Sunday, September 15, 2013

A North Philly flower, shot down at random

Marcus Smith's mother said the bright teen wanted to got to Harvard and later become a doctor but he never left North Philly after being shot in 1991.  I am truly grateful she allowed me into her life. I'm lucky I was able to meet Marcus.

BY JASON NARK

 EACH NEW candle that flickered on a cake meant another year for Marcus, one more improbable birthday, another small victory in a long battle against a lone bullet.


His latest cake was presented Sunday night, July 21, inside a dining hall at St. Joe's Prep, his alma mater in North Philly. Embedded in the icing was a picture of a red Lamborghini, the car he swore he'd own after becoming a brain surgeon.


Marcus, Happy 40th Birthday was written across it.


He grew up a block away, at 18th and Thompson streets, and he was shot nearby, at 18th and Ingersoll, two months before graduation in 1991.


In this small world of concrete, asphalt and bricks between his house and the imposing Church of the Gesu, Marcus Smith rose up in the late '80s and early '90s like some rare and exotic flower amid the jimsonweed, dandelions and vines that creep across empty lots, crawl up crumbling rowhouses and twist through the cracks in the sidewalk.

To read the rest, please visit http://articles.philly.com/2013-08-01/news/40919017_1_marcus-smith-north-philly-bullet



Monday, June 24, 2013

Deer Dad

The whole impetus for this story, an essay on fatherhood, was based on a simple memory my father had of his father catching a shark on a beach. It's been stuck in my head for decades and last year, I was given a chance to write about it.


DEER DAD: How a chilly morning in search of whitetails meant more than hunting

by Jason Nark

The grandfather I've never met is standing at the surf's edge in my mind, on an empty beach I've painted from a memory passed down to me as a child.

His khaki pants are rolled above his ankles, but waves crash into his calves and little baitfish dart between his bare feet.

He steadies a long, wooden fishing rod against his thigh and wipes the spray from his glasses with a handkerchief, then jams it back into the breastpocket of his undershirt and regains his grip.

There's a little boy beside him, unsteady in the tide and he's staring up earnestly, in awe. They are alone on this late-summer afternoon that I've imagined half a century ago, a father and son whose time together is running out.

The boy's blue eyes study each grain of sand that sticks to my grandfather's sweaty, wrinkled brow, every gray hair the easterly wind shakes like a reed, and they trace every shadow that ripples between the sinewy muscles on his forearms.

My grandfather keeps a finger on the fishing line, waiting, and suddenly arches back hard to set the hook. He leans over toward the surf, cranking fast, tight circles on the reel, then pulls back slowly as the rod's tip curves toward the dark ocean with a few violent jerks.

The boy smiles up at him and remembers this forever.

To read the rest visit http://articles.philly.com/2012-12-23/news/35992660_1_pepper-spray-father-and-son-deer-dad

Finding Dajuan

When I spoke to an editor about Dajuan Wagner's possible comeback, I never imagined the story would turn out this way. I've received more e-mails about it than any other thing I've ever written. It was awarded second place for sports story by the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists.

Published in Sportsweek, a Philadelphia Daily News publication, on 1/29/12








Finding Dajuan

Whatever happened to Camden's Dajuan Wagner?


Last month, on a rainy Tuesday afternoon just before Christmas, Dajuan Wagner strolled into a Cherry Hill gym. It was only a minute or two before tip-off of a game between Camden High and Cherry Hill East, and he sat close to the door, at the very end of the first row of bleachers, shaking a hand or two and nodding back at some folks who recognized him - the greatest high school player New Jersey's ever seen.




Mostly, Wagner just sat silently, his eyes following his purple-clad Camden Panthers up and down the court. Sometimes he mouthed some words to the players, uttering instructions they couldn't have heard. When he seemed frustrated, like when a ball slipped out of a Camden guard's hands or clanged off the rim, he leaned in closer, his boots just a few feet from the court.



Watching Wagner watch a basketball game, I got the sense that he was having to hold himself back, using all the power in his 6-2, 200-pound frame to stay off the court. Those who know him say Wagner's personality is defined by the game. On the court, he's a killer. Off it, he's shy.



Wagner is now 28, at a point in his life when many in South Jersey once believed he'd have a trip to the Basketball Hall of Fame all but locked up. But Wagner wasn't in town on an East Coast road trip. He didn't have a few games off from playing with the Cavaliers, or the Warriors, or anybody else. In fact, it's been more than 5 years since he's played in the NBA. "It's hard to tell a 28-year-old that you're at the end of your career," says his father, Milt, now an assistant coach at Auburn. "He hasn't even hit his prime yet."

That's the thing about Wagner, though. He never said it was over. Not on Facebook or Twitter. Not on YouTube. Not even to the local newspapers. He didn't hang it up so much as he just disappeared.




That's why I was at a high school basketball game in Cherry Hill on a crappy Tuesday afternoon, staring at him from across the gym. After years of hearing rumors about Dajuan Wagner, after reams of unreturned letters, of unaswered phone calls and unopened doors, I had found him at a basketball game. If it was truly over, I wanted to hear him say it.


To read more, visit http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/colleges/20120129_Whatever_happened_to_Dajuan_Wagner_.html






The Last Piney

I won first place for profile writing for this story from the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists. It's one of my favorites.




The Last Piney


Still happily living in wild N.J. woods



BY JASON NARK




THE WOODCUTTER lives alone in the land of legends, in the Jersey pines, where moonshiners and pirates once hid among the ghosts and ghouls, where ruddy creeks and empty roads still twist on for miles.

On this September morning, lizards skitter over the sweet-smelling pine logs that Bill Wasiowich split and stacked on the lot where he lives. It's down a narrow, dirt driveway, just before a bend in the road, in Woodland Township, Burlington County.

Tools are scattered about the moss-covered workbench where he prunes his pickings from the forest. On the front porch of the Crooked Barrel Gun Club, where Wasiowich lives rent-free, hummingbirds and bees hover above jars of sugar water he hung.

In his "sixty-something" years, the Trenton native has been an orphan, a high-school dropout, a wanderer, a shrimper, a worker waist-deep in a sea of bobbing cranberries, and mostly a loner who's earned his keep deep into New Jersey's rare, untouched places.

Today, he's the last true "Piney" of the New Jersey Pine Barrens, a piece of folklore in the flesh with bushy eyebrows and sap-covered pants.

"I'm a worker. I'm just a guy who gets the job done. I'll be doing that right to the bitter end, I guess," he says, looking down at the faded floorboards on the hunting club's back porch.

For the rest of the story, visit http://articles.philly.com/2012-09-21/news/34003609_1_timber-rattlesnake-piney-taxes-or-rent

Daily News reporter Nark wins 5 awards


A WOODCUTTER who "lives alone in the land of legends" is the last "Piney" in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, "where moonshiners and pirates once hid among the ghosts and ghouls."




Daily News readers have grown accustomed to such informative and entertaining prose from reporter Jason Nark. It seems that the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has noticed him as well.



Yesterday, the organization announced that Nark won five awards in its 2012 contest, including first place in profile writing for "The Last Piney."



In fact, Nark was the only individual to win two first-place awards - the other in sports reporting for "The Perfect Predator," about a Ukrainian ice-hockey coach who hanged himself in jail after he was accused of sexually abusing players. Nark also won two second-place honors (sports and local news) and a third-place award (local news).



Nark, 35, came to the People Paper in June 2008 from the Courier-Post in Cherry Hill. He has a bachelor's degree from Rutgers University and a master's from the University of Pennsylvania. He lives in Blackwood, N.J., with his wife and three children.

Link to story on Philly. com. http://articles.philly.com/2013-05-29/news/39604949_1_5-awards-daily-news-piney


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A story about me.




Jason Nark, who covers South Jersey for the Philadelphia Daily News, is sometimes put in precarious positions in the name of a good story


“The Daily News likes to put me in awkward positions overnight. I don’t mind,” says Jason Nark, with a laugh.


Nark, CCAS ’00, is a reporter at the Philadelphia Daily News, the guy who has become known for covering the odd corners of the Delaware Valley – mostly South Jersey - and is sometimes put in precarious positions in the name of a good story. Something weird happen in New Jersey? Nark’s on it.


Nark, 34, comes from a Rutgers family. His parents, sister, uncle, cousin – all Rutgers grads. Nark even met his wife, Niki, on campus, though she wasn’t a student. She was there to see film director Kevin Smith speak. They now have three children.


He chose English as a major, and took a few journalism courses. When he showed an interest in the field, James Moffatt, a Philadelphia Inquirer copy desk chief who taught at Rutgers-Camden as an adjunct, convinced him to stay in their English program versus transferring to a school with a journalism program.


“I knew I enjoyed writing, and I figured that journalism was a way to be able to write every day and not deal with the intimidation of writing a book or a screenplay,” says Nark.


Jason Nark says that studying literature in the English department at Rutgers-Camden and receiving praise for his papers inspired him to pursue a writing life.He says studying with Rutgers English professors Chris Fitter and Rafey Habib inspired him to pursue a writing life. “I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed being an English major there,” he adds.


Still, it wasn’t until Nark won the John C. Wentz Memorial Prize, given to the student submitting the best paper in an upper-level English course with his paper on British Imperialism, that he thought he might really have what it takes to write for a living.


“It was a very big deal to me, and a wake up call,” says Nark. “I thought, hey, maybe I can do this.”


In 2001, he got a part-time job as a sports writer at the Courier Post in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Soon after, he helped report on a devastating Fourth of July fire in his town, which in part led to him to full-time work on the metro desk. Nark stayed at the Courier Post where until 2008, and then joined the staff of the Philadelphia Daily News.


This year, he won four awards from the New Jersey Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists for his work there.


Nark was hired to help the Daily News increase their presence in South Jersey, though his focus now is on what the paper calls “enterprise reporting” – pieces that require more time and research than your typical news brief.


He digs into stories that other reporters might pass over – like writing a lengthy, nuanced piece about drug-addicted Camden prostitutes; digging into an Cape May County drowning that he found was far from an open and shut case; and a piece on a Moorestown police officer who was cleared on animal cruelty charges, an article that also became a report on bestiality laws in Burlington County.


And then there’s the overnight stories: staying in his father’s North Wildwood condo throughout Hurricane Irene and camping overnight with the Occupy Philly Movement or spending the night at the Golden Key Motel, the site where a Bonnie and Clyde couple who kidnapped and murdered a man in Atlantic City were captured. It was also the hotel where the bodies of four murdered prostitutes were found in 2006.

“I like writing about people who aren’t necessarily famous or political figures. I do that stuff, too, but some of my favorite pieces are about interesting people who aren’t going to change the world,” he says.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Strange Tale of the Algar Ferrari


By JASON NARK,


THIS is the legend of the Algar Ferrari F50.
It begins with an airline pilot with such a taste for speed that he conned his way into driving the $729,000 roadster, then stole it, leaving a stunned Main Line car salesman behind.
The legend ends years later, after the government recovered the car and an FBI agent ran it into a tree in Kentucky.
Now the wrecked 1996 Ferrari is collecting dust somewhere, object of a legal brawl between the U.S. government and the insurance company that owns the car.
In a federal lawsuit filed earlier this year, Motors Insurance Corp. is asking the feds to pony up $750,000, the amount they say the car is worth now. The insurer also wants to know why the agent and a federal prosecutor were driving the 520-horsepower car in the first place.
The answer, one car-lover said, is simple. It's probably the same reason why pilot Tom H. Baker stole the car from Algar Ferrari/Maserati of Philadelphia in the first place.
"Everybody likes fast cars," said John Nardolilli, a private investigator whom Ferrari hired to help find the F50 after it was stolen.
On Sept. 16, 2003, Baker strolled in to the Algar dealership in Rosemont with a Rolex on his wrist, no driver's license, and iced blood running through his veins.
He had his eyes on the red 1996 Ferrari F50, No. 29 of only 349 built. Baker claimed he was a tech CEO from California who had flown in from Atlanta. He had a limo waiting outside, and was willing to wire the down payment that day - after a test drive.
Soon Baker was behind the wheel of the F50, described by one auto website as "part Batmobile and part ballistic missile." Baker sped away, leaving the Algar salesman on a suburban street in Villanova.
"Everyone was dumbfounded," said Detective Charles Craig of the Lower Merion Police Department. "This guy totally played the part."
Investigators initially believed that Baker had help, with an enclosed flatbed truck waiting nearby. He didn't.
They also figured that the Ferrari, one of only 50 sent to the U.S., would be shipped to black markets in Europe or Asia, packed away in an unassuming crate in the bowels of a freighter. It was not.
In the years that followed, the car's fame grew on the various websites and chat rooms for Ferrari enthusiasts, with everyone guessing who could have pulled off such a heist and where on earth the exotic roadster, basically a Formula One race car in a pretty red dress, would turn up.

It turns out Baker, a divorced father of two, just really liked Ferraris. He kept the car for himself in not-so-exotic, suburban Kentucky.
It wasn't the first time he had stolen a Ferrari either, authorities said. But the Algar job in 2003 was his most daring exploit and the most formidable car he had stolen.
"The dealership is on Lancaster Avenue; it's a very busy road," Craig said. "He raced off at 100 mph over the crest of a hill."
The salesman who watched the F50 speed off on Spring Mill Road in Villanova no longer works for Algar and didn't return requests for comment.
Neither did the dealership's owner nor the other employees listed as witnesses on the police report.
A North Carolina car dealer victimized by Baker said Baker had come in so often in 2003 that they'd become "backslapping buddies."
Steve Barney said that he had cancer at the time and that Baker had claimed to be a radiologist, earnestly staring at his X-rays, inquiring about medications Barney was taking, and seeming genuinely concerned.
"If my 16-year-old daughter needed a ride, I would have put her in the car with him," Barney said.
Baker was interested in a 1989 Ferrari 328 GTS, worth about $55,000. He asked to take it for a test drive, just down to a local gas station and back. Barney consented. He never saw Baker again.
"I was conned. I was conned and he did a beautiful job," he said. "I try to believe in the genuine goodness of people. I won't let that happen again."
Baker had also stolen a 1985 Testarossa from a Long Island dealership in 2003.
Baker sold the Algar Ferrari, which he sometimes even took to car shows, to an emergency-room doctor in Kentucky for $375,000 and another collectible in 2008. When the doctor called Ferrari to check on the engine and vehicle-identification numbers, he learned his new car was the infamous Algar Ferrari and contacted authorities.
The doctor, who asked not to be identified, owned the car for about two bittersweet months and can still recall watching the FBI seize it.
"That was the most sinking feeling in the world," he said. "The car was gone and I didn't have my money back."
But Baker, perhaps out of fear, wired the doctor's money back after the doctor told him there were some issues with the vehicle-identification number. The doctor said Baker, whose former wife is also a doctor, acted "suave and debonair," not like a car thief. He used forged documents to make the sale look legit.


"If you knew Tom Baker, it just boggles your mind. It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to go through with stealing an F50. I didn't think he, pardon the term, had the gonads."
Shortly after the failed sale to the doctor, Baker was arrested and charged, the insurance company that owned the car after paying Algar $625,000 was notified, and the F50 was put into U.S. government storage.
But before Baker, who pleaded guilty, was sentenced, something even more dumbfounding happened.
On May 27, 2009, FBI Special Agent Frederick Kingston and Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Hamilton Thompson, the man prosecuting Baker, took the Ferrari out for a drive and rammed a tree, totaling one of the world's rarest cars.
A television report at the time said Kingston and Thompson were moving the car to a warehouse and lost control of the vehicle. Police told the television station that Kingston was going only 40 mph and that a tire may have blown out, explanations that elicit snarky comments on Ferrari websites.
"Why is it I get the feeling this was a case of 'Now it's my turn'? This was the last joyride, not the first," a commenter posted on Ferrarichat.com.
A few months after the F50 was wrecked, Baker was sentenced to eight months in prison but was allowed to serve just two days per week so he could " make his scheduled flight from Lexington, Ky., to Orlando, Fla., for purposes of his employment."
Baker could not be reached for comment, but his attorney, R. Tucker Richardson, said his client had no criminal record beyond the sports-car thefts.
"I don't know what drove this man to do this. It was out of character. It was a weird case," Richardson said. "He kept it in a warehouse and got it out and drove it every once in a blue moon."
The Department of Justice denied a claim for $750,000 filed by Motors Insurance Corp., claiming the accident occurred "while the Ferrari was being detained by the FBI."
Earlier this year, the company filed a lawsuit against the DOJ and the FBI in an attempt to recoup its losses and to get a valid explanation for why the car was being driven.
An attorney for Motors Insurance Corp. said he didn't know where the car is and declined to comment further. Charles Miller, a spokesman for the Department of Justice, said he didn't know where it was either.
"I know it's not in my garage," he said.
On Sept. 16, 2003, the F50 was on the Main Line, at a dealership in Rosemont, ready to eat up the road for a buyer with a fat bankroll. Then Tom Baker walked in, and it was gone.
Now it will probably never be driven again, unless a person who really likes fast cars is willing to fix it.
"It really was one hell of a car," Richardson said. "One hell of a car."



Friday, October 29, 2010

Murder mystery in the Jersey Pines


After nearly 5 years on lam, is outdoorsman a Jersey devil - or dead?

A LONE LOG CABIN sits at the end of Joe Mason Road in Cape May County, just before the road fades into sand and twists off into miles of dark cedars and pines.
John "Jack" Schlump used to live in the cabin on that quiet, secluded road in Belleplain.
Family members said the avid hunter felt at home in the vast forest beyond his old front porch. But his then-wife and one of his stepsons, who shared the home with him but were on the outs with him, said recently that things weren't always quiet when Schlump was around, particularly the last time.
On Dec. 2, 2005, Schlump, now 59, booby-trapped his log cabin with gasoline, firewood, fuses and flares, New Jersey State Police say. When his wife, Patricia Barnes, arrived home, he allegedly beat her and tied her up with duct tape and nylon cord. He fled in his truck after their fight and was never seen again.
"Whether he's guilty or not, we're just looking to find him," U.S. Marshal Rick Cope told the Daily News recently.
Schlump was charged with aggravated assault, threats to kill, criminal restraint and weapons violations. His daughter, Becky Schlump, thinks he's already been convicted in the court of public opinion, though, and certainly in the minds of anyone who watched an "America's Most Wanted" episode about Schlump last month that featured interviews from Barnes, her son, and law enforcement.

None of Schlump's family members or former friends was interviewed by "America's Most Wanted." Becky and her mother, Kathleen, both think the show and the information it posted on its website veered away from the 2005 allegations by Barnes to outright
lies about Schlump's past.
Becky Schlump said no one in her family has seen or heard from her father. Jack Schlump's brother, who lives in Washington state, said that law enforcement has never contacted him about his brother's whereabouts.

Cope told the TV show that Schlump could survive in the outdoors, possibly living somewhere rural with another woman he intends to harm. Becky thinks her father could be outdoors too, maybe in the woods near his cabin, but she doesn't think he's alive.
"I believe foul play was involved," said Becky, who lives near Albany, N.Y. "The cops call me every now and then and ask if I've seen him and I always say, 'You know I think he's dead.' "
State Police Detective Sgt. Mark Rowe said the Schlumps are victims, too, but he doesn't believe Jack Schlump was murdered.
"It's a nice theory but there's no proof," he said. "I would like to believe he's out there somewhere".
Patricia Barnes, according to Rowe, did not wish to speak with the Daily News. Her sons could not be reached for comment, but one of them, Ryan Barnes, told "America's Most Wanted" that he thought Schlump was "a real snake."
"I just never really liked him. Just never got along with him. He never talked to us, never tried to be friendly with us," he said on camera. "I couldn't believe she was actually with someone so crazy."
"America's Most Wanted," attributing all of its information to "police," said Schlump had been mulling whether to kill Barnes for weeks before the alleged incident in 2005. A story on the show's website initially said Schlump had "tried to kill a different ex-wife" in 1989 by burning his house down and that police believed he'd "gotten away with that one."
That revelation came as a surprise to the "different ex-wife," Kathleen Schlump.
"That's a flat-out lie. He never tried to kill anyone," she said. "He was never charged with attempted murder,"
Schlump did burn down the family house in 1989 and he pleaded guilty to arson charges, but Kathleen Schlump, who was divorcing Jack at the time, said no one was in the home.
"He was bringing things out of the house while it was on fire, boxes and toys and things, and putting them on the lawn," she said. "If he meant to burn the house down, it seems like he regretted it."


"America's Most Wanted" did not respond to a request for comment, but Kathleen Schlump said she did speak with producers there after the show aired. The website now has no mention of the 1989 fire as an attempt to kill Kathleen Schlump.
Patricia Barnes told the show that she was part of the local fire crew that responded to the arson at Schlump's house in 1989. About 10 years later, Schlump "swept her off her feet" and they married, building the log cabin where his old house had been on Joe Mason Road.
Barnes said the marriage was fine at first, but Schlump later became consumed with chasing kids on all-terrain vehicles near his property, paranoid that her children didn't accept him, and unwilling to pay a fair share of the bills. She said she watched Schlump gas one of his many hunting dogs because it didn't perform and said he had even more disdain for cats. Barnes said Schlump shot a cat on their back deck one night.
"Jack hated cats," she said.
During one argument in 2005, Barnes said, she called the police and told them Schlump was in the bedroom with guns, which he was prohibited from having because of the 1989 arson charge. She said she refused to use the log cabin to post bail.
On Dec. 2, 2005, Barnes said, Schlump attacked her outside the home, punching her in the face.
"It's payback time," he allegedly said.
Barnes said that she and Schlump fought and that he tied her up and fled, threatening to kill her and her sons if she called the police. When she later recovered and broke free, Barnes said she found that Schlump had rigged the house to go up in flames and that he had placed gas cans, firewood and tires underneath it that were connected to "fuses." She also said he removed batteries from a smoke detector and boarded up some windows.
Rowe said Barnes had significant injuries when troopers arrived at the home the following morning.
"She was beat up pretty good," he said.
Barnes was the only witness, Rowe said, and he acknowledged that she waited until the following morning, at least six hours later, to report the incident to police, a detail not mentioned in the "America's Most Wanted" episode.
"She said she was afraid to call because he threatened her," he said. "She thought he was outside and would come back and kill her and the cops."
Patricia Barnes still lives in the log cabin where Schlump allegedly terrorized her and, she told "America's Most Wanted," she's scared he'll come back. On one recent, rainy afternoon, a mother cat and her kittens were snuggled together there on his old front porch, just before the forest on Joe Mason Road.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Rocky vs. Addiction.

A&E intervenes to rescue ex-boxing champ








ROCKY was always just a nickname, but it came to represent a broken-down champion who lost his family and more than a decade of his life to crack and alcohol on the Camden streets.

But, with the simple change of one letter, former two-time world boxing champion Rocky Lockridge, 51, is Ricky again, a man from Tacoma, Wash., struggling with sobriety and trying to reclaim his lost years.

"The thing is, when he was out on the streets, all those people called him 'Rocky' or 'the champ,' but he didn't feel that way. He didn't feel like a champ at all," said Bobby Toney, an Audubon, Camden County, man who helped pull Lockridge off the streets last year. "Now he's just going to be a man again, Ricky L. He's going to be a new man, one day at a time."

Monday night, Lockridge's story will be chronicled on the A&E program "Intervention," an Emmy-winning reality series that follows addicts through their daily lives and ends with an intervention involving family and friends.

The addicts are faced with a choice: to continue destroying their lives, or to get on a plane to a treatment facility. Most accept the plane ticket.

Lockridge, who lived in Mount Laurel during his peak years as a boxer, is now living in Louisiana after spending 90 days in a treatment center. He could not be reached for comment. His family said he's staying clean and trying to get Social Security benefits and disability payments he's never received.

"He's been sober for over four months now," said son Ricky Lockridge Jr.

Fighting out of Tacoma as a youth, Lockridge won a national amateur championship and a Golden Gloves title before turning pro. In 1984, he was scheduled as a tune-up fight for the World Boxing Association's super-featherweight champ, Roger Mayweather, who was undefeated at the time. Rocky floored Mayweather in the opening round.

"In a stunner, Rocky Lockridge has knocked out Roger Mayweather in Round 1," commentator Marv Albert roared as Lockridge raised his gloved hands in victory.

Lockridge won the International Boxing Federation's super- featherweight title three years later, and retired in 1991 with a record of 44-9 and 36 knockouts. Last year, Lockridge told the Daily News that he had lost most of his winnings to drugs, alcohol and "bad choices," and wasn't equipped to make a living outside of boxing. In 1993, he left his wife and twin sons in Tacoma and moved to Camden.

"I wish I hadn't," Lockridge told the Daily News in August. He has also has a third son, Ramond, with another woman.

On most episodes of "Intervention," addicts are faced with severe consequences from family members: No more money for drugs. No more roof to sleep under. No more phone calls.

But Lockridge had passed that point more than a decade ago, and his family didn't know where he was or whether he was even alive. His three sons had no contact with him.

"Their whole life had a hole in it," said Candy Finnigan, the intervention specialist who handled the case for A&E. "These boys had really suffered."

Last year, Ricky Lockridge Jr., 25, saw his father for the first time in 15 years. He said he was always willing to forgive his dad if he got clean. His twin brother, Lamar, didn't want to see him.

"He took it a lot harder than I did," Ricky Jr. said of his brother. "He put my dad in the back of his mind. It hurt him too much."

For the last decade, Ricky Lockridge replaced his family with a ragged entourage at 7th and Chestnut streets, a notorious intersection in Camden's Bergen Square neighborhood, where many have been shot dead and regulars shuffle aimlessly back and forth between an abandoned storefront and a liquor store across the street.

Despite having had a stroke and having spent some nights behind bars, Lockridge has managed to survive, hobbling about Camden on his four-pronged cane, because those fumes of fame still left some folks a little awestruck.

"He had a lot longer life as an addict because there was always someone willing to help him out and give him a little money," said Finnigan.

Eventually, another entourage found Lockridge, folks like Bobby Toney and Camden mail carrier Orlando Pettigrew, who admired Lockridge's boxing pedigree but who were concerned about his future.

"I think he had just given up. He had given up on himself and thought everybody else had given up on him," said Pettigrew, who gave Lockridge food and clothes and helped contact Ricky Jr. last year. "I'm keeping my fingers crossed."

The road to "Intervention" wouldn't have been possible without the Retired Boxers Foundation and its executive director Jacquie Richardson, a woman who fights for athletes like Lockridge long after the sport they loved has left them behind. She was the one who contacted A&E for help.

"It's on Rocky now," said Richardson. "He needs to make the best with the life he has now."

Richardson said she'd like to see Lockridge find a "good woman" or get a little storefront with a few heavy bags in it. She doesn't want him to go back to Camden, ever.

"I don't think he would last too long out there again," she said.


For more information about the Retired Boxers Foundation, visit www.retiredboxers.org.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Wheels of Soul get busted



Authorities put the brakes on Wheels: Camden biker clubhouse shutdown for code violations

WHEN A SWAT team rolled down Princess Avenue in Camden last month to close the local Wheels of Soul Motorcycle Club's infamous clubhouse, the bikers weren't loading guns, sharpening switchblades or gripping brass knuckles.
"We were watching the History Channel," said "Hot Rod," 44, president of the Camden chapter. "It was about Nostradamus, so I guess we should have seen it coming."
The Jan. 26 raid on the "Doghouse," the nickname the members gave their foreboding but beloved fortress of nearly 40 years in the city's Parkside section, didn't end in a barrage of bullets. Instead, the city's code-enforcement office brought legal firepower, checking off a laundry list of health, safety and fire-code violations and nailing fresh plywood across the front door.
Police sources also said that the Wheels of Soul, notorious for their shoot-out with a rival gang at a high-school football game in 1979, ran a speakeasy from the property and that police found a small amount of crack cocaine during the raid.
"Thanks to the joint efforts between city and county law- and code-enforcement agencies, the Wheels of Soul gang will not be able to run illegal operations from the Princess Avenue property," Camden Police Chief Scott Thomson said in a news release. "This gang has plagued the Parkside community of Camden for too long. Hopefully, we have shut their operations for good."
"Hot Rod," a Camden resident who declined to give his real name, said that as long as the beef between the city and the Wheels is about code violations, the club should be able fix the problems and reopen.
"This is the first time they came to us with all these violations and permits. They said we need a permit for our stove," he said, standing outside the clubhouse last week wearing a leather vest. "We're going to do what the city asks of us."
The city said in its news release that "the Wheels of Soul gang has a history of illegal activities" and that "multiple shootings" - both fatal and nonfatal - have occurred on the 800 block of Princess Avenue, a stretch that consists entirely of industrial buildings. Two of the shootings happened in recent months near the clubhouse, police sources said.
The Wheels of Soul take great offense to the labels "outlaw" or "gang," but readily admit they will fight anyone with their fists if the situation arises. They also claim to frisk anyone who comes to their clubhouse to shoot pool or drink beer; this is mostly, they say, because they've all been shot before.
"We have a zero-tolerance policy," said "Gorilla," a 51-year-old member and postal worker from Willingboro. "We don't like getting shot."
Dennis "Eagle" Black, who pulled up to the clubhouse last week with a handicapped tag on the rear-view mirror of his Mercury, said he's not fighting at all. He just wants a place to hang out.
"Man, I'm 60 years old, I'm not looking to get my ass whupped," the Camden resident said.
In April 2007, Paul Medley III was shot dead in what authorities described as a fight that started in the clubhouse and spilled outside. Last month, a club member and another man were sentenced to jail for a cocaine-distribution ring authorities contend operated out of the clubhouse.
The Wheels deny that any crack cocaine was seized during the Jan. 26 operation, and said no guns or stolen goods were confiscated either. Camden police confirmed that one Wheels member was arrested on warrants during the raid, but deny the group's claim that police beat the man.
Club members say that any problem on Princess Avenue gets unfairly blamed on the Wheels of Soul.
"We're always seen as the bad guys," Gorilla said. "There's a lot of myths about guys who like to ride motorcycles and party. They don't pay attention to the good things we do."
The good things, the Wheels claim, include keeping "criminals and drug dealers" off their street and hosting an annual Halloween party for kids in Camden on neighboring property that the city says they don't own. The group also looks out for businesses on the block, including a Campbell's Soup building riddled with bullet holes across its rear wall.
"Yeah, somebody shot that up years ago," said Clarence "Coyote" Maske, 57, who is one of the chapter's original members.
Loud Harleys aside, one business owner a few doors down from the clubhouse said the Wheels have always been decent neighbors.
"They don't mess with me and they keep people away from my fence," said the man, who asked not to be identified. "I think the police said they sell drugs there, but [people] sell drugs everywhere in Camden."
Campbell's Soup did not acknowledge the close relationship that the Wheels claim the two have.
"No one seems to know much about them except they have been there a long time," a Campbell's spokeswoman said.
The only thing most people in greater South Jersey know about the Wheels of Soul stems from an incident that happened a long time ago in Camden.
On Thanksgiving 1979, a growing beef between the Wheels of Soul and a recently formed offshoot, the Ghetto Riders, spilled over during the football game between Camden and Woodrow Wilson high schools.
Mike Rozier, a senior running back for Woodrow Wilson, had already scored twice and was driving again at the 10-yard line in the third quarter when he said gunfire erupted.
"Man, we all hit the dirt," said Rozier, 48, a college star and NFL pro who won the Heisman Trophy in 1983 and now lives in Sicklerville, Camden County. "A friend of mine's dad was a cop and I saw him shooting back."
Nine people were wounded in that shoot-out, including Maske's brother, Jessie. Maske himself was only stomped, he said.
"That was another time. That's not us anymore. We just like to party," he said. "This is probably the safest place in Camden now."
Rich Norcross, a retired gang-intelligence investigator with the Camden County Prosecutor's Office, said the Wheels of Soul in Camden, along with other chapters, are definitely a "gang," one that actively recruits new members and still dabbles in drug sales, robberies and theft.
Like every other outlaw motorcycle gang, the Wheels of Soul also paint themselves as Robin Hoods on bikes, he added.
"They do one nice thing, once a year," Norcross said. "The other 364 days are mayhem."