Friday, August 23, 2013

Every now and then I'm reminded that there are two sides to every story. Such is the case with Bradley J. Wolfe, the Flying Hills man charged with third-degree murder, attempted murder and related offenses for a Sept. 5 crash on the Bingaman Street Bridge that claimed the life of Lance Quinones. Wolfe, 32, was held for court after a hearing Wednesday before District Judge Stuart D. Kennedy, Millmont. The case against Bradley is one that, if true, is enough to make one's blood boil.
Upset about the outcome of an assault hearing at the Berks County Courthouse that morning, Bradley allegedly told his estranged wife, Jennifer Wolfe, 34, as they drove home from the courthouse that he was going to steer his car into the next vehicle he saw and kill them both. At the hearing Wednesday, Timothy S. Musser, paramedic deputy chief of Southern Berks EMS, testified he was wheeling Jennifer to an ambulance when she told him Bradley had said he was going to kill them by driving into another car. "She just kind of blurted it out," Musser testified. "She started to whimper and cry a little and then she blurts out, 'He tried to kill us.' Another witness, Justin Blake, testified he was driving south on Fourth Street when he saw Wolfe's silver BMW weaving through traffic, passing cars and going very fast as they approached the sharp right curve onto the bridge. Blake said Wolfe had to be going 45 mph as he entered the bridge and Wolfe's car swerved from the left southbound lane into Quinones' car. Quinones died at the scene. But here's where the case gets a little fuzzy. Blake said it appeared to him that Bradley was trying to avoid hitting Quinones because he was steering back toward the southbound lanes when the two cars collided. "That's because I was trying to get back in my lane," Bradley said in a phone conversation after the hearing. Bradley also insisted he never threatened to kill himself and Jennifer. He said that is why Assistant District Attorney Justin D. Bodor didn't call Jennifer to testify at the preliminary hearing last week. "They knew she was going to deny ever saying those things," Bradley said. Bradley's attorney, Allan L. Sodomsky of Reading, said pretty much the same thing after the hearing when I asked if Jennifer was sticking to the story she gave Musser or if she had recanted. "She didn't testify," Sodomsky said, shrugging. Wait a minute, Sodomsky didn't call her as a witness either. I asked Bodor the same question and he demurred. "Let me just say that we intend to prove Bradley Wolfe acted with malice and forethought when he caused the crash," Bodor said. "It was not an accident." It seemed to me that Jennifer was the only one who could clear things up. But she hasn't returned my phone calls. Two other facts you may want to consider in your deliberations: On Sept. 5, Bradley attended a Berks County Court hearing on an unrelated aggravated assault charge. Two prior assault cases against Bradley, one in 2002 and 2007, were dismissed. But Wolfe is still on parole after being sentenced Jan. 25 to three to 23 months after pleading guilty to the lesser charge of simple assault. He was also ordered to get anger management counseling. Criminal Investigator Michael Perkins confirmed during his testimony that Quinones had THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, in his bloodstream at the time of his death. Now that you've heard both sides of this story, what's your verdict?
Ever since I was a wee lad I’ve been fascinated by the efforts shore communities make to preserve their beaches. I remember standing on the boardwalk at Ninth Street in Ocean City, N.J., watching as tons of sand being pumped from the bay, across town to the beach. If they didn’t dredge the bay and pump sand every few years the beaches would all get washed away like the one at Ninth Street that disappeared under the boardwalk twice a day at high tide that year. I would spend hours building walls of sand waiting for the tide to roll in and wash them away. In the end, the ocean flattened my walls and reclaimed all the sand I shoveled.
Back in May, when I talked to Dr. Edward J. Mahaney Jr., mayor of Cape May, about the cost of the recovery from Sandy he made a pretty good argument for continuing to build up our beaches. Mahaney said tourism in Cape May County alone — from Ocean City south to Cape May — is a $5.1 billion industry that pumped $484 million into New Jersey’s general fund last year. Then last week I saw a story about a seawall that was built on the beach at Bay Head, N.J. The 1,260-meter wall of stone was built in 1882 to protect the town from the furies of the sea. Over more than 120 years, the seawall was covered with sand and eventually forgotten. Forgotten that is until Oct. 29 when Hurricane Sandy scoured the sand off the beaches of northern New Jersey shore towns and in some cases destroyed most of the structures, utilities and roads. Sandy uncovered the Bay Head seawall and a team of engineers and geoscientists think it’s the reason only one structure in Bay Head was destroyed while about 50 percent of adjacent Mantoloking was categorized as destroyed. Sandy stripped away much of the sand at Bay Head but the seawall didn’t budge. Though the water washed over Bay Head the seawall took most of the power out of the waves. But the researchers said the fact the townspeople forgot about their seawall points to the difficulty of protecting at-risk shore communities when their populations are so transient. Sure, vacationers come and go, but all shore towns have a year round population, said former Congressman William J. Hughes, who represented New Jersey’s second district from 1975-95 and championed coastal causes like ending 60 years of dumping sewage into the ocean by New York City and a host of north Jersey towns. “You’ve got to continue to protect our beaches,” Hughes said. “It’s like repaving the roads.” Hughes, who lives in Ocean City, N.J., said Sandy highlighted some of the flaws in local planning and development. “Years ago they probably built houses too close to the ocean,” Hughes said. “Long term planning is extremely important.” Hughes said Ocean City has it’s own seawall buried in the sand on the north end of the island near the foot of the Longport Bridge. “No one knew about that seawall until we had a storm that uncovered it but the seawall did its job,” he said. When another part of the island not protected by the seawall was endangered by rising tides, the former mayor of the town, an undertaker, created a makeshift seawall out of concrete burial vaults and saved the day. It’s a good story but the burial vaults wouldn’t have been needed back then if the town had taken a comprehensive look at protecting all the beaches. Now they have, Hughes said. “Ocean City now has a 50-year plan for beach preservation,” he said. I, for one, am glad to hear it. I’d hate to think all those years of shoveling sand were in vain.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Hello again ... yet another attempt at maintaining a blog

We are in the process of getting new laptops and iPhones at the Reading Eagle. The laptops are pretty amazing and much faster than the desktops we had been using. I thought our internet connection was slow but it was just the five-year-old processors bogging things down. ...
I've had my own iPhone since November so I'm already pretty familiar with how wonderful they can be. I have the iPhone 4 and can't wait for a year to pass so I can upgrade to the 4s and finally get to speak to the temptress Siri. I haven't blogged in a while and want to get back in the habit so this is a first attempt. I intend to start posting my columns and stories from the Reading Eagle along with any personal insights I take time to share with you. I don't know if anyone actually reads this thing, but it's a good writing exercise for me. Talk to you soon. Young Dan

Taking my licks before I turned six

I only remember bits and pieces from the first six years of my life in Delanco, N.J. There is the one fuzzy memory of a nun washing my mouth out with soap after I dropped my lunch in the coat room at St. Joseph's Elementary School and uttered a mild expletive. This being a family paper I can't repeat it here, but it rhymes with whoopee. Then there's my Mitt Romney moment when I conked my friend Ricky Conlow on the noggin while shaking my Etch A Sketch on the front stoop of my house at 410 Larchmont Drive. I got old Rick with the corner and it split his forehead open. He had to get a couple stitches and became an instant celebrity.
I was unimpressed, having gotten stitches a year earlier when a toy dump truck I was pushing hit a crack, sending me hurtling chin first onto the driveway. A year earlier I got stitches in the same spot when I fell down the basement steps while trying to prevent Big Caesar, my Roman galley toy, from going over an imaginary waterfall with 100 red and yellow plastic souls aboard. I distinctly remember having the good fortune of getting bitten by the Softees' nasty little mongrel, Lady. Mr. Softee's real name was Michernick, but he bought an ice cream truck and after one season the whole family became the Softees. They had a big dirty blue-and-white ice cream truck parked next to their garage all winter. It cleaned up nicely in May and went chiming and tooting through the neighborhood until we went to school in September. Dootaly doot dah doot dah doot, the Mr. Softee song goes. Anyway, I was riding my bike past the Softees' house when Lady, who looked more like the Tramp, ran out of the front yard and bit me on my Achilles tendon as I tried to pedal away. I got a ride to the emergency room at Burlington General Hospital in the ice cream truck. Mr. Softee gave me a vanilla cone on the way to the hospital and a chocolate cone for the ride home. Bobbie Softee, Mr. Softee's big oaf of a son, beat me up a few days later. He said his dad told him Lady got sick from biting me and she had to move away to a big farm in the country to convalesce. My mother had a party for my sixth birthday in November 1964, a few months before we moved to Norristown to be closer to my dad's job at the Western Electric plant on Allendale Road in King of Prussia. My best pals, Ricky, Billy Silucci and Cubby Vigikowski, were there along with two other kids whom no one in my family can identify today. They were standing right next to me in one photo, and I have no idea who they are. When I look at all the pictures taken at the party it strikes me that everything in my parents' house looks like it is from the 1950s, including me.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Lawman, local legend, hangs up the badge and gun

It was with mixed emotions that Reading police Inspector Francis F. Drexler turned in his badge and gun last week and sidled off into the sunset after 37 years. "I don't know," he said, when asked how he felt about retirement. "Mixed emotions, I guess. I'm going to miss the work. I'm going to miss the people. I won't miss the 2 o'clock phone calls." He was born and raised in the city and graduated from Central Catholic, Class of 1968. He joined the city in 1974 after getting an associate degree in business at St. Gregory's University, Shawnee, Okla. Two years in the heartland taught Drexler one thing: He didn't want to be a businessman. "I saw an ad in the newspaper and applied at the police department," he said. He spent the first five years as a patrolman, then moved to a high-crime unit, serving as a plainclothes officer for two years. He took a liking to plainclothes work and spent the balance of his career in vice and narcotics and later in criminal investigations. He was promoted to captain in 1992. Drexler also has been an instructor at the Reading Police Academy for 25 years. "I'm going to miss that (teaching) most," he said.
Drexler said the kidnapping and murder of 8-year-old Erica Martes is the case that has stuck with him, in part because it involved the death of a child, but also because it tested his skills as an investigator and commander. Erica was kidnapped Oct. 24, 2000, from the Riverside Elementary School by Marcial P. Sosa, who was despondent after the girl's mother, Nancy Lopez, broke up with him. He walked the girl down to the Schuylkill River, strangled her and buried her in a shallow grave on the banks of the river, all to get back at the mother. I interviewed Sosa in Berks County Prison the day after he pleaded guilty and he calmly laid the whole thing out for me in chilling detail. Drexler is definitely the kind of man you want to be in charge when a child goes missing. He marshaled the resources of state and local police, National Guard and every available search and rescue and K-9 unit in the region to find Erica. "We searched for days and days and it got to the point where I had to make the call: 'Do we keep searching or do we call it off?' " Drexler said. Drexler decided to keep searching. Police found Sosa in an apartment in north Philadelphia on Nov. 7, 2000, but he refused to tell investigators where Erica was. Publicly Drexler held out hope for the girl's survival but ordered police to keep searching the river and its banks. Erica's body was found two days later in a shallow grave on the riverbank near her home by a cadaver dog team from Dauphin County. Sosa, now 46, is serving life for the kidnapping and murder. Drexler said he has no immediate plans and will be content for now to fish, watch sports on TV and read a good book now and then. "It's time to pass it on to the younger generation of officers," he said. I, for one, take great comfort in knowing that most of them were trained by Franny Drexler.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


I saw John Fielding driving David Kamioner north on Third Street at Washington Street in a beat up compact car that reminded me of my old Mazda. I forget who was driving, but John Fielding was wearing a black cowboy hat.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Former Northeast Tap Room Owner Back in Berks

There’s a light around Pete Cammarano.
It’s not the light from the ancient Reading Premium beer signs behind the bar at Mike’s Tavern.
Pete, 53, of Reading owned and operated the Northeast Tap Room on North 12th Street for almost 20 years.
He sold the Tap Room in 2003 and moved to Seattle and then Memphis, Tenn., looking for a new start.
He came back to Reading and bought Mike’s at 135 Exeter St. in May, from the Duplak family, who owned and operated the bar for 76 years. The original liquor license hanging behind the bar is dated 1934, one year after Prohibition ended.
Mike’s was popular with shift workers at the former Dana Corp. Parish plant. The blue-collar shot-and-beer crowd is gone.
Pete bought the Northeast Tap Room in 1983 and replaced a Budweiser tap with one of Yuengling’s varietal beers. Eventually, the Tap Room offered 100 different beers. The tavern started drawing beer aficionados from all over Berks County.
Then around 1990, the microbrew craze hit and the Tap Room was a hot spot.
While living in Memphis, where he opened a hoagie shop, Pete came home for the holidays in 2009 and visited Mike’s, which had been one of his old haunts.
The owners were looking to sell and Pete saw a way home.
Since May, Pete has transformed Mike’s. Stella Artois is the most conventional beer on tap.
“The Stella Artois is there on tap so the others can be weird,” Pete joked.
Mike’s features three varieties from Lagunitas Brewing Co., San Francisco, on tap and 80 other beers, domestic, international and “weird.” One tastes like Frank’s Black Cherry Wishniak.
Pete, almost from the day he left Reading, felt the tug of his hometown calling him back.
As the light faded outside one recent afternoon and patron after patron wandered in, Pete greeted each by name.
The patrons at Mike’s, many former denizens of the Tap Room, will tell you that it’s the warm light of Pete’s beer knowledge, mellow personality and friendly smile that keeps them coming back.
For Pete, he says he’s home for good.
“This is where I’m supposed to be and it feels really good to be back,” he said.