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Crime
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Report: Pagans beat Wildwood landlord, bar owner as membership continues to grow

WILDWOOD — Members of the Pagans Outlaw Motorcycle Club are responsible for the recent beatings of two city business owners as club membership and violence continue to grow, according to a report released by state investigators Wednesday.

Club members beat a landlord in the city after he tried to evict a woman connected to the group and beat a bar owner with a pool stick after he didn’t pay for protection the group offered, according to the report by the State Commission of Investigation.

The Pagans are a fixture at the city’s Roar to the Shore, an annual motorcycle event, as it’s a “mandatory run” for club members in the state. However, the event has been canceled this year after the city denied organizers necessary permits, according to the event’s website.

Mayor Pete Byron did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday afternoon. A call to the phone number listed on the Roar to the Shore website was not returned.

The report, “Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs: The Rise of the Pagans in New Jersey,” is part of an investigative effort called Organized Crime Spotlight, which has been ongoing since late 2018.

The motorcycle club is undergoing a resurgence, going from 10 chapters in the state in 2013 to 17 as of last year.

There are roughly 900 Pagans nationwide, including anywhere from 150 to 350 in New Jersey. Officials have been tracking the club’s growth, its spread to the northern part of the state and its increased criminality and visibility.

The report, which includes information from a public hearing last year on the club, found members “have become increasingly combative with not only rivals but against anyone the gang believes is a threat or has shown it disrespect.”

SCI Pagans report

There were several incidents during which Pagans intimidated or physically assaulted people with no gang affiliation, instead “directing hostilities at random patrons in bars and drivers on the road,” according to the report.

The city paid about $40,000 for police overtime at last year’s Roar to the Shore, during which the SCI’s surveillance saw Pagans with white supremacist tattoos and patches, according to the report. City police also found three weapons and several rounds of hollow-point bullets during a traffic stop of an out-of-state Pagan, and other stops yielded guns, brass knuckles and knives.

A statement on the Roar to the Shore website says, “It is with great regrets, that after 23 years we are forced to cancel Roar to the Shore Motorcycle rally, due to circumstances beyond our control. The City of Wildwood has determined that the Rally no longer fits the image of the city and has chosen to deny all permits necessary to host (the) event.”

When Cape Classics Motorcycle Club took over the event from a group of Harley-Davidson motorcycle owners in 2000, it was an activity to bring people into town during what was a dead weekend, co-founder and President Ronald Roy said.

It started off as a structured event operated by mom-and-pop type businesses, but it grew into a big-money weekend, Roy said.

“It’s the best weekend to ride. It’s not too hot,” said Roy, who added all the restaurants were still open and lodging was abundant.

Cape Classics was responsible for Roar to the Shore from 2000 through at least 2013. For the last handful of years, the event was run by event promoter Joe Murray.

Roy said his organization is not aligned with the Pagans.

“They (the Pagans) maintained a presence all their own,” he said.

The report details a bit of intergenerational strife among the members of the motorcycle club.

“Law enforcement authorities told the commission that inside the Pagan organization there has been some internal strife from older members who disagree with this more relaxed approach and believe the gang should adhere to traditional protocols, particularly those related to barring minorities from membership,” the report states. “Some Pagans have white supremacist leanings and, in the past, the gang has affiliations with organizations whose members hold those beliefs.”

Club members also are displaying a “propensity for violence against the public,” according to the report.

“Recent assaults in which a member of the public was the intended target included a Pagan beating of a landlord in Wildwood who attempted to evict a tenant — a woman connected to the biker gang — after she failed to pay the rent, and the stabbing of an individual who was apparently unwelcome at a private Pagan party,” according to the report.

A city bar owner fell victim to a club extortion scheme, officials said.

“In the latest version of the scheme, Pagans visit establishments prior to the start of the summer season and demand the owner make weekly protection payments, according to local law enforcement,” the report states. “Police believe the refusal to make such payments was part of what led to the assault of a Wildwood bar owner who was beaten with a pool stick in 2017 soon after he objected to the Pagan’s protection fee demand.”

The agency recommended that the Attorney General’s Office “create and oversee a statewide working group comprised of law enforcement professionals from local, county, state and federal agencies devoted to identifying, investigating and prosecuting criminal activity perpetrated by outlaw motorcycle gangs,” as well as mandatory training for law enforcement.

GALLERY: Roar to the Shore Wildwood

Local
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Atlantic City park renamed in honor of Micah Tennant

ATLANTIC CITY — Erica Tennant believed her 10-year-old cousin Micah was going to be a legend.

On Wednesday, nearly 10 months after his death and on what would have been his 11th birthday, that belief had not wavered.

“Any time you had a chance to spend time with him or get a chance to meet him, you just knew he was going to be special,” Erica said. “You’d look into his eyes and immediately fall in love with him.”

Erica, along with other members of the Tennant family and more than 100 city residents, gathered at the Maryland Avenue playground to hold a birthday celebration in honor of Micah.

After several speeches and musical performances, Mayor Marty Small Sr. unveiled the park’s new sign, officially making it Micah “Dew” Tennant Park.

“He left this Earth far too soon,” Small said, “and (renaming the park) was the right thing to do. Today’s a special day to do it, on his 11th birthday, and we look forward to phase two on Memorial Day weekend.”

Micah Tennant died Nov. 20, 2019, after being shot five days earlier at a Pleasantville High School football game.

So far, two men have been sentenced on charges in connection to the shooting and two others have had their charges dropped. Alvin Wyatt, 31, who is charged with Micah’s murder, is set to appear in court next month, while Ibn Abdullah, who authorities said was Wyatt’s intended target, has a hearing next week.

Renaming the park and renovating the playground were phase one of the project to honor Micah. The second phase, Small said, will include a splash pad for kids to play in during the summer and murals that will be painted on both of the park’s basketball courts.

Residents packed the park for a day of fun and remembrance. Children played on the playground and basketball courts before everyone in attendance observed tributes to Micah from the community.

Several city agencies attended the event, with vehicles displayed from the Police Department, Fire Department and Bomb Squad for people to look inside. Officers fired up the grill and served hot dogs and burgers, and 200 backpacks were given away.

Second Ward Councilwoman LaToya Dunston said she’ll remember Micah for his smile.

“Micah played a major role in many of our lives,” Dunston said. “He was dear and special to me, and a lot of the children on the drill team would say that I played favorites, but Micah’s smile, the love, the energy he gave, was true and amazing. His smile will forever live on.”

Michele Garrett, a cousin of the family, and Alfred Tennant, another cousin, each performed songs in his honor.

Members of the XCLUSIVE Drummers and city rapper Gatti800 also performed.

Before the unveiling of the sign, a birthday cake donated by Resorts Casino Hotel was shown to the crowd. Micah played for the Atlantic City Dolphins youth football team and wanted to become a professional DJ, so the cake featured a football and a drum machine.

“A lot of you know Dew because of his love for music and his dreams of becoming a DJ,” Erica said. “Unfortunately, that was cut short, but we can’t let his life and legacy live in vain.

“Even in death, Dew managed to reach millions of lives all across the world, so we know that he would’ve been a star if he was still here.”

GALLERY: Atlantic City dedicates park to Micah Tennant

Weather
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3.1 magnitude earthquake rumbles New Jersey early Wednesday

Some residents throughout the Garden State felt the rumble of an earthquake early Wednesday morning.

“I dismissed it as an XL dump truck going down Route 537. At first, I thought a car rammed into our garage or our furnace blew up,” said Ann Marie Fitzsimmons, of Freehold, Monmouth County, which was at the epicenter of the Central Jersey quake.

At 2 a.m. exactly, a magnitude 3.1 quake struck in the East Freehold section of Freehold Township at a depth of about 3.1 miles, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

“An earthquake in Freehold never crossed my mind,” Fitzsimmons said.

South Jersey largely escaped the rumblings. User-submitted reports to the USGS from Manahawkin and Woodbine said no shaking was felt in those places.

However, people in Eagleswood Township, Atlantic City, Hammonton and Margate reported anywhere from a level 2 to level 3 intensity quake, classified as “weak” on the USGS’ 10-plus point scale.

“I was up then, I heard something move on my porch. I looked, but there was nobody there. I stepped out on the porch to look out on the yard, saw nothing,” said Dennis Leigh, who was in Ocean City at the time.

Magnitude 3.0 or greater earthquakes are common across the planet, happening about 100,000 times a year. The power in Wednesday’s earthquake was equivalent to about 1,800 kilograms of explosive, or about the same as a large lightning bolt, according to the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology Consortium, a university research group.

Since the first known earthquake to have its epicenter in New Jersey on Nov. 30, 1783, up to 2016, when records stopped being counted, 98 earthquake epicenters have fallen within the state, according to the Northeast States Emergency Consortium. Compared to the Western United States, seismic waves can travel faster in the Eastern United States due to the region having older, denser rocks. However, they are often weaker.

“It would be very surprising for us to see anything more than, you know, damaged shelves or picture frames falling off of windows,” said Robert Sanders, a geophysicist with the survey.

The most recent one in South Jersey was Sept. 17, 2018, when a very weak, 1.2 magnitude quake was centered in Wharton State Forest.

“That’s a fairly uncommon event magnitude for quakes in this area (Monmouth County),” Sanders said of the Wednesday quake. Since 1970, there have been two other quakes within 10 miles of this location, a 3.5 in 1979 and a 3.1 in 1992, he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Press Meteorologist Joe Martucci's 7-Day Forecast

Washington
AP
NIH: Halted vaccine study shows 'no compromises' on safety

WASHINGTON — The suspension of a huge COVID-19 vaccine study over an illness in a single participant shows there will be “no compromises” on safety in the race to develop the shot, the chief of the National Institutes of Health told Congress on Wednesday.

AstraZeneca has put on hold studies of its vaccine candidate in the U.S. and other countries while it investigates whether a British volunteer’s illness is a side effect or a coincidence.

“This ought to be reassuring,” NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins said before a Senate committee. “When we say we are going to focus first on safety and make no compromises, here is Exhibit A of how that is happening in practice.”

Scientists have been scrambling to develop a vaccine against the coronavirus since the outbreak began, and the U.S. has launched the world’s largest studies — final-stage testing of three leading candidates, with three more trials set to come soon that will each recruit 30,000 test subjects.

Public health experts are worried that President Donald Trump will pressure the Food and Drug Administration to approve a vaccine before it is proven to be safe and effective, a concern senator after senator echoed Wednesday.

“When it comes to a COVID-19 vaccine, we can’t allow President Trump to repeat his alarming pattern of putting politics ahead of science and public health,” said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the committee’s ranking Democrat.

The U.S. has invested billions of dollars in efforts to quickly develop multiple vaccines against COVID-19. But public fears that a vaccine is unsafe or ineffective could be disastrous, derailing the effort to vaccinate millions of Americans.

Collins said the public needs to understand the process behind telling when any vaccine candidate is ready for widespread use — one that by design is keeping both manufacturers and politicians in the dark until the evidence gels.

About 150 COVID-19 infections in a study of 30,000 people should be enough to tell if that candidate really is working — and an independent group of experts, not the FDA, gets to do the counting.

WHO MONITORS THE STUDIES?

Every vaccine trial is overseen by a “data and safety monitoring board,” or DSMB. These boards include scientists and statisticians who are experts in their fields but have no ties to either the government or the vaccine makers.

The top priority: watching for safety concerns, like the one that sparked a DSMB in Britain to pause AstraZeneca’s vaccinations and alert its U.S. counterpart.

But this is the group that also will decide when each vaccine is ready to be evaluated by regulators.

In each 30,000-person study, about half the participants are given the real vaccine and half get dummy shots, and neither they nor their doctors know which is which. Only the DSMB has the power to unlock the code of who got which shot and peek at how the volunteers are faring before a study is finished.

The FDA can’t even begin to consider approving a vaccine until the DSMB says the data is good enough for that debate, Collins stressed. Once that happens, the FDA has pledged to bring each candidate before a public vaccine advisory committee.

DOING THE MATH

The FDA already has told manufacturers it won’t consider any vaccine that’s less than 50% effective.

Say one vaccine trial records that 150 volunteers have gotten sick. The DSMB finds that 100 had received dummy shots and 50 had received the real vaccine. The expert group might decide that’s a promising enough vaccine to stop the study early so that the FDA can debate its merits, even before getting final outcomes from all 30,000 volunteers, said Dr. Larry Corey of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute, who is overseeing the U.S. government’s vaccine studies.

On the other hand, if equal numbers from the vaccine and placebo groups got infected, the DSMB might declare a vaccine futile, he told The Associated Press. These panels also can calculate infections even before that 150 threshold is met, at set time points in each study.

“If your vaccine is at least 50% effective, you’re going to know it because you’re going to see a big skewing” of infections, NIH’s Collins told the Senate’s health, education, labor and pensions committee. “You count those events and you know whether it worked or not.”

ANSWERS UNLIKELY BEFORE U.S. ELECTION

Getting the right math before November, as Trump has promised, is “incredibly unlikely,” Corey said.

Collins expressed “cautious optimism” that one of the vaccines being tested will pan out by the end of the year but warned: “Certainly to try to predict whether it happens on a particular week before or after a particular date in early November is well beyond anything that any scientist right now could tell you.”

And even if a study has a spate of infections large enough to prove the effectiveness question, the DSMB also must be comfortable that there’s enough evidence of safety before opening the books to the FDA. Generally, the FDA is requiring safety data from at least 3,000 people, Surgeon General Jerome Adams told the Senate panel.

This process isn’t new — Phase 3 studies of vaccines and therapies are always done this way, though rarely in so bright a spotlight.

SUSPENDING A STUDY NOT THAT RARE

It’s not uncommon for pauses in research to investigate whether an unexpected health complaint is really related to a vaccine or not, Collins told senators worried about what the AstraZeneca suspension means for the nation’s year-end goal.

“The reason we’re investing not in one but six different vaccines is because of the expectation that they won’t all work,” Collins said.

AstraZeneca gave no details on the illness, but Collins said it involved a “spinal cord problem.” Earlier-stage studies hadn’t revealed any serious side effects, but that’s a key reason for doing ever-larger phases of research — to widen the search for any reactions.

Final testing of two other vaccines is continuing, one created by the NIH and manufactured by Moderna Inc., the other made by Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech. Those two vaccines work differently than AstraZeneca’s, and the studies already have recruited about two-thirds of the needed volunteers.

Several vaccine candidates made by Chinese companies are in late stages of testing in various countries, but with smaller numbers of volunteers. Most health authorities are skeptical about a claim of vaccine success by Russia, which has test results from just a few dozen people.