gained fame when the Bronx District Attorney charged him in 2007 with a slew of offenses, including terrorism for “striking fear in the hearts of residents and business owners.” Morales, now 32, became the first lone gang member convicted under the new terrorism statute that was passed days after the 9/11 attacks. The charge that was accompanied by a stiffer jail sentence was overruled as overreaching by the State’s Court of Appeals two years ago. It then ordered a new trial.

The original crime took place on the evening of August 17, 2002, when the St. James Boys street gang erupted into an argument that turned fatal at a christening celebration at St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran church in Parkchester. Ten-year-old Melanny Mendez died after a stray bullet struck her in the back of the head. Javier Tocchimani, a rival gang member, was paralyzed after being shot three times.

Both Morales and Sanchez were present at the scene of the crime. Sanchez told the court he was drunk at the time of the incident and that he only saw someone get hit by the bullet.

Morales’ defense team attempted to discredit Sanchez’s testimony by making references to conflicting accounts he has given over the last seven years in court, in interviews, and to detectives as far away as Arizona. Sanchez’s primary response to a majority of the questions asked during cross examination was, “I don’t remember.”

Eventually the defense asked, “Is your entire story about Edgar Morales doing the shooting a total fabrication?” Sanchez replied with the familiar, “I don’t remember.”

Sanchez was arrested in March 2004 for possession of a .38-caliber handgun. He was later indicted by the Bronx District Attorney for second degree murder charges in the shooting outside St. Paul’s Church and was facing between 15 years to life in prison. The DA’s office offered to lower the charges in exchange for Sanchez’s cooperation in Morales’ 2007 trial. He eventually served seven years in jail for manslaughter and was released in the beginning of 2011.

A few days prior to his release, Sanchez told the court, he was visited in prison by a pair of investigators and a pair of attorneys, all of them working on the Morales case. He claimed they wanted Sanchez “to help them out, for Edgar.” Sanchez testified that he was assured confidentiality in exchange for his cooperation.

“They were harassing me too much already,” said Sanchez. When asked by the defense if he remembered becoming emotional during the investigators’ visit, saying he did not want Morales to face time away from his child, Sanchez replied, “I don’t remember.”

“You don’t remember breaking down?” Attorney Matthew Fishbein asked. “Is that something you could forget?”

The prosecution, which was led by Assistant District Attorney Christine Scaccia, said its office had worked with Sanchez for nearly ten years and believed that he gave a reliable account of what went down on August 17, 2002. A member of the team added that the St. James Boys gang had been terrorizing the Mexican-American community in St. James Park in Fordham for years through intimidation, murder, drug activities, and other gang-related violence.

Mendez’s mother, Antonia Gutierrez, was present in court. She hoped for the sentencing to rule in favor of the prosecution and to see Morales “stay in jail.”

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Soundview’s booming juice bar market attracts customers, and some concerns

Carmen Arias, an employee at Blended Up juice bar, pours a pineapple smoothie customers coming in for the afternoon rush.

Carmen Arias, an employee at Blended Up juice bar in Soundview, preparing pineapple smoothies to-go. (JENNIFER LUNA/BronxInk)

Bright orange carrots and yellow cubes of mango spun into liquid inside large plastic blenders one September afternoon at Blended Up, a new juice bar on Westchester and St. Lawrence Avenues in the Bronx. A steady stream of customers ordered smoothies named “big-fighter” or “detox power.” Many said they were grateful for a healthier option to the more established fast-food fare at the nearby Checkers, McDonalds and Dunkin’ Donuts, according to owner Maribel Vilas, 44, a native of Puerto Rico.

“There’s a misconception that black and brown people don’t want to eat healthy,” said Yasmin Tejeda, 28, drinking a mango smoothie on her lunch break from Primary Care Information Project where she is a clinical quality specialist. “But if it’s affordable and it’s available we want to eat it.”

Fresh juices are quickly becoming a staple in the local diet and economy. Vila’s business is the newest of four juice bars that have opened in the Soundview area of the Bronx within the last five years, three of them just within the last year.

The trend began in 2010 when Rapper David Styles—known by fans as Styles P—opened the popular Juices for Life on 1026 Castle Hill Ave. Its success inspired other Bronx entrepreneurs to follow suit. Three years later, Fresh Take, a juice shop on 2245 Westchester Ave., opened its doors and four months ago, GP Smoothies and Gift Shop opened on Castle Hill Avenue. Fresh Take owner Eric Glisson, 38, said the shop sells up to 400 juices a day, with many of the customers coming in after a work out at the Planet Fitness gym above the shop.


Dr. Samuel Walters recommends juicing to his patients, many of whom are diabetic or pre-diabetic. (JENNIFER LUNA/BronxInk)

“People were so excited and very receptive, saying, ‘Thank God something healthy is coming to the neighborhood,’” Glisson said. GP Smoothies and Gift Shop owner Geoconda Pin said she distinguishes her business from others by including a deli and groceries. Juices, however, are still her most popular product. “People like the concept of green juices,” Pin said. “We use vegetables and natural fruits and that’s why they buy a lot.”

Affordability is key to business in Soundview. A small juice at Blended Up and Fresh Take sells for $3.50, compared to $5 at Juices for Life. Some customers compare the cost favorably to fries and a shake at McDonalds. “You can’t be a juice place coming in here selling a ten-dollar organic juice,” said Nancy Guevara, 28,a Bronx native who was visiting from Pennsylvania.

Prices don’t seem to be a factor for many customers, especially when their doctors recommend the products. Dr. Samuel Walters, an Internal Medicine specialist in Unionport, estimates 20 percent of his patients to be diabetic and 70 percent hypertensive. Juicing, the doctor said, is a good way to get fresh fruit. “I am a naturalist in the way I treat patients,” the Jamaica born doctor said. “Patients ask if I recommend juice and I do.”

But his recommendation comes with a caveat. Diabetes rates are high in Bronx neighborhoods. According to the New York City Community Health Survey of 2002 to 2004, the greater Pelham Bay area had a diabetes rate of 11 percent. In 2010, the Center for Disease Control reported that 8 percent of Americans have the disease. Restricting calories, Dr. Walters said, is the key to losing weight and keeping diabetes in check.

An improved diet and increased exercise also helps. Orlando Castro of Soundview dropped 50 pounds over the last year by making these lifestyle changes. The 31-year-old lives near Blended Up and comes for breakfast frequently throughout the week. “My father died of diabetes and my mother has diabetes,” Castro said, sipping on a strawberry and pineapple smoothie. “I’m not going out that way.” Some health experts, however, are concerned about the dangers of the high sugar content found in fruit juices. An 8-ounce serving of juice with sugary fruits such as apple, pineapple or grape can have up to 44 grams of sugar. “Juicing has become a big hit with my patients,” said Priya Massand, a health educator at Montefiore Medical Group on 2300 Westchester Ave. “In an area that is so laden with diabetes it’s almost a dangerous trend because it’s not being done in an educational way.”


Health educator Priya Massand warns patients about juice bars that add agave syrup, honey or enhanced protein powers that are high in sugar. (JENNIFER LUNA/BronxInk) 

Massand said she recommends that her patients drink juice that includes only one fruit, not several mixed together, and that they make sure no sweeteners are added. The educator keeps photocopies of the juice bars’ menus and points out which beverages are best—vegetable-based drinks—for her diabetic patients. “It can help but I think it requires so much attention to detail that is being missed that it’s not helping yet,” Massand said. “I’m concerned that it’s a trend and not a lasting change.”

Posted in Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, Culture, East Bronx, Food0 Comments

Couple Set Up Craigslist Sting on a Mott Haven Street

A Staten Island couple set up their own sting operation in Mott Haven on Wednesday night by posing as customers interested in remote control cars they saw on Craigslist. The rare cars they tried to buy had been  stolen from them the previous week.

Lugo's custom remote control Baja 5Bs are back at his home in Staten Island after he found his stolen property for sale on craigslist.

Custom-made remote control Baja 5B cars are back in Lugo’s Staten Island collection.

Christian Lugo, a granite and marble installer, saw the posting on the website and arranged to meet the seller on Third Avenue to exchange $1,200 for the two custom-built hobby cars. Lugo and his wife Tabitha feigned interest in one of the rare model Baja 5B for just a moment before pulling out the remote controls that correspond with the car.

“This is my car,” Lugo said three times to the would-be seller. Tabitha then texted the police, whom the couple had alerted in advance. Officers who were waiting nearby then escorted the seller to his Bronx apartment to retrieve the second car. The young man claimed to have bought the cars from a drug addict for $150 and said he did not know the hobby cars were stolen.

“I am disappointed that I lost the money I spent on buying them to not get anything for it,” said the seller in a text message. He declined to give his name. “I knew the value so I wanted to resell them.” The Lugos did not press charges and were just happy to have the cars back. The young man was released without charges. “He spoke politely,” Tabitha said. “I told him, ‘But you are in possession of stolen property.’”

The Lugos have put a lot of custom work into the aluminum cars, which Tabitha claimed were worth about $3,000 each. The remote control Baja 5Bs are one-fifth the size of a real car and sell for $1,600 on the RC Superstores website. Lugo is an avid collector and builder of remote control cars and Craigslist is a go-to site for buying, selling and trading parts.Lugo estimates he has anywhere from 40 to 50 remote control cars on top of the hobby planes and boats he collects.

Two weeks ago, Lugo left the two Baja 5Bs at the Staten Island home of a friend, also a collector. Two days later the friend said the cars  had gone missing, but not the remote controls.  While searching Craigslist the following week, Lugo spotted his Bajas for sale. “He was ready at 8 o’clock last night to run over here and get the cars,” Tabitha said in Mott Haven, after they had retrieved their property. The couple had called the phone number posted on Craigslist and made an offer, setting a meeting place near the 40th police precinct on Third Avenue and 138 St. The Lugos alerted police of their plan. “I’m not from around here,” Lugo said. “I didn’t know if he had a gun.” The seller was unarmed and appeared to be about 18 years old.

Selling stolen property on Craigslist is against the company’s policies, although doing so is difficult to detect and impossible to prevent. Selling stolen property is prevalent enough that the Internet stolen property database site,, has a special page through which victims of theft can search for their property on Craigslist.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime, Southern Bronx0 Comments

Bronx cab drivers divided about surveillance cameras

The local imam at the Futa Islamic Center Mosque gave a sermon at a funeral held for slain cabbie Aboubacar Bah, 62, last Friday. (JENNIFER LUNA / The Bronx Ink)

The local imam at the Futa Islamic Center Mosque presided over the funeral held for slain cabbie Aboubacar Bah, 62, last Friday. (JENNIFER LUNA / The Bronx Ink)


The recent killings of two livery cab drivers in Hunts Point and Co-op city has once again raised questions around the need for surveillance cameras inside cabs and how effective they are in preventing violent crimes committed against their drivers.

The  cameras inside the livery cabs of Aboubacar Bah and Maodo Kane were not working on the mornings when they were robbed and killed. Authorities said they could have caught the suspects much sooner if the equipment in the cars were functional.

The president of the African Cab Driver’s Association, Mamadou Kane, appealed to police and his fellow drivers to work on solutions. “My message to the community and my fellow cab drivers is to stop the violence,” he said, speaking at the Futa Islamic Center Mosque on 3rd Avenue in the Bronx last Friday, where a short funeral service was held for Aboubacar Bah. “As for my cab drivers, keep your car in good shape.” Kane, not related to the slain Maodo Kane, urged drivers to ensure their cameras and radios are working at all times.

Bronx-based cabbie Mamadou Bah said he believes the camera deters foul play. “These dangerous people are going to see the camera and not get inside,” he said.

Another livery cab driver, however, was not convinced that a working camera in the cab would ensure his safety. “The camera is not the best thing when you’re dead,” said Abrahim Barrie, a friend of the slain Aboubacar Bah.

Barrie’s sentiments were echoed by 42-year-old Alpha Bah who claimed he had been previously assaulted by violent passengers, though never held at gunpoint.

“I think the cab driver is supposed to watch who they are picking up,” said Bah. “The city needs to do a lot of patrolling.”

Many cab drivers who personally knew Bah and Kane attended the sermon; most of them continue to fear for their own safety in light of the killings. (JENNIFER LUNA / The Bronx Ink)

Many drivers who personally knew Bah and Kane attended the service. Most of them continue to fear for their own safety in light of the killings. (JENNIFER LUNA / The Bronx Ink)

A study released in the Crime Science Journal last year found that installing cameras in cabs is highly effective in reducing homicide rates.. Before cameras were installed, the study found there were a total of 19 homicides of cab drivers in six major U.S. cities. That number dropped to seven after cameras were installed. The study did not disclose names of the cities that were used to carry out tests to confirm the findings.

A spokesman for the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers, Fernando Mateo, also urged livery cab drivers to avoid picking up illegal street hails. “They’re called illegal because they put your life in danger,” Mateo said.

Livery cabs are for-hire vehicles that are dispatched from individual companies, and are not allowed to stop for people on the street, though these rules are not strictly enforced outside Manhattan. Since a rash of driver killings in the mid-90s, the city has required that every car be equipped with either a bullet-proof divider behind the driver or a surveillance camera, plus other alert signals.

Authorities have made four arrests in connection to the two murders. Bronx residents Takiem Ewing, 21, Tyrone Felder, 25, and Kareem Martin, 26, were charged with second degree murder while Tommy Smalls, 26, apprehended last, is awaiting arraignment.

Police contend that last Tuesday, the men entered Bah’s cab and shot him in the head and used his vehicle to commit robberies in the Bronx and Yonkers. A week earlier, 49-year-old Maodo Kane from Senegal, was killed in Co-op city. Authorities allege the suspects were also involved in Kane’s murder.

The 62-year-old Bah hailed from Guinea and had been driving cabs in New York for 22 years. According to his niece Djnebou Diallo, 27, Bah was married and had five children. His family still lives in a small village in Guinea and his youngest child had just finished college.

Diallo contended that despite the recent killings and the fear that still lingers over the community, most cab drivers will continue to drive their taxis.

“There’s nothing they can do. That’s where their income comes from. It’s hard to find another job,” she said.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime, Featured, Southern Bronx0 Comments

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