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Once near death, rescued sea turtles sent back to the ocean

POINT PLEASANT BEACH — The last time she felt the ocean waves swirling around her, Tabitha was near death.

She was tossed about in the surf in Cape May, weakened by pneumonia, severe anemia and an intestinal blockage. She also was laden with parasites and covered with 15 pounds of barnacles, some of which had broken through to her bones.

That was June 27, 2019, when the loggerhead turtle did not appear likely to survive the week.

But Tuesday, more than a year later, Tabitha crawled from her wooden transport crate onto the sand in Point Pleasant Beach, roused by a wave that surged over her and prompted something ancient inside to propel her toward the sea for the second time in her life.

The 168-pound turtle was the 50th to be released back into the ocean by Sea Turtle Recovery, a nonprofit operating out of the Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange. Tabitha was one of three turtles to make the 61-mile trip from the rescue center in Essex County to the seashore resort of Point Pleasant Beach, home to an aquarium and one of the state’s most popular boardwalks.

“This is what we work for,” said Brandi Biehl, co-director of the center. “When they first come in, you don’t even know if they’re going to survive. And then you see them slowly pass small milestones, and then they get better and they surprise you.”

“This is the moment they wait for,” she added. “It gives them back their home and their life, and that’s what your goal is. It’s just a magical moment.”

First into the surf was Silver Belle, one of the critically endangered population of Kemp’s ridley turtles, described by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as the world’s smallest marine turtles species. The Ocean Conservancy estimates there are no more than 1,000 nesting females left in the world.

Carried to the water’s edge, she sat still for a moment to adjust to her new surroundings and feel the incoming waves washing around her. Then, flippers straining, the 5-pound turtle propelled herself across the sand into the roiling surf, disappearing into the ocean.

Silver Belle stranded Nov. 21, 2019, in Beach Haven on Long Beach Island. She had fungal pneumonia and was severely cold-stunned because she hadn’t headed south before water temperatures became too cold.

Next up was Melbourne, a green sea turtle who had stranded a week earlier in Surf City, also on Long Beach Island. He was lethargic and found floating in the water, too weak to swim because of cold-stunning and a lung infection.

Tabitha went last and sat motionless in her transport crate, even after the gate was lowered so she could see the ocean nearby.

But then a larger-than-usual wave washed far up the beach, into her crate and around her, rousing Tabitha. She crawled out of the box, onto the sand and into the surf.

The center had attached a radio tracking unit to her shell, which could allow it to monitor her movements for as long as 30 days. During that time, Biehl said, Tabitha should hopefully make it to Florida or even farther south.

North Carolina Wounded Warrior receives parade from Ventnor to Longport

VENTNOR — Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stayskal, of Pinehurst, North Carolina, experienced the South Jersey version of Southern hospitality Tuesday when he and his family arrived at Ventnor Plaza.

They stepped out of a black Ford Escape compact SUV into a white limousine convertible, after which they were escorted by Downbeach police and fire engines and American Legion Riders to Longport Borough Hall.

The parade was the opening salvo of Wounded Warrior Week, which includes a weeklong, all-expenses-paid vacation in a Downbeach home for a selected veteran, sponsored by Longport’s American Legion Post 469. This is the ninth year the celebration has been held.

Stayskal, a U.S. Army Green Beret, was seriously injured while serving in Iraq.

“The main activities are a parade in the beginning and a ceremony at the end,” said American Legion Post 469 Commander Larry Pacentrilli, who added all branches of the military are contacted to find an honoree. “Someone always donates a beach-block home. It’s never a problem getting one.”

Dozens of people were at Ventnor Plaza to greet Stayskal, his wife, Megan, and their two daughters, Addi, 13, and Carly, 11.

Egg Harbor Township Committeeman Frank Balles helped the family into their limousine before the parade started.

“Welcome to our town, guys,” Balles said.

Liv Dietrich, 85, of Margate, came to the plaza to support the wounded veteran.

“The girls look so happy, don’t they? They are going to have a wonderful time, the young girls. It’s a beautiful thing. What a parade. It’s going to be really nice going all the way down to Longport,” Dietrich said. “I felt a need to come and appreciate what they do for us.”

Charlotte Josephs, 94, of Ventnor, was at the hospital for seven hours the previous night, but she still made the effort to come see of the out-of-town military family. Her husband was in the Air Force from 1945 to 1948.

“I come every year. I love my country. I respect and honor the veterans,” said Josephs, whose daughter brought her to the start of the parade.

The parade route moved along Dorset Avenue to Atlantic Avenue, and then along Atlantic Avenue to 26th Avenue in Longport. The closing Wounded Warrior Week ceremomy will be an invitation-only event Sunday inside the Seaview Harbor Marina complex in Egg Harbor Township, just off Absecon Island.

Born in San Jose, California, Stayskal joined the Marines in 2001. In 2004, while deployed to the Al Anbar Province in Iraq, he was serving as a machine gunner and scout sniper when he was seriously injured by insurgent sniper fire.

The bullet broke Stayskal’s left arm and passed through his left lung, fracturing his ribs and barely missing vital organs. His injuries left him with a damaged lung, continuing nerve pain, restricted movement and other limitations, including post-traumatic stress disorder and a lack of strength, according to the American Legion.

After Stayskal’s recovery in 2005, he was honorably discharged from the Marines and returned home to work in construction with his father and brother.

In 2006, Stayskal re-enlisted — this time in the Army.

Having learned to deal with the pain from his previous injuries, he was awarded the Green Beret with the occupational specialty of special forces weapons sergeant.

Stayskal’s military awards include the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal and Meritorious Unit Citation.

PHOTOS from Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stayskal's welcome parade in Ventnor

Veterans advocate Marco Polo Smigliani shakes hands with Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stayskal, welcoming him to Ventnor for a parade and a week’s stay on Absecon Island, sponsored by Longport’s American Legion post.

Atlantic City native featured in short docu-film on mental illness

Atlantic City native Justin Volpe dabbled in drugs and alcohol during his time at Buena Regional High School when he lived in Weymouth Township.

When Volpe left South Jersey at age 18 to live with his brother in Miami, his addiction problems escalated. He spent time in the Miami-Dade County Jail, but he was then accepted into Miami-Dade’s Jail Diversion Program.

“I was in a program for six to seven months. I had relapses,” Volpe said late last month. “A day before my 24th birthday, they closed out my court cases.”

When he started his life of sobriety, he didn’t know what he would do for a living, but he has found it has been a humbling experience to help people overcome their addictions.

“It helps my recovery immensely to help other people go through the process,” said Volpe, who also suffers from mental illness, though he declined to specify which mental illness.

Now, he has about 20 years of experience dealing with the difficult-to-navigate treatment system. He has been a certified recovery peer support specialist with the 11th Judicial Circuit Criminal Mental Health Project since 2008.

Volpe’s work is the focus of a PBS documentary, “The Definition of Insanity,” by filmmakers Gabriel London and Charles Sadoff, which aired earlier this year. “The Definition of Insanity” focuses on officials in Miami-Dade County who have worked to decriminalize mental health issues.

He also is featured in the first of a new five-part series of digital-first, short docu-films examining mental illness and the criminal justice system, also made by London and Sadoff.

Since 2011, Volpe has served as a national consultant and has traveled the country sharing his message of hope and inspiration.

He has trained more than 2,500 crisis intervention team officers in Miami-Dade County since 2008 and assisted in getting more than 1,000 people out of jail.

London considers Volpe a friend since filming him in 2018 and last year. London said Volpe is one of the most incredible people he has ever met.

“What sets Justin apart is what he brings to life and work — both his honesty about his experiences and his will to survive, his unstoppable sense of humor and his generosity with those going through what he once went through in his day-to-day work,” London said.

Volpe shows that recovery is not only possible, but that life on the other side can be rewarding and fun, full of possibilities, rather than limitations, London said.

The short docu-films are being released by the One Mind All Media division of the national mental health and brain research nonprofit One Mind.

“I agreed to be filmed originally to spread awareness,” Volpe said.

The documentary and the short film were the first time Volpe was ever filmed for a project that would be shown to the general public.

“It felt fine for me,” Volpe said. “All my clients’ paranoia level went up. It caused distrust with the program. That was a challenge.”

There are times when people are involved with the filming of a documentary but are not happy with the result because of editing and what is left out or included.

Volpe has no complaints about his short film.

“I like it. It was good. It depicted a good day in the community,” Volpe said.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Volpe said his activities as a peer counselor for the Jail Diversion Program would include anything from obtaining food and clothes to taking people to Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

Volpe is one of more than 20 team members, but he works with as many as 30 people. He does not see all of them weekly.

“I’m 36 years old,” said Volpe, who added he is old enough to be a father to some of his clients. “It’s a great job. It’s great to give back.”

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Bally's sale closer to completion after CRDA grants land-use split for Wild Wild West

{child_flags:top_story}{child_flags:topical}CRDA OKs land split for Bally’s

{child_byline}DAVID DANZIS

Staff Writer


ATLANTIC CITY — The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority approved a request Tuesday to divide the land lots containing the Wild Wild West Casino and parking garage structure from Bally’s Atlantic City ahead of the casino’s impending sale to Twin River Worldwide Holdings.

Bally’s current owner, Caesars Entertainment Inc., will retain the Wild Wild West Casino and adjoining space, including the William Hill Sportsbook, and will incorporate it into Caesars Atlantic City.

The parking garage will be sold with Bally’s to Twin River, a Rhode Island-based gaming operator that agreed to purchase the gambling parlor for $25 million.

The application approved by the CRDA requested minor subdivision approval and variance relief. The application did not require construction or structural changes to any of the affected facilities.

The Bally’s deal is expected to be completed by the end of the year, according to Twin River executives.

Caesars — a newly formed company after a multibillion-dollar merger between Eldorado Resorts Inc. and Caesars Entertainment Corp. — currently operates four of Atlantic City’s nine casinos: Bally’s, Caesars, Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City and Tropicana Atlantic City. The company also owns a minority stake in sports betting operator William Hill, which controls four of Atlantic City’s eight retail sports books.

Twin River said it intends to construct a new sportsbook inside Bally’s as part of a larger capital expenditure program, following the sale. That plan includes an immediate focus on refurbishing rooms and adding more suites. New restaurant brands, renovated meeting and convention space, and an “enhanced” spa and pool area also are expected, Twin River President and CEO George Papanier has said.