Transit, gambling among New Jersey’s top 2018 stories
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Delays and cancellations were two words that tried the patience of commuters in New Jersey as the state’s mass transit systems wrestled with a series of challenges in 2018.
Gamblers could risk their fortunes legally betting on sports after the state won a U.S. Supreme Court case in May.
The state’s political landscape turned bluer as Democrat Phil Murphy became governor and Democrats won all but one of the state’s House seats during the midterm elections.
The slayings of a husband and wife and their two young children shattered the tranquility of an affluent horse country community.
Drama, more than congeniality, dominated the Miss America Pageant, while generosity was challenged by what prosecutors described as an elaborate scam.
A look at some of the top stories of the year in New Jersey:
Before he took office, Gov. Phil Murphy called New Jersey Transit “a national disgrace.”
Those words rang true in 2018 as NJ Transit rail and bus passengers faced a year plagued by cancellations and delays. Staffing shortages, equipment failures and efforts to meet a federal deadline to install an emergency braking system on its rails were blamed.
With two weeks to spare, NJ Transit met the deadline by installing positive train control on enough trains to qualify for a two-year extension to finish the work with testing and training.
The frustrations, though, were not limited to mass transit. Motorists pointed fingers and demanded answers from Murphy in November after a modest snowstorm stranded vehicles on slippery roads for hours.
Even his predecessor, former Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, tweeted at Murphy that it took him nearly six hours to travel roughly 30 miles (50 kilometers).
The Democrat initially said “lousy” forecasts were partly to blame. But forecasters said the state’s snow removal plan was flawed.
“Clearly we could have done better and we will do better,” Murphy said.
Wagering began in New Jersey weeks after the state won a U.S. Supreme Court case in May, clearing the way for all 50 states to offer sports betting if they chose.
Sports betting took in $40.6 million in wagers in New Jersey in the first full month it was legal.
Near year’s end, the state’s sports betting market saw $928 million worth of bets taken by the state’s casinos and racetracks since mid-June.
New Jersey turned a darker shade of blue politically in 2018.
Democrat Phil Murphy was sworn into office as governor, succeeding two-term Republican Chris Christie. Democrats hold the majority in both houses of the legislature.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez won re-election a year to the day after a jury began deliberating in his federal corruption trial, in which it was unable to reach a verdict and prosecutors declined to retry him.
Democrats upset Republican incumbents Leonard Lance and Tom MacArthur in the House. Rep. Chris Smith returned as the state’s lone Republican in its 12-member House delegation.
MANSION FIRE DEATHS
It started when a man called 911 after seeing smoke coming from his neighbor’s $1.5 million mansion in affluent Colts Neck.
“There is smoke coming out and I see a person laying down,” he told the dispatcher. “Oh my God, there’s blood here. It’s a corpse. Somebody is dead.”
The corpse on the ground was Keith Caneiro, who had been shot to death. Inside, authorities found more bodies. His wife was shot and stabbed, and their two young children were stabbed to death.
Authorities said his brother and business partner, Paul Caneiro, killed the family and set the fire. He was also accused of setting fire to his own home as his wife and two adult daughters slept. They escaped unharmed.
Prosecutors have suggested the motive was financial. Paul Caneiro has pleaded not guilty, and his lawyers said they haven’t seen any evidence to support the motive.
Miss New York, Nia Imani Franklin, was crowned Miss America in Atlantic City months after a leadership change led to more drama than congeniality behind the scenes.
Gretchen Carlson and Regina Hopper took over the Miss America Organization after it was revealed previous pageant officials circulated emails denigrating the appearance, intellect and sex lives of former Miss Americas.
The new leaders eliminated the swimsuit competition for the first time in the pageant’s 98-year history.
State pageant officials revolted against them, and the reigning Miss America, Cara Mund, claimed Carlson and Hopper had bullied her. The organization released a report denying Mund’s allegation, but investigators never talked to her.
By year’s end, there were reports the organization was looking for another city to host the pageant.
HELPFUL HOMELESS MAN
The seemingly selfless act of a homeless man using his last $20 to fill up the gas tank of a stranded motorist took a surprise twist.
Mark D’Amico and Katelyn McClure set up a GoFundMe page that raised more than $400,000 for the homeless man, Johnny Bobbitt. But prosecutors said there is evidence they knew one another for at least a month before and had set up a scam.
“The entire campaign was predicated on a lie,” Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina said. “It was fictitious and illegal and there are consequences.”
The three have pleaded not guilty to theft by deception and conspiracy to commit theft by deception charges.
McClure’s lawyer has said she was duped by D’Amico, while his lawyer has denied such claims.
GoFundMe said donors would get a full refund.