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Breaking news & local stories from Camden City, Berlin, Laurel Springs and more

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    Ashley Ruiz-Lopez was recovering from a cesarean section when she was fired, the state says.

    VINELAND -- A contract bakery has agreed to pay $70,000 after the company was accused of violating state law by firing an employee who was on maternity leave, the state Office of the Attorney General said Tuesday.

    Omni Baking Company of Bellmawr and Vineland fired receptionist Ashley Ruiz-Lopez in 2016, despite her clear communications with the company about her leave and her planned return date, authorities said.

    After the state's Division of Civil Rights finding, the bakery agreed to pay Ruiz-Lopez, of Vineland, $60,000 to resolve the issue and $10,000 to the division. It will also have to create and distribute a new family leave policy, provide anti-discrimination training to its roughly 450 employees, and submit to a year of monitoring by the division, the release said.

    "An employee should not have to choose between keeping her job and raising a family," division Director Craig T. Sashihara in the statement. "New Jersey's family leave and pregnancy protection laws were created to maintain the integrity of the family unit and help society prosper. Our commitment is to ensure that employers adhere to those laws."

    Mom who used surrogate sues Verizon for denying paid maternity leave

    At issue was Omni's claim that Ruiz-Lopez had not officially requested leave under the New Jersey Family Medical Leave Act. Sashihara found that an employee must only "provide sufficient information to alert it that the worker plans to take time off for a purpose covered by the law" and does not have to specifically mention the NJFMLA or fill out a specific form.

    The owner of the bakery could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

    Ruiz-Lopez was hired at the bakery, which produces breads for other businesses, in June 2014.

    She went on maternity leave on Jan. 29, 2016 and before giving birth, dropped off a claim for temporary disability benefits at the bakery. That paperwork included a doctor's note listing her due date as Feb. 27 and her return date in mid-April, according to the release.

    After she gave birth in February by cesarean section, she informed the bakery and dropped off another doctor's note stating that her recovery date would be April 17, officials said.

    She told investigators that she made attempts in person and by phone to contact the company's human resources manager, but all her messages went unanswered.

    The bakery fired her March 29, 2016, without giving her a chance to be heard, Sashihara said.

    Ruiz-Lopez filed a complaint with the Division of Civil Rights, which issued a finding of probable cause that the company violated her rights by firing her because she gave them sufficient notice of her intent to take maternity leave.

    Sashihara also found the the bakery violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination by firing her while she was recovering from surgery without at least talking to her about whether they could provide "reasonable accommodation" for her disability at that time.

    "The totality of the circumstances, including her submission of medical certificates showing her expected recovery dates, repeated visits to the office, repeated attempts to reach (the HR manager), and the nature of her leave, was sufficient to trigger Respondent's legal responsibility to engage in the interactive process," Sashihara noted in the release.

    Rebecca Everett may be reached at reverett@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @rebeccajeverett. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


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    Sadly, of the 50 U.S. states, a poll ranked the citizens of New Jersey last in terms of patriotism.

    By Ted Frett

    Being raised by parents of the "Greatest Generation" made it quite routine for me to be patriotic. However, throughout the last several decades it has been easy to see that patriotism in general is fading. 

    According to a 2016 Gallup Poll, all major age groups have shown a decline since 2003 in the percentage saying they are extremely proud to be an American. The largest decline has been in young adults, whose "extremely proud" responses declined from 60 percent in 2003 to 34 percent in 2016.

    Nowadays, we witness some people burning the American flag, trampling on it or flying it upside down. This is protected under our freedom of speech and expression. In some countries, such activities would land you in jail. 

    Some people ignore when the national anthem is played by continuing to hold conversations, not taking off hats or hoods, or not standing still. It seems that to some, it is "not cool" to be patriotic. In a recent article by Richie Bernardo on WalletHub.com titled "2017's Most Patriotic States in America," the website surveyed people in all 50 states and found those in Virginia to be the most patriotic. Sadly, of the 50 states the citizens of New Jersey were ranked last.

    Recently, I got a shot of patriotic adrenaline when I visited part of Audubon in Camden County. As I traveled along Lafayette and Yale avenues, I was amazed at how many residences were flying the American flag. Surely, not everyone living in those homes is a patriotic Baby Boomer like me. 

    We all know that our country is not perfect. We all have our own special problems and concerns. We are still the world's "melting pot." Even with the recent tightening of our immigration policy, the United States still accepts more permanent immigrants than any other country in the world. 

    We are still the top destination where immigrants want to settle. Our many cultures, religions and other beliefs should all be respected as long as they exist under the guidelines of our laws. The important thing is that we are all Americans and are in this life together.

    The neighbors of this small section of Audubon should be commended. Seeing all the flags was an uplifting event for me. 

    If you ever need a larger shot of patriotic adrenaline, try Sunset Beach in Cape May right before sunset. Since the tragedy of 9/11, our family has flown a flag in front of our shore home every day. The idea has rubbed off on some of our neighbors, which has been great. 

    Try it. You may start something.

    Thanks again to those residents of Audubon who made my day.

    Ted Frett writes from West Deptford Township.

    Bookmark NJ.com/Opinion. Follow on Twitter @NJ_Opinion and find NJ.com Opinion on Facebook.


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    The incident occurred at a Winslow minimart.

    WINSLOW -- Police are seeking a man who became enraged at the cost of candy at a mini-mart Tuesday morning and began throwing items before smashing a front door window.

    A surveillance image of the man at the Citgo gas station on Sicklerville Road was released on social media showing the man at the store at 9:26 a.m.

    The candy tantrum ended as the man kicked and shattered the front door, police said.

    A call for further comment was not immediately returned. Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call 609-567-0895.

    Bill Duhart may be reached at bduhart@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @bduhart. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

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    The accident occurred Monday night in Monroe Township.

    MONROE TWP. -- A Camden County man died of his injuries after he was struck by a vehicle Monday night, police said.

    Township police responded to South Black Horse Pike near Industrial Drive around 10 p.m. and found the victim on the shoulder of the roadway.

    The vehicle that struck him stopped and the driver remained on the scene as emergency responders provided first-aid, police said.

    The man was transported to Kennedy University Hospital in Washington Township, where he was later pronounced dead.

    His name has not been released, but he was described by police as a 37-year-old Sicklerville resident.

    Authorities are asking anyone with information about the crash to contact Patrolman Matt Shipley at 728-9800 x578 or email mshipley@monroetownshipnj.org

    Cecil and Williamstown fire departments responded to the scene, as did Monroe Township Ambulance and Inspira Paramedics.

    Matt Gray may be reached at mgray@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MattGraySJT. Find the South Jersey Times on Facebook.

     

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    Edward J. Holmes III, 51, was taken into custody after police received a tip Tuesday Watch video

    SOMERDALE - The man wanted on charges he slashed 52 tires of police and fire vehicles, as well as personal vehicles of police officers, has been arrested and jailed, police said.

    Edward J. Holmes III, 51, was taken into custody after police received a tip Tuesday that he was at the Cathedral Kitchen, a nonprofit that serves food to the impoverished in Camden, police said. 

    Police identified Holmes as the person behind the tire slashing earlier Tuesday and circulated his photo, authorities said. The tire slashing occurred shortly before 1:30 a.m. Sunday in the Somerdale municipal lot. 

    Candy prices caused this guy to flip out, smash store window, cops say

    Tires were slashed on nine police cruisers, a fire vehicle and three personal vehicles of police officers, officials said.

    Holmes faces 13 counts of criminal mischief, as well as weapons and trespassing offenses. 

    He also had multiple warrants. Holmes was taken to the Camden County jail.

    Spencer Kent may be reached at skent@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerMKent. Find the Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     

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    Officials said Deanna Joseph, 39, was high in the car when her daughter died in her car seat.


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    A look at where New Jersey alums are stating the 2017 season.


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    David Johnson? Le'Veon Bell? Odell Beckham, Jr.? What about high school football? We look at who could be the best high school fantasy football players in New Jersey.


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    Mason Mallon is accused of drugging a 17-year-old girl in 2016 and sexually assaulting her

    GIBBSBORO -- The man charged with sexually assaulting a woman and posting the images to the social media app Snapchat has been accused of drugging and assaulting another teenager in 2016, authorities said. 

    Mason-Mallon.jpgMason Mallon, 24. 

    Mason Mallon, 24, of Gibbsboro, was arrested earlier this month and charged with aggravated sexual assault after he posted a woman unconscious and covered in blood to his Snapchat account, according to the Camden County Prosecutor's Office.

    A friend of the 18-year-old woman saw the post and reported it to police. 

    The prosecutor's office announced Wednesday that Mallon will face additional sexual assault charges in an earlier attack on a 17-year-old girl. 

    The second victim came forward after Mallon's arrest and told officials she had been assaulted at Mallon's West Clementon Road residence in March 2016, authorities said.

    The teen said she knew Mallon and had a drink at his home, but soon after could not move her body, according to the prosecutor's office. 

    While the girl was incapacitated, Mallon assaulted her, according to the prosecutor's office. 

    Mallon faces charges of second-degree sexual assault, second-and third-degree aggravated assault, third-degree criminal restraint and third-degree endangering the welfare of a child, authorities said. 

    Officials are continuing to investigate the alleged assaults and ask that anyone with additional information contact the prosecutor's office at 856-225-7105. 

    Amanda Hoover can be reached at ahoover@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @amahoover. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     

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    The first Hispanic Republican woman elected to the New Jersey Legislature said she is not running for re-election.

    Maria Rodriguez-GreggMaria Rodriguez-Gregg 

    TRENTON -- State Assemblywoman Maria Rodriguez-Gregg, the first and only Hispanic Republican woman ever elected to the New Jersey Legislature, announced Wednesday she is no longer running for re-election in November.

    Rodriguez-Gregg, a rising GOP star who has been fighting a DUI charge in court, is nearing the end of her second term representing south Jersey's 8th district -- which includes parts of Atlantic, Burlington, and Camden counties -- in the Assembly, the lower house of the Legislature.

    The 35-year-old said she made the decision not to seek a third term after "some reflection on what's most important in my life right now." 

    "Serving as the first Latina Republican in the state Assembly, and blazing a trail for other young women to follow, has been an honor and a privilege," Rodriguez-Gregg said. "During my time in Trenton, I have been a steadfast voice for fiscal responsibility, bipartisan compromise and political moderation -- three things that are sorely lacking in both Trenton and Washington today."

    N.J.'s lone Hispanic GOP lawmaker won't back Trump

    "I have no intention of remaining silent on issues of critical importance to our state and nation," she added.

    The news comes four months after Rodriguez-Gregg was arrested and charged with driving under the influence and obstruction after her car was rear-ended at a traffic light in Mount Laurel in April, according to a report by the Burlington County Times. 

    The officer said he smelled marijuana coming from Rodriguez-Gregg's car, the report said. Rodriguez-Gregg said she had smoked cigars earlier that evening but refused a sobriety test, the report said.

    The lawmaker told Politico New Jersey on Tuesday that her arrest and court battle did not factor into her decision not to run for re-election.

    "I've had a lot of traumatic events happen over the past year and a half," Rodriguez-Gregg told the website. "I don't want to get into all the personal details of it, but I just wanted to take some time to be with my family and I really couldn't fully make a commitment to running for office right now." 

    Republican county committee members of the district will now be tasked with choosing a replacement for Rodriguez-Gregg on November's ballot.

    Brent Johnson may be reached at bjohnson@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @johnsb01. Find NJ.com Politics on Facebook.

     

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    The arrest occurred Tuesday in Williamstown section of Monroe.

    GLOUCESTER TWP. -- Four men and a woman have been arrested and charged with being in an industrial-theft ring after police recovered over $75,000 of stolen loot, authorities said Wednesday.

    The bust happened Tuesday in the Williamstown section of Monroe after cops from several jurisdictions, including the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, swept in on the crew in two locations, in the 1800 block of Herbert Boulevard and 100 block of Harrell Avenue.

    Police said property recovered included two stolen vehicles, two ATV's, two pistols, a sawed-off shotgun, double-barrel shotgun and a quantity of methamphetamine. 

    The arrests include, Stephen Hopkins, 53, of the Herbert Boulevard, Michael Santore, 44, of  Lake Avenue,  Joanna E. Renze, 43, of  E. Collins Drive and Stephen Hopkins, 22, of  Herbert Boulevard. All from the Williamstown section of Monroe. Karl Derieux, 48, of Pennsylvania Avenue, Franklin Township was also arrested.

    The group was charged with Criminal Mischief, Burglary, and Theft, receiving stolen property, weapons offenses, possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance and outstanding arrest warrants for previous offenses.

    The investigation was launched after the theft of three industrial trailers, tools and equipment in Gloucester Township.

    Bill Duhart may be reached at bduhart@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @bduhart. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

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    In appreciation of the people who work hard.

    The first job I had that involved a paycheck and time clock was at the Holiday Inn in Vineland.

    I started in housekeeping, which involved a lot of vacuuming, trash emptying and window cleaning. The motel had a bar/nightclub, which was quite popular on Friday and Saturday nights. And, I was charged with cleaning up assorted messes left by folks after their night on the town.

    MORE: Vintage photos around New Jersey

    The bathrooms in the nightclub were, well, let's just say "interesting." The aftereffects of a night out could be found in and around the commodes, sinks and stalls. Lipstick messages, I found, were particularly difficult to clean off a mirror, especially when the chief housekeeper was expecting squeaky clean. And, the chief housekeeper always demanded squeaky clean bathroom facilities. Oh, and back then, we weren't issued protective gloves or facemasks.

    I must say that that job was a valuable one. I gained a weekly paycheck, yes, but more importantly, I gained an appreciation for the people who work hard to make sure places we visit are clean and well-maintained.

    Here's a gallery of working people in New Jersey, with a particular shout-out to those folks who have to work when everyone else is relaxing. And here are some more galleries of people at work in New Jersey from the past.

    Vintage photos of jobs and workers in N.J.

    Vintage photos of working people in N.J.

    Greg Hatala may be reached at ghatala@starledger.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregHatala. Find Greg Hatala on Facebook.


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    From north to south and everywhere in between, here are 50 of the H.S. football games we're most excited to see in 2017.


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    Are you ready for kickoff?


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    Adonis Jennings was a standout WR for the Chargers and currently plays for Temple.

    Adonis Jennings was a standout WR for the Chargers and currently plays for Temple.


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    Brittany Lewis won the national competition last week.

    A Brigantine native has been crowned Miss Black America after a national competition held in Philadelphia.

    Brittany Lewis 2.jpgBrittany Lewis
     

    Brittany Lewis, a Temple University graduate and third-year Ph.D candidate at George Washington University, competed for Washington, D.C. in the pageant, Philly.com reports. She became the 49th Miss Black America on Saturday. 

    Lewis is no stranger to beauty-scholarship pageants. She competed in the 2015 Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City as a contestant from Delaware. She was a student in a master's degree program then and living in Delaware. She was a first runner up allowed to compete after another contestant was ruled ineligible because of her age. Lewis was 24 then.

    Her doctoral work focuses on a history of Atlantic City from 1964 to 1980, the report said. It chronicles the rise of casino gambling there.

    The pageant began 50 years ago in Atlantic City to protest the lack of black contestants in the Miss America pageant and to celebrate and promote the beauty and talents of black women. 

    Bill Duhart may be reached at bduhart@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @bduhart. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     
     

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    The incident occurred on Wednesday.

    CAMDEN -- PATCO regional-rail service was interrupted for nearly an hour Wednesday after a suspicious package was discovered at the City Hall station here, authorities said.

    Camden County bomb squad responded to the scene shortly before 11:30 a.m. The package did not pose a threat and was disposed of, a county spokesman said.

    Trains continued to run from Lindenwold to Broadway station in Camden and from 8th to 16th streets in Philadelphia, but not over the Ben Franklin Bridge to the first stop, City Hall. A normal schedule resumed within an hour, a port authority spokesman said.

    Bill Duhart may be reached at bduhart@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @bduhart. Find NJ.com on Facebook.
     

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    The Cooper Health system will include Cooper University Hospital, Lourdes Health Care's two hospitals and St. Francis in Trenton.

    TRENTON -- Cooper University Health announced Thursday it plans to acquire three Catholic hospitals in central and south Jersey, creating the fourth largest healthcare chain in a state in which mergers have become routine business.

    Cooper Board Chairman George Norcross said the planned acquisition will create a $2 billion entity stretching from Mercer to Atlantic counties, employing 12,000, not including a network of 875 doctors. 

    The takeover of Trinity Health hospitals -- Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden, Lourdes Medical Center at Burlington in Willingboro and St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton -- cements Cooper's dominance in the south Jersey health care market, Norcross said. Together with Cooper's 635-bed flagship hospital in Camden, the chain would operate 1,382 beds. 

    Cooper's footprint has been growing in earnest in recent years, with the creation of Cooper Medical School of Rowan University in 2012, and the partnership with renowned cancer hospital MD Anderson in 2013.

     "This agreement will bring together health care providers from across south and central New Jersey, allowing us to dramatically expand access to the high quality of care for thousands of new patients," according to a statement from Norcross, who is also known as one of the most influential political power brokers in the state.

    "Since its founding 130 years ago, Cooper has always been committed to providing the best care possible for its community," Norcross's statement state. "With this announcement, the size of our community may expand, but the high quality of care will remain the same."

    Another N.J. hospital merger is complete as JFK joins large chain

    In New Jersey and across the country, the Affordable Care Act has driven mergers and acquisitions because the landmark health care law requires hospitals and doctors to focus on outpatient treatment and to curb long hospital stays.

    Mergers also give cover to smaller hospitals, shoring up their negotiating power with insurance companies, and giving them access to money to make building and other capital improvements, New Jersey Hospital Association spokeswoman Kerry McKean Kelly said.

    Ben Carter, executive vice president of Trinity Health said in a statement that the merger ensures "Lourdes and St. Francis will remain in good hands."

    "In today's health care environment in New Jersey, continuing success for Lourdes and St. Francis depends on being part of a growing regional network with a strong presence in local communities," Carter added. 

    In the last two years, Robert Wood Johnson University Health and Barnabas Health merged, creating the largest hospital and medical provider chain in New Jersey. Hackensack and Meridian also partnered up, creating the second largest hospital system. 

    "It is probably inevitable that Cooper would make some acquisitions, the trend toward consolidation is ongoing throughout the region," said Katherine Hempstead, a senior advisor and health care expert at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "It is in particular very difficult for small independent hospitals to stay afloat without becoming part of a system."

    The Virtua Health system, with three hospitals and many outpatient facilities, is Cooper biggest rival, although Kennedy University Hospital's three facilities in Cherry Hill, Washington Township and Stratford and Deborah Heart and Lung Center in Browns Mills also share the market, Hempstead said.

    Cooper's "combined system will have a lot of market share in Camden and Burlington counties," she added. "I wonder whether there will be some regulatory pushback."

    The merger must be approved by the Christie administration and may be reviewed by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

    Linda Schwimmer, president and CEO of the Health Care Quality Institute of New Jersey, said she saw the merger as a great deal for Trenton residents who have little local access to obstetrical care.

    "I think it presents a really good opportunity for the Trenton community. You have an inquiring entity that has a lot of experience serving the needs of a city with serious economic challenges," said Schwimmer said, referring to Cooper's involvement in Camden. 

    The deal, if consummated, will preserve the hospitals Trinity operates, Schwimmer added.

    "It's been a not-so-well-kept secret Trinity has been talking to various entities about selling or some other arrangement," she said. "I think it's good they are committed to putting resources" into the hospitals, especially Trenton.

    Susan K. Livio may be reached at slivio@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @SusanKLivio. Find NJ.com Politics on Facebook.


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    The child's mother, Lucy Gunter, was charged with child endangerment.

    CAMDEN -- A 20-year-old city man has been charged with murder in connection with the beating death of his girlfriend's 4-year-old daughter, the Camden County Prosecutor said Thursday.

    Najuquan Ross allegedly beat his girlfriend's daughter, Natalise "Kayla" Gunter, while he was babysitting her and two other children on July 15. 

    The mother of the children, Lucy Gunter, returned home from work later that evening and saw Kayla had cuts to her face and missing a tooth, a statement from the prosecutor said. When Gunter asked how she was injured, Ross reportedly told her he had beaten Kayla for not wanting to eat dinner, and that she lost her tooth during the beating when she fell trying to fight back.

    Three days later, Kayla was rushed to Cooper University Hospital by ambulance after she was found unresponsive in her bedroom. She died later that morning.

    Police and medical personnel reported seeing bruises and abrasions across her body. Gunter was charged with endangering the welfare of a child for failing to get her medical attention until three days after the incident.

    Ross is being held at the Camden County jail. He is scheduled to have a pretrial detention hearing Tuesday.

    Gunter was released from jail on July 21 after prosecutors failed to prove to a judge she was a flight risk.

    Bill Duhart may be reached at bduhart@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @bduhart. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

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    NJ.com's football took a crack at predicting this season's standout stars best teams.


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