2003-03-13 / Front Page

Teens charged in Linwood melee

Fight took place as revenge for earlier beating
By jennifer kohlhepp
Staff Writer

By jennifer kohlhepp
Staff Writer

Two police officers suffered injuries and 18 students were arrested after a mêlée at the Linwood Middle School in North Brunswick Tuesday afternoon, according to officials.

"When school was dismissed, a group of about 50-60 New Brunswick High School students collided with the 1,200 students pouring out of the Linwood Middle School," Police Director Michael Moriarty said.

Officials said no students were reported injured in the incident.

Moriarty said Officer Jason Hatez suffered a damaged nerve when a female Linwood student hit him in the elbow with a softball bat. Officer John Haas suffered bruising to his face when a wristwatch was thrown at him, Moriarty said.

Hatez was taken to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, New Brunswick, for treatment and later released.

The incident resulted in the arrest of five Linwood students and 13 New Brunswick students, according to Moriarty.

Schools Superintendent Robert Rimmer alleged that the New Brunswick High School students attacked the middle school students as a result of a confrontation three of the students had on Monday after a recreational basketball game.

"After a boys’ traveling basketball game held at Linwood, a fight broke out between two sisters from North Brunswick and a 12-year-old New Brunswick girl," Moriarty said. "The Linwood girls beat her [the New Brunswick girl] up pretty bad, so she went to school the next day and gathered up support to come back for revenge."

Rimmer said Tuesday night he planned to meet with the New Brunswick superintendent of schools Wednesday morning. Rimmer could not be reached for comment yesterday.

"I have a sixth-grade student, and I was terrified," resident Pat Bansch said. "I saw it firsthand, and it was frightening, to say the least. Teachers were just standing around while our kids ran out of school and right into danger."

Bansch, who picked her daughter up from school that day, said 10 police cars arrived on the scene only after the first police officer suffered injuries from a baseball bat and radioed for backup.

Moriarty said the department initially dispatched two officers to Linwood.

"When the first two called for backup, everyone emptied out of headquarters," Moriarty said.

Moriarty estimated that at least 12 officers went to Linwood.

"Principal Vincent DeLucia noticed the students hanging around in the parking lot before school let out," Rimmer said at the Board of Education meeting Tuesday night. "When he asked them what they were doing there, the students told him they were meeting a friend. Mr. DeLucia telephoned the police shortly after because he felt uncomfortable about the situation."

DeLucia did not attend the board meeting and declined to comment on the matter yesterday.

Bansch and other parents voiced their concerns about school security to the school board Tuesday.

School officials, who are in the process of completing the budget for the 2003-2004 school year, said they are trying to increase the security personnel budget.

"Currently we have two police officers stationed full time at the high school, and one police officer stationed at Linwood who is not as full time as we would like," Rimmer said.

Residents also suggested allotting more funds for security equipment, such as cameras and monitors, in this year’s budget.

Resident Sandy Donofrio asked if township schools have formalized plans for emergency situations such as fights, gas leaks and even terrorist attacks.

School Business Administrator Marshall Sigall said each township school is currently working with the police department and the Emergency Management team to finalize a comprehensive plan for students and faculty in the event of emergencies.

Resident Bruce Hayden asked the board if the plan included elements for an end of the school day problem.

"Speaking in generalities, there are unique problems at that time," Sigall said.

"I have a sixth-grade girl at Linwood Middle School. She walks to school," Hayden said. "Luckily she was at her locker and just missed the brawl. However, when officials saw her, they told her to leave school grounds immediately."

Hayden and other parents questioned why the school’s faculty forced students to leave school property when "there should have been a lockdown."

"A school is responsible for a child until they reach their home. It is the law," Hayden said. "By dismissing my child, the school personally put my child at risk. What if these other students were cruising our neighborhoods and jumping people along the way."

Rimmer said the administrators and the police are working in close partnership to ensure the children’s safety.

"Our kids need to see something tomorrow," resident and substitute teacher Pat Olmstead said. "We need a police presence at the school. We need to have more teachers outside after school with working radios. We need kids to clean out their lockers, and we need rumor management. The children need to be told what happened and what will be done."

Moriarty said that not only was police presence enhanced outside of Linwood on Wednesday, but juvenile detectives were placed inside of the school.

"We are still investigating many aspects of the situation, including who hit Officer Hatez with the bat," Moriarty said.

Moriarty said school officials also made an announcement at North Brunswick Township High School regarding the incident.

"Students were warned not to retaliate against New Brunswick," Moriarty said.

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