Tag Archive | "Pelham Bay Park Bronx"

Next to Woodlawn Cemetery, another graveyard: abandoned cars

Abandoned vehicles that can be found on Webster Avenue between Gun Hill Road and 233rd Street. © Lila Hassan

Along a desolate stretch of Webster Avenue, sandwiched between the Bronx River Parkway on one side and the vast, storied Woodlawn cemetery on the other, sits another graveyard of sorts.

The street, which starts and ends between 233 Street and Gun Hill Road, has become an ad hoc dumping ground for dozens of abandoned vehicles from recreational vans to trailers and commercial trucks. It’s considered both a menace to residents and a rest stop for truck drivers.

A time-lapse of the Webster Avenue car graveyard on September 30, 2019. © Lila Hassan

A few have parking tickets stuck onto their windshield wipers or yellow boots on their tires, indicating their impending trip to the car pound, where police officers tow discarded cars.

The Department of Transportation, Sanitation, and local Assemblyman’s office have pointed to the local 47th precinct as the responsible party for enforcing traffic regulations and removals.

None of these government agencies are sure why the cars and trucks are not being removed promptly, and none have been able to answer where they go once towed or removed. Similarly, none of these departments, including the NYPD, know why the 18-wheel truck drivers come here to park, sleep, and take breaks on days-long assignments.

Local residents are fed up.

“The block is just a dump,” said Jasmine Miranda, whose parents’ home is at one end of Webster Avenue strip.  One morning in mid-August, there was no indication of abandoned vehicles and just a handful of trucks were parked.

Just one week later, there were as many as 50 vehicles scattered across the area, in defiance of alternate side parking rules. Some had their Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN) scratched out. Others had open trunks and missing license plates and other parts. Alongside them were piles of beer bottles, takeout food containers, and even the occasional used mattress.

A week later, the same sad collection of cars and trucks were still there. Eventually some trash was removed, and several cars were towed, only for more cars to come in their place. 

“Companies park their trucks there in the evening. There are RVs, trash everywhere. It’s kind of an abandoned area,” said Shawn Guffey, board member at the Woodlawn Taxpayers Association, a local not-for-profit community organization. Woodlawn is the neighborhood at the north end of the car graveyard.

The Association first heard of the issue at one of its monthly open meetings when a community member complained about the street being full of trucks and trailers.

The New York Police Department’s 47th precinct, whose sector covers the entire strip on Webster Avenue and is responsible for ticketing and towing, said that giving summonses is useless, according to Commanding Chief, Inspector Erik Hernandez.

“They [truck drivers] would rather pay the parking summons that find storage for these trucks,” Hernandez said.

Jasmine and Theresa Miranda, 26 and 30, sisters whose parents’ home is at the other end near Gun Hill Road, view the street is an eyesore. At night, “it seems sort of ominous,” said Theresa.

Miranda recalled being spooked when she accidentally got off one subway stop too far on the Metro North at 233rd street, almost two miles away from her home on the other side of Webster Avenue. Afraid, “I basically ran that whole area in the dark,” she said.

Two of many 18-wheeler trucks on the Webster Avenue strip. Some, as in the photo, don’t have an attached vehicle to drive them away. © Lila Hassan

Miranda thinks the area is deteriorating. “Honestly, I try not to park there anymore,” she said. “People abandon their cars there and even if they’re booted, it won’t be towed away for weeks.” She doesn’t think the alternate side parking rules make a difference, because the “trucks don’t normally leave. It’s long term parking.”

A “Large Parking Lot”

The alternate side street signs that stretch along the 1.5-mile strip include three signs to indicate no parking for street cleaning on Monday and Thursday mornings, as well as one for Tuesday and Friday mornings.

But just because the rules are there doesn’t mean they’re enforced.

The white Acura left for over a month on the Webster Avenue strip. © Lila Hassan

The Bronx Ink paid a visit to the Webster Avenue car graveyard on August 21 and found a white Acura with missing license plates and a printed out temporary license that hung from the inside of the back window. Over a month later on September 30, the car was found in the same illegal spot, unmoved, with trash on the street nearby it. The seats in the front were cut up, and a used battery booster was left in the backseat.

On September 30, the Bronx Ink counted 26 18-wheel trucks, five apparently abandoned vehicles, four also apparently abandoned RV’s, eight parked tow trucks, six cargo vans, five minivans, three double decker buses, two piles of at least six trash bags each, and one dead raccoon.

The alternate side parking rules were put up just earlier this year, when Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz put in a request to Councilman Andrew Cohen.

Dinowitz said the Webster Avenue strip is more or less “a large parking lot.”

It’s difficult to tow big vehicles, he said. But he and his team look to “press the 47th precinct to enforce rules whenever they can.” 

“They’ve been very helpful,” said Dinowitz, and “it could get better, but then it gets bad again.”

Not A “Profitable or Actionable Collection”

Because the car graveyard on Webster Avenue is located in front of the cemetery and highway with no residential homes or buildings, the street is considered city property. It is unclear why enforcement of alternate side parking rules, towing, ticketing and clean-ups there are scarce.

Amanda Septimo, former district manager for Congressman Jose E. Serrano, and a lifelong resident of Hunts Point, said there is hyper vigilance and enforcement there with a larger police presence, which is not the case in other areas of the Bronx.

“The city might be targeting neighborhoods with actively present residents and not areas where there isn’t a profit or actionable collection,” she said.

Complaints to the city don’t seem to help either. Jasmine Miranda has said that other residents have given up reaching out to the city, thinking that 311 does not respond to their calls.

“Whenever a New Yorker calls 311 or uses our website or mobile app, their service request is instantly routed to the appropriate agency for a response,” according to Laura Feyer, deputy press secretary in the Office of the Mayor.

Several of the cars on Webster Avenue are booted, which indicate that the owner has received over $350 in tickets (whether for parking violations, red light violations, or bus lane violations), according to NYC 311.

The fate after this is towing, and if the vehicle remains unclaimed, it will be auctioned off. The owner of the vehicle is responsible for all the fees in towing, moving, and auctioning, and if the auction does not pay off the tickets and fees, the owner’s bank account and wages will be accessed to pay.

However, in cases where the abandoned cars’ VIN number (the unique identification) has been damaged or removed from the car, and the owner is untraceable, the DOT said in a phone call and over email that it could not answer this question because the NYPD is the responsible party for towing, removal, and enforcement.

The police are also responsible for determining what constitutes an abandoned vehicle or unidentifiable owner. The DOT sometimes relocates vehicles blocking paving jobs, but it doesn’t actually tow them, according to Scott Gastel, assistant commissioner for press. 

“Not Something That’s Not Dealt With”

The Department of Sanitation is “aware of the situation on this particular stretch of Webster Avenue,” according to Dina Montes, press secretary of public affairs at the DSNY.

From January to September, the DSNY Enforcement Unit issued 44 summonses for littering and public urination and seven summonses for illegal dumping. In September alone, the unit has issued 29 summonses for alternate side parking violations.

Problems Montes identified on the street include illegal dumping, non-compliance with alternate side parking rules, and abandoned and derelict vehicles.

The DSNY is responsible for removing only derelict vehicles, which means a vehicle has both “sustained physical damage” and is without license plates. Between July 2018 and September 2019, the DSNY removed 11 derelict vehicles. All other removals fall on the shoulders of the 47th precinct.

The 47th precinct did not provide requested statistics on the frequency of patrols, traffic violations, summonses, and tickets issued to this particular street despite many requests.

Police Officer Sherman Tyson, a Neighborhood Coordination Officer for the Woodlawn area, though not for this specific street, told the Bronx Ink that the dumping and abandoned cars are “not something that’s not dealt with,” and it is patrolled as equally as any other part of their district.

When asked what constitutes an abandoned vehicle, Tyson answered that it is a vehicle left unmoved for 48 hours, although he says this is not always enforced, and they don’t tow everyday.

“Is that a realistic expectation?” Tyson responded.

Hernandez, however, said concern with this strip is “legitimate,” but need vehicles to be flagged as problems for them to move it, otherwise they don’t know. If a car looks abandoned, he said, it doesn’t need to wait 48 hours to be removed.

In addition to the constant cycle, Hernandez said the private companies that the NYPD works with to tow – licensed by the Department of Consumer Affairs – do not have the proper storage to hold the amount of cars that need removing, especially those larger than sedans. Hernandez said the precinct can only have three or four cars towed at a time.

Moving the trucks, on the other hand, is like “spitting into a fan.”

“As soon as we two one truck another one goes there in its replacement,” he said. 

Usually the precinct can remove 30-40 vehicles a month, including 5 trucks.

From January to August of this year, there have been 148 unregistered moving violations in the Bronx’s 47th Police Precinct, according to traffic violation stats obtained by the Bronx Ink, compared to 83 in the 48th precinct and 116 in the 46th.

“Nobody Bothers Us”

Cleaning his parked green 18-wheeler, truck driver Robert Caceres said that there is no commercial parking for trucks in the Bronx that are convenient, safe, and affordable.

Caceres cleaning his 18-wheel truck on a break. © Lila Hassan

If a truck driver works for 14 hours, they are legally required to take a 10-hour break. If they are caught driving during their break, they can receive a traffic citation.

“Parking is tough out here,” Caceres said. On Webster Avenue, “we’re not in front of nobody’s building.”

Caceres owns Tod Logistics Corp. in Yonkers, a one-driver, one-truck transport company and now controls his own hours. Before he had his own business, he often worked three to five day assignments.

Behind the driver’s seat, Caceres has two beds, a microwave, and drawers of instant food he used during his break time.

Caceres said he doesn’t know how other truck drivers know about Webster Avenue, but the strip’s view of the Metro North railroad and direct road to the Bronx River Parkway highway make the spot visible to passing drivers.

Occasionally police will ask drivers to move, he said, but they do not always feel the need to abide.

“Let’s say we’re not here. You think dumping is going to stop? There are no cops here. People will still come and sleep here regardless,” he said.

“Nobody bothers us.”

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Characters of softball, the real Bronx pastime

The Yankees may get the attention, but softball fields like this one in Pelham Bay Park are where the real Bronx legends are made.  (Ryan Tracy/The Bronx Ink)

The Yankees may get the attention, but softball fields like this one in Pelham Bay Park are where the real Bronx legends are made. (Ryan Tracy/The Bronx Ink)

As many older observers tell it, softball in the Bronx was most popular in the mid-1980s, when games could attract crowds of hundreds of people and wagers on various teams ranged up to $10,000 on a single contest.

One softball team had a particular penchant for taking that cash in those years: an aptly-named crew known as The Bandits. As their veteran players tell it, their team was so unstoppable that it had to travel to Brooklyn, Connecticut, or New Jersey to find a game. They once changed their team name to be admitted to a league that wouldn’t have accepted them otherwise, for fear they would trounce the competition.

Today most of the original Bandits are in their 50s. One is 65. But the guys can’t stay away from the diamond. The team reunited last year and is now in the midst of its second season this century, playing games every Saturday in the Bronx Stars league at Pelham Bay Park. The Bandits today are a combination of veterans from the squads of the 1980s and a handful of 20-something sluggers. While the younger guys man the outfield to do most of the legwork, the older players yell the loudest and seem to collectively hang on every pitch. For them, donning the grey-and-black jerseys on Saturdays is about a break from wives and girlfriends in favor of time with sons and old friends. It’s about taking pleasure in those non-stop insults and chuckling over a beer after the game ends on a sunny afternoon. And if they finish ahead of the 23 other teams in the league, so be it. They were division winners last year and lost in the playoffs to the eventual champions.

Yankee Stadium may get the most attention, but for many Bronxites the real baseball happens on fields like the ones where The Bandits play. Here are the characters that bring those fields alive.

The Survivor

Cheo Romero woke up with a hole in his throat, unable to breathe or talk, with surgical wounds on his neck and leg, scared, depressed, suicidal, a feeding tube poking out of his abdomen and an IV needle in his arm. That was February 2009, days after doctors had discovered a bulging tumor in Romero’s jaw. That was the beginning of the battle.

Cancer Survivor Cheo Romero has returned to the softball field, hoping to add another framed championship jersey to his collection.

Cancer Survivor Cheo Romero has returned to the softball field, hoping to add another framed championship jersey to his collection. (Ryan Tracy/The Bronx Ink)

Next came several months of an experimental treatment that combined radiation and chemotherapy. The former bodyguard and Bandits centerfielder spent drugged-up day after drugged-up day in the hospital, unable to go home because he couldn’t bear the pain.

Romero’s people were fixtures in the hospital room during those hard months: his ex-fiance and mother-in-law – both still close to him when the cancer was diagnosed – his son Rolando, and his softball teammates. Manager Edgar Aviles came to see him several times a week.

“Sometimes I’d go to sleep and I’d wake up and he’d be in the chair,” Romero remembered. “He used to tell guys, ‘I don’t think Cheo’s going to make it.'”

Making it wasn’t a sure thing. Doctors had warned Romero that the even if the emergency surgery needed to remove the tumor was effective, it could leave him eating out of a straw or through a feeding tube for the rest of his life. Few imagined he would play softball again.

But Romero had other ideas. He would surprise his nurses by disconnecting his own IV and feeding tube to walk around the hospital for exercise. He did pull-ups on the chain above his bed, startling other patients.

Romero, who is 51, hasn’t returned to work, but he lives for Saturdays. Now he not only chews some of his meals, but wraps up that feeding tube so it doesn’t impede his ability to pitch. He stays away from playing the outfield or running the bases, but he can still swing the bat. Best of all Romero’s cancer is in remission.

“I used to look out my window and cry,” Romero said. “Now I’m playing every game.”

The Manager

The Bandits are a rowdy team, but there's no question manager Edgar Aviles is the man in charge.  (Ryan Tracy/The Bronx Ink)

The Bandits's dugout is a rowdy place, but there's no question manager Edgar Aviles is the man in charge. (Ryan Tracy/The Bronx Ink)

When Edgar Aviles broke his ankle sliding into third base, his teammates thought of one thing: revenge.

The Bandits’ dugout was a dangerous place to be in the 1980s. The team, energized for softball games that, at that time, they played throughout the week, thrived on more than just verbal jibes. The guys were fans of the World Wrestling Federation and wouldn’t be shy to throw an elbow and catch a teammate off-guard.

As Bandits member Frankie Rodriguez remembers it, Edgar Aviles was among the most formidable wrestling opponents. But this time, as Aviles lay prone waiting for an ambulance, he couldn’t fight back. And with the rest of his body intact, it was open season for the rest of the Bandits.

“While he was laying on the floor, everybody was doing elbow drops on him, eye gouges, whatever it took just to get back at him,” Rodriguez recalled. As the ambulance pulled away, the team flagged it down. The paramedics stopped, “thinking they were going to give him something. The guy opens the door, and (a Bandits player) came and eye gouged him again. He left (for) the hospital in pain, but he was laughing, he was laughing the whole way.

“I mean it’s amazing, how you going to be there with a broken ankle and be able to laugh at things like that? That will tell you the kind of guy he is,” Rodriguez said.

It’s Aviles who keeps order amidst the trash-talking personalities in the dugout. After decades of strict managing (he once walked off with the player’s cash after it took a threat of forfeiting the game to get them to pay an umpire’s fee), he has earned their loyalty. The men on the team may call the shots at their day jobs, but everyone knows who sets the lineup on Saturday.

Edgar Aviles, manager of The Bandits, memorialized the team on his left arm.   (Ryan Tracy/The Bronx Ink)

Edgar Aviles memorialized The Bandits on his left arm. (Ryan Tracy/The Bronx Ink)

“Today I showed up late,” said Gilbert Rivera, 55, on a recent morning in Pelham Bay Park. “He’s not going to start me.”

Aviles, whose son Mike is an infielder for the Kansas City Royals, says he’s more relaxed than in the Bandits’ earlier days. At 50, he’s stopped working as a customer service representative at a bank due to a heart condition. He looks forward to the games at the park to keep him occupied.

Today, “we come out to enjoy ourselves, goof around, talk about the old times,” Aviles said. “It’s not big deal if we win or not.”

Yet when Aviles talks about how the Bandits finished second-place in their division last year against a field of younger teams, it’s hard to miss a sense of satisfaction.

The Mummy

During the week, Milton Pacheco is, in his own words, “The Broker” of real estate in the Bronx. On Saturdays, he’s something else.

“They call me ‘The Mummy’ because it takes me about 45 minutes to get wrapped up. I gotta wrap up my ankles, wrap up my knees, wrap up my back,” Pacheco said while preparing to pitch on a recent Sunday. “Bunch of assholes, anyways,” he added with a smile.

Milton Pacheco, 65, is the oldest Bandits player.  (Ryan Tracy/The Bronx Ink)

Milton Pacheco, 65, is the oldest Bandits player. Teammates call him 'The Mummy.' (Ryan Tracy/The Bronx Ink)

Pacheco, who is 65, is regarded as the senior member of the Bandits squad. He remembers how the team used to have to travel outside the Bronx to find opponents. Once, the Bandits changed their team name so that they could be admitted to a league that wouldn’t have accepted them for fear that they would trounce the competition.

“We had a reputation, nobody wanted to play us,” he said. “Now we’re old and everybody wants to play us, but we’re still pretty good.”

The team’s competitive fire hasn’t subsided with age. Pacheco was tossed from a game in April after arguing balls and strikes from the pitcher’s mound. His replacement, Joe Capello, got berated for giving up too many walks. Said teammate Gilbert Rivera after the game: “he led their team in RBIs.”

Indeed, after the game is when the real fun starts. The guys sit on benches in the shade, sipping beer and hurling insults. They dissect the most recent game, pointing out that as older guys, they can’t make unforced mistakes. They discuss a team trip to Florida. Everyone is home. What’s better than sitting in the park talking baseball?

“Sometimes we don’t see each other for six, seven months. You’ll meet up again in April, hang out, have a little brew after the game, you know what I mean?” Pacheco said. “We spend the whole day here. You look forward to it.”

Said Rodriguez: “I do anything I can to be part of the team. I keep score, I coach the bases, just to be here. And there’s a lot of guys like that … It’s in your blood.

“They’re gonna bury me in the mound when I die,” he added, laughing. “That’s the way it is.”

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